Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I went to an Australian bar the other night. That was possibly the most godawful fifteen minutes of my life. A bunch of ugly, drunk Australians dancing to pub rock from the 80s, all dressed up in costumes to distract themselves from how dull they and their lives are. I pitied them, in a way: they've travelled to the other side of the world, and what do they want to do? Hang out with people from back home, listening to music from back home, drinking beverages from back home. (Incidentally, here's a quick nationality test for you: do you drink Foster's? If the answer's "yes", you're not Australian.) It was so hopelessly boring, so utterly uninspired.
No, those Australians aren't my people. My people were the nerds at Nine Carols And Lessons For Godless People, a vaguely Christmas-themed celebration of nature, science and freedom from religion. Richard Dawkins and several other fascinating scientists made presentations, and there were numerous comedians and musicians performing too. Waiting in the Hammersmith Apollo's lobby, I noticed that, for the first time, I wasn't the only person hanging around and reading a book. There were dozens of solo readers, and many more who, despite chatting to other people, had books clutched in their hands.
Fuck landing in Sydney. Being surrounded by people who love books and knowledge felt like coming home.
In the show itself, the host asked "Are there any scientists here tonight?" There was an enormous roar. "Are there any particle physicists here tonight?" There was a smaller but still substantial roar. He then made an impenetrably nerdy pun-based joke about particle physics, and the audience lost it. Oh, how nice to be surrounded by people who are amused by popular misunderstandings of the behaviour of neutrinos, instead of being only amused by talk about beer and boobs.
So those are my people. While I miss many people in and aspects of my home country, I don't feel tied down by outdated notions of nationality. I was born in Australia and I'll most likely die there, but in the time between those two events, I wouldn't spit on most of its residents if they were on fire.
Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh. Admittedly, I've found myself hanging out with a lot of Aussies while over here, mainly flatmates. They're friendlier, and we share an instant bond because of our homeland and culture, but they're as disgusted by the boorish and boring behaviour of most Australian backpackers too. Being reminded recently of my fellow Australians' behaviour made me realise that I can be at home anywhere in the world: being in Australia doesn't mean people will understand me any better. Although they may not look confused when confronted with the way I pronounce "vitamin".
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Anyway, the language is basically insane, the linguistic equivalent of the homeless guy who pees on the bus. Half of the letters that are written down aren't pronounced and, as is my understanding, they basically have no sentence structure: so long as you cram all the key words somewhere in the sentence, you'll be understood. English is a similarly nutty language, but more like a quietly demented elderly woman rather than the fan of public urination we met before. My Danish friends have expressed incredulity at my desire to subject myself to their language, but well, off I go.
I've been out of university for three years, and I think my mind is itching for a challenge. I was thinking about going back to study next year, but since I'll be tied down in Europe until at least April, that won't happen. So this will help me stretch out my brain muscles a bit in the mean time.
So, in an attempt to win their favour and to avoid this page turning into the endless moaning of an angsty emo, I thought I'd write about the fun things I've been doing lately so future Liam can look back and think "wow, living in London was pretty cool and I sure wasn't a little bitch".
I've seen plenty of amazing cheap gigs, notably Mew, a Danish indie-prog band who sound so much better than the descriptor "Danish indie-prog band" suggests, and Patrick Wolf, my favourite artist of this decade, putting on a show at The Palladium with a string octet, backing singers and ridiculous outfits (black jockstrap and silver body glitter, anyone?). Coming up, I have Gary Numan playing The Pleasure Principle in full, Marilyn Manson, Luke Haines, Pet Shop Boys and Emilie Autumn.
On the subject of music, I've been listening to BBC 6 a lot. I haven't listened to the radio properly in more than a decade, but I found out that Cerys Matthews, the singer of Catatonia, one of my favourite bands as a teenager, hosts afternoons on BBC 6, and her show is fecking awesome. So is the dude that follows her, so I've been tuning into that. It shits all over what passes for radio in Australia.
I've just moved house, and the area near me is clogged with Polish delicatessens and African restaurants. Australia is really multicultural, but has a predominantly Asian and Mediterranean influence. This proliferation of eastern European and African cuisine and culture just doesn't exist in Sydney, so I'm enjoying it while I can. (In fact, I took myself out for a meal of borscht and golabki when I was feeling down on myself the other week, to remind myself of why Europe is awesome.)
Some friends and I got lost as we were heading towards Brick Lane for dinner. We were stumbling in the rain and trying to hold onto umbrellas, but our aimless and impromptu tour took us past many notable Monopoly addresses. So that was fun, albeit damp.
My mum's in town this week (more about that later), so we've been doing the whole musical thing: we saw Les Miserables, which we both love, and Salad Days, which Mum performed in while she was at high school. Salad Days was ridiculously fun: the theatre was set up like a 1950s university lawn, and as we arrived, the actors, dressed as professors, congratulated us on our graduation and showed us to our seats. The musical was a very campy, old-school one, until the plot was bizarrely derailed by the arrival of a spaceship in the second half - a completely ridiculous and unexpected deus ex machina, but still, it was a stupendously fun night.
Shopping. Good God, the shopping. The supermarkets here are stupendous, and shopping centres are open until 9pm every night. EVERY NIGHT. Not just Thursdays. It's outrageous and I love it. Of course, I'm dirt-poor, but it's fun to wander and look at the different food and fashion they have. (While we're on the topic, what do the Brits have against natural fabrics? It's nearly impossible to find something that isn't blended with at least one other unpronouncable synthetic material.)
Loving the food. While I'm a fan of the stodgy pub food (pies! burgers! bangers and mash!), the produce here is amazingly fresh and cheap. People had warned me that I wouldn't be able to find good fruit and vegetables. True, if you eat out, but the supermarkets are crammed with excellent produce. I've been outing out a lot while Mum's here, but apart from that, I've been taking salad snack boxes to work and making amazing sandwiches and stir fries.
History. Museums, random old buildings, anything old: I love it. It's been a busy few weeks, so I haven't been exploring much, but I love popping off to the British Museum or the Tower of London when I can.
And I still get a kick out of working for the BBC. (Or, in the words of Ainsley and Josh, "You’re working at the BBC! The BBC! You are peaking! You will never be more than what you are at this moment. You’ll be like the hot girl in high school who’s ass got big! The BBC!" Thanks, guys.)
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I never thought I'd say this, but...I miss you. I knew I'd miss my family and friends, but I'm surprised that I miss you. I'm going to come across all Joni Mitchell and say I didn't know what I had 'til it was gone. It was so easy to take you for granted. You were always...just there. I'd reached a point in my life where I began to wonder, am I just with this city because it's easy?
And so I had to leave, but I miss you. Sure, you aren't as pretty as Aarhus, or as historically interesting as Berlin or London. Even in your trendiest suburbs, you can't compete with Stockholm. But despite all that, Sydney, I accept you for what you are, and I look forward to coming home to you one day.
That said, there are a few things I'd like you to improve. First, your public transport. Cityrail love to complain and protest that Sydney's train system is so complicated, don't they? I've seen Berlin, I've seen London. Their systems are just as complicated, if not more so, and they run beautifully. It's not just a European thing, because Melbourne's mass transit system shits all over yours. I can't believe you've managed to ignore the fantastic innovations in engineering and technology that are being employed across Europe. Sort it out, Sydney.
Next, your weather. I know there's not much you can do about this, but I want to point out that, although I still think you're too hot, I apologise for all the cruel things I've said in the past. Last night as I sat on a step in Charing Cross, my testicles frozen to the concrete through my jeans, rubbing my hands together to stop them turning blue, I couldn't believe that I was yearning for a Sydney summer. Yes, I miss your too-hot embrace, spending nights enfolded in your clammy arms, Sydney. When I get back, you'd better scorch the shit out of me.
And do you know what? That's really all. Although you could make a few proper indie dance clubs that aren't disgusting hellholes. That would make me happy. Spending time with other cities - a night here, a week there - I've realised you're not the cultural wasteland I always thought you were. You're doing alright. I'm having so much fun here in London, so I'll be gone a while longer, but I hope you'll wait for me. Life with you isn't so bad and, for better, for worse, for whatever, my home is with you.
See you some day soon, Sydney.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
It's not all that exciting, really.
Well, that's a lie, but the excitement often gets drowned in the drudgery of setting up a new life. I have a bank account now (still waiting on the arrival of my Australian funds) and a place to live (I think I might have mentioned that). I've now found a job - I'm working at a cafe on Portobello Road. (This is what I mean by the drudgery drowning out the excitement - it sounds quite fun to say you work in a cafe on Portobello Road, but it's still just a cafe.) It's a good cafe with fantastic coffee, which is very unusual in London. They pay me £6 an hour, which is abysmal but normal, and I have less than thirty hours in my first fortnight of work. I can't live on that kind of money for long, so if nothing else comes up, I may be home by Christmas time. But I'm okay with that - right now, while I'm still on the lookout for a "proper" job, I'm happy with the idea of an extended holiday in London. Work a few days a week, explore the city a few days a week.
I have had a couple of "proper" interviews - one for a job a picture agency who I used to deal with back in Australia, which i didn't get, and one with the BBC, which looks amazing, and I'm still waiting to hear back about that one. Going to the BBC was pretty exciting in itself. It's a stunning complex, in a really modern building with some very interesting people working in it.
After hearing about the first job I didn't get and then training at the cafe (which was a little embarrassing, in that they were explaining very clearly the importance of filling in timesheets, and I wanted to yell "Oi! Two years ago, I was the payroll manager of a staff of forty!"), I decided to remind myself why I'm here. I went on a walking tour of London this morning, and am thinking of going to see a musical tonight.
I also had a wonderful weekend in Bristol, full of "Shitting Hell, I'm in the United Kingdom!" moments. I'd been keen to get out of the city for the weekend, and thought about popping up to Glasgow to visit some friends. they were out of town though, so I figured I'd just stay put. My friend Mel then asked me if I wanted to go away for the weekend and, after a little brainstorming, we settled on Brighton. We booked out coach tickets - £20 return - but then realised we were a little screwed on the accomodation front. Fortunately, though, one of her friends in London is from Bristol, and was back in town for the weekend. She and her family graciously agreed to host us. After an afternoon of lazing by the hardbourside (nothing on Sydney, but still nice) and exploring the city's eccentric alternative clubs (people dressed up like the Dresden Dolls in Victorian pubs with cricket playing on enormous screens), we caught a bus back to Sam's place. The bus dropped us in the middle of nowhere, by an old stone fence with mist creeping over it like a vine. We wandered a bit and finally found the house - an enormous Victorian manor, complete with Gothic orangery and arches! We slept in the old servants' quarters of this bizarre and beautiful building, and woke up to find Sam's parents to be the most friendly and generous of hosts. They fed us croissants, pointed out where we could see Wales from their window (!!), gave us a driving tour of the city and gave us a map and lots of advice. Mel and I wandered the city for the day, visiting the museum and the cathedral, as well as a few galleries. We saw some Banksy artworks (the graffitti artist is originally from Bristol) and walked for nearly an hour to find a specific pub, only to find it closed on arrival!
So that was pretty ace.
Who knows what will happen next? Mum is coming to visit me in the middle of November after a holiday in China. I will definitely stay here that long and, if no better employment has come up, I'll do a little more travelling before heading home. But as it stands, I have a new plan every couple of days. Next week, I'll probably decide to be a chicken farmer in Kent.
I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I've spent plenty of time in pubs. Nearly any pub you walk into is guaranteed to have fantastic decor and delicious food. I was worried about not being able to find fresh produce and everything being expensive here, but the fruit and vegetable section at my local Sainsbury's is excellent, and everything is quite cheap. Cultural propaganda lied to me! I'm living in a set-up kind of like my dorm in first year: my own lockable bedroom with a little fridge, and shared bathroom and kitchen facilities. The area is nice, with lots of round-the-clock transport.
I'm slowly exploring the nightlife of London. Old Compton Street is like Sydney's Oxford Street, but cleaner and nicer. Although a friend and I got kicked out just after midnight last night (a Tuesday) and everything was closed. Sydney keeps pumping until the wee hours every day of the week! I thought London, a city hosting ten million people at any given time, would do likewise. I also went to see Charlotte Hatherley, former guitarist with Ash, one of my favourite bands, last night with my friend Matt. That was pretty great, although there was a pole blocking my view. I did the whole fanboy thing and got my CD signed afterwards, and a photo with her, mainly to make my friend Hanna jealous ;D
I had my first job interview on Monday. I feel really good about it: it was one of the best interviews I've done, really chatty and relaxed. But now, I'm questioning what I want to do. Do I want to work in a pub so I have more flexibility to travel and party? Do I want to stick to what I'm experienced with - administration, content management, picture editing - although I'm not passionate about it? Do I try to break into the already-congested music journalism market, and make nearly no money? Do I try something totally different? Or do I live it up in London for as long as I can on my savings, before heading home to start again?
I'm already formulating plans for when I head back to Australia, but I'm trying not to focus on that. Living in London has been a dream of mine for years, and I'm trying to enjoy the experience now, whatever it turns out to be.
Monday, September 14, 2009
They really are happy memories. With no exaggeration, the month of August 2009 is the happiest I've ever been. Every day was amazing: even when I was lonely while travelling solo, I always felt confident and excited. Now, as I settle into a regular life and start looking for work, everything seems a little less sunny.
The rest of my time in Copenhagen was incredible. The people who were kind enough to offer me their hospitality were just stupendous people: they gave me maps, cooked me dinner, took me shopping and dancing and sightseeing, and introduced me to other wonderful people. It was all so much fun. Highlights included a visit to Copenhagen's unsurprisingly tidy red light district (although bestiality porn is legal there, so the sex shops were a bit of an unpleasant shock) and shopping (where I bought an enormous turquoise raincoat that looks like something Kate Bush would love and a black and coral jumper with double length sleeves). On the Friday night, I went to a dance party in the beautiful National Library, an imposing structure aptly nicknamed the Black Diamond. It's an enormous glittering black building next to the canal, and it was turned into a nightclub for the night. Beautiful and bizarre.
After Copenhagen, I went to Aarhus. I only had a couple of nights there, and it was not nearly enough. I couchsurfed there for the first time and stayed with a Lithuanian girl, her Danish boyfriend and their Slovakian cat. They were so interesting and welcoming, cooked me amazing food, plied me with exotic liquor (including 85% mead, with anaesthetised my mouth) and let me sleep on their incredibly comfortable couch. I only had one day of sightseeing, and I forgot to take my camera. I was gutted because, outside of Canada's Icefields Parkway, the area around Aarhus is the most beautiful place I've been. I went for a walk in a forest that contained restored Viking buildings and monuments, and arrived on an enormous bay. I don't have the words to describe how beautiful it was, how huge and wonderful and full of possibility the world seemed at that moment. And that's about as close to a spiritual epiphany as I'll get.
I also went into a museum that had the body of a guy preserved in a bog who I had studied in high school, so that was awesome. From there, I went to The Old Town, which is like a Danish version of Old Sydney Town, to those Australians who remember it. They had people dressed up as Ye Olde Danes, but the public floggings were conspicuously absent. From there, I visited Aarhus University's lovely modern campus, and trekked back to my couch to get a good night's sleep before flying out from Aarhus Airport to London.
Everyone I met in my first few hours in London was grumpy and sullen. Uh oh. So far, I find that Brits are never display the kind of middle-of-the-road, passably-polite apathy of Australians: they're either really polite or really cantankerous. Anyway, I met my friend Mel in Camden Town, and it was so good to see her. She's been here a year but, as we sat by a canal eating in the sunshine, it felt like we'd only been separated a weekend. I strolled the streets while she finished work, and then we went back to her place. I crashed on her couch for a few nights, which was interesting. All of her housemates were lots of fun, and I clicked well with one particularly dirty-minded young lady, but they partied hard and my sleep was oft interrupted. I didn't stay in any party hostels while I travelled, so I gladly took it on board as part of the experience.
Last night, I went to an underground midnight gig by Amanda Palmer, one of my favourite singers. I've seen her and interviewed her a few times, and when she sent out details of this last minute gig to her mailing list, I thought, "Hey, I'm on holiday in London - I'll do it!" The pub it was at was actually the very first thing I saw when I walked out of the underground at Camden Town. The queue was huge, but I got in after about two hours, and Amanda was still playing when I left around three o'clock. She played some of my favourites, and her awesome author boyfriend Neil Gaiman got up and read a story from the book they created together to accompany her album. It was even more chaotic than her usual gigs, as it was just her and an occassional violist. She arrived onstage clad in her underwear and asked the audience to donate clothes. There was lots of banter, and she played one of her old b-sides after borrowing someone's iPhone to check the key and the lyrics. Of course, I was exhausted by the end, but getting home on night buses in London is so easy.
I now have my own little room for a couple of months in a share flat in Ladbroke Grove, which is rather near Kensington, Notting Hill and Hammersmith. It's so nice to put my clothes in a cupboard, and I was so elated when I did a grocery shop and carried it all back to put in my fridge. I've been doing a bit of job-hunting, but it's been getting me down. I realise there's no rush - I've got plenty of savings - and so once I sign off here, I'm going to go and give myself a few days as a tourist. I'm going to go and visit Rought Trade, a record store that I've bought lots of stuff through mail order from over the year, and Oxford Street (okay, so I plan to buy some job interview appropriate clothes there, but that can still be fun). On Wednesday, my uni friend Anna (EDIT: I meant my uni friend Bec. I am a terrible, terrible friend.) and I are heading down to Brighton, so I suppose I'll get back into it on Thursday.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Going over the bridge from Malmo in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark was surprisingly exhilarating. The train was thundering through a tunnel, and then suddenly burst out into sunlight. We were high above the water, looking out at the ocean. There's an enormous wind farm out to see, and it took more than five minutes to cross that enormous structure. The whole train trip was pretty spectacular: Sweden looks like a fairytale, full of dark forests that are by turns enchanting and intimidating.
Copenhagen has been even more social than Stockholm. My friend Chris lived and worked here for a year or so, and when I asked him about hostels and so on in town, he sent an email out to his friends to see if anyone could host me. His friend Anders has kindly put me up, and been a most excellent, host. He collcted me at the train station with a bag full of maps and books and brochures about Copenhagen, and has invited me to all of his work-related social functions. (He facilitates social interaction between Danes and American exchange students, so I've been drinking lots of beer and eating lots of pizza with a variety of foreigners.) Yesterday, I wandered the city, and visited the Danish Design Centre (like Stockholm, this did nothing but highlight my own deficiencies as a person), took a tour of the canals, saw the disappointing Little Mermaid statue (but I knew it was reknowned for being disappointed, so I wasn't disappointed), visited the ruins of two castles underneath the current Christianborg Palace and went to see I Morgen Om Et År (Tomorrow In A Year), an electro-opera written by The Knife and Planningtorock that is really the reason I'm in Europe. Pitchfork Media posted information about the performance, saying something like "If you happen to find yourself in Denmark..." and I thought "Well, why not?" It really was that simple, which is quite alarming, because I'm not usually so impulsive. Anyway, the show was okay. I couldn't follow what was going on - the lyrics were in English with Danish subtitles, but being sung in an opera style, I was most confused. The music ranged from very distorted industrial noise to the echoing, tribal sounds exhibited on the Fever Ray album. I wasn't too impressed with the dancers - they never worked as an ensemble, always kind of doing their own thing separately. But I was very glad to have seen it.
Well, I've banged on for long enough now. I'm about to go and visit the National Museum and the Freetown of Christiania, an enormous, decades-old squat in the middle of the city. Not sure what I'll do tomorrow, but in the evening, I'm going to a dance party in the National Library, a beautiful and modern building on a canal that is being transformed into a nightclub for the evening. Fancy. Then up to Århus in the north of Denmark before flying to London on Tuesday. Woo!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I feel this blog is rather bland. I'm amazed by how quickly the incredible experience of travel has become mundane. Please don't confuse mundane with boring - every day is fascinating and fun. I mean mundane in that it's all become quite commonplace and everyday. For example, the night before I went to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau - which I mentioned has been a near-lifelong goal of mine - I just had dinner and went to bed. No butterflies in the stomach. No lying awake thinkg "OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO AUSCHWITZ AND BIRKENAU TOMORROW". Just some practical preparation - checking train times and fares, seeing what times tours left - and that's it. That's very unusual for me. Normally, I get excited for days before seeing a favourite band, so the fact that I'm taking all of these very new and unusual situations in my stride is odd.
I guess when everything is so different - timetable, diet, weather and so on - your body just has to cope or die. Thanks, body, for coping and living!
I'm loving travel, but I'm so looking forward to settling down for a bit in London and getting some semblance of a life in order again. Apart from having my own bedroom, what I miss most is having a store of groceries on hand: now, I can't just think "Hmm, I'll make a cup of tea". I have to check if the hostel has tea-making facilities, then check if said facilities are up scratch (i.e. have they ever cleaned out the inside of their kettle?) and, if they don't, I have to head out and buy some tea bags and boil a pot of water, or go and pay an outrageous price for it in a cafe. (Although I will say this for Europe: they charge less for tea than they do for coffee. I can't belive Australian cafes charge the same for putting a bag in boiling water as they do for grinding beans, extracting espresso, foaming milk and combining the two. Coffee is clearly more complicated. But I digress.)
So the point of the post is that I can't wait to have a cup of tea whenever I like.
So, Prague is beautiful. I wasn't even going to come here on my trip. I knew very little about it, but someone mentioned it in passing, and I happened to find a cheap flight from Prague to Stockholm, and so here I am. It reminds me of Krakow, which is not surprising - they're both cities that have been dominated by various empires over the centuries, and both were left surprisingly intact during the second world war. I'm staying in a lovely, big, old apartment that's been converted into a hostel, overlooking the Vltava. I can see the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle from my little balcony.I've mainly wandered around the city and seen all the touristy things. Lots of Gothic architecture, which I love. Actually, this city is amazing for me, on account of the fact that I love things indiscriminately just because they're old. Just ask Koen - his attitude to showing me the sights of Holland was "if it's old and shitty, Liam will like it". I saw the Tyn Cathedral, where Tycho Brahe is buried. He was a revolutionary astronomer who didn't get the credit he deserved. A friend is very fond of him, so much so that he named his cat Tycho. I also enjoyed the Jewish cemetery in the old Jewish quarter. (Man, the Jews really have had a hard time of it. Every city I've visited has had a Jewish ghetto. The jewish quarter of Krakow was originally outside the town walls. Poor Jews. But I suppose that's what you get for murdering Jesus.*) The Jewisj quarter was so small that, when they ran out of room in the cemetery, they just added another level of soil. As such, there are no discernible graves as several headstones clutter each burial spot, and the cemetery rises a good ten feet above street level.
I was chatting with a nice Australian couple on the tour. (I discerned they were Australian because they asked if they could get chocolate powder in their cappucinos. The Europeans just don't do it, which makes me sad. Actually, while we're on the topic of coffee, coffee in Europe has been really bad. I've tried everything: fancy restaurants, international chains, local diners. I've had just one coffee I would call "good". The rest, not so much. I find it really bizarre. They all use UHT milk - gross - and there's no discernible difference between their lattes and cappucinos. I've discovered that most countries I've visited have a drink called a latte macchiatto, which is similar to a latte and completely unlike a macchiatto, but it is similar to a flat white, so I've been drinking those. But moving on.) We were discussing possibly going on a pub crawl tonight organised by the tour company. I showed, they didn't, and I'd been thinking of going on the crawl anyway, but man...these were not my people, I could tell. I love a drink as much as the next twenty-something, but I'm quickly realising how important my friends are to me. Going out is no fun on your own. I enjoy going out because I can dance and laugh and spend time with my friends. So I really don't understand this section of my generation who think that drinking automatically constitutes a good time.
But this is a travel blog, not a generational analysis.
It's getting lonely travelling by myself (as evidenced by my almost going on a pub crawl with strangers, a move that those close to me will realise is totally out of character). So I'm very much looking forward to my time in Scandinavia. I arrive in Stockholm in a couple of days, and my friend Anna and I have booked a studio apartment for the weekend. She's working there as a nanny, and is kind of going crazy from the lack of interaction with English-speaking adults too. It will be great to talk shit and swear (I've been on my best behaviour - I accidentally said "bitches" in front of the aforementioned Australian couple today and they looked a little shocked) and go out with a friend again. Then in Copenhagen, I'm lined up to stay with and meet some friends of a friend, so that will be hopefully awesome. And then, London, where I have many friends, followed by a quick trip to Ireland and Scotland, where I have some friends, before returning to London to find work and bunker down for the winter.
*JOKE. It's called a JOKE, my friends.**
** Speaking of jokes, it has been so hard to not tell all the completely inappropriate Jewish jokes in my reportoire while travelling around this part of Europe, a region that is still too scarred by anti-Semitism to laugh about it.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
We all know stories about the concentration camps now, but it is just incredible and heart-breaking to be there, to see the tiny cells and the torture chambers, to see the trenches they dug and the fences they electrocuted themselves on. Speaking of the fences, the place is enormous! It took me an hour to walk around half of the permieter. The back of the camp contained, aside from the crematoria, some sewerage treatment plants they were constructing for the planned expansion of the camp.
The mind boggles at what the world would be like if the Nazis remained in power long enough to implement all those plans.
I'm enjoying Krakow very much. It's a beautiful town - the market square is enormous and, despite the touristy nature of it all, very lovely. But speaking of being touristy, I was looking for a meal the other day, and considered a restaurant on the market square. The dish I wanted - pierogi ruskie, dumplings filled with potato and cottage cheese - was 27 zlotych, or about AUD11. Not too expensive, but I went around the corner, and found an adorable underground restaurant where I got a bowl of borsch (delicious beetroot soup), pierogi ruskie and half a litre of beer for PZL22, or AUD9. It was so good that I went back that night and treated myself to a PZL53 (AUD22). I'm not saying I'm an incredibly adventurous tourist, but I'm amazed by how many people - even those on the backpacker trail - are happy to go wherever the brochures point them. I was a bit braver with dinner tonight - I went to a milk bar, a cheap cafeteria-style restaurant that is a hangover from the communist days. Nobody spoke English, but I gather that I got zurek, a traditional Polish soup with eggs and sausages, and mince and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves with a tomatoey sauce. And it only cost me PZL15 (AUD6), so I picked up a PZL4 (AUD1.6) half a litre can of beer on the way home. Amazing.
Poland is so cheap. I wouldn't consider cooking here, especially because a) everything is delicious and b) I went to the supermarket for some snacky things, and a more depressing selection of produce I have not seen.
Tomorrow, I'm planning to go to an underground salt mine a few kilometres out of Krakow and then explore the old Jewish quarter in town. I've already seen the famous Wawel Hill castle complex. It's my favourite kind of castle - sprawling and eclectic, added to in different styles over the centuries - but inside it was kind of disappointing. The rooms were impressive, but they just kind of shoved a whole lot of random old furniture in there and gave no information about the rooms' historical uses. Ah well, I love a good castle, so it was nice to wander around anyway.
I feel I didn't do much justice to my visit to Auschwirz-Birkenau, but what can I say that hasn't been said already?
Well, here's a fun fact for you: the Polish name for the town is Oświęcim, which is pronounced (roughly) osh-fee-en-chee-oom. Polish is a crazy language.
Anyway, I'm really enjoying Krakow. I wish I had a bit more time here. My last day in Warszawa was a little disappointing - I went to a supposedly trendy area called Praga, but it was just like a scarier Redfern. Then I went to go to the National Museum, but it was closed for renovations. Stupid Poland. But - because I know you were all worrying - I've sorted out my transport to Prague. The train trip is only seven hours, so I can manage that. All the hostels in Stockholm seem to be full, however, so that's a little worrying.
Also, I think I'm going to end my trip in about two weeks. I found a flight from Aarhus in the north of Denmark to London for 110 Danish kroner, or AUD25. Can I get a "Hell yeah!"?
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Flying over and driving through countries and villages, it becomes so obvious that there are so many little lives like mine going on. Of course, I always knew that, but flying halfway across the globe and seeing the comings and goings of people in Asia and Europe, I finally realise how enormous, how unfathomable the number of people living on this planet really is.
Something else I find unfathomable is the suffering this part of Europe has endured, the delusion and destruction people have forced upon each other and themselves. I picked up a copy of Berlin: The Downfall 1945 the other day. Predictably, it covers the downfall of the Third Reich in Berlin in 1945. It was interesting to read about history in the places it happened - reading about the enormous and inadequate bomb shelters beneath Friedrichstrasse station as I waited at Friedrichstrasse station for my connection, for example - but within three pages, I couldn't conceive the suffering of Berliners in the second World War. And then, they lived through Soviet rule and yet, twenty years after the Wall fell, Berlin has somehow transformed itself into a beautiful, vibrant city.
Warszawa is similar, in that it's bounced back from near total annihilation. Its coping mechanism is a little different, and it seems more aggressive in its modernisation: there are skyscrapers and large hotels here, the kind of which I haven't yet encountered in Europe. I'm not quite sure what I think about it yet. I feel a little uneasy here, but at the same time, it reminds me a lot of Sydney. (In fact, the room I'm staying in is called Sydney - others are Barcelona, Rome et cetera - and the bunk bed opposite mine actually has a photo of my street above it, with a tiny corner of my apartment building visible.) There's great wealth and culture here, but also great poverty. I arrived at Warszawa Centralna station and immediately wanted to turn around and go back to Berlin: it's an ugly, concrete, cavernous place. The angry shopkeepers and the pitiful Gypsies, it was all rather unpleasant. But I'm staying on a beautiful street, and I enjoyed walking around tonight. The Warszawa Uprising Museum was fascinating (it also features in the book I'm reading), so I look forward to exploring the Old Town (rebuilt in the last few decades - ha ha) and Praga tomorrow.
I'm in Hell trying to figure out transport the next few places I go to. Because Poland has crept out from behind the Iron Curtain so recently, it isn't a very Westernised nation - not many people (well, middle-aged people, the kind who work in shops and train stations) speak English and a lot of websites don't have English options. Plus, I don't want to catch a seven hour train after my last ordeal. Waaah. I wanna fly to Prague.
Monday, August 17, 2009
I went on a day trip to Potsdam (did I mention this?) where the Prussian kings had their summer retreat. I never knew what was meant by the term "Prussia", but now I do. Learning on holidays rules! I also went to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, which was a template for the later concentration camps. They carried out earlier gas chamber experiments there. The Nazis sure loved their grim irony: the first group of women to be gassed (with mustard gas, instead of the later Zyklon B) had previously been on a work detail making gas masks for the war effort. While on the subjects of horrible irony and Zyklon B, a memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin is coated with some kind of anti-graffitti substance. Turns out that the company that provided the substance supplied the Nazis with Zyklon B way back when. Interesting and depressing.
I went out for a night to Magnet Club, which was weird and fun. I got there at nearly midnight, and the place was dead. It didn't pick up until about two o'clock. I guess that's what happens when you have daylight until ten o'clock. The club night was called Pop Pourri, and the music was uhmayzing. Nearly every song, I knew or loved. So I danced by myself (seriously, no one else on the dance floor) and chatted with a Swiss couple and a Japanese guy. Typical: I spend a week in Germany and don't meet a single German. Actually, that's a lie, there was a German girl in my first Berlin hostel room, who was lovely.
I'm in a new hostel now, which rules. I'm about a twenty minute walk from the Reichstag (which was awe-inspiring, and totally worth the one hour wait) and it's a four-bed room in a well-maintained art nouveau apartment. The bathroom is enormous (a welcome change from the shower cubicles at the last hostel, which weren't big enough to stretch my arms out in) and really quiet. My first night there, I had the room to myself, as my roommates were out for the whole night. Shit yeah!
I wandered around to a few museums, and treated myself to lunch at a tacky Australian restaurant. I went to German restaurants in Australia so often that I thought I should see what the inverse is like. It was funny reading the menu - it was all "chook" instead of "chicken" - and it was good to have some kangaroo. Although I got a Foster's, and remembered why I don't drink it back home. It's like making love in a canoe. (You know the rest.)
Tomorrow, I will try to give my poor feet a break (seriously, five of my toes have blisters - I have never walked so much in my life) and chill out in the Tiergarten. Then I'm catching an early morning train to Warsaw, where I will stay for three days before heading to Krakow for three days. After that, Prague, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Aarhus. After that, I might go to Hanover, Munich and Paris, or save them for another time and head to London to prepare myself for the winter - don't want to get caught out like the metaphorical grasshopper.
Friday, August 14, 2009
But I'm here now, and it's amaying. I stumbled into my hostel just after 7am, had a quick shower and started venturing out on my own. I got as far as the Ostbanhof, my local train station (and, oh my god, public transport in Berlin is amaying, but that can wait for another post), where I realised I had no idea where to go or what to do. So I went back and went on a free walking tour of Berlin offered by my hostel. Turns out it was done by a separate company who offer a free walking tour to promote their other tours, and hell yeah, it works! The tour was fascinating and fun, and so today I went on a tour of Potsdamer, the nearby town that was the summer playground of Prussian royalty, and tomorrow I'm going on a tour of Sachsenhausen, the nearby concentration camp. And then there are so many museums to see! I also need to dig into record stores and stuff while I'm here.
I'll write more later - my clothes are nearly dry, and when the cycle is finished, I'm going to have a nap before going out to the Magnet Club. I've never been clubbing a) in Europe or b) on my own, so I don't know what to expect, but I've met (and dated) tourists who were in pubs or clubs on their own, so hopefully some Berliner will be nice and chat to the lonely kid in the corner. But yeah, clubs here don't open until midnight, and anyone who knows me and my going out habits will know that this will test me. I want to be in bed! But I went to bed at 9pm yesterday, so it's time to sample some of this famous Berlin nightlife.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
I thought I'd better check that I can use my credit-debit card overseas. It turns out I can - for an outrageous fee! It would cost me five dollars plus a two per cent conversion fee for each transaction. Ouch. It turns out my bank have only recently realised that this is insane - it's as though globalisation never happened - and launched a product that will now only cost me three dollars per transaction with no conversion fee. It's been getting product placement in all of my recent conversations, so sorry if I've raved to you about it.
I was looking forward to a very quiet last week in Sydney, but it has been madness. I've caught up with friends for nearly every meal and have been ricocheting between banks, camping stores, solicitors offices, bars and cafes. It's been exhausting but so much fun.
But how ridiculous is this? I haven't even left the country yet and I'm onto my third blog post. So here's my rought itinerary (the elastic nature of it is driving my worry-wart mother insane):
Aug. 3: Land in Amsterdam, Holland, and stay with one of my dearest friends for a week or two, visiting Rotterdam and The Hague while I'm in the country.
Aug. 14(-ish): Head over the border and visit a high school friend living in Hanover, Germany.
Aug. 17: Maybe Berlin, Germany?
Aug. 25: Head up to Sweden. I'm really excited to see Stockholm. I realised only recently that many of my favourite bands and authors are Swedish, so I'm interested to see the environment that created them.
Sep. 1: Cross the bridge to Denmark, where I'll be staying with a friend of a friend in Copenhagen. I'm going to see the Knife's electro-opera about Charles Darwin (double-yoo-tee-eff, right?) and then head over to Aarhus.
Sep. 8: Come back through, and maybe stop off at Munich or similar on my way to Poland. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Auschwitz, Krakow and Warsaw. I always imagined Poland to be a country full of haybales and hicks, but I then did a bit of research and discovered that Poland is a beautiful country, and I'm maybe a bit racist.
Sep. 15: Head over to Paris, France to visit a uni friend before finally arriving in London, England, where I'll look for a home and a job, and see many amazing bands.
And then I live happily ever after.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I worry that there's so much to do, but I packed up my music collection the other night, and it only took me a little over an hour. (Keep in mind that I'm a lifelong pop and rock fanatic and have spent the last three years working as a music journalist, so when I say "music collection" we're talking about five packing boxes' worth.) So I need to pack up all my clothes and books, cancel my phone and internet plans, buy a backpack and...I think that's it. Then it's just saying farewell to Sydney.
I've felt a little sad about my travel plans the last few days. I know that this is the right time to make the trip, as I've been restless for the last few years, jumping from job to job, none of which are exactly what I want to do. But I feel I've really hit my stride in Sydney, having fallen in with a group of friends and a social scene that I really dig. I feel really comfortable and happy here, but I know I won't be able to settle down properly until I get this adventuring out of my system.
So, to Europe we go.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I can't believe I'm finally doing it. Sure, nearly every middle class white person like myself gets a chance to go travelling around Europe - it's become such a cliche - and yet I'm so excited to be doing it myself. For the moment, I'm just using this blog to keep track of the other blogs I've begun reading recently - mainly expatriate Indonesians and Americans living in Denmark and Sweden - but presuming I have the time, I'll be blogging my adventures once I arrive in Europe in August. I suppose I could blog about packing up my life and such, although I doubt that will be very exciting. I don't expect to uncover any long-forgotten secrets as I clear out my cupboards.
I'll be starting off in Holland, where two of my best friends are living. From there, I plan to travel around Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and France before arriving in London to live and work for a couple of years.