The last day of 2018 was certainly not conventional or exciting. I started the day at the local laundromat with Captain Caveman, he’d attended the first caving talk of the morning and returned to our tent with a cute little freebie – a koala bag. He gave it to me and I was delighted with it, it was still the first koala I had seen in Australia. On return to the conference Captain Caveman had a few talks to attend, I listened to one by our friend, Alan, then went to sit in Sarah’s camper and have my gluten free cheese and pastrami sandwich. It was hot and I had the factor 50 sun cream on – you can certainly feel the UV difference.
In the evening we went on a trip to the Maritime museum which was fairly interesting and they have a ship simulator for people to try out. We had a few drinks and a meal at the Irish bar, Molly Malone’s, before checking out the evening entertainment at the foreshore. Our midnight ‘seeing in of the new year’ was spent outside the campsite toilet block watching the fireworks from afar while I complained to Captain Caveman that we had no photos of us together! I was so tired that I fell asleep straight away and never heard our neighbours return in the early hours of new year’s day.
Fridays in Phong Nha were now all you can eat pizza night at The Villas and we were regular frequenters of it. But first I had an extremely busy day on Friday 4th December, by my standards; Captain Caveman made breakfast and I had a bacon sandwich with jasmine tea. My physio went well and afterwards Thuy gave me a box of treats, a box of traditional sweet snacks called Cu Do, made from rice crackers, peanuts, ginger and sugar. This was really kind and such a lovely thought so Phuong and I tried some in the minibus on the way back to Phong Nha and it was very nice, if not a bit dentist appointment enticing. In my home town of Sheffield I saw that it was snowing a little, as I got ready to pick up the gang (Captain Caveman, Veronika, and Melissa x5) on the way to The Villas for all you can eat pizza night. When we arrived the whole place had been well-decorated for Christmas and even the staff had their coats on as the temperature had dropped. Ben joined us in his woolly hat and brought the kids so that Melissa’s kids could meet up and they had the end of the table. Matty was back in town and he had also joined us at the big table too, threatening to stay in Phong Nha for a while. I took it easy on the wine this time although I’m sure I ate just as much pizza as usual. The slices just kept on coming, and were so good – there was even extra garlic and chillies in case people wanted to add more. For the price it is a bargain for all you can eat, it’s amazing and I’m sure Captain Caveman and I certainly got great value!
On Saturday 5th December I was still in bed, but awake, when Captain Caveman came in to the bedroom to tell me that the housekeeping and security staff were putting up a Christmas tree! I came to check and he wasn’t joking – we were surrounded by Christmas! This would be the first year in many that we had a Christmas tree at home and of course it feels weird that we are in Vietnam where the locals don’t celebrate Christmas, even their new year is in February 2021. I had bread and butter for breakfast, with water. For lunch my weekend diet fell at the first hurdle when I had a Snickers which gave me a bad stomach almost instantly.
In the afternoon we decided to go for a walk round the block and there was even more Christmas tree erecting and lights going on in the communal areas. My walk went well, just 13 minutes in total, and I popped over to see Melissa on my way back managing to get up the ramped entrance to their villa without any crutches, and then back down again when I realised they were still by the fire at The Farmstay. Captain Caveman gave Mr Ky, the dog, a bit of a tickle but I’m still not allowed to pet him because he loves to jump up and I can’t risk him hurting my leg. That evening Captain Caveman made a lovely sausage casserole with potatoes, onions and peppers in and we opened the wine we had been saving for a special occasion; a 700,000vnd (£22.50 ish) Primitivo which Captain Caveman found in the wine shop next to the organic shop in Dong Hoi – it was fantastic.
On Sunday 6th December, though, I went down for breakfast which Captain Caveman had made from the leftover sausage and potatoes. I’d had about 170 hours of physio now, in total, and my recovery was still so slow and it was getting frustrating not being able to ride a bicycle or walk anywhere. I was still turning down a lot of invites to things too as I didn’t want to undo the good work by falling or slipping again. I watched old Big Bang Theory episodes and found some moisturiser to put on my face. It was Sunday roast dinner tonight so we went to the Farmstay, ready for a feast. Veronika and Melissa x5 were already there, as was Ben, Bich and Matty. Melissa and her family had decided they were leaving on Monday and were off to Hue. Matty had his Ukulele out, he and Rimaha were jamming and it sounded really good – I do miss live music and singing. After the amazing roast dinner, I joined in a little sing song with Matty and Remy. Remy and I even attempted Shallow as a duet and I’m sure Lady Gaga or Bradley Cooper would have loved it!
On Tuesday 1st December Captain Caveman and I decided to go to Dong Hoi earlier than I usually do and also book a night at the Nam Long Plus hotel. Our first stop was for breakfast at Mr Bull’s for Bo Ne which is really good and comes with bread and tea. The place is really nice and I was surprised to see that they had put up a Christmas tree.
Our next stop was lunch at Tree Hugger where I had the veggie spring rolls, herbal tea and the most amazing lemongrass, ginger, kumquat and honey tea I had ever tasted. Captain Caveman had his usual favourite of the egg sandwich with coffee.
While Captain Caveman relaxed at the Nam Long Plus hotel I went for my physio session and found the bit where the therapist massaged my calf muscle with her elbow, thus pressing on my trapped nerve, excruciatingly painful this time. When I got back to the hotel we had some red wine and the leftover pizza from last night’s leaving party for Hanh before I had a bath and then we went to meet friends.
7th Heaven restaurant is one of our favourites in Dong Hoi and so we met Tatas and Trang there for dinner. We had a starter of sweet potato fries to share first and then ordered individual dishes for main. Tatas had a prawn spaghetti dish, Captain Caveman and I had steak, Trang ordered beef curry. The food was delicious and the wine flowed while we all caught up, it had been a long time since we had all been out together too.
Having slept well at the Nam Long Plus hotel in Dong Hoi, we woke up on Wednesday 2nd December and decided to visit Mr Bull’s again for breakfast. The hotel do breakfast too but we really wanted to have the Bo Ne once more before we went back to Phong Nha, as we can’t get it there. It’s an absolute bargain at only 40,000 vnd (about £1.30) and so tasty. This time I had mine with an orange juice and of course I gave my egg to Captain Caveman. I really enjoyed the meat, onions and soft white baguette though.
Back home, via picking up a few essentials and collecting our bags from Nam Long Plus hotel, we had a spot of lunch. Captain Caveman made chicken, bacon and salad baguettes which were delicious. So much so that we had them again for dinner, he of course slathered his in mayo and mustard and I stuck to the plain bread. That afternoon I had a zoom session with Ruth, my UK physio, and found it really useful. She also gave me some more exercises and could see I was progressing, even if it was too slowly for my liking! I had been struggling with the squats still so Captain Caveman held the camera while I demonstrated and to my amazement she said I was doing it ok. Before I went to bed Ruth had already sent me my next plan and I was ready for the next level.
Captain Caveman was off out early and called in to Oxalis Home for coffee and a catch up with his fellow cavers on Thursday 3rd December. I had cheese on toast for breakfast and then felt ill, starting with a bad stomach. My guess it was the cheddar cheese that had an adverse effect rather than the bread but I decided to eat neither for the rest of the day. For lunch I shared a mango and an apple with Captain Caveman and was even more ill so had a lay down while he went back out. Captain Caveman made a mushroom risotto for dinner and I stayed off the booze, but still had a bad stomach and deduced maybe I had a bug.
Earlier this year I had been staying in Dong Hoi a lot because of my injured leg, not being able to walk and at the weekends Captain Caveman and I had been spending a lot of time staying at Phong Nha Farmstay. After chatting to Ben, Bich and Veronika we decided to take a look at one of the newly finished properties within the Farmstay’s portfolio of accommodation – ideal for longer term stays. As soon as I saw Elements Collection I was very impressed, I wanted to move in but we still had to think about the practicalities of the location because it wasn’t as convenient as our existing house for Captain Caveman’s work. I was still recovering too slowly from torn ankle and knee ligaments and I needed to stay in a place with less stairs, a more convenient way to be able to cook or have food deliveries when Captain Caveman wasn’t there to help me and, more importantly, I really needed to be able to get out and about for some fresh air by myself. Captain Caveman was due to finish his work for the season and because of the virus we had made a decision not to leave Vietnam, usually we would be in Turkey and the UK for the winter.
We decided to give up one of our rooms at our existing rented place in Phong Nha and give Elements Collection a trial with Veronika. We looked at all 3 villas and chose the one we thought suited Veronika and I the best. I was mostly looking forward to having an easy to access and useable kitchen, the private swimming pool and being able to drink the tap water were also of great benefit for me.
I was the first to arrive and was welcomed by Duyet and Co, who sat me down, got me cold water and took my bags. They introduced themselves and used Google translate to talk. I also tried some of my very basic Vietnamese which they didn’t understand a word of. Captain Caveman was next to arrive and they showed him a place to park the motorbike which was perfectly hidden away. The staff tried to put bags in our bedrooms but we wanted to wait for Veronika to check which ones we were having. When she arrived we were all excited and she took the twin room (which was later changed to a double bed) and we had the double with the mezzanine storage. It did mean we got the ensuite which had the strangest placing of a toilet I’d encountered in a while. The loo faced the window which was only obscured just under chest height and I later noted it was not to be used when taking down a swimming costume without the blinds or windows closed – I came to like the bathroom lay out much more, the more I used it.
In each room there were flowers and we also got given a big bunch of delicious (and seedless) grapes per bedroom. Our massive bed was decorated really nicely with rose petals and swans made from towels. I was already impressed and I was looking forward to sleeping in such a comfy looking bed. The owner had even made sure that the shower shoes were in our respective sizes – how thoughtful.
The small private swimming pool is really lovely, located between the two bedrooms and overlooking a very well maintained communal garden area. Each room has a balcony and appropriate furniture, while the bedroom also has a desk from which to work if required. As we booked for a month initially there were quite a few perks that were included and made my stay so much easier; cleaning and a shuttle service was included and we got a great rate on laundry. Being a short distance from the main building of the Phong Nha Farmstay also meant that it was easy to join in any activities that were being arranged and we often took advantage of the bar and restaurant services there. The owners and staff were very attentive in a subtle and charming way and I was surprised how little we could hear each other, or the neighbours. Even the guard dog was well behaved and friendly to the residents and staff.
During the floods we were in one of the best places to stay and were looked after so well that we felt a bit guilty for being in a lovely home which also had the use of a generator and a good working internet connection.
Over the period of our stay we enjoyed our villa at the Elements Collection so much; the pool was just perfect, the gardens so beautiful and we spent many an evening telling stories over a glass of wine or a White Russian. I started to recover a bit more and even managed to walk without my crutches enough to get round the block and enjoy the fresh air and nature surrounding us.
There is one big problem though with staying at Elements Collection, it is very difficult to leave! Our neighbours have left and returned once already and when we got to the end of our trial period it wasn’t a tough decision on whether we should extend our stay a little bit longer.
Photo credit – various photos taken by Captain Caveman, the staff and owners, Melissa, Veronika and some from Facebook.
The main reason Captain Caveman was visiting Australia was to attend the Australian Speleolgical Federation Caving Conference. When I agreed to tag along on his month-long trip it was on the understanding that I would also need to suffer being a caver’s widow for over a week over the new year period. It also meant that in order to keep the costs down and be able to allow Captain Caveman to fit in as many caving related days I would need to rough it a bit on the accommodation. On Friday 28th December we left the luxurious comfort of Hobart at 5am and headed, in the borrowed car, to a little place called Mole Creek. Captain Caveman was booked on a trip to Kubla Khan cave at about 8.30am so we didn’t have much time to waste and we had already borrowed a tent which had been erected for us. We decided that rather than be stuck at Mole Creek Caving Hut all day I would get dropped off at a cafe near by called Earthwater. I will be honest I was not impressed by the Mole Creek camping facilities, or lack there of, but at least the cafe was really nice and had lots of choice. Captain Caveman had been moved on to a different cave trip, called Tailender, due to the organiser thinking he might be too much of a ‘tired little bunny’, after his 3 hour drive. I logged on to Netflix and started watching Sinner 2 (my Netflix now has it on there), had bacon, mushrooms and glute free toast for my second breakfast, I’d had chocolate and crisps for the first one). Along with numerous cups of varying types of tea I had chicken salad and fries for lunch and basically sat in the cafe until 5pm when Captain caveman arrived back from caving, with Janice and Cathy. In the evening, knowing I had to sleep in the tent on the worst campsite, I thought it best to have a few wines and therefore had 3 white wine and sodas followed by fish and chips. We went to the toilet at the pub before going back to the campsite and got in to the tent and in to the sleeping bags. At about midnight I had a claustrophobic panic attack and had to get out, despite it being pitch black and raining outside. I decided it would be better to sleep in the car but it was too hot and I couldn’t sleep there either. I ended up having to walk back to the tent to wake up Captain Caveman to take me to the toilet, which was a good 250m up a hill to a rangers station. I really was not impressed but neither was Captain Caveman.
On Saturday 29th December I obviously woke up in a bad mood and had hardly slept but when I saw that Captain Caveman looked far more tired than me I felt a bit bad. I had a gluten free brownie for breakfast before approaching a fellow camper, Janice, for a lift. Captain Caveman went on an all day caving trip to Kubla Khan and wasn’t expected out until 10pm. I didn’t fancy spending another night in the Mole Creek/Wolf Creek non-campsite so had agreed we would sleep in the car at a place with proper toilets. We had to take the car back to Hobart and be ready to meet Sarah for our lift to the caving conference the next day at 7am and that was 3 hours drive away so logistics were key, but not my forte. I spent the day at the Earthwater cafe again, watching Netflix and scoffing nice food. The cafe owners were friendly and didn’t mind that I would be there all day again. They were as surprised as I was when Captain Caveman returned before 6pm and we had food together before heading off to Kempton via some very remote roads, lined with wallabies and wombats, as dusk approached. There were some really remote townships along the way without so much as a convenience store. At one point the windscreen was so smeared from bugs that Captain Caveman had to get out and wipe it down with his T-shirt while wallabies watched him. It was so difficult to not hit the animals in the road but we made it, unscathed but knackered, to a tiny camping spot. It was just before 11pm and I was actually looking forward to a kip in the car, having set the alarm a little earlier than I’d have liked.
At 5.30am on Sunday 30th December we were up and off driving to Hobart from Kempton, feeling a little better than the previous day. We dropped the borrowed car back at the house and transferred our luggage, including the dreaded tent, in to Sarah’s car. We drove to Devonport with me in the back of a very hot car, feeling a little travel sick, after eating cheese and a cherry and goji berry health bar for breakfast. We would be attending the 31st Biennial Conference of the Australian Speleological Federation for the next 6 days and, as you can imagine, I had my concerns. I’m not a caver, I don’t get excited by listening to people talk about caves and I only knew 3 people out of the hundred or so people who were going to be there. We arrived and after a bit of faffing about we were allowed to pitch our tent. I suggested a good spot would be nearest to the toilet block but Captain Caveman thought the best spot would be the opposite side of the cricket oval, furthest from the toilet block but next to Sarah, who had a jazzy camper van being delivered. I’m not normally a jealous person but I really wished we had one of those instead of the small tent we had to put up with. We both made full use of the washing facilities and I was in the shower for about an hour – it was one of the best showers I had had on a camping trip. At 5pm the conference registration started and by 5.30pm the bar was open – I even got a free glass of wine. There was a welcome BBQ where we got given sausages and steak with salad. In the buffet queue I did meet some older cavers who didn’t know how to use tongues which seemed a tad worrying. We shared another bottle of wine from the bar, which closed at 8.30pm, before borrowing the glasses and heading back to the tent, where Captain Caveman had another bottle stashed away. We made friends with some fellow campers, including an American who hadn’t washed for a few days and his poor wife who seemed even more out of her depth than me.
Our Christmas Eve started with us not speaking all the way to the airport because Captain Caveman and I had to get up at stupid o’clock for our flight to Tasmania (I think he had mistakenly put on his grumpy trousers). At the airport he had a MacDonalds sandwich and the coffee sorted him out. I had a bottle of water but no food. The flight was good, we got moved to the emergency seats which had extra leg room and seemed to cheer Captain Caveman up again. We landed just before 8am at Hobart airport and John came to pick us up. John is from the UK but lives in Hobart and he and his wife, Germ, worked at Oxalis with Captain Caveman a couple of seasons ago. They had invited us to stay and have Christmas with them, despite them having busy work schedules as intensive care nurses. On the short drive to the house John stopped off to show us 7 mile beach and when we got ‘home’ he made us sausages and mushrooms for breakfast washed down with fizz for me, beer for them. Having done a 12 hour shift John went to bed while we borrowed his car and went off to explore the area. We picked up some wine and cheese and had fish & chips at the harbour. We went to a cool bar, called Boodle Beasley, where we waited for Germ, to finish her shift and join us. Germ arrived and we had wine and nibbles before heading back to their’s for a glass of fizz.
On Christmas Day I woke up, next to Captain Caveman, in a beautiful house in Tasmania. He wished me Merry Christmas and we got up for breakfast of tea (coffee for him) and toast. The sun was shining so we sat out on the decking area overlooking the views. John had worked the Christmas Eve night shift so came home around 9am and we had a drink (fizz for me, beers for the guys and tea for Germ) before he went to bed. Germ took the three of us on a drive to Roches beach where we walked along a high coastal path to 7 mile beach. Captain Caveman went for a swim in the sea while I just went in for a little dip (only waist deep) due to being slightly put off by the recent story of a local man bleeding to death after a tragic accident with a stingray. After walking back to the car, in my wet cozzie, we headed for lunch on the beach at Mortimer Bay. The 3 of us sat on the secluded beach where we shared cheese and wine/beer (there was also smoked salmon and biscuits) on a blanket. When we arrived back at the house John was up and invited us to visit some friends of their’s for a drink and to wish them a happy Christmas. We shared more cheese and some crayfish with our hosts and had a glass of wine. I met the dogs Tuey, Luna and Della and made a best friend out of Della, the older dog. We had a tour round the newly built granny annex where I got to see shark’s teeth for the first time (impressive) then I helped the youngest daughter out by doing a row of her knitting. Back at our ‘home’ John did a BBQ and we ate steak, prawns, asparagus, potatoes and more cray fish – a very healthy Christmas dinner topped off by frozen berries with cream and ice-cream for afters. We drank more wine, and I indulged in some crisps – well it was Christmas.
Boxing Day started with the men cooking breakfast for us and I really enjoyed the gluten free toast with bacon, mushrooms and spinach. Germ had to work but only until 9.30pm so when she left, Captain Caveman and John had their nannan naps while I caught up on watching The Apprentice, the Interviews. In the afternoon Captain Caveman and I dropped John off for a 26km kayak across the river Derwent while we did a bit of sightseeing and went out for lunch in Salamanca. We both ordered a salad after yesterday’s indulgence and the fact we both had to drive later. Captain Caveman had managed to borrow a car for us to use for our trip up north, from someone he neither knew nor had met. He drove the new car while I drove John & Germ’s car back to the Tasmanian rowing club where we had arranged to meet John with his kayak, less than 10 minutes away. The evening ended with us eating gluten free pizza at a cafe with John’s boating buddies while he went to pick up Germ from work. I finished the evening with an early night but not before a glass of fizz before bed.
On Thursday 27th December Captain Caveman and John got up early and went caving, while Germ had a 7am start at work. I had a lay-in until 9.30am and then pottered about and watched the final of The Apprentice. In the afternoon I took a bus in to town and then walked to the cinema to meet Germ. We watched Colette, which was a really good film. It was also one of those cinemas where we were able to drink wine so I had a Chardonnay. Afterwards we ate a mushroom risotto before the boys returned from their trip around 10pm.
The Friday before Christmas was going to be a busy day so it probably wasn’t the best idea to start it fully clothed, dehydrated as hell and in a hot caravan near Wollongong. The struggle at keeping healthy and not drinking so much alcohol on an Aussie roadtrip holiday, while catching up with friends, was proving a challenge. I had pineapple and cherries for breakfast at Kevin’s while Captain Caveman had to eat my Vegemite on toast. We said goodbyes and headed off to meet Saoirse, for a second breakfast, at Martin’s Place in Thirroul. The food was excellent and after a good old catch up we were back on the road for a drive back to Sydney, starting with a trip across the Sea Cliff Bridge. We stopped enroute to watch paragliding at Bald Hill, which was pretty impressive. We drove through the Royal National Park and headed to our next stop in Bronte, via Beverly Hills.
We arrived at Llinos’s flat and freshened up before heading out for food at a Mexican pop up place in Newtown. I managed 3 small pork tacos, some corn chips and a cocktail for dinner before heading to The Rocks brew house to meet more people. There was excitement at the bar as the kitchen caught on fire and 2 lots of fire engines came to the very busy venue, which was not evacuated. It turned in to another boozy night as we finished up in the Opera House bar having a few cheeky glasses of Shiraz.
Captain Caveman and I celebrated our 7 year anniversary on Saturday 22nd December. Llinos had already gone out for a run when we got up and went to the laundrette (twice, as you have to pay by card and we only took cash) before having a lovely brunch. I had fresh figs, courgettes, lettuce and basil on gluten free toast with mozzarella, sprinkled with macadamia nut and balsamic vinegar – fantastic. There was a lovely walk between Bronte beach and Bondi beach which we took in the afternoon while it was windy but still sunny. In the evening we had a party at Llinos’s place where we had cheese and wine followed by sausages and more wine. When the Cointreau and cognac came out with the Evil Apples app (Cards Against Humanity style phone game) we couldn’t stop laughing and ended up having a late night.
On Sunday, 23rd December, I woke up with less of a hangover than expected and resolved to try to be a little healthier. I had no breakfast, just water, before heading in to Sydney with Captain Caveman and Llinos. They walked fast and we were thirsty and hungry by the time we had done the walk, via the Sydney harbour bridge, to Liza’s place. Liza made us a delightfully healthy lunch of salad and BBQ pork for me, salmon for them. Her home had amazing views of the bridge and when I was told I could earn $1000 per day in Sydney doing ‘Lean’ projects, I was tempted to give them my CV and beg for a job. In the afternoon Captain Caveman and I caught the bus to the famous Manly beach and because it was a holiday it was extremely busy. Instead of a dip in the sea we sat outside a cafe and had some wine. We walked about 8km that day and we spent our last evening at a pizza place in Bronte, where I over ordered on the starter and had to take it home to Llinos.
After a fun filled weekend Captain Caveman and I said goodbyes to Alys and Boz early on Monday morning, 17th December, and drove 700km back south. We stopped on the way at a health food cafe and then again at a supermarket to get a picnic. We camped at a free campsite in a place called Broke, where we ate chicken and rocket. I got bit by a lot of mozzies and spent a very uncomfortable and hot night sleeping in the car – even the wine didn’t make me sleepy.
The next day, Tuesday 18th December, we drove a couple of hours to the cafe we had stopped off at the previous week. I ordered a full English but only ate some of it because of the strong taste of fish on the mushrooms. I was just happy to have gluten free toast though. Captain Caveman was taking us to Jenolan caves, where we were also booked in to a nice room at the Victorian hotel there. We visited Katoomba on route to Jenolan via a very windy road. After checking out some caves, meeting lots of lizards and getting ready for a pre-dinner bar visit we had a posh meal at the hotel.
We left the Jenolan caves, on Wednesday 19th December, and drove to Wombeyan caves where I had chocolate (the only gluten free thing) for breakfast. We saw lots of kangaroos, some sleeping and some hopping about, which I loved. We drove on very steep, winding bush roads with evidence of various vehicles having plummeted over the side of the roads into deep ravines (I was too scared to look). We had a lovely lunch stop in Berrima before arriving at Ian’s (a friend of Captain Caveman’s) where we would stay the night.
Having managed to have a few drinks with Ian and Captain Caveman the night before, it was a good idea to go for a walk on Thursday 20th December. We took Albert, Ian’s red heeler dog, to the local cafe in Exeter via some fields. We had a delicious breakfast where I had bacon & rocket on gluten free toast, washed down with a few cups of Earl Grey. We said our goodbyes and left Ian with the bottle of Shiraz as a thank you before heading to see the Kiama blow hole on our way to meet up with yet more friends. We stopped off to check out Bulli beach and because I had already had emergency snacks of peanuts on the drive, I had a Greek yoghurt with passion fruit for lunch.
We arrived in Wollongong and met up with friends who we had met in Phong Nha (Dave, Kevin, Glen and a guy called Jason). Dave had arranged a reunion night out at the Fig Tree Hotel, where we had such a great time that I forgot to take any photos. I did try an Australian delicacy with my pork and veg – smashed chat! The night ended at Kevin’s house with a whiskey and a fuss of the dog, Honey, before heading to our sleeping quarters, a caravan on the drive.
Our first weekend in Australia was spent with our friends, Alys and Boz, who live 300km north of Bellingen. On Friday 14th December after a bacon and mushroom gluten free wrap we visited Sawtell where there was a lovely beach and plenty of seagulls. We drove to the Big Banana and visited another cheese shop where we bought 3 cheeses for our hosts. We stopped at Byron Bay to get some medication and I saw some hippies walking around on the streets without shoes on. We met Alys and Boz in Mullumbimby where Boz works at a Vietnamese restaurant and then, while Boz started work, the three of us spent some time at Brunswick Head. I had my first swim in the sea too and we didn’t see any sharks. In the evening we had fish and chips in Pottsville and we opened the Irongate wine.
That weekend was spent visiting a farmer’s market in Pottsville, going to the beaches at Brunswick and Kingscliffe, river swimming and having BBQ food again – I was definitely enjoying Australia!
We’d expected to be on the plane for 8.5hrs from KL to Sydney however, a few hours earlier than planned, we were landing. I asked the steward what was happening and she said we were making an emergency landing due to a passenger being sick. We landed at what looked like a closed or disused airport at Port Hedland and waited a while for the paramedics. There was very little communication and we were held up another 3 hours but I think the sick passenger had needed to be resuscitated. On arrival at Sydney airport everything was automated and so getting through the airport was quick and easy. The hire car we had booked had a number to call but wasn’t answering so we cancelled and booked with another supplier. Later than promised and after a couple of shop detours we were on our way to Glossodia to stay with Amanda and Greg. In the evening we went out for burgers and ice-cream. We had a super comfy bed and I was so tired that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
My first full day in Australia was Monday 10th December, 2018. Captain Caveman and I didn’t wake up until 10.30am, by which time our hosts were already at work. We drove in to the town centre and went to Simon’s cafe for breakfast then nipped to Coles supermarket for BBQ stuff for later. In the evening all 4 of us went to the nearby Colo River, which is so clean you can drink the water (we did), for a cool down and to chill out. We intended to have a BBQ picnic but there were some bridge repairs which meant a cordon was in place to where the dining area is. Instead Greg did the BBQ at home in their outside kitchen area and we had a feast. I had turkey burgers with lettuce and red pepper in a gluten free wrap, pork and beef steaks too. We had some pink fizz to celebrate being in Australia, my very first time.
On Wednesday 12th December our tour bus picked us up at 9.30am outside the Airbnb in Aberdare. We were going on an all day wine tasting tour around the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Our guide, Tony, made it clear that we would be visiting the smaller local winemakers as we picked up our fellow tasters, Esta & Nick from Wollongong. We started at Savannah winery and the lady serving us there was really friendly. We started with a sparkling brut and went through about 10 different wines including the $70 premier Shiraz which wasn’t on the tasting list. Nick, who was celebrating his birthday, bought a bottle of this while we opted for a 2014 Hunter Valley Shiraz – it reminded us of the primitivo we had in Italy. The second stop was at Irongate winery and had a look of a greek/mexican place with nice views at the back. I noticed the place was decked out with Fired Earth terracotta tiles as we were shown to an outdoor seating area. There were a few mozzies but we soon forgot about those as we tasted the latest white wines (semillon and verdelho, pure and blended – for you wine buffs). Interestingly we found that Captain Caveman preferred verdelho where I preferred either mixed or just semillon. We tasted an additional wine called Roze, after the winemaker’s mother, which was very nice too. The wines at this place were all around the same price range of about $30. The sommelier gave us each a piece of shortbread (mine gf) to cleanse our palates before we moved on to reds. We also sampled the chocolates with the sweet Shiraz, which they were selling for $13 a go. We left there with a bottle of the 2017 Shiraz which we were reliably informed wouldn’t keep for long! We went to the lovely Hunter Valley Gardens for lunch where they did gluten free food which was really nice and we dined with Nick and Esta too, it turned out they live near people we are going to visit in Wollongong later on our trip. After an hour off the booze we rejoined Tony and we were taken to our third winery, Pokolbin. The samples were plentiful but smaller in size at this one and the owner was the one who gave us the low down on the wines, he’d won awards for his wine and we bought a bottle of the 2014 Belabula Tempranillo as that was by far the nicest one. Next off was a quick visit to the Pokolbin shop to test out all the jams and chutneys – the others were given a bag of bread to dip while I used my own gluten free crackers and we tasted a couple of olives too. Tony, the driver, obviously didn’t think we were tipsy enough and decided to mix things up a bit by getting us in (for free) to a gin and vodka tasting at Hunter Distillery. We started on gins then onto vodkas and made our way through lots of flavours that I can hardly remember but included coffee, toffee, mint chocolate, Turkish delight, chilli, salted caramel, and more. We had 10 tastes all served to us in testtubes (it was like being in Walkabout but at 3pm in the afternoon). Our last stop was an interestingly named winery, Piggs Peak. We tried a few wines with funny names like Pork Hunt and the winemaker told us about each one but in the end we bought a bottle recommended by the driver ‘because his wife loves it’ called Piggs Blood. The tour was marvellous and finished around 4.30pm and I would definitely recommend it if you visit Hunter Valley. Back at the Airbnb we played games for a bit before having a nap, only to wake up at midnight, incredibly thirsty.
The next day we left our Airbnb and had breakfast in Cessnock, in a cafe with a kids play centre (they also had children’s sized toilets next to the adult ones). Next we bought some cutlery, picnic plates and cups ready for some camping. We stopped off at our first beach and view point at Nambucca Heads and it was extremely windy. I learned some history about Captain Cook as I stood on Australian sand for the first time. The weather was blustery so Captain Caveman booked a last minute Airbnb in Bellingen. When we arrived the owner wasn’t expecting us and I gave her a bit of a scare. We opened a bottle of wine, ate a cooked healthy meal, washed clothes then watched Paddington 2 on Netflix, I was already enjoying being in Australia and was glad I had decided to join the trip.
It felt great having the whole huge bed to myself on Monday 30th November, sleeping in until 8.30am! I had a late breakfast of broccoli and cauliflower cheese bake, which was half of the vegetarian dish I had brought home last night (the other half went in the freezer). I ate an orange from the ones that Thuy had given me on Saturday and had some walnuts and raisins for a snack before ordering a car to take me to The Villas. It costs 200,000 vnd (£6.50) each way so I don’t go as often as I used to – I often get dropped off there after returning from physio in Dong Hoi. I had arranged to meet Captain Caveman at The Villas when he returned from caving with Deb and that night there was a few of us out for Hanh’s send off. We’d initially discussed meeting at Momma D’s rooftop bar for Hanh’s leaving drinks but Momma D was still in Hoi An for a bit longer and it suited my leg better to not have to manage the steps by myself. I have been to The Villas so many times and never had a hot chocolate there so I decided to try one. Well, I have been missing out – it was quality chocolate with cream and it tasted so lovely on a cold day. As I was checking the news I read that there was a case of Corona in Saigon related to a flight attendant working for Vietnam Airlines. He had been sent home to self isolate following quarantine and negative tests but had invited relatives and a male friend, who is a teacher, to his house! This was the first case in 88 days and the Prime Minister was pretty clear that it would be taken very seriously!
Captain Caveman arrived to join me at The Villas and was very cold – he had a Jameson’s in his hot chocolate (no cream) to warm him up! He was so hungry that he couldn’t wait for dinner and, while I got on the Happy Hour and a Half margaritas, he ordered a cold Huda beer and a pizza! When it arrived I had to have a bit and managed 2 slices, Captain Caveman scoffed down the rest with no problem at all!
Hanh’s leaving celebration was a small affair with just 6 of us but it was a good night. I had a margherita pizza with extra garlic and Captain Caveman had (a second dinner of) duck confit with lentils. Mark’s burger looked impressive too and I had a bit of food envy. Hanh and I had a glass or two of wine and the fellas stuck to beer, it was a lovely evening and a really nice send off for Hanh. As we had both been drinking we decided to leave Captain Caveman’s motorbike at Victory Road Villas and ask the staff to arrange us a taxi home.
The weekend ended on a high on Sunday 29th November. Captain Caveman was up super early (again) for work as he was off to Tu Lan for a 2 day trip. The alarm was going off at 6am and Captain Caveman decided he was cooking us a salami and asparagus breakfast as he was concerned we needed to eat up the asparagus. It was raining, I didn’t envy him going to to Hang Tien and had planned to go back to bed but that didn’t happen.
I had friends who were visiting Dong Hoi, who I was hoping to meet up with, and suggested the Sunday roast dinner later at Phong Nha Farmstay. I made myself a nice picnic for lunch and then got a lift with Duyet in the rascal to the Farmstay, where we saw the buffalos heading home. I inadvertently ordered a bottle of wine while waiting for Phuong and Trang to arrive. The two ladies had never met but I introduced them on messenger, Phuong agreed to drive the two of them and they arrived eager to sit by the cosy fire. We had a great catch up and some amazing food; pork, lamb, potatoes, courgettes, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. I also brought a couple of tupperwear boxes to take away the vegetarian dinner and two pieces of carrot cake. The set Sunday roast dinner is such a good deal; the meat version is 300,00 vnd (£10 ish), the vegetarian version is only 200,000 vnd (£6.50 ish) and both include a glass of wine (or beer or soft drink) and a carrot, chocolate or cheesecake. So by drinking 2 glasses of included wine and saving the dessert I had already got a bargain deal by taking home a veggie meal too, as well as the almost full bottle of wine I had got. Before we said farewell we decided to meet up in Dong Hoi on Tuesday with Captain Caveman and see if Tatas wanted to join us.
Here is a video by Ben of us at the Farmstay for Sunday Dinner;
I was happy on Saturday 28th November that I got to stay in bed for a bit longer after Captain Caveman had left to go to Oxalis Home to meet his caving colleagues for breakfast. When I did get up I had a banana for breakfast and read up on the news. In Vietnam, drug dealers were served the death sentence and in Turkey the reporting of Corona cases was now including asymptomatic people who tested positive (they hadn’t been up to now). For lunch I had popcorn and while a lot of my mates in Hoi An and Danang were heading off to Kahuna’s Kommunity fayre I went to Dong Hoi. Captain Caveman and I had been to the Kahuna’s event in the summer and really enjoyed all the food and drink stalls, as well as meeting friends but this time we couldn’t go. Phuong, of Phuong’s Transfers, picked me up at 1pm, and I went to physio for a good session. I was finding that the therapy was getting more and more tolerable and that my leg felt more sturdy afterwards. Back home Captain Caveman had made a mushroom risotto and opened a bottle of sparkling wine for dinner. A dragonfly was in the kitchen and seemed to be fascinated by our kettle wire and the wall. That night I checked how my BMI measurement was improving and was surprised to find I had gone from 28.6 to 25.7, I was still overweight but only just. At bedtime Captain Caveman was very tired and had an early start again the next morning so he wasn’t too pleased with me finding a snail on the outside of the bathroom window more interesting than he did.
I couldn’t believe my luck on Friday 27th November; not only was I weighing the lightest I had been this year, my measurements turned out to be pretty favourable too. I had lost 1cm from bust, waist, hips and thigh this week which was very surprising and must have been on account of the exercise I was now getting – I’d even started to do my exercises more often on days where I didn’t have a walk or therapy. Captain Caveman made me the best breakfast sandwich I can remember having; bacon and mushrooms on soft fresh baguette. After breakfast I caught up on some Turkish and some Vietnamese then did a spot of Artificial Intelligence online work before breaking off for a chicken baguette for lunch with Captain Caveman. I was now convinced that my gluten allergy had disappeared as two lots of French bread had been consumed and not even a twinge of tummy ache had been felt, I wasn’t even bloated!
Captain Caveman needed to go to Oxalis about something work related so I decided, as it was a nice day, to get a lift with him and go to Victory Road Villas for the afternoon. I’d just ordered a drink when Momma D arrived in a bit of a hurry and I went to ask her what she was up to. She was booked on the 4.20pm bus to Hoi An and she had plans to visit the Kahuna’s Kommunity fayre where business owners go to promote their businesses. She would share a friend’s table and was making a badge to wear which said ‘Ask me about Phong Nha’. Despite Vietnam being closed to incoming International tourists since March there were still domestic tourists and, with the holiday season coming up, Momma D was hoping to promote Phong Nha to westerners in Hoi An. I experienced a first for me in my leg progress when Momma D dropped some business cards and leaflets and I was able to pick some up off the floor by bending my knees – more progress. We said bye, as she was in a rush to get ready for her journey and only had a couple of hours before she left. Back inside the bar area I had a couple of cups of oolong tea while catching up on some blog writing in the calm atmosphere of The Villas restaurant. By the time Happy Hour and a Half started at 4.30pm, Captain Caveman had already joined me and I decided a sangria was in order. Ha, the waitress, makes a great sangria with lots of bite-sized fresh fruit which makes it a healthy choice and one of my five a day. Captain Caveman was on the margaritas and we had a few bowls of free popcorn too, but we didn’t eat too much as we needed to save room for all you can eat pizza night at 6pm. I enjoyed the sangria so much that I had 3 of them!
Drifter arrived, ordered a milky tea and joined us, Colin arrived next and got a cold beer. Lesley and Mark were the next to arrive and while the blokes drank beer I shared wine with Lesley. Melissa, Rimaha and 2 of her kids came next but Veronika hadn’t made it out tonight. Bich, Ben and the kids were there but they sat inside tonight as the big table was already full of pizza lovers. Hanh, from D’Arts Bun Cha restaurant in Phong Nha was moving to Hoi An and so we had saved her a seat next to me – I’d also invited Tatas, who couldn’t make it in the end. The pizza was really good and we had lots of different ones to try and I had no gluten or cheese effects whatsoever!! The pizza slices just kept coming for as long as you can eat them and I completely lost count of how many I had. They even have a Momma D’s pizza, created by the one and only, and is pretty tasty. For 150,000 vnd (less than an English fiver), which includes a beer or soft drink, this is such good value if you love pizza. Despite my cunning plan of wearing baggy fitting clothes I was still very stuffed and quite tipsy from the wine after Lesley insisted we order a second bottle of wine! It was a good night and some of us organised to do something for Hanh’s actual leaving party on Monday. It was good to catch up with friends I’d not seen for a while and relax at The Villas.
November wasn’t a high Google activity month for me. I was busier doing other things, Captain Caveman was spending more time at work, on his phone or watching Netflix so there was hardly any need for me to Google anything for arguement purposes.
Here’s what I did Google, alphabetically:
1. ATM Vietnam 2. Apps to track FOREX 3. BMI Calculator 4. English to Vietnamese translation 5. English to Turkish translation 6. John Prescott 7. Language Centres 8. Marks & Spencer 9. Nigel Lawson affair 10. National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine 11. Oxalis Adventure 12. Puretone, Addicted to Base https://youtu.be/jU4VuN9EW9U 13. Shallow 14. Turkey earthquake 2020 15. World Life Expectancy 16. Weather 17. YouTube, container houses