Russia – first impressions

Cold like UK winter cold, so not so bad. Although after being in New Zealand this time last year just in time for winter, then returning to UK summer (which, let’s face it, means rain) followed by living in London Town over winter, and now just as the sun is starting to poke its head out of the clouds in the UK, I fly north!

Now I’m here, I’m glad I did, there’s still snow in certain areas and the cracked ice on the water looks like something out of ice age.

You ever get the feeling that you feel like your eyes have seen everything and nothing excites you?

Sounds awfully numb.

I didn’t realise I needed to see and experience something new and fresh until I saw these slabs of cracked ice.

Sounds crazy, but we had walked through this forest, which was beautiful in its own right.

We came to the lake, Lake Ladoga, which is huge.

There is this strange quiet that comes with snow.

You hold your breathe, listening, taking it all in.

Slowly approaching the bank of the expanse of water, can now hear the gentle ripples against the rocks and ice.

Then there is is, giant slabs of frozen water, cracked and melting under the clear, cloudless sky.

Neither my words or photos do this justice.

I don’t know why, but this was amazing to me.

I could have quite happily taken a deck chair and sat there for a good few hours, listening, reflecting and enjoying the view.

Like this guy:

Seeing this lake is just one example of how having a friend who is happy to take the time to show you their country is invaluable.

There is no way I would have ventured up here alone, for starters it was two hours away, two tubes and a bus ride into the middle of nowhere!

Secondly, I tend to rely heavily on tour guide books, as they usually cover the main sights that most tourists want to see, and this journey was not in the book!

Thirdly, as I have only just started learning basic Russian to see me through my journey, I have a personal translator and teacher! You learn more from a local than a language app!

After this epic walk it was time for some Russian food!

I love trying foods in other countries! Food and exploring, my favourite things!

The smell of fresh baked bread engulfs you as you walk through the door of this little cafe.

As it’s Easter this weekend, the locals kept coming in to buy easter cake to take away.

Pirashkí (пирожки) is a sort of stuffed bread roll, naturally, I ordered all the sweet ones.

But before stuffing my face with those, I tried buckwheat porridge, which isn’t like porridge at all, it’s more like giant cous cous!

I enjoyed, it’s supposed to be pretty good for you too! Winner!

Now for dessert!

I had the one stuffed with poppy seeds, I think I was picking black out of my teeth for the rest of the day but it was worth it!

Bus selfie!

I am swaddled in a million layers! I didn’t want to take a risk and catch cold, and even Oksana has let me borrow her coat on top!

I could barely move my arms!

Turns out my rip curl coat I bought in New Zealand is actually everything-proof like it says!

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Girls day

We’re big ‘Friends’ fans, so we paid the building that is used for outside shots a visit.

Photobombed by a random! 
Followed by a big gay ice cream. Nothing to do with the ‘Friends’ theme but there’s a unicorn licking a rainbow ice cream on the window. Need I say more?



Ok, so I had a milkshake not an ice cream, which seemed to cause dismay to the girl serving who asked if the reason I was having a milkshake was because I was watching my figure. Yes, I am watching my figure…watching it expand! 
Walked it off through Times Square. 





Finding restrooms in New York is a problem, you are essentially forever into buying food in a cafe or restaurant just to pee. Although it can sometimes work in your favour as after all the walking you can have a sit down and enjoy a cold drink and the air conditioning, and even pick up some hints off the waiting staff. 
So a shout out to our waiter who tipped us off about ‘rush tickets’ for Broadway shows. We paid $55 each for $75 tickets for Miss Saigon.



Back out into the now wild Times Square.




Yup. This happened.







Didn’t want to leave the Disney store, we peeled ourselves away to finally return to the hotel. We’d been up and about since 6am and got back after 10pm! 

A pretty, sh***y city

Firstly, apologies for the radio silence, took some time to chill out and get used to being back home.
Also, to me, the whole point of writing and publishing it is that there is something interesting to actually write about. Me lounging around in a hammock soaking up the limited UK sunshine does not make for a riveting read! 

 

That’s not to say I did absolutely nothing, there’s been a few summer fayres and events, like the Natural Living Expo, held in the National Botanical Gardens of Wales. 
The venue always worth a visit, even in the Welsh weather. 

I conquered the hay maze! Also received an unusual back massage whilst laying on my back. I was in bits the next day, in a good way.
The whole event consists of plenty of stalls, all centred around natural living and health, mental and physical. All put together by the Old Mill foundation.
A more local event was the Gower Chilli festival. Celebrating the many ways you could possible add chilli to anything, I like chilli but draw the line at it being in cake, beer or gin. But that’s just me! 





My favourite event of the ‘summer’ in Swansea so far has been the outdoor screening of ‘Twin Town’. A movie set and filmed in Swansea. Everyone who was of age at the time it was released knows the words off by heart, and after 20 years the city celebrated its anniversary by having a movie screen placed in Singleton park, a band playing songs featured in the film, and even the Welsh Male Voice Choir as a grand finale.

Goosebumps.





http://www.natural-living-expo.co.uk/

http://gowerchillis.com/

https://cinemaandco.yapsody.com/

Lions

I couldn’t stay away from Laura too long. Just before I left she found out there were tickets available for the British Lions v the Blues…
She planted a seed.
Like a dog with a bone I found us some tickets and booked my flight back to see her! 


Happiest girls in the world right now!


Shameless self promotion! 



Although we lost, it was still an awesome atmosphere, incredible experience, and I am most definitely glad I stayed in New Zealand that little bit longer to be a part of it.


Laura suggested we stay behind after the game so we could meet the lions. Unfortunately, their egos must have been a little too bruised as they didn’t make an appearance, but we did meet some of the Blues!


Charlie Faumuina.


Sonny Bill Williams.


Scott Quinell, from Llanelli, back home! 


We have no idea who this guy is, and I’ve asked everyone I know, checked the Blues website, checked the Lions website-no idea! Answers on the back of a postcard if you know!


And last but not least, John Spencer the Tour manager. 
Just for the record, I learnt who all these people are by being here, I do not profess to know the first thing about rugby. I support Wales but wouldn’t know who they are if I bumped into them on the street! 

Touching a Kiwi

We had stayed in the Bunkdown hostel in Whangarei, where they told us about the Native Bird Recovery Centre, where you can actually touch a kiwi bird.
We thought an experience like this would cost quite a bit, but it’s only a $10 minimum donation to help keep the centre running.


This is Sparky, he was caught in a trap and lost his leg, he would have died in the wild, but here he has a full life, munching on worms and helping educate the children of New Zealand.



This was definitely one of he best experiences in New Zealand. Being so inexpensive too was a bonus for the budget traveler. 
Robert, the founder of the centre is full of facts and information, and his passion for the birds and their care shows. 
He found us worms to feed Sparky.


The centre helps all kinds of birds, the website even has a webcam to watch eggs hatching that have have been abandoned and rescued by the centre. 


I have included the link to the website as this was literally the best experience, and it helps injured animals.
http://www.nbr.org.nz/sparky

Whangarei

Only a short walk to see Whangarei falls, then a stroll around the town basin.




The local school kids had painted all the teams that will be taking part during the British Lion Tour.



I’d read about Mermaid pools in Matapouri bay. Bit of a climb to get there, especially in flip flops!


So worth it.


Crystal clear, lagoon-like pools were our reward for our trek.





The beach itself was alright too…






Had some fun playing with the slow-mo video.





This was mine and Laura’s last weekend together before I move onto my next travels, so naturally we had to have a drink to celebrate.


Didn’t take too many beers before we were subjected to unwanted male attention..






Naturally, not much sight seeing or even moving was done the day after.

Eastside

 
As we made our way south from Doubtless bay we discovered a chocolate factory and gelateria in Kerikeri. After sampling some chocolate and ice cream, we realized it was the sister factory of the one we visited in Marlborough in the South Island.


We camped in Paihia and woke up to views over the water.



Paihia is the place where it all began…with Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
This place was amazing, experienced another cultural show, had a free guided tour around the grounds and the museum was really well laid out which made it easy to understand.







The museum offers a free guided tour around the treaty grounds, made the most of that.


Giant ceremonial canoe which we were told Lady Diana had a ride in even though women are not supposed to go in the war boats.


The stump of one of the three Kauri trees. Photo doesn’t really show how huge this tree was. Two of me could have laid across it, I wanted to try, but this is sacred ground and tomfoolery of that sort is disrespectful.


The flagstaff with the three flags associated with New Zealand, the Union Jack, the Maori flag and the flag we know and love today.
Onward south with a stop off to the Hunderwasser toilets.