February 10, 2014 in Travel

Don’t Tell Mum I’m Going To Kosovo

It wasn’t until we were approaching the Serbia – Kosovo boarder, past armed UN guards on a bus full of elderly Serbs and Albanians that it really started hit us just how far removed we were from life back home.

A deteriorating highway that was more suited to four wheel driving and army vehicles than a rickety old smoke filled bus was slowly getting worse and our driver had just stopped to fill up the bus’ radiator with water from a tap on the side of the road.

restaurant-tito

We were in the middle of nowhere, at Restaurant Tito – what can only be described as a decrepit truck-stop from a different era, and not nearly an accurate representation of what this man meant to many of the local people.

As I sat with my friend Chris on an old brick step near the bus, we joked at how the front window of our bus was coming loose from the frame and vibrated in the wind as we travelled. We placed bets on whether it would still be there by the time we arrived in Kosovo.

We were in a situation where you’d certainly be forgiven for stressing out.

We had been warned by local Serbs that we were to take extreme caution n Kosovo as it was “a very dangerous place”. We were just a few hours from the border and it’s fair to say the nervousness of the unexpected was rising. We were in a situation where you’d certainly be forgiven for stressing out.

I thought back to 5 months earlier, in my home town of Adelaide, South Australia commonly described as “a big country town” where everyone knows everyone, you know what to expect and life is pretty easy.

I was sitting in traffic in a nice car, on what I thought then was a “shit” road, on my way to my cosy office where I worked with friends and had an endless supply of coffee and snacks, heating in winter, air-con in summer albeit a little bit temperamental.

A time where I was comfortable, but very stressed.

bus

Stressed about what?

Who knows, running a business, making deadlines, managing finances, contracts and wondering if the rest of my life was going to involve 2 hours in traffic every day to and from work and sitting in my office staring out the window, dreaming about what else lays in wait for me elsewhere? I stressed about these things because I had been conditioned that these things were important and required me to stress about them.

But also because it was all I knew, I had never had anything else to stress about, so for me – these things were stressful.

I was very stressed back then, and unhappy – but at this moment, sitting on the bricks at Restaurant Tito, I had to chuckle at how “tough” my life had been back home compared to what the people of this area have been through over the years.

This was different kind of stress.

Here we were about to enter the unknown, a place where war had ended only years earlier and a place that no one we had known had every been.

We weren’t really stressed, but we were definitely anxious and excited. And so we should have been. That weekend in Kosovo was one of the best experiences of our lives.

Was stressing about what lay ahead really going to change anything?

truck-stop

How many problems have you solved by stressing?

Probably not many.

So why do we do it?! Having been through a time where I stressed about everything and anything, and I can tell you right now that the alternative to that is a LOT better!

During my 5 months solo backpacking last year I deliberately put myself outside of my comfort zone. Time and time again. You see – the more you get used to being uncomfortable the easier life gets. Everything is relative to what you’re accustomed to.

If you’re living a sheltered, comfortable life – small things are going to be a big deal, like running late to dinner, forgetting to put the bins out or dealing with an annoying coworker. There are methods to deal with all of these things and it all comes back to your thought process.

There are multiple ways to look at each situation and if you can just allow yourself to stop, take a step back and wonder – is this really the end of the world. You will find yourself having a much easier time at life.

For the record, we crossed the border into Kosovo. We were greeted with a brand new 4 lane highway that lead us to Pristina – the capital, where we met fantastic young people, looking to rebuild their country and were so excited for tourists to come and see their beautiful city. I made several friends that I will never forget that trip.

We had been warned that Serbia may not let us back in after crossing over into Kosovo. That made us a little bit nervous, but we had no troubles getting “home” to our apartment in Belgrade.

Just goes to show when you take a chance , you never know what might be on the other side.

kosovo

October 1, 2013 in Travel

Guide To Catching Busses In Eastern Europe

Dubrovnik Bus Station

If you’re looking to save money while traveling around Central / Eastern Europe, then the logical choice for your transport are trains or busses. In this post I’m going to share with you some of the positives and negatives of bussing around this great part of the world based on my experience of catching over 20 busses in the last three months, and spending more than 100 hours sitting on these said busses.

 

Let’s start with the things you should know:

  • Firstly, bus stations are very rarely named bus stations – this means locating them on Google Maps isn’t always easy but if you try the old fashioned way and ask someone most people will know what bus means.
  • For example: Estonia – Bussijam (Boos-i-yum), Croatia – Autobusni Kolodvor, Hungary – Autóbuszállomás, Poland – Autobusowy, just to name a few.
  • Don’t expect people/staff to speak english. If they do, its usually seat numbers, baggage fees,yes, no, ok and destinations. However sometimes you get lucky (Lux Express, Eurolines are pretty good).
  • Don’t expect that just because you asked the driver if the bus you’re on stops at a particular destination that they will automatically presume that you want to get off at that destination.
  • Don’t expect seat numbers to be applicable.
  • Expect to pay to put your bag in the luggage compartment under the bus in the Balkans even though you’ve already paid $50 for your ticket, and you had better have the correct change!
  • Don’t expect locals to let you sit next to them, they seem to think its their right to have a spare seat for their coat / handbag / nothing and get very upset if you need to take their precious personal space from them, even if there are no other seats available!
  • Don’t expect to be able to use the on board toilet during a 4-6hr bus ride (Balkans), the driver will get mad because he has to clean, instead he’d prefer it if you’d use the lonely tuck stop he’s stopped at with a full urinal, inch of mysterious liquid on the floor and no toilet paper, hand towels, random hose plumbing system and no soap (picture below).
  • If the driver says stopping for 10 mins, sometimes this means 10 mins (and you better be on that bus or it will leave without you) or it could mean 30mins. One trip I took from Zagreb to Split took 6 hrs, about 1.5hrs of that was spent on breaks as we waited for the bus driver to stop his socialising.
  • Be prepared to jump into on coming traffic and grab you luggage out of the under compartment on the traffic side (Amalfi Coast, I know this isn’t Eastern Europe but was a bus experience I had to share)
  • Don’t expect your overnight 12 hr bus to have any more comfortable seats / any extra room than a regular bus – its no sleeper train!
  • On overnight busses, be prepared for loud speaker announcement at hourly intervals as the bus stops at multiple destinations.
  • Don’t expect the aircon to be working.
  • Sometimes platform 2 means platform 3. Sometimes the platforms are hard to work out altogether.
  • Sometimes buying a train ticket means you’ll be catching a bus (Croatia)
  • Sometimes there will be no sign other than a small a4 sheet of paper in the window & sometimes that says the wrong direction (Budapest-Vienna / Orange ways). Sometimes the sign for the bus stop is a small sticker on a stop sign near a random building (Orangeways).
  • Sometimes they’ll check your ticket (along with your passport) other times they won’t check your ticket at all!
  • Sometimes the seat in front of you will be broken and every time the guy sitting in it leans back he’ll smash your legs.
  • Don’t expect stamps at border control, as far as the world is concerned, I was never in Bosnia. I never got a stamp entering or leaving the country. And they WILL just take your passport off you and off the bus into a little shed and bring it back an hour later.
  • Keep an eye out for your destination (they not always announced / clear when you’re there).

However their are some good points to catching busses (after all I wouldn’t have kept catching them if it was ALL bad!)

Some of the most beautiful scenery can be seen as you wind your way through the mountains or along the coast (oh so windy), and you get to stop off at some really interesting rest stops that you don’t get to do on the train (just stay on to your destination). Below are some other benefits of international bus rides in Central & Eastern Europe.

  • Busses are generally in good condition, are clean and have comfortable seats.
  • The drivers, apart from being grumpy and speaking little english, are generally quit happy when you do the right thing (have correct change for baggage, do as they say, don’t be late, have your tickets / documents ready).
  • Get on early – try and secure the back seat (lay down / stretch out / sleep). Busses are often full though and you may spend an entire trip sitting backwards next to a lovely old babushka!
  • Baltics all have super fast wifi and power outlets – so you can watch movies / surf the next / do what you like for as many hours as you want!
  • Cheapest doesn’t always mean worst, Polski bus in Poland was cheaper than another local bus company, way more comfortable with free wifi!
  • Many of the bus stations arrive central to your destination city and your hotel / hostel will just be a short walk from the bus station.
  • Many busses leave at convenient times / several intervals per day.
  • Many Eastern European busses can’t be booked online, you just buy the ticket at the station before you get on.
  • Busses are generally the cheapest option for travelling both domestically and internationally.

List of Bus Resources

Below are a list of websites & tools & companies I used to book, plan and research bus trips across all of Central / Eastern Europe and the companies that I used in each place. There are of course other bus lines, but these ones were all pretty good and made for some good experiences.

Baltics (Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania)

Poland

Hungary

Croatia

Bosnia / Serbia / Kosovo

 

 

September 15, 2013 in Music

Production Fatigue

As you know, I’m fairly new to this music production gig. I’ve only put together one original song, and a fairly basic one at that.

What you may not know is that I have about 10 other tracks, both originals and bootlegs that I’ve been working on. The thing is, I’m having trouble finishing them! Why? Because I just get stuck on ideas, and aren’t happy with their current stage to finish up.

Enter what I can only imagine its called Production Fatigue. I guess its kind of like writers block for writers. I have spent a 4 hours today, trying to nail a melody for a new idea I had, and after changing synths about 20 times, rearranging, listening to my idols for inspiration I just though – “bugger this, I’m going to get lunch!”.

You see, NOTHING was working. All my ideas were turning to mud. I started to not like any of this particular track and wanted to just delete the whole thing.

This is unusual for me because I’ve not experienced it in the last 18 months that I’ve been dabbling in music production, I normally just enjoy the process of being create and I think this new found frustration is due to a number of things.

Travel Tiredness

I’m currently travelling and dorm life is meaning I haven’t had a good nights sleep in weeks – my brains a bit foggy and my patience is much lower than normal – I have even more respect for those producers now that travel from country to country for gigs yet still manage to release albums and new tracks every month or so!

Music Theory / Chord Progression

I’ve also reached my limit of tacky one finger melodies! I want to create better sounds and my music knowledge is lacking. I think tomorrow I will focus purely on starting to learn chord progression and music theory to help me get better sounds quicker, rather than spending hours on trial and error by not knowing chords or which notes to progress to.

I’m also going to take piano lessons when I get home! Lucky my sister is a star pianist. Hopefully some of the same genes were passed to me.

Still Learning The Tools

I’m still building up my sample libraries, learning the ins and outs of the various synths that I have. It takes me a long time to get things together and my work flow is some what blocked by my own inabilities. I need to get things a bit more streamlined.

Perfectionism

My mum always said, “You wanted to be Greg norman from the moment you stepped onto the golf course”. This still applies to me as I listen to my idols and want to create music of the same level. I get frustrated when I just can’t produce the same quality sounds. Its easy to forget these guys have been doing it for years, have made hundreds of songs and have a team of like minded professionals to help and consult – something I need to work on.

I need to remind myself of the age old saying “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle or end”. So I just need to relax, go back to enjoying learning and take my time. Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Platau-ing

You get to a point with everything you do, where your skills seem to platau. I’ve found that this has happened to me of late and I believe that its because I haven’t taken the time to watch any more instructional videos, learnt any new techniques or watched how others are doing things lately. I guess its like doing the same thing oer and over and expecting different results, if I want to create better tracks I need to learn more about creating better tracks. I could be waiting a long time to just “fluke” a new skill set!

So there you have it, my rant for the day! Perhaps I just need some food and  nap! Talk again soon. I’m going to watch Avicii make music, always good to know the professionals have the same issues! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dIcuU58Oy8

LJ.

September 13, 2013 in Travel

Should I Travel Solo?

Capri Island

If you’re thinking about travelling solo, then this article is for you! I’ve compiled a list of things that I’ve found both good and bad about travelling alone.

Obviously there are a lot of benefits to travelling solo:

You can do what you want

Obviously everyone travels for their own personal reasons. Maybe you need to find yourself, maybe you’re just sick of people! Maybe you just enjoy doing your own thing. THe biggest benefit of travelling alone that I have found so far is that you get to do what YOU want whenever You want. If you want to go see the sights you can, if you wnt to sleep in you can. If you want to drink you can!

Time to think

You have a lot of time to think. On busses, planes, walking around cities and parks. In bed. There’s often not a lot of time spent talking to others, although hostels are great way to maintain your social interaction and I’ve been on some great adventures with new friends met in a hostel dorm!

Easier to meet new people

This may seem to contradict my above comment, but it is much easier to meet people when you’re travelling solo. Its easy to stick together when you’re travelling with a friend, and being alone forces you to go and meet people, unless you want to spend your entire trip not talking to anyone but the girl at the coffee shop! (Often hard to do in places like Russia!)

You don’t get sick of your friends

There always comes a time when you’re travelling with friends (unless you’re one fo those rare groups of friends who never tire of each other’s company) where you need your space. Its not necessarily a bad reflection on yourself or your friends, but when you’re used to your own space, travelling with a group and always discussing “where you we have lunch”, “what should we to tonight” and always having to wait for friends to get ready or having differing opinions can get tiresome. Travelling alone means you don’t experience this “Gee I wish Tom would just make up his mind!”

But there are also some downsides to traveling solo / benefits to travelling with friends:

Bathroom turnstiles

If you’ve ever travelled with a backpack through Europe, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The little old ladies that once guarded public toilets with a mop and a dish demanding 50 euro cents for you to enter have in a lot of place, been replaced by coin operated turnstiles or automatic doors.

Most of these bathrooms are in small confined areas of bus and train stations so theres not a lot of room. SO when you try walking through the turnstiles with your backpack and going to the bathroom with all your stuff, its a pain in the ass!

Saying to a friend – “Can you just watch this while I go to the bathroom” is a LOT easier – same applies for Cafes / lunch places while in transit.

Sharing funny stories

Many times when you’re travelling you’ll see something hilarious, and every now and then it would be nice to say “Did you see that!”. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve seen something hilarious while travelling and had no one to share it with. You can tell people back at the hostel after, but its not quite the same as sharing it with someone who was there.

Splitting costs

When backpacking, a lot of time is spent on trains, busses, walking with your stuff. There are certain occasions where you think ” Gee it would be easier to just catch a cab!”. When you’re travelling with 2 or 3 people, you can! It costs 1/3 as much and everybody wins! But when you’re travelling solo, you foot the whole bill. This also applies to those times where you just want a nice hotel bed to lay on and you’re own shower for a day! With a friend you can split the cost, solo – you pay the whole lot.

Getting approached by wierdos

Sitting on park benches, walking alone through cities, observing something beautiful and just absorbing the moment. These are all opportunities for wierdos to think “That person’s alone, I’m going to go be weird around them”.

Like the Japanese guy who decided to practice his english in my dorm room while I was reading, asked me a question which I answered and then just proceeded to stare at me for 5 mins without saying anything. Or the usual guy asking for money, or the Russian guy at the bus stop in tracksuit pants and a leather jacket and dress shoes asking me if I want to buy “Blah Blah Pills”. No thanks, its 10am on a Tuesday and I don’t take drugs. (Or candy from strangers).

Getting lost is less fun

I got lost with two mates a couple of weeks ago – we went to the wrong city and the wrong hotel 2 days early (we got our days mixed up). Travelling solo this would have been a nightmare, as we’d flown for 4 hours, busses for 2 hours and walked for an hour to get there. But with friends we were able to laugh it off, go grab a beer and then make our way to the correct destination! That night at dinner we all commented on how stupid we were that not one of us realised! If you’re by yourself you take the whole blame and its not as humorous getting to your correct destination.

Going Out Alone

Sometimes, you just want to go out and experience the nightlife in a city. Sometimes there’s no one to go with! What do you do? Sit in the hostel common area and check your Facebook, or go out by yourself?

I’ve gone out by myself a few time, with mixed results. Some nights its easy to meet people, fellow travellers or locals depending on the venue you stroll into, other nights you just walk around by yourself looking like the guy who can’t find his friends.

Sometimes gets lonely

This doesn’t happen to me so much now as I’m getting really good at talking to strangers and making friends. But in the beginning I spent a lot of time by myself in transit, in a home stay and walking around cities by myself. It got a bit lonely. But instead of beating myself up over how lonely I was, I’d go on a city walking tour, meet some new friends and end up having a great afternoon!

Sometimes you just don’t want to do anything

We all need down time at some point, but there can be a number of days on end where you get yourself into a rut and just can’t be bothered doing anything. At these times its good to sometimes have a friend to get you up and out of the hostel and into life – whether its a tour, lunch, or even just a walk around the city / local area its good to have one motivated party amongst you to make sure you don’t waste the days away!

Hard to stay off social media

I wondered if this was just me, having a background in online marketing – but a quick glance around the room to the  10 other people staring at their phones and laptops or ipads shows that its very easy when bored, sitting around to just checking in back home, instagramming their days adventures or checking in on Facebook. When you’re travelling alone and can’t be bothered talking to others its very easy to become introverted and sit staring at your phone all day / night.

This an however be a welcome distraction when you’re sitting next to that annoying guy on the train who wants to tell you about conspiracy theories and his drunk uncle with the 3 legged cat who he’s going to visit.

Selfies

You’re at a lake / island – you want a photo. But there’s no one around but yourself. You have nothing left to do but take a photo of yourself, a “selfie”. My iphone and camera are full of them, its the giveaway sign of a solo traveller! Of course you can always ask someone to take a photo of you if there are others around – just be careful who you ask!

Should you travel solo?

So if you’re thinking of travelling solo, only you will know if it’s right for you or not, but I’ve loved every minute of it, and I hope these observations of mine can help you decide whether or not its for you! Or at least give you some topics of conversation.

Happy travelling!! 😀

LJ

August 31, 2013 in Travel

10 Things I’ve Learnt About Backpacking

As a bloke in my 30’s who has done some backpacking before, graduated to hotel travel, swimming pools, resorts and expensive holidays, I wanted this trip to be different. For one, I want it to last as long as possible and as such, needed to spend as little as possible for as long as possible!

To do that, I decided to stay in hostels and couch surf around central and eastern Europe. Many things about backpacking are quickly forgotten when you’re working and taking short holidays, here’s what I have been reminded of in no subtle terms.

1. You will never have a good night’s sleep

Even if you think you will, you won’t. There will be the snorer (probably multiple) the loud mover, the creaky bed, the drunk arriver, the early leaver, the cougher, the traffic noise, the daylight through thin curtains. If jet lag or a week of restless nights isn’t enough to help you sleep then your body generally wakes you up on its own accord, usually with a jolt as it wonders where you are and who that weird old guy is standing next to your bed.

2. You will make and lose friends quickly

Hostel living also has its plusses. You meet people and make friends very quickly and easily. Like the Australian guy who was 4 months into a 9 month trip who I took to eat elk soup at a mediaeval kitchen in Tallinn, or the girl from Cyprus who I shared an evening chat about life with, or the German girl who showed me to an awesome burger bar in Riga.

Its easy to bond through common experiences of hostels, busses, cities and nights out, but alas, these bonds break just as quickly as they form. People are moving in different directions, some you only meet for a night, others a few days, but none of these relationships last very long.

Facebook is great for keeping in touch and learning about what new adventures these people are up to, but you never get to really know them like you do your friends back home. In some ways I think thats sad, but in other ways, it is what it is and maybe its perfect that way?

3. You lose all concept of time and space

I couldn’t tell you what day it was yesterday. Or today, or tomorrow. When you have no structure around your day, all your days seem the same. When you’re backpacking in big cities with other travellers there is always somewhere to go out, people party every night of the week so you often wake up thinking its sunday morning when in fact it’s wednesday.

Personal space no longer exists. You’re either in a crowded dorm, jammed on a packed train, plane or bus, or carrying your luggage down a busy street. You really get to cherish that 2mins the shower in the morning where you have a few seconds to yourself.

4. You will miss your washing machine

You will eventually miss your washing machine, and so will your clothes! Some hostels will actually take care of your washing for you which is great, but a lot of the time you end up walking down the street to the nearest run down laundromat, like the the one in Sorrento that took half my money, washed for 30mins longer than it said it would and didn’t drain any of the water! Leaving me with a bag of wet soggy clothes that I tried to wring out in the basin and dry in the dryer, which obviously took 4x as long, and 4x as much money than it should have.

I guess I could have just taken it back wet and tried to hang it up and dry it, but most hostels are stuffy enough without some bloke’s wet clothes hanging around.

You also can’t just put your washing in and go do something else – you need to be mindful of when its finished so someone else doesn’t grab your stuff or just throw it on the ground when they put theirs in!

5. Everyone is an alcoholic

Some more than others, but at least 80% of backpackers objective seems to be to get as drunk as possible in as many cities as possible for as many days as possible. While I understand having a drink here and there is a great way to bond, see parts of a city and relax in unfamiliar surroundings, smashing a bottle of vodka, gin or tequila before hitting the town at midnight every night of the week seems a bit much! It is however easy to get sucked into this whirlwind lifestyle. And it’s where a lot of great traveling stories are made.

6. Cooking your own meals is the only way to stay healthy while saving money

In Europe especially, its really hard to find cheap, healthy food. Everything is bread, pasta or rice based that is cheap – meat and veggies can easily be found at most restaurants, but it always comes with a price! The only way you seem to be able to travel cheaply on a budget is to go to the local market (which can be some good authentic experience in its own right) and grab some veggies.

Of course once you have your food, you need to fight everyone else at the hostel for the one available hotplate!

7. Having a car is overrated

Back home, I drove everywhere, to the local store, the city, the beach – everywhere! And ok, so the public transport back home is nowhere near as good as it is in Europe, but still I find myself walking much greater distances around European cities than I’d ever walk back home, and I don’t mind a good walk!

In Scandinavia, everyone rides bikes, London too has a lot of bike riders. Berlin as well, in fact nearly every European city has a large population of cyclists. Even though I’ve mainly walked and taken public transport in even the most foreign cities to me (Budapest, St Petersburg) I think when I get home, I will try t walk, public transport and cycle to more of the close by destinations and save the car for necessities (rain, heat, long distance, requiring to cart larger items!)

8. Uncomfortable becomes comfortable

What would normally be really uncomfortable for me: Sleeping in a room with 12 people, sharing showers with 50 others, living out of a bag, walking with all your luggage in 40 degree heat, wearing the same clothes for days, getting lost in a place you don’t understand, meeting new people, asking for directions, going out for a night on the town by yourself! It all seems to become second nature after a few weeks and now I barely notice that I’m doing any of it.

At home I had my own house, my own shower, my own space and my own comfort zone. The point of this trip was to push that comfort zone to extend my limits, test myself and grow as a person. I think this has obviously happened so I’m waiting for my next test, to feel uncomfortable again and see how long it takes me to get used to it!

9. You are the exotic one

Its easy to forget when you’re travelling Europe (or anywhere for that matter), surround by foreigners of varying cultures and countries that to them YOU are the exotic one. I’m always constantly surprised by the number of “Oh WOW!” comments I get when I tell people form Australia. Mainly because I know how many Australians travel to Europe, but obviously we’re not that prevalent as people seem genuinely shocked that someone from so far away would travel half way around the world to see Europe. Unless of course you are somewhere like the UK or Tallinn where there seems to be half of Australia living and travelling.

So its good to remember that you are the exotic one, and people want to talk to you – which makes striking up conversation with random strangers a little less daunting when travelling solo.

10. You have no idea, nor do you really care about what is happening back home

This isn’t entirely true. But it still has validity. My sister is about to give birth and I clearly miss my family and friends back home. No matter how many people you meet on the road, you never get strong friendships like the ones you’ve forged over many years with your friends back home. They’re your friends for a reason.

But what I’m talking about here is other things from home – I have found that I couldn’t care less about the weather, even though everyone on my Facebook seems to comment on it. EVERY DAY. I don’t like the cold either, that’s why I left.

I couldn’t care less about football scores, politics or current affairs. Local government decisions or “Thank god its friday” updates. Every night is friday night for me and every morning is monday morning but I don’t need to harp on about it!

It has been two months since I read a newspaper, watched TV (other than an episode of The Simpsons in Russian) or read a news website. I’d rather be out learning about the world first hand than from some old guy in a suit on my TV.

Its one of the joys of backpacking – ignorance can sometimes be bliss, all you need to worry about is where your next meal is coming from or what time your bus leaves. Of course it does pay to research your next destination before flying into a danger zone!

So there you have it, this is what I’ve learned in the last 2 months of backpacking, and I’m sure there will be a lot more lessons to come, but for now I need to go and book my bus and hostel for tomorrow…

Take care, LJ.

 

August 30, 2013 in Travel

Falling In Love With Budapest

I didn’t really know much about Budapest before going there. But now that I’ve been, I can definitely say that I’ll be going back – probably in a few weeks as I make my way back down through the Baltics to Croatia.

The Arrival

My first experience of Hungary was arriving by bus into Budapest a little way out of town, not far from the M3 Metro station. After being in London, Stockholm, Berlin and Vienna in previous weeks I was quite accustomed to the metro systems but this one was something else!

Firstly the signage was super confusing – i.e there wasn’t much. And once I found my way to the ticket office I had no idea what sort of ticket to buy or how much the ticket was, but I ended up with a 3 day pass for about 12 euros which wasn’t too bad. Don’t expect a smile from the ticket office.

Once I had my ticket, showed it to the old man at the escalators I made my way down to the train. When it arrived like a rocket from the right, covered in graffiti rattling like a tin full of rocks I knew I was in for a treat!

Despite its rickety appearance, the metro did its thing and I arrived in the centre of Budapest at Deak Square, surrounded by run down but charming old buildings, very different to the pristine buildings of Vienna I had left just hours earlier.

The City

I have been to a number of “run down” cities in South America and Africa before but Budapest just seems to work with this, utilising the rustic charm to its advantage. This is no more evident than in any one of the many “Ruin Bars” that have been built around decrepit buildings with an ironic hipster chic, without the hipsters – watch out if they learn of this place!

The river is huge and lined by many old, beautiful buildings, all within walking distance of the main square, which itself is full of activity with skateboarders, bars and fluffy dogs.

The People

The Hungarian people are charming and very friendly even to those of us who can’t speak a word of their language except thank you and cheers. All the men however look like Jason Statham-esq thugs & mobsters! Despite their brash appearance many are very friendly and happy to chat, there are some however who’s appearance is befitting of their nature!

The Social Life

The local food is delicious, the river is beautiful and the outdoor bars are great for a casual drink. There seem to be a LOT of smokers which is sad. But that’s what you get when cigarettes are 4 euro’s a pack.

Food is cheap as is beer, even in the “Touristy” areas. There are a lot of festivals during summer and the Sparties (Spa Party), despite being predominately drunk british and Australian blokes was definitely a unique experience. We went with a group of us and had a ball. Beware the 1500huf charge fee though for getting your drink card!

Sziget Festival

We made a last minute decision to go to Sziget on the sunday night. We prepared with a $4 bottle of wine and a $8 bottle of vodka and we were ready to go. Taking a $2 500ml beer for the road (you seem to be able to drink on public transport and in the street, although I don’t know the official rules!) and we were off!

Sziget is such a great festival, the music covers all bases from rock to indie to dance to hip hop, and the crowd (unlike at home) is full of party goers from all across the globe!

We arrived t the festival, had some tequila shots and consequently lost each other about 10 mins later, not to reunite until 9am the next morning when the last of us stumbled in the door!

So without boring you with too much detail of my own personal experience, I can say that Budapest has a bit of everything. Cultural experiences, architecture, ruins, cheap drinks and a great vibe. Go check it out if you ever get the chance!

 

 

August 20, 2013 in Music

Producing Music While Travelling – Part One

Producing on Plane

So I’ll probably write a few of these posts as I learn more about producing on the road. What I do know is that it certainly makes the time go faster!

Firstly lets start with Trains

The first bit or work I did while on a train was a short 45mins express from London’s Victoria station to Gatwick Airport. The good thing about express trains is, you don’t need to worry about missing your stop when your destination is the only stop on the trip! This went really quickly and there actually wasn’t much to see out the window other than some bare paddocks that back of some housing estates and a few trees – if you’ve been travelling for a while, the novelty of different trees wears off after a while so staring at your laptop making music instead seems like a pretty good alternative.

The longer inter-city trips in Germany are a bit different. Many stop along the way and you need to pay attention to where your stop is and get prepared in advance. In Germany its unlikely you’ll understand what the PA is saying so keeping one eye on the little electronic screen at the end of the cabin is a good idea so not to end up somewhere unplanned.

I carry my laptop in my smaller backpack with my headphones, so its easy to whip out and get right into a session. I get some interested looks from passers by staring at the Ableton on my screen and AIAIAI production headphones and wonder if I’m trying to hack into the trains mainframe.

Having a seat with a table is definitely an advantage over a small fold out tray (especially if you’re 192cm tall) you can spread out and not get a sore neck from looking down as steeply.

Producing Music On Planes

You’ve probably seen Instagrams and tweets or Facebook updates from famous producers in their private jets with their Macbooks working on tracks in between gigs as they fly across the world. Well I wanted to try this (minus the private jet). Obviously your laptop needs to be off during takeoff and landing but if you’re flying half way around the world like I was (Australia to London) you have about 20 hours or so do pump out some tunes while the plane cruises at altitude. Again you get some weird looks, and you need to make sure you have some good headphones as not to disturb your neighbour when you’re crankin out some electro while they’re drifting blissfully off to lala land. But most decent headphones are pretty quit for everyone except yourself.

Producing in Hotels

Hotels are great you have unlimited power, room service and usually a comfy desk and nice chair and once you’ve done your days sightseeing you can settle right in to working on your latest track with no disruptions at all!

Free wifi to listen to your favourite artists for inspiration is also a plus!

Luke’s Tips:

1. Always have your laptop fully charged! You never know when you get a burst of inspiration only to find you’ve got 5% battery left and now power to charge!

2. Find a seat with a table (on trains) so you don’t get a sore neck.

3. Get some good headphones so that you don’t disturb those around you.

4. Remember your samples!

5. Back your files up to Dropbox as soon as you are in a position to do so.

 

August 1, 2013 in Travel

Best Travel SIM Card for Europe

So before I left, I decided to research the best travel sim card for Europe.

You see, I understand you can buy a cheap sim so long as you have an unlocked handset when you land in your destination country which suits most people just fine for a 2-3 week vacation, but when you’re looking to travel to more than 15 countries over 6 months, the thought of buying and sorting out a new number every week or so didn’t sit well with me, or alternatively, taking your home phone on global roaming and being charged hundreds of dollars for a 3min call or quick check of google maps to find your hotel was as equally unappealing.

I looked deeper and uncovered a range of “travel sims” – sim cards set up especially for the traveler who wants to control their budget on their phone while travelling but still have the flexibility and convenience of being able to make a call wherever they are without hassle. These travel sims are pre paid, have data, txt and call rates comparative to local providers (depending on the country) and can be topped up online.

Enter the Travel SIMs

From my research, I found three solutions that I reviewed – TravelSIM, AussieSIM and TruSIM. All these travel sim cards are very similar with some slight differences. What I can tell from my extensive research of their websites is this:

What Countries Do They Work In?

Travel SIM’s website says their card works in 160 countires, TruSIM 220, Aussie SIM seems to be continent specific.

Porting Your Number

TravelSIM gives you a new number, Tru sim lets you keep your own (plus have 2 others) but you have to port it from your current provider which may mean breaking your contact with your existing provider and paying any fees / outstanding bills to do so, Aussie SIM you can keep your number.

Set Up Costs

  • Travel SIM is $49 for the SIM which includes $5 credit
  • Tru sim costs $29.99 and includes $15 credit
  • Aussie SIM is $49.95 includes $20 credit

Do I need to unlock my phone?

  • Yes – You’ll need an unlocked phone for all SIMs

Call, Data and Text Costs

  • Costs vary from country to country and also slightly depending where you are from – for this comparison I have used the same data where possible – an Australian using the SIM from Estonia, in Eastern Europe. Costs as per respective websites, June 2013.

Travel SIM:

  • TXT: $0.48c per text,
  • Local Call: N/A (could not find rate)
  • Call to Aust: $0.59 per min for calls
  • Data: $0.70 per MB
  • Recieve TXT: $0.0
  • Receive Call: $0.0

Tru SIM:

  • TXT: $0.20 per text
  • Local Call: $0.50c per min
  • Call to Aust: $0.50c per min
  • Data: $2.09 oer MB
  • Recieve TXT:
  • Receive Call:

Aussie SIM:

  • TXT: $0.10c per text
  • Local Call: $0.65 per min
  • Call to Home: $0.65 per min
  • Data: $0.45c per MB
  • Recieve TXT: N/A (could not find)
  • Receive Call: $0.17/min

After doing a test case, for my usage requirements the best solution seemed to be TruSim. I ordered my TRUSim online and it arrived within 7 days to Australia. The setup process was simple and they phone support staff were very helpful – they help you set up your new sim and phone.

Things I like about TRUSim

There are a lot of things I like about TRUSim.

The txt messages you get as you arrive in each country explaining the fees and charges of txt, call and data rates for that country. They are often less than the $0.20c as specified in the rates, often they are 15-16 cents.

There is a phone menu where you can check and top up your pre pay balance at any time for free.

The fact that the data works really well and even though it can be expensive in some countries (Sweden) in others (Like the UK) you can check Facebook, use google maps or other data related apps for a few mins for a fairly low cost (great for when you get lost in the early hours of the morning after a few drinks!).

Things I don’t like about TRUSim

For the most part this card has been excellent except for when I arrived in Stockholm to find that my txt messages were not working – I could call, and receive txts but txts I sent were not received by their intended recipients despite appearing to have gone through from my end. This problem seemed to rectify itself in Germany.

Also the SIM randomly loses signal in places where it previously had full service. There have been a number of times where I’ve had to go through the support area to try different strategies to get the signal back. It always comes back but sometimes takes a long time which is not ideal when you are trying to organise to meet someone for dinner or let them know when you’ve arrived!

This SIM card has come in very handy and has made meeting up with friends, staying in contact with family and working out where I am in the middle of the night much easier than last time I went travelling. I’m sure once some of the other bumps have been ironed out, that it will be smooth sailing from here.

I hope this helps you decide which SIM card to choose for your next travel adventure!

 

 

July 28, 2013 in Travel

One Thing I Noticed About Stockholm

Converse Allstars

I’ve noticed a lot of things about Stockholm, much to my friend Jeanette’s pain – every time I notice something I say “You know, one thing I’ve noticed here is…” So I thought I’d compile a list of the one thing’s I’ve noticed about Stockholm!

1. There are no street lights or power lines!

First thing I noticed when I got of the bus was just how “open” everything looked, it took a while before I noticed that there were not power lines, no power poles and not even any poles for street lights! The street lights are all suspended on a thing barely visible wire between beautiful pastel coloured 3-5 story buildings that line just about every Stockholm street. There are some in the suburbs but rarely in the city.

2. Pastel buildings

Buildings here are either Terracotta, pastel yellow, turquoise, pink, blue or green – with the occasional brick or grey. making the street appear super colourful, especially after arriving from the UK where nearly every building is grey. The buildings also look really clean and new, even through many of them are hundreds of years old!

3. Ray Ban and Converse Allstars are doing quite well here.

Two in three people have one and or both of these items on them at any one time! And they do it well.

4. Bags not backpacks

There is little room for backpacks in Sweden, unless you’re going hiking or a weekend away. If you’re going to the park, work or the city its important that you have a trendy bag. Leather or stylishly woven is crucial in brown, blue or black – otherwise you just look out of place, especially if you’re riding your bike.

5. Take, not have

Swedes love to take things. Not literally but this is where one translation to the English language becomes ambiguous. While “taking a shower” or “taking a vacation” are common in US English and are understood by most Australians and Brits, “taking a coffee” or “taking a swim” make me chuckle. But like most things in English, trying to explain the context and differences of “take” and “have” are beyond my English abilities, maybe I should take a grammar classes?

6. Speaking English

My new Swedish friends are fantastic, and they seem to have this unique ability to just speak english whenever I’m around! You see, when its just two people having a chat in the corner or on the phone its in Swedish, but as soon as they realise I’m there it instantly switches to English! I find this both extremely polite and also incredible that they can just swap mid sentence without skipping a beat!

7. Love sun baking

Just like the Brits in on a 30 degree day, the Swedes take to the park to bask in the glory of the sun at any opportunity, no matter if its cold and windy, if there is a glimmer of sunshine, they’ll be out there making the most of it! The main advantage the Swedes have over their like minded British friends is, when they are laying half naked in the sun, they are tanned and in good shape!

8. Bikes with baskets

There is no lycra here – or helmets. Mainly its just really good looking girls in summer dresses floating past on gorgeous old bikes with baskets. I’m waiting to see a chihuahua in one, but mainly its handbags and a jacket. I’ve not seen a bike without one!

9. Love queueing

I think Swedes may enjoy lining up even more than the Brits! Sometimes even 2 hours before they need to! This includes for boats, planes, food, toilets or anything really…

10. Shirts with shorts

Short shorts. To go with the many pairs of Converse Allstars kicking about Stockholm, the men of Sweden love to wear beige shorts paired with a shirt or blue shirt – topped off with the Ray Bans this makes for quite a smart casual look for any occasion! Particularly a walk around town as it seems.

11. Beards

What the hipsters try to emulate and can only dream of, the Swedes have been doing since Abba. Perfectly groomed thick beards adorn the faces of many a Swedish man and they do it so well.

12. Red pants

Swedes seems to love red pants. And shorts. Actually a lot of the colours incorporated into Swedish fashion seems to stem from the pastel colours of the buildings that line the city streets.

13. Thinking in weeks

This, I must say – is a brilliant concept and one that I think we all should adopt. Rather than think in terms of dates, many Swedes think of the year in terms of weeks. I.e you have 52 weeks in a year and you plan when you are having a party or a vacation in terms of what week in the year it is! I’m going away for weeks 33 and 34.. none of this “what are you doing between the 24th and 3rd” business where you have check your diary to see what days they are!

So there you have it, a few things I’ve noticed about Stockholm. Hope you enjoyed!

 

July 22, 2013 in Travel

Is Sweden Really As Beautiful As They Say It Is?

Ralamshovparken

Short Answer:

Yes.

Long Answer:

It’s amazing what things live up to your cliche’s, what things disappoint you and what things blow you away on holiday. Sweden for me after 3 full days is still blowing me away.

I don’t know whether its the blonde hair, tanned skin or keen fashion sense, or the fact that I haven’t seen an overweight person anywhere – or the fact that everything here is open, clean well looked after and all the people are just friendly (once they get over their shyness).

From buildings centuries old plonked on top of rocky outcrops to the the rolling hills, deep valleys, rivers, lakes, islands, gardens, flowers & trees everything here appears as if it fell off of a postcard!

I’ll be writing a summary of my week in Sweden in an upcoming post “One thing I’ve noticed about Sweden” so stay tuned!

LJ