Wednesday, 12 December 2007

"TV Star bites homeless man"

... Today's tabloid headline. This is why I love London.
Loving being back here. Went to the football last night to see my team play. It was most enjoyable.
Home in a week.
Bye for now.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Smoke in the air, Women in windows and... SNOW! More debauched tales from the world of Team Travel

For Pauk, whose comments make me giggle and for who the banality of work may hopefully be tempered if only briefly by this post...

Me again... Did promise to update slightly sooner than this (because I know the masses have been holding their collective breath) but, well we've been moving around quite a lot in the last few weeks. So Munich.. Narrowly avoided the phenomena that is Oktöberfest. Slightly glad about that to be honest. The city certainly wasn't suffering a lack of fluid by the time we arrived. Actually, to clarify who "we" is at this point; myself and Tristan had met up again with Liam and JP with Rory passing us in the hostel doorway on his way meet German mates of his in Berlin.
First night in Munich saw us venture to the world famous Hofbraü Haüs. Basically it's the biggest beer hall in Germany and has seen the likes of Adolf himself pass through it's doors. Spent most of the evening there mulling over litre pints of quality brew with a couple of Americans, one Canadian and a particularly rambunctious Costa Rican who I was later to run foul of.

Us, a month ago at the Haüs...

Anyway, the following day with somewhat bleary eyes we headed down for a free walking tour of the city. Almost identical in design to the one in Edinburgh, we were once again extremely pleased with what we'd stumbled across and it proved to be an excellently informative way to see the city. A couple of bratwursts later and Tristan, Liam and I headed for Dachau, the site of one of the Nazi regime's most oppresive concetration camps. In truth, it is hard to put in to words how a place like that affects you. Though often quite confronting, it certainly was a moving and rewarding experience. Glad I went.
Remaining nights in Munich were for the most part spent in the massive hostel bar where, despite making a host of new friends (mainly Aussie), we also managed to get on the wrong side of several members of the Australian Defence Force. A tip for any future travellers: don't discuss politics abroad. Apparently Howard remains rather popular with those serving in the army. Who'd a thunk it?

Hmm so with Liam and Tristan making for Legoland I said a very.. err .. blokey goodbye to JP (though hopefully not forever) and made for Berlin to meet up with Roz. Staying in a midget attic in an apartment block that houses one of his friends families actually worked out quite well for us (as did the €8 a night total charge).
In truth I did have relatively high hopes for Berlin which, due to one reason or another, were not entirely fulfilled. Perhaps it was the fact that for really the first time we were subjected to extended periods of lousy weather. I dunno.
Anyway, visits to the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gates, Checkpoint Charlie and of course the wall proved interesting more so for the obvious significance rather than being overly impressive visually. Got the chance to have a game of football with Rory´s friend Karl (the guy who organised the sweet digs) and his mates. That itself was fun but the the way home saw us become entangled in a reasnobly large scale riot of Turkish suppoters inflicting a certain level of aggression against the local Kurdish community and police following Turkey´s decision to move into Iraq. Whilst we´ve managed to predominately avoid trouble in our time away, this did get kind of hairy as weapons were surfacing and bottles pelted randomly around. In the end we were able to extricate ourselves just as a third wave if rioters were joining in. Close call.
With the cash flow a little slow at this point of our travels we made use of the cheap accomodation for a little longer than we otherwise might of but to compensate, we treated ourselves to a Bundesliga match between locals Herta Berlina and Bochum. 2-o the final score and another good arvo spent watching the worlds greatest sport.
With the four us now reuninted, we left the hospitality of Karl and his folks Tina and Tommy and made for Hamburg afgter a strong recommendation from our hosts. Two nights later however and we left the city largely underwhelmed. Perhaps Hamburg is just one of those places that's better to live in but it really didn't do a whole lot for any of us. Now Cologne, there we throughouly enjoyed.
Though we only really spent a little over 24hrs there, it really is a vastly impressive city. Housing an immense gothic "Dom," instantly apparent from the moment you leave the station, the whole towns beauty is striking and proved very accessible for those with short time frame. From there we pushed on to Den Haag, home to Dutch parliment and Tristans Aunt, Uncle and Cousin. Yet another story of generosity as we were once again housed and fed as well as shown around town by Rommert-Jan (cousin) and through several national parks and o

ne particularly interesting countryside art gallery comprising a very respectable Van Gogh collection by Tjiet (Uncle). That proved a good way to relax and recouperate but the smoke and sleaze of the nations capital awaited. Given this would be where Liam was to spend his last days before heading home and the fact we'd picked up Ben, one of our best mates from back home, Amsterdam always loomed to be quite the party. Add to this the fact we'd met up again with Campbell (from Edinburgh) and well, that a certain herb happens to be legal round the town.. hmm yeah it was never going to be a quiet few days. On reflection the whole drugs thing; well you've kinda gotta do it. The absolute saturation of Coffeeshops across the city is slightly staggering but it really is as normal over there as buying a beer. So first night we may have had a quiet smoke and a cheeky bit of space cake before meeting up with Camblo, hitting a few bars then back across town to catch New York hip-hopper Pharoahe Monch take over a local club. Without being his biggest fan, a good show is a good show and he certainly tore up the stage. As usual we were front and ventre, meaning me and Liam were fortunate enough to score and handshakes and a quick word with Pharoahe and his entourage. Pretty cool.
This evening (dulled down a little for the wider reading audience) left yours truly feeling a little seedy for a few days though it could not hamper us from checking out other slightly more credible facets of the city with the Rijksmuseum and an Ajax (Amsterdam) match proving my favourite day time activities for the week. For the record, Ajax knocked off Roda JC 4-2 with a missed penalty to make up what was the the most entertaining game we've seen so far.
To touch quickly on that red-light district thing thats rather popular there as well ('specially with the British; did you know they make up 40% of the clientel), well one pretty quick drive-by on the way home from the supermarket was enough for this blogger. Probably the site of a street full of tourists ogeling and bartering with these somewhat depressing ladys of the night was what really confirmed in my mind that perhaps engaging with prostitutes isn't totally my cup of tea.
Even though seeing Cambo again, inducting Ben into Team Traveland saying bye to Liam all brought good times to fruition, Amsterdam on the whole did not particularly grab me and I can imagine for the non-pot smoker, could be pretty alienating.
With Liam back in Melbourne, Campbell staying in Haarlem looking for a job and a place the new line-up headed to Prague, a place I'd been looking forward to for some time. It did not dissapoint. Utterly compatible with our wandering style, the city of a 1000 spires proved just as beautiful as others had suggested. Good for a photo too. Other than alll its granduer, Prague will remain in the memory personally for two reasons. First, it was the site of the first snowball fight of the season. Too much fun for words. Second, well Prague happened to be the town where, one fateful evening, certain salacious advances were made on yours truly by a local lady who I'm sure found herself on the wrong side of 50. As dodge as that was, it certainly wasn't helped by my dear pals who intimated none to subtly that I possessed a "Maximo Bicicletta Chollo," translating roughly from Italian to massice bicycle penis. Well creepy and so not cool.
Prague from a hill...
There's probably more I could say about Prague but this post is getting a little out of hand length-wise so I'll try and keep things brief.
Err yeah so to Vienna, a place I possess a shameful lack of knowledge about. The first night we were unable to get the hostel we wanted but thankfully there was some silver lining attached to this with our out of town abode being comprehensively blanketed in snow. Seriously, piles and piles of powdery goodness. More snowball fights were to ensue. Trust me, the novelty- not looking like it'll wear off anytime soon.
Once we made it into town to take up lodging at Wombats (the world's cleanest hostel, in the top ten in Europe) we made for the Viennese Parliment, Art History museum and the Hofburg palace; three buildings remarkably stunning and still seemingly in their original condition. Bratwursts and a cup of java at the Central Cafe where Beethoven, Freud, Lenin and Trotters all sipped babycinos in the past. Fairly swank place and a nice change for us weary Team Travellers.
So back to the hostel and to one of the prime reasons for its high rating; the Wombar. Relatively cheap drinks, great atmosphere and some pretty amusing folk milling around. It also may or may not have been the place where I was coaxed by the bairmaid and others into getting onto the bar, dancing and or stripping off my jacket and shirt in front of a full house. The loss of dignity aside, that particular act was met with the handsome reward of several shots of (unknown but delicious) spirits being free poured into my mouth (and somewhat down my shirt). Quite an enjoyable evening of carousing that I did in truth find neccessary to once again clean up as some of the activities of my good friends were not of an entirely savoury nature. That's all I'll say.
The ensuing days saw us visit the Schlob Belvedere which in years past served as a summer residence for the Prince. The palace itself could be likened to that of Versailles but the gardens, covered entirely in snow, were simply breathtaking. Given their enormity it was really wonderful to spend several hours justd walking through the various avenues and paths- incidents of snow violence occuring only intermittently.

With a slight twinge of reluctance we left Viena and made for the uncharted and largely unknown (to us) city of Budapest. The slight air of poverty and discontent amongst locals did not altogether detract from what is still a fascinating and fairly modern part of Hungary. Whilst there we continued what seems to be a quest to visit every single castle in Europe and generally tried to get a sense for the town. One of my favourite aspects of Budapest culture (though this may be only for the wealthy) is their enjoyment of enormous thermal baths. It may sound a little odd but me and Tristan headed to the largest of the bath complexes, built originally in the 1500's, and were delighted to find a largely social atmosphere washing over the three fantastic heated spas. Each one varies in temperature and though there did seem to be a spot of indecent behaviour occuring on the part of some of the baths couples, most restrained themselves (there were after all over 100 private baths where god knows what sort of filth was going on... err anyway). Perhaps another place better enjoyed with a loved one but, well we had to make do with each other. Still, an exceptionally relaxing experience only partially ruined by a subsequent run in with Budapest's facist Metro inspectors. Quite a long story which I won't fully go into, only to say that whilst we had a legitimate ticket, we hadn't known to pick up another one after changing lines. Going back up the escalators to to buy another: not an option and soon the police were called after we weren't able to pay the fine. On waiting for them to arrive, I continued to complain and question just how long it would all take. Says bastardely ticket-prick, "If you if hurry, you can go straight to jail" *chuckles to friend goon*. Guess that's an example of the delicious European sense of humour currently sweeping the world. Hmm... In the end the guy settled to take all the money we had (admittidely not much) before letting us go. Fun way to spend a Friday night. The only other evening event of note was a truly enjoyable night spent with a number of people from the hostel at Hamburg's biggest club to see on of modern hip-hop's finest; Mos Def. Certainly a personal favourite of mine, the mighty Mos put on a hell of a show the lasted some time. An unexpected (and unbelievably cheap) surprise which really made my time in Budapest.

Mr Def himself.. Flash made it look like he was on stage at a scout hall but I promise the club was really cool...

Okay almost finished. By this stage of my blog I've seriously run out of adjectives and am constantly cringing at how much I find myself repeating identical sentences. Ergh... Anyway next was Salzburg- a place some of you will known as the home of the Sound of Music. Well it's just as wonderful as the movie indicates and I'm now most certainly an Austrian convert. Another castle and a nice walk through some beautiful countryside took up most of our full day there. As beer o'clock came round, we made for the Augustiner Braustubl Mulln, a quaint brewery where monks had previously home brewed fine ales since 1621.Unfortunately everything went wrong when we went to Innsbruck: pretty much everything mentioned in my last short post happened there. I won't go into it. I will however quickly bring you all up to date with our movements.

After days of progressively getting worse and worse, not being able to speak or eat- Tristan finally decided to head to his Uncles in Den Haag to see out his last week.
Ben has, through a lack of organisation, stayed with us but is still hoping to make it to Switzerland for skiing, working and much frivolity.
Rory is "fucking stella." Forever my beacon of hope.
I remain sick and honestly don't feel like I'm getting much better. Eating, sleeping and enjoying new places is becoming increasingly difficult. My iPod screen is completely broken. Dropped by a (nameless) member of Team Travel. I will however be coming home slightly earlier (the 20th of December) which is exciting for me hopefully good for all you to. London will be home for a fortnight before it's all out though.
In Brugges at the moment. Antwerp tommorrow.
Sorry this has been so long in the making and is, well so long.
Hopefully see you all soon.

Love J xoxo

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Jeremy does photos...

It's time once again to update you on all that is and has been my life over the last month. I had been putting off a new post for some time with the belief that there really hasn't been a whole to say. Yet looking back now these last few weeks have been some of the most enjoyable since I left home. John (from here on known as JP) who I alluded to last post had travelled with us right until we left for Berlin two days ago. Despite some early misgivings about the guy, I really do have to accredit a lot of the good times I've had to him being around. Though occasionally prone to extreme drunkenness, he's actually become a really good friend and seems to be sincerely intent on making it down to Melbourne in March. Anyway, to travel stuff. I thought I'd include a few more photos this week as the other content is likely to be a little dry.

So, with our favourite vagrant in tow we made for Florence and the promise of another apartment-style hostel. Once again we met a hoard of American students studying abroad who proved good to have around for a couple of nights entertainment. Actually I´ll mention at this point that between the boat-loads of Australians and the large helpings of Canadians and people from the States who are currently knocking about in Europe, one rarely gets the chance to properly meet any locals. I floated the suggestion that perhaps an axis of prominent western countries may indeed be planning a siege on mainland Europe and have deployed large numbers in the 18-25 demographic to do their bidding. Hmmm just a thought.
An unusually enjoyable overnight train ride...

Then tired and hungover first thing next morning...
Killed time with a relatively underwhelming day-trip to Pisa. Having been there in a previous life I did struggle to get anything out of the leaning tower on second viewing though admittedly the tower-virgins of the group did seem to enjoy it. Thankfully a subsequent sojourn to Sienna gave us the opportunity to to see a bit of authentic Tuscan countryside. Truly one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
Florence itself remains one of my favourite Italian cities. Like so many of the places we've been before; the streets, architecture and people really made the city for me and it was good to spend a few days just walking round getting to know JP.
Two hours south took us to the capital where the bar for cool hostel owners was considerably raised. That I'm constantly referencing the places we stay rather than talking about the cities themselves may, I can imagine, grow slightly tiresome but as a backpacker I promise that a good hostel normally correlates to a good time. So I will continue to do so.... So there.
Anyway at this particular place we were surprisingly greeted with several bottles of beer and a very relaxed atmosphere. Met a gang of people there including Kiwi Andrew; a member of New Zealand's U19 cricket team and also part of the curiously named "Touch-blacks," the country's touch rugby team and others such as English Matt (questionable morals), Boston Craig (top bloke), Canadian Lindsay (hooked up with English Matt... nuff said) and Massachusetts Matt (a scholarly chap but still cool).
Letting off some steam...

It was admittedly slightly odd rocking round to some of the worlds most famous monuments with random followers met only the evening before over rather drunken conversations. Once again, I had previously visited alot of Rome's major drawcards but it was certainly worthwhile revisiting and gaining a new appreciation for the city's landmarks. Of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, St Peter's, the Vatican, the Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps I was probably most taken by the Basilica of Saint Peter. Having traipsed through what feels like hundreds of Europe's cathedrals over the last few moths the intricacy, significance and beauty still struck and overwhelmed me more than any other I've ever witnessed.
But back to the hostel and after being told by Lorenzo (the owner) that what we were planning to was a terrible crime, he left and returned with many shopping bags of dinner ingredients, dozens of beers and one nasty 5litre jug of vino. Soon almost all the hostel was helping to cook what became a particularly delicious pasta dish and somewhat of an in-house party quickly ensued. Eventually around midnight around 15-20 of us headed to a local cocktail bar before later filling an empty restaurant and downing several rounds. A pretty cool night all round.Three fairly similar evenings later Team Travel was to split up for really the first time. With Rory and Liam keen to investigate Italy further and JP eager to continue the party they made for Naples with myself and Tristan venturing to Venice en route to Switzerland.
Now there's not really a whole lot that this amateur blogger can say about Venice that hasn't been said before. It really is a delightful place to just walk around (and get slightly lost) though unfortunately ones budget tends to dictate just how long you can linger. For Tristan and I that was to be about 7&1/2hrs of walking which I maintain is still enough when not in the company of the fairer sex.

The next morning saw us embark to Basel to stay with some old Uni friends of Tristan's dad; Ken & Sue. Once again we shamelessly leeched off the kindness of others, this time for six days staying in their particularly nice inner city apartment. To give those geographically unaware an idea of where Basel is located, a brisk 30minute pre-dinner walk with Ken saw us cross from Switzerland to Germany, across the Rhine to France, then back to Switzerland. Pretty cool huh?
The problem with writing about our time from then on in Switzerland is that no collection of clumsy adjectives I could string together, no photo I could ever take with my moderately priced camera would ever possibly do justice to just how stunning the countryside really is. After Ken and Sue took us in the Beemer to the top of impressive Voges mountains, Tristan and I decided that forking out a little extra would be worth it to reach the peak of Mount Pilatus. Situated in the heart of one of the most picturesque sections of the Swiss Alps, Pilatus truly gives 360° views of the surrounding countryside and mountains. Certainly one of the most incredible places I'm ever likely to go.
View from the Cog-train going up.....

The enjoyment of our remaining time in Switzerland was only tempered by one grave and most upsetting incident. On uploading the new Radiohead album (which incidental, is absolutely brilliant) I somehow managed to wipe all the music off my iPod. As a traveller one generally has decent amounts of spare time on their hands and it is in these times that I usually revert to the sanctuary of my music. So to only be able to salvage 1/6th of my songs was demoralising though it was of some consolation that I was able to pick and choose from Tristan's library. Still, a traumatic experience by anyone's reckoning.
We bade goodbye to Ken & Sue some days after, having been spoilt by there generous hospitality and made for Munich.
It is here that I shall end this weeks post. Though I'm currently writing this from an Internet cafe in Berlin, almost a week since we got to Munich, I'm sort of running out of time and energy and feel we'd all benefite if I waited till Holland in a weeks time to write again. I will quickly say that Germany has been fantastic and it is a need to see some of the capitals major sites that has made me hastily wrap this up.
Gelati in Sienna...

Startling new revelations in the "Jeremy licks people" scandal.....

Me and JP...

Till the next of these,
Oh and thank you to Rory, Liam and Yunei from the hostel in Rome for most of the people photos.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside...

Been almost two weeks since my last one of these and it sort of feels like it might be time for another update. In all honesty, other than the usual travel guff there hasn't been a whole lot to report. The "drugs offered count has skyrocketed (thanks largely to Lisbon) but I"ll get to that in a bit.
So last I wrote we were just on the way out of Sevilla. Next stop as intimated was Lagos which proved to be almost as insane as it"s reputation suggests. Now here"s a place which is in essence a British Colony scattered with a few Americans and large hand fulls of Aussies, a myriad of Western bars and beautiful sun-drenched beaches. Given this, the name of the game in Lagos is basically to hit the bars until the early hours getting maggoted on cheap beer, shots and cocktails, then soak in your remorse with a sizeable hangover on the gorgeous beaches. Believe me, there"s worse ways to spend a few days.

Tristan does windsurfing...

Anyway, to any parent"s hoping to read up on the good deeds of their sons, I"ll just say they all (barring myself) acted shamefully and you'd be largely disappointed with their behaviour. Well; maybe not entirely but after an evening comprising of several pints, numerous cocktails and a variety of shots (some laced with absinthe), there were few able to stumble home in a straight line.
Moving on now to a truly tragic morning when, after convincing a sports bar to open at 11.00am, I watched my brave Collingwood cruelly denied a Grand Final berth by less than a goal. A most upsetting way to leave Lagos, a town of many good times, but Lisbon was waiting.

Now at this point I might add that we have finally hit our straps travelling-wise and with the increase in movement, it now feels like we're spending half our time in trains or waiting around stations. A necessity of travel I know but the other day for instance we got to our first station at 6.30am and arrived the next day at 8.45am following numerous changes and many hours whiled away on various platforms. Tedium central!

Anyway, to Lisbon and probably the second-most bizarre hostel we've stayed in to date. Front door for instance; no signage whatsoever. Go upstairs and casual glances from couch-bound Europeans makes it feel like you've walked into someone's apartment. Hard to describe but apparently it's only been open for little over a month and as it turned out, was atmosphere-wise one of the best hostel's we've been to. Met a pretty decent bloke called Chad from Cronulla (first words: "Cronulla eh? You guys get a good wrap huh?). Hung out with him for a night or two- was a fairly decent guy with some pretty tall stories. Made friends with some American students as well. Really nice people and a pleasant change from the clichéd hash-peddling, loud and obnoxious Yanks we'd met on other nights of our travels.
Our street in Lisbon..
Speaking of hash-peddling, it's time to explain Lisbon's "drug" culture. Now as I've previously mentioned we've regularly been the target of dodge-as blokes whispering various substances at us. It was a surprise however to walk down the main drag of Lisbon for the first time and have guys opening their palms to reveal very authentic produce. Now whilst the contents very much resemble the real thing, it did seem odd that these guys operate under the cloak of daylight looking hardly inconspicuous. After being propositioned more than 20 times we were informed by Aussie Chad that a Belgium mate of his had bought 50euros worth to find he'd purchased nothing more than garden herbs (not the good type). A pretty good scam on gullible tourists in my books but it was probably the only really annoying part of our time in the city.
Otherwise our days in were spent (in true Team Travel fashion) walking up, down and around the streets of Lisbon. Like Lagos, all the inner city paths are paved with a glossy, cracked tiling (of which I'm a big fan) and complement the antiquated architecture quite well. As a city, Lisbon has a pretty cool vibe that in parts resembles the alleys and laneways of Melbourne. Despite not being particularly avid shopper it wasn't hard to see why they've got a reputation for fashion and I ended up splurging (and substantially blowing the budget) on a pair of new kicks (the old ones being worn out to the point where heal was touching pavement). Site-wise we headed to the Castello Sao-Jorge which provides a decent vantage point to take in all of Lisbon.
Lisbon... Through a rock. Because my other photos were worse.
Our final day threw up somewhat of an unfortunate incident. Some bloke under the influence came up and stared harassing A Tribe Called Travel's fearless comrade. Whilst it started with the usual sort of macho street bullshit the guy then began threatening to put a gun down his throat and kept saying he was going to kill him. At the time I was inside an Internet cafe and wasn't aware what was going on till near the end but it was potentially a very ugly situation. Roz carried himself well and was able to walk away in the end. The creepy thing though was that we ran into the same guy later in the supermarket who proved his deranged pedigree by shouting; "I'm going to kill you," then laughing and walking off.

Anyway, drama aside Lisbon was a cool place but a new location was required. This we achieved in the form of Madrid; a city perhaps even more alike to Melbourne than Lisbon. Checked out the Royal palace and cathedral (the latter apparently being none too popular with the locals. Various day trips took us to Segovia and Salamanca to continue what has become our castle and cathedral tour of Europe. Actually I will mention that Segovia was especially beautiful and was home to both an impressive aqueduct and a rather Hogwarts-esque Alcazabar.
Shaved in Segovia The true highlight of Madrid however occurred on a Thursday night when, by sheer dumb-luck, there happened to be a football match between local heavyweights Real Madrid and rivals Real Betis. Though not quite as electric as St. James Park in Newcastle, sitting in the Colosseum that is the Estadio Santiago Bernabau cheering on one of the most famous teams in world football was utterly brilliant. The game finished 2-0 Madrid's way with a penalty (filmed expertly below) and a scissor-kick deciding a largely entertaining affair.

The aforementioned 26hr train ride & station saga saw us leave behind the sun, tapas and bullfighting of Spain & Portugal and return to the, well sun and beaches of the South of France. As I write this we find ourselves in the ritzy city of Nice enjoying one of Europe's most picturesque coastlines. Ventured down the road to an even more ostentatious part of the world in the principality that is Monaco. Ridiculous opulence takes on a new meaning that country. Basically if your not a tourist then chances are you're a multi-multimillionaire. Nice view though.
Monaco... Obviously

Big Pimping in Monaco

So heading out (again via overnight train) to Florence tonight. Picked up another traveller by the name of John. He's a Perth boy(/25yr old), very ochre but a good bloke and again with some VERY tall stories. Looks like he'll head to Italy with us and then head off to Croatia from there. Keeps things interesting.
Diet-wise we've pretty much been reduced to 4 food groups: The Pasta, Burger, Baguettes and Kebab groups. As it turns out there just about as cheap as one can get but hardly nutritious (save maybe the pasta).
Done now for another entry. Good to chat to a few people over the phone recently. I'll try and keep calling every couple of weeks or so.
Au revoir,

Oh, one of the best things about Madrid: Turtles in the train-staion! Can't explain it but when you're waiting around for three hours it certainly helps pass the time.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Beer in the Bidet and other such tales...

Hmm so to pick up where we were left last time. I'd love to say that we really immersed ourselves in the history and culture of Barca and came away as truly enlightened travellers. Shamefully; this was not the case. As it turns out, Barcelona is situated on an exceptionally beautiful stretch of the Spanish coastline, making the beach fairly irresistible. Whilst we may not have quite matched the locals in the leathery skin stakes, we were amongst the surprising minority who actually swam. Turns out the Catalunyans just like to sit around all topless and beautiful and what not. Strange.

Anyway, another contributor to our inactiveness was the fact our decent 2star accommodation happened to be right in the middle of Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most happening and touristy street. A very brief walk from our room would find you amongst numerous bottle-o's, Western bars and pubs, prostitutes, pimps, Micky D's and KFC's. Indeed to quote my "let's Go Europe" book; "Las Ramblas, while lively, becomes a bit questionable late at night, with whores replacing families." A plus about the area though was that it housed the budget-minded Traveller's Bar which served up 1euro (free with a YHA card (which we each posses)) meals every night of the week. Whilst it is admittedly the same vedgy pasta slop Mon-Sun, free is cheap and very hard to turn down. Eyebrows were soon raised however after our second night there in a row and we opted against going for the treble.
A quite night in...

Whilst across the board everything was pleasantly cheaper than Paris, bar prices were still generally high so alternate measures were sort to stay well refreshed. As the bidet is one aspect of European culture all of us are yet to adopt; we felt relatively comfortable and hygienic using it as an ad-hock bar fridge. Dodge perhaps, but undeniably effective.

Rory getting into the local produce. That's Sangria. Isn't he pretty...

To increase our culture-vulture credentials somewhat we headed down to la Sagrada Familia; Antoni Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece. It was pretty incredible to see a Church whose development began almost 20 years before our own country achieved federation, still looking only partially completed and almost entirely covered in scaffolding. A completion date has been set for 2020 but it was the theory of Team Travel that construction is deliberately travelling at a snail's pace as progress would soon see the end of the pricey admission cost's which are surely a tidy earner for the local government.

la Sagrada Familia

Otherwise not a whole lot more to mention from Barca other than the fact we met up again with an English amigo named Barry. He's a top bloke we were first introduced to playing football in London who offered us to crash at his place in Malaga for a few nights. Well as it turned out he and his wife Rachel were two of the nicest people we've met on our travels. They took all four of us in and, even though we incessantly tried to intervene, unconditionally fed us, drove us in to town and generally took care of us. They basically attributed their exceptional generosity to the fact they did a lot of backpacking/hitchhiking in the past and were often themselves the benefactors of random acts of kindness. Still, pretty incredible considering we'd only known Barry for an hour before setting foot in his house almost a month later.

So Malaga was nice enough without being overly stunning. Lot's of development's going up around the place but thankfully far enough away from the Costa Del Sol to avoid mass amounts of English expats and dodgy ex-Spanish mafioso's. Highlight was the two-hour trip out to Cordoba. Spent a night there staying right in the heart of the Jewish quarter only metres from the historic Mezquita. For those who aren't familiar with it (and I was one before I visited there), the Mezquita is essentially a Mosque built on the foundations of a Church which then was overthrown and subsequently had a cathedral constructed within the site of the Mosque itself. In any case; it's a remarkably beautiful landmark steeped in history. The whole city of Cordoba in fact was gorgeous and was exactly the type of Spain I'd been hoping to see.

Inside the Mezquita

Now we find ourselves in Sevilla which has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Though none of us had any major desire to come here, the winding streets and local architecture certainly suits our habit of mapless walking.

Sevillian St Shot. Had to be done

Next up is Portugal and Lagos which will probably see us revert to more beachy and bar ways. Should be alright though.
Umm have been trying to get more photo's up (especially from Paris) but Internet cafes to date have been decisively unreliable.
Oh I shaved my head yesterday (well, Barry did). It is unimpressive (I likened myself to G.I. Jane) but as I said to a blonde friend of mine, a shaggy mop is not exactly compatible with the Spanish sun.
Outside Barry's with him (left) and Rachel (right)

Till next time,


Song's I'm listening to at the moment: Un Simple Histoire Thievery Corporation, Death at the Chapel- The Horrors

Friday, 7 September 2007

"Bonjour! Parlez vous Anglais?...No?.. Ohh... err... au revoir"

To counter my previously draining posts, I shall endeavor to keep this relatively brief and purely Paris-related.. So as indicated we"ve left the mother country with our first stop being the city of lurve. Having seen gay-Paris and all its attractions in a former life I had anticipated only a mild sense of enjoyment at revisiting the country"s capital. Still I do have to admit to becoming rather besotted with the people, various sites and of course; food & drink.
Re-doing Gustave"s old tower turned out to be just as enjoyable the second time round. The four us went back a couple of nights later to see the light display and, well, some say it"s a bit tack but I"m not too bothered. Think it looks bit of alright. Only downside really was as it hit 10.00pm with the massive structure doing its sparkly thing, a bottle of (typically cheap) wine present- it dawned on the four of us that maybe each others company didn"t quite agree with the mood of the evening. Still, in one of the most beautiful city"s in the world, one can"t tend to complain too much.
Other attractions worth mentioning were of course the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe, the somewhat haunting Catacombs, Notre Dame, Sacre-Couer (sp?), the Louvre and the palace of Versailles. A very decent (and complimentary) audio guide gave a little more light to the ridiculous pomp and opulence of the King"s old digs and, having studied a small amount of French history, proved particularly interesting.
Otherwise our days were generally spent in the most cliche of French ways. Crusty baguettes were the sole feature of almost all our meals and were accompanied by many many bottles of exceptionally cheap grappa whilst overlooking what in all honesty was a terrific view from our window. Overall we"ve been extremely lucky with accommodation and now there"s four of us*
we are able to get our own quad rooms for much less $$$$ . Oh and it seems some myths and stereotypes are truer than others. For instance, Crepes are indeed both readily available and delicious. The French are on the whole a warm, accommodating and helpful race of people (or so my experiences would suggest). So hmm I guess there"s something in that.

Fine Dining

A young chap looking delighted after releaving himself in the palace gardens of Versailles

Did almost run into some trouble on our second last night. A relatively quite night spent with one or two (or three or four) bottles of wine quickly escalated into a bit of a cross room party when I bumped into some Welsh blokes in the hall. These guys could certainly drink and forced a sculling contest upon me. I"m generally terrible at this sort of thing and was pretty soon left behind. Anyway apparently we must of been slightly rowdy because the reception bloke came up fuming and yelling French abuse at us indispersed with the words "Police" and "kicked out". Luckily he decided against either of those options but we did receive a rather severe (and probably deserved) dressing down in the morning. Good times nonetheless.
Hmm so we"re actually in Barcelona at the moment and having a fantabulous time. The story of our adventures here will, unfortunately, have to wait. I might however add that since we"ve been here I was actually able to convince a barkeep to show the Collingwood vs Sydney final the other day(/night for all you Melbourne folk). Even though the game was wholeheartedly lost on the other English blokes in the pub it was brilliant to see my beloved Pies looking so damn good. Anyway,shall go now but thanks again to everyone for their various emails. As much as on occasions there have been complaints by some that I nyself don"t keep them regularly updated, I will say that I love hearing all that"s going on back home (including the mundane) so please, don"t hold back.
Big Huggles and kisses,

Song I"m Listening To At The Moment: We All Know- Devendra Banhart

P.S. I will apologise for constantly using " instead of the singular version-thing but as unfortunately that"s just Spanish keyboards for you.

*(newest member to Team Travel (occasionally known as "A Tribe Called Travel") arrived two days before we left England. He is, for the most part, a decent human being)

Monday, 27 August 2007

"The next time you touch yourself at night, you'll think of my face"

Time for another blog entry. Slightly more has happened over the last couple of weeks. We've now each been offered drugs on 5 separate occasions. It's great, you really don't have to go looking for some quality produce. Anyway, to business as I may I actually have something to talk about this time.
So... Cambridge. Nice enough place. Locals and students do seem to be somewhat outnumbered by bus-loads of tourists but thankfully it doesn't really feel like a touristy town. One thing in our favour was the fact that it's a city that can be seen and experienced without coughing up too many pounds.
I spose our one major extravagance was our hiring of a little vessel for a spot of punting. In truth we were, for the most party, utterly hopeless and it began to resemble more like bumper cars on water (we collided with pretty much every other boat and or wall). Still, it was good fun and definitely worth doing.

A couple of days back in Clapham spent watching David Dickinson and playing cards was balanced out by another game of football with the same local blokes as before. Third week we'd done that actually and it's proving somewhat of an unexpected highlight.
Oh another thing of note was that I got to finally meet a bloke I've known for some time called Cam. Basically on my small spot on Syn 90.7 he used to phone in with for UK and European music news. Anyway we met up and went one night and well, after getting stuck into a couple of brews, ended up sleeping on his lounge-room floor with a bunch of other random Aussies I'd met that night.
Cue the next morning and, with a hangover that could slay a horse, I was invited to come into his station to watch him do his show. Halfway through he suggested I jump on air and despite the fact most of what I said was probably just incoherent dribble, it was still a pretty cool experience.
Speaking of which I forgot to mention that I also met up with the brother of a family friend to go and have a look at the news station he works at (ITN). Considering James is an amazingly experienced and highly regarded reporter, I was extremely happy to leech off his knowledge for a couple of hours.

Back to our travels and 7.30 Saturday morning saw us again boarding a train, this time for Newcastle. Wandered around the city for awhile (ignorantly presuming our hostel would be somewhere nearby) when it became apparent that our new digs were right on the outskirts of town; closer to the airport than anything else.
Rather than being welcomed and ushered in by the guy at the front desk after walking 1/2hr in the rain, we were told to take our packs and not come back for another couple of hours (it was nearly 2.00pm at this point).
Despite being left angry and sodden it did not however detract from our first ever Premier League football match which was to come some hours later.
After making the trek back into town we met up with a really nice bloke called Colin who happened to be a friend of both Michael and Lindy- the people I stayed with in St. Albans. A couple of pints at a particularly fanatical Newcastle F.C. pub and we headed up to the game.
Unfortunately short of recapping the whole match play-by-play it is sort of hard to describe what it was like inside the stadium.
Word has it that the Geordies are some of the most passionate supporters in the world and regardless of the somewhat underwhelming 0-0 scoreline (the only for the round) one could easily see how that's true. Indeed the novelty of actually being there and soaking it all in did sort of make the make the result pretty irrelevant.
With our luxurious abode a solid hour away, we decided to stay amongst the classy Newcastle nightlife and make something of the evening.
Now the thing about Newcastle is, well, it's a decent enough place (I likened it to a really big Ballarat). It's just the people, at least the ones that come out at night, they're sort of cut from a different bloke. The women, well they don't seem to feel the incredibly lousy weather and rarely seen in anything other than an ultra-revealing boob-tube and the most mini of mini-skirts. As for the blokes; it seems much less of a big deal to hit the strip-clubs (sometimes with girlfriends in tow) just for a few post-match drinks to kick off a Saturday night. And all this is hardly helped by the fact that the city appeared to be the Stag party and Hens night capital of the UK. Truly a cultural beacon for the rest of the world.
Anyway, rant over and we move on....

The Lake District and Windermere was where we found ourselves next. A really beautiful place by anyones reckoning and exactly what we needed after our trip through Tyneside.
To save you from my woefully inept descriptions that would undoubtedly fail to do the town justice, I shall instead refer you to one of my amateurish attempts at photography whilst there.

Err I spose it's worth mentioning that we hired bikes to get around and see some of the various mountains and lakes. Whilst some of us struggled more than others with the numerous climbs, it was still without a doubt the best way to see the area.

Skip forward 24 hours and we'd plonked ourselves right in the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have to say that the three nights we spent there were certainly my favourite to date. With the festival really in full-swing when we got there, you really didn't have to go looking for something to do; it just tended to find you. Given that a lot of our time was spent walking around aimlessly (becoming a group trait), drinking (spose that's in the same category) and catching various comedy gigs, I'll just highlight a few moments of note:
- Went and saw Stephen K. Amos in his stand-alone show one night. Foolishly sat in the front row and was subsequently zeroed in for some/much of his material. One memorable quote was when he looked me in the eye and softly uttered; "the next time you touch yourself at night, you'll think of my face." Creepy but I felt I held my own (perhaps a bad choice of words in retrospect).

-Through word of mouth we discovered these free walking tours of the city. Basically the guides work solely on tips and go for about 3hrs taking you through a lot of things we in our short time would have otherwise missed. Considering most other tours generally cost £10 and only go for 1hr, we did well to stumble across it.
-Now for Campbell. He was one of the random blokes I met whilst crashing on Cam(eron)'s floor. Through some drunken conversations we worked out that we'd be in Edinburgh at the same time and should catch up for a drink. Well we ended up spending every night with him and had some pretty good times.
He showed us to this Midnight Comedy gig which was done in the basement of a bar and each night had 3 different comedians and an MC. Very cool stuff and some of the best comedy I saw for the festival.
Even though I've so far talked a bit about highlights and favourites, undoubtedly the 2 or 3hrs I think I've enjoyed the most since I've been here were spent at the Shins concert. I'd been hankering for some live music since I got here and to see the Shins in a new city was brilliant. On top of a quality 2hr set-list of all their best tracks they threw in a flawless cover of Breathe in the Air (incidentally one of my favourite Pink Floyd tracks).
This was to prove a pretty fuckin cool start to our final night which ended lasting into the very early hours.
Being somewhat on the cheap over here we were happy to book a reasonably priced flight direct to Luton. Only thing was it left at 6.15am which meant we made it to the airport at 4.20am. As a result our decision to stay out all night was kind of made for us. Still, more good times...

Anyway, back in Clapham now. Trotted down to the Night Hill Carnival yesterday (supposed to be Europe's biggest street festival) but are otherwise just taking stock until Friday morning when we head over to Paris. Should be good.

So this turned out slightly longer than my last entry and certainly longer than I had intended. Due to my sister's requests I've tried to be less self-deprecating but still struggle to gloss over my constant re-using of words and sentence starters. In my though defence I will say mention that this (as with all blog entries to come) was written rather hurriedly in an Internet cafe with an eye on my time limit.
Thanks to everyone who's emailed or commented me recently. It's nice to hear how things are going back home. I'll try and get back to everyone as soon as possible.

Song I'm listening to at the moment: True Love Waits- Radiohead
P.S. Oh one of only a few gripes over here is that even though the English summer is comfortably mild, most (nay, all) London men insist on de-shirting and bearing bloated sun burnt bodies. Not cool