After getting the bus back to Edinburgh, I spent the shortest amount of time I’ve ever spent in Edi waiting an hour or so for the train to Cardiff. Train down was uneventful, weirdly I had a seat reservation from Newport to Cardiff (about 15 mintues on the train), but not the previous 2 hours! The train wasn’t busy though, so I just stuck with my seat (isn’t my life exciting lol) until I got to Cardiff. I only had a couple of days in Cardiff, I spent one looking a few historic buildings for Markeroni, including having a look through the Cardiff Story museum at the information centre (super interesting), one doing not very much at all (it was raining in my defense!), and then the last day went for a look around Llantwit Major.

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Elizabethan woman plaster panel

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Elizabethan jester plaster panel

 

Llantwit Major was fantastic, the weather was lovely and sunny, and I wandered around looking for blue plaques before seeing a church and going in to have a look. There were a couple of very enthusiastic volunteers inside waiting to tell people all about the church so I let them take me around. I’m really going to miss all these old buildings when I go home, we don’t really have anything that compares. It’s also really interesting seeing evidence of things I studied at school in history, it makes it more real somehow! While I was in the church, a woman (Rosemary) came in and we started chatting about what I was doing. When she found out I was going around photographing historic/listed buildings, she told me that she was off to collect the rent for one of the buildings that was on my list, and would I like to come and have a look around. Obviously I said yes (less dangerous than it sounds, unfit as I am, I could have outwalked her easily!), and she took me around. She had said the tenant was a bit grouchy, and was sick, which made me a bit uncomfortable, the last thing I wanted was to barge into someones house because it’s a listed building, especially if the person living there doesn’t really want me, but I think she must have been kidding about the grouchy part, as he was super friendly! He showed me the inside, and there were some fascinating plaster panels that date back to the original Elizabethan house!

 

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Rosemary, Eddie, and Giraffe

 

The following day I caught the train to Aberystwyth (I later realised I went around the long way, you can actually get the bus to Aberystwyth from Cardiff!). The train out was gorgeous, probably my favourite part was between Dovey Junction and Borth where the train goes along some absolutely stunning wetlands. I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of red kites too! Sadly I don’t seem to have taken any pictures, I guess I was too busy admiring the view.

After getting off the bus in Aberystwyth, I got on the bus to Aberaeron and was picked up by M there. We drove up to the horse farm, and I was left on my own for a few minutes while Maggie (my coworker also from New Zealand) finished up her jobs for the afternoon. When Maggie came in she made dinner and we chatted.

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Backyard view from the farm

 

This helpx experience was completely different to the one in Hawick (not bad, just different). We worked from 9am till 11am, then had a 20 minute or so tea break, and then went back to work till 1pm. Then we were given a tray of food to eat for lunch in our little flat and had time off until 4pm. Usually M and I (her husband) were going in to town and gave us a ride, which was really helpful as we weren’t able to use the wifi at the farm. In the mornings we mucked out the stables, and gave the horses hay (I got quite adept at using a pitchfork during my stay!). After that we did a whole range of jobs, I got to do some more gardening, respread the gravel over the drive for the winter, did a bit of painting and sanding, and lots of cleaning of tack. I don’t feel like I got to know M and I as well as I did the people at the previous place, but they did have some fantastic stories to tell about other people they had had to stay, as well as their own stories. I did get to know Maggie a bit better, and we had a good time! We had a really good time inventing meals to make out of the ingredients supplied. I had a particularly memorable carbohydrate soup featuring rice, potato, onion, garlic, carrot, and a few stock cubes!

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New Quay Pier

 

On our days off (Wednesday and Thursday) we did a couple of day trips, and a couple of days just hanging out on the internet at the library (I got lots of things booked those couple of weeks). I also had a haircut, which I’d been wanting to do for a while now! The first week we did a trip over the New Quay. They had really cheap dolphin tours (about £12 per person for an hour long one) leaving from there, we decided not to do them though as I’ve seen dolphins before several times, and I’d rather save my money to do things I haven’t done yet. We did have a bit of a wander around, and I took some pictures.

New Quay

I really love seaside towns where all the buildings are painted different colours!

The following week we caught the bus in to Aberystwyth and had a mooch around. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t particularly great, but I had a good look around the castle, and we went up to the National Library of Wales which is well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area! My particular favourite was a totara chair carved in New Zealand bequested by the Bledisloe family (who are originally Welsh).

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University College of Wales Old College Building

 

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Aberystwyth waterfront

 

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Aberyswyth Castle

 

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Aberystwyth Waterfront looking away from town

 

On the final couple of days we were given the not particularly fun jobs of both sanding a window that had about 500 layers of old paint underneath, all of which seemed to have started peeling before being painted over again, and of cutting back some brambles/blackberries that had started growing out of the side of one of the barns and had gone unnoticed for some time. I don’t even want to think about how many times I got thorns in my fingers, despite wearing my gardening gloves (wearing 2 pairs seemed to work a bit better!). Thankfully, M and I were really nice about it and gave us a bottle of wine, some crisps, and some maltesers to say thank you! On the sad front I wasn’t supposed to be drinking thanks to antibiotics (you’ll all be happy to know my fungal nail is basically healed now!), but I made a really nice winter pasta with vegetables and some of the wine!

Reviews: my review of them: “I’ve just completed a great couple of weeks with M and I. I thoroughly enjoyed their home baking and their stories! The work was generally pretty easy, I helped out with a bit of weeding, some cutting back of brambles/blackberries, a bit of painting, and lots of mucking out and feeding (I can now add proficiency with a pitchfork to my repertoire!). I and M were kind enough to drive me into town most days (when they were going), as well as being happy to drop me into town on my days off. Thank you again for all your hospitality!”

Their review of me: “DL spent two weeks with us and has a cheerful and pleasant personality. She joined in all the work and activities with willingness and good attitude. She got on well with our other volunteer and we wish her well for the future.”

TL;DR: Worked in Aberaeron on a horse farm with another NZer (who I didn’t know before arriving). High points: making up ridiculous meals with limited ingredients, 2 hobs, a microwave, and a kettle (which couldn’t all be plugged in at the same time!); eating honey ice cream in Aberaeron on nice days (the passionfruit one was amazing!), going on day trips, lots of funny stores. Low points: sanding a grungy windowsill; cutting back blackberries growing out of a barn, making up ridiculous meals with limited ingredients, 2 hobs, etc, etc, etc.

I left Edinburgh Monday morning and other than having had way too much to drink and needing the loo about an hour into a two and a half hour bus trip, got to the Borders with no problems. I was met by L, the Mum of the family I was staying with outside the supermarket in Hawick. Thankfully the supermarket had a loo I could use before heading out to their place about 10 minutes away.

When we got there, I met J, W, and their son, A, from Australia. We all had some lunch (toast), then had a look around the property. Unfortunately because it had started to rain we didn’t really want to do any work outside, so J, L, and I made jam inside. I’d never made jam before, but it was surprisingly easy! I’ll definitely be having another go when I get back home. I even got to try a new fruit, damsons!

Once we’d made the jam and put it into jars, L went to pick up her 2 kids E and M from school. When they got back, we all introduced ourselves, and then E and I hung out and made loom bands (there was quite a bit of that over the 2 weeks!).

Putting in vege patches

Putting in vegetable patches.

 

Here you can see the various stages of putting in the vegetable patches. First we had to dig out the area to put the frame in (you can’t really see it here, but the plot is on a slope), then put in the preassembled frame. After that we put the soil back around the frame to hold it in place, and then W would put supports around the frame to hold it in place. Then we would either fill it in with soil, ready for planting, or put layers of cardboard, manure, and dirt into the frame. You can see me right in the background shovelling manure! We did that until Thursday (until we ran out of wood to build the frames).

 

Friday we started to build a polytunnel. Well, I say we! I mostly moved dirt around (lots of fun, really!) for the day, with short breaks to help measure things out.

Over the weekend I mostly hung out and went for a couple of walks.

Week two I tidied up an area next to the chicken coop. This mainly involved digging up some grass, planting two blueberry bushes, and laying some paving stones down to walk on. Then I covered the other half (where the remaining grass was) over with carpet to stop weeds growing up over the winter.

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Laying the paving stones out before starting

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Blueberries planted (last couple eaten!) & paving stones being dug in.

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All finished!

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These ladies were happy for all the freshly dug over dirt!

 

I also did a bit of weeding (which I actually really enjoyed, with the exception of fairly consistently putting my hands into stinging nettles!).

Thursday evening I went for a bit of a walk to have an explore. I managed to convince myself that I was lost, but had in fact been following the roads I intended to go down all along.

All in all, I was sad to leave. I had a really good time here!

Reviews:

My review of them: “I’ve just finished my first helpx here with L and her family. I had such a wonderful time, they were all SO friendly, welcoming, easy to get along with, and generally fantastic hosts. I was there with an Australian couple and their son and we probably worked about 5 or so hours a day leaving heaps of time to explore the area (Tom has maps of walks you can do), or hang out with the kids! L, T, and the boys were also kind enough to include me in their outings on the weekends. I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome group of people to start off my helpx experience.”

Their review of me: “DL has just left us after her 2-week stay on our smallholding. While she was with us she built raised beds, dug and prepared ground for planting, planted blueberry bushes, cleaned out chickens, cooked dinner, looked after the kids and, boy can she make delicious desserts!! It has been a real pleasure having DL come to stay. She is easy to be around, hard-working and good fun too. Good luck with your onward travels DL. X”

TL;DR

Worked in Hawick! Things I enjoyed: playing with the kids, putting vegetable patches in (it’s so exciting working when you can see the results as you go), cooking. Things that weren’t so great: constantly putting my hands into stinging nettles unintentionally, weeding the driveway!

Leaving Edinburgh seemed like a very gradual process. When I left Wellington although I knew I was going for ages, I only had 4 weeks in which to pack up most of my stuff and pack, but as I was moving out of my flat before actually leaving Edinburgh it seemed like I had ages to get rid of stuff, send things home, and then finally have another 5 weeks to hone down what I was actually taking with me. Of course huge thanks need to go to all the people who put me up (you know who you are!), and the amazingly awesome Sid who not only forced me to accompany her to every stately home with tearooms (all but one!) reachable by public transport from Edinburgh, but was the voice of reason in helping me debag a lot of things I really didn’t need to bring with me.

Going back to where I left off last time, the book festival was pretty good. Alexander McCall Smith was as fantastic as ever, and I really didn’t regret going to see him a second time. David Levithan and Cat Clarke were my (unexpected) favourites though. I was there early and had an interesting conversation with the people sitting behind me about feeling too old to be at these kind of events (which I know is ridiculous!). That’s probably what I love most about events for teens/kids though, I always feel like there’s less pretense, people are there because they enjoyed the book (it’s entirely possible that I feel less awkward talking to people at those events though and so am more likely to do so though!) and are happy to talk about it.

Here’s the traditional picture, I think Cat got a bit of a shock when I asked them to say six though!

Cat Clarke, David Levithan, and Giraffe

I haven’t read anything by Cat Clarke, but am planning on doing so after hearing her read a bit of one of her books.

Michael Morpurgo was a delight to see. I’m SO glad I bought a ticket (not that there was ever a chance I wouldn’t), even if I ended up with a seat in the second row thanks to my tiny, tiny bladder. He was really nice when I met him in the signing queue too :)

Michael Morpurgo, Giraffe, and I

John Boyne was also really interesting!

John Boyne and Giraffe

After the book festival ended, I finally used up my last groupon voucher to go out on a ferry tour on the Forth of Firth with a stopoff on Inchcolm Island, which was great. It was a pretty windy day, but the Abbey on the island was gorgeous, and it was sunny enough to not be freezing cold! We also got to go out to where they’re building the new Forth Road bridge which was interesting, and they even answered two of my questions about how they build bridges over large bodies of water!

Inchcolm Island

After that there was just lots of saying goodbye to people. I only properly cried once, but that was mostly because we had also been playing Settlers of Catan and someone (who will remain nameless) stole the port I wanted, and had absolutely nothing to do with me being sad! It did feel really weird saying bye to people, partly because I know I’ll probably see most of them again before I actually go home, but also because it made me realise that when I do go home it’s going to be goodbye for a while. When I left Wellington I knew I would only really be gone for 2 or so years, and it felt different.

I’m currently in the Scottish Borders, and have been having a great time (I’ll write about that separately probably next week), but have been thinking about whether or not I should try and do a similar thing as I’m doing here in Iceland when I’m there in January. Two of the three reasons I want to go to Iceland are for snow and hopefully to see the Northern Lights, and my reckoning is that the longer I’m there for the higher the odds, but I’m not sure if it would be completely sane to stay in Iceland in basically complete darkness! I’m also not sure about how easy it will be to get around places via public transport. Someone has said that it’s Iceland and that they’re presumably used to the sort of weather I’m expecting so it won’t be too difficult! Anyway, feel free to chip in on the comments (I can’t seem to start a poll for some reason) if you have something to say :). At the moment I’m on the yes side of looking into it because it would definitely be an adventure!

I’ve been super busy since I last posted! The summer job is going pretty well, and I’ve only got another 2 days left with them at the beginning of next week before the kids head back to school. The summer seems to have gone by very quickly, but I guess it’s only 6 and a half weeks.

In the 4th week of the holidays I had a trip to Cardiff which was absolutely perfect. I stayed with a bookcrossing friend, Cassiopaeia. I seriously had the best time, helped of course by the awesome weather (highs of about 28 degrees every day, and beautifully sunny as well!). We did lots of snarfing, visited the Doctor Who experience (fully worth the entry fee), visited one Historic Trust building, and Saint Fagans (an open air museum featuring buildings that have been reconstructed within the museum grounds). I also had a morning to myself where I explored Cardiff Castle, and the National Museum. You can see my pictures from the whole trip here.

I’ve also been looking for work on the helpx website, and have so far managed to book myself in to work for 2 weeks in the Scottish Borders, 2 weeks in the west of Wales, and 1 week in Devon (98% confirmed)! That’s all starting up midway through September, and going through until almost the end of October, which only leaves 2 more months or so to find, and gives me a bit of a buffer which I’m really grateful for.

Until then I’m couchsurfing around various friends in Edinburgh! I’ve been having a good clean out of my stuff (with help from an awesome friend who would probably prefer to remain nameless!). Mount To Be Read is at an all time low of 6 (including the one I’m currently reading), and my chocolate stash is greatly depleted, and now totally bereft of Tim Tams!).

I’ve also seen a few shows at the Fringe Festival. Only one so far has been a complete dud, which is pretty good going (especially since it was a free one)! Noteworthy things I’ve seen include Black Faggot (all about being a gay Pacific Islander) and Outings (true stories about coming out), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed). Still got one thing booked, I’m off to see Potted Sherlock (60 Sherlock stories in 70 minutes by the people who did Potted Potter), and there’s still a few free things I would like to do, including Always Be Rolling (the poster has Settlers of Catan on it!).

The Book Festival starts tomorrow and I’m SO looking forward to it! I managed to get tickets to the 5 authors I wanted to see, so I’m off to see David Levithan (writer of gay teen fiction), Witi Ihimaera (of Whale Rider fame), Alexander McCall Smith (who I saw last year and obviously enjoyed!), John Boyne (he of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), and Michael Morpurgo (one of my favourite authors, he writes mostly historical fiction for kids).

Hi everyone! Yes I know it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve written anything (as usual!). Life seems to be changing very quickly so I thought I better write about it.

The first change was that I was made redundant from my highest paying job at the beginning of last month. I’ve got a summer job, so finances are ok, but I’m dubious about how likely I’m going to find a job for the remaining 4 or so months after my summer job ends.

Secondly, the shit hit the fan at my flat (thankfully not between flatmates), and so we’re all moving out at the end of the month. It was supposed to be the end of last month, but as we were all having enormous difficulty finding anywhere to live, our landlord has been extremely nice and said we can stay for another month.

Thirdly, E and I have broken up. I’m ok about this, sad obviously, but we had a good talk about it, and we both feel it’s the right thing to do. Happily, we are remaining friends.

This however seems to leave me in a situation where I don’t really have a lot tying me to Edinburgh after the summer holidays end. I would like to stay here until after the festival ends (I’ve already got tickets to a few things at the book festival and I’m still wanting to go to those!), but after that I’m planning on leaving Edinburgh and helpxing or wwoofing (working in exchange for food and accommodation) in other parts of the country. I’m planning on staying in the UK as I can’t really afford to be moving between Europe and the UK, and I’m still keen to do my 3 month trip around Europe before the Oxford BookCrossing Convention at the beginning of April. Plus as I’m still legally able to work here, there won’t be any visa issues.

This leaves me with the possibility of either trying to find somewhere to live just for August (which might happen still), or attempting to couchsurf around Edinburgh friends places (I’ve had 2 possible offers which I’m hoping to firm up at some point) for a few weeks. (If anyone is willing to host me for a couple of nights/shorter/longer I’m happy to pay for food etc, please feel free to get in touch!).

This has all happened rather quickly in some ways and not in other ways, and I’m slightly scared about the future (what’s new there though!), but also excited about what I hope will just be the next step in my adventure. I feel ready to leave Edinburgh, although I’ve had WONDERFUL time here.

In other, unrelated news, I’m off to Cardiff on holiday in a couple of weeks! I’m really looking forward to it!

Check out what E got me for valentines day :D He knows me so well!

I know I’ve been really slack in keeping this up to date, but I recently wrote to my Grandma, and it seemed like it would be easiest to mostly copy and paste what I’d written there into here, rather than stressing out about writing individual entries for all the exciting things I’ve been up to.

Life’s been pretty up and down since my last entry. After we got back from Turkey, Skyring and I came to Edinburgh. We did do a small overnight trip up to Aberdeen to meet some of our mutual friends from BookCrossing which was fun! I think I attempted to sleep most of the way up, so didn’t see much, and when we got there I was still shattered (I hadn’t been sleeping well for some reason) so had a nap in our accommodation while Skyring went out and explored. After my nap, we went for a walk, I took lots of pictures of plaques! Then we met up with some BCers which is always entertaining. Giraffe and Skyring’s Bear (Ringbear) got passed around, and I got a couple of knitted teacakes! On the way back I was still tired, but forced myself to stay awake to enjoy the trip! Lots of good views from the train :D

AKA Con Hilarity Continues

Melydia and I ride into the sunset on my giraffe

A few weeks later Skyring and I (plus lots of other people obviously!) both went to Gothenburg in Sweden for the annual BookCrossing convention. It was lots of fun. I got to meet lots of new people which was a bit weird. I’m used to knowing most of the people who go to the conventions because we have a steady group of about 20 people who come to the New Zealand/Australia ones. Obviously there’s a much bigger group over here and I don’t really know any of them! There were a few people I knew though and it was great to see them again! Again, we were really lucky with the weather and had a beautifully sunny weekend. Probably the only hiccup was that our (mine and MissMarkey) room reservation was lost, so we ended up sleeping in the conference room on foldout beds for the first night. It wasn’t a huge deal (it was even a bit fun!).

After Sweden I came home, worked in an after school club for a few months and met a boy (E). I quit the job at the end of term because I wasn’t really happy there, and couldn’t see it improving. E and I are still dating though (8 months so far)!

I was also lucky enough to be invited to a Dutch friends wedding in Amsterdam in May and was asked to be one of the witnesses! It was a beautiful wedding, and I had a wonderful weekend in Amsterdam. I visited the newly reopened Van Gogh museum and saw one of my 2 favourite paintings (the almond blossom one). Sadly my favourite one (Starry Night) wasn’t there, so I’ll have to make another trip!

I got a summer job working as a nanny for an English family living in Abu Dhabi, but here in Edinburgh for the summer. They had 3 sons, aged almost 4, 2, and 3 months. The Dad was still in Abu Dhabi, so I just went over for a few hours a day and helped look after the 2 eldest. We had such a hot summer (I think I wore shorts and tshirt for at least 4 weeks solid!) that we didn’t do much other than play in the backyard and inside when it got too bad! It was hard work, but fun at times! The 4 year old had a bit of a hitting/kicking issue with his younger brother which I hated, but the Mum was adamant that the best thing to do was just ignore it. The 2 year old was pretty good but had a bit of separation anxiety from his Mum which was fine if she wasn’t there, but more difficult when she just needed some peace to feed the baby and he was screaming away! The baby was probably the most placid baby I’ve EVER met!

When the job ended the Edinburgh festival had just started so I spent 3 weeks going to lots of cheap (and sometimes free!) theatre! My favourite was a Doctor Who related musical (they called it a Whosical)! I got to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra who were fabulous too!

I also had a fantastic time at the Book Festival, where I went to lots of really interesting talks. My favourites were definitely Neil Gaiman (who I saw a few times), Alexander McCall Smith (who was SO funny, and I’m looking forward to seeing next year!). I also got to see John Marsden (who said New Zealand school kids are a lot like Scottish school kids, neither of whom are like Australian school kids!), Margaret Atwood (who somehow recognised my giraffe????), RJ Palacio (who wrote one of my favourite books this year, Wonder), and Judith Kerr, who did a fascinating talk about her husband.

Neil Gaiman was a bit sick of my giraffe by then

(Personally I wonder how I put up with Giraffe photobombing all my famous author pictures!)

Alexander McCall Smith wondered how E put up with me

E and I also went to the Tattoo which was amazing! The New Zealand Army won the Pooley Broadsword, which is given to the top group that has consistently high performances through the whole tattoo period. It had a bit of Gangnam Style in it (just enough to be funny without annoying!). There was a fantastic lighting display over the Castle, fireworks, and lots of different countries did really cool displays.

After that all ended Edinburgh felt very empty (apparently the population of Edinburgh triples at that time of year), but it was nice to be able to get around without lots of people carrying luggage and blocking all the footpaths!

In September, my cousin Megan came to visit me for a few days which was fun. We went up Arthur’s Seat (great views!) and did some other touristy stuff. It was nice to see her!

Don't ask what happened to the icing, I have no idea how I made it do that flecked thing!

Cake in Leeds!

The weekend after Megan left there was a BookCrossing Unconvention in Leeds. My friend Bookfrogster and I caught the train down for the weekend, and it was a fab one! Got to see some old friends, and met some people I’ve known online for ages but hadn’t met till then which was awesome. Again, we had fabulous weather and I even managed to get a bit of a tan! It was Molyneaux’s (and somehow 2 other people as well) birthday that weekend, and despite having no working oven (or heating, those were a fun 9 weeks!) in the flat, I managed to take a cake down for her, no small feat! Amazingly it did actually get there in one piece, and was delicious to boot! I also had great fun icing the cake in the hotel room!

After that my friend Steph came to visit for 2 weeks. She’s a travel writer and managed to get both of us press passes to lots of Edinburgh attractions. My favourite was Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh. There was a fantastic audio tour, and a cool plaque showing where David Rizzio (Mary, Queen of Scots secretary) was murdered by her then husband Lord Darnley. It was really neat walking around there, it makes all the historic people seem more real somehow. I mean I know they really existed, but getting to walk around where they walked kind of blows my mind. I also went to the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was the official yacht of the Queen until quite recently. It was neat getting to wander around there too, but a bit chilly on deck!

After Steph left I decided I needed a bit of a break from job hunting so went to the Isle of Mull for 5 days. I stayed in Fionnphort (pronounced Finnofort) for 3 nights and spent a day and a half on the island of Iona. Iona was beautiful! I had one nice day where it only rained twice for about 5 minutes each time. I got to see a cool spouting cave (like the ones at Punakaiki), and walked to each side of the island. Columba’s Cove was beautiful, with thousands of different coloured stones on the beach. It was so nice to be able to wander around and not see anyone, just appreciating the beauty. The bed and breakfast I stayed in was fantastic. Amazing breakfasts and super friendly/knowledgeable hosts. Really good value too!

West side of Iona

Still the west side of Iona

After 2 days on Iona, I managed to get a lift with some French Tourists who were staying at the same B&B to Craignure (yes, I’m clearly still alive) so got to spend an afternoon in Craignure (where the ferry goes to/from). I mostly swam (the hotel I was staying in had a pool) and read (the weather was horrendous!). Then on Friday I caught the bus up to Tobermory and did a bit of Birthday/Christmas shopping. Then I caught the bus, a ferry, and 2 trains back to Edinburgh.

Boats in Tobermory

Tobermory

While I was on Oban, I got a call asking if I’d like to do a trial week for a Scottish/Chinese family. They then decided they wanted a live in nanny. Being a live in nanny is really something I’m not interested in (I like having my own life too much!), so they kept me on until they found someone else. They were really nice, and I had a few more days work with them before Christmas, when their live in nanny went home (she’s Spanish). They had a 4 year old boy and a 5 month old daughter. The boy was really energetic, so we spent lots of time at the local park (even though it was getting really cold), and the library. The baby was pretty good, she had just started rolling over when I started, and it was really cute watching her learning the steps to crawling (mostly just lifting herself up off the ground!).

Since then I’ve had a few afternoons work with a Canadian family with 2 sons (aged 2 and 4). The kids are also really energetic, and talk a mile a minute, usually one in each ear so I can’t hear either of them! The Dad is studying, and as they don’t have any family here they just need a bit of help sometimes!

I’ve also now got a job that started out as being before and after school care, and has now morphed into after school care for the time (it’s going to change) being with a 9 year old girl who is very enthusiastic about everything!

I spent Christmas with E’s family, they are SO nice, and spoiled me rotten! Sadly we didn’t have snow on Christmas Day (or even around it!), and it’s been surprisingly mild considering how cold it was in November. We didn’t do very much over Christmas (not surprising considering we only had about 6 hours of sunlight!), just hung out, and ate (much like at home really, but minus the after lunch walk/swim!). I stayed for 3 days, and then E and I went on holiday to Glasgow for 2 nights.

I have slight plans for the Easter holidays with E, but they’re still panning out so I won’t write about those yet!

TL;DR have a link to my picture sets on flickr!

[I’m only a little bit sorry about how long this is! I will not judge if you don’t read the whole thing! But I don’t want to leave things out, because this is *my* record of the trip, and heavens knows if I don’t write it down I’ll forget it!]

[Also note, some of the links are to more photos (because I wanted to include so many!), and others are information. As always there are more photos here (Gallipoli), and here (Istanbul).]

Thursday morning we woke up FAR too early, and headed over to the airport (about a 5 minute walk) to get our flight to Istanbul. It was a pretty good flight, I got the window seat, and it was a beautiful clear day flying. We’re pretty sure we flew over the Alps – there were definitely mountain ranges with snow on them, and then flying in to Istanbul was amazing too – it’s so spread out! No hassles getting our luggage, and we found the hire car desk to get our car. We got up to the car park and found the car we’d booked was kinda dirty, and a much bigger alternative. Pete decided to go for the bigger (cleaner!), one and we packed our stuff in and headed out. I was in charge of navigation, and got given a bit of paper with the instructions on how to get to our accommodation printed on it. We also had a GPS set to the hotel, and the car GPS on as well. The car GPS got turned off pretty quickly, and we followed both the instructions and the GPS onto the motorway.

Once we got out of the city it was a really interesting drive! Lots of buildings with whole apartments front walls collapsed, but looking like people were still living in the other apartments around them. I took a bit of video, put on some music (Sister Hazel’s ‘Heartland Highway’), which kind of worked, and took lots of photos. We stopped at a petrol station to get some water and something to eat, but just left with water, and got back on the road. After a couple of hours driving the GPS wanted us to go one way but the bit of paper seemed to want to go another, so Pete took the GPS route, and we ended up driving through about 3 small towns, dogs laying in the middle of the road, men sitting drinking coffee on the side, and a statue (presumably of Kemal Ataturk) in the centre of each. This wasn’t nearly as scary as the bits between the villages, with shepherds and dogs that wanted to chase our tires! There was only a small amount of screaming from me though! We think the GPS cut off a small corner of road because we ended up back where the directions wanted us to be (to my relief!). I’m not sure if I’m misrembering – Turkey seemed green, but a different shade of green to New Zealand. We got in to the hotel about 7ish, checked in, and went to our (seriously amazing!) rooms.

Dinner was offered and the Lonely Planet website had suggested sticking around for it, so we did – it was NOT a mistake! We arrived at the dining room a bit after 7.30 and chatted with a beer (Efes), and some other guests, all British, who had spent the day exploring Gallipoli. I can’t remember how much dinner was, but I know it was worth it, 5 delicious courses, vegetarian not a problem (although I know we did let them know that in advance). After dinner, we headed off to bed as we were planning to get up stupidly early again.

IMG_0475 Friday morning we got up about 5.30am, dressed warmly, and drove down to ANZAC cove for dawn. We almost made it, it was just starting to get light as we drove down, but it definitely wasn’t fully light when we got down there and found somewhere to sit. I don’t even know if it’s possible to describe what it’s like there, I know it’s changed quite a bit in the last 90 years, but it was incredibly peaceful sitting there, watching the sky get lighter and waves lightly crashing on the beach. Hard to imagine what it would have been like landing there in 1915.

I’m not sure how long we sat there, but when the sun was visible (behind the Sphinx) we walked around to the end of the beach and back then had a brief look at Ari Burnu cemetery. I found someone who could be related to me and drove back to the Gallipoli Houses for breakfast (more deliciousness!).

After breakfast, I drove back down toward ANZAC cove, parked, and took a walk along the road. I came across the famous quote from Ataturk and stopped to have a look.

      “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…

      You the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

IMG_0504I know that I’ve read it before and it touched me, but seeing it there really drove it home, and I was really close to tears reading it again.

We made our way back to the car, and drove around the peninsular a bit more, past a crew setting up tiered seating, presumably for ANZAC day. We drove along, stopping every so often so I could take photos of the plaques/infographics. I was sad we couldn’t have a look at everything, but we really didn’t have time, so we eventually turned around and headed up towards Lone Pine and Chanuk Bair. There were a few times I pulled over suddenly, spotting things I wanted to investigate, there are definitely things I need to look up still. This statue was interesting, especially when Pete noted that he was carrying a British rifle on his back!

We kept heading up towards Lone Pine, stopping every so often at graveyards. Probably the most moving for me were the ones where there are hundreds of bodies buried, with hardly any identified. The Nek was one of these with 10 identified burials and 316 unidentified. I really don’t have any words to describe how that felt/feels.

At Lone Pine we had a proper look around, there were people there setting up more tiered seating for Anzac Day. We had a bit of a look through the cemetery then found a path going down towards the ocean so had a look down there. Pete managed to find some trenches so I went to have an explore down them, found a turtle on the way, and took a video walking through the trenches. They weren’t hugely deep, but there was a definite shape going through. You can also see they’re put some logs and barbed wire up.

I wandered back up and had a look at the cemetery and memorial. There were so many names, and I found it hard to imagine so many people dying/being injured at such a peaceful spot.

IMG_0552 As we had been driving up the road I kept spotting an interestingly shaped memorial and wondering what it was, and we eventually got up to it. It turned out to be a memorial for the 57th Infantry Regiment (under Ataturk), and unfortunately (at least for me!), a bus full of Muslim people pulled up in front of us, so I felt compelled to put my sweatshirt on. I’d taken it off in the nice warm sun, and until then it had felt like we were the only people for miles so I wasn’t too worried about offending anyone. This memorial had really interesting statues inside, all with plaques in Turkish, so I have no idea what they were about (further research needed obviously!). Probably my favourite was of a little girl and a man. This one was also filled with beautiful red and white tulips. Interestingly there was what I’m fairly certain was a prayer area with shelves of blankets and a partition going half way across.

We finally hit Chanuk Bair, the major New Zealand memorial/cemetery. This one, like the 57th Infantry Regiment had people set up selling things, but having just had an ice cream (mostly to get some change to use the loo), we didn’t stop, strolling up towards the two imposing looking memorials on the top of the hill.

For some reason every time I come to finish this blog entry off, I get stuck here. I’ve just spent an hour or so putting all the pictures in (I was writing this as a word document). I guess there’s something that defies description about it. I know I spent a while looking around, mostly on my own, or at least separate from Skyring (in the same way that we were sitting next to each other, but completely separate watching the sun rise that morning). And I know there was another cemetery with hundreds of unidentified soldiers buried there. It really plucked at my heart.

IMG_0598After Chanuk Bair, we were getting hungry, and a bit tired, so we drove all the way back down towards the Gallipoli Houses, stopping at a lunch establishment that had been recommended to us on the way for pancaky things. We ordered FAR too much food, and it was slightly doubtful if it was going to be vegetarian or not (I wasn’t going to stress *too* much if it wasn’t, I did my best to order, but sometimes it’s easier to just eat). The milky drinks were interesting, we were both kind of expecting something like a lassi, but it was much more like greek yogurt and milk mixed together. After completely stuffing ourselves (and still leaving food behind!) we headed back to the GH for a nap before yet another delicious dinner.

Next morning we got up much later than the previous two mornings, had breakfast, and packed the car ready to drive back to Istanbul. I drove until lunch (more lentil soup, which was delicious, but not as good as the first time I had it!), and then Skyring took over on the exciting highway bit. As far as I can tell, everyone in Turkey drives like maniacs, at one point we ended up in the emergency vehicle lane, simply because there were SO many other people in it, we thought it was the lane for the exit we wanted to be on (well we did get off on the right exit, so that’s something!)! We managed to get the car dropped off at the airport fine, and then got a taxi to the next hotel, which seemed to take an age, but with a superb taxi driver (according to Skyring anyway, who I’m willing to concede has more taxi experience than me!) who insisted on taking us the quickest route, even if we’d pulled off, if there was traffic on that road, we’d somehow end up back on the motorway again! I got a few good pics of beautiful tulips, as well as the Walls of Constantine.

Found the hotel, dumped our luggage, I got changed into something slightly more appropriate (yay blouses!), and we headed back out onto the mean streets of Istanbul. We first headed over to the Basilica Cistern, to see if it was still open, but sadly not, we’d just missed it, so we had a quick look around the outside of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and headed towards the hostel part of town to find somewhere to eat.

IMG_0622

Token food photo for Dad!

We ended up at a fish restaurant (of all things!) on the roof of a hotel. Skyring had fish (of all things!), and I had a delicious meze (the dolmas were particularly delicious!). It was a pretty nice evening, although I wished I had brought a jersey. The restaurant had great views over Istanbul, and especially over the next door neighbours who were barbequing on the roof of their building! Baklava and apple tea for desert, which was a-mazing! Probably the best I’ve ever had (the baklava anyway, not that there was anything wrong with the tea!)!

IMG_0651The next morning we were up bright and early, and had breakfast on the terrace of the hotel overlooking some more of Istanbul. After breakfast we headed back along to the Basilica Cistern, which I’d heard about in Turn Right at Istanbul by Tony Wright, and had wanted to visit ever since. They were as magical as I was expecting, full of this amazing yellowish/red light, water, fish, and eery music. This was my favourite thing in Istanbul. After having a good look around (the Medusa heads were fascinating!), we headed back out, I bought a pile of postcards, and we walked to the Hagia Sofia. We lined up for tickets, and it didn’t take long for us to get them. First stop for me was the loo, and then we headed inside.

Hagia Sofia was busy, but still extremely magnificent. I am still awe struck by the fact that these buildings are still standing, even though some of them have been there for more than 1400 years! (And yes, the geek in me is thinking, that’s longer than the Doctor has been alive!). We had an explore, marvelling at the mosaics, then rambled through the Topkapi gardens, headed towards the Grand Bazaar to look at carpets, stopping to have lunch on the Golden Horn (at yet another fish restaurant, with yet more lentil soup (I’m a big fan!), where the waiters really liked Rangimarie and Ring/routebeer. I also had hot chestnuts for the first time (verdict = delicious)!.

IMG_0752After lunch we kept going towards to the Grand Bazaar, through the Spice Market, which was gorgeous! Skyring insisted he knew where he was going, and we did eventually find our way to the Grand Bazaar, only to find that it is closed on a Sunday, so we didn’t even get to have a look through! We decided to head back to the hotel to get to the airport, and only stopped to go loo again, and to buy some halva, which I’ve been wondering about for ages, but haven’t ever got because I love baklava so (verdict = delicious :p).

More nondescript flights, we picked up Skyring’s camera he’d left in the rental car, I bought some turkish delight and baklava at the airport, and we got back to my flat about midnight, where we fell into bed!

I promise I am writing! Turkey is so close to going up, but I seem to be in the middle of lots of things (knitting 2 projects, reading 2 books, need to practice ukulele, still job hunting for both morning and holidays jobs!) and I’ve been slack… and having a life!

So, for your enjoyment, because lots of other people seem to be doing this, here is the list of books on Mt. TBR (Mount To Be Read).

1. Nemesis – Jo Nesbo (promised to a BCer coming to Leeds)
2. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
3. the five people you meet in heaven – Mitch Albom
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
5. My Favourite Place (peoples favourite places in Scotland)
6. Regeneration – Pat Barker
7. Dear Olly – Michael Morpurgo (currently reading)
8. The Wreck of the Zanzibar – Michael Morpurgo
9. The Sleeping Sword – Michael Morpurgo
10. The Butterfly Lion – Michael Morpurgo
11. Toro! Toro! – Michael Morpurgo (all given to me in Gothenburg as part of the NSS)
12. The Hound of the Baskerville – Arthur Conan Doyle (I feel bad I haven’t read of these yet!)
13. Ghosts of the Tower of London – G. Abbot
14. The Plague – Albert Camus (given by a friend who had 2 copies)
15. Gulp – Mary Roach
16. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
17. A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
18. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry
19. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner
20. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
21. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
22. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
23. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman
24. The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (I had no idea I had 2 of his!)
25. The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
26. One Flat coyote on the Centre Line – Karen Goa

If anyone has an ideas which I should read next, please feel free to chime in in the comments!

These last few weeks have been insanely awesome. Easter Sunday I caught the train down from Edinburgh to Harwell, where my friend MissMarkey lives. I’ve known MM since she came to stay at my place before the 2009 Christchurch Convention. Luckily for her, we all got on like a house on fire, but I’ve only had the pleasure of her company once since then, when we spent a week in New York, and then went to the BC in DC convention in 2011. She was definitely one of the drawing points of my move to Scotland, although it’s not that close to where she lives, it’s definitely a LOT closer than New Zealand!

So I was pretty excited to go visit her. But first, the train trip. I had thought about getting the bus down the night previously after work, but by the time I finally booked, the train was about £4 more expensive, during the day, and still got me in to Oxford in time to get the last 2 buses to Harwell. So train it was. I’d acquired the latest Doctor Who episode to watch on the train, but I only got as far as the first 15 minutes or so and was distracted by the gorgeous view going along the Forth of Firth. It was stunning – lots of green, and a few falling down dwellings that had probably been there since the beginning of time! So I turned on an audiobook (What I Saw and Why I Lied by Judy Blundell, which I still haven’t finished, I need to put it onto my ipod instead), and spent a glorious couple of hours appreciating the view of Scotland and England. I got off the train in Burmingham to transfer over to a train to Oxford, and spent just less than an hour at the railway station. Sadly I left my box of nuts (for snacks) on the train. I really need to remember to check under the seats!

I got on to the train to Oxford fine, but had a small freak out moment when there was someone sitting in my spot, and I thought I had got onto the wrong train! I wandered around for a while trying to find the train conductor, and ended up sitting next to a slightly skeezy, drunk guy who tried to hit on me *shudders*. Luckily he got off before I had to do anything drastic, and then we were in Oxford!

The train got in to Oxford right on time, and I got off with minimal fuss, then had good fun first putting money on my phone so I could let MM know when I was on the bus, then trying to find the bus stop. It wasn’t too bad, I just had a bit of difficulty matching my written description from google maps to the streets, and whether I should turn left or right. Luckily I looked suitably lost with my book of useful information that a cyclist asked if I needed some help and confirmed that I did indeed need to turn left. After that slight kerfuffle, I made it to the bus stop just as the bus was pulling in (admittedly there was a small amount of running when I realised I had 10 minutes to do an 8 minute walk – I don’t trust buses not to leave early!). I was the only passenger until we pulled into Didcot Railway Station (where my train was going, so next time I’ll get off there instead and save myself the walk). From there it was only about 10 minutes to Harwell where I had asked the driver to give me a yell a few minutes before we got in so I could organize myself. Luckily I saw MM on the side of the road signaling, because he hadn’t yelled and it didn’t take me too long to get off the bus!

We had a nice hug, and then walked a few metres down the road to MM’s place. It was so nice to see MM, who I hadn’t seen since 2011’s trip to the USA when we spent a week in New York and a weekend at the BC in DC convention. We had a nice catch up while the soup for dinner warmed up. After dinner we had a delicious flan that MM had whipped up, and then knitted, and hung out on the internet till about midnight.

The next day (Easter Monday), we were part of the village Easter egg hunt, so we headed off to the church after lunch (after some more knitting and internetting). I was the Easter Bunny and had to hide somewhere in the church for the kids to find me and claim their Easter eggs. The first hiding place I had wasn’t that great, but after 2 kids found me I moved into the pulpit with the door open a smidge, so I could see out and sat in there for what seemed like a long time! When my legs started going numb I moved across to somewhere with a bit more space, and sat there for a bit. It wasn’t nearly as good, so once a few more kids had found me I moved back to the pulpit, and then ended up back in my third hiding place for the last (cold) hour or so. I had tried to text MM to ask if there were any more kids, but didn’t get any reply (there wasn’t much cell reception in the church), and eventually the last kid did come and claim their eggs. It was lots of fun!

The chicks were all over me

Once we’d had a cup of tea and a bit of a chat with the people still there we drove around and picked up all the Easter bunnies scattered around the village (as part of the scavenger hunt) then got dropped off back at MM’s place. More soup for dinner, and some more knitting, hanging on the internet, and warming the chicks up. Janice has lots of chickens, and she’d taken a few of the eggs in to school so the kids could watch the eggs hatch, and brought them home with her in the evenings/weekends. She had also decided to take them into the church for the kids there to look at and had cleaned their warming lamp which then didn’t want to work in the church, and I thought the fuse must have blown, but it turned out to just need a new lightbulb. In the meantime the chicks were being heated by hot wheat pack, and we’d taken them out in the evening for a bit of a romp.

Tuesday we caught the bus into Didcot and did a bit of shopping in the charity shops. I bought two long sleeved cotton shirts for Turkey, and Janice might have bought some books. I’d been looking for cotton shirts in Edinburgh’s numerous charity shops and hadn’t found anything I liked/fitted/was the right weight so I was really glad to find these 2, especially when I thought I’d miscalculated how many tshirts I’d need and that I’d brought one less (I hadn’t!). Then off to a yarn shop with a slightly scary Swedish woman who helped us make a few purchases, mostly for yarn bombing on my part. Then we made our way to the supermarket to get things for quiche (which I had promised to help make). We caught the bus back to Harwell and MM got potatoes in the oven to roast and I made 2 (yummy, if I say so!) spinach quiches, one for dinner and one for lunch the next day when Skyring was supposed to be joining us. We realised when we unpacked the groceries that we’d accidentally gotten one sweet pastry crust and one savory, and of course I then made the mistake of taking them out of the packaging and then we couldn’t figure out which one was which, but I’m pretty sure we ate the sweet one (filled with spinach and egg and things!) for dinner that night. It was still nice! Followed by the last of the flan. More knitting/internet/chicks until around midnight when we snuck out into the village and yarnbombed a couple of the bus stop poles on MM’s street. Lots of hilarity there when we thought we’d stuffed it up and ended up with one side much higher than another, but it was just my fairly average holding together. One ended up inside out, but I think it still looked fine! Then back home to bed.

I didn’t sleep well, I kept waking up early in the morning wondering if Skyring had got in yet, his flight was supposed to have arrived in London about 5am (but was delayed), and eventually got up about 8.30am and hung around in my pajamas for a while. After what seemed like ages (but probably wasn’t!) he arrived and we all had a massive hug. He needed to rejig his suitcases because his big BC tote bag had the zip broken in transit and no longer did up once he’d opened it so brought some of his stuff inside. Janice and I made a pavlova while he did that. It turned out pretty good for my second ever attempt (and first on my own without Mum!). Had the rest of the quiche (the savoury one!) and the pav for lunch, and then went off for a tour of the church tower as MM had very kindly arranged for the head bell ringer to give us a bit of a tour. He showed us a bit about the bells, and even lowered one (which involves ringing it) for us! Then we went up on the church tower roof which had amazing views over Harwell, but was incredibly windy and a bit cold. When we’d had enough, we climbed back down, and went on a small snarfari around the village. I probably got about 30 before we’d all had enough of the wind and we went to MM’s book tree book and created a book tree. Then back to MM’s place where I packed all my stuff up. Lytteltonwitch arrived about 5, and we all headed out to dinner at a pub in a neighboring village with Molyneux and her son. Lots of fun had (as tends to happen when BCers meet up!), and we might have convinced Molyneux to come to Leeds in September for her birthday, which happily coincides with the BC Unconvention happening there. About 10 we left, Skyring dropped LW and MM back at MM’s place, we picked up my luggage, and drove in to the airport hotel at Heathrow.

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