Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Freaked out on Facebook

OK, I've joined a new thing online called facebook (see the links on the right).

Anyway, two freaky things have happenned since I joined last week. First, within 36 hours of joining, a former neighbour, who moved out like 20 years ago, dropped me a line. Out of the blue.

But that's nothing. Today I got a message from someone asking me to join an "Are you a Duckham" group - just for people with our last name. There are 26 members from all over the world, including rugby player David Duckham's daughter!

One of them has posted a partial family tree on another website: this one

I have no idea how we fit in. And I realised I don't know all that much about my heritage, so I'm going to have to find out. I know we hail from England about four generations back. Its not exactly a common name.

All this and I've been online with facebook for less than a week.

I'm officially freaked out.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Hungary Hungary Hippos

Bish's Precis
- There's a hooker with a broken heart in Budapest.
- The Terror House was pretty good. The walking tour was great - I'm gonna try and do that in every city I go to.
- The food was fantastic - it gave Erica hiccups
- The thermal baths are awesome for recovery
- Boozing while watching the lights of Pest was great also
- Cruising the Danube was another highlight

There's a lady of the night in Budapest that has a broken heart thanks to me. On my first night there, following a delayed flight and soaking wet after getting caught in the rain, I was walking back to my hostel. I was almost back when I walked past a 24 hour deli. I noticed three girls sitting inside, out of the rain. One of them yelled out to me "hey, hey."

I kept walking. She stuck her head out the door. "Hey, come back here!"

I replied "I'm almost home - I'm staying right there, 100 metres away"

She said "Come here out of the rain"

I was absolutely soaking, so - reluctantly - I walked back.

She said to me "you want s*x?"

"No, no thank you."

"Whats the matter. You don't like?"

I was in a bad mood already. And given that I was looking at a broad-framed, fifty-something lady who, despite obviously extensive experience, couldn't draw her eyebrows on properly, I was sorely tempted to say "no I certainly f*cking don't."

But instead, I was moved to lie to avoid upsetting her.

"Sorry I have a girlfriend."

I walked off, happy to finish it, but she's been around. I knew she could see through my lie. How terribly embarassing for her. I wonder how she'll get over it.


That was my introduction to Budapest. Despite coming back from the Caribbean the preceding Monday, it was a long weekend over here so I had to make the most of it. Erica and one of her friends Kylie joined me for the weekend that seemed a good excuse to head to a cheapish city known for its good wine.


On Saturday our planned morning walking tour was cancelled so we headed to the Terror House , which covers fascist and communist Hungary. It was a pretty good exhibit - its only a few years old - but one criticism i had was that there were only long information sheets handed out in english - nothing on the walls or labelling exhibits was in English. So if you wanted to understand the exhibits you had to stop what you were going and bury yourself in an information sheet. There were about 30 of these sheets, most of which were more than a page long, so its a lot to take in and probably puts a lot of people off.

Anyways, that afternoon we had our walking tour, where we headed to Heroes' Square, the City Park , the Szechenyi Bath, walked along the Danube Promenade, down the main shopping street, across the Chain Bridge, and up to Fisherman's Bastion (which reminds me a lot of Minas Tirith from Lord of the Rings). It was a good tour, and as usual a good way of figuring out what was worth following up for the rest of our stay. I'm gonna try and do one in every city I go to.

That night after much wandering around we found ourselves outside the tourist area and in a restaurant called the Blue Bird. Nothing else looked good but this place was fantastic - huge, huge servings and quite a bit of Bull Blood wine, a local favourite.

It was so filling that Erica got the hiccups. She tried drinking water backwards but to no avail. She decided she needed someone to scare her.

So I grabbed her arm and looked at her very seriously. She looked seriously back at me. I quietly said to her "Erica in ten years you'll probably have kids."

The hiccups stopped.


Sunday started slowly, with breakfast on the Danube for me. We then headed to the Gellert thermal baths for the afternoon which was fantastic - just lying in the warm water, having a steam or a sauna, it was wonderful. And the building is quite ornate Art Nouveau, so when you're floating there its like swimming in a cathedral. It's a wonder it survived communism.

That night we decided on an early dinner. Our theme was to keep moving - not get stuck in one place too long. So we headed to the excellent Menza restaurant, on the main touristy street, and then made our way slowly back towards the middle of town. We stopped at a tiny underground bar which served its cheap wine (30p per Coke glass) from a plastic bottle. And for some reason there was a picture of Luke Van Zellar on the wall . We also stopped at a couple of cooler more contemporary spots well picked by Erica, and then took two bottles of wine up to Fisherman's Bastion (two was at least one too many) for some more drinking and to see the lights of Pest ( and remember to set the timer). And also to pretend to be a giant, crushing Minas Tirith.

The night ended back at a bar that closed an hour before we left at about 1.30am.


Brilliant sunshine met my hangover on Monday morning. The girls had an early flight. We had a walk down the main shopping street to the Great Market Hall (which was very clean, great for food, and same-old-same-old for touristy stuff). We just had time to look in St Stephen's Basilica (and his mummified hand) before they got their cab to the airport. Left behind, I had time for a great cruise on the Danube and around Margaret Island , which included an extravagant drink for free. I had time to get a late afternoon meal before getting my own plane home (which was also delayed).

It was a lovely weekend. Thanks to Kylie and Erica for coming along - I had a great time!

On the Home Front

So now back in London. I'm still working at Luton, paying off credit card debt mainly! The work is good - I'm getting some spiffy stuff like appeals and committee items, and my Aussie experience is starting to be valued by my employers. I've had agents trying to put me forward for Principal Planning Officer positions which is great, but I want to stay at Luton for a while yet. They've been good to me.

What's coming up? A heap of people are heading to London for summer, which is very exciting. Aidan and Janelle just left today, and Danica is in town now for about a week. It's great to see them! And then, in July, Nicole (and Joel), Danielle, and Katey Fitz will be around for a while also, which will be very exciting!

I might also be heading to Norway for another cheeky long weekend, money permitting.

For those of you in the UK, with "summer" coming, keep an eye out for a Sunday barbie at our place coming soon. We'll probably have more than one.

Save the Date!

And as previously mentioned, anyone in town on the 4th of August should set it aside. I'll be having my second 29th birthday party that night (the big day is actually the 2nd). Venue TBA.

Infact anyone with ideas for where to have it let me know. I'm thinking about having a pub crawl to road test possible venues.

OK, thats enough rambling from me for a while. So how are you doing?

Sorry, I should have asked that first. How rude of me.

Cheers, Rosco

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Welcome to by Blog!

To all of you that have been putting up with my emails for the past year, good news. Now I can annoy you in a completely different medium.

No I don't really mean that. I'm not annoying unless I'm texting while drunk.

Anyways, the old emails have already been included for your perusing convenience. And unlike my blog on Bebo, it has hyperlinks. When I find other nifty things that Blogger can do I'll include them.

I'll continue to add my travel emails to this (my Budapest one is coming up this week). They'll be labelled "travels." I'll also add the odd musing and thought here that sounds great in my head but looks really stupid on a web page.

Why? Because that's exactly what blogs are for.

Welcome to my blog!

It's Not Just Cricket: My Caribbean Odyssey

(Originally Emailed: May 12, 2007 1:22 AM)
This is quite embarrassing.
I had a look at my contacts list on my gmail account, and saw that there were some shocking omissions from the list of people who usually receive these emails about my travels. I have increased the number of people who receive this by about 50%. Still, feel free to forward this on to anyone who I've missed out, and let me know so I can add them to my email list for next time.
So for those of you who are new to this, see the end of the email if you need an idea of what it's all about, and what I've been up to for the last 12 months.

And for all of you, I took a heap of pictures on this trip - almost 300 - and have lifted a few from fellow travellers also. They all have captions, so if you just want to browse through the photos hopefully you can figure them out!

Bish's Précis
- This email is different to my previous ones - more stories and less narrative. I've tried to keep it as short as possible but I did so much!
- The atmosphere at the cricket games was disappointing as the ICC priced the locals and therefore the atmosphere out of the games, especially the Party Stand
- The final was more farcical live - we had no idea what's going on and no PA system
- The Fanatics continue to disappoint me
- Off the field the beaches were a highlight, but on one fantastic day we handled a snake, climbed a peak, saw an amazing sunset and had some incredible fish in a great setting
- Shaun Tait was stalking me - he might still be
- I have an Andrew Symonds related groin injury - stay away from him if he's been drinking
- Pup dealt with criticism way better than Symmo dealt with complements
- I'm all over the media in the Caribbean
- The people were absolutely amazing, especially in Grenada
- Find Banks beer. Drink. Repeat. It's amazing.
- What are you doing on August 4?

Most of these emails followed a narrative structure (if waffling counts as "structure"). This one will be different for one simple reason: I did so much, there's no way I could burden all your inboxes with a long description of my travels. If you want that, read Lord of the Rings. Or my next email. This email will just go through some of the highlights of my fantastic two-and-a-half week trip, to give you some idea of what it was like.

Raisons D'Etre for the Trip: the Cricket Games

I saw five games, Australia against Ireland, Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the Super 8s, the Semi Final (against South Africa), and the final (against Sri Lanka). The main attraction for me to go to the Caribbean was the whole experience of watching cricket in there, which involves plenty of partying and music, lots of distractions in the stand, and quite a bit of rum.
Unfortunately, the pricing of tickets was out of reach of the locals, who of course provide all the atmosphere. Some tickets were released cheap (and in some cases free), to fill up the grounds, but the Party Stand tickets (which included 8 free drinks and a meal) were still out of reach, which meant that:
- the real party was in the cheap seats, not the Party Stand
- the Party Stand was full of mainly young, boozed up Aussies, who didn't add to the atmosphere: it wasn't much different to sitting on the hill at the WACA

Also, there were no real close games. Australia were very dominant and most games were over with heaps of time left. This made the Party Stand a bit more restless.

But there was also plenty of good stuff. Heaps of people wanted to talk cricket. Often these were the India supporters, who had very little else to talk about after their team had been eliminated. If there's one place where a cricket nerd like me will find someone like-minded to talk to it's the World Cup.

There were also plenty of highlights. Hayden's ton against New Zealand, Watson's cameo, and the destruction of the South African top order in the Semi stand out on the field. Off the field, playing two-up behind the stands on ANZAC Day and meeting the Prime Minister of Grenada were highlights. Not to mention catching up with a heap of friends I hadn't seen for a while.

Of course, I wore my ToMarto Cup South East Guatemala baggy blue cap to all the games, and my rival Deano did up a banner for the Semi Final. ToMarto!

The Final

The final started wet and stayed wet for a while. Still, the crowd was kept entertained by Gravy, the famous entertainer in the stands of Windies grounds, and also by Greg's massive beach ball, which floated around the stand for ages. In the meantime I was getting texts asking about the weather from some of you. I had no idea, but did the best I could! The Banks I was consuming was increasingly blurring my judgement.

When play started, we were treated to probably the best one-day innings of all time, Gilly's 149 . Better I think than Kapil Dev's 175no in 1983.

Later in the game, farce descended . If you had no idea of what was going on at the closing stages of the final, those of us at the ground knew even less. Even if they told us what was going on - which they didn't - we wouldn't have known, as we had no PA system in the temporary stands. We didn't know what the revised target was when they went off in the Sri Lankan innings (nor, apparently, did the players themselves), and knew even less about the 3 overs bowled in darkness. Then they wanted to have a frickin' closing ceremony.

The party in Barbados was much more muted than expected after the game. We had a few drinks on the way to the hotel, and then on to St Lawrence Gap where Greg had a go on the slingshot. But it wasn't as huge a night as expected. It was a shame that the players had retired to Jamie Packer's yacht to celebrate.

The Orange Roughy

Off the field there was one other highlight that was particularly close to my heart. Many of you will know my disdain for the Fanatics, a group which organises tours for Australian supporters to various events. My objections to the organisers are:
- that they make a pretty penny out of the patriotism of others, often by marketing the tours as the way to show patriotism, thereby also making patriotism a competitive (rather than unifying) trait
- that they are (in my experience) overly controlling of the supporters - having set chants etc and not letting people come up with their own
- that they insist on branding the events as their own, e.g. selling beanies for the 2006 Gallipoli tour that read "ANZAC Fanatics" - I found that particularly offensive

Anyway, at the game, some idiots are trying to start a wave (usually a sign of boredom or lack of action on the pitch). They're Fanatics. One of them, a tall thin pasty bloke with long red hair, comes over to our block and abuses us for not doing the wave. He had a bit of Dutch courage. But he was met with contemptuous silence. Thinking he hadn't been heard, he asked again, and someone said, "Why do you want to do the wave mate? Are you bored?? At the World Cup Final??" He tried to argue the point but was told to go forth and multiply (or words to that effect). He pouted and trudged off.

Schadenfreude? Maybe. But it summed up the Fanatics for me. They seem to be at these events to show off themselves (and their brand), rather than to watch the cricket or (in the case of Gravy and other Caribbean personalities) to selflessly entertain.

Shaun Tait Needs a Restraining Order

Shaun Tait, the Aussie fast bowler, had a magnificent tournament. Derided before it began, he finished as the third highest wicket taker. Still, he's not without his faults.

The first signs of trouble emerged when I was hiking in the Grand Etang National Park in Grenada. After hiking around Lake Etang to Mount Qua Qua, myself and Drew (a mate who I met in Grenada) headed to the relaxing St Margaret's falls, the last of the Seven Falls, where the cold fresh water plunges into a tropical pool. Fantastic. But we get there and Shaun Tait is there. He's ostensibly with a few mates, but is giving us the eye and sheepishly keeping his distance. Despite not knowing the bloke, I was suspicious.

The drama continued to unfold after the Australia vs New Zealand game, when we all headed to Bananas, the main nightspot in Grenada. He was there again, watching from afar. I was especially suspicious because Andy Symonds and Michael Clarke were also there, but he wasn't out with them - he had his own agenda.

My suspicions were confirmed when, the next day, we headed to KFC for a recovery breakfast. Not long after we get there Tait is out the front, loitering while his mates go in to get some "filthy bird."

Enough was enough. When I saw him again in St Lucia, lurking with intent, I had to approach him about it and tell him to back off. If I must have a stalker, I'd prefer it was an attractive young lady thank you very much.

Seriously though, Shaun Tait is a top bloke. I spoke with him for a while in St Lucia after he got his best ODI figures and he was impressive, and certainly not full of himself.

My Andrew-Symonds-Related Groin Injury

Shaun Tait contrasts sharply with Andrew Symonds. That same night in The Lime in St Lucia, I was chatting to a bloke about cricket when Andrew Symonds walked into the pub with a minder and a friend. I was facing the door and said immediately "that's Symmo." The bloke I was chatting to, a massive fan of Symmo, turned around, stuck out his hand. Symmo shook his hand, and then held onto it as he continued walking past me, yanking the bloke towards me and causing him to knee me in the groin. Ouch.

Symmo was off his trolley (hopefully only on alcohol), and continued walking around the pub, seemingly lost. He walked past us towards a dead end of the pub and then back past us, at which point the same bloke offered unrestrained praise to him about the way he plays his cricket.

"You're what its all about for me, you're great" he said.
Symmo replied, "You don't know what you're talking about. Shut up."
"I'm only complementing you - I think you're a great cricketer"
"F*ck off. Go back to drinking your f*cking rum"

At this point the other bloke, also boozed, understandably got upset that his idol was an @rsehole. I thought he was going to try and hit Symmo, which would've been mad because Symmo's absolutely massive. Before things escalated I had to step in. I looked into Symmo's eyes - they were glazed over and completely vacant, utterly devoid of sobriety. I said "Enjoy your night Symmo. We wanted to complement you on your cricket, but we'll let you enjoy your night now. Cheers."

Symmo just stood there. I had to be less subtle, but not get beaten up.

"Have a good night mate. Good luck for Saturday. I'll see you on Saturday at the final."

Finally he walked off. It was as close I've come to telling an Aussie cricketer other than Stuart MacGill to f*ck off.

I heard that after the previous game he had to be literally dragged out of Bananas by Michael Clarke at about 5am. So if you see him out, complement him at your peril - he's a complete unit.

Pup cops it

Also in Bananas, Michael "Pup" Clarke was the complete opposite to Symmo. Despite being out late, he seemed to keep his head. And he copped a heap of flak. That day he'd been bowled for 49, leaving a straight ball that hit middle stump 2/3 of the way up. Added to that his girlfriend is Lara Bingle, who's had a string of dodgy relationships with sports stars since shooting to fame for saying "where the bloody hell are you" in a bikini.

The morning after in KFC (with Shaun Tait lurking outside), Slips recalled with surprise that Pup hadn't let him take a photo with him after talking with him for a while. We asked what he talked about, and he said "I asked him what the f*ck he was thinking leaving a ball on middle stump."

Was that all?

"No, I also asked where his girlfriend was"

So not surprising that he wasn't in the mood for photos then. But not as bad as someone else who walked up to him and sang very loudly in his face "Is she really going out with you?" He did well to put up with it, only replying "mate show a bit of respect" and walking off.

Ross Duckham, Media Star

The day after the first game, Australia vs Ireland, I headed down to the shop to get the paper there. Luckily I had my sunglasses on and maintained some modicum of anonymity, as I found I was on the front page of the paper (err ... that's me sticking my head above the head of the dancer). My stardom was further confirmed when Jim Maxwell snapped me with my "entourage" in the pool after the semi final. See it here:

I was a multi-media star! In the wake of this I also met the Prime Minister of Grenada. He was glad to have met me.

Non-Game Days

I'd done quite a bit of research about my destinations before travelling, so I had an idea of what I wanted to do on days off before I got there. There was some good hiking on Grenada and St Lucia, and time to travel to nearby islands like Carricou for a day.

But, as an Aussie living in the UK, I was drawn to the beaches. The best I think was Grand Anse beach in Grenada. It's the main tourist area of the island, and it's easy to see why: hotels and a few local restaurants and bars line the two-kilometre-long beach, but don't dominate it. I spent my whole first day in Grenada there, and have the sunburn to prove it. Whichever beach I went to, the water was warm and clean, and you could often see fish or sea snakes swimming near you.

I also did a bit of haggling in the markets when I had time, which is always fun.

"Je Te Possède, Gros Piton!" - the Best Day

Off the field, the highlight for me was the Monday before the semi final in St Lucia. Greg and Silvia Stace had just arrived from Switzerland and we hired a car to see a bit of the island. Starting later than we wanted to, we headed south from Rodney Bay towards the Pitons, the iconic twin peaks of St Lucia that climb out of the ocean about 900 metres. The road there follows the coast and is windy, so on the way we stopped at a couple of lookouts and took some photos.

At one of them a Rasta bloke approached and spoke to us for a while and then said, "wait here" while he headed into his house and brought something out. It was a snake! Silvia bolted. He invited us to hold it. Greg and I were both game, but Silvia was reluctant to get anywhere near it. It was a great experience, if a little nerve-wracking, and we tipped the guy and headed off.

The bloke said it was a Boa Constrictor, but as we left Greg mentioned it didn't look much like a Boa to him. And I remembered that, when we handed it back to the bloke, it was getting hot from the sun and tried to strike him - not the sort of action you'd expect from a constrictor. So I guess we're still not entirely sure what it was, but we all got away safely.

After that we headed through Soufrière, the former colonial capital, and stumbled on to the best restaurant in town. After an excellent and unfortunately filling lunch, we headed to the Pitons themselves, further south, to try and climb one of them (the taller but easier Gros Piton).

Climbing up and down takes four hours, so the Visitors' Centre, where you get your compulsory guide, closes at 2pm. By the time we got there it was about 2:45pm, but we were lucky to get a guide for the trip nonetheless. I have to admit I was very reluctant to attempt the climb, because the thought of coming down the mountain in darkness was not appealing at all. But we had a crack anyway.

The climb is described as "moderate to strenuous," and for some of the second half you're clambering up rather than just walking. But the view from the top was nothing short of spectacular, and absolutely worth it. And because it took us only 90 minutes each way, we managed to get down well before dark. So I'm very thankful to Greg and Silvia for being more enthusiastic than I was for the climb!

Once back at the bottom, I looked up at the peak I'd conquered and said, "I own you, Gros Piton!"

We all badly needed a swim to clean up after the sweaty climb, and headed back through Soufrière. We were greeted by another incredible sight as the sun set . We had a quick dip and then headed up the coast to meet up with Nicole & Greg, Hugh and Deano at their magnificent resort apartment in Marigot Bay. Not only was the place incredible, they'd got hold of some amazing fresh fish at a market during the day - yellowfin tuna and marlin. And Greg (Nicole's Greg) did an amazing job of cooking it up - it was fantastic. We stayed there chatting on the balcony, overlooking the idyllic resort, until the wee hours, and then Greg (Stace) drove us home. An amazing end to a great day!

The People

I've often heard that people in the Caribbean were very friendly, but I didn't realise how open many of them were until I got there. Grenadans, in particular, were very open and friendly - very often starting conversations with you. The site of Cold War conflict, they have a difficult history, and are still cleaning up after Hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005) devastated the tiny country in consecutive years. There's still tarpaulin all over the place, and it's definitely the poorest country I've ever been to (though still not third world). Maybe that's why they're so happy you're visiting.

I had a gap in my accommodation so stayed at a homestay for two nights in Grenada. I'm really glad I did - I was well taken care of ( despite my sleeping quarters), and I heard heaps of other people were similarly pampered!

The Bajans were a little more used to tourists (still very friendly though), and in St Lucia a few more people were a bit more interested in getting money off me than just being friendly.

One exception in St Lucia was on the Thursday before the final, when after dinner a local girl approached me and offered me a massage "or something". I thought that was very nice of her, but politely declined. She then asked for US$2 to buy beer. Alas I didn't even have that much money on me. Poor girl.


Not surprisingly, each island has many of its own rums, and also its own beers. Grenada has Carib beer, St Lucia has Piton, and Barbados has Banks. The other two I found a bit watery, but Banks is a brilliant beer. We spent most of our time in Barbados getting as much of it as possible into us, including a cheeky one at the airport while our flight to the UK was boarding. I'm keeping my eye out for it in London.

Highlights from the nightlife included Crab Races at the Owl in Grenada, The Lime in St Lucia, and the excellent Oistins Fish Fry in Barbados. The fish fry is usually held on the beach on Fridays, with heaps of shacks barbecuing fish caught that day. A typical huge piece of fish, with veggies and rice, is about US$10. And the food is magnificent.


Speaking of food, Oistins wasn't the only place where it was magnificent. We were well looked after at a local eating spot in Dunfermline with huge plates of food, juice, and a slice of rock melon to finish for about US$6. The street food was pretty good too.

I'd been looking forward to some exotic offerings also - I'd heard of a place in St Lucia that had a turtle dish, but it wasn't there. I was also surprised to find dolphin on a couple of menus, and textied a few friends about how I'm eating smarter now. But dolphin refers to a fish in the Caribbean, not the mammal. Still, it was delicious - as was the lambie (conch shell).

To Conclude (Finally)

So all in all, an incredible trip! To anyone planning on going for the Australian tour there in 2008, I thoroughly recommend it. The place will have all the good stuff that I encountered - the people, the beaches, the scenery, the laid-back lifestyle, Banks beer - and none of the disappointments like overpriced tickets sucking the local atmosphere out of the games.

Big thanks to the people I met up with there - Northy, Greaney, Dunny Jr, Lochie, Willis, Johnny "slips" Cordon , Digger , the Coyles - C1 & C2 - and their crew, Greg and Silvia Stace, Kev Gill , Hugh, Nicole and Greg, Deano, Doc and anyone else I've forgotten! It was great to catch up with you all!

Other Stuff

Very quickly, I should remind anyone who'll be in the UK to save the date of August 4th, as I'll be having birthday drinks that day. In a year of sequels at the movies, this will be a sequel too: my second 29th birthday. Haven't got a venue yet, any suggested venues let me know!

I also went to Budapest last weekend. A much shorter email about that will be coming. I'll include an update on the home front too.

Anyways, that's all for now. Kudos to anyone who made it to the end!

Cheers, Rosco



Bish's Précis

This is a very brief summary of what you'll find in the email. Many of you will know I have a tendency to waffle on a bit - especially those of you I went to uni with! So if you don't have time to read the whole thing, you can have a look at the précis and read the stuff that interests you. It is named after a good mate of mine who asked that I keep my emails short. There was no way I was gonna do that - this is as close as I come to a compromise.

I also try and include a bit of structure in my emails to make them a bit more readable. Let's face it, I need all the help I can get in that respect.


The hyperlinks are usually links to photos on my Bebo website ( For those of you that don't know, Bebo is a lot like MySpace, so it might be blocked at your workplace. If so, you can also see (most of) the pics at my Picasa webpage ( - its linked to my gmail) - it might be easier to access, but you might not know which photos relate to which stories.
You can also browse my pics at my Bebo website (bottom right of the main page). And if you're a member, send me an invite and we can become Bebo friends!

Old Emails About My Travels

My old emails are stored in the blog section of my Bebo website (bottom left of the main page). The only problem is that I can't include hyperlinks with them (which in some cases means the sentences make no sense). If you want the whole kit and caboodle, shoot me an email and I'll send you the original email, hyperlinks and all. I'm working on getting a proper blog up.

The Basics

To those of you who haven't heard from me since I left Oz, here are some of the basics. I'm working at the Borough of Luton, just northwest of Greater London (home of London Luton airport, obviously). I've been there since early Feb, and I commute there every day from my house in West Hampstead, which takes about 50 minutes door-to-door. My house, a nice narrow terrace with a back garden, is full of four Aussies (Luke and Carly, Amanda, and myself), and one French student (Virginie). West Hampstead is just northwest of central London, not far from Lord's cricket ground.
My previous jobs have been at the London Boroughs of Hillingdon and Havering. As you'll see from my old emails, I have already done quite a bit of travelling, getting to Latvia, Estonia, Dublin, Edinburgh, Munich, northern France, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Wales, Sweden, Lithuania, Poland and a few places within England. And I have a few more trips planned!

Tour without a theme

(Originally Emailed: Mar 10, 2007 2:51 AM)
Bish's Precis
- I took a week off work to head to Stockholm, Vilnius, Warsaw and Krakow
- Sweden was fantastic - it was Somers' last weekend there and we made the most of it
- Vilnius rocked also - plenty of people willing to fire up on Sunday and Monday nights
- Warsaw was a little different - less entertainment focussed, but heaps of WW2 history which is an amazing story for Poland
- A guy tried to rip me off at the Krakow version of Hooters. He only got a bit off me.
- Auschwitz was very moving; Birkenau was overhwelming
- Other than being ripped off, Krakow was fantastic - great scenery and great nightlife
Before I start, I have to give some huge thankyous. First to Somers for a fantastic weekend in Stockholm. Thanks mate!
Thanks also to JY for hooking me up with Kev in Vilnius. And please pass on my thanks to Kev mate!
So I was thinking of a theme for this trip. The closest I could come up with was Tolkein books -
Sweden being the Hobbit (sorry Somers, you'll grow)
Vilnius being the Fellowship of the Ring, as I met a few new people there
Warsaw being the Two Towers, on account of the architectural diversity
... and then I came to Krakow which would have to be Return of the King. That would be completely inappropriate and egotistical - because I'd never been there before.
Anyways lets start at the beginning.
A great mate of mine, Richie Somerville (hereafter "Somers" or "Richie"), had been studying in Sweden, and this was his last weekend in town before heading back to Australia. Little did I know that Stina, his lovely girlfriend, had already left for Australia. Trouble. This was going to be a less restrained weekend than I had imagined.
I got into "Stockholm" (Skavsta) at about 9:30 Friday night, but didn't hit the city until 11:00. Somers met me at the central train station. We'd previously decided to head to a hair-metal night at a bar in town - Guns'n'Roses, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper and of course Bon Jovi. Before we'd even left the train station he'd presented me with a bandanna and aviator sunglasses.
The night was only going to get better from there. The place was fantastic. The booze was cheap by Swedish standards - a schooner of beer and a shot of Jaegermeister for SEK55 (about 4 quid). The people there were also fantastic - some people took it very seriously and some people were there for gags, but it didn't matter - everyone got on really well, which made for a great vibe.
Then the topper. Out of nowhere a stripper appears onstage in lingerie. It made absolutely no sense. Its not like there weren't women there.
Best. Non-sequitur. Ever.
Anyways we got home somehow, and the next day, after a slightly slow start we saw a good deal of Stockholm, especially the old town. It was chilly there - around zero - but we managed to walk for about 5 hours seeing the sights.
That night we had a couple of drinks in Richie's 18sqm flat. As he was about to move out we had to clean out his liquor cabinet. So we mixed a few vaguely fruity drinks together . Don't ask me to remember what the drinks were. We headed out to see some of Somers' mates from uni - fantastic blokes - and then met up with some of Stina's mates in Sofo - also tops . We finished up at a club called Debaser (check out the doorman), where Somers almost got into Sweden's first ever pub brawl. It was awesome!
So awesome that we woke well after noon the next day. I took Somers out for a bagel and we did a bit more sightseeing before I headed onto the train and off to Vilnius. Thanks for the great weekend Somers!
A good mate of mine, JY, has lived in Lithuania for a while previously, and he was good enough to suggest a few people to get in touch with. That was all planned for Monday night.
Sunday the plan was to catch up on some sleep and fire up for a big one. When I got in to town it was -9, about 11pm and Vilnius Backpackers was quiet, but one bloke was on the internet, and keen to head out. His name was Ian, and the place we headed was the legendary Broadway.
The local In Your Pocket sees Broadway as a work of art, but "more of a Dogs Playing Poker ilk than anything serious or fancy." I couldn't have put it better myself. Cheesy music, and all anyone wants to do is dance and booze. Brilliant.
The next day I saw a few sights - the Dawn Gate, Uzupis, Zaliastis Tiltas Bridge, Lukiskiu Airste . It was helped along by a massive traditional lunch - herring and something called "pork hand" (it wasn't trotters). It snowed lightly most of the day.
Back at the backpackers Ian was there, and a bloke called Jim from Tassie had rocked up also. We chilled out for a while and all resolved to head to the Dubliner to see JY's mate Kevin who has just opened the place. Its a lovely pub restaurant. After dinner and a few drinks, Kev pointedly refused a photo, and we headed back to the backpackers.
We finished off a bottle of vodka and then headed out to the Broadway again. This time we headed to the other late night joint, Prospecto. It was like Broadway, but a little less cheesy, a little more Russian Mafia.
Still, but the time we headed out about 2 inches of snow had fallen. Powder. So I got me a snow angel .
The following day was a very quiet affair. Recovery, more authentic Lithuanian cuisine, and then the perfect remedy - a ten hour overnight bus ride to Warsaw. I couldn't sleep. I dunno if it was the booze the night before or the Lithuanian Celine Dion and Michael Bolton covers. Something was making me nauseous.
I was awoken when the driver decided the music wasn't loud enough for 6 in the morning. We were still two hours from Warsaw. I was completely knackered when I got off the bus, but it was OK as I knew exactly where the Oki Doki Hostel was. Unfortunately the driver dropped us at the wrong bus station, and I found myself with a ninety minutes' walk rather than ten minutes (it wasnt even on the city centre map in my Lonely Planet). But I got to see some of the poorer parts of Warsaw as a result - the old, unimproved state housing from Communist times, the vast concrete public buildings. Brilliant.
Pope John Paul II must be turning in his grave. In Warsaw they named a major city street after him, but it is full of sex shops. He is hugely, hugely popular here. Still. Its like Diana in the UK, only ten times as big.
After checking in, I headed straight out sightseeing. Saw the Old Town (... meh), the monument to the Warsaw Uprising (what an amazing event that was), the Jewish Ghetto monument, and the Pawiak Prison.
The prison was a definite highlight - it had been built in 1830, but was used most famously during Nazi occupation. The Polish seemed to have been screwed over for a good part of their history. But the patriotic spirit of the Poles, guards and prisoners working together in those conditions, was breathtaking. It was great that they chose to remember the prison in that way too.
As I walked out, I was thinking. Old Towns are starting to merge into one for me. But after seeing the prison I realised that the Old Town in Warsaw had been completely obliterated in WWII. They re-built it. Painstakingly. As many times a s they've been kicked, you can't keep the Poles down.
I had a late lunch at the Oberża Pod Czerwonym Wieprzem, where Breznev, Castro and Mao have eaten, but which is now a little more tongue in cheek (the menu is divided into "proletariat" and "officials and dignataries" dishes).
Had a few drinks at the hostel bar that night with a couple of good sorts - Danny, a pommy bloke, Greg from Sydney and Anita from London. We even snuck out for a cheeky pint and then some deep friend camembere from Maccas.
The following afternoon I was to head to Krakow, but I spent the morning and early afternoon marvelling at the old and the new of Warsaw. Its not an overly sociable city - its dour and businesslike without a central entertainment area. But the skyline is full of contrasts. There is the massive, and un-communistly-ornate Palace of Culture and Science, built by Stalin, there are old concrete monstrosities, and there are a few new office blocks.
And then I headed to a distinctly Communist building - the train station - and headed to Krakow.
Krakow has become a massive magnet for tourists in recent times. Yes, there are stag weekends, but tehre are also genuine tourists now. Part of it I think is that Auschwitz is only about an hour's drive away. Also, the old town was untouched by the war, and it has the largest town square in Europe - 4 hectares (200m x 200m).
Anyways, enough of being a cities nerd. I lobbed in fairly late - about 7:30pm - but resolved to wander around for a while before I got something to eat that night. I walked around the old town for about two hours before going to a place that Peebs recommended/forced me to go to. It's called Rooster, and, as Peebs said to me, "its like a Polish Hooters, and they serve chicken!" Good enough for me, and while I doubt there's anything sadder than someone eating alone at Hooters, this was *completely* different.
But as I was about to go in, a Polish chap asked me the time (in Polish, pointing to his wrist). I answered in English, and he engaged me in conversation.
Some people have already heard the rest of this story, so I won't repeat it here - its at the bottom of this email. Basically he tried to rip me off about 400 Zlotich (70 quid), and failed.
The next day I did a day tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II). Auscwitz - the better preserved and by far the smaller of the two - is very moving and incredibly emotional, but even then it didn't really live up to the hype I thought, for lack of a better word.
Birkenau was different. It is absolutely massive, and the scale of the operation really got to me. But the crematoria had been blown up by retreating Nazis, and there were no real exhibits. Unlike the massive piles of human hair and shoes in Auschwitz.
Unsurprisingly. both places are very solemn and quiet. But Birkenau was ruined a bit for me by a group of Israeli college (?) kids were walking around with the Israeli flags draped over their backs as capes. Its like they were trying to out-mourn each other, and everyone else. Some of my mates know that I really dislike this in Aussies (at Gallipoli for example). But obviously I wasnt going to say anything to Israeli (and presumably Jewish) kids about how to mourn at a concentration camp.
Krakow Nightlife - sans fraud
Anyways, that night one of the Warsaw crew lobbed into he Tutti Fruitti hostel - Anita. We headed out for some dinner, and then to a brilliant bar called Wodka. Guess what they served. It was, I thought, as good as anywhere I went in Poland. A small place, lots of variety of Vodka (and 50ml shots, taken neat). We tried about a dozen different types of Vodka and staggered off to a club, Paradox.
The club subscribes to the theory that you can tell how classy a nightclub is by the number of black lights they have. So this place was classy. Other than us, the oldest person in the place was 17. But in Paradox's defence, we got a round of two shots of Gold-wasser and two vodka tonics for 22 zlotych (about A$9.50 or 4 quid).
And the vodka-tonics glowed under the black lights .
The following day I awoke late and did the main sights of Krakow - Wavel Castle, the river, Kazimeritz (the Jewish quarter), and the art gallery which contains a da Vinci and a Rembrandt. I was still a little too hazy to fully appreciate it.
For those of you that know my days back in Wptai, the house in Nedlands I shared with Jez and Eammon, you'll appreciate the bars I found in Krakow that were relevant to Eammon, Jez and myself. I really wanted to pass out in the Middle Earth pub, but couldnt find it when I was boozed.
That night, my last, we headed out to the Jewish quarter (to avoid the stag weekends). We ate a great meal with a dog mingling around the restaurant looking for scraps (he wasn't getting any from me), and then out to a few joints down that way: Propaganda (one of the better kitch-commie bars I've been to in Eastern Europe), Club Clu (... meh), and the excellent B-side Bar, which had good music, good crew there, and was a nice place. All night I drank Zubrowka and apple juice ... to make sure I got my vitamins.
And the following day I headed home! It was a great trip, but I think it'll be overshadowed by my next trip, to the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean!
What else is going on...
Very briefly:
- we have new housemates! Carly and Luke, a lovely couple from Sydney, join myself, Amanda (another Perth legend) and Parisian Virginie
- I have my Visa for the World Cup now, all my tickets and all my accomodation
- speaking of accomodation, I am leasing out my room for the two weeks I am away. anyone coming to town from 12-30 april can grab a great double room for only 170 quid a week.
OK! Take care everyone! I don't hear enough about what's going on back home. I want news!
Cheers, Rosco
Krakow Krime Kaper
... this is the email I sent out just after the event ...
OK, its 1am and I've been in Krakow for 6 hours. I'm a little bit boozed, and need to send a select group of my friends this story. Forgive the spelling errors.
I headed out at about 8.30 just to see what the place was like at night. Peebs had previously insisted that I dine at Rooster, which is like a Polish Hooters. I was thinking of doing that after Auschwitz tomorrow but I figured that would be a bit difficult on my conscience. I found the place like 30 minutes later and was looking forward to texting Peebs "I've been in the town for two hours and I've already done Rooster."
Anyways I was literally about to walk in the door when someone said to me in Polish "do you have the time?"
I don't speek Polish but he gestured to his wrist, so I just said it was 9:35.
He said "you speak English?!?" and engaged me in conversation for about ten minutes, during which I was not-so-subtly inching away. At the end of it he said "where are you going to eat?? May I dine with you? We can practice my English as it is imperfect."
I said sure. He said "this place [Rooster] is shit, we should go somewhere else. I know a good Polish place."
I was hip to this particular con and vaguely said I made a promise to be at Rooster tonight, my first night in Krakow. He said OK, and we headed in. I ate and he had a couple of beers.
The food was shit.
He was very forward. I wasn't sure whether he was gay until, during the meal, he said to me "you helped me out, let me help you out. Tomorrow night we can go out with my girlfriend and her friend. I will help you."
The implication was clear. He wanted to pick me up from Rooster tomorrow night. I suggested a bar of his choice the said the Irish Bar right near me. "We'll go there tonight and then at 8.30 tomorrow night I will pick you up from there," he said. Sounded sweet. After I got the drinks at Rooster he insisted on getting the drinks at the Irish Bar. After the first round he emphasised to me again how much he'd "help me out" tomorrow night, and that we'd go to a nightclub and then back to the other girl's place for drinks. It was heavily impied that I'd be up for some lovin - more than I got in Lithuania even.
I said great, too good to be true actually, so I was wary - and started mentally writing an email to you guys to the tune of "this might sound crazy now, but if I should die tomorrow night you should know this..." I put the night together chronologically in my mind to send to you all.
He got the second round, two pints again, this time accompanied by two shots. Before he got to the table he tripped and lost all of the drinks. Shizer. He went to get another round. As he left I said we should get some photos. He put his hand on my camera and said "no photos". The next round was the same deal - two pints and two shots of cherry vodka. The vodka was great - warms the cockles.
As we drank the beer he "suddenly" said to me "I need money for taxi home. Can you give me some and I will pay you back tomorrow when I pick you up??" I said how much. He said "400 zlotych", which is about 70 quid or A$170. I said I only had 26zl on me and he could have that.
He pressed - I should get money out at an ATM to help him. I said I couldnt. I only had 26 on me and my ATM card wasnt working in Poland, and that I had to buy things on my card rather than get cash out of an ATM (which was true - but I didnt tell him my Visa worked fine for cash out).
He said "I spent 75zl on you tonight and you could not help with cab home?" I said I was doing all I could - what more could I do??
He asked where I was staying. I didn't bite. I vaguely said "round the corner somewhere."
I think he knew the jig was up ("it was a bad jig, a terrible, terrible jig"). After a bit more limp arguing - during which he halved the cost of his cab home - and some wide-eyed "innocence" on my part, he said "I'll be right back," and left the table.
I knew he wasnt coming back - I waited my polite ten minutes and then went to the bathroom. I shoved my Visa down my jocks (hence the subject line) and took some deep breaths in preparatopm for what might await me when I left. I asked the barman if his tab had been settled. He said no, so I paid him 81zl (about 13 quid or A$37, by card) and left, ready for anything.
He was nowhere to be seen. No big men trying to extort me. No nothing. So with a bit of relief, I walked home safely.
But anyone who steals my credit card from now on will have ball-sweat to deal wth.

Four weeks is a long time to work in one place these days

(Originally Emailed: Feb 1, 2007 3:40 PM)
Bish's Precis
- I have a another new job
It doesnt rain, it pours.
Thats what its like here at the moment. No sooner had I landed a job with the London Borough of Havering, than I was asked to go for an interview just outside of London at Three Rivers council (Rickmansworth).
While I'd originally said I will keep looking after getting a job at Havering, I had an attack of morality and decided I needed to hang in there for a while. Also, Havering is a top performing borough, and on arriving there I saw why very quickly. Well managed (waaay better than Hillingdon), good people, and good systems in place.
So I nominated Monday 5 Feb as the day I would consider starting work at another borough. That would make four weeks in one place. I kept my options open though - the luxury of being employed already. I wasnt going to move unless there was a decent rise in wages.
Then I had a couple of calls about positions coming up. Some I knocked back, and one - at Luton - I got an interview. Luton is just outside of London, home to one of its airports and also Monty Panesar, and easy for me to get to from West Hampstead. Because of train problems in windy weatherI couldnt get to the original interview, and thought they'd say "oh well, we'll find someone else." But they still wanted to see me.
We rescheduled for this Monday - I had a "doctors appointment" and had to get from Romford to Luton (two hours by train). The next day by boss cornered me and asked if they could expect me to stick around. I laughed it off (with the benefit of hindsight, this would have looked very nervous), and he followed up with "you're not, are you?" All I could say was that I'd be here unless I got a spectacular offer.
He obviously knew what "doctors appointment" meant. I probably shouldnt have used air quotes when I told him about it.
On Tuesday afternoon on the way home from work, I was formally offerred the job. A spectacular offer. Its as a Senior Planner in Major Applications there. I'll be doing some minor applications also, but its roughly equal to where I was in the WA system when I left. Its very exciting!
So I took it. I went into work yesterday and told my boss straight away, and then went out on site for the rest of the day!
So anyways, thats the big news over here. I'll fill you all in on other aspects of London life sometime soon. Possibly after my sojourn to Stockholm, Vilnius and Poland in about four weeks. Who knows, I could have another job by then!
Cheers, Rosco
PS. For my last day at work, some of the boys are coming out to where I work in Romford to test the reptation of Essex girls and enjoy Romford on a strictly ironic level. Stay tuned for incriminating pics.

Christmas/Festivus Update

(Originally Emailed: Dec 22, 2006 7:20 PM)
Bish's Precis
- no precis for you! this is short enough. Ba humbug!
So I last worked on 29 September. Good. Glad we got that awkwardness out of the way for when you next ask how I'm doing.
But the last couple of months have not been without activity.
First of all I was travelling through France, Belgium, Berlin and Prague. But you've got that email. Some of you havent finished reading it yet. Sorry about my verbosity.
Since then it's been solid job hunting, with a few interviews. The only major break in this was a weekend spent up in Birmingham with Pete Rees. It was madness, as expected. Pics are available on
Other stuff I've done... well, for one thing, I've gone to the gym quite a bit. My membership was prepaid, so it was something I could easily do without spending too much money.
I also watched a lot of movies on Sky. Have a look at the list at the end of this email.
Finally I've done a lot of planning of vacations. Specifically going to the Caribbean for the Cricket World Cup in late April, and also heading to Stockholm (and possibly Norway) to see Richie Somerville in late February.
But now there is light at the end of the tunnel. For those of you that don't know, I have a job! I'll be working at Havering (a borough in NE London), starting on 3 January. Its gonna be great to be earning pounds again!
But I didnt start this email so that noone would finish it. I wanted to wish everyone a very merry Christmas and fantastic 2007. For those of you not in the UK, I miss you heaps and look forward to firing up with you soon!
OK, I've gotta go. I'm out tonight, and then heading to Wales (very) early tomorrow morning for a few days over the break. I'm heading there with Heather and a few of her mates.
All the best, and Merry Christmas and Festivus!
Movies i've seen
all 6 star wars movies. i've come to the conclusion that the worst of them is attack of the clones - its considerably worse than its nearest rival, phantom menace
a view to a kill, donnie darko, i heart huckabees, the island, con air, a history of violence, broken flowers, kingdom of heaven, man on fire, day after tomorrow, grosse point blank, fantastic four, constant gardiner, pulp fiction, braveheart, the conversation, unforgiven, sin city, anchorman, 13 going on 30 (jesus), the machinist, interview with the vampire, full metal jacket, all the president's men, animal house, ferris bueller's day off, fast times at ridgemont high, I robot, house of flying daggers, batman begins, mr and mrs smith, meet the fockers, wedding crashers, 40 year old virgin, mallrats, taxi driver, deerhunter, finding neverland, north by northwest, taking care of business, caddyshack, big lebowski, layer cake
i'm certain that's not an exhaustive list

My Fantasmagorical Trip: Northern France, Belgium, Berlin and Prague

(Originally Emailed: Nov 11, 2006 7:05 PM)

Before I start, I just want to say that any lingering hope you have that I am not a complete nerd will be evaporated by reading this. I've embraced it.
Also, sorry, sorry, sorry about the length. I've tried to break it down a bit so its a bit easier to digest - just like food for old people.
Bish's Precis

- Massive thanks to Jeannie and Jamie for letting me stay at their place. Guys, I had an awesome time, and look forward to more taste testing in the near future. And all the best with the bub!
- Normandy was awesome - a truckload of WWII and medieval history
- the Somme was also fantastic, and I must go back, but not to Amiens
- the Last Post, played nightly at the Menin Gate at Ypres, is incredibly moving
- Everything about Brussels was fantastic, except Roly's fashion sense
- Berlin was amazing - I didnt even scratch the surface there and I must go back
- What happens on tour stays on tour for bucks weekends, stays on tour, but Prague is gorgeous
- If you're planning on being over here for Christmas, let me know. I'd love to catch up with y'all!

So a couple of weeks ago I went on a two week jaunt through Europe. I took a ferry to Caen in Normandy, then went to the Somme, then Ypres, Brussels, Berlin and Prague. I set of for Caen travelling by train to Portsmouth, and then by ferry to my destination. Infact I travelled by train from there right through to Prague.


So I was based in Caen. While there I had the chance to be a complete history nerd. Normandy is famous for two cross-channel invasions. William the Conqueror's victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and taking of the English crown, and the D Day invasion on 6 June 1944, the beginning of the end of the Third Reich. Some of you know that I'm especially nerdy about medieval English history, so seeing some of the history of Normandy from that time was really great. I was especially looking forward to the most famous relic of the period, the Bayeux Tapestry.

I got in late at night, and went to the cheapest hotel I could find (there were no backpackers there). I paid for the first night and hit the sack.

For my three or so days there, I did the following:
- Went to the excellent Memorial de Caen, which covers WWII and to a lesser extent conflicts after that. I can't the place highly enough - its the best WWII museum I've been to.
- I did a day tour of Normandy beaches, which included Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches, Ponte du Hoc, the American Memorial, and a few other places. It was run by the Memorial de Caen, and was excellent also.
- Saw the Bayeux Tapestry, the famous contemporary record of the 11th century Norman invasion of England, and had a walk around the quaint town of Bayeux.
- Followed the William the Conqueror walk through Caen
- In Caen, I had a wander around William's Castle , the city itself, and the Sunday markets. The markets were awesome, with heaps of fresh seafood and other goodies for sale (I had seafood paella for breakfast, and while eating it, was assaulted by two elderly Jehovas Witnesses - in French)

The Somme

My next base town was Amiens. I guess it's one of those irregular french words. I know "merde" is French for sh!t, but I can only gather that "Amiens" is French for sh!thole. The town was awful I thought. Beset with social problems, and very much part of an industrial rust belt that has modernised poorly. I arrived late, but it was still light enough to see the city. After some trouble, I finally found a hotel.

But I was in Amiens to check out some of Australia's WWI history in the Somme. Tours were based in nearby Albert. On the way there I met two middle-aged ladies, one of which had a little boy. I'd just got my ticket to Albert, and they were asking the lady on the enquiries desk about the next train to Albert. They were South African and just walked up and talked at the lady in English. I butted in and told them when it was due, and they just complained to me that "noone here speaks English."

Then they walked off speaking to each other in Afrikaans.

We got the train and left the station together, with them deciding "its probably best that we stick together." Fast as I walked, they seemed to keep up (I really need to work out), so I found the Tourism Office for them, and we found out we'd missed the battlefield tour. I spent the rest of the day visiting the (limited) sights of Albert (the rebuilt Basillica, the "Somme 1916" museum), all the while trying to avoid my Afrikaans "friends".

I got back to the hotel and trouble was brewing . Seems like my hotel "accidentally" forgot that I was staying for two nights, and gave my room away. They were good enough to remove my clothes, backpack, etc from my room and leave them at reception. The lady on reception apparently "hadn't heard" that I wanted to stay a second night, and because I'd only paid for the first night ... well you get the picture ... sh!thole. That said I did get a really nice pic of the River Somme at dusk there, and one of dawn (looking over the railyards towards an industrial wasteland).

Anyways, I made it to the tour the next day. I was the only person on the tour, so we got to see some neat stuff, like:
- Lochnagar crater - see my pic here
- Gordon Dump Cemetery
- Pozieres, and the ANZAC 1st Division Memorial
- Mouquet Farm and Thiepval Memorial (which is massive - about 30m high!)
- Beaumont Hamel - intact trenches from WWI
- unfortunately I didn't get to Villers-Bretonneux

It was pretty good, and the guy was pretty knowledgable (he'd have to be - there are some real military buffs out there), but also pretty up himself. A school kid mistakenly thought a picture of Hitler from WWI was taken in Manchester, and he butted in and said "umm ... Manchester? What does that word say?? Munich. I mean *hello*!"

The kid was about 13.

And on that note it was off to Ypres in Belgium.

Ypres and Ghent

Ypres is incredible. It was completely devistated during WWI, and the town square was rebuilt exactly as it was before. The old gate on Menin Road was replaced by a massive dedication to the missing soldiers of the British Empire, called the Menin Gate. At 8pm every night they play the Last Post. And going to it is incredible. Goosebumps. Shivers down my spine.

Other than that, all I did in Ypres was another day tour, which included visits to:
- a few cemeteries, including Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth forces cemetery in the world
- the moving German cemetery at Langemarck
- the Brooding Soldier, and amazing Canadian monument
- the Hill 62 Museum

The museum was based on some untouched trenches . And inside the museum was clutter. It was like everything that they had they put out on display. Piles of rusty shell casings. You could barely move.

Then I saw the guy who ran it. He was huge (I had to pretend I was taking a picture of the stuff in the foreground in this pic - look at the evil he's giving me), which sorta made sense. No discretion or moderation in what he displays, and no discretion or moderation in his diet.

I had a brief stop in Ghent (I got there at about 5pm, left at about 7 the next morning - I saw some wierd stores, "insightful" grafiti, some beautiful buildings and canals, and gorgeous women), and I hope it won't be my last. It was an impressive university town.

The Fusses in Brussels

So Saturday morning I arrive in Brussels, and eventually (after a bit of trouble with trains, and an expensive taxi ride) to nearby Rixensart, where Jeannie and Jamie live. They have a wonderful place, in a beautiful leafy setting, with a couple of dogs, a cat, some fish and a cellar chockers full with beer.

After a brief walk in the forest with the dogs we headed into Brussels, had some kick-ass baguettes, checked out a few places (like the Groot Markt and the colourful bureaucrat district), and then went on an extensive expedition to sample the local wares. The variety of beers available is unbelievable, and there were no better people to share it with than our hosts (although Jeannie wasn't drinking), Tarek, Louie, and Roland - and Sleepy, who has just come over here! The night out was fantastic. Roly's fashion sense was less fantastic.

The day after was recovery mode (after we woke up to Mel and Emmanuel's wonderful news), and culminated in a brilliant Jamaican curry, including plantains. It was awesome! Then Jeannie and Jamie dropped me at my train and I made my way to Berlin overnight.

Jeannie, Jamie, once again, thanks heaps for having me. I had an awesome time.

Ich bin ein Berliner

JFK said it best - "I am a jam donut." I arrived in Berlin at about 8am on a Monday morning. It was a really great overnight train trip actually - much better than my previous trip to Munich.

So that day I headed straight out to the Olympic Stadium, where the World Cup Final has just been held, and home of the infamous 1936 Olympics. Got a great view of it from the belltower, looking back towards Berlin. I also saw a picture of Hitler at Langemarck Cemetery, which I had just visited in Ypres. I also checked out Museum Island ("actually its just a peninsula").

The next day was a highlight of the tour for me. A seven-hour walking tour of Berlin. We covered so much - the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Potsdam Platz, the Book-burning Square, Hitler's Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, and some of the older museums and buildings.

We were running well over time (because there was so much to see!), and that worked out to our advantage because Berlin's Festival of Light had just begun. Some of the old buildings looked amazing, and some of the neon signs were dripping with irony.

I followed this with a day of following up some of the more interesting spots from the tour. I toured the Reichstag - have a look at the line when I came out at 10.30am. What followed was the biggest disappointment of the tour: the Stasi Museum. Nothing in English, panels out of order, and they hand you a 170-odd page book with the translation. It was really disappointing, especially as I was really looking forward to it!

Much like the lions in Munich, there were bears left over from the World Cup in Berlin. In the brand new railway station, they had a whole lot of bears done up for different countries. My favourite was Moldova, which had painted on the bear a map of Europe showing Moldova. Talk about insecure!

Pra-ha: Take on me

The final stop on my tour was Prague. I was there for a bucks weekend for Alan "Mal" Goh.

Sorry, but what goes on on a bucks weekend stays on the bucks weekend (every little thing).

But before it started, I had a morning of sightseeing, where I managed to see:
- Wencelsas Square (with a memorial for Soviet rule and a shrine to St Wencelsas)
- the old Town Square (with the Jan Hus monument, and Town Hall with its famous Astronomical Clock)
- a great view of the city and river from the roof of the Charles Bridge tower
- changing of the guard and St Vitus' Cathedral at Prague Castle

Prague is a beautiful city though, and I will be back - hopefully I'll be sober for longer too so I can look around. But with pints for 90p, I make no promises!

So that's it

Now I'm back in London, and still between jobs. I'm managing to stick to a tight budget (50 squid a week, not including rent), and spending my time going to the gym and teeing up interviews. But I'm sure I will like London a lot more when I start earning some more pounds!

Finally, if you're planning on being over here for Christmas, let me know. I'd love to catch up!

OK, so long for now. Miss you all heaps!

Cheers, Rosco