I love learning languages. Beginning to learn a new language feels so awkward at first, getting used to new ways of pronouncing letters and words, abusing grammar, using the wrong word, but it’s worth it for that moment when I hear someone say something in another language and realise I understood what they said.
In the past I have learned French, German and Russian, but I have been fairly passive about increasing my fluency. This year I want to make more of an effort to improve my confidence in each of these languages. To keep myself accountable, I will post quarterly updates to see how much I’ve progressed from the beginning of 2020 to the end.
Why learn a language?
The more I travel, the more I realise how important it is to know even just a few phrases in the local language. We often take for granted that we’ll be able to find someone who speaks English in the country we’re visiting, and are so lucky that English seems to be the main language of tourism. If someone came to Australia without much English, I think it would be difficult to find someone on the street to interpret for them (though Google Translate and other apps have definitely addressed this gap!).
My Language Background
I used to have the crazy idea of being able to speak six languages fluently by the age of thirty, because I had read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I had that ability. I tried! I had studied German in school, got in to French after I started travelling, and then tried to take on Italian and Russian at the same time. The Russian faded away as soon as the course ended; a few key phrases of Italian have stuck with me, but not enough to have a conversation. I gave up on the idea of speaking six languages fluently.
Now I only learn the languages that I have some interest in: German for my heritage, French because I love to visit France, and I am now adding Russian back in to the mix because I see being able to read words written in Cyrillic as a challenge.
Where am I with my languages: January 2020
I’ve been learning German since I was ten, and these days keep up with it through the Duolingo app.
I need to keep increasing my vocabulary, though. To do that, I need to consume more information in German. I need to look out for films, travel blogs, YouTube channels and other things that I would watch anyway, and then watch them in German, just to keep it up. Please let me know if you have any recommendations!
I feel like I still have a long way to go before I’m happy with the level of my French. I can read it, and listen to it (as long as the person is speaking slowly), and have a fairly good idea of what is happening. But if I’m asked to say something in return, my brain doesn’t offer up the French words fast enough. And worse, sometimes it feels like I’m translating words from English into German and then finally in to French. Does anyone else have this problem?
That is my goal for this year – to be able to have a ten minute conversation in French. There are various Meetup groups in my town for beginner to intermediate French speakers – I need to get myself organised and signed up for one of them.
My language goal for 2019 was to start learning Russian. I had completed a ‘Russian for travel’ course after visiting Russia in 2012, thinking that one day I would return and explore more. However, after watching my polyglot tour leader strike up conversations with Croatians and Bosnians by speaking in Russian, I realised it was more far-reaching than I thought and was motivated to take it on again.
The most difficult thing about it is remembering the sounds for the Cyrillic alphabet. After a year of practicing (only on Duolingo so far), there are still some letters whose pronounciation I’m not exactly sure of.
This year I want to be able to have a simple conversation in Russian. The basics: how to introduce myself, and talk about my interests.
2020 feels like it’s appeared out of nowhere. Surely it was only a few months ago that we were welcoming in 2019! And has a whole decade really passed since 2010?
Ten years ago I was someone who dreamed about travel, but didn’t believe it was something I would actually do. It was expensive to fly from Australia to Europe, and who would be willing to come with me to explore the fairytale castles of Germany and France?
What a lot of changes the last decade has brought!
At the start of 2010, I could count a total of three stamps in my expired passport for Australia, Germany and Malaysia. Now, I have explored 40 countries and experienced cultures and places that seemed impossible for me to do.
Going to Europe with my best friend in August 2010 changed my mindset about my ability to travel. I discovered that I didn’t need to wait for someone to go with me to travel the world – I was braver than I told myself, and found the confidence to travel solo. I realised there were ways of making travel happen, if I was willing to prioritise it in my life.
I learned that it was okay if I preferred the built-in friendship groups of organised tours, and that I didn’t have to be a digital nomad to feel like a traveller. I became grateful for the chances I was given and the experiences I had, and dealt with my feelings of envy towards people who travelled more, and saw more than I was able to. I found out that too many days on the road leaves me run down and sick, and that I’m too much of a homebody to travel for more than one or two months at a time.
Last year I accepted that I didn’t have to go on overseas trips to have that feeling I get from exploring new places – I spent all of 2019 at home in Australia, taking road trips to satisfy my wanderlust.
So what is coming up in the year 2020?
Travel goals have been on my mind lately as I think about the year ahead. At the top of my list is figuring out how to travel solo to the Dordogne region of France (without driving, if I can avoid it!), visiting old friends in Cambodia and Germany, and dropping in to Quebec to wander the streets of Montreal and practise my French. I want to retrace the route taken by my ancestors when they migrated from Prussia to South Australia almost two hundred years ago. And I want to see even more of Australia.
As I make plans for this blog for 2020, I need to face the imposter syndrome I feel when I write posts. I need to remind myself of the reason why I started this blog: to share my experiences of travel with others and to provide information to make their trips that little bit easier.
I hope you have exciting things to look forward to this year! What does 2020 have in store for you?
Australia has thousands of kilometres of coastline: white sand beaches, rugged cliffs worn away by years of erosion, and rocky outcrops to which we love to give blatantly obvious names. While the entire coastline of Australia makes for spectacular scenery while driving, the Great Ocean Road holds a special place as one of Australia’s most loved road trips.
The Great Ocean Road runs along a stretch of the Victorian coastline from Allansford to Torquay. While it can be done as part of a day trip from Melbourne, or as an interstate drive from Adelaide to Melbourne, to be able to fully experience all of the sights along the way, you will need at least two days, if not longer.
We drove the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool to Apollo Bay, before turning inland to continue on to Melbourne. Here are some of my favourite sights along the Great Ocean Road:
The Bay of Islands
Starting our journey along the Great Ocean Road from Warnambool, our first stop was at the Bay of Islands, a pretty introduction to the rocky outcrops, sheer cliffs and surging ocean that is characteristic of much of the coastline along the route.
There are several lookouts along the bay where you can gaze out over the ocean, and marvel at the strength of wind and water to create the landscape in front of you. I recommend starting the Great Ocean Road from this side of it – the further east you go along the Great Ocean Road, the more spectacular the views along the coast become.
Whether you look at it from the lookout above, or journey down the steps to the viewing area at the bottom of the cliffs, there’s always something fun about looking through the Grotto, a natural frame through which you can look through out to the sea and the rocky cliffs beyond.
Loch Ard Gorge and Thunder Cave
Loch Ard Gorge is situated on the section of the Great Ocean Road known as Shipwreck Coast. The clipper with the same name was shipwrecked close to nearby Muttonbird Island in 1878, and all but two of the 54 passengers perished in the rough waters.
To see just how powerful the water can be, you can walk to Thunder Cave, where the seawater rushes in through a gorge, crashes into the back of a cave eked out through thousands of years of erosion, and slaps back into the next wave as it rushes into the cave, causing a thunderous roar to sound. There would be no surviving it if you found yourself in the water with the strong waves pushing you towards Thunder Cave.
Loch Ard Gorge itself is far calmer – the roaring waves of the ocean give way to a gentle sandy beach, where it is usually safe to take the stairs down to the water’s edge. If you’re lucky and manage to time your visit in between the waves of tourist groups who visit here, you can have the entire beach all to yourself!
London Bridge really has fallen down … along the Great Ocean Road at least. The land mass once stretched into the ocean, with two arches in the middle to give it the effect of a bridge. But like any environment with fast blowing wind and moving water, one of the arches eroded and widened until the earth above it collapsed into the sea.
The Twelve Apostles
The most iconic of the sights along The Great Ocean Road, it is a stunning sight to see the eight remaining limestone stacks poking up out of the surf. Ignore the throng of people swarming to take the perfect photo, find yourself a quiet place along the fence line, and take a moment to observe the waves, feel the breeze and ponder at which might be the next Apostle to succumb to the will of nature.
Note: Unlike the other sights along the Great Ocean Road, and the carpark for the Twelve Apostles is on the other side of the highway, where you can also find a visitor’s centre. A pedestrian tunnel has been constructed underneath the highway to allow you to get safely from the carpark to the viewing point.
Have you driven the Great Ocean Road? Which sights were your favourites?
I spent most of 2018 in Australia, apart from a two month adventure through Eastern Europe from mid-August to early October. I visited Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Slovenia, six of those countries new to me, bringing the number of countries I have visited to 36.
I was lucky to experience so many new places, cultures and stories this year. Here are some of my favourite memories from 2018:
Finally visiting Český Krumlov
In 2010 I was sitting in a travel agent’s office, trying to work out where in Europe I wanted to travel to. At that time, Germany was the only country I had spent any time in outside of Australia. I was looking for a trip that would let me visit Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, as well as Chambord and Chenonceau in the Loire Valley.
My travel agent suggested that if I liked castles and historical towns, then I might like the Czech town of Český Krumlov, a fairytale town that felt like you had stepped back in to medieval times.
While I couldn’t fit it into that trip, I kept it on my ‘Places I’d Love To Travel To’ list, until finally I managed to add it on to my trip through Eastern Europe. After eight years of travelling, I finally made it to Český Krumlov in August of 2018, and it did not disappoint. Our accommodation was in a six hundred year old building, with steep stairs, heavy hand-carved wooden doors, and my little attic room that looked down into cobblestone street below.
Český Krumlov is the sort of place where you have to remind yourself to stop taking photos and just be. Around every corner there is something quaint to take a photo of, and if you stay in the town itself, you can wander through it in the early morning without encountering anyone else.
The castle, with its tower, and the seven-hundred year old church dominate the landscape, with red roofs of buildings, restaurants and hotels sandwiched in between. If you want a break from strolling through the streets and laneways, you can watch kayakers and rafters navigate the locks as they make their way down the river, or spend a hilarious couple of hours trying to maneuver the raft to go straight rather than round and round in circles, like I did!
Swimming in the Bay of Kotor
Nothing prepared me for how spectacular the Bay of Kotor was. I knew little to nothing about Montenegro before we drove around the Bay of Kotor and I saw my first glimpse of the tiny islands in the bay.
Kotor itself is a walled city that I loved getting lost in, but my favourite memory of Montenegro is floating off of the side of a boat in the bay. After boarding a catamaran from the dock outside of my accommodation, my guided tour first travelled down the bay near where to the cruise ships docked, and then back to where the islands were. We stopped off at the Our Lady of the Rocks church and its small multi-level museum, and then docked at the bayside town of Perast for coffee.
From there, our tour guide (who was also the captain of our catamaran), took us in to the middle of the bay, stopped the boat, and said we could swim if we wanted. He didn’t have to ask us twice! The water was warm, and it felt so luxurious to float alongside the boat. Then, once you opened your eyes, you looked out at the cliffs that surrounded the bay, and at the beautiful water that lapped against the iconic islands. I could have stayed in the water for the whole day!
Getting lost in the Czech Republic
The short version of the story is there are two towns called Brumov in the Czech Republic. We were aiming for the one by the Polish border, but due to a miscommunication with the ticket office at the train station who sold us the ticket, we ended up at the one by the Slovakian border. Although it wasn’t great at the time, and we missed out on seeing a mysterious underground city thought to be built under German rule during the second World War, by the end of the day we ended up where we needed to be. Now we look back and laugh at the situation we found ourselves in, and the 1st of September will forever be Brumov Day, a hilarious inside joke for my fellow travellers in that tour group.
The Opulence of the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The Wieliczka Salt Mines, just outside of Krakow, have to be the classiest mines I have ever visited, and the mine tour blew all of the other mine tours I’ve ever been on away. Sure, there’s one or two stops on the tour where they show you how the miners extracted salt, but then there’s a chapel, and a spectacular ballroom, where everything from the floor to the frescoes on the wall to the decorations on the chandeliers are made completely out of salt. If you’re visiting Krakow, definitely visit these mines – the attention to detail and amount of work that must have gone into carving out all of the features in the rooms, let alone the rooms themselves, is mind-blowing.
The Winding Streets of Split
Split is my kind of place. The Old Town of Split, including our accommodation, was within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, who was once the Emperor of Rome. While the Peristyle, the main square of the palace, can get crowded and touristy, there were so many alleyways to wander down that you could easily get lost in the winding streets.
Like Kotor, it had the same feeling of having centuries of history within its walls, and I could have easily spent days exploring.
Speaking German to a waiter on Pag Island
Travelling to Pag Island on a day trip from Zadar, we stopped in the town of Pag. We explored the lace and salt museums, as well as the cathedral, before sitting down at a cafe and ordering ice coffees. My Croatian consisted of the words dobar dan (good day) and sladoled (ice cream), while the waiter didn’t speak any English. It turned out that he was fluent in German, and so I got to practice speaking German by ordering coffee on an island off the Croatian coast.
Adding Ljubljana to my Places I Could Live list
Ljubljana was a surprise. I almost didn’t go there, being scared off by trying to work out how to get there from Bled (turns out there’s a regular public bus that will take you between Bled and Ljubljana). The town itself felt very comfortable and familiar, as if I could live there. The old town was compact but beautiful, the people I met were friendly and welcoming, and the one and a half days I spent there wasn’t enough time to cover everything that I wanted to see. I will definitely find my way back to Ljubljana.
Visiting the places we learned about in History class
You would be hard pressed to
find a better History teacher than the one I had in Years 11 and 12
at high school. He was a fantastic raconteur, and through his vivid
storytelling would make what we were learning about come alive in my
It still seems surreal to me that I am now visiting the places I learned about as a seventeen year old. This year, I stood in the spot in Sarajevo, where Gavrilo Princip fired the shots that assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that sparked World War One, and thought back to the black and white photo of him that was in our History textbook. Being able to visit these places and see where events happened somehow helps the significance of these historical events seep in to my understanding better, and I count myself lucky that I am able to visit so many of the places I learned about all of those years ago.
It’s Christmas Eve. Summer holidays have started here in Australia and after a week of damaging thunderstorms, the weather has finally caught up with us, giving us a balmy 34 degree day, causing my feet to burn as I race barefoot to the letterbox to see if my last-minute Christmas orders have arrived. I’m looking forward to Christmas Day, and have been singing along to carols all day as I’ve cleaned and cooked in preparation for our Christmas celebrations.
For me, most of the fun of Christmas is in the lead-up to the day – the anticipation and planning that goes in to it. Christmastime in South Australia generally begins with the Christmas Pageant in early November, and slowly builds as light displays pop up around the neighbourhood, each council holds its own outdoor Christmas carol sing-along, and our social calendars start getting crowded with end-of-year parties. When December hits, and the end of the year is in sight, planning goes into turbo mode. Shops stay open longer for frazzled present-hunters and last-minute grocery runs, all culminating with the ultimate pay-off: an enjoyable and (mostly) relaxing Christmas Day with friends and family.
Just like Christmas, anticipating and planning for trips is all part of the fun of travelling.
With travel, you decide where you want to go, book your tickets, and find yourself daydreaming about strolling down streets lined with beautiful eighteenth-century buildings and stopping along the way for a drink at a local cafe.
You research, asking friends, family and the Internet for suggestions on what to see and do, adding more detail to your vision with each new piece of information, until you can smell that cafe au lait and can picture standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles in its hourly light show. You feel the swirl of butterflies in your chest as you look forward to the day when you are actually standing there.
There are websites that will forecast the temperature of your destination on the dates you are going, even though it’s four months away. Beach weather sounds glorious when the sky is overcast and raining outside your window. A white Christmas is a fascinating alternative to a scorching 40 degree Celsius Christmas Day. You make a list of books and movies to download to keep you busy on long-haul flights. You go and buy them. You start to plan what you will pack, and what you need to buy. Buying off-season clothes feels like a scavenger hunt, especially when you’ve left it to the last minute, but you’re determined to win.
By the time the day comes to leave on
your trip, you’ve already imagined yourself on it a thousand times
(hopefully they all turned out well, and weren’t worst-case
scenarios), but the best part is yet to come – you still have your
whole trip ahead of you.
Not only am I returning to blogging, I’m looking forward to leaving this freezing winter behind, ready to catch the end of the European summer. In a few weeks I’ll be exploring Eastern Europe, and the closer it gets the more I find myself wanting to use this trip as a way of improving myself, as well as experiencing all of what Europe has to offer.
Reacquainting myself with solo travel
It’s been five years since I’ve travelled solo outside of my state. While I’ve taken many trips with friends and family, there’s something freeing about going on your own.
While I’ll be joining some group tours along the way, and I’ll have my fellow tour group members to go exploring with, I also want to take the time to make sure I experience the things that interest me most about the places I’m going to. I feel like it’s easier to break away from a tour group and do your own thing than it is when travelling with friends and family.
It’s also a way of clearing my mind from what has been a busy and stressful first half of 2018. About three-quarters through a trip, my mind has usually quietened and found enough space to relax and it becomes quite clear about what I need to do when I get back home.
Learning to pack lightly
I identify as a minimalist, and have been actively culling my possessions down to only those I love or use, ever since it first sunk in that the less things you own, the easier it is to travel.
While I’ll never be able to fit everything I own into one backpack, one area I really struggle with is taking too many clothes with me. My suitcase is full before I leave Australia.
I want this year to be different. I did a trial pack for my seven week trip the other week, pulling all of the clothes out of my cupboard and packing them into my suitcase. I ended up with three pairs of jeans, two pairs of trousers, three skirts, three dresses, and thirty tops. I know I try to avoid doing as much laundry as possible whilst I’m away, but this was kind of excesive.
At the same time, I’ve read a lot about people using packing cubes to organise their luggage while travelling. I didn’t quite understand it, and wrote it off in my head as something I didn’t need, but after seeing how many clothes I was trying to take away with me, I managed to get some on sale from Kathmandu, and am challenging myself to only take away with me the clothes that fit into one of their large packing cells. I’ll let you know how successful I am in a later post!
Brushing up on my German
I’m spending four days on this trip in Vienna, and as a challenge to myself I want to spend it speaking only German. I learned German in high school and have kept it up with a few refresher classes since, but immersing myself in a German-speaking city will help me with my confidence with speaking the language. Watch out for a post on how well I managed!
Doing justice to Vienna, Prague and Budapest
This trip sees me travelling around Eastern Europe, including visiting Vienna, Prague and Budapest. I’ve been to these cities before back in 2010, however I never felt like I took the time to fully understand them. There are many reasons for that including that a few days earlier I had walked into a pole in Salzburg, which meant I had to walk around Vienna and Budapest feeling self-conscious about the plasters on my forehead marking my head injury, and then had to spend half of my time in Prague waiting in a doctor’s office so I could have the stitches taken out. It rained constantly in Budapest, reflecting my miserable mood, so after exploring the Grand Central Market and having a Tokay wine tasting, I spent the rest of the time catching up on sleep at the hotel. I looked at my photos of Budapest the other day and was amazed at how pretty the buildings were – I was in such a bad mindset at the time that I hadn’t even noticed.
This trip I want to spend some time admiring these capital cities for the magnificent places that they are.
We’re in the final days of autumn here in Australia. The trees are slowly losing their leaves as the air turns from crisp to chill. One of the things I wanted to do before the season ended was to explore Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, and see for myself the glorious reds, browns, oranges and golds of the autumnal leaves before winter stole them away for another year.
The Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, tucked away in the Adelaide Hills, are only a thirty minute drive out of Adelaide. On the way there, as I drove through the townships of the Adelaide Hills, I caught glimpses of
gorgeous trees in vibrant reds and yellows and my anticipation heightened. I had decided to go at just the right time!
After parking in the Upper Carpark (free to park on Sundays, and not as full as the Lower Carpark) I didn’t pick up a map of the Botanic Gardens and decided to wander instead in search of colourful leaves. The day was perfect for walking along the sometimes steep paths, and there were moments when there was nobody else around where I could stand still, and appreciate the beauty of nature.
By the time I made my way down the hill to the Main Lake, I had not been disappointed. There were flashes of colour everywhere in amongst the evergreen trees. Coming across the Duck Lake was the showpiece of the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, with the colours of the foliage reflected in the lake.
After an hour of wandering around the Rhododendron and West Asian Gullies, it came time to make the hike back up to the carpark, which tested my fitness after what was a relaxing way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
As it’s spread over more than 90 hectares, there is still a great deal more of the Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens that I’ve yet to explore. Hopefully, as I keep my resolution to travel more locally during this year, I can return over the next few months to explore the other paths through the garden. I hear the camellias and magnolias are beautiful in August!
I love to travel, however over the years my idea of travelling has been warped to mean overseas. And since I currently average one of these big trips a year, after I come home from one, it could be twelve months of waiting and anticipation before I leave for the next one.
Life is about having adventures, and adventures shouldn’t be limited to once a year. However this is the holding pattern I’ve fallen into. I tell myself excuses: I need to wait until my friends are available to go on a road trip; I’ll see that exhibition next month, when I have more time but this leads to an unadventurous life.
There’s so much on at the moment that I should be out experiencing. It’s History Month in my hometown, which means that all of the grand nineteenth century mansions throw open their doors to the public. There’s an Impressionist exhibition on at the Art Gallery, featuring works on loan from the Musée d’Orsay. And it’s that lovely time in autumn when the weather’s cooling down and the leaves are starting to change from green into gorgeous reds, yellows and browns.
Instead of spending my free time exploring, I’m being a homebody, staying in and binge watching the life of Mary, Queen of Scots and her time at French court in Reign.
If I was overseas travelling, I wouldn’t have this problem. I’d go exploring by myself without a second thought. That’s just what you do when travelling solo. So why can’t I adopt this mindset when I’m at home?
Last weekend, I decided to make a start on changing my mindset, and took myself on a road trip to the Gumeracha Medieval Fair. I first heard about the fair about three years ago, and as each year has passed I have been more determined to go. This year, after asking everyone I knew if they were interested in going and coming up short, I psyched myself in to my travelling mindset, packed my bag for the day, and went for the forty minute drive to Gumeracha.
I didn’t know what to expect from the fair. How big was it? What was it like? Would everyone there be in costume? Would I stand out if I was there by myself? Would I get there, spend ten minutes wandering around, and then feel like leaving again?
I needn’t have worried. I ended up spending five hours at the fair, most of them watching the mock battles at the Combat Arena. There were plenty of performances and demonstrations. Not only were there three swordplay groups, there was also an Armouring a Knight presentation, and the Skills at Arms (unfortunately the scheduled joust was unable to take place which is a shame. It’s on my bucket list to watch a joust in real life!).
The fair sprawled along Federation Park, with many different areas to explore, including a Viking area, an Artisan area, and an area especially for children. Some people embraced the occasion and dressed up in medieval costume, and I almost convinced myself to buy a cloak from one of the clothing stalls (maybe next year)!
Once I was there, I didn’t worry at all that I was by myself. It just didn’t matter. I’m looking forward to going next year – and in the meantime push myself to go on many other adventures!
The craziness of Mad March is here! It’s easy to be inspired at this time of the year, as the intense forty-degree days of summer dissipate and the cooler autumn nights set in. The Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Festival, and Adelaide Writer’s Week are all on at the moment, full of performances and talks by creative and inspiring people, and re-igniting my own creativity.
Last Friday I spent a couple of hours listening to Cole Porter songs and Sinatra standards while cruising along the River Torrens on the Popeye – a boat that holds a lot of childhood memories and is a South Australian icon. Afterwards we joined the crowd admiring the mesmerising Parade of Light along North Terrace. The projections are always beautiful to watch, but the most impressive was the Borealis, a clever combination of smoke and light wafting over the gardens of the South Australian Museum, which almost made up for me sleeping through the real thing.
I’ve finally booked in my trip to Eastern Europe that was on my 2017 travel wish list! While I’m missing out on Romania this time, I’ll be exploring a lot of other countries which will be new to me, including Slovakia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Croatia.
I’ll also be spending a day or two in Český Krumlov – a medieval town in the Czech Republic recommended to me eight years ago as somewhere I’d love. I’m also returning to some places, including Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, since due to seeking medical attention and walking around with plasters on my forehead after colliding with a shop awning in Salzburg, I didn’t see everything I would have liked to the first time around.
Now I’m off to spend the afternoon at the Garden of Unearthly Delights, soak up the Fringe atmosphere and be re-inspired.
When I was little, Disneyland seemed like a magical place. To my eight year old mind it was the home of all of my favourite characters from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, and to actually visit it would be like stepping through the cinema screen into the world of Disney, just like Mary Poppins and the Banks children stepping into the chalk paintings on the footpath and finding themselves in a world of fantasy.
Now that I’m all grown up, I was worried about how different my experience of Disneyland would be compared to the idea of Disneyland that I had as a child. Would it still be exciting? Would I still have the wonder of my childhood, and the ability to accept anything at face value? Or would it all have been edged out by the rational thoughts of the adult that I’ve become?
My nostalgic side had one thing in its favour – I was visiting Disneyland with my brother, the person with whom I had spent my childhood engrossed in hours of Disney movies, who had participated in the endless sing-alongs of each movie soundtrack, and who knew the importance of pretending to be a mermaid whenever we found ourselves in water.
We bought a two day Park Hopper pass, which allowed us to go between Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure Park as many times as we wanted, and both days we were at the gates when they opened at 8AM, and only finished exploring when the final parade had finished for the night, revelling in the fact that we were at Disneyland.
However, when you hold on to a dream from childhood to adulthood, you develop very particular expectations around what it’s going to be like when it actually happens. Visiting Disneyland was no different. There were things that surprised me, things that I loved, and things that didn’t measure up to the experience I had imagined as a child.
What I loved:
The fact that we were at Disneyland
Being able to walk through the gates of Disneyland, to walk down Main Street USA, to ride in the spinning tea cups of the Mad Tea Party, to journey into the depths of Tortuga on the Pirates of Caribbean ride, and experience The Matterhorn and Splash Mountain for ourselves after a lifetime of reading about them in books was surreal. As we figured out our way around all of the lands, searched out the rides we most wanted to go on, and sat on the side of the path waiting for the parades and the fireworks to begin, we had to pinch ourselves to believe we were actually in Disneyland!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at night
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, with its blue turrets rising high into the sky, was the one thing I most wanted to see at Disneyland. Not only was it the most iconic sight of Disney, being part of the production company logo that began each one of its movies, but its design has parallels with Neuschwanstein, the Bavarian castle which ignited my dream of travelling the world and starting Castlephile Travels.
Rollercoasters are my favourite type of ride, and we experienced the adrenalin rush of California Screamin’, with its giant loop-the-loop, five times over the two days.
HyperSpace Mountain eclipsed it though. The wait for it was long – we decided against a FastPass and found ourselves in a queue that seemed to hardly move – but once we got on the ride, it was one of my favourite experiences that we had at Disneyland. It was essentially a rollercoaster in the dark, so there was no way of telling which way you would be sent next. It was awesome and unpredictable and I loved it!
The FastPass system
It took us a while to figure out how and when to use the FastPass system at Disneyland – where you pre-book a time slot to go on one of the more popular rides, allowing you to go off and continue exploring, and then skip the majority of the queue when you show up during your time slot. Once we had worked it out, we timed it to work to our advantage, especially when going on the California Screamin’ rollercoaster at Disneyland California Adventure Park. We managed to go on the ride three times within the space of an hour using FastPasses, thanks to the kindness of a stranger who gave us their unwanted FastPasses to go on the ride again (we were helping him as much as he was helping us – you are only allowed to have one Fast Pass booked on your ticket at any one time, and he obviously wanted his to be used up as soon as possible).
What I wanted more of:
I wanted more behind the scenes
As I’ve grown up, I’ve become fascinated by how things work. I love watching the special features of my Disney DVDs and learning more about their story and character development process. I didn’t find much of that in the park. What I found instead was an overwhelming amount of merchandise stores lining the streets (though it was impressive that most of them stocked different items), but I wasn’t there to buy a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. I wanted to learn more about Disney and his vision for his company and theme park. That’s the grown-up in me talking, my inner child wouldn’t have cared so long as I could go on the rides and feel like I was inside a Disney movie!
I wanted the complete stories
There were a few rides we went on which were re-tellings of the most iconic Disney movies. The one that frustrated me the most was Snow White’s Scary Adventure. The ride started off well, focusing on the terror of the Evil Queen demanding Snow White’s death. The singing of the dwarves echoed in the cavern as they mined for precious jewels, the queen cackled as she transformed herself into an ugly hag and kept tabs on Snow White via her magical mirror, and the sinister trees reached out towards us with their branches as they threatened to seize us from our ride capsule, making me squirm with trepidation. Then came the climactic scene of the dwarves stalking the queen to the top of a craggy rock. I waited to see her fall, wanting to see good triumph over evil. But suddenly, we’re passing a sign proclaiming ‘and they all lived Happily Ever After’ and being pushed out into the real world. Did the Queen tumble to her demise? Did Snow White wake up? This is never answered during the ride, and the sudden change from the darkness of the story to the brightness of the happy ending left me feeling a bit disappointed that the entire story wasn’t told.
I wanted more character encounters
Even though I wasn’t looking to actually meet any of the characters, I assumed there would be a lot more of them around the park. On the two days we spent at Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure Park, aside from the planned parades and shows, we spotted only Goofy, Pluto, and Cruella de Vil. Maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time (after all, we never looked to see if there were specific times to go and meet the characters), but in my head I had imagined we’d be running in to characters around every corner!
I wanted to go on a ship that sailed
It looked glorious docked at Frontierland. The white steam-powered Mark Twain Riverboat reminded me of the paddleboats that cruised down the Murray River at home. I dragged my brother over to it, determined to sail around the Rivers of America.
After a full day of trying to pack everything that both Disneyland California Adventure Park and Disneyland had to offer, it was nice to have a moment of calm. Being ferried around on a riverboat sounded like just what we needed. We climbed on, made our way to the top deck, and then waited, looking over the lines of people waiting to go on the Pirates of the Carribbean which seemed to have increased exponentially since we last walked through there, making the small New Orleans Square even more congested.
After ten minutes had passed, I turned my attention to the gangway. A trio of jazz musicians boarded, and five minutes later, they started playing. Soon the paddle steamer would leave, I kept telling myself. A man with a captain’s hat came on board, which bolstered my spirits and gave me the ammunition I needed to convince my brother that we needed to stay on the boat – our voyage was surely about to begin.
We moved around the boat as we waited. Every now and then, more people would board, and then a few moments later, some others would disembark. I gazed off into the park, wondering whether we too should leave. I decided to remain resolute, and stay.
In the end, our stomachs won out, and thirty minutes after we had first boarded the Mark Twain Riverboat, we left in search of food. The next day, I kept my eye on it whenever we passed through Frontierland, wondering whether it ever did leave the dock. As far as I could tell, it was always docked right where we had left it.
I wanted to be a child again
Disneyland makes you nostalgic for your childhood. No matter how much of a big kid you are, no matter how much you give in to the wonder and the make-believe, you still feel like you are lacking something in comparison with the children who were there experiencing Disneyland during their childhood. Their enthusiasm as they lined the parade route was infectious. They excitedly waited for their favourite characters to wave to them. They were ecstatic about seeing Belle, Ariel, Elsa and Anna. That’s what I really wanted from my Disneyland experience – for the line between reality and make-believe to remain blurred, and for the feeling of being a child again.