Travel Diary 1/5/16

Today I learned that if you change orientations from Portrait to Landscape while using the WordPress app, it reloads the page, deleting everything you’ve written.

Day 21

As I said in my last entry, today was my sightseeing day in Antwerp. i started by returning to the train station, which was a huge, beautiful building, right in the Diamond District. The sheer number of jewelers in the area is astonishing.

I went on to the Grote Markt, a grand square in front of the City Hall, with a huge fountain in it. Nearby is Antwerp Cathedral, in which you can find a number of artworks, including a few by Rubens.

I walked by a few more historic buildings, and finished with a walk by the river, passing Het Steen, a medieval castle.

I then walked down the Sint Annatunnel (Saint Anne’s Tunnel), which was completed in 1933, connecting both sides of the river for foot traffic. It contains the original wooden escalators.

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I am literally the only one who thinks this is cool, aren't I?

Day 22

Another travel day. I left Antwerp for Luxembourg, via Brussels.

When I arrived in Luxembourg, around lunchtime, I made the most of my time in the city. It was unfortunate that they are currently in the process of repairing the Adolphe Bridge and the square in front of their palace, but that gave me time to see their local history museum, and to explore the casemates (fortified tunnels in the mountains for the city’s defense).

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Casemates Du Bock, Luxembourg

Day 23

Another travel day. This time to Amiens, France, via Saarbrucken, Germany, and Paris.

By the time I got into Amiens, I just found some dinner and called it a night.

Day 24

It was a little rainy today, but I didn’t let that stop me from seeing what Amiens had to offer. Primarily, that meant the cathedral.

Notre Dame d’Amiens is actually bigger than the one in Paris. And I think it’s nicer, but that could just be the chapel at the back with the Australian flag in it. I could be biased.

I also discovered the Jules Verne Museum, in the house he lived in during his eight years in the city. They claim that he was at the height of his fame, which I’m inclined to believe, since he had already written the books he’s famous for before he moved there.

That evening, I caught the last train out to the village of Villers-Bretonneux. Just outside of town is the Australian National Memorial. During the Great War, the town was occupied by the Germans on the 23rd of April, 1918. At 10 pm on the 24th, the Australians showed up, and had liberated the village by morning.

Day 25

Which means that the 25th of April is just as important, if not more important, to the people of this area, as it is to the Australians. Anzac Day is the anniversary of the 1915 Gallipoli landings, and is Australia’s biggest national holiday. But it’s still just one day. In Villers-Bretonneux they celebrate Australian Week.

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The entrance to the cemetery.

But that’s what brought me to this village. The Anzac Day Dawn Service. Honoring the Australian soldiers who fell on the Western Front, many of whom were buried just metres away. It was cold, I was tired, but I’d do it all again. An incredibly moving service. Thousands of Australians were in attendance, and for just one day, it felt like home.

Day 26

Another travel day, from Amiens to Bayeux, via Paris and Rouen. I stopped over in Rouen for a few hours, to see a couple of churches, and most importantly, the place where Joan of Arc was burned (and I spent an hour or two at the Joan of Arc museum).

Day 27

I shelled out and paid for a tour today. I had pre-ordered it, so don’t think you can just show up and find your way onto a tour of the D-Day Beaches. I mean, you probably can, but don’t risk it.

The tourguide was great, we saw St Mere Eglise, where two paratroopers famously were caught on the local church, and were hanging there for hours.

We saw the immense German cemetary, where some 20,000 bodies are buried, in comparison to the American cemetary, which is four times the size, with half the bodies.

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American War Memorial and Cemetery, Normandy

We walked on Utah and Omaha Beaches, and saw the landscape at Point Du Hoc in between, where the craters left by the shelling were never filled in.

Day 28

Another day trip, this time to the world-famous Mont-St-Michel, one of my must-sees for France.

It was a little surreal when my bus crested the hill, and all of a sudden, there was this little island off in the distance, with a huge monastary on top, surrounded by a village. And as I got closer, it just seemed more fantastic. Like something from a book.

Unfortunately, I got there near low tide, and didn’t get to see the island fully surrounded by water. High tide was scheduled late that night, so I’d never have made it.

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Mont-St-Michel

Day 29

Today I got to see the Bayeux Tapestry, which is more than a little mind-boggling. The detail in the near-millenia old stitching is great, their use of colour and different stitching to create movement and depth, as they basically create a massive comic book is brilliant.

No photography is allowed, of course, but an audioguide is part of the visit, taking you through the story of William the Conquerer step by step as you look at the tapestry.

I caught an afternoon train back to Paris, where I got on an overnight to Milan.

Day 30

‘Sleeper train’ is a misleading name. It’s very hard to sleep for a myriad of reasons. The noise, the movement, and of course the worry that you’re going to miss your stop, or that something is going to happen to your passport while the train staff have it.

But it was a roof over my head for a night, and I can’t complain about that. Cheaper than the combination of transport and accomodation too. I managed to snag a cabin to myself too.

Speaking of getting lucky. Today I found out that you need a reservation to see The Last Supper, and that people book months in advance. Considering up until a few weeks ago, I thought The Last Supper was in The Louvre, that was never going to happen for me. However, at 8.15am they sell off the cancelled bookings. Fortunately, I had arrived at my hostel by around 6am, and was in the line before 8. I managed to get into the 3.30pm session. I can’t imagine there were many tickets left after that, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did.

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And you wouldn't want to miss this.

Of course, that meant I had the rest of the day to kill. So I went and checked out some churches (Santa Maria del Grazie, which is the church The Last Supper is at, although the two are separate, and the Monastry of Saint Maurice), as well as checking out Sforzesco Castle, which is immense, and just in the middle of the city, moat and all.

Day 31

Today it rained. All day. Which is why I’m here writing this.

I didn’t waste a day though, I braved the weather to go see the Duomo, which is one of the oldest cathedrals in Italy, and seems to be the biggest I’ve ever seen, at least from inside (Wikipedia confirms this, it’s the fifth biggest church in the world).

Nearby is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a huge shopping arcade, with a massive glass dome in the middle, with works of art inside. On the floor in the middle is a huge mosaic, part of which is the Turin coat of arms, a rearing bull. Legend has it if you place your heel on the bull’s testicles and spin around three times, it will bring you luck. I did it, just to be safe, but I don’t feel any luckier.

So that’s where I’m at. Tomorrow I’m going to the Cinque Terre for a few days, and after that, Florence.

Travel Diary 21/4/16

Here we go, another update on just what I’ve been up to the past… nine days. I promise I’ll start doing these more often.

Day 13
My first full day in Amsterdam, and what a day it was. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and preservation laws keep it that way, property owners cannot change the facade of their building without express permission from governing bodies, keeping a vast majority of the buildings in the central area looking almost exactly like they did centuries ago.

I went to my number one Amsterdam sight first. The Anne Frank House. They don’t allow photos, and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have taken any out of respect, so I can’t share it with you. Suffice to say, it is a very moving experience. Well worth waiting in line for an hour.

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Night Watch, Rembrant

I then walked to the Rijksmuseum, which I honestly found a little underwhelming. For the price, I was expecting a multiple-hour experience like the Louvre or Musee d’Orsay. Instead, I was through in just over an hour. Sure, there are masterpieces there, Rembrant’s Night Watch, a Van Gogh Self Portrait or two, Vermeer’s Milkmaid, but a lot of the art just gets kind of same-y. When you’ve seen one portrait of a minor Dutch nobleman, you’ve seen them all.

Day 14
I started late today, and found myself at yet another slightly disappointing gallery. This time the Van Gogh Museum. I wouldn’t be so mad about it if they didn’t charge so much, to basically see three paintings. All of Van Gogh’s major works are in other museums, Musee d’Orsay, New York Museum of Modern Art, Rijksmuseum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, to name a few. The Van Gogh Museum has everything else.

That night, I met up with my friends from Paris and together we checked out the infamous Red Light District. We basically pubcrawled until we found a cheap place. But along the way, we saw exactly what the Red Light District is famous for, and, quite frankly, it’s pretty weird.

So basically, there are these glass doors facing out into the street. Standing in the windows are prostitutes, in their underwear, tapping on the glass to get your attention. Every now and then you see a guy approach, ask how much, and go into the room, where a curtain is drawn and… well, I don’t have to paint a picture.

I’m all for women doing whatever they want with their bodies, it’s their right, but it just seems incredibly demeaning to me. Standing in a window like a literal product… It’s just creepy.

Day 15
This day, my mate and I decided to check out some of the seedier museums in Amsterdam. We started out at the Sex Museum, went on to the Museum of Erotica and finished up with the Museum of Prostitution.

To be perfectly honest, the first two were kind of boring. You can giggle at the art, the mannequins and whatnot, but eventually the novelty wears off.

The Museum of Prostitution is actually interesting. It’s a proper museum, with information, recreations of the rooms behind the window, first-hand experiences and the history of the industry in the district.

Not-so-fun Fact: It is estimated that between 10 and 90 percent of the prostitution in Amsterdam is forced. Which basically means authorities said “Stuffed if I know, it definitely happens, but I’m pretty sure some of them are willing”. They do have a hotline to call if you suspect your prostitute is being forced into it though.

Ended the day with a canal cruise, combining my three favourite things: sightseeing, dinner and drinks. One of the cruise companies runs a pizza cruise together with Heineken. So you basically get a full 90-minute tour of the city, eat a personal pizza, and drink bottomless beer and wine.

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Canals of Amsterdam

Day 16
Day 16 was a bit of a cruisy one for me. I wandered around the city on foot, got a closer look at some of the places I saw on the cruise the previous night, and just enjoyed my surroundings.

Day 17
Day 17 I took a day trip out to The Hague, the centre of The Netherlands’ government (Amsterdam is the official capital, but all the government buildings are at The Hague).

I walked around the city centre for a while, and looked at all the 17th century buildings, but the main reason I made the trip out was for one special lady, Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, which is housed at the Mauritshuis Museum, along with a number of paintings by the Dutch Masters.

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The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrant

Day 18
This one was a travel day, as I caught an early train to Rotterdam. I did manage to get a bit of sightseeing done, not that there are too many big-ticket items within Rotterdam, it was just nice to walk around and look at a city, without having any expectations.

Day 19
The one must-see item around Rotterdam is the Kinderdijk. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed, and is really quite impressive. The series of windmills, reservoirs and dams is part of the massive, nationwide effort to keep the country’s vast swaths of land that is below sea level, dry.

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One of Kinderdijk's many windmills. Also, some cows.

Day 20
And that brings us to today. It was a travel day today, I’m now back in Belgium, but this time in Antwerp. I had a quick walk around, but tomorrow will be my main sightseeing day.

Travel Diary 12/4/16

I have left longer between these entries than I had intended. However, the WiFi aboard the Eurostar leaves a little to be desired, and then I went ahead and made friends in Paris, so my downtime turned into drinking time. Anyway, here’s the last ten days.

Day 3
Having a whole day left on my London Pass, I decided to make use of it. First stop was The Tower of London, which was originally built by William The Conquerer, and is therefore pretty much as old as England itself. Plus there are Roman ruins on the site, so it’s even older than that. A nice way to spend a morning, but there is a lot of walking up stairs, so it might not be for everyone. Disabled access wasn’t an issue back in 1078. Come here for the Crown Jewels (which are 100% worth seeing), and stay for the cool history and ancient castle. I didn’t take the tour, but I did jump on a tour right at the end, so I could see inside the church where they buried poor Queen Anne Boleyn.

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Tower Bridge, London

The afternoon saw me just a little ways up the Thames, at Tower Bridge (you know, the one everyone thinks is London Bridge). I say ‘a little ways up’, and I mean on the flat plane. Vertically… That’s a whole other matter. It’s over two hundred steps up to the top of the towers. There is an elevator, but I got impatient, as I am prone to being. There are some great views from the stairwell though, as there are windows positioned regularly all the way up. Once at the top, you then walk across the upper walkways, which includes a glass floor, through which you can look down at the pedestrians and cars below. From there, it’s down to the engine room, where you can see the huge hydraulic pumps that are used to lift the bridge to allow ships to pass under.

In the evening, I once again found myself above the city, this time at ArcelorMittal Orbit, the bizarre-looking tower next to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I would have given it a miss, since they haven’t built the world’s biggest slide there yet (it’s on the way though), but they had a Lego Exhibition this weekend.

Day 4
Day 4 was primarily a travel day. I travelled from St Pancras station in London to Paris Gare du Nord via the Eurostar, through the Channel Tunnel. Which was pretty cool. That’s a Modern Wonder I can cross off my Bucket List.

I found my hostel easily, in the 18th Arrondissement, Montmartre. It was a little place called Le Village Hostel, which is a very cool, nicely located place, for a good price. Five minutes from Sacre Couer, and two minutes from Anvers Metro station.

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Sacre Couer, Paris

I decided to take advantage of the proximity to Sacre Coeur and visit a little earlier than I had intended, again walking up hundreds of stairs, but this time to take in what I would have to say was the greatest view of Paris I saw, the entire time I was there.

Day 5
I picked up my Paris Museum Pass (Not the Paris Pass), and immediately made a beeline for the Musee d’Orsay. I spent the entire morning, and a good chunk of the afternoon there, admiring the works of Monet, Renoir, Manet and my personal favourite, Van Gogh. I also have to admit to having taken at least a dozen, but probably two dozen, photos of the huge clock that dominates one end of this former train station.

To end the day, I decided to cross off another Bucket List item, and climbed the Arc de Triomphe, for yet another amazing view of Paris.

Day 6
This was the biggest day for me. Two of my absolute must-do items. The Louvre to start. I got in early, to avoid crowds around the Mona Lisa, and enjoyed a fairly unhindered walk around the gallery. It goes without saying that I was also excited to see Venus de Milo, and the painting of that guy from that one internet meme.

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Notre Dame, Paris

I rounded out the day with Notre-Dame de Paris. One of the most famous, and beautiful, cathedrals in the world. And the setting of one of my favourite Disney movies, but that’s beside the point. Which also meant that I got to finish my day with yet another amazing view of Paris.

Day 7
This was another travel day for me, unfortunately. Due to a mistake with the dates on my UK Residency Permit, I couldn’t pick it up while I was in London, so instead I had to travel back for an afternoon just to pick it up. On the bright side, I read two books on my Kindle on the train.

I should also mention at this stage that staying in a hostel is a great experience. You meet the best people in hostels. You also meet the worst. Which is why, today, I changed rooms at my hostel. I’m not going to go into detail, but suffice to say, I was not looking forward to spending the rest of the week with the roommates I had. I’m glad I changed, because I got to meet some great people in my new room, and we had a great time in the bars of Montmartre.

Day 8
Which, of course, led to a late start the next day. We did manage to drag our butts out of bed to go see Napoleon’s Tomb, and part of the military museum at Les Invalides that afternoon.

Of course, the absolute highlight was that night, when we finally went to the Eiffel Tower. I’m glad I saved it for night time, because it was simply magical. Every hour, blinking lights bounce around the outside, and we stayed to see it twice. Once from inside the tower, and once from the ground.

Day 9
The Palace of Versailles was the last thing on my list for Paris, at least this time around. I’ve spent the last week becoming increasingly aware of just how much I want to see.

I thought the Palace was very nice, even if the areas open to the public were quite few, and the Gardens were beautiful, even if everything was trimmed back. I’d love to come back at the height of summer.

Day 10
Another travel day, this time taking a bus from Paris to Brussels. I found my way to the place I was staying, this time an Airbnb, and spent the rest of the day there, talking to my host. His apartment was sparsely furnished, and I didn’t have any room to blog, or else you’d have this two days earlier.

Day 11
I got to explore Brussels, which I think is a very underrated city for tourists. It just doesn’t rank among the Parises and the Romes. But it is a very pleasant place, even in these troubled times. You can still sense the scars of the people, it’s a very quiet place, and everyone seems to be in a hurry to get everywhere, and no-one makes eye contact with anyone.

I couldn’t help but go to the famous Mannekin Pis, and his lesser-known sister, Jeanneke Pis, but I was primarily in Brussels for one man: Tintin.

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Gare du Midi, Brussels

Who would have thought, someone who wants to be a travel blogger grew up reading Tintin comics, and watching the cartoon series. Well, Brussels is his home, and they are proud of him. Art adorns a number of walls, including within one of their main train stations. A large section of the amazing Comic Strip Museum is dedicated to Herge (and the number of comic book stores for a city that size was astounding). The official Tintin Shop is just off the famous Grand-Place, and there is a museum dedicated to Herge (which was unfortunately closed today).

I finished the day by meeting up with one of the guys I met in Paris, and we had drinks at Delirium Cafe, followed by a cheap, but good-quality dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Day 12
Which brings us to today. I’m blogging to you live from Amsterdam, at my hostel, waiting for check-in. And, quite frankly, it’s probably the coolest-looking hostel I’ve ever been to. And conveniently located, just a short (free) ferry-ride from Amsterdam Central Station. It’s called ClinkNOORD, and you should stay here if you’re ever in town. I won’t post until after I check-in, since all the cords I need to download photos from my camera are in my bag, which is in their luggage storage.

Note: Actually posting the day after, but I’ll leave today’s activities for the next one.

Travel Diary 2/4/16

Well, I’m nearing the end of my third day in London, and I thought I should give you an update. This isn’t going to be a daily thing, just whenever I get a spare minute and a decent spot to write. So, here goes:

Day -1
I left Melbourne on a Qantas flight to Singapore, which was really quite lovely. The seats were comfortable, the service was good, the food was good (for an airline), the movie selection was fantastic (I watched three films I’ve been meaning to see for a while) and it was a pleasant flight.

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My last glimpse of Australia for quite a while.

Changi Airport in Singapore was a sight to behold, quite unlike anything I have seen in my very limited experience as a traveller. Being one of the busiest airports in the world, and one of the most common stop-overs on the way to Asia and the Pacific, they know how to keep you occupied while you wait for your connecting flight. Their smokers’ areas are actually themed gardens (I was quite fond of the Cactus Garden), they have cinemas, video games, koi ponds, as well as the standard Duty Free shops, bars and food outlets.

I don’t have a lot of good to say about flying with Swiss. The next leg of my journey was the overnight Singapore to Zurich. The seats were too narrow and uncomfortable, the food was subpar and the staff were clumsy and rude. One of them spilled hot water on me during tea and coffee service, didn’t bother apologising and just handed me a napkin to clean up with.

The sole bright point of my Swiss experience was Zurich Airport. While the area I first saw after leaving my flight was stark and utilitarian, all concrete walls and linoleum floors, with several sections probably underground, when I found myself in Terminal D, I was greeted by a beautiful, modern terminal, and views of the Swiss Alps. Short-term free wifi aside, it was a very nice place to spend a few hours.

Day 0
Even though this is the day I reached London, I’m not counting it. Another Swiss flight, with uncomfortable seats (although the staff and food were better), an hour or so in the line at customs, and another hour or so to my hotel… and the hotel door was locked, because the owner had gone out to lunch. At 3pm. Then I found out my residence card wouldn’t be available for pickup until the week I was in Paris (silly me thought that if I told them my date of entry months in advance, it would be available on the day).

Day 1
Now it’s time to see if it’s all worth it. Two days of crap, but at least I’m finally in London. So what to do first? I’ve spent most of 48 hours on my butt, so it’s time to do some walking…

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The British Museum

The British Museum. It’s enormous. And worth feeling like your legs are going to fall off at the end of it. Thanks to the British belief that if you stick a flag somewhere, it belongs to you, there are thousands of wonderful things that have been looted, plundered, discovered and stolen, all right there to be looked at.
The Rosetta Stone is a big-ticket item. Such a big-ticket item that they have two. The actual stone, in a glass case in the Egyptian section, and another, a replica that you can touch. The Parthenon exhibit, which I’ll not go into the politics of, and I won’t be posting photos of, is another major exhibit.

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The Rosetta Stone (sorry about the reflection)

I’m crossing three Wonders of the Ancient World off my bucket list, The British Museum has pieces of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Helicarnassus and the Ishtar Gate on display, and since all three have been destroyed (the Ishtar Gate has been reconstructed in Berlin, but still), I’m counting them 100%.

Day 2
Today I picked up my London Pass (which I highly recommend doing), and did some sightseeing. I started at Trafalgar Square, where in addition to Nelson’s Column and the  various other statues, there is temporarily a giant Monopoly Board set up (albeit with a timeline of video game history, instead of the streets).
I walked along Whitehall and Parliament Way to The Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament, aka the rest of the building Big Ben is in). Elizabeth Tower (renamed from ‘Clock Tower’ in 2012 for Liz’s Diamond Jubilee) is much, much bigger than it looks on TV.

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Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben)

Westminster Abbey was next, I’m far from a religious man, but even I had to pay my respects. Buried beneath this triumph of architecture, art and design, are many of England’s great leaders and thinkers. Queens Elizabeth I and Marys I and II, Mary Queen of Scots, Kings Edward I, III and The Confessor, Henry III, V and VII and James I (VI of Scotland) to name a few of the monarchs. Scientists such as Newton, Darwin, Lord Kelvin and Ernest Rutherford, along with artists such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, Handel and Charles Dickens. Mixed in with memorials to those buried here, are memorials to those buried elsewhere. It’s almost impossible to see them all. I certainly missed more than a few, now that I’m looking at the list on Wikipedia.

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Tower Bridge (from London Bridge)

After Westminster Abbey, I hopped on a bus tour, which took me past Hyde Park, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and The Tower of London, the Monument (to the Great Fire of London) and the London Eye, as well as down some iconic streets (it was like Monopoly, but without the intra-familial hatred).
I had a look around the world-famous King’s Cross Station to finish my day, but the line for Platform 9 and 3/4s was too long just for a photo, so I ended it there.

White Night Survival Guide

White Night Melbourne is almost upon us again. In just a few hours, the lights will go on and half a million people will descend upon the Melbourne CBD to gaze in wonder upon the pure artistry of a group of extremely talented people.

But, it’s a long night, and it’s a difficult one. So here’s a few tips to get the most out of it.

Dress Sensibly

Comfortable walking shoes are a must. Thongs, heels or sandals are a definite no. Assuming you’re going to every site, you’re probably going to be on your feet for around five hours. At minimum.

Check the weather beforehand. Last year I made the mistake of assuming the temperature would drop, and wore jeans and a jumper. Big mistake.

Plan Ahead

White Night is busiest between 7PM and midnight. The crowds are massive, and the lines to a lot of the indoor art installations are long. Even well after midnight, the line to the State Library was around the corner into Latrobe Street.

If you’ve got the kids with you, be sure to have a way to keep them entertained while they’re in line. Thank god for smartphones, right? You might be tempted to skip the sites with long lines, but those are usually the best.

It also pays to check which sites are only active at certain times. I missed a couple of live performances in my rush.

I would recommend starting a little late, if you’re able. If you don’t have kids to contend with, or work Sunday, it’s your best bet. Last year I worked late Saturday, and didn’t get to the CBD until around midnight. I hit every site in around five hours. On foot. And only waited at the Library for around fifteen minutes.

In the line at the State Library during White Night 2015
In the line at the State Library during White Night 2015

Bring A Camera

Everything about White Night is fleeting. That’s the magic. It’s all just for one night, never to be seen again. You’re going to want a keepsake. Not to mention the interactive installations, where you pose with something to become a part of the art yourself.

In this day and age, it goes without saying really, everyone has a camera in their pocket. But don’t forget to use it.

Plus the social media mentions are great for publicity, and the bigger it is, the more likely it is to continue.

Take Care Of Yourself

Hydrate. Especially if it’s a hot night. Even if it’s not, you’re walking around a lot. Keep a bottle of water handy.

Rest. Especially if you’ve got kids. It only takes five hours at top speed to get to all of the sites. The night is twelve hours long. Sit down for a little while every now and then. Your body will thank you.

Eat. Have dinner in the city before you go. Carry snacks. Hit the foodtrucks or dozens of other eateries that are open all night.

Have Fun, But Be Respectful

White Night is a great night. The sounds and the sights, it’s Melbourne at her best. But it’s also 500,000 people wandering the CBD at night. About a dozen people were arrested last year for public drunkenness (although the regular nightclubs are still open, so it could be unrelated). So the golden rule is: Don’t Be A Dickhead. Don’t ruin the night for someone else. Don’t break anything. Don’t kill the event.

Have fun, but not at the expense of someone else.

For further information, go to the White Night Melbourne homepage.

Travel Bucket List

This post will be constantly updated as I get further inspired, and as I get to cross items off. I’m also going to include things I have already seen or done, so I can start the list with a few crosses.

Worldwide

Oceans: 4/5
Seas: 10/141
Continents: 3/7
Countries: 18/198

Trans-Siberian Railway (Russia)

Seven Wonders of the…

Ancient World:
(Obviously most of these have been destroyed, so with the exception of the Pyramids, I’m talking visiting the site, or surviving artifacts. Also, since we’re not sure the Hanging Gardens ever existed, I’m going to replace them with the Ishtar Gate, which appeared on pre-Colossus lists)

Great Pyramid of Giza (Giza, Egypt)
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Izmir Province, Turkey, also plundered artifacts at British Museum)
Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Olympia, Greece)
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Bodrum, Turkey, also plundered artifacts at British Museum)
Colossus of Rhodes (Rhodes, Greece)
Lighthouse of Alexandria (Alexandria, Egypt)
Ishtar Gate (Originally Babylon, Reconstructed in Berlin, Germany, and parts on display at other museums, including the British Museum)

Natural World:
Grand Canyon (Arizona, USA)
Great Barrier Reef (Queensland, Australia)
Harbor of Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Mount Everest (Kathmandu, Nepal)
Aurora Australis and Borealis (Extreme Northern and Southern Hemispheres)
Paricutin Volcano (Uruapan Municipality, Mexico)
Victoria Falls (Border Zimbabwe and Zambia)

Modern World:
Channel Tunnel (Strait of Dover, English Channel)
CN Tower (Toronto, Canada)
Empire State Building (New York City, USA)
Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco Bay, USA)
Itaipu Dam (Border Brazil and Paraguay)
The Netherlands (The Netherlands, Europe)
Panama Canal (Panama)

Other:

(This list is for everything between the Ancient Greeks’ list and the Modern list.)

Colosseum (Rome, Italy)
Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
Great Wall of China (China)
Machu Pichu (Cusco Region, Peru)
Angkor Wat (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
Petra (Ma’an, Jordan)
Christ The Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Africa:

Countries Stood On: 0/55

Fez Medina (Fez, Morocco)
Serengeti National Park (Tanzania)
Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)
The Valley of Kings (Luxor, Eqypt)
Kruger National Park (South Africa)
Egyptian Museum (Cairo, Egypt)
Karnak (Karnak, Egypt)
Carthage (Tunis, Tunisia)
Luxor Temple (Luxor, Egypt)
Grande Mosquee (Djenne, Mali)
Timbuktu (Mali)
Lower Zambezi National Park (Zambia)
Central Kalahari Game Reserve (Botswana)
Matmata (Tunisia)
Roman Amphitheatre (El-Jem, Tunisia)

Asia:

Countries Stood On: 1/49

Lake Baikal (Siberia, Russia)
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Hiroshima, Japan)
Halong Bay (Halong City, Vietnam)
Forbidden City (Beijing, China)
Terracotta Warriors (Shaanxi, China)
Tbilisi Old Town (Tbilisi, Georgia)
Korean DMZ (Border North Korea and South Korea)
Summer Palace (Beijing, China)
Burj Khalifa (Dubai, UAE)
Cu Chi Tunnels (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
Persepolis (Iran)
Mt Fuji (Japan)

Europe:

Countries Stood On: 15/51

Aya Sofya (Istanbul, Turkey)
British Museum (London, UK)
Greek Island-Hopping (Aegean Sea, Greece)
Old City Walls (Dubrovnik, Croatia)
Gondola Ride (Venice, Italy)
Acropolis (Athens, Greece)
Charles Bridge (Prague, Czech Republic)
Chateau de Versailles (Versailles, France)
Louvre (Paris, France)
Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)
Pompeii (Naples, Italy)
Old Town Square (Prague, Czech Republic)
Notre-Dame (Paris, France)
Anne Frank House (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Stonehenge (Salisbury Plain, UK)
Berlin Wall (Berlin, Germany)
St Peter’s Basilica (Vatican City)
Red Square (Moscow, Russia)
Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland, UK)
Auschwitz-Birkenau (Oswiecim, Poland)
Vatican Museums (Vatican City)

Prinsengracht Canal (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Blue Mosque (Istanbul, Turkey)
Chernobyl/Pripyat (Ukraine)
Schloss Neuschwanstein (Bavaria, Germany)
Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Mont St-Michel (Normandy, France)
Reichstag (Berlin, Germany)
Natural History Museum (London, England)
Cinque Terre (Italy)
Duomo (Milan, Italy)

Gallipoli (Turkey)
Lake Geneva (Geneva, Switzerland)
Casino de Monte Carlo (Monaco)
Normandy Beaches (Normandy, France)
Sedlec Ossuary (Kutna Hora, Czech Republic)
Catherine’s Palace (Tsarskoe Selo, Russia)
Hadrian’s Wall (UK)
Jungfraujoch (Alps, Switzerland)
Brandenburg Gate (Berlin, Germany)
Black Forest (Germany)
Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland)
Flanders Fields (Belgium/France)
Leaning Tower of Pisa (Pisa, Italy)

North America:

Countries Stood On: 2/23

Yosemite National Park (California, USA)
Old Havana (Havana, Cuba)
Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, USA)
Chichen Itza (Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico)
The Met (New York City, USA)
Niagara Falls (Border Canada and USA)
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island (New York City, USA)
Disneyland (Anaheim, USA)
Walt Disney World (Orlando, USA)
National Mall (Washington DC, USA)
Underwater Statue Park (Moliniere Bay, Grenada)
Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, USA)
Burgess Shale (British Columbia, Canada)
Blue Hole (Belize)
Griffith Observatory (Los Angeles, USA)

Oceania:

Countries Stood On 1/14
Australian States/Territories: 7/8

Great Ocean Road/Twelve Apostles (Victoria, Australia)
Uluru (Northern Territory, Australia)
Kakadu (Northern Territory, Australia)
Sydney Opera House/Harbour Bridge (Sydney, Australia)
Anakena Beach (Rapa Nui, Chile)
Bay of Islands (New Zealand)
Port Arthur (Tasmania, Australia)

South America:

Countries Stood On: 0/12

Iguazu Falls (Border Brazil and Argentina)
Tikal (Flores, Guatemala)
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Angel Falls (Venezuela)
Encontro das Aguas (Manaus, Brazil)
Nazca Lines (Peru)

Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays

If I could sum up the Whitsundays in just one word, it would be: paradise. Because that’s absolutely what the Whitsundays are. Barely located north of the Tropic of Capricorn, this region has all the benefits of a tropical climate: warm, sunny days, without going into extremes of heat or humidity.

Welcome to Port of Airlie
Arriving by ferry, this is the sight that greets you.

Airlie Beach has long been a haven for backpackers, but I’m sorry to say, Aussies have discovered it. While there are about a dozen hostels dotted around the town, the large, commerical resorts have started moving in. According to a local I spoke to, there is even a proposal to begin building high rises along the beach, although the local population are having none of that. But one way or another, the honeymoon is over.

The town is still the perfect jumping off point for any Whitsunday adventures. The recently built Port of Arlie is home to Cruise Whitsundays, who, in addition to running the ferry service from Hamilton Island Airport, offer a wide range of cruises throughout the island chain. With very professional service, and a great team of staff, I can absolutely recommend them to anyone who is planning on visiting Airlie.

Face rock.
A rock formation in the shape of a face in profile on one of the 74 islands that make up the Whitsunday Islands.

The main attractions in the Whitsundays are: Whitehaven Beach, and of course, the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is actually a series of 2900 reefs and 300 islands, stretching 2700 kilometres along the Queensland coast. There are a number of towns that act as jumping off points for the reef, primarily Cairns, but Airlie Beach is another popular spot, with the beautiful Heart Reef located just 80 kilometres from Airlie Beach.

Hardy Reef
Part of Hardy Reef from the surface.

Cruise Whitsundays offers a full day at their offshore Reefworld facility on Hardy Reef, with snorkelling and a semi-submerged glass-bottomed boat included, with the optional extras of scuba-diving and helicopter rides over the reef and Whitsunday Islands.

While I wasn’t lucky enough to see many of the cooler, more famous reef-dwellers, the reef sharks, the sea turtles and so on, I did find Nemo. At least, one of the guides who knew where a clownfish lived, showed us Nemo.

Fish
I wasn’t fast enough to snap a picture of the clownfish, but these guys will certainly do.

Unfortunately, you spend more time getting out to the reef and back than you do on the reef. For a complete, 8-6 day out of Airlie, you spend about three hours on the reef. And those three hours could not possibly go any faster than they do. So you’re quite limited in the number of activities you can do. I suggest, wholeheartedly, that you scuba-dive. It costs a bit extra, but it is 100% worth it, even for an absolute beginner.

If you have no experience (like me), the guides will hang on to you the whole time, keeping track of your depth and showing you all the way along the reef. If you start having second thoughts early on, you get a complete refund on the scuba session. My guide said that they’ve had people ten minutes into the thirty-minute session get total refunds. Compared to other companies, who have a ‘wet head’ policy, meaning as soon as your head gets wet, you don’t get a refund, this is a great feature.

Blue coral
Get out to the Great Barrier Reef while we still have one.

Whitehaven Beach is considered Australia’s best beach, and in Australia, that’s really saying something. The pure, almost powder-like 98% silica sand is a sight to see. It’s completely protected by the government, and removing sand from the beach apparently carries a five-figure fine.

Make sure you book your tours in advance, because not every tour to Whitehaven Beach takes you past the iconic Hill Inlet. I left mine to the last minute, and could only book a cruise to the south end of the beach. At 7km long, there was no way for me to walk from that end of the beach all the way to Hill Inlet and back without being left behind.

Whitehaven Beach
Still, beautiful isn’t it?

As for accomodation, I stayed at the superbly-located Waterfront Hostel, in a four-bed dorm, with its own ensuite and balcony, for just $30 a night. I was pretty lucky with that booking, a stuff-up with Booking.com left me with a reservation at an international-only hostel. But a quick ring around town by the lovely lady behind the desk at Base Hostel found me this room.

A brief reminder that Queensland’s tropical seas are home to box jellyfish and other deadly stingers. I would not suggest you go out in the ocean without at least a wetsuit, as any skin contact with these almost-invisible creatures is a potential death sentence. Stinger season is basically all year except winter.

Swimmers
Brave, silly, or just uninformed?

To counter this, Airlie Beach has built a fairly large lagoon near the city centre, and you almost wouldn’t know it wasn’t an actual beach, with sunbathers, lifeguards and honest-to-goodness sand around the water.

And let’s face it, you don’t go to Airlie Beach for the beach. You go there because it’s the gateway to the Whitsundays. So if you want to go swimming, stick to the lagoon, and don’t potentially ruin your entire trip.

Lifeguard.
The lagoon is staffed with lifeguards all day.

Open House Melbourne 2015

Open House is probably my favourite concept, as someone who wants to see the world on a budget.  Dozens of cities across the world designate a particular weekend or date and throw the doors open on many of their most important sights.

A chance to see behind the scenes? Yes please!
A chance to see behind the scenes? Yes please!

So, never shying away from an excuse to spend a weekend in the city, I took work off and grabbed my camera. Having not been one of the lucky few winners of tickets to the Flinders Street Station Ballroom, and having completely missed out on booking a number of my other top picks, I instead started my weekend at the Arts Centre.

It’s my understanding that you can just wander the foyers of the Theatres Building (above) and Hamer Hall during the day anyway. There’s currently an exhibition in the Theatres Building about entertaining the troops over the years, which I found very interesting.

But Open House isn’t about seeing the things you can see for free on a regular day. Open House is about going that extra mile.

So we went underground.

Those pipes could just about fit a small person inside. Perhaps that's what Mario uses?
Those pipes could just about fit a small person inside. Perhaps that’s what Mario uses?

A guided tour through not the behind-the-scenes stuff, but behind that. The transformer substation, the cooling units (above), the boilers and the backup generators.

Not everything is going to interest everyone. I know a lot of people who would have been bored to death on that tour. But there really is something for everyone.

For instance, my second tour at the Arts Centre started in Hamer Hall. Through a doorway I’d never noticed before, and suddenly I was in the Performing Arts Centre archives. One of three locations, containing the incomplete, but ever-growing, history of performing arts in Melbourne. Thriving off donations from performers and their families, the collection is truly astonishing. We only saw a fraction of it, including Nick Cave’s notebooks, a stage costume belonging to Dame Nellie Melba and one of the most iconic pieces of stage costuming in Australia… Kylie Minogue’s hot pants from the Spinning Around video.

"Melbourne Museum has Phar Lap. The State Library has Ned Kelly's armour. We have Kylie's hotpants."
“Melbourne Museum has Phar Lap. The State Library has Ned Kelly’s armour. We have Kylie’s hotpants.”

Just as impressive is their seemingly-complete collection of Dame Edna’s outfits, along with early drafts of a lot of Barry Humphries’ work, signed and annotated.

You do need to plan ahead, and also pace yourself, as I learned from Parliament House. I missed out on the Saturday because the line was immense. So, first thing Sunday I was in queue. And honestly, the building’s interior blew my mind, to the point where the Windsor Hotel and Myer Mural Hall, my next two stops, seemed to pale in comparison.

Parliament House is all neo-Roman columns and 23-carat gold leafing. A large library, not to mention the rooms where Parliament actually sits, and even the hallways are absolutely gorgeous.

There are three of these $400,000 Waterford Crystal chandeliers in the Lower House. Of course, that value is from before the Waterford factory closed, so the value is higher now.
There are three of these $400,000 Waterford Crystal chandeliers in the Lower House. Of course, that value is from before the Waterford factory closed, so the value is higher now.

I’ve skipped over a few buildings that I went to, the Town Hall, Mission to Seafarers, the aforementioned Windsor Hotel and Myer Mural Hall. All absolutely wonderful places, but either my photos don’t do them justice (Town Hall), or it’s more about the things you learn about the building themself (Mission to Seafarers).

I finished up my weekend at the Melbourne Tram Museum in the old Hawthorn Tram Depot. It was probably the highlight for me, I’ve loved trams since I was a little kid, and getting to climb inside of restored trams from before I was born was kind of cool.

Look at them all!
Look at them all!

If you’re planning on being in Melbourne in July, I absolutely recommend you arrange your plans around Open House Weekend. It is a great way to not only see the sights of Melbourne, but more importantly, save money on tours, which you can then spend on seeing more of the city’s most amazing sights.

Five Reasons I’m Worried About Traveling

Everyone is always quick to tell you the reasons  you should travel, and trust me, I’ll get to that. But right now I’m in the pre-planning stages of my “big trip”, and I’ve got a lot of doubts, and I know a lot of you do too. So I’m going to list the five biggest things I’m worried about, and then tell you why it’s not that big a deal.

Swanston Street
Should I just stick to Melbourne?
1. Missing Out

My best friend is married, my old housemates are engaged and I’ve got a lot of family members who are turning into grown-ups. And I plan to leave it all behind. The people who are most important to me are finding who they are and getting their lives on track. I’m not going to be with my friends when they have kids, or when my brother starts his career. I’m not even going to be in the same hemisphere.

But, fact is, either way, I’m going to be missing out on something. Thanks to the wonders of technology, you’re never too far away from your loved ones. Facebook, Skype and Instagram keep you together, even when you can’t really be there. Not to mention, they’re finding themselves, and I’ll be doing the same.

2. Failing

So I figure out two weeks into Europe that I can’t hack it. I miss home. I can’t speak the language. I get lost all the time. My money dries up before I find work. Whatever the reason, I just want to give up. And so I fly home, and I have to face everything I left behind. I’m stuck back in the rut that I was escaping in the first place.

So what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Even a short trip will recharge my batteries, and give me a new viewpoint on life. Either way, I’ll discover something new about myself, and I’ll know I’ve tried.

3. Something Awful Happening

I get robbed. I get lost. I get injured. And all of this happening a world away from my support network. It would be bad enough at home, but in a country where I don’t speak the language? Where I can’t crash at dad’s house while I recover, where I can’t borrow some cash from my brother until the bank sorts out my cards? That would be a disaster.

There's a whole lot of ocean between home and the rest of the world.
There’s a whole lot of ocean between home and the rest of the world.

It’s only slightly more likely for these things to happen abroad than it is for them to happen at home. Decent travel insurance includes hospital cover and covers lost and stolen items and money. Being well prepared minimizes the problems caused when bad things happen.

4. Is It Worth It?

I get to the Eiffel Tower and yawn. I see the Northern Lights and shrug. The Mediterranean? We have beaches at home. What happens if I spend thousands of dollars and fly to the other side of the world, only to be completely underwhelmed by it all? What if I built it all up in my head and it can’t match?

We build these things up for a reason. France is the most popular tourist destination in the world because it really is special (politics aside). London is one of the world’s great cities. Photos and descriptions never do justice to the real thing in my experience.

5. What Next?

Ok, the plan goes off without a hitch. I get to Europe, I love it, nothing bad happens, I find work, and can stay for the extent of my visa. Or this travel blog takes off and between this and my savings, I can sustain myself. Either way, eventually my visa will run out, and I’ll be faced with a decision: go home, or go somewhere new? You hear the stories about people who come home, and all they want to do is go on the next trip. Their lives consist of saving up and disappearing for months at a time. All they can talk about is their trip. On the other hand, to start over again means I get to face these doubts again. I have to find time to plan, save money and organize all I need to take on a new journey.

It isn’t as easy a decision as it sounds. I go home, I miss out on the rest of the world. But I don’t have to worry about visas or work permits, I’m lucky enough to live in Australia, so I’m covered by unemployment benefits and we have nationalised healthcare, while I look for work. I find a job, get my money together, buy a house, save for retirement. It’s safe. Not to mention it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world, I can still travel and keep blogging here.

There is still plenty to see at home.
There is still plenty to see at home.

On the other hand, I keep traveling until it isn’t viable anymore. Until I run out of money, or until my body breaks down from old age. Then, not only do I get to deal with all the problems I’ve already mentioned about traveling, I still have to go home anyway. The difference is, depending on how long I’m on the road, I’ll have lost valuable years that I would otherwise have spent earning money and saving for retirement. I could come home in ten years, and be in my mid-thirties, with a Bachelor of Arts and having next to no useful job skills. Or by some miracle I sustain it for twenty years or more, and it won’t matter what qualifications I have, I’ll be over forty, and unable to get a decent job because nobody wants to hire a middle-aged person when they can have someone in their twenties.

Is seeing the whole world worth that?

I certainly hope so.

White Night 2015

Where: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
What: All-Night Cultural Event
Website: White Night Melbourne

White Night
Flinders Street Station

If you could only be in Melbourne for one weekend, and want to see as much of the city as possible, choose White Night. From 7pm to 7am, parts of central Melbourne are lit up and dozens of  art installations, live performances and some truly bizarre stuff are on display.

Attracting well over half a million people, White Night is only in its third year, and the Andrews government has promised its continuation into the future. Like many artistic, and cultural events, it is very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

Artistic projections adorned some of the city’s historic buildings while local and international artists displayed multimedia art installations. Oddly enough, while there was local and world music on display, it was a quiet night in Australia’s Live Music capital.

There were moments of true wonder. The inside of the State Library Dome, during the light show and musical accompaniment of ‘Eat Me’ (there was a recurring ‘Wonderland’ theme in many of the larger sites). The 4 Elements projections at the Royal Exhibition Building was something to behold. Conversely, there were a few places where I would give the installations a miss. There’s a lot of weird stuff, but art is, of course, subjective.

White Night
Exhibition Building

I rushed it, and got to all of the sites in the space of six hours. It’s a heck of a hike, up and down streets, right up to the Exhibition Building, and Museum, and down to the Queen Victoria Gardens. Walking from one end to another is 2.5 km, and the majority of the sites are in an area three blocks wide. I suggest you spread it out. Take time to sit and watch some musicians, enjoy some food, or just see something you never thought you’d see. White Night has something for everyone.