Trip Start Feb 11, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hiya, aaach laddies and lassies and top o' the mornin' to you all,

It's been ages since we last checked in so we'll do our best to give you a rundown on everything we've been up to in the past two months, beginning with this update on our travels through the UK.

There's a lot of ground to cover so we'll endeavour to make it interesting...or at least as short as possible.

If you can remember, we left the kebabs and hamams of Turkey behind on August 3 and flew to Dublin via Hungary.

Two things happened pretty much spontaneously when we landed - it started raining (and only much later did we discover that it was to signal the start of four weeks of non-stop drizzle), and we feel completely in love with the place.

We're not sure whether it was the city's laid-back atmosphere - less cluttered and cruisier than London - or the clean, crisp air, such a wonderful change from the recent sweat-fest of Turkey. Or even the ugg boot wearing, chain-smoking, potty-mouth teenage mums that made Caroline feel right at home. But something made our hearts flutter and we immediately allocated it pole position on our list of "Places We Might Want To Settle Down And Live In For Six Months Or So When The Official World Tour Is Over".

We spent five nights in the Irish capital all up, wandering beneath a canopy of umbrellas through the damp streets, shopping and stopping to escape the rain with pints in cosy old pubs like the Stags Head (built in 1770) in the Temple Bar area.

We crossed the Half Penny Bridge, spanning the Liffey River, scoffed traditional fare of chips and curry sauce at what is reputedly Dublin's oldest chipper and admired the engineering of possibly the world's most irrelevant monument, the "Spire" (an enormous tapered pole in the middle of the city, supposedly a dedication to the traditional Aran knit sweater).

Another day, we visited Trinity College, Ireland's first university, founded in 1592, and educational institution of many famous people including Dracula author Bram Stoker.

Here we learned of the university's many whacky rules, such as how in one on-campus residence, if students are caught speaking anything other than Gaelic, they are turfed out. There's even university "spies" that patrol the hallways listening into to people's conversations to try and catch them out!

Trinity College is also home the Book of Kells, an elaborate book dating to around 800AD. In a temperature-controlled, light-regulated room, we gazed down upon the revered manuscript as those around us marvelled at it's brilliance in hushed tones. "When it all comes down to it, it's still just a musty old book, though, isn't it?" piped up Chris. We left.

One night, we were fortunate enough to have dinner with two friends we met in Egypt - Steve and Colleen, a Canadian couple who have also been travelling the world for the past year - who were in Dublin with their mums. After dragging their poor mums across the city in the rain, we caught up over few pints and some hearty Irish fare.

Dublin was also the location for Chris' almost run-in with the law after he was caught by a security guard in a supermarket testing deodorant. Under his arms. He pleaded ignorance, saying that he didn't know it wasn't appropriate, but was promptly escorted from the store and told never to return.

And that was Dublin.

Next stop was Cork, three hours south through impossibly green scenery by bus. Cork itself is quite a sleepy town, but our main reason for visiting was to track down the famous Blarney Stone and give it a big sloppy pash.

It was, not surprisingly, raining they day we journeyed out to Blarney Castle, making our trek to the top of the ruin precarious to say the least. But we made it nonetheless and, with the help of a rather damp and impatient "Supporter of Bent Backwards Blarney Stone Kissers", we gave that rock the best damn smooch we could, trying our hardest not to think about the rumour that locals use the landmark as a public urinal.

According to legend, kissing the stone is supposed to give the "gift of eloquence". Apparently, the stone was originally called Jacob's Pillow, and brought to Ireland by the Phrophet Jeremiah. There it became the "Lia Fail" or "Fatal Stone", used as an oracular throne for Irish kings (kind of like the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter).

Later, in 1314, the stone was split in half - and one half was sent to Blarney where eventually a witch, who was saved from drowning, revealed the stone's true power to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster.

We also took a stroll around the beautiful gardens surrounding the castle, apparently inhabited by the aforementioned witch, who only comes out at night (conveniently) and who grants wishes in return for firewood. To cash in your wish, all you have to do is walk up the "Wishing Steps", thinking only of your wish. With your eyes closed. Backwards. So we did. Wishes still pending.

After two days in Cork, we ventured north to Galway, which we'd heard was a place we'd instantly decide to dump our bags and set up home. And sure, it was quaint, but nothing to entice us to drop anchor. We strolled the cobbled streets and sipped (and spat out) Guinness in the cosy pubs, but we weren't entirely disappointed to be heading back to Dublin and flying across the Irish Sea to Edinburgh, Scotland on August 12.

Catching up with Steve and Colleen and their mums on a rainy night in Dublin. And Steve (Steeeeve!) eating all that chowder without sharing. Well done on making the year guys! Can't wait to Jacuzzi with you in Canada in January.

Watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in a pub in Cork.

The top notch bangers and mash Chris whipped up in Cork. Eat your heart out Jamie Oliver!

Kissing the Blarney Stone and wandering through the magical witch's garden near Blarney Castle (and looking like complete twats as we walked up and down the Wishing Steps.

Chris' "Treat Day" in Dublin. Seeing the Dark Knight AND going to Burger King for a large Dark Whopper Meal. Score!

Things we learned in...Ireland:
Hostel common rooms are no longer places of social interaction, rather rooms where flashpackers can use free WIFI on their laptops to keep in touch with everyone via Facebook. It seems most people would rather be talking online to people on the other side of the world than to the person sitting next to them. Gone also are the staple backpacker meals of two-minute noodles and cheese toasties. These days it's all about pan-fried fish on cous cous and lamb cutlets with chargrilled vegetables.

We still don't like Guinness, no matter how much better it supposedly tastes in Ireland. And despite what we have been told, Guinness and cider (called a "Black Velvet") are not a good combination and ordering one will result in much mockery from the bar staff.

Beef Stroganoff is traditional Australian cuisine...at least, that's what a girl in our hostel in Dublin was trying to tell us.

"But I just needed to see how it smelt on my skin" is not a sufficient excuse when you are caught by security spraying deodorant under your armpits in a supermarket.

Waking up to find a drunk lad peeing in the corner of your hostel room is preferable to waking up and finding him peeing on your bed.

We landed, after lengthy delays (that will teach us for pay zero pounds for a flight with Easy Jet), at Edinburgh airport on August 12 and were bestowed with a random act of kindness from a lovely Scottish woman we met on the plane who offered us a lift our hostel. With the rain still pouring down, we gladly accepted and were treated to a spontaneous tour of the city.

Our main reason for being in town was to revel in the delights of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, an annual showcase of theatre, music, art and comedy. It was a wonderful time to be in the city, with street performances, live stages and shows on at hundreds of venues around the city almost 24 hours a day.

Talking full advantage of the daily half-price ticket booth, we secured tickets for performances of The Graduate and The Talented Mr Ripley, comedy shows by Aussies Brendon Burns and Frank Woodley, puppet shows by the Shitty Deal Puppet Theatre and a midnight show of the Jim Rose Circus.

In summary, The Graduate and The Talented Mr Ripley were terrible, Frank Woodley and Brendon Burns were brilliant, the Shitty Deal Puppet Theatre was hilarious and the Jim Rose Circus was...welll...interesting. You see, we thought it would be all circus freaks stapling their appendages and swallowing swords - which we were actually looking forward to.

In actual fact it was more like something you'd see in a seedy basement in King's Cross. There were swords, sure, but not being put where we thought they would be put and any artistic merit was down to a lady who forgot her clothing, shooting blue paint out of a place we never knew could be used for such a purpose. Ew!

Still sticking with the arty theme, we also managed to catch a session of Death Defying Acts, the film the Chris finished working on just before we left Australia. It was a double bonus as the movie, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pearce, was set in Edinburgh. As it was the last day the film was being shown, we managed to have the entire Gold Class cinema to ourselves (with free popcorn to boot!),

But the best part of our time in Scotland's capital was simply wandering through the beautiful city. Spectacular gothic buildings line cobbled streets and a deep valley slices the town in half like a lush green carpet.

Against the backgrop of grey skies, Edinburgh Castle perches forbodingly on a hill high above the city and no matter where you look, you inhale a spectacular view of tiled rooftops and terracotta chimneys. It is straight out of a Harry Potter book.

And, once again, we fell in love. Though this time was unlike anything else we'd felt before. We felt at once both energised and at home. This was it. This was The Place We Might Want To Settle Down And Live In For Six Months Or So When The Official World Tour Is Over.

We spent four days there, immersing ourselves in culture and magnificent scenery. We walked the Royal Mile from the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official Scottish residence of the British Royal Family (and once to Mary Queen of Scots), past the architectural wonder that is the Scottish Parliament Building and up the hill to Edinburgh Castle.

Sitting atop an extinct volcano, the castle dates back to the 11th century and the Scottish Crown Jewels held there are among the oldest in Europe. Unfortunately, we were unable to view them as the castle was closed because the Edinburgh Miliary Tattoo was on to coincide with the Fringe Festival.

We picnicked in the park and simply soaked up the amazing festival atmosphere, stopping to watch free street performances and free pub comedy over a pint.

And all too soon, it was time to leave. Farewelling Edinburgh on August 16, we vowed we would be back.

Seeing Chris' name in the credits on the big screen for the first time at the end of Death Defying Acts.

Watching Brendon Burns and Frank Woodley - two brilliant Aussie comedians making it big on the world stage.

Scoffing not one but two of the best cheeseburgers we have ever had at a late night street stall after an evening on the pints.

Seeing two grannies in the audience at Jim Rose Circus laugh so hard they cried during the "blue paint scence".

Another perfect picnic in Princes Street Gardens.

Things we learned in...Scotland:
That kilts can be both simultaneously sexy and scary.

The human body can do amazing things.

Seeing familiar childhood toys, like Barbie and Mr Potato Head, perform adult comedy is definitely worth £16.

That we are both very stubborn. Who would have thought?

That human kindness still exists. To the lady who gave us a lift from the airport and the other lady who gave Caroline her £50 train ticket - we hope good karma catches up with you both soon.

On August 16 we caught a train from Edinburgh to Southport in England, a visually spectacular journey as we whizzed though lush green fields, soggy moors and craggy hills dotted with sheep and cows

Much in need of a shower and some private time with a washing mashine, we were picked up from the station by Chris' sister Laura (who only later admitted to almost passing out from our stench in the car on the drive home).

We spent a week in Southport, with Laura as our trusty tour guide. We ate fish and chips on the boardwalk by the lake, seagulls circling overhead in the grey skies, and drank pints in what is supposed to be Britains smallest pub.

Packing picnic supplies, we took a day trip to the gorgeous Lakes District in the north-west of England.

However, a pit stop at a little town for hot chocolate, scones and award-winning pork pie put an end to our picnic plans, so we simply enjoyed the drive through the beautiful countryside.

We also spent time in nearby Liverpool, making the pilgrimage to Anfield, home of the Liverpool Football Club, where Chris shopped up a storm at the official team store.

And of course no Liverpool tourist itinerary is complete without taking a ferry trip down the Mersey River.

A great night was spent at the Endbutt Pub, catching up with Chris and Laura's mum's family - Uncle Brian, Auntie Jackie and cousins Natalie, Hayley and Ben as well as cousin Richard and his parents Frank and Lesley and Laura's mates, Michelle and Paul. Another morning was spent visiting Uncle Allan and cousin Liam.

We also had a crash course in Liverpool's colourful nightlife with excursions to local drinking establishments and practical assignments in alcohol drinking with Laura, Richard and our new friends Paul and Si.

But it's the Beatles that Liverpool is most famous for and with the Matthew Street Festival on the horizon, we got ourselves in the mood with The Beatles Story, a fantastic museum tour detailing the rise of the Fab Four from their humble beginnings to world fame.

Ahead of the crowds, we also checked out the Cavern Club where the Beatles used to perform (it's actually the second Cavern Club as the original was closed in 1973 during construction for a train line).

The train line never happened, but the current club is a replica rebuilt using many of the original bricks and occupying 75 per cent of the original site. And of course, more pints, this time at both the Grapes and Jacaranda pubs where the Beatles used to drink.

On Saturday, August 23, the three of us checked into an apartment in Liverpool that Laura and Chris' parents had kindly rented for us for two nights for the Matthew Street Festival and set about celebrating with Polish Bison vodka (which, when mixed with apple juice tastes just like apple pie).

On Sunday, we met up with another cousin, Nikki, as well as Caroline's mate Emily who was in town with two of her friends and spent the day wandering between the live stages and battling the heady crowds in the sweaty underground Cavern Club.

It was a big weekend, so by the time it came to drive back to Southport, via the famous Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, we were quite worse for wear.

One more night in Southport, then it was off to London courtesy of Richard who kindly offered to give us a lift at 6am as trackwork would have made the journey by train a nightmare.

And so it was time for London: Round II - a two-week stint that was to either make or break for good any relationship we may have had with the city. (For new players, we had a pretty rubbish stay the first time round after we were scammed by a guy who pretended to rent us an apartment, then ran off with our £250 and left us homeless. For further details, see our previous entry, London Calling).

Our first priority was to knock off all the sightseeing we missed out on the first time round so we did two free walking tours which covered all the main sights - Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Thames, the Knight's Templar former secret headquarters (which now houses lawyers), Tower Bridge (often mistaken for London Bridge whish is actually quite boring in comparison) and Clarence House (where Charles and Camilla live).

We heard the thrilling (and ultimately gruesome) tale of how Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament and had our photo taken with those guards with the funny, black fluffy hats.

We trawled the stalls at Camden and Portobello Road markets, Caroline picking up two lovely pairs of vintage boots and Chris collecting a fancy trilby hat, and we sipped cheap pints at the gloomy Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of London's oldest pubs just off Fleet Street.

We also tried to make sense of the "art" at the Tate Modern and watched an excellent performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Shakepeare's Globe Theatre, standing for nearly four hours under light drizzle in the £5 pleb section.

With the major sightseeing out of the way, the rest of our time in London was spent catching up with people over drinks, lunches, dinners and musicals.

We had a day of shopping at Camden Market with our mate from uni, Dave Brundle and spent a few days lunching and nights drinking with Penny and Eleanor, Caroline's ex-Daily Telegraph workmates.

Another night we went to see the musical Wicked, the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz (who was not really evil, just misunderstood) with Emily which was fun and resulted in Caroline spending the rest of the week murdering show tunes.

On Saturday, August 30, we joined other Charles Sturt University graduates for the inaugural ex-Pats pub run where we enjoyed our first Toohey's Extra Dry in more than six months (despite it being served warm).

That night, we met with Chris' mate from Sydney, Stefan, for the Chemical Brother's concert where we danced and danced and danced...

Our initial plan was to head to Belgium for four days before making our way to Amsterdam, but this time we were having so much fun in London we didn't want to leave. Extending our stay and skipping Belgium altogether, we finally flew out, direct to Amsterdam on September 10. But that's another story....

The spontaneous BBQ we had at Laura's. An inch of sun had peeped from behind the clouds and in true Aussie fashion we dashed off to get some meat and beers, fired up the barbie and cranked the home-grown hits. It was among the best 45 minutes we had in England!

Signing our names on the sweaty surface of the Cavern Club walls and singing 'Hey Jude' at the tops of our voices to the best Beatles cover band of the weekend.

Dancing our butts off at the Chemical Brothers with Stefan in London.

Discovering the best value Asian buffet in Chinatown in London - and going back for a second helping.

Defying Graviteeeeeeeee with Dave T at one of his now famous kitchen parties. Sorry again for the noise, Jason!

Things we learned in...England:
It really is grey and miserable ALL THE TIME.

London is the most expensive city we've been to by far. It's possible to spend £100 there before you've even stepped foot out of your hostel. But on the plus side, beer is surprisingly cheap!

Bison Grass vodka is delicious. And lethal.

Being an Aussie in London makes you feel like a cliché. "No," we wanted to shout, "we're only here for a few days and we have no intention of working in a pub!"

Kebab + curry sauce = best. kebab. ever.

Since we left London we have been to Amsterdam, Munich, Innsbruck and Berlin, so there's plenty more to catch up on. We'll endeavour to update you at our ealiest possible convenience.

Until then,
Chris and Caroline xx

Mum/Joyce: Happy Birthday for Saturday. Sorry we can't be there with you but we'll be thinking of you and can't wait to see you in New York in 80 days!

Antonina: Happy Birthday again for the 30th. We wish we were there - or you were here - to share a sizzle. Miss you heaps!

Beck and Michael: Congratulations again on your recent nuptials. We're so upset we couldn't be there but we were thinking of you both on the day. Beck, you looked absolutely stunning. Miss you too!

Hank: All the best for Thailand mate. We'll be thinking of you. And...

Nat: Good luck with everything while you are there. Plus sloppy kiss to Larry.

Simon: Hugs.

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