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Europe 2007

Prologue: I found myself  finishing off a rather incomplete story about my time in Europe last year on my MySpace profile and decided to reporduce it here. I might revisit it later to put in some more links, maybe some photos, and maybe some more details. The trip ended more than six months ago – about bloody time this was done!

I had a vague idea to live in Europe for a year or so. I don’t really know for how long, or what I’d do, or where I’d be: so much unknown, so little actually planned!

Leaving Sydney on Monday 9 July 2007, I passed through Vietnam and Paris on the way to Rome, went to Venice on the way to Rototom Sunsplash and later ended up in Bavaria, Germany. And now: ich bin Berliner! Well, I was for a couple of weekends. Went to Hamburg for a day to visit a CouchSurfer on my way to Denmark. Spent a week or so in Ringsted then caught the night train to Munich to visit friends met in Sydney. Stayed just over a week then got a ride in a BMW to Cologne, nearby to Essen where I went to the Love Parade (Sat 25/Aug/2007). After a few more days in Cologne I took a bus to Amsterdam.

There was an opportunity to meet the Funcken brothers (of Funckarma) at a small festival in a forest in Souest, about an hour from Amsterdam, but I had some last minute plans to make for going to Portugal, and spent too long researching my options, making bookings etc to make it.

Instead of the forest festival, I caught a party in the catacombs beneath a church in the city, which was pretty good (though could seriously do with more ventilation).

Leaving Amsterdam I was 5-10 minutes late for checkin at the airport – bad news! There was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth, flights were rebooked – with a small window to transfer in London – and of course the flight in to London was then 15 minutes late to land, causing near-exponential panic at the prospect of then missing checkin for the not-really-connecting flight to Faro, especially as I had to go through customs, collect bags and go back through security!

Miraculously, my bag was one of the first few out on the carousel, and I’d spoken to a guy at one of the luggage desks who’d called ahead to the checkin desk – they said they couldn’t hold checkin open, even if they knew I was coming, but the guy encouraged me to run, and I did make it. Just.

The weekend after arriving in London I went to Waveform Project, a festival in Exeter, a few hundred km west-ish of London. MegaTrain advance-booking tickets were about 13 punds each way, but missing the return train meant buying a ticket back to London on the day, at a ludicrous price close to 70 pounds. You’d think after the fiasco with flights from Amsterdam to Portugal I’d have learned my lesson, but I didn’t know just how vicious train pricing is. I’ll know next time!

After that, nothing much doing in London for a couple of months. Apparently September is the worst time of year to be house hunting, as all the uni students descend on all available forms of housing at any sort of reasonable (escalating to unreasonable) price. I heard that people would grab the Loot newspaper around 1am or something when it was delivered to newsagents, etc, and start making calls early in the morning, or people checking Gumtree all day at work with places being taken within half an hour or so of ads being posted. Crazy

I went to Denmark again, this time to celebrate my mate’s 30th birthday. Now, according to tradition, if a man turns 30 before he is wed, then a pepper grinder is placed out the front of his house. I think it has something to do with saying that people might be allergic to him or something like sneezing from pepper. In any case, there was a story of a ‘pepper grinder’ so big that it had a car sitting on top of it, and my mate was worried as to what monstrosity was going to be out the front of his flat on the big day… No pepper grinder, but his mates “found” a caravan, which they tastefully decorated and parked out the front. (Note: tastefully, where that might not imply good taste, and somehow accidentally with flat tyres.) Much fun was had by all. I think. I’m not sure, I don’t remember some of it. The Danes do like to drink, and who was I to say no?

With the cold weather closing in, job hunting not started and being frustrated by the housing market, it became glaringly obvious that going back to Sydney for warm weather, friends, Christmas, and a bit of a general regroup and further preparation was A Really Good Idea. One of the original ideas about going to Europe was to be settled in before winter: I’m not a massive fan of hot weather, but I really don’t like the cold! And so the next available flight back to Sydney was booked. That was a good three weeks away, so I had to wait.

Then came some exciting news – an offer to put on visuals for one of the warm up acts at an Amon Tobin gig. Woah! Hang on a second… that date… is the day before my flight out of here. Argh! Call the airline… “When is the next available flight after the one I have booked?” – Another week away. Er, I think I’ve had enough of London now, so write to the artist, asking how serious this is. The recommendation was to keep my travel plans, which is what I did. The next couple of days drove me crazy wondering what might have come of such a gig, supposing it went through, and had to stop thinking about it. The decision was made. I didn’t find out in the end if he did the warmup; maybe it’s better if I never know.

Just before leaving Europe I managed to get over to Austria to see my favourite Austrian, T (see earlier travels below), and had a really nice few days. She reckons the weather wasn’t good – and it wasn’t, really – but I thought it was charming, if a little cold, as the first snow for the season came. Ate good food, watched some movies, listened to music from a few years back with great memories of fun times, and met with some friends. So much more welcoming and warm than London had been for the weeks that seemed to drag on.

On my way back to Sydney I had a few days stopover in Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City. Such a different place to really anywhere else I know (mind you, I don’t know that many places). First day in Vietnam, just a few days from home, is when I was relieved of my camera and my phone. Crap, crap, crap! And double-crap that with the camera went the photos from the nice time in Austria that I’d not yet transferred to my PC. Grrr! I suppose it could have been worse – I still had my laptop, my passport, drivers licence, credit card, etc. But still… grrr! Made the hours spent walking around taking photos of nearby traffic and building and stuff that first day seem like such a massive waste, too. So I didn’t do much the second day, nursing a hangover and sulking over the loss, but went on day trips to see some interesting stuff the last two days.

A day trip to the Mekong Delta, a visit to the Ku Chi Tunnels, and a ceremony (prayer session?) at the Cao Dai Temple – architecturally/decoratively quite trippy, with things like the “divine eye” in windows.

Of course, with a flight to catch in the evening after coming back from a day trip, there was a massive traffic jam, and we were held up for something like an hour… an hour I didn’t have to burn. Stress.. level.. rising… Talk of perhaps getting off the bus and finding a motorbike taxi to take me back to my hotel – something that scared me just a bit more than a little. In the end a mad rush for the airport – the hotel staff had collected my things together for me in preparation and arranged a taxi. That taxi ride to the airport was the wildest ride I can think of: I almost couldn’t look as we thread our way through crazy amounts of traffic – sometimes oncoming! – at a speed that I could not in all conscience recommend as safe for the conditions. This is normal, apparently, in Ho Chi Minh. What was important is that I did, against the odds, make my flight, and I was on my way home.

Arrived back in Sydney on Sun 18 November. Just over four months away. Not too shabby!

Photo updates from my European adventure are posted in my photo gallery.

-G.