A young Australian's views on travelling Australia and the world.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

2007 Day 1 - Arrival in Melbourne

Flight over
Well, I'm off again over east to have more adventures. The adventure started minutes after the commencement of the flight when my MP3 player ceased to work (Update: It's started working again after landing - weird.) As a result I watched a far-more-than-healthy number of Tom and Jerry cartoons on the inflight entertainment while enjoying a lunchbox of food prepared by my dad. Yay for Virgin Blue! Flight path was almost a straight line - we had a great view of Perth and South Perth before turning east, unfortunately I wasn't in a window seat so couldn't snap it. One bit of light entertainment during the flight was a guy a few in front of me who spent about half an hour arranging his dreadlocks.

Got the Skybus, realised my MP3 player did work after all and listened to Butterfly Effect on the way in - is weird arriving in a major city at sunset. Got to my accommodation at 8:30pm only to find out the only bed in the place, which they'd allocated me, was an upper bunk. Now as some of you might remember, while I can power walk for hours without grief, with two dislocated knees from my teens, I am just not able to haul myself over the threshold into one of those things - especially with the single-bar steps they provide for them. So after considerable negotiation they managed to plonk a folding bed with a mattress into some people's room on the top floor. I aim to sort this out today.

Food variety is just as I remembered it :) I feasted on a vegetable tempura bigger than a Hungry Jacks whopper, a tuna handroll and roti bread for the sum total of just $6.50. Just to remind me why Melbourne is my favourite city (Perth is still my fave place to live though :)... Went and saw Ratko (long term readers might remember Chris in the same spot some years ago) singing and playing guitar under Flinders Street Station for around half an hour.

Let's hope Day 2 is an improvement.

Monday, October 23, 2006

2006 Bunbury - Day 3-5

The time certainly flew by there, so I'll recap on the rest:

Day 3 - Eaton, Pelican Point, Australind, Concert

I spent the day walking around the northern suburbs of Bunbury - in fact, I managed to walk right past the end then right back in again. Between gorgeously cute baby ducks, forests of rooftop TV antennae (they seem to be in fashion in Bunbury), long walks around obscurely distant "rural residential" estates which look nice enough, and less rural estates most likely designed by someone after a night of bad drugs (think of a bad theme party with a $350,000 hangover), I got in about 6 hours of walking. Also managed to pick up some info for Harvey the next day, including a walking trail map. I also saw the area that got hit by the tornado back in August, including the Settlers' Hall, a small community centre that had first fallen victim to the weather, then to vandals. Unfortunately I missed the bus back (he was early by 4 minutes!) and had to get a $23 cab back from Australind.

I then went to the Birds of Tokyo gig at Prince of Wales Hotel. BoT didn't just play their oldies but also previewed their new material due in February. Now I had planned to leave early, as I wanted to go up to Yarloop and Harvey the next day, but the concert went to midnight and I then ended up staying behind and chatting to members of the band and of Loose Unit, the support act. Fantastic guys (not to mention high quality music) - I'll definitely be going to any shows either band do in the future.

Day 4 - Harvey (not Yarloop)

Waking up rather, um, out of sorts at 9:30am, I felt more like drinking Diet Coke and eating some of my food than going anywhere, but eventually worked up the energy to walk to the train station via East Bunbury, where I saw some more historic parts of the old town, including a general store just 1km from the Bunbury Centrepoint complex (how cute!). I then got the train to Harvey (it's a very well-written page... by me), but after walking just 2km was really feeling the draining effect of the humid weather, so settled for:

* a bag of mandarins from a local farmer
* a walk around the just-closed Stirling Cottage
* ridiculously cheap baby peas and chocolate from one of the town's two IGAs (they're right across the road from each other - odd)
* a Yarloop Special at Anchovies Pizza (comes highly recommended!) They also sell gourmet icecream.
* chatting to some local Maori girls at the train station.

I then ended up spending my 40 minute train journey playing peekaboo with a small child on the seat in front, and then got a cab back to the backpackers.

Day 5 - The End

I am coming back to Bunbury - unexpectedly good place with excellent budget accommodation. So much to see down here that noone knows about, not even the local tourist agency. I haven't got to see the dolphins yet, but they'll be here when I come back.

I went up the "milk carton", more properly known as the Bunbury Tower, only to find I couldn't get a photo of Bunbury from it! I settled for one of Marlston Hill and a couple of Koombana Bay then went shopping and wandering. I ended up at the local library where I read some local history, before returning to the backpackers. It's amazing how tourists are just given no information at all, I guess I'm lucky in that I seem to be naturally able to explore such places and bring out the best in them (apart from maybe Queenstown in Tasmania) without need for much guidance.

The train journey home was uneventful, it was surreal being in Bunbury City at 2pm and being at my front door at 5:40, having only used public transport to get home - living in Perth one gets so used to flying.

So... that's it for another few months until the travel bug bites again.

Friday, October 20, 2006

2006 Bunbury - Day 2

I spent today down in the south of Bunbury. First stop was the Maiden Hill Reserve, where I got to see native tuart trees in the coastal ridge. Bunbury's done a better job than the new northern suburbs of Perth in preserving what was there previously, both with this and the new Usher-Dalyellup Regional Park and the Tuart Walk (commissioned by the Minister for Peel and the Southwest just days before I walked it). After seeing the new suburb of Dalyellup (actually within the Shire of Capel just beyond Bunbury's southern fringe) I have thought of several new slogans the developers could use:

* Just beyond the edge of civilisation!
* Dalyellup: The New Mindarie
* Just 40 convenient minutes' walk from a beach you can't get to!

Anyway, enough dissing of Dalyellup. I had a pretty quiet day thereafter and got to chat with some locals, then went back to the backpackers. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

2006 Bunbury - Day 1

Eventful day.

8:30 - Got to Perth
9:30 - Boarded Australind train to Bunbury
10:30 - Mused about where Perth ended and country began, concluding that funny looking animals staring at me were probably a good indication.
12:00 - Arrived in Bunbury, booked forward tickets to Yarloop/Harvey
13:00 - Arrived at YHA Bunbury after an odd ride through the suburbs which look like a forest of TV antennae as Bunbury people tend to prefer receiving Perth stations, and can do so as they're 180km from Perth.
14:40 - Left hostel initially just intending to go have a look at the beach.
17:20 - Returned to hostel having walked all the way to, and around, Big Swamp (Prince Philip Drive) - it was well worth it, at this time of year the waterbirds have all had young and just about every species of baby bird you can imagine is walking or swimming around there. So cute :) Also walked up Tuart Street in the "tree street" district of town with well maintained older country-style houses. Apparently this used to be the town limit.
18:40 - Left hostel to get sunset photos, ended up in the Thursday late night shopping experience at Centrepoint (which used to be marshalling yards for the railway before the railway was removed in 1986).
20:00 - Cooked a rather odd dinner for myself and have been chatting to other hostellers.

I'll write more when I feel less tired. It was unexpectedly warm here so the walk did quite take it out of me.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Quick update

In Pemberton at the moment - Saw Cascades and the Gloucester Tree today, walked 11km of the Bibbulmun Track through some amazing karri forest. Yesterday's weather was dreadful so did basically nothing, and I got lost the previous day (although was a lot closer to one of the attractions than I thought I was!) Will update more later :D

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

SouthWest Day 2-5 - Busselton / Moving on

I have had a great and relaxing time in Busselton. I got to see a lot of the Busselton metropolitan area (it feels so weird saying that!), made a friend or two and did a good job in getting lots of exercise and eating home-cooked local food. Scrambled free-range eggs rock, especially with a chopped-up tomato cooked into them!

Anyway, my entry went AWOL, so I'm rewriting it here in Pemberton. (Correction: silly me, I forgot one had to republish :))

Saturday 16th (Day 2)

Weather improved by the time I finished the last entry, so I walked to East Busselton and the new Port Geographe development - Busselton's outer extremities. After basically determining that it looks just like Mindarie, I opted for a change of scenery and walked along a 4WD track along the still-somewhat-wild Vasse Estuary, where I saw a fantastic sunset. I spent most of the rest of the night chatting with my friend Stuart by phone and chilling with other backpackers back at the hostel.

Sunday 17th (Day 3)

Beautiful fine day - total contrast to the last couple! Woke up late, but managed to cook most of my food for later consumption, before doing some shopping (btw Daniel, this place has a book exchange!) and taking advantage of the unexpectedly beautiful weather to head off to Broadwater, the sprawling western suburb which contains most of Busselton's holiday parks and best beaches. From the city, it was a 1.5 hour walk to a small point jutting into the ocean which I wanted to take sunset photos from (near Barnard Street, for future reference). It is a hike from the city I'd only recommend for very fit people or those with a car or bike, though. But it is honestly worth it. After that, I came back along the highway, and was initially lost because the bit I came out on looked awfully "country".

Monday 18th (Day 4)

Probably the most relaxed day so far on my itinerary. Decided to check out Busselton's public transport system, still in its infancy, with buses at 9am, 1pm and 5pm every day except Tuesdays which does a figure-of-eight route that covers first East and then West Busselton, and costs $5.20 for the whole trip. While I'd walked large sections of it, the route wandered into suburban areas I hadn't been to, and the driver knew a lot about the development of modern Busselton and the surrounding area. The bus is just like the modern Transperth ones you see on some northern suburbs routes - it's longer than the Circleroute buses, and has more seats, but ample room for walking frames and prams to be stored - as I found out later in the route, there was a reason for this :)

One thing I've always enjoyed doing as well is seeing how and where people live in different places. In Busselton, there's now an even mix of suburbs mimicking various Perth housing estates such as Mindarie, Currambine and Leeming to different extents, and charming old streets with no kerbs and an abundance of old style houses with eaves.

I'm starting to conclude Busselton has an extreme version of a problem I've seen elsewhere - everyone is either very old or very young. You see groups of young teenagers, but rarely people over about 16 or 17, and many old people, and a few young families, but that's it. The busdriver believed this was due to the sudden increase in Busselton's population (~9,000 in 1993 to ~20,000 today) and jobs and rental properties not being able to meet this increased pressure. The owner of the backpacker hostel believes that Busselton's council designs everything with seniors in mind, often ignoring the needs of younger people.

The fact Busselton was so recently just a small town was especially hard to believe after my return to Busselton, where I had to compete with peak lunch traffic in Queen and Albert Street, which was just nasty.

At some point I decided to find out about Dunsborough, and found to my surprise that TransWA does a return concession ticket for just $5.80. So I went there for a few hours - the beaches there are stunning, and the forest is literally just out the back. Dunsborough has all the young people Busselton seemed to be missing, and is a lively surf town not dissimilar to Torquay (Victoria) and some of the Hawaii surf towns I saw, with surf brand names *everywhere*. With a local butcher, baker and seafood wholesaler, people there don't live too badly! :D

Came back to Busselton to photograph the sunset from Busselton's main canal where it meets the ocean. Again, stunning, this time made rather unusual by the smoke from a fire on Cape Naturaliste - the flames of which could be seen clearly after dark.

I spent the rest of the night concluding that one cannot buy a chocolate bar in Busselton, or in fact ANYTHING, after 10pm on a Monday night - so much for 24-hour service stations! - and chilling with other backpackers.

Tuesday 19th (Day 5)

First priority was to cook my remaining food - my Busselton free range eggs worked well as scrambled eggs with Roma tomatoes and Dunsborough veal steaks :D The priority this morning was to go up Busselton Jetty - the longest in the Southern Hemisphere at 1841m long - and see the Busselton Underwater Observatory ($15 for adult including jetty admission). One thing they don't tell you is that the walk will take longer due to having to dodge careless people with fishing rods waving around, and family groups taking up the entire width of the jetty that you have to push past and apologise. But the last 600m was better than the rest. The Jetty has had its fair share of disasters - the first section was destroyed by Cyclone Alby in 1978, then the end bits were affected by a fire in 1999 (probably arson) and a storm in 2004. The UWO was awesome :D Got to see all manner of fish in quantity 8m under the ocean - we got a guided tour and then were left to take our own photos.

I had intended to go to Margaret River for a few hours, but sadly took longer to get back from the Jetty, and missed it. However, it was a fine day and I wasn't going to waste it, so after going to the Net cafe and uploading some pictures and catching up on the real world, I walked around the beach and town centre for a while, said my goodbyes to the backpackers, and got my bus to Pemberton via Augusta.

Unfortunately, my camera chose this moment to run out of batteries, so I have no shots of the pink, smoke-filled sky and yellow sun among the forests in a tremendous sunset between Yallingup and Margaret River. We watched 'Scooby-Doo' from Augusta to Pemberton as it was now dark and, although the headlight-lit forest along the road was beautiful, it was too hard to see :D

Pemberton YHA so far seems to be a professional and well-run establishment with friendly staff. I have no regrets so far about basing my next four days here before my return to Perth.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

SouthWest Day 1-2: Busselton

Pre-trip information

In my usual impulsive fashion I did a bit of looking up on the net, a bit of phoning and now have a week-long holiday booked. The weird bit is the baseline costs on it are just A$185! Doesn't include keeping myself alive, but includes the transport and shelter. Oh, and the sanity of being away from home again. Somehow, the road seems to do a lot for my poor brain.

So plans are:

Fri 15 Apr 05 - Perth-Busselton
Tue 19 Apr 05 - Busselton-Pemberton
Sat 23 Apr 05 - Pemberton-Home!

Day 1-2 - Arrival; Busselton

Left Perth at 17:00 from the rather impressive East Perth terminal aboard TransWA's SW1 coach. Sun set spectacularly somewhere around Kwinana-Rockingham - unfortunately no photos - and we got to Busselton at 21:00.

A rant about "road movies"

We got subjected to De-Lovely, a musical documentary on the life of Cole Porter starring Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd, on the way there. Considering the average age on the bus was probably younger than me, it's hardly surprising people weren't straining to hear it. There was some quite risque gay scenes in it as well. I didn't get the plot at all until after I watched it - not helped by the relatively low volume - and often wonder where they get road movies from. Last time I came back from Busselton in 1998, we got Race the Sun starring Ben Affleck's younger brother Corey, about the Adelaide-Darwin solar-powered car race. The plot sucked, and the acting (aside from Corey's) just bombed. I don't know what his manager was thinking! On the Calgary-Edmonton bus trip in early August 2004, we got some highly violent movie involving 1930s characters - entirely appropriate for the many kids on the bus, I guess. They're always current, but B-grade movies! At least Singapore Airlines gave me Spiderman 2, even if interspersed with that Jackie Chan version of Around The World in 80 Days, which was so terrible that I had to watch it to the end out of morbid curiosity. Grrr.

Back to the road log...

Busselton Backpackers was just a few hundred metres from the stop. It's a very informal establishment (the common areas remind me a little of Aboriginal Hostel in Hungary, but with a sort of open area out the back with loud music!), but the guy seemed to be pushing it a bit by asking what I considered to be too many questions, and rather too enthusiastically recommending the winery tours. It may have been alright, but after my experiences in Turkey, I guess I'm a bit wary. As at 24 hours later, though, he hasn't asked me again, so I think he was just trying to be helpful.

(For some reason I didn't write about it in my blog, but the staff at Grand Yavuz in Istanbul, circa 2 October, were putting considerable pressure on me to buy expensive tours of the Bosphorus, and were taking advantage of the fact I had to walk past them to get in or out of the hotel. I wouldn't budge, though. Also, different staff in the hotel quoted different rates for the same airport shuttle.)

Anyway, I got settled and then went for a walk, checking out the centre of Busselton - very quiet at 9:30pm on a Friday night! - avoiding the occasional drunk motorist who occasionally sped along and yelled out the windows, and decided to walk out of town and take some night pictures of the road leading into Busselton. I got as far as the Vasse Highway intersection, and got to listen to, although never actually found, some interesting wildlife.

Today, I've been to the library and gotten maps of Busselton and Pemberton, been to the tourist centre, and checked out Queen Street. This place is so weird though - it FEELS like a small country town, but has a population very close to Bunbury's or Albany's and has all the facilities you'd expect for a metropolis of this size (Coles, Woolworths, 2 Action supermarkets, 12km of beach...). Most of the population are either very young or very old, and alcohol consumption and bad driving seems to be universal. Weather turned crap though and I happened upon an internet cafe, so here I am!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Day 80-83 - Singapore - End of world trip.

Sunday 10 October 2004, 14:00 Singapore time

Well, it's finally over. In just over 4 hours, I hop on a plane, and 83 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes after I left Perth for Auckland, I arrive back in Perth having circled the world. I miss my home city, but I feel sad now that this adventure is coming to an end. It's been an experience, and one that has changed me in a lot of ways that I'll probably only fully appreciate after I get back to a normal routine, working, saving money and seeing my friends.

My favourite places have been, in no particular order: Auckland, Vancouver, Vienna and Singapore (along with Melbourne and Perth).

People have been curious to know what I think of Singapore - apart from the fact I am totally not acclimatised to the weather (32C and humid every day), this place is amazing. Food is cheap, and now that I know how to use it, the public transport is amazing and gets you anywhere on the island. The tropical scenery and surprisingly clean streets make for a certain experience. The smells remind me a little of Hawaii, as the vegetation is in some ways similar. I've been to the Museum of Asian Civilisations, Sentosa Island and the National Orchid Garden - I would have done far more but I am tired after 12 weeks of holidaying out of a bag, and I think my health is still recovering from Turkey.

I'm definitely planning on coming back here - possibly as a 2-3 week domestic trip incorporating Melbourne, Auckland and a bit more of New Zealand, and Singapore, which is quite doable from Perth. I'll have to see what it costs though.

Anyway, my money is being extended to new lows right now, so I have two minutes left at the net cafe. See you all back in Perth!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Day 78-79 - In transit, Singapore

Wednesday 6 October 2004, 23:40 Singapore time (GMT+8; same as Perth time)

Well, I've made it to Singapore! Firstly, let's follow on from the previous post.

After posting the last post, I had dinner at Orban, a quick nap, and then went back to Orban Restaurant. It was quite amusing - I went there with the intention to buy food, but for whatever reason I never got asked to order, ended up watching MTV and bantering with Nigel for about two hours, and got two free teas. (I love free tea in Turkey, especially when the person offering is not trying to sell me a carpet.)

Then it was off on the shuttle to Atatürk International Airport, a surprisingly large and modern facility. On the way, we saw the modern, green beachside suburbs to the west of Istanbul and part of the remains of the old city walls. I didn't get to go to Kariye Museum or the city walls - that will have to wait for another trip. While Istanbul was a crazy place which I didn't handle too well, I think I'd be more ready for it if I went a second time in a few years.

Free entertainment at the airport was provided by the Singaporeans and Hong Kong citizens on my flight, every single one of whom failed the security check. After going through so many of them I have no problems passing them at all, it's one of those things that if you follow the routine, you can't go wrong. Mine is - dump mobile, camera, coins and keys in the bucket, dump anything I'm carrying, plus the backpack and my jacket into the conveyor belt, then walk through, and collect my stuff at the other side starting with the jacket. I always wear my jacket through airports as it provides another few places to store small items such as the phone, and is too heavy and large to pack.

The flight to Singapore, as it turned out, went via Dubai, where we had to get off for security reasons and go through a security check. Dubai's got a very nice airport and it's a city I wouldn't mind visiting at some future point. I bought a couple of postcards, walked away with uncertain change from a US dollar (not being able to read Arabic would be an issue in the UAE) and got on the plane again. *edit* Turns out I got 2.50 dirham change, which is almost 1 Australian dollar. The Web is a good thing :)

For the curious, the route taken by the plane was:
- Southeast through Turkey to around Alanya
- South, crossing the easternmost tip of Cyprus
- East, crossing Lebanon to eastern Syria
- Southeast into Jordan and from there, drawing a neat parallel line with the Iraqi border through the Saudi desert - so no insurgent pictures, which may disappoint some readers
- Over Al-Khobar, then north of Bahrain and then into Dubai from the Gulf
- From Dubai, almost a perfect straight line to Singapore across southern India.

Airport food and the service was in a class of its own with Singapore Airlines - more like meals than the usual sort of prepackaged food you get on planes. By the end of the flight, though, my knees were sore and I was underslept, so most of yesterday (Wed) was spent sleeping off the last of the Sultan's Revenge and recovering from the flight. It's bizarre how after 3 weeks in Turkey the so-foreign thank you, "tesekkür ederim", and hello, "merhaba", has become habit and I feel almost strange saying "thank you very much" in my own language in this city. I'll get used to it, I'm sure, just like the left-hand drive, which took me about 15 minutes to get used to. It seems funny not talking about millions of the local currency any more, as well. A bottle of water here costs S$1.20, not one million.

In the meantime, I have discovered the joys of the Shaw Tower's food centre. Food in Singapore is clean, healthy and ridiculously cheap for the most part if you know where to go, and I had the benefit of a few good tips. Roti and vegetarian buffet with ginger tea and grass jelly for brunch, big bowl of green vegies and meat for dinner, and hopefully murtabak for breakfast tomorrow. People speak good English here and are generally friendly, and the traffic is orderly. Despite the heat and humidity, you can walk quite easily between most places, and airconditioning is almost an institution here. My hotel, for which I am paying less than half the price, is awesome, and I have vouchers for almost all the major attractions. I also like the fact that this city accommodates both cheap tourists like myself and the big end of town - meaning I get the place to myself whenever I want it and don't have to compete with masses of tourists with loud shirts.

Loud shirts are, as in Hawaii, a big thing here. People watching can be quite an amusing activity :) A note about sellers - I've noticed how many people call to you from the street trying to sell you stuff (most notably trishaw rides, camera accessories and food). I'm amazed how hardened I've become to it all after Istanbul - I even say "hi" to some of them and keep on moving at the same speed. A guy over the road from my hotel this morning was trying to sell me a wide-angle lens for my camera for S$199 (A$180) and seemed offended and dismissive of me when I said I didn't know the market and wanted to find out more about lenses before buying. At least I got to try it out - but it seemed to distort the image a bit?

Anyway, off to enjoy the town. I've been to the Arab Street and Sultan Mosque, and right now am in a pleasant net cafe in Little India. More to report later.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Day 75-77 - Istanbul

Monday 4 October 2004, 12:00 Turkey time

This is the biggest city I've ever been in, and I'm under no illusions that, firstly, while there's certainly a lot of money floating around this place, this is for the most part a third-world city with corresponding infrastructure, and secondly, I'm well outside my comfort zone.

After the Kaçkar experience (see Day 61), I decided it was safest not to chance it on the local food where it doesn't come specifically recommended. At times, I have survived on Diet Coke (called Coca-Cola Light in Europe and Turkey), which you can buy out of a fridge even in small shops, and potato chips in a sealed packet. I have, however, eaten at two decent restaurants in the last few days. The first is Lale (The Pudding Shop), on Divan Yolu pretty close to the Blue Mosque, a restaurant established in 1958 and still owned by the same family, which used to be the start of the "hippy trail" to Kathmandu. Nowadays, while the service and food are excellent, it is quite pricy. The second is Orban (Anatolia) Restaurant on Piyerloti Caddesi near my hotel. The staff are extremely friendly, the food is excellent (I recommend the Adana Kebab if you like spicy and Urfa if you don't) and well within my budget, and when I was stuck for money the guy even shouted me an apple tea while I chatted with some British tourists. While I doubt his real name is actually Nigel, he's provided most of my enjoyable dining experiences in this city. There's a free bellydancing show in the evenings, I'm thinking of checking it out tonight - my last night in Istanbul.

Let me offer you an insight through my eyes of the city in which I presently find myself. This part, Sultanahmet/Eminönü, is full of small, steep streets with traffic that probably would run you over. Traffic in general in Istanbul is completely insane, and often ignores traffic lights and other road signals. As with most places, the worst are the taxi drivers. Many footpaths are dangerous to use by way of being broken up or under maintenance, so most locals walk on the road and ignore horns, diving for cover only when they're about to get hit. The horns get annoying after a while, but I don't mind some busdrivers who have installed almost cartoonish ones (including the Fez bus driver).

The lack of hygiene here is palpable. You don't have to walk far to find a pool of offputtingly smelly water on a road (or just wet patches), or a pile of rubbish. Abandoned cats exist everywhere - some barely the size of my shoe or even smaller - and get very territorial with each other about rubbish piles. However, they're timid with humans and most probably will walk or run away from you. The oddest bit for me is that some of the food shops and street merchants operate next to the most smelly bits. You wonder how they sell anything!

A few safety tips. Firstly, if someone is trying to get you to come into their shop or is trying to get your attention (even just saying hi), act like they don't exist and walk on. Even saying "no" to them is taken as encouragement, and they will hassle you. It is hard to completely ignore them, but you just have to do it. This applies as much for 6-year-olds as for adults - I've had kids try to sell me stuff and get very insistent. Also, if you don't have a watch on and someone who is clearly not a lost tourist asks you the time, they're most likely trying to find out what pocket you keep your valuables in. Treat them like the others.

Another thing to watch when crossing bridges is that they are congested with fishermen trying for their daily catch, and they don't watch behind them. Just make sure that when you're passing them by, that you don't get hit when they withdraw their line.

Also, don't venture out of known areas without a map. I recommend the map from HI-Cordial House for 3 million, and although not all streets are marked, most streets don't have signs anyway. If you're looking for signs, turn down any road and look for little blue signs on the sides of buildings which have the street number, street name and neighbourhood - but you have to be really close to them to see them at all.

Finally, there are a number of scams which operate. I had read Tom Brosnahan's excellent Turkey Travel Planner website (which offers a wide range of useful and interesting information), but I'll draw your attention to this page and its links as I agree with all of it. Yesterday evening, I got a bit lost coming out of Taksim/Beyoglu district and kept on walking anyway as I knew I was headed in the right direction. A boy of about 19 came up to me and started a conversation with me. He said he was from Cyprus and was going to work with his uncle. He seemed friendly but I was wary. Among other things, he started asking where I was from, also questions which were designed to determine my financial status and credit cards, whether I wanted to see Turkish women, or even men, and started recommending hamams (Turkish baths) to me. My experience the other day in the Turkish bath revealed you put your valuables in safe locking facilities. This was fine in Cappadocia, but I'd imagine this guy would have had arrangements with the particular establishment. I handled it by answering everything vaguely, implying that I was basically poor, and that I had a group I was part of who were expecting me back at a given time. He followed me onto the Ataturk Bridge, at which point I picked up the phone, dialled a friend back in Australia and started speaking in a mix of Polish, Hungarian and random syllables, making sure to recite each of the streets, bridges and suburbs clearly in English. The kid got scared and parted ways with me. I was a bit freaked out but as usual, I survived without losing a penny.

I've been potentially scammed so many times around the world, and every time, it's stayed in the potential territory. I think this goes back to the fact that I'm an eternally suspicious and untrusting person and, although I'm a nice guy who at times finds it hard to be assertive, when it comes to the crunch I can do it. I think it's just a matter of remembering that you owe this person nothing, that merely their being friendly to you entitles them to nothing, and that walking away and/or being rude to them does not cost you anything and you'll be gone in a few days anyway.

What I've done in the past few days

- On Saturday, I walked up Babiali/Ankara Caddesi, the university/publishers' quarter, and checked out many small bookshops and such. While most of the books were in Turkish, it was an interesting way to kill a bit of time. Afterwards, it was on to Eminönü, the port of call for the boats and ferries, where one could check out the street sellers, the nearby Galata Bridge, and the mosques nearby. You get an excellent view of the Galata Tower and Dolmabahçe from here. A word of warning - avoid the WC under Galata Bridge. Don't ask why - just avoid it. At night, I headed off around the back of the Sultanahmet Mosque to Akbiyik Caddesi, a slightly more happening spot full of young backpackers, pubs, Fez's head office and the HI-Orient Hostel, which seemed decent. There's a bar under it with bellydancing shows (almost ubiquitous in Turkey, it seems) and drinks at the sorts of prices one would usually expect to pay. I got lost on the way back, but found my way out of it eventually.

- Yesterday, I went up Fualpasa past Beyazit Mosque and the University and around Suleymaniye Mosque, which is in quite a hard-to-get-to location if you're walking. Near the mosque is a pleasant botanical garden with no entrance charge - great place to stop for lunch or a water if you've brought some. Then wound down the zigzaggy little streets into the sort of area that Turkish people actually live, before crossing the Atatürk Bridge into Beyoglu. The Galata Tower (7 million entrance charge), a 13th-century Genoese tower in excellent condition which overlooks the city, reminded me of some of the other observation towers I've been up. The outside viewing galleries give you an overview of the entire Golden Horn region, the Istanbul bit of the Bosphorus, the Asian side, the mosques and Topkapi Palace, and the bridges. After getting lost briefly, I found my way to Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street of Istanbul. This is like Hay Street Mall, but 2.5km long and twice as wide with tramlines going up the middle of it, and impossibly crowded for its entire length. I found that the crowds actually detracted from my ability to shop in it as the pedestrians were as crazy as the motorists. At its end is Taksim Square, where various political events in past times have occurred.

- Today I haven't really done much at all. Today is my last day in the Turkish Republic - there is so much to do in Istanbul, but I'm not in an ideal location for getting to many of the attractions. I'm hoping to see the Kariye mosaic museum today, though - it's a bit out of the city and I am hoping it'll shake my present feeling of claustrophobia just a little bit.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Day 73-74 - Cappadocia, Ankara, End of tour

Thursday 30 September 2004, 19:30 Turkey time

Today was our free day, so we went firstly to the former Greek town of Mustafapasa, formerly known as Sinasos. Like many of the Greek towns in Turkey the town had been built in typical Greek architecture style into the side of a hill, and is now largely populated by Turks who are trying to restore some of the old buildings to use as B&Bs and hotels for exploring the nearby region. I hope it works out - it definitely has potential as an idea.

Next stop was the town of Göreme, where I checked out the small shopping area. I got the chance to properly weigh myself and am 95.3kg - i.e. I have lost approximately 3.2kg net since leaving Perth, and about 7kg since my peak on the journey. I also spent some time in a music shop surveying a range of Turkish traditional and modern music.

Next was Avanos, a somewhat less touristy town where animals still roam the streets, the traffic on the narrow streets is completely mental, and everyone is selling either carpets or pottery. It was good fun but I didn't want to spend too long there.

Finally was the Turkish bath just out of Avanos, which was an experience in itself - I will try to explain it. First, you put your valuables in safe storage, then change out of your clothes and, wearing only swimmers, go into a steam room. This is one hell of a full on steam room - you can't see, your lips and eyes start doing funny things and you sweat like crazy. Next is the cold pool which you bathe in for 5 minutes or so, before going into a less steamy, less hot steam room for about another 5. Then you come out, lie on a hot slab of marble and wait for the (male) staff to call you for a massage and scrub with something only slightly more subtle than sandpaper. After the massage, you lie on another table and another staff member soaps you all over and massages you a different way. After this, you shower, then get a quick neck massage and exfoliation, then shower again. At the end of it all you get dressed and they give you Turkish tea. At the end, despite several somewhat harrowing stages, I was (and still am several hours later) incredibly relaxed.

One final note about Ürgüp. Hotel internet sucks - I paid bigtime for shared 56k and could barely use the net. Go to Campus Internet Cafe at the eastern end of Ataturk Bulvari near the tourist information and they charge you A$2 an hour, the access is fast, computers are modern (and even took my camera), the staff are friendly and if you're lucky you even score a tea for your trouble. I don't normally recommend specific businesses but this one deserved it, I think.

One day left with the tour group. To be honest, I'll be glad to be on my own again, although the tour guide (Ayhan) has been excellent, informative and possesses a great sense of humour, and I will miss his insights. I have whinged and whined about various things along the way, but overall, the tour has been good and I have seen a lot of stuff I wouldn't have seen otherwise. I guess my priorities are just different to a lot of people, though, and this sort of thing brings out an ugly side of me where I look down on people (in this case, some of my fellow travellers) for being so dreadfully normal and predictable. I never have been either, and mediocrity so annoys me in ways which it really shouldn't.

Friday 1 October 2004, 23:45 Turkey time

Back in Istanbul - after most of the day in a bus. I am staying in a room with a broken TV, a broken phone, and a smoke problem. Yes, welcome to Istanbul. :)

Today, we drove from Cappadocia to Istanbul via Ankara - some of the group went up in hot air balloons to see Cappadocia from another angle, but I'd already bought a picture book anyway, and $200-$300 on my present budget was completely out of the question. In Göreme I saw some places charging less than half those rates, but the tour guide pointed to the small print - they only have one balloon, there's no guarantee of the reservation and there's no insurance once you're up there. On the way, we stopped at a petrol station where I enjoyed yet more tea and watched an armoured personnel carrier filling up at the pump. I suppose they've got to fuel up somewhere...

On that note, something I haven't actually mentioned before. The number of military (jandarma) sites here at just random unexpected places, often just out of the city centre, with young guards carrying full-on weaponry who will happily chat to you in English if you say hi to them, is just incredible. The police carry guns here, and I'm not just talking a pistol either. Just before the turnoff to Gallipoli from Tekirdag, almost every intersection was being manned by armed military personnel. It's quite intimidating until you get used to it. Most of the people in question would, at a guess, be young people doing their compulsory national service.

Anyway, to Ankara, the capital city of Turkey and a very modern city completely unlike Istanbul with shiny buildings, good and generally straight roads, leafy suburbs with small mosques, shopping centres, the world-renowned Museum of Civilisations (not part of the tour, but reportedly one of the world's best museums of its kind, considering the sort of stuff that's in Turkey already) and the thing we'd come to see, the Atatürk Mausoleum - the final resting place of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the site of a museum dedicated to Atatürk memorabilia (clothes, cigarette cases, photos, his actual office complete with a stuffed cast of his favourite dog), World War I, the Independence War of 1919-1923, where Atatürk led the Turkish people against the Ottomans, and against the Entente powers who'd extracted huge sections of Turkey through the armistice agreement in 1918, and Turkey's post-independence history up until Atatürk's death from cirrhosis in 1938. It was a very moving experience - they'd done the museum extremely well with background sounds and music in some of the rooms, letters and memos written by the man himself, etc. The thing which struck me was how this guy could have had absolute power if he'd wanted it in 1923, but preferred to create a modern, secular democracy and use his power and influence to force Turkey into each of those three aims. Outside was a detachment of soldiers performing a ceremony not unlike the changing of the guard.

The Ankara experience was capped off with a visit to its biggest shopping centre, Migros, to enjoy fast food. While most opted for Burger King or KFC, I found a nice restaurant completely devoted to the Iskender kebab, the original kebab as perfected in Bursa (a city to the south of Istanbul). I finally got to try one, and it was really nice.

Next was the 6-hour drive to Istanbul. At first, we were somewhat hampered by the fact that all of the freeways out of Ankara were dug up for construction, but by guesswork and a bit of cheating, we made it onto a freeway further up. After travelling through the mountains and stopping in Bolu just before sunset, we finally hit the outskirts of Istanbul. At this point, the traffic came to a complete standstill, and we were treated to free entertainment of drivers cutting each other off, driving in four lanes when only two were drawn, etc. Finally, we got over the Bosphorus Bridge and into Istanbul by about 10pm. This was the end of the Fez tour, and we bid farewell to Ayhan, our guide for the past 2 weeks. They say a guide can make or break a tour, and with his sense of humour, intelligence, passion for his home country, excellent English skills, his width of interests leading to a range of interesting discussions, and his local knowledge of places to eat, I think we got an excellent deal.

I'm kind of relieved to be on my own again, but am so far outside my comfort zone in Istanbul that I think the two almost cancel each other out. More later...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Day 70-72 - Fethiye, Cappadocia

Day 10 - Fethiye to Antalya
This morning we drive further south for Saklikent Gorge. A natural mountain split in half by an earthquake years ago. You may wish to trek through the massive canyon, tripping and scrambling over the rocks whilst submerged in icy cold water fresh from the hilltops. Afterwards, there is time to have lunch at the river bar and café. Today we also visit a carpet village and learn how carpets are made by hand, what determines their value and the historical and cultural context in which this folk art has blossomed.

Before I continue, in response to a couple of questions, people going to the site I linked earlier will see that the descriptions are different. I have pieced together from a number of new and old Fez sites an actual description of what we did, so the descriptions are more useful here than on the site.

I was feeling considerably better by this stage but not so much that wading up to my bum in ice-cold water really appealed to me as an idea so soon after a flu, so I amused myself watching the others, walking around the nearby mountains and getting chased by a goat. Saklıkent Gorge is definitely amazing, but having seen the Cataract Gorge in Launceston TAS and having seen the Great Ocean Road in Vıctoria, I guess that I was a bit underawed.

Afterwards, we went to a government-licenced carpet factory just out of Saklikent, where we were entertained with Turkish tea, shown a variety of carpets and learned to tell between different types, and then spent a further two or three hours there. As with most of the purchase opportunities on this tour, while I could recognise that prices were lower than I had seen elsewhere in Turkey, they were still way beyond my price range.

It was late when we left and the sun set on the way to Antalya, a tourist city and the birthplace of our tour guide. Due to various circumstances, I was now in single-room accommodation even though I'd paid for twin-share.

Whinge alert: Hotel Sunset in Antalya was dreadful. It is not Fez's usual hotel of choice, it's in an odd location and the rooms are not in acceptable condition. My 1st floor room was full of smoke and the ancient AC unit was broken and jammed full of dust. As an asthmatic, this posed an unacceptable risk. Apparently, all rooms were full that night and none were non-smoking. The tour guide graciously offered to trade with me - his 3rd floor room was better in that it had a modern AC.

Day 11: Antalya to Cappadocia via Konya
Follow the ancient silk trade route, while heading north- east via Konya to Cappadocia. Along the way to Cappadocia we visit the 13th-century caravanseray at Sultanhani. Tonight there is the option of a traditional Turkish folklore evening, with the famous whirling dervishes and belly-dancing.

Day 12: Cappadocia
This morning we marvel at the surreal and bizarre landscape that
is Cappadocia. Enjoy a fully guided tour of this fascinating region.
We will be visiting an underground city, the old Greek village of Mustafa Pasa with its fairy chimneys and Pigeon Valley and Göreme Valley. We return to the hotel late afternoon.

Due to the unseasonal hot weather (about 35°C) and our group, the above was our slightly non-standard tour itinerary. The first day was nearly entirely one long (9 hour) drive from Southwest Turkey to Central Turkey.

Quick note about geography - Cappadocia is a fairly large historical region, mostly located in the Aksaray, Nevsehir and Kayseri regions. Just north of Nevsehir are the small cities of Ürgüp (where most hotels/motels are located), Göreme (where most tourist attractions are) and Avanos.

We briefly got to see Göreme, the main attraction of this area, before going to the Turkish evening at a fairly new establishment. This basically consisted of - unlimited food and drinks, the whirling dervishes of the Mevlani order, who are basically a group of men clad in whıte who bow to each other lots then spin around and around at impossible speeds in harmony wıth each other - amazing to watch - and the dancing, where Attila from our group managed to strut his stuff in style, plus some folklore with a simulated courtship and wedding done entirely via music and dance. We got back to the hotel at around 12:30am tired but happy. It's one of the few times on the tour that we've all had a chance to do something together as a group rather than a series of individuals.

Today we explored the Göreme Valley region, took lots of amazing and entirely weird pictures, explored an underground city built here by Christians in 7th century AD to defend against the Muslims, visited a small pottery shop and factory in Avanos (another blatant shoppıng opportunity conveniently scheduled by the tour), checked out some old Greek Orthodox churches in Göreme literally carved out of the rocks, and saw the fairy chimneys. Very full day.

What's next?
Tomorrow - free day and Turkish bath.
Friday - driving back to Istanbul (10hrs) via Ankara.
Saturday - tour ends.
Tuesday - I leave Istanbul bound for Singapore.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Day 69 - Fethiye

Sunday 26 September 2004, 19:30 Turkey time

I really do like Fethiye as a place. It's got the natural scenery and hasn't completely sold out to tourism with the shopping experience despite the abundance of tourists around the place. The interesting thing is that most of the tourists seem to be from other parts of Turkey rather than international.

I went out on a boat trip (12 Adalar aboard 'Prenses Cansu') today around the islands. I couldn't tell you what exactly I saw, as there was no commentary, but the whole area is absolutely beautiful. Blue water to distance, turquoise water up close (did you know that turquoise is a French word originating from "turkuaz"?) and mountains and islands everywhere.

In the three days I've been away from the group, I have managed to:
- see and enjoy Lake Koycegiz, Turtle Beach and all they have to offer
- consume with the locals and a few fellow backpackers at a traditional stone gathering-house
- explore Kayaköy, the ghost town, and Fethiye
- get in a fair bit of walking
- tour the islands in the Fethiye harbour area
- spend more money on global roaming charges
- recover from (most of) my ailments

On the way into the net cafe to update this I ran into two people from the group - was good to see them again. This point marks both the halfway point on the Fez tour and the halfway point on my time in Turkey, which is slightly longer.

Turkey has a lot of interesting music of its own. If you want to hear the one that's been stuck in my head all day, get Şappur Şuppur by İsmail-YK (YK is short for Yurtseven Kardesler, the name of the singer.) For more info, check out http://english.alternatifim.com. Other music which for better or worse I will probably end up associating with this country when I hear it includes:

Mario Winans/P Diddy - I Don't Wanna Know
Britney Spears - Toxic
Beyonce - Crazy In Love
Panjabi MC - Beware Of The Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke) - heard everywhere here
O-Zone - Dragostea Din Tei (do not download this, not only does it totally suck, but it'll stick in your head for weeks)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Day 67-68 - Touring Turkey

Day 7: Köycegiz Boat Trip
Board a boat and cruise around lake Köycegiz. Pass the Kings' Tombs, swim at Turtle Beach or cover yourself in mud and take a dip in the thermal springs.

Day 8: Köycegiz to Fethiye
Leaving Köycegiz, we drive to the ghost town of Kayaköyü, a Greek village that was given up at the beginning of the 20th Century in accordance with the treaty of Lausanne, which saw an exchange of people between Turkey and Greece.

I bid a farewell to the rest of the tour, and then got ready for my boat trip (Sahin Daily Tour) around Lake Köycegiz. A great 9 hours (with included lunch!) checking out fabulous lake-mountain scenery, a wonderful white, sandy Mediterranean beach with straw hut restaurants and a long line of large old people lying on recliners. The other people - especially a Dutch guy called Gijs (try pronouncing that!), a British couple and the young staff onboard the boat (one of whom should be in dance music videos) - made the journey exciting and fun. The Lycian mud baths were fun to watch, but I wasn't game to go in (I think the sulfur smell made my mind up) - instead enjoying a fabulous Turkish apple tea for a ridiculously low price. Overall, the Sahin boat trip was fantastic and I'd happily recommend it. Even the water bottles were cheap.

On return to Köycegiz I accepted an earlier invitation from several 20-something Canadians I had met earlier who seemed to appreciate my Canada-liking, English-speaking ways. This was an interesting experience in getting to see the real Turkey. While the tourists all crowd into bars and nightclubs playing bad 80s music and techno in the Mediterranean and Aegean resort towns, the locals in the smaller towns sit around in dimly-lit stone buildings dating back to the 18th century and drink raki, the local drink, and talk over the day's events. I wouldn't call them bars because I didn't get the impression that selling alcohol was their main objective. Although we couldn't speak much Turkish, the locals seemed to accept us quite happily, although we ended up mostly talking to each other. We were given small gifts by an elderly man before our departure. After good wishes all around and staggering back to my hotel at 12:30am, both the hotel management and tour guide seemed surprised I was out so late, although I noted plenty of establishments (including at least one playing bad 80s music) were still open.

Today, our one-person tour came to Fethiye, the coastal resort closest to the well-known beach of Ölüdeniz. Karaköy was a really harrowing experience - just think of thousands of houses all clearly visible on a hillside that you can walk through and around, slowly passing into ruin through abandonment. At least the Turkish tourism authorities have seen to it that this process will not continue and the area is undergoing preservation and restoration. I think in general, actually, that the Turkish tourism and antiquities authorities actually do an amazing job looking after the wealth of past treasures they have been bequeathed.

Day 63-66 - Touring Turkey with Fez Travel

The tour is proceeding according to this tour plan from Fez Bus. I have crossposted the entries to use as headings, using better descriptions where available.

Day 3: Istanbul to Gallipoli
An early start as we head down to the Gallipoli peninsula, the site of the ill-fated World War I campaign that shaped young commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand. We take the tour at the Kabatepe Museum and partake in the tour of areas such as Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair Memorials, Anzac Cove, Johnston's Jolly, the Nek and Allied and Turkish trenches. After the tour, you cross the Dardenelles and stay in Çanakkale.

We left Istanbul early in the morning for the long drive via Tekirdag - not the most exciting bit of Turkey, to be honest - to the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) Peninsula. First stop was the Kabatepe museum, where in a fairly small, hushed room, we got the opportunity to view medals, coins, uniforms, bullets, guns, poignant letters and even some partial skeletons. The other sites are all fairly well-known, so I'll focus more on interpretation.

For those who don't know, the British and Anzac (Aust & NZ Army Corps) landed at Anzac Cove on the peninsula on 25 April 1915 in an attempt to capture the Dardanelles, which connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean and hence were vital from a shipping perspective. To cut a long story short, the initiative failed, mainly because the choice of landing spot appears to have been a mistake. The Anzacs pulled out in late 1915-early 1916, having suffered massive casualties. To this day, Australia celebrates Anzac Day as its national war memorial day, starting with a dawn service in every capital and at Gallipoli itself. It was our first major loss in battle, and gave rise to a national spirit quite separate from our previous connections with Britain for perhaps the first time.

Within a few years of World War I, the Ottoman empire which had led Turkey for 7 centuries crumbled and Turkey, after a war of independence, became a republic in 1923 with war hero and independence leader, General Mustafa Kemal, as its first president. He believed Turkey needed to modernise, secularise and democratise - and achieved much towards this goal without sacrificing Turkey's independence to Western powers. He is revered as a national hero in every corner of Turkey, and has been given the title Ataturk - father of the Turks. He also normalised relations with Turkey's enemies in WWI, partly because of a strongly-held respect for British and Anzac forces he had himself fought, and facilitated the building of peace parks and international memorial sites.

As a "New Australian", it was a very weird experience for me - while I was born elsewhere, it is like growing up with an adopted parent. That culture has become my culture, and I was deeply moved by what I saw. Two of the most striking things for me were the gravesites, especially those believed to be of two 18-year-olds who had died in battle. Back in that day, people forged their ages to get into the fighting, so it's quite likely they were high-school-age kids. The other thing was just looking at some of the now eerily peaceful scenery that these guys had to negotiate during the fighting - it was sobering. As I look back over my photos tonight, I believe I have managed to accurately capture some of what I saw at least.

We finished by getting a ferry to Çanakkale, the city of about 500,000 where Turks talk with a broad Australian accent even though they really can't speak English - I find it amusing and the American tourists, by all web reports, find it irritating.

Day 4: Gallipoli to Kusadasi via Troy & Pergamon
Step back in time today as we head south and visit the ancient city of Troy, the site of the famed Trojan war, and its Trojan Horse. After Troy, we continue along the Aegean Coast for a lunch stop at Bergama. This afternoon sees us on a tour of the ruined Pergamon, a magnificent acropolis with one of the steepest amphitheatres in the world. Its impressive temples, library and medical facilities made it a renowned cultural and political centre in its time. We continue driving south for our night stop at Kusadasi.

Day 5: Ephesus Tour
Absorb yourself in history today with a guided tour of Ephesus. Walk down Marble Road towards the Celcus Library and Grand Theatre and immerse yourself into the mystical atmosphere of the city halls and stadium where chariot and horse races were once held. We also visit the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Also visit the former Greek village of Sirince, famous for it's fruit wines, before a leather goods show. Turkey produces some of the finest leather goods in the world and many are made here before branding in Italy.

While ancient cities of this kind are extremely fascinating, one thing that started to grate on me after a while is that the sheer dilapidation of most of the sites caused by millennia of wear and tear and earthquakes and the sorts of things that happen (and some measure of 19th-century treasure-hunting and looting) means that you basically walk from site to site with a few half-columns, pillars or scattered artefacts on levels of hilly, weed-covered earth, and have to basically use your imagination to try and reconstruct what was actually there based on the historical information. There are actually 9 cities of Troy, with the one of legend believed to be the 6th city standing on that site, and the others above or below it in layers. (The Trojan Horse, by the way, is basically a tourist trap, but is great for photographs.)

The Fez tour, in one respect, actually manages this extremely well - by going from Troy to Pergamon and then to Ephesus, one is going from worst- to best-preserved over the sequence - in Ephesus, many of the everyday parts of the city are still reasonably intact and you feel like you are walking around a city, and can get some idea for how the people of the time lived, even if only through the tour guide's commentary. Pergamon is more mixed in that some bits are excellently preserved (eg the theatre and its entrance, the agora etc) but most is not.

We stayed for two nights in Kusadasi (Kush-a-Dar-suh), a tourist town with a permanent population of about 50,000. The place is absolutely beautiful and great for shopping, although I didn't get to enjoy it much as my time there was marred by my various ailments.

Near Ephesus is a delightful bit of the country where one can wander around hillsides, see the alleged home of the Virgin Mary after Jesus's ascension to heaven and eat pancakes in a traditional Turkish pancake house sitting on cushions in a tent, surrounded by Turkish rugs and watching old women with headscarves rolling out and cooking your pancake to order on the hearth for about A$2. In the time I've been in Turkey, these pancakes (which you do find around the place) together with Turkish tea have become personal favourites.

Afterwards, we went to a leather shop and watched a fashion show, which two more flamboyant members of our group assisted wıth, and then we spent a couple of hours in the shop amusing ourselves and trying to avoid the nice but incredibly patient staff who wished to sell us stuff. I did, however, buy a really nice leather jacket.

Day 6: Kusadasi to Köycegiz
Tour the magnificent white calcium formations of Pamukkale, followed by the ancient city of Hierapolis and a dip in the hot springs, which were used in Roman times for their therapeutic powers.

Hierapolis is an interesting place compared to the other three in that it has been adopted by modernity for its original purpose. One can still see sarcophagi and ruins from the Roman period, as well as its excellently preserved theatre, but the attraction (and some might say tourist trap) is the thermal hot springs. While they were meant to cure everything from skin afflictions to flus to cancers, I wasn't actually game to go in and have a dip along with the thousands of Turkish and European tourists who were, but it was great all the same. The view from the bus from Kusadasi to Koycegiz (Koh-jiz, with a Queens English accent) through the mountains was actually the highlight of my day - I love this sort of nature stuff, with steep gorges and rivers and mountains and greenery, as Daniel can attest from my time in Western Canada. It was unexpected and it was great. Koycegiz is a mountain town of about 8,000 and so far is the friendliest place I've been in through all of Turkey.

This last day with the rest of the tour group was strangely emotional. This tour has two options - one which proceeds as follows, and the other spends the next 3 days (Friday to Sunday in this case) on a gulet cruising the Mediterranean. I was the only one who picked the land option in this particular group - and was given a number of chances to change my mind, but in the end didn't. The deciding factor in the end was my health - I felt I needed to recover, and I do that best by myself. But I probably would have done it anyway - I've always been a bit of a lone adventurer, and the thought of relaxing on a boat for 3 days actually sounded a bit boring to me.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Thoughts on travelling and time distortion issues

Friday 24 September 2004, 20:00 Turkey time

It's interesting how much evolution can occur in a few short days. It's been enough time for me to form one opinion of a country, get really sick with two different ailments (first the food poisoning, then a cold/flu), lose several kilograms, form a contrary opinion of the same country, and even fall out with people then reconcile differences, all while wasting hundreds of dollars on global roaming charges. Five days is, indeed, a long time.

On the subject of time, since I am still sick and hence procrastinating on launching into a full description of the last few days, it is interesting how time warps when you are travelling.

- 10 weeks ago, I was at home listening to MP3s and reading travel sites.
- Two months ago, I was in Hawaii, just arrived from Auckland.
- One month ago, I was in Quebec City.
- Two weeks ago, I was ın Vienna.
- One week ago, I had just arrived in Istanbul from Beograd.

The first three seem like sometime last year! I'm not even sure that I remember what my room looks like. In two weeks and two days time, that won't matter anyway. In twelve weeks of travelling, I will have seen a fairly wide swathe of the world, and more importantly met my original goal of not only seeing a place but developing an understanding of the people and cultures that I meet. I hope that my blog has perhaps, for some people, helped to shatter a few stereotypes - be they positive or negative - about some of the countries I have been in. I am thinking particularly of Serbia as I write this, but when I get around to it, I hope it may also apply to Turkey. This really is a great country with a rich cultural heritage and a great sense of humour, but you really do have to leave Istanbul to find it.

Travelling has given me a sense of independence that I never had even when living by myself and managing my own affairs. I needed something to give me self confidence. Surviving this hectic and at times crazy journey was the affirmation I needed. I am capable of things that I hadn't even considered before, and in seeing how I survive so far outside my comfort zone, I know I can do so much better when back in it again in Perth.

Final thought for the night is on who you travel with. You can either travel by yourself, with friends, with family or with a random tour group. To each their own - I do manage best by myself. Even with friends, I feel that it somehow limits me, even if only psychologically, as I need to take their preferences and limits into account. With a tour group, you always feel under pressure to get on with people, and those people may not feel any need to get on with you, especially if they have made friends elsewhere in the group who are easier to understand, whether because of commonality or circumstance. Even in a group of 11 there are times when one can feel intense loneliness - even more so than when by yourself in a country where noone speaks your language.

I will update properly in the next couple of days. This Turkish language keyboard is pissing me off and on Win98 you need an OS disk to add the option for Ingilizce.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Day 62 - Istanbul ; Thoughts

Sunday 19 September 2004, 21:00 Turkey time

I'm still recovering, but I am now very sure I'll be fine.

The tour started today - I have now met my tour guide, Ayhan (I-haan), and several of the other people travelling with us - including Trent from Melbourne, my roommate, and his friends Brent and Attila the Hungarian. It looks like it's going to be an excellent time. In my travels around Victoria and Tasmania, I got used to tour groups where I had nothing in common with anyone else, so this is a big improvement :)

Today we did the Istanbul city tour, and I got some good photographs. All the downsides happened in the first hour, and the rest was great and more than made up for it. I hope I never have to wrestle another "businessman" such as that one outside the Blue Mosque trying to sell me a picture book of Istanbul for A$27 and pulling my money out of my hands and hanging around me like a fly for over 10 minutes, and I hope I never urgently require a WC right when we are passing by a carpet shop.

The list of destinations was:
- The old Hippodrome, most of which was not visible
- The Blue Mosque
- The Agia Sophia
- The Basilica Cistern
- Topkapi Palace

Rather than trying to review them, I'll just say they were all amazing places, and that you can read about them on any tourist website of Istanbul. The tour guide was excellent and provided us with an insight into the very mixed history of Istanbul, with Roman, Greek Orthodox and Ottoman Muslim traditions, while being very careful to paint the Turkish Ottomans in a (generally) good light. He also covered the basics of Greek Orthodox and Turkish (Sunni) Muslim tradition very well, although I was already familiar with it. We also learned something that never occurred to me before - the "harem" where the concubines lived is the same root word as "haram", the Arabic word for ritually unclean which is the opposite to "halal" (and I'm sure everyone knows that one!)

One tip for any travellers coming through - There is an excellent Hostelling International here located at the Cordial House located just off Piyerloti Caddesi (Look on hihostels.com for more info). A single room costs just A$34 and dorm bed about $15. Even if you're not staying there, it is the safest and cheapest place to buy a map and four postcards (A$3.80). This should be remembered when being harangued by numerous shady individuals trying to sell you postcards - I've learned to treat them like the homeless of Canada and purposefully ignore them without even looking at them. It's a sad way to have to do things, and I often wonder if my travelling has made me a better or worse person, but it's reality and I'm not in Australia, I'm in Turkey and have to deal with the reality here. Most people I've talked to emphasise that these problems are primarily problems within Istanbul and will cease to bedevil me out in the countryside where we go tomorrow.

I mention the HI primarily because my room at the Grand Yavuz for $57 a night is just a tad dodgy. The remote on the TV doesn't work without fiddling the batteries, and the volume and program buttons are missing. The bath has no plugs, and the bathroom door doesn't lock. There's not even a hook to hang up a jacket. The one good thing I can rave about is the breakfast - it's a small buffet, and isn't bad. (I've been spoiled by both relatives and the Hotel Imperial in Ostrava, so my standards are probably too high)

Anyway, I'm off now. See you all later - it may be a bit later, depending on what standard of Internet access exists in rural Turkey. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Day 60-61 - Leaving Beograd; Istanbul

Saturday 18 September 2004, 19:30 Turkish time (GMT+3; Perth-5)

I've crossed another border, another time zone and, it feels like, another world. How many cities can you be woken up in the morning by an Islamic call to prayer clearly audible through your window and then go off and watch Turkish Idol (Arabic-style singing over techno by charismatic-looking 20-somethings)?

Not much to write about leaving Beograd yesterday. I will miss the city and its people, and there is only a handful of places (Auckland, Vancouver, Vienna) before that that I could really say that about. I will be back one day ... (You've probably got sick of reading that line about various cities by now from me)

The bus no.72 slowly chugged into the airport 1h40m before my flight (it took an hour from Beograd, only 18-20km away). Despite the security cordon being 4 layers thick and full of really large, unfriendly looking people, I had no problems clearing it in under 10 minutes. I've gotten so used to dumping my camera, coins, keys and mobile in a bucket, taking off my jacket and backpack and putting it all through scanners every few days that it comes almost automatically now.

JAT Airlines were really nice, good-quality friendly service and decent airline food - it was similar to LOT Polish Airlines, except the staff spoke perfect English on JAT. On arrival in Turkey, I presented myself as an Australian, competed with the often quite pushy crowds in lines, paid the US$20 entry fee, and Salih from Fez Travel was there to greet me and escort me to the van which would get me to my hotel.

Istanbul is the first city in which I've felt genuinely intimidated by the place. The hotel itself is nice, but the moment you leave it, you have to deal with the locals at very close quarters owing to the very narrow streets in the Sultanahmet district where I'm staying. I've already been practically pushed into one restaurant (Kaçkar) and charged Australian prices for a three-course meal last night - reminded me of certain dodgy Chinese eateries in Perth whose English suddenly fails when you try to do anything outside of the plan. I suffered for that meal too - have been all but inactive today due to mild diarrhoea. (I've had worse, though).

To be honest, I can't wait for the tour to start tomorrow. Firstly, it will be an adventure. Secondly, I will actually feel safe. Thirdly, they can tell me decent places to eat. I've spent most of the day trying to sleep off the health problems.

One side note - after thinking about my general lack of food in Eastern Europe, I'm probably weighing less now than when I left Perth for the first time. The sheer decadence with which Daniel and I hit most Canadian cities left me a bit out of shape, as did staying with rellies in Belfast and Vienna (although I am so not complaining - the food was top-class) and then managing the rather manual, escalator-free atmosphere in Eastern cities (sometimes with 20kg+ of luggage in tow) probably improved my figure a bit.

And finally, it's amazing how much better a home-cooked meal is than something you pay $16 for in a proper restaurant with trained culinary staff. Certainly food for thought - pardon the pun.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Wrap-up - Day 48-60 - Central/Eastern Europe

After having spent time in Krakow, Ostrava, Budapest and Beograd, I'm thinking back on my time spent in this region and trying to make sense of my experience for future reference. Overall, I have really enjoyed my time here, although it's been something of a culture shock.

Practical and general observations
* In Eastern Europe, the euro is not widely recognised despite the fact three of the four cities I stayed in are members of the European Union.
* Food tends to be sold outdoor in small makeshift facilities, but is by and large really cheap. You can find modern supermarkets in all of the above cities without looking too hard.
* Contrasting Krakow and Budapest on one hand, and Ostrava and Beograd on the other,
the former two have a highly developed tourist infrastructure, while the latter two do not. As a tourist you can find information easily even so, but you just have to look harder for it.
* In Krakow and Budapest, English is limited. In Ostrava it is non-existent - get a good quality phrasebook (the Lonely Planet one was insufficient for my needs). In Beograd it is widely understood.
* The sort of people you'd expect to help you - bank staff, tourist advisers and the like - are the least friendly people you'll meet in this part of the world. Some have been downright rude to me. Yet the majority of the population is friendly and welcoming - even if they can't understand you. One interesting note - body language is a little (although not hugely) different here, and it's not customary to greet people you don't already know.
* Crime is a lot less of a problem than the international media makes out. I saw worse districts in Honolulu and parts of Canada than in general exist over here. I've been told Warszawa and Bucuresti are more of a problem in that regard, but I can't comment as I've yet to see them.
* Navigation is a bit of a problem as street signs are fixed onto buildings on that street rather than being pointer signs as one gets in Australia, New Zealand, the US or Canada. There'll often only be one sign (and sometimes none) and you just have to either go on faith or get used to missing streets, looking behind you to find the street sign, then finding ways around them.
* Traffic is by and large nuts, crossings are clearly marked everywhere but are not always observed by drivers. Budapest had the worst traffic of the cities I saw, although Beograd rates an honourable mention for being simply crazy. In Budapest and Beograd, stairway underpasses are often the only way to cross major streets.
* I had no problems taking photographs. Just be sensible and don't take photos of lots of police or of security buildings and you'll be fine. I was warned this would be a real problem in Eastern Europe and found it not to be, so thought I'd put it here. I have taken approximately 325 photos across the four cities.

Pointless observations
* Toilet bowls are really weird here - the hole is right at the front and you sit on this large basin. Public toilets are marked "WC" but often cost money to use - usually about 40-60c Australian. If you can't find the flush, look on the right hand side, there is usually either a pull-chain or lever.
* Shower-bath units are available, but the preference is clearly baths in this part of the world. The showers are a bit odd to work as there is only one set of taps and you have to turn the tap on then pull a lever up to get the water to come through the shower.
* Most of the younger generation here are ridiculously good-looking. Don't stare - it's rude. The septuagenarian generation, meanwhile, especially old ladies selling stuff, tend to look more like characters out of Monty Python.

Useful things to know - Language
* Hello is:
Dzien dobry (jen-DOH-bree) in Polish
Dobry den in Czech
Dobar dan in Serbian
Guten Tag or Hallo in German
(don't need it in Hungary, say "Hi" with an accent)

* Goodbye is:
Do vidzenia (do-vi-JEN-yah) in Polish
Na shledanou (nah-sCHleh-da-noh) in Czech (CH as in Scottish loch)
Do vid'enja (similar to Polish) in Serbian
Auf wiedersehen (ow-VEE-dehr-sayn) in German
Viszontlatasra (vi-sont-LAH-tosh-rah) in Hungarian

* Please is:
Prosze (praw-shah) in Polish
Prosim (praw-SEEM) in Czech (point at things and say this)
Bitte (bit-teh) in German

* Thank you is:
Dziekuje (je-KOO-yeh) in Polish (oo as in foot)
De'kuji (je-KOO-yee) in Czech
Hvala (huh-VAH-lah) in Serbian
Danke schön (Dank-eh shern) in German
Köszönöm (ker-ser-nerm) in Hungarian

Friday, September 17, 2004

Day 58-59 - Budapest, Beograd

Wednesday 15 September 2004, 16:00 CET

I'm now on the train from Budapest to Beograd. It's definitely been an interesting time seeing Budapest - I have probably been too harsh on it in the last few entries, but it is a bit rundown in a way which could not be described as charmingly decadent. It wasn't without its showpieces though - the walk up to the Buda Citadel, the Parliament building, some of the churches, the bridges and the waterfront were really nice. The accommodation in these sorts of situations can make or break a place for a traveller like me - my Halifax experience is a testament to that.

Anyway, off to Beograd now. The normally-20-minute walk to Keleti station with all my luggage in tow in 24° and high humidity is not something I would generally recommend. The Hungarian old couple who got off in Kiskoros seemed to find my water-satched state extremely amusing (even more so than my attempts to speak Hungarian).

So far it's been very boring - flat farmland on one side and...flat farmland on the other.

Wednesday 15 September 2004, 23:45 CET

Dobro vece from Beograd, Srbija (better known as Serbia).

Well, a bit of adventure indeed getting here. As I mentioned earlier, my hotel disappeared off the face of the earth (edit: it turned out it hadn't, just they don't answer their phone. I watched the receptionist studiously ignore the phone when I went there today) and the Budapest guys got me a reservation for Three Black Catz in Beograd. A few Serbian teenagers got on the train at Novi Sad and were practising their English on me, to much amusement all around. Once we arrived in Beograd, I found myself arguing with an incomprehensible taxi driver with a cart on the platform and trying to help a German tourist who couldn't read Cyrillic alphabet both at the same time. I was supposed to meet some German travellers from the Budapest hostel there but after getting out of there, I couldn't find them anywhere.

Interesting point - I've since found out (and guessed correctly at the time) that many tourists get ripped off by these aggressive taxi drivers who either just charge them 5-10 times the going rate, or even drive them as far away as Skopje, Macedonia or Novi Sad as a "shortcut" to Beograd and then demand hefty fees in euro to get people back to where they're supposed to be. If you're coming to Beograd and need a taxi, find out the phone numbers in advance and order one.

I found the hostel after getting lost several times - let's say the official site has some glaring geographical misconceptions on it. "One block" from the train station means across, down one block on a main street (Nemanjina), up an at-times-steep hill for approximately 500m, under an underpass, left into a confusing array of shops which turns into a street (not identified as such unless you know Cyrillic alphabet and look carefully). Once you find No.8, it is in fact an apartment building and the hostel is an apartment on the 6th (top) floor. Only the locals can tell you where it is - there are no signs or directions. (A number of the other things on that site are also wrong.) One aside - in Budapest and Belgrade, it is usual to have to use an underpass (stairs only) to cross a major street as crossings are often not provided.

Once I got there, though, it was a very nice atmosphere. It turns out two of the Three Black Catz are not actually black - although I don't normally like cats, I developed quite an affinity for the ginger one. The hostel is easily the most relaxed one I have stayed in - the only rules were to take off your shoes and to leave the toilet door open after you've finished as it's also the cat litter area. The other people here seem pretty friendly and relaxed, which is always good.

Thursday 16 September 2004, 22:00 CET

Beograd is a city which, despite being rundown, has a charm to its decadence. It has suffered much in its long history and sometimes, rebuilding and cleaning everything just doesn't rate alongside other priorities when money is tight. Even the national airline's magazine describes SCG (Serbia & Montenegro/Srbija i Crna Gora) as one of the poorer parts of Europe. However, the people are unbelievably friendly and unlike many somewhat wealthier Eastern cities, many here speak at least some English. I have felt safe the whole time I've been in Beograd and, taking only basic precautions like not flashing my money around, have had nothing happen to me - and this seems to be the opinion of most Western travellers here. Honestly, too, it's also an excellent city for people-watching. The Serbian people are very proud of their identity and their country - and I can actually understand their pride, they do have a lot to offer. It's sad that they have got such a bad rap from the world media.

After staying around the hostel for a while, I decided I should really explore the place even though I was still sans map. I found the fortress (Kalemegdan) and a really ornate Serbian Orthodox church almost by accident, and spent several hours exploring Kalemegdan for a few hours. I then wandered around the shopping districts for a while - the shopping culture here is very different even to other Eastern European cities.

On arrival at Trg Republike (Republic Square), I overheard a Canadian tourist discussing a "war tour" of Beograd with a taxi driver called Predrag, who for just 100 dinar ($2.50) took us around some of the more notorious sites of Beograd's recent history, on the condition we didn't get out or take photos. I felt a bit uneasy putting my camera in a safe, but Predrag assured us we would get it back at the end. Half an hour later, we had seen Slobodan Milosevic's rather luxurious former residence in Dedinje, the sites of the revolution in October 2000 which ousted Milosevic from power, the place where Zoran Djindjic was killed in 2002, numerous badly-bombed apartment buildings (some just one block from the train station) and a few other harrowing sites. It was almost a relief afterwards to walk in a nice green park just next to one of the buildings where the kids were playing basketball, the birds were hopping around, the lunching workers were eating on the grass and one could almost believe things had always been so normal.

After this, I went back to the hostel. They're currently playing a drinking game, while the not-so-subtle tension between the two people who run this place mushrooms. I've been amusing myself with the cats and with chatting to some of the other guests and to Nikolas, a Serb boy who came over and has been providing his thoughts on recent and not-so-recent events in Serbia and the surrounding region. Not feeling too well at the moment - Beograd's smog problems (the worst I've seen while away from Perth) and the indoor smokers may account for some of that.

Oh, yeah, and there was an impromptu fireworks display from the HVB Bank behind the hostel - was quite an impressive show for about 5 minutes. I'm told it has something to do with corrupt local politicians celebrating their own achievements, but it doesn't take away from the fact it was fun to watch.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Day 56-57 - In transit; Budapest

Monday 13 September 2004, 17:45 CET

This place feels just nuts. I'm in Budapest, and everything I've seen on the way to the hostel is either being replaced, being repaired or being badly in need of it. There's a very decadent feel to many of the buildings. I'm a wreck after walking 30 minutes with my luggage and having to cross the street every minute because alternate lengths of the footpath have been dug up and/or fenced off.

(Update from Istanbul: I've since met a Hungarian traveller who has informed me this used to be a red-light district, which probably explains its state of being, and why they'd be replacing everything.)

Firstly, to today. I was thinking about things I will miss in Vienna - there is an abundance of really cute, well-behaved dogs, sometimes with shaggy fur and those sort of eyes that just look up at you. As those who know me would know, I usually have a problem with dogs up close, so this came as a surprise even to me. Then there's the look and feel of the place - it's one of the few places I've been where you can actually 'feel' the culture; Quebec City was possibly the only other city that fitted this category. The other thing is of course the home comforts, cooking and hospitality I've enjoyed courtesy of Christine, George and Catrin. I've certainly not gone without anything in the last few days.

George (my aunt's boyfriend) gave me a lift to the boat station at Reichsbrucke where I was to depart for Budapest. After the usual paperwork, tickets, passport control etc that I'm now starting to just accept as standard issue for travelling, I was surprised by a friend and reader, Julie, who came out to meet me based solely on information contained within this blog! It was a great, but very short, time spent, and was prematurely terminated by the boarding of the last passenger in the line.

The boat journey itself was probably not as amazing as I expected. It was good however - there isn't much that beats going down the Danube in a ferry, given its fame and reputation, and we saw some great sights, including Bratislava and the ancient cathedral at Esztergom. The staff were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and provided us with something of a running commentary as we passed a place in both English and German. The food was also good (and if you didn't mind waiting until an hour before docking, it was free too).

However my gripes were - firstly, the boat was quite low and the windows were dirty, so I didn't get to see a great deal unless I went out to one of the open doors and looked outside. Unfortunately, these prime viewing locations were usually being hogged by one of maybe two or three individuals. The smoking section was not detached from the main section, which made some things a bit unpleasant. I also came to learn on this trip that whiny middle-aged Canadian package tourists can be just as obnoxious, annoying and rude as their south of the border counterparts. However, I did enjoy the company of a judge and lawyer from Iceland and his wife, who made for interesting conversation.

On arrival in Budapest, things were a bit chaotic - I had been given a free map, but I had no idea where I actually was. When I figured this out, it turned out to be quite a distance away - not fun when you're towing 22kg of luggage along narrow streets with people coming the other way on occasion. The street the hostel is in was in a terrible shape, and most of the buildings seemed on the brink of ruination.

The hostel itself, however, is amazing. It's the smallest I've stayed in, having only three bedrooms, but the staff are very friendly and with a great sense of humour and I've met interesting people from all over the world, including several bits of Australia I didn't even know existed. (Well, not quite, but you get the idea.) There's an atmosphere here which is hard to describe but it's a very warm, social sort of place. It's in an old building with a Communist-era lift (elevator for you Canadians :) with red manual doors and wooden interior - henceforth called "the Communist lift". I've had great fun playing with it, even if it doesn't entirely work (it goes from first to ground but not from ground to first.)

Tuesday 14 September 2004, 23:40 CET

My activities in Budapest sadly haven't been many. Didn't really get the chance to see much as I was here such a short time, ended up socialising with other hostellers and had to take care of admin stuff. I walked up to the Buda citadel today (quite a tiring one-hour walk) via the Elisabeth Bridge and saw an overview of the whole city. My impression of Budapest is considerably more positive than it was earlier. In some ways it is like Vienna but just doesn't have the charm screaming out at you like the former does, but it is definitely there if you look for it. It isn't as cheap as Krakow and Ostrava were - I've spent $25-$30 without even realising, not counting the ticket to Belgrade and the hostel, and I really have not eaten much at all. Thankfully the tap water here is drinkable.

I'm going to Beograd tomorrow - staying at a hostel that came recommended from the guys here. It sounds really good - it's on the main square and everything. One final tip before I leave - Eurail passes, unless you travel lots and lots, are a waste of money. I was quoted $749 for one and my total train travel has yet to exceed $150. This is considering I went from Poland to Austria and am now travelling the same distance again down into the heart of Serbia.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Update - Budapest

Just a quickie - It seems the first planning hurdle has hit. The hotel in Belgrade which has my credit card number and a reservation may be no longer in business. It is impossible to find out, all I know is that their website (hotelroyal-bg.com) has vanished and their two listed numbers ring out. The people here in Budapest are trying to help me find new accommodation. Anyway, off to the train station to get my ticket. I'll post a more informative update later.

Day 53-55 - Vienna (Wien)

Sunday 12 September 2004, 19:30 CET

I've had an amazing time in Vienna. It's an interesting place - it's truly an international city (with all the good and bad implications of that designation) and is full of historical buildings, green parks and little cobblestone-paved streets to explore. The people are really nice in this corner of the world, and traffic is pretty much as orderly as most parts of Canada I visited. The transport is amazingly efficient and cheap - even on a Sunday I had no problem getting around on the metro (U-Bahn) and buses.

The place to go here is definitely the area bordered by the Ringstrasse - the "Innere Stadt" (Inner City) - and in particular the west and southwest sections of it. In that, you will find the Kunsthistorische (art and history museum), the Hofburg (a massive web of old buildings which formerly served as a palace and fortress), Stefansdom (the massive church at the heart of the city), the Rathaus (City Hall), the Parliament building with the Athena Statue at the front (currently closed for about a year for maintenance), and the list goes on.

From there, you can easily explore the inner suburbs by tram. Plenty of shopping opportunities but also a random scattering of amazing-looking historic buildings and churches. There's also Schönbrunn, a few U-Bahn stations away from the city, which was the main palace used by the Habsburg dynasty from the 1700s onwards. I spent a half-day just at this one place alone - for about €8, you can explore the inner rooms of the Schönbrunn where Maria Theresa and her descendants lived. It's an amazing insight into the lives of the old royal families in Europe - even some of their individual personalities come across somewhat in the rooms they inhabited.

One tip for any travellers to Vienna - at most major train stations, you can buy a "Vienna Card" (Wien-Karte in German) at the ticket office for €16.90. This gives you 72 hours (from validation, not from purchase) of unlimited travel, discounts to museums (including but definitely not limited to the Kunsthistorische, the Albertina which I wanted to visit but didn't, and Schönbrunn) and some other goodies.

For me personally, I've managed to see the places where my mother and grandfather spent their childhoods, put flowers on the family grave, and see what those same places looked like 50-70 years ago (in many cases, not very different). It's weird seeing photos of my mum as a young girl of maybe 3 or 4 in front of buildings I've now actually been to. We also went up into the Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) where the city ends (quite literally - you see a sign with "Wien" stroked out as you enter the area) and the forests and mountains begin. While most roads in Vienna are just like roads anywhere else, the one going up to Kahlenberg was cobblestone-paved - it was a pretty wild drive :) The other weird bit is Grinzing where you get wineries right in the middle of the suburb.

Anyway, off to Budapest tomorrow. It's almost like a measure of degrees where each section of the journey is a step further into the fire - first Canada, then Europe, and now towards the not-so-well-off southeastern parts of Europe and Turkey. the pattern is, of course, broken by a luxury holiday in Singapore at budget rates, immediately prior to my return to Perth. I am getting to the stage where I'm enjoying what I'm doing but am starting to miss my homeland a bit and am keen to get back, but not before having some more adventures. I'll keep you all posted as I go.