Thursday, 25 June 2009

Day 311 (Jun 24) - Europe so far

I've now been in Europe for 17 days (wow, already?) and I've only seen 3 countries. Hmm... good/bad?

Anyway, I've had a blast.

I arrived in London and was almost turned around and sent on the next flight back to Canada as I'd stupidly put the address of the place I was staying in my main luggage, assuming that I'd pick that up before coming through customs. Oh dear. Anyway I just smiled and the woman saw that I wasn't some fool (I was dressed ok, and looked good) and reluctantly let me into the country.

I then made my way to Bayswater to the hostel I'd been told about. It was my first hostel experience so was an eye opener. Ridiculously uncomfortable beds (springs poking into your back) plus putting up with loud breathers and tossers and turners! I'm normally an excellent sleeper but just couldn't at the hostel so decided at 4:30am to go for a run. Headed out and ran in a random direction. Ended up running down Portobello Road in Notting Hill.
Returning to the hostel I made breakfast, checked out and headed off to sight see and to book a bus to Stanstead airport for my 6am flight to Prague the following day.
Walked around all day and checked most of the boxes (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Southbank, London Eye). Then did Picadilly Circus. MAN IS LONDON EXPENSIVE!!! A coffee costs 3 pound in some places!!
I'd decided to save on accommodation and not book a 2nd night and just head straight to the airport. I headed to Stanstead at around 1am arriving there at 2am, then waited until 5am to check in. Needless to say it was a sleepless night.

Leila had booked a hostel for herself and had been there 1 night already, so I arrived to find her sitting at a computer. It was great to see her, even if it'd only been a few months since we'd caught up in Canada.
Did lots of walking around, getting lost as I think most people do in Prague their first time. It really is spectacular, especially as an Australian, to see so many old buildings. Everywhere.
I also went for a run, heading south down the Vltava river. It was nice, but I ended up crossing it and headed into a slightly industrial area, and was running along a road breathing car fumes. Turns out I should have headed into the parklands up near/towards the castle.
As we had until the 17th before our Auntie and cousins arrived we decided to hit up Budapest for a few days.

Here we stayed at a great small hostel called "Budget Hostel". Leila was happy to hear an Aussie accent on the other side of the intecom when we buzzed it, and we felt immediately at home when we walked in. Only 2 dorms one for 8 people, one for 6. We hadn't booked but were lucky enough to be able to get some beds for the nights we needed.
I woke early the first morning and set out to explore the local area. I found where we were much easier to navigate than Prague, and immediately got my bearings. Heading back to the hostel (at 5:30am) I then saw some other foreigners waiting outside a building for the supermarket to open. I waited with them and headed in. Turns out the building was Központi Vásárcsarnok, or "Great Market Hall". Much like the Queen Victoria Market back home in Melbourne. Being there when it first opened was lovely as there were very few people. After a quick explore I headed downstairs to the super market and picked up some breakfasty things.

Budapest we found to be more beautiful than Prague. I'd less westernised I guess, so felt less familiar, which for me is a positive thing. Again being cheap tourists we roamed around mostly on foot, but caught the odd tram. A bit of caving and partying and an overnight rave on Sziget island.

Prague take 2
Coming back to Prague to meet family was a delight. It's so great to catch up with close family and just settle back in to where we'd left it 2 years ago. After 2 nights in a nice hotel (kindly paid for by my Auntie) the 4 young ones booked an apartment for 4 nights after she left. This turned into a great pad to base ourselves for our 2nd Prague experience. It was the top floor of a building so had a pretty good view (if a little obscured by rooftops, wires, satellite dishes etc.) of the Castle across the river.
A fair bit of hanging out at the apartment was done just to catch up with family.

So now tomorrow we're off to London for the AC/DC concert on Friday night, then hitting Paris to meet Arif again before he returns home. Then Lyon for a gathering of 8 or 9 Aussies, then chasing Le Tour.

That is all.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Day 239 (Apr 13) - Spring in Vancouver

I've begun to see why Vancouver (and most of BC) is so popular during Spring/Summer. Wow is it beautiful! Just returned from a casual cycle down to UBC and back, along the beach. So many people out (despite it being a Monday). I especially noticed the lovely young ladies out running. Mmmmm!
Every sunny day in Vancouver is relished by all residents. Probably because during winter it's cloudy, and often rainy. The "vibe" is so infectious it's hard not to be caught up in it.

It's made me slightly sad that I'll be missing all of summer here (well most of it).
My plans are closer to being finalised. I'm fairly sure I'll only head to Europe for June/July and return here in August. With the job market so difficult to infiltrate (especially as a foreigner in any country) and the whole "not what you know but who you know" thing, I feel safer earning money here in Vancouver, than in Europe. Plus it's a lovely place to be. Plus I'd love to get more skiing action (only been up for 7 or 8 days this season).

All I need to do now is book a European airfare, and work out where I'll be sleeping when Marcus (the guy who's room I'm currently staying in) returns to reclaim his space in mid-May. I'll have 3 weeks between the time he returns to when I leave the country. Any Vancouverites have a spare couch?

That is all.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Day 196 (Feb 28) - Almost 29 years old

So, it's been almost 200 days since I left Australia. Really? Wow! More than 6 months.
Here I am in Vancouver, 3 weeks of retail work under my belt, found a place to live, have a bike. I'm really "living" here now.

Vancouver is a great town, though after being through India and a little bit of Asia, it's no-where near as exciting (though skiing here is amazing!). It's just so... "western". I guess being a westerner means it's so much like home that it's not mind blowing. Still the people are ridiculously friendly, and I've met many of them. So much like friends back home that home sickness seems like it's never going to come. Dad and my sister are coming on the 8th of March for 10 days. Maybe after they leave it'll kick in. Maybe.

So, it's 2 weeks until I'm 29. Oh no! Almost 30. I'm not really as concerned as I thought I'd be. Perhaps being on "holiday" helps. Hmmm.  Anyway, nothing too exciting to report, so.
That is all

Friday, 30 January 2009

Day 165 (Jan 29) - Canada

Well, I've passed through Taiwan, and am now in Canada, hunting for jobs.

Passing through Taiwan after Thailand I arrived at Vancouver International Airpot, and headed straight to Whistler, staying with a friend of a friend.
After 3 nights there I soon discovered that my dream of living/working up at Whistler would be near to impossible (no jobs, and next to no accommodation available).

So, I shifted down to Vancouver.

I've been job hunting from the day I arrived. I've even applied for 2 retail job (I've NEVER done retail in my life!) but the job market is hard with this world economic crisis and all. Finding a "proper" job (i.e. software geekiness) is difficult. I've been told that Canada (and most other countries I'm guessing) is only hiring locals. I've sent off more than 10 applications, and have only had a few responses. I unfortunately turned one short term job down, before I realised how hard it would be. Oh well.

I've been hired for one of the retail positions, which is a relief, as I at least have some (low!) income.

I've also found a place to stay, in a great area of Vancouver (Kitsilano, or Kits as it's known locally) with a fun bunch of people. It's near to where I'll be working initially too, which is obviously handy

Right now, I'm spending 10 or so days in Saskatchewan between Regina and Saskatoon visiting family (3 of whom I haven't seen in 11 years). It's fantastic to see blood relatives for the first time in 5 months (since I left Australia). It's said often, but it's amazing how you can just slot right in with family, helping in the kitchen, helping cousins with homework etc.

That is all

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Day 128 (Dec 24) - Bangkok vs. Bombay

So here I am in Bangkok, 5 days after arriving. I'd intended to get out of the big smoke as soon as possible, but a couple of friends are here, and I was convinced by one friend (Sally) to visit an inmate in Bangkwang prison on Tuesday (yesterday) morning so I stuck around for that, and here I am, still wandering the streets.
On arrival in Bangkok I suddenly thought "wow, look at how organised this place is!". Meeting a number of tourists here and them saying the opposite ("the traffic is so crazy!") I find myself having to hold back from saying "this is nothing compared to India". The truth is it really is nothing compared to India.
India feels like absolute chaos. The crowded trains (both metro and long distance trains). The roads (lanes are completely irrelevant). The people physically pushing their way past you, with their hands on your shoulder or back.
Sure, in Bangkok there are a lot of people but they organise themselves so much better. Cars tend to stick to their lanes for the most part. People aren't touching each other, even in crowded places.

The best example of the Bombay (or India really) vs. Bangkok contrast is the metro trains.
India: getting on a train here is like playing a contact sport. You literally have to force your way on, as there will be 50 or 60 people trying to get into that same door. You have to use all of your strength to get through, otherwise you'll be left on the platform. Because of the number of people trying to get on, you can't wait for people to get off he carriage as nobody else waits, so it's a matter of throwing yourself into the throng with all your might.
Bangkok: the trains (well the BTS Skytrain anyway) arrive at the platform with the doors always at the same spot. That spot is marked with arrows. Two arrows in the centre point away from the door and there are two sets of diagonal arrows pointing towards the door on either side of the centre two pointing towards the door. People on the platform stand out of the way of the door, leaving space on the centre arrows for the passengers to disembark. After everyone's off, then they calmly embark, in an extremely organised fashion.

Hence I've had to hold my tounge often when meeting tourists here and them saying "This place is so crazy!".
I think I've also bored Sally, Steve, Matt and Nathan with my comments starting with the sentence "When I was in India...". I'm sure those 5 words have left my mouth a dozen or more times a day!

After a few days in Bangkok I've gotten over my "This place is nothing on India" and have started to see it for it's own charms. And besides, in many ways it actually has a lot that reminds me on Bombay. A big bussling city with a large contrast in what you can do. The Zen department store in Bangkok is more upmarket (and expensive) than anything in Australia that I've ever seen. There's another shopping complex where there's a Lamborghini dealership on one of the floors, with 6 or 7 cars inside. But at the same time you can get incredibly delicious and cheap food on the side of the road outside of these areas. In this way Bombay and Bangkok are remarkably similar, and it's part of the charm that attracts me to both cities with that variety.

I'm off tomorrow to a beach (Koh Samet perhaps) then back to Bangkok to hitchhike to Koh Phangan for New Years Eve. That should be interesting!

That is all.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Day 124 (19 Dec) - thoughts on India

Wow, so I finally left India. My last stop was Hampi, after a truely incredible time in Mumbai after having found my ancestors' homes in Tarsai, Gujarat. Mumbai was never on the plan, but after meeting Shirley (in Pushkar) and Satish (in the middle of the desert in Rajasthan) both from Mumbai, I was convinced. I spent 3 days/nights there absorbing the atmosphere. It was a place I can honestly see myself living. What a town!
Lots of Mumbai stories, and how I met Satish, and how he and Shirley knew each other, even if they didn't know that they did (before I introduced them).
After Mumbai was Hampi. Beautiful scenery etc. but I did get a little bored there in my 3 days.
From Hampi it was a 10 hour train ride, a 3 hour bus, then 7 hours at the airport in Chennai (I had my big bag with me so sightseeing Chennai for a 2nd time didn't appeal) all to catch a 3 hour plane to Bangkok!
More on India: It's such an incredible country. As Austin mentioned numerous times "anything is possible". It really is. I'm thinking of getting the Indian Tourism board to modify their slogan slightly. from "!ncredible India" to "Fucking !ncredible India".
The amount to see, the food, the people. And the cost, don't forget the cost. I was there for 4 months, and I spent $6,000 (Australian dollars). I can't think of too many places that you can stay that long, and spend so little. And I didn't even see half of the country!
The lifestyle of the middle class in India is, I think, beyond par anywhere in the world. Your milk is delivered each morning. You have a maid to clean your house, EVERY day. Going out (auto-rickshaws/taxis/food) is crazy cheap. Holidays within India are stupidly cheap (Rs 300 for a sleeper class train ride halfway across the country, then Rs 300 or less per night for a hotel!). And you have all this on your doorstep to explore. I'd love to live there for a while at some stage in my life. India, you'll be seeing this little Aussie again, that's for sure.
As you may have read on Twitter I was having such an incredible time. I was seriously contemplating changing all my plans for a 3rd time to stick around but I do need to start earning some money at some stage, and the ski season is almost over, so here I am on my way to Canada, via Thailand and Taiwan.
I met up with an old friend (Dom for those that know him) when I arrived this morning at 6am, and crashed on his bed after 2 nights of very little sleep. Tonight I'm seeing Sally, one of Leila's school friends, who's living here. I think Bangkok needs to be seen with a local, being a big city an all. And the area Dom and I are staying is SOOOO touristy it's kind of suffocating. Will be nice to have someone local(ish) to take me somewhere. Tomorrow is a Flickr meetup, so I'll tag onto that.
Hope you're all having a fun holiday season, where ever in the world you may be.
That is all.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Day 111 (Dec 7) - catchup

Forgive me Blog, for I have sinned. It's been 31 days since my last post.
(get it? pretending to give confession? no? ok, forget about it...)
So in the past month what has happened? If you've been following on Twitter you'll have some idea of what I've done/where I've been.

* arrived in Pushkar to meet 70 other couchsurfers from India and abroad, including Jaiprakash (JP) who I'd met in Kolkata 2 months earlier, and who'd invited me to come to Pushkar, and Rajasthan with him.
* participated in the Inaugural International Pushkar Fair Kabaddi match (as captain too!)
* interviewed on Rajasthani television after the match, and my photo appeared in two local newspapers
* travelled to Jaisalmer with JP and Austin (from Canada) on a bus with no windscreen, and almost misplaced a fellow passenger on route (unrelated to the missing windscreen)
* did a camel safari in Jaisalmer
* was spotted by an Australian friend who happened to be in Jaisalmer at the same time (neither of us knew each other would be in India)
* Jodhpur (saw the palace and a few other things)
* an overnight sleeper bus to Uidaipur on the bumpiest bus ride of my life. The window opposite us didn't close so Austin and I had to huddle together for warmth.
* Ahmedabad with Austin. Took in two ICL World Series matches (World vs. Bangaladesh, and India vs. Pakistan), and did an Auto-rickshaw tour. See my upcoming photos for more information
* Couchsurfed with Austin in Bhavnagar, and took in Alang, the ship destroying town. This was pretty incredible, as there are shops as you head towards the ocean, selling anything/everything from the ships. CD players, telephones, life jackets, glass, wood, generators, furniture, you-name-it.
* Palitana for the famous Jain temples on the hilltop. On the hike up (2 hours) met a couple from Delhi, who informed us of the Mumbai attack. Austin and I had tickets for the Live Earth concert on the 7th December, so we were planning to head there on the 3rd or 4th
* Palitana to Rapar/Lilpur to couchsurf again, and see Dholavira (a 4500 year old city)
* drunk "apple juice" (Austin's pseudonym for whiskey) in the dry (i.e. no alcohol) state of Gujarat on the highway passing through the salt plans of the Rann of Kutch.
* Headed to Bhuj (again) with Austin to do some family research (find my great grandfather's home)
* To Porbandar (where the Mumbai attackers boarded the fishing boat) which is 50km from Tarsai, my great-grandfather's village.
* took a taxi to Tarsai, and found (after much trouble finding an English speaker, and many phone calls to Janak in Bhavnagar to translate!) the homes of Tayob (my great-grandfather) and his brothers too.

Now I'm off to Mumbai for a brief 12 hour stopover before making my way to Hampi, then to Chennai on the 18th for my flight out of this terror prone country, to Thailand, another country in turmoil! I've picked them well!

That is all