05 October 2015

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

The Giant's Causeway: A natural wonder of the world created by volcanoes? Or built by giants?

Built by giants.


My visit

A month ago I found myself with my friend E in Dublin, exploring the city, the Irish country and even popping back in to the UK's Northern Ireland to see the Giant's Causeway.

Walking on the hexagonal basalt columns was like walking on a brutalist loving giant bee's honeycomb. Weird. Surreal. Awesome. The photos dont do the place justice nor does it really show the differing levels of the columns. But it is incredible. All I could do was stare and try to imagine how the heck this happened. Like I said, must have been giants ;)

The Legend

Located on the northern tip of Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway gets its name from an old legend. The story goes that there used to be a giant called Finn MacCool that lived on the Irish coast with his giantess wife, Oonagh. He was the biggest and strongest in all the land. But one day he heard that, actually, there was a Scottish giant called Benandonner across the sea who was bigger and stronger.

Boys being boys, one thing led to another and they challenged each other to a fight. However, there was the slight problem of crossing the sea between them, so Finn built a causeway to get to the other side. When he got closer to Scotland he saw that, yeah, Benadonner was bigger...and in a panic he ran home to his wife...but not before Benandonner had spotted him in the distance...

Back at home, Finns clever giantess wife dressed her husband in baby clothing, put him in a cradle and waited. When Benandonner arrived looking for Finn, the giantess welcomed him into their house  to wait for Finn who was off on a small errand and would be back soon. Taking a seat Benandonner noticed the 'baby' and thought…if that’s the size of the baby then Finn must be huge.

Making some feeble excuse he ran back across the causeway home, but not before he destroying a good part of it so the other giant could not follow.

And thats how we ended up with the causeway as we see it today. Its quite a trip from Dublin so if you do find yourself interested in seeing the Giants Causeway yourself, be prepared for a long day, or, you can always visit from Belfast.

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13 September 2015

Tell me something about you?

Hello to all my awesome readers! You know, earlier today I took a gander at an interesting bit of info about my blog which showed me where all my readers are from. It kinda made me even more curious than usual about all you guys and I wanted to write a small something today to say "Hey, hows it going?" So...

Hey, hows it going? :) What brings you to my humble little nook of the Internet? And who the heck are you? Kidding. I know the majority of you prefer to be anonymous, but still, I'd love it if you dropped me a hello and told me something about yourself? Maybe something really important...like your favourite colour, or maybe which ice-cream flavour you like most? Yeah that. What ice-cream is your favourite?? Or you could tell me what your dream travel destination is?

Since you probably know all about my travels, I'll tell you about my fav ice-cream ;) When I was home in 2013/2014 I loved having a Golden Gaytime (yes its what they're really called), or even a raspberry split. In the UK, the best ice cream I had was when I went to visit a friend in Devon, sour cherry ice cream. I still dream about it. But I wont say no to good ol' chocolate and vanilla ice cream either - who would?

Anyway, have a great week guys, and honestly, THANK YOU so much for stopping by and having a read. If you're a regular, or just stop by every once in a while, it means a lot and it totally makes my day :) You all rock!

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09 September 2015

How to swap an Australian licence for a UK licence

I could be anyone right now and you would never know. I don't have any 'official' proof that I am who I claim I am. I could be anyone...

On Monday I handed in my Passport and my Australian drivers licence to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency), the UK government agency in charge of all things licences and the final word on whether you are allowed to grace the UK streets in a car and not be eternally reliant on buses, trains and other modes of public transport. Unfortunately you can no longer go in to your 'local' DVLA and have them process your application over the counter (a few years ago you could), now all you can do is send off your application, passport and licence to a processing centre in Swansea and hope that it doesn't get lost in the mail. Tracked or not, it can happen. Why oh why dont they accept copies of passport certified by your embassy??

So for all you Aussies out there wanting to exchange your Aussie licence for a UK one, here is a step-by-step guide to applying for a UK licence.

  1. Order the application form.
  2. Go the 'Exchange a foreign driving licence' page and go through the small questionnaire. Generally speaking, if you are Australian and have a car or motorbike licence, it tells you that you need to request a D1 Pack (Its an application form with some additional info - its for a driving licence for a car, moped or motorcycle) and links you through to the DVLA order form page. Pop in your details and the form will be on its way to you in a couple of days.
  3. While you're waiting for the form to arrive, get a passport photo.
  4. There are loads of photo booths or you can stop at a photo shop like Snappy Snaps who can do it too. As you will be mailing through your passport with your application, you DO NOT need to have a witness sign the back of the photo. Make sure your photo adheres to the official guidelines.
  5. Fill in your application when it arrives with all the relevant details.
  6. Make sure you select 'To exchange my non-UK licence for a GB licence'. Don't forget to include your passport number in the proof of identity section!
  7. Take copies of everything!
  8. I photo copied and scanned my passport photo page, UK visa page, front and back of my drivers licence, and the application. Its not a requirement for the application, but it'll give you *some* peace of mind when you are without ID.
  9. Now you need to mail it all to the DVLA.
    • Take your application, passport, drivers licence and application (with the photo!) to a post office. Best to go to one that deals with licences (UK ones) as they are more likely to have staff that understand the process.
    • Take cash or make sure you have a normal (non-credit card) bank card with you as the teller can process a withdrawal for the amount.
    • Buy buy a cashiers cheque to the value of the licence fee, for me it was £43. A cashiers cheque is kind of like a money order and there is a £5.38 fee to buy one.
    • Ask at the counter for the special delivery envelopes, they are silvery/grey in colour, and have a tracking number. You'll need to buy two (at £6.45 each including weight of documents). Write your address in the 'To' field on one envelope and the DVLA address on the other. The DVLA address simply is "DVLA, Swansea" plus the post code that corresponds to your fee, in my case it was SA99 1BT.
    • Tuck your passport, drivers licence, application, cashiers cheque and envelope with your address on it in the envelope to the DVLA, seal, send and you're done!
    • The total? I ended up paying £61.28 pounds in costs for the application.
  10. Waiting time.
  11. The DVLA quotes about 3 weeks to process, I've allowed 6...you just never know what can happen. I'll post back once I receive it. Also, you won't get your Australian drivers licence back. But if you do go home, you can drive on your UK licence as a visitor without needing an international licence. See this site for links to state specific rules. Here is the one for NSW.
If you have any questions, or think anything is missing or incorrect in this guide, do let me know!

Have you exchanged your licence? What was your experience like?

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05 September 2015

London life lately

It seems that I have finally fallen off the blogging bandwagon despite my New Year's resolution. Life has been busy since coming back from my trip to France and blogging has unfortunately taken a back seat. So just what have I been up to?

On the food front, coz really, London is full of great food spots, I've been brunching at beautiful Pachamama on Marylebone High Street, having the most melt in your mouth BEEF ribs at Lord Wargrave off Edgeware Road, and visited Sushi Samba for a second time - it was as delicious as my first taste.

But no busy London life is complete without a trying out one of the latest Escape Room games (this one with a bit of creepy twist), following a white rabbit to Alices Adventrues Underground (for a second time!), and having a taster session at the Heartbreak Hotel.

And lets not forget the Art Deco beauty of Eltham Palace and stepping through the doors of Downton Abbey before flying off to Dublin for the Bank Holiday before coming back and then going to Londons first Diner En Blanc on Thursday which was amazing! Whew. I'm exhausted just recapping all that! I'm itching to share all this with you but for today, I'm going to slow down, head out to one of my fav chill out spots, grab a cup of tea and some cake and just relax with a good book.

What have you been up to lately?

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17 August 2015

K's French Wedding - Part 2: My favourite wedding day moments

Hiya! Im back with the last set of memories from my friend K's  wedding day. The first set are here. So, without further ado, lets dive right in.

*All photos kindly provided by K's family and friends

Breakfast with the bridesmaids

Loaded with fresh pastries and fruit, the bridesmaids arrived at our apartment to surprise K. I made coffee and we sat around chatting. It was sweet, a kind of calm and casual prelude to what we all knew would be a full day. To ensure the bride had all the luck we could give her, once we'd  polished off pastries and coffee, we each gave her a gift before wrapping up breakfast: something old, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence for her shoe.

Literally stopping traffic in Dole

We did, we took up an entire street while the photographer took photos of us walking, laughing and posing. But the drivers could see the white dress and were understanding, one of them giving K the thumbs up! And, as these thing happen, we spotted a zebra crossing and just had to have a photo taken of us reenacting the famous image of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road.

Tear-jerker moments

I don't normally get teary eyed at weddings. But there were so many moments when I did at this one. I blame K. I'd be fine till I saw her holding back tears. Maybe I should have just not looked at her, but that's kinda tricky to do as maid of honour ;) So instead, I invented distraction techniques.

Before we all lined up to go down the aisle, I went over to K, gave her arm a squeeze and wished her luck. Her eyes were red as she choked out a 'thanks' - distraction technique #1 - think about the task at hand, aka not tripping as you walk down the aisle in front of everyone.

I loved, loved, loved watching K walking down the aisle and seeing the look on P's face, he could not have looked more in love. She was incredibly beautiful and positively glowing. It was such an incredibly sweet moment and so distraction technique #2 is - no distraction, just enjoy the moment.

When K got to the front, K's dad was so flustered giving her away he forgot to kiss her. Poor guy must have kicked himself later, and poor K was leaning towards him for that kiss only to be left hanging! I could see slight disappointment cross her face and felt for her. Awkward. So, distraction technique #3 See the humour and sweetness. He'd never given a daughter away before, and it was plain he was not sure what he should be doing. K now has endless teasing arsenal for the future. And even though he forgot, K forgot all about it too as P took her hand...

Possibly the worst tear-jerker of all was when K choked up saying her wedding vows (in French!). P patiently helped her along while she clutched him tight for emotional support. Yeah, i kinda failed at finding distraction #4 for this too.

Mr and Mrs Smith

The emotions and the formal wedding done, it was time for some fun and the reception. Competitive to the end, some old ornamental pistols were 'borrowed' from the chateau and K and P posed with them Mr and Mrs Smith style before K turned a pretended to shoot P in the back to the amusement of many of the wedding guests before P retaliated. So very cheeky.

Dancing the night away

There was a moment, after the Bride and Grooms first dance, where I was tossing up whether to dance or just watch. I cant help being self-conscious and, usually, am quite happy being a wall-flower. But I don't know, this time I was like, what the hell? And I'm glad I did. It was so much fun dancing with K ans P's friends. I had my first ever swing dance too! Ive never been spun before and it was brilliant - it helps that the person doing the spinning knew what he was doing even with my being an unco. I loved dancing to Taylor Swift's 'Shake it off' and Carley Rae Jepsen's 'Call me maybe' with the girls, bopping around and being silly. There was a conga line (yep, I joined it) and I even danced to Elvis' 'Jailhouse Rock' in heels that were killing me at the time, I might add. I also managed to literally dance like no-one was watching - which resulted in possibly the most hilarious and kind moment of the night. As the evening wound down, those of us still on the dance floor all danced together in a circle swaying and doing that kicking thing from 'New York, New York' - if you know the name of that move, let me know in the comments please! I'm so glad I decided to join in and not sit on the sidelines - though I did stop when it was a song I just couldn't get the beat of or when I got too hot.

Tender is the night

When I did get too hot, I slipped out of the marquee and sat a short distance away in the dark, to cool off, while watching everyone inside dancing and the light flickering out into the night and playing on the lawn and walls of the chateau. I slipped of my shoes and walked barefoot around the grounds and loved that it was so dark that the stars in the night sky appeared within reach. It was peaceful and wonderful and just magic.

The trip home

K's friends were nice enough to give me a lift home at the end of the night. Unfortunately one of the guys had had a bit too much to drink so instead of two cars, we all had to pile into one...and he went in the boot. We drove home alternating between complimenting the day and each lost in their own thoughts, or passed out, till we heard a hesitant voice from the boot..."Ah, M...your left hand turns are OK, but can you go easy on the right?" which made everyone giggle, poor guy. When we got to my apartment, another slightly muffled "Can you open the boot please..." and a more urgent "No, you don't understand, you need to open the boot now" before he made a dash to a darkened entrance...presumably to admire the cobblestones at a closer proximity, as you do ;)

Final thoughts

But perhaps the best moment out of the whole wedding day was...finally sitting down and taking off my shoes (kidding). A word to those attending weddings, wear your shoes a couple of time before the actual day...and take flats, they saved my life!

I do have one regret...K and I didn't get a photo of just the two of us together :( So many photos were taken though and there's always photoshop!

After the crazy hectic pace, the next day it was nice to wake up late and take a stroll around the quiet streets of Dole before heading home. It was such a whirlwind few days that, in the light of day, it was had to believe everything that had happened and all of it come to such a beautiful and memorable conclusion. K and P - I wish you every possible happiness, joy, and laughter for your future together.

And that's it from my trip to France for my friends wedding. Hope you enjoyed the memories I shared. I'd love to hear some of your favourite wedding memories so drop me a note in the comments!

P.S Don't forget to check out Pre-wedding day memories if you missed them.

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09 August 2015

K's French Wedding - Part 1: My favourite pre-wedding moments

Instead of telling you a sequence of events in the lead up to my friend K's wedding and wedding day in France, (which I'd written, hated, rewritten and still hated), I figure I'll tell you about my favourite moments during the five days. I hope this make for more interesting reading and you'll forgive the delay. For the curious, they are in order :)

Meeting K at the station

A small thing but it was a pleasant surprise when I saw her text, as I was pulling into Dole,saying she'd meet me. Sure enough, she was there looking for me on the platform as I got off the train. I really wasn't expecting it and it was such a nice surprise. There is something so heartwarming about being met by a familiar face when arriving somewhere isn't there? We went to check into the AirBnB K had found (utterly gorgeous), dump my stuff, go for coffee and then a bite to eat. Which brings me to my second moment.

By the canal in Dole

French crepes by the water

It was perfect, sunny and quiet with only the murmurings from a few other diners and lapping water. We were right by the canals edge so we could watch the fish swim past while we had proper french crepes and caught up on wedding preparations. Our waiter was really nice too (another surprise!), he helped with translations and went out of his way to help us with a logistical question for the vineyard tour I'd planned for the following day.

Meeting K's family

In the three years I've known K, I've never met her family. It was so nice to finally meet her parents and sister and try to trace the family resemblance. They are as sweet and unassuming as K is and I wish I'd spent more time talking to them.

Dinner with some of the wedding guest - we had onther table at the top too.

Getting to know K's friends

Meeting K's friends (the other bridesmaids and their partners) who'd flown over from Brisbane, Australia was a bit intimidating. In all honesty, the idea of going to a wedding where I knew maybe one other person (if you don't count the bride and groom) wasn't my idea of fun. I'm not one of those people who loves, or thrives, on those situations, in fact, it usually takes me a while to warm up to people and I infinitely prefer one-to-one situations when meeting new people. So I was a bit awkward and didn't say much. It didn't help that they'd all known each other for ages and shared a love for running, cycling & swimming. It was like they were speaking another language. But I was happy to listen and get to know the people in K's life pre-London. And after dinners, a vineyard tour and wedding prep, I relaxed a bit more and was able to join in the chat and banter. And it really helped that K's friends were absolutely lovely and they made me feel welcome. By the end of my trip, I was a lot more comfortable and very glad I'd met them. A lot of my happy memories from the trip involve them.

Our very cute French apartment in Dole

Coffee and croissants by the window

It was peaceful and relaxing and felt like a proper French moment. K, being an early riser had picked up some croissants, I had made coffee. We pulled up the dining table chairs and sat by the huge open windows of our apartment, sipping coffee and munching fresh fluffy croissants. It was a quiet morning, sunny and warm but not quite hot yet with a faint early morning breeze. Simple pleasures.

The lookout over the vineyards

It was gorgeous. The view out over the vineyards, blue and white skies, and the small villages nestled in between the green vines, it was picture perfect. It was my favourite part of the vineyard tour I'd organised for K, her friends and I to go on.

Seeing the chateau for the first time

Did I mention that the reason the wedding was out in the middle of nowhere was because K's partners' family has a chateau there? The first time I saw it was the morning of the race and I was gobsmacked. The whole image of K getting married to a half French, half British boy in the grounds of his family's chateau in rural French was so chick lit fairy tale cliche it hit me like a tonne of bricks when i actually saw the chateau for the first time. It was brilliant, in a hilarious way. And I loved it. The chateau is what you'd imagine a typical rustic french chateau to be, it sits in its own walled grounds with a tree lined drive, wrought iron gate, orchard at the front and woodland out the back. Just gorgeous.

The chateau - there is more of it on both sides that you cant see in this pic

The Race

A race before your wedding day is just asking for a sprained ankle in my opinion, but that's just me. But this makes it onto the favourite moments list because it is so typically K and P (they met when K joined P's running club), not because i joined in the crazy physical exertion. A lot of the guests were friends they'd met in that club and showed up for the run that morning. I had to admire everyones passion for the sport and how well organised the race was, they'd hand made runner numbers and personalised a bunch of medals and a couple of trophy's for the occasion.

Decorating the marquee

An odd thing to make this list but I enjoyed the buzz of everyone helping decorate the marquee. The results were beautiful. By the way I cannot fold napkins. I blame the napkin. It was weird, all slopey edges and just looked like trouble. I tried, really I did. I can fold a paper crane for heavens sake, but I could not fold that napkin to save my life. By my fifth or eighth attempt the other bridesmaids were on to their fourth napkin. I admitted defeat to that irksome strip of wonky cloth: I threw in the napkin and went of to tie bows on the table cloths. Bows have a much nicer temperament, they tie themselves up in knots to make you happy ;) 

So there you have the prewedding moments :) Coming up next, the wedding and reception.

Have you attended a wedding overseas?

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30 July 2015

Dole post in progress

I know I'm late in posting this week. But I do have a post in the works. Every time I start writing I get lost in the memories and time slips by. Also I might have to split it in two to avoid it being too long a read. Be sure to check back again soon, or you can subscribe to my rss feed (button is on the left) and you'll be emailed when it's up.
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