Melbourne- Getting by with a little help from my friends 

“Here’s to tall ships. Here’s to small ships. Here’s to all the ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships so here’s to you and me.” Irish proverb

One of my favourite things about travelling is the people, without a doubt. We’ve met some absolutely awesome people in every country who have inspired us, guided us, supported us, excited us, made us laugh, made us cry, and generally made our trip so unforgettable. Many of the people we’ve met we probably won’t see again, but we now have friends on all continents, so who knows, our paths may cross again. People say the world is a small place, and we’ve realised how true this is on so many occasions! I’ve bumped into an old school friend by chance at a bar in New Zealand, met a couple from Colchester in Vietnam, who’s parents live in the village next to mine, and a guy from Cambridge who worked with two of our closest friends, on a tiny island in Fiji! Seriously, what are the chances? We’ve obviously made some great friends for life too, who we will be seeing without question again (yes Mat and Sofi, this does mean a trip to Chile), but it’s always so sad saying goodbye to the people you just gel with, especially as someone is always moving on in this nomadic lifestyle.

But conversely, perhaps one of the best things is meeting up with old friends; reuniting with people from the old days or those you simply haven’t seen for too long. We’ve been so lucky so far to travel alongside old friends for much of the trip, and when we arrived to Australia the only real plan we had was to meet up with these people!

We arrived into Australia in Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 2am. After a night slumming it in a cheap ass hostel (still £40, that would have got us 5* in Asia😡) we got in touch with Tim and Steph. We’ve met up with these guys in 80% of the counties we’ve frequented, and by chance they have based themselves in Melbourne! Tim is now working for Rome2Rio and Steph was about to start a consultancy role in the city. These guys were yet again absolute legends. We arrived at their place to be greeted with a table laid for a roast dinner (our first in over six months!), and the offer for us to stay with them! We’ve done quite a bit of travel with these guys so we get on really well. It’s so nice to have some normality restored In a new city, but also to hang out with familiar faces again! The building they lived in also had a gym and a pool, which we took full advantage of! Every time we meet up though, we seem to end up getting shit faced, and this was no shift from the status quo. After a beautiful roast lamb (cooked on the barbie of course), we got the Lonely Planet tour of the city from our local guides, before heading to the cider and wine festival on the river! I mean, what are the chances this would be on whilst we arrive! The city at night is just as beautiful as parts of London with back alley streets similar to Brighton. The word “artisan” springs to mind at nearly every turn down these lanes, with hipster coffee and brioche burgers lining most stores. The thing that Melbourne is really famous for though is the fantastic array of street art that’s literally everywhere to see. Seriously, we’ve seen some pretty impressive stuff so far on this trip, but the street art we saw in Melbourne took gold, silver and bronze! What’s really cool is there are some streets that apparently evolve monthly with new works; id love to see this in action!

We had a week planned for Melbourne, and lots to see! We spent our time exploring the cities suburbs, back alleys and main sights. This is definitely a nice city to just wander around. There’s a really interesting mix of old school buildings clearly from Victorian rule, modern high rise buildings and old school shop fronts. There’s obviously a massive foodie culture here too (which makes me very happy) with huge Greek and Chinese quarters offering a wonderful variety of treats, as well as one of the best food markets I’ve ever been to. The street art again was out on full show for us, and is even more impressive during the day! Alleys like this attract hoards of millennials to get that perfect Instagram photo, but I just wanted to snap the art. 

We hadn’t realised, but the Melbourne comedy festival was on when we arrived! Hundreds of venues offered tons of comedians over two weeks, we had far too much to choose from! We ended up meeting one of the comedians, a guy called Jeeves Verma who was bloody hilarious! His whole sketch was based around his life growing up in an Indian family, which really reminded us of our time in India staying with families in Jaipur and Bombay. We could have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for shows as there was just so much on!

We were also super lucky to end up seeing the Book of Mormon whilst we were here. The two of us and Steph entered into a lottery to get half price tickets. Sadly we didn’t win but Steph kindly donated hers to us as she’s seen it already. Wow, I had heard it was a funny show, but we were in absolute stitches from start to finish! We ended up with front row centre seats too, so I got to perv with all the musical equipment under the stage too! Seriously, if you aren’t easily offended, go see this show immediately! 

Our whole time in Melbourne wasn’t a cultural furore, we did some boring stuff too! One of our favourite ways to experience a city is to just wander around. Melbourne is perfect for this with a huge variety of districts each with their own flair. We spent a day chilling at Brighton Beach with Steph enjoying the vibrant (and sometimes eccentric) beach huts, before walking to St Kilda, another beach side district. The walk itself was absolutely lovely and it was great to see the Australian outdoor ethos so alive, with so many people out and about running, cycling, roller skating, or chasing their dogs; definitely a place I could see myself enjoying more. We even managed to spot a pod of dolphins as we walked along the coast. We also spent a day enjoying the botanical gardens with a picnic by the river. The punting on offer was somewhat unexpected and obviously reminded us of Cambridge, but we avoided this due to the excessive cost! The gardens themselves are stunning and vast! We spent a good 4 hours exploring the different parts of them and enjoying the natural flora and fauna. It’s so nice to be somewhere so peaceful whilst being so close to the city. 

I started this blog by talking about meeting up with old friends. We weren’t done with just Tim and Steph that’s for sure! We spent the evening before the comedy show with our old uni friend Izzy. She’s been on the move for the best part of 4 years now. Her travel photos were one of my main points of inspiration for this trip and definitely gave us a few must see spots on the route. Izzy has been Melbourne for the past 6 months and is working as a video producer. She took us to a very quirky bar hidden down a dark alley behind some bins. Without her I definitely wouldn’t have known it was there! This place felt like walking straight back to Dalston, where you get cocktails served in vintage tea pots, the the music is all played from a gramophone, and beard oil and tattoo sleeves are more commonplace than anything else. We spent the whole evening until the show just chatting about our trips and Uni times. It’s great to reflect on all the amazing things we’ve done with a fellow traveler, as you can easily forget all the mini things that can easily make an adventure.

I can’t mention Izzy without mentioning her epic adventure doing rural work for her 3 months. Most people just end up picking fruit; that sort of thing. Izzy made a snap decision to book a one way flight to Sydney after breaking up with her long term boyfriend, to work as a cowgirl at a massive cattle farm! The stories she was telling us were mystifying, terrifying, and upsetting at times, but wow what an adventure! She ended up being at the ranch for 6 months, and by the sounds of it would go back in a heartbeat! Seriously mate, if you’re reading this, sell your story and make a movie!

We also ended up meeting up with Jennifer, a family friend of Kelly’s. These guys haven’t actually seen each other for 17 years, but it was like they saw each other yesterday! That’s when you know you’ve got a good friend, regardless of how long you’ve not seen each other it’s just like old times. We ended up being out until about 2am with them at a local club (well, sort of club) in a suburb outside the city centre. Jen, it was lovely to meet you, and we may well take you up on that offer of the South of France! 

To finish off our time in South Australia, we headed out to the Yarra Valley to meet up with an old school friend Rachel. Rach and I have a number of mutual friends, we’ve worked at the same restaurants, and went to the same school, but didn’t really become that close until a couple of years back. We ended up spending a day kayaking 8 miles, dragging a boat across a field, running away from cows, and sliding down reservoirs. Yes, this sounds ridiculous, and it definitely was!

Rachel has been living in the Yarra Valley for a few years now, and has made quite a name for herself at the Cherry Orchard she works for as marketing director. Since being there, she’s introduced a number of awesome cherry drinks including a knockout cider, a damn tasty cherry Weiss beer, and a couple of super healthy cherry drinks. This has sent her all across Australia and even across Asia selling her products. Anyway….

We spent a day exploring the cherry farms and learning about how it all works, followed by a cheeky tour of a local vineyard Rachel also works at. The Yarra valley is synonymous with excellent wines, and I can see how it’s gained this reputation! All the wines, from Shiraz to Chardonnay were sublime! It’s a good thing I don’t live here as I’d become a full blown wino! I must say though, the views across the valley are truly stunning! Sadly, the weather was against us for the duration of the time we were there, so we just HAD to stay in, sample more local wines, eat awesome food (thanks Rach) and chat utter bollocks for hours on end. To be honest, it was just what we needed, and really felt like home! Rach, it was awesome to catch up after so long of talking about it. It was great to finally meet Alex too, he’s alright I suppose 😉. 

So as you can see, our time in Melbourne was absolutely fuelled by friends. It was such a joy to see so many familiar faces. As ever Tim and Steph properly sorted us out and were outstanding hosts. We can’t thank you enough for your hospitality yet again! You guys really are legends and have become such a key part to so many memories on this year away. Also thanks for the extreme workouts in the gym, I think Kelly has only just stopped aching!

Steph, this is my new motto for fitness now!
Melbourne, you’re bloody awesome! I loved the chilled out vibe, the architecture, the food, the coffee, the beer, the teams, and definitely the culture. If the rest of Oz is like this the next few weeks are going to be a treat!

So now onto our next part of our trip, a drive up the coastal road to Sydney, all 1500km of it! Friends, say hello to BERTHA!!

Kolkata; a smack in the face on all senses and emotions

Well we did it! We finally took the plunge and got on the plane to Kolkata; a place that literally couldn’t be further from anything we know or have experienced before. To be honest, the moment we arrived at our hotel (not really a hotel to be honest, more of an inn and barely able to be called that), I was utterly terrified, and had one of those “oh god, what the hell have we done?” moments. After about 15 hours of travelling, we arrived at our inn after the cabbie took us to some random area of the city, to a room with no AC, no windows, barely any light, and a very unwelcoming check in to the place we’d be staying. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect; we’d ended up booking a bed in the centre of the residential district; a very dark, grotty and overcrowded neighbourhood made up of a labarynth of alleys and passages. 

The first day, I think it’s safe to say Kelly and I were somewhat nervous to go out and explore, but the sheer heat of our room drove us out, and I’m so glad it did! Kolkata genuinely has been a smack in the face, mixing all the emotions you can fathom into a melting pot and boiling over until dry, but we knew it would be. Seeing so many people sleeping on the roadside, in particular, children, is very hard to see on arrival, as well as all the stray dogs and puppies, and knowing you can’t really help or change the situation can be hard to deal with. But that’s life here and it’s very much the norm. It didn’t stop us wanting to take all the children and dogs home with us though 

I’m writing this on a sleeper train to Varanasi which I’m sure will do exactly the same. Never has the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” rung any truer to me.
I’m going to try and summarise my thoughts in Kolkata in sections that I feel make sense, rather than just a brain fart of conscious thought, so bare with me.

The place 

Let’s be clear here,  India ain’t the tidiest place in the world, and Kolkata certainly isn’t! Everywhere you look there is so much rubbish and mess around you are literally wading through it at points, particularly around markets, but at the same time people were always sweeping up the streets even when it seemed futile.  It was great to see people taking pride even when they had nothing. I literally saw buildings made out of tyres,  bamboo, and propped up with plastic mounds. The amazing thing about the city though, is every night you see the majority get cleared away by the residents. It’s incredible to see what you’ve seen so many times on TV, people collecting all the plastic and metal off streets and selling for recycling, just to raise a few rupees. It’s actually quite amazing to see how much can be done with so little. 


The city itself is absolute carnage I’m not going to lie. As I expected from many Indian cities, it’s horribly overcrowded and noisy. When people say India is a melting pot of smells, they aren’t lying. There is a constant cocophony of smells from cooking food, tabacco (and as much hash), urine, spices, rotting food and burning out motors (a combination of types, clutch, and diesel smoke), all made more pleasant by the heat and humidity. I only really found the rotting smell offensive, and after eating some fruit I bought from a street vendor, I can tell where the smell originates from. I’d like to think I’m fairly open to foods, but eating over ripe and verging on rotten papaya won’t ever make it to the top of my list I can confirm that!


The architecture is fascinating across the city. You can really tell that British colonial rule played a huge part in the design of the area and the influence over so many areas. The fascinating thing out around the city is the mash of classic British design, with to be honest a total mess of building designs, many that  aren’t even remotely attractive. One thing I didn’t notice in Kolkata was any new buildings that looked even a little exciting. Shame really.


We were fortunate to see most of the sites in our 3 days here. We walked over 18miles in two days alone exploring the areas around Victoria park and the Eden Gardens, New Market and Park Street, eating all the street food along the way (see next section) and even managed to to get tickets to the Indios New Zealand 2nd test (for all of a quid a ticket. Bonus!). 



Whilst Kolkata isn’t known necessarily for its sights and attractions, it does have some amazing things to see and some lovely areas. The real thing though, is the food!

The food

Now for any of you who know me, you’ll know I LOVE food, experimenting with new food, and learning new techniques. For me, this was half the reason for starting out trip where we did. Kolkata is known as the Western Bengali capital of street food, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! We literally tried everything we could get our hands on. The majority of the street food was vegetarian and it was without a doubt the most flavoursome and colourful vegetarian food I’ve ever eaten, whilst actually being rather simple. I tried to get recipes along the way but it was rather challenging with the language barrier in most places. What I can say though is the food makes full use of mustard oil (and PROPER mustard oil, not like the limp crap we get in the UK), with citrus used to marinade everything (the local citrus fruit is a perfect mix between lemon and lime), and regardless of the lack of food safety, of health and hygiene regulations, the food on the streets is outstanding. We were living off street food for about £4 a day and nothing was short of excellent. My top food was an egg Kati Roll, a roti heated on a solid top with an egg scrambled on top. Chicken Tikka with fresh onion, chilli and sauce is then fried off and rolled like a burrito; delicious! Definitely something I’ll be playing around with at home in a years time. 


I have missed fruit though. Every time I tried to eat any it was either tasting vile from being close to rotten, or I’ve had to avoid because everything is covered in flies. Everything I wanted to eat fell into these categories and I’m doing my best to avoid Delhi belly so had to give fruits a miss. 

Basically, street food was amazing, and  a great start to what I expected of PROPER Indian cuisine.

The people 

There are many things that can be said here. To keep it simple though, I met some absolutely amazing people and some total arse holes. It was tough to remember some things that so many people had said to me about the culture, namely 

  1. People will stare
  2. They’ll stare a bit more 
  3. They’ll probably try and rip you off
  4. You’ll hear yes a lot when actually they don’t have a clue what you’re saying
  5. You’ll find the blatant poverty around difficult to deal with 

All of these things happened on at least one occasion..

Kelly had a particularly hard time as she currently has pink hair! I don’t think we ever got further than 100m without some kind of comment either directly or indirectly, and  EVERYONE WAS STARING AT US, ALL THE TIME or asking to take photos with us, we were at times like celebrities. In the four days we were in Kolkata, I think I only saw about 5 other white westerners, so it’s fair to say we were the minority, and seeing someone with pink hair certainly isn’t commonplace!


But when we met decent people, they were truly awesome! From the 80 year old at the station today helping reassure us about our tickets and bought us chai even though he could barely speak English, to the Chelsea fan who helped us look for alternative trains at the station, to the wonderful family we sat next to on the sleeper train who fed us. A special shout out goes to Shekhar who we met on couchsurfing, who took us out for dinner and drinks: he was overwhelmingly hospitable and later drove us around the city giving us our own private tour! This kind of genuine hospitality for no personal gain is so alien in England and no natural here, it really makes you think. To all of those I’ve met on this trip so far, thank you.

Like a duck to water

I am writing this whilst on a sleeper train to Varanasi, after a particularly hectic day trying to find an alternative train (first one was delayed by TEN HOURS). This trip has already been a huge eye opener and to be frank, a smack in the face (hence the title), but we’ve got on with it well. Kelly in particular hasn’t let anything phase her at all, and is actually trying to talk me away from taking the opulent route on anything we do (like staying in the station for 15hours to avoid paying a tenner for a hotel, f*** that). Now we have 3-4 days in the holy city over Ghandhi’s birthday, which should be quite amazing.  This part of the trip will be equally as difficult though, with the city renowned for its public cremations and poverty. We shall see how we cope!

What’s in the bag?

It seems like a must do; you start a blog about travelling and writing a post about whats in the bag has to be done.

It’s now 43 hours until we are on our plane, and still definitely doesn’t feel real! We’ve both been so busy with last minute packing up (the house, not the bags) we’ve and saying goodbyes to old friends we’ve barely had a chance to stop and think! Only yesterday when I did round 1 and 2 of operation ‘get all my stuff for a year in a bag’ did it actually start to become a thing.

So. The important stuff…

Everyone I’ve spoken to strongly advised investing in good bags, so we both went for Osprey bags. Mine is 65l Aether and Kelly’s is 55l Arial, although she’s probably wishing she had a bigger one now! I’m so glad we listened because these bags are super comfortable and really sit nicely on our backs, even when full! I’ve also got a daypack for tech stuff to take on the plane, and obviously for day to day use

We (strangely enough) did quite a bit of research on what others recommend to take or use whilst away for a year. So here’s a list of the things that i’d also recommend. Don’t worry, this won’t be a post about EVERYTHING I am taking, just the useful stuff that you may not have thought of.

The general stuff

  • Packing cubes are a MUST! I can’t imagine not taking these backpacking. Just get some
  • Comfy flip flops. I foolishly bought some off Amazon that were rubbish and immediately gave myself blisters. I got these Teva flip flops later on as the brand was highly recommended, and I must say they are super comfy. It’s really worth spending more on these (and other shoes) as, well, you’re gonna be wearing them all the time!
  • GOOD trail shoes! Quite a lot of people swear by wearing hiking boots etc, but I can’t imagine anything worse, so went for some strong grip trail running shoes. I bought some Innov8 trail shoes as my OCR buddies raved about them. The idea is that these will cover general walking/hiking, but also running as they are super lightweight
  • Sandals. I wasn’t feeling buying sandals initially but actually, they are seriously comfy and more supportive than flip flops. Again, Teva are recommended, obviously wearing these with socks is NOT recommended

 

The Tech

So I was always going to take quite a bit of stuff, but i’ve tried to pull back a bit for this trip.what kind of digital nomad would I be if I didn’t include a section on tech!?

  • GoPro Hero 4 Black. Obviously an essential for underwater filming and just general filming. I’ve also got a bunch of attachments (remote, battery extender, etc) as well as a floating selfie stick, buoyancy aid and gorillapod 
  • Kindle, for all those long ass train journeys! This was a hand me down but does the job for sure. Kelly has a new PaperWhite which is so much nicer, but I wasn’t going to spend more on something I may not use.
  • iPad for everything else
  • iPhone for photography and day to day stuff (and staying in contact obviously for all family and friends reading this).
  • Garmin Fenix 2 multisport watch, for tracking activities (and to tell the time). I had this anyway and would have upgraded to a new Fenix 3 HR but Kelly would have KILLED ME!
  • Anker Power Charger. This was a present and is AWESOME! IT should charge all my stuff, but my phone about 6 times off one charge.
  • A wireless hard drive for backup and streaming of movies

And… A BOOK! To write in and everything! Joking apart this will be my recipe/scrap book for the trip.

Other things i’d recommend

  • Sleeping bag liner. You never know what you’ll be sleeping on/in. These have come recommended by people on so many blogs i’ve read
  • Travel pillow. We both got one that converts from a neck pillow to a normal pillow too
  • A LIFESTRAW! This was a must for us, especially considering some of the places we are going. Whilst it’s expensive it’s definitely worth it
  • Snorkel gear. We’ve looked into this and it can be a costly thing to hire. We purchased some gear on a recent holiday and thought it would be a good thing to take!
  • Get stuff that come with cases just in case. For example hard cases for things like sunglasses. For me with all the moving about we will be doing it’s not worth the risk of breaking valuable stuff on transit 
  • Sealable bags for keeping important stuff waterproof
  • Get an “airporter” for your bag. Convayerbelts at airports love to munch the dangly bits of backpacks.
  • Try and avoid taking random crap. I have a “thing” packing cube for odd bits but I’ve actually culled so much stuff out of it, although it may not look that way…


And to summarise some of the things others have said to us, and we’re definitely doing

  • Pack, pack, and repack! Seriously, be prepared to CULL clothes. We’ve probably done 3 rounds of repacking to remove stuff each time. DO IT!
  • Start early. I have mates who left this kinda thing till the last minute. I DO NOT recommend that!
  • Seriously, invest in a good bag. It’ll save your back
  • Really think about the climate you’re in. Do you really need to take 4 pairs of swim shorts if you’re trekking in a jungle for months? I’ve had to be really quite vicious with the tops I’m taking because of this, so no skinny fit polo shirts!
  • Be a little prepared for unexpected weather. I’m going to be chasing sun for a year but still taking a hoodie, fleece and waterproof coat. 
  • Keep your stuff to a minimum. I admit I’ve failed at this but remember you’re carrying all your stuff on your back!

So there you have it. My life for a year. I’ve got the weight down on the main bag to 13kg which is enirely manageable. I’m just glad i was hitting the gym lots before this trip really started to become reality!