Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Touchdown in Los Angeles

~ International travel can be quite confusing to the uninitiated. Last night, Tuesday, I uploaded a blog post from Auckland, New Zealand. And now here I am a day later posting another update from Los Angeles, California – and it is still Tuesday night! No wonder international flights leave passengers jet lagged, short tempered, and struggling to adjust to constantly changing time zones.

At 2.02pm local time, New Zealand flight NZ2 touched down at Los Angeles International Airport, otherwise known as LAX. It was the end of another uneventful flight spanning 10,590 kilometres, and eleven long hours from Auckland. All up I’ve spent at least 18 hours travelling (I’m too tired to work out the exact number). Right now as I sit in my Super 8 budget hotel room at LAX, I am delighted I made the decision not to fly through to New York, thereby saving another 6-8 hours of flying time, and the additional problem of trying to work out what to do after arriving at New York City’s JFK airport at one in the morning. I certainly had no intention of banging on the door of my host’s apartment at 3am or thereabouts asking to be let in.


Never the less, my stopover in L.A., is going to be short, sharp and shiny. Essentially, I’m here to let my body adjust to the change in time zones, so that when I reach New York I will be ready to hit the streets as soon as possible. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to spend a day and a half sleeping or sitting around watching cable television. Tomorrow I will go on one of those horrible all-in-one bus tours that cover most of the popular attractions around Los Angeles, if only to get a quick overview of the city.


My in-flight movie of choice this time was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a film based on the best selling book of the same name by Stieg Larsson. Several members of my family have been urging me to see the film, so as soon as I spotted it on the list of in-flight movies, I knew I had to watch it. I must say though, it was very disconcerting to be watching this film while sitting next to two young women. The film features several explicit sex scenes (even after being modified for air travel), graphic violence, lot’s of images of dead female murder victims, and other violent scenes. I don’t know if anyone else was watching the film over my shoulder, but I certainly felt conspicuous and even self-conscious at various points during the movie. Having said that – it is a very good film, and I’m glad I finally got to see it. Even if it was edited for our in-flight entertainment.


Getting through security at LAX was slow but without incident. After having my fingerprints taken and my face photographed for posterity, I was out on the street looking for my courtesy bus ride to the motel, which duly came and presented me with my first problem – no money for tips. It’s not as if the driver of the bus had to do very much. After all, I am quite capable of humping my own backpack and small case, but of course he wanted to show how efficient and accommodating he could be. So he loaded and unloaded them for me, and clearly expected a tip, which I just as clearly ignored, since I didn’t have any money handy to give him.


If the same driver gives me a ride back to the terminal on Thursday morning, I will make sure he gets an extra bonus for his efforts.


I must say, my energy levels are flagging fast at the moment, so I’m signing off. Time for a long hot shower, and meal at the Greek restaurant just around the corner. Later, gator…


Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mike_s_etc/

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Leg Down - One To Go

It's 7.30pm New Zealand time as I write this (5.00pm in Adelaide).

I've just completed the first leg of my trip around the world - Adelaide to Auckland - although I'm not spending any time exploring the 'land of the long white cloud'. There are better times of the year to travel New Zealand, unless you are into winter sports - and I'm not.

Got off to a good start this morning, thanks to Sarah-Jane, my long-suffering niece.

However, I had a moment of panic last night when I went to bed. Literally 30 seconds after I flipped out the light and put my head on the pillow, I suddenly thought: I don't have any printed details for my accommodations in Los Angeles. I had of course, booked a couple of nights in L.A. weeks ago, and I had copied the information into a couple of MS Word documents onto my laptop. But I had forgotten to make a print out of the information.

There I was, trying to get to sleep, while also trying to remember the name of the hotel and coming up with numerous variations of the place, but not the right name. I considered leaving it until this morning, but knew if I left it, I would never get to sleep from having the oversight play on my mind all night. There was nothing to be done but get back out of bed, unpack the laptop, power supply, cables, and pre-paid wifi dongle, boot up the computer, find the files on my machine and finally email them to myself so I could print them off this morning. All that duly done, I packed everything away again, and 50 minutes later hit the pillow once more.

But why did I remember this oversight at almost the last moment? How is it, that my subconscious was able to retrieve this information, when my conscious mind had forgotten these very important files? I have no idea of the answer to those questions, but I'm thankful for the gift. Truly, the human mind/subconscious is a wonderful thing.

In the end, it was an uneventful flight - just the way I like it. My inflight movie of choice was a second viewing of the South African film, District 9. I even got to sit next to the wing exit, which means that in the even of an emergency, I was the person designated to open the escape route onto the wing. Unfortunately, no-one explained if I had to wait until the plane came to a complete stop before I opened the door, or whether I could open it before we hit the ground. Fortunately, I didn't have to find out!

Livingston spent the whole flight tucked into the overhead storage locker - sleeping. At least, that's what I'm assuming. Anyway, he didn't complain too much, and I left him to it. I did take some photographs during the flight, but as yet I can't download them from camera for your viewing pleasure.

They will wait.

Just like I'm waiting for the next stage of the trip: Auckland to Los Angeles.

The first leg was easy. This next one will be a real back breaker, but with a bit of luck I hope to sleep most of the way. See you then, then.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

~ Well, yes – and no.


Meet my travelling companion, Livingstone, named in honour of the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Livingstone was created by my niece, Sarah-Jane Cook, a much underrated visual artist who works across many mediums. Since I generally travel on my own, we both thought (that is, Sarah-Jane and I), that it would be good if I had a travel buddy with me on my round the world trip, which begins in less than 24 hours. So, out of all the creatures and characters Sarah-Jane has created, I have selected Livingstone as my boon companion.


Livingstone is already well travelled, having recently come from a tiny planet in the region of a star cluster with the incredibly romantic name of NGC 6752. Seriously! Livingstone was very straight faced and quite sober when he told me this. Apparently, NGC 6752 is somewhere out beyond the Pavo constellation. Unfortunately, he did get caught up in some recent sun spot activity which seems to have caused a major malfunction in his internal guidance mechanisms. The other side effect of this incident is that it has left him with a body mass that has become extremely soft and pliable, giving him the appearance of a soft toy made from heavy ply wool with black beads for eyes – but as Livingstone says, appearances can be deceptive.


In and of itself, his transformation from an inter-galactic, state of the art, robotic alien is not a major drawback, since it means he is now incredibly light and can fit into almost any space, which in turn means I should have no trouble toting him around with me wherever I go.


Assuming I don’t get turned back at Los Angeles International Airport by an overzealous Border and Customs Control officer who thinks it is very strange that a 61 year old should be travelling around the world with a ‘soft toy’ called Livingstone, I look forward to sharing many exciting adventures with you - and of course, with Livingstone.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Packing & Stacking

With around 60 hours to go before I jet off on the first leg of my round the world trip, I have spent most of the past few days (since my return from Melbourne) packing and stacking.

By that I mean I have been packing boxes with the detritus of my rental accommodation, and stacking those boxes in my niece, Sarah-Jane's, garage. I have taken a couple of car loads of clothing, books, and assorted goods to the charity shop and the second-hand book store down the road, and I've off-loaded some old magazines at the laundry on Semaphore Road - magazines which make much more interesting reading than the awful 'women's' magazines that usually lay about on the benches there.

I've got a couple of half full storage boxes waiting to receive the very last minute stuff that I need to see me through the next couple of days. My suitcase is packed. My backpack waits to receive the laptop I'm writing this with, along with the other technological paraphernalia that so many travellers burden themselves with - and that's it.

Los Angeles, here I come...

And New York City...

I hope you are able to join me on my travels, where I look forward to viewing the world with a fresh perspective, an open mind, a joyful heart, and welcoming smile.

See you on the road.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Two Tribes

~ Yesterday, I attended my first Australian Football League (AFL) game at one of Australia’s iconic sporting venues, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, otherwise known as the MCG, or to real sporting aficionado’s simply as the ‘G’.

Now you have to understand there is a world of difference between Aussie rules football, or footy, as we like to call it, and the British version of football (which we call soccer), and what the Americans call football, but this is neither the time or place to try and explain those differences. Except to say that Aussie rules football is high scoring, fast (and sometime furious), full of high marks and aggressive tackles, and played by teams whose supporters are practically born into their favourite teams, just like previous generations of family members.


Facing off for a classic round of Aussie rules footy where arch rivals Melbourne and Collingwood. Personally, I would have been happier attending a match between my two hometown teams, the Adelaide Crows and Port Power, but unless they miraculously play off against each other in an AFL Grand Final (dreams are made of this), I can only see them compete against each other in Adelaide.


However, Melbourne is where this sport was born, where the biggest teams come from, and where the most passionate fans are located, so it was interesting to attend a game between two Victorian teams with a long history of competition between them. It was also interesting to be part of a crowd of 67,454 football fans who are not afraid to give voice to their anger, frustration, and gratuitous advice, with which they liberally shower their team and coaches (and the opposition team and coaches with).


I don’t know how many tourists or travelers make a point of attending major sporting events in the cities they visit, but I think you can learn a lot about a country and its people by doing so. I suspect Australian football fans are no different from British, American or any other national sporting fans you care to name. We are passionate, vocal, rude, outrageous, and make no excuses for being so.


Along with the previously mentioned abuse hurled at both teams, the greatest vitriol is reserved for the hapless umpires who seemingly can’t do a thing right, or make a correct decision – especially when it is your team which is on the end of a controversial ruling. It is at this point that all semblance of decorum and manners fly out the window (or more to the point, fly out of the mouths of adults who should know better). I don’t know if sporting fans are the same all around the world, but Australian sporting fans don’t hold back when they disagree with an umpire or referees decision. Anything goes, and if you are the type of person who is offended by profanity of the worst sort, you wouldn’t want to attend an Aussie rules football game.


I fully intend to undertake my own research on the behaviour of sporting fans during my summer trip to New York City, where I plan to attend a couple of baseball games and roller derby events, and any other major sporting event I happen across. I’ll let you know the results of my ‘research’ down the track.

o0o

For the record, the game was a draw – a rare and unusual event in Australian football. However, Collingwood should have won, since they had 31 scoring shots to Melbourne’s 21 scoring shots. The final result: Melbourne 11-10 (76), to Collingwood 9-22 (76).


If you are wondering how the scores are arrived at, teams score by kicking goals or points. A goal is worth 6 points, and a point is counted as 1. Since Melbourne kicked 11 goals and 10 points the equation looks like this (6x11=66+10=76). For Collingwood it is (9x6=54+22=76). The team with the most points at the end of the game is declared the winner, and gets the four points allocated to the winning team which determines its place in the competition. Since the game was a draw, each team gets 2 points, and moves up or down the competition ‘ladder’ depending on how other teams in the competition performed over the weekend.


Whew, that’s more information than you probably needed to know, but there it is!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Four Seasons in One Day

~ Melbourne. Tim Finn was right. Mind you, I don’t know if he was writing about Melbourne exactly when he wrote Four Seasons in One Day, but the song’s title perfectly sums up Melbourne’s weather since I got here a week and a half ago.

Take today as an example. Cloudy and grey at first, then several hours of brilliant sunshine. Just as I got ready to head out for a while it started pouring with rain, so I sat down again to read a couple more chapters of Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father. An hour or so later, with the sun shining brightly in the early afternoon sky, I stepped out for a coffee and some lunch. Half way through my meal, I watched as a heavy shower of rain, washed the streets of Fitzroy North. Fifteen minutes later as I walked ‘home’, again bathed in sunlight, I couldn’t help but hum the Crowded House song whose title heads this entry.


So what have I been doing between bouts of sunshine, rain, and my last entry? Hanging out mostly. Walking into the city and back again – a round trip of 12-15 kilometres. Window shopping. Reading. Catching up on season one of The Wire. Checking out the open mic at the Empress Hotel just down the road. And discovering the final resting place of Australian Prime Ministers, renowned explorers, and the Elvis Presley memorial (see image), all located in the Melbourne General Cemetery along Lygon Street, Carlton North.


See, that’s the thing about extended vacations. About slow travel. You have the time to undertake weird things like walks through cemeteries, book reading, and just hanging out enjoying the location you are in. You don’t have to rush about trying to hit every major attraction or tourist trap just because that’s what every other visitor does, or because it is expected of you.


This time around, I am spending three weeks in Melbourne. Since I don’t have my own car, I will not get out of the city or the inner suburbs, but that’s fine by me. I’m happy just to hang out and take it easy. This is like the vacation you have when your not really having a vacation. It gives me time to think about the real journey that I am undertaking at the end of the month. My trip to New York City.


I feel like I’m conserving my energy and ideas for New York. Not to mention my money. And Melbourne in winter, is certainly preparing me for summer in New York. I can hardly wait, but wait I must.


In the mean time, it is threatening rain again here, and I’m settling down for a night in with the final two episodes of season one of The Wire. See you down the track…

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Walking Melbourne

~ I’ve kicked off the shackles of illness and hit the streets of Melbourne town with a vengeance and a good pair of walking boots.

I set off at midday for a walk from Fitzroy North into the city centre – a pretty easy and doable distance of around 6 kilometres (3.7 miles). The object of the exercise (no pun intended) was to walk, explore, enjoy the sights, take a few photographs, eat, drink and make the most of a perfect, cool, clear sky Melbourne day.


You can see a complete route of today's walk here. I should however, point out that the route as displayed between the 4km and 10km markers looks like the ramblings of a drunken man – and I can assure you I was not staggering around the streets of Melbourne in an inebriated state. I can only assume that Walkmeter, the iPhone app I was using to map my route, had trouble getting good GPS coordinates due to the many high-rise buildings around the city centre. And it probably didn’t help that I kept disappearing into one building after another to explore some point of interest along the way.


In the end I also walked home again, completing a good afternoon of exploration of around 13.5kms (8.3 miles), that took in Brunswick Street, Federation Square, ACMI, the Arts Centre, Lygon Street and more besides.


My overall impression of Melbourne remains much the same as it was after my visit earlier this year. That is, there seems to be a pervasive sense of forward movement, continued growth and excitement about the place. Unfortunately, these sentiments can’t be said about my home town, Adelaide. But don’t get me started on that theme!


Melbourne’s alleyways are renowned for the quality of the graffiti that covers their walls, but the alleyways are not the only place you will find great graffiti. Yes, I know “great graffiti” sounds like an oxymoron, but let’s be honest, there are artists and practitioners of graffiti who do have real skills and creative ideas that rise above mere spraying of tags everywhere. Which is why I’ve decided to illustrate this post with some examples of the graffiti I discovered during my walk today.


This wonderful mosaic bench was one of three I saw at various locations along Brunswick Street. This is a good example of the types of public art you can see all over the centre of Melbourne, and the inner suburbs. In this respect, Melbourne reminded me of New York City, which also makes a point of placing public art all over the five boroughs that make up greater New York.

Melbourne even produces a public art walking map which guides you around a collection of some of the best examples of the city's public art works, and another brochure detailing the graffiti covered alleyways that have helped to make the Victorian capital so iconic and well known internationally.

There is much yet to discover in Melbourne, and I will barely scratch the surface over the next three weeks, but you have to start somewhere, and this has been my beginning.

...

Tip: Click on each image to view at full size

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mmm… Melbourne

~ So here I am in Melbourne, Australia for the start of three weeks house sitting. I should be out and about partying – or at least out having fun, which is not always the same thing – but instead I’ve been laid up all day trying to shake off the effects of either a head cold or the latest in an endless allergic reaction to who knows what.


Quite frankly, I feel like crud, but I hope to get out tomorrow to check out the city centre, and reacquaint myself with the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square, and the general vibe of Victoria’s capital.


I was last here in January and February, house sitting for the same owners, and caring for their ageing cat, Bruce. Given his advanced age, Bruce probably feels worse than me, but seems happy enough to sleep and get the occasional back scratch.


Speaking of ACMI, I wrote about my visit there last January to see the fantastic Dennis Hopper exhibition Dennis Hopper & The New Hollywood. As you might expect, I, along with thousands of other fans, am deeply saddened to learn of his recent death at 74. Hopper was one of the great Hollywood rebels, and managed to carve out a niche for himself despite the workings of the big studios, movie moguls, and critics. His legacy will live on when many other lesser actors will fade into obscurity and the occasion footnote in some history of modern cinema.


But I digress.


Being in Melbourne for three weeks also gives me a chance to work on my stripped down Round The World packing list. My small suitcase weighed in at just 14.4 kilograms (32 pounds), and even that probably has more in it than I really need. I’m also traveling with a lap top computer and some other essential technological aids. However, this is the extent of my on road kit.


The other thing I am working on is my ability to budget for an extended journey spanning many months. I am hoping to keep my daily expenses in Melbourne as close as possible to $50 per day, and hopefully, I won’t be spending much more than that while I am in New York. But that remains to be seen. For now, I’m concentrating on getting over my cold/allergy, and enjoying Melbourne.

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