After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Back in Blighty - March & April 2012

Lovely weekend walking and cycling in the Lakes

After a while of our plans being up in the air, we finally got a few things organised. Air Asia refunded our flight back to Perth so we were free to consider our options.

In the meantime, we still had the Eurostar booked to Paris (where we were originally intended to fly from) and had already organised to go away for a few days with my parents. On our way down we stopped for a couple of days in London to catch up with some friends.

The first night we spent with Kirsty and Gavin in Acton. Kirsty and Charlotte lived together in first and second year at university. We had an awesome meal at a local Japanese restaurant, and it was the first time we had eaten proper sushi and sashimi. Who knew raw fish could taste so good! Also had some rather excellent deep fried pork and tempura prawns and vegetables; from what I can gather the Japanese only entertain two methods of cooking; deep fried or not at all! Back at the flat we played with their super cute rag doll kittens and were introduced to the delights of Take Me Out on the TV. This is starting to sound sarcastic, but we genuinely had a great night! The next day we visited the Lucien Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Whatever your opinion on his style, it's incredible to be able to to see an artist's lifework spanning over seventy years. It was a hugely enjoyable exhibition, despite the crowds. Next stop, the Fowles! We hadn't seen Beckah and Mark since Isaac was born, awesome to see them again and of course the little man himself. We were treated to a delicious home cooked meal and it was fab to have a proper catch up with them. And Isaac was a delight! It feels very strange that when we left he wasn't even born, and now he's a proper little boy. After wandering around Highgate Cemetery and paying tribute to Karl Marx's grave (!) we met up with my parents. Pints of ale all round at The Tap before heading to St Pancras for the Eurostar. After a slightly raucous journey (England were playing France the next day), Mum and Dad headed to their hotel and we were very kindly picked up by Marina, where we stayed again with her and parents.

The first day we spent at the Musee D'Orsee, a beautifully designed museum in an old railway station. A complete assortment of bits and pieces, from sculpture to paintings to puppet theatres, and featuring a fabulous clock (the original station clock) that you can look through and out over the city. We stopped for a cheeky vino and wandered the backstreets a little more, before eating some traditional french grub at a bistro that evening. The next day we decided to head up the Eifel Tower. We walked up so avoided the queue, and enjoyed the spectacular views. Later that afternoon we took a boat trip down the river, nice to get a different perspective on things and always lovely to take to the water on a sunny day. That evening we went with Marina and her mum to Marina's favourite creperie in St Germaine, which we can safely testify is also our favourite creperie. Yum! After spending a lovely few days together, we bid Mum and Dad farewell as they were back off on the Eurostar the next day.

We had another couple of days before we flew back. After a quick stop at Le Visenet market, we headed into the city to check out the Ay Wei Wei photography exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. The photographs were a good mixture of documenting where he'd been and what he'd done, as well as the progress of various art works he had been doing. There was a photograph of a building which he'd been asked by the Chinese authorities to design, basically as a rouse to keep an eye on him for a while. As soon as the building was completed it was bulldozed, completely, in one day. Ridiculous, and such a waste of time, but clearly the Chinese authorities way of asserting their power. We then grabbed a possibly the best sandwich ever (basically a gourmet cheese and ham baguette!) and enjoyed wandering down the canal. Hard to pinpoint, but just seemed to have a really good vibe about it, even if it is a seedy area in places. We were hoping to have a nosey around the cemetery but it was closed by the time we got there, so we settled for (surprise surprise) a beer instead. It had been awesome as always to see Marina and were very grateful for her superb hospitality.

On our last day in Paris before catching a flight back we visited the Catacombs. Created at the end of the 18th century as various cemeteries were closed, it is a network of tunnels and caves that runs for over 300 km under the streets of Paris. It's so huge that in the past illegal raves have been held down there with the authorities being none the wiser until after the event. It houses over 6 million skeletons, only a small section of it is open to members of the public. The walls of the corridors are created from stacks upon stacks of bones, all laid in different patterns. It was absolutely fascinating and very eerie, possibly making it one of our top tips of things to do in Paris. For the second day in a row time got away for us, and we didn't make it to the cemetery to see Jim Morrison's grave as intended!

While we were home we caught some great local bands. First up was Matt (singer in my old band, the 'Commies) doing a solo gig at none other than the Top Lock in Wheelton, a short stroll from my parents house. Great to see Matt again and he played a very impressive and accomplished set, he's got a great set of lungs on him and even my parents enjoyed it. His cover of a Chuck Ragan song was a special bonus. Matt couldn't keep himself away from Wheelton and played in the Red Lion a few weeks later (although technically he was in the Heapey half of the pub, the parish boundary splits the pub in two!), along with Seamus who we had got to know a little over the weeks we were home. Playing to a packed pub on a Saturday night, there was a great atmosphere and great sets from both of them. We drank until the small hours with Seamus and the Top Lock's managers, a great night all in all. We also got to check out Failsafe, Matt's band, at their hometown album release show in Preston, a great set in a great little venue (Mad Ferret, I have great memories of playing upstairs in Strettles) with a great atmosphere, couldn't have asked for better!

Whilst we were home Motion City Soundtrack decided they had one free date left in their European tour schedule, and got their fans to vote for which city outside of London to play a show. Manchester won by a mile and we made the trip from Sheffield with Emily and Alex to meet up with Adam and Suze for some dinner before checking out the show. Adam and Suze hadn't been able to get tickets and we'd been told there wouldn't be many on the door but in the end they managed to get some. Motion City were awesome as usual, although have upped their game a lot since their earlier, more raucous days.

I had the pleasure of staying with Mr Mark Fell in the Lake District a couple of times while we were back home. He's working at YHA Ambleside, and as such he's been a great excuse to get out to the Lakes, without the high accommodation costs this would normally involve!

The first time I visited on my own in March, as Charlotte was hard at it writing up a piece of research for a psychologist she worked with in Perth. I decided to challenge myself and take my bike, as it was about time I started doing some proper cycling, rather than just commuting or occasional day trips. To be fair the trip only ended up being 3 hours from Oxenholme to Ambleside, including a refreshing pint at Hawkshead Brewery! I took a detour out of Kendal up a very long and steep hill, only to realise I was going the wrong way, all the while the weather was really hotting up (this was the start of the March heatwave). Eventually I got on the right track and had an enjoyable ride down country roads through picturesque villages, and a nice easy descent through Windemere into Ambleside. The YHA there is in a fantastic setting, right on Lake Windermere, so we spent the late afternoon enjoying the sun by the lake, pint in hand.

We had planned to go back to the Hawkshead Brewery as there was a beer festival on, so after a 3 mile walk to Windermere and a missed train, we finally arrived around 8pm. We devoured excellent gourmet hot dogs for sustenance and got our taste buds fired up for some excellent beer from Hawkshead and other notable breweries including Fyne Ales, Summer Wine, Marble and Magic Rock. The cask strength offerings from Hawkshead knocked us for six (in both taste and strength, being 6% strength), and a good time was had by all. Some colleagues of Mark's were driving, so thankfully we were driven straight back to the hostel and into bed before our big walk the next day.

We stirred around mid-morning, rather more hungover than we had intended, fuelled up on bacon and egg butties and mint cake for the walk before heading off in the wrong direction. This meant a detour up a fairly steep hill, in the midday sun, hungover and moments after eating a greasy sandwich. Needless to say, I wasn't feeling tip-top by this point and had a momentary crisis of confidence in whether I could actually complete the walk. I decided to go for it and push on, and despite a water shortage we eventually made it to Patterdale, dehydrated and sunburnt. After a litre of water or two we headed out for nourishment at a local pub, before checking out a couple more pubs (there's a theme developing here) and hitting the hay ready to do it all over again.

This time well-rested and feeling much more bright and breezy than the previous morning, we got an early start so we didn't suffer the sun too much. We walked back to Ambleside before I cycled back to Oxenholme to catch the train. The sun was blazing and the 4 mile hill out of Ambleside was testing, but it was enjoyable nonetheless and I had well and truly got a taste for long(ish - well not really) distance cycling. Sunburnt but happy I met Charlotte in the Top Lock on the way home and we even ate our dinner outside at my folks, not bad for the end of winter! A few more unseasonably warm days came our way and we enjoyed walks on the canal and the novelty of sitting outside pubs before the more seasonal British weather returned.

The second time in Ambleside Charlotte came along too, and we again cycled from Oxenholme to Ambleside. Our venture from Ambleside this time was to Elterwater, with a detour up a couple of hills near Elterwater. It was a great walk and we were very lucky to have such good weather again. We cracked a bottle of McChouffe at the top of the hill, played the La Chouffe theme tune on our phones and had a little dance. Always nice to have a bit of Mr Fell in our lives! The walk was rather longer than we had intended, so after 8 hours of solid walking we were truly knackered, but enjoyed a pub meal with a satisfied feeling that we had earned it.

We spent a lovely Mothers Day between both families. First up was the Parkers and Gran Woodhams and a belly-busting carvery at The Boatyard. After lashings of roast meats, veg and gravy washed down with a pint of ale it was time to be whisked away to Gran Mitchell's in Brighouse with my family. We spent the afternoon at Shibden Park and I finally got to see my Grandad's memorial bench in its lovely new spot down by the lake. More food was on offer on our return to the house and we enjoyed some cake while saying our goodbyes.

We had an action-packed Easter weekend, first up a trip to Go Ape for Alex (my sister's fiancee)'s birthday. We balanced ourselves high in the trees with surprisingly little supervision, tackling obstacle courses, whizzing down zip wires and taking a leap of faith on the tarzan swing. We had never done this kind of thing before, and despite being a bit of a wuss with heights I made it through. Time for a well earned pint before some good old March evening grilling. After a long wait the char-grilled chicken legs were eventually served up, and delicious they were too if I say so myself. That evening we zig-zagged between drinks for Alex's birthday and a gig at Chorley Little Theatre. Having not been to many seated gigs in our time, it actually really suited the style of music of Then Thickens (check them out!) and it was fantastic to catch up with old Chorley friends. Easter Sunday was spent near Cartmel at Charlotte's aunties, for a beautiful meal and a catch up with the aunties.

We managed to find time to check out the Black Bull near Feniscowles with Sophie and Ste, and had a fun evening sampling the brews and catching up with them for the first time since the wedding. Always nice to find a new pub to go to, and with some pretty impressive views over Blackburn and a good crowd in despite not serving food, the Black Bull seems to be doing very well for itself. It's part of the Three Bees Brewery, who do a good range of tasty real ales, something we'd missed being over in Oz! We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Charlotte's uncle, aunt and cousins, and caught up with them over a cuppa.

Next up we headed over to Sheffield for another few nights stay at Chez Emily. Mum and Dad kindly drove us over and we checked out the new (ish) Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield on the way. It's a fantastic little gallery and hopefully will put Wakefield on the map and revive the place a little. It's an interesting building (prison-like from the outside, but very open from the inside) housing some pretty cool art. Still feeling arty we also again checked out the Sheffield Graves Art Gallery. In the past it's been a little hit or miss, but this time was a hit, and there were some funky Andy Warhol photographs. We also enjoyed a curry in Commonside with some of Emily and Alex's friends and out friend Mark Williams, followed by some top Thornbirdge beers in the newly done up Hallamshire House. Having always been a bit of an old man's pub, it's great to see that Thornbridge have breathed a bit of fresh air in there, and as always a pleasure to hang out with our friends and drink some tasty local beer.

While we were in Sheffield, Charlotte visited her friend Collette in Mansfield. Collette and her husband Ian had recently had a baby and it was lovely to meet baby Buddy and have a good catch up with them over tea and cake. Buddy is pretty damn cute and looked the bees knees in his bear outfit that he wore to drop Charlotte off at the bus station. Charlotte and her mum had embarked on a knitting project beforehand (in an attempt to get Charlotte to move past scarves!) and had created a hat, mittens and booties for him which were very well received!

A beer-fuelled evening was spent in Nottingham with Joe, where we test-drove the new Brewdog bar (with 10% shareholders discount of course, although this wasn't much consolation when I realised I had put 15 quid worth of Scotch eggs on the credit card!). We had intended to at least do one cultural thing while in Nottingham but the gallery we were aiming for was closed. We had no option but to head for the pub; first off Lock & Quays for some refreshing cask ales before heading to the main event, Brewdog Nottingham. Enthusiastic staff poured us some of the good stuff, and we had a great time sampling the different brews and playing pop-up-pirate. If that isn't a recipe for a good night out I don't know what is. The beer was soaked up with some tasty Italian fare across the road before we had to call it a night and catch our trains (not before Joe had got us lost even with directions on his iPhone and we had to get a taxi to make sure we didn't miss our train!).

On our final weekend at home was spent in Stockport watching the mighty County play and seeing my auntie and cousin for a pub lunch. It was a pretty uneventful match but still enjoyable and I resolved to go to more games once we're back in UK for good. It was great to see Jane and Lisa and catch up with them after far too long!

By this time we had decided that New Zealand had our names written on it, flights had been booked, and our time at home was quickly coming to an end. We spent a very lovely evening out with Charlotte's parents at the Clog and Billycock eating excellent high-class pub grub and toasting the future. Our last evening was spent hiking up Great Hill with my mum, dad and sister on a nice afternoon, before a fish and chip supper and some last minute packing.

After almost three months cocooned in an easy life looked after by our parents and friends, with no responsibilities or worries, the prospect of flying to the other side of the world was a daunting one. We would need to hit the ground running and find work pretty quick given that we had effectively spent 3 months travelling in the UK, and that doesn't come cheap. To take the edge off this notion we had a trip planned to Groezrock festival in Belgium, this time a music festival but of course beer would still play a starring role. Stay tuned!

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