Friday, August 24, 2007

Sink to the bottom

You know, I love wanton destruction and walking around London allowed me to relive some of my favourite scenes of destruction from popular culture.

For example, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament...

...which were destroyed so brilliantly in V for Vendetta.

And the BT Tower...

...which was pulled down by the awesome destructive power of Kitten Kong in the Goodies.

Anyhow, I spent a lot of time in London checking out the National Gallery and the National Potrait Gallery. It was at the National Gallery that I saw one of my all time favourite paintings, Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait. I was just stunned as I turned the corner and with no warning, there it was. I could have cried as I've always wanted to see it and in real life, it is far more beautiful than any reproduction I've seen. At this point, I felt that I had definitely had reached the cultural highpoint of my trip and was just ecstatic at having the experience of seeing this masterpiece in the flesh. Satisfied, I went to see Transformers, another cultural highpoint (which was as great as you'd expect for a movie about robots from outer space that fight each other and then turn into household objects).


Update: so under the cover of darkness I have returned to Australia and am currently getting over my jetlag. My world trip was cut short because I decided to have a good time in Europe rather than a frugal one so I ended up burning through my travel budget quicker than I had hoped. But that's really not a problem because I have experienced so much this year that I can hardly complain. Everything from walking Tiger Leaping Gorge to meeting my wonderful family back in the UK, the trip has been life defining, amazing and almost as a good as a film about battling robots from outerspace. Even better, I'd venture. I'm not sure what the future holds at the moment but it probably involves some form of work (boo) and finding somewhere to live. I'm not sure about the future of the blog as it seems redundant to have a travel blog when you're not travelling but we'll see. I have enjoyed writing it so maybe I'll rename it the Crappy Life Blog and see if I can think of anything to write about. I will definitely be putting a few more photos up once I've sorted through them all.

Anyhow, thanks to all the people who took care of me on this trip and thanks for looking at the blog. Its been swell.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New low

Berlin Part 2 (some of the pictures in this entry keep disappearing so if there is text that doesn't seem to make any sense that's the reason.)

So... Berlin apart from having a rich history, it has some amazing museums and galleries. First up the Pergamon...

Its called this because the Germans plundered an entire temple from the ancient city of Pergamon in Greece. This seems to be a pretty common thing in European museums but no one seems to mind though. (By the way, Rufus Wainwright fans should note that the cover of his latest album Release the Stars is taken from the figure on the bottom right hand corner. Now you know.)

If stealing an entire Greek temple wasn't enough, the museum also houses one of the Ishtar Gates which was one of the eight entrances to the inner city of Babylon and was one of the original seven wonders of the world until something more, urm, wondrous took its place. It was excavated from the remains of Babylon which is actually located 80k north of Baghdad. So happily I didn't have to travel to Iraq to see it. But that got me thinking, since John Howard thinks its such a brilliant idea to send the Australian army into an endless, senseless invasion of Iraq where the local people are actually worse off than when they were living under a fascist, totalitarian regime (operation enduring freedom which will kill yo' ass), maybe he can organise a day trip for the troops to see the ruins of Babylon. You know, make it educational as well as destructive. Maybe John Howard could go as a tour guide. Then maybe he could go out in the field with the soldiers, you know, give him a rifle so he can experience combat. Then maybe they should send him to a really dangerous place just by himself with a target painted on his back. That would be brilliant, a sure vote winner. I'd vote for that.

Anyhow, the Pergamon also has an amazing collection of Islamic art, books and ancient artifacts which were pretty special. Sadly, my photos of that stuff came out kinda crap so you should go and see it yourself.

My next favourite place was the Hamburger Barnhoff which was recommended by my oldest friend Dave. Its a gallery of contemporary art which is situated in this amazing old train station. It is plausibly the most spacious and beautiful gallery I've ever visited but Dave did warn me that the artwork was a little cerebral. From this, I have worked out that "cerebral" is a codeword for crap as most of the exhibitions were utter rubbish... but the building was breathtaking. (By the way, I have no credentials as an art critic, I just know what I like and definitely know what I hate. Its all subjective anyway.)

An original Keith Haring. Art I hate.

Anyway after spending a few days in galleries and museums, we decided we needed to go lowbrow for a day but we didn't realise how low we would sink. We started our lowbrow day by seeing Harry Potter at the pictures. However, when we walked out, I started heading down this fenced off area until I realised I wasn't supposed to. We found out that the cinema was in preparation for the German Premiere of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Thinking it would be funny, we stuck around. Bad idea.

Phwoar, the silver carpet because a red carpet would be inappropriate for a film with silver in the title.

I have to admit I had no interest in seeing this movie as I have tried to watch the first one but have given up because it! was! shit! And I can watch any old crap but the first Fantastic Four wasn't even craptastic enough to be watchable. However, knowing that Julian Mcmahon is in the movie (Danni Minogue's ex-husband, star of Charmed and Nip/Tuck, the b-grade actor's actor), I felt it was my obligation... nay, my duty to get my photo taken with him if possible. Here's Ruth and I giddy with excitement with the prospect of seeing Julian McMahon.

Sadly, we soon learned from a friendly bouncer (who knew?) that Julian Mcmahon was not appearing. The crowds were swelling with crazed old ladies, thuggish paparazzi and teenage boys with semi-erect penises for just one person - the terminally untalented Jessica Alba. Really, name one good film she's been in apart from Sin City? Dare ya, lady can't act, end of story.

In my life I have survived the fiercest heavy metal mosh pits, been chased down the street by a baton wielding police man, been beaten up by a gorilla sized army dude in Townsville, been dragged from underneath the hooves of a horse when I fell down at a protest and I have even watched Glitter from beginning to end. But none of this compares to the arrival of Jessica Alba at the launch of a film. It was incredibly scary because people just went crazy. Seriously, batshit crazy. No really, this was skipping through a field of landmines in clown shoes crazy. I don't think you're getting it, off their medication, unhinged, killer, 28 days later zombie crazy!

Since we had stumbled upon the thing, we were on the barrier but people were hitting me in the back, pulling at my hair and strangely enough, pulling down my pants from behind to get to the front. They were screaming, crying and generally hysterical like Elvis, Jesus, Kurt Cobain and Steve Irwin had come back from the dead and just announced they were forming a boy band. I'm not joking, it was a war zone as Ms Alba glided by. I got out of there pretty quick because I wasn't prepared to get beat up by a bunch of berserker fans who would claw through my skin with their fingernails and eat their first born to see some actress I don't even like.

I did feel sorry for this guy though. He's also in the film but basically followed quietly in Alba's wake. Poor bloke, people were asking him to get them her autograph. I felt a bit sad for him but he asked if people were alright in all the chaos so he seemed ok. I guess he just wanted to get it over with so he could hit the bar. He's Welsh apparently...

While we were waiting for all this bullshit to unfold, we noticed there was an Australiana bar just across from us. These kind of places have been pretty much everywhere we've travelled and I have never viewed them with anything other than embarrassment and contempt. BUT on lowbrow day after the Fantastic Four debacle, it seemed perfect. It was called the Corroboree Bar and was filled with surf boards and fake Aboriginal art which I'm sure is not offensive to Indigenous people in anyway whatsoever. Terrible stuff but didn't that VB taste good.

As I wiped a patriotic tear from my eye, this replica Sydney Harbour Bridge walkway made me feel homesick. Well, not really but it did make me laugh hysterically. Totally brilliant.

Fortunately, this Australian atrocity was in this pretty amazing building complex surrounding by cool buildings.

After a successful day of lowbrow action, we hit the underground and headed home satisfied that in Berlin, one of the world's greatest cities brimming with culture and history, we did the tackiest thing of our entire trip. Yay!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Skip to the end

Tired of the crap I write. Why not check out Ruth's excellent photos of our trip without my endless blah blah blah... Better photos without the annoying commentary! Get that super bargain here!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ich Bin Ein Auslander

Berlin Part 1

Welcome to Berlin... Some of you might think this is the kind of thing you'll find in this town considering its history but...

...Berlin is for lovers, no matter what your sexual preference.

I have always wanted to visit Berlin for the sole reason that I wanted to see the Victory Column (die Siegessäule) because it was featured in my favourite film of all time, Wings of Desire. The film itself is about angels that watch the comings and goings of Berliners in the late eighties. Eventually one of them becomes human as he has fallen in love with a trapeze artist. Nick Cave is in it as is Columbo! Anyhow, the two main angels, Damiel and Cassiel, spend a lot of their time sitting on the shoulders of this statue so I've always wanted to see it.

(Saying this is my favourite film, I am in no way endorsing that you see it because it is a slow moving German film with not much plot and it is definitely an acquired taste. Last time I convinced some friends to watch it, they ALL fell asleep because they were that bored. It did end up having a terrible sequel (Far Away, So Close) AND was adapted into a terrible Nicolas Cage/Meg Ryan Hollywood version called City of Angels which was so bad it makes your eyes bleed. But, Wings of Desire, I like it.)

Anyhow, Berlin is an amazingly vibrant city. Since most of it was destroyed in WW2 and because of the constant redevelopment since reunification, it has led to a lot of change and optimism in the German capital. After the war, Berlin was 75% rubble and there was talk that it was going to be abandoned as a memorial to the follies of war. But there is an old saying, whoever controls Berlin controls Europe, so none of the allies wanted to give it up. Here is the Brandenburg Gate. Very impressive!

Here's the Hotel Adlon. It is the hotel in that Michael Jackson dangled his new born baby out the window... even more impressive!

So ok, let's quickly deal with past. Nazis. Don't like 'em, never have. Berlin was actually a thorn in the side of the nazis because they were a bunch of inbred redneck hicks from the country crapping on about racial purity and all this fantasy bullshit about the master race which was MADE UP. Unfortunately for them, Berlin was a multicultural city with a long history of immigration and racial tolerance so it was one of the places most resistant to these hateful principles espoused by these idiots. Here's some nazis playing volleyball. Even when they're having fun they look like fucking arseholes.

These are a few pictures from the holocaust memorial which is made up of about 2,700 blocks of slab to represent the Jewish victims of the genocide perpetrated by the nazis. Its also supposed to rise and fall like a topography of hatred. Its pretty amazing to walk through as once you're inside, you can't actually hear anything and its quite disorientating. This memorial is specifically for the Jewish who lost their lives to the nazi regime but let's not forget the political prisoners, gypseys, homosexuals and handicapped who also died in these terrible times.

And this is where it ended. Underneath this car park is the FĂĽhrerbunker, where Hitler thoughtfully killed himself. As a soldier, he thought he should die by the bullet but he also took a poison capsule just to make sure. Good work Adolf, good riddance to bad, evil rubbish. His body was found by the Russians who didn't actually tell anyone he was dead and started rumours that he was alive in a strategic move to justify them staying in Germany after the war (a fitting prelude to the Cold War). They tried to destroy the bunker but being a bomb bunker, it didn't really work. So it still sits there today, flooded and abandoned.

The only indication that its there is this sign. I think the most poignant thing I learnt on the tour we did was that Heinrich Heine, whose books were burnt by the nazis, wrote "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too." He wrote that in 1821. So sad. Enough of the nazis. They were fucked.

Anyhow, then the allies started fighting over Berlin and the wall was constructed by the Communist GDR to stop movement between the East and West. Brilliant. One of my favourite stories I heard was that to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the GDR, the Government decided to build this monstrosity, the TV Tower, to show the world that East Germany was every bit as technically advanced as the West. Modelled after a similar tower in Mother Russia, the GDR hit problems when they couldn't actually complete the tower and had to call in the Swiss to finish it. Slightly embarrassing but it gets worse. The East German premier, a good old commie religion hater, demanded that all churches take down their crosses on their spires so nothing could compete with the grandeur of the TV Tower. Unfortunately, when the tower was unveiled it became immediately obvious that no matter where you were in the city, when light hit the tower it formed the shape of a cross on its side. The Premier was horrified and spent a lot of resources (paint, panels, architects) to rectify the problem but to no avail. He even announced that it was a "plus" sign which was just laughed at by the German public. The light effect on the tower was affectionately nicknamed the "Pope's revenge" by locals.

Anyway, the wall came down as we all know but it was a bit of a cock up really. After Gorby introduced Glasnost and Perostroika, essentially saying that the satellite communist states couldn't rely on Mother Russia to bail them out of their troubles, there was growing unrest in the GDR. People were escaping to the west through Hungary which had recently opened their borders to Austria and people started protesting for the first time against the repressive communist regime. To throw the people a bone, the party decided to open the borders to other countries thinking it would take years to negotiate. Unfortunately, they didn't tell their Minister for Information who announced the initiative was effective immediately. Thousands of people turned up at the wall and it wasn't long before they'd busted through to be met by their West German counterparts who had champagne and pineapples (hard to find in the GDR). There was much rejoicing and tears and then the East Germans did what everyone else did in 1989, they went to see Dirty Dancing. The cinemas in West Berlin played the film non-stop as the Patrick Swayze deprived East Germans went crazy for it. True story.

By the way, David Hasselhoff played East Berlin a few months before the wall came down and sung a song about democracy. When the wall came down, he claimed that he was single handedly responsible for its fall. He was quick to get there to perform on the recently destroyed wall for his adoring German fans. What a guy! What a jacket!

Enough of the history lesson. Let's talk about movie stars... next time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

10 x 10

Where was I?

Oh yeah, giving YOU the fingers on my way to Barcelona. Ahh Barcelona... it was totally different from most places we'd visited because it is a city wholly dedicated to lifestyle. As such, you don't visit Barcelona to see the sights, you visit Barcelona to live the life. It felt much more like a place I could live than an exotic place to visit so there's little to talk about apart from y'know, eating, drinking and hanging out. So that's all I'm going to talk about.

We turned up to our hotel which was right in the heart of the tourist district overlooking Las Ramblas. If you haven't come across Las Ramblas before, it is essentially a 24 hour party/riot masquerading as a huge pedestrian thoroughfare where tourists, street performers and confidence tricksters gather. Our Balcony was literally five metres from the action which meant earplugs were essential for sleep but it was an excellent vantage point to watch drunk tourists get mugged. I love local sports!

Look how successfully I blend in with other tourists on Las Ramblas in my beach gear. I so should be a secret agent...

One of Ruth's ambitions while travelling was to find the best hot chocolate in the world. This meant drinking a hot chocolate almost every day of our trip. A little Cafe in Hanoi was the winner until we stumbled upon this one. Taste? Imagine the sweetest thing you've ever tasted, multiple that sweetness by 1,056,897, condense it to the consistency of mud, add more sugar, then serve in a cup for breakfast. Each sip provided such an hallucinatory sugar high that I saw colours bleed from the walls while polar bears in bowler hats juggled chainsaws while gyrating to Madonna's "Into the Groove"... Maybe mine was spiked, I can't be sure.



Hanging out...

Shopping even... Being a leftie I thought I'd found the perfect shop but the left ain't what it used to be. It cost me €15 for a Che Guevarra stubby holder and €20 for a Marx 2008 pin up calendar but it was worth it for Marx's pose in July... grr tiger!

OK there was some tourist action as well. We stopped our rigourous regime of eating and drinking to make a stop at the Gaudi La Sagrada Familia. It is the biggest Catholic Basillica in Spain and based on the designs of an architect (Antonio Gaudi) under the influence of either LSD or hot chocolate, I can't be sure. Unlike traditional church architects, Gaudi wasn't a big fan of straight lines so the whole thing kind of looks like a 5 year old's paper mache model of a church, only made of stone and a trillion times bigger. The problem is that they've been building this thing for 125 years and its still not finished so it kind of comes across like a very beautiful construction site.

When you look closely at the plans, it appears that the finished product will be twice the height of what it is today which makes the projected finish date of 2026 seem somewhat optimistic (Gaudi originally estimated that it would be completed in 2582 after 700 years of building, true story). I did wonder how they funded this ongoing work but that was explained on my entry ticket which said "your admission fee will contribute to the ongoing construction of this building which will never, ever finish because its such a nice little earner and did you see the plans? That shit is crazy." It was written in Spanish but I'm pretty sure that's what it said.

Considering the that the plans were drawn up in the 19th century, it is a pretty amazing achievement because the designs are a little, well, whacky for a conservative Catholic community. Last time I saw those knight guys they were chasing Frodo through middle earth...

But the church had very cool doors.

Spain's most famous son Christopher Columbus points us to the nearest pub... or America... or something... Poor Christopher, if you look closely at the hair on the statue, its white from the years of accumulated bird crap which literally makes him a shit head BOOM BOOM! If only Basil Brush could swear, he'd tell jokes like that.

We also spent a lot of time checking out the amazing graffiti around town although I have to admit...

...this was my favourite. Proving that bad taste is universal, some genius has spray painted that shed with the immortal words "Punk Rock, Avril Lavigne, My Chemical Romance, Sum 41." Sometimes I weep for the sanity, safety and future of our children...

Anyhow, I liked Barcelona so much Ruth bought me a snow dome. Hours of endless entertainment. Barcelona. Go there. End of story. Next stop Berlin.