A gondola ride in Venice…can it’s popular appeal put you off?

It was a recent conversation with my son James that has inspired me to write this post. We are having a cup of tea in the garden during the recent British August Bank Holiday weekend, one of the warmest ever recorded in the UK. Our mother-son bonding chat goes towards our love of travelling….. when he hits me with this sentence “I don’t like travelling to popular places”… Me: “Are you serious? What do you mean?” He: “when everyone goes travelling to the same place… it puts me off…” So I argue that popular places are popular for a REASON…usually an amazing land mark, beautiful scenery etc.

But it got me thinking…would I avoid travelling to popular places that have been on my wish list for years because they are too popular? Crowded? Have been talked about, explored, photographed, shared on social media… to death?

Many of these travelling destinations have been on my “bucket list” all my life and are now all within my grasp, many I have already visited. Certainly, my desire to see these places has not been the slightest bit diminished by their soaring popularity. World regions that not too long ago would have been considered a-once-in-a-life-time-experience, a dream destination. Who would not want to visit Venice, Rome, Paris, Angkor, Machu Pichu, Galapagos, etc.? There is no arguing that these once exclusive, dream destinations have now skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to social media over sharing, review platforms, unlimited access to information, cheaper deals, the affluence of the Boomer generation, also the Millennial generation who have travel ambitions and want to experience it all now. This tech savvy generation is always on the look out for the best deals and they are happy to share it all on social media…it has never been easier and cheaper to travel.

But I can see my son’s point of view. Places are becoming spoiled by the growing tourism industry, the paradox of mass tourism, it is a double edged sword. On one side the immense benefits that can be brought to a country’s economy are certainly not to be ignored. Particularly for poorer countries, whose economies are now booming due to sudden increased popularity, there are many regions of the world that feed primarily on tourism, their economy depends on it. But the money does not always go to the pockets of locals. Cheap package deals mean that local businesses are seeing their profit margins declining and most of the money often being pocketed by the large international resorts and corporations. Thinking here of your cheap “all-inclusive” hotels, where meals and alcohol are all included in the price. Tourists have very little or no incentive to leave their luxury all inclusive resort, therefore spending very little of their tourist dollar on local hotels, bars and restaurants.

Mass tourism can change the character of a place for the worst. The once charming, full-of-mystery foreign land becomes another victim of the homogenized, standardized model of modernization.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Maya Beach, no longer the hideaway of hippies.

The very reason for its popularity can also become its downfall, mass tourism is changing the character of some places, once idyllic locations have now been turned into an over developed resort nightmare…looking at places like Ko Phi Phi, for example, which was thrust into the limelight by the Hollywood movie “The Beach”, it is now overrun by careless tourists. The all night “full moon” parties are not welcomed by all that visit this charming Island off the Thailand coast. Party goers have little consideration for the locals who have to put up with their all night parties and noise pollution. Brian and I loved visiting Ko Phi Phi back in 2013, but we did ponder, during our 4 days stay in this beautiful island, how it will cope with its ever increasing popularity?

As a resident of a tourism hotspot, I see few benefits of the crowded roads, beaches and beauty spots during the high holiday season here in the South of England. Local restaurants and hotels may welcome the high influx of visitors, but to what cost? Visitors cause inflated prices of food, housing and infrastructure. I can’t help longing for the end of the summer holidays and for an order to be restored. I feel sorry for the residents of other tourist hot spots that are busy all year round.

Venice, Italy

My early morning cup of tea, on board a cruise ship that left Venice towards Croatia and the Greek Islands.

Invaded by the mega cruise ships Venice is under threat. The cruise terminal is in the heart of historic Venice, the passage of every single ship causes erosion of the mudflats and sediment loss.This beautiful Italian city, surrounded by water has its present and future blighted by the vested interests of mass tourism as it provides jobs and money to the Italian economy. Venice is the gateway to the cruise industry down the Adriatic,  it keeps it “afloat”. Even though the huge cruise ships are turning the city into an environmental disaster, threatening not only the dimensions of the city (it now floods regularly) but also the Venetians quality of life. Local authorities continue to put the short term gains of tourism before sustainability and the long term environmental effect of mass tourism. Not surprisingly Unesco has Venice on its “endangered” list.  Venice is a unique city, back in 2010, I took a cruise with Brian and our children from Venice down the Adriatic visiting Croatia and some of the Greek Islands. Standing on the upper deck of the cruise ship it was a travel moment of pure bliss, we floated past the historic centre of Venice, along the Lagoon, passing Piazza San Marco,  Doge’s Palace, the Campanile (bell tower) and many other stunning Italian architecture and monuments. We entered the Lagoon in the early morning, La Serenissima felt every bit as serene as I have dreamt off all my life.

Stonehenge, England

Almost 30 years ago when I first visited this site, the atmosphere was so different. Brian and I rode our motorbike and parked very near the site, we could walk right up to the stones, touch it even (I am not for a minute condoning that). There were very few tourists, the mood was of calm and contemplation. Now with the gazillions of tourists that visit every day the stones are protected (as it should be) by a separation rope, allowing for a good distance between the photo clicking tourists and the magnificent Ancient site.

Is there any untouched wilderness out there?

Everest, Nepal

When we think of a remote, inaccessible corner of this planet Everest often comes to mind. The ultimate adventure for the climbers who return from it alive with tales of hardship and unwavering self-determination. Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa were the first to summit Everest on May 29, 1953. It was a British expedition lead by Colonel John Hunt.

The Himalayan Database shows that 641 climbers made the summit in 2016 alone. The adventure climbers are not deterred even by the sombre statistics counting the number of deaths on this Himalayan mountain range. The 2016 database counted 282 people who have died on Everest from 1921 to 2016. The highest mountain on earth has claimed their lives. The high altitude of high mountains makes it hard for the human body to acclimatize, as it uses oxygen faster than it can be replenished, the oxygen level is not sufficient to sustain life. There is a need for supplementary oxygen, something that some mountaineers are keen to prove otherwise, as they push their bodies to its physical limits.

It is my dream to trek to Everest Base Camp one day. No doubt I will do my best to realise this dream. James again reminds me of how popular it has become… instead of the great spiritual, cultural experience we might encounter a queue of people heading up the same path among one of the greatest Mountain Range on Earth. Surprisingly Mt. Everest itself is now littered with climbing equipment, empty oxygen cans, plastics, tins, glass, clothes, tents and sadly even the remains of failed climbers. A sombre thought indeed. It is not in my plans to ever attempt to summit the highest Mountain on Earth, but there is no doubt in my mind that if I ever achieve my goal of trekking to its base camp I will nonetheless feel a great sense of achievement to simply be there standing on its shadow looking up to it’s moody and ice covered peak.

Antartica

The recent trends of Ecotourism and adventure tourism have brought an increased number of tourists to Antartica, keen to explore this ice-covered land mass, the coldest and southernmost continent on Earth. There has been a steady increase of cruise ships in the last few years. The worry is that if larger cruise ships start coming it could disrupt the very fragile Ecosystem, which can take many years to recover, if at all.

The Polar ice caps regulate weather patterns and temperature, it contains about 90 percent of our planet’s freshwater stores. Pollution and disruption to its delicate balance are a big deal for the future of our planet.

But although its popularity and accessibility are increasing Antartica continues to be, at least for now, one of the most inhospitable places on earth and certainly not your main stream destination, thankfully not an all inclusive in sight … Let’s keep it that way.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Another dream destination is The Great Barrier Reef, James again reminds me of how its popularity has also been its greatest demise. Global warming is destroying this fragile and balanced marine environment. Large parts of the reef have become bleached by pollution, rising water temperature and even some recent oil spills have decimated parts of the reef. Without proper care, the Great Barrier Reef could disappear within a generation.

Even the slightest change in water temperature can have a huge impact on the coral ecosystem. Human actions are directly affecting and causing harm to the Coral Reef in a way that it could be forever lost. In our recent visit to Australia, we were in awe of this incredible underwater world, not visiting it would have been unthinkable. There has to be no doubt that preserving it for future generations is of great necessity and urgency.

Pontoon at the Great Barrier Reef

Changing Tourism Practices and Mentality 

My son James, like many of us, wants to travel to unique destinations, more off the beaten path places, undiscovered places. Do they still exist? And if so how can we protect it from the mentality of let’s build a monstrosity all inclusive resort here? Even the best-kept secret places will eventually become mainstream. In the world of social media, no stone will be unturned. How to protect and preserve for future generations is fodder for a lot of debate. I don’t proclaim to have any answers but as travellers, we are all responsible for doing our bit, to question ourselves whether it is our very desire to visit these places, to tick them off our wish list the very thing that will ultimately destroy them? How can we become part of the solution? We can certainly do our bit by travelling in a more ethical, responsible and sustainable way.

We all know that there is an urgent need for better planning of tourism practices. Governments need to engage with local citizens, local businesses, service providers and visitors to collectively look for innovative ways of ensuring economic growth without the loss of unique environments, landscapes, heritage and cultural value. Reducing overcrowding in some of the most popular places by diversifying its product range, opening up new opportunities,  providing better distribution of tourist activities elsewhere in the country. It might even be a case of reducing tourist numbers in some more sensitive and endangered areas by creating more protected areas.  Ensuring the tourist dollar is used appropriately with most of the money going into the local economy, but also ensuring that the income from tourism does not become a priority over the needs and interests of its citizens. Unhappy hosts in overcrowded cities can often become hostile to tourists resulting in a reduced quality and joyless experience for visitors.

Do we need to stop visiting places we love in order to save it?  Are you put off by mass tourism? Are the most celebrated landmarks now becoming overdone, uninspiring and just …too popular? Over to you…what do you think?

 

 

 

World…come into my arms!

I am taking voluntary early retirement from a job I love, but so far have no regrets on my decision. I am now working my “notice” and will finish work by the end of October. A scary thought? Not at all, since I have considered this decision very carefully.

I went back to University to study Dietetics later on in life (after working in a soulless job in a Bank)  and from the very start of my course, I knew I had finally found something that I was passionate about. For the past 11 years, I have loved the interactions with patients, the camaraderie of working with other health professionals learning from each other, the feeling of being valued, and the rewards of doing something meaningful that can help improve people’s quality of life.

But it is now with thoughts about my own quality of life, longevity, new passions and how to better spend the great commodity of “TIME” that I have started feeling the urge to make changes, shake things up a bit, move on to the next stage of my life. As much as I have enjoyed my work, I feel I lack control of my own time, I am time deprived, I hear a clock that is ticking so fast and there is nothing I can do to stop it. And energy; work can be so draining and leave so little energy for anything else. Work takes so many hours of our everyday lives, at times I feel cheated and robbed of my very existence. As I get older time becomes even more precious, forces me to confront my longevity, realising that I am not here for all eternity.

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.” Harvey MacKay 

The funny thing is that when I tell people about my early retirement plans I get strange looks, people say “but you are too young to retire” or they ask me with in a slightly nervous tone “so what are you going to do now?” , a question loaded with anxiety, suspecting that my free time will be wasted, that I will NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO, that I will be bored. Is that a possibility? Being bored with too much time on my hands? In reality, I don’t really understand this concept since there are so many things that interest me, but at the moment I lack the time to pursue. This very blog, for instance;  being able to write more, being able to read more….. there are so many books I want to read, places I want to visit, travelling, hiking, taking advantage of other learning opportunities such as learning more about photography, yoga, meditation, exercise more, meet up with friends and family, have time to think…to just be. The list is endless and time is short. I will most definitely not have the time to be bored, I am sure of it.

I feel extremely lucky to be in good health, to be financially independent, no longer needing to work for a living. I have worked since I was 18 years old, so now I feel I have paid my dues. I do not feel any sense of guilt about taking early retirement. In fact, I feel very entitled to it, excited about it. I have worked hard (paid and unpaid jobs), at times having many jobs at once, I have so far lived a very productive life and have contributed to society, paid taxes. I know that I will continue to contribute to the world around me in many other ways, such as voluntary work opportunities or spend some of my free time helping others….and paying more taxes no doubt.

There is NOT a lot to rant about my job, but some of the things I will not miss at all:

Early Mornings: my day usually starts very early, I get up at 5:45 am, leave my house about 7 am and drive for about 30 minutes to the main dietetic office at the hospital. Some days I will drive for over one hour to another hospital or medical clinic. In the winter I leave home in the dark, and many days I drive back home in the dark, in the rain, wipers on, oncoming headlights dazzling me along twisty country roads. I hate driving in the dark, often cold, foggy winter mornings. I long to switch the alarm clock off, to take my time getting up and not rush around like a mad woman on a mission.

Paper work:  Policies, pathways, letters, record cards, medical notes, forms for every eventuality,  diet sheets, spreadsheets….bored already? Me too.

Appraisals: If I never have to fill out an appraisal form again…well, that will be too soon.

Managers: Who constantly think we need a restructure….out goes the baby with the bath water again, with very little thought for how it’s all going to work in practice? Hello!!! It’s a hospital…do we really need more managers? What about more doctors? More nurses? More clinicians…More money invested in the people who really do all the front line work?

IT Systems: At the moment I have to use many different IT systems to be able to do my work, I currently use PAS, System One, EMIS WEB, ICE etc. …it really is mind boggling. Don’t even get me started on all the different passwords I have to try remembering. But guess what? There is yet another system being implemented soon called DPR (Digital Patient Record)..supposed to be the best system of all and make it all a lot simpler. I’ve heard that one before.

And the funny thing is, the closer retirement gets, the less patience you have for all of this nonsense. Less, and less, and less, and then  – when you can almost taste the freedom –  none!

There are some things that I will dearly miss:

The people: I work with some awesome people…you know who you are. I can not praise them enough, for being so great at their job; helpful, caring, selfless…keeping the NHS machine well oiled, I am grateful for all their help, for keeping me sane during some of the most insane moments working for the NHS. There have been some sad, devastating moments, that only work colleagues can relate to and understand.

I will also miss many of the patients that I have had the pleasure to look after and who have taught me to never take my health for granted. People who have inspired me with their resilience and sheer determination to live a good life in spite of all their difficulties and health issues.

CPD – I have been very lucky to get funded to attend some amazing Conferences (it can be expensive to pay privately to attend). These events have left me in awe of people who do some fantastic research work, who discover some very clever stuff indeed, which in time will go a long way to improve the health of the nation and the world.  Learning opportunities are never a waste of time, I have valued them all.

Working in a health setting as a clinician: It is difficult to describe how rewarding it is. I love it, I can’t think of any other job I would rather do (although if I had my time again I would have studied Medicine, doctors really do an amazing job).

The lovely welcome I get: Everywhere people are so welcoming…at the Primary Care Hospital, the  GP practices, patients homes, I usually get the warmest of welcomes, big smiles,  hugs, offers of a lovely cup of tea. At my main office, I am usually the first to arrive, but I am not alone for long and soon there are hugs galore as my colleagues start arriving and there are warm greetings to have. There is always a degree of “office politics”, it is only natural that there will be some people that you like more than others, but I am glad to work in a predominantly lovely and friendly environment.

Being in “The Club“: I will be sad to hand over my badge, my office keys, my scales…and all the bits and pieces that make me part of the NHS machine, part of “The Club”. I will be “persona non grata” no longer allowed access all areas. But I guess you just can’t have it all.

Somehow I don’t think I will miss work, but only time will tell. I can tell you that it’s a risk I’m ready to take. I am so excited about the future, and the endless possibilities of doing more of the things I really want to do, not the things that I have to do. I just hope I will continue to be healthy and to have my friends and family supporting me…there really are no limitations to what can be achieved in this next stage of my life.

I’m ready. I’m more than ready. Bring it on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first downsized my life almost 30 years ago. The impetus of being young and single, a bit of cash in my pocket, a backpack full of dreams and a taste for adventure was all I needed back then. Fast forward a lifetime lived in a first world country full of the trappings of a capitalist society, how easy is it to downsize my current lifestyle? What are the compromises my husband and I are prepared to make to design the future life we want to live?

We have been pondering these questions for some time now, as the clock ticks on eating into minutes, days, months and years; making us realise that a big chunk of our lives is now over and we are not getting any younger. We most certainly have lived more than fifty percent of our life expectancy and no doubt the most healthy years of our lives. A huge chunk of a life spent working, earning money and accumulating stuff that now feels like a pile of clutter and things we no longer need. It is often so ingrained into our brains to believe that progress is directly related to bigger, better…more is more… that downsizing can feel like going backwards.

For us this is intentional downsizing,  we feel very lucky that our downsizing is not due to necessity,  poor health,  financial issues, divorce, or any other distressing reason. It is mostly because we both feel that the time has come to shed some of the no longer needed things and stuff that have kept us pedalling at full speed on the hamster wheel in order to maintain a lifestyle. Living in a large house, the expense of having more than one car, motorbikes, and buying things that we don’t actually need. Although we have never been slaves to the keep up with the Jones type of mentality or caring at all about designer gear, expensive clothes, handbags and shoes. There have been times in the past when we did not think so carefully about our expenditure and have parted with our hard earned cash without a second thought. Our jobs have afforded us a comfortable lifestyle. Something that we are very grateful for.  In recent years though, there has been a shift towards being savvier with money, save more, invest better, planning for a future of not needing to work for a living. We have started appreciating more the many things that can be enjoyed for free, like being outdoors surrounded by beautiful nature, spending more time hanging out with friends and family, choosing activities that are good value for money.

Our house in a leafy, quiet road in the suburbs is for sale

We are selling our home 

A large For Sale sign is now placed in front of our home. When I first saw it there, coming home from work one evening, it did make me stop in my tracks and feel a little sad. It is, after all, our home, there are many happy memories lived here; our children playing in the garden, barbeques on the deck., parties with friends, large family gatherings with enough room to easily accommodate everyone. We have enjoyed the seclusion of living in a private, quiet, leafy road, surrounded by a forest of maple and pine trees, wild flowers, a nearby protected heathland. Wildlife such as squirrels, fox, bats,  rabbits and deer are often spotted in our garden eating our plants and grass. And a variety of birds including robins, owls, jays, woodpeckers tweeting away like a symphony waking us up in the early spring and summer mornings.

We have invested a lot of time, effort and money into our home, but in recent years we started resenting the time and effort spent maintaining a large house, a high maintenance garden with lawns to mow, hedges to trim,  weeding, planting, pruning, patios and driveways to clean. The never ending tasks that take many hours to complete, eating away into the little free time we have in the evenings and weekends. Brian works full time, a stressful job with long hours. I have recently reduced my hours and my job is less demanding and stressful, but again I find most of my spare time taken up by domestic chores. We know that we are no different than most other families around the world who find themselves in the same situation with a poor work and lifestyle balance. One can argue that we could pay for a gardener, a cleaner and at times of desperation we have done that, but for how long do we want to continue feeding the monster?

Time has come to stop thinking about it and to start taking action, we are now in a position to begin making the necessary changes to take better control of our lifestyle. But what kind of lifestyle do we want? I have for years now followed the blogs of people who have taken the plunge to live a simpler life. Some who have sold all of their belongings to live a free and nomadic lifestyle, when all they have is what they can fit into their suitcase or backpacks. Others who have moved to less expensive parts of the world are renting cheaper accommodation, are living off their savings or working part time. People who have swapped a house for a motor home or RV and are living a life of travelling and adventure, seeing the world and living life on their own terms. Some of these people have taken retirement, some have simply quit their jobs and are using their savings to fund a new lifestyle, some are working harder than ever, but doing more satisfying jobs, spending less money on stuff and having more time for experiences and relationships. A huge variation with many shades of downsizing and lifestyle changing decisions.

Quitting my job will be hard for me since I do love my job. I love being a Dietitian; working as a health professional is incredibly rewarding and satisfying, I work with some amazing people, nurses, doctors, other Allied Health Professionals. There is no other job I would rather do,  quitting the NHS is just about the freedom to travel. I could do freelance work, but that would mean compromising on the type of freedom that I want to experience in this next stage of my life.

The question is what is the right shade of downsizing for us?

The answer is not very straightforward since things might change as we go along. We do agree on one life-changing decision which is to stop working so hard or at all,  to maintain our current lifestyle. We also agree that we still want to have a home base in the UK, a place we can return to in between travels. We do want to travel extensively, but we are not sure how long it will take for us to start becoming homesick? Or feel travel burn out? What type of travelling will suit us best? I think we have already established that we are no longer the backpacking type of traveller, we don’t need luxury, but equally hostel dorms will not be for us either.

We do feel like frauds of house downsizing though since our criteria for a home to base ourselves in the UK has been very specific and is not exactly what one would call “tiny living”. There are some braver than us folks out there really going for it, we applaud and admire them. But for us downsizing will not be an overnight process,  it has to happen quite organically, slow but a steady, deliberate transition into a new lifestyle. One thing we both agree on is that we do want a complete change from living in the leafy suburbs, so location for us has to be in the town centre, walkable distance and good transport links to local amenities, so we can also drop down to just one car for us both.  We liked the idea of a townhouse as opposed to an apartment, no garden to look after, but with some small outside space such as a balcony or small courtyard. A lock up and go type of property with a minimum of three bedrooms, so we can have the family, particularly our children and friends visiting, at least two bathrooms; garage for bicycles, motorbikes and fishing gear; some parking space for visitors; an open plan living area with a good size kitchen. We are not asking much, are we?

It is going to be a learning experience, as we started the process of clearing out we realise it will be hard. We thought of our house as the minimalist type, but going through our stuff was an eye opener. Our cupboards and store areas were full of stuff we had not seen for years, like toys our kids don’t play with since they were toddlers. Gadgets that we have used once or twice only and have been forgotten in a kitchen cupboard. Books, CDs, DVDs and don’t even get me started talking about the clothes, shoes, and handbags that have been filling up endless boxes for the charity shops. The garage was possibly the hardest to clear out and it continues to be a work in progress, poor Brian has spent every weekend getting rid of stuff. We have a gym in the top room full of exercising equipment that we have not always used and had recently been used more to dry clothes than to exercise on. Some belongings have an emotional attachment, an element of nostalgia such as our University bits and pieces, family heirlooms etc. Some items I guess will be harder to part with, but somehow we will need to be ruthless and suppress the urge to keep it.

Our Gym equipment doubles up as a rack for drying the laundry. Sure we are not alone…

Although we have made some good progress on getting rid of stuff, starting the process of selling our house, looking for a future property and making the necessary financial arrangements, there is lots more to do. We don’t yet have a deadline for moving house since we have not yet sold our home, perhaps when we do have a deadline we will have a greater sense of urgency to step up a gear or two and get rid of all material items that no longer fit into our lifestyle. I am sure it will be a process fraught with anxieties, but also a great sense of excitement about what future lies ahead? We look forward to a life with fewer responsibilities, schedules and routine, a life filled with adventure, lots of travelling, new experiences, more time for ourselves doing what matters most to us now.

I will no longer be a Traveller Interrupted, although I don’t think I will be renaming my blog…

 

 

 

Sydney requires no introductions, boasting some of the most photographed landmarks in the world. With iconic buildings, beaches and impressive city skyline, it is no wonder this great city is on so many people’s wish list. It has been on our bucket list for years, in fact it is unbelievable that it has taken us so many years to visit this place. To finally be here was another “pinch me” moment like so many we had on our Australian trip.

If you have been following our journey you know that we had to catch a ferry back to Hamilton Island, backtracking ourselves for our flight with Qantas to Sydney via Brisbane. We have again used the Qantas “walkabout pass”, which has been very convenient and it has also saved us money. The pass can only be purchased in conjunction with the international flight, in our case we did a London to Perth flight, and flew back (another big advantage of the pass) from a different city, Sydney. The internal flights around Australia are very easy to book using the excellent Qantas  website and all the internal flights were easy to check in using the Quantas phone app, allowing us to board with electronic boarding passes, again saving the faff of checking in at the airport or finding a printer. Isn’t technology great when it works! We have not been sponsored by Qantas to say this, but our experience was excellent, all flights were perfect, comfortable and on time.

Our home in Sydney was conveniently located 2 minutes walking distance from Darling Harbour,. The apartment hotel had a spacious well equipped kitchen/dinning/sitting area, very comfortable bedroom and en-suite shower. The apartment could have done with a bit of a freshen up in places, but was clean and location was spot on….though unfortunately no great views from our window.

Darling Harbour, I can’t imagine what it would cost to moor your boat here?

We had five days to explore this great city, so after leaving our luggage at the apartment we walked the short distance over a pedestrianised bridge to Darling Harbour, Sydney’s hub of entertainment. It is a lively harbour side area with many restaurants, cafes and bars overlooking the beautiful harbour which is surrounded by towering buildings from its nearby Central Business District neighbour. We spent our first evening eating and hanging out at Darling Harbour and we watched this place come to life as the sun was going down over the city skyline. The many street performers kept us well entertained.

Sunset at Darling Harbour

Over the next few days we found our way around by walking everywhere or taking the excellent public transport such as train, buses or ferries. We got hold of a free Opal card (is like the Oyster card in London) and loaded it with money. The maximum fare charge per day is just under AUD 15 and on Sundays just AUD 2.50 to go anywhere and you never pay more than that. We even used the Opal card to visit the Blue Mountains (independently by train, more on that later). We loved that the trains had two levels. We got hold of an Australian sim card for our mobile phones so we could use Google maps to find our way around Sydney, and it was a revelation – what a fantastic app, that even tells you what platform your train will be leaving from, or if catching a bus it will tell you what bus stop to go to, and once on the bus you can follow along all the stops to your destination. Over the week we learned that the public transport combo of bus, train and ferry made it super easy to get about. We managed to pack in a lot of activities – here are some of our favourites:

Cruising The Harbour

Do not leave Sydney without seeing its iconic sights from the water, a cruise around it’s beautiful harbour is a must. There are many companies offering all sorts of cruises, including some that would include a meal or join a kayak tour for some serious paddling around the nooks and crannies of Sydney harbour . We chose to do it like the locals and cruised around by simply using the slow and classic yellow and green commuter ferry that transport hundreds of people every 30 minutes over to Manly from Circular Quay. Crossing during sunset was magical.

Classic yellow and green ferry cruising past the Sydney Opera House

Seeing the sights from the water

Sunset ferry crossing

Visiting Manly and walking to Shelly Beach

Manly is easily accessible by ferry from Circular Quay, we took the classic, slow, big yellow and green doubledecker commuter ferry (using our Opal card) and sailed pass the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, little harbour islands, Rose Bay, Watson’s Bay. The calm waters of the harbour were busy with other cruise boats, speed boats, yachts racing each other around or the more low-key kayaks, quietly gliding along. We also passed some of the most expensive real state in the world, amazing homes built to make the most of the incredible harbour views. Within about 30 minutes we arrived at Manly Wharf and walked through a pedestrianised, lively promenade area full of surf shops, I had never seen so many. There is a bohemian laid back vibe here. We spent a few happy hours watching the surfers, eating the most delicious fish and chips by the water front, and walking to nearby Shelly Beach.

Manly pedestrian promenade

Manly beach

Manly to Shelley Beach coastal walk

There are many breath taking trails from Manly, but we chose the very easy 20 minute coastal walk to Shelley Beach and we were not disappointed, from the very first bend there are gorgeous views across into the Pacific Ocean, rocky coves, rock pools, palm trees and plenty of wild life to see. There are lots of water activities such as surfing, snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving etc. Manly feels like a small resort town, it was one of our favourite neighbourhoods in Sydney.

Coogee-to-Bondi coastal walk

The Coogee-to-Bondi or vice versa Bondi-to-Coogee is probably the most popular coastal walk in Sydney. We did it on a sunny, but not too hot week day and found it to be lively but not uncomfortably busy. We caught a bus from near our hotel to Coogee Beach, the start of our walk. It was an easy 6 km walk that took us about 3 1/2 hours to complete at a very leisurely pace with plenty of rest and photo stops along the way.

Coogee Beach and the start of our coastal walk

Charming Clovelly Beach

Waverley Cemetery

Waverley Cemetery which opened in 1877 is State Heritage listed due to its many intact Victorian and Edwardian monuments. Located in this iconic location, on a cliff top near Bronte Beach it is an incredible place to visit, the most beautiful graveyard I have ever seen. The Coastal Path used to be down the boardwalk in the photo above, but due to damage from the storms of early 2016 which caused severe erosion to the path, the coastal walk has now been diverted and we walked through the Cemetery for a little while, instead of walking by the coast.

Coastal walk detour through the beautiful Waverley Cemetery

Views out to Bronte Beach

My claim to fame, a cheeky selfie with Anthony Carroll (“Harries” of TV show Bondi Rescue)

My son James was a big fan of the show, Bondi Rescue, a reality TV show which documents lifeguards patrolling and saving the lives of many unfortunate swimmers who end up in trouble on the seductive waters of one of the worlds busiest and most famous beaches….Bondi. I watched the show many times with James, so it was lovely to bump into “Harries” at Bronte and get a selfie with him, he was absolutely lovely and charming.

Icebergs Swimming pool at Bondi

View from Icebergs bar

Film crew at Bondi

Our reward for the long walk was lunch and a very cold drink at Icebergs watching the surfers doing their board tricks on the famous Bondi Beach waves. The film crew were at Bondi filming another episode of the popular Bondi Rescue show. It was fun to watch them in action.

Coastal Walk from Bondi to Watson’s Bay

We returned to Bondi another day to do another coastal walk, this time to charming Watson’s Bay. We found this coastal walk not so well marked and ended up getting a bit lost, spending more time walking on the road and around the neighbourhood houses then by the sea. For this reason we prefer the Coogee-to-Bondi coastal walk we did before, although it was nice to see the Sydney CBD and Sydney Harbour Bridge from a different perspective. We also enjoyed hanging out at Watson’s Bay and had planned to eat dinner of fish and chips at Doyles, the most famous fish and chips there, but we soon learned that the last ferry to Manly was at 4 pm and therefore it would be too early for us to have dinner there. We ended up having dinner at Hemingway’s in Manly instead, a lovely quirky restaurant by the water front.

Rugged coast line to Watson’s Bay

Views of the Central Business District (CBD) and Sydney Harbour Bridge

Watson’s Bay and the famous Doyles

Climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge

Brian and I went our separate ways on this day, since he wanted to do a fishing trip on the harbour and I wanted to fulfil a long time ambition of climbing the Harbour Bridge. One of the most famous bridges in the world, its steel metal frame has become an iconic symbol of the city. Built in 1932 during the great depression, it gave jobs to many metal workers that risked their lives every day to build it. The climbing is a well organised and safe affair.. you are first taken into a small room to fill in forms and sign the paper work, after passing the breathalyser test, climbers are given a pack with the blue and grey suits to wear on the bridge. Underneath the suit you are told to wear only your underwear, the rest of your clothes and belongings are kept safely on your given locker . We were also given a harness belt to which we could clip ourselves to the bridge railings. Other things like a hat, sun glasses, a handkerchief and headsets are clipped to the back of our suits. We were also told what to expect once out on the bridge. Before the climb we were given the opportunity to practice the technique of ascending and descending the ladder by attaching our harness belt  to a practice ladder rail and walking up and down on it. Once ready and all kitted out we are told to slap on some sun cream, which is provided and we were good to go. We closely followed the guide who was super enthusiastic and kept us well entertained with many stories and titbits about the construction of the Harbour Bridge. From the bridge summit the views are fabulous, it was an amazing and unforgettable experience which I will forever treasure.

Bridge Climbing – an experience of a life time

To climb the Sydney Bridge is relatively expensive, but if your budget does not allow it, you can walk over the Harbour Bridge for free, there is a pedestrianised walkway with gorgeous views of the harbour below, it is also possible to visit one of the Pylons to get a birds eye view of the harbour and to learn a lot about Sydney’s history of how it all began. Costs are a lot lower than climbing the bridge and the views are probably just as fabulous. For me the Bridge Climb was not just about the views, but about overcoming a challenge and the pleasure of having an experience that was important to me. I will never watch a New Year’s evening fire works of Sydney Harbour Bridge in the same way again, I will forever remember how it felt to reach the top.

A day trip from Sydney to the Blue Mountains

We researched different ways of visiting the Blue Mountains on a day trip from Sydney. We did not want to hire a car and drive there and we did not want to go on an organised tour. We wanted to do it independently and have the flexibility of doing what we wanted to do. It is also a lot cheaper; with the Opal card the train ticket there costs just under AUD 15. We got the 7:20 am train from Sydney Central Station to the town of Katoomba, again with help from Google maps, and the train journey took about 2 hours from Sydney. The journey is very scenic. We sat upstairs in the quiet carriage on the left side, and enjoyed some fabulous views as we entered the Blue Mountains National Park. It was an enjoyable and relaxing journey. Katoomba is the most visited town in the Blue Mountains, and used to be the centre of the coal mining industry in this area. On arrival at Katoomba Station we walked upstairs to buy our ticket for the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus. The bus ticket is a small booklet with maps and a guide to all the different stops and attractions within the National Park. We also bought the Scenic World Discovery Pass there.

From Katoomba station it is a short walk to the red explorer bus stop, and once on the hop-on hop-off Blue Mountains Explorer Bus the friendly driver gives a running commentary about each attraction and where to hop off. Our first stop was at Scenic World, which  is a bit like the Disney of the Blue Mountains, very touristic but we loved it. The rides are great fun with absolutely stunning views across the valley and gorges. There are 4 main attractions.

Brian and I with the Three Sisters lurking in the background

Scenic Sky-way –  is a cable car that glides between cliff tops, across a gorge above the Katoomba Falls, with amazing views of the Three Sisters in the distance. The cable car, which is the highest in Australia, is suspended 270 metres over the rain forest canopy, and you get a view of the forest below from the glass floor inside the cable car. From the cable car we disembarked at Skyway’s East Station and walked a short distance to various lookout points over the vast forested valley and views over to Echo Point and the Three Sisters. After exploring around here we took the Scenic Sky-way back to the main Scenic World hub where we had lunch with lovely views over the valley.

Scenic Skyway

Glass bottom at Scenic Skyway (my feet tingle at just the memory of it!)

Katoomba Falls from the cable car

Scenic Cable-way – takes you on a journey that descends 545 metres into Jamison Valley, it is the steepest cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. From the cable car there are views out to the Three Sisters, Orphan Rock, Mt. Solitary and Katoomba Falls. We disembarked at the bottom station to access the Scenic Walkway.

Scenic Walkway – We exited the cable car into the ancient rain forest boardwalk and walked its 2.4 kilometres. This elevated boardwalk is through a Jurassic rain forest on the Jamison Valley along beautiful towering Eucalyptus. We kept looking out for the wildlife, hoping to spot the elusive Koala or the native Lyre bird, but no luck on that aspect. We also enjoyed learning about the coal mining industry in this area, and along the way we found the entrance to a coal mine, a replica miner’s hut, and scale bronze sculptures of a miner and his pit pony. Eventually we arrive at the bottom of the  Scenic Railway to take us up to Scenic World centre again.

Scenic Cableway

Board walk (2.4 Km) at Scenic Walkway

Giant Eucalyptus tree

Miner’s replica hut

Life size miner and his pit pony bronze sculpture

Scenic Railway – the world’s steepest public passenger train, a 52 degree incline, originally constructed for a coal and oil shale mining operation. Once inside the train there is a way of adjusting your seating position allowing you to choose how you want your seating position to be during the ride, up to 20 degree. The cliff hanger is….well the clue is in the name. The cable-driven funicular railway  descends,  or in our case ascends, 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel.

Waiting for the steepest train journey

Scenic Railway

Views from Scenic Railway

There are different types of passes for Scenic World, at different prices, and with each pass you are given a different colour wristband to show at each of the attractions entrance point. We chose the Unlimited Discovery pass one that gives unlimited freedom to ride up or down the valley as you please, and we had great fun doing exactly that. If you do not wish to spend the cash visiting Scenic World there are plenty of bush trails and other activities in this area, that will not cost much.

Echo Point

The viewing platform here gives the best views of the Three Sisters which have the Aboriginal names of;  Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo. The sisters are the best known attraction of the Blue Mountains – a distinct rock formation of three soft sandstone pinnacles formed by millions of years of erosion. They look magnificent against the blue tinge of the valley, where the oil escaping from the eucalyptus trees creating the blue haze that gives the region its name.. There are many bush trails around here and we walked down to The Giant Stairway via a series of steep steel and stone steps to reach one of the Three Sister’s pinnacles, you can even touch it. We did not go further down into the Valley, but the route follows the Dardanelles Pass to the Leura Forest, along the Federal Pass and then back to Echo Point, about a three hour circular walk that unfortunately we did not have time and energy left to do it.

Giant Stairway leading to the Three Sisters pinnacles

Brian at the Three Sister’s pinnacle

Steep stair way to the Three Sisters pinnacle

Hard work to get down to the pinnacles, but worth it

Interestingly the Blue Mountains are not technically mountains, but a huge sandstone plateau shaped by millions of years of erosion, it has a diverse ecosystem with a variety of wild life not found anywhere else, many different species of eucalyptus trees, fern gullies, beautiful waterfalls and caves with Aboriginal history thrown into the mix. It is a stunning area to explore. We caught our train back to Sydney from the town of Leura. It was a very intense day of exploring, but totally worth it, and we were so glad to have done it independently. It would have been nice and perhaps a lot less tiring to have been able to stay for few days in a hotel in Katoomba or Leura and explore further the many beautiful hiking trails, but unfortunately we just did not have time for that.

Our journey of discoveries Down Under was sadly fast approaching the end. Although we did not feel ready to leave, work and other commitments were waiting for us back home. During our three weeks in this vast country we didn’t even scratch the surface of all that it has to offer, its landscapes as diverse as it’s wildlife. During our stay we explored three very different states; from the up and coming, cosmopolitan Perth in Western Australia to the incredible Great Barrier Reef, vibrant tropical beaches and Islands of Queensland, to Sydney in New South Wales, one of the most amazing and liveable cities in the world, the heartbeat of Australia. It was an epic trip. We are extremely grateful to our Australian cousins, who have made our trip so memorable,  who looked after us so well, meeting them was the absolute highlite of our trip Down Under.

Since being back in the UK we have started the hard process of selling our home, downsizing our lives and starting the count down to financial independence and freedom, on my next post I will give you a taste of how things are developing on that front.

So it was goodbye Australia, for now. We had had fabulous weather wherever we went, and seemed to arrived everywhere just as bad weather turned lovely, and returned to bad again as we left. Apart from one rainy day in the Whitsundays (but warm rain, very novel for us…) we were blessed with warmth and sunshine wherever we went and we loved it. We ended the trip a few thousand down on the bank balance, but with our memory bank immeasurably richer. Thank you Australia, we had a blast.

 

I hope you have enjoyed this collection of 4 posts as much as I have enjoyed writing it. And if you have been to Australia, I’d love to hear what were the highlights for you.  

 

 

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