Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Germany, Portugal, South of France, Turkey

Being in Germany for the soccer World Cup was a great experience. For the first couple of weeks it was like a non-stop carnival in the streets of the cities. Strangely the German culture seemed to change a bit during the world cup, with people doing typically un-German things, being more laid-back, starting conversations with
strangers, celebrating even when they lost, the police not pulling me over when
I rode my bike through red lights right in front of them. It was a much nicer

I did manage to make a couple of short trips during the European summer. First
I caught up with an Australian friend, Rob, in Portugal for a week. The most
memorable event in Portugal was when we accidentally spent an hour or so in a gay bar. Despite the overly-well dressed male customers and the music that got more camp with each track, neither of realised what type of an establishment it was until I spilt my drink on my crotch and attracted a bit of unwanted attention as I tried to
clean up the mess.

The second trip was a disillusioning long weekend spent driving along the almost mythical "South of France", visiting Marseilles, Nice, Cannes, and Monaco . The south of France turned out to consist of over-priced, over-crowded coastal cities. In Nice, for 25 euros you were allowed to sit on a little spot on the stony beach for the day, where you could admire the other people who also paid 25 euros to be wedged in shoulder-to-shoulder on a patch of gravel. Monaco was especially ugly, with
more bland concrete apartment blocks than I would have thought possible crammed
into a mountainous coastal bay. Having said that, between the towns the stark
rock formations that made up the landscape was magnificent and the water was a
remarkable azure blue.

The third and last trip I made over summer was 10 days in Turkey, I looked at old Greek and Roman ruins in biblical ex-cities, I trundled around the Gallipoli battlefields for a day with busloads of tourists from Australia and New Zealand, and I finished up in Istanbul. Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities I've seen. There must be at least 6 cathedral-sized mosques in the city, each consisting of domes upon domes and ringed with minarets, the towers that call people to prayer five times a day. The city is half in Asia, half in Europe, with ferries constantly travelling along the coasts and backwards and forwards across the great waterway. There are a few old wooden palaces that remain from the times of the Ottoman empire, and every second street contains an old broken Ottoman-era fountain. The eating was
excellent, with some of the best vegetarian cooking I've tasted. It was the
month of Ramadan while I was there, which is when Muslims eat and drink nothing
at all during daylight, then have a big feast at night the moment the imams
officially declare that the sun has set. This created a festival atmosphere
every night. Istanbul is high on my lists of places to visit again.

Friday, December 15, 2006

2006: Year in Review

A Swiss friend wrote an e-mail to me last week, saying that because she hasn't
heard from me for a while, she assumes I haven't been doing much travelling. I have managed to add a few new countries to my list this year. At the beginning of the year I hitch-hiked across the Sahara, which is just about the stupidest way to spend a month's holiday. Afterwards I recuperated in Colombia, which is just about the best way to spend a month's holiday. I got tear-gassed in Ecuador, en route to

Compared with that the rest of the year has been rather mundane. Since May I've been working again in Frankfurt as an IT consultant. It's pretty dreary stuff,
wearing a suit everyday, working on mind-numbingly dull projects for
statisticians and economists. Not to say that all statisticians and economists
are mind-numbingly dull - one of the two good things about the job is I get to
work with interesting people from all over Europe. (The other good thing is they pay me on a regular basis).

A couple of brief and belated updates will follow soon.