My year in review

I promise this is not going to be a big philosophical wanky blog post about how 2012 changed my life, although in many ways it did.

But being the dawn of 2013, it seems wrong to not at least reflect a little on what an amazing year its predecessor was.

In fairness, how could it not have been – I blew my entire life savings on backpacking and, hands down, it was the best decision I ever made.

So because I love bulletpoints here’s my 10 best and 10 worst travel memories of 2012.

I’ll start with the worst, in no particular order:

1. Greece in general – from the numerous forms of public transport that never showed up, the pre-booked accommodation on a derelict island that turned out to be deep in winter hibernation, getting kicked out of the bus station in a dodgy port town in the middle of the night and left to fend for myself with some homeless guys, and my favourite – being sold an expensive backpackers’ tour of Delphi and Olympia, only to discover when boarding the bus (bar the newlyweds) I was pretty much the only person under 50.
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2. As in the number of seriously strange massages I had – the first in Vietnam where the masseuses’ hands got dangerously close to my lady bits, and the second at a Turkish bath in Istanbul where the lady led me (basically butt naked) by the hand over to a group of Turkish woman, before pointing at me and exclaiming – ‘like a baby, my little baby’ – to which I’m still not entirely sure what she meant.

3. Getting mistaken for being pregnant at Thai boxing in Bangkok, at the beginning and I would deem skinny phase of my trip.

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4. While I’m on the subject of pregnancies… Being by myself and a blubbering mess at a camp ground in Florence and feeling like a crap sister for not being in Wellington while my sister had an emergency c-section and hopelessly waiting for news while the internet and phone lines kept crashing.

5. Making the same mistake numerous times – falling for tortured artists, in particular Casio Watch Boy (though the watch is still going strong) and the Gypsy.

6. Being locked in a token booth for 13 hour shifts and deprived of the human right to pee at Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park in London.

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7. The worst hangover of my life in Cambodia, which was the product of drinking an entire pitcher of vodka and orange at dinner because it came with a free t-shirt, the novelty of drinking beer while getting a Dr Fish massage and then finishing the night drinking buckets and shots of absinthe and then having the delayed hangover kick in while visiting Siem Reap’s temples in 40 degree heat.

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8. Getting food poisoning from an under-cooked burger in Barcelona and it rearing its ugly head eight hours into a nine hour bus trip, where I sat helplessly as spew began trickling down my legs from the sieve-like holes in the plastic bag and then arriving in Madrid to the brutal reality of checking into my non-refundable pre-booked 14 bed dorm in a party hostel.

9. The tomato coloured eye bogey incident at the Tomatina food fight in Spain.

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10. Getting lost, everywhere, all the time, usually on travel days when I had my 15kg backpack on and it was upwards of 30 degrees.

As for my best 10 travel memories of 2012…

1. The food: the coconut milk curries of Thailand, the water buffalo of Laos, the ‘Fanny’ icecream of Vietnam, the everything of Turkey, the pizza and gelato of Italy, the fromage of France, the M&S salads of England, the free tapas of Spain, the frites of Belgium, the langos of Hungary, the burek of Bosnia, the schnitzel of Austria, the hard boiled egg soup of Poland and the fried tarantula of Cambodia.

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2. Waking up on my 25th birthday on a Vietnamese junk boat in Halong Bay.

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3. Hanging out with elephants in Thailand and Laos.

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4. Never being prouder to be a New Zealander than watching the sunrise at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli on Anzac Day.
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5. Getting to be an Olympic reporter for the London Games.

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6. All those moments where I felt like I was living in a postcard.

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7. Every day getting better at this backpacking thing and realising that you really don’t need a lot of money to have a hell of a lot of fun.

8. All the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, and in particular, those who helped make it possible for me to live out of a backpack for a year. I love you guys x

9. This blog, which without a word of a lie has kept me going and when things have gone wrong I’ve been able to rationalise it and say ‘oh well at least it will make a good blog post.’ This is the first time I’ve ever had an avenue to write not for a radio news network or for a politician but for me. The only issue now is getting it to start paying the bills… suggestions welcome. Although if you’re that pestering company trying to make me advertise online gambling on my blog, for the umpteenth time I am not interested.

10. Saying farewell to 2012 and farewell forever to The Castle Pub in London where I’ve been bar wenching for the past couple of months, which is sadly about to demolished to make way for an apartment block.

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And finally about 2013.

I am coming home and arrive pretty much a year to the day I left.

There’s a few factors in that decision.

Firstly, I’ve run out of money.

Secondly, I have the chance to work with the New Zealand Olympic Committee for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney on the way home, which I am incredibly excited about.

And finally, I desperately want to spend some time with my friends and family and in particular meet my first ever and favourite nephew.

But that doesn’t mean this blog will end, it just means it may be about adventures a little closer to home – well for awhile at least.

Small world

On the wisdom of a Greek/Australian guy I met at Anzac Day I decide to head north to Meteora – home of the spectacular 14th century Greek monasteries perched precariously on the top of rock towers like this one.

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But getting here is a mission.

It involves getting up ridiculously early, pissing off all five of my dorm mates (I blame the plastic mattress covers for that), getting the metro to the outskirts of Athens, walking about 2 kilometres with my 16kg backpack, getting abused by this dodgy looking Greek guy who tries to pick me up in his convertible, and then catching two buses to the small town of Kastraki, which is at the base of Meteora.

When I arrive it’s dead on lunchtime, I haven’t eaten today, it’s insanely hot and I’m struggling to find somewhere to stay for less than 30 Euros a night.

Right as I’m about to have a mini meltdown a kiwi/English couple I met on my walking tour in Athens drive past.

They take pity on me, ply me with coffee, help me find a place to stay, stop at a bakery where I buy a cheese pie for lunch (cheese makes everything better), and drop me at the top of Meteora.

Then as I’m wandering around the monasteries I bump into this Spanish guy on my bus from Athens.

The first two times it happens we giggle and carry on our separate ways.

But on the third time I’m pretty sure the universe wants us to hang out, besides it’s getting late so I don’t really fancy walking back to Kastraki by myself.

It’s nice to have company for the afternoon, and to not have to take selfies in front of the monasteries.

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The next day I’m at the bus stop early to get back up to the top of Meteora but it doesn’t come. Like many things in Greece they have a real CBF attitude – and they wonder why their economy is rooted.

When I ask the lady at the minimart (which hosts the bus stop) when the next bus is coming she just shrugs her shoulders and gives me a look of – how would I know?

Walking it is.

It’s a full on hike.

An hour later, dripping with sweat, I do the unthinkable for me (sorry Mum) – I accept a ride from a stranger.

In fairness he was a very old Greek man and I could totally take him if it came down to it.

He kindly drives me to the furterest away monastery and refuses to take any money for it.

And then who do I run into again…Spanish guy.

He’s about to go back to Athens but at least now I have someone to have a beer with in Madrid – that’s if I ever manage to navigate my way out of Greece.

Given the effort to get to Meteora, I make myself visit all six monasteries.

They are truly something.

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Unsuprisingly, getting out of Meteora is about as easy as getting here.

The next morning I’m at the bus stop ten minutes early and when it comes it drives straight past me.

Being Greece the next bus isn’t until 1.30pm so I have to walk about 2 kilometres with my pack into town.

When I get there, again drenched in sweat, I discover I’ve just missed the bus to the port town of Volos where I need to go to catch a ferry to Skiathos, even though the timetable they gave me says it doesn’t leave for another hour.

I’m not proud to report I actually swore at the woman. Then I had a bit of a cry.

My day is now totally rooted.

I have to wait another four hours for the next bus, meaning I miss the last ferry to Skiathos, meaning I have to spend the night in Volos.

When I get to Volos I go in search of a ferry timetable. I ask a taxi driver but he’s more occupied with trying to get me to have dinner at his mate’s taverna. One too many patronising ‘you listen to me girls’ later and I say (again not proud of this) – ‘no you listen to me, I don’t want a f#%*ing souvlaki I want a ferry timetable.’

I give up and go in search of a hotel instead. The cheapest I can find is 30 Euros for a place called -wait for it…

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The only things it’s got going for it is that I can actually pronounce the name and it’s opposite the ferry terminal.

I decide to have a shower to wash away the day. It’s glorious, but when I get out I discover the door is jammed and I’m locked in the bathroom. Half an hour and a bit of hysterical laughing/crying/kicking/punching the door later and it magically opens.

The only thing to fix this now is a beer (or five) so I wander down the promenade where who do I run into….no not Spanish guy – but possibly the only other foreigner on my bus to Volos – an Australian girl.

After a pleasant dinner together I return to Hotel Jason to discover my ranch slider won’t shut. I enlist the help of the Greek woman at reception and with sheer brute force and possibly the ranch slider dying like me under her cloud of blood curdling BO it finally closes.

I’m wide awake now so I decide to read myself to sleep, but right as I open my book the main light in my room flickers out to blackness.

Greece, you are kicking my arse today.

I’m in serious need of a hug and another beer.