I've really appreciated the time I've had over the last few months to tinker around a bit (actually, a lot) and give this place another long overdue renovation, and I'm pretty pleased with the finished product. Unveiling Troy's Gone Walkabout 3.0: The same tatty old content, only now in significantly more elegant surrounds.
Our move during the year has been a far bigger logistical challenge than I had expected, but it appears as if things are finally starting to settle down a bit in our old/new surroundings. But with no fresh material in these here online parts in recent times, I can only turn your attention to another (indirectly travel related) blog from a guy I went to church with in Sydney a dozen years ago. His goal? Authoring the funniest blog I've seen in ages, and to swim 1,000 metres in 1,000 different pools.
With the knowledge that our time in Basel would be coming to an end in 2015, the last year has seen a lot of waiting and organising for our next chapter of life. There's still much paperwork ongoing for visas and residency, and it involves a huge step into the unknown with a complete change of roles for both Katie and I, but things are starting to really take shape. And it's all happening back where we started out a decade ago: Geneva.
Flying with a toddler? Yeah, not a great idea. Katie is overjoyed that I've come to the conclusion that there will be no non-family related air travel for the forseeable future, and the forced containment is not exactly fair on Lainey either...
So my birthday has already come and gone for another year, with the sudden realisation that I'm now closer to forty than to thirty. But there's also another birthday just around the corner in the coming weeks, and that is for this little website which, unbelievably, turns ten. A whole decade ago, before social media and the whole world of blogging really took off, I set up this hobby horse to publish my journals of a few trips I'd done in the immediately preceding years, and also to record what happened when I left Australia in mid 2004 for a few months dedicated travelling and the uncertain future beyond.
What has followed still sometimes staggers me. And even now with the responsibilities of a young family, I continue to be able to live in the middle of Europe and get to explore new places from time to time. So much so that I really struggle to find the time and inclination to document for myself all the travels I've been so fortunate to make over the last ten years.
I'm well beyond the point of believing I'll ever really catch up - but at the very least it might give me something to do to keep myself entertained when I'm old and immobile (after all, it's getting closer to the time when I have to start thinking about these things, now that I'll soon be 'over the hill').
Anyway, my latest new destination was Atlanta over New Years. Katie promised me it would be warmer than Switzerland, which considering I'd been through easily the mildest start to a Swiss winter yet, was a nice bonus but hardly a necessity. But with much of the east and south of North America in the freezing grip of the so-called Polar Vortex, Atlanta turned out to be much colder than Basel. Still, our time there meeting up with varous friends was wonderful, even if Lainey was still a bit too young to really enjoy the impressive Georgia Aquarium.
In the current age of global mass tourism it's pretty hard to embark on a journey that is really unique anymore - and I'm the first to admit that the pages that chronicle my travels here don't exactly stray from the world's well tred cowpaths either. So it's always refreshing to know of someone personally who is going out on a limb and doing something hardcore. Enter Fredy, a colleague of mine who left work a few months ago to cycle through the US from Canada to Mexico. With that goal recently completed, I expected him to put his feet up, relax and bask in the satisfaction of an arduous ride completed.
Over nine years ago I created this website as something to amuse myself as I travelled, and, judging by the traffic statistics, that is mostly how it appears to be. But something I never expected was to recently find out that it's also being used in the field of academic research. A PhD student at the University of Salento in Lecce, in the far south of Italy, is analysing the language used in some of my Italian travelogues as part of a wider study to improve the translation of tourist information produced in Italy from Italian into English. So the next time you read "fair dinkum bellissimo" in your Italian tourist information, well, you know who to blame.
Things have been even quieter than usual around here over the last few months, and partly that's because there haven't been any exciting travel stories from far away to report on. Though, as some philosopher or another has probably long deliberated on, sometimes the shortest journeys can be the most profound. It's in this spirit that Katie and I are blessed and overjoyed to have recently welcomed our daughter Lainey into the world, and we're loving all the new discoveries that are coming with being parents. The whole travel thing is going to look a bit different from here on in too...
For once it was Katie and not me itching to make a getaway, but of course my rubber arm wasn't difficult to twist. The destination involved sand and sun in Spain and, even though I would still prefer to spend my beach time in Australia, Alicante proved to be a great summer tourist destination while also retaining the sense of a 'real' Spanish city.
Other than a welcome mid-winter escape to Malta, most of my recent travel hankerings have had to be satisfied vicariously. My friend Tony, a past visitor to such adventurous places as North Korea and Iran, has commenced his 2012 travels in China, with Mongolia and Afghanistan - yes, Afghanistan - coming up next. I'll be a regular visitor to his blog here.
My travel year may be over, but back in Australia that's certainly not the case for my sister and brother-in-law. Three years ago they packed up their Subaru and left Tasmania, drove the breadth of the Nullarbor Plain and set up shop in Perth. Now they're moving back, but of course it would be far too easy just to re-cross the continent the same way for over 4,000km. They're going the long way. About the longest way possible without crossing oceans. Up the Western Australian coast, across the Northern Territory, meeting our parents in Queensland for Christmas and then making the final run down the east coast to return home in January. And they're doing it with a five month old. They're blogging about their massive road trip with my adorable niece here.
The clocks are wound back, the leaves are mostly off the trees and a jacket is now necessary for the commute to work. In footy parlance I guess you could call it 'That Was The Season That Was'. But the travel year has finished on a high note, with a conference in San Francisco in October and most recently a spin around the famed 20km Nürburgring motor racing circuit in Germany.
My sister's two month European jaunt has come and gone. And after two small trips to Austria together in very quick succession, I've proven what was previously considered as impossible: There really is such a thing as too many Wiener Schnitzels...
I'm back from the so-called Land of the Free (with Katie to follow later). What was new? Beyond the usual photo and full fingerprints at passport control reserved for 'aliens', for the first time I also got the latest TSA digital nudey scanning treatment randomly given to even US citizens. But faced with the choice of either that or the enhanced pat-down, I'll take the seven seconds of radiation standing still with my hands up over my head every time. Was it worth it? Well, that depends on how long it takes for my privates to appear in Google...
And in the spirit of sampling the best stuff directly from the source (eg sparkling wine in Champagne or gushing mountain spring water in Evian), I'm pleased to report I've now had KFC in Kentucky.
OH, I also nearly neglected to mention I added two new states IN my latest American travels (slightly cryptic, that).
In the months between one of my sisters visiting here in February and the other one arriving in July, I have had a short trip to America, two to England and soon a second one to the US. And after that it promises to be another great summer, tripping around with my sister to Austria, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.
Hooley dooley, someone outside this peripheral enclosure in cyberspace has seen fit to publish an article of mine. I don't know whether this will lead anywhere or if the whole concept will now die in the proverbial, but just in case, I've decided to add an 'Articles' tab to the menu on the header of this site.
Our Christmas was spent in a small lakeside town in northern Italy. New Years (weather and airports permitting) will be in Dubai, followed by a family reunion in Australia. And in the midst of all this we're in the process of moving apartments. For whatever reason we really don't choose to do much in halves.
I've just come back from my best visit to the US yet. I saw Katie's university campus in North Carolina along with some of her friends that have stayed in the region (an experience complete with our attendance at a college football game that went right down to the wire), enjoyed playing tourist in New York, went to a really fun wedding in New Jersey and finished it all off with family time amidst the amazing autumn colours of Boston.
The quote of the trip goes to Daniel, Katie's four year old nephew. He had the car window down yelling "hi" to all the drivers we passed in traffic while his Dad was taking us to the airport shuttle. At one point we stopped alongside a bus driven by a lady who admittedly looked slightly washed up and beyond her prime when Daniel yells out "Hi, crack widow!"
Katie and I were stunned, where does a 4 year old learn a taunt like that? Then Jason figured out Daniel was trying to tell the lady she had a "cracked window". Phew.
Next week it's time for what is probably the climax of my year. With the World Cup just over and the world's gaze on South Africa averting, we're bucking the global trend by focussing on it (and also neighbouring Namibia). My first real African experience awaits!
How to bring a highly mobile society to its knees? One word: Eyjafjallajokul. I was pretty fortunate only being minorly disrupted, my flights for a quick overnighter to Bristol left as scheduled in the days after the flight ban was lifted. But as I was there solely to see a gig by Powderfinger, who were still stuck in Brisbane, there really wasn't much point in going. The good news is the UK tour dates have been re-scheduled for early June, and after some wrangling with my already maxed out leave balance I'm still able to see them play for one last time before they disband in September - volcanic ash permitting, of course!
It's still hard for me to believe sometimes, but I've now been in Switzerland for five years. And with big travel plans on the horizon for 2010, this year shapes up to be one of the most super, mega exciting yet...
When it comes to changes in style I'm a bit of a laggard. What's that you say? Hammer pants haven't been cool for at least 16 years? Well can I at least hang on to the hypercolour T-shirt? And you mean to tell me everyone else stopped dancing the Macarena way back in 1996? Probably a good thing to know.
Apparently web design has developed a fair bit since I first used my rudimentary HTML skills to build the templates for this site around 2003/04 - which in turn were based loosely on earlier websites I'd tinkered with in the mid 1990's. I've finally woken up to the fact that they probably needed a bit of a spruce up, so you might notice that things may look a little less dated around here. Welcome to Troy's Gone Walkabout 2.0!
I've just managed to fulfill another life dream, though not quite how I imagined it. Ever since my Nan's visit to Disneyland in California when she brought back mouse ears and a book about the park when I was 5 years old, I had always wanted to go myself. In various years as I grew up I got to go to the best that Australia can offer multiples times (and don't get me wrong, the Gold Coast theme parks are great), though I still always considered Disneyland in LA the original holy grail to get to someday.
Disneyland Paris was never a place I'd ever thought much about, but with Katie involved in a European cheerleading competition hosted there last weekend, it was an easy opportunity to check it out. The verdict: Not somewhere you'd go on a budget, but it was fantastic, and by all accounts a pretty good replica of the original.
Next I'm making a return visit to the Netherlands for a week on a training course, followed by a weekend in Belgium, most notably the city of Bruges and the small town of Poperinge on the Belgian-French border to find the headstone of my great-grandmother's brother who was killed in the First World War.
Early this year we made a big decision to move to Basel properly, and the time has now come for us to up-sticks from Geneva for good and settle into our brilliant new Basel apartment. The last of the unpacking will take some time I'm sure, and what better way to procrastinate on that than having four days in Stockholm to celebrate our anniversary and then a week in Scotland?
Troy's Gone Walkabout has recently turned five! And to celebrate, I was a little tardy in renewing my registration of the .com domain name. It's not fully sorted quite yet, but if you're reading this then that is a vast improvement on, say, two weeks ago.
So what was happening on the walkabout front before the blackout? An excellent trip home via Singapore, mostly. Though just when I think I'm done with weekdays in England for good, I'm going there again - though this time it's just for one week for a training course.
Back in August 2006 Katie and I, along with a couple of friends, took a day trip to Basel. While they went shopping I had a good chance to look around, and I took an instant shining to the place. Over the winter of 2007/2008 I then had the chance to work there for a couple of months, which I really enjoyed and was very pleased it ended up becoming a seven month stint.
Now I'm back in Basel on weekdays once again - though this time permanently...
I'm hoping my parents will bump into me in England sometime next week while on their UK travels, before they come over to Switzerland for a fortnight after that.
Oh, and I've now been living in Geneva for longer than I ever lived in Sydney. Crazy!
Work has been taking me to England again, this time in Southampton, which has been a good central point from which to explore the South Coast a bit. Not to mention the added benefit of me being able to see a Hoodoo Gurus gig in Brighton in two weeks time - my first live concert in almost four years. If only I didn't limit myself to liking predominately Australian music so much!
And while there are big drawbacks to my wife currently being away studying in the US for two months, we can at least take heart that one trade-off very soon is a much looked-forward-to two week trip together around New England and over to the Canadian cities of Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa. There's definitely worse places to be celebrating our first anniversary.
Oh, and I'm also off to the French F1 Grand Prix tomorrow - vroom!
Great news - I've just been granted a higher level work permit by the Swiss authorities, which means we won't need to leave the country in a hurry anytime in the near future. I'm also back working in Geneva again which, despite my usual feelings of itchy feet, actually feels quite luxurious to be home all the time and not living out of a suitcase. Though I did spend a recent weekend traversing Switzerland by car, covering some new territory in each of its neighbouring countries - France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy.
Things have been busy as always, including a week back in the US for Christmas and a quick visit to a Geneva hospital just after New Years (I was just one of the many across the UK, Germany and Switzerland with severe gastro). Oh, and the youthful days of my twenties are now over, but at least they didn't disappear without a fantastic farewell bash. Upcoming in the next two months of my life as a real grown-up are weekend trips inside Switzerland to Chur and St Gallen and then a week in the Czech Republic for Easter.
My current Monday to Friday home is Basel, right in the corner where Switzerland, France and Germany all meet. It's a small city that lacks a natural setting like Geneva, but I like the old city centre and leafy residential streetscapes a lot. It's much easier than London for Katie to come up on her days off, and we've found a really nice furnished apartment on a short term lease. In short, I'm very content - even though the chill of winter has just rudely arrived.
Despite the last week stress it seems you can pull off a fantastic wedding almost completely organised from another continent. No credit to me of course, I pretty much just turned up. But from the stand-out experience of being kitted up as Elvis on the streets of Memphis on my Buck's party, the complete blur of the wedding day itself and then a wonderful honeymoon, July 2007 will never be forgotten. But now, it's back to normal life.
It's a slight twist that as soon as I get married and have more reason to be at home, for the first time ever I start travelling for work. But with the UNHCR project drawing to a close that's exactly what's happening. From next week I'll be spending my weekdays in London...
I'm off at the end of this week to get hitched! Will be in Memphis for the wedding, Costa Rica for the honeymoon then a weekend in Budapest as soon as we get back in early August. Huzzah!
The Super Eights stage of the Cricket World Cup is in progress, and so here's the games in Grenada our mob will be attending:
Followed of course by the key Cuba matchup which should be a real winner:
It's three and a half months till our wedding, and so after just having moved into a new flat that is sufficiently big enough for two people and buying up big at IKEA to furnish it, I should be heading into a 'settling down' phase. Nah, not just yet.
In two weeks time I will embark on a long planned trip with some guys from my old Sydney cricket team to the Caribbean island of Grenada to attend six matches in the Cricket World Cup. Considering the shocks that have transpired so far both on and off the field there's no telling what we could be about to witness, though I'm sure some dodgy bookmaker somewhere has got odds on it all.
And then right after that four of us continue on to Cuba for a further two weeks. I can't tell you how excited how I am to be able to experience the country while ol' Fidel and the aura of the revolution are still present, I'm sure it will seem like a far less adventurous place to go in five or ten years time once the barriers come further down.
And as soon as I get back from Cuba my folks arrive on their first visit to Europe, first stop on their round-the-world ticket to the US and the wedding, so hopefully I can do one or two small trips with them too. Yep, it feels like the next four months is going to be anything but getting ready to settle down.
It has indeed been a time of surprises. First it was the extra two days in Sydney courtesy of a later than planned return flight to Geneva. Secondly it was returning to find that there still hadn't been a single flake of snow falling on Geneva so far this winter. Thirdly was arriving home from work the day after we got back to find Arne opening the door for me - a surprise birthday present all the way from Norway organised by Katie. Then fourthly was the surprise ski trip also organised by Katie for my actual birthday with a group of friends, though the complete lack of snow subsequently turned this into a "Surprise! We're not going skiing after all, let's go to some thermal baths instead" trip. Still, not a shabby way to spend my last under 30 birthday.
Fresh from entertaining packed houses across Europe and back in his homeland for the first time in two years (not counting last month), it's the Troy's Gone Walkabout Back Home Again tour! Widely acclaimed as the biggest recycler of comic material since Wil Andersen, the worst teller of boring anecdotes since Ian Chappell, not to mention the most gratuitous user of overly-stretched similies in the written word since Peter Roebuck, tickets are bound to sell out faster than an Ashes tour where England has grand delusions of potentially putting up a bit of a contest!
Also announcing special guest The Southern Belle on her first visit to the real Great Southern Land - her only public appearances in Australia before getting hitched!
Get in fast, limited performances on the following dates only!
After the great enjoyment of being home for my sister's wedding, as well as the other weddings in other countries in the months previously, next year will see me attending my first-ever American wedding. The big difference from the others is that it will be my own.
Last weekend I gave Katie a late birthday present due to me being on my way to Australia on her actual birthday a few weeks ago. I took her to lunch in Vevey at the far end of Lake Geneva (her favourite part of Switzerland), followed by relaxing in the pools and dinner at her favourite thermal baths, and then finally back by the lake at Chateau du Chillon in Montreux (her favourite town) I proposed...
She says what happened next is all a blur, but she said 'yes' 4 times and jumped up and down a lot so I guess that means we're engaged! Early wedding plans are being ironed out, but we are expecting it will be in Memphis on 7th July - 07/07/07 - so there'll be no dramas remembering our wedding anniversary.
After not being back for almost two years, there's only three weeks before the first of my two highly anticipated trips home. But even though I'm counting down the days before my welcome return to familiar shores there's still a couple of other things between now and then to keep this itchy-footed bloke happy: The first is a long weekend in Italy visiting the Ferrari factory with Sydney mate Hoges, the second is a group weekend in Portugal organised by Katie.
Going to four weddings in four months in four countries is the most concise summary of things dominating right now. Last weekend it was Justin (work colleague from Sydney and Geneva) and Marie-Hélène in France, in three weeks it's Jon (mate from uni) and Jen in England, closely followed by Andreas and Lindsay (friends from Geneva) in Norway, before rounding things off in November with a quick visit home for the wedding of Amber (my sister) and Matt.
World Cup Fever has reached delirious levels, and with it being held so close to me I'd have caught a terminal dose of it whether or not Australia were doing as well as they have done so far. Sunday saw me assembled in front of a big screen in one of Geneva's big open public spaces with a few thousand other people taking in the David and Goliath battle between Australia and Brazil. I think I saw four other people clearly going for Australia, and about 10% of the rest of the crowd decked out in Brazilian clobber looked legitmately Brazilian and so have every entitlement to cheer them on for a probable sixth World Cup title. Which by my estimate leaves about 89.98% of the crowd jumping on an already overcrowded bandwagon. Clowns.
But I should be more in my element tomorrow, as I meet some mates in Stuttgart to take in the tense final group game between Australia and Croatia to see which other team from Group F makes it into the second phase. We've got Buckley's of getting anywhere near the inside of the ground of course, but hopefully sampling the atmosphere in the city will be pretty special in and of itself. Following that I'll be spending the weekend in Cologne and Frankfurt to round off a once in a lifetime encounter with the pinnacle of the World Game right on my doorstep...and the Socceroos going great guns to boot!
The long, long winter is finally over and the smell of spring is in the air - normally in the form of pot in parks and other public places. And with the temperatures becoming more agreeable more people are out and about - and that also means those crappy tourist carrying car-turned-pretend trains have come out of their winter hibernation and are once again hogging the lake-side footpaths, forcing all those people active enough to actually get around on foot (ie, me) out of their way with their incessant bell ringing. But other than that constantly giving me the irrits, I really love being here during the warmer months. Which is a good thing as there are no big travel plans in the pipeline, so the time off at Easter was put to maximum use with Erkki, Katie and I taking a road trip to Vienna to stay with Maria - and while there make a quick side-trip into Slovakia to Bratislava.
Somewhat random 'Top 3' observations as I pass the one year mark in Geneva:
The best 3 things about living here:
The worst 3 things about living here:
3 things that make me realise I haven't been home in a while:
The top 3 albums that most make me reminisce about home:
3 reasons why an Aussie Yobbo and a Southern Belle are able to make it in a neutral country:
The holidays are over and a whole new year of work in Geneva awaits, which I'm very thankful for. There is also enough else going on to keep things interesting - last weekend was my first time skiing in Switzerland and this weekend sees me crossing the border into Italy for my birthday. Then in two weeks I'm in London for the weekend - my first visit in almost a year - to (finally) retrieve the last of my worldly possessions kindly stored by Eu-Jin at his place.
The wonders of my first winter Christmas await...and I'm about to make my first ever foray into Seppo-land for it, spending Christmas in Boston and then New Years in Memphis. In keeping with a year that has seen me live in a country that was not previously even in my wildest imaginations to live in but has turned out all the better for it, it only seems fitting that I'll finish that year spending the first Christmas away from my family somewhere else entirely that before this year I had never guessed I'd visit so soon, meeting somebody else's family. And all because this Aussie Yobbo met a Southern Belle...
Life's been pretty hectic in the Canberra of Europe in recent months, my Nan and my sister have been staying with me for a while. Having the three of us cram into my small studio unit I've really learnt some things about myself - apparently in my sleep I giggle like a little girl and mumble in French. My unconscious mind has obviously picked up a lot more French than my conscious one, or else it's just better at making it up. In any case after my recent experiences of driving in France what I really need to be able to do is argue in French, but I doubt I'll find a language course which will quickly equip me to espouse the equivalent of "where the bloody hell do you think I'm gonna be able to go, you goose? We're all jammed into this intersection tighter than a fat bloke in his pants".
Having them stay meant I also largely lost control of my kitchen, but the few times I actually did get to cook I did my best to introduce them to French-Swiss cuisine. And if I hadn't told them it was horse they would have just thought it was beef...
I've also had the piss taken out of me more constantly than during any other time in recent years, probably since Amber and I were last living under the same roof. But I'd just like to remind her that as I'm the eldest and clearly the most mature in the family I've long since grown out of cheap jibes and fuelling those petty sibling rivalries. So nah-nah nah-boogie and suffer in your jocks, you der brain.
On the travel front the three of us did a fantastic two week road trip around Ireland in July, and once back in Geneva on the weekends I could join them for day trips in the Alps in western and central Switzerland and neighbouring France. The finale came with visits to the Schloss Neuschwanstein in southern Germany (a fairytale castle that has been an ambition of mine to visit for as long as I can remember) and the east of Switzerland into Liechtenstein.
It's been a punishing schedule that certainly wore me out, but with Nan now home again having taken it all in her stride, only a four day weekend in the Netherlands remains before Amber then goes onto Africa and I start to get home from work wondering where my dinner is...
I'm staying on where I am until at least August. This is good news as now I've settled in a bit I'm not quite ready to tear myself away just yet - especially with a Swiss summer to enjoy. The regular weekends away have come to a bit of a halt though, with a long weekend in Rome a few weeks back my most recent trip away.
Exciting, vibrant, permanently buzzing, the city around which all of Europe revolves. These are things you'll never read about Geneva. I think some of the novelty value of being here melted with the snow, but it's definitely a pleasant place and I'm quite content here. And the Motor Show last month was simply incredible, probably four times the size of Sydney's. Here's what else I have been/will be up to:
A weekend trip just before Easter to pick up some more of my clothes, timed to co-incide with a farewell pub crawl for Mel from our Egypt trip and a tour of the tennis club at Wimbledon.
Lausanne and Bern:
Rebecca from my Scandi/Russia trip came up from Barcelona over Easter and we did a couple of day trips inside Switzerland.
A solo trip lined up for next weekend. It's only a three and a half hour train trip from Geneva so it would be rude not to go at least once.
After much deliberation with Paul while I was in London to come up with a city that neither of us had been to, we're meeting here for a weekend at the end of the month.
Magical Morocco - Standing on a terrace overlooking the tanneries of Fes, riding camels in the dunes on the edge of the Sahara, seeing snake charmers at work and boiled sheep heads on sale in the main square in Marrakech...and of course there's the carpet shops everywhere too. Got a little sick of the hassle to buy a bloody carpet, but otherwise it was a great couple of weeks.
And kids, it's only ten sleeps now before Hobart sees the yearly return of a most popular and jolly fellow from afar, someone bringing gifts and very partial to fruit mince pies. And it's twelve sleeps before Santa comes. So before I go home for Christmas, New Years and the pleasure of being the best man at Andrew and Kathleen's wedding, I'm spending a week driving around the north of England to round out my travels.
Hello from Troy, from Troy (hee hee hee!). The mileage I got out of that...but it's not everyday you go somewhere with your name all over it, and such a renowned and mythical place at that. In truth there's not an awful lot to see there if you discount the 30 year old wooden horse on the site of Troy itself, and also the prop used in the recent movie on show nearby (the horse that is, not Brad Pitt - though I'm told he makes a good wooden clothes horse).
Other highlights from Turkey included Gallipoli, Ephesus and Cappadocia. The not-so-highlights included giving my digestive system another thorough workout - I've just got time to get things back to normal and then I'm off to Morocco to do it all again. And I wouldn't want it any other way!
Ah, Egypt. The mayhem, the chaos and the surprises at every turn. And that was just the goings on inside our intestines.
Seriously though, this has been my favourite part of the travels so far. From the Pyramids and the Sphinx through to the remains of the temples and tombs, from riding camels in Aswan and donkeys in Luxor through to walking up to the summit of Mount Sinai, and from sailing and swimming in the Nile to scuba diving on the Red Sea this trip had it all. And being in a Muslim country during Ramadan made it all the more interesting to boot. But perhaps the best times were when we were out of the touristy areas and it seemed we were in an open air zoo - and to the locals it was us who were the exhibits.
The next stop on my magic carpet ride is Turkey. All aboard!
The Alhambra in Granda is without doubt the most amazing set of buildings I have come across. Part Moorish from the 8th century then Christian after that following the Reconquest in the late 15th century it is an incredible mix of styles in its castle walls, palaces and gardens.
Both Lisbon and Porto go in my overall European Top 5 cities I have ever visited (along with Vienna, Stockholm and Berlin). Unpretentious, relatively cheap, run-down in parts without being squalid and complemented by a strange love of bathroom tiling as an exeterior facade for residential apartment terraces the two biggest Portugese cities rocked.
My 'chase the warmth' strategy coming into the northern winter has taken a slight detour - but with the chance to go to International Rules in Dublin (Ireland v Australia in a hybrid Gaelic/Australian Football tussle), a Scandi Contiki mini-get-together and a day tour to Belfast (a city I've always had a somewhat morbid fascination about) it had to be done. It also stretches out the period when I last went a day without a medicinal alcoholic beverage to some point in mid September. Egypt will soon change all that though I'm sure.
Some quick highlights from Scandinavia and Russia:
Was there primarily to complain to Princess Mary that I didn't get an invite to her wedding with the Crown Prince of Denmark a few months ago. I mean to say we're both from Hobart, she went to my dad's high school, we both have a same degree from the University of Tasmania, we both moved to Sydney to work after we graduated and we've both been to the Slip Inn where she met Frederik. How much closer do you have to be to get an invite? Maybe it got lost in the mail or something. In any case, she was avoiding me. I was given some lame excuse that she was in Athens for the Olympics.
Without doubt my favourite European city so far. Stunning, stunning, stunning. And I'm not even talking about the Swedish women - though they too were stunning, stunning, stunning (but only good enough for the bronze. Gold goes to Denmark and silver to Poland. Speaking of the Olympics, I was almost blissfully unaware of its existence). Also paid a visit to a swanky hotel bar made completely out of ice - the walls, the bar, the artwork and even the glasses.
64 seconds crammed in a bobsled down the 1994 Winter Olympic course with 3 other people and a driver. It was as exhilerating as it was uncomfortable.
The northern-most town in the world. And while we were a little too late in the summer to see the midnight sun we did get to see flashes of Aurora Borealis. No, that's not the Latin name for Scabies, I am of course referring to the northern lights.
I always said terrorism or the threat thereof was not going to affect my travel plans because the chances of me being killed or injured getting hit by a car while walking down the street is far more likely. But here was the chance to test my mettle so to speak, with the Russian plane crashes and Moscow Metro bombing occurring while we were in St Petersburg, a few days before arriving in Moscow. The siege in the school on the Georgian border was also happening at the same time, but it's only been in the last day that I've been able to read the news and find out what on earth was really happening. Moscow was on high alert for further attacks, the number of police on the streets was unbelieveable, but it didn't stop us getting around the city by Metro. Our last morning in Moscow was the day of a large anti-government rally in Red Square to protest against the government's handling of the school siege - I will never forget seeing the thousands of police with scores of dogs lining the Kremlin and the brief sight I caught of 5,000 troops in Red Square assembling in preparation for the demonstration in case things got nasty.
At the site of Hitler's bunker (now just a car park in between apartment buildings built in the late 1980's) we saw an old man being interviewed for a French documentary, and after they were finished he introduces himself to our local guide as one of Hitler's bodyguards and the last person to leave the bunker alive. He showed off some WWII photos he was carrying in a folder, including one of himself, but to be honest I'm still more than a little sceptical that he was legit. But then even if he wasn't it still makes for a good story.
There were also lighter moments, like me having to quickly buy a replacement pair of shoes in Norway after my old ones fell apart walking up to Svartisen Glacier. They were amazingly cheap by Norweigan standards but it was only an hour and a half down the road when I realised they were two different sizes. Or when the zip on my case broke while in Minsk, so the only thing holding it close to shut was some dodgy Belarussian masking tape. And all this on the day when we had the toughest border crossing of the trip between Belarus and Poland and had to empty the coach and carry all our luggage through customs to get back into the European Union. Sheer hilarity!
Three weeks in Spain and Portugal now beckon, but whether they will be as action packed as the last five remains to be seen.
I'm much in debt to my sister who came up for my last couple of days, what with all the last minute fluffing around I had to do she ended up doing the lion's share of the cleaning at my place before I flew out. Thanks also to Jon who kindly gave me his house key as we crossed over in Sydney the night before I left, so I got his place to myself while he headed home to Hobart for a week. After a couple of days extinguishing all there was to see around his joint in Milton Keynes (which wasn't much), some time getting re-acquainted with London and a day in Birmingham I'm ready for some adventure. Bring on Scandinavia and Russia!
The countdown is almost over – I say sayonara to Sydney in 5 days. First up it's a week and a half at a mate's place outside of London to get acclimatised then on 14th August I start the first leg of my travels with Contiki tour number four (crazy I know), this time a five week circle around Scandinavia and Russia starting and finishing in Copenhagen.