Friday, June 30, 2006

oh shit.

Throughout this trip I have used the services of both and - And while both services offered pretty much the same thing, couchsurfing came with a better interface and a more relaxed attitude towards travel. I was so impressed with the free service, a couple of weeks ago I donated $20 AUD to the Couchsurfing cause. However, for the last few days the site has been down and I haven't been able to use it. So today, I went to check out my chances at getting some Couchsurfing action in Linz, only to be greeted the site being down and a rather dramatic open letter to all couchsurfing users.

See it at

Monday, June 26, 2006

Uri Geller or Mike from the Young Ones?

I wonder what the German word for "Doppleganger" is?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hiro is my Hero - Part II

Hiro is travelling around the world. He has about the same stuff as me, but in a much better suited bag. He has been travelling for a year and a half and has seen most of South east Asia, South America and Europe. He has come to Germany to cheer on the Japanese soccer team, who as of tonight are now out of the World Cup. The magic about meeting Japanese people on the road isn't the chance to mangle the Japanese language in front of a native, but to experience their some what magic ability to make something tasty out of almost nothing. I experienced this in Irkurst, Russia with a girl (sorry i forgot your name), from Japan who whipped up a pretty mean potato and something dish for us to share. Here in Munich, Hiro managed to produce a sausage and pasta dish, that from the outset sounded pretty basic. But once served, it was not only really tasty but well presented, making it a rather gor-met experience.

Hiro is staying with Audrey, an American girl studying here in Munich, who on the basis of an hours long conversation let me (and Hiro), take over her room at the university dormitory while she stayed with her gentleman caller. And by that she means sleep at the house of but not sleep with said gentleman caller. Yeah, I don't understand it either. Thanks Audrey. You've made Germany a much better place for me.

Oh and the "Hiro is my Hero" reference was the random guy I met in Tokyo who let me join him and his friends at an all night Karaoke fest, then offered me his couch. Forget the museums, public squares and monuments to dead soldiers whose horse's feet tell the story of how they died, and testicles that express jealousy towards an unfaithful lover (email me if you want this explained). it's the people you meet and the unique interaction you have with them that makes a trip a journey.

See Hiro is Hero - Part I here

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Introducing Frankenbike

I really needed a bike. Not just for transport and getting from A to B, but for my sanity. I've been a bit down of late, so getting a bike would be a good way of cheering myself up. I initially came to Germany for three reasons: 1) Meet friends in Munich who are visiting for the world cup; 2) Escape Finland; and 3) To buy a bike, which I had been told could be done cheaply in Germany. I had always intended on buying something secondhand, but I flirted with the idea of getting something shiny an new. I checked out a few of the new bike stores and found that springing around 800 to 1100 Euro for a new bike was not going to cut it in the parameters of a budget holiday. So the hunt for a used bike was on. I asked several bike shop employees, and they all suggested something different, with the occasional comment of "a cheap decent bike in Munich? no way". As the negative responses piled up, I began to realise that in a town populated mostly by students, who all use bikes as their primary means of transport, my chances of getting a good deal was small.

If you've ever visited a place where there is a strong bicycle culture (Japan, Scandinavia, Munich), people seem to leave there unwanted bikes to rust in the bike racks around train stations and parks. I was walking with Emrah, the Turkish guy I've stayed with here with, and I made a throw away comment about how you could probably build a bike out of all the bits of left over bikes. we continued on our walk and I thought nothing more of it.

The friendly man at the disabled mobility store (who owned the BMW Z8 sitting out the front), gave me directions to a place that would be closed, but he assured me that someone there who could help me out. His directions were simple: "up the street, over the square, around the corner and over the road from Circus Krone. Look for the big yellow shed with a workshop next to it". I thanked him, and walked in the heat, got lost 3 times, bought an ice cream and eventually found my way to the place. I really must go back and take some pictures, but I'll try and describe it. Circus Krone looks like what would happen if the Adelaide Fringe Festival permanently set up shop somewhere. A huge gaudy building with a big old fashion light bulb sign saying "Circus Krone" and thousands of posters plastered over older posters battling it out for your attention. And over the road was the promised big yellow shed, looking as closed as a closed business could be. A large sign swung in the breeze and mockingly proclaiming the opening hours, which didn't include my arrival time.

My heart sank, but I entered the empty car park in the hope to find anyone who could help. Sure enough there was a workshop next to the shed, but the "Circus Krone" painted on one of the slightly open doors didn't give me confidence about getting a bike. I poked my head inside and found a workshop that could only be described as Stomp meets the Christmas Pageant. Metal, tools, welding gear interspersed with stage decorations and clown heads, with a big wall of tools hanging in one corner. The place was pretty quite so I said "hello" and a guy popped his head out from behind a piles of tubes. A burly blond headed guy with overalls and grease on his hands came over and greeted me with a smile. I introduced myself, apologising for my lack of German was countered by his friendly but strong handshake. "No worries mate. My name's Jason and I grew up in Newcastle". So everything was cool. I told him about my trouble in finding a bike, and that I had come here in the hope that the flea market was open. Jason told me not to worry, stood up and asked me to follow him to the door at the back of the workshop. It led to a rear entrance of the complex where the big skip bins are kept. He pointed to the skip behind the flea market and said "Help yourself". Inside I found around 16 bike frames in varying conditions, with a couple of shabby but almost complete bikes amongst it all.

I pulled out the frame with the most stuff still attached, and hunted for a few more spares. I found a suitable replacement for the rear wheel, which was bent and missing a cog from the gear cluster. I found new break handles, as the one on the frame were bent. The breaks themselves are the older V style and require planning to stop the bike. The running gear on the frame worked well, and is an older style Deore LX, which I'm told is pretty good, regardless of it's age. Using my Leatherman and an alan key and spanner I borrowed from Jason, I was able to dismantle the good bits from the bikes and combine them all on the one frame. I thanked Jason for his help and wheeled my creation to a bike shop about 1km away. I bought the new tube, walked to a petrol station and changed it over. Even though I was covered in grease from finger tip to elbow, for the first time in a while I was enjoying life. I got on to the bike and rode off. I can't really remember where I rode, but I just rode.

And yesterday, while riding around, I found lying in the middle of the bike lane a combination bike chain that was undone. I now have security.

I am going to give riding this bike around Europe a serious go. I owe it to me as much as I do to it. I need to fix the forks, breaks and get pannier bags (or a trailer), to carry my stuff in. I have a place here in Munich I can store my backpack, so things are looking up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

How to be an awesome blogger

Please check out this guy's photos.
He takes photos like I want to when I grow up (and buy $500 flash unit).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

it's the same everywhere*

I love how when there is a big public celebration (new year's eve, grand finals and the like), drunken members of the community find a police officer and make them smile.

Why wait until your drunk? Go make one smile today.

In other news:

I've created bike out of bits of lesser bicycles. I shall call it Bike-enstein. Photos of how I created this monster should follow soon, but it involved half a day of hunting around U-bahn stops and University accommodation to find the leftovers of mangled, unloved bikes, that have good bits still attached. I am now mobile and can easily navigate my way around Munich. I had to buy a new rear tire for it, but that only set me back 7 Euro. It is my plan to keep making Bike-enstein stronger, faster, better. Then I will ride it out of town and onto some other fantastic European land.

Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup crayz

A famous man once said:

'thez got the same stuff in Europe, but it's that little different'. Well I'm not John Travolta and this isn't a gangster movie. Have zou ever driven a European car and discovered the controls for the blinkers and wipers are on different sides to a true blue Holden? This is because when the cars are made, the manufactures just use the same parts but in different places, pazing no attention to the Australian waz of doing things. Ok, Germanz maz not call a quarter pounder a 'rozale with cheese', but thez do have a bunch of European cars here (funnz that).

Todaz I was riding around on a bike provided bz mz couchsurfing host's little brother. He's a bit of a social-phobic nerd and plazs counter strike and World of Warcraft all daz, so he hasn't missed it. It is a little rustz, but it's free and appreciated. So I'm riding around Frankfurt and get cut off bz a car. This makes me hit the brakes hard, but as with the blinkers/wipers mentioned earlier, the front and rear breaks are swaped around. This mistake make me put more break on the front than the back and causes the bike to perform what the pros call an 'endo'. I endo-ed right onto the bonnet of a Mercedes taxi (thez're not that flash), and I proceded to shout all the bad German words I know at the driver.

So thez do it differentlz here. Oh and the 'Y' and the 'Z' kezs are swapped on a German kezboard.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Hundeführer and the Ausfahrt

The Hundeführer

As most of you are aware, there was a major breakdown in Helsinki. This resulted in me quickly (and poorly) organising my trip to Germany, which I had intended to do from the beginning. This breakdown has left me a little isolated as the idea of airing out my personals online feels a little naff to me. But you know.. I will accept anyone's tea and sympathy right now.

Well here I am in sunny Germany. Summer is in full swing here and the country has gone mad with World Cup craziness. I took Europe's version of Jetstar from Tempere to Frankfurt Hanh, both of which are Helsinki and Frankfurt's auxiliary airports. I was told that the flight for 50 euro was a bargain, only to find out that including taxes and transfers it came to over 100 euros, which would have got me onto a nice flight to and from the places I wanted. Oh well.. Welcome to air travel in Europe.

To get here, I got onto the bus that takes me the 200km from Helsinki to Tempere and immediately fall into a drowsy coma, with relief metastasising through my body. And whenever I opened my eyes to see the green of Finland passing by, the babbling of the Finnish girls in the seats behind me lull my eyelids shut. We arrive at the terminal, and it is just that: terminal. A Hodge-podge bang up job reminiscent of Virgin Blue's earlier attempts at an airport. No air conditioning and surly female ground staff who didn't make it as flight attendants. Aside from using my passport as a means of identity, there is no emigration process or impressive stamps thanks to the new boarderless European union. How does this place know where I am? How can they enforce the working visas? While distracted by the neo-political landscape of Europe, I forget to check my pocketknife and have to do the whole process again to avoid loosing it to the security guard's tourist trophy collection.

Security: sorry. you cannot take this on board. you have to surrender it to us. (mentally rubbing her hands together)

Me: shit. sorry i completely forgot. can I check it in?

security: (slightly crest fallen) oh.. yes.. but you have to go through again.

Seriously.. there needs to be some sort of system where forgetful passengers can put all their tweezers, knitting needles and pocket knives into a bag at security and have it taken in the cockpit or something like it. I mean come on.. the plastic knife they give you with the metal fork and spoon? really. Do I look like a terrorist? I buy a cookie and a tea and wait for my flight. The seating is a first come, first served process, where people are let on in order of arrival. When I get on the plane, I'm slightly confused as my boarding pass says 84 and the seating only goes to 30. I take my seat and once the clouds cover the ground, I fall asleep again and only wake up for our decent. Germany looks amazing from the air. Forests, castles, rivers, farming plots, autobahns.. it's familiar but different. We land, and I go through the nothing to declare isle, passport unchecked, bags unmolested.

I message my host Svenja, letting her know that I have arrived and that I'm on my way. No message returns, so I guess she understands. The directions she has given me don't line up with anything I am seeing on the information boards so I ask someone for help. I am in a different airport. Shit. I message Svenja again to let her know the story and get on another 2 hour bus ride to Frankfurt. I see a big sign saying 'Ausfahrt' and have a purile chuckle to myself, half wishing I had taken a photo of it. I see another three and work out that it's not a town name but an off ramp from the freeway. There were many Ausfahrts along our route (he he.. root). We take one of these Ausfahrts and venture through the German country side. As the bus was full, I got one of the granny seats up the front. This wasn't so bad as I got a first class view of what German farming communities live like. It turns out that this alternative route was not for sightseeing, but to avoid a road toll. Ah RyanAir. Oh how you love to cut corners. Still no response from Svenja. The bus driver bounces away on his suspension seat and turns on the radio. Germany vs Poland. Oh the poetry of it. Let's not mention the war. As the German commentary shouts excitedly, the driver twitches, causing the bus to lurch back and fourth as his feat and arms involuntarily move the buses controls. We stop at the actual Frankfurt airport, where I thought I was going to land and catch a glimps of the game. Nil all.

We arrive at the main train station in Frankfurt and I have still no word from Svenja about an how my alternate arrival destination affects her original instructions. The streets are dead, with bars and small shops full of tense faces lit by small TV sets. I adapt and go into the train station and find something in her directions that lines up with what's on the info boards. I catch the last train to it's last stop and wait for a bus. I catch it to Svenja's stop and get out. It's quite and there's no one around. I find a phone booth and try her number. The polite German voice announces that the number is not in service and hangs up on me. I take out the laptop and hunt for some wireless, finding some in front of a house around the corner from the bus stop. The night is warm and humid, reminiscent of home. There is cheering coming from the windows, the World Cup game marking my confusion. I find Svenja actual number (one off the one I had) and decide to watch the end of the match in a local bar before calling her.

It's the 88th minute and the score is still nil all. The bar maid is seated with the punters, still as statues deep in thought. No one is drinking. Hands are on foreheads and mouths are wide open. My backpack and scruffiness attracting the smallest amount of interest. I try to introduce myself. 'Shhhh..!' Then in the 91st minute, Germany scores. the room erupts and the statues awaken. everyone is hugging and some guy high fives me. The game ends and pleasantries are exchanged. 'oh Australian! Ve like Australia. Kangaroos! Velcome to Deuchland.'

I leave and call Svenja. This time it works and she is close by. She has just walked out of a house watching the game and is on her way home. She walks me down the street and we go to the house where I got the internet from. Nice.

I meet her folks. Her dad is really ecited to meet the Austalian and promptly offers me some apple wine and his favourite stories. Mum and Svenja roll their eyes and smile. Svenja's dad, Alister, is the local game warden and hundefuhrer. He gives out hunting licences and makes sure that everybody's dogs have had their rabies shots. Mum, Christina, offers me some meat and eggs for supper and we chat about travels. The great part was that when we were setting up the sofa bed in Svenja's room, he says to me 'so.. do you like hunting?' I'm not sure whether this was a polite version of 'shotgun and shovel', but it's probably better to err on the side of caution.

While I enjoyed hanging out with younger people in Finland, it's good to have a family around me at the moment. I've not been feeling too good of late, but the home cooked hospitality is helping. I wish things could be better, but they are in the process of being fixed, so that at least is keeping me happy.

My next adventure will be trying to get a ride to Munich, meeting up with the boys from Adelaide and then buying a bike for a bit of touring.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

a change is as good as a holiday

Pippa and I weren't doing to well, so rather then wait another month and have a screaming fight in a shitty city, we talked about stuff and decided to separate in a good way. She will be my friend forever.

Monday, June 12, 2006

sorry, you're breaking up

The complications of communicating on the road eventually take their toll and things stop working. The line goes dead and you keep talking, but nobody is there to listen. It's ok though. You know eventually you can find a good line and talk for as long as you want.