The World’s Weirdest Festivals

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Festival in Narita, Tokyo.

Anyone who’s interested in travelling is usually interested in culture, and culture is an endlessly fascinating thing. I love this infographic about the world’s weirdest festivals – it gives you fantastic insight into some really bizarre stuff that some people participate in. My favourite is probably Japan’s crying baby festival. It seems at once adorable and deeply, deeply odd.

For the original post, head on over to FHR.

The World's Weirdest Festivals
The World’s Weirdest Festivals – An infographic by FHR

When things go wrong!

IMG_1037 On Tuesday, I was meant to go to Paris. On Monday night, I was all packed and everything was lovely. I was prepared to take the relaxing Eurostar trip from St Pancras International to Gare du Nord. But at around 11pm, I was visited by a horrendous evil that was to prevent me from travelling. Namely, exploding at both ends for six hours, aka acute gastroenteritis. So I ended up in hospital, got rehydrated via a drip, and babbled nonsense caused by some anti-nausea medication to my wonderful boyfriend who accompanied me the whole way (except for the bit where the doctor poked her finger into my bum, when I ordered him outside).

So I spent Tuesday sleeping it off and nibbling dry toast. I had to rebook my transport to Paris, and miss my first night’s accommodation, so now I get the fun part of doing the travel insurance admin. My first thought was “thank goodness for travel insurance”, but now that I consider it a bit more closely – the cost of the insurance is far more than the cost of this mishap. Granted, my insurance covers me till next March and there could be another incident before then, but the chances seem unlikely. I’ve been living away from home over two years now and it’s the first time this has happened. I didn’t have to pay anything for the medical treatment I received because the UK has a sterling public healthcare system (more on that later). Of course, travel insurance is *just in case*, and it could have been a whole lot worse. I suppose you never know what might happen and you do have  peace of mind knowing it’s there.

2013-05-07 06.43.52 I’d also like to give a massive plug to the NHS, Britain’s public health system. Like Medicare at home in Australia, you can get free healthcare, including GP, ambulance, hospital and any medications you got at the hospital. As an Australian citizen, we have a reciprocal arrangement whereby I can access public healthcare in the UK, and Brits can do the same in Oz. Until now, I’ve never seen it properly in action. I started by calling NHS Direct, the diagnostic helpline. They asked me a series of questions and dispatched an ambulance, which was there within 10 minutes. I was shown to a private room and seen to pretty quicksmart, despite my maladies being relatively minor (I mean, it was AWFUL but I hadn’t lost an eyeball or been shot or anything). I was given as much time as I needed before leaving. Everyone was lovely to me.

I made it to Paris only a day and a half late in the end, still in time for the first night of the three weeks’ accommodation I booked over AirBnb (I have a whole flat to myself for the same price as I would a dorm bed in a hostel in central Paris, it’s AMAZING). Now I just have to wrestle with my insurance company. Wish me luck.

Doing family long-distance

So I’ve been living away from Sydney since February 2011 and I’ve got used to the whole distance thing, mostly. It’s tough and I miss my mum a lot, but I choose to see the bright side rather than the negative one. I have friends who live overseas whose parents make them feel really guilty about their decisions, and approach the fact that their offspring live far away as something their kid has “done to” them, which is not fair. You raise your kids to give them as many opportunities as you can and then they have to make their own choices. I’m lucky that my mum insists that I mustn’t feel guilty about being far away, even though at times I do. She’s very supportive and she always has been, and in some ways my being far away has done several great things for us:

At Tokyo DisneySea

At Tokyo DisneySea

We’ve been able to travel together

In 2011, mum came to Europe for the first time to visit me. I got to show her around the Edinburgh Fringe festival, showed her around Brighton and saw some theatre with her in London. She then went off on a cruise through central Europe and I met her in Paris. In 2012 we spent two weeks together in Japan, meeting halfway between Sydney and London. In February and March of this year I stayed at home with her and it was really lovely. Later this year, she’s coming for another extended stay in the UK. We would never have done those things together had I stayed in Sydney.

We spend a lot of time talking

We Skype about 2-3 times a week and spend a long time talking. When I was at home, we may not have been able to spend as much face-to-face talk time. We hung out a lot, sure, but actual conversation was probably less than it currently is. I’m so grateful there is a free way to talk to her via video. When my older brothers lived in London in the mid-90s, we’d hear from them once every few months, maximum. This is truly the best time to be alive.

We get to be creative

When you can’t be with someone, you come up with great ways to show you care. Like, for Christmas last year, mum sent me an incredible bed-throw that she’d made with a whole lot of different fabrics (she and I used to make costumes together, so I recognised the different fabrics from different costumes – very special). And today was Mother’s Day, so last night I made her this little video of a day out in Paris (I’m pretty chuffed with my mad video editing skillz).

So yes, it can definitely be really difficult and there are times when being away is really hard and times (like when I was sick recently) that you just want your mum to give you a hug, but there are upsides if you create them.

Birthday/travel announcement!

times-square

One of my travel projects is to try and spend every birthday in a different country (or, as many different countries as possible). This is because I spent birthdays 1 to 22 in Australia (barring 11 in Fiji), then 23 in England and 24 in France. I turn 25 next month and I will officially be spending it in New York City with my boyfriend and my oldest friend, Amy, whom I’ve known for 20 years and who shares my birthday.

I last went to New York five years ago, even though I swore at the time that I would be back at least once a year. I spent two and a half weeks falling in love with the theatres, the delis, the museums, the shopping, the Park and the Ben and Jerry’s shop we used to check our email in (no laptop, iPad or iPhone back then!). I went with my musical theatre friend Benita and we saw 24 shows. Yep, that is a show every single day and sometimes two. We had a very comprehensive schedule of when rush/student/lottery tickets were on for different shows and we managed to see a lot of them for $20-$30. Did I mention we were also below the legal drinking age at the time (not that that stopped us)? Benita is moving to

Me with the Naked Cowboy

Me with the Naked Cowboy

New York later this year to begin the prestigious Master of Fine Arts (Directing) at Columbia University, so I’m sure to be back again.

Luckily, both of my companions for my upcoming sojourn are massively into theatre (particularly musicals) as well, so I am looking forward to catching some shows this time round, and also getting some higher quality pictures than last time round, when my camera was mega shitty and I had no sense of framing. I’m also looking forward to revisiting the first place I ever travelled to without my parents as someone who has now done a lot of travelling.

So, from June 2 to June 9, watch out world! I will be hitting the Big Apple with two of the humans I love best, turning a quarter-century with my oldest friend and “twin.” Can’t wait.

Engrish lessons

DSCF2730One of the things I looked forward to most about Japan (aside from the food, the culture, the architecture, the bullet train, the clothes, the immersion in a totally different way of life….) was getting in some cracking examples of Engrish, and in no way was I disappointed.

Now, I know it is a terrible thing to mock someone else’s language skills when I sure as hell can’t speak Japanese, but I’m only human and it’s hilarious. I also studied linguistics at university, so it’s kind of like study. Right…?

Anyway, here’s a collection of my favourite examples of English rendered in signage in Japan (click on the thumbnails to embiggen and open up a slideshow).

 

 

 

Sunday Best: London Marathon

Yesterday was the London marathon, and it was basically the nicest day England has seen in months, meaning the 37,000 runners banking on there at least not being any sun, like every other day, were bathed in warm sunlight as they ran for 26 miles. I’m sure there are a few people with lobster-like faces today.

My boyfriend’s older bro, Tom, was running for Kidney Research UK, a cause very close to the family’s hearts as their dad, Brian, has had two kidney transplants and was on dialysis for a few years – it’s a pretty miserable existence. So at 9am yesterday, my boyfriend’s mum and dad, two family friends and his brother’s fiancee turned up and filled the living room with bacon and purple Kidney Research t-shirts, because we’re about 20 metres from the marathon route at both the 13 and 22 mile points. Which is brilliant.

Basically, it’s like having a holiday house right on the beach: loads of people schlep for miles to get there, carrying things they need for the day, committing to hours of unrelenting activity, and having to search for toilets, letting your drinks get warm and ending the day tired and a little grumpy, having to get back inside a hot car or uncomfortably travelling by public transport in sandy, wet clothes. NOT US. We popped back home after cheering Tom at the 13-mile mark, had a sit down, made 12 ham sandwiches (we ate about half a pig between us yesterday), and got back just in time to cheer Tom again, then went and sat in the churchyard nearby. When we realised they were having a bake sale and we had no money, we popped back to the house to grab some change. NOT BAD.

It’s a great day out – everyone wins. Free entertainment, a great sense of community and human endeavour, raising funds for charity (Tom has raised almost £3000!). Actually that’s not entirely true, someone loses and that is the street cleaners – there is a LOT of rubbish left behind. A compromise of both extra rubbish disposal facilities along the route and people taking their rubbish with them when there’s no room in the bins needs to be reached in these situation.

Although I did the least amount of travelling possible for this particular post, it’s hopefully a reminder to  to check out what’s on your doorstep. Sometimes, events like festivals, fairs, exhibitions and sport are made all the better when you don’t have to traipse for hours to get there.

Sunday Best: Richmond Park

So my boyfriend and I are working on a slew of different webby projects like maniacs recently, and so we’ve designated Sundays as work-free, adventure-filled days. Last week we went to Richmond Park in Surrey, and it was awesome. Getting out of East London and into the vast fields of the countryside (even though it’s still officially London – you can get there on the District line – but boy it does not feel like London) was very invigorating.

Thatch cottage

You can’t actually go in; I snuck this over the fence

We walked from the station along via the Thames, and being a sunny day it was rammed with merrymakers. The park itself is very hilly, and features some lovely buildings, including this cute-as-a-button thatch cottage. We got some weird ice-cream from a van (it was more like frozen milk than ice-cream though) and had a good old explore.

There is a very cool feature in Richmond Park, and that’s at the highest point, from which you can see St Paul’s Cathedral, some 10 miles in the distance. There’s a telescope, but you squint to see it through the trees – which are kept trimmed back so that you can see the dome in the distance. In fact, this is a protected view, which means that nothing can obstruct the view – you can’t build in the way. Seems there are a few protected views facing St Pauls, maybe I should try and catch a couple more. London challenge, perhaps?

Richmond Park has another, slightly more global claim to fame, and that is being the location where Fenton the labrador famously chased a herd of deer, to the great dismay of his owner:

Sadly, no Fenton and no herd today, and we mostly forgot about the wildlife as we sat by a pond and watched some dogs go mental in the water. But as were heading, we spotted a few deer and it was very exciting. They had some pretty epic antlers. It’s always great to be at proximity to large, undomesticated animals with nothing between you. When I eventually write a blog about Nara, near Kyoto in Japan, I will have many, many more deer pictures to post, but for today, here are just two:

P1010623 Two deer

It took about an hour to get there from Tower Hill, and being on the District line it was largely above ground, which I vastly prefer – I’m still not that comfortable travelling underground. That route also took us past Kew Gardens, not as famous for marauding dogs, more for its horticulture and research, but still worth a visit I’m sure.

Australian to British English: an urban lexicon

Living in England the past few years, there are certain nuances of language that I have discovered vary between Australian and British English. This page will grow as I remember or discover more discrepancies. Please feel free to submit to the list.

Australian phrase:

“First in, best dressed”

Translation:
Means the same as “first come, first served.” A small survey shows that there is also the English phrase “first up, best dressed”, as in the context of a large family, the first to wake up will get the best clothes in the communal wardrobe, although it’s not widely used. This caused a massive debate about idiom and context between me and my boyfriend. I totally won.

Australian phrase:

“Sucked in”

Translation:

Australian phrase:

“Go jump”

Translation:
Short for “go jump in the lake” – self explanatory. Typically used in the format “X can go jump.”

Australian phrase:

“Scull”

Translation:
Finish your drink, quickly. Often used in conjunction with the pisspot song:

Australian phrase:

“It’s a total rort”/”you got rorted”

Translation:
To rip some one off. My mum finds it annoying that this word is not accepted in Ruzzle.

Australian phrase:

“You’re shitting me”

Translation:
In England, this only means “you’re joking/you’re having me on”, but in Australia it also means that you’re pissing me off. Bodily functions for the win!

Australian phrase:

“Paid out”

Translation:

This is unrelated to redundancy packages. If you get paid out, you’re being teased.

 

 

Eight things to do in Brighton

I moved to Brighton from Sydney in February 2011 because I wanted to move to England but thought an Australian living in London was too much a cliché for me (also because of a boy, but that’s beside the point. I was being INDIVIDUAL, dammit). Brighton is a small city or a big town on the south coast of England. It’s arty, gay, left-wing, weird and awesome. It’s been a party-town since the Prince Regent built a holiday house (aka Palace – see below for picture) there and went for lavish orgies and feasting with all his society mates. These days it’s more a destination for over-the-top stag and hen dos, but being only an hour south of London it makes it a pretty easy weekend destination.

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Welcome

The first time I went travelling, I was 19, heading to New York, Germany and the UK for a month with my friend. It was amazing, but two things no-one told me was:

1. You need less stuff than you think

2. Make sure both your hands are free during transit

That's me on the right. Handbag plus shoulder bag for cabin baggage? So naive.

That’s me on the right. Handbag plus shoulder bag for cabin baggage? So naive.

I learned the hard way that you buy loads of things to wear, tipping you over the scales on baggage allowances and causing HUGE problems in subterranean train stations. I would like to now thank everyone who stopped in London and New York to help me with my stupidly heavy suitcase up and down stairs. I also learned that carry-on baggage should be as compact as possible, allowing you to reach things like passports, boarding passes, plastic bags with fluids and laptops easily.

These days when I travel, I use a small backpack for cabin baggage, and my travel motto for luggage is never to carry anything that you can’t lift yourself.

Word.