Sunday, October 5, 2008

'Nam parts 4 through 6

Continuing on the previous post:

Part 4: Hue

The trip from Hanoi to Hue was interesting.
Our overnight sleeper bus looked rather dissimilar to the photos we were shown when we booked our ticket. No problem though, that's to be expected.
We located some decent sized bedchair thingies and settled in for some sleep.
Sleep, however, was not on the agenda. Not for a while anyways. Being at the rear of the bus we spent a lot of time in mid air. Almost like we were on a space station. Except on space stations, you probably don't get to hear crazy Vietnamese folk-disco. Or some bad rap courtesy of 50 Dong or someone. Or old school Vietrance covers of Haddaway's "What is Love (Baby don't hurt me), which sounded more like this: "Wha is ruv? Beby don herr me, don herr me.. nomo."

Anyways, little sleep was had and we were awoken at 4am as the bus driver decided this was a reasonable time to start replaying the night before's music at several thousand decibels.

Ah, the joys of transport. Funny times.

Hue is a nice old town. Kind of quiet, but enough to do to keep you busy for a day or so. We drank more cheap beer, checked out the Imperial city which whilst interesting, was in a state of disrepair. It was pretty heavily bombed during the American war and there's bullet marks in some of the walls. Oh and a giant phoenix and dragon made by some collaboration between Vietnamese and Australian artists. They were shit. The 'phoenix' looked like a chicken.

We found some more cheap beers, ate some food and retreated to our hotel before heading off for Hoi An the next day.

Part 5: Hoi An and My Son

Heading further south, we docked bus at Hoi An. Finding ourselves a decent hotel, we headed down to the riverfront for dinner, shuffling past tailors and peddlers of all manner of junk beckoning us into their shops.
Dinner was tasty and our plates were cleared by Mr Trung (See part 6) before we headed a couple of doors down for super cheap ice cold beers. (This beer thing is turning into a habit, it would seem. I blame India for robbing of us alcohol for an entire month.)

The next day we hired ourselves a motorbike and, following a hand scrawled map from the motorbike rental guy, we motored off to the My Son ruins, about 50kms out of Hoi An.
The drive was nice, the weather was good and we successfully avoided dying, which was a real possibility considering that most people drive wherever there's space, rather than on a specific side of the road. Makes for interesting times.
The ruins were pretty cool. Not as breathtaking as I'd anticipated, but it was worth the trip.
That night, again, cheap beers, more food and a looming storm painting the sky a murky pink.

Part 6: Mr Trung

Mr Trung introduced himself to us in the restaurant we visited on Friday night. He took tours of his village which is a fishing and pottery town a few k's out of Hoi An. We decided to take a trip with him and it was well worth it. He showed us round the town, introduced us to some locals (including a house full of two year olds) and gave us a pretty good insight into the lifestyle of normal Vietnamese people. We also had a go at making our own pots at a pottery factory. Our 'pots' were saved from complete destruction by the guiding hands, a la 'Ghost' of the master
potter lady.
I'm pretty sure they just mushed up our creations after we left so the clay could be put to GOOD use.

We also went fishing. Bamboo pole and a couple of metres of line is enough to catch, well, a shitload of fish apparently. Granted they weren't so much fish as fish-shaped amoeba.
They were pretty tiny, but it was good fun.
Mr Trung then took us to his house where his wife made us a super tasty meal. We then biked back into town, checked out of our hotel and are now waiting for the overnight bus to Nha Trang.

Hoping for some good weather so we can get some beach time in.
Should probably burn some incense or something to appease the weather gods. Might just have some cheap beers and dinner instead.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vietnam. Parts One through Three

Part One- Hanoi
We landed around midnight in Hanoi after a nice flight with possibly the most amazing sunset I've ever seen. We were forced into an 'Airport Bus, yes yes! This one airport bus!'
It wasn't the airport bus and they refused to drop us at the hotel we wanted to stay at and instead dropped us in front of a hotel they get paud commission at. It was pouring rain and we were hungry an tired, so we ended up using the hotel as it was relatively cheap anyways.

The next day we did some sightseeing around Hanoi; lakes, temples yada yada yada. We also booked a trop to the Perfume Pagoda.

Part Two- Perfume Pagoda
An hour's bus ride from Hanoi, we arrived at a small river dock. It was raining heavily and my budget poncho was proving its budgetness by tearing to shreds and getting me all soaked in typhoon rains. Hooray.
At the dock, we were taken to a small tin boat, where 4 of us crouched on tiny wooden pews whilst a tiny, ancient Vietnamese woman rowed us up the river for about an hour and a half. My concerns at the time invovled her suffering cardiac arrest and our resulting sinking.
After a really peacuful and amazing, albeit soggy hour and a half, we arrived at a tin shack which was the port at the pagoda. We walked on makeshift board walks (ie. A plank of wood) across the muddy banks, past hawkers selling loads of junky shit and turtles and up towards the pagoda.
After eating lunch we caught an overpriced cable car to the pagoda, which was in a big cave. Was kind of cool, but not really all that exciting. Underwhelming is the correct word I think.
By the time we caught the boat back, the weather had cleared up and we were graced with sunshine and blue skies.
Arrived back at hotel and organised our trip to Ha Long Bay

Part Three- Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is a big archipelago in Northern Vietnam, filled with limestone karsts and all kinds of caves and grottos and such. Most of which have been heavily touristified (New word!). We were on a big old junk that took us to check out a cave and a grotto which were realy quite impressive although the multicoloured neon lighting made them look more like karaoke-brothel-rave-caves rather than natural wonders.

We spent a night on the junk (That's not slang for getting drunk, we slept on the boat), then visited Cat Ba island the next day. It was nice- We trekked up a mountain, mistakenly taking the 'adventurous route' which was made all the more difficult by our choice of footwear: thongs. The short spells of rockclimbing and trudging through mud probably did't make it any easier either.
We made it to the top of the mountain though, which was great- Nice views over the island.

Spent a night on Cat Ba island, drank loads of cheap bia hoi (Draught beer) and were forced out of bed at 6.30 the next morning to 'get back before the typhoon comes'

We got some wind and rain, but nothing typhoonish.

Now we're back in Hanoi, heading off for Hue tomorrow.

More installments in this series to come...

Thursday, September 25, 2008


It's all gone.
We flew out of Delhi today. So that's the end of India. Endia.

After our days relaxing at Bharatpur and making various daytrips to Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal in Agra and to the nearby National Park, we headed to the train station to catch a local train to Delhi.
We were encircled at the platform by a bunch of locals who weren't in any way concerned with the boundaries of personal space. We did our best to be be boring and uninteresting but it didn't work that well. Mainly because no one has red hair in India. Also mainly because they don't see a lot of Western laydeez out that way, perhaps.

Anyway, we made it to Delhi, found ourselves a guest house and did some minor sightseeing. Delhi is pretty hectic (though not on the same scale as Mumbai), but it's really quite polluted and after two days there I've acquired a nice smoker's cough from all the muck in the air. We checked out the Red Fort whilst we were around which was cool, although I'm pretty much fort-ed out for the moment.

On our last night we did some souvenir shopping and I got fondled by a kid whose skin was peeling off everywhere? Leprosy, i don't know, but he tried to grab my sandwich and did grab my arm.

Come to think of it, on the last day in Delhi, we saw all manner of things. Whilst in a rickshaw at traffic lights a guy came up begging. He had elephantitis or something. Localised Elephantitis.
Elephantitis of the testicles to be specific.
Begging with one hand, he raised up his football sized scrotum (Not a word of a lie) for us to see. Charlotte was not particularly comfortable with this situation. I'm not sure why, it seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
We also saw a guy without a mandible. (Once you got him talking, you couldn't keep his mouth shut! Bad taste, sorry...)

Moving on...

We landed in Singapore this afternoon and coming from India, it almost feels like we're time travelling.
A far cry from the dusty, dirty streets of Delhi, littered with impromptu stalls and beggars, Singapore seems to be a really livable city and we were most relieved to be able to walk down the street without being harangued.
It's short-lived though, as tomorrow afternoon we fly out for Hanoi.

It's getting late, so I'm just going to head up to my rooftop bed, check out the view over the city and catch some sleep. Ah, it's tough sometimes...

PS: Wasabi Ice cream and Black Sesame Ice cream = Tasty

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What the hell?

What in the hell kind of country closes its most important monument on a FRIDAY?

We got up at 5am and made the 1.5 hour journey to Agra on Friday to see the Taj Mahal.

The fucking thing was closed.
The best we could get was seeing it from a distance from a rooftop restaurant before making the trip back to Bharatpur.

We went again today, this time leaving at 4.30am.
It was open. And definitely worth making the return trip for.

People say seeing the Taj is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well now we've seen it twice. (At least that's how I made Friday's failure seem ok in my mind)

Ha, we win.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fresh air, silent nghts and antelopes.

We're in Bharatpur, not far from Agra.

It took a while to get here from Jaipur. The news-making rains that have flooded Bihar have sprinkl;ed a fair bit fo water around here too, indicated by the need for ouyr bus to drive through stretches of unsealed road with the axles submerged. (Have I mentioned axles a lot in the last few posts? What is it with axles?)
Anyways, somewhere along the way we also scored ourselves a flat tyre. So we had to pull into some little village to get that changed, using rudimentary apparatus and methods. So it was a little longer than scheduled but we got to Bharatpur in the end.
And then the driver realised he'd lost the key to the padlock which was locking our backpacks in the storage compatment of the bus.
Again with the rudimentary apparatus. (ie. A crowbar)
Then we were asked to pay for the lock.
No sir, I shall not pay for your stupidity.

It's quiet town, this Bharatpur. Which is a nice break from the cities we've been in. There's not much going on here except for the Keoladeo National Park. It's a big wetland area filled with shitloads of birds and various other animals.
Our guesthouse owner/nature-guide-ornithologist-man told us there's 8 metre pythons in there, except they're hibernating at the moment.
What a disappointment. I really fancied me some death by constriction/asphyxiation. Maybe next time.
So no, we didn't catch a glimpse of any ginormous snakes. We did see some birds though. Buckets of them. Figuratively.
Cranes, eagles, owls, ibis (ibii??), ducks, partridge, kingfisher and some weird ones I hadn't heard of before. Like Babblers. And a bunch that leave themselves wide open for all sorts of immature double entrendres. Which I demonstrated, much to Charlotte's diusmay.
We also saw a few antelope, a turtle, squirrels, insects and as per usual, a few monkeys.

Our guesthouse owner/nature-guide-ornithologist-man took us around for three hours, then we pedalled off on our own for a bit longer. Stopping to snack on the packed lunch the guesthouse had made for us.
(An aside: 'Vegetable Sandwich'in India, means 'wet bread with cabbage, tomato and onion' I wouldn't recommend it.)

Tonight, we're off to get some more tasty Indian food. Surprise! Then tomorrow we have an early start to try and get to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. Failing that, we'll go to Fatehpur Sikri to check out the ruins there.

Oh, and we didn't end up going to the 'European Party' in Jaipur. It sounded a bit dodgy and was more than likely going to be a commission scam, where we'd get taken to a textiles factory on the edge of town, plied with chai and then made to buy a nasty rug.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I can cook like nobody's Indian.

Damn straight.
We went to a cooking class the other night. Now we have maaaaad Indian cooking skills. Some of you may even be privy to the unleashing of them upon our return home.
The cooking class was really cool- We were basically in this lovely couple's house. Whilst Rhika showed Charlotte a bunch of trinkets and whatnots, her Husband Amil and I headed down to the markets to pick up ingredients. After wading through rats, rotting food and assorted flotsam accumulated in the recent rain's puddles, we picked up some spinach, flour and yoghurt (probably not pasteurised judging by the dirty clay pot the vendor scraped it out of)and headed back to the house.
We cooked, ate, drank saffron lassis and bought some super tasty spices. Good times.

Now we're in Jaipur- The Pink City.
It's not all that.

It moves along at a frenetic pace and there's so many tourists pouring out of big ass air-conditioned buses and four wheel drives, that it's kind of disappointing. Also, all the locals know that these package tourists have money to burn, so they assume that we do also and are attempting to charge insane amounts for everything.
Not that much of a problem, it just makes the bargaining process take ten times as long. It may also stretch my patience a little, but that's how it goes.

Seeing as this place isn't as charming as we'd anticipated, we're leaving two days early to go check out a national park that's conveniently on the way to Agra, our next stop. We'll spend a day or two there, cruise around on some bikes for a while and enjoy being out of reach of touts and persistent rickshaw drivers.

Speaking of Rickshaw drivers, we took a tour with one yesterday and checked out the local sights, including the Lake Palace, which looks like someone has done a super job in Photoshop and placed a big yellow palace in the middle of a vivid blue lake. We even got some photos as a huge rainbow formed over it. That was pretty cool.

We also visited the 'Monkey Palace' which, surprisingly, was covered in monkeys. We waded through the primates until we reached the hilltop palace. We kept them at bay with peanuts, although one decided to use Charlotte's back as a springboard.
Initial consultation suggests she doesn't have rabies.
We did get rorted into being blessed by some lady for the stately sum om 65 rupees. I'm not one to argue with Hindi gods, so we begrudgingly paid our tithings and left, dyed string knotted on our wrists and (recycled) flower wreaths around our necks.

Then we were taken to see the mystic jeweller, who made astonishing summations about our families and current situations. It was incredible and I'm sure all the answers we provided to our rickshaw driver's seemingly innocent questions earlier in the day were in now way whatsoever passed on to this honourable jeweller character.

Tonight, our friendly rickshaw driver is taking us to dinner at his family's place (I think. Family may mean 'people who pay me commission for bringing gullible tourists to their establishment'), and then on to a party some European friends of his are having.

This conjured images of sharing fondue and saunas with some Nordic types, however it may be slightly different. I don't really know.

Will report on the details soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Horse pants, a fort and a bus.

Well here we are in sunny Jodhpur.
It's really nice. A lot like most of India actually.
We caught the bus here from Udaipur, which was a bit of an experience.
It was kind of like a normal bus ride would be, except on a bus with rectangular wheels.
It was super-rough. Rough enough to have at least 6 or so people throwing up out the window. We wound through mountains, quarries and rural areas on sometimes a road, sometimes a dirt track, the bus periodically stopped by goats and cattle. Oh, and we also spent some time getting out of a bog hole and narrowly avoiding being stuck up to the axles in mud.

We covered 260km in 6.5 hours. That's an average speed of 40kph. In stifling heat, on a bus packed with people from all walks of Indian life. And a Swiss couple. They were nice.

Arriving in Jodhpur, we found ourselves a nice little guesthouse. After throwing our stuff down we walked outside and realised that there was a giant fort on a giant hill looming above us and blocking out the sun.
After venturing across town to buy our onward train ticket, we found a place that did tasty Thalis and had us some dinner, then we bought some Indian sweets (gross, tastes like powdered milk)and got a drink. We then partook in some 'kicking back' on the hotel roof and watching the fort glow pink in the light of the almost-full moon.
The fort is definitely impressive.
It's called the Meherengarh fort (Or something similarly spelt) and it's pretty awesome. It looks like He-Man should ride down from the top of it on his Battlecat.
We headed up there earlier today to check it out and it's one of the coolest places we've visited so far. Plus we had the best audioguide we've had in all our travels.

We're off to do a cooking class tonight, then we head on to Jaipur first thing tomorrow morning.

Also, not to fear, we're not in Delhi for another week, so pretty sure we'll have avoided the whole 'bomb' thing... Plus we're smart and safe and made of 95% titanium, so we should be fine.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Animal Farm

No, not the Orwell novel, it's a place called Udaipur.
We've seen all the animals in the streets here:

Dogs: Check
Squirrels: Check
Monkeys: Check
Goats, donkeys, cows, sheep: Check
Bats, geckos, hawks, horses, cranes, pigs: Check

It's like a goddamn zoo, but only with all the shit animals.
Although I have to admit, it was pretty insane when the street we were walking down was the site of a spider monkey assault. Out of nowhere they came swinging in from rooftops, running across cabling and terrorising the street. Seeing as we didn't get our magical rabies forcefield injections before embarking for the subcontinent, we slowly snuck by and left the locals to deal with the chaos.

Jeremy and Charlotte: 1
Monkeys: 0

Udaipur is really cool though. Waaaay more laid back than anywhere else we've been in India. Cleaner streets (even with all the animals around) and it's set on a big-ass lake which our hotel overlooks. Can't complain.

There's a palace built on an island in the middle of said lake, another palace built on the lake's shore and a myriad of temples, shrines and memorials scattered through the labrynthine streets.

We even trekked out of the old town area yesterday to visit the royal cenotaphs. This place is filled with memorials to all the various maharajas that have expired over the years and boy, do the royals here know how to make a posthumous monument.
I think there was something like 250 cenotaphs and I would be happy to live in the majority of them. There were domes and pillars and steps and multi-levels and marble elephants. All kinds of nifty shit that costs a whole bunch.
Oh and there was more monkeys. And disease ridden dogs, that like me, though the cenotaphs were a pretty sweet place to live.

After hiking back into town along a road crawling with all manner of Health and Safety deathtraps disguised as vehicles (Anyone for carrying a 5 metre bamboo ladder on your scooter handlebars UPRIGHT???), we made it back into the (relative) safety of our little part of town, Hanuman Ghat.
Five minutes later, the sky darkened to a menacing black and the thunder and lightning commenced. Sitting on the terrace of our hotel, this made for awesome viewing, until the torrential rain started. We decided then it was time to head for cover.

-Cue food, drinks, chatting, sleeping. Fade to black.-

Today we thought we'd take a nice little stroll to some garden thing that some important guy made for a bunch of chicks he was into. The local guide suggested it was some fancy acreage with fountains and kiosks and various types of exotic flora.

Sounds like it is worth walking to, right?

Two hours of walking, three litres of sweat and four hundred 'no thanks' to rickshaw drivers later, we finally succumbed, hailed a rickshaw and asked him where in the hell we were.

Lost, apparently. Thanks shitty local guide map.

He drove us about a kilometre in a direction we didn't even know was possible and dropped us off at the front of the gardens.

They were pretty shite.

We walked around them for fifteen minutes, then commenced the walk home which was decidedly nicer than the gardens.

Once again, we did the food, drinks etc thing and now I'm waiting while the photos transfer off my camera... Shitty computer is hells slow. (three hours to move some photos, wtf??!)

Tomorrow we've got an early start as we're off on a day trip to Chittorgah to check out its super awesome fort . Apparently it's the best in all of India. Some guy that's into forts says so.

Despite its solid looks, it was overrun by invading armies pretty much whenever an invading army knocked on it's door. And being honorable Rajputs, the inhabitants almost always opted to sacrifice themselves rather than be humiliated by their foes.

So yeah, we're off to a massive (but really weak) fort where thousands of people set themselves on fire.
Romantic, no?

After that, we're back in Udaipur for a day, then it's on to Jodhpur- the land of tight, unflattering equestrian attire.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hope you don't mind me saying, but I'm totally India.

In-to-ya.. Geddit? Errr.. Anyways...

Howdy folks...
We made it to India! Upon landing around midnight, we set about sorting out a hotel through the tourist office which was no problems, then we got ourselves a taxi into town.

Before I continue, I'll try paint a picture of Mumbai International for you.
Imagine, I dunno, say, Tullamarine or Heathrow Airport.

Then replace the shiny new cabs at the taxi rank with 60's model boxes on wheels (Our box on wheels had a fancy carpeted roof. Hells yeah)

Then replace the orderly taxi rank area with a kind of shed thing constructed from wood, rope and occassional bits of corrugated iron.

Then replace automatic doors and air conditioning with gaping holes in the ground and blue canvas walkways leading through rubble to the car park.
Then replace the smooth freeways and train lines into the city with about 12 kilometres of slums and shanty towns.

Then replace any delays resulting from roadworks with delays resulting from being stuck behind a bull towing a trailer adorned with a shrine of Ganesha, surrounded by throngs of people dancing, banging drums, chanting and letting off fireworks.

That was our introduction to Mumbai International and to India. It was awesome. Way better than driving over Footscray on the CityLink or sliding through the darkness on the Piccadilly line.

Since then, it's been a complete assault on the senses.
The smell of incense, of faeces, of sweat, of animals, of spices, of monsoon rains.
The sight of a thousand colours of saris, of buses bursting with people, of millions of taxis and autorickshaws vying for poll position, of mothers and their babies sleeping on cardboard on the street, of every animal with every disease under the sun (Kind of like if Noah's Ark was a quarantine vessel).
The sound of 40,000 horns all blaring at one another, of touts yelling 'Hotel, hotel! Good price, Vally good price!', of coins clanking as another beggar appeals for rupees, of staccato drumming as another procession of people celebrating the Ganesha festival dance by.
The taste of fresh naan made before your eyes by a street vendor, of just-squeezed lime juice, of dosa, dahl and tikkas, of victory as we bargain the price of the world's bigest umbrella down to 200 rupees.

It's a pretty awesome place. Like nothing I've ever experienced.

We did all the Mumbai sightseeing stuff, plenty of awesome buildings, temples, mosques etc, especially a lot of stuff from the colonial days.
We went down to Chowpatty beach for an evening, took an intersting boat trip out to Elephanta island where there's temples carved into caves (and monkeys galore.) We were also asked to be an extra on the set of a Bollywood movie. We accepted and you can now catch me in the upcoming, big budget Bollywood film, Donostana.
I'm the waiter with the big red hair walking through some auction ceremony thing.

It was a long day, clocking in at around 14 hours although we got paid enough to pay for our room for the night. Was very funny to watch the precious stars complaining because 'the fans are blowing wrong' or because 'I said COLD coffee!!'
Wow. Sorry Mr Important nancy-boy Bollywood guy.

It's pretty cool to see how it all works behind the scenes. Although being dressed in black suit, black shirt and heavy waistcoat in 30 degree heat is not so great actually. Especially considering my costume was made of enough synthetic material to fund the running of a petrochecmical plant for a year. It was a pretty hot and sweaty deal but completely worthwhile.

After a day of wildlife watching at the beach (Crabs can jump! A whole foot!!! I did not know this!) we caught a cab to Mumbai Central Station. We had a bit of a wait there and a group of porters befriended us and set about asking if we were married, how many kids we had, why we didn'thave any kids, why we didn't go 1st class because then we'd have a cabin to ourselves, wink-wink.
Raju told me he has a wife and one kid, but that is all, now he only .... You know, for enjoyment. He then insisted I look at his mobile, upon which he'd kindly played some porn. Thanks Raju. Kind AND classy.

After an hour or two of waiting, we boarded the overnight train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, arriving here in Ahmedabad this morning at 6.30am.
After declining the persistent offers of an army of touts, we checked our bags in and caught an autorickshaw into Ahmedabad city.
It's cleaner than Bombay, with more animals and less exposure to Westerners/people walking around looking completely lost with a Lonely Planet guide in hand.
Definitely not a well known tourist destination. By this I mean, we've been accosted at every corner and waved at, grabbed by children, been asked our names, been said 'Goot Morni!' to a hundred times and pointed at, which is totally entertaining and surreal. I kind of feel like the guy in the Mickey suit at Disneyland. Although no one has punched me in the nuts yet.
Charlotte has proved popular with the locals as well, even after having adopted some modest attire(ie. Covered in a shawl/sari thingy from neck to toe) and has left a kid awestruck after she let him take some random photos with her camera.
We've strolled around the streets here and the attention can get pretty full on, so we've retired to a nice little internet cafe for an hour or two. Plus, it's a bajillion degrees outside, so the AC in here is welcome respite.
We catch a train at 11pm tonight on to Udaipur where we kick back for four nights, do a couple of daytrips to nearby towns and hang out by the lake. Awesome.

Also, despite my best efforts, I think I got bitten by a mosquito this morning. Probably not, but maybe. Should be fine, but if I call any of you within the next 7 days, I'll probably be getting you to organise an airlift and some malaria treatment for me. You're cool with that though, right? K, thanks.
Hehe. Seriously though, I'll be fine. No need to worry about malaria when there's packs of rabid dogs roaming the streets.

(Hi Mum, it's fine, don't worry.)

Only 12 more hours to kill till we leave here bound for Udaipur, a bed and a shower.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Yet another enthralling episode from the creators of the previous posts.

So, we went to Paris.
It was pretty awesome. All lit up in lights (How else??), Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de triomphe etc etc etc....
Really worthwhile, even though the hotel we stayed in made us pay to use the shower. Dirty French bastards.

Then we went to Bordeaux, the world renowned wine growing region. Needless to say, we drank some wine. Bordeaux is super laid back, quiet and has some cool stuff going on.
After spending a few days dottering about Bordeaux, we ventured further south to Bayonne.

Bayonne, not so great. Nothing eventful to report. Except some guy sprayed us with his windscreen wiper jet thingy. Jerk.

From there we caught a mini train across the border to Spain, namely, San Sebastian.

Spain is definitely my favourite country so far.
It's where the awesomeness kicked in and we spent 2 weeks lying on beaches, sightseeing, eating the world's best food, drinking Sangria and basically doing sweet F.A.
San Sebastian = Awesome pinxtos, sangria, beaches
Barcelona = Wicked culture, cool galleries, beaches, amazing food
Valencia = Massive beach, Agua de Valencia (Tastiest booze ever), muchos relaxation.
Madrid = Really cool vibe, awesome food, planes that blow up on runways. OK, we avoided all that. Madrid was awesome.

So we left Madrid at 10am, in 30 degree heat and touched down in glorious England a couple of hours later in blustery cold winds and rain.


Now, we're on to conquer India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.

Flying out in just over 24 hours.... Kinda nervous.
Should be cool though. They have elephants!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And then the rest...

It's been two weeks since I wrote you last.
It's mainly because we've been criss crossing western Europe like crazy, but also mainly because everywhere has keyboards that have upside down g's and no full stops and a q where the a should be.
Seriously, who uses the letter q in their writing so frequently?
Yes, possibly the queen but no one else.


So Vienna was rad. It's a super cool place, alot like Melbourne. I'd suggest that anyone travelling round Europe spend a good amount of time in Vienna. From Vienna, we headed over to Salzburg, which was a definite change in pace. Nice and peaceful. Although peaceful can become hell annoying when you're waiting for your dinner that you was meant to start at 9 and it's now 10.30 and all you've got is a stomach so ravenous that it could digest a bowling ball and peaceful surroundings. But yes, Salzburg is nice. You wouldn't need more than a day there though. Not unless you were a big fan of being bored.

From Salzburg we caught another train up to Munich, which UI would have to say was kind of underwhelming. I had high hopes for Munich. It didn't exactly produce the goods. Nice city and all, and I'm sure if you had more time there, you could dig below the exterior and find a whole bunch of cool stuff, but we only had time to skim the surface. We did get time to head out to Dachau concentration camp though and it was definitely one of the more sobering things I've done. It's really bizarre to stand in a place where so many people were tormented or killed and the things that went on there were pretty grim to say the least. After that joyous start to the day we hopped on a train and chugged our way up to Berlin.
Berlin is rad.
I liked Berlin alot.
You can basically walk around and see all the important things and there's tonnes going on. We had a guide for a day in Amy, who took us around a cool market, showed us where all the hookers hang out wearing corsets over puffer jackets, tipped us off to an awesome dinner option and then took us for a drink.

After a few days in Berlin we headed across to Amsterdam and after some grief in trying to find our hostel, we finally got sorted out and went out to take a look around the city. It's a nicer looking canal city than venice, in my opinion, with loads of cool architecture. Although there is the prevailing smell of hippies in the air. Oh and weed. Heaps of weed.

WE checked out ther city, saw the sights and did the Anne Frank museum which again, was quite sobering(turns out the Nazis really weren't all that cool! Who would have thought???)
From Amsterdam, we headed down to Paris.

I can't be bothered typing anymore at the moment, so I'm gonna finish up here. Will continue some time over the next few days as I'm sure I'll get sick of sitting on the beach in San Sebastian.

Off to grab some tapas and sangria.

I'm sure you're all doing equally relaxing things, right?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Centimetre II

That´s the name of a restaurant in Vienna where we ate last night. You can buy bread by the centimetre. You can also buy one metre of spaghetti. The plate is one metre in diametre. It feeds four people. The other thing they do is a wheelbarrow of food. Which is exactly what it sounds like. It feeds about 6 people.
We weren´t that hungry so instead we just bought the 2 metre sausage. And a plate of finger food which contained ewnough food to feed about 1000 fingers.

Yep, two metres of Viennese sausage. Granted, it was thin, but still, can anyone else claim to have eaten 12 feet or sausage?
Vienna is wicked.

OK, I´m off to not eat for a few days now.

Choo Choo

Last you heard, I was in Korcula feeling hungover as hell. From there, we headed to Makarska which is an awesome town that sits on the coast with mountains looming up behind it. We cruised around the island for a while, went wakeboarding behind some diesel powered hunk of shit and then went out for dinner and then had a few cocktails in a seaside cave that has been turned into a bar. Would have been awesome if it wasn´t filled with 500 Croatian guys that probably consume enough steroids to turn Stephen Hawking into the Incredible Hulk.

After Makarska, we shipped off to Omis which is close to Split and one of the nicest looking places we stopped. We went rafting for a day, which was cool- a few patches of white water, but generally pretty cruisy. We also pulled up for some swim stops and had a jump off some rocks. Awesome scenery travelling through the canyons.

We then headed back to Split, had farewell drinks and then the next morning we wandered around Split a little before heading off to the bus station to catch our bus to Zagreb.
The four hour bus ride turned out to be 6 thanks to some nifty tunnel works on the freeway. Dang.
We made it in time for our overnight train from Zagreb to Venice though...

Here´s where I dish out the nuggets of gold.

Don´t catch overnight trains in Croatia. Unless you like living large with gypsys.
The train from Zagreb to Venice looked like it had failed safety testing during the cold war. It was seriously grim. The toilets looked as though they´d been dreamed up by Kafka and there was a distinct smell of urine to everything.

Needless to say, we didn´t sleep all that well and got off the train in Venice feeeling quite shit. And smelling like gypsys.

Venice was awesome though. Sucha cool little city made up of tight winding streets, canals, boats and all that stuff. It´s just like it is in the movies. Except cooler.

We left Venice at 8.30 that night on the overnight train to Vienna. After our last experience on overnight trains we were not feeling very confident that we wouldn´t be smelling like gypsys for a second consecutive day.

Hello Italian/Austrian trains! This was the opposite to our previous night´s abode. Clean, efiicient, friendly staff, comfy beds, free breakfast, coffee, sheets without unidentified stains!

So that was nice.

We arrived in Vienna at 8.30am, dropped our bags off at the hostel, then went for a walk around Vienna. It´s such a cool city. Cooler than Venice and waaaaay more affordable. People are super friendly which contradicts what I´d been told.
Also nobody has locked us in their basement and made us have sex with them. That is A Good Thing.

So much to look at, will be doing tonnes of photographing today.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sick much?

Feeling pretty seedy today. Very large night in Dubrovnik last night. A whole bottle of wine probably doesnt make for a sensible dinner. Also, one litre long island ice teas seem great at the time, but in the morning they will punch your face and scream at you till your eyes bleed.
The fact that we had rough seas this morning probably didn't help the situation either.

The last few days have been awesome. Croatia is really really beautiful. We've been to Mijet, Hvar, Dubrovnik and we're moored for the night in Korcula. Nothing better than spending your days sitting on the deck of a boat drinking, swimming and doing as little as humnanly possible.
Hvar was our first stop and was a really cool little island. Loads of rich boating types with massive pimped out boats filled with hookers. Presumably.
We climbed up to the fortress that overlooks the island, took a shitload of photos, had a picnic dinner on the rocks by the sea and then went to a couple of bars. Early night for us as we're super lame and were pretty zonked from the ferry trip the night before.

We spent the next day sailing to Mijet which is a really nice island with a national park. We walked into the national park, had a paddle in the salt water lakes there and visited a monastery built on an island in the middle of the lake. Pretty cool, although the police were called after o9ne of the guy's paddles broke and he was told he'd have to pay 50 euro for a new one or the police would be called.
So the police came, one of the girls translated for us and the outcome was 'pay the money or get locked up'.
Ripped off by dodgy canoe hirer. Damn.

Yesterday was spent in Dubrovnik. We walked around the city walls which look over the old town and out over the Adriatic. One of the coolest places ever. Will get photos on the go at some stage. Too hungover to invest thinking in that now though.

Not much planned for tonight. We've strolled around Korcula, I've sweated alcohol and stomached some soup. Probably head to a little restaurant for dinner, then we're off again tomorrow to some other island paradise.

Good times, great times.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Croatia is Ace-ia.

Or something like that. Not that I can say yet, we only got here an hour ago.

We killed a few hours in Ancona yesterday before our ferry left at 9pm. Our main methods for achieving this were gelati, beer, sitting and an old Italian guy who spoke limited English, but enough to convey that he loves animals and likes to go and live in the mountains occassionally and eat berries and live like the animals. His gesturing made me worried as it seemed he may have really loved animals. He was really nice though and made the time pass quickly with stories of... umm.. actually, I don't really know what the stories were of as there was a rather large language barrier, although Charlotte did defuse a situation when I accidentally called the guy Russian.

We got off the overnight ferry from Ancona an hour or so ago. Is not so great actually. Being tight-ass backpacker sorts, we deigned it suitable to book the cheapest tickets which were 'Deck'.
And that's what they were.
After a poor sleep on the floor of the boat, we were awoken by a multi-lingual announcement that let everyone know we'd be in Split in half an hour. Or they may have been asking us to inflate our emergency life vests, I don't know. My abilities in speaking Croatian aren't exactly 'real-world'. Or even existent.

The view of Split harbour at 6.30 this morning was pretty awesome though. Almost worth the shitty sleep.

We've got a couple of hours to kill now before we have to board our next boat which takes us sailing over the next 8 days through the Croatian islands, down to Dubrovnik, then back up to Split. I anticipate it will be pretty awesome.

Whilst I waste time writing blog posts, Charlotte is doing constructive things like booking hostels for when we get back on solid ground with all the landlubbers. I should probably help.

Ok, off to help Charlotte with organise-y things.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Italy (Parts one through four)

Italy is pretty ace. It's probably one of my favourite places. Especially considering this time I didn't have send Charlotte here on her own whilst I went home to collect my passport.
Flight was slightly delayed, and I may have nearly caused widespread panic when i fell into an emergency exit door and set off a massive alarm at Napoli airport but we made it into Naples around 10.30pm after a slight oversight on my behalf which saw us miss our bus stop and end up on the other side of Naples. No harm done though, as Italians have proved to be insanely helpful and the busdriver took us back to our stop. What a nice dude.

From there we caught the Circumvesuviana line out to our hostel, met a couple of aussie girls that were in the same situation as us, showered, had a beer and some gelati.

Then we spent the day out of Naples in Castellademarre di Stablia, which is a pretty amazing little town with mountains leading down into the Bay of Naples. We strolled around there, ate some more gelati, ate some pizza and took tonnes of photos of the tiny backstreets. We also nearly died thanks to the hordes of scooters that crack around the place. Helmets optional. Unless you're ten years old, then you can just do monos around everywhere apparently. Tonnes of road safety going on over here.
We had dinner at a little local pizza place in Naples called Da Michele. Best pizza ever, accompanied by 1 euro Peroni. Awesome.

One thing about Italy- It's hot. Damn hot. Naples was nice. Rome was shit house. 35 degress and 100% humidity anyone?

After a kickass airconditioned train ride from Naples and a long chat to a lovely nonna, we arrived in Rome.
Stepping off the train was kind of like falling into lava, but without the relief of imminent death. We hauled our packs down to the hostel, were told it was undergoing renovations and then hauled our packs to the makeshift hostel. By makeshift hostel I mean, some fold out beds set up in an attic. Awesome. Not at all hot.

Accommodation aside, we spent the next day walking around Rome. 13 kms worth of walking around Rome. In thongs.
Did the Colloseum, Pantheon, Roman Forum, Gainicolo Hill, Trevi Fountain, some other places and about 15 piazzas.
We went out for dinner that night, but were only able to find restaurants that are set up to server the tourists. So we ate well, but it was nowehere near as good as Naples.

Yesterday we caught the train to Ancona, where we catch the ferry across to Split tonight.

More updates to follow soon. In like, 10 days or something when we get off our Croatia sailing tour thing. You won't be able to tell, but I'll be waaay more tanned when I next write.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Yep, we're off today for Europe.
First stop, Italy. We fly out in a couple of hours.
After a few days there, we're heading off to Croatia to go sailing for 8 days. That will probably be terrible. I mean, blue skies, blue seas, blue..umm.. anyway, things will be colourful and ace.

Then we head up to Austria for a few days, into Germany for a week or so, then up to Netherlands, Brussels, France, Switzerland, and Spain.

Will be updating this whenever we get a chance to find some internet, so call back again for tales of faultless travels and smooth sailing.
Either that, or call back for stories of how I've forgotten my passport again....,

Let's hope it's not the last one.

That's me out. Will write again from another country.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kilts and other things

Hey hey bitches.
Well it's time again for some update-age.
Here's some things that have been going down here in the world of J-Crizzle, listed below in no particular order. Apart from numerical.

1) I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh...
For work related stuff. I managed to slot in some quality sightseeing whist I was there. Edinburgh is awesome. Everyone should go there. (Here's the Photos)
Here's some reasons why I love Edinburgh:

- I climbed the Scott Monument. Awesome panoramic views over the harbour, old town, mountains and castle. On my way back down I noticed the best graffiti ever.
"Peanut woz ere. 15-7-79"
This on the world's largest ever monument created in honour of a writer.
Fucking poetic. Nice one Peanut.

- I swear I've seen Christopher Lambert waiting for a bus at least 5 times. It's disconcerting to say the least. One guy even grabbed me and said "THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!... more minute until this bus arrives, I've been waiting for ages."
I'm lying again. But seriously, there's heaps of dudes that look like they're an Immortal from Highlander.

- Through a completely random series of occurrences, I just snapped myself a photo of the First Minister of Scotland (Which is their version of a Prime Minister) arm in arm with two guys who were protesting against the proposed changes to Scottish immigration law which will mean no more Curry chefs will be allowed to migrate from India. Or something to that effect. Anyways, I somehow found myself out the front of the Scottish Parliament, then I saw these guys with funny hats holding boards with all kinds of wicked slogans like "Save Curry!" The next thing I know I see them all huddled around someone and I think "CAPTAIN CURRY HAS COME TO SAVE THEM"
But no, it's the prime minister of fucking Scotland, wearing a little white curry chef's hat hugging all these Indian dudes. I took a photo because it's not every day you see the leader of a nation hugging a guy who's occupation involves giving people diarrhoea.

- I found a shop that sells Scottish souvenirs called 'Thistle do nicely'. Best regional-based store-name pun so far.

- I threw a pebble at a pigeon and hit it.

- There's a massive number of gingers over there. They have hair that's like, blazing red. Hair which makes me look like a brunette.
Finally I feel like I fit in. It's like I'm a monkey that was separated from my monkey crew when I was a monkey baby and made to walk around crashing cymbals together and wearing a fez and now I've finally been reunited with my kin. Although now I don't smell like my monkey brethren, so they all claw and bite my face and throw their stinky monkey shit at me. Umm.. yeah.

- I had a completely insane, muttering Scotsman walk past me, turn around and shout "YOUR HAT! I LIKE YOUR HAT! NICE HAT!!!"
Thanks McDude! I'd high-five you but I think you have a syringe stuck in your fingerless gloves. Now I think of it- The whole hat compliment didn't really make my day. It upset me. Receiving compliments about your fashion sense from a crazy homeless guy is like having Heath Ledger compliment you on your medication management.

So yes, Edinburgh = good.

2) I have an extra job now.
It involves me working in a call centre on weeknights and saturdays calling old people and convincing them to give me their bank details. This is basically how I spend my spare time anyways, so no big changes here.

3) The reason I have an extra job is...
Charlotte and I are saving up hardcore as on a whim we've decided to extend our travels. So just to make sure you're all thoroughly bored, here's how we're gonna roll.

30 June: Fly out to Italy, spend a few days checking out the sights, then ferry our pasta filled asses across to Croatia where we intend to go sailing around the islands for 8 days. Then we head up and go all through Europe, buy bad souvenirs, drink weird liquor that makes your kidneys cry and (this one doesn't apply to Charlotte) grow some facial hair because that's what you do when you're a backpacker, right?

Sometime later... Probably around the middle of August: Arrive back in the UK, kick it around UK, Scotland and Ireland for a bit and then...

2 September: Fly over to Mumbai with an airline that has the safety features of a wheelbarrow. Then make our way through India, via Goa, Agra and various other locations until the..

19 September: ...when we fly to Hong Kong. Then we work our way through China, into Vietnam and spend a cruisy 6-8 weeks working our way through Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, where finally on the...

11 November: We go see our good friends at Jetstar who will fly us back to The Land of Melbournia, via the "internationally recognised, jewel of the southern hemisphere"; Darwin. (I made that up. Apparently Darwin's shit. We only stop there for an hour)

Then we come home to a ticker-tape parade where John So will shake our hands and say something like "Wacom ba to Mahbon!" and people will cheer and we'll be on Today Tonight because then it will be discovered we caught bird flu in Asia and John So is in hospital after having contracted it from my over-enthusiastic hand shaking.

What's everyone else doing?
Write comments or I'll go on a facebook rampage and sent you all 100,000 invitations to stupid shit like "Werewolf FunWall Pirate Wars" or some other lame-ass shit.

You've been warned.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A picture's worth a thousand words.

I call bullshit on that.
What if it's a really big picture? Or a tiny little one like when japanese people scratch pictures onto a grain of rice? A thousand words? More like four words: "TOO MUCH SPARE TIME"


Ah, right... So here's some pictures. But seeing as I don't think they're necessarily worth a thousand words, I've added some of my own.

Sunny days in Czech Republic. And some guy with a cross. Religion is a popular pastime for everyone there. Except statues, they don't do a whole lot. Posers.

Charlotte partially obscuring a sunset. The alternative title for this was 'Sun? In England! Quick, grab the camera and take a damn photo!' Or it could be called 'The Water's Blue, You're Just Colourblind, You Dumbshit.'

The trumpeteer. He also plays saxaphone. He looks like Homeless Busker God.

Remnants of ads in the underground. One bit looks like it's part of an old ad for Giant Strangle Hands™.

The excitement of Liverpool St station. It's usually busier than this. Maybe everyone ran away because the building appears to be being held up by pick-up-sticks.

More statues in Czech Republic. Statues are like Jesus to them. Wait, the statues are Jesus? Oh, it's all starting to make sense now.

London. From Southbank at night. Through a foggy lens. Crap.

Everyone's favourite public holiday: Sit On An Orange Bench With A Stranger Near A Big Fuck-Off Spiky Green Bush Day.

More with the silhouettes and the contrails. At least there's no statues though. Bet you're relieved.

The whimsical land of The Carnies. PS: It's not Frankston. It's a fair. I even got through this night without being pickpocketed, acquiring a giant panda or winning a shitty prize. What is it with Carnie prizes though? Yes, I got some balls to go in some hoop or something, it was damn hard and all you're giving me is a shitty lunch box from some cartoon that hasn't been on tv since 1995? Fuck you and your Captain Planet lunch box.

A study in cement. LAX is a boring, boring place. Especially when all you want is a fucking sandwich and no one sells food unless you count the beggar who'll give you some gum for a tenner. Which i don't.

Most. Boring. Job. Ever. Since when do straps go above your chin? Is that even practical? I say no. I didn't tell him this though as he had a knife stuck on the end of a gun. That's the weapon combination I always choose to not mess with.

Because everyone associates lions with water. Tie your boat up to a lion holding a ring in its mouth! Poor lion, all green and trapped in a giant brick with nothing to eat except a big circle.

Canary Wharf. On weekdays, home to a specific group of wankers called 'analysts' or 'brokers'. On weekends, home to sweet fuck all, apart from this here bridge and some seagulls. THERE'S NOT EVEN ANY CANARIES. YOU LIE LONDON! YOU LIE!

Fireworks. Or a cut scene from a movie representing some kind of sexual occurrence.

In London this is called an 'adequate measure' when combating a boring street-scape. Blue chairs. Wow. Inspiring. "Hey honey, what you wanna do today? We should totally go down by the river and sit on a blue chair! How awesome would that be?... What do you mean 'No, you're a loser'? "

Don't be alarmed. It's just an installation I saw once. How alarming... No? Umm.. ... Err... They weren't real alarms- it was a collage, so i guess you could call them false alarms?
I don't know any more alarm jokes. Ooh, wait: The gallery was such a rip off, we had to pay alarm and a leg to get in.
That is all.

The little spikes stop the birds from shitting on it. Also, what's with the dude pulling shadow puppets down the bottom. He's all like "This one is a rabbit. Kind of. Damn, I need more fingers."

Best shop name ever. Although I don't think any of the lay-deez would take too kindly to the offer of a dance at the fishcotheque. But they have wicked bass! Gettit? Bass!
No Jeremy, shutup. You're lame.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Italian Job

(Or "Things I screwed up royally, but then fixed and they turned out to be pretty damn awesome.")

This little story begins with how I won the fuckwit of the year award.

You see, I'm the guy that plans to take his girlfriend away for a few days skiing/snowboarding in Italy. I'm also the guy that gets up at 5.30am this morning, makes sure he has all his gear packed before heading out to airport.
Then I'm the guy that puts his girlfriend on a plane by herself because he FORGOT TO TAKE HIS FUCKING PASSPORT.
That's right. I'm that stupid.
So angry....
We got to Gatwick Airport, Charlotte grabbed her passport out of her bag. I see her do this and my stomach leaps into my mouth.
"Got your passport?" She asked.
"FUCK!!" I'm panicking.
"You're kidding aren't you? You can't be serious?"
"No, not kidding. Fuck it."

Cue much swearing, mad rushing and trying to shift flights, but there's no time so put Charlotte on a plane and then proceed with much discussion with lady at Easyjet desk.
Apparently the only other flight to Milan today is full, so my only option is the flight tomorrow morning at 6.50am. But the only transfer I can get from the airport to the resort is at 3pm, meaning I don't arrive at the hotel until 5pm tomorrow afternoon.
We changed our flights so we can stay for an extra day and night, but fucking hell....
Nice way to sabotage a relationship/holiday.

So, after that little...err... mishap, I finally got on with the holiday.

Having had a day to dwell on my stupidity, I wrote myself a list of everything I needed to walk out the door with. Passport was written in capitals on top of the list. I ate some soup and went to bed.
(An aside: Later on I came up with the idea of having a velcro suit made, then sticking the corresponding velcro to all the important things I need to take whenever I'm travelling, ie: my passport. This would mean anytime I was had to go somewhere, I could just roll around in our room and everything I would need would be stuck to me. I could also have a suit made in the opposite velcro, and then put the corresponding velcro on all the items I need to say, go to work. If I rolled around our room, then I'd only pick up the items I needed for work, and my travel items, such as my passport wouldn't stick because everyone knows that the fluffy bits of velcro won't stick to each other. Man, am I a problem solver or what!?)


So I awoke with a start at 10 minute intervals from 2.00am through 3.20am, each time thinking I'd slept through my alarm and had missed my plane.
I rose at 3.30am. Got my stuff together and set off for the trusty night bus.
London at 4.00am is an entirely different creature. The air is crisp and there's a calm in the air. I felt energised as steam billowed out with each exhalation. I felt good finally being on my way.
In the back of my mind I worried I'd be caught out down 'Stab Alley', (the lovely little slum street near us) and mugged, however the closest thing to a threat was a wily fox that coolly snuck behind a fence as I approached.
I caught the bus at 4.07am. It was almost empty, warm and I felt really relaxed. Much nicer than my usual Friday morning commute. At Turnham Green a man boarded the bus wearing the fluorescent threads of a tube worker. Smiling, he greeted the 8 or so of us that were sat on the bottom deck of the bus and proceeded to hand out a Metro paper to everyone, accompanied by a cheery 'good morning!'
It was actually a really nice journey in as I had time to compose myself which I needed considering the past 24 hours' overload.
Getting to Victoria, I caught the 5.02 to Gatwick. Arrived at the airport at 5.47, checked in early and had a seat in the departure lounge and waited for boarding.
Had a chat to a nice Aussie guy from Adelaide called Andy and then caught a transfer bus to the plane which was waiting for us in what seemed to be a vacant field.
I was asleep before take-off. Which is weird because I particularly love the take-off part of a plane journey.
Waking up, I find I'm squished between an insurance broker named Emily and an unnamed man in a leather puffer jacket with the most porno moustache and hair I've ever seen.
Still tired, I put my rolled-up hoodie behind my neck and drift off again.

I rouse as we are passing over the alps and the view is amazing. I think I'm weirding the insurance broker out as she is in the window seat and I'm peering across her at the mountains which look like cream that's been whipped into firm peaks. I never realised the alps were so vast.
I expect I look like a small child, peering out the window and grinning foolishly. Insurance broker lady asks if airport is near Milan city centre and I explain how far from Milan it is in kilometres, minutes, how much the average cab fare is, how much a shuttle bus costs and how far away Milan's other two airports are. She looks bewildered and scared and I explain that I know this due to my frantic attempts to sort out the whole 'forgotten passport/trasferred flights' conundrum.
She finds this hilarious. I'm still not ready to laugh about it, so I nod and force a smile.

We touch down in Milan. Finally, I set my feet on solid ground in Italy. Relief.
On the horizon, I see the rocky, snow capped peaks of the Orobie Alps and all my tension, stress and anxiety dissolves.

A disinterested customs official punches my passport and I head through to the arrivals lounge where I know I have a 4.5 hour wait for my transfer to Presolana.
I buy an overpriced lunch panini, a water and some gum which is called Vigorsol. I chewed two pellets, read the label and then worried I'd end up with a four day erection. I swear I've had spam email with the words 'Discount Vigorsol' in the subject line.

I'm paranoid I'm going to miss my transfer, so I do all I can to stay awake. I decide to venture outside, however there's only carparks and no footpaths, so I return to the arrivals lounge to partake in some people watching.
I was of the impression that Milan was the fashion capital of the world. I think on an episode of America's Next Top Model that Charlotte was watching the other night, they described the style as 'Italian Sexuality'. I saw nothing that equated to anything even vaguely similar to this description.
Apparently if you're a man, you have to wear zip-up, roll neck knitwear, jeans with huge D&G embroidering all over them, a racing style leather jacket complete with Shell and Penzoil sew on badges, aviator sunglasses, nike runners (not stylish ones, but like cross trainers or something) and some unholy arrangement of facial hair.
If you're a woman, you must wear horribly cheap looking hooker boots, jeans with huge D&G embroidering all over them (perhaps they're unisex?), something that displays your adequate stomach protruding over said jeans and again, aviator sunglasses.
Oh, also you must be so orange that you'd outshine a bag of carrots.
The fashionistas and fasionmisters were all horribly unfashionable. there was no 'Italian Sexuality' unless sex in Italy is usually conducted in charity shop drop-off bins.
Watching these people, the time passed rather quickly.
Charlotte sends me a few messages lamenting the language barrier, the lack of ski lessons and the uphill walking in ski boots.
I make guilty apologies and vow to be there soon.
A ray of sunshine enters through the automatic doors as Carlo, my friendly transfer driver walks in carrying a piece of paper with my name on it.
I jump up and resist the urge to hug the man that will finally take me to my intended destination. (Hmm... I expect this may turn up some hits from people searching for homo-erotic literature)
As we travel through Milan and into Bergamo, I pull out my camera as the alps loom higher and higher above me.
I learn about the local textile industry, the river and the abundance of activities the resort offers. Seamless salesmanship from Carlo.
I arrive at the hotel at 5.40pm. For those of you who don't follow maths, that's 14 hours since I left home.
By this stage I am so excited, I rush out of the van, and attempt to check in at the reception desk. This proves difficult as the lovely man behind the desk doesn't have the greatest command of the English language.
Carlo brings me my camera which I left on the van. (Note to self: Need the velcro suit)
Hands are shaken, Carlo leaves and I head up to our room.
Charlotte arrives back at the hotel a short time later and I sit on the bed with her and laugh as relief washes over me and I'm so happy to finally be there.
Showered, clothed and feeling fresh we decide to descend the mountain for dinner.
We go to Pizza il Rustico for dinner and we eat the best pizzas I've had. Proffering a mashed-up Italio-English-mime-a-thon, we also manage to order a nice bottle of red and tasty dessert.
Full and content we walk back up the hill to our hotel, and fall into bed where I sleep like a narcoleptic on Ambien. Which is extremely well, in case my analogy reads stupidly.

Morning, and I open the shutters to reveal a sun kissed mountain peak surrounded by thousands of pointy green pines.
We get our stuff sorted, head downstairs for breakfast of fresh mortadella, cheese, rolls, home made croissants and coffee.
We then dress and catch the ski-bus (which I thought Carlo was calling the 'caboose') up to the slopes.
It's sub zero temperatures, but there's not a cloud in the sky and the sun is warm on my face.
We hire Charlotte a snowboard and then trudge up the hill a little way where we go through the basics and then begin the potentially volatile process of me teaching her to snowboard.

What can I say. She's good.
When I was working at the ski resort in the US, I usually ran a lift on the beginners slope so had a good understanding of the steep learning curve involved in snowboarding. As such I had expectations that like most beginners, she'd spend the most of the day skidding on her butt, be completely disenfranchised with snowboarding by lunch time and possibly have called me all manner of bad words and left by 2pm.

After an hour and a half, Charlotte was getting up on her own and was doing really well...
I put it down to my superior instructional methods, although I'd be lying if I didn't say she did really really well. I was the proudest person on the mountain. Also, I had the sorest knees on the mountain from kneeling and explaining things on hard snow.

So we snowboarded, we rode a lift up the mountain (much to the dismay of Charlotte who upon boarding, remembered she really didn't like lifts at all, but still calmed herself down very bravely) and we sat in the sun and ate lunch.
I haven't had such a good day in a long, long time.

Sore, bruised and tired, we retired to the hotel where we rested a while before heading out for a stroll around the lovely village of Bratto. We went for ice cream, wandered past shops filled with cured meats, fresh made pasta, all manner of cheeses and then found a nice place to have a coffee. (Sure, it sounds like something out of some gay romantic foreign film, but I promise you I didn't have a jumper tied around my neck.)
We sipped on tasty lattes (Boy, does that sound wanky or what?) and watched in no particular order, a burly man pump endless euros into a slot machine, a waitress casually chat with her friend at a table, said burly man drink shots of grapper/ouzo and a midget come in with a friend to order something I didn't understand.
Not being one to racially stereotype, I suggested to Charlotte that the midget was the Mario you start out with in Super Mario Brothers before you punch that second brick and get the mushroom which makes him go bigger.
She shook her head and told me I was a horrible person.

We then sauntered back up hill, taking photos of the sunset all the way to our hotel where we readied ourselves for dinner.
Dinner was a three course extravaganza at the hotel restaurant, cooked by the lovely man who greeted me at the reception desk. Again we mangled pronunciations successfully and had ourselves a three course meal encompassing veal, venison, lasagne, gnocchi, amaretto, pear and chocolate torte and a bottle of chianti.
Thoroughly satisfied, we paid our outstandings, received a complimentary shot of local liquor and headed up to bed full, drunk and happily exhausted.
Waking to the alarm, we packed everything up and got ready to leave. I checked that I had everything. I then checked again, just in case. And I repeated this four more times.
Satisfied that we had everything we needed, we met Carlo at 7am and headed back to the airport.
We ate a horrific airport breakfast, then boarded our flight and sighed as we soared up and away from what could possibly go down as the best short holiday ever.
Like excited school kids, we took photos as we passed back over the alps and then watched quietly as small white coastal cliffs, and then the green patchwork of rural England slid past below us.
We waited for our bags at the 'Wheel of Fortune' baggage carousel. Charlotte's bag came almost instantly, however after half an hour and watching another flight's worth of luggage be spewed up and hauled away by it's owners, we decided my snowboard bag had possibly fell out of the plane somewhere over France and so headed to Lost Baggage.
The guy ahead of me was lamenting his smashed up cello, which had been labelled as 'Fragile'. Unfortunately this probably meant very little to a non-Enlgish-speaking baggage handler in Italy. they might as well have written "Smash this thing up please" on it.
The man behind the counter then explained to me that oversize baggage goes to Zone 10. This isn't made known to anyone at all, so frustrated at having waited for so long for no reason, we grab my snowboard bag and head off to catch a train home.
Train is filled with Chelsea supporters and we cram into the door way. After 40 or so minutes of idiotic, Stella fuelled football banter everyone disembarks at Victoria.
Charlotte and I are walking towards the gates when a shockwave runs through me.
"Oh Shit!"
'What is it now!?" She asks.
"My bag. Where's my backpack!?"
"Oh my god..." She shakes her head. (Again, need velcro suit. Need it now.)
So I rush back to the train, where there is no sign of my bag. I report it to lost property, the train cleaners and anyone else that doesn't walk away from me like I'm a crazy man foretelling the coming apocalypse. I tell them all it contains some books, clothes, my camera (SHIT!) and ironically, my travel insurance documentation.
We resolve to call Gatwick once we get home to see if they have my bag and hopefully avert a bomb scare caused by a suspicious Fitness First backpack sitting on Platform 2.
Walking down to the District Line, the hand-scrawled sign informs us that the District line only runs to Earl's Court and then the Piccadilly only runs to Hammersmith.
Sighing and already lamenting being back in Scuzz City, we catch the District line, change to the Piccadilly, then alight at Hammersmith and join the 200m queue for the replacement bus service.
Around an hour later I walk through the door at home, throw down my snowboard bag and lie on the couch while Charlotte picks up some ciders and falafel wraps for our lunch.
Whilst I'm stressed over the loss of my bag and all it contains, I'm glad to be home and am already recalling the relaxation and fun of the trip.
Charlotte brings in sustenance and we flop onto the couch where we spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

It was nice to be home. But it's even nicer to be in Italy.
Eventually, I got a call back from Gatwick who had my bag and everything it contains! Hooray for honest people!

I hereby declare that there shall be no more stupidity on my behalf and that I'm not going to forget important things anymore.

I'll post the photos up on Facebook soon and flick y'all the link.

The moral of this story is: Don't travel with me. I'm an idiot.

Lazy bastard

That's me.
Too lazy to post...
Well, not completely lazy- I mean, things have been happening. In fact, all manner of shit has been happening. Christmas for one. That happened.
2007 slunk away into the night like the wimpy bitch of a year it was...
2008 came along and brought along a truckload of goodies including a trip to Italy, (which is to be detailed in the next post) a new house (Whitechapel is awesome and West London is totally herpes) and a whole host of other interesting things.

I'm still kicking away at work... Same old same old.
I now have more time to myself though as I've cut down my total daily commute from around 2 and a half hours to about 40. Hell yeah.
No more leaving home when it's still dark.

Charlotte and I have got a fair bit planned for the coming year. Some more hard work for a couple of months, then we head off around the middle of the year for a couple of months (hopefully) of sightseeing through Europe.

Which will be way more ace than sitting in dreary London.

So,we'll now have more updates, more often. (Say that in a radio voice, you'll sound cool)

Check back for more betterness.