Spreading Wings


In 2006, less than a year after the Big Trip was done, I was back home having left one job only to find myself working as a casual in a factory.  I had seen an ad on the internet for English language tutors and thought that this might be another way to further my travels.  The idea was to actually get a job this time, prior to departure and then head off.  I did a short course in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a private provider.  I must admit to doubting my ability to stand up in front of a class and teach anything let alone English.  The course may have been short but it was intense.  To be in a rather large group learning how to teach was something I never thought I would do. 



However, I successfully completed the course and applied for a few jobs in places I figured would interest me.  One prospective employer responded positively and I was soon interviewed for a position.  The role was teaching conversational English in Japan with a company called Nova.   This company was apparently a big deal in Japan with schools located in a number of places teaching practical English to students and professionals.  They were looking for degree holders, I fit the bill and was soon offered a position.  I had a small going away celebration with family and friends before jetting off to Japan to start my new adventure.  At the time I didn’t want to make it a career just an opportunity to travel and earn some money along the way.



I spent over a month in Japan and the first couple of weeks were just settling in to my new location.  Though I flew in to Tokyo’s Narita Airport, I was met by a company representative and he put me straight on a bus to a small town called Tsukuba.  I was met on the other end of this bus ride in this university town by a couple of ex-pats.  These ex-pats included a high school teacher from the USA and I was to be sharing a place with this young bloke.   This group of ex-pats I would come to know quite well over my time there. 



The teacher had a few tattoos, not quite appreciated in the culture of Japan from what I understand.  Tattoos are only worn by members of the Yakuza and other criminal organisations generally, though they do excuse foreigners in some way.  However, he was told to always wear a long sleeved shirt at or around the workplace.  There was an Irish guy who really liked to drink and an English girl who was the same.  In our little group there was a Canadian and a Kiwi as well as an Aussie girl who was dating a Japanese guy.  We met others along the way but primarily this was the group that I was hanging with. 



While I was adjusting to a different culture and slowly organising a few things we had a number of outings that usually involved drinking local beer and eating in various places.  Sometimes we would even go to different towns with an idea in mind only to end up simply eating and drinking usually later in the night as some shifts didn’t end till then.  You could buy beer in convenience stores in Japan and drink from the open containers in public.  This was of great interest to the American contingent as it’s an offence back home.  I did participate in this and I would occasionally ride a borrowed bicycle with a beer in hand. 



I remember one particular night out with this crew where we ended up in a restaurant bar which was quite busy, I was wearing an Iggy Pop t-shirt and we were surrounded by young Japanese who were interested in talking and drinking with us.  We ended up intermingled among the tables drinking steins of beer and talking broken English with these locals.  We had to catch a train back to our town and accommodation, it was a great night.  



Eventually it came time to participate in the company’s own training and induction program.  This was over a few days and meant that I had to catch an intercity bus to and from the venue.  Not knowing any Japanese apart from the odd greeting I was advised to just watch for a particular symbol on screen and get off when that symbol lit up.  It was during this training program that I realised how uneasy I was with being a teacher even with a small group.  We were run through a bunch of scenarios and I didn’t really appreciate their methods. 



Someone described this company as being the McDonalds of English language teaching in Japan.  Basically, the students were paying to speak with a native English speaker following rigidly a series of workbooks.  As I recall, there were 40 minute sessions with the student/s with only a few minutes in between to mark the student/s and prepare for the next session. I didn’t know how I was going to manage the short prep time in between.  I finished the training sessions over this period with a growing sense of unease and re-joined my flatmate and associates for more drinking and eating adventures.  Following this, a new roster arrived and my name was on it, I must admit I got cold feet and the dread had arrived. 



I realised at that time teaching was not the role for me and that while this had not been a complete waste of time it was close enough.  I talked to my flatmate and others about my concerns, they were supportive but they just wanted me to continue, I got overwhelmed and rang my folks back home.  It was following that phone call that I rapidly exited my contract with the company and booked a flight home. I had a return airfare ticket so I just amended the return date.  Of course, I quickly made arrangements to get out of my accommodation and made my way back to Tokyo.  On my last night in town before leaving my little crew had a go at Karaoke in a private room at an establishment they knew well.  We belted out a few numbers, mostly alternative stuff that we were into. 



My flatmate put me on the bus the next day with a quick goodbye and I went from there not knowing if I had made the right decision.  I stayed in Tokyo at a business hotel close to the main train station for one night and then I booked a day tour of Tokyo city as well as one to Mount Fuji.  I really wanted to see Hiroshima before I left Japan and so I booked a spot on a tour from Kyoto.  I took a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and was amazed how fast those things go.  I tried to get video footage of a bullet train going through the station but it was just too fast, I waited for the next one to stop and took footage of that. On the train the announcements were made in both Japanese and English and they had a digital screen which showed the speed at which the train was going.



I spent my last night in Japan at the Four Seasons hotel in Tokyo as it was the closest to the main train station, I had to be up and out early for a train to the airport and most of the other hotels around were fully booked.  The Four Seasons was so expensive but pretty luxurious so I can’t complain too much. The problem was I didn’t allow myself enough time to really enjoy their facilities.  I flew home via Singapore and Bangkok as transit stops only. 



As a postscript to this trip:  It was not long after my return to Australia that I heard on the news that Nova had gone out of business leaving a bunch of teachers high and dry.  It had shut a number of schools and others were bought out by other businesses.  This left a number of staff without income, they had not been paid for a time and some did not have return tickets to their home countries.  It must have been difficult for them, I can only hope they found jobs quickly with other institutions or found a way out. 



I’m still not sure if I made the right choice at that time, simply walking away because of a feeling.  Looking back I am happy that I got to experience a slice of life in Japan even for that short period.  Certainly I am glad to have travelled there and seen the sights such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Fuji and Hiroshima. I had been impressed with the customer service in Japan but had not liked the experience of having to register as an ‘Alien’.  During this trip I experienced Karaoke, Korean barbeque, drinking Sake and the finer points of eating sushi.  The main thing of travelling for me is seeing the sights and meeting good people and I certainly did that.   I can’t believe that that was now 10 years ago, I do sometimes wonder what happened to that particular group of ex-pats. 


There are a few postscripts to the 'BIG Trip' series.  I would like to start by apologising for the photo quality on the blog posts as these images were taken from video footage.   In the process of resizing the images they have come out pixelated, it wasn’t my intention especially with the group photos but the originals are fine.  Anyway, we take up after leaving the Europe Tour bus in London…


Saying goodbye to our fellow Cosmos ‘Europes Highlights’ tour group members back in London in 2005 was hard but dad and I were on a mission.  You see, we had arranged to meet my biological mother in northern England that very evening and so we immediately set off by rail to Newcastle, England.  I’ve talked about this in a previous post… see Yours By Choice.  The train arrived late in the evening and then we caught a cab to the house in Blyth, Northumberland.  We had been told prior to setting out that this area was not good but we continued on. 


The taxi driver, seeing no lights on out front when we arrived, said he would wait till we got inside. I must admit, it was a strange feeling walking to the door of a house when the people inside I had only spoken to briefly on the phone and most of our correspondence had been by letter.  However, we were greeted enthusiastically and were soon safely ensconced inside a little semi-detached house.  There we met my biological mother, her ex-husband and then my biological half-brother.  We had many cups of tea that night and into the early hours of morning just chatting about the tour and Australia and England.  We would sleep on a mattress on the floor and later in the morning we had more food and of course more tea and chat. 


We were back in a cab and back to Newcastle in the mid-afternoon for the train journey back to London.  Dad and I would spend that night in separate hotels as he was leaving the next morning for Istanbul, Turkey and his Gallipoli/Troy tour on the way back home to Australia.  Up till this point most things had been booked from back home in Australia.  I was to stay on in London and perhaps try to get a job and/or tour more and in the very short term would stay with my cousin in Kensington.  So I walked with my dad to his hotel and we said our goodbyes.  I then caught a cab to my hotel and I didn’t know when I would next see my dad.  I was, by this time tired of travelling, tired of living out of a suitcase in different hotels but was excited to see what the future would hold. 


The next day I walked through Hyde Park, visited the Churchill War Rooms Museum and took a spin on the London Eye.  Along the way I ran into an older couple from the tour and we had a bit of a chat.  I would go on to Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Diana Memorial and see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.  Not a bad way to spend my first morning in London alone.  I would end the day having a few drinks and then dining with my cousin in a byo Rotisserie followed by moving to his place and calling my mum. 


The following day I went for a walk again ostensibly to grab some travel brochures and check my emails at a local internet café but along the way I checked out the famous Aussie hang out called Earls Court.  When I got back there was a message from my young lady friend and it turns out they had just arrived back in London.  When I arrived at the pub to meet them, there was her, her mum and a friend from their tour group. The day would not end till 5am the next morning, it started with dinner and drinks at a nearby pub then more drinks at the hotel they were staying at.  During that night we talked to a few English blokes who were, at first, trying to chat up my friend but then we were all having drinks and laughing.  Those blokes finished up by saying that we seemed good together and they headed off leaving just the two of us to sit in the foyer after the pub closed and just chat. 


I would head home at 5am and when I got back to my cousins place, I rang mum , it was good timing due to the time difference between Australia and UK.  It was about 9 hours behind Australia. Mum asked me what time it was over there and I told her it was 5:30 in the morning.  She said “Gee, you’re up early?”  I said “I haven’t been to bed yet”.  She was surprised but then told me to go and have a sleep.  I took my mums advice and had a couple of hours zzz…


I got up later that morning, then called my friend and she said to come round and we could go for a walk.  I caught the tube and walked around the corner to the hotel to meet her and her mum.  We just walked and talked, grabbed a bite to eat and by then it was evening and they had to head to the airport.  I was still trying to convince the young lass to stay in the UK with me and her mum seemed quite supportive but there were several issues back home and so she finally left.  I knew she had a relationship back home and I often said that as soon as she got back home she would forget about me.  I had a feeling then that this was just a holiday thing but she told me in no uncertain terms that was not how it was.   In fact, she wanted me to come back to Australia soon and then come to her place.


After the sad farewell I caught the train back to my cousin’s place and went for dinner at another local restaurant.  My cousin was doing alright for himself and always seemed to be eating out.  He told me this is what they do here in London.  As such, he didn’t seem to have much in the way of food in his apartment, just a few basics.  I just couldn’t believe the prices in London, but I was using the conversion rate all the time.  At that time the Aussie dollar to the British Pound was like 3 to 1.  So, just to get a KFC meal for say 4 to 5 pounds was like 12 to 15 Aussie dollars.  I had to realise that if you’re earning pounds it’s okay to spend pounds but if you’re earning dollars then it’s hard to spend those pounds. 


The next day I would book a tour to Eastern Europe through a local travel agent. The tour that I wanted was fully booked and there wasn’t another one to commence for another couple of weeks.  They said that I might be charged a little extra on the flights because of the open ended nature of my ‘round-the-world’ tickets.  I went home and tried to book the change in flights through the airline and they wanted to charge me something like US $125 per change. What I had planned involved several changes of flights.  You see, all I had was an open ticket back home stopping in Singapore whereas dad had his booked to go to Istanbul and then home.  I was pretty annoyed at the extra costs and was feeling tired and emotional.  I got calls throughout from my young friend on her way back to Australia and these made me re-think my further touring.  Had I known then what I knew later on I would have continued on touring but that wasn’t my mind set then. 


I made calls home and mum told me that dad was on his way home after visiting Turkey.  So, over the next few days I kept thinking whether I should just go home or keep touring or look for jobs.  I had checked out the employment section during this time but found that I needed a fixed abode.  I had use of my cousin’s place for that week as he was away with friends.  When he came back it would be a different story.  I had to make up my mind quickly but luckily I had another distraction coming up.  So, I pretty much made up my mind in that time and cancelled the tour.  Of course I lost a bit on cancellation fees but I was just sooo over it.  Eastern Europe and even Gallipoli/Troy would have to wait for another time.  I just booked the flights London-Singapore-Home. 


The distraction came in the form of the 3 ladies we had met on the US leg of this trip who were by now back in their home town of  Middlesbrough and had invited me to come up to see their place.  So, I would again head off by train northwards and was met at the station by one of them who then drove me all around Redcar and Saltburn before checking me into a local hotel.  Later that evening all four of us would have dinner at Whitby and check out a Viking themed celebration at the Abbey.  The night ended with fireworks and a talk about astrology in the Viking era.


It was quite cold back in the hotel and I slept fitfully.  The next morning I would be driven back to the station for the train back to London.  I thanked the ladies for a great time and showing me around.  I said if they were ever coming to Australia they should look us up. This was to be my last day in the UK and I was booked on a flight home later that evening. 


When I got back to London it turned out to be the ‘hottest day on record’ for that time of the year in something like 30 years… It was quite funny to me to see people wearing singlets, shorts and sandals sitting in deck chairs in the park sunning themselves and yet there I was still wearing long sleeves and jeans.  In the sun it was pretty warm but in the shade it was still quite cool.  I got back to the apartment and packed my bags and left for Heathrow airport for what would be the long flight home. 


On the flight home, I did not sleep much and was mostly playing arcade games and watching movies.  It was not the best way to fly as I would, for a week or more afterwards, suffer the terrible effects of ‘jet-lag’.  I would be walking around during the day yawning all the time, couldn’t focus on anything but at night would just be watching the alarm clock tick over.  I even thought of medication during this time but ended up taking my mums advice and just having a glass of wine before bed and this helped me get back my sleep rhythm. 


The phone calls from my young lady friend would continue for a little while and a bit of an email chat as well but it would all come to nought in the weeks following.  I have mentioned in a previous post, receiving an email titled ‘Get a life’, well that was from her and it was the last communication we would ever have.  At that point I had started sharing a flat with a friend of a workmate of mine and was going back to work at the very place I had had my unpaid leave from.  I’m sure my friends back in my hometown got sick of hearing about all this but to them I say “Thank You” for providing distractions and getting me through. 


The following year I would, unbeknownst to me at the time, travel overseas again, only not to Eastern Europe but return to the USA. I had started to revisit my poetry during this time, the young lady had bought that out in me and although I had always written little poems I hadn’t taken it very seriously till then.  I guess I can thank her for that, as it would lead me to travel to the US again for the Poetry Symposium of 2006..see Ravens Rhyming ways and further my exploration of US and then on to Japan.  More about my further travels in another post….


Now, it is 2014, and I can’t believe all this touring and such happened 9 years ago.  I have definitely moved on with life and have a very loving partner.  Though there’s a lot of water under the bridge, so to speak, I am still basically the same person only older and sometimes I do wonder how life would be if I had taken another path.  Oh well, one can’t turn back time so I guess I will never know.  Though I reckon now, and it has been suggested amongst those I have kept in contact with that the Europe group have a reunion in 2015 – 10 years on.  Hmm.. and on the 100th Anniversary of the Anzac – Gallipoli landings.  You see, I still want to do Gallipoli/Troy and then Eastern Europe… I know for sure the President and 1st Lady of Cosmos Euro Highlights Tour 2005 would like that idea…. I can say the PM of Bad Aussee loves the idea but it’s the budget that is in the duldrums.  As for Bad Aussee, I wrote the poem after returning to Australia…

Bad Aussee in Austria


A town we found,

A little spot on the map.

So, the jokes went around,

There was so much to tap.


Heaps of tall stories followed,

Hoop snakes, drop-bears abound.

So, watch you don’t get swallowed,

Its just those Bad Aussies making sound.


We were hitting the ‘frog and toad’,

On a European vacation.

Aussies and others by the busload,

Keeping up our jocular reputation.


Up went the shout,

“Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!”

Its not the behaviour of a single lout,

But a tour group filled with joy.


We went from teaching others “G’day Mate!”

To making roles for ourselves and a motto.

It’s amazing what Aussies can create,

Even when we’re far from blotto.


We really started to hit our strides on this next leg of our journey which would take us through parts of Western Europe to see countries like France, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.  We would soon be part of what we call ‘the best tour group’.  What we mean by this will become obvious throughout this post but needless to say we have kept in contact with more people from this tour group than any of our other tours.  They were all good tours just this one seemed to have the best combination of people and humour.  This was 2005 and we were about to check out Europe’s Highlights with Cosmos Tours


The first day saw us taking a ferry from Dover to Calais where we would really begin to meet our other tour group members.  However, when we arrived at the Ferry terminal, we would meet old friends, in particular the young lass I had become close to on the UK tour and her mum.  Turns out their tour would crossover ours at several points along the way until we hit Italy.  A fact which sounded pretty good to me, though to be honest at that moment I wished we had gone with them on their tour.


This being Europe, our driver was Italian, our tour director a Belgian and we had a young Trainee Tour Guide who was Dutch.  Our tour group consisted of quite a few Aussies and Americans with some South Africans, Canadians, Indians and a few from South America.  I must say having that many Aussies on the bus tour was the best, the others didn’t share the same sense of humour to begin with but soon warmed to our ways.


From the ferry to another bus and on we would drive through France, Belgium and arrive in Amsterdam, Holland that same night.  The next day we would tour Amsterdam delights, have a canal ride, tour the diamond centre and stand outside a ‘coffee bar’.  In Amsterdam it is legal to buy and consume marijuana only in ‘coffee bars’ or ‘hash bars’.  We stood outside only as the smell was enough to tell you there was more than coffee being consumed here.  I did see a big fat ginger cat staggering near the door to this establishment.


After the day tour of Amsterdam, we were on the bus for AnderNacht.  It was the first day and already we were on the Autobahn.  Dinner at the hotel was followed by a walk around the block and through the old city walls with a few of our fellow group members. 


From Andernacht the next day we would take a Rhine Cruise, have lunch outside Stuttgart and travel through Germany, Bavaria and into Austria to a town called Innsbruck.  There was  a traffic hold-up in the alps, apparently there was a motorcycle accident and traffic was backed up for miles up the mountain road.  One of our fellow Aussies took the opportunity to use the little boys room behind some trees in the forest.  I was standing with some of the group and the trainee tour guide, the young lass from Holland and I said to another traveller “think its time for the old Aussie Aussie Oi Oi”  To which he replied with a smirk.  We began the Aussie warcry with zeal and loud voices, the echo around the mountain gave it extra effect.  We were high-spirited, even the older men got in on the action.  The fellow would come back and bow to our efforts.  As some of us then walked along to see what the hold up was, it was obvious that everyone had heard us and wondered what all the ruckus was about. 


I think it was about this time that someone found a name of a town on a map of Austria that could not go unheralded, this was to be the start of something which to this day remains a joke among those of us who have kept in contact.  You guessed it… the town was called Bad Aussee and we took that town name to heart.  Throughout the rest of the trip we would create a story about how the town was our kingdom or republic if you like and the people on the bus played different roles.  I became Prime Minister and my dad was Speaker of the House.  We had a President and First Lady, Treasurer, Presidential Guards and… Well, you get the picture. 


The President and 1st Lady were a couple from Victoria, the President was a bus driver and tour guide himself and the stories he would tell the tour group members from other countries would make your eyes water with laughter.  He was not really impressed by some of the driving by our Italian tour bus driver who always seemed to have only one hand on the wheel, the other was operating his phone or beeping the horn.  By the end we made up funny business cards with our roles and the republics motto.  From a song by Paul Kelly.. ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’. 


This was to relieve a fair bit of boredom of just sitting in the coach crossing borders into different countries.  One of our fellow Aussies even took to photographing his kneecap with a cap on it.  He was just messing around with his new digital camera and was pretty bored on the bus.  Even I was starting to feel the effects of so much time on tour buses but with so much good company on board the feeling was pretty short-lived.  Talk about the philosophy of travel and it taking you out of your comfort zone. 


From Innsbruck we headed to Venice, Italy.  The weather was getting warmer as we headed south.  We took a boat into the city of Venice and we toured around the amazing city on stilts in the swamp.  It was here that we would experience rudeness and bad customer service at the hands of an Italian waiter.  It was a beaming hot day in the sun and we were trying to find a cool spot to have a drink and watch the passing parade.  We found a Marque with no one else in it and a waiter was busy setting up.  We tried to get his attention but to no avail so my dad and the other friendly couple we were hanging with decided to get some drinks from the fridge in the shop attached.  They paid for the drinks and we sat at a table feeling good about the shade.  As soon as we did so the waiter came round and told us to go in broken English.  We asked why and he said that we had to pay more to sit here.  We then asked how much more, turns out the price would be double.  We told him we just wanted a shady spot, he kept telling us to go.  Finally we left the table and sat on the edge of the canal in the blazing sun and finished our beer.  Now, what sort of customer service is that??!!


It was not the last time we would have run ins with Italian shopkeepers, we could say they were mere misunderstandings but we didn’t feel so at the time.  From these instances I got a really bad impression of my biological ancestral home. The next incident would be in Florence.  From Venice we would go to Rome and visit Vatican City.  We would see Assisi and the Trevi Fountain.  Yet another chance run in with the young nurse and her mum in Rome, we walked through some square where local men would give the ladies flowers, these men were called ‘gigolos’.  We ended the day with dinner and some local entertainment.


The following day was spent visiting the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Pauls Basilica.  We went to the Roman Hills to see the Popes Summer Residence.  We then took a tour of the Colosseum.  We had a funny Indian lady on the tour who almost got run over in the streets of Rome.  She didn’t seem too worried but we were concerned that she was wandering away from the main group and was always the slowest, we asked the tour guide on the day to slow down a bit.  Which they did in the short term but they are on tight timeframes too.  The day ended in a tavern where the food was good but I wasn’t so sure about the wine.  Mind you, had a couple of drinks just to make sure and we were joined by members of another tour group.


From Rome the following day we would bus to Florence and on to Montecatini.  We did the sightseeing tour in Florence and we got a group photo done, as is usual practice for me, I was in the back but this time I am visible to the left hand side.  The departure from Rome would be the last time till we got back to the UK before I would see my young lady friend again. That term ‘young lady friend’ was the term some of my tour mates were using.   


We had a couple of drinks in the main square of Florence and then walked over the bridge.  Dad decided we should try the gelati ice creams and so ordered two small icecreams.  This was to be our next runin with misunderstanding.  He went to pay for the ice creams, the ones that came out were quite large.  The prices that were listed were 3Euros for Small, 4 for Medium and 5 for Large.  We expected to pay 6Euros so dad handed over 10 and wanted change.  What then transpired unbeknownst to me, was that the shopkeeper asked for more, he somehow wanted another 6Euro.  Dad told him where to go, he said something about Polizi and dad walked out of the shop with icecreams in hand and me in tow.  They were nice icecreams but not worth 16Euros, not worth 10 really. 


It was when we got back on the bus and headed to Montecatini that we were reminded what we had been told by the tour director about different prices in Italy for takeaway versus eating in the shop and eating outside.  However, that doesn’t explain the price differences for the gelati ice-creams really? People said to us before we left that the French are rude but we never found that, in fact quite the opposite as long as you try to speak the language no matter how badly. I can say, on our trip, the rudest were the Italians...


From Montecatini we headed to Lake Lucerne and the little town of Freuelin in Switzerland.  Along the way we saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Square of Miracles.  I was fascinated by the market stalls there selling items such as replica guns and various knives to tourists.  I wondered how these tourists would get them back through Customs.  Obviously it wouldn’t be a problem for other European tourists but for us Aussies with our strict Border Security, you couldn’t take the chance.  We went through the biggest traffic jam in the rain and then drove through the 2nd longest road tunnel in Europe i.e the San Gottard at about 17kilometres long.  Lugarno was a nice place and I ended up having another chat and glass of wine with the young trainee tour guide.  We talked about music and movies and stuff, about language with her trying to teach me a little Dutch.  Seems I have trouble with making these guttural sounds necessary in the Germanic languages.


The next day we would go from Freuelin to Lausanne, this was a highlight as we would take an old railroad and then cable car to the top of Mount Stanserhorn.  I would experience fallen snow for the second time on this trip and even make snow balls and have the obligatory snowball fight with a few of the younger members of the tour group.  We had lunch at the rotating restaurant on top of the mountain.  Was a beautiful stop and I really enjoyed it, I’m sure the rest did too.  We had become friendly with a family who were originally from South America but were now living in Canada.  There were five members of the family on this tour and we particularly became friends with the son and daughter .  Of course, as Aussies we would tell stories and explain our country and culture to anyone that would listen and the son had Aussie friends back in Canada so he was keen to listen. 


From Lausanne we headed to Paris, France.  We finally put together the tour group contact list with email addresses or postal addresses.  There was an official list which was passed around for people to fill out and then there was the Presidential list which gave names and roles in our little story.  During the tour we had, at dinner sat with another pair from Florida.  They were uncle and niece and while talking to them my dad asked them where they were from.  When they said Florida, dad mentioned that he’d heard there were a lot of problems with the Cubans/Latinos over in Florida.   My father is sometimes not known for diplomacy and what he failed to recognise was that they were from Cuba originally.  I tried to cover as best as I could but they just laughed it off and the conversation still flowed.  They are, to this day, people that we do keep in contact with and in fact in my subsequent travels to the US, I have called in on them and been a very welcome guest.


We had a couple of days in Paris before heading back to the UK.  We did the sightseeing tour covering the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame as well as touring the Palace of Versailles.  I couldn’t believe the extravagance of Versailles, no wonder there was a French Revolution.  We took a river cruise along the Seine and went up to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower, we walked through the Louvre and checked out the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo.  We visited MontMartre by cable car. On one of the nights in Paris and we had a farewell dinner where we tried French Cuisine.  This included us ordering Escargot (Snails) and Frogs Legs.  I didn’t think much of either of those dishes, the snails were small and awkward to get to and the frogs legs were like toothpicks with a tiny string of meat attached.  Some of our members were departing in Paris, the rest would head back to Calais for the ferry ride back to Dover and a return to London.


Stay tuned to the final in this travel series which covers what happened when we got back to London…


In the first part, my father and I explored part of the US, now we would tour the UK on a fourteen day odyssey through England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.  This was 2005, a few years after 9/11 but before the London bombings.  In fact, not long before the bombings in London and to think we would visit those very train stations and probably stood where the terrorists would stand months later.  This part of the trip would bring a romantic development but more on that later in the post. 


We arrived in London’s Heathrow airport, I with a bit of a cold and the rain continuing was not a good start but the rest of the the trip sure made up for it.  We got a shuttle to the hotel but our room wasn’t quite ready so we did what most Aussies do in that situation..  We sat in the pub and had a beer till the room was ours.  It was a tiny room compared to the ones we’d had in the US.  This was something we would get use to in the UK.  We have cousins in London so we made arrangements to see them later that day.  We caught a cab and went to see our cousins and had some more beer, wine and nibblies at their apartment but dinner was back at the hotel.  The following day we were booked on a tour of London. 


The day tour took us around the city sights, a boat cruise along the Thames and walking through the Tower. I got to see the real ravens, larger than the Australian crows but their wings were clipped so they wouldn’t leave the tower.  Long time ago, it was said that if the ravens left the tower then London would fall. The day tour ended and we were dropped off near Harrods so we wandered around the big department store too and got an icecream, was a little expensive especially given the exchange rates at the time.  That is something else we would have to get use to while in the UK. 


The next day was to be the first day of our 14day tour of Britain and Ireland with Cosmos Tours.  We met our Tour Director and Driver, interesting people and many stories to tell.   The first day took us from London to Coventry.  Along the way we saw the sights at Hampton Court, Oxford, Anne Hathaways house, the birthplace of Shakespeare and Winston Churchills grave.  A friend of mine back in Oz wondered if there were some free music publications aka ‘mags’ in the UK so I found one in Oxford for him, I would keep it for him till I got back.  This was the first of a few times that I would actively seek these ‘mags’.


The next leg was Coventry to Scotch Corner, usual process in the morning… bags out of the room early for collection then breakfast in the hotel and on the bus for the days touring.  We toured Coventry Cathedral, you could say a ‘bombed out wreck of a building’ but left standing after the war.  We had lunch in York where we visited The Shambles, The Minster Cathedral, walked along a castle wall and toured the Richard III museum.  Strangely, the most interesting display was the National Rail Museum which houses a very large collection of trains from various times.  Getting to Scotch Corner I settled in for Dinner and then drinks in the bar, we met some of the locals.  By this time, if not before it became obvious that accents are so different across the UK.  Although, before I went to the US, I never really noticed my own accent but there and in the UK it became an issue when talking to others. Some folks you just have to do the nod and smile and then the ‘sorry, what was that??’  They might be speaking English but not as I know it.


3rd day saw us moving from Scotch Corner to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Along the way we saw Abbeys such as Jedburgh and Melrose plus the famous Hadrians Wall or what’s left of it.  The weather at this point was mostly sunny but still cool for a bloke from Queensland Australia.  We certainly didn’t see the daily rain that many others talked about beforehand. 


4th day was mostly touring around Edinburgh, the morning was the official tour of the city followed by an afternoon just wandering about.  The main event for me was visiting Edinburgh Castle, home of the Royal Military Tattoo that we watch every New Year.  When you see it on television the parade ground looks flat but when you see it for real, it is far from flat it is sloping and a little rough.  After an afternoon wandering  around the city getting a music mag, we had a dinner show where I tried Haggis.  Didn’t like it much as it was too peppery for my taste but it went down well with the Scottish Whiskey.  After the show there were more drinks in the hotel bar, always an interesting time and the beginnings of my many conversations with a certain young lady who I would come to know well on this tour.  She was travelling with her mum, she was from a different state in Australia and we got along really well. 


On the 5th day we said goodbye to Edinburgh and headed to Mold, North Wales.  Along the way we toured Liverpool , not a particularly clean city from what we could see but there was much redevelopment.  Saw the sights of Gretna Green, Grasmere and the Liverpool Abbey.   This day ended in a smoky bar with some of the tour group.


From Mold we would venture into Ireland and make our way to Dublin, part of this days journey involved a ferry ride. This ferry ride is memorable as the young lady I had become friends with was a Nurse and during the trip across the sea another passenger had a fit.  They called for a nurse or doctor on board and of course this young lass heard the call and was soon aiding the woman and her family.  One of the family members was carrying on about what should have been done but I thought she handled it professionally, after all she didn’t have to step in.


The 7th day was all about Dublin.  We visited St Patricks Cathedral, the National Gallery of Ireland and Temple Bar.  That night was Irish Night at another hotel so it was again dinner and a bit of entertainment followed by drinks back at the hotel bar.  All these late nights followed by early wake up in the morning, one would think I would be sick but I wasn’t, I guess it was the great company that kept me going.


The 8th day was spent moving from Dublin to Ennis.  Ireland seemed so green and lush, mostly sunny but still cool and windy.  Along the way we went through Galway.  We would go to Bunratty Castle for dinner and a show and this would be the start of my stardom on this tour.  This show called for audience participation and it was to be a demonstration of irish dancing.  Now, they fill you up with food and drink and then ask a couple of members of the audience to come up on stage.  I was asked to get up on stage and despite telling them that I had ‘two left feet’ they got me up to dance with a lovely young  Irish lass.  Let’s just say I left her with bruised feet and even the commentator said I should have more heavily insisted to sit this one out.  The next day on the tour bus, the tour leader started calling me ‘twinkle toes’… Yeah right!  I thought later there would have been a bunch of video cameras capturing the action on stage, I hope I haven’t ended up on youtube or something.  Maybe one of those ‘funniest home videos’ shows… Oh Crap! J


The 9th day in the bus and a topic of conversation was my own dismal efforts at dancing.  Saw us moving from Ennis to Tralee touring the ‘ring of Kerry’.  We had a carriage ride and a group photo was taken.  Seems I am yet again in the back of the group photo and while trying to pop my head into view was being blocked by another member of the tour group, a cheeky bloke, a salesman from Oz who was travelling with his wife.  This night would end in a good old fashioned pub crawl.  During my time in Ireland I sampled plenty of Guinness and Kilkenny.  I was already a fan of these stouts back home but initially in Ireland I struggled with the taste, I think it was the serving temperature.  I kept going though and further developed a taste for it.  Sitting on a pint of Guinness is a great way to drink socially without getting too drunk too quick… besides people tend to ‘shout’ you less when you’re there with a pint in your hand.  It meant that I could just get them at my pace.


On the 10th day, we went from Tralee to Waterford, stopping at Blarney Castle.  There’s not much of the castle left but it is the place for all those who want the ‘gift of the gab’ to ‘kiss the blarney stone’.  After climbing a rather awkward staircase to the top of the the tower, you line up and wait for your turn with plenty of others.  To ‘kiss the stone’ you have to lie on your back on the hard stone surface and lean your head through a hole in the wall.  This is done at an awkward angle and all that is between you and the ground many metres below is a small grate and a little old man holding your jacket.  The ‘stone’ is on the upper lip of this hole in the wall and has been kissed many thousands of times before by all manner of people willing to put their bodies on the line.  Let me just say I laid back and tried to manoeuvre myself into place with a few instructions from the little old man holding me but to no avail,  I don’t know if it was the long night of drinking the night before or what but as soon as the blood rushed to my head I got this overwhelming feeling to withdraw.  I had just seen my dad do it without too much effort and he had his photo but I would not get mine. I guess that’s why I don’t have the ‘gift of the gab’. 


On the 11th day we had another ferry ride to look forward to, this time from Waterford to Cardiff, Wales.  We visited the ‘longest mall’ and took in the sights along the way.  The night was spent touring Cardiff Castle followed by dinner and another show where I sampled some Mead and yet again was called up on stage this time I ended up making bear noises  as part of a storytelling  show.  My bear was not to be beat, even though I was not the first one chosen through the audition process.  Because others were too scared to get up, I was then asked and could not find a valid excuse, at least it didn’t involve dancing.  Yet again, I think there will be video footage of this somewhere, I really hope it never surfaces,  thankfully there is none on my video footage of the trip.  After returning from the Castle, a few of the group went to another hotel where there was an over-30s dance thing happening.  I couldn’t let my two left feet go fast enough when dancing with the young lass.  I do remember dancing along to some Tom Jones number, the things you do in foreign countries eh?


The next day was getting from Cardiff back to London.  Along the way we saw Stonehenge, albeit from the fence surrounding the site.  We saw yet another Abbey, this time at Salisbury before arriving back at the hotel in Kensington.  After saying a few goodbyes we shared a cab with the young lady who had got my attention over this trip and her mum, they were staying at the same hotel.  I thought this was to be the end of our time together, turns out they were going on to another tour of Europe, similar to ours but with a few more stops so we might run into them.   It was mother’s day back in Oz so I rang mum, we had been doing this throughout the tour whenever we could get a phone that worked with our phone card.


The last day in London before we headed to Europe was spent just washing clothes at the local Laundromat followed by a walk to Camden Markets before later that evening meeting up with a friend we met on our tour of SouthEast Asia several years before.  We would meet and have a couple of drinks and then dine at a Nepalese Restaurant. 


Stay tuned for my next post… which will be, you guessed it…. Destination Europe and the emergence of Bad Aussee…

Welcome to another change of calendar, as it is now the year 2014.  Hope y’all had a safe and happy silly season.  I am now back to the Blog and ready to write again…


Several years after our first successful trip overseas i.e to South East Asia in 2000 and having talked about a trip to the UK and possibly Europe many times, dad started looking at doing one by himself. This was late 2004 and I had, by this time, bought a place of my own, a mortgage and was working full-time but was less than impressed with it all.   I couldn't let him go by himself could I?  Not when I wanted desperately to go too... besides, it was basically my idea and there he was stealing it!!  Despite the fact that mum couldn't go and probably wouldn't have wanted to, she wanted us to go and do what we wanted to do.  She felt that dad deserved to travel as she had been sick for a long time.  We made sure she was well stocked with supplies and she had friends and neighbours checking in on her.  This trip was to be a fair bit longer than the trip to Southeast Asia. 


Of course, there was still the question of 'what was I going to do about my finances?'  I mean, i had a mortgage and not much savings, certainly not enough to fund this trip.  Luckily my unit was in a growth area and its value had risen in the relatively short time that i had had it.   I decided to take unpaid leave from my job and sell my unit, using part of the money i made to fund my trip.  The reason for the unpaid leave was that i was looking at trying to live and work in the UK for a bit when our touring ended.  It took us a while to get everything together but we got there. 


This was 2005 and my dad and i were once again heading overseas.  I even bought a Canon digital video camera for the trip and felt that this would be a better way to capture the memories rather than a bunch of bad photos.  This was both a blessing and a curse while travelling overseas as I didn’t have proper power converter just converter plugs so the batteries always seemed to drain quicker than expected.  I had enough mini-DV tapes but the battery usage was my main issue.  I also got a new travel diary so that I could record our movements and possibly keep track of the video footage. Of course, some of the entries are pretty mundane and were usually written at the end of a long day back in the various hotel rooms when I just wanted to go to sleep. 


We had decided on one of those round-the-world air tickets with only a few stops so we made the most of it.   Our first stop was San Francisco, California in the good ol United States of America.  Neither of us had been to America before and we had chosen an older style hotel called the ‘Renoir’, we picked it as it seemed cheaper than the ones in the glossy travel brochures at the travel agency. The hotel turned out to be in what seemed like the bad end of the 'civic centre'.   Not that we had issues with that, it was just different to what we expected.   Dad, who is known for his bluntness at times, said to me when we were there early one morning waiting for the tour bus to Yosemite National Park, “feels like they let all the inmates out of the asylum this morning?!”  I could tell this was not a great area of the city as the hotel was virtually across the road from a XXX theatre, the blaring neon sign was a bit of a giveaway.  


We ducked into the nearby Taco Bell for an early breakfast and as soon as we entered I noticed there was not another white face in the restaurant.  However, nobody looked twice at us and we sat in a booth and ate our food.  I do remember this rather loud individual coming in to the restaurant and hollering something about “some bleep bleep needs to move their bleep bleep car!”, he even had the rap moves i had only seen in the movies and in music videos.  He then promptly sat down with said 'bleep bleep' and they started a great old conversation, looked like they were old friends.  To which i just put my head down further, scoffed my food and said 'Gee, is that the bus?'


Yosemite National Park was beautiful and it was the first time in my life i had seen fallen snow.   I am still yet to see ‘falling snow’ but  have since seen it on the ground several times. This was a long bus tour starting early and finishing late but was well worth it for the waterfalls, rock formations and rapids.  Upon arrival in the city of San Francisco the previous day we were booked on the Deluxe City half-day tour which included views of  the Golden Gate Bridge, Botanical Gardens and we saw Alcatraz from a distance.  It was an interesting experience but our next stop surely be more so... a little scary to think we were going to the 'Big Apple' New York City.


At San Francisco airport we were in a line and discussing where to meet after going through baggage check.  This had become an issue as dad had previously had a knee replacement and always seemed to set off the metal detectors so he was prepared for the usual questions.  I, on the other hand usually walked through with no problems and so had told him I would meet him at the book shop I could see across the way.  One of the security officers was going through the queue and highlighting tickets with different colours, unbeknownst to me this meant random searches.  To my surprise this meant I had been selected for random baggage search and dad this time pretty much walked straight through.  You just never can tell… We got use to baggage checks through the American leg of our trip, it not only happened at airports but all major tourist attractions.  The requirements are random and various, sometimes you have to take your shoes off, sometimes it’s your belt and more often than not there were bomb and drug residue swipes of any bags.


I lost my sunglasses getting off the plane in New York, luckily they weren’t expensive, I went back to the seat after realising but no luck. The airport shuttle ride to our hotel was interesting, our driver was a big fellow with dreadlocks, initially he was a little abrupt and his driving style was certainly aggressive.  However we were with a family of four and the wife turned out to be an airline hostess, she quickly got us all chatting and the driver told us that you have to drive like that in NYC or otherwise you don’t get anywhere.  He had obviously had a bad morning but he soon cooled down with the conversation flowing.  America, being the land of ‘tipping’ we gave him a reasonably good tip at the end of the drive to the hotel.  It was something we would have to become accustomed to in the States as we are Australians and are not used to tipping unless there is exceptional service.  We still don’t agree to the amount of tipping that is sometimes demanded but do understand it is because the wages are so low that the hospitality workers rely on tips just to get by.


First time in New York was a little overwhelming, so many things to see and do and we had given ourselves too little time to see and do much.  This was several years after 9/11 and ground zero was just a gaping hole in the ground.  We did a Manhattan Comprehensive day tour of the city and we took in some of the sights such as Statue of Liberty but we didn’t go to the top instead we spent more time in the Ellis Island reception centre museum but I regretted not stepping foot in Central Park during that tour.  Something I would do in a subsequent trip. When we got back to the hotel I decided to find a place to use the internet to write an email or two.  I ended up at Fed-Ex/Kinkos which worked out quite expensive but it was the only place I could find in a short distance.


From NYC we were booked on a 7-day tour of Niagara Falls and Washington DC with Cosmos.  During this tour we got to fly over the Falls in a helicopter, my second flight in a helicopter.  They weren’t running the ‘Maid of the Mist boat cruise as there was still ice along the falls.  The falls were pretty damn spectacular but the town of Niagara across the Canadian border was more like a cheap amusement park with its small wax museums and fun rides.  I did take in the ‘Criminals Hall of Fame’ wax museum, dedicated to the various criminals, either fictional or non-fictional.  There were figures of Ted Bundy alongside Freddy Krueger, it was interesting but a bit silly.  To get to the best viewing point of the falls we crossed the Canadian border and so we could also say that we had been to Canada.  That night we attended the ‘Oh, Canada Eh!’ Dinner show which was quite fun and from memory the food and service was good.


The tour bus then took us to Philadelphia where we stayed overnight before moving on through Annapolis to Washington DC. Sometimes at our hotel stays I would use the hotel’s business centre to check my emails and update people back home to our movements. In Annapolis, I finally found a replacement pair of sunglasses that I liked.  We had also heard of a place that did Clam Chowder, we tried to get it but they had run out so we ended up with Seafood Chowder, not quite the same but still served in a bread bowl.   In Washington we were there to see the various memorials and Arlington Cemetery.  We also went past the infamous Watergate, toured through the Kennedy Centre and stood at the fence to the White House.  Most nights we drank Budweiser and chatted to other group members at the various hotel bars. 


The tour ended back in NYC, by then we had swapped details with a few people and had a group photo.  Though the group was so large and I was in the back of the pack, I can not be seen in the official photo but I am there somewhere. In fact, I was too busy talking with a couple of ladies from Middlesborough in the UK who would later invite me to come check out the 'borough' when we get to the UK.  An offer I did take up, more on this in my next post... We met a bunch of people on this tour, most of them were from the UK, there were a few Aussies and New Zealanders.  This was the first of 3 tours with Cosmos we would do on this trip and each one was different though everything was organized but you still had some time to see and do what you wanted to.  The tours usually had early starts, with bags out of rooms by a certain time followed by breakfast and then on the bus. We’d always have a drink or two after the days touring and of course some dinners were included. It was a good opportunity to chat to others from the tour bus. It was a rather large tour bus and it was full so there were plenty of people to talk to. 


While we were back in NYC, we went for a walk through Macy’s, the well known department store and Penn Station.  We went to the Empire State Building and were intending to go up to the top for the great view of New York but the lineup at that time stretched out of the building and around the block so we decided to give that a miss.  This was something else I would do on a subsequent trip to New York in 2009.  Of course, I didn’t know that at the time and was a little disappointed that we couldn’t take the famous elevator. 


While we were organizing this trip we had decided we might as well take a quick trip to Boston, what we were going to see there we weren’t quite sure but it seemed like something to do.  So, after the tour finished back in NYC, we took a return train trip to the city of Boston, Massacheussettes.  I was not feeling so great after getting a bit of a cold and that it decided to rain for the whole time we were there, not that this was long as the train there was delayed.  However, we did see an old church and the outside of a ‘Cheers’ Bar.  That is about all my memories of Boston… sorry about that.  We caught the train back to NYC, collected our bags from the Hotel and caught a cab to JFK airport for the flight to Heathrow.


Next stop London…. Stay tuned…

Latest comments

10.03 | 19:15

I have stood by and watched a with concern and love. I admire the way you have handled yourself and the situation. My love with you. In admiration. Fly

10.03 | 14:07

Well, come back the TOG you old git. We will love you unconditionally there.

Seriously though, this is a good post. I am sorry for your pain mate.

10.03 | 12:26

Spread your wings you dodo, you might be able to fly.

24.06 | 14:03

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