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.