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Last Wednesday, I planned to meet up with four friends: two of my London pals and two girls who came into my life during my travels in Asia: Laura, was only involved for a single night on Koh Pha Ngan, but is one of the few who I’ve managed to stay in touch with, the other is Claudia, who, if you’ve been a regular reader of this blog will be a familiar name to you. But I couldn’t resist when what could have been a small, quiet night began rolling downhill and picking up more and more people as it went. It started with Sophie (one of the London pals) messaging our ‘usual’ Wednesday night drinks group on Facebook:

Sophie 12 October at 18:17 Reply

Hello this wednesday we are headed to cha cha moon just off carnaby street for some gorgeous food! We will meet outside at 6.30pm, then head to the john snow pub for 7.30pm!

Lots of love xx

Then I confirmed plans with my two traveling friends, Laura and Claudia; which grew to be Laura, Claudia, Claire, and eventually Emily.

Marianne McPhee 13 October at 09:37
You girls still up for tomorrow? Does Cha Cha Moon (just off Carnaby Street) at 6:30 work? Hope so! See you soon!
Claudia 13 October at 10:36 Reply
yup, def still up for it and sure that is cool beans for me! see you then! xxx
Laura 13 October at 13:38 Reply
Change of location and cuisine… gosh we’re CRAZY. I’ll be there as soon as I can….
Claire is coming as well… I think. I’m SO HUNGRY xxx
Then my friend Chris, who I only know through STA Travel Buzz, announced his presence in London that night on Twitter:
Curiouscheese: on the train to London now… @alice_walkabout @fillingthepages @statravelbuzz drinks later tonight?! X
Since Cha Cha Moon was clearly becoming the place to be, I passed along the news:
FillingThePages: @curiouscheese @statravelbuzz @alice_walkabout What time? Meeting people 4 dinner @ Cha Cha Moon – lots of traveling peeps, can meet there?
Lucky for me, Alice picked it up:
alice_walkabout: @FillingThePages i may well do that, thanks for the invite @statravelbuzz @curiouscheese you up for it? x
Finally, less than two hours before meeting time, my mobile phone began vibrating with a message from Miguel (that suave Portuguese neighbour I’ve mentioned before):
Miguel: I’m meeting Jess at 7 for dinner on Goodge Street, want to join?
Me: I’m meeting friends at Cha Cha Moon around 6:30, come there instead?
Miguel: Ok…I am meeting jess in oxford circus tube station at 7pm and we will meet u there..k?
So I extended the message to Miguel’s housemates:
Me: Meeting at Cha Cha Moon at 6:30pm
Tom: See you there!
So a dinner with four lovely ladies, turned into a meet up of 13 people from all different walks of life. And not once was a word spoken between myself and any of them. All I needed was Facebook, Twitter and a mobile phone.
Not one person at the table knew everybody else there and the evening was spent enjoying great (and cheap!) food at Cha Cha Moon and a few pints at the John Snow Pub. It was a simple night, but sometimes the simplest of things can make for the best memories. Now three of us are headed to Australia, two are off to Thailand, one is aiming for Canada, another for the USA. A rare night that I thought deserved it’s own entry.
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A few weeks back I mentioned attending the STA Australia event. They filmed us asking various questions about Australia, and now the lovely Claire has our answers! Check it out, but listen closely. Claire talks really quickly.

Not exactly a Travel ARTICLE technically, but some helpful information about Oz, and a TAW is way overdue.

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Local pubs, cute English villages and charity runs in the park. Ok so it wouldn’t make headline news, but I had a pretty great English weekend.

After five long days at work, it was straight to the local pub by my office with some of my equally ‘ready-for-the-weekend’ colleagues. After offloading all our typical work frustrations and a few pints I think we all felt a lot better.

After that, it was onto the tube and back to Paddington. Or was that Sheperd’s Bush? Apparently I was a little more exhausted than I thought… After waking up at Shepherd’s Bush, I quickly hopped off, grabbed the next eastbound train and retraced my steps to Paddington. I made sure to stay awake this time. Of course, my night couldn’t end there, so it was straight to The Cleveland Arms, my very own local, to meet up with the neighbours. After catching up with John, the landlord, and a few of the other regulars we headed back home. An ideal night of classic English locals. Not bad.

Next on the list? An English village! So when I eventually did get up, I hopped on a train to Leatherhead, where my good friend Nims hangs her hat. I met her and the lovely Marie-Anne (she goes by Mars, it makes the fact that we have the same name easier) at Mr. Nims’ (or Rich) tattoo shop where the man himself was giving Mars a nice little tattoo on her wrist. Then it was back to Nims’ to cook fish soup, roasted butternut squash with feta and vegetables, and homemade white chocolate rasberry cheesecake. Yum. Finished off by an episode of X Factor. Perfect.

Just to top off the weekend, how about a run in the park? Or how about I just go and support while others run in the park? What can I say, it was early, and well I’m not the one who signed up for a half-marathon anyway. But my neighbour Andy did (he was coerced really), and I am good enough to get up early to be the support team. So it was off to Hyde Park bright and early, where I curled up with a book for a couple of hours while Andy made his way through 13.1 miles of royal parks. Well done Andy. Top off the night with the second X Factor episode and my weekend was complete.

Monday and it’s back to work, but at least I got to enjoy another typical English activity that evening: an Indian. After joining my godparents at La Porte des Indes and eating WAY too much food, I dutifully collapsed into a food coma. Unfortunately, despite the good food, I could have done without the stomach pains.

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A friend’s birthday is always a good excuse for a busy weekend, so this past Friday and Saturday were no exception.

My neighbour, the suave Portuguese Miguel, turned the big 2-4 on Friday which called for an all-you-can-eat buffet in Chinatown a drink or two in Leicester Square and a little shaking at On Anon in Piccadilly Circus. I love Chinatown in London, but I have to say, an all-you-can-eat buffet is not the way to get the best quality food. But certainly the most for your money. Despite the lack of decent cuisine, I managed to fill my plate twice. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a deal.

After that, we bumped into Tom who was enjoying a karaoke farewell night with his ex coworkers before joining us at the Wetherspoons in Leicester Square. Again – I love Leicester Square, but Wetherspoons is not the way to enjoy that place. Overpopulated with tourists who seem to think they are actually hanging out in a cool London bar, and not the overpriced poorly located place that The Moon Under Water is.

We shortly left and entered On Anon to dance to some cheesy pop music for a few hours before heading home on the night bus.

Saturday morning, I woke up to meet the Sellars family, then joined Andy and his father plus a few others for my first EVER British football game. Blackpool @ Crystal Palace. Andy’s family are Blackpool supporters so we were on the visiting (and unfortunately losing) side. Sadly I was beginning to feel a little under the weather, but despite that, I really enjoyed watching grown men resort to baring their teeth and holding their hands up at the opposing fans as if to say ‘come and say that over here.’

Back at home there wasn’t much time before I was getting changed and ready to head to Shunt. Shunt is must-go in London. But you have got to get there before November 14th when they will probably be closing down and (hopefully) moving location. But their current location at London Bridge is to die for. Think enormous underground brick arches, vast open spaces and any number of new corners to look around. There was an eccentric art exhibition in the eerily quiet halls as we first walked in, past the lone girl standing outside a room with a tray of popcorn bags for the film screening that was about to happen. Through the large iron gates at the end and I found myself walking past wooden benches set up stadium seat style, past a small door that led to a space with a billiard table, then through a room where a live band was about to begin, and into a cavernous back room with a DJ and a cornered off section with benches and tables separated by beams. The £10 cover is well worth it; if you’re in London reading this blog, get there now before it’s too late.

Tip of the day: get there EARLY. Doors close to new customers at midnight, and by 10pm the line goes all the way through the London Bridge tube station.

As I knew would happen, Sunday was spent shivering in my bed as my body rejected all the late nights and cold days I had exposed it to over the previous 48 hours. But on the plus side, I got to watch both episodes of X Factor. And yes, just like everyone else who isn’t Irish, I want to throw those twins out of a window every time I see them. I’m sorry. But I do.

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On Thursday I went to the STA Travel Buzz office where Shapes, TimTams and Victoria Bitter were the contents of my healthy? dinner…

After reuniting with Cam, Alice and AJ from my ‘Around the World’ tour of London, plus a couple more £10 Poms and other STA Explorers we ate, drank and were generally merry running around in our Australian hats – corks and all, until Saxon sat us down for a little Ozzy talk. Apparently Magnetic Island is the place to be. Less than two months until I head down for those keeping track. (!!!)

So Cam has been asking us to look back on traveling and how it has changed over the last 30 years (they’re really squeezing everything they can out of the STA 30th anniversary thing). I haven’t been alive for 30 years, but here are my few thoughts on how travel has changed that I’ve noticed.

Hmmm…..

I’ve had a quick look at some other responses, and music is a trend. I’ve just spent the last month and a half iPod-free and have certainly come to appreciate how dependent I am on that little machine. BUT I have to say, especially on long haul flights, my iPod is not my saviour. It’s that amazing IFE (In-flight entertainment). I do not go to the cinema as often as I’d like because 1 – it is way too expensive these days, and 2 – all my friends feel the same way: it’s rare that someone is around to convince us all to part with that money when we’d rather use it for dinner or a few pints down the pub. As a result, the films shown on long flights are pretty much my main source of newly released hits that I never got to see.

I need something to look at when I’m sat in the same seat for that long, since sleeping comfortably when you’re not dropping thousands on First Class (which obviously I do all the time…in my imaginary world where I’m a famous and insanely rich writer….) just doesn’t happen.

I’ve been on a lot of long flights in my life, and on most airlines (Virgin Atlantic is my current favourite) the entertainment systems have become pretty amazing. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t choose from all those on-demand movies, television shows and games.

I know some planes still start all the movies at the same time, and you can’t choose the film. And god-forbid I ever get on another plane that only has those screens in the aisles. When you are sitting just a little too far away, or directly below those things: literally a form of torture.

There are other obvious thoughts: the Internet makes researching destinations and booking tickets a piece of cake; the world is a much smaller place.

Thirty years ago, there were a lot of places that I wouldn’t have been able to visit. This past year I spent about eight months in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. 1979? Not so sure I would have been so comfortable heading over a mere four years after the Vietnam war.
Africa is still a continent with a lot of struggling countries, but it’s becoming more and more accessible as a destination. My friend Olly goes there quite regularly these days and recently returned from his newest tour.

No smoking on flights. I remember flying with my mum once and having no choice but to sit in the smoking section of the plane. I don’t think a confined metal tube is really the best place for smoking, so that’s a change I’m definitely okay with.

A change I’m not okay with? Back in the day, one of my favourite things to do was to go into the cockpit. Anyone else do this? The air stewards would take me up, and I’d get to sit in one of those extra seats behind the pilot and co-pilot and watch them as they played with all those buttons and dials that somehow managed to keep a massive chunk of metal airborne. These days that’s definitely not possible. Probably something to do with terrorism, but a damn shame if you ask me.

A few random thoughts about travel: check.

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So it’s been awhile, I could make my excuses but how about I just write the blog?

I’ve had a birthday, which means one year older and plenty to write about but I’ll try to keep it short. Plus this write up is more about my amazing night with STA Travel Buzz (follow them here, or read their blog here).

To start things off, how about a reunion with some other all-star travelers from my days in SE Asia? Yes please. Calvin, our Canadian companion, flew all the way to the UK so what better excuse for a meet up with the rest of the English constituency? It all started on Thursday, September 10 when Calvin, Claudia and myself hit Embargo’s in London for some good old partying on New Kings Road. Then it was onto the train the following day, heading to Bristol to meet up with Patrick, Matt, Andy and Zoe. It was an EPIC evening that started out with what I can comfortably say was the best Thai meal I’ve had since, well, Thailand. We’re talking Pad Thai, Panang Curry, Green Curry, Pad Grapow, everything I love. After eating it in record time we realised that it had cost us about 7,000 Baht, and estimated that back in Bangkok the same meal would be less than 1,000. Depressing? Slightly. Still delicious? Obviously. After that we headed to Matt’s friend’s back garden where an enormous bonfire, a huge marquee and several dozen gallons of local (as in, literally from across the road) cider were ready and waiting. Amazing. Needless to say, the night went well, catching up, reliving the good times abroad and listening to Pat’s sweet sweet voice as he strummed his guitar the way only he can. Then it was a night sleeping in the marquee under blankets before a traditional English pub lunch and the train back to London town for more birthday celebrations with my neighbours.

That Monday I went to a fantastic gig at The Scala to see two of my old high school friends who now go by the name Wye Oak. I left it a bit last minute but luckily Andy and Jen (the rockers) got me and a couple of good friends on the guest list to enjoy their seriously good opening act before they were followed by Okkervil River. High school reunion, good music and a birthday all in one night? Not bad.

So, traveller reunion, good music…what could be next? How about going around the world without leaving London? Oh yes. Tuesday, September 15 I met Camilla, Sam and Michelle from STA Travel Buzz (who have been kind enough to plug my blog along with a few other travelers for an STA 30th anniversary celebration. It all started in ‘India’ on Brick Lane in one of the many many Indian restaurants that line that road. Once the whole gang was assembled, we headed to…the kitchen. I’m not sure how the other paying guests felt about some random kids walking into the back to play with food but hey, on Brick Lane, give a restaurant owner enough money and you can do anything it would seem. So learn how to cook onion bhajis we did, before jumping on to the private Route master bus hired for the evening to head to ‘America’ while enjoying our deep fried Indian cuisine. America turned out to be All Star Bowling Lanes, where a game of retro bowling and classic American cocktails were the order of the night. I tried to ignore the fact that our waitress was Irish. As the only member of the posse to have actually lived in the US, there was a lot of pressure on me, and while the girls did lose, I feel I scored well enough to walk out with my head held high.
Next? Off to ‘England’! Okay, so this one wasn’t so hard, but I wasn’t complaining when the piping hot fish ‘n chips turned up on the bus. After a few glasses of champagne on the Route master and it was out again in front of the London Irish Centre where a lovely Irishman named Aiden O’Neill taught us the fine art of Irish dancing. Okay, so we weren’t so fine, or graceful, or good… But I think Aiden appreciated the effort, and we all appreciated an excuse to skip about holding hands without getting weird looks from anyone else. After an embarrassing attempt at our own Riverdance, we headed to the Irish pub for a pint of Guinness. What else?

It was a great end to a great night before crawling home only to wake up a few hours later, back to the grind of a Wednesday morning. But at least I had a good story to tell this time.

For photos of Bristol, my neighbours and Wye Oak check out this link, for STA Around the World, go here.

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I know that my last Travel Article of the Week featured Scotland, and I promise I will branch out, but I wanted to stick to the Scottish theme for one more week for two reasons.

First – regarding my post last week about Glasgow trying to get ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status for chicken tikka masala. The issue actually got quite heated with different groups of Indians claiming it as their own (click here for the article in The Telegraph). A chef who is a descendent of Indians from the Mughal period claims that the tikka masala dish has been passed through the generations for hundreds of years. A food expert says the dish is about 50 years old and has its roots in Punjab. Who knows! But this is just more reason why MP Sarwar should stop wasting time over something so silly. If there hadn’t been such a big fuss about it, Glaswegians could have happily gone on claiming it as their own invention with little challenge and everyone would be happy. Oh well.

Second – On to the new topic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. About an hour by train from Glasgow, Edinburgh is a much smaller city. I happen to be partial to Glasgow but I will admit that Edinburgh has a certain old world charm to it. The Royal Mile and the Edinburgh castle are both beautiful sites to see. Unfortunately, if you walk the other way down the Royal Mile you come to the Scottish Parliament building which is perhaps one of the biggest eyesores in Britain. Sorry, but it is.

Every August, Edinburgh puts on the biggest arts festival in the world with singing, dancing, theatre, comedy and much more including some very entertaining street performers. Even if you don’t have tickets to see any of the evening shows, you can walk up and down the Royal Mile enjoying the dozens of street acts then find a place in one of the crowded pubs or restaurants – it’s quite likely that you’ll get a mini-performance here too as acts go around promoting their shows with songs and short versions of their plays.

I’ve attended the festival a couple of times myself. I saw a low budget versian of ‘A Chorus Line’ my first time there, I’ve seen singers, a man juggle basketballs while ride a unicycle and a couple of comedians. I once saw a guy swallow a massive sword…yummy

This piece in The Guardian gives some locals tips on how to go about your festival holiday. I’d say the tips in that link are pretty good. I definitely agree that the more people you talk to the better. The Scots are a very friendly chatty group of people and they’ll be happy to share what they know with you!

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