Sunday, January 29, 2012

Visiting Sentosa (with the rest of Singapore)

Wikipedia reliably informs me that the Malay translation of Sentosa is peace and tranquillity, so naturally it was high on our list of places to visit while we were in Singapore last week.

The Littlest Hobo wasn't very well while we were in Singapore so we ended up dropping most of our plans in favour of taking it easy and trying to get her better, but on our last free day, after a better nights sleep, we decided we could re-discover the world beyond the hotel room and went for a day out to Sentosa Island Resort.

We got there using the SMRT underground train, which was an experience in itself given I'm rarely keen to travel on underground transport. But the MRT was clean, quick and functional, and felt safe and spacious, which were all big pluses. The Littlest Hobo was the main attraction on our short journey; with her blonde curly hair and overall cuteness this seems to be rule of thumb whenever we are in Asia.

We got off the train at Vivo City shopping centre (which was huge) and opted to walk across the boardwalk to Sentosa Island - alternatives were to ride the cable car or take the monorail. The walk took about 10 minutes and the walkway had several moving platforms, which was very welcome in the humidity of Singapore. As with much of Singapore, it was immaculately manicured and well maintained. When we arrived on the Island we paid for our entry - $1 per person and the Littlest Hobo was free. We couldn't really work out the point behind the $1 fee, but I'm sure there's some logic in there somewhere.

On the boardwalk

Once inside we started to wander in the general direction everyone else was heading in, and soon came across Resorts World, which is the main area for restaurants and hotels. It's also where the entrance to Universal Studios is housed, and a large portion of the crowd seemed to drop off at this point so Universal is obviously a big reason for many people visiting. This area felt really Disneylandesque, as much as I could remember from my one visit to Disney twenty or so years ago. The Littlest Hobo was quite taken with the giant M&M's at the huge sweet shop - that's the closest she'll be getting to a peanut M&M any time soon!

Just beware of the nuts! 

We'd decided to head for Underwater World, and see how we got on there before deciding whether to go to anything else on the island. I was also keen to see the Merlion, and to have a look around the Sentosa Flowers exhibit, which happens for a few days every year around Chinese New Year. The Littlest Hobo had given Mr T a promise of tickets to the Songs of the Sea show for his birthday, so we were hoping to hold out to see it in the evening, but didn't know if we would manage to.

Sentosa flowers exhibit

Looking at the map before we went, I had imagined Sentosa to be about the same size as a theme park. The reality was very different - the place is huge! Given how small a proportion of the map Universal Studios occupied, I really should have been able to figure this out before we went, but it just didn't sink in until we got there and realised that Underwater World, at the far end of the island, was going to take us quite a while to walk to. On top of this, we went up one escalator away from Resort World and onto Merlion Walk, which housed the Sentosa Flowers exhibit, to discover that the vast majority of the p[opulation of Singapore were also spending the second day of Chinese New Year on Sentosa. We fought through the crowds, largely choosing to by-pass the flowers as this seemed to be where the main mass of people were congregating, and headed up the hill using a series of escalators. In amongst our horror at the craziness of the area, which is usually described as a nature trail, and our scramble to get past it, I did take a few seconds to look around and thought how beautiful it would be without 50,000 other people sharing the immediate vicinity with us.

The Sentosa merlion, with part of the Sentosa Flowers exhibition at the foot

By the time we'd got to the top of the hill, and fought our way through yet more people dressed in their new year finery and waiting to have their pictures taken amongst the flower displays, and a group of snake charmers who were pulling quite a crowd, we decided to sit down for a drink and some lunch. We were right at the crest of the hill, so, short of finding somewhere indoors and air-conditioned, this was the coolest place we would be likely to find - pretty appealing really. We bought three chicken hot dogs, which we didn't realise were cold until we bit into them, a water each and two cold beers - that'll be $40 of your hard earned cash please. I still suspect that it was this hot dog that gave me the upset stomach that lasted until yesterday.

Beer and hotdogs at a premium

We continued on our trek to the far end of the island, made slightly more complicated by the lack of signage for anything other than those attractions within the immediate surroundings, but we worked it out and headed for the beach as the littlest hobo was asleep in the stroller. It was a really nice beach with lots of space and some sahdes dotted around. The slope into the water was relatively steep, but otherwise, the beach was fairly child friendly.

Underwater World

We made our way to Underwater World - we paid $26 for each of the adults and the littlest hobo was free as an under 3. We took about half an hour walking around the indoor areas, including an underwater tunnel which had a novel moving walkway which you could step off if you wanted to spend a bit more time in that section. We then made our way to the outdoor dolphin arena, where unfortunately a show was just finishing, and the next one wasn't starting for another hour and a half. We waited around for a little while but there really wasn't much else to do, and we were pretty exhausted from our hike around the island, so we jumped in a taxi and headed back to our hotel.

My favourite exhibit in Underwater world was the jellyfish

I was a bit disappointed in Underwater World - maybe we have been spoilt with Sydney Aquarium, but I just felt that there wasn't enough here. In fact, the whole of Sentosa was a bit disappointing - possibly it would have been different had we not been visiting on what was probably one of the busiest days of the year, and possibly it wouldn't. We arrived wondering why we hadn't booked a hotel on the island, and left thankful that we hadn't.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

When the weather gets cold....

...sitting here in the warm, humid Brisbane 'burbs, trying to keep cool and avoid developing a full on 'fro from the damp air, having just a week ago departed from the chilly Northern hemisphere, i feel a million miles from the idea of 'when the weather gets cold', but this weeks BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge prompt is all about winter travel. 

When the weather gets cold, do you prefer to head to sunnier locales or do you love the outdoor adventures or off-season prices of winter? Warm or cold, what’s your dream winter travel destination, and do you have any travel plans for the coming months? 

If we go on gut instincts I definitely lean towards the sunny side of the street, and I'm probably more of a fair weather traveller than a snow princess. Although we don't let it lead us entirely, our travel plans for the year have been influenced by trying not too spend too much time in winter climes, although we've also been trying to work a little bit of snow somewhere into the schedule too! 

Too long in the cool weather and I find myself craving a sunny beach, but travelling off-season definitely has it's advantages too. The littlest hobo, while pretty adaptable, like many young children doesn't cope too well when it's really hot, so avoiding those super hot times means we can usually get out and about and have a more enjoyable time on our travels.

All rugged up for a bike ride at Centre Parcs in France, December 2011

Travelling off season also has the advantage of beating the crowds and getting better prices, as we discovered on our recent stay at Centre Parcs. I don't know that it would have been anywhere near as pleasurable if it had been mobbed as it's supposed to be in the school holidays! It's great visiting places and actually getting time to enjoy them without having to share the experience with every man and his dog. On the flip-side, travelling on a full flight at a peak time can have it's advantages when you are lucky enough to get upgraded, like we were on our flight from Singapore to Sydney the other day! 

The heavy rain that has been falling outside our window for the last few hours is evidence enough that you can be subject to weather that scuppers your plans for the day at any time of year - lucky for us we are laying low in the hope that the littlest hobo, who has been sick since we left the UK, will start to feel a bit better, so the inhospitable outdoor setting just makes that easier to do, otherwise I'm sure it would be inducing cabin fever. 

Ultimately, for us, the main drive behind travel comes down to experiences, and too much time doing any one thing means it just becomes the norm - a change in seasons can be the key to doing different things - while warm weather begs for the outdoors to be explored, cold or wet days make museums and other indoor activities more appealing. There's something invigorating about stepping outside into cold air, wrapped up snug in your winter clothes, but right now I'm enjoying the wieghtlessness of my summer clothes on my back. Maybe that's the way that human instinct goes, and why the world turns the way it does - we need the change to keep it all appealing. For now, the beach is calling me, but give it a couple of months and I'm sure a roaring log fire on a cold wintry New Zealand day will be calling my name. 

Do you have a preference for summer/winter travel?

This post was inspired by and forms part of the BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge - a prompt, question or challenge, every week for the year of 2012. I'm hoping that it will be a little more realistic for me to achieve than a photo a day proved to be in 2011!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

You learn something new every day, just think what you can achieve in a year!

This week, the BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge posed the question; What would you like to learn through travel in 2012.

There are the obvious ones - I'm doing my Photography Institute diploma at the moment and plan to finish that this year, and Mr Traveller is hanging out to do another cookery course or two. Of course we want to learn about the places that we're visiting, and the people that live their, and I'm sure we'll also learn quite a bit about how to, and how not to, travel with a toddler. After our dash half way across the globe a couple of days ago I think it's safe to say that we still need to learn how to pack a bit lighter; I really hope we can get that down pat by the end of this year. Seriously, do we really need to take our electric toothbrush around the world with us?!

Focussing on photography

But I think the most important thing for us to learn as a family this year is a bit about ourselves. We need to establish what we want to do next. When we set out on this journey, we knew we wanted to see a bit of the world, take more time to appreciate the things we never had time to stop and take in properly in the past, and spend more time together. But what we didn't know, and couldn't agree on, is what we wanted next. We've got to decide which country we will live in; Australia, the UK or somewhere else entirely. We know we're not perpetual full time travellers. While I fully appreciate the sentiment of it, home schooling isn't our thing, and having experienced a relatively large amount of moving around as a child, I'm not sure that that's what I want for the littlest hobo either. So we want to settle back down somewhere, but where? In that typical expat way, our family and friends are precariously positioned at intermittent points around the globe; how inconsiderate that they're not all just sitting in some sleepy little village waiting for us to come back and life to resume!. And surely it's somewhat inevitable that what we are doing now will have some influence on the lifestyle we choose then - chances are we're not going to want to live the 5 days a week office working big disposable income little time to spend it lifestyle that we previously enjoyed. I want chooks that lay eggs, I want a veggie patch and a herb garden that I manage to cultivate sometime beyond 2 weeks. I want time for my family, and time to take photographs and to relax. But I love the city too, I love the action, and the convenience and the people. So I need to spend some time thinking about that and work out what I really want, and which little corner of the great wide world can best offer that to us, and Mr T needs to do the same thing. Our learning for 2012 is all about delving deep inside our own minds and getting to know ourselves.

What are you hoping to learn in 2012?

This post was inspired by and forms part of the Boots n All 2012 Indie Travel Challenge - a prompt, question or challenge, every week for the year of 2012. I'm hoping that it will be a little more realistic for me to achieve than a photo a day proved to be in 2011!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hello Singapore!

We arrived safely in Singapore last night, checked into our hotel and went for a wander to get some food. We haven't done much today as we've been battling the jet lag and the littlest hobo has having a hard time with the air con making her cough (and vomit while we were in the restaurant having breakfast, oh yay) so we've been taking it easy, just walking around the area and enjoying the hotel facilities. Here are a few highlights of the day in pictures though:
Wake up... wake up! I'm so happy that you have managed to sleep through the jet lag but it's 7.30am and we're sooo hungry!

There was a really dramatic storm with some huge crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning, so what do I do? Head out on the street with my camera of course!

Bugis junction, all decked out for Chinese New Year
Mandarins are seen as symbols of abundance and good fortune during Chinese New Year, so there are mandarin trees with money envelopes attached to them everywhere, and they look great!
An evening swim in the rain in the rooftop pool after the storm had finally subsided
Just as we were about to leave the rooftop we were treated to a fantastic and unexpected fireworks display - I was caught unaware so the photography is pretty rubbish, but it was a spectacular display, with loads of planet shapes and hearts, and I can't wait to see the Chinese New Year main event now that we've located a perfect viewing spot!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Crowne Plaza St James

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza St James, in London for our wedding anniversary in December. It's really well located a few minutes walk from Buckingham Palace, Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Victoria. It's also well served by transport links although it sits on a relatively quiet road, so makes a great central spot for exploring London without the hussle and bustle that many city centre locations come with.

Big Ben and Parliament is about 10 minutes walk away

The staff on reception were friendly and welcoming when we arrived, and the reception and lounge area was really beautifully decorated for Christmas.

We're quite keen on airline frequent flier cards and hotel cards so we collect Priority Club points (Intercontinental Hotels Group) and tend to favour their hotels where possible/reasonable, which means that we will often choose to stay at Crowne Plaza, Intercontinental and Holiday Inns amongst others. We're currently gold members, and one of the advantages of this is that we are offered an upgrade where possible - we were lucky to receive our upgrade on this trip. we were also offered a special Priority Club promotion on check in where we could choose between a free drink in the bar, 500 extra points or a treats bag. On Mr T's insistence we took the treats bag and lived to regret it given the bottle of water, bag of minstrels and packet of nuts that was inside - should have gone for the points considering how much upcoming travel we're doing.

Our room, on the second floor, was massive. It was a regular sized room, with a big dressing room off that and a bathroom off that. It looked out over the courtyard, which was large and made for pleasant viewing, especially with all the Christmas lights up, and made for a quiet outlook rather than the noise of the streets of London.

The pretty courtyard at night
When we first walked in I saw red cords either side of the bed and, being a bit slow off the mark said 'I wonder if this place used to be a hospital?' Then I looked around at the smooth wooden floors, and checked out the bathroom with it's walk in shower and low level sink and bath, grab rails, and more red cords, and the penny dropped that it was a wheelchair accessible room. I'm not entirely sure of everything you would look for in an accessible room, but this one seemed pretty well equipped to my untrained eye.

Bedroom with shiny wooden floors and comfy big bed

Huge bathroom!

Whenever we get to a new place Mr T likes to check out every nook and cranny, open all the doors and generally get to know his environment intimately, so while I was looking at the bathroom he carried on with that. I heard him exclaim and ran back into the bedroom to find that he had opened the interconnecting door to the room next door, only to find that there was actually someone staying in the room, with the tv on and the laptop set up on the desk as if they had just popped to the loo! He quickly shut our door and locked it from our side, but I wonder whether they heard him?!

We went to watch We will Rock You at the theatre (it was very good by the way) so we didn't eat in the hotel at all, but we did go for a couple of cocktails in Zander Bar. Most of the menu was priced as you would expect for a London hotel, but we found a fairly extensive list of cocktails that were all about half price, making them fantastic value - cue a giggly Mrs T!

Cocktails in Zander Bar - this one was pre-discovery of cheaper list, but it was soooo tasty!

We didn't eat breakfast at the hotel based on the fact that it wasn't included in our room rate and so was extortionately priced. We went round the corner to House of Fraser (3 min walk away) and had a tasty breakfast for a quarter of the price! 

I'd read a couple of negative reviews online about the hotel, based on:
noise from the courtyard - we didn't experience any, but perhaps that would be different in the summer when people can drink and dine outside
noise from the tube, which runs directly below the hotel - we heard the distant rumble of passing trains, but it wasn't loud enough to bother us and definitely didn't disturb our sleep
building work - we saw that there was scaffolding up but didn't have any issues
it was in need of refurb and updating - our room was fine, in good condition but it did appear to have been decorated some time ago and in keeping with the age of the building, which to me was quite charming. The corridors were a bit odd, with some being beautifully decorated in a contemporary but sympathetic style, and others looking really quite dated, but it was all clean and well looked after which to me is the most important thing

All in all, it was a pleasant stay in a well located and charming hotel - I like a building with a little history and character, and this fitted the bill. It would definitely make my list of recommendations for London hotels.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Travelling the indie way

I don't own a backpack, I'm rather partial to a business class seat, and I've never stayed in a hostel. So when I saw that last weeks prompt for the BootsnAll 2012 Indie Travel Challenge was 'Are you an indie traveller? What makes someone an indie traveller?', my heart sunk a little and I had that same feeling you get when you're picked last for the rounders team. I didn't really know if I'd be justified in calling myself an indie traveller - don't you have to be a bit out there and grungy, have several oversized jumpers that look good over leggings and have a life long subscription to the Inspiral Carpets fan club to call yourself indie? Thankfully, Mr T set me straight on that one and a little googling later I can tell you that an indie traveller is one who is not being led by a tour guide.

Apart from a few forays as a teen and early twentysomething into the alcopop fuelled 18-30 package scene that are best filed in the most dusty depths of my memory for time immemorial, and the odd one or two Canarian weeks away as a kid, I have, by definition, always been an indie traveller. As a family, we don't do packages, I don't recall us ever following a tour, and it generally suits us best to move to the beat of our own drum. But I suspect there's a bit more to it than that, and such a simplified definition doesn't really do much justice to the whole mindset that lies behind the notion of an indie traveller.

A sense of adventure must surely be the first pre-requisite. A desire, almost a need, to explore and discover more, wherever you may be. They've got the wanderlust gene and they just can't help themselves from exercising it.

A longing to experience it. Reading about it isn't enough; in fact reading about it just makes it even more paramount that you go and see for yourself. You want to see, feel, taste, smell it for yourself. Whizzing through, seeing the sights from a bus just doesn't cut it for the indie traveller, you need to get right in there and be part of it.

Living like a local is important too. Sit quietly and watch, adnd you'll be amazed by what you discover. walk the back streets, and get off the beaten track. Chat to the locals and find out what they recommend, use their language, even if it's only a few words or key phrases and you will make connections and reap the rewards. The indie traveller wants more than just the top five sights to see in Lisbon, they want to discover the hidden gems too. And they generally want to spent more than 4 hours exploring a city. We regularly used to tack weekend trips onto the end of a business trip and we'd try to pack as much as we could into a weekend, but we learnt a while ago that when you're travelling with a toddler, moving to a different spot every day or visiting eight sights on 6 hours is no fun for anyone, and as a result we're having a much better travelling experience and discovering many more interesting moments.

Buying local produce on market day in Duras was a great way for us to see what the locals were up to and practice our French. 

Indie travellers take every opportunity to seize the moment and explore. Every day becomes a viable circumstance for a new experience. Some, like us, take an extended portion of time out from their everyday lives (or a long term lifestyle change) to allow the opportunity to fulfil their travel desires. Others take regular trips, and others still have a home base that they stick close to, but they're tourists in their own town, and know their locale intimately.

Change is exciting. Sure, it's a little bit scary for most people, but that adrenalin rush that it gives you is pretty addictive, if you're that way inclined, and you'll always be on the look out for your next new experience hit.

What's it's not about is money. Whether you stick to $11 a night hostels and sustain yourself solely on jam sandwiches and water or you stay five star and quaff Cristal on a weekly basis is irrelevant. Indie travel is all about the experience, and if you're that way inclined you make it happen no matter what.

Anyone for champers, what? 

You don't have to be a hippie to be an indie traveller. You are allowed to wash your clothes as often as you like, and wearing shoes isn't a problem. You don't even need to hitch-hike. You make your rules and do it your way; it's all about the experience.

In my mind, you can't WANT to be an indie traveller. If that's the way you feel then you already are one. You're on a spiritual journey and you've got that internal yearning that keeps you discovering and you can't hold yourself back. Don't fight it! It's something you were born with and no matter how you bash it down, it'll keep popping back up and making you search for your next experience - go out and make memories!

Experience is the word of the day for the indie traveller. I realise that I've used it A LOT in this post, and I spent a while thinking about alternatives but really nothing else sums indie travel up so well to me - it's all about the experience.

What does indie travel mean to you? Are you an indie traveller?

This post was inspired by and forms part of the Boots n All 2012 Indie Travel Challenge - a prompt, question or challenge, every week for the year of 2012. I'm hoping that it will be a little more realistic for me to achieve than a photo a day proved to be in 2011!

Friday, January 13, 2012

I've been a bit quiet...

We leave in under a week for Singapore (cue excited sounds), so we've been tying up lots of loose ends. For the first time ever we were almost packed more than a week before our departure date - it wasn't a pain free task, and it took a whole day to go through the mounds of 'stuff' that we've collected over the last 6 months. I'm glad to say that this time around I think we really do see it as just stuff, and while my sister-in-law is being kind enough to store three or four boxes in her loft, we've been a lot more ruthless than we were when we left Sydney, giving away so many things and I'm pretty sure we'll leave here with at least one less suitcase than we arrived with, thankfully, given we didn't really have enough hands to manage them all last time!

Sorting through our supposedly meagre possessions!

We're up to date now with doctor and dentist visits, and we've got spares of the littlest hobo's medications which makes me feel a lot more at ease about being on the move with her. I've also been on a couple of shopping trips, as the littlest hobo was thoughtful enough to have a massive growth spurt in the last couple of weeks, which means that we can buy her some trousers that aren't hovering above her ankles from the wide selection of favourably priced options that the UK has to offer, in comparison to Antipodean wares.

We've spent time catching up with some dear friends and family who we haven't spent enough time with while we've been in the UK - and spending time with these people definitely puts a UK vote on the where-to-live-when-we've-finished-travelling-o-meter for me, although the weather is less than endearing, and I'm sure that once I see our Aussie friends and family in a few weeks I'll feel completely torn once again.

We've planned and re-planned our trip, and chopped and changed our minds about what we want to do. We have booked our flights back to the UK later in the year so that we can see my nephew and soon to be niece-in-law tie the knot. We'd been scouting about to get prices for our budget (yes really, a budget is actually coming together, at long last) and I stumbled upon an amazing deal with Iceland Air so we snapped it up and added a few days in Reykjavik to our travels. The budget has been an interesting and long overdue project - luckily we had come up with similar calculations in our heads of how much we wanted to spend overall, so now we just have to make it work.

I've made a half hearted effort at getting all my digital ducks into a row, mainly driven by trip planning and wanting to have some new mediums to conduct travel research, so I logged back onto Twitter after two years absence. It's a different place to the one that I snubbed back then, and although I'm still finding my way and have a lot of learning to do, the first 24 hours have been quite a pleasant experience and it seems to be proving it's worth much more than previously. I need to get my head around those hash tags though! I've also been making sure all my photo back ups are up to date and making the most of cloud computing to ensure that everything we need should be accessible wherever we have an internet connection on the road.

Mr T is in Amsterdam living it up on a lads trip at the moment, and tomorrow, just as he returns I am meeting up with 6 old uni friends, all but one of whom I haven't seen for over 10 years, and it's almost 15 years since our little group formed when we found ourselves bundled together as freshers in our halls of residence. It seemed like a great idea when we started organising it, but as the time has approached I feel so nervous about seeing all of these people again, when I feel like such a different person now. I've spoken to a couple of them on the phone and the nervousness seems to be running rife amongst us all, but it is exciting too!

We've got a busy week ahead of us catching up with more friends and family one last time before we head off, so I haven't really got that feeling of waiting around and being desperate to get going, more one of trying to cram every last thing into the time that I can (better cramming people into days than extra clothing into suitcases!), which seems far preferable. The reality that we are going to be spending the next 9 months floating around hasn't really sunk in yet, I've a feeling it won't hit until we're on the plane, or maybe until we've been to all the familiar places in Australia and been exploring for a couple of weeks.

There's not a lot else to say for now; I had a few ideas for blog posts to write in this time, but in the supposed lull before the storm I haven't found myself with much writing time on my hands, so I'll save them for 'Ron.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Travel resolutions for 2012

I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again: we're not big planners, at least not when it comes to our travel plans. We don't tend to spend too much time before the event imagining what the end product is going to look like. we are more fly by the seat of your plants kinda people, who have a rough idea of what they want to do, then we don't think about it that much until it's actually happening. This has it's advantages (no fretting, and who doesn't love a bit of spontaneity?) and disadvantages (nobody told me San Seb was the food capital of Spain.. surely somebody, somewhere should have told me this before... why didn't I know this til we got there??)

But all this doesn't meant that we don't have any goals in what we're doing over the next year. It's not every day that you pack up your comfortable life and set off on a journey to fulfil a few dreams, so, feeling more than a little bit inspired by Boots n All's 2012 Indie Travel Challenge, I spent some time mulling over what I want out of the next year.

We left Sydney with a couple of big goals, namely being with my mum while she went through radio therapy and working out what was going on with the littlest hobo's health. With both of these under our belts we're ready to move forward and embrace the year to come, and there are some important things to achieve on the way.

For me, some of it is about seeing places that were on our doorstep at times and we never seemed to make the time to explore properly. All the countries we are visiting this year are places we've lived in or visited before - we've had a taster, but feel we didn't get enough, so now we're going back for more. And I really hope that I will remember this in the future, and always live like a traveller at home in the future, embracing everything that my surroundings have to offer.

I want to develop myself. I spent a year and a half being the littlest hobo's mum, and nothing else. It was an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling job, and I would recommend it to anyone, and do the same again tomorrow, but often the achievements are disguised in every day life, and you don't get that same sense of having done something new and massive that I did from work in the past.This blog is one of those efforts - while it's proving a great means to keep friends and family up to date with what we're up to, it's also a fantastic creative outlet that's challenging parts of my brain which have been left dormant for perhaps a little too long. Last year I rekindled my previous interest in photography by participating in the 365 project. While I didn't keep up with the project for the whole year, it did ignite a passion in me for creating photographs, and late last year I signed up to study for a photography diploma. It's an online course with the Photography Institute and while I was hesitant about doing a diploma while we were travelling i figured there'd be plenty of time for the reading, and besides there's no time like the present. So this year I will endeavour to complete my course and improve my photography. 

I'm keen to experience travel in new ways. For the last few years we've been lucky enough to always stay in 4 and 5 star hotels or opulent apartments, travelled by taxi and flown business class for all but the shortest journeys. While we're not planning to rough it all the way, I'm really looking forward to experiencing a few different ways of travelling. Like the littlest hobo, I'm most excited about travelling in a campervan. So far we haven't met many other travellers on our trips, and I feel thats really important, for the experience, and for our sanity! Í'm hoping that staying on some camp sites might open up a few possibilities.

This one's for Mr T. But I'm in, I think. Sometimes you have to make the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction before you can find your new momentum. We both feel that we've all been spending too much time staring at screens, and we want to spend a bit more time living in the moment, getting out and trying new things and really living in our experiences. So for a month at some point we plan to go technology free. We're still setting out the parameters, and I am bucking against it at every mention, but I'm softening every day and I can see a strong argument for doing it too. We'll be putting the computer, iPad and iPhones aside and doing things the old way - it remains to be seen whether there are actually enough phone boxes left on the planet for us to phone our folks now and again, but I love the idea of finding things out by talking to people and researching within our environment. I even bought a paper version of the Lonely Planet New Zealand book the other day in preparation (half price on Amazon - bargain), and I'm sure that some of my buddies might actually relish a bit of peace and quiet on facebook! Rest assured when the time comes you will get plenty of forewarning though!

But the most important thing of all is about spending some time immersed in being our family. Children grow so quickly, and while they're young their little brains are like sponges. I love the fact that in the last few months the littlest hobo has had both her parents as a massive influence on her life. She's exposing parts of her personality from spending all this time with her daddy which may have stayed hidden if we'd carried on with our previous way of life, simply because they're not personality traits I posses. They're both courageous and cheeky with a wicked sense of humour that I just don't have, and it's magical to see it all coming out. And me and Mr T, we have time for each other too, rather than a snatched hour when we are tired at the end of every day, where we recap all the things we achieved separately, we are building memories together, like we used to when we first met. We're all on a fantastic journey together, both physical and spiritual. I wonder how i will reflect at the end of the year. 

Where are you taking yourself in 2012? What do you hope to achieve?

This post was inspired by and forms part of the Boots n All 2012 Indie Travel Challenge - a prompt, question or challenge, every week for the year of 2012. I'm hoping that it will be a little more realistic for me to achieve than a photo a day proved to be in 2011!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A damp day at Bird World, Farnham

When Mr T suggested Bird world for an outing I immediately offered up about 15 other suggestions, based on the vague memory I had of my last visit to Birdworld, which must have been a good 20 years ago. But it was the day after his birthday, and he does like to drag out the birthday card for a surrounding week or so on either side, so i capitulated and we bundled up against the crazy winds and cool temperatures and headed off to Farnham.

we stopped at Sainsbury's on the way to buy some lunch as the website had warned that there is limited availability of food during the winter, conjuring up images of a lone vending machine offering limp lettuce sandwiches, dusty  Taxi bars and faded cans of cherry tango. 

I thought the entry fee was a bit steep for winter entry to an outdoor attraction at 9.25GBP per adult, although under 3's were free. We were given a map and informed that all the daily events listed on it wouldn't be taking place that day. After passing through the shop and cafe (which was open, with a limited menu available) we started looking around. we saw a wide variety of birds, many endangered, and often accompanied with stories of how they had been brought back from near extinction a few years previously. The littlest hobo loved the flamingos and the huge owls, and the dead fish laying on the path that had obviously missed it's calling as a tasty snack for one of the nearby spoonbills that morning. Some of the enclosures looked like they were a bit on the small side, especially for the larger birds, and could do with a bit of smartening up, which was a memory I had from my previous visit too.

Chatting with the Spoonbill's lunch

Mandarin duck 

The park has a long thin layout and we had reached about half way when it started to rain quite heavily and we were starting to loose the feeling in our toes, so we retreated to the cafe, where we bought hot drinks and a sausage roll, partly to warm up and partly to justify sitting there in the warmth while we ate our supermarket sandwiches, which we got away with without any problem. 

Umpa lumpa wannabe

When the rain had died down and we had warmed up a bit we dressed the littlest hobo in her puddle suit (nice one father Christmas, I'm sure we will also be able to make good use of this once we get to New Zealand, and it adds to the amusement of all the adults present to have a miniature decontamination suit/umpa lumpa running at your heals) and headed back out to explore the rest of the park. The second half was better, the enclosures were a bit bigger and some were newer too - especially the penguin beach exhibit, which ended up being our favourite in the whole park. We also really enjoyed chatting to the parrots and hearing them talk back. At the end of the park is Jenny Wren's farm, which had a good selection of farm animals including a couple of reindeer which were lying about having a rest after their recent busy night out. 

Santa's little friends

The park had 3 play areas and a second cafe at the far end, which wasn't open when we visited, but I assume it would be in the summer. There were plenty of grassy areas which would be great for a picnic in the right weather. There is also Underwater world next door to Bird World, which is also included in the normal entry price, but again this wasn't open for our visit. I would imagine that on a drier warmer day you could probably spend about three hours there, but I wouldn't really expect to pay more than we did for entry and I think standard entry price is higher at other times.

On a very exciting side-note... two weeks today we are off on our big adventure! 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Adult time

I recall an evening last year, not long before we left Balmain when I tore out of our front door, raced down Darling Street and jumped onto the ferry to Circular Quay. I drank in the lights of Luna Park glittering in the dark, and became a part of the city at night as I spent two blissful hours photographing the Opera House lit up with the lights of the Vivid Sydney exhibition. I rarely went out at night, with a young child to look after, especially one who slept fitfully and woke frequently, and almost always wanted her mummy. Going out at night, being part of the outside world for the evening, all the while doing something I loved, was magical and exhilarating.

Last week was our wedding anniversary, and we treated ourselves to a night in a London hotel and tickets to see We Will Rock You. It was the first time in the Littlest Hobo's two and a half years of life that we had left her overnight without one or the other of us being there. And I know that several of my friends who may be reading this will be tutting and rolling their eyes now, but I always have been a bit of a hippy when it comes to parenting, and I make no apology for it. It was great - she's old enough now to understand what is going on and she feel reassured that when we leave her we will come back - she waved us off happily and I wasn't nervous about leaving her.

We've been out for dinner occasionally, and we've each been out separately with friends several times, as well as numerous 'sleepovers' with friends who also have kids where the adults get to party once the kids are asleep, but really we haven't had much opportunity for mutually participated in adult outings for the longest time. We had a great time - I can't remember the last time we went to the theatre, a past-time which I have always enjoyed. Although we've probably checked into more hotels than your average Tom, Dick or Harry in the last couple of years, it was refreshing to just check in, no fuss, without having to make sure that they had put a child bed in the room, that they could cater for children, and one with food intollerences and allergies at that. When we walked into the hotel room we were able to marvel at our upgrade and throw ourselves onto the massive bed without having to first check the room for safety hazards. We ate when we wanted to and what we wanted to and drank enough cocktails, without having to worry about looking after anyone mini, to make the journey to the theatre very giggly. When we left the theatre we walked along Oxford Street, watching people go about their evenings before taking in the Christmas lights of Regent Street from the warmth of our cab, without having to race back to anyone.

It's Mr T's birthday tomorrow, and we're off out for the evening again with my mum in charge of getting her ladyship into bed, and I'm sure that it won't be the only time in the next two and a half weeks as we scrabble to see friends before we leave England's fair shores and our live-in babysitting opportunity is over.

We're quite enjoying our new found occasional freedom, but I'm not too sure how sustainable it is with our plans for the next year. I'm not willing to trust some random babysitter to look after my daughter so that I can go off galavanting around. I'm not that bothered about it - it's not forever, and ultimately we will be fulfilling dreams travelling, and we do have a couple of hours of child free time once she's asleep at night - we're just restricted to wherever our current home may be, and the night life will once again become a distant memory. I was reading in the Lonely Planet Travelling with Children book that between the age of 1 and 3 is the worst time to travel with kids - while I don't agree in many respects, I suppose this is one of the downsides. They need to be at 'home' and in bed by a reasonable time - too old to sleep for hours in a pushchair and too young to stay up late for too many consecutive days.

So I'd love to hear from the rest of the travelling families community - how do you get adult time when you're on the road? Are you able to experience the places you are visiting at night, or do you stick to daytime exploration?