I’ve been to Tasmania at least five times before, and seen most of its major attractions, but never made it to Bruny Island off the south-eastern coast near Hobart. This beautiful spot exceeded all of our expectations and was very much worth the trip.
I got inspired by another blog to write about my first ever big solo overseas trip, which was USA back in April and May 2001, when I was 20 and a month away from the legal drinking age (not that it mattered since I’m a boring non-drinker anyway). I’ve travelled a lot since then, but your first independent trip always remains a rather special memory. I even dug out my travel diary, which was an interesting read in retrospective. For one thing 99% of it is written in Russian, whereas now my travel diaries are 99% in English, and it’s a bit sad to see how much fluency I’ve lost. And good lord it’s overzealous with descriptions; I spent three whole pages listing all the things I’ve seen at the American Museum of Natural History.
St Cristobal is a charming place with the pedestrian-only streets in the centre and endless cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. From there, a couple of us went on a half-day excursion to the local villages and Chamula, a town which is mostly famous for its most unusual church. Unfortunately you couldn’t take any photos inside – a fact which was stressed to us over and over – and the descriptions don’t do it justice. Let’s just say that the church is a very bizarre blend of the pre-conquest Mayan and Christian traditions, and involves pine needles on the floor, hundreds of candles, and a chicken sacrifice.
Mexico trip was a blast; I loved the places we visited and while I almost never had a bad group on my organised trips, our group in Mexico was probably the most fun one and just a great bunch of people. We started in Mexico City, which I wished I could have spent more time in as it felt like I only scratched the surface. Or maybe not, because, as I realised only a few days before, Mexico City is 2,250 m above the sea level, which means altitude sickness and its lovely symptoms like increased motion sickness and feeling bloated. Anyway, the highlight for me was visiting Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum, where she and Diego Rivera lived and which is dedicated to her life and works. There weren’t that many actual Frida Kahlo paintings, but it’s still a must-visit for any Frida fan (and I so want her colourful kitchen).
This whole trip happened because of a very special event: the 25th Anniversary Bash for the Ultima Dragons, the internet fan club devoted to the Ultima role-playing game series whose member I’ve been for close to 20 years. I travelled to Vietnam last year and I didn’t anticipate another trip overseas so soon after, but when I heard that a celebration was to be held in Anaheim, I decided almost instantly that I wanted to come. Flying to USA and back again from Australia is quite an ordeal, so to make the most of it I also tacked on an organised trip to Mexico; I’ve never been to Central or South America so I thought I’d start with USA’s closest neighbour.
Spent four days up in Queensland, in a place where every day was reliably hot and sunny without crazy temperature drops we have to endure here in Melbourne. Though on the plus side, we don’t have to worry about crocodiles and six varieties of stingers. It was rather weird to see beautiful palm-fringed beaches with beautiful warm water… except you couldn’t swim anywhere outside of the official netted areas.
We stayed in Hoi An for three nights, and it was totally worth it: it’s an incredibly pretty place, especially enchanting at night. We did another countryside excursion on the second day, this time on a mountain bike. By the end of the trip, I felt like some parts of me might never be the same again, but it was a fun day out. Among other things, we got to make our own rice noodles for lunch.
I’ve never heard of Nha Trang before, and it turned out to be a coastal resorty place, full of Russian tourists. It was bizarre seeing Russian signage and menus everywhere. We had a full day boat trip on the bay, including snorkelling which unfortunately I didn’t get to do since I can’t see much without my glasses. The water however was lovely and warm, and I really tried to squeeze in as much sunbathing and swimming as possible before coming back to Melbourne and the impending winter.
Once in Ho Chi Minh City (our group leader never called it so, preferring the old name of Saigon), I finally gathered enough courage to try the frog. It tasted kinda like chicken and caused many Kermit jokes around the table. I really liked the city and its wide shaded boulevards, even if the street traffic here was at its most intimidating to cross.