Oct 27, 2008

Life in the fast lane

After a lengthy hiatus, The Flashpacker is back! The date for this post is March 18 2009 which makes it over 5 long months.
Unfortunately for this blog post, routine life doesn't make for interesting travel stories.

Therefore the Flashpacker will turn his attention to observe the crazy life that is London-town. And of special interest to me this week is a suggestion for a pedestrian code of conduct to be enforced in London.

Last night I was walking to a restaurant and got shoulder barged on the pavement by 3 separate people. Each head-down, pavement hogging and without an apology. I tried to get out of the way but that just showed weakness. What was most intriguing was that they were women. Not to say that women don't shoulder barge, on the contrary. In London, women shoulder barge more than the men do. At least they seem to shoulder barge me more than men do.

A nice stroll down the street

Fuck that. If this happened on the road I would be suing their asses for driving in the wrong lane, endangering life etc. This got me thinking. Should the Lord Mayor adopt a strict pedestrian code of conduct?

I'm stating the obvious here but London is a metropolis. Its shoulder to shoulder on the roads, trains and pavements. And as Londoners seem to have no time to waste, an unofficial pedestrian code has been adopted by most pavement commuters.

The Peak hour 'wave'

Its quite similar to road rules: do the speed limit, keep left, don't stop and talk to anyone, allow faster walkers to pass, don't tail gate (or ass gate..whatever).

I said most. There is always a bad apple in the bunch. Slow walkers are the scourge of the city, they can clog up entire tube stations, streets and food hall queues.

Fast lane violators

I follow this 'unofficial' code to a tee. I keep left, overtake when safe to do so, never tail (ass) gate, why should these idlers be allowed to make me late?

Its high time that this unofficial code be recognised and enforced. People just don't have enough time anymore. With fast lanes, speed cameras and pavement police, Londoners could shave minutes off their daily commute. Think about what they could do with an extra minute!

Some years ago a campaign group with no time to waste suggested that a 'fast lane' be trialled on Oxford Street and managed the same way as one would find on a regular road. You know, police hiding behind dust bins, pavement spikes, speed cameras and the like.

Fuck poverty! This is a cause worth fighting for

The Oxford Street fast lane would: 'keep pedestrians moving, there would be a strict ban on using mobile phones, pushchairs, wheelchairs, cameras and personal stereos. Pets would also be barred (except guide dogs), as would eating, map reading, and smoking. ' Too right.

London has a vast network of wasted CCTV cameras. They could be used to enforce pedestrian violations instead of real crime. Gone would be the curious, the idlers and the relaxed. Instead the city would move systematically, efficiently and relieve the ever constant threat of 'pedestrian rage' that hangs above it.

I would lobby Mayor Boris Johnson but I don't have any time. Fucking idlers.

Boris hard at work

Oct 3, 2008

Alaska Part 2: Our RV's name was 'Bertha'

Room with a view (on wheels)

Understandably RVs get a fair amount of criticism from those who don't drive them. They are slow, take up most of the road and allow trailer trash to leave the trailer park and live anywhere they please.

If you go to America, you should use the opportunity to drive a big fuck-off RV. Its the US and in the US, everything is bad for the environment so its a good excuse to have a holiday from your green conscience and get some serious CO2 into the atmosphere.

RVs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as big as passenger buses, some are painted black with bald eagles down the sides and some have side sections that extend like transformers to allow for extra living space.

Butch and Linda's little slice of heaven

Our final decision to hire an RV in Alaska was a complex one. When drawing up a budget we had to take into consideration the costs involved in hotels/camping/transport for four people. Add to that the constant threat of bears (see Alaska blog part 1) and the choice of a mobile armour plated lounge room easily won over canvas.

We picked up the smallest RV we could get, 22 feet. It was ugly, white and small compared to the other behemoths in the RV rental lot. But it was cute and it was to be home for the next 5 nights. We called her Bertha.

22 ft of Bertha

Bertha had four beds, communal dining area, kitchenette, microwave, TV/DVD, central heating, toilet, shower, storage cupboards and could be powered by a generator when not hooked up to mains. Put simply, she could set up camp anywhere we liked and we could live in total luxury (roads permitting).

Bertha looked slow but she had a 350 V8 Chevy engine inside, which meant she could do 120kph and accelerate past most vehicles. Although she was incredibly top heavy and swayed uncontrollably on corners, Bertha was a pleasure to drive; domineering intimidating and powerful.

The best place to ride her was the front two seats, over the engine and the most solid part of the vehicle. The worst was place to ride was the toilet. Even worse trying to piss in the toilet when Bertha was wobbling down the freeway. It was like trying to piss on a plane whilst it was passing through a cyclone.

Comfortable and stylish RV living

As a man and on a road trip, I needed a function. I decided to declare myself in charge of systems, kinda like Geordi La Forge from Star Trek engineering. Each morning I would do a systems check and walk around Bertha, opening and closing obscure access panels, tightening knobs that didn't do anything and kicking the tyres.

The best part of Bertha was her systems panel. It indicated remaining power, grey water levels, black water levels and water water levels. I pressed it every 5 minutes, I made that little panel my bitch. I kept on pressing it every 5 minutes...it really excited me, like I knew Bertha intimately on the inside as well as out.

Shot from a Highway 101 speed camera

Our idyllic RV camping scene was Bertha parked near a raging Alaskan river, salmon jumping into the mouths of bears, fire crackling away as we drink beer and BBQ. And no park fees. We managed to find such a place on the first night, minus the bears and salmon. However we were parked on an angle, which apparently isn't the best idea if you want to sleep.

Our first night we didn't sleep so good. Not because of the angle, but thanks to the motorised stairs that kept on deploying, making us think that a bear was about to make a civilised entry. Was it a bear? Rationality goes out the window when your alone in a place where you're not the top of the food chain.

After trekking all day there is nothing like getting back to a warm RV. However the grey and black water was almost full even though we'd only been in Bertha for 2 days. We had made a group agreement to only pee in Bertha, not poo. So it was surprising how fast we filled her up. We decided therefore to not dry camp and find an RV park to pump out.

A night at the captains table

An idyllic RV park never materialised, so we took a right turn down a dusty path towards a river for another night of bush camping...

When it comes to driving a massive truck down a narrow forest path, there is a point where males and females separate logically. According to male logic, try no matter how stupid. According to female logic, don't do irrational things that could damage the RV or it will void our insurance.

Daniel and I HAD to drive the RV down the narrowest path in Alaska. Female logic was right, we should never have gone down the path. We scratched up the sides and almost ripped of the entire toilet and shower section off, but it was worth it for the serenity.

A morning fish

The camp site was the Alaskan RV ideal that we had all been searching for. It had a raging river, smelt of bears and was perfectly flat. The next morning we went fishing for breakfast. We ate bacon and eggs in the morning sun. We couldn't have asked for anything better.

Paradise found (at a price)

But our sewage issues weren't going away. We had to pump out so we went south and set up camp in a drab RV camp. .

As systems manager I volunteered my services. I mean, how bad could it be? I only had to attach a pipe to Bertha's under carriage, release a valve and let it all flow out. BIG problem was that the pipe was broken and had to be held on by hand. I got under Bertha, held the pipe in place and released the pee. It rushed out so fast it surprised me, and my hand slipped off the pipe, pee gushing out all over the ground and all over me. The girls ran away. And in the panic, Daniel managed to take this pic.

On my knees covered in pee

After being covered in piss I am now truly qualified to say that the smell of pee doesn't easily go away. Its like an oil or vinaigrette that just doesn't wash out, no matter how much disinfectant you use. My dignity was gone.

Although driving an RV is probably the worst thing you can do for the planet, it helped to make me realise how much waste we humans actually generate. In cities, we just press a button and its gone, in Bertha we had to take it wherever we went.

Pee pumping 101: correct method

When we handed back the keys we lied about the damage. We lost 300 dollars but it should have been more. We took a long last look at Bertha, all feeling a sort of sadness in saying goodbye. She had become a part of our lives, and in turn we had become a part of her. She peed on me but she kept all of us warm, safe and sound. Our little mobile home and savior in the great northern land.

Sep 7, 2008

Alaska Part 1: The Last Frontier of bears.

Bear Country

Alaska is huge. Too huge to write about in one blog post so I will break it up into a few.

Firstly, its an awkward destination as its not a stop-over or transit point, its out of the way and you have to want to go there. I have always wanted to go to Alaska and it didnt disappoint. If you ever get the chance to go then go.

The Americans bought Alaska from the Russians for 7.2 million dollars in 1867. That really pissed the Canadians off because if you look at a map, geography dictates it should be theirs.

After arriving in Anchorage late at night it was decided best to hit the bars to find a place full of locals and get a perspective of what kind of person Alaska attracts. 15 minutes later we were at a table with fire fighters and oil workers drinking straight shots of Wild Turkey.

Alaska is the last frontier of the USA, iconic in the American psyche for its sea change ideal. Its hard to meet people that are actually born in Alaska. And they seem proud to have moved here for the money, the green life, escaping the mainstream or the law.

We hit the highway with stinky hang-overs early the next day, and once suburban Anchorage disappeared behind us we were in to the wild. The forests gave way to massive valleys, gigantic dry river beds and snow capped peaks. Alaska's nature was already in the steady stages of Autumn and it was only the end of August.

Alaskan autumnal beauty

On the road the conversation centred mainly about the threat of a bear attack. Before the trip even started, the fear of bears steered our decision to tour in an RV ('Bertha' our RV, deserves her own blog article: coming soon.) thanks to its armour plating.

Aussies have lots of deadly animals to play with, but they are animals you can attempt to avoid or even evade if you have the chance. But bears run faster, swim better and climb quicker than a human. They are 10 times stronger and need to eat more than their body weight before hibernation, and it was Autumn...

Our foray into the wild was in a fully loaded RV equipped with toilet, shower and emergency Moet Chandon. And whilst our laptops, ipods and blackberrys sucked the power from our ever whirring generator on our first night, we all lay awake with thoughts of impending bear death: will they eat through the metal to get to us or just try and roll the RV into the river?

Paranoid view from the back door of the RV

I couldnt possibly imagine how much sleep deprivation we all would have suffered if we decided to camp instead. And despite our relative luxuries, Denali's isolation was total.

There's a bear in there...

We woke bright and early to catch the bus to Mt. McKinley/Denali. Its an eight hour return trip and you can hop on and off any bus on the road when you like. The bus rambles along both a treacherous and scenic route as the driver explains the terrain and looks for potential animal sightings.

Soon we were parked up along side a male moose, complete with blood red horns which is a sign he was fighting fit for mating season. Paris Hilton was in the bushes behind the moose, or so thought a huge group of paparazzi snappers blocking our view. I wish the moose charged them.

Paris Hilton (top right)

Denali National Park is not only famous for Mt McKinley/Denali, North America's highest peak (6150m) but recently made famous in popular culture by the book (and now film) 'Into The Wild' by John Krakauer, where its based. Its a true story about a young man named Christopher McCandless, who cashes in his college funds and leaves his promising life behind to live a basic natural existence in Alaska, and winds up in Denali. His journey becomes an essay to explain the basic human attraction of the search for returning to nature and the book speaks for adventure-travelers in its depiction of wanderlust at its most extreme.

Mt. McKinley/Denali

We decided to jump off the bus and have a little trek. 5 minutes in and bear-paranoia seized us one by one. We noticed some dark figures in the river bed below us and positioned ourselves for a better look. On closer inspection we saw two people sitting in the middle of the dry river bed as if they were just there, having a chat...like it was the most normal place to do such a mundane thing. Suddenly they stood up and started to point toward the other side of the river. Two huge grizzly bears were running after each other, seemingly oblivious to the fact that two free meals were only 300 meters away.

Only bears for company

The couple at the river bank simply walked away unnoticed. And then I realised that my bear-fear had been for nothing. In Australia we will swim, walk, go anywhere, despite the amount of deadly animals waiting to bite us. We talk down sharks, spiders and snakes because we have learned to respect them. The Alaskans dont care about bears because of the same reasons. Suddenly I loved bears.

Happy bears

We spent five days in Alaska, too much to tell in a single blog post. But the best experience was Denali by far. The isolation, beauty and massive bear population all added to the appeal of the place. And to think what would posses a man to leave it all behind and live there..is simply indescribable.

See my Alaska pics at: http://picasaweb.google.com/damientravels07

Aug 27, 2008

Ottawa: Canada's Canberra

This goes out to A.J...

I am born and bred Canberra (the Berra). I grew up in the southern suburbs of Tuggeranong (Tuggers), went to School at St. Edmunds Catholic Boys (Eddies) and drank my teens away in Manuka (Maaans).

Today I went to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Why should this be exciting? Good question.

Ottawa is the unknown Capital, just like the Berra. It was one of the capitals you could never guess in a geography exam (but really should have known). When you are overseas, ask anyone the capital of Australia, if they answer Sydney punch them, answer Melbourne spit on them and buy them a beer if they guess the mighty Berra.

If you are fortunate enough to have grown up in a nations capital you understand the mentality of other capital inhabitants, especially those in an unknown capital of a famous country. Even better when they are both equally hated by the rest of the country for being boring, full of public servants (pubes) and well, boring.

I understand why people hang shit on the Berra. But its clean, pleasantville-esque, family friendly veneer hides a very smutty city. Prostitutes (prozzies), porn stars (porn stars), pushers (wankers), spies (spooks) and politicians (pollies) rub shoulders and everything else on each other every night of the week. I have seen more craziness in the Berra than I have seen in most of my world travels. The people there are scary, probably because there isnt much to do. Canberrans make their own fun.

Could Ottawans be of the same ilk? Unfortunately I had only six hours in Ottawa so unless a politically led, perverse sex cult was abducting visiting Aussies at Ottawa Central, I wasn't going to be able to rub Ottawa's underbelly.

So armed the presumptive attitude that Ottawa was going to be totally boring yet mysteriously sexy and with a willingnes to patronise, I took the train to Canada's Capital.

First impression werent great. Like Canberras train station which sits in an industrial park in Kingston (Kingo), Ottawa Central was in the center of nowhere. There were 4 people in the main hall. Its surrounded by a depressing suburbia and worst, its only has buses in and out if it. ( I have to note here that when I lived in London I had a recurring nightmare that I was stuck on a Canberra Action bus and couldnt get off it...ever. Which means I couldnt get back to London, thus my fear of capitals with bus-only cities)

Already regretting my decision to visit, I headed for the city and was instantly surprised. It was beautiful. You cant escape the feeling of the French Canadien influences in everything. Even though it only has 50 or so years on Canberra, its buildings appear hundreds of years older thanks to the architects who copied the ski Chateau look on every Government structure. Everything is written in both English and French. Ottawa made me wish that Napolean carried out his planned invasion of Australia and that Canberra got some French architects after the war.

However on closer inspection it seemed the town planners got a bit confused with what the city was meant to be as Ottawa is more war memorial than city. Massive monuments to WW1 and 2, Lest We Forget' shrines bear down on the streets and an enormous Queen Victoria statue keeps a watchful eye over her colonies.

Surrounded by memorials it semmed appropriate to check out the War Museum, and it quickly struck me that Canada and Australia share nearly identical war histories. Walking in was like being teleported to the War Memorial in the Berra. The stories of both courage and annihilation were the same...we fought along side each other, got mowed down by the Germans together and as both countries were famous for being British canon fodder for most of the worlds conflicts, blindly sacrificed our best and brightest young men for King and country. They even have their own Gallipoli, the battle of Vimy Ridge.

One thing Ottawa has over the Berra is its totally geared for tourism. Sure, you arrive scared but its full of walking tour info stops, tour buses and the Tourist Information place sits right across the road from the Parliament. Plus its a walkable city. Like the Parliamentary triangle in Canberra but smaller and with stuff to see. If you tried to walk around Canberra you would die of either exhaustion or boredom, most likely boredom.

The Berra is full of heroin addicts (junky scum), Ottawa is full of bums. Bums everywhere, on every street corner. And like Canberra, its full of blokes and not many women. Go figure.

The two capitals reflect the cultural cringe that exists in both nations. Without the rich history and culture of European ancestory, both countries have to cling to recent history for credibility. Thus the uber-monuments of state, business and memorial. Australia and Canada's capitals try to prove themselves as abundant, free and eager to carry the wounds of the war time past, rather than acknowledge their darker periods of history.

So as a Canberran, an Australian and citizen of the Commonwealth, I have always qualifed to draw parallels and hang shit on the Berra. And now I have free reign over Ottawa, without repercussion.

Best of all was that I got upgraded (by computer glitch) to 1st class on the train back to Monters. Pure fuckin luxury.

Aug 25, 2008

Tea is for Toronto

A change is as good as a holiday, right? How about a complete career change, erm say brewing ice teas, smoothies and then handing them out on the streets of Toronto? Yes friends, I have made a temporary career change, into the world of loose tea.

As many of you may know, I am visiting my friend Kim in Montreal. Only 3 weeks before I arrived, Kim started a new job at www.davidstea.com. Although she is doing several roles she is basically setting up a chain of tea shops, tapping into the seemingly untapped North American tea market.

You see, North Americans love coffee. Not that I would call it coffee, more like coffee flavoured tea. They love it weak, weak as dishwater. The coffee is so bad here that it would make an Italian spit it out, force a Frenchman to stop making love and an Englishman get head spins.

The market seems ready for a tea revolution. In Australia we have trendy tea chains like T2, with chains in every shopping mall. Its a simple branding formula that has taken hold. Its worked for us and I think www.davidstea.com will become a permanent fixture on North American high streets.

But as with everything in North America, it has to come big, sugary and ready to go. So in the interests of public awerness, Davids Tea went to Toronto to make tea smoothies and ice teas to give out to unsuspecting Torontans. And they loved it! We made cool cocktails with Lime Bangs, Vanilla Oolongs, Cream of Earl Greys and Citrus Berry Splashes teas. 95% of people we offered tea to drank it and wanted to know more (and they seemed to become more friendly after a free coupon was handed over.)

I never really thought too much about it before, but tea is one of the most important economic and social products of our time. Tea helped to define modern day trade routes, created economic power-houses, offered an excuse for the opium wars and kept Britannia in power for hundreds of years, which in effect created the world as we know it today. Tea made us.

The most interesting aspect of Davids Tea is that they will also offer tea enlightment to customers through history, recipies and products to enhance the tea experience.

David is a young guy with a vision that really rubbed off on me. He is an true entrepreneur, he sees no limits and carries an optimism that is rare in this world. I respect his can-do attitude to life and has made me realise that if you can dream it you can do it.

And he makes you love tea.

The most remarkable experience I had from the world of Davids Tea was what it feels like to be David. Everyone thought I was him and before I could say I wasn't, I was being congratulated, supported and welcomed to the market by passers-by that will become future customers. It was an amazing feeling, and I feel really excited for him and his pursuits.

And whilst I sweated in front of boiling water, with tea-stained hands that were continually scalded and stank of 6 different types of tea, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I hadn't felt in a long time. I wasn't getting paid but I was supporting a dream, which is more than payment could ever provide (seriously though David, if you are reading this I would love some bottles of Veuve Clinquot).

Aug 19, 2008

Every country has its own vegemite

Vegemite is what defines Australians. We boast about it, praise ourselves for being able to eat it and relish at the facial expressions when we lure a Vegemite virgin to taste it. To my knowledge, its the only food stuff we have thats reknown as Australian.

It has mystical powers which assists hang-overs, the munchies and makes mouldy bread edible. We are obsessed with it.

The whole world knows about it, which brings me to believe that Aussies have been pushing thickly coated pieces of Vegemite toast into the mouths of unsuspecting foreigners for decades. The whole world has tasted it, but in amounts that no Australian could tolerate. This has caused a terrible scar on the psyche of the planet and it doesnt bode well for Kraft's international Vegemite expansion plan (still a working title.)

Every country has its Vegemite. Something totally adored in the country of origin and absolutely loathed by the rest of the world.

The Swedes have Kalles Kaviar; fish eggs in a toothpaste tube. It tastes very salty not to mention fishy. Its a breakfast food and applied to hard breads, eggs and just about anything that suits a bitter taste. It has a cheap competitor (like our Aussiemite with that stupid koala on the front), the same 1950's branding and is administered to unsuspecting foreigners straight from the tube, like some sort of rite of passage. A Swedish girl I shared an apartment with in London brought a bucket of it and lived of it for 3 months.

The Canadians have Clamato; clam chowder and tomato juice mixed together. It tastes like clams and tomato. I have a real problem with this one, purely because it disturbs me to think what would posses a human being to mix up clam chowder and various juices to come up with Clamato. Its really disturbing. Clamato is administered to foreigners straight up but its hard to keep it down.

The Canooks also have maple syrup, not a salty breath killer like the above mentioned products but thick, sugary and applied to EVERYTHING. Eggs, bacon, steak...you name it. If they had Vegemite they would put maple syrup on top. Each year they go out into the forests and eat it straight off the tree. I like maple syrup, but not on pasta.

The English have shit food. Enough said.

The Americans have saturated fat. There is no escaping it. Even the salads are drowned in it. After 2 weeks in the US on my first trip I was almost weak from lack of vegetables. Scurvy was close to setting in.

So what is it with our obsession to get the world to try our crap national foods in such lethal doses? Surely if we were serious about it we wouldnt lay it on so thick that the victim gets a nervous tick everytime they hear the name. Which is why I am I so scarred from Clamato, maple syrup, Kalles and saturated fat.

In reality, us Aussies will never try and introduce someone to Vegemite in any other way. It goes on thick as peanut butter to anyone that has never tried it. Even better on the end of a table spoon.

We want them to hate it, because we want them to think that we are special for loving it.

Jul 28, 2008

Swedens national day of sex

(excuse the delay in this post, I had written it but not published.)

There’s a reason that the highest numbers of births in Sweden occur in April. And if the duration of a pregnancy was exactly nine months to the day after conception, then the 26th of April should be a busy day at the maternity ward in 2009.

For on this day, the 26th of July, the entire Swedish population celebrated National Day of Sex.

Its not a fixed date by any means, more weather-dependent.

Picture the scene. Its 30C and the sun is beating down. Sweden is lucky to have 10 days a year over 30c.

The entire country has taken to the countryside in an attempt to escape the heat. Pools, lakes and rivers packed with bathers, everyone is drunk and semi-naked. The water is cool and glistening, the sun is setting and the sky is on fire, filled with yellow and red...you horny yet?

The Swedes don’t help matters. They are a fucking hot race of people and the whole world knows this. But it’s the sexual freedom, the liberal attitudes and the hard-core porn on the Telly after midnight that adds rocket fuel to the fire. Sex is everywhere.

This is the best day of the year in Sweden. They dont get many like it, so inhibitions have to be discarded.

By the way, I didnt get any. Which is very disappointing.

Long live Sweden's national day of sex.

Jul 24, 2008

The Flashpacker: a definition

It feels wrong to kick off a travel blog called 'The Flashpacker' without expaining what the hell a Flashpacker is supposed to be.

Lets rewind to last Monday and pretend I am sitting on the A380, with its state of the art connectivity options (no internet), as ive got may ipod connected to my bluetooth headphones to my wirelss glove, writing my very first blog post, trying to define for you, the reader what defines 'The Flashpacker'.

When Trambo and I were on our overseas trip last year, I (not Trambo) caught the Flashpacking bug. There were a few good reasons for this; we had way more money than on any previous trip, way more gadgets (computers, gameboys, cameras, high-altitude Ipod charger, head torch etc) and we were two wallets to divide and conquer, rather than one. (oh, and it helps that we were brothers and didnt mind sharing rooms)

This lethal combination pushed us higher and higher into the 5-star stratosphere, with nowhere else to go except the Fairmont Quebec City (thanks Prisso), W hotels and The Waldorf.

However we never forgot who we were; cheap. So we always went for the most serious of upgrades with the least amount possible.

So my definition of a Flashpacker is someone who tries to get the best for the cheapest. And we all want the best dont we?

According to some a Flashpacker is; "a verteran traveller skilled in the art of sniffing out a 5-star bargain, loaded with connectivity devices and pretending to have more money than they actually do."

There are even Flashpacker sites that crap on about philosophical explanations: http://theflashpacker.com/, or sites that try to explain about gadget lust: http://www.flashpackerguide.info/, whilst others even go as far to post profile pictures like mine.

So whilst I will no doubt rant about everything else but Flashpacking on this blog, try and come with me as I go for an upgrade or two and save some stylish money.

In this very first blog it would be negligible of me not to mention that the best way to Flashpack is to flash-flat friends places while they are on holidays. The Swedes God love them, have to take a long holiday from their inner city apartments each summer. However flash-flatting requires a) friends in other countries with nice enough apartments, b) that they trust you enough to be nice to the neighbours, and c) be willing to give up your place at holiday time for them.

This way you can live central, save money and connect up all those devices you didnt need to bring.

Jul 22, 2008

Dicks, tits and Swedish Summer Days

There is nothing more important to a Swede than Summer. The winters are is so cold and dark that the nation needs a good burst of sunshine each year or it all goes pear-shaped. And its very aparent now that I have moved back to Australia after eight years in Scandinavia, that the summers in Sweden are'nt that much warmer than the winters back at home.

A good summer in Sweden is remembered for years to come. The highest ever summer temperature reading in Stockholm was 35.4C in 1975. Old people dropped like flies and the forests around the city burned to cinders. To an Aussie thats pretty amazing stuff, considering 35C is a pretty normal for a summers day. But if you are ever planning to visit Stockholm, it pays to brush up on your knowledge of weather statistics because if your unlucky enough to visit during a shit summer, all the Swedes want to talk about is the weather.

Weather is the great Northen European ice-breaker. Any Aussie who has lived in the UK knows this. As a travelling Australian, cracking jokes about shitty European summers is a good way to get your head puched in, weather tension is that deep-rooted round these parts. Sensing a Viking pillaging during one such conversation, I pathetically reversed 'errm..but it can get too hot in Sydney', or 'the Aussie sun isnt that good for you, lotsa skin cancers ya know...we tend to stay indoors at midday'. A silly attempt at justification, and its pretty obvious that they would cut off both their arms to swap places with us.

Theres a saying here in Sweden; 'Lagenhets Ă…ngest', or 'Apartment Guilt'. Its the feeling of dread one gets if one is inside on a beautiful summers day. Sure, Aussies get it too, but nothing like a Swede does. They flock to park benches, 99% naked and covered in tropical oil to get as much colour on them as possible. To me its a sobering sight, a whole city staring up into the sun like they have never seen it before or are never going to see it again.

I have just been to my mates Kenneth and Anna Maria's wedding in the south of Sweden. Kenneth called me the day before and explained in a very serious tone that it was predicted to rain the whole weekend. Knowing him he had probably been monitoring weather patterns for six months prior to the big day. Lucky for us all the sky broke apart and the sun shone for most of the day. And what a day it was!

As we first sat down at the wedding it was amusing to witness 100 people sitting nervously at the dinner table, hands on their knees, staring forward and talking soflty about the bloody weather, then BANG! 30 minutes later it degenrated into talk of balls, tits, dicks, asses and shits. Maybe its the company I choose to keep, but it that sums up the Swedes for me. Reserved as a cold winters day until the development of strong spirits, blossoming into a heatwave nightmare.

I have to admit I envy the appreciation for the summer in Sweden. They get the most out of each sunny day they can. We Aussies dont really get it, as its never really that harsh for us. But its all relative I guess. Sydney's winter seemed cold to me, 11C at night and 18C during the day. But to a Swede that's pure paradise.

Jul 16, 2008

Rantings from a jet-lagged mind

(Apologies in advance, I have just landed after a 16 hour flight and feel like someone spiked my water with Valium. I dont know what I am about to type)

The holy grail of the Falshpacker is to upgrade to Business class on a long haul flight. Unfortuantely I didnt manage to pull it off, nor have I ever. What I did manage to upgrade to was the front of economy, or the wall that seperates business from cattle. Great, more leg room, no seat in front that reclines into your abdomen and your own telly on the wall. Well, not so great as it is the preferred seating for parents and small infants, or 'bassinet' class.

A nightmare to some? Two 20 mil Valiums and later the small, drooling baby that was playing with my hair from the seat next to me had turned from potential plane rage statistic to little angel. For the rest of the flight I smiled like a junkie everytime he threw himself on my lap.

After I woke from my drug enhaced stupor (slightly bruised) I began to think about the degredation of flying economy. For a start, its not that cheap. $3700 to be placed like a battery hen next to other battery hens. No leg room, shit food and boring company.

If I owned an airline I would collate passanger information such as height, weight, career, realtionship status and favourite band. I would group people together so at least you could have a good yarn, perhaps even find a job or loved one, so that the torturous experience of economy is momentarily dulled.

Flying economy puts me in a negative mood, so here goes my rant. People on planes suck. They push everyone out of the way to get on and when they get on they realise that they will be in the same seat for a whole day. So they start to fidget. I always seem to sit in front of a guy who has to play with the tray table. Up and down, up and down for the whole flight. Then when the seatbelt sign is turned off everyone gets up and goes to the loo. This ritual of tray table obsession and lavatory queing continues all night, then they all try and rush off the plane before its even at the gate. Makes me wonder with the complete chaos getting on and off in a normal situation, what it would be like if the engines where on fire and everyone was making a run for the emergency exits? Probably shouldnt think about that.

Worse is the food.

When I bought the ticket, I had the option to fly the A380 Superjumbo which I gleefully accepted. According to Michelle at Flight Centre Bondi Rd, males get very excited about the chance to fly the A380, which I was. However my interest only stemmed from my complete confusion in the engineering. I mean, how the fuck does a plane this big get off the ground? And why did I want to get on it, to test if it would or wouldnt?

Anyway, the A380 has a state of the art in flight entertainment system and whilst my chair was banging back and forth from thanks to the compulisve tray table fidgeter behind me, I came across the 'de-stress' section. In it, it explains how turbulence is 'really normal' and that due to the changes in cabin pressure, passengers tend to feel 'bloated and uncomfortable'. Thats bullshit, its the plane food and that fact your guts are being shaken around by the turbulence.

Economy sucks. I need to sleep.

Jul 15, 2008

Singapore Slings

It has to be said that on overseas trip is heavy on the lead-up and light on the action on arrival at the first destination.

In the seven days prior to my departure on Monday, I flew to Perth, then back to Sydney, drove to Canberra, then drove back to Sydney, flew to Brisbane, flew back to Sydney, drove to Canberra then the South Coast and flew back to Sydney. In the spare time I had between destinations I had packed up and moved my entire apartment, organised money, paid off debts, written my CV, emailed potential employers and held a farewell party.

Arriving in Singapore I have to admit I felt a little underwhelmed. Not by Singapore itself, but by the sudden lack of pace. A sunny Bondi winters day was an eight hour old memory, the thrill of pre-flight of organisation had vanished and my body still ached from my farewell party three days beforehand. 

Then again, a holiday is traditionally spent stressing about the things you forgot to do before you left that its only enjoyable on the last day before you go home.

To counter this unfortunate state of affairs I go for the hotel upgrade. The savvy Flashpacker knows that a deal can always be struck last minute at reception. Traders Hotel in Singapore has a range of internet deals and I opted for the superior room with late checkout when I booked from Australia. I was quick to ask the receptionist what upgrade options were available and she offered up the 'Traders Club' option; for AUS$ 30 extra I can check out at 7pm, free breakfast and access to the Traders Club Lounge with free drinks, food and internet where I write this now.

But there is so much the Flashpacker can take in a club lounge. No matter how much you get for free, you have to endure the other guests who all seem so boring. Businessmen, sex tourists, shopaholics, and worst...traveling Australians. As I stare out over the Singapore skyline a couple from the Gold Coast are sitting at the next table. They have cornered a Swede who is too polite to leave the woeful conversation. His smile is forced as they explain how all Australian states hate each other (but not enough to commit murder like Europeans would), that dingos eat babies and that all Aborigines are trouble. 

It raises an interesting conundrum for the Flashpacker. Whilst luxury is more affordable for those in their thirties, you miss out on meeting the people that interest you most. 5 star hotels are no place to mingle and easily meet like minded souls with interesting stories to tell. 5 star guests always seem to be pissed off about something. Maybe the towels arent white enough or the waiters dont grovel enough. Or maybe its that they are paying a truckload of cash and expect to be treated like the Queen. 

So the Flashpacker has to go it alone in Singapore. What to do? Well, theres shopping... and.

Who am I kidding, Singapore sucks. But its a good stop over hub to break up the arduous flight to Europe from Australia. And Traders Hotel rocks.

Next stop Sweden.