Sunday, August 15, 2010

WORST BLOGGER EVER (Also, Amsterdam)

So I have been back in Australia for nearly two months and squandered six weeks of unemployment when I could have been writing about the rest of my adventures. I was putting some of my pictures up on Facebook, and seeing some of them reminded me of things I'd forgotten. I figured I really should write a bit more before I lose the few memories my rapidly-deteriorating mind has managed to hold on to.

So I met my brother Rhys and his best friend Bowie in Amsterdam. It was so weird seeing Rhys. I hadn't seen him in nearly a year and yet, as he walked down the stairs to meet me in the lobby of our hotel, it felt like it'd only been a few days since I'd seen him last.

I hadn't cared for Amsterdam when I first visited it last year with Koen. I mean, I liked it - lots of history, beautiful architecture and such - but I didn't love it. It was just so obviously crammed with tourists, mainly north American college students spending their summer vacation getting baked in Amsterdam. This time around, I liked it a lot more. I love travelling in the low season.

We did a walking tour of the city, led by a great Australian girl. She took us through the red light district and to various buildings of religious and civic interest. After the tour, we visited the Anne Frank House, a museum set up in the building where Anne Frank and her family had hid. I'd been hoping to see it for a long time, but couldn't find it on my last visit. It was just wonderful and heart-breaking. I was very teary by the end. Her diary made a great impression on me when I read it as a child, and it was...really, being in those rooms was quite indescribable. Like my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, it was so very sad, but so very worthwhile.

Rhys and Bowie did a pub crawl but, in case you hadn't noticed by now, I'm not very cool, and so I stayed in and read.

We then researched a few different options for getting ourselves to Paris, and ended up booking a seven-hour bus trip. AIEEE. It was quite fun, though - you rarely see borders when travelling by train, but we saw a big sign by the road announcing our arrival in France. We also went via Antwerp, and drove past a few places I had been hanging out in just weeks before. I couldn't believe nostalgia could develop so quickly, as I pointed out to Rhys places I walked and bought things at and drank coffee at.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Oh my God, I'm so behind on this thing. I haven't written about Holland, France, Italy, Norway and Denmark (where I currently am). That's a month's worth of travel. Let's see how far we get today.

So, I arrived in Holland to visit my friend Koen. His family had attended a funeral the afternoon I arrived, so I felt a bit awful blowing in on that, but after a sad start, I had a super-awesome week-and-a-bit. As Mum pointed out, visiting Koen was a bit like going home: I started my trip there last year, so I knew what I was going back to, and even got the same room again! We visited several different Dutch cities: Rotterdam, which has bounced back splendidly after being razed in the second world war; Eindhoven, which was ruined by shitty weather; Arnhem, which Koen described as totally ghetto but I was quite fond of; and 's-Hertogenbosch, which was slightly marred by rain but was still lovely. In Eindhoven, we went to see CocoRosie. We saw them last time I was in Holland, and they were, of course, awesome. It was also nice, if a bit odd, to attend an indie show in a seated venue. We also went to Arnhem one night to see Lady Gaga. Umm, amazing. She had a really dirty fucking mouth though. I was next to a woman who had brought her two young daughters - I hope they didn't understand English. We stayed that night at Koen's brother's place. It was the cutest house ever. Their toilet had photos of their friends and family pulling ugly faces all over the wall. Yeahhh.

In s-Hertogenbosch, we went on a canal cruise, which we'd wanted to do last year but it was all booked out, what with it being the tourist high season and all. The guide spoke only in Dutch, but apparently I wasn't missing much. A lot of the canals passed under the houses, it got very dark and tight, and apparently they get full of bats. Creepy. We had an amazing lunch too. Actually, everything I ate in Holland was amazing. Lots of bread, cheese, cured meat, fresh fruit, coffee and chocolate. We went back to Efteling one day, an ultra amazing theme park in Holland. It wasn't very busy, as it was a Tuesday, so we went on our favourite rides again and again. Apart from that, we had a lot of quiet days, which was really nice. It was good to chill out and spend time with Koen, one of my favourite people on the planet.

I left Koen to meet my brother Rhys and his friend Gerard in Amsterdam.

And now I'm off to meet a friend in Copenhagen, so the rest of the story will have to wait.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Belgium and Germany

Well, what adventures I have had since I last had a chance to write. I spent a week in Belgium, a weekend in Germany and a week in Holland (with a few more days to come).

I must admit, I didn't care for Belgium as a whole, but I loved Antwerp. Perhaps it helped that I had a friend to show hme around the kind of places I enjoy, but the city as a whole had that snotty attitude that I love (think Surry Hills). I spent a day in Gent, which was very enjoyable. It's a nice town, with lots of amazing buildings. I went to Saint Bavo's Cathedral, which was gorgeous. There were "no photography" signs everywhere, which was a shame, because it was one of the loveliest churches I have been in. It was enormous and elaborate, yet somehow unassuming. It wasn't overly decorated or tacky, just comfortable majestic. Like many Belgian churches, the rear of the altar was encircled by a dozen or so smaller chapels, each of which had its own distinct mood. I climbed up the nearby Belfry (as I may have mentioned, I am a sucker for climbing medieval monuments) and the view was a bit shit, unfortunately, as there were extensive renovations going on in the town centre. I nearly passed on the Gravensteen Castle, which was built by a count and dates back to the second crusade. I decided to go in, and it was quite interesting, but I felt it was over-restored. I like a bit of grit and decay in my ancient buildings. This one had been rebuilt to resemble how it would have at the time, so you just felt like you were walking through an unusually extensive film set. There was a great exhibition on medieval weaponry though. Yeah, maiming! From there, I went and had a Belgian waffle.

Oh. My. God. You. Guys. I knew Belgian waffles would be better than the "Belgian" waffles I've had before, but nothing prepared me for their amazingness. Before putting the batter in the waffle iron, the guy pressed lumps of raw sugar into the batter which would then melt and crystallise on the waffle. So delicious. I then wandered the city and, when looking at a statue of Saint Michael on a bridge over the canal, a kid ran up to me, babbling in Dutch. I said "English, please" (this is very common in tri-lingual Belgium - nobody ever seems to speak the same language) and, although he couldn't have been more than twelve, he said "Do you know what that statue is called?" I didn't, which only compounded my feelings of stupidity. This kid was young enough to be babysat, and yet he spoke more languages than me.

I also went to Brugges, and I did not care for it. It was pretty, sure, but it was full of tourists, and quite tacky as a result. There was a chapel housing a vial which allegedly contains Jesus Christ's congealed blood, and lots of people lining up to touch it. There was a charming nunnery, and Saint Salvator's Cathedral, which was enormous and barely restored - just the kind of thing I like to see. I did a canal tour, which was a bit shit - just seeing the same sights I saw on the street from a slightly lower, colder vantage point.

I'd been planning to spend two nights each in Ghent and Brugges. Thankfully, Dan suggested I just make day trips to each, and I listened to him. They were nice to visit, but I would have begun pulling out my fingernails just to have something to do if I stayed there much longer. Antwerp was fun. Dan and I went out dancing with his friends until the sun came up on Friday night. The next morning was a public holiday, and there was a brass band playing outside Dan's window for about six hours from ten o'clock. We were, of course, annoyed, but I was a little bit amused as that's the kind of surreal thing that I enjoy experiencing while travelling. "Remember that time we partied all night in Belgium and then couldn't sleep for the brass band outside our window?" Yeah, it makes a good story.

I also took in an excellent exhibition on the history of black clothing at the fashion museum. I also fell in love with Dan's favourite Belgian designer, Ann Demeulemeester. So, so pretty. I saw an exhibition at the art gallery, but that was a bit shit. An artist had curated it and explained that the pieces juxtaposed against each other. What he really meant was that he was lazy and threw together a whole lot of paintings that had nothing to do with each other, historically, stylistically or thematically. The exterior of the city's enormous Gothic cathedral was stunning, one of the most beautiful examples I've seen. The interior was a bit disappointing, though. I actually found a much more interesting church right next to the shop where Dan worked - another time when wandering off the established tourism path paid off.

From Antwerp, I went to visit my high school friend Freya in Hannover. She's been living there with her German boyfriend for about eighteen months. Because she has been back and forth between Germany and Australia since high school, Freya and I see each other very sporadically. As such, both she and I admitted we were a bit anxious about spending the weekend together: what if we didn't get along any more? But as always with high school friends I see rarely, we just picked up the conversation where we'd left it two years earlier. We talked and talked all weekend. We did some sightseeing, including a lake that had been built under Hitler's orders. Freya translated the inscription on a commemorative obelisk for me. Talking about the strength and will of the people, it was a standing piece of Nazi history. Fascinating and scary. But the lake remains as one of the few pleasing legacies of the Nazi regime. We ate as much as we talked, including an amazing ice cream cafe where the servings of ice cream were...I can't even describe how big they were. Enormous and delicious. On the Sunday, we went to visit Freya's boyfriend's parents. They were very lovely, and spoke not a word of English. It was a really interesting and pleasant afternoon. We communicated with smiles, pointing and the few German words I knew: "lekker" (delicious), "bitte" (please) and "danke" (thank you).

The next day, I caught a train to Holland, and I'll fill you in on my Dutch adventures another time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Back On The Continent

I'm typing this on a French keyboard - the first time I have encountered such an implement - and the layout is beyond crazy, so please excuse any typos that follow.

I'm currently in Antwerp, sitting in an internet cafe that smells of cliched computer nerd sweat. I've spent a few hours wandering the city and thought I'd blog about my most recent adventures while I wait for my friend Dan to finish work. Also, I've noticed I overuse the word "aweso,e" and will endeavour to be more creative with my adjectives.

So, after my last post, I went on a tour of the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. It was through Haggis Adventures and, as Anna, the friend I was staying with, works for the company, I went along for free (excepting food and accomodation). So I should give them a shout-out: they were excellent, and anyone wanting a good look at Scotland's more secluded areas couldn't do better. First day, we drove up through the Highlands, stopping off at the monument to Mel Gibson - I mean, William Wallace - and assorted beautiful spots. Scotland is exhaustingly gorgeous. It looks a lot like Canada (which is fitting, as part of Canada broke off several millenia ago and crashed into what is now Scotland) and every curve in the road reveals a nez breathtaking viez. The first evening, we went along to a cultural show that explored how Highlanders lived until a few centuries ago. It was pretty grim. I volunteered to model the traditional dress that predated the kilt, but I might not have done so if I'd known it would have involved dropping my jeans in front of my twenty tourmates.

Second day involved a trip to the Isle of Skye. It was lovely, but I'm so glad I don't live there. Yawn. Although climbing a mountain, the na,e of which eludes me now, was a highlight. It was a punishing hike, but so worth it for the viez. That night, we cruised moch Ness. As well as presenting a very confincing argument for the existence of the Loch Ness monster, the tour operator taught us some fun facts. For example, the loch holds nore water than all the other lakes in the United Kingdom combined. Huh. So it was nice to learn to lake was notable aside from its cryptozoology.

The final day saw a visit to the bqttlefield of Culloden and the drive back to Edinburgh. The rest of my time in Edinburgh was relatively uneventful; I just swanned around like a local. One night, though, Anna and I went on a tour guided by her friend Kirstie. It was a tour of medieval crime and Edinburgh's hauntings. Most of it took place in the vaults, an abandoned ,aze of subterranean rooms that were once used by legitimate craftsmen, but zere eventually abandoned and used by the criminal community. I am a total skeptic when it comes to the supernatural - see my many cranky atheist diatribes - but I was shitting myself down there. Kirstie was an amawing storyteller, and my knees were literally shaking.

Last night, I flew to Brussels. I got myself a flight for £11, and figured that was worth the lateness of the flight. It all worked out in the end, but man, it was a bit of a drama. All of the hostels closed their reception at 23.00 and, as my flight got in at 22.30, that wouldn't work. Eventually, I decided to stay in a proper hotel, in a room by myself, with an en suite. Sure, it had all the charm of cat vomit and it was stuffier than a nun's habit in summer, but I felt very grown-up. I also appreciated how frigging expensive it must have been for Mum and Dad to take my siblings and I around the world in 2001. So, once again, thanks to Mum and Dad.

Anyway, upon arrival at the airport, the border patrol gave me a bit of a shakedown. They grilled me for about five minutes about where I was going next. As I haven't booked my train out of Brussels yet, I couldn't prove that I would be leaving the country before my three month tourist visa expired, and this alarmed them. They asked me about my travel plans, my savings, all that stuff, which was ridiculous. Border security in Europe is so inconsistent. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I was stamped and waved in by a bored-looking security guard, and from then on, my passport was never checked until I flew out of Aarhus more than a month later. Besides - and with all due respect to the good people of Belgium - I hqve no desire to move to this country the size of a fingernail that speaks not just one but two languqges that are incomprehensible to me.

This morning, I wandered around Brussels, and it didn't do much to charm me. They sure know how to do a good church, but the town's unofficial mascot, the Manikin Pis, was a tacky little thing, and the city seems frightfully confused. It is hqlf-way between the Dutch- and Fench-speaking parts of Belgium. All the signs are in Dutch and French, if not English as well, and all the inhabitants had to keep switching languages when they picked the wrong one. It was an impressive skill, but it'd piss me off if I had to live there.

Brussels was by no means a terrible place, but its drabness made me worry that my week here in Belgium would be terrible. It won't be. I caught the train to Antwerp, and Antwerp seems excellent already. First off, it is decidedly more Dutch. As a big fan of Holland, this pleases me. It also has a long shopping street that reminds me of Copenhagen's Stroeget. The architecture is stunning - their main cathedral made me gasp as I turned a corner and stumbled on its ornate immensity - and it seems rather culturally hip. Dan works in a store called RA13, which is a combination cafe/fashion and music store/art gallery. I've seen this kind of combination many times before, but none make it work as seamlessly and stylishly as RA13.

Now, I'm off to have a beer in a pub crammed with tacky religious paraphernalia (woop woop) before meeting Dan and going to explore Antwerp's nightlife. Yeah!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On The Road Again

I'm in Edinburgh, and man, this place is awesome. I would consider cheating on Copenhagen with Edinburgh - that's how dishy it is.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I've had a week of adventures, and should write about them so I can remember them once I'm all elderly and forgetful. After a great few days in London where I stayed with Alice and played tourist with Ian, I packed up my bag and left London the Sunday before last, bound for Cardiff. I was really excited to see Cardiff and, while it didn't quite live up to my expectations, I really enjoyed it. My first afternoon there, I went to the art gallery and museum, which I kind of raced through. It had great displays of French and Spanish art, but I was there to learn about Wales, so I raced through them. Then I went to Cardiff Castle, which was amazing: remnants of a Norman keep, a fantastic motte and bailey castle in the centre, and opulent Victorian living quarters. There was in introductory video with the production values of a primary school Christmas play that involved a lot of nonsense about a modern day girl with a magical notebook that conjured up medieval soldiers and such who chased her around, but it more or less achieved the commendable goal of conveying history without language, so non-native English-speakers were just as confused as the rest of us!

The next day, I made three day trips. Three! The first was to Saint Fagans, a cute town in the hills which has a museum on the history of Welsh life. I arrived before the museum opened, and so wandered around the local church and graveyard for a bit, where I learned that Ebenezer was a very popular name there in the nineteenth century. The museum eventually opened, and it was awesome. First up was an extensive and well-preserved medieval manor and its surrounding gardens, but the real highlight was the open-air village. They had transported and restored buildings from many different Welsh regions and eras, and cobbled together a little town with houses, schools, churches, bakeries, shops, even a cockfighting ring, most between three and four hundred years old. It was really interesting, and each of the buildings was manned by informative employees. Some were frightfully dull - going into great detail about parquetry and other bullshit I didn't have time for - but some were great. One guy gave me an impromptu lesson in Welsh pronunciation, and gave me a run-down on the history of English-Welsh relations. He hadn't heard English until he was six years old, and was really passionate about preserving the Welsh language. I think it's a beautiful language, and would love to learn a bit of it. I really enjoyed seeing it on all the signs, marvelling at how a language could cope so well without vowels.

After that, I went out to Caerphilly, where there was an excellent dilapidated castle. It had an enormous moat, and one of the towers was nearly toppling into it. From its towers, you could see all the way back to Cardiff, and look out at the beautiful Welsh countryside. Then I trekked out to Llandaff Cathedral, which was enormous and stunning. I also wandered past the school that Roald Dahl attended (and wrote about in his book Boy) and saw the church where he was baptised. That evening, I went to see Cerys Matthews, who used to be the singer in Catatonia, one of my favourite bands as a teenager. That was wonderful. I've been waiting twelve years - half my life - to see her sing. She was wonderful. Her new solo material is fantastic, but when she sang an old Catatonia song, suddenly I felt like I was a teenager again, sitting outside the art rooms at my high school listening to my Discman (remember those?). My favourite moment though had to be the couple of Welsh standards she sang. The whole room sang along, and I had no idea what they were saying. That's what I love when travelling - being lost in the midst of a bewildering culture.

From Cardiff, I went to Sheffield, where my friend Patrick and I had a date with out favourite band. We went to see Angelspit in Manchester and then Sheffield, and both gigs were awesome. They're a cyber-punk electro-industrial duo from Sydney, and were awesome. The second night, we planned to stand up the back, but ended up dancing and singing along to everything again. We even got a shout-out from the band for being such nerdy fanboys who know all the lyrics.

From Sheffield, I went to York, which I remember fondly from my last trip to England with my family in 2001. I visited the York Minster, which is a truly spectacular cathedral, but decided not to pay the enormous entry fee. I craned my neck and saw as much as I could from the entry foyer (which was still larger than the church I attended in childhood) and wandered around the outside. Then I walked around the town's intact defensive walls, which takes in most of the town's loveliest features. I even found the precise spot where my brother, sister and I had chucked a hissy fit nearly a decade ago: it began to rain, and we refused to wear the ugly ponchos our parents had bought along. We demanded they buy us umbrellas, which they did, at £10 a pop. (This was when the exchange rate was $3:£1 - yikes!) What brats we were. But that umbrella had a good run: it lasted me until I arrived in London last year! In the evening, I met a lovely Melbourne girl in my hostel. (Oh! The hostel! It was awesome. It was a renovated eighteenth century manor, complete with a grand staircase and servants' quarters, which now served as the laundry and television room.) I tagged along with her on Time Tour, a gloriously tacky boat trip with a recorded commentary on York's history. Cue lame sound effects and bad French accents. It was great.

From York, I went to Glasgow, where I stayed again with my friends Michael and Callum. I'd visted before, so we it was an enjoyably restful few days, with not too much running around. (Although lots of dancing. We were out until the wee hours both nights.) I was there to see Amanda Palmer, one of my favourite singers, perform in the basement of an old church. She was stranded in Iceland when I arrived due to the volcanic eruption, and might not have made it to the gig. I would have been disappointed but not devastated if that was the case - I've already seen and interviewed her three times, but this was the first gig of her new side project, so I was looking forward to it. As it eventuated, she made it to Glasgow, but the rest of the people involved in the side project didn't - they were still in New York due to the flight freeze. So she kind of enacted the whole thing by herself. The side project is called Evelyn Evelyn, and tells the story of a pair of musical conjoined twins who are exploited by their evil manager, and then they get their own back. She got the other Evelyn on Skype, and he played and sang his parts in the songs. Isn't technology amazing? Then Amanda would do everyone's dialogue, and cobbled together props from the audience. It was a strange, chaotic gig, but a lot of fun for how different and manic it was. And it ended with the whole crowd singing along to Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart, which was nice. The next morning, I hopped on a train to Edinburgh.

Well, Edinburgh, as I said, is awesome. I'm staying with my friend Anna, who walked me through the streets my first evening here. It's a small city, and you can walk everywhere, but it's crammed with beautiful churches, houses, castles and cobbled streets. It's where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, which doesn't surprise me: every second building looks like it could be one of the lesser buildings in Hogwart's. Nearly everyone is homeless - I have been asked for money more than two dozen times in two days, and that is not an exaggeration, and one guy even made farting noises at me when I declined to give him forty pence - or missing their teeth, but everyone else is really friendly. My first night there, we went to see Angus and Julia Stone, a lovely Australian brother-sister folk duo. The next day (yesterday, really) while Anna was at work, I visited the National Museum of Scotland, which was great. The displays were extensive, but in no particular order, so just as I was about to give up and move on, they announced a guided tour. So I did that. The guide was this adorable grandmotherly woman who added an extra half hour to the tour to show us everything, and she gave me a good basic understanding of Scottish history.

With all due respect to my English friends, the English are jerks. They spent so much time subjugating the Scots, the Welsh, the Celts and various other ethnic groups, who really have their own identities. Even today, it is hard for them to assert their cultural differences. That interesting guide in Cardiff was telling me about how often people complain about the fact that the signs are in Welsh first and English second. That made me very cranky. If you want to experience English culture, stay in England. Wales is fascinating because it is different. Like many people, I used to use the terms England and Britain interchangeably. I never will again. Whatever similarities the nations of Great Britain have, their differences are still enormous - it's like comparing the Dutch and the German.

Anyway, enough boring cultural commentary. I'm hardly the first person to note that Britain's cultural steamrolling is a bit shit.

In the evening, Anna and I walked up Arthur's Seat, the enormous mountain formed by volcanic rock in the centre of Edinburgh. It's just at the end of Anna's street - I can see it when I poke my head out my window - and it is stunning. The climb is difficult, but the scenery is beautiful. i'll definitely be up again a few times before I leave next week.

And now, I'm off. Expect another entry when I reach Belgium in a couple of weeks.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Leaving London

Friendship ruins everything.

It also makes everything worthwhile, but that's a story for another post.

One of the hardest things about moving overseas was leaving my friends. (Oh, and my family. Hi, Mum.) And now, one of the hardest things about going home will be leaving my friends. I thought about this on the tube this afternoon as I left my friend Ian after a day visiting the Tate Britain and the Globe Theatre. Ian is an American studying in Denmark, and we've met up whenever we've been in each other's adopted cities. (I want his and he wants mine - stupid visas.) I'm sure I'll see him again, but it'll be years before either of us has the cash to visit each other in our home countries. But in addition to Ian, I'll be leaving behind friends scattered across Britain and Europe, not to mention Australian friends who moved to London around the time I did.

But ah well. That's life, right? This is what is great and terrible about travel: it lets you experience people and places you never imagined, and then makes you miss them for the rest of your life.

At least I live in the age of Facebook. (Again, hi, Mum. Stop being such a creepy stalker.)

I've spent the last few weeks packing up my life. Man, I accrued a lot of shit. I arrived in this country with just a backpack and its contents. I am departing with just that backpack, but I am storing a candy-striped bag full of clothes at a friend's place, and donated two garbage bags full of clothes to charity. That was a good exercise - I'm a hopeless hoarder, and having to throw shit out was very good for me.

I also finished work, which was sad, but necessary. A story leaked to the media a few weeks ago about the BBC cutting its online activity, so it made no sense for them to renew my contract when the department would be downsized and, let's be honest, one of the first against the wall. It was great getting a chance to work at the BBC, but at the end of the day, it was a content production job, and I'm just not passionate about that. I need to figure out what to do with my life when I get home, which is a little terrifying.

But in the meantime, I've got some countries to see!

I haven't made any of the day trips or seen as many of the remaining museums and such that I'd planned to visit, but I plan to be back for a few weeks in July, so I can catch up then. I'm staying with my friend Alice for a few days and am heading to Cardiff on Sunday. I've told people who have been to Cardiff and, when I mention I'll be there two nights, they say, "Huh. Good luck filling all that time."

Uh oh. I'm sure I'll be fine: Cardiff has a great-looking castle, I go nuts for the Welsh language and I'm seeing Cerys Matthews (formerly of Catatonia) on Monday night.

Friday, March 5, 2010

March Malaise

Oh God, there's still so much to see and do. My mind can barely comprehend how much amazing shit is crammed into this tiny corner of the universe.

My contract with the BBC is up in about a month. I then have a bit over a week to see the last of London and make a few day trips - Windsor, Warwick, Oxford, Bath. Then, on the 11th of April, I'll be heading to Cardiff for a few days. I'll be seeing Cerys Matthews, so that's another artist to check off my List Of Dream Gigs In Europe. Then I'm hightailing it to Manchester and Sheffield to see Angelspit, Glasgow to see Evelyn Evelyn and then Edinburgh for a week with my friend Anna. Then what? I was planning to take it slowly for a couple of months, and leisurely revisit the places I loved on my initial trip. But as I said, there's still so much to see and do.

Sorry for the list, but this is for my own reference more than anything as I try to plan my trip.


- Holland (including a proper stay in Amsterdam this time)
- Germany (possibly Berlin again, definitely Hanover to visit my friend Freya who I missed last time, and maybe a few other cities like Dresden and Munich)
- Denmark (oh, don't act so surprised - I'll spend some time in Copenhagen and Aarhus, and visit some smaller cities like Ribe and Odense)
- Austria (I just saw Salzburg, but would love to see Vienna)


- Belgium (which will be easy, I have fingernails bigger than this country, and I have some friends living there now)
- Luxembourg (I hear it's great, and it's just next door to Belgium)
- France (my friend Lauren is living in Paris at the moment, and I'll probably meet up here with my brother when he gets to Europe mid-May)
- Hungary (I hear Budapest is unreal)
- Italy (my brother and his best friend will be heading here, I'll probably tag along)

Okay, that list isn't as dizzying as I thought. I'd love to see Iceland, but getting there is prohibitively expensive. I'd love to revisit Sweden, but I saw Stockholm quite thoroughly, so it's a low priority. Ditto for Ireland.

The last month in London has been nice and lazy. My friend Alice has just moved over here, which has been great. But I also hate her a bit, because her blog is much funnier and more interesting than mine. You should all read it. A few other friends have just visited or are about to visit, so February and March have and will be lovely and social but unremarkable months. Very much looking forward to getting on the road again, and even more looking forward to getting home in June or July.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Return to Copenhagen (Part 2)

Oh God, I am really behind in updating about Copenhagen, right? I suppose I've been especially lax because it didn't feel like a holiday: it felt like a weekend trip home. I wandered around places I knew with people I knew. Even the new places I visited were safely within the realm of a people and culture I am learning to understand more and more, as I am studying the language and reading about the country every chance I get.

I am turning in to a real Danish otaku.

So, I woke up Friday morning, and took myself sightseeing. Iason had class, so I hopped on the metro at Sydhavn (pronounced close to "sue-how-en", not the equally Nordic-sounding "sid-har-ven" - so you see what I mean about Danish being insane?) and went into town. I visited my favourite ramshackle record shop near the Town Hall Square (Raadhuspladsen), had lunch in the Living Room, one of Copenhagen's delightfully cosy (hygge) cafes, revisited the National Museum (Nationalmuseet), which is
one of the best museums I've encountered, and the Royal Library (Den Kongelige Bibliotek), stuffed myself with pastries on Christianshavn and made my way to the Carslberg Brewery. I've seen a lot of breweries in my recent trips and, as enjoyable as they were (especially the samples at the end), I'll excluse them from future itineraries: I feel I've learned all I can about beer at the basic tourism level. From there, I made my way home to Iason's on foot with nothing more than a gut feeling. That's one thing I love about Copenhagen: although it sprawls, it's quite ordered, and I can now usually navigate without maps. Cheryl came over for dinner. I say "dinner", but it was really a large helping of dessert: rice pudding served with a big knob of butter and cinammon and sugar. Now we're talking.

Saturday involved more sightseeing: the Round Tower (Rundetaarn), which has views over the city, the shopping street of Stroeget, the colourful canal of Nyhavn, and the King's New Square (Kongens Nytorv), which is currently being heavily renovated. I then wandered along the harbour to Amalienborg Slot, the palace where Princess Mary lives, and the Little Mermaid (Den Lille Halvfrue) statue. The Little Mermaid is one of Copenhagen's most iconic tourist attractions. This is a little outrageous. The statue is small, boring and of little artistic importance. The despondent titular fishwoman looks sadly over her shoulder as she perches on a rock. It's quite a walk to get there (a pretty one, at that) but it's a pretty paltry little sculpture, especially considering the enormous Gefionspringvandet (Gefion Fountain), which depicts the goddess Gefion driving a team of bulls through a waterfall, is just around the corner. But I'm glad I went to see the statue: after feeling a little bad for ridiculing the tourists who go to visit it, I can now do it with no feelings of guilt!

That night, Iason cooked up a big dish of creamy meat and amazing mashed potatoes to feed a horde of Americans, Danes, as well as a lonely Brit and a Spaniard. I'd unfortunately exhausted my camera's battery that day and so, once again, neglected to take photos of my dear Danish friends, but it was so wonderful to see them again. Charming, funny, intelligent people. I'd love Copenhagen without them there, but their presence makes the city even better. Once again, I wussed out of a night out, and got a restful sleep for a day spent at the Glyptotek. This art gallery slash museum has relics from all over the world and replicas of ancient artworks. It also houses an enormous indoor tropical garden, which felt out of place in wintry Copenhagen, to say the least. I wandered around the last few streets and churches I wanted to revisit, before heading back to Iason's. We made cake - dream cake! spongey vanilla cake! topped with coconutty toffee! - to take over to his friends' place, where much vegetating was done. An excellent end to the weekend!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Malfunction! Malfunction!

Okay, so London can be great. The other week, something that I really, really hoped would happen while I was in London happened (please ignore that poorly-constructed sentence): I saw HK119.

London's music scene has been way drier than I expected. I have seen some great acts - Alphabeat, Mew, Pet Shop Boys - who would probably never tour Australia. However, several acts who I thought would never tour Australia - Frida Hyvönen among others - have toured Australia while I've been gone.

However, i can say with some certainty that HK119 will never make it to Australia. She is a 44-year-old Finnish woman who spends part of her time making ceramic art and another part of her time making abrasive electro-pop about a futuristic dystopia in which consumerism has gone mad. Of course, that doesn't sound too original, but I feel HK - Heidi Kilpeläinen - approaches the idea with much more humour than others. There is great wit and playfulness in some of her lyrics. But that wouldn't count for shit if her tunes didn't stack up. I adore her music
and was so stoked to see her live. It was the only weekend in five weeks that I was going to be in London, so I was really lucky. I was counting down to the show the way I did when I was a teenager.

She played in a tiny club in Old Street (formerly Trash Palace
, a London venue I dreamed of visiting back in Sydney). There were thirty, maybe forty people in the audience. She came onstage in a gold catsuit at about 1AM, and put on an absolutely insane seven-song show. Here I am, looking on, bemused, as she frolicks in styrofoam snow that tumbled out of the cardboard hat she was wearing until a few moments earlier. Other highlights of her performance included a hat made out of discarded garbage bags and the final song, in which she stood on a stool in the rear of the stage, quaking in the corner and shrieking into the microphone as she shone a flashlight into her eyes.



I'll remember that night for a long time to come. (I also enjoyed the bit afterwards where I thanked her in her civilian clothes and she squeezed my arm and thanked me for coming. IT WAS BETTER THAN MEETING KYLIE MINOGUE.)

Sunday, February 7, 2010


How silly to write abut Salzburg before I've even finished my Copenhagen update. But I'm still in the town, and thought I might as well use the last of my hostel internet credit up to write about my adventure before getting an early night in preparation for my morning flight tomorrow.

This is a lovely city, and it has been the perfect weekend (okay, long weekend) break. I arrived on Friday afternoon, and was stunned by the beauty of the region. Flying over the city, the pointy mountains that surround it were piercing the clouds. It was gorgeous. After arriving at my hostel, I wandered around the old town. It's such a small city that, in those two hours, I really got a handle on the local geography. I wandered through back alleys and market squares, before eating a schnitzel the size of a baby for dinner. I tried to get an early night, but the American girls sharing my room had other plans. They were lovely girls and we went out for a drink the next night, but man, you can tell they're brand new travellers. When I get in late at night to a hostel, I can unload my stuff, have a shower, get changed and climb into while causing minimum disturbance to my new roommates in about fifteen minutes. These girls took OVER AN HOUR. Ridiculous.

But anyway. I got up the next morning and took myself on a trip around the old town. I was avoiding doing the Sound of Music tour (I should probably have mentioned that this is where that was filmed, and what prompted my decision to come here - that, and Ryanair's five pound airfare sale) because it was quite expensive, so took myself as many places as I could. Not many of the filming placess are right in the city itself: Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria was a novice (although only one scene was filmed there, the rest back in Hollywood); Mirabell Palace, where the kids do-re-mied up and down the stairs, and a few sidewalks and such by the river. So I splurged on the Sound of Music tour today, which was great: it took us into the mountains surrounding Salzburg, blanketed in snow. (I finally understand that phrase, after the pitiful dustings of England.) We visited Mondsee, which houses the cathedral where the Captain and Maria were married in the film, as well as the houses they used for the front and back of the von Trapp mansion, the lake that the children fell into and the gazebo where Liesl pranced around like a common whore. And there was tasty apple strudel.

(OH MY GOD. THE FOOD ON THIS TRIP. SO AMAZING. I've had cappucinos made with cream instead of milk, ham and cheese sandwiched between an eviscerated pretzel, and more chocolate and pastry than I usualy consume in a month. Oh, and beer. Lots of beer. It is doing things to my digestive tract: my rectum provides a non-stop commentary on my day. Thank God I'm returning to London and a normal diet tomorrow.)

Anyway, I distracted myself. Yesterday, I discovered that the Sound of Music is the least interesting (okay, maybe not, but it's definitely not the most interesting thing) about Salzburg. The old town is over 1300 years old, and I visited a doZen churches and some ancient catacombs dug into the mountain wall. I climbed up to the enormous clifftop fortress squatting over the town and visited Mozart's birthplace (mainly as an excuse to scoff Mozartkulgen, a delicious chocolate, marzipan and pistachio ball that is a speciality of the town). I visited the excellent Museum of Natural History (which would have been more excellent had the signs been in English and had they not dismantled their display of deformed human foetuses) and mimed what I wanted to eat with the old lady in the market stall.

Then, after the tour today, I went to Salzburg's biggest bier hall. None of my THREE guidebooks mentioning Salzburg mentioned this place. Thank God the tour guide did. It was enormous and bizarre and amazing. The building is about 400 years old. Ýou fetch your own pottery stein and they pour your beer straight out of the barrel: nothing propels it but gravity. You select food from a few stalls (I had some wurst, which I forgot to eat in Berlin, and pretzels) and you sit in one of the three big dining rooms and eat at communal tables. It was grand.

And tomorrow, I fly home. It's been just the weekend I wanted: interesting and historical, but relaxing. I've finished two books, had a nap this afternoon, and took it generally easy. Sweet.

Stay tuned for more Copenhagen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Copenhagen Again (Part 1)

Til København,

Jeg elsker dig.

Fra Liam.

It's been nearly two weeks since I left London for Copenhagen. Life has been busy and exhausting since then, so I haven't had a chance to update. But I really should, because, in case I haven't made it very clear, I LOVE COPENHAGEN. Man, what a city. I can describe or explain how happy it makes me to just be in that city. People ask me why I love it - and, by extension, the bit of Denmark I've seen - so much, and I have no answer. The people I encounter there are nice, but so are the residents of Canada and Holland. The food is good, but no better than in Sydney.

Anyway, I flew out the morning after my first Danish lesson (so my Danish skills extended to "How are you?" and "My eyes are blue!"). And when I say the morning, I mean it in the most horrible sense of the word: my flight left at 7.15, so I had to be at the airport by 6.00 at the latest, and getting to the airport involved getting to Marble Arch tube station to get on an hour-long coach trip. Hence, my alarm began shrieking at me at 2.30. I do not recommend it.

But I flew out, and nature delivered a metaphor you'd groan at if it was in a Hollywood movie. The plane rose above the clouds of London, and emerged into a gorgeous, blood orange-red sunrise. And then, flying in over the city, I couldn't stop smiling: it's beautiful in a way no other city I've encountered is. It seamlessly blends its gorgeous old apartment buildings with futuristic structures. And all the streets were white, white, white! White with snow, unlike the grey slush of London. Boo hiss, London; boo hiss.

I got from the airport to the city with no problems, and began a game I played the whole week: looked at the name of the upcoming station, pronounced it in my head with my newly acquired Danish skills, and then paid attention to how the computer announcer said it. I was nearly always right! I just have trouble pronouncing the first "s" in "Islands Brygge" after decades of considering it to be silent. Anyway, I successfully (okay, I got lost for a bit) found my way to the Kunstakademiets Arkitektskole, where my friend Iason studiess. It is an architecture school in some gorgeous old military storage units right behind the Opera House. Copenhagen tends to hate its Opera House, but I like it more than ours. Although it isn't quite as striking: it looks like a fish bowl with a large, thick book sitting on top of it.

Anyway, it was so good to see Iason. So, so, so good! He took me for a walk around the school and the Opera House (wait, Operahuset, I should practice my Danish) and then we went back to his house via our friend Cheryl's office. Fortunately for me, Thursday is Cake Day in Cheryl's office. The walk to Iason's was long, but it took in some of my favourite sights in the city, and mostly took us along the partly-frozen harbour. Very different from the last time I was here in the dying days of summer. We got back to Iason's, and...made a Lego spaceship. I shit you not. Then I had a nap, and then we went to the gym.

Rock and roll, right? I'm sure keeping the image of the hedonistic backpacker alive. But although my trip this time was much more subdued, I loved it - I felt I lived a little like a local for a few days. The gym was particularly interesting. Iason and his friend Pelle did their weights routine, while I did my little old lady cardio and stretches. We went for a swim, but first, we had to shower, and so Iason and Pelle just whipped off their gear. Bwah? This was quite foreign to me. Although Australians pride themselves on being laidback, we can be quite hung up (in my circles, at least) on nudity. In Australia, I would not strip off and shower in a communcal area with my friends unless absolutely necessary. So it was nice to force myself into a culture where nudity is kind of "meh". Iason and Pelle did some proper swimming, while Cheryl and I enjoyed the hot pools. Bliss. Then we rugged up for the chilly walk home.

And now I have to go and learn some more Danish, so I will update with part two next time.

Hej hej! Vi ses!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Scotland looks just like you imagine it will. Flying over and catching a train through the country, it's all cliffs and crags, with windmills lost in the low-lying clouds. Fields are either green with grass or white with snow. There are lots of rocks, and even more churches: most towns I went through had at least three steeples visible from the train station. Glasgow has many of them, but I'm told most of them aren't churches any more. One is now a really awesome bar and live venue, and another is a block of flats where I stayed. Woo! And I didn't burst into flames as I crossed the threshold! I stayed with my friends Michael and Callum, who I have been talking to online since I was in high school, and this was the first time we met. They were lovely and hospitable, and made me laugh harder than I have in ages. Good times. Although it was another of those bizarre travel moments: who would've thought, when chatting to Michael in my school uniform nearly a decade ago, that I'd one day be sleeping on his couch?

So Michael and Callum showed me around Glasgow, and what a nice city it is. A quick stroll through the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (which was built back to front, a man on the bus helpfully told us - this is true, but the man also told us that the architect killed himself as a result, and this appears to be less true) and the surrounding gardens preceded a cafe stop. GLASGOW HAS PROPER CAFES. After six months of living in London, where the only decent cafes are a handful in Soho run by antipodeans, this was very exciting for me. Despite Scotland's reputation for terrible and unhealthy food, all the meals I had were creative, flavourful and fresh. Although I didn't get around to trying pizza cruch, which is deep-fried pizza. Callum also showed me through his old university, and when I say "old", I mean "OLD". More than twice the age of white civilisation in Australia. And beautiful, too, all turrets and arches and courtyards.

The west end was also a delightful neighbourhood, full of quirky bars and cafes that stopped just short of being pretentious (for example, a bar called Radio with old casette tapes glues to the walls). The city centre was nice, too: it had a "big city" feel with none of the manic horror of London. Just a short walk from there was Glasgow's cathedral, one of the most impressive of its kind I've seen (and y'all know what a fan of big old buildings I am) built next to an enormous necropolis. Bleak and gorgeous. Glasgow's nightlife, as I saw it, was great fun, too, featuring non-stop amazing pop hits. I struggled keeping up with what everyone was saying at some points (Michael is English and Callum live in America until he was seven, so their accents are not frighteningly dense) but, with my mastery of the important travl skills of nodding and smiling, I soldiered on and had a great night.

Finally, a trip into twon and, after bidding Michael and Callum farewell, met up with Anna, who you may remember from Stockholm. Good times. We went to another of Glasgow's excellent eateries (two of them, actually: one for lunch and one for dessert) before I caught a train to the airport. And there begins the dram: the train timetable was incorrect, so I had to wait an extra half hour for a train. Then, when I landed in England, my coach to London was delayed and, when I arrived in London, my tube line was closed. Ugh. All in all, it took me about seven hours to get home, whereas a direct train would have taken about five. Now I've learned a lesson.

I'll certainly be back in Glasgow at some point. It had a nice feel to it, and I could see myself living there.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


I keep forgetting to update my blog, and I figure I should do it quickly before I forget my most recent adventure. I went to Ireland for Christmas, and it was so lovely. I was staying with my high school friend Jo and her family, who were unbelievably generous. Jo, in fact, gave me her bedroom and stayed with her aunt around the corner. They live in a lovely town called Ratoath about half an hour outside of Dublin. It was icy. I slipped walking to Christmas Eve mass. (Speaking of which, I expected the Irish Catholics to be all about the midnight vigil, but they totally babied out and went for a 9.00 evening service.) To get to the road, I squatted down and literally slid my way down the driveway. It wasn't frost, just a sheet of sheer ice over the sidewalk. So, I technically had my first white Christmas, but it was just frost clinging to the lawn instead of proper snow.

Christmas itself was so relaxing. After a slow morning, Jo, her boyfriend and her aunt came around, and we exchanged gifts. My gifts were well-received (Hooray! I was shitting myself, especially as I hadn't seen Jo's brother since he was about twelve, so had no idea what kind of teenager he'd grown into. To those who know him, you'll be glad to know he's just lovely. And the height of a small office block.) and I received some lovely ones in return: an Irish lambswool scarf, a pair of Guinness cufflinks, and my mother posted over a package that arrived on Christmas Eve. Aww. I ate and drank so much: cosmopolitans, Irish and Scotch whiskey, turkey and stuffing, carrot and parsnip mash (a new favourite), Christmas pudding, mince pies, brandy custard, oh yeah. It was a far cry from the Christmas gatherings I'm used to: forty-odd (and odd) people gathering in the summer heat. Instead, I had a picture book Christmas: tea and boardgames by the fire, dozing off on the couch. Boxing Day (called St Stephen's Day in Ireland) passed in a similar fashion, although we decided to head down to the pub in the late evening. It's true what my father says: Guinness does taste better in Ireland.

The next day, Jo and I drove up to the seaside town of Carlingford. I can barely describe how beautiful it was. Desolate and gorgeous at the same time. We climbed the ruins of King John's Castle (so-called because the eponymous king slept there for a totaly of three nights) and ate in a cafe opposite an abandoned medieval coin mint. Although I learned that there's a reason for Irish jokes. The road signs were either ludicrously inaccurate or totally non-existent, and everybody on the road drives like they're having their first driving lesson.

The next day, I finally made it into Dublin! It was a flying visit, as we had a late start because Jo was feeling rather unwell. We visited the Gresham Hotel, where my grandfather lived for a while in the 1980s while he was constructing a factory in Dublin, and Trinity College, and Dublin's many beautiful churches, before reaching the Guinness Storehouse. Hell yeah. Learning about beer is still learning! The tour ends in a bar looking out all around Dublin. It's a pretty grey city.

We went from there to meet Jo's delightful Australian boyfriend for dinner before heading to the theatre. The play, The Seafarer, was excellent. Very bleak and very funny, about a man playing cards with the devil for his soul on Christmas Eve. (The devil was, of course, played by an Englishman.) We retired to Jo's boyfriend's place, and I got up early the next morning to catch a taxi to the ferry station. The ferry trip over the Irish Sea was quite fun. There was a cinema (with two screens!) on board, so I went to see Up. Such a cute movie, and it made me cry! Now, excepting a few months when I was twenty in which I spiralled in and out of depression, I haven't cried since my grandfather died when I was eighteen. So I was either very tired or I am getting old and tragic. I ventured out on deck a couple of times. Holy shit, I have never experienced wind so strong. It very nearly threw me into the railing and over the edge.

From the ferry station at Holyhead, I caught a train through Wales. What a fucking beautiful part of the world. I need to go back soon and explore it. Castles everywhere, mountains and oceans, and their delightful vowel-avoiding language.

So the trip was ace. Really relaxing (although I did contract conjunctivitis - gross), and most excellent to catch up with Jo. She and I are planning a road trip through Ireland around April or May.