Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Update

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Santa's Precis:
- I started and ended the year in Australia but did a heap in between
- I've been back in Perth for five months now without travelling which must be some sort of record
- hence the lack of travel emails
- Its been a big year for the family, beginning with an engagement party and ending with a wedding
- Curse my lack of creativity in buying presents
- Not surprisingly I have travels planned for 2009

Fear not my involuntary groupies, I don't have long so I'd better be quick. I've just had a massive Christmas lunch which included quite a bit of turkey. It's only a matter of time before the chemicals hit me and I pass out at the keyboard. It's already knocked out three of us so it's only a matter of time. If I don't make it you'll notice: one of my mates was fighting off sleep when writing a while ago and lost the battle. The result was 5 pages of the letter E.

I hope you'll notice anyway.

Not wanting to sound like Eddie McGuire, It's been a big year in 2008. I began down in Margaret River to celebrate the wedding on Emmanuel and Mel. That was in the middle of a 17-day binge which undid a lot of the good work I did in London gyms for two years. And it certainly undid the Delhi belly I'd recently suffered.

After celebrating the Engagement of my only sister to Dave (I don't want to ruin the ending but he's now my brother-in-law) in a Bollywood themed extravaganza in February, and a few nights of mayhem at the Beck's Music Box I jetted back to London, hoping to get a new visa and continue there for a couple of years. I got a job very quickly and beavered away to save money (to apply for a visa costs 1500 squid, plus a flight back home while you wait for entry clearance, so about 3k in total). But it wasn't to be. I did the sums and was about 1500 squid short of my income requirements. I was of course very sad but decided to use the funds to travel for about eight weeks in Europe. I wont further bore you with details of that - I managed to send out 16 blog entries during that trip: 8 weekly updates and 8 stories from the road. I may have mentioned that there are plenty of places I'd return to, specifically Paris, Freiberg and Istanbul. I followed that with a whirlwind tour of the UK which relied on the special generosity of Shane Balzan who lent me his car, and a good chunk of the Tucker family (who are pretty much my UK family). Thanks again for all your generosity, it was really wonderful!

So I arrived home on July 26, went to a wedding celebration that very night (to drown my sorrows at the Saints losing to the Eagles at Subiaco), and started work back at DPI on July 28. That's right, your taxes paid for my jetlag.

And really it's been pretty quiet since. In fact I don't think I've left the metropolitan area of Perth. I'm surprised at how difficult it is to stay still actually as I definitely have the travel bug.

The only travelling I've done since then has been lingual: I started learning French again at the Alliance Francaise in Nedlands. I've always wanted to learn another language and French is my second language at the moment (second by a long, long way mind you). I wanted a second language for a number of reasons, not least because it makes you think about English a bit more and hopefully allows me to be a bit more articulate (which isn't difficult). I have found it really enjoyable actually. For those in the know, I start at Intermediate level next year (which is level A2 in EU classification). Thanks also must go to Ines, who has been good enough to give me additional tips and clarification on a weekly basis with the benefit of being a native speaker.

At about the same time I moved into new digs in a great location in Subiaco, with two old friends, Nick and Kate. They've both been really great housemates so far - certainly they've been tolerant of my temper tantrums when I can't connect to the bloody internet for some reason. The house is awesome, as those who attended the housewarming a few weeks ago could attest.

We also had guests for two weeks: Mark "Chop" Leslie and his lovely girlfriend Nao crashed in the room next to me. They were involved in two memorable meals while they were here: the Hungry Jacks Quad-Stacker demolition and also some incredible Japanese food cooked as a thankyou to us. It was our pleasure!

December 13 was a particularly important day - Kristy and Dave's wedding. Aside from a minor scare with the wedding venue on he day (predictable when Dave said earlier in the day that he wasn't nervous at all), it seemed to go off without a hitch. I was honoured to be the MC for the reception, even if it did mean I couldn't drink much until my speaking duties were done. It was a wonderful celebration and was a great way to kick off a long and successful marriage, no doubt.

A week later (last Saturday) we did it all again, with Sleepy and Vanya getting married. Another excellent wedding and seven and a half hours of reception we ended up at the casino again.

Which is great because it will be good practice for my next trip, which starts tonight! There are seven of us jetting off to Melbourne on the red-eye to watch the Boxing Day test, and (hopefully) three of us will then head to NZ for New Years and a few days after. It should be fantastic!

Before that I have the rest of today to get through (must... fight... sleep). It's been a very relaxed day with great company and fantastic food. The only problem is that I am cursing the laziness of my purchasing choices for presents: so many rectangular presents (books, DVDs, CDs etc) - I really dislike buying them as I feel I can do better, but each year I fall into that trap. I'll do better next year.

In fact I hope to do better on a number of fronts next year: 2009 already involves trips to Broome (April), UK and France (July) and Sydney (September), so plenty of opportunities to get into interesting situations and then bore you with the details. The first such email will probably arrive in a couple of weeks from my travels to NZ and Melbourne.

In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to say thank you for listening to my rants during the year. I hope Christmas has been wonderful for you and that 2009 is just as exciting! I wish I could email or call you all individually but for now you'll have to make do with this!

Anyways, enough about me. How about you? What did 2008 hold for you? And what about 2009?

Take care and enjoy yourself,


PS. I am still to put up pics of some of my travels in Europe but will do so as soon as I can!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Pits

I came back from lunch today to the familiar guffaws of my neighbouring cubicle farm occupants, making the usual jokes about when I'd sign up for Iraq etc.

They were making the jokes as I'd got a haircut, and the jokes were familiar because I always get this haircut nowadays: No 2 on top and No 1 on the sides. While the guffaws (there's something about the word guffaw that's appropriate here - maybe because it reminds me of the laughter of Cletus, the Yokel from the Simpsons) were many, I was happy to be self-effacing also, calling myself Jarhead etc.

While this was all good fun, the experience of the haircut itself was a touch more worrying. First of all the price of the haircut was pretty exorbitant at $18. While many people, women in particular, will scoff -or perhaps guffaw - at my complaint at this price, a few things need to be borne in mind. Specifically:

(i) With a haircut like mine, which a blind man could do while hungover, there isn't that much variation in quality

(ii) Bearing that in mind, my barber is one of the old school establishments. By "old school" I mean mediocre. And by "establishments" I mean unisex salon.

(iii) Last time I got my hair cut there (September) it was $15, and the time before that (February) it was $12

Accepting this - because I was too lazy to go around the corner and check out the other old school establishment in the area - I walked in sat down and the lady started with the clippers. I don't understand how, no matter where on your head they're cutting your hair, you only ever
seems to be looking in the armpit or at the jowls of your barber. I honestly wonder whether it's some sort of geisha-like secret art form taught at barber college, but it's remarkable.

Needless to say, on such a humid day, it wasn't pleasant. It's quite possible that the only things less attractive than dinner lady arms are dinner lady armpits.

No wonder I get my hair cut so short - it makes for a long time between visits.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

So it's come to this: Brown Ponchos

APEC is an unusual institution: its members share the attribute that they border the most vast expanse of water in the world. Hardly a unifying factor. It's surely not surprising then that APEC is most known for its shocking fashion sense. All leaders dress in some vaguely national vestments from the host country and force smiles - even more so than usual. It's right up there with spirited economic negotiations, posturing on the environment and the Alexander Downer Perpetual Trophy for Karaoke.

We've sat through these images year after year - usually it's the only vision of a tedious conference that makes it to the TV. And they've mostly been the same: loud, silk numbers from Korea, Thailand or Vietnam showing how poor the world's leaders manage to look in loud, formless attire. That was the case in during boom times anyway.

Last year, however, the cracks started to appear: in Australia the world leaders wore dodgy knock-offs of Driza-bone coats, the always cringe-worthy and staple Olympic Opening Ceremony clothing of Australia that seems to please pensioners and those with a romantic ideal of The Man from Snowy River, but make the rest of us cringe. Unlike the previous attire, these were only made in Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Signs were there that things were going downhill. The sheen and lustre normally associated with gatherings of world leaders had been replaced by a dash for the bargain bin at Big W. And everyone came out with the same clothes. It's almost like the pending economic doom demanded some cutback in discretionary spending.

It shouldn't surprise us, then, that this year in Peru they all donned brown ponchos. If, as Samuel Johnson said, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then surely ponchos are the last refuge of the under-dressed.

It is not just this blogger that thinks they look like potato sacks - the conservative media agrees with me. It might be a nod to the tough economic times we are in at the moment, or it might be a case of diplomatic tit-for-tat, where, after a sleight early in the history of APEC which saw leaders wearing alfoil or curtains or whatever, each host country now tries to make other leaders look like complete tits by wearing tat.

I wonder how much further it can go, but I guess we will find out next year, when Singapore hosts the conference. If they're wearing barrels, the jig will be up.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The perils of a small tea-spoon

Two things I find about caffeine:

(i) You easily build up a resistance to its effects

(ii) It's quite easy to become dependent on its effects

For me, as a creature of habit I can regulate this. I only have two cups of coffee per day, one in the morning (about 8am) and one in the afternoon, about 2:30 or so. It's therefore difficult for me to up the dosage and increase my caffeine dependence.

Or so I thought.

As befits the pubic sector, we only have instant coffee, and perhaps more amusingly we only have one teaspoon in our kitchen. I don't know if this is some malicious attempt by Mabel, the tea lady, to limit the rate at which cuppas can be produced, or if it's simply that everyone else has nicked our spoons, but it's what we're stuck with.

Worse still, it's a small spoon, much smaller than your stock-standard 5ml teaspoon (check it out in the photo, with my snazzy St Kilda Hall Of Fame mug). Therefore it represents something of a watershed for caffeine addicts: do I accept the restriction of less coffee in one teaspoon (and perhaps tacitly concede that I have an addiction to caffeine and need the intervention of a smaller spoon), or do I "stick it to the man" (or Mabel) and have an extra half tea-spoon anyway, maintaining my caffeine intake (or possibly increasing it through semi-accidentally scooping too much)?

For me it's a no-brainer. I come to the kitchen when most in need of caffeine, and I'll be damned if some quanta-nazi is going to deny me a single milligram of stimulant. To be honest I'd be surprised if work expected anything different from me: they know I need all the stimulus I can get, and there's no money in the budget for me to head to a strip club.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

The Fanatics Do It Again

It's been a while, and it's taken a significant event to get me out of blog-hibernation. But you can always trust the Fanatics to raise my ire.

My contempt for the Fanatics is a matter of public record. See the Orange Roughy in my Caribbean blog entry. If you can't be bothered wading through that diatribe (fair enough: you're already reading one diatribe), suffice to say that the Fanatics tend to coopt Autralian patriotism for their own private purposes and make a profit by exploting it. Nothing illustrates this better than the "ANZAC Fanatics" beanies on display.

Not content with befouling their own national icons with their "brand", it seems they have taken it a bit further with an utterly offensive t-shirt made for the tour which had a couple of Fanatics locked up for wearing them.

See the story here.

But this story is about more than schadenfreude (but not much more). There is a bit of humour to be gleaned from the responses to the accusations that the Fanatics were offending the sensibilities of Indians. Have a look:

The slogans written were 'Beer with Mahatma, Bets with Gupta, Dancing with Indira and still getting runs'.

Noone could reasonably argue that Mahatma and Indira in that sentence do not refer to the Gandhis, both icons in modern Indian history. But who said the Fanatics argue reasonably?

"one of the Australians fans defended the slogan, arguing it referred to former SBS and ABC TV newsreader Indira Naidoo, rather than the former Indian PM"

Yeah, all the Aussies get that reference - let alone Indians, but not many of them will see that t-shirt in India.

Another report said quoted Exploiter-in-chief of the Fanatics, Warren Livingstone, saying that "Mahatma referred to the former Test cricketer Greg Ritchie's "Mahatma Coat" Character".

As hard as that is to believe, even if it were true it's hardly less offensive to say you're gonna have a drink with a knob in blackface taking the mickey out of Indians.

The funniest of the defences of the Fanatics is this:

The fans said the slogan had been given to them by one of their Sri Lankan friends.

i.e. Its OK because someone with skin as dark as you said it's OK.

I'm surprised they didn't go to Pakistan to get permission. They're near enough aren't they?

Livingstone was also incorrect when he stated that "the Fanatics had sailed through their three previous tours to India without any such controversies." Actually that's not true. On their previous tour of India in 2004 they got into hot water for depicting Ganesh, one of Hindu's most loved gods, holding a beer. A big no-no.

Good to see you learn your lessons. Morons.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sometimes, there isn't enough brown in the world

I have a tie you see. It's my lucky brown tie. I don't think I've told the story of the brown tie on the blog but many of you have heard it. You can see it above - look at it! It's magnificent! And don't worry, I centred that knot before I walked out the door. I'm not a philistine.

My lucky brown tie, or LBT, is in my "A-rotation" for ties, which is to say I wear it once a week. I talk about LBT regularly with my colleagues, even when I'm not wearing it. It's fair to say it's a highlight.

See - the week-to-week existence of a desk-bound bureaucrat can be exciting. I don;t know why people only want my travel emails.

Anyways, I wear it when I need the most luck - the day when I have the biggest issue to deal with or the most to do. But I only wear it once a week. Ever.

But this week I'm stuck in a rut. Today I had some very important work to do, so I wore LBT. And it worked a treat. The meeting I had was over in a jiffy - in, out, got what I wanted.

But there's a hitch.

On Monday an urgent matter landed on my desk. Actually it had been on my desk for a while, but it suddenly became extremely urgent. I have a heap of stuff I need to do by Wednesday morning, and I also need to be in the zone for a very important meeting on Wednesday itself.

Really, I need LBT again.

But I am committed to using the luck infused in LBT in a sustainable manner - once a week. I don't want to use it all up. So what to do, what to do?

After doing as much as I could today (i.e. while wearing LBT), I think I have to trust in my own abilities.

F*ck me, that's a scary prospect.

The upshot of this is, with a new promotion comes new responsibility. And with new responsibility comes an inevitable need for more luck to deal adequately with the tasks foisted upon you.

So maybe I'm in the market for another LBT (pish posh - as if there could ever be another!), or other equally lucky item of clothing in order to deal with my added workload and complexities.

Of course, in hindsight I shoulda worn LBT on Monday to avoid this conflict altogether.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Credit where it's due...

OK after lashing out at the Worst Pub In Subiaco (Paddy Maguires) last week, and being roundly criticised by my friends for doing so, I have to admit that I headed back last night.

While some of my mates threatened to "sort me out" if they ever saw me in Paddy's again (with friends like these...), I still popped in there are a nice Japanese meal last night. The same mediocre band was playing but there were a couple of pleasant surprises:

- as soon as I walked in there I saw an old mate who I'd assumed was still in Canada (Walshie - thats actually the second time in a fortnight I've run into a friend I thought was in Canada). He was there with another mate, Ben.

- Ben and Walshie pointed me to the "best performed" girl in the pub, a lass who must've started drinking at lunch time as she was three sheets to the wind, but when she started dancing she had all the moves. Can-can, grinding into her man friend(s), flailing arms ... pretty much everything except Elaine Benes' thumbs and kicking. And what's more, she was a Sarah Palin lookalike. Who woulda thought the Republican VP nominee had such a sense of rhythm?

- While Sarah had literally all of the pub looking at her out of the corner of their collective eye when she hit the dancefloor (and outright pointing and laughing when they realised she wastoo smashed to know/care that others were looking at her), eight blokes wearing green ties (looking like they'd just knocked off from Woolies) night shift rocked in. They were mates of mine from my cricket club, celebrating their win in an Indoor Cricket comp the night before. And they were on the lash alright.

So while only about six of us turned up and expected a relatively quiet night at Paddy's, perhaps punctuated by cringing as the band tried to hit the high notes, it actually ended up being a decent night. Despite not drinking (coz of my tooth) I came away with a hoarse voice, so much was I talking!

So credit where it's due, it seems that Paddy's isn't a completely useless pub.

Turns out it is, in fact, where everybody knows your name.

Then again, it could still be rubbish, and last night was just a reflection on me...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Moral Authority to Lead

Its been a strange week in Perth, especially for leaders. Colin Barnett, five weeks ago getting ready to retire, is now Premier. Alan Carpenter, who lost the unloseable election, is now out of a job.

Certainly there have been plenty of challengers for leaders.

It was in this atmosphere that I found myself at a UBAS meeting on Friday night. UBAS – University Burger Appreciation Society – was meeting to consider the merits of the Hungry Jacks Quad Stacker burger, a burger with four patties of beef and four slices of cheese. As its founder and president I had the heavy burden of leading the meeting.

If nothing else, leadership is about moral authority. One cannot lead or command respect if one does not set an imperious example.

My authority has been directly threatened in the email banter leading up to the UBAS meeting, with other members mocking my ability to demolish burgers, now that I have lost a bit of weight. Our society has a token "Thin Rep" already (who can still put away burgers), so there is no room in the society for a leader who not only lacks girth but, because he cannot effectively manage a mere 1000-calorie burger, lacks gravitas also.

Add to that, on Thursday I got a horrible toothache (an infected wisdom tooth I've just removed). It made it very painful to chew, and, like most men, if I can't masticate I can't enjoy myself. I knew UBAS would not accept such an excuse though. I was in trouble. In fact, I was a man under siege.

Friday night at Hungry Jacks Subiaco, I walked in and was openly mocked as a Thin Rep. It was like a flashback to a primary school playground, and the taunting was just as cutting. This must be how Brendon Nelson feels.

But, as Keyser Soze said, if you want power all you need is the will to do what the other guy won't. And in his words, it was time to show these men of will what true will really was.

I was second to order. The first was Peebs, who ordered the Aussie Burger with three extra patties he'd been talking about all week. Before his order came through I stepped up to the plate, so to speak.

I ordered a Quad Stacker Burger and an "Aussie Quad" like Peebs, with a large chips and a Diet Coke (coz I'm still watching my weight). Peebs did a double take, but by the time he had sat down I'd already knocked off my "entrée" Quad Stacker.

After demolishing 8 patties in two buns and a not-insignificant amount of beetroot, I followed it up with a "classic Whopper" and a chocolate sundae.

It was supposed to be all over then, but on counting the number of patties consumed by all of us we found ourselves on 97 patties. Emmanuel, another member of the UBAS executive, realized he had not been served one of his burgers and soon corrected that. He and I went halves in his burger, while the other half of the executive, Collo and Chopper, went halves in a double. That made it 100 patties between us (there were about 20 of us).

And so it was that, after entering the restaurant the subject of ridicule, I emerged commanding a quiet reverence at my performance of 9 ½ patties, more than anyone else that night.

I got my respect back, at the expense of my self-respect.

Other things I should mention there are:

- Chop ordered a 5-pattie Whopper. The HJs staff took pictures of it as they put it together

- Emmanuel was good enough to wnder around the store offering bacon to members

- Afterwards we headed to the Worst Pub In Subiaco. I had one and a half drinks and then had to leave as I was feeling sick. I actually had a fever from eating – one too many Hot Beef Injections methinks. But I kept it all down.

- I went home and drank black tea

- The following day I had KFC for lunch

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The Angry Loner

Last Saturday my two future housemates and I signed the lease to our new place in Subiaco. I was stoked and immediately moved pretty much everything I had into the house. Something I didn't realise until later that day was that Nick and Kate weren't going to move in for another week.

In the lead-up to signing the lease I kept asking my future housemates whether there was any furniture they needed for the new house. Being in their own house already, they had everything they needed. So I wasn't about to buy stuff we wouldn't need.

So I moved into my room (rooms, actually - I have a bedroom and study), and by Sunday it was fully set up. But the rest of the house was bare.

Basically this week was my opportunity to live life as an angry loner.

Bereft of most normal possessions (Nick and Kate did leave me a TV, the Loner's Only Friend), I spent most evenings shuffling around an empty house. I would have had breakfast cereal for dinner - like a loser - but I didn't have any bowls.

It wasn't all Unabomber behaviour: I did go for a run when I was there which is a little more healthy. It's still a solitary pastime though.

Friday afternoon the chances of the week in isolation ending in something involving an AK-47 were increased when my boss landed an appeal on my lap. A heap of extra work in a tight timeframe could have been enough to tip me over the edge. But by the time I got it there was noone left in the office to shoot at anyway.

And the week of solitude ended with me getting home from a Friday night sitting on the floor in front of the television, eating pizza and watching re-runs which were punctuated by ads inviting me to text some friendly ladies to receive pictures of them doing stuff.

Thankfully I survived, and Nick and Kate will move in this weekend.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Back in Perf: Bloody Marys, Schools and Dogs

The dog is fat. I leave for five months, come back and our dog is fat.

After I emailed you last, I hopped on a plane to travel in luxurious business class from Bangkok to Perth. I may have eaten a bit in the lounge during my stopover, and had a couple of beers, but even if this was a red-eye flight there was no way I was missing a chance to indulge in business class. My first chance in fact.

So I got on the plane and indulged in the food they offered: a three course meal with real cutlery and crockery, no less! Plenty of room of course, and I was the last one awake in business class. I needed some help to get to sleep and, perusing the drinks menu, decided on a Bloody Mary. When they poured in vodka and then reached for the tomato juice, I thought that was all I was gonna get, but they added everything to it (except the celery and horseradish). It wasn't enough to get me to sleep so I had another one. Two Bloody Marys, mixed in front of me!

The drinks allowed me three hours' sleep on the plane. So I arrived in Perth a little bushed, and unlike last time did not deny mum and dad the chance to anticipate my arrival and meet me at the airport - they knew I was coming this time.

After getting a wonderful surprise of being invited to the footy, and the less wonderful surprise of seeing the Saints lose to th'Eagles live, I headed to Mikey and Sarah's excellent wedding reception. By the time I got home I was very very ready to sleep. And a little drunk.

Since then I've started work again, which has offered some exciting new challenges. Also there's been a reminder of some of the old stuff, like having entertainment in Forrest Place. That's pretty good at the moment because they have a big screen up for the Olympics. Just as well because we have no choice but to hear whatever goes on in Forrest Place.

But last Monday they had homeless week, with a few musical performances on the stage. Microphones and all. They got gradually worse through the day, soon approximating karaoke. By the end it was pretty much Hobo Idol.

That's not a joke - it actually happened.

What else? Birthday drinks with Stevie et al were fantastic. Thanks to those who came. Check out the pics on Facebook. Actually there's pics of Bish as in Bish's Précis in that album. He's not a myth, he's a real person.

And speaking on photos I'm gradually putting up photos and links from my trip. I will send out an email when they're up. Should be soon.

But now its back to a fairly mundane routine: looking for a house to move out, desperately trying to pay off my credit card, the usual. To top it off, the first school I went to is about to be torn down. How very depressing!

There are a couple of glimmers of hope before I melt into suburbia though. Firstly, I'm falling for the hype and getting an iPhone. Well, OK, that's not really me sticking it to suburbia and mass-marketing, but I'm excited enough by it to not care what you think.

The second thing? I'm learning French. After 31 years I'm just fluent enough in English to be willing to try a second language. It's not bad actually - I'm finding the theory that you learn English better when you learn another language quite true. Thinking about subject, verb and object (especially to conjugate verbs etc) is making me think about English a bit more.

I think it's obvious that my English still needs some work though.

Of course, I miss London heaps at the moment. It's wonderful to be with all my friends here but you're always going to miss a place you didn't really want to leave. But I suppose you can't get upset about something you can't control. In the meantime it's goodbye tube, goodbye decent local pub, goodbye Guardian, and goodbye easy and frequent international travel.

For now I have to content myself with fighting canine obesity.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Eurodyssey: The Final Leg

Bish's Precis

- MASSIVE thanks to Sheila and Tony, Adam and Ange, and Jez's uncle Mike for putting me up for the night in the UK
- MASSIVE MASSIVE thanks to Shane for use of his car
- after some more rudeness from British bureaucracy I managed to get back into the UK
- Headed to a heap of places I hadn't been: Brighton, Cornwall, York, Newcastle, and the Lake District; also planned to get to Bristol, Bath and Stonehenge
- Caught up with Sheila and Tony, and Adam and Ange
- Shane's car exploded just north of Bristol
- Spent my last few days in London, racking up my 40th Nando's and had some leaving drinks on Tuesday
- I get on on Saturday and will be at Mikey's reception Saturday night
- Perthites - join me at the Vic Hotel in Subi on Sat 2 August for Birthday drinks, combined with Stevie K. The theme is midlife crisis.

- Also, for those of you wondering where the photos have gone, I'm still having trouble getting them onto my computer and then onto Picasa or Facebook, but I have managed to put one from Dubrovnik onto Facebook. It's my new profile photo.

- I will add links to the blog entries as soon as I can and let you know when they're up


First Things First

Before I get too far into this, I should mention that Stevie K and I are having birthday drinks at The Vic Hotel in Subi on 2 August. Owing to our combined age of 61 the theme is midlife crisis.

For those of you that know Stevie he doesn't get out much these days. For those of you that know him well, you realise this is a good thing.

I've also set up a facebook event for it. Look forward to seeing you all there. Email me with any queries.


OK then. So having torn Europe a new one there was one last country to see a bit more of. The UK.

My arrival at The World's Worst Airport - Stansted - was not without incident, with the immigration officer flatly telling me she didn't think I intended to go home to Australia. After about 15 minutes I managed to convince her, and also to get away without abusing her and the entire British bureaucracy which throughout the last two years has been totally useless.

I had a whirlwind tour of the UK planned, which included places I hadn't visited before (Brighton, Cornwall, York, Newcastle, the Lake District, Bristol, Bath and Stonehenge), and also to say goodbye to family (Adam and Ange in Bury, north of Manchester; and Adam's parents Sheila and Tony in Ilkley, Yorkshire).

The Day Trip

So it started with a day trip to Brighton, the UK's most famous seaside getaway. Fittingly, it was miserably, wet and all but deserted. To be honest I didn't really get a taste of what Brighton would be like on a decent, sunny day. Still, I made the obligatory visit to the pier and Royal pavilion.

The Short Trip

The following day I headed out for a three day trip. In short:
- caught up with, and said goodbye to, Adam and Ange in Bury. We went for a curry in Ramsbottom (snerk!), and chatted but couldn't paint the town red like last time owing to Ange being pregnant. Still it was a great night and good to catch up. Congratulations guys!
- then headed to York with the plan of staying there for the night. Arrived and found there was no accommodation owing to the race meet there that weekend. I spent the day exploring the wonderful walled city and the cheesy-in-a-good-way Richard III museum, before hopping on a late train and heading to ...
- Newcastle! Jez's uncle put us up and we headed out for a taste of Tyneside nightlife. We started so early that we were lucky to make it to night time. It was quite a large night.

The Long Trip

After touching base in London again on Sunday night I picked up Shane's car early the following morning which he generously offered to me for the week of travelling I had ahead. Naturally, I left brilliant sunny weather in London behind and it was overcast and grim by the time I got to Devon, en route to Penzance in west Cornwall.

Just before arriving I had a call from Tony and Sheila, very kindly offering their cottage. I stayed there one night and at Tony's mum's place the following night. While down there I visited St Ives, Penzance, Lizard, Sennon Cove, St Just and a few towns in between, but the "highlight" of the trip was Land's End. It's been inundated with cheesy touristy attractions such as the Doctor Who experience, and the famous sign showing distances to John O'Groats and New York is in fact a privately owned prop for the local photographic company which is packed away at night (accompanied by a belligerent and unapologetic notice on the site). You get the picture.

Still the countryside and scenery was pretty magnificent, and the coastline around Land's End is also pretty amazing.

Wednesday morning I left the (naturally) brilliant weather in Cornwall behind and headed to Ilkley to see Sheila and Tony, which is about 8 hours drive (it got overcast at about Birmingham). On arrival we headed straight to the very pretty Bolton Abbey. Both are natural - perhaps fanatical - walkers but Tony has recently been on crutches so we couldn't go too far.

Of course, when they heard I was on the way to the Lake District they took great joy in helping me choose a good walk to go on while there. And I was happy for their help!

The following morning I said goodbye and headed off to the Lake District. I ended up basing myself in Keswick in one of the most unusual backpackers I have come across, and walked "Catbells", which involves a bit of scrambling up hills but offers wonderful views of Derwent Water and surrounding valleys. Without hiking shoes and in greasy conditions, I thought I would be in a bit of trouble climbing after I slipped and fell on my @rse in the parking lot, but I managed to get through it OK with only minor injuries and mud on the seat of my trousers. And in my defence that particular part of the parking lot is deceptively flat.

After a quick visit to the cheesy-in-a-good-way Pencil Museum, I headed down the M6 and M5 towards a farmstay between Bristol and Bath, booked by Ines. She couldn't meet me there owing to a family bereavement, but I planned to head there anyway: I was sure she wouldn't forgive me for not enjoying the place myself.

Just north of Bristol, on the right hand lane I heard a noise from the bonnet of the car and then a sudden burst, with pieces of metal shooting out from under the car. I veered off to the side of the road, rang Shane, then roadside assistance, and waited. I still don't know what is wrong with the car but consensus among those who inspected (very briefly, before towing it) it is that it's "not good."

So no Bristol, Bath and Stonehenge for me, but hopefully the car will be OK!

From Bristol, I got towed back all the way back to London, leaving the car in Clapham and joining Shane for a drink in a nearby pub. I spent the rest of the time before my flight in London, not doing much (except getting my Nando's tally up to a nice round 40, and having some "final farewell drinks" on Tuesday night - big thanks to those who made it, especially those that stayed at "Lately's" until close which is no mean feat), before jetting out Thursday night.

Where am I now...

So I write this sitting in transit in Bangkok. I decided there wasn't enough time between flights to see a girlie show in town, and on arrival realised an unexpected benefit of being forced to buy a business class ticket for the final leg home: Royal Silk Lounge in the airport. Free food, booze, internet, and so many staff tending to your every need ... I'm waiting to be offered a "special massage."

Infact I am being bored silly by Thai Muzac piped into this place. I need another beer.

Anyways, I get the red eye tonight and arrive early tomorrow morning, in time for Mikey's wedding reception tomorrow night, and work on Monday! Yeeeewwww!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Week 8 Update: Adios Europe

I just realised I didn't pubish this, my last post from my two month trip through Europe. I have no idea how I missed it.

Bish´s Precis:
- Montpellier was fantastic, so was Nimes, thanks to Nat for being a great host
- Barcelona was great also, lots to see and do there. Watch out for the genuine paella story coming up
- Casa Batllo. Worst. Audioguide. Ever.
- I managed to get into the UK (just) and am about to tour the country for a final lap of honour
- Are you in the UK? Come to the Lion in West Hampstead on 22 July to see me off
- Are you in Perth? Come to my arrival/birthday drinks on 2 August, details coming

Last Time we spoke

The day we spoke last (read: I spoke at you last) I was in Paris on my way to Montpellier. I was also in the middle of a gargantuan international feast, but more on that in another email.

So, what's happened since?


I spent three days enjoying the lovely hospitality of Nat Tucker, part of my "UK Family" here.

On the first full day in town, Nat was working, so I took off to Nimes for the day. Its a nearby town that boasts a couple nice old buildings. Quite old infact - the best preserved Roman Amphitheatre (which will host Lenny Kravitz tomorrow night, so I guess its in good condition). Also the Maison Carree, an old square temple which sat in the middle of the ancient Roman forum, and now has been converted into a 3D cinema. The film was pretty corny, but the structure itself it quite pretty. Finally, Nimes has the Tour Magne, a large tower overlooking the city, which offers some nice views, and also some steps to get up the top which is good, because I haven't seen enough of them lately.

That was all a half day - you didnt need more really. The following day, Nat and her friend Brad invitged me out for a paddle down the local river (the Herault), which made for some wonderful scenery. It was a bit overcast early but was nice and warm at the end of the day, which was just as well as we all got wet.

On my last day in town we headed down to the beach at Palavas, which was also very nice. It was good to scoff down some seafoood too. It was only at this stage that Natalie alerted me to the existence of the Cafe Gourmand (See it at No 2 here). We hunted aroind for one after lunch but failed to find one. Natalie's plan to leave me wanting more from France worked a treat!

She was a great host though. Thanks again Nat for your hospitality!


So on Friday night I travelled to Barcelona, and while there I knocked off Las Ramblas, the Colom de Columbus (which has a lift inside it to take you to the top - I wonder if its original), the excellent Mercat de Boqueria (a market selling fresh food), Barceloneta where I got me an authentic paella (thats a whole other story), Camp Nou (FC Barcelona's stadium - its actually not so "Nou"), the olympic stadium (the cauldron is still there, but the place where the flaming arrow actually landed has long since regrown) and the waterfront.

And of course Gaudi. No trip to Barcelona is complete without paying homage to this fanatical mosaicist and eschewer of straight lines. His Parc Guell is magnificent, but never would have worked as a model city (take it from a town planner and SimCity nerd). And Sagrada Familia is magnificent, even if it is still under construction and has been since 1882. I waited in line for over an hour to go up the tower (and pay an extra 2 Euro). When I got there there was hardly room for us up there! Its wonderful but if you go, make sure you get there early.

I was also up there when when the clock struck 1pm, and suffered some very serious bell ringing as a result. But I looked up in the tower to the source of the noise, and it was speakers, not a real bell!

Finally, I should pay special attention to Casa Batllo, another Gaudi work. In particular I should pay attention to the worst audio guide I have ever had the misfortune to suffer through. Don't get me wrong, the building is amazing, beautiful, and has some imaginative design solutions, but the the audio guide says things like:

"We don't know exactly what the Great Master intended here, but he is a genius. It truly is the work of a genius."

This sort of reverse reasoning (he's a genius, so everything he does must be good) is exactly the reason I am often bewildered at how people are in awe of some architects.


"From the Piano Noble you will almost certainly draw your own conclusions"

I'm sorry but you just can't do that to the English language.

Also, the price to get in, 16.50, was pretty steep given its a two hour visit at the absolute most. The Louvre is only 9 Euro.

And that's it

So after a small hiccup at Passport control this morning (where I was accused of looking for work - believe me, at 7.30am after being up for almost 5 hours I didn't look the part), I have left continental Europe for a while and am now in London! And I start my trip around the UK tomorrow.

Going Away Drinks

For those of you in London, set aside 22 July for going away drinks. Let's say it will be at the Lion, on West End Lane in West Hampstead. Its a Tuesday. Toughen up and get along.

Arrival Drinks

Arrival and birthday drinks will be on 2 August, details to be arranged. You should come. Most of Perth should be there.

I'm that popular.

OK, on that note I will say goodbye for a while. Apologies again for the lack of pictures. Still having dramas with my camera and iPod. There are about 3500 pics to download though, and so far only a few from France and Bern are on the net (Facebook).

Cheers, hope you are all well.


Sunday, 6 July 2008

Je ne prédire pas une émeute

It took about four attempts for me to get into the excellent military museum in Paris, Hotel Les Invalides. On one of those aborted visits, I was walking up from near Musee D'Orsay on the Seine, and noticed a lot of army personnel gathered at the front of the magnificent building, sitting on the grass beside their buses in groups, well dressed in their uniforms.
While they looked impressive, I moved on as it was already 12:30 and quite a late start for me. After a long walk from Montmartre, I sat on the small wall in front of the building and rested a bit. As I munched on an apple, I saw some people refused entry at the gates. There was nothing obviously wrong with the people - they looked like normal tourists. I kept looking and more were turned away. I realised there was a large police presence there, much larger than usual.
Three people were sitting near me on the wall, two ladies and a toddler. Past us (from the gate) two cops walked, carrying a barricade. One of them stayed at the barricade, blocking the path of pedestrians.
My curiosity that we'd been allowed to stay there was short-lived. The other cop approached the other three, about five metres from me, and spoke to them in French. We all had to move. He came to me but knew I'd heard, so I was already up and moving. I asked him in French why, and he mentioned that there was a military ceremony. It would be open again at 3pm. Too late for me to see everything I thought, so I decided to give up on it for the day, and walk around the corner to the Musee Rodin for an hour or so in the garden.
Still glowing to myself for doing so well with my French, I walked around the corner and saw a few more cops. There seems to be about 20 different types of police in Paris, but I remembered these from Pont de la Concorde, in front of Assemblee Nationale. They had shoulder padding and to myself I mockingly dubbed them RoboCops.
With all-too-shallow benefit of hindsight, I should have called them Kaiser Chiefs.
My mockery was to be short lived. As I turned he corner I saw a heap of them standing the width of Boulevarde des Invalides, with police vans behind them. They were protected here too - there was a row of them with shields and helmets, as well as a few behind the main line talking to each other. They must be there for the ceremony, I thought, and casually walked through them.

They let me pass through them along the sidewalk. It was only when I passed through that I realised why they were there in the first place.

On the other side of the barricade were a few angry chaps. My French was nowhere near good enough to tell you what they were angry about, but they had a ringleader, standing in front of about 80 men. He was yelling and screaming at the cops, and the crowd behind him had banners.

Their presence clearly made the cops nervous enough to call out the riot squad (i.e. RoboCops). That made me nervous.

I looked back. All of a sudden there was no exit along the sidewalk where I had entered. I looked toward Musee Rodin, which is accessed via a side street. The way was blocked, sidewalks and all. A couple of old ladies also in the middle of this asked to get through but were denied. They, like me, had become part of the riot without realising it. Having seen them fail, I knew I had no chance of getting through.

Then the riot really started. Flares were thrown by the mob, and smoke was coming from somewhere. I don't know what the old ladies were thinking but I was starting to get worried. I looked up to the third and last possible exit to the riot. It was to the south, near Napoleon's Tomb. It was similarly barricaded, with riot squad cops covering the width of the street, but the sidewalks weren't totally blocked off. I walked up towards them. It was only about 150 metres but it felt like miles. Even though I'd done nothing wrong, I felt guilty and terribly sheepish. I was wearing a black jumper and jeans, nothing that would betray me as not involved or connected with the riot, much less as a tourist.

I got closer. 100 metres. It seemed they hadn't seen me until now. They were on to me now though.

Sixty metres. I veered to the sidewalk. They moved also. Two guys with shields moved to block my exit. I was petrified.

Forty metres. They were in place and I was still moving towards them. I tried to look innocent but realised that's what anyone, guilty or innocent, would do.

Twenty metres. They said nothing but weren't going to let me pass. Like so many nightclub bouncers I have encountered, they didn't need to say anything to tell me "no entry." But I had no other option but to keep going.

I realised this probably wouldn't be covered by my travel insurance.

Ten metres. All of a sudden, something clicked. I went wide eyed, still walking towards them. Now only a couple of steps away, and looked directly at them. In English I innocently asked "Oh, am I unable to get through here?"

Without a word they let me through. I was so relieved I almost needed a colostomy bag.

Ten minutes earlier I was stoked to be able to scrape together a little French. But I have never been happier to be monolingual than when I walked through that barricade.

I found out later the rioters were striking Metro workers. Let them eat cake I say!

I do not know the fate of the old ladies.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Week 7 Update: Frugal Freiburg and Decadent Dam

Bish's Precis
- I have one week left on tour
- I forgot the precis last time. Sorry Bish. Suffice to say I went to Istanbul and Neuschwabstein castle in Fussen, which is in the Bavarian Alps. The former was incredibly good, the latter incredibly not.
- photos are up on Facebook from Paris and Bern. If youre not friends with me on there you should be. You can be by searching for this address (the profile pic is of a shoe)
- I will add links to photos for previous email when I get a chance, and send you links to the updated blog entries
- Freiberg: incredible hiking in the Black Forest, a beautiful city, I twisted my ankle very badly while on the hike and probably raised the dead
- Finding Black Forest cake is harder than you'd think
- Amsterdam: I don't smoke, so got through a lot in two days. Breakfast at Inner Amsterdam was amazing, so was the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District Tour
- Freiberg has heaps of interesting stuff for planners also
- Please send me tips for: Barcelona; and the Lake District, York, Bristol, Bath, and Cornwall in the UK

I am sending this while on a five hour stopover in Paris, en route to Montpellier.


When we last spoke I had just arrived in Freiburg.

Since then I spent a day hiking in the beautiful Black Forest. Just a day hike of about 6 hours, but the friendly staff at Black Forest Backpackers gave me some excellent tips on where I could go to get away from most of the tourists and traffic (to the extent that all pics taken on this day were self-portraits, a rarity). And to their credit they were spot on. I headed SE from the city, getting an excellent view of Freiburg and nearby Gunsterstall from the hills. I also climbed one of the larger hills in the area, Kibfelsen, which offered a lovely view. I came back to town via Kleiner Tal, Kappel and suburban Littenweiler. About 15kms in all.

It wasn't without drama though. About three and a half hours in, I twisted my ankle. The same one I did in Sorrento and Athens (that's three times in 17 days) but far worse. I hobbled for a bit but the one advantage of the quiet path I took was that the profanities I bellowed weren't heard by anyone I saw. But they would have put any local yodelers to shame. And raised the dead. But by the end of the hike I had walked it out and wasn't limping.

I had planned to do another days hiking the following day, but immediately realised it would now be difficult. So I decided to have a mini holiday-from-my-holiday: I satisfied myself with walking through the city, which really is lovely. It was market day in the main Munsterplatz, and I searched through the extensive selection of mobile fromageries and wurststands for some lunch (oooh, currywurst!). Still looking for something to do I wandered into the hills looking over the city and kept climbing until I reached the bottom of a new lookout over the city. Having come this far I climbed the 484 steps to the top for a beatuiful, peaceful (although somewhat sweaty) view of the city and forest.

The backpackers there was great, even if it didn't supply breakfast. At €13 per night you can't complain if you're frugal, although a fellow backpacker (an older bloke from New Jersey) had his camera and phone nicked from his bedside, so I guess you you can take being frugal and opportunistic too far.

The only negative thing I can say about Freiburg is that they have these open drains running along the side of the streets in the Old Town. The water is fine (kids etc are encourqged to play around in them), but the sound of running water constantly made me want to pee.

The afternoon before I was to leave I realised I hadnt had any of the local specialy, Black Forest cake! It took me an hour to find a place that sold it, which, frankly, is an outrage.

After realxing by a river in the late afternoon, I jumped on an overnight train to Amsterdam for a surprisingly pleasant ride. Infact, my recent rant about trains to Eagles Nest notwithstanding, DeutcheBahn is an excellent train company. Their website also is superb for planning travel all through Europe.


Amsterdam I smashed through in two days. Not being a smoker, and therefore unconstrained by any pot-related lethargy, I managed to get through quite a lot - Anne Frank house (which is brilliant), the tongue-in-cheek (I hope) S*x Museum, Vogelspark, a general walking tour and an excellent walking tour of the Red Light District (both tours were run by New Europe). For the latter I chose a female guide which probably made it a bit better, but it was more than just t!tilation and gawking.

One image at the Anne Frank House was really breathtaking. In the annex where they hid, in the attic, there is a life-size picture of Otto Frank (the father and only one of the 8 that survived the war), standing, painfully alone, head slightly bowed, in the empty annex. It was really powerful and quite moving. This is the picture but the internet doesn't really do it justice.

Should also mention I stayed at the Inner Amsterdam Hostel, right near Vogelspark. It had the best brekky I have ever encountered in a backpackers, without question. More on that will follow...

And this morning I jumped on a train to Montpellier, to visit my 3rd (?) cousin Nat who is working there. Its also a great chance to get improve my French, although at this stage just eating Croque Monsieur would probably improve my French.

Been Spending Most My Time Livin' In a Planners Paradise

For those of you on the list that are planners (the rest of you have obviously just nodded off), Freiburg had some interestign stuff. Its a university town, has an excellent public tranport system, is surrounded by wonderful greenery, has a well preserved and very pedestrian friendly old town (moreso than most other Old Towns, which is saying something), qnd an excellent social scene that worked well in the Old Town - great small bars, beer stands on the street, people street drinking with beer in glass steins, mingling with trams and taxis and noone seeming to be bothered. Highlight though was the alternative energy. they way they have incorporated solar energy and wind power into building design there is really excellent. Its worth a closer look actually.

Amsterdam is well known as a bit of a planning utopia, but I was surprised with the bikes. The volume of them on the road/cycleways actually made it another barrier for pedestrians. Still, that is to be expected in the most densely populated city in Europe, if nowhere else.


Anyways, the last chapter of my mainland Europe trip is about to start. In a week I will be in London, starting two weeks through the UK before jetting to Perth. Any hints you can offer on Barcelona would be great. In the UK any hints on the Lake District, York, Bristol, Bath, and Cornwall would be excellent also.

Hope you are all well. Not long now!

PS. I forgot to mention the thing that struck me most about Turkey last week. Without question it is their patriotism and love of the founder of their modern state, General Ataturk. Its still in the constitution that you cannot speak ill of him. Seeing the locals' admiration of him I wonder why such a clause is necessary. There are flags everywhere too.

Italian Street Vendors

Italy has a long and rich hitory, from ancient times, through the Roman Empire and the Renaissance, the tumultuous 20th Century, and today. And people from all over the world come tgo see the fruits of this rich and long history.

Strange then that the street vendors seem keen to turn all of the nation's icons into d!ck jokes: boxer shorts with massive doodles on them from the statue of David (also available in BBQ aprons), and the leaning tower of Pisa reduced to an impotence joke.

It shouldn't surprise me. Italy is a country that seems to insist on exuding masculinity and femininity from its citizens. Those not putting every effort into being a temple of their gender are very rare. Perhaps it follows that their rich history, including the epitome of the male form in David and the epitome of shoddy Italian construction in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, should be judged by these contemporary standards.

Still neither of them explain the t-shirt with the bad-fake Bart Simpson, trying in vain to right the Leaning Tower, pants down, @rse bear and f@rting for extra power (wish I got a photo).

Perhaps, in fact, street vendors are just complete @rseholes who don't give a toss about culture.

It's a tough call.

PS. This is my 69th blog posting.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Week 6 Update: Talking Turkey and Fussin' about Füssen

OK, so since we last talked I've continued my merry travels (and, in some cases, not-so-merry if you got my rant yesterday).

Last time I sent an update I was in Athens, having seen all I wanted in about six hours. Since then I have:

- spent one more day in Athens, mainly wandering around Plaka and exploring the place on foot rather than seeing anything, before hopping on board a bus for a 19 hour trip to Istanbul

- the night of my arrival Turkey beat Croatia on penalties to get into the semis for Euro 2008 - not surprisingly it was a large night and the atmosphere there was pretty amazing. Actually I'm pretty glad I've been travelling during this tournament

- visited Gallipoli, which was pretty special, although our guide had no voice from celebrating the night before

- Toured the Bosphorous, saw the Blue Mosque (thought of Durack), and visited the Aga Sophia which was a real highlight

- hit the Bazaars for some haggling and present shopping. To be honest I really enjoy haggling, and I don't think you can enjoy the bazaars without being able to enjoy it. I got all my presents here. That said, I was never going to buy a rug, and when they wouldnt give up selling me a rug, I started asking them if they had any edible rugs.

(they didnt get it)

- I also saw all sorts of wares in the Spice Market, including "Turkish V!agra" which was - I kid you not - dates stuffed with walnuts. Crammed, if you will. (I got a photo but I'm having trouble with my pics at the moment) One of the signs on the stack of "v!agra" said "Five times in one night." For the ladies, let me make this clear: this is not such a great achievement. I can manage that myself without dates or walnuts. Infact I can probably manage five times in about eight minutes.

- to finish the trip I had me a Turkish bath, which was bloody fantastic. It was two tubby, middle-aged, moustached and quite gruff Turkish men, wearing only towels (as I was), unable to speak English, manipulating and massaging me until it stopped hurting. I don't know what more I need to say to tempt you really

- Also while in Istambul I ate. Boy did I eat. Street food was fantastic (fresh corn on the cob €0.50, doner kebabs €0.40, fresh grilled fish sandwiches, mussels, roadside bars selling kofte with awesome relish and fresh corriander... I could go on).

- Overall, Istanbul was a massive highlight. A very busy city which I can best describe as half as crazy as India (which is crazy enough). I would definitely return! Infact I'd love to spend a month at least travelling around the whole country.

Then ... well you already have the story of the trip to Füssen. I got to Neuschanstein, the main reason to visit sleepy little Füssen, and it was €9 to get in, which gets you a compulsory 35 minute guided tour. And that's it. Oh, also youre nto allowed to take any photos inside the castle. Pretty rubbish really, and a disappointment given how beautiful the castle is, and how ornate and over the top the interiors are. I honestly wonder why Michael Jackson didnt just copy this for Neverland (it even has secret compartments, which I'm sure he'd use).

There are a heap of tourists in the town also - its really a very old crowd that comes here. As I've mentioned before its a good sign of how touristy a place is.

Last night I saw the Turks get booted out of Euro 2008 after a gallant 3-2 loss to the Krauts. I saw most of it but the weather at Basel was awful and actually cut transmission from the ground. The weather in Vienna was worse: they evacuated the fanzone. And it wasn't much better in Bavaria, where thunder and lightning and torrential rain accompanied the game. But it subsided after the game, so thankfully I went to sleep joined only by the sound of honking car horns.

Today I am in Freiburg, to hike the Black Forest. Its a university town, very pitcuresque, and the backpackers seems pretty good also. I'll probably have two day here, leaving on Sunday.

The last bits of my Eurodyssey are to Amsterdam, Montpellier and Barcelona. Again, any suggestions you can offer would be most appreciated!

Cheers, hope you're all well!


Thursday, 26 June 2008

Twenty hours of involuntary transit

You have been told of a couple of long journey I've undertaken on this trip already. Those ones I was prepared for. But starting from when I left my hostel in Istanbul, I had another long trip.

I almost called this "Why I organise travel and don't do too much on a whim", or "The Nazis Last Laugh."

00:00 - I left the hostel, picked up by a shuttle to get me to Sabhia Gocken airport. The trip took about 90 minutzes, thanks mainly to the worlds worst shuttlebus driver. He forgot his card to pay tolls on the roads (and just parked in the gate on the motorway until someone behind him gave him one), missed the turnoff for the airport and seemed to abuse everyone who drove past.

01:30 - I arrive at the airport, hoping to get about three hours sleep before hopping on my 6:05 flight. Except its not at 6:05, its at 3:55 and theyre checking in already. So no sleep for me.

02:00 - While waiting for boarding, I check where Hitler's Eagles Nest is located in my guidebook. Turns out it is right on the Austrian border, like Füssen, but SE of Munich near a town called Berchtesgaden. On a whim I decide I will try and see it that day, before heading to Füssen.

When travelling, I never do something like this on a whim.

03:40 - We board and soon after (although a little late at about 4:20) we take off, bound for Münich. Onboard I manage to get an hour's sleep.

05:50 (German time; I gained an hour) - we touch down. About 15 minutes later, while wiping away whatever sleep accumulates in your eye in an hour, I am interrogated by a German border official. I promise him I don't want to work in his country and he lets me through.

07:10 - I arrive at Münich Hopfbahnhof on the S-Bahn, and make enquiries about getting to the Eagles Nest. Its a three hour trip, including a change at Freilassing. I decide to take the 07:26 train. It is delayed by 15 minutes, meaning I miss my connection at Freilassing and have to take the next train an hour later. I left my luggage in a locker.

11:05 - I get into Barchtesgaden. I have to catch two buses to get to the Eagles Nest. I have just missed one, so wait annother 20 mins for the next one. By now I am well and truly sick of delays, and still unable to sleep on any trains or buses, so very tired.

11:40 - I arrive at the spot to change buses, which is also a spot where a heap of walkers in the Alps come to start their walks. Its quite busy there. I head to the information booth. I ask about getting to the Eagles Nest. The response:

"We're not running buses up there today as the lift is out of order. You can still get to the top though - you have to walk and it will take two and a half hours."

I run away from this lady. In hindsight, it was exactly the type of run you do when you have one to many sculls of beer in a drinking game and need to have a spew. Except I was running away because I knew I was about to swear. A lot. Very loudly.

11:45 - I got away quick enough, but had to wait for the next bus to take me down the hill to the train station. Anotgher 20 minutes. Swearing by then had receded to white noise levels.

12:10 - I arrive at the train station to find I have just missed an hourly train to Freilassing. I am not overly happy, but grab a coffee and sit for 55 minutes to wait for the next train.

13:00 - I hop onboard the 13:05 to Freilassing. It sits there for 25 minutes and turns into the 13:25 to Freilassing (which was an different scheduled service). This, ironically, was the train I was going to get anyway, after seeing the Eagles Nest.

14:10 - Its supposed to be an hours journey to Freilassing, which makes me nervous: my planned connection to Münich is due to depart at 14:20 and I´'m not there yet. And I have no idea if this is running on time. Given today's luck I doubt it.

14:15 - We mercifully pull into the station fully three minutes before my connection. I race to make it there in time, and sit down for anopther train journey.

16:20 - Arrive back in Münich. I check the times. I am in a state of mind that surpasses anger and cynicism. In this meta-cynical state I expect that the next train and all others for the evening have been cancelled. But I am lucky, the next train is 20 minutes away. I get some food and jump aboard.

19:00 - Arrive Füssen. Utterly stuffed. It has been a cloudy, warm, humid and windless day. So it would've been uncomforatable anyway, even if I had showered that morning instead of being interrogated.

19:30 - Finally put my bag down in the hostel. If I hadn't had the whim to get to the Eagle's Nest I would have been in Füssen by 10am. And in the nine hours since then I have absolutely nothing to show for it, except that I spent about 80 Euro.


Thursday, 19 June 2008

Week 5 Update

Howdy all

Since I emailled you last I've been in Dubrovnik mainly, and arrived in Athens last night.

A lot of people on this email list talked up Dubrovnik and gave me heaps of advice.

To be hones I was a bit surprised with what I got with Dubrovnik. First of all it is expensive. Almost Western Europe expensive. Ten euros for a meal is a bit steep in this part of the world.

Also, while it's off the map for Ryanair and EasyJet, and very hard to get to really, it's full of older tourists, which usually means it is well and truly touristy (and probably explains the prices).

There's still plenty of fun to be had - touring the local islands (and getting quite sunburnt) was a great highlight, and walking the city walls offered some amazing views, even if I seemed to be going slowly so a few oldies could get up and down stairs.

The highlight though was the much talked up Buza or Cold Drinks Bar, which sticks out through a hole in the wall onto a rocky outcrop over the water (the Croatians claim Buza means hole). Magic at sunset, and it enabled me to jump off the outcrop and into the sea. Great fun.

Really, it is an utterly beautiful city, but I think the touristy element was a bit of a disappointment for me.

That was followed with a trip I like to call Highway to Hellas. It involved a bus trip from Dubrovnik to Skopje (supposedly 10 hours, really 13), train to Thessaloniki (supposedly 6 hours, really 9), and then a train to Athens (supposedly 4 hours, actually an excruciating 7 and a half sitting next to a bloke with shocking BO and trying not to wretch). So after setting off at 5:30pm on Monday night, I got into Athens at 12:30am this morning. Thirty hours travel, including five different countries (and three different alphabets) in 18 hours:

- Croatia, obviously
- Montenegro (full of Russian holiday houses and, obviously, money launderers; I saw the sun set from on my bus on a barge on a fjord in the Mediterranean - weird)
- Kosovo (you should see the investment pouring in to the capital, Pristina - so much new housing)
- Macedonia (Skopje is an absolute hole, one of the worst cities I have seen - and definitely the worst train station I have ever seen - but the rest of the country, or the parts I could see from the train, were gorgeous)
- Greece (who made their dislike of Macedonia more obvious with an hours wait at the border for no good reason)

Finally Athens today, and I saw the Acropolis, Dionysius' Theatre, Temple of Zeus, the original Olympic Stadium, the Ancient Agora and Plaka all before lunch, had a siesta and then saw the sun set from Lykavittos Hill, which was beautiful, thanks to he pollution.

I'm off to Instanbul tomorrow night (19 hours by bus) for four nights, including Gallipoli, then Munich for the castles and Freiberg for the Black Forest. Again, ideas and suggestions are welcome.

OK must go. A bloke who has been loudly whingeing about a computer not being available (he's American - he's been doing everything loudly), had just pulled out an Egyptian lute and is strumming it with intent. He's also claiming it's "deliberately out of tune."

Serenity Now!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Authentic Travel

I've been very lucky on this holiday so far, having hosts with me in Paris, Berne and now Rome. With their kindness and knowledge (and also their cars) I've been able to get to quite a few places that I didn't know about and certainly wouldn't get to without them.
One of these places is Ostia Antica, south or Rome. It's some extensive ruins of the old port city for Rome and dates back to the 7th Century BC. It's also about 25km from Rome and hopelessly served by public transport and tours. So when Alessandra, Rome resident and former housemate, offered to spend and afternoon there I jumped at the chance.
About the time she texted me with the idea of doing this, I was spending the day with another friend, Lauren, and her brother. Lauren mentioned that she wanted to go to Pompeii in a toga if there were enough of a group willing to do so.
I found this funny, and also remembered my alcoholic roots at UWA where I attended a few toga parties. I had to pay my respects - to the ancient Romans and the now-ancient former attendees of these toga parties. Of course, being a shameless attention-seeker, the optimum group size for such an exercise for me was one (plus one to take pictures).
Click on the links to see the results of my efforts.
Getting ready (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
In the Sacred Place of the Republic (front) (back)
In the Teatro, participating in an Ancient Roman version of The Price Is Right. Come on down! (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
I also fulfilled a few Italian stereotypes:
Having an argument on my mobile phone (this wasn't staged - Southern Electric are useless)
Obviously the tourists there were pretty happy to see me, and laughing quite a bit. Some of them, well within earshot, spoke about me in the third person a bit, like "Oh he's wearing Nikes."

Actually, if I was in sandals I might have made a few euro while there.
Massive thanks to Alessandra for taking the pics (I couldn't get the camera out of her hands!), and to Lauren for the idea. Also I should thank the hostel for the sheet, but they don't know I borrowed it.
PS. It was quite warm that day. You should see my tan/burn lines.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Week 4 Update

Bish's Precis:
- Rome - crazy drivers, buffalo mozzarella and the benefit of inside knowledge
- Pompeii - it's massive and full of stuff that was buried and isnt any more
- Sorrento - more than just a suburb for the nouveau riche in Perth
- Dubrovnik - gorgeous old town, more on that to come

Before I start I have a massive thankyou to Alessandra and Alessandro (or as I like to say, bella and her fella) for showing me around Roma. You guys were great! Baci!

I can't believe I'm over halfway through already. Infact today marks one month on the road.

In the last week I haven done pretty much everything there was to do in Rome, including surviving there after Italy lost to the Dutch in Euro 2008. Specifically I have...
- stuck my hand in the Mouth of Truth (that's not a euphemism)
- visited Circo Massimo, the Spanish Steps, Campo de Fiori, Tiberina
- checked out Roman ruins on Palatine
- seen Michaelangelo's Moses at the church of St Peter in Chains
- seen more ruins at Ostia Antica (that will be the subject of a separate email/blog entry)
- checked out Mousolini's grand vision in Eur
- been for an excellent and MASSIVE dinner in the hills around Roma, which is a bit of a summer tradition for locals
- checked out the excellent Chisea di Santa Maria della Concezione near Barbarini, which has a crypt ornately decorated in human bones. You should see what they can do with a pelvis.

The last four were thanks to the local knowledge of bella. Without her I never would've found or got to them!

Also while in Roma I fell in love. With Buffalo Mozzarella cheese.

Then on to Sorrento for a couple of nights. Its a town full of old tourists, but from what I've heard is way better than my other option, Naples. Normally a dodgy place (but there are no tourists so its supposed to be authentic if you can stand it), its in the midst of an 8 month garbage strike. Its piling up on the streets.

Sorrento is very touristy, but it's also very easy to see why. Its a very beautiful city, and has the island of Capri nearby. I might head back there, after the grandkids have grown up. Didn't get to Capri or the blue grotto while I was there.

I went to Sorrento mainly to get to Pompeii, the Roman city buried by lava and ash when Vesuvio erupted in 79AD. The one thing that blew me away about the place was its sheer size. It covers 60 hectares. Some of the things theyve managed to recover are pretty amazing too. It's a solid half-day at least there. My favourite bits were the Villa della Misteri, the Teatros and the stadium. Some of the houses were pretty ornate too.

Yesterday I spent the day travelling to Bari, and after some difficulties in Bari itself hopped on an overnight ferry top get where I am now: Dubronik. I'm exploring the old town, and looking forward to having a swim and maybe jump off some cliffs!

I'll keep you posted on how I go. And watch out for the story on Ostia Antica.

Next travels are to Athens, maybe Thessaloniki, and Istanbul. Keep the suggestions coming!

Anyways, enough about me. How are you doing?