Tag Archives: experience

Crystal Caves and Stingray City, 2017

The next day, we spent the morning by the pool before hopping on a bus to drive to the Crystal Caves on the other side of the island. On the way we passed the port where the Disney cruise ship was in harbour and Bodden town where the locals live.

Crystal Caves is a new tourist attraction having only been open for about a year. Our tour guide used to explore the caves as a child before they were excavated and lit up. He told us stories of crawling through small crevices and knew what all the plants in the surrounding countryside could be used for.

Our first cave was the open ceiling cave, with funnily enough, a hole in the ceiling. A huge fig tree crowded the entrance and there were bats grouped together sleeping. The next cave was the roots cave where the roots of trees could be seen breaking through the stalactites and stalagmites.

The final cave, the lake cave, was the highlight of the tour as it actually had a blue lake inside the cave. There have been tales of pirates burying treasure here. The caves sparkled like crystal gems and the cool temperatures were a welcome change from the heat of the beach.

After the tour, we headed back to the hotel for a fancy dinner at The Beachhouse. The scallops benedict were delicious and the desserts almost looked better than they tasted. We went to bed early, as we knew the next day was going to be a big one as we were off for a day of sailing to Stingray City.

The morning dawned sunny and we boarded the boat with expectations for a great day out. The catamaran was wide with equipment for sailing and several places that you could sit to get your feet wet. The water was so clear and many different shades of blue and aqua. Once the sails went up, it was so beautifully quiet and peaceful.

Stingray City is a sandbar where stingrays gather out of a habit that started a few years ago when fisherman started to feed them. Now, Stingray City is a haven for cruise ship day-trippers as they all crowd around seeking a spot for that perfect photo opportunity.

Nevertheless, our boat crew seemed to be responsible for the animal’s welfare, gently handling the animals and giving us all an opportunity to hug and kiss a stingray one by one.

I was apprehensive at first; being an Aussie I had heard all the reports about Steve Irwin getting killed by a stingray, but these sting rays were smoother than I thought and not at all aggressive.

It was a crazy cool experience and I am glad that we had the opportunity to do something so lovely and unusual.

Related posts: Caribbean rum, 2017Grand Cayman, 2017Solo trip to Hawaii, 2014Isla Mujeres and Cancun, 2011

Japan, 2016

I thought Japan would be more different, more like the other and difficult to converse in- a challenge.

However, it seems that Japanese culture is somewhat familiar and the locals are used to tourists, perhaps because so many Australians now go to Japan to ski. Even in the smaller places, everyone spoke enough English for us to get by.

Despite the lack of anticipated culture shock, it was still a wonderful trip with lots to see, do and experience. The people were polite, friendly and helpful and the place was incredibly safe. The thought of getting pick pocketed never crossed my mind.

Tokyo was a crazy mish-mash of so many different things in so many different areas that I could not say that I have a clear picture of the city. There were lots of people too of course.

The ‘smaller town’ of Kanazawa felt more traditional and there were some beautiful places and moments to be experienced there. From here, our day trip to Takeyama took us through lovely countryside.

Kyoto was full of temples and the top sights, but was also the place where we felt the most at home, perhaps due to our friendly daily coffee shop lady and the local supermarket close by. We also went to an onsen in nearby Nantan where there were no other tourists.

Osaka seemed like the most liveable city with a great atmosphere and our day trip to Nara from here was a surprising highlight.

Finally, the other world of Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea, transported us to the happiest place on earth and did it so well that we almost forgot we were in Japan.

Then of course, there is the culinary journey that is Japan. Rather than trying specific restaurants, we sampled the cuisine known in each area, as everywhere had good food. I discovered that it is true that the best food we found was near the train stations and I did get a bit rice and noodled out.

Through it all, many questions came to mind that made me want to read and learn more about Japanese culture. The mixture of tradition and modernity, Asian and Western, was intriguing. Even though Japan may not be the other, I think we still only scratched the surface and there is much more exploring needed to unlock the secrets of this interesting country.

Next time: we start the journey in Tokyo.

Who are you?

How much do you ever really know someone? You can think that you know someone and then they turn out not to be what you thought they were at all. It’s when you find out that they were deliberately hiding their real self from you that you get a little mystified.

Perhaps you are only seeing one face of their multiple personality. I’m a pretty honest and open person myself, but sure, I may act a little differently around work colleagues than I do with my bestie.

It wasn’t always this way, but experience has taught me that it is often not wise to be yourself around certain people that may choose to use this against you. Perhaps this is a wisdom that comes with a little age?

Others seem to be themselves all the time no matter who they are with. Either they don’t know or don’t care what others think and it doesn’t bother them.

I am like this to a certain degree, but also recognise that we still live in a society of people where others may get hurt if you are 100% honest all the time. There’s no harm in a little sugar coating it a little every now and then and modifying your behaviour. Or is there?

You might think you know what it’s like to be in somebody’s shoes, but you can never really know. You can empathise, but you didn’t go through their life experiences and you are not in their head, so you can never really know what it’s like to be them.

You can’t know what it was like to grow up in a particular home unless you were there, and even then you experience of and reaction to it may be different. You may think you know what your husband is thinking (and sometimes you do), but how can you really ever know?

The other day I judged someone I had just met on my first impressions of them, which turned out to be wrong. I guess everyone does this sometimes.

What I forgot was that this was just a small part of who this person was that I was seeing. It was the part they chose to show me, perhaps in nervousness. I think I sensed that they were not being their real self and I didn’t like that.

In reality it takes time to get to know someone, so it was a useful reminder to not immediately judge. After all, aren’t we all weird in our own uniqueness?

Related post: I’m happy for you, Is it just me?, The seven year itch, Relationships: my five (per)cents worth

It’s a European Thing

A trip around Europe is a backpacker right of passage, especially if you’re an Aussie. Staying in hostels, bumping into the same people on same route and exploring the other side of the world.

Most enter through the gateway of Amsterdam, a city whose liberal attitude may appear shocking to most, intriguing to some and even normal to others.

I remember the flatness of Holland and the smallness of Belgium where you could pass through it and be in 3 countries in one day. There is the beauty of the canals of Bruges and the discovery of Italy, where every city is different.

There is the history of Rome and Pompeii, the craziness of Venice and the little gems you find along the way, like Verona. And then there are more ruins in Athens.

It’s the Asian culture of Istanbul that leaves you wanting more and the bleakness of Eastern Europe on the cusp of Russia. Closely followed by the opulence of Vienna.

Then there is the gothic wonderland of Prague, before finishing off with party time in Berlin.

My first trip to Europe still lives brightly in my memory, even though it was taken a lifetime ago. Each country had a different culture, language and even a different currency.

No matter how many times I go to Europe, there always seems to be more to see.

I have never been to Scandinavia, Liechtenstein or Poland. I missed Ghent in Belgium and countless other places in Italy.

Like Cinque Terre, Siena and the Amalfi coast. I never got to properly taste wine in Tuscany, see the fountains at Tivoli or go to the island of Sicily.

I missed out on visiting an island in Greece, I’m sure Eastern Europe is quite different now to what it was then; and the Cesky Kromlov seems to be the place to go now instead of Prague.

I know there is more to Germany than just Berlin, like Dresden, seeing Sleeping Beauty’s castle and shopping at a Christmas market.

I can’t wait for my next magical European experience even if it is not in the near future, because a continent this diverse is definitely worth waiting for.

Related posts: It’s an English Thing, It’s a Spanish Thing, It’s a water thing, It’s a French Thing, Europe, 2006, Europe, 2003, England, 2002, Berlin, 1997, Part 2: To the East

Having it all?

The concept of having it all is nothing new. We are all told as young girls that we can have it all- the handsome prince, the massive castle, 2.2 kids and the brilliant career.

But in today’s time poor society, is there room to have it all?

Being in a relationship takes work, having a big house costs money, the kids need a bit of both and the career takes up 8 hours plus a day. Factor in family, friends and finding time for yourself and it all can be a little overwhelming. Most of us, having all these things to juggle will find that one thing or the other suffers at some point.

I recently heard from a wiser woman, that what it really is about is choosing what’s important to you. But that is easier said than done. It takes time to figure out what the highest priority is and this can also change from time to time.

So what do you do?

Realise that you can’t please everyone. Sometimes that work deadline will have to be delayed so that you can pick up the kids from daycare, and the world won’t end if it does. On the flipside, maybe you are lucky enough to have a husband that can pick up the kids so that you can stay late at work if you have to.

It’s about choosing your battles. There are some wars that are not negotiable. Your husband may have to wait for their quality time until the kids go to bed, but that’s ok, as long as you don’t forget about him completely of course. Maybe you will have to take a step back from your career, but make sure you leave your options open in case you ever want to return. The grass is always greener right?

Sometimes an earlier than normal start or a later than normal finish to get in some exercise or spend time on a hobby are a necessity to feed your body and your soul. Yes, it’s time away from the family, but won’t you be happier and more present when you have been able to find this time for yourself?

Me, I’m still figuring it all out. Sometimes, that concept of work life balance and following my dreams seems very far away, but on my more positive days it feels like a distinct possibility. All I can do is make the most of what I have and not regret the decisions I have made that seemed like the best ones at the time.

Oh, and the battle about what’s more important- a big house or travel experiences- that one can wait for another day. When I’m not so busy.

Related posts: Reinvention, New Beginnings, Emotion vs Logic,  Good vs Evil, Pride vs The FallDreams vs Reality

Universal vs Personal

In life (in the western world anyway), there are certain universal experiences that everyone goes through. We are all born to two parents, have brothers and sisters, grow up, go to school, attend university, move out of home, get a job, get married, have kids and start a life of our own.

However, not everyone has siblings, the opportunities of higher education or wants to get married and have kids. In fact, if you believe the research, Gen Y is never going to move out of home, probably because they will never be able to afford the ridiculous property prices in Sydney.

And so, as much as we all have universal experiences that help us relate to other people, life is also intensely personal; and we are all individuals who react to certain situations differently.

The same goes for travel. When all my friends were taking the universal route of going to university and I thought I was going on a personal track of backpacking around Europe; I discovered that this traveling was actually another one of those universal experiences called a gap year and there were loads of other Aussies and people from other countries doing exactly the same thing.

We all followed the same general route, went to the same places listed in the guidebook and had similar experiences. We shared our take on places with new arrivals to the hostel and generally there was a consensus about the best places to go. But of course, as individuals, we were all into some bizarrely different things and our experience of even a very well known place was individual.

That’s why, even though the internet can tell you the universal experience of travelling to a place and I can tell you my personal observations, the best thing to do is go and see for yourself.

Not everyone likes the Eiffel Tower in Paris, wants to go bungee jumping in New Zealand or drink soju in South Korea. Your individual experience may be completely different to mine or anybody else’s, and wouldn’t you have hated to miss seeing a place you fall in love with just because everyone else told you it wasn’t worth the effort?

Related posts: People vs Place, Adventurous vs Risk taker

It’s an English Thing

Whenever somebody asks me where I am from, I always pause to answer.

I was born in Weymouth, England to an English father and a Sri Lankan mother. We lived in and out of England for the first few years of my life, I went to pre-school there, and then we moved to Australia where I grew up in Berry, NSW and was brought up as an Australian.

However, my father never really lost his accent (I still pronounce garage differently to everyone I know), I received a UK passport at birth and have spent a few trips, including a gap year, back in England.

My grandmother never left Weymouth and I always loved going back to visit her. The green rolling hillsides, the little wishing well behind her house and the thatched rooved cottages. The typical English seafront, the rocky beach and the harbour filled with fishing boats. The gorgeous Dorset countryside of quirky towns, white cliffs plunging into the blue Channel and walks through fields picking blackberries along the way.

I also love the city of London. Red telephone boxes, double decker buses, Big Ben, the tube and my favourite Tower of London. I love the parks, the palaces, the plays and the feeling of being at the centre of the world when you walk down Oxford St. I like mixing with the hip crowd at Covent Garden, standing on the edge of Greenwich Mean Time and imagining what it would be like to live inside the houses of Notting Hill. I enjoy seeing the gold encrusted Buckingham Palace gates, Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square and the bustling Piccadilly Circus. It’s also fun meeting all your Australian mates in a London pub as they are living there temporarily too.

So of course, I am Australia, but I also identify with all things English.

I was brought up on Sooty and Sweep, Noddy and Blue Peter on the TV, Punch and Judy shows at the sands and reading Beatrix Potter and Rupert at bedtime. I enjoyed eating treats from grandma like Hula Hoops, Hob Nobs and Quality Streets.

It’s always fun to go shopping at Boots, Marks and Spencers, H&M and window shopping at Harrods. I love drinking at one of the many great traditional English pubs with the same names in different places like The Golden Lion, The Red Lion, The Swan, the White Hart, The George Inn, The King’s Arms; and running to get into a nightclub before lock out. I have seen people being out on the pull for a snog, have worn a thong on my bottom instead of my feet and flitted off to Europe for a long weekend to escape the long dark winters.

The English culture is not so different to ours which makes it easy to relate to and it’s those little details that help strike up a conversation with a visiting Brit come to Australia to escape the bad weather for a time.

So, I guess I’m not English, as you are from where you grow up. But it is nice to know that I have the experience and knowledge to morph into an English person if needs be.

Related posts: It’s a Spanish Thing,  Toys, People vs Place, England, 2006England, 1997

New Beginnings

At the moment, I am in the process of leaving the job I have been in for the longest in my career for a new role in a different industry, and it got me thinking about new beginnings.

New beginnings are exhilarating and exciting. Who knows what I will discover about myself, what new skills I will learn and whom I will meet?

Serial monogamists know what I’m talking about. Everything at the beginning of a relationship is perfect. There’s your first date, your first kiss, even your first difference of opinion is a milestone. Nothing is tarnished and life is good.

But once the shiny fades, and it is inevitably discovered that your new beau isn’t perfect, the temptation to leave and find another new beginning arises. It’s addictive.

However, if you stick around, you may discover that you’re not perfect either, that your imperfections balance each other out and end up with something more real. Something with depth and long-term prospects.

But at the end of the day, if you have tried for a new beginning in the familiar and your heart just isn’t in it anymore, it may be time to quit and go for a new beginning on the outside- especially if your happiness depends on it.

New beginnings in life can be scary, but they can also be interesting. One new beginning could change the course of your life forever. And isn’t that what this experience called life is all about?

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Discovery

When you are a kid the whole world is a place of discovery.

A 5 minute walk to park can take 50 minutes as there is so much to see along the way.

There’s the neighbours in the hallway and the trees next to the path. And the person with a dog passing by and the telephone box that I need to talk on. And the bus at the bus stop and the seat at the bus stop. And the man changing the sign at the bus stop.

There’s the kid on the other side of the road and the one riding by on a bike. And there’s that wrapper someone dropped and the fluffy toy that I dropped. Oh, and oops- lost my shoe, need to put that back on.

Now I’m hungry- I need a snack. And look at that flower, so pretty, I’m going to pick it for you. And I need to walk on this wall, and go back and do it again- this could take a while. Lucky we have all day.

The park itself is a world created just for me. There are other kids to play with and a swing I could stay on for hours. Sometimes the slide goes a bit fast, but it’s scary fun. And the round about is the best, even if I walk a bit funny afterwards.

The shopping centre is a wonderland of colours, lights and so many different people. Here there’s discovering new food like chocolate cupcakes and cappuccino’s and the yummy aisles in the supermarket. And all my favourite characters from TV on the toy shelf and the toiletry aisle at the pharmacy. There’s so much to see and do that sometimes its all gets a bit too much.

Bus trips are a whole new exciting adventure. First we have to wait at the bus stop and then wave at the bus driver. And sit down and look around at all the people. I always make new friends on the bus and like pushing the button when it’s time to get off. Often I don’t even like where we are going as much as the bus trip there.

And then there was that time I went on the merry-go-round for the first time. I was too little to go on the horses, but they were so pretty. Next time, when I’m bigger, I’m going to go on the Ferris Wheel.

Every day brings a new discovery and a new experience when you are a toddler.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our own backyard always stayed so interesting?

Related posts: Kid at Heart, It’s the simple things

People vs Place

Discovering new places is always a big drawcard for me when I am choosing where to go to next.

I try to go to a new place every year and love discovering new towns, cities and countries.

I have more places on my want to see list than I have seen, as my Pintrest boards will attest to.

There are the places that are higher in priority like Japan, Cambodia and going on an African safari. And those I know I won’t get to for a while like Portugal, Malta and seeing the Northern lights. Plus places I don’t even know exist yet that I want to see.

Then there are my favourite places that I always want to go back to like Paris, San Francisco and New York.

So, why do I keep going back to places I have already been?

To discover new areas in places I am familiar with of course; and have new experiences.

Wherever you go and no matter for how long, there is never enough time to fit everything in. I missed Mont St Michel when I went to France and Rio de Janeiro in South America; plus all the other places in America in other states than the ones I got to.

But a lot of the time, I find myself returning to places because of the people.

I am fortunate enough to have family and friends in a few of my favourite places- London, Vancouver and Barcelona. There are more in Belgium, Singapore and Sri Lanka; plus other areas of England, America and Canada. Even around Australia if I feel like a domestic trip.

Perhaps part of the reason they are my favourite places is because of the people and the unique experiences they have given me (as well as a reason to come back). They have shown me places that are not in the guidebook or on my to see list, but turned out to be the best fun.

Of course fun times eating, drinking and going out are much better if you have some local friends to guide you. And sometimes the fun in a place is just seeing the people you love in the place that they love.

And there are always those people that I met on a trip to a place that may inspire a trip to a new place. The unknown element is one of the great things about meeting people when you travel to new places.

So I guess the perfect scenario is a mixture of both place and people. Or even better, you can meet up with people in new places to both of you and all have a great new experience together.

Who’s up for it?

Related posts: It’s a Sri Lanka Thing, It’s a French Thing