Country Counter: 22        

Cities Visited: Sydney, Melbourne

Timeframe: June 2007

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Over the past few months, I’ve tried to pick up my writing. I realise the longer I wait, the more I tend to forget details about trips taken a decade ago. At that time, we could not afford a digital camera and carried our bulky old Canon everywhere, with a few film rolls. Each roll could capture around 36 photos, so we did not have the liberty to click wildly and then sort out the good ones. Each photo had to be ‘planned’, and we had developed this habit of checking the ‘remaining counter’ after every snap. With the advancement of camera technology coupled with its exponential reduction of cost, it is hard to imagine how life was just ten years ago.

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The last time I went home, I tried to dig up as many of these (expensive) printed photos. I couldn’t wait much longer as most of them were either shedding colour or form in some way, and the rest were lost somewhere along the way. It made me really sad (and feel careless), and this tremendous loss is why I won’t be able to write a full post on Nepal (2005) and Thailand (2007, on our way to Australia). I still managed to salvage a few from our Australia and USA trip in time, but they weren’t enough to complete the picture. Among a lot of discussion and reminiscing, I was able to piece the memory blocks and recall most of our journey through this amazing country.


Our first stop was Sydney, where we spent around 3 days. We were on foot mostly, exploring public squares like The Rocks and The Domain, visiting iconic landmarks like the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, and exploring wildlife in the zoo. Visit the Sydney Tower for excellent views of the city and Bondi Beach for the chilled-out life (but you knew that already).


Sydney Tower


St. Mary’s Cathedral from the tower

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View from the Sydney Tower

We took the one-day tour to the Blue Mountains, carefully arranged to include small groups for a better experience. We travelled in a small van with our guide, who was quite the fellow indeed. This is something I want to mention here. I’ve been around different groups of people around the world, and everyone has their unique sense of humour. I found that apart from being generally relaxed, which Australians are known for, everyone almost invariably has a great sense of humour. And the good type, mind you, much like the Irish.

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With our guide


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The Blue Mountains

During the entire trip, the guide kept us entertained with quips like ‘did you know, that the Blue Mountains are neither blue nor mountains?’ and ‘I advise you not to get too close to the edge, but if you do fall over, make sure to enjoy the view.’ The Blue Mountains were fascinating to say the least, and no one died. We checked out the famed ‘Three Sisters’ rock formation, who were turned into stone in order to protect them, according to an old legend. There are hiking trails which bring you close to the rocks but were not part of this tour. Another highlight was the Scenic World railway tour, which is a MUST do, just for the thrill. It is the steepest incline railway in the world, and the ‘open’ cars have only seat-belts. My mother and sister were in the first cabin, and as the coach starts descending, you can almost feel that you’ll fall off your seat and plunge into the valley (that does not happen, of course). Absolutely thrilling!


Scenic World railway with the Three Sisters in the background

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The Three Sisters

We headed out to Melbourne next, via Canberra. My dad has this enviable gift of finding contacts wherever we fly to. As soon as we reached, a man came to pick us up and invited us to his home. We later found out that he is one of the most successful businessmen in the city, having arrived in Melbourne with his father years ago and gradually rising to where he is right now. His success, however, had not changed his demeanour one bit, and he remained as humble as one could possibly be. He provided us with a great accommodation and an unforgettable gastronomic tour around the city, and our families became good friends. He passed away a few years ago, much to our shock and surprise (he was younger than my father), and we will never forget his hospitality and our friendship.

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One of the first things that struck me was how clean the city was – not a speck anywhere. It was an unbelievable sight to our sore eyes – coming from India and this being only our second international destination. Don’t get me wrong, things have improved back home now, but at that time we were just glad to see a nation collectively deciding not to litter and preserve their cities, something which many nations are still struggling to achieve.

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Tons of things to do and see. From the hustle bustle of Queen Victoria market, to St. Kilda’s beach, the Shrine of Remembrance – a war memorial for WWI, a walk along the Yarra river at the Yarra Bend Park and the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the 1853 birthplace of Test cricket (I’m from India, remember). A drive along the Great Ocean Road is recommended for all visitors, and so is the Melbourne Museum for its fascinating displays (I couldn’t find our pictures of the exhibits, unfortunately).


The Shrine of Remembrance

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Ceremonial Avenue, looking towards the city of Melbourne from the shrine

There were two main highlights of our stay in Melbourne. The first was the century-old Puffing Billy steam train ride through the Dandenong Ranges. The windows were large enough to allow people to sit through them with their legs dangling outside and enjoy the view. The tour also includes a stop at the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can get up close and personal with over 200 species of animals, including everyone’s favourite – Koala Bears.

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Puffing Billy

The second was a day trip to Phillip Island to watch penguins. Honestly, when was the last time you witnessed penguins in their natural habitat? The tour begins with a stop at Warrook’s Cattle Farm (now called Warrook Station Farm, according to their website). This family owned farm has a wide variety of animals on the estate and you can go ahead and feed them if you like – other options include milking cows and watching a sheep-shearing operation. I distinctively remember I took a magnificent picture (according to my camera capabilities) of a lonely tree standing in a vast open stretch, and a broken cart beside it. The entire scene setup was something straight out of an epic romance novel. Unfortunately, after searching for hours, I could not find it. It is ironic how, when I captured the scene a decade ago, I wanted to show it to the world, and now, when I have started documenting, that is the picture I couldn’t recover.


Warrook’s Cattle Farm

After having lunch at the farm, we head on to the Koala Conservation Center, where you can see Koalas (again) in their natural habitat. Keep in mind though – they might look cute and cuddly, but do not ‘over-disturb’ them, or they will attack. Next, we headed out, in time, to Phillip Island. It is imperative for tour groups to be on time, as a lot of operators run parallel, and the entry to the island is closed after 6 pm. Apparently, some of the tours got delayed during the week because people just couldn’t get enough of the Koalas – oh, the obsession!

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At the island, you pass through an information center and enter into a special viewing platform, where crowds gather from all the tours. As the light dims, penguins can be seen walking along the beach to their nests. Hordes and hordes of small penguins, all marching happily, much to the joy of the humans. It is one sight which you cannot find in the middle latitudes. Thanks to Australia, we don’t need to cross the Arctic circle to view these gentle creatures in their natural habitat.


Phillip Island


We stayed in Melbourne for almost two weeks, mostly hanging out with our generous hosts. On our way back, we had to endure one of the most testing experiences we have ever faced in an airport. More on that later.


With our hosts and their friends

A lot has changed since that summer of ’07. A recent web search displayed a lot more places to see and things to do. Let’s hope I get that chance of visiting again, and this time, I’ll make sure not to skip the Ayer’s Rock!


Republic of Ireland

Country Counter: 21          

Cities Visited: Dublin, Glendalough, Kilkenny

Timeframe: April 2017

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland. Having read and heard so much about it, I kept waiting for the perfect time to book my trip. As far as timing goes, it’s never perfect, is it? On some days, prices would be too high, visa issues, sometimes I’d be more focused on securing a job, and once I had a job, taking a few days off had to be accommodated to work schedules. So this April, after finally realising that my visa is going to expire soon and I’ve accumulated enough leaves from work, I decided I had to check this off of my list.

The tales are true. Ireland, especially Dublin, has that rare combination of relaxed and energetic vibes most small and big towns haven’t achieved yet. I also found that the Irish sense of humour is different from English one. It has the same undertones, but you feel that no one is really looking down on you.

My planning started in February, with Ryanair to the rescue again. I also discovered that everything is relatively inexpensive if you book it online. For example, the Guinness Storehouse experience will cost you €14 if you book online instead of the usual €20 at the venue. Direct buses to and from the airport are €10 for a return journey, valid for three months. The Cliffs of Moher tour conducted by Paddywagon Tours is €40 online (instead of €45 at their office) etc.


I chose to stay at the Paddy’s Palace. Not only is the location great in spite of not being at the very centre of the city, but everything is also easily accessible by foot. I enjoyed walking along the river Liffey from one end of the city to the other, covering all the main attractions, and not taking more than an hour to do so. The hostel was clean, well-maintained and included free (simple) breakfast. The only thing I felt was a bit annoying was the Wi-Fi coverage, which was only present in the main lobby and not in the rooms. That meant that after a long day of walking and sightseeing, we’d have to physically come down and sit in the lobby to get anything done on our phones/laptops.




There is much to see and do around Dublin. I spent time in the Kilmainham Gaol (€4 guided tours), Irish Museum of Modern Art (free entry), and the Guinness Storehouse (of course). The experience made me fall in love with my favourite drink even more. Next, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, the adjacent Dublinia and Dublin Castle. The Spire of Dublin is a must visit. I had to skip some spots like Malahide Castle, St. Stephen’s Green, Phoenix Park and the Wellington monument due to lack of time (see you next time, Old Jameson’s Distillery). The Temple Bar area (and the bar itself) has a lively atmosphere, although the place is over-priced in my opinion. For better deals on drinks, head over to the area around Trinity College, and maybe even drop in to see the library (think Harry Potter movies).


One of my main reasons to visit Ireland was to check out the majestic Cliffs of Moher. The picturesque coast looming high above the ground is just a magical place. The Atlantic Ocean presents itself like a vast, never-ending body of water. The weather there can be quite fickle and changes in an instant. I continuously kept checking the weather on my phone before finally deciding to book the tour for a Friday and hoping we’d have some sunshine. Trust me, you do not want to drive across the country and experience fog and rain there.



I booked the one-day Paddywagon tour to the Cliffs of Moher. The pickup point was Paddy’s Palace which meant I could sleep a bit longer in the morning. The tour was worth every dime. We had a really engaging driver/guide, who knew his country’s history well and kept us entertained throughout. We had mini-stops at the Dunguaire Castle, which is rumoured to have the power to bring back your virginity (why would I want that when it took me so long to lose it), followed by a drive along the Wild Atlantic Way and the Burren (a landscape filled with limestone rocks for as far as the eye can see). We stopped at Doolin for lunch, which is the nearest town to the Cliffs.



Post lunch, we headed out to the cliffs and we couldn’t believe our luck. We had the BEST weather possible! It was like the clouds had cleared out on our arrival, as our guide pointed out. Bright and sunny weather meant amazing pictures and a lovely hike along the steeps edges. The Cliffs were jaw-dropping and one of the best places I’ve ever visited. We had one and half hours at our disposal, which it seems was the case for every tour operator present there, in order to avoid over-crowding. We stopped by the Bunratty Castle for half an hour before heading back to Dublin. The only suggestion I have for Paddywagon Tours is to perhaps try and shave off 5 to 10 minutes from other stops, especially Bunratty Castle, and allocate more time at the Cliffs, to the extent possible. Having a one and a half hour stop at the main attraction on a 12-hour trip seems hardly fair.


On our way back, we passed by (but did not stop) a village where ex-President Barack Obama has some roots. The entire area is filled with signs, probably to get tourist buses to stop. The song The Fields of Athenry, that was playing on our way back, and almost everywhere in Dublin, is a must-hear for everyone. Sad and melodious at the same time, it recounts the dark past of Ireland and transports the listener to another world.



Booking a room at Paddy’s Palace turned out to be a bigger delight than I had imagined. Apart from the amenities and highlights I mentioned above, customers also get a free tour to Glendalough and Wicklow when they book a stay for more than 2 nights. We set out on a Saturday, with non-stop rain and I was thanking my stars I was able to see the Cliffs properly. The stop at Glendalough was for an hour and a half, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and go for a hike. Next, we passed by the Wicklow Gap, Turlogh reservoir and the bridge which was the setting for the movie P. S. I Love you. Around lunch time, we arrived at Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland and known for Kilkenny the beer. The small town is filled with remnants like cobblestone roads and the Norman Castle dating back to the 1100s.


I saw a lot of connections between Ireland and the United States. Airports have pre-clearance options, immigration options are more relaxed and almost everything in the States can trace its roots back here, including Obama as I mentioned above. For example, we passed through Hollywood, which sure enough, was the inspiration for the industry that we all know now. An Irishman who left the country during harsh times on a coffin ship survived his trip and made his way to the West Coast, where he renamed the place Hollywood, in memory of the village he left behind. The hills even have their own Hollywood sign perched at the top.


It is a shame that I have to get a visa every six months to return to Ireland (and Scotland). The trip left such an impact on me that I’d definitely visit again, and maybe even visit the same places again, now that I know who, what and where. Talking to the people, listening about their hardships and oppression in the past and how they’ve rebuilt themselves made me feel proud walking among them.


May you be in heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.’ – Irish blessing


Once again, thank you for stopping by, and Sláinte!