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flight to Buenos Aires

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Apparently, there is a heat wave in the UK.  That is what the bbc news report I saw at the airport said.  It got to 30 degrees in London (the hottest of anywhere in the country), while I was there, I thought it was a bit warm, similar to the weather in Paris the day before, but ‘heatwave’?  They were issuing a health advisory as well!  The forecast is for 31 tomorrow, and possibly the mind blowing 32 degrees later in the week.  Some British people seem worried, Australians everywhere are laughing hysterically at this now I’m sure.  I wish I was staying there to ‘suffer through’ it, (though not riding the tube during it) temperatures like that are nowhere near Buenos Aires this time of year.

Anyway, I flew out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, 1st time I’ve done that since it was built, everything worked seamlessly I was very impressed.  No queues at check in, they have virtually everyone using self check in machines (naturally my ticket wasn’t valid for that but I’m used to that by now).  I also got through security and passport controls with essentially no waiting!  The departure lounge is large and full of shops, bars and restaurants, one of the nicest I’ve been in.  My only complaints were that the wifi wasn’t free (not too surprising) and, here’s the big one, that Andy Murrays 4th round game at Wimbledon was not being shown on any of the tvs!  I could scarcely believe it.  I was in London, during Wimbledon with the British No 1 playing and it wasn’t on tv.  Truly shameful.

Moving on from that, to Argentina.  Longest flight of my life, and the last of my long haul flights on this trip.  Over 16 hours all together including the 2 hour stop in Sao Paulo.  Can’t complain about anything on it really though, more legroom that usual in economy it seemed.  I sat next to another backpacker going to the same countries as me for the next few months, first time I’ve sat next to anyone interesting on a flight!   Now I’m in Buenos Aires, at an awesome hostel, I now have no concept of time after that flight and will complete the day by visiting one of the world renowned steak restaurants here.


Monday, June 29th, 2009

My train from Stuttgart to Paris left late, at 2:00 in the morning and arrived in Paris about 9:30.  I slept a fair bit considering I was just in a regular train seat in a compartment with 4 other people.  Since my train to London was a similar time the next day, after dumping my backpack off at the hostel I attempted to pack in as many sights as possible, I’m pretty happy with my results.

The weather was hot and sunny, the tourists groups were everywhere in vast, mind numbing hordes, the Parisians were, speaking French.  So a typical summers day in Paris then.

I headed to Notre Dame first (after figuring out the unnecessarily confusing ticket options on the Paris metro), declining to go up the towers or even inside due to the length of the queues.  Very impressive from the outside though, on the island in the Seine.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

After wandering around on the island for a little while, I took one of the seemingly obligatory Seine river cruises, lasting about an hour and taking you by most of the well known buildings.  Perfect to see a lot in a short time, however the view of the buildings is often partially blocked by bridges, and when there’s no bridges it’s just the high walled river banks, you end up looking up at Paris instead of being on ground level with it.  Still it was a nice hour not walking around in the heat and still seeing stuff.

When the tour was finished I got back on the metro and headed over to the Sacre Cour basilica and the Montemart district.  The basilica is very cool and not something I recognized as far as famous Paris landmarks.  I climbed up the 300 or so winding stone stairs to the top for the city panorama.  Less than half the cost of going up the Eiffel tower.

Sacre Cour

view from the dome of Sacre Cour


After going back down the 300 stairs, I was feeling slightly dizzy, it may have been the stairs continuos winding or the fact that it was 3pm and all I’d eaten in the day was an apple upon arrival in the morning.  Hungry was an understatement, so I walked through the Montemart district, the artistic district.  Full of artists, street cafes and, more hordes of tourists.  I got some very late lunch, was thoroughly tired of walking so I headed back to the hostel to get a few things organized and rest my legs.

montemart district

Having one of my belgian beers back at the hostel rejuvenated me and I headed off for yet more sights.  Went by the basilica monument (French revolution times), the actual basilica is no longer there.  Then a square nearby, lined with curios and restaurants, Paris’s oldest square.

oldest square in Paris

Next stop was the Louvre.  I’d debated whether or not to go here since I only had a day, eventually deciding that if I went there I’d spend half the day there due to the sheer size of it (I had no idea how huge the place was!) and wouldn’t see too many other sights, and since art museums aren’t usually top on my list, I just admired the very impressive building from the outside and courtyard.

the lourve

I walked from the Louvre to the Arc de triumph along the Champs Elysees.  It’s lined with restaurants and shops, but in my opinion it looked like it could be in any city on earth, nothing really special about it.  Same brand shops and the typical high end restaurants, and of course, it was teaming with tourists.  I still walked all the way to the Arc though, for the required kodak moment.

Arc de triumph

By this point you may be wondering something along the lines of, “this is all the same day?”.  That’s what my legs were saying by the end of it too.  Anyway, the next world famous stop was the Eiffel tower.  I’d seen it from the boat tour earlier, but I found a much better viewpoint on dry land.  I walked underneath it, where there was some sort of Michael Jackson tribute going on and, (just in case I haven’t emphasized this point enough yet) loads more tourists.

me @ the Eiffel tower

Dinner was next in line as 8:00 approached, I headed back over to the Latin district, near the Notre Dame, which is full of all kinds of restaurants.  I chose not to dine on one of the main roads teaming with people, but instead wandered around for a while looking for a more out of the way place.  The area is very nice, cobbled streets, old buildings, narrow roads etc, but at this point of the day I wanted to sit down, and eat, pure and simple.  I found somewhere, gratefully sat down, ordered a duck fillet and some wine and enjoyed both.

latin district

Many people would’ve returned, and then collapsed exhausted at their accommodation by this point (or long before).  Not me.  Due to the fact that the longest day of the year was last week, the sunset isn’t until 10:00 here at the moment, and I had to see some landmark lit up at night.  I chose the Eiffel tower, so a metro back across the city was required.  When I got there the tower was sparkling with some kind of cool light show, that soon stopped but it still looks cool with the fountains in front and the city stretching far behind.

Eiffel tower

By this point, 11pm, I was ready to call it a day and headed back across the city to my hostel, where I headed for the shower about as fast I ever have, then had another one of my quality Belgian beers before going to bed.  Not a bad amount done for 1 day in Paris.  11am to 11pm of nearly solid sightseeing.

No rest for the backpacker though, up at 7:00 the next morning in order to catch my train to London.  I had high expectations for the eurostar, high speed eurotunnel train between London and Paris, (been wanting to go on it since it was built) but it was possibly the most cramped seat I’ve been in on a high speed train anywhere.  What is amazing though is I woke up this morning in Paris, caught a train, and two and a half hours later I was walking the streets of London.
The weather was great on both ends, though I have to say the newly remodeled London St Pancras station is superior to the origin at Paris Nord, even complete with free wifi throughout.

Now I’m in London, enjoying a few pints in the best pubs on earth before my night flight to Buenos Aires.  When I pulled out the handful of change to pay for my first beer from my backpack where I stashed my leftover British currency the other week I got a combination of Pounds, Rand and Australian dollars.  Fortunately I had enough GBP for the pint…

I do have to mention another thing.  In comparison, London and Paris.  I’ve just spent 1 day in each, consecutively and London wins for me.  Some people love Paris, some people dislike it, and while I didn’t dislike the city I can see why.  Rubbish in the streets is common place, and due to this parts of the city don’t smell too good.  There’s also a lot more tourists masses in Paris, I recall my experience in Rome to draw a parallel.   This may not be a scientific comparison, but it’s high season for both places right now and the weather is great either side of the channel.  Trafalgar square was empty in comparison to Notre Dame or the Eiffel tower, still a fair few people there but not nearly the masses I saw in Paris.  The London underground is also far superior to the Paris metro, despite being more expensive.

Next up is South America, starting with Argentina in Buenos Aires.  I haven’t heard anything bad about the city yet so my expectations are high.  I have no plan except for my flight from Chile to Peru in 5 weeks, which is plenty of time for the area I’ll be covering so basically I can stay as long as I feel like in places.  Places like the barbeque restaurants in Buenos Aires.  El proxima tiempo escribo, voy a estar en Argentina hablando espanol !


Saturday, June 27th, 2009

I left Antwerp the next morning after some more waffles (via one of the nicest old train stations I’ve seen) for Stuttgart (home of one of the least attractive train stations I’ve seen), to stay with a friend I met in Korea for a few days.  It’s been a nice several days, enjoying the summer weather and just hanging out.  I haven’t done much sightseeing, though I did check out the view from the tower on the hillside above the city.

central stuttgart

Stuttgart is the home of Porsche and Mercedes Benz and while I’ve been here I have seen more porsches, mercedes, bmw’s, audis and funnily enough smart cars than I ever have before.  Apparently people get smart cars here because parking is a nightmare in the city…

parked smart car

I did go to the Mercedes Benz museum one afternoon, which had a collection of vehicles and exhibitions from the first Mercedes ever made right up to the latest fuel cell technology cars and everything in between.  Good stuff.

first mercedes

Other than that, I’ve mainly just hung out with my friend, played some guitar, drunk lots of good German Hefeweizen and eaten delicious local German food (like Maultaschen soup, Saumagen and Kasespatzle).

me drinking some hefeweizen

My last day, before my overnight train to Paris, we drove to nearby Tubingen, home of a charming medieval town centre and river-front complete with a castle perched on a hill overlooking it all…

river through the old town

town hall

old town

old town

marker square

view from the castle

We walked around, soaking up the atmosphere and sunshine, had some of the best gelato I’ve ever eaten, then headed back to Stuttgart for my train that night.  The last few days have been slow paced, relaxing and good fun.  My next few days will swing the other way.  First an overnight train to Paris, unfortunately I only have one day there (due to the high cost of earlier trains), then a train to London, 1/2 a day there before for my flight to Buenos Aires.  That is 4 countries in 3 days, a record pace even for me!

Belgium; Antwerp and Bruges

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Antwerp was my next destination in my European tour being made up hastily as I went along. After waiting for it to stop raining for a while so I could walk to the train station I eventually decided to just go, got quite wet but managed to get to Antwerp at a reasonable time to still check the city out that day. I met my next csurfer there who was waiting for me and ready to show me around. Antwerp is quite a large city and he took me to several spots I know I wouldn’t have found on my own. This street full of these fantastic art nouveau houses was one such place, nowhere near the centre of town.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau

The cathedral dominates the city skyline and the historic town is awesome and well preserved. The main square is lined with cafes and bars and in the middle there’s a fountain telling the story of how the city got it’s name.

town hall

The Cathedral

The legend apparently goes that when the giant was defeated and killed here, his hand was cut off and thrown into the river. Roughly translated: Antwerpen = Hand throwing. Cool fountain.

fountain in the main square

The next day, I went to Bruges. I was planning on staying there but hadn’t gotten any luck on couchsurfing but my host in Antwerp let me stay another night there. Since Bruges in only an hour away on the train I spent pretty much the whole day there. For anyone who hasn’t heard of Bruges, go watch In Bruges and you will see what a nice place it is. I’d been here before, the first time I toured Europe so I didn’t go up the belfry again and go in all the churches etc, just walked around and soaked it up. I had more important things to do… Here’s a few shots I took.

main square

canal around the old town

the belfry

I essentially spent the day enjoying what Belgium does best. This meant waffle stands, beer bars and chocolate shops. The first beer bar I went to had this sign on the window…

beer bar with 400 kinds of beer

This is the beer menu (and my 1st beer).

beer menu

When I was handed such a menu at first I was in awe, then it quickly became clear that choosing from 400 beers is very hard when you haven’t heard of 90% of them and the ones I haven’t heard of are the ones I want to try while I’m here. That’s where bartenders come in. After a couple there, I went a couple doors down the road to a beer shop (rightly named the Bier Tempel) with walls of bottles and picked out a DIY sixpack to take with me for post Belgium travel. On my way to another beer bar I picked up some chocolates for the road as well.


The next place I went was in an old basement, with cool stone arches throughout and offered a mere 150 beers.

entrance to a basement beer bar

Tried some more beers there and by this point I needed to head back for the train to Antwerp so I grabbed a waffle on the way back. You could say this was one of the most enjoyable days of the trip.

Maastricht and back to couchsurfing

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

I left Amsterdam for Maastricht the next day, where I had found a couchsurfer to host me. Maastricht is a smallish University town in the far south-east of The Netherlands sandwiched between Belgium and Germany. My host took me around the very compact old town centre, complete with old stone wall and gates. Picturesque place indeed.

one of the old city gates

city wall


Due to the location, close to Belgium, the culture is mixed and this is obvious with the Belgium waffle stands and beer bars. Just what I’d been waiting for. We stopped for one of each on our way around town, then went back to his place to enjoy some more beers.

Despite only staying one night in Maastricht, it’s a perfect example of why couchsurfing is great. My host was really eager to show me around, so I went around town with someone who lives there and knows where to go, learned plenty about what I saw and just the local culture in general. For instance, I already knew about the delicious (and healthy) Belgian waffles but I’d never even heard of the also delicious Dutch stroopwafels my host told me about…


Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

houses across the canal

So after my week of fun in the UK, I flew to Amsterdam to start my ten days of European fun. I picked Amsterdam for a couple reasons. 1, Cheap flights there. 2, The Netherlands is the last remaining country in traditional Western Europe that I haven’t visited. My attempt to couchsurf all the way through Europe immediately failed as I was unable to get a host in Amsterdam so I ended up in a hostel. Stayed for a couple nights, basically a day and a evening since I didn’t arrive until 6pm. I had a walk around the red light district to see what all the hype was about, very orderly, pretty much how I expected it with the main drag right on a canal. It is annoying to keep being asked if I wanted any ‘crack’ though as I walked through with the rest of the throngs of tourists.

The next morning I headed off and walked around the city centre, trying to avoid being hit by a bike, car, tram, bus or falling into a canal. This was somewhat difficult as this is first country I’ve been in that drives on the right side of the road since October and this city in particular has vehicles coming from all directions constantly.

central shopping street


Walked by the central park, the central square, Anne Franks house, across various canals and paused for a lunch of raw herring with pickles and a side of the local ‘frites’. Contrary to what you may be thinking, it was delicious, and I’m calling it Dutch sushi.

raw herring

After that I stopped at one of the cities many ‘Koffee shops’, which you may be surprised to hear, people do actually drink plenty of coffee in them. I followed suit, with a brownie of course. Later on, I sat around in another coffee shop near my hostel, soaked up the atmosphere and this is one of the best places for people watching I’ve been.

inside a coffee shop

Sitting there watching the guy measure out and sell the various kinds of weed to the customers was all very civilized, strange because in any other country he would be a ‘terrible criminal drug dealer’. Here it’s just another business, and there’s loads of them around. Ironically to me, probably more than half the people I saw inside these places were tourists, not Dutch. Contrary to what you may think, most Dutch people are not constantly smoking weed. A basic pre-rolled joint costs around 7 euros here and all that money is going into the local economy and govt as a legally regulated industry instead of a few illicit drug dealers like everywhere else. It seems to me like the Dutch legal take on the matter might make more sense and waste a lot less money than the rest of the world, just a thought…


Thursday, June 18th, 2009

I haven’t bothered to update this blog for the last week since I haven’t been anywhere sightseeing, just catching up with some friends and family in the UK.

I had a good flight from Cape Town to London, a bit bumpy to start off with but that soon steadied out and I managed to sleep for a fair bit of it. In contrast to the gorgeous last day I had in Cape Town, I arrived in London to grey skies and cold air. The threatened tube strike had gone ahead as planned, though some workers defied it so one line managed to be running, this was not the airport line however. Once I finally figured out how to get where I needed via bus, it was pouring down with rain. Nothing says welcome back to England better than a good rain shower.

I spent a couple days in London with my cousins, the weather cleared off after the first morning and was sunny and warm the rest of the time. It only took the first few hours that I was in the centre of the city before I remembered how much I loved London.


After that I headed North to visit a couple friends at different Universities, had a couple good nights up there before heading back the Bedford, my hometown to see a few more people. The weather has been great for this last week, only a couple half days of rain with the rest of the time being warm and sunny, it’s light until after 10:00 at night now here with the longest day of the year approaching which is so refreshing after the 5:15 sunsets in South Africa.

I’ve had a great time seeing everyone again in the UK, spending time in the best pubs on earth and taking time off from hostels and tourism for the most part. I don’t count my exploration in London for a couple days tourism because even when I walked through Trafalgar Square many times and didn’t take any pictures of it (why do I need any more photos of it?). I’ve also shipped a box full of cadbury products back to the States so it will be waiting for me when I return.

Table mountain, my last day in S Africa

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

table mountain face

I spent my last day in Cape Town/South Africa taking the cable car to the top of table mountain and walking around the top of it. I had another cloudless day for it and the views up there are even farther than from day before at cape point. The number of lizards far outnumbered the tourists, especially when I got 50m from the cable car exit. So nice being here in the off season!


Cape peninsula from table mtn

view from table mtn

cape town from table mtn

table mtn face

Now I’m at my hostel, waiting for my airport shuttle for my 12 hour overnight flight to London. It is not on Air France for anyone wondering… It’s been a long time since I’ve flown BA, I wonder what the service is like these days. I have just read that there is a probable tube strike in London for 48 hours, approximately the 48 hours I am going to be there, and the forecast is for cool temps and rain. Ah England in summer and chaos, I can’t wait! Signing off from South Africa…

me on top of Table mtn with the city in the background

the cape of good hope, penguins and some tasty springbok

Monday, June 8th, 2009

After the previous days unwanted ‘excitement’, my second day was much better. I was out of the city all day on a tour of the Cape peninsula. The weather was as good as possible for the time of year, no clouds to be seen, warm enough with the only downside a strong wind, apparently the wind is almost ever present here just changes direction some times. Along the way to the cape of good hope the first stop was Hout bay.

hout bay

After that, boulder beach in Simonstown to see the breeding colony of African penguins there. I thought the penguins here were the same tiny things as in Australia that don’t really look like penguins, but these guys are pretty cool! Not that much larger but much cooler looking, and this was way more penguins than I’ve seen in one place before.


african penguins

african penguins

african penguins

african penguins

After eating lunch, we rode bikes down the last few km of the road to the cape point, and saw some ostriches along the way.

Ostrich near the cape

The wind was incredible at the point, I haven’t felt wind like that since I was in NZ. The scenery around there looks a little like Southern NZ too.

cape of good hope

between cape point and the lighthouse

We hiked up to the cliffs and on to the lighthouse, the views from up there are awesome, looking all the way across false bay and back down to the cape of good hope itself.

me with the cape point behind me

I got back to Cape Town just before a beautiful sunset and a great view of table mountain form my hostel. Then I headed out for a dinner of springbok, the national animal here, that I was going to have the previous night before I was mugged and lost interest in it. Springbok was delicious and I had almost as fun waiting for the food to arrive watching the restaurant host run around like a crazy man trying to keep everyone happy, reminded me of my restaurant managing days…

table mountain at sunset

This is my last night in South Africa, tomorrow if the weather hold I’m going to take the cable car up table mountain to see the view from up there. Then I’m flying to London tomorrow night, arriving early the next morning. It’s been nearly 3 years since I’ve been back in the UK, I can’t wait.

Cape Town and an episode of street crime

Monday, June 8th, 2009

I got up in Cape Town on the morning after my wine tour and (after finding out where exactly in the city I was since the night before it was dark and things were somewhat hazy) I headed out to see the main centre of the city and do some shopping. Unfortunately since it was a Sunday, almost no shops were open so once I’d explored the main drag of Long street and surrounds.

bo kaap

Long St

house of parliment

The french open final was on in the afternoon and there was no way I was going to miss that with this years scenario, I stopped at the first pub on Long St not exclusively showing springbok rugby and they had it on and guinness for accompaniment.

After that thoroughly enjoyable experience I headed back towards my hostel when I had a thoroughly unenjoyable experience. Two guys walked up behind me, and started asking for money. I thought they were beggers until they got more aggressive… nope, just street robbers. At least one of them had a knife, albeit a small one and they were demanding my money. I didn’t have a backpack or any valuables with me, I haven’t carried that stuff with me anywhere in public here, so after I handed over all the cash in my wallet (luckily only about 200 rand [$25usd] ) they walked off, didn’t take my wallet which had a credit card in it also.

I’ve been aware of the crime in this country, I was just struck by the fact that this didn’t happen after dark in some remote area or poor area. This was about 4:30pm on Kloof St, a major road about a block from some trendy restaurants and some nice apartments. People frequent this street and that didn’t detour them, it’s also the route I was told by the hostel staff was safe, even after dark. Following the standard advice not to resist was damn hard, especially since they didn’t seem like tough guys and the knife was barely big enough to have done much of anything with and I still remember some of my self defense from a few years back. I guess you never know what else they have under their clothes though, the first instinct was to kick the guy with the knife somewhere very painful and run, but since I didn’t have much cash there was less of a need to risk anything. I now completely understand why I’ve seen stands with electric tasers for sale at market stalls here. I wish I would’ve had one with me to zap the bastards with. Tasers, mace, hand guns. These are all carried daily by South African people, along with surrounding their homes with barbed electric wire and 6ft brick walls to avoid becoming a victim in this high crime society. After being here for 3 1/2 weeks, and not just due to being robbed, I’m sold on these being a necessity here, not an over reaction like I first thought. It’s sad and a statement on the state of the country here, but if I was living here I’d be doing exactly the same.