Sunday, December 31, 2006

In sickness and in heath

Jo, Craig and I rented a car and went Henge Hunting. We forgot the lyrics of the Spinal Tap song, opting rather for an alternative mix of the Pet Shop Boys' Go West, replacing the main line "go west" with "Stonehenge", making up random shit to fill in the following bits. We saw some mounds of dirt used for burying important people, some fancy stones arranged in circles and drove through a lot of British country side. Jo gave some of the big rocks hugs and then we made our way to the Stonehenge. We got stuck in a traffic jam which chewed up most of our tourist time and got there with twenty minutes to spare. This did mean most of the people had already left and we got to share the area with about 30 others. Nice. Afterwards we found a nice ye olde English pub and ate stodgey English food by a cracking ye olde English fire.

Travel is that exotic thing you daydream about while sitting through another pointless office meeting. But in reality, it can sometimes suck, especially when you're sick. Thankfully I have friends and family around feeding me soup and chocolate and not a severe looking Finnish nurse inserting a lubricated hose up my bottom.

Tomorrow it will be 2007. Looking back, the highs and lows of 2006 have cancelled each other out - leaving me feeling a bit empty and a little bonkers. Now that I have the leveling influences of Jo & Craig around, I'm noticing that I have changed subtly since being in Australia.

Here's a short list of what I've learnt this year:

I have a stimulus limit
Travel in Russia is cheap and comfortable
Travel in China is very cheap and uncomfortable
A dozen ways to say hello, thanks and cheers
Relationships with emotional hypochondriacs aren't fun
Bratislava is a city, not a country
Americans aren't all bad
Tear gas does make you cry
Mongolia looks a lot like Australia
China is in no way, shape or form a communist country
what the inside of a pig looks like
Kiddy fiddlers go to jail
Hostels usually suck
Babylon isn't just a cafe in Slovakia
Saturn looks cool through a telescope
My jokes are still bad, even in other languages
Okinawans think that big boobs sharpen you up
There is actually a monkey on the mountain
Lenin looks like something from the House of Wax
English beer is crap
The longest Slovakian word - najnevjpozitavatelnrjsie
In Germany, carrying your passport is the law
The Dutch speak better English than the British

Launch the Video - Eastern Europe's Favourite Car
In other news, my Trabant video won me some loot.

Happy New Year

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

diagrams & equations

On Xmas eve, Jo and I called mum. It was nice to talk to our mummy bear.

I canned my plans for early morning photos at Piccadilly Circus on xmas day. This was mostly due to me not finding the place that interesting (where are the clowns, elephants and trapeze?), but laziness and respect for sleep did play a part. We had a breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs. The bacon here in England is really juicy and meaty, with bugger all fat.

I played the Christmas Fairy, distributing the gifts from under the tree to their new owners seated around the lounge. No surprises that bub (being her first xmas), received the most presents. I cleaned up, with a fresh supply of bonds undies from Jo & Craig topping the list. Mum gave me a year's subscription to Flickr (my first virtual gift), which was a great choice. While the whole idea of christmas irks me, I still like getting loot. I spent the afternoon reading, counting the indigestion formula commercials on telly - 34. Matt got an Xbox 360 and Gears of War, which we played a co-op mission until 5:30am Boxing day. After sleeping a few hours, Jo, Craig and I went exploring around the Regent street sales. Craig bought some Vans and Jo bought a pair of jeans. At Muji I bought a new notepad, and at Uni Qlo I bought some socks. I am a Japanese brand whore.

Last night I had a dream that someone with the first name of Jean had released a book detailing the crazy ideas of Luke Toop. Every page explored a different Toop idea through diagrams, mathematical equations and shaded in squares of graph paper. Weird.

Monday, December 25, 2006

the loot tree

Last night I ended up hanging out with Phil, a bloke from Adelaide who works here in London as an Accountant. We rode down to Westminster and near Downing street and had an entertaining conversation with a copper with a rather large gun.

Today, on the way back to where I'm spending xmas day, I saw the weirdest thing I've seen in London so far. I was riding along Seven Sisters Road towards Tottenham at about 8:30pm, there were a few cars on the road, but it wasn't busy. Coasting down a hill, I see a guy about 200 metres ahead run out from behind a fence, press the button on a pedestrian crossing and then run back behind the fence. The lights change and the traffic next to me begins to slow down. As I go to get onto the footpath, a white dog runs out from where the guy was, stops in the middle of the road and drops a big poo in front of the stopped traffic. After he finished, he ran back to the spot behind the fence, leaving his fresh package laying in front of the cars, with their lights catching on the steam. My question is how does a person train their dog to do this?

Merry non-religious day together with friends and family, where you swap gifts wrapped in paper decorated with snowmen. And a Happy New Year.

I hope this video puts you in the same calm mood it put me in.

It's been a funny old year.

James Brown is dead..
Total chaos, man it's resurrected

Thursday, December 21, 2006

don't believe your reviews - good or bad

Went to the football the other night with Marina, a lass I know from Adelaide. The free seats we got were pretty crap, but at 30 Pound for a regular ticket, I was happy with what I was given. During half time, I went to have a closer look at the pitch, with my cohort joining me after a bit. There we were standing at the edge of the pitch appreciating our new found proximity to the action, when people started flooding back into their seats and the players returned to the field. However, rather than returning to our seats in a galaxy far, far away, we followed the crowd into the more exclusive area where we found a couple of empty seats close to pitch and enjoyed the second half from there.

Afterwards, we went to a little pub in what looked to be a ritzy bit of town. The girl behind the bar was really friendly, saying they had just taken on the business two weeks earlier and that she liked Aussies. We got there about 5 minutes before the end of service and ended up seated at a table with a few of the locals and joined n on the conversation. A rather pissed 40 something guy arced up once he found out we were Australians.

Pissed guy: You fucks come ere on ya 2 year visas, take all the fucking jobs and think you fucking own the joint. Pack of maggots you fucking Australian cunts are.
Me: err.. I'm only here for three weeks, and then I'm off to Ireland.
Pissed guy: Three weeks? How the fuck are you supposed to see anything? Disrespectful cunt.

Can't win, can I?

A bit later, his mate (who really enjoyed the price of steak in Australia but not much else), reminded the pissed guy that he was Scottish and should mind his Ps and Qs. Not wanting to perpetuate the hostilities, I avoided the "My last name is Murphy and I'll be visiting family in Ireland" conversation with these UK lads.

I've been a little spoiled in Austria, Slovakia and Hungary where being an Australian is still a bit of a novelty. "Hey everyone, this guy's from Australian", "Whoa.. Australia.. Kangaroo, Cool". But in this London bar, I felt a bit weird getting an earful about being from Australian. True, they (we), are everywhere in London, but as I pointed out to the twat hurling abuse at me, the same goes for UK travellers in Australia. He had caught me by surprise and taking the bait, I allowed myself to get agitated by what could be at worst described as a bit of drunken shit stirring. Just today, I counted six Australians, plus a group of five Commonwealth Bank cash card toting girls in front of me in the ATM cue, complaining about health issues while bragging about their drinking accomplishments. No novelty there.

The fog here in London is crazy. Yesterday wasn't too bad, but today I couldn't see more than about 400 metres on street level, with the view out of my fifth storey window limited to the side of the neighbouring building. Jo and Craig's plane back from Paris last night was cancelled and BA put them up in a hotel for the evening, flying them out of France at the Butt Crack of 4am this morning. Today, we met up for lunch at Camden Markets and wandered around the shops until we froze. I found 20 Pounds on the footpath, which I used to buy a rather spiffy scarf with. I can't remember the last time I had a scarf (if at all), but it is a welcome addition to my wardrobe / backpack.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

vintage tees

Saturday I was on a mission. Matt and Melissa needed to get a car, but couldn't fit in actually buying one between their new baby and working. I volunteered to go to the mechanics, check it out, buy it and drive it back. I rode from their house in Tottenham all the way to the garage in Harrow, about 30km through suburbs, parks and back streets. It was a beautiful, but chilly day and I got to see Finsbury Park, Hampstead Heath, Wembley Stadium and a whole bunch of little places I've heard mentioned on the telly, but never really imagined I'd ever see. Suburb, street, shop and last names which all have different uses back at home. It took almost 3 hours and was a good way to see the northern parts of London.

While waiting for my own Arthur Daley to rock up and take the cash for the car ("I'll be there in 20, I'm just down at the pub and want to finish me pint first"), I sat down and struck up a conversation with Kevin, the 5 year old son of one of the two mechanics. Kevin had just started school, he was hungry and he liked watching his dad fix cars. His dad and his colleague had spentthe better part of the day replacing the "moh-a" on a Rover hatchback, which some "dozy geezer" had blown on the M1, but was paying a packet to get it fixed by 5:30pm. While attaching the final tubes and the finish touches on the engine swap over were being executed, the car sales guy turned up just as the two guys who owned the car did, forming a small audience around the front of the car. Kevin started making little groans and grabbed at his mid section. I asked if he needed to go to the loo, and he said yep. It was at that moment a fire broke out in the engine bay of the Rover. The mechanic under the bonnet starts yelling, "BLOWER.. Get a fuckin blower", as he was blowing at the fire like a 10 year old kid trying to put out the candles on their 76 year old grandfather's birthday cake. Kevin tugs at my sleeve, I look down and see his face, twisted into a tormented expression looking back up at me, with a small yellow puddle forming at his feet. The other mechanic races over with an extinguisher, puts out the flames and then leads Kevin away to the loo while his dad explains the mess to the car's owner. I was waiting for Jeremy Beadle to pop out of from behind the door and say, "'e wasn't expecting that, was 'e?".

On the drive home, I navigated my way across London in about an hour, only missing two turns and surprisingly not seeing any of the expected nightmare traffic. With the roads clear, the scenery new but vaguely familiar and the radio on, I remembered what I like about driving. I'm amazed at what you can get for 500 Quid. A 1996 Ford Mondeo with 52,000 miles on the clock. An idea is stirring. Nah.. Too much hassle.

Today I went to the Camden Markets. It's not just one little back street car park with trestle tables and a handful of hippies selling Nepalese beanies. It's an entire suburb with old factories and mills gutted, filled with stalls, lights, cafes, vintage shops, jewelers and a whole lot of hippies selling Nepalese beanies. It'll take a few visits to see it all, but I might wait until Jo and Craig get back from Paris.

I got free tickets to the Football tomorrow night. Fulham vs Middleborough. Nice one Bruvva.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

city limits


Big place. Rode a bike I borrowed from Melissa (Craig's sister), to the centre and then around the some of the more famous bits. Surprisingly I felt pretty safe on the roads, but it has been weird swapping back to the left hand side, and I think I pissed a few drivers off with my occasional hesitation.

Big Ben really isn't that big and Westminster seems tiny after Budapest's Parliament. But it's still fairly impressive. The Eye looks cool, but at 20 pound a shot and an hour long wait, I decided against it. I accidentally on purpose found my way onto a guided tour of The Globe, where I got to see where the great unwashed stood. I spent an hour or so riding around the Thames, checking out a few of the little back alleys and side streets. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon at the Tate Modern (having a little unexpected nap on the couches), which I reckon I'll be returning to a few times while I'm here. There's plenty I didn't get a chance to look at, and besides, I've still got to have a turn on the slides.

As expected, prices are at the least double of what they are in Australia, and in some cases four times the price. However, after spending three months in Hungary, where everything is half to a third of the price, the equilibrium of financial karma is catching up.

The weather is scarily beautiful. It's cool but not cold and today there are blue skies and bright sunshine. A nice day to go to the Camden Markets.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Proper foreigners

I realised on Tuesday afternoon that my flight from Bratislava to London was on Thursday.. not Friday. This meant one less day with the guys in Vienna, no going away dinner and no drunken late night conversations. The upside to this was I would see Jo and Craig a week early, as they are due to jet off to Paris for 5 days on Friday, the same day I thought I was meant to arrive. I figured this might make for a good surprise and thankfully it did. I met Craig's sister Melissa, her husband Matt and their new, smiley baby Alexis. It all paned out really well and it's so great to see my sister again after 9 months. Family reunion in isle 5. But as most things that seem to happen on this trip, it's not the destination where the story is, it's the journey.

On the email from Ryanair:

Do not wrap any presents that you are carrying in hand baggage as the wrapping will be removed at security. Merry Christmas from all of us here in Ryanair.
Merry Christmas indeed. Very Un-Australian.

Freshly equipped with my missing day, I did more things in Vienna in one day than I did in three while I was there last time. I bought gifts, had lunch with friends, went to galleries, explored streets and back alleys I missed the first couple of times. Basically I spent an entire day riding around on my bike, saying goodbye to it in the best way possible. Using a borrowed camera, I took more photos of the town I had thought I had already captured and found cool shops I had somehow overlooked last time. I got a bit emotional when I said goodbye, but knew that I would always welcome back to Hirschengasse. I donated Frankenbike to the household, so he wouldn't just be left in some shed gathering dust. Then I grabbed a train to Bratislava and stayed with Radovan again. In the morning I followed a backhanded route to the airport (take the free Ikea bus to the shopping centre, then take the number 61 - which is usually too full for a conductor to operate - to the airport). I gave myself plenty of time and apart from the fully loaded run from Ikea to the 61, my journey to the airport, check in and boarding was all performed with the serenity of a Hindu cow. Taking off in thick fog was cool, because as we got above it, the low cloud carpeted the ground, breaking on the hills around Bratislava like water lapping at the banks of a lake. The flight was uneventful, with Ryanair cutting costs everywhere (some overheard conversations: you mean I have to give back my in flight magazine? Stansted is how far from London? Why is only one toilet working?). As I've had a bit of a stomach ache on and off over the last few days, my only concern was Where's the vomit bag/cheap film processing packet? Too bad if I ever wanted to do both. I wonder if anyone has posted vomit to the film company before..

Arriving in the UK was weird. Signs in English. Only English. I could understand all the announcements. I was able to eavesdrop. The amount of useless information we are presented with in day to day life is only highlighted in the first couple of hours of when you arrive back in familiar territory. But like being confronted with ear splitting rush hour city traffic after a weekend in the country, eventually it all becomes common place background noise. It's been 9 months since I was in an English speaking country. Sure, nearly every young person in Europe speaks English, but the world around them is always in their mother tongue, not mine.

After walking through the labyrinth of Stansted, I finally find my way to immigration. About 200 people are standing ahead of me and they're not moving very fast. Arse. I then notice the 3 different lines: UK citizens, EU citizens and ALL OTHERS. I walk over to the ALL OTHERS line, and there is only two people ahead of me. I walk past the huge queue as if in the VIP line of a nightclub. I felt a bit like royalty or some fancy pants celebrity. I had a big grin on my face and started to whistle Rule Britannia, singing the '6 Chinese crackers up your arse' bit quietly to myself. I get to the big yellow line you stand behind when waiting for the next person to get their passport stamped, a guy hands me a little form and I go fill it in. I then come back and start chatting with him.

me: Ahh.. It's so easy being back in an English speaking country. It's a big relief just to be able to read the signs.
guy: yeah?
me: yeah.. I haven't been in one for about 9 months. and this is my first time in the UK.
guy: Really? you staying in London long?
me: About three weeks. I've heard so much about it and I'm curious what all the fuss is about.
guy: you gotta keep an eye on your wallet though.
me: yeah, I heard the UK was kind of expensive.
guy: nah. Lots of foreigners.
me: (looking at my passport and the guy) What? Like me? I'm a foreigner.
(waving a hand at me as if to say "don't be silly") No. You know.. Proper foreigners.
me: Oh.. you mean the ones that take all the jobs and marry all the women? yeah.. big problem that.
guy: can't trust any of them.. and with this EU thing, so many different people coming and setting up shop here. I dunno.
me: Kind of like reverse colonialism.
guy: erh?
me: All these places occupied or attacked by the British way back when, finally coming back to the "mother land". (exaggerated quotation gesture)
guy: not sure about that. 'ere, mind ya way.

..and he waved me through.

Welcome to the United Kingdom.

In the Nothing to Declare section, there was no one to not declare anything to. I peered around the corner into the Declare section, and again there was no one there either. Later, to prove to myself how open minded I am, I asked a young Muslim woman for directions." 'ang a right at the next lights, then a left and then up a bit 'til you get to the brightly coloured offie and then take a right'. But it wasn't her mouth of marbles British accent which caught me off guard, it was her Calvin Klein branded Hajib which made me double take. No assimilation my arse.

After hanging out with Jo and Craig for a few hours, the last 10 months seems like a dream. While I like to blab about the cool things which are happening to me on this blog, in person I'm fairly reserved about it, holding back on the 'when I was there' stories. I remember around the time I was beginning to think quitting high school to work was a bad idea, I started meeting people who had just returned from their gap year holidays. Their stories of European adventures told with Cockney accents picked up in the transfer lounge at Heathrow really shitted me. I always got jealous, but it wasn't what they told it was how they told it. This lead to me making a promise to myself that if I ever got the chance to travel, I would try not to be a precocious wanker about it when I got back. But if I ever bail you up and start dribbling shit about killing pigs, riding bikes and getting arrested, Andy, the American guy I met in Budapest, felt the way I want everyone who hears/reads my travel stories to feel:

"I'm not jealous. I'm inspired"

Go see the world.

Get off your arse and open your mind. Even if you can only do a bit, see something different to your little world. And if you can't travel, make a friends with someone from another country. Eat something you've never heard of. Catch a random bus somewhere in your town. Talk with someone standing next to you in the bank. Geeze I sound like one of those cheesey life coaches.

I haven't explored the city yet. That's tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


one story I forgot to share was the train ride from Budapest to Vienna.

I rocked up to the station the day before to buy a ticket. In the line I met a couple of girls from the States. They were a little flusted with the ticketing situation and through the confusion missed the train they wanted to catch. Bummer. When it came to my turn at the window, the guy spoke enough English and German for me to be able to get my request across, but when it came to getting a ticket for the bike, he said that the train I wanted to catch didn't offer bike tickets. Hmm.. He then added that I should try my luck, put the bike on the train and see what the conductors say. Last time I bought a train ticket from Budapest to Vienna (coming back from Sziget with Gubi in August), the ticket window operator at the station flat out refused to sell me a ticket, making it clear that buying a from the conductor whilst on board was the preferred method. This did lead to an interesting game of "you can pay 22 Euro for a ticket.. or you can pay 10 Euro for no ticket. wink wink. nudge nudge" with the Provodnik preferring to conduct the financial transaction in between the carriages. And here was me thinking Hungary was Central Europe. I think the window girl was getting a cut.

The next day I arrive at the station nice and early, just in case I need to navigate my way through nonsense to get my bike on the train. I made a deal with Andy and Laurie that if for some reason I couldn't take the bike and trailer I would lock it up somewhere near the station and they would give it a good home. I sussed out my options and headed for the front carriage just behind the loco, where I could stash the bike and trailer next to the door causing minimal fuss for the other passengers. I packed it all up, fit it in and received no friction from the guards or coppers. Nice. I find myself an empty compartment next to one occupied by the border patrol police (one of whom shared an uncanny resemblance with Mike Patton), the train departed and my bicycle entourage and I we're on our way to Vienna.

About 15 minutes into the trip, a guy pushing a snacks and drinks cart passes my cabin. I peered out of the door and make sure my stuff isn't in the way. I catch his eye and we exchange nods of reassurance that everything is alright. Another 10 minutes go by and he comes into my compartment and sits diagonally opposite me. I greet him in Hungarian and he greets me back and starts talking to me in Hungarian. I say "Nem Magyr. Igen Anglo." (No Hungarian. Yes English), and he reintroduces himself to me in English. Thomas is in his early thirties, married, lives near an island on the eastern banks of the Donu (Danube), about 20km north of Budapest. He works as a gardener in summer and a train attendant in winter. After the usual pleasantries and him laughing at my piss-poor Hungarian, he asks if I want to share a beer with him. I say yes and he goes back to his trolley and returns with a bottle of czech beer and two cups. He pours out the beers, we mash our plastic cups together (ageshagadre), and I take a sip while he skulls the entire thing. Thomas tells me he likes to drink while doing this job as it is pretty boring and helps to pass the time. The train goes through Kormarno and I see my fort from the Hungarian side of the river. 20 minutes later, we go through Gyor and I see the bridge I made a wrong turn on. It was like watching my bike trip in fast rewind.

After swapping a few travel stories with one another (and me getting a new title of World Patriot), and a couple more beers, Thomas says he has to return to work and leave the cabin. Nice bloke and I wish him well. About 20 minutes later, two burly female conductors stand at the door to my compartment, check my ticket and ask if the bike is mine. I nod and they both enter the compartment, close the door and sit down. For some reason I was reminded of being in (one of), my school principal's office after getting kicked out of class for doing something stupid. They exchanges some weird look and start explaining to me in simple terms "no bikes on this service.... but we can come to some arrangement" - It cost me 2000 Frt, the last of my Hungarian cash and all of my treasured 200 Frt bills I was saving for gifts. Arse. And it was only until the border, when the Austrian conductors took over. However, the Austrian guy checked my ticket, asked if the bike was mine, said it wasn't allowed on the train but because it was out of the way he didn't care and left it at that. No bribes needed.

Catching up with all the dudes at Hirschengasse has been fun. Last night, I was taken along to the birthday bash for a pub, where we talked our way into a room packed with B-list Vienna celebs and a shitload of free food (caviar, little schnitzels, salmon), spread over about 5 tables. Nice one. After that, Petra and I met up with Kathia and we headed to the Cuban club where some fairly atrocious yet entertaining dancing may or may not have been performed by me.

I've started drinking coffee again. This time things aren't bad. I'm sleeping ok and not feeling like shit anymore. I guess not dreaming about of getting shot in the face, having a car accident and over excited squirrels helps me to sleep better. Frankenbike is being donated to Hirschenasse as a house bike. I'm sad that this part of the journey is over and that I have to leave my new friends behind. But the post-travel comedown can wait. London is almost here.

Monday, December 11, 2006


After almost 3 months riding around Slovakia and Hungary, I'm back in Austria. It's strange to feel so at home in a place that isn't my own country. The weather here is unseasonably warm, with none of the snow I was promised three months ago. When I got into Vienna, I dumped my stuff at Hirschengasse and headed to MQ to kill some time before the others got back. Where I found the big red blocks which had been used as seats in summer had been stacked on top of each other and turned into a bar serving hot wine and Schnapps. Then I met up with the Hospitality Club member I organised to stay with before the Hirschengasse kids offered their couch.

Now I'm in Berndorf hanging out with the Wildberger, the family which adopted me on my first ride through Austria. Yesterday, Paul took me to the nearby driver training course where I got to drive the family's Nissan around the course. Last night we cooked up a big soup and Clara invited a few friends around. Much laughs were had.

This afternoon, I head back to Vienna to hang out with the Hirschengasse household.

Did you know that Margaret Thatcher is partly responsible for modern Ice Cream?

A video for Austria

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Good, The Bad and the Weird News

Bad news
Lost my camera. I went and bought stuff at a shop, put the groceries in my backpack, the camera on top of the groceries and closed the bag. I returned back to where I'm staying and found my bag was slightly open, with the camera and a banana AWOL. Arse.

Good news
I have insurance, so I will be able to get something new and shiny. Camera that is. I haven't seen many shiny bananas lately. I had just cleaned the card of the days photos and my 50mm is still safe. This has also put me in the situation where I am forced to use the video camera more than just the occasional shot of my bike, which I have taken on. Plus I've been offered the loan of another camera until I can get a replacement. While reporting the loss to the police, I met another Aussie in the police station who had also just lost his camera.

Weird news
In the police station, Richard (the other Australian), and I got talking to an old Hungarian lady who spoke pretty good English. She told us about how Jesus spoke to her in a Russian prision cell back in 1951, how the Jews can be blamed for all the bad things in the world (even the Holocaust), that the gypsies are theiving bastards and how nobody really understands her. Refreshing stuff.

I went to the "Chinese markets" here in Budapest. Run mostly by Vietnamese, Thai and Turkish, with a smattering of Hungarian and Romanian. It isn't exactly Chinese, but most of the crap sold there is. These markets are bigger than any of the places I visited in China, taking up two large blocks of old soviet factories and rail yards along opposites sides of one of the main roads out of Budapest. One side is made up of 6 huge warehouses and the other is a 1km stretch of Shopping Shanty town constructed from shipping containers and tents. While browsing the markets, I got the feeling that cheap plastic stuff was not the only gear being sold there. A few observations the sketchy goings on at the market: 1. What at first looked like a friendly hug between two friends greeting each other, was (when viewed close enough), revealed a slide of hand exchange between internal jacket pockets. 2. A group of big guys, standing around two guys sitting down, smoking a water pipe and holding a bag. The bag was filled with a 20cm thick wad of bills, ranging from USD, Euro, GBP, FRT. No exaggeration, he was holding around $150,000 in cash. It was the most amount of money I've seen outside of a bank. I figured I might get a surreptitious video of their jovial conversation, but as I was un-slinging my bag to set up the shot, I caught sight of the two guns hanging inside one of the big dude's jackets. No video taking from the tourist closest to you. 3. There were several second hand mobile phone stalls, which consisted of the usual ratty old phones, with brand spankers hidden in amongst them. One that stuck out was this Nokia I had never seen before, and on closer inspection found the sticker behind the battery indicating it was a prototype, it had been made in Finland and that it was not to be resold. I found another stall with the same model and assumed they were fake. I fired this one up, and it worked fine. I checked on the net later on, and it was a real phone, just not scheduled for release until sometime next year.

The warehouse section of the markets bore more resemblance to a fortified bikie compound than a market place for cheap plastic toys. Cameras everywhere, big dudes with CBs on all corners and a continual stream of nondescript white delivery vans coming and going. Looking for the loo, I wandered around the back of the main shopping building and caught a glimpses of the staff car park, in one of the warehouses situated behind. Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Hummer, etc.. Hmm.. I'm guessing these aren't bought with the profits of Nike ripoffs, mobile phone covers and yiros.

I did pick up a soldering iron and solder for 500 Frt ($3.70) and managed to fix my wifi finder with it. Sweet.

Other news
Saying goodbye to a bunch of Hugarians I've been hanging out with has been difficult. I need to keep my promise to them (and myself), to come back.

The Budapest baths are still awesome.

Andy and I, being the nerds we are, sat down for a couple of hours the other night and put together an Instructables on the cigarette box flash diffuser thing-a-ma-jig.

Not sure what to buy people for Christmas. Seeing I think the whole idea of it is a joke, maybe some little souvenirs. Hope you're happy with your coal.. Bah Humbug.

My mum sent me a brief family history and I find out my great, great grandfather was killed by a piano falling on him, in London, 1896. Comedy does run in my family.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


The biggest jar of Nutella I've ever seen. When bought new, it contains 3 kilos of sugary goodness and after holding this almost empty jar for about a minute, I became diabetic.

Monday, December 04, 2006

does my head look big in this?

This was taken by Marcell Mizik, the Hungarian photographer I had the pleasure of staying with during my stay in Esztergom. He and his photo mates met up in Budapest the other night and there. Until about 3 days ago, he worked exclusively with old skool film. Now that he has a digital shooter, he tells me he's shot more photos in the last couple of days than he would have normally done in a month. I know pretty much all professional photographers now use digital, but I still think someone who uses film and prints their own shots is a real photographer. He has just signed up for a Flickr account, so check out his awesome photos here.

Friday night was iceskating night for Su and I. The Hungarian National Art Museum celebrated its 100th birthday last week by shouting everybody to free iceskating. Well, not entirely free. I still had to rent the skates, but that was only $4. It's been about 10 years since I last went iceskating, which ended with me falling flat on my face and receiving 4 stitches in my chin. And seeing that ice is snowboarder's number one enemy, you can probably understand the abject fear I had during the first couple of laps of the rink. But all was good and my only falls weren't serious. I eventually remembered how to do it (stop trying to walk and just glide), and by the end of the night, while I was still wobbly, I wansn't as afraid of dying as I had been at the beginning.

Afterwards, we rode over to the square in front of the museum where a Hungarain Pink Floyd cover band played for a handful of people. The dancing from the back up singers was second to none (imagine milking a giant cow), and the exuberant smoke machine filled the stage with so much haze it was difficult to see the band at times. Then we headed to Szimpla, where we made flowers from cigarette packet linings and chatted with a group of guys from a hostel. There is a totally different attitude which goes with staying in hostels, something, which after doing the couchsurfing thing, i may find difficult to warm to again. But it looks fun.

The last couple of days have been pretty chilled. I've had a chance to log some of my video footage, finding a whole bunch of stuff that I forgot I had. I've also had a good dig around the interwebs, catching up on news back at home, forming an opinion about stuff that's happening 14,000km away. But here's my two bobs worth: Every person I have spoken to about Australian politics thinks the ALP are mad to keep putting Kim Beazley up after he has lost twice already. I agree. Go Rudd. I'm listening to ABC News Radio as I type this and apparently we are minutes away...

Here's a nice political quote..

"It was a straight-out lie, lie, lie, by the prime minister. He (is) so used to getting away with telling lies, so protected is he with the paraphernalia of government, so drunk with power has he grown after 12 years in office, so believing has he become in his own infallibility and so authoritarian has he become that that is how he behaves."

John Howard talking about Paul Keating in June 1995.
I've been sent a Hungarian video which I swear features George Negus - but not just one George Negus. No. There's two. An old and a young version laughing about something in Hungarian. Can someone offer a translation maybe? What is the plural of George Negus? George Negii? Anyway.. I forget who I gave my framed, signed circa 1981 George Negus photo to when I left, but whoever you are.. Keep it safe and don't sell it on eBay.

Queen came to Budapest back in the 1980s. It's cool to see that they made an effort for the Hungarians by singing one of their folk songs, plus Freddy Mercury is petrified when he starts performing it to the crowd. Last time I heard about Queen, Brian May (or his twin brother), lives in Norwood. I've not done much travelling before this, but seeing the streets where they drove through and the stadium they played in, I was thinking to myself; "hey, I've been there.. I know where that is". It's a cool feeling.

Today for lunch, Su and I cooked up Latcho (?), which is paprika, onion, tomato and egg. We watched Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and once it finished, Su asked for the two hours the movie took from her life back. Maybe I should have bought the Snowboarding Monkey movie instead. Tonight I caught up with Vera and we went to Szimpla for a quite drink, where I bumped into Jodi the Kiwi again. Looks like tomorrow night we're having a little dinner party. Yay.

Harold from Neighbours produced Prisoner. Wow.. Even Vinegar Tits would be surprised with that gem of trivia.

update: Rudd wins. Thank fuck for that. However, if Beazley had sounded as genuine as he did during his own eulogy press conference than he did in his entire term as opposition leader, he may have been PM by now.

Friday, December 01, 2006

our days are numbered

Pinch and a Punch..

fark.. it's December.

Having not found any place to stay while in Sorpon, I’m still in Budapest and it looks like a direct train to Austria is on the cards. Which is a shame, as Frankenbike and I are coming to the end of our time together and I wouldn’t mind getting another trip in before saying goodbye. Plus, Sopron is supposed to be really nice and is an easy day’s ride to Berndorf. But what to do with Frankenbike once I leave for London? I’ve been offered a storage place in Vienna, so you never know, I might just come back to him next year sometime. Frozen fingers crossed I can get my hands on a bike in London.

Andy and Laurie had some peeps from Montana (I'm Rick Steves, Bitch!!), stay for a couple of nights. They were laid back folk with chilled out attitudes and for me it was great being in a group of people where everyone understood one another. Aside from almost everyone in Montana owning a gun (for hunting), with its wide open spaces and snow covered mountains sounds like my kind of place. After meeting a few more Americans, I’m beginning to get a feeling to visit the US and disprove all the stereotypes which have built up in my head. Although, one American I’ve met on this trip said that all the good ones aren’t in America anymore, so I shouldn’t hold my breath.

On Wednesday, I met up with Mizik and his photography mates at Café Szimpla (not to mistaken with the Szimpla pub around the corner). Mizik had just picked up his new machine, a Canon 30D, along with some fairly nice lenses and a big fuckoff flash unit. Hmm.. camera tech. After Szimpla, we went to a gallery/pub place full of arty types, met a few more of Mizik’s friends and discovered where Robert Menzies' eyebrows went after his death. Andy met up with us around 11 and Pálinka Nick made an appearance later in the evening. When Mizik and his mates left, they gave me a really nice farewell and I feel I will always have some good friends here in Hungary.

On the subject of good Hungarian friends, I caught up with Su from Vesprem last night. She has now moved to Budapest and she is enjoying the challenge of her new job, but was really tired. She joined me and the gaggle of Americans for dinner, afterwards making our way to Kuplung for a few beers. There was a band playing and Andy spotted the sound tech using a soldering iron to fix stuff with, and I borrowed it while he went off to grab a sandwich and coke. The soldering irons here are weird and rather than finishing in a point, they have a loop of wire with a different alloy at the bend which heats up when current is passed through it. Not that great for repairing small electronics and it didn’t do the job, but still the first time I’ve watched a Hungarian Ska band and attempted to solder things. Afterwards I met up with Vera, who finished work at 12:30 and we caught up on the week’s events. It looks like Canada is no longer on the cards for her and will give Ireland a shot next May sometime.

This weekend Andy has gone to Amsterdam, Laurie’s off to Vienna and Vera is headed to Szombathely, so I’ve got two apartments to myself. Nice. I’ve offered to keep Vera’s cat Maci (Little Bear), company and Andy & Laurie’s internet connection busy.

Having just replaced my hot drink of choice to tea, I haven’t had coffee for a few days now and surprise, surprise.. I’m sleeping better, I have more energy and am looking healthier. When I go out at night, I don’t fade into a delirious mess around 11pm and can actually have fun without booze.

In short:

I’ve learnt some more Hungarian and now I can say some fairly authentic sounding insults to people. I think I’m going through a Johnny Cash phase. I’ve cheered up over the last few days. I found myself in the rail yards of one of the stations here in Budapest. I saw an old school typographer doing his work in a workshop surrounded by thousands of Hungarian metal font boxes. After a series of tests, the RAM in my laptop looks like it's casuing the freezing up and crashing. Arse. I'm still unsure what the third ingredient in Vera's 3-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner is, but I'm going to find out.

Tonight, Su and I meet up and go outdoor ice-skating near the museum district. Hope I don’t need stitches like I did last time I went ice-skating. Wee haa..

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

street cleaners

Back in Budapest for probably the last time on this trip. Andy and Laurie have gone to Rome for a few days, but left me their keys to their apartment. Nice. Not that I don't enjoy other people's company, it's just nice to have some quite time to myself. Almost like normal life, whatever that is.

On Saturday, Mizik and a couple of his friends went to hills between Esztergom and Komárom to dig garden beds. On the way we stopped at a Kasdabalo Kotchma (knife throwing pub), which was occupied by lethargic alcoholics rather than the promised blade toting fight starters. After our coffees, we ventured to a local small scale winery and purchased two litres of white wine to accompany the day's digging activities. Mizik's mate's dog had been put down earlier that morning due to old age, and we got down to burring the dog first. Then we flew a kite, which was a more fun than I remembered, but the string kept breaking. With no more distractions at hand, we all took turns digging at the ground, getting a couple of garden beds ready for when spring comes. As winter is coming, we didn't plant anything, opting instead to place unopened bags of cow shit on the top of the garden beds. When the sun went down (4pm), we packed up and left.

While I was digging, forgotten events from the previous night of drinking came back to me.

Mizik and I had walked from Hungary into Slovakia, which aside from the stamps and passport control, was as eventful as stopping for a picture next to a "thanks for visiting SA" sign.

In the later part of the evening, while I was using the facilities I looked at the pictures hanging around the urinal. Right in front of me was a half naked girl emerging from a pool with an expression somewhere between "oh this is a nice ice cream" and "I'm having trouble with this bowel motion". To my left was a poster for the upcoming gig for a mean looking metal band who by the looks of it had got their mum to take their promo photos. To my right was a poster of such greatness, I promptly stuffed it down my trousers, to be posted back home at a later date.

I don't remember the stamps being put in my passport on the way back into Hungary, or much of the walk back. At a time when I thought I was drinking too much in my life, I assumed my tolerance for alcohol would be much better. We ended up at a bar where a cookie monster metal band was playing. It may or may not have been the same metal band as the one on the poster from earlier in the evening.

The following day Mizik and I took a tour around town. We walked through the more exclusive part of Esztergom, where through renovations and investment, the old houses and cottages nestled in the hilly bits near the Basilica, are slowly transforming into a nice looking postcard. Then we visited a lake, which from what I could gather used to be a large open cut mine. We drove past the Suzuki factory and I remembered Kate (the Japanese fan girl I had met in Székesfehérvár), worked there. When we got back to Mizik's place, I went to send her an email, only to find an email from her saying that she had read my blog and saw I was in town. It's still a small world.

I think my laptop needs an overhaul. The hard drive occasionally makes a faint clicking noise, the ram seems to be on the fritz and now I'm getting blue screens on a regular basis. As you can see from the photo above, my camera's sensor is starting to die.

Unlike me, I've been reading books on a regular basis lately. Can people leave suggestions on authors or books which they think I'd enjoy? And if you know any Hungarian authors/books translated into English which are good, let me know.

A few things of interest:

The Encyclopædia of South Australian Culture
Luke Toop's media challenge to me

Saturday, November 25, 2006


In Esztergom. Caught a bus which had more rust on it than paint.

Last night, Marcel and I went across the border to Slovakia to drink cheap beer. The bar we went to had an impressive collection of money from all over the world. I spotted an Australian $5, a 50c, a 20c (Platypus in Hungarian is kacsacsőrű emlős which translates to 'bird lips animal'), and learnt how the Romanian lei has recently been revalued. The bar tender said he had lived in Melbourne for a year or so, I heard a ghastly remixed version of 'land downunder', spoke to some guy about sharks and ate funny looking cheese.

I have a hangover and need a coffee.. So much for winding things back.

My dreams last night were vivid and the first non-bad ones for a while. The one I remember involved a river flowing uphill, a large apple tree and Peter Allen performing 'I still call Australia home' on a grand piano on top of a small hill, while an audience of about 20 people danced around him with some fairly impressive synchronised choreography. I think there were streamers and sparklers.

In a little while we drive 50km to a garden plot to dig some earth and plant some seeds. This will be a fuzzy day.

Friday, November 24, 2006

cherry beer

I had another strange Adelaide-esq experience.

Last night I went for a ride up one of the Buda side's hills. At the top, I found a cool view of the city, as I was looking towards it from the north, seeing the profile of Parliament and the castle from an angle I've not seen before. It was about 16:30 and the transition between overcast day and overcast night had begun, providing a grayish moody light over the city. I could still see the outlines of buildings, read unlit advertising billboards and see people getting onto the train. But thanks to the fading light, houses started to light up, the cars in the distance became microscopic fireflies and I watched rows of pinky-orange street lamps flick on across the city. Nice little treat. Things like this can't be captured in a photo, so I didn't even try. After about 15 minutes of watching the light show and before it got too dark, I rode down the side of the hill into the Buda streets. A few near misses later and I arrived at Bambi, the soviet era cafe Vera had introduced me to last time I was in Budapest, where I had arranged to meet Andy and Laurie. I was early, so I found a table ordered a coffee and read my book. Straight after drinking the coffee, a twitch (which has been bugging me for the last couple of weeks), started playing up in my eyes and it was then I decided to lay off coffee for a while.

It's weird.

When I quit my job and started uni in 2003, I didn't drink that much booze or coffee. As the work load increased, so did the coffee intake. And as I was doing the uni thing for the first time, beer had found itself elevated into the "regular things I did" category. After what I would call a fairly traumatic caffeine withdrawal episode in early 2004 (where I had signed up for one of those CMAX medical trials and had to go cold turkey for a few days, waking up on the second day without coffee feeling like absolute shit), I gave up coffee for almost a year. And as booze was something I seem to only enjoy occasionally, I reduced my intake of that too. I would go to gigs and order cranberry juice instead of beer, drink tea instead of coffee and was declared "no fun" by a couple of people simply because I didn't drink the same thing they did. But come 2005-06, the caffeine and alcohol uptake slowly increased, visits to Cibo were a daily ritural and since travelling, I think I've drank more booze in the last 5 months than I have in past two yearback at home. Normally I only like getting drunk under failry specific conditions, and while coffee lifts me up, it slams me into the ground later in the day.
Time to wind back me thinks. But back to the cafe.

I met Andy and Laurie, and we drank hot wine (already lapsing, I'm hopeless), ate sausage and shared cake. We then went back to the flat, dropped our stuff and headed over to Szimpla for a few quite ones. There I ran into Jodi - a New Zealander I met a Sziget in August - and she said she had only emailed me an hour before to see if I was still in Budapest. She spent the next 20 minutes sitting in the corner with a bit of a stunned expression on her face. Jodi and her Hungarian friend (sorry, I have no idea how to spell your name), took the Americans and I to a little hidden bar around the corner from Szimpla where old lounge chairs and cherry beer were all the go. After about an hour of being there, an American couple walked in and we struck a conversation. They had visited Australia and without being prompted, waxed lyrical about how much they enjoyed Adelaide, rating it above Sydney and Melbourne based on weather, culture, vibe, the markets, wine and just all round loveliness. Aww..

Today, Andy and Laurie have gone to Rome for the weekend. Rather than inviting a bunch of random Hungarians over for a unauthorised house party, I'm catching a bus to Esztergom to hang out with photo buddy Marcel for a couple of days.

My time in Hungary is coming to a close :(

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

midnight cooking adventures

Tuesday's plan was simple. Go for a bike ride, explore more of the unseen bits of Budapest, catch up with Su at a Cuban night and cook pumpkin soup at midnight with Vera. All these things happened, but not how I imagined.

The ride was first. It was a cool day and a fog had rolled in over the city. Autumn in Europe is so beautiful. So many colours and different ways to keep warm. On my way to the river, I turned a corner on a section of road which was made of slate. Not sure why it was made of slate, but my front tyre lost traction, the bike collapsed underneath me and I added two more grazes to my karaoke wounds. The ride was cool. One of the places I haven't visited yet is right out the front of the Parliament building, one of the key tourist attractions in Budapest. Admittedly, during my last visit, the place was blocked off, but still, it's one of those places most tourist walk through at some stage. There was a nice fog over the river and some fancy riding required to stay on the dry side of the bank. However, seeing the shoe monument was a little sobering.

After the ride, I went to buy supplies for the pumpkin soup, and walked into a nearby SPAR store. There were several types of pumpkins all in the same section, but with only one price marked. In most places I've seen in Europe, you weigh it for yourself and put a sticker on it, and I got what I thought was the code and gave it a shot. I bought one long one, shaped like Mr Wobbly Man and a smaller, traditional looking pumpkin to complete the set. As I walked past the security guy, he stopped me and shook his head. I made a few "I'm not sure what your talking about" gestures and he peeled the sticker from the smaller pumpkin off, supposedly indicating that this type is sold as a single item and not by the kilo. "oh ok.. Thanks" i say, and do another lap of the fruit 'n' veg section to make sure I hadn't missed anything. On my second passing of the security guard, he pulls me aside to a quite corner of the store and takes the the Mr Wobbly Man pumpkin from me. Rather than fix another error in pricing, he places it in front of his crotch and started making ungodly Elvis-like movements with his new phallus, elbowing me in the side and laughing in only a way a dirty old man can. Too taken back by his actions to swap pumpkins, I made my way to the check out, where I was chastised by the lady for using the wrong stickers on my pumpkins.

Su's invite to a Cuban night was a good one. Admittedly, based on the last Cuban experience I had in Vienna, I assumed our night would be spent in the basement of a smokey club, dancing away to fun Cuban sounds, drinking bucket sized Mojitos, mock smoking cigars and being entertained by old guys cuing up to dance with (read: rub crouches on), unwilling females. But at 200 HUF (about $1.30 AUD), for a 'tap of the nose', "yeah, no worries" ticket, how could I say no?

I met Su near to where she had been checking out her potential new flat, about 1km from where I am staying. Side story: Last week, after sitting through 3 interviews in one day, Su got the call saying she had got the job she wanted. This meant within a week she would have to find a place to live in Budapest, move her stuff from Zalaegerszeg and Veszprém, and start a new job. Thankfully for Su, she's an optimist, so these things were tackled with grace and confidence.|| Su looks at me and my bike and says "you brought your bike? We're catching a tram." So we wheeled my bike back to the flat and left it there, where on exiting the building, I cut my hand on the door. Su gave me a band aid and we hopped a tram. We got off a few stops too early and had to get on another tram. I did see a Trabant with it's rear quarter panel missing, offering the contents of it's boot up to the world. "sorry.. no time for photos" - We get to the interchange and decide not to wait the ten minutes for the tram and walk to the venue instead. It took us 20, and 2 trams overtook us. We walked past an office building and were rather startled by two people running on treadmills in a gym set up on the ground floor.

As we approach the venue, I realise that it isn't some smokey little club in Bumfuck Budapest, but rather the massive and quite new national theatre building. Think a compound for a cashed up new aged religious cult and you've got the mental. We go through the doors, spot the people from Veszprém we were meeting up with and say hello. As soon as we ask for direction on where to buy tickets, an announcement over the PA blares out in Hungarian. No need for a babblefish as the defeated shoulders and disappointed looks said it all. No more 200 HUF tickets. Arse. It was either spring for the full 3500HUF ticket or admit defeat and go somewhere else with our Cuban tails between our legs. Not to be perturbed, a plan was hatched to get us in with the ticket stubs of the others, and we made our way to the top level of the theatre. There we found a bar, two entrances and a huge balcony over looking the southern part of Budapest. Shame I had already checked my bag with my camera. Arse. Su and I were asked to wait for the others to find their places and then come and get us once the performance had started. We waited. We flipped coins, made vague attempts at apologising for making each other late, admired the view and warmed ourselves on the huge pink spotlights which illuminated the building.

Su and I must have been out there for about 30 minutes, when we got the call to meet one of the others in the stairwell for the handover. The ticket stubs were exchanged and we went to our separate entrances. Su did some fast talking (or just polite conversation, I can never tell with the Hungarian language), with the usher and we soon found ourselves waiting in a theatrical airlock, a room between the foyer and the auditorium which bore a vague resemblance to the rooms you go through before viewing Lenin. To the sound of applause, we entered the room, where we were pointed to walk along a narrow pathway, between lights, chains and other 200 HUF paying customers. We found spots on the walkway, about 25 metres above the stage and looked down.

The surviving members of the Buena Vista Social Club accompanied by Hungary's Danubia Symphony Orchestra, with a huge audience of fancy dressed socialites. Nice one. I had a great view of the piano player and his magic hands gliding across the keys, plus I caught some of the more loutish behaviour between the horn section blokes, which couldn't be seen by the rest of the audience. In some of the more uptempo numbers, I found myself thinking some of the magic of this music is lost when you fill the dance floor with seat and make everyone sit down. I was impressed with the 76 year old Omara Portuondo's energy, dancing and belting out song after song for the whole concert. We had to stand for the whole gig, but why pay 3500HUF for a seat when you could pay 200HUF (or nothing), and have the ability to dance. They played for about 100 minutes, with Su and I having a bit of a bop in the funkier bits waving stupidly to the others on the opposite side of the hall. Did I mention it was free?

After saying goodbye, I walked back to the tram and made my way to Vera's place. I made a really tasty pumpkin soup and I told her about my evening while she bitched about her work colleagues. For lunch today, one of Vera's mates came around and we cooked Hungarian food (bacon, cottage cheese and pasta all baked together - yum but heavy), and ate some more pumpkin soup. Later I visited a new photography gallery around the corner and chatted photos with the curator for a while. At some point I'd like to put together photos collected from people's travels, put em up on a wall somewhere, lash out on some wine, invite a bunch of people and call the event "slide night". I've set up a flickr group, so if you have some nice looking photos from your travels which you'd like to add, join up and submit some. Maybe one day I'll get around to the wine and party bit too.

I just got an email from the Hirschengasse peeps in Vienna. It looks like hot wine and snowboarding awaits my return in December. Oh yeah.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Budapest? Igen?

I had such a good time hanging out with Su in Vesprem. We could be watching a movie, riding bikes, dancing drunkingly at a club or just sitting around talking about nothing and it was cool. As friends, we clicked really well and look forward to hanging out again next week when she comes to Budapest. Congrats on the job.

Back in Budapest.. I decided it would be easier to jump (literally), a train and go back to Budapest than ride to Szombathely, where I was having trouble sorting out accommodation. In true me style, I got to the train station at Vesprem with about 8 minutes to spare. I went into the ticket office, and managed to land one of the cheaper variety of tickets for myself and the bike. However, while the ticket vendor was printing out the tickets, the machine jammed and she had to shut down her terminal and go to the next window to get the other part of my ticket printed. This made my time a little tighter and I headed out to the platform with 3 minutes to spare. On the advice of a station guard, I went to cross the tracks at the engineer / wheelchair access path, but the guard on the opposite platform made angry gestures at me and turned me back, pointing to the stairs of the underpass. I pointed at my bike and triler, but he just gave me "that's your problem" look. The first guard just shrugged his shoulders in a way that said "sorry.. the other guy said so", and watched as I, with no other option, hurled myself, the bike and the trailer down the stairs, then drag it up the stairs on the other side. Great. Now to actually get on the train. As I approached the rear of the train, the dude with the little sign used to signal the all clear looked like he was about to do his thing. With some restrained frantic waving I got his attention, pointed at the train and asked "Budapest?". He took a look at me and my kit, sighed and yelled some Hungarian to the conductor further up the platform. I quickly dismantled the trailer and got all my stuff on the train in about 10-15 seconds. Before I had even closed the door, the dude gave the all clear and the train began to move. Budapest, here I come.

I've been here for a couple of days now, staying with Andy and Laurie, the Americans I stayed with last 3 weeks ago. It's a bit different as this time Andy's mum (mom) is visiting, so they've been taking day trips out the outlying sights of the city while I've been riding doing my own thing. We went to the touristy strip of restaurants the other night and ate a pizza without a base, then to Kuplung for a beer and watched a couple of movies (including Death Race 2000, the best stupidest movie I've seen in ages.) It's weird practicing my English again, picking up a little bit of an American accent on the reentry to my mother tongue. There's a little culture shock coming back to the big smoke. Not that the towns I've been in were particularly small, but Budapest is quite big and city-like in comparison. Plus the little villages and country back roads had no real traffic on them, and my arrival during peak hour Budapest traffic was a little hairy at times.

One person on my list to catch up and have a coffee with was Vera, the Hungarian I stayed with while I was here last time. We had got on really well and our late night Hungarian cooking adventures and crack of noon coffee chats were somewhat of a highlight of my time in Budapest. Today around noon, I went over to her flat and I met up with her for another Hungarian cooking lesson. Deep fried battered apples. While we prepared the apples and mixed the batter, we talked about our respective squirrels, what has been happening at Vera's cinema job and my adventures around Lake Balaton. I started talking about the places I had stayed in and Balatonboglar came up. Vera mentioned that she had worked for her uncle at his hotel over the summers of 1997-2000. I asked "what's his name?" Vera said "Imre", and the weirdness began again. It turns out that Imre (the guy I stayed with while in Boglar), is the paternal uncle of Vera, and she had worked for him during the summer when she was a teenager. I mentioned Agi's cooking, and Vera agreed that it was above excellent Hungarian cuisine. As Vera is a member of Hospitalityclub, she was totally unaware that her uncle had signed on for couchsurfing. It is a small world after all.

I've seen my second set of ferret walkers and have explored some of the southern part of Buda, which I missed last time. A visit to the old school Turkish baths are on the cards, plus some more Hungarian style cooking thanks to Vera.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Zen and the art of Frankenbike maintenance

Yesterday was entertaining. After dicking around with my computer for a bit, I went for an explore of the town on my bike. Unlike the other places in Hungary I've seen, Veszprém has hills. Nothing like Brisbane or San Francisco, but still there are hills. This does make bike riding a little more of an effort, but it means when I get to the top of a hill, I can survey the land around, get a good idea of how the town is laid out and have a fast ride down to the next place. I rode up to what I thought was the castle hill, only to see it about 1km away. I re-explored the hill where Szu and I had met the Mormons on the first day, and took a few photos of the cool clouds which had settled over the town. Then checked out the castle and had a look around some of the old parts. I walked past the house where Szu said an old punker guy had lived since the 90s, but since the 2000, he had gone a bit mad and had become a hermit. For the last 6 years he preferred to shout random insults in various language out his window at passes by, but in the last year had preferred to do it from the confines of his house. I didn't hear anything.

By 4:30pm, the daylight had begun to disappear so I made my way back to the centre to grab some groceries and have something to eat. I found a hotdog stand which made a pretty mean chili hot dog for $2 Aussie, and happily munched away on that while I watched some of my neighbouring eaters devour 2-4 hamburgers a piece. I returned to what I thought was the flat and had a bit of a Marty McFly moment, where I found that my surroundings while familiar, were somewhat different to what I had remembered. I said to myself; "this is the house, but I don't remember that tree being there.. oh well", and promptly walked through the open front door. A girl greeted me at the bottom of her stairs and I assumed this was the mystery third girl who lived in the flat whom I hadn't met yet. "Hi", I say. "You must be the other girl who lives here. I'm Dan, Szu's Australian friend". The young woman just looked at me with an expression of complete confusion, shook her head and said something in Hungarian. I took a quick look around the hallway I was standing in and realised that this was not the house I had been in a few hours earlier. I apologised, exited and went to the next row of flats over and found the correct house.

When Szu got back from her 3 (count them, three!!), job interviews in Budapest, we went along to a BEST meeting, and then to a pub where I met a few of her study buddies, drank beer and ate spiced pigs brains on toast. Tasty stuff. Then we went to another place (Espresso), where a metal night was being held. There was only a small turn out with the highlight being some guy throwing up on the bar and being forcably removed. The idea of going to a karaoke night was floated amongst the group, we were all keen, so we made our way there. I began chatting with one of the guys (Adam), who studies computer science, with an aim to work in programming backend stuff for websites after he graduates. At first, he seemed a little reserved, but the night was young. When we got to the venue, we had a few beers and made some requests. Szu liked the idea of Adam and I doing a duet for Survivor - Eye of the Tiger, and requested it for us. Adam and I put in a sterling performance, and by the end of the night we had both done a few songs between us, with Adam being asked to give back the microphone after stealing it and surreptitiously providing back up vocals on three consecutive songs. Gold.

Now for something completely different:

When I was in Passau, I chatted with a bike shop repair guy about his personal biking pursuits. He said that he had found a constant in his life, where elements of interest were counterbalanced with a degree of technical intricacy. He said that as sports go, neither car racing or running appealed to him, as both had not an even balance between the physical and the technical. He found the balance between the technical maintaining of a bicycle and the physical of bike riding brought his soul much happiness. Deep stuff to chat about over truing one of the rims of my bike trailer, but it was a pleasant day and I think we caught each other in a thoughtful mood. For me, right now my bike is my comfort zone. It's something that I know from home and can relate to easily, making the road from Székesfehérvár to Balatonboglár seem like the road from Norwood to Mawson Lakes, albeit on the opposite side. But this balance the bike guy spoke about I can relate to when talking about photography. I love the technical: light metring, ISO speed, colour balance, shutter speed, aperture, pixel count, buttons, photoshop. And I love the *ahem* art of photography: composition, candid smiles, the story behind, the moment, capturing a person's personality, being able to convey what I've seen without words. It was with great joy that I started to experiment with the custom white balance function on my camera. Having owned my camera for 4 years, I can't believe I haven't used this yet. Something that is a mandatory practice for me when using a video camera, Custom WB is not something I have fooled with on a still camera. After taken many washed out photos of things under failing light, I was desperate. I'm really happy with the results, and here are a couple of examples: WB1 & WB2

I haven't found the balance with working with video yet. The technical of codecs, bit rates and video size is still outweighing the artistic side of actually making videos. Doing the placement at Channel 10 last year got me a little closer, with their fancy equipment doing what I wanted it to do without protest or hesitation. But we work with what we are given, and after discovering a few little tricks in Windows (completely by accident mind you), I'm finding the operating system to be more user friendly than I've previously thought.

Something you might like

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

making tracks

Yesterday, after having a bit of a wrestle to get the bike and trailer through the doors, I took a train from Zalaegerszeg to Veszprém with Szu and Barbie (Szu’s Veszprém flatmate). With a little hand drawn map and a bit of borrowed female intuition I managed to find my way to their place from the station. I got a quick look at the town, with a rad old military base near the rail yard with about 20 old soviet radar trucks. When I got to the girl's place, I dumped my stuff and Szu and I went for a walk around the town. She pointed out her favourite parts and explained why it was 10x better than living in Zalaegerszeg. Great tourist I am, forgetting my camera at the house. We had a look at the main strip, ate at a really cheap place hidden at the back of an expensive clothing store, went to the castle and walked out onto a peninsular like outcrop of hill to get a closer look at the crucifix perched on the rock. As we turned to return to the castle, we ran into a couple of young guys. They had on suits, ties, backpacks, were clad in heavy black jackets and wore beanies. They said hello to me in English, so I struck up a conversation with them. On their jackets were badges, and even though they were written in Hungarian, I could tell these guys were Mormons. One of them was about to return to the States after living in Veszprém for the past 14 months and was giving his replacement the 20 cent tour of the town. We had a friendly chat about Hungary, bikes, Utah, the cold and what the JCLDS scene was like in Hungary. I usually feel quite hostile to overtly religious types, especially if they knock on my front door on a Saturday morning. But whether through increased tolerance of other’s beliefs, plain curiosity or lack of a front door, rather than chew their ear off in an attempt to sway them to my heathen ways, I just wanted to know if they were doing the bike thing. A couple of times they just said, “You do know who we are?”, and I just said “yeah” and continued talking to them about what we had in common rather than what we didn’t.

After the Mormons, Szu and I went and had hot white chocolate (my banana one was so sickly, I couldn’t finish it), and played Mastermind. We then went back, ate pizza and watched a movie. I fixed their wifi network for them, so from about 10pm till 12:30, each of us sat with our separate laptops on our errr.. laps, and did the net thing. Szu and Barbie’s flatmate and landlord is a disgusting pig. I think he inherited the house from a dead relative and refuses to clean anything. The toilet near his room stinks worse than any men’s room I’ve been in, minus the trough lollies, and the kitchen is a biological hazard. The girls don’t cook, keep all their food in their room, use a different bathroom and toilet and prefer not to interact with the beast.

I did a magic dance, clapped three times, pressed some more buttons and magically got my computer and video camera talking again. It seems Windows doesn’t perform that little bit of code which tells the camera what format the video is coming out as, therefore confusing the camera while it’s in auto switch mode. This does mean I’ve been able to put all the footage from Mongolia back onto tape and delete it from my drive. I also took my wifi detector apart and fixed things somewhat. I still need a soldering iron to make things kosher, but the little bit of silver paper from a cigarette packet is doing the job nicely currently. However, right now I hate technology. I’ve known it for a while, but now that I’m trying to access my photos from my trip I burnt onto a DVD about two months ago, there is a whole bunch that are missing. Arse. And trying to find the ASUS service centre in Budapest was a big shit, with multiple phone calls to an occasionally working telephone number only yielding a “yeah.. Call back tomorrow”, response from the company, several days running. I feel like punching a nerd right now. Ouch

this is cool
my new heroes
Hungarian girls the most violent?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

ferret walking

This would have to be the strangest place I've written a blog entry from. I was sitting outside an apartment building, using an open wifi network when it began to rain. Rather than packing up, I snuck inside and found a little hidey hole under the stairs where I am currently sitting writing this entry.

Imre and Agi were excellent hosts. They opened their home and hearts to me and made me feel really welcome. Long chats over wine and Palinka about Trabbis, Hungarian politics and life in a lake side town with Agi's fantastic cooking made my time on Lake Balaton really enjoyable. Imre's story about driving through the Austrian Alps near Grossglockner in a Trabant, using hollowed out melons filled with snow to cool the breaks as they descended was entertaining. Molnars, thanks for everything.

Thursday was riding day - about 90km from Balatonboglar to Zalaegerszeg. I stopped off in Heviz, the thermal bath town, for lunch around 2pm. With no signs of Smile Lady, I sat and enjoyed a coffee and some pickled chillies at a cafe on the main strip. An old guy with dead eyes, similar to that of the Mafia guy in Russia, kept starring at me while I ate. I met his look, gave him a nod, he nodded back but continued to stare, ignoring all known nod protocol. There was a friendly cat patrolling the cafe floor for scraps, so patted him until the weird guy found some other hapless tourist to stare at. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but all through this trip, I've been getting this feeling that I look like someone off the telly. You know, when you catch someone's eye and their expression says "I know you from somewhere". I had this in Russian, Germany, Austria and Hungary.

I arrived in Zalaegerszeg around 6 and had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with my new host. I found my way to the centre of town and had a look around. It's a little place, with not much open during the colder months. There was a funky looking three-faced clock which used lights and tones to tell the time. I didn't take the time to see how it worked, but on the hour it played tones which sounded just like an old Casio Tone - After that I navigated my way to Szu's place, and saw a women walking her pet ferret.

I met up with Szu, my new host. She's a totally cool bike loving, photo taking, international student superstar, who reminds me a lot of my good mate Leda back home in Australia. She comes back to Zalaegerszeg every second weekend to stay with her folks (who have been keeping us well fed), and usually lives in the student town of Veszprém (about halfway between Zalaegerszeg and Budapest). Szu is part of an organisation of European students, so she is used to entertaining people from other countries. So far we've ridden to the big telecom tower on the hill (read: pushed bikes up an incredibly steep slope), seen a few local punk bands (including Slovakia sensation "Konflikt"), and have attempted to check out Zalaegerszeg's tourist attractions (such as the village museum), only to find them all closed for the winter.

Tomorrow Szu and I catch a train to Veszprém, where we'll hang out with her friends for a few days.

My computer continues to shit me. I can get the video onto it, but can't get it off. So I am running out of hard drive space quickly. I am seriuosly considering getting one of those fancy new macs, as the guess work and randomness involved with digital video editting in Windows is getting to me. And my wifi detector broke. Arse.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The day began very bleary eyed and sleepily with a 5:30am wake up, a quick breakfast and a 50km drive to a little village about 20km northwest of Lake Balaton. Heviz, the village in question, has Hungary’s most concentrated collection of thermal baths and has a sizable fitness resort located on the biggest of the hot springs. As we approached the town, the fog which uniformly carpeted the ground was raised about 30 metres over the hot springs. A fantastic sight, which I completely forgot to take a picture of. Arse. As we drove through the village and past the hot lake, I saw steam rising from the water and I mentally noted to take a picture of that.

As we approached, the main touristy looking building, situated on the lake, stuck out the most. However, it is more suited to summer conditions and wasn’t opened when we got there at 7am. I had the option to wait for the place to open at 7:30 and swim in the 23 degree outside lake, or join the Molnars inside for the 35 – 40 degree baths. As I was freezing my arse off then and there, I decided to join them. The building we went looked more like a hospital than it did a health spa, with Soviet overtones just to remind you who was in charge not so long ago. We paid our money, changed and hopped into the toasty but stinky hot baths. Imre had already booked in for a hot stone and massage treatment, but said that there was a slim possibility that I too could get a pummelling by one of the psych-nurse look-a-like Hungarian masseuses. He asked me to wait for him for about 20 minutes and if he didn’t come in that time that I had missed out on the massage and should explore the other pools. I agreed to wait around to see if there was an opening, Imre and his wife left and I promptly fell asleep in the pool. After what felt like 3 seconds, I was woken up by one of the lifeguards, regained my composure and made an expression that said, “No, I haven’t just been asleep for the past 10 minutes”. The place wasn’t nearly as varied as the one I went to in Budapest, but the water was warm and the wrinklies were quite friendly, a little too friendly. As I shifted from pool to pool, sampling the different minerals and temperatures, I got the distinct feeling that one of oldies (who by the looks of it, had had more facelifts than hot dinners), was following me. When I decided that I was a little tired of the water (and my new friend), I got out to explore the grounds. I changed, went to the café and grabbed a coffee to wake up a little. As I was distracted by fiddling with my camera, permanent smile lady sat a few tables away from me, and as I looked up she gave me what I think was a smile different to that which was her constant. Time to go get a few photos outside.

I went out and by that time the nice day which was developing had scared away the mist on the hot water, removing any chance of getting a cool photo of that. Arse. Instead, I snapped happy for a few minutes, strategically hiding from smile lady when she exited the health clinic. I met a couple of Russians who asked me to take their picture for them in front of a statue. Unfortunately they couldn’t speak English and I don’t speak Russian, which meant I could ask them about getting friction from the locals based on where they were from. I went back inside and waited for the Molnars to finish up. In the car on the way back to Balatonboglar I fell asleep and had a weid dream about the Joker from Batman.

After lunch, Imre expressed his disappointment at not being able to secure me a massage at the clinic. So he phoned up one of the local masseuses and booked me in for that afternoon. One hour massage = 2500 Forint. Nice. By the time I returned to the house, I was so relaxed that I had almost forgot that Imre’s friend was coming over to show off his Trabant.


About 15 minutes after I got back from my massage, Tibot pulls up in his noisy little car and we go for a fang around the town. He tells me (through Imre), about some of the adventures he’s had in the car and educates me in the delicate art that is maintaining a Trabbi. We get to a secluded street and Imre asks me "you drive?" Perfect. Not only is this the first car I’ve driven in 9 months, it is also the first left hand drive car I’ve ever driven.

Here’s a little video documenting the experience. Link

He has owned it for 17 years since new and at the end of this year will be replacing it for a Berina. Poos and wees. He aims to sell it at the beginning of January for 100,000 forint (About $650 Aussie). Very tempting, as they are a cute car and this one is in good nick. But it’s one of the older 2-stroke models, and the likelihood of buying one of the rare 4-stroke variety is slim to none. Plus, the idea of getting a Skoda is still much more desirable. Luke Toop has signed on for next year’s Eastern Euro adventure.. and maybe even Dave B. That leaves one more seat. Any takers?

Tomorrow I ride to Zalaegerszeg, which is about 80km from Balatonboglar. Imre says it will be the best weather of all the week and a good road, so there will be no excuses when it comes to catching trains and any of that non-bike riding nonsense.

In other news:

Daniel, one of the Dutchlanders I met in Mongolia, sent me the link to his
blog, It'll be good to catch up with him and Kees again when i eventually make it to Holland.

Clara, one of the coolest Austrians I've met, just wrote something really nice for me. Her and her family are champs and it'll be fun to hang out with them in Berndorf again this December. With snow!!

The Fram, from space