Hostels: the good, the bad and the downright ugly

Reading a post on OIK Strategy with tips about hostels by @About London Laura reminded me of the way standards in hostels (in Australia at least) can vary.

Until my RTW trip with my husband I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for nearly 40 years. Yet we were going on a RTW backpacking trip and hostels were part of the deal if we were to manage see more of this wonderful country.

The Good

This is possibly the best hostel in the world ever. Sydney Harbour YHA. It nestles in-between five star hotels and this was the view from our bedroom window.

IMG_7291The is our private double room.
IMG_7244The ensuite.
IMG_7243 On the terrace.IMG_7252 IMG_7255 Just at the front of the hostel and we can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.IMG_7261 Barbeque night at Sydney Harbour YHAIMG_7293 I cannot see why anyone would check into an hotel in Sydney when you could stay here. There were all ages, families, backpackers and flashpackers. It most definitely not a party hostel. Except at New Years Eve of course. Can you imagine the views on NYE?

The kitchens were well equipped, a team of hardworking cleaners ensured that everywhere was spot less.

After previous hostels this was a good one. Previously we had stayed, as part of a tour group, in some absolutely dire ones. And also had to experience the dreaded dorm.

The not so good (yet compared to the next one it was not bad).

After a comfortable house sit in Melbourne we headed off along The Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. We were quite a big group and the guide called Pete admitted at the end that he had concerns about the dynamics. As it was we all really got on. Never a cross moment. Mixed ages, fitness levels and nationalities. 3 days on the road.

Our first hostel was Warrnambool Beach Backpackers. Tour guide Pete had advised us not to head into town where there was a carnival as it would be full of Bogans. Fortunately the town has one redeeming feature. Kermonds. The burgers here are amazing.

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Bellies full we checked in to a packed hostel and scrambled to find beds. I tried to get in a small dorm but a group of younger girls nabbed it declaring it to be a female only dorm, (they obviously had more experience in grabbing the best rooms)  so we were left with with another couple in a mixed dorm, 8 beds, which at first didn’t seem to be too bad. We had lockers  with keys and were only here one night. There was a group of scouts in another dorm. However it seemed we were the entrance room to a  much larger dorm of all young men who were going to join the bogans at the carnival. Result, no sleep. At all.

Pete the tour guide put me in charge of breakfast, he recognised my inner Monica of course, so I was up early and got a shower in before the hordes formed a queue in the corridor. It was clean, it was ok for a hostel, but large mixed dorms with smelly farty young men isn’t for me.

The next hostel was Neds Beds at Halls Gap.

Possibly the worst hostel ever.

The owner had an all night orgy in his jacuzzi.

I got bitten by bed bugs.

The only good thing was that I was in an all girls dorm.

The kangeroos were a bonus as was the ice cream parlour.

If a tour company lists this hostel on an itinery, don’t use the tour company. No really, don’t.

What hostels have you stayed in and would you recommend them?

What the Asparamanser said

My daughter was a guest at a Hen weekend recently where they were all asked to bring stories about dating disasters. The bride to be was to guess the person the story was about. My daughter story began with the words ‘I was at my mom’s Christmas Party’ and the bride immediately shouted out my daughters name. It seems that amongst my daughters friends my house parties were legendary.

Now one could think, how cool that your daughter and her friends enjoy your parties. I would like to think that too.

130So I will tell you another story. When I was on the Whit Tour with the Jockey Men’s Morris in May 2011 I had my asparagus read at The Fleece Inn. For this you are given a bunch of asparagus and drop them randomly on the table. One stalk slipped out of my hands before I dropped the bunch and I got a knowing look (more of that in a moment). This Asparamanser told me two things. One was to get all my affairs in order as I needed to make sure all the plans were in place for a long journey. This was a bit uncanny, as I was, as readers of this blog know, going to be embarking on the round the world trip in October 2011. I had only just that week announced to my work place of my intention to take redundancy in order to travel. Nothing was booked.  A  few close friends knew I planned to travel. The asparagus reader could not have known that. Then she came back to the asparagus that had got away. This indicated, apparently that sometimes after a drink or two I may be a bit loose with my words and say things I may regret, and I needed to be mindful of that.  On the coach after lunch we all shared what the asparagus reader had told us. When I mentioned  the bit about the loose tongue at parties, all my friends burst out laughing.

So I have appear to have a reputation of giving and enjoying parties. Which is fine. Except that my parties include lots of wine. And beer. Well I have friends who are Morris men so naturally there is beer. All in the safety of my own home. Well sometimes in other peoples houses. And always lots of lovely home cooked food and samosas and music and people enjoy themselves. They must do because they keep coming back.

We scaled back on parties this year, we were recovering travellers and had lost the house party mojo. There was no decent weather for a BBQ and now no young kids around to want a firework party. At Christmas we held a poker party and a vinyl night. Close friends and family who played poker, listened to vinyl,enjoyed shared food and well yes some New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, craft beer and organic cider.

IMG_7232Our round the world trip was on reflection a journey to new world wine growing regions. Paso Robles California (they keep the best); Marlborough, New Zealand and the Hunter Valley and Margaret River in Australia.  We enjoyed our wine responsibly, most of the time. We also discovered the delights of a Sunday sesh in Melbourne (thanks to What’s Dave Doing) at Riverland Bar and a post, cooling drink, after a very warm day trip to Williamstown relaxing with craft beers, food and ChloeIMG_5541This is the view from our seat in Chloe’ s Room overlooking Federation Square and the Christmas Tram.

And this is the lovely food we enjoyed.IMG_5533

In SE Asia we drank beer, as it was cheap and we were hot. In the last 11 days of travelling I lost about 12 pounds in weight, due to a combination of beautiful healthy freshly prepared food, the heat, and no wine. We did save a lot of babies but that is another story. I had already lost about the same amount of weight in Fiji for the same reasons, despite spending most of the day sleeping in a hammock.  I was slimmer and healthier than I had been for years when I returned home.

Back in the UK I soon slipped back into bad habits.  At first, because we were broke and had no jobs, and had enjoyed the cleansing diet in SE Asia,  we ate healthily and drank occasionally. A year later, and the bad habits had crept back into our lifestyles. I had the ill health of my mom to contend with, unemployment, and lots of other stuff that is life. I put on weight. I decided to start running to combat the weight and my low mood, then got ill so had to stop.

And now it is almost Lent. Traditionally people give up things. Some people give up chocolate or wine. And some people take something up for Lent. A food bank charity has suggested that people donate what they save at Lent to them. One year I read of a family who lived on the minimum wage during Lent. They wanted their children to be able to reflect on how privileged they were, so had to forgo cinema visits and ballet lessons. They didn’t eat out and cut back on grocery bills. And donated what they saved to some charity. what a good idea, I thought. Then I read  ‘this excludes our mortgage payment’ and that made me very angry indeed. The smugness of living a comfortable life and let’s pretend to be like poor people mentality infuriated me. I have lived on Income support and know what is like to have only a pound in my pocket to feed a family of four. And that same smugness creeps into Live Below the Line, which is why I blogged about that too.

However, it has made me think, could I, should I give up wine for Lent?

Oh and I have just read this blog about the Asparamanser so there seems there is a pattern in her predictions……

Am I still travellingcoral?

I have spent the past few months sharing my photos from the round the world trip I took with my husband last year. In a few days we will have been back in the UK for a year. Which is why I sometimes wonder that to call this blog travellingcoral and to use that as my twitter name is wrong somehow.

Yet in my head, I am still travelling. I have written before that I still can’t get used to having actual wardrobes and live in nearly the same clothes I wore on the trip, I expected that to last a few weeks, but it has lasted 52 weeks. IMG_1322

I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco. I left my soul in nearly every place we visited. I ache to be back in New Zealand, to spend more time in Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsular, to visit friends in Wellington and see more of the South Island. And I wished we had gone to Yosemite when we were in California, spent more time in Santa Cruz and stayed longer at Pismo Beach.

We spent nearly two months in Australia yet only scratched the surface. Even though the cost of everything is migraine inducing and I have no idea where one buys underwear (no Marks and Spencers) I’d go back in a heartbeat. Melbourne got under my skin and I miss it so much.They have free BBQ‘s in public places, and trams, and seating like this.

IMG_5187IMG_5888

I follow some brilliant travel bloggers and when I read about what they are up to and places they have visited my heart literally aches. Yet these same bloggers were wonderfully helpful when planning the trip and continue to inspire future travelling plans. Thanks particular to these guys: http://whatsdavedoing.com/ http://www.ytravelblog.com/ and also look at this if you are even remotely interested in travelling http://nomadicsamuel.com/top100travelblogs

In a previous blog, https://travellingcoral.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/go-now-while-you-can/ I mentioned how Mom had encouraged Phil and me to take this trip. And now she has gone my one big tie to my adopted hometown has gone too. Ok I still have a house and a son and a husband here, but other than that….. well I don’t have a job, the kids are in their 20’s and I don’t really want to live here any more. And now one of my new friends is moving back to Sydney which will mean I will have nearly as many close friends in the Southern Hemisphere as I have in the UK.

My memories of SE Asia weren’t my fondest. We were travelling with G Adventures and of course in a group you can always expect there to be tension occasionally. I think this group was unique in that one individual managed to alienate everyone in the group within 24 hours. All of us tried to get along with her, some with more success than others. As we often had to travel for 5 hours plus on mini buses, it did become a sometimes comical but always a tactical manoeuvre to avoid being in the same bus this person was in.DSCN0313 If this sounds cruel, I am sorry, yet it is true. All of us on that trip would have had a better experience if this person had not been there.DSCN0282

We developed a penchant for singing Hollywood Musicals very loudly and discovered new versions of Doe a Deer (linked to beer and Saving Babies) and she was always offered the seat at the front with the driver. The tour guide sacrificed his single room and shared with a traveller so that no one else had to share a room with a person who despite having the biggest bag didn’t seem to wash or change clothes.The suitcase was full of food she had brought from Canada and she was still eating it 11 days later.

Pong, our wonderful guide in an effort to calm her, and give us respite,encouraged her listen to Buddhist Chanting. Can you imagine sharing a cable car with her? This is the impact it had on one of us.DSCN0741

Yet looking back at the photo of that trip with G Adventures brings back good memories, especially with Sean, Kelly, Jojo and Gemma. The hours we spent looking for this eh Sean!DSCN0442And I got to eat wonderful food, took part in karaoke (what happens in Krabi, stays in Krabi) and saved lots of babies and enjoy views like this.DSCN0853

So am I still travelling? While not having left the UK in the past 12 months Phil and I have had a number of mini breaks. Hay and Brecon for the food, scenery and the books; Winchester for the markets; London for the theatre, The Tate and London Calling to see Paul Simon in Hyde Park (all London visits are due to the generosity of my wonderful daughter and her partner). I am off to Malvern to visit the flea market and Carnival Records and browse the vinyl with my new friends and Holly the Australian Cattle dog who I met via Facebook (the friends not the dog, obviously). And drink tea and eat lots of cake probably.

And yes I am still travellingcoral. Travelling isn’t about visiting places and taking photos. It is is about how what happens and who you meet shape your life. The people I met on my trip are the lasting memories, strangers who became friends.The new friends in the UK, my mom’s illness and now her passing have and will continue to shape who I am. And may it never stop.

Blog Action Day #BAD11

I am proud to take part in Blog</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

Blog Action Day 2011 is the day Phil and I start our round the world trip. The day started at 3am to get the National Express Coach to Heathrow at 4:30 am. The local high street was surprisingly busy with the kebab shops doing a roaring trade from the post Saturday night clubbers.

I noticed that half the food, so desperately ‘needed’ after 10 or so pints, had been thrown away, or more unpleasantly, thrown up, on the pavement. On a day that I am blogging on the subject of food, it brought it home to me how we, in the west can take food for granted.

On our travels we will visit the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. As much as we will be enjoying new places, meeting new people, part of the fun for foodies like us is trying new food, and sharing meals with friends old and new. Our friends in Melbourne who we are house sitting for, plan a BBQ on our arrival to introduce us to their friends and neighbours. It’s what we do, gather people together, to share a meal. For some that shared meal will be very little.

I am writing this while enjoying my first meal of the day, at Heathrow T5 in Wagamamas. A curious east meets west breakfast with noodles, bacon, egg and cabbage, as airline food is so bad we like to fill up before we fly. We worry about getting hungry on the long flight. What do I know about hunger?

What we have just spent on food and drink, would I suspect feed a family for a week, or even a month in some parts of the world. What I have just eaten, could be all a family has in one day, or a week. This is just one food outlet at the airport. Gordon Ramsay‘s, plane food offers picnics at twelve quid. We are just two passengers passing through this airport today, buying food. How many meals will be consumed today here, how much food waste will there be? How many of them will know that I have sat here eating breakfast, blogging about food, on Blog Action Day?