Sunday, 30 December 2007

No News Is Good News

I know, I know. I know you're out there, and I know you're all hungry for news and pics of my crazy ambling.

Fortunately, I am too busy having the time of my life, which prevents me from putting down and together any amount of words.

But stay tuned. We'll be back shortly.

Thursday, 27 December 2007


Though not that wild, actually. Cleland Wildlife Park is a place I can't cease to recommend to everyone I meet. You can of course see echidnas, wombats, wallabies, emus, snakes, lizards and tons of birds in lots of other places.

But few are your occasions of feeding and petting kangaroos and koalas. Let me introduce you to my new friends:

Skippy the kangaroo

and Collie the koala!

I wanted to cuddle a wombat* too, but apparently they don’t appreciate it and bite. I didn’t try it with the emus* either, and nor did anybody else. They have a way of looking mean, mad and dangerous up close, without actually doing anything to account for it. I think it’s those big bright eyes and the mocking smile. And the mechanical, robotic way they walk. I can’t help thinking of an AT-AT Walker from Star Wars driven by The Joker.

But actually, the only really wild and potentially dangerous creature I saw was a kangaroo just outside the fence, that started growling and showing me its teeth as soon as I approached. I gather he had come because of the scent of the females inside, and he was quite angry because he couldn’t pass the fence. When I first approached the park, I was impressed by the security measures. Barbed wire, electrified fences, double fence lines in some places. It looked rather like a concentration camp or Jurassic Park. I thought, boy, there’s no way I’m getting in there for free. I was ready to spend $13 on the admission fee, but then, whaddya know, the rear door was open. Turns out those fences are more for keeping inmates in and other animals out.

But back to our stray ’roo. From behind the fence, I amused myself watching the poor enraged bastard. He hissed and he growled, and made aggressive gestures, which was really funny to watch. That is, funny from behind an electrified barrier. Now I have the proof of the roos’ famous bad temper.

*wombat = a marsupial halfway between a pig and a mole

*emu = a mean-looking ostrich

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


Go West
Life is peaceful there
Go West
There in the open air
Go West
Where the skies are blue
Go West
This is what we're gonna do

Life is certainly peaceful in Perth. Sedated, even. After a while, dull. That is, according to the many travelers I've met. I myself haven't had the chance to get bored, and I've actually found it to be quite lively. Looks like I've hit the Interesting Times here: Christmas time. I can easily tell, for the city is packed full. It took me a long long time to find accommodation, and it was of the expensive sort. They say I've hit the "good" hostel though, and I've heard some really interesting stories of what the bad ones are like.

The very day I arrived they had a big parade through the city, with loads of colourful coaches and people dressed up funny, doing crazy choreographies. Dancers, clowns, jugglers, drum-banging hordes of asians, the full set. And the pipers, of course. Heaps of them. Can't have a parade without the pipers, stands to reason.

Then I met the locals and went out for a few beers too many. It was great fun.

Fremantle (the port of Perth) is fun on weekends. I love browsing through stalls in the markets, gaping at every cheap souvenir with a sprayed kangaroo on it. No comparison to the Victoria Market in Melbourne or Paddy's Markets in Sydney, but they're still cool enough. Fremantle also has a bit of history to it, and that's a plus.

Met the first two Spanish guys since Sydney (a rarity themselves in these parts), jolly good chaps both of them, with lots of stories to tell. It felt surprisingly good to have someone to speak Spanish to. I was tired of meeting german and dutch people, with their secret codes of communication. It was fun to use my own for a while.

Then Justo and I went to Scarborough for some beaching, but the day was pretty windy, so we came back up to our ears in sand.

On my last day I finally climbed to King's Park for some nice views of the city. They say it's prettier at sundown, but I had to get going.

All in all, though I've enjoyed my time there, met a truckload of cool people and had heaps of fun, I haven't done much in Perth itself. I suppose there just isn't much to do. It's just a nice place, with a "relaxed and laid-back" atmosphere. A place where it's common to get a nod, a smile and an "Oaryagoin' mate!" from people you pass on the street. Really homely for a city its size.

And then I suppose there's always the museums and zoos to visit. I would've done that, with a few more days to spare. But alas, time is scarce. Gotta get hopping on to Adelaide.

The Pinnacles Trip

I took an organized day trip there, which in the end turned out to include a mere 30 minutes stay at the Pinnacles themselves. I would be angry about that, but I had so much fun it didn't matter.

First of all, I saw my first proper big kangaroos and koalas up close, in a park where we stopped just for that. I also caught a glimpse of a few emus, all of them running away as soon as we approached.

Then, on our way to do some sandboarding, our driver managed to get our 4WD truck stuck in sand. Bogged, he called it. After watching how the halfwit tried forward and reverse 80 times and just dug deeper and deeper, I offered my services as a rational being and came up with the idea of putting rocks and wood under the wheels. He discarded it as useless, and tried to dig out the wheels with his hands. I came up with the idea of using the sandboards as shovels. He discarded it as useless, and just continued to sink the thing deeper.

So I just did what I had proposed, and gathered rocks and sticks, then started shovelling with a board. Two Asian guys joined in. We propped the wheels, and we shoveled, and we shoveled some more, while our idiot driver watched and commented. I started pushing and everybody joined. We pushed. And we pushed and we sweated. And we pushed and we sweated some more.

And we made it.

We got the truck out of the sand. It was great. For the same price, a full hour of forced labor for free!

After that, the sandboarding, on big dunes of very fine sand. An opportunity to end up to my ears in sand I didn't miss. It's fun, but not as exciting as it seems.

Then we drove a few more hours and arrived at the National Park. Had a nourishing barbie* lunch there, then went to see it. We saw it. I loved it. Even though it was too short.

Drove half of the 260km back to Perth. I slept. We had tea*. Drove back the other half. I slept.

I arrived back at the hostel, and heartily filled my dorm with a very abundant mix of three different kinds of sand, much to the cleaning lady's dismay the following morning.

Heaps of sand. Heaps of fun.

* barbie=barbecue. As in, brekkie=breakfast, undies=underwear
*tea=light early evening meal, very rarely including tea


Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of solid rock pillars, boldly reaching for the blue sky again, through the sand and the wind, like the once mighty trees that made them... while slowly crumbling away, constantly, inevitably, eroding, bit by bit disintegrating into more sand, joining the infinite surrounding dunes... then blown away and away, over the hills and beyond the horizon, fine dust subtly flying into oblivion.

That's the Pinnacles. Beautiful, isn't it?

Out of Rottnest

I booked the trip to Rottnest Island and the accommodation with a travel agency, which was a first for me. I paid a few dollars more, but I saved myself a lot of trouble.

Just as usual, when we're talking bureaucracy and myself, by the time I got to Fremantle C-shed, the ferry company had no record of my booking. I actually had a booking for an 8:30 service that didn't exist (their fault: a misprint). Took them half an hour to fix it.

I enjoyed the cruise, and got there without further incident. I knew I wanted to rent a bike, and thought I would just get it on the island. It never occurred to me that I could get a decent mountain bike from the ferry at a decent price.

Instead, I paid a rajah's ransom for a useless metal bulk that looked like the offspring of tractor and a rake and might, just might, have been a bike in one of its previous metallic reincarnations. A one-gear, wobbly, unstable rusty contraption, rented as if it was made of gold and diamonds.

I had to push it more than ride it. Every bump was pain, every hill penitence. After every ride, my legs were shaking and my arse was in agony.

Oh, but I had so much fun.

I flew down the hills, by the splashing sea, over bays of coral. I went up the hills, up the cliffs, down to the beach. I cycled all the island, and walked half of it. I swam and snorkeled among the pink corals, in the company of heaps of very photographic fish of all shapes and sizes, colorful starfish and hermit crabs.

It’s a small island, but it’s still easy to escape civilization. Actually, civilization on Rottnest consists in a few buildings by the main jetty, a couple of residential neighborhoods and the former army barracks, now refurbished as the Youth Hostel. When I got to the Other Side (Cape Vlamingh*), I was alone.

Alone with the Rats, that is. The island is full of them. “Quokkas”, they’re called. They do look like kangaroo rats; hence the name “Rats’ nest”. They’re the friendliest (and smallest) merry hopping marsupials I’ve met yet. They don’t mind you petting them, and will be very happy to eat whatever green thing you care to give them. Actually, they’re pretty stupid too, which may explain why they’re almost extinct on the continent. No competition or predators on the island.

And that’s about it. Rottnest: a great small place to go to get Away.
I sincerely loved every minute.
* named after the first Dutch guy who bothered to step ashore and give the island a name


Two days. Two days of cycling, swimming, snorkelling and hiking. Two days of blue skies, green hills, white beaches, turquoise crystalline waters and azure seas. Two gorgeous apocalyptic sunsets. Two days alone with Nature itself.

Two days of fun, adventure and freedom. Two days away from everybody and everything I know. Two days Away.


Saturday, 8 December 2007


The great huge empty dry flat plain nothingness in the way from Adelaide to Perth, crossed by the straightest 478km of railway track in the world.

Staring out of the window while crossing it has a certain hypnotic effect. A rough mat of greenish gray covers the reddish floor. No tree or house or any other point of reference in sight, just the same cloned scrub at irregular intervals on a flat flat plain, stretching to a heated blurry horizon and the infinite unknown nothingness behind. This same landscape keeps repeating itself, rolling on in front of your eyes, again and again, like a conveyor belt, on and on, until it starts revolving around itself, and becomes a whirling disc of scrubby shrubs and red dirt, and the horizon is a wobbly mirage, you can see the sea and almost the surfers and the disc is spinning, and now it's you that are going in circles around it all, in a huge infinite merry-go-round that will take you nowhere and never let you go, until your bones too lie spinning in the sun, clean and white, on the red red earth.

But the spell is broken when the train stops at a place that only exists as a name on the map and a bent signpost by the track, where people have gathered because the coming of the train is the big event of the week, probably of the month, possibly of the year. Aboriginal people, coming from a rumoured settlement over the horizon, driving the same white utes, with the trunk full of kids, coming for a free one-hour concert.

Then comes Cook, the ghost town in the approximate middle of the very precise nowhere, with abandoned buildings, rusting old wrecks, and a population of 2, who run a souvenir shop. There you really realize how far away you are from anything whatsoever.

Then the disc starts spinning again.

Tassie is an island's name

I'm in love with Tassie. She's a wonderful beautiful incredible place.

There's so much Nature happening around you at all times that you can't have enough of it in a lifetime. If you need to be alone, you just need to choose your background: mountains, beaches, forests, lakes, hills and rivers are all around you, a stone's throw away. Wherever you go, if you skip the highways, it's likely you won't meet anyone for hours.

Though there's little reason for not wanting to meet'em. Tassie people are cheerful, jolly-spirited, and so unbelievably friendly you'd think you're best friends with everyone. They greet you with delight and a big shining smile, and most often crack a joke in the first 5 seconds.

Cities and towns are all safe and clean, and really friendly to the pedestrian. Though I reckon this could be said for most of Australia, it's certainly true here. It's hard to get lost; streets are clearly labeled, and there are signposts pointing to anything interesting. And you'll never be left wanting for a toilet or a sip of water, even on a remote track in the middle of the forest.

But sure, not everything's perfect. First there's the weather. Tasmanian weather is proverbially unpredictable and quick-changing. One minute the sun burns through your skin like a blowtorch, the next it's raining possums and dingoes. Now it's hot, now it's chilly, now it's clouded, now it's windy.

And then there's the roads. Tasmanian roads suck. Really big time. They're all narrow and winding, and many are unsealed*. People drive fast on 4wd utes with high clearance, raising dust clouds, which is a bit unnerving at times. So no cicling in Tasmania, however hardcore you might be.

And there's the roadkill, of course.
To the best of my knowledge, I've managed to spare the lives of all adventurous furry and feathery creatures that crossed my path, but I could have been less lucky and hit a big one.

But loved it, loved it, loved it and had a wonderful time.

To anyone going to Tassie I would recommend:
- Do go, it's really worth it.
- Go in summer, the winter is cold and humid.
- If you're in Hobart:
-- Climb Mount Wellington
-- Stay at the Hobart Hostel
-- And get out of Hobart!!
- Get a car, or bus pass if you have more time than money.
- Don't miss any NP, they're worth it.
- Meet the locals, you'll have fun.

*Unsealed road = gravel road = dirt track = track a goat would not venture onto

Out of Tasmania

Day 1 (28 Nov)
- Got to the Hobart Hostel, met some awesome people (how do you write that?)
- Had a few fun beers. Coopers Brewery=two thumbs up.

Day 2
- Hiked up Mount Wellington with aforesaid Awesome People (henceforth AP). Long hike, loads of fun. Hit wonderful weather, had amazing views. Ended up exhausted, but really loved it.

Day 3
- Rented a car. Got it cheap at first, but guy at Thrifty scared me into paying for extra insurance, which at the time seemed a good idea.
- Took a while to get used to driving on the wrong side. When signalling for turning left or right, I got a very clean windshield instead.
- Scratched a tyre while parking.
- Day trip to Bruny Island with AP. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
- Took the ferry there and back. Rediscovered I love being at sea.
- Took beautiful pictures.
- Painted the white car a shitty brown with dirt from the gravel roads.
- Couldn't see the penguins, it was too early in the evening.
- Went all the way South to the lighthouse. Chilly, windy, lovely.
- Took beautiful pictures.
- Made it back just on time to take the ferry to the mainland.
- Dropped the guys at the Hostel, went out on my own.
- Drove until nightfall. Crossed the Tasman Bridge, passed Sorrell, said ok shit that's enough and stopped near Lewisham, on a dirt patch at an intersection.
- A policeman (policemate?) came, no doubt called by someone living in the vicinity. "Neighbourhood watch", they call it.
Policeman: "G'day mate!"
Me: "G'day"
P: "Ev'thin' all righ'?"
M: "No worries"
P: "Wherabouts yer from?"
M: "Spain"
P: "Oh, ess-pa-nya!"
M: "Yupp"
P:"Sleepin' 'ere t'night, are ya?"
M: "Yupp"
P: "Ok, g'night then"
Day 4
- Woke up late, drove to the Tasman Peninsula. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
- Stopped at the Tesselated Pavement, took tons of pictures of myself walking on it.
- Went up and down Pirates' Bay, walking the sands, skipjumping rocks, climbing up cliffs and being surprised by the diversity and colourfulness of dead marine life lying on the beach.
- Got attacked by a seagull. Turns out I was conspicuously close to her eggs. Now here's an exercise for you: try jumping from rock to rock over splashing waves, while dodging an angry seagull diving at you. It's fun, but you're likely to get a bit wet. I did.
- Saw the Blowhole and Tasman's Arch. Nice and rocky.
- Drove on to Port Arthur. The biggest tourist attraction of Tasmania turns out to be just the remains of the penal colony: a few old buildings. While no doubt interesting, still severely overpriced and not my cup of tea.
- Drove a bit North and had a chilly night amidst the woods, near the shore.

Day 5
- Drove back to the mainland, stopping at lovely deserted windy beaches along the way.
- Took the Wielangta Forest Drive. Lovely. Got off the main road and got a bit lost. It was great fun, I had the forest all for myself. Finally arrived at closed gate with redundant "Keep Out" message, so had to backtrack. Took a few walks in the forest, really really worth it.
- Got almost attacked by seagull. But this time I was prepared, I had a Big Stick.
- Went up the coast; Orford, Triabunna, Swansea, Bicheno. Nothing much in those places. They're all nice, and Bicheno adds to that a hill, a few interesting rocks and a Blowhole.
- Drove my way to Launceston, met the Suicidal Wallabies et altra.
- Hit a railway track and broke the underside of the car a bit. Tasmanian roads suck. Big time. No wonder all vehicles are Utes*/4WDs.
- Fixed the broken plastic thing temporarily with a piece of ripped tyre I found on the road.
- Drove on to Launceston, where I had no hostel booking. Remembered I had a "Let's Go Australia" guidebook with me, on which I identified the only hostel in the centre. Took me a while to find it.
- Guess who I met there: David & Johan, the very same AP guys from Hobart, on their way to the Overland Track. Way to go mates!

*Ute = pickup truck, usually white and with a useless snorkel

Day 6
- Spent a preposterous amount of time trying to fix the car, and finally managed it. Hope they don't notice.
- Spent some more time online, and buying food and petrol.
- Was very happy to finally get out of Launceston after too much time in city traffic. It's a nice place though, if you're on foot.
- It started pissing, but I went ahead with my plans and drove up to Narawntapu National Park, to look for wombats and kangaroos. No luck with the sighting, just a few wallabies.
- Met some other members of the Suicidium genus, spared their lives.
- Stopped for the night at a really nice free caravan park, close to Cradle Mountain.
- Saw lots of stars in the chilly night. Recognized some of them, but realized the constellations are all twisted.

Day 7
- Shitty pissing day, didn't feel like paying $22 to get to to Cradle Mountain. Got close on foot though, took my "been there" pic.
- Drove all around the mountains, through Queenstown and the National parks.
- Did a few hikes through rainforests, up and down hills, to waterfalls and rivers. Oh yes. Description is redundant, check the pics.
- Slept in New Norfolk, right in the city. Found no better place.

Day 8
- Made my way to the same hostel, dropped my stuff.
- Dropped the car. Felt really relieved. A rental car is an inexhaustible source of problems and worries.
- Went out to see what entertainment Hobart has to offer.
- Turns out the answer is "none" after 16:00. Boat trip around the bay, last one had already departed. Museum, closed when I got there. Damn.
- Walked around the historic part, read about that, was interesting.
- Got chilly, went back to hostel, met Awesome Guy, had really good time and a few beers. Cheers Shin!
- Happily got out of Hobart the next morning, on a delayed flight. Hopped on to Adelaide.


When green is the color and blue is the contrast
When the road is a mirror and the sky is on fire
When the world is all fields and a tree is an island

When the water is soothing and the sand is your bed
When the sun is ablaze and the rain is not wet
When the void is not empty and the stars are misplaced
When the rays pierce the clouds and the wind's in your face
When now is the time and here the place

When the light blasts the shadows and they lay on the ground
When the North is the South and the Earth is so round

When a mountain's a stone and the sky is the limit
When the sunset's the end and the dawn the beginning
When life is a road and your maps are misleading

Then you know you're alive and you know you are living

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Longest Journey

Assuming everything works smothly, I'll be on board the Indian Pacific on my way to Perth in a few hours. I should arrive there on the 8th.

This means, of course, that I'll be incommunicated for 2 days, while I roll along through the most absolute emptiness.

Actually, I'm really looking forward to it.

See you later!

Monday, 3 December 2007

Slightly incommunicated

Hi all! As you might have noticed, I don't get online much. Public internet access in these places is outstandingly crappy, slow, useless and expensive.

I offer my apologies from here to all those who are still waiting for me to answer an email.

I really wish I could.

Sunday, 2 December 2007


Today I've seen my first wallabies*. More accurately, today I've almost run over my first wallabies.

Eight of them. One thought that crossing the road just in front of my car was an exciting adventure. Another just sat in the middle of the lane scratching its nose. The rest mostly poked their nose into the asphalt, apparently trying to judge its nutritive value.

This was all at sunset. They do warn you about this. Apparently, the road is the cool place to be at sundown, in wallaby town. It's the trendy disco, the fashionable lounge, the seat of all excitement.

I was thrilled myself. I was excited as a child in a theme park. I tried to get close to a couple of them with photographic intentions, to no avail. They don't mind your car hitting them, but you'll find they're quickly hoppping away as soon as you try to take a snapshot. Reclusive, shy, suicidal little bastards they are.

*wallaby = small to medium-sized kangaroo

Saturday, 1 December 2007

On the road again

I've rented a car for 5 days. Here comes a piece out of my road diary.

From time to time, a yellow sign says "Narrow winding road - next 7km". They could save themselves the trouble of planting that sign. All Tasmanian roads are narrow and winding.

They're also lined with roadkill of all shapes and sizes. It's like a macabre zoo, an ongoing exhibition of dead animals. Here you can see a dead wallaby, that's a Decomposing Wombat. Oh, and don't miss the decom-possums...

Crows are everywhere, feeding off the roadside carcasses. No wonder they are thriving here. Quote the raven: "yum, yum"

This island is so full of life that you meet Death on every corner.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


I like it here, but not enough.

It's a very nice city and I'm sure it's a great place to live, but I don't find it offers enough touristic entertainment of the sort I seek. Besides, it's not too backpacker-friendly (compared to Sydney), lacking in facilities and services.

Anyway, most things I would really want to do are not in the city proper, but somewhere else in Victoria. They all require ridiculously long hours on a bus and cost too many hundreds of dollars to allow me the indulgence.

But all of this doesn't mean I don't like Mel. It's a great place, full of huge beautiful parks, full of life and entertainment (and trams! I love trams!)

Of the few things I've seen, the Victoria Market is a great place where to get cheap food, and where to spend some very fun hours ambling among stalls, through the shouts of merchants announcing their wares. The parks are lovely and huge, especially the Botanic Garden. The tourist tram is cool and free. There's nice architecture and a great atmosphere. And I'm told you can't beat the restaurants, but I'm not one to waste money on food.

Actually, I wanted to stay here a couple days more. The problem is, I kinda screwed up my schedule.

Consequences of not planning more thoroughly and of taking important decisions on-the-spot, heavy-lided and pressed by the passing of time.

Actually, not all of it is my fault. It helps that the Aussie train services are run in a thirldworldishly chaotic fashion, and that public transport over any significant number of km is much overpriced, more so in the case of flights.

But yes, I screwed up. So goodbye Melbourne, it didn't last long.

Tomorrow, I'm hopping to... Tasmania!

Local fauna

I've already become well acquainted with "the Aussie salute". Imagine you're walking the streets of, say, Melbourne, and everyone you pass by invariably waves at you, in a manner conveying "what a terrible smell". Don't worry, chances are you don't stink that much. They're just trying to get the flies away from their faces.

With little success, that I can tell you. Aussie flies are nothing if not perseverant, tenacious and fearless. They're also very stupid. Getting on your face and driving you nuts is not enough, no; they have to get into your nose and mouth and ears to prove their worthiness to the rest of the clan. Their survival strategy seems to be based on your inadvertently eating or squashing them.

You can also just kill them purposefully. Let them settle for 2 seconds and grab them, they won't see you coming. Same with mosquitoes.

On Sunday night, I was sitting in Sydney's Hyde Park, and as I brought out some bread I was charged by a creature out of nowhere. I first identified it as a cat, but turned out to be the marsupial equivalent of a squirrel, a "possum" I think. It just ran to me and started sniffing me up and down as if I was just an interesting chocolate statue. Someone else could have just grabbed it by the throat and called it Supper. Me, I had to very purposefully nudge it, then kick it to get it running on another scent trail.

I wonder what warp in the space-time continuum or perturbation in the Force is preventing Natural Selection from working here.

Monday, 26 November 2007

It's a long way to Wagga Wagga

Fortunately, I had great company along the way. Cheers, Neil.

For long stretches, the train just crawls on painfully, clattering and puffing. And this is the train between Sydney and Melbourne, overwhelmingly the two most important cities in Australia. But well, that's the OZ way*: no worries, no hurries.

The landscape constantly morphs along the way, from the absolutely British around Sydney, with green forests and British Rail-like train stations, to the near-outbackish around Wogga. In between, lush forests, cattle farms, and different carhttle farms. They appear to have those iconic wind pumps everywhere around here.

It's a long way to Wagga Wagga, and a longer one to Melbourne. It's a long way to anywhere in these parts.

* OZ = Aussie

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Getting bored of Sydney...

would require a preposterously huge amount of time and a very limited cash availability.

Most people I've talked to are staying there for 20 or more days. This surprised me at first, but now I see the wisdom in their ways. Three days is much too short a stay, in a place so full of amazing things to see and do.

But for now I have to move on. At least I have seen the sights, even if I have not yet done the deeds. That I have to leave for next time. My Sydney checklist as of today:

- Walk around all the CBD (done)
- Paddy's Markets (done)
- Sydney Aquarium
- Wildlife World
- Sydney Zoo
- Climb up Sydney tower (done)
- Boat trip of the bay
- Cross the bridge to Kirribilli (done)
- See the Opera House from every conceivable angle (done)
- Sydney by night: city lights (done)
- Bondi Beach & Coogee
- Tour of the Blue Mountains
- Take a look around Glebe and Bondi Junction
- Ingest ludicrous amounts of alcohol in merry company

Loads of things To Be Done. I hope I'll get the chance to put a few more ticks on the list.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Sydney by night

I can only think of 3 words:


Friday, 23 November 2007

One hour in Bangkok and no mollusc in sight

Very brief stopover in Bangkok. The landing was smooth, but the sudden difference in pressure between 11277m and ground level put my aural equipment in agony.

Just as you arrive, a big bold slogan greets you:

I thought: gosh, they’re really into Elvis in Thailand. It later turned out they meant this other guy:

King Whatever-his-insufferably-long-unprounounceable-name, the third.

The airport is surprisingly sparkling clean, technologically top-notch, and glittery enough. However, the good impression quickly vanishes when you bang your head on Thai stupidity. My point: transit passengers are required to pass through the same security controls as all other passengers.

This means, in practical terms, that you have to:

1. Leave your plane. You can’t just stay on board

2. Walk some 300-400 meters to the first available stairs

3. Go to the 2nd floor

4. Wait in line for 10 min

5. Pass again the same idiotic, insulting, no-liquids, drop-your-pants security control

6. Walk 300-400m back to your boarding gate

7. Pass another no-liquids control

8. Go through another passport/ticket control

9. And another

10. Board the same plane, with the same boarding card, sit in the same seat

11. Do it all in 30 minutes

I saw a guy who by step 7 had to leave behind a 300ml bottle of perfume he had bought duty-free at Heathrow. I say this scores pretty high on the stupid-o-meter, even by Asian standards.

I'll come back here. But now for the second leg of my journey: a bit over 8 hours to Sydney.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Britannia 2007 - Afterthoughts

This trip’s been a pretty serious thrashing. My first 5 days home I had to spend on just sleeping. My batteries had run out, I was completely depleted of energy. For much of the trip I ran on willpower alone. Twenty days of just running from place to place, walking, climbing up and down, eating on £2 a day, catching up on lost sleep in trains, all the while dragging my bulky backpack behind. I can’t complain; I chose it myself. But I’ve learned a bit of a lesson for next time.

Even so, I’ve had some the most fun I can remember. I’ve loved every day, cherished every moment. (Okay, make that every day but two. If you’ve read the previous posts, you know why.)

Traveling on my own has been an incredible, wonderful experience. I can hardly wait to do it again. It sure does get lonely at times, but I say it’s a small price to pay for the freedom you get. Important decisions take seconds. Plans can be made on passing whims and instant curiosity. No discussions, no quarrels, no need for agreement, no resentment, no getting tired of your company, no feeling tied to anyone.

Just Express Tourism, the way I like it. Hop off the train, walk about, visit the local landmarks, take your pictures, hop on again. Conjugate that with the hostel experience: meeting some new, very interesting people in every new place you get to. Occasionally, add a few beers and shake, don’t stir. I know, that doesn’t make for a very comprehensive experience, but it’s just what I wanted to do on this trip. Getting the complete feeling of a place, really mixing with the locals, requires you to spend much, much more time there. This I don’t feel like doing right now. For now, it suffices that I have Been There, I have Done That.

And now for something completely different.

Britannia 2007 - Route map

Britannia 2007 - Photos

Rejoice! Here comes what you were waiting for: the Britannia 2007 "best-of" photo compilation.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Day 20 - Coming Home

After a hastened farewell to Quim, I run, buy another 6€ bus ticket, hop on one just as it arrives, and spend 20 nervous minutes in a traffic jam. Still, I get to the airport on time, where I check in and very superficially read my boarding card.

On it, big bold capitals urgently announce that "BOARDING GATE CLOSES AT", but I just grasp the time. I understand that it "opens at" 13:55.

At the aforementioned time, I start gravitating towards the boarding gates, pass the security control, and then discover I have a winding 15 minute walk ahead of me to get to gate A63 (so it says on the signs). That's also when I read the ticket correctly. Consequently, I leave my silhouette in the air and start running like mad.

Luckily, the flight was quite delayed, and when I finally arrived at the gate, the boarding had just started.

It is no surprise that I didn't read what was written on the boarding card. My mind was constantly focused on quite different matters. Well, actually, it was quite unfocused, because of quite different matters. The main one being that I was Coming Home.

And I didn't want to. Or not that much. And yet, I was tired of running like mad from place to place, and thinking of my own comfy bed, a bit of sunshine, nothing to do all day but smile, and seeing my parents again, made it quite an attractive perspective.

But then again, I yearned to see more. To do more, feel more, experience more, burn more kilometres. Coming Home felt like giving up when I was winning. I felt I still had so much to do, so many places to go, so many people to meet, so much to live.

In this frame of mind I arrived in scorching Madrid after an uneventful but long flight. Thirty-seven degrees Celsius greeted me on my arrival, all the throng of them. Some more hot uneventfulness later, I was Home.


I was still somewhere else. When I closed my eyes, landscapes of green still rolled past me, the laughs of recent friends still echoed in my ears, my hair still danced in the wild wind.

Day 18 - Dublin

We wake up after a short night, and get movin'. DraXus & co. are leaving for Spain tonight, so we're all kinda packin'. I catch up on Flickring and then we go for a stroll and say our goodbyes in a second-hand bookstore (how poetic). I run to a train station which appeared to be much closer the day before, and just make it in time. Through some more kilometres of green hills sprinkled with resident sheep, I roll on to Dublin.

I spend an indescriptibly long and tortuous time trying to find my friend Milja's flat (I'll be squatting there for 2 nights), because of that wonderful Irish idea of not numbering houses on streets, instead giving them funky names. When I finally find it, I drop my stuff and we take off like SAM missiles, our sights on one her friends' party. On the way I discover the idiocy of Dublin buses (or Bus Átha Cliath as they will have it) that won't give you change, forcing you to either carry hundreds of grams of coins to pay for your ticket, or buy in advance. Anyway, we ride for a while through winding and jammed Dublin and finally arrive at her friend's flat.

The place quickly gets packed with lots of outstandingly cool Finnish and Swedish lads&lasses, in whose unpayable company I have the best time I could ever imagine. This is, probably, in part accounted for by the inhuman amount of alcohol we ingest. As the differently flavoured glassfuls of booze pass in front of me, I repeatedly beg for mercy, but they show none. Gosh, they're tough drinkers, these Scandinavians. And they're terrible hosts. They can't bear seeing you with an empty glass. Awesome.

Later, a refreshing night run to get the last bus, and after succeeding, some more fiesta in the Temple Bar area. The touristic thing to do in Dublin.

I call it a really amazingly wonderful day.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Day 17 - Cork

After another 3 hours of catching up on lost sleep in the nice and comfy train, I alight at Cork with 4 more hours to kill.

I do so effortlessly, loitering in the very nice parks and the lovely University College campus, and ambling through the city center. This done, I meet good ol' DraXus at his student residence, and some long hours of great fun begin, in his company and that of his friends, really cool people all of them.

After a brief tour of the city, chiefly of its jail (on the outside, we won't pay to get into jail!), we have dinner and are the first to see the first episode of the new season of The IT Crowd. Yeee-haaawww!!!

We then promptly plunge headfirst into irish nightlife. To cut a long story short, it's quite good, but pretty uncheap, *sigh*.

After some hours of good fun, we go back and call it a day.

Day 16 - Island Hopping

I arrive better soon than sorry at Prestwick International, and experience a boring wait until the boarding of my flight, the last of the day.

The plane leaves 5min early, and arrives in Dublin 15 minutes earlier than scheduled, to the most hilarious prerecorded sound of a loud happy trumpet and a "Congratulations, your flight has landed on time". Some people start cheering and clapping like mad, which makes it all very funny, and worth the money even for just a comedy show.

At the airpot, I settle comfortably to sleep, and do so, probably loudly, until a kind policeman asks me to go and sleep with everybody else in the Dormitory, also known as Arrivals Lounge. I find a free seat in between the rest of the snoring biomass and join the common activity.

In the morning, I discover that Dublin is much bigger than I thought, and I don't have maps to it on my mobile, so I get the first bus to Heuston Station and thus pay my first expensive bus ride in euros (6€). I also discover on the way how incredibly kind, polite and obliging Irish people are. I thought the same of the English and the Scots (and still do), but I was told "wait till you see Ireland". And they were right, this is just crazy.

I love it.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Day 16 - Back to the Lowlands

I spent the early morning just walking around the city and the small islands up the Ness and enjoying it very much. I also visited the small Inverness museum, which I liked so much that I donated to it my last pennies through an ingenious musical donation box (I found nothing to spend them on at the Tesco, except a 15p Paracetamol box I dont need).

Then I hurried and caught the 12:19 to Aberdeen, where I at last met my pal Dave, whom I couldn't meet before on account of his being fighting for his life at the hospital. Pss, excuses, excuses.

He showed me his city like a professional, and apart from learning loads of stuff, I even came to like Aberdeen, in a certain sort of way. Most probably the clear blue sky and heavy sunshine helped a bit. Everybody goes crazy in Aberdeen when the sun shines, and no wonder.

I slept badly from there to Glasgow Queen Street, awakening constantly from the sudden jerks the train was so intent on performing. I alighted heavy-lided and in bad need of some serious sleeping, but plunged on to walk the streets for an hour. After this Express Tourism® I specialize in, I hopped on the train to Prestwick International, where I was about to fall asleep when a smell of manure smashed against my nose with the mass of a cannonball. I was suddently very awake.

Day 14 - Inverness & Loch Ness

I just loved Inverness as soon as I arrived. I couldn't say why, I just did. Maybe it was the river, maybe the footpaths along it, maybe it was the 100m that separate the Tesco from the hostel, or maybe that I had just arrived from Aberdeen. Whatever the reason, it was love at first sight, and it burns still.

But Loch Ness was nearby and I thought it a good idea to make the most of the day and go there at once. The bus was a mere £8.40 return for a 30 min ride. For that price, I expected an on-board buffet and cocktail bar, but found no trace of it.

I alighted at Urquhart Castle only to find the admission to the grounds to be valued at £6.50, adults and students alike. Therefore I turned on my heels and promptly trespassed on several neighbouring properties, looking for a nice spot for a photo. I found it and made good use of it, obtaining material for a whole look-there-it-is Flickr photo set, with Nessie to be photoshopped on later.

After investing some more time in lake-gazing, hill-looking and sheep-spotting, I thought it prudent to return to civilization, at which point I extracted my bus timetable, only to discover in dismay that the next bus was due in 3 hours.

I dragged my feet 2km down to Drumnadrochit, the nearest excuse for a town, wondering how I was going to fill 3 hours of my life in this great big damp nothingness. I tried to get on a boat for some Nessie hunting, but the last expedition had already departed, so I just loitered about the souvenir shop, delving through piles of Nessie themed fridge magnets, key chains and the like, until boredom made its way into my life.

I left, extracted what entertainment I could from my wikipedialess, mp3less, bookless PDA and wrote a couple of blog entries, then just sat in the sun until the bus appeared on scene.

Back in Inverness, I enjoyed a stunning sunset on the banks of the Ness and treated myself to a cheap and very nourishing Tesco dinner.

A wonderful day, really.

Day 13 - Aberdeen

I left Edinburgh on a surprisingly fine and sunny day, and the sun smiled at me all the way to Aberdeen. There, it became just a milky round spot behind the clouds.

Aberdeen is famous for being grey, and very rightly so. The sky is grey, the buildings are grey, the streets are grey, even the sea is grey. Grey people with grey faces sit on the grey street, hold out a grey hand and, in a grey voice, ask you for money.

Of the few things that aren't grey, the huge ships in the harbor are certainly the most colourful, in their bright reds, oranges, yellows and blues. They're all related in some way to the oil industry, I believe, as all wear the badge of Shell or some other petroleum company. I couldn't say what their exact purpose is, but they seemed very busy at the docks, loading and unloading unidentifiable stuff.

I found my hostel at once, though it was a 25 min walk from the centre, and went out looking for a Tesco or similar provider of nourriture, with little success. It was 7pm and the town was dead as a grey corpse. I bought some expensive bread and cheese from the only open place, a 24h convenience store, and took a long walk around the centre.

I noticed in surprise, and not an unpleasant one, how many churches and monasteries are no longer used for their original purposes, but are now pubs. Pubs, funky restaurants and clubs. I had already noticed this most curious process of "dechurchification" and ongoing "pubification" in Scotland, but nowhere as much as in Aberdeen. I wonder how it happens. I'd love to see it replicated elsewhere.

After sunset, it became really cold and windy, really quick, so I hurried back and called it a day. I left the following morning without looking back.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Days 12,13 - Edinburgh

Edinbra! Aye, dat's a city werrth vezitin'.

And much more so with the Festivals going on. If yerr pockets are loaded, for sure you can't get bored at the Edinburgh Fringe. I'd love my pockets to be loaded, but as of now, I've had to be satisfied with just watching the street performances. I would have shelled out the average £11 a couple of times for a couple of comedy shows, but I just didn't have the time.

And scenery-wise, Edinburgh is by far the most interesting city in the UK, from what I've seen, and I've seen quite a bit. Impressive architecture and wonderful views give it a very special character, quite unlike anything else to the south. The city center is just stunning, especially if you take a walk through the lower streets and look up at the blackened buildings on the hills, towering above you.

With the idea of keeping a consistent public image, I did what you'd expect from me and climbed to the highest point available: Arthur's Seat. Right by the middle of the city, a wonderful vantage point, and yet surprisingly accessible.

The locals use to just run up and down it for fun, no matter the weather. Several of them were happily running, in sport shorts and covered in sweat. I watched them as I stood on the top, covered in all the layers of insulation available, shivering like a mobile phone, and quietly wondered what is wrong with these people.

The sunset was gorgeous, though only visible as a band over the horizon with the red rays piercing the clouds, and the sun melting behind the Weastern hills. The first time I see the Sun in a while.

I also took a stroll through the city center, and saw what there was to see.

When the evening turned to night and cool turned to cold, I went back to the hostel and took profit of the free internet access to upload pictures, blog and send mails.

I stayed there until 3 AM, when, dead tired and freezing cold, I went back to my room and forgot my 2 Gb memory card on the table, thereby losing it and, most importantly, 440mb worth of photos from the trip. What a damn, damn dumbass I can sometimes be.

I realized this in the morning, too late to do anything about it. I left a paper on the wall, offering a Reward, dead or alive, but I don't expect "great success". So I lost the pics from the first 3 days, but fortunately I have a selection of the nicest ones on Flickr. Lower quality, but still. The ones I really regret losing are the ones with Paula in Brighton and Curt at Land's End. Sorry guys, your photos are gone, can't send them anymore.

Oh, and now I don't have the Wikipedia with me anymore. I already miss it. And the dictionaries. And the MP3s. And the books. And... ok, enough. Shit happens.

Yet, interestingly enough, this hasn't spoiled my impression of Edinburgh, probably because of the gorgeous sunny day I walked into.

I watched some more street entertainers doing their thing and quickly visited the art gallery. Visiting the castle was also part of the plan, but I felt I would better spend my time and money going somewhere else.

I was even prepared to spend the £11 necessary to gain access to the castle grounds, but I realized that if I wanted good views, there's an important building you can't see from Edinburgh Castle, and that is Edinburgh Castle.

So I went up Calton Hill, and yes, that's a good place for sightseeing.

Day 9 - Liverpool

I had but walked out of the railway station when I stumbled upon the Museum Quarter. Impressed by the classic façade, but even more by the huge sign on it saying "FREE entry", I hurried inside the Walker museum. And inside I discovered two incredible special exhibitions: one of Josh Kirby's work (illustrator of most of Pratchett's novels, among other things) and another of a Peter Chang, who turns out to be outstandingly brilliant.

I had a lot of fun in both exhibitions. I loved seeing the originals (they're all illustrations on paper, classic style) for the Discworld books, among which was the one I carried in my sack.

And I also loved the crazy and great looking alien designs of this Chang guy.

I stayed until they kicked me out. And that was the high point in Liverpool. From there, it was all downhill.

As the hostel was well away from the city centre, I resolved to see as much of it as possible before going there. So I took a stroll around, saw the very famous club "The Cavern" (of which I had heard nothing before, but apparently was important in the Beatles era) and the Beatles memorial in front of it, the docks an a bit of the centre.

All in all, it's not a beautiful city.

At sundown, it was suddently very cold, with a cutting wind that froze my bones, so I started the 45 min pilgrimage to the hostel. I arrived there tired, quite depressed and feeling lonely, and finding myself in quite a dead place and alone in my room wasn't too good for my spirits.

That was, no doubt, the lowest point of the whole trip so far.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Day 12 - Leaving England

After heartfelt goodbyes to Shuo and Hiro under a Bloody British Rain, I hop on board The Flying Scotsman route.

I fly through the fields, by the cliffs, over the splashing sea, around the green hills, past Hadrian's wall, away from England and head-first into Scotland.

On the way, I pass Durham and Newcastle and regret so much not having the time to make a stop there. But time is scarce, and I've already spent most of it. Ahead of me, five days to see Scotland and four days for a glimpse of Ireland.

Behind me, days of travel and joy, through the green, yellow and hedgy soft hills of England. I've seen quite a lot, but there are still some other places I would have liked to visit, yet couldn't get the time. Bristol and the Lake District come to mind.

My plans for Scotland include going all the way to the edge of the Isle of Skye (after Aberdeen and Inverness), so I can just hope I'll find transport and accomodation to do that.

Day 11 - Happy Birthday To Me

"Happy Birthday To Me, Happy Birthday To Me", sung I.

I visited the National Railway Museum and the York Art Gallery, and generally indulged in little pleasures, like taking the Ghost Walk (£4.00), eating cornish pastys and soft drinks (~£2.50), and talking to my parents and friends (£0.00, free calling cards).

I stayed forever at the NRM, first because it's interesting and second because I was dead tired and just fell asleep in a "Model 0" Shinkansen wagon for a good while. It was interesting, seeing all those old engines together around a turntable. It looked just like a screenshot from Sid Meier's Railroads.

Back at the hostel, I met these two great guys, Shuo and Hiro, and had quite a lot of fun together, and even more when more people came and joined the party.

All in all, a good birthday.

Day 10 - York

Behold! Ye Olde Town of York!

I arrived in the early afternoon, and it didn't take me much time to see all the center of the town, walk the walls (most of the medieval walls are still standing and are free and walkable), see Clifford's Tower and the Minster (on the outside, of course) and take a stroll through the Shambles and the other small streets.

Quite cute. I felt it wouldn't be a waste of time if I stayed here the following unbooked night. I had to decide between staying another night or trying my luck in Edinburgh, where the city was packed full, and I could book no hostels, guest houses or undersides of bridges to sleep.

When night came, after a nice long chat with my room-mates, I went down to the bar of the hostel ("the Dungeon", and very aptly named) with a good pint on my mind.

In the end it was three of them, in the unbeatable company of two Aussies, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Yank, a South African and many stories. Thus I celebrated my birthday.

Day 8 - Stratford-upon-Avon

Or "Strap-fon-A-von", as people in Birmingham pronounce it. (If you aim to reproduce the sound, stick some grapes into your mouth first)

I arrived in Birmingham under some extreme BBW, which mutated into blue skies just as I arrived to the hostel. With higher spirits, and recently found good company, I set out to discover the Shakespeare Town® theme park.

And it's exactly that. I would have liked getting on the Shakespeare Rollercoaster and eating Shakespeare Mints, but unfortunately everything was both expensive and closed. I forgot that whatever the weather, everything touristic closes at 17:00. D'oh!

So we took a walk around the town, saw Shakespeare's Birthplace (£6.50, closed), Shakespeare's House (£5.50, closed), His Daughter's House (£5.00, closed), The Church Where He's Supposed to be Buried (free, but just closed) and The Place Where He First Farted (fictitious, but closed anyway). The really cool thing to do is to go see a play by the Shakespeare Company, but of course that was also expensive, and closed (the building was being rebuilt or something) .

So when we exhausted the entertainment possibilities of an empty town with 4 (restored) old-looking buildings , we took the first train from an empty station and headed back.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Day 8 - Nottingham

I woke up dazed & confused, managed to have a late shower, was all but ushered out of the hostel by the complete asshole at the reception for checking out late, had a panic episode thinking I had lost my wallet, then found it and was born anew.

Oh, and also had my photo with Robin Hood's statue.

For that's pretty much it, about Nottingham. The castle is nice, with a cute park, and good views of the *shudder* ugly city below. I would have liked to go to Sherwood Forest, but it's one bus hour away, so for now let's just assume that I did go.

Anyway, there was some Bloody British Weather going on, so I though I'd had enough of Nottingham for now. Off to Birmingham.

Day 7 - Nottingham - Great expectations

I arrived later than expected, to a city that was much less alive than I expected. The instructions to get to the hostel were less complete than you would expect, and the hostel was shabbier than expected. However, I met many more and much nicer people, and had great deal more fun, and a great deal more beer, than I expected.

All in all, a great night.

Day 7 - Cambridge

There was still some direct sunlight when I arrived on Day 6 at the HI hostel in Cambridge, so I thought I'd go out and see something, but I bumped into a great fellow from Oxford who has the very mundane and boring job of sequencing DNA (!!!). So I nagged him for hours, discussing politics, technology, culture and more politics.

In the morning I met this indian guy who worked for Xerox and Microsoft and now for Symbian, and I started wondering what the hell is wrong (or actually, so right) with Cambridge. So I looked it up on the Wikipedia and discovered Sillicon Fen. Wow.

On that very morning I also discovered the Bloody British Weather,
getting well acquainted with the Bloody British Rain throughout the day.

I was roaming the streets aimlessly, in a singularly dreary, dark and gloomy house-of-usher mood, when I walked into the market square, where -holy sheep!- a second-hand book stall stood.

I had the most fun that can ever be had in the street under the rain, browsing through a nice collection of literary goodness, starting at 50p. I couldn't help it, and after some careful weighing, I took Bill Bryson's "Down Under" and the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic. It was difficult restraining from buying loads of them (most of Terry Pratchett's books, Discworlds included, in very good condition at £1.50 each!), but just like Great A'Tuin, I had to think of the Weight. No sense in carrying more elephants on my back all the way through Scotland and Ireland.

The thing is, Cambridge is loaded with second-hand bookshops, which I just love. On the architectural hand, I took a long look around (mostly in the company of a great lass I met in The Backs) and there's not an awful lot to see, apart from the Colleges.

Entering any of them and taking a look will leave you several pounds farther away from a fortune, so the thought never crossed my mind.

"Onwards!, to glory!", said I, and hopped on a train to Nottingham.

Day 6 - Through London

Just "through", not "to".

By the grace of its imperial majesty, the British railway system, it is impossible (slash highly impractical) to go by train from Oxford to Cambridge without passing through London first.

Knowing this in advance, I thought it a nice excuse for visiting London again for a few hours and seeing a couple of the things I missed last time.

Said and done, I alighted at London Paddington on quite a gray day and with not many hours of sleep in my sack. My plan was to walk to King's Cross from Hyde Park, thus visiting the famous Kensington Gardens on the way. How easy it looked on the map!

That's when I (re)discovered that London is huge. And very easy to get lost in. Which I did.

I walked my feet off around tens of very similar residential streets, looking for the way to the park, once appearing back where I started. I arrived in Kensington Gardens dead tired, so I just fell both on the grass and inmediately asleep. Same as I did on my first day in London, some months ago.

I awoke under a gentle sunshine, which accompanied me for a while. Saw the Albert Memorial and Hall (how many holes to fill it?), went to Hyde Park, and attempted to get the Tube. That's when I rediscovered how insanely expensive London public transport is. £4 for a single trip!! WTF!!!

So I ditched the Tube, went back to plan A and walked all the way to K's X. It was nice, walking the streets of the bustling city, seeing all those things that tell you you're in London. The red double-deckers, the hordes of rocketing taxis covered in advertising, the crazy hairdos, the cutting-edge touch-screen PDA phones in everybody's hand, the guys standing on the street holding a big sign for a theatre or club...

I walked all of Piccadilly, crossed the Circus and into the SOHO, past the British Museum into Camden and finally to LKX. Where I couldn't help it and took my photo with the "platform 9 3/4" trolley (at last!).

Thus I integrated my previous visit into this one and so stitched London into the whole trip. Sweet.

Day 4,5,6 - Oxford

"The city of dreaming spires" turns out to be just a tiny town. Okay, with spires and all, but still a tiny town.

That's what strikes me most about it. The city center is mostly made up of the university grounds, that is, the colleges (Christ Church, Merton,etc) and these are tiny themselves. I was certainly expecting something... bigger at the least.

The architecture is beautiful and the history is overwhelming, but everything is still tiny, even the spires. Though they do seem to dream big, those spires. It fascinates me how important some small cities can become (Venice, another example).

So, yes, I took a couple of good looks around the University Colleges, walked the streets, read the history, met some very nice people, took my pictures, saw a couple of falling stars during the meteor storm, and generally had a lot of fun. And of course, climbed to a couple of high points, to look at the city from above. I will provide photographic evidence of that as soon as I get the chance.

The thing is, the city is quite pretty, when seen from the appropriate angle, preferrably from one of the church towers (several of them are visitable). I climbed the one in Radcliffe Square and it is most recommendable, and cheaper than the other, more famous one, the name of which has slipped my memory. It is also recommendable to leave the big backpack you might be carrying somewhere, so that you don't end up carrying it all the way upstairs, and blocking the way with it, as I did.

So I managed to see a whole day of Oxford, though divided into the night of the 4th, the evening of the 5th and the morning of the 6th. Now onwards! to rival Cambridge.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Day 5 - George Orwell's Grave

"Not many people know he's buried here, so I'm trying to spread the word through the Internet"

I think that's a fairly accurate reporting of the words of the priest at All Saint's Church. I was in Sutton Courtenay, an almost completely unknown and easily overlooked small town south of Oxford. And I was standing in front of George Orwell's grave.

"Here lies ERIC ARTHUR BLAIR, born June 25, 1903, died January 21, 1950", was the inscription on the gravestone. Just that. A simple stone, a simple inscription, two rose bushes growing on his grave. There lies one of the most important authors of the last century.

The man left me to my thoughts, and I thought them, took my pictures, chatted a while with some other people who had come to see "the most famous grave", in the priest's words.

Then I left and went back to Didcot Parkway (closest train station to Sutton Courtenay, 1h walking). I managed to get lost, notwithstanding the TomTom in my pocket, so I walked my feet numb and arrived exhausted, and much later than expected, to Bath.

Day 4 - The railway to Oxford

I had to change trains at Plymouth, so I grabbed the opportunity and used the 40 minutes in between them to make a quick recon mission of the city.

I couldn't see much, of course, but I think it was enough. "Welcome to Plymouth, Home to the Royal Navy" is the first thing you can read when you get out of the railway station. It does say a bit about the city, doesn't it?

I haven't seen more urban trash than here in Britain yet. Several separate individuals were very interested in finding out if I had any spare change. It turned out I didn't, so they focused their curiosity on someone else.

There's a nice park that goes all the way to the sea and a small lighthouse, with a small golf course and lots of nice lawn, a couple of interesting buildings, though nothing extraordinary, and the Royal Navy ships in their shipyards.

I ran to the station, narrowly arrived in time, had to change again at some place called Writing (or Comprehension or something), and arrived to Oxford too late in the evening to do anything interesting.

So I took a stroll around the town, which was bustling with young people going to clubs (pubs were already closing), found loads of free WiFis and thus felt I was back to civilization.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Day 4 - Land's End

From Here On, There Be Dragons.

I woke up early, and as I was checking out I bumped into a great fellow by the name of Curt. A californian florist from Illinois, if you can imagine that. It turned out we were going to the same place and there were not many buses to choose from, so we joined forces for the expedition.

The buses going to Land's End, though irrationally priced, like every British public transport so far (£2.80 one way, £5.20 round trip, £5.50 full day ticket. Say what??), are a lot of fun, as they're open-deckers. So for that price you get a full hour of dodging branches and having the wind destroy your hairdo and snatch things out of your hand. Cooool.

Once you get there, the first thing that strikes you is... well, nothing, actually. There is no single striking thing. There's a nice lonely lighthouse on some rocks out to sea (Longships I believe it's called). There's the Iles of Scilly (Scilly Isles!) just above the horizon. And rocky cliffs, and cliffy rocks. All very nice, but not in any way impressive. So what's there at Land's End that draws so many people?

Well, I guess it's Having Been There, and the famous Land's-End-to-John-O'Groats obsession. That was it for me, surely. Also, it's a nice location to go for some easy hiking. And it's as far away as you can get from England, in England.

For the hardcore tourist, there are of course other things to do and waste money on: the Mysterious Cave Adventure and such sort; the Official Signpost, where you can get an Official Picture, taken by a guy with "Official Photographer" written on his flashy jacket; Cornish Pastry, Cornish Clothes, Cornish Toilet Paper,etc.

Anyway, I tried to make good use of my time, and hiked about and took dozens of pictures of myself falling off cliffs. I liked the experience, though I realize it wouldn't have been as much fun if I didn't know where I was.

I got back just in time to hop on the last bus for 2 hours, and then on one to St Ives.

A seaside resort, St Ives is. Minuscule town full of shops, with a miniature port and a nice beach. "How cute", I said, and hopped on a bus back.

After a crazy run through the town, buying a travel power adapter for the weird outlets in use here, stockpiling food, going to the hostel and back with my sack, I arrived at the station sweating... and early, for the train was delayed.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Day 3 - Penzance

After some waiting and a bit of confusion, the "First Great Western sixteen-twentyone service to Penzance" came into the station, packed full and drawn by an almost hissing engine by the name of The Black Horse. Pretty impressive.

The thing is, me and a literal throng of backpackers and carriers of other big travel accessories tried to get on. This resulted in most of us standing in the corridor and holding our luggage, and so making the Second Class into what and old gent very aptly described as "Cattle Class". We amused ourselves re-enacting classical comedy sketches, like "the Marx Brothers' cabin" or "the Ministry of Silly Walks", Train Edition.

Over the PA system, the guy offered his apologies "for the severe overcrowding", to us, "lucky people going to the beach". Later, they offered us free food and drinks in a self-service way, which I much enjoyed and felt repaid for the inconvenience. I took the opportunity to stockpile on cocacolas and snacks.

At 20:31, as scheduled, the train, almost empty by now, made its way lazily into Penzance station under an already setting sun. It took me much more than I expected to find the hostel, even with the help of the very useful TomTom Mobile. It was, as usual, with the help of some
incredibly kind people that I at last managed to arrive to the YMCA Cornwall Hostel.

Contrary to what you'd expect from the name, I found no evidence of the Village People ever singing anything in there. No Christian stuff either, fortunately. I guess they just liked the name.

I realized it was too late to go to Land's End and see the sunset as I wanted, so I sighed and went for a stroll around the town. Penzance by night has the feel of a charming small port, with its Ye Olde Taverns by the docks, spilling out light and music into the darkness, over the swooshing surf and the crying seagulls.

Day 3 - Stonehenge

I know what everybody says about Stonehenge: it's nothing much, pretty boring after the first 9 minutes, overcrowded and expensive. And, boy, are they right. But I just had to go. It's just one of those must-do things. So I did it.

After being robbed £7.50 for the bus there and back to Salisbury Station, I decided it was From My Cold Dead Hands that I would part with another £6.50 just to get 10 meters closer to the sodding rocks. However, I had an hour to kill until the return bus and I was determined to extract as much photographic goodness as possible from the previous £7.50 swindle. So I started lurking around the place (a fenced-off field full of sheep) and when I found a nicely
inconspicuous hole in the fence, I plunged in.

Lying low and trying to blend in with the crowd (baa,baa, they went, and so did I) I got to within 100m of the thingie and entered into a photographic frenzy. I have extensive proof of it. After a while I thought I should try to get nearer, and that's when I noticed a big chunk of woman very purposefully walking in my direction (I wonder how she recognized me; I was trying to look really sheepish. Maybe it was the first time she saw a sheep with a backpack.). With a very british cordiality she apologized for having to ask me to leave, as it was private property and I was not a ticket holder. Very cordially I too explained to her that it was all right and she should not worry, for it was not her fault, and I left.

I walked all around the "property", looking for a high spot where to get a good picture from. I walked on the side of a road paved with dead rabbits, packed with screaming trucks and full of horning cars full of people with very empty heads.

Every horning fuckwit screamed something at me (some very wise piece of advice, no doubt) in some language of the Doppler family, with which I am not acquainted. "Gheropaaaah", it all sounded like.

After a while I found the hill I was looking for, where I had to trespass again, for it was another private club, sheep only. After some more self-photo fun, I headed back just on time to jump on the bus and say good-baa-ee to Stonehenge.

Day 3 - Goodbye

After soullessly parasiting my friend Paula and her charming mother and sister for two nights, my stay in Brighton is over. We exchange heartfelt though quick good-byes, as I have to leave early in pursuit of an ambitious plan: crossing off my list both Salisbury and Stonehenge and getting to Land's End before nightfall.

I sleep most of the way to Salisbury, not surprisingly as last night's sleep consisted of 4 lonely hours. But I manage to wake myself up for the Big Thing: Stonehenge.

Day 2 - Brighton

Today, I'm ashamed to say, I've been a Tourist. You know, one of those strange creatures that visit museums, gape at everything, eat from food stalls, and generally see the world through the LCD of their camera. It's been fun.

We've seen the Big Thing in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion, with a free museum full of strange stuff from all over the world. Egyptian stuff too, obviously. It seems no museum is one if it doesn't have mummies. Just look at the Vatican Museum, holding on display corpses of heathen worshippers of idols. No mummies here though, but a few sarcophages there were.

Then we saw the Next Big Thing, the Brighton Pier. A kind of a very expensive small-scale theme park. Nice though.

At about 4pm Paula left me to my own devices, and the first thing I did was get inside a Tesco. And damn, every time I get into an English supermarket I'm happy as a child in a new world of wonders. After gaping at every colourful salad, ready-to-eat pineapple and decorated bun for a while, I discovered I can meet my daily needs of food intake for less than 2£ (yeee-hawww!).

After that, for reasons that elude rational explanation, I hopped on a bus and then on the first train to Lewes.

It's cute, Lewes, with a certain medieval sensation about it. Stone houses and crooked narrow rock-paved walks between them. And the Big Thing about it: the Castle. Or what's left of it, a tower and a gate for what I've seen.

Very well preserved, full of conmemorative plaques, and actually used as housing. I actually caught the inhabitants of one part of the ruins, a couple in their sixties, going to visit those of the other part, another sixtysome couple, their doors being 20 meters away. But they went through all the ceremony of courteous how-do-you-dos, how-nice-of-you-to-comes, big social smiles and gracious manners as if they had just landed from Auckland. Tic-tic-tic, ils sont fous, ces bretons.

Back in Brighton I met Paula again and we went to carry out a thorough inquiry into what Brighton has to offer in the way of pubs. And it does have quite a lot of them, some very nice and not too horribly expensive. However, our joy was short-lived. It turned out every single pub closed at the unbelievably, mind-bogglingly stupid hour of 23:00, some of them earlier. WTF!!

So we had to gulp down our beers and make our way home walking in slight esses. And that's not only because the expensive day ticket doesn't work for night buses and they are expensive, they also aren't.

But we had fun and that's what matters, right?

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Day 1 - Sandwich

It turns out there's ABSOLUTELY NOTHING here. Small residential town, a couple of parks, some ruins of a wall or something. Nothing here worth waiting another hour for the train for.

But there is one thing for me here. I just had to take this picture:

Day 1 - Dover

Oh, yes, I love Dover too. Except for a couple of ugly, industrial-looking buildings, it's quite a pretty town. And it has the sea. And the Castle. And the Cliffs. As soon as I arrive, I find out at the Tourist Info that visiting the Castle is a mere 9 quid. Bah, small change. Anyway, I think it better not to go, just in case it takes too long, or I turn out to be afraid of heights or anything.

Instead, after a quick snack and a long chat with two nice german girl backpackers, I set off for the Cliffs. I cross the town, the Marine Parade, and I climb the cliffs just above the ferry terminal. Nice view of Calais from up there, whick looks much closer than I thought. Hello, Europe. Nice to see you again.

White cliffs country(, the leaflet says. Well, it's true. White cliffs they are. Cliffs of chalk. Now I understand better what Terry Pratchett means by "chalk country" (in The Wee Free Men, A hat full of sky, etc). It really is.

After I while and a lot of pictures of myself on cliffs, I realize it's time to go if I want to get to Brighton (though actually Hove) in time. I'm staying there with my friend Paula for a couple of nights, and I don't want to arrive too late today. And yet, as I get to the train station, I notice on the map a small town by the name of Sandwich, and a train to it on platform 1. I think no further and hop on it.

Day 1 - Canterbury

I exchange some money at a Swindler's and hop on the first train to Tonbridge, where I hop off it and on another one to Canterbury.

And wow, I just love Canterbury. Well, all of Kent actually. I don't know what I'll find further on, it might be the same all over England, but Kent is just so marvelously English. Seriously. Rolling hills of green and gold, rolled up bales of straw, cute little English houses, and tons and tons of sheep. Holy sheep! I'd never seen such a sheepload of sheep before. What do they do with them? Biofuel?

Anyway, I like Canterbury. It's small and cute, and though it's horribly touristic and full of all the shops you might care to think of, they've managed to keep the town looking medieval enough. There are a couple of cute gardens to stroll in, a thousand-year-old Norman keep still standing, together with the walls and a couple of towers and some other really old-looking buildings. But of course, the main thing to Canterbury is the Cathedral.

It costs something in the order of 6 pounds to see it before 5:30 PM, so I decided that in the evening it would surely look best. You know, because of the angle of the sunlight and all that.

In the meantime, I thought, why not go to Dover?

Day 1: Back to the land of infinite hedges

I wake up to the sound of... the PA system. We're approaching Gatwick Airport. We plunge down and shred the clouds to reveal the English countryside below us.

Green rolling fields, small houses and infinite hedges of all shapes. Over Gatwick, the car park glistens in the sun like fish scales. Touchdown. I'm back.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Day 0: Farewell

After a restless two-hour night, I get my stuff and set off. The ghost town bides me farewell in the distance with its trembling lights. I walk the road in long strides with a light heart and a heavy sack.

I walk an empty road, in the company of a smirking moon and the occasional cricket song. I walk alone.

And thus it was that in the middle of the night I made my way to Barajas Airport.