6/26 New Things Challenge: Visit Melbourne’s loo with a view

sofitel

As far as toilet experiences go, my encounters with loos this year whilst travelling S.E Asia have been pretty horrific . One that sticks in mind was the sleeper train toilet in Thailand which wasn’t so much a toilet but rather a hole that dropped down onto the tracks surrounded by some footholds. This made the loos on England’s South Eastern trains look like a real treat!

toilet

But earlier this week I had a different experience when I visited to the ‘loo with the view’ way up on the 35th floor at the Sofitel Hotel, Collins Street, Melbourne. I read about this loo on a blog a while back and was keen to visit and take in the much hyped about view of Melbourne’s city for free! Yes free, that’s $19.50 cheap than the Eureka Skydeck’s view.

And here it is…

Apparently in the men’s toilets, because of the urinals, you can even tinkle as you take in the spectacular view from the wall of glass!

view from the loo
view from the loo

Out of all my toileting experiences this sure is up* there.

* –  pun intended.

5/26 New Things Challenge: Cook a new dish

Yesterday I learnt two things: 1)How to cook Paella and 2) How to pronounce Paella.

Paella which I have been pronouncing ‘Pie-ella,’ is in fact pronounced ‘Pie-ai-a!’ Who knew?!

Well my housemate Felix, who spent a lot of time in South America did. One of my 26 challenges is going to be to get a Spanish lesson off of him, but in the mean time I decided to cook something I’ve never cooked before and make this Spanish dish.

I googled a few recipes, which mainly consisted of searching for: “Easy Paella recipe” and “Cheap Paella recipe”. I read a few, got the jist of how the dish is cooked and did my own version.

 Ingredients:

  • Chorizo
  • Can of chopped Toms
  • 1 Red Onion
  • Long Grain Rice
  • Chilli
  • 1 Red pepper
  • 2 Cloves of garlic
  • Prawns
  • Five Bean mix
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Turmeric
  • Paprika
  • Sploshes of red wine
  • 1 Lemon

I kind of cheated and did the rice and turmeric in a rice cooker, for me it’s the only way to cook rice. At every cafe, street stall and side of the road kitchen in South East Asia a  rice cooker would be on hand,  steaming away close by. For the people in these countries rice is their food staple, they eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are pretty much rice connoisseurs, so I’m following their way.

Paella I soon realised was a really simple dish to cook. Firstly I cooked the chorizo in some garlic and red onion and just added the rest of ingredients listed above minus the prawns and lemons. I flavored to taste as  the tomato juice and red wine reduced. In a separate pan I coated the prawns in paprika and cayenne pepper and cooked in a little oil. I also cooked the rice in the rice cooker and added a few teaspoons of turmeric. Then when there was still some liquid that hadn’t reduced I added the cooked prawns and cooked rice and gave it a good mix with lots of lemon juice.

paella!

I read on Wikipedia that  the paella must then sit for about five minutes (most recipes recommend the paella be covered with a tea-towel at this point) to absorb the remaining broth. So I did just that and found it gave it a more risotto like texture to the dish which I assumed was a good thing.

 

To serve I added slices of lemons and a sandalwood candle, which was provided by my housemate Felix.

Candlelight dinner for two.
Candlelight dinner for two.

 

All in all I think it turned out pretty well. It was easy, it was very tasty, it was a new dish. Perhaps next time I’ll add some mussels if I am not feeling so cheap…

5 down, 21 to go!

 

4/26 New Things Challenge: Watch an AFL Grand Final!

AFL

I have been so used to seeing Aussie rules football everywhere that now when people ask me ‘do you follow the footy?’ I automatically assume they are talking about Aussie Rules Football, and not as I now call it ‘soccer’. Yep I now refer to ‘football, football’ as soccer, I’ve been converted.

The thing is AFL (Australian Football League) is big in Australia but REALLY big in Melbourne, as this is where a lot of the teams come from.

Last month I went to the MCG stadium to see an Aussie Rules football match and I was pleasantly surprised that I had actually quite enjoyed it. Unlike a lot of soccer games I’ve watched, AFL is really fast paced, there’s a lot going on, a lot of goals being scored, a lot of tackling people to the ground and quite a lot of sitting on another player who doesn’t even have the ball to stop them getting up… 

A lot of shiz that really wouldn’t fly in soccer.

But now the footy season was coming to an end and the big final with Melbourne’s Hawthorn Hawks VS Sydney Swans was approaching! Posters had been plastered on trams and at stations, everyone was buzzing about it at work and my Twitter feed was becoming clogged with AFL updates! So I was very happy when I was invited to watch the AFL final in true Australian fashion – on a big screen, with beers and a BBQ.

I was to watch it in Balaclava with Sarah and her long distance, somehow related family at their home. I feel I need to clarify that Balaclava is an actual place, with an actual train station pronounced exactly the same as the much underrated clothed headgear! Seriously think about it – how much better would life be if balaclavas were trendy?

Anyway cut to match day; I was running a bit late and as we traveled to Balaclava I couldn’t help but notice a funny stillness in the air. Everywhere was so quiet, the train, the streets, the roads there was no one about!

Melbourne AFL day

Very unlike a normal Saturday in Melbourne. I realised then that the game must’ve already began!

At the house I felt so very welcome and settled in with Sarah and her family and their friends to watch The AFL game blown up to the size of the whole living room wall! Like most Aussies I’ve met, everyone was really friendly and really interested in our travels.

Enjoying a proper Aussie BBQ whilst watching the game
Enjoying a proper Aussie BBQ

 

Watching with us were a mix of both Hawthorn and Sydney supporters but despite the rivalry everyone was in good spirits and just happy to watch some ‘quality footy whilst drinking a few stubbies* (beers) and  chomping on some snags* (sausages)! ‘

Hawthorn hawks

Hawthorn are a Melbourne team so I pledged my allegiance to them and  showed my support with some Hawthorn beers:

All in all I couldn’t think of a better place to watch my first Australian Grand Final! And also my first (on this trip) Australian BBQ!

Final Results: 

Hawthorne: 137points / Syndey: 75points

Me: 4/26 New Things Completed.

3/26 New Things Challenge: Drink a whole bucket of Slurpee!

One of the best things in  Australia are 7Elevens and THE BEST thing about 7Elevens are slurpees!

Now normally slurpees look and come like this…

slurpee

But on a VERY special day they can come like this!

slurpee bring your own cup dayThis special day is Bring Your Own Cup Day! On September 22nd, 7Elevens allow customers to bring and fill up their own vessel with as much sugary, fizzy goodness as it can contain!

Now this is not just some massive gimmick (although it totally is), it is a well thought out day and there are rules to adhere to:

slurpee rules

With the rules in mind that morning I went hunting to find my own perfect slurpee container! I really wanted to go with a waist-high, glass vase – perfect for slurpee flavour layering! But after some thought I realised that that was impractical – how was I ever going to drink 3 feet of slurpee before it melted? And it was expensive – 10 bucks. Instead I opted for that seaside classic –  the bucket and spade, a mere 3 dollars, a more practical (drinkable) size, I could later take it to the beach and it had a handy handle to boot!

I met up with awesome Melbournians Monica and Ash, who brought with them their very own glass elephant vase to fill up! Which we all agreed was very good for appreciating the slurpee layers.

BYOCUP_SLURPEEThe bucket of slurpee lasted a good few hours before it melted. Long enough for me to get some help, mainly from Sarah, to  finish it. We called it quits at 11.45pm with an estimated 1.5 inches of slurpee left… a good effort.

My first Bring Your Own Cup day and my first time drinking slurpee out of a bucket! 3 New things completed!

 

 

2/26 New Things Challenge – Playing soccer in a giant inflatable bubble

That’s right, playing soccer inside a giant inflatable bubble is a thing. In fact it’s aptly named ‘Bubble Soccer.’

Its sounds odd but I actually quite like doing a sporting activity after a night out when I have a bit of hangover. Scratch that, I don’t like doing that BUT I always feel better after having done so. I think it distracts me from the hangover and also I like to feel I sweat the alcohol out of me. I am not sure if that is a scientifically proven thing? But if anyone wants to come and lick the sweat off of me and see if it tastes like bourbon you’re welcome to do so.

So back to the challenge. I decided to sign myself up for an hour of playing bubble soccer on a Saturday. This took place at the Football Factory, in Coburg, Melbourne. You enter the ginormous bubble by holding on to two plastic handlebars and putting your arms through the ‘backpack’ like straps. After that it’s a case of shuffling yourself and using your legs to haul you and the bubble upright. When I first got inside the bubble I did feel a little claustrophobic. You can hardly see anything! Despite the bubble being clear it is a bit hazy. However once the game started I forgot all about this and turned into competition mode, finding that sometimes it was better to just lean forward and poke your head out to see where the ball is.

bubble soccer

 

The great thing about bubble soccer is you can run into people, the bad thing about bubble soccer is people can run into you. Surprisingly it doesn’t take long at all to get used to the idea of charging into other players and getting knocked over.

However at one point whilst dribbling the ball I received a massive blow knocking me clean off my feet and rolling me into the opposing goal. It didn’t hurt at all, due to being surrounded by air but when I did manage to get back up I found that suddenly I could see better. A couple of minutes later I could definitely see a bit more, my head was definitely half way out the bubble and I could even make out the other players. Something was wrong – my bubble was deflating! I made my way over to one of the refs, who poked my bubble and with an ‘Ahh shit’ (insert thick Australian accent) took me off the pitch to get a new one. All good.

So bubble soccer was a really enjoyable experience. It was pretty tiring and you did get very sweaty inside your plastic ball. I managed to score one goal and felt pretty pleased with myself until afterwards at the post bubble soccer drinks I overheard a girl on the opposing team say she scored 12! Show off.

Still, my second ‘new thing’ completed.

bubble soccer

1/26 New Things Challenge: Speed Mating & Souvlaki

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of speed dating but I am not sure I would ever do it. Speed mating on the other hand sounds like fun, and being a ‘new thing’ perfect for my 26 New Things To Do in 26 Days Before I turn 26 aka 26in26b426 (see what I did there).

Before I continue let me just clarify this is ‘Mate’ as in buddy, not, well… you know. I didn’t think this would need explaining but after mentioning it to several  dirty minded Australians and getting some odd looks I realised it was probably best to clarify.

After being quite excited by this task, as Friday evening came ever closer I started to actually get a bit nervous. What would I talk about? How does this work? What if neither of us say anything and we just stare at each other, or worse what if they touch me? Instead of thinking through these questions I decided it was better to just drink bourbon.

Arriving at the Bendigo we made a B line for the bar. Despite the place holding a few clusters of people, there were no sign of any organisers or any speed mating. We waited… and drank, waited and drank…. went outside into the awesome beer garden and waited some more. Oh and we drank. But the speed mating never happened. There were no organisers, no announcements and most importantly no bell.

When we left they were in full event night mode asking people to fork over $10 to gain entry and a tube of glitter. I asked the lady on the door what happened to the speed mating and she didn’t even know anything about it.

Luckily however despite not actually getting to partake in any speed mating we did meet a man called Dan  in the awesome beer garden. We got chatting and like us Dan had moved to Melbourne. Dan decided to join us as we met up with some friends in town for a pub crawl and it was nice to meet a new person and also nice to speak to them for more than two minutes.

However at the end of our night and on leaslouvaki signving the last club, I was still itching to try a new thing! So I dragged Sarah on our route home to stop off for a souvlaki. Now souvlaki is kind of a big deal in Australia, well in Melbourne at least. A kind of rite of passage after a night out, as much so as a kebab would be to any Englishman.

It didn’t take us long to find an all night Greek food joint. In fact we found two, next to each other. We went with the one closest to us that claimed to be the best since 1993. Sounded Legit.The difference between the kebab and the slouvaki is that the slouvaki is far, far less dirtier, made with more, shall we say ‘pure’ ingredients. It’s on proper Turkish pita bread that’s a bit crispy, it can be appreciated any time of day (not just when you are drunk) and whatsmore is there’s not a bottle of burger sauce in sight.

 

The best Slouvaki since 1993 and the best slouvaki
The best Slouvaki since 1993 and the best slouvaki

We enjoyed the slouvaki so much we thought we should try the place next door too. Which we found even tastier. Sarah then proceeded to tell the nice greek lady  (loudly) how much nicer her Souvlaki was to the so called ‘Souvlaki King’ next door.

So all in all I have still yet to speed mate, although I did try, but I did eat my first ever souvlaki.

1.5 New things completed? Yeah I’ll think I will go with that.

26 New Things in the month before I turn 26

Next month I turn 26…. Crap.

I’ve had a lot of new experiences this year – I’ve washed an elephant, I’ve driven a moped, I’ve eaten a cricket, I beat a Vietnamese man at pool, I lost to a Vietnamese man who definitely cheated at pool. It certainly has been an eventful year. But now I am in Melbourne. I am not travelling and I miss all those wonderful new experiences that I was having.

Being unemployed  (update: I now have a job) in Melbourne means I have a wealth of time at my fingertips. That coupled with the fact I turn the grand old age of 26 means I need something to distract myself.  I know I am extremely lucky to have this amount of free time, so after some thinking I’ve decided to complete 26 new things in the month before I turn 26. Completely new, never ever done before in my almost 26 years on this Earth.

Some will be fun, some will be scary and some will probably be neither. But all will be new and all will be an experience.

I’ll be posting them up on this brand new blog I have created. If you didn’t know it was possible to misplace (completely lose) a blog on the internet, let me tell you it is. Something else I hadn’t done until this year.

Roll on the next month…

baby eating cake

 

 

 

The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Our journey to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is probably one of our most unforgettable and most chilling experiences.

I admit that before my visit I really didn’t know what exactly happened in Cambodia. One of great things about travelling in learning about a country, its history, its people, its culture and learning about those events you should really know about but your education system and/or pop culture references have ignored. What happened in Cambodia is a tragedy caused by humans.

During the Khmer Rouge reign a quarter of the population – a whole quarter, were killed. Visiting the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, where a lot of these murders took place was an amazing experience, intense, but unforgettable.

Our day started off with a morning greeting from our tour guide, which the lovely Jess, Nicola and Annika (our new backpacking friends, who we met in the hotel bar the night before) had sourced the day before. It’s quite good if you are planning to see a lot of sights (which is why you came, right?) to negotiate the day before with a guide or driver. Then you can organise what you want to see and the price and make sure you’re up and out and not sweltering around in the hottest part of the day. Guides and tuk tuk drivers are everywhere most likely you’ll meet one when you get off your bus in Phnom Penh who is willing to take you to your hotel for free in exchange for organising your next couple of days with him.

A tight squeeze but the 5 of us managed to get into a tuk tuk, which essentially is a moped with a cart on the back. So when you think about it that’s 6 of us on one moped and the weight of the cart! Needless to say we weren’t speedy and we weren’t that comfortbale but we were moving.

tuk tuk phnom penh

Travelling out of Phnom Penh into the local towns and villages, through uneven dusty roads and rows and rows of shanty, tin roof housing you really got to see just how poor Cambodia is. We’d seen a lot of poverty in Vietnam and Thailand but here it was on a different level. Bare feet kids run out to wave us or shout the handful of English words they knew us.

cambodia poverty

After about 45 minutes we arrived at the sight of the killing fields. Here, with a radio guide in hand we were finally educated.

You pay extra for the radio guide, but it is definitely worth it.  Due to salvaging not much remains of that gruesome sites apart from the graves and bones. The radio guide takes you through where buildings used to be, what they were used for, where graves were found and also some really hard hitting personal accounts of people living, or trying to, in the Khmer Rouge tyranny.

The mass graves we navigated our way round told the story of how around 17,000 Cambodians were murdered. They were brought here under false pretenses, many believeing they were being sent to Vietnam for a new life. Here they waited,  locked up in buildings, as propaganda music plagued them, drowning out the  sound of people outside being killed.  And then when they were brought outside they were killed in the cheapest way possible. Bullets were too expensive for the Khmer Rouge. Many Cambodians were killed by being hacked, bludgeoned or some times sharp leaves were used to slit their throats. For infants, there is a killing tree etched with blood and brains.

Visitors leave bracelets as a mark of respect
Visitors leave bracelets as a mark of respect

During wet seasons often bones, clothing and other remains are drawn up to the surface. At the end of the tour you visit the towering stupa, where bones and thousands of skulls are laid out as a memorial to those that lost their lives here.

Memorial Stupa
Memorial Stupa, housing thousands of bones

I think the killing fields is something you have to kind of comprehend on your own, at your own pace, and the radio guide let’s you do that. It’s quite hard to explain but I think with the guide and its contents really give you a connection to the Cambodian people, setting the scene of what used to be and what remains now. With your own thoughts you can really get lost in the tragedy. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it’s a chilling yet unforgettable experience. 

bracelets killing fields

Ayutthaya – The Day we cycled around the ruins of Siam (Thailand)

This is one of our favourite days in Thailand. As Thailand’s former capital city Ayutthaya is a city enriched with history and Thai culture and provided us with a well needed change of pace from the craziness of Bangkok. A must see destination for anyone wanting to get a greater understanding of Thailand’s rich history.

We got the train to Ayutthaya from Bangkok and pre booked our tickets on the sleeper journey to Chaing Mai.We arrived at the station and crossed the river in the 3 Baht ferry where we were able to rent bicycles for 40 baht for the whole day. You can get an all inclusive ticket for all the Wats and sites which is really worth it if you plan to be there more than a day or want to jam pack your day. However with the heat of the sun beating down on us, prickling our still pasty white skin we were in the mood to take the day at a leisurely pace. After all, we are on holiday, kind of…

third class
cheap and cheerful third class carriage to Ayutthaya. Absolutely fine for a short journey and you ride with the locals 🙂

First stop was Wat Phra Mahathat 

Here we got to see the effect of Burma’s destructive nature. In the16th Century Ayutthaya collapsed when the Burmese came, knocked all the heads of the statues and kidnapped the royal family. Its all cool now. The Burmese feel pretty terrible about it now and have helped Thailand maintain the historic ruins from centuries ago.

ayutthaya head
Head statue Wat Phra Mahathat

This buddha head did survive though and stood the test of time entangled in between tree roots. It makes quite the tourist attraction now.

Next was our favourite – Wat in Ayutthaya Wat Ratburana

Here we got to dissemble down some extremely steep steps into the heart of central temple and into the pretty creepy Crypt. Once there and over your fears, you can still make out the amazing wall murals from the earlier Ayutthaya period. There’s something quite spectacular about being next to something created by a human hands hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Wat Phra Mane

This Wat across the river is much newer than the previous two, built in Ayutthayas golden age. We will be honest, its like a lot of Wats we have seen, but it was quite and peaceful and round the back they have an actual tree growing out of a Chedi. The day before we learnt that Thai’s believe that ringing the bells at temples can provides you with prosperity. After a few nervous looks around, we gave them a ringadingding.

https://vine.co/v/O7x975rH3Pa/embed/simple

Wat Phu Thong

Its a bit of a trek from the other Wats but made a pleasant cycle ride once a nice Thai man shouted and pointed for us to follow a cycle and walking path that took us off the dual carriageway and away from beeping cars. The scenery was beautiful in between miles of flat countryside we cycled towards the impressive pyramidically layered white chedhi.

Just one day Ayutthaya and for us that felt like a good amount.We also had the benefit of finding out a lot about Ayutthaya from the Museum of Siam, which we covered in our Bangkok blog.

If you have more time and aren’t sick or exploring wats then a couple of days here will keep you busy.

cycling in AYUTTTHAYA
CYCLING IN AYUTTTHAYA

We love cycling because its an easy way to do things at your own pace and gives you the freedom to go where you want. Traffic and general lack of road rules can be a bit scary anywhere in South East Asia so you have to be cautious. It was a pretty hot day for cycling so we coped by pouring water from the toilets onto our heads (we are not wasting our bottled water!). It did smell a bit funky but it did the trick of cooling us down. Besides we both agreed to get a bottle 7/11’s finest mineral water and shower with that before we got on the sleeper train to Chaing Mai, which turned out to be another Thai city we thoroughly enjoyed. Will write more about that next!

 BREAK DOWN:

Highlights: Seeing some really, really old stuff. Learning that it’s acceptable, and somewhat encouraged to ring those bells in temples – it gives you prosperity!

Lowlights: Getting a little bit lost and stressed whilst cycling

Activities: Cycling and visiting an abundance of Wats and ruins from 7 centuries ago!

Bangkok – The Starting Point

Bangkok was our first stop on our South East Asia whirlwind adventure!

But after 6 nights in Bangkok we were ready to leave. When you start looking cynically at new guests that arrive in your hotel because they have the same fresh faced look of fascination as you had when you arrive you know it is time to move on…

OK, OK Bangkok wasn’t that bad, but it is like no city we’ve ever been to. It’s busy, hectic and really smoggy. By day three we were craving some of that fresh London air! And as tourists you get hassled… a lot. It’s a real shame we don’t look more thai… There was a lot we did like about Bangkok however. And I would definitely say we appreciated it more the second time we visited, after we spent 2.5 months backpacking. What we did like about Bangkok was that it was cheap, especially taxi rides when you can get it on the meter (always worth haggling for meter). Also the street food, some of the best food we had on our whole South East Asia trip was in Bangkok, Thailand.

And because of the amount of street food stalls it was the cheapest too. The same dishes are done differently every where in Thailand so make sure you try dishes more than once. Soi 9 is the place to go for street food and in our 10 things to do in Bangkok blog post.

The modern conviences. On our first stop to Bangkok we didn’t really appreciated how modernised Bangkok was and how accessible home comforts can be. When you first start travelling you hate seeing McDonalds, or 7 or 11s on every street corner, but after two months of haggling in tiny shops its so refreshing to go into these shops,  buy something for the price stated and know you’re not getting ripped off.
The people as well seem more…. well, modernised, I guess. As a gay traveler you do feel more comfortable in Bangkok as you see far more gay people and trans people, or people just breaking the gender stereotypes here with dress and style, which is also refreshing to see. Saying that we were also pleasantly surprised by this positive attitude in both Cambodia’s Siem Reap and Vietnam’s Hanoi too.

Some of the bad side of Bangkok is the scams. We  almost fell into the Great Grand Palace Scam which every travel guide warns you about. And one time we also paid a tuk tuk driver 50 baht to cross a roundabout. We thought we were further from Khoa San Road (the travelers’ hub) than we were. All in all Bangkok is a city like no other, so go visit, eat, but don’t stay too long.