Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Madrid for the World Federation of Deaf Congress

We caught a bus to Madrid from Malaga, it was a 6 hours bus ride and we arrived at Madrid around dinner time. We checked into Cats Hostel where other deaf people were also staying, caught up with old friends, met new friends.

Our stay in Madrid was enjoyable but it was not very touristic, we walked around the Sol shopping district and went to the pub every night with other deaf people and chatted the night away. I only went inside the congress once to see what it was like but we had to pay to go inside to chat to our friends, that was a ripper.
We visited the Palace de Real, the Royal Palace, I wouldn't say that it's beautiful on the exterior but where it is situated is breathtaking, you can see the hills and the houses from the courts of the palace. We went inside and saw different themed rooms from each ruler and read a bit of the history about Madrid and the palace.

Palace de Real

Overlooking the hills from the courtyard

One day we went to Toledo, it was a very nice small town. If I am correct, it was actually the first capital city of Spain before it was moved to Madrid. I went with friends and we mucked about, walking all over the town and catching a buggy ride to the outer skirts where you can see into Toledo and it was fun.

The only mar in Madrid was that there were so much thefts happening, even to our close friends which was hard on us. Passports, wallets and even a backpack got stolen, it pays to be extra careful but to enjoy your stay you shouldn't have to need worry about your things getting pinched.

Our travelling group

Onto Spanish soil

We caught the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa in Spain. We had intended to go to Algeciras but somehow we had tickets for a different city! But neverthless we made our way to Malaga and got to see how beautiful Tarifa is. I would describe it as a small surfing town, everything is so white and the streets were tiny! Bugge stopped by at a lolly shop and bought a variety of lollies and we immediately loved them, I never knew what they were called but everytime we'd see them in Spain we'd get enough to share amongst us, but then by the ending stage of our Spanish trip we were sick of them.

When we arrived at the seaport in Tarifa, we walked to the city centre and waited a while for the bus to Algeciras where we changed for another bus to Malaga, this process took pretty much all day but we got to see a lot of the Spanish land this way.

We stayed in Malaga for two nights, spent our days walking around the city, seeing places and just enjoying the atmosphere. Swimming at the beach was an experience we'll never forget. There were hundreds if not a thousand people sunning on the beach but about 5 or 10 brave souls swimming in the sea.

Beach at Malaga

Men cooking fishes on a boat and then selling them at the beach

On the train to Fes and Tangier

We caught a ride with Marie, the French owner of Dar Atif to Marrakech and we see a posher and more developed side of the city we hadn't seen yesterday. We caught the train to Rabat but we decided to continue onto Fes so we could stay there for 2 nights instead of 1. Train touts came to us, sat down in our compartment and started chatting about how they're educated, teaching at universities, married with a kid, then they would ask us where we're headed for and say 'oh I've got a cousin/uncle who owns a hotel in Fes' or 'my uncle's cousin is a tour guide and can show you around for a reasonable price'. We just brushed them off, we had agreed on a couple of pretty cheap hotels that we were going to try and get beds with but once we got to Fes, we were very hot (it was over 40c) and felt too buggered to walk around looking for beds with our backpacks so we just stopped by the first hotel we saw which was very nice and had a 'piscine' (swimming pool).

We had a look around Fes for a couple of days, saw the mosque, walked around the city centre, went shopping in the markets where we bought a couple of stuff, but our stay in Fes pretty much consisted of swimming and relaxing in the sun.
Then we caught another train to Tangier, the port of Morocco from Spain. The air conditioner didn't work on the train and so we were stuck in the sweltering heat for more than two hours. We would walk from our compartment to the middle carriage and pry the doors open and hot air blasted inside and it was much better than sitting down in stuffy air with 5 other people's stinky hot breath!

Tangier, Morocco

Tangier turned out to be a beautiful beachside city, it's very modern compared with Marrakech. We spent the only night there exploring the beachside shops, markets and people were selling things on footpaths. Melissa had a henna done on her foot, (the henna lasted for two weeks!).

Melissa's henna

After a week of travelling, our time in Morocco was over and it was time to move onto Spain.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Marrakech, Morocco

9th July

Arrived at Marrakech at 9am onboard Ryanair. The weather was hot but tolerable. We all didn't have enough sleep the previous night because we had to get up super early to catch our plane from London Luton so we were pretty tired on arrival at Marrakech. And to make our tireness worse, we had to haggle with taxi drivers for a price just to get to our hotel 33kms outside of Marrakech. The driver was scary, reckless with driving and kept on checking out Melissa who was sitting in the front, more than we could count.

Sarah was unsure of what to expect in Morocco, the first thing Bugge says about Morocco is that he cannot see anything beautiful about the country. I say to Bugge that we're here to experience their culture, Sarah says that she already hates their culture. This is just one hour into Morocco... sigh...

When we arrive at Dar Atif, our hotel, the driver tries to rip us off, saying that it's extra 50 dirhams for each of our backpacks, but Bugge stood his ground and say no, that we already had agreed on a price and surprisingly enough he went off without arguing more, a relief.
The Dar Atif Hotel is a nice place, nothing too interesting about it but we thought it was cool how they built it ontop of a hill and we had the whole floor to ourselves for a very cheap price. The owner was a French woman, we asked her many questions about Marrakech and the surroundings and she was very helpful but there were a bit of a language barrier. At that time we had not realised that understanding language would be even more harder once we stepped out of the hotel. There is nothing in English in Morocco, only French, Arabic & Berber.

Our hotel, Dar Atif

Neighbours, women washing their clothes

The view from our room

We walked to the market along very rough roads and past many men who would stare at us, call out and whistle. It took us about half an hour to walk to the market but we couldn't find anything that we needed there so we turned back, we were going to catch a taxi back to the hotel but Sarah & Bugge couldn't understand the Moroccans and they decided to give up and walk back to the hotel. By this point, Sarah was very tired, grumpy and really hated Morocco. Melissa and I tried our best to try and encourage her to no avail. Melissa and I then decided that we would go to the next village, which was approx. 20 mins walk in the opposite direction and find food & water while Sarah & Bugge would stay behind and rest. Melissa and I reached the first restaurant and our hopes are raised but then once we see their food, our hopes are crushed. They hang out their meat on sticks from the roof, and they cook outside in the heat with flies around. We asked the men there where we can get 'food' and they point us further down the road and away we went, we found another restaurant. This time the restaurant is decent and they had a menu, but alas, everything is in French. We mimed to the lovely man who was the owner and asked him what the menu said, and he goes around commanding his staff to show us which food was in French and how they were cooked. We finally chose edible food that we would eat ravenously! We ordered some more and got some 4 x 1.5 Litres of water, a bottle of coke and one of fanta and carried them back to the hotel for Sarah & Bugge. Carrying the water back was a bad idea because they warmed too quickly and we couldn't stand to drink it.

Can't remember what this is called, but it's a typical Moroccan dish

We retired to bed very early that night, but all of us are scared of intruders at our hotel, we didn't have locks to our room and there were a windowless hole in our room where cool air breezed through. Unfortunately for us, we had heard of many stories about Moroccan men and what they are capable of, and ontop of that our experiences today from the market. I checked our whole floor and came to the conclusion that nobody can climb the high walls to get in.

10th July

Breakfast at 8am consisted of what appeared to be a production of an American pancake but didn't taste like one. Marie, the Frenchwoman drives us to the next village where we catch a taxi to Marrakech city centre. It was so different to what we had seen around Dar Atif. We walked along a street, unsure where to head or what to look for, after a bit of ducking into and out of shops we decide to look for the mosque but we found it closed. A man in a nearby shop takes us into a herbal treatment shop where we saw thousands of herbs and ointments for every ailment you can think of. When we tired of walking along the souks we went to look for food but didn't find anything on this particular side of Marrakech so we decided to catch a taxi back to the village near Dar Atif and get something to eat. After eating, we bought a whole watermelon and carried it back to Dar Atif where we had some of it for dessert.

When we walk around on this side of the country, we encountered many things, men on donkeys, carts being pulled by donkeys, women in traditional moroccan clothes (they're muslims but they dress differently to women in different Arabic countries) and children on bike who would stare at us. We also had sheep as neighbours, a lot of Moroccan families keep animals such as sheep, goats etc on the roof when they're not eating and at night time.


That night, we were extra scared and decided to sleep together in the same bedroom. I think I might have made the situation worse by telling Sarah and Bugge that I saw shadows of people walking past on my bedroom wall. Melissa was knocked out and didn't have a care for the world. Staying together was stifling hot because we had the door shut and the window 'door' shut and four bodies with hot air being expired.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Stonehenge, Salisbury & Bath

Saturday 7th July

We had booked a tour of three attractions with Golden Tour for the day. I woke up early and caught the bus from Maida Vale to Victoria station where I was to meet up with my sisters but the bus did not go all the way, it stopped at Park Lane and we all had to get off, I asked the bus driver what was happening and he said 'you have to walk to Victoria, it's about 10 mins away', and so off I went fastwalking because I only had about 10 - 15 mins left before meeting with the others. As I walked, I saw barriers being set up, police patrols and such and then I saw a banner saying 'Tour de France- Major London roads closed 6th/7th/8th July'. After a bit of walking distance, I didn't know where to turn so I asked a copper where Victoria was, and he gave me directions and said it was a good 10 minutes!
I reckon I had walked about 20 mins before arriving at Victoria and met up with Melissa, we rushed to the bus station (Victoria is a large station, it has trains, tubes, bus and river ferry stations). Our tour bus left at 9am and headed straight for the Stonehenge, it was about 2 hours before we got off the bus, the roads were very congested. The tour guide said that because it was a Saturday and other people had the same idea as us, visiting the Stonehenge or going to the beach for the day. The group split up individually, we had information brochures and were told the time to meet back at the bus for the next attraction tour. Melissa, Sarah, Bugge & I went off on our own under the freeway and onto the other side of the road, for the Stonehenge. I had a book script with history and such of the Stonehenge which I found very interesting.

There are many myths about why the Stonehenge was built, and what was it used for and nobody really knows why! However, they do know how they brought the stones there (they came from Wales) and how they built it. It was built around the same time as the pyramids in Egypt about 5,000 years ago. But the Egyptians were more clever and used papyrus to tell their story, and the English didn't have anything. The Stonehenge were already there way before the Romans invaded Britain, it's how old it is!


After finishing at the Stonehenge, Melissa and I went back to our bus (we had split up with Sarah and Bugge), and could not find them on the bus, the tour guide did a head count and there were some people missing. Melissa rushed out of the bus to find Sarah & Bugge, but it didn't take her long to find them and they were last on the bus and we left Stonehenge minus two tourists. The tour guide said that we couldn't wait any longer, and those two people would have to find their own way back to London. This served as a warning for Sarah & Bugge!!

It was only 15 minutes before we arrived at Salisbury, we headed into a pub for a traditional english lunch, bangers and mash. The look of it was awful and we only could eat few bites before feeling sick. We then made our way to Salisbury Abbey, it's the tallest church in England apparently. You can find the Magna Carta there, it is Latin for 'Great Charter'. It is an agreement that was issued in 1215 between King John, Pope Innocent III and King John's English barons. Before the charter, there were a lot of disagreement between the church and the monarchy about the rights of the King, the Magna Carta forced the King to renounce some rights, respect legal procedures and accept that he is to be bounded by the law. This agreement has had a great influence on our consitution law today.

Salisbury Abbey

We left behind 4 more people at Salisbury when we headed for Bath.

It was quite a drive to Bath, but there were some attractions along the way that we could see from the bus, I remember seeing a chalk impression on a hill of an Army hat under a sun. The tour guide said that it was in tribute to the Australian Army. The tour guide talked a bit about the traditional British thatch roof, and how expensive it is to build it because not many people are skilled in making thatched roofs. If you wanted to learn the skill, you can't go to a school, you have to find someone with the skill and learn it directly from them and thus it's so expensive and rare to find a thatcher. Also, I found another interesting thing about the Britons, back then what the man's occupation was, it is also his surname. For example, with Margaret Thatcher, we can say that her husband's forefathers made thatched roofs.

Upon arrival at Bath, we headed straight for the Roman Baths, and again the tour group split up individually so we were free to explore on our own time. Extensive history can be found about the Romans in Bath, the Roman Bath were built by the Romans over 2,000 years ago but they departed and the region was claimed by the Saxons and they built additional temples and such over the bath. Normans then invaded the region and built more over what the Saxons had built. I remember seeing something about that the town of Bath had grown 6 metres from original ground over the years with each generation building their own lives ontop of the ruins of the past.

You can see how high each generation has built over past ruins here

Relaxing by the main Roman Bath

After exploring the baths, we tried some holy water. I had imagined fresh cold delicious water, but instead it was warm almost hot, smelled of natural underground elements (like iron) and tasted very thick. I could only manage to have several sips but had to leave it. I most definitely won't be cured!!

The four tourists that we had left behind in Salisbury managed to catch a train to Bath and catch up with us! But then unfortunately our bus had a flat tyre and had to be fixed, and only some of us were lucky enough to catch a differen bus but with the same company back to London. We got off at Gloucester Road at 8pm, it was a long day but very good.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

First few days in London

It was rainy old London (as usual) when I arrived at 6.40pm on 2nd July, I had to put up with rigorous questions from the immigration office because I am going to stay in the UK for more than 6 months. They grilled me about how much I had in the bank, if I had a job lined up, if not, have I joined a job agency?, where was I going to live, who am I going to live with? and do I have relatives in the UK? Somehow, I managed to pass the 'test' and they sent me to the Immigration Doctor who they said were going to ask me few more questions before I could get my passport back but all I just had to do was hand a nurse a form and the nurse typed something on the computer and stamped my form and said I was free to go and get my passport and enter the UK. I collected my bags and then went straight to Piccadilly Circus where I met up with Melissa, Sarah, Bugge and Ben.

We then went to Melissa Connor and Mazen's flat in Maida Vale, I am going to stay with them for a week before we head off to Morocco. Another friend from Melbourne, Shel was also staying with them and we had a long catch up before retiring for the night (should I say morning instead?).

On 3rd July, I had something called half of both an interview and a meeting with SIGN Charity, the organisation that Melissa worked for. I met up with a manager there and he has said that I can work as a bank staff at two of their houses (they provide care for residents with mental health issues). They call casuals 'bank staff' here! This is a good thing, having something that I can work for but I am still going to look for a fulltime job to be able to live in this expensive city!

After the meeting, Melissa, Sarah, Bugge & I went to London Tower Bridge. I have not actually been this close to the Tower Bridge, in the past I had seen it from a distance. There were also art displays of guitars near the Thames River bank. The 'Art' were large painted guitars and signed by famous musicians, I saw one signed by Paul McCartney. We mucked around and took silly photos, I was very tired from the jetlag and Sarah was sick with the cold.

Bugge & Sarah at London Tower Bridge

Sarah & Melissa with a funky guitar


The four of us!

After that, we went to Green Park tube station to meet Donna & Mike from Australia. They are staying at Melissa's flat now (it's full over there!). But unfortunately for Donna & Mike, they got lost at Green Park and it was a very long time before we finally met up (they are safe now!). By the time, we found Donna & Mike, I had to go back to Maida Vale to go and play netball with the London Deaf Netball Team. It was my first match and their first match for the season so perfect timing. I had asked Melissa C what colour to wear to play, and she said 'any colour, it won't matter, wear tracksuit pants and a t-shirt and it should be fine'. So I picked the most comfortable and sporty clothes I had and went off to netball with Melissa C and Shel. We played our game outdoor in the rain, some players were wearing raincoats, and I had my thick jacket on. I only could tell the players apart by looking at their bib (thank god for different coloured bibs). I played defence with Melissa C, it was good to play with her again, we had played together before in Australia. We won the game 16-5!

Melissa C, Shel and I were starved after the game, we decided to have souvlaki and just chill out before heading home. I came back to the flat with my pant half wet, matted hair, soaked socks and wet runners and had a very hot bath which then made me more tired than I already was!

That night we had two Japanese friends stay over with us, Yumiko and Satsuko (?), by the time they arrived before midnight, I was already tired and decided to go to bed a bit early this time! They with Shel went to Barcelona today to travel around Spain for a bit before the WFD in Madrid.


After leaving Melbourne on the 8am plane to Shanghai Pudong Airport, I arrived in a very humid Chinese city just after 8pm. After walking about 5 steps outside the airport, I was sweating, my jeans felt hot and clingy. I searched the airport for the Maglev (Magnetic Elevation) Train, I had to catch the Maglev to Longyang Rd Station to meet Hua, Heath and Michelle, school friends who were also holidaying in China at the same time I arrived. After fruitless walking along corridors that linked the airport to the carpark/train station (half of the airport is under renovation), I gave up and asked for direction and a lady kindly showed me the right way and I found Maglev to be a very sophisticated train. It does not run solely on electricity but on electromagnetic force and can travel up to 581kmph, but we only managed 431kmph and I've got a photo to prove that! It only took me 7 minutes to get to Longyang (30kms) whereas by a taxi it would have taken one hour!! The Chinese do not drive fast and the highest limit on freeways were only 80kmph.

Maglev Train

After meeting Hua, Heath & Michelle at Longyang, we had a quick catch up on what one other had been doing. Heath & Michelle has travelled around some Asian countries for a month and Hua was holidaying in China for 3 weeks, visiting her family. We caught a taxi to Hua's Grandmother's house where she offered us ice blocks to help cool us down, this was by the time of 10pm and we were still sweating, I rolled up my jeans to knee length. After some discussion, we decided that we would go to the hotel where Hua and I were staying and then go to the Nanjing (shopping district) where Heath & Michelle were staying and they would give me a quick tour of Nanjing.


We had a look around in Nanjing, the shops were closed but there were still people walking around, a person would come up to us and show us photos on a paper, I don't know what they are called but they target tourists and try to entice them to come into a shop with them where they sell fake designer things. We would just brush them off but once we've brushed them off, another one would come to us! It never ended! There were also a lot of beggars, an old man with a walking stick and a rattling cup followed us for a short while but we managed to lose him by fastwalking, but then he caught up with us when we were sitting down and ordering drinks at a cafe.

We had decided to sit down at a cafe and have a proper drink, (stiff drink for some of us!). After some deliberate thinking, we decided to drink up to welcome my arrival in China and to say farewell to Heath & Michelle, they were flying back to Hong Kong the next day. We ordered a shot each and then had tequila sunrise which was delicous but a bit difficult to drink at the end! We ended up feeling very hot with the alcohol in our bodies! It was past midnight at this point.

Sunrise Tequilas!

As a courtesty staff at the cafe provided us with a large bowl of very tiny roasted nuts which was delicious, but we had to learn how to master picking up the nuts with chopsticks and I have never used a chopstick properly before! After many attempts and coaching from the staff (they were very nice!) I finally mastered the skill and were able to eat nuts! By this point we were feeling very exhausted, and went back to Heath's hotel, said our bye's and headed back to our own hotel to sleep.

Finally eating a roasted nut!

The next morning Hua's Mother came around to wake us up and take us to breakfast, but we ended up going into little shops on the way and this delayed time and I had to rush to the airport in time to catch my plane to London, I went on the Maglev again and was still amazed at how smooth and quick it is!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Not long to go!

Only 5 more days to go... and counting!!!

I depart Melbourne on Sunday 1st July at 8am!! An early flight argh! But at least it'll take me to China earlier.

I'll be staying in Shanghai for a night with lovely Hua and her family!! I hadn't planned on staying in Shanghai but my transit period between flights is a long 18 hours... and who is patient enough to spend more than a day stuck in the airport??

After visiting Shanghai, I'll be heading straight to London to meet up with my sisters. Melissa and I have the obligatory task of showing Sarah and Bugge who have not yet been to London around the city. After that, we'll head off to Morocco and then Spain for the WFD Congress in Madrid and a taste of the Mediterranean! We'll be meeting up with Deaf friends along the way around Spain, the WFD is a huge event and Melbourne will be a very quiet place to be in during the Congress!

I will be based in the UK for as long as possible, I have a visa for up to 2 years but only am eligible to work for 12 months. I am not too sure where I will be living yet, but for the time being I'll stick by Melissa and her flatmates at Battersea (South London) until I settle in and get regular work and know what I have to do.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

My first post!


I have set up a blog where I will be adding stories about my travel adventures whenever I have the chance!

As most of you are aware, I am going to relocate within the UK from July, am so excited at the prospect!! I've travelled a bit in the past few years and I find it very hard to answer each email with 'where are you now?' etc cetera, so I decided to take the initiative and try set up a blog for travel purposes only :-)

I will add a post just prior to leaving Australia about where I will be and what I want to see, and hopefully by the end of July I'll be able to achieve that!

Till later!

Hugs Debbie xox