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.