Friday, September 29, 2006

Top Gun

Another fab week spent in Berndorf with the bestest* family in Austria. Thanks to Paul, Gerlinde, Felix and Japanese Clara for feeding me, keeping me entertained and basically making me feel like I'm at home. A few of the highlights of the week: Walking into a bar in Wiener Neustadt and hearing the theme tune to Top Gun; Cooking food for the family and having about 9 people visit, sit around the table and enjoy my cooking too; talking for 5 hours straight to 4 different classes at the local high school about travel and life in Australia; Meeting Anita's grandma and hearing stories about Anita's uncle who built a boat and sailed around the world, finding pirates and elephants on the way. It's so hard to pick from the many great little experiences I have whilst travelling. I guess I'm just building up deja vu points.

So I rode from Berndorf to Bratislava yesterday. A one hour journey by train from Vienna. But the night before I began the 8 hour ride by bike, I did the trip from Berndorf to Bratislava in about 5 minutes. Serious. I got an extra special ride in an F-18 and flew east from Berndorf across the plains of south eastern Austria. This allowed me to get an idea of what the terrain is like and see which way to go to avoid any nasty hills. A couple of times I blacked out due to G-forces, but eventually I got to the Danube and followed that down towards Bratislava, where I saw the moon rising and the towns I would go through. Once I crossed the border, the scenery below me became confused and the Danube river suddenly disappeared. I guess the graphics for Slovakia aren't as good as they are for Austria. Of course, I wasn't actually flying, I was using one of Paul's flight simulators. It's the first time I've used a computer game to get an idea of the area I'm about, and surprisingly it gave me a pretty good idea of what the followng day's ride would consist of. Even the moon was the same. If I ever visit the tracks featured in Gran Turismo (Nurburgring anyone?), I'll probably know them like the back of my hand.

As for getting to Bratislava, it may have helped if I had written a few directions on the back of my hand. On the way there I got stupidly lost. But it was a good lost, as I got to see a few cool things, including Austria's biggest concentration of wind turbines up close. I'm a sucker for these things. People go on about how it takes 20 years for the costs of setting up a wind farm to break even with conventional energy production, but that's 20 years of energy production with minimal pollution. And like Al Gore says, we have to do something now. Oh yeah.. did I mention I rode a bike?

Anyway, back to getting lost. I found someone's secret crop hidden in a corn field. I haven't touched the stuff in almost ten years, but to see if it was the real deal, I broke some off and ate it. This was the beginning of the end when it comes to being lost. After eating this stuff I forgot about reading the map and just headed in the vague direction of east (vague meaning anywhere but east), busying myself with getting a bit more creative with my camera. By the time my mind was clear, I found that I had followed my directions in circles and had to ride an extra 20km to get back on track.

Luke. Come to the dark side.

I lost my bike lights in Vienna, but as I had planned to be in Bratislava before dark, I held off buying some until I got to the cheaper side of the border. This was a mistake and by 6:30pm I found myself in complete darkness, with the only illumination coming from the occasional swerving truck and beeping car. This was one of the few times I've felt unsafe out on the road, so in an act of desperation, I stole borrowed a flashing roadworks light and tucked it into the back of my trailer. After a bit more riding I finally caught sight of Bratislava Castle lit up in the distance. According to a road sign (not the one in my trailer), the city was only 25km away. Cool, only another hour or so of riding. Or so I thought.

I went past what I first thought was the car only border crossing (correct), then doubled back across a freshly plowed field (mistake), thinking that I had missed the only border crossing (mistake). I got to the Austrian gates and nobody was there, so I continued to the Slovakian gates where i joined a cue of vehicles. When my turn came, the guards looked my bike up and down and just shook their heads. This was not my border crossing. I was instructed to turn around and head for the other crossing, about 15km away, through the town of Kittsee. I was told to hurry as this crossing station closed at 10pm. It was 8pm. Plenty of time. So I headed back up the way I came, took the turn to Kittsee, making my way through the town quickly. Then I hit no mans land. An unlit stretch of road which consisted of a long sweeping bend and then a bridge (also unlit), over the highway. From the bridge I could see the first border crossing I had attempted to use, the border crossing I was headed for and the 500 metre pathway between them. Mo Fos. And instead of a stamp in my passport indicating that I have left Schengen, I got a shrug from the border guards.

Today I bought lights and a helmet. I now feel a lot safer. I broke two lights in the shop just to demonstrate to the shop assistant what kind of quality I demand. Tomorrow I ride to Gyor Hungary. Hopefully the border crossing will be easier.

I also made a movie about cycling in Austria. I hope you enjoy it.

*not a real word

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

links - past, present & future

Today I went back to school.. No, not like Rodney Dangerfield*, I had an invite to Clara's high school to talk about travelling and life in Australia. I spoke to four separate classes over five hours about: how many Austrias fit into Australia [91], Steve Irwin's death, AC/DC, the upcoming Austrian elections, what a kebab is called in Australia, the poor integration of white settlers with aboriginal cultural, BBQs, Aussie dialects. When the talking had finished I tourtured educated some of the kids with a Vegemite taste testing. I really enjoyed convincing a bunch of young Austrians to travel to Australia via the least amount of flying as possible with sayings like: "Come to Australia by land and see the world on the way" and "Why rush it if you're going for 6 months?" Hopefully I'm able to take my own advice when I finally venture back to my sunburnt country.

After I got back from school, I called my grandparents. Looks like this year's crop of Triticale is going well and the latest rain fall of 2 inches (5cm), has helped out Fram Doyle* in a big way. Expect to find some of it in your Australian muesli or porridge in the coming months. Grandma was excited to hear from me. She loves Strauss, Mozart and those fancy horses, so my postcard and ticket from the Schönbrunn had gone down treat. Granddad said he's not too worried about his pacemaker operation in October and ironically finished our conversation with "chop chop", which is an old family saying that brought a smile to my face.

Ok, here is where the Kevin Bacon Experiment starts to work, things begin to get weird and the world becomes a smaller place. I met Clara while getting a free pizza from a stall at the NUKE Festival In St Polten. She emailed me after the festival and a week later I was staying in Berndorf with her and her family. On one of my day trips to Vienna, I went to the Naschmarket where I met Anita, who I asked about whether she knew of someone renting a room. She didn't at the time, so I handed over my details in case she found something later on. After swapping a few emails, a random dinner party and some hanging out, I find out that even though she grew up in Vienna, her family was originally from Berndorf and had moved away when she was five. But tonight Kevin Bacon clicked things into place. It turns out that Clara's dad was in a band with Anita's uncle about thirty years ago and that the two families had known each other quite well back in the 1970s, but have since drifted apart. Talking about the two families we uncovered some fab stories. The coolest involving Anita's uncle who built a boat, sailed it around the world and foiled Indonesian pirates with carefully placed shoddy economic workmanship, with his only boating experience coming from reading books about sailing. Sounds like I've got a new thing to put a tick next to on my check list. I also got to look at some old Austrian family photos complete with lutes, super cool moustaches and lederhosen.

I forgot to mention that an hour before getting on the train to Slovakia last week I managed to pick up a replacement Leatherman free of charge. While it is now a brand-spanking-new knife, its super sharp blade took a chunk from my finger while I cutting an apple and lacks the well earnt travel scars. In other news, there's stuff in Australia that's about to come to fruition, which has been brewing for a while and will allow me to finally put a whole bunch of shit behind me real soon. But more on that later.

*check out who wrote it
**not a typo

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I've left Vienna.. No really. I've left properly this time.. I promise..

Vienna has been such a good place for me. Riding through the streets lined with old buildings, drinking coffee at the fancy cafes, visiting the museums, dancing all night or just chilling out in the flat. A big thanks to the Hirschengasse posse (Petra, Kathi and Thomas), for letting me use their spare room on and off over the last month. Thanks to Rastko and Jesssca for the wine and tips on Vienna night life - hopefully we'll catch up in Belgrade. Thanks to Elke, Eva and Esther from Cuntstunt for allowing my crazy cooking adventures. And a special
thanks to Anita for hosting my first random dinner, being a top Austrian sheela and taking good care of me over the last month.

I can’t believe I missed out on Friday Night Skating until now. I’ve made a couple of attempts at joining the small wheeled masses around the streets of Vienna, but each time my plans have been foiled by other super fun thing to do. But on my final Friday night in town, I was determined to check it out. And it didn’t disappoint. 400-500 people tailing a
music blasting panel van while it drove around a 18km road blocked loop of central Vienna. If you're thinking about coming to Vienna, make sure you check this out because it's a great way to see the city and it isn’t the usual touristy thing visitors do. They have city bikes which can be rented free for an hour, and sweet Fanny Adams after that. Once that was out of the way, we made our way to the Gurtle Ring where we danced and made puppets until about 5am. I will be coming back through Vienna on my way back into Western Europe to meet Jo and Craig in December, so I’ll be able to hang out with my Viennese buddies again. Unfortunately, looking at the calendar, I’m wont have the time needed to do Iran and Turkey properly, so they might have to wait until after Christmas so I can concentrate on sketchy South Eastern Europe.

Now I'm in Berndorf hanging out with Clara's family, the same people I stayed with way back in July. Yesterday's ride from Vienna involved much of Friday night's Sturm pumping through my veins and it wasn't that pleasant. It's cool because this time around I get to meet her dad Paul, who is big on taking photos and has an impressive collection of lenses and various cool camera tech. He knows a lot about the areas where I’m planning to ride through and has already given me a few tips on what to see and do along the way. Last night, I went to a few bars in a near by village with Clara and a couple of her friends, where we pulled out some choice dance moves and pretended to be elderly deaf people. On the way, I got rather excited as I spied my first ever one of these out of the car window. Today I've been tooling about with computers, testing out Clara's 8 year old brother's new stereo system (which has a USB port for mp3s - some Beatles, Stones, Hendrix and Radiohead should start him off), flying a flight sim over Vienna, building hedgehog nests and drinking way too much coffee. Later this arvo there is a some Kleinbahn (model trains), action on the cards.

Tomorrow I'm going back to school to talk to a few different English classes about Australian life and my travels. If you have a suggestions of what I should talk about other than kangaroos, Vegemite and Chinese trains let me know.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

an experimental dish

Back in Vienna to grab my bike and say goodbye to the friends I've made in this fine town. Maybe they can help me drink the bottle of Slovak wine I brought back from Devin Castle. Last night I cooked an experimental dish of pumpkin, avocado and feta, which tasted fantastic. Never cooked such a dish before and I just added stuff that I thought sounded good. This is an approach to food which can yield varied results. This is one I'll repeat. Instructions on Flickr. This morning there is a few logistical things to do, like sorting out some accommodation in a few places, getting an idea of which roads to take and seeing which of the Eastern European borders I can cross on a bike and which ones I'll need to take a train through. However, I really have to start staying at places without internet so that I actually leave the house once in a while.

This weekend I have been invited back to Berndorf by the the family I stayed with in July. I've even been asked to give a talk about my travels at the local school. It's hard to say no to Austrian hospitality and minor celebrity status. I would have liked to have been in Budapest to see the protests and riots happening there, but getting my bike before heading too far east was more important than getting beaten up arrested by the Hungarian police. Although it would make for some cool photos. Maybe I'll jump a train (with the bike), and head to Budapest a little earlier than planned. Apparently Eastern European soccer hooligans (the scariest kind), hijacked the peaceful protests a few days ago and have started burning cars, looting shops and punching cops. Cue the water cannons, tear gas and "give me a job Getty Images" photo ops. At least it sounds a bit more interesting than what's happening with Thailand's pissweak coup.

Did anyone notice the fancy new header?

Monday, September 18, 2006

greeny blue


Only an hour away from Vienna, it is like catching a train from Adelaide to Gawler, but arriving in a place where there is a distinct differently culture, the people talk funny, there's more shitty old cars and the city centre has nice old buildings while the surrounding suburbs look a bit like slums. Hmmm... Perhaps that's not the best comparison. However, It was a little weird travelling such a small distance and being in a different country though, with a passport stamp and armed guards, while still seeing the wind turbines of Lower Austria.

Bratislava is a nice little city, where some interesting stuff has happened, but there isn't much here for the superficial tourist. As with any small place, as long as you have a local's perspective or insight, there is fun to be found. Adelaide is the same: "those balls and that tram to some beach. Then we got on a bus to a big rock". Brat's city centre is classic Euro tourism, but as soon as you leave the 2 square kilometres of cobblestones and Baroque architecture, the town is pretty much like any other city I've been in, albeit with a slight post-soviet touch here and there.

The best thing about a small city is that thanks to its compact nature, the back streets and hidden culdesacs just around the centre usually hold plenty of interesting things to be discovered. On the way to the castle, which I found my way to by accident, I discovered a cool old church close to the castle that looked like it hadn't been used for years. Around the walls of the castle are recent housing developments, with their balconies coming within close proximity to the tourist path. I can imagine the tourist brochure now: "Walk around the castle, see how real Slovaks live". There were also some places where the lights that had once lit the castle at night had very recently been relieved of duty. The castle itself isn't that amazing to look at, the Lonely Planet describes it as an upside down bed, but it does have half a dozen cool little museums to hide in while it's raining. I stumbled onto the Folk Music Museum, where I found out about Bratislava's musical history. The caretaker and I discussed the pros and cons of 80s music and whether or not she had got into Elan, the super band of the former Czechoslovakia. She said they were shit and preferred the more risque sounds Modern Talking from Germany. She then replaced the classic music seeping gently from the speakers with said German 80s band and cranked the volume. Gold. A nice view from the window too, with a warming sheep skin rug to sit on. After the rain had eased, I made my way down the hill where I passed a small church which I had seen earlier. I could hear Slovak hymns being sung from within, so I peered inside. I'm not a religious person, and I don't believe in a god, but entering this musty place with the beautiful voices singing something I could not understand had an immediate calming effect on me. The church itself was of the Orthodox variety, with a small onion dome and humble decor, and I got the impression for these people faith meant something more than just building the biggest thing they could scrape up the money for.

Yesterday, I ventured out to Devin Castle, which is on a hill near a bend in the Danube about 10km from the centre of Bratislava. There was the first annual Red Bull Kary (go-cart race), which is sort of like Slovakia's version of the Milk Carton Regatta, but with more money and less kids ingesting Patawalonga water. I get the imoression that Eastern Europe is Red Bull's playground. With its laxs public liability laws and cheap prices, the advertising peeps for the energy drink are able to fly planes through the middle of cities, strap guys to plastic wings and take over 900 year old castles in a single bound. The castle itself is in a nice spot, but some of the best parts were roped off for the VIP area, so I missed out on seeing those views. However, on the way back to the bus, I ventured into a cellardoor showroom for some home made wine, and ended up chatting to a guy who collected Swiss Army bikes and offered tours of the surrounding areas. He had posters of his hero, who rode 15,000km on a 50 year old bike and said that it was his dream to ride the same route across the Middle East and into Russia. I might be going back to Vienna, pick up my bike and ride the Iron Curtain tour the wine guy was talking about.

*Did you know that Red Bull is an Austrian company? yeah, me neither.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Time to leave Austria

Daham = local colloquialism for "Austria. My Home. My Castle"
Statt = Instead
Islam = you get the idea

The Austrian federal elections are happening in about three weeks and these posters have just started popping up at bus stops and car parks. This is the only poster for the FRO Party that doesn't feature the blue eyed, white teethed Führer smiling back at you. Apparently he's popular with the older ladies "oh, he's so handsome. I'd like my daughter to marry him" and all the 'good old days' set. My sign and signifier spidey sensors tell me that this guy is not to be trusted. But at least they're being honest about being bigots, unlike some of the slippery political fuckers back at home. Time to sit back and enjoy the wonders of uninformed consent democracy at work. Again.

In a few hours I jump on a train to Bratislava to spend a few days wondering around a city that until recently I thought was a country in its own right. Then next week I head to Budapest for a bit and then south to Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia. Doubt I'll see many of these posters down in that neck of the woods. In the first week of October, I'll return to Vienna briefly to pick up Frankenbike and trailer, and then I'll head east again, probably starting with the Democratic Republic of Bratislava.

My Leatherman broke the other day, so I've dropped it in to be repaired/replaced under its 25 year warranty. The guy said it would be ready today, but I'm still waiting for the phone call. I get the feeling I might be leaving home without it.

In other news, new TV on the Radio stuff is floating about the place. Haven't had a chance to give it a proper listen yet, but apparently one of the guys is producing the new Massive Attack album. Hmmm.. May make for an interesting mix.
If you're up for wasting some time (and bandwidth), check out Robot Chicken. These is another bunch of dodgy phone videos are up on the more fab things links page and I have recently acquired some super crazy camera tech lust.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

land of milk & honey

It's really weird hearing myself speak another language. Sure, I'm not that competent in German and if the usual Q&A involved in buying food at the supermarket deviates from the regular script I'm screwed. Ask anyone who's taken LSD and then attempts to buy a Mars Bar from the Hindley Street Servo at 3am and they'll know what I mean. But back here in Austria, I can follow some conversations (sorta), understand most adverts (kinda), and pronounce stuff correctly (maybe), without totally slaughtering the language (almost). There are times where I wished I had learnt another language when I was at school. It may have made this baptism of fire a lot less toasty. But I'm finding that I'm clinging onto the words I learn with more passion than could be found in the shitty schools I attended. This is thanks to the situation or challenges involved in adding that word to my vocabulary. Geez.. I can now say "hello/goodbye, yes/no, please/thankyou, Cheers!" in six languages. What frustrates me is 90% of the people I'm meeting speak reasonable to excellent English, so there's really no pressure for me to learn new words.

However, today I was talking to a friend, retelling my stomach troubles from a couple of years ago and some of the more amusing arse situations that have reared (ha!) their ugly heads while I've been travelling and I was reminded of just how lucky I have it here in Austria. This subject came up after posting 20 Euros to Porvoo for a forgotten medical bill, which was acquired (thankfully indirectly), via a large lubed up hose and an attractive but severe Finnish nurse ("so when was the last time you.. err... make a shit?"), who assured me it would all be over real soon.

In China, there was the great laxative hunt, which included such classic moments as me miming to the chemist that I couldn't poop (pointing to my bum and then making a cross with my arms), and that I needed something that would make me poop (miming the taking of a pill, pointing at an imaginary watch then miming the blast from behind). Once the message had crossed the cultural divide, she handed me a box covered with Chinese Kanji and again I made the "taking a pill" mime. She started laughing at me, shaking her head and made it very clear that it wasn't to be taken orally. Oh ok. Xie xie. I tried the tea, but that didn't shift it.

In Russia, I tried the same mime I used in China at a chemist (aпteka), only to be scowled at by some nasty looking babushka. пpobaлиbaй. Not to be fazed by this hurdle and to get to the bottom (ha!) of my issue, I went to a book shop, found a Russian-English dictionary and carefully wrote down the Russian word for laxative (cЛaбйteльнoe cpeдctbo), on a piece of paper. I went to a different chemist, handed the younger, embarrassingly attractive clerk my piece of paper (to which she answered in English: "oh, so you are having trouble going to the toilet?"), and walked out safe in the knowledge that relief was almost at hand. Cпacиbo. Looking back, I was in discomfort for most of April and May thanks to my lockdown, but because it was my arse that had the issue (sounds familiar?), it had a humorous edge to it which lacked the severity of a stingray barb through the heart or a baby with cancer.

Anyway, the person I was telling this to (who speaks decent Russian and has just quit her job as a nurse), said that the best cure for constipation is a milk and honey enema. This, as you could imagine, came as a surprise to me and I quizzed her on its effectiveness. She then told me about a woman who reported to hospital with chronic lockdown, had vomited poo a couple of times (yes, that really happens), and was on the verge of surgery to remove the blockage. About an hour before the operation was to take place, the nurses in her ward took it upon themselves to give the milk/honey/tube technique a go. They handed the tools to the new girl and got her to perform the procedure and within 5 minutes the lockdown lady was sitting on the toilet enjoying her first bowel motion in nearly a month.

Moral of the story: No matter what language it is, I'm still talking shit. And even when I present something as comforting as milk and honey, some people will just tell me to stick it up my arse anyway.

An amusing, non-poo related appendix to this story is that "Rad" in German slang means "bike". So it gives me great pleasure to present to you a new improved version of Radz on a Rad. True power needs no translation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sketch Republik

Ok.. so I’m back in Vienna, and I have accumulated a few stories since the last post. But you know, if you're so busy travelling that you can't write blog entries, it isn't such a bad thing. And seeing that my after dinner coffee has kept me awake all night, here’s a few highlights from the last week.

Untold stories of Prague

On my first night in town (Friday), Martine and I drank quite a bit, had our faces painted and walked across Charles Bridge, abusing educating some other tourists on which statue to rub and how to rub them. On the other side of the bridge, we walked through an open air photography exibition (proving that any photo printed really big looks good),
ending up at a large walk-on map of the world. Skidding across it in my socks, I remember freaking out on how far I have travelled and that I'm a long way from home.

On Saturday night we went out with Thomas and Barbara, and got very, very, drunk. If there is one thing I learnt on this evening, it was Beckerovka depth charges in Pilsner beer can be an iffy combination.

On Tuesday night, Martine and I went to see Pink Floyd The Wall. I last saw this movie when I was a kid, so all the "I’m a post-war British rock superstar with an
absent father and a serious Oedipus complex, who blames women for all the evil in the world" bullshit had gone over my head. You know, the bit where mankind keeps getting tricked by the sticky web of femineity and all that nonsense. Although it was good to see a 1983 Bob Hoskins dressed like a pimp and the Pro Hart carpet was cool, but it was a little scary seeing Bob Geldof working with strong Nazi imagery. The movie did have some stingingly poignant references to redhead ex-girlfriends, but you know, I'm not about to shave my eyebrows off and swim in a pool of blood.

On Wednesday night, I was Martine’s date to her farewell dinner hosted by Alice (one of her colleagues who lives in Prague) at her apartment. Alice is half-Czech, half Native American, so as you can imagine, she has an interesting perspective on the world. When she heard that I'm a bit of a petrol head, she showed me her Mercedes 500SEC Coupe with the pride of a mother showing off her children's piano skills. "I can drive across Germany on one tank of gas, but in the city, she’s just a hog". Her partner (Ebor), had written a couple of books (one of them is about growing dope, but he doesn’t smoke it) but more on this later. Chris (a colleague of Martine and Alice), and his Czech neighbour Lenka also joined us. We ate tasty food and had some in depth political discussions. I presented my theory on the correlation between a nation’s car and the nation’s persona. I’ll explain this idea in a later blog once I work out how not to over generalise a country’s persona to the point of being derogative and racist. It was interesting to see how Chris (American) and Alice (Czech/American) disagreed with each other on so many things, but in a fun, playfully racist way. Pleaze correct my speeling of people's names if thay ah rong.

On Thursday, I went to the station to catch the bus to Kutna Hora to check out the Kostnice Ossuary (bone church), but I missed the bus by about five minutes and the next one wasn’t for another two hours. When I figured out that I would have only half an hour in Kutna Hora, I headed back in to town and got off at a couple of random metro stations to take photos, and then picked up where I left off on the Nissan 350z tour. After finding the Australian store (where they sell Vegemite for 100kr a jar), a gun store ($80 AUD for a 9mm Beretta, one owner), and a bike store (where I picked up a pair of decent clip in pedals for a third of the Austrian price - [I'm writing about bike tech. I can feel the Ianto within]), I got as far as the first U-turn near the Dancing building and stopped. I found an abandoned building with an open door. I entered the building and found evidence of active squats in many of the rooms. Rubbish and kibble strewn everywhere, the place was (and probably still is), a complete mess. I walked up the stairs and found my way to the top two floors, which appeared to have been damaged by a recent fire. I climbed up the final flight of stairs and found an attic, with a stone floor and mounds of bird shit everywhere. In the corner closest to the entrance, someone’s entire art portfolio was spread out over a large area, as if found at bus stop and brought back to this lair for a quick search for anything of value. I heard some footsteps from the floor below and came out of the attic to see a shirtless man standing at the bottom of my only exit. After exchanging a few words, we worked out what each other’s names were, where we were both from and why we were in this building. Roman, originally from Hungary, had come to Prague for a bit of tourism, but ended up saving his money and finding a squat. He indicated that he did not take drugs himself, but asked me if I was in the building to shoot up by way of slapping his arm and pointing at me. This could have been him asking for some or me if I wanted smack, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I used a couple of the Hungarian words I had learnt at Sziget, he smiled and returned to his room. I went back into the attic to take a few more photos, and Roman (now with a shirt), entered the room and casually leant on the doorframe. I felt a tiny bit unsafe, as no one else knew where I was, but I figured whatever bad stuff that could happen would either leave me dead or build character. I donated a bit more of my doubt to Roman, acknowledged his presence (the nod seems to work in all countries), and kept taking photos. Once I wa satisfied with my shots, I exited the now empty doorway and climbed down the stairs. Roman came out of his room and invited me in. I accepted and ventured in after him, checking behind doors to make sure I wasn’t being ambushed by some needle-wielding fiend. All was ok and Roman and I gesticulated chatted about how he had found the place and showed me his sleeping area. He let me take a couple of photos of him and his surrounds, and I tried to venture out onto the balcony but it was blocked off. I declined his offer of a bag of dope that he had filled with the left overs of a previous tenant
collected off the floor, thanked him again (in Hungarian, English and German), and left. This place wasn’t in any guide book and will probably be developed into ritzy apartments after the insurance money for the burnt floors comes in, but it did make up for not seeing the bone church. Thom Yorke's new solo album The Eraser, was my soundtrack for the day and is totally worth a listen or ten if you're a fan of Radiohead. Let's hope he doesn't go breaking up the band like Billy Corgan did with Smashing Pumpkins (James Iha's solo stuff was shit and doesn't count).

Dirndl Party – Vienna

One of the reasons for coming back to Vienna earlier than planned was to go to Petra and Verena’s joint 25th birthday party. About a month ago they were in the early stages of planning it the party, and they couldn’t think of a theme but they knew they wanted one. I suggested a traditional Austrian dress party, with Dirndls, Lederhosen and Austrian food. Surprisingly the girls thought it was a super idea and got right into planning the party. When I returned from Prague on Friday, I collected my costume from Thomas and we made our way to the party in full dress, attracting a few wtf? looks as we got on the bus. When we got there, we found a huge spread of Austrian foods (Speck Brot, Weiner stew, pig fat on bread), and a whole lot of Austrians wearing their Sunday best. You see in Austria, if someone has a traditional wedding, it is expected that you turn up in traditional dress. These occasions are looked on as being a bit daggy, but it means that almost everyone has a pair of Lederhosen or a Dirndl laying around waiting for just such an occasion. Anita’s bright orange hippy dirndl was rather popular, and my contemporary-traditional (neoclassical anyone?), Austrian all leather suit went down a treat. Homemade Sturm (an Austrian drink made from Most and wine), was on offer. This batch was particularly tasty as it had come from the cellar of one of the birthday girl’s dad. Some mango schnapps made its way into my hand and the night got a little hazy. The magical music box had operators sympathetic to the lone Australian in the audience, and AC/DC, Men at Work and The Vines got a spin. I lost my voice
yelling singing Thunderstruck with an Austrian guy who loves Acka Dacka. After the song, I taught him the phrase spitting chips as a term to describe his missing out on seeing AC/DC play in Germany 2 years ago and we celebrated this cultural exchange by dancing around like Angus Young for about ten minutes. Fun was had by all, with most of the guests making there way to IckeMicke for a spot of early morning bopping. When I bumped into Petra in the street the next day, she looked a bit shabby and said that she now felt 25. I suggested that this feeling would wear off once the hangover was gone.

Yesterday I went to the zoo and this evening I attended a dinner party held by people I met when I had my first random dinner party here in Vienna. It was cool, but that story can wait becasue I'm tired. More on the Sketch Republik soon as well.

Oh... and Martine: No Ferals.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My creation.... It's ready!

A quick little post to let you know I have put together a separate links page, called more fab things. There you'll find a list of the people I've met during my travels. If we've met and you're not on the list, email me, because I lost my notebook with all my addresses in it. There's also a couple of videos I've put together, a list of places I've visited (soonish) and a few Australian related links for the non-Aussies.

Peter Brock
Steve Irwin
Colin Thiele
more adventures soon..

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

flying crapper

Saturday night, Martine and I met up with Thomas and Barbara for some dinner and a few quiet drinks. Thomas brought along his Czech mate Kristov (the best Austrian accent of any Czech I’m ever likely to meet), who made sure these drinks were kept at a fun volume. We ate our food and found our way to a pub, where we had a few beers, learnt about the importance of never being a Honza and discovered that Becherovka can cause temporary amnesia. When it came time to leave, I retrieved my offsider from the loos and payed our bill (or at least I think we did). Somehow we made it back to the flat, taking little breaks along the way to rest our weary legs and deliver some street pizza. We got back to the flat, I sorted out Martine for some water and a bucket and left her to pass out fall asleep in her bed. I returned to the kitchen to drink some water, and was suddenly presented with a large pool of vomit on the kitchen bench and in the sink. After inspecting the contents (yep. Chicken), I concluded it was mine and cleaned it up the best I could, placing the incriminating towel in the washing machine. Sunday morning arrived and through half joke, half embarrassment, half sketchiness (yes, three halves), I softly break it to Martine that she had made a mischief in the kitchen, but she wasn’t to worry because I had cleaned it up for her. As I honestly couldn’t remember the vomiting part, I was partly convinced that I had imagined the whole thing. Only after wanting to share my confusion of how the vomit had magically appeared (and finding an AWOL chunk of partially digested chicken under the toaster), did I spill the beans and tell her it was mine. It reminded me of one of my sister’s story where she couldn’t work out why a Korean taxi driver was yelling at her, while simultaneously being confused about why a fresh pool of vomit was sloshing around her feet in rear foot well of his cab.

After cleaning up a little, Martine and I had a bit of lunch (humble pie I think), then ventured up to Prague Castle to do what all the tourists do. We followed around some "sketchy" walking photo opportunities and found ourselves at the base of St Vitus Cathedral, the huge gothic church towering over the whole of Prague. We watched some medieval dancing, but as it had begun to rain, we headed for cover through a door at the side of the church in an effort to stay dry. We entered a space devoid of tourists and found the entrance to a stone spiral staircase leading upwards. In blind curiosity, we climbed the stairs to see what they led to. After about 5 minutes of climbing, we came across a belfry with the bell attendants standing around having a chat about what’s new in bell technology. Not speaking any English, they gestured to us to climb a small ladder to get a better view of outside. We peered out onto the courtyard below, to see all the sketchys had dispersed, making way for the rain. After taking a couple of photos, we climbed down the ladder, thanked the attendants and returned to the spiral staircase to find out what was at the top. After another bit of climbing we discovered a deserted observation area, which gave us some kick-arse 360 degree views of Prague. From there we could see all of the old city, the famous bridges, people driving home on the motorway and if we squinted, the rough outline of Martine’s building. We congratulated ourselves at the genius that was our discovery of the secret observation area. Then the lights to the stairwell flickered out.


We found a switch, providing light to the pitch-black stairwell and we descended. The belfry office was now locked and the attendants were nowhere to be seen. Hmmm… We continued down the stairs only to greeted by a locked cast iron cage gate. Shit. From what we could hear, the only activity in the church was the old building creaking in the wind. Our shouts of “POMOTS” (am I pronouncing this right Martine?), and “HELP” went unanswered with no one coming to our aid. Everyone had gone home and we were stuck inside the church alone. I sensed Martine’s panic and made a few cracks about drinking our own urine and how it was shame we didn’t have any cards to pass the time. Martine gave a nervous laugh. My training in China and Russia has given me the perception that all travel companions freak out, yell and eventually hyperventilate when faced with simple problems like eating or catching public transport. Now that we were faced with an actual problem, I thought a major breakdown was at hand. Feeling the spirit of MacGuyver flowing through me and not wanting to look useless, I started to have a go at the lock with Martine’s house keys. While I busied myself with the impossible, Martine SMSed a few people in Prague letting them know of our predicament, in the hope they could get in contact with the cathedral’s security. I suggested we call the police ourselves, and through much excitement initiated our first 112 international emergency number phone call. Being way more grown up than me, Martine did the talking and after an amusing conversation with the operator (We’re stuck in St Vitus Cathedral…. It’s the big church near Prague castle. Church? Cathedral? You know.. Religion and stuff.. No we can’t meet them at the front entrance, we’re lock… ok bye.), and five minutes (which felt like hours), we could hear people fussing about inside the main part of the church. We cried out our well rehearsed “POMOTS” and two flustered looking groundskeepers and a giant police officer burst through a near by door and gave us the ‘you’ve greatly inconvenienced us. We should leave you in there’ look. They freed us from our stairwell prison and the two groundskeepers started yelling at one other in Czech, probably about whose responsibility it was to check for stray tourists before they locked up. The police officer just smiled, took us to one side and asked for IDs. We handed over our passports, he pulled out his notebook and pen and for about ten seconds Martine and I thought we were about to cause a bit of a diplomatic incident. After deciding we weren’t terrorists and just a couple of dumb tourists, he put his notebook away without writing anything down, returned our passports and gestured us to the outside world.


As we ventured down the hill away from our adventure, we worked out that we were only trapped for about 30 minutes. Martine SMSed the people we alerted earlier, letting them know we had made parole quicker than expected. Talking about it later in a café, we confessed that we both kinda knew we weren’t supposed to go where we did. But because we’re tourists, we could chalk up our minor act of trespassing as an innocent misunderstanding. Thank fuck we had a mobile phone with us, as we probably would have spent the night there.

Yesterday I checked out the Museum of Communism. These guys are really down on everything vaguely to do with socialism. Even Marx cops a fair bit of flak. Today I’m going to follow this route around Prague, albeit a little slower. I know it's a pissy copy of this route, but you know, you got to take what you're given. Then tonight Martine and I head down to Prague island for a bit of outdoor cinema where we’ll watch Pink Floyd The Wall. From what I remember, it’s Yellow Submarine but with more LSD and dogma.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

outside the apartment

Sorry for the last thesis-like post. As you could imagine, I've had a few things on my mind lately.

After driving the 300-something-km from Vienna and getting a stamp in "Hate", I arrived in Prague on Friday evening and met up with Adelaide celebrity Martine. After the hugs and obligitory exchanges of "mate", we dumped my stuff at her place and proceeded to closest drinking establishment post haste. We discussed the pleasantries of genocide and A-town gossip, and after about 30 minutes Martine finally addressed the white elephant sitting opposite us:

Martine: So.. How was your week?
Dan: Three beers please.. Sorry. Did you want anything?

By the end of the night our conversations consisted only of the words "yeah. nah. fuckin." with both of us enjoying our hammed up pretend Australian drawl. There was a few moments of weirdness at the place we were at.
  • A little dog with a manky leg, who bit Martine and growled at me when I tried to help it jump off the seat
  • The British guys with their bizarre homoerotic punching game who got kicked out 5 minutes after we escaped to the back room
  • The Iggy Pop of Prague who painted on Martine's face and then asked us to paint on his
  • The Czech girl who invited us to her 21st birthday through some convoluted theory on premature menopause (what is it when your periods stop?)
Martine has been good value. Not only has she offered an ear for my troubles, but I haven't had to stop and explain what a TAB, Minda, checkout chicks or "The Hills" is/are every five minutes. It's also good to have someone around to say: "here, look. I did write it."

In other news, this is cool and so is this.