May 2004 Archives

Well, I've decided to stay and extra day in Ljubljana mostly cause I kind of wasted yesterday, in an enjoyable fashion and now need to pull my finger out and sort out the next few days.

Spent most of yesterday in the Tivoli park, relaxing and watching the locals on their bicycles and rollerblades. There was a flea market along the river in the old town, which didn't do much for me, so I went to a museum that focused on the 20th century seen through slovene eyes and wandered the empty streets of the remainder of the city.

Almost tempted to stay even longer as during my wandering yesterday I found the local metal venue and they have the seminal thrash band Exodus playing tomorrow night. Exodus were unlucky to miss out on the huge wave that swept the big four thrash bands (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer) into superstardom, they were before their time and they will be remembered as the band from which Metallica grabbed Kirk Hammet rather than for their music, which is a pity.

I'm not sure about hanging around though, a lovely local yesterday told me that the most unique thing about slovenia were their karst (caves), not a huge fan of caves and enclosed spaces but I guess I should check these out.

Also, I hope to see my personal favourite thrash band later in the summer, Death Angel, who burnt like the sun for a few brief years at the end of the thrash era. The and were all related, two brothers and three cousins and when they released their first album, their youngest member was 12! Their career only lasted three years and albums, when in 1990 they broke up after releasing what I consider to be one of the most enjoyable technical albums in the genre "Act III"

Reforming recently for a benefit gig, they have decided to make this a permanant reformation and I look forward to seeing a band who I only discovered after they were no more.

Last night I wandered into the old town and took a walk along the riverside at dusk, like Trieste, Ljubjana is gorgeous at this time. I wished my camera was properly operational but I guess to take decent photos at dusk one also needs a tripod.

The centre was buzzing and it was lovely to just wander around the tiny area that forms the old town. The willows on the banks of the river are a nice touch giving a bit of greenery to the area.

Also I walked up what I think was the wrong path up the side of the hill that is topped by Ljubjana Castle, I ended up in a residential area but got some lovely views of the red tiled cityscape in the rapidly fading light.

Truly a semi hidden jewel, this place so beautiful, and even in the city so sparsely populated. The thing I like best is that unlike Italy where the scooter rules (and appears to be never maintained) here everyone owns modern clean cars so the air is breathable, also the rate of smoking seems much lower than in Italy where what we would describe as newsagents, were called Tabacchi highlighting the popularity of smoking in that country.

All this means that unlike Trieste and the other larger cities in Italy, where i would wake up with swollen glands and a blocked nose, here I could actually breathe normally!

Back to last night though, I decided to grab some food and had a sweet closed pizza, stuffed with walnuts, sultanas and ricotta very nice. The wine was also very pleasant.

Off to explore the historical city in daylight now, I really like the architecture here and the sculptures have a strong proletarian feel.

I saw on the news a few days back that our meddling prime minister wants to try and push through another piece of conservativism in the clarification of the marriage act to specifically refer to a hetrosexual union. In other words banning gay marriages

The move is tempered in that superannuationan (and i would assume other partner benefits) can be nominated to be accessible to a same sex partner, but the whole thing is yet another step backwards by our prime minister who seems to cling to a conservative viewpoint of Australia that might have been acceptable 50 years ago.

Methinks coward should wander down to Impact records, pick up a copy of the wonderful local band Alchemist's latest Austral Alien and read the lyrics to the track Backwards Journey (which were written just for him) whilst pondering how to use the last of his time in office to try and repair some of the damage he has caused (hint scuttle this free trade agreement before it actually becomes law)

After much delay, i've finally found my way to Slovenia. It's such a lovely country, very sparsely populated when compared to Italy and quite a bit cooler weather wise than Italy was.

Thus far it's no cheaper than Italy, but part of that I think is the trouble i've had getting a place to stay. My Internet based reservation of yesterday disappeared into the ether but the place I thought I had reserved with had space for me anyway despite not having me on their computers!

Despite the short distance I travelled, the train trip was long, mostly due to the obligatory delay at each side of the border where both Italian and Slovenian officials inspect your pasport.

The main reason I was trying to get here a few days ago is that I was hoping to arrive on a weekday, as all the shops had already shut by the time I got here on saturday afternoon. Judging by this shutting at 1PM, I doubt many will open sunday at all, which makes for some empty streets I guess but all the outdoor sights will still be there to see.

Hopefully the bars and such will still be reasonably lively tonight, was hoping to find some uni students with decent english to chat to.

Well what a frustrating day, at midday with still nothing on the accomodation front in slovenia, I returned to the pension (cheap hotel) I was staying at to find that they didn't have any rooms for the night. I'd banked on only staying here 1 night, tonight will make it 3 nights.

So I did the shuffle through all the cheap hotels in the city, eventually found one that was dirt cheap and a bit seedy, but they had a basic room for me. Which was all I wanted.

Got confusing messages from the train station about transport to slovenia, there are full colour posters dotted around the place advertising a fast direct train from venice to ljubjana that arrives in the evening. However when I enquired for timetables, the one I was handed bore no resemblance to teh colour poster, jsut trains that end up in hungary/romania and times that weren't very suitable (arrival 2AM)

Trieste is at it's best during the siesta when everyone goes home, it's not that the people are irriating, they have all been lovely so far, it's just that's when the traffic dies down and those damn little two stroke polluters disappear for a while. Like most larger Italian towns, i really am not enjoying the traffic, and despite being on the sea, Trieste has a lot of haze.

Had some great and reasonably priced food, the highlight was the buffalo mozarella in the caprese salad for lunch and thought about what to do.

Now I think I have something sorted, finally for slovenia, will have to wait to see if any rejection emails come back at all.

I know I would have probably found somewhere if i'd simply arrived in ljubljana and gone knocking on doors of cheap hotels and tourist information offices but it has been frustrating to find absolutely nothing available in ljubljana, my only guess is some form of huge convention has descended, that or the fact of slovenia having been voted top brit holiday destination, those damn British, ruining everything!

Well, i've spent two nights in Trieste, which just doesn't feel like Italy in many ways.

As Richard rightly pointed out, this is the home of Illy coffee, probably my favourite amongst the cafe blends and I've had some great Illy coffee here so far.

From an architecture perspective, it has much more of an Austrian influence, and indeed Trieste is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of it's return to Italy (after WWII Trieste was a free state administered by the Allies until 1954), prior to that, it only became part of Italy proper following WWI in 1921, so it's hardly suprising the buildings and culture don't feel particularly Italian despite the fact the population mostly is.

Yesterday I had lunch in a lovely park in the middle of the city and watched the locals going on with their daily lives. Like many parks, this park was full of bird resting posts (really busts of the famous) including one of James Joyce who spent 11 years here and started writing Ulysses before he left.

The place i'm staying in is technically a one star hotel but the family run operation makes it more enjoyable than places with many more stars that i've stayed in elsewhere.

I was planning to head for slovenia next but ljubjlana seems to be quite booked out accomodation wise right now. Still undecided whether to kill more time in Trieste or go for the only option I could find in ljubljana, a somewhat expensive apartment rental for a week. It would be nice to not be on the move every day, as I'm still trying to kick off this pollution induced cough.

Well, after much effort I am in Trieste, which is a strange little place.

Getting caught up wandering the streets of Bologna yesterday I lost track of time... Suddenly realising i'd missed the train I intended to take to Trieste, I rushed to the station to catch the next one. Which if i'd missed that I would have had to wait an extra two hours. Luckily I just caught this train, but that was where my luck ran out. Changed at Mestre and in retrospect I think I picked the wrong train, for multiple reasons. Firstly this one went the long way to Trieste, if i'd waited 15 to 20 mins, i could have caught a more direct train, which was something I only worked out much later.

But more importantly, before the train even got out of the Venetto, it broke down just past Trevisio, we were stuck in a hot array of carriages for about an hour whilst they tried to get a temporary engine to tow us somewhere more useful, this eventually happened and we got taken to the next small town at about 8PM (I'd caught my first train at 3:53), a wait ensued at this suddenly overpopulated station, whilst the station staff played musical platforms as to where the next train would be arriving on, maybe we looked amusing milling from platform to platform when viewed from the announcers lofty heights, I don't know.

Finally a eurostar italia stopped (these are the rip off trains for people in a hurry and are not related to those that cross the channel tunnel at all) and people milled aboard, with much confusion as to whether they would have to pay extra for this? I heard plenty of queries about €15 but thankfully no cost eventuated.

Arriving at Udine (the other large town in the region aside from Trieste) I had to wait over an hour for the train to take me to Trieste as now all the trains were late! Another hour on the slow regional train towards Trieste and then a late night stumble to my hotel, which I'd thankfully called from Udine and told them of my dilemma. The lovely people that they are, they hung around till I arrived about half an hour before midnight, four trains and nearly eight hours after I left Bologna!

Many thanks to the lovely business student sitting opposite me on the train who kindly translated the Italian only updates whilst the train was broken down and later limping towards it's unexpected terminus.

So, Sydney has some new competition for worst public transport!

Spent the day wandering around Bologna, it's a lovely place nearly untouristed but beautiful. The place is a big uni town, like many in this area of Italy, so the squares are full of relaxing students rather than irritating hordes of tourists.

The single biggest impression one gets walking the streets here is a sense of amazement at so many shades of red, yellow and orange. The place is all brick, with much of it rendered and coloured, but every building has it's own set of ochre hues. Makes for a serenely welcoming feel that in some ways speaks more of Spain than Italy.

The main square is lovely, with big open spaces and again lost of the ochre and brick theme. The church's facade is gothic but restrained and switches to brick in the upper portion.

In one corner of the main square, sits a fountain with a very marine theme, topped by Neptune who is surrounded by four sirens who symbolise the then four known continents of the world - sorry Australia wasn't even a blip on the map when this fountain was errected!

Near this is a stirring photographic tribute to those who were excecuted by the germans in WWII as this region was a heartland of the Italian resistance during the war.

Well, i'm now in Bologna, the train trip last night was uneventful, got my hopes up when the young woman sitting opposite me spoke english but she got off very soon after, which negated my chance of a nice chat.

Had trouble finding my accomodation, I knew it was near the railway station but, of course I was on the wrong side of the station and ended up wandering around like an idiot for 30 minutes.

Haven't done much here yet as during my wandering I spotted two cheap international call places and thought to myself that i'd use them to call home this morning and sort out some bank stuff. Of course despite my extensive telco background I couldn't get the damn things to work and the language barrier prevented me getting anywhere with the people who operated these places.

Oh well, got some more numbers and off to try again shortly!

Meant to post this earlier, but it slipped through the cracks.

On the train from Venice to Verona, I met up with some people from Luanda, Angola, a war torn country on the western coast of africa, directly below the congo.

They were a dance troupe who had come to Italy to perform in Verona, I didn't get many details as their native language was Portugese but I got the impression that it was sponsored by some kind of aid agency or something.

I misjudged their ages a lot, many looked younger than they actually were, but mostly they were teenagers, one I thought was fourteen was actually 17!

We started talking because I was listening to Cannibal Ox (NY underground rap) and the friendly young guy opposite me started doing all these dance moves to the beat that was spilling out of my headphones. I couldn't help but smile at this and ended up loaning my iPod to him for the rest of the trip! Whilst he boogied away to old school hip hop, I chatted with the young woman sitting next to him. She had a lot of trouble understanding me, but was very friendly.

I'd actually seen the whole group earlier in the day in my walking around Venice, but never though it'd end up sitting with them on the train! Normally, sitting in a confined space with lots of children and teenagers for a long time can drive me nuts due to their excessive chatter and hyperactivity. But these guys were genuinely friendly and relaxed.

Their impression of Venice was very positive and they had enjoyed Verona a lot more than I ended up doing, mostly as a benefit of staying with locals here and getting an insiders view of the place! I actually saw some of their hosts walk out of the internet cafe a few minutes back, two gorgeous and friendly young italian lasses.

It must have been an experience of a lifetime for these teens to visit Italy, I hope it encourages them to continue dancing, as they had so much natural rhythm! Such a contrast to the spoilt and arrogant western teens i've encountered in many of the tourist traps!

St Marks Plaza

Isle San Pietro

Walking the streets of Venice

Verona Roman Arena

I should have listened to my friend Richard more, he gave me good advice but unable to find an easy way to act on it, I ignored it.

I'm talking about Verona, where I currently am. I was interested in seeing this place, as they had an intact Roman arena, which was still used for performances to this day. There was also the whole Romeo and Juliet was set here thing but not being a huge romantic, i wasn't that keen on this (and in retrospect, I'm glad)

Well, Salv had raved about the place, but supposedly this was based on hanging out in the Uni district, which i've yet to see. Rich was a little more realistic.

As with most places, I tried to balance affordability with being close to the transport as I don't relish lugging my backpack further than I have to. So I got a place to stay within spitting distance of the main railway station. I'd seen the map in the guidebook and realised that this was still a fair way from the city centre, but.. none of the places closer were affordable on my last minute schedule.

The place i picked was excellent, as a place to stay, nice friendly and good service with a focus on being environmental. However it was in the middle of nowhere, which pretty much describes the whole central station area.

I got changed and decided to go out to grab a meal, check out the sights by night and try and meet some locals. Was even thinking of trying to get to this fabled "uni" area.

However my plans were squashed by a rash of stupid decisions and small mistakes.

Returning to the railway station, i found where to take buses to the centre from, but the ticket machines were broken... Not thinking clearly, I decided i'd walk instead.

However I misread the maps (and shame on the lonely planet for not extending their map to the railway station) and ended up walking away from the centre instead of towards it. I could tell I was in a really seedy area, but foolishly kept on walking thinking I'd come to the city eventually. After walking about 3 kilometres, I gave up grabbed a takeaway pizza and beer from the only food shop I'd seen aside from MacDonald's and walked back to my accommodation.

The walk itself was an eye opener, seeing about 4 prostitutes plying their trade and one guy shooting up. Definitely bringing me back to the real world after the otherworldly experience of Venice.

Dad pointed out this news to me, but I'm not sure I like this news, whilst I agree with the logic, I think it's an outdated decision and was hoping for a more modern and adventurous choice for the new who companion. It's not anything against the individual chosen but more that I was hoping for a bit more unusual casting.

In much better news, this has a more detailed breakdown of who is doing what on the new Who, the most exciting part is seeing Steven Moffats name again associated with Who, he's long been a fan and did script the comic relief spoof of a few years back which had Rowan Atkinson playing our dear Doctor. More importantly, he was the genius behind one of my personal favourite pieces of UK teen drama, Press Gang!

Also, it seems other fanboys aside from me have picked up on this "tyler theme" in Russell T Davies' creations

A short posting from Venice, Internet is extremely expensive here, I am paying more for 15 minutes than I paid for an hour in Milan.

Got to Venice late last night after having a chat to a lovely young uni student from Mestre on the train, she was in her second year of studying and her focus was on languages, german and english, so I'm sure she was glad to practice on me.

Spent the morning wandering around the streets of venice, getting purposely lost, and in that way finding peaceful little gems like the island of San Pietro, where when I tried to take some photos I rapidly discovered my camera batteries were flat!

The whole enjoy getting lost thing rapidly wore off though as I tried to get back to my hotel by midday to check out, ended up at the rail station as the bells were chiming midday, had to back track and head for the hotel which thankfully wasn't too far!

Venice is a unique and beautiful city and nowhere near as dirty or smelly as many say. The key is to wander away from the touristed areas which worthwhile for the stunning views are just money traps for the unwary.

For example, the guidebook quotes the price of a coffee as €4.50 in a historic coffee shop in St Mark's Square, plus an additional €4.50 for the live music. In contrast I just grabbed an espresso at the bar of a small patisserie for €0.80!

One of the most frustrating thing about travelling, and more so the longer I am away is having to rely on the same set of music. I know, i have a 20 gig ipod full of music, I should be plenty happy, but... new stuff is coming out all the time and back home it was almost a weekly habit to use the net to research new mainstream releases and unknown extreme metal acts from the depths of europe.

Since I've left, a few more mainstream albums have hit the shelves, things like RJD2s second full length, "Since We Last Spoke" and the second album by The Streets "A Grand Don't Come For Free", whose debut i should have hated due to it's construction from all the bits I disliked about contemporary UK music culture, but won me over mainly due to the incredible real world lyrics and minimalistic production. Listening to online samples of both makes me even more keen to hear the full album, particularly the streets as this album forms a complete story which if lyrically up to the standard of his debut will be amazing.

Also a friend has turned me onto another underground hip hop release Madvillainy that i'd love to have on my pod. Don't get me started on the metal releases i'm keen to hear. For gods sake, Death Angel have released a new album the first in 15 years!

Apple's solution of iTunes Music Store is no good for someone on the hop, i'd need to be lugging a laptop of some sort as their online store is tied to the PC you download it to, why not tie it to the iPod instead??

Nor is buying CDs, i can't easily rip and add them to my pod, not a single internet cafe has had itunes preinstalled nor the high speed USB2 and firewire protocols required to talk to a pod.

As for internet cafes, I thought I'd dedicate a whole post to them and how ordinary I've found them to be i my recent travels.

This is going to be part geeky so turn off now if you find that boring.

The variety and quality of internet cafes i've found is astounding, from the cafe cum tourist agence, cum local bus service and laundromat in Thailand to coin operated jobs in transport stations and the solitary PC in the lobby of some places i've stayed.

But increasingly as i've travelled further away from the tourist traps where large reasonably well run but expensive net cafes abound, i'm amazed by the lack of care and skill evinced by many operators of these places. The worst was by far the place I tried earlier today, which was in essence a huge scam! They sit you down in front fo a puter that does not work properly due to significant corruption of all it's fonts, particularly those that form the MS internet font suite. Thus text elements on websites render illegibly, Being male and a geek, of course I refused to ask for help, and wasting about 30 minutes trying to fix this before giving up and hacking the next unoccupied PC to give me free access / a fair deal to me seeing as I just plowed euros down the drain trying to use a broken PC. I ended up using that other PC for a lot longer than I should have, even if one takes into account the wasted 30 minutes! As I used the PC I watched clueless suckers being led to the same broken PC I had abandoned.

However I overstayed my welcome, and they eventually realised I'd paid for an hour and been there 3, a small argument ensued about their crap broken PCs, but I ended up paying less than I should really have and walked out furious.

The ironic thing was they had a good foundation for a stable, securely locked down internet cafe, they were running Windows 2000, but due to lack of any degree of a clue, IE was 3 versions behind and no security lockdowns had been applied. I dread to think how many security vulnerabilities were still open, from the various nagware and unwelcome browser additions I suspect that the machines had never been patched!

The same irony exists in the cafe I am in now, which at least has modern HW and OS, lack of adequate patching and understanding of the nature of modern virii which mostly propagate through security holes in the OS. This PC i'm sitting at is infected by the most recent major windows worm to hit the streets the Sasser worm variant E to be precise. The woman running the shop was running the installed anti virus tool to remove this infection without being aware that the real solution is to patch the damn OS to stop it re-infecting straight away!

And then there was the PC in the hotel I stayed at in Pisa, it was a dog of a machine obviously retired from running the hotels booking and reservation system as it still had all that software on there. The ironic thing about this machine is that it was running Windows ME, which I consider to be the single worst operating system ever to come out of Microsoft. I wasted about an hour troubleshooting that PC's network connection after a dodgey site hijacked the extremely vulnerable IE5 and installed a porn dialler (this on a PC without a modem!). Windows 9x networking stacks were never designed to operate multiple types of network interfaces (LAN, modem etc) so this caused all sorts of problems. By the time I had fixed the PC, it still didn't work, I later disocvered that the non technical staff at the desk unplug the lan connection at their end once your prepaid time is up!

The ironic part of this, is the machine itself hardware wise would have run much faster under a NT derived OS, particularly Windows 2000 due to the type of CPU found in the PC and it's optimisation for 32 bit pure OSes

Not to mention the PC that kept on crashing and freezing during use in Brussels that I noticed came up with a bad memory check at startup, something the local staff just ignored!

All of this has made me think that opening up a Net Cafe (which would also offer other things aside from the net) would be a great idea in sydney. There the options are just as poorly run, although most of the better ones are really just gamer havens, which I would never even dream of doing. Games are for consoles not desktop workstations!

If I ran a cafe it would not utilise Windows or IE, not just because of zealotry but simply to lower the cost of maintenance, i'd probably keep a few around for those people who found sites that just wouldn't work otherwise, but i'd try and utilise an embedded mozilla running in a locked down environment on a linux variant. The closest I saw to this was the internet setup I used in Geneva, which used embedded mozilla running on winXP with payment via coin op.

I have some other ideas to make it all run much much more seamlessly but i'll keep them to myself for now.

My initial feelings for Milan have been very little, all i've found is a confused busy city with shops chock full of fashion that falls indifferently on my ears

Their cathedral is very gothic and large, from what I can tell it's #3 to Rome and Seville in size of catholic cathedral stakes. But with my general disinterest in religion compounded by seeing enough cathedrals to last a lifetime, I'll let this one pass.

The main shopping complex has the architecural gradiosity of something like the QVB but at the same time feels run down, not so much in decay but more of the rapid development with lack of quality impression one gets from the nightmare on george street entertainmenty complex.

I could find no trace of a social scene on a friday night in the centre of the city around the cathedral area. All i found was a sparse smattering of late night shoppers and mostly a heck of a lot of metal shutters on closed shops.

In the burbs where I went for my concert, all I saw were homeless alchoholics inhabiting the parks, none of the youthful party exuberance I saw in the nightlife of Pisa, what a difference a university makes.

However on the bright side, I seem to have scored well in my location with respect to the rest of Milan I have seen thus far, I'm on a busy road but with an adjacent park that seems mostly full of children playing and no alcoholic bums at night. After a bit of a fruitless wander across other parts of the city, I realised that there was a laundromat and internet place less than two streets away from where I was staying, why I wasted my time following the guidebooks recommendations for long defunct internet cafes I'll never know!

This morning, feeling somehow chirpy despite the late night I wandered first in the local area then around duomo (cathedral) and the central station trying to find a decent net cafe.

Instead I found a bustling weekend street market offering everything from clothes to fresh fruit and meats as most markets catering to locals do.

Scored some cheap Nespoli (Loquats) and munched on them whilst wandering.

Wandered to the duomo area and tried out a very high quality shop amusingly called "bread and breakfast", then proceeded onto the central station area where I got screwed by crappy internet providers. But more on that in a separate post.

It wasn't until feeling exhausted I returned to my accomodation and after a bit of hydration I finally got the hang of the local area in a relaxing walk where I realised that all I wanted was so close all along!

Well not wanting to repeat the experience of Kevin Drumm in Geneva (or lack of experience more accurately) I tried to arrive in Milan earlier and prioritised working out how to get to the venue.

This wasn't so easy, two different online map tools could not find the street and of course being a website obviously designed by amateurs there wasn't anything useful like maps on the website of the venue.

Well, a short trip to the centre of town, found a late night bookstore with an english section, spent 8 euros on a milan street directory and I was set.

Off to the venue, arriving sometime around 9:30, the second support Ephel Duath were already playing. Kind of pissed off because I was just as keen to see these guys as the main band. Told this to the guy selling tickets, he and the bouncer were amazed that someone from Australia had even heard of Ephel Duath!

Saw about 75% of the Ephel Duath set, in which they played nearly all of The Painter's Palette. These guys are set for a huge future, put simply I haven't seen such virtuosity and on stage click from a band of this style for a long time!

My two gripes about Ephel Duath were firstly that they made use of backing samples, but even they obviously realised that their sheer talent and improv meant it was unnecessary to give perfect renditions of the album tracks. Regardless, they seemed to ditch the samples midway through the set.

The other critique lies purely with the singer: yes, he was chosen for his hardcore singing style, but on album this is intermingled with clean vocals, which I assume were also his. Live it's exclusively hardcore vox, which is probably appropriate when playing for a metal crowd but... doesn't always complent the music the amazing trio behind him are producing.

After their set concluded, with an encore - something i've never seen for a support before! I took the time to properly evaluate the space I was in.

For a city of only 1.3 million, Milan has an excellent metal venue, and when compared to Sydney, we should hang our heads in shame, there is nothing even remotely like this in Oz.

The entire decor is orintated towards the macarbe and gothic. From the skull theme adorning everything at the bar including all the beer taps to the ornate throne that the DJ appears to sit in whilst spinning tracks between sets.

On the other side of the room, the entire wall is occupied by faux headstones each with a name of a band who had played there in the past, most featuring signatures and other graffiti by the band.

Directly at the back of the space, three separate vendors were selling a range of metal CDs, mostly secondhand but witha good selection across the genre.

The medium sized stage itself had a red velvet curtain that was drawn in between each band, and also featured a good lighting rig and smoke machine, for all that extra atmosphere.

Finally, hanging from the centre of the room was a large chandelier.

Not to say any of this was actually pristine, the place had been allowed to run down a bit, maybe just normal wear and tear, or potentially an attempt to keep it real.

Anyway onto the key part, Katatonia

Firstly, they took a long time to appear, potentially some kind of drum problem as we kept on hearing them test the drums and then stop for 5 to 10 minutes. Also after teh first song they paused to fix a "minor drum issue"

This long delay to see the headline act raised the ire of the impatient audience who were openly heckling the "metal DJ", personally I think this is a huge misnomer, as Metal is just not designed to be played that way. Instead like most who perpetuate this atrocity, this DJ played a lot of pseudo metal that was really just industrial & gothic in disguise. As I was also keen to get rid of this tripe, which was totally inappropriate for the upcoming band, I got into the spirit and joined in the heckling and requests for the band to appear "Pronto"

When they finally did appear the first songw as a bit off key, particularly the guitars and as mentioned previously the stopped to fix the drums.

Things improved from then, the crowd was mroe energetic than I was expecting, and most knew all words. This all suprised me considering how small a fanbase this band unfortunately has.

The setlist for those who might be interested (that would be you andy) was approx as follows:

Ghost of the Sun
I am Nothing *
Black Session
Sweet Nurse
Tonight's Music
Future of Speech

-- Encore

Passing Bird*

Tracks marked with * are not 100% sure. they represent a best guess made back in the hotel after the gig.

Highlights for me were the incredible amount of tracks from Last Fair Deal Gone Down, of course you expect the most recent album Viva Emptiness to dominate the playlist, but at points the huge runs of LFDGD tracks made me forget that Viva Emptiness existed!

In particular, what impressed was Daniel's drumming, especially on LFDGD tracks where he played live many of the phrases that are programmed rythmns on the CD. There was no backing track, no keys or triggered drums, just great melonchalic heavy rock.

Jonas really stood out from the rest of the band, his skin is so pale, it's like they either lock him in a room with a notepad and pen between live tours or the corpse paint he used to wear in the early days soaked into his skin or something!

I was also suprised by how much more contribution that Fred Norman (who I had always though of as the "other guitarist") had live. Anders has always amazed with his unique guitar technique, but live Fred contributed many of the lead lines but failed to really rock it out with the rest of the band giving instead a carefully considered performance, especially when playing many of the effects laden passages.

The mix gave me ample opportunity to appreciate Mattias's basslines which were solid and came out much better than on CD.

The setlist mostly satisfied, but throughought the performance, I was yelling "rainroom" cause I knew they would close with Murder and I would have preferred to seem them do Rainroom instead.

I was tempted to interpose requests for Omerta and was disappointed on both counts. To my mind they played too much from the intermediate albums, tonights decision and discouraged ones, but other fans seemed to disagree.

All in all an impressive performance to a mostly very enthusastic crowd who were a bit split between the "old" and "new" katatonia sound, this could not have been more evident than during the closing track when all the women who had maintained front centre stage throught the gig found themselves suddenly in the middle of a mosh pit, instead of giving up, they stood up for themselves and pushed the guys in on themselves so they could continue to enjoy the music.

After all of this though, seriously the stars of the night were still Ephel Duath who resounded with young vitality and a bright future.

Katatonia despite their eminent talent seem to be ignored by the majority who are simply not receptive to the waves of melonchaly that Katatonia channel.

Some other pics that turned out vaguely well.


Well, feeling better, I decided to give my camera a bit more of a go, it still requires much patience to extract a good image though.

I did the whole touristy part of Pisa, which thankfully I am on the other side of the river from.....
A tranquil square where I lunched

The sights of Campo dei Miracoli including the cathedral and baptistry to which the tower belongs

The local uni students mucking about

Well, I made good on my promise and I've left Rome, despite being a lovely city sights wise, I just had to get out for my health

In a last minute booking I have traversed to Pisa, somewhere I was originally going to bypass because the whole leaning tower thing seemed a bit passe to me.

However i think I have picked well, pisa is a much smaller place and thus quieter, friendlier and less polluted and I scored well with a last minute booking of a pretty decent 3 star hotel at a discounted rate, yes it's still expensive by oz rates but for about $10 more a night I am in a decent modern quiet and air conditioned place rather than in a pokey room in the middle of rome, where the shower doesn't work and the night staff chain smoke.

As pisa's sights don't seem to be enough to fill two whole days I am going to use up some of my railpass and take day rail trips to nearby towns.

Hopefully I will have bounced back in time for Katatonia in Milan, I've been waiting about six years to see these guys live.

I dropped my camera in Norway, and it has slowly been breaking down ever since. Now it's too much trouble to make it work, requiring about 5 minutes of fiddling to get a decent shot.

So, my depending on how you measure it 4 years or 18 months old camera needs to be replaced.

As i'm travelling, I get the tax free deal, well eventually you can only claim when you leave the EU. Most of the EU has a 20% VAT so that's a bit of a discount.

Also because I am travelling, I want something small and light... despite the best efforts of some of my more photographically minded friends, I still mostly use my camera when I'm travelling for taking happy shots that end up as backdrops on my puter, not wall sized mural art works. Regardless, digital camera circuitry is getting smarter and much of the high end functionality not limited by physical constraints makes it into medium priced digicams now.

My dream would be one of the entry level digi-SLR models from canon, nikon or minolta but I had decided on a more practicaly sized Canon S60, but it seems that model is a bit too new as no stores really are stocking it yet.

With the exception of the slightly higher tech lens, the Digital Elph S500 has much of the same functionality as the S60 in an even smaller package. Being a high sales item, great prices can be found on the S500. So this looks to be the one for me.

The best deal in Italy seems to be in Milan for €430, so I might need to wait and get it from there.

On the flipside of that last post, not all is well in paradise. I have confirmed my theory that I am simply not compatible with air pollution at all.

My minor respiratory bug has turned into the annoying hacking cough which will not go away I am all too familiar with. In the past only two things have worked, asthma preventer sprays like tilade or beccatide and sleeping in a closed up room with a steam vaporiser until my lungs desensitise again.

Things that make it worse, petrol fumes, cigarette smoke and other pollutants found in large cities. Not helpful that I am stuck in mainland europe where everyone feels it's their national right to pollute the air with their scooters and cigarette smoke, even where there are no smoking or driving signs

All my life i have had very sensitive smell and lungs, although despite many tests and checks, not Asthma, something else that western science can't pin down.

The sensitive smell is what makes me a good cook and enjoy food so much, it also is what makes me so violently angry towards smokers. Ireland is currently experimenting with banning smoking in pubs and bars, they are extremely worried about the negative impact it will have finacially. Although I applaud this move, I have grave doubts about the success of plans to extend this to the rest of the EU.

Governements are starting to wake up to how much it is costing in health care for smokers, but the smokers and the large corporations who feed their addiction will not give up without a fight.

I long for the day I can crawl into bed after seeing a great live band and not feel like I need to first shower and wash my hair to get rid of the smoke smell so I can ensure a good nights sleep!

Hopefully this respiratory condition will clear up once i get out of Rome, otherwise it will make for a much less enjoyable trip.

If only smokers would consider the impact of their addiction not just on themselves but on others. I can't count the number of smokers I have spoken to who joke they only buy the packets labelled "smoking when pregnant harms their baby" because they're not pregnant!

And a little hint to to all those young female smokers out there, smoking is not sexy. If I am eying off an attractive woman and then see her light up, my libido instantly evaporates.

rant over.

Why is Italian food so good especially in Italy?

The simple answer is that the Italians are still passionate about fresh ingredients and live by the motto that Arnotts abuse "there is no substitute for quality"

There is a movement, started in Italy called slow food that really epitomises what the Italians have known for so long. There is a wealth of information on that website and I encourage you to explore and consider becoming a member (I plan to when I stop travelling). Of particular importance to me, is their current project - Ark of Taste

My last flatmate, a native of Rome once commented to me that the biggest shock he had when coming to Australia was how crap the Tomatoes were! Having experienced Italian fruit and vegetables, I can agree wholeheartedly.

Australia (and other westernised countries) have comprimised the food industry so much. It has been common practice for as long I have been aware to pick fruit (including Tomatoes) green and then ship them refrigerated to large markets before artifically force-ripening using various techniques. This is all in aid of reducing lost profit due to stock damaged in transit and therefore unsaleable.

To my mind this is totally unacceptable, much fruit, including Tomatoes and stone fruit like peaches and nectarines permanantly loses much of it's aromatic flavour when refrigerated.

My aunt thought it was amusing that I would wait till banannas were about to be thrown out by the local corner shops before buying up the entire stock. The rationale behind this was that unlike large supermarkets and fruit shops which keep their bought fruit refrigerated until they want to put it out for sale, most corner stores just leave their fruit unrefrigerated and only buy stock approximately once a week direct from the markets. Thus it's been ripening on the shelves for a week rather than force ripened overnight by a store. It's still picked and shipped green, no way you can get around that in Oz unless you grow your own food.

All this is why I am so glad to be in a country which at least seems to still pick it's fresh produce near ripe!

One thing that depresses me about this movement though is that as it has spread world wide, the main market has been affluent white middle class people who can afford to spend big and eat the food they never would have been fed as children.

Ironically much of the slow food's preservation comes from peasant class family run producers, who can only afford to make food this way because they lack the industrialised "time saving" tols that this wealthy middle class built their fortunes on.

Hopefully though there will be a turning point, particularly in the US with the public saying clearly, the current lobbying system and commercial influence on the political scene is totally unacceptable and the populace pushing for a new approach that gives greater accountability and topples the dominance that the current industrial rapers and polluters of our environment and stomachs have.

Yesterday I walked through a huge swathe of the heart of rome. Back and forth across the river, getting oriented and stopping only to refuel on gelati or beer. It's quite warm here, not stiflingly hot but sunny enough to get burnt easily.

Didn't go inside many places at all.. just kept on moving. Favourite place so far.. Trastevere, had an astoundingly good foccacia it didn't resemble the foccacia in oz though - which is always made more like a sandwich with teh filling in between a thick foccacia sliced in half, this was more like a pizza, with fresh ingredients on top of slabs of fresh white cheese and a nice not too thick pizza/foccacia base that tasted so much better due to the liberal use of extra virgin olive oil in it's dough.

Got to Rome last night and only walked past the place I was staying at once, huge improvement on the hour or so it took me to find my accomodation in Naples

Sunday night is pretty dead even in a place like Rome, the only people out and about were tourists.

I ended up having a few quiet beers with a nice guy from the US; it was refreshing to meet someone from that country who understands the cynical reality behind the current political scene there.

This morning, got up and went for a walk early to explore the roman forum and other roman ruins, by the time I got to the colleseum the tour buses and street vendors had arrived and I decided to wander elsewhere, heading for Vatican city.

All yesterday I felt like I was coming down with the flu or somesuch, which was probably why I screwed up so badly with my accomodation search last night. Finally finding a place to stay, I tried to get some rest but despite the luxurious room, it was right on a main shopping road and as such was extremely noisy even with two sets of doors closing off the balcony.

So feeling decidedly seedy today, I opted for the 50 metre stroll to the National Archeological Museum, which the guidebook calls the most important archaeological museum in Europe, after spending the better part of today wandering it's huge spaces, I feel they may well be right.

Although one day I long to wander through Pompeii, much of the important material from this historic site now resides in Naples, one that really impressed me were the frescoes and other material from the Temple of Isis in Pompeii, which when first discovered caused some of the earliest widespread interest in this town frozen in time. At the time, (mid-late 1800s) no intact egyptian temples existed and the discovery of this temple answered a lot of questions as well as causing a europe wide egypt obsession for a period of time.

Nearly every room impressed, from the bronze age artefacts of southern italy to the mosiacs (again many from pompeii).

The focus was definitely on greco-roman artefacts, many recovered from archaeological digs on the sites of ancient palatial holiday villas that the social elite of roman times built in southern italy.

One of the most elightening displays was of coins, telling the history of the region in chronological fashion over the period of something like 25 centuries from the earliest documented examples of using lumps of reasonably pure metal in standard weights as a form of currency, through various empires (greek, roman, byzantine, muslim, norman and spanish). The images used on the coins revealed much of the history of the period, as well where known tangible facts like the cost of everyday items in the currency of the time were given.

Finally I must mention the secret room, which was never so secret just restricted to adult audiences where material considered erotic was kept, much of this just displays our continued obsession with the phallus as a society, from the early fertility ceramics of phalluses, breasts and such to roman frescos depicting figures with extremely enlarged phalluses. Also pottery depicting frank sexual romps which was intended to get everyone charged up at more hedonistic roman parties. Also featured were a series of paintings depicting various sexual positions that was originally composed as a menu for a brothel! Again much of the explicit pottery, frescoes and mosiacs came from early archaeological excavations in pompeii and further east to greece and egypt, these images were originally hushed up by conservative political and religious powers who wanted to keep the rose tinted image of their historical holy roman empire and other past societies untarnished by reality.

After a cramped rail jouney from Florence where two of the four seats in my cluster were occupied by both mother and child! They were both cute little kids, one not even a year old but restless and in the case of the young one, prone to crying.

I escaped to the restraunt car as much as possible, part way through the trip , en route to grab a coffee I stopped at the end of my carriage to check my large bag was still there. I noticed some movement from within the baggage rack. Investigating further a man was hiding in there, to avoid the ticket inspector! People will go to any length to avoid paying for something!

Arriving in Naples, I very nearly came unstuck. It seems that Naples does not warrant the attention from the guidebook authours that somewhere more touristed like Florence does. The map of Naploli shows the area along the coastline only with the central station being teh boundary on one edge of the map. Large text legends occupy about one third of the map, obscuring the details underneath. In contrast the Florence map has the text legends on the following page allowing a full double page spread for the map.

My accomodation was less than 2km from the main station, within a stones throw from the national museum. The map didn't make it clear if the metro line from central station stopped at the museum or piazza dante nearby. So I decided to take the bus. Bad decision #1, after finding the sprawling bus depot adjacent to the station in piazza garibaldi I got thouroughly confused trying to find the right bus and where they left from. Asking for help got a list of 4 buses I could take and a pointer in the general direction. Heading taht way and walking along the road where the buses mentioned went, I continued to walk as it is easier to walk with a large backpack and hiking shoes on than stand in one place!

I walked, watching the buses go by and not seeing the one I needed until I realised I had walked off the map in the guidebook! Bad decision #2, it was at this point I found out that the buses took a long path to where i wanted to go, looping through somewhere in the suburbs first.

Buying a map from a streetside newsagent, only to discover it had the same ridiculous bounds as the one in the guidebook. I decided to rely on my instincts and headed in the rough direction I felt I should go. My instincts were right and I ventured back onto the map in due course. Realising I had taken the long way aroudn a triangle to get to where I needed to be!

Pulling out my notebook, found mistake #3 I had the name, street and rough location mapped out for the accommodation but no street number nor phone number for the place. It was getting late/dusk and I think I must have walked past the place about six times without finding it.

Finally, I gave up, found an internet cafe - the same that I am using now, and got the details I was missing. From this I found the place nearly instantly but it was after 9PM and reception had closed, ringing the bell brought no success. It wasn't until someone else staying there came out that I got the key piece of info... Check in and get your key from the local pizzeria/restraunt in the same building. Only in Naples (or maybe Griffith)

After I had dumped my bag and changed clothes, I tried the pizza and pasta from this smae place. Was excellent, particularly the pasta, possibly the freshest most fragrant sauce I have ever had on pasta. The sauce was called disgrazia which is the most oxymoronic description I have ever seen. Possibly it derives from being a non traditional tomato sauce (it was basically basil, tomato and chilli) and thus a "disgrace" of a sauce. Kind of like the Dutch who describe a latte as litteraly "coffee wrong"

Some images of florence.

Also today, in my attempt to see a museum that wasn't dedicated to the renaissance I ended up going to the Archaeological Museum of Florence, which was fascinating and all, with lots of Egyptian and Etruscan stuff, much of which I suspect came from the private collections of famous historical florentines.

However whilst there, I stumbled across a fascinating exhibition and was three quarters of the way through exploring it when I got politely told by the small crowd around me that this exhibition wasn't open to the public till next Monday! I managed to get a reasonable glance at the last quarter on my way out though.

The exhibition was a collection of bronzes from the people of the central eurasian grasslands or steppes. These nomads liked to have keepsakes fashioned out of bronze. Many were animal totems or fertility symbols. Because they were always on the move these items were small and quite personal. Very interesting exhibition which makes me even more keen to see this barely touristed part of the world.

Well today was exhausting, saw four different galleries/museums and they were all worthwhile.

After years of staring at the damn thing whilst loading Adobe Illustrator, I finally saw the original (Birth of Venus) by Botticelli that Adobe stole!. One of the exhibitions I saw was dedicated purely to Botticelli and his master Filippino Lippi. I have enjoyed the frescoes the most so far, despite them being few and far between (hopefully because they are still intact in their original wall, not in a gallery!) the fresco style just appeals to me, the colours and style are a bit more pastel, and they are matte which is nice amongs all those glossy paintings with reflections that make it hard to take in the whole picture from one viewpoint.

Florence is exhausting and beautiful, the birthplace of renaissance art which appeals to almost all due to it's sheer quality and stark contrast to the static stale images that preceeded it.

I am staying in a pokey little place, right near the cathedral which means that earplugs are the go for a good nights sleep. That bell is loud!

My location means though that all the big galleries and heritage sites are within 5 minutes walk, which is nice. However after about 12 hours in this heavily touristed locale, I really enjoyed getting a bit further out, where not every shop has highly priced pret a porter catwalk gear or expensive snacks.

Despite spending quite a bit on entrance fees, I am eager to do a few more galleries tomorrow (time permitting). One has to be the convent of San Marco where Fra Angelico decorated many of the rooms.

Well I'm in Italy now (Milan to be exact)

Was supposed to catch the 4PM train to Florence but it took too long to get the rail pass and book the train journey so i have an hour to kill before the 5PM train

Milan is so different to Geneva, which was laid back and relaxed - very international. But I still look forward to exploring Milan further when I come back here in a weeks time.

Here's a pic of me walking in the dunes behind a dutch beach. Ihad more pics but the damn cd got scratched and i'm having a hard time recovering them.

One of Geneva s most distinctive features is the huge fountain depicted below.

Well, some good must come out of today..

Hacking some more free internet time, I just flicked the switch on some back-end changes to my site.

Travelling around i've mostly been using IE on windows to access my site and as a result have noticed many things that weren't quite right.

After trying to fix the specific problems I came to the realisation that for a modern web developer IE sucks big time. To my rescue came a hack appropriately named IE7 (Microsoft says aside from security fixes, they aren't going to update IE for any currently shipping windows operating system - thus no official IE 7 ever!)

This basically attempts to address most of the shortcomings within IE, especially related to CSS (A technology designed to separate formatting/style from content on the web)

The IE7 hack is still in development and in my testing I got it to crash a few times. It also slows down rendering on IE/Win a bit, but it does fix all but one of my issues with IE/Win. Also, the hack is embedded in such a way that ONLY the broken versions of IE actually bother to download it, so if you are using the the lightweight Opera, mozilla's Firefox or Apple's Safari this post can be ignored.

Those who do use IE/Win will now see my site as intended and also will get a small incentive to switch to something that loads this page faster!

In addition to all the other frustration of today, the BBC reports on the passing of Anthony Ainley who was the second actor to play the Doctor's arch nemesis - The Master and for a certain generation of viewers he will always be remembered for having achieved the awesome feat of killing off the iconic Fourth Doctor, a fact which would have perhaps left him a sizeable footnote in television history by itself.

Anthony actually passed away on 3rd May, as outlined in his obituary

A lovely fan tribute can be found here

Despite my personal preference for the first Master - Roger Delegado (who was only replaced in this role because he died in a stunt accident whilst filming a movie) most casual fans will likely better remember the second Master as he appeared regularly in the shows more popular period from his first appearance in the dying days of Tom Baker's era in Keeper of Traken and onwards to the last story of the original who series "Survival"

He will be much missed.

Well am I pissed off

Not too long ago, I grabbed a taxi to the address that my web searching had indicated was "cave 12" the place to be for alternative music in geneva and the venue for my night of abstract art/noise courtesy of Kevin Drumm

Got there to find a seedy bar, which most likely was at one point in the past cave 12, but no longer.

To add insult, there was a poster outside displaying the gig details, but the date appeared to be 18 may. The poster also listed the correct address of Cave 12, which in retrospect after walking back to the hostel and searching for the new address on the internet, it of course turns out to be only two blocks away from the old "Cave 12"

Maybe they used a dodgey font, but myself and another person clearly read 18th not 10th. If the font is supposed to read 10th, the show started at 9:30 PM, it's now nearly two hours later as I walked back rather than waste good beer money on a taxi! Not sure if I should go back or not. The website of the club (which was also on the poster) clearly states 10th may... But we all know how regularly web sites are updated!

On the bright side, I've already had a walking night tour of most of Geneva.

The main reason I am in Geneva is to see the Chicago based noise musician Kevin Drumm. Am off to try and see this now, which looks to be a short taxi ride from where I am staying. I will post a review tomorrow for those who may be interested.

At present, I am planning on staying here two nights, as there is more that interests me than I initially thought. For example, not far from geneva is the world famous physics research institute CERN, where the very first web browser was created using an os and development environment that was the ancestor of Mac OS X. This is like geek mecca for me, with the worlds largest magnet contained within a 27km long particle accellerator where they pound the basic building blocks of matter to bits to try and find out how they work!

Also, there looks to be some nice hiking and walks within a short distance from Geneva, would like to do some of that.

After a very short stay in London, which mostly consisted of talking music with chris and playing trains with his two year old son I flew the nasty-cheap airline, easyjet who make it feel like them carrying you from a to b is a favour they can rescind at any point!

Regardless I made it safely to Geneva, Switzerland and am currently trying to hack the hostel internet cafe to actually give me a browser that is useful. I figure it's a fair bargain seeing that it managed to swallow an hour and a half worth of credit in 3 minutes somehow!

It is in case like this that I am somewhat glad Windows is so full of security holes that hacking locked down pcs is often a reasonably simple excercise.

Well I'm in London now, been keeping busy which explains the lack of posts.

Have some nice pics of me on a dutch beach to post at some point.

Staying with old friend/flatmate Chris it's been nice, catching up on old times, meeting their two year old properly and seeing london through a vastly different perspective to the last time I visited.

In about a month and a half. I'm heading back to Scandinavia for some more music and hopefully some cycling/hiking. Knowing i'll be there in a public holiday period, thought I should book in advance. After my experiences in Norway, I'm not surprised to get responses like this...

"sorry we are closed 24-27.6 for the Mid summer festival!"

This is the warmest time of year, peak holiday season and tourism would abound... Why the hell would any business that catered to accommodating tourists want to close? And only 25th and 26th are public holidays, but I can guarantee that the place will shut down for at least 4 days.

I can kind of understand about the psyche of these Scandinavians, that they want to get out of towns and into the countryside to hike and spend time with family in summer cottages.

Killing time before The Gathering show yesterday, I did my first ever spot of true Dr Who tourism!

Years back when Mendy was in Oz, I mentioned that one episode of my favourite show was set in Amsterdam, so we sat down and watched it. She spotted a park where much of the early story is set as it was near where she worked part time before coming to Oz.

The episode was Arc Of Infinity, not a particular highlight of Who story wise but some nice location shots.

Saw two members of the gathering do an accoustic raido recording yesterday, was intimate and they only played 3 songs.

Got to meet the both of them, told them they should come to oz and that I was jealous I had not been able to see them perform with Agalloch in the US last year.

Well, in the immortal aussie phrase "not happy jan"

Despite not bothering to update their australian web resources. It appears that both Poland and Czech have lifted visa requirements for Australia. In particular the Czech decided to do this on the 28th April, but they still accepted my money to pay for a visa on the 29th !!

Hungary had the decency to announce their visa changes weeks ago.

Yesterday was Queens day here in Amsterdam, what that means is more orange than you would see in a Hare Krishna convention!

That and a huge party, with passing barges blaring out trashy music and overloaded with revellers. Also people dragging all their junk outside and trying to offload it it to someone else for a token amount, the fun is in the bargaining. If stuff doesn't get sold, then garbage trucks roll through during the night and take it all away. So its basically like spring cleaning.

Bas picked up a vintage game console, so old that the booklet came with complete schematics for the electronic innards!

Sat in a park and drunk beer whilst looking out for some birds (storks) which have supposedly returned to amsterdam after a few years absence. It's strange to see the reverse but they have problems with caged parakeets which escaped and have bred like wildfire to dominate the local bird population. Just like us and those bloody english birds I guess!

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