Saturday, 28 December 2013

Beautiful Sydney


Sydney Harbour and the Opera House.
Circular Quay and the city's skyscrapers.
Many people have many things to say about Sydney. Most people say that it is the most beautiful city in the world. I tend to agree. I have also heard Sydney compared to Elizabeth Taylor - stunning in its youth, vibrant and sexy, but now it's getting on a little, starting to droop at the edges, and needs a little more plastic surgery done. I agree with that a little too. To all you Liz fans out there, I can say that because it was true of her towards the end, but everyone gets old, and she was fantastic!

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, AKA 'The Coat Hanger.'

A Sydney ferry in Circular Quay.
The Bridge and Opera House.
Sydney on the other hand is still alive and kicking, and some people would also offended by what I just said. I won't focus too much on the negative things, as this is after all my city too. It does rely a little too much on it's natural beauty however - the Harbour, the National Parks and beaches. While beautiful on the outside, it is in need of a bit of work on its health and fitness - blocked arteries and it's bulging waistline to name just a few. I am actually talking about the clogged roads and endless traffic of the city (at all times of the day, and worse on weekends), and its constant sprawl which outruns public transport, housing and other infastructure.

Sydney at sunset.
2nd-hand books and coffee on Oxford St, Paddington.
But I digress! This is a travel blog, so the focus is on the travel side of the city, and of the positive sides - which they are many. A city of 5 million people, and the first in the nation, yet it is not the Capital City like most people think. It has wonderful beaches, 5 National Parks (yes, 5 within the city limits), greens spaces everywhere you look, old and new architecture, and the list goes on. It has been dubbed 'The City of Villages,' and you can see why. Sydney suburbs are separate entities - each different culturally and socially. A big difference in these suburbs are it's local residents - Leichhardt for example has a large Italian community, and you can get great Gelato and Pasta here anytime. There are many other European-suburb communities, as well as Asian and even Middle Eastern neighbourhoods, where the food is traditional and the feel of the area is unique. Cafes, pubs, old sandstone churches and new glass skyscrapers, Sydney has it all.

Rainbow Lorikeets - just one of Sydney's many birds seen in the city.

So many things to do in the city, and even more just a short drive out of it too. The next few blog entries will be all about Sydney and its surrounds. A few short trips around are The Blue Mountains which are just over an hour's drive form the city centre, The South Coast and Wollongong, as well the Northern Beaches and Sydney's Central Coast. Thats not mentioning all the hidden secrets within the city itself! Stay tuned for more Uncle Travelling Matt stories from Sydney soon.

The 3 Sisters in the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney.


Thursday, 26 December 2013

Thank you Nepal!

Before you start reading and looking at the pics, please listen to this song - this song IS Nepal for me. It was played in all the tourist areas and became my mountain climbing motivation song, helping me just keep walking when I was absolutely knackered. Although its from Tibet, many people know it in Nepal as it is a very common and popular Buddhist Monk chant. Enjoy while you read!


I know it's been a while since the last blog, but to be honest not much has been happening! You know that I'm now back home in Sydney - my city - and here to stay for a while. The last few weeks has been very busy, trying to get my life sorted and started here. A real reality kick. Before I go on, I would like to sum up some of my experiences in Nepal, and say thank you to a few people who really made our time there something extra special.

Bhim having a tea with Harry on our first day in Chitwan.
We stayed with a family in Chitwan, and without them we wouldn't have had the 'authentic' experience that we were really after when we first decided to volunteer in Nepal. Thanks to Bhim and his family, we were able to see how people lived, worked and played in the real Nepal, not the tourist towns that most people see. We took part in local festivals (including Bhim's 40th birthday - happy birthday!), ate local food cooked by friends and family (Dhal Bhat POWER!!), bought food at the local markets (including live chickens), met and spent time with the extended family in their day-to-day lives.

Chitwan.

I would also like to mention our friend Ramita. Although she doesn't have internet access and so won't be able to read this, that doesn't mean she shouldn't be thanked (but she will be getting a Christmas card from Sydney!). Although we didn't know each other for very long, she shared her home with us. We cooked with her, ate with her, and took part in the Dewali Festival with all of her family - with her Father-in-Law, sister, as well as her nephew Anise and niece Anjali. Saying goodbye was very emotional, we exchanged gift's (as is traditional in Nepal), and we will stay in contact. Thanks again Ramita and family!

Ramita and family making the Rangoli in front of their house.

Mahaaja - THE place to stay in Kathmandu!
Nepalese are extremely friendly!
If anyone is going to Nepal soon, I can solidly recommend a few people to talk to about accommodation. In Kathmandu we stayed with Sunil, who owns a restaurant and hotel right in the middle of Thamel (which is the tourist area of Kathmandu, much like 'Les Ramblas' in Barcelona). Offering good prices, large clean rooms (some with kitchens!), and wonderful local food. It is well worth staying there - you can even learn how to cook some traditional Nepalese dishes in the kitchen! The name of the hotel is Mahaaja, and if you are going to Kathmandu, check it out. His facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/mahaaja.thahity.

The Himalayas from the plane out of Kathmandu.

Goodbye Himalayas...
...hello Great Dividing Range!
Heading down south into the Chitwan National Park to do some jungle trekking? Sauraha is the place to stay, being the tourist town from where all the canoes, elephants and jeeps leave for the jungle. Although it is very touristy, a collection of shops and restaurants, it is still quite pleasant and you do get strange visitors in the street sometimes - we saw a 2m long snake walking (slithering) down the main road, and many people see wild rhinos around town too. When you do go to Sauraha, ask for the Llama Lodge - the man who runs it, Llama, is the guy you need to know. He has lived here all his life, knows everyone, and organising everything. We met him by chance walking around near our house, and he invited us in for dinner - you won't meet a nicer guy. He organised all of our jungle treks, including an awesome, full 3-day trip, as well as the elephant safari. He also popped in for my birthday BBQ, and brought bacon! 


The 4 of us together in Kathmandu - Harry, Ania, myself and my wife Marta.
A last word before I log off. I would like to say a big hi and thank you to Harry and Ania. Firstly, if it wasn't for them we probably wouldn't have gone to Nepal. The idea actually came up on my birthday in 2012. We were out hiking up in Huesca, Spain, and Ania brought up the topic of volunteering in Nepal, and it was funny because I had been thinking the same thing! After months of planning and searching for the right deal, we actually lined everything up, saved enough to go and made it. What an awesome trip, made better by good friends to share it with! See you in Sydney in June!

Flying into Sydney Airport from the south.
One final thank you to my wife Marta. We've been married nearly 6 years now (I KNOW!!!), and we have never stopped getting about the world, seeing and doing things together. We both enjoy the feeling of stepping off a plane in a new and foreign country, the challenges you face and the people you meet. May this 'wonderlust' last forever!!

Castells in Tarragona

It's Castell Time! The Concurs de Castells, held every 2 years in Tarragona. The 'pack' - forming the pinya for a Huma...