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?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Edison: the Lights are on but Nobody is Home

"Bonsoir" he asked, effectively asking if I was French.

"Hola?" he guessed again, without giving me a chance to answer the first. I finally told him I was Australian and spoke English.

This was Edison, I was later to learn. Earlier I was involuntarily introduced to him, finding him sleeping in a lower bunk in my dorm. He had the same clothes on now as he did then. That was two days ago, and, like I say, he was asleep then.

Now, there was a strange aroma coming from my room, into which I had rushed out of the rain. The smell came from a small thermos-like receptacle, in which he was stirring. I asked him what it was.

"An oven - electric."

On further inspection, it was one of many appliances he had with him down there: an iPod with speakers which I never saw used, and a couple of other gadgets, all running out of an all-too-cumbersome powerboard. He was also sporting a walkman I could hear, with large, uncool earphones.

"I am electrical engineer," he said, then burst into spontaneous, raucous, all-consuming laughter, not for the last time.

Having finally taken the scene in, I asked him what he was cooking.


I must have looked surprised to hear such a bland answer when I could smell such flavours. He made a further offer:

"Oriental rice." That was enough for me.

An hour earlier, when I was in the dry courtyard, I'd seen him climb the stairs towards our room with two huge shopping bags. I wondered where they'd gone.

In the meantime I fooled around with my iPod. He offered to let me charge it. "No charge" he said, launching into laughter at his pun.

Ignoring the laughter I accepted the offer, at first thinking it kind, but then realising he was using the only power point in the room.

I asked why he wasn't eating out, or eating French food. "French food is all the same. Too much bread." I somehow managed not to laugh - how often has the same thing been said about Asian food and rice?

But there were also some good Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants along the main road. What about them?

"Too expensive."

And with that, everything clicked. This middle-aged bloke was staying in the cheapest hostel in town and was making every cent count, perhaps at the expense of some of his Parisian experience. Especially the food, which is no small part of the experience.

I liked the setup he'd organised there and told him as much, and asked if I could take a picture of him. He agreed. I asked him to smile. He didn't. But he was friendly nonetheless.

He sat over his huge rectangular bag which held his luggage. Large and functional it was. A minute later I saw him open the bag and inside was the shopping - almost all of the two large bags - and also a small rucksack that could only take a couple of pairs of socks and jocks.

I turned away to examine the photo, confirming that he didn't smile, and it dawned on me that I didn't know his name, even after taking his photo. I suddenly felt incredibly rude.

"I'm Ross," I blurted out.

"Rossu? I am Edison"

Edison. I spontaneously laughed at his name, thinking it surely more than a coincidence that an electrical engineer with a huge powerboard would have such a name. Of course you are.

He didn't quite see the humour in that (or maybe he saw it too often) and changes the subject.

"You are Australian? Your ancestors are from England?"

"Yeah I think from somewhere up north"

"And you are descended from your ancestors?" More raucous laughter. What surprised me most was that it wasn't contagious.

"Uh, yeah" I feigned a chuckle.

"You are descended from Anglo Saxons?"

"Uh, yeah I guess... what about you Edison? Are you descended from the Anglo Saxons?"


He didn't see the irony.

"Oh," I stammered, and got on with my affairs. re-packing my bag had suddenly become very important, and required my full attention.

A minute later he grabbed his chair and sat right in the doorway, watching the rain and the empty courtyard below. And blocking my exit. Headphones on he ate his oriental rice.

I sat on my bunk amused, and a little envious that he genuinely didn't care that he was going things differently, or even if he got in anyone else's way.

Ten minutes later he was asleep. In the same clothes.


Post Script

I was going to leave the story there, except on the next night I got another insight into Edison.

An older bloke, maybe mid to late 40s, arrived in our dorm. Like Edison (and me I guess), I suspect he sought out the cheapest hostel. He looked haggard, and had some difficulty explaining through broken English that he hadn't slept the night before. Only Edison and I were in the room. Between us it actually took a while to figure out that his first language was Spanish, and that he was Argentinian.

As soon as he said Spanish, Edison exploded into a frenzy of cliches, interspersed with his raucous laughter.

The Argentinian bloke, a gentle but tall man, was clearly at the end of his tether due to lack of sleep. He was at first relieved that someone in the room understood Spanish. Edison would say "my amigo!" and the Argentinian would try to talk to him.

Edison couldn't hear because he was laughing. When he finished laughing he's launch into another cliche, while the exasperated Argentinian slowly came the the realisation that he did not infact know any Spanish, and was spouting these phrases for his own (and only his own) amusement.

It was quite grotesque.

Infact, watching it all in slow motion from my bunk, it was all too much for me. Edison wouldn't stop. I had to turn away, after trying to apologise to the Argentinian. I was physically cringing from the exchange. I expected the Argentinian, who looked like he'd learnt to be gentle in spite of his imposing figure, rather than being naturally gentle, to get angry any minute.

Luckily it didn't happen, and the Argentinian was soon asleep. But it was no thanks to Edison.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Week 3 Update: Bern baby Bern... and Italy

Before I say anything, a massive massive thankyou to Greg and Silvia for the weekend in Bern. Thanks heaps guys, it was a really enjoyable weekend!

Bish's Precis:
- Bern
- Bologna
- Venice
- Pisa
- Florence
- Rome

(sorry, was that too wordy?)

A quick update of my happenings in the last week or so since I left Paris. I've clocked up three countries since then.

First I got a train to Bern, from where:

I explored the sleepy but gorgeous old town area. The whole town in sleepy actually, but its setting is very picturesque.

We headed out into nearby Interlaken, to he Rhone Glacier, had a muck around in the snow, enjoyed some breathtaking scenery (which Greg and Silvia took for granted mainly - they're so spoilt!) and got some great grub too.

Greg and I also climbed Stockhorn (well the top part anyway). It made for a bit of a challenge and a good opportunity to work off the swiss chocolate (although I had a steak at the restaurant at the top).

Also visited a very swanky ski resort town, Gstaad, Montreux on Lake Geneva where I hung out with Freddie Mercury, and Gruyere for some excellent cheese. Ended up seeing a fair bit of the country!

Thanks again guys!

On Monday morning I headed into Italy for he first time. I got the train to Bologna. For the second half (from Milan) I was joined by an old Italian lady who spoke ... well, at me for a while in Italian. I tried to tell her I didn't speak Italian ("no Italiano" was about all I could muster). she kept going. I tried telling her in English. She just stopped for a second, took a breath, and said "no comprendo" before prattling on. She stopped eventually. I hope it wasn't health related.

Anyway, from Bologna, itself a lovely town, I headed on day trips to:
- Venice - also a lovely town, which had a couple of nice surprises I didn't expect. The first was the smell of the ocean, which was most welcome after three months. The second, and in hindsight it goes without saying, is that there's no traffic there. It was a day spent walking around. My favourite bits were the Arsenal, Rialto bridge, and the southern coast of the island.
- Pisa - what can I say. Colette, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Pisa. All one-hit wonders. Anyone going there, you don't even need a half day. Nice town, just not really special.
- Florence - a real highlight. A stunning city, and walking in the hills south of the city afforded some amazing views of the city and some lovely Tuscan villas. I also saw Galileo's telescope. But the highlight was of course Michaelangelo's David. I'm pretty sure it's my favourite work of art now (a pretty short list - I am a philistine). The detail of the form is ... well, breathtaking. It's very well lit also. Highlights were the right arm, his shoulders and ... his balls.

Yeah, you read correctly. If Michaelangelo can make the human scr0tum look like a work of art, he really is a genius.

Anyways, moving along, I'm now in Rome. Last night I caught up with Alessandra, my wonderful former housemate who now lives in Roma. I'll be seeing her and her fella Alessandro more before I leave. They took me out to dinner last night and we saw the Colosseum at night afterwards. Great to see you bella!

Today I met up with Lauren again, who (you will remember) I totally randomly ran into in Paris, and today we spent the day with her bro Dave in the Vatican (that would be the third country), seeing St Peter's Square and basilica, climbing the dome, looking at the tombs of the popes (including JP II), and strolling through the Vatican Museum which includes the Sistine Chapel. Pretty impressive all around.

We spent the rest of today walking back towards our hostels (near Termini station), which included Victor Emmanuel Bridge, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Foro Traiano, the monument to Victor Emmanuel, and the Colosseum. Other than ten mins for lunch, we were on our feet from 10am to after 6pm. I'm knackered now!

Thanks to all for the excellent suggestions so far. I'm in Rome until Tuesday, when I head to Sorrento, then to Dubrovnik, Athens and Istanbul. Any ideas on what I should do there?