Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The missing bits

Almost a year now since my last post; there's clearly some updating to do. All I need is a spare minute, to strain my brain a bit to remember more than just the bulky meat and three veg. meals and ample serves of beer, and get it all down:

New York
Madrid, Seville, Cordoba,
France, Switzerland, Italy

which is where I am now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Greetings from London! It's a Friday night, Madonna is freshly divorced and teenage boys are running scared across town, Gordon Ramsay is cooking duck on the tele with Germaine Greer, who is saying things like "watch out for skinny men, they're all dick", and I'm sitting here typing about the last few months. Sit back with a West Coast Cooler, enjoy and thank me for my tireless service later.

We've been here for nearly five months now; time flies when you are stacking on potato and beer kilos, and learning to say "hiya" instead of "hi", "hello" or "g'day ya pommy bastard". We're shacked up in Stockwell, south London, the childhood suburb of Roger Moore, according to Wikipedia. But we haven't really done a lot of London exploration, having been in the last few months on trips to Sicily, Madrid, Dublin, Prague, Budapest and last week, by Eurostar (don't get me Eurostarted on how good train travel under the ocean is) Antwerp. And then we're off over Christmas to New York, to skate on ice while drinking 10L Cokes, eating deep-fried bicycle tyres and seeing what their dishevelled, unemployed bankers look like.

Don Broweno has Family in Palermo, a second cousin by my estimation, although I'm not too good with family trees. Francesco is Bron's Mum's cousin, and we - Bron's parents Marg and Ian, Bron and I - stayed with Francesco, his wife Maria, their daughter Elissa, and Francesco's sister Anna (a Londoner now) for a week in August. Their hospitality was incredible, particularly the involtini-related parts of their hospitality. We ate like kings for a week, managed to squeeze into the Fiat Punto despite said indulgence, and generally ambled from town to town, just about completing a lap of the island. We scaled Etna (or at least, a crater of Etna). Here's a photo:

It was a trial to leave. I was starting to get back into the swing of travelling. And I could have spent another week swimming in a sea of involtini. But we left Francesco and family with an Australia guidebook and urged them to allow us to return the hospitality when they get the chance. God knows how a bbq, VB and a potato salad is going to stack up though.

A few weeks later, we reconvened with Marg and Ian in Madrid, where they were making a pit stop on the grand tour and sharing an apartment in the centre of town with their Melbourne mates, Vicky and Michael, who were also grand touring. Food figured prominently again. The first night, I ate a plate full of testicles at 5 to midnight. The following evening, half a cow in chocolate-ish sauce. Much wandering the streets was done, lunching, chewing the fat in our convict drawl, and laughing while Juan Carlos (aka Ian) got mistaken for a proper Spaniard. Then there were the piano accordion players busking for Euros, who Ian and Michael put a fatwa on and proceeded to threaten bloody death to at every opportunity, with cheer-leading support from the rest of us. Nothing makes you think favourably of stabbing yourself in the ear more than a piano accordion. Good, good times. Again, too short.

The chief reason for visiting potato and beef stew-land was to see my old mate Fezza, whose Mum and mine spent the week preceding talking on Facebook about how much they wanted to be there with us. Given the quantity of Guinness consumed on the Friday night, that might not have been the best idea.

I was struck by how friendly Irish drunks are, compared to English drunks. English drunks will glass you in the forehead before kicking you in the nuts and stealing your wallet, whereas Irish drunks will ask if you know their cousin Sean in Maribyrnong and invite you to spend time in Gllwey (which I later discovered meant Galway in ale-speak). Although, I didn't exactly repay Irish friendliness in the following exchange:

Irish man at bar: "Aye, I thought you were a New Zealander, like".
Me: "Shit mate, I thought you were English".
Irish man at bar: "No, but we won't mention them, will we. We won't mention them" (promptly walks away and, I suspect, finds a Protestant to punch).

L-R: Bron, myself, Fezza, and Lise.


Meat, castles, meat, beer cheaper than water, meat, castles, bracing walks, left my new glasses in the seat pocket on the plane from London. Cranberry sauce, meat.

More meat.

Medieval dinner shows or dinner and band. Meat, sauce, beer.

I'm sure we did more than this, but it's all I can remember.

This was the week after Prague, and to help digest all that over-indulgence, we...over-indulged again. How can you knock back three courses of meat and three veg when it's all so good and all so cheap? I have not regained normal gut function though - paprika is a curious ingredient indeed.

We did what everyone else does when they go to Budapest: hit the baths. The list of possible bath selections and combinations of selections that confronts you at reception is a bit like the aisle with the tuna at the supermarket: a baffling array of options, none of which seems satisfactory. We eventually brushed aside all the with-lemongrass-and-peppercorn choices, and settled for the standard whatever. And spent the next couple of hours watching amorous Magyars dry-humping (or not so, I suppose) in shallow water.

More glorious scenery:

I'd say on the list of most spectacular waterways I've ever seen, the Danube is just about on level with the Mekong (although, for patriotic reasons, the Pumicestone Passage is still a clear winner).

Why, you might ask? Well, Bron heard it was a hip place, and I heard there was a Eurostar package on the cards. I had a cold this weekend and couldn't quite enjoy things as much as I might have liked, but I will say this: do yourself a favour and visit the Antwerp train station. They have tunnelled deep below the original platforms and inserted three others stacked on top of each other beneath. That sounds like Melbourne Central, but the centre of the station is hollowed out, so you can see trains arriving at each of the platforms on top of each other. An engineering marvel. Christ, I'm starting to sound like Tim Fischer. Here's what I mean:

In a strange coincidence, outside our hotel room was a picture of Melbourne. Someone got a bit attached:

Well, that's all for now. All my photos are here:


Will write more soon, and more often, but until then, thank Christ for Barack and hope all are well.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


I have a slightly irrational hatred of travel agents. They're all on kickbacks from the airlines, Contiki and the tourist authorities of Middle Eastern petro-states. You enter Flight Centre Glen Waverley branch with plans for two weeks in Bali, and walk out with return tickets to a camel-strewn desert wasteland, wondering what the hell just happened. Meanwhile, Nicole, your helpful sales assistant, is straight on the phone to her boyfriend Troy to tell him that she's just hit the sales quota for packages to hell on earth, and the reward - 14 nights on P&O around the South Pacific - is on its way.

But now I realise that I'm really no better at booking things. Here's how I decided we should get to Croatia. Day 1: train from Texel in the north of the Netherlands to Amsterdam. Day 2: train from Amsterdam to Cologne, Germany. Train to airport. Fly from Cologne to Dubrovnik. Fourteen hours. Nicole's phone number is now on my speed dial.

We had arranged for Tony, the owner of our hostel, to pick us up from the airport, but he had forgotten this minor detail and we instead had to sidle over to the first cab lined up in the rank: a Mercedes with a hyperactive meter and a driver whose concern for the sheer drops off nearby cliff faces was under-developed. When we arrived at the hostel, Tony was half cut and offering us home-made wine and entertaining his guests. Nackered - we started in Amsterdam at some ungodly hour that morning - we opted for the bed.

So far, so bad, but the next day we hit the streets and quickly developed "beautiful thing-itis" - the assault on the senses from beautiful things that makes you completely unable to really appreciate them. Look at this:

We swam most days, ate lots of seafood, took Tony up on his offer of home-made wine one night, and ventured out to a nearby island, Lokrum. Bizarrely, there is a botanical garden on the island with a range of familiar species, including a eucalyptus named after me:

Because we had a few days up our sleeves, we signed up for some exhausting day tours to the neighbouring countries. Normally, tours shit me up the wall, and you'll remember the boating carnage that we found ourselves embroiled in whilst in Vietnam, but the idea of dropping over the border seemed very appealing.

Firstly, we went to Montenegro, a lighting tour of three or four key places, including the world's most ridiculous mountain pass that featured 25 hair-pin turns on a narrow road up a very large mountain. We stopped on the top of the mountain to eat salted pig and home-made cheese and drink more home-made wine, and to buy postcards that captured the full horror of the trail that we'd just completed. Unfortunately, I haven't got any decent photos of this part of the journey; all of them are blurred, either by my unsteady hand as I peered down 2km into the valley below, or by cloud and rain, which made the ride all the more pleasant. This photo is from Kotor, which had a nice walled old town and a bewildering array of shoe shops:

On this trip, we met two people from Melbourne who knew Bron's Mum from her days as a head honcho of the Eltham Revolutionary Freedom Fighter's Brigade aka Nillumbik Council. Actually, most of Australia was in Croatia while we were there; I seem to recall Christina Rowntree crapping on about the place on Getaway before we left, so that probably explains some of the influx.

The next day, we were up early again to visit Bosnia and Hercegovina. The trip was really just a dash to the town of Mostar and back, but that was enough for me. I have wanted to see the Old Bridge in Mostar since forever and it didn't let me down:

It was very hot in Mostar though - piercing sun and no breeze at all. But there was plenty of interpretive art on the sides of the buildings, made from the barrels of an AK-47s. The scars of the war are still well and truly on display.

A few days later, we hopped aboard a large ferry and made for Hvar, an island in the Adriatic. I can't really remember the specifics of the 11 days we spent here - it's a blur of beaches, blue water, seafood, grappa and bruises from lying on rocky beaches too long...

And at night:

On my birthday, we went up to a restaurant overlooking the main square in town. It soon emerged that Croatia and Germany were duking it out in the Euro Cup soccer. It was a tense encounter, but the Croats prevailed and then the locals of Hvar proceeded to unleash half of the world's supply of maritime flares into the sky...and I thought this stuff only happened when ethnic violence erupted at soccer games in Sydney and Melbourne.

It all went too fast and soon we were spending hours in internet cafes sending our CVs to recruiters in London, in between going to the beach and eating very cheap gelati.

Well, this is the emotional last paragraph where I attempt to sum up life on the road after four months. Here goes: I missed reading the newspaper on the day it was printed. I could no longer stand internet cafes, loud Americans looking to get "like, uh, totally wasted", doing currency conversions and having those "where have you been, we are you going" ice-breaker conversations. But we saw some truly amazing sights and despite dwindling finances and energy levels, had a blast.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I've loaded photos from the trip onto this webiste:


As you can see, there are very few captions. If I wasn't trying to end the first spell of unemployment I've had the displeasure of experiencing, I'd meticulously detail the wheres, whens and whos. But since I haven't, please feel free to email me if you want to know about the things I've snapped!

Coming soon...
- Croatia: why it rules
- England: why is it so cold?
- Job-hunting: why it sucks
- Poverty: how did it get to this?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Netherlands

Amsterdam - the less said, the better. Put 4,000,000 amorous stoners alongside 4,000,000 hookers, add a reggae soundtrack and don't sell shampoo in your supermarkets, and you've got yourself quite something. Nothing good though.

The place we stayed at was the worst hotel I've ever been to, and I've seen some flea-ridden dives in my time. One night at about 4am, we listened to some member of the social strata known as the dregs of humanity verbally abuse his chosen prostitute in the laneway next to our room, and waited for the piece of merde to get physically violent. Fortunately, he didn't, or we didn't hear it.

Here are the details, for your records:

Hotel Manofa
Damrak 46-48

This is a community service announcement...

We did manage a few pleasant canal-side strolls in the quieter parts of town, and some quality Dutch cookery. Here's a photo:

Then we went to the Hague, as if to find a jurist who we could cajole to rule against dreadlocks and Doors t-shirts. We failed in that endeavour, but found a great museum displaying the works of M.C. Escher (not to be confused with the urban poet MC Hammer).

Following all this, we decamped to the island of Texel in the north of the Netherlands for some fresh air. We had a few great days of riding along the coastal bike paths and admiring the scenery. When this trip's done, I plan to post all my photos online. But for now, here's what I've got:

And one of those self-taken, wacky on-the-go photos:

The grinning idiot and the red-shoed would-be Kathy Watt are off to Croatia tomorrow. Will write about that when we get back.


Our Beligian adventure was only meant to include Bruges, but owing to some confusion at a train station in Brussels, we managed to see a fair bit of the country en route. My in-depth observations from an afternoon of meandering: the country is flat, bicycles are prevalent, and it's easy to find your way again if you're prepared to spend some time waiting at a deserted rural train station that smells of blood and bone.

Bruges was full of two groups of people that didn't look much like us: aged pensioners, and school kids with their note books at the ready (back in my day, we did history the hard way - with chalk, illustrated textbooks and anonymous spit-balls).

The sheer quantity of people around made it nearly impossible to see anything touristy without being bumped into by pimply-faced teenagers eating frites or those motorised old-timer mobiles, so I found myself wandering the back streets and parks, such as the above, a fair bit. We took a boat ride down the canals and ate chocolates and drank beer, and put up with the German socks-and-sandles brigade we were sharing the B&B with. It was nice.


We hit the wall in London, and decided to cut the trip short by about 6 weeks. So, we'll be back there on the 24th of June to find work and somewhere to live. I might get my camera out of my bag then, because looking through the viewfinder, I can't see that I took any pictures there.

It could be a dangerous place to live. On the Thursday we arrived, there were five gigs I wanted to see. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn't know where any of the venues were, and I got all self-conscious about my "just stepped out of a Kathmandu catalogue" look, which the local hipsters would no doubt see as reason enough to smash a beer glass on my forehead and steal my trainers.

We reunited with one half of our Berlin crew (of two. Thanks Jane) as well as John and Bec and John's mum, with whom we scraped into second place in the local pub's trivia contest, and saw Lucy "Princess Di" McFadden and her man, Andrew, for a roast and several pints. No pictures, only the memories and the memories of hangovers.

And we braved Terminal 5 at Heathrow and...no bags were lost.