Sunday, 31 July 2011

Story behind the photo - St Albans

This is a photo of the west front of St Albans' cathedral. I think I may have mentioned my new-found love of churches/cathedrals before, there's just something about them that makes me stop and wonder. When you consider when these cathedrals were built (generally around the 11th to 14th century), and that they were built by just takes my breath away.

St Albans would probably be best known today as a commuter town - by train, it is only about 30 minutes from London. As well as just wandering about and exploring the town, you can also visit Verulamium  - located just on the outskirts of the town, it is the site of one of the first cities established in Britain following the Roman invasion. There is an interesting museum to visit, you can also visit a bath house with a mosiac floor. All in all, an interesting town to spend the day in.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Story behind the photo - Brussels

For the first bank holiday weekend (3-day weekend for the non-UK readers) my friend and I decided to head to Brussels. Or, if we're going to be more precise, I said I wanted to go to Brussels and she agreed...We walked a lot, explored the city, and got our fill of chocolate and waffles (neither of us are big beer drinkers). My highlight of the weekend was getting to zip-line from the top of the Atomium - a huge adrenaline rush and a LOT of fun (I don't think you can do it normally, it was just for this weekend). I also learnt a very important lesson when it comes to accommodation - have a really good map or directions to where you're staying. I didn't, and we wandered around the area where our hotel was for a good hour before finally figuring out where we needed to be.

This photo is taken from a square near to where we were staying, looking down towards the centre of Brussels. The tall spire in the middle of the photo is on one of the building in the Grand Place (main square in Brussels)

Monday, 18 July 2011

Thoughts on living overseas

Recently, I've come across a couple of posts that talk about why some fellow Aussies have come to the UK (you can find the posts here and here). A lot of what is said in those posts mirrors why I came to the UK, but I thought I would add my own two pence worth:

When I meet people for the first time (and I meet a lot of people in my job) and we've established, that yes, I really AM from Australia, the next (inevitable) question is some variation on:

"Why on earth would you want to come here for?"

often closely followed by:

"But don't you miss home/your family/your friends?"

After two years living here, I'm starting to become more consistent in how I answer. And, in all honesty, it boils down to one simple sentence: 

"I've always wanted to."

For as long as I can remember, and certainly from the start of my university degree, I knew I wanted to have the experience of living in another country. While I might be doing the same things as I would be at home, it somehow feels different at the same time. And the chance to travel relatively cheaply is a big drawcard as well. Travel in Australia is expensive. For example, to travel between the town where I used to live and where I grew up, it was a 90 minute (one way) flight that never cost me less than A$400 (return). For that amount of money here in the UK, I can take a few short flights and explore some of the great cities of Europe. 

So that answers the 'why' - the chance to experience a different way of living, and the chance to travel to so many amazing places.

As for the 'missing home,' the honest answer to that is yes, I do. I miss my family, my friends, beautiful beaches, and proper sunny/hot weather. But, in this digital age, staying in touch is easy. Being able to email/text message/Skype family and friends keeps me in touch, and makes me admire my Mum, and how difficult it must have been for her being so far away from her family when she moved to Scotland with Dad after they got married. When I complain about the weather, my sister will always remind me about the incredible experience that I'm living right now, being able to travel and see the world. And it takes me about 30 seconds to remember that she's right. I've living a life that many other people only dream of. 

Australia will always be there, and will always be home. Two years away has made me more appreciative of what I've got back home, and that I will be back there one day. For me though, at this point of time in my life, living overseas is the right place for me - and I can't imagine doing anything else. 

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Story behind the photo - Windsor

While I can't find any definitive list, I would hazard a guess that a visit to Windsor is high on the 'to do' list for many tourists when they visit London. There are quite a few day trips you can do with various tour companies from London (these usually visit other places such as Stonehenge and Bath), or you can make your own way there, which is what I did. To get to Windsor yourself by train, you can either take a direct train from Waterloo to 'Windsor & Eton Riverside' station, or take a train from London Paddington that stops at Slough, and change at Slough for the branch line to 'Windsor & Eton Central' station (according to the National Rail website, the trip to Windsor & Eton Central is much quicker, even though it involves a change of train).

Windsor is a nice enough town to wander through, but I'm fairly certain most people come to Windsor to visit Windsor Castle, which is one of the longest-inhabited castle in Europe.  When you visit, your ticket gives you entrance to the grounds, the State Apartments, various exhibitions, and St George's Chapel. No photos are allowed inside the buildings, the photo in this post is of St George's Chapel (which, like all the churches/cathedrals I've visited, was lovely).

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

I remember....

the first time coming to visit me came up in conversation.

the text messages, phone calls, emails and Skype conversations where we planned the trip.

the message you sent to tell me the trip was all paid for.

the last Skype conversation we had before you got on the plane....and the excitement we were all feeling.

the feeling of nervous anticipation mixed with excitement I had coming to meet you at the airport.

the first sight of you both in the departure area of the airport, and the smile that came to my face.

the first hug we had shared in nearly 12 months - and just how amazing it felt.

the good (and not so good) experiences we had in the month we spent exploring Europe

the sinking-heart feeling I had as we went to the airport for your flight back home.

the last hug we shared before you went through security, and how I was trying to etch the feeling into my soul.

the mental talking-to I gave myself as you walked through security, willing myself not to burst into tears.

I remember.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Memorable travel moments

Personally, I think most travel is memorable - whether it be for good or bad reasons. I know that when I eventually return home, this experience will hopefully stay with me for the rest of my life. In the past 2 years, however, there have been moments that have stood out and been etched into my memory. Here are a couple of them:

1. seeing the Eiffel tower for the first time

I've mentioned before that my friends and I did a group tour (Contiki) when we first arrived in Europe. For us, it was the easiest and quickest way to get an introduction to Europe. The first destination was Paris, and on that first night the group was taken on an 'orientation tour' of the city. When we saw the Eiffel Tower, that was the moment it hit me. After talking, planning, and saving for so long....I was really and truly in Europe, living my dream. It was a pretty good realisation to make, let me tell you.

2. Massed Pipes and Drums at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Most people I know either love or hate bagpipe music. Me, I'm firmly on the love side....I've always liked listening to bagpipes... maybe its my Scottish heritage coming forward. Growing up, my family always watched the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, when it was shown on ABC around Christmas/New Year. I knew that while I was living over here, I had to go and see it live, which I did last year. Sitting in the stands, waiting for the show to start, I was getting more and more excited (and really hoping the rain would stop - it had been raining all day). Seeing and hearing the massed pipes and drums (who open the show) walk out onto the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle gave me goosebumps. I didn't know where to look, and felt a bit like a kid on Christmas morning, trying to decide which present to open first. If I'm completely honest, the moment actually brought a tear to my eye. I don't think I will forget it.....ever.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Story behind the photo - Cambridge

Cambridge.....home of one of the best known universities in the UK. Exploring the different colleges of the university is probably high on most people's lists when they visit Cambridge....and trying punting on the river (or, if you're me, you stand on a bridge and watch people try to punt....which can be very entertaining!).

This photo, however, is taken somewhere I bet many people would not have heard of before - I certainly hadn't. And the only reason I found out about this place is because I did an open-top bus tour of Cambridge the first time I visited there, and it was one of the stops. The place I'm referring to is the Cambridge American Cemetery.

Built on land donated by Cambridge University, the cemetery is the burial place of over 3,000 American servicemen who served in World War II. In addition, the Memorial Wall (which is on the left of this photo, the Memorial pool is the other main feature), lists the names of over 5,000 American servicemen with no known grave. I only spent about 20 minutes here (in order to get on the next open-top bus), but it gave me just a little more understanding of the scope of World War II - something I'm coming to appreciate more and more the longer I'm living here.

For more information on the Cambridge American Cemetery, go here

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

My (personal) hints for successfully navigating the Underground

I need to preface this by saying that I don't think I'm an expert at all when it comes to the Underground (the Tube) in London. I'm sure there are things that I might do that totally annoy native Londoners. But, having been here for a couple of years, these are some of my tips to help make the journey just a little bit easier.....

1. Use an Oyster card to pay your fares if you're in London for a few days or more, it really is the easiest (and cheapest) option. You pay a 5 pound deposit (refunded if you return the card), Single journeys within zone 1 & 2 (the main tourist areas) are then charged at 1.90 pounds, as opposed to 4 pounds for a cash fare. And if you make lots of trips by tube in one day with an Oyster card, your charges get capped at the same cost as a day travelcard. As I said, definitely the most cost effective option in my opinion

2. Get a Tube map. And make use of it personally, I think pre-planning your journey if you can is much easier...

3. Stand on the right hand side of the escalators - I have no idea why the rule is 'stand on the right, walk on the left.' But it is. And there's plenty of signs up next to the escalators. So there's no real reason not follow the signs...

4. Know about planned disruptions beforehand if you can if it's the weekend, Transport for London will be doing line works. There will be track closures. The TfL website lists the closures ahead of time....really helpful in the planning process of getting from A to B.

5. Avoid the Tube in rush hour if possible especially with luggage. I've been there, done that. Not one of my favourite experiences.

6. Use the whole length of the platform to board the train head for the first or last carriage if you can. They're usually less crowded. It doesn't really matter which carriage you get on, you'll still get to where you want to go in the end...

7. You don't always have to use the Tube to get from A to B sometimes walking is quicker (and easier)

Is there anything else anyone would add to this list?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Story behind the photo - London (Monument and St Paul's Cathedral)

As I mentioned last week, I was only in Norwich for 5 weeks before moving to my current location. The first weekend after moving to where I am now, I met my friend in London for a day of exploring, capped off by going to our first musical (We Will Rock You). Before making it to that though, we decided (because we're just a teeny bit crazy) to visit both \The Monument and St Paul's Cathedral. Why were we crazy? Well, we decided to climb both of  them to check out the views.....Monument has about 300 steps, and St Paul's about 500 that was a 1600 step (approximate) round trip! Boy did my legs know about it...

I think most people will have heard about St Paul's Cathedral (incidentally my favourite church in London), but I don't think too many people have heard of the Monument.....I hadn't until my friend suggested it. The Monument was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666. The height of it is the distance of its location to where the Great Fire of London started. You can go here for more information. The photo above is of the staircase inside the Monument.

So was it worth climbing all those steps? Well, the photo below is of the view from the top.....I'll let you decide....