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.

An expensive cure for homesickness

Apparently if you drill a hole through Italy you would eventually hit New Zealand.

That’s not very comforting for me at the moment.

I’m a bit homesick.

Without going into details, I am now a first-time aunt to a tiny but healthy baby boy.

No-one was expecting this day for a couple of months, so it’s a bit of a shock and I can’t help but feeling like a crap sister for not being there.

I’m a bit of a wreck and I don’t know how to cheer myself up, so I try some good old-fashioned retail therapy.

Before I tell you what I bought – let me justify it by saying I have not bought anything for myself in four months.

I also blame the smell of Italy’s leather, it really is intoxicating.

My first purchase is a black leather jacket from the Florentine leather markets.

I knew when I saw my jacket I’d know.

It truly was love at first sight.

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Although, I returned the next day to ponder the label on it, as the guy told me he made it, but after a bit of Googling the label came up as an Italian woman’s clothing line.

He assures me he did make it but I’m skeptical – it’s the journo in me.

I’ll guess I’ll never know.

My next purchase is a leather wallet given I’m still using my moneybelt.

Justifiable.

But it’s my last purchase which is riddled with the most complications.

I want to buy a leather handbag given I only have my backpack which screams dorky tourist.

I find the one, but it’s expensive.

I nearly buy a cheaper satchel but it looks like every other bag I have ever owned. I have a habit of doing that.

After thinking about it obsessively, I go back the next day to buy the expensive one, but the lady in front of me buys the last two in the colour I want for her daughters.

There’s only one other place in Florence that sells them and the guy’s a total jerk.

I went in yesterday and he looked and treated me like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, he even snatched the bag out of my hands – apparently I was zipping it wrong.

On principle I don’t want to buy it from him, but if I don’t, I know it will plague me.

So I decide to treat him like he’s treated me.

I go back in, tell him I want this bag, but don’t want to buy it from him given the way he treated me, but have no choice because the other place has sold out.

He actually went a bit red.

Good. Jerk.

I also stretch the truth a bit, exagerating the discount the other guy was going to give me, thus ensuring a good price and thus freaking him out and making him think the only other retailer of this bag in Florence is undercutting him.

Sweet revenge. Although not quite as sweet as in Pretty Woman.

Here are my babies.

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And no, I didn’t realise how colour co-ordinated they were until I got them back to the luxury of my dorm tent.

I can’t say my leather purchases cured my homesickness, but what it did do was make me go on a diet, because now I can’t really afford to eat.

Mind you, that’s probably not a bad thing, four months on a backpacker’s diet really does do rude things to your body.

The art of grafting

I’m getting pretty good at grafting myself to people.

My latest victims are two 20-year-olds, both long-legged runners, studying in the States.

I met them at Rome’s train station as some young punk was trying to distract me, clearly in an effort to steal my bag.

I didn’t have a place to stay in Florence, so they kindly offered to share a three-person dorm tent at the camping ground with me.

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It was actually pretty comfortable, although the outside smelt like piss, our neighbours woke me up one night when I could hear them having ridiculously loud sex through my industrial-strength earplugs, and there was a throbbing all-night, every-night Italian disco just across the fence.

But it was a great base to explore Florence from and as the long-legged runner (who sounded freakishly like Lisa Simpson) had excellent map reading skills, I saw a lot of the city without having to think.

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We even stumbled across some weird exhibition, not sure what the meaning of this piece was, but it even smelt like a cake.

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After all the sightseeing we went in search of a coffee break…and ended up at Mc Donalds.

I know, I know, but the golden arches seem to be the only place in Italy where you can sit down with a coffee without getting slapped with a service charge, which can easily triple the price of your espresso.

After a day of it, we decide to make a night of it and what a beautiful night it is.

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Although on the way we run into a group of pre-pubescent boys.

I had to laugh when one of my travel buddies innocently pondered what they were saying in Italian and I had to break it to her that they were actually saying in English – “come suck my dick.”

We were outraged.

Seriously, they’re like 12.

I decide to start taking photos of them. They bolt.

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We then meet the older cocker waiter version of them at our restaurant.

The first thing he says when we sit down and ask for a menu is – “can I have your phone number?”

Over the course of dinner he starts taking photos of himself on our cameras.

His ego is impressive, but unjustifiable.

And being from New Zealand, the home of Tall Poppy Syndrome and people who don’t toot their own horn I find European men in general very, very strange.

He’s easy to manipulate though, so with a bit of harmless batting of the eyes we get free shots of limoncello.

We’re on a roll and at our next bar we manage to wangle free apple shots, then when we ask the owner what’s the cheapest bottle of wine he can give us, he replies – “how about a free bottle of prosecco?”

All this drinking inevitably leads to dancing and before I know it both of my travel buddies are pashing and grinding on the dance floor to LMFAO.

I refuse to dance to LMFAO and besides I’m also trying to hide from this pasty American who thinks he’s Usher with diamond studs in both ears, waving his hands to the music like he’s from the west side.

No matter where I go – boom – he’s right there.

I swear I have a weirdo radar.

But, in what’s turning into a re-occurring theme for me, the next day I lose my travel buddies when they leave for Lake Como.

I’m alone – again.

This time queuing, while slightly hungover, to get into the Uffizi Galley and then the Accademia where Michaelangelo’s David is housed.

I know, I should have booked ahead to avoid queuing but getting wifi in Florence was a no-go.

And, to make my hangover worse, my iPod runs out of battery in the line to see David, and I’m stuck behind some insanely loud Americans for an hour-and-a-half.

I swear I nearly decked one of them when he finally got to the counter to pay and asked the Italian host in a very patronising voice – “do you speak American?”

One word on Americans…. I find it funny that they seem to be the only people in the world who when you ask where they’re from they tell you the state opposed to the country, as if you should automatically know where it is.

So I’ve decided that next time an American does this to me I’m going to reciprocate and tell them I’m from Stoke.

Anyway, I digress.

Back to David.

I was expecting some sort of build up, like the way the Vatican does with the Sistine Chapel, but no you walk in and he’s right there – all 5.17-metres of him.

And, I was expecting to be underwhelmed given replicas of David are everywhere in Florence but I actually gasped when I saw him. He’s seriously impressive.

I’d show you a photo but you’re not allowed to take any, so the best I can do is the replica of David at Piazza Michaelangelo next door to where I’m staying.

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