Nothing much to report from Amsterdam, really. I’ve been sleeping in and wandering the streets since I got here, really. Which is more or less what I was hoping to do. Reading, listening to podcasts, trying to avoid the local food. That sort of thing.
The highlight of my stay so far was the Rijksmuseum. It was closed for renovation for nearly ten years, so the last time I visited was in the 1990s. Back then, it was kind of baffling. A maze of white rooms full of furniture and porcelain, organised chronologically, I suppose, but basically incomprehensible. After the renovation, the furniture and porcelain is still there, of course, but it’s all organised much more clearly and comprehensibly. And there’s a Rijksmuseum app, of course, with any number of guided tours on it, which helped me to find and appreciate the best bits of the collection. Tomorrow, mood permitting, I’ll spend the morning at the Van Gogh Museum.
Just under 12 hours before the announcement of the postal survey result. It happens at midnight here. I’m a bit apprehensive about being alone when the news breaks, to be honest, so I’ll be spending the evening with my own people, at the Spijker Bar in Kerkstraat.
Leaving here on Friday and spending a couple of days in Paris, which is a city I find a bit intimidating. Then off to some new places in Southern France and Italy, I think. I’ll work out the details later.
I’m in Amsterdam now, in a darkened pub, drinking Amstel and typing this post on my phone with a Microsoft foldable keyboard. I’ll upload it when I get back to my hotel.
It’s my fourth time here: apart from Tokyo, this is the foreign city that I’ve spent the most time in. It’s still amazingly familiar. Every street, every square brings back memories.
I plan to keep most of those memories to myself. I came here twice in the 90s with Robert. The first time was the first time I ever came to Europe. Robert and I caught the ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. We arrived after a sleepless and unpleasant ferry ride, and the first thing we saw was a guy rollerskating beside a canal, freezing his arse off in tiny latex shorts. We immediately decided to stay for a week. The second time, we stayed here for two weeks over Christmas and New Year. It snowed. It was magic.
We were young then, and we had a fantastic time. But that’s all I intend to say. On my way here I walked past the sites of some of our best exploits. I regret nothing.
In 2008, I stayed here by myself for a few days. According to that trip’s travel blog, I basically spent a couple of days wandering the city, drinking beer and only occasionally wandering into a museum or art gallery.
This time I’m staying here for a week, but I have no idea what I’m doing after that. I’ll have to make a decision tomorrow, I think. Southern France, and then straight to Italy, probably. I’ll sit in a café with my computer tomorrow morning and do some proper planning for the next few weeks. Suggestions welcome: feel free to comment on this post.
My last few days in England ended up being terribly busy: I really should have arranged to stay a few days longer. I had a lovely evening in Brighton with Stephen and David. I went to Manchester to meet the inimitable Simon Caterall and to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street. I also met charming friend-of-the-podcast Colin Neal, had dinner with Sarah G, lunch with Peter G, and tea with Angela, Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth, who made me incredibly welcome on my last night in London. And I experienced Southern Rail in a way that will help me to truly appreciate the jokes they make about it on the News Quiz.
Tomorrow: nothing. Reading and chilling. After that, my first visit to the Rijksmuseum since the first time I came to Amsterdam.
Watching: Season 1 of The Good Place. For the third time. And it’s still brilliant.
I’m in a pub just outside Euston Station, waiting for a train to Manchester. I’ve got a bit over an hour to wait; I think I overestimated how long it would take me to get here. The pub doesn’t have wifi — I’ll have to upload this post when I get on the train* — but it does have bitter.
I arrived in London last Thursday morning. Before that, I had flown about 15 hours from Sydney to Dubai, had had about two hours in Dubai Airport, and had flown eight hours from Dubai to London. In first class — did I mention I was flying first class? — you can lie completely flat and sleep, and I so on the way to Dubai, I managed about nine hours of sleep, at about the same time as I would have slept if I had stayed in Sydney. By the time I landed at Gatwick at 6:40 AM, I had been awake for about 12 hours.
A car picked me up at the airport — first class — and drove me to the hotel in Whitechapel. It took about 2½ hours, with the traffic getting heavier and heavier as we approached our destination.
When I got to the hotel, they told me that the room wouldn’t be ready for about 4½ hours. I had wanted a nap and a shower; instead I ended up wandering down to the river and walking to the Embankment.
At just before 11 AM, I found a pub. One of the things I look forward to most in England is the warm, flat beer that clueless Australians used to enjoy mocking. I’m having one now. There was also a burger and chips, predictably terrible, but the beer was fantastic.
Got back to the hotel, waited half an hour, and then went up to the room. I know you’re supposed to try to stay awake until bedtime, and I know that sleeping all day in an exciting foreign city is a terrible waste, but I was asleep by 2:30 PM. I woke briefly at 4:30, and then slept all the way through till 3:30 AM.
As a result, it took me a couple of days to recover from the jetlag. I kept waking up at 1 or 2 or 3 AM. On Saturday, I accidentally slept in until 11:30 AM. Since then, I’ve been fine.
People to do
This Friday, I’m flying to Amsterdam: I’m only spending eight nights in the UK. Turns out, it’s not really going to be enough. There a lot more people to see than I expected.
So far, I’ve had a lovely breakfast at the Wolseley with Peter Griffiths, and a fantastic pub lunch with Peter and his long-time housemate Rebecca. I wandered through the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain with Angela Cartwright, and had afternoon tea with Angela and her family — Joseph, Alex and Elizabeth. I spent a lovely morning having breakfast with my former student Ian Goh. And I caught the train to Brighton to spend the afternoon with Stephen Kennedy and David Smith, followed by a pub roast, followed by beers in various Brighton pubs. I just left Brighton this morning.
(I’ve also uploaded an episode of Bondfinger and an episode of Flight Through Entirety. I wrote some of the show notes in Green Park, where I took the photo at the head of this post.)
Soon I’ll be heading up to Manchester, to make a pilgrimage to Canal Street (Queer As Folk, Cucumber), and to meet Simon Caterall for the first time, after months of fun interaction on Facebook. And when I get back, I’m catching up with Sarah G, and (hopefully) a couple of other people too. As well as catching up with everyone else one more time.
So it’s going to continue to be busy until I leave on Friday. After that, there will be weeks of travelling on my own. Should be fun.
Reading: Zealot, by Reza Aslan. (Saw a video promoting his new book about God. Turns out he’s hot.)
I’m writing this post in the First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport, just before catching a flight to London. The last time I was here was in 2008, the last time I took long service leave, and I was about to start a month-long trip travelling around Europe by train. I was flying economy, of course, but Calvin had used his point acquisition superpower to get me into this lounge before my flight.
But this trip will be much grander. Calvin has levelled up, and so I’m flying first class. And instead of a month-long trip, it’ll be two months. I’m spending a week in England first, catching up with friends, and then flying to Amsterdam. After that, nothing much has been decided. I want to go back to Sorrento and spend more than a week there, visiting ruins and museums and things, and chilling out and reading and drinking limoncello. But apart from that, I have no concrete plans.
I’m travelling on my own, so this is my diary. I hope you’ll check in with me from time to time. I’ll put up some photos and talk about what I’m up to. Feel free to comment on my posts. I’d love to hear from you. And I’d be very happy to hear your suggestions about places to visit; I’ve really got no idea right now.
And that’s that. Thank you to everyone who commented, and to everyone who told me that they were reading along, and to everyone else who’s been reading. I had a great time on the trip, much better than I could have imagined, and it was nice to think that I was somehow sharing my experiences with my friends.I’ll see you soon.
Our last day in Tokyo was largely uneventful. We took a quick trip back to Harajuku to check out a 100-yen shop. (These are great. Full of things shaped like cartoon animals that are good for opening jars.) Then a turn around a supermarket near our hotel in Shinagawa to make sure there were no foodstuffs unavailable in Australia that we hadn’t already bought. Then back to the hotel to pack up. Calvin filled two extra boxes with food, as well as the complementary contents of the daily-replenished minibar.
And then, the airport. Duty-free shopping, hanging round in the the airport lounge, killing time. The first leg was from Tokyo to Cairns: my first ever business class flight. I was a little underwhelmed, to be honest. I could survive seven hours sitting on broken glass with a gun to my head, provided I had video on demand, but on this flight there were only eight channels, and the highlight appeared to be Andrew Denton interviewing Rod Stewart. We did this flight on points; had it been with money, I don’t think I could justify spending thousands of dollars on a slightly bigger seat and much jollier flight attendants.
Anyway. We arrived in Cairns, and decided not to prolong the agony. Instead of waiting six hours for the next business class leg, we got straight back on the same plane in economy class. And two and a half hours later, we were in Sydney.
Saturday night we went for dinner to Shibuya, which, According to Calvin, has the busiest intersection in the world. It’s massive, with neon signs and animated billboards. And everyone in Tokyo was there. It made Piccadilly Circus look like Johnston Street, Annandale.
We were having dinner with a couple Calvin knew; we had run into them a couple of days earlier in the lobby of our last hotel. With the help of Nick, who knows Japanese, we found a good restaurant, full of locals, and had nice meal. We drank plum wine and cherry-blossom sake. Apparently there was whale bacon on the menu, but since I heard this as “quail bacon”, I wasn’t particularly shocked until later. Calvin didn’t have any, which was a surprise.
Sunday morning, on Nick’s advice, we went to Harajuku, which is apparently full of wacky young people dressed in cartoon-character-Victoriana-S & M-wear. It was so cold, though, that we were disinclined to explore, and only caught sight of one or two of the less extreme examples.
Then to the giant department stores of Shinjuku. This was fun, but I was already starting to feel unwell. I think parasites from the sushi I’ve been eating had invaded my cerebro-spinal fluid and were making my joints ache. Or something.
We met Ben Tupman and his girlfriend Satoko fo lunch in Shinjuku. We ate in a Korean barbecue restaurant, where we selected our own food and cooked it on a hotplate embedded in the table. Calvin tricked me into eating heart (again), and we may have overeaten in order to avoid the 500 yen fine for taking food and not finishing it.
During lunch, we discussed Calvin’s plans for eating fugu, the poisonous blowfish that nearly killed Homer Simpson in 1991. Fugu restaurants only serve fugu normally, but Ben looked at the menu that the concierge had given us, and helpfully informed me that if I didn’t feel up to fugu, the restaurant also offered shirako, which is the fugu’s sperm.
Unsurprisingly, by the time I got home, I was horribly nauseous, and I split the evening between groaning weakly and being sick. Sadly, neither of us got to taste any delicious fugu.
We got a phone call last night saying that Gracey had been turned in at a vet in Marrickville. Willey wasn’t mentioned. Years ago, they used to escape occasionally, but they would always be found nearby and together. Willey would always follow Gracey.
Calvin rang when the vet opened again this morning and was told that stupid, faithful Willey was at the vet’s too. Trish is going to pick them up this morning.
I’m very relieved. That was an unpleasantly anxious night.
Last full day today. We fly out at 9.25 pm tomorrow night.
Another great day yesterday. We got up horribly early in the morning to go to the fish markets at Tsukiji. Calvin had seen them on Lifestyle Food, and it was the first thing he wanted to do once he had finished working. There are some photos, as usual, but Calvin also took some video of people slicing up giant tunas with swords, or sawing up frozen ones with power tools. Awesome. There are live crabs, and giant scarlet octopuses. And you constantly have to dodge the noisy three-wheeled carts which zip among the stalls.
Sushi for breakfast, of course, and then back to the hotel to meet Ben. Ben took us to Ueno park, where all of the cherry blossoms were out. Ben reckoned that the park wasn’t very crowded, but he may have been in Tokyo too long: thousands of people had turned up to photograph the cherry blossoms, and the paths were lined with roped-off tarpaulins, which Ben said were reserved areas for companies. But they looked to me like they were full of hippies and vagrants rather than sober corporate types. We visited a shrine dedicated to the fox spirits, and a lake with swan-shaped paddle-boats, before heading off to the markets and the inevitable drink.
Calvin and I had an early night, narrowly avoiding another work dinner.
This morning I was woken by the news that two of Calvin’s dogs had escaped, but had been picked up and brought back home by someone kind who knew where they lived.
We visited Akihabara again this morning, and I showed Calvin the sights I had seen a few days early. Even he managed not to buy any electrical equipment. We met Calvin’s Japanese colleague Hayuru, who took us to lunch at a restaurant where they cook a kind of fishy noodly omelet on a hot plate embedded in the table.
Now we’re waiting to meet some of Calvin’s old gym friends, who we ran into in the lobby of the last hotel. We’re having dinner with them. I can’t say I’m enthusiastic, though. We just heard that the same two dogs escaped again this morning, and only one of them has been accounted for. I hope Willey is okay.
Calvin ended up getting back from his work dinner after 11.30 last night, long after I had fallen asleep. Right now I’m waiting for him in the glamorous hotel lobby, behind a bamboo garden and in front of a water feature. When he gets here, we’ll pick up our bags and head off to our last hotel. He assures me it will put this one in the shade.
After Calvin left for work this morning, I rang Ben Tupman, who took a year’s leave from Grammar last year and never came back. He’s living just out of Tokyo now. We’re catching up tomorrow, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve got lots of Japan questions to ask him, for a start. Like, how do you type? How do those handheld electronic dictionaries work? And would he consider wearing one of those surgical face masks if he caught a cold?
After speaking to Ben, I walked to the Imperial Palace Gardens, which are visible from the hotel room window. They are surrounded by a moat about five kilometres long, but most of them are actually open to the public. I walked around the moat and wandered through the gardens, spending a salutary few hours taking photographs of cherry blossoms. They’re really coming on now.
Then, by way of contrast, I went by metro to Akihabara, which is a busy and garish district, packed with stores selling consumer electronics. I worked my way from biggest to smallest. But I was very self-controlled. I added to my collection of screen protectors for the iPod touch, but didn’t buy anything else. I’ll be back, though: Calvin wants to go later to pick up one of those horrifying heated Japanese toilet seats with built-in bidet and water jet, and a mysterious third spray setting specifically for ladies. He’s been obsessed with them ever since we arrived.