Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Name:
Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Easter

Well, it's gone ten pm here, and I've had an hour on the net already, but I just got the best Easter present I could have had, and I thought I'd share it with you while wishing you a Happy Easter. That's right, you. Hope you got Easter eggs galore - and sod the diet for now!

My Easter present was from the good people at the World's Local Bank. They have finally presented me with my own account once again, meaning I can get back on track in financial terms and stop worrying. Obviously my new card (see previous post) wasn't damaged, they'd just cocked up the supposed pin.

In summary: YAY!


Just a quick note: Spent the last couple of days watching the Australia v New Zealand Test Match (that's right, pedants, test match, not first class like last time - you know who you are!), which has been entertaining, if only because it's such a mismatch. And don't expect to hear from me for a while because I'm off to Fiji in the next couple of days where I intend to laze around on a desert island surrounded by coral reefs...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

New Zealand

I've arrived in New Zealand safe and sound, having spent a night in Sydney airport. And then a day in transit/in New Zealand where I basically just drank alcohol. We bought bottles of wine from duty free in Sydney, drank one of them at 8:30am between two of us (Trev couldn't really drink since he gets airsick), then continued drinking on the plane courtesy of free airline perks (mmm... vodka and orange - it's called a 'screwdriver' don'tchaknow). Then touched down in Auckland, and bought 2 litres of gin for 12 quid in duty free. Got to our hostel and drank the other bottle of wine. Then dinner, then gin, and then out to some pubs and a club. It was great - I felt like Hunter S. Thompson.

Since then I've been sober, and thus can judge New Zealand, or rather Auckland, rather better. And frankly, despite being the furthest away from good old Blighty that I will be during this trip, it's the least exotic city to which I've been. It's got a rubbish art gallery, some museums and stuff, a harbour that's quite nice, architecture reminiscent of Reading or Brum (minus the Bullring) or something, an extremely mixed population, race-wise, and apart from that it seems pretty much like any old English city. Which is all very well, but I've travelled half way around the world - I want coral beaches and cannibal tribes.

Watch this space - Fiji next week...

Monday, March 21, 2005

The World's Local Bank continued, plus Sydney 2 and Goodbye to Australia

Here it is, folks, the long-awaited update to my previous missive about banking difficulties. I say 'update', because it couldn't rightly be called a conclusion, as will become apparent.

My good friend Si returned to the fold the other day, meaning we once again number three (the magic number, don'tchaknow). As you will no doubt be aware from my previous talk on the situation, he was carrying with him my all-new shiny chip and pin ATM card, couriered across the globe with efficiency and aplomb. He guarded it with his life the whole way, since it was unsigned and accompanied by a letter containing the brand new pin number, and thus if someone thieved it they would have access to all my money. The lucky bastards.

Filled with hope and trepidation, I approached an ATM, pushed in my card, and typed in the pin number, transcribing it directly from the aforementioned official pin-containing letter. And was not-entirely surprised when it didn't work. Wrong pin, supposedly. Choking back black rage I got my card back (strangely by pressing not the 'cancel' but, but the one marked 'change'), waited hours nervously, and rang HSBC. At which point, in the middle of a question the wrong answer to which would result in me having my account permanently locked, the phonecard ran out.

I went and got a new phonecard, and (after around half an hour buggering around with that, trying to get it to work after - unbelievably - it initially had a fault) rang back. What I should do, explained the chirpy fool at the other end of the line, was try my old pin. Of course - why didn't I think of that?

What I couldn't do straight away, however, was try my old pin. You see, earlier, in the initial frenzied panic that followed the curel dashing of my hopes of getting hold of my own cash, I'd typed in the "wrong pin" three times. This is the maximum number of incorrect pin attempts allowed, and so my card had locked itself for 24 hours. Serves me right - what was I thinking, believing a letter from HSBC?

Anyway, the next day I retried, going with both old and new pins, to precisely no success. So I again rang the 'helpline' up and waited on hold. The nice operative at the other end asked me a series of security questions, the final one of which was an absolute beauty. "Could you tell me," she inquired, "a transaction performed with your card since you recieved last statement?". Calmly (by this point I am beyond anger at such impersonal mindless repeat screwing) I replied that, as I had been saying, I haven't been getting my statements because I'm in Australia. She took this on board, but could see a way around it. "Well, can you tell me something you've used your card for in the least two weeks?".

Once I'd pointed out that the reason I was ringing was that I'd been unable to use my card for a month, she was able to confirm there was nothing wrong with my account (thanks!). So they're now sending me a new pin. Fingers crossed...



But all this bank-related absurdity shouldn't detract from the fact that here in Sydney the second time it's been pretty damn good. We've been up one of the concrete pylons attached to the famous Harbour Bridge. and thus seen great views and a dull museum about the building of said transport route. We've been out in famously-seedy district Kings Cross of an evening and thus walked past a seemingly-endless stream of neon-lit strip clubs to go to a club in which they sold bottles of champagne at the bar for ten dollars a pop (about four quid), something even we could stretch to! We've seen some good, middling and terrible art by both Australian, European and American artists in the NSW art gallery (in my opinion, and of course I don't know anything about art, but I know what's just a series of household items stuck to a bit of canvas and labelled with pretentious twaddle). And we've seen Russell Crowe's favourite Rugby League team, the bizarrely-named South Sydney Rabbitohs (I have no idea why the 'oh' is on the end), beat the relatively-normally-named Parramatta Eels 49-28 at Aussie Stadium in a fantastic match.

All in all it's been great, and though Sydney won't finish above Melbourne in any list of Australian cities compiled by me, it is a great place.



Right, finally, this will be my last post from the marsupial-filled, red-dusted covered, beach-cultured, sun-fearing, sport-loving, uncouth, good honest bewdy ripper nation continent that is Australia. During my time here I've seen (and mocked) various aspects of Aussie culture and life, from Kylie Minoghue exhibitions to Aussie Rules Football, from Easter Bilbies to Goonbags. And despite turning me in to a pauper (compared to my previous status in Asia), it has provided some great moments. I definitely would come back to Australia, if only to get a car and see me some outback.

But in four weeks I've been unable to find any evidence of there being any Australian male more intellectual than Clive James, of whom there was even a portrait in the NSW Gallery...

So, to Australia:
catch ya later, mates,
your friend,
a lousy pom.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Canberra

I've not written anything for a while because I've been in Canberra, home of (amongst other things) the Australian Federal Parliament, and ludicrously expensive internet cafes. So not much time, so no writing on here. I'm now in Sydney, home of (amongst other things) the New South Wales Parliament, and reasonably priced "unlimited time" deals in internet cafes.

As you may have guessed from the above paragraph, I wasn't overly enamoured with Canberra. It's a planned capital city, having been constructed in New South Wales at least 100 miles from Sydney as per the agreement when the various Australian colonies formed a Federation back at the turn of the last century. Since it's planned, it's even more spacious and picturesque than the other Australian cities to which I've been, but this comes at a cost. It was obviously designed with cars in mind, so our preferred method of transport, "walking", left us pretty footsore by the end of each day.

Still, at least there's quite a bit of free stuff to see: the aforementioned Aussie Parliament, based on our very own, and with some of the same traditions, most amusingly a man named Black Rod, and the fact that the Queen's not allowed in the lower chamber (she's their Queen too, remember?).

There's also a quality musuem in the Australian War Memorial site. Before you exclaim "War? When the hell have the Aussies had to fight a war?" I shall remind you that Australian soldiers took part in WW1 and 2, as well as in Korea and 'nam, plus of course as UN Peacekeeping troops here and there. And boy, are they ever touchy about it. If you want to really wind an Aussie up (and not just in the "you've got no culture, mate" jokey way) belittle their achievements in the disastrous Gallipolli landings in WW1. Point out that the landings achieved nothing, and that the Aussies, far from playing a key role, lost less then half the number of troops that the UK lost. And we never even mention Gallipolli.

Don't actually do that, incidentally - the whole Gallipolli thing is revered over here, to the extent that every town or city has things named after it, or after ANZAC (the name of the Aussie and New Zealand forces that took part in the military debacle). I assume it's cos it's more or less the only single battle where they've really lost a lot of troops in one go.

Anyway, we're back in Sydney now, and will soon be joined by the returning Si, hopefully with a fully working ATM card for me. Fingers crossed on that score. We leave for New Zealand on the 22nd in the morning, so for those who are counting (or even those who are still reading at this point!) that'll be the 21st in the evening for all of you. Or, as many grammatically-challenged Aussies would have it, "all of youze".

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Yet more Sport, plus some R'n'R

Today I have seen a load of disappointing sport. Firstly I got up at 6am to watch Arsenal limply belly-flop out of the Champions League against a vastly superior efficient Bayern Munich side. Then I spent the entire day watching the dull dull dull first day of the South Australia v Tasmania bottom-of-the-table Aussie state cricket test match. And it was dull. Though Michael Bevan did score 115, so it wasn't all bad.

Anyway, what I need after all that is some R'n'R. Nope, not rest and relaxation: Roo'n'Rice. Since our discovery a few days ago that it's the cheapest meat there is in the supermarket, Trev and I have been eating nought but minced Kangaroo and rice for dinner, with various sauces of course.

Off to Canberra, purpose-built Aussie capital city, tomorrow. Our bus leaves at 11am and gets in at 6am the following morning. Stupid massive country...

Monday, March 07, 2005

A Soap Opera and Adelaide

So what do you do on your last day in Melbourne when it's intermittently sunny and pissing it down with rain? Travel for some time on a combination of suburban train and bus to an outlying suburb in order to stare in childish joy at some houses of course. To the casual observer they may have looked like any old suburban residences, but to me, they were part of Ramsay Street, inhabited by... actually it's so long since I've watched Neighbours that anyone could live there now, but the point was the same. I was well happy having been there.

After a bus journey leaving at half eight in the evening and arriving at half five in the morning South Australia time (half an hour earlier than Western Australia time), featuring a legend of a bus driver named Don and the film "Walking Tall" starring former WWF and People's Champion The Rock and containing a plot that could at best be described as 'improbable', we arrived in Adelaide.

So far it seems ok, though it's nowhere near as pleasant as Sydney or Melbourne. The town centre bit is a less-bad version of Worthing town centre, complete with scallies en masse. Yesterday, while waiting for the lights to change so we could cross the road, a teenage girl commented upn my 'I love Bognor' T-shirt. "I love boners?" she hypothesised, "Does your T-shirt say I love boners?" "Yes," I replied. "Why has it got a 'G' in it, then?" she commented, shrewdly spotting my error. "Obviously," I thought, "you're not familiar with the concept of irony". "Because I can't spell," I retorted. She thought that was hilarious. Fortunately the lights changed at that point...

Other than that we've been to an Art Gallery (free), the Government House (free), a Don Bradman exhibition (free) and the museum of South Australia (you get the pattern by now). And tonight we intend to buy a box of wine, having not drunk alcohol for a looong time. Today we went to the National Wine Centre (free) in the hope of getting some wine tasting (free) but no dice, unfortunately.

Friday, March 04, 2005

More Aussie Culture (Read: Sport)

Have been spending the last couple of days watching sport, for which of course Australia is justly world-renowned, seeing as how they're good at it. Not that they ever mention it, of course...

Yesterday we spent a day at the Melbourne Grand Prix. In celebration of the fact that this is the tenth year since Melbourne stole the Australian Grand Prix from Adelaide, this year Thursday was a special "People's Day", which meant it was free to get in. Which meant we bothered to go. Of course, since it was free, there wasn't much to see - qualifying and practice for Porsches and other quick cars mainly, which as my mate Trev pointed out, was basically like sitting next to a motorway for some hours. In direct blazing sun, mind you, so we got burnt. Ouch.

Still, there were other things to do, like... er... wander around the expo section, which was basically just a giant excuse for fit girls to shill corporate produce, and was thus a bit rubbish, and left a bitter taste in the mouth.

All in all though it was a reasonable way to spend a day, and was after all gratis so I can't really complain. And I did get to see the great sight of a Williams F1 car going flat out in a time-lag race with a BMW hatchback. The Williams gave the BMW a 75 second headstart and still won, it's speed on the final straight just astonishing in comparison with a standard car going flat out.



There haven't been many race car champs from Down Under, but today we saw a sport that the cork-hatted fools have had a lot more success at down the years: cricket. We strolled along to the MCG, a famous cricketing venue for anyone who doesn't know, paid about two quid, and watched a whole day of testmatch play between Australian states Victoria (where Melbourne is) and Queensland (the one with Brisbane in it). Amongst other things, we got to see World Record Test Wicket Taker Shane Warne bowling. The fat git. It was wonderfully sedate and relaxing, of course, and it didn't matter too much that at the crowd's height it numbered around 400 people sat around in the cavernous probably about 70,000 capacity MCG...



Tomorrow night we're off to Adelaide. Oh, and today is March 4th, which marks me having been away for five months.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Melbourne, Mooching, Australian Culture and Dirty Protests

Hello all,

Firstly, thanks to those of you who suggested ways I could get out of my current cardless financial predicament. In actual fact it seems we're going with the "Si couriers my card back to me" plan, as I suggested in my previous missive on the subject. Dad amusingly informs me that this week HSBC recorded the highest profit by any bank ever, or something. The system works, etc.

Anyway, I'm now in Melbourne, capital of the great state of Victoria, and Australia's second biggest city, (just) behind Sydney in the population stakes.

So far, though, it seems ahead of Sydney in all other stakes. Admittedly we once again find ourselves in a cack hostel (more of which later), but the city itself is simply marvellous. Wide streets, large amounts of pedestrianisation, and (important for stone broke chancers like ourselves) free exhibitions, parks and art galleries. Yay!

To this end we have been liberally sampling Australian culture over the last couple of days. Firstly, we went to an Aussie Rules Football game at the Telstra Dome, a fantastic new and extremely well-planned big stadium in Melbourne where England may or may not have won the Rugby World Cup the other year (not sure if it was there or at the other Telstra Stadium in Sydney - answers to the usual, please). The game we saw was a quarter-final in the pre-season cup competition the Wizard Cup (the season proper doesn't start until end of March) between Melbourne Demons and Carlton Blues. Carlton is a suburb of Melbourne, just to the north of the city centre, but since we weren't staying there we decided to support the Demons. They lost 107-97 (6pts for a goal, 1 for a 'behind', or narrow miss, and 9 for a 'super goal', scored from more than 50m away), but it was a fantastic game, and I can't see why Aussie Rules isn't more popular generally. It has everything - big hits, free flowing play and moments of tension.

Next up on our Aussie culture journey was a look in the Narional Gallery, which was also for the most part free. We looked at a load of portraits, landscapes and still lifes by various European masters from the 14th to the 17th centuries, including works by Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Canaletto and Caravaggio, plus obviously loads more. All good. The highlight of the gallery for me, though, was the 'Grotesques: the fantastic and diabolical in art' exhibition, which contained lots of insane drawings of gods, monsters, angels and demons from such artists as Durer, Picasso, Goya and others. Marvellously barking. All very good, but none of it is actually Australian, is it?

Next door to the gallery is the Victoria Art Centre. This had perhaps less of interest to the art expert, but maybe more for those like us looking to get in to Aussie culture outside of sport. You see, this contained a Kylie exhibition. That's right, as in Kylie Minoghue, pint-sized rapidly-aging bulletproof-arsed Aussie pop princess. The exhibition contained much of interest to the Australian Kylie obsessive - her costumes from many a famous video and stage performance, pictures of here from many an album cover or magazine photo shoot, and a big video screen playing her stuff. It was garbage, clearly, but it was all put together with astonishing pretension - foolish photographers and designers prattling on about their work having been quoted left, right and centre to make Kylie appear to be less of a trivial face (and arse) for catchy pop songs, and more a cultural icon. I love Elvis, but he wasn't art.

We've also seen the Royal Botanical gardens, which were brilliant, and in the next few days we intend to attend the Melbourne Grand Prix (free no Formula 1 cars day) and a state cricket match. What we've learnt about modern Aussie culture I don't yet know.



We have learnt an important lesson about mooching, however. Hungry yesterday morning/afternoon, we got ourselves down to Pizza Hut to partake in their excellent and justly-famous all-you-can-eat buffet lunch deal. However, we armed ourselves with a bag lined with a binliner, and proved that we have no shame whatsoever by surreptitiously filling said receptacle with slices of pizza. It was a case of 'one in the mouth, one in the bag' for most of the time. When we waddled out of Pizza Hut some time later, it wasn't just our stomachs that where stuffed fit to burst. We also had about 18 slices of pizza stashed away. Of course, we were so full we didn't need dinner that evening, just a snack, and then we used the chaffed pizza as dinner today. Thus one Pizza Hut buffet acted as three meals. Moochtastic.



Earlier I mentioned that our hostel is a bit rubbish. It's mainly inhabited by Irish eejits on year-long work visas, and staffed by English morons ont he same deal. One of its rules is the always-criminal-for-a-hostel 'no drinking on the premises', meaning our much-vaunted "box of wine" idea of drinking cheap has currently been put on hold. However, I wouldn't say the place was so pisspoor as to merit a dirty protest on my behalf.

That's not how they see it, though, obviously, as this morning when we went to try and extend our stay here in Melbourne the member of staff there accused me of having wet the bed. The night before I'd gone in to our dorm to go to bed and noticed that my sheets were gone from my bed. "Some arsehole's nicked 'em," I naturally assumed, and went and got some more from the night warden. But no - this morning it emerged that my sheets had been wet and thus had been removed and 'destroyed'. Now, it was true that I had spilt water on my bed at about three pm the previous day, and rolled back the sheets to dry them out. But it really does take a special kind of staff to mistake water for whizz. Idiots.

Obviously I was not too pleased with the accusation, and the guy behind the desk actually hadn't been there when the sheets were changed, so he was pretty much accusing me of something he knew nothing about. We said we'd come back later and talk about it, especially since when we asked to see the allegedly soiled mattress he "wasn't sure where it had been put". When we returned later there was a different member of staff on duty. She didn't raise the question at all, and booked our two extra night's stay no problems. Seems like maybe they'd realised their mistake... no apology, but then the Aussies are supposed to be brash, right?