Ashley Zoch

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Coin in a Fountain

We're in Rome for the next few days (more about that next time I see a computer) so I'm making good on a promise to drop a coin in the Trevi Fountain.

Here's the video evidence that I did it so there can be no suggestion that the coin was sneakily whipped into the first fountain we found...

Just click the picture above to play.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Load of Bologna

A nice Pakistani pizza delivery kid on a scooter escorted us to our hotel in Bologna as we had arrived quite late. Delightfully we also had two separate beds. We've been dealing with a double bed with one doona, a double bed with two doonas, two singles right next to each other and finally we had a full four inches of space between beds.

Darren wanders the Bologna streets.

We headed to a local pizzeria to try the exotic foods of Italy that I've heard so much about. Actually the pizza was quite nice and no doubt pizza will get a frequent mention in the coming days. The old mama in the kitchen took a shine to Darren but sadly he missed the kiss on the cheeks.

Two tough guys at the statue of Neptune in Bologna.

Our next day was spent wandering through Bologna. There aren't any grand world famous monuments but it's a great little town. We started in a little outdoor book market (all these great bookshops and nothing we can read) and just ambled about finding the leaning towers, a single canal and another pizzeria for dinner. This time the waitress took quite the shining to me.

Looking for lunch in Bologna.

Our next day started with an hour on the train to Florence for a day trip. Despite our best efforts, we didn't actually have tickets so we camped out in the stairwell like a couple of hobos hoping the conductor wouldn't make it to us. He didn't. We arrived in Florence and took in the huge Duomo church and square. It was pretty darn busy and the queues to enter were enormous. We wandered around to the museum to catch a glipmse at Michaelangelo's David statue but unfortunaely this was also closed (never visit Europe on a Monday).

Leaning towers in Bologna.

Undetered we jumped on a double decker tourist bus for a loop of the city. It gave us a nice quick overview of everything and we used it to drop us off at the Piazza Michaelangelo for some great views of the city (and a replicate of the David statue so we didn't completely miss out). We also stopped for some lunch but the twelve dollar cokes caused us to go thirsty.

He's Dutch. Of course he loves a canal.

A final stroll down through the hills and we were back on the train to Bologna and into the university district for a few drinks and (and this part may shock you) some pizza. Which was also good (and twice the size of the plate).

Duomo church in Florence.

This morning we caught a train to Rome and we're now sitting in a laundromat finishing our laundry and using the internet (what a great combo).

And inside.

Phew. I'm officially up to date.

Michaelangelo's other David.

Overlooking Florence.

Almost a Dawn Treader

We hopped on the train and headed through Munich and Zurich to our destination in Bern, Switzerland. I can't remember whether I mentioned it, but our trip was a little askew by this point. We had originally planned to visit Berlin, however on attemping to book a hotel by phone we were laughed at heartily and told that it was the anniversary of the day the Berlin wall came down and that there would be nothing available anywhere. We decided instead to go to Prague (which was great) and then we pretty much had a coin toss to decide between Switzerland and Austria. The Swiss won and we arrived late at night. Our hotel was old and quaint with a 100 year old wrought iron lift (very cool) and a girl at reception who appeared to be on Lithium (turned out to be amusing at least).

They just call them Army Knives.

Our first day was spent wandering around town. We spotted some street chess, ate some bratwurst for breakfast and enjoying being in a modern city. Bern is incredibly clean and tidy. They also make heavy use of the Helvetic font in their signage, which I like a lot. We planned to do a simple load of laundry but discovered the only laudromat in town was a 20 minute walk, so it turned into a bit of an afternoon job. We were greeted at the laundromat by a young fellow with a camera who explained that he was doing a school assignment and asked if he could take a few snaps while we washed. We were happy to oblige.

Ogre eating children statue.

A few photos, a couple of cigarettes out the front while we washed our 'smalls' and we were best of friends. We wiled away the afternoon drinking coffee and getting the run down on all matter of topics from where to find a decent band to why the Swiss hadn't joined the EU. It was a really great change from our routine of walking from sight to sight and the churchmuseumchurch blur. Despite a few hours of chat we forgot to exchange names but hopefully he will send through a copy of his work (a photo essay on 'washing day').

Dropping in on Mr Einstein at home.

Our second day more than makes up for a lazy afternoon. We started off at Albert Einstein's house (small but worth a look), we wandered the length of the town to the bear pits (which celebrate either the wrestling, capture, hunting or shooting of a bear by the town's founder - our version of the tale is expanding with each discussion))and then took a great walk up through the hills to the Paul Klee museum. We got some hopefully great shots looking down on the town.

Outside the Paul Klee Museum.

I am not really familiar with Paul Klee's paintings, but Darren is a bit fan. The museum is housed in a great steel and glass wave shape (something, but not much, like the Sydney Opera House). I did enjoy wandering through looking at the works. Sadly there was quite a lot of technical explanation (including some cool looking spectrum analysis) but it was all in German. There were a handful of very cool Kandinsky paitings there too. I think they shared a studio.

Einstein Museum.

We hopped a bus back to the Einstein museum. It was cool and I was really looking forward to it, but it was maze-like and our feet weren't really up to it. I lost steam half way through and wandered the rest in a bit of a daze. We headed back to the hotel to rest up before the evening's proceedings.

Overlooking Bern.

Darren and I are both fans of instrumental music and particularly the post-rock genre. We had been keeping our eyes out at each port and were disappointed to see 'A Silver Mt Zion' playing either a week before or a week after we arrived in each city. We noticed a poster for the band Caspian who I vaguely remembered were either post-rock, Coldplay like generic pop or a band I hadn't actually heard of at all. We looked them up on Darren's iPod Touch (a miracle of modern technology) and discovered that they were right up our alley and playing at a place called Bad Bonn which might have been pretty close. After a little research we discovered that Bad Bonn was in fact an old house, at the end of a 1km stretch of cornfields, in a small town called Duringen, about 30 minutes train ride from Bern. Of course we were going...

Darren arrives at Gimmelwald.

We hopped on the train and headed out, carefully noting down the return timetable and working out our contingency plan of getting the last train, last bus (which might or might not have been running), getting a taxi (which was estimated at up to 200 Euros) and being stuck sleeping in the cornfields (amongst the cow bells). We wandered down the kilometre of corn fields behind a few kids who were clearly going to the same place and arrived at a little old pub in the middle of nowhere (in Switzerland of all places).

Amongst the Mountains.

We knocked over a couple of decent sized beers and thoroughly enjoyed local act Beautiful Leopard and a good chunk of Caspian's set amongst 50 or so other punters (including a French kid who had driven 70km and asked us what language they spoke here). Caspian were a bit over the top (post rock without any of the dynamics) so we weren't too fussed to leave a little early and catch the last train back. A half drunk wander back through the Swiss cornfields at midnight after seeing a band is one for the books.

A pair of Yodellers.

The next morning we jumped an early train and made our way up to Gimmelwald in the Swiss Alps. We had originally planned to visit Jungfraujoch (the highest train station in Europe atop a snowy peak) but our schedule didn't allow the whole day trip to get there. We took a mountain train, bus and finally cable car up with stunning views of the snow covered mountains to the little hamlet of Gimmelwald. The scenery was vey reminiscent of Swiss postcards and the mountains were stunning. We spent a few hours taking photos and having lunch and then caught the next train through Milan to Bologna, Italy.

In Prague

On our first full day in Prague, we wandered down the river and across the wonderful old Charles Bridge which housed a nice little Jazz group busking and a serious amount of photographers and painters selling their wares.

Darren & I on the Charles Bridge.

Our first stop was the church of St. Nicholas which was incredibly Baroque. I think it's probably the most amazing church I've seen to date. We climbed the bell tower to take in a view of the city and were greeted by a sheepish young fellow in a cape at the top who appeared to be spending his day at the top chatting with an old man. The interior is a cacophany of gold statues, ornate carvings and marble.

We then headed to the castle which seemed like an endless array of different buildings all linked up. We wandered through the large gardens and took in the amazing church in the middle. We noticed an older gentleman in a very cool hat (Swiss? German? certainly amusing) who we managed to sneak a photo with. It is presented here for the reader's pleasure.

St Nicholas Church.

From there we decided it was time for something more recent and headed to the Franz Kafka museum which was a nice little display of documents and trippy audio / video installations. It presented his life and work in a nice digestable fashion. Outside we stumbled onto a statue I had read about previously. Two men who look like they are computer-generated pissing on a map of the Czech Republic. You can SMS words to a special number and they will swivel their hips to spell out the letters in a stream.

Looking over Prague from St Nicholas Church.

On our second morning we indulged in a breakfast at the hotel (underground in a converted wine cellar) and then visited the old town square and the new town square. The new one only being new in comparison with the old one. I can't remember when it was established, but it was a good while ago. We checked out the Astronomical Clock and the statue of King Wenceslas.

Peeing Statue.

On the way home we visited an astoundingly large bookshop and I picked up a copy of Kafka's Metamorphisis (as is the fashion in these parts). I knocked over a fair chunk of it before dinner and was a little tripped out when we wandered out into the little cobbled streets and passed a bent-over old crone begging for some coins (and celebrating quite vocally when Darren indulged her) and a middle-aged women dress in a leotard looking like something from Xanadu.

Darren being followed by a man in a silly hat.

We finished the night in a little hipster dive selling books and booze amongst the intellectual young Czechs playing cards and (probably not) discussing politics. Sadly I knocked my beer over Darren to quickly kill the romance of the situation.

The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

And by romance I speak of the city, not of my travelling companion (who has refused on two occasions thus far to purchase me a rose over dinner. Thankfully). I finished the Kafka and a bunch of essays analysing it, and was satisfied.

Kafka Museum.

Prague seems like a great city from our short time here. They are certainly making the most of the tourist dollars, although I'm sure that things settle down quite a bit outside the main sights. The food is hardy and not very exotic (they do love their meat in this part of Europe) but good for us guys knocking through kilometre after kilometre each day.

New Town Square.

Now I'm just tying to fill up some space between photos...Speaking of photos, apologies if these are blurry or dark. I can't see them very well on this old monitor.

Curvy building.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Through Dresden to Prague

We stopped off in Dresden on our way to Prague for a few hours worth of sight-seeing. We were a little unnerved by the cold harsh concrete as we walked from the station (which later transformed into a nice little shopping strip when the shops opened) but the town centre was home to a giant church and numerous old buildings, many blackened and variously rebuilt after the second world war. I picked up a stunning post-card showing the state of the town after the bombings.

Burnt buildings in Dresden.

We spent a nice afternoon taking some snaps and then headed back to catch the train to Prague. The train system is really amazing - bags easily stored in lockers as we need them, always on time, simple ticketing. It's a very nice way to get from A to B.

In the main square at Dresden.

We arrived at our little apartment in Prague in the evening and headed directly cross the small cobbled street to the Jazz Cafe. No jazz (in fact they played Ozzie Osbourne and Michael Jackson at times), but it was smokey and cozy and the beer flowed freely.

Jazz Cafe, Prague.


After a long train ride down to Leipzig, Germany we checked into a rather East German business hotel near the station and headed out for some dinner.

Town Square.

The next morning we strolled through the centre of Leipzig which is very clean and neat and seems like a nice place to live. In the town centre a mini Octoberfest was in progress with a local orchestra, plenty of bratwurst and beer on offer.

Outside the Thomaskirch.

We visited the Thomaskirch church where J.S. Bach is buried and had a quick look through the museum (although sadly they were renovating so there wasn't much on display). Leipzig seems to have the largest goth ratio of any city I've seen. We considered having a drink at the Absinthery but feared that we weren't wearing nearly enough black.

Darren with Bach.

We decided to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant instead and Darren was delighted to be accosted by a young travelling stone-mason and carpenter dressed in medieval garb and looking for money to practice their traditional crafts. Everyone always wants the money...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Banging the Drum

I forgot mention some fun we had in Paris. We stopped back at Cafe La Relax for a drink and a chat with our new friend, the owner. When we arrived we discovered that a bunch of his friends had taken over the bar and were in the midst of singing a few songs with a mandolin and drum. We pulled up a chair and joined them for a few drinks and some music.

The owner filled us in that they were all Algerian expatriates from his home village and they visited once a week or so to catch up. He gave us a good overview of the history of Algeria´s relationship with France and his particular soft spot for the soccer player Zidane. Darren was cheeky enough to pull out his camera and take a short video which hopefully will appear below.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


This morning we visited the Van Gogh museum. I´m not particularly interested in Van Gogh´s paintings, but it was nice to see a few very well known pieces and I enjoyed the few Gauguin paintings that were also there. There was also a temporary exhibit of Malevich paintings that I enjoyed very much - mostly for his bizarre world view.

Bikes and Canals.

In the afternoon we visited the Dutch Resistance museum. Darren´s grandfather spent time in hiding during the second world war so it was of particular interest to Darren. There were some neat multimedia exhibits, including a small cinema showing various propaganda from the time and some ingenious little radios built to listen to allied radio in secret.

Darren entering the Red Light District.

We headed up to Dam Square and for a walk through the red light district which was exactly as described - prostitutes in windows. I had expected more ´variety´ however they mostly just looked like Eastern European girls dragged over. I think we might have missed a fair chunk of it, but there´s only so many windows you can sheepishly glance in.

Dam Square.

We topped off the night at Melkweg to see American guitar rockers Built to Spill. Melkweg is a great little venue and the band were most enjoyable. They even followed my rock dream of playing on time on weeknights and finishing at a reasonable hour. Man I am getting old.

Who will watch the Night Watch?

Gee I´m slow at adapting to all these different European keyboard layouts! This one doesn´t help with half its keys rubbed off...

Behind the Reijksmuseum.

We spent the morning wandering through the Reijksmuseum which houses a very decent collection of 16th to 18th century dutch masters. The crowd drawer is Rembrandt´s Night Watch which is nice and big, not hidden behind glass and viewable from only a couple of feet away (in contrast with Da Vinci´s vaguely visible girlfriend in the Louvre). My art history teacher in high school always gushed about the importance of seeing great paintings in person and it really is true. I just wish I could remember all the stuff we went through in those classes.

Stormy Amsterdam.

We headed up to visit Anne Frank´s house in the afternoon. There´s not really much to say about it. It was presented very well and the various multimedia exhibits and diary quotes give a good understanding of the events of the time.

The Bulldog Coffeeshop.

Most of our Amsterdam visit has been plagued with various levels of rain. Fortunately we´re both hardy fellows so a coat and umbrella has seen us through all but the worst of it. We visited the night life Leidespleine district for a pizza and a look at the famous Paradiso and Melkweg venues in search of some live music.

Breaking the smoking laws in Amsterdam

After settling into our nice little hotel in Amsterdam we wandered out for a look through the city and a few beers. I was struck by the seedy little cottage market that serves the grass smoking tourists. The coffeeshops themselves are quiet and a nice little quirk, but the paraphenalia shops with their dope tshirts, seeds and various marijuana leaf knick-knacks are all over the place and quite in your face. I guess they serve the English kids on naughty weekends away.

Outside the Heineken Brewery behind our hotel.

We headed a little further south away and popped down into a nice little bar on the advice of a waitress out the front having a smoke. We had a nice yarn with the owner who fancied himself as quite the world citizen - spending half his year running the bar and the other half sailing around Europe. He finished up by bringing us in on a little illegal activity which poor Darren mistook to indicate he was offering us a joint. In fact we were just sneaking a cigarette in the bar which was, of course, non smoking. The whole exercise of having a wet coaster to throw over the ashtray in case the police walked past was theatrical and I think at least partially for our benefit.

Darren on the streets of Amsterdam.

We stopped past an empty ´techno bar´ on the way home for one more. The bartender advised us that some of the world´s top DJs played there, but given the size and the crowd of us plus two burly German motorbike riders, I think he might have been talking things up a little. They did have an amusing ´age coin´ that he had to give me to buy a packet of cigarettes though.

We finished the night with a grand tradition of greaszy burgers and chips (in mayonaise as the custom dictates).