This is a bit of a rant. Please skip it if you don’t want to feel worse.
The Omicron variant is tearing through Australia’s workforce, from health care and child care, to agriculture and manufacturing, to transportation and logistics, to emergency services.
The result is an unprecedented, and preventable, economic catastrophe. This catastrophe was visited upon us by leaders — NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular — on the grounds they were protecting the economy. Like a mafia kingpin extorting money, this is the kind of “protection” that can kill you.
It’s been a bit of a time. But not at all unexpected.
When we followed Morrison’s “plan” to open everything up for Christmas right as Omicron was tearing through the population vaccinated and unvaccinated alike it reminded me a lot of watching Europe slowly fall. Cases popped up in Italy then Germany then the south of the Netherlands, getting closer and closer while governments did sweet fuck all. Catastrophise much?
Merry Christmas I guess.
I took the train to visit my parents over the holidays. It was a calculated decision: go early in the spike or not at all.
A few weeks earlier I’d grabbed a handful of RATs in preparation for things to come (who would have thought they’d become like hen’s teeth) so I was feeling okay about the risk. But on the train, despite being law, a majority of folks and one staff member just took their masks off once we were underway.
It reminded me a lot of the repatriation flight back from Europe: twenty five hours and eighteen thousand kilometers in a metal tube heading into the unknown. No idea whether the air I’m breathing will be what kills me. A resolve to mask up and sleep the entire journey until hunger overrides everything and I slip the mask off for long enough to scarf down the little airplane meal while trying not to breathe.
Christmas was fine. I spent a couple of days working from the side deck which was somewhat optimistic considering the temperatures were hitting the mid 30s. But truly my parents live in a wonderful place and I really appreciated the greenery. It sort of inspired me to fix up my own courtyard in the new year.
I’d made a personal resolution to vlog my christmas, and given my Sony camera just stopped working I had to do it on my phone. For some reason the Sony had an exhausted battery & wouldn’t charge using the cable I took with me, but it sprung right back to life when I got home.
The vlog was kind of interesting because excluding a few medicated moments I was a wreck for the entire holidays. I wasn’t really happy with the video, it was a bit disjointed and the quality wasn’t up to my standards. But people seemed to enjoy it, and I was surprised by how many different bits folks picked out as their favourites. So in the end even though I was too caught up in my own stuff, recording the little moments to tell a larger story kinda worked. Note to self.
Because of the massive rise in case numbers, rather than catching the train my folks drove me home. They stayed a night at my place before visiting every single family member within three generations.
Since then, like seemingly the majority of Brisbane, I’ve been on lockdown lite. It’s not that places are closed as much as there just aren’t any places I want to go right now. So I’m laying low, just waiting for the next thing. Surviving.
But like seemingly the majority of the world I’ve also been fixing up my little corner of it. I already installed screens last year so I can keep the insects out and naturally cool my apartment. At the end of this month my proper curtains are being installed. I finally got around to putting up some cute fairy lights, and when the outdoor chairs I had my eye on went on sale Ben convinced me to unload my wallet and get em. So after about 6 months this place is really turning into home. It’s my little oasis. I couldn’t be happier.
So to speak. It’s been a slog. I feel like Australia is now in the throes of that first wave most of the rest of the world experienced in 2020 and it’s really shown what we’re made of. There’s no protein (let alone meat) in the supermarkets, the ones that are even still open. Test and trace collapsed within days, and fucking Smirko do-nothing Morrison is looking to win the next election despite presiding over the entire shitshow. It’s rough watching all this stuff that we knew was going to happen, yet somehow nobody planned for, all the while having to just plug on and keep working like everything’s fine.
I’ll be honest the thing that’s kept me going for most of the year is making to-do lists. Simple things that I can pick up to break myself out of the absolute listlessness that’s underscored this latest wave. That, and I finally fixed my bike so I’ve been enjoying riding after work. Bike rides are on my list.
When Dad was here he mentioned the tap water tasted disgusting, so I ordered a water filter jug along with some other items I needed from Kmart. When the water I’d been hoarding in the fridge ran out I realised that yeah, it does taste disgusting. The ABC says it’s because of rainfall and algae, natural and harmless. But my first thought went back to that article at the start of the pandemic outlining that probably a week into our supply chain failing we’d lose water treatment. Catastrophise much? But the jug arrived and while I’ve never much been one for filtered water, that first sip was heaven.
So this is what back to normal looks like I suppose. I’ve been trying to plan what my future looks like from here, but there’s not a lot to look forward to at the moment. New curtains at the end of the month? Everything else is just treading water and remembering to breathe.
On a steam train ride with my mum, she starts telling a story of the trains when she was young. So thinking quickly I whip out my phone, press record, and get her to hold it so I can actually record her voice over the background noise.
It comes out distorted to ever loving shit.
So this sucks. I have to go back to the original onboard camera mic but it’s SO loud with all the engine noise, cabin chatter, and clanking in the background. Even tweaking all the knobs, you can barely hear mum at all.
Are there any AI tools to isolate voice? I remembered I’ve been using Krisp at work to cut down on the construction noise from next door. Maybe if I run the audio through that…
So I set the sound output from my video editor to go through Krisp, plug in my recorder, and play it through. It’s tinny, it’s dropped some quieter bits, but it’s totally legible! Holy cow.
Now I’ve got an audio track of mum’s voice isolated from the carriage noise. I can mix it back together with the original to boost the voice portion and quieten down the rest. This is kinda a game changer for shitty vlog audio.
This is a pretty convoluted workflow, so it’s really only useful for emergencies like this. But I’m really happy that it managed to recover a happy little memory. And I hope one day Krisp (or someone else, I don’t mind) release either a standalone audio tool or a plugin for DaVinci Resolve.
As an aside, the Google Recorder app is officially off my christmas list. Any recommendations for a better one?
I don’t know why, but the washing maching turned off before it finished draining. So the door was locked and I had to run another 15 minute cycle before I could get my bits out.
It was 38 degrees today, for like, no reason. But it was a welcome change. I feel like I’ve barely had a summer since I’ve been in Australia, so I took a walk and basked in the oppressive heat for a bit before taking shelter in my apartment which inexplicably kept a level 25 degrees throughout the day without aircon. I assume it’s a combo of good insulation and the heatsink properties of the massive concrete structure.
So I’m happy. I’m really enjoying being here, in this place and time.
On the weekend I went to visit R on Macleay Island. He moved from the very middle of the city for a somewhat literal sea change. More specifically a bay change.
I never realised how gorgeous Moreton Bay actually is. From Macleay you can see all the islands, Peel, Moreton, North Stradbroke. On Saturday just after sunset we saw twinkling lights on the horizon which turned out to be boats mooring off Peel which is apparently a popular getaway spot.
Apparently there’s a (not so?) secret bar on one of the islands that’s popular with seafaring types. Just float up and grab a meal. My hairdresser owns a boat, so I know these things you see.
Last year I took a trip to North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) just to take a break. It was pre-vaccine so it was a weird and anxious experience, and I didn’t have appropriate clothes so I came home with a nasty sunburn. To top it off I accidentally and irreparably deleted most of my photos and vlog footage in a freak MacOS accident. So I wasn’t happy with myself, and truth be told it wasn’t a super relaxing experience.
But with my newfound appreciation for the beauty of the bay and the islands, and a bit more of an understanding of what centers me, I think I want to get out there more in some way.
For perhaps a year I’ve had some notes scratched down and a vague hand-wavy plan to do a vlog series centered around the southeast Queensland rail network. Partly as an excuse to get out and travel more, but also because I don’t have a car and don’t want to get one while our weird supply chain issues are making everything increasingly expensive.
So my idea is that even if I can’t drive to all the beautiful places I know exist around SEQ, I can still explore plenty of other options that don’t necessarily get as much love. The concept of travelling to the ends of each line really appeals to me both as a train nerd and also as a poor schlub who doesn’t have his own transit.
My first trip was an easy one, something I’d already done. Back to Macleay Island to circumnavigate it by bicycle.
I wanted to visit Ryan again, but also find my own way under my own power without needing to catch an Uber or a lift. So this seemed like the perfect opportunity.
The day before my trip I found my bike was making a noise, which was super annoying because of COURSE I should have made sure it was in good working order before I set off. The guy at the bike shop didn’t have time to do a service, but he tightened everything up and it fixed it (for a while at least).
The trip itself consisted of bike to South Brisbane station -> train to Cleveland station -> bike to Redland Bay Marina -> ferry to Macleay -> Bike to Ryan’s. It’s a modest 14 km ride on paper. In practice the trip from Cleveland was hilly and without amenity. I lost count of the times I needed to ride on the grass to get back on the path, or a tiny shoulder as cars raced past.
I sent a random email to the council asking what their preferred route is, in case I missed something.
Anyway the rest of the journey was incredible The ferry is starting to show its age, but it’s amazing to be on the water, watching all the islands slide past. The boats everywhere, doing their thing. Some kid on a jetski.
I never realised Stradbroke Island was so mountainous. I was in awe of it in the distance behind the relative flatness of the South Moreton Bay Islands.
I’ve got a vlog planned, I’m not sure how it’s gonna pan out because that bicycle leg of the trip I didn’t have a GREAT time. But I won’t spoil the rest.
My take-away is that Macleay Island is an incredible, weird, surprisingly normal suburban place completely out of place that I enjoyed riding around. Again, it’s deceptively large and I didn’t get as much done as I originally planned, but I had a fantastic time doing it.
Tomorrow I’m leaving on another trip, this time to Gympie (North).
It’s an odd one, because most people don’t realise the trains go up that far. And to be fair, they hardly do. I think it’s two services a day and the rolling stock are OLLLLDDDDD as heck.
It’s an old gold rush town with a steam heritage and not too much else going for it.
But it’s a cheap destination I’m excited to get out there.
I’m sitting on my balcony, the sun is going down casting golden rays across the walls, and I’m watching a tiny money spider bounce around the table in front of me looking for a bug to eat.
I kind of started this post a month or so ago, and checked back in occasionally but only just finished it now. If “finished” is how you’d describe it. Published at least.
But I’m happy. Things are good. And I’m really enjoying being here, in this place and time.
It has been SO hard being in Amsterdam away from my partner, friends, family and all the people I love during the pandemic and I need to fix that. So in some very bittersweet news I am returning to Australia.
As far as I know the only flights to Australia are repatriation flights from Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and London via Qantas. I missed the first round of flights, but another 6 opened up from London and after speaking to work I decided I wanted to be on one.
14 day quarantine on arrival into Australia
Organised on a state by state basis, and rules constantly in flux
Up to 2 "care packages" can be picked up from within the city by staff. Not all items are allowed.
Non-perishable grocery deliveries allowed from Woolworths
Getting to London was not difficult from Amsterdam because The Netherlands doesn't have any measures preventing travel.
The UK seems to be accepting folks with the same visa restrictions as before, providing they have a valid onward journey. I couldn't find this information anywhere online and only found out when I was unable to check-in online.
At the KLM check-in desk I was able to check-in by showing the details for my Australia flight, even though it was on a different day. Others were not so lucky. One man in the queue was advised to "book a train or a bus ticket" before he was allowed to check into the London flight.
On the London side I passed through the automated security check with no hassles at all, and didn't speak to another human.
Uber in London doesn't seem to have any real preventative measures in place, but the taxis in the cab rank had sealed partitions between the driver & passenger which made it an easy choice.
Checking into the repatriation flight
Before check-in, Qantas sent a COVID-19 health screen form which could be filled out online at the check-in desk.
In addition to the obvious "do you have COVID-19" question, they also asked:
Are you diagnosed or suspected to have pneumonia or COVID-19 infection?
Have you been in contact with someone that is a suspected (being tested) or confirmed a COVID-19 case in the last 14 days?
Have you been on a cruise ship or in a shared accommodation setting such as a hostel in the last 14 days?
Do you currently or have you recently felt unwell with any of the following symptoms:
Feverish, fatigued or aching
Cold or flu like symptoms such as runny nose, cough or sore throat
Shortness of breath
I'm not sure what answering yes to any of these would mean because again I couldn't find info about it online.
Heathrow was a total clusterfuck. Security took about 30 minutes and it wasn't possible to social distance because of the layout of the queues winding tightly back on each other. This didn't stop them from putting up signs advising you to do so, and thankfully almost everyone was wearing masks.
Once cleared, there was a final health check to measure temperature, etc before we were given a little green pass and allowed to board.
Flying to Australia
Upon boarding the flight we were handed a yellow biohazard bag containing spare face masks, hand sanitizer, a pen, an immigration card & several spare bio bags.
Contact was kept to a minimum, and after meals any remaining garbage was only collected in the bio bags.
The flight was a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which had three groups of three seats per row in economy. People were distanced at one person per three seats, and spaced so that nobody was sitting directly in front or behind anyone in the next row.
We were all required to wear masks, and they say the HEPA filters take out the majority of nasties so it's about as safe as you can get locked up in an airplane for 22 hours. But of course, nothing's a given.
I remember being relieved they did anything at all. There was no info on the Qantas website about it so I was preparing for the worst, but it was well implemented. I felt a lot more relaxed on the plane (aside from the woman sitting near me who kept taking her mask off and wearing it on her chin. Some people!)
I got to see both a sunset and a sunrise. Watching the sun come up through the tinted Dreamliner windows was beautiful: a giant purple-red orb rising through the clouds, looking like a fiery gas giant in alien solar system.
Melbourne via Perth
Since the flight to Australia is too long for conventional aircraft, there's usually a stop-over somewhere in Asia or the Middle East. None of the countries that I know of are allowing transit at the moment. Instead the flight ran directly to Perth to refuel before continuing to Melbourne.
The stop in Perth was brief. We didn't leave our seats, we just sat waiting for the crew to change over and the refuel to finish. I lost track of the time because I was sleepy, but Flightradar24 says it took about an hour and a half.
The final leg of the trip to Melbourne was fairly uneventful.
The Crown. Or in Spanish, La Corona
What happens when you land in Australia?
The very first thing is another temperature check & health screen. This wasn't the quickest procedure, so we queued in the aerobridge while this was taking place.
Once cleared we were given a detention notice from the Victorian government, letting us know that we would be quarantined for 14 days which we were required to sign.
A state of emergency exists in Victoria under section 198 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic), because of the serious risk to public health posed by COVID-19.
You must proceed immediately to the vehicle that has been provided to take you to the hotel. Once you arrive at the hotel you must proceed immediately to the room you have been allocated. You must not leave the room in any circumstances
Finally, we were given the information about the hotel we would be staying in. In my case, the Crown Metropol in the center of Melbourne which was cordoned off especially for this.
After that we were herded onto the tarmac and boarded buses directly to our hotel. There was no social distancing on the bus, but we were required to wear our masks through the whole process.
The hotel is a quarantine zone so nobody other than staff and occupants are allowed in.
When the bus arrived we were shepherded off one at a time and given our room number, a care package of various snacks, toiletries & necessities, and many pages of documentation about how things work.
This was the first time I learned anything solid about ANYTHING to do with the quarantine. Before now I'd only heard rumours.
As I understand it's a rapidly evolving situation, and it's managed on a state-by-state basis which is possibly why the Federal government has no information for travellers.
Through this time I've been an anxious mess but now that I'm in the hotel I'm finally starting to relax.
The hotel room is bigger than my apartment in Amsterdam by a large margin so even though I'm locked in I'm feeling much less cooped up.
The meals so far have been pretty good, all things considered. There's far too much food provided at any given mealtime, but that leaves plenty of other items for snacks in between.
The hotel, security, and health staff have been absolutely amazing and I'm so grateful to be able to come home. The amount of love and support and human connection I've had from everyone while in isolation this past week is truly overwhelming, and I'm beginning to feel that just maybe things are going to be okay <3
It happened almost by accident that I moved overseas.
I've always had it in the back of my head that I'd like to work internationally at some point in my life. Just a year ago I was honoured to be invited to speak at a conference in Amsterdam, and It was my first time leaving the Asia/Pacific region. It was a total blast and was really nice to make new friends around the world, but it kinda set a few ideas going in my head.
So when I saw an off-hand remark from a school friend about an opportunity to work in the Netherlands, I followed it up nonchalantly. This started a chain reaction that ended with me selling all my stuff, renting out my apartment, and moving to another country with little more than a general sense of confidence things would work out.
So here I am. I'm in bed at my temporary hotel, having just got home from a night of drinking with my surprisingly international (and incredibly boozy) coworkers, after my third week at the company. Things have generally been pretty good.
I'm still working my way through a bunch of issues (currently trying to get Suncorp Bank to let me make a damn bank transfer), but after three weeks things are generally looking good. I am especially excited to move into my new apartment at the start of next month, so it will be nice to have a place to call home again.
There's no set plan for what I'm doing, but from here I am looking forward to making new friends, getting to know the city, and going even further in my free time to explore the rest of Europe.
Heading to Amsterdam to talk at Fronteers Conf next week. I’m starting my journey from Brisbane after a looong day of packing and goodbyes. It’s a 23 hour trip, so I’m planning to front load as much sleep as possible, but will see how that goes.
Anywho, I’m off to find the duty free kiosk. Will connect back up in Abu Dhabi.
My first moments in Europe
October 2nd, 2017 5:36am
Arrived in Amsterdam at about 3 PM, after some 23 hours in transit. Thomas, one of the conference organizers, met me at the airport and shuttled me to my hotel despite my arriving super early. It was a nice gesture.
My hotel room is tiny. It was a deliberate thing I booked because it looked cute (it is), but I had to shift the mattress to the floor because I don’t fit on the bed otherwise.
After checking in, having a shower, and a change of clothes I went for a walk. I was really happy with myself to have found the Amsterdam sign with only a cursory glance at the map as I left the hotel.
On the way there I saw a girl on a boat nearly get a concussion while passing under a ludicrously low bridge. Also there was also a game of polo going on nearby which isn’t something you see every day.
I kept walking, ended up getting lost in the Vondelpark before giving out to find a supermarket to pick up supplies. It was all in Dutch so I was excited to go around the produce aisles finding the the names of things I learned from Duolingo.
After that I had a burger and Sprite (it’s sugar-free here and tastes of lemons), then caught a tram back home because it’s getting late and despite my claims of not being jetlagged, I’m going to have an early one tonight because I’m exhausted.
Preparations for the conference
October 9th, 2017 7:52am
After my first day, things started to get busy. In preparation for my talk I spent a couple of days in the lovely The Thinking Hut, who charge by the hour and have fast Internet and a really sweet industrial chic. This meant I got to explore the Amsterdam Oost (East) neighbourhoods.
So I walked around, went to the botanical gardens, took a metro ride, hired a FlickBike then couldn’t find anywhere to park it, and ordered a vegetarian roti with egg from a suburban Indian kitchen in bad Dutch. I felt really good about that last one until it came time to pay and I realised I don’t know any numbers in Dutch. Oops.
Tuesday night was the NLHTML5 meetup, which I guess is kinda comparable to the defunct Web Design Group back in Brisbane. This meetup was resurrected from the dead by the industrious Paul VM especially so that it could run around Fronteers time, and was a cool crowd and a good way to ease into the tech festivities. There were three speakers; Ola talked about standards and how to report bugs, Stephanie went through how she built her awesome pixel art hardware project, and Martin talked WebVR which made me really want to build some VR projects of my own.
Wednesday night we had the speaker dinner at Pakhuis De Zwijger. We met in the hotel lobby and from there the organisers shepherded us onto a boat. This took us for a ride out the gracht (canal), down the Amstel river, and into the IJ to get to the venue. It was nice, we all got to know each other and network a bit. There were local folks and peeps from all over the world together in one place, and it was a good evening.
Afterwards we took the boat to Tolhuistuin across the water, where the FrontCheers pre-event party was taking shape. I figured I’d stay for one drink because I wanted to get back to my room to agonise over my talk, but after having a few beers and chatting to everyone I was among the last to leave. It was late enough the transport was sporadic, so we had to walk back to the hotel in the cold and the rain on the eve of the conference 😮
October 9th, 2017 8:30pm
The conference itself was inspiring. The venue was breathtaking, and the production was flawless.
The first day was great. Sara Soueidan was a great MC and opened the day perfectly, leading into Niels’ opening presentation and fun history lesson.
By far the most poignant talk of all was Jessica Rose’s talk on imposter syndrome. The entire trip I’d been wondering what the heck I’d gotten myself into, and was terrified that I’d arrivve and people would exclaim “oh, sorry, we were expecting the _other_ Ash Kyd who does cool stuff and is actually supposed to be here”. The talk sparked a lot of conversations and basically was a cathartic start to the festivities.
I really enjoyed all the talks, but I think my favourite tech talk of the day was Alice Boxhall’s “Debugging Accessibility” which ran through the stuff the Chrome team have been doing to improve accessibility. It introduced me to a lot of new concepts on the technical side which I’d love to play with more to produce tools to help improve accessibility testing.
The talks were a lot softer than I was anticipating, which is a good thing for the audience as it leaves a lot of room for the imagination to do it’s thing. Though I was starting to worry mine was a bit much, and mightn’t hit the right targets.
That evening we went to De Industrieele Groote Club for drinks and lightning talks. I was on edge beause this time I _really_ needed to go through my talk for the next day, and the talk titled “what not to do when presenting” was probably useful but very not helping my cortisol levels. So I left after the first few, though not before Jake Archibald thoroughly destroyed the audience with a mind twisting, but very highly produced pop quiz.
Back at my room I ran a bath, prepared my clicker, and ran through my slides on my phone until the fingers on my other hand were dangerously pruned.
October 10th, 2017 8:30pm
On the second day I woke up early after not enough sleep so that I could practice one final time. I was prepared, the talk was good to go, and honestly I was feeling pretty prepared.
I missed the first talk because I was late to the venue. This was fine, I listened through the doors as I faffed around my slides. After the first talk finished, I snuck in through the side door and took a seat. I don’t recall much of that morning, I was too involved in my own anxieties.
As the conference took a coffee break, myself and the other speaker Ruben set up our laptops, prepared the video output, and made sure we were ready to present.
As we left the stage and the crowd came back into the theater, I realised I had forgotten to pair my clicker, and had no idea if it would work when I went onstage. It’s a Bluetooth thing, and I’ve concluded that buying it was a mistake because it’s so opaque, I don’t even know how to turn it on without re-pairing it every time. So I frantically texted anyone if they had a presenter via our secret speaker back-channels, and Martin thankfully came to the rescue loaning me his.
The talk went… well. I was told that I looked collected, but I felt nothing like that. It’s an interesting feeling speaking in front of a large crowd, and to some extent I think my awareness of my situation disappeared when I went onstage, and aside some minor clicker issues I think things went smoothly. I eagerly await the video so I can dissect it, beat myself up, and ultimately improve for next time.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of talks, indecision, “the best burgers in Amsterdam” feat. a waiter for whom it was their first day on the job, an after party, and an after-after party including karaoke (bad) and an Irish pub with the stragglers at 2 AM in the morning. It was a very good time, and I want to write up a proper Fronteers wrap on my proper blog over at my prroper site at some point.
October 11th, 2017 8:30pm
On the Saturday I wasn’t sure what I was doing, so my new local friend Mystery T offered to let me stay with him for a night. At the same time one of his friends had been pushing him to go to a gay party night for the local rugby team, the Amsterdam Lowlanders.
T was reluctant but asked me if I wanted to go, I was reluctant but wanted to experience the night life, so we ended up agreeing we’d check it out and leave if it was too much. I dropped my bags at his and we sat around chatting for a while until it was time to tram back into the city.
A few days beforehand I walked down a street (Reguliersdwarsstraat) with a bunch of bars and rainbow flags hanging out windows, which I presumed to be a gay street. Turns out this was correct, so we walked to one of the bars to meet R (whose name I can’t remember but that it starts with R).
After getting to know each other and sharing stories (and talking about airline points, how has my whole life become talking about points) we left for the actual venue. After two trams and some walking, we were at our destination; a somewhat unassuming building with blacked out windows and a big “We <3 Rugby” football out the front.
The party itself was amazing, it was full of bodies (mostly shirtless) dancing in an old industrial style thing. The music was nothing special, and the drinks were expensive, but everyone was having a great time and they gave out icy poles at one point which was cute and refreshing. I wasn’t feeling sugary,so I declined.
It started to wind down around 3:30 and got a bit depraved so we left soon after.
The next day I booked a little Airbnb in Rotterdam and we took the train down to explore the city. From Wikipedia:
The near-complete destruction of the city centre in the World War II Rotterdam Blitz has resulted in a varied architectural landscape, including sky-scrapers (an uncommon sight in other Dutch cities) designed by renowned architects.
It’s a really cool city, the center is modern and well laid out, whereas the surrounds are still traditional row type buildings.
I stayed out in the suburbs in a strange, converted house under the hofbogen, which is an abandoned elevated rail line which has had buildings build up underneath. The Airbnb was a two floor affair with stairs steep enough I’d consider it a ladder, but it was very cute indeed. A bad photosphere follows:
I only stayed a night, leaving the next morning on a Eurostar to London!
October 12th, 2017 8:06pm
I arrived in London and things immediately felt different. Being back in an English speaking country was kind of a relief, but it also spoils the magic of a place to overhear people having the same mundane Bad Takes just with a different accent.
But still, what an interesting city!
I arrived in the evening and the very first thing I did was pop outside St Pancras to take a photo. Once that was out of the way I grabbed an Oyster card and made my way on the Underground to Soho to find my hostel.
After taking some time to recuperate and charge my devices it was time to head to Brixton to see Grizzly Bear play. A cursory glance at the map suggested it was walkable, but the sheer scale of London eluded me and it was actually much further than I expected.
Still, I walked past a handful of landmarks including Trafalgar Square, Scotland Yard, Big Ben (which I passed without noticing at all, oops). Once I got to Vauxhall I’d had enough and caught the tube the rest of the way.
The calibre of the venue compared to anything in Brisbane was kinda eye opening and the event was amazing! I wasn’t especially taken with the autotune stylings of the warmup act, but Grizzly Bear themselves were stellar and well worth the trip. The venue was totally packed, the vocals were spot on, the band had some fun banter, and the bass was incredible!
The crowd favourite was probably Two Weeks. Overall A+ event.
Not wanting to jump straight on the Underground, I went for a walk to Stockwell tube station and subsequently got lost on the metro. Apparently not all tube lines are equal, and while Google suggested I change from the northern line to the northern line at a particular station, I scoffed and ended up inexplicably at London Bridge.
I feel I need to take a moment to express how shit London Bridge, the bridge actually is. It’s just a concrete thing with no defining features at all. I assumed it would be grand and British and some kind of landmark, but I would bet if it fell down tomorrow nobody would care at all.
I did have some good views of Tower Bridge as I walked across though, and that’s an impressive structure.
After getting some safe and sound I had a late start the next day. Instead of actually doing anything, I wanted to wander around and explore the place. Soho itself is super glitzy and honestly I didn’t care for it. So after stopping at McDonald’s for a bottle of water (Europe is dehydrating!) I trekked back out to St Pancras to do the only other thing I especially wanted to do in London: see the Black Books store.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Probably fair. Still, I have the selfie!
The rest of the day I walked around (about 10 km) exploring the place. I found a section of the Underground that was above ground which I thought was fun. There was a very handsome gentleman giving out Coke Zero out the front of King’s Cross station. But generally it was nice to admire the varying architectures around the place.
After a couple of hours it was time to meet Tom and Shashi for pizza and 2-for-1 cocktails at The Black Horse, SE8.
“Okay now pull a face” I said. Shashi pulled the very best face, but hated it so much afterwards that I had to censor it for the benefit of probably everyone.
Whirlwind tour of London
October 15th, 2017 1:55pm
Third day in London I packed up my hostel and lugged my stuff to Tom and Shashi’s place. My original intention was to travel with carry-on luggage, but I had acquired stuff in my travels so I was working with three bags at the time.
One of the bags was full of stroopwafels and drop (dutch licorice) as a gift for Tom and Shashi, which I bought before finding out they both hate the stuff.
I mentioned I wanted some time out to catch up on Internet stuff so Tom suggested I have lunch at London Velo. I wasn’t expecting anything fancy, but it turned out to be a cafe/bike repair shop with a resident dog called Maurice who was super cuddly and plonked himself on my feet for scritches. What a cutie.
After doing some blog, checking some emails and all that I went for a walk to the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to catch a train to Canary Wharf.
Every time I say the name Canary Wharf Tom screws his face up in disgust, saying “what do you want to go there for?” It’s pretty much a blando modern office precinct, but I wanted to see it because it was on the DLR line, and having grown bored of the touristy areas I kinda wanted to walk around.
I didn’t spend long there, but I had a look around and marvelled at the glass monoliths blocking the sky.
After that I started walking along the Thames path, finding misleading signs and locked gates galore. I read The Guardian’s take on Privatised London: the Thames Path which is a fascinating tale of people and developers being bad dudes.
From the Isle of Dogs to Tower Bridge, just how much of London’s riverside walking route is actually open to the general public? This specially assembled Guardian exploration party would stop at nothing to find out
I walked as far as Wapping before Tom and Shashi finished work and summoned me to dinner at the upscale food market Mercato Metropolitano.
Afterwards we toured a bunch of miscellaneous London landmarks.
The next day I was feeling a bit out of sorts so spent a fair portion of it inside. We did go for drinks and dinner, where there were several more dogs to play with.
London is a very Dogs place.
October 16th, 2017 11:00pm
On the Friday I caught the train to Gatwick airport, and flew to Toronto.
Pearson International in Toronto had a weird inter-terminal shuttle train with rubber tyres driven by some sort of cable system. This took me to the train station where I caught a diesel train to Union Station. None of the tracks are electrified, so all the trains run on diesel in 2017; mind blown.
From there I tried to catch what I thought was a bus to my Airbnb, but actually turned out to be a subway train.
It was a bit of an ordeal because I couldn’t buy a ticket with my card so had to find an ATM to withdraw cash, then buy Pringles to break the note in order to put it in the machine to get subway tokens to use the subway.
Yeah, the subway uses tokens in 2017; mind blown.
My accommodation turned out to be right at the edge of all the action, overlooking Ryerson University, and three buildings across from where Dayle and Adrian used to live.
Holy shit! That’s our old hood! We lived at <redacted> gerrard for years! And i went to Ryerson for years too!!
Small world, right?
As I hadn’t bought a North American power adapter with me, I walked to Best Buy and bought one. Best Buy is pretty great; I talked to the dude in the Google display about the new stuff, and I’m thinking of getting a Daydream before I go back to Australia because they’re $40 cheaper than back home.
With my electronics sorted, I faffed around town for a bit (and accidentally bought a smoothie bigger than my head) before retiring for an early jetlag bedtime of 10:00 (3 AM London time).
Day 2 in Toronto I was starting to feel pretty nasty and coldy, so I lazed around in bed for a few hours before getting up and facing the day.
There were a few landmarks I wanted to check out. One of them was the Loblaws that was just around the corner which Dayle said used to be a historical hockey arena before it was converted into a supermarket. It was massive and beautiful and they had Australian style licorice which I was tempted to get for the kitsch factor, but the CAD 6.50 price tag was sobering and I quickly calmed myself.
The next stop was Kensington Market which was a chaotic bohemian neighbourhood with lots of little shops and food stalls. There were bikes everywhere, people with bags and dogs all over the place!
The thing that caught my eye most was the stand selling empanadas. Having seen Empanada Dog and not really knowing what an empanada is, I really wanted to try one for myself.
However the little shop didn’t have a card reader, and after Pringles and the subway I only had a few dollars worth of coins. Also I have only vague notions of how tipping works so I panicked and walked on by without buying anything.
The third stop of the day was Toronto Island Park. The ferry deposited me at Centre Island, and my destination was the bike rental on the far side, so I set out at a medium pace.
Unfortunately, when I got to the bike rental it was closed, along with much of the island because apparently everything shuts down for winter and hasn’t opened back up again yet.
There was a pizza place closing up when I got there, so I got an old slice of cheese (the couple in front took the last two pepperonis, damn them), and walked onto the pier to contemplate my lack of cured meats.
Toronto Island Park reminded me a lot of Rollercoaster Tycoon, everything was very quaint with amenities scattered around the place, and various bits of landscaping at intervals. However I really wanted to drop a handyman to mow the lawns and maybe toggle all the shops to “open”.
With nothing really to do, I ended up walking 40 minutes to the far side of the island so I could catch a glimpse of the planes landing at Toronto Airport, where I caught a ferry back to the shore.
The last stop was the Rogers Centre, and the CN Tower. Neither were especially interesting, but there were a bunch of old trains to play with and I got to walk on a skybridge to get to the subway.
With only a couple of hours left until the concert I went back to my room to change and recharge my batteries.
Travelling right round the world to see two of my favourite bands play on the one night
The concert itself blew me away. Massey Hall, built in 1894, was an incredible venue. Though it was all seated and wasn’t conducive to dancing, the calibre of the performances was just awesome.
Born Ruffians were one of my favourite bands for a period, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from them live. They were stellar. They gave a tight performance, had a super clean sound, and it was really well done.
Apparently they have a new album coming out which I’m really looking forward to. Here’s something from the old one: Oceans Deep.
The New Pornographers are wild; between three guitarists, two keyboardists, four vocalists and a strategic violin-percussionist they put on a great show.
The sound was a bit hit and miss with a few malfunctions, but it was still enjoyable and they know how to please a crowd.
I took some time out to be a lazy bum the last few days in Toronto.
My “feeling a bit out of sorts” in London turned out to be a cold, which wasn’t super bad but rapidly moved to my shitty, asthmatic chest as these things do. So I spent the day lazing around eating Pop Tarts, a local delicacy which I understand are only legal to buy in North America.
When the sun went down I caught up with a new friend Mx who took me for sushi then showed me around the neigh(gay)bourhood. We later went for Poutine, which was an excellent, terrible mistake and I don’t know if I’ll be able to eat again.
The next day I went and caught up with the Vox Pop folks (who do Vote Compass). They’re doing some really cool stuff, and it was fun to see what goes on behind the scenes. I was super embarrassed to have a coughing fit in their tea room, apparently I was talking too much.
After that it was time to head to the airport.
See ya Toronto ya filthy, charming mess!
October 19th, 2017 8:30pm
Air Canada is more generous/sensible with their carry-on luggage quotas, so I didn’t have to check my bags and went straight from plane to train!
Vancouver was decidedly more wet than any other cities I’d visited, it was bucketing down when I got off the metro. Luckily my Airbnb was only a few blocks from the station.
There’s a 3 hour difference between Toronto and Vancouver, and 10 hours difference from Amsterdam so the incremental changes were starting to catch up. I went to bed early, and was disappointed to find I’d woken at 6 AM.
It was a lovely, sunny day for an adventure so I headed out in the direction of Stanley Park with the intention to hire a bike.
After getting myself all mixed up and walking the dead wrong way for a bit (my internal compass is not calibrated for the northern hemisphere), I stumbled upon Urban Waves bike hire where I rented a fetching mountain bike named Norco.
Stanley Park is a peninsula to the north of Vancouver devoted to parkland. There is a seawall around the perimeter which is devoted to pedestrians and cyclists to tour the area.
The land was originally used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized by the British during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. The land was later turned into Vancouver’s first park when the city incorporated in 1886.
So I set off on my bike, stopping every few hundred meters to marvel & take photos. Vancouver is a very pretty city, especially in fall when the leaves are starting to turn.
The ride is fascinatingly varied, ranging from city to harbour to the shipping lanes, a little beach, then back to the start via a Rhododendron Garden. It’s a painfully beautiful touristy thing to do, and I would recommend it for anyone who can ride a bike.
After that I stumbled on a local cafe chain and my life changed forever.
Let me cast my mind back to the year 2004 when I was a student living in Highgate Hill with two other housemates possessing equally terrible tastes in everything. On very special occasions when we were up early enough and could be bothered enough, we would trek down the hill on a 20 minute pilgrimage to the Crepe Cafe in South Bank for a $2 breakfast. It was glorious..
Over the years the price of breakfasts went up. First to $3, then to $5, and eventually breakfasts were the same as any other time, $7.50 for an Aussie Sunrise crepe (bacon, egg, cheese and spring onion). Still a bargain if you ask me.
In 2015 when I was working in South Bank, my colleagues would hate going to the Crepe Cafe for lunch because it really wasn’t value for money and tbh it was pretty gross food. But it held a special place in my heart (and it had a gluten free option so Gav would always be excited to come with me).
In 2017 tragedy struck and the Crepe Cafe closed its doors, never to be opened again. It was like a little piece of my youth had been torn away.
So when I saw that there was a Cafe Crepe in Vancouver, I was pretty excited.
It was a little piece of nostalgia, and branding aside felt exactly like the Crepe Cafe I knew and loved. I had a roast chicken crepe with a Pepsi Zero, and for a moment everything in the world was good again.
After the fleeting joy dissipated, I tipped 20% and left.
The next day was rainy as heck, so I wanted to find inside things to do.
To start I went to Best Buy to see if I could find a nice Chromebook (I couldn’t). After that I went to Cafe Crepe and ordered a ham and cheese crepe with a Pepsi Zero.
After that, having exhausted my list of things to do, I jumped on a metro train to see where it would take me.
It took me to Waterfront, which is kinda the interchange for all the trains, metros and trolley buses with the cruise liners, ferries and helicopters. It was a super impressive sight, made even better by my accidentally stumbling on the Vancouver Lookout tower which takes you up a big ol’ elevator to a viewing platform where you can see everything.
I don’t have any good pics, but here’s a part of a photosphere that shows the cruise liner, a ferry coming in, a bunch of trains, and the helipad behind the beam in the center. I thought it was awesome.
After this I caught a trolleybus to who knows where. It was a bit of a mistake because it took me out to Gastown which is usually lovely but was basically a river at this point. I grabbed a slice of pizza and a Coke Zero to get out of the rain but there was no end to it so I walked back to the station with my increasingly dilapidated umbrella.
By the time I got back to my Airbnb my shoes were drenched through, my jeans, jumper and t-shirt were varying degrees of soaked. I’d basically had enough of this whole exploring thing, and vowed never to go outside again.
With only one more day until my holiday was over, I was both pensive and relieved. It’s been lovely, but I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed again
Wet shoes, heavy soul, the last day
July 13th, 2018 8:30pm
It’s been weighing on me that I never actually wrote about my last day in Vancouver on here. I sort of did on my blog elsewhere but it feels like things are incomplete.
The last day was weird, I don’t know if it was timezones or the calendar or what but I thought I was going home much earlier than I actually was. So I took a walk, randomly following points of interest on Google Maps.
One of my first landmarks was the Davie Street rainbow crossing which I stumbled on by accident and it really messed me up.
I don’t know if it was the post-holiday blues or what but the thought of coming back to Australia in the midst of the Coalition’s reprehensibly “postal survey” was desolate. I might have cried in the rain at one point.
My walk took me down to the water, across the Granville Bridge, and all the way along False Creek to the science center, where I took the train back to my Airbnb and bought some new shoes since mine were completely soaked through.
The flight home was comfortable, with the though of being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only vaguely terrifying. The soundtrack was Cut Copy’s Haiku From Zero (no fixed destination), which I think I will forever associate with that trip. The end.