Rio Carnival Part Two: Top Tips

There are a lot of things to think of when planning your trip to Rio. I have put together some of my best tips I thought would be helpful for any of you who are planning to visit during Carnival.

How long should you stay for?

We arrived into Rio on the 21st of February and had a couple of days to spend relaxing on the beach and getting the lay of the city. We did a great free walking tour with Rio Free Walking Tour who were fantastic and showed us around the city centre and Lapa. It’s a great way to meet new travellers as well!

We had our first week booked in a hostel in Lapa and from the Thursday night, street parties had already begun. From Friday begins the complete shut down of the city and the streets are filled with thousands of party goers and parades. The carnival weekend was in full force.

It wasn’t until we left after 10 days that the city began to return back to everyday life and the tutus started to vanish, exchanged for suits as people slowly went back to work.

I would recommend arriving to Rio the week before Carnival weekend so that you can still get a feel for the city and what it is really like outside of the festival, as it is like a fairy tale world for at least a week once the party starts. We stayed for 10 days and that was a good amount of time to experience Rio in Carnival. After a weekend detox in Ilha Grande, we did come back to Rio to finish all of our sight seeing, such as Pedra do Gavea and Parque Large, for another 4 days.

If you are staying in Rio for a longer period, definitely visit the Sambadromo the weekends prior to Carnival as you can see these spectacular shows for free as the samba school competition whittles down to their finalists for the big weekend. After speaking to some locals, street parties start from New Year and continue until the end of Carnival!

Stay safe

One of my biggest tips would be to leave all valuables at the hostel when going to the street parties and blocos, take R$20 cash and throw yourself into the hordes of people. If you have nothing to loose, you have nothing to worry about.

I unfortunately was wearing a gold necklace and on my last night on my way home I was zigzagging over and under people’s arms. I felt one guy push me under, exposing my neck, which I then felt a very hard tug as he snapped my gold necklace off and ran away. There is not much you can do when it all happens so fast and hundreds of people are squashing you – you just have to move on and accept defeat.

I never took my iPhone out with me or my debit cards – opportunists are everywhere and can ruin your experience just like that. It could have been a lot worse but it’s a lesson to be learned from and I can only warn you to avoid wearing or taking anything too flashy or valuable out with you that you would be gutted about being stolen. I carried everything with me in a bum bag, I mainly had some make-up, glitter and some cash for drinks and metro passes.

All I carried with me was a bum bag and of course the pineapple!

Get involved!

As I mentioned at the beginning, you should definitely get involved in dressing up! Release your inner child and think of that fancy dress you’ve always wanted to do – it’ll go down a storm here! We saw groups of pirates, mermaids, M&Ms, highlighters, pineapples, and anything with feathers! You can bring supplies with you from home or you can find almost anything you need at the Mercado do Uruguaiana.

Not to miss: Sambadromo and blocos!

I haven’t yet mentioned it as my next post will be about this, but while in Rio over the Carnival week, I would definitely recommend going to the Sambadromo to experience the biggest event and parade of the whole of Rio Carnival! Here you will see the Rio samba schools dance their heart out to compete in the greatest dance competition of Carnival.

The amazing Sambadromo parades!

When you picture Carnival, what do you see? You will see it all here! You can buy your tickets online in advance or you can see if there are any once you arrive, some hostels sell them or you can get them at the Sambadromo ticket pick up point. I will explain more in my next post, but Rio Carnival website has all the most important info.

Rio Carnival officially starts next year on the 9th February and goes on until the 13th February. During each afternoon there are parades along Copacabana and Ipanema beach and there are also hundreds of blocos taking place throughout the entire city – these you can hear through word of mouth.

Find the official 2018 Carnival program here. It is the Samba School’s finals that take place in this week at the Sambadromo, however a few weekends before Carnival starts, similar types of parades happen here that you can attend for free. If you are in Rio in the weeks prior to Carnival, I would recommend visiting the stadium for these free processions.

An event not to miss while in Rio for Carnival!

Blocos are also known to continue in the streets after Carnival officially ends, making the celebrations easily a month long.

For the street parties, I would recommend taking your own drinks as it works out a little cheaper. If you can find something like our pineapple jugs to put your alcohol in, perfect!! If you don’t want to carry a big bottle of mixed drink, you can buy cold beers for R$2 off the street, sacolé or cocktails for R$5. Take advantage of some hostels allowing you to bring your own drink as the hostel prices are pretty high for what you get. Happy Hour deals are usually R$8-10 for 2 small caipirinhas, where as I said earlier, you can source way stronger and larger cups for the same price or less!

An impromptu bloco starting outside our hostel in Botofogo!

If you are wanting to experience Carnival in other parts of Brazil, you can visit places such as the colonial town of Ouro Preto, MG and colourful and vibrant Salvador, Bahía for more authentic festivities! Apparently a lot of locals actually leave Rio de Janeiro during Carnival weekend to escape the mass crowds and many tourists take their place. I didn’t actually spend much time with other tourists, however I would be interested in seeing what another city can offer as each place celebrates in their own style.

The colourful streets of Pelorinho, Salvador fill with locals and parades during Carnival.

How to get around the city

It’s fairly easy to get around Rio throughout Carnival, just a little slow. The metro runs 24 hours and is almost an event in itself. Everyone is chanting and singing while riding up and down the escalators. Some stations require prepaid cards, such as Carioca in the Centro – this is one of the closest metro stations to Lapa, along with Cinelandia but this was sometimes closed late at night. 

Walking through the town you can see these colourful floats being taken to the Sambadromo.

The prepaid cards are purchased from a separate queue outside the station before you enter, these have a minimum load of R$5.

Other stations have people manning the ticket offices inside, such as Botafogo station. Here you can buy a single or a return ticket. A single costs a fixed price of R$4.10 and you can go on multiple journeys at whatever distance but once you leave a station you must purchase a new ticket to reenter.

There are also Metro Bus services at certain stations, which a Metro Superficie card can be used on. You can buy these in the metro stations or on the bus.

I found a really helpful link that gives you a map of the Metro stations: Metro Easy – Rio de Janerio

Where to stay in Rio throughout Carnival

Book your hostel a few months in advance as they fill up very quickly. Some demand full payment in advance and others a higher deposit. This is normal so don’t worry, as long as you are booking through certified sites or directly with the hostel.

I did not really enjoy staying at Books Hostel, as it is over priced during the celebrations and guests preferred to party in the hostel instead of at the street parties so not really offering a great experience for Carnival. It’s brilliant for younger travellers as it’s a great party hostel and I’m sure it’s better for any other time of the year – but you couldn’t really meet anyone to go to the blocos with as many stayed in to party so I didn’t find it as social in that aspect, which I was looking for as I had just arrived and wanted to meet people.

Other hostels we were recommended by people we did meet were Bananaz Hostel in Lapa – they offer free breakfast and free dinner!  

If you prefer to stay nearer to Copacabana, we heard Walk on the Beach Hostel was really friendly and super close to the beach.

For Ipanema Beach, where there are also a lot of blocos, we heard Mango Tree Hostel to be great fun!

After our first week in Books, we moved to another area of Rio, in Botofogo, where 2 friends had been staying. We actually ended up spending a lot of time there as locals flocked to their bar and blocos pushed passed their gates. Contemporaneo Hostel in Botafogo was a much cheaper option and had incredibly friendly staff. They were so keen to show us a good time and had friends come round to the bar and hosted great parties – it was an amazing way for us to witness more samba dancing and for them to laugh at our attempts! I loved this hostel and would highly recommend staying here. Wesley who works there is so much fun and can tell you the best places to go out to eat, drink and party! The hostel is close to Botafogo metro station giving you quick and easy access to Lapa and Ipanema – 2 of the best spots to celebrate Carnival.

A screenshot of us in action – dancing with the locals!

If you have any questions about Carnival and if you’re planning your trip to Brazil, please feel free to contact me on my Instagram page @howetoroamtheworld and I’ll be more than happy to help!

If you haven’t read my post already about what to expect at blocos and in Lapa, give my first post a read!

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Howe to Rio Carnival!!

Rio Carnival is one of Brazil’s most famous attractions and rightly so. After 6 months of traveling since Carnival in February, it still holds top place for my highlight of the trip so far.

What made it so special and memorable?

The Brazilian people. I would not have had the same experience if I had not met so many locals and danced the night away with them to the upbeat rhythms of Baile Funk, Samba or Bossa Nova at the jam packed ‘blocos‘.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGiR9zrYbcs

One of the most played songs whilst we were travelling in Brazil: Baile Funk artist MC G15 – ‘Deu Onda

Blocos

Blocos are organised or sometimes completely unorganised street parties throughout Rio in the weeks and months ahead and also during Carnival. Wherever there is music, crowds of people come together and celebrate their love for live music, dance and ice cold drinks in the sun, or in some cases into the twilight hours.  The usual set up for these blocos is hordes of people following an open top bus or a live band, blasting out a 3 minute song on repeat for hours and people singing/shouting along over microphones while the people below shuffle forward to the beat and drinking refreshing sacolé – a frozen flavoured cachaca ice pop.

The whole city collectively takes part in fancy dress and my biggest tip is: join them! If you haven’t got even a sprinkle of glitter on, you are going to look weird.

 

Where can you find the most eccentric fancy dress?

Mercado do Uruguaiana in Lapa. This huge market consisting of rows and rows of colourful and vibrant streets offers an enormous variety and inspiration for funky attire during Carnival. It is as if Carnival has thrown up on these hundreds of stalls and tourists and locals pick up all the pieces. It’s not a cheap outing – to be the best dressed, you have to spend the cash.

Hannah amongst the feather boas at Mercado do Uruguaina

There are jewelled bralletes and matching high waisted shorts that jingle with each step you take. These are around R$100 each, if not more! If you’re on more of a backpacker budget, like myself, you can pick up a cheaper option – I found a white wrap around scarf with gold coins and a sequinned band that I used as a boob-tube for only R$20. This was paired with a bright orange feather head piece for about R$5 and a fantastically huge pineapple jug for R$5, which were immensely popular with the locals.

Our fancy dress for only R$30!

It was our first Portuguese word we learned as people shouted ‘abacaxi‘ at us – we first thought people were shouting abuse, like another word for ‘gringa‘ but as we shortly found out, they were just chanting about our hilarious pineapple apparatus for our homemade caipirinhas.

It is definitely worth getting involved in the fancy dress as the whole city is engulfed in sequins, glitter, gold body paint, confetti feather head pieces and tutus. When else does an entire city all partake in mass cross-dressing?!

‘ABACAXI!’

Ipanema Beach Bloco

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Brazilian flag bikini bottoms

The closest metro station to Ipanema is General Osario. Once we arrived here on the Saturday afternoon we followed the crowd along to the beach, finding ourselves right at the front of a parade. Space is completely non-existent and we were left to shuffle along to the beat with everyone else. You start noticing particular characters in the block of people squashing you, from cheering rowdy groups wanting to take a picture with you, they particularly liked my Brazilian flag bikini bottoms, to weird solo men who look a little too happy to see you, and you try  your best to avoid standing in front of. Beer spills are common in these packed crowds, one point a guy laughed out his beer all over our friend’s back, causing much amusement!

 

 

Thousands of people at Ipanema bloco

We followed a live band until we reached the Ipanema promenade and we ducked out to find the beach. Arriving at sunset was perfect as the view over the beach with 900,000 other bodies dancing and drinking was an unforgettable moment. We picked a spot on the beach based on an underwear advert (my choice) and livelier music. Our pineapple jugs were yet another hit and perfect for this party as we could fill them up with cold beer or cocktails sold on the beach after we had guzzled the rest of our cachaca.

Hana, Hannah and me on Ipanema Beach at sunset.

Our friend Andreas took an interest in some local kids who were creating their own percussion with water bottles – he waltzed over to ask if he could take a picture of them. Picture this: he had glitter under his eyes, a feather bower around his head, a pink girly cocktail in one hand and attempting the shot with a disposable camera with the other – of course his request was denied by their parents! He nervously came back to join us, feeling the burn of the disapproving look of the locals.

Andreas getting in the Carnival spirit!

His spirits soon changed as we started to notice the people we were partying with on the beach. From being up on the promenade for a matter of seconds, us girls had handsome guys flocking us demanding a ‘beijo‘ (kiss). On the beach however, there was a contrasting atmosphere, we were for once not being gawked at and groped and I could shake my pineapple jug that I’d attached to my bum bag freely without being approached. What was going on?? It was the boys turn now to be stared at, something they were definitely not used to. Couples of men passionately holding each other surrounded us, dancing to Brazilian pop and making out like teenagers. All of this and the huge rainbow flag blowing above us, and the underwear advert, alerted us that we were in fact in the gay party area. It was such a fantastic atmosphere and they dominated the beach, blasting the loudest music and selling the strongest drinks. I bet the party never stopped!

The party doesn’t stop on Ipanema Beach.

Santa Teresa Bloco

Climbing up the steep cobbled streets of Lapa in the blaze of the Friday afternoon sun and into the well known Santa Teresa favela, we found a gathering of tens of thousands of people overlooking a stunning view of the tightly built up city below. A mainly local crowd filled the streets, spilling out onto the road, squeezing to one side from time to time to make room for the live band to flow through and then push in together to move forward with the music. The men singing high above on the open top buses threw out Carnival themed fans – allowing us to try and cool off, whilst also providing us with the lyrics to sing along to the constantly repeated song, in no time at all are you fluent in Brazilian samba.

Carmelitas bloco in Santa Teresa.

Going in a big group is pretty pointless as you loose everyone almost immediately as they are swallowed whole by the thousands of surrounding party goers. As a duo, Hannah and I were much more approachable to locals. Our pineapple jugs were a huge hit – sparking lots of conversations, albeit in a language we were not yet familiar with. We were able to tell them about our homemade caipirinhas, which everyone wanted to taste. As it was a very hot day, the ice we had used in our hostel did not last long. A local lady took me by the hand suddenly and marched me to a drinks vendor and demanded ‘gelo‘ – ICE! As a rule in Brazil, no drink is to be warm, all beer is served in an ice cooler to prevent this, hence the urgency to find ice for our cocktails!

The parade at Carmelitas bloco.

The Brazilian men are extremely forward here and it’s apparently tradition for them to kiss as many pretty girls as they can during Carnival. We definitely became part of this tradition as they chant ‘beijo, beijo beijo!‘ in your face, making it almost impossible to say no. The well know phrase ‘you’re in Brazil’ is used for any situation you may be doubting – somehow making everything acceptable because you are actually in Brazil! Of course you can say no if you don’t want to – but as a traveler in Brazil, I wanted to immerse myself in as many local traditions as I could!

A lot of locals were keen to speak to us in their broken English to find out where we were from and if we liked Brazil so far. Everyone was super friendly and welcoming making our first few days in Rio so amazing. It felt like we were the only English there, giving it such an authentic feel. Vendors are all around, selling beers, cigarettes and a variety of food. Our pineapple jugs were running low so we left the bloco around 19:30 to top up.

Back at our hostel, Books, everyone seemed as if they had been back for ages. We were asked where we had been the whole time and people were shocked we had missed happy hour and were all excited for an after party…in the hostel! We literally spent 5 minutes to retouch our make up and were out again instantly. The after party is all around you, outside of the hostel – in the streets! The drinks sold on the streets aren’t watered down weak cocktails these hostels sell at an overpriced happy hour deal – there are so many local ladies who have set up stalls along the roadside and they make the most incredible cocktails – full to the brim of cachaca or vodka with a splash of soda for a fraction of the price.

Hana, me and Hannah covered in glitter!

Get involved, immerse yourself in the continuous parties that surround you. Out on the street you will find music everywhere creating an amazing and more authentic Carnival atmosphere.

Lapa

I would highly recommend staying in Lapa during Carnival. Each night after the blocos we would always end here. Before Carnival had even started, we got to see Lapa a little tamer, but the streets were still full with locals.

Weekends pretty much start on Wednesdays and one of the best spots to start it off with is Levianos Bar. We first went on a Wednesday night and we were offered a table in the second row to get a good view of the Samba band and the small dance floor. The floor was always full of practising dancers – an older lady stole the show with her unbeatably rapid samba moves, but others who tried to compete still managed to impress. We had our work cut out for us – our slow and unrhythmic English moves would not fit in here.

We observed a group of girls who must have been a similar age to us and their table spilled out onto the dance floor. They were constantly asked to dance by onlooking men, which they obliged. There was one romance which seemed to blossom the most – one guy got to dance with the same girl for the rest of the night, which after careful observation, rarely happened. In our eyes their dancing looked very sensual as they gracefully moved in time together to the beat, but to them it’s just the norm. They exchanged numbers at the end of the night and parted ways with an embrace. In England, if you danced with a guy like this all night, it wouldn’t usually end this way – however when do you ever find yourself dancing together with a boy in the UK anyway? It takes about 3 hours for a guy to ask to buy you a drink!

The band was fantastic, a mix of reggae and samba and it looked like they were having the time of their lives performing – giving us the perfect taster for Carnival. When we returned the following night, it was a complete contrast – there were no tables on the dance floor and a lot more locals came to show off their moves. My 2 left feet did not fit in and I stuck to my simple salsa moves.

Screenshots from Hana’s Brazil compilation video. This is Lapa in Carnival!

During the Carnival evenings, you can barely move in the streets in Lapa and going into a bar was merely impossible. The main parties were out in the street around anyone who had the loudest music. We were introduced to a lady who sold the best caipirinhas for R$5 – we returned to her each night! On our final night in Lapa, we changed locations and decided to move down the main road, with our caipirinhas of course, to a street party playing an array of reggaeton and baile funk.

Just before arriving, there seemed to have been a little commotion between a vendor and another guy who had been spraying beer and hit this angry street seller. He had tried to chase after this guy but he soon vanished in the crowds. He came back to his drinks cart and to our surprise pulled out a ginormous knife and signalled to his friends a cut throat! This must have been to warn off any potential future beer throwers and it certainly shocked us! We didn’t know whether to feel threatened or completely safe having this guy at our side. We ended up staying nearby and as we slowly sipped our increasingly strong cocktails, he seemed to take a liking to us all and repeatedly topped up our never ending drinks with a very sugary vodka energy drink (he opened the can in front of us mum – don’t worry!). At one point during our dancing around, Hannah and I both turned around to find a kid standing on top of a rival drinks cart with an AK-47 gun!! We took a very quick second glance and it thankfully turned out to be a harmless water pistol. We carried on dancing and were joined by a variety of people, such as flamboyant boys dressed as playboy bunnies who came and twerked with us – all the characters come out to play in Lapa.

If you do make it to Carnival next year, I hope you have an incredible time at one of the world’s greatest parties!

Characters of Lapa!

In my next post, read about my top tips in Carnival on how to navigate the city and where to stay!

Coming soon! A post about the magical parades at the Sambadromo!

Undeniable! Rio te amo!

Howe to brunch down under

This post may make you extremely hungry and/or hopefully point you in the right direction if you’re an egg lover like myself and in Australia… 

Here are my 10 top cafes I willingly tested out in Australia:

 1) Cozzi Cafe, 233 Coogee Bay Road, Sydney


Coogee big break $17

Our first breakfast in Australia and it was an incredible start, and on New Years Day on route to go back out and see Derrick Carter at Greenwood, this was especially vital. Everything was deconstructed; mushies piled up, a fat chunk of avo lay on the bottom left of the iron slate, 2 fried eggs marinated in green pesto oil in a hot pot and 2 slices of crusty sourdough. A build your own breakfast. Everyone had their own way of putting it together, mine rivalling the lot. I lay out the bits of bread; first layer of each slice – avo, second – the bacon, scattering the mushies on top with the egg glenty placed to allow for the runny yolk to flow below. 

Cozzi Cafe in Coogee

*Sydney Cafe top tip: Three W’s in Waterloo. Mars Bar milkshake is a must!!

*Sydney’s second best breakfast goes to Pancake on the Rocks for its amazing fluffiness and fantastic harbour views. 

2) The Eatery, 18 Johnson Street, Byron Bay. 

Eggs Benedict $21

After a very humorous evening in Byron Bay, including a discography of John Mayer, a stripped onesie and a full moon, me and my friend Steph desperately needed to get out of the Arts Factory, where people insisted on playing the drums completely out of rhythm and search for our breakfast fix. 

This was one of the best eggs benedict I am still yet to beat! We sat out on the street watching the characters of Byron Bay go by, with our collection of flat whites and orange juice to reenergise ourselves and this beast of a breakfast! Steph has even been back since and it’s just as good! 

The Eatery, Byron Bay

Call me…

 

*Cafe top tip: Twisted Sista Cafe – their cakes are to die for!! We went back for another round, the banoffee pie even rivalled my own! 

Twisted Sister Banoffe Pie


3) Double Shot New Farm, 125 Oxlade Drive, New Farm, Brisbane


Big Breakfast Plate $23

Holy hell!! This was the mother of all deconstructed brunches!!! The best thing about being single on Valentine’s Day is you don’t have to share! This is what we did this wonderful V Day of 2015. Our friend took us to this lovely hidden spot in New Farm. There was a glorious selection of: avo, poached eggs, salmon, haloumi, mushrooms, pesto oil, cherry tomatoes and sourdough. Definitely worth finding if you’re in Brisbane, it’s worth the trek! 

Big Breakfast Plate, New Farm


4) Caffiend, 72-74 Grafton Street, Cairns. 

Eggs Benedict $21

For anyone who stays in Cairns for a long period of time, you’ll need to head to Caffiend for some insane juices to cure a brutal Gilligan hangover. It’s a little taste of Melbourne in this crowded cafe which spills outside into a graffitied side alley, where you can have your morning hangover flat white and cigarette. A little expensive, especially if you are on your last $10 while desperately searching for farm work, but it’s worth skipping a night in The Woolshed for! 

*Cute cafe: Tinies (to the left of Giligans) Egg Benedict $18 – splash out for a juice here as well! 

*Award winning pie alert!! For only $8, pick up an amazing selection of apparent prize winnings pies at Meldrums, Grafton Street, Cairns. 

Northern Territory and West Coast stops to tick off:

  • Coffee Clubs are found all around Australia, but the butterscotch and caramel cheesecake is truly delightful. 
  • Three-way Roadhouse on the way down to Alice Springs. They offer the best steak and ale pie in NT for only $5. We made sure we stopped here on the way back up from Alice Springs, but alas we were too late and all the pies had gone. 
  • Zanders at Cable Beach in Broome boats some of the best sea views on the west coast, I was enjoying my $20 Eggs Benedict while watching humpback whales breaching in the distance. 
  • Pop into Brumby’s Bakery in Exmouth for a delightful vanilla slice. 
  • Before heading to Monkey Mia early in the morning, if you stay the night before in Denham, The Old Pub on the high street makes you feel like you’re back in a good old English pub on a winters day. The sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce was to die for. A lady next to us asked if we’d be walking home after seeing the amount of food 3 girls put away. 
  • Yanchep National Park, north of Perth is a lovely stop to spot local wildlife like the Kookaburra or if you’re hungry, visit the Chocolate Drop Cafe inside the park and try their amazing coconut and maple syrup caramel slice.  

Chocolate Drop Cafe in Yanchep National Park

5) The Bakery, Margaret River

Devonshire scones $7.50 & 
Banana and Honeycomb pancakes $16

The winner of all bakeries! We came here two times in the 2 days we stayed at Margaret River. And both those times I went for the banana and honeycomb pancakes. They are stacked up high and drizzled in maple syrup with a dollop of whipped cream and a bowl of banana slices on top! The bakery had an amazing menu and selection of cakes. It was beautifully decorated with antic treasures and comfy sofas. 

The Bakery was so good it deserved a montage

*Nearby in Perth: The Little Bird Cafe in Northbridge. The Eggs Benedict for $18 is lovely but if you’re sick of eggs by now they have a great array of cakes, pastries and vegetarian foods, particularly the zucchini lasagne. 

6) Tall Timber, Commercial Road, Prahran, Melbourne. 

Sourdough toast, Poached Eggs, Salmon and Avo $16

Having just moved to Melbourne, we were overwhelmed with brunch spots and didn’t know where to start. Scroling through Broadsheet Melbourne, I had compiled a list of cafes I had to visit before leaving and this one was at the top. It took a while for us to navigate the trams, having come from Richmond to Prahran but we finally found this white walled cafe teaming with Melbournites. We asked what was highly recommended, and I’m guessing from reading so far, you’ll already know what I went for….eggs…but I did try some of the pumpkin toast and pumpkin spread and it was so flavorsome! 10/10 for presentation with everything! 

pumpkin toast and pumpkin spread

Avo and smoked salmon


7) Issus Cafe, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Issus Eggs $18

As many of you may know, it rains a lot in Melbourne. So when it does and you get caught in it while shopping, what do you do? You run into the nearest cafe! What a find this was! The first time we got rained on and ran into this tiny eatery, I went for a duck pasta from the specials as it was a little late for brunch and nearing dinner time, but I did check out the menu for the next time and the Issus eggs were well worth returning back for. 

Not always on the hunt for brunch, this duck pasta was delicious

8) Fifty Acres, Richmond

Chorizo Scotch Eggs and Avo $18

What a revelation! Scotch eggs for breakfast! And lined with spicy chorizo with a runny yolk in the middle. Absolute perfection and just around the corner from my first flat. 


9) Two Birds and One Stone, Claremont Road, South Yarra

Two Birds breakfast $19

I’m not one for going to the same place twice, but I do make some exceptions and this was one of them. I even had the same breakfast both times, because who wouldn’t want mushrooms, haloumi, avo and poached eggs over and over again. 

*Best hot chocolate found just around the corner – A La Folie Patisserie was perfect for a Melbourne winters day. 

*Best selection of muffins found at Tom, Dick and Harry Cafe – the crunchie muffins were out of this world. 

10) Top Paddock, 658 Church Street, Richmond

Eggs Benedict with ham hock $19

You need to get here super early to avoid waiting for over an hour outside. And if you don’t make it early, make sure it’s a nice day, you’re with a good crowd and find a good patch on the opposite lawn and maybe sit near a group with a dog to make the wait more fun! This place is epic and definitely worth the wait! The coffee here is so fresh and the choice is overwhelming. Do you go for the hot cakes, or the eggs benny or go all out and have the steak sarnie?! Keeping to my brunch theme, I had to try the eggs benedict but did get a side of blueberry hot cakes to share. If you’re not too hungover or maybe you are, go for the Aperol Spritz to start the day as you mean to go on. 

Blueberry hot cakes

Eggs Benedict and ham hock

Line up for a fresh cup of coffee

 

It’s safe to say they don’t do brunch better anywhere else but down under! 

A-frican Good Holiday – Kruger National Park

I find it very difficult to portray my experiences aloud after I’ve been on safari so I thought a collection of photos could do this for me. 

We don’t do safari like many, for some it entails an early morning drive, with a spa treatment and a dip in the pool before going out again in the afternoon and having dinner served up. For us, we make sure we are the first ones out of the gate at 4.30am and the last to get back in to camp for 6.30pm to start our BBQ. A full 14 hour day of searching for these elusive creatures that some only see on TV. 

I have been visiting Kruger in South Africa with my family since I was 9 years old, we are drawn here the most as you can drive yourself around this national park that is as large as Wales. 

Here are some photos of our latest visit: On our first day we had a hyena filled afternoon. I’d never appreciated these as much as we were always on the hunt for lions, but when we watched a whole family with cubs scavenging on buffalo bones and hiding in their den, we realised they are incredibly alert and resourceful animals, and the cubs were absolutely adorable.

As we visited in November this year, there were a lot more younger animals who had been born this summer and were getting used to their new legs and surroundings. This baby elephant was learning how to charge and almost managed to convince us! The park hadn’t seen rain all winter since February and of course on our first day, being from the North of England, the rain followed us, filling the river beds and the locals with joy!  One of my favourite animals, it was an incredible experience to follow this curious leopard from within the bush to across the road. 

It was so fantastic to see so many Black and White Rhino during the week. Apparently rhino poaching has decreased in 2016 with so far 458 carcasses being found instead of 557 last year in Kruger (http://www.krugerpark.co.za/krugerpark-times-e-6-rhino-poaching-update-25237.html). However Black Rhinos are still critically endangered. It was amazing to be able to see a few Black Rhino families despite there only being just over 5000 left in the wild. The White Rhino has recovered remarkably and this is one of my favourite shots of one so gracefully crossing the road. These resting lions were rudely interrupted by a family of elephants marching down the bank to get some water giving us the perfect opportunity to get a close up shot. 

This is one of our most popular watering holes in Kruger, it’s just north of Tschokwane rest stop. It is always teaming with wildlife, giving us some authentic African images of the graceful giraffes dipping down for a drink. Dad has always wanted to make bacon and eggs in the bush and this is what we did…on a ‘bush scottle’. We had a couple of monkey muggings during our week. The first was being broken into and having our food bag ripped apart leaving our necessary coffee sachets everywhere, the evidence could only have been from monkeys as there were bite marks everywhere. The next was a bit more risqué. It involves a crunchie blast ice cream and a very big baboon. We were coming out of a rest stop all with a refreshing ice cream in hand. I was almost at the car door when I saw something in the corner of my eye…a bounding baboon with his hands reaching out. I crouched into the foetal position to protect myself (and my favourite ice cream) when the baboon grabbed my the wooden stick from my hands and I unwillingly let go. He then retreated to his mound eating the ice cream as you and I would, making light of the situation. Death played a big part in our visit this year, there were lots of buffalo carcasses picked clean by scavengers and this giraffe carcass that had recently been taken down by lions. This was our ‘David Attenborough’ moment. We had been driving round the back roads and weren’t having much luck. When we saw some ‘skittish’ looking zebra and wildebeast, we tested where the wind was coming to determine where any potential predators would approach from and funnily enough, there were 2 blurred spotted creatures moving towards us. We followed these 2 male cheetahs for a couple of hours as they posed up a height and scouted the plains for any nearby prey. 

West Coast Road Trip: Week 1 Darwin – Uluru – Katherine 

Week 1: Darwin – Uluru – Katherine = 3744km

These are the stories of 3 English girls, Sophia (myself) and Ellie, who take on their longest drive yet, while Rose sits in between as she is chauffeured around the West Coast of Australia. 

 

Tourists: Ellie, Rose and me


 

My original plan for these blog posts was how to do the West Coast on a budget. However, after our first week and first $2000 down, this was not going to be cheap. So instead I thought I’d capture the most interesting stories that can come out of travelling in a camper van with two other girls for a month and pass on my knowledge to any of you wanting to undergo a similar trip. I will also explain how petrol, campsites and countless chocolate bars and diet cokes will drain your bank account dramatically. Nonetheless it will be a trip I will never forget and would already recommend it to anyone. 


For our camper van rental we went with Travellers Autobarn in Darwin. It came to $3320 between the 3 of us ($1106 each), which covered us for the premium insurance and the camper van for 30 days. I would recommend going for the full insurance package because even if you just chip the windscreen you’re already paying $400, which is more than the extra insurance itself! 

Day 1: Saturday 11th July 

Darwin 🚐 ➡️ Ubirr 

I had volunteered the day before to be the designated driver for our first day, but fine well knowing I had to be sensible the night before, I instead got too carried away with the cheap gin and tonics and suffered the consequences the next day with a hangover I had never quite felt before…so I passed on my role to Ellie, our other responsible driver who didn’t overdo it and who took note on how to operate our new home for the month.

  

Our main man Rupert at Travellers Autobarn laid out all the information about our new van. 

Here’s what we learnt:

  • There is a gas canister which you can fill up at caravan sites. To turn it on, you turn the knob to the left and there’s a yellow lever that you turn so it’s vertical. To turn of, turn to the right and bring the lever on its side. 
  • There is a hose which you attach to a tap, usually found at caravan sites, so that you can use the sink. 
  • There is also a power cable which you can use at powered sites, allowing you to use the microwave and charge phones. 
  • The fridge should be turned down at night so it doesn’t make too much noise. 
  • To make up the beds is quite self explanatory but don’t be lazy and definitely put them back before you start driving, especially the top bunk as everything moves around. 
  • They advise you not to drive at night as animals may be on the road and could write off the car or seriously hurt you. You are also not insured for night time driving. 

After driving to MacDonalds, but not the drive-thru as the car is too tall, we made our way out of Darwin and onto Stuart Highway to enter the Kakadu National Park. 

We entered the monotonous woodland area with countless trees and bushes for kilometers at a time. The late afternoon silhouettes on the road are extremely trippy as the trees are very close together and their shadows make it seem like your traveling at a lot higher speeds and make you go slightly cross-eyed. 

Kakadu National Park

It takes a while to get used to the feel of the van. Any gust of wind in this tall and non-streamline vehicle can get your steering all over the place and make tipping over easier. I would get down to 40km/h to take on a corner, this is just for the first day though.
Just in time for our first sunset of the trip, we got to Ubirr, an Aboriginal rock art site. It is a 1km circular track that takes you round several rock art sites. 

The Aboriginals used the rock art to tell stories that had been passed down from their ancestors, and many were drawings of animals and the first encounters with Europeans. The act of painting was generally more important than the artwork itself, many older paintings, which are dated from almost 4,000 years ago, were covered over by younger ones. They used red ochre to stain the rocks and a lot of the original paintings are still intact. 

   
 

The best place for the sunset is up the 250m climb to the top of a rocky lookout that overlooks the Nadab floodplain. 

  

Just before dark we managed to find Meryl campsite, where we haggled down to $10 for the vehicle. It was unpowered and the toilet block was a long way a way in the pitch black. This was the start of our becoming ferrel and the outdoors became our new toilet as we were too afraid of the dark to venture away from the van. We made up our beds and tucked into our first meal of the trip, chicken salad wraps. Very hot night, all these sheets and sleeping bags were unnecessary. 

Total km = 287km 

Full tank included. 

Day 2: Sunday 12th July

Ubirr 🚐➡️ Dunmarra

We were all awake before our 6am alarm went off as the cockatoos crawed and the sun had already risen. 

   
 

We had a big drive to do today so we set off through the National Park and experienced our first kangaroo crossing and then a dingo run out from no where. 

  

We bombed it down Stuart Highway all the way through to Katherine, where we took a lunch break. I was left to look after the van while Ellie and Rose found a toilet. We’d been warned about the locals trying their best to break into cars but hoped they wouldn’t do anything if we stayed inside, so that’s what I did. It was only until we drove off did we notice a group of women disperse after they had been hanging around waiting for us to leave the car alone.

Dusk was upon us and we were still a way from our campsite. The only thing to do was look out for potential road kill and avoid swerving into the side of the road. One amusing piece of road kill was a dead cow that had been recently hit and had blown up like a balloon! 

We camped at Dunmarra caravan park which was $8 per person. It was a powered site and even had a lamb spit roast for $19 per person. We had pumpkin soup and bread for dinner instead. 

Total km = 616km

$50 each petrol

Day 3: Monday 13th July 

Dunmarrra 🚐➡️ Alice Springs

We had a long day of driving. We made it to Three Way roadhouse for 11am, which was the perfect time to try their homemade pie. It truly deserved the title of ‘the best’ pies in the Northern Territory. Highly recommended stop. 

  

We drove through Tennant Creek and to Devils’ Marbles, which were a group of large rounded rocks, which the Aboriginals believed were carved by a serpent, a bad spirit, hence why they belonged to the devil. 

  

The next stop was extremely surreal. A service station obsessed with the idea that there had been UFO sightings in the area. The bar was covered in news-clippings about backpackers and travellers being chased by alien type figures and disappearing in the outback. 

  

  

On the road you will see that people in the Northern Territory have somewhat of a sense of humour. For example, termite hills have been dressed in t-shirts and caps and some into snowmen. I think some of the Aboriginal communities have too much time on their hands but they do amuse you while speeding down the never ending straight highway. 

We were on the outskirts of Alice Springs, the girls were asleep and I had been driving the afternoon stint. I estimated another 90km to go until we got to the main town. All of a sudden the petrol light flashed a red warning. Without panicking the girls, I slowed right down to 80km/h to drive economically, a tip I’d learned from a friend’s mum – which was to drive slower and in 4th gear with minimum breaking. I’d also remembered seeing an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson drives from France to England on a full tank and drove at a much slower speed when he was running low. So this is what I did for 45 minutes on my own. Rose eventually woke up and then so did Ellie, who both questioned my going a lot slower. I continued to creep all the way into town, anticipating the worst but to our surprise we managed to crawl all the way to the doors of the first petrol station in Alice Springs. 

We then found Heavitree campsite, just outside of town for $44 a powered site. It was an extremely cold night and I woke up shivering. At one point it reached minus degrees. All the sheets and sleeping bags were necessary. 

  

Total = 868km

$60 each petrol

Day 4: Tuesday 14th July

Alice Springs 🚐➡️ Yulara

We drove around Alice Springs to see what it offered. Turns out there are no springs in the town as the name would suggest and it was extremely cold and gave us quite a dangerous vibe so we were happy to leave and make our way straight down to Yulara. 

We arrived at Ayers Rock resort campground just in time for sunset. It was $69 for a powered site. You could put a deposit down for Monopoly, so that kept us entertained for a while. I even won by getting very lucky with the community chest cards. 

  

Total = 445km 

$33 petrol each

Day 5: Wednesday 15th July

After 4 days of continuous driving, we finally reached the entrance to the Uluru National Park. It took us 2,216km to get here, which is the equivalent to driving from London to Serbia. 

  

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is the biggest stand alone rock in the world. Uluru is the name given by the Aboriginals and the white Australians named it Ayers Rock. 

At the Culture Centre there is a video representation on how the white Australians first came across the Aboriginal tribes of Uluru (Anangu) in the 1930s. They introduced to the tribes tinned food in exchange for dingo skulls, which the government paid them for at that time. These new foods brought in deadly diseases, such as diabetes.

In the video it makes the Aboriginals seem like animals, as they are scared of these mysterious tins and the humped camels that the ‘white fellows’ arrived on. The Aboriginals have only been classed as ‘people’ since 1967, before then they were legally known as ‘fauna and flora’. 

  

The Australians took over more and more of their land and brought cattle in that destroyed much of the bush tucker and scared off many of the animals that the tribes hunted and so many starved to death. 

They then introduced the White Man Law, which legalised the use of Aboriginals as slaves. Many were pushed away from Uluru and other camps by police and white Australians who were exploring the rock. 

In 1951 there was an application to allow tourist flights into the Peterman’s Aboriginal Reserve, which was originally set up to protect the Aboriginals. In 1958 land around Uluru was taken out of the reserve without taking any consideration of the Aboriginal tribes living in the area. 

  

In the 1960s the tribes earned money by selling dingo skulls to the government but they stopped paying them as they gave them rations instead. They then returned to making traditional artefacts and paintings to sell to tourists, which they still do today as a source of income. They then were hired as workers and cleaners in the National Park but when tourists started to complain about them, the council started to hide them away but “they always came back to protect Uluru“. 

The Aboriginals say:

“The Spirit of the animal in the rock is not of the white people and we have a more spiritual connection to the land. The white people should listen to us and learn, and pay us more attention. We are the only people who truly understand this place. We’ve lived by their white man law but we still don’t gain any respect or attention.”

In 1978 Uluru was declared as a National Park within the Northern Territory so the Aboriginals could no longer claim it as their land. However, in 1983 the government decided that Uluru shouldn’t be part of the Northern Territory but of the Australian Government, to respect the significance of Uluru for all Australians as a national symbol. 

Now the Aboriginals apparently have real control of how the park is run. Many are on the board of management and only ask that the tourists respect their sacred areas by not walking over them or take pictures of. The tribes live there safely and have given back to Uluru their Aboriginal spirits. 

You can drive around the entire rock to get a feel of how big it is, but it is very disrespectful to climb to the top. Many Australians ask if you have done the climb and are surprised when your answer is no. Some are still not aware of the spiritual significance of Uluru and by disrespecting their spirits which live inside the rock, can in turn disturb the Aboriginals’ way of life. 

  

A great way to see the rock is to get to the Sunset car park at around 4.30pm to secure a good spot. The sun sets behind you which casts a red glowing shadow. It’s very chilly but worth watching how it changes shades. 

  

The caravan site has free gas BBQs which is perfect for a sausage sarnie. 

Day 6: Thursday 16th July 

Uluru 🚐➡️ Connor’s Well 

Before setting off from Uluru, we took advantage of the showering facilities and then made our way back to Alice Springs. We also filled our small gas canister for $15 in a caravan park. It shouldn’t normally last only 6 days, but in such freezing conditions, we needed copious amounts of hot drinks and a little extra heating. 

  

In all the excitement of reaching civilization and fast food, we had a binge stop in a car park and a snooze to get out of our fried chicken coma before making it to a free campsite, Connor’s Well, 92km out of town. Out of boredom we decided to see how many marshmallows Rose could fit in her mouth. It was 18. 

  

It also got down to minus 5 in the night and frost was on the ground when we woke the next morning. 

  

Total km = 565km

$45 each petrol

Day 7: Friday 17th July 

Connor’s Well 🚐➡️ Warlock

We were forced out of bed earlier today due to how cold it was and how desperate we were to get into the front seats with the heating on full blast. We zoomed back up to Katherine where it was a lot livelier than last time. The rodeo had been in town and a fun fair was kicking off. In all the excitement we treat ourselves to an Eggs Benedict and an unbelievable butterscotch cheesecake at the local Coffee Club. 

Ellie got excited after a group of army men crossed the road and almost flipped the car over as she enthusiastically turned into the petrol station. It was the most testosterone we’d seen in a whole week. 

To reach another free campsite, we had to drive into the night. After 5.30pm the roadkill starts to appear and nosy kangaroos hop to the side of the road. A dingo even took a chance at crossing. To avoid hurting any of the animals and making a huge dent in the van, I dropped down to 50km/h. 

  

I wouldn’t really advise driving in the dark as we are completely not insured but the stars looked really pretty and it’s a great way to spot local wildlife. We reached the campsite at 8.30pm and had our latest night of the trip after steak, egg and salad. 

 Total km = 963km 

$50 each on petrol. 

WEEK ONE = 3,744km 

Thoughts of a sweet potato picker

For the last 11 weeks I have had the pleasure of doing my regional work in Tolga, part of the Atherton Tablelands. I have been moved about from farm to farm experiencing how to pick avocados from trees (who knew they grew on trees!), plant blueberries, sort bananas and most of all I have learned the ins and outs of the production of sweet potatoes.

Our first week avocado picking

I have been placed at Tindel for the majority of my stay. A farm I was warned about from the beginning of a dragon slayer farmer who was a top class bitch. So I had my worries naturally and joined a group of boys and began my education in potatoes. I hid away from Jackie the boss and did as I was told, or of what I could understand as she yells constantly with a fag hanging out of her mouth. It was Fiona, another supervisor, who showed me the ropes and who people confirm with about what Jackie had told them to do. She takes the be nice to backpackers approach, treat them as you would like to be treated. In the end you get used to Jackie and I actually admire and respect her for having the balls to shout at people all day long. It gets the job done and any of those that give her attitude are replaced the next day. When you get to see her everyday you see that she’s actually a big softie at heart when she talks about her little dogs and when she teases the Italians. She makes each day interesting.

RIP Packer: the farm dog who was run over by a fork lift

When you spend all day standing around, you get a lot of time to think. Ex boyfriends who you haven’t seen in 6 years make an appearance and what your lives would be like if you were still together…of course magical and full of joy which makes you question why you ever broke up with them, which is how farm life can make you insanely crazy. You question all life choices and many other things…

The crazy thoughts of a sweet potato packer…

I have imagined a scenario of there being farm scouts who travel the distance in search of the best backpacker fruit packer. The idea is that each job you do during the day are rounds. So for example with sweet potatoes…

  • Round 1: de-vining rows that can stretch to up to a kilometre.
  • Round 2: digging the potatoes on the machine.
  • Round 3: the making of crates and cardboard boxes.
  • Round 4: sorting and packing premium sweet potatoes. And finally;
  • Round 5: cleaning of the shed.

Now in each round you have to be the quickest and most efficient worker to impress these imaginary farm scouts. As it is just me playing this game I get to chose who is the fastest. I don’t mean to be biased but some days I am the fastest. I pride myself on how fast I can throw those potatoes from one belt to another, flinging them up and hoping for the best, spraying mud and dust into everyone’s faces and having the occasional potato falling back onto the first belt holding us all up. I’ve never moved my hands so fast but when there’s important scouts on the loose, you have to do anything in your power to impress. I just hope one day they will see my talents and see I am meant for better things.

After a hard days work

I think by listening to my thoughts I have found out some traits of my own. I seem to be a perfectionist, want to impress and also to be approved of. I think it stems from not being able to get the top grades at school or at uni, which didn’t impress my parents or myself so I have started to use practical skills to impress instead as I have found out here at the farm, I am good with my hands and not with my head. Being a perfectionist though in farm life is useless. It slows you down rather than does a good job. Imagine cutting every single weed on an entire kilometre row. I found out the hard way…it takes twice as long as those who ignore the little buggers.

A 9 hour day of weeding and no breaks

We are given the instructions of “nice and fast…nice and neat”. It’s very hard to get the right balance between the two but after 11 weeks (yes that’s right, I’ve been here longer than I was in South East Asia!) on sweet potatoes I think I am getting the gist.

However, compliments are given out as many times as Jackie has given up smoking…once.

So instead I fake her approval by making up dialogues between myself and the top boss and how she comes up to me to personally tell me that I am a really hard worker and one of the best girls they’ve had at Tindel, when in reality I’m actually being yelled at for letting the good spuds go past.

6am starts

Farm life takes away the horn from some people, for others it definitely doesn’t. But for me while I have three bruised fingers, covered in mud and dust reaches inside my nostrils and eardrums, feeling sexy isn’t on the agenda. Even when revisiting Fifty Shades of Grey or upgrading to Silvia Day – nothing happens, no spark, no tingle, nothing. Just barren thoughts of sweet potatoes. It takes over your whole life. Close your eyes, sweet potatoes. I can’t even sleep on the far side of the bed anymore as I think I’ve turned my back on the conveyor belt of potatoes.

Farm girls

When Friday comes along, girls being girls, we change out of our muddy and torn, second hand weekday clothes and transform into real life ladies masked in eyeliner ready to hit Tolga. For such a small town, the drama that goes down each weekend keeps us entertained all week. The third Friday of each month is when the real debauchery lets loose. Atherton’s BV hotel offers out its’ bar services to host a wild party for all backpackers of the Tablelands. Some end up face down on the street, some walking home, some in a strangers bunk bed and others in a cell.

The Tolga family

Naturally at Tindel where smiles, laughter and joy are closely controlled by Jackie, any musical device is confiscated. Therefore to keep a hold of what’s left of my sanity I supply a personal radio station inside my head. I have a special collection of songs that go on shuffle while standing at the conveyor belt for hours on end. Knowing me, people would probably think I’d have an electronic track list running through my head, but I just can’t recreate a wobbly baseline in my thoughts…I need lyrics! (None of these songs are even on my ipod)

Optimistic as the day starts, I begin with this catchy tune. However the happiness of it soon fades after lunch.

‘I’m walking on sunshine woowooh, and it’s time to feel good yeaahh [trumpets] da da da-da-da-d-da-da-da!’

On repeat at 6am while viscously vining those kilometre rows of potatoes. Who knew Australia could get that cold!

‘You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice.’

My inner gangster waiting for pay day with some Kanye.

‘Naa naaa Na Na wait till I get my money riiiight….ah ha you can’t tell me nofing.’

Obviously the Bublé cover, his velvety voice soothes me as I struggle to push back a mountain of potatoes for the sixth time that morning.

‘…it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’

I tend to finish the day on a motivational song to make those last 10 bins fly by. (Take That if you couldn’t get it)

‘Heyyyy forget where you’re coming from heyyy…oh we’ve come so far, da da da da daahaha’

[Do not take these lyrics seriously because they are probably all wrong]

Another fun game is guessing songs that people are humming or whistling along to. We had a French guy that worked with us for a week and he was always whistling away. As soon as I heard the intro I’d surprise him with the artist…Bruno Mars! Manu Chao! It’s the simple things.

All there is to do at the weekend is drink!

Each night after a long day packing away sweet potatoes, I go to sleep and dream about the perfect potato. My aim for the next day is to find the dream shape and tell it it’s beautiful and worthy of being gently placed into a crate and sent to Coles across Australia. I even freaked myself out after working many hours into the night packing continuously and found a potato shaped like E.T!

I spend a lot of time thinking about Christmas and not about the rest of my time out here. It’s the thoughts of going home and being looked after and fed by my mum that gets me through the days. I imagine the whole family in Christmas attire waiting for me at the airport on my arrival…this time I’m not in a wheelchair like after Spain. I get to go through my wardrobe and pick what Christmas jumper I want to wear…it’s almost always my pink and gold bobby dazzler. And the spread of food on Christmas Eve and Dad’s homemade turkey and ham pie that’s definitely one the the highlights.

Our very own Tolga Sunday Roast

I have definitely lost some brain cells while working on the farm but I have finally gained some strength in my upper body, can find you the perfect potato, I can still hear Jackie shouting demands in my head, found a new love for getting covered in mud, I will never complain about another job in the future, bought a holiday to Bali and most importantly met the best people ever that will hopefully be in my life for a long time.

Our first weekend at Tolga Country Lodge

Farm work can be horrific but it’s worth it if you have something to come back home to, like a movie and a home cooked meal with your favourite girlies, and of course a box of goon.

Girls Sunday dinner