Today we drove from Edinburgh down to York with a couple of detours along the way. It was the first time the morning was actually cold. The car said it was about 9 degrees (which really is nothing), but it was driving through the fog in the Scottish Highlands that kept the concentration going. (unfortunately my side kick of a photographer didn’t get the real fog we drove through!)

After a 2 hour drive, we made it to Hadrian’s Wall in Corbridge, England. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans to stop the northern frontier invading their Empire. The boys liked looking at all the artefacts and listening to the walkie-talkie style audio guides as they climbed their way through Roman history.

After the wall, we drove to York and found the Jorvik Viking Centre in the heart of Copperstone Walk. Again it was full of archives and there you could walk on their dig that they dig as recently as 1979 to see what they unearthed. They had a great sit in a ‘car’ rotating interactive history lesson on how the vikings lived their lives, what they ate, their homes, their jobs, their clothes, etc. It was more about their everyday lives than their importance in English history. But it was all interesting putting their timeframe together… the Romans in 43AD to approx 410 AD while the Vikings were 793 AD to 1066 AD. It was interesting to see how advanced some of their technologies were.
We left the middle of York and found our cute little B and B for the night… No 2 of my favourite places to stay so far. The lovely owner is so bubbly and gorgeous, you just want to bottle her up with her love for the place. There are farm animals on the property that the boys patted, and she was happy to lend them some sporting equipment to play with on the back field. But the cottage, Lavender Cottage, we are staying in is very sweet.

Posted by in Travel on June 6, 2013

Today we drove to Edinburgh. We opted for the motorway instead of the scenic route, but still managed to see a few country towns along the way. Edinburgh is such a pretty city! I was expecting it to be dull and drab, a little working class, but the streets were filled with gorgeous buildings.

Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle – home to the Scottish Royal Jewels, and a place steeped in Scottish history dating back to the St Margaret’s Church built in the 13th century. We had our Scottish kilt-wearing guide, Frank, giving us plenty of information, including laughing at his own about how tight the Scots are with money (we’ll come back to that later!) and their fighting heritage… essentially saying, you hit us, we hit you back. My oldest said ‘no wonder I’m one quarter Scottish, if my brother hits me, I hit him back.’ And so it goes. Here are some of the highlight pics of the castle.
After the Castle, we ventured to find our hotel. I had made all my bookings for accommodation through With all my bookings I requested a triple room (either a double bed & a single, or 3 singles), however some of the bookings had come out as a triple room for ‘one’ person. And this was one of those hotels… so the manager thought it was weird that ‘one person’ would book a triple room, and pay a huge price for it, but decided to assign us a single room anyway!! Talk about a tight Scot! Luckily, someone had booked a quadruple room for a single person (might have the same problem we do!), so he gave him the single room we had and gave us the quadruple room instead. Just in case it happened again, I emailed all the hotels that I had booked that had stated that the triple rooms were for one guest, and told them that there were three of us. Most have confirmed that I had nothing to worry about. Might just be a Scottish thing! The funny thing is, the hotel manager was happy to take the English pounds I had because it’s all sterling, however he had to tell me that the English frown upon Scottish pounds in England. So essentially, the Scots will take any money that can get their hands on.
After all that admin work, we walked across the road to the park, which just so happen to have a playground, a soccer pitch, a circus and an amusement park happening all at the same time, so the boys had a little fun (free fun, as I refused to pay for things they could do at home). But best of all, they loved running down the hill (again!)

Posted by in Travel on June 5, 2013

Today was something I’d been looking forward for a while… being in the Lakes District again. I was here 5 years ago (almost to the day!) with a friend and so wanted to bring the boys here to see the beauty of the Lakes. Our first stop was Beatrix Potter’s house ‘Hill Top’ in Near Sawrey (which is not to be confused with ‘Far Sawrey’).

We learnt that this year is the centenary of Beatrix Potter’s marriage to William Heelis, her solicitor and the year she wrote Samuel Whiskers, where there are a lot of illustrations from that book based on her furniture, staircase and character of Hill Top, her home. Unfortunately, we can’t take pictures inside, but here are a few from the outside. We also overheard someone say that we have had the sunniest day they had ever seen in the Lakes District… so we have been blessed.

This photo was outside the Tea Rooms next to Hill Top.
Hill Top
After Hill Top, we went to the Derwent Pencil Factory Museum up in Keswick (pronounced Kessick). The boys were able to find robot pieces around the museum, while I filled out the quiz sheet based on the information to be learnt.
How cool are these – these are the tips of pencils having their graphite leads sculptured into numbers.
After a little bit of drawing while having lunch in the ‘Sketchers’ cafe, we then drove to Windermere where we were staying for the night. We were given the top floor of a gorgeous bluestone slate cottage next to a babbling brook. I convinced the boys, after loads of whinging, that we needed to go into the Village and buy a couple of things, but they stopped me short from doing the forest walk I wanted to do. I convinced them that we had to do it after dinner.
We went to one of the local pubs, waited till 7pm when dinner was being served, and had a pint or two of thirst quenching beverage (me beer, the boys lemonade). We got ourselves into hysterics with the conversations we were having, and somehow that transferred into the elegant dining room with views out to the Lakes.
After dinner, we went for our walk through the forest, which was so enchanting!
The path took us past this gorgeous house.
And into a meadow, where the boys scared the ducks and geese before running down the hills.
And some sheep on the way back to the hotel.
So it was a gorgeous day all round. Not sure what’s in store for tomorrow!

After a massive home cooked breakfast at the Falcon Inn in Painswick, we travelled through the back roads of the Cotswolds and the Midlands to the quaint Industrial Revolution town of Ironbridge. It was lovely driving through the green fields, along the high walled fences, the tight roads and being interrupted by charming villages every few miles. The only thing that  broke the beauty of it all was being stuck behind slow moving vehicles, including a AA van towing a car, a couple of dairy trucks and a van towing a rather scary looking load of timber that looked like it was going to fall out onto the road. The hard thing was, that the roads were too narrow, too windy and too congested to pass them safely, so we were stuck behind them. If they weren’t there, the roads being too narrow and too windy were part of the joy of our journey.

Our GPS worked beautifully today, even though I was sceptical about it after yesterday’s one hour, 85km whoopsie! We actually checked the Hertz complimentary road map just to make sure we were going in the right direction.

Anyway, we made it to Ironbridge… the place that is considered to be the birth place of the Industrial Revolution, something I actually studied in university 20 years ago (OMG, is it that long ago!). We checked out the first made cast iron bridge, built 1779-1781, its surrounding township and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum. We learnt that Abraham Darby, a man who designed pots and pans, wanted something more durable than brass for cooking in, so he came to the area (as it was rich in iron ore) to perfect the making of iron by mixing it with coke instead of coal.

The area is also well known for its pottery and ceramic tile making (after they were able to make iron moulds to create the decorative tiles).
After Ironbridge, we drove to Liverpool. It took us a while to find our hotel, and it was in a little bit of a shady neighbourhood, as at three in the afternoon, all the shops had their metal shutters over their doors not to let anyone in! We also saw a car accident in the middle of a side street, our first for the UK (however, we were told the other day that someone was lying on the tracks at one of the tube stations effectively dead and delaying the Piccadilly line!)
We eventually found our hotel, behind a derelict hotel next to a Shell station and down a lane way (no wonder we couldn’t find it!). It’s the Devonshire House Hotel, built in 1856 as a seminary for nuns. 
However, after a trip to the toilet for my little one, who said that someone knocked on his door when he was in the public amenities to open the door and no one was there, we had to ask one of the staff members if the hotel was haunted. She said that she didn’t believe in ghosts, however they had a wedding last week, where she was talking to the bride at the reception, and the bride started swaying around and moved to the side mid conversation with her. She asked what she was doing, and the bride said ‘didn’t you see that man? He just touched my shoulder and asked me rudely to pass through, so I moved for him.” There was no man at all. She then continued to say that the house had actually gone from being a nunnery, to a school for exceptional girls allowing them to get degrees, to a whore house and now, a hotel. Amazing how it went from the most holiest, devout women, to giving women independence to eventual debauchery! For me, my first impression was the place was a mental institution… check out the hallway doors!
So even though we didn’t really venture through Liverpool, we still managed to have a little excitement from the hotel we are staying in. They have a great beef pie and beef lasagne if ever you want a cheap meal, and the hotel accommodation is basic but spacious and comfortable.

Yesterday we jumped in a hire car and took to the road! The boys were happy to finally be sitting looking at the scenery after 3 days of endless walking and they were quite exhausted, happy to be in the car and sleep (at 9.30am!) It’s hard, because the light comes into the rooms as early as 4.40am and it’s hard to get back to sleep… hence the reason why I’m blogging at 5.40am!

Our first stop was Stonehenge. Built in 3000BC, somehow orientated to the sun, but the mystery is ‘why was it built?’ It truly is a mammoth construction from 5000 years ago, knowing what technology we have now, and what they didn’t have.

We grabbed a light lunch and headed to Oxford for a meeting I had. We were a little early, so we decided to check out the University, which is considered to be a ‘city university.’ Such a majestic place of scholars riding bicycles and 17th century buildings.
After my meeting, we set our trusty GPS to take us to our hotel for the night. For some reason, it told us that it would take 2.5 hours, and I was sure it wasn’t right, but I followed the road it took us, hoping we would get somewhere close! I also decided to avoid the motorways, as the true experience of the English countryside is off the Motorways… check the difference…
(sorry, a little blurry, but ‘not the motorway!’)
With an hour to go, and 83kms suggested on the GPS, I saw this tiny little sign leading to ‘Painswick.’ There was no way a sign that big would suggest a town was 83kms away unless it was actually closer. So I took the turn off, and came across another sign saying that there was only 2.5 miles to go to ‘Painswick.’ Yay! I just followed the signs and we came across this gorgeous little town that was even prettier than I expected with most of it built in the 1400s.
We just happened to get to our room an hour before our GPS suggested, which pepped up my boys (who again, had fallen asleep in the car!). We were given a room that was 3 times the size of our last room (plus a bed each!) which made everyone happy, plus it had cathedral ceilings, a fireplace and a bath!! Yeah! We were all so excited about having a bath, considering we don’t have one at home. The boys are starting to get my taste in furnishings – old world antique, but light coloured, not heavy dark timbers.
We were lucky to have arrived early enough to get a table at the hotel pub before a booking at 8pm that was reserved, so we indulged in some of the local fair, and it was such a proud moment to see my little one eating something besides ‘chips.’ He had a beef and mushroom pie with mash potato, carrots and snow peas. And even through the beef was in chunks (which is his usual pet hate, as he hates chewing!), it was braised beef, so easy to chew and he loved it! It’s only taken almost 10 years!
So with two happy boys, we took an evening walk around our little town, came across a meadow with the cutest gates, a mini castle tower, a graveyard with people buried in the 1700s (and probably earlier, but their graves were unreadable), as well as many other charming residences, shops and buildings. We came back, did some homework, had a bath and we were all happy just to sleep in the comfiest down duvets and pillows. 

Today was a BIG day! We left our hotel at 8am and walked around the streets of London, eventually getting back by 7.15pm. So what did we do? LOTS!

First we went to London Bridge.

Only to find it was quite the disappointment with its flat architecture. The only good thing was that you could get a great view of Tower Bridge. It was so quiet in the city at that time of morning, and we were lucky to have the sun shining on us, which is a rarity in London. We walked along the north bank towards Tower Bridge. Before we crossed the famous drawbridge, we came across Tower of London – the historic castle and fortress to the royals. It wasn’t open (that’s how early we started our day!), but were able to get some photos from around the outskirts.

We crossed Tower Bridge and I did this cool panoramic pic of it!
But really, you will know it well by this!
We crossed the bridge, and were lucky enough to see the drawbridge in action, and capture the Gherkin building perfectly positioned and timed.
We then sat down for some morning drinks at one of the Southbank restaurants, before strolling through the back streets to find the nearest Tube station. We caught the Tube to Covent Garden. I didn’t manage to get any decent pics there, as the crowds started amassing. We walked through the markets, saw plenty of street performers including people posing as gold statues, creative martial artists & gymnasts and a string quartet. We sat down for a morning cupcake, as we had organised to meet up with some friends for lunch, but that was still a couple of hours away.
We walked past some of the West End theatres that were performing The Lion King, The Bodyguard (the musical) and Mamma Mia, before heading to St Pauls’ church gardens where we sat around in the cottage beauty for about an hour enjoying the sunshine… 
well, actually the boys indulged in some branch fencing.
We then met up with our friends who are temporary residents of London, and had a traditional pub meal of fish n chips. 
We walked around Covent Garden again before saying goodbye to one friend and catching the train to Notting Hill Gate to walk down Portabello Road. Such a gorgeous street with its antique market, coloured houses and a monument to George Orwell, however my phone battery and my camera battery both died by the time we got there, so unfortunately no photos. My friend took some, and promised me she would send them to me. We sat down in a Portabello Road pub for a refreshment, before saying goodbye to our beautiful friend.
The Piccadilly line train that we needed to catch home had ‘someone on the tracks’ therefore had severe delays, so we opted to catch the bus back to our hotel… however the bus from Notting Hill had detours, so we had to walk up to Shepherds Bush (about a 40 minute walk) with very sore feet at this stage. Luckily, by the time we got there, there was only a couple of minutes wait for the bus, and that took us directly to the station where we get off to get back to the hotel.
Besides the boredom of waiting in queues where my boys have a knack of play fighting a little bit too much, they are fantastic travellers, with no whinging about their sore feet or getting lost. Today was the last of our big walking days for a good week, so hopefully our feet will get to rejuvenate themselves before the next time.

Fresh from a good night’s sleep and converting to London time, we woke up extra early (around 3.30am!) to get the day started… well, maybe it was more like 6.30am that we were restless enough to get out of bed… however, wasn’t happy that the sunlight was streaming in through the windows at 5am.
We booked tickets for Madame Tussauds early with a combo purchase of the London Eye, so we ventured out to Baker Street to check out the ‘Madame.’ The first surprise for the day was Baker Street… had no idea it was the first underground rail station in the world, dating back to 1863. Plus it’s the home of Sherlock Holmes, so that was an added extra ‘win’ for my boys. Luckily we got up early enough to be the second in line for the entrance at 9am and were in the first group of people to take photos of all the ‘stars.’ We took pics with most – I sat down and had a chat with George Clooney, the boys were contemplating deep and meaningfuls with Will Smith, they rode the bike with ET, asked Einstein what the theory of relativity really means, sat in the Oval Office with Obama, I got a hug from Robbie Williams (or maybe it was me hugging him!), and the boys got punched in the face by Muhammad Ali. After all the picture opportunities, we loved loved loved the Streets of London exhibition where we got to sit in a London taxi and see the history of London unfold. And then there was what the boys were waiting for…. the 4D Marvel Comic experience. Very cool!
We’re finding the London Tube amazingly simple, and love how all the train stations have interconnecting lines. Wishing Melbourne had a similar system. From Baker Street, we caught the Jubilee line down to Waterloo to the London Eye.
We walked down to Southbank and found a few more people than just the couple who were in front of us in the Madame Tussauds queue. We thought we had our tickets, but they were just a voucher to go to the Fast Track ticket booth to exchange the tickets to line up in the standard queue… which was just a 50 minute wait. By this time, our feet were already sore and screaming to sit down (I had blisters on my toes from yesterday’s walking around). The London Eye was quite spectacular looking at the historic grandeur mixed with modern architecture. The boys loved seeing Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminister Abbey as well as seeing the Royal Guards strutting their stuff at the Barracks.
We grabbed some sushi for lunch before catching the train to Green Park and walking through the park (complete with deck chairs) to Buckingham Palace. We were happy to see some of the Royal Guards in action, including one walking through the gate and smiling at us! That just never happens! We threw a coin each into the Victoria Memorial fountain and made a wish, before walking into Green Park for a little bit of a lie down to rest our weary feet.
We headed back home, with still so many sites to take in. However, we do like our little village of Chiswick we are staying in. It has a warm mix of trendy style and community as well as gorgeous architecture and charm.

Today was a looooonnnnggg haul. We started in Melbourne, leaving home at 9.45am, caught the train into the city, the Skybus to the airport, and then three flights: Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam, and Amsterdam to London. Kuala Lumpur airport’s layover was enough time for me to do some work. Amsterdam airport was fogged over, so we really couldn’t see the beauty of the city (and it was 5am local time, so not much happening at that time anyway). And then London… after an hour waiting in line with possibly another 6 airlines worth of passengers that just happened to have land at the same time, we were actually surprised that our luggage was there ready and waiting for us and we could just exit the airport. No extra scanning of the luggage, no sniffer dog attacks… just leave… and wish that one of the names written in black felt tip pen on white cardboard being flashed around by chauffeurs waiting in the arrivals lounge, was yours… But no, we opted for the Tube instead. 

We caught the Tube from Heathrow Terminal 4 on the Piccadilly line, and of course, my 11 year old laughed that the final destination of the train was Cockfosters! We got off at Turnham Green (via the District Line) and used the $65 Tom Tom app I bought to bring us to our hotel. We had to dump our luggage and were to come back in an hour while they made up our room, so we tried the lovely Parisenne Crepe cafe for breakfast. We then had a little walk through the streets and found a fruit vending stall and checked out the prices versus the prices back home. Strawberries: one pound a punnet (AUD$1.40), granny smith apples: 30p each (AUD47c each). And the boys found a glorious park with a circular seat around a tree.

 We are in majestic looking Best Western hotel, but somehow we’ve been given a cute little basement room that’s completely decked out with beautiful white linen, flat screen TV, air conditioning and an ensuite, but it’s tiny. It has adorable common gardens, and plenty of free tea and coffee (and hot chocolates for me and my boys) at the reception, so we’re not complaining. 

After a much needed shower and freshen up, we caught the No 94 bus up to Piccadilly Circus. We sat at the front up the top of a double decker bus and rode through Notting Hill, Oxford Street to Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. 

After a few photo opportunities, we checked out Hamleys – the biggest toy store in London, and the boys bought a couple of toys for home. The boys even got to pose with royalty!

I also wanted to take them to Next, but unfortunately, their range wasn’t as good as it was when I was here 5 years ago, and their sizes only go up to 12 year olds… which makes it hard for my boys who are on that borderline sizing that takes them into mens. 

We then decided to catch the bus back to our hotel, which with all it’s stops and starts and dealing with the London traffic, wasn’t worth the hour long drive it took as the novelty ride there, as it did on the way back. 

We went home via the fruit stall and grabbed 4 bananas, 2 punnets of strawberries & 3 granny smith apples for 3 pounds 50c. An absolute bargain in Melbourne books. 

Think we might be up for an early night tonight so we can get ourselves into London time, but before that, it might be a meal at the pub!

(oh by the way, we are cruising around the UK and Western Europe for the next 6.5 weeks… hope you enjoy the journey as much as us!)

Posted by in Travel on August 3, 2012

Today was a bit of a humbling day. We couldn’t do much as it rained, but I met some wonderful people who had some fascinating stories to tell.

I met a couple who were on their 10th trip to Fiji. They had just spent $255 on excess luggage to bring over a stack of goodies for the locals who work at the resort who have touched their hearts since they have been coming over.

One man, who is recently married plays rugby to stay off the streets. He has a team of fellow friends who are in the boat, only one has a job, the others work on the farm in their village to provide for their clans. This amazing couple asked him what he needs for his team, and he asked if he could have either socks or shorts so the boys could look like a team. Well this couple talked to some people in Australia and managed to get socks, shorts and jerseys for 15 players for $800 and brought them over to him, and gave them to him yesterday. He was stoked. He’s told a couple of his team players, but will bring it to them on Sunday when they have their first match as a ‘matching’ team in black, red and gold. The couple will go and see them play and see the joy in their faces.

But then, the lady mentioned to the man that the four year old daughter of one of the cooks at the resort was killed in a nearby Village the other day. And the man who received the rugby uniforms said, yes she was my niece. Her dad had cut a coconut tree so he could put a netball net up so she could play, and because he cut all the leaves away, he killed the tree, and the root system gave way and fell on her as she was playing. She was in a coma for 2 days before before they decided that she wasn’t responding and unplugged her from the system. She died on Wednesday, her funeral tomorrow. So sad for the community.

The couple who bought the rugby uniforms also bought other workers at the resort some bras, t-shirts, shorts and plenty of children’s clothes for some of the other workers they consider their Fijian family, hence the reason for their excess luggage bill. It was truly humbling to see the joy and gratefulness that the Fijians had for these amazing people.

It does make you wonder how you can help more. I’ve asked the boys if next time we come here that we don’t do the resort thing, but spend time helping and giving to a Village. They are happy to do so.

Recently the workers of Fiji has a pay rise. The average wage is between FJ$1.50 an hour to FJ$2.45 an hour. They received a FJ5c pay rise. It truly is a joke, especially when a bottle of Coke costs FJ$6.60. A true luxury in their eyes. But we must remember that they don’t have to pay for their housing, as they inherit the land through their clans and Villages that stays with their families forever, they are self-sufficient on their land with fruit, vegetables, chickens, cows and they will fish and hunt for wild boars for feasts for their meat. They make their own mats with palm leaves and fabrics for clothing. And they only go to the supermarket for soap, washing powder and the occasional western item. Some Villages don’t have electricity, most don’t have flushing toilets. In fact, the couple I mentioned before said that they met one chief from a Village who said that he was so excited because they had just received 8 flushing toilets at a cost of FJ$360 for a Village of 360 people…. just shows us how much we take for granted. Only business owners own cars, and all cars are second hand from Japan, and most only need to get petrol to run their fishing boats. They live in a community where everyone helps, however the government don’t even help with education. They must all pay the teachers to educate their kids.

But they are happy. Fiji survives on tourism, as 50% of their trade is tourism.

In the end, the wife of the couple mentioned to me that her husband was a street kid, so he is overly generous to people in need, as he had been there himself a few decades back and knows how it feels to live without. He is now a self-funded retiree who enjoys giving to all those who he can. It’s his absolute pleasure.

There are some true angels in this world… I hope to meet and be inspired by so many more…


Today we had another day trip – this time to Robinson Crusoe Island, We did this trip back in November 2008 and the snorkelling was so magical I just had to do it again… but unfortunately, today’s waters were a little murky and even though we did see some brightly colour fish in the depths of the water, it was literally nothing like the natural aquarium we saw back in 2008. A little disappointing, but the Fijian hospitality was perfect as usual!

For those who’ve never done it, we were picked up in a tour bus from our hotel to take us to a floating tin can of a boat on the river. The river was full of mangroves and felt like you’re in an episode of Survivor making your way to the unknown.

We get to the river mouth and see the island paradise we will spend time on for the day. The picture is perfect! We are greeted by the ‘Welcome Song’ by the local Fijians and walk up to the area of festivities from the beach (looks amazing doesn’t it! And I haven’t adjusted ANY of these photos!)
We get told the order of the day before we go on a walking tour with the Medicine Man of the island medicine. There are the Vau tree, Dilo and another tree that I can’t remember what it was, but the Fijians are having it tested to help cure cancer and even HIV/AIDs. Who knows? They may actually be a trillion dollar industry in pharmaceuticals in the next few years!
They then had a couple of Fijians climb the coconut trees and chop down enough coconuts for us to drink and eat their flesh. Amazing how carbonated the fresh coconut water is. Absolutely sublime!
We then went to see how lunch was doing, as it was being cooked in a Lovo – an underground oven of hot rocks and palm leaves, and some of the locals braved their feet to do some fire walking once lunch was removed!
Lunch was a lovely spread of pasta salad, rice salad, coleslaw, green salad, lovo cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and logo cooked fish, chicken and ham with some home-made bread rolls.
After lunch, they gave us a Fijian dancing show, followed by some fire-dancing!
After the show, we went snorkelling out on the reef, which as I said was disappointing… but I guess that’s just natural. It became a little overcast, so I guess that didn’t help with the clarity in the water.
We then had a special crab race and a little goodbye ceremony. The day was quite fun as the Fijians called the guests by their country – we had an assortment of Aussies, New Zealanders, Americans, Chinese and even Kenyans… these two beautiful women were so scared of something falling from a tree or being picked on, but they were good sports and so friendly.
And of course, I found my boys, more often than not on the swing hammocks!
All in all, a good day. But now I’m on a mission to find some more amazing places in this world to snorkel. I hear the Red Sea is possibly a good place!