High on life in Amsterdam

The first time I travelled to Europe at the tender age of 19, I was too scared to travel to Amsterdam. As I hopped off the plane and the cool, wet air greeted me, it was hard to remember why that was.

10524375_10152283253792198_2855669431665045856_nAmsterdam may be Europe’s capital of debauchery and attract people of all walks of life, but it is not frightening. In fact it is one of the least scary places I have ever visited. It’s crammed, crooked alleyways spilling across the canals is the epitome of safety, with a spattering of  risque. It is one of the most beautiful and iconic cities in Europe and should be on everyone’s Bucket List.

10518989_10152283035512198_5589886345827082009_nThe reason my boyfriend and I were visiting the city of a million waterways was again to see a friend, Elisa. I met her while she was studying in Australia in 2006 and we have been intercontinental  friends ever since. I have visited her in her home town of Thedinghausen and hung out with her in London and Bremen in Germany. She also has been back to the Gold Coast to visit me and I hope one day soon we will see each other again. Fortunately during our visit to Amsterdam, Eli had some time off and was able to show us around, even waiting in line for us at the Anne Frank House because we were time-poor and wanted to explore some of the canals and take an endless amount of kissing and posed selfies with the vast array of houseboats in the background.

10489901_10152284691092198_3134747513699711110_nIf not for Eli we would not have known to go up the top of a beautiful hotel and have some delicious food and have the opportunity to look out over the city of Amsterdam. Even though unfortunately the weather was not that nice and clouds were covering what would have been a spectacular view. We also would probably have not jumped aboard a tour boat and cruised the canals. I think it is very important when travelling to see and experience a city from as many viewpoints as possible: height (via plane/chopper or building); by water (boat or kayak) and on ground level (walking/biking/public transport).10488376_10152285858887198_5715505985419736234_n

 

 

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Jailhouse Stock-holm

I have backpacked around the world, but rarely have I stayed in hostel that was a convert from something funky. Which is why I jumped at the chance, even though it was a bit pricey, to stay in a former prison.

Stockholm was never on my Bucket List, but after making friends with Swedish guy during my 2012 backpacking trip, I had to say ‘yes’ when he asked me to visit.

10410845_10152277056537198_8415154174289285449_nWhile Peter did offer for me and my boyfriend to stay with him, we opted for the quirky hostel, Långholmen. It was not haunted thankfully and the rooms were clean, cute and sound-proof. The chefs there also made a delicious brekkie each day which we enjoyed on the patio with our fellow guests and by night we watched a bit of television in the privacy of our room, which was a rarity when staying in hostels.

10530844_10152275469267198_5306087670874910252_nEach morning, during our stay in Sweden, Peter would ride his bike to meet us and take us exploring his beautiful city. Below is a story I wrote for the paper I worked for at the time. It best describes the highs and lows of exploring Stockholm on a bike.

A closer look at Stockholm

IT looked like a scene out of the Tour de France.

I was puffing, panting, sweating and cursing under my breath, as I took on my first hill climb.

Unfortunately, it was just the beginning of what was meant to be a “leisurely” ride around the city of Stockholm.

In my mind, I had pictured me cruising alongside the waterways, waving to locals on their way to work, while listening to a bit of ABBA.

The reality was much grimmer.

10407731_10152279340827198_5633958536888878536_nMy boyfriend Lion and I had gone to visit my good friend Peter, who offered to show us around his city, as it was our first time in Scandinavia.

I first met Peter in New York City, when I was backpacking solo through the States in 2012.

We became instant friends and have kept in touch regularly through Facebook ever since.

We decided to visit him during our world trip last year because we were keen to catch up with him again and explore Sweden.

He said renting a bike was the best way to get around his city and cover a lot of ground in a short time – words no doubt by the end of our visit he was regretting.

None of us factored in how fit he was and how unfit we were.

I, for one, did not realise Stockholm had an endless number of hills.

10502095_10152280435592198_4324952846379389572_nI thought the city would have had a landscape like Amsterdam or Copenhagen – both of which I rode around with no difficulties.

A distance that would normally take Peter 10 minutes took us half an hour (or maybe it was even closer to an hour).

Either way, it was not a pretty sight and I am sure it was not enjoyable for Peter, who literally rode circles around us.

To be perfectly truthful, riding a bike is just as bad as driving a car when you are trying to sightsee.

You can’t take your eyes off the road for fear you will end up in a ditch, submerged in the river or worse – hit by a truck.

However, riding a bike does give you an opportunity to stop as often as you want, wherever you want.

There is so much beauty to experience in Stockholm and it is best captured by riding.

Despite my best efforts to stay out of harm’s way, I had a few bingles.

The worst was a collision with a concrete slab and the fence it was holding up.

I was black and blue by the end of my first day exploring Stockholm, and the bruises just kept coming.

I ran into Lion and Peter, almost hit pedestrians, slid in puddles, got my leg caught in the bike chain, caused on-coming bikers to almost crash trying to avoid me and ran into multiple walls and fences.

When I was super-puffed, close to what I imagined as my last breaths, I would ask for a photo stop to capture some of the city’s beauty but also secretly to have a rest.

While the bruises from riding around Stockholm faded quickly, the memories of the (somewhat traumatic) experiences I had are still vivid and now are some of my favourite from our trip.

It goes to show that at the time things may seem hard, but we are a lot stronger than we think.

London is calling

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I NEVER seem to get enough time to explore London properly.

In 2007 I visited the British city for two-and-a-half days and even with five days there during this trip I still didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see. On the top of list was go up on the London Eye, and see a show on Broadway.

However, one of the main reasons to visit London this time round was to  catch up with all our friends; Catherine, Ravi, Yunyoung (pictured below)  and Ariane & Matthew .

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After mastering the tube system during my first trip to London, I had no qualms about getting from the airport to our hostel using the system. But the one thing I wasn’t counting on was the craziness of peak hour and the fact our backpacks were not easily squished on a packed train. Needless to say it was not the most pleasant journey, nor was walking aimlessly around looking for our hostel after leaving the tube station in Piccadilly Circus. With no wi-fi we were at the mercy of signs and the good will of the people we shared the side-walk with.

I love London and thankfully Lion loved it too, even though he does always love the walking side of it. But that is my favourite part about exploring a city, seeing everything it has to offer and what the locals see daily. A tour bus only takes you to the popular sites and destinations, which means you miss everything in between. Getting lost while exploring, also makes for an interesting time. IMAG7089

If not for getting completely lost trying to find London Bridge we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do a time lapse in this place or take some truly great photos (see photo above).

Eventually, we made it all the way to London Bridge ( a few hours and pints later). And got our “selfie” on with all the passers-by, permanently frozen in time in the background of our photographs.10446481_10152269579647198_3297690307507451910_n

We managed to eat out at some delicious eateries and throw back a few pints, including one at a quaint bar on the edge of the River Thames.

We visited Covent Gardens, the London Eye, Parliament House and Big Ben, walked around the most royal of areas, near Buckingham Palace and of course got the typical “red phone box” photo (with Big Ben in the background). London is a comfortable and easy place to visit probably because of its similarities with Australia.

In London we also had perfect Summer weather and while I am familiar with the notorious London weather, we managed to get blue skies and warm days the whole time we were there. On the way to the airport the clouds came over and it started to sprinkle, I said to Lion ‘this is what it could have been like the whole time we were here’.

We will call on you again someday soon London.

New York, New York


THE city of New York is said to be one of the least forgiving in the western world. Or so I was told before my first visit two years. And yet, I find the majority of its inhabitants are some of the most amazing, considerate and brilliant people I have ever come across.

Unlike most big cities where you become so used to your surrounds, Big Apple dwellers don’t seem to tune out the rest of the world.
Maybe because they are constantly reminded that they are on borrowed time in this incredible city and never seem to forget that once upon a time they too were new to the city.

Since the second we stepped off the plane, we have been assisted without even asking for help. I don’t think that even happens in Australia. On a couple of occasions I have questioned whether the helpfulness of the New Yorkers were actually genuine or if they were just trying to lure us to where they wanted us (we gave the really sketchy guy the slip in the subway, so I guess we will never know).

I put all this amazing (and some possibly dodgy help) down to Karma and in particular travel Karma. As I mentioned in a previous post, I believe in paying it forward and not expecting anything in return. Today, in the subway at 103rd and Broadway, we were about to board the 1pm train, but we literally couldn’t fit on, so we waited for the next one. Before the doors of the train closed, a man pushed his wife through the doors and somehow managed to squeeze through them himself. And she practically collapsed onto the ground in front of us in a coughing fit, dry-reaching and crying. The woman had (as far as we could tell) had been crushed by the overcrowdedness of the train. I had never seen it so packed. It looked like a can of sardines.

The African-American woman continued to choke, cough and splutter, while her husband held her up. I felt so helpless, I have no medical or first aid training, so I couldn’t do anything medical to help. The only thing I could do was offer a bottle of water we has just bought to the man. He then was looking for tissues to wipe his wife’s face and thankfully I had some. So, I handed them to him. The look he gave me will stay with me always; it was a look of restored faith, appreciation, hope, and genuine heart-felt thanks.

We were about to jump onto the next train and he simply said “thank you so much, hope you have a great day”.

There is no better feeling, than helping.

I think as a society we are all so focused on getting ahead, buying posessions to show off our “wonderful lives” on social media that we can’t see past the ends of our noses (I got that from Mary Poppins – she could teach people a thing or two).

So, when you are next in a foreign city or see people visiting from other countries in your home city, don’t be closed off.

You never know what can happen if you open your mind and heart.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

10474686_10152256363507198_121762171010154429_nLAS  Vegas is the decadence capital of the world. Wherelse can you eat,drink, sleep, gamble, shop or have sex as much as you want, with as many people as you want (paid for or not)?

There is no denying this city of sins appeals to a broad range of people. Maybe not those with strong religious ties, but the majority of us.

For me, on this world tour, it is the cities lack of depth that appeals to me.

I can take what I want from this city and no one will judge me. If I want to laze in bed till 3pm in the afternoon, eat one meal a day, drink a carton of beer and gamble away, then so be it. Unlike other cities where you have to make the most of every second to fit in all the sightseeing, you can do as little or as much in Las Vegas.

The best thing about Vegas is its proximity to the Grand Canyon and the over-abundance of tours to one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Against the expert advice of friends and fellow travellers we opted against the helicopter flight over the canyon (which I had done in 2012) and renting a car and went on a Grayline bus tour and despite it taking 20 hours from leaving our hotel till getting back, it was the right option for us. When on holidays I prefer not to put added pressure on myself. Travelling is already stressful enought on a marathon journey like ours, and you have to pick your battles.

This is my second trip to Sin City and both times I chose to stay at Circus Circus, a hotel which is 45 years old, not for its low rates but for its character and distance from The Strip. Sure I could have stayed smack bang in the middle of the craziness that is any hour of the day or night in the heart of The Strip, but I prefer low key chaos. And Circus Circus is this personified.

Just remember what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and on Facebook, Youtube and Instagram.

Karma exists

I HAVE always been a firm believer that Karma exists and more importantly when you are touring around the world, travel Karma exists.

A couple of years ago I met a lovely Aussie boy, on a very long Greyhound bus trip from Banff, Canada to Vancouver. I was broke, my shoes were falling apart and money was still a couple of days away.
So, without a second thought, he gave me $100 and said: “don’t worry about paying me back, just pay it forward”.

Even before this I had been an advocate for such exchanges and always helped the homeless out with food, tipped buskers and always been willing to lend a helping hand.

Fastforward to June 2014, and I was in Los Angeles, for the second time in my life. The city was familiar and I did not feel like a tourist, as I did the first time. Despite being on holidays, I still had my ‘news hat’ on and saw things a bit differently. Instead of being fearful of the homeless people that lined the streets in Santa Monica, like a lot of “tourists” I encountered, I wanted to know their stories, buy them a decent meal and not ignore and discard them the way society and the US Government has.

My boyfriend, Lion and I met a middle-aged African American man, whose name was ironically Sydney. We bumped into him at the corner of Broadway and Third Street, Santa Monica. He had said something about borrowed time with this angel (me of course) and I thought he was asking for the time, so we got to talking. He told me he was a Vet and he had lost his wife and kids post-war. The tall and slender man was well dressed for someone who sleeps on the streets, but his greyish, patchy stumble along his jawline and cloudy eyes told a different story.

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I said: “I won’t give you money, but do you want us to get you some Starbucks?” To which he replied: “I don’t eat that shit”. I laughed, at the thought of a hungry man turning down a hot drink and savoury snack. So, I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said: “I could go for some Asian food”. For $15 he got a good, hearty meal with a drink and you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. I asked him if he would pose for a quick photo, to remember him and he was happy too (photo to come – can’t upload from camera on this computer).

We encountered a lot of homeless people during our time in Los Angeles, on the most part there were a lot of “slack homeless people”. Just to clarify, I will not give money or buy someone food who is not doing something to better their circumstance. It is one thing to walk around asking for money, but laying in your own filth with a sign saying “Will take money or food” is just insulting, unless however, you are disabled.

One homeless man we met in the Metro at Hollywood, was a man leading by example. At first, I thought he was actually working as a Metro station attendant, as he had intricate knowledge of the Metro system, all the way down to the fact you had to get off at the LAX airport stop and then get on a free shuttle to the terminal of your choice. He showed us the lines we would have to take to get to our destination (three line changes) and even how to save money, by buying a day pass. The well-dressed man even showed us how to operate the teller machine. And it wasn’t until he said: “If you feel like my advice has been helpful you can donate some money to me”. I surely did! Best few dollars I have ever spent!

This trip to the States, it seems I am on a different journey to my first trip. As I have already done all the touristy things (well, I have now done them two times as this is my boyfriend’s first trip abroad) I was really trying to get to know the locals and find out more about the city full of dreamers (and those whose dreams never came true).

One of my first observations of Los Angeles in 2012 was it is if America’s dreamers rushed west and stopped where the land stopped. I still believe that is true. There is something sad but beautiful about watching the hundreds of super-talented buskers scattered around the county, playing their hearts out in the hope they are noticed by someone important. My second observation that still rings true is success in LA can be spectacular and failure equally so.

Los Angeles is definitely right up there on cities to visit, be open minded and don’t have your head too far up your arse when you come to visit or you might miss some incredible and lifechanging experiences.

Kissing selfies spread germs

HAVE you ever got a cold then given it to your partner.

Then just when you think you are getting better, get given the same cold back from the person you gave it to.

And if that is not bad enough, pass it back to your partner again a few days later.  

That is the story of our World Trip.

But we have no let it ruin our adventures in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

However, I blame my obsession with kissing selfies and the cold weather of both Californian cities.