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.

Diary of a bar wench

Dottie: ‘Where are you from?’
Me: ‘New Zealand.’
Dottie: ‘Good, why don’t you go back there then?’

Meet Dottie, once high society MBEr (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) and now progressively losing her marbles, ripped fur coat wearing, I would deem alcoholic pub regular.

In fact Dottie is so much of a regular at our pub, her bottle of Pinot Grigio is labelled and kept in the bottom left of the wine cooler for when she visits.

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And she visits almost every day (and even more so since she was banned from her other local), meaning my fellow bartenders and I, along with the rest of the regulars, are subjected to having the same conversations with her day in, day out – she truly has the memory of a human goldfish.

Apart from the daily ‘where are you from?’ jibe, there are seven other conversations with Dottie worth noting:

1. Dottie: ‘Do you like England?’
Me: ‘Yes.’
Dottie: ‘Well you should, England did a lot for the colonies.’

2. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know what you look like?’
Me: ‘No Dottie.’
Dottie: ‘A Jew.’

3. Dottie: ‘You’re quite common aren’t you?…I’m quite posh.’

4. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know I made being gay acceptable in England?’

5. Dottie: ‘Rachael, I would like a bottle of your finest New Zealand wine… I do like to support the colonies.’

6. Dottie: ‘Rachael, do you know I’ve met the Queen on six occasions?’

7. Dottie: ‘Did you know I spent a fortnight with Prince Charles?’

Despite my heart sinking every time she walks through the door, I am strangely sort of fond of Dottie and there was nothing quite as sobering as watching her face light up the other day when Loius Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ came on and she sat facing the wall theatrically slurring it to herself.

Of course Dottie’s by far not the only colourful regular at our pub – considering the English treat their local like we’d treat our living room.

Other notables include the Cockney twins, one of whom is possibly the world’s worst long drawn out going nowhere storytellers, Driver Dave, who despite always ordering a pint of coke and a plate of wedges never complains when I regularly give him a glass of coke by accident, the American Colonel Sanders’ lookalike who always leaves us a generous tip, the tortured eccentric artist dripping in diamant├ęs who likes to drop into conversation he has a yacht moored in Cannes, and the old Irish chaps who spend their days trying to get my phone number and have one-liners including – ‘where have you been all my life’ to which I usually reply – ‘I don’t think I was alive for most of it.’

But hands down my favourite is Disco Joe.

Disco Joe dresses like Crocodile Dundee and comes in to disco dance to his own music blaring through his headphones early on a Friday or Saturday night.

But you meet some real dregs of society working at a pub too, like the guy who complained about how long it took to get his pint after the glass randomly shattered in my colleague’s hand seeing him bleeding profusely on the floor, the girl who spewed down the front of the bar at 3.30pm on a mentally busy All Blacks’ test match day, the druggie who left her needle right next to the toilet seat for someone to stand on and the fat butch lady from a lawyers’ Christmas Party, who clicked her fingers at me, slapped the bar and yelled ‘excuse me’ to which (quite over her moaning about possibly everything that night) I snapped back, loudly barking – ‘excuse yourself, I am serving another customer, you wait your turn.’

But despite the niggles I strangely enjoy pouring pints, it’s ‘character building’ – or at least that’s what I tell myself, especially in the mornings when I’m getting up close and personal cleaning the men’s urinals, or when I’m hand ringing out the mop because I didn’t realise it came with a detachable squeegee, or when I find myself accidentally giving a customer a gin-less tonic, or a Guinness topped off with cider, or when the Mac’s Gold keg runs out without warning squirting foam at eye level and I loudly exclaim ‘how come it always explodes all over my face’ – which as soon as it’s out of my mouth I realise is about as bad as frustratedly shouting – ‘how come I never get the cock?’ in forth form badminton.

Safe to say being a bar wench, a bit like anything that requires logic and common sense, does not come naturally to me.

Just ask pub regular John, who watched me for a good two minutes the other day trying to fit a coffee mug under the coffee machine before losing it and yelling across the room – ‘Jesus Christ woman, it’s not going to fit.’

He was right.

On that note I should really mention John, one of my favourite regulars, who introduced me to the likes of Slinky Dildo on You Tube in retaliation for introducing him to Can’t Hug Every Cat – which coincidentally pretty much sums me up at the moment, as I find myself purebred cat-sitting this little rascal and her sister for my cousin and his girlfriend over the Christmas break.

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Back to John, this is him dressed as a horse/cross-dressing nun at our fourth anniversary Castle-themed birthday party.

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I went as a princess and while I didn’t find my Prince, I did get pulled aside by a regular and told I should seriously consider moving to Orlando Florida to get a job as Alice in Wonderland at Walt Disney World, which I know was meant to be a compliment but I took a bit like the Flight of the Concords song lyric – ‘you’re so pretty you could be a part-time model.’

But the best thing about working at The Castle is the people I work with, especially my fellow pint pourers Ollie and Freddie, who have resorted to calling me ‘Keisha’ in retaliation for me occasionally mixing up their names and Castle owners Cate and Aaron, who among other things, upped my shifts after I quit Winter Wonderland, let me live upstairs in the spare room for the first three weeks I worked here and accompany me on bike to the bus stop after my late shifts to save me from being accosted by the neighbourhood weirdos.

Case and point – the lady who pooed between two cars opposite the pub in broad daylight a couple of weeks ago.

And I can’t end this blog without mentioning our Mexican chef Ernesto, who calls the gigabytes on his iPod ‘jigabites’ and when the 12th of the 12th and 12:12 rolled around excused himself from his kitchen lair to come downstairs and excitedly proclaim – ‘it’s the ‘apocalypsis.’

But the only ‘apocalypsis’ that came was news that our much loved pub will be closing for good on New Years’ Eve, thanks to the local council voting in favour of developer’s plans to knock it down to make way for a four-storey apartment block.

So as much for me as for you, here is the 360 degree panoramic view of The Castle from how I see it – and will remember it – from behind the bar.

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