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Archive for March, 2010

Edinburgh, Scotland

March 30th, 2010 Comments off

The last city of my trip was Edinburgh. I’ll admit that by the time I got there, I was heartily ready to go home. To some extent this feeling was staved off by being in an English speaking country where I could be sure of navigating my way into and through the menu of any restaurant I happened upon. Plus, local knowledge from Aaron meant we had good places for coffee, and made some friends at the local geek event.

Like almost every other city on my tour of Europe, Edinburgh is old. Testament to this is the thousand year old Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline of the old and new towns, not to mention the various cathedrals, museums, statues and monuments.

For your viewing pleasure, you should visit the Scott Monument. From here, you can get a 360 degree view of the city, from coast to suburbs. There is however, no lift, and my swollen ankle felt every single one of the 287 narrow spiral steps going both up and down. The view is worth it though. It’s fiercely cold up there.

I have to admit I liked Edinburgh, and am vaguely considering working there for a while. Possibly for the same reasons I like Wellington. It’s a city, with all the amenities, but small enough to retain that laid back feeling. The fact that there’s regular trains at all hours to London for events would be a big plus.

The only downside to my stay was the backpackers (Caledonian Backpackers), which has an interesting approach to showers. While I like to think that I’m not a prude, I’m not particularly partial to being forced to expose myself to everyone in the toilet/bathroom everytime I take a shower. Also, I think the mattress of my bunk was older than me. In hindsight, I was spoilt by the Meininger hostels in Berlin.

The Scottish accent isn’t that hard to decipher.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

March 28th, 2010 Comments off

I have a historical attachment to Amsterdam. My Grandfather is from there, and used to skate on the canals in winter. By the time I arrived in late March this year, the icing of the canals was long over, and I was down to two layers of clothing, no longer needing the thermal gloves and woolly hat ensemble.

So what’s Amsterdam like now? Well, it’s a nice city, where the core has been partially ruined by tourists. In this regard, it’s a like Prague. The old city, that was clearly once a functioning downtown area has now been largely replaced by a tourist trap of little more than a themed collection of cafes, “Coffee shops”, “marijuana museums”, cut-rate hostels, sex shops, bars, kebab shops, and Argentinean steak houses. The saving grace is that in Amsterdam’s, this area is compressed into the a pair of avenues flanking a canal that makes up the infamous red-light district, and few surrounding streets. Escaping is merely a case of walking a few more blocks. This might be a problem if you’re ankle is still twice the size it’s meant to be, like mine is. There’s a good tram and subway system, and the buses looked like they were probably useful.

In addition, the the proximity of the central train station and various other central points appears to have kept central Amsterdam from being completely overrun by tourists. That, and the lack of disparity between the income of tourists and the locals.

Central Amsterdam is cramped. The Dutch love affair with bicycles is not a myth. Attached to railings everywhere are bikes in various states of repair and decay. What you will not find, is a large selection of mountain bikes like I’m used to in New Zealand. This is probably due to the lack of mountains in the Netherlands. In fact, the lack of any hills of any kind means that gearing is largely useless. The vast majority of bicycles here are the single gear upright type that I associate with 1950′s USA. Traveling in via train and out to the ferry terminal via coach, I got the feeling that the majority of Hollanders are leaving the old city in droves, spreading out in what appears to be European variant of suburbia, where large collections of apartment blocks are built on the edge of the city, connected to commercial districts and amenities only by cars and highways, rather than bikable avenues and canals.

For all that, it’s a laid back city. On the narrow streets of the central city, you will get stuck in traffic, a lot, and everyone else will just have to sit there and wait till that truck finishes unloading. If you’re after a non-stop action, then you should look elsewhere, though New Zealanders and Australians will probably feel right at home – which is probably why there’s so many of them there. If I have the opportunity, I’ll be back. Next time however, I’ll get a room away from the Red Light district.

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

Berlin, Germany

March 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Berlin was mostly a wash. After foolishly deciding to walk the three kilometres to the Zoo-Aquarium, my ankle flared up, and two days of rain and the need to shop for toiletries and do washing reduced our already low enthusiasm to near zero. Before sitting on the Internet and drinking beer for two days, we did see the Natural History museum.

It’s worth mentioning that the Museum was bombed in the second world war, and is slowly being put back together. It wasn’t clear when, but either reconstruction started fairly recently, or it’s a been a rate of work that I last experienced at midday in Samoa. The sections that were up and running are fantastic, and the windows into the large blocked off showed an incredible number of potential exhibits and space to show them. The five euro entry fee was not onerous though, and the front hall exhibit with the dinosaur skeletons alone made it worth the price of admission. The Hominoid Evolution exhibt was fantastic for getting a sense of human ancestors and distant cousins. Being a urbanite, I don’t often have a real sense of scale of the size of animals. With the exception of sheep, cows, cats and dogs, I simply don’t have that contact. Even at the zoo, animals are in cages, several metres away. The museums Evolution in Action exhibt helped bridge that gap. There’s an entire hall with stuff or reconstructions of dozens species of what I will call goats (it might be the genus Capra. The sheer variety of evolutionary adapations within a single form was fascinating.

Also, it worth checking out the universe movie. Those familiar with the essentials of stellar evolution won’t learning anything, but it’s all of ten minutes long. You lie down on a circular couch, and a circular screen three floors up is lowered down, displaying evolution of the universe, starting with big bang, and eventually down a google maps-esque zoom in to the museum. It then zooms out through the solar system, then the galaxy, then the local group, and our galactic cluster, then the super cluster… well you get the idea. It’s very humbling.

So how was Berlin in general? If you’re eighteen and want to party, it’s great. Otherwise, it’s probably worth going to Checkpoint Charlie to see the few remains of the Berlin wall. There’s a good collection of museums and so on, but frankly, any history earlier than World War Two was bombed during the same. I would recommend two days, tops. It’s probably not a bad place to live, from the little I saw of it, and the two pubs we visited were nice. From an English speaking point of view, everyone you need to will speak at least enough English for you to get by.

“Free Wifi in the Lobby.”

Apparently I look German. Aaron will dispute this. On more than a few occasions, I would start speaking in English, and get German in response. Americans did this to me as well. This would explain the above phrase turning up in the middle of an introductory speech given by the hostel staff to a group of German school children. It would seem that the Germans borrow just as many words from other languages as English-primary speakers do.

Linux in Europe

March 21st, 2010 1 comment

Before taking off to Europe, I was sincerely considering whether or not to take my netbook. I took it. It’s been a godsend. I have used it for so many things. Hostelworld, train bookings, city and country guides on Wikitravel, writing this blog, discussing souvenir requests, Netbanking, maps, emailing my landlord and flatmates in New Zealand, and of course, the ever-present and ubiquitous Facebook. It’s also pretty handy for whiling away the time on those twelve hour plane and train journeys too.

Yes, I could use the various Internet terminals that are now available everywhere, but you just don’t know if those have key loggers or not. I’m not wildly enthusiastic about the idea of someone in Europe getting access to my bank and email accounts. This isn’t likely, because most of the terminals are running Linux anyway, but it’s just easier to take a one kilo netbook, and use for as long as I have a power source, rather than negotiating use of the shared terminals.

Oh yeah – I keep seeing Linux everywhere. I have yet to see another traveller – apart from Aaron – using Linux, although you could argue that facebook looks the same on everything – but I have noticed that a large chunk of web terminals, kiosks, PoS terminals, Wifi captive portals, in-flight entertainment systems, and various embedded devices are running Linux. Though in the case of Meininger Hotels, they use Linux for everything, with a quasi Windows XP theme on the web terminals.

I am curious what has led to this. Is it developer preference, better internationalisation support, customisability, or simply a case of escaping licence costs?

Categories: Life, Tech Tags: ,

Krakow, Poland

March 21st, 2010 Comments off

Now in Berlin, Germany. Day two. It’s raining. Bah. I shall talk about Berlin later.

Krakow, Poland was awesome. Aaron says that if they banned smoking in pubs, he would move there. I am inclined to agree. There’s a sense of history and tradition, but modern amenities are there as well. And, the people are very friendly. We drank a little beer, and a lot of Vodka. Apparently, the right way to drink polish vodka is in ice cold glasses, with room temperature vodka.

We went to the Auschwitz museum. I didn’t look at every single exhibit, since I frankly didn’t have the stomach for it, and I really didn’t feel like visiting the Birkenau camp afterwards. I think it’s important to have these reminders of our past, not just as part of our history, but also as a warning for future generations.

The day after, we visited the Salt Mines at Wieliczka. Salt was produced here from the 1280s to 1994. The mine has well over 200 km of galleries and shafts. The tour took us through a small portion of this, and went from 65 meters underground to 165 meters underground, touching on the history of production and the mines effect on the economy over the years.

Also, there’s the castle, the Dragon of Krakow, and lots of churches.

Oh, Europcar eventually refunded my money, although they never replied to my email.

Krakow, Poland – Day One

March 16th, 2010 Comments off

We spent one night in Stuttgart and took an early train to Prague. In hindsight, I would have happily spent another day in Stuttgart, checking out their Planetarium and the car museums run by Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. The locals were friendly, the food was reasonably priced, both unlike Strasbourg.

We arrived in Prague, and spent approximately twenty four hours there before bailing. Bluntly, the old city is now a tourist trap. There’s a few incredibly cool buildings and chuches, but you can do those in a day, and everything except beer is more expensive than London.

Europcar still has not refunded the deposit against my VISA card, which I neither signed nor PIN’d for. Grr.

Anyway, took an overnight train from Prague to Krakow, Poland (there’s only one). The sleeper car was old, but not ancient, but clean and serviceable. Krakow has so far turned out to be awesome, happily work with what English they may or may not know (and don’t refuse you service because you don’t) people are nice, and the staff at the Hostel are incredibly helpful.

I just don’t have any money, due to Europcar being dicks.

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Leaving Strasbourg, Kebabs

March 12th, 2010 Comments off

OK, so we didn’t go to the Czech Republic just yet. Owing to a massive screw up at Europcar where we were led to believe that the car would be happily insured for driving in Czech Republic and Poland – because you know, that’s the option I selected on the website when I booked back in January – we are now on a train to Stuttgart. Frankly, we just wanted to get out of France, because the anti-English feeling is in full effect. Maybe it’s a Strasbourg thing, but the single place outside of the Hotel where we didn’t feel like complete twits for not speaking fluent French was the hole in the wall where got Kebabs*, and the train station.

Don’t get me wrong, my French is quite terrible, but I did make a concerted effort not to act like an American and just yell louder till I got what I want. Part of the fun of travelling is making a go of it, despite the fact that you’re lost in the foreign country. I just wish that the locals in Strasbourg weren’t so… angry.

* I have no idea if this is a Strasbourg or France thing, but kebabs are really popular here. More so than Wellington. Almost as many as bakeries.

Categories: Life Tags: , , ,

Strasbourg, France

March 11th, 2010 Comments off

Strasbourg reminds me a lot of Hamilton. It’s a functioning city, but apart from the Cathedral, which is impressive – there’s not a lot going on.

It’s also incredibly cold, leaving me to believe that there’s probably a fully happening social scene happening inside one of the square looming concrete slabs that pass for buildings here. That’s not to say there isn’t an appreciation for design and architecture, but with the exception of the cathedral and various churches dotted around, all effort at the visual aesthetic is saved for the inside.

On that note, I have yet to see this fashion sense the French are apparently so famous for. Everyone seems to be decked out in an endless series of black leather jackets, baggy jeans and black boots. Fashionable perhaps, but lacking in variety.

Tomorrow, we drive to the Czech Republic!

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How not to start a Holiday

March 5th, 2010 1 comment

Four airports.
Twenty six hours of flying time.
Two days of travel.

Total time from arrival at destination to incur a major injury: 30 minutes.

I landed in London. With of help from Aaron, I managed to navigate the London underground, find my hostel, and check in. I had a much needed shower, and headed downstairs to get a meal and a drink.

At which point I promptly rolled my ankle, where it then swelled up to the size of a baseball. It’s now incredibly difficult to walk anywhere. I have three days in London, and at least the first one is a complete write off.

Damnit!

I would like to give to praise the staff at Palmers Lodge, who supplied me with ice, and located a set of crutches for me to use for a minimal deposit.

Categories: Life Tags: , ,

London

March 2nd, 2010 Comments off

Tomorrow, I’m off to Europe for a month. I may post photos.

Out of curiosity, I had a look at some CO2 calculators.

My annual CO2 usage is about 150 to 200 kilograms*.

The flight from Wellington to London and back will apparently generate around 9000 kilograms of CO2.

Bugger.

* That’s not a typo, I live in an apartment in the middle of the city, don’t own a car, and walk everywhere.

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