An exhausting day standing watching bands for 6 hours and no way am I sitting up the back in a camp chair looking at the big screens, no way! First up, I’m With Her, beautiful three part harmonies, St Paul And The Broken Bones, awful front guy so walked off, Snarky Puppy, pure jazz brillance and plan to see all 3 shows. The rain comes down in a massive deluge here pouring down the sides of the marquee like a river. Norah Jones, too low energy for BluesFest, one slow song after another, walked off to get a good spot for Gary Clark Jnr in the other marquee and saw the end of the hot-rocking Imelda May from Ireland, now that’s more like it! Clark is on another level, no standard blues here, it’s all gnarley, edgey and raw. Then Iggy Pop, the last real punk left on earth, still shirtless and skinny with two thrashing guitarists – can you handle it!
The day ended with Chic and Nile Rodgers, they played the Daft Punk ‘Get Lucky’ and Bowie’s, Let’s Dance, both of which Rodger’s co-wrote and played guitar on the recordings. These are fantastic concert songs – and then from side stage 20 or 30 people came on to dance with the band.
I got back a bit late and missed seeing two or three acts that sounded interesting and only managed to see Chic and Lionel Richie, both incredible, especially Nile Rodgers – everyone loves disco.
Lionel also brings the party and he ends with All Night Long.
I did a little too much yesterday, went for a surf in Byron Bay and tried a 9′ 4″ surfboard for a change, and actually stood up twice, sort of, momentarily. I’d forgotten how much bloody paddling you need to do. Got sunburnt in the process and thinking next time I’ll just go for a swim.
Bought a few bottles of the famous Byron Bay hot sauces and passed by a hole-in-the-wall cafe in the earthy Byron style, the woman wearing a tie-dye shirt selling Famous Byron Bay Brownies, $5 –who could resist?
My camping neighbours, the Brazilians from Sydney, offered me their tents as they left but I have no room, so in the bin they go. Since then I have been offered more tents and there’s one empty and abandoned just beside me here. The Sustainability Team guy said they fill up dozens of skip bins every year with chairs, tents and gum boots, and everything else.
I’ve been trying to pick my moment to pack down but showers keep coming through.
I gave this flute busker some coins and asked if I could take her photo. She agreed and I love this shot because it’s shows a nice sample of the street life you come across in Byron Bay, well, at least one side of it, of course, there’s other sides, boozy sunburnt guys as well, and there’s incredible wealth here too, looking at some of the houses hidden in the trees. The Industrial Park has sensibly been placed just out of town in it’s own estate, not mixed in with the retail or residential like we sometimes do in New Zealand – Tauranga being a classic example of poor urban planning, in my option.
Byron Bay has the great combination of that glorious golden beach attached to a properous low-rise town with a predominance of owner-operated retail shops, the vegetation is lush, and the weather is warm.
Yesterday about 6 bands I managed to see either the full hour set or just two songs; The California Honeydrops, best soul funk all original. First Aid Kit, young scandi sisters doin’ country pop. Jose Gonzalez, solo classical guitar with floor stomp box and moody singing – 4 songs, Melissa Etheridge, one and a half songs and I’m gone, boring, Seal, totally awesome, starts with Sinatra swing numbers, The way you wear your hat, the way you . ., then takes the roof off with his big hits at the end, gives it everything he’s got, with that lived-in muted voice like Tony Bennett. Sheryl Crowe, 2 songs, she’s looking fiesty and owning that stage. John Butler Trio with percussionists and extra vocalists – frickin’ hell, this guy, really has it, incredible guitarist with multi effects pedals, a huge sound he really rocks the room, tellin’ the truth, included an on-stage mining protest STOP ADANI. He’s at the top of his game, any international artist looking at that show would say you can’t do better than that – he’s the next Bob Marley.
No performer I have ever seen can work a crowd like Michael Franti. He barely does any actual songs he just repeats a lyric, jumps up and down, goes out into the audience, hugs people – you could say he brings the party. It’s a unique performance, he does it all – he brings his beautiful pregnant wife out for a song, he has small children on stage singing a song, cute, then a couple walked out on stage, the man dropped to his knee, the cameras zoomed in and there on the big screen the guy holds out a wedding ring to the woman and asks if she will marry him – the crowd loved it. Don’t think about it too much – it’s all about peace,
lurve and humanity. Franti is also a big yoga advocate and sometimes uses the first part of his show to do a mass yoga class – but not last night, this BluesFest crowd is too well lubricated by 10.30pm for that.
On the other hand, there’s Jackson Browne, the serious songwriter. There’s a kind of sadness with so many American folk performers these days I feel, they are all quite obviously uncomfortable with their country at the moment – he touched on the subject, sounding quite weary and bewildered, ‘I guess soon we’ll have a commonsense government’.
He sings all those beautifully arranged songs with meaningful lyrics with an incredible band which includes a pedal steel to give that country sound. He’s a low energy performer – no rocker but his young lead guitarist is so tasteful. It was also a guitar parade, he and his guitarist changed guitar for every song. The Americans are very loyal to their Gibson J45s but they don’t really sound any good as a stage acoustic. I had my little binoculars and see all his guitars are vintage – well, he is Jackson Browne. He played Take It Easy which he co-wrote with Glen Frey from the Eagles, and ends on Running On Empty.
Some great T shirt slogans seen, here’s my pick.
You had me at vegan.
A DJ is not a musician.
Man flu survivor.
Free your mind and your arse will follow.
It’s a mugs game.
Who would tattoo this on their back, Such Is Life, ? – an Australian, of course.
I went into Byron Bay town to buy some provisions and the beach was beautiful and there’s always good surf there too, all along the beach. I wanted to go for a swim but didn’t have my togs. Later, an Australian guy I was chatting to said, “No worries, this is Byron mate, you can swim in anything or nothing, just go in your undies – nobody cares.”
With only 5% battery left in this laptop it’ll be a short post with a few pics. Beautiful morning with the tandem skydivers circling down overhead.
Yesterday ended with Robert Plant, sensational, the best sound, lighting and musicianship I have ever seen, and they had incense burning on stage to give the full sensual effect.
New Power Generation, not a good sound, vocals all muffled and others said the same thing but what a crazy, funky set of Prince hits – like the best party you’ve ever been to – wild!
But a real highlight was Newton Faulkner from the UK. He plays solo with a looping pedal he hardly used, an electro kick drum and a bass pedal thing and he managed to get the whole crowd singing three part sing-alongs at one point – genius, powerful voice, simple songs and so relaxed, and ends with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Ok, just 3% left now, going to Byron Bay town today to buy supplies and do a little shopping.
Juan is my next door neighbour who I helped figure his tent out when we both arrived at the same time, from Brazil, he was with his girlfriend last night in his tiny tent, very cozy, he’s here with a whole bunch of Brazilians.
I saw about 8 different bands yesterday starting with All Our Exes Live in Texas, who were charming and a bit nervous, Gomez from the UK played their first album all the way through, so good, was never a follower but they have a huge guitar rock sound, amazing band. Leon Bridges is such a smooth soul dude with a sharp band, wow, so tight, love it, they’re playing twice too.
Tash Sultana does the whole band herself, amazing, lots of younger people watching and she’s very right on, fiesty and accomplished. Everything looped with multiple delay units, the cameras showed her foot pedals, dozens of them, but she does it all effortlessly, plays big killer guitar solos, plays trumpet, percussion, keyboards, and sings from the soul – what a star. Must admit it got a bit too much of the same again and again for me so left and saw the closing numbers of The Wailers, Bob Marley’s old band, and yup, they play all those songs etched in the DNA of the people all around the world.
Totally muddy here, huge downpours all yesterday, but so warm, sub tropical. Today the sun has come out, phew, a high of 28 degrees and no rain predicted. Just sitting by my tent drinking tea, eating muesli and listening to the sound checks going on in the distance. I heard a half song of the man himself, Robert Plant, singing a few lines from a Led Zeppelin song, ‘mama said that’s the way, that’s the way it’s gonna be . . ‘ , hey, who out there can name that song?
Only an Australian catering outfit would call their café Bloody Good. They start at 6am selling Bacon & Egg Rolls for $9, cooked on a bar-be right there in the tent. The smell of searing bacon is drawing in the campers from far and wide this morning. Four years ago they were selling the same thing as well as good coffee and the usual camping supplies like milk and bread.
So far it’s a wet BluesFest with tropical down pours – but the show will go on and the organisers are well prepared for the rain. The camping areas have been earthworked years ago to be curved into channels either side of the rows and even the roads have been raised up to create run-off. Best place to be right now is in the Bloody Good Cafe – that bacon!
I really like this festival, it sounds a cliché, but everyone is so friendly, people have time to chat and this year I’m going to be more sociable and so far have managed to meet all sorts: old, young, fat, skinny – everyone has a story. One thing I have to say about Australians, they sure know how to do outdoor living in style; their camper vans and fold-out trailer campers (like Top-A-Gee’s) are amazing vehicles – and they’re all pouring into the site right now, hundreds and hundreds of them.
Last night I slept for about 12 hours, it’s the first time I’ve done that for a while. I’m on NZ time which means 8am here is my 6am so I get to the showers before the crowds. It’s the first time I’ve used a one-tap hot shower, and the temperature is set just right – cheers.
It’s actually been four years since I was last here and I pleased to say it’s all more or less all the same, same layout, same atmosphere, even all the stages and facilities are the same, and there’s staff everywhere. I have met a few people who are ‘voli’s, (volunteers), who work a couple of hours a day for a free pass. One person I met is assigned to loading in the road cases back stage – nice, I wouldn’t mind doing that.
I went for a walk around Byron Bay and down to the beach and around the streets. The township seems more prosperous now and I glad to see woman still stroll around the streets in bikini’s and blokes shirtless in board shorts. It’s a beachy kind of town and very warm – I definitely brought too many warm clothes.
There’s so much great stuff to buy, from real shops too, not a mall in sight. I can imagine the locals have banned the development of malls, the Byronshire Council are pretty staunch I hear, no fast food chains are allowed to operate here either – good on them. The music starts at 3pm and later I’ll be seeing Tash Sultana and Leon Bridges. Talking to Mark as he ate his bacon and egg roll, Canned Heat are a must see – ok.
It’s now 12.30pm, the gates to the festival area will open in two hours and I can hear the PA systems cranking up – first with that huge roar of big pink noise they use to check EQ levels, and now the headliners are in there sound-checking. Not all artists do sound checks at a festival because it’s impossible to pre sound check all artists, so, only the ones who demand it, the rest accept the constraints of performing on a festival-stage, and bring in their presets to load into the digital consoles, and the first song is the sound check – that’s so rock ‘n’ roll.
Tomorrow morning I fly to the Gold Coast to spend Easter at the Byron Bay BluesFest. I have resurrected this blog and will run it for the next 6 days. I attended BluesFest three years in a row back in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and after three years I’m back, perhaps for the last time, camping 6 nights in my little tent. I was so undecided about going but the lineup this year is a real goodie so I just had to go.
Robert Plant’s current band play the kind I music I connect with very deeply – it’s the English blues rock from my youth fused with Third World especially African and Islamic, Americana and Celtic folk – with a few re-workings of Led Zepp numbers, of course. When so many bands from that era like The Stones and The Who just stick with their original sound, Plant has pushed the musical diversity thing.
I’d never admit to being a fan of Lionel Richie but I love the production sound of that R n B genre, it’s such a big smooth groove. Whenever I do a sound check for a PA system I always choose R n B because it sounds so lush – perfectly compressed, mastered and manicured (and it makes my PA sound good, of course, when the client is there). But that wasn’t the only reason I booked another Easter at Blues Fest, it was for all the other performers I’ll probably never get another chance of seeing – all in one place; Jackson Browne, Melissa Etheride, Sheryl Crowe, Seal, Chic with Nile Rodgers, Canned Heat ( . . going on up the country . .), Jose Gonzalez, Jimmy Cliff, Youssou N’Dour.
Plus a whole bunch I have checked out and can’t wait to see; Tash Sultana, Seu Jorge (plays a complete set of Bowie songs in Portuguese, check out his Life on Mars), Leon Bridges, All Our Exes Live In Texas, and First Aid Kit – the fascinating Soderberg sisters from Sweden. Ms Lauryn Hill is also there, but unfortunately playing at the same time as Robert Plant. The New Power Generation was Prince’s band when he was making all his best music – and I just love a big funk band – and there was no one more funkier than Prince! I’ll keep you posted.
I have decided to kick start this travel blog again. It’s been over three months since I returned home after two months travelling and I’m going to write briefly on some big themes in my life and thinking, and hopefully in yours too. I hope you’ll tune in.
This one’s about a political perspective I have not seen covered in the media that I read and hear. I believe NZ has just made a seismic change in it’s social landscape and there’s no turning back. It’s happened suddenly but it’s been brewing for years. It’s a change that many are only starting to recognise as a phenomena. I think it is, and I think historians will make much of it in time. It’s not based on any empirical evidence or even research – it’s just my gut feeling.
I have the good fortune of being in a profession that allows me to meet dozens of new people every month, I listen to daytime Radio NZ, read the Herald, and of course I scan social media. This is partly about the result of the recent election and that clever, so very clever, articulate and impressive young women, Jacinda Adern. It’s about the Labour, Green, First alliance –and it’s about a solid wave of progressive policy being heralded in as I write. And it all makes sense to me, at last, some intelligent action on poverty, housing, water, transport, education, climate change – it’s going to be all change.
Most of the people I meet are quietly breathing a sigh of relief. A hopeless, nasty, irresponsible, gutless, do-nothing government has gone – but it’s not just gone, it’s completely dead in the water, it’s agenda is now irrelevant, completely tired and out-of-date. Even the previous Clark Labour government followed a neo-liberal agenda. I think that approach has lost it’s momentum after 20 years. It has proven to be so wrong – and we want nothing more to do with it. National survived on a web of PR spin and alliances with the media for years – but they have been rumbled as they say, they’ve been found out. The change that will now occur in this country is the subject of this blog.
To bravely generalise, I suggest there has there has been four social groups in New Zealand history – in very broad terms: Maori, The Landowners, The Workers and The Poor: the criminals, drunks, disabled, and the wretched.
I believe New Zealand has finally broken that mould. From the time of the first mass European migration in the mid 1800s we have built an economy that maintained and consolidated those four groups. I would like to expand on this, but to summarise my main point: those four social divisions that supported the ruling families are now redundant. They held the country back and caused so much unfairness, misery and wasted energy, and it consolidated wealth in the hands of a few. With Maori, landowners, workers and the poor – this is what happened.
1. Maori are increasingly empowered and progressive Pakeha have finally managed to build a consensus and momentum that has allowed the adoption of Maori culture as a part of mainstream thinking.
2. The Landowners were always the ruling elite. They were the politicians, the councillors, the farmers and the employers. Soon they will be paying more in wages and taxes because the wealth of the nation is going to be increasingly shared. Social democracy is now firmly on the agenda and the old ruling elite are having their assumed privilege challenged.
3. The workers: the farm labourers, servants and dock-workers have stopped tugging on their cloth caps and many have moved into the middle class. They no longer want to be subserviant; they’re tradies with new utes, they’re merchants and entrepreneurs. It’s been slow and many have been left behind like care workers, cleaners and rural workers, but minimum wages have been increased and the Unions have been emboldened – and there’s even talk of a universal wage. In short, there’s a consensus now that everyone can and should live a good life, be educated, get free health care, and have a voice.
4. The poor, we’ve always had them and even accepted it as the price you pay for progress. A 5% unemployed threshold was once considered a part of good government. John Key once said, ‘People need to take responsibility for their choices in life.’ Meaning, if you’re poor, it’s your own fault. But now the miserable fringe of society have a big spot light on them and something is going to be done. Jacinda talks repeatedly about a nation that is kind and compassionate. The poor are not to be left on the margins, despised, feared and neglected and told to simply ‘go to WINZ’.
5. And lastly there’s a new category that barely existed 200 years ago: the other immigrants: Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, Indians, East Europeans and Mid Europeans. If they’re not educated and motivated, they’re enterprising and motivated. We are no longer a bi-cultural country, we are multi-cultural.
That’s it, my thought for today, I could expand on it, but that’s my gut feeling, the old New Zealand with its ruling elite and grateful workers has gone – we have made a big new step, a Michael Savage and a Norman Kirk step towards a country that is smarter, cleaner and fairer. I believe the rest of the world may be inspired by our example, if we follow through. But there’s work to be done because the decaying ideas of the wealthy and privileged, and the wanna-be’s to those ideas, are lurking, always lurking and grumbling in the wings – but I hope they’ll behave themselves for a while. Because now is a good time to be a New Zealander.
I fly back to Auckland tomorrow after two months of travelling on a round-the-world ticket and I thought it was a good time to tally up while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I visited 7 different countries (not counting airport stop-overs in other countries), I took 12 flights, 6 rail journeys and 5 ferry trips, figured out 5 underground transport systems, and I slept in 20 different beds. I managed to play music in 7 different venues.
It was a challenge to play live, write a blog, attend a swim event, visit relatives, and to do it as a budget traveller. I wanted to keep organised and stay motivated and have some fun. I wanted to be part of some different cultures and really get to know them, not just pass though, but to really get a feel for them and the people who lived there.
I hired bikes in many places and just cycled for hours down streets, alleyways and through parks. And I have never done so much walking in my whole life.
I possibly gave myself too much to do and in hindsight would have done some things differently. I kept fairly much to my original schedule and perhaps shouldn’t have. For example, a hire car in France would have been a better idea, but I did get to do really fast in the TGV from Lyon to Paris in 2 hours.
I found this kind of extended travelling quite complicated and demanding at times and I spent quite some time every few days searching through options and trying to make decisions from a large number of choices and their associated costs.
I will be glad to be home and back into my work. I have no regrets, and had no major problems or loses. I had no accidents or ill health and I never missed any of my flights or trains. Generally, I found things would often just fall into place.
To sum up, I’d say travelling is easier than it’s ever been before thanks to good accomodation operators, better transport networks, and most important of all, those wonderful iPhone apps.
Every new building in Hong Kong wants to out do all the others. I went to the tallest building in Hong Kong, the ICC on Kowloon at dusk and watched the beautiful city lights switch on, many have full sides covered in massive LED displays.
It feels weird on the 109th floor, 484 metres up in the Ozone Bar which is open to the air above and looking out on the huge expanse of humanity and construction – totally awesome – just staggering.
The sense of power and dominance of the Asian economy is right before your eyes – these guys go all the way – way, way, WAY over the top – it’s unstoppable, it’s just so impressive, heart stopping, it’s all so obvious, there’s no question – this economy is the most powerful and vibrant in the world – and there’s the proof, right before your eyes.
I’m trying to see a few different parts of the city and learn a few place names. I’m in the Wan Chai district in the middle of Hennessey Road, a place called The Check Inn, and Im glad I decided to get my own room, it’s a funny little concrete box with windows that can’t be opened and the toilet is also the shower, a kind of all-in-one wet room. This place is right in the middle of the city on the main raod where the trams run by. Further to the East is the Causeway Bay with the huge Times Square Mall a shiny new shopping precinct with LED screens the size of tennis courts Back down the road is Central and further Sheung Wan where there’s all the massive stores like Ralph Lauren, Gap, Dolce Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and numerous other brands I have no interest in. The prices seem to be more or less the same as in New Zealand. These are fancy stores with perfectly presented attractive young Chinese women serving – there’s no bargains here.
First day I went up the cable car to Victoria Peak, everyone has to do it and it’s no wonder. Yesterday I walked around the old town and found little hidden pockets of the old Hong Kong, the original brick colonial hospital, the police station and some buddhist temples which are just small rooms open to the street with old Chinese people, altars with burning insence. I imagine there would have been much more of these 20 years ago.
Of course, everywhere there’s hordes of people going places, it’s really crowded. I ended up taking the underground, called the MTR, at rush hour, Friday at 6pm and had the ultimate Hong Kong experience – unbelievable.
Kowloon is on the other side of the harbour where the ICC building is and where I also visited the Temple Street Night Market with all the amazing amount of fake watches, bags, jewelrey and cheap electronics and a ton of other stuff – so much stuff.
Yesterday I visited Wan Chai Computer Centre where all the good quality stuff is, and compared a few prices. The name brands are almost the same price as anywhere but there are all sorts of great gadjets of every kind, and two big packed floors of it.
There is so much to see here but there’s one big problem, it’s hot, swelteringly hot, about 32 degrees and the humidity is up to 85% – you get moist just walking down the street. I shower about 3 times a day, there’s only so much time you can spend in the heat and you need to plan the day to get back to the accomodation again to refresh. The stores are all air conditioned but soon as you step outside again – woosh, that heat!
Again, sorry for the bad grammar and spelling, I will add more details and clean it up later.
After three full days in Vienna I got my bearings and some kind of feeling for the city. It’s quite dignified with less of the exuberance of the other cities I visited. It feels very safe and somewhat serious in a way. No citizen of Vienna will ever forget it was the place that Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven produced their masterpieces – the reminders are everywhere, gold statues, gold theatres and even the buskers on the streets play classical music.
It was for me a taste of the German temperament and yet the Austrians I spoke to say it’s less friendly in Germany, apparently Austrians are more easy going. In terms of the language, it’s German with a few different words and an accent, not that I’d know.
The most striking feature of Vienna is all the massive buildings everywhere from the 18th and 19th century. Massive palaces and government buildings. There’s nothing quaint about Vienna, it’s all solid buildings. Everything interesting is behind a thick stone facade –it’s hard to find anything because it all looks the same and there’s little signage, perhaps a brass plaque when you are at the right address. I like the way they limit commercial signage on the streets in European cities, generally. It feels like an indoor city to me, everything is hidden away. I think it would take a long time to get to know this city.
The underground system is only about 3 years old and the modern trams run everywhere – along all the roads more tracks than any other city I visited. Today I just wondered about for a few hours because I had an evening flight. I discovered some charming places that I’d love to visit again.
I found SingSing the best vinyl record store so far with some incredible collectables. For example, an LP from 1964 of Janis Joplin singing in folk clubs – and, the first Beatles album, Meet The Beatles, a European pressing, not Parlophone, selling for 90E. Then down an alley with a canopy of green vegetation I found some restaurants I’d love to go to if in Vienna again – one I recognised from in a guide I read called La Boheme. I also found a few music venues where I could have played, but all to late. It’s not easy trying to learn a city and work the social media sites and find what’s going on when you only have a few days. There’s also the site-seeing and was so glad Guy pointed me in the direction of the Hunderwasser, it’s not mentioned in any of the ‘what to see’ guide onlines like Lonely Planet; they seem to point you in the direction of museums and art galleries that I’ve had enough of.
Vienna has it’s own special charm and one that took me a while to discover. Interesting to see jugglers instead of window washers at the intersections – so creative. I hired a bit twice and it’s definitely the only way to go because the distances can be quite far when walking everywhere – and the trams never go in the direction I want to go.
But the workings of the transport system were a bit too tricky for my liking and I was fined on the spot 103E for not ‘verifying’ my ticket on the Underground. I tried to explain I bought the ticket in good faith but I had no idea I needed to do something else to it, all the signs are in German and it’s hard to know what the procedures are when you’re in a new city for a few days, it all fell on deaf ears – there was to be no flexibility, I tried, politely, they listened politely, and they stayed firm – so German, it’s a worry, and for a moment there I reflected on the fact that Germany is still not allowed to develop a military of any significance.
Yesterday evening I really felt a part of this city and it’s people, and like a real local. I was eating sausage and watching an outdoor movie in one of the big plaza areas. I spoke at length to the production manager, Rabart about the system, top of the range L’Acoustics and all the latest delay and enhancement gear, and all fully backed up with a massive auxillary battery power – impressive.
It was a wonderful and relaxed atmosphere and I chatted with all sorts of people – good to see how they do these big free outdoor family events – it felt so safe – nice, civilised people enjoying a warm evening out: little visible security, and in contrast, for a change, not rows and rows of traffic cones everywhere and hundreds of people from the Council in safety vests keeping an eye on you. I have got some good ideas of how to do outdoor community events. The selling of alcohol is not a big issue like in New Zealand. It interesting how all the food sellers are allowed to sell alcohol, not that I drink but I think that’s a much fairer system in terms of allowing the vendors to make money. All have beer on tap and wine.
The one thing I’m going to recommend to all travellers is that, in my opinion, travel insurance is an unneccessary cost, I wasted $780. Maybe I should have only got it for the 10 days I was in the States. Next time I’d rather take my chances – because I think the chances of something really serious happening are quite low and can be managed with local services and a flight home if really serious – travel insurance is a con and plays on fear. Why do people always plan their lives for the worst case scenario.
Out of time, sorry for all the typos and mistakes, I need to read up on Hong Kong, luckily, I have my accomodation booked on Hennesey Road and a friend who I met in Stockholm who’s going to show me around – but I know so little about the place, it’s time to do bit of research on the Lonely Planet site.
All it took was a wiener schnitzel, some yoga and a bike ride to get into Vienna. It was never part of my wish list to visit this city – it just happened to be my departure point from Europe on my air ticket so I thought, why not. Arriving at night after 12 hours of travelling I had to summon the energy to figure out yet another public transport system, my fifth now not counting London and Paris that I have a basic knowledge of, but Vienna was a challenge.
I have had little exposure to the German language let alone Austrian apart from a few words watching Hogan’s Heroes on TV in my childhood, ‘Raus!, Raus!, Es ist verbotten!’ and my neighbour Kirsten who says ‘Guten morgen’. Even finding my way out of the metro took a few moments, Engang. It doesn’t help newbies like me to figure out Wein also means Vienna – ok, got it.
But the first words I needed to get my head around were, the Schottenring where I need to change metro lines, take the Karlsplatz direction to the Ruthaus where I needed to Engang, and Josefstadfer Strase and Lange Gasse were the streets leading to my hotel.
The Lehrerhaus Pension is a budget hotel in the smelly old carpet style and there’s no atmosphere and nobody looks like they want to be here, especially the receptionist. They give you a bunch of keys, one for the front door, one for the internal door on your floor, one for the door to your room and one for a safety deposit box in your room.
Nearby is a hotel called The Rathaus, – glad I didn’t check in there.
I have been using Booking.com and I would discourage people from it. They charge a premium on top of the usual rates (go to the hotel’s own website), and they boast far too much about the properties virtues. Walking around the streets I have seen much better, modern, open, fresh hotels with busy reception areas, bike hire, a restaurant and a lively feeling of travel and travellers. At the Lehrerhaus I fully expect to open a cupboard and find an entrance to an secret annexe with a family still hiding from the Nazis. I have come to the opinion I would rather stay in a dorm in a modern hostel than an old budget hotel.
The first job was to find a laundromat to wash and overdue bag of clothes. The receptionist sent me off in the wrong direction, when I eventually found it two hours later there was no attendant only a coin interface with all the instructions in German, of course. Having loaded up and paid my money the door wouldn’t latch shut properly and water was sloshing out. I couldn’t change machines without going off to get more coins, and it was Sunday and everything was shut. So I wedged a couple of empty plastic bottles in to hold the door shut. When I returned, the entire floor of the laundromat was covered in water and my clothes sat in a pool of water in the machine.
I was getting a bit travel-weary I think, just too much stimulation from too many wonderful new places – just too much stuff to process and figure out, and no one to bounce ideas off. I’m generally self-sufficient and have done really well so far, but Vienna was one learning curve too many. That evening I found a restaurant called Cafe Hummel in my neighbourhood and had a magnificent wiener schnitzel for 22Euro, although, later I learned they could be had at numerous other places for 9Euro, but never mind.
The next morning I did some yoga which always puts me in a better frame of mind and hired a bike and went cycling through the Prater. This is an enormous park the Habsburg family used as their private hunting grounds and much of it still looks like a forest. I did a Facetime call to Luca and Julia while cycling along and it was good to chat with the family. I had planned on a circuit that took in the Danube and the strip of land that runs down the middle. Suddenly, it poured-down with rain and I just manged to get a cafe overlooking a water-skiing set up on the river using a high-wire circular cabling system – looked like fun.
There are good cycle paths in Vienna and other cyclists I met were so helpful. I needed to rely on a paper map because the Facetime calls had depleted my phone battery but I prefer paper maps anyway.
The circuit took me back up the Danube Canal which runs back into the central city. A local cyclist explained to me the ring-road system in Vienna and cheerfully called out, ‘Enjoy Vienna’ as he cycled off.
It down poured with rain again and I kept going because I had to get the hire bike back. I got soaking wet but the air was warm it didn’t matter and I wasn’t cold. I returned to the hotel, changed into my best clothes and went to the Musikverein Goldener Saal to attend the Mozart concert that I’m so glad I booked a few weeks in advance. It was a full-house and magical. I was so glad to be in Vienna. The concert ended with Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss as an encore and not on the program but I recognised the famous waltz from the opening of the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001 Space Odyssey.
It’s amazing how a good meal, some exercise and some live music can change your whole outlook on life.
The purpose of my visit to central France in the Bourgogne and Loire region was to look at river boats and see how it all works and hopefully talk with people first hand. It was interesting and I now have a better perspective on the boating life.
I didn’t manage to actually stay on one which was my hope but I did mange to get aboard a few and have some chats with owners. The two optons are basically the barge style and the cruiser style. The Dutch steel ones can be really old, dating back as far as the 1890’s, many are completely renovated and there’s new ones now made in the same style. The Dutch steel’s have plenty of interior room but there are big costs involved in the cleaning of them and lifting them from water because they weight about 10 tonne.
The second type, (and I’m not including all the weird odd-looking boats with no outside areas that are also available), but the lighter cruisers with fibre glass or wooden hulls and often white – what a New Zealander would call a ‘launch’ and the Americans call a ‘motor yacht’. These are smaller, lighter and easier to clean, there are also less costs involved. They have slightly less charm but some look really good – others, have a bit too much white plastic.
My preference would be to have the aft deck, where you’d spend a good deal of your time, with plenty of space and easily accessible to the interior. I’ve seen some with the aft on the same level as the interior, no steps. Some of them have too many steps in and out and that would be annoying after a while.
Canal touring is quite a busy activity, it’s not just a matter of sitting up on the aft deck under the canopy with a glass of wine or strumming a guitar all day because there are locks, lots of locks. In one day you might encounter twenty or more locks.
These locks are a two person job, one to operate on the shore and one to steer the boat, but some people can do it on their own. I’m not sure how it works and I guess there’s a few things there to learn.
Also, there’s the mooring fees, it’s free in some places along the banks in the country, a small charge where there’s facilities in a town, more where there’s better facilities to power up and drain off, and on it goes I guess, and it’s about $75 a night in Paris if you can find a spot in the peak season.
The cost of a river boat ranges roughly from $100,000 to $300,000. Storing them over winter has monthly costs because they’re not too cosy in winter. Although, many now have heat pumps and the older ones have cute little log burners. I heard of a guy in his 90’s living in a huge barge on the Amsterdam canals that looks like a piece of floating junk, and he stays on-board all winter every winter – must have a good wooly jumper or three I’d say – remember, the canals freeze over in winter.
My experience of Paris this time was so different. I have no idea how I ended up wandering around with a guitar waiting for a bus at 2.30 in the morning.
The day before, I had arrived at Gare du Nort from Amsterdam at 9.40pm, it was a very warm evening and I walked along the back streets to find my hostel. The Gare du Nort and the Gare de l’Est, strangely, are right beside each other in a drab part of the 10th arrondisement in north east Paris alongside the massive corridor of railway lines. I soon found myself walking past a group of about 100 North Africans sleeping and lounging on the footpath under the watchful eye of the Gendarmiere carrying their compact submachine guns. When I arrived at the Generator hostel, sweating a little, the reception guy had no greeting for me, no smile – he eyed me up and simply said, ‘Passport’. Welcome to Paris; crowded, dirty, hot and a bit edgy.
The attitude was so different from where I’d recently been. The Scandinavians and Dutch are so courteous and they all speak English, in France they will, but only if they have to. Many can’t speak English at all (and it’s not that they should, but it does says something about the French that speaking English is an option). This does not apply to people in any official capacity dealing with the public with a huge tourist population. On the other hand, for example, a woman in a supermarket working at the checkout did not attempt to speak English. I made the mistake of bringing my fruit selection up to the till where I assumed it would be weighed and priced as they did in other places I’d recently been. In France you weight them yourself and put a sticker on the bag which pops out of the scales machine. It’s all these little things that need to be explained – just once. It was explained to me very clearly and patiently, in French.
I nodded intelligently and there’s always someone around to help, usually a younger person. I just wish I had worked a little more on my French language before coming, although, the phrase, ‘You need to weigh them, press the button and a little sticker comes out that you put on the bag’, may have been a bit beyond my comprehension, anyway.
I would recommend The Generator Hostels to anyone budget travelling in Europe, they’re a new approach to hostels and more like a hotel. They cost about NZ$60 a night. The big difference between these and the usual hostels is there’s no kitchen, no self-catering, no fridges, no food to be brought into the place (but people still do, of course, and take it to their rooms. But the rooms are cleaned everyday, so they’re keeping an eye on it). There is a $NZ14 breakfast available, which is probably better value than you’d get in the local street cafés because it’s self-serve which means you can load up for later. The rooms all have ensuites and the reception areas are very modern with spacious parts set aside on the ground floor with sofas, tables and chairs to hang out with your friends. Generator Hostels are the way of the future I think, they’re all over Europe, referred to as Designer Hostels. The wifi reception is strong everywhere and good in all the rooms – and there’s no password. My room had 3 other women already asleep in the room. There seems to be so many women travelling now, not just as couples but many solo and in pairs, and completely comfortable staying in mixed dorms that they can opt for and get slightly cheaper than a women’s dorm.
I was up and away at 8am before any of my room mates were awake and had a basic plan for the day. First, the nearby Sacre-Coeur for the big view, St Germaine-des-Pres for the street culture, Musée d’Orsay for some art, and to stand beneath the Tour Eiffel. But it didn’t go to plan. I must have taken the wrong streets up to the Basilique. I was wanting some breakfast but the streets were all just drab and faceless apartments – where were the quaint cafés with guys wearing Ray Ban Wayfarers and elegant women wafting perfume walking with poodles that I remembered from 20 years ago?
When I got there I was disappointed I couldn’t walk all the way around the Sacre-Coeur, it’s all gated and locked off, and the only big view available from the front steps didn’t include the Tour Eiffel! What’s the point of taking a photo of the Paris skyline from the top of a hill if you can’t get the Eiffel Tower in it! – ha ha <-;
The cafés I did come across walking up the hill looked a bit tired and were empty – maybe it was still too early. I noticed how the advertised price for a croissant and coffee kept increasing the higher up I walked, and NZ$18 was getting a bit much and I couldn’t really go back down to the cheaper ones so I have up on the idea of breakfast and would wait until I found a place on my way down.
Everywhere I went I was searched by security, everyone was, even entering a canal swimming la plage area. Anyway, I sat inside the Basilique and had some snacks and water from my pack looking up at the dome. All the little gates around the pews were locked up, why so many locks everywhere? Twenty years ago I was in awe of the power expressed in the art and architecture of the Roman Catholics – but now, to me it looks different; the biggest and most elaborate con-job in history; cruelty, subjugation, exploitation and the repression of women and science, a relic of the dark ages, and still today expressing it’s medieval mumbo jumbo.
So interesting going on the Metro again, I was amazed they still had the same system with the little paper tickets – I bought the 10 pack, as you do, and watched young guys jump over the turnstyles. I wondered at what age a bloke gives up doing that little athletic move. Other guys enter using the exit gate by reaching their hand around and pressing the button to open it. No wonder they have the Oyster card system in London.
Musée d’Orsay was shut on Monday, so onward to St Germaine. The streets are all so long and there seemed to be so much construction and whole blocks are fenced off. I couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for – so much walking.
I chanced upon a small art gallery, the Musée Maillol with works by Leger, Picasso, Braque, Pissaro and Sisley – my favourite period of French art, roughly 1890-1920. It was creeping up to 34º and after the gallery I sat at a cafe had a coffee and chatted with the woman opposite me who suggested I go to the Rodin Garden nearby. I was thinking it might be a nice place to have a quiet nap under the trees, – but of course, it was shut on Monday.
Later, I returned to the hostel, the subway was getting really hot and crowded by now and I needed a break. The room was empty and I slept and showered and headed out again with my guitar to an open-mic night on the other side of Paris. When I finally got there the bar manager shrugged his shoulders – there’s was nothing going on. According to my Google search there are plenty on Tuesday and Wednesday night, of course – but only one on Lundi and that wasn’t happening.
I still wanted to get up close to the Tour Eiffel, so more Metro and walking the long boulevards. It was nearing midnight and the place was really crowded and the air so humid. The tower was blocked off with temporary high-fencing and armed guards were all around it. Such a shame, so much has changed because of the Islamic attacks, it seems like the city is now in a permanent kind of low-level, lock-down mode – they’re not taking any chances. Paris seems to be full of people who look like they aren’t there for the cafés and the culture – they’re just milling around, looking a bit out of place . . nothing to do, just looking . . looking at you, trying to sell you a souvenir with a flashing light.
The Tour Eiffel looks magnificent when up close, something I never did before. I came towards it from the 16th, west of the Seine across the Pont d’ Lena bridge to the 7th, unfortunately the gardens, the Parc du Champde Mars, wre fenced off. The Metro had stopped, the buses were few and far between, I waited nearly an hour and took a bus all the way across Paris (where would I be without Google maps with bus timetables). I finished the last part of my journey to the hostel with a $12 taxi – the only one I have taken so far on this trip. I didn’t feel all that concerned out late at night, I just figured another 2km walk down these streets holding an iPhone for the map with drunken kids and homeless people sleeping here and there, was just too much.
That was my day in Paris and the best part was meeting the woman at the table in the café who showed me two of her favourite small hidden public gardens nearby, they would have been convent cloisters, I think, they all had fruit trees and vegetable patches. It was nice walking with someone else for a change without having to hold my phone – to just chat away and be shown around a bit. I knew Paris in mid-July was never going to be a great idea and I was glad my plans had only allowed one full day. I was looking forward to getting into the countryside. My accomodation there had a pool and I was really, really looking forward to that pool.
At the moment I’m sitting in a gypsy caravan with that pool outside. I have a brew of coffee going, there’s goodies from the local village boulangerie and patiserrie and I’m listening to RNZ. I’m using the hotspot from my phone on a signal that comes and goes from one dot to three dots out of five. Tomorrow I go to Vienna. It took me hours to figure out how to get there. Originally, I was planning to take a train from nearby Lyon but it takes 13 hours and goes via Frankfurt in north Germany, unbelievable. I considered numerous options, nearly did my head in, it’s like a game of chess.
My journey involves a bus to Roanne, a train to Lyon, the TGV to Paris Charles de Galle, and a flight, and I needed to co-ordinate all those journey times. And of course I was looking for all the cheapest variables. There were no direct flights from Lyon to Vienna either, only ones going via other places and taking 10 hours. It may have been better to hire a car from Lyon to Vienna, I don’t know, but that would result in a different set of costs and issues – and might take two days. The only decent wifi I could do all this research was at the Office d’ Tourisime in the local village of Marcigny. It took me such a long time and they needed to close at 6pm but I continued outside sitting on the step.
Again, my apologies for the poor grammar and spelling, will tidy up later.
A taste of the old Amsterdam last night when about forty horse-drawn carriages did their annual trot around the old town. Big, beautiful horses of every breed went past me in a parade of rolling antiques. From the sound all the horses were well-shod and looked well-groomed too and many with their manes plaitted, and the occupants were dressed in period clothes. It’s Saturday night and people are out eating in restaurants alongside the canal all cheering them on. The carriages are originals with examples from every period; heavy cart horses pulling heavy carriages, others pulling passenger coaches, light four-wheeled open rigs and lighter two wheeled traps or hansom cabs with a single horse. I thought it was a bit surreal with so many coming through one afer the other. I had been in Amsterdam for 5 days this was my last evening. I had spent so much time absorping all the amazing history of this place, and now I could really get a full sense of what it was like. Back in the day all the horse droppings were swept into the canals and of course the smell became a problem – probably everything got thrown in the canal, it was probably a big open sewer. Not now, it’s safe to swim in it, apparently, more than you can say about New Zealand rivers.
I tried to take photos but the iPhone has its limitations with it’s auto-light metering and everything looks too dark or too light, nevertheless I snapped away not quite sure if I should make more effort to capture them, perhaps try to find a better spot with some decent backlight – but instead I decided to just enjoy the moment – sorry the pics aren’t better. Enjoying the moment is something I’m getting used to – there are so many –everyday is full of wonderful new experiences.
Suddenly they all came to halt and I chatted with some drivers. Two gentlemen probably about my age and I asked whether all theses rigs were from within Holland, they said many were from Amsterdam with the carriages stored in the central city and some others were from Germany and Belgium. I think this collection of carriages would be priceless and the magnificent horses would be worth a lot too.
It’s also another reminder of how much wealth has passed through this city – and how much of it reamins. The key moment that made Holland flourish was throwing out the Catholics – yes, I’ve the paintings with monks put on boats and asked to go. The merchant burghers of the city wanted a progressive regime and the catholics are regressive – they hold back new thinking, for this alone I admire the Dutch.
Sanders, my bike tour guide from the previous day said the same thing but more bluntly than others, ‘we successfully pillaged the world for about 300 years from about 1600 to 1800’.
The Dutch were the most powerful traders on the globe with thousands of ships build in their massive ship yards going to every corner of the globe. Abel Tasman charting one section of coast of New Zealand. I even found the reference on an original globe in the Rijksmuseum. I’m not sure what section of coast that is – Banks Peninsula?
When it comes to making dykes, canals and dams the Dutch are the world’s leading engineers. What’s been created here is undoudtedly one of the nicest cities in the world for strolling and biking around, and I love biking.
In Amsterdam the bike has absolute priority and it’s all enshrined in various laws – and it’s so much fun. There’s trams, bikes, pedestrians, cars, scooters all swerving around one another and happily co-existing in the same space. Surprisingly, there’s a very low rate of injury – it seems to works; people smile, call out, ring their bells and are so considerate. The locals who know exacly where they are going race along and shout out to you if you’re not over on the left. I found myself walking in bike lanes all the time and nearly run down a number of times. They say they hope to eliminate motor vehicles from the city completely one day.
I have added a pic that may not be clear but it shows a new project where they have blocked a 100 metre section of the canal, dug down to create three levels of parking for bikes and cars, and will rebuild the canal again on top – amazing.
Kerkstaat was the street where my hostel was and it was the first place name I tried to memorise, the second was Keizersgracht where the tram stops, the other is Prinsengracht nearby with the Anne Frank Haus and loads of other beautiful shops and restaurants with homes looking out on the canal.
Sorry if this blog is full of typos I need to get on and no time to proof read – will fix later.
People ask me how I can afford to travel for such a long time but I have managed to keep the costs quite low. I’ve planned in advance and I’ve made comfort compromises all along the way. It’s also cheaper to visit a number of places as part of a round trip than going to a series of places at separate times. In terms of planning, the first priority was to maintain the ongoing fixed costs at home then figure out how much I’d need on the journey. This would include local travel, accomodation and food, plus entry fees for the museums and galleries. I travel cheap because I sleep in hostels in 4 or 6 bed dorms, I seldom eat at restaurants and don’t drink alcohol. I take extra food from the free or low cost breakfasts at hostels and keep it for my lunch. I travel on public transport or hire a bike – never taxis or Ubers. I always look for the lowest cost option to get from the airport to the city centre. I’m able to walk with all my gear for 3 0r 4 kilometres. I carry a bottle of water and a nut and dried fruit mix for snacks that I buy at the supermarket. I buy muesli and a pottle of yoghurt to mix together for my breakfast if there’s no free one, and I only buy a coffee occasionally and I have a stash of tea bags. That’s how I travel cheap. The current hostel I’m in here in Amsterdam, the Hans Brinker, is the worst yet – the mattress is hard foam, the windows don’t open properly and my room mates come and go at all hours through the night. The wierdest one I had was two guys who arrived at 3am in my dorm with no luggage and slept in their clothes – what’s going on there?
Last night I played at The Temple Bar in Gamla Stan, the old town on a tiny island in central Stockholm. I just turned up with my guitar and the manager, Philip, who used to be a roadie said go ahead and mic-ed me up.
I haven’t done much practise lately and my voice is not all there but I was surprised how much material I could remember and played for about 40 minutes. As usual, I got the best response from Stand By Me and Many Rivers To Cross.
For my last full day in Stockholm I decided to visit the big IKEA because it’s a Swedish success story and I’m interested in design and modern retailing.
It’s out in the suburbs in Kungens Kurva but there’s a free (gratis) bus on the hour. The main showroom floors are 4 circular levels than kind of down spiral. On the top floor are samples of complete show home suites in various themes and the restaurant where I had a vegetarian meal for 29 Krona, about $10.
The scope of it is quite amazing with huge areas dedicated to lighting, kitchenware and storage, and there’s a team of people sitting at computers helping customers design their kitchens. I wasn’t there to buy but I took lots of photos and have plenty of ideas. It’s all about creative ways to optomise interior space. As the world becomes more crowded people need to look at ways to reduce their personal living space. I did buy a couple of small items and went to the exit at which point I had to walk through the warehouse area where all the flat packs are collected, then to the checkouts were there’s another bistro – coffe and food everywhere. So many staff, so well organised, so friendly. Sweden.
Before I leave just want to add a few more observations and notes:
A Fika – that’s a term to describe meeting someone for a coffee and a sticky bun, usually a cinnamon bun. It’s a Swedish thing and there’s been a movie made with that as the title. It’s also like asking for a date, ‘Let’s fika.’
Taxation – I spoke at length with a young guy called Lucas and he explained the tax system; the rubbish guy earns the same as the doctor. An employer needs to pay 30% in tax directly to the govermnent for each employer he has. Say a person gets paid 1000 Krona, that person is taxed 300K and gets 700K in the hand and the employer pays an additional 300K to the government. Lucas’s brother is a top lawyer and earns NZ$150,000 a year and is taxed 60%.
That’s why they have free education, free health, great infrustructure, (for example, they are currently building a big flood gate in the central city to prepare for global warming). There are so many examples of their progressive thinking; they fully expect to be carbon zero by 2020. It’s a good, healthy, safe place to live.
When I read stories from New Zealand on the news I’m just so bewildered by the backward thinking; the South Island farmer who dranks from his own stream to prove rivers are clean in New Zealand. Let’s send him more water to drink from more rivers, starting with the Manawatu River. Then Gerry Brownlee who called a person a ‘public transport activist’ as if it’s a subversive idea to increase rail and cycleways networks.
And as for Mike Hoskings saying NZers don’t like public transport. ‘because we like cars and cars need roads’. Someone needs to pour a bucket of cold water on his head and tell him to wake up. I wonder how much he donates to the National Party?
Sooner or later New Zealand needs to embrace higher taxation and ban people from owning more than two or three properties. We need a country that is for the many, not the few.
When I return home I plan to become more politically active, which unfortunately, will change relationships with my family and friends who support the current dopey, delusional, out-of-date mindset that has become entrenched thanks to the normalization of Republican-style thinking and the politics of selfish greed and the forced impoverishment of more people every year – I’ll take a breath now . . . I’ll be calling people out, because if left unchallenged, we will keep going down the road to nowhere.
I apologise for the poor grammar, syntax and spelling; always in a rush.
I registered for the Vansbro swim not just because I enjoy swimming long distances but because I thought it would be a good way to see another side of Swedish life, away from the
quaint streets and museums of Stockholm.
Once in Stockholm I booked a return trip on a bus that was offered on a email newsletter I’d received from the Vansbrosimningen (Vansbro swim event) organisers, in Swedish of course, but I could roughly decifer it and some locals at a hostel were happy to translate. The bus left at 7.30am on Friday morning from the Central Station, T-Centralum, not an easy place to figure out so I went the day before to find out where my bus would leave. T-Centralum is a sprawling hub for commuter trains, trams, metro trains, local and nationwide buses, and it’s on various levels with linked buildings. If I was carrying my gear and running late there’s nothing worse than trying to figure out a big station when you’re all weighed down, and of course, all the signage is in Swedish. So Friday morning was easy, I went straight to Gate 16 on Level 2 – and there it was, a bus being loading up with happy swimmers.
My accomodation was booked 6 months ago, there was nothing available in Vansbro even back then so I booked a place 18km out of town thinking there would be some kind of bus service or at least some other swimmers staying who I could get a lift with.
I registered for the swim event first, everything is so well organised, I got my goodie bag; a cap, a meal ticket, a wristband with the timing chip, and a plastic bag with my number on it that you put your things in at the start of the swim that they transport to the finish.
My accomodation turned out to be a problem. There was a local bus 3 times a day but the lodge was 2 km from the turnoff. It was a long walk in the sun and when I got there it was an old smelly place – completely unlike the clean modern hostels I had been used to in Stockholm. The old toothless owner said my cabin was 200 years old and built by hand, but there was no ensuite, and all the facilities where in the main house.
Next morning I had the free breakfast; a boiled egg, fresh-baked fruit loaf, sliced ham and a slices from a massive block of cheese, and all the usual cereals, and I checked out. I have to admit this place was an authentic experience, the bread was so fresh, still moist and warm, and it was like an old homestead from a by-gone age. But it was going to be too hard getting back there after the swim because I wanted to stay for the evening entertainment and I knew there would not be a late bus. The old toothless guy insisted on charging me for the two nights, I was hoping he’d waive the second night but as a late cancellation I had to accept it. I managed to get a lift with a couple going to Vansbro and once there asked about accomodation in Vansbro. I had heard some of the schools offer swim visitors dorm places in the classrooms. The school was 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and with that organised I was happy everything was going to work out.
To get to the start of the swim you need to walk, it’s a track through the birch and pines alongside a railway line. They process about 6,500 swimmers that day by sending them off in waves of a hundred every 10 minutes, and each wave has a different coloured cap. My cap was pink but I never saw the gathering of ‘pink caps’ at my allocated time, only green caps. Suddenly they announced my name and country. It surprised me because the announcer had been speaking non-stop Swedish, and then I heard my name. He looked up and I waved both my arms, ‘I’m here!’ I then realised the pink caps were special entries of one some kind or another – another pink capped person had their birthday that day and they announced her too.
The water was 17º, which is not cold at all. I was thinking my time would be about 1.5 hours. Once underway I really enjoyed myself, I never got tired and felt relaxed and comfortable, just a bit of cramp started to clinch my left calf at one stage. Occasionally, I stopped, lifted off my goggles, trod water and had a look around. There was a string quartet playing under a gazebo at the river side, families picnicing and I waved to people who waved back. The first 2 km is downstream, nice, and the last 1 km is upstream but there’s barely any upstream current to speak of. I had started with the green caps and was eventually swimming among the red caps who were a previous wave, so I figured I was going ok.
I was surprised to discover the majority of the Swedes don’t swim freestyle, (or crawl), they swim a variation of breast stroke without ducking their head in the water. They kind of bob along in what we’d call a sort of dog paddle, except with a breast stroke and kick, so I guess you could call it a ‘frog paddle’.
Anyway, it’s pretty slow and I found I was crashing into swimmers all the way. My final time was 59 minutes and 56 seconds. Yes, woah!, sub 60! I even did some back stroke in the final section just because I was feeling so good.
From there everything is laid on; a warm energy drink, a medal, bag collection – and then I entered the big shower enclosure. Here I was confronted with hundreds of naked blokes all taking warm showers or waiting for a shower – never seen that before. I followed suit only to realise I didn’t actually have any pants, just a top and a polar fleece jacket because I’d put my wetsuit on at the Information Centre where I put my bag in storage. It’s never very pleasant putting a wet and cold wetsuit back on.
Many people were there as part of the Swedish Classic where you need to complete 4 events within one year; cross country sking 60 or 90km in winter, bike 300km in spring, swim 3km in summer, and run 30km in autumn. It’s really popular and thousands do it, some year after year.
After changing at the Info Centre I went down the road to Smedbergsskolan School; a modern, clean, and again, well organised place with friendly helpful people, and was shown a room lined with fresh mattresses and new white duvees and pillows. I made my bed, lay down and fell asleep. It turned out we had only four people in our room. It was warm, dry and quiet – and, a bonus – breakfast was included in the price which was 390 krona, or about NZ$62.
My brother, Geoff, said New Zealanders have three ways to describe water temperature when taking a swim; “Bloody freezing, nice once you’re in, and beautiful”. It’s so true and today I’m feeling pretty proud, I swam in the Baltic Sea in the Swedish archipelago off the sland of Moja for a good 20 minutes out about 500 metres, in beautiful sunshine, which helps. Bloody freezing, but ok once you’re in.
Moja is at latitude 59.4º N, that’s closer to the North Pole than the Orkney Islands above Scotland at 58º N, and to give some perspective, London is at 51º.
In 3 days I’m swimming in Vansbro, a river swim, and I wanted to check if I could swim in really cold water, and I think I can, it was 14º in the water, which is not too bad.
The Vansbrosimningin that I’m all booked and paid up for, it cost $150 actually, (but they give you a meal that the end), is 2 km downstream then 1 km upstream. There’s a board walk along the river edge, so I guess if it gets unbearable I’ll just get out. The tri-ath wetsuit I have barely lets any water in which helps too.
I stayed just one night in Moja, I chose it because some Swedish people on a plane suggested it. A 4 hour ferry ride north from Stockholm and a spectacular journey – so many beautiful houses along the shore.
The ferry stops at numerous islands very briefly to load and unload passengers. They use the front of the boat, it’s really quite clever, there’s no mooring ropes, they just bump the boat up to the jetty and pause there for a few minutes, roll a gantry out and in, then zoom off to the next island.
On the journey I saw a young Swedish family; mum, dad and the kids take their morning nude swim from their jetty – the Swedes live a good life I think.
The day before I took a bike ride all the way around Sodermalm Island, one of the main islands of Stockholm. It took about 2 hours and people were all out in the sun – there’s even a small beach and the cutest caravan cafe I’ve ever seen.
Yesterday my phone battery went flat so I had to use a paper map and it was so easy. No fiddling around zooming in and out of a tiny screen. The maps and apps on the phone are brilliant tools but they give you so much more than you really. I have trouble seeing the important icons for the things I really need like the Metro stations among the clutter of other commercial locations like restaurants and shops that fill up the screen. I have switched between Maps and Google Maps to find the best and I think Maps is the quickest but the directions are so big they take up a third of the screen – I think Maps it was made for people in cars. Google Maps has more stuff but sometimes it’s far too much stuff. When you select a route in Google Maps it puts a dotted line right over the name of the street you need to go down and you spend so much time zooming in and out trying to read it. Finding where all the dropped pins are is a hassle. The phoneis an amazing asset in these unknown cities but you still need to flip over to other apps to see the metro map or the bus and train routes – flip, flip, fiddle, faddle – it was a such a nice break air to use a regular paper map – at a single glance I could see where I was, the direction I wanted to go and the all the nearest metro stops – and I could scribble on it. I was brought up using paper maps, from ordinance survey maps to the A-Z of London that I knew inside out – it was nice to use some old skills. In fact, I’ve now decided to best and most fun way to get around Stockholm is on a bike with a paper map.
The reason the phone died, and it’s a new iPhone SE I bought in Portland that easily lasts all day on a full charge, was because today I made a 40 minute Facetime call to Julia while wandering from the Vasa Museum to the Modern Art Museum which is a ferry ride and a bit of walking, and it drained the battery.
The Vasa Museum is one of the top attractions in Stockholm so I got there early to avoid the crowds and I stayed for about 3 hours. Briefly, a ship was built in 1624 to rival all other war ships, it took 4 years to build and used tonnes of oak, had 64 cannons and ornate scultpures all around the sides, it was a magnificent example of Middle Ages craftmanship but soon after being launched it sank in the harbour – a major embarrasement for the Swedish King, Gustav II Adolf who had invited all his fancy friends to come down to see it in action.
But 300 years later it was hauled up in a major salvage operation. Because of the polluted water with sulphates in the river and low oxygen it was well preserved. The reason it sank was simply comes down to basic physics, it was too top heavy with too many cannons in the mid level, and they left all the lower gun-ports open on the launch day – a gust of wind came up, the ship tilted and water poured in the open gun-ports.
Another great part of the exhibition is the fine examples of beautiful model-making craftwork. These included the shipyard and construction phases, the modern salvage operation and profiles of the people who worked on the ship. There’s also an auditorium with a movie of the whole story.
A ferry ride took me to the Museum of Modern Art on a nearby island where, apart from the permanent exhibition, there was an exhibition of work by the architect, furniture and fabric designer Josef Frank.
And finally, the view from my bed as I write this post.
I’m here for a week and I love the place – it’s what all hostels should be. So pleased I picked it on Booking.com many months ago. After you check in at reception a person shows you around and explains the way things work; there’s a no-shoes-policy in the living areas, they give you fresh white linen, the mattresses are new, each bed has two plug sockets and a funky working light with an LED bulb, in the kitchen there’s a bank of fridges, every room has been allocated it’s own fridge. Access is electronic keypad entry and the outside door code changes everyday. It’s all so well organised, all the fittings are quality, nothing has been done on the cheap, maintenance people along with cleaning staff are on site, and standards are kept high. There are no signs everywhere – the decorative items are carefully chosen and I’d say quite expensive. The central courtyard has live music some nights and a restaurant does subsidised meals for $15. I’ve had the same traditional Swedish meatballs for three nights running now.
The staff are helpful and enthusiastic, one of them helped me decide that I should fly from Stockholm to Amsterdam. I was planning to go overland by rail but the costs and the number of changes and connections I’d have to make would be a mission. I thought there would be just one train all the way – but no, and it’s so much cheaper so I’ve booked the flight now. The wifi here is the fastest I’ve ever used and I base this on the speed I can upload images . . woosh!
The City Backpackers Hostel Upplandsgatan 2a, 111 23 Stockholm, Sweden is NZ$403 for 7 nights, that’s $57 a night plus a single additional cost for linen, and breakfasts are 55 Krona NZ$8.80. This hostel is one of a chain of hostels around Europe called Europe’s Famous Hostels and I wish I’d booked the same in Amsterdam and Vienna.
This little example tells you a lot, I put some food in my fridge, (the visit to the local supermarket was an adventure, but that’s another story), and I put the food in the fridge, next morning there were little stickers on my items saying ‘Please label’, meaning, with my name and departure date – now, that’s efficiency, and so polite. There’s also a Free Fridge, plus there’s free pasta if you’re really broke and need a meal – very civilised.
Just a little touch, where you leave your shoes in the alcove area there’s a sign saying, ‘If you love your shoes, take them to your room.‘ Which is so much more pleaseant than the alternative, other places might have a sign in the negitive, eg: ‘Theives operate in this bulding, leave shoes here at your own risk.’ The difference is what makes this place special – everything has been thought about – and that’s good design.
And tomorrow . . I’m going to the design museum.
It seems I’m on a constant search for good wifi. The hostels are hopeless. Usually I try to find the actual location of the modems, sit by it and if that doesn’t help, re-boot it myself – but the airports are good. Today I left Kirkwall town early for the airport to have a couple of hours before my flight to Edinburgh to do some emails and blogging.
The main problem is uploading images of course. I have a couple of hours before a flight to Stockholm here in Edinburgh. It’s an end of quaint country pubs and friendly locals with heavy accents to a modern metropolis.
I am so glad I pre-booked these flights 5 months ago, NZ$180 from Orkney to Edinburgh and just $140 from here to Stockholm, which included checked luggage. So far my two costly flights were the ones booked a week out. This was done to give me some date flexibility; London to Edinburgh was $350.
Before I enter Scandinavia I must post a couple of images from my walks around the stone circles and ancient sites of Orkney. It’s not often I say to a bus driver, ‘Can you drop me off at the turnoff for the Stones of Stenness, please.’
I walked 2km up the road and practically had the three sites to myself. The weather was good although the northwesterly brings the temperature down to 12 degrees. The next day the wind swung around to southwesterly and it was really warm in the sun. I met some interesting people including a local medic walking his dog which was a New Zealand-bred Huntaway – a sheep dog. Everyone gives you information about local issues about the sites, can you believe someone recently spray-canned the stones. The medic also wanted to talk about the All Blacks and I can quite happily talk about rugby for about 5 minutes.
I also met a mad looking hippie German photojournalist called Jurgen who was ‘wild camping’ as they call it here. It’s legal in Scotland to camp whereever you like – a part of ancient rights for common people that still remains. He was on a commissioned job visiting distilleries and other places and was wanting to stay near the Stones to get those beautiful sunset shots – he had an enormous lens on a Canon EOS 80D. The sun sets at 11.30pm by the way – it’s a very long day, and of course it’s the absolute opposite in winter with really short days.
In this stretch of road is the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ness of Brodgar and the massive Ring of Brodgar. The Ness of Brodgar is covered over because it’s an on-going excavation site and the dig starts again on 3rd July for two months. They only found it after a storm in 2006 – it’s about 5,000 years old, appears to be a full village, and now, as they say, archeology is being rewritten on a daily basis there. All these sites are free, there’s no security and it is the most beautiful place to be looking around with the distant rolling hills in various shades of green as the clouds pass over the sun.
I went on an official guided tour of the island that I had booked from New Zealand which included the World Heritage site of Scara Brae. Clive was the most boring person you could ever meet. The droned on like a newsreader doing the marine forecast, he didn’t have any personality and was painfully pedantic. For example, he stopped the van and spent 10 minutes explaining the military details of a British ship that was torpedoed in Scarpa Bayin WW2 . I have an interest in military history to some degree but the exact timing of the 3rd tordedo was starting to get to me. I guess some people are fascinated by this stuff, but not my group. I found the volunteer guides who walk around the sites were much more interesting and personable – these are representatives from Heritage Scotland.
I bought an Orkney tea towel featuring all famous neolithic sights – but haven’t decided who’s getting that for Christmas.
We had perfect weather with big white puffy clouds and sunshine and a warm south westerly. I was enchanted and could have stayed there for hours.
I’ve been pretty lucky finding places to play some songs. I can Google Open Mics Nights, ask in a music store, spot a sign outside a bar, or like on the Islands of Orkney, just start chatting to people on the bus.
In Edinburgh I played four songs at the Footlights Pub on Spittal St in the Old Town ending with The Immigrant Song, (the opening track on Led Zeppelin III) which always goes down well. I do a folky acoustic version, slower and of course sing it down a whole octave from Robert Plant.
In Orkney I attended the Sunday night jam, met some interetsing people who all seemed to know the same Scottish traditional tunes. We sat in a semi circle and there were four fiddles playing at one point, tin and wooden whistles, a recorder, two mandolins, a banjo, guitars, a piano and one bodhrum drum. We sat in a semi circle and one person would start playing and everyone else would join in. They all seemed to know the tunes and I strummed along keeping an eye on the chords of another guitar. Most of the tunes where in A and D and it was so enjoyable, there was no pressure and I felt right at home, I couldn’t believe I was sitting in a pub in Kirkwall jamming Scottish traditional music with the locals – I felt like I was part of the family. At one point they turned to me and asked me to play a tune. I decided on Stars Align which has a kind of fancy finger picking part at the beginning. I was feeling a bit run down and had a cold from two days of poor sleep and really early morning starts followed by some longs days so my voice was weak and I was all nasally. The whole pub listened in silence and they applauded at the end so it must have been ok. The other singer had only done one song so I though I wouldn’t push my luck and soon another Scottish tune was struck up.
Two days previously I had to get up at 6am in Edinburgh to catch the 8.30am train to Inverness, and after a night in a 4 bed dorm in Inverness I rose at 5.30am to catch the 7am train to Thurso at the northern tip of Scotland. There didn’t seem to be a bus connection between Thurso and the ferry terminal at Scrabster so three of us decided to get a taxi to travel the 5 miles. The terminal was cold and had no facilities and the incoming ferry was late due to high seas. Three hours later we were in the warmth and comfort of a large NorthLink ferry to Stromness on Orkney Mainland. Arriving at 6pm there was a vicious northerly blowing and it was raining and we had to wait again in a bus shelter for the next bus. By the time I crossed the island to Kirkwall and checked into my room I was pretty worn out. I slept for an hour and headed to The Reel with my guitar to play with the Orkney locals and I was so pleased to play one of my songs.
I found Shawna through Instagram. She is a photographer and I had been receiving her posts for months, #exploringedinburgh, and she was offering walking tours of hidden gems. With only two days in Edinburgh I could happily wander aimlessly and probably chance on all sorts of great places but with Shawna I was lead on an amazing route that went down alleys, up stone steps stairs and along river paths – and every step of the way there was another gem. We walked 12 km in three and a half hours.
The day before I visited two places; Edinburgh Castle in the morning and the Museum of Scotland in the afternoon spending about 3 hours at both. It costs £4 for a all day bus and tram pass and getting around was fairly straight forward once I had a few bus numbers to look out for – and there’s plenty of them. The best part is just getting around the streets going from one place to another. To say Edinburgh has retained so much of it’s heritage architecture is an understatement – it must be a nightmare to maintain. If Auckland Council had their way the whole city would be closed down by a health and safety officer. How it all stays up I had to wonder – it seems every building is being held up by the one alongside it. The Old Town where the Fringe Festival is based is all narrow alleys, stone steps and curving cobblestone streets while the New Town is laid out more symmetrically. But ‘New’ is relative, I got this from Wikipedia: Built from the 1760s to the 1830s, the New Town of Edinburgh was the largest planned city development in the world at that time, and it proved an outstanding success in bringing commercial and cultural dynamism to the city.
Private river terrace on Dean Path, Dean Village, Edinburgh New Town
It’s an odd feeling sitting in a cafe looking out on Haddington Place in Central Edinburgh writing about Brixton because it’s feels so far away now. The crowds, the heat, the diversity, and so many people just milling about and hanging out on the streets. It was so hot you’d perspire just walking down the street – I like this warmth, actually. In Brixton it’s like being in another country – and I know there are racial problems but the more amazing thing is the tolerance and acceptance, at least on a surface level.
Twenty years ago, apart from the crusty white guys with dogs on a string (but not as many of those these days), it was mainly Rastas, and they’re still selling racks of clothes with images of Bob Marley outside the Rec Centre in the market but now there seems to be so many more Africans, and everywhere, women in headscarfs. I needed to post home a package of clothes to lighten my load and the Jamaican people in the Post Office recognised me as if I was an old friend when I came back a few days later with my second parcel, they were so happy to talk about anything, chatting away while six people stood in the line waiting. Everyone seems to enjoy the energy of a life and a world full of people – and it seems to work, but personally I find it a little exhausting and was grateful to have the quiet haven of Leo’s flat. People say that Brixton has been gentrified but parts of it, especially in the area around the railway arches are still as dirty, smelly and rundown as it ever was. Coldharbour Lane has certainly been left behind but when I walked around some back streets of Brixton and Camberwell suddenly it changes and I think it would be a very nice place to live with the parks and trees everywhere. There have been all kinds of initiatives; a pony club stable has been created right in the middle of the housing estates – it looks new and well organised, there’s sign saying it has been funded by the lotteries commission. There’s also plots with co-operative vegetable gardens with sculpture and artwork. Leo and a friend have a commission to paint a mural on the side of a railway bridge. There is not only murals everywhere but in underpasses that used to be smelly dank places for drunks to sleep are now ceramic sculpture plaques fixed to the walls and good lighting. Leo managed to get his motorbike going, a 600cc Yamaha that had been unridden for 6 months because of some fault he couldn’t figure out – turns out was a tiny problem with a wire connection, and that night the two of us roared off to a venue in East Dulich called The Cherry Tree so I could play music. It was so nice riding around in the warm air with my guitar on my back. I met up with Allan Evans again and we were able to listen to each other play our original songs. I got to play two sets and I joined Allan singing an old Louis Jordan song we used to play together that I haven’t sang in years – Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby. I’m getting a much more positive response to my music than I ever did in Auckland – people seem to be genuinely enthusiastic. It’s so interesting hearing grown men standing around talking about music and arguing the finer points and trivial issues about which album from an artist was better– it made me realise that I’m not alone, people in Britain are really serious about music – it’s important! I decided to fly British Airways from Heathrow to Edinburgh. It’s only a few pounds more expensive than the other airlines like Easyjet that actually end up costing the same because they charge much more for checked luggage. I’d say most people these days travel with cabin luggage only and some actually carry two large pieces – much more than what is advertised on the websites and around the terminal. The regulation allowance is ONE piece of cabin luggage and ONE personal item like a handbag or a laptop satchel – but no way, generally it’s one big piece of cabin luggage and one full backpack. Some people carry two pieces of full size cabin luggage.
It’s been said before but it needs to be said again, getting to Heathrow is cheap, fast and reliable on the Underground and I wish Auckland Council and the Government had the collective vision to stop faffing around build a smart new fast train link from Auckland Airport to Britomart – it’s essential in big any city. Instead, we’re always stuck in traffic or crawling along with trucks around industrial areas of South Auckland – it’s pathetic. I have heard a rumour that a big part of the problem is that the trucking companies are big funders of the National Party and believe rail would undermine their dominance in the transport business. This is selfish thinking and a Governmnet or Council needs to rise above private business interests and have the guts to serve the needs of everyone, because so many people are travelling by air to and from New Zealand and they want to get to the airport on time without having to worry whether the motorway will be blocked, again. Terminal 5 at Heathrow is state-of-the-art terminal design. There is nothing to confuse anyone – plain signage, no advertising, no clutter, clear instructions and directions, and a layout that leads you where you need to go – brilliant design. The other airport I found good was Frankfurt which is beyond enormous – I must have walked 2 km in a big curve to contect between my flights. I have been trying to load more images to this post all morning but the wifi is very slow here at the hostel and I really need to get out and about now so will add more pics later. Also, sorry about the bad grammar, poor sentance contaruction and random syntax, was rushing, (Anne, please, I need you to proof read and sub edit).
For about six years I lived in a tiny flat 50 metres from Portobello Road in Notting Hill. It was the upper floor flat of an Edwardian building on Colville Terrace and the massive Saturday market was a highlight of my week, and yesterday I literally strolled down memory lane. Portobello Market was always a good place to meet new people and yesterday I had the some very interesting encounters. I was carrying a large pack because I had come directly from the Isle of Wight and wanted to find a place to stash it while I could mooch around. It was 11am and was getting up to 26º as I walked through the antique section at the upper part of the market – in so many ways it seemed the same as ever.
It was time to have something to eat so I and stopped at The Duke of Wellington, the closest pub to my old flat and once my local. They weren’t prepared to take care of my pack, so after a BLT and a coffee I continued on. I couldn’t believe my favourite crumbed German barbecued chicken was still there 20 years later. All the boutique shops had changed and many of the fruit and veg barrows had become nick-nack stalls. I continued under the Westway to Bonchurch Road where an old friend from back in the day used to lived – he may still live there, so I knocked on his door and a young woman opened it saying she’d never heard of Malcolm Jamieson but it wasn’t her flat because she was just looking after it. I left and was about to try the place next door and she opened a window and called out, ‘Are you a New Zealander?’
It turned out she was from Palmerston North and went to PN Girls High and her brother who was visiting had been to Boys High, my old school – amazing coincidence. They made me feel so welcome, were interested in my family and travels and there was plenty of Palmy talk too, of course. They were just about to head back to her flat nearby and she offered to let me leave my pack there. Sam and Jessica Clarke and I walked along Ladbroke Grove and it occurred to me this tall young woman must be a model. I was right and she’d lived in New York for 4 years previously and apart from being 5′ 11″ she had a very special feature – she was a blue-eyed Maori. She asked me what my favourite place in the world was, hers was some little place in New Zealand but it was noisy and busy on the street so I didn’t hear. Sam is a TVNZ newsreader and Jessica’s partner is the drummer for The Darkness, the son of Roger Taylor, the drummer of Queen – I had stumbled into the world of British rock royalty – definitely not the time to ask for a selfie. Later, I did find a picture of her on Instagram (she uses ‘Roimata’ if you’re interested).
I walked the market and saw an enormous drum kit in the UKAI bar, and said, ‘That’s a big kit for a small bar’ – and a tattooed bare- chested guy said ‘All they need is a couple of timbali’, I replied ‘and a gong’. Again the Kiwi accent was detected and he introduced himself as, ‘A skinhead from Auckland punk days, been here 26 years, mate’, and he was still hanging around Portobello Market drinking pints in the sun calling out to women passing by. We talked about music, he said London never really recovered from the 2005 recession, he gave me a sweaty hug and called me a ‘brother’. It took another hour to get back up Portobello Road taking all the side streets on the way – it was all so familiar. Then it was back to Brixton and dinner with Leo.
The Isle of Wight has a bit of everything they have on the English mainland; a Roman villa, a medieval church, narrow lanes and tiny villages, and a rolling hillside like you’re in Sussex. What it hasn’t got is all the urban problems of the dense cities; there’s no crowds and no congestion. A ten minute fast-ferry or hovercraft ride from Portsmouth and you’re in a safe, quiet and very quaint slice of England. The whole of the island is just one electorate, Conservative, and apparently they voted for Brexit. I spend two nights there and was shown around by my father-in-law and his wife who live in a beautiful little cottage by an open field. We visited Yarmouth and dined in Ryde. I stayed in a cheap hotel called The Wight with an indoor pool and was allocated a breakfast table setting in advance. “Mr Richards, you’re here at setting number 29 – we are famous for our breakfasts.” Along with the Full English they offer the ‘Jurassic’ which is a double Full English or whatever you want, they also serve herring, haddock and kippers for breakfast – I guess you could order that as well as the Jurassic – they’re famous for their breakfasts.