When I sit still and listen instead of the drone of the generator in the ship's engine room, I hear crickets chirping. The scene in front of me is still the deep, blue, rolling ocean but I am high on a mountain side, surrounded by a beautiful flowering garden, sitting at a table abundantly supplied with cheeses, meats, bread, pastries, coffee, juice and fresh fruits of all kinds. It could just be heaven on earth! So many things I love in one place. So many things that fill me up to overflowing thankfulness. Volastra, June 2014
This blog has been silent for the past two months because I have been away traveling, visiting friends, seeing new sights and filling up. I have thought a lot about whether to write all about it here or not, because sometimes I feel guilty for living such a fun life considering I’m not earning any money, but my love for seeing new things and capturing them has won. I want to share it.
The traveling began at the end of May as we (myself and my friend, Steph) left the ship in Congo only a week before they sailed away for the Canary Islands for maintenance. We headed to South Africa, visiting Johannesburg, Cape Town and driving along some of the Garden Route stopping in Victoria Bay, near George. We went on an overnight safari in a national park a few hours drive outside of Johannesburg. On the drive our tour guide told us all about Johannesburg and the surrounding areas. We saw a lot of independent settlements (the politically correct word for shanty towns or slums) crammed together, rusty iron roofs held down with old tyres, power lines strung like spider webs in between each and satellite dishes erected on roofs as plentiful as houses themselves. The distance between the rich and poor there is very plain to see. In the West Africa I see, just about everyone is poor and somehow this seems a lot easier to witness. I found myself wondering what West Africa will look like in 20-30 years as each country continues to develop. I spent hours in the car, staring out the window, wondering how much change I’ll see in Africa over my life time and how I will be a part of it.
Between my hours of daydreaming, we saw some cool animals!
I enjoyed exploring Cape Town, with it's beautiful beaches and wine tasting!
In Cape Town I fulfilled a statement I made five years ago by finally visiting my friend from the ship in 2009! It was lovely to meet her husband and cute little girl!
In a small town near George, we went on an Ostrich farm tour where we got to feed and then ride an ostrich!
Steph was definitely the brave one during this adventure!
Facing a fear, I managed to successfully navigate around Cape Town and the Garden Route in a hire car, with my trusty sidekick navigator Steph.
I have to say, I sighed in relief when I had the hire car back with no damage, on time, with a full tank of petrol!
|The view of Table Mountain from The Waterfront in Cape Town|
|Cliffs of Moher|
See the tiny people at the very top of the cliffs? It's hard to see in the photos just how huge the cliffs truly are! (120-214m high, 390-700ft)
We had the warmest of welcomes in Northern Ireland at our friend Jane's. Another friend, Kirstie, flew over for a couple of days and we had a wonderful time exploring together.
|Hanging around on The Giant's Causeway|
We had one of those 'Let's embrace being wild and free' moments and decided to roll/slide down this sand dune. Jane refused but Kirstie, Steph and I ran up the steep hill. Firstly, the jackets we had didn't slide so well when we sat on them and so we put them back on, zipped them up, pulled our hoods up and rolled down the hill. In doing so, we got absolutely covered in sand and landed at the bottom with motion sickness but had a good laugh.
Jane took us to her family farm and we got to see so many places that are dear to her heart. It was beautiful to share with her.
I also didn't realize what trouble still faces Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland with the Protestant and Catholic divide. It was quite the education for me to learn about all that still goes on there.
|The Peace Wall|
Since we live on a ship and that creates all sorts of interest and understanding of other ships, we went out to see where the Titanic had been built!
The next city to explore was Dublin and our newly acquainted friend from the ship, Mary.
I enjoyed one of my favourite drinks ever- Baileys Cappuccino, and what better place to have it than Ireland, creator of Baileys Irish Cream.
We went to Jameson Irish Whiskey Distillery for a tour. I'm not a whiskey fan, but enjoyed learning about the difference between American Bourbon, Scotch Whiskey and Irish Whiskey.
|My whiskey cocktail- since I don't like it straight!|
A hop across the ocean and we landed in London. We put our walking shoes on and walked the soles off, enjoying the sights of London. I was able to catch up with friends from home who have recently moved to London!
And hang out with Mercy Ships friends too!
|First time London explorers, Hannah and Steph|
|Changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace|
We ate dinner at a restaurant inside a shipping container, feeling very at home!
It was beautiful catching up with Frances and her gorgeous baby boy! What a cutie!!
We said goodbye to friends in London and headed off to Paris! The Eurostar is a quick and super easy way to travel from London to Paris and before the day was over, we were up the Eiffel Tower to see the sunset and enjoy the views!
|Arc de Triomphe|
We spent a day at Palace of Versailles, enjoying the palace and the beautiful gardens.
I'm not one to gush about my love for Paris, but I really do like it. I love the beautiful buildings, the patisseries on every corner, the wonder of what gem you will stumble upon around the next corner.
|This seat turned into two bunk beds|
The overnight train took us to Venice where we threw off our warm clothes for short sleeves and flip flops! We loved the slower pace of Venice, with no traffic but the boats on the canals. After meeting up with friends from the ship, we wandered the streets looking in the Murano Glass shops, eating pastries, drinking coffee, soaking up the sights and then doing it all over again until we were quite turned around, having the follow the map very closely to find our way home.
Just as we were collecting our bags to walk to the train, it started to rain. By the time we got close, the skies opened up and it dumped down! We were quite soaked!
An early closing McDonald's and a long wait on the platform called for my first vending machine dinner that night. Weirdly, it wasn't Steph's! Ask her about that one ;)
My breath was honestly taken away as I stared out over the ocean at the beautiful views. The village of Manarola was to our left, straight down the mountainside. 1,095 stairs down. Once we reached the village and walked around to see it, this was our view:
Picture perfect. The last shuttle came at 19:40. We had to be on it or else we had to climb those 1.095 stairs (which we had to do once) but at the top at our hotel, we had this view to watch the sunset and drink the best hot chocolate I've ever had.
We met up with a few friends from the ship and spent one day hiking from village to village, around the sides of the mountains, through the vineyards, staring out over the blue seas, intrigued as to what view would be around the next corner.
And then there were more friends from the ship to explore with!
Next city, Florence. I couldn't get over how huge and amazing the Cathedral Duomo is!
|Statue of David|
One of my favourite moments in Florence was being spotted by a family that Steph and I had met in Volastra, Cinque Terre. In the whole city of Florence, they happened to spot me and while Steph looked around a museum, I sat and had a coffee with my new friends!
From Florence we headed out through the province of Siena, Tuscany, to the village of San Gimignano, a small, walled, medieval town on the top of a hill, boasting several tall towers.
I loved being out in the country, seeing the rolling hills of vineyards, the variety of the colour green and the blue sky stretched as far as I could see, uninterrupted by buildings.
From San Gimignano we traveled to Rome for a quick stop at the Colosseum and a Hop On Hop Off bus tour before getting on our next plane.
We made a mistake about our flight time but still manged to check-in for our international flight with only 30 minutes until take off! We rushed through security with some help from the staff and hustled through the terminal to our gate, only to find everyone still standing around. Once boarded, there was a mistake on the manifest and we ended up having to sit on the plane for two hours before we took off, headed for Santorini, Greece.
We arrived in day light and were picked up from the airport by our hotel owner, the most friendly, hospitable man in Santorini! We were looked after so well and loved every minute of staying at Antonia Hotel. They were so helpful and I loved watching the family work together to look after their guests.
After eating a yummy Greek dinner, we walked to Fira town centre to see what we could find. As night fell, we followed our noses to find a view of Fira.
I made it my mission to find Greek styled buildings and try to capture the beauty. I was constantly commenting on all the shades of blue that I saw. It was beautiful!
|Mmm... decadent breakfast|
|Our daily Greek salad|
Last port of call was Athens, where we surprised two of our friends who were flying over to holiday with a mutual friend of ours. It was so fun to see them and explore Athens together.
|The first modern day Olympic venue|
|The Temple of Zeus|
|Up the Acropolis at the Parthenon|
|The Temple of Zeus|
Back to London and one last day trip to hang out with Mercy Ships 2009 friends. How wonderful to see and catch up with friends who connected such a long time ago.
And then it was time to go home to Australia.
And here I am, sitting in my parent's house, the one that I called home three and a half years ago, and now is really my home away from home. Only this time I'm visiting for three months, the longest time I will have spent in Australia since December 2010. Naturally, the longer I am away from Australia, the more changes, but in the last 12 months there's been more change than usual. Slowly but surely I'm catching up with friends scattered across the city, working on projects at home and getting organised for my sister's wedding. I will begin some part-time work soon and try to remember how to be a nurse in Australia! I already miss my African patients and am looking forward to returning to the ship in October, but in the meantime I am remembering to appreciate all that I have been given for this time and to soak in renewed friendships.