Journal: Driving around New Zealand listening to The Clean

As the seasons in London shift from summer to autumn, the slight chill in the air juxtaposing the still bright daylight, and a blue sky not yet obscured by grey bleakness, is reminding me of the similar climates of my homeland. Particularly Dunedin, which if memory serves me correctly often finds itself in similarly contradicting conditions. One of the most pleasant things about Dunedin weather, is that even when it is frozen cold, with morning frosts rendering grass crisp like icicles, the sky will nearly always be blue and welcoming. A cold day will always be bright enough to run about outside – which we did plenty of as kids, in the parks, streams and fields of my hometown, Mosgiel.

dunedin-street

A wet Dunedin day

The weather shift also reminded me of some music that seemed to go hand and hand with the chilly warm days of Dunedin. Before I moved over to London, I did a lot of driving around New Zealand – mostly in Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton, as I strove to obtain my full license before embarking on a mission overseas. I moved to Auckland for several years before London, but I often found myself flying back to Dunedin to visit friends. During these visits, driving around in my Mum’s silver Kea or Grandma’s Mitsubishi, The Clean seemed the perfect soundtrack to to exploring the winding Otago Peninsula and sloped streets of Dunedin. So now that I’m roughly 19,075 km’s from Dunedin, and have been for over 14 months, it is maybe quite comforting to listen to a band such as The Clean, whose music seems to so strongly reflect the landscapes that the Kilgour brothers, and Robert Scott grew up in. Scott was born in Mosgiel, and the Kilgour’s in Dunedin, and I’m not exactly why their music seems to be to be the perfect companion for our vibrant student town and surrounding landscape. Perhaps it’s just that by me choosing to frequently play their Anthology during my cruises ingrained the comparison in my mind. But it seems quite possible that the landscape and energy of the town equally inspired the music – that which was born in student flats and bars of the 1970s, along with other reverb drentched, jangley, guitar based bands such as The Chills, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings, The 3D’s etc.. and all the other Flying Nun and Dunedin Sound family.

10671282_10153328666199606_6543501879145605735_n

Pulled over by the cops – on the desert road – North Island

I do favour the hilly roads on Dunedin, but the Waikato has it’s share of roadtrip memories as well, as after my Mum moved to Hamilton in 2012, I spent many weekends driving around those much flatter streets, and generally warmer climate, but again found myself often choosing Dunedin sound bands as the soundtrack. The Clean’s Vehicle seemed to suit these roads, their 1990 album recorded in London during a re-union tour. This is an album I’m returning to now, and perhaps finding an interesting existential connection the circumstances that surround that albums creation, seeing as David Kilgour was also lost for several years in this UK metropolis. Vehicle is the sound of The Clean again connecting with their homeland, and for me being all those kilometers away, it serves a nice replacement to actually standing on New Zealand streets.

So before I go off on another Europe adventure, I thought I would flashback to those cold New Zealand driving missions, where in one case we were off to shoot a music video at the abandoned World War II gun emplacements along the Otago Peninsula, just along from the favourite of New Zealand tourism, the Albatross colony. Or another time, heading off with my friend Anthony to explore the West Coast of the South Island, and both the Fox and Franz Joseph Glacier. Being in central London for more than a year, these experiences of freedom out in the Southern most countryside of the world do seem all the more special. There are many things going for London, but space and fresh air are largely not amongst them. That’s something that Dunedin and New Zealand has in abundance.

hamish-and-ants-roadtrip west coast south island

Anthony Keenan (Ants) and I on the West Coast of New Zealand

Advertisements

Traveling through Paris during the 2015 attacks

I didn’t really want to touch the subject of the Paris attacks and the ensuing international panic at the time, hence it has taken me a long time to revisit my trip first trip to France – from November 2014. At the time, the presses reaction seemed typical, repetitious and all too remnant of the post 9/11 events over a decade ago. Murders took place and the immediate gut reaction by world powers was to cause more death. In the two months since, the topic of social media water-debate has well moved on from weather or not England should help in bombing Isis in the Middle East. More topics, tragedies and famous deaths have taken precedence. At the time I felt I wasn’t schooled enough in political history to know whether increasing bombing in Syria and the surrounding areas was the right thing to do. So I withheld opinion, even if my gut reaction was and is that peace should be achieved by means other than violence. I’m probably an idealist however.

But this is a travel blog – so lets move on from politics and discuss my first experiences with the most famous French city. My brother Callum and I had arrived in Paris in the morning of the 13th of November wide eyed and full of enthusiasm for checking out the Parisian sites. My first impressions were positive – the Eiffel tower loomed impressively in the distance and my first taste of French food while on French soil lived up to expectations. I bungled ordering a Baguette, being told off by a shop assistant for lifting up the packaging to see what fillings were inside. I couldn’t yet read any of the labels or understand that the lady was yelling at me – but my brother soon twigged and told me to stop fondling the baguettes. The next mission involved viewing the Eiffel Tower, which was every bit as impressive as the hype had led me to believe. We wandered around the area beside the tower for a while and marveled at the impressive architecture the Parisians have amassed over various political and cultural phase. Darkness hit, the tower was lit up, and then it was back to the hotel. A quiet first day, as me and my brother who was my traveling companion had planned to see more of the city, including the Louvre the next day.

paris november 13th 2016 eiffel tower

That night my brother and I went off to explore the Latin Quarter, the famous area of winding streets, restaurants and markets that would have once housed much of Paris’ artist community. My brother returned to the hotel early, while I kept exploring solo. I had no idea of what was taking place elsewhere in Paris on Friday the 13th of November as I strolled through the Latin Quarter, searching for music venues and enjoying the vibrant feel of the cities nightlife. The vibe there was electric – I had managed to stumble upon a local jazz group playing a cover of Sloop John B. A couple started swing dancing in response to the street jazz band. It seemed a serendipitous occurrence, to have seen something that embodied the stereotypical view of a cultured France. After a bit more walking through the streets, I made my way to an underground Medieval-era bar, Caveau des Oubliettes. A blues band was performing, of not exceptional skill, but the environment was unique.

It was only on my way home that I received worried text messages from both my parents saying that there had been a terrorist attack somewhere in Paris and asking if I was alright. I didn’t think a great deal of this at first, as we hear so much about violence taking place internationally on a daily basis, we become a bit desensitized to such warnings. I took the underground to meet Callum back at the hotel and observed the faces of the locals, wondering if what was taking place elsewhere was serious. There weren’t many people in the underground, but those there did look a bit concerned. One lady held her partners hand, staring sorrowfully into his eyes. The streets around the hotel were largely empty and once I got back to the hotel, Callum clued me up as to what was going on. The seriousness now dawned on me. I vaguely had a look at a news report stating an Eagles Of Death Metal concert had been shot at, but I didn’t want to think about that. I could have been at concert, given difference circumstances. So we decided to get some sleep, and re-evaluate the situation the next day.

We had promised our parents we wouldn’t take any risks the next day, but just after waking we decided to try and visit the Louvre as per our previous plans. My brother was rightfully a bit cautious about traveling through the city – there was police and military presence everywhere including on the tube, and therefore I didn’t feel particularly unsafe. We made our way to the Louvre and there were no queues and barely any crowds of people. It was looking like it might be an easy day to gain entrance due to the lack of crowds. We soon were made aware of the national day of morning – putting an end to our plans to visit any major Parisian activities. Never the less we still managed exploring the city, viewing the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Cœur at the highest point of Paris,  and visiting a few free art galleries. We finished our day with a very reasonably priced three course meal back in my favourite area, the Latin Quarter, so all-in-all it was an as-per-normal day of tourist activities. Just with a much heightened police presence.

The next day was my last day in France, so still no visit to the Lourve this time around. That will have to wait. Even though what happened in Paris was huge international consequence, from by point of view as a naive tourist, the city and it’s people showed no sign of giving into any fear. They were all going about their daily lives, and nothing ever felt unsafe. Which is perhaps more than can be said for the daily life of anyone still living in Damascus. I hate to overlook the losses within Paris – it’s horrible and tragic whenever large scale deaths occur within any community – but what happened in Paris was only an isolated incident. The happening in Syria and other such places is occurring daily. I’ve not a great deal of deep conclusions to draw from my time being in Paris during a large international incident – all I can say, is that from the point of view of an irresponsible and perhaps insensitive traveler such as myself – it was still a good place to visit. I can’t wait to go back.

hamish and callum in paris

Travel: Morocco (part 2) – The Chaos of Marrakesh

In the last blog I detailed my first day in Morocco, a brief exploration of the beach side town of Essaouira. I was only in Morocco for 3 nights, so although I was only just getting my bearings in Essaouira, I soon found myself rushing off to Marrakesh. The short bus journey took 2 hours, the highlight of which a stop at a rural cafe, where I got my first taste of Moroccan mint tea. Also known as Berber whiskey (for the Berber people traditionally don’t drink alcohol), the mint tea was available in every cafe and restaurant and was always a welcome refreshment. When the bus eventually entered Marrakesh, I immediately noted the frantic nature of the place compared to Essaouira. Hoards of bus drivers approached me as I exited the bus, all vying for my dirhams. I managed to talk one driver into giving me a pretty good price, so I was soon on my way to the Riad (which is a traditional Moroccan house).
marrakesh mint tea berber whisky
The Marrakesh traffic was mad, with lanes filled with motorbikes, taxis and cars. The driver insisted not to use my seat belt, which seemed standard among all taxi drivers I encountered. After being let out of the taxi seemingly in the middle of nowhere, I eventually found the Riad, and met up with my fellow New Zealand traveling companion Stefan. We decided to venture into the central market for dinner. The chaos continued as we followed the streets of Marrakesh into the market square. The place was crammed – with people selling things, taxis parked, motorbikes, cyclists, cars and horses. A bit of a difference to the relative calm of Essaouira. We made it to the market and the confrontational style of Marrakesh market owners was immediately apparent. Store owners will approach you directly, especially if you’re a tourist, to convince you to buy their stock or eat at their establishment.  If you’re good at saying no it won’t be hard to resist, but if you’re soft, you could easily find yourself shelling over considerable amounts for trinkets and things you probably don’t need. Market owners will double the price of anything if you’re a tourist – so haggling and bargaining is absolutely necessary to get a good deal.
marrakesh snake charmers
We walked around this for a short time, spotting local performers, drum circles and guitarists performing. Not staying long however, as too long a pause and you’re likely to be accosted by a local to hand over some dirhams. We eventually found a small tent to eat at, and to great pleasure I dined on my first Tagine. A Targine is a traditional Berber dish, named after the Targine pot that it’s cooked and served piping hot in, and is somewhat similar to a stew. It comes with a variety of meats such as Chicken, Lamb, Beef and sometimes Rabbit, with a spicy sauce, with olives and maybe dates and a few vegetables. They are delicious and a major culinary highlight for visiting Morocco.
IMG_0617
Later that night we explored the bar scene in Marrakesh, which isn’t huge as being a mostly dry Muslim country, the majority of the drinking is partaken by the tourists. We found a pretty touristy piano bar and had a few cocktails by a swimming pool, before relocating to a more authentic local bar. Drinking the local beer, Casablanca, we made friends with a local musician working at the establishment, and attempted to jam along with his Oud guitar riffs. The night was slipping by, and it wasn’t until 1pm that we would leave the club, heading back to our Riad in order to get a bit of sleep before the day trip we had planned – which would be beginning at 7am the next morning. It took sometime to escape the bar without offending the locals (or getting into trouble), as a couple of men at the bar were attempting to sell us things we probably didn’t need – perhaps taking advantage of our tourist ways. We got home, but not before being followed by a random man. The walk to the Riad was definitely uncomfortable, due to this man shadowing us. We gave him a cigarette, made it safely into our Riad, and were happy to end the night. Perhaps a slight warning the Marrakesh is not the safest at night, if you happen to go drinking.
Ait-Ben-Haddou ksar
The next morning saw Stefan and I slightly hazily embarking on our day return trip to see Aït Ben-Haddou, a mud-brick ksar against a mountainside, the set of many famous films such as Lawrence Of Arabia, Gladiator as well as another Moroccan location for Game Of Thrones. A Unesco world heritage site, this ksar is one of the best surviving examples of pre-Saharan Berber architecture, built around 17th century (but propagated from very early period architecture from the area) It’s a four hour drive from Marrakesh to Aït Ben-Haddou, winding through the atlas mountains, some of the highest peaks in North Africa. We’d planned to join a tour group to travel to the mud-brick ksar, although due to a booking error on my travel companions behalf, we ended up on a private tour. I was slightly hungover from the night before and being stuck in a car for many hours with just Stefan and our driver-guide Mustafa initially seemed a slight disappointment, as I had hoped to meet fellow travelers via a tour group. But the private tour had it’s positives – Mustafa was a very educated and gave us plenty of information on the Berber and Arab people in the area. We stopped off at an abandoned kasbah along the way – a ruin on the outside yet nearly untouched in elaborate design on the inside. The landscape was spectacular and Mustafa gave us plenty of opportunity to stop and take photos.
marrakesh
Once we reached Aït Ben-Haddou, we first stopped for lunch, this time trying the cous-cous on a rooftop restaurant with a view of the ksar. Sometimes – sitting a spectacular spot such as this one, viewing an ancient architectural monument, makes one feel that are pretty fortunate, and also fairly undeserving of experiencing such sights. Our generation has travel so easy, you can start to take for granted opportunities to see parts of the world that our ancestors would have had no chance to see. Being among places of splendor can seem transcendent, but just as much they can be fairly unaffecting. To this extent, we finished our meal, eating one of the best oranges I’ve ever eaten (Moroccan fruit and vegetables are notably delicious) and then with a Berber guide we were taken through-out the ksar. Regular people were living their lives in this celebrated traditional structure, with tourists in groups milling through-out. We were taken to the of the hill the the ksar sits beside, and were able to gaze down upon the structure, as well as some of the Lawrence of Arabia film set that still remained. Mustafa would later take us down to stand among the film set – which was a big highlight for me. I was able to touch the construction, see how hollow it was, and noted that up close how not that convincing the paint work appeared.
Aït Benhaddou morocco
Then it was time to drive back to Marrakesh. The next four hours I would drift in and out of sleep, gazing upon the Moroccan landscape speeding by. I had seen hidden parts of North Africa that only a few years ago I could not have imagined actually being in a position to see, but for such brief a time, it was hard to know whether I was really able to make the most of it, or truly appreciate it at the time.

Travel: Morocco (part 1) – The Beach of Essaouira

My Moroccan holiday had started in a typically frantic style. After getting next to no sleep the night before, I made my way to Luton airport and onto a 7am flight to Essaouira. I had originally planned a 2 hour camel trip, and to be picked up from the airport by the guide, although I had cancelled this the night before, predicting my sleep deprivation. I was glad of this, as I managed to take the day at my own pace, meeting an expat local at the airport who offered me advice and allowed me to share his taxi into the Medina.

I was immediately struck by the pleasantness of Essaouira. The road from the airport to the town winded tightly around modest looking orange houses, passing small farms and assortment of animals – goats and sheep mostly. The weather was warm, the sky blue, a welcome contrast from the grey London that I’d just left. I noted the sticky sweet scent in the air, perhaps a smell that permeates countries of warm, tropical climates. I noticed a similiar smell in Kuala Lumpur and Heraklion. Each of these places I’m sure have their own distinct aroma, but the Essaouira aroma for sure brought back memories of those places. Just stepping foot in a Mediterranean climate, and having my senses immersed for the first time in North Africa was a thrill.

IMG_0593

My British taxi companion, who owned a holiday home in the center of Essaouira, imparted valuable advice as we rolled into the Medina. I learnt the cost of catching a Taxi around the Medina, an affordable 7 Dirham (about 50p), as well as where the good drinking spots were found (which he indicated were filled with interesting characters) and that if I wanted a feed, the market at the wharf was best. There you get fresh fish of your choice and have it cooked in front of you. As a appealing as that sounded, I opted to first head to a bus depot and book my bus later that day to Marrakesh, which for 100 Dirham secured myself a seat on a comfortable Supratours coach.

IMG_0539

I then taxi’d straight to the beach entrance, where a mass of Camels were lazy spread out on the sand. As I stood surveying the beach, wondering which Camel was to be my ride of choice, a Berber guide came straight up to me, towing two Camels behind him. He asked me if I wanted a ride, to which I asked of he could take me to the castle’s made of sand. He indicated yes, and mentioned the Jimi Hendrix cafe, something I had a vague interest in seeing, in spite of the exaggerations of the amount of time Hendrix actually spent in Essaouira. Having researched about the culture of haggling in Morocco, I tried my skills out for the first and eventually agreed on good price for an hours Camel ride. I was a initially little wary that this would be the most quality ride, seeing as my Camel looked a bit past it’s prime. Cappuccino, as he was named, was also reluctant to sit down, the guide had to give it a small whip around the legs with his rope to encourage it to do so. The camel knelt down with a groan and in spite of my reservations, I hopped on the seat on the poor old creatures back. Cappuccino set off shuffling down the beach, with a friend Camel following behind, and my guide holding the rope in front. The experience was a slightly odd one, and while it was a  fun and slightly surreal introduction to Essaouira, I was happy I had chosen just the hour long ride, and not the 2 hour trek as previously planned. I did not make it to the Hendrix cafe, although I saw some nice sand dunes, and the guide was good enough to take photos for me. Perhaps If I return to Essaouira, I will chose a healthier looking Camel, to make the animal rights side of my personality a little less guilty.

IMG_0588

Now off the Camel, I tipped my guide for his extra help taking photos (and a music video shot), and proceeded to a beach side cafe for a beer, and to change into togs. Hurling myself into the North African sea, ignoring the slight chill, I spent a good hour rolling amongst the considerable surf. Many other travelers had the same idea, although most people I shared the water with were showing off impressive surfing skills. Essaouira, I soon learnt, has waves just right for surfing, hence the share amount of them out in the water. I took to body surfing, and met a couple of Danish blokes body boarding nearby. We exchanged brief pleasantries, before they took to the task of catching waves with much concentration. I bobbed around in the water a bit longer, appreciating the novelty of being in the North African sea, before returning to land.

IMG_0579

Back at the beach side cafe, I met a British man working from a camper-van in Essaouira –  he has traveled here to chase the sun and escape the British winter, and also his girlfriend who had just that day joined him. She recognized me from the airport, having had been on the same flight. The next few hours slipped away in a haze of beer and baileys, and before I knew it I had only 30 minutes to make the bus I had booked to Marrakesh. Not wanting to leave without seeing some of the port, I said goodbye to my new friends, and quickly ran to the nearest taxi I could find. Having made it to the port, in less than 10 minutes I ran to the sites I had been interested in – the location where they had filmed some of Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3. I had to give the guards 20 Dirham, as the port entrance was near closing time, but having quickly snapped the desired photos, I again grabbed a taxi and rushed in the direction of the bus depot. Somehow I made it in time, and with a few minutes to spare I boarded the bus.

On the road to Marrakesh, there are apparently goats perplexingly standing in trees. This seemed something to witness, though in part due to the sleep deprivation of catching an early flight, and also due to the drinks consumed, I soon nodded off. The tree standing goats would have to wait ’till my next Moroccan visit.

Next time – the chaos of Marrakesh, adventures to the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and how to fall for the most obvious of Moroccan tourist traps.

IMG_0586

Travel: Heading to Morocco – Unorganized and Ill-prepared

Two nights ago, I impulsively booked flights to visit Morocco this weekend – this will be my first time in Northern Africa, and I’m both excited and a little nervous. I’m travelling first to the small seaside of Essaouira, where I plan to see the beach, the harbour walls (used as a set for Daenerys Targaryen’s story in Game Of Thrones season 3), and then partake in a Camel trek across the beach to an area where famous hippies such as Jimi Hendrix purportedly adventured. I will then bus to Marrakesh, where I will join my Kiwi companion and hardened adventurer Stefan, where we shall explore the streets and secrets of this famous city. I hope to watch Stefan attempt to haggle with local traders, and will most likely be amused at his attempts not to be ripped off. We also have a day-trip planned to the Atlas Mountains, where some of the classic Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of both camels and David Lean’s classic film about T.S. Lawrence, and seeing both these things in person will be quite a thrill.

game of thrones morocco essaouira

I would hardly call myself experienced at this traveling business, having really only started exploring this side of the world recently (such as my brief trip to Greece), so there are a few things that I am a tad anxious about. I have already been warned from many of my friends who have already visited Morocco, that you’re bound to be ripped off by local traders in the markets. I’m not great at hard bargaining, and I expect I’ll pay more than full price if I attempt to enter into haggling situations, so I may avoid shopping if I can. Crime seems to be a bit of an issue, and apparently if taking photos around busy areas, I could risk having to pay a charge to any traders or opportunists who I happen to snap. I’m not sure how much of this is true, and how much is people being cautious.

Adding to my worries, here are a few more quotes from the UK Government travel advice page:

“Morocco has a poor road safety record. In 2013, nearly 4,000 people were killed and over 100,000 injured as a result of traffic accidents.”

“There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco.”

These quotes obviously don’t fill me with confidence, especially as I plan to catch a bus from Essaouira, something I’ve not yet organized. But to travel to a country of such cultural renown, a site of importance for the hippy generation, the background for many famous films and with it’s own rich historical background is obviously very exciting. So provided I can sort my plans out and calm my nerves, this should be a great holiday.

Will my coming weekend in Morocco be a brilliant trip, or comedy of errors?  Watch this space to find out.

Travel Details:

Flight #1 – London to Essaouira, Easyjet, £37.50 (booked five days in advance of travel)

Flight #2 – Marrakesh to London, Thomson, £59

Accommodation – Riad Amin (Marrakesh), shared twin room, £50pp 4 nights

Journal: A Kiwi in London, looking back on ’15

A few months ago, I wrote a blog on London weather. In it I complained that it had proved to be nowhere near as cold as I was told it would be. I had predicted eating my words, that it would get cold, and I had expected this by mid-December. It’s now at the end of December and about to pass into a new year, and yet I’m still not freezing. We had one Saturday that felt especially cold in the middle of November, but largely, the winter months have been underwhelming.

image

Perhaps global warming is therefore doing it’s thing. I’ll try not spend the whole of my last blog of 2015 discussing the weather, but perhaps my interest in doing so shows just how the British have rubbed off on me. I’ve been in London six months now, and I feel I’m pretty used to the place now. The gimmick of being in the biggest Great Britain city has now worn off, and what was once unique is now commonplace. I no longer find the underground an interesting experience, instead it is a bore. I still find the European architecture, the mix of Georgian, Victorian and Industrial influences inspiring, although I much less frequently find new interesting places in London to explore. I frequently find myself at Oxford Circus, surrounded by shuffling tourists blocking my path and slowing my down – basically I’m finding complaining a standard part of my day to day behavior. That could only mean the London mind-set has rubbed off on me.

20151225_152629[1]

I’m still happy I’ve moved to London, even though I do find myself missing things back on the other side of the world. I made some good friends living in Auckland, as well as many old friends back in Dunedin, of whom I miss equally, as well as my old job and lifestyle. I tend to get caught up in nostalgia and not appreciate what I’m doing in the present, but at the same time I think it’s good to remember where you’ve came from. I don’t plan to get lost permanently on this side of the world, but at least I can think fondly on having conquered the fear of moving out of my home country. When I move back, which I will inevitably do, I can look back on this experience with a sense of accomplishment.

I can look back on my 2015 adventures with pride. One year ago I was irritating my friends and family, quizzing them as to whether they thought I should move overseas. I had a Glastonbury ticket, but as late as March I was still dithering as to whether or not I would really leave.  For some reason I was able to pull the trigger and I don’t regret it. There’s a lot I’ve had to leave behind, but a lot I’ve gained as well. Experiencing Glastonbury, seeing Greece, Holland, France and Italy are just a few of the unexpected surprises that this year held. Not to mention experiencing being part of the UK workforce, working for major international companies, and making new friends on this side of the world. Back in June I started a series of blogs called, A Season Of Firsts – this tracked my progress making it from New Zealand to United Kingdom in more detail.

It was already an action packed year, even before this whole UK experience. Back in February, I managed to reunite with my high school band, Incarnate. This was also not something I’d ever counted on, given that I moved to a different city as them, and the rest of the members moved onto new projects (although I played with several of the members briefly after Incarnate as Ignite The Helix, a project which is still active). It was great to literally get the band back together, and the strong turnout we received at Dunedin (NZ) venue, Chicks Hotel was gratifying. We filmed this gig from a few angles, and I’m proud of the final result. Incarnate was a particularly memorably part of my music career, and I hope it won’t be the last time we play together (if it is, this gig was a good way to end the short life of our passionate young metal band).

I attended a lot of concerts through-out the year as well. Laneway kicked things off in January with memorable sets from Ariel Pink, Future Islands and Flying Lotus, later I was to see Drake at Vector Arena – and perhaps the most suprisingly entertaining musical event of the first half of the year was Auckland’s second Westfest. This mini-Soundwave for New Zealand featured such metal and rock big names as Soundgarden, Faith No More, Judas Priest and Lamb Of God. The organizers may have sold slightly less tickets than expected (there’s a rumour that losses ran into the millions) but those that attended received a great day of entertainment. Norwegian band Mayhem headlined a smaller stage during Faith No More, and as I had a high school fascination with this band, I was grateful to have the opportunity to see them live. At the after party I ran into Necrobutcher, original bassist of the band, who turned out to be a really cool guy. It’s not often you get to share Vodka with a member of an infamous band and discuss some pretty serious stuff. I wrote a blog on this as well, and I hope the band won’t object to me sharing some of my thoughts on their career. The music continued through-out the year, I wrote about Glastonbury here, and most recently Peaches, who played a great sold at show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom.

I’ve also managed to continue film and music projects throughout the year. In June, I filmed two music videos, one for Ignite The Helix (featuring members of Incarnate) and one for my rap project, Posse In Effect. Posse In Effect’s video for We Came Here To Party, off our second EP Lazarus has been completed and is now out of the public to digest (any views would be much appreciated). This is a slapstick comedy short film, and perhaps more disco/rock than rap. Directed by Andy Weston and myself, it was filmed in Melbourne and shot on a variety of DSLR’s (but mostly the Canon M3) so the footage is a little inconsistent, but I feel the humour was well executed. I also managed to include some footage shot in Athens, within a dream sequence. The video for Ignite The Helix’s Throwing Scissors is nearing completion, but still requires a few re-edits. I hope to have this released in the next few months, upon the release of the song (as the band is still putting the finishing touches on their debut EP).

I’m not sure if this blog will have been interesting to anyone but myself, but looking back on 2015 I realize, I’ve achieved a great deal I’m proud of. London’s not all bad, and though I’m glad I came here, I won’t feel negative to return home soon. I look forward to 2016 and whatever it will bring – and I hope for all of us, it will be as easy a year as any could possibly be. Lets hope the war in Syria ends without too high a casualty rate as well, and that the refugee situation does not get any worse, to get political. I also hope the New Zealand flag doesn’t change. More from me later, for now, 2015 is just another year of “auld lang syne” (good tune, Robbie Burns). 

Travel Blog: A brief tour of Crete and Athens

There has been a lot discussed in the media recently about the economic crisis in Greece – making it seem not the most appealing of holiday destinations. No doubt statistically, the country is not in the best state. Unemployment has reached 26% this year, thousands are homeless and 20% of shops in Athens are empty. Does this make it wrong to visit such troubled country for recreational purposes? On the surface, maybe so. But upon visiting Crete and Athens recently, I did not encounter a hostile and unwelcoming environment. In contrary, locals were welcoming and our experiences were nothing but positive. Greece is beautiful, and even if only visiting for a short few days as I did – you’ll find a lot of take away.

My itinerary was irrationally rushed. After finishing work on a Wednesday, I departed London to arrive on the Cretian city of Heraklion at two in the morning, their time. I was to spend two days in Crete, before flying Friday night to Athens. After a sleep in a backpackers I would have one day and night in Athens before flying back to London, with a day stop over to explore Rome on the way home. I would recommend spending a great deal more time in Greece, particularly Crete. There is a lot to take in and I only scratched the surface. I managed to see plenty of the ruins and historical sites, but something had to be sacrificed – in my case this was the beaches. Coming to the end of Summer this was not necessarily a terrible thing – I did manage one swim at a great spot just outside our Air BnB accommodation at Amoudara, yet if I am to return, I would most definitely make more of the Mediterranean sea.

heraklion venetian fortress

On my first day in Crete we hired a car at a discount price, and set off to explore the streets of Heraklion and drive the coast to the seaside town of Elounda. Before the leaving, we were given some insight into life on Crete, with the owner car rental business explaining to us that the depression had not hit Crete as hard as mainland cities such as Athens, due to the still booming tourist trade. We did however get a nice discount on the car hire price, perhaps due to it being the end of tourist season and to entice business in that bit more. If you do head to Greece at the right time, you’ll find it fairly affordable, accommodation as well as food and drink.

A flock of Kiwis with no previously experience driving on the right side of the road and in completely foreign country was probably not the most responsible group to be hiring a car, though we somehow we made our way from Heraklion to Elounda on the east coast in one piece. This was a great experience in of itself, tackling the aggressive Greek traffic while cruising past some amazing mediterranean vistas.  Once at Elounda we took a boat over to Spinalonga island, home to ruins of a 16th century Venetian military fort, and which was used as a leper colony in the early 20th century, before being abandoned in the 1950s. The ruins are fascinating and some good climbing is to be had. The town of Elounda is a charming seaside community in of itself with some nice restaraunts, and apparently beaches nearby. We did not stay long however – with Spinalonga taking up most of the day the sun was soon setting and it was time to return to Heraklion.

spinalonga

Back in Heraklion we stopped at our accommodation before heading out to dinner. A friend attempted to have a hot shower – in order to do this the hot water had to be turned at the main switchboard, as all water is heated by solar panels in Amoudara. The wrong switch was flicked at the mains, blowing the fuse in our accommodation and cutting off all electricity to the dismay of several of our group. With our cellphones needing a charge before the next day’s adventures – stress levels were about to run high. This potentially awkward situation had silver linings however, as the incident served as a glimpse into the generosity of Cretian hospitality. Several of the neighbours gathered to help fix the blown fuse – and going out of their way, eventually taking a fuse out of their houses and installing it in ours. Due to a significant language barrier, it was not immediately apparent how he had fixed our fuse board – until we looked in the corridor and saw his house, the apartment across the hallway from ours. His wife was standing in his doorway, in the dark, holding a candle. He had sacrificed power for his own house in order to fix the outage we had created in ours. A touching scene you couldn’t stage if you tried. We were taken away by this hospitality – we thanked them as best we could and a bottle of wine and chocolates were bought for the man and his wife. We hope they shared it and forgave our New Zealand bluntness, as we left with our tale between our legs and resumed our previously plans of heading to a cretian restaurant.

IMG_1085

My friends had been in Crete for several days before I arrived and had developed some connections with the locals – the restaurant we visited that night becoming their local. At the time I was unable to decipher the name of the restaurant, being in Greek text, but I’ve since found it on trip advisor. It’s called kritiki Spiti and can be found here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g670533-d2446337-Reviews-Kritiki_Spiti-Amoudara_Crete.html#photos. They had brilliant Cretan cuisine and introduced us all to a fantastic local drink – Raki. Raki is similar to vodka or tequila and works well with cucumber and a hint of lemon – a cocktail known as a Rakitini. I would say a visit to Crete is worth it for sampling the food alone. Restaurants will bring out complimentary bred, olives, cheese and dips before you’ve even ordered. Of the mains we tried, the Lamb and Artichoke was a big hit, Rabbit and Goat meat being on the menu as well, worth it if you’re willing to experience outside the usual meats. On the day of our group leaving Heraklion, we walked past the restaurant that became my groups favourite, waving goodbye to the old man who worked at and perhaps owned the establishment. He called us in, offering us a bottle of home brewed Honey Mead as a gift (which would later drink by the docs at Chania). His humour was a little controversial by Western standings, with flirtatious jokes aimed at my female friends being the standard, but this was taken to be in good humour rather than sexual harassment, with the culture and generation gap being the excuse.

IMG_1042

In another example of Cretan hospitality, a taxi driver for example went out of his way to take me on a little tour of Heraklion where I stayed the first night, stopping for 40 minutes as I visited Knossus but charging me not a terrible amount extra to take me afterwards to the Venetian fortress at the harbour entrance. I gave him a tip – and yes the taxi still cost significantly more than public transport, but the conversation with a local of Heraklion seemed well worth it and more than I would have gained from a cheaper bus ride.

My time in Crete came to an early end, with a plane to Athens to catch on only my second night on the island. We had to catch the plane from Chania, the other major Cretan city, which had a larger and more organised vibe than Heraklion, and another spectacular wharf fort area, compliments of the Venetians. After hanging out of the pier, making friends with local stray dogs and getting a buzz going from the Honey Mead and Raki, the airport called and it was time for the mainland stage of the adventure.

IMG_1197

I have equally good things to say about Athens, even though my time there was criminally short. Athens is for sure faster and bigger than Crete, and the failing economy makes itself apparent in the amount of graffiti and the general level of cleanliness. That is only surface observations, but I was not in Athens long enough to gain any deep understanding of the situation there. My first impressions involved the tube ride out of the airport, which seemed an organised public transport system not dissimilar from London’s. The Greek government had obviously pumped some funding into this. Once inside the city we headed straight for the backpackers as this was now night-time, stopping first to get a snack. A pastry feta and spinach option was my choice, which seemed a suitably Greek choice of fast food. Athens smelt pretty bad, or at least our area. Kind of like piss, to be precise. So rather than hang around this not so great smelling city square, we opted to sleep in preparation for the next day.IMG_1140

For our one complete day in Athens, we chose to begin with a free walking tour of the city, which took us by the monuments and back alley areas and gave us an understanding of the city and it’s history packed into a brief few hours. It was a good introduction and exposed us to parts of the city we would not have thought to visit, such as the museum for Melina Mercouri. Our tour guide, who was a high school teacher, part time studying for a History PHD and taking tours on the weekends, shared his own insight into Greek politics and society, taking us not only to the old monuments but also to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guards. The guard tradition was not particularly moving, though our guides insights into the currently political zeitgeist, with far right parties of fascist comparison gaining traction. He seemed dismayed that Greece, the birthplace of democracy, would be continually plagued by un-democratic political influence.

We tipped our guide and were then left on our own to explore the city. Getting stuck into the ruins, we managed to tick off several of the main areas. These included the massive columns of the Temple of Zeus, the impressive remains of the Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora, a brief visit to the Archeological Museum of the Athenain Agora and then of course, the Acropolis. The Acropolis is particularly spectacular and with to see such old structures still in any condition at all is a transcendent experience. Sitting up there, looking at the Parthenon, one could only imagine how powerful and dominating these structures would have appeared to the peasants down below, three thousand years earlier. The gods must really have appeared to be watching over the city.

View from Acropolis

Exhausted from the sightseeing, we briefly rested at our accommodation before heading out for one last Greek dinner. The authentic restaurant we stumbled upon had a musical theme, with some seriously good Greek folk musicians jamming just beside where we ate. The food was good, perhaps not great, but the entertainment was excellent, completed with a waiter smashing plates and throwing napkins in appreciation. If you’re ever in Athens, the restaurant was just off the city centre and called “Taverna tou Psirri”, it can be found on trip advisor here http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d1503450-Reviews-Taverna_Tou_Psirri-Athens_Attica.html. We invited all our new friends gathered during the early walking tour to join us, and the meal was thus extended with more and more drinks ordered. As we all had early flights, rather than sleep we opted to stay out exploring Athens some more, and consuming a few more beverages. This basically ended up with us all on the roof of a backpackers, talking smack and staring at the Acropolis in the distance. Perhaps an image that will be burnt into my mind for some time, contributed self-indulgently to the fact I turned 26 earlier that day.

The next morning I dragged my half-alive self back to the airport, not quite ready to say goodbye to Greece but being forced to due to a pre-booked itinerary. I had organised a stopover in Rome but in hindsight this time would have been better spent exploring Athens that bit longer. I spent an afternoon exploring Rome, but I had left my heart in Greece. For now, I will be an advocate of Greece over Italy as preferred holiday spot, but of course I will have to explore both in more detail later.

Arch of hadrian

TL;DR – Crete as we experienced it is a warm, varied and culturally interesting place. Athens was equally awe inspiring, with the obvious draw card being the share amount of Ancient ruins, some still in good condition. The locals we encountered in Athens were communicative and friendly, local customs are full of life and while there is some poverty most people seem to be getting on with their lives and the overall vibe is safe. I would encourage people to visit Greece – inject your holiday savings into their economy and learn more about what this historic Mediterranean nation has to offer.