Archive for April, 2011

Melbourne summer: An exploration of ones self. November 2010-March 2011

I arrive in Melbourne, my first visit to our cultural centre.  It is 8pm, the sun is still up, it’s warm and it’s raining.

Much better then dark by 5, cold-as-cane-cutters-nuts England.

I hear that England is smashed by huge blizzards, airport closures and all only days after I leave.  Close one!

My friend from Contiki, Lee and his girlfriend Bethany arrive to pick me up.  I’d not seen them since Berlin about two months earlier.

Lee’s mate Tom (also from contiki, and the one I’d met again in Macedonia) arrive shortly thereafter and we have a good catch up.

My 48hour transit doesn’t hit me too hard and I start my job search for the summer within a couple of days.

The month of December is soon upon us and the festive season is rife with casual drinks, BBQs and meeting new people.

I find that the group I get along with the most is the ‘macer gang’.

Tom’s mates, mostly blokes all of around the same age are all either Macedonian born, or have visited their mother country being first generation Aussies.

I spend xmas and new years with my new friends and their families and have a total blast doing so.  It’s quite exciting as I’ve worked every single boxing day and new years eve since turning 18.  Hospitality is a harsh mistress.

The new year brings other joys.

I manage to find work managing an alternative little restaurant in Richmond.  As I’ve already found a place in Toorak (six minutes away on the train) it’s an ideal set up.

The weekend of Australia day is spent at the HOT BBQ music festival with my Macer friends.  I’m the only non-macer there, I do feel privileged at that fact.  The headlining rock act is Aussie legends Hoodoo gurus.  They manage to rock out exceeding my high expectations, before we must depart and track down one of our drunken friends… good times!

The summer ends with a couple of highlights.

I manage to catch up with most of the people I met overseas (everyone seems to come from Melbourne!).

Some of the 12 Apostles

One weekend is a great drive through the Great Ocean Road courtesy Sylvia (My German speaking travel companion.. Hi Sylv, sorry your car died, maybe the ocean RD helped finish it off L… ).

The great Ocean road was a fantastic project to get returned servicemen into work after world war one.  It was put together by the RSL with some funding by the government.  The road spans from the south west of Melbourne to a fair chunk of the way towards Adelaide.  Smaller roads will take you the rest of the way to Adelaide of course.

Sights on the way include the ‘London bridge’ and ‘twelve apostles’.  Rather amazing rock formations!

By the end of the summer I’ve come to terms with the fact that whilst I missed out on a whole season in the UK, I have achieved so much exploring a fair chunk of my own country that it was definitely a good idea!

My work paid for my plane tickets and a little spare change to boot, so financially it wasn’t bad either.

But what about cultural experiences?  Can one achieve such a thing in one’s own country?

Yes indeed, and here’s how:

Step one: Live like a backpacker.

I found a share house in Toorak (ironically the most expensive suburb in Melbourne) on gumtree.com.au.  I shot straight over to the joint and signed the papers as soon as the ad came on one Sunday arvy!

Xmas at the craziest house in Melbourne

The share house was a small three bedroom place which I shared with two Swiss, one German, one Canadian and my roommate was a kiwi chap.

By Xmas the roll call had changed.

Only the kiwi and I remain, everyone has moved out but they are replaced with much efficiency.

The house now has two young Canadian chaps and a Brazilian couple.

The summer is spent in a most curious home environment.  It’s just like living in a hostel, stories are swapped, cultures exchanged, and fun is had by all.

The two great examples of this are firstly me taking the Canadians to a cricket match at the MCG.  They learn it, and in fact due in large to a great little park fifty metres from our house, one of the Canadians, Ryan and I play some backyard a few times a week for the next two months.

He in turn educates me on the wonders of ‘chew’.

Chewing Tobacco, ok it must be like the ‘snuff’ I had in Germany.

So I try a little bit, it’s quite nice.  Minty in fact.

Ryan and I are playing some cricket and suddenly I get light headed.

‘Oh yeah,’ he says, ‘for your first time it might make you a bit woozy.’

‘No s&%t’ I reply.

I have to lay down for about ten minutes.  My reflexes are shot, I get bowled and then when fielding the rock hard leather ball I miss it and get clonked on the leg. 

A dizzy head, sick stomach and corked leg is what I get for my troubles.  Not at all like the snuff from Germany.

Probably THE highlight for the summer would have to be Australia Day.

I encourage my housemates to make themselves available for a BBQ and some cricket in typical tradition.

I get home after work, within an hour or so the team is assembled.  Even the German housemate from before turns up.

We start to play cricket in the park with most of us having a beer in hand of course! ( I even tracked down some xxxx for the occasion! Queenslander ‘till I die.)

Ryan smashes a ball up in the air.  His Canadian mate runs for it, sadly so does the kiwi.  Bang. Collision!

I deduct five runs off the Canadian for being Un-Australian on the grounds that he spilt his beer.

The Brazilians and Germans seem to have the most difficulty with the concept, but everyone gives it a go.

We then retreat into the house for a bbq.  I cook up some Roo (that’s Kangaroo for non-Aussies) on the Barbie and all give it a go as well.

Again, the Brazilians have some trouble with this concept.

Australia Day backyard Cricket!

Some friends of friends turn up and the house is getting more packed by the minute.

After dinner we all sit around and knock back some more cold ones whilst the Brazilian couple use guitar and drums to sing some traditional Brazilian songs.

We all sing along in rather dodgy fashion but have a laugh doing so.

Triple J’s hottest one hundred strums along in the background.  Now that’s culture crossing for you!

We end up with a final roll call of thirteen people I think.

That rings a bell as I had to cut the chocolate cake (complete with Aussie flag) into thirteen pieces.

The roll call was something like this.

Aussies 3

Canadians 3

Kiwi 1

Macedonian 1

German 1

Brazilian 3

Hmmm Im missing somebody…

Anyway, you get the picture.

Never before have I felt such joy at sharing my national day.

This is what Travel is about. Despite being in my own country, such amazing cultural experiences can be achieved!

I’ve now no doubt that a Melbourne summer was a great idea indeed!

This is also the spirit under which Australia has been built.

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Transit home: Time to Ponder and visit Mosques- November 25th UAE

My time in Australia is set to be one of extremes.  Will it be a triumphant return to Oz whilst continuing my adventure, or is it a retreat, with my tail between my legs?

I have ample time to contemplate this with a 7 hour flight from London to the Gulf, a 23 hour stopover in the United Arab Emirates, followed by a 13 hour flight to Australia.

The United Arab Emirates is perched next to Saudi Arabia, both of which are oil rich nations and different yet comparable to those a short ways to the west in the middle east.

With a stopover of such duration I decide to battle the language barrier and head into the town of Abu Dhabi.   It’s only a few hours after sunrise and it’s already horrendously hot, and this is only winter heat!

The streets seem deserted, the towering skyscrapers seem odd sitting in this massive expansive desert.  It’s a very odd inversed version of Las Vegas in Nevada.

Where Vegas is bright and extravagant, this place is sandy, sleepy and relaxed.

The main road, also covered in sand, has a steady flow of traffic, but wandering away from it, the place feels post-apocalyptic. 

Suddenly one lonely door to a supermarket slides open, one man, a local, powers his way out of the air conditioned shop, crosses the road and dives through the open doors of another.

I’m left standing alone on this immense street.

There’s clearly people around, I can see movement inside several buildings’ ground floor.  It’s as if they’re looking at me thinking ‘why is he out in the heat?’  True enough, the heat is intense.

Intense Mosque action

I find one other lonely soul strolling casually along the street.  I take a punt and ask him for directions to a local gastro joint.

His English is about one thousand times better than my Arabic.  That doesn’t say much, but nevertheless he points me two full city blocks further into the wasteland of a city.

 

Desert heat, not my cuppa tea

It’s a long way from the Western idea of having a café or a pub on every corner.

I manage to find the place pointed out to me.  It’s kind of like a kebab shop, but less of a cliché somehow given that this is his backyard not mine.

I enter with a grin matched by the owner of the small establishment.  The place has red plastic furniture locked into place providing seating for perhaps twenty people. 

I am the only customer.

The place could almost be a Hungry Jacks or Burger King, Gulf style.

I say hello in my most generic English I can muster.

He says hello in return and smiles some more.

So far so good.

I take a look at a menu, it seems oddly familiar.  Thank our multicultural hubs in England and Australia for a rough prior education.

I’m still overwhelmed, could be the lack of sleep.

I ask him for his recommendation.

He either understands English quite well or my facial expressions match my hand gestures as he points to one menu selection.

It appears to be a rather meaty kebab with chips and a drink.  Coke of course.

I nod in agreement, I’ve got nothing else to go on.

Within two minutes this monster of a kebab is served as promised with chips and a red can of symbolised western capitalism.

It all goes down nicely.  I always find I crave bad food like a heavily pregnant woman when I travel over a 24hour period.

A quick stroll across an expanse of desert takes me to the biggest mosque I’ve ever encountered.  Not that I’ve seen many.

I’m told by a guard that visitors are not welcome at this time as there is a service.  I couldn’t be bothered waiting.  I’m from Queensland, that means tropics I can handle, but deserts make me wilt.  I can’t wait for the service to end.  I grab a taxi back to the airport.

 

After a stroll in the desert, that looks very inviting

The whole exercise of exploration only costs me a few pound, love that exchange rate.  I got a glimpse of life in the Gulf, albeit a very limited one.

I decide that further time here is required.  I’m not sure when, but the landscape and culture is shockingly contrasted to that of Europe.  Here or the middle east, I will delve deeper into this place.

I’m still not closer to figuring out how I feel about heading back to Australia, but my time here was spent wisely.

I guess I’ll figure it out when I get home.

 

 

UK Impressions PT2 -Northern Racists? -19-20th October

Technically my second visit to Newcastle, my bus had a half hour stop over here on my way to Edinburgh.  In that half an hour I went for a walk to find a pub to kill some time.

I ended up walking most of the time however as every corner I turned was another neck pain inducing sight.

Between the quirky statues and the beautiful old buildings I was suddenly very aware I was no longer in the South of England.

Even the post office and train station looked like something out of an old Central-Eastern European city.

The more I walked and saw the more I wanted to keep walking.

I decided to turn back and have a quick pint before jumping back on the bus.

As I enter the pub, there is a clear sign of a few smashed windows.  I’d heard the Geordies were a bit crazy.

The Geordies are folk from Newcastle, passionate and tribal in their nature. 

Don’t confuse them for anyone else, even someone from a town 20miles away is shunned as a foreigner.

And they like a few drinks also.

How can you tell if a woman is Geordie?

She’s got her knickers around her ankles, that’s if she’s wearing any.

That’s a common one I’ve heard.

Upon visiting the Gents, I read a sign that reads something like this:

‘Don’t attack someone based on race, we’re all the same, get over it.’

‘That’s rather odd,’ I think to myself.  If you need to leave a note stating that racism is not tolerated, that perhaps says something of area.

I head back to the bus and find myself sitting behind an older gentleman.  He sounds like a northerner when he speaks, probably from Newcastle.

Two black men walk onto the bus, the man in front of me begins to shake his head.  He then starts to mutter to himself in his twang of an accent.

I make out a few words, they start out like so:

‘Those Black C*&TS’, and it gets worse from there.

‘Now that is odd,’ I think to myself again.

Sights around newcastleDuram,sights around Newcastle

I am to spend two blinding days in Scotland (as per previous BLOG) before returning to Newcastle.

I am awaiting my friends at the city centre landmark ‘Grey’s monument’. It commemorates the Prime Minister Earl Grey who saw to the reform act of1832 which enabled greater voting rights for the people of Newcastle.

  As I await my friends, a man is on a megaphone about two metres away.

It’s definitely not good for my hangover, but I listen with interest as I sit on a step feeling sorry for myself.

He is announcing that tomorrow is a march to protest against the budget cuts and misuse of public funds in the UK, and to point out most importantly that the economic issues of the UK are NOT the fault of immigrants.

This anti racial remark seems to fit suddenly into the context of my previous visit.

Perhaps the tribal, passionate feeling of the Northern English has been spilling over into frustration at the predicament of the nation.

Immigrants, apparently, have been at the receiving end of this frustration.

Indeed the word ‘Paki’ is now a racially motivated hate word directed towards just about anyone with a dark/middle eastern/ Asian complexion.

It seems odd to me.  In typical carefree fashion I, as an Australian, call people from Pakistan, Pakis.  As in, ‘we’re playing cricket against the Pakis this summer.’  It’s perfectly innocent and is not derogatory in any sense, however in the UK the term has been turned on its head.

This seems such a shame, not that the word has been bastardised, but that a term clearly motivated by ignorance and hatred has been taken and stabbed against certain minority groups.

This is in such contrast to my upbringing in Australia.  We can now still (in the right context) refer to our Greek or Macedonian friends as ‘wogs’, and indeed it seems to be worn with a certain badge of honour. 

As in, ‘I’m Australian and I’m Macedonian and I’m proud of it,’ and the common reply after being called a wog is ‘well my folks paid to be here, how about you convict?’

Us ‘pure bred’ Aussies chuckle in return and we go back to our beer and all is well.  Simple.

The affection we feel when we refer to our ‘Wog’ or ‘kiwi’ friends is transparent and genuine.  Not so for the ‘N******’ in the U.S, or the ‘Pakis’ in the UK.

It’s a shame, but there is a major bright point not to be overlooked.

When I talk to the youth of the UK, as I did in the south in London and Brighton, or up here now in Newcastle, there is a very different vibe.

As I’ve said in previous blogs, I am very excited to see which way the UK goes in the next ten to twenty years as the youth of today gains first a voice and voting right, but also a burning desire to use it.

Indeed, when I talk to the educated ‘youth’ as in, perhaps anyone under forty, their hatred of the hatred is thick in the air.

Tolerance and understanding and a desire to do things properly and in a good natured fashion shines through.

When the stuffy bureaucrats of the now move on, I am optimistic of the result.

I spend the next two days catching up with old friends and drinking away my hangover with the locals.

When I leave Newcastle I feel a strong affection for the Northern crew.  Despite their obsession with borders, they are friendly and a joy to be around.

My friends, from the north, ‘those Northern Monkeys’, stay in my mind long after I’ve returned to the land of ‘those Southern pansies’.  Two terms thrown around in the pub with a cheery grin, each group wearing their own as a badge of honour.

My Northern friends, good times!!

It seems so familiar as I a ‘Cane Toad’ (Queenslander) will ‘throw shit’ at ‘those bloody Cockroaches’ (New South Welshmen).

And guess what? We all have a beer afterwards with the passionately hated enemy from the other side of the border, and will be friends for a long time into the future(after the footy is finished anyway).     

My time in the North opens my eyes to ‘the other side’.

I expect to have fun, but as tends to happen I make more friends and learn more about myself and the people around me than I expect!

I can’t wait to go back!

UK- Impressions-PT1 -Historic and Radiant North 15-18th October 2011

As some singer from some place some time ago once sang, ‘I’m on the road again.’

I’ve got a little over a week to kill before I fly back to Australia, so I’m planning to spend it up in the North of England and Scotland.

I’ve not been far past the South of England, so I decided to leapfrog over the midlands and crack the culture of their Northern counterparts.

First stop-York:

Basically York is one of those rare time capsules, out of this world in a way.

First off, the people of York basically use the monstrous Roman wall as a landmark.  As in, do you live on the inside of the wall or the outside?

It’s so big that it literally divides the town in two.  I’m not sure how long it is, but you could easily dedicate an afternoon to strolling around the top of it.

It gives a great view of the area but also a good sense of the history of what once stood here.

The cobblestone roads add a nice touch of authenticity to the place, although that is hampered by the peak hour traffic and odd drunk walking around at odd hours of the day and night.  Not to mention the occasional smell of Amsterdam.

Somehow i-phones and other examples of technology seem out of place here.  In the unlikely event you had a Roman citizen transported to modern day and you wanted to acclimatise them to the here and now, York is where they would most likely feel comfortable.

Tork Minster

The huge Gothic church, York Minster, in the heart of York is one of the largest of its kind in northern Europe.  An eerie walk through the catacombs underneath show the layer of Roman history that has been covered over in modern day.

You can feel that the place has changed as little as one place can over such a period of time.  A true excursion of the mind into a past long gone.

Next stop, Edinburgh:

I leap over Newcastle and go straight on to Scotland.  Is Edinburgh all that it’s cracked up to be?  Exciting, fun, historical, dazzling and full of humour!

Yes dear reader, it is all this and more!

I gape in awe as I leave my bus in search of my Hostel.

Edingburgh CastleEdinburgh Castle

This place doesn’t seem real either.  Why is it that every city in the North feels alive?  The cities in the South of England seem dead, dull and dying compared to this!

The castle overlooking the entire city is the most spectacular of the sites, particularly at night just as the sun is going down.

A huge black clock tower stands oddly next to a modern Ferris wheel.

It’s like some sort of gothic gypsy carnival expanded one hundred times!

I finally reach my hostel without too much trouble.  After saying ‘G’day’ quite literally to the hostel reception chap (he’s from Brisbane) I unpack and head straight into town.  The evening is young and there is much to do.

I am pleased to hear via Facebook that a travelling friend is here in Edinburgh.  Lilly (cast your mind back dear reader, I met her in Madrid and she and her friend Sylvia stayed with me in Valencia after Bill and I snuck them both into our hotel room).  I meet Lilly at one of the local pubs, she is looking cheery as always and she introduces me to her friend.

We proceed to hit the night, to investigate what this town is all about.

Firstly the town is basically run by Australian backpackers, but that dull point aside, the place holds onto its past whilst embracing the future quite nicely.

Old cobblestone roads and original buildings smatter the city in totality.  The city centre is a saturation of pubs that rightly give the city a reputation for a good night out.

The night goes as one does when catching up with old friends and making new ones to boot.

We crawl through about three pubs before calling it a night around midnight.  We have one more night, so we promise to meet up again in the evening and see where life takes us.

A walking tour is in order for me the next day.  A Portuguese chap with a thick Scottish accent is my guide and we scoot through the history rich city with fervour.

The main themes of the tour are death and death directed towards the English. 

Scotland’s love and relaxed views of death make it all rather pleasant.  The cemeteries are interesting and full of lively history (as least when we were in them).

Scotish GraveyardScotish graveyard

The History of Scotland is one of hardship, poor standard of living and constant attacks from the South.

I can see why they have no love of the English, as historically the conflict has perpetuated their hardship for generations.

Promises of their independence by the English were quickly known as no better than dust.  The English decided as they did throughout the world that they must march North and instate their own king. 

‘For the sake of the people’.

Time and again they tried, occasionally they would succeed, and the Scottish would often suffer as a result.

After the tour and a wee haggis for lunch, I sproose myself up for another night out in wee Scotland town.

I catch up with Lilly and co again.  I have found an establishment rather supportive of my breed.  Which is basically a place that serves dirt cheap grog to backpackers.

A flash of my Youth Hostel Association card finally gives me some return with 2pound pints of some average ale.

It does the trick and much fun is had by all, however we make a critical error.

We head into one of the two Aussie pubs.

An Aussie pub is an odd establishment.  Basically, no matter where you are it’s just like any other pub, except it has weird stuff on the wall like boxing kangaroos and the signs to the toilet say ‘dunny’ instead.

Male=Bloke

Female= Sheila (much to the disgust of feminists everywhere.  Get over it and embrace your Aussie heritage I say!)

Aussie pub randomness

The pub crawling of the past two days has found me in search of a good martini (I get weird cravings like that from time to time).  Unfortunately the Scottish wouldn’t know a good martini if it came up and lifted up their collective kilt.

So in the Aussie pub there’s a sign saying something like ‘double shots for 3pound’.

I figure, ‘three quid for a double sounds good, let’s see what I can do.’

So I order a double gin and tonic and a double vodka lime and soda and proceed to skull both of them quickly enough that the flavours mix.

It’s what I know dub ‘the Scottish Martini’.  I don’t think it will catch on.

The ‘TRIO’

We have an absolute blast of a night and at around 3am with my Martini kicking in, I find myself walking through the pub district with a massive bunch of balloons and wearing nothing but my jeans.

Late November in Scotland is not a good time to go around with this attire.

I eventually redress and head back to my hostel and get to bed at about 4am, I’m unsure as to the fate of the balloons.

At 8am my alarm goes off like a hammer hitting my skull.  I need to catch my bus to Newcastle in less than an hour and standing is difficult at this point.

I manage to get to the bus station, missing my bus by a whole twenty minutes.

Every step is murder, the cruelty of missing the bus brushes off me, my hangover is my main drama.

I see another bus destined for London.  I figure it must go through Newcastle.  I wait for the driver to turn his back and scoot inside and hide up the back. 

I am relieved to find the back seats empty, I take two of them and lay down resting my weary head.

Oh the pain, the self-inflicted pain!

What’s worse, I’m heading to Geordie town where awaiting me are some Contiki friends keen for a catch up.. Contiki style!

Oh my!

England – Dilemma/A fork in the Road- October 2010

Ok, so I’ve been on the road for a few months, time to set up shop, put my nose to the grindstone, shoulder to the wheel and definitely time to throw out my book of old clichés.

The plan is simple, work during the winter, after all who wants to travel when it’s below freezing?

Nobody that’s who!

My problem is the aforementioned wheel and grindstone cannot be found literally or figuratively!

Bugger!

The unemployment issue in the UK has become far more problematic for the locals, little own temporary immigrants like myself.

I am soon to discover that unless you are in a ski resort in some alpine region, then you are going to suffer over the winter period in Europe, especially in the UK.

I am lucky enough to set up shop with some family friends outside of London, so the experiment of job searching is not too costly. 

My friend ‘Aunty Karen’ takes me around for some sightseeing also which is rather spectacular in Southern England.

Stone henge, lands’ end and Bath are all incredible sights.

Roman Bath's in this place with a crazy name... 'Bath'

The job search however is one failure after another.

I head south to the coast and meet some locals in the tourist town of Brighton.  I spend a weekend job hunting and meeting people in the service industry.

Avebury Henge more spectaular then the cliche of Stonehenge

They are all keen, and meetings go well, but things are looking grim.

The ‘Global Financial crisis’ has hit hard and there is little demand for tourism in the English winter.  Unemployment is spiking and the money that is left in the economy is not even supporting the locals in their day to day, so what chance do I have?

Brighton is by no means a failed experiment however.

A wonderful website called couchsurfing.org helps me meet some locals.

A chap named George (a Northerner by birth) has been in Brighton for two years and puts me up on his couch for a couple of days.

George is a living stereotype, (and stereotypes brighten my day!)

He wears the Goth look rather non-chalant, his earrings stretch his lobes to a painful size, his beard appears uncared for, and his clothes seem always a day old.  He can juggle and does so busking for money on the streets when he is in need, as do many of his friends.

Some even fire twirl or use whips.

The future of England.. Scary ha?

The alternative youth scene in Brighton is in full swing.  Brighton is the alternative capital of the UK.  It is the gay capital, and you don’t need to go far before you see some odd formations of shops like a cramped sardine style Japanese restaurant, side by side with an English Pub and a middle eastern Café.

Tattoos and piercings are plentiful.  My tattoos are largely covered, so I look rather soft by comparison.

The local students are the wave of the future.  Not in some government add cliché, but in the genuine sense.

They stage numerous rallies over the next few months protesting the budget cuts to Tertiary education in England.

Not the violent gatherings of London to the North, but peaceful protests meant only to start a dialogue.

They set up illegal squats in various houses to help the homeless in the area. 

Homelessness in the UK is slowly increasing, and that was before the collapse of the economy.

The results of such behaviour are mixed, but I feel a profound confidence in the future of this damaged country knowing that one day these youth will be in power and the stuffy days of old may finally be dealt a mortal blow.

I find myself back in Brighton on various occasions, apart from my growing friendship with George, the social situation is rather dynamic and interests me intently.

However this does not help my employment situation.

After one month of job searching it is now in November.  The cold snaps have already begun and the UK will soon be in the full grip of the winter.  I am losing sleep.  What can I do?  If I stay, I may jag some casual work in expensive England over the xmas period, if I go, I need to pay for an expensive plane ticket.

My funds aren’t critical yet, but either way, it’s a risk.

Another week or so of restlessness and my itchy feet get the better of me.  It’s time to move!

I spend a day on the internet, research time is at hand.

A cheap flight to Australia is found.  If the East coast is what you seek, Melbourne is cheapest from London apparently.

I get a cheap ticket due to a 23 hour stopover in Abu Dabi, (in the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf).   Hmm, what is part two to this story?

A single ticket can cost close to A$1000, yet a return is only a few hundred dollars more.  What to do, what to do.

I decide to select a date at random.  Wednesday the 9th of March 2011 for my return date.

When driving in England, beware of Tanks

That gives me just over three months in Melbourne to get some work.

I’ve never been to Melbourne, but I’ve met a horde of Melbournians in Europe.  Two of which, Tom and Lee (from earlier blogs) became very good friends.

In my typical -she’ll be right mate- attitude I decide to tackle it head on.

The flight out of the UK is two weeks away so what shall I do in the mean time?

Bus time!

More intent research finds me getting around cheaply (the only way to travel cheap in the UK is buses, don’t bother with the overpriced trains!).  I am to spend a week in the North.  Two days in York, two days in Newcastle, and two days in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I shall return with a couple of days to spare before my departure!

The relief I feel is beyond explanation.

I’ve no clue what Melbourne will bring, the apprehension of ‘giving up’ and returning to oz is already washing away.  I am still exploring a place I’ve never been to before, albeit it is in my home country.

I pack my bags and leave for the North a few days later with a glorious stupid grin on my face and I’ve not felt so free in a long, long time!

I wasn’t to know at this point that the North was to bring about more then I’d even hoped for!

Small towns, big hearts, beautiful times. (Germany 1st October-5th)

Well, I am back in ze fartherland!

I return for a brief visit before my flight from Munich back to the UK.

The train ride from Prague goes without incident.  It should do as the station I’m to pour into is only about twenty minutes from the Czech border.

This part of Germany is known as the Bavaria area.  It is home to the southerners of Germany.  Like many countries in Europe, the people in each province are as distinct from each other as they are from other countries in Europe.

Indeed even the dialect here is different from the Northerners.

The Southern Germans lament that they have to speak ‘normal’ German if they venture north lest they be misunderstood.

I can understand why, I can’t understand them much myself… Although that may also be because mein a Deutch iz shizer!

My travelling companion Sylvia is half German, that’s why we’re here.  Her German part of the family resides here in the small village of Schlammering about three hours North East of Munich.   It’s actually the same distance more or less to get to Prague from the families town.

Two day trips stand out in my mind, one to Nurnberg, a spectacular town filled with beauty and history. 

More recently it is known as the place of the war crime trials post World war II.  The city has much more to offer though, and the circular city centre (say that three times fast) reminds me of the centre of Madrid in Spain.

Not the architecture itself, but standing on top the castle looking over the city of Nurnberg you get the feeling of an in closed centre of timeless beauty surrounded by the ‘real’ world outside.  The same as Madrid just on a different scale, the outside of Nurnberg has the normal look of a dirty city, but casting your eyes around the old spires and amazing gardens of the centre, you are drawn back to this curious medieval time capsule in an instant.

These southern old style towns are dotted all around Bavaria and each deserve some time of their own.  The architecture is unique, similar perhaps to the central cities such as Prague.  Yet you don’t feel quite so much like you’re in an amusement park.

Another day trip takes us to the rather huge and overdone castles on the road of fame and fable, the ‘romantic road’.  Two castles of interest bring in the tourists, castle Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.

The building of these two beautiful monsters nearly bankrupt the kingdom, the king who built them went mad and killed himself (or was killed depending on who you talk to), but what a sight to behold now.

Das BIG castle

You truly are in an out of this world place when you look from one castle to the other, both perched precariously on mountains surrounded by beautiful still lakes and valleys as far as the eye can see.

Smaller castle, still a big one in my books though

The main castle has portraits on almost every wall.  The painting of which was undertaken by University students of the time.  Some rooms took months to finish and they portray historical and religious scenes in typical medieval extravagance.

Within view of the castles, amazing

One evening to top off the trip is a local Oktoberfest.

Not the hordes and impossibilities of Munich, this is one of many hundreds of beer fests held across the country throughout the summer.

Sylvia’s cousin Stefan is our host as we are driven one village over, Koetzing is its name.

Not much bigger then Schlammering, the town seems to have been dropped randomly in amongst the beautiful rolling green hills of the south.

Instead of the dozens of monster beer halls in Munich, we are delivered to a single hall.   Big enough to fit a few hundred thirsty Germans, it is still a monster in its own right. 

Looking through the window I spy a large factory.  Stefan explains that it is the brewery.  All the beer in this beer hall is brewed locally he jokes.  You can’t get much more local, they simply finish brewing and roll the kegs about fifty metres into the bar and plug it in!

It’s as fresh as you can get and tastes as such.  But what about the price?

10euro for a 1L stein in Munich? NO!

5Euro for the freshest, nicest beer you’ve ever had the privilege of tasting.

Somehow I manage to throw down five whole litres by the time the night is out and I’m still standing, much more successful than my Munich misadventures.

The night is full of the usual dancing and singing, the tables are lifted over the head and some stamping on the chairs takes place.  All part and partial.

The table of German youths next to us appears to be partaking in some snuff.  As near as I can tell it’s like chewing tobacco that you snort through your nose.

I enquire as to the effect (with the help of Stefan’s translation), they offer me some.  One does not refuse a friendly offer from a group of drunken Germans.

I snort the snuff through one nostril.  If you’ve ever had a Vicks vapour drop to clear your sinus, that’s pretty much what it feels like.  Nothing too intense.

Stefan offers to take me into town at 11pm when the party begins to break up.  A night out with some Germans? Why not, what could go wrong?

We scoot into town, Stefan takes me to his ‘local’.  In his words, ‘a home away from home Friday night until Monday morning.’

It’s an underground bar named MFG.  I am introduced to a whole heap of people whom I can not recall.  Some speak English, some do not.  Somehow I have a one hour long conversation with Stefan’s best friend despite a language barrier the size of the Murray Darling.  It’s amazing what beer can do for international relations.

I am introduced to the owner of the bar.  He speaks not a lick of English, but his cheery smile over his jolly beer stained stomach make me feel welcome as another litre of the local is consumed.

I’m not sure how I’m still standing at this point, but I seem to have won some favour with the locals at least.  They start feeding me shots.

In the spirit of the minty snuff from the beer fest, they give me a few shots of the local poison.   Vodka fermented in cough drops.  I’m not joking.

It’s not too bad, but it does damage to your taste buds.  Even the German beer is somewhat diminished in flavour after this little experiment.

For reasons I can’t explain we all end up behind the bar to grab a few more drinks, the owner doesn’t seem to mind, bar tabs are recorded and no one takes advantage.

What happens to anyone who does? I enquire of Stefan.

‘They are not encouraged to come back.’  He replies simply.

Sylvia, Stefan and I enjoying a beer Oktoberfest style!

At the close of business (about 2am) the barman puts one last shot in my hand and shares a drink with me.

His smile is still warm, the spirit of another night of shared experiences is present in all who are still present (in body if not mind.)

Stefan explains that for the manager to offer me a drink is a bit of a local ‘dip of the hat.’

‘He doesn’t do that with anybody,’ he explains.

I feel honoured.  Honoured and a little bit drunk.

Next, Stefan takes me to the local dance club.

‘We go there, it’s not very good, but it still serves drinks,’ he explains.

‘I know the place,’ I reply.

‘Oh?’ My German friend is perplexed. ‘You have been?’

‘No, but we’ve got the same place back home, every small town has one such place.’

We enter the dance club, Stefan was right, it’s not very good.  No draught beer, only some bad bottled stuff no one seems to have heard of before.

It’s dingy and it smells and talking is even harder with the loud music.  It seems so oddly familiar.  We call it a night shortly thereafter anyway.  I think bed is achieved by 4am.  I can still walk and talk ok which is not bad after six or seven litres of beer and a few shots to boot.  Much more successful then Munich!

These final few days are days of sadness and reflection for me as whilst I am still exploring, I am also leaving Europe to find some work in the UK.

My time here has been a lot of fun, full of highlights and low, amazing people and some I’d sooner forget, but one thing is for sure, the good has outweighed the bad all the way.

Of the German people I now feel a genuine love and admiration.  In no other place have I felt so welcomed and a part of the culture, (not just the beer culture).

I became acutely aware of just how small a world it is and how similar we are when discovering this place.

The German sense of humour is often misinterpreted for standoffish behaviour.

One man tells me, ‘we say that you don’t need to eat when you drink beer as there is a schnitzel in every glass.’

Back home we say a ‘steak and eggs’ in every glass.

Stefan says to me, ‘I don’t drink, smoke or swear… Oh shizer, I left my smokes at the pub.”

We learnt that one in primary school.

Perhaps we are not so different after all, ja?

The past few months have been a blast and I can’t wait to return.  Where and when I do not know, but I will be back!

My flight out of Munich is a sad one, but a trip of a lifetime should make you sad to leave.

My ‘small town Oktoberfest’, my friends in Macedonia.  My insane friends from contiki and the Tomato festival.  All major highlights.

Time to rug up for an English winter, bring on next summer when I can do it all over again!

Ciao, tschüss, farewell, hooroo Europa!

Czech Mountain climbing 23rd-25th September

About a two hour drive to the East, North East of Prague, you encounter two things.  Or to be more precise, one thing twice… or is it two things once…

Ahem, let me try that again!

If you head about two hours North East of Prague you run into the Czech Mountain range which is also the dividing range or border between the Czech Republic and Poland.

See…. One thing twice…. A mountain range and two countries’ border.

Anyway, the ‘head honcho’ of the range is the main peak, Mount Snezka.  In relative terms of Eastern Europe it’s not a big one, perhaps mid range when compared to the Carpathian mountains that run through Transylvania in Romania.

Snezka stands about 1600m high and is the main tourist centre for Czechs on summer holidays or winter ski escapes.

The accommodation is largely chalets, little houses perched in the hills set up exclusively for accommodating tourists.

They are warm, comfortable and some even have bars with, yep you guessed it, a beer tap installed!

They are all run by locals of friendly and even generous nature, no favour is too much.

Small towns have sprung up in various hills and valleys throughout the range.  Small populations that tick along in the shoulder seasons and burst at the seams during peak times.  The locals all smile, (usually as they are leaving one of several homely, beer filled Taverns).

  Being midway through autumn the Alpine area of dense lush forests is starting to take on a chill.  Yet surprisingly you can get around in shirts and shorts if you stay active (and are an odd Australian backpacker, the locals aren’t that thick).

A wind jacket is required if biking is your interest however.  A quick push from the Chalet and within an hour or two of uphill and down, flowing streams and thick forest, you find yourself in … Poland?

No border guards, just an unimaginative sign stating your whereabouts.  I do the equally uninspired back and forth jumping of, ‘I’m in Czech, now I’m in Poland, Czech, Poland, Czech, Poland.’ Until the freezing winds become too much for me and a quick withdraw is required into a local tavern.

A hearty Czech Garlic and breadcrumb soup keeps the stomach warm as well as the cockles of the heart.  I see an ad for a local brew that is I think 18 degrees (degrees seems to be a unit of measurement for quality of beer. IE 12-13 is average, 15-16 is nice and 18-24 is boutique).

This stuff is also boot wobblingly good.  I notice I have a slight ‘buzz on’ when I fly down the hills back towards the Chalet.  With my biking experience I know I’m hitting an easy 50-60km/h.  The uphill struggles before lunch race by my vision with barely a skerrick of acknowledgement.  I feel so alive as I ‘whoopee!’ my way down the steep hill into the alpine surroundings and sharp bends.

It maybe the slightly dulled reflexes from crazy strong beer I had, but I’m feeling rather thrilled with my current situation. 

Back at the chalet, the food is Czech (Macquarie definition of Czech food: Delicious, hearty and plentiful).  The cook proudly delivers the first course of vegemite soup… no seriously.  A watery vegetable and noodle based soup with vegemite mixed in. Nice!  How he discovered the wonders of our national food I’ll never know.

The main course as always is meat based.  Usually pork with dumplings on the side and lots of gravy. (I predict that the weight I lost in Spain and Eastern Europe due to illness over the last month is now back in less than three days in the Czech Republic).

The food is all delicious, I think if I was to live in this country however I would have to take up a strict fitness regime.  Salads don’t exist here.  A nice layer of insulation is worn all year ‘round, after all it is bloody cold here.

The evening entertainment is a group of female dancers.  Actually they are guests at the Chalet but they decide to put on a show.  It’s something else, energetic only begins to describe it.

I am dragged up for a dance and make a complete knob of myself in record time.  The beer is flowing so no one seems to notice (or are too polite to comment).

The Chalet owner whips out a guitar and sings a rendition of Waltzing Matilda I’d never heard, Czech style.

The parallels are becoming increasingly noticeable.

Did we in fact migrate from the Republic instead of Britannia?

An early night (two am) gives me a few hours rest before a hearty European style breakfast.  Bread, bread and more bread!

Todays trip is up MT Snezka itself.

A chairlift is employed to make the climb more feasible after lunch as the heavy food and beer makes walking prohibitive.

Chairlift to the top!

Reaching the peak, my timing is immaculate! A thick fog roles in and I can’t see squat.

The top of the mountain breaks up into sparse forest with views of the immense valleys below.  This may not be the biggest mountain range in Europe but it is still awe inspiring.

A clear view of the whole valley is impossible with the fog, but a quick bone chilling photo on the stump proclaiming the point between two countries is still achieved.

Diving head first into the heated building perched in lonely fashion on the top of the hill, a quick drink is the local tradition. This time however it’s grog.

Macquarie definition of Grog: Czech rum and water, served hot.

Polish, Czech border.... cold cold cold

It warms you up nicely, but a bad decision is a second rum before walking down the side of a slippery foggy, pointy mountain.

I get to enjoy my ‘Czech, Poland, Czech, Poland,” routine again as the return path to the Chalet literally snakes its way over the border a dozen or so times.

An hour or two of downhill hiking is broken up by stops to a pub for a quiet local.  This lifestyle is infectious.

By early evening the fire filled chalet is most welcome as is my final artery clogging meal in the mountains.  One final beer and another early evening with dancing shenanigans (about two am again) completes my time here at circus Czech.

A farewell to the owners in the morning is followed by a sad return to Prague.  A couple of well spent days in this alternate reality was wonderful.  The idea of going to Prague now seems dull by comparison.

Oh well, the land of unforgettable beer is my final stop in this long journey.

Back to Germany before a bonvoyage! Hold onto to your Lederhosen!

The challet where dreams are made and beer is drank