London Calling!

Taynuilt is a tiny wee village around 2 hours North West of Glasgow in Scotland. The area is known as the gateway to the highlands, or so I’m told. Therein lives Laurie, Lewis and baby Evie and approximately 800 other people.
I arrived in Taynuilt on Saturday last week. I nearly fell off the train what with the weight of my bag and the excitement to see Laurie. Evie took one look at my dishevelled self and began screaming. I was told that I was not to despair, she is teething.
The time I spent inTaynuilt with Laurie, Lewis and Evie was really special. I loved getting to know little Evie and catching up and reconnecting with Laurie.

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We went into Oban one day which is the nearest larger town/village to them (also the nearest ATM) which is around a 30 minute drive. That day was my first taste of snow. It was bucketing down as we were driving the winding roads to Oban.
Oban is a lovely little town of approximately 8,500 people. We wandered around, had coffee and lunch, looked in shops, stocked up at the supermarket, and went to the ATM.

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The other touristy thing I did in the area was a short look around St Conan’s Kirk (church) in nearby Loch Awe. Gorgeous church with a breathtaking view of Loch Awe. There is a bone fragment from Robert the Bruce in the church which I thought was pretty cool. It was negative a billion degrees but really very pretty.

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All too soon came the day long train journey to London. I misread the timetable which meant that I froze to death on the platform but got to see the sunrise over the snow capped mountains surrounding Taynuilt. The train to Glasgow takes around 2 and a half hours. Once there I hopped in a cab with a driver intent on giving me a panic attack about Glasgow and London. He talked about how much it was going to snow, how there are pickpockets everywhere you turn and that London has 9 million people so be careful, Lassie. Then he started talking about some tourist’s murder case going on in London at which point I simply stopped listening. I was actually quite happy for most of the train journey. The countryside was picturesque with the recent snowfall. I amused myself for a while by taking selfies:

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I travelled past what seemed to be hundreds of magestic wind turbines. I love these structures.

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I was relieved to get off the train at Euston Station in London and stretch only to be greeted by at least 100 people sprinting down the platform towards me. I quickly learnt that one needs to be a confident walker so as to not get pushed over. I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of people pushing and shoving me! I then could not find the taxi rank. I figured there must be one but I could not for the life of me see it. I asked a Big Issue seller and he told me it was underground. The cab ride was also overwhelming. I had no idea if we were going the right way, if I was being ripped off, if I was going to make it alive even after skidding to miss an elderly man. I did see Abbey Road studios though so that was cool.
The next 24 hours had me feeling a great deal of anxiety. A trip into the city and a meal fixed all that however. Friday night was a night I had been looking forward to for months. The Twelfth Night at the Apollo with Stephen Fry.

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The theatre is large yet felt really intimate. As soon as i took my seat (which was superb) I realised the actors were already on stage having the finishing touches of their makeup and costumes applied. From that moment on for the next 3 hours the smile did not leave my lips. The staging was quite authentic as were the costumes and instruments. There were even male actors playing the female parts, as there would have been in Shakespeare’s original staging. The actors were so talented. The play itself was funny and very entertaining. I adore Shakespearean language with its colourful metaphor and imagery.
There was one moment where the fool, Feste, was singing a song of lovers with no instrumental accompaniment that I really felt the intimacy of the theatre space. I looked around at the audience surrounding me, all with soft smiles and attentive expressions. I felt a collective consciousness in that moment, a shared admiration and appreciation for the players. I could see the stage so clearly that when Stephen Fry’s character, Malvolio, yelled at another character, his insult was delivered complete with spittle. I am so glad I had managed to secure a ticket.
The next day, yesterday, Ming and I ventured into the city to do some sightseeing. It had been snowing quite consistently since the evening before so it lay thick on the ground. We rode the tourist bus to Covent Garden where we wandered the market stalls and shops. After lunch and a quick catch up with Lala, we hopped on the bus again and rode more of the circuit. I was really taken by the Tower Bridge and St Peter’s, and of course, The Globe. Also, i was very excited to learn that Australia House is where Gringott’s from the Harry Potter movies was filmed. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

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By the time we got to Trafalgar Square I was frozen through so we elected to go home a while before heading to Notthinghill to a dinner party. I learnt that I do not like walking in the melty parts of snow, I do not like the Tube (even though it was supposedly quiet because it’s the weekend) but that I do like Covent Garden with it’s street performers and cool stalls.
Today we headed back into the city hoping to catch the guards changing their hats or something, I forget. Turns out that they don’t do this in the snow. We hopped on the bus, this time with a live commentary, to tour Westminster. The guide was hilarious in his pompous and somewhat pontificating nature. We elected to sit downstairs this time out of the weather. We saw the palaces (no guards unfortunately), Hyde Park, Regent Park, lots of cool statues and buildings. We then cruised up and down the Thames River on a boat to gain a different perspective.

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After the cruise we caught the tube to Harrods. Talk about upper class twits! All the labels house their wares at Harrods. It is huge and very posh! It was quite a treat for Ming and I to touch the beautiful clothes. We went up to the top floor to check out the restaurant and all I could think of was my mother and her mother and how much they would have loved it. I don’t know if either of them have ever spoken of Harrods itself or if it was Myer they would go to as a treat. Anyway, it reminded me of them.
We also visited the Disney Princess section which I loved.

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The novelty of the snow has well and truly worn thin and I am very happy to stay in and order curry for dinner tonight.
Only 3 days left till I fly home. I have loved this trip so much yet I am looking forward to going back to my normal life.

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Kylemore and Connemara

On Thursday morning I boarded a coach tour from Galway through the Connemara to Kylemore Abbey. It turned out to be one of the best days I have had so far.
Our first stop was Ross Errilly Friary.

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This building was occupied during the Middle Ages by Franciscan monks, around 300 of them apparently. The building is said to be the best preserved of its kind in all of Ireland. I have noticed, and Lewis also made a point of mentioning, that Ireland loves the “Best”, “Biggest”, “Oldest”, etc titles. Kind of like us really. The Big Pineapple, The Big Banana, the deadliest spider, the hottest day in history etc.
Anyway, this friary was really cool. It was erected in the middle of nowhere which a couple of hundred years ago must have REALLY been the middle of nowhere! I have loved the Irish countryside immensely; the lush greens, the rugged coastlines, the rocky Burren and, who could overlook, the bog!
Our next stop was the village of Cong. This was where the famous John Wayne film, The Quiet Man, was filmed. Most of the village was closed for the winter. The bookshop, however, was open so I of course spent some euros on Irish Historical Fiction.
After Cong the road became narrower and narrower as we wound through Connemara. Such gorgeous countryside! I was fascinated. And nauseous. Soooo nauseous!

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The bus edged along the narrow road through the valleys of Connemara towards the abbey and all I could wish for was air, and for the winding roads to be straight. I felt so ill. Mike, the driver, finally pulled the coach to the side of the road and announced that Kylemore Abbey was in sight. The sight of the abbey took my breath away. Across the lough (lake) majestically stood the former house  of a love struck man.

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We had two hours to spend at Kylemore and I was eager to begin exploring. My tummy had other ideas. I needed food and water and to sit and breathe for a little bit. Finally I felt sound again and hopped on a mini bus to the Victorian Walled Garden. It was beautiful and I can only speculate how gorgeous it must be in the summer when the flowers are out in force. I wandered through the huge garden, embracing the crisp, fresh air and solitude.

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I made my way up the hill to the abbey. Such peace. Such stillness. It was overwhelming yet comforting.
The ground floor of the abbey had been restored, complete with furniture, to when the Henry’s had lived there. Kylemore changed hands many times after Mitchell Henry left. Finally the Benedictine Nuns gained ownership and soon converted the main building into a girls’ school. It remained a school for girls until 2010. This school setting seems polar opposite to school back home! Fun fact: Kylemore’s restaurant sells red liquorice made in BROADMEADOWS!! As in Broady, Victoria. I couldn’t believe it!
I wandered further up the hill to the Gothic Cathedral which Henry built in dedication to his wife, Margaret. He couldn’t bear the thought of her lying in the cold ground so he also built her a mausoleum.

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As I was walking back down the hill I was almost crying with gratitude and happiness for the opportunity to be there in that moment. As I walked along, all I could hear was the bubbling of the brook, the birds and my own breath. And the sheep. Sheep?? Suddenly 2 shaggy, long horned, black faced sheep appeared on the path in front of me. They couldn’t have cared less that I was there. Brilliant!

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Being up at Kylemore was rejuvenating. I felt refreshed and renewed. I was at peace.
Kylemore has reaffirmed my wish to move up into the hills back home. I am so ready for a tree change.

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So The Burren, Kylemore, Connemara and Galway…loves it!

Galway!

Very early yesterday morning I boarded the coach to Galway. It took about two and a half hours to get from one side of the country to the other. It was only just beginning to get light when we pulled into the Coach Centre, which happens to be next door to my hostel.Image

We boarded another bus and began winding our way through Galway County up to the Cliffs of Moher. This is pretty much the route we took:

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The first stop was Dunguaire Castle which was really prettyImage

I met some great Aussies at this point. We stopped at a few more places on the way up the mountain. We visited an ancient tomb: Poulnabrone Dolmen

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The tomb was in the Burren National Park. The Burren is made up of fields of mossy grass and limestone. It’s gorgeous. It is exactly how I imagine Wuthering Heights to be set. Here’s me singing Wuthering Heights.

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When we finally got up to the cliffs we were faced with a massive hill to walk up. I was so proud that my fitness was better than I thought. For one, I didn’t die!

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This is taken 3/4 up the hill. It was well worth the exertion once we saw the cliffs. We were so lucky with the weather! I didn’t evenly need to wear my coat. 

ImageThe ocean slamming into the land and the levels of rock was just incredible to behold.

Today I met some nice people at breakfast in the hostel. We did the walking tour of Galway City together. Tonight we’re going to find somewhere to eat and then I’m going to bed!! My body is killing me. The stairs yesterday have buggered my knees and my back is just plain buggered. I have a private room tonight so I will be able to get more sleep, I hope. 

Around 15 years ago I saw my first pictures of Galway and I felt a pull, a sense of familiarity. Ever since then I have wanted to visit. Now that I’m here, I am not disappointed. I do feel really comfortable here, today at least. Last night I felt really strange walking around at night by myself. I think that’s just old paranoias though. 

I bought a Claddagh ring, which I have also always wanted (since I saw it on Buffy but don’t tell anyone that!). Good times.

Happy and tired.

🙂 

 

Belfast

Wow. The last two days have been really intense and very enjoyable at the same time.

We left Dublin and drove up to Belfast. I have learnt a lot about this island since arriving here. I was excited to see what the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland looked like. Turns out there is very little to signify the crossover.

This is the Republic:

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This is Northern Ireland:

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Yes, that’s right Sherlock! The road lines are different. There is also a sign that says your speed will now be measured in miles per hour. That’s it. That’s all that marks the crossing of the border. Now, with all the political turmoil (The Troubles) I would have thought there would have been a bigger deal. Maybe a flag, or a sign welcoming travellers to The UK, but that’s just me.

We then arrived at our fancy pants hotel, The Fitzgibbons, aka The Fancypants Hotel. I was pretty stoked upon inspecting the bathroom.

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We then embarked on the most terrifying cab journey of my life.

In Belfast, ex activists and cabbies at the time of The Troubles act as tour guides. Our driver, Tony, drove us up to the murals around Shankill Road. We stood in a kind of park surrounded by community houses that had these murals painted on them. We were in the Protestant community of Belfast. These people are unionists. They believe, and support, the British taking over Northern Ireland and for this part of the island being a part of Great Britain.

I gotta say, I was scared. It was quickly becoming dark and the more I learnt about these people painted on the walls, the more chilled I was feeling. These kids on bikes and skateboards were coming towards us. They must have been under 12 years of age. One of them rode straight through our little group, almost knocking me over, yelling at us the Irish word for Catholics with a rude word in front of it.

The next place we stopped was the Peace Line. This is the massive wall that segregates the Protestant community and the Catholic community in a section of Belfast. The wall has been ‘decorated’ by famous street artists from all over the world, including Banksy.

We then hopped back in the cab and crossed to the other side. There we heard stories of the people who had lost their lives defending their homes and what they thought was right. These people largely wanted Ireland to be its own independent country. Plus they really hated whatshisface on the other side of the fence. I really shouldn’t make light of it because it is really really horrible what both these sides went through.

We stopped at The Garden of Remembrance in The Falls where the names of the fallen during The Troubles are on the wall. I looked at the houses lining Falls Road mainly. They looked just like the houses on the other side. We could tell that the cabby was a Catholic as he was very moving in his stories and retelling of the history at this site. I was just so…for want of a better word: touched. I was scared. I was astounded. I was angry. I was sad. I was deeply disturbed. I was shocked.

I knew so little about these times in such recent history. I always knew there were problems in Ireland, in Belfast. That there was a great deal of unrest and violence. I had no idea what it was all about though.

We piled back into the cab and drove to another set of murals, this time bringing in International issues. Freedom fighters from around the world made their murals on this road.

I learnt so much and I am now really fascinated, can you tell?

Anyway…after the tour we went to The Crown which is this ye olde gorgeous pub across the road from The Europa Hotel which is apparently the most bombed hotel in Europe.

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Then back to the hotel for delicious fancypants dinner followed by lovely fancypants bath and bed.

Today we went to the Titanic exhibition. They built their own exhibition centre for the Titanic exhibition and, I have to say, it was the best exhibition I have ever been to, and I’ve been to a few! It was interactive enough to keep you really engaged (there was even a cool ride that took you through the ship building yards) and there was a great deal of information too. I really liked how they focused on the context of the building of the ship, Belfast at the time and the reports in the aftermath of the tragedy. I thought it was going to be like being on James Cameron’s movie set and I am glad to have been wrong. Well worth going to.

We hopped on the bus where I was laughed at and ridiculed by these girls up the back for taking this photo:

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Given that the riot police dudes were on the streets of Belfast TONIGHT expecting trouble from protesters about a council decision to limit the flying of the union flag, I think it’s a relevant photo so there shut up bimbos.

So yes, Belfast…tick.

Dublin!

Greetings and Salutations from Dublin, Ireland. ‘Tis verily the city of pubs! I really like this city so far.

Yesterday we enjoyed a lazy morning of checking Facecrack, sleeping and coffee. We hit the town just after lunch. Niamh lives in Ballsbridge (teehee!) which is Dublin4 which I am assured is a very lovely area to live in. It is around a 15 minute walk from what seems to be the centre of Dublin. We strolled up the streets to the bus stop, me sighing and oohing and ahhing at the gorgeous Georgian houses, one of which Oscar Wilde was born in. 

We hopped on the sightseeing bus and took off on a tour of the city. I am quite sure the driver was drunk. Niamh thinks he was putting it on for a craic but Lewis and I are less certain. He was hilarious! He was slagging off the tourists behind their back, complaining about how much people were actually hopping on and off the hop on hop off bus, and making bad jokes aplenty. 

“What is the difference between Bono and God?

God doesn’t think he’s Bono!”

“See those mountains in the distance? The Irish say that if you can see them, it’s about to rain. If you can’t see them…it’s already raining!”

and so on. It was a good laugh.

We stopped for coffee and then walked through the party district of Temple Bar. I had requested a look at a traditional Irish pub so we went to The Stag’s Head which was established in 1895.

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We continued our walk through the city as the sun set (4.30) and found ourselves quite parched so Lewis suggested another pint. 

We then strolled home through the simply stunning streets. I am fascinated by the houses here, especially the Georgian buildings with their coloured doors. The Christmas decorations just add an air of magic to the place.

This morning Niamh put on one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had! Fresh fruit salad with honey Greek yoghurt and muesli. Yum! We walked back into town and hopped on another bus. This one’s driver was much more sedate so I learnt a little more about  the town. We alighted the bus at Christchurch. This cathedral just takes my breath away.Image 

Next door to the cathedral is the Dublinia Exhibition of Viking and Medieval Dublin. Very good exhibition I thought. After learning about Vikings (most of which I already knew from teaching it which was quite gratifying!) and Medieval Ireland we walked to The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland. There we had lunch before catching a cab to the station.Niamh wanted to show me just how close to the ocean Dublin is so we caught the ‘dart’ (train) to the ocean suburb of Dalkey. We wandered through the town and had a coffee in a little cafe on the main street. 

On the way home we stopped off for a pint, a common Irish/Welsh (Lewis) practice it seems! 

Tomorrow we are heading off to Belfast for the night. We heard on the news that there are violent protests taking place but Lewis and Niamh aren’t worried. 

I am doing really well energy wise until around this time (8pm), when my eyes become heavy and I could easily go to bed. During the day I’m taking in so much, looking at everything, learning about the places I’m seeing and just walking a lot. I have a bit of pain in my back and shoulders but really, I’m very impressed with how my body is keeping up! 

Go me. 🙂

xoxo

 

 

Cardiff, Wales

I arrived in Cardiff on Wednesday evening. Lewis and Niamh took me into town to Jamie’s Italian restaurant in The Hayes which is kind of like Bourke Street Mall but with mainly restaurants and cafes. After dinner we went to have a pint at the pub. Turns out the Welsh have no idea what a Lemon, Lime and Bitters is. In my fatigue I was unable to explain it properly to the barmen so i ordered a pot of cider and received a pint. My bad. Poor guy! 

We sat in the pub and I learnt all about The Troubles in Ireland. I learnt about the Catholics and the Protestants. I’m sure I’ll learn more in a couple of days when we go to Belfast.

Yesterday Lewis, Niamh and myself ‘did Cardiff’. We drove into the city centre from Lewis’ lovely little townhouse and parked near the Millennium Centre. Lewis knows that I am a fan of Doctor Who so he was very quick to point out the sights from Torchwood.

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We had a coffee and then hopped on the bus to see the sights of Cardiff.  We got off the bus at Cardiff Castle, had a brief look at the grounds and decided to go shopping instead. I needed to sort out my phone and I wanted to buy a waterproof for next week in Galway. 

After a very frustrating but fruitful visit to the phone shop we had lunch at an American Diner which I managed to pay for before Lewis could. Lewis and I then went to The Doctor Who Experience which was SO COOL!!

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You start off by going into a room with all these famous props, like the Van Gough painting of the Tardis. Then Matt Smith pops up on a screen and tells you that he is stuck in the Pandora box AGAIN and that we have to find him…or something. Anyway, we go into The Tardis and we get to press all these buttons while he yells out instructions. Very cool. Then we encounter the Daleks who get distracted by the rogue Daleks so we move through without being EXTERMINATED. Then there is the scary ass forest with the scary ass angels who I HATE so I moved through that quite quickly. No nightmares last night so I think I’m ok! Anyway, it goes on like that until we save The Doctor and all is right in the world…until next time. 

Then there’s the gift shop!! I spazzed out a bit. I wanted to buy all of the things! I settled for some pens, magnets and t-shirts. 

Last night we flew to Dublin. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. 

Today we are chilling out in the AM and then doing a bus tour and getting a pint in the PM. 

I am loving spending time with Lewis and Niamh. It feels like I’m with family, which seeing as Lewis is my ‘second daddy’ I’m not too far off. 

I am missing home a bit this morning. My girl and the pets. Not the weather though! I am definitely a winter girl!

I am really loving my trip so far 🙂

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Points of difference

Things that are different in Edinburgh as opposed to Melbourne:

The coffees here are HUGE! So the small take away coffee is the size of a regular. I ordered a large mocha at Costa Coffee and received a bucket.

When you order pizza from Dominos, you get a dipping sauce for your crusts. Garlic and herb aioli type thing.

It is dark until around 9am and then again at around 4pm.

People park every which way. It doesn’t seem to matter which direction you park in, as long as you get a park.

Alcohol is really really cheap!! At the fancy pants restaurant we went to on NYE, the cocktails were £6 and that is thought expensive. I bought a Rekorderlig for £4, I think, which is around $6AUD.

One of the biggest, and most striking differences, is just how OLD everything is here. The buildings and roads date back to before white Australia was born. I know I’ve said this before but it does my head in!

Jacket potatoes seem to be a very popular lunch. Everywhere we’ve been during the day sells them with all sorts of toppings.

The cheese is orange.

Chips. Chips are the drunk snack of choice. I had a chip roll at 3am on NYE. Don’t worry, I definitely walked it off! It was kind of weird. Deliciously salty and vinegary but I really could have done without the roll. I didn’t really see the point. The guy that served me couldn’t believe I’d never had one and congratulated me on my dining choice. The line in the chip shop was very long. Some of the fried food in the bain-marie was unidentifiable.

The money. They gave me some Bank of Scotland notes at some place which Anna told me may not be accepted in Wales and England. That’s annoying. Also, the coins are really heavy. The £1 coins at any rate.

The city is building trams, much to the disgust of most inhabitants. It is thought that they are a waste of money and space and are not needed. Apparently, the trams are only going to run in the city centre, unlike Melbourne where they go from the city out to the suburbs. I have to agree, they really do not seem needed. Apart from on the 1st of January, there are ample buses. We have not had to wait more than 5 minutes for a bus so far. Environmentally speaking, they would be better than the massive double decker buses though.

No public transport or cabs on NYE. Both taxi ranks we passed between 3am and 4am had at least 50 couples waiting and not a cab in sight. Hence the hour walk in arctic temperatures to get home.

The homeless. So many homeless people shivering in the streets. They just sit there, wrapped in blankets, most with signs. In Melbourne, the homeless approach the people in the street with a story, begging for change. I gave a pound to one guy on NYE and had a chat. He was certainly not on drugs or intoxicated in any way. I asked him where he would go later. He said he hoped to get in to a shelter but that he’d be hard pressed. Seeing homeless people in Melbourne makes me sad but in the middle of winter in Edinburgh, it breaks my heart! I have seen a couple of pedestrians give out hot drinks. I saw one guy convulsing with the cold. I have no idea what kind of support is in place for these people but I hope there are good services to help them through the winter.

The amount of stupidly dressedImage women I have seen over the last few days is astounding. I have seen women in short skirts, bare legs and ballet flats wandering through the city. On NYE most of the women I saw were incredibly under dressed. I shake my head in disgust at these types of women in Melbourne in winter. I was freezing that night and I had on stockings, socks, long sleeved dress, long sleeved wrap, coat, scarf and gloves. IDIOTS.

New vocab words: grim, rammed, merry, tatties, teets, aye, stovie, jackie p, Hoganamy, quid.