Way over the top

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 trams run the full length of the island, no air con and but still the cheapest way around.
There’s still plenty of pre-air con buildings in the old town.

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.

Crowd control in the underground.

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.

Scaffolding all done with bamboo and lashing, no metal tube or clamps.

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.

My favourite little noodle restaurant, cheap dumpling soup. It was recommended to me but it took ages to find – and I walked past it about 5 times until I realised it had no name in English.





Just got to know you.

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.

Engang Vienna, schnitzel bitte.

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.

Canal and river boats

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.

Too crowded and too hot.

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.

Keizersgracht and Kerkstaat

 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.

Budget travel

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?

The biggest IKEA in the world.

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.

Vansbrosimningen 3k river swim.

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.

It’s nice once you’re in . .

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.

Vasa Museum and Modern Art.

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.