Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I'm Here With All Of My People

Aah, it's so nice to be amongst your own.

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 While I miss many people in and aspects of my home country, I don't feel tied down by outdated notions of nationality.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

Polski Delikatesy

In my previous post, I briefly exhorted the deliciousness of Polish beer. I also fell in love with Polish food while I was there. Tonight, I got home from work and didn't really feel like cooking, so decided to check out the Polish delicatessen at the end of my street.

Goodness me, it was wonderful.

I didn't understand what half of the products there were, as most had no English labelling and the few that did were woefully translated. But it looked just like a the delicatessen's I visited in Krakow (albeit cleaner) and I picked up some delicious pierogi (I could eat that shit 'til I die). But anyway, the reason I was so chuffed was that the checkout dude started talking to me in Polish. It was like being on the road again, where I just nodded and tried to pass for an unusually quiet local. Eventually, I had to break the spell and tell him in English that I didn't want a bag. Of course, I got a kick out of being mistaken for a Pole. (Because have you seen them? Delicious. But it seems that once they hit 30, all Poles are sent to an uglification camp, which is unfortunate. Watch out, Martin.) But I mostly thought it was wonderful because here, in the centre of the capital of the English-speaking world, is a small community where the dominant culture is treated as the minority: the feeling of being lost and insignificant while travelling came rushing back at me. I was suddenly completely out of my depth, and as I sit in my room with a stomach full of pierogi and Lech (URP SLURP SLURP), I am reminded of how unimportant I am on this little planet.

It makes me feel human. I love it.

In other news, I booked a few trips in my lunch break today: four nights in Copenhagen (SO MANY KINDS OF YAY), three nights in Salzburg and two nights in Glasgow. It will be good to get on the road again and step outside of England for a little bit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beer Here

Sweet baby Jesus, I love beer. I really do. It wasn't love at first taste. My dad used to let me have a sip of his every now and then from the time I was twelve or so, but I enjoyed the novelty more than the taste. ("Look! I'm grown-up! And manly!") On special occasions at university, some friends I would buy Coronas and shove so much lime into them they tasted like the ready-to-mixes we were so accustomed to. Eventually, I switched to drinking Toohey's Extra Dry when out because it was cheaper than vodka and less awful than goon sunrises, a particularly vicious concoction at the university bar.

But this economical consideration eventually turned into real love, and I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Not snobby, necessarily, but I know what I like and enjoy learning about different brewing methods and such. Apart from seeing the various sights one expects to see on a European trip, I wanted to achieve two things while over here: 1) assess and explore the standing of English in the wider world (more on that later) and 2) drink lots of beer.

I am proud to say I succeeded.

Anyway, this is what I learned.

Polish beer is excellent. (So is Polish food, and I now regularly stuff my face with borscht, golabki and pierogi in a most undignified fashion.) Tyskie, Okocim (owned by Carlsberg) and Zywiec (owned by Heineken) are lovely, although Zywiec is a darker beer and I was expecting a lighter lager. But my favourite, by a long shot, was Lech. Mmh. Lech. Sounds gross, but is most delicious. I will drink it any chance I get. I was quite stoked when I arrived in Copenhagen, and discovered that Carlsberg is their local beer: it's on tap everywhere, like Toohey's New back home. But still, it was mor eexpensive than Carlsberg back home. Being Denmark, where you have to sign a form promising the shopkeeper your first- (or second- or third- or fourth-) born child before they will release any goods into your keeping, a pint is stupidly expensive and could buy a small house in the southern suburbs of Sydney.

Czech beer was even better. This didn't surprise me, as its reputation preceded it. Pilsner Urquell (which sold for about fifty Australian cents per half litre) and Budweiser Budvar are the two biggest, and I can fortunately find them with relative ease in London. However, whenever I encounter Budweiser, I must ask if it is the American or Czech brewed version. One, you see, is a delicious beer, while the other is watered down dog urine. This problem also plagues Stella Artois. Stella Artois is considered a premium beer in Australia. It's a lovely beer, originating in Belgium, and I drank a lot of it in Holland (alongside delicious Dutch beers like Heineken and Grolsch). Anyway, in England, Stella Artois is a disgusting chav beer that tastes like ball sweat.

One beer that stays the same over the world is Foster's. It tastes consistently execrable.

I went to a delightfully tacky Australian restaurant in Germany. I ordered the kangaroo wrap (which was unusual: although I cook kangaroo frequently - oh, quit your gasps, Europeans, they're a pest - you rarely see it on menus in Australia) and a Foster's, as it was the only Australian beer on the menu.

Foster's are ingenious. They've marketed their beer as the Australian beer of choice, so Walkabouts and other Aussie-themed venues around the world stock up on it big time. But here's the secret, Europeans: nobody in Australia drinks that shit. We have some delicious, world-class beers: Cooper's, Little Creatures, Blue Tongue, even Carlton Draught is a tasty beer.

But Fosters.

That shit is awful.

The moral of the story is don't drink Stella Artois in England and don't drink Foster's anywhere.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kan Du Tale Dansk?

I forgot to mention something that I'm very, very excited about: I've enrolled to start learning Danish! It's been something that's on my mind since February, when I dated a Dane, and the urge only became stronger when I fell in love with Denmark during our week-long romance. I worry that I'm turning into someone like those spotty weird teenage boys who aren't interested in anything that isn't related to Japan, but instead of talking about manga and vijuara kei and other cool stuff, I'm blathering on about a country that counts cheese and chairs as its most exciting cultural exports.

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.

Things About London What Is Good

So, I have recently been accused of being "a whiny backpacker", "a knapsack of emotions" and "a little shit face everyone hates". No, I'm not suddenly a wildly successful blogger whose words ignite his enormous readership into arguments about whether he speaks the word of God (it's true) or whether he's a mealy-mouthed hack (it's not true). This hate mail comes from two people who I once considered my friends. No, I kid, whatever problems Ainsley and Josh have with anger-management and their complex complexions (you're blotchy - I'm saying it as nicely as I can, okay?), I love them very much.

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

Housing Hell

Shit. Shitting shitty shit. House-hunting is so hard. It's a whole new world of social conventions I don't understand! I've always lived with friends or family, so this whole meeting strangers and trying to impress upon them what an excellent housemate you would be thing is very difficult. Also, I don't understand the protocol. I figured the people with the house are in the position of power, so it's up to them to make the decision, since they'll have many people wanting to move in. The London flat-share market is pretty cut-throat. So I looked at a really nice flat last Friday night, and told the girls the room was perfect for my needs and they said they'd discuss their housemate options that night and text me the next day. It's now Sunday and I've only just heard from them. They said:

"Hey Liam, Don't know if you were interested in the room, but just to let you know, we have now found someone to move in. Best of luck with the search!"

Now, that's all very nice, but it makes me feel like the fact that I didn't get the room is my fault. I mean, they said they didn't know if I was interested in the room, but how much clearer than "I'm really keen, please let me know" can I be? I figure they should decide who they want to live with and then go down the list. Apparently, it's like getting a job, and I'm going to have to call repeatedly and hassle people.

Anyway, I think I've decided to stay where I am. This room I saw on Friday and one I saw the previous week were perfect i.e. cheap, clean, and well-located with nice, quiet-seeming housemates. Apart from that, they're all more expensive than where I am now if you factor in bills, and a bit further flung-out, transport-wise. One had a carpeted bathroom - weird, I hate that shit - and another was with housemates who had a very limited grasp of English. Ah well. I really like my area: it's close to work and a big supermarket, and it's pretty easy to get in and out of the city. What I really miss is having a living room, and the fact that this is a business-run house, so the housemates change regularly. There were two awesome Aussie girls in the room next to me, but they'll be gone soon and who knows who'll take their place? But there are a few other people who are planning on staying here until February or March, so hopefully we can built up a bit of a rapport. I'm on contract with the BBC until March, so I guess I'll reconsider things then.

Anyway, house-huntng took up the weekend, only for me to learn I'm happy where I am. (I can't help but feel that the weekend's efforts serve as a metaphor for what I've learned about Australia by travelling abroad.) I've caught up with a few friends though, which has been good: I went out for drinks on a boat-bar on the Thames on Friday night, and went dancing last night. Mum arrives in a week, so I've got to plan activities and stuff for her arrival.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Open Letter

Dear Sydney,

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.


Liam xxx

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Open Letter

Dear London,

I'm sorry I wasn't kind to you in my last post. You see, I'm still warming up to you (just as you're cooling down, ironically enough). It's hard to like you when I'm busy trying to find a house, and I'm still so confused by everything you do. Your prices are weird. You have different names for things. On the other hand, you're very familiar at times, and perhaps that's why it's so disorienting to be around you: you aren't wildly different, like Warszawa or Aarhus, but you're just different enough that I can never quite relax. Sometimes, I just want to leave you and go back to Sydney, where I know and love everyone and everything. Other times, I just want to pack up and move to Copenhagen. Oh London, why can't you be Copenhagen? I know that we're together now and I shouldn't be thinking of other cities, but every time I close my eyes, I see the canals and cathedrals of Copenhagen. But don't worry: I would never cheat on you. I made a commitment, and I intend to see it through.

Of course, I've been dreaming of this for years, so it's no surprise that the reality never quite measures up to my fantasies. But I enjoy spending time with you. I like your palaces (especially now that I've bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces), I love your parks, your plentiful and affordable gigs, your lovely pubs with their artery-cloggingly delicious food. I love the way the clothes in your shops look, but I hate the fact that they're all made of synthetic fabrics. I hate that coffee is so expensive here, but I guess that I should be thankful that it's not as expensive as Aarhus. Stupid Aarhus and its ten dollar coffee. I like that you gave me a job at the BBC. I like that I have friends living here, and have already made new ones. I love your museums. Almost as much as I love The X Factor.

So London, once again, I'm sorry if I've seemed distant. You seem really cool, and I want to get to know you better. But whatever happens in our relationship, I hope we can always stay friends.


Liam xxx

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm Still Here

You're not my friend,
But you can be.
But no trace of it here in London...
The way you hit me is better than love,
And I'm head over heels.
The way you want to get rid of me,
It makes me weak in the knees.

- Frida Hyvonen, London

The very day after I last blogged, everything changed. The BBC called and, although I didn't get the role I'd been interviewed for, they offered me another position. I'm now working as a web assistant for The website is relaunching in the next week or two, and the new one is really something. It's a great quality product, so I'm very pleased to be working on it (although I'd be stoked with anything the BBC deigned to give me). Working there has been so bizarre. It's such an iconic building, and I can't quite believe I'm working there. This week was a bit strange: on Thursday, hundreds (thousands, if you believe the more excitable news sources, but hundreds if you believe me) of protestors were demonstrating outside the Television Centre about the appearance of a British politician with hateful opinions on Question Time. (I agree with their disdain for his disgusting policies, but they were specifically protesting the show letting him take part in the democratic process, so I can't side with them. But anyway.) That was interesting: a few protestors made it into the building, and a few minutes after I left work, the building went into lockdown for a few hours. But that was the most exciting it's been so far: I've been doing repetitive data entry stuff to support the back end of the website, but I'm told the role will get more interesting soon.

But before I started working at the BBC, I worked as a catering co-ordinator at Frieze, apparently the world's largest art fair. It was insanely busy and I was bitter at how poorly paid I was (especially as I'd told the BBC to wait until I fulfilled the commitment I'd made), but it was alright in the end. I got my housemate a job there, so it was fun hanging with her, and I met a few other people. But mostly, it was busy and full of pretentious art wankers. But the moment I walked out the door on Sunday night, I let go of all that bitterness so I can't be bothered moaning about it now.

Anyway, having a job means I have a routine and an income, so I'm starting to finally explore the city properly. I've got a few gigs lined up (although paying for gigs after years of being on the guest list is painful) and a surprisingly large group of friends living here. The friend I stayed with in Copenhagen has already visited London, so we caught up and I also met one of his British friends, who I've seen one-on-one since then. Success! British friends! It is incredibly cold. It's only the beginning of autumn, and I'm wearing what I wear in the dead of an Australian winter, and it's not nearly warm enough.

I can't think of anything more exciting that I've done lately. As I said, I'm slowly discovering the city by going out to restaurants, visiting markets and museums and just walking the streets. Walking is my favourite way to get to know a place and London isn't as terrifying huge as I thought. Of course, its suburbs roll on forever, but it's centre is quite a compact nucleus. I need to learn my way around it very quickly, though, as I am due to move out of my current place in a few weeks. I need to find something else, or ask for permission to stay where I am a bit longer. I'm due to move out the weekend my mum arrives to visit and I go to see Patrick Wolf. Tee hee, it'll be busy.

I've been really bad with blogging and keeping in touch regularly, but I have a computer now, so I'll hopefully get better at it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yeah, Yeah

I know I haven't updated my blog in a couple of weeks. It's coming, okay? I've been really busy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Still in London. I still find it so bizarre. This is something that I've been working towards for years, and here I am.

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


So, I'm in London. Exciting. Daunting. I like my neighbourhood - I live not far from Portobello Road, where I spent far too much money at Saturday's markets. Hello, red mohair circus jumper. Hello, fake indie hipster idiot glasses. Hello, calf-high boots. Apart from exploring markets, I've caught up with my uni friend Julie (and bumped into my uni friend Jeremy at H & M on Oxford Street - bizarre!). We've been to museums - the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Modern, where there were more Picassoes, Pollocks and Warhols than you could poke a paintbrush at. Amazing. It reminded me of going to see an exhibition in Sydney, where a single Warhol piece was the centrepoint. In London, they have rooms overflowing with Warhol and then some. I also went to the Tower of London, one of my favourite places in the world. I got myself an annual membership so I can go back and nerd it up whenever I like.

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

Denmark and England

I don't have time to update too extensively, but I wanted to blog a bit about the last leg of my trip before I forget it all. I'm now in London, and am trying to focus on finding a job and figuring out how this damn city works, and the happy memories of travel are fading so quickly.

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

Sweden and Denmark

A very quick update before I head out for another day on the town. Stockholm was amazing. An absolutely fantastic city, beautiful and vibrant. It was especially fun because my university friend Anna and I rented a studio apartment for a few nights, so not only did I get to leave my towel, toothbrush and soap in the one place for several days, I got to hang out with a friend! Yeah! Friends are definitely what I miss most on this trip. (Oh, and family, Mum.) Anna and I didn't do anything particularly touristy - no museums or anything - just wandered the town, ate amazing food and got a feel for the city. We had a picnic on the garden island (Stockholm is spread over 14 islands), had drinks at an indie club called Debaser (where they had shots named after lyrics in the song Debaser by the Pixies - Girlie So Groovy, sliced-up Eyeballs et cetera) and ate amazing ice cream and pastries. Everyone in Stockholm is terrifyingly beautiful and obscenely trendy, so my self-esteem was very happy when I caught a train to Copenhagen.

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

On Travel

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.

Czech Republic

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

More Poland

Today I went to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex outside Krakow, which was one of my goals for this trip. I've wanted to go since I was in primary school (yeah, I was a weird kid - a trip to Wonderland just didn't cut it for me) and it didn't disappoint. Well, it did, in that I felt very disappointed with humanity at the end of it (and not just because of the Nazis - tourists on buses are jerks, but that's quite trivial when discussing attempted genocide), but it was fascinating. The Birkenau complex was especially disturbing, all the more so because it was in an incredibly beautiful setting. The Polish countryside is by turns harsh and lush, but Birkenau is one of the loveliest places I've encountered so far in Europe. I guess it manages to be both harsh and lush at the same time.

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


Travel makes me feel so very, very small.

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

Still Germany

Today was a little disheartening. I decided to visit Kreuzberg and Prenzlauerberg, two regions of Berlin I was excited to check out. They'd been described to me as having a Newtown/Glebe sort of vibe. Instead, they had a Redfern sort of vibe. Gross. I actually felt a little unsafe in Prenzlauerberg. Admittedly, it's Monday, and things shut down in Europe on Sundays and Mondays. I'll be going back to one or both of them tomorrow, as the two best English bookshops in town are located there. So let's hope it's a little better. On the other hand, it was kind of like seeing a friend or lover pick their nose and not being too grossed out: I still love this city, no matter its faults.

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


I'm in Berlin! Getting here was a bit hellish - I caught an overnight bus and was next to a guy who thought his ticket entitled him to my seat as well as his, and behind a girl who kept testing if her seat went back any further. Seriously, I don't care how expensive the alternative is, never, ever catch a night bus in Europe. It's just not worth it. (Speaking of comfort and expense, the overnight bus from Utrecht to Berlin cost me $100. I booked a flight from Prague to Stockholm for $35. Win!)

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

Even More Holland

So, I'm still in Holland, and getting more confident. Koen is working again today, so I went into town. This time I managed to buy groceries and a cup of coffee. I was feeling so confident I thought I'd walk home a different way and, of course, got lost. Never mind. I love wandering around this city - it's beautiful. I have now seen several Dutch cities (and a German one) to compare it to. On Thursday, I braved the Dutch train system to meet Koen in Nijmegen, the city where he works. Well, I managed to cock that up. The wording on the ticket machine was slightly different to the wording Koen had written down for me, and a few key words were missing from my phrasebook. I faked my way through it, claiming a bogus student discount when I didn't have enough Euro coins to afford full fare. Nijmegen is a lovely medieval town, with a spacious shopping district and beautiful old castles and garden along the riverside. 

We spent Friday in Amsterdam and, in hindsight, we didn't do much, mainly wandered around and looked at the sights. The architecture in Amsterdam is particularly striking - very old, but well-maintained. I wasn't so taken with the city but, admittedly, I didn't explore far from the centre. The centre, of course, had a very touristy feel, and all the marijuana and sex paraphernalia was a bit tacky. The red light district was an eye-opening (and eye-popping) experience, with prostitutes hanging out in windows, trying to beckon us in. Gross. We were in town for a Cocorosie concert, and that did not disappoint. It was in a venue called Paradiso, a converted church where David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and all other kinds of rock and roll royalty have played. The venue was beautiful, and the concert was amazing. Koen is a big fan and I'm just a casual listener, but I was converted: they use their unusual voices (think Bjork and Kate Miller-Heidke) with creative arrangements of piano, percussion and beatboxing, with the occasional harp or horn thrown in. Getting home was a bit of a bitch: we had to wait a while for the train to take us back to the transferium, an enormous and affordable parking station for commuters, and then faced the ninety minute drive back to Oss. We finally made it into bed around two o'clock.

The weekend was much more relaxing. We ventured into a few nearby towns on Saturday, and on Sunday, drove to 's Hertogenbosch, or Den Bosch, the capital of Noord Brabant, the province I'm staying in. It's a beautiful old town whose signature dish is an enormous profiterole. I was most pleased. We then slipped across the border into the German town of Kleve. I don't know if it's representative of Germany, but I liked it much less than Dutch towns. It was just a bit dirtier, a bit more run-down, a bit more higgeldy-piggeldy. Oh, and there were really ugly seats shaped like swans all over the place. We headed back into Holland and had an amazing dinner at the Turkish restaurant where Koen worked during his high school years.

And now, I'm planning my next move. There were a few very hots days last week, but a cool change came through over the weekend. It reminded me that I have a lot to see and not much of winter left to see it in. I'm loving Holland, but I know I'll be spending a lot more time here over the next year or two. I think I'll jump on a bus to Berlin in the next few days, although most of the hostels seem to be pretty full. Yikes. I'll probably have to get one for Thursday and Friday night and then spend a bit of time looking for somewhere that can take me for the weekend. I think I'll spend some time in Berlin before heading up towards Stockholm. After that, I'll jet up to Aarhus and Skagen in Denmark before arriving in Copenhagen by the first of September. From there, I'll probably head to Warsaw and Krakow in Poland before stopping off at Prague on my way to Paris, after which I'll finally arrive in London.

Finance allowing, of course.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

More Holland

Adventure status: failed! I had a very nice walk into Oss' city centre, although I pretty soon found my way on a route I hadn't taken before. But it's okay, I got there and back with no problems, I just didn't wander too aimlessly in town as I knew that would hamper my ability to find my way back. I'd added exchanging my Australian dollars for euros to my list of things to do, and figured that was the most important, and set about doing it first. I failed dismally, and that kind of put a dampener on the other activities. I only found one bank - and, thankfully, it was ING, a brand I know from Australia - and, after being greeted by disorienting Dutch, it turned out that the woman did speak English, but they wouldn't change my money unless I had an account with them. Damn.

So I wandered around, and couldn't find a bookshop. There were several cafes and bars, but no one was drinking coffee. I'm sure I could have walked in and tried my best - the word for "coffee" is "koffie", after all - but what do they call cappucinos and lattes? I know that my normal choice, flat white, is rather unique to the Australian market. So, unusually shy and disheartened, I walked home in the Dutch heat listening to German rock. Maybe I'll have more luck tomorrow in Amsterdam when we go there to see CocoRosie.

Now, I'm off on an adventure that will be much easier: I'm catching a train to another city to meet Koen after work. But he's written everything down for me - including how to get to the station and how to select a return ticket and such in Dutch - so there's no chance of me screwing this up.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


If I were put in charge of an advertising campaign for the Netherlands (which, let's face it, is a terrible idea that would probably end in a war with the neighbouring countries), the tag line would be "Holland: Better than wherever you're from". It is so beautiful, and I am so happy to be here.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I spent nearly forty hours in transit - Sydney to Taipei Taipei to Bangkok, Bangkok to Amsterdam - which is the longest I've ever been travelling for. I never want to go home, simply because I can't face that thought of that trip again. It was so painful, made more uncomfortable by the fact that I was flying China Airlines, whose aircraft are abviously designed for much more compact people of Asian descent. But I chatted with a lovely young Chinese couple beside me, and the food was okay, and my books were good, so eventually I arrived at Schiphol. (It turns out this is the name of Amsterdam's airport. My friend Glen asked me when I arrived in Shiphol, to which I said, "No, I'm going to Amsterdam".)

My friend Koen picked me up at the airport. It was so good to see him. Not just because I was so tired that I would have wrapped my arms around George W Bush with the joy of seeing a face I recognised (ooh, incisive political insight, that's what keeps you reading this blog, am I right?), but because it's been a year since he left Australia and I've missed him terribly.

Koen drove me to his home city, Oss, via a few other nearby cities. In Australia, people tend to congregate together in huge clumps, like the Central Coast or the Blue Mountains, which are never-ending trails of suburbs. In Holland, there are lots of small, self-contained cities near each other. Holland is a stunning country, and everything looks like a postcard. I'm trying to refrain from exclaiming "Cute!" every two minutes, because that's rather patronising, but the country has such a quaint, wholesome vibe. Everybody's very house-proud, there are recreational cyclists everywhere, many houses have heavily-thatched roofs, apple trees grow in public parks, and it's just lovely. I love the summertime Dutch lifestyle: it's daylight here until ten at night (a fact I am stil getting used to), so the streets are full of people walking and dining outside until late. I'm told yesterday was one of the hottest days of summer so far, but I found i very pleasant. It wasn't as humid as it apparently gets sometimes, but it still missed that malevolent heat that typifies the Australian summer for me.

I spent said sunny day a Efteling, a beautiful, creative and quirky theme park. We had a very lucky day: we didn't queue up long for the rides. Even queuing was often pleasant: the designers have paid great attention to details. For example, waiting to go on a ride called The Flying Dutchman, which is tied in with the ghost ship of the same name, we slowly walked through several rooms and a waterfront in the style of a seventeenth century Dutch town. The rides were fun, too, and Koen even managed to talk me into getting on the Python, a high-speed rollercoast in the vein of the Demon at Wonderland and, OH MY GOD, it was so much fun.

We then came home and made mussels with garlic sauce with a salad of strawberries, brie, lettuce and almonds on the side, which was an interesting and delicious combination. The Dutch seem to like combining sweet, savoury and salty flavours: the night before I had bacon and ginger pancakes, which were rich and delicious. And, OH MY GOD, you should see the booze selection in their supermarkets: cheap, varied and more extensive than the average Australia bottle shop. I could get used to that. Although at the check-out, I went to pay for the groceries with my credit card, which is apparently not done here. I feel this will be the most interesting and frustrating part of my trip: coming up against the unspoken rules of different societies. I barely have a handle on Australia's inherent rules and regulations: trying to master those of a foreign culture within a week or two, I fear, will be nearly impossible.

Today, Koen has to work. I'm just catching up on emails, and will hopefully have time for a nap. I haven't felt jet-lagged at all, but am feeling the effects of rushing straight out of two days of insomnia into a day of walking in the sun. Then, I plan to wander into Oss' city centre, which will be interesting: I haven't had any one-on-one interactions with Dutch people yet, as Koen has always been there to translate and order for me. The few people I have met - mainly Koen's neighbours and relatives - have been very friendly, even if we can't do much but communicate our names and smile at each other. I'm told most of the younger generations speak English, so wish me luck!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I'm Taking Europe With Me

Ack! It's the last weekday before I leave! Have done so little in the last month. That's a lie - I've done a lot, but I'm a curious mix of painstaking planner and distractable flibbertigibbet, so I've researched everything, but not much has actually happened. And now I'm packing up my room and there's a lot more to do than I thought. Thank God I don't have to move anything to a storage. My brother is just moving into my room, so I can shove everything into the cupboard. Woo!

I thou
ght 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


Today, it's a month until I leave.

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

Europa Endlos







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.