Adventuring The Giants Causeway

Giants-Causeway-Northern-Ireland-Adventurer-Stacey

On my recent adventure to the Emerald Isle I had a bunch of places I wanted to visit along the East Coast of Ireland and researching how to  see them all I found one company who were a good fit for me, Paddy Wagon Tours.  I’d heard about previously heard about them from some friends while backpacking Europe a few years’ ago and had liked their line up for the Giants Causeway tour.

On the morning of the tour I’d been running late. I’d over-slept my alarm despite going to bed crazy early the night before and was really regretting that as I ran to the meeting place. Sadly for me, the bus still left about ten minutes late and I arrived about ten minutes early so I really didn’t need to rush after all.

Paddy-Wagon-Tours-Bus-Ireland

On their big green bus I passed through what felt like a huge swath of the country. Having a cheeky nap seemed a great idea after days’ and days’ of early mornings and late nights.

I awoke to our chatty driver Sean giving a quick drive-by tour of Belfast on the way through (we would return here for a short stop on the way back). He told us about the troubles briefly pointing out that there are plenty of places that he couldn’t go “espehsally in a big green bus” knowingly I smiled to myself, remembering friends from Dublin telling me that they didn’t fancy visiting the Northern Irish capital because there were places they couldn’t go with their thick Southern Irish accents.

Tourist Central: Some Old Trees That Have Taken Everyones Fancy

Tourist Central: Some Old Trees That Have Taken Everyones Fancy

We passed through towns that were said to inspire the Game of Thrones series and Sean would talk about how he could see clear parallels between Irish history and The Game Of Thrones itself however, the dragons confused him.

We saw the three hundred year old trees used for filming the Game of Thrones. This photo stop for me was a bit of a disappointment as I would have liked photo’s with just me and the trees as everyone would, it’s a shame none of us could get ourselves worked out so the photo’s could be taken and everyone had run around in everyone’s photo’s making all photo’s taken at the site while I was there look too touristic.

Dunluce Castle looking particularly photogenic (as it does every single day!)

Dunluce Castle looking particularly photogenic (as it does every single day!)

After that photo stop there was another outside Dunluce Castle, the famous ruin on the side of the ocean cliffs that I’d been dying to see on my last trip to Ireland but had missed. The stop was brief but as all I wanted was a photo to show my grandmother I’d been there, that was fine.

The highlight of the tour and what myself and some of the girls’ on my bus agreed was more beautiful than the cliffs of Mohr was the Giants Causeway. It’s really breathtaking to be there. The pictures cannot do it any real justice (although of course I’ll share mine with you!). this has been a well-touristed site for a long time and for good reason! I walked over the apparent ruins of the giants causeway (really the remnants after a volcanic eruption). And was totally in awe. I never paid much attention to geo-sciences (sorry geo-sciences!) but this site would be one to spark many a scientists (and artist and poets) imagination. Although it’s beauty is not traditional, symmetrical beauty as people so prize in nature the causeway had its own swagger, like the ugly duckling who’d grown into a beautiful swan and still had that attitude of “I don’t care how I look, this is who I am”. After visiting the causeway I was pretty quiet on the bus to lunch, just thinking about the place.

Taken inside the pub where we had lunch (yeah... I don't think locals use this pub!)

Taken inside the pub where we had lunch (yeah… I don’t think locals use this pub!)

Lunch was pretty fab, not just because a busy day makes you hungry! I had the Irish stew and would recommend it if you took this tour as the other traditional looking steak and Guinness pie didn’t look very exciting). All of the meals are around eight or nine pounds sterling (this is Northern Ireland remember they don’t use the Euro here). Although it’s better to pay by cash in sterling you can also pay by card. Try not to pay in euro’s as the rate is crazy high.

Next, the isle of Carrick-a-Rede! Here I paid the extra eight euro and took the rope bridge across. Of course, I was terrified and my legs turned to jelly moments after crossing (the lovely Irish girl on the other side told me I didn’t look scared at all, oh… such a lie!) but I crossed, for you guys. So I could tell you how it was and you’ll be happy to hear that it was awesome! If you’re frightened of the 100 meter drop onto a cliff or the ocean if anything goes wrong with that terrible wooden bridge you might want to hold on tight to the railings and not look down, just look right in front of you like I did. And don’t stress about the bridge moving too much, it will move a whole lot but you’re here already and you’re not allowed to turn around, walk on now! The photo’s you’ll get on the other side are well worth it (and the bragging rights too!).

Heading back to the mainland after visiting the Isle.

Heading back to the mainland after visiting the Isle.

Later we visited Belfast for an hour or so. Although this doesn’t seem much time to do anything you might want to read a few of the things mentioned on my Belfast self-guided walking tour or you could just go to the top of the central shopping center’s tower for a good (free) view of Belfast for a few photo’s (view as seen on my Instagram) before taking some odd shots in other places, grabbing a coffee and jumping back on the coach.

The tour ends back in Dublin. You’ll be tired but remember to pick up all your things before you leave, thank your driver and smile to yourself, you did it! You did cross the bridge too right?

Checking out the view on belfast (last pic from today’s tour!) #belfast #Ireland

A photo posted by Stacey Farley (@adventurer.stacey) on

Throughout the day we would have different people arriving back to the bus late and this meant that the tour wound up being longer than it had been scheduled to be – if you decide to book this one you’ll want to keep that in mind – for me the tour ended thirteen hours after it began. Of course I was tired and didn’t end up doing anything after it besides packing my bag for my flight the following day (which I didn’t miss although I was tempted to!) Ireland has quickly become one of my favourite places in the world, besides Laos of course.

A big thank you to Paddy Wagon Tours who provided a free seat on this tour so I could review it. Please note also that all other expenses were paid for by myself (ie. Accommodation, flights, food, tour extras, etc.)

Over to you guys! What would you recommend to first time visitors to the Emerald Isle? Please comment below so others’ can read and follow your advice should they choose to do so.

Apps For Moving To London

Lost in London I was asking people in the street for directions. Everyone I asked must have been a local as they kept walking. I managed to stop one girl, an Eastern European who helped me with my map. Thank god for immigration!

But you dear reader, you don’t need to have this experience. Through careful research I’ve found the best apps for moving to London (or visiting, if you’re going there with a smart phone) so you don’t have to be asking directions of local’s who’re busy pretending they didn’t hear you, paying too much for a black cab, missing out on great travel deals, lonely in the big city, hungry and unable to find decent take-away or one thousand other problems you face when new to such a huge city!

UK-England-London-Tourist-Photo-Big-Ben-Adventurer-Stacey

Uber

This seemed to be at the top of all my friends’ lists and I was a little sad to see that as London has the best taxi’s in the world however, It’s a very popular app in London for a reason! When you sign up with Uber use the code uberAdventurerStaceyue to get a free ride (I get one too when you use the code)

City Mapper

Everyone has this! It’s a London must with its maps for walking, cycling and public transport you’ll be using it constantly when you’re new (or if you visit new areas, which feels like it’s always happening in London!)

Google Maps

I’ve previously mentioned this in my list of apps for independent travellers, here’s just one more place it’s useful.

Tube Tamer

The network can be confusing, especially when you’re new so this app has been great for me!

Whatsapp

This seems super popular in the London and if you don’t have it before your move, you’ll need it soon enough!

Meetup App

Meetups are quite popular in London as London is a super transient city with plenty of people coming here for work and losing their old communities. A great way to meet new people or just to connect with others’ who share your interest. Totally keen to jump into London photography groups as those seem the right ones to meet other people who love the city just as much as I do and who notice all those little things that I might miss!

Excuses2Meet

Kind of like the appy equivalent of going to a real-life meetup event, you can put things in you’re looking to do with your new friends like “someone to play videogames with” and find other’s who’ve said they’re looking for the same thing. I’ve downloaded it (along with all the others) however, it feels like it might take more time to meet people than just showing up at a MeetUp event. We’ll see what happens!

Fever

This is a great idea! An app that helps you find things to do in London this week. It tailors its suggestions to you based on preferences you put into the app really good for wanting to show your knowledge of what’s on without having to do much work. Also great for when you make those early friends everyone makes when moving to a new city who don’t really know what’s going on and aren’t very good tour guides at all.

YPlan

Similar concept to Fever, I’ve still not decided which I prefer so have listed both.

Groupon

This is quite popular in London for loads of stuff (as the high rent prices mean everyone is pretty skint and needs discounts). Also has great travel deals on it from time to time.

Spareroom

How everyone finds their flatmates – now in an app!

Just Eat

Want to know if that place on the corner is any good to eat at? Going out with friends all spur of the moment and don’t know anywhere good? (Of course you don’t! You’re new to London!) Here’s a simple solution.

Do you have any recommendations for apps that London Newbies should have that are not listed? Please leave those awesome recommendations in the comments below!

Four Of My Favorite Things About Dublin

I’m in Dublin this week for St. Patrick’s Day and am very excited to be here! It’s a great little city and very hard to get lost in (although, I do try!). The atmosphere this time of year though is what I came here for. Everyone’s Irish, even those who’re not and the city is full of revelers having a good time and spreading the Irish cheer.

My favorite things about Dublin though, are not the cliché one’s or the tourists, from my last trip here I had four favorites I wrote about in my travel journal. Actually, there were more but four seemed an appropriate number for an Irish story (like the four leaf clover, its lucky!) so I picked my favorite four and here they are:

Mohr-Ireland-Adventurer-Stacey

Pub Culture

Ireland has some of the best pub culture in the world. You can walk into a pub in the middle of the day and find local people drinking and shooting the breeze. Unlike in many other places in the world where a pub is a bar or a venue you go to dance, in Ireland they’re like public lounge rooms and people pop in for a drink and to catch up with their neighbors, the local gossip and politics.

At night though, pubs are full of great music, dancing and slightly awkward local boys’ trying to chat up local girls’. They’re fun places to be full of laughter and good cheer. Something I wish there was more of everywhere in the world.

Dublin Chippers

I was introduced to Dublin chippers by a local the first time I was in Ireland. Everywhere in the world seems to have its after-drinking food and a 2am trip to the Dublin chipper to pick up some fish and chips (or likely just chips) is as good as any after-drinking food in my book. Plus, you always seem to find someone you know in there, even if you have only been in town a few days’. Small place, very friendly.

Irish Directions

The first time I was in Ireland this happened to me and I thought it was just one weird guy but apparently it’s not uncommon (says Irish comedians, one shown below on youtube)

In my story, young pre-backpack Adventurer Stacey had over packed her suitcase and had broken it. She had to find a shopping mall to buy a new suitcase but got lost on the way (as always) and had to ask for directions. Most of the places in the world where I have asked directions I get something boring like, “Turn left at this set of lights and keep going, it’s on your left.” But not in Ireland. In Ireland the directions were more like, “Go left here and walk for ten minutes, then turn right and walk another five minutes, it’s on your left.” I laughed, surely he wasn’t serious. Did he know the pace of my walk? If I was likely to get distracted on the way and stop? Wind speed? Direction? I told him to stop taking the piss and tell me for real, how I get there. He laughed and told me he’d already told me before walking away. There was no-one else around so I decided to try it and you won’t believe, I got there. (the part about directions is at the two minute mark)

Irish Slang & Humor – You’ll Never Get It, Even When You Think You Do

I’ve had Irish friends and I think at this stage I mostly understand them (even though sometimes they do seem pretty alien) but when I was first in Ireland, often slang would go straight over my head and locals obviously didn’t want to tell me that they didn’t mean what they were saying.

One of my more vivid memories was when two older Irish men were at the pub, one asked the other what he wanted, “Oh, just a half Guinness” “Only a half?” asked his shocked friend before leaning closer to me and uttering, “He’s not well you know.” I thought he meant his friend was genuinely unwell, maybe he was about to go in for surgery and shouldn’t be drinking. As a result, I asked the first guy about his health and if he was okay, really. Did he need to go home? Some water? He just stared at me in confusion. Neither talked to me for the rest of the night. I later heard from someone that someone being “not well” was slang, a dismissive way of saying someone was crazy. I wonder if these guys’ thought I genuinely was crazy after the event.

Those are my four – now, if you excuse me I’m off to enjoy this wonderful little city!

Visiting Charles Darwin’s House While In London

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

Downe House, as viewed from the gardens

After completing my training as a biologist at university one of the things I was most looking forward to while visiting London last year was Charles Darwin’s house! The grandfather of biology himself who studied everything living around him, even chronicling the growth of his own son was someone who I was sad I’d never had the opportunity to meet, this was an opportunity to get up close and personal with the great genius himself!

On the map it’s a simple hour-long journey to Downe House however, that’s boring. I’ll tell you how it really is on the ground: From London Waterloo station which you got to by some feat of genius through the rush hour chaos (note: don’t actually do this in ‘peak times’) you catch the South Eastern Line train to Orpington. You’ll notice how village-y this place is compared to London right away when a nearby bobby smiles at you. Chat to him, he’s friendly and has a funny non-London accent that you’ve never heard before. Ask him about the buses and you’ll find you need to catch the R8 bus (there is only one bus that goes to Downe House) ask the driver when you climb aboard if they can stop at Charles Darwin’s house for you, they will know where it is and will also smile at you which you will find unsettling after being in London. You’ll find a seat next to a teenager who’s been looking at you strangely due to your foreign accent (you think) and will ride out until the bus stops – not in front of a bus stop but just on the road and the driver calls to you, letting you know you’ve arrived. There you will be, in a small country lane as the tiny bus pulls away you’ll see a big house that you’ve come all this way to see right before your eyes. Feel the excitement but don’t run at it, you’re on the road remember. Look left, then right then left again before crossing.

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

The super-cute R8 bus, just stick out your arm!

I don’t want to give too much away because I want readers to go there themselves (genuinely I do! It’s such a positive experience after being cooped up in London!) but I’ll tell you some of my favourite things about my visit just to wet your appetite.

The gardens are beautiful! They’re where Darwin did plenty of experimenting and hypothesising. He took a walk in his gardens every day, even in the harsh English winter when he was an old man. They’ve been dutifully restored to an approximation of what they were thought to look like in the time Darwin there.

You've arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

You’ve arrived (can you see those open times? Taking notes?)

The museum itself holds some surprises even to those who’ve read plenty about Darwin and who’re familiar with his work – Darwin was ahead of his time in that he was an active father and a husband who saw his wife as an equal. Although followers of his work realise how much he love his wife that he almost didn’t release his Origin of Species for fear of hurting his wife with her deep religious sensibilities are surprised to see how he would find time after working to play board games with his wife and talk to her about things that were more intellectual, valuing her opinions. His relationship with his children was also more modern than his times. He actually spent time with them (outside of studying them as infants and measuring their growth and development for his work as a scientist). Apparently he was also very kind to his staff as well.

I was also surprised to see Darwin’s notes on his own health – I’d know he had battled with ill health throughout his adult life however, to see that he’d kept a diary made me smile. Something like that seems the type of thing I’d do!

A slide used by Darwin's children to slide down their stairs - what a fun childhood!

A slide used by Darwin’s children to slide down their stairs – what a fun childhood!

I came away from the experience feeling like I’d learned plenty about Darwin whose work had been a big part of my studies and was the basis for a discipline I have such respect for! I would recommend a visit to Dawne House for visitors to Kent and London as it’s a really beautiful place and getting there is a really nice adventure!

Darwin's finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Darwin’s finches hold a special place in the hearts of many biologists (and you can see them here, how exciting!)

Getting back too, was fun. I stood on the street and waved to a bus that stopped for me. After climbing aboard we were driving for a while and as the lane narrowed (these lanes were not consistent at all) we came face-to-face with a four wheel drive that had to back up so we could get past. It was a real adventure and so much fun laughing along with the local teenagers about how hopeless the other driver was!

Darwin's study where he did much of his work!

Darwin’s study where he did much of his work!

Arriving back in London that evening I felt newly refreshed and pretty wonderful! I’d spent a day in the country side, admiring a beautiful home, a wonderful garden and learning (I’m a life-long learner!)

Over to you! Have you ever visited Downe House? Would you recommend it to your friends? What other things would you recommend to the London visitor?

Joining Protesters In London

Anti-Austerity-March-UK-Union-Jack-Adventurer-Stacey

A British friend of mine who happens to be a staunch Tory had suggested I spend my morning in London doing some sightseeing. I’d get to see Big Ben (again), go for a walk on the river, do all those touristic things while I was getting over jet lag.

After having my photo taken at platform nine and three quarters, I jumped on the tube and got off at Westminster, grabbed a sandwich for lunch and chilled out for a bit before going for a walk. Bored with the normal touristic stuff I started by walking away from the Thames and into all the beautiful, historic buildings. It was a grey, overcast London day and I was snapping photo’s of grey buildings. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun but then I saw something very interesting.

Loved this banner!

Loved this banner!

The police, all kitted out in riot gear were acting strangely. They’d obviously been waiting for a signal to move from this quite side street and they’d received it. They packed into a van and started moving quickly into the city of grey. I followed them but lost sight of the van. After this, Big Ben was on hold. This seemed way more interesting.

I was walking around a while before I saw them: old hippies walking towards me carrying signs with leftist slogans. All the excitement had me buzzing. What was going on? What was I missing?

They made the news (helicopter above)

They made the news (helicopter above)

One of the more vocal hippies had stopped, was chanting still but had taken a moment for himself. I moved closer to him, “what’s all this about?” I asked, motioning at the stream of now everyday British people walking past me. There were Brits as far as the eye could see and although the first I’d seen were hippies, they weren’t all hippies now. There were tones of young people, people around my age. This was big and I was curious why it had been such a big deal to the police that they were hiding in side streets in riot gear.

A few people stopped and chatted to me, they all encouraged me to join. I felt a little odd about joining a protest march against their government when I was a guest in their country but I figured this was as cultural as cultural experiences got.

This man had to work on his banner in front of Downing Street.

This man had to work on his banner in front of Downing Street.

Then one girl stopped next to me as I snapped my pictures, I asked her where the march was going (where it would end) and she told me parliament. I asked her where that was then it clicked – “Parliament’s the building under Big Ben isn’t it?” I said excitedly. Her uncle who was marching with her said it was, he even smiled and called me ‘dear’. I joined the march a moment later, I was ready to experience this huge march – there was over 100, 000 people there that day!

I’d recently attended a similar march back home, much of what people around me were saying – and chanting – was the same here as it was at home. There had been cuts to welfare, education and healthcare and these people knew in their bones that those cuts wouldn’t mean an over-spending government would reduce debt.

Big Ben from a whole new (non-touristic) perspective

Big Ben from a whole new (non-touristic) perspective

Unlike our peaceful protests at home, these guys’ were a whole lot more serious. There was police everywhere (and I knew already that there were plenty of police we couldn’t see). The procession passed Downing Street and everyone booed and yelled their feelings at politicians unseen. That’s when I saw the funny red clouds in front of me. Later I would hear on the news (as I often did after big events I’d been involved in like the Chilean earthquake and tsunami) that the red clouds were not flares let off by an excited crowd as I had assumed but were tear gas let off by trigger-happy police who were scared after former protests had turned into riots.

Something else I found strange while I was taking photo’s at Big Ben (this time with better angles as I could stand anywhere I liked – including the middle of the road with no cars coming down – there were plenty of young men there, angry guys’ who covered their faces and yelled about anarchy. They climbed on statues to have their photo’s taken by their mates for Instagram and to put their banners up high so all could see them.

On a tree nearby to the marches end point, I couldn't help but wonder who'd left it there...

On a tree nearby to the marches end point, I couldn’t help but wonder who’d left it there…

I left the march early, everyone had been dancing to the music and listening to speakers as they put their banners around the square and taking photo’s when I left. I learned plenty about the leftist movement in the UK that day and after. Apparently as those angry young lads had shown me, punk was not dead. Hippies were still in huge numbers in the UK as well. In Australia, although we have these subcultures, they’re not as prevalent or in some cases as authentic as the UK. Of course not every protester was a punk or a hippy, but there was enough to bring my imagination – and curiosity – to life.

Have you ever joined a protest abroad (or similar event) out of cultural curiosity? I’d love to hear your stories below!

Harry Potter Tour, Edinburgh

Tour meeting place: Make sure you rub Bobby's nose for luck!

Tour meeting place: Make sure you rub Bobby’s nose for luck!

The first time I saw him was when I was walking down the street looking for the café J. K. Rowling had written the first book in, my eyes wide, NO WAY I thought. I was suddenly transported to a different world I’d only read about and here was the famous Harry Potter.

I’d seen them walking around Edinburgh a few times since. Groups of muggles trailing a handsome wizard who looked like a grown-up version of the famous Harry Potter. I didn’t want to spoil everyone’s wand-waving fun so asked around at the hostel I was staying in. Did anyone know about this tour? Was it, like I thought a Harry Potter tour?

Our Tour Guide: Harry Potter(look-alike). He was great though!

Our Tour Guide: Harry Potter(look-alike). He was great though!

The next day I was standing under the famous statue of Grayfriars Bobby waiting for the famous Harry Potter to show me his Edinburgh.

I was quietly excited when Harry Potter gave me my first wand and couldn’t keep the smile from my face as he showed the group how to wave their wands and how to pronounce the magic words just right. We were to use this, our first spell to change traffic lights from red to green. This turned out to be a very important spell for road safety.

Diagon Alley (With my wand hand showing!)

Diagon Alley (With my wand hand showing!)

Harry showed us around Edinburgh, chatting to us about his world in his English accent and showing us all the hidden gems I’d missed while Potter hunting on my own.

I learned plenty about J. K. Rowling’s writing, inspiration and a few of the real-life inspirations she used. She had loved funny names and used many of the names she found in the Grayfriars Church yard, she changed the names of course as she didn’t want her characters to reflect on real people, especially the baddies.

Tom Riddle's Grave... or is it?

Tom Riddle’s Grave… or is it?

Tom Riddle’s name, for example is borrowed from someone buried in Grayfriars and every Halloween apparently there is a bunch of Potterfiles who head to the cemetery and duel with their wands in front of the grave every year. Although I would like to say I would enjoy watching this, I can’t see myself going into a cemetery, after dark, on Halloween.

We also saw the school that inspired Hogwarts and that later J. K. Rowling’s children attended. This very exclusive school is next to Grayfriars church yard and had four houses the same colours as the Hogwarts houses and that were also named after important people to the school. Interestingly enough, both of J. K. Rowling’s children were placed in the red house – Gryffindor.

The real life Hogwarts!

The real life Hogwarts!

As a Potter fan who loved the books as a child and grew up with Harry, I wasn’t happy to hear about J. K. Rowling’s treatment by the media. Apparently she had been sitting in one of her favourite café’s writing as she always had and the media were hounding this quiet writer. One photographer sat next to her and took pictures over her shoulder as she wrote. I enjoyed however, J. K. Rowling’s revenge. She wrote nosey, annoying reporter Rita Skeeter into her novels. This was satire of what she was dealing with as she tried to work.

And where exactly were all these great sites? Want to learn to wave your wand to change traffic lights? If you’re interested in taking the tour yourself, it’s a tour-for-tips arrangement (as in, you pay what you think the tour is worth). You can find more details on the tour company’s website.

The hand prints of the woman herself!

The hand prints of the woman herself!

Have you been on the tour? Suggest any other great tours in Edinburgh? Write about them below.

What It’s Really Like To Survive An 8.3 Magnitude Earthquake

Chile-Adventurer-StaceyI felt cosy tucked into bed in my pink, flannel PJs, I’d been talking to a girl who’d been placed in my dorm room maybe an hour before when the room started shaking. I was the first to notice as I was lying in bed and her standing. Like anyone who wants to be in denial I turned to the new girl and asked, “Is that an earth quake?” At first, she tried to laugh it off, “of course not! How could it be!”

I stood up anyway and walked to the doorway, I’d seen this in an American film. They had earth quakes in America and they always stood in doorways until it was over.

There was this guy feeding his well-dressed alpaca in a city park, awesome!

There was this guy feeding his well-dressed alpaca in a city park, awesome!

Quickly, a few things happened. A French-Canadian guy asked me if it was an earth quake too (apparently I’m not the only one who’s keen on denial) then a Spaniard jumped out of the shower, towel around his waist and asked me the same question. As the Spaniard got out of the shower and found me sharing my doorway with two other people, we all realised how funny the scene was and laughed. I laughed all the way down the stairs and onto the street as our hostel owner ushered us out of the building: you’re told to leave buildings and stand on the street in case of earth quakes as buildings often collapse and it’s best not to be in that collapsed building if you can help it, right!?

As we stood there plenty of locals passed us on the Santiago street. They all looked confused and some women even gave me a funny look. Where did all these gringo’s come from and what did that girl think she was doing, standing around in her PJs? I wasn’t the only fashion disaster as I stood next to the guy in his towel. Luckily we weren’t out there long – the first time.

I loved how excited people were for the national day - Chilean flags EVERYWHERE!

I loved how excited people were for the national day – Chilean flags EVERYWHERE! (Photo taken in Valparaiso, one of the most heavily damaged tsunami areas)

I messaged my parents (like any well-trained solo female traveller who had a habit of being in countries when they had natural disasters). My dad messaged me back quickly to let me know there was a tsunami warning and the earth quake had been a big one, he sent me this message even before people in-country knew what was going on. The power of the internet! I wasn’t really sure if I should worry about tsunami warnings however, so asked the hostel owner if this was a problem. He said we were inland and it wasn’t. I would read in news reports later that coastal towns I had just visited were affected by the tsunami and realised that I was lucky that I had come back to this hostel earlier than expected because I had had such a wonderful time here.

The second big earth quake hit again when I was in bed. Again I walked outside. Everyone teased the man who had previously been wearing a towel and told him he shouldn’t bother with the clothes he was now wearing before rounding on me to tease me about my poor fashion sense.

Santiago-Chile-Mountains-And-City-Adventurer-Stacey

Even with a light atmosphere I did feel a bit uncomfortable, I could feel this earth quake was bigger than the last one and that it had lasted longer. Later I would discover this earth quake was an 8.3 and the previous had been a 7.9. Of course I hadn’t been at the epicentre so the earth quakes I felt were not as strong as they were in other places.

Throughout the night it felt like there were aftershocks constantly. I had tried to sleep through them but was a little jumpy – getting out of bed two or three times thinking it was another big earth quake when it wasn’t – I eventually got to sleep and the next day discovered that my bed was half off its base, obviously in the night the earth quakes had moved my bed so much I was almost on the floor, yet I hadn’t woken up. Proof you can sleep through anything if you’re tired enough.

Life's tough for palace guard dog's as you can see...

Life’s tough for palace guard dog’s as you can see…

At breakfast we read more about the earth quakes – finding out how big they had been and the damage they had done. I was surprised the death toll was so small, I knew locals were used to earth quakes but that they’d managed to get through such a huge event relatively unscathed still surprised me. Of course there were huge problems close to the coast with people’s homes and boats being flung around by the waves.

Later that same day I met a local guy who was a friend of the hostel owner. His whole family were in affected areas and he was saying he would go there and help them rebuild – another testament to the generosity of Chilean people, he had no question weather he would go help his family: Family are important and it’s just what you do.

Reading reports of the earth quakes later inspired me to write my own story so others’ would see that they are not as scary as had been made out in media and that the world is much safer than we think. Also because I think Chilean’s are pretty awesome people and this is a place everyone should visit and not be scare off by seismic activity.

Don’t Let Anyone Mushroom You About Travel

A friend of mine in the UK was complaining about her manager, she said he was mushroom managing her and launched into a tirade about how much it sucked she wasn’t being told anything. At the time I patiently listened and didn’t interrupt – not even to ask what mushroom management was – after we spoke however, I did some googling.

According to Urban Dictionary:

mushroom management

A management philosophy prescribing to the theory that to best motivate your employees, you must at all times:

  1. Keep them in the dark.

  2. Feed them full of shit.

I thought this was such a great expression! Mushroom management! Being that I wasn’t working at the time – I was travelling – I couldn’t use it but then started thinking of how much it related to travel.

Entering into a lava tunnel on Isla Isabella, Galapagos Islands. I didn't know then how much my claustrophobia would be put to the test...

Entering into a lava tunnel on Isla Isabella, Galapagos Islands. I didn’t know then how much my claustrophobia would be put to the test…

When I was in the Galapagos Islands for example, I had the ferry ride from hell. I was so sick on the ride that I had to lean over the side several times, losing my lunch as well as my dignity. Later after finding a hotel I had a shower and washed my hair before catching a friend for dinner.

I said to her earnestly, “Everyone has these romantic ideas around travel, but today I threw up in my hair!” she thought this was the funniest statement and told me I should write it down (well here it is, I do hope she is reading!)

This is very true though – people are always mushrooming you about travel. At the time that people are travelling, it’s hard. They’re lost in a foreign land with no real idea where they’re going or what they’re doing, they have language barriers to contend with and often other things that crop up too, people taking advantage of their not knowing the city or country, being robbed, mugged or ripped off, weather extremes you wouldn’t believe, never having a decent nights sleep and having to function above how they would have to at home just to navigate this strange land.

A Galapagos Sea Lion moments before it attacked someone who was sitting nearby. Doesn't look aggressive, does it?

A Galapagos Sea Lion moments before it attacked someone who was sitting nearby. Doesn’t look aggressive, does it?

I love travel, but I’m under no illusions that it’s hard work.

Sure, we post pictures of nice beaches and cool animals to Instagram but the reality is that to get to that nice beach we had to walk through some pretty shady parts of a highly dangerous city to find the ferry terminal and to see that animal we had to pay an extra few thousand dollars in flights and learn enough of the local language to find a hotel, a restaurant, a taxi, whatever.

Travel is not easy, at all, ever.

But I still love it and I can’t see myself seeing the world any other way, even if I had a lot more money. I just feel so much richer from being forced to learn another language, from being forced into close quarters with such a variety of interesting people, from being forced to eat the local food and to find it’s absolutely amazing!

Horses warming down after informal street racing (where I almost got hit)

Horses warming down after informal street racing (where I almost got hit)

Travel isn’t romantic at all and it’s far from easy, but it makes me happy so I’m going to keep doing it.

Even though travel is hard, you still want more of it too right?

Goodbye Scotland, can’t say I miss ‘ye

Scots-Bagpipes-Edinburgh-Adventurer-Stacey

It’s not that I didn’t have a good time in Scotland: I learned plenty, saw some beautiful landscapes and castles (as anyone on my Instagram will tell you) and came into contact with a culture I’d been curious about for some time. Meeting a Scot abroad is not the same as meeting one in their homeland so I knew I would need to go to the place to get a real feeling for why the people are the way they are and also to meet more of these lovely people.

But then there were the other things. Edinburgh my chosen city was full of foreigners, although I love a good international city the rich Scottish culture I had been seeking wasn’t as strong as I’d hoped. The scots I met there (outside of service jobs which the Scots and indeed anyone no-one in the UK excels at) were generally nice people with a few exceptions as happens anywhere else in the world.

People chilling out in the grave yard at lunch time: Only a Scot wouldn't notice how depressing that is!

People chilling out in the grave yard at lunch time: Only a Scot wouldn’t notice how depressing that is!

 

I had my heart set on Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular so the idea of moving back down to London or to another UK city didn’t really appeal to me right in that moment. I tried Glasgow (a nightmare from the first), Belfast held little interest for more than a day trip, I had previously decided London was too big and crazy for me (still love you though London!). Generally nothing else really fit the bill for what I wanted – a small city with charm and great food and night life.

Although this feeling has changed after leaving the UK, I wonder how much of that is nostalgia or me not knowing I had a good thing when I had it.One needs to give herself some time to consider this as the obstacles for working in the UK as an Aussie are quite difficult.

 

I swear, Edinburgh has the biggest Sea Gulls! Pretty sure their dogs are smaller...

I swear, Edinburgh has the biggest Sea Gulls! Pretty sure their dogs are smaller…

 

One of the big barriers for me was the cost of living in the UK and the fact that as an Australian who was in the country legally it was near impossible for me to do basic things you need to do before I can work like getting a national insurance number (a tax requirement for anyone working in the UK) and setting up a bank account. I met plenty of Aussie’s who’d given up on working legally despite the hundreds of dollars they had spent on the visa and who were working illegally for cash and earning much less than the minimum wage (the UK minimum wage is not a living wage to start with). Some as low as four pounds an hour which is lunch money.

I never thought the move would be easy but it really was an uphill battle right from the start. Without the option for legal work, I would be stuck working illegally in industries outside my own (I’m a scientist) and would be living underneath the poverty line in foreign country. What about my dreams of international travel within Europe? About a wonderful resume when I return home with yet more international experience?

It got dark at around 11pm but was cold much, much sooner that far north.

It got dark at around 11pm but was cold much, much sooner that far north.

Taking a look around at this situation you can imagine what I did next. The next logical step after touring the UK and visiting all those castles and ruins I was so crazy about was to book a one-way ticket to Mexico! Didn’t see that coming? Not on my Instagram then?

If you’ve had similar issues with travel plans not going quite to plan, I’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments below. Or just commiserate with me. Poor girl, has her health but cannot live in cold, dreary Scotland! Must be so hard!

How I became the mascot of the Scots Dragoon Guard (Scottish Cavalry)

UK-Scots-Flag-Adventurer-Stacey

It was dinner time and like any good visitor to Scotland, I was looking for a pub that served cold beers and hot food. feet made tired from constant pounding on the cobble stones I turned into the nearest pub and made a bee line for the bar through the crowd of old Scottish guys’. While waiting at the bar it occurred to me all at once that I was in the tourist district of Edinburgh, there were never any Scottish people here. At least not in these numbers. I turned to one of the older gents’ and he started to tell me his story.

Tomorrow there would be a march down the royal mile to celebrate 200 years since Waterloo and these fellas were all marching. They were part of the Scots Dragoon Guard and explained to me that it was the Scottish cavalry. Since then I have visited several sites around Scotland and have learned a heap about their military history. Below is an extract taken from Army.mod.uk:

“The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards are Scotland’s most senior and only regular cavalry regiment, formed in 1678”

Now, these guys were not the original Scots DG (although, they looked old enough! Just kidding!). The men in front of me had been all over the world and being that I love a good story of adventure I did plenty of listening as I sipped my beer.

One of the fellas owned the bar and was giving me beers to taste (whole pints mind!) and another lad was giving me small mementos of my visit to the pub, Scots DG pins and a bracelet were promptly pushed into my hands and I was told it would be rude not to take them so I did.

After the bracelet was placed around my wrist this tipsy Scot was walking me around to show someone else. The other gent was mildly upset that I had been given the band as I was clearly not a member of the Scots DG and wouldn’t even know what to do with a horse. Then it came out, “She’s our wee mascot!”

I looked at my new friend confused, “What do you mean your mascot? Like that little boy the Aussie soldiers stole and took home with them?” He looked at me perplexed as I told him about the small boy who had been adopted as a mascot by an Australian regiment and one soldier who took particularly kindly to this orphan had smuggled him back into Australia and raised him as his own son.

The scots laughed, then started telling each other about their new Australian mascot. At this stage I had been in the pub drinking for several hours and still had not eaten. These fellas were really drunk too and I couldn’t understand their now very thick Scottish accents half the time. I smiled, made my excuses and left.

Petting a manta ray... do you see my pretty blue Scots DG Bracelet?

Petting a manta ray in Belize… do you see my pretty blue Scots DG Bracelet?

Meeting people now, I often am asked about the story of the bands on my wrist, so I tell them the tale of how I became the mascot for the Scottish Dragoon Guard, a senior cavalry regiment in a bar in Edinburgh.

I think it’s a good story anyway.