Melbourne & NZ

Well, it had been a while since my last actual holiday – almost 3 years. I’ve had the odd long weekend off here and there and time off to attend family matters but not an extended time of leave, which I think the body and mind craves. It’s nice having a day off here and there but to actually have 3 weeks off and a fairly relaxed schedule gives your body and mind the time it needs to wind down and reconnect again.

So, in those 3 weeks, my partner and I spent a week in Melbourne, a week in New Zealand and a week at home to kick back and try and get back into some form of routine before heading back to work (didn’t happen).

This was our first holiday away together and we had always intended on going to Melbourne as we had booked tickets to see The Book of Mormon. We’re both huge South Park (Trey Parker/Matt Stone) fans and as soon as we caught wind of the show coming to Australia, we booked tickets immediately and due to it not being shown in Brisbane, Melbourne became our first destination. New Zealand was more or less a later piece of the puzzle when work was becoming overwhelming and I know I needed more time away than the originally booked 1 week off.

So, we left Brisbane stupidly early on the 28/03 and arrived mid morning into Tullamarine. From there we were picked up and greeted by my father and headed back to the family property in Broadford. The house is actually up for sale at the moment, so the house is probably in the nicest condition it’s ever been in. From a small old brick house built in the 1950’s to what it has become now, its phenomenal to see the progression. We spent the rest of the first day catching up with family for lunch and dinner and tried our best to keep warm. Becoming acclimatised to Brisbane weather is dangerous.

The following day, Dad leant us the car and we drove further north again to Benalla which is where my brother Joel lives. My brother is 4 years older than me and has down syndrome, so in a way I’ve always been the older brother looking after him. Going up and visiting him gives me so much joy though because I know he really looks forward to it. The carers in his workplace said he never shuts up when he knows I’m on the way. We took him out for lunch to a small cafe in Benalla and took him back to his workplace. From there we made our way back to Broadford and relaxed with some more food and wine.

In terms of photos, I didn’t take any of anything interesting whilst in Broadford. I took some for Dad and Marj as they weren’t happy with the photos taken by the real estate but that’s as far as it really went.

 

The following day we caught the train down to Melbourne and made our way to our Air BNB just near Southern Cross station. Our time in Melbourne more or less involved a lot of eating (plenty of vegan eats down there for Krystle), a lot of walking and very little else. It’s nice having the freedom of being able to wander around the city. We did happen to catch up with more family whilst in Melbourne.

But the reason we came to Melbourne was for The Book of Mormon and it did not disappoint. It was one of the greatest things I have had the pleasure of seeing. It completely surpassed all expectations and made my fondness for the intelligence of Trey Parker and Matt Stone grow stronger. As well as being super catchy musically, the acting was world class and the script was hilarious. It’s not often I’m speechless but after the performance, I was at a loss for words. Krystle was actually worried I didn’t enjoy it.

Leaving Melbourne was actually quite convenient as we were only a hundred metres more or less from Southern Cross Station to get the Sky Bus to the airport. The only inconvenience of that was having to get up at 2:30AM to do so.

The airport situation was a little stressful for us as Krystle has a British passport. We weren’t aware that she had to carry both her British and Australia passport so it made the whole checking in situation and customs quite difficult. We got through eventually and fortunately for us we hate being late to anything so even with the difficulties, we still had plenty of time up our sleeves.

 

We flew with Emirates (cannot rate highly enough) to Auckland and proceeded through customs to the baggage pickup area. Krystle’s bag came around pretty quickly but mine was no where to be seen. In the corner of my eye, I saw someone in the distance wheeling away a case that looked like mine but I thought surely they wouldn’t be stupid enough to grab someone else’s case? Boy, was I wrong.

After realising what had happened, I went to baggage services and put in a file of missing baggage. Quite a stressful process. Not the filing of missing baggage, just that I had no luggage which meant no clothes, no underwear, no toiletries and some camera gear in there too. The people there were incredibly chill and assured me as soon as the person who took my case realised they had it, they’d bring it back and have it sent on a courier to the hotel. True to their word, my baggage was dropped to my hotel and put inside my room that evening.

During our first day in Auckland, we picked up our hire car and made our way to the hotel. We then for a bit of a wander around the city and found a grocery store and a couple of cafes to suss out for when we were back in Auckland. We were amazed by the produce and organic ranges in the store so picked up a heap of stuff for the car trip.

Instead of heading out for dinner that evening, we had dinner at the hotel and coincidentally they offered a full vegan dinner menu which Krystle was stoked about. I had a nice steak and a beautiful red wine to accompany it.

We left Auckland the following morning to head to our next destination which was Paihia, situated in the Bay of Islands. We took the scenic route instead of the main motorways and even though the weather was completely miserable along the way, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking.

The first couple of days in Paihia weren’t too thrilling due to the severe rain they were receiving (part of Cyclone Debby) but it was a good excuse to have a pretty relaxed pace. We did a fair bit of driving around the area just to explore what Paihia had to offer and we found a nice little cafe (The Orange Frog) in town that had some great options on the menu for both Krystle and I.

On our second day in Paihia, we were meant to go on a dolphin swim/tour but due to the weather it had been called off till the following day given the weather was suitable for it. We went to bed that night not knowing whether or not we’d be going out but upon waking, it turned out to be a beautiful day. We head down to the marina, jumped on the boat and within twenty minutes of leaving shore, we came across dolphins. I’ve seen dolphins before and actually have fed one but there’s nothing quite like seeing a pod of them out in open water doing what they do. It’s so mesmerising and such an incredible experience to witness. We were on the boat for 2-3 hours and whilst we didn’t get to swim with them, just witnessing them was enough.

Our remaining day in Paihia was spent with another trip to the grocery store, a small mountain climb and a lot of walking. Whilst there wasn’t a huge amount to do in Paihia, I’m really grateful we had a few days there to actually relax.

We head back to Auckland the following morning and whilst it was too early to check in to the hotel, the staff advised us to check out Takapuna and Devonport. We went across the Harbour Bridge and found and beautiful little cafe called Street Organics. Being somewhat limited to one cafe/restaurant in Paihia, it was nice having a huge choice of places to eat. We checked out Takapuna and loved what we saw. We also sussed out a place to have breakfast the following morning. From Takapuna, we drove up the road to Devonport and were gobsmacked by how pretty it was. It reminded me somewhat of Fremantle, WA. It has that nice seaside village feel with a lot of beautiful old buildings. The library in Devonport is one of the most incredibly designed buildings I’d come across. We’d only stopped there because we were curious as to what the building actually was.

Krystle thought I should find a burger place to eat at in Auckland because I’d been meat free for majority of the trip. I jumped on Google and came across Burger Burger and noticed it had been rated #1 burger on a few websites, so that night we head out to the nearest Burger Burger which happened to be in Ponsonby. Upon arriving in Ponsonby, we had immediately found our dream town to live in. It has the best elements of all the different suburbs of Australia that we like. It had a Fitzroy/Brunswick element to it but has all the nicer touches of somewhere like New Farm, Brisbane. Ponsonby Road has hundreds of shops with an old front but a completely renovated, architecturally designed interior. We fell in love. We also found that living that doesn’t come cheap (to no surprise). So, back to the Burger. We arrived and were sat at the bar. We ordered pretty quickly and even found a remarkably good vegan option for Krystle. I ordered two burgers – one beef (rated #1) and one chicken burger. The chicken burger was good but nothing special. The beef burger blew my mind. There was nothing overly extravagant about it but the flavour sensation was incredible. I’ve eaten my fair share of burgers throughout the years but this is #1 on my list now. I can’t wait to go back and eat it again. Sadly, I couldn’t get a decent photo because the lighting in the restaurant was crap but I enjoyed it and you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The next day was our last in NZ so we went back across the bridge to Takapuna and had breakfast at the place we chose the previous day. From there, we didn’t have much time to do anything else so we eventually made our way to the airport, checked in and painfully got through customs again. The flight back was quick and I got to sneak a movie in during it.

The Melbourne/NZ was one of the best holidays I’ve been on. I know we were only in each spot for a week but I got to wind down and relax, spend time and enjoy my first holiday with my partner (no arguments) and do things at a leisurely pace. We also got to eat some great food and experience and witness some pretty incredible things. Sure, I love to keep busy 99% of the time and do as much as I can but it’s nice having that break every now and again. I think my body needed it.

Part of me wishes I took more photos along the way but I think sometimes that takes away from the whole relaxing part of the trip.

I’ve tried to keep this blog post somewhat brief so please enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback. Also, feel free to leave any recommendations as to where to go in the South Island of NZ. I’m planning on making that my next NZ trip (after Scotland).

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Neglectful

Well, internet. It’s been a long time (2 years to be exact) since I’ve done anything on this page so I think it’s time I pull a finger out and start posting more regularly. The hiatus has nothing to do with me lacking mojo for photography or being horribly sick but I’ve just been incredibly busy.

So, where to begin? Do I post a heap of photos from the last couple of years and just go from there? It would seem the easiest thing to do rather than individual posts. From here, I’m going to aim to do monthly posts.

First of all though, I might go into a bit of explanation of what’s been happening with my life since the last post.

Over the last two years, life hasn’t gotten any quieter. I feel like the weeks are going by quicker and quicker and free time is a luxury. Working big hours, trying to keep fit, fight injury, play basketball weekly, attend food events and most importantly finding time to to pursue photography is a lot to fit in.

Work hasn’t changed for me. I’m still in the same role as I was two years ago which is fleet controller of a transport company. Between last year and early this year, I was beginning to burn out pretty hard so I went to Flight Centre and booked a holiday with my partner to North Island NZ (will do a holiday post at a later date) but that has spurred me on to grind harder, to allow us to go on holiday more. It’s amazing what a couple of weeks away can do for you head. Next year we have to attend a wedding in Scotland, so let the saving begin.

Since my accident 5 years ago, keeping fit has become a priority for me. More or less, keep fit or suffer from pain. I hit the gym pretty hard last year and made some great progress but found myself going a bit stale just because I found myself doing the same thing day in and day out and I ended up looking at my phone half the time rather than working out. Whilst I was still making progress, it somewhat defeated the purpose of going. I had contemplated joining a team sport with some friends but we could never get ourselves organised or together to do so but fortunately due to a Facebook shoutout from a mate who lived down the coast, they were looking for some people to come along and play basketball so down I went. Now it has become a weekly event and it’s something I look forward to greatly. I forgot how much I enjoyed playing.

I recently joined a new gym too which has been beyond rewarding. Not only is the gym state of the art but it’s cheap and offers a lot of services for the price. They even offer a one hour complimentary PT session upon joining and my PT is a rehab specialist so he’s helping me fix my bad shoulder which has begun to cause a bit of grief.

Keeping fit has also become a priority for me for another reason. I’ve made the jump and become a food blogger (@lewislovestoeat), so I needed to offset all the food with exercise. Whilst I always posted food on my personal Instagram account (@lewislotherington), I wanted to make the personal one more photography based and not feature food on there.

Other than being passionate about food, the other thing that lead to me starting the food page had something partly to do with becoming the photographer for (@brisbanefoodlovers). I’d met Aliyah through social media and she happened to love my photos, so after time I was fortunate enough to score the job. This has led to many food events and a busy schedule. I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me and I’ve met a bunch of cool people through it and eaten plenty of amazing food.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to what else to write, so I’ll try be more frequent with posts and I won’t have this issue. For now, enjoy the photos and let me know what photos you dig. This is just an assortment from 2015-2016.

Peace out!

 

China 2014 – Part 5 – Shanghai

From Chengdu, we made our way to the airport making sure we had enough time to ensure not being late and missing the flight. The flight went smoothly and we arrived in Shanghai – the last leg of the trip for the boys (second last for me).

After touchdown, we collected our baggage and made our way outside the airport to catch a train. We had the choice of the Maglav or the subway and we chose the subway. By the time we changed trains to make it to where we were staying the trip took about an hour and a half.

We got off at Nanjing Rd East and made the walk to our hotel. Yet again, this was followed with more arguing between Peter and James. What turned into a five minute walk to the hotel became an hour long walk of not knowing where to go.

Once finally arriving, there was a bit of a debacle with the room we had booked. We asked for three beds which was confirmed when James had booked it but we ended up with a double bed and a single. We just wanted to get into our room, so we didn’t bother arguing our point further.

The room wasn’t all that bad. Had enough space, a good bathroom, a toilet that functioned and even though the beds were rock hard, they were sufficient enough for a good night sleep. We were that tired, I don’t think it really mattered what the bed situation was. James and Pete ended up sharing and I had the single to myself (score).

As comfy as the room was, there were no windows. The only light provided was from the ceiling lights. No natural light which made it hard to gauge what time of day it was.

We had a bit of a rest and ventured out to the Nanjing Rd shopping strip. After being submerged in Chinese culture, we realised how westernised Shanghai is. I found it to be the least interesting city because of this.

However, the part I did find interesting was the architecture. On our side of the river was the old part of Shanghai. Sure, there were modern buildings but there were an abundance of old art deco buildings. My Dad has always had a huge passion for Art Deco and I think his love for it was passed onto me. The buildings were great. So interesting to look at.

Deco Entrance

Deco Entrance

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The other side of the river was the more modern side where the Pearl Tower is etc..

I didn’t get a great deal of photos of Shanghai. I became lazy due to exhaustion and I was having lens issues. On one of our days of exploring I managed to get a few good snaps of the new side of the river and a few art deco buldings.

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We caught up with another friend from High school named Denise. She took us out for dinner in a cool little strip. It was very western, very arty and just a nice little area that was pleasing on the eyes. She then took us to another building. It was a hotel and we made our way to the top floor. She paid for our entry which was too kind and then got us drinks. We went to the outside area and was astounded by the view. Despite the pollution, smog and humidity, we  had a clear look over the river and could see the modern side of Shanghai. We spent a while up there, took a few snaps with the phone and then ventured on further.

From the top

From the top

Being one of our last nights in China, we wanted to go out with a bit of a bang, drink a lot and have some fun. She took us to a club named Myst (http://mystshanghai.com) and we were blown away. The club was monstrous and people everywhere. There were plenty of western people there too so we didn’t feel singled out or out of place. We had a few drinks at the bar, struggling to find a table to sit or at least rest our drinks. There were plenty of promo people there, so I asked one where an ATM was as I was running low on funds. He then took me outside of the club and to an ATM. He was nice enough and waited for me so I didn’t get lost and so I got straight back into the club. His name was TJ. He spoke enough english so we could converse easily enough.

Once back inside the club, he said “I’ll get you guys a table for free”. It was at this point we realised you had to pay for a table. When we were at the table, he came back and said “I’ll get you some drinks”. We were thinking a beer or two each. He came back with about three people carrying stuff. There were two bottles of champagne, a bottle of vodka, a bottle of scotch and enough mixers to satisfy the needs of about 10 people. There were five of us and this is when the memory of the night starts to blur out.

The Death of Me

The Death of Me

James and I hit the free drinks straight away insisting TJ drink with us. He was more than willing. We have no idea why any of this happened but I gave him some cash as a thank you for what he did.

Drinks were consumed. Mostly Vodka and mixers for me. After 5 or 6 of those under my belt, I decided it was a great time to start shotting full glasses of champagne. I think James may have done one or two of these between his scotches, not too sure. As for Peter, I don’t know whether he was drinking or what. I cannot remember anything Peter did that evening. He obviously was drinking as we found out the next morning.

I remember at points wandering around the club, making the trek to the bathroom between hundreds of people and getting looked at because I had beard.

The parts I don’t remember were:

– Dancing everywhere around the club

– Leaving at closing time and vomiting everywhere for an extended period of time. James told me there was a cleaner standing next to me ready to clean up any fresh vomit that came out of me.

I do remember elements of being in the taxi on the way home. James was telling me to translate what the taxi driver was saying and I was just telling James “I want to go home. I want to be in bed.” That usual drunk talk. I don’t remember Peter not being in the taxi. We obviously lost him at some point in the evening.

We got out of the taxi at the bottom end of Nanjing Rd because it looked somewhat familiar to the drunken James. I remember parts of the walk home and absolutely hating it. I think at that point James was hating me because I was making the short twenty minute walk into an hour long event.

We got back to the hotel, I think I may have had a shower to get rid of the vomit and went straight to bed. I have no clue what time this was as the hotel didn’t have any windows.

We were awoken by a knocking on the door. The knocking went for about ten minutes and we just assumed it was room service and told them we weren’t interested. When the knocking persisted, we opened the door to a shirtless Peter. From what we can gather, he caught a taxi half way across the city and decided to walk the other half. It was hilarious. He showered and then we all went back to sleep to wake at who knows what time of day.

Peter was pretty shot, as were James and myself. James and I went for a walk to the shops, to try and put some food down to ease the pain. Pretty sure we ended up getting Burger King and brought some back for Pete. Our stomachs were not happy which is understandable considering the amount of alcohol consumed by all.

The rest of the day was spent with the tv on watching the world cup and more broken sleep to try and recover.

I didn’t realise some of the things that happened the previous night till we all relayed our stories back to each other. They were all hilarious. I wouldn’t rush to drinking that much ever again but it sure made for a fun night. It was absolutely wild. I don’t think any of us had ever done something as crazy. Getting horribly drunk on the other side of the world and not being able to speak the native tongue. I was astounded I didn’t lose my phone or wallet.

The next day was our last so we did a bit more exploring of the area. Nothing too outrageous as our bodies had been pushed to their limits. We went to a little western strip that had little shops and plenty of restaurants to choose from. James and Pete had a Thai curry and I had pizza. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad.

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The trip to the airport was a bit more interesting. We caught a metro train to the Maglav station and caught it to the airport. It was phenomenal. The fast trains to Chengdu were cool but the Maglav was something else. We reached close to 430 km/h and the trip took about a hundredth of the time as the one to the hotel. It was peculiar. The acceleration wasn’t intense which is what you’d expect. It slowly crept up to it’s maximum speed and we watched the surroundings go by in the blink of an eye.

We checked in at the airport, did a little bit more shopping and waited it out till our plane was ready. My plan was to eat the meal provided, take a sedative and sleep the rest of the way home. The first half of this worked. I took the sedative after dinner and thats when the worst part of the trip occurred. My head wanted to sleep. My eyes were rolling into the back of my skull but my body was agitated and I had restless legs. My girlfriend gets this regularly and I don’t know how she deals with it. It’s horrible. Two parts of my body wanting different things. Getting up to walk was horrific as my head could barely keep my eyes open but my legs were shooting pains up to my brain.

I was pretty agitated when we landed but then happy I was also happy to be back in Australia. Ideally, I would have loved to have been in Brisbane already but I had a one night stop over, catching up with the family.

Getting through customs was easy for James and myself. We had nothing to declare (that we were aware of) but Peter caused another problem. He went through with his girlfriend, Tina and they had stuff to declare. James and I were waiting at the bag carousel as patiently as we could but it was killing us. We were tempted to just pick up our bags and leave but we waited it out.
What seemed like an eternity later, they both showed up and explained themselves. We couldn’t be mad at that and we made our way through the final point to where our parents were waiting. It’s always great seeing my Dad as it doesn’t happen all that much anymore because we live in two different states.

We said our hellos to Peter’s parents and waited for Peter and Tina….again…. We honestly thought they were just trying to test our patience. They made their way out another ten minutes later.  Dad and I had to leave because we had to be somewhere at a certain time. I said my goodbyes to my best friends and made our way.

In summary, the trip was fantastic. I had one of the  best times of my life. Despite all the difficulties we may have had along the way, we saw some amazing things and did some things we could only dreamed of doing. Being  stuck with friends for 20 odd days can definitely test the friendship but we’re all still friends which is great.

I did this blog mostly for myself so I could put my memories down whilst they’re still somewhat fresh in my head. Being able to add the photos helped spark memories I had forgotten too. I hope James and Pete enjoyed my telling of events as hopefully it sparked memories in their minds too. I’m sure there is plenty I have left out. I’ve tried to keep it somewhat brief so readers don’t get bored.

Thanks for reading if you got this far anyway 🙂

China 2014 – Part 4 – Chengdu

Chengdu began with the fourteen hour overnight slow train from Xian.

We were snacked up and ready to tackle it. We booked a sleeper which was the best thing to do because sitting upright for 14 hours would have been depressing.
Once we found our beds, I stupidly called dibs on top bunk. Worst mistake I could have made. Being the tallest out of the three of us, I had the least room. There was maybe a foot and a half of room between my head on the bed and the roof. Turning over to swaps sides was difficult and getting to the toilet meant awkwardly climbing down the stairs whilst trying to not get prodded and poked my James and Pete. Lesson learnt for next time.

The beds were three high and there were two rows so we had some neighbours. Two young girls who were off to see “Big Band” (believe it was some kind of boy band) and a girl in her mid to late twenties who was travelling to see her boyfriend as they lived in different cities. If I lived a fourteen hour slow train ride away from my significant other, I’d move closer or find a quicker means of transport.

I think they were somewhat shocked that their neighbours were white, bearded men with funny accents and one with a thumb for a head (Pete). We all introduced ourselves before the train started to make the trip less awkward.

The time spent awake on the trip was incredibly fun. I wouldn’t rush to do it again without maybe a bit more comfort but nonetheless we all had a good time.

Between the girls and ourselves, they spoke broken english and we spoke broken chinese, so we were able to string along a conversation which I think the fun part was.

We all sat on the bottom bunk opposite each other so we could talk. Each time the food cart came along, we would grab a beer. Unfortunately, light beer was the only choice but I got a bit of a buzz going. We got the two younger girls a beer and they took forever to drink it and got seemingly drunk off the one can. We all shared photos of our adventures, photos of our girlfriends and photos of life back home in Australia. They were fascinated by everything we had to show. They told us our girlfriends were beautiful. The elder girl grabbed my phone when I showed her a picture of Krystle (my girlfriend) and she said “this your girlfriend?”. I said “Yep, I find it hard to believe too sometimes”. She said “you very lucky” and I couldn’t have agreed more.

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Once getting further out of Xian, the train made it’s way through the mountainside. The scenery was phenomenal. It didn’t matter what window we looked out, the view was spectacular. I tried taking photos but due to lack of experience, getting photos on a moving train was somewhat difficult.

Our beds were somewhat close to the toilets, which was handy in a sense but shitty (ha) in another, as the smell would waft down towards us every now and again. James and I were pretty concerned about having to crap on the train as the toilet was a squatter. We still hadn’t used a squatter at this point and we weren’t going to start now, especially on a moving train. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to go and I’m pretty sure James took enough tablets to stop any shit for a week. After our tummy shame times, he took every precaution necessary. We were sick of shitting through the eye of a needle and wiping our asses so much. James even got to the point of moisturising his butthole because it was sore from pooping and wiping so much. In fact, I think I did at one point too. Gross part of the story over.

The sun began setting and we wanted to try stay up as late as we could just for the fact we knew sleep was going to be difficult. We talked with the girls more, made lots of noise, annoyed the lady with the beer and tried to enjoy it as much as we could. “Doi” was a game James came up with that involved trying to put your fingers in the other’s mouth. Lets just say he won.

I think we got to 11pm and called it quits. I climbed up to the top bunk hitting my head multiple times, put my music on and tried my best to sleep. Between having to get up awkwardly to go to the toilet and tossing and turning, I got at least four to five hours of broken sleep.

Fast forward to getting off the train as I don’t recall what happened between waking up and then. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, got our bags together and walked to the front of the station. We managed to get a taxi pretty quickly (surprisingly) and got to the hotel. We were to early to check in so we sat in the lounge and watched the world cup. Can’t recall who was playing but it was an enjoyable match.

Once checked in, we made our way to the hotel room to find it was the best room of the trip yet. It was comfortable and had a great shower. Showers at this point had been average. Actually, average is a generous term. Peter’s shower was horrible as the hot water system had broken. Even though China was horribly hot and humid, his shower was icy and made getting clean difficult. It was painful.

The rest of Chengdu was a bit of a blur for me. I remember doing things but in no certain order. We caught up with a friend of Peter’s and mine (Jason) from high school. He was in year 11 when we were in year 7. He lived and worked  in parts of China as a train engineer, flying in from Australia when required. He was based closed to Chengdu and had more knowledge of the area than the three of us.

The first afternoon we ventured to this little village full of shops, restaurants and bars. It was incredibly pretty and an enjoyable time.

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Village Food

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Shopping

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Village Food

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Fellow Canon Man

Fellow Canon Man

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Handsome James

“I can’t wait to poo normally”

That evening, we got a taxi and Jason led us to this spot near the river lined with restaurants. We had an incredible mix of food there. The person who seated us spoke a fair bit of english and was a great host. We followed that little strip along after dinner and stopped in at different bars. Beers were expensive in this town so we didn’t get too out of control.

The food of Chengdu was the the most enjoyable part. Being a Sichuan province, the Sichuan peppercorn was included in meals everywhere. We had hot pot one night and it blew our minds. It was filled with chillies and these peppercorns and it was incredible. The flavour was spicy as expected from the chillies but the peppercorns provided it with what I would describe as a minty finish. They complimented each other perfectly. Your mouth was burning but it wasn’t unbearable. I brought some peppercorns with me back home but am still yet to use it as I know it won’t be as good as Chengdu.

Best Hot Pot

Best Hot Pot

We wandered around Chengdu a bit more looking for bars and clubs to try and have some fun. We found a little UK themed bar and had a few drinks there and was told to head to a club nearby. It was up an elevator and up a few levels. We went inside, were given seats and then there was a show. It could only be described as a strip club but there was no stripping. There were girls everywhere dancing around in world cup themed lycra. There were girls sitting in booths with wealthy looking gentlemen drinking lots of alcohol. It was unbelievably odd and not your conventional “strip club”. Not that we were looking for a strip club but  I wouldn’t have bothered calling it that at all. Still made for an interesting night. Peter and Jason were frothing at the mouth and James and I were making funny hats out of balloons.

On our last day there, Jason took us for a ridiculously long walk to a garden so we could try this tea he had mentioned. First of all, he had no clue where he was going and the tea ended up being average. It’s funny now looking back at it. From the garden we caught a taxi out of town to the Chengdu Panda Base. Taxis in China were scary. Sitting in the front sit had the same thrill as being on a roller coaster. The drivers speed, brake quickly, weave in and out of gaps that are tiny and are general menaces who like to use the horn far more than needed. In Australia, people with that style of driving wouldn’t have a license but this was the norm in China.

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Tree Drip

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Nonetheless, we never crashed and we always made it to our destination. The Panda Base was what you’d expect. A place to see Pandas. We watched this one guy chomping away on some bamboo and the rest were all sleeping. The Red Pandas were a bit more thrilling. Pretty cute too. I got some nice photos there that I was happy with. As the trip went on, I became lazier with the camera. Mostly due to exhaustion.

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I can’t recall too much more of Chengdu. I know we spent a bit of time wandering around the big shopping strip close to the hotel but that’s more or less it. Not much of an ending but the next and final stop of the trip was Shanghai.

China 2014 – Part 3 – Xian

This will probably be the shortest blog posted as we were in Xian less than a day.

We left the hotel in Beijing thinking we’d have plenty of time to catch a train to Xian. How wrong we were. By the time we got to the train station and waited in the painfully slow moving line, we missed our connection to Xian. The next one was a couple hour wait, which we reluctantly waited for, silently stewing upon our stupidity and not realising we’d need more time. We weren’t too upset about having a few less hours in Xian due to the limited time we had there anyway.

Fortunately the trip there was pretty quick due to being on another fast train. Once getting there, we walked into a thick wall of humidity and horrible pollution. The next part was finding the hotel. What a “fun” adventure that was. There was a little more debating between Peter and James because of the situation. In all honesty though, the street signs and numbering were useless, not making our trip any easier.

I think the collective plan was to rage and not sleep in Xian so we’d sleep for the next leg of our journey but we were so tired due to how fast paced the trip had been so far. We ended up having a relatively early night.

Our time there pretty much involved visiting the Xian City Wall and hiring bikes. We didn’t have enough cash on us but the people who ran the bike hiring facility were nice enough to let us take them still. It was a decent ride and finished as the sun was going down. After a bit of research we realised that the city wall was a replica of the original. It was re-built for tourism purposes. I took a couple of snaps of the wall and we then had a bit of a wander around the city when heading back toward the hotel. We found a french bakery and James bought some expensive bread/rolls and I bought a sweet of some kind of sweet that involved chocolate, perhaps a croissant. I cannot remember.

Thumb Head on a bike

Xian City Wall

Xian Bell Tower

On our way back, James and I lost it when we saw a baby pug. We asked the owner using hand gestures if we could pat it and she let us. The little pug lost it and so did we – smiles and snorts all round.

I can’t remember a great deal more about that night.

The next morning was interesting. We were up earlyish to have a bit more of an explore whilst we were still in the city. We didn’t venture too far from the hotel and had a pretty decent breakfast. We got to watch the business owner make steamed buns. The process involved was quite fascinating and he made hundreds with the help of his wife.

By the time it came to leaving the hotel, it was raining ever so slightly and we had to make our way to the train station to catch a train to Chengdu. It was probably a 2 – 3 km walk and we were hoping somewhere along the way, we’d hail a taxi. Normally walking that distance wouldn’t be a problem but after our trip to the Great Wall, carrying our bags seemed like a tiring, cumbersome effort. When the taxis wouldn’t stop, we just kept walking. This happened the rest of the way to the station. It was frustrating for all of us and we were getting angry at each other because none of our hailing methods were working. We even got to the point of offering taxis more money than the small trip was worth but they didn’t want the fare. It wasn’t just Xian this happened, it was everywhere. Peter’s Chinese is at a decent level. Enough to make a conversation with a driver and give directions and offer extra money. James came to the conclusion they don’t like white people.

The lineup outside the station was pretty big due to a security screening.
Once we got inside though, we found places to buy snacks and drinks for the 14 hour slow train through to Chengdu. We just popped a squat on the floor and waited. Actually, I should be careful using that expression. The young couple next to us had a toddler who wasn’t too happy. This was due to his dire need to use the toilet. He eventually ended up going on the floor and partly on his dad’s trousers. This was easy for him to do as toddlers wear pants that have a big hole allowing toilet time to be easy. Nappies aren’t a thing in China it seems. We went to a different spot that involved less babies and less poo.

Next step was the slow train……

China Trip 2014 – Part 2 – Beijing

So, we made our way to Beijng the same way we made our way to Cangzhou which was on Bullet Train. I was amazed by the transport over there. The bullet train system surpasses any train system that Australia has but then again, that wouldn’t be hard.

Once getting to Beijing and changing to the local metro trains, we had to find our way to the Tianmen Square Station as our hotel was well within walking distance. The next step was finding the hotel which was the problem we had in each city we went to, mostly due to how stubborn Peter and James both are. Due to them being friends since the tender age of baby (not sure how old), they would argue a lot and get over it in five minutes. After a solid hour of walking around with our bags debating where the hotel is, we eventually found it. It turned out to be a pretty shitty room in a pretty shitty hotel on a pretty shitty street. Didn’t really have much going for it except perhaps locality.
We spent a lot of time exploring the area around the hotel and the many Hutongs surrounding it. There was a little strip literally 5 minutes walk from the hotel that had restaurants and a western styled hostel. We thought we found heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I love China but finding this hostel put myself and I think James especially in our comfort zone. James not being able to speak any Chinese except an incorrect expression he picked up “Qing hui” which I think was meant to be Xin Hui (I believe we found out to be a traditional term for “It was nice to meet you”)….. Who knows?

The hostel ended up being a bit of a laugh and regular go to spot in the evenings (it also had wifi). Our stomachs and buttholes weren’t too happy with us after Cangzhou (tummy shames was the common expression) so the western style food of pizza, fries and cheap European beers like Heineken made  it all a little bit better. We made some friends from all over the place. We ended  up heading to a couple of tourist attractions with an Australian girl named Justine. We think she was close to 30 and she was quite the regular traveller and hostels were her choice of accommodation.

Heading out of the hotel in the other direction was Tianmen Square and the Forbidden City. When crossing the road across to Tianmen Square I could so vividly imagine that tanks were coming towards us instead of cars. It’s funny how an image can stick with you that you saw growing up.

Having been to Tianmen Square and The Forbidden City before, I knew what to expect. A realisation came to me when in the Forbidden City is that the emperors of China were lazy. So many huge buildings that served one purpose .i.e.. A building to change your robes in etc…. There were hundreds of them. Nonetheless, going through there took quite a while due to the sheer size of the city. I took hundreds of photos because everything was so fascinating.

Once we made it to the other side of the city, we made the trek up Jingshan Park which provided incredible views of the Forbidden City. I ended up with a blood nose when we hit the top. Funnily enough, the same thing happened to me in year 8 at the same spot.

We saw many other sites around Bejing including The Summer Palace and The Temple of Heaven. All very fascinating locations and so much to take in.

The highlight of Beijing in my eyes was our day trip to the Great Wall. We paid a bit extra to go to a spot that is not wall to wall (funny right?) with people. It took about 4 hours to get there, that’s if the bus didn’t break down. It was about 5 hours once we were put on another bus.

Our guide lead the group to the entrance of the wall. There were two entrance points. One which was a shorter walk and the other being the longer walk. With us being adventurous and in the mood to explore, we took the longer walk. We had three hours to have free roam and we made the most of it. We overtook the group who took the shorter walk and just kept going. I had to stop due to my knee aching.

I was not too upset though as I managed to get some awesome photos. A storm was starting and I was lucky enough to watch it come around. Tried my best to get a shot of the lightning using quick shutter speeds but I had no luck. We made our way back down the wall, partly wet and cold, to a restaurant where we were served a average buffet lunch. That evening we didn’t do all that much due to how tired we were. It was incredibly hot at the wall. It was definitely in the 30’s and humidity was high.

On one of our last days in Beijing we went to an area with hundreds of Hutongs and it was a quite a westernised area. We did a lot of wandering around, looking at stuff to buy and we eventually came upon a Great Leap Brewing. I was stoked to see they had craft beer (not a hipster, just love beer) and multiple varieties. It was a great spot to relax, kick back and drink good beer. In hindsight the beer may not have been all that good but it wasn’t Tsingtao.

Overall, Beijing was great and we only covered a small part of it. It still shocks me just how huge the city is. Next stop was Xian.

I <3 BJ

I Heart BJ

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

James - Forbidden City

James – Forbidden City

Cauldrons

Cauldrons

Cauldron Handles

Cauldron Handles

Handsome Mug

Handsome Mug

Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park

Jingshan Park

My ugly mug

My ugly mug

Jameshan Park

Jameshan Park

Roof at Summer Palace

Roof at Summer Palace

Gotta protect those railings

Gotta protect those railings

Thumb Head

Thumb Head

Get down from there

Get down from there

Patience is a virtue

Patience is a virtue

Summer Palace White Guys

Summer Palace White Guys

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Great Wall

Great Wall

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Favourites from the Great Wall

Favourites from the Great Wall

Coffing

Coffing

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven

Food

Food

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Great Leap Brewing

Great Leap Brewing

Beer makes me happy

Beer makes me happy

China Trip 2014 – Part 1 – Cangzhou

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to head to China.
I’ve been twice before in high school as I learnt Chinese as a second language. Having been out of school and not practicing the language for several years, I was surprised how much came back to me.
The trip came around pretty quickly. My friend Peter, from high school, moved over there and is teaching English in a school in a small city south of Bejing called Cangzhou. I changed school at the end of year 10 and Peter is only one of few people I still talk to from that school. He’s one of my best friends still to this day, despite his terrible sense in fashion and peculiar tastes in music.
One of his friends, James, also now one of my friends, had talked to me about heading over and I didn’t think all that much of it at first. Then, something clicked in my head and I realised it was stupid opportunity to pass up.
I left a majority of the planning to the both of them as I was busy working.
The trip started off with me heading to Melbourne to catch the same plane as James and then off to Cangzhou via Beijing.

Cangzhou is a small city in population in comparison to other cities in China. 7 million people isn’t a small city in my mind and being one of maybe 10 western people in the whole city, James and I felt pretty out of place.
After arriving and finally getting to Peter’s apartment, we got relaxed and had some food and drinks. Actually, that was most of China for us. Too much food and too much alcohol.

Cangzhou was really interesting and had quite a diverse culture. There is quite a big muslim population there.

Most of the time spent there was spent exploring. Peter showed off his new home town. We travelled by foot, by bike and by taxi when it came to heading to the other side of the city. By the end of everyday, we were wrecked from having fit so much in.

The thing that really caught us off guard in Cangzhou was the celebrity status we gained on one of our final nights in the city. This night somewhat prepared us for the rest of the trip, however it was overwhelming at times seeing people lose their shit seeing us.

It was Peter’s birthday and after heading to KTV (Karaoke) paid for by his school, we went to the Apple Bar (the only club in the city). Getting into the place involved being ushered into an elevator and then taken the third floor. Once on the third floor, we had to go through a metal detector and get a pat down from a security guard. I had only brought my phone, wallet and camera.

Getting past all that, once people noticed, they rushed up to us. Due to James and I have the most facial hair, we received the most attention. This included people tugging on the beards, being let behind the bar and free drinks and hundreds of photos with everybody. The only catch was we had to walk around the club holding the drinks to try and advertise them, I guess. It was quite an interesting night.
These photos are a small collection of the happenings of Cangzhou – food, beer, drinking games and the sights. This was really my first proper experience using a DSLR. I had read bits and pieces on what to do and what not to do but I learnt the most by trying new things. Could have had better results but not too bad for first time.

Sunrise flying into Beijing

Sunrise flying into Beijing

Peter has always been one for making fun faces.

The Grim Peter

Palm Tree

Palm Tree

Small Cars

Small Cars

James

James

The Iron Lion

The Iron Lion

Driving Range

Driving Range

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Bai Jiu

Bai Jiu

Snack Time

Snack Time

KFC

KFC

KFC part II

KFC part II

Hot Pot

Hot Pot

Boating

Boating

Doi

Doi

Fully Sick

Fully Sick

Wheat

Wheat

Wheat

Wheat

Cycling

Cycling

Teacher Pete

Teacher Pete

Tsingtao

Tsingtao

Punctured

Punctured

Leyls

Leyls

Snack Road

Snack Road

Multi-Tasking

Multi-Tasking

Apple Bar

Apple Bar