Adventures Abroad: Great Britain

London is my favourite city in the world. Admittedly, I haven’t really gotten a feel for many world cities, but even if I had I suspect London would be right at the top (excluding anywhere inside Japan). It is the quintessential Australia: when we were founded by the British all those centuries ago, they built their white picket fences and brought English culture to the occupants here. They tilled the soil and planted English crops and set it up just like home. Except Australia isn’t Britain, but no one really seemed to notice. I was still brought up believing Christmas was a time of snow and that a tropical island where the sun shines every day is paradise. England is, simply, everything Australia was meant to be, but for climactic and geographical reasons, is not. In a very naive way, going to England, was like seeing what my life was supposed to be like. There were English breakfasts and quid for currency, tea everywhere and these wonderful accents… I loved the humour, the politely amusing self-deprecating commentary about life… It’s hard to pin down what exactly is so English about English culture, but it had (obviously) permeated every aspect of English life and I loved it. It felt like home.

It didn’t feel that way to start though. After the initial twelve hours of hyped up excitement (Omigod look, a red double decker bus! Right in front of a red telephone booth! Right next to a red post box! Omigod look, they have a Tube stop called “Picadilly”, like in Monopoly! OMIGOD LOOK THAT POLICE OFFICER IS WEARING A BOBBY HAT!) it was exceedingly depressing. There was a great weight in my heart as my brother went to meet his friends and sent me off to find Trafalgar Square on my own (with all the experience of two rides in the labyrinthine underground train system known as the Tube) to buy everyone London Passes to get us cheaper entry to city attractions. I had no idea how to get there, or where to go when I arrived, and I was already behind schedule for the stupidly busy weekend my brother had planned. I didn’t have enough money for the London Passes, and the weather was positively awful. It was always cloudy, even if it didn’t rain, and if the sun deemed to come out at all, it was a weak, hazy attempt at shining, as if Sol were fighting cancer but doing its best to look healthy. As I was spiraling into a pit of loneliness and despair at another foreign city all by myself I heard a busker playing. They were strumming an acoustic guitar and singing some cheesy love song, but it was the first time I had felt anything that resembled joy or happiness in hours and it made me smile. After that I realised Eugene was right: English weather really is awful, but somehow the people make it cosy. There are pockets of joy and warmth and laughter to be found everywhere, and despite the depressing circumstances, the English are quite a resilient lot.

We went to Buckingham Palace, where we managed to catch the ceremony of the Changing of the Guards. There were literally hundreds of people thronging around the palace, but after some clever crowd evasion (and after getting soaked and buying umbrellas, which we more or less didn’t use for the rest of the trip) we managed to watch the guards march around and hear the band play. It was a wee bit disappointing to be so far from the action, but it was still exciting to see their £7000 uniforms and their scarily high-tech looking assault rifles. Plus, the marching band starting playing the theme from Star Wars!

We went to Westminster Abbey for a tour with the Verger, a very kind pastor of the Abbey. It was a truly spectacular building, the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. So many famous people, so many things worth honouring. And the detail of the sculptures was magnificent- the most meticulous details were poured into things that most people will never see, like the backs of tombs up against the walls. The coronation chair was quite amusing because it was so humble.

That night we went to the Lyceum Theatre to watch The Lion King musical. It’s hard to describe just what it evoked in me, but please take me seriously when I say it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life. At the presentation of Simba, when all the animals (and my God, what animals) approached Pride Rock to pay homage to their new prince I started crying. Not out of sadness or joy or any emotion in particular, but because it was so beautiful I couldn’t help it. The whole thing was amazing, child acting/singing aside, and I have huge respect for the designers of the costumes and the choreographers and the actors who played (or rather, embodied) the animals.

We went shopping in Covent Garden and Seven Dials, where Eugene bought some English Brie (which was, unfortunately, later slept on and smooshed all over his friend’s shirt so he never actually got to eat it), and moved on to Tate Modern. Tate Modern is a building dedicated to modern art, and I went in as neutrally as I could, to appreciate with minimal judgement. Some of the work was amazing (Eugene thought it was rubbish, but there was a piece of canvas that had been slashed once with a knife, and as the artist intended after hours of contemplation, it really did seem to be very violent and aggressive- I could feel his energy coming off it), much of it laughable or just plain crap (like the pieces of iron poo spread across the ground next to an ironing board which was supposed to represent a stag in a forest).

We visited Shakespeare’s Globe, a modern day recreation of the first theater Shakespeare’s plays were performed in built entirely out of materials from the 1600’s. It was very exciting to see actors practicing with sabers and unarmed fight choreographies. It was also a delicious day to eat deep fried honey-battered peanuts on the bank of the Thames on a cold, windy day.

It was here that I went to stay at the Flexistay Apart Hotel, my favourite accommodation of the whole trip. It’s hard to describe what it felt leaving my brother and his friends to their hotel rooms and setting out in the world to find my own way. It was different to being sent to Trafalgar Square- this was my choice. I was using my knowledge, my skills, to find something that I wanted. As I walked down the streets of Tooting Broadway (I love the names of English suburbs), I was grinning like an idiot, massive bag on my back as I wandered the streets at my liberty. I dropped off my bag and spent a few extra minutes shopping, which was possibly a mistake. Upon entering an electronics store, I quickly realised that English games were 50-80% cheaper than Australian games. I really don’t understand why a brand new PS3/Xbox360 game has an RRP of $99 or even $119. In England, Arkham City had JUST come out and was being sold for £35, or ~$50. I ran around buying games like crazy and ended up with about seven on that first run (regretfully putting some back for want of luggage space) and dropped back in a few days later to pick up Mortal Kombat (banned in Australia due to not having an R18+ rating on video games until a few months ago).

I rejoined Eugene and his friends to see Hampton Court, one of the residences of Henry VIII and his wives. The gardens were truly breathtaking, and the hedge maze was a great delight. I don’t know why I insisted on finding my own way out thank you very much, when I get lost trying to get home from five minutes away. We went for a horse and carriage ride around the grounds on the most gigantic horses I have ever seen- I stood only to their shoulders at best- and the gentlemen doing the steering had amazing uniforms and even more dazzling moustaches.

I broke away from the pack to try some English ice skating (oh the pleasure of being on the ice!) and practice my ukemi, and found a suspicious-looking store that sold bongs and BB guns. After much contemplation, I bought a £40 heavy metal fluorescent blue pistol in order to respectfully train with a firearm and practice disarms. Shortly afterwards, I discovered BB guns are illegal in Australia (I did have an inkling…) but was unable to return it until a few days later. Because it was second-hand (though I’d only shot it once) and the man who sold it to me was in Thailand I couldn’t get a refund, but the guy at the counter bought it off me for £10 anyway. Sigh.

Pre-Runefest drinks were at Namco Bandai station, a delightful wonderland of arcade goodness. At three tries per pound, I spent quite a bit of money on the Dragon Punch machine trying to crack the 9000 barrier again. I’ve developed a technique to consistently get 8750, but I think I lack the muscle mass to hit any harder than that. It’s a flawed system, measuring only directional force for a single attack, but I still want to beat it! I mostly went nuts upstairs shooting and hitting things rather than getting drunk with the RuneScapians downstairs.

I split from the group again to go on a tour around England and visit some of the other exciting cities. Oxford was truly wonderful, the city of universities with students on bicycles everywhere. We saw the Great Hall from the Harry Potter films, as well as an extraordinary library (couldn’t go inside unfortunately), Blackwells (a bookstore with seven miles of book shelves), and some crazy beautiful weather. The rivalry between colleges is really quite amusing.

The Cotwolds and Lacock were beautiful, quite villages, arguably the most beautiful and quintessential streets in England, with thatched roofs and cobblestone roads. There was an amazing sense of peace in the country life there, and I came to appreciate many moments of great stillness and clarity. We also saw the manor used in the most recent Pride and Prejudice film.

Bath was absolutely gorgeous, a real pleasure to be in as I visited the Jane Austen centre and the Roman Baths which gave the city its name. I drank the (clean) bath water, believed to be a cure-all for pretty much every ailment under the sun- it tasted vaguely of rotten egg and metal, but I’ve certainly had worse drinks.

Finally Stone Henge was quite an imposing and mysterious site to visit. The name means The Hanging Stones, I loved the different theories about how the stones were transported several hundred miles to be arranged in their specific positions, which act as a kind of calendar using the sun- like a giant sun dial. I can’t explain the difference between the two types of stone, but one was certainly warmer than the other despite the weather. It was very cool.

After a mildly stressful airport experience where Eugene’s phone was dead and we didn’t find each other until boarding was nearly closed, we spent five days in Scotland. We went on a “Highland Fling” tour with 27 other people, mostly Australians, and our crazy Scottish driver/tourguide Andy. I didn’t really feel like I fit in with most of them- I wanted to see Scotland, but I didn’t want to drink every day and every night, or dance to ridiculously loud music. I’m afraid I was quite “boring” by their standards, which upsets me a little, but I vastly preferred having early nights to read, train and play Zelda. At the very least, I learned the resounding lesson that I don’t like pubs, and I’m quite certain I wouldn’t like clubs, and I am okay with that.

Scotland has the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. The forests were truly magical, genuinely enchanting. The highlands were breathtaking- I laughed out loud and the sheer joy of climbing them. The waterfalls were everywhere, including one in particular believed to have been enchanted by faeries- I drank from the source at the top of a muddy hill, and was goaded into running down it which was, of course, disastrously messy. We fed boar, who are part of a long-term project in restoring natural flora to the mountains (what a great volunteer project- planting new trees to restore the ancient forests!), visited Perthshire, learned how to drink whiskey the Scottish way (you give it a nosing, add a few drops of water, then knock it back), learned how to fold a kilt (I think this particular type was called a fil-a-mor) and what life was like in ancient Scotland, including the weapons they used there (my goodness the claymore is brutal), visited the sites and graves of the Battle of Culloden, climbed the Wallace Monument and saw the sword he wielded (it’s still sharp!), fed herry coos (hairy cows, the cutest animals on the planet), visited Saucy Mary’s (the legend of the Viking princess who created a toll bridge to generate income and who attracted sailors from around the world to see her enormous breasts), climbed castle ruins, saw the sunlight streaming through the clouds and shimmer on the surface of Loch Ness… It was quite a fling! And all the little things, like taking your wet, muddy boots off and sitting them by the fire to dry, made it very special. Some truly amazing sights and lore in the highlands of Scotland.

Thereafter we returned to London, and while Eugene flew home, I stayed an extra week. Mum fought with me to make me come home at the same time as Eugene (“Not now! You can’t fly by yourself! Go another year when you’re older!”), but there was a tour to Wales I could not walk away from. On the 5th of November, my birthday, we drove to Chepstow Castle, the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain (where I practiced taiji in its ruined Great Hall), visited the Church of St Mary the Virgin (aka Bloody Mary Chapel, due to the history of black magic which, our tour guide suspected, is continued by teenagers today) the ruins of the great Tintern Abbey, visited Hay-on-Wye, the town of books with something like 37 second-hand book stores, and stayed in Baskerville Hall Hotel, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the Hounds of the Baskervilles. There, for my 21st birthday, I attended my first Guy Fawkes Night bonfire. Did you know that it’s a tradition for children to build Guy Fawkes dolls out of paper mache and old clothes to put on the bonfires? There was a couch with about ten Guy dolls on it when I arrived, but just as I approached there was an explosion and the platform burst into flame. It scared the hell out of me, seeing that pillar of flame erupt from nowhere and the bang that accompanied it. Apparently they has poured paraffin all over the wood and let the vapours mix in a hollow chamber inside it, then fired a rocket into it to set it alight. But they hadn’t taken into account the footballs used for the heads of the Guys, which were flammable, sending flaming wood into the sky and crowd. It was brilliant! The heat was immense as the flames licked the sky, sparks flying everywhere, dolls burning and furniture collapsing into embers. And the fireworks- God, it’s been years since I’ve seen fireworks. They were amazing, screeching and fizzing and banging and popping and exploding in chains of dazzling light and sound! It was a wonderful evening. Afterwards there was a local ‘nightclub’, which despite having the nickname “fight club” sounded far too much like my Year 7 disco, so I went to bed early.

The next day we went to Brecon Beacon’s National Park, which is too huge to comprehend, for a morning horse ride on horses that were short and fat and apparently part teddy bear. Of the 20+ names written on the boards, I was secretly hoping for the one named Tai, which, if my Mandarin is accurate (highly unlikely), means “supreme ultimate”. As fate would have it, I was indeed paired with Tai. Although I was nervous (and it didn’t help that they told us not to show our nervousness, because that would upset the horses), either I hid it well or Tai was patient as I secured his saddle and mounted up. Although I was hoping Tai and I would be friends and would instinctively where and how fast I wanted to go with the slightest pressure of my knees, I soon learned to assert my dominance in our shared journey. I felt bad at first forcing his head one way or another, or drawing him to a halt, but he was quite cheeky and liked to push the boundaries just to see what he could get away with. It was rather like taking a three-year-old to the park- they enjoyed the journey, but still wanted to run on the road and eat candy off the floor. Once I had set the boundaries of what was and wasn’t okay (eating passing branches was to be avoided, but bursting into spontaneous trots to take over the other horses was jolly good fun and secretly encouraged) we had a great ride, weaving through the trees, ducking branches, passing cars in extremely narrow lanes and alternating between hot and cold as we crested the hills and then passed through the shadows of the mountains. The weather was the best any of us had ever seen, a beautiful clear autumn day, and though the mud was slippery, Tai handled it well. When the ride was over I wish I could have stayed to rub him down, but we couldn’t linger. After I loosened all his straps and gave him a quick ruffle with my hands, he turned to look at me and gently nudged me with his nose as if to say “Thank you. It was really nice riding with you.” He did this a few times (it’s quite unusual for a horse to look at you directly, let alone touch you) and I eventually hugged him gently and kissed his head. At my request, the horsemaster got me some carrot to feed him, which Big Ben (the giant of the horses) hit me over the helmet to get at. It was a very special ride.

Unfortunately, I had felt my body telling me it was getting sick, so I called up and cancelled my plans for the next two days, which were supposed to be spent mountain biking in the Peak District. Retrospectively, it’s a good thing I didn’t go- my poor butt wouldn’t have been able to take the abuse of the bike seat after all that trotting. I spent an entire day in the hotel room (excepting a quick venture for food and taiji in the falling autumn leaves) reading while I recovered. I went a little delirious and stir crazy, but the rest was really salubrious and by the next day I was about 98% better.

I ventured to St Paul’s Cathedral, where I’d heard it had just re-opened after the Wall Street protests sprawled outside it had forced it to close indefinitely. There were still tents everywhere, and people from Anonymous wearing their Guy Fawkes masks (so, so cool that that caught on), but I was able to get inside. It was a truly magnificent work of art, like Westminster Abbey. For some reason though it upset me quite a bit- it didn’t feel at all like a house of God, just a testimony to human achievement and skill, through sculpture and war.

Next up I visited Madame Tussaud’s, the famous wax museum on Baker Street. It was smaller than I thought, but far more glamorous with flashing lights and trendy music. I got my photo taken with Robert Downey Jr as Sherlock Holmes, Muhammad Ali and Captain Jack Sparrow. There was an entire room dedicated to Robert Pattinson, though no one seemed interested in him, and I was deceived by a woman who was hogging the best spot to take a photo in front of Judy Dent and Daniel Craig, who turned out to be made of wax. I had an absurd amount of fun playing a reflex game (I scored a few notches above average, but nowhere near the record held by a Formula One racer) and watched the Marvel 4D movie twice. I also stayed the hell away from the Chambers of Horror and Scream, preferring to walk through the bright and happy rainbow doors.

I had lunch and a Cadbury Picnic bar in Hyde Park (lacking an actual picnic) and headed to the Science Museum to see what Science is up to these days. Not a lot. Well, to be fair, plenty of things, but not many things that I was interested in. Scitech in Perth does a much better job of being attractive to kids (and, apparently, to me), though I did play a game where I was a sperm who had to swim up a vagina. Yes, you read correctly.

I called home from a red telephone booth (just for the delight of it) and visited the National Gallery, which was surprisingly delightful. I didn’t think myself one for paintings and displays, but there are some really amazing works that are worth seeing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination afford to go into the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit that had been sold out for hours. It was also at this late stage of my holiday when I discovered that my 3DS wasn’t picking up any other signals because I had to turn on Wireless to activate StreetPass- all those hundreds of thousands of people I passed, the tens of thousands in the afternoons on the Tube at peak hour alone… Wasted T_T.

Saving the best for last, I finally went to the Tower of London. I was expecting a spire with a crown and scepter in a room at the top, but it turns out the Tower of London is actually a small village with a number of towers, houses, services and residents, including a Ravenmaster (coolest title ever), whose duty is to ensure that there are more than 14 ravens living in the Tower at any one time, lest the monarchy should fall. The crown jewels turned out to be  27300 precious stones set in dozens of crowns, scepters, jewellery, swords, cutlery and more. (Having recently re-read Brisingr while I waited for Inheritance, I couldn’t help but think that the gemstones would be perfect for storing energy to use against Galbatorix.) I joined a highly entertaining tour being led by a Yeoman Warder, one of the 37 personal bodyguards to the monarch requiring a record of exemplary behaviour and the rank of Sergeant Major from a minimum of 22 years of serving in the armed forces to apply for the job. It was the 11th of November when I went, so at 11:11am, the guards there performed the Remembrance Day ceremony, marching about the town square in silent respect. While I was exploring the rich history of the Tower, I met a scribe who was writing beautiful calligraphy on a scrap of parchment. It was the first stanza of a French poem, and read “Dame nuit et tour ~ me fair votre beautez languir ~”. I can’t find the translation proper, but when he told me what it meant, my heart melted and I probably would have kissed him if he asked me to. It went something along the lines of: ‘Lady of the night and day, your fairness and your beauty make my heart languid’. Swoon. I also toured the Royal Armory for over an hour, pouring over the antiquated swords, armour, maces, pistols, pistol-maces, halberds, lances, rifles and so much more collected throughout the centuries.

Although I saw the Tower Bridge, I had spent so long exploring the Tower of London that I missed its opening. Too, had I missed the red ball that drops from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, to signal 1pm to all ships in the area. Greenwich was my next destination, the centre of time and space on the planet. After synchronising my watch with the clock outside (which was later negated as I had to readjust it due to the timezone difference in Perth), I paid the entrance fee to straddle the Prime Meridium, longitude 0’0’0′. The excitement of the Observatory wore off pretty quickly after that, but I wandered around the house of a famous astronomer whom Sir Isaac Newton stole a star chart from, and who built the first portable clock for sailors to use. I also saw an atomic clock, and got into a lengthy discussion with a desperately bored staff member about the shape of the earth and the weaknesses of using the sun versus the moon to keep track of time. I also visited Cutty Sark, a famous ship that I once sang about in chorale, but it was mostly covered by scaffolding and tarpaulin and was quite anticlimactic. I stumbled across a market and tried hot, spiced cider (my God, what a drink on a chilly autumn day) and a churo, filled with hot milk/dark chocolate and dusted in sugar and cinnamon. I bought some cidar, and some English raspberry Coconut Ice, and bundled myself up in sugar and warmth to return to London, and then, to Perth.

So that was my holiday! Forgive me for my longwindedness, and lack of editing, but I’ve put this off for far too long already. Photos to come soon-ish! Ah, how unnecessarily busy and dull life in Perth seems to be compared with the carefree attitude of travelling. London, I’ll be back, soon enough I hope <3

Adventures abroad: Egypt

Sorry for the delay! I’ve been procrastinating the hell out of this for reasons I still don’t understand, but I’m finally making a start. Posts first, photos next (hopefully). These posts have been a long time coming, and I’ve decided to split them in half to make them more digestible. I really should have just posted these in three or four day chunks so they didn’t build up to one big megapost, but lacking that, you get a condensed (but far too long) summary of the holiday. If you don’t feel like reading a novel, you’re welcome to read the leading sentences of each paragraph for a general picture. Anyway, here’s Part 1 of my adventures.

When I look back on my experiences in Egypt I get a mixed group of feelings. There’s a knot of tension in my stomach from the dangers I faced. There’s a sense of great peace that came with being alone in the wilderness, or indeed, with God. There is a sense of awe at the resilience of the Egyptian people in a time of strife, and also of irritation at their dependence on tourism for income (and what this dependence can lead to when tourism dries up due to, say, revolution and mass shootings). I’ve talked at length with my brother about whether my experiences were better than they were worse, and I have to say yes, they certainly were. It is concerning that I even need to consider the answer, but as I’ve confirmed with my brother many times, it was certainly an enriching life experience.

My first night in Egypt was awful. I know I’m choosing to see the bad sides of what happened, it’s all about perspective and attitude and all that, but it was really difficult for me to see the good side of things. Flying there took 21 hours (I think), and I was awake for the majority of a 31 hour day. The travelling wasn’t as exhausting as I thought it might be, but when we arrived, the airport was very quiet. I later associated this with the recent-ish revolutions and protests, but I was just grateful to touch down an hour before dinner with the tour group. However, the airport staff had other plans. They didn’t speak much English, or if they did, they deigned not to until we displayed our complete incomprehension of Arabic and body language. They took our passports without saying why and asked us to sit down and wait. We waited for fifteen minutes, watching the six of them drink tea and chat with one another. There were no other passengers. When we inquired we were told they were checking something. Eugene guessed they’d not seen the new visas Melbourne uses before, having only been instated a few weeks previously.

Nervously, we decided to make the most of our idle time before dinner by changing our US$ to Egyptian Pounds at one of the three currency exchange stations next to the waiting area. I went to the one that looked most reputable- the Bank of Egypt or something to that extent. The guy was eating a sandwich when I arrived and told me to go next doors. It was a little bothersome but understandable, so I went to his neighbour. The man in this exchange booth was sitting at the far end of the room facing me, seemingly staring at his desk out of sheer boredom. He ignored me, until I called out to him, whereupon he advised me to go next doors, next doors. I did so, somewhat more irked. The third teller was sitting at his desk playing Angry Birds. When I called out, he glanced up and told me to go next doors. I explained that’s what the guy next doors said, and he repeated that I try next doors, next doors. So I went and sat back down with my brother, terrified that nobody in Egypt would like me, that perhaps Asians had offended the Egyptian people in the past, that no one would speak English to us and that they would keep our passports and we would be stuck there forever.

Fortunately, that is about when they deemed to return our passports to us and wave us through without another glance.  I was later told that this happens to everyone, not just tourists. It did not set a good first impression of the country. Our next step was trying to find a taxi to get to dinner- we couldn’t contact the tour group and we were running late. There were a few men waiting inside the airport saying they were the taxi service, and cautiously we gave them the address and negotiated a price (almost no taxies have fares or metres). The drive was terrifying. Five cars occupied three lanes at any one time. Hardly anyone used headlights at night due to the abundance of street lights. Pedestrians strolled across the road in between cars without glancing sideways to see if they were about to be hit (and indeed, climbed onto moving buses). Barely anyone indicated as they changed lanes (which they did frequently). Honking the horn was a way of saying “Hello!”, “Get out of the way!”, “Hurry up!”, “I’m here, occupying this space!”, “I am turning now”, and “I have a horn!”. We came within inches of other cars, every single one of which was dented or broken in some way. I was a little concerned we’d die. This turned out to be one of the best drives (in one of the most functional cars, with door handles and window cranks and rear view mirrors and working speedometers and all those ‘luxury’ things you don’t really need to make the car go) of the trip.

It took about a day to get used to Egypt. The tour we were on was composed of three people: my brother Eugene, myself, and a 50-year-old mother from Canberra. Mr Hany, our tourguide was kind, helpfully, funny and informative. Tourism was very low due to the political climate and its portrayal in the media, though I honestly think there was no danger from the police or military. I always felt safe with Hany- as my brother pointed out, all the bad things that happened to me were when Hany wasn’t there.

Our first day took us to the pyramids, sphinx and Egyptian Museum. We were driving through Cairo, oggling at the women riding donkeys, the men on their camels, the carts drawn by donkeys pulling hundreds of kilos (my heart breaks to remember one in particular pulling a broken down car, stumbling every few steps from the strain of it as the owners grinned at us) and carriages drawn by horses fitting right along side the cars. Rubbish littered every curb and dung was being swept off the road regularly. We later saw Cairo at 6am before anyone was awake and it was spotless. Its 18 million population transformed it quickly. There were thousands of unfinished buildings without ceilings or walls, yet sporting satellite TV’s and running water. Apparently it’s common practice not to finish building a house so you don’t need to pay tax for it. And amid all this urban sprawl, the pyramids peaked alongside the sky scrapers, just a casual backdrop of the city. When arrived, they were stunning to behold. My brother and I explored the Third pyramid, open for tourists for 100EGP (~$16) and took many epic photos, but it saddened me greatly to see the bottle caps and cigarette butts littering the ground around them. I think at night the men that hang around/work there just sit around (and on) them drinking and littering. We even saw a few names carved into the stones at the base. People have actually graffitied one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We also had a very short but exciting camel ride. I like to think I was a natural, but in truth, having enough skill to stay on without having someone lead you, and being trusted enough to steer your camel away from oncoming buses (which I did successfully) is hardly skillful. Still, Snowpea and I raced Ali Baba and Eugene and creamed them. T’was awesome.

The Sphinx wasn’t as impressive as I had been expecting. Apparently he (I always think of him as a her because of the headdress) was carved from one block of stone, but I don’t see how when he’s clearly made of many bricks. Maybe they cut up one big stone to make the many bricks. I discovered the reason the nose of the Sphinx is missing was because it was chiseled off by a Muslim man a few decades ago who was protesting that the old gods had no power compared to Allah. The Sphinx originally faced the rising sun, the sentinel of the Tombs of the Pharoahs of old, the riddler, the omnipotent guardian who gave homage to Ra. Now it faces construction work a few hundred meters away as people toil to prevent underwater damage to the area. A few hundred meters beyond are shops and apartments and ordinary urban sprawl. It’s a little sad that the massive population of Cairo is spilling almost onto the paws of the mighty homunculus.

The Egyptian Museum was rich in treasures, particularly from the tomb of the child king Tutankhamun. They were all very ancient, some of which were incredibly interesting, but much of which was just famed for its age. The mummies, in particular, were horrifying. Human beings with teeth and hair and fingernails, desiccated and wrapped in linen millenia ago. Interesting, but still horrifying. One of the Ramses’ had hair and linen samples sold on ebay until the Government cottoned on and had them brought them back to the museum.

We caught an overnight sleeper train (a truly wonderful experience for me, with surprisingly comforting rocking motions) to the city of Aswan. There we visited the island temple of Philae, dedicated to the goddess Isis. Ancient Egypt flooded every year- this was a huge part of their lives, and often destroyed homes and livelihoods. It was a recent-ish decision to build a dam to stop the flooding, but this would cause the water to rise in parts of the river and lower in others. The original Philae was on one of the islands now submerged by the lake. The World Heritage team from UNESCO moved the temple, brick by brick, to its new location on a higher island. It was the quietest, most beautiful ancient temple I’ve ever seen.

Eugene and I got pretty intensely sick around this time. I woke up around 12:30am with stabbing pains in my stomach, but we were due to leave at 4am to visit the temple of Abu Simbel, so we didn’t wake our tourguide. He scolded us for this, because when Eugene managed to stumble to a nearby pharmacy, the medication we took was not as helpful as the medication Hany recommended. It was a tender couple of days where we barely left the room, Eugene sleeping and I playing Zelda on the 3DS. Finding food was particularly challenging: nothing was open until 1pm, and the shops that did open were essentially delicatessens. Nervously wandering down largely deserted alleys, desperately hungry, I ended up overpaying a street-side vendor for some falafel. At that point I stopped using tap water to brush my teeth after Shihan’s recommendation, and I stayed mostly well for the rest of the trip.

We sailed down the Nile to the small village of Nubia, where we stayed in a cheap (but expansive) mudbrick house. I really enjoyed training in the sand courtyard for the first time in days. I also attracted a curious little girl who kept inching closer and closer until she was standing only a few feet away from me as I performed kata and xing (forms). I was worried I’d pivot for a strike and she’d be standing right behind me. She turned out to be the niece of our host, who was an English teacher at a local school, and it was a great pleasure talking to her about her life and helping her with the cooking (using our fingers as cutting boards- it was safer than it sounds).

As well as staying in the village, we sailed to the bank of the Sahara Desert and climbed the sand dunes. Eugene and I were barefoot, picking our way over the sharp rocks (I wanna say slate?) and climbing the cliffs. It was terrifying, awe-inspiring and epic. I wandered further and further away to immerse myself in the isolation of the desert, to gaze upon the expanse of sand and to know a little of infinity. There was so little wind the footsteps lasted for weeks. There were so few signs of civilisation, apart from the occasional stack of rocks (I wonder why people pile rocks up wherever they go? Do they intend to come back some day and go ‘Hey! See that stack up the back, fourth from the right? That was mine from 2011, son!’?) [EDIT: It seems these piles are called cairns, and normally used for navigating, they’re probably just used by tourists to mark their existence in the world], I snuck off for a cheeky sand angel or two, and to do taiji and yoga as the sun set across the dunes. When I finished, I knelt in seiza and prayed. It was a great time for me. Unfortunately I had wandered so far I wasn’t sure how to get back, and I was beginning to get quite thirsty. I eventually followed the sound of music to a village, and after exploring it thoroughly (the tourists there were Italian, and possibly Ukranian), I panicked a little when I realised it was not the one that our boat had docked at. I climbed back up the dunes and followed the coast further, and very happily found the village I was looking for. I’d been gone an hour and a half and Eugene had just gone looking for me. I’d been lost barefoot in the Sahara, but not in much real danger- that was pretty cool.

We spent the next day sailing, from dawn til dusk. There were no toilets on the felucca- it was a simple boat with a foam base, low canvas roof and cushions- so I did my absolute best to limit how often I used the bathroom on the bank of the Nile. I was expecting to read Game of Thrones all day, but I actually spent more time playing Uno, which was incomprehensibly hilarious. Eugene also took the opportunity to ask Hany if he knew any spells from the Book of the Dead. Unfortunately, he did, and he called upon Anubis, the god of mummification, to lend him his strength. I have a tremendous phobia of the supernatural, so I ran to the other end of the boat and hung off it, declaring myself independent of whatever cursed enchanting they were doing. I’ve seen what sort of stuff happens when you ask Anubis for favours! You end up becoming a half-scorpion for millenia until Brendan Fraser stabs you through the chest! Fortunately for me, Hany’s spell had no noticable effect. At least, I hope it didn’t. Eugene later purchased an English version of the Book, and though some of them were malevolent (how to bring the dead into the world of the living), the majority of them were benign and helpful to dead kings.

We also visited the Edfu Temple. I don’t remember much about the temple itself, just the experience I had there. As my brother and I were walking around the inside of the temple, a man kept offering to show us around. We were used to such people- literally hundreds of them were around tourist sites, advertising mass produced knick-knacks from China, offering to show you around, begging for tips etc. But he insisted he didn’t want money, and followed us around to point out carvings of a Pharoah kissing his wife, and of a heiroglyphic phallus. It was kinda of funny, but he kept standing right next to me, leading me by the arm to the next object of interest. Every time he touched me and I withdrew he would say “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” with this big friendly smile. I was understandably suspicious when he put his arm around my shoulders, but I had my hands over my camera, wallet and phone so I wasn’t sure what he was up to. Then I felt something inappropriately hard press into my back, and I have no memories of the next few minutes other than calling out to Eugene “We’re leaving, RIGHT NOW” and being on the bus washing myself with antibacterial gel. I guess I went into shock and got the hell out of there. Eugene tells me that as soon as I walked away he immediately walked over to the next group of tourists and started chatting to them. God it was awful. I know it wasn’t like I was sexually assaulted, but it was still depraved, and my heart genuinely goes out to any friends of mine who have received unwanted sexual attention.

Shortly after that unfortunate event, we made our way to Luxor and explored the Temple of Carnak, the largest and most impressive (but by far the busiest) of the temples I saw. I had made a silver ring with my name in heiroglyphs, which I wore proudly for about a week until I left it at a hotel and it was never seen again when I returned half an hour later to look for it. We visited Animal Care in Egypt (, a volunteer organisation who provide direly needed care to abused, abandoned and neglected animals free of charge. Their patients included horses and donkeys who’d been hit by cars, whose owners didn’t bother equipping them with iron shoes or whipped them to injury, blind cats, unwanted dogs, abandoned turtles and more. They were the light of hope in a country of disrespect and maltreatment of animals, and I strongly support their work. I have every intention of donating to them regularly if I ever get a stable source of income and urge you to consider likewise. I also tried sheesha after dinner one night, just to see what all the fuss was about. It was not as delicious as I was expecting, nor was it exciting to breathe out smoke from my mouth and nostrils. In fact, it just made me cough a little and get very, very dizzy. It was exciting, but my life is perfectly fine without such intoxicants.

Unfortunately, another bad experience met me in quick succession to the Mi Scuzi Guy. There was a marketplace at Luxor that Hany showed no interest in going into, but it was a highlight of the city and many tourists enjoyed it. It was much larger than the stalls outside the Sphinx, and they sold not only trinkets but lamps, furniture, teas etc. I made the mistake of wearing my shirt which I bought from Animal Care in Egypt, reading “mohadbi alhaiwan”- “Animal lover” in Arabic. Almost everyone in the marketplace called out to me, asking if I loved animals, or if I wouldn’t mind buying something from that man over there because he had a dog etc. I realised quickly they were all friends, all in it together, and they didn’t care which shop you entered because they’d all profit from it. Eugene had disappeared into the depths as Therese and I tried to make our way to him, but I got so much attention I stopped even glancing at stalls and stared dead ahead, ignoring the dozens of calls of desperate salesmen. When we reached the end of the street, just a few hundred meters long, Eugene was nowhere to be found. Therese was perfectly comfortable amidst all this, but I was trying to avoid panicking. When we turned around and headed back I was so stressed that when Therese stopped to chat with a merchant who was flirting with her I just left her there because I just wanted to get out and get away from all the “Mohadbi alhaiwan” yelling. That was a mistake. When I was alone the attention increased along with my vulnerability, and people I’d been able to ignore earlier became more insistent. When a man stepped out in front of me and I wouldn’t buy whatever he was selling, he refused to budge as I tried to get around him. He put one hand behind his back and told me in impeccable English that he had a knife and he would pull it out if I did not give him my money. He told me to stop talking and just do it. I told him I didn’t believe him, and he told me that I’d better, to stop talking or he’d pull it out. Seeing we’d reached a stalemate, I put my hand against the back of his forearm- the one behind his back- so that I’d feel it if he moved suddenly, or be able to stop him if he tried to move that arm in my direction. And then I walked past him, turning my back to him, and didn’t spare him a second glance. I was shaking by the time I got out of the markets.

I’ve convinced myself that I wasn’t in any real danger- I could have sensed it if he really intended to hurt me, and more importantly I could have defended myself if I had been, but I’ll never know for sure. Hany later told me a story about when he’d been in the markets with his tourgroup. One of his girls had been ripped off by a merchant and the man acknowledged it but refused to return the money. When Hany nearly called the Australian embassy, the merchant angrily gave the money back. But before Hany could reach the exit of the market strip, two men stopped him and told him that the guy had been kind, but next time he stepped foot in the markets he would not be permitted to leave unhurt. Hany bashed their heads together a few times and threw them to the ground, challenging them to do something about it now if they wanted to cause trouble. When he reported the threats to the police, the corrupt officer refused to do anything about it because he was accepting bribes from them. I don’t think I was ever really safe there. One armed person, maybe I could hope to get away with only superficial cuts. Six, eight, twenty… I’m really glad I got out all right. I do not intend to return.

On a lighter note, we also went on a day trip to Alexandria, which was my favourite place in the whole country. It was one of the 32(?) Alexandria’s conquered by Alexander the Great, and housed the Citadel (where the fabled Lighthouse used to be, another of the seven ancient wonders), the Catacombs (an amazing descent into flooded mass graves where bodies might still lie undisturbed in their sarcophagi) and the Great Library, one of the greatest treasure stores of knowledge and learning in the world until it was burned down. Now there is another Library of Alexandria, almost directly on top of the original, though it lacks the knowledge stored on scrolls and papyrus. It’s the most beautiful library I’ve ever been to, part museum, part information storehouse. Millions of books, hundreds of computers and computer-based technology, learning centers, planetariums, art exhibits, what appeared to be Sci-tech, gift shop, educational videos, lecture halls, and best of all, the students! So many people with piles of books, looking busy, actually USING library resources. It made me very happy to see. I snuck onto a computer which was already logged on to make a facebook status update (“This status update comes from the library of Alexandria- the treasure store of Greek and Egyptian knowledge in the days before Christ. I cannot express adequately how honoured I am to be in this great (if modern) hall of learning”), which is one of my special virtual souvenirs.

We also took a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Tombs, the Valley of the Queens, and a little of the Valley of the Kings. The Valley of the Kings in particular was very cool- we got to visit three tombs of our choosing, and I spent a long time climbing the stairs into the dark pits and admiring the walls covered in coloured paintings and heiroglyphs. They were chapters from the Book of the Dead, inscribed in the tombs to bring the Pharoahs anything they needed in the afterlife. And what’s more amazing is that not all the tombs have been found yet, despite all our technology- they were still excavating the day we were there, and will likely continue for decades or centuries. The ancient Egyptian people just picked a spot in what was originally a massive valley of sand, had their slaves tunnel until they were satisfied with the depth and length, and then create a tomb. After the Pharoah was mummified and buried, the tomb would be sealed by rock and sand and blend perfectly into the valley once more. No one knew where all the tombs were, so it wasn’t uncommon to be digging a tunnel and accidentally break into someone else’s tomb. Some of the Pharoahs respected this, but others appreciated that the work had been done for them, removed the body, redecorated, and moved into the other guy’s tomb. Unfortunately there were many men just hanging around the tombs selling postcards and junk, and many inside them trying to show tourists around for money. It was only recently that these junk-sellers were forced out of the tombs by the military after one of them sexually harassed a woman, but the wanna-be tour guides were still frequent. As a neighbouring tourgroup reported, one of such men didn’t deem to head back up to use the bathroom and simply urinated in a corner of the tomb while tourists walked around him in disgust.

Thereafter we drove to Mount Sinai, the mountain where it is written in the Bible of the Jews and Christians, as well as the Muslim Quran, that the prophet Moses spoke to God in the form of the Burning Bush and later received the Ten Commandments. There were three ways up the mountain: camel, the path, or the 3750 Steps of Repentance. Obviously, I took the steps. It was disappointingly easy/short, though still enough to work up a sweat. When we reached the plateau of 3000 steps, a man approached Eugene and told him to meet him in the toilets. Nervously he went, and was given a handful of bright red berries for his troubles. Concerned about their safety, we consulted Mr Moosa, our mountain guide, who confirmed they were safe and called “Sinai berries”. Their brightness caused us to call them “Cyanide berries”, but we ate them anyway, and we seemed to have survived. We stayed at the summit until sunset as we admired the amazing mountain ranges. I spent some time by myself just praying on this holy mountain, contemplating God’s work. At dusk we climbed back down in the darkness.

From there we travelled to the coastal village of Nuweiba, where goats ran freely in the streets, bleating and eating the wealth of paper-based rubbish that littered the roads. We stayed in a beach resort there, and though simple, it was tremendously peaceful. I did not think I could be so quiet and enjoy such pleasure. Modern life seems so unnecessarily complex and busy compared to the leisurely decisions like whether to go kayaking or reading a book. I played beach volleyball, enjoyed many a card game, read, trained, kayaked, and even went scuba diving in the Red Sea. Despite his inherent phobia of deep water, Eugene enjoyed it so much that he started taking lessons when he got back to Perth and now holds his diving license. I found it to be less enjoyable because I couldn’t equalise the pressure in my ears, no matter what I tried. I spent about 80% of the dive concentrating on how to make it hurt less as tears of pain clouded my vision, but what little I did see was amazing: eels, coral shaped like brain, bright blue fish who were completely comfortable swimming right around me, a sense of weightlessness, seeing the sun on the surface above me, feeling the bubbles brush my face and crashing into the sea bed and kicking off it again. I’m a terrible swimmer, but the guide held my hand and pulled me forwards so all I really had to do was look around and remember to breathe. It was really wonderful to see a fraction of a whole new world that humankind had barely touched in millennia.

After that, it was the long drive back to Cairo, and then onwards to London. Stay tuned (but not too tuned- who knows how long I’ll procrastinate for this next post) for more adventures. Peace everybody! <3

Finding God Across the World

My time on holiday was really great. There were a few low moments where things went horribly, but the majority of my time was highly enjoyable, and some of the best experiences of my life. That post, however, is for another time. I just wanted to quickly talk about some of the spiritual realisations I’ve come to while I’ve been away. I’d also like to make it clear at this point that I do not support many of the acts people commit in the name of religion, nor do I approve of the institutions of religions that dominate the world through force, wealth or manipulation. It is spirituality, the desire to connect with the divine, that I respect (so long as it is not forced on others, and does not bring about unnecessary suffering to the self, or especially to other people). This post will not be for everybody, so please don’t feel inclined to read let alone agree with what I have to say.

Just before I left I had a sudden urge that I really, really wanted to reconnect with God. To put it simply, there’s only so much I, as a limited human being, can accomplish in my life and in my mind, and sometimes I need a little help to be more. Even simply put, it’s difficult to describe what I mean by this. I don’t mean I want an omnipotent divine force to intervene in the events of my life to make things go well for me. I just feel a need to connect with myself and the world in a deeper, more meaningful way- to go beyond ‘ordinary’ life, based solely on the material world (that, which the Enlightenment has taught us, is all that we truly ‘know’). Some might say that I need to reconnect with the divinity within me- Om Namah Shivaya (a statement I now realise is far deeper than I can currently comprehend). I’ve realised that God, whatever He, She or It is, is an integral part to my identity. And I really want to honour that, rather than lock that away in the closet of my self because I’m scared of what people will think of me. There seems to be a huge amount of fear and discrimination against someone who makes a religious gesture in public (like the sign of the Cross for Catholics, or the five daily prayers in Islamic faith). I feel that people believe Christianity in particular is bigoted, unknown, even a scam for money. Or perhaps I’m just paranoid and seeing what I think others see. It’s difficult for me then to be honest about what I believe, however unknown and crazy it might seem.

I wrote a post a while ago about my religious beliefs. They’ve evolved slightly since then, but they are essentially the same. I just wanted to share some of other things I’ve realised, remembered, or been inspired to believe throughout my holidays. There were many times while I was away that I felt utterly at peace and assured in the knowledge that God exists. I’d like to share some of those experiences now. Please excuse my elaborate descriptions and evocative imagery- it is not my intention to win you over with pretty writing. I am trying to describe the essence of the moment when everything came together and made perfect sense- those epiphanies where my faith was confirmed or those insights about human kind and the nature of reality that struck me like a bolt of truth to my soul.

As I sat in the presence of the ruinous Tintern Abbey, on a bench under an oak tree planted to commemorate King George V, I saw the leaves falling in the autumn wind. Each leaf fell to the ground, following a path through the air. Sometimes they dropped almost directly to the earth, other times they swayed as though they were on a cradle of wind. Others spiralled, some clashed, but each of them had a unique journey. And for some reason that sight struck me deeply. I felt in the very core of my being that God was at work. He (or She or It. I will refer to Him as He, because that is how I have always understood God, most likely due to my Catholic upbringing) knew the path of each leaf before it fell, and He knew the exact moment when each leaf would leave the tree. I cannot say if it was He who plucked the leaf and carried it on His breath, but at the very least He knew everything about that tree, everything that had ever happened to it and would happen to it. I cannot explain why I was so certain of this, but I knew it in my heart of hearts. And if God knew so much about a tree, how much did he know about each and every human being on the planet?

As I was kneeling on the peak of a sand dune in the Sahara Desert, watching the sun set over the endless waves, mounds and ripples of the golden earth, there was a great openness and emptiness in the world which I perceived for perhaps the first time. I was seeing only the smallest fraction of that great desert, yet it was more than my eyes could see, far off into the horizon. I could not hope to perceive or comprehend it all. The entirety of the world is a far greater thing than any one so small as a human being could understand. And it seemed to me, that in that vast emptiness, there was God. He existed in the thermals, He existed in the sky. He existed in the sand, and the wind, and in the rocks. It does not fit with my understanding of God as the energy of life, but somehow, He was present in the landscape of nature. (Just wild conjecture here, perhaps even sand has ‘life’ and ‘will’, and when enough sand gathers, one can feel the presence of God.) For some reason, this made me remember that every human being in the world can be redeemed. There is no one too evil, no one too lost, who cannot be brought back to their inherently good nature with love.

On the mountain of Sinai, where it is believed Moses first met God in the form of the burning bush, and the locus where he later received the ten commandments, I sat on the cliff of the mountain and contemplated God’s work. It had been hard work to climb the 3750 Steps of Repentance, but the difficulty of the journey just made the rewards more beautiful. Many times I stopped the climb to look at the mountains and just stand in awe. The mountains surrounding Sinai had all been climbed by the Christian monks who lived there and white crucifixes had been made and planted at the peak of each one. From the top of Sinai, I could see so much and yet know so little. It was emptiness up there. There were people, for sure, but once you were away from the bustle of the tourists and the men selling food and drink, there was a great sense of nothingness. But it wasn’t awful, the kind of empty vacuum that demands it needs to be filled. It simply was.

In Scotland, as I sat at the rings of stones (mysterious in element and placement) akin to Stone Henge, I watched as the leaves fell from the trees. There had been green leaves which turned to gold. Over time that gold turned to red. And finally, that red turned to brown as it covered the earth. I was struck by the certainty that all life would one day end, and that this was the most natural thing in the world. All living creatures had an expiry date- a time to die. And struggling against this is futile, wasted effort and energy. I believe to my heart that there are greater things in the world than my life. I am certain that if I could save a trainload of people by throwing myself into peril, it would be a very worthwhile gesture. My existence is but the smallest of blips on this enormous organism we call mother Earth, and though life is the most precious of gifts, my individual life is almost worthless in comparison. It is wrong to cling selfishly to one’s own life at all costs. Nor should one just lay down and die. Life is meant to be lived, but when death comes in earnest (as it must for each of us), it cannot (and should not) be resisted.

The Chapel of the Virgin Saint Mary had long since fallen into disrepair. Once (and possibly still) used for black magic and sacrifice, humankind had stopped tending to the building and it had become overgrown with plants that crept up its walls and occupied its floors. Sunlight streamed in directly from the ceilingless roof to nourish the flora, and I couldn’t help but think “so this is what it looks like when God reclaims the Church”.

In the great cathedral of Saint Paul’s, I was slightly sickened that so much effort had gone into constructing monuments of war and killing. The sculptures and the paintings that adorned every wall and surface were exquisite, but I felt very strongly that the artists were just showing their skill for the sake of their employers or for the love of creation/education, using the Glory of God as an excuse to make incredible artwork. The whole building seemed to be a testimony to human skill and greatness. The private chapel to the side where one could pray was temporarily closed, and I didn’t see a Sacramental Lamp anywhere in the building- the red light of the lamp is supposed to indicate the presence of God/Christ in the House/Tabernacle. Plus, it was open to tourists to walk around and admire with audioguides and maps for only £17. There was a pastor nearby who was waiting for the evening chorale performance, and I spoke to her about my discontent. She told me, essentially, that the cathedral was still a house of God because it was a community who gathered regularly to do works of goodness in His name. It reflected the real world: Christians gathered every day to pray, and people from all walks of life and different belief systems were among and around them. Furthermore, no one was ever charged for coming in to pray or partake in the daily ceremonies. I found it hard to feel God’s presence there, despite the majesty of His house. A saying popped into my head as I walked away, a little disgusted and confused: “God needs no nobility. He needs not red cloaks or golden scepters or gargantuan monuments. These are what people need.”
This led me to realise that the most spiritual places in the world are the places that humankind has not yet touched or overly influenced. Those artificial places where people gather as special because  of the people, not the buildings and the ornaments within. We try and prove we’re more than animals, that we’re “civilised”, but the authors of Genesis made a fundamental mistake by declaring us the wards and superiors of the other inhabitants of the earth. They did not understand who we are in the world and what our purpose is. I myself can’t say the full extent of either, but I knew very deeply that all life is connected, and that not only are we connected but what we do to others we do to ourselves. It is no worse to shoot someone in the foot as it is to shoot yourself. If more people understood this, and remembered it, I think the world would be a very different place.


I’m afraid my memory fails me after this. I have only notes I scribbled down. I can’t imagine why I presumed I would remember the context in which I wrote them. But I remember being so still, and seeing such beauty, that they just made sense to me. They were the most natural things in the world to realise. I realised, one day, that the world is beautiful. And that it was always beautiful, and it will always be beautiful. And that I didn’t make a very sizable mark on this big ol’ planet we live on, but it is always worth adding to the beauty. And the best way I can do that is be beautiful. Not in a physical, vain way, but in a spiritual way: to be that shining beacon of love and hope and peace in times of anger and despair and stupidity. And that is a very worthwhile pursuit. My happiness and my kindness are a gift to the world which negativity and ignorance pollute.


It’s taken me far too long to write this post, and I’m far too tired to put it off any longer. It’s a big topic, which I just wanted to share in lieu of an explanation, and for the sake of sharing openly. I’ll get around to posting about my actual holiday soon enough. Peace, all <3