Day 168 and 169: London to Liverpool

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Hitchhiking in new countries is so exciting. I never know if it’s actually going to work. Usually locals will adamantly tell me it’s either a) impossible b) dangerous or c) exclusively for crack addicted child rapists. I’ve heard that so many times now I’ve learnt to ignore it but there’s still uncertainty and that’s what makes it exciting.

I got the train to London’s Western horizon. There jumped fences, jaywalkers and waded through blackberry thorns to find an onramp to the highway. It was an average spot* and I was worried. Three minutes in another hitchhiker appeared – a tall Irishman with shorts and stubble.

“Hello!” It was so jolly I felt like I was being welcomed into a pre-teen hillsong camp.

“Haha hey man. We’re you heading?”

“Edinburgh.” He flashes up his sign, Edinburgh please. Smiles and doodles. “How bout you?”

“I’m heading to Liverpool. Have you just come from London?”

“Yeah I’ve been waiting for about an hour and a half around the corner. I thought I should try somewhere different.” He looked around at our spot. “Should I go wait somewhere else?”

“Na, na. Let’s hitch together.”

“Ok great.” Pure enthusiasm. It was his first day on the road. Ten minutes later, just after I’ve mentioned how women never stop to pick me up, a car stops – of course with a woman driving. She’s an ex-military, horticulturist dart enthusiast driving to Peterborough for a beer festival. We quizzed her on Iraq, eating plants, prison reform* and the celebrity culture of dart professionals. My Irish friend smiled and said great a lot. After about 40 minutes in the car together he interrupted the conversation.

“This is the best. . . Why do people ever catch trains.” What a sweetheart.

Our next driver, a business man who liked talking business, took us near to Doncaster. I wanted to head West from there and Smilerish North.

“Where do you think I should go now?” He asked me. His real question was probably where should I tell this guy to drop me off?

“It depends. It’s unlikely you’ll make it to Edinburgh unless you get a ride in the next half an hour with someone driving the whole the way there. Maybe you should see how far you can get and stay the night wherever that is,”

“Oh right.”

“Do you want me to take you into Doncaster and I can leave you at the train station?” Our driver asked.

“Yeah I guess so.”

My ride finished efficiently. The next car, after ten minutes, took me to the other side of Manchester. The ride after, another ten minutes, took me the final 80kms. They were both football fans with new girlfriends so that’s what we talked about. They think I should do crossfit competitions with my girlfriend and Manchester United is going to come third. It’s unlikely either of those things will happen.

I’m in Liverpool now, the brickiest, sunsettiest and most incomprehensible place in England.

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When I arrived the first thing I heard was a group of teens yelling across the street. The only word I understood was fook and hey. I was very intimated. All the Liverpudlian accents I’d heard before now belonged to particularly slow footballers and film gangstas.

I’m becoming a lazy traveller. Today I woke up at 10. I did some laundry, talked to home, scrolled through reddit and looked at gifs of my favourite footballers doing skills. When I finished all of those exhausting activities it was one and I was hungry.

Why do so many vegetarian restaurants have the same decor as an eight year old girl's room

Why do so many vegetarian restaurants have the same decor as an eight year old girl’s room

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Three courses for £10.70!

Three courses for £10.70!

I poured my espresso over my apple crumble. Won't be the last time I do that

I poured my espresso over my apple crumble. Won’t be the last time I do that

I stayed there for two hours reading and writing and then left for a walk. When it started to rain I went into a museum and later a cinema. In the museum I saw fish and thought about whether flatheads had thoughts beyond instinctual feelings and in the cinema I saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Shouldn’t I be doing things?

Hitchhiking summary
Rides taken: 4
Distance travelled: 433km
Average wait: 17 minutes

*How to judge a good spot to hitchhike
When finding a place to hitchhike there’s a few things to consider. The two most important things are how fast cars are going and whether there is room to stop. Unless the traffic is particularly sparse and the cars are moving very slowly you need somewhere for cars to pull over – this can be an alley way, an emergency lane or even a random scrag of gravel. The next thing to consider is how much contact you have with the drivers. The more interaction you have with the drivers the better – eye contact, smiling, gesticulation, sexy winking, whatever – anything you can do to make them consider you as a normal human being is a good thing. The best situation is a long straight road with slow but semi regular traffic. The drivers see you from afar and have plenty of time to decide whether to stop and eventually they get close enough for you to exchange glances.
*we had both recently watched the Shawshank Redemption

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Football and Arsenal

I’ve been an arsenal fan for more than 12 years now.

I liked Leeds as a kid. My coach had told me about a young Australian winger who played for them. I didn’t know who he was but I thought I should probably support Leeds. I had no idea what that meant.

When I was 12 my grandpa told me his dad played for Arsenal back in the days when footballers were also bakers. The next game I watched happened to be Leeds vs Arsenal. One of the Leeds centre backs had a rubbish game and Arsenal won 2-1. I remember thinking Arsenal is the best team in the world – kids tend to make radical decisions like that. I forgot everything I knew about Leeds and decided that Freddie Ljungberg was my hero. Next season Arsenal won the title at Old Trafford* and sometime after that I become a fan.

Every year after my devotion and addiction grew. Being an overseas fan probably had something to do with that. Watching English football is difficult in Australia. For most of my life watching English football involved waking up alone at 1:45am, ten minutes of finding a decent stream online and then two hours of hoping it doesn’t crash mid goal. Here’s an insight:

Arsenal have a crucial away game. The ko is at 3am and I’ve woken up to watch it. The audio’s in Spanish, it’s pixelated and the frame rate would have been shit in 1890. I don’t mind too much because Arsenal are winning one nil. About 80 minutes in the stream cuts. Only audio remains. I can hear the Spanish commentator yelling like a vengeful evangelist. It’s incomprehensible until I hear the word penal. I hear it once and then over and over again. Someone’s conceded a penalty and I have no idea who. I sit listening to the emotional jabber and pray it’s not Arsenal. Then the audio cuts. It’s 4:something am and I’m sitting alone in a cold, dark room staring a blank computer stressfully jittering like a retired boxer with a coffee addiction. Suddenly the stream reloads. The Arsenal players are arguing with the ref. They’re pointing a lot and they look very angry. Oh. . . there’s an opposition player running with his tongue out. Well fuck. How the fuck am I going to get to sleep now?

It sounds stressful and highly unenjoyable and it is but what a way to emotionally indoctrinate someone right? I can’t imagine a more emotionally intense way to experience anything. Hey brain – this is Arsenal football club, whenever you think of it I want you to seduce me with a cocktail of industrial strength hormones please. Totally addicted.

Last week was the opening round of the English Premier League. Arsenal was playing Crystal Palace at home and I had a ticket.

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It’s difficult to describe how I felt being there. It’s such a strange situation to know something so well but to have never seen it, heard it or felt it. It’s like watching a TV series hundreds of times and then suddenly, just for one episode, you’re one of the actors. Everything is so familiar but you don’t really know what to do. What time do I arrive? What do I do before the game? How do I enter the stadium? Where do I sit? Do you talk to your neighbours? I had no idea.

I started off at the Piebury. A redditor had recommended it as a popular prematch meeting spot – also I love pies.

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Everyone around me was talking about Arsenal. I’d never met any of these guys yet we were all part of the same history. One guy, who looked suspiciously like a 40 year old British me, was talking about the Manchester United game. I pulled out my phone and looked at the score. It was 2-1 to Swansea at Old Trafford.

“Hey look.” I said as I passed my phone, the score showing on the screen.

“HAHA! What a way to start the day!”

I spent the next five minutes of my life enthusiastically telling various Manchester United affiliates to fuck off.

I walked into the stadium two hours early. I didn’t know exactly what there was to miss but I sure as hell didn’t want to miss it.

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My seat was in the top tier at the clock end. The hardcore fans were directly below me. I could hear their songs and gasps but I couldn’t see their flags or faces. The palace fans, being right next to the home support, were my first point of sight.

The stadium was about a third full when the teams came on to train. I was too far away to tell the players apart but I knew who was who because of their handle on the ball. My neighbours came and sat with me soon after. I introduced myself to both sides and asked them every question about every player we had. We need a defensive midfielder and then we can win the title they both said. I disagreed. I’ve always had a naive faith in the players we have.

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The game itself was terrible. Arsenal weren’t fit enough and our midfield dragged the ball around like a bunch of shackled inmates. Crystal Palace scored first, a cheap header off their first corner. The stadium, which had been happily bubbling and hooting fell silent. The only sounds penetrating the verbal flailing of the palace fans were a few particularly impassioned groans. This set the tone for the rest of the game.

Our centre back scored in the 45th minute, a clever header off a free-kick. It was one of the only chances we’d managed. It was fucking exciting but the all the energy and momentum it produced slowly turned to frustration as the game went on. By the 80th minute it was still 1-1. The fans and players were pushing hard – no one wanted to loose to fucking Crystal Palace – but nothing came about but more frustration. In the 90th minute I had accepted the result. What a pity this was the match I came to see but that’s part of it. The disapointment is part of the story, just the same as disjointed streams and 4am kick offs have been.

Then in the 91st minute we scored. Aaron Ramsey, my hero, my dream, the welsh jesus himself, scooped it in off after a few bobbles in the box. It went fucking nuts. All the frustration, disappointment and regret released in a moment of unshackled ecstasy. Everyone was bursting – yelling, flailing, hugging, hitting things, laughing – it was completely raw. If I wasn’t so overcome I would love to have watched. There’s no better place to experience such a raw release of joy. Forget arrivals, forget weddings, forget clubbing – football games are where it’s at. There’s no shame, embarrassment or inhibitions. No one is excluded, everyone is in on it together. It’s fucking beautiful and I loved it.

It was a very stressful afternoon but I liked that. The stress and joy are inseparable. I’ve never understood fans who say my team lost 4-0 last night. That’s it. I’m not watching this shit anymore. Don’t they understand? If you only want a disneyland experience where everything is perfect all the time – take some ecstasy and watch the lion king. Football is real. Every moment of sorrow and every moment of joy is part of the story. Each experience shapes the next experience. Every feeling adds and augments the next. That’s why I love it. It’s like having an extra layer of emotion to life. Kinda like being in love – it redefines all the edges of your emotion – all the highs and lows stretched out to new places.

Some people might think I’m crazy for being so emotionally involved in something I have no control over but I think they’re crazy. I love life. I love being a human being. I want to feel all the feelings of life as much I can. Being a football addict is just one way to feel more.

*The home ground of Manchester United.

Day 163 – 167: London

Once I had a whole year of winter. I went from country to country around the world, swapping hemispheres at exactly the wrong time to feel any warmth. During this time I lived through Sweden’s worst winter in 33 years, experienced -52C temperatures in the arctic and spent a night in San Fransisco. Something happened to my bones that year. The cold was so severe and so constant it seeped into their very core and that pain that they felt, it’s never left. The memory is etched into their very existance. Now every time I feel cold, I feel it more. Right in centre of my bones – like a skeletal alarm clock warning me against my future sorrow.

This trip was supposed to be the opposite of that. A whole year of summer. 30C, 40C I don’t care. Warm those bones up world! But now I’m in England and I’m freezing my ass off again. Yes it is summer but that means fuck all here. Every day I’ve been here it’s been rainy, windy and there’s some freaky arctic wind shit going on. I can’t handle it. I see people walking around in shorts and t shirts and I’m wearing a windproof jacket with three layers underneath. It’s horrible. I feel like an obese manatee trapped in a sleeping bag full of ice.

Last time I was in London I was really disappointed with what I ate. Like always, I put a lot of effort into finding good cheap food but had almost no success. Strange right? London is one of the most multi cultural happening cities in the world. There should be innovative, crazy, interesting shit everywhere. I refuse to believe it has anything but that.

I feel like I’m on a mission now to prove it.

Last time I was here I relied mainly on timeout and food blogs to dig up the juice. That didn’t work out so this time I’m going solely on suggestions of people I who lived here and people I trust. Don’t expect any conclusions though, I’m going to wait till the end for that.

What I’ve had so far:

1. Nordic bakery

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If I made a list of my favourite cuisines Nordic would be languishing in the bowels with Saharan and Orcish but I went anyway because the friend who suggested it understands life.

I got a pickled fish roll and a cinnamon scroll. I ate a lot of this kind of stuff while I was living in Sweden, with pickled fish being a particular favourite of mine. This version was a pretty decent one. All the roll fillings were flavoursome and evenly balanced but the bread was dry. The scroll on the other hand was as good as I’ve ever had. It was the white dwarf of cinnamon scrolls – as if all the nearby cinnamon based pastries had been sucked into a hyper gravitational baking oven where the pressure and heat had merged them into one super condensed, super flavoursome mass.

The scroll and the roll were £7. If it was £5 I woulda been swimming.

2. Mishkin’s

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It was described as non-kosher, comfort Jewish food. I was really excited by that because I don’t anything about Jewish food and that sounded particularly innovative. It wasn’t. The menu was 90% burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and milkshakes – like any other moderately fancy diner but with better marketing.

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We got a Reuben sandwich, some fattoush with lamb neck and hummus, and a milkshake. The Reuben was delicious, salty and crammed with enough meat to make it look like the mouth of a tonguey animal. The fattoush was strangely average. I don’t know why the two waiters gunned so hard for us to eat it. The hummus was dry, the lamb neck, usually a succulent fatty cut of meat, was chewy and kebaby and the fattoush itself was skimpy. I could make a better lunch plate. The milkshake on the other hand was incredible. It was half amaretto and half chocolate. A kind of sludgy motherfucker with a strong flavour and the occasional but generous biscuit chunk.

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This was another recommendation from the waiter. Some gooey, boozy bananas bathing in caramel sludge with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – exactly as simple and good as it sounds.

£31 for the lot.

3. Shake Shack

I only got a milkshake here. The flavour was lemon meringue. There were bits of lemon zest floating around and it was thick enough to tire my cheek muscles. It was fucking good but, like everything else I’d had, fucking expensive.

4. Bonedaddies

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In Japan ramen is fast food. It’s cheap, quick and you can get it anytime you want. That doesn’t mean it’s bad quality, quite the opposite, it’s just cheap. No one is willing to pay a lot of money for it and why should they, it costs fuck all to make.

Bonedaddies serves ramen bowls at £10 – the most expensive ramen I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it was far from the best. It was definitely good, probably very good, but if I’m going to pay that much I want it to be more than that. I want it to blow my mind.

5. Various pies

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Disappointing.

A note about my price complaints:
I understand London is an expensive city. When I complain about the cost of something I’m not blindly complaining because the pound has a horrendous exchange rate with everything. I’m thinking about the cost in relation to wages and other products in London. For example in Sydney my favourite bowl of ramen costs $8 – that’s half the Australian minimum hourly wage. Bonedaddies’ ramen was £10 but the minimum hourly wage in England is £7.50.

Strangely, I’ve hardly met any Australians on my trip. Usually they’re every where – like backpacking missionaries drunkenly flitting in and out of hostels, bars and old churches. But this time nothing – well that is until I came to London.

My first night here I stayed with two guys from the Central Coast . . . eerrr Cenny coast I mean. This is what happened when I met them:

I knock on the door. Door opens to a guy in sports shorts holding a beer.

“How’s it garn cun?*” He says with a broad smile. He shakes my hand and gives me a beer.

I’ve never felt so far and close to home at the same time.

Since then the only meaningful conversations I’ve had with any non-Australians, besides at the football, have been with a few kiwis and a yank.

*translation – “How’s it going cunt?”

Day 162: Paris to London

This is how I got to from Paris to London.

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It’s a 42 year old Renault. A sexy old gal, kinda like Hellen Mirren with a bit of Alzheimer’s – still sexy and charming, maybe even a bit extra so because her inhibitions have dropped but you can see everything’s starting to fall apart and soon enough she’s not going to work at all.

Hellen’s loving and worrying husband is played by Maxime, a French mechanic with a languid body and a jittery character. Hellen, Maxime and I were joined on the day by Marie, a retired child psychologist and Didosh and Nora, two young German girls who quite surprisingly turned out to be parkour enthusiasts. If one of us was black or Asian we could have been the cast of a home loan ad. I was in in the back with the two bracer wearing Germans. Our legs were touching but it wasn’t weird – there just wasn’t any space. There were also no seat belts so every time we swung around a corner me Didosh or Nora would be thrown into my like helpless rag. This happened a lot because Maxime enjoyed driving quickly. He didn’t care much for expediency in general though so we stopped every now and then for pastries, views and loos.

When we were lining up for the ferry we saw a hitchhiker. I wound down the window and yelled out to him.

“Hello. My brethren!”

He came over to the window and Maxime told him he’d have to get a ferry ticket. Every car here had already booked for the exact number of passengers. No one would take him without a ticket he said.

“It’s €40 for a ticket. Unfortunately for you that’s the same price I paid for all five of us.”

The hitchhiker walked off and Maxime pulled out his booking sheet to show me.

“Wow that is cheap.” I said, not knowing why he’d given to me.

“Hey it says you’ve booked for six adults.” I said inspecting the print out.

“What? Let me see? . . . No shit. . . Hey! Hey!”

He leapt out of the car and ran after the hitchhiker. Two minutes later and there were six of us in the car. The new guy was Yoshi. He had red shaved hair and the excitement of someone who had just kissed their crush. Once a home loan ad we were now a circus.

We talked about cheese, the French economy, whether we would rather swim half the way from France to England or have to fight a Leopard, how it would be to live with a hand hanging off your forehead and what eccentric things we’d do if we were fucking rich.
Marie: Buy another house
Maxime: Pay all his friends to live around the world so he could visit them
Didosh: Build a parkour gym in her house
Nora: Buy a lama

For a bunch of eccentric weirdos they didn’t have particularly interesting plans.

We were all very different people but it worked. It was a strange and lovely day and I hope to see them all again while I’m here.

Also who knew the English South Coast had such nice water.

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Day 158, 159, 160 and 161: Paris

If you had to pick a single cuisine for each meal of the day what would you choose. For example you would have to eat Moroccan food for dinner everyday, American for lunch and aztecan for breakfast. But let’s imagine in this scenario all the food is magically delivered to you so We don’t have to consider the accessibility or practically of different cuisines.

So this is what I’m currently thinking.
Breakfast: Australian cafe cuisine
Morning snacks: Chinese
Lunch: Italian
Afternoon snacks: Malaysian
Dinner: Thai
Dessert: French

Some things I’m still struggling over – I’m no so sure about my choice my for breakfast or afternoon snacks. The one thing I’m really sure of is dessert. As if you’d pick anything else. Now that I’m in France I’ve been living it up. Breakfast dessert, lunch dessert, dessert snacks, dinner dessert, actual dessert – when you’re keen enough it pops up everywhere.

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These have been some of my favourites:
Chocolate tart, day one:
Rich, dense chocolate cream in a crumbly biscuit case topped with caramel flakes that snap at the bite

Chocolate croissant, day three:
I bought this at the bakery which makes baguettes for the president. Simply the best chocolate croissant I’ve ever had.

Strawberry tart, day three:
From the pres-bakers. Glazed strawberries on vanilla custard in a solid and sweetened short crust base.

Pierre Herme macaroons, day three:
1. Passionfruit and chocolate
2. Carrot and orange
Exactly like what their named after with a perfect balance between the two flavours. Perfect texture and rich taste. Fucking excellent.

Pierre Herme chocolates, day three:
1. Dark chocolate with chocolate mousse.
2. Milk chocolate with Hazelnut praline centre
I don’t think I really have to say anything here.

I love mega cities.

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I love them for the same reason I like Tree of Life – they’re everything. They’re all of life. But unlike Tree of Life things actually happen in big cities.

Last night Honey Vader and I went for a bike ride down the Seine. Along the bank near the Bastille end were four amphitheater shaped arenas with dance parties in them. Nothing organised – just a bunch of strangers jiggling and wiggling to some impro music. Each stage had a different theme.
1. Latino rap. There were a bunch of dudes drumming and hitting boxes and things while one ultra charismatic muscly dude free style rapped. Some other guys tried to make something happen but they failed because next to king-charisma they may as well have been gangrenous rat-people.
2. French folk music from a stereo with people dancing formally.
3. One of those songs people dance professionally to – samba, rumba, salsa or something. I’ve always found the faces of people who do these dances rather frightening and this was no different. Everyone was grooving very sensually (dorkiest sentence ever) but no one looked even slightly capable of enjoying it. All the faces were stern or flabbed like a fattening tv kid. It looked like a group of aliens had academically watched people dance and this was their first field trip to try out what they’d learnt.
4. One guy with a piano harmonica breathlessly and operatically smashing out folk songs from Britany. About ten others dancing in sync.

Another time I was going for a long walk and I stumbled upon a large square. It was very busy with all kinds of things – food stalls, wheelchair basketball, beach volleyball, art and a pop up shop which gave out free soda water called ‘water of Paris’. This was all on a rainy, cold Tuesday afternoon.

Mega cities. Love em.

I’ve done shite all cooking on this trip because I’ve been too damn excited to eat all the things I’d never eaten before. I love cooking. I especially love cooking off the cuff with whatever is around. I’m not particularly good at it, just enthusiastic. On my first night in Paris I cooked dinner. I thought it was going to be only Honey Vader and I eating so I did what I usually do. Bit of this, bit of that, fucking yep that’ll do. After I’d started getting in to it I found out two of Honey Vader’s friends were joining us. I looked down at what I was cooking. Some plums frying in a pan with fennel and olive oil, a bowl of torn chèvre, some tomato sauce, a mug of curry spices and a bowl of raw eggs. What am I doing?

Orienttouille:

6 eggs
A large bottle of tomato passata
2/3 plums sliced in chunks
80g of chèvre
2 medium sized cinnamon sticks
Teaspoon of coriander seeds
Teaspoon of fennel seeds
Teaspoon of mustard seeds
Pinch of dried ginger
Teaspoon turmeric powder
Teaspoon of cumin powder
Teaspoon of ginger powder
3 white onions chopped
6 cloves of garlic diced

Heat olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Throw in plums and fennel seeds. Just before the plums start loosing their shape remove them from the heat, discard the oil and seeds and set aside.

Heat generous splash of olive oil in large pan over high heat. Throw in onions, coriander and mustard seeds, dried ginger and turmeric powder. If the spices burn add a little olive oil, water or vegetable stock. Once the onions are translucent throw in the garlic, cumin powder and ginger powder. Fry for 30 seconds and then add the cinnamon sticks and passata. Cook over low heat with lid on. After ten minutes stir in the plums and add the eggs in one by one. Be careful not to disturb the shape of the eggs. Once the eggs are all in, place the lid back on and cook until the egg whites are almost completely visible. Add the chunks of chèvre and cook until the cheese has melted. Then remove from the heat and serve on cous cous, rice or whatever.

Day 155, 156 and 157: Nonantola, Como and Milan

When we got back from Osteria Francescana all I wanted was a nap. When my stomach’s full of every ingredient I know and a thousand others I don’t – I categorise everything in too hard, fuck it. Well almost everything. Enrico was waiting for us with a message. His mate Guido was keen to show us around his family-run balsamic vinegar farm. Ah well I guess so.

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In the balsamic industry it’s tradition to buy a set of aging barrels at a child’s birth. Guido’s been making vinegar since then. The whole set up is in his family shed and a few rows of regional grapes. He’s not in it for the money because if you’re making balsamic the traditional way like him, there isn’t any. Most commercial vinegar productions add corn starch, syrup or other bits and bobs to make their products thicker, sweeter or more abundant. It’s the only way to make the products profitable.

Guido uses only grapes and time. He takes the grapes from his own vines, boils them in large vats for a day or two and wacks the sugary juice into barrels. For the next 10-40 years he tends to each barrel to make sure all the little bacterias are happily chewing booze and cooking sugar. The longer you wait the thicker, sweeter and less tart the vinegar gets until it becomes a dark caramel like lacquer.

Guido being a spectacularly nice guy let us try everything – including his 49 year old birth barrel.

I had my first bad experience hitchhiking. Honey Vader and I were waiting at a gas station on the edge of Modena. We didn’t really know where we wanted to go, we just knew we wanted to be underwater. After only four minutes a camper van stopped. I’ve never been in a camper van, how fun.

The driver was a short, stringy Bosnian guy who called himself Tony. He had ambiguous scars on his arms, smoked as much as he talked and ran his hands through his hair like a gangster with a debt. He showed us pictures of his bikini’d daughters and asked us questions about our lives. After we were all settled in and acquainted he told us a story of how he got robbed the night before.

He was in Florence sleeping in his van when two dudes picked the locks of his van door, grabbed his shit and ran. Tony, running his hands through his hair and puffing away like a little steam engine, said they took €1600, his visa and his credit card. Oh no, we said, what bastards.

He had been in Florence on holiday because it was his birthday week. The next day he was going to Milan to celebrate his 50th. He told us there was going to be rotisserie lamb, a Bosnian band, dancing, booze and 60 of his family members. I want in. I ooohhhed, aahhhhed, wowed and told him I thought it sounded like the best party ever. He liked my enthusiasm and told us to join the party. Honey Vader gave him a mobile number and he would call us the next day.

Later, after a long nap and few more excited chats about the oncoming party we reached a toll. Tony started freaking out. He had no money because of the florence robbery and he didn’t know what to do.

“I nervous.”

“Hey. Tony. Be calm, I’ll pay.”

“It will be thirty of forty euros.”

“Oh fuck. That’s expensive. . . Yeah, it’s ok. I’ll pay.”

“I’ll pay you back at the party tomorrow.”

“Ok cool.”

We arrived at the toll and the fee was €41. I handed Tony a €50 and he paid the fee. The change came and he shoved it in a nook of the dashboard.

“I’ll pay you the full $50 at the party.”

“Ok sure.” That was a weird thing to do but I thought he may need a bit of money so he could buy some dinner.

Then things started getting a bit weird. We had arranged to be dropped off at the highway to Como. When we were on the ring road around Milan he made a wrong turn – away from the highway where we needed to go.

“Tony. I don’t understand. I thought you were going to drop us at a gas station on the highway to Como?”

“I’m going to leave you near there in a good place you can hitchhike.”

What the fuck is happening? I started to get concerned.

“Tony, can I have your number?”

“I have your number I can call you.”

“I have fear now. €50 is a lot of money to me. I have now power to get it back.”

“You say I’m a bad man? I’m a good man. I take you where you want to go. I invite you to my party. I’m not bad man.” He mimes spitting.

“I’m a good man. You say I’m a bad man after I help you?” He was running his hands through his hair with every sentence.

About forty minutes later, after Tony had turned off into the city of Milan, I asked again.

“I told you. I’m taking you to a good spot.”

Then, in the middle of backwater Milan industrial/suburbia he stopped outside a fruit stall. He leapt out and started speaking to the vendor. They spoke fast but I understood he was asking about bus numbers. The chat ended and he beckoned us out. We grabbed our shit and followed him to the door of a bus.

“I’ve known this guy for 35 years. He is going to take you to where you need to go.”

We said goodbye and got into the bus.

“Hey do you know that guy?” I asked the bus driver.

“I’ve never seen him before. He probably says that about everyone.” I turned around to see Tony getting into his camper van. I’m never going to see that money again am I?

Tony never called again. He’d conned me.

We stayed in Como that night. Our host was Marco, a gangly eccentric musician who’d just discovered couchsurfing. Since he first logged in he’d been living in a social whirlwind. He already had another couchsurfer, a french girl with a confusing name and a frenchafied Daria like quality, but whatever someone can sleep on the floor. Get it into it! The next day (our morning was sacrificed for late night pizza and a personalised lute concert) the four of us went into town to see the lake.

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On our way we bumped into another Como couchsurfer. He had black clothes, converse shoes, facial hair and three guests – almost exactly the same as Marco. Sometimes when two tornadoes crash into each other they become one tornado – a single, bigger, more ferocious force never to be separated until it dies. I was like a little stick – first swept up into one storm and now being gleefully and carelessly whisked around the Como sights. The only decision I made in several hours was which gelato flavour to order. I now understand why Bop was so unfazed by anything happening in Berlin. He was a stick too, swept up in my storm.

We needed to go to Milan that night. Honey Vader had work in two days so we had organised a car share to take us to Paris the next day. We were going to meet our driver in the city, pay him £44 and he would drive us the eight hours or so to Paris. It’s not cheap but it’s certainly more economic than a plane/train/bus and far more reliable than a day of hitchhiking. Good business I thought. When we got to our hotel at midnight or so I had a message from the car share driver.

“I need you to confirm tonight that you are interested because other people are interested and I have no answers from them yet. The first to answer me is the first taken :).”

You can spare me that smiley face motherfucker. I’ve already sent you three messages expressing my interest.

Of course I was not the first to respond? I stayed up all night waiting to hear from him. By 7am we had no response. How are we supposed to get to Paris?!

Luckily there was two seats left on an easy jet flight – the cost €189.

Fuck that guy and fuck Tony even more.

I’d lost €240 – that’s how much I’d spent on one lunch a few days earlier. How much money have I saved over the last five months? Thousands surely. I didn’t really give a shit about that. It’s about trust. I’ve been completely reliant on a trust economy for months. I’ve been invited into hundreds of people’s cars, restaurants and homes and I’ve said yes every time. All those experiences have made my trip what it is. I hate those guys for giving me doubt, making me feel like maybe it isn’t safe, maybe I should just travel like every other backpacker.

I remember Honey Vader saying to me that travelling like this is a risk. I thought about that for a while. Yeah it is a risk but in a way so is taking a train or staying in a hotel. How many times have I paid heavy dosh for shitty trains that smell like hobo masturbation or how many times have I stayed in hotels with piss stains and ceiling fans that sound dying transformers? It doesn’t matter that I got conned by a wiry Bosnian, the trust economy is in fine shape. I’d lost money but I wasn’t about to loose my trust. I’ve had over 200 rides, countless hosts and a shit load more generally incredible people who’ve helped me just because their incredible people. The trust economy is strong – I’m so far into the green I’m laughing. I’m fucking Clive Palmer and Tony can do fuck all about it.

Hitchhiking summary
Rides taken: 1
Distance travelled: 174km
Average wait: 4minutes

Osteria Francescana

I’m not one of those people who flies around Europe with a suitcase of cash and a checklist of expensive restaurants. I wish I was but I’m not. I’m a hitchhiking backpacker. I think museums are too expensive, I sleep in airports and I walk for hours to avoid paying bus fares. Going to one of the best restaurants* in the world was a very special experience for me. It’s a fucking big deal and I was going to do everything to make sure I made the most of it.

I barely slept the night before. My mind was skipping and shaking like a spoilt kid on Christmas Eve. It starts off as pure excitement. What am I gonna get?! What am I gonna get?! All the treasures of the world parading through my mind – every turn bringing more incredible, more extravagant and more ridiculous treats. Even the most impossibly excellent things start feeling possible. Only after imaging myself glutinously wallowing in an impossibly glorious paradise does the paranoia drift in.

What if I’m too full and I can’t eat anything?
What if they’ve misplaced my booking and my table is actually for next year?
What if we miss the bus and we’re to late for our booking?
What if they don’t let me in because my clothes are ugly?

Fuck all that shit. I’ve never been very good at paranoia anyway. Enthusiasm is more my strong suit. As soon as we woke up we we went for a run. It was fucking hot and my running muscles are about as developed as central Antarctica but who gives a fuck. I wanted to be hungry. If a stomach pump had of been available I would have used that too.

We returned successfully sweaty and slightly light headed, we called a cab and we suited up (I have only one nice shirt so I wore that).

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We spent the last hour of the morning reading reviews of the restaurant and biographies of the chef. Enrico gave us a gandalfy pep-talk and we left.

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This is the front door. It’s in a back alley of central Modena, a city of 180,000 people. If it wasn’t for the gold plated Osteria Francescana sign outside I would have had no idea it’s a restaurant. A big grey door, no lights, closed curtains, no sign of any activity. Why is this so intimidating? We were the first people there but I made Honey Vader wait outside until it was exactly 12:30 because I was too scared to go in.

That was nothing compared to the other side. The door, heavy and slow, gaped to reveal a forest of suited men so black and stern it made you feel like I’d accidentally waltzed into an illegal gambling ring. They’re all looking at you, one or two are smiling and all the others are just waiting for you to make the next move. I felt so out of place.

“Ciao . . . parli inglese?”

“Yes sir.” Of course he does. What a stupid fucking question. I’m like a nervous child.

“I have a reservation for two under Nicholas Jordan.”

“Right this way sir.” The forest, now dangling their welcome branches like plateless waiters, parted and watched.

We were seated in a grey curtained room with two other tables. It was bare besides for some sad portraits of Edith Piaf and minimalist painting on the far wall. If I didn’t know where I was I would have guessed I was in the building of a big financial firm who’d converted their office space for a CEO meet and greet.

After a few minutes another pair of black trees came out and silently handed us some menus.

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Usually I would jump straight into the experimental crazy shit because that’s what €190 restaurants specialise in. You can’t get that kind of cuisine on the cheap. But this choice didn’t seem so obvious.

I caught a tree gliding past.

“Can we talk about the menu for a bit?”

“Of course, let me get the restaurant manager.”

. . .

“Hello, may I help you?”

“Hi. Yeah. What’s on the sensations menu?”

“Botturo’s experiments from the kitchen.”

“I’m not sure what to get. I just want to eat the best thing. Like if I was Massimo Bottura’s lover and I came here what would you serve me?”

“I can make a mix of courses from the classics and sensations menu. Keeping the same price of €190.”

“That sounds great.”

“And to drink?”

“Look, I’m going to be honest with you. It doesn’t take me much to get drunk and I don’t want to disturb the taste of the food. Can we get a few small things so we don’t drink much but we still get to try a lot of stuff? . . . Oh also I don’t have much money. So on the cheaper end.”

“Certainly sir, we will follow your pace.”

This is going well.

The first plate came down and I turned to Honey Vader. This is it. We’re fucking doing it.

1st course:

Homemade sourdough with Tuscan olive oil

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The bread came hot because, of course, it had just been baked. It was as perfect as you could imagine a sourdough loaf to be – pull it apart and the crust cracks and the flesh tears in chunks. It’s chewy, thick and rich.

An olive oil producer once explained to me Italian olive oil, if shotted, will make you cough and splutter. The olives are pressed early and pre-ripe so the oil is peppery and intense. This oil was text-book.

2nd course:

Tempura with carpione

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Osteria Francescana’s fish and chips. Carpione is Italian for carp and it’s also a fish preserving technique using spiced vinegar. The dollop on top was a savoury ‘carpione’ flavoured gelato. Underneath is a perfectly crisp tempura canister containing fillets of aula, an anchovy like freshwater fish. It’s cold, hot, crispy, chewy and creamy – like eating the periodic table but much tastier.

3rd course:

Grissini, ciabatta rolls and multigrain croissants

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Exactly what it looks like.

Multigrain croissants are an excellent idea. They’ve got the fluffy interior and flaky skin of their normy cousins but they’re more savoury multi purposed. If I learnt how to make them I’d be very constipated.

4th course:

Bread, butter and anchovies

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“Crack it open. It is best eaten all together.”

The bread crust turret cracks with a heavy spoon swipe. The walls fall into a buttery cream while the anchovy froth ceiling drools into a bed of fresh fish and herbs. Like butter and anchovies on toast but easier to eat and more complex to taste.

5th course:

Livorese red mullet

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The sheet on top has the texture of fried dried cheese – it snaps when you bite it. It’s covered in mixed olive and tomato dust. The fish underneath, outrageously tender and rich, bathes in a bouillabaisse tomato soup. The dust is very powerful in flavour so every bite combines all of the ingredients in a perfectly balanced cocktail.

6th course:

Eel swimming up the Po

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One of the restaurant’s most famous dishes and one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten. Tastiest. The eel, soft and fatty, is sous vide then grilled and vanished with Saba, a balsamic like grape juice syrup. On top there’s flakes of vanilla ash and underneath is a powder of burnt onion. The green jelly to the left is an intense green apple reduction, tart and sweet, and to the right is creamed polenta. The story is simply an eel swimming up a river. All the ingredients the eel would find on river’s edge are on the plate. Dishes like this make me doubt my ability as a writer.

7th course:

Caesar salad in Emilia

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Simply a piece of lettuce intricately stuffed with 26 different ingredients. Looks ordinary and tastes like the best Caesar salad you’ll ever had.

8th course:

Five ages of Parmesan Reggiano, in different textures and temperatures

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10 months, 20 months, 30 months, 40 months and 50 months. A cream, a sponge, a mouse, a foam and a crisp. All served at different temperatures. Parmesan from Reggiano is fucking good and so was this. I would like to know what the producer of the Parmesan thought of this dish.

9th course:

Frog in a pond

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Pond side: Roasted frog legs covered in herbed bread crumbs
Pond tender: Giant sheet of slithery pasta with aromatic flowers in top
Pond water: Black truffle and coffee sauce
Pond debris: toasted pine nuts, hazelnuts and mushrooms
The weirdest thing we ate. I could imagine some people disliking this because it’s actually quite pond like – the pasta is goupy and the sauce is boggy. It’s a slimy mess to feel and it tastes crazy. I was not one of those people.

10th course:

Cotechino 365 days a year

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Apparently when Italians come to Osteria Francescana they only order the traditional dishes. Italian food is the best in the world they say. Why would you want to eat weird shit? I just want a really fucking good ravioli. Inside is cotechino, a pork sausage traditionally eaten only at christmas, steamed over sparking red wine – this way the fat drains out and leaves a really flavoursome but lean sausage. The pork bits are packed in with lentils in a rich meaty soup. I imagine old Italian men, sun wrinkled and cigarette hoarse seeing their whole lives and weeping after eating this.

11th course:

Half roast chicken

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A tender slice of chicken breast next to a wing of whitlof sheltering a mash of truffle foie gras. Probably the most underwhelming thing I ate. It feels weird saying that about a meal I loved eating but it’s all relative. Some hugs are worse than others – none of them are bad though.

12th course:

Foie gras ice cream bar with traditional balsamic vingar from modena

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The foie gras filling hides a puddle of 50 year aged balsamic vinegar. When you bite the foie gras slides open on your teeth and the vinegar seeps out like tree sap. There is no ice cream. The foie fras is sour, savoury and fucking intense and the vinegar is almost entirely caramelised. The coating is roast almonds and hazelnuts.

It made me think of this dish I had at Tetsuya’s*. It was cannelloni beans, mascarpone, a thick soy sauce and caramel served on a Chinese soup spoon in between mains and dessert. You eat it whole. The first thing you taste is the cannelloni beans and salt of the soy sauce. Then your palate develops and you taste the cream of mascarpone and finally the sweet of the caramel. The progression was perfect. I thought maybe the foie gras ice cream had the same intent. It was clever but not perfect.

13th course:

White, green and red

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Milk gelato, green pea mouse and strawberry sorbet with mint and clovers. The closest you can get to making a garden taste like a dessert. I loved this. The leaves are bitter and the cloves particularly are chewy and stringy – alone they would probably taste like ass but with the desserts they make everything taste fresher – part of making the dish a story.

14th course:

Oops! I dropped the lemon tart

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A lemon and limoncello mascarpone zabaione with lemongrass sorbet under biscuit and surrounded by dots of candied lemon, bergamot jelly, spiced apple, chilli oil, lemon oil and honey capers. The tart itself is zingy, sweet and creamy in different parts. The little bits and drops on the side would be difficult to combine with the tart but they’re all incredibly intense in flavour. Each one adds a different layer onto the tart – sour, salty, spicy, bitter or sweet. It’s a fun idea and it’s magnificently tasty.

While we were eating our final official course Massimo Bottura came out to greet us.

“How is everything?”

“Fantastic.”

“Excellent.”

“Hey when other famous chefs come here where do they eat?”

“At the tables with everyone else.”

“You don’t have secret special dinner out back?”

“No they eat like everyone else but we’re all sharing our ideas. It’s very open.”

“Have you had dinner parties together?”

“Yeah, we’re all very good friends.”

“So you all hang out and cook for each other?”

“When I go to Australia in November I’m going to meet Peter Gilmore, Ben Shwery . . . I think I cut him off because I saw expected.

OMFG. How good would that be. Who wants to dumpster dive the shit out of that house?!

When he was finished chatting to the other customers I called out to him.

“Massimo.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you think this wine tastes like turnips?” He raised his eyebrows looking incredulous. For a brief moment I imagined him as a sexy kangaroo. Then without asking he swiftly picked up Honey Vader’s glass, tossed the liquid around and whisked it up to his nose.

“Yes! . . . It does.”

“I knew it. Thanks. that makes me feel good.”

“You make me laugh.” He said chuckling as he wheeled back to the kitchen.

15th course:

Chocolates/petit fours/unnamed delicious things

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Raspberry jelly, coconut amaretti macaroon, chocolate and coffee truffle, brownie, hazelnut and coffee gianduia. I’ve never understood why post meal chocolates are so ignored. They’re as an intricate and delicious but not worthy of a mention on the menu, a description from our waiter or anything. I guess that would ruin the surprise of their arrival. Originally we were going to take them back to Enrico as a gift but they were too giddily good.

On the bus on the way home I asked Honey Vader which of our meals she would like to eat everyday.

“The wholemeal croissants. Oh la la. They were so good.”

At first I thought that was a strange answer. We had just been showered in some of the tastiest and most creative food the world has to offer but she picked bread. Then I thought about it myself and I found it hard to pick anything out either. It was all incredible, I certainly didn’t dislike anything, but I couldn’t imagine eating any of those things regularly. It seemed out of place, unnatural. How could I eat these delicate artworks so casually? Wouldn’t that be unjust? But that’s a strange reaction – I should want to eat them everyday just because they’re tasty. There are thousands of things I ate in the streets of Thailand I’d love to eat everyday – why not the meals at the third best restaurant in the world?

It sent me into a spiral of thought. How much had I actually enjoyed the meal? I thought back to just two days ago when I ate that ice cream in Bologna. I was euphoric. I yelled, I laughed and I wanted to tell everyone how I felt. I’ve had that feeling many times over my trip but I didn’t feel like that once at Osteria Francescana. It wasn’t because the food wasn’t excellent – It was, I loved it, I loved the stories, I loved the ideas and I loved the taste. But I didn’t enjoy it that much because I felt like I couldn’t enjoy it that much. It was too serious, the atmosphere so stiff and conservative. The walls are grey, the waiters are formal and devoid of humour and everything is quiet. Honey Vader and I whispered the entire evening. This is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in the world – Why can’t I laugh? Why can’t I shout?! I want to feel damnit.

I know guides like michelin and restaurant magazine consider other things than just food when they rank their restaurants but why the fuck they give so much weight to such an out dated idea of service and atmosphere is beyond me. I’m sure some people go to fancy restaurants just so they can be treated like royalty and feel important or whatever but I don’t understand that. The best restaurants in the world should be looking for the most pleasurable ways to engage with food. Food should be fun and Osteria Francescana wasn’t.

*Osteria Francescana has been voted 3rd best restaurant in the world by restaurant magazine awards for three running
*a very famous restaurant in Sydney, which not long before I ate there was also sitting high up on the best restaurant in the world lists.

Day 153 and 154: Berlin to Nonantola

I wanted to eat something very Berliny for my last meal. I didn’t know exactly what that was. We’d eaten quite a lot of German food and kebabs and only Bop wanted to eat currywurst again. So I did some research and found a cool/hip/trendy/swang-chic Hawaiian/Indian/German/Vietnamese/Vulcan restaurant where young people like to eat.

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Creative, delicious and cheap. I like to rate restaurants on whether I would go if they were in my hometown. I have a lot of specific categories. This restaurant would place in – if it was close by I would go once every two weeks. Thats pretty good.

During our meal we had a debrief – best and worst meals in Berlin and thoughts. It was a bit of struggle. Nothing much was shit but what excellent things had we eaten? Kofte on day one, a kebab on Saturday night, the smoked fish at the deli and the blood sausage Bop cooked. For a city full of immigrants and hipsters that’s a pretty lackluster list from a week of eating. It’s not like we were picking places at random either. Everywhere we ate was someone’s recommendation, from a blog post or something off a food guide. I know a week isn’t long enough to get a fair impression but I’ve spent a lot less time in cities and eaten far better.

I was expecting a lot from you Berlin. You’ve let me down.

This picture was taken on Sunday morning after our clubbing night in Berlin. He is offering me wine.

This picture was taken on Sunday morning after our clubbing night in Berlin. He is offering me wine.

It was sad saying goodbye to Bop. We’ve had such a strange and exciting trip together and I think we’ve both learnt a lot from each other. I’ll miss Bop. I’ll miss his wave addiction, I’ll miss his translucent animal print underwear, I’ll miss his thoughts and I’ll miss that dance he does when something good happens.

Here’s to you Bop. Thanks for everything.

I wish I’d made a list of all the free things I’ve been given and all the stupid things I’ve done to save money. I would like to put them next to each other and see which one is longer.

After Berlin I needed to go to Bologna to meet Honey Vader. I checked the flights and there was one to Bologna at a good rice but one to Milan for €40 less so I got that one. Such a stupid idea. My flight arrived in Milan at 8:00pm. I got a bus into the centre for €5 and arrived an hour later. The next train to Bologna was in fifteen minutes but that was €10 more than the one in an hour so I waited for that. I got into Bologna at 00:30am – 30minutes into my birthday. I had missed the last bus to my hostel – it was 6km outside of central Bologna but I had booked it because it was €5 cheaper. I had to beg the friend of this guy I met on the train to drive me there. He was hesitant but agreed to drop me half way. So at 1:30am I arrived hungry and tired in the middle of fucking nowhere with no idea where to go. It was dark, I had no map and my phone was low on battery. Why didn’t I just get the flight to Bologna?

What I did on my birthday:

1. I ate a horrifically sugary hostel breakfast. Syrupy cordial, diabetic jams and things covered in stuff which looks like chocolate but is actually just sugar. Probably the only time I haven’t over eaten at a buffet.

2. I drank a coffee with my friend Ervis. I got a shakerato because it’s the fanciest looking coffee and it’s nice to feel fancy on your birthday. I told the barista I was turning 26 and he scrunched up his face, slapped my shoulder and poured us all a shot of vodka. 3 hours in and I’d downed three coffees and a shot of hard liqueur.

3. I met Honey Vader at Bolonga airport. She had flown from France to Italy just to see me. I’m looking forward to doing something similarly chivalrous for her one day. The first thing I said to her (post smiley, huggy period of euphoria) was ‘let’s get ice cream’ but like sensible people we got lunch first.

4. I ate a Greek salad with steamed octopus and a piadina* with tomato, mozzarella, rocket and prosciutto.

5. I had one of the best ice creams of my life.

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You know those experiences which are so sublime, surprising and life changing you can’t keep it to yourself? Like seeing Loch Ness, sexy-kissing Barack Obama or throwing a scrunched paper bag in the bin.

“Hey, everyone I fucking know fucking ever! Did you see that?!”

“I just kissed Barack fucking Obama!!”

You’re probably yelling into a megaphone off balcony. Pretty much no one believes you. Only a few of your friends and your mum believes you because they know what your real conviction looks like. Everyone else thinks you’re crazy. Eventually you shut up about it because your reputation as a sane person is at stake.

That’s how this gelato made me feel.

6. Honey Vader and I went to Nonantola. It’s a small town close to Modena, where we needed to go for a booking at the third best restaurant in the world. It feels weird just casually slotting that in. You can’t scream off a balcony before you kiss the president can you?

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That’s where we stayed. It felt like the opposite of Berlin – or maybe Singapore is the opposite of Berlin? – whatever, we were really fucking relaxed.

Our host was Enrico, a man with a kind of Gandalf like hold over things. ‘Don’t worry Hobbits I know the world and I’ve got everything under control’. He hardly ever does any magic but everyone feels so chilled around him cause they know he can. Enrico runs a b’n’b but let’s couchsurfers stay for free because, well, he’s a hospitality wizard. He loves there with his son Paulo, his friend Flavio and a hilariously mottled and dysfunctional family of cats and dogs. We spent most of the evening chatting and playing with Paolo, and eating things that grew on nearby trees. Paolo is the most chilled child I’ve ever met and the apples were sour and tart – just how I like them. A little piece of paradise. Happy birthday to me.

Onwards to eating. One of the best restaurants in the world awaits.

*piadinas are Italian grilled wraps. The dough is like a naan but thinner and more solid in the centre. They’re usually filled with the same things you’d find in an Italian panini.

Day 150, 151 and 152: Berlin pt. 2

Sunday:

I woke up drunk, stinky and fucking hungry. The first thing I said to Con was ‘I want meat’. Somebody said schnitzel and so it was. There was a place in the fancy end of town that did a traditional job with a cow udder – done.

Nope. Fucking stupid ass fancy town was selling the Schnit for €21. Cow udders are like the most off off-cuts, it should be like the cheapest thing right? Maybe we would have bought it if the restaurant was pumping but it was fucking dead so we fucked off outta there. Our plan B a €6 euro Sunday brunch across town.

Nope. Motherfuckers stopped doing brunch at 3pm.

FUCKKKKKCKCKKC

“What do you have?” I asked, probably looking desperate and dangerous.

“Spatzle.”

I meant to say yes please. Thank you. I’ll have one now. But I didn’t – my brain just farted and instead I stared at her like an asphyxiated crocodile.

“It’s like German noodles fried with butter and cheese.”

“Yes, yes. That’s great thanks.”

Fucking hell. All I wanted was something big and that sounded perfect.

Nope.

Fucking worst meal ever. How fried noodles with cheese and butter can be cooked to have no taste will remain one of life’s biggest mysteries.

Bop and I met Sylvana that night. Rather ridiculously we picked inside a
movie theatre as our meeting point. The film was boyhood and it had a more profound effect on me than any movie has ever. It was so real and relatable all I could do after was think about my mum, my life and families. It was pretty debilitating for the night’s conversation but we did manage to get a good education about Berlin.

Sylvana has lived in the city for 8 years. I asked her if she goes clubbing much. She told me she used to love the club scene but now she hardly ever goes

“People went with their friends to have fun.” She said.

Apparently that’s not happening anymore. Now it’s a dungeon for lonely pick ups and nobs seeking appreciation for their outfits and drug use.

“People only go to be cool.”

Maybe Sylvana doesn’t really like or understand clubbing like me but I found her description of what it used to be pretty appealing. Hanging out with friends and dancing is the best. Learn world.

I asked Sylvana if maybe the change is related to the amount of tourists invading the city. She didn’t think so but that opened a whole new issue. She told me there’s a housing crisis. So many people are coming into the city for a few months and many rental agencies are catering exactly to that kind of tourism. Furnishing apartments, leading them on tourist websites and pushing locals out with higher prices. At the same time there’s been a general rise in housing prices and it’s getting harder for Berliners to find cheap accommodation with every year. We heard a few stories, not just from Sylvana, about some foreigners being greeted with resentment and being told to fuck off or go home. My experience has been pretty good and I’m not sure how much to read into it or whether it’s all related. If it is a big problem it sounds pretty unhealthy. Difficulties of tourism are so hard to resolve because tourists bring so much money and they’ll always have more power than locals just because of that.

Monday:

Con and I were determined to get something good for lunch. We’d been burnt a few times and impressed a few times but we hadn’t had much exciting stuff.

This is what we decided on:

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It’s a century old smoke house. The smoked fish they made was so fucking delicious and popular they slowly started making and selling other things until finally they’ve got this ridiculously big deli. Everything look amazing. I was feeling overwhelmed with it all but Con rescued the situation.

“Let’s split up into teams, get some stuff and come back and share. I’ll get fish.”

“Yeah fucking great idea. Bop you get meat and il get everything else (cheese).”

Brockwurst
Bratwurst
Mixed mustard
Smoked mackerel
Pickled halibut
Smoked and roast beef
Potato, bacon, celery and vinegar salad
Pickled cumber
Bean and onion salad
Rye bread with toasted seeds
Foot cheese
Old goat’s cheese
Blue cheese
Fish soup with salmon, full and onion

Mmmmm yeah.

For only the second time on this trip I had something I didn’t like*. It was one of the cheeses I bought. As soon as we opened the wrapping everyone recoiled – it was the most pungently footy thing ever, it invaded everything. It felt like all our food had suddenly been smothered in week old sock. We all had a dig anyway and everyone pretty much agreed – bearable with effort but otherwise highly unenjoyable. It wasn’t shit, it was just too strong for our ungerman palates. I didn’t want to waste something potentially lovable so I turned to the table next to us and asked if they wanted it.

“What kind of cheese is it?” A stringy woman with braces said.

“I’m not sure but it’s very footy.” I don’t think she understood the word footy. She unwrapped it and took a whiff, instantly recoiling as we had.

A white haired man in a white suit took it. He drilled it right up into his snoz and hoofed it in.

“Wo ho. . . I quite like this.”

He thanked us and asked us where we were staying.

“In Con’s house in Neukölln.”

“Well. I would have invited you to stay with me.”

It was around this time I realised how eccentrically dressed this guy was. Everything but his shoes was white – white shirt, white pants, white socks,
white suspenders.

“If you would like you can come over and we can have a drink.”

He handed over his card.

“That would be great.” I said without thinking. We made a time and said goodbye. Once we were outside we had a better look at the card.

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Apparently that translates to laugher, music and mystery.

Who the fuck is this guy? Con and I couldn’t stop laughing. We had just been invited to have drinks by a mysterious foot-cheese lover with a pregnant belly and white suspenders. Bop was stone faced.

“Don’t you think this is weird Bop?”

“No. Maybe end my trip. I think it’s weird. But now no.”

How fucking addicted to the wave is Bop?! He’s hardly had to make decision since we met. In that time he’s seen a ghostly woman play a theremin, played blood potato with a family of Austrian strangers, tasted blue cheese, hitchhiked, drunk absinthe with German teens, had beer that tastes like bacon, been clubbing in Berlin until 8am and met about 500,000 people. So when an eccentric German man wearing only white offers him a drink at his house he doesn’t bat an eyelid.

That afternoon Bop and I had planned to visit some Korean groceries so we could cook Con dinner but now our plans had changed. Who knows what Wolfgang has in store? Better not eat much.

We had a bit of time to kill so we went to tiergarten for a lovely stroll.

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Oh yeah and we tried currywurst. Con and I had been avoiding it for a while – because it’s tomato sauce, curry powder and skinless sausages, sounds disgusting right? – but we had an acceptance that we’d try it at some point. Along with kebabs, currywurst is the most famous culinary product of Berlin, how could we not?

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Shite. Most average thing ever. It was exactly what we worried about – nothing more than shit tomato sauce, curry powder and an average sausage. Bop loved it but apparently he’s had a lifelong addiction to ketchup – the mystery continues.

I was told by a few people this was one of the best in Berlin. I’m not sure currywurst should ever be discussed in that way because it’s a shit thing. I’m sure you could have some fucking amazing sausage with a beautiful tomatoey curry sauce but that wouldn’t be currywurst would it.
It would be something else. Currywurst by it’s very essence is shit. It’s like how meat pies used to be in Australia – existing in a culture of shitness, the shitness is applauded and it’s notoriety of being a good thing grows. Someday that might change but I’m not going to eat another currywurst until that happens.

Our date with Wolfgang was at 8pm. Con had German class and couldn’t arrive until 9-10, so it was going to be just me, Bop and Wolfy.

Wolfgang turned out to be a bombastic fellow. He was a cabaret performer and a passionately left wing activist. He’s had an interesting life and he’s gathered many good stories. The most interesting was his experience at Tianamen square during the massacre.

“I was the only westerner there.” He told us.

“Of course none of the killing actually happened at Tianamen. That’s Mao’s mausoleum. They wouldn’t dare kill any one there . . . All the shooting happened one street up.”

His show, which he’s performed over 250 times, involves him talking to famous left wing figures in Germany. They talk about issues and he cracks jokes.

“I’m much more eloquent in English.” He said. I saw through his thinly veiled defense for any future terrible jokes.

His house was more of a library than a living space. The three rooms, bedroom, hall and kitchen, were covered in books and dotted with miniature busts of left wing leaders and philosophers. There wasn’t much room for us to sit so soon after we left for a brewery where he performs his cabaret. As soon as we sat down Wolfgang ordered us a round. Once we finished that another came. By the time Con arrived Bop and I were red faced and Wolfgang was swaying like a overboard harpoon. Con got right into with us. The beer was some of the best I’ve ever had and the food was rich and heavy.
We spent most of the remaining evening interrogating Wolfy about his strange life. He told us about his fight with the local police, how he dressed up like Dr Strangelove for war protests, how no one in Germany understood the reference, about his spy friend and about how there’s no left wing youth anymore. I think the last thing we talked about, before Wolfgang abruptly announced he had to go home, was whether in the future Hitler’s memory would fade and become just another historical fucker or whether he will remain in the public consciousness for centuries. We disagreed amicably.

Tuesday:

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This was an art gallery Bop and I went to. It was the first art gallery I’d been to since I had an existential crisis in Venice. This was the second artwork I saw.

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I asked Bop what he thought it meant. He something about nature and the blocks being people. I can’t remember specifically but the sentiment was about how we’re detached from our environment. I asked him if he wanted to know what it was actually about, or intended to be about.

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What bullshit. What does that even mean?

I read it over a few times and translated what I thought it meant to Bop. He gave me an incredulous glance and walked off to the next room.

I’m having a crisis about art. A lot of art I’ve seen in the past month did nothing to me. I mean that literally. They were ugly and they translated no ideas to me other than this crisis of thought. Some people might say but it was probably just shit art but I think that’s a lazy response that’s far too complicated to justify. Part of me thinks contemporary art – what is hung in modern art galleries – is not an effective medium at translating anything. If it’s not enjoyable to look at and it doesn’t provoke any thought or reaction what is the point? Why should I look at it? Why should I pay to see it?

Maybe I just don’t understand it. I’m not very well educated in art and I’m probably not aware of a lot of the cultural context and art theory which underpins it. I usually have to rely on pamphlets, wall plaques and audio tours. But that’s shit, art plaques are usually confusing wankfests. I don’t understand them and I’ve got two degrees, what about someone who hasn’t finished school or Bop who doesn’t understand much English?

I know there’s no definite answer to any of these questions but the more I think about it the more I think a lot of art is produced, whether on purpose or not, for an audience of only artists. Of course there’s exceptions. I’ve found some beautiful artworks and others have challenged me but most have been completely unremarkable. You could say these thoughts are a reaction and I would never have had them if I hadn’t been to the galleries in Venice or Berlin but these thoughts are not a reaction to any artwork but to art itself. They’re only relevant to art.

This is a very complicated and interesting argument and I’m sorry I’ve transformed it into such a crude blab but I’m struggling with it. It’s been very difficult for me.

After we left the art gallery I hardly said anything for four hours. I was trapped in my thoughts and the weekend had caught up with me. I simply directed Bop to where we needed to go, he bought some groceries and we went home.

Bop and I owed Con, not in a debty way just a friendly acceptance of his generosity. We had originally planned to shout him dinner but we only had one night left and Bop had offered to cook – neither of us wanted to miss out on that.

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Bop you fucking genius. This is brilliant.

Beef bulgogi
Tteokkbeoki
Fish cakes with sesame, garlic and onion
Rice
Rice wine
Makkali

It was our last night together and fucking good way to end it.

Day 147, 148 and 149: Berlin pt. 1

Cast of characters

Con:
Funny, relaxing and good at talking about both categories of serious shit (emotional and world stuff). I like to think we’re very similar but I’m probably getting admiration and similarity confused. If Con was less cool and woggy we’d look alike too.

Bop:
Bop for president. Details. More. Latest.

Harry:
One of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other for two decades but only one counts because we were too shy in the first one. If he was in a high school drama he’d be the second love interest after the Jock turns out to be a boring rapist. Loves Milena.

Milena:
Pretty, energetic and frank. Reminds me of olive from Popeye without the sick and boring bits. Likes looking at nice things and showing them to people. Loves Harry.

Z:
Looks like how artists are depicted in 90s cartoons. Is much cooler. Has a nice, big smile, makes films and looks natural with a beer in her hand. Loves Nye.

Nye:
1 head of a bushman
1 skinny body
Bowl a party
Bagful of artful rags
Sack of interesting stuff
95 percentage points of love for Z
Mix

Sylvana:
A good example of how fairy princesses can adapt to modern society. Not airy blah blah. Just part of the world.

Setting:
Berlinn openly gay mayor once called the city ‘poor but sexy’. That’s my favourite description.

Thursday:

Con’s staying in Berlin to learn about and make theatre so Bop and I crashed with him. The apartment is in Neukölln, a hipster/druggie/Turkish area with lots of dogs and alcohol vendors. We figured the Turks would probably be making the better food than any Germans so that’s where we went first.

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Veal kofte with mint, sumac, tomato, cabbage, chilli and garlic.

The restaurant looks as unobtrusive and remarkable as a convenience store that’s aged into a crowd of red lights. That’s what most Turkish eateries look like, this one just happened to be excellent.

We met Harry and Milena there. I’ve been friends with Milena an Harry for yonks and Con knows Harry from uni – no one had seen each other in a long time and for us to be so suddenly and strangely united in Berlin was very exciting. Poor bop didn’t say a word for about two hours as the four of us talked exclusively in that slangy-joke language good friends speak in.

When we finished lunch we had this funny conversation of what to do. Usually in this situation I’ve been at the mercy and generosity of a local friend or stranger – we’d go to their favourite restaurants, sights and just do whatever people who live in Berlin do – but we didn’t have that, we’re just a group of travelers who only know what the internet tells us. Con had heard one of the nearby streets was famously ‘cool’ so we went there. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do in cool areas – I think they’re only ever ‘cool’ if you have something to do there – otherwise you just end up looking into the windows of things and taking awkward pictures of street art. It’s kinda like trying to enjoy a concert from the outside – you can hear it’s happening but there’s no feeling.

At some point on our voyage down cool street (it’s very long) someone mentioned mini golf so we did that. We all sucked at it but none of us are competitive weirdos so it was fun. After the game I gave my docket to the golf clerk thinking I had a noticeably average score.

“Would you like an eternal reminder of my excellence?” I asked him as I slid it over.

“Wow. I think this is the top score.” He wheeled around and bobbled into the shed behind him.

“Yeah these two Swedish guys had the record but yours is better so I’ll hang it in the hall of fame.”

Well I feel like a dick. What kind of a-hole says ‘do you want an eternal reminder of my excellence’ and means it?

We ate Thai for dinner. I’ve always been hesitant to eat South East Asian food in Europe but no one we asked gave us a better recommendation. My feelings were right – I thought it sucked.

I met Z and Nye that night. They’d locked themselves out of the their house and came to Con’s to crash. Nye explained the difference between house, techno, griz, jungle, dub step and drum and base. I think I like griz. He was a good teacher.

Friday:

The next day started just like the first.

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I don't know why I included this photo. I think I liked the old woman's facial expression

I don’t know why I included this photo. I think I liked the old woman’s facial expression

They were Turkish markets. We met Harry and Milena there. While we were sitting down enjoying the tail of our spoils we interrogated Bop. This is what we learnt about Korea.

After 7th grade most students study from 7-12 (morning till night )five days a week
Most people have sex before marriage, usually the first time is in middle or high school
Homosexuality is taboo
Some gay guys pretend to have girlfriends
Tattoos aren’t very common
Koreans are not afraid of ceiling fans

We had the same problem again after lunch. I suggested we go to the international beer festival. I think Harry and Milena were afraid of it being touristy trash and left. We had exactly the same fear but for some reason we went – probably because we were unsure of what else to do.

These beers were made my monks. The dark one is 10% alcohol

These beers were made my monks. The dark one is 10% alcohol

Wild boar sausage and mustard

Wild boar sausage and mustard

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We were half right. There weren’t many tourists there (at least not internationally) but it was pretty fucking trashy.

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It was Germanic bogan paradise. Beer guts wobbling and grinning like drunk teddy bears lost at sea, thick wavy grey mullets, singlets, shorts, cleavage clerks, cover bands with baggy pants and enough juicy meat to satisfy a herd of marathon running bears. It was ugly and amazing. We loved it and we wanted to leave.

The beer festival was overpriced and difficult to judge food wise so we didn’t eat much. We weren’t starving but if we saw some excellent offering we’d get into it. We were heading to a free jazz* gig when I got the vibe. It was a bar with plastic plates and outdoor tables – not particularly interesting or cool looking but I felt it. It was calling me.

There was a buffet inside. Sliced meats and cheeses and all the things you usually see next to them. There was no signs or anything so we bought a drink each and helped ourselves to whatever figuring it was free with a alcohol. Con and Bop were wary but I told them about aperitivo and how common it is in Italy. ‘Its probably just the same’ I said.

After the jazz show we walked past the same bar. There was a man inside speaking to an audience. We thought it could have been slam poetry or a story telling night so Con went up to ask.

“Hey, what’s going on?”

“It’s a birthday. The dad is giving a speech.”

Someone at the party must have noticed us stealing their food but what kind of jerk says ‘hey, who the fuck are you guys?’ at a birthday party?

Saturday:

Another morning of indecision with a great result.

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Con and I tried to teach Bop how to float. He failed. I remember thinking about baptism and how weird beach-going Japanese tourists are*. I tried to swim to the other side of the lake. It was stressful and tiring.

Next. Saturday night.

Bop, Con and I are all shit at clubbing. None of us are massive drug users, we know fuck all about electronic music and we love talking. Despite that we went anyway. Having no idea how to go about engaging with one of the most famous club scenes in the world Con called Z and Nye to chaperone. They arrived with a two bottles of club matte and a litre of vodka. Alright then, that’s what we’ll have.

There are few things in the world that become tastier with the addition of cheap vodka – club matte is one of them. I somehow ignored this and dutifully got drunk anyway.

I’m not really sure what happened next. We were all talking about art next to a pond covered in shit and firemen statues and then I was lost. A few hours passed and I said ‘where the fuck am I’ about fifty million times. No one answered me and then we were inside a club. We must have stayed there a long time but it didn’t feel like it.

This is what I remember:
Jumping up and down to some house music. Not dancing just jumping. I must have jumped for a while because my calves were sore later.
Meeting an Indian dude called Shenky. He loomed as if he wanted to fuck us but he didn’t, he just bought us alcohol.
Being surrounded by fog. There was no floor, ceiling or anyone else – just smoke and flashing lights. Then Bop appeared. Just a silhouette of his head and arms pumping in the fog. Pumping, pumping, pumping. It was so joyous. I felt like I was trapped in a Pointer Sisters video clip and I loved it. I remember thinking ‘this is what I’ll see on my deathbed’.

Then I came outside and there was light everywhere. Whatever was mysterious and appealing earlier now looked faded, tired and old. All my friends were sitting in a circle with some strangers but as soon as they saw me everyone got up and we left. When I got home I looked at a clock for the first time since dinner, it was 8am.

I’m not really sure if I enjoyed it or not. Berlin is so famous for clubbing I was expecting something totally mental and disgusting – people indiscriminately butt fucking on the dance floor, fur coat and knicker clad models snorting coke of a midgets’ vaginas, muscly old men dressed only in traffic cones dancing with shaved cheetahs in bubble baths – I probably would have hated that but at least it would have been interesting. It was just a motley labyrinth like building with some couches here and there, scattered clumps of dancers and the occasional couple making out. Everything was dark and the was music was aggressive and robotic. Sometimes I think these experiences are solely designed for drug users. Being drunk just doesn’t cut it and I don’t like being drunk much anyway. I just like to dance. Is it strange that no one designs parties for sober people? Does that exist anywhere? I don’t know.

It’s funny how traveling makes you feel obligated to do things you’d never otherwise do.

*whenever I go to Bondi Beach I always see Japanese tourists running in and out of the water with shoes and jeans on. It weirds me out
*unclear whether it meant without cost or without musical structure