Trip to the UK: Exploring and Making New Friends

Wow I really am bad at updating this aren’t I? I will get on top of it one day, I promise! New design is almost ready to go and everything. Anyway the rate I’m going, I will never catch up so I’d better get on with it.

During our trip we tried to spend as much time as we could catching up with friends and family, many of whom I hadn’t seen for years. Maya enjoyed playing with her cousins (2nd cousins to be exact!) and making friends with some of my friends kids who are similar ages.

As everything is so different to Bali, it wasn’t hard to have a new adventure every day. Maya was pretty awed by everything and I did take advantage by leaving her with my mum and brother to have a browse around the toy shops or play on the ipads in the Apple store while I was shopping. Here she is having her mind blown in Toys’r’us (nothing even close to this in Bali!):

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Exploring St Mary’s Lighthouse, Tynemouth Priory and the beach near where I grew up with my friend’s little boy:

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Beach is a bit colder than what she’s used to in Bali!

Visiting the Science Museum in Newcastle:

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Playing with cousins and meeting a horse!

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Trip to the UK: 19 hours on a plane with a 5-year old and no iPad

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Ok I’m finally getting around to writing about our UK trip which we took in June. Excuses for leaving it so long? Well my mac was dead for quite a while (after already being fixed in England and ended up needing a whole new logic board) but if you’ve been round here for a while you’ll know what a bad blogger I am so that’s really my main excuse.

This was kind of a last minute trip after my mum offered to fly us out for a holiday. Just me and my big girl (Made wasn’t really interested in going and we decided to leave Kiran at home with him). Maya’s been on a plane before when she was a baby but this was the first trip that she could remember so she was very excited about it.

In fact she was terribly excited just being in the airport – so much to look at and so many toys and books and she insisted on posing for a photo with every single shop display! I actually thought I wasn’t going to be able to get her out of the airport shops and board the plane.

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We had a night flight and annoyingly she fell asleep just as we were landing in Singapore. She wasn’t very happy about being woken up and getting off the plane (“are we there yet?”) but once she found the M&Ms shop, she perked up again. I actually thought she was so hyped up she wasn’t going to sleep again but she was out before we’d even reached the end of the runway.

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Maya was great on the flight. She slept for half of it and then kept herself quiet playing with the things I’d packed the rest of the time. I was totally unimpressed with KLM who stated on their website that kids got a goody bag with games, pencils, a key chain, stickers and so on. Well we got nothing on both flights. The kids meal was also a complete joke and Maya refused to eat any of it. Luckily I’d packed loads of snacks and things to keep her occupied. We don’t have an iPad, only a kindle fire on its last legs and the battery only holds charge for about an hour so I decided to leave it at home. instead I packed her lots of colouring and sticker books, a magnetic drawing tablet, some plastic animals and snakes and ladders. Everything was a big success and I was glad I’d brought it all as she couldn’t really watch the tv because it was too high and couldn’t be angled properly. On the way back I bought her a knock-off my little pony which she played with practically all the time she wasn’t sleeping.

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While Maya travelled well, I can’t say the same for me. I used to fly and travel a lot but I guess I’m out of practice and I found the whole experience quite nerve-wracking. We had a lot of turbulence flying over Thailand on the way out and were right at the back of the plane which didn’t help. I was grabbing the armrests and closing my eyes. Luckily Maya was asleep but she didn’t seem bothered by the whole flying experience anyway, she just didn’t like the loud noises – she was most scared of the toilet flush and I had to let her go back to the seat so I could flush it while she wasn’t there.

The journey back was also pretty horrific. We were delayed on the runway in Amsterdam for ages because there was a problem with the engine and they needed to fix it :-O then we landed in Singapore and during the wait time (everyone gets off the plane, they clean it and you get back on an hour later) a mega storm had started complete with torrential rain and lightning. The pilot announced that he’d have to do a special extra fast and extra steep takeoff manoeuvre which was “perfectly safe”. Of course by this point I was convinced we were never going to make it back alive.

Next post onto what we actually did while we were there!

Natsukashii and random ramblings

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Well it’s been quite a while since I posted properly. We’ve been pretty busy since then – first trip back to the UK since Maya was a baby and Maya started school. I’ve been getting used to the new schedule and the eternal struggle of juggling time with kids, work and housework. Housework is pretty much winning at the moment, some days I feel like all I’ve done from sunrise to sunset is clean and wash clothes. Anyway….

I kind of lost the motivation to post here for a while but I’ve been feeling inspired again recently and find myself writing blog posts in my head. I have a lot to catch up on so I may as well get on with it.

Actually I should be working right now as I have two articles due tomorrow and it’s my birthday so I kind of wanted a day off. But today’s just been one of those days, you know the ones where you really just want to stay in bed. Funnily the day before I was feeling really upbeat and energetic and positive about everything and then today I’m feeling so down again. Hey ho, that’s how it goes, up and down like a yo-yo. Anyway I figured the best thing I could do, rather than sit up half the night procrastinating, is get an early night (it’s already 10pm so not really an early night for me anymore but whatever) and start afresh in the morning. Hopefully if I can be productive in the morning it will leave the rest of the day free for fun, or at least the afternoon after my girl gets out of school.

I don’t really have any birthday plans. I’m kind of not in the mood for anything in particular. I did buy a cake to share with Made (whose birthday is the day after mine) and I’m planning to treat myself to a spot of online shopping. Maybe we’ll go out for dinner but being on a school night makes things kind of awkward (gah, school messes up everything).

So it’s funny, since I got back from our little trip to England (and Scotland, briefly) I’m feeling a weird sense of not quite homesickness, but nostalgia and longing that I never had before (this is one of those things that’s expressed better in other languages – natsukashii in Japanese pretty much sums it up). I was always very happy to live in Bali and I couldn’t wait to escape the UK while I was there. Sure I missed my family and friends, Primark, Sainsburys and fast cheap internet but I figured it was worth it to trade it all in for our life of palm trees and rice fields.

I still do feel that but I’m missing things in a way that I didn’t after our last trip and I’m not sure if it’s because Maya is bigger now and able to benefit from the parks and museums and all the UK has to offer and I’m seeing an alternate reality in my head where there are four seasons and my kids are living out a childhood similar to my own.

Anyway, I’m not on the point of booking us all tickets back to blighty (not that they’d let in my husband even if we wanted to, thanks for that UK government) but I’m indulging myself a little by reading some of my favourite and some new British blogs (Tigerlilly Quin / Make Do & Push / Me & Orla)and online window shopping on sites like Cath Kidston and Emma Bridgewater. I figure once I’m rich and successful, I can fill my house in Bali with lots of Britishy things.

I am actually doing some real online shopping too, I mean it is my birthday after all… picked myself up a little reminder of my home town from the Baltic gallery shop (an amazing modern art gallery with an even more amazing shop that you must go to if you’re ever in Newcastle/Gateshead.  We didn’t have time to squeeze in a visit on this trip but we did all go with Maya when she was a little bald baby). I didn’t think much of Newcastle when I was growing up there but the older I’ve got, the more I came to appreciate it. I was glad Maya got to share the experience of getting a train over the river and seeing all the bridges 🙂

So I’m getting this:

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and also some other pretty things that have nothing to do with Newcastle but I just want them (honestly the amount of money I used to spend in this shop when I lived there…) I haven’t quite decided which to choose!

That’s about it for now. More about our trip and other things soon, I promise! I must say, it feels nice to be blogging again 🙂

Wanderlust: Cambodia

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Yet again it has been a crazy long time without a post. What can I say? Computer issues – major computer issues, the upshot of which is I am now sitting here with a new and extremely shiny new laptop (I finally made the switch to mac and I’m very happy to have done so). Anyway along with a new computer comes a certain amount of copying and installing and I’ve been going back through all my old photos as I import them and doing some long-overdue organisation.

I did so much travelling in 2008 that the folder is organised by country instead of month. Looking back at my Cambodia photos now, it strikes me how similar it is to Bali – the scenery, the temples, the people, even the script is all very similar to the Balinese versions. I only had a brief stay in Cambodia but even that was enough for me to see that there’s so much more there worth seeing.

I think when most people think of Cambodia, they either think of Angkor Wat and/or the horrific genocide led by Pol Pot – I know I certainly did. And yes, these things are an important part of what Cambodia is today but they’re far from the only part. For example I had no idea that Cambodia had a beach resort – just look at that first photo! Sihanoukville is stunning and much what I think Thailand (or indeed Bali) must have been like before all the tourists discovered it.

Siem Reap is famous for its temples (and yes obviously they are a must-see) but it’s also a gorgeous little town in its own right – I could have quite happily hung out there for a couple of weeks not doing much. It had the same kind of vibe as Luang Prabang in Laos or maybe the Ubud of 20 years ago. Also the best ice cream shop in the world can be found there – no joke, it’s really worth going to Cambodia just for that ice cream (Blue Pumpkin, – I just googled it and found a post about it from the lovely Kaho of all people)!

I’ve head a lot of people didn’t like Phnom Penh but I really did – it has its problems like all big cities but I found it much more pleasant than say, Jakarta. Also the food there is pretty amazing (this is starting to sound like I just went to Cambodia to eat)…

My travels in Cambodia also included a pretty special overnight experience in a small family home where we were kept up all night by the neighbours having a rice threshing party…

Anyway, I would jump at the chance to go back and explore some more of this beautiful country. I was just checking out the flights at momondo – KL to Siem Reap from 52GBP sounds good to me! My dad and Sue were actually thinking of going over to Cambodia the last time they visited but they ended up just doing Thailand and Laos instead. I think I might have to insist they go and tag along myself next time 🙂

Travelling with kids – the world through a child’s eyes

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I’m really into travel. In fact it’s quite uncharacteristic of me to stay in one place for so long (even if it is true what my husband says that living in Bali is like being on holiday every day). Of course I’ve had the whole being pregnant and having kids excuse for a while but now they’re getting bigger, I’m starting to daydream about another travelling life – this time with kids in tow.

I’m pretty sure these dreams will stay dreams for the next few years at least (the Balinese frown on travelling far from home, especially not young children) but I’m hoping I might be able to twist Made’s arm into agreeing to a little family holiday in the next couple of years. My brother and I travelled a lot as kids – mostly camping holidays in France, road tripping around Europe and Thomas Cook holidays to somewhere random and sunny – my mother would have the bags packed for weeks not knowing where we were going, just waiting for the right deal to come along. I want the same for my kids.

I think it’s so important to show kids the world outside their front doorstep, no matter where they live. Everyone says how lucky my two are to grow up here and I agree but I’d still like them to see more of the world.

So here is my little wishlist of kid-friendly travel ideas. Maybe we’ll get to some of them one day

Tokyo, Japan

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I’ve visited Tokyo several times and I love it so much. I think it would be a million times better with kids – there’s so much for them to do here and I could blame my excessive shopping on buying stuff for the kids when actually it’s for me.

Kerala, India

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I never wanted to go to India before I went there. In fact I was kind of dreading it and wondering why on earth I’d put it on my itinerary. I guess it was fate or kismet or the universe telling me I needed to go there because of course I loved it. I only visited the north of India but I’ve heard such amazing things about the south – Kerala in particular. I want my kids to see it too.

Lapland

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Santa lives there. Need I say more?

New Zealand

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I had a ticket and a work visa all ready for NZ but I never quite made it there. I still want to go and my dad returned from a month stay there a couple of weeks ago and raved about it. I’d love to hire a camper van and travel along the length of the country with the kids.

Sweden

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Despite my love of  Nordic countries, I somehow never quite made it out to Sweden (and had a disproportionate number of visits to Norway) so maybe I can make it up by going back with my kids. It’s always struck me as a particularly child-friendly country and I love Scandinavian design – the kids clothes in particular are amazing. Yes ok I want to go there to shop.

I don’t know when (if ever) I’ll get on the road with my kids as the idea of travelling with 2 little people sounds kind of daunting. But I’m inspired by my friend Erica’s travels across Indonesia with her daughter (and now son too!). She’s so intrepid – like she just went to Bandung with a newborn and a pre-schooler. Insane! and inspiring. The furthest I’ve ever been with both kids is Candidasa, which is like 40km away….

If you have any location ideas for travelling with kids, please send them my way so I can add to my wishlist 🙂

Oh also I had photocredits for all of these but then my browser crashed and I lost all my open tabs (with the credit links) so sorry if I’ve stolen your photo – please let me know so I can give you credit!

Wanderlust: Istanbul

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There are many places in Europe that I wish I’d taken the time to go and visit before I left the UK. One of the places on my wishlist was Istanbul. I’m fascinated in general by countries that are a mix of countries and Istanbul is unique as it is the only city in the world to be in two continents – one foot in Europe and one in Asia.

Turkey has always seemed exotic to me – a European country with that middle eastern influence of fragrant spices, eclectic markets and jewel-like colours everywhere you look.

To be honest, I think these days shopping would be one of the main attractions for me. I love the Turkish and Moroccan bohemian style of interior design with mosaic tiles, lots of textiles in many different colours, carpets and cushions piled on the floor and gorgeous glass lamps (like the ones above). If I ever get the time and money to decorate this place, that’s definitely the look I’m going for. Pinterest is a wealth of inspiration – easy to get carried away!

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world. Full of amazing things to buy! Just come with empty suitcases and come home ready to decorate!

Turkish food is also amazing of course and I’m not talking about kebabs! I could quite happily eat meze style dishes forever and never get bored and then there is Turkish coffee and desserts – baklava anyone? I’ve just managed to make myself very hungry….

Istanbul also has a great selection of places to stay from grand and lavish big hotels to modern and funky boutique hotels. I always like using the Wallpaper guides which feature some of the best designed hotels, along with great places for shopping and eating. I can rarely afford to stay in such hotels but I like to dream anyway!

Turkey has always been a popular holiday destination for Brits but most people tend to head to the coastal resorts. Personally, I always find cities more interesting, particularly when they’re as dynamic and have as much to offer as Istanbul does. I swear that one day when the kids are older, I’m going to do a grand tour of Europe and visit all these places that I never got around to travelling to before 🙂

You do need a visa to enter Turkey but trust me, obtaining a turkey visa will be one of the easiest parts of planning your trip.

Photo credits: jaime.silva / Özgün ERDEM / druidabruxu / Kıvanç Niş / laszlo-photo

See What Newcastle Has to Offer!

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Newcastle, New South Wales is a picturesque city on the harbour at the mouth of the Hunter River, located 162 kilometres (101 miles) northeast of Sydney and just south of Hunter Wetlands National Park. The city centre is accessible by car hire along scenic local roads from the recently upgraded Newcastle Airport to the north. The drive requires about half an hour.

Once in Newcastle, first time visitors will note Christ Church Cathedral, originally built in 1817 and rebuilt in 1902 in its current style. The Victorian Gothic cathedral continues to dominate the skyline of the city. When planning a visit to the cathedral, visitors should be aware that the structure still functions as an Anglican church and holds regular services. The cathedral also houses Newcastle’s War Memorial and Memorabilia and has a Christ Church Cathedral Shop for visitors. Driving up to the church on The Hill and walking the grounds is highly recommended for city visitors.

About five minutes away from the cathedral, Newcastle Art Gallery offers city visitors a world class art gallery with a renown collection of over 5,000 works of art on revolving display in its galleries. Some of these works are of local interest as well, for those who wish to explore Newcastle’s culture through artist endeavor.

For those more interested in history than art, Fort Scratchley Historic Site, guarding the Hunter River Estuary, is not faraway by car along the Wharf Road, near the Foreshore. Not just for history-lovers, 200-year-old Fort Scratchley offers Newcastle’s most awe-inspiring vantage point, which overlooks nearby Nobbys Beach and lighthouse. The Fortress also boasts panoramic city, harbour, and even ocean views. Fort Scratchley is open for guided tours six days a week – closed Tuesdays.

This area, Newcastle East, is full of parks and reserves, including Nobbys Beach Reserve, The Foreshore, Shortland Park, and The Macquarie Pier, where Nobbys Lighthouse has guided ships safely to harbour since 1858. For those looking to spend time outdoors while in the city, these are all wonderful, conveniently located options. The lighthouse is an important local symbol and worth visiting for that reason, in additional to the fresh sea air and views of the ocean. The rest of the city is dotted with green spaces as well, as many visitors notice whilst driving through Newcastle.

For sporting enthusiasts, the city offers a variety of choices, including cricket matches, horse racing at Broadmeadow, Australian football, rugby union and league, soccer, and the annual surfing contest known as Surfest. These are all a quick drive from the centre of the city. A car hire is definitely recommended for reaching some of the venues, such as Broadmeadow Racecourse, which is difficult to access using public transportation. Golf outings are also an option for those who feel more liking playing a sport than watching them.

For visitors who wish to venture further afield, Blue Gum Hills Regional Park is about a half-hour car ride west of the city. One of New South Wales hidden gems, Blue Gum Hills offers a variety of activities, including designated barbecue areas, play equipment, and a maze. The best features of the park may be the plentiful green space and hiking trails or possibly the TreeTop Adventure Park – Newcastle.

The city has a lot to offer visitors from historic sites to art galleries to sporting events, all an easy drive from the Newcastle city center. Enjoy all the amenities and activities available here throughout the year!

Insider tips for doing Bali on a budget!

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Bali doesn’t seem to be on the main backpacker circuit but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to travel here cheaply. Yes, there are plenty of luxury villas and 5-star hotels if you have a few thousand dollars you want to blow through in a few days but it’s also possible to live and travel in a simpler (maybe nicer?) way. After all you can stay in a posh hotel anywhere in the world, but there is only one Bali…

Accommodation

P1020894The view from the bungalow/homestay I lived at in Ubud for several months. Not bad for $5 a night huh?

The prices of accommodation have tripled in the (nearly) 5 years I’ve been here and the days of having hundreds of $5 a night rooms to choose from are gone. However there are still plenty of bargains to be had if you’re willing to do a little looking around and if you’re planning to stay long term, you can still get great accommodation amazingly cheap.

If you’re travelling cheap, first forget the idea of a hotel. And forget hostels (well there are a couple ‘backpackers’ style accomodation options in Bali these days. Quite why you would choose sleeping in a dorm when you can have a beautiful room all to yourself i don’t know).

So budget accommodation in Bali = homestays. This sounds more exotic than it actually is – you’re not plonked in a room in a family home like you’re on exchange (although if you are interested in Balinese customs and culture and are friendly, you’ll certainly be invited to temporarily be part of the family) Balinese houses consist of several bungalows in a walled compound. As it’s normal for extended family to live together (sons never leave, wives join their sons family), normally each of these bungalows would be used for a different family. However in tourist areas they build a few extra bungalows for guests.

Homestays range from the very basic to pretty luxurious. In general you’ll get a nice spacious room with a double bed, a huge bathroom and a little porch where you can sit outside and watch the world go by. Most places include breakfast which is usually fruit and pancake or jaffle (toasted sandwich)

I can’t speak for the rest of Bali but even the most basic homestays with a small bed and cold water in Ubud start at around 150,000 rp these days. If you’re staying for a long time (say a month or more) you can usually haggle the price down. Also the further away you are from a major tourist town, the cheaper the accommodation is.

Food & Drink

DSC07766Eating Bali style!

As with most of Asia, it’s pretty easy to eat well here on the cheap. Bali lacks the variety of some other Asian cuisines (like Thai, sigh!) but it does at least have flavour (unlike the food in Vietnam, ahem). The trick to eating cheap is to stay out of the tourist restaurants where prices quickly add up.  I once ordered a small mineral water from a slightly pricey restaurant in Ubud and it cost me 30,000rp for a posh branded bottle instead of the 1,500rp it would have cost me in the convenience store for the most popular brand of mineral water here – Aqua.

Luckily, it’s easy to find plenty of local warungs (restaurants) even in the most touristy areas. Just follow the locals and you’ll be fine. the most usual options are nasi goreng (fried rice) mie goreng (fried noodles) cap cay (stir fried veg /soup), ayam goreng (fried chicken), padang (choose your own dishes from a selection displayed in the window on an impressively-balanced tower of plates) , bakso (meatball soup), and nasi campur (rice with a nice selection of meat, veg and tofu/tempe dishes)

When you’re starting to feel unhealthy from too much fried food, there’s always a market nearby to stock up on fresh fruit (but stay in the local section of the market and for gods sake, don’t buy anything at the tourist market in Ubud if you’re on a budget!). Juice stalls are common (you’ll see fruits and veggies stacked up in the window). Coconuts are also cheap and plentiful and taste great served with ice, lemon and honey. Again if you buy coconut juice (es kelapa muda) in a tourist restaurant, you’ll be paying a huge premium.

People are often worried about eating in the local places because they quite often look filthy. In general, the food is safer than it looks. The food in padang restaurants sits out for a long time but the spices stop it from spoiling (and it’s probably full of preservatives too but whatever). A good general rule is to see which places are busy with locals and they’ll generally be safe to eat at.

A good compromise is to eat at a more classy local place or one that specifically caters to tourists. If you’re in Ubud I can recommend Mangga Madu, Dewa Warung, and the nasi campur place by the petrol station in Peliatan for cheap and tasty eats that are tourist-friendly.

Sightseeing and Activities

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You could spend a fortune in Bali doing tours but there really is no need. If you’re staying by the beach then you’ve got plenty of entertainment right there. Inland you have rice fields and jungles, great for exploring. There are free and cheap art galleries and museums everywhere. You must visit a few temples when you come here and they are all very cheap to visit as a tourist.

One of my favourite things to do when i first arrived here was just drive around the rice fields at sunset on the back of a motorbike. If you’re braver than me you can rent a bike for about 50k a day and just go exploring. The road up to Kintamani is a nice day trip from Ubud and easy on a motorbike. if you’re feeling energetic you can even try going by bicycle, although most people choose the option of paying for a tour that drops them at the top in a van so they can cycle downhill all the way back!

The best way to see a lot of Bali is to hire a car with a driver for a day and go wherever you like. This will set you back about 600,000rp (there are still people doing it for 500,000rp but petrol just went up by a third so don’t expect it to stay like that for long) but you can see so much and if you get a good driver you can learn so much more about Bali and its culture.

Ok I think i’ve rambled on here enough. So to sum up – Bali – a haven for budget travellers! Book your cheap flights and go!

 

A Life-Changing Trip to Japan

P1000569 P1000617 P1000571 IMG_8045 P1000188 P1000408 japan-235 japan-265 IMG_9814 japan-67.jpg IMG_8198 japan-322 IMG_9805 IMG_9748 DSCF1162I’ve been meaning to include Japan in my wanderlust series for quite some time but I’ve travelled so much there and have so many photos, I’d have to split it up into several cities. Japan is the first place where the travel bug really hit me and was a trip of a lifetime for more reasons than you may think.

My first real job out of university was working as web manager for a high school. As well as developing and redesigning their website, they had grand ideas for creating some kind of online learning curriculum and wanted me to develop educational games and materials for that. Sounds great right? Well I thought so too and I was thrilled when i got the job, beating around another 10 people at interview.

The reality, unfortunately, was quite different. This was a troubled school, put in ‘special measures’ by the government and it didn’t take long to see why. The kids were out of control and the staff were not much better. As with any school, there were some great kids and some excellent teachers but the majority won out to create an atmosphere of depression and chaos.

I started with great enthusiasm but this soon dissipated when i realised nobody was interested in what i was doing. The atmosphere was toxic and I hated being there. I used to wake up feeling physically sick at the idea of turning up to work another day. One day I had a brick thrown through my office window.

Things improved slightly when I moved to share offices with the IT and science staff – there at least I had people to talk to and we could complain together about how bad things were and how much we wanted to escape. I tried applying for other jobs but had no luck – I think my confidence and state of mind were so affected, I had resigned myself to my fate.

One day I decided enough was enough – I had to get out before this place dragged me down with it. I marked a date on my calendar for leaving, with or without a new job, circled  it in bright red pen and booked plane tickets for a 3-week holiday in Japan with my boyfriend at the time.

Those of you who have only known me for a few years won’t know that I used to have quite an obsession with Japan. I loved everything about it – the language, the culture, art, food, cherry blossoms. I’d been studying Japanese language for a while and dreaming of the day I could walk around Tokyo, hearing it in reality.

Well dreams are just dreams until we do something about them and booking that ticket was an important lesson for me. I know now that we attract good things into our lives by putting positive thoughts out there and following our hearts.

Japan was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be. We arrived in the midst of cherry blossom season and the little pink flowers fluttered around us as we explored the streets of Tokyo and Kyoto. We walked up the steps of ancient mountainside temples, soaked in the lights and sound of Shibuya, took photos of the cosplayers in Harajuku, walked through bamboo forests and sped all over the country by bullet train.

We packed as much as we possibly could into those three weeks and every single day was like a dream come true. Of all the places I’ve been and all the things I’ve seen, that first trip to Japan is still one of my most memorable and best travel experiences.

Just to top things off, I came home to a new job, working with a group of amazing and creative people who became some of my best friends. I worked in this job for several years before I decided it was time for another change and set off on my travels again (this time on the trip that would culminate in me ending up in Bali). I am 100% convinced that if i hadn’t just set a date and bought those plane tickets, I would have never escaped from that awful job and been open to the other opportunities that are out there.

Travel really can change lives and I urge everyone to take that trip of a lifetime before the years slip away. Don’t waste any more of your precious life in a dead end job or with people that make you miserable. Buy that plane ticket. Plan that trip. Just go!

This article has been written to recognise the author´s contribution to travel and tourism by Avis Car Hire (http://www.avis.co.uk/) on the A-List Awards 2013

Wanderlust: Edinburgh

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So as not many of my readers are from the UK, I thought it would be nice to include some destinations that are closer to home. Scotland may not be as exotic as India or Vietnam but it’s equally as stunning. I’ve actually only been to Edinburgh twice that I remember – once as a child to visit the zoo with my dad and brother and once when I attended a training session there for work. This is actually kind of crazy as where I lived in the UK was very close to the Scottish border and you can get to Edinburgh in a couple of hours by road or rail.

In an alternate life I probably ended up living in Edinburgh as I had an unconditional offer from Edinburgh University to study Computer Science there and I was very very tempted but I ended up choosing the cheaper and easier option of staying in Newcastle.

If you drive to Edinburgh, literally as soon as you cross the border into Scotland, the landscape suddenly becomes incredible – all dramatic cliffs and sweeping vistas. Edinburgh itself is a gorgeous city and there are amazing views all over the place – especially of the castle which looks extra special lit up at night.

When I went there for work, it was only a week before Christmas and there was a really special atmosphere – everyone doing their Christmas shopping, decorations and lights everywhere and little markets. It totally rivals some other European destinations for Christmas markets. I only wish I had more time to explore when I was there. New Year there would also be amazing, with the Hogmanay party

Edinburgh also hosts its famous arts festival and fringe festival, there are loads of theatres and galleries and along with all the historical sites, you’ve basically got culture coming out of your ears here!

Halloween is coming up and Edinburgh is famous for its ghost tours, including some which explore the underground vaults, which are apparently haunted. I’ve done one of these tours before (although in York, not Edinburgh) and they are tons of fun. Most Haunted even used the vaults as a location for one of their Halloween shows, hehe.

My mum actually lives in Scotland now so we’ll have a good excuse to go and visit Edinburgh when we’re next in the UK. I’m pretty sure Made would love it and he gets bored pretty easily, so that’s saying something. Now I live in Indonesia, I can explore as a proper tourist :p Also it’s obviously super easy to get to and hotels are easy to book online these days. Ah technology!

Photo credits: Christopher Chan, Hamish Irvine, Mariusz Kluzniak and Neal Fowler

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