“Why would you leave the summer and go to the winter”?

I got asked this a lot and the answer is for love. Makes you do some crazy things. Bec had been offered a marketing internship in Essen just outside of Dusseldorf, I had the flexibility to pick up and go over so I did. You have to remember that for me, seeing snow and experiencing the cold was something new. Growing up mostly in Queensland or 90% of places in Australia for that matter, you can’t have those experiences. Was it too cold? Fucking oath it was, but still, I have fond memories of the experience already.

It was a 12 week trip in all, so I’ll be mindful to keep it short and punchy as possible.

I connected with Bec in Paris as her two week break commenced, shortly before Christmas. Paris was ok, I’m not sure but I think it’s around 20 countries I’ve visited now and Paris was the first time I had felt unsafe. I wasn’t sure why, but it just didn’t feel right and I told Bec to hold her handbag tight. That instinctive feeling was right when 15 minutes later we watched a lady have her phone stolen from her. It was literally taken from her hand, the thief casually walked away. He picked the wrong bitch to mess with though. This woman was 5 foot high, seemingly from a rough part of the US and she staunched the cunt. The thief returned her phone just to shut her up and stop the slapping to the head.

Paris had all the sights and things you expected but nothing really wowed me. When I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, I had expectations, but it wowed me. The Eiffel Tower and it’s friends didn’t. The people for the most part were a bunch of snotty nosed tools, with a few helpful, locals mixed in. Also if I’m honest, wine, cheese and bread aren’t three of my favourite things so I couldn’t really get into the cuisine either. One of the funnier times was on the walk to the Eiffel Tower, where a shady looking ‘shell game’ was being run. There were quite a few people playing though, lots of noise and being a confirmed “sicko on the punt”, it peaked my interest. The turnover of Euros and cheering from the people playing seemed fishy. Why would these people keep playing a game where they are likely to lose and on top of that be betting 50 or 100 Euros at a time (then again Pokies players do this in their droves)? 5 or 10 Euros, ok, I understand, but there was big cash being turned over here. Something wasn’t right. What really gave it away was Bec and I could see which cup the ball was under, yet these people at 50 Euros a hit would pick the wrong cup repeatedly. Bec and I have good eyes but how can we both be seeing it and the people paying and playing can’t? I decided to walk away from the game and watch from 25 meters away, almost instantly they stopped playing, until another tourist came along and BOOM, the game would take off again. It was clear that they were all in on it at this point. I later found out that many people have been stung playing this in Paris and other areas of Europe (I thought I was sick, read some of the stories in the comments).

I must give an honourable mention to Palace of Versailles though. Thanks to @armodan for putting us on to it. It was a bit of a shame not to see the gardens in full flight of summer, but still this was certainly worth the 45 minute train ride each way, very cool. Paris overall is one of those places that I can say; “been there, done that”, highly unlikely to visit again though.

 

White Christmas in Vienna. No, not the “Devil’s Dandruff”, actual snow was forecast which for a couple of Aussie’s was exciting to think about. We stayed in an AirBnB smack bang in the middle of the action. The pebble stoned roads and Renaissance style buildings were quite attractive on the eye. Our options for food were thin night 1 as it was the night before Christmas Eve. In Austria they have their Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve, weirdos. Additionally we had a Vegetarian out with us this night which made restaurant selection more difficult. We ate at Morris Restaurant & Bar, what a fucking shit hole. There is nothing good you could say about it (see some of the scathing reviews here), not even the drinks were good, well, they just didn’t come at all so it was hard to tell. To the waiter’s credit he came to the table and said “I made a mistake, I’ll kill myself later”, sadly, I saw him the next day serving tables and he wasn’t dead. Other than that culinary experience, Vienna was beautiful. I really loved it and would like to see more of Austria one day.

I had been to Prague once before with four mates. Once I saw the itinerary was missing the “four floors of whores club”, I knew it would be a different trip from the last. News to me that Prague has a castle, was that there when I was here 7 years ago? The castle was a good site to see actually, I get into that sort of shit and we had a great view of the city at the end of our walk through. Pro tip; get the bus up to the top and walk down the hill through the castle, particularly good if you’re lazy like me. News.com.au listed the Astronomical Clock as the worst tourist attraction in Europe and our free walking tour guide said people are often let down by the hourly show. But the most let down are the people who show up at 11pm daily to watch. The clock only does an hourly show from 9am-10pm. Having a sadistic streak, I made sure I was there at 11pm one night to watch the disappointment on the tourists faces, pleasing stuff. Legend has it that Master Hanuš; creator of the clock had his eyes pulled out by the King so he couldn’t make another clock like it. So to fuck them up, he threw himself into the cogs of the clock, broke the clock and committed suicide at the same time. Being the only one that knew how to make/ fix it, the clock remained unused for 100 years I think it was. What a savage cunt. Ate great food in Prague, our favourite was Lokal, place was fucking amazing. We got told “if you eat somewhere where it feels like the waitress is about to punch you in the face and beer is less than 50 korunas then you’re in the right place”. Lokal definitely ticked all those boxes.

Berlin, against seemingly all other points of view, I didn’t rate. One of my best mates lives there so thats a credit to it, but other than that, pretty ordinary joint. I mean the war stuff was quite interesting, in a horrifyingly confronting way. After a while though, it’s like “ok Hitler was a cunt, I get it”. Did spend New Years there which turned out to be a flop because Bec got lost from the group we were with and I spent 45 mins including while the countdown was on looking for her. Fearing the worst, I was running around like Liam fucking Neeson in ‘Taken’, having visions of her being drugged, rapped and organs sold on the freezing streets of Berlin somewhere. Needless to say when she was found, she had all her organs.

Home was in Essen, just outside Dusseldorf. Pretty sure I was the first tourist to come to Essen because the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor was to go to the shopping centre. Fuck me, this place was about as shit as it comes for things to do. There were some good places around to visit, apparently. I didn’t go, I just couldn’t deal with the weather all in all, just wore me down. The whole thing of putting on 50 items of clothing to go get a Döner was doing my fucking nut in. Living in the cold sucks, good to visit, but living there was mostly shit, we have it so good in Australia, made me realise that. Bec and I shared her University accommodation for 10 weeks, I think a good real estate agent would have described the space as “cosy”. It was mostly self contained though, with a shared kitchen. Was good for me as I got to stay rent free as the cost was already covered in Bec’s internship costing. The best thing about Essen was the trips on the Autobahn when we went too and from Berlin each time. Got something with a little more power for the 2nd trip and had it sailing along at 240 k’s which was fun.

Got over to the land of Fosters beer and terrible teeth. Was good fun actually, caught up with a few boys from Twitter. It’s a strange feeling actually, meeting someone you’ve chatted to a lot online, feels like you’ve known them a long time despite never having met. I started out in London where the great man @EWThief145 took me into his home. While there caught up with a few other boys from Twitter including; @ravi_layer@SimUKCricket@Ben_E89 & The Universe Mong @WoakesBravo4lyf . NFL playoffs were happening while I was there, so one night we all got together at ‘The Hippodrome’ in London. They have a filth setup there where you can watch the game on a big screen in a theatre type setup. The view from the top was exceptional, the beers and wings weren’t bad either. After the game, @WoakesBravo4lyf and I hit the Blackjack tables, not sure how he went but I was launching in like any “BIG STRONG AUSSIE” would and did my fucking conkers. HOUSE ALWAYS WINS!

After a few more nights on the town, pissing up around London, I caught the coach up to ‘the Toon’ to see @JM5portsAnalyst. I scored a good deal on a room through @JM5portsAnalyst, a typical truck stop type motel setup, basic but got what you need, bed, bathroom and TV. As we walked off with the key the lady behind the counter said “have fun youse two”, fuck sake, she thinks we’re about to plot each other. @JM5portsAnalyst would be so lucky, believe you me. Ducked up the road later for a few bevies, the drunker this cunt got, the harder it was to understand him. It was like he was speaking another language, later I found out he was, kept talking about “the Ben”, “the Ben” this, “the Ben” that. Not to be rude I’m thinking “Ben” must be his brother in law or a mate he was talking about earlier. I didn’t say anything until I was so lost and asked “who is Ben”? “The Bairn, my daughter, thats what we call a kid up here”. Mental patients these Northerner’s how the fuck do you get “bairn” from “baby”.

Got out to a Toon, FA Cup replay, fuck the city was rocking that night. I quite liked Newcastle actually, was something charming about the place, sort of small town vibe, but clearly very established. The locals turned out in their droves for the match, incredible scenes. We went to a few bars before hand for an authentic night out, cheap piss, no fucking around, genuine experience. Chinese dinner before the game too, but no discount for the work @JM5portsAnalyst  had done at the shop 6 months back had him absolutely seething. No piss allowed at the football, fucking what? Never heard of such a thing, how come all these fights and things happening but everyone is sober? Sniffed some out at half time though down under the stands. Few songs were sung by ‘the Toon’ supporters about Dwight Yorke and his retarded kid and most importantly the home side got the win!

There was one more trip back to Berlin, mainly went back because of my mate who lives there. He wasn’t there last time we visited. There’s not much to say I didn’t already say, shit hole to me, but some would love it.

Aix-en-Provence was an absolute highlight of the holiday. This place was incredible. I absolutely loved it! I’m told the whole southern part of France is amazing, sadly didn’t have much time to explore it this time but I will be back. The way the trip to “Aix” came about was a one in a million really. Hobart, Australia v South Africa, 3rd test, I was there for the cricket and stayed in an AirBnB with 5 other guests. Truth is, the place wasn’t really fit for 7 of us (5 guests and 2 hosts), but there was no room in Hobart. With the test on (and something else I can’t remember), everything was booked. Making the most of it, I suggested that we all go out for dinner together. We all got on great and when Dom and Mon found out I was coming to Europe they said I really should come and see Aix-en-Provence. Fast forward 4 months and we had arrived in “Aix”.

I’m so glad we made it over there on a weekend trip. The whole experience was made particularly special by the fact that Dom and Mon lived in an 18th century mansion. This place was huge and still very much in its original form inside and out. The kitchen had been re-done, but other than that, you didn’t have to imagine how this would have looked when it was built. The garden grounds were beautifully manicured and considering the vacinity to the city centre, quite large. We stayed in our own wing with a bathroom, bedroom and sitting area. It was magnificent. The city itself was beautiful, quite quaint, yet it still had a modern edge. The shopping there was extremely high end, all the big brands there in original architecture. Food incredible and the weather is great 99% of the year I’m told, mind you we did hit one day of rain whilst there. We will definitely be back to explore the coastline in the near future.

Brugge was the last stop before beginning the trek home. It was like a cleaner version of Amsterdam to me. I liked it without being in love with it. I think by this stage I’d seen a lot of similar type cities already. Got to see the first stock exchange ever created, think to this day it still runs out of the same building. Did share an experience with Bec one night where we split a “dip, sip, trip” chocolate drink. Fucking near killed me, the head movies I was having were not healthy. Will never forget it mind you, was quite the “trip”.

It was cheaper to stop in Japan on the way home, having heard nothing but great things, we decided to stay for a few weeks. It was really cool to be able to connect with Bec’s two sisters and their partners on this leg of the trip. Most of them hadn’t left Australia before so it was always going to be great to share that moment with them. We started out in Tokyo and as typically happens when on tour somewhere, everyone got a bit excited early and really gave the piss and karaoke a good nudge in Golden Gai. We got to the fish market and auction which wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but the exclusivity of the auction gave it some importance I guess. Would have been cool if there was a way to know how much the Tuna was being sold for.

A bullet train (which was an absolute experience) up to Iiyama Station was the next leg of the Japan adventure. From there a bus up the range to our accommodation at Nozawaonsen. Just like everything else in Japan, the snow had been talked up massively to me. Like everything else in Japan, it lived up to the hype. Wow. What a great little city with amazing snow falls. We only had 4 nights and 5 days there but in that time, managed to get an overnight fall of FOUR METERS OF SNOW! Expecting a big fall the night before I remember looking at a 7 meter tree outside our room window with about 1 meter of the stump covered. In the morning I could see around 1 meter of the top of the tree only. The fields were excellent, well maintained and our accommodation had a private Onsen. After a big day on the slopes, come home, put your stuff in the dry room downstairs and then jump straight into your private Onsen, incredible. Nozawaonsen is home to some snow monkeys too which I had to see. Seen tonnes of monkeys in my travels over the years, but never ones that chill in Onsens in the snow.

Honourable mention to Kyoto. Definitely enjoyed it, quite original and authentic in its ways. Got to the Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji) which was a highlight. Seen so many temples they’re coming out of my “boonty”. But special ones like that are a must see.

 

Cheers Mac

 

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