2002: A Spacecake Odyssey
Sent: Wenesday 14 August 2002 from Edinburgh
Sorry about the obtuse ending to that last e-mail - I should treat my loyal readers a little better than that. But what a cliffhanger!! And it was worth the wait: prepare to read the X-rated edition (does that hold your interest, Dias?) And to all those who reckon these e-mails are too long: The worst is yet to come...
Alrighty. Currently in Edinburgh (or "Edin-BERG" as some people of North American extraction have honestly been calling it...) and - I'm ashamed to admit it - though I started writing it in London, I was already in Edinburgh by the time I sent the last e-mail. Sorry to spoil the magic for you.
But the show must go on!
So, in our last episode, our intrepid heroes were nearing the spaceport of Mos Eisley ... that is ... Amsterdam, in their landspeeder. Of course, I mean "train". With their light sabers.
We were lucky to be staying with Shane and her relatively new (and comparably cool) hubby Simon in beautiful downtown Hilversum - a mere half-hour train trip from Amsterdam (near the German border haha). It was Shane and Simon who informed us that in Amsterdam, and possibly the Netherlands in general, it is assumed, nay, EXPECTED, that people will leave the curtains of their windows open, so that random passers-by can look in and make sure that no fornication is going on. Needless to say, the curtains at Shane and Simon's place stay well and truly shut.
We weren't too thrilled with Amsterdam (this was mainly due to our first Amsterdam experience being in the main train station: this included being accosted by persons of questionable repute offering to help us put our backpacks in specially chosen lockers in the Left Luggage Area (specially chosen by them and held open for us by their needle-tracked arms) and watching dudes looking through and emptying wallets that they had clearly not owned until very recently). But there are a few things one must do and, being "Australian Backpackers TM", we were contractually obliged to do them.
Thus, we were dragged kicking and screaming into the Heineken Brewery for the "Heineken Experience". Costs 5 euros and, for that, you get the tour, 3 beers and a surprise gift at the end (which in our case turned out to be the rather unsurprising Heineken glasses and towels - I was hoping for a dinosaur). Every time we wanted to drink after that, we were tempted to pop into the Heineken Brewery again to do some more experiencing.
The Tour shows you a lot of things you see in all breweries (I'm something of a veteran when it comes to brewery tours, I must admit, ho-hum) but it also goes much further. For one thing, you can record your own Heineken videogram, like so (just click on or copy the link):
http://heinekenexperience.bitmove.com/cgi/receive.asp? uid=951DC53B-4816- 4D37-B7B2-B5211ACAD3A8 (heinekenexperience.bitmove.com/cgi/receive.asp?uid=951DC53B- 4816-4D37-B7B2-B5211ACAD3A8)
The best for me had to be the opportunity to experience, via a strange kind of virtual reality...well..."ride", what it would be like to be a Heineken bottle, from starting on the beer production line to being trucked to a party (real reality was something of a disappointment after being lifted out of the box by sexy Dutch women singing "Celebrate good times - Come on!!" and them putting their lips around the glassy hole in my head to drain me of my sweet sweet beer).Now I guess you ALL want to be Heineken bottles! Or sexy Dutch women…
After that, we happily and beerily checked out the Van Gogh museum ... shop ... and the Rijksmuseum ... underpass (not really caring that much about Van Gogh - and you can see all of his paintings on the post cards in the shop, anyway!! How's THAT for a tip?!?)
Having completed these tasks, there were only two more boxes to check off on our Amsterdam list. One involved a transaction in a coffee shop and the other involved a transaction in a less reputable establishment.
Now, I'm not really a big fan o' the ol' wacky weed (my drug of choice being Love - wait, no - Beer) but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to buy something which is illegal in Australia (and most of the world) legally over the counter. This is something that Amsterdam has definitely got right (Warning: Political Diatribe follows) - isn't it stupid to make something that grows naturally on the planet, something that is, in fact, a weed, illegal, while alcohol and cigarettes (which can be much worse for you) are legal (and, of course, taxed - but there's no connection)? Even if this does mean that it attracts various other nefarious characters to the area who distastefully whisper "Cocaine, speed, heroin?" at you as you enter your live sex show.
So, we entered our legal coffee shop of choice and, not being big on smoking, either, ordered two legal coffees and two pieces of their famed legal Spacecake. Which were quite delicious and didn't at all taste like they contained substances of the mind-altering persuasion. In fact, they tasted perfectly legal.
We then went to the sex show (really, we did - apparently it's a must-do in Amsterdam, and we'd missed the opportunity to do it with our Stray guide the previous evening. 'Kay? 'Kay.). Gotta say - pretty boring. Yes, there were people having sex on the stage, and a girl came out and stripped down to just her knee pads before displaying exactly HOW a dildo works, and a girl smoked a cigar with her vagina. (Actually, that was kind of interesting - she smoked the WHOLE cigar! Nice of her to increase her risk of, well, SOME kind of cancer for our personal entertainment!) But, still, pretty boring. So, it was lucky for us that the spacecake worked it's magic just before the show started. It was STRONG! I don't know what we would have done if we'd been wandering the streets or in a museum or arm wrestling or something at the time. As it was, it was probably the best combination of the two Amsterdam experiences for us; we just sat back with our eyes glazed and mouths half-open as we absorbed the spectacle before us. For about 2 and a half hours...
The show only goes for about an hour, but then it starts again, going in constant rotation. We know this, because we watched the same show about 2 and a half times before we felt like we could handle going outside. We saw 6 busloads of Contiki tourists come and go in that time. Dirty perverts...
Our adventure continued. We had to get back to Shane and Simon's place. We walked back to the station through the fading light, Tasha gripping on to our backpack as if convinced that a nefarious character might try and pry it from her hungry fingers. On the way, we bought some pizza from a roadside stall. At the station, at least 5 minutes later, we bought some burgers from Burger King. We then got on the train and realised that we had forgotten to buy some more food.
It was a half-hour 4 euro train ride from Amsterdam to Hilversum, and then a further 15-minute free walk to Shane and Simon's place. Our only problem was that, once we alighted from the train in Hilversum, we had trouble putting the directions that we had been given that morning, to get TO the station, in reverse to get back FROM the station. But I thought we could handle it - we just needed to look out for familiar landmarks.
Two-and-a-half hours later, we caught a taxi back to Hilversum (for 12 euros) from Laren (the next town) which we had walked to; the whole way (even through the forest and under the freeway under-pass) thinking "Yeah - I remember this!!". Ahhh, spacecake...
Bidding farewell to Shane, Simon and the Netherlands, we moved on the next day through to Belgium, famous for its chocolate, beer and bureaucrats. In our two days in Brussels and Brugges, we ate chocolate, drank various strange beers and changed EU policy four times. And that's all.
Next stop: Paris!
Paris - one of the world's great cultural meccas and we weren't going to miss this opportunity. So we wasted no time in buying our tickets to Parc Asterix!! Basically like Disneyworld for Asterix fans. Coolest place I've ever been to, ever. Check it: www.parcasterix.fr
While in Paris I also took Natasha to the Cimitiere Pere Lachaise to visit Jim Morrison's grave - I had already been there four years ago with Captain Marko and fifty other hippies on the 27th anniversary of the great man's death but thought Tasha would be interested. As we walked there, I asked Natasha what the date was and (you guessed it, you clever thing!) it was the 3rd of July - four years later to the day! Jim's 31st anniversary! So, when we arrived, Jimbo's grave was suitably arrayed with flowers, bottles of bourbon and bad poetry.
Ahhh. Paris. (Oh yeah, and I guess we also walked through the beautiful boulevards and along the Seine and yada yada yada).
Then on to Mont St Michel. Which is nice (have a look at www.mont-saint-michel.net to see how nice). If only I could be this brief all the time...
Then a train to Brittany and, to be a little more specific, Brest in Brittany, to meet Davey O'Brien and his Irish crew (in particular, Mickey Steele, whose birthday it was) for a week of fun and breast jokes. As Dave frequently (and, always, hilariously) said: "Brest is in the mountainous region of France." If you don't mind, colonel!!
Thus, in finally reaching Brittany, we had attained our objective of the past 3 months, that being to get to Mick's birthday via the longest and stupidest route possible (from Ireland, to London, to Greece, to Turkey, through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Austria, Chickory-bobbly, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France to Brittany).
Once there, though, we used our time wisely in Brittany, driving around the countryside during the day and getting out to the local bars and meeting the locals at nights. Actually, when I say "day", I mean "some afternoons". And when I say "bars", I mean "bar". And when I say "locals", I mean "pissheads".
The bar in question was "Le Guip Café", which served expensive, though tasty, pints of Heineken (about which Natasha and I were able to wax lyrical) and, more importantly, had two dartboards and a fusbol machine. We went down there on the first night with the object, I thought, of exploring the area. Despite my best efforts, we then proceeded to visit Le Guip five out of the six following nights.
The barman, Olivier, was an absolute champion and had our best interests at heart, those interests being drinking lots of beer and playing darts. Whenever an extraordinarily drunk Frenchman/Breton came over and tried talking to us (ie chatting up our ladyfriends) Olivier would hustle them out of there quicker than you could say "That'll do, pig", leaving Terry free to win every darts tournament. Other than that, we just sat around, drinking beer and telling stories. One night, I told the gang an hilarious story (as I am wont to do...at length) about the police in Victoria and how you've gotta be a little careful with them or you'll get yo' ass shot (wa-hey!!)
I then remembered that I was talking to a bunch of dudes from Northern Ireland who, though they laughed graciously at the mere idea that a policeman could SHOOT someone weilding a tomahawk, were probably patronising the poor Australian who had no fookin' idea at all about what he was talking about.
And I nae support Derry City in the soc... football.
After a week, the gang was heading back to Ireland and we had to head to England. Dave dropped us at the train and bus station, where we found that the Left Luggage Office was closed on weekends and that all of the luggage lockers had been disabled so that they couldn't be used, since the Brest train station is a high priority on most terrorists lists (and, as the prices on the lockers were still expressed in French francs, they must have been at risk for some time). So, instead of cruising around Brest one last time, checking out the sights that Brest has to offer, Brest, we waited for two hours and caught the next bus (from Brest) to Roscoff. Brest.
After a two hour bus ride, we found at the ferry terminal at Roscoff that the Left Luggage Office was closed on weekends and that all of the luggage lockers had been disabled so that they couldn't be used (as the prices on the lockers were still expressed in French francs, they must have been at risk for some time). So, instead of cruising around Roscoff, we waited for eight hours and caught our ferry to Plymouth at 11:30 that night.
We then found a comfy place on the floor of the dining room and grabbed a minute or two of sleep before disembarking from the ferry in Plymouth at around 6am, where we proceeded to wait for around an hour and a half until the B&B's started to open.
And then a lady gave us tea and toast and things got better and Riley stopped whining in his e-mail.
In Plymouth, we managed to hire a car and cruise around the UK for the next seven days. Let's see how brief I can be...
Day One. From Plymouth, which was quite scenic, actually, we drove down into lovely Cornwall, spending a night in lovely St Ives, having decided against staying in Penzance coz we didn't have wooden legs or eye patches. Swam in the water off a beach in St Ives and nearly shattered like the T-2000 in Terminator 2 when I got out. Coldest water I've ever been in.
Day Two. Next day was our King Arthur Day - visiting Slaughter Bridge (where you can pay to see where King Arthur was apparently killed), Tintagel castle (where you can pay to see where King Arthur was apparently born) and through Exmoor National Park to Glastonbury (where you can pay to see the place from which King Arthur apparently ruled and where he was apparently buried). As they were asking us to pay in British pounds, we laughed at them, showing them our worthless Australian currency credit cards and instead jumping the fences when they weren't looking (well, we did once. 'Coz we're tough).
On to Bath. Cool ancient Roman city.
Day Three. Then to Wales. Do you know that my second name is Thomas? More cool ancient Roman stuff, along with cool other stuff. We spent two nights in a hostel in the Brecon Beacons National Park so far from civilisation that I felt like Steve Irwin. Which was cool (the far from civilisation bit, not the Steve Irwin bit).
Day Five. On through Snowdonia National Park. Wales is beautiful. Strange thing about National Parks in England and Wales, though, is that they are almost entirely privately owned. And they have farms on them. And a major livestock disease outbreak every few years.
OK. Then on, through Chester to Hathersage, to start our Robin Hood Experience. Apparently, Little John is buried in Hathersage. Next day, Day Six, visited Sherwood Forest and Nottingham and the town where Will Scarlett is apparently buried, before driving down to Stratford-upon-Avon, which they should just call "Shakespeare World" and be done with it, on to Oxford (home of Alice in Wonderland) and, finally to London. Apparently.
Oooohh. We're getting close now. I can taste it!
Day Seven: visited Stonehenge and Avebury (old rocks). Then handed car over and returned to London.(For those of you who are in the know, you may be impressed to hear that while driving around, we heard Sonic Animation's latest (in the UK anyway) single - "I'm a DJ and my head is up my arse" - being played on BBC Radio 2. The BBC DJ's LOVED it!)
After a few days recuperating in London at good mate Tori's place, we hired another car to get up to Edinburgh. We worked out it would only cost £10 more or so (plus petrol) to drive up, with two days care hire, instead of flying with Easyjet. That way, we could visit Cambridge, York and Hadrian's Wall on the way.
Which we did. Only, the car was broken into in the York hostel car park by some dude with what looked to be a can opener, meaning we lost our £500 deposit. Making driving £510 more expensive than flying.
We finally arrived in Edinburgh. We've been here for about 2 or 3 weeks and will be here for another 3 weeks or so. Anyone who wants to visit is most welcome, though I can't offer you a living room floor to crash on as we are already taking up that space.
We were hoping to get work to fund our time up here, but that has been virtually impossible. So far, we have managed to get half a night of waiting work at a dodgy "Highland Experience" night for coachloads of coach tourists (with entertainment provided by the Scottish version of Denis Walters) and also did a psychology questionnaire that earnt us £5 each. Apart from that, we're seeing as many free shows as we can (and there are quite a few) and generally soaking up the Edinburgh Experience (ie, rain) as much as we can. It's full-on right now - the Edinburgh Fringe Festival has been going since the 4th of August (biggest comedy, music, dance, theatre etc festival in the world), the (Edinburgh, of course) Book Festival started on Saturday, the (Edinburgh, not Glasgow) International Festival started on Sunday, the (Edinburgh) International Film Festival starts today and the (Edinburgh) Military Tattoo has been going since the 2nd. And we have no money.
We're hoping to get back to London on the 1st or 2nd of September because (drum roll please) we've booked a flight to the wonderful land of Oz on the 4th September! That's right, we're coming home!! No more long e-mails!!! We're going via the City of Angels for an indeterminate amount of time, visiting our good mates Chelsea and Zhanna last seen in the "Way out East" episode (sorry to the rest of our Yank mates - we'll have to visit you guys on our next proper trip to the US). We're looking at getting home in mid-September. Oh, BOY! Am I looking forward to seeing potato cakes and all of you (youse who are Australians. In Melbourne. That I'm looking forward to seeing)!!
I'll see youse Melbourne dudes at the Espy. And, to the London dudes, we're hoping to organise a get-together at a pub on the 3rd of September. More details to follow...
For our remaining time in the UK, we've got a mobile you can contact us on - either 0776 314 2868 if you're in the UK or +44 776 314 2868 if you're keen and you're not.
To everyone who's sent e-mails in the last month or so that I haven't replied to: Sorry! Was planning on replying in this one, but that would just be silly. Will endeavour to do so soon as...
To all the travelling people - keep them stories coming, have fun and try to keep being alive!!
Love the rilestar and tasha
PS QUICK CRAFTING REPORT
Am now clean-shaven, but had a drawn-on moustache in Brittany. Apparently, it is also a Breton custom to "lick the line".
PPS My Mum likes these e-mails.