The Sound of Music

I LOVE music.  Love, love, love.  Everything that goes through my head is accompanied by a song of some kind.  It’s like the soundtrack to life and a song can COMPLETELY change my mood.  Like last night.  I had a really shit week at work this week.  I mean really shit.  I even left work in tears one evening.  So I was going to come home and spend my Friday night getting in an early one to start the weekend right.  But I felt like crap.  I was tired, too tired to cook and definitely too tired to resist picking up a bottle of wine (ok, maybe it was two bottles….)

Bottle shopping done, I flicked on my iPad to listen to some new tunes I had downloaded onto my iPod over the weekend and hit play.  What the actual hell?  This shit was awesome!!!  Really awesome.  I mean, it had to be to actually pull me out of the mood I was in.

I got home, threw myself on the couch and flicked the bluetooth button on my Bose speakers to stream the incredible sounds from my iPod through to the rest of the house.  Instantly my bad mood did a backflip and I felt much, much better.  What was so good about them?  I mean, it’s not like I could understand any of the lyrics.

So what were these mystical tunes that turned my week around?  These lyrics I couldn’t understand?  The awesomeness that is Polish hip-hop.

Yep, Polish.  You might think that’s taking my destination research a little far, but I am Polish and my upcoming visit to Poland spurred me on to learn a bit more about the music scene.  So who have I been listening to?  Heavy bass, sophisticated, sexy beats –  little moody (but I love that) and some good looking Polish guys.  What’s not to like?  It’s based on the Toronto sound (think Drake).  Ok, there’s still the hot chicks, lavish lifestyle shots and fancy cars (though it’s Poland remember, so it’s old school beemers and sports cars direct from the 1980’s) but there’s a sensitivity to these tunes that I haven’t heard before.  Warsaw’s history feels like its written all over its face.

Let me introduce you to Taco Hemingway, Quebonafide, PlanBe and a few of the guys….

Taco – great hair, which carries on from his head down to his eyebrows and moustache.  Suave.  Excellent rapper, and you’ll always remember his voice.  Love 6zer where he grooves away with whisky in hand, without seemingly losing a drop.  This was the first song of his I heard and I loved it straight away simply because it featured my favourite Polish words “bardzo prosze”.

Quebonafide – ok’s, he’s diff.  Coloured hair, gold grillz, tatts galore (neck, fingers, eyelids, inside mouth), pokes his tongue out every five minutes, maniacal glint in his eye, but if you look through all that…. Que’s songs are madness, especially his travel rap stuff.  Beautiful clips from his world travels mixed with social comment.  He does loads of collabs, so check out his stuff with Planbe and Taco (at least).

Planbe – my favourite (such a lovely face, with quite possibly the nicest nose I’ve ever seen on a man).  I’m obsessed with the way his hands move when he raps.  His music is tinged with a touch of sadness and longing and he has probably the best voice of all the Polish rappers I’ve heard so far.  Plus he comes from a part of Poland not too far away from where my step-grandfather lived.  If I can’t catch a Planbe gig while I’m in Poland, I’ll die….

Bedoes – ok, he doesn’t have the smooth, cool raptones of the others, but there’s something quirky about him.  Boy can he roll his tongue.

Otsochodzi – he’s like a rich schoolboy, chillin in his dad’s mansion, with never a care in life.  You know the type, looks like Sam Prince from Made in Chelsea, best friends with everyone (before the whole Tiff Watson episode obvs).  I don’t actually know any of this about him, it’s the vibe I get.  He has an interesting rap style, full of sounds and cheek rather than vocal substance, but that makes his stuff catchy and playful.  Whimsical even  #Facepalm.

Thank god for Youtube, cause I’d currently be racking up one hell of a bill on downloading all this music (not that I won’t be doing that before I get to Poland, but I am TRYING to save right now….)

It got me thinking how amazing it is, that no matter the language, music is one of those things that really has no barriers.  It doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the lyrics, it’s the emotion it stirs up inside you, the way it makes you feel and groove.  The way it can change your mood in an instant.  These artists have reeled me right in and I’m loving exploring all their tunes.  Needless to say, it ended up being a long night last night, but in a really awesome way.

As I mentioned, these guys do loads of collabs, so it makes it really easy to get caught in Polish hiphop Youtube spirals all night long, checking out new artists.

Move over Kpop, there’s some new kids in town….

Travel 101

Whilst travelling with my Mum recently, it did occur to me that this whole travel and getting through airports thing could probably be very overwhelming if you didn’t know what you were doing.

How did I manage the first time I went overseas?  Well, the travel agent my friend booked through took care of our visa’s and I guess I just copied what my friend did when we got to the airports, but it would have made it a lot less daunting if I knew the process!

So I’m going to tell you.

Having said that, every airport is different and has different procedures, so a general outline of how things goes I can give you, but a lot of the time you’ll just have to ride it out and take it as it comes.

Of course, I will be writing this from the point of view of departing from Australia on an international trip.

So, you’ve booked your flight and the big day has arrived.  You’ve packed and repacked and fingers crossed you have everything you need for your holiday.  Wait!  What do I need when I get to the airport?

OK, well, 99% of the time, all I’ve ever need to produce is my passport.  Lots of people take a print out of their flight itinerary and their online boarding pass and I think it is a great idea to have a copy of your itinerary with you, but most of the time nothing else will be required to check in.  The check in desk will print you your boarding passes anyway.  Besides, there are quite a few airports that are becoming automated and you’ll get your boarding pass from a machine outside the check in area (if you do have to use one of these automated check in machines there are always staff around to help you through it).

When you get to the check in counter, hand over your passport.  They’ll usually ask you where you are travelling to, whether you have any bags to check in and whether you packed your bag yourself.  Pop your luggage on the conveyor when they prompt you, you’ll get your passport back, along with your boarding pass and an Outgoing Passenger Card, which looks like this…

Outgoing Passenger Card

Depending on where you are going, you may also get an Incoming Passenger Card for your destination though sometimes these are handed out during the flight.  The IPC for Singapore looks like this…

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So I’ve got my boarding pass, my luggage is on its way to the plane…what next?

Boarding is usually scheduled for an hour before the flight is due to depart.  If you are like me, I like to get to the airport early to avoid any last minute surprises and I usually love to get through immigration and head to the boarding gates as soon as possible.  That way I feel like I can relax and there’ll be no last minute rushing.

Before doing this I’ll take a seat at a bar with a drink in hand and fill out my Outgoing Passenger Card (along with my Incoming one if required).  At this point, it’s useful to note that if you have any gels or aerosols they need to be in a separate zip-lock bag.  You will have to pull them out of your bag when you go through security, along with your laptop and anything else you are carrying in your pockets.  I usually make sure this is all easily accessible in my bag before I head any further.

Then I head to the immigration queue.  This is where they check your passport and take your Outgoing Passenger Card before you head through security.  If you have any duty free goods that you want to claim tax back on, this desk is usually between Immigration and the security area.

Next you head to the security area where if you are lucky, you won’t have to strip down to your underwear!  I usually try to wear shoes like sneakers which are easy to slip off and are unlikely to set the scanners off.  Put your hand luggage, any jacket you might be wearing, your aerosols and laptop in the plastic tubs provided and then walk through the scanner when asked.

At some point you may be asked for a random testing for explosive residue.  They’ll wipe a little wand over you and put the swab through a machine and fingers crossed, you’ll be clear to go.

Then you head to your gate!

What now?

Relax!  Buy a magazine or a snack for the plane.  Go to the bathroom.  Have a drink or a quick meal.  Do some duty free shopping.  When your plane is ready to board, they will make an announcement over the speaker and usually start boarding with frequent flyers/business class passengers first, people travelling with elderly relatives or children and then by groups of row numbers.

That’s it!  Until you get to the other end.

You disembark off the plane and head through Immigration in your destination country, again handing over your passport for inspection, along with any Incoming Passenger Card that is required.

Then you’ll collect your luggage (when you arrive in the luggage hall there is usually a screen somewhere that tells you which carousel the baggage for your flight will be coming off) and walk out into the arrivals hall to depart the airport however you have planned.  Most airports are clearly signposted at this point as to where buses, trains or taxis are located and of course, if you have pre-arranged a transfer, they should be waiting for you outside the doors to the Arrivals Hall, a piece of card in hand with your name on it.

Bon voyage!

Delighting in Little Things

Leaving Launceston behind, I am on my way back to Hobart for my flight out of Tassie this afternoon.  Surprisingly it’s only a couple of hours drive from Launceston straight down to Hobart so I have plenty of time to stop off and see some sights along the way.

The first one that catches my eye is the town of Perth!  I am from Perth in Western Australia, so I was not expecting to find another place named Perth in Australia, especially here in Tas – a good photo to send home.

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The drive is pretty straight, but there are a number of towns you drive through or past along the way.  A lot of the towns seem to be very quiet with buildings seemingly abandoned or closed.  I can imagine that economic times have hit these little rural towns very hard.

Further along National Highway 1 is the turnoff to a town called Richmond (not to be confused with Richmond in Melbourne).  I had read that Richmond was a great historic town to visit, so I turned off the highway preparing to make a detour.  It can’t be far, I thought, looking at the fuel gauge.  Probably should have fuelled up in Launceston, but surely there’ll be a station soon.

Well, the winding road to Richmond was long.  I kept thinking ‘surely it’ll be around the next bend’.  But I’d turn the corner and there would appear another town, a town that wasn’t Richmond.  Anyway, eventually I arrived in Richmond, having started to seriously worry about my petrol situation long ago. I breathed a big sigh of relief.

I fuelled up first and then set out to explore the town, which was indeed every bit historic.

After driving around the busy little streets of Richmond, I decided that Richmond Gaol would be my first port of call, mainly because the car park was almost empty.

I paid my $9 entry fee and embarked on my self guided tour of the gaol.  Built between 1825 and 1840, it housed not only male and female prisoners, but also the gaolor. Whilst it doesn’t take long to tour the grounds, it’s a really interesting place to visit with lots of information about the prison giving you a real glimpse into the past.

One of the prisoners of Richmond Gaol was Ikey Solomon.  He was an English criminal who because a ‘successful receiver of stolen property’.  He was tried at London’s Old Bailey in 1830 and was then sent to Richmond Gaol in 1832.  It is thought that he was the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist.  He is also the main character of Bryce Courtney’s huge novel ‘The Potato Factory’.

Anyone who’s ever stopped at a country town bakery knows that this is where you best baked treats, so I wasn’t going to pass up a visit to the Richmond Bakery.  Good old fashioned cooking.  It was hard to choose what to try, but I was glad I went for the apricot tart because it really hit the spot.

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After wandering the streets, I decide to visit the Old Hobart Town Model Village before getting back on the road.  And I’m so glad I did.  What a cute little place.  Basically it’s a large scale model of the town of Hobart back in the day, complete with funny little characters doing all sorts of things like spewing over a bridge, taking a leak, getting drunk or working hard.  I spent quite a lot of time there taking in all the little details.  Little placards give you information about what has changed over the times.  I’d highly recommend a stop here.

Leaving Richmond wasn’t such an ordeal as I was able to take a different route out of town rather than going back the way I came and before long, I was back in Hobart with plenty of time to spare.  What to do with some time on my hands?

Well, I didn’t manage to get to the Botanic Gardens when I arrived, so up the hill I went, parked and trotted off to inspect this haven on the hillside.

The gardens were established in 1818 overlooking the Derwent River.  Today, there are over 6,500 species of plants here and the gardens make a lovely place to sit back and relax, whilst enjoying the views.  Beautifully laid out, the gardens are a haven of peace and quiet – perhaps except for wherever groups of children running around playing.

The Japanese Gardens were a treat, as all visits to Japanese gardens inevitably are, with a little red bridge leading between different sections of rockeries and garden.

Glimpses of the Derwent can be seen through the trees where their branches have been shed of their leaves from the winter months.  Really a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad to have had time to fit it into my itinerary.

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After a week that went just too quickly, it was time to drop off the car, check in for my flight and head home.  I was so glad that I had finally made it to Tasmania, and like all trips like this, wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner.  I would love to make a return visit so I can drive up the west coast next time, perhaps when all the berries are in season, and fill up on some more of that awesome fresh Tasmanian food and wine.

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My advice?  Stop talking about it and just go.

 

Next Stop Bruges

It’s hard to believe my time in Wales (land of giant bumblebees and pigeons – I swear both are about three times as big here as they are at home!) has come to an end.  Thanks to my wonderful hosts I’ve managed to get a well rounded overview of Wales and had a fantastic time.

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Chris and Sharon have been to a few of the places I have on my itinerary so I’m fully armed with tips and must see’s.

But time has come to an end here in Wales has and I’m moving on to Belgium, first stop Bruges (via London and Brussels) – gonna be a long day!

I share the train from Swansea to Cardiff with hordes of locals off to see a game (I’m assuming by all the red shirts).  It’s absolutely packed – standing room only.  I’m glad I was at the front of the queue and managed to get a seat. The mob is buzzing, fuelled by the cans of alcohol they are consuming well before 11am in the morning.  At each station more people pile on – I don’t know which spaces they are squeezing themselves into!  Finally the train arrives in Cardiff and departs with a much lighter (and quieter) load.

At Paddington I grab a taxi and head off to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar – my first trip on it in fact.  I clear customs and have a while to wait before my train, but with this massive backpack there’s no way I was going to fill in time wandering around.  Soon enough the Eurostar is departing and I settle in for the ride.  It’s only a few hours to Brussels and I don’t even notice the train going underground across the channel.  I swap trains and despite the lack of English around, end up on what seems to be the correct train to Bruges.

Out the window of the train, two baby deer frolick at the edge of the woodlands alongside the railway line, and startle at the noise of the train passing by.  Quaint little towns pass by the window and it’s not long before Bruges station comes into sight.  I am a little anxious as to whether this is my stop as the monitor on the train only seems to speak German.  Luckily many German words are similar to English words and I feel I know enough to be sure I can get off here.

I arrive in Bruges just as the sun has set and darkness is just starting to set in.  I  punch in the code I have been given before arriving to access my room and climb the narrow circular stairway to my room.  It’s very cute and clean with a view out of the tops of the surrounding buildings.  I want to head out and join the crowds of people in the town square.  It’s not far from my hotel, although I’m not sure which way, but I follow the noise and soon enough reach it without trouble.

Diners pack the tables surrounding the square, with people walking and cycling around the outskirts.  It’s quite clear that the town is full of tourists.

I can’t wait to get out and explore the city tomorrow (along with al the other tourists).

Swinging into the Future, Catching up on the Past

Enough of the serious stuff, for today we are going to get our ape on.  Not far from Swansea town, located in Margam Country Park is Go Ape – a high in the tree-tops zipline adventure park.  This two to three hour long adventure starts of with a thorough safety briefing and kitting up into safety harnesses.  During the briefing, I look to the trees.  It’s kinda high.  I’m not scared of heights, but it’s kinda high.

Our guide supervises us one by one as we navigate the first platform and wires, making us repeat any mistakes, until she is 100% confident that we are doing it properly.  Off we go, climbing to the platforms, sometimes navigating sky-high wobbling plank steps and flying down the ziplines to the next stage.  Our guide is never far, appearing out of the bushes like magic if anyone needs help.

Some of the platforms are so high off the ground I have to second guess myself, but one you make the leap of faith it’s great fun.  The hardest part is making any landings look stylish and by the end of the session it’s safe to say, there are woodchips down the back of my pants.

The park itself is a beautiful destination, with Margam Castle, a 19th century Tudor Gothic Mansion standing proudly on the grounds.  There’s also an Orangery and the ruins of Margam Abbey.  For those who are interested – or might recognise the buildings in the photos below, the BBC have used Margam Park as the location for several Dr Who episodes, since 2007.

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This afternoon is special.

You may recall from my trip to Poland last year that my family on my Father’s side was originally from Poland.  When my Father’s family was forced out of Poland during World War II, it was a hard and sad time for them.  They had ‘lost’ Poland and not ‘found’ anywhere else to belong.  A group of them travelled together – my Babcia (grandmother) – who had been visiting her sister and family in the countryside from Warsaw – her mother, her sister Sofia, Sofia’s husband Ignacz, and their children Bogdan and Alicija (Ala).  Ala was only young a the time she left their farm in Ostrow.  At the end of the war, she settled in Coventry, whilst my Babcia and Father emigrated to Australia.  Through the wonders of technology, I have been able to chat briefly to her via Skype over the years, but Chris (her son) and Sharon have arranged for her to visit Wales from Coventry for a couple of days during my visit.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for the opportunity to meet her, and perhaps also put together some more pieces of the puzzle.

We meet Ala off the bus and she says “I never thought I’d be seeing Wlodek’s daughter in my life”.  She asks to look at me properly to see any likeness to my Father.  She thinks I’m more like my Mother.  But she’s very excited to meet me.  Likewise.

Our chatter in the car is a variety of things – how was her bus ride, snippets of family information, questions about my trip.  She didn’t bring her mobile because it needed a new SIM card so Andrew (Chris’s brother) was fixing that, but she does have her IPAD, which she loves.  She can’t believe how much information about the Polish deportations is on the internet.

She has an excellent grasp of the English language and has a brilliant memory.

She wishes I could have come and visited her home city in Coventry.

I am only at the beginning of the research trail into my family history and whilst I know some things and have some questions for her, I feel anxious to fill in the gaps now so I can speak to her more.  It’s really incredible to speak to her about her experience as a displaced person, learn what my Babcia and Dad’s father were like and also just to chat to her about her life now and what she likes and doesn’t like.  I am incredibly thankful to Chris and Sharon for making this meeting happen and I can’t wait to meet with Ala again, next time in Coventry and hopefully I’ll be armed with much more of my family history.

Ala

The Real Valleys

So what of the Valleys?  “The Valleys” were a number of industrial towns in South Wales stretching from Carmarthenshire in the west to Monmouthshire in the east and from the Heads of the Valleys in the north to the vale of Glamorgan and the coastal plain around Swansea Bay, Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport.  The Rhondda and Cynon Valleys formed the rough centre.

The Valleys were only lightly inhabited until the second half of the 18th century when the iron industry was established in the Northern valleys, at which point South Wales became the most important part of British ironmaking – the centre of the industrial revolution.

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From 1850 until the outbreak of WWI, the South Wales Coalfield (SWC) was developed to supply steam coal and anthracite.  The SWC attracted huge numbers of people from rural areas to the valleys.  The population of the Valleys was generally young and male, with migrants often coming from other parts of Wales or further afield.

The coal mined in the valleys was transported via railways and canals to the ports of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea – Cardiff was among the most important coal ports in the world and Swansea among the most important steel ports.

The coal mining industry was artificially buoyed throughout the war years, though there were expectations of a return to the pre-1939 industrial collapse after the end of WWII.  However, nationalisation of British coalmines in 1947 meant a steady decline in the output from the Welsh mines.  The post WWII decline was a country wide issue, but South Wales was affected to a higher degree than other areas of Britain.  Oil had superseded coal as the fuel of choice in many industries and there was political pressure influencing the supply of oil.  The few industries still reliant on coal, demanded quality coals, especially coking coal which was required by the steel industry.

Half of Glamorgan Coal Co’s product was now supplied to steelworks, with the second biggest market being domestic heating, which the “smokeless” coal of the South Wales coalfield became once again fashionable after the publication of the Clean Air Act.  These two markets now controlled the fate of the mines in South Wales, and as demand fell from both sectors the knock-on effect on the mining industry was further decline.

The other major factors in the decline of coal were related to the massive under-investment in South Wales mines over the past decades. Most of the mines in the valleys were sunk between the 1850s and 1880s, which, as a consequence, meant they were far smaller than most modern mines.  The Welsh mines were comparatively antiquated, with methods of ventilation, coal-preparation and power supply all of a poor standard.

In 1966, the village of Aberfan suffered one of the worst disasters in Welsh history when a mine waste tip on the top of the mountain slid down the valley side and destroyed the village primary school, killing 144 people, 116 of them children.

Margaret Thatcher’s free market economics policy clashed with those of the National Coal Board and after the government announced plans to close many mines across the UK, the workers went on strike.  The failure of this strike led to the virtual destruction of the UK’s coal industry over the next decade.  The movie Pride, which is based on the true story surrounding these times for the miners, tells the story of a group of gay and lesbian activists who raised money to help the families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984.  It’s a great story for a glimpse into this era, with a twist.

The Valleys are now home to around 30% of the Welsh population, although this is declining slowly because of emigration.  The Valleys suffer from a number of socio-economic problems including drug abuse, high rates of teenage pregnancy and high unemployment.  In fact, in the mid 1980’s, unemployment rates in the Valleys were among the highest in the UK.

We spent the day in Blaenavon, located in Monmouthshire.  The town grew up around it’s ironworks, with the steel-making and coal-mining industries following.

The Blaenavon Ironworks date back to 1789.  The cutting edge technology of the day enabled the power of steam bringing the industrial era to new heights.  The ironworks played an important role in the development of cheap, low quality, high sulphur iron ores worldwide until they closed in 1900.

The ironworks, which is free to visit (though you can make a gold coin donation if you wish), is a wonderful look back in time and well worth the visit.  The site also contains a row of houses decorated to replicate the miners huts through the different eras, including a local truck (or company) shop from the 1840’s.  Workers would be paid in tokens which could only be used in these (usually overpriced) truck shops to buy food and other essentials.

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Big Pit stands on the eastern rim of the South Wales Coalfield, not far from the ironworks.  As mentioned above, both coal and iron were transported to the coast by road and canal.  However in 1852 the railway from Newport reached Blaenavon and production started to soar. The first coal was worked in levels dug into the hillsides, following the outcropping coal seams.  Dodd’s Slope, was rediscovered in 1989 and its entrance now forms part of Big Pit’s surface attractions.

Big Pit stands on the site of an earlier mine called Kearsley Pit.  The shaft was sunk to a depth of 39 metres in 1860.

Big Pit came into being when the shaft was deepened to a depth of 89 metres.  It got its name from the size of its elliptical shaft, which at 5.5m by 4.6m was the first in the area wide enough to wind two trams of coal side by side.

At its peak, the colliery was producing more than 100,000 tonnes of coal from an area of about 12 square miles.  Nine different coal seams were worked at some stage during Big Pit’s life and the coal it produced was first-class ‘steam coal’ for which South Wales became famous around the world. 

Mechanisation did not come to Big Pit until 1908 when a mechanical conveyor was installed.  The pit was among the first in South Wales to be electrified, and by 1910 the ventilating fan, pumps and underground haulage system were all worked by electricity.  

Output of coal peaked in South Wales in 1913 and at its busiest Big Pit employed 1,300 men.

Big Pit closed in 1980 and is now one of the world’s leading coal museums.  The highlight of a visit to Big Pit is the hour-long underground tour, led by ex-miners, which takes you down in the pit cage through underground roadways, air doors stables and engine houses built by generations of mineworkers.

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Blaenavon’s Ironworks, Big Pit and town centre were heritage listed in 2000.

I did Caerdydd

‘WHAT?’, ‘yeah?’, ‘yeah?’ ‘Well I’m not listening to this s*&t, I’m on the train, I’m leaving and I’m hanging up!’

Heads turned toward the new arrival on the train, announcing his situation at the top of his voice and we all silently thought, yep, probably a good idea to hang up.  Seconds later – ‘F*&% off, I’m hanging up’.  Followed by another call and another.  And on it kept for at least half our trip to Cardiff – ah domestic bliss it seems – something I’m yet to achieve (luckily?).  By the end of the trip, we knew the calls were being recorded on the other end of the line and he had had enough and was leaving ’cause she had issues’.  Is he from the Valley’s? I wonder.

About an hour later, and we reach Cardiff (without our vocal friend) to see the sights.  Cardiff was pronounced the capital of Wales in 1955, but it began life as a Roman fort around about 55 AD.  Cardiff town was founded when the Normans conquered Glamorgan and Robert Fitz Hamon (himself a Norman) built a wooden castle within the walls of the old Roman fort.  A town soon grew up around the Castle.

This little wooden castle, rebuilt in stone in the meantime, was passed through the hands of noble families until 1766 when it was passed to the Bute family by marriage.  It was the 2nd Marquess of Bute, who was responsible for turning Cardiff into the world’s greatest coal exporting port in the world.

The Cardiff Castle grounds are fairly expansive, starting off with a short video that brings you through the ages of it’s 2,000 year history.  Afterwards, you head into the corridors of the castle wars, following a display of posters from the time of World War II requesting citizens not to waste food and to be home early.  Extensive air-raid shelters were tunnelled out of the castle’s walls during this period, which could hold up to 1,800 people.  The castle also tethered barrage balloons (or blimps) above the city to defend against aircraft attack – the blimps would be tethered with metal cables and would damage aircraft upon collision and make attacking more difficult.

The architecture inside the medieval castle is quite something, and features a spectacular middle eastern ceiling and fireplace in the Arab Room, which was intended as a drawing room for the women of the castle.

A short train ride away from the castle is Cardiff Bay – apparently Europe’s largest waterfront development and home to the Techniquest Science Discovery Centre, the Welsh Assembly, Butetown History and Art Museum and a leisure village.

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The Welsh Assembly
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Cardiff Bay

 The welsh name for Cardiff is Caerdydd, meaning ‘day fort’.

What to Expect from Wales

This morning I’m jumping on a train and heading to Wales.  Now I don’t know much about Wales at all.  In fact, all I do know about Wales is this…

But, I’m being unfair.  There are plenty of other famous people that hail from Wales – Tom ‘What’s New Pussycat’ Jones, Shirley “Hey Big Spender’ Bassey, Anthony ‘Hannibal’ Hopkins, Catherine ‘Entrapment’ Zeta-Jones and Shakin ‘well, shakin’ Stevens.  Yes – Shakin Stevens.  Remember him?  Huh, probably not.  Here’s a reminder…

There’s a couple of other people who live here too (though maybe not so famous) and they are my cousin Chris and his wife Sharon, who have very kindly offered to put me up for my visit.  They live in Newton, in the Mumbles, the word “mumbles” coming from the French word ‘mamelles’, which translates to ‘breasts,’ so maybe I’m well prepared for my visit by having seen the episode of The Valleys after all.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to piece together the story of my Dad’s family this last year, having finally found the right kind of resources in Melbourne to do so.  So it’s absolutely awesome to be heading to Wales next to spend some time with some of Dad’s relatives.  As I mentioned, Chris and Sharon have very kindly offered to put me up for five days which I am extremely grateful for, not in the least because it’s always amazing to get a local perspective on any place you visit.

So here we go – let’s find out about the real Wales.

Leap Through London

The thing about Europe, for an Australian at least, is that its so far away that once you decide to make the trip, the lure of being on the doorstep of so many countries is overwhelmingly exciting.  In Australia, you can’t even travel from one capital city to another in under an hour, so for me, it means that I never learn my lesson about pacing myself with a three night minimum stay in any one place, and I keep greedily adding more and more stops on my trips, like a greedy kid in a lolly shop.

Despite all my best efforts, I’ve once gain put together a month long, lighting-speed trip that will no doubt leave me exhausted at the end, and I don’t even have a stop in Singapore on the way home to ease the landing!

I need a breather – a couple of nights to get it together after my long haul flight from Melbourne.  So that’s why I’m back in London.  I doubt I’ll see much of it – I mean, what can you even do in what will effectively boil down to one full day?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ve just arrived at Heathrow and am quite nervous because last time I was here, I was given a grilling by the immigration officer for not having a fully itemized itinerary of what I intended to do in London.  He was really quite awful and told me he shouldn’t probably even let me in!  Wonder how backpackers get around that one?

So, fully itemized itinerary of my whole trip in hand, I approach the counter and hope for the best…..all fine.  I take it the last guy was just having a crap day and took it out on me.

Usually when I arrive in a city after a long flight, I take the nice easy option of a pre-arranged transfer.  But I’m stepping outside my well insulated comfort zone and taking the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station, near my hotel.  I had already booked my ticket on line, so all I have to do is follow the signs and jump on board.  Fifteen minutes later, I find myself on the platform of Paddington Station ready to find my way to my hotel nearby.  It’s all very easy.  Though I have done a load of travelling since the last time I was in London, so perhaps I’m just way more confident and aware of what to expect.

My hotel for the next couple of nights is the The Caesar Hotel in Hyde Park – about a five minute walk from Paddington, which is why I chose it because I need to leave from here in a few days time.  It’s in a beautiful white building common of the leafy area, newly renovated and modern.

I have no grand illusions of trying to get out and about tonight – I’m tired and the flight was pretty crappy, so I flop down on my nice comfy bed and its not very long until I fall asleep.  Ready to go tomorrow.

Having a Whine

The hardest part of moving to a new city for me so far is Friday afternoons.

Or maybe more precisely, it’s that I have no job and no friends to share those Friday afternoons with yet.

Sure, back in Perth it was such a hard slog to get through every week, but Friday afternoons presented that glorious few hours where you could have a glass of wine or a beer with your work mates and talk it all out.  Forget the stresses.  Look forward to a couple of days of your own agenda to refresh yourself and begin again.

In this city, I can hear all the noises of people doing just that, and I can see them making their way from office to bar and I want to be one of those people again.

In a last ditch attempt to be one of those people this afternoon, I signed up to one of those meet up groups.  They were meeting down at Southbank for drinks and I could really have used that.  I guess it was a little unrealistic to join the group two hours before the event.

So, like the recruiters I’ve been chasing for a job, they are yet to ‘approve’ me.  And for this Friday, I’m watching from the balcony with my glass of wine.