Sunday, December 21, 2014

This week I smiled because

This week was a bit of a tricky one when it came to smiles, but discipline does pay off because I'm a pretty happy chappy this Sunday looking back on the week that was, ready to celebrate my wins where I can and not sweat the small stuff.

Monday: Had a check up with the doctor and everything is right as rain! Can't take good health for granted. (Remind me of this next time I skip the gym.)

Tuesday: All-day quality catch up time with my best friend P. Haven't seen her in literally years, and she is as beautiful, sweet, and inspirational as ever. I've always said the truest friends in our lives are the ones with whom time and distance does no damage - and this is certainly true of P.

Wednesday: Plumber emergency this morning to repair the broken tap that flooded the kitchen last night with hot water. Not so fun. But hey, the problem was fixed for good. And who doesn't love lifetime warranties? As stressful and tiring as it was cleaning up the mess, Mum and I laughed about it later.

Thursday: Enjoyed the rare experience of couch potato-ing with my sister who has this week off and was therefore was able to hang out on a school night!

Friday: Today ended up being Parents' Day as I did grocery shopping with Mum in the morning (my favourite kind of shopping) and had dinner with Dad in the evening. They shared some funny stories which gave me ideas for a writing project I've been stewing on for a while...

Saturday: Went to an AMAZING gig - at which I was fully prepared to dance all day and alone (while well lubricated, since, as we all know, that ensures the best moves are implemented on the floor) - but to my surprise, my gorgeous bestie D joined me at last minute, and her company simply added to the sheer delight that was hours of proper top quality house and techno spread across three stages, stretched out over a stunning day that melted from summer sun into musky dusk through to deep night. Pure magic.

But it didn't end there. Then, because I'm a very lucky girl, I also got to see my close friend J and a bunch of our lovely mutual friends at her well-earned graduation party.

Sunday: A totally indulgent and leisurely day with the two stooges who always make me laugh. Food, nails, massage, movie, walking in the sunshine, lounging on the couch, and a few D&Ms, made for a pretty much perfect day.

Overall, this was a week that topped the gratitude scales. I took on a few more responsibilities at home, learned how to ask for advice, and made role models out of my friends who are all manner of empowering traits combined. I'm quite honoured.  


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Where the sky meets the sea

Time for another round of flashback blogging – this time, about my day-trip to Brighton in the south of England. Historic seaside town and royal romps-ville.

The main thing I remember of Brighton is the colour, an overriding muted blue-ish grey, probably owing to the fact it rained all day (it was late October). It wasn’t exactly bleak, though it’d be hard to convince someone else otherwise. I mean, look at it:

For me it felt like a dream, slightly haunting, and very mystical. The sky melted into the sea in a strange mixture of white and pale green. Everywhere I looked it was faded and soft, like an old photograph, which went really well with the sense that this was a place full of history and intrigue.

In the late 1700s when Brighton was still a small fishing village, people came here to bathe in the waters they believed would cure them of every illness. The king also visited regularly for his debauched holidays, to escape the stifling regularity of the court in London, making the gossip-mongers go wild. And still it remains one of the most visited cities along the country's rocky southern coastline.

On the whole, it all had me feeling lost in time, just out of reach of decades of drama. I can’t exactly say why I liked Brighton, only that I did. It fascinated me. I got the impression – as cruel and unfair as this sounds – that it’s a place that tries to preserve the old years of excitement rather than keep it alive today.

I had fish and chips on the famous Brighton Pier. Despite the bad weather, there were still lots of people about who, like me, were determined to make the most of their day. As I walked over those oh-so very old and rather loose wooden planks, distrustfully reading the signs about how much money they put into maintaining the structure to ensure safety, I began to feel uneasy.

I could see through the gaps to the sea beneath my feet. The arcade house was groaning with countless hyperactive teenagers and their exacerbated parents giving them strict instructions not to get lost. Bored couples were lining up to go on the rickety rides, which I listened to clanking and shaking with no small amount of trepidation.

I don’t consider myself a fidgety person, but I was suddenly met with vivid images of a bumper car crashing through the barriers, of a giant teacup breaking free from its rotating saucer and flying into the air; in another instant, I imagined the entire pier shuddering and then collapsing into the cold grey water in a massive pile of splintered matchsticks. I felt a bit silly, but I had to get off that pier!

I must have been onto something because as soon as I hit the promenade, I saw this little sunburst fight its way through the blanket of cloud over the horizon. It sounds cheesy but it really was mesmerising.

My day in Brighton actually started off very frustrating. I woke stupidly up early to catch my train, which ended up being diverted twice and ran horribly late. When I finally did arrive, there was nowhere to store my backpack! Many places in the UK removed their luggage storage facilities years ago due to security concerns. Most hotels won’t take luggage from non-guests. So beware if you are planning a trip there – pack light! I spent the first half of the day walking around with my 60L pack on my back, negotiating an umbrella in my arms, trying not to hit other people with it.

I later found out that the delay-causing “incident” was a very unfortunate track death, which sadly put my problems in sharp perspective! But what really turned my mood around completely was the kindness of all the lovely people I met. The staff at the train station, a guy selling the only good coffee I’ve ever had in England, a man working at the Brighton Toy & Model Museum, a lady at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery - they were all so helpful, sincere, and patient. I always say that nothing beats good customer service, and it was never truer than on this day. A simple smile or gesture really can make or break it, especially when you're on your own.

For a pound, I managed to squish my pack into one of the large lockers at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery cloakroom, which made me feel like I’d achieved some huge victory! The beautiful building was packed with families. Where else do you take your kids when they’re bored and restless and it’s pouring outside? When you’ve got a museum with a huge array of diverse collections to suit everyone, as well as free entry, the answer is obvious!

When I was there, I had to stop myself laughing out loud at a few funny things I overheard some very articulate English children say in the restrooms. A couple of good ones:
Mummy, I like it in here, the girls toilets are a lot better than the boys, I think I’ll go here from now on. 
And my favourite:
I’m afraid I’ll fall in! 
I also wandered North Laine and The Lanes, getting lost like a rat in a maze. My travels around Europe have been far from short of centuries-old winding cobblestoned shopping alleys, but they're still one of my favourite parts of old cities. I got a kick out of the cosy pubs, the tea parlours, and the retro shops selling cute vintage knick-knacks. I wanted to buy everything! Of course, the only safe thing to do was to buy nothing.

The entrance to The Lanes. Is it just me, or does the sign say "Fresh to Death"? I hope they're referring to the produce on sale, not the customers!

I finished off my day at the Royal Pavilion, which I enjoyed more than I can say. I never had an appreciation for interior design before my holiday. I find it a great mix of history, culture, art, and humanity. I'm sorry I don’t have any photos for you because photography wasn’t allowed inside, and even the outside of the building was obscured by temporary construction. But it's a stunning piece of architecture, and if you ever find yourself in Brighton, please don’t leave without seeing it!

"Oh, I want to go to Brighton!" She got there in the end.

My last memory of Brighton is of how many times I ran through in my mind a particular scene from one of my favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - when Lydia Bennet had a temper tantrum because her father refused to take the family to Brighton on holiday, even though Mrs. Bennet herself admitted that “a little bit of sea bathing would set me up forever!” It made me feel very lucky to be there.


It only takes a moment

In the lead up to my next flashback blog post, I have to tell you about one of my “tearful moments”.

There were a few moments on my holiday when, in the middle of a stellar day, I’d come across something that made me cry. Besides being a bit embarrassing, I actually kind of liked these moments, because they always reminded me that I wasn’t seeing new things for the sake of it.

I had such a moment at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery while checking out an exhibit about WWI. A couple wrote regularly to their son on the frontline, regretting that they wouldn’t be able to celebrate his birthday with him, and telling him how much they missed him:

Far from detailing what must have been horrible times in battle, the boy wrote back to his parents with his hopes and dreams to cheer them up, telling them not to worry, reassuring them that they would be able to celebrate his next birthday together.

A few weeks after this letter, he was killed in battle...

I'll admit, it totally undid me.

Travelling is an emotional and a beautiful thing, even when it’s carefree and unexpected (sometimes because of it). I think the world will come to an end when we are so apathetic that we have no sense of curiosity or respect for the things that challenge us.


Monday, December 8, 2014

This week I smiled because

Monday: Random catch up with my beautiful bestie M. She treated me to a play produced by my favourite theatre house, and I didn't fall asleep in the middle of it! Conveniently for me, it was indirectly about creative writing.

Tuesday: Had a nice long chat and some sweet hangs with a couple of friends in Hyde Park on a hot, windy, sunny day that now and again randomly involved thunder. Gorgeous.

Wednesday: While I was out with my dad, who's a pretty gruff guy, I started noticing all the little ways he shows he's proud of me. Felt pretty nice.

Thursday: I had the most amazing popcorn. Honestly, I was like Tolkien's Gollum, crouched over this massive bowl of happiness in front of tv in the dark, shoveling that stuff in inbetween amazed giggles. You gotta try it. Make it on the stove with some oil like normal. Melt some butter in the microwave. As soon as the popcorn's ready, pour the butter over, sprinkle in lots of salt, some sugar, ground cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg, and cayenne pepper, then toss like mad. You're welcome.

Friday: I met a nice tourist from the US who I found out has his own travel journal. He was reviewing Tetsuya's, a super fancy Japanese restaurant, and he invited me to join him! Not only was this a rare and mind-blowing fine dining experience for me, but I also got it for free, and with good company. I'm very lucky.

Saturday: I slept most of this day, so really, what's there not to smile about?

Sunday: Lazy day with the two stooges, D and T, who I've missed very much. Brunch, TV, tea, ice cream, more food, dessert, more TV. I think I may tortured D with my terrible fake French accent all the way through one of my favourite foodie movies. Love it.


Sunday, November 30, 2014


My history as a writer has been a bit half-hearted. One of the earliest dreams I had as a kid was to publish a novel, and as far as I can tell, the fantasy hasn't lost its appeal, even though my creative writing has bled dry like a creek in the desert over the last few years.

I entered the National Novel Writing Month challenge last year to poke the muses, but since it was mostly a distraction from my far more difficult and terrifying thesis, I didn't get very far.

The NaNoWriMo challenge is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I didn't get there this year either, but I got much more out of the experience than merely words. After all, who is a writer that doesn't write?

My achievement graph. Words, words, words.

For people who have never written but want to, NaNo is a great source of inspiration. For people who have written before, NaNo offers focus and motivation, support and encouragement, and a chance to practice. Amateurs and pros the world over get something out of it it, because even published authors fall into the trap of letting "normal life" get in the way, or of feeling insecure.

Writing is a fairly solitary endeavour, but with NaNo comes heaps of online support and local events. I met some fellow writers in my area and discovered the community is a lot bigger and friendlier than I realised.

I've loved the confidence I've gotten from NaNo, and how it's helped me develop my story. It's a strange experience, getting to know characters I should supposedly know everything about because I invented them. It really is like meeting people in real life, slowly building their trust, hearing about their pasts, becoming familiar with their personalities and quirks.

To those who say "But you can't write a novel in a month!", of course they're probably right. Novels aren't just about word limits. You need to plan, edit, organise, and that takes a lot longer than 30 days to do. But you can write a first draft, which gets you one step closer to a novel, and hopefully have lots of fun along the way too!

NaNo isn't for everyone, but for me, it's helped me beat away the travel withdrawal blues, and I've learned a lot about the process, about how I can be a better writer. So 50,000 words or not, I feel like a winner.  


This week I smiled because

A lot of good reasons to smile this week!

Many of them have been writing-related. I decided to give the annual NaNoWriMo challenge another try this year, even though I was still partying it up in Europe when the clocks ticked over into November 1st. I'm very proud of what I've done, even though I didn't "win" for various reasons. Because you know what? Without NaNo, I wouldn't have written as much as I did! Here I talk a little bit more about what NaNo means to me and my experience with it this month.

Monday: Over 3k words.

Tuesday: Over 5k words. (Wow!)

Wednesday: Nearly 4k words.

Thursday: Over 3k words. Also, this was somehow my most focused writing day in ages. Later on, I went to a super cool hip hop bar with my beloved F to watch a rap battle. I saw some amazing talent and met some friendly strangers. Then on the drive home, my friend's friend, a kind and seriously skilled MC, blasted the beats in the car and did some improv rap out the window. Great memories! Oh, and I stuffed my face with this heart-stopping creation:

If you haven't been to Mr Crackles on Oxford street, then you must. Pork belly roll with crispy crackling. Drool... 
Hustle and Flow on Regent street. Fantastic little joint with great art and a rather interesting shot challenge.

Friday: I dropped the writing ball a little today. But I went to an amazing techno gig in the evening with a simply brilliant DJ out of Detroit, Mike Huckaby. I literally danced till dawn. It wasn't easy to show up on the d'floor alone, but some lovely fellow boogie-woogiers gave me kudos for my bravery.

Spinning and shuffling at the Burdekin Hotel on Oxford street.

Saturday: I welcomed home my sister who I haven't seen in ages! I also caught up with some friends I hadn't seen in months, who greeted me with cheers. Way to feel loved! A day of reunions.

Sunday: It’s a lovely day. Hot, bone-dry, and typically Australian. The sky is darkening to a deep ominous blue, the wind is picking up in that unsettled way just before a storm breaks, and though there isn't a breath of moisture in the air, there is loud, rumbling thunder overhead, and it's getting louder and closer every minute. It won't be long before lightning is splitting the sky and the rain is bucketing down. Very moody. Very beautiful.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Gallery of Clocks in Time

When I was in Switzerland, I took myself on a day trip to Zurich. Most of the nation's major cities are easily accessible by a few hours' ride on the train.

One of my favourite parts of Zurich was visiting the Beyer Watch Museum. It was only one room, but I must have spent at least an hour in there, admiring and examining their huge clock collection. They were organised chronologically, from the first primitive instruments, through to the earliest mechanised devices, and eventually to the most accurate electronic clocks to date. I couldn't believe how old some of them were!

The candle was used to measure time by how much wax melted every hour. The oil clock worked by a similar principle.
Beautiful collection of hourglasses.

Many were stunningly beautiful, and were works of art in and of themselves, not merely tools for measuring time.

Many of the clocks had a hidden switch that, when you touched them, activated moving parts which played music or reenacted a live scene, so they functioned as much for entertainment as they did for practicality.

Unfortunately all the artefacts were captioned in German, so I didn't always understand how they were meant to work. But the friendly and very eager museum staff was ready to answer all questions in whatever language you desired.

My favourites were the pocket watches with their intricate details. Just by looking at them, you get an idea of the person who would have owned it, their sense of style and taste, and how they might have used their expensive watch to show off to others about their social standing.

Landscape etching.

The key is as beautiful as the watch itself.
A lot of care was put into the details.
Watches often featured fine period or classical paintings.

Some were a bit naughty.

I can't begin to imagine the kind of focus and skill needed to design these watches - and that was just on the outside! I really enjoyed seeing the interior workings of the clocks, too.

Even the inside of this pocket watch was decorated.

A see-through pocket watch, one of my favourites in the museum.
A wooden pocket watch. It must have been so difficult to make!

I had fun trying to photograph the miniscule details close up.

I was amazed by these delicate little clocks set onto rings - even a miniature sundial!

Meet the smallest pendulum clock in the world! The square metal frame was about the size of the nail on my pinky finger.

I left the museum with a renewed appreciation of the artistry and science that our society has devoted over thousands of years to the understanding of time, and our attempts to control it for daily use, but in the end, how time-keeping has shaped us.

Besides the museum, what else did I see in Zurich? Well, I had a simple but lovely day (despite the grey weather), wandering around, sight-seeing, visiting the major landmarks, drinking hot chocolate, and strolling along the Limmat river and Lake Zurich. I snapped this audacious swan, which was probably trying to con some food out of me. Of course, I made it my model.

Having only a day to spend there, I left with an impression of a bustling commercial city that still retains its sense of history and culture (not that I got to see much of the latter). But I think next time, I'll stay in Zurich overnight.

Before I went, I got mixed responses from my various informants. Some said they found it boring, others said they loved it. Have you ever been to Zurich? If so, what did you think of it? Please share below.

Did you like the photos in this post? Perhaps you'd like to take a moment to  

And as always, thanks for reading!  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The New Normal + Flashback Blogging

Hi all! It's been weeks since I've last posted. The reason for that is simple, and may I say, was totally predictable: I had no time to blog about my holiday while I was holidaying!

This blog post pretty well sums up my attitude to travel blogging, and I have learnt (read: am learning) not to worry too much about how I approach it, because everyone is different anyway.

I'm back home now in my beloved Sydney. Like a migratory bird, I've chased the sunshine, and summer here is proving to be another beautiful one. When my family picked me up from the airport, we made many jokes about how life is "baaaaack to normal!"

I've now got the opportunity to leisurely reflect on the four months that was. Flicking through thousands of photos, and pages and pages of my handwritten journals (see, I kept up to date with something!), I can't describe how bittersweet it is to know that it's all over. My precious memories are the key to reliving all the special moments - infinitely so, if I wish. Which is why I don't feel like my trip is something that's "ended". Now that I've had all these incredible experiences, they will stay with me forever, reminding me that life is never just "normal". So in a way, I'll always feel like I'm holiday!

With that in mind, I fully intend to treat you to some flashback blogging in the coming weeks, sharing with you the things that made me smile, laugh, or cry (embarrassingly often) while I traipsed around Europe.

Meanwhile, I won't forget that Sydney is a stunning holiday destination in its own right. Like most, I take it for granted because it's familiar to me, but I'm truly lucky to live in a city that tourists are vying to visit even for a day, and which sits arguably in the top ten of the list of world must-sees. From now on, I'll be more appreciative, something I had to cross the planet to learn. I really do think gratitude is the secret to happiness.

Enjoying the perfect Sydney Harbour on my first weekend back home: the Bridge, the Opera House, the brightly lit Lunar Park, even the ferries. That night, my siblings and I saw Sir David Attenborough speak live! Something to tick off my bucket list for sure.

How do you feel about your hometown? Are you indifferent, or do you adore it? What do you love, what do you hate? Please share below, I love comments!  

Bonus random trivia: Do you know which Aussie artist made an album of the same title as this blog post? Person with the first correct answer gets kudos.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Vacuuming On Holiday?

I got the idea for Vacuuming On Holiday when I was renting an apartment in Port Douglas, Australia with my friend P. We were on a one week holiday visiting Cairns, which has been on my bucket list for years. I was vacuuming up the place, and I thought how nice it was that P let me do my thing. I suppose cleaning on holiday would annoy other people, or amuse them at my expense. Holidays are about "relaxing", right?

I am a naturally anxious person. For me, vacuuming up of an evening was therapeutic, not stressful. The nicest thing was being able to be myself in that little apartment. But what I also liked about being on holiday was the chance to learn to relax in my own way, and to discover that if I believe in myself, things will turn out okay.

I deliberated over whether or not to start this blog for ages. Thanks to the support of friends, here I am, finally, blogging! However, this is not a "travel blog". I don't have amazing photos. I don't have many useful travel tips (in fact, I am a novice traveller). I'm not raising money for charity. I'm not trying to change the world, or your life, or even mine. I just want a place where I can collect all the special moments I've experienced on holiday, whether that has been on foreign soil, or in my home town.

I don't think we need to be far from what's familiar to feel like we're on holiday. What does being on holiday mean? For me, it's about being curious enough to try new things, and being grateful for what we have by gaining a fresh perspective of the world. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. Happy reading!

What are you grateful for? Try and go about your day today as though you are on holiday, and see what comes up. Also, I do love comments! Please share by posting below.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This week I smiled because

Me very bad blogger. Haven't written since my first post. It's been hard to find time whilst on holiday. Clearly I have a lot to learn!

Today I'm beginning a series that my friend A suggested (thanks for the idea!) called "This week I smiled because".

Every week I'll look back and remember one thing that made me smile every day. This is a piece of cake because lately I've been blessed with many, many things to be grateful for!

Monday: My best friend M and I arrived in beautiful Nice. We had a memorable French dinner full of giggles. We were in such a good mood and so happy to be on holiday together.

Tuesday: I relaxed on the beach all afternoon. I admired the beauty of the sun, the sea, and where they met in the sky.

Wednesday: We went to Grasse, a french town famous for its perfumeries. "Perfume" by Patrick SΓΌskind is one of my favourite novels of all time, and I couldn't believe I was in the town where the plot climaxes. As we wandered the small winding alleyways filled with little shops and bars, I tried to imagine Grenouille, the protagonist, floating through them in a daze, chasing invisible scents. We did a tour in a perfumery called Fragonard that smelled absolutely delicious!

In Grasse, the city of perfume.
On tour in Fragonard perfumery. These old original scent bottles are too degraded to use now, but are too beautiful to throw away!

Thursday: We went on a pub crawl in the evening - not our usual thing, but we befriended some incredibly friendly and fun fellow travellers who made the night really memorable. We laughed and danced for hours.
The famous Nice Promenade des Anglais and all of its crowded beaches.

I love how the buildings of Nice rise into the hilltops over the beautiful port. This view is from the Parc du Chateau, the site of the old castle ruins on the beachside clifftop.

Friday: We arrived in Florence after a hellish train journey that, due to a huge delay right at the start, involved 2 harrowing changeovers that we only just made. We were hot and sweaty from dragging heavy luggage through unfamiliar stations. We couldn't believe we got to Florence on time, and we're still laughing about it!

Saturday: We had such a relaxing day walking around Florence, eating delicious Italian food, taking silly photos on the famous Ponte Vecchio bridge, enjoying the sunshine, then right at the end of the day, watching the sun set from the top of the beautiful Piazzale Michaelangelo hilltop.

My last look at Florence over the River Arno - so pretty at night! 

Sunday: I caught up with my friend J, talking on Skype until 4am (crazy!) What's not to smile about?

Even though I'm sleep-deprived (when am I not, really?), I'm excited to be in Milan by the end of today. Can't wait to tell you all about it soon!