Friday, December 31, 2010

Taipei typos

Here's a project that's been ongoing since I arrived in the Far East, and will doubtless continue until I leave, or until Asian retailers stop giving their stores such amusing names.

HA HA HA! They can't even speak English properly, and occasionally make understandable mistakes that could be tenuously misinterpreted to mean something vaguely rude or otherwise inappropriate! It's as if English isn't even their native language and they're forced to adopt it to survive in international markets! The idiots!!!

Oh well, it's still funny. Here are some of the best I've found around town. More to definitely come soon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

End of the line

Another pleasant day out, this time taking the Taipei Rapid Transit System TO THE LIMIT, for an EXTREME adventure ON THE EDGE...

What that means is I went all the way up the red line of the metro (I live down near the bottom of the green line by Dapinglin (大坪林), for any celeb stalking fans out there).

Yeah, I know there was a time when I travelled 6,000 miles in a day, but in this weird place I'm too scared of what lies beyond to risk venturing outside of the city. Here may literally be dragons, after all. Or at the very least, a lengthy and frustrating visa application process.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freath of bresh air

You could say that I'm the last person who needs to take time out to smell the lotuses, considering the near-nonexistent stresses of my life these days.

My biggest problems of late have been things like having too much freedom to travel, feeling guilty about eating out cheaply and worrying that seeing the pyramids might raise my tourism standards to impractical heights. I tell you, any more of this shit and I'm going to snap.

Fortunately for us all, it seems Taipei was hastily built around mountains and forests that refused to budge in the face of capitalism, so there's lots of green here. Here is some of it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Taipei Temple Tour (Twenty-Ten)

'Buddhists believe that the body is a temple. They are wrong, of course. The temple is a part of the body. On the side of the head. It's an easy mistake to make, but one you'd think that one of the world's millions of Buddhists would have spotted by now.'

- Stewart Lee, Fist of Fun

With my tatty notebook, dodgy Egyptian camera and MRT map dropped into my unrealistically deep pockets along with the rest of the essentials, I was ready to embark on a breakneck tour of all the major temples in Taipei City today - until it was pointed out to me just how tedious this would be.

But that's okay, because I'm an ignorant Westerner visiting China (not actually China, but what do I know?) So when I say 'temple' I don't actually mean a sacred building where the public go to worship the Jade Emperor and co. and light joss paper. Nah, I mean any Oriental-looking building, preferably red, with paintings on the outside and those funny sloping roofs. That's temple enough for me. Even if it isn't temple at all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Black and white and nearly dead all over

Tuan Tuan: What is my favourite dual-function gland organ, Yuan Yuan?
Yuan Yuan: Is it the panda-creas, Tuan Tuan?

You have to admire China for its panda-based attitude towards international relations. Genocide, human rights atrocities - the world has yet to invent a problem that China won't attempt to solve by throwing an irrelevant panda in its direction.

Because everyone loves pandas! You'd have to be a world-weary cynic or some sort of educated person to view Beijing's gift of two giant pandas to Taipei Zoo with scepticism. Just because it undermines decades of fragile Taiwanese independence, potentially contravenes the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species and treads perilously close to a united front stratagem.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A childish day out

Dave W pretends he's unenthused, even though he genuinely didn't sleep a wink last night (wow, you can't tell!) because he was so excited about going to the zoo.
He is twenty-five years old

While Egypt's cities were essentially large-scale safari parks - where you'd see camels, donkeys, goats, chickens, dogs and so many cats taking their chances on the mental roads - local wildlife has been lacking since I got to Taiwan. I haven't seen one pigeon, and even the stray cats walk politely alongside humans as if they're being taken for a walk.

This place is mental in more subtle ways.


Luckily, Taipei Zoo is on hand for all my zoophile needs (in the bibliophile sense rather than the other one - though there's definitely a stigma attached to a fully-grown man going to the zoo by himself, so I didn't). It was bizarrely cheap too. If there's one thing I like more than seeing animals shuffle around uncomfortably in incorrect and restricted environments, it's enjoying a great, childish day out for the equivalent of 65p. 65p!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

101: thing to do in Taipei

After tourism overload in Egypt, I've been taking things pretty easy in Taiwan over the first week - unless you count the relentless food tourism (Zào Jūn be praised).

That's right - I might be suffering from the cold like the rest of you idiots now (especially after the unreasonable heat of the last three months ruined my durability), but at least I'm eating better food than you! And I wonder why nobody reads this. You're alright really.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Farewell forever, Middle East

…or at least for another nine a half years, or until I lose my passport, and can get a new one without access-limiting Israel stamps. Whichever comes sooner (yeah, like losing my passport isn't inevitable).

Thanks, Israel and Egypt, it's been fun and strange, which for me is the ideal combination.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Well, that about wraps it up for Egypt

Sphinx of Alexandria

My chronologically sound but geographically perplexing month-long journey through Egypt - from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom and Late Period - has reached its logical end in Greco-Roman Alexandria, back at the Mediterranean again. Where it might have begun if only Greek ferries weren't so unreliable.

But to subvert expectations (mine mostly), the city's actually pretty good. Take that, predetermined cynicism!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Knowledge is power

Dave W goes to the library

I bloody love libraries and have done since I was about seven, when I rented Alvin Schwartz's In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories every fortnight without fail, despite knowing exactly how 'The Green Ribbon' ended (chilling).

So, naturally I was excited to visit the site of the most famous library in the ancient world, even if this new institution - opened in 2003 - won't contain all the sadly lost, endearingly wrong ancient knowledge that was destroyed all those times the original Library of Alexandria caught fire. Apparently, papyrus isn't fire-proof, however much the street wranglers in Cairo boast of its indestructibility.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's always sunny in Philae

The Isle of Philae (in reality, Aglikia) is another UNESCO relocation job, and is completely ace.

I thought my egyusiasm (enthusiasm for all things Ancient Egyptian) was in danger of fading after Abu Simbel, but this beautiful little serene island was the most impressive thing I'd seen since the pyramids.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Nubian nadir

Dave W was tired, unenthused and not too well. He's going to be a barrel of laughs today!

Another Egyptian city, another day trip setting off unhealthily early to pack in the famous local sights. And ones 300km away down the lawless desert road, without a protective convoy in sight, because a bus driver didn't pay the baksheesh. Join me on the high-stakes tourism trail!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Learning Mandarin

With a busy November of work, novel, girl and being a tourist, it's been a while since I had some free time to devote to self-improvement.

Fortunately, my borderline-OCD need to keep this blog's momentum going, even in slow weeks, has provided extra incentive to learn more bits and pieces of foreign languages from countries I'll be visiting in the very near future - like Taiwan which, insanely, I'll be landing in this time next week.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Guilty life of Luxory

Okay, I'm technically in Aswan now, not Luxor, but then the pun wouldn't work, would it? If anything, Aswan's even cheaper - check out my budget balcony Nile view, which is identical to the view those snobs in the 4-star hotels on each side of me have paid a hell of a lot more for (just pretend there isn't a busy main road in-between me and the scenery and it's ideal).

I've written before about how pleasantly shocked I was by the steep drop in prices as soon as I crossed the Taba border into Egypt, but heading into the south of the country (confusingly called Upper Egypt), this drop becomes effing vertical. Since arriving here, I've been eating in restaurants every day.

Actual restaurants, where people come to your table and ask what you'd like, as if you're better than them (this type of service still makes me uncomfortable). My hotel restaurant even brings the meals to your room so you can eat them in bed like a normal person!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Luxor with altitude

Dave W at 2,100 feet

My 90-minute balloon ride over Luxor and the West Bank was the single most expensive tourist activity I've done so far, and it still only cost LE 350 (about £39). I only have a rough idea what a similar length flight would cost in the UK and Europe, but it's a lot more than £39 - and the sights wouldn't be so impressive.

Plus, they probably wouldn't throw in the complimentary tacky T-shirt either. Keep up with my photos and you're bound to see it, I'll run out of wearable T-shirts one of these days.

Early bird gets the warm (i.e. hot air)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy ending

No, I haven't abandoned my morals to get an unpleasant wanky massage, it's better than that. I FINISHED MY FUCKING BOOK, and here's the gaudy, poorly Photoshopped cover:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Travel evidence - Luxor Temple and Karnak

Having a camera is good, it means I don't have to write anything. Check it out.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Travel evidence - Theban Necropolis

Way to deny me from taking photos in your tombs now I've finally bought a camera, Egypt!

That means some of these photos aren't mine, so apologies for their superior, professional quality. I'm sure the transition will be seamless. You'll have to trust that these are things I saw with my real, human eyes - eyes that didn't expect to see a mummified foetus today.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Travel evidence - Giza

Compulsory Sphinx shot

Photos courtesy of (i.e. stolen from) Eduardo. I bought my own camera now. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The curse of freedom

I'm taking a flight in a couple of weeks' time. Anyone got any suggestions where to?

I'm not lacking in ideas or decisiveness, it's just a case of narrowing down the options, now I've completed the Mediterranean circuit as far as I can with these Israel passport stamps.

God has been helping me so far, arranging the planet and its peoples so that the countries with the most interesting history magically happen to be next to each other. But now God is cutting the umbilical cord and I'm out on my own (that's right, God is a woman - didn't expect that, did you? And she's black probably. And Chinese and gay).

If it wasn't for these pesky passport stamps (that's the appropriate word to sum up the Israel-Arab conflict) I'd doubtless continue south, east or west across land, deeper into Africa, but all borders are closed to me now that I'm evil by association. So I'll have to take a flight anyway, and that technically means I can go anywhere. God damn it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Travel haggle

Haggling is fun. What could be more satisfying than having an animated argument with a complete stranger in broken English and getting a discount at the end of it? I literally can't think of anything.

I don't buy souvenirs - I'm not on holiday, this nomad existence is my life now, and I don't want to be burdened by unnecessary items when lugging my lightweight bags around. Anyway, most souvenirs are really, really rubbish.

But as a human being (roughly speaking) with basic requirements such as food, shelter and getting to ride on a camel every once in a while, not getting ripped off is still a part of my daily routine, and it's a lot more entertaining in Africa.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel books

I don't see the point of carrying travel guides around in 2010. Even when their information on ticket prices, visa requirements and accommodation choices isn't hopelessly out-of-date or insufficient, this stuff can all easily be found online anyway. And they rarely tell you the really useful stuff, like days you can get into attractions for free or the best places to steal Wi-Fi.

Even if you don't have internet access (I probably wouldn't if my income didn't depend on it), most of the places I've stayed have local Rough Guides and Lonely Planets lying around in all languages except Welsh, making carrying your own even more redundant. The space those thick tomes consume in your suitcase would be much better spent housing some squashed toilet rolls or more socks. (Sometimes these blogs mainly serve as mental aids for my shopping lists).

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Don't mistake my fascination with screwball conspiracy theorists and other assorted lunatics for some kind of endorsement.

I've wasted many evenings of my life trying in vain to encourage self-styled psychic mediums, reiki experts, Christians, aromatherapists and other proponents of daft woo-woo to at least place their beliefs under an objective spotlight for a few seconds and make sure they're doing what they want with their precious lives.

I eventually gave up and just let them get on with it, when I realised I didn't want to spend my own life getting frustrated at how other people were squandering theirs.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Oh great, what am I supposed to do now?

Yes, I know there's still Medieval Cairo, the Egyptian Museum, Abu Simbel, the Temples of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings to tick off before I can say with any conscience that I've given Egypt more than a passing glance. But when you're standing in the shadow of the pyramids of Giza - 140m tall, 230m wide and 4,500 years old, their iconic image infiltrating countless aspects of your life since childhood - there's a small but nagging feeling that nothing else you ever see will quite live up to this experience.

Though that could just be the effect of residual cosmic energy emanating from the pyramidal vortices, I often get those feelings confused.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel beard

Artist's impression.

There seems to be a consensus that personal hygiene and grooming go down the toilet (sometimes literally) when travelling, but not for me. I look after myself slightly better now than I ever bothered to when I had a proper job and people to impress. Slightly.

Since I left my squalid Scottish flat, I've even been shaving more than once a week. Until this month anyway - when I decided to temporarily grow a beard, now that I'm an author.

This isn't a cross-promotional tie-in with Movember, I think one crazy stunt per month is enough (I said stunt). But if I'm going to convince myself that I'm a proper writer, I might as well pretend I'm a proper man too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cheap as Cheops

You can keep your high quality of life, safe streets, familiar language, hygienic water supply, stable economy, reliable public transport and whatever else you demand of a habitable city, you snobs. In my secondary quest to find somewhere to live for as long as my attention span or visa allows (whichever expires first), I've realised I really am fickle enough to be swayed by low prices above all else.

Which is lucky, because Cairo has little of the other stuff - though it does make up for it with great food, friendly people and the most incredible historical sites this side of the Martian pyramids.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Eternal September

September doesn't usually last this long. Does it?

How does that old rhyme go: 365 days hath September - April, June and November are just fabrications invented by the seasonal gifts industry to sell more Justin Beiber calendars?

(I don't even know who that is, I just saw the name on some kid's top and imagine I'm making a contemporary reference).

In the past, September always seemed to be roughly 4.29 weeks long, but this year it feels like it's lasting forever. Despite my computer, this website, NaNoWriMo and my internal chronometer all informing me that we're rapidly hurtling towards winter, I can still walk outside at night in just a T-shirt without feeling the cold.

Sometimes I wear trousers, pants, socks and shoes as well, though that's more out of decency than fear of catching a chill.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friendly Jew jokes

Mixed feelings about leaving Israel today, so I invented some friendly Jew jokes to cheer myself up.

They are all very offensive - not to the Jewish people, whom I love, but just because of their staggeringly poor quality that will almost certainly offend your good tastes. Especially the rubbish one about the snail, which is just wank.

Some of these may exist elsewhere on the internet (I gave up googling my comedy gold a long time ago, it was too depressing), but I'm confident that the more insane and convoluted ones are my own creation.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Travel evidence - Italy

I owned a digital camera for a brief time last year and had fun documenting my activities in and around Edinburgh. But then one night I got ludicrously drunk and the camera was one of several casualties (deservedly, I felt).

I didn't feel the need to buy a new camera to document my travels, mainly because there are already so many photos of the places I'm going to that are a lot prettier than any I would be capable of taking. Still, it's nice to have a few mementos of the things I've done and the people I've met, and it's always satisfying to use other peoples' resources, isn't it?

So here are some other peoples' photos to prove I was in Italy. It's taken a while just to get these few, so hopefully more can be added in the future (answer my emails, Pompeii people).

Note: Above photo may not be genuine.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Chapter one

Having embraced the prospect of his inevitable death, comedian Robin Ince is currently undertaking the task of downsizing his vast book collection. The process involves him reading the first chapter of every book he owns in turn, and using this as the sole basis of whether to keep or discard.

While I'm not saying the novel I'm currently, hastily writing will ultimately deserve a place on anyone's bookshelf (Aside: I am saying that, it will be a modern classic), the disgusting first chapter I wrote yesterday will really not be typical or indicative of the rest of the book, which takes the form of a murder mystery with girl trouble.

I won't be posting the whole book online - hopefully it will be available from in a few months, with proper artwork and pages and everything - but here's an extract from the self-edited first chapter for your enjoyment and disgust. While the whole book will be semi-autobiographical to an extent, this first bit practically counts as travel blog material, thanks to its inspiration coming from my first night out and morning after in Jerusalem.

See if you can spot which bits are made up and which are from life.

Monday, November 1, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Before I started travelling, 2010 was definitely a year of all work and no play (with the exception of the Edinburgh Fringe). It was just the way I felt. One of the casualties was my lifelong love of writing for pleasure, which felt incompatible with my newfound love of writing for money and wondering where all the months went.

Although my writing talents arguably peaked at age six, when I wrote such modern classics as David's Wardrobe Learn's to Talk and Dr. Disguised as Beetle, I ploughed the creative field regardless for the next 18 years, at some point being allowed to get away with 'studying' creative writing for three years at University. But once I started writing corporate news articles and web pages for eight hours a day, the prospect of going back on a computer in my spare time seemed less inviting.

Now I have more time on my hands (Exhibit A and Exhibit B), I've started feeling the creative urge again, and have decided to embrace the insanity of National Novel Writing Month this November.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Travel romance

My friend Oliver recently wrote a heart-wrenchingly tragic blog (he probably won't mind me linking to it) about travelling to Israel in pursuit of an amazing Russian-Israeli girl he met once, who ultimately seemed less enthusiastic than him. The beautiful fool.

I obviously didn't learn a thing from this parable, and became a bit obsessively infatuated with a Russian-Israeli girl (not the same one) who I met last month in Florence, who was irresponsibly appealing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sleeping on a roof bloody cool. Lying under the stars, watching the red moon rise over the golden temple roofs. I might never go back to sleeping indoors again. I wonder why I ever did in the first place?

Oh yes - because I lived in Scotland.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

And did those feet

Jerusalem is a great place for people who love to aimlessly wander around, especially in the Old City.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Travel safety

Shoe-based incidents aside, I haven't run into any problems so far on my World Tour, but imagine how different things could be if I were a woman.

Are you imagining it? Arousing, isn't it?... No? No, um, I didn't think so either, I was just joking or something.

None of the female solo travellers I've met have run into any problems with strange men (until they met me at least), but I can understand how the universal presence of dickheads puts many women off heading out on their own.

To help out my sisters (not literally, I don't have any - that explains a lot), I've developed a Female Solo Traveller Safety Kit that I hope to patent when I can be bothered. It features items that women can wear or otherwise absent-mindedly leaf through, when the possibility of a dickhead manifests itself in the hostel lounge.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Amusing podcasts

Travelling around a lot by bus, ferry, foot, plane and train (in alphabetical order), I find podcasts and audiobooks perfect companions. I've gathered quite a collection of radio comedy that sees me through too, a lot of it from the 1990s when Radio 1 bizarrely let people like Chris Morris, Simon Munnery and Lee and Herring do pretty much what they wanted for an hour each week. We won't see the likes of those days again.

Podcasts feel like the natural successor to those alternative radio shows, now that broadcasters like the BBC are too timid to take risks on innovative comedy and things like the Mighty Boosh are seen as 'edgy.'

Simultaneously less professional but also much freer from constraints, the podcast medium has been embraced by many comedians as a chance to express themselves without censorship and try out new material just as they would on stage. While their generally unedited and unscripted nature means they can often be a bit shit, this is also part of the podcast's charm - they are free after all, done for love rather than money, even if the effort ultimately pays off in terms of greater publicity for other projects.

Here are my (probably) top five comedy podcasts, most of which are current and ongoing and all of which can be legally downloaded free of charge, at least in part.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Learning Hebrew

I was planning to spend a week or so longer in Greece and really master the language, but after all the ferry annoyance, and spotting a tempting last-minute flight, there no longer seemed a point in delaying Israel until November. I'm not a slave to your calendar, Pope Gregory!

So, to while away the travel time I've entered the realm of the Hebrew language, so I can blend in like a local in the immigrant nation. I've always thought I'd make a good Jew, in any case - I'm called David, I appreciate sardonic humour, I'm tight with money and I've got quite a big nose. Really, I'm just one very small operation away from being a true Son of Israel.

Farewell forever, Europe

...well, probably not, but I probably/hopefully won't be back in the continent for a very long time. To turn back time (zones) now would seem foolish, now that I've finally broken my Asian hymen.

Not literally, mother, if you're reading.

I'm writing this in Athens International Airport, waiting for a flight to Tel Aviv. That's right, regular readers (Oliver?), my self-imposed no-planes rule has now been broken twice, but it's not like I didn't exhaust and stress over all the other non-options for days.

Monday, October 18, 2010

From the Athens of the North to the Athens of Greece

Pointless mission accomplished - by land and sea, I travelled from the self-styled 'Athens of the North' (Edinburgh) to the bona fide 'Athens of Greece' (Athens), with just one cheating plane ride across the Alps.

Arriving by bus in a remote and smelly part of the city, my first impressions of Athens were pretty unfavourable. But I remembered I had a similar reaction to Florence at first, before getting to the nice, pedestrian-friendly tourism parts.

Like in Italian, the word pedestrian in Greek roughly translates as 'public footpath that nevertheless permits motorcycles, as if they aren't basically cars, and stupid bloody choo-choo trains.' With its speedy and sparkling clean metro system too, this shithole has had a major colonic irrigation, but the skidmarks are still clear to see if you venture too far...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don't judge a man by the quality of his footwear

I've been on the tourist trail for almost a month, and today I was delighted to be approached by my first con artist, outside the Acropolis.

I say 'artist,' but he still had some way to go in perfecting his shtick, whatever it was. The fact that his opening gambit was to compliment the high quality of my shoes was a dead giveaway that something was awry:

My post-Acropalistic footwear

Friday, October 15, 2010

Still learning Greek

I'm embracing today's 10-hour bus ride to Athens as a chance to become master of the language, and jack off none (well, that would be inappropriate behaviour on a bus).

After the embarrassment of getting around in Italy with just a weather-beaten print-out to remind me of key phrases - and to be honest, cruising by on little more than ci, buongiorno and grazie - I was determined to put more effort into learning the language during my visit to Greece, with help from Pimsleur's Modern Greek Short Course which I sort of stole...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Learning Greek

What the hell does that mean? It's all Greek to me. A-ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Actually, Greek doesn't present much of a problem here in Ipsos, a second home for vermilion sunbathers escaping from North West England. Practically all the neo-locals who frequent the bar I use for internet access hail from Greater Manchester, meaning I've heard more accents from my home counties in these last two weeks than I did in the previous three years, and I'm in the bloody Mediterranean.

What do these Mancs think they're doing, abandoning their birth nation to make a new life overseas? They make me sick.

Because I'm obviously nothing like them, I'm committed to at least trying to learn the local language while I'm in Greece. Here's how to learn foreign numbers easily and keep them in your head for all time, along with all the other junk.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where are all the Canadians?

It's probably not surprising that I've met a hell of a lot of Australians on my travels. They are a naturally curious species after all, most of them having relatives scattered in annoyingly convenient locations across Europe that offer a valid reason to track down their heritage.

That's compared to my own tedious family which, for some masochistic reason, chose to live in Crewe for as far back as I have the stomach to trace. Which means as far back as the ones I've met in person. My dad is a farmer, so I'm naturally wary about uncovering the intertwining branches that would, to be honest, explain quite a few things about my anatomy.

But I'm surprised at the lack of Canadians I've met along the way, which is currently no Canadians. Not one. I've met Argentines, Brazilians, Chinese, Danes, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Israelis, Italians, Japanese, Kiwis, Mauritanians, Norwegians, Sicilians, Slovenians, Spaniards, even a couple of bloody Brits, but no moose-hugging Canucks in sight.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Italian Time

I don't know where I heard that Italy was a country ruled by efficiency. Probably on the same fictional TV show that I remembered showing giant snails the size of Alsatians sliming their gargantuan way past a disinterested man, which I only realised clearly don't exist when I took a second to think about it at the embarrassingly late age of about 17.

Maybe it's the oft-quoted but historically incorrect trivia about Mussolini making the trains run on time that gave me this mistaken impression of Italian efficiency. I'm not saying that Italy is a country in serious need of a fascist dictator to sort things out at the cost of the peoples' democratic freedom, but I am implying it heavily.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Up Vesuvius

Because I am an alternative and fascinating non-conformist, I skipped out Rome on my Trenitalia odyssey from north to south in the country, instead opting to spend my last three days in Italy around Naples.

This wasn't anything to do with the city itself, which I didn't even visit - famed as the home of the Mafia and excellent pizza - but for the nearby living legends (well, dead and dormant at least) of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius, just a short trip from my surprisingly excellent hostel.

I've never walked up an active volcano before, only dead ones like Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, and while Vesuvius doesn't have the lava pools and scattered ash of something like Etna, it was still pretty fantastic to peer into the crater and consider the inevitability of its next devastating and long overdue eruption. Even if the tour guide had to ruin things by saying we'd all know at least four days in advance and would not be dying today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Free Firenze

It's nice to pretend you're not a tourist sometimes, even when your skin is 7,000% paler than the locals and the extent of your Italian vocabulary comes entirely from the first of two pages of key phrases that you hastily printed out before leaving the UK as a flimsy attempt to assuage your post-colonial guilt by pretending you were ever going to learn more. You didn't even make it to page two, did you? I hate you.

Luckily, it turned out my last full day in Florence coincided with several unrelated national holidays and local events that most tourists seemed oblivious to, but which were a great way to tick off some galleries and museums I otherwise would have felt a bit hard-pressed to pay for. There was also plenty of free fruit drink and chocolate milkshake available - oh Florence, you are spoiling us.

Sunday was my best day in Florence by far, more than making up for the initial disappointment I had when confronted with the mental traffic and pollution after spending five days in snow-globe Venice. Thanks to my friend Sofi having put more effort and passion into researching the Renaissance masters than my own minimal contribution (which involved tracking down the four namesakes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the various museums, galleries and churches of the city on Friday), I was able to really appreciate the great sculptures of the Borgello and enjoy some rare proper food in the evening, without having to contribute to Florence's economy - take that, Florentines!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Venezia - The Venice of Italy

I've written thousands of travel pages over the last year, being paid to imagine what I think places might be like (or paraphrase what Lonely Planet said first), but if this new travelling lifestyle has taught me anything, it's that 70-cent carton wine is never a good idea. But also that you really do have to visit some places to get an idea of what they're really like.

Wow, who would have thought? Expect to have your mind blown with more original opinions like that one for however long I keep this blog up. I'm only writing this because you asked me to, so don't expect it to be good or anything.