Auckland, home #25

Just a final reflection on my six week journey to six different cities, firstly I have to say it was wonderful to breathe some clear, cool air again – such a relief. I think I’m more suited to this temperate climate and it’s really great to be home – no wonder so many people say they would like to live here if they could. The 23 hours of flying was so arduous but I did some yoga stretching in the crew areas and that really helped.
People ask me what the highlight of the journey was and I think it’s that first time I step out and stroll around a new city. This is after the usual business of finding the accomodation and dumping off the bags – after that I can relax, grab the essentials: phone, glasses and wallet, and wander around with no plans and no schedule just soaking up the atmosphere. Everything is different; the money, the language, the signage, the shops, the clothes people wear, the transportation and the architecture – it’s my favourite time.
First impressions on returning, New Zealand feels like a real first world country coming from Israel. We are so lucky, it’s a little bit like Stockholm in that it’s modern and well-maintained, although with less bikes on the streets. I know there are all sorts of problems here but there’s also a consciousness, an awareness, and dialogue – and a great contributor to that openness I think is Radio New Zealand National. I listened to it wherever I went and the level of journalism was always so refreshing. In a way, I think RNZ is helping to shape the hearts and minds of society here in the same way as Fox News and CNN were shaping the minds of Americans. I also listened to the BBC Radio 4 but it’s hit and miss with re-runs of the (unfunny) Goon Show and such-like, but also with wonderful specialist shows and comedy like The News Quiz. My main news feed was The Guardian.
I’ve made all sorts of resolutions but one priority is to keep walking because I did so much of it while overseas – in Auckland it’s too easy to jump in the car to go everywhere – so must keep the walking up and it helps that Julia already has a good routine going, and we’re planning to do more fitness things and hiking and getting around the country. It’s also a relief to take a break from sightseeing and get back into doing practical things, back into some routines and the business of running a production company.
So, signing off for now . . .

Rehavia, Jerusalem #24

Rehavia has got it all, an orthodox neighbourhood with lots of young mums pushing prams around. The little village of shops was just a 100 metres from my accomodation and has a bakery, a mini-market, Tommy’s burger bar, a hardware & plastic goods shop, women’s clothes, hairdresser, a news agent, laundry, money changer, ice cream shop, and a Post Office where I sent a postcard to mum.

Now I’m near Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport with a few hours to spare before check in because I needed to check out of my Airbnb – but my flight is not until 8pm but I just couldn’t handle another day of getting hot and sweaty walking the streets of the Old City before a long flight. I feel I’ve seen as much as I want so for the morning I sat in the shady garden Rehavia playing guitar and drinking tea. Above I described the little neighbourhood of Rehavia that I got to like, and below, I’ll relate the things I learnt from talking to people here about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Alon, our guide to the Dead Sea outlined the political situation in Israel from a completely factual position. He purposely commenced this topic at the end of our tour as we approached Jerusalem because he said it’s a can of worms and people bring all kinds of half-baked ideas, prejudices, out-of-date news, and various entrenched positions to the discussion. This is what he said; broadly, there are 5 groups in Israel; the Zionists who created the place and secure it with compulsory military service for boys from the age of 18 for 3 years, and girls for 2 years. The Orthodox Jews who wear the various big hats and coats and curls – he said they don’t need to serve in the military, they just study the Torah and don’t really care about the state of Israel, they just want to live in the Holy Land. The population of Israel is 9 million, of that 6 million are Jews and only half of those are religious, so that’s the 3rd group, non-religious Jews. Then 4th, 20% of the population, nearly 2 million, are Israeli Arabs, and the 5th group, about 5% are non-Jewish ancestry who are family members of Jews, Christian non-Arabs, and Muslim non-Arabs.
 Alon went on to explain the West Bank is divided into 3 parts, it’s called the ‘occupied territory’ and was once part of Jordan but when Israel was attacked on three sides from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in 1967, Israel won the war and occupied the West Bank. The Oslo Accord of 1995 created the ‘green line’ and it was agreed at the time to be divided into 3 parts; Zone A, which includes a part of Jerusalem and all of Bethlehem and Ramallah, and is controlled by the Palistinian Authority, Zone B that is mainly empty desert is controlled by both sides, and Zone C that is controlled by Israel where the settlements are being established. The West Bank is not recognised internationally as part of Israel and as a result Israeli expansion into Isreali controlled Zone C is contentious. 
On the train I met Raphella with her younger brother, she was 19 years old and has recently commenced her compulsory military training. She chose the combat military division of the IDF serving her 3 years (usually 2 but she wanted to be in a combat division so is signed up for 3 years). She’s an ex-Australian whose family moved to Israel very recently and spoke English like a regular Australian. She looked a bit like Amy Winehouse, kind of cheeky but very smart and with plenty of attitude. She calls herself a Zionist, ‘Without us there is no Israel’, The Orthodox Jews?, ‘We hate them, they’re useless, and without us they wouldn’t be here,’ and she showed me a video on her phone of some Orthodox Jews being dragged away at a recent protest. What about the Arab Israelis? I asked, ‘We’re fine with them, there’s no problem there.’ She said some kids don’t like the military, others do, she likes it but the pay is only about NZ$100 a week. Netanyahu?, ‘We hate him, he’s a liar’. She then explained all the different uniforms; dark blue is the Police, green is the military and grey is the border control. Interesting.

One of my lasting memories of Israel and Jerusalem is the piles are rubbish – there’s plastic bags and empty water bottles scattered everywhere. I guess this will change in time. Here’s a pic with Mount Zion and the Temple Mount in the distance beside the entrance to the walled olive tree garden of Gethsemane.

The Dead Sea #23

Doing the cleansing mud thing at The Dead Sea beach resort. Taken by Hannah Krausa

My last experience before returning home was a nine hour tour into the Judean desert. A group of five on the Masada Sunrise Tour with ex-Orthodox Jew, Alon, in his car. We left at 3.30am to be up the mountain in time for the sunrise, on to Ein-Gedi the desert oasis, and finally a dip in the Dead Sea. It’s also a chance to be in the desert and drive the length of the Dead Sea along the West Bank. The climb up the hill to the Masada fortress created by King Herod takes about 50 minutes and is where the rebel Jews fleeing the Romans made their last stand around 74 CE (AD has now be replaced with Current Era), and the siege took years. Finally, the Roman legion of about 8,000 plus slaves spent two years building a ramp to get up there where they erected a tower and started battering the wall, and you know the story, the 900 Jews all slayed themselves rather than becoming captives and slaves to the Romans, first they started with the women and kids . . . gruesome.
It’s a tough walk to the big plateau at the top, but there’s free chilled water on tap up there and I made the most of it. The temperature was about 28º and rises later to about 33º, and apparently we were lucky – it’s usually much hotter at this time of year.

Sunrise from the Masada fortress looking East towards Jordan across the Dead Sea.

On to Ein-Gedi the desert Oasis that’s been used to supply water since ancient times, a few of us got into the waterfalls, actually, it was mainly the Norwegians I met there, none of the coach tour crowds, but, wow, they were really missing out, it’s such a relief to bring your body temperature down – at last, I remembered what it’s like feel normal – the heat makes you half dopey – (soporific ?).
Next stop, Qumran on the Dead Sea, the wierdest beach resort I’ve ever been to. The Dead Sea is 600 metres below sea level and 33% salt, and one tiny drop in your eye really stings and soon I was heading for the fresh water tap to rinse it out. I decided to put my sunnies on to avoid more slashes and floated around for a while with the two Dutch guys in our group chatting about how weird it is. It’s such a funny feeling with the ‘water’ pushing you up, putting your head under is totally out of the question, I’m sure. All my little cuts and scratches stung. I did the obligatory coat of the special soft mud they say is full of minerals, and now my skin is all soft and lovely – awww!

Tomorrow is my 21 hours of three flights to get home to Auckland, not straightforward flying out of Isreal, it’s Istanbul then Bangkok with stop overs of 4 hours then 3 hours, making it a 28 hour journey plus the usual security checks – oh, well. This may be my last posting.
Today I’m heading back to the Old City to see Gethsemane Gardens where according to some, Jesus spent his last night before being arrested – you know the rest of the story, but there are olive trees there over two thousand years old – well, my brother and sister-in-law have a field of them that are about 4 years old – and theirs are also doing very nicely.

Tel Aviv and Bethlehem #22

While having a coffee in Old Jaffa at the southern end of Tel Aviv, I asked the waiter to take a pic and he gave me the fez and a stick, and I tipped him a few shekels, very good coffee too.

Two big day outs – travelling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv yesterday and Bethlehem in the West Bank today, all on public transport, sometimes going in the wrong direction but I get there, there’s buses going everywhere constantly. No point asking bus drivers anything many don’t speak English, all the signs are in Hebrew and Arabic, and it’s hot, but I’m in no hurry – it’s all a challenge. The main issue is which side of the road to stand on because the 72 bus, for example, goes in both directions, lucky for me people are very keen to help an old white geezer in shorts head off in the right direction. Everywhere looks like chaos when I exit the station or step off the bus, but there is a system to it all, I tell myself – it’s just that I don’t know what it is. Asking the price of food is often tricky, I often misinterpret 15 for 50 because they put the emphasis on the last syllable, fiff-DEE which sounds to me like fiff-teen, and lunch ends up costing me 50 shekels, because I’m used to hearing the emphasis for fifty placed the first syllable – which is about NZ$20 instead of $6 – so no big drama.
Tel Aviv is an energetic cosmopolitan city full of people from around the world doing business, shopping and hanging at the beach and there’s no hustle going on as far as I could see, although it was suggested I avoid one of the bus stations that has alot of ‘North Africans‘ hanging about.
So, getting back to the beach, you buy a ticket from a vending machine to hire an umbrella and seat that’s been set up on the beach, about $7 for ‘beach equipment’ as it’s called, but I didn’t use it. There’s fresh water showers, lockers for a 5 shekel coin and everything to drink and eat – it’s the Med, and yes, I did remember to bring my togs! I returned on the train to Jerusalem sitting with IDF guys holding machine guns, it all feels pretty natural, really.

Three buses and a tour through some new looking Isreali settlements and suddenly I’m in the West Bank in Bethlehem and step off the bus to have three Arab taxi drivers trying to do a deal on me – quite intense. It went from 50 shekel to 20 shekel as I walked away in the general direction of the Nativity Church, but soon I was sweeping down narrow ancient streets with a Palestinian cab driver. There’s a long line of people waiting about an hour to touch the supposed spot where Christ was born. I didn’t bother but I did manage to get a pic of them at the point when they exit after arriving at the sacred spot – I’ve really had enough of churches, it’s the cultural and street life that I’m more interested in. The walk back to the bus stop was much shorter than the taxi ride and a couple of hours later I’m back in Jerusalem having a nice cuppa tea in my little room in Rehavia.

The lovely cool, quiet and leafy district of Rehavia in Jerusalem

Jerusalem #21

A rooftop view across the Old City looking towards the New Gate showing a bit of the outer wall and the Temple Mount.

It’s true what they say, the women in the Israel Defence Force do have tailored uniforms, no baggy combat pants for these girls toting their machine guns. Fully armed police and IDF people are everywhere usually in groups of 3, 4 or 5 – they’re on the trams, at the tram stops, on the streets and they openly patrol the Muslim Quarter of the Old City – but ironically, it feels really safe here. I feel comfortable walking around in the evening. I entered the Old City via the Jaffa Gate, it’s a fascinating maze of narrow streets and alleyways opening out to little leafy courtyards. There’s food cooking and the usual shops of souvenir trinkets. I waited in line to go up to the Temple Mount, an area Jews are forbidden to go, and left via another exit to walk through the Muslim Quarter. After a few hours in this heat I start to get really tired and regardless of how much water I drink, my energy level drops, and it’s forecast for 32º tomorrow. I’ve figured out the trams, there’s just one line with them going both directions, and I bought a travel swipe card. Everyone is generally helpful with information but there’s so much to figure out and it’s hard to remember street names – but if I can find Ben Yehuda Street, then I’m generally heading in the right direction.
Today I went to Yad Vashem, the massive holocaust museum, quite impressive and very powerful, and every historical aspect is dealt with thoroughly including the basis for how it happened – going back hundreds of years. There’s lots of multi media and I listened-in on a few guided tours.
Travelling on my own makes it easy to chat with people. Coming out of the museum I suddenly realised how overwheling the experience is. You exit with a big view out across the countryside.
I’m glad I have the little Airbnb room in Rehavia District to come back too every few hours, it’s a really nice district and the owners are two ex-Londoners, a young Jewish couple with a baby who are planning to return to London because Israel has a low wage economy, they tell me, but their dream is to live in New Zealand.

Jerusalem #20

Although a little travel weary it’s so exciting to be in Israel. My first walk along Jaffa Street where the trams run from the train station and then up pedestrian-only Ben Yehuda Street was like arriving on a new planet. Holding trusty Google Maps in my hand I had been told to get a taxi but walking is always more interesting. First impression, a cross of first world and third world. The new train system from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv was like the double decker RER in Paris but that’s where the comparison ends. All the signs everywhere are in Hebrew and Arabic, of course, with occasional English, and there’s no way I can decifer those characters – this is going to be a challenge. I pass-by the Hotel Zion, that looks like a nice place to stay. Other impressions; the place is a bit grubby there’s exposed wiring and plumbing hanging everywhere, there’s piles of trash, food is on open display, and just about all the males are wearing a kippah or yarmulke. After checking in to my AirBnB, the only one I’m doing on this trip, I went for a stroll, sat at a table in the square and ate a shawarma and visited the lively covered market alleyway of Mahane Yehuda Market where I bought some sticky baklava-style treats. There’s a real vibrancy in the air – and it’s hot, getting up to 30º, but the temperature has lowered now it’s the evening to 22º. It’s been a long day and but I’m excited about what the next six days will bring.

Rue des Martyrs #19

There’s a book by Elaine Sciolino called The Only Street In Paris about the Rue des Martyrs in the Montmartre, I haven’t read it but gather it’s an interesting place to go for an afternoon stroll. I took the Metro to Abbessess near the top and continued up the steps to Sacré-Cœur. The place was really crowded at 3.30pm and the restaurants in the little leafy square near the top are certainly doing good business. The Rue des Martyrs starts quite narrow and the prices are quite reasonable and as you go down the hill the shops seem to get more stylish and the prices for a main course keep going up. The street takes you through the Pigalle region and I walked along to the Moulin Rouge. One day Julia and I must go, it’s totally overpriced of course, 87Euro, NZ$144 for a seat up the back, and for the dinner, show & half bottle of bubbly it starts at 230Euro NZ$380 per person, $760 for a night out, and why not – it’s a beautiful room glowing in red and I see from YouTube the show is total razzamatazz cabaret – and it’s booked-out everynight.
I found a tea shop, Maison de Thé, and popped in as I’m running out of Assam. I love these shops with the big rows of tins. I paid 10Euro for 100grams, I know, $NZ16 for a little bag of tea – but everything is expensive in Paris except eating out if you bother to look down the side streets. On the other hand if you buy food to picnic with, from all the lovely boulangeries and chatueseries, it’s also really pricey, the only cheap way to go, I guess, is the supermarkets like Monoprix – but that’s no fun.
The most expensive coffee, a double espresso, I observed from a menu at the terrace cafe of the Louvre Museum, but didn’t have one myself, was NZ$12.50.

Paris #18

Policeman in bullet-proof vests on bicycles with tasers, Glocks, batons and cable ties.

Sensory saturation, I just can’t take any more, memory almost full, for someone who is interested in just about everything I’ve reached my limit. It might have been three days of racing from one side of Paris to the other but suddenly I realise I need a break. It occured to me at the Musée d’Orsay looking at the Van Gogh self-portrait and just thinking I need a coffee. At 11.30am there’s already a long line at the café and people are already lining up for the fancy restaurants that haven’t even opened – all this sightseeing is exhausting. I can understand how the package tourists feel, a quick stroll around the museum, lunch at 11.30am, buy some junk at the gift shop on the way out and head back to the hotel for a nap.
It’s 28º in Paris, just perfect for evening strolling but the forecast according to my phone is that it’s going up 38º and 41º this week – but I’ll be gone on Monday. But I’m heading for Isreal where it’s averaging 31º, so, a rest day here in this cool courtyard might be in order.
I must say that e-bike was perfect for getting around because of all the stop-start of city riding, but as soon as the lights change with one kick of the pedals . . it’s woosh, and I’m swept up to speed straight away instead of doing that awkward wiggly thing to get going – this is great. It cost me about NZ$40 a day to rent.
I played at the Le Tennessee in L’Odéon district that borders Quartier latin, great fun, nice people – seems Queen songs are the favs at the moment.
Visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery where Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrision are buried, massive place but very peaceful, not gloomy at all. And the perfect place to read a book seems to be Le Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th Arrondisment that covers 23 hectares, with tennis courts and people playing pétanque, of course.

Paris #17

Riding around Paris on an e-bike is the best fun I’ve had. The traffic is frantic, scooters duck and dive around you, the cyclsts ignore the lights and the cars and buses toot and nudge one another – you need to look around constantly especially when circling the Arc de Triomphe – I love it.
La Villette has the canal pools where I went for swim and then back down the long straight Rue La Fayette to Opera to have a healthy low cost lunch at IKEA. Suddenly I’m on the big wide Champs-Élysées or Boulevard Haussmann. Some of the main roads are bumpy cobbled stones and there are cycle lanes everywhere but there’s also road works and construction creating bottlenecks – it’s a mess. The only reason I can travel this way is the phone on Google Maps clipped to my bag in the front basket and wearing my progressive glasses so I can read both the map and the street signs. Hurling along on e-power I briefly glance to see I’m passing by the famous Les Deux Magots cafe on Place Saint-Germain des Prés, completely full, of course, with tourists happy to be severely overcharged for the experience of sitting at a table where André Gide, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Hemingway, Sartre and Beauvoir once had their espresso.
Earlier in the day I took a 3 hour walking tour of the Marais district with our guide Léo, many parts still with elements of the medieval streets, ending with Place des Vosges and the old Jewish district. Got a slot at the open mic night at The Highlander cellar, I stayed for an hour and then cycled towards the Tour Eiffel along the Seine where people gather in the evening to hang out and drink at the Quai d’Orsay beside the river. People from everywhere have been drawn here and accept what it has become in mid-summer; a kind of charming chaos that works.

Paris #16

The Metro just has too many steps and not enough escalators, and after using it for two days I’ve had enough and hired an e-bike to get around Paris. The crowds at this this of year are staggering, the shops and restuarants are full, the streets are crowded, and compared with Berlin, it’s intense. I visited the Quai Branly Museum on Anne’s suggestion and later the Centre Pompidou that had an exhibition on Dora Maar, Picasso’s friend and muse and an artist in her own right.
I’m lucky to be staying with French people in a house with it’s own quiet courtyard off the street and situated over the road from the Champ de Mars and the base of the Tour Eiffel, incredible. I fulfilled a long ambition to have my birthday, July 14th, in Paris. The day starts with an endless military parade; the Legionnaires carry axes instead of guns and there’s a big fly over. The evening had a magnificent classical concert and the fireworks display went on for at least half an hour and included lasers, projections and spotlights and music – it must have cost millions. Earlier in the evening Elo took me to her favourite restaurant where Obama also went, apparently, the small La Fountain de Mars – still a family restaurant. On the way home we watched the fireworks and then once home we watched the concert on TV and I saw numerous soloists and opera singers, and the amazing Khatia Buniatishvili playing Rachmaninoff. click on the link to see the performance.

Berlin #15

Only four days and not enough time to do everything I planned. Must come back – Berlin is an edgy place but it’s relaxed too – everywhere you go there are people sitting drinking beer outside cafés and talking together – it’s a social place, there are people from all over the world – it seems to be a magnet for young people especially, the universities must be popular. Around every corner is a surprise, and that Hauptbahnhof (Central) railway station is an engineering masterpiece.
Now on a train that just departed from Koln and heading to Paris Nort. This Thalay French train not as fast and new as the Duesche Bahn DB that reached 199km/h for a while. An hour in Koln to eat bratwurst – there’s hot food everywhere as well as all the pastries you could want. In Berlin I used the urban public transport but I think bike is the way to go – it’s so flat. An E-bike would be ideal although the hourly rates would soon mount up. By absolute co-incidence my school mate Bill, his wife Bettina and their daughter Saki and her baby Arthur were in town – Bettina was origionally from Berlin, we had lunch at the Mokkabar in the nice part of Kreuzberg. They suggested I go to the Jewish Museum afterwards, it was nearby so I did, only to find there’s hardly anything in it, except the gift shop which had a ton of stuff – the architecture is magnificent . Finding I’m getting tired around 3pm because I’m getting up so early. Sharing a 4 bed dorm with 3 other women, two from Mexico one from Germany, they get lower cost rooms in a mixed dorm than in a female dorm, and end up with me. Everyone’s very polite and considerate.
The highlight last night was seeing the musical Cararet in a Tipi Am Kanzleramt, a stretch-tent venue complete wth a chandelier, we all sit at tables, it was a full house, very glamourous and the show was really superb, all in German, of course. I enjoy any music production if it’s done well. The band wandered around at interval playing like a gypsy band. Talking to the cast after the show I was encouraged to go to the real Kit Kat Klub – that would be something to see. But I never went to any of the big famous clubs nor any of the big galleries – maybe next time.

Berlin #14

Folk night at the Laksmi Bar in Kreuzberg.

Suddenly a whole new place far from the Baltic north; the gritty, graffiti streets of endless bars and cafes of a big city full of people – and those long German street names to grapple with. It’s my 4th language to deal with but it seems to be getting easier to remember names and places as I go along. Apart from the buses and trains I soon learn there are three forms of urban transport in Berlin; the S Bahn, which is the older raised-level network of trains, the U which is the Underground, and the M, the Trams. One ticket gives you 2 hours on anything long as you verify it in a machine to time stamp it – pretty easy.
But I start with a Bike Tour for six and half hours, absolutely fantastic with Matilde, a French woman who gives a very good summary of the history of the war and The Wall in a chalk drawing. We wander through the maze of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe. Later that evening I use the Underground, (which actually goes over ground mostly), from Oranienburger StraBe, change lines to the Kruzeberg area and get off at Schlesisches Tor and walk a few streets to the Laksmi Bar open mic night. Apple Maps for the transport and Google Maps for the venue location seems to be a good system. It’s a dimly lit place with the smell of hash and a crowd that actually listens and seem to like that Cohen and Nico-style of folk music. Lucas, the host, gives a few of us one song each at the end the night and I give it my best shot, the only performer there who’s actually throws their voice, seems to go down ok. I leave for the Underground but at 11.30pm it’s shut and I share a cab with two others who also played at the Laksmi Bar, and get dropped off back to my hostel.
It’s interesting how the wifi at the hostel is not as good as the 4G and 3G on my phone. For example, I can’t access my Westpac account via the wifi but the mobile network is fine. The connectivity thing is the most important asset of all and I’m constantly charging and recharging both my phone and my power pack – I’m pretty well streaming two maps apps, auto-uploading pics, running a calender, storing tickets, emailing, WhatsApping, and reading guide books on-line continuosly – I’m a heavy data kinda guy <-;\

Tallinn #14

Leaving Tallinn and the Baltic with temperatures that about the same as they are Auckland at the moment, slightly warmer averaging 18ºC and about 12º at night, and heading south to where the temperatures are much higher and the crowds are bigger, in Berlin it’s 23º. When that wind from the arctic sweeps through it can suddenly drop to 12º in the day. Visited the Communist-era prison on the edge of town, pretty grim of course, ordinary people arrested and incarerated for no reason, just having the wrong ideas, or having someone in you family with the wrong ideas, anyone who owned land or worked in administraive role was suspect, it was a cruel regime and there is plenty to read as you walk through the place. The history of Communism continues well into 1968 and I remember being at University in Wellington in flats in the 1980s where people enthusiastically discussed the virues of Engles and Marx. It’s chilling when you think there has been about 90 million people who were casualties of Communist; 20 million in Russia, 65 million in China, 2 million in Cambodia, and then there’s North Korea currently adding to the totalitarian total. It comes from dogmatic and intolerate ideology that can not challenged and people get called out on any premise who may have no political allegiances at all. I see the activist left in New Zealand with similar intolerances, especially in the unversities where debates are closed down and speakers are banned because they hold ideas counter to their own – need to keep an eye on that stuff.

Tallinn #13

This is a pose up with Dimitri and Anastasia, both from Moscow, who played along with me at the Euphoria Hostel venue, Dimitri wanted to learn the chords for the outro of Hey Jude, (the na, na na, na na, hey jude bit), and Anastasia who played oboe and piano wanted to play Riders On The Storm, the Doors song that I used to know and I jammed along – it’s a cliché but true about how music is the international language.

On the Saturday a parade of the choirs leads off from the city centre to the showgrounds and it went on for hours with all the beautiful costumes. On the Sunday was the main event. I found a spot and stayed there for 7 hours from 2pm to 9pm with my pack of food and drink, binoculars and sunnies, and was completely enchanted. I had no idea what was going on because I don’t know a word of Estonian. There was a massed children’s choirs, a huge wind ensemble of about a 1000 players, an orchestral feature with what looked like three combined orchestras, a male choir, female choir and finally, all together with a 22,000 piece choir. Talking to people afterwards I learned the music is secular and non political and to my ears the music is quite sombre, it’s not ‘light pops’, and many of the songs date back to the middle ages, there are also premiers of new choral works. The song festival was initiated about 150 years ago when the Germans occupied Estonia and continued during the Communist period and is now a big national day with plenty of flag waving. The Estonians finally own their country and many of the older chorusers were very emotional, the big LED screen showed their faces – as a country they have been through so much to get were they are today. Interestingly, there were no soloists, it’s a people’s event, there are no star performers or celebrities apart from the conductors. This event happens every 4 years and I felt privledged to be a able to experience it.

Tallinn #12

Suddenly Tallin has become fascinating, what an amazing and tough history the people have endured here, at one time having to choose between supporting the Communists or the Nazis. There’s tiny shops and endless cafes and restaurants. I found a linen shop and thought of Linen Tea – must buy an embroided cushion case – but which one? Today I took the walking tour around the Old Town with Maria, our guide, a maths student and so articulate and knowledgable about everything. We didn’t go inside any of the churches and battlements, that’s for tomorrow. There are hoards of cruise ship people everywhere with two ships currently in harbour and they crowd everything out – fortunately they all go back to the ships at 3pm and the place is easier to get around. There are many people in town for the singing festival and this year is the once every five year extra big one. There will be 45,000 singers and an audience of 100,000, who also sing – that’s why I’m here. A procession leads off from the main square on Sunday morning and we walk to the festival site. A great meal out tonight at the Must Puudel restaurant down a tiny alley with Ken a New Zealander on an extended journey around the world, he’s been everywhere, man – plenty of stories and a good laugh, and we got the window seat.

Tallinn #11

The lovely Vete Kitchen in Stockholm is a well-known cafe I was planning to visit but only passed by on my last day but I had a quick glance at those delicious-looking creamy cakes as I rushed back to grab my bags to catch the flight to Tallin.

I was sad to leave Stockholm, it really has a nice atmosphere even though there is so much construction going on, the tree-lined streets are clean and safe, there’s no homeless and everyone looks healthy, and many indeed look quite stylish. Arriving in shabby Tallin my heart sank, why did I want to come here? The hostel was so hard to find being in a precinct of buildings rather than at a street address. The receptionist covered in tattoos looked bored and there were laminates of ‘the rules’ on the counter, nothing charming or welcoming like my hostel in Stockholm with pastries on the counter and free tea and coffee. I hated the room, not like the website pics at all, and I just wanted to check out next morning. But strangely, next morning I bumped into two New Zealand travellers in their 40’s. Frank said he was pretty happy with the place compared some of the dives he’s been to, and the other, Ben agreed and suggested I give Tallin a chance, ‘it will grow on you’. Everywhere there’s hard-looking Russian guys with severe haircuts taking loudly. The other hostels are in the Old Town, Ben said to check them out but they’re all a bit run-down in comparison, and a quick look at confirmed it with often-repeated comments about broken things and dirty facilities. At least this place was clean and modern if a little too functional
This morning I checked in for a 2.5 hour cycle tour, the sun came out and the Old Town started looking quite fascinating. Edmund, the young Russian guy taking our group spoke pidgin English with a heavy Russian accent, the others in our group were Dutch and Germans. Edmund tried but he didn’t know much about anything. I have met a few Estonians today and they were genuinely friendly and have the time to chat – they seem different. I found the local tea shop and bought some Assam and returned to my accommodation for a cuppa and a lie down. Only 5 days to go. The singing Festival is on Sunday, I’ll take the free walking tour tomorrow and next day I’ll get an electric bike to cruise to the old prison and the beach. During the commmunist era the Soviets killed a fifth of the Estonian population – I got a pic of myself by a statue of Stalin, now part of a sculpture garden. Estonia only became independent from Russian in 1992 but they still don’t feel entirely comfortable. The Old Town is actually quite incredible with surprisies down every little cobbled lane – it’s growing on me.

Stockholm #10

I thought it was a joke, placed in front of me a plate of warm raw mince-meat with a raw egg yolk on top. I wanted to experience a good restaurant meal to end my week in Stockholm and went to Broms in the wealthy Östermalm district.
Never wanting to be squeamish I tucked in. The menu had said Steak Tartare and I had imagined a regular grilled steak with tartare sauce. The waiter asked about my meal and I said, ‘Well, actually, I had sort of expected something different’. He immediately offered to replace it with an alternative at no extra cost, I accepted, and was given the classic Swedish dish of meatballs, mash, cucumber and lignonberries – delicious. The waiter was wanting to chat and I said I had observed the whole restaurant was full of middle-aged women, some wearing leopard print tops. He said that’s because they’re all cougars. The staff, apparently, refer to them, the Swedish equivalent of ‘latte-momas’. They come in the morning and stay most of the day – Broms was a well known hangout. The places you end up sometimes – crazy.
Earlier in the day I returned my hire-bike, did my last shopping, shipped a box back to NZ and took the Metro Walking Tour. All the underground stations have amazing commissioned artwork – they have been blasted out of solid rock and are enormous caverness spaces. There’s an even deeper new network of tunnels for the faster commuter links to distant suburbs – those Swedes, talk about investing in infrastructure – it must have cost them billions.

Stockholm #9

I wrote about the above images and was about to post when I was logged out by the wi-fi service at this hostel, grrr, so it all got deleted – too tired to do write all over so will do another day . . . suffice to say have managed to visit many of the places I missed last time I was here: Djurgarden Park, Skansen Village, National Museum, Vaxholm, and played at the cellar bar in Stampen with the groovy psychedelic light show on the cieling.

Stockholm #8

The train across Sweden was so modern, comfortable and fast with an amazing dining car no one seemed to use. The spacious clean bathroom with warm water was the ideal time to dress my burst blister. I bought big sterile bandages and scissors at one stop – it’s so weird to be hobbling around like an old man but I’m determined not to let it bring me down. Arriving at the Centralan Station in Stockholm I slowly walked to my fav hostel and I’d forgotten how classy this city is – and felt a bit shabby, I need some slim-fit trousers, maybe time for a visit to H&M.
Hired a bike next morning in Gamla Stan and suddenly the foot problem is not an issue and I’m cruising around the Sodermalm island in the sun and at a kayak hire jetty I recognised Erik who took our group bike tour last time I was here. As he paddled off with some clients I chatted with his assistant and she recommended a vegetarian restaurant called Hermans, an institution, apparently. NZ$24 for an all-you-can-eat smorgasborg and the best vegetarian food I’ve had. I was origianlly planning to eat at the renowned restaurant at the top of the Fotografiska Museum with the celebrity chef – yeah, well, maybe next time. The three floors of photo journalism, fine-art and fashion photography are all stunning, I wish Theo was here to see it. All the galleries are dark and each image is lit separately – cool. The gift shop is pure natty tat heaven – I could of spent heaps, so many witty thingys to buy, perfect Christams gifts? – the Leica camera that’s really a pencil sharpener, love it – hmm, or maybe not.
Hardly anyone takes cash here, it’s all pay wave, and I notice Westpac is taking about 50 cents everytime I use it!
There’s a huge construction project going on in the harbour area that the locals are getting annoyed with, it’s taking years, they’re preparing for sea level rise from climate change to save the old city – those Swedes. It makes navigating around tricky, so I’m still cycling with just one hand and with Google maps in the other – not looking like a local at all.

Dalsland #7

4am when it starts getting light.
Uperrud 9:9 the guesthouse where the trail begins.

I have decided to delete a large number of recipients of this blog because of the silly, off-topic type of comments some people leave – not interesting or supportive. One of the reasons I’ve gone off Facebook too, all those weird comments – so now this just goes to immediate family and a few friends.
In Southwest Sweden, north of Goteburg is a cute little place called Upperud where I stayed one night at a guesthouse before my 46km walk through the woods, over the rocks and around the lakes to a guesthouse at the end of the trail in Edsleskog. It’s called the Pilgrims Trail and has been used since medievil times. There are six campsites with shelters along the way, I aimed for the third at the half way point but it was swarming with bugs so I trudged on and found a flat spot to put up my tent. The heat and distance caused a few blisters so next morning I decided to take a short cut, got off the trail, used the gravel roads and headed for the main road, and hitched to Egleskog, checked-in and crashed out.
I had a little gas cooker and made cups of tea along the way and listened to Ray Charles and Van Morrison.
On the way to Upperud on the train from Malmo to Goteburg I started listening to Joe Rogan Experience with Russell Brand #1283 – one of the best I’ve heard, but with the train peaking at 200 km per hour, (there’s a digital display) I only got a third of the way through. It’s great to also tune into RNZ live in the evenings and listen to Morning Report.
Everyone here has been so kind giving me bandages, cotton pads and antiseptic for my blisters. The Swedish countryside is just so beautiful, all the houses are painted ox-blood red and look like they should be on a chocolate box, and around every corner there’s another lake with a house and jetty at it’s edge – what a magical place.

Copenhagen #6

Student housing in Reffen, the urbanised ex-shipyard area across the water from the city.

I must have cycled hundreds of miles around Copenhagen have it fairly figured out and yesterday was so interesting. First, out to the beach and back then to Reffen, the reclaimed shipyard where it’s all happening; CopenHell, a big metallers concert nearby with Slash, Slipknot and The Scorpions and alot of Scandi bogens everywhere. A big housing area is there with all sorts of designs: tiny houses, modular units and house boats. I had gone to see the Urban Rigger by Architects BIG and met Thorsen who was buying one for his son and told me all about them, 25 square metres and $NZ220,000 each, totally eco with separate shared areas, laundry and storage – amazing. I visited the food village, where there’s an outdoor dance club, breweries, and DJs everywhere – so popular.
It’s interesting how the Danes think the Swedish has ‘less edge’, as Thorsen’s wife said, but Berlin has ‘more edge’ than Denmark.
So many young South American people here, many living semi-permanently at The Steel House where I stayed, mooching around in the day and working at McJobs like UberEat deliveries. There’s no work in their countries, apparently.
Lime Scooters are being introduced here and the Danes have different rules than NZ. They must follow the same road rules as bikes which have their own lanes but these are integrated as general road users. They can’t be used in pedestrian areas. The traffic lights here have really short phases, they change really quickly, you hardly have to wait, I like that.
This will be my last post for a while as I travel on to Sweden.

Copenhagen #5

Some problems and I was unable to post anything for the last few days because the firewall created by my webhosts needed a tweak. All fixed by Reuben and Andrew back there in Grey Lynn – amazing guys, I’ve been with them for 20 years and they’re always onto it. I have 3 domian names and websites with them – if you need a good CMS (content management system), please check out
The days are so long here, it’s light until 11pm and when I get up at 6am it’s already blazing sunlight. The National Museum has room after room of bronze tools – the success of the nordic people comes down to three things in my opinion; working metal, 1500 years of bronze before they started smelting iron, boat building (corded ware), and women contributed and influenced equally in society. The whole thing was ruined in my opinion by the arrival of that Roman Church with it’s repressive, sexist mumbo jumbo – and suddenly the fun’s over.
Last day here and I’m cycling to the beach 45 minutes away – I brought togs with me and I’m gonna use ’em!

Copenhagen #4

An hour south of Copenhagen is Camp Adventure and the new Forest Tower that spirals up above the trees, quite a feat of design and engineering with a beautiful boardwalk approach – who could resist strolling to the top and looking out across the countryside in the warm breeze. The park is full of cabled walkways between the tress and people whizzing by on flying foxes. The rail and bus journey allowed me to see a little of rural Denmark, it’s really flat – perhaps next time I’ll visit a few other places like Aarhus and Roskilde where the viking ship museum is. Today I’m visiting the National Museum.

Copenhagen #3

A kayak tour around the housing, offices, and the Maersk Opera House that sits on its own island.. There’s cute little canals and waterways weaving around the city. Two hours and didn’t even drop my phone doing selfies. Temperatures around 22 degrees – everyone talks about how it rains here all the time but haven’t seen much until last night riding back from Apotek open mic where I’d met up with Bernard the local songwriter who’s invited me to a another event 40 minutes north of the city. Trying to remember street names is tricky, they all merge after a while, been wanting to find a shop I’d like to go back to – try remembering this address, on the corner of Købmagergade and Kronprinsessegade, ok got it. Learning about Hygge, it’s a big idea in Denmark and I like it.

Copenhagen #2

I arrived at Christiania in the morning before the crowds and had a really good look around, and met Josephine a mother with a baby who’s own mother was one of the original hippies that sqautted the abandoned army barracks and land in 1971, and set up an alternative community. All the cute dwellings look handmade and I wanted to know if there were any compliance issues, and apparently in the last 15 years they have got pretty serious about it, but all the existing structures are legal. About 900 people live there and it’s all about freedom of the individual and communty resonsibility. I saw the dealers on Pusher Street with their hash and grass for sale. I went into the smokey Woodstock Bar, and had breakfast at a cafe listening to music by Kiwi band Dragon. Then the police strode in and the dealers barked like dogs to warn each others and quickly dismantled their displays and slipped away. It’s illegal to sell hash and weed but as Josephine said, the only people who buy it now are from outside the community. It’s good to see the hippie values of community living and sharing of resources is still relevant in 2019. Perhaps an alternative community area in Auckland would be a good place for people that don’t really fit into the one on offer in exploitive-property-value-obsessed Auckland. Here’s an idea, close the container port, move it to Tauranga or Northland and use the land for social housing – just let people get creative and build communities there. No, I didn’t buy anything dodgy in Christiania – just a lovely tote bag with the Christiania logo.

Copenhagen #1

Arrived at 9am at the Steel House, a really modern take on hostel/hotel accomodation with pod beds, locked my gear away and walked to the Mikes Bike Tour lasting over 3 hours taking us through all the neigbourhoods and food villages, what a nice place to live. Went to a famous food market near the Israel Park for lunch and back to the hostel to sleep. Yes, food is expensive, but so nice. Awake at 8pm and time to visit Tivoli Park at dust – an immaculate amusement park in central Copenhagen with gardens, winding paths, a lake with a sailing ship, clever lights, quaint restaurants, music halls in the spiegeltent style, and amazing rides – totally magical, it couldn’t be done better. Then to Mojo open mic night, but too late to play, but made a few contacts for other places to play – everyone is so friendly and helpful.

Hey, hope you’ll check-in to my new travel blog.

On Sunday 16th June I fly directly to Copenhagen on Thai Air and begin a six week journey to six countries. I will be staying about a week in six different cities; Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallin, Berlin, Paris and Jerusalem, with a couple of side trips into the countryside in Sweden and France. I’m taking a guitar with me again and will be checking out a few live music bars and have already found a few online that have open mic nights.
I hope to write my blog every couple of days and hope you’ll tune in – even if you only check out the pics.
I have pre-booked my accomodation in each city and my air and rail journeys in Europe. It means I know exactly where I’ll be on any day, and I guess what I lose in spontaneity I gain in the certainty of staying in good central places and save in travel fares in peak-season Europe. Generally, I try to stay in the more modern hostels with no more than 4 bed dorms, with one AirBnB in Jerusalem. I use for most places but some I booked direct like City Backpackers in Stockholm where I stayed last time and really enjoyed their location and homely atmosphere. Other hostels like the Generator chain, where I’m staying in Berlin, are more like hotels; modern interior design, no self catering and with dorm beds that are more like pods with a light, shelf, power and USB outlets, and a big lockable drawer for each person. My only luxury will be staying in a country lodge in Dalsland in West Sweden with meals provided at each end of a hiking trail walk.

Steel House Copenhagen with the dorm room pod-style beds. The place even has an indoor swimming pool.
Upperud 9:9 in Dalsland is the cafe, live music venue and lodge near Goteborg in West Sweden where I will stay a night before my overnight hike in the woods to the Edsleskogs Wärdshus lodge at the end of the trail.

BluesFest Monday 22nd

‘Are you coming back next year?’, is the question everyone asks. I won’t be but many are and even buy their ticket for the pre-early bird price on the final day. It was my shopping day in Byron Bay town to get bottles of my favourite local hot sauce. Lunch at the hard to find vegetarian restaurant, it’s tiny and tucked away down a little alleyway. Brunswick Heads is one place the local people talk about, ‘better than Byron’, and I wanted to catch a bus there but I had a date with Samantha Fish on stage at 3pm. She was worth it too; a fab blondy hair style, a SG Gibson like mine but white, and a voice – she totally owns it. Julia Stone next, an Australian, was once part of a duo with her brother, but it didn’t grab me. Lukas Nelson again, and so good, he played Paul Simon’s Diamonds On The Soles Of His Shoes, really well. The big sing-along is the song he wrote with Lady Gaga with a killer hook I can’t get out of my head, ‘I hope you find yourself before I find somebody else to love’ – so catchy, and kind of corny too I guess. Caught a few songs of David Gray, Paul Kelly, and Jack White’s Sabateurs band – what a noise, basically a guitar constantly feeding-back – but for those that like their rock loud and grungy – he’s your man.

BluesFest Sunday 21st

This Is Not A Clothes Optional Beach – is the sign that greets us as we arrive at the coast of Tyagarah Reserve an hour’s walk from the Festival. Even though the fest site is alongside the coast there is no direct access to the beach. Andreas, the keen German hiker who’s my age, said he tried to crash through the bush once but it’s thick and swampy, I take his word for it, he’s climbed Mt Kilamanjaro, been to Everest base camp and likes a challenge. The lifeguards have set up flags way down the beach where the ‘clothes optional’ people are, ‘Why there?’, I ask, ‘Because optional lives matter, ha ha’, they reply. There are powerful rips and undertows alright, but the sea is gorgeous.
The RockWiz is a telly show they’ve transferred to the live stage, it’s crass Aussie humour at it’s best, talk about laugh. Lukas Nelson is Willie Nelson’s son, has inherited the same voice, it’s honest country rock and really good, I like him. Nathaniel Rateliff has a similar sound and very popular, but . . nah. I was encouraged to see the Melbourne Ska Orchestra – freakin’ incredible, what a crazy fun show. For example, the whole 20 piece band suddenly stop and all freeze for a few seconds – then we all do it, again and again . . it’s hilarious. Larkin Poe are two young women guitarists and singers in a band from the Joan Jet school of rock, but even better! Jack Johnson packs the room and weaves his understated magic with a small band and an acoustic guitar. Last, a bit of hard funk from the original funksters, George Clinton and the Funkadelic and 118db on my decibel app, it’s pumping, shouting, tribal mayhem – and way too loud.

George Clinton and the Parlaiment Funkadelic pumping up the volume.
Lukas Nelson has written songs with Lady Gaga and tells us he had a girlfriend called Georgia, but she’s not ‘on his mind’ anymore, apparently.
Don’t shoot the pink piano player, he’s doing his best.
Waiting in the crush for Jack Johnson.

BluesFest Saturday 20th

Exercise?, I thought you said ‘extra fries’. The best T-shirt slogan so far. The day started with Vintage Trouble, never heard of them but they’re a slick band of pros with an energised lead singer. Tommy Emmanuel is totally brilliant solo virtuoso acoustic guitarist playing impossibly complex medleys of Beatles songs and using the instrument as percussion, he is surely the best in the world, just staggering. Kurt Vile, a young alternative folk-rocker in a checkered shirt, I admire anyone who can write songs that don’t rhyme and just tell long stories. Kasey Chambers is a big country star in Australia apparently, but one song and I’m gone. Snarky Puppy for the third time right up front, intense jazz-jamming – woah man!
Ben Harper for two songs playing his slow numbers. Exhausted and music’d–out I head off to camp and catch the end of the The California Honeydrops and just stayed there enjoying the good times – they’re the ultimate party band, they bring the party and they don’t play covers because their own songs are so infectious.

Steampunk was the theme this year I guess with the stree-theatre performers, it’s the welders goggles that give it away.
Tommy Emmanuel
Definitely the best donuts in the world, they serve them hot, they’re big and sugary and mine had hot ‘Russian Caramel’ filling, $7 each and the line is 20 metres long all day, one is quite enough and two is just going too far.