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.