Monday, 30 May 2016

Diary entry #2 - Prison, prosecco & photoshoots

After spending two weeks now in Cape Town, it’s safe to say that so far, it’s treated us pretty well. In fact, as I’m sat writing this in the gardens of the hostel, looking out onto Table Mountain, it’s safe to say the city has treated us incredibly, and the best part about it all, is that we have another four weeks here to see and explore (and eat) even more.

Our first weekend in Cape Town was perhaps centred around having a drink or three, but I mean, we did hike up Table Mountain so really, it was wholeheartedly deserved. With these deserved drinks though, came two pretty heavy heads, so the start of the week was relaxed to say the least - although the staff at our hostel most definitely think we are insane (I suppose they’re only half wrong..) for lounging out in the sun by the pool whilst they walk round in fleeced jackets, trousers and winter boots. Blame the English weather…

One of the main things we both wanted to do in Cape Town, and something that you really couldn't not do if you’re in this city, is take a trip to Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 16 years. The actual tour itself, was great, and the guides who take you round the island, and the prison, are absolutely fantastic. I hadn't realised before going on the tour, that you are actually taken around the jail by those that actually spent time in that prison. Our guide, who was a political prisoner and spent seven years on Robben Island, was incredibly insightful and so interesting to listen too and he really added that extra touch to the tour itself.

The only downside of the trip, was that it appeared to bring out the worst in tourists because FYI, taking selfies in the cell where Nelson Mandela spent his time in prison is not okay, and what is with people taking photos of every single thing they lay eyes on. I actually witnessed a man take at least 4 photos of a scuff on the wall. A scuff. On a wall. No story behind it, it wasn’t…a significant scuff which had a story behind it, it was literally….a mark…on a wall. The same guy also took a photo of a sign saying ‘Keep Out’ so I mean, he was really making some memories for himself.

The next day was hot (for English people), with temperatures reaching around 23 degrees so, after a really strenuous few weeks (ahem), we headed to Camps Bay beach, to…relax. The scenic views from Camps Bay, are just stunning, and really, is there a better feeling than stepping onto the beach and getting white sand in-between your toes (I mean, there is if you hate sand because I imagine that it’s possibly one of the worst sensations you could have but if you do! Oh if you do, isn't it great!).

Something that I genuinely think could only have happened to my friend Rosie and I, as we simply
laid out on the beach, innocently reading our books, was for a journalist from the Seattle Times to come over and ask if she could take some ‘natural’ photos of us for a piece of work she is doing. Of course, as soon as she said natural, I immediately sat up, pretended my feet really do point elegantly down as I lay on the sun bed, laughed in the way of Marilyn Monroe, instead of the honking donkey that I usually am and flicked my hair around as if I was filming an advert for L’oreal. Sooooooo natural….

The sunset in Camps Bay is completely and utterly stunning, with the sky changing colours from yellow to orange to pink to red. Over a gorgeous meal at Zenzero, with AN ACTUAL GLASS OF ACTUAL PROSECCO, because we finally found it and I know how you’ll all sleep so much better for knowing we’re no longer in a drought of the fizzy stuff, it was really the most perfect backdrop to a really relaxing day (excluding photoshoot because sweaty mess does not equal photograph material).

On Friday, we had organised to go on a township tour to Langa. Langa township is Cape Town’s oldest township, established in 1923, and is one of the areas in South Africa that were designated for Black Africans before the apartheid era. Our guide, who has grown up in the township, and still lives there today, took us on a four hour walking tour of the area, and introduced us into people’s homes, both in the formal and informal areas, their traditional bar and around the streets generally.

Of course, at times, it was very sad, with some of the living conditions really not good at all but what struck me the most, was the incredible community spirit and culture that the township had. Everywhere you turned, people were chatting and laughing, everyone knew each other and greeted us, kids ran up to you in the street and wanted to talk and play and I feel like we could learn so much from that kind of community spirit. For the most part, they have so little but they’re happy, it’s an experience that I’ll carry with me now for a long time. I really don't think you can come to South Africa and get a real feel for the place without visiting a township - I’d recommend it to everyone.

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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Visiting Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town

Prior to arriving in Cape Town, my friend and I spent hours and hours researching and planning all the things we wanted to do and see in the city. Cape Town has been one of the top places I have wanted to visit in the last few years, but up until the point of actually looking into all the different sights and areas that there are in the city, I never realised just how much there is to do here (which is a pretty good job really, as we’re here for 6 weeks!).

Of all the things we listed, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens was one of the top sights I wanted to see, which is funny really, as if 5 years ago, you’d have asked me if I’d like to visit a botanical garden, I’d have perhaps asked if you’d like to go swimming alongside a couple of great white sharks without a cage…

…nature wasn’t really my thing as you can probably tell…

But now! Oh now, I’m an actual real life grown up (kind of) who appreciates a great scenic view and the peace of the countryside and everything. I even sometimes feel like going for a walk, without a purpose or anything, I’m so good at adulating.

Anyway. Kirstenbosch.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens has been named as one of the greatest botanical gardens of the world. Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, it has the reputation of being the most beautiful garden in the whole of Africa, and whilst this is a pretty significant claim, it certainly lives up to every expectation once you enter the site.

The beauty of Kirstenbosch can’t really be fully shown through photos, they really do little justice to the scenery. With over 7000 species of unique plant life, the estate protects natural forestry and a variety of animals and birds. With a mission to ‘promote the sustainable use, conservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the rich plant and animal life in South Africa’, it really is worth a visit, whatever time of the year.

You are free to stay at the gardens for as long as you like, some take a picnic, others prefer to relax with a book, and you can even walk along the Tree Canopy Walkway, which gives you the most incredible views of the city of Cape Town, as well as across the botanical gardens.

We caught the Cape Town Red Bus ‘blue tour’ (actual red bus, different coloured tours, all very complicated..), which, for R190, the equivalent of £8.3, allows you to hop on and off, wherever you fancy along the route including Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, World of Birds, Imizamo Yethu Township and Hout Bay. The price of entry into the gardens is not included in this however, with an additional charge of R55 (£2.41) to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. A small price to pay though, for time spent in this incredible area of Cape Town…

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Monday, 23 May 2016

Diary entry #1 - Arriving in Cape Town

Arriving in Cape Town on Wednesday lunch time was surreal. After months of build up, weeks of counting down the days, and hours of planning, the time had come to set off on a year of travelling, and until that moment, when the plane’s wheels touched down on South African soil, it really had not sunk in that this was it. It had begun.

After a rather uneventful first night of sleeping, eating pizza, and then sleeping again thanks to a long 18 hour flight, Thursday was our first proper day and it’s safe to say, we were the most touristy tourists you could have ever seen. Hopping on a ‘Cape Town Red Bus’, we took some of the main sights of the city, visiting Table Mountain, Camps Bay and the V&A Waterfront, with the realisation that this place was absolutely nothing like we expected it to be.

Firstly, it’s absolutely huge, and not just a few main streets, the beach and Table Mountain like previous perceptions envisaged it to be. It’s also completely and utterly stunning, and with our hostel balcony looking out onto Table Mountain, the city’s views are something that just never get old, ever.

There is so much to do and so much to see, which makes the next 5 weeks here very exciting, even more so that we are able to take our time doing everything, whilst being able to experience the city as a local (although our accents may give the game away a tad, apparently my attempt at a South African accent is significantly below par).

One of the main places you hear about, aside from Table Mountain, is the V&A Waterfront, and this is where we spent our first Friday evening - alongside a gigantic platter of sushi. Whilst the South Africans we have met so far, have jokingly jibed us about the strength of the pound here, I mean, there really is no comeback because, the pound is so strong and this is fortunately allowing us to live the high life (for a while), and who are we to say no. It would almost be rude not too…

With wine around £1.50 a glass in most bars and restaurants, and bottles of wine around £5, our livers are already condemning this (fabulous) pricing however there is devastating news. So far, we have not been in any place that offer prosecco on the menu (!!), which we’re really struggling to come to terms with at the moment, but of course, we are on a dedicated hunt to track it down, which is obviously what every tourist, and backpacker, does in the Mother City.. Ahem.

Aside from tracking prosecco down, we’ve really hammered Cape Town’s Red Bus this week, with Saturday’s activities centred around their ‘blue tour’. The first stop was Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and oh boy, this place is really something. After hearing so much about it before arriving here, it was one of the main things I wanted to do and it’s a place that no photo or video can do justice. Every way you look, there is a breathtaking view for your eyes to feast on.

In contrast to this peaceful serenity, was our next stop, which was named ‘World of Birds’. Personally, I can take or leave birds, I mean, it’s not something I’ve particularly thought about before, but having spent time at this reserve, which has over 3000 types of the things, I can safely confirm that I can officially leave birds. In walk through enclosures, you follow the path through caged areas, with all types of birds flying about everywhere and I’m telling you, it wasn’t relaxing. With quotes caught on camera including ‘this is like being in a terrible bush trucker trial’ and ‘oh my god, those ones look like Satan’s pets’, it’s not a place we’ll probably be going back too… But if you’re a bird fan, go for it, you’ll be in your absolute element.

Also at this place, was a ‘Monkey Jungle’ and this is where I really thought about booking my ticket back to England. In an enclosure with marmoset monkeys free to roam, the staff member places a treat on either your head, shoulder or knees to attract the monkeys to you and man are they attracted. I think at one point, I had 3 sat on my head and 2 on my lap and whilst at first I wanted to leave the country, they soon (almost) began to be rather cute, and I mean, it’s another thing to tick off the list isn't it. Been pounced on by 5 monkeys at a time - tick. 

Sunday was the clearest, and warmest day of the week, and with this in mind, we decided it would be the day we hiked up Table Mountain. It’s safe to say, myself and exercise don't particularly go hand in hand, I mean I walk to the fridge or whatever, but actual exercise? Not so much. So, as you can imagine, this hike was… interesting. Apparently, we decided that pacing yourself was not necessary, bombing up the first part of the hike, which was supposed to talk around an hour, in the space of 30 minutes. This concluded in 1) almost vomitting 2) almost wanting to die and 3) almost quitting, particularly after an absolute joker of a local told us we had another hour and a half to go. He was a little fibber though, and with the encouragement of a few others, who said we were only 20-30 minutes from the top, we steadily made our way up. We actually did it! The last 10 minutes were practically sprinted, with champagne to toast a successful morning hike, the goal in sight… Well, that and this view…

Before arriving in Cape Town, I was told to be very careful, very wary and extremely cautious, and whilst you do need to be all of those things here, you do in any city across the world. For the most part, both myself and my friend have felt safe so far, and as long as you take the necessary precautions, including travelling around in taxis after dark, specifically using the Uber service, not walking alone at night and keeping all valuables securely in your closed bag, I don’t feel that it is something that should put people off coming here.

The first week in Cape Town has been one of the best weeks I could have wished for - here’s to the next one!

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Saturday, 7 May 2016

100 things to do whilst backpacking around the world

So it's just over a week to go until I check in my backpack and step onto my one way flight out of England and of course, I am painfully unprepared. Whilst I may not have even thought about packing yet, and let's not mention the sorting out important travel documents because well, I don't want too okay, what I have been busy doing, is putting together a bucket list of everything I want to do in my year away.

Who needs insurance when you have a bucket list, hey? (I am joking of course mum, I do have my insurance sorted).

1. Walk up Table Mountain
2. Visit Robben Island
3. Paraglide off Lion's Head or Signal Hill
4. Take a walk along the canopy walkway above freetops of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
5. Visit Cheetah Outreach centre
6. Go on the SA Forest Adventures zipline
7. Go wine tasting in Stellenbosch

8. Watch the sunset at Camps Bay
9. Explore Rhodes memorial and the abandoned zoo at the foot of Devil's Peak in Table Mountain National Park
10. Ride on the Cape Town Red Bus
11. Visit Truth Coffee, named one of the best coffee shops in the world
12. Go whale watching on the southern coast of Africa
13. Visit the penguins at Boulders beach and Cape Peninsula
14. Go to Cape Point
15. Go swimming with sharks in Cape Town
16. Go on the Langa Township Tour
17. Eat sushi at Willoughby and Co at the V&A Waterfront
18. Do the Cape Canopy Tour
19. Go horse riding somewhere along the Garden Route

20. Visit the Tsitsikamma National Park - Storms River Village
21. Eat dinner at The Fat Fish in Plettenburg Bay
22.Visit the Rastafarian village in Kansa
23. Have a drink or two at the semi-open air rooftop bar in Maboneng
24, Visit the Apartheid Museum
25. Go on a cycle tour of Soweto
26. Ride on the hop-on hop-off bus tour in Joburg
27. Visit the Addo Elephant Park
28. Stroll along the public Route 67 in Port Elizabeth
29. Clim Mt Batur in Bali for sunrise
30. Drink cocktails with a view at Rock Bar, Bali
31. Take a boat out at sunrise in Lovina and watch the dolphins
32. Visi the Gili islands

33. Watch the sunset in Seminyak
34.Go to the Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak
35. Eat seafood in Jimbaran Bay
36. Have a massage in a spa in Bali
37. Do yoga in Ubud
38. Climb the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge
39. Visit Natural Rock, Mahon Pool, Wylies Baths and Figure Eights Pools in Sydney
40. Have food and drinks at The Opera Bar
41. Walk from Coogee beach to Bondi beach
42. Wine and dine at the 360 bar in Sydney
43. Visit Surrey Hill

44. Watch the sunset from Mrs Macquaries Point
45. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
46. Drink wine at Hunter Valley
47. Watch tennis at the Australian Open
48. Visit Fraser Island
49. Sail the Whitsunday Islands
50. See Melbourne's famous street art
51. Kayak on the Yarra river
52. Relax on Kilda beach
53.Take a trip to Philip Island to see the famous penguins
54. Visit the Cairns zoo
55. Take the Kuranda scenic railway up the Macalister Range to the rainforest town of Kuranda

56. Watch a game of cricket at the MCG
57. Zipline through the forest canopy at the Daintree Rainforest
58. Spend a day at the Crystal Cascades water falls
59. Chill on Airlie beach
60. Relax in Byron Bay
61. Take a ferry to Manly
62. See the local wildlife at the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife Park
63. Sip cocktails at The Rocks
64. Get holiday snaps at The Opera House
65. Spend New Year's Eve in Sydney
66. Go to the Melbourne Cup
67. Go along the Noosa National Park coastal walk

68. Try some of the best wines in the world in the Swan Valley, Perth
69.Visit The Majesty's Theatre
70. Visit Rottnest Island
71. Take a walk around Perth's Kings Park
72. Go to an All Blacks rugby game
73. View Auckland from the top of the Sky Two
74. Drink wine on Waiheke Island
75. Skydive the Bay of Islands
76. Hike the Tongariro Crossing
77. Hang out on quirky Cuba Street in Wellington
78. Ride the Wellington Cable Car
79. Cross the Cook Strait by ferry
80. Kayak in Abel Tasman National Park

81. Swim with Hector's dolphins in Akaroa
82. See Mount Cook
83. Go on the Cape Reinga tour
84. Visit Te Papa Museum
85. Go on the Milford Sound cruise
86. Hike around Lake Tekapo
87. Relax at a natural mud and sulphur spa in NZ
88. Visit the Hot Pools at Lake Take
89.  Spend a day at the Waterbom Bali water park
90. Relax on Kuta beach in Indonesia

91. Visit the Tehara Dharmayana Kuta temple
92. Visit the Kuta Sea Turtle Conservation site
93. Go to the Ground Zero memorial
94. Fly over the Franz Josef glacier on the South Island of NZ
95. Relax at Lake Wanaka
96. Go 'Fishing with Gerry' in Kaikoura
97. Play frisbee golf in Queenstown
98. Go on the Milford Sounds trip
99. Eat at Ferg Burger in Queenstown
100. Chill out by Nelsons Lake

Challenge accepted!

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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Dear Newcastle...

Three years ago, I packed up my belongings, jumped in the car, and began a new chapter in my life. Amongst the hustle and bustle of getting prepared, buying pots and pans and all sorts of kitchen equipment that of course, I did not need, I had not perhaps realised, how big a step it would be.

You see, whilst venturing up and down the country, visiting university open days, you were the only city I got excited about, the only city I could envisage myself in. You have a little bit of everything don't you, and I liked that about you, so of course, I thought I’d settle right in, everything hunky dory, I’d be completely fine.

But that’s not how it was, was it. I hate to say it, but Newcastle, I really hated you in that first week. I was always told ‘hate is a very strong word’ but I did, I hated you and I wanted out. You might have tried to lure me in and convince me how fun you were, with your freshers week nights out, and your pub golf bar crawls, but I didn't want to down pints of cheap beer, I didn't really want to drink at all.

I know you’re sat there thinking, ’pah, well you’ve bloody drank me dry since’ and that’s really very cheeky, but okay yes, perhaps somewhat true yet at that time, in that first week, it was the last thing I wanted to do.

So, I cried. And I cried. And, mmhmm, I cried a little more. I rang home, pleading my parents to let me leave you, but they wouldn't let me. I had to give you a month apparently, despite being completely convinced I would never even begin to like you. A few weeks passed, and I suppose, you were okay. I started to form friendships and get to know you a little better, started navigating myself around, you were becoming familiar to me but it was only when I went home at Christmas that I realised.

I realised, you had begun to feel like home.

So I trotted through the rest of first year, had a ball of a time, really acquired a taste for the £5 Blossom Hill rose, had a LOT of laughs, and just when I thought I was temporarily leaving you for a few months, I got a job.

This job, which was a handy little 10 week contract, meant that I wasn’t leaving you at all, but in fact, you were being graced with my presence for even longer and I know you felt oh so lucky, even if you try to deny it. The funny thing is though, that if on that first day, you’d have told me that I’d be leaving that job two years later, with my best friend who started on that very same day, to go travelling round the world together, I’d have slapped you on the arm and told you to stop drinking in the morning.

But it’s true! It’s happening! The job was, pretty much, the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in time, and whilst it’s had, a few tricky moments, it’s given me the experience, the money to enable me to go travelling a week after finishing university and the opportunity to meet so many lovely people who I now have the privilege to call my friends.

As I said though, the job also allowed me to meet my best friend and from this point on, wowza, I think even you took cover a few times, because we really painted the town red didn't we. Whilst there are far too many times to go into, and perhaps a few times that may be a rather hazy memory, you showed us a good old time, you cemented yourself as my real life, actual home, didn't you, you sly dog.

Of course, university continued and I met people that I just know I'll be friends with for a long time to become. But aside from all that, all the food and prosecco (ahem) and fun and laughter, you allowed me to dig a little deeper, and find me. It’s all going a little deep, I know, but you have. You’ve let me cry to enable me to become stronger, you’ve let me be angry to show me how to be better, you’ve let me laugh to tell me how great my life is.

You know what you’ve really done though? You’ve allowed me to become me, you’ve given me a little time, and a little push, you’ve let me see what I tolerate, and what I don't have too, what I love, what I don't, who I want to be around, who I don't. Most importantly though, that doing what makes me the happiest, despite what others think, is the most important thing.

I couldn't really imagine how my life would be now, if I’d have quit you in that first week. And now I’m leaving, and whilst it is with a heavy heart, I just feel like I’m ready, y’know. I really spread my wings when I came to you three years ago, and now, I’m ready to spread them a little wider.

But thank you Newcastle, thank you for giving me the best three years of my life so far. You’re a little star, and one that will always shine brightly in my heart.
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