Saturday, July 29, 2006

5 cities in photos

Bern, Switserland

The story goes that the founding fathers of Bern didn't know what to call their new town. They decided to go hunting, and name the town after whatever animal they successfully hunted. Things could have gone very differently if they'd come across chickens. In any case, the Swiss word for "bears" is close to "Bern". So the obvious thing is to chuck some bears in a bearpit in the centre of town (incidentally right next to my "local" in Bern, die Alte Tramdepot, where I sampled three different beers in the space of six days).

Salzburg, Austria

The castle in Salzburg. This is a proper castle, and looks like castles should. Way too many castles in Europe just look like churches.

Even in Austria, who didn't even play in the Football World Cup, the crowds turned out to watch on the big screen in the square. The Sound of Music was just on TV, and I'm pretty certain the Von Trapp family skipped past this fountain dressed in curtains. Salzburgers don't think much of The Sound of Music. Oh, and apparently at the end of the movie, when they flee over the mountains, they're heading straight for Hitler's summer house. Apparently.

Berlin, Germany

The Berlin wall at East Side. The dudes kissing are Honecker and Brezhnev. Below the painting it says, in German, "My God, help me survive this deadly love". Below you can see part of Checkpoint Charlie - a painting of it, that is. I didn't make it to the real one.

Brandenburg gate - formerly part of the Wall. Imagine my delight at walking down Unter Den Linden towards this iconic symbol of Berlin, only to be confronted by a giant football. Stupid World Cup.

And this is just a really cool sculpture on the Spree. I think in East Berlin, but could be West. It should be irrelevant now, but sadly the difference between former East and former West is still quite marked.

Potsdam, Germany

Potsdam is in the former East Germany. Its university is housed in the Sans Souci palace grounds. That's pretty cool. There's also lots of impressive gardens, statues, and this Chinese tea house.

This photo was taken as we were rowing down the river Spree in Potsdam. I like the reflections. Luckily I managed to keep out of shot the two naked guys who were sitting in the shallows of the river drinking beer, and who stood up as we rowed around the bend. Ewwww.

Prague, Czech Republic

Czech Republic was my new country this trip. I actually worked out that I had already been to 35 countries without counting Czech Republic, so now I'm one up on my age. That takes the pressure off, phew. I absolutely adored Prague, and took way too many photos to put on the blog (one of these days I'll get around to getting flicker). This is a view of the city and Vltava river from the castle (Hradcany).

And this is a cool random angel hanging from a tree - somewhere in the Old Town, I think.

Prague also has some awesome clocks, like the clock in the Jewish Quarter that goes anti-clockwise (huh?). This is an zodiac clock, pointing to Cancer.

Next installment: Rapperswil, Brighton and Vientiane (the only photos I took in Bangkok were of family...)


Monday, July 17, 2006

Secret shopper review: Chateau Mac

From the greeting at the train station to the personalised drop off at the airport, my stay at Chateau Mac gets a five star rating. The delightful Ms Mac is, as advertised, delightful. The charming Mr Mac is likewise charming and very well trained in refilling vodka and tonics. The children are cheeky / disarming / well-behaved / fairly well-trained (I guess Ms Mac has had more time to work on Mr Mac). Suspiciously, the middle child's absence was explained away vaguely as 'staying over at a friends'. I'm fairly certain Chateau Mac does not boast a dungeon.

Ms Mac very graciously dealt with my last minute announcement that I do not eat meat (making me instantly less popular with Mr Mac who had been looking forward to a dinner of sausages). The wine flowed and so did the conversation, touching on topics ranging from bloggers we have met, bloggers we haven't met, speculation on bloggers' lives, and so on. I believe we also talked about non-blog-related things, like the price of petrol, Harry Potter and open source programming (which got me back into Mr Mac's good books).

I was treated to the extra large mattress (there seemed to be some discussion amongst management on this) and was not forced to use the timer when showering. My stay at Chateau Mac included a personalised walking tour down to the village and a viewing of Big Brother UK complete with commentary.

The following day I took up the offer of a lunch tour to Rapperswil (renamed Slappersville by one witty blogger), incorporating such sights as the lake that Ms Mac swam across recently. The entertaining and relaxing stay was capped off with a delicious pizza for lunch, and then a quick coffee at the airport before my flight to London.

All in all I recommend Chateau Mac very highly. I had a fantastic time and am very pleased to add Ms and Mr Mac to my list of friends-who-live-in-cool-places-so-I'll-keep-in-touch-with-them-in-case-I-ever-go-there-again.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bohemian rhapsody

Prague is seriously beautiful. And very Bohemain (cos it's in Bohemia, geddit?). I could live here, I reckon. As long as it's never winter. The language is musical (all those soft z's) and the architecture is stunning as is the history of the place - Good King Wenceslas, Dvorak, Mozart and Kafka all used to hang out here - although not together, I believe. In an hour I'm going on a four hour walking tour of Hradcany (the main castle), the Old Town, the Jewish quarter and the Lesser quarter.

I caught the train yesterday from Berlin to Prague. We passed through Dresden and I was trying to find some historical association in the recesses of my brain and all I could come up with was The Dresden Dolls. I had similar problems with Spandau - for some reason it made me think of ballet.

Now I'm going to go and find some lunch before starting this tour. Lunch will no doubt include a half litre glass of beer - it's standard. Czech Republic is of course the home of pilsner (Plzen is just to the west of Prague) and the original budweiser (Budvar) - which is reportedly miles better than US budweiser - but that wouldn't be hard to achieve.

As wonderful as Berlin and Prague are, of course the most exciting event of this trip is yet to come - tomorrow brings me to Chateau Mac! How excitement!


Sunday, July 09, 2006

Special report from Berlin

Views were divided yesterday as to whether the Colombian singer Juanes is sexier with short hair or long. Flying Kiwi thought he looked better with long hair, as he was when she saw him in Cali in September. Her friend thought he looked much better with the short haircut he sported at the Berlin concert of his Mi Sangre tour yesterday. Although Flying Kiwi disagreed, ¨I wouldn´t kick him out of bed¨, she said.

The concert was very enjoyable, and identical to the one in Cali at the beginning of the tour. Flying Kiwi maintains that she is not a groupie, but that it was pure coincidence that she was in Berlin on the same day as Juanes. She is also in Berlin the same day as the World Cup final, and yet somehow finds herself not really caring and instead blogging at the exact time the match is on.

In other local news, Potsdam is very nice and so is Berlin* and sources close to Flying Kiwi think she would enjoy living here. Flying Kiwi is skeptical of the enjoyment factor of winter in Berlin, but concedes that is pretty cool and has about a thousand times more culture than regional Australia.


*photos have been taken and will be posted at some point

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The other night I was trying to find a friend who was at a restaurant 100m from where we were. My phone is Australian and his is Colombian, so I guess the signal went from Switzerland to Australia to Colombia back to Switzerland. International roaming is kind of cool.

I can tell I've been around German speakers too much when I start saying "sheeps" and "willage".*

I've just been for a walk in Gurten - the hills above Bern. The mountains were hiding unfortunately (they are shy because the mountains peak) in the haze. It's cool how lots of places here are named after cheese - Emmental, Gruyere, etc.

I don't have any more photos yet because I'm not really on holidays yet - I'll start being a tourist on Saturday.


* I am in no way making fun of their accents. Their English is way better than my German. It's just cute how they say "sheeps" and "willage".