Archive | April, 2012

Travel: You Wouldn’t Read About It

28 Apr

I’ve been interested in the power of words ever since the Beatles controversially claimed a gentleman had “feet down below his knees”. “Impossible!”, I exclaimed indignantly. But by the time Sir Paul had backed it up with “one and one and one is three”, I knew the word game was for me. And I don’t mean Scrabble, though I do find that quite enjoyable too. Another draw card was being able to dress like this:

Haven't used this picture in a while.

With this insatiable lust for good quality words that are also right put in order the, it’s no surprise my attention often turns to any available words to read. In this case it was the free “travel” magazine for your perusal on most flights these days. I use “travel” in the same way I refer to this blog because these magazines are usually about as relevant to actual travel as this is. Sometimes less so.

EasyJet has Traveller, AirAsia has Travel 3Sixty, and Jetstar has the imaginatively titled Jetstar MagazineCall them whatever you like, I call them brilliant marketing. For when is an audience more captive than on a plane? Possibly in a submarine, but my insiders tell me Branson has scheduled the launch of “Virgin Sub-Atlantic” for some time in 2016, and I can’t wait that long.

There is certainly no shame in reading, I do it all the time. The quality of “wordage” is good, the pictures are glossy, and you can always find at least 12 pages detailing the various routes that particular airline flies. Which is about as useful as this.

If you get bored looking at all the possible ways to get from one tourist hot spot to another, you can always spend a few moments reading the inevitable column written by the CEO of the airline. Or I could save you that time now (spoiler alert!):

“Wow, what a busy month it has been at (insert) Airlines. We have just launched a new route from (insert tourist hot spot) to (insert city where airline is based). We are also now flying from (insert party island) to (insert major city with cheap second/third airport). We now have more routes than ever before and carried 27% more passengers than last month, so there’s never been a better time to travel with (insert) Airlines….blah blah blah.”

You get the idea. I guess it isn’t really the CEO’s biggest concern to come up with new material every month. To be honest I’m happy as long as they keep their fares cheap and their marketing literature free.

Can I also take this opportunity to ask for suggestions on where to go for summer. After drawing up a list with far too many options that would require far too much money, I decided it’d be easier to ask someone else to do it. So if anyone out there has a suggestion for a “must do” this summer, please leave a comment below.

Safe travels. J

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For Cycling and Seismographs: Flatness can be good

25 Apr

Unfortunately this past week has left me wondering if it’s possible to blow your nose so hard your skull comes out your nostril. Never fear casual readers, a mediocre “travel” blogger’s work continues even in the throes of illness.

Ever since I caught my first glimpse of the road race at the 1992 Olympics, I’ve been interested in cycling. It was an old TV and my memory isn’t what it once was, but I believe it looked something like this:

I believe the 1992 games were the last Olympics before compulsory mustaches were abolished, a great shame.

Fanatical readers will no doubt recall I recently rediscovered my love of human-powered transport by purchasing a possibly-stolen bicycle. At this point I’d like to profess my complete ignorance and say there’s no way to know for sure. My conscience is clean anyway.

As an added bonus, because I am now in the rigours of part-time employment I have also discovered the joys of bicycle commuting. By now surely at least one loyal reader is saying “bikes and commuting have been round at least as long as hipsters, why is this important enough to waste six minutes of my day?” Fair enough too, but as friends of mine will tell you, I only recently discovered the joys and warmth of wearing long pants instead of shorts all year round. So in perspective, this is a big deal for me.

This new found love with bicycle commuting has caused me to notice still more things, as us amateur “travel” journalists do. So without much more rambling, here is a list of reasons why cycling in London is the most awesomest thing since the wearable tent. Click the link, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

I realise I’ve been going on a bit lately and don’t want to break my six-minute pledge. If I do I promise I’ll treat the next homeless person I see to their very own wearable tent. Anyway, here’s the list:

  1. It’s cheap, like WAY cheap. As an example my commute to work today cost me exactly £0.00 (AUD $0.00). Please don’t point out the fact that I had to buy the bike in the first place, that would ruin it. But in the long run it’s very cheap.
  2. Despite the excessive motion in the area, you somehow sweat less from your crotch than when you’re on the tube. Reread earlier post for my other thoughts on the tube.
  3. You get to stave off “travelling expansion” with less risk of running in to gangsta bees, or at least a better chance of outrunning them.
  4. It frequently takes less time to cycle than to drive the 12 or so kilometres to my place of employment.
  5. London is a relatively flat city (ie. good for biking).

This last point caused me to consider the appropriateness of cycling in various cities. For example London is relatively flat, as are two of the world’s great bicycle cities: Copenhagen and Amsterdam. On the other hand Sydney is, for lack of bothering to find a better word, un-flat. I’m guessing that’s why as far as I’m aware, there is less of a bike culture in Sydney and even less of a lawn bowls culture. And don’t even think of trying to play snooker…

 

Thanks for reading, safe travels. J

Hamburg Episode III: The Shameless Money Spinner

22 Apr

Previously on BBS: A taste of traditional German food and drink left me with a possible a case of food abs, but feeling very satisfied. Now, the long awaited conclusion…

Another advantage of knowing a local when travelling to a new place is you get your own personal tour guide. Especially great is you don’t feel like you have to tip him at the end because you feel bad that his “guide pimp” is taking most of the money to renovate his gold caravan.

With this local knowledge we were able to take a free public transport boat for a tour of the harbor rather than a vastly more expensive (and gold caravan-funding) tour boat. Now I know you’ve come to expect a certain low quality of “wordage” when it comes to my writing about travel-related things. But I have to be serious for just a minute and say that I found the harbor district of Hamburg utterly fascinating.

To be honest, it had me at the Fischbrotchen. These are basically fish sandwiches that come in a variety of styles and are deliciously fresh. However as well as the sandwiches and the tunnel discussed in part one, the Hamburg harbor is the second largest shipping port in Europe. This is difficult to forget as the shipping facilities lie directly across the river from bars, restaurants, shops, houses and even the beach:

It's a unique scene to enjoy a beer if nothing else.

After relaxing, sipping our Weizen and trying to guess which of the shipping crates contained illegal immigrants, it was time to make our way back to the “hipster district” to talk about our Apple products and turn up the legs of our chinos (by which I mean watch a game of football and eat schnitzel).

My last night in Hamburg meant we had to try something different and go out to drink. This groundbreaking decision took us to a few cool bars, but one in particular was run by a man named Klaus.

To put things in perspective, Klaus looked roughly 146 years old and was running the bar by himself. This would be impressive if it was a dingy pub with three regulars and a twirling midget, but this bar was packed with at least 60 rowdy revelers.

The name of the house specialty was a shot with a name that can’t be repeated on this family blog, but I’m told on his more active nights Klaus accompanies your order with a vigorous mime action (eeeeew!). After one of these (without the mime), a few G & Ts and some less-than-impressive dancing, it was time to catch a cab home.

After waking up feeling surprisingly fresh, filling time before my flight involved watching a local amateur football team in an epic struggle against some other team (good detail is good writing). It was highly enjoyable, if only to hear the spectators and club medical staff openly mocking their own injured players (or so I was told by my personal tour guide  translator good friend).

This brings the epic Hamburg trilogy to a close. Watch out for a remastered blu-ray edition in time for Father’s Day, I predict it will sell slightly better than The Matrix trilogy. In the meantime I highly recommend Hamburg as a travel destination for a weekend or a bit longer. Particularly if you like pork, beer, tunnels, shipping, hipsters, venereal disease or any combination of these. I thoroughly enjoyed most of them and will be returning for certain, if only to see Klaus do the mime.

Safe travels, thanks for reading. J

*J traveled as guest of his good friend who kindly offered his living room to sleep in. If any cities or travel companies would like me to bake a fresh batch of soft, fluffy, possibly irrelevant words specifically for their brand, get in touch via this bloggen. I also do roof tiling.

Hamburg 2: Judgement (of sausage) Day

19 Apr

Previously on BBS: I traveled to Hamburg and apparently spent most of the time writing things not about Hamburg. And now, the hopefully-more-relevant continuation (no promises):

With my Hamburger friend at work, the next day was a chance for me to explore on my own and confront my irrational fear of language barriers. Before we go on, in this context “Hamburger” means someone from Hamburg, though I must admit even I couldn’t help but imagine this:

The other hamburger friend

Hamburg’s public transport system is much like an unmanned farmer’s stall on a country lane. Honest people pay, but there’s little to stop you not paying. Unless you’re the unlucky one to be shot at from the porch for “helpin’ y’self  ta some corn bread”. I was honest, and after paying took a quick and efficient trip in to the city centre.

The city centre and shopping district is quite pleasant without being spectacular. There is a very impressive City Hall building, and imaginative tourists can spend a good few minutes wondering what this guy was pondering:

"Hmmm...I wonder why I have to rest my head on my arm when I've got the neck of a steroid abuser."

I must have questioned him for at least 10 minutes with no response. I spent the rest of the day either in Balzac Coffee or wandering around trying not to look like a tourist. Having come through Asia this was the first time in a while where I didn’t automatically look like a rube for every rose or crappy trinket salesman. To illustrate my point, I’m sure I did better than these people:

Surefire way to attract attention

Just seconds later, this unfortunate couple were mobbed by “tourist hunters”, and after a whirlwind of activity were left with nothing but a mini replica of City Hall and a St. Pauli football g-string for modesty. BBS top tourism tip: GPS on your iPhone will work with no internet connection if you load the map before you set off. Paper maps are the metaphorical equivalent of having “steal from me or sell me crap” tattooed on your forehead.

That evening I satisfied my main two objectives for the trip in the space of one well-chosen venue, the Groninger Privatbrauerei. To save my exhaustive description, here they are in telephotographic digital pictorials:

I asked for a side of sausage instead of salad but sadly they weren't having it

I was similarly transfixed when I saw the 10L table keg.

If there is a better reason to travel than these two things, I don’t want to know about it. The night (or possibly my friend) then took us to Hamburg’s famous Red Light District. Here you are certain to find authentic local bars, authentic local music, and authentic local venereal disease. Ever the cultural adventurer, I naturally had to experience two of these.

A few beers and quite a few songs later we found ourselves back on the train home. So ends the second installment in the Trilogy of Hamburgers. 

Oh and to make my flimsy movie-themed title make sense, at some point during the day I had a Krakauer sausage from one of the many fine outlets in the city. It was very tasty.

Safe travels as always, thanks for reading. J

COMING SOON TO BBS – H3: The Mighty Burgers (It’s getting hard to come up with different movie franchises)

Hamburg: First Blood Part 1

17 Apr

Gutenbloggen! To save you the tedium of reading everything about Hamburg in one, I’ll be slicing and dicing the post and turning it in to a movie-style franchise. Hence the Rambo reference in the title. When I started this blog I swore a heartfelt oath on my Lonely Planet: Vietnam book that no one should ever have to spend more than six minutes a day reading my inane thoughts  tedious jokes  excellent travel journalism.

Being ever the cultural adventurer this post does not come to you from Starbucks, but rather “Balzac Coffee” in the heart of Hamburg City. There is a joke about that I’m sure, but I have standards and integrity. Given the usual tone and quality of this bloggen you’re probably expecting a whole plethora of tactless German cliches and bad jokes. Relax. Though I have been extraordinarily efficient in my writing today for some reason.

I’m sure plenty of us still think of ze Germans as a cold, stiff, unfriendly people. “Slanderous and offensive speculation”, I thought to myself as I entered a supermarket. As if sensing amateur travel blog material was required, I was then conveniently growled at by an old man for NOT ramming his shopping trolley out of the way with my own, forcing him to move it himself so I could pass. Happily this was an isolated incident of stiff, cold, unfriendliness.

I’ll be honest, when I think of visiting Germany, Hamburg is not high on my list of destinations. I’m not really sure why this is, though it could be because of the rampant gang-related food crime. In any case it’s a great shame, because it is an overwhelmingly pleasant city to visit.

I must admit the main reason I went there rather than anywhere else was because a friend of mine lives there and had invinted me numerous times. But this just leads me to discuss how good it is to know a local when you travel. Aside from the great company, free accommodation and knowledge of the best sausage outlets, knowing a local was a great way to side-skirt my terrible issue with “foreign language anxiety”.

At the best of times I am dreadfully embarrassed by my lack of ability to speak anything other than the language of ignorance, or English as it is more commonly known. Not bad enough to actually do anything about it, but I feel bad nonetheless. This situation basically leaves me terrified that the simple act of ordering a bratwurst will somehow result in a misunderstanding whereby I give up the rights to my liver and other major organs. It’s not what you’d call rational, but the popularity of the Vengaboys in the late nineties has caused me to stop trying to rationalise human thought.

The next stop after the supermarket (remarkably cultural places, seriously) was to check out the old tunnel that runs underneath the harbor. It looks like this:

Back to the Future 2, anyone?

I think it’s pretty cool by itself, but those crafty Germans installed an elevator…for cars! I’s even more impressive when you realise that they did all this around 100 years ago.

After all that exhaustive sightseeing it was time for a drink. I was taken to a place in an area my friend lamentably called a “hipster district”. He was right. There were bicycles, suspenders and haircuts everywhere. Nevertheless the bar was warm and pleasant and I couldn’t understand any of the nauseating conversation that was no doubt taking place.

Sadly my friend had to work the next day, so we sipped the last of our beers before taking our rudely un-sculpted haircuts and belt-held jeans out of there.

This brings me to the end of part 1. Not a great deal of travely stuff but my test-reading time is running perilously close to six minutes, so it’ll have to wait.

 

Safe travels. J

COMING SOON TO BBS – Hamburg II: Hamburg-er (Die Hard reference)

Fashionate about the weather: the Melbourne of the Europe

11 Apr

As most of you would know by now (given that if you’re reading this you are either a dear friend or a fanatic who’s read all my back-catalogue), I hail from the fair city of Melbourne.

At least, I’m from a place close enough to Melbourne that if I meet anyone not from south-eastern Australia, it’s just easier to say Melbourne to keep the conversation rolling along. Sort of like anyone from north of Byron says they’re from Brisbane, anyone west of Adelaide says Perth, and anyone from New Zealand says Australia.

Anyway, being from Melbourne you wouldn’t expect I could complain about the weather anywhere else. Well you’d expect wrong. I wouldn’t usually complain to a global audience of at least seven people, but for the fact that I’m still living out of my backpack.

Not that I haven’t unpacked yet. Over the last month and a half I’ve managed to spread my clothes among the two wardrobes, large chest of drawers, small chest of drawers, and shoe rack that inhabit my room. But in the sense that I am still wearing basically the same clothes I left Australia with, I am still living out of my backpack. Put it down to laziness or cheapskatedness, the result is the same.

My gripe with the weather makers comes only because now that I’m gainfully employed, I have a few extra shillings to spend on clobber. However I have no idea what to actually buy, and I have no intention of committing a fashion faux pas.

I could start filling out my summer wardrobe, but the way it is at the moment here, I could easily be in need of my traditional London outer-wear again next week. Or even next month. As I bring this to you from the front window of Starbucks, I can tell you in the last week or so we’ve had glorious mild sunshine, hail, rain and freezing wind. Hence the swap from my usual park musings to my local coffee conglomerate.

Now though, it seems the weather has settled to its default setting, which if they could talk would be the weather makers saying: “Yeah it’s not raining, you could go out like that. But those clouds look ominous, better not risk it.” This leaves me and most of London in a perpetual state of weather anxiety. And if I can’t get outside for my daily jog, how will I discover new pubs nearby? Though admittedly I’d run in to less gangsta bees (reread this post if that makes no sense).

So what am I to do? Aside from the £12 Primark hoodie (bargain, couldn’t make it for that), and the body-hugging lycra of my new bike outfit, I am at a perilous crossroads of the wardrobe. If you think you can help with a suggestion or two, or if you want me to post pictures of the body-hugging lycra, please leave a comment below. I don’t know how much longer I can pull this look off.

 

Safe travels. J

P.S. In much more exciting news I’m off to Hamburg tomorrow to eat sausages, drink beer, and track down this guy. A post will no doubt follow once he’s safely behind bars.

Disobeying civilly: A Windfall of Interest

9 Apr

As promised, this Saturday last I donned my traditional London outer-wear and hit the mighty River Thames for a spot of pompous canoeing.

You may remember that I promised either that or a football match, but seeing that the river is at most a 30-second walk from my front door, common sense and/or laziness prevailed. That and the football turned out to be an away match in Bolton.

I must admit that upon walking in to the pub for pre-race festivities, I accepted the fact that the most exciting thing I was going to experience that day was the Dyson hand dryer in the lavatories. You know the ones I mean. And I was almost wrong.

For those who don’t know, Saturday was the day of the famous Oxbridge versus Camford rowing race, or something like that. I believe the history dates back to a day when there was no fox-beating to do because all the hunting dogs ate bad servant meat and got food poisoning. With nothing else to do, this guy fell slapstickishly in to the river and landed on a passing pontoon. The rest is history, as they say.

Anyway, after a few beverages I reluctantly joined the rest of my group and left the pub to watch the start. “Give it a chance”, I thought. At this point I’d love to say what I saw was worth the pain and effort of standing on tip-toes for several minutes. I can’t.

For some inexplicable reason, we had to run (not walk, run!) back to the pub to watch the rest on TV. But alas, when we got there it had finished…..Or had it?

With the boats motionless in the water, I was ready to head for the bar. Until someone told me the race had been stopped and was waiting to be re-started. As it turned out, a 35-year-old Australian had decided the race was too boring and wanted to stop it, or at least inject some interest, by swimming out and disrupting the boats. Or at least that’s what I thought until I read his blog:

“THIS IS A PROTEST, AN ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, A METHODOLOGY OF REFUSING AND RESISTANCE. THIS ACT HAS EMPLOYED GUERRILLA TACTICS. I AM SWIMMING INTO THE BOATS IN THE HOPE I CAN STOP THEM FROM COMPLETING THE RACE AND PROPOSING THE RETURN OF SURPRISE TACTICS.”

My eyes glazed over some time before reading the end of that paragraph so if anyone wants to contact me and give me the gist of it that’d be great. However regardless of his reasons, and the fact he is clearly completely crazy, this idiot has inadvertently bought about a positive boom of interest in a race that probably wouldn’t have been front page news otherwise. As angry as the organisers must have been, every cloud…

As if that wasn’t enough drama for everyone on the Pimms train, one of the rowing sticks broke and someone passed out at the end. He’s fine now though. After all that, people got back to what I suspect was the main reason a lot of them were there in the first place. Put it all together with some nice people and its actually not a bad day out, stay tuned for a weather-related whinge though. Topped off with a few nice curries paid for by my housemate, I was one happy boat fan by Saturday evening.

Oh and I think Cambridge won, judging from the less-than-friendly stares I got from Oxford people while wearing my teal-coloured hoodie (£12 from Primark, let me here you say B-A-R-G-A-I-N).

 

Safe travels. J