Ficklish Blog

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Agua de Valencia

(There´s something in the water here).

A few posts below, I talked about my plans for Spain - arrive in Barcelona, then spend all my time in the south. Well, it hasn´t exactly happened like that. I´m still in Valencia.

There just hasn´t been any reason to move on just yet. I´m in great hostel with excellent people, the weather is spectacular, the beaches are beautiful and the town is one I could (and have) spent hours wandering around in.

I´m actually having a holiday!

Mr Canadia (again, see below), was looking for a word the other night to describe that incredible serendipitous luck that befalls a traveller every now and again. You know - when you miss a train, but meet a stranger and get taken somewhere fabulous. Or when someone gets sick and stays longer in a place just so you can meet them. That kind of thing.

Well, I couldn´t think of a particular word for it, but a mad German we met gave it to us in German: "gluck einen Reisender", the luck of a traveller.

Whether or not it´s actually a term Germans use doesn´t worry me, I think it sounds cool.

I feel like Valencia is riddled with Reisegluck for me. I can´t believe how lucky I feel to be here, right now, having such an incredible time with such fun people.

A few highlights from recent days:

- The beautiful cathedral and the Holy Grail (yes, they chose poorly), some excellent galleries (including one with some installations you would love, TJ), more spectacular markets, and many hours spent sitting in front of fountains in sunny squares and gardens. Looking up as I wander the streets and gazing in quiet awe at the beautifully ornate architecture against the bright blue sky.

- Swimming in the cold, clear Mediterranean.

- The amazing food: tapas, paella, sangria, countless oranges.

- Sampling more of the excellent Valencian nightlife, and marvelling at how perfectly my body clock is suited to the Spanish way of life.

- Being taught how to pronounce the sentences on the dirty page of my phrasebook by a Portuguese geologist.

- Becoming an accidental chaperone to a bunch of sixteen year old Italian schoolgirls, only to have one of them hit on my 38-year-old English friend in a startlingly aggressive manner.

- Learning about the historical linkages between the Rastafarians and Hasidic Jews from a Jamaican architect (and having one guy say, ´and did they come up with that story before or after they started smoking pot?´).

- A lengthy discussion on the best way to achieve good sex while in a hammock.

- Discovering that one of our group is a very talented songwriter, and spending an evening drinking Spanish wine and listening, entranced, as he played for us.

- Being reminded that good people are everywhere, and that when something happens that knocks you around and fills your head and the people you love are far away (and you can´t get your stupid phone card to work), one of your new friends will see it, understand and step up with a hug, a chat, a drink and plenty of welcome distraction.

- Did I mention the hours in the sun on the beach? The sand is so fine that it gets everywhere, but it´s totally worth it. And the opportunity for people-watching is exceptional.

There´s a cocktail here called Agua de Valencia. Officially, it´s vodka, orange juice and cava, but in reality it differs from place to place. As I discovered while out with two Scottish girls and a Swiss guy of my acquaintance, it basically involved the bartender pulling down as many bottles from the shelves as she could carry, then mixing them all in some secret manner so that the end result tastes like the best orange juice of your life, then knocks you out. I loved it.

I´m trying to come up with ways I could keep drinking it here forever.

Friday, March 24, 2006

I love this place.

It´s noon, on a beautiful sunny day in Valencia. Instead of energetically exploring this beautiful place, I´m lying on my bed in the hostel (obviously not right now, as I´m busy talking into the computer, but it was true as I was scribbling this). I´m absolutely knackered.

I´m only five days in, folks - but if Spain keeps being this much fun, I´m not sure I´m going to last the month.

WARNING: This post is going to be very long. Get a snack, and settle in. If I was a good blogger, I would have done little entries every day. One morning I might wake up a good blogger.

(And I hope s/he isn´t too pissed off. Boom tish! Thanks, I´m here all week).

So, I arrived in Barcelona on Monday, and immediately started wandering the streets of the city, a pattern that was to continue the whole time I was there. I missed the vast majority of the important, essential tourist sights because it was just such an excellent place to wander in. I did see a few things:

La Ramblas, the central promenade, which is like the Magic Faraway Tree in that as you walk along, each section becomes or sells something different. Tourist crap, then goldfish and turtles, then canaries, chickens and doves, then portrait painters, then old men smoking on chairs, then flowers and kumquat trees. There are crazy street performers in elaborate costumes dotted along the way - a guy doing an impression of a tree, two guys on bicycles with skeletons, a (very hot and) highly skilled puppeteer, a guy in a dog suit who curls up in a cardboard kennel and barks at passing dogs, driving them insane. There´s a guy in a bubble suit, a flower suit, a guy sitting on a toilet in the middle of the square. My favourite was when you caught a glimpse of them out of character - one chatting to his friends in full costume while on a break, and another one sitting cross-legged on his little box, putting on his makeup before he got started.

The whole street teems with tourists, and I spent hours just wandering along and soaking it up. You turn a corner and come across something amazing: a dense network of winding alleyways jam-packed with people, shops and restaurants or a sunlit open square. I loved the Boqueria Market - a cavernous hall of whirling colours, sounds and smells. Pig´s heads, whole fish, neat stacks of gleaming fruit, baskets full of loose brown eggs, pastries, olives, sausages, and cheeses. There were whole skinned rabbits, red and forlorn with neat little heads and dead grey eyes, yellowed pig´s trotters with pinkish toenails, and glistening piles of offal in dark red slivers. It reminded me of something Greenie once said about festivals, that this sensory overload must be ´what it must be like every day for a dog.´ Utterly amazing, and completely overwhelming.

I loved the cathedral, too - it was dark, ornate and sombre in just the way a cathedral should be, with vast arched ceilings and gilded altarpieces lit with tall red candles. The windows of the confession booths were open so you could see and hear the priest´s solemn words.

I went to the Picasso Museum on my final afternoon, which I had been looking forward to. It covers works from each phase of his life and career, so there´s lots of very well executed but relatively boring stuff from his early years. Then, he goes to art school and his paintings start looking like those of other famous artists. Only later did he start to get interesting. As I wandered through, looking at the early work, I thought ´well, Pablo, it´s good but I know you can do better. It´s like you´re not even trying.´

(I confess that I adapted that joke from a new friend who said something similar after seeing an exhibition of Dali´s early work, so credit where it´s due - hi, Will!)

So, having covered the necessary travelogue aspect of this entry, I will now proceed to the other kind of stories: wherein jLo becomes drunken (you guys know these ones).

I had a couple of uneasy moments on my first day travelling alone, faced with the prospect of:

(1) potentially going an entire month without speaking to anyone more than to say, "One, please", and "thanks", and

(2) missing out on the excellent Barcelona nightlife I had heard so much about because I´m too gutless to go drinking on my own (also, the small issue of having no idea where to go).

So I decided to take drastic action to address both problems, and signed up for a pub crawl a put on by a local traveller´s pub.

You know what? It was awesome fun. I made friends. And a friend, if you know what I´m saying (and I think you do). The pub crawl kicked off what was to become several solid days of late, drunky nights. Remind me sometime to avoid booking and paying for hostel beds that I apparently have no intention of sleeping in. And no, that´s not how it might sound (hi, Mum!). I´ve behaved (almost) impeccably so far. And that´s about all I´m going to say about that.

The most hilarious member of the crawl crowd was Tommy the 19-year-old Swede who talked of nothing but his favourite band, Guns´n´Roses. When he asked me if I liked them, I told the truth and said that I used to listen to them a bit when I was in high school, say, around fourteen years ago. When Tommy was FIVE. He has a GnR tattoo on his shoulder, is going to see them play in Stockholm in the summer, and couldn´t be more excited. Once he had established me as a fellow fan (!), I couldn´t shake him off. He would come up, throw his arm around me while I was in lively conversation with an interesting stranger, and start singing, begging me to join in. It was very amusing. He stripped off with little encouragement so that I could take a photo of his tattoo - I promise I´ll share it with you guys as soon as I get back to London and my computer.

So, Barcelona was wandering by day, drinking by night. All too soon, it was time for this weary, hung over traveller to move on - so, promising myself that I´ll be a proper tourist in Barcelona when I return at the end of the month, I hopped a bus to Valencia.

There wasn´t a need for a pub crawl this time. I had time to dump my gear, go for a quick stroll around the old part of the city, buy some groceries and cook myself dinner before the overwhelming friendliness of the international travelling community took me by the hand, poured me some wine, told me some exquisitely dirty jokes, and we were off again. We were thrown out of the hostel at midnight for being too rowdy, so it was off to sample the Valencia clubs. It was like the beginning of a bad joke: an Australian, a Canadian, an Englishman and a Jamaican walk into a bar....

And had a great time. The young Canadian gentleman of the group had a flight out of here first thing this morning, so he and I resolved to stay up through the night until he had to leave.

(This boy, incidentally, you guys would love. Imagine a male, Canadian version of jLo who likes to climb things. He´s even almost as funny as me, which I realise is difficult to believe but is in fact true).

Having long outlasted the Englishman and the Jamaican, and after being kicked out of our second bar at 6am, we wandered down to the dry riverbed that encircles the centre of Valencia to watch the sun rise. What used to be a river is now public gardens, and it was beautiful: bridges and sculptures, orange trees and fountains. I picked an orange (because it seemed the thing to do) and tried to eat it: it was so sour that my face folded in on itself.

The highlight of our morning sojourn was trekking down to a giant statue of Gulliver lying prone, tied with ropes. It´s a playground, and his arms and legs and torso are giant slides. If I were a good blogger, I would find a link for you so you can picture what the hell I´m talking about. You might have to wait for the photo.

When we got there, it was 8am, and the gates were, tragically, locked shut. But it looked really, really cool (and many of you know how much I love slides).

So we decided to break in.

We launched into covert mode, surveilling the area and planning our operation. Eyes peeled, we lingered in a deliberately nonchalant fashion as we waited for park staff to pass by. When the coast was clear, I threw my bag over the fence, and started to climb over. I had one leg on each side of the fence (and I´m wearing a skirt, people) when I heard a loud rapping on the window of the security booth right behind me. There was a freaking security guard right there the whole time, watching what must have been highly suspicious (and very amusing) behaviour, and we hadn´t noticed him at all. I particularly liked that he had waited until I was actually almost over the fence before stopping me.

After much pleading (I needed to get my bag back, if nothing else), he graciously let us have 10 minutes inside the park. It was brilliant - clambering up all over the statue and sliding down again and again, the whole place all to ourselves.

Needless to say, I´m exhausted. We made it through the night, and Mr Canadia was dispatched to the airport. It was excellent fun.

I´m totally going to have a nap, and then reform my behaviour immediately. I don´t want this to become a drunken revelry blog (or to simply drink my way through Spain). I´m going to become a model tourist, and will return here to regale you with tales of museums and galleries, Spanish culture, and healthy living.

But first I´m going to have a nap.

Oh, and you know what they have here in Valencia? The Holy Grail! I´m going to go visit it later, and you can rest assured that I will not miss the opportunity to remark loudly to anyone that will listen that this is not the cup of a carpenter.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Hello, all. I don't actually have much to report at present - given that everything exciting starts on Monday, but I thought I would check in anyways in case you thought perhaps I was dead.

I am not.

I am close to frozen, but I remain alive thus far. I hate to be all 'wow, how about the weather' all the time, but seriously folks: it is DAMN COLD. It snowed yesterday morning - not much and not for long, but still. This is much worse than I remember.

Thankfully, as of Monday lunchtime I will be in Barcelona, where CNN informs me it is a balmy 14 degrees at present.

(I'm doomed.)

Thankfully, I am now far better equipped for my Spanish adventure than I was before, thanks to my lovely friends and your very helpful suggestions in the comments to the entry below. You will be extremely pleased to note that I am now capable, when the need arises, to inquire as to where I might purchase a false moustache for my dog.

Let me tell you, that is quite a relief.

London remains fun. I have marked the solemn occasion of the Festival of St Patrick with the customary pints of Guinness in a warm toasty pub. I have walked the streets in the freezing wind and wished fervently for a balaclava. I have adopted a faux English accent so as to be better understood in ticket queues and at my local off-licence. I have spent approximately one million dollars acquiring various cable attachments from the Apple store so as to be able to use my iPod and camera while on holiday.

(Nice to know some experiences - such as donating all one's funds to Apple - are universal).

And so that's about it for now. I have decided to leave my laptop in London to lighten my backpack as I meander through Spain, which means that it will be all notebooks and Internet cafes from now on. Unless I can think of something funny to say before I leave, in which case, you'll hear from me as fast as my frozen fingers can type it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

International Communications

Well, that was short-lived. Not that I’m not excited anymore – the flights are booked now, it’s actually happening, which is very cool – but it’s funny how slipping back into organisational mode can bring back the frazzle in no time.

Turns out everyone else in the world decided they wanted to be in Seville for Semana Santa (Holy Week), and they’ve already booked every reasonably priced bed in town. I’ve spent hours combing the InterWeb this afternoon, looking for somewhere to stay at a price that will mean I can actually eat the rest of the time I’m in Spain. No luck yet – but fingers crossed I’ll find something soon.

Deciding I needed to get creative, I figured the best bet might be to contact the hostels directly. I settled myself on the couch with my guide book and the phone, and just as I prepared to dial the first number I had a realisation.

I don’t speak Spanish.

Undaunted (well, slightly daunted but trying not to show it), I fished out my trusty phrasebook and marked several useful-looking pages between my fingers. I figured that at least if I made a decent attempt at Spanish, someone would take pity on me and respond in English.

It didn’t go very well. Here is a dramatised re-enactment:

Me: (in my chirpiest, friendliest voice) Hello! Do you speak English?

Spanish person: No.

Me: (slightly less chirpy). Okay! Room for Easter do you have?

Spanish person: Easter? I don’t understand.

Me: (abandoning any attempt at sentences) Semana Santa?

Spanish Person: Oh, Semana Santa. (Lengthy ramble in Spanish). How many persons?

Me: One person.

Spanish Person: (barrage of Spanish).

At this point I would have to sheepishly admit defeat and say I didn’t understand. One woman told me they had no beds, that was easy enough. Another guy took pity on me and told me to call back tomorrow (at least I think that’s what he said). Either way, this was a failed experiment.

I’m not sure how I’m going to go once I’m in Spain proper. I guess I’d been figuring I could get by with pointing at menus and calendars and smiling a lot. Maybe it would help if I was to just say everything in a REALLY LOUD VOICE, as I have seen other tourists do. I could be in some trouble here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Giddy Up

Before I left, everyone asked me if I was excited. I would say yes, and it would be true, up to a point. My head was too clouded – with organisation, with melancholy and confusion – to be excited except in theory. I kept saying that I expected it to hit once I was on the plane. That didn’t happen – the journey sucked too hard for that – but I think it’s starting to now.

It’s not London. I like London, a lot, and I’ve had little flashes of joy and anticipation wandering the streets and reacquainting myself with familiar sights and places. But I don’t particularly like being a tourist in London. I’ve seen all the ‘sights’ that I care to see and have no desire to revisit them. The Crown Jewels, London Bridge and Buckingham Palace – once was more than enough. This is a town I want to belong to, not be a visitor in. I’ll enjoy London properly once I’m settled here – when I have a job, a home, a life – it’s the everyday London experience that I crave.

What finally got me giddy tonight was Spain. I’ve talked about it for so long, but it’s only been an idea. Reading my guidebook this evening and working out where I actually want to go, it finally became real. I’ve said all along that I wanted a ‘holiday’, as opposed to a backpacker adventure – and while I understand why I said I wanted that (I’m TIRED, goddammit), it’s starting to shift. The idea of taking a (small) bag, starting somewhere, exploring for as long as I want to then catching a bus somewhere else, is starting to appeal. I can stop and rest if I want to, or I can visit tiny villages and keep moving every day. I’m finally starting to remember what it feels like to want to travel.

I’ve decided to confine my trip almost exclusively to Andalucia – Granada, Seville, and as many places in between as I can fit in. Maybe even a few days in Morocco. I’m going to leave on Monday, and end up in Seville for the Easter festival, which sounds awesome. Finally, FINALLY, I can’t wait.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Sleepy Tourist

And so this is London.

I’m pretty sleepy, but I wanted to check in while I’ve still got a broadband connection here at my hotel to tell you a story or two about my first couple of days.

First, the travelling: I hinted in my last post that the trip itself was something of a nightmare. It wasn’t too bad, I guess, just very long. It included a spectacularly lengthy delay in Sydney where I learned that there’s only so many hours you can wander around and look at shiny duty-free shops without going mad. It was late Thursday night before we actually took off, and during the twenty hours (and then some) on the plane I discovered to my great joy that despite my extreme exhaustion, a couple of glasses of red, a supposedly knock-out antihistamine and an incredibly boring movie starring Kevin Costner, I STILL CAN’T SLEEP ON PLANES. Sigh. The Indiana Jones-style map they provide on the little screens is fun to watch but a bit of a curse – the ‘time remaining’ counter moves v e r y slowly indeed.

Upon my arrival I discovered that all that time spent worrying about packing my suitcase in the most strategically brilliant manner possible was utterly wasted because:

1. I have brought entirely the wrong wardrobe. It might be technically spring, but most of the UK is currently covered with snow and London is very, very cold. I do have a coat (thankfully) but have already had to emergency purchase a jumper and a pashmina to be able to brave the streets. I’ve never owned a pashmina before. I’m not sure what, if anything, my new pashmina-owning status says about the effect the UK has had on me already.

2. The clothes I did bring have been ruined by a toiletries-bag explosion. ‘Oh no!’ I hear you shout. ‘The shampoo? The talcum powder? Surely not the toothpaste?’

Oh no, my friends. It was the Dettol.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Dettol. Luckily it wasn’t a full bottle (or my hotel room would currently smell even more like a hospital, which doesn’t seem possible) but still, a little Dettol goes a long way.

No, I have no idea why there was Dettol in my suitcase. A lack of faith in English antiseptics, perhaps? Or (more likely), could it be that I simply packed everything in the “B-List: Potentially Useful Items” drawer in my former bathroom without actually considering any of the items individually? Either way, my punishment is severe and ongoing.

That’s probably enough for now. I’ve had mild-to-middling jet lag sleeping issues, but have managed to enjoy wandering about and reacquainting myself with the streets of London. It’s strange how everything is unfamiliar and yet I recognise so much of it – the shop names, the tube map, Ribena, the goths at Camden market, it’s all coming back to me now.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Hey, y'all. Just wanted to write quickly to let you know that I've made it here safe and reasonably sound. The trip was the nightmare these things always are - it's probably enough to say that I've been in transit pretty much from the date stamp of the last post to now. That's just wack.

What I discovered:

* The world is big, and it takes a loooooong time to fly around it.
* Hong Kong airport has the fanciest smoking lounges in the world.
* It IS possible to have watched 'Walk The Line' too many times.

I'm very tired. Am going to go and wander the streets for a little while now in search of lunch and to attempt to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

It Begins

So, D for Departure day has finally arrived. The suitcase is groaning under the strain, and has been locked securely in the hope that I can avoid international superstardom of the Schapelle Corby variety.

The funniest part of today so far has been making my brother take me all the way out the international airport a full three hours early (that’ll be that obsessive streak) only to discover that the first leg of my journey is in fact a domestic flight and I don’t need to be there until many hours hence. So I’m now sitting at my brother’s office, feeling like a kid on Go To Work With The Grown-Ups And Play On The Computers Day, until it’s time to trek out to the airport again. Brilliant.

The last few days have been sad and fun. Leaving Melbourne was very hard – you all know how spectacular you are, and I’m only human. Brisbane has been fun and busy – remind me to tell you sometime about going deep sea fishing with my dad (!) – and now it’s time to leave here too.

I’ll write again when I hit the northern hemisphere, and tell you jolly stories about my twenty hours in pressurised tin box. Cross your fingers for me that those over-the-counter sleeping tablets actually work.


Hi there, everyone, and welcome. My sincerest thanks to the wonderful and talented Greeny for setting this blog up for me, complete with the most excellent banner design you see above.

Greeny got a very clear view of my complete and utter lack of technical ability in going through this process. I don’t think I’ll soon forget the look of disbelief on his face when I said such things as ‘so I just talk into the computer?’ But we got through that, and hopefully I’ve got it worked out now. Enough to be writing this to you, at least.

This will be a blog that will be of no more than marginal interest to anyone who doesn’t actually know me. I’m about to embark upon an international travelling adventure, and the blog exists so that I don’t clog up the inboxes of my friends with those giant mass-emailed travelogues that include such scintillating material as “and then I ate another pastry and sat for fourteen hours on a train.” My friends are sighing in relief.

So, hello friends, and any random strangers that may have stumbled along. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the Ficklish.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Hello world!