Sunday, 10 May 2009

Ends and Beginnings

Hi there folks. I've been sitting around for hours now trying to summon the energy to start summing up the most important 6 months of my life so far for your reading pleasure. And in these hours it's occurred to me that I just can't do it.

There are so many things that happened to me. So many stories that I'm aching to tell you. But some things can never be. Those months were my own, and mine alone. Even if I could somehow harness language and memory well enough to retell everything it would be for naught. Already trying to tell stories to friends and family is frustrating me. I can't do them justice. People can't understand. It doesn't get me down though. It's just the way of things for the weary traveller.

So I thought about posting about my favourite cities, or telling some of the memorable moments, but I get the feeling it'd be too banal. This blog has always been about me going with how I'm feeling above all else, and I feel that now's the time to say goodbye. So I'll keep this short.

To the readers out there, thank you for reading. It means a lot more to me than I'd care to admit that there are people out there perusing my humble collection of words.

To my family and friends from home, thanks for supporting me through the tough times. Thanks for taking my skype calls and responding to my emails, and helping me get through the ice and rain.

To the friends I met on my travels, thankyou for making my trip that little bit more interesting and for being yourselves. Many of you were so different to me, and I loved meeting you and seeing a different side of the coin. I hope we can keep in contact.

A million more things need to be said. Another million don't. Thanks again everyone. This is the end of Magazine Theory, but I'm sure another few blogs are on the horizon soon, knowing me.

Take care now,


Tuesday, 5 May 2009


I'm in Singapore for one more day. Tomorrow is home time. It's hard to imagine that 6 months has gone by, and that I've seen and been through so much since then. It's crazy to think that back then I was a kid who'd never been out of Australia, and 6 months later I've seen 3 other continents, 17 countries and almost 100 cities. That's something.

So what have I been doing with myself in Singapore? Nothing really. I've been asleep for maybe three quarters of the time I've spent here, and that's just fine by me. Getting past the jetlag and the lingering cold. That being said, I've been enjoying it here. The weather would be unbearable for me to live in, but it's fine in short bursts. And what a relief it is to be able to walk around a city where everyone speaks English, where no one hassles you for money, and where cars drive on the left! And I'm the only white guy in sight: just like home.

Q: Does it freak you out to be surrounded only by Asians?
A: No, but it does freak me out to walk down streets full of Asian drivers.

Yeah, the traffic situation is pretty amusing.

So I've been thinking about how I'm going to wrap this whole thing up. I started this blog before the trip, but it seems to have evolved into a travel blog of sorts, and even though I didn't intend this, it now seems the natural thing to close the lid on this one soon, and move on to making the next blog. So after a bit of R'n'R back home, I think I'm going to write a series of summary posts and then close shop on Magazine Theory. You know, like about trip highlights, favourite places, what I learned, those sorts of things.

So stay tuned a little longer folks, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


Today I saw Auschwitz.

Black Holes and Revelations

I've been doing a lot of thinking this week. Time is running out but it's not moving very fast. The number of days remaining on the the trip trickle down the drain but get stuck there, like so much pubic hair. Damn hostel bathrooms.

So I've been wrestling with a lot of things. I won't bore you with all the details. I just wanted to make a point about one of my many revelations, which, like most, always seem to strike me in the midnight hour (or later) when there's no one else around. So here it is:

I am grateful for all of the trials that I have endured and will continue to endure, because no matter how shitty they might be, they grant me two gifts. They give me inspiration for my writing, and they equip me with knowledge which can be used to help prevent my brothers going through some of that suffering.

Friday, 24 April 2009

New Lows.

I've done all my washing. There's no dryer here. Everything is still wet. Only now do I realise I have nothing to wear to bed. Only now do I realise I have no underpants other than the ones I'm wearing. How did it come to this?

Monday, 20 April 2009

Uncomfortably Numb

Today there are 17 days to go until home but I can’t see it that way. Instead it’s only day 3 of no Emma. It’s hard. I feel weird.

I don’t feel the way I expected to. It hasn’t been killing me up inside like I thought. I watched the sunrise over Burgundy while the tracks pulled me away, thinking everything was going to be okay. Then the weight of the day crushed in on me and I got frightened. The last time I really felt afraid was the night I arrived in Chicago.

I’m moving in circles. I don’t want the hostel life anymore. Outside the void is cold and solitary. Look everywhere and see arms but none of them are out to hug me. If they were I wouldn't want 'em.

I’m drawing out tasks to stop myself being bored. I could see Warsaw in a day but I won’t. I’m trying to think about home to distract me but it isn’t working. I’m looking at photos from Thuy’s party but I can only smile with half my mouth. That twisted feeling’s back in my stomach. In Decize every thought of home made me so happy. Every skype call a chance to showcase. Everything excitement.

Everything was better.

Now I’ve gone backwards. I’m not ready to go home again. The thought of it frightens me. I start thinking real loud. How am I going to cope with the return? I’m sick and feverish now, my boosted travel immunity eroded. What if I’ve lost other things? What if I lose my immunity to poison people? There are a lot of them out there and they know where I live.

Emma’s left on her trip with Elodie. Makes things harder somehow. I feel further away then ever. Imagine how I’ll feel in a few weeks. I don’t like this but maybe it’s a price I have to pay. Maybe nothing’s supposed to fit so easily. Nothing’s supposed to be so perfect. Maybe we’re paying for it now in installments of months or years.

Don’t worry anybody. I’m fine. I just don’t know how to feel. I’m restless and numb and I can’t explain. Adjusting to this isn’t something I could imagine. It’s like trying to learn to live without skin.

… and in today’s ironic moment, as I finish this blog my iTunes on random plays ‘For Emma’.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Speak, Memory

Sitting at a table in an apartment with two French women and my girlfriend. The halting flow of semi-translated conversations. Jokes about me, about us, fly past me in another language. I try to grasp them as if trying to catch the wind in my hand. I watch the faces, the gestures, the expressions. I look at eyes. I listen to the animated stories with eyes, not ears.

Elsa mimes playing a violin. Now it's years ago, and I'm sitting at the kitchen table at Nonna's house in Elizabeth Street. The gaudy, colourful tiles surround me, comforting me on some level. This place is like a second home, in a way no other place has ever felt before or since. Mum is there, next to me at the table. Nonna is behind my mum, at her usual spot at the stove. Maybe she's making lunch. Maybe lunch is over and she's cleaning up. Nonno sits in his chair, the one closest to the door to the dining room. Behind him on the wall is the funny photograph of the pig, with the caption "Those who indulge bulge."

Nonno lights a cigarette and Nonna scolds him. Maybe in Italian or maybe in English. Scolding sounds the same either way. Nonno blows smoke rings, little circles expanding into infinity. Kieran is looking at the smoke rings with a strange look on his little face, his big glasses seeming to magnify it. I watch the smoke in amazement even though I've seen this trick before many times.

Everyone's talking but I don't know what about. Someone must have been complaining about something, and Nonno stubs out his cigarette in the ashtray and carefully draws an imaginary bow and plays a tune on an imaginary violin. Mum makes the face of a thousand memories, going further back in time then I can imagine possible at that age. Nonna shakes her head and says something. I can taste the smoke lingering in the air.

Now I'm 14 in the hospital seeing him for the last time. So much is happening in my life and I can't concentrate. This is the first time that I really have no grasp of a situation. Nonna is there fidgeting in the chair next to the bed. She gets up and moves around a lot. Nonno makes several lewd jokes about the nurses and Nonna tells him off half-seriously. The look on her face is hard for me to understand. My brothers and I are all pretty quiet. I guess we always are.

Nonno is wearing striped pyjamas. I think. I remember dark colours, like red and brown. I remember him leaning forward and sitting up in bed, and the gap between the buttons on the pyjama pants showing me a flash of pubic hair. I am acutely aware at this moment that I've never seen him or maybe anyone so exposed. I still can't make sense of anything. I'm shut off inside.

I can feel the sharp bristles of his unshaven cheek as I kiss him goodbye for the last time. At that moment I think to myself that I can't remember ever having kissed him before and I wonder why. I remember his smell that day more than any other day. For years afterwards I hold on to a jumper of his that Nonna gave me afterward. It was ugly and too big but it smelled like him still. I wore it to bed a lot until one day Mum threw it away. I was very sad that day.

Now I'm in an apartment with two French girls and my girlfriend. I'm quiet but I guess I usually am, especially in this context. Still, perhaps picking up on something, Emma turns to me and asks if I am okay.
I nod.
"I'm okay."

Saturday, 11 April 2009

In Decize, 1 am

Can't sleep. Everytime my head touches the pillow I hear my heartbeat pounding through my skull. Doesn't matter which side of my head. All sides equally amplify. Maybe it was the wine. Maybe it was the cheese. Cheese is probably not the best idea before bed. Maybe I'll have nightmares again.

These days are passing too fast. It only occurred to me 5 minutes ago when I realised it is now the 11th of April. I have less than a week. God damn it.

It's funny how certain numbers are time thresholds. In this instance, it was the calendar getting to 11. Not the jump into double digits but the number 11. Another example is when I consider it to be 'late' at night. It always happens at 37 past. The hour varies depending on when I have to be up. On a night I had to work in the morning, it became late at exactly 12.37am. On a normal night it would be 1.37am. Sometimes 2.37am. Probably more often it's 2.37. It's always at 37 past. I don't know why that is.

It's a good thing I came here. Aside from the obvious reasons, I'm just glad I've had France redeemed for me. Paris ate my soul in January and I had to get back into this country to get it back. The French outside of Paris really are better in every way. It can be tiresome at times I suppose. The double-kiss hello grates on me sometimes. On the whole though, I've been liking the feel of the culture. The food has been good. I've had a few home cooked meals with French families that have been delicious. Eating copious amounts of bread and cheese has been good too. It stirs up a lot of memories of home, and a happier time before Grant Street got out of hand.

I went and helped baby sit some French kids which was a blast. I'm not sure whether or not to be proud of the fact, but I totally kicked one of the kids asses at Mario Kart Wii. I was going to let him win, but he was trash-talking me in French so I rose to the occasion. After that things got physical. Spent a few hours having kids piling on top of me on the floor. Then I had the bright idea to start picking them up, throwing them up, spinning them round, hanging them upside down, and all the other tricks in the repertoire. They got a little over-excited. It'll be interesting to see how it goes down when I see them again this week.

So it's Easter weekend now. For a change this is a public holiday weekend where I'm not feeling alone and homesick. Nothing will go wrong for me this time. This last week has been without doubt the only time in this whole trip that I've felt truly 'at home' someplace. Even in Letterkenny with the family it wasn't this good. I'm almost too relaxed.

I wonder how I'll go for the last phase of my trip: Poland and Singapore. I guess it would be natural to think those would be two separate phases, but I'm not thinking of things in geographical terms. I have an overwhelming sense that I've found the last piece of the Triforce (if I can go all Zelda: Ocarina of Time on you). I've found so many things on this trip. So many pieces of myself that I had unknowingly scattered across the world. I've reached the end of the road of self-discovery for the time being. My quest is over. Now the last phase left is the homecoming.

Of course, that doesn't mean I still don't have a few more adventures to have along the way.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Soldier of Fortune

Today I can't stop thinking about the way things change. It was only a few weeks ago that I was walking around Rijeka in a state of solitary delusion, thinking about buying Croatian porno magazines. Tomorrow I'm going to be in France with my girlfriend. It doesn't seem real.

I should probably pause here to mention to anyone reading this that doesn't know me very well, that I am not and have never been a 'porn guy'. This fact might give a little more insight into just how drastically different I felt a few weeks back. I've never owned porn. Never bought, stole or borrowed any. Never even downloaded any on the internet. You could say I'm the antithesis of Ian, who is probably at this very moment working on some sort of radio device to implant into his dental plate that can vibrate pornographic images through his ossicles and directly into his brain.

But enough about porn.

The important thing is how I'm feeling right now: peaceful. I feel like I'm standing in a fixed spot, watching the world turn slowly on its axis, pushing me slowly into the sunlight. This trip has really taught me to enjoy the moment. There's no more fears or anxieties. There's still a future or many futures, but I'll take that as it comes. Right now I'm content to bask in the sunshine. It feels wonderful.

I feel like I've stopped resisting some half-imagined force that's shadowed me for years. And when I stopped pushing, it didn't overwhelm me, didn't crush my bones into the dust. It stopped pushing too. A stalemate. A balance point.

I'm free-writing again and I'm a little surprised myself at what's coming out. I just feel good. I feel like I can do anything again. I've felt like this so many times during the trip. Each time I feel it I grow that little bit more in confidence. I have to hold on to this feeling. I have to apply it to other aspects of my life beyond the personal.

Cheap Thrills

About an hour ago I was walking around Unter den Linden thinking about the crowds and experimenting with body language. It's amazing how much your body language can influence those around you. Sick of getting stuck behind slow-walkers and bumped out of the way by bull-walkers, I decided to shake things up. Stuck my chest out and my shoulders back. Got into character. Set my eyes kinda hard-like and walked with a slight swagger. Suddenly I had right of way. It was beautiful.

It was in this assumed tough-guy stance that a gypsy boy tried to attach himself to me like a parasite. I had my headphones on but he didn't mind. Asked if I could speak English. I shook my head and kept moving but he fell into step, with a smile and a laugh. Started to say something else. Knew I was an English speaker. Lucky for me, unlucky for him, I was too far into character to even be thinking. I just reacted. Burned a hole in his little head with my eyes. Stuck my finger in his face and told him to Fuck Off.

Should have seen the look in his eyes. Like he'd just been slapped. Took him a few heartbeats to get his head around the situation. Fell out of step with me. I had already won. Still, he had a little fight left in him. Caught up to me with a little skip, bounced his hands off his chest and threw his arms out. "Yeah... yeah... well fuck you! Fuck you!" His creaky adolescent boy-voice let him down. I laughed at his quavering, gave him a sideways glance and was gone. His feeble voice echoed after me down the street, each repetition a little more pitiful.

I walked home grinning.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Double Happy

The blood of the road still pumps through these veins.
The end is in sight but it's not here yet.
It's been a long cold lonely winter, but here comes the sun.
My listlessness and lethargy disappeared as soon as I got to Berlin.
The TV Tower looks down at me with it's ugly cross-shaped smile.
I stood on the dirt above where Hitler blew his brain out, and smiled.
I have a bottle of cherry-flavoured shower gel.
Yesterday I saw Bob play.
That sack of bones has still got it.
I have a train ticket to see my baby.
I can see the 'Die Welt' balloon rising into the skyline.
Tourists stand, looking out at the city.
Die Welt.
The World
is mine.
I can do anything and nothing can stand in my way except my own shadow.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Mission Accomplished.

Nervous breakdown avoided.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Hello again, old friend

It's been a few weeks since we last crossed paths. I think maybe I was avoiding you. I don't want to say I missed you. That would mean I'm getting dependent and that's the last thing I need.

In any case, you're here again now, back in my life as if you never left in the first place. Your voice is hissing in my ears like static buzz. It's making me dizzy like I'm watching the test pattern on the tv at 4am. You've turned me upside down again like you always do. I can already tell that any vague ideas I had about plans for the day have gone out the window. When you're around I can't think straight. I'm just gonna sit here awhile and try to stop the edges of my world from spinning.

You're giving me a headache. I'm not stressed out, but I can't relax properly when you're around. I want to just lie and listen to music, but I can't concentrate with you there. There's a sour taste in my mouth because of you. The people in my room aren't too happy about you either. You're too disruptive.

But I can't stay mad at you. I know we're going to keep doing this to each other. Always coming and going. You're never fully here but never quite gone. I'm glad when you're not around, but I still think about you.

Maybe it won't last forever. Maybe it will. In the meantime there's nothing for it but to welcome you back into my life, old friend.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Deutsches Museum

Today I went to the Deutsches Museum, not really knowing what to expect. Museums can be hit or miss. I hadn't been to one in a long time, so I was prepared for the worst case scenario: seeing the exact same things as any other museum. Things got off to a good start when I pulled off my usual 'I'm still a student' scam, and got in for 3 euros instead of 8. I wandered inside, cheerful to be out of the bitter cold and cheerful to have enough change to catch the U-Bahn back again later.

The place was enormous. I didn't know where to start so I just walked. I found myself in a hall full of engines and motors, electrical equipment, cranks to turn, buttons to press, explosions going off in the distance, electricity dancing off coils. It was like being in a mad scientist's laboratory. I was entranced. I hadn't expected this at all. I wandered around, and gazed for a time at a massive Porsche engine that could get a 1 and a half tonne car to 100km/h in 5.9s. I stared in wonder at the poorly translated information, and I marveled at the contraption itself. It's strange metallic parts. Pistons and pumps and all things that I don't know the slightest thing about. Not for the first time in my life, I felt that strange pang, that wistful fleeting feeling, that wish that that spark of interest was just that bit bigger and I could be more like Dad and be into the car thing.

I wandered through every field of science, a new one in each room. It's easy to see why so many scientists (or 'natural philosophers' as it were) were multi-disciplinary beings, following their diverse interests to wherever they took them. The world's too damn interesting to specialise in just one thing.

Then I found the good stuff: the aviation section, and the space section. I wandered around taking photos of flying things like my life depended on it. I felt a bit giddy, and I must have been grinning like an idiot.

I don't know how many hours I wandered through that enormous place... more than 3 but I'm not sure how many more. It was a good day. After that I went walking in the soft snow-flaky air until I found myself at Odeonsplatz. I bought a hot chocolate at a Starbucks to warm my hands, and kept walking towards the hostel. In an underpass a young German-speaker approached me asking for help. He didn't know how to get to Ostbahnhof. What is it about me? I always get asked these things. Matt the Integrator. He was a cute kid, roughly my age, and I tried to help him out as best I could. I walked on, whistling to myself and passing the hot plastic cup from hand to hand.

I think the reason I enjoyed the museum so much is that it made me remember something about myself. Something I haven't thought about for a really long time: that I am such a boy sometimes. Haha.

I knew I should have got drunk last night.

Apparently some Asian dude from California got into a fight outside the hostel bar this morning at about 4am. I got up and found blood on the stairs. Apparently the cops came and hauled him away about 7am, shortly before I got up to the sound of heavy drills and Bavarian construction worker banter.

Analyse my stream-of-consciousness if you dare.

There was always going to come a time when you had to make a choice, but how could you ever expect it to be so hard? The last thing on your mind that night was the view from your bedroom window, and the first thing you remember when you woke up was the cold numbness of my hands in the soft morning. The kaleidoscope life wasn’t for you, but you couldn’t help but twist. The last time you felt this way was watching the sun rise over the bird’s flute solo, the gold light bouncing off tomorrow’s hope, the tear in your eye drying in the wind on Hobart Street. It wasn’t a beginning and it wasn’t an end but at least the sound of your heart beat in time to the steps on the asphalt.

The scarf around your neck held on for dear life, but rigor mortis had already set in on your coat. The pockets wept out your belongings. The dizzy gypsies followed your futile fluted song and wept tears of disbelief. The salesman looked on in disapproval, adjusted his tie and stepped backwards on to the train tracks. The train danced by and stole his soul. The salesman got up, dusted himself off and ran a hand through his toupee as if combing a camel. He had to get to work. Yesterday the children ran through the streets singing kindergarten songs and beating up Arabs. Tomorrow the songs will have their revenge.

The balcony crumbled inwards as I scrunched up the piece of paper. The words on the page were already sure of their fate. Theirs was a cruel life. They were born knowing. They weren’t bound for glory, weren’t bound at all. Not even stapled. Just tossed, but saved the indignity of shredding.

Blake went down to the grocery store but nobody loved him so he bought a razor sharp pineapple and sat in the aisle trying to eat it skin and all. The spines stuck into his face and he looked like a puffer fish, if puffer fish could bleed. He died there but no one noticed. The old man complained but he couldn’t get the discount he rightfully deserved. Just take my own damn money old man. Just take it and shut the hell up.

They can’t do this to me. They can’t do this to us. We have rights and we will march into the streets and shout It in the faces of the clocks. The babies will be peeled from the prams and shaken, shaken, shaken, not stirred. Fuck the hell off with your headscarf. Go back to your own goddamn country and just shut the fuck up. Circumcise your women and sacrifice your lives for nothing. Live in fear and ignorance, just stay the hell away from us. We’re innocent.

Power to the people. Power to the masses. Power to the dangerous lunatics. March on. Don’t let the dogs catch our heels. Gas them, shoot them, hit them with your riot shields. We’re not stopping for anyone.

Billy fell in love. He couldn’t believe she felt the same way. He didn’t know what he had done to deserve someone so precious but he couldn’t waste time thinking about that. They ran away and got married. She was unfaithful and he knew but he loved her so he learned to deal with it. Once he was unfaithful too and then she left him.

Why can’t I write anything happy tonight? What the fuck is wrong with me? Why can’t I get my head on straight?


Just writing a 4 letter word and my heart goes bang bang bang like it’s trying to escape. Pericardium. What are the odds of two best friends from Perth both falling for girls from the Midwest that they met in Europe? I’m not copying him.

Why is she different to the rest of the Americans I’ve met?
She seems honest. She laughs at me but in a good way.
I can be myself around her.
When I talk to her I feel good about being Australian.
She listens and pays attention far more than most people.
She is so sexy. It’s like a crazy energy field I can almost see in a glow or taste in the electricity in the air. It’s something about the way she carries herself. She exudes… something.
She’s passionate about life.
She’s confident but not at the expense of other people.

But what do I really know? Julia thinks I’m crazy to have feelings for people I barely know. But how the fuck else do you ever get anywhere with people if you don’t start somewhere?

Keep your mouth shut. Keep your chin up. Take heart. Smile more. Don’t be afraid of getting hurt. Take more chances. Don’t take risks. Keep a regular diary. Have a plan. Have goals. Have a Career. Check that you have your wallet and credit card. Don’t look at anyone the wrong way. Don’t look at maps. Don’t look lost. Don’t start trouble. Watch out for dog shit in the street. Don’t fall for the scams. Don’t admit you can speak English to anyone in a train station. Don’t get too involved. Don’t let it get you down. Take deep breaths. Take time to yourself. Take care. Mind the gap. Don’t have hurt feelings. Don’t worry.

Will this clear my head, focus my thoughts, level my head, ease my mind? Maybe I should have just got drunk tonight.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Mood Swings and Angry Cooking

I don't know what my problem is today. I think the sleep deprivation might have finally pushed me over the edge. I've been sitting around rainy, depressing Zagreb doing nothing and hating on myself.

I managed to get real sleep last night, which is perhaps why I'm really annoyed now. I thought I'd feel better, but apparently the sleep debt still has a few repayments due. It might even have accrued interest. In any case, I got up determined to do something with myself, so I ate 4 bananas (the only thing I had that resembled a breakfast) and disappeared into the city streets. I should have known right away that something was wrong, but I still had residual happiness lingering in my psyche. I thought it'd be enough to get me through.

So I'm walking down the street and I'm thinking about throwing myself in front of a speeding tram. Then I'm thinking about beating the hell out of a gyspy in the street, crying out for change. Then I'm drifting through history thinking about the violence in human nature. Then I realise I'm lost. How did this happen? I only took one turn and yet I'm hopelessly awash at sea. The rain is in my hair and in my shoes. I feel like shit. I hate Zagreb and I can't be fucked with any of this tourist shit any more.

So I rally. I go through the motions of all the things that usually cheer me up. I pick a goal and follow it through: get something to eat and get back to the hostel. I do this, but it isn't enough. I hit the computer and I want to write something but I'm just so damn sick of myself that I sit impotently at the blank screen.

I get on the internet and talk to pretty much every friend I have in this world on a combination of Skype, MSN and Facebook chat, and impossibly, I still hate myself. What is going on here? I try another walk and nothing. I start stewing in it. I think awful thoughts, and I think them real loud. I want to get back, get on the blog and just rip myself apart for everyone to see. I guess in a way that's what I'm doing now, even though I no longer intend it.

I realise that I need to get some dinner so I go out to find something. I don't want to eat out, I don't want to be around people I don't want anyone looking at me. Somehow I can't find the supermarkets, even though I've been to two just the day before. I'm getting really worked up. There's a storm inside me that's far worse than the weather outside.

Eventually I find the stores and I calm down enough to walk inside in a composed way. Inside a crazy woman is wreaking havoc with the staff, making outrageous demands in Croatian, scratching her hands, her string-hair shaking. I want to just snap her neck.

Later I've calmed down. I'm in the hostel chatting with a nice Canadian guy with a cool sense of humour. We seem to 'get' each other. After a chat I decide to make myself dinner. I've picked up some rice, some frozen vegetables and some kind of Asian mystery sauce. (I can't read the label). For some reason whenever I'm feeling angry, sad, self-pitying or self-destructive I end up attempting to cook. So far everything I've made is edible. It shits me not being able to make anything decent. I hate having to buy minimal and shitty quality things. I have no choice. No storage space, can't take things with me, can't trust people not to steal my shit.

This day was a mess. When I get back I'm going to cook something real.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Somewhere between Buda and Pest with a fistful of Florints

Left things a bit late chatting on facebook and had to run to the train station in Vienna. Caught my train to Budapest with seconds to spare. Rode along with Radiohead in my ears, trying to catch my breath and sucking down apples like some people do cigarettes.

Got into Budapest and felt that electric buzz in my heart that I haven't felt about a city since Munich. Went and changed my 200 Euros for something like 60,000 Florints, feeling like a high roller. Caught the metro to the hostel and even the subway winds smelled good to me.

Got to the Goat Hostel and was greeted most warmly by Steve. Gave me the low-down, hooked me with maps and suggestions and I took off for the markets with a grin on my face and a scarf on my neck. Everything is good, everything is cheap. Eastern European songs playing in the background, groceries plentiful and the people friendlier than I'm used to. Makes me want to go all the way to Russia just to see if it gets any better. Between France and here, it just gets friendlier the further East I go.

Decided to climb the highest point in the city, the hill with the citadel at the top so off I went, racing against the sun. I won. Photos, photos, more photos. Couldn't get the grin off my face, crossing the bridge, thinking about New York and so grateful for everything on this trip. Budapest is on the list of favourite cities.

It's like someone up there is looking out for me. Yesterday I was real low. Made an idiot of myself in front of new friends because of it. I always say to myself that tomorrow will be better, but who could predict I'd feel this good?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Premature Thoughts About 'Home'

The other day I was thinking a lot about the forecast depression that supposedly awaits me on my return to Perth. Being the emotional, susceptible person that I am, it wouldn't surprise me if said depression does eventuate. For a time I was sure that it would. Then I went through a phase of being so excited about the future, so ripped and ready and roaring to go, so full of plans, full of beans, footloose and fancy-free, that I was sure that I wouldn't.

There are about a million things I want to do when I get back. And all these plans and schemes and hopes and dreams are THE thing that is pulling me back to Australia. It occurred to me then, that this might be the way that the post-travel depression was sneakily preparing an attack on my flank. Perhaps all this exuberance is what's going to ultimately destroy me? Maybe the confidence that I can make things happen the way I want is going to turn out to be my Achilles heel.

This is probably truer than I'd care to think about. There's been plenty of times in my Perth life that I've had great ideas and felt highly motivated and have ended up doing nothing with them. Often it seems that my ideas require the input of others that are equally motivated, and when I can't find that support, I crumble. Maybe the person I am now can make things happen, can keep the momentum rolling through whatever obstacles. Or maybe not.

Long story short, when I get back, if things aren't going the way I want them to, I think I'm going to move away. If I can't start the new life I want in Perth than that's too bad. I can't wait any more.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

City Expectation Reversal # 1

So Rome is everything I thought New York would be and vice versa. Rome is the dirty, intimidating, frightening city, with filth and graffiti in the streets, dodgy looking characters, and mysterious dead bodies outside the Termini. Frightening, but broken up with extremely beautiful architecture. Meanwhile New York was the safe, fun, beautiful place, that seemed like some kind of magic.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Travel dreams

These days it seems there's just two types of dreams that come to me late in the night. The first is I'm walking endlessly through the streets of the city I'm in, just walking and walking. Searching maybe. Tired. It goes on and on. Sometimes I get lost and panic, though that never happens to me in the waking realm. It's all so vivid and real, like my mind photographed the streets and played them back to me. Often this dream happens on the first night at a new place, when I literally have only seen streets once. Sometimes when I wake up the next day I go to somewhere I've already navigated in my head that night.

It's weird.

The other dream is that I've gone home. Not to stay. I just dream that I go home for a little while because I'm so tired. I dream that I've just stopped over in Perth on my way to the next location. Sometimes this stresses me out in the dream, like I'm calculating how much money and time I've lost flying all that way out just to return to Europe in a few days. Other times I don't mind so much.

It's really weird.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Venice Part 3 – Matt's life becomes a bizarre, surrealist drama

So having seen pretty much all there is to see in Venice in about 2 hours, I had to figure out things to do that weren’t going to kill the budget. This can be challenging in a city like this, totally geared towards the tourist industry. It’s crazy the variation in prices you see. I’ve been going pretty well so far though.

So a couple of American girls showed up and I took them around, being the tour guide. I got a real kick out of it, because it was only a day ago that I was hopeless, lost, depressed and wet-socked. Now I was the master, weaving through the streets, teaching them what to look out for, and how to navigate. Taught them a few Italian words. Took them to the Piazza and took more photos there, because the weather was a million times more beautiful. We walked for hours, just hanging out.

During the walk I thought a lot about Australian-American relations. I just don’t feel like I can fit in with Americans. I don't really know why, but I really struggle. It's not like it's hard to find things in common, but I just feel like somehow I don't belong. I don't know, maybe I'm nuts.
I thought that one of the girls, Kimberly was particularly good-looking, so I was thinking a lot about her but I soon stopped that. I think I've finally given resigned myself to solidarity. Even if it wasn't for my impossible situation as a tourist, I don't think I fit in anywhere anyway.

We returned to the hostel and the girls went somewhere on their own for awhile. I drank a 2 euro bottle of wine and made a sandwich from the groceries I had to re-buy thanks to mystery food-stealing jerk. The Canadian girls from the night before showed up. Their food had been stolen too so we related. We hung out for a bit and made plans for a piss-up that night. They left to get wine. I was drunk already (it was maybe 5 o’clock) so I figured I’d better make the trek to the supermarket to resupply the wine cabinet.

On the way I decided to get my first gelato. Now I’ve heard so many people sing the praises of gelato that I assumed it would be overrated. After all, I’m the kind of guy who finds that mostly, things taste the same wherever you are. Oh boy was I wrong. I don’t use the words ‘food orgasm’ often, but wow. Wow. I don’t even know what else to tell you. I’m going back for more tonight. I need to experience it sober so I can describe it better.

Anyway I got stocked up, came back, fucked around for a while waiting for everyone to show up. Soon the party was going. The French Canadians, the Norwegians, me, the Turk, the Americans. All was going well. Drinks all round. We decided to go to a “bar” around the corner so the Norwegians could watch the soccer. There really are no bars in Venice. Don’t expect a nightlife if you ever come here.

Anyway we made all kinds of new friends. Some French, some English, some Spanish. Facebook exchanges all round. I can’ speak for everyone, but I’d say we pretty drunk. At some point things got weird, but I didn’t realize this, or fully comprehend it until the next day. You see, at some point, a masked and costumed Venetian was incorporated into the group. He had a bottle of Champagne that he wanted to share with everyone. It was his 50th birthday and he needed friends. Join the party!

So I’m talking to this guy, not at all finding it weird to have a mysterious masked man with us. He wouldn’t take it off. Looking at him, I got the impression he might have been horribly scarred beneath it all. It never occurred to me that he could be trying to rob us or anthing. Anyway, I spoke to him at length. He told me he was from Geneva and he had just decided to do something different for his birthday, so he came to Venice, got a costume and a mask and played a Venetian for tips in the street. We laughed uproariously at the idea of the tourists paying an authentic non-Italian. We drank some more.

So all sorts of things were going on. More drinks, more friends, more fun. At some point, the masked man says to me, whispers in my ear: “she is very beautiful”, nodding in the direction of Kim, the American. I wholeheartedly agree with him, and then he starts telling me that I have ‘the power’ and that I should ‘take her’. I laughed and asked him why he thought that. He said, “Look at you! You are the Casanova, I can see.” I was in hysterics.

I said, what about that guy? (She was talking to Espen, one of the Norwegians). The masked man laughed. “No, look at him. He has no chance. You. You are the beautiful one. Just take her.” I was losing it. I can’t remember if I started telling anyone else about the conversation. I do recall somebody saying that Kim had a boyfriend. The masked man said, “It doesn’t matter. You have the power. Just make her laugh and you will have her. That’s all you have to do. Just make them laugh. Always works."
"That easy, eh?" I laughed. "Why don’t you do it?"
"No," he said. "I am 50 today. My time is passed. Now it’s your time."

Absolutely nuts. And I didn’t even think it was weird until the next day. I ended up going back to the room and having a good laugh about the conversation with Kim, who it turns out doesn’t really have a boyfriend.

I had some strange dreams that night.

Venice Part 2 - Matt gains confidence from language

But once again, everything can change in an instant. At the hostel my keen ears picked up Australian accents in a nearby room, so I marched in and introduced myself. Four young Melbournians, exactly what I needed at the time. They really helped me out. They showed me the ropes of Venice, taught me how to get to the supermarket, the train station and told me what they knew of the places to avoid, flood wise. Most importantly they were company that I could relate to. They were good fun, and best of all I should be seeing them again in Rome. They’re at the same hostel as me for the same amount of time. Awesome.

They were uni students and were on a budget that might even be tighter than mine, so it was hilarious and cool to hang out with them. We went to Billa, the supermarket, for cheap wine. It’s a funny thing to be in a place like Venice. The most basic meal you can find is going to cost you between 15 and 20 Aus dollars, but you can get a bottle of wine for as cheap as two Australian dollars. Madness. We polished off god knows how much wine from the region, reds and whites. We made friends with a whole bunch of people from the hostel, French Canadians, Norwegians, a Turk and a Japanese guy. Hostel parties are the greatest, especially when you’re united by the fact that you’re staying in a dive.

Now let’s talk about language for a little while. You see I have a problem. Whenever I first arrive in a country I’m typically starving, exhausted and hung-over, and my brain isn’t at it’s sharpest. I usually try to practice basic language stuff on the trains and prepare myself as best I can but I almost always get a bad case of the blanks, and I often feel so overwhelmed that I might not even try (see Amsterdam and even Germany to an extent.)

Coming into Italy though, I thought: “Surely this time I’m gonna get it.” But for whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to try. I know all the basics like the back of my hand, but each time I would go to buy some food I would chicken out. “What the fuck is wrong with me?” I thought. I tried harder to get my nerve up but I just couldn’t.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Now some of you might know that I’ve been thinking a lot about getting into performance of some sort when I get home. Maybe acting, maybe stand-up comedy, I don’t know yet. Now, I had been feeling like crap being too nervous to attempt to speak Italian, and then me and the Melbournians went to a restaurant. I was the last person to order, and of the four, 3 just flat out went English, and one made a slight attempt in Italian. When it came to me, I seemingly effortlessly ordered in Italian, impressing every one else, and possibly shaming them as well. I also went to the supermarket for more wine with the two guys, and got through that fine as well. I find it really interesting that if you put me in front of some random people I suddenly have more confidence.

Anyway, from that point on I’ve been flying. I’m ordering all my food in Italian. I reserved my place on the train to Rome largely in Italian (only switching to English to double check that I hadn’t booked the wrong time or day) I’m teaching people in the hostel some basic words and expressions. I even have a little bit of nerve. Today I had lunch in Padova, and after a brief moment of confusion when I came in, the waiter brought me the English menu, so I turned the tables on him and ordered it in Italian. I guess it isn’t really all that impressive to be able to figure out that sandwich = panini, that mushrooms = funghi, and stuff like that, but at the time I felt like a pretty cool cat.

All that being said, I wouldn’t at all say I know what I’m doing. I still have all kinds of embarrassing moments. And, you guessed it, people keep approaching me thinking I’m Italian. I must have the ultimate chameleon appearance. Every country I go people think I look like I’m from there. Here’s an interesting fact though. Most English speakers that I’ve met tell me that when they try to speak another language to somebody, that every time they just get spoken back to in English. This has NEVER happened to me. Not once. Not even in Paris. The only time it turns to English is when I have to ask them because I don’t understand what they’ve said to me. I think that’s pretty weird. I can’t imagine that I’m even half decent at speaking other languages. Maybe they just appreciate the effort.

So after the shaky start, now I’m loving Italy. The weather’s been beautiful, and since that first day I haven’t seen any flooding. I finally feel okay about speaking to people, and it makes everything a million times easier. I’m loving just strolling through fruit markets and bakeries. I’m really looking forward to Rome tomorrow. Padova today was really awesome. It must be such a great place to live. Friendly people, lots of young students. Good vibes. Hilarious graffiti on the streets. Beautiful. It really gave me an idea of just how much of a rip-off Venice is, and it should all be becoming cheaper from here on. Excitement building… Nothing is going to bring me down now. Even the fact that somebody stole my 6 Euros worth of bread, cheese and salami that was going to be my breakfast wasn’t going to bring me down.

Venice Part 1 - Matt gets wet feet

After the best time of the trip so far in Munich, I hit the rails and prepared for the 6ish hour journey to Venice totally physically destroyed, more alcohol in my blood than platelets. I didn’t expect to be able to sleep on the train, so I wasn’t disappointed. Truth is I didn’t want to sleep. I just couldn’t get enough of the view, crossing through the mountains. It was incredible, the kind of beauty that makes you just ache. It’s too perfect. Makes you think you might have died.

I did nothing but stare out the windows the whole way through Germany, Austria and into Italy. At one point a little cynicism crept in and I thought to myself, gee I really thought the Alps would be a lot bigger than this. About a minute later the train rounded a bend and then I was looking at a mountain that had a layer of clouds less than halfway up the thing. I was blown away. Then I saw a mountain that was higher than two layers of cloud. Unbelievable.

So I was in fairly good spirits as I left Germany. Along the way though, I started to get into my usual nervous / intimidated mood. It seems each new country brings me down a peg because I’ve just gotten used to one language and culture, and suddenly the music starts playing and I have to get off the chair again. And who knows if I’ll get a chair the next time the music stops?

Things weren’t helped by the speed with which the staff on the train spoke at me. Italian or English, they were spitting out words as fast as . So I got to Venice in darkness, a hung-over, hungry mess, and it’s always when I’m in this state that I feel really intimidated by the world around me. Following my directions to the hostel, I took the water bus to San Polo, costing me some 6.5 Euro (if you have bags they massively charge you) and was so pissed off when I discovered days later how easy it would have been to walk. I also got screwed another 2 Euro buying a map, which in Venice is about as useful as car.

So I got to the hostel and discovered it was the biggest dive imaginable. Despite being a Bed and Breakfast I was told I couldn’t have breakfast because I’m in a dorm room. Right. The shower alternates between trying to shrink my testes to the size of peas and trying to scald my skin off, and boy is it filthy. The shower curtain is less a fabric and more of a fish-print mould tapestry. I took some photos of this so that I can show them to Grazia later and teach her a thing or two about travelling.

So I hit the hay for an early start. I woke up to fairly miserable weather and no breakfast. I wandered around looking for somewhere cheap to eat and was bemused at how many of the Italian restaurants are run by Asians. The food is pretty amazing though. No more bullshit fast food for me. Though still not as good as Nonna’s, (Jimmy if you’re reading this, that’s Nonna, not Nando’s.)

So I went off to check out the Piazza St Marco and take in the tourist sights. As I walked I noticed the water was lapping over into the streets in some places and thought that was pretty cool. I got to the square to find it totally submerged. Huh. That’s awkward. Now all the wooden boardwalks that had got in my way on the way to the hostel on the first night made sense. So I took some snaps and was getting too hungry to think so I left to finally get a breakfast. I turned back the way I had come to find the streets flooded. This wasn’t good.

The Venetians in their gumboots were out in force. Some of those gumboots are total thigh-highs that go right up to your arse. Nuts, but essential it would seem. I was starting to panic. Trying to find an alternate route was useless. So many dead-ends, so many flooded streets. A mad, senseless, labyrinthine city. It shouldn’t be habitable. What will they do in a few years when it all crumbles? Already there’s leaning, crooked towers and buildings. Maybe they could put the whole place on giant stilts. That’d be cool. Or maybe do an under-the-sea type of thing.

So I was trapped, hungry and frustrated. All the places around the Piazza are way more expensive and anyway I just wanted to go home, so I had to do it, I had to wade through the water. I managed it on tippy toes. Thank God I didn’t throw out my boots yet, or I’d have been a goner. As I’m crossing a particularly deep part, the liquid finally penetrating my socks, a gum-booted, crotchety old Italian man walks past, splashing me, and mocking me in Italian. Great. I already had a nemesis.

And I do mean this. I have encountered this guy again. I was taking a photo of a statue, a typical thing that everybody does, and he starts walking past. I was waiting for him to walk out of my shot and as he passed me he muttered something quite loudly in Italian. What an arsehole.
Anyway, I made it back to the hostel, got some pizza and then returned to the hostel to mope around. I was starting to hate Italy already. Great.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Thoughts on Dachau

As I get on the bus to leave Dachau, I reach into my pockets for my mp3 player. The journey back to the hostel will take about half an hour, on both the bus and the U-banh (and a short walk). The bus chuffs, jolts once and starts moving through the suburbs. I still haven't pressed play on anything. After a while I hit the random button. I guess a few songs must have played but I couldn't tell you what they were. I couldn't stand them. After a few minutes I turn the thing off.

I gaze out the window for a lifetime. Outside are people walking dogs, elderly people going for a stroll, and children playing basketball in what was once an SS training camp.

When I get to the train station, I stand on the windy platform, waiting. I think I need happy music to distract me, so I flip on some Beatles. I can't even listen to the whole length of Love Me Do before I turn it off again. The train wooshes up and the people get on.

I ride home in silence.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

One sausage goes a long way.

Sometimes I have no idea how I do it.

Last night I stressed myself out majorly trying to plan parts of my trip, booking things on and trying to figure out awkward train routes. I ended up being so mind-fucked by this that I went to the hostel bar to get my free beer and just chill the fuck out. Having spent a quiet few days in Cologne I was feeling the need to socialise but I didn't like my chances. It was still early, about 6ish and even though happy hour is from 6 to 8 there weren't many people around and everyone was speaking German and I just couldn't bring myself to approach anyone. After a few minutes a couple that spoke English came in, so I went up them and it turns out they were Irish, and the bloke was born in Letterkenny. We had a time talking about Ireland and trying to figure out if we knew any of the same people. I've never felt so Irish in my life. Ha.

Anyway we got to drinking and we each got a pitcher (for 5 euro) and drank and drank. At some point things must have got livelier because I ended up talking to all sorts. People are so fascinating. So at some point the cute German girl who checked me in that day comes in, so I start hanging out with her, doing more drinking, etc.

I ended up out with her til 4am drinking in various hostels along Senefelderstrasse.

Let me pause here to reflect on something. I am really tired of my inability to get girls. I don't know if I'm doing something wrong, or if it's just the temporary nature of the traveler that puts people off, but I am so over it. Seems I spend so much time and effort talking and hanging out all night and buying drinks and being the nice guy and walking her home or to a bus or train or whatever and not getting anything for my troubles. Not that I expect something. I guess it's just been so long that I really miss physical contact.

Putting on the positivity glasses for a second; maybe it's a good thing that I'm not getting anywhere. Shows I'm going for the right sort of girls. By that I just mean that if you do find somebody who's fairly forward it's pretty obvious that it's a once off thing. And I really don't do one night stands. Maybe when I get back home, or settle somewhere and make a new home then I'll know if my approach is any good.

Anyway, back to the story. So I was out til 4am, drunk as anything. Got up just in time for the free walking tour at 11am. So I'm dehydrated but I don't have any water, and I don't have time for breakfast. Just a quick coffee and a red bull and away I go.

Somehow I managed the 3 and half hour tour in the almost freezing temperatures on no sleep and no food. At about the mid point of the tour we stopped to get some bratwurst and a so-called 'breakfast beer' in the markets. This is a wheat beer which is less gassy and hence more suitable for the stomach in the mornings. Madness. A single sausage in a tiny bun and half a litre of beer to kick off the day. Anyway, the tour was awesome and Munich is gorgeous. Afterwards I gunned it down to the BMW complex, the Olympiastadium, and back again to buy a train ticket and run some other errands.

All this and I wasn't even hungry, wasn't even tired. I went and got a Whopper for the sake of common sense, but I really didn't feel like I needed it. I don't know how I do it sometimes...

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

On Deutschland and moustaches.

Germany is the best. I'm buzzing. Everything is great. I'm walking the street and I see old people actually sporting Kaiser moustaches from another era! This is the greatest of joys I can imagine. At the crosswalks the people stop and stand there until the man goes green, irrespective of whether there are cars coming or not. I'm not used to that level of obediance, so I must stand out. I just cross the street when it's safe like in most countries. When I do that though nobody follows me. They wait. It's not like anywhere else.

Everything here is cheap and beautiful and wonderful. I went to the city's most famous landmark: the giant Dom cathedral. Climbed right to the top of that thing, huffin', puffin' and hobbling up the 500ish stairs in the narrow, winding case. Wow, what a view. It's gorgeous. The afternoon sun blazing a path over the Rhine and into the city streets.

In the space outside the Dom, a street performer was wandering around dressed as Charlie Chaplin, doing the schtick to try for tourist tips. It looked like the guy had gone to great lengths to get his moustache just that little bit longer than would be historically accurate. I guess that look isn't as popular in Germany as it once was.

I walked back home to clear my camera. Ah, the joys of walking distance. Got back in no time and headed out again, checking out the Roman ruins that can be found throughout Köln. Found a space invader along the way. Then I went to EL-DE building: the former Gestapo prison. Wow. Real cells, real incriptions in the walls, the last pained thoughts of innocent inmates scratched in with anything from lipstick to fingernails.

This is what it's all about.

Battle Scars 2

For some reason I forgot to mention in my list of ailments that I'm pretty sure there's a hole in one of my teeth, or there will be soon. The whole set are looking pretty bad right now, which I'm attributing to poor bristle strength. I need it hard, baby. I could use a good floss as well. Also, my upper lip is massively swollen with some sort of pimple, which I am attributing to clogged lip pores after gunning the lip balm for 3 days.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Battle Scars

I'm deep in Euro territory now and the injuries are starting to stack up. My right foot is totally fucked right now. Struggling to walk on it the last few hours. Not sure what I did to it. It's funny the whole injuries thing. Seems almost every fellow traveller I meet is carrying some niggle or another. There's always someone who's got a chronic cold, somebody with a limp, somebody coughing out a lung. It's the way of things.

Me, I'm doing okay about it all. Rode the train into Köln from Amsterdam. My streak of strange encounters with mildly famous Australians on trains has continued: first the Howling Bells on the train from London to Paris, and today I was in the same car as The Umbilical Brothers. They were mildly amusing to observe.

Train had tech problems so we had to switch, end up stuck on a cold platform, eating the skin off my dry lips for a good half hour, and late getting in but what does that matter. Köln is a lot warmer than Amsterdam. Amsterdam was like ice in my underpants. Couldn't walk the streets it was so bad. Plus there's that foot thing.

Goes nicely with my other injuries: mystery burn scar on my hand which looks increasingly worse, my usual skin irritation thing on my hands which is in full swing now, stiff neck and my cracked up lips.

Köln is pretty cool. I'm glad that I got clean linen this time. I was on a bad streak til Amsterdam. Seemed every hostel I went to I had to sleep in somebody's shadow. What can you do? Maybe my luck is changing.

I'm glad to be out of Amsterdam. I loved it there but I need to keep moving and it's nice here too. And it's quiet. I need to chill out for a while, get my mind back. Start concentrating now that I've got some space. Need to get writing again and leave behind all the mixed up thoughts I had in Amsterdam.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The beauty of travelling

The beauty of travelling is that one minute you can be sitting around on a filthy, smelly couch doing nothing, feeling isolated and alone on Australia Day and not wanting to have anything to do with the yobbos downstairs, feeling so low and depressed that the suicide thoughts start creeping into your mind like Nazis on the Night of the Long Knives,and the next minute you're getting high in a hostel room with a gorgeous Argentinian girl, laughing yourselves stupid because neither of you can understand what the other one is saying.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Driving buses and being an arsehole: when two vocations combine.

Another exhausting travelful day for me today. Went from Liverpool to Hammersmith in London, with a few stops along the way in Birmingham and at Heathrow. Devoid of an alarm clock, my body had to figure out for itself what time to get up to make the 9 o'clock bus from Liverpool, which it did nicely. I walked it to the bus - a bit of a challenge with upwards of 30kg in your bags - and it was especially grueling given the rain.

Made it there no problem, and rode out the day, sleeping a few hours here and there, reading, and just gazing at the uniform brown towns. Surely they were all manufactured in one place and shipped out to be assembled across the landscape.

Leaving Heathrow at 16:25 is where the trouble began. I guess my guard was down. After the kindly gentleman bus driver who took me from Liverpool airport to my hostel when I didn't have enough for bus fare, and the jolly jesting fat man who took me from Liverpool to Birmingham, I was starting to get used to all the friendliness.

So I approached my bus and showed the guy my ticket. He looks at it in disgust, looks at me and says something lie "Hammersmith? You must be joking." I start thinking maybe I have the wrong bus, but apparently my confusion didn't show. The guy went on about it being Friday and the traffic would be a nightmare. I shrugged and got on the bus and sat up front, right behind him. As we drove, he starts shaking his head and muttering to himself. When we get to the turn off for Hammersmith I could see why: the traffic was backed up as for ages. The coach driver, frustrated, hits the gear stick, turns around and points in my face and says "See?" I said I did see. Then he starts blaming me, for the fact that the almost full bus will be late for its arrival in Central London.

I'm not angry, or sheepish or embarrassed or anything at all really. It occurs to me that this jerk is asking for it, but I stayed cool. Didn't want an escalating situation or anything. As we're sitting in the traffic he asks me if I know my way around Hammersmith. At this point he's thinking of getting me off the bus now, so he can get back in the main lane and head in. I say no, that I've never even been in London before. Apparently with my new attire I'm not so obviously a tourist. The guy is incredulous. He asks me if someone is picking me up or if I know where I'm going. I smile and say I have no idea, even though I do. This enrages him further. He's mentally swearing and driving like a sooky toddler.

How long did we end up sitting in the traffic? About 5 minutes. Yep. 5 minutes. And when we got to Hammersmith, 3 other people got off the bus with me, whereas he had me thinking I was the only one. What an arsehole.

So I wandered the streets lost. I had directions from Google Maps but they were inaccurate, and I hadn't written down the hostels address. This always happens to me these days. As I was walking I started thinking about how I've come a long way from the scared kid that Chris would have seen at the O'Hare airport. I wandered a strange city without a clue but I wasn't worried for a second. I ended up walking right past the hostel (St. Christopher's Inn), kept on going and hit another St. Christopher's Inn in the next suburb over. The girls told me which bus to get on to get back to Hammersmith but I didn't use it. I walked straight back and found it easy.

I must have walked over 2kms today with all that heavy gear, in bad weather, tired and hungry, having subsisted only on bus station sandwiches all day. And lost. But not a worry in the world. I've finally done it. I'm not afraid anymore. I don't worry about anything until it's right in front of me and I'm a million times happier for it.

Monday, 19 January 2009

On praise and encouragement

One of the things I've found strange is the acceptance I get if I tell people about my writing aspirations. Back in Perth I wouldn't dare tell anyone I didn't know about it. Somehow it seemed like something to be ashamed of back there. It probably isn't. Maybe I was always just too shy before and traveling has opened me up enough, given me enough confidence to just be me.

Still, I'm sure if I did say such a thing in Perth, I'm sure it wouldn't get the same reaction there as it gets over here. In Perth I imagine a person mumbling: "cool" as the best reaction I could hope for. Not that I think people in Perth are any more indifferent than other folk, I just think it surfaces in different ways from place to place.

In any case, people in this hemisphere seem genuinely interested, even excited at the prospect of a wannabe writer. Some express wonderment, wishing they had it in them to do the same, or something similarly creative. The relations took this to a new level. They really took things to heart, took me to all these Irish writer places (restaurants, pubs, etc) and got it into their heads that I'd be writing about them in someway. Some of them had similar interests and wished me luck, telling me not to miss my chances like they had.

It's all a bit overwhelming. In other cases I might have felt it appropriate to remind myself not to get a big head with all this praise around, but I'm not really in any danger of that. I've been so down about myself and my uncertain future for so long, that all this encouragement is kind of exactly what I need to get myself moving in the right direction.

I have to wonder though at the impression I make on people. I'm a quiet guy. Friendly enough, but not too friendly. Open to those around him, but not one to actively seek out others. I wonder what I'm projecting in my appearance and demeanor. I mention this because the other night I was in a pub somewhere in Galway, probably Fibber Magees (and boy would I like a penny for every time I've been inside a Fibber Magees!), and my cousin Gareth introduced me to a friend of his. The name eludes me now, but he was an older chap, a professor at the local university and a bit of a character. I think his accent was English, but I was pretty drunk at the time, so I could be mistaken.

He was quite a talker, and he spoke at length about soccer with Gareth, and rambled on about a lot of other things too. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke a little when Gareth was in the bathroom. He ribbed me for looking like such a student, wearing a scarf in a pub. Made a mental note of that one. In any case, we didn't know all that much about each other, and as the night progressed we both became increasingly smashed. At some point he asked me what I studied and as I answered Gareth chimed in that I was trying to write a novel.

The old man was in to it. He starts going on about how he can tell I'm a smart guy and that I have it in me, and all this stuff. Maybe it was drunk talk, but it's something I've been hearing a lot lately. It kind of scares me because I really don't consider myself to be all that smart, or all that capable. Then he starts telling me to send him the manuscript when it's done and he has contacts and he'll let me know if it's good or not and he can hook me up with other university and publishing contacts.

Now, that's a lot to process. Who do people think I am? And am I that person?

Accent confusion in the Northern hemisphere

There was a time where I entertained the notion of putting on different accents as I traveled the world, seeing if I could pass myself off as a local, or as a traveler from somewhere else entirely. As it turns out, my regular accent can be just as confounding. Back when I was Stateside, most people I spoke to couldn't tell where I was from, on the streets or in the hostels, and I'm finding it much the same in Ireland.

Most commonly I am mistaken for being from a posh area of England. I'm starting to think that maybe I do, because the people that have said it are fairly reliable types: relatives in Letterkenny, and some of the smarter people I met in America, like James.

In America I was surprised that some people would ask me which State I was from. In that situation I would usually affect the appropriate accent and say "I am from Minnesota" which occasionally received a laugh, but was once or twice taken to be fact.

On occasion people have thought I was from New Zealand. Apparently that's a common mix up around this part of the world, but I would have thought the differences were pretty full-on. Kiwi's sound closer to South Africans then Aussies in my opinion.

On that note, sometimes Australians don't even know I'm Australian. Now this might be partially because I am subconsciously altering my voice to avoid dealing with me fellow countrymen. Most of the time I try not to even speak when I'm around Australians and just let them assume I'm some standoffish non-English speaker from somewhere nera the Mediterranean.

It's not always bad. I generally have an affinity with Melbournians. They get it. And they can almost always tell where I'm from. As for the rest of the Australians, I generally try to stay away. Last night a group of American girls who have recently started studying in Cork took me for a Dubliner. When I told them I was from Perth they told me that there was a couple from Perth staying in our room. Naturally I was later forced to interact with these people and that was a mistake. Everyone else I've met from Perth has been terrifying in some way. This time the 'Perth' label was something of a misnomer. They weren't from Perth, they were country folk that now lived in Perth. You know how it is with country folk. It's one way or the other, and this time it was the other.

It's all part of a collage of cultural confusion. I'm doing everything backwards and mixed up. In America I was reading European writers and now I'm reading all the Americans. In the States I mixed mostly with Brits and French, now I'm surrounded by Americans. Strangely enough all the Americans I've met here seem a lot less crazy / more normal then a lot of the people I met in the US. I don't know if that's a case of travelers having a certain mindset that can be easily related to, or if it's just that a whole country full of Americans was a little intimidating at the time.

In any case I feel like I've been hitting the right balance of people. In America it wasn't always easy to talk to locals, and I usually kept to the hostel crowds. In Ireland though the hostel crowds contain so many diverse characters that are local, as well as the usual mix of foreigners.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

My tips for anyone who goes to the United States

Before I left Perth I tried to get as much advice and information I could out of everyone I know who has traveled, and didn't get much out of them other than the usual stuff about being safe, keeping your wallet protected, etc. Now that I'm a man of the world I feel it's my duty to give prospective travelers a few clues you can use if you come to the good ol' US of A.

1. Always keep in mind that the word 'Starbucks' is actually code for 'public bathroom'.

I can't stress this enough people. The coffee is dreadful, and they're more numerous than rabbit offspring, but you'll be thanking your lucky stars for Starbucks when you've got a bladder full of soda, which will be all the time considering you're in America.

2. When ordering fast food, always ask for the small size.

When the food arrives, you will realize you actually have a large. Get used to it. And throw away the rest of your soda / give it to a homeless person. No body needs to drink that much in one sitting.

3. At traffic lights, ignore the crosswalk lights and just cross when it's safe.

This is one of those things that makes you look less like a tourist. Too many people stand around waiting for the 'walk' sign, and it can really clog the sidewalks in a big city. Just always be aware of your surroundings and get a move on. Sure it's technically jaywalking, but all the cool people do it.

4. Walk fast and be nimble.

This is another important one in big cities, especially New York. You'll get around faster, and you'll piss off less people. Also, you'll look less like a tourist. Which brings me to a related point:

5. If you get lost, keep walking.

Don't even break stride. Nothing is more infuriating then when people stop suddenly to check a map, blocking everyone behind them. You really don't want to look lost. Most places are pretty safe, but you never know. Try to keep walking and get indoors, perhaps at a local 'public bathroom' to check a map or change directions.

6. If you're young, always claim student prices wherever you can.

This has saved me so much money. Most museums and art galleries are half price for students, so you can really save those pennies. I used my expired UWA card whenever asked (it's not dated, and they never checked the guild stickers on the back). But seriously, 9/10 times they don't even card you.

Well, that's all for now. Perhaps more will come to me later. Adios.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

One of those moments that make you glad not to be an idiot.

Another thing about my day at MoMa. At one spot they had a collection of the gallery's works selected and organised by one Vik Muniz. It looks like they regularly have an exhibit where an artist selects works according to a certain theme. This one was called Rebus and its mission statement was a quote from Albert Einstein:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.

The start of the exhibit was a quite long film of one massive Rube Goldberg machine. For those who haven't heard the term before, a Rube Goldberg machine is basically where you use a chain reaction of needlessly complex mechanisms to perform a simple task. Some of you might remember an example of this from the Honda Accord commercial.

Anyway, it was massively packed in that spot. People were crowding in to see it, exclaiming there enjoyment of it, and laughing aloud at some of the crazier things that were happening on the screen. People were glued to this fucking thing, and it just went on and on. And they were all LOVING it. Having the time of their lives. Sitting down with the kids, talking about how good it was. And everyone was staying for the whole thing! I didn't watch it all but it had to have been longer than 10 minutes, and most people walk past any film exhibit longer than a minute.

As I watched these people, I noticed that a lot of them didn't even look at the rest of the exhibit, and in fact almost none of them stopped to read the explanation accompanying the film (and setting up the tone for the whole exhibit.) I did read it, and when I did, I felt glad for the first time in a few days. I felt glad to be me.

Here is an excerpt of what it said:

The human brain responds directly to the eye's inability to process all the visual elements of a scene instantaneously. As our eyes move from one point to another, they create a continuous narrative that is perceived by the brain as a seamless whole. I have often contended that human consciousness emerged from the growing complexity of such optical narratives and our penchant for interacting with the world through cause-and-effect models, graphs and timelines. The pleasure we derive from Rube Goldberg machines and rows of falling dominoes is an echo of one of our most primitive perceptual handicaps. Attention is what enables us to capture a managable vision of the world, by allowing us to ignore its natural complexity.

I thought that was such a fascinating thing to read and to ponder about, and hardly anyone bothered to read it. They just sat there living it, and not paying attention. I'm glad I can enjoy this sort of thing, and I'm glad I'm not one of the many people who cruise through exhibits (and life) without paying attention to what's around them. I'm glad the art got me thinking about the artists intent, and about the human condition, instead of just mindlessly enjoying Rube Goldberg machine footage.

MoMa and my growing discontent with society.

Today I went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).

Let me first set the scene though. I was not in a good mood. Last night I went out drinking with Nathan, and English guy I met in the hostel. I had a good time with him at a nearby bar, but I was still in the foul mood I've been in since New Year's Eve. After returning to the hostel, I got on the internet and said a lot of drunk angry shit to a few people.

I should never drink when I'm in a bad mood.

Anyway, I woke up feeling fine physically, but still angry as hell at the world, and even angrier at myself for some of the things I said last night. And for a few other reasons which we won't get into here.

So, it was with this mindset that I headed to MoMa. I left at about 10.30 in the morning and arrived to find a huge line outside the building. This didn't surprise me. Lines are a fact of life here. It didn't take long to get in though, which was a welcome change. Once I got inside, I managed to power through the whole place in only a couple of hours. Usually museums and art galleries are an all day thing for me, but not today. I'll explain why in a moment.

MoMa was okay. Just okay. I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as The Met. I was a bit bummed because the Vincent Van Gogh section was sold out for the day. I really have taken a liking to Van Gogh lately. Actually seeing those works for real is incredible. Photos can't do them justice. I was also disappointed to find that The Persistence of Memory was out on loan. Two anticipated highlights were knocked out already.

So I saw some art and all that. Took a few pictures. But after only about 15 minutes in there I started getting edgy. There was just so many people, bumping into each other, getting in the way. Pausing in doorways, not keeping right, not paying attention. I think I've reached my breaking point with crowds. I hurried from floor to floor, just wanting to get things over with before I started punching people's kids. It was that bad.

I love this city, but I can't do this tourist shit anymore. Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds are killing me.

Reflections on a failed New Year's Eve

I haven't had a great start to 2009. It all started on New Year's Eve, where I attempted to go to Times Square, had an awesome spot, but couldn't handle the cold or the lack of a bathroom and left. As Aaron put it, "the ball dropped prematurely" on that night, for me at least. It's taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on that night. I've been trying to write about it since I got back to the hostel that night, but I just haven't been able to get my head right about it all yet.

I feel pretty down about it, but I don't really know why. I don't think I should feel bad at all, but I do. Personally I think my decision to leave was an important one. I was freezing, my clothes weren't up to it at all and I would have been in a lot of trouble if I stayed. As I left I got really dizzy and faint. My eyes had swollen up from the cold, and were totally red. It looked like I had been crying for hours. I feel like deciding not to freeze to death was a good way to start the New Year. And I felt like deciding to leave, to give up on this stubborn attitude I always have about sticking it out for things, was important as well. I know it would have been amazing to have been there for the big finale, but why was I there? Was it for me, or was it for the checklist? For me to have something to tell everyone back home?

I wasn't having a good time at all. I was an ice-block. My pen was filled with guys, couples, old people and slutty teenage girls, so staying for a kiss was out of the question. So what else was there? I was freezing to death to see a big ball move down a pole and a whole bunch of confetti fly everywhere. I must have been crazy.

It took me a long time to come to the decision to leave though. I got there at 2pm, and left about 6.30 or 7. It snowed for a good portion of that time. There really is no feeling in the world like snow hitting you in the eyeballs. I can only describe it as being like crying in reverse. I met a nice Dutch couple while I was there and we hung out for awhile. They gave me a cigarette and a banana. I was grateful for both. Bananas are quite filling, and the cigarette actually warmed me up some. I think that probably counts as my first real cigarette.

Lionel Richie also helped me stay a bit longer. He performed three songs, stopped, waited 45 minutes and then played those same three songs again. The entertainment there was well fucked, I might add. Unorganised and horribly intermittent. In any case, I never thought I would ever be so happy to see Lionel. For those brief minutes everyone sang and danced some warmth into themselves.

The turning point for me was when I witnessed a young American couple fighting. She must have been complaining about the cold or something, and he was just letting her have it. He kept saying how she always has to get her way 99% of the time and how much of a pain in the ass she is.
You said you wanted to come to New York for New Year, and here we are. You always get your way, all the time. I'd much rather be on my couch with my family in Rhode Island, but no. We had to come here so you could get your way.
It went on like that. He was being pretty harsh I thought, and she wasn't saying anything. I wondered how on earth those two people could stay together if that's how he talks to her. Then again I guess I've had some pretty vicious fights with lovers too. In any case, seeing that fight, the way the cold was making people crazy, and the logic of this guy who just wanted to be on his couch in Rhode Island got to me. I got the hell out of there.

It was a long and lonely walk 60 or so blocks home. I had to take awkward routes because of all the road closures. I jogged in the park for a while to try and get some feeling back into my limbs. I ended up getting back here, going on the computer for awhile and eventually getting to bed shortly after midnight, having totally ignored the countdown.

I was in the room on the laptop for awhile when this black guy, drunk as Mel Gibson comes in, climbs shakily in to his bunk and collapses. A few minutes later he starts vomiting uncontrollably for ages. I didn't even realise he was vomiting at first. It was all liquid. So much so that it sounded more like gargling than vomit. So he chucked all over himself and his bed. Later he started getting all emotional and apologising to me. Then he passed out again.

He continued vomiting throughout the night, and at one point vomited over the side of the bed (top bunk). It went everywhere. I just kept sleeping though. I didn't care.

I guess some people had it worse off than I did that night.

Fuck this hostel for a joke.

If it wasn't bad enough with the snoring, the loudness, the inconsiderateness of other guests, number of beds to a room (14), the projectile vomiting off of the top bunk (yes, one guy caught the splash-back), the shortage of power points, the shortage of towels, the loudness of the music in the common areas, the closing off of the basement lounge and filling it with beds so as to make more money over the New Year period, the dictatorial staff who won't let you hang around the common area at night, the awful breakfast served way too early in the morning, the decision to paint all of the bathrooms in the building at the same time except for the one on my floor and the general overpricing, now these fuckers are charging people 25c for an EMPTY FUCKING CUP.


Fuck off.