Back in New York

After spending my first Christmas in London, I find myself back in New York visiting family and friends. Christmas ended up the same as what one would be at home with plenty of movies, food and family, which this year we ended up skype-ing in via webcam. Our virtual family gathering was great fun and made me realist how I don’t really miss the hear or humidity at this time of year in Australia.

Having done most tourist attractions in New York, this year my sister and I had a trip planned to visit Boston. I can’t wait for that because I had so many great memories of the city when I visited it, now, seven years ago.

A long weekend in Barcelona

In an endeavour to escape the bitter cold of England, I’d booked to travel to Barcelona a couple of weekends ago with my mate Nikhil. Unfortunately we didn’t escape the cold as we’d expected with temperatures on par with the near zero degrees but at least we had perfectly blue skies for almost the entire weekend. We stayed in a small hotel just one street away from the main tourist drag, La Ramblas, full of touts and tourist traps. They even had an excessive number of questionable ladies of the night, who were, frankly, rather direct in their approach with people walking up and down the street. Other than that, everything else made me think that Barcelona is a wonderfully liveable city.


Barcelona has plenty of sights to see if you’re visiting for the weekend, with plenty of amazing Gaudi buildings sprawled throughout the city, and his influence still affecting many designs today. I think we managed to visit pretty much all of the buildings, at least from the outside, since each cost at least €8 to walk around inside and would have cost us over fifty quid each time. Casa Milà is an amazing building, full of rounded edges and strange looking balconies. Fortunately they also have a free museum at the bottom that allows you small glimpses of the interior of one of Gaudi’s buildings. We also visited the, never to be finished for another hundred years, Sagrada Familia, an impressive gothic church, the outdoor area with a great view of the city Park Guell, and the George and the Dragon tribute Casa Batlló. I also made a special trip out to see Barcelona’s version of the Gherkin, the Torre Agbar that appeared much more luminescent though is also not as tall.


Food is a huge part of the Spanish lifestyle and with plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants to whittle the time away it was almost too hard to choose which ones to go to. Unfortunately one of the things that I couldn’t quite get used to was the siesta period that means that all of these places shut from early afternoon to about 8 in the evening when they start to reopen. On one evening, to avoid freezing in the cold outside, we even stopped at an Irish bar until we thought some of the restaurants would be open again. I’d highly recommend people visit the La Boqueria market, off a side street from La Ramblas, where all the locals go to buy all their local produce and plenty of quick, cheap and amazing quality lunchtime foods.


On the Saturday night we went out to battle the only rain that we had for the entire weekend, to watch the Barcelona vs Madrid football match. We had hoped to find a bar full of local supporters to watch the game with plenty of places with TV screens but all we could find was a whole heap of other foreigners trying to do the same. Fortunately it was a great match with with the first goal of the evening falling in the last ten minutes against Madrid, shortly followed by the finishing second goal that stirred everyone in the audience to celebrate.

Beach at Night

I got a good sense walking around the city that Barcelona has a wonderful life and work balance. I’d definitely like to return (though this time in the summer) and just relax into the Spanish lifestyle, complete with siesta and all. Find the photos from the weekend here.

Christmas Markets in Frankfurt

The combination of commuting a fairly long distance for work, and several weekends away means that I haven’t had a chance to catch up on the blog. Fortunately the weekends away have all been put to good use, and that means anything not related to work. Three weekends ago now, I ended up in Frankfurt for a long weekend. The combination of cheap flights with Ryanair, and an offer to stay at my mate, Martin’s place meant that there was little reason not to go.


Frankfurt is home to the “financial capital” of Europe, and is also the place where I believe the Euro is minted. Like most financial cities, it’s chock full of commuters, since why would bankers want to live in the city where they work when they can afford many other places to live? This means that strangely enough, when I got there Thursday evening, it seemed much busier than the rest of the weekend. I’d have to recommend anyone flying for the weekend to avoid flying Ryanair to Frankfurt. Firstly, they fly in the inappropriately named Frankfurt-Hahn airport that is actually in Hahn, and is two hours away from Frankfurt. Of course, there is a bus (which is additional) but it only departs every hour. Fortunately I wasn’t so much so in a rush.


I don’t know what it is, but I really enjoyed my time in Frankfurt. Despite the terrible weather where it seemed to rain more on than off, the area really seemed very liveable to me, and I think I really liked the thought of that. I wandered around many different parts, and even stopped in one of the many museums they had all around. I think the museum was one of modern art that had a exhibition showcasing the works of Takashi Murakami. Some of the works were amazing, with large statues built out of his drawings to be more than lifesize simply breathtaking, whilst a number of others slightly odd and definitely much more risque (NSFW). Funnily it wasn’t at all hard to remember that I was in Germany with so many attendants all over the place making it impossible to take any pictures. One even shouted at me in German as I leant forward to take a closer look at some figurines behind glass. I’m guessing she was saying to not touch it, but for that particular display, I couldn’t see how I would have been able to.


Of course, one of the great things about visiting Germany at this time of year is all the Christmas markets, crammed with loads of tourists and locals buying Christmas decorations and memorabilia and tucking into all the grilled sausages, fried potato mixtures and the must have Gluwein (mulled wine), perfect when surrounded by tons of people in the cold and needing just that little bit extra to keep you warm.

Kerstin and Martin

I have to thank my wonderful host, Martin for letting me crash at his awesome pad – something you’d never ever be able to afford in, or around London and its great location made it easy to get in and out of Frankfurt, and had an ever better night in Mainz with his girlfriend, Kerstin, at the much larger Christmas markets practicing what little German I knew and just enjoying the overall Christmas spirit. Check out the rest of the photos from the weekend here.

Music, music, music

The last two weeks have been fairly busy and in between travelling away on long weekends, I’ve managed to get to a few concerts around townw. Last Monday (December 1, 2008), I caught The Kooks at one of my favourite venues, The Roundhouse. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that their music is indie pop, but regardless of genre, their high energy songs and enthusiasm mean that they just put on an amazing set. They played a mixture of their first and second albums with a couple of new songs thrown in just for the mix. Of course, the only downer at the end of the evening was trying to escape The Roundhouse with their main staircase the only way to exit. I can’t imagine what it would be like there if they ever had a fire (although fortunately they also have the lovely outdoor terrace to escape to I guess).

The Wednesday after (December 3, 2008), I saw Coheed and Cambria’s Neverender Tour at The Astoria. This was my first, and sadly, probably my last time to go to see a gig in one of the more relatively intimate venues in London (since it will be demolished to make way for the crossrail). It’s a great sized venue with the standing area being slightly wider than it is deep meaning that pretty much every gets a great view of the stage. Anyway, back to CoCa… I was surprised to first read about CoCa’s Neverender Tour, a series of gigs, one night after another where they would play one of their albums each night, with a bonus acoustic set for those fans that went every single night. Although I like them, four nights in a row was a bit excessive (and impossible since I was leaving the country for a long weekend) yet it still seemed to sell out. Gerrod and his mate Al, were one of the many that went every night.

As far as the evening went, their progressive rock went down a treat with the audience with a lot of people in the audience singing along to many of their songs. Funnily enough, their lyrics are quite different from your typical band, instead reflecting the storyline and tales of the fictional universe from The Armory Wars comics, written by one of the band members.

Finally, on Tuesday this week (December 9, 2008), I saw Californian born and Texan raised musician, Ben Kweller at the Union Chapel. Firstly, the venue is simply amazing with fantastic acoustics and an extremely intimate feel. Unfortunately I found the pews to be quite uncomfortable by the end of the evening. Extremely talkative and obviously very friendly, Ben Kweller struck me as an American version of Ben Lee. Kweller seemed to have some story to tell about a lot of his songs and talked casually to the audience. Also, considering it was just him and his buddy, Kitt Kitterman, I liked the way that he still seemed to be energised, and unphased by anything, such as when a guitar string broke for their “specially tuned” encore song and he simply shrugged it off and changed songs until Kitt mended his guitar.

I like jumping in ice puddles

… was the quote in the guest book when Wes and I went hiking around Loch Muick. This weekend, I went to visit both Wes and Stacey who’d moved to Aberdeen about six months ago, some good friends from back home in Australia. I’d spent all of about two hours in Aberdeen before, on a previous trip to the Speyside region, though this time I was looking forward to just hanging out, and seeing the local countryside for a bit of a winter walk.

Everyone I’d talked to about going hiking in north Scotland at this of year thought I was mad given the combination of short hours of sunlight, and the cold and wet weather conditions making it all the more difficult. I had come prepared though with thermals, over trousers and new hiking boots and we certainly needed it. Luckily we had absolutely amazing weather for pretty much most of the weekend, with blazing blue skies full of sunshine (at least when the sun was up) and the only chill coming from the winds.

Wes had Friday off so we planned out our hike Thursday night, looking for one that would take around four hours as we had to account for the small number of sunlight hours. We settled for a lakeside hike instead of a peak, as Loch Muick was something that he was yet to do and I was happy to see a loch (i.e. lake) in great weather. It also helped that it was within reasonable driving distance. We stopped in Ballater on the way to grab some sandwiches for lunch, and with a backpack full of supplies we started out on the trek.

Bitterly cold doesn’t really begin to describe the first parts of our walk with a strong gust flowing over the loch that continually cut into our face. Despite the many layers we both wore, it still proved to be a shock to the system. The wind eventually died down by the time that we hit the lakeside, and we got to enjoy the amazing scenery. We managed to see some amazing scenery including some awesome frozen puddles, a gushing waterfall, some deer, and what we think was black grouse (it was a black bird with a red beak that looked like the combination between a duck and a chicken). Somehow we also ended up chasing a pheasant on our drive back, and randomly passed a peacock that happened to sit in someone’s backyard. Exhausted, we had a dinner at the Potarch Hotel, carpeted with far too much tartan, but at least had a very warming fireplace to sit by and enjoy dinner.

Stacey joined us on Saturday, and we all celebrated the news of her passing her recent exam that she’d been studying for quite a number of months. We had a lovely day, heading out to places like Stonehaven (which I still can’t pronounce as the locals do), seeing a frosty beach (what the?), and the lovely Dunnottar Castle, that sits alongside the coast on what looks like a donut shaped island. We also ended up having a great dinner at Cafe 52 (with fairly poor service) though a cosy room that fitted us perfectly.

I had a wonderful weekend, and I have to thank Wes and Stacey for being such wonderful hosts, sharing their wonderful lifestyle with me, and giving me a great local tour of the surrounding area. Find the rest of the photos from the weekend here.