A Travellerspoint blog

Surviving the heatwaves of Europe

and a 4 day Belgian music festival

As the mercury rises and summer approaches our London lives have become increasingly hectic and sweaty. Hectic due to both the number of Aussie visitors taking advantage of the upside-down seasons and of course the craziness of the World Cup and sweaty as London goes through their token heat wave of 28ish degrees.

So far the Mansion has had several overnight guests including Rocky and Kate, who are backpacking around Europe for several months, Shirlbags and Froggy who took a weekend away from Paris to dominate the local Walkabout for the Aussie V Ghana match and Skrogz who spent a night curled up on our one seater sofa due to a ‘no room at the inn’ situation. Sorry Skrogz! Also to add to the List was Ryan, one of Nath's family friends who he hadnt properly spoken for a number of years, and after both growing up together still got along like a couple of houses on fire. Lucky for these guests on our walk back from the gym one afternoon we found a seemingly non-soiled mattress out the front of a house a block away from out place. So over our heads it went, much to the amusement of bus drivers and commuters... and our ‘spare bed’ was born.

As well as Mansion guests we have had several other catch ups with Aussie visitors including a PHS reunion in Soho with Sagan, Brett, Skrogz, Bron, Han and myself and Nath (crashing the PHS reunion in style) as well as more recently Nath catching up with Fabs, a mate from Uni and Alison, a friend from summer camp.

We have also recently just returned from our first 4 day camping festival experience, a festival called Rock Werchter held just outside of Brussels, Belgium. We travelled by train to Brussels (Eurostar) which is amazingly quick and easy, and relatively inexpensive (we will undoubtly use this mode of transport again). Not only was this our first camping festival experience but it was also our first stay in a European cobblestoned street...which was absolutely going off! After arriving in Brussels late Wednesday night, we managed to find our hotel and Nath’s wayward phone battery after a 15 minute search of the taxi. Our last night of bed and showers for a while was spent in a cheap (but nice) hotel in the middle of Party Central. After a quick walk around Party Central we discovered the Sydney Town Hall of Brussels and the Kings Cross Coke sign of Brussels as well as a pub with a huge screen for people to play FIFA 10 on Playstation 3, which Nath was stoked with.

After attempting a good night’s sleep in Party Central and having a traditional Belgian waffle breakfast (but with no toppings...WTF!), we caught the tram to meet up with the rest of the crew, and board the train with thousands of other festival goers. A short train and then bus ride saw us at the festival ground ready to set up our cheapo Argos 2 man tent (pushing at 1 and a half man really). After setting up our homes for the next 4 days we made our way into the festival to check out some amazing artists.

Over the next few days we managed to see Kyteman’s HipHop Orchestra, Skunk Anansie (a crazy black bald headed chick), Phoenix (front row!), La Roux, Bloody Beetroots (absolutely amazing, the floor literally threw you up like a trampoline everyone was jumping around that much), Muse, Crookers, Rise Against, Paramore, 30 Seconds to Mars, Editors, Green Day (amazing 3 hour set, where we were right in amongst it and definitely the loudest fans in Belgium), Delphic, Temper Trap (front and centre), Yeasayer, Porcupine Tree, Florence and the Machine (front and centre), Pink (who arrived by falling out of a box attached to a crane and then did her acrobatics things, which 2 weeks later she did at a German gig and completely stacked it....check it out on Youtube), Ramstein (crazy crazy show with people being set on fire and fireworks being shot out and then back in to the stage), the Black Keys, Alice in Chains, Gomez, Vampire Weekend, Them Crooked Vultures, Arcade Fire and Pearl Jam (who even got Dave Grohl to come out and smash a tamborine around for their finale despite their past differences).

The festival was completely unlike any Australian festival we had ever been too. Not only was the line up completely unheard of, but the shows that some of the artists put on would never have been performed at an Australian festival. Costume changes, set designs, acrobatics, a big freakin crane, fireworks, a foam cannon and fire were all part of the festival acts.

Unlike Glastonbury’s history there was no need to bring out the newly bought Dunlop wellies, however shade in our unprepared camping area became the issue. With temperatures reaching 44 degrees and no shade apart from the stuffiness of our windowless tents, some innovation was needed. Using everybody’s one spare pole that comes with each tent, a ground sheet and some male handiness, ‘Shanty Town’ was erected. With the shade and Sal’s not so sturdy 1 pound spray bottle we managed to survive the crazy heat.

Our last day in Belgium was spent exploring the cobblestoned streets of Brussels where our tour guide Kieran showed us the famous pissing statue, the Tin Tin store (no photos please) and the Town Square. We also sampled some Belgian chocolates, did the Mussels in Brussels thing during a 3 course lunch with FREE wine and beer, had real Belgian waffles with ice-cream whilst watching some toothless crazy man shout out Belgian ramblings from the top of a fountain, and see the inside of our first of what will be many cathedrals.

Belgium overall; freakin fantastic! Great vibe, awesome crew of people, amazing weather, a crazy list of artists and the festival stench we came home with, wasn’t even that bad.

The weeks following the Belgium trip have been spent lying low and hermitting from the world in preparation for 6 payless weeks of the summer holidays and saving for our Topdeck tour where we will do the basic loop of Europe covering 9 countries in 22 days of camping. We are both incredibly excited for the trip and are counting down the days until we leave...1 to go...

Miss you all!

Nath and Sal

Posted by nathnsal 03:10 Comments (0)

Bulgaria - A Country Made For Ants

We have now been in London for just over a month and have well and truly settled into the London life. We have both managed to get just enough work without really trying, averaging at about 3 days a week and both finding separate favourite schools which we are more than willing to continue working at. As with all casual/supply work we can get some incredibly easy and fantastic days but of course we also get those challenging days where we really earn our money. For those Aussie teachers that might be interested in the actual teaching part of life we have a few interesting differences to schools back home:

1. It never even occurred to us just how multicultural the schools and London in general is. Pretty naïve really, but its seriously crazy how many actual kids from a British background are in your class each day. We find there are normally maybe 2 white English kids at most in a class of 30….and there is no chance of reading the role out 100 percent correct. I even had one Yr 1 kid count how many mistakes I made in reading out the names (Sal), not in a rude way just funny. Most classes will have a spread of kids from Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

2. Despite all the negativity we had heard about London schools, most of the schools we have taught at are on par or better than the schools in Australia in terms of behavioural issues. The gap between low, middle and higher ability kids though is huge! Some children can be put into a Yr 4 class without having ever attended a school, and don’t speak English, which can be pretty challenging to teach.

We have definitely been a little slow on the touristy things around London but after the crazy first 3 weeks of our holiday we are more than happy to chill out in this area of travel for the moment. Boxes we have ticked though include Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the performers at Embankment, Camden Markets (so so sick with so many nooks and crannies, so easy to get lost in this place and if we had money, also completely broke), Tower Bridge, London Tower, London Bridge and Borough Markets, where the Jamie Oliver gets some of his produce from.
After so many destinations to choose from and some excruciating internet searches combined with finance calculations, Nath found an incredible deal for a 7 night holiday to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria which was not only all inclusive (meaning all food, all beer, wine, spirits and cocktails….amazing!) at a hot and sandy location but also coincided with the school holidays and Sal’s birthday. Perfect place for SalFest 2010! So after not many weeks of actual teaching, we found ourselves on our first European holiday in a random country we had never really thought of visiting (sorry Bulgarians!).

After a short delay (no complaints though after our fluke through Iceland) we arrived in Bulgaria at about 3am, meaning we didn’t really get to see much on the way in but arrived to a bed and what looked like (in the dark) a pretty sweet resort. Our first day saw us explore the resort (and of course the cocktail list) and discover the boulevard filled with not quite authentic brand name stores. It is also filled with not so authentic artists who hilariously pretend to paint or draw over already finished artworks and sell them as your own. We also signed up for a pub crawl our first night which proved to be an awesome night where we sampled every drink Bulgaria had to offer and managed to stay standing and dance until the wee hours of the morning at the opening of a nightclub, Disco Orange. Nath also entered (not quite so much entered, more picked up and thrown over one of the organizers shoulders and tossed into) a Michael Jackson dancing competition. Despite incorporating the ‘canoe’ and the ‘puppet dance’ into the impersonation and being the crowd favourite, he came a close 2nd, to a poor 1st performance.

After spending a day recovering by the pool, we decided to see at least a little bit of what Bulgaria had to offer outside the purpose built resort. The Thursday of our Bulgarian holiday saw us board a tour bus out to the villages, to see the ‘real’ Bulgaria. The tour started out with a 2 hour bus ride to get to the first village in which the tour guide dead set spoke for the entire 2 hours without a break. She didn’t stop there either, every time we got back on the bus we would be guaranteed a short snooze as her Bulgarian history and politics stories sent us into a coma. The first hour was fairly interesting however there is only so much history one can take in a day and we far exceeded our daily consumption.

Along the tour we walked through a village, lit a candle in the local church and walked through an old house which has now been turned into a museum. Throughout all of these places the notion that Bulgaria is a country made for little people was reinforced with Nath smashing his head on doorways, staircases and rooves at every opportunity. We then took a chair lift ride down a mountain to get an awesome view over the town of Sliven. We were then taken to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant to have a 3 course meal and then into another village where we sampled Bulgarian tea (I would compare this taste to dirt) and a Bulgarian dessert (basically crème egg insides on a spoon submerged in water…quite delicious!). The trip home was spent listening to some crazy Bulgarian supposedly satirical story, comprising of domestic violence and rape passed on by our tour guide.

The next day proved to be an epic day in celebration of SalFest 2010. We woke to a knock at the door with a delivery of free birthday champagne! We donned our homemade SalFest singlets, and with cocktail in hand went off to find ourselves some mopeds to hoon around on. After surviving the pedestrian filled boulevard without breaking anyone or ourselves we returned to the resort where we each got poolside massages, Nath getting his from a girl straight out of an FHM magazine (who even in real life looked air brushed!). Although on the better looking end of the continuum, she wasn’t much of a masseuse, but she at least gave Nath a story of a massage from a smoking hot blonde.

Smashing down our free champagne with dinner at the resort’s Asian restaurant, we then decided to hit up the bar and meet up with a few Scottish people we had met from the pub crawl. We took advantage of the free drinks and when the time came to venture into town, we managed to recruit a few more people including ‘Mum’ a 50ish year old women, completely hammered who was so keen to come out for SalFest that she jumped over the fence into the hedge and made it 20 metres into the walk before deciding it might not be such a good idea to partake in SalFest after all. It was not long after this that Nath decided to get himself into an altercation with a Bulgarian ‘security guard’ for public urination. 20 lev later we were back on our way to finding a club suitable for such an evening. The unlucky club was forced to stay open to the wee hours of the morning despite our group of 4 being the only patrons and was also forced to witness the dance moves of a not so graceful now 26 year old. A quick game of thong golf on the way home as we watched the sun rise over the beach, and a small hedging sesh and we were off to bed 15 minutes shy of breakfast.

Needless to say the next day was a complete write off. The next few days we spent soaking up little amounts of sun (whenever it peeked its head through the clouds), taking advantage of the awesome exchange rate and fake merchandise, drinking cocktails on the beach, eating a ridiculous amount of food (we had to…it was free) swimming and laying by the pool and one intense ping pong tournament with our Scottish friends.

After a week of eating and drinking copious amounts, we returned home in the early hours completely exhausted and a couple of kilos heavier. Bulgaria proved to be, like all our trips so far, an awesome place to holiday and the perfect place for SalFest 2010.

Til next time…

Nath & Sal

Posted by nathnsal 14:14 Comments (0)

London Bound

And the winner for the most well-timed holiday during a European transport-stopping natural disaster is…..

With half a day left in Iceland, we decided to check out what the town of Reykjavik had to offer… Apparently not much when it’s a public holiday. With most shops closed, we stalked a group of flag and banner bearing children and adults marching up the street chanting in Viking language towards the church. After finding out that the country stops for the first day of summer (strange seeing as it was still below 0), we went in search of Iceland’s most famous restaurant, a hot dog stand which has stood in the same spot with the same owner for over 30 years, to taste the well known delicacy.

With our bellies full of strange hot dog toppings we set off for the airport, with fingers crossed that we’d fluke it and manage to sneak on the first plane out of Iceland to London in over a week. In fact, we managed to get on the 2nd flight to London, with those stranded passengers shipped off earlier that morning. Anyone who was affected by the cancelled flights will understand how ridiculous it was that we managed to get through Iceland completely unaffected… no delays…no cancellations…and no ash particles in the engines.

So London bound we boarded what could quite possibly be the oldest plane still able to fly commercially, scaring Sal even more than normal. With a safe landing we managed to get through customs (with our 5 litres of smuggled alcohol) ridiculously quickly and caught the tube where we were greeted by our new temporary house mates, Spero and Bianca, fellow PE teachers.

Our first day in London was filled with running around London trying to organise life. A meeting with our new teaching agency, (who are awesome and so far have really looked after us) and 2 bank meetings trying to get bank accounts and then phones. After a few hiccups we managed to get ourselves sorted with bank accounts and a temporary phone.

After catching up with some of our fellow Wollongong Uni PE teacher friends, we went to visit Keiran and Glen who introduced us to London’s Lager and for Sal, cider. Anzac Day saw us up at 4am to assemble in Hyde Park with a few thousand other Aussies and Kiwis for our first dawn service, which was really cool to be involved with. London traffic around the area was even stopped for the moments silence. After a little snooze, we headed off to ‘the Reddy’, a vomit smelling Aussie, Kiwi, Saffa pub with Glen and Keiran and discovered the deliciousness of snake bites (or as Sal calls them, Spidys)

After chilling out in London for a few days, not doing much at all, we reluctantly started working. We managed to teach at the same primary school for our first day meaning Sal wouldn’t get lost on the streets of London. With our heads sufficiently banged against a brick wall, we both agreed we wouldn’t be going back to that school - (Nath – ‘Mt Warrigal ,I miss you!’). We both taught at different schools for the next 2 days, meaning Sal had to learn how to follow directions. SANZA our teaching agency make it pretty easy for us though by texting through what tubes and buses to catch and how long the walk to the school is. We both saw how much better it is if you can find the right school with both days crazily more tolerable than the first day.

During this time we also managed to search for a room of our own. After looking at about 8 or 9 places we managed to find a massive room in a 2 bedroom apartment or mansion as they call it over here, with a British couple. Within a few days we have now moved in and no longer live out of a bag…or several bags as it actually turned out. Luckily Spero has a mate with a car who kindly drove us to the Mansion to move in, otherwise the move would have been an incredibly painful ordeal. Thanks to all the Kingsgate crew for being so hospitable and letting us doss!

So now that we are set up, have our own place we are working on saving up some pounds to fund our first holiday. So far we are undecided as to where we should go however we have a week off for school holidays over Sal’s birthday, so we will be able to celebrate in style.

We’ll let you all know our UK numbers when we get our permanent phones but skype is still the best way to contact us now that we have the net, if you want to catch up.

Miss you guys!

Love Sal and Nath

Posted by nathnsal 15:00 Comments (0)

Upside down rides to the big city to the land of volcanoes

So the last week has seen us finish up our Disney World adventure, explore the city of New York and arrive in Iceland, probably the world's most hated country at the moment.

Our last 2 days in Disney World saw us visit our last unvisited theme park, Animal Kingdom and park hop around our favourite parks to get one last go on the best rides. The highlights of these last few park visits included a safari through the animal sanctuary (where, amongst other animals, we saw lazy, unmoving hippos and an ostrich which freakily attacked Nath), both of us taking on the new Expedition Everest ride, which even scared Nath just a little bit, Nath taking on America’s steepest water slide after chickening out 13 years ago and Sal taking on her fear of rollercoasters and being upside down by going on the new Aerosmith ride at Hollywood Studios.

We also went to an NBA game, Orlando Magic’s last home game and the last round game of the NBA overall. It was such an amazing experience with tons of showmanship from the players, entertainment from the mascots and cheerleaders and lots of crowd involvement. It was such an amazing night and so well run that it makes us wonder why sports form Australia don’t take a leaf out of the American’s book (I guess the amount of money US throw at sport probably has a lot to do with it…).

Overall Disney World was a huge highlight from the trip, where we managed to have an absolute ball, hardly spend a cent and everything was so incredibly hassle free and easy. Like Vegas, we highly recommend Disney World and will no doubt come back in the future.

After a sun-filled 7 days in Orlando we arrived in New York to colder temperatures and rain. Again, we experienced an incredible contrast from our previous city. Where everything was bright and sunny and people were polite and well organized in Disney World, New York was cold, wet and our bus driver took us half way around the world and back to get us to our hostel….But we are in NEW YORK, which was exciting enough!

Our hostel had an incredible location, literally 30m from Times Square. We spent our first full day in New York exploring Times Square before we headed off to the new Yankee stadium in the Bronx to see Yankees V Rangers. It was an awesome game to watch, we managed to see a few double plays, 3 home runs including one from our favourite player, Jeter (Sal had never heard of him but now we both have his shirt) and the Yankees crush the Rangers.

The next day we ventured over to Randall Island to see Cirque Du Soleil’s Ovo, which was incredible. Nath rated up there with the best he’s seen. Afterwards we visited Central Park which is such a cool place with so much going on. We stumbled upon the Central Park Roller Dancer’s Association who were putting on a demonstration. This is quite possibly the funniest and most random thing we have ever seen. It was such a strange mix of people participating, from people who could hardly stand up on roller skates to old ladies who were clearly living in their old roller dancing days to homeless looking people and crack heads to younger, average looking people. So funny to watch for a good half hour… We also went out for our first real dinner this night and most definitely didn’t take into account that US meals are twice as big as any normal meal, and so rounded bellies were the result.

Our last day in New York was spent doing the touristy things which included Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty, the pavement of Empire State building, Wall St and of course the most important being finding Carrie’s apartment stoop from Sex and the City.

And what a contrast the next destination would be…going from a city with a population of 8 million to a COUNTRY with only 300 000 residents. Iceland is an absolutely amazing country with incredible scenery. It also smells like egg fart, the toilet paper rolls from the outside and the inside and the names of anything in the country will never be pronounced correctly by an outsider.

We rented a car for our short stay in Iceland which has proved to be an excellent decision. The first day we spent at the Blue Lagoon, basically an outdoor pool full of the waste product of Iceland’s water system (the water is a bright blue colour and stays at a temperature 0f 40 degrees, despite the outside air temp being below 0, it was even snowing on is while we swimming around!). Nath also experienced an in-water massage, whilst I enjoyed the steam rooms and sauna. It was the perfect time to visit the Blue Lagoon as we were both exhausted from our whirlwind of a holiday and sleepless red eye flight.

Our second day in Iceland was a fantastic day of waterfall, geyser and of course VOLCANO chasing. As if the sights of the waterfalls of Gullfoss and the geyser of Geyser weren’t enough we managed to time our trip perfectly to also see the infamous volcano of Iceland spewing out its ash cloud of plane stopping particles. It was an absolutely amazing sight and more than likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. We took a ridiculous amount of photos throughout the day, and covered a heap of kilometers but ensured that our trip to Iceland is absolutely unforgettable. Make sure to check out the photos soon to be uploaded in coming days!

So we have one more day in Iceland (hopefully) which will be spent checking out the actual town of Reykjavík and of course sampling the hot dog stand serving the best Hot Dog in Europe as voted by the Guardian. Hopefully we have planned our trip down to a tee and we will be able to bypass all those who have been stranded in Keflavik airport and jump on our plane to London as scheduled (fingers crossed). We are both looking forward to catching up with all our Aussies in London (there are heaps to see) and also staying with our Wollongong PE teacher buddies (again so many to see!)

Remember to check out all the facebook photos!

Love and miss you all!

Sal & Nath

Posted by nathnsal 16:55 Comments (0)

Vegas and Disney World

Same country yet worlds apart

Sorry for not updating yet guys, but it’s been a hectic holiday so far…we’ve hardly had time to think about where we are and what we’re doing. Here’s the rundown of our trip so far…

After an exhausting, and largely sleepless 16 hours in the air, we arrive in Vegas to endless amounts of pokies, frozen margaritas, strange odours, absolutely horrid fashion blunders and too many fake boobs. Our hotel room at the Flamingo is absolutely amazing with a huuuuuuge bed, a TV in the mirror of the bathroom and an incredible view of the Strip (including the Bellagio fountains). Throughout our 3 days in Vegas we managed to tick the following boxes:
• Visiting almost every casino on the strip
• Gambling a little but not too much
• Winning a little but not too much
• Blowing our budget at the Outlet stores (the Hurley store definitely delivered some bargains)
• Seeing all the free night shows the casinos have to offer (Treasure Island, Bellagio, Mirage)
• Drinking and gambling at Old Vegas (awesome place and so much cheaper than the strip)
• Seeing the Freemont Experience (light show) at Old Vegas
• Clubbing (of various kinds)
• Laughing at the bizarre things homeless people do for money and/or grog
• Got a ride in a limo and VIP entrance (which isn’t so VIP, more that it’s just the back door) to a club

It was a hectic but awesome 3 days in Vegas, but after the experience it will most certainly be a destination for future visits.

The next city we found ourselves in is Orlando, Florida….more specifically Disney World. The contrast between Vegas and Disney World has never been more apparent. Everybody is always happy in Disney World, there’s no need to watch your bags, there always seems to be free things and cards with half naked girls don’t get thrown in your face. In Vegas everywhere you go people are trying to make money out of you where as Disney World we haven’t even had to tip anyone. Where we spent up big in Vegas, we’ve hardly had to spend a cent in Disney World. Our package included airport transfers, accommodation, park entry (to all the theme parks, water parks, interactive gaming parlour and miniature golf), transport and all the food that we could ask for.

After arriving at Disney World, we made a lame attempt to visit Epcot before both nodding off in a 3D movie. This was the point we decided to call it a day and sleep off our Vegas trip. Since the first day of Disney World, we have been non-stop hopping between parks, Downtown Disney and miniature golf during the day and seeing the night shows of fireworks and light shows at night. We have managed to visit 5 of the 6 parks so far, with the 6th, Animal Kingdom being on the agenda for tomorrow. Throughout the days we have gone on heaps of rides and slides, with Sal being terrified and sweaty palmed on almost everything.

We have 2 more nights in Disney World and an NBA game tomorrow night, before flying out to yet another contrasting destination, New York. We have both had so much fun so far and are excited for what the next 2 weeks have to offer.

More later but make sure you check out our photos on facebook….more to come up soon!

Love Nath and Sal

Posted by nathnsal 21:11 Comments (1)

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