Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Eurotrip Part 2 - The Greek Islands

Hello from Santorini! The Greek Islands have marked my first couple of weeks of travelling alone so I thought I'd share some of my stories and adventures as a solo traveler so far. 

In all fairness, I have very rarely been alone as I've been lucky enough to find it very easy to make friends in all of my hostels and have managed to meet some great people along the way. 

Mykonos
My first stop on my Greek Island adventure was the lovely Island of Mykonos. The first mistake I made as part of this stop was booking a 6am flight from Milan. This meant I had to be awake at 2.30am to catch a taxi to the bus stop and then take a 1 hour bus to the airport to be able to check in on time for my flight. Being in holiday mode, it's very rare that I'm able to fall asleep before midnight so I think it would be an overstatement to say I managed about 2 hours sleep that night. I fell asleep instantly when I sat down on the plane. 

I realised whilst waiting at Milan airport that I hadn't organised a transfer to my latest hostel. In a desperate attempt to have them pick me up, I sent an email at about 5.30am. Sure enough, I arrived at Mykonos airport with nobody to pick me up and tried my hand at using the pay phones to call the hostel to come and get me as apparently it was only a 5 minute drive away. Of course, the pay phones would not accept any of my credit cards which was the only method of payment. 

Absolutely exhausted and walking into the hottest temperature I've encountered yet, I went and asked a bus driver how to get to Paraga Beach who responded that there was no bus because it had already left. I was left with my final option - getting a taxi. This proved to be almost an impossible task as, with all due respect to Italians, they do not understand how to 'line up'. Person after person pushed in front of me until after about an hour, on the verge of tears and at the end of my tether, I desperately yelled at a cab driver to 'PLEASE TAKE ME!!!!!!!'.. and so, 15 euros later for a 5 minute drive, I made it to my hostel at Paraga Beach. Fair to say, I spent the remainder of the day asleep on the beach. 

After getting some sleep and feeling like a normal human being again, my next mission was to make some friends and not spend the next 3 days completely alone. The first person I met in my room was an Italian by the name of Marko who couldn't speak a lot of English and basically sat and stared at me as I organised my bag, making me feel quite uncomfortable. Then I met 3 of my other roommates (and soon to be friends, whether they liked it or not), New Zealanders living in London - James, Christian and Michael. Explaining that I was traveling alone, they kindly invited me to join them for drinks. Ignoring the fact that this was likely a sympathy invite, I took them up on the offer and successfully made my first friends as a solo traveler. 

The following day, my Kiwi friends had plans to explore the island on scooters they'd hired the previous day. Never having ridden a scooter myself, I opted for a quad bike which I figured would be much easier and safer to ride. We visited about 10 different places which had all sold out of quad bikes for the day (strange considering there were often plenty of them parked there...) so the only option was to ride on the back of one of the boy's scooters (don't worry Dad.. they were safe drivers and I wore a helmet.. and I made it out alive). So we spent the day exploring all of the less populated areas of the island - climbing over rocks and haystacks along the way.



 That night we decided to check out one of the most 'popular' clubs on the island at Paradise Beach. Much to our disgrace, we paid a 30 Euro entrance fee and walked in to an empty club where the cheapest beers were 9 Euro and there was a DJ we'd never heard of playing to a practically empty crowd. Fair to say, we didn't stay long. The following day was spent exploring Mykonos Town, relaxing by the pool and later followed by a much more successful night out in the town with no cover charges. The next day we all embarked on a 4 hour ferry ride to Ios where I said goodbye to the Kiwis who were staying at a different hostel. 

Mykonos Town


Ios
A lot of people had told me previously that Ios, the party island, is full of other Australians. They weren't lying.. we were everywhere! Even a lot of the restaurants and bars were run by Australians. I must admit, I felt a little more at home than in Mykonos. 

On my bus ride to my next hostel, Francesco's (would recommend anyone staying in Ios to stay here), I sat next to another solo traveler, Katy from England and later on met 2 other English girls, Bex and Mia and another Australian, Kara. We all instantly became friends and had our own little group for the next couple of days. 



During the day at Ios, everyone tends to go drinking at Far Out Beach Club, then retreat back to the hostel for a nap and/or more drinking, then head to the clubs later that night (which were conveniently located just around the corner from our hostel). I managed to follow this structure for exactly one day and after that, could barely look at a drop of alcohol for 2 days. I decided I'm probably not cut out for the party island lifestyle. 

Luckily on our second night, the other girls were happy to go out for a nice dinner and a few of us had a very early night. Katy and I ventured out via bus the following day to Maganari (could be wrong on the spelling) Beach which we'd been told by others, was the most beautiful beach they'd ever seen. We arrived to a horribly windy day and tried to brave laying on the sand but were in pain from all of the sand that was blown into us by the harsh wind. We retreated for some lunch and luckily noticed there was an area over a small hill that was much less windy. We were worried we'd have to spend 5 hours waiting for the next bus home sitting uncomfortably in the wind and stinging sand. Over the small hill, I also ran into my New Zealand friends again. 

My fourth and final night in Ios, I attempted one last night out. Katy and I went out for a nice Thai dinner and later received an invite from our Kiwi friends to dinner at the exact restaurant we'd just been to, to celebrate James' birthday. So we went back for the second time that night and ordered dessert followed by beer pong at Lost Boys bar (just to brag.. I got 5 beer pong balls in, in a row.. nothing short of a miracle for someone so uncoordinated). We finished the night at a nice little live music bar by the name of Circus and I convinced the musicians to let me get up on stage and sing a song with them. I made sure to embarrass James with a Happy Birthday shout out. 

That concluded my stay in Ios and I caught the ferry the following morning for what I hoped to be a few very relaxing days in Santorini. 

Ios

Santorini
Completely exhausted from Ios, I was hoping for some nice relaxing days in Santorini and I haven't been disappointed. I spent the first afternoon exploring Fira and ordering a ridiculously expensive Greek Salad then ventured back to my room and met a few of my roommates - Liam, Hannah and Tayla. After 5 minutes, we all became friends and decided to cook dinner together. That night was spent jamming on the hostel guitar (Liam happened to be an amazing singer and guitarist) and playing card games with a few other hostel guests. Couldn't have hoped for a better first night!



Tayla, another Kiwi, was also a solo traveler so we decided to hire quad bikes together the following day and explore the island. So began what I like to call 'The Adventures of Kate and Tayla'. Lucky for both of us, we got along really well and became travel best friends basically straight away. We discussed how funny/awesome it is that overseas you can meet someone and become friends instantly, whereas that doesn't tend to happen back home. We spent the day riding our quad around the island, exploring beaches and amazing views. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and I ordered 'fried fish portions'.. which were actually WHOLE fried fish.. just very small fish and were almost impossible to eat. Tayla then broke her sunglasses which kicked off a series of funny moments to follow over the course of the next couple of days. 



Later that night, we planned on buying some wine, cheese and biscuits and driving up to Oia to see the famous sunset (very romantic). We were running a little late and raced the sun to try and get there in time (cautiously and safely of course). We arrived just in the nick of time to find the sun setting behind a giant cloud and didn't see a sunset at all. Not to despair, we instead visited Oia and took in the sights of the beautiful town at night time. 


The following day I'd booked a tour that included walking over a volcano, swimming in some hot springs and once again visiting the sunset in Oia with dinner on board the boat. We had until 12pm to return our quad, so Tayla and I went for a little ride before I had to go. That morning I'd been nominated for the latest social media trend and fundraising activity - the ice bucket challenge. Tayla and I went to a restaurant on a beach close by to our hostel and asked a lovely Greek man for a bag of ice.. It took him a little while to understand what we meant and when he did, he figured we were having a party and was very concerned we wouldn't make it to the freezer in time. Not wanting to confuse him even more, I decided against asking to borrow a bucket and did more of an "ice bag" challenge. My nomination was at least complete though improvised. 


We dropped the quad off and I departed for my tour. Little did I know, the boat that was holding the tour was called Afroditi and was nicknamed "The Love Boat". I was the only solo traveler on the tour amongst a sea of couples, families and elderly people. It was the first day I felt out of place and didn't make any friends but I had to look at the humour in it and made the most of my romantic day by myself. A friend back home who hosts a radio show even decided to create a segment based upon my situation about "when you've felt out of place".

I returned to the hostel and had one more night butchering some songs on guitar and drinking some red wine with Tayla before she left for Ios today. 


Highlights
All of the great people I've met and managing to make some good friends whilst traveling alone

Finding an English friend who has agreed to do the Harry Potter tour with me (thanks Katy!) 

The beautiful scenery of each of the Greek Islands

Exploring the islands on scooter/quad bikes

Relaxing time on the beach, reading my book (the Kurt Cobain biography is a great read)

Jamming sessions and card games in Santorini

Completing my ice bucket challenge on a beach in Santorini with passers by looking at me very strangely 

A beautiful sunset from Francesco's on my last night in Ios



Fails and Funny Moments
Booking a flight at 6am and having to be up at 2.30am

Trying to get to my hostel from Mykonos airport

Paying 30 Euro entry fee to a terrible club

Paying 4 Euro for a gyros, losing my receipt and having to pay again to get my food because the bartender "couldn't remember me"

Ordering nachos in Mykonos that were basically an entire bowl of cheese

My attempt at driving a scooter (it didn't last long and I remained uninjured.. As did the scooter)

Going to the "most beautiful beach" in Ios on the windiest day possible

Tayla and I racing against time to make a sunset that didn't happen

Slipping down stairs at Oia (typical)

Anyway, that's about all for now. I'm enjoying some alone time in possibly the most beautiful hostel I've ever stayed at. I fly out to Athens tomorrow, followed by Barcelona in a few days. Thanks for reading and I hope to have some more stories to share soon!
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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Eurotrip Part 1 - The highs and lows of being an Australian backpacker in Europe


Hello loyal readers,  it's been a while! I cannot believe it's already been a month since I left Melbourne and made the 24 hour journey to Europe. I have already had the time of my life which makes me incredibly excited for the rest of my trip. I've had a few people ask about my Blog so I figured it was about time I shared some stories. So as I enjoy some much needed downtime in Milan, I've started jotting down some stories from my journey so far. It's probably more exciting for me to write about than for anyone else to read, but I've been extremely slack with keeping a travel journal so this will at least serve that purpose.

Without trying to sound cliché,  so far I've discovered that a place is only as enjoyable as the people I'm with. The places I've loved so far have had a lot to do with the people. I think I could be in the most beautiful place in the world but without good people around me,  it wouldn't be the same. I'm also finding that I appreciate a lot of things that I would generally take for granted back home. And I guess that's the point of traveling!

I'll try not to ramble on too much but here are some of the highs, lows and funny moments of my trip so far.

Pre-flight.. Just a little bit excited

 Zagreb and Tomorrowland

My first stop on my Eurotrip was Zagreb; capital of Croatia.  Random I know but this was the place I'd organised to meet a few friends to fly to Belgium for Tomorrowland. I had a couple of days by myself to begin with to revive from the flight so I arrived at my hostel extremely daunted and hoping I'd make a friend to explore the city with.  Being a typical Australian traveler,  my first stop was the hostel bar and it was there I made my first friend and immediately lost my fear of traveling alone and not meeting anybody. A couple of days later, I was reunited with my old work friend Pete and met two of Pete's friends; Joey and Evan before we headed to Tomorrowland the following day. 

The days that followed were completely crazy. For those of you who don't know what Tomorrowland is, it's a 3 day dance music festival with DJs playing across a number of different stages over the full 3 days. It was the most well organized festival I've ever been to in my life. Every detail had been thought about and the whole set up was absolutely amazing. The photos below don't even do the festival justice but give you an idea of just how incredible it was. 

    

The Tomorrowland Crew

Alexa and I

View of some of the crowd

As crazy and amazing as the festival was, it was very full on and made me realise that even though I had a lot of fun, 3 day dance festivals aren't really my thing. I figured, at least I went to the best dance festival in the world to figure this out! In saying that, we also had a great group of people and I managed to meet up with my friend Alexa from Melbourne so I didn't by any means not enjoy the festival.. I just prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.

Highlights

David Guetta playing Titanium to an amazing fireworks display - highlight of the entire festival

Arriving at Frankfurt airport (I think that was the one) to free drinks and food for all Tomorrowland travellers

The entire set up of the festival - transport, food, the stages - everything!

Buffet breakfast every day at the hotel (have to enjoy the small things in life!)

Fails and Funny Moments 

Arriving at the hotel with Pete (both single travelers) to our room with a double bed and "Mr and Mrs Fulford" (my surname) displayed on the tv

Killing time between flights back in Croatia by watching Planet of the Apes and not being able to understand a word the apes were saying because the subtitles were in Croatian

Having a crazy Croatian cab driver who told us he didn't actually own the cab then tried to sell us his paintings AND told us he was a spiritual healer and gave us his business card.. (his and number written on a piece of cardboard). I was just happy to make it out of the cab alive

Arriving in Split at midnight after the festival to realise we'd accidentally booked accommodation for August rather than July 

Split and Sail Week Croatia

Pete and I arrived Split after Tomorrowland, planning to have a few quiet nights before yacht week which basically includes partying every night in a different location in Croatia. The quiet nights did not happen. We stayed at a great social hostel called Adriatic and had such good people in our room each night, we had to go out with them. Out friend Lakkis (another ex work colleague) also joined us in Split so the reunion called for a few celebratory beverages. The next 5 nights or so in Split included a pub crawl, jamming sessions in the hostel room (thanks to someone bringing a guitar along), and far too much drinking. The days basically consisted of lying on the beach and eating icecream. It was a great week with equally great people. I was a little bit sad to leave to go on our sail but this didn't last long.

Lakkis, Pete and I at a beautiful viewpoint in Split

Pete and I arrived at the yacht and I was quite surprised to see that it actually was a small yacht and unlike all of the bigger sail week boats. To begin with, they made the assumption again that Pete and I were a couple and put us in a room with a "double" bed that was actually not much bigger than a single. With all due respect to Pete, I didn't really want to have to share a tiny bed for a week on a yacht with no air con so they moved us to another boat and to and even smaller bunk bed which worked out just fine. 

We had such a great group on the boat with a few other Aussies, Brazillians, Canadians and a Scottish guy. We were a little nervous moving boats (and they were nervous for us to join them) but by the end of the week the group was all very close and we were all sad for it to come to an end.

We stopped at a number of beautiful Croatian locations including Makarska, Vis, Hvar and a couple of others I can't remember the names of (terrible I know and makes me realise why I should've been keeping a travel journal). Each day we'd wake up, go for a swim and just lounge around in the sun then party at night. We were living the life. 

Makarska 



The Sail Week Croatia crew (minus Pete)

Highlights

Adriatic Hostel and the awesome people we met there plus nights spent jamming in the room

Banana and Nutella crepes and eating icecream every day

Getting lost in Split and ending up at the most beautiful view point in the city

Seeing Pete and Lakkis attempt to busk on the streets of Split and make 5 Kuna for their efforts (about $1 AUD)

Waking up and jumping in the ocean every day

Our sail week Croatia family

A club in Vis inside of a castle

Fails and funny moments

Our "free wifi" on the boat only working for about 2 days.. Then realizing how much better off we all were without it

Me not reading our sailing booking properly and realizing the day before that we didn't actually get to go to Dubrovnik (King's Landing for any Game of Thrones fans) which was the place I was most excited about

Me not reading our sailing booking properly again and thinking that by "breakfast and lunch provided" they meant that they cooked for us.. We had to cook and clean 

There were so many activities listed on the website for our sail but we didn't have access to any and watched from afar as the boat next to us had a crazy amount of fun with all of their activities (to be fair we had an amazing time.. But there was a little bit of boat envy going on)

Budapest and Sziget Festival

This is the part I'm most excited to write about. Being the most recent, I have a better memory of what happened each day and also because Budapest and Sziget Festival have been the best part of my trip so far. 

I arrived in Budapest on Sunday just over a week ago, completely exhausted after sail week and ready for bed. I met up with my friend Maddi who was also happy to have a quiet night. 

Next minute, we met our Scottish room mates who were going on a pub crawl and decided it'd be a great idea for us to join them the night before a week-long festival. We were also joined by Maddi's friend Alice and her new Canadian friends Adam and Mark who had decided to stay in Budapest a few extra days after realizing how much fun Austrlaians are (and Budapest is a pretty great place). The pub crawl turned out to be a much bigger night than expected and the following first day of the festival was an absolute nightmare. We really didn't think that through.

All struggling with hangovers and lack of sleep, we made our way to the festival in what was easily 30 degrees heat minimum. After Tomorrowland, I had high festival expectations. Also being a Falls Festival regular back home, I assumed a week long camping festival would be similar in Hungary with designated areas for camping. We arrived with no idea where to camp or what to do.. Not one at the information points could help us and we eventually discovered there was no designated camping area and we had to just find anywhere we could fit a tent. After hours of searching and struggling in the hear with our tent and backpacks, we finally found a campsite then failed miserably at putting our tent up. Luckily, our nice Dutch neighbour felt sorry for us and helped us out. By this point, I'd started feeling pretty terrible and was losing my voice. Still, I stuck it out and watched Blink 182 and had a great night but had completely lost my voice by the end of the night which would then continue for the next 3 days. We tried to pack 5 of us into a 3 person tent and realized the music pumping right outside our tent was not going to stop (it stopped at 5am for about an hour or 2). 

I lasted about half an hour camping and bailed. Adam, my knight in shining armour, kindly escorted me back to the city which turned out to be another massive fail. We got off at the wrong train stop, waited for another train then realized the train we actually had to catch closed at 11pm. Stranded on the wrong side of Budapest, we opted for a taxi and I pretty much wrote off the whole first day as an absolute nightmare. 

We felt terrible for Adam and Mark who were meant to leave for Prague after the first day.. Once again, they couldn't leave their awesome Australian friends and decided to stay a couple of extra days. We had our own little Sziget family and after a terrible first day, we certainly made up for it over the next few days and had the time of our lives. 

Our Sziget family

The next few days included seeing the likes of A Day to Remember, Jimmy Eat World, Imagine Dragons and Skrillex. Voice or no voice, it was amazing. Maddi and Alice decided to brave out the camping but the Canadians and I found a hostel at the last minute so I made the trek back into the city each night. After a couple of failed public transportation attempts, we found taxis to easily be the best option. 

A Day To Remember

Jimmy Eat World


On Thursday, we were extremely upset to have to say goodbye to our favourite Canadians and lost half of our Sziget family. After pushing their stay back about a week already and forfeiting numerous pre-paid costs, they couldn't justify staying any longer.

Maddi, Alice and I headed back to the festival on Thursday after they left and arrived to the busiest day yet (and the muddiest after a day of pouring rain). I rushed to get to the stage to see Bastille who were amazing then saw Lily Allen who seemed completely wasted and Macklemore who put on about the best show of the whole festival. I left with about 2 inches of mud covering my entire shoes.

After that we decided we needed a couple of Sziget free days to rest up for the final day on Sunday. Sunday included The Kooks, Outkast and my favourite of the day, Calvin Harris and an awesome fireworks display at the end. Then it was all over!

What started out as a nightmare, turned out to be one of the best weeks I've ever had. Whilst I wouldn't go back to Tomorrowland, I would definitely go back to Sziget. Maddi and I stayed in Budapest until yesterday then said goodbye to Alice and left for Milan.

Highlights

All of the amazing music

Our Sziget family

Meeting the nicest Canadian guys ever and them delaying leaving to hang out with us.. And maybe partly to see the music. Also, hearing them try to imitate our accents 

The ham steak incident - Adam and Mark spending the equivalent of about $20 Australian dollars each (expensive in Hungary) on the most disgusting looking ham steaks I'd ever seen

Maddi's discovery of the best cafe in Budapest and eating breakfast and lunch there every single day

Eating icecream every day (yes this is a common theme)

The pizza shop next to Wombats hostel which we also ate most days

The pub crawl

Fails and funny moments

The entire first day of Sziget (pub crawl before a festival is never a good idea)

Losing my voice for 3 days

Sziget camping and trying and failing to put up our tent (I may have stated that I know how to put up a tent beforehand..oops)

Failing at using the public transport about 3 nights in a row then finding out we had to take a train, a tram then a bus to get home. Never going to happen

The common Hungarian response when asking a question or ordering food being "no" or "not possible" with no explanation (yes, we don't know their language so partly our fault.. but funny nonetheless)

Not receiving my wine I ordered at dinner about 75% of the time

Managing to sneak alcohol into the festival (sorry festival security).. But leaving with my backpack and managing to accidentall sneak my alcohol back OUT! 

Last day watching Calvin Harris with Alice and Maddi


The Kooks and mainstage


My Canadian friends, Adam and Mark 

One month down, 3 to go

Currently relaxing in Milan, I'm preparing for what are bound to be a big couple of weeks in the Greek Islands followed by Spain, Portugal and Oktoberfest.

Tomorrow marks what would be my little sisters 24th birthday. Being a pretty special and significant day to me, I'm excited to be able to celebrate in a beautiful country with great company. Maddi and I are going to head to Lake Como for the day with a picnic and go out for a nice Italian dinner to celebrate. 

Thanks for reading, I look forward to sharing some more stories soon!


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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chances

Today I discovered some good, yet overwhelming, news. As many of you would know, I made the decision to have my stomach removed due to an 80% risk of developing stomach cancer at some point in my life. I never regretted my decision at all due to the high risks but today I received some results that made that decision the best I'm yet to make in my life. 

Prior to my surgery I was told there was a strong chance that I already had cancer cells developing in my stomach that hadn't been detected with a gastroscope. Today I received the biopsy results from my surgery and as it turns out, I did in fact already have cancer cells starting grow in my stomach. They were microscopic and would never have been picked up via regular gastric screening but were there nonetheless. 

I feel as though I've dodged a bullet and have been given a second chance. It was only a matter of time before these cells started to develop and grow into something more serious. I had to make an extremely difficult decision to have the surgery but I now know that my decision has ultimately saved my life. 

Part of me feels guilty that I've been given a chance both my Mum and my sister didn't have the opportunity to take. However, I know that neither of them would want me to feel this way. I will be forever grateful to my sister for her choice to have genetics testing and I can now say without a doubt that her choice saved my life. I would give anything to give her a big hug and say "thank you". I owe it to my sister to do whatever it is that makes me happy and will keep her memory alive for as long as I am here. 

"I'll love you till the end"

Me with my beautiful sister, Jacinta



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Sunday, 15 June 2014

You must follow your heart

So it's coming up to the 4 month mark now since my operation and I could not be more excited to write this post. Since I started this blog back in November last year, I've certainly had my ups and downs but have tried my best to stay positive and have had a clear goal in mind for when I finished my recovery. While I can still improve certain things such as my fitness and energy levels at times, I feel as though I'm back to "normal" and my life without a stomach is going as well as it possibly could. My friends get to finish my meals when I go out for dinner and I don't think I'll ever have to worry about putting on too much weight. Everybody wins (always have to look at the positives)! And of course, I don't have to ever worry about getting stomach cancer. 

As many of you who have read my previous posts would know, I have always wanted to travel and for one reason or another, have never gotten around to doing a big trip. Well... I've made the decision to finally change that and to go and see the world. I was nervous to actually follow through with it and a little bit sad to be saying goodbye to what I know... but I resigned from my job and am going to be spending 4 months of this year backpacking around Europe.

When the wind does blow against the grain, you must follow your heart. These are the lyrics from one of my favourite songs and it was only such a big couple of years that I realised I need to do just that. Life is too short to wait.

I have a feeling this could be one of the best years of my life. I'm sure that my travels will give me plenty of writing material so I'm excited to write about something a little bit different.

Be warned, jealously is extremely likely if you read on any further or continue to read any future posts.  

Europe
In exactly 5 weeks from today I'll be getting on a plane and jet setting off for the trip of a lifetime. I can't wait to escape the terrible Melbourne weather and arrive in the beautiful and warm European summer. My original plan was to leave without booking a return flight and see where the world would take me.. I think I almost gave my Dad a heart attack when I told him I could be gone for a couple of years. As it turns out, it's much more expensive to book a one way flight than return flights and I worked out I would only be able to save enough money to travel around for about 4 months. I was also planning on travelling alone for the majority of the trip but one of my friends, Maddi,  happens to be going at the same time and I decided to book the same return flight as her so we both had company on the long flight back home. After setting my start date and end date, then came the challenge of trying to fit in every place I want to go in the time that I'm there.

Towards the end of last year, my friend Pete and I were talking about Tomorrowland - a festival in Belgium - and how amazing it looked and decided that we'd both buy tickets and go. This was before I even had a date for my surgery so I had no way of knowing if I would recover in time and really took a leap of faith hoping that the date would be sooner rather than later and that I'd have a smooth and quick recovery to be able to make the festival in July. It turned out the tickets were ridiculously expensive and cost me about half my savings at the time so if things hadn't worked out how I'd hoped, I'm not sure what I would've done. Luckily my leap of faith worked out and I get to go to one of Europe's most amazing festivals. 

Tomorrowland 
After Tomorrowland, we have a few days in Croatia to relax and will then be doing a sailing trip around the islands and some of the major cities in Croatia. After Croatia sailing, I'd booked flights to Italy and planned on spending a couple of weeks there but in the meantime, Maddi discovered a music festival in Budabest called Sziget which runs for a week and has about the best lineup of any festival I've ever seen - Blink 182, Jimmy Eat World, Queens of the Stoneage, A Day to Remember, Macklemore, Bastille, Calvin Harris, The Kooks, Outkast, Lily Allen... just to name a few. As someone who loves live music, I am going to be in music festival heaven. So I booked a couple of extra flights and bought tickets and just like that, my travel plans already changed. 

After Sziget, we're then spending a few days in Milan before I head to the Greek Islands for two weeks of parties and paradise. I'll be in Milan for what would be my sister's 24th birthday so I'm excited to be able to celebrate her birthday in a beautiful city with some delicious Italian food and wine.

After the Greek Islands, I have a couple of nights in Athens before flying into Barcelona and spending two weeks across Spain and Portugal. One of the places I'm most excited for is Lagos which is meant to be absolutely stunning during the summer months. Throw in Ibiza and Lisbon and I'm sure they'll be a great couple of weeks. So I'll have about a month by myself in Greece, Spain and Portugal and am then reuniting with Maddi to drink some beer at Oktoberfest.

After that, I'll see where the wind takes me and wing it for the last month and a half. There are plenty of places on my bucket list I'd love to tick off along the way - London, Italy, Switzerland, Prague, Amsterdam, Berlin.. the list goes on. We'll be flying out of Paris in November so I'm excited to finish with a couple of weeks in France and hopefully get to a show at the Moulin Rouge which is something my sister always wanted to do. 

After what have been a fairly tough couple of years, I cannot wait to just let go for a few months and see what the world has in store for me.

What is meant to be will always find a way. 

As always, thanks for reading. 





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Monday, 12 May 2014

For my sister

It's been quite a while since my last post and the truth is, I don't feel that I have much to write about now that I'm well on my way to recovery. 

I've decided to make this my last surgery related blog post. I'm amazed at the response I've had from others just from writing these posts and feel that my original purpose for writing has been fulfilled. This blog has proved to be a very useful outlet for me to write about how I'm feeling and through this I've managed to connect with a number of others in my situation. It's been great to follow others' journeys and to know that I'm not alone in what I've had to go through. I couldn't have asked for better support over the past few months. 

I've also been very happy to receive questions and messages from others who have been through or have to have a gastrechtomy themselves. To know that I've potentially helped others through my writing is a feeling I can't describe. Please don't hesitate to send me any questions as I'll keep my blog going and will keep checking my Facebook page regularly.

I won't be writing another post for a little while but when I do, it's likely to be the most exciting post I've ever written (for me anyway.. maybe not for anyone else). I have a plan as to how I'm going to start ticking off items my bucket list so when the time comes, that's what I'll write about. I'm sure there will still be a few post surgery mishaps to write about along the way as well. 

3 Months Post Op
In a little less that a week, it'll be 3 months since my surgery. What a long way I've come in those 3 months. 

I'm back at work full time and so far that's been going well. I do get quite tired still so I'm heading back to see my GP soon to get all of my vitamin levels checked. I will eventually have to have vitamin B12 injections so it could be time I start having those. 

I've started increasing the amount of exercise I'm doing. I've been to the gym 3 times in the past week and also managed to go for a walk over the weekend. I'm still lifting much lighter weights that I was pre-surgery and my fitness isn't what it was but I know that as time goes on, it can only get easier. 

I think my portion sizes have increased slightly over the past month or so. I've managed to maintain my weight and foods are going down a lot easier than they were. One question I get asked a lot is whether I feel "hungry" now that I don't have a stomach. The answer to that is yes, I do. I don't think it's the same feeling that it used to be but I certainly get an "empty" type of feeling and know when I need to eat. 

Certain foods still tend to get "stuck" and are not as easy to get down as others. Bread is one of the worst foods for this. I haven't tried any meat just yet as I'm not a big meat eater anyway but I can't imagine it going down to well either. I'm still mostly sticking to softer foods - pastas, rices, veggies, salads etc. I also still eat too much sugar. I caved and went and bought some chocolate tonight and am sitting here suffering the consequences whilst I'm typing this. 

I think that I'm travelling as well as I possibly could and once I get this tiredness under control, I will be basically back to normal. 

My wall of inspiration getting me through these cold Melbourne nights
For My Sister
One thing I've never written a lot about are the days that are more difficult that others - not necessarily physically, but emotionally. I've always kept my posts very positive because that's the type of person I am.  It's been easy for me to write positively because thinking this way is what I believe gives me my strength. 

However, just like everyone else, I have days that are harder than others. Mothers Day is certainly one of these days. For most people, it's a great day spent with family to celebrate mothers all around the world; and they certainly deserve it. For me (and for so many others, I'm sure) it's a reminder of the people I've had to say goodbye to. Growing up without my mother was, at times, very difficult. I believe that you never "get over" losing someone but that you eventually just learn to live with it and it helps to shape who you are. I'm very independent and wouldn't change the person that I am but there have been many times when I'd just secretly wished I had a mother I could call. I was only 7 when I lost my mum so saying goodbye at that age wasn't the hard part - it was the many years that followed. 

I've said before that the hardest thing I've ever had to do was to say goodbye to my little sister. My sister was also a mother and absolutely adored her little boys. It broke my heart knowing that she had to leave them behind. I think this is what makes Mothers' Day so hard - not what I've lost but what my sister would've given anything to hold on to. 

Mothers Day, Christmas and birthdays are some of the hardest of days but often I'll find myself driving along and hear a song or remember something randomly and feel as though I might fall to pieces and other times these things will simply make me smile. I'm not writing this as a negative post or to try and get sympathy from anyone at all. That's the last thing I want. I'm writing it because I know that not all days are good days and I think that's completely normal. I think it's OK to feel sad for those we've lost who have played a part in our lives - big or small. I also think it's normal to feel happy for the memories we have of these people. I'm lucky now that my good days well and truly outweigh the bad; but they still creep up on me now and then. 

About 2 years ago I'd not long moved to Melbourne and I was truly happy. My family and I had been through a terrible few years and I almost felt as if my happiness wasn't allowed. I even said to my housemate that I felt as though something really awful was going to happen because something always goes wrong. It was only about a week later that I received the phone call to say my sister was very ill and had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Though I had a feeling something was going to happen, nothing could have prepared me for this phone call. 

I know now that thinking that way is not healthy at all and isn't a way to live my life. However, so much has happened over the past 5 or 6 years that I also know that life is uncertain and anything can happen or change unexpectedly so we truly do have to make the most of the time we have. 

With all of the hardest days come the happiest memories of all; memories I will always treasure. My sister was so happy with her two little boys and didn't need material things to make her life complete. As kids we were polar opposites but our underlying beliefs were the same - the people we surround ourselves with and our experiences in life are what make us happy; not things. She inspired me to write my bucket list and to start ticking some of these items off. Through genetics testing, she essentially also saved my life. 




So this final surgery-related post I dedicate to my little sister who will be remembered not only on Mothers Day but every other day. For my little sister who in her hardest moment said "it's the beginning, not the end." This year I've started a new beginning in my life and have been so happy to be able to share my story with others. 

I cannot wait for my next post because it means I'll have definite plans to start doing some of the things I've always wanted to do. 

Thank you for reading. 








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Monday, 14 April 2014

2 Months Post Op

Started typing this before the new Game of Thrones episode and had to stop to watch it.. and WOW. Can't wait for all of my friends to catch up! Anyway, moving on to less exciting topics..

Back to Work
On Thursday I will reach the 2 month milestone since my surgery. It's hard to believe it's already been 2 months! How time flies. I can also see that I've come along way over the last couple of months so time certainly does make a difference. 

Last week I made the decision to return to work and what a great but challenging decision that has turned out to be. As much as I love my own company and my alone time, I started driving myself a little crazy just sitting at home all day; most days. 

I work in a sales role and my job is generally always busy and requires me to be proactive and chase new business along with maintaining an existing client base. I quite enjoy my work but it's challenging on a normal day so I always knew that going back after an extended break was never going to be easy. I was really lucky in that my employer allowed me to start on half days to see how I went. I'll admit, I got to 12pm each day and felt as though I needed a nap! I know I used to get a little tired by the afternoons but this was a completely different feeling. By Friday I was completely exhausted and in need of a quiet and relaxing weekend. 

This week I've set a new challenge for myself to work full time hours (but will leave earlier if I need to). Today has been my first day full time and it was a struggle. I am sure there are going to be plenty of spelling and grammatical errors in this post given how drained I feel. My energy just completely disappears and it becomes an effort to even speak to anyone let alone concentrate on my work. It's actually extremely frustrating because I would give anything to just feel normal again! I just have to remind myself that it has only been 2 months since I had life-changing surgery and that I've come a long way over that time. I'm sure it will get easier as the days go by to work again and I've picked a great week to start back full time with the Easter holidays coming up this weekend (also pretty excited for an excuse to eat chocolate.. not that I need one!)

Exercise
For as long as I can remember, I have always exercised regularly and either ran, walked or went to the gym most days. This is something I really missed over my time at home. It's amazing what exercise can do for your mental state. After losing my sister, I found that I struggled with anxiety at times.. often for no reason at all. Exercise is probably the thing that helps me the most whenever I start to feel this way. I've also learnt to focus only on the things I can control and let go of those that I can't. But exercise certainly played a big part in helping these feelings.  

The week before I returned to work, I made sure I went for fairly long walks each morning to both keep busy and try to build up my fitness again. The Sunday before going back to work, I had my first gym session in about 2 months. I have a circuit type weights program that I usually do and decided to try this but with slightly lesser weights than normal. It's fair to say, I found it difficult to walk for at least 3 days following this. Yesterday I gave it another go and am finding the same thing today. I know that this is going to take time as I've had a considerable amount of time just doing absolutely nothing. 

I also attempted to go for a  run on Saturday. I woke up, the sun was shining and I felt like I had heaps of energy so I thought I would be fine. I ran about 500 metres and had to stop and walk. I've lost a lot of my fitness and will have to work to get this back. Although, the walk I did was my longest yet and I felt fine afterwards. Next week, I will just try and run a little bit further and I'm sure that in time this will also get a lot easier. Positivity and motivation can go a long way!

Back in exercise mode on a nice sunny day


Alcohol
One of the questions most people seem to be asking me is "have you had anything to drink yet?" (alcohol wise). As someone who loves a glass of wine of a night time, the answer to this is "yes". I have had a drink. I haven't asked my surgeon or dietitian if this is ok because I'm sure they probably wouldn't condone it just yet (and might not be happy that I'm writing about it!). I have however, only had 1 or 2 glasses at most so I haven't been "out" as such just yet or tried to push my limits at all. I have been completely fine just having a glass of wine. I don't think I noticeably feel the effects any more or less than I used to. I'm yet to try any spirits, beer or cider.. but baby steps! 

Chocolate Protein Peanut Butter Balls - Recipe
Finally, I had somebody ask me today for the recipe of my chocolate peanut butter balls. I got this recipe from a friend (who I'm sure wouldn't mind me sharing). I think she also took it from another website so I'm not claiming to own the recipe by any means. Here it is:

1 tbsp cacao powder
4 tbsp natural peanut butter (although I've only been using 3)
3 tbsp water
1 scoop chocolate protein powder
1/2 cup oats
1 tbsp honey or agave
1 tbsp stevia

Just process all ingredients in a food processor, roll them into little truffle sized balls and put them in the fridge! Easy!

Look forward to posting another update soon. Thanks for reading!

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Final Days of Freedom

So this week marks my final week of freedom. By "freedom" I'm referring to my final days sitting around home before I return to work. As my recovery is coming along so well, I've made the decision to head back to work on Monday next week. I'll probably start out doing half days to see how I go but it'll be great to get back into a routine again and give myself something productive to do. I'm excited but also a little nervous to go back.. It's been 6 full weeks since my operation which has somehow managed to go extremely quickly..but at the same time, it feels like I haven't been at work in forever!

To prepare myself for getting back into the work routine, my surgeon suggested that I try to keep myself fairly busy of a morning and do a little more than I have been for the previous 6 weeks just to see how I handle it. I've started out my last 3 days with a fairly decent walk (not quite what I used to do.. but big in comparison to doing nothing) and I've found that I've actually had more energy for doing this. It's made me really excited to get back into exercising again and hopefully I'll be back onto weights and running soon (I can only hope)! It's amazing how using energy can actually make you feel better and more awake. Though don't get me wrong, by the afternoons I'm still fairly exhausted. As I'm writing this post, I could easily take a little nap but I've found sleeping of a day doesn't do me any favours with my night time sleeping patterns.

Tomorrow I'm also heading to my GP to get all of my vitamin levels checked and work out when I'll have to start having Vitamin B12 injections.. something I'm not overly looking forward to.  

Food and Weight Loss
I've been thinking a lot about the meals that I'll have once I return to work. It's fairly easy to have anything I want while I'm just sitting around home and have all the time in the world to cook. I'll have to be a little more prepared and actually plan out my meals a little better from next week. I'm not the best planner so it will be interesting to see how I go with this. My housemate is a pro at this and plans and cooks her meals every week so I might have to get some tips from her. 

I seem to be managing to have enough calories to maintain my current weight. I've had quite a lot of people ask about my weight loss so today I decided to make a before and after photo. I was sitting at about 69kg when I went into surgery (put on 5 - 6kg in the months leading up to surgery) and am now sitting between 60 - 61kg. I'm currently a healthy weight and have found that all of my clothes fit me well again which is one of the positives. The photo on the left was taken 2 or 3 weeks before surgery and the one on the right was taken today. 


It still seems strange to me that I have to try to add calories to everything I eat.. but I must admit I'm enjoying it. Since I've been able to have soft foods, the meals I've cooked include the following (these last me several days as I can only eat little bits at a time):

Pesto pasta with Philadelphia cream - added parmesan cheese
Thai green curry with chicken, veggies and rice - added cheese (sounds weird but tasted good)
Shepherds pie
Spaghetti Bolognaise - added parmesan

As you can see I pretty much just add cheese to everything. It adds calories and makes everything taste delicious. 

Breakfast is one meal I'm still struggling with a little. I find if I have cereal or eggs I feel sick and have to lie down for a while. I've had some baked beans which went ok and also some stewed fruit which I've also been having for snacks. I think I just need to avoid anything with milk in it first thing in the morning. Dairy or non-dairy, it just doesn't sit well. 

I've been having mostly fruit for snacks including bananas and stewed peaches and raspberries (yum!). I've tried a few smoothies but like with breakfast, they just don't go down all that well. On the weekend, one of my friends had some chocolate and peanut butter protein balls which I tried.. amazing! So I made up a batch of these yesterday and have already nearly eaten the whole lot. I even ate them for breakfast this morning! They are low in sugar but I imagine quite high in calories given the amount of peanut butter that is in them. Perfect for me. 


Sugar
I've already mentioned in previous posts about the dangers of sugar.. as a lover of sugar and all things sweet, it's been difficult to accept. I'd already suffered the consequences of too much icecream but thought I'd test the waters last week with some chocolate and some cake. I'd already had a little bit of chocolate which didn't go so badly, so when I saw a special for 2 blocks of chocolate at the supermarket, I just couldn't resist. Just note that pre-surgery, I would sit and eat an entire block of chocolate because of my terrible self control and love of chocolate. The only thing helping my self control now is my tendency to feel sick after sugar. I think I had about 3 rows the first day which really didn't go so well. I decided I over did it. But that didn't stop me from polishing off the rest of the 2 blocks over the course of the week. New rule - DO NOT buy 2 blocks of chocolate until learning some self control. 

I also had cake for lunch.. which was delicious and possibly worth it, but I felt awful and had to lie down for a couple of hours that afternoon for eating the whole thing. As you can see from the photo, it was too good to just leave half of it there. 



I'm starting to learn my lesson with sugar. I must have it in moderation. It's just so difficult when I'm such a sweet tooth. I'm sure in time, I will learn. 

Keeping busy
As you can imagine, it can be difficult to keep busy during 7 weeks away from work. I've somehow managed to get through it without going too stir crazy and a lot of that has to do with my amazing friends. This is a quick little thank you to everyone who has taken me out or come to visit, or even just checked in, during my recovery time because it has made a lot more enjoyable. As you can see from the photos below, a lot of the time this does include ice cream.

My friend Bree and I out for gelato

Gelato Messina with Kristy

Kristy and I rocking up wearing matching outfits. Couldn't have planned it better
Picnic in the park 
Thanks for reading. I'm sure my next post will include an update of how I'm going settling back into the routine of work life. 










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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Perspective

It's been a little while since my last post.. Mostly because nothing has changed too much so I've felt as though I haven't had anything overly interesting to share. I have however, had a lot of time to think. A LOT of time. When you're faced with your own company day after day and are not able to do a whole lot, thinking (and possibly over thinking) is inevitable. I've decided to write a post on some of these thoughts.. apologies in advance, this post is a little deeper than usual!

Firstly, my recovery is still coming along nicely and after meeting with my surgeon today, I know that I couldn't be going any better if I tried. I've set myself a goal date to get back to work in a couple of weeks' time which gives me something to work towards. I'm actually looking forward to getting some sort of routine back in my life again and having things to do throughout the day. 

I've managed to mostly maintain my weight and eating normal foods again has been amazing! I'm going to try and start going for some small walks each day and look forward to when I can start exercising properly again (not sure when this will be yet). I'll also have to make an appointment with my doctor to get all of my vitamin levels checked and find out when I'll have to start having my B12 injections. I'm still lacking energy a lot of the time but I feel like this is getting better by the day and has definitely improved if I compare where I was at a couple of weeks ago. 

Perspective
This brings me to the deep and meaningful part of my post. Perspective. Well, my perspective anyway. 

When I look back to 2 years ago, I'd just moved to Melbourne, was settling into a new job and a new home and was possibly feeling a little homesick. But I was enjoying exploring Melbourne and all of the exciting things it has to offer. If somebody had've told me then that over the course of the next 2 years, I would see my little sister battle a terrible disease and have to ultimately say goodbye to her; then a year later be told that I also carry the gene that led to my sister's illness and would have to make the decision to have my stomach removed - I would probably have told them that they were completely crazy and needed serious help. I could never have predicted that such things would happen. It's fair the say the last couple of years have been extremely difficult but they have also given me my perspective on life.

I try not to think "what if" with situations because there's no way to change the past. But I will be forever grateful to my little sister for choosing to have genetics testing because if she hadn't, I'd be none the wiser to carrying the CDH1 gene mutation. I feel that I owe it to my sister and to myself to do everything that I want to do in life. It's strange that it can take such life-changing events to realise this but I guess previously I thought I had all the time in the world to do everything and it has been a true realisation that life can be unexpectedly short and can carry twists you don't expect.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to travel but there have always been reasons not to - not the right timing, relying on other people who change their minds, not enough money, worrying about what work will think etc. What I've realised recently is that there is probably never going to be a perfect time. For me to go and follow my dreams and start ticking things off my bucket list, there will be a big change required and there is generally never a good or an easy time for change. Change holds uncertainty which I think is why so many people resist it. Even though I knew about my surgery for months, when the time actually came, I wasn't even slightly ready. It was a change that I could't prepare for and had no idea how I'd feel or how my recovery would go. And now I look back and wonder why I was so worried.. I'm perfectly fine and on my way to a great recovery!

I think if something is truly important, you just have to make the decision to go for it and deal with whatever consequences you might face when the time comes. For me, if it's something that makes me happy, the consequences will be worthwhile (within reason of course). Life is far too unpredictable to wait for the perfect timing because it doesn't exist. I know that I have to do everything I want to do because I have no idea what the next couple of years will hold. I'm optimistic in that they're going to be an amazing couple of years but there are always going to be road blocks that try and get in the way of me chasing after what it is that makes me happy. I know that after getting through the last couple of years, I can face whatever it is the universe wants throw at me (but I hope it's a little nicer this time around!). 

So the point of all of this...I have set out a plan to action of how I'm going to start ticking off my bucket list once I'm completely recovered. I'm very excited to see what the next year has to offer. 

Anyway, I hope this hasn't been too deep for a Wednesday night! To make sure I stay on track with getting to where I need to be, I've made an inspiration wall of some of the places I want to visit. 

The best is yet to come!




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