And the Devil went Down to Georgia (2009/12/10)

I only spend one night in New York, but at least it is fairly cheap. One of the more expensive discoveries I'll make during my time in America is that hostels are not popular - you will find hotels all over the place, but hostels seem to be restricted to the large cities.

I get quite an odd reception at this hostel. I head through the common area carrying my bags to my room, to find one guy on a laptop in front of me and one on the couch to my right, watching tv. The guy behind the laptop makes some gestures at me which I interpret as "dude, nice beard!", to which I smile and nod. I then offer a greeting, only to have him turn back to his laptop and the guy watching tv ignore me. Whatever, I'm on a mission to find an ATM to pay for the room so I don't linger.

I don't feel so bad when I get back, as it becomes apparent from peeking over his shoulder at the laptop that the guy is deaf - he is using a webcam to sign to his friends! I find that just a little bit awesome, and the guy watching tv isn't as shy when I actually start a conversation. Turns out he's a construction manager on like a six figure salary, but stays in a hostel largely because it's the cheapest way for him to get parking in new york (well, and a bed - his house is outside the city itself).

Eventually the deaf guy gets my attention and introduces himself as Hokin from Toulouse, France, via a well used scrap of paper and a sharpie. I return the favour and he indicates his understanding by drawing a crude map of Australia. I'm forced to correct his placement of Sydney (slight ocd moment), but this was definately a novel way to communicate.

I go to bed early and end up waking up at about 5am, to find Hokin just on his way to bed. His hands become a pillow for a moment to communicate this fact and mine turn into a plane to let him know I'm flying out today. We mime our goodbyes and I hit the streets for an early morning walk. Not the best decision I ever made, Jamaica (the suburb of New York I am in) is not particularly interesting in the dark. I do manage to find some mobile phone and electronic stores, however they don't open until around 9:30.

By the time they finally open, I'm a little stressed from wandering the streets with nothing to do for so long, and a little nervous about making my 12:30 flight - I have about a half hour walk back to the hostel and not sure how long it takes to get to the airport. So instead of shopping around I pretty much grab the first sim card and travel adapter I find. End up paying US$60 for each, more than I would have liked to pay but it saved worrying about credit as I got unlimited local calls + local and international sms for the month. I think I might have even sent enough texts to get my money's worth!

Anyway, I make it to the airport fine and I'm on my way to the busiest airport in the world, Atlanta. Via Charlotte of course - for some reason flying direct is always more expensive in America. The flights are pleasant enough, I have good company on the first and three seats to myself on the second.

I don't remember exactly when it happened, but on some flight (possibly bus) I remember a blind girl getting on. She proceeds to pull an eee pc out of her bag, plugs her headphones in and starts typing away with the laptop open just enough to get her hands between the screen and keyboard. Firstly, what an awesome way to use a computer, and secondly it was nice to see technology used for something really enabling, in balance to the frivolity so commonplace on the internet.

Atlanta might have been home to the busiest airport in the world, but I didn't really notice. I guess they'd soon learn to manage all the people coming through. The people at the information desk are really friendly - I have a couple of hours to kill before the shuttle bus to Athens arrives, so I spend the time looking for a map. I've neglected to take any notes about Athens previously, and there's no free internet available at the airport so I don't really know where I'm going once I get there.

Anyway, I'm telling my story to this middle-aged guy at the information desk, and when he hears I'm headed to a computer conference and write software for a living he comments:

"You look pretty fit for a guy who spends all day on the computer."

Nawww, thanks dude! Unfortunately he doesn't have a map of Athens, so I just go and wait for the shuttle. Eventually someone else comes to the same stop and I start making conversation.

"You headed to Athens too?"


"What's in Athens for you?"

"Oh, there's a conference happening."

"Hey, the International Workshop for Plan 9? Me too!"

It was at this point in the conversation Maht pointed at his t-shirt, which had plan 9 written all over it had I been paying attention. Unfortunately I was too focused on navigating the conversation!

I sound a little odd introducing myself as sqweek, but for the next four days of presentations, festivities, nerd talk and hack sessions Rowan takes a back seat. No one knows who he is, and yet they know me.

I am sqweek.

Atlantic Adventure (2009/11/16)

It is now the 19th of October (WOW this blog moves slow), and with two days until the International Workshop for Plan 9 begins in Athens, Georgia, it is time I bid Europe adieu. My flight leaves at like 08:30 so I am up around 05:00 to make sure I get to the airport on time. The free airport shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes all night (the metro also runs regularly, good work Copenhagen), so I only have a 15 minute walk or so to the airport bus stop.

I end up ridiculously early to the airport. Turns out my umbrella is too long to fit in my bag, and it probably won't get through security so I strap it to the outside - I'm curious whether I can make this work. The lady checking in my baggage notices this and suggests it gets checked in as a seperate item, which makes enough sense to me.

Eventually the plane to Dusseldorf arrives, where I have another long wait for my flight to New York. The long wait is accentuated by the plane being two hours late to arrive, and I am quite restless when it eventually does. Finally they call my row to board, and after handing over my boarding pass get stopped by the question:

"Can I see your return flight?"

"I haven't booked a return flight yet".

"Oh, well can I see your visa?"

"I don't have a visa, I'm staying for less than 90 days".

"You're not allowed into the USA without a visa or evidence that you intend to leave in the next 90 days".

"You serious? So what are my options?"

"Either you stay here, or book a return flight right now".

So, I hop over to the counter and wait for a hostess to come available and help me book a return flight. At this point I have very little clue how I'm getting home. I don't know where I'll be flying out of, and may head home via Argentina. However, there is so much time pressure and my options are limited because they'll only let me book another Air Berlin flight, so I take the first flight she offers me. €350 for Miami to Dusseldorf on the 15th of January. Note that my plan is to be back in Perth before the 21st of November, so I fly to the states holding a return ticket I fully intend to cancel.

I apologise to the girl I'm sitting next to for making the plane even later, but she isn't very fussed about it. She's german, and heading to the states to catch up with a bunch of bands she's friendly with. She knows a lot of them through her work in show support/marketing and through her previous visit to the states about 10 years ago.

As it turns out she is also fructose (!) intolerant, vegetarian by choice, and avoids onion, garlic, honey and wholegrains which all cause her rashes. It's probably quicker to list the foods she can consume, but unfortunately she didn't provide Air Berlin with such a list. I eat very well on this flight, and feel terrible about every bite.

We arrive at JFK Airport in New York, and ironically enough US immigration doesn't even care about my return flight. Seriously, even UK immigration hassled me more about how I was getting from the US back to Australia. Anyway, it appears that the rumours regarding USA's invasive border control have been greatly exaggerated.

Maybe it's just me, but there's something awfully amusing about an umbrella on a baggage carousel.

Rhapsody in Copenhagen (2009/11/15)

Danish butter, danish bread, and australian yeast-based spread. It's a beautiful merge of cultures - somehow the vegemite tastes better than usual.

With breakfast dealt with, I investigate the hostel's shower. However, when I go to turn the hot tap to check the water temperature I notice there isn't one...

I should take a moment here to touch on an idea that has intrigued me for some time now. It relates to the coupling of temperature and water flow in a standard hot/cold tap shower setup. That is, if you want a hotter shower, you must increase the flow of hot water or decrease the flow of cold. It's probably the programmer in me - coupling is a dirty word in good software design - but it always struck me that it would be convenient to seperate the two instead have one tap controlling water flow and another controlling the temperature. I'm no expert on hydraulics, but it seems like it shouldn't be a huge engineering feat either.

Anyway, it takes me a moment to understand that the taps I'm staring at are a realisation of that exact idea. Suddenly my clothes are all over the floor and I'm really exicted about this shower - the water is warm so I'm in. Unfortunately the hot water runs out after about 30 seconds, but the idea is sound damnit! The cold shower serves to calm me down at least.

There's no lockers at this hostel, but another tip Twan gave me is that reception will hold my laptop for me to keep it safe. I took the advice last night, which backfires on me now as my laptop is locked away and reception is nowhere to be seen. Their advertised hours are pretty inconvenient (open between 10:00-12:00 and 15:00-20:00), and innaccurate - this morning there is a notice on the whiteboard that they're starting at 11:00, but it's about 11:30 and many doorknocks later before someone finally wakes up and I get my laptop. Probably should have done something useful with my morning rather than wait, but I wanted to check up on a couple of things - I know the software I'm using on my web server and blog are due for some significant updates, and I want to look for other parkour parks around Copenhagen. I'm sure I've seen footage of people training in an area labelled Copenhagen which was very different to the park I found.

My hunch proves to be right. There's very little information available on any english sites, but searching in .dk I eventually manage to find a location for Street Movement park (yesterday's was "Plug 'n Play Parkour Park"), as well as information on a Street Movement camp starting tomorrow! I can't believe my timing, but it's getting tedious finding all this stuff via translation so I find a contact for Mikkel, one of the Street Movement organisers and shoot him an email. Halfway through composing it I realise I should avoid getting too excited because the camp is probably aimed at younger kids/beginners, so I word it in such a way to give me an excuse to visit anyway and hope Mikkel is fluent in english.

In the afternoon I head back to Christania - Twan tells me it's very different in daytime, with market stalls and the like all set up. It's also supposed to be the cheap part of town, and I'm in the market for a warmer coat as my current wardrobe is less than effective verse Copenhagen's windchill.

It is indeed different in the light, you can see all the greenery and wildlife which is what I spend most of my time looking at - I'm still a little apprehensive regarding confrontations. I stumble upon one patch of dirt, something like 1.5m by 0.5m where some low bushes are growing. This is notable because, hopping around in the bushes and on the ground are about two dozen small birds! I'm thinking I must get a picture of this for Manda, so I pull out my video camera...

Congratulations to anyone who has guessed what happened next at this point. Suddenly there's a guy in my face - "What the fuck are you doing?!". Apparently the vendors are a little camera shy, can't imagine why. Anyway, the commotion attracts the attention of another guy on the other side of me who walks over. I take a moment to try and explain that I'm photographing the birds, during which my mind makes the connections required to understand what they're in my face about and I become very apologetic. The first guy is still telling me to erase everything, but I show him what's on my camera and manage to convince him that he had stopped me before I got anything (truth). They were pretty understanding about it, recognised me for the ignorant tourist I was. I quickly found a coat and went on my way.

In retrospect I should have bought the guys each a beer for being cool (doh!). Oh well, I get back to the hostel to find a reply from Mikkel (woohoo!). The camp is indeed aimed at the younger crowd (doh!) but he welcomes me to visit (woohoo!). The park is an hour out of Copenhagen in Slagelse (doh!), but there's a train+bus that get me there (woohoo!). I check the map and the road layout is confusing as hell (doh!), so I figure I'll just wing it (... woohoo?).

Next morning that vegimite is still exceptionally good. I'm starting to wonder whether something they put in the butter is setting it off, should have taken more notice but I don't think there was an english word on the container anyway. I don't even know if it was butter.

I've been told there are convenient buses into the city center just by the hostel, so I decide to see how they compare to my metro route. I invoke the famous bus selection algorithm commonly known as "hey look, there's a bus - catch it!", which fails me completely and I end up further west than north. At least now I'm on my information centre map though - I get off and walk to the metro.

I check timetables for Slagelse, and after messing around on the bus it feels like it is going to be a huge rush trying to get there today so, now armed with salient information I postpone the trip until tomorrow and take a walk around Copenhagen. There's plenty of walking to be done too - the city is home to one of the longest pedestrian malls in the world. Unfortunately Copenhagen is quite expensive, so my perusal results in very few purchases. I'm still feeling that windchill so I get some overpriced gloves as a bit of an experiment - never really worn gloves. However, the purchase that really makes my day is a cheap simple umbrella. Not that I'm worried about rain, but I've been feeling the urge to twirl a staff or a sword, to which the umbrella is a reasonable approximation.

The rest of the day consists of all you can eat pizza (for old time's sakes), Ripley's Believe it or not museum and icecream purchased purely for the name - the danes have a brand of icecream called Valhalla, with each flavour named after a norse god. I of course bought Freya, the finest of the flavours.

I also got some blueberries to go with it, and the resulting mix is consumed from the tub, with chopsticks. Not actually my preferred method, but all the cutlery is in the kitchen, which is locked and the key kept in reception, which as previously mentioned is difficult to contact. At least it gives me an opportunity to practice using chopsticks whilst wearing gloves :)

The next morning most of my dorm is woken by some ridiculously loud snoring from some poor fellow who sounds as though he has more phlegm than air in his esophagus. I am no exception, but I slept well and it just serves as a bit of extra motivation to get out of bed and start making my way to Slagelse.

Unfortunately I chose a bad day for it, the morning is overcast and before long it begins to rain. No worries though, I have an umbrella!

The train trip is uneventful, and the Slagelse bus system is conquered after some minor confusion. However when I arrive, I discover that Gerlev Idrætshøjskole is quite a large property, and I have no idea where to find the parkour guys. I wander at random and stumble across all sorts of carnival type games set up - stacks of tin cans with a supply of balls nearby, a few variations on ten pin bowling, a croquet field... I have no idea what I've just walked into.

So I keep walking and just around the corner I encounter the Street Movement park! However, it is empty! I figure that makes sense, they're not going to put new trainees on wet slippery concrete. So I start looking inside, and the first building I try is a gymnasium containing... a bunch of kids drilling pakour moves! I don't want to interrupt the classes so I entertain myself (and occasionally the students) by doing some stretches in the middle of the gym.

Eventually the classes finish and one of the instructors comes over to talk to me. I explain that I've come to get some video of the Street Movement park, and he gently tries to tell me that no one is allowed in the park by themselves unless they are well trusted. Whatevs, I have no intention of killing myself by trying something ridiculous in the current weather. I figure Mikkel will be more understanding since he's actually expetcing me, and I'm right - once I get his attention he says sure take some footage, but stay safe. They're about to break for lunch and he gives me directions to the food hall, so I thank him and head to the park.

After some brief videos I meet them for some food, and during our conversation everything falls into place. Gerlev Idrætshøjskole is a boarding school, which specialises in sports and performing arts. I manage to prepare my sandwich, but before I begin eating it Mikkel informs me they have to get back to classes, and I should probably clear out of the dining area because another group is scheduled for food now. No worries, I head outside so I can drop my crumbs on the grass, and have a bit of a wander which is all the more amusing now that I understand I'm walking about a school ground completely unauthorised and unchallenged.

And what should I discover along the way? A large open room, devoid of life but sporting a grand piano in the corner of the room. OK so it has only been like 11 days since I left Australia and the synth in my apartment (wow this blog goes slow), but I have been missing it dearly and relish the opportunity to get some practice in.

That about sums up my Slagelse exploration. I would have loved to really spend some time in the Street Movement park, but not in that weather. I have a hit of croquet and try some stilts before departing, and do a bit more exploring when I get back to Copenhagen. I'm exhausted before long - I can tell because I take a wrong turn and end up walking in circles. I do at least find a medieval fair which is just closing up for the day - something to check out tomorrow.

So I head back to the hostel to chill out for a little and get some sleep, only to find it has been invaded by about a dozen new backpackers who appear to be travelling together. Ack, there goes my peace. Soon Twan invites me to the back room - he has been doing some work for the hostel to pay his way and may as well be staff at this point. So I head back there to find another piano, several guitars and a pool table. Ack, there goes my sleep.

Eventually I make it to bed. Next morning I head into the city centre for a Segway tour. I saw these guys riding around the day I landed and I've always been curious about Segways so I thought it was worth checking out, despite the fact it felt backwards touring a city on my second last day.

Anyway, they're pretty neat. For those not familiar with the contraptions, a Segway gives you a platform to stand on with handlebars sticking out of it. Sort of like a scooter (not the motorbike kind, damn ambiguous terms) but wide instead of long. To accelerate/decelerate you lean forward, and to turn you rotate the handlebars. Didn't take long for everyone to pick it up and off we went. Top speed was around 20km/hr if I recall correctly.

Riding a segway reminded me a lot of standing up in a train without holding onto any supports. This is of course something I have plenty of practice at, but if I have my legs in the wrong position I find my right knee starts to ache terribly. The same is true of standing on a segway, except that I couldn't find a comfortable position at all.

We stopped by the Amalienborg Palace for a time to watch the changing of the guards. Well, we watched the new guards march in wearing their epic afro hats, then left when they stood to attention - apparently they just stand still for ten minutes before proceeding. We were a little early and had to wait awhile before they marched in. I passed the time on the segway alternating between tooling around on one leg and spinning on the spot - many rotations were achieved.

The tour wrapped up shortly after that, and I headed toward the medieval fair. There was some cool stuff there but unfortunately still quite expensive. Still fun to see folk riding around on horses in full chainmail and the like though.

Funny thing happened after I left - I sat down on a bench outside the fair for a break and to decide where I'm headed next. There's a woman walking past posing in front of her husband/boyfriend for photos. She comes over to the bench and kind of shuffles around a few metres away. I figure she's wants the medieval fair in the background, so I ask if she'd like me to move. Not sure I caught what she said properly, but it sounded pretty affirmative so I grab my bag and make to move away and get out of the shot. She doesn't like that though, "No, I want a photo with you!". Me, with my awesome hat and overgrown beard and silly scarf and umbrella toting tendencies. Walking tourist attraction, right?

The tour guide rated Tivoli gardens highly. I'm not a big amusement ride fan, but I decide to check it out anyway. Admission is pretty reasonably priced (for Copenhagen), and the atmosphere is generally nice, though very crowded. I find a place that isn't crawling with people and sit down next to a staircase to enjoy an orange, only to be ushered off by security before I get the skin off. So that's why no one is there, unfriendly git.

At this point I'm getting a little tired, and unfortunately start feeling like I'm just a pawn to the Copenhagen tourism committee. You know, visiting the officially sanctioned areasand paying their tourist taxes, when ultimately I don't even really care for famous sites. I think I don't make a very good tourist. Yesterday was much more fun, when I was doing something of my own design.

Anyway, that kind of killed my enjoyment of the gardens. I was cheered a little by all the kids around enjoying themselves, and especially their reaction to me (all smiles, thankfully my sour mood didn't manage to scare any of them). I depart Tivoli determined not to return to the city centre, and to dedicate my final day to training, in accordance with the prophecy my original plan.

And so it went.

"Old" Zealand (2009/11/09)

In a huge anti-climax, it turns out to be incredibly awkward trying to run with my two packs on and I settle into a hasty walk, find my train no problem and hop on. It takes me another 10 minutes or so to find my cabin - the ticket is in german and I can't work out what each number means (carraige? cabin? bed number?). I ask several people for directions but end up walking back and forth through the train until a security officer steps out of her office to accost me, and leads me to my cabin.

It's a 6-bed sleeper, and I step into what appears to be a family - an older woman and girl probably about my age on my left, and two older men on my right. One of the guys shifts over to give me space to sit in the middle, and I attend to the delicate maneuver of swinging my large bag off my shoulders in cramped quarters without smacking anybody in the face.

I'm a little flustered, which is not helped by the fact that they are speaking fluent german. They are not unfriendly - smiles all around - I just feel a bit of an intruder, holding up their train and not speaking their language and all. After composing myself I pull out my notebook and start a bit of writing.

Eventually the older woman gets my attention and asks what sounds like a question as to whether I speak german or danish, to which I shake my head sadly and respond "Only English". "Oh, that's OK", she replies, and we exchange travelling information. They're not a family as I suspected, the older couple are heading home to Copenhagen and the younger girl is headed to somewhere in northern germany - she has to wake up at like 5am to get off at her stop so she is pushing for the beds to come out. Works for me, 20 minutes later we are laying down and I discover that my hat and scarf combine powers to form a comfy pillow.

I sleep soundly and arrive in Copenhagen. I amble about until I find an internet cafe, which costs me like 30 donkey kongs for an hour. I mean, danish kroner. I haven't worked out the exchange rate yet, and am later disappointed to find that it was like AU$6.80. Anyway, I spend the time obtaining crucial information, such as what everyone has been up to on facebook and whether anyone has commented on my blog. Oh right, and working out where I am in relation to my hostel and the inspiration for my visit: Copenhagen's parkour park. Finally I check for a tourist information centre and find there's one just around the corner >_<

However, the internet visit paid off anyway. I had chosen the hostel because it was close to the airport (my exit point), as well as the parkour park. Usefully, the map I obtain from the information centre includes NONE of these landmarks. Apparently Ørestad, the area of the city they are in, is a somewhat recent development and they can't give me any sort of map for the area.

Oh well. The lady at the counter tells me I can get the metro to Vestamager (pronounciation: the danish g is silent) to get close to the parkour park. Armed with this information, a vague recollection of google maps and my hostel's address, I head toward Ørestad.

I get off the metro and wander about midly disoriented. My bearings are off - I'm still not used to the sun being south instead of north. Also, the area is under development and the map on the metro is not detailed enough to be useful. I begin to wonder whether this half constructed building is actually the parkour park when something in the distance catches my eye. A bird? A plane? No! It's the unmistakable shape of someone konging a wall!

It's hard to describe my feelings at this point. On the other side of the world, alone, in an unfamiliar culture, ignorant of the native language... and people still enjoy jumping over walls. Such a simple delight. In fact, as I get closer it becomes evident that quite a lot of Danish folk enjoy jumping over walls, especially the younger generation.

I have to admit I'm a little underwhelmed. I've been given the impression that this is the largest parkour park in the world, and to discover the little that it entails is a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, I drop my bags and start stretching.

I had imagined myself being more social, but using the percieved language barrier and the presence of so many younger folk I manage to make myself feel a little out of place and self-conscious - as usual.

Before long I decide to go and find my hostel. I remember from google maps I just have to go east (apologies to the Pet Shop Boys). The map at the metro gives me the location of Vejlands Allé, which I'm pretty sure ran into the hostel's road, Amager Landevej. I'm not quite sure how far it is, but I catch the metro a couple of stops north and start walking.

As it turns out, it is 2km before I hit Amagerbrogade. Which is not the street I'm looking for, but I seem to recall that it becomes Amager Landevej - saw it on one of the transit maps or somesuch. 1.5km later my memory proves correct, and in another 500m I find the Copenhagen Airpost hostel, aka The Flying Viking.

Looking at the map now, the metro was a complete waste of time. Would have been quicker to walk straight from the parkour park.

Anyway, lugging my sleeping bag around finally pays off when I check in to the hostel, as they charge extra for blankets + pillows. I soon run into Twan, an Irish bloke who has been living in Denmark for some time. He gives me some pro tips including don't bother paying for the metro - it's a fully automated system and they pretty much don't police the tickets. He also invites me out to some place called Christania where he is headed with a couple of other blokes at the hostel.

Not like I have any other plans, so off we go! Turns out Christania is the place to go if you want to get high in Copenhagen. Marijauna is not legal in Denmark, but in Christania you will find many booths openly selling it. I gathered that they have a certain independence from the rest of the city, and the police aren't interested in messing with them. I make them sound really dangerous with that statement, but they have ground rules for the area including things like "No Weapons" and the atmosphere is generally friendly.

We start the night playing chess and backgammon at a pub, and I learn how to say one through six in spanish from my opponent, who thrashes me thoroughly - I think he won sies games to my uno. Following the games we head to another pub which is playing some recognisable music. Me and Twan bust out some epic beats on the table to accompany Guns 'n Roses and Metallica, much to the amusembarrasment of our companions.

Eventually that pub closes and we head back to the first. I'm starting to fade but the other guys seem keen to continue so I let them know I'm going to head home. Twan is a little worried about me finding my way and the like, so encourages me to hang around. And by "encourages" I mean "buys me a non-alchoholic beer to keep me there for the round".

We meet Nikolai there, a middle-aged guy who we ran into earlier in the night. Turns out he is about to leave though, and bound for the same metro as me. I let him know I'll accompany him, and now Twan is really worried - he's not as quick to trust Nikolai as me. But he comes around after a couple of minutes and me and Nikolai head off.

The trip home is unremarkable... Nikolai gives me a metro ticket and tries to put me on the wrong train, but I am of course still sober so I wait for the next one that is actually going in my direction :)

Lovely welcome.

Delicious Solitude (2009/11/01)

In the morning following Amanda and Ness' departure I feel their absence quite keenly, as the streets are fresh with memories of the three of us. However, I soon find some new shops and stumble upon an awesome scarf - note at this point I'd never worn a scarf in my life, so that should give you some idea of its fantasticness.

So, a little cheered I set off in an unexplored direction and end up at the castle gardens. Aside from being grand and beautiful, the gardens serve as a home for squirrels! After a pleasant walk I returned to the hostel refreshed, before heading out for a traditional Czech dinner - pork, dumplings and cabbage. The cabbage was quite vinegary which is not so much to my taste, nevertheless my chopsticks made short work of the dish.

I returned to the hostel to find the kitchen occupied by eight girls[1] and one guy, swapping travel stories. I find a place to squeeze in at the table and do some writing in my travel diary, while the ladies spin tales about creepy "gentlemen" in italian clubs, sleazy hostel companions, drivers trying to take advantage of hitch-hikers, forceful drunken antics at oktoberfest, and on and on. Caused me a little apprehension, but I realised Manda and Ness had been travelling for weeks already, and based on their demeanours had either not encountered such behaviour, learned to avoid/deal with it, or were enjoying the attention.

[1] about five of which were of course Australian.

The next day marks my last in Ĉeský K, and after a lazy morning in the kitchen I hop on my bus to Prague. I arrive at Hlavní Nadraží station, and immediately get lost due to terrible signage. But I have time to spare, and after much meandering I discover where my bus stops and where I buy tickets.

One lunch break and some reading later I am on my bus to Nürnberg, where I am planning to hop on a train to Copenhagen. There are some roadworks happening in Prague and the traffic is awful - the bus is something like 45 minutes late getting out of the city.

It is about now that I start to think it would have been a good idea if I had arranged for more than a twenty minute layover in Nürnberg. The bus was scheduled to arrive at 21:15, the train departing at 21:35, and I had been given the impression there was a ten minute walk from the bus stop to the train station, the route for which I did not know.

For the moment, I chill. The bus trip is 225 minutes, so I figure it's possible we'll make up some time and get some rest. I awake at 21:00, and indeed the ETA is now 21:36 - starting to look like things might work. I figure it's definately worth fighting for, and hop down to the lower level of the bus to talk to the greman supervisor who surveyed the passengers earlier.

I fill him in on the situation and ask him how I get to the train once the bus drops me off. He assures me there is only a short walk in a straight line and says he will call ahead to see if he can get the train to wait. I assure him that I can run, and if he can give me five minutes I will make that train.

21:15. The minute approaches and I begin to bask in the tension. My confidence falters when flashing lights pull out in front of the bus - border control! The bus comes to a halt as police hop on to inspect passports. I get it over with as quickly as possible, having reached inner calm. Either I make the train or I spend a night in Nürnberg, and there is no room for panic if I want to make the first.

The bus starts up again and the ETA is back to 21:45. My heart sinks, I'm not sure how long the train will wait. However, looking at the actual time I notice it is only 20:25. I had misread the hour when I woke and had only been watching the minutes since! Having psyched myself up for an event still an hour in the future I find myself quite amused, and turn to music and meditation to maintain my mental state.

Fear / and panic in the air / I want to be free / from desolation and despair

I smile. In this moment stretched thin over an hour, I already am.

And I feel / like everything I sow / has been swept away / well I refuse to let you go!

My resolve is firm. I don't know whether my river leads toward a peaceful lagoon or crashing waterfall, but in my mind's eye its course is crystal clear.

21:35. The bus stops, and in the next moment I am outside unloading the baggage.

I can't get it riiiiiiiight / get it riiiiiiiight / since I met you

"Dude, you're very nice and all but grab your bag and catch your train!"

The american's that were sitting behind me on the bus. Why can't they see what I see? Why can't they realise that's exactly what I'm doing, but there's other bags in the way first?

"I'm working on it!"

A mumble from my own mouth. The bare minimum to push the distraction away.

Loneliness be over / when will / loneliness be over?

And there it is, my bag! One shoulder, two shoulders. Two steps - the supervisor! I shake his hand -

"The train will wait for five minutes!"

Naught but the chase remains.

Old Krummy (2009/10/30)

Despite a few rowing induced groans in the morning, none of us wanted to waste any Czech time and we were soon booked in for horse riding. One taxi and some brief instructions about using the reins later we were on our way, the instructor leading the way. Having not been on a horse before, I was surprised by how disjoint the motion felt - I expected the ride to be much smoother somehow.

It was pretty clear from the outset that the horses had a fair idea what they were doing and didn't need our instruction, and personally I had a bit of trouble convincing my horse to accept any. May have had something to do with the fact that we'd specified ourselves as beginners, and also that I felt a bit rude whacking a horse I barely knew to encourage it to go faster.

The field is quickly set with the instructor at the front, Ness following closely, me three or four horse lengths behind her, and Manda bringing up the rear. I'm trying to gently encourage my horse to go faster and catch Ness up, but not really getting through to the beast. Manda tries to fix things a bit by spurring her horse into a canter, but my horse isn't having any of that and matches pace to hold on to third place. Somehow we still don't catch up, I suspect Manda pulled out of the overtaking maneuver for my sake.

Anyway, we have a pleasant walk through some fields and forest, though we have to follow the road for a short while to get there. The road is less pleasant to walk along but at least I feel like me and the horse are cooperating when pulling over out of the way of vehicles.

It was nice, but the whole experience left me a little wanting. I don't feel like it captured the essence of horse riding, and kind of feel like it isn't something you can treat as a brief excursion. Rather, it requires some commitment and dedication to get to know your horse and really learn to ride. Maybe one day.

For dinner we make our way to Laibon's, a vegetarian restaurant on the river bank. But having just spent an hour on horseback, we vote to sit inside on the cushioned chairs rather than next to the river itself. Our waiter was delightfully - no, ridiculously merry, and was quick to offer us blankets along with the menu. He wore a manic grin when he brought out glasses for water, and giggled a bit as he slid them across the table toward us. Some delicious lentil soup served as icing and made the meal difficult to dislike.

The next morning presented us with a nasty surprise, as while lazing in the morning Amanda discovers a bed bug in her linen/sleeping bag. Corrective measures are initiated immediately, and she borrows some clothes from Ness for the day so the hostel manager can wash hers along with the linen.

Amanda had been searching for a coat over the past few days, and the bed bug situation makes the search a little more urgent. Fortunately, we come across a store featuring an acceptable coat, and warmth is acquired.

In the evening we visited the Horor[sic] Bar, which was adorned with bats and skeletons and coffins and the like. The main attraction was that they served some drinks in test tubes - IIRC the drinks were called Coffin Varnish and Fake Blood, but I wasn't paying too much attention to the alcohol and ended up drinking apple tea for the night.

I should mention Chloe from our hostel joined us on this excursion. She worked at a hostel in Edinborough, and was soon due to pay her homeland (New Zealand) a visit which she wasn't overjoyed about.

After the test tube drinks the girls order a round of Pina Coladas - Ness offers me some and it's possibly the most drinkable form of alcohol I've encountered, but I manage to give the impression that I don't really like it. Go go communication failure and predisposition against alcohol! If there had been another round I feel like I would have joined, but that was the end of drinks for the night.

It's on the walk back to the hostel that I realise tomorrow is our last day together, as Amanda and Ness are heading to Austria the day after. It puts me in a sullen mood, and I have trouble sleeping (imagining that every little itch is a bed bug doesn't help either), but I formulate a mission.

Ness kept mentioning on our walks through town that she wanted to find a place that did scrambled eggs for breakfast. I've never made them before but look up the preparation instructions on wikipedia (^5 internet) and it doesn't look so difficult. So, I set my alarm (connected to headphones so I don't wake anyone else) for 06:40. Turns out to be pointless as I wake at 06:20. My body is pretty consistent at waking when I want/need to wake as long as it is well rested.

Anyway, turns out I'm excessively early, and after a shower and quick trip to the store for eggs I'm left killing time while the kitchen gets cleaned. My timing continues to suck, scrambled eggs cook a lot faster than I expect and I forget to add milk and don't have toast ready yet and the tomato is barely cooked, but hey, there's eggs and they're scrambled. I figure the hostel owners/other travelers won't appreciate me taking food into the dorms, so drag the girls out of bed to the kitchen for an early, slightly awkward breakfast - it will be midday before my melancholy lifts.

In the meantime, we take a stroll through a park and find a variety of birds, including a blue kingfisher. On the way back to the hostel we stumble on a shop that sells chopsticks, which goes a long way toward cheering me up - I feel complete again for the first time since Kuala Lumpar. Of course when we get back to the hostel we make soup, rendering my new purchase completely ineffective.

We head to Two Mary's for dinner, to check out their medieval feast. Me and Manda go for the pheasant and rabbit, Ness of course isn't interested in the meat dishes. Unfortunately something gets mixed up and we end up being given chicken and rabbit, but oh well. I get a chance to use my chopsticks so I'm happy. We also had mead alongside the meal in various flavours - apple, cinammon and moravian. They were all fairly strong to my taste, but particularly the moravian had a lovely aftertaste that reminded me of white rice.

Finally, we stopped by the restaurant next to the hostel for some dezerty, which as you may have inferred is the czech term for dessert. Eating crepes and icecream with chopsticks was easier than I expected. :)

Next morning we stop for breakfast, and I try to order some pastry that I have no chance in hell of pronouncing. Eventually I succeed, but more thanks to pointing than my butchered czech. Now I can't even remember what flavour the filling was!

Shortly after breakfast, Amanda and Ness hop on their shuttle to Linz, leaving me to walk the streets of Ĉeský Krumlov alone - I have another day before my train is on its way to Copenhagen.

Ĉeský Krumlov (2009/10/19)

They say rations gifted at the beginning of a journey bodes well for the remainder.

Well actually I just made that up, but we barely had a chance to walk around Ĉeský Krumlov before being showered with food! A fellow traveller was spending his last night in our hostel and graciously offered us his leftover spices, rice, cream and vegetables. We put them to use immediately in a delicious stir fry.

The next morning offered fine weather and saw us preparing to go rafting down the windy and beautiful Vltava river. As soon as we made the booking we started spotting wildlife - while waiting for our driver I felt something on my hand and turned around to find it being licked by the owner's pet lizard!

The driver didn't speak much english, but really didn't need to. The message was pretty clear when he stopped next to the river, threw us some life jackets, oars, waterproof container and dragged the raft near the water. And just in case there was any doubt, gave us a wave and drove off.

So we set off down the river, mere centimetres standing between Dry and Very Wet™. With three people in the boat and approximately zero rowing experience between them you might think some organisation is warranted, but our unanimous non-vote was "eh, wing it". More rotations = more fun, anyway (indeed many rotations were achieved over the next three hours).

Didn't take us long to work out that those little white bits on the water generally indicate the presence of rocks. ;)

There wasn't a lot of development around the river, so for most of the trip we had an unspoiled view of the forest, which was simply beautiful. There were some stalls set up at fairly regular intervals advertising beer, but much to Amanda's chagrin they were all closed (because it's off-season?).

Eventually we had our fill of the forest and took our amusement into our own hands:

"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with R."

Yes. River. Very creative Ness. My turn, but before I can come up with anything my thoughts are interrupted by something on my hand. I instinctively flick my wrist while turning my head, only to discover a dragonfly (still!) perching there. It flies off after just a moment, but turns around to land straight back on my arm! Very still, I call it:

"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with DOMA... You might want to turn around for this one."

Unfortunately it was a little camera shy, the delightful little dragonfly. Now thinking about it I cannot lie, it was the same hand the lizard decided to try. I wonder what scent it had thought to apply, and hope to find more before I die.

Other wildlife highlights included a water snake swimming along the shore, and a couple of fish keen for some fresh air.

Much of the rest of the trip was spent prone, after Amanda had the fantastic idea of lying down IN the raft. We let the current do the work and just used the oars for achieving more rotations, especially when the sun got in our eyes.

However, eventually our peace came crashing to a halt - quite literally - as we hit the river bank, a rock and a tree branch/root? I'm a little hazy on the order of events, but no damage was done so we were all quite amused.

We had a small "rapid" section to navigate shortly before we reached our destination, which was little more than a sloped waterfall. There was a channel cut for so we didn't have to worry about rocks, however it was barely wide enough for our raft. We must have come to some unspoken understanding about rowing and navigation over the journey as we managed to straighten up and got through the channel with only minor scrapes along the side of the raft.

Our landing was a little awkward, and we finished the journey almost as dry as we started which I was a little disappointed about. But I didn't spend too much time in remorse about that as my lower back started complaining while pulling the raft out of the water, presumably about the posture I'd been keeping for the last couple of hours. It's quite a familiar feeling for me, and I have some idea how to deal with it - I go lie in the grass and do my physio prescribed lumbar rolls.

We call the rafting crew to let them know we've finished and wait for the van to come pick us up. Before it arrives we are joined by more rafters - we chat for awhile and I attempt to start some hacky sack but it doesn't go so good. Well, it serves its purpose as amusement, but mostly involves the ball flying everywhere rather than any display of skill.

Eventually our driver arrives - it's the same guy who dropped us off, and the girl's dump the task on me of trying to ask him to drop us at Tesco's Hypermart on the way back so we can get some shopping done. I'm game, I figure I have a simple strategy for communicating through the language barrier here:

  1. Help load the rafts into the van (thereby non-verbally communicating comraderie, friendship, as well as getting me close to him)
  2. Repeat "Tescos" until he figures out what the hell I'm saying.

He seemed to grasp it after only the second time, but I wasn't quite sure he understood we wanted to be dropped there until he pulled up outside the hypermart. Shook his hand as we disembarked, top bloke :)

Bankwest turns out to be fail - me and Amanda are refused service by the ATM. Ness' card still works though so it's just a minor convenience. We get our shopping done and commence searching for the way back to our hostel in the dark. Top the night off by walking along a highway we are apparently not supposed to walk along - when we get to the next intersection the cops are waiting for us! We took a shortcut up an embankment which means we bypassed the no walking sign, and having had a second look at it I don't think it would have clicked had I seen it. The sign was just a silhouette of a walking man surrounded by a red circle (which was also the edge of the sign).

Good day.

Following In Her Footsteps (2009/10/08)

Current Time: 2009-10-05 04:00 GMT+8
Health Report: Early cold symptoms, slight sniffles

This part is easy, as dad gives me a lift to the airport. Check-in is quick at that time of the morning, but I guess the pilot slept in as the plane departs 40 minutes after schedule. The cheap Air Asia deals must net them a fair bit of business, the guy I'm seated next to is on his return trip to the UK. However, there is a spare seat between us so it's not too uncomfortable.

Actually, I lie - the seats aren't comfortable at all. There's no complementary food on this flight either and I'm starting to feel a little worse for wear, so using the loose currency gifted by Mum I shell out 4RM for some water. 26.90RM left. I'm kicking myself for not getting water once I got through customs, but I later learn it only cost me around AUD$1.30 - bargain!

The in-flight information is very culturally sensitive. Not only does the aircraft's heading include an arrow towards Mecca for the Muslims, there is an arrow towards Dampier for the Yaburara tribe :)

Somehow we arrive in Kuala Lumpar half an hour early - I'm assuming the pilot was still hungover and disregarded any and all airspeed regulations to get the flight over with quicker. Credit where it is due though, I'm yet to experience a smoother landing.

I know a lot of people through work and family who have visited KL, but obviously I never ask the right questions as I've no idea what to expect. Baggage collection is pretty slow, and everyone crowds around the conveyor belt making it annoying to get to it when I do spot my bag. I keep seeing familiar faces though which somehow keeps me amused - I smile at a pretty girl from Perth airport.

I have four and a half hours and nothing to do, so first plan is to find somewhere nice to sit down and make a plan. Random airport coffee shop fits the bill, I order some mushroom soup (8.90RM) to soothe my nose+throat, and sundae which probably aggravates it again but hell it was 1.90RM (AUD$0.62)! Service is excellent, the sundae arrives at my table exactly as I finish my soup.

Refreshed, I resign myself to carrying heavy luggage around while waltzing around the airport. I only get about 10 metres before noticing that baggage check-in is already open for my flight - bonus!

Slowest. Check-in. Ever. There were three seperate queues, and someone near the front of mine must have lost their passport or something, we didn't move for a looooooong time. During the wait I resolved to start this blog, and tried to work out how I could arrange to spend exactly all my ringits.

So, next stop was the convenience store, whereupon I discovered such wonders as milo-in-a-can (2.30RM = AUD$0.85!!!), and urn-in-a-store. They made it possible for you to buy instant cup soup/noodles, then heat them right there in the store. Genius!

I wander around for awhile and run into a food hall with actual Malaysian fare. I have more ringits than I expected thanks to a gross miscalculation in the convenience store, so I figure I can spend 5RM in here and use the rest for a drink on the plane. However I misunderstood the pricing arrangement and the dish I was attempting to purchase (some kind of meat in a tasty looking sauce that turned out to be quite spicy) was 5.00RM plus 1.20RM for rice. We didn't communicate very well, but after waving 5RM around for a little while and attempting to tell her I'd just take the meat she offered the rice for free. Felt a little bad about it but accepted her gracious offer. I owe you one KL.

I grab some cutlery and sit down, and I'm pleased to discover the sturdiest plastic spoon I've ever had the pleasure of wielding. Then I remember I brought chopsticks in my bag, so the spoon is relegated to seperating meat from bones duties.

It wasn't until I had curry sauce all over my shirt and pants that I realised the spoon was not THAT sturdy. Very pleased that she gave me three napkins.

I'm almost devo when I pass through customs and realise I left my chopsticks behind on the table, but I had a good enough time to shrug it off.

I find my seat on the plane to London and start talking to the lady next to me, but before long the guy behind me interrupts and asks if we can swap seats as he's travelling with said lady. This causes a little confusion to the crew over the course of the flight as him and his companion (mother?) had ordered vegetarian meals. But we're all mature adults and such trifles are easily dealt with.

More importantly, the seat switch puts me right across the aisle to the Pretty Girl From Perth Airport! I proceed to pointedly avoid eye contact for thirteen hours, using tactics such as inserting earphones, looking out the window and trying to get some sleep. Smooth.

Before long the cabin crew comes to feed us and put movies on. I try to watch Casablanca but it's in french or something, so I switch to Transformers. Which is also in french, but yeah I don't really notice. Well, I did notice, but mainly because the audio track kept switching randomly between french and english. Sometimes for a whole line, sometimes it would switch three times in a single word.

Anyways, thirteen hours is a long time to spend on a plane. Air Asia actually chartered an Air Mauritius vehicle for this flight (something about saving time, I guess whatever aircaft they owned in the area were stuck being repaired or some such) which I'm told was a bit more comfortable than the actual Air Asia planes, but it wasn't doing much for me and my sniffling nose and my aching head. Drifted to sleep a couple of times but spent a large portion of the flight alternating between Beethoven and drum and bass (cheers James), which kept me sane. Don't ask me how.

Turns out they offer free water on the long flight, but don't sell any drinks! Thus the plan to spend all my ringits is foiled, but at least I'm only left with notes.

After much discomfort we eventually touch down in London. Elated, I finally greet the PGFPA, sharing my joy. Turns out she is coming home to London, but it turns out the roaming on her phone isn't working so she can't get in touch with her boyfriend to find out how far away he is. She doesn't seem very worried about it though, I have my own mission to attend to and my baggage just appeared so we wish each other luck and I'm on my way.

Not looking forward to getting back in the air.

The cheap Air Asia flight goes to Stanstead airport - we arrived at 23:00 and my flight to Prague leaves from Heathrow at 07:40. I'd been talking to various people about my options before and during the trip, and got a maybe for public transport (possibly a bit late for it) and expensive for taxi (one guy reckoned it would cost me £100 which is like more than my flight to KL!). However the guy at customs assured me there was a shuttle between the airports running all night - we had a bit of an extended talk as he wasn't impressed with my answer of "I don't know, I haven't booked a return ticket yet" to his question of when I was returning to Australia.

Anyway, he was right and the shuttle only set me back £22.50. I don't know where people get the idea that England is green, it was pretty much murky and dark grey the entire time ;)

At some point during the bus trip I realised I was still wearing my shoes, and as I was taking them off managed to drop my ticket on the floor. I picked it up with my newly free toes, and was a little dismayed to note that my bus ticket now smelled like foot.

Which ticket, the bus ticket or plane ticket?  
You can't use the tea tree oil, it is in the duffle bag.  
The duffle bag is closed.  
You can't get to the zips, you hid them behind a flap to make tampering more difficult.  

I may have been suffering a little under sleep deprivation at this point.

Heathrow Airport was kind of cheaper than I expected. There was only one coffee shop open at that hour of the morning, but I managed to get some decent food and hot chocolate and stacks of NAPKINS which helped greatly in the process of clearing my nasal passageway. I joined the legions of folk sleeping on benches at Heathrow airport for about an hour, which my shoulder didn't appreciate but was probably worth it. Tried and failed to get on wireless with my Plan 9 laptop.

It was a popular time for flights, we had to wait for three British Airway crafts to take off as we approached the runway, and there was at least another two behind us. Thankfully my worries about getting back in the air were ill-founded and the two hour flight was almost pleasant. There's cloud cover over most of western europe but the Czech Republic is lovely and sunny.

I get off the plane and I'm into the first convenience store to get a SIM card and message Amanda. Costs me €4 with €2 credit, and then I'm into the streets of Prague. First stop is to get some local currency, then I meet another aussie who is trying to pay for a bus ticket but has realised she needs coins, so we head back to the airport to break our notes. I end up having to go to a change booth because the convenience store belies its name and won't break 1000 kronar (AUD$66).

It's now around 11:25 - I have a vague idea of the stations I can bus to from the airport and Amanda gives me a time and destination: bus leaves Florenc for Ĉeský Krumlov at 13:00. I hop on the first bus displaying a name I recognise and make my way from there.

I actually want to stop by another station on the way, Hlavní nádraží, so I can sort out my outgoing Czech bus. I'm pretty confident this is walking distance from Florenc, so when I arrive at Dejvícká I look for a bus to either - don't find any so I head into the underground metro.

The metro is pretty clearly mapped, and the signage is good. My Czech pronounciation is apparently terrible, I try and speak the name of a station to a girl on the train with the intention of asking whether that's where we were currently stopping and she had no idea what I was on about. Then she got off at the station I was trying to ask about! Two seconds later I look around and notice the next station is clearly advertised on an LED display within the train.

Anyway, I switch train lines and when I get to the platform there is a train waiting, about to depart. I have to make a split second decision whether to chance it and hope it is going the right way, but excellent signage assauges my fears and leaves me quietly confident that it is my train.

Next stop is Hlavní nádraží. I take two steps off the train, check the time and get right back on the train - 12:36 doesn't really leave me enough time to mess around. Especially as the trip from Florenc metro to the Florenc bus station isn't so well signed and takes me about 10 minutes to find!

Still, got there with another 10 minutes to spare - mission successful.