Saturday, 31 March 2012

March


According to my 365 Project we are currently 24% through the year. That's a quarter of the year gone. Bye. See you later. Get gone.

This scares me a little bit, in a I'm-running-out-of-time-to-achieve-all-the-things-I-want-to-achieve-this-year personally and professionally, not to mention my 12 Travel Goals for 2012. However, I'm getting quicker at realising that sitting around fretting over this will do little to get where I want to be metaphorically as well as literally and physically.

Doing 365 Project is also helpful at reminding me how much I have been doing and where I've been. Without a doubt March was a busy month in terms of miles covered and places visited. We started off in Thailand then headed home via a quick pit stop in Malaysia. After a few weeks in London we went snowboarding in Austria and then I was lucky enough to visit Barcelona for a few days.

These are my favourite photos from my journey this month.





Friday, 30 March 2012

Money, money, money...



For all my worldly wanderings, I'm very British when it comes to certain things; tea (obsessed), queuing (oh pretty please, don't push in...EVER!) and money.

We don't like to talk about money in a personal context. For example, it's rare that we ask even those we are closest to how much they earn? How much did their last holiday cost? How much savings have they put aside for a rainy day? Or worse, how much debt do they carry around with them? Best keep quiet about all that business.

However, I am going to talk about money today because I believe I have something of value to share. Prior to embarking on our RTW trip NewMan and I invested in a FairFX currency card. I say invested, because over the five months we were away spending money in seven countries we saved over £550. In a nutshell FairFX offers personal customers business rates on foreign exchange rates and commission fees and though the % savings seem small, I have personally seen proof that they add up to considerable savings. For more information on this read what they have to say about it.

Before I go any further I want to state that this is not a cleverly disguised sales pitch by FairFX and nor do I have any kind of partnership in place with the company, other than as a customer who will continue to use the card when travelling because it saves me money. When I was planning my travels I read lots of press reviews of FairFX which were helpful but what I really wanted to read was an honest write up from someone like me, i.e. a consumer, who had long-term first hand experience of the product, so I hope that this review will pop up one day when someone is searching for the same thing.

Disclosure: Just to reiterate I have not received any payment from FairFX. This is a product that worked well for us and I believe practical advice about travelling is worth sharing.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Girls just wanna have fun...

... and travel the world wearing kick-ass heels and then share the best of it with other girls, who wear kick-ass heels.



This is my take on the wonderful philosophy of The Travelettes, a travel website written by sassy and soulful women for, you guessed it, sassy and soulful women and I am all smiles because I've recently joined the team (so I'd better dust of my sass, I suppose!)

Before I even left the grey haze of London last year I used to read Travelettes to indulge my wanderlust  while debating whether to embark on long-term travel and so after I was recently invited by Katja (Travelettes' founding editor and queen blonde bee) to join their ranks I allowed myself a special slice of celebratory cake and a glass of something fizzy.

So far I have written about Melbourne's fascinating street art scene, how to get the most out of a Thai massage, falling in love with Sydney Harbour Bridge and about getting lost in Croatia, but there are articles about virtually every corner of every continent on Travelettes.net so spend some time perusing with your favourite warm beverage.

Travelettes also have a great Facebook page and recently vamped up Tumblr so if you need more virtual escapism in your life be sure to like or follow us there too.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Barcelona, Barcelona



I am exhausted.

I have blisters on no fewer than four of my ten toes.

I have walked miles and miles, have snapped hundreds of photographs and successfully got lost on three occasions.

Earlier I returned to my (amazing) hotel room and I didn't know what to have first; a shower, a nap, a cup of tea or an ice cold mini bar beer?

But above all of this confusion, I am blissfully happy.

I can't remember the last time I experienced the contradiction of feeling so invigorated and focused while also having a cloud of dizzying fuzz fill my tired head as I try to digest everything I saw, smelt, ate, touched, heard, experienced and photographed today. It's obvious where the physical fatigue has come from but that juxtaposed new energised focus ultimately comes from the same place too having spent a day indulging distraction free in all the above, which is what I love doing; exploring a new destination, travelling, seeing the world, living life to near enough its fullest.

Has it really taken me this long to realise that feeling shattered as a result of doing what you love is a very different feeling from being shattered as a result of not doing what you love?

But I am still shattered.

Well, funnily enough and luckily for my tired typing fingers, my pitch to easyJet was photography based so for now I can let the photos do the talking. Here was what I proposed I would blog about if I was lucky enough to get where I am now:

"Aside from travel, I’m passionate about learning more about photography and I’m currently experimenting with depth of field.My feature would therefore focus on what Barcelona looks like close up.I am intrigued to find out how deep Barcelona’s proud Catalan roots grow. What does local tapas really taste and smell like? How do the people of Barcelona dress, talk and socialise? Are the city’s famous architectural, artistic and cultural offerings best viewed from afar or are they just as striking if you zoom in closer? And instead of taking a step back, are there hidden treasures to be found when you explore less trodden streets?I must have seen a thousand photographs of Barcelona, yet I have never been. In my opinion, travel writing should always try to cover and offer varied perspectives about places and so I’d love to find, photograph and capture a different depth to Barcelona."

I will return to answer these questions in greater depth and indeed I have more sights and depths of Barcelona to find tomorrow but why don't you tell me if the photos I've taken so far go some way to achieve my goal?


Disclosure: Bird was travelling with easyJet as part of their Southend Bloggers Competition for a trip to Barcelona, which you helped me win. So thank you to you too. 

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sometimes I feel like I'm in Barcelona

Good morning! As you read this I am enjoying my first "press trip" experience in Southend Airport, Essex. It's part of that competition I was nagging telling you about the other week. I'm one of five lucky bloggers who are being flown to Barcelona by EasyJet to celebrate their inaugural flight from Southend Airport to Barcelona.

Or if you're checking in a little later on this fine(ish) Monday then I will aboard that very flight heading south to Spain.

But of course if you've waited until after work and your dinner to see what I chose for my #MusicMonday this week, then I'll be part way through a busy day of getting to know Barcelona and my fellow bloggers better.

I'm excited to experience travel in this different way, i.e. not just as cattle on a pre-booked flight, and to also liaise with the other bloggers who funnily enough aren't specifically travel bloggers but cover a fascinating range of other subjects; beauty, fashion, football. I will also report back (honestly!) on my EasyJet experience as a both a blogger and a potential customer. But of course I will take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity to explore a city I've never been to, which has been celebrated as a fantastic place to visit by so many who have gone there before me.

My camera is fully charged, my map of Barcelona cached, my notebook and pen tucked into my bag. I've also managed to avoid packing any orange clothes so as to not look like I'm sucking up to EasyJet in front of the other bloggers. I am ready.

You may have listened to my 8tracks.com playlist, which was specifically inspired by the idea of visiting Barcelona, which I shared with you when I asked for Twitter votes. Because this means that I have now exhausted all the possible choices for a song with a direct link to Barcelona I thought I'd go with another song by one of my favourite bands, I'm from Barcelona.

Senor y Senoras, please enjoy "Battleships" by I'm from Barcelona.


Arbores vitae from Adam Hofbauer on Vimeo.

(For those of you catching up on the newsletter or by email you will need to go to http://vimeo.com/33446962.)

You may have noticed that the video is not the official video for the song and in fact is of some crazy mad talented dude riding a bike. I must have been feeling all filled up with adrenaline from our snowboarding trip to have picked this video.

And here comes proof of our snowboarding trip in might Instagram form.



Follow me and my Barcelona adventures on Instagram and on Twitter as bushbirdie.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Best Kept Secret: The view from Balls Head Reserve


There are many views in Sydney. The open bowl of the harbour lends itself to being admired from virtually 360 degrees of different view points. Not to mention the views from taking a ferry through the harbour.

We found our favourite view less than a mile from the flat we rented in Waverton and all thanks to a tip off from the landlord.

This was our view from Balls Head Reserve a decent sized chunk of green park and bush land overlooking Sydney Harbour from the north west.


Admittedly we weren't as close as Blues Point and it wasn't the same headily involved view you get from the Sydney Opera House, but sometimes you need a bit of distance to fully appreciate the bigger picture - literally as well as figuratively.



However, because it is not central Sydney it is quiet. We discovered that it was overlooked by tourists and locals alike in favour of other smaller parks closer to Sydney's city centre. Yet even for a tourist coming from the other side of the Harbour Bridge it is well worth the short journey to explore, take a picnic and marvel at a unique city from a distance.

As I like to do, I did some research into Balls Head Reserve and found out some interesting information about what I thought was just a nice place to while away a few hours:

  • Part of the park includes the old site of BP Berry's Bay, a former refinery which dominated the harbour front next to Balls Head. BP left the site in 1993 and following the destruction of the tanks the land was handed over to the local council and now forms an interesting part of the parkland as they have kept paving and metal pathways to highlight where the refinery's tanks and infrastructure lay.
  • Until 1916 the area was popular with a local Aboriginal community and apparently rock engravings can be found dotted around the park. We didn't see any, just some amateur chalk graffiti on the ground by local kids.
  • It is thanks to local residents campaigning for the site to be kept as a public area in the early 1900s instead of being sold for commercial or business that the park exists today and is one of the most popular places to watch the fireworks on the north shore.

Maybe one day we will be able to add to this list of facts and history that it was also the place where Bird first fell in love with the Sydney Harbour skyline... maybe?



Thursday, 22 March 2012

Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn: Our flat in Sydney…



During our travels NewMan and I stayed in some truly wonderful hotels; luxurious roomsstunning views, ideal locations, quaint and interesting, cheap and cheerful – we were lucky enough to do them all. However, it was the self-catering accommodation, which we remember as being particularly special and the way that we would like to travel more in the future.



Prior to leaving UK we arranged a short term rental for Sydney due to it being New Year during our stay and this therefore meaning an unpleasant and expensive scrum for hotel rooms. Renting a flat for a few weeks was the most comfortable and cost-effective option. I’ve always thought that it is also nice to stay somewhere a bit more personal. And if I'm to be honest I also enjoy snooping around someone else's house.

In fact, it was the personal décor and details, which helped us settle straight into our town house maisonette in Waverton on Sydney’s north shore during our stay in Australia. Consisting essentially of two rooms and a small bathroom, it reminded us pleasantly of the cozy London flats we’d left behind, but also served as a wake up call to city living again and the subsequent wince-worthy cost of a square metre.

However, with temperatures soaring during our stay in Sydney we were also grateful for the small back yard area which served as a third room.

I have very fond memories of playing poker in that small yard (with party poppers as chips!) with NewMan on New Years Eve as we waited for the fireworks.



We weren’t the only one who liked this small outdoor space. Every evening at around 9pm a possum would walk along the top of our fence and inspect what we were up to be it drinking with friends or watching the stars, just the two of us. We made a few attempts to get acquainted with the possum but with a rather rude swing to the side he would turn his posterior to face us and bend forward into next door’s garden to pick at their fruit tree. A very literal "up yours" if ever I saw one.

Unfortunately we had other regular visitors to our borrowed city pad. Rats. And unlike Mr Possum, they were much keener to invade our personal space. In fact one made even his dying presence known by leaving this world and his decomposing body in the kitchen wall. Thanks to this century old property having a few cracks in the interior wall we suffered his fate through our nostrils. If you’ve ever smelt a rotting rat you’ll understand, If you haven’t it was like inhaling the stench of French, Greek, and Indonesian drains with each and every breath in.

The owners did what they could to ease the pain (and as a result of this we will never be able to light lavender candles again) but ultimately there was nothing we could do but wait it out with "out" being the operative word. It did seem rather a shame to spend so much time away from a nice flat though I loved the forced opportunities to explore Sydney.

Rat-gate served as a reminder that when you do stay in accommodation which is effectively someone else’s home or property, there are potentially additional risks such as things breaking, things not working and things dying in the walls of your property. And how effectively the property’s landlord resolves these problems is potentially more of a gamble than in a hotel. We were lucky insofar as the property owner lived close by and was prompt to do what he can, albeit not much.



We found this flat in Sydney on Gumtree.com and the booking process was fairly simple but still involved a huge leap of faith as we sent a healthy deposit to the owner, who was essentially a complete stranger, by Paypal five months before our arrival.


We now know that there are a number of websites that are specializing in this type of accommodation making it a more secure and transparent procedure and indeed the growing popularity of websites like Roomarama and House Trip suggest that we are not alone in preferring to check into self-catering home from home style accommodation. 





If you're thinking of trying out a short term rental for your next holiday or adventure here are my five top tips or rather, things to think about to make the most of your stay.

1. Location, location, location. As with picking a hotel or house, location is key so if you want to be near to key sights and spots in a city do some research or ask the host themselves. We found out about a handful of great local places by asking our Sydney landlord when we met him.
2. Ask away. The process of picking your short term rental property doesn't have to be a one-off transaction and a couple of clicks. If you want to know if the property is south facing, how strong the internet connection is, if they have ever had a million cats living there which may affect your allergies - ask!
3. No room service. Remember this is not a hotel. As I mentioned landlords will only be able to do so much and won't have an army of on-site maintenance, housekeeping and room service staff on hand though likewise this shouldn't mean they leave you high and dry. 
4. Home sweet home. Many of the self-catering accommodations on offer as short term rentals will be someone's home or second house so there will be personal touches throughout that may or may not meet your taste or preference, so be mindful but respectful of this when looking at photos of accommodation. You will be expected to keep and leave the property as you found it.
5. Feed it back. As with most products and experiences, honest and thorough customer feedback will help hosts and services like Roomarama and House Trip improve on their service, improving the experience for future guests and effectively for you!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tender is the night...

F. Scott Fitzgerald silhouette available to buy from Hello Grey Day on Etsy
Until six months ago F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the writers that I knew lots about but had never actually read. I'll be honest, it wasn't even on my to do list. Since I have been the reluctantly proud owner of a Kindle I've taken full advantage of the fact that most of the classics are free to download and am slowly working my way through them starting somewhere in the early nineteenth century. So Mr. Fitzgerald and his Jazz Age was a long way away.

But then I read one of my new favourite (more modern) authors Haruki Murakami write at length about The Great Gatsby in his memoirs about running What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and in one of his most famous novels Norwegian Wood. Seeing as I found Murakami so readable and I could still be satisfying my personal goal of reading more literary classics, I skipped a handful of decades and downloaded both The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night .

Here is my short and sweet review of the only slightly lesser known Tender is the Night.

What's it all about? Tender is the Night loosely follows the lives of a group of fairly flamboyant Americans in France in the 1920s but its focus falls on Nicole and Dick Driver, an aesthetically pleasing couple who have it all and are loved by all. As Fitzgerald's narrative narrows in on their background thanks to a number of dramatic events and the presence of a beautiful young Hollywood actress not all is as it seems, of course.

What's so good about it? From what I've read Fitzgerald was often pestered by periods of self doubt with regard to his writing ability and on occasions he more than dabbled with drink, as do many of the characters in Tender is the Night. His writing is a pleasure to plough forwards into and it is at times stunningly in-depth and at other times comparatively brief (which has a lot to do with the final version of the novel being pieced together from a previous quite different version) but there is always a certain fragile charm which is reflected in the largely autobiographical plot too. 

Who, me? If you've either never touched F. Scott Fitzgerald or you stopped at The Great Gatsby, you'd do well to pick up a copy of Tender is the Night and let it first take you to the 1920s glamour of the French Riviera and then let it swoop you northwards to Paris and even when days become darker in Geneva there are still important if slightly elusive themes to enjoy - love, affairs, family, mental health, war - all delicately written about by a natural born writer who lived through them all.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Keep on Trying

So last's week's beg of my followers was a little bit cheeky. I admit that though I was overwhelmed by your support, I didn't really like that I had to keep asking so much of people who I'm just grateful read my blog. Anyway to say thank you to you all for your support I'm happy to announce a special competition as part of today's #MusicMonday.

UPDATED: Monday 19th March 2012 - I just found out that I was one of the lucky five who got enough tweets and so am off to Barcelona next Monday to hopefully find a hidden depth to Barcelona using my camera. I hope I make you all proud and thankful that you tweeted your support!



As most of you know I used to blog about living in Shepherd's Bush, the chaotic corner of west London I used to live in. Last year UK independent record label Communion launched Bushstock, a one day music festival based in Shepherd's Bush. It was a grand success and I covered it on my previous blog Bird in the Bush. The venues are varied (i.e. a church, former Victorian dance hall, disused underground toilets and a couple of pubs) and the music is predominantly folk and guitar based but with oodles of talent oozing out of their veins.

It therefore gives me great pleasure to announce that Communion want to offer one As the Bird flies... reader a pair of free tickets to Bushstock on Saturday 2nd June 2012.

To enter all you need to do is sign up to my new weekly newsletter, if you've already signed up then you're already in it to win it. (Don't worry if you've already signed up but don't live in UK or London or can't make it as I will pick another winner).

To sign up click here or click the subscribe to As the Bird flies... button in the top left corner of this blog (and remember to verify your email address in the email I send you). I will number the email addresses chronologically and will then pick a number at random using an online generator and will contact the lucky winner by email.

This competition will run for two weeks until midnight on Monday 2nd April 2012. I will contact the winner on Tuesday 3rd April 2012.

I am only sorry that it is a London based competition but anyone can enter you just need to be in the Bush to enjoy the day!

This year sees Bushstock return to W12 London with more venues and more acts. One of the announced bands is Lanterns on the Lake and after watching this beautifully shot video of their song Keep on Trying I knew it had to be today's #MusicMonday.


Lanterns on the Lake - Keep on Trying from oof video on Vimeo.

(If you're reading this in the newsletter you may need to click on this link to watch the video: Lanterns on the Lake - Keep on Trying)

Communion is home to a number of talented acts including Michael Kiwunaka whose debut album is causing a bit of a stir and we certainly enjoyed our Bushstock experience last year. If I'm in the country I'll definitely make my way to the Bush to enjoy Bushstock 2012 in June. Here are some photos my good friend Suma took last year.

And here's a promotional video from Communion with more information about the event and about Shepherd's Bush - complete with the familiar London sound of sirens! GOOD LUCK!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Travel Inspiration: De amor e de esperança


I was instantly struck by these photos of a recent street art project in Vila Brâsilandia, a heavily populated and poor suburb of Sao Paolo in Brazil and immediately I wanted to share.
"Love"


"Beauty"
"Sweetness:"
"Pride"
"Stability"
Masterminded by Boa Mistura, a Madrid based "creative collective", and supported by the Spanish Embassy in Brazil the physical painting was achieved with the help of the people who live there, including many children.

The optical illusions capture my imagination and the project's journey and artists capture my heart. This and my other recent travel inspiration post about the 52 suburbs project remind me that too often travel focuses on city centres and too many already well trodden paths. I'm determined to explore places deeper and closer to find hidden treasures like this one.

For more information about Boa Mistura go to http://www.boamistura.com. Photos originally from http://origin.juxtapoz.com/Current/street-illusions-in-sao-paulo-by-boa-mistura.