Saturday, March 27, 2004

Central Portugal to the Algarve south

Abrantes - Portalegre - Castello de Vide - Evora - Lagos - Capo de St Vincent - Sagres - Lagos

Bom dia outro! (Hello again!)

A thing about Tomar:
Tomar is the only place that has this flower festival which is quite interesting and I wish I had the chance to see. I think it is during Easter and a period in May where the men and women dress up in white shirts, black pants/skirt and a brightly coloured sash (men wear coloured ties to match their partner). The women carry on their heads a tall basket of roughly the same height as themselves, which has intertwined bread loaves and fresh flowers, with a crown on the top and a little ornament at the peak. They then walk down the street in a kind of parade. Not sure what else happens but it would be quite a sight to behold!

Also some things about Portugal:

· There seems to be a lot of stray dogs and cats around.

· Manueline architecture is a style only found in Portugal, decoration based on sea themes like intertwining rope, chains, anchors, sails, coral, shells, fish etc, carved and sculptured in marble and stone in a classical style, found usually in window/door frames, porticos and pillars. Very pretty.

· Aculejos are generally blue tile decorations with drawings and carvings, found everywhere in Portugal on walls, influenced by the moors and Muslims several centuries ago. Also quite pretty.

· Siestas (usually between 12 to 4pm) can be quite annoying as everything except some cafes and tourist attractions close then. So you’re left wandering the empty streets during that time...

· Internet access is free in most places which is why these emails can be so long! In Lagos you can even find them in bars and restaurants which you can use if you buy something.

· The good thing about travelling off-season is the availability of accommodation and shorter queues etc. The downside is that a lot of transport doesn’t run or does run but not at convenient times till the peak season in June. As a result I gave up trying to get to Elvas-Badajov-Alburquerque-Cacares-Merida-Elvas in east west/west Spain, and go ahead with my original plan (Evora).

· Buses aren’t always cheaper than trains I found out, for example, I caught a train from Abrantes to Portalegre which cost 5 euros (1.5hrs), where the bus would cost 8 euros and take longer (2hrs). Unfortunately sometimes you have no choice, for example I had to catch a bus from Portalegre to Castello de vide (10 euros return) and it is only 20 minutes away!

Anyway, back to where I left off...

I left Abrantes to Portalegre the next day. Portalegre is a nice town. They have a castle and a cathedral but I was more impressed with the monastery which I think must have been converted to some military building because I was stopped by some friendly guards. By speaking broken Portuguese they finally understood my intentions and told me that I can look outside but not go in.

I must be learning some Portuguese because I spent a night at the pub with some old Portuguese men watching a quiz show in Portuguese, and I was actually able to answer some of the questions! It helps when you can read the question and guess at the gist of what it is saying, combined with a basic grasp of Portuguese and a language dictionary (which John bought me and has been the most useful book I’ve ever had here! And it also has a food dictionary, which is very important to have with you, otherwise you’ll end up ordering something like cabbage soup (which I did in Nazare, called Caldo Verde (literally “hot green”), which luckily turned out delicious with grated up cabbage, potato and slices of chorizo (spiced sausage) in it) ).

Anyway, went to Castello de Vide and it was quite pretty. There are little fountains everywhere, they say anywhere in the walled town above the plains you can hear the sound of water somewhere! The castle was a pretty ordinary ruined castle but the narrow cobbled hilly streets in all directions and the houses with flowerpots and clothes hanging out from the top balcony of the houses was very picturesque! The description of the town is pretty much what most Portugal towns are like.

Was planning to go to Marvao but didn’t in the end due to really bad weather. So I spent the day indoors in Portalegre sitting in the cafes all day eating pastries, drinking coffees and writing in my journal or reading. Was quite relaxing not having to do anything...

Next stop was Evora. Evora is beautiful, and a tourist attraction for good reason. Approaching the town via bus through a road that goes between the arches of the large aqueduct was pretty dramatic, into the walled town with its many churches and buildings of renaissance, Moorish, Manueline and roman influences, the old university, the squares, monasteries, the chapel made of human bones which was really awesome. It was made in the 16th century by three Franciscan monks. The chapel is made of 5,000 human skulls and even more bones. The priest gave me a free personalised tour which was nice of him, (even though he only spoke Portuguese), and saw things I would have missed like some skulls still had teeth, some had jaws etc. It really is quite morbid, and the smell and touch of the place is quite hard to describe.

Now I am in Lagos, after passing through some nice countryside and towns, the plains, hills and valleys with purple, yellow and white wildflowers, and trees which I think are olive trees). Lagos is quite nice, especially walking along the coast to the rock formations on the coast which is quite pretty (Melbourne people think 12 apostles at Port Campbell but much nicer). The beaches are awesome, not much surf but the rocks formations are pretty. And I have a nice tan now

Made friends with the guy who owns the youth hostel down there (still don’t know his name). Spent some nights discussing history with him, I love history and Portugal is full of it. Portugal used to be the richest country in the world but bad industrial planning, a couple of bad rulers and extremely high ransoms paid from kidnapped princes etc, and now the country is not as rich as other countries in Europe. But then when you think about it every country has its time of grandeur and richness (so I’m waiting for the day the Australia becomes one ). I am a firm believer that it’s not what you see, but the people you meet and the things you learn that make travelling, and indeed life, so much richer and wonderful.

Went down to Capo de St Vincent and Sagres for the day, which is the South Westernmost point of Europe and Portugal facing the Atlantic Ocean. The forts and lighthouses were average, but the spectacular huge waves crashing against the rocks was quite a sight to see. Oh and it’s very windy. The place reminds me of a Greek island with its white painted concrete walls, fences and houses.

Anyway, next stop is Seville, in Spain. I’m cant get accommodation on Saturday night because they are having their famous April Festival then, there so what I plan to do is stash my bag in a locker when I get there and stay up all night. After all it is the Seville April Festival!


Friday, March 19, 2004

Lisbon and Central Portugal

Lisbon - Sintra - Obidos - Nazare - Fatima - Tomar - Abrantes...

Bom dia, como esta?

My arrival in Lisbon (called Lisboa here) was not exactly easy. Firstly I was stuck in passport control for an hour because the officials are so slow! And got in the queue that was the slowest of them all that I ended up somehow being the last person to have their passport looked at. Then I get told by the official that I cant stay in Europe for 7 months without having to leave it a couple of times because I’m only allowed in Portugal for 90 days, but he told me that it applies to all of Europe because all borders are the same based on the Schengen agreement. I think he’s wrong though because other Aussies I’ve encountered have never had problems with that. Oh well, I suppose I can always go to Morocco or Andorra if I want to skip out of the EU and back.

Anyway, then I thought I lost my luggage, because I didn’t know which luggage belt it was on because I was stuck so long in the passport control that all references to my flight on the screens telling you where it is was gone! Luckily enough I spotted it just as I was about to give up hope. Looks like someone up there likes me! (Travel tip: buy a backpack/suitcase that is easily recognised – this way no one walks off with mistaken luggage and your luggage is easy to find amongst the sea of black similar looking suitcases).

Then I get to the Youth hostel only to be told that the reservation number they gave me is wrong. After fixing that up though they then tell me I need a YHA card to stay in the hostel, and the card I was trying to use for it that the travel agent at home told me I could use was not the right one! So I had to pay another 12 euros for a YHA card.

Oh well, I expected that in the first few weeks of travel I will make plenty of mistakes and waste lots of time and money learning from them, so I’m not that worried.

Anyway, Lisbon is very nice, it is on the edge of a very wide river towards the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. I got to see the Castello de Sao Jorge, which is the castle looming over the city on a hill, the Oceanarium, the Santa Justa Lift (gothic style lift of steel and iron to the top of the hilly area of the city) the cobbled pavements, nice plazas, fountains, monuments and architecture, houses of yellow/white sandstone and terracotta roofing of earthy colours, and Manueline sculptures and acujelos (blue glazed tiles influenced by the moors) found on several buildings. Muito bonito (very beautiful)! There are also a number of nice parks that I spent some of my week in Lisbon reading and listening to music all day (because of the Easter public holidays which meant most things were closed). Actually most of the towns in Portugal are like this.

Was a little disappointed as I thought that Easter was a big thing for Portugal, but Lisbon was very quiet with few people around during it. I think they all went south to the beaches on the Algarve (where I will be heading towards soon). But no big dramatic celebrations, probably should have gone to the smaller traditional religious towns for that.

Met a girl from England called Jasmine, slightly eccentric, a lot of laughs, looks like Nicole Kidman, and very independent. Anyway spent a day with her walking (what turned out to be 6 miles and 3 hours long because according to her "it doesn’t look that far on the map") up to the Belem riverside area to see the huge Jeronomos Monastery/garden, the 24th April Bridge that looks exactly like the golden gate bridge in San Francisco, Belem tower and some green lizards we found while walking. Oh and running through water sprinklers when the caretaker wasn’t looking. Also saw the castle with a guy from Spain called Erik (who looks like Johnny Depp) who I may visit in Barcelona and a guy called Marcos from Austria (who looks like Hugh Jackman/Ewan Macgregor). Seriously it was quite funny meeting 3 people that look like celebrities all in the same week.

Went with Marcos to see some traditional Fado music being performed up in the Bairro Alto area of Lisbon, where its nightlife revolves around. The place up a big hill is full of small cobbled alleyways crisscrossing each other where you would see a plethora of bars and clubs from popular to jazz to traditional salsa. Fado is a type of music played only in Portugal, which consists of melancholy songs sung to the sound of a Portuguese guitar. It is quite nice to hear.

Cervaja (Beer) is really cheap in Portugal. In fact Portugal in general is cheap! A glass costs only 70cents, a 0.5litre pint 1,40euros. The beer itself (Superbock or Sagres) is quite good.

Also tried some traditional Bacalhaus (dried salted cod) for dinner once. I don’t really like fish, but this was really good, battered, covered with onions, carrot and vinegar type gravy sauce, served with salad and fried potatoes. Also tried a Nazare dish, which is 3 types of fish in a casserole of potatoes, onions, tomatoes and herbs. Yum!

Also tried Quaijadas (a special type of cheesecake) which reminds me of sponge cake with honey served in a waffle base, and Pastel de Nates, which is a nice custard cream tart. I love Europe food (and drink)! In fact when I get home I’m going to learn to cook all the nice food I discover here!

Portuguese people seem quite friendly, especially in the countryside. They seem eager to go out of their way to help you. When I was lost in the middle of the night in Abrantes looking for the youth hostel I was escorted by a large group of old men to the place!

I’ve been trying to learn a little Portuguese (Fala poqueno Portuguese), things such as such as "bom dia, pode mi a chave, numero duzentos e sete por favor" which means "hello, can I have the key, number 207 please?" at the youth hostel. I have a long way to go...

Portuguese guy on street: "You want hash?"
Me: "Nao, obrigado" (no, thankyou)
Portuguese guy on street: "You want marijuana?"
Me: "Nao, obrigado" (no, thankyou)
Portuguese guy on street: "You want sunglasses?"
Me: "Como?" (Huh?)

Never knew sunglasses were an illegal drug....

Spent a day in Sintra while I was in Lisbon. Sintra is beautiful and is in fact my favourite place in Portugal. The views up the forest mountain is spectacular, you can see villages all the way to the ocean coast! And the Pena Palace, a splendid palace of yellow, purple and white. There is a particular place in the forest garden called the Queens Bench which you see all the views and the palace in front of you on top of the mountain. I can imagine waiting till sunset and then asking someone to marry me up there with a ring and bottle of champagne - it is very romantic. Also the Moorish castle and the cosy historical centre...I could go on about it but this email is too long...

Anyway, next day I ended up in Nazare which wasn’t what I originally planned. I was planning to stay in Obidos, which is a pretty walled village in castle walls north of Lisbon. However the irregular bus times forced me to go to Nazare so I can get to Tomar the next day.

Nazare is a nice fishing town with a nice sandy beach (though quite shelly) and cliff face, where the old part of town lies, only accessible from the coastal part of town via steps or a vintage tram lift. The locals dress in traditional cotton fabrics of black and yellow with coloured patterned embroidery or prints. They also set up stalls by the beach where you can buy dried fruits, nuts and fish.

Went to Fatima next (which also wasn’t planned), which is the site of the Virgin Mary Apparitions by the three children/Shepard’s/pilgrims and the site of the miracle where 70,000 people saw the "sun dancing".
It was quite an experience seeing people walk on their hands and knees on this marble path to the site of the visitations just outside the grand church built around it. The museum of Apparitions 1917 was quite funny because it was really bad - the sound effects and voice recordings were of terrible quality, and the climatic ending when the recording said "Look at the sun!", there was a pause, the attendant then walked into the room, pressed a button, and then there was a light show of the "sun dancing". Oh well, its the idea that counts!

Went to Tomar afterwards, which the castle/church up the hill was the site of the former headquarters of the Knights Templars, or Knights of Christ. The castle was quite nice but the church was spectacular, with 8 pillars of gold and painted frescos surrounding the altar, and holding up the hexagonal domed circular enclosure. It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to take photos!

Anyway, now I am in Abrantes, which I never heard of before and never planned but thought it a convenient stop overnight before heading to Portalegre this afternoon. Abrantes is nice with its castle and river, but I was most impressed with the gardens outside the castle, with exotic flowers and little ponds with swans etc, and views over the town. What I found unusual was the presence of a skateboard arena with ramps etc just outside the walls of the castle. Even more unusual was that the place had graffiti everywhere except the walls of the castle. Perhaps the youths in the area have pride in their castle or something?

My next places to visit are Portalegre, Castello de Vide, Marvao, possibly Elvas (so I can pop into Spain and visit Albuquerque made famous from bugs bunny cartoons ), Evora, Faro, Lagos, then Seville for a week. After that I might go to Morocco or continue to the east of Spain....


Tuesday, March 9, 2004

James in Hanover, Celle & Berlin

Gutentag everyone! Wo geht es dir? (how are you?)

Seems like this email list has doubled in size since I left Melbourne over 6 months ago...

It's been an interesting last few weeks, and life has been an emotional roller coaster for me lately due to the passing away of my best friend in a car accident (my thoughts, feelings and details regarding the death of my best friend I wish to not reveal here) and the birth of my sisters first child in Singapore - my first nephew! My parents have flown up from Melbourne to be with my sister and her husband in Singapore for support - they're happy to finally have a grandchild! I am quite envious because I would like to one day settle down and have a family of my own eventually. Maybe I’ll even decide settle down in Europe - you never know what the future holds!

Anyway, after I left Bristol I caught a bus to London, plane to Germany Lubeck, bus to Hamburg, then train all the way to Hanover. Naturally I had to have a hamburger in Hamburg. Just arriving in a foreign country where people speak a different language is quite daunting and scary at first, and trying to ask for a hamburger in Hamburg was more difficult than I thought it would be!

Anyway, I was in Hanover for the CEBIT exhibition show, which was enormous! There are 36 exhibition halls at the show, all the size of a very large warehouse. For Melbourne people, think size of Melbourne Exhibition Building and multiply that 36 times!

Anyway I was there to demonstrate StudyWiz Extranet products for Etechgroup in the Australia Future Park Pavilion. It was pretty interesting, and I got to learn and practice a bit of German at the same time, thanks to John's (my housemate in Bristol) European Dictionary and, learning German phrases from Lynn (German girl working at the Australia pavilion information stand). Because we got free coffee at the place I learnt to ask "Kann ich eine kaffee haben mit milch und zwei zucker und eine pletschein bitte?" = "Can I have a coffee with milk and two sugars and a biscuit please?"

People were impressed with how fast I was learning German since I didn't know any before I arrived, but I’m sure I’ll forget it all once I am in Portugal (which is tomorrow). I'm hoping though that at the end of my big trip I would be able to speak basic different languages. In fact I met this fun pretty German girl Charlotte at a CEBIT party (who is the only person I know outside Melbourne High School who knows the words to Carmina Burana ). Anyway because she can speak different languages I found myself conversing with her in English, Spanish, French and German all at once! "I like to start my sentences in English y termine en espanol!"

The CEBIT show itself was quite an event, especially the parties that went on after each day ended. There would be parties for different countries and companies that were free or by invitation. Free beer and food and music was provided. The great thing about German beer is that you can drink lots of it, it is of great quality, and you don't wake up with a hangover the next morning!

Also tried some traditional currywurst, which is really nice, and simple to prepare. All you do is get a spicy sausage, cut it up, cover it with a ketchup/curry sauce and sprinkle curry powder on the top. Serve it with a brotchen (bread roll) or potato fries with mayonnaise and you're done!

I think what makes travel more memorable and fun is when things don't exactly go to plan and the people you meet. I recall the first night at the CEBIT show my boss Geoff and I were heading home and caught a strassebahn (tram), where I started talking to this German girl Guilia who was heading the same way as us. However the tramline forked at some point and instead of going in the direction we wanted, it went the other way. So we all got off the tram and Geoff suggested that we all walk in the direction we think the place we were staying at was because it wasn't too far off. Anyway, 45 minutes later we all found ourselves standing in front of a large empty field of grass and a dirt track in the middle of the night! It was a miracle we (eventually) found our way home from that point afterwards and is not an experience easily forgotten!

After CEBIT I went for a day to Celle (recommended by John), which is just north east of Hanover. And it was worth it - Celle is beautiful! Walking from the train station at Celle it looks all modern and ordinary, but 15 minutes down the road and gradually it turns into the tranquil old traditional cobbled streets and brightly painted wooden buildings. It was like I had walked into some oil painting or something! Celle is one of the few towns in Germany that apparently was not bombed, so still keeps its original traditional splendour! There are also not many more places like it in Germany these days. It also has a castle, but I was more impressed with the town.

Hanover itself I didn't get to fully explore, but did see the beautiful Herrenhauser gartens (recommended by Lynn) with its marble and bronze sculptures, hidden gardens within gardens and fountains. Unfortunately due to the time of the year the trees were still in winter form so I think I may have to go back and see it again next time I go back to Germany in July!

Anyway, after Celle I went to Berlin....

Ah Berlin! A glorious place, and one of my favourite cities! I stayed there for a week and yet it was not enough - I did not get to see all the things I wanted to see like Potsdam etc.. And I did see a fair amount, from the Tiergarten with the Victory column and the Reichstag in West Berlin with its modern glass dome which you can climb up and see around Berlin, to the Brandenburg gate, Under den Linden, the Fernestrum tower and Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. My favourite building at the moment is the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), you walk down Under den Linden and see all these classical and impressive looking buildings, embassies, libraries and universities, cross the river and you see this huge neo-renaissance building with it's green, gold and black colours. Whenever I walked past it I just had to stop and look at it. I even went inside which is also impressive, and for a bit of "culture" and also in respect of my best friend sat in to hear a church sermon in German. Quite an experience.

Anyway also saw the areas around Preuzler Berg (Jewish quarter), Kreunberg (south east) and Potsdamer Platz, which has only been built 10 years ago on top of where the wall once stood, and is today one of the most interesting architectural modern buildings in the world! You walk into the Platz and you feel disorientated looking up seeing the different angles and edges and dimensions of the surrounding buildings, with this huge glass cone adjoining the surrounding buildings together! There's also some squatter residences, one place is called Taches and it is an ex- department store that squatters have taken over and transformed into a place where it has it's own cinema, shops, cafe and other things. The building itself is covered with graffiti and is very run down, but it is very impressive.
Of course I also went to see Checkpoint Charlie and places where the wall still stood. Also went to some of the museums (as Berlin is the capital of museums), Charlottensburg palace/gardens, and all sorts of places that I don't have time to write about. In 6 days I did a lot of walking, because Berlin is so spread out, and must have walked the equivalent of 10kms a day! You can also tell the more further in east Berlin you go the more you can see the influence of the communist regime on the place with the high rise commission flat housing and the grey dreariness of the place.

Berlin is actually quite cheap despite being the capital of Berlin. You can easily live on Turkish Kebabs and Currywurst for about 2 euros and they are quite filling too! There is also much history in Berlin, the wall being one. I met up with Gunter, a German friend I made at CEBIT who took me around to a nice pub in Kreunberg over good beer and the best grilled chicken in the world, and he told me stories about the Berlin wall and the people who lived through it, stories that you generally never hear about, as well as the terrible there are some that are inspiring, amusing, and beautiful, demonstrating the power and faith and goodness of the human spirit in times of repression, evil and despair.

Berlin is going under extensive redevelopment and building after being bombed to ruins during WWII. It is common to see huge cranes around the city, and there are these pink and purple large water pipes all over the city, over roads and along footpaths, all to pump groundwater to stabilise the water level while the huge excavation and building work is going on I hear.

The nightlife I didn’t get to explore much. I remember the first night me and Callum (Aussie guy I met at Youth Hostel) went searching for pubs and found ourselves in a gay pub. For some reason it didn't dawn on us when we opened the door to find a red velvet curtain hanging over the door, the absence of females and the looks we got from all the guys at the pub until we sat and ordered some beers! We drank those beers pretty fast! Also went to other places like Hackesher Hofe, Oranienburgerstrasse and kurfenstdammstrasse etc...

I had a Berliner. It's just a jam filled donut.

In a nutshell I was very impressed with Germany. Most people are friendly and can speak perfect English, the trains run on time, everything is efficient...the only downside I found was the bad signage in the S-bahns and U-bahns (subways and underground trains) they were quite confusing and often pointed to the general direction of where you wanted to go rather than the specific. Also having to pay to use public toilets was annoying, and they weren't cheap either! Anyway this email is getting quite long so I’ll write about the different beers and other such German things and observations when I’m back in Germany for a month in July!

Anyway, wish I could write more but I’m out of time. I'm currently in London staying at Emily and Iain’s flat at the moment having been into Bristol a few days ago to collect some things and see John and Donna (friend in Bristol who is currently looking after my guitar and making sure it's getting played in my absence. Sigh, miss my guitar already, shame I can't bring it with me around Europe )

Met up briefly with Jana in London as she was coming back from Slovakia to Bristol. Although we still confessed our feelings for each other, we decided to leave it at that since for many reasons we knew it could not work. For example, she wants to live in Slovakia whereas I’d find it quite difficult to do so. Oh well, gotta keep searching…

Met up with Martin (British friend from the Contiki tour I did when I first got here) and his friends and we went to a London club called "Verge" to experience some very British 70's style electronica - not my style of music but interesting I guess to listen to. British people are quite weird I found, at one point I was discussing with someone about how abusing silkworms by boiling them in the silk industry is making baby Buddha cry. Yes I know. (In fact the topic came about because it was the topic of a very popular song in Britain in 197

Anyway, I leave for Lisbon in Portugal tomorrow - the start of my big trip across Europe, starting in Portugal, to Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Italy, Croatia to end up in Greece by the end of October! Quite scary actually. It will be difficult in Portugal I think because the language is so hard to understand, in Portugal they speak Portuguese very slurred and fast so even someone who learns Portuguese might have problems understanding it. And I know none at the moment. So fun times ahead hey!?


Monday, March 1, 2004

James Leaves Bristol for Germany

Hi all,

I am finally leaving Bristol, the Kingswood Partnership, Jana and all the people I’ve met and befriended, in order to continue my travels as originally planned. What started as a 3-day work/visit to Bristol has resulted in what has now become over 5 months here. In other words I’ve been here too long that I’ve become attached to people, the place and my life here that I am quite sad to leave. It's like closing a chapter of my life forever, but one that has taught me a lot about English/Bristol life and culture. People reckon I’ve even picked up the "r's" of the Bristol accent.

Anyway here are some notes about Bristol life:

Firstly, their accent is very thick and can be hard to understand. In fact it can be likened to a pirate accent (could have something to do with Bristols seaside history – but then they used to be slave traders not pirates - which naturally is a touchy subject ) For example, they tend to end sentences with a "yaw" sound, eg, Australia becomes Austrai-e-yaw, Bristol is Bris-taw and so on.

Some words and phrases common to the Bristol people:

Muppet = fool. eg "you Muppet!"
Lush = really nice. "that looks really lush!"
Safe = you're cool, ok. "you're safe!"
Fish'lot = Fish and Chips

Bristol is part of the South West of England, which is an area famous for Avon, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall (Cornish people). Their history leads back to the romanticism of the King Arthur Legends, the Holy Grail, Druids and Stonehenge, and lets not forget Jane Austen who lived in Bath.

However these days South West people are thought of as "backward", "simple" and "cider drinkers". The cider drinking is true though, as the South West is known for it's Apple Ciders, Cornish pasties (which I’ve yet to try), good beaches and surfing (as best you can get in England anyways), and lets not forget the "Wurzels" - an old comical music band that sang songs from the South West best sung in pubs, such as "Drink up thy Zider" (drink up your cider) and so forth.

Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to visit Cornwall, the only time I’ve been down there was to go bird watching with John at 4am at the coast of Halle to look at an American robin (which is common in America but rare in these parts). We did end up finding it and watched it for a good hour before it got disturbed by a herd of cows, which pretty sums up the South West for you.

I finally got to try out the famed Bristol nightlife! Went to places around the city centre, down Corn Street and Colston Avenue to places like "The Commercial Rooms" which was a bank building now turned into a bar. The room is a huge domed high roofed place, it's like you're drinking in an old town building or main school hall! There is no music but there is cheap alcohol so it's a good place to drink and chat before going to the real clubby places....

There are other places such as "Worx", "Evolution" and "Carling Academy" which is where I went with Donna (friend from pub) one night. (Carling is a type of lager here and my replacement for Carlton Draught) Not a bad place, a big open area with multiple levels/balconies/bars overlooking the crowd below. I think the Carling pints were £1 each (compared to the pub I work at which costs £2.35).

Also went to the famed "80s Bar" with Nigel (friend from pub) which was tacky (as the 80's was) but lots of fun! After all I am a child of the 80's! Also went to the "UWE", the Bristol university/college bar and club with Tom (son of Nick, a friend of mine through John) and his mates, was lots of fun, with the club upstairs playing commercial music.

When I first got here I didn't like the taste of Ales. They are warm and flat and remind me of beer being left out overnight in a warm room. But now I’ve grown fond of them.

Some ales I’ve tried:
· Bath Ales - nice, cool, you can taste the limestone-saturated water that bath is known for in it.
· Courage Best Bitter - has a bit of kick to it, was my favourite until I tried London Pride last night.
· London Pride - Very smooth ale.
· Theakston Old Peculiar - malty, strong full bodied, dark and smooth.
· Spitfire - strong ale from Kent, lagerish, is pale red tinge coloured
· Bishops Finger - same as spitfire but dark coloured
· Badger Golden Champion Ales - strong but nice.

English foods I’ve tried:
· Mr Kipling Bakewell slices - rectangle almond flavoured sponge slices with jam topped with white and brown icing. Yum.
· McVities Mc-V Classic Rich Tea Biscuits.
· Tunnocks Tea Cakes - Marshmallow on a biscuit base covered with chocolate.
· PG Tips - popular English brand of tea.
· Kipper's - fish, not bad, salty, wouldn't want to eat it again though

So, what have I been up to? Pretty much working at the pub and schools as usual. Did go down to Dorset last week for some work in a private English school called "Bryanston". Very big school/grounds, they charge heaps to go there. It reminds me of a "Dead Poets Society" school, but not as traditional or rigid. I've been told they do have some eccentric English teachers though but not ones that would jump on top of their desks yelling "Carpe Diem" unfortunately.

Did stay the night in a nice B&B, after having dinner with friends of Phillip (who works for AT Computers, a reseller for Etechgroup). These friends live in a place in Wimbourne called "Happy Bottom". Yes the English are indeed eccentric!

Did experience a few snowfalls, walked home in one very excited and got all covered in snowflakes so I had to take a photo! I'm such a kid sometimes. I'm lucky though, it hasn't snowed for several years and I happen to be in Bristol when it does!

Did throw an Aussie BBQ as a farewell party, meaning it was held in cold weather at night (as Aussie have barbies regardless of weather). It was a success, with all sorts of meat, chicken, vege burgers and a huge cod that Nick caught fishing the last week.

Also had a final gathering at the Dolphin pub (my local pub, not the Wishing Well) for last drinks with friends and some good ol' karaoke

Spent last night with Jana to say farewell. We are staying friends. We have plans to meet up in London in 3 weeks time when I come back from Berlin as she will be coming back from Slovakia (as she's going there to visit relatives/friends). Jana has plans to come down to Australia at some later stage. So does Tom and Donna, so some of you might end up meeting the very people I talk about

This is my final day working at the school, having been taken to lunch by Jez and Tony (the managers) to a local pub called "The Griffin". Afterwards I will say farewell to some of the students and teachers I’ve grown close to and then make my way down to Hanover via bus/plane/bus/train overnight. As a result I won't be getting any sleep tonight.

Anyway, my plans are to work for Etechgroup at the CeBit technology show in Hanover Germany for a week, then spend one week in Berlin's museums, nightlife and sights. Then it's a week in London preparing for my big 7-month stint across Europe, starting with Easter in Lisbon, Portugal, ending with Greece in late October. Scary fun times ahead. Fingers crossed I can do it hey?

Thus closes this chapter of my life. Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Germany!

Auf Wiedersehen!