Back in San Francisco

In San Fran again for GDC. Was greeted with spectacular weather, which is almost spookily becoming the norm when I travel, cementing the idea that I am a weather god further in my mind. Had a relaxing day yesterday after landing at 10am and checking in with the local authorities (ie, giving the US Department of Homeland Security my fingerprints). We went out to Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay and had a beautiful afternoon watching the sun set eating battered artichokes and drinking a beer.

Sam’s Chowder House

The Holiday – Summarised

nb: this is a work in progress.

Kilometres travelled: 47,676 (as reckoned by Google Earth)

Major cities visited: Tokyo, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne.

Favourite city: Paris

Most impressive place: Mont-St-Michel

Best view: Carnelion Room, San Francisco

Best Beer:

Best World Cup moment: Having chanting competitions with the Brazilians in the Hofbrauhaus beer hall in Munich.

Worst World Cup moment: Can’t remember

Best looking girls: Paris

Best looking guys: What? No idea

Most concrete city: Los Angeles

Best newspaper headline: “5 day 32 degree heatwave” – London

Emails upon return to work: 12,513

Number of emails that were spam: 9,842

Aussies in Munich

A quick summary of the action in Munich, just copied and pasted from my post to QGL about it:

Well, I am currently in Munich and watched the game at the FanFest here out at the Olympic Park. Unfortunately I can’t get photos online but if you google I’m sure some people have gotten some up. There were thousands and thousands of people out there – I can’t even estimate how many but it was packed out. Lots and lots and LOTS of Aussies, which is awesome.

The few nights before here in Munich were great too. The atmosphere here is just indescribable. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is being in a crowded German beerhall with thousands of people all here for the soccer.

Most of the Aussies we’ve met here (like us) don’t even have tickets – it is so cool to see so much support for the Socceroos even from people that aren’t going to the games. Everyone is (generally) in such a great mood; it is really nice to see people from all countries just getting along. Everyone seems to love the Aussies (although we keep hearing Americans saying weird things; I think they’re copping a lot of shit from everyone – including Australians – and are suprised that no one seems to like them).

It is really cool to be able to walk around and see random groups of Aussies (you just here cries of “Aussie!” everywhere as you’re walking down the street). The day of the Brazil game we were all meeting in Marienplatz (big square here) and random tourists would walk past all the Aussies drinking beer and stop to take our photo. We get lots of people just walking up to us to say hello and shake our hand and to wish us luck.

Of course the Brazilians were getting their share of the love as well – they’re noisy and are just partying all the time. They’ve got the drums going and are doing a lot of chanting. I thought they were remarkably restrained after the game – I guess they’re used to winning. It would have been total fucking chaos here last night had Australia won – we would have torn the town apart with drunken revelry!

The weather here is beautiful too. Drinking steins of beer is awesome but surprisingly hard work – after the second litre of beer you need a breather.

I thought the game was pretty good, Aussies did well considering they were up against the favourite of the entire competition and one of the best teams in the world. We were unlucky with a few shots (and I think calls) but overall it was a top game and I can’t wait to go to Stuttgart to see how we go against the Croats.

After the game some of the guys we were with busted out a Sherrin and started kicking it around the (crowded) field we were on. Everyone had a good laugh as all the crazy-ass Aussies ran around chasing the footy going for marks and tackling the shit out of each other. Well, everyone except the people that got sconed in the head by the footy.

It is just so amazing being here.

Euro Summer

Summer in Europe has arrived, with a vengeance. French and Dutch people are heading outside in droves with such reckless abandon for the safety of their skin that it makes a Queenslander cringe in fear for their lives. Despite the fact that this side of the globe still has an ozone layer and you can actually last ten or twenty minutes in the sun without having to spend the next 48 hours in sunburn hell, you still can cop a pretty good dosage of UV – as is now evident by the vast numbers of crispy red Euro-types that I am now seeing everywhere.

I’ve just gotten back from a weekend in Amsterdam visiting Soph, who has this ridiculously awesome apartment situated basically in the middle of town next to an actual real canal. Amsterdam seems like a really awesome place to live – really relaxed, beautiful surroundings, lots of nice pubs. Didn’t really do a lot of general purpose tourist stuff and instead spent time hanging out, plus one trip to the beach on the Saturday – along with most of the population of Amsterdam. They sure do love nuding it up on the beaches there.

Found a nice little Aussie bar on the beach which sold Tooheys New, so we sat around there for a while and soaked up the Aussie beer whilst sitting inside watching some of the footy. After that we decided we needed more Aussie beer, so upon returning to Amsterdam we got some dinner, found another Aussie pub, watched some more football and drank a stack. Awesome fun.

Back in Paris now – the Aussie game vs Japan was yesterday and boy it was awesome to watch. Unfortunately my train back from Amsterdam was delayed so I didn’t get back in time to find a good pub and ended up watching it on TV, but it was still a freakin’ awesome game.

Off now to watch yet more football – France’s first game is this afternoon so it’ll be cool to hit the pubs for that.

From London to Paris

Well, many days have passed since my last update. I only had a few days in London, one of which was a bit of a write-off due to travel-induced exhaustion, so I wanted to cram them as full of stuff as I could.

I definitely could have spent more time in London, though you quickly start wishing you were earning pounds rather than measly Australian dollars. One dump truck full of Australian currency will get you a pint of beer. (Contrary to what I’d heard, all the beer I drank in London was cold.)

There are heaps of great museums in London. The Imperial War Museum was by far my favourite, jam-packed with amazing relics from World War 2 (and a heap of other military engagements that England has been involved in, but I was mainly interested in the WW2 stuff). V2 rockets, tanks, weapons, uniforms, letters – all fascinating stuff to see IRL.

The Natural History Museum is pretty impressive but I was a bit natural historied-out after being to the New York Museum of the same name, so I went off to the Science Museum which I really enjoyed, although I suspect it’s really targeted at younger people.

All the other tourist stuff I did as well to some degree – Tower Bridge, Tower of London (didn’t go in due to time constraints but walked around), London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (unfortunately under construction), Westminster, etc, etc. Stacks and stacks of stuff to see and do. I found the Tube really awesome to use and was surprised to hear that quite a few Londoners don’t like it that much.

Mad props to Nicky and Aidan for putting me up in Islington, where – when walking ‘home’ from one of my frequent excursions – I saw Harry Kewell walking around the streets with his family. I was a little too starstruck (after I finally even confirmed that it was him anyway) to do anything useful like ask for a photo, but it was still way cool.

…to Paris…

I am currently in Paris and have been here for about 6 days – having a great time. My French is very rusty but basically everyone speaks English so it is easy to get by anyway.

Again, contrary to popular opinion, so far just about everyone I’ve spoken to anywhere has been very helpful and very tolerant of my woeful French. I remember just enough from my five years of study at school to get by and am probably slightly better equipped than the average tourist, but I sure wish I could remember more. However, not really a problem as everyone has enough English to help you out and (so far) have not been reticent about using it.

Everything here is very cool. Eating lots of croy-sants and pan-oh-chocky. Good stuff. Lots of amazing history here.

Now that the Da Vinci Code has taken over the world (and the handful of illiterates that haven’t read it can now see it on the silver screen), all these people (e.g., Americans) have now heard of this mystical place that Jesus built called ‘The Louvre’. (Actually I can’t remember if the book mentioned that Jesus built it or not, but it is the sort of thing that would have been in there.) As a result there are a lot lot lot of people around the place, but more of them seemed intent on circling the modern glass pyramids and taking photos of them instead of, say, going to check out the priceless artifacts.

The Louvre is so massive that you really need several days to explore and dig on the whole thing – unless you’re an ignorant savage like me and feel like you can safely skip massive sections of artistic history. I checked out all the Greek and Roman art which I really enjoy, more for its history though. There’s quite a lot of cool Renaissance-period Italian stuff which is great.

The Mona Lisa is, of course, there. It is neat. Small, but neat. I don’t have the artistic background to make any useful comments about it – again, I appreciate it more because of its history rather than out of any real level of understanding about the art involved.

There are a billion other things to see in Paris, most of which people will be familiar with from movies such as Team America. The Eiffel Tower is spectacular, particularly at night when it lights up and frequently starts sparkling due to thousands of lights all over it that are turned on at certain times. The Arc de Triumphe is massive (and I was surprised to see it had four legs, not just two!).

Notre Dame is probably my favourite place so far; only a few minutes walk from my hotel I’ve gone to sit in its shadow with a cuppa a few times and just reflect. I haven’t been up the towers yet to see the gargoyles but will be doing that soon. I am not, as most people would know, big on the whole religion thing, but I must confess I love cathedrals, particularly the old-school Gothic variety.

I am spending quite a bit of time soaking up the place, just walking around Le Marais, the area of central Paris in which I am staying.

The French, like the English and Japanese, still have smoking indoors in restaurants and bars. I forgot how gross it is to come out of something reeking of smoke (after three weeks of being in the US where smoking indoors is verboten pretty much everywhere), and as almost everyone in Paris smokes all the time, it happens pretty regularly. I am coping, however, as is my asthma (fortunately).

I have a few more days in Paris and then I have vague plans to head north; I will see how they solidify.

Adventures in New York

At dinner o’clock, as I walk around, my head is generally whipping from side to side almost fast enough to cause some sort of spinal trauma. On a lot of the roads there are just restaurants or food places on either side that all look so great and are generally packed with people, so trying to decide on a place to eat becomes this incredible excercise in mental anguish as I try to make sure I’m getting the best meal possible.

Yesterday I decided the weather was good enough to try going out to the Statue of Liberty. I got on the subway and made my way down the entire length of the island, got out and wandered over. I saw a massive line of people but I figured they were there to get someone’s autograph or something, because it was far too massive to be going to see the Statue – right?

Sadly, I was wrong – they were all going to see the Statue. It’s like it is some sort of incredible tourist attraction, or something. I’ve never seen so many people lined up for anything anywhere I’ve been doing tourist stuff. We’re talking easily in the thousands of people.

I decided that I wasn’t going to stand in line with the rest of the chumps so found another tour thing (one that didn’t actually land on the island) and spent the next hour or so getting an instructive tour of the southern end of Manhattan Island, including a look at New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn, the Statue, plus a bunch of other places. We ended up pretty close to the Statue (and you can’t go up it any more since 9/11) so I think I’ll save visiting it ‘properly’ for next time.

I then was planning on going to the Metropolitan Museum, but on the way back I went past the Chrysler building and decided I had to get out to get some photos – it is easily the best looking building in the city. While I did that I remembered the UEFA Cup Finals was on so wandered around until I found a pub that had it on (poor old Arsenal, getting their keeper red-carded in the first 20-odd minutes).

Then my plans fell apart, because I’d forgotten I hadn’t had lunch, and as it was 4pm I was getting hungry, so I went to Hard Rock, ate and checked my email (free wifi rules), then stupidly decided to walk the 50+ blocks back to the hostel. I arrived and that was effectively the end of the day; I was exhausted.

Today is my last day in NY and it looks like the weather gods have decided to tease me by offering the best day yet – all blue skies, 20+ degrees, really beautiful. Unfortunately I leave in about 3 or 4 hours so don’t have time for a lot but hopefully I can make a museum or do one last cool thing before I jet out.

New York Bits and Pieces

Today I did a bunch more walking, went to the American Natural History Museum, went on a tourist bus trip which went around the entire south of Manhattan Island, checked out Ground Zero, aka the Hole, aka the World Trade Center site, saw the second oldest suspension bridge in the country, went up the Empire State Building.

Unfortunately the weather turned on me and it was raining yesterday morning when I set out, but by the afternoon’s bus trip it had cleared up, and I even saw the sun for the first time (whilst on the ground, it doesn’t really count when you’re 30,000 feet up) in about 2 weeks.

Given the weather change I decided to head up to the Empire State, thinking that this’d be the best time to do it now that it had cleared up a bit. I knew I was about ten blocks away so I set my sights on the building and started walking.

Unfortunately once I got within about 4 blocks I was surrounded by massive buildings and completely lost my sense of direction. It is surprisingly hard to find the cities tallest building when you can’t see it.

Anyway, eventually I found it and went up – along with a billion or so other people who thought sunset might be a good time to head up there. The wait wasn’t too long – maybe 45 minutes or so from bottom to top. Every time you turn a corner you find yourself in another queue for a lift.

I got the special extra super high pass, which gets you up to the 102nd floor – the view from the normal observatory, which is on the 86th floor, is pretty good though and if you want to save the fourteen bucks you can probably live without going to the 102nd, unless you’re an altitude junky like moi.

One of my earliest memories of anything to do with the Empire State is watching the original Spiderman movie (not the Toby McGuire one) – at some point, Spidey gets some device pinned to his shirt and it takes over his brain and makes him try to jump off the top of the Empire State. As he’s climbing over, I remember some safety prong thing luckily tore off the mind control device, bringing him to his senses and of course saving his life. I was very excited to see that those prong things actually exist.

The bus trip around the south of the island was also great, got to see a bunch of cool places.

The WTC site was weird; it appears to be a massive tourist attraction – I didn’t think anyone else on the bus would be getting off to check it out but most of the other people did. There were hundreds and hundreds of people wandering around the site, which is protected by some big fences. In true capitalist style there are people walking around trying to sell you WTC mementos, despite signs on the fences asking citizens and tourists not to buy anything from them.

I suspect it is called ‘The Hole’ because of the massive hole in the ground that now exists where the two massive towers once stood, but really to me it seemed more like a hole in the skyline.

I didn’t spend a lot of time there; its a little depressing and the ghouls wandering around make it more so.

Will try to write more later but now I have to go and battle the New York hotel system. It seems everything on Manhattan Island is totally booked out at the moment – except the $800-$2000 per night (seriously) hotels.

New York, Day One

I’ve wanted to come to New York for a long time. One of the truly iconic American cities, made even more so by the terrorist attacks, it has always held a stack of appeal – the Empire State, Central Park, getting mugged, pizzas, Times Square, Broadway – the list goes on.

I ended up at a hotel in what I believe is the upper West Side – just up and west of Central Park. It appears to be a great place, and Manhattan Island is small enough so that you can walk around most of it in a couple hours, which is great.

Day 1 consisted of some serious sleeping to get some recovery time from the last week of pain. I eventually arose at 11, grabbed a bagel (oh, the bagels) and commenced walking.

I didn’t really have a plan, other than ‘go south’. I walked a couple blocks to the park and wandered around there. I’d always assumed the park was a little dinky slot of green but it is actually a pretty massive affair. Lots of joggers, walkers, kids and squirrels. Cute little nut eating rascals.

I wandered around for maybe thirty blocks – sounds like a big haul but the blocks are pretty small – and veered west, ending up at a military museum hosted on an old World War 2 aircraft carrier – the Intrepid. This was a pleasant surprise, especially when I saw the F-14 Super Tomcat perched on the deck – I’ve always wanted to see one of these up close ever since Top Gun.

So I went aboard. It was way, way cool. Those things are massive, and I suspect the more modern nuclear powered ones are even bigger. The hangar had a bunch of exhibits, including a lot of great World War 2 memorabilia that was on loan from a private collector – the dude had some great stuff.

The deck was awesome, had a bunch of typical carrier-borne planes on it – the Tomcat, a Vietnam-era F-4, an AWACS, plus some other things that aren’t typically found on carriers – like an AR-12, which is the CIA version of the SR-71 Blackbird – the world’s fastest plane. Very hot, but smaller than I expected! There was also some cool choppers, an F-16, an AV-8C (US Marine Harrier) – heaps of stuff.

Lots of the interior of the carrier was on display as well – the bride, CIC, radar rooms, communications rooms – all very compartmentalised. Really incredible to think of that ship getting dive bombed by kamikazes – which happened to it back in World War 2.

In addition to all the military stuff, there was also an actual, real, whole Concorde. Way smaller than I expected! I walked down the aisles of it, and it was very sad to think that these awesome machines are no longer in service – the day they stopped flying was a step backwards for this whole planet.

After that, I decided to aim for Times Square. This might sound stupid, but Times Square isn’t an actual Square, but just an area of the inner city south of the park. I sure didn’t know that. It is packed with amazing shops, lights, billboards – all very impressive but probably less so if you’ve been to Tokyo :)

I basically wandered up and down the streets for a couple hours, including Broadway, just soaking it up and exploring and deciding what I should do for the rest of my time here.

Walked back through the park and got back in time for dinner, Sopranos and Big Love on HBO. Awesome.

Last Days in Japan

Thoughts on Tokyo

Tokyo is big. Really big. Also, a lot of people live there. If you’re from Australia, at least from Brisbane, it’s basically more people than you’ve ever seen in one place in your life, generally congregated in an area roughly the size of a postage stamp.

We were staying in Shinjuku, which is the home of the busiest rail station in the world – apparently, something like three million people catch trains through Shinjuku’s massive station every day. Correspondingly, it is one of the busiest districts in Tokyo, all the time.

The nightlife is crazy – walking around you’ve got all sorts of people coming up to harass you into their club, restaurant, or whatever. This quickly gets annoying, especially if you’re a tourist, as you’re so easily identified and marked as a target. Still, they bug off when you ignore them – eventually.

We hit Shibuya as well for a night and went to an amazing-looking place called Lockdown (I think) – a sort of horror-themed restaurant where you have to nagivate a chamber of horrors before even making it in. Sadly it was a long wait so we had to miss out, but definitely on the list for next time.

Tokyo’s a great city, but it’s too crazy busy – all the time. I have no idea how people can live there and not go insane.

Only thing I didn’t get to do in Japan that I wanted to this trip was go see Mt Fuji – but that just gives me another reason to go back.