Reflections on Hawaii…

Under an hour of the flight remains, thank the Lord! It began relatively bumpy, but has smoothed considerably since. I’m not the best flyer, but I’ve certainly improved from my earlier fears. Any slight hint of turbulence and I would begin praying, rosary after rosary until I thought it safe. I still get nervous as the plane shakes lightly but not as much as before. The flight was delayed four hours, which is quite unfortunate because it means that we won’t be arriving in Los Angeles until half past two in the morning. It’s going to completely throw out our sleeping pattern.

We arrived in Waikiki on the 11th of December, and immediately made our way to the hotel to check in. We were told that our room was not yet ready and to return in a couple of hours. We asked what was a good place to eat. Duke’s was the response from the concierge. He provided me with instructions ‘left turn here, right turn there’, which I pretended to take in, knowing I would never remember, and would not need to remember, not with both Google Maps and Maps on my phone. Paula, Christie and Mary-Joe had not tasted any food since Sydney and were positively famished, especially Paula. My sisters are even worse flyers than me. I’ll at least eat the food on the flight. They won’t even consider it. Paula and Christie are the worst, always on the verge of gagging. Thankfully they retained vomit on this flight. Duke’s, according to google maps, was only a few minutes walk on the main road in Waikiki, right on the beach. We walked around slowly, taking in our new surroundings. Waikiki city is nothing particularly special. In fact it’s rather old in places and not in a charming sense. There was construction across the road from our hotel, which only added to the perception of disrepair. On Waikiki road, we crossed past a vast length of shops and restaurants. There was an Apple Store and Macy’s, H&M and Forever 21. We even came across the world famous Cheesecake Factory. Everybody I knew that had gone to Hawaii strongly recommended I go. Their food is great, they would tell me, their serving’s are enormous. I convinced my parents we should go there instead, but the line was deemed too long and my sisters simply could no longer wait. So we continued a little further down to Duke’s, hidden somewhere inside a hotel. My concern that this was an obscure place that we were recommended because of an arrangement between the establishment and the hotel proved unfounded. A 10-15 minute wait, proclaimed the girl at the counter. Her American accent something I was still not accustomed to. We decided we’d wait, because we wanted good food and could not be bothered to look for another. We sat on wooden chairs, with leather bottoms, waiting. The restaurant lies right in front of the beach, attached to a swimming area for hotel guests, from which the restaurant opens out into. The sun beams into the restaurant, shadowing only some sections of the restaurant. I ordered a Caesar Salad, being not too hungry having actually eaten on the plane. My sisters ordered burgers which they absolutely loved and would convince us to return to Duke’s for a second time. The second time I ordered a burger and I saw what it was my sister’s loved. I will give Hawaii something, the beef is amazing.

We stayed at Aqua Waikiki Pearl, a hotel one street off the main. It was chosen more for its affordability than anything else. 11 nights for six people this time of year was always going to be expensive. So I picked the best option I could find. The Hotel wasn’t too bad. A 6.5-7/10. The location was great as was the price. The room was clean and there was nice running hot water, but the beds weren’t great, especially the sofa. It had the thinnest mattress imaginable. I thought the mattress I slept on in Madrid was terrible, this was worse and made just as much sound. Christie and I originally shared it, but after one night she realised this was not feasible and concocted her own bed from the couch cushions. Her bed ended up being more comfortable than mine. We also had to change rooms, because of the excessive noise being made by drunkyards at a bar attached the hotel. We weren’t getting any sleep. The second room was a vast improvement.

The flight is about to land, and I need to preserve my battery.

Rome and Berlin

Sitting at Rome airport. Half an hour before boarding and still no gate assignment. The perks of travelling through Europe. My so called Etihad flight to Sydney begins with Air Berlin and a thirteen hour lay over in Berlin. The perks of changing flights last minute. All in all, I’m not uncomfortable. My hotel in Berlin is booked. I’ll be all rested before my flight the next morning.

It’s all a little surreal. Six and a half weeks in Europe have flown by with alarming alacrity. Could it be more than a month since I touched down in London and was awed by the majesty of the city? Time really does speed up as you get older. The swiftness of the trip only reinforces to me the correctness of my decision to travel.

Rome and London were the greatest. The ‘bookends’ as I’m sure I’ll call them when I get asked hundreds of times, where did I love the most. London I’ve already gone into.

Rome is what I expected really. Very old. Very touristy. Extremely hot. I was awed by the colosseum. Inspired to learn more about Ancient Rome. I’ll be sure to order the Masters of Rome series when I get home.

The food was great. Word of advice, If Trip Advisor says it’s good, it usually is. The metro wasn’t extensive but it gets you to where you need to go. Overall though, get used to walking in Rome. On average between 15-20 kilometres per day. From the Roman Forum to the Vatican museums you will walk.

Speaking of the Vatican. Now that was an experience. Walking from one country, Italy, to another Vatican City. The guide explained that the Vatican City was created in 1929 in a treaty signed between the Pope and Mussolini. ‘Mussolini, what’s that?’ Asked Thien. I buried my head into my hands.

We booked a tour to avoid the lines and gain that insider information. It was worthwhile. The lines to get in were long and arduous. The museums themselves, require days on end for the really critical eye. We got through in three hours. Not enough time, yet enough in the moment. There were tourists everywhere. Most rooms weren’t air conditioned and if they were, the sheer number of people rendered them ineffective.

We saw incredible art. Artists I’ve never heard of and whose names I don’t remember. Then there’s Michelangelo. He dominates so much of the Vatican. Most notably the Sistine Chapel. First we were told that she (the guide) would have to explain the art and history of the chapel outside because inside she wasn’t allowed to speak. She explained how the Sistine Chapel roof is a row of paintings depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The most famous is Adam being given life by God. Michelangelo gives God a perfect physique because he believed that it was sin that aged man. The Chapel itself was very noisy, much to my disappointment. I had expected, probably naively, a solemn experience and found myself unable to move or concentrate. Despite the repeated efforts of the guards, there was no quiet, just continual noise.

When travelling through Europe, one sees his fair share of churches. The main, most well known, will always amaze you. Toledo, Seville, Notre Dame, St Mark’s Venice (with its incredible mosaic ceiling) , St Paul’s London. After six weeks, it does become repetitive. That is until you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. I don’t possess the knowledge to describe the architectural genius that is this place. It is grand beyond all measure. 120 years it took to complete, encompassing three different artistic periods. Here St. Peter, the rock, lay and upon this rock the most grand Church was built. I did wonder at points just what Jesus would have made of all this grandeur. Matthew 21:12 came to mind.

While Rome was very much what I expected, Berlin was very much not. It is sprawling and large. One does not feel that they are in a city, rather a large town. The city streets are not crawling with people like London, Paris, Rome, rather they are sprinkled everywhere. It was sometimes hard to imagine you were in one of the largest cities in Europe. This was not necessarily unwelcome, it was just unexpected.

The past dominates this city in a way very different from any other European city. It is still so recent, still raw and very much follows you around. A paved double line crosses the city, reminding citizens and visitors alike exactly where the Berlin Wall stood not 25 years ago. We met former citizens of East Germany and pestered them for information about what life was like. I had expected them to suggest it wasn’t as bad as we had been told to believe. They didn’t. It was very much the decadent, corrupt state, all the Soviet states were.

Memorials to the victims of Nazism slowly emerge across the city. Right next to the Brandenburg gate is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. As you walk past, you see a clutter of grey boxes, separated, all the same shape, yet of different height, in an area about 50 metres squared. There are children running across these boxes, so my initial impression was that it was a play area. It wasn’t. It was the memorial. There is no clear sign, or symbol denoting the memorial. What it means, no body really knows. The designer of this memorial has never explained it. Each persons leaves with their own interpretation. It is powerful in its own understated kind of way.

Berlin however is a city in progress. Most of the city was destroyed in the Second World War.
It was then re-built in two very different images.
One an American-Western image, the other a Russian-Soviet image. It hasn’t got a distinctly German, Berliner identiy that other places in Germany do. Parts of the city feel quite depressing, a very Soviet ugliness to them. Cities take time to be built, and Berlin had cranes galore working on it.

Been assigned a gate now. Time to get onto my flight!


Arrival in Barcelona, waiting for the others so we can head out to La Sagrada Familia. So now seems a good time to look back on Seville.

Seville was one of those places on the trip that had I travelled alone I would not have gone to. Which is why travelling with others is a good thing, because I would have deprived my self of a beautiful place.

Seville or Sevilla (silent l) in Spanish, is a very touristy place in the south of Spain. An old Capital, it’s age is shown in its narrow and cobbled streets. The taxi that took us to our apartment from the train station was deafening as the wheels bumped against the cobbles. Not fun.

It is simple to walk around, seemingly lost, only to find a corner you remember and find your way home. If all else fails of course, there is Google maps.

We were in Seville for only two nights. If only more. We arrived early and went to the Seville Cathedral. The third largest in the world. I walked in and immediately thought I was in Toledo. The design was so similar. It was truly grand, yet far more touristy than Toledo, which perhaps explains why I didn’t enjoy it as much. The main attraction the place offers is its bell tower. Built as a ramp, so that horses could go up it, it was far preferable to St Paul’s dome, which forced you to take stairs. 40 levels we went up and got a good look at the city. Truly beautiful.

After that, it was to the Alcazar of Seville. A royal palace built by the Arabs when they ruled Spain. The place came highly recommended, not to mention scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed there! Now this was truly exquisite. The walls were all inscribed in what appeared like Arab writing. Painted in simple blues, greens and reds. It wasn’t gothic, or classical, it was very different. Very Arab. I loved it, Michael thought it was the best place he’d been to. We spent a good three, four hours there and couldn’t get enough of it. I wasn’t as moved by it as Toledo, but it was certainly a highlight.

Returned to the apartment for our new favourite thing, siesta. Shopped for a bit as well. Then we decided enough is enough. We are going to be young, wild and free. We went to the main party district and ended up at a club called Libanos, with argili! It’s almost as if God wanted us to go there. The Spanish are crazy! We got there at 1am, on a Wednesday night. I thought maybe we’d left it too late. We hadn’t. The club only began to peak around 3am. It packed out. The drinks and drunks flowed. The argili filled the hot night time air. The music was Spanish and English. I was Shazaming the whole night.

Thien, Sarah and Dom, all ended up filling plastic bags around 5am. It was fun to be young again. After I finished taking care of them, it was bed time by 6.30 am as the sun was coming up. It’s fun to be young. I never want to do that again.

The next day was slow. Nothing really happened. The others didn’t wake till 12-1. We got time to go to the Plaza Des Espana. Beautiful! Then a unique experience in a convent. You go to it and ring a bell, from behind the wall a nun asks you what you want. They make sweets. So you tell them, put the money on this round platform that turns around, she turns it around from inside, accepts the money, places the sweets you ordered and spins it back around.

Caught a Flamenco show. Traditional Spanish dancing and singing. The guy who sang absolutely grated on my ears. The dancers though we’re amazing. They stomped their feet, and shook their hips, and worked up an enormous sweat. It was a true cultural experience.

Anyway the others are now about ready. First impressions of Barcelona. Too touristy and dirty. At this stage would have liked to stay in Seville and gone to Cordoba and Alhambra. Let’s see if that opinion changes.

Off to La Sagrada.


‘They love carbs with carbs’ Michael Soud perfectly summarising his view of the Spanish people. All foods, no matter how fattening they may be, come with a side of bread or crisps.

In many ways Madrid is beautiful. The city streets are wide surrounded by many different coloured buildings, that rise up about 5-6 levels. It is classical and elegant and although the buildings look different, they are designed quite similarity: small balconies with iron bars. It is quintessentially European.

There is ancient architecture to take your breath away. Especially the Royal Palace. Room after room decorated in the most beautiful colours, with the most expensive artefacts. Just when you think you’ve seen the best room, the next takes your breath away. The highlight, perhaps unexpectedly, was the dining room. It was enormous, with giant chandeliers, dominating the room.

There was some museum sight seeing. We won’t review that. Art isn’t really my thing. Some classic pieces were nice and if my feet weren’t hurting me so much, I may have appreciated it more, but my feet. There was a lot of pain. A lot of it.

The food in Madrid was nothing special. In some ways, I had expected the food in Spain to a highlight, and perhaps with that expectation, the reality has been a disappointment. Maybe it was the restaurants we went to, they weren’t the right ones, we didn’t look hard enough. Although I believe it’s simply that the quality of food in Sydney is just so high, we’ve become accustomed to fine cuisine. I’ll be sure to keep an update on that, once I’ve done France and Italy.

The apartment we stayed in was very small. Thien and I shared a sofa bed. Every movement, no matter how slight, no matter how insignificant, would making a creaking sound and the entire world was waken.

The night life on a Saturday night was boisterous. Clubs not really peaking until 3am. I’m no clubber, so that was probably lost on me. I went home and slept at 2am, still unaccustomed to the time zone change. Other nights of the week, unsurprising, did not peak anywhere near as much.

The best thing we’ve learnt about Spain, is siesta. One of life’s greatest things. Literally, the country stops for a couple of hours. Shops close, offices close, job sites close and everybody goes home and sleeps for a couple of hours. A wonderful thing. Although with that attitude, no matter Spain’s unemployment rate is stuck at 25%.

The highlight of Madrid, wasn’t even in the city itself, but about 30 minutes by train outside the city. A place called Toledo. A village/town, that houses one of the biggest Cathedrals in the world. The Saint Mary of Toledo. It was a truly breathtaking place. My favourite place of the trip so far. It was so grand and inspiring. Tall gothic poles all round. The main altar made from gold. Small chapels, dedicated to different saints, Cardinals and Monarchs. The choir, it just has to be seen to believed. There was so much to contemplate. So much to consider. Many prayers were made.
Next stop Seville.

Day 4 – 27/06/2014 – London to Madrid

On the flight to Madrid. I have the aisle seat, Sarah’s asleep in the middle and a red haired Spanish man is on the window. Sarah was asking him to teach her Spanish words to ease our communication in the country. She wrote then down in my notes. It’s not the Oxford Dictionary, but it will help.

In many ways I was sad to leave London. There was much about it I loved. The grand streets, the friendly people, the history. In other ways I was ready to leave. It had been four days and the accommodation we stayed in was terrible. The room was tolerable, it was more so the location. Also my feet were aching from all the walking we’d done. I need to purchase new footwear, if my feet are to survive the rest of the trip. The weather has also been a difficulty. I came to Europe in the hope of enjoying hot stuffy nights. All I got was cold winds and heavy breezes. Last night especially was awful. We had dinner at canary Wharf and on the way back to the hotel, almost froze to death.

I will return to London, and do it differently and better the second time around.

Today Sarah and I got up early and went to the Borough Markets. A slightly hidden market place near London Bridge. There are many stands of food from different parts of the world. Cheese and cakes and meats. We ended having an English Breakfast in a stand that also provided seating. It was the usual kind, bacon, eggs, sausage, and something I’d never heard of prior, bubble. Sarah and I were confused so an old, respectable looking English couple chose to explain that it was basically a mash of left overs. I was sceptical but the lady said it was very nice, so we tried it and she was right.

After the Borough Markets, Sarah went to the Tate Modern Museum and I went in search of a book store. I entered into Foyles, apparently the Dymocks of British booksellers. Dymocks has nothing on it. It was five stories and I found an entire section of books on English and British history. I sat there for about two hours going through book after book. Obviously not buying, but sampling and then taking photos, to remind my self to buy them when I get home. Books on Thomas Becket, Henry II, Edward II, the Anglo-Saxons and the formation of the English Kingdom. If only they had places like this in Australia.

Surrounding Foyles, which is next to Trafalgar Square, were many antique book stores. There wasn’t much that interested me there, except a first edition Wolf Hall. I got excited when I saw the price, £300, thinking it was a signed copy. It wasn’t. I was disappointed, and bemused at the price. Wolf Hall is a brilliant book, but surely a first edition is not worth that much!

I eventually got my foot massage. It was greatly relaxing and my feet do feel a little better. Not too much though.

London I will be back. Madrid here I come!

Day 3 – 26/06/2015 – London

Currently at Oxford Circus waiting for Sarah to try on white jeans she’s been searching for all day. My feet are absolutely killing me, and all I desire in the world is to get a foot massage. Sarah also wants a massage but it is rather expensive so we’re hesitant. Hopefully we’ll find a cheaper place.

The jet lag hasn’t been too bad. I’ve managed to make it to 1-2 am, the moment after my body has simply stopped. Last night I fell asleep in an Uber.

London has been amazing. Sarah feels underwhelmed. I don’t. The city is truly magnificent. It is filled with tradition and history, progress and modernism. The streets are decorated with buildings designed in the classical and Neo-classical (according to the bus tour guide anyway).

The highlight really has been The Tower of London. It is perhaps the most interesting place in London. It is a mixture of different buildings, from different periods in English and British history. We went and saw the Crown Jewels. What an excess they are! A 3016 carat diamond from South Africa was presented to King George V at his coronation in 1904. I was consternated that it may be an error of typing. It wasn’t.

I was disappointed by the memorial to Anne Boleyn, the executed second wife of Henry VIII. I had expected a lavish memorial to her and the many others executed at the Tower. It was anything but. Just a round glass circle, with a few names on it, including Anne’s. Disappointing to say the least.

Nonetheless the Tower was brilliant. Filled with quaint reminders of the previous power of the monarchy and why it continues to remain endearing to this day.

Actors posing as members of the aristocracy provided good entertainment. They would walk around having private conversations with another, and you would just eavesdrop on what they were talking about. Then they would randomly break out into shouting matches, or Anne Boleyn would randomly emerge and we all would have to bow to the future queen of England.

For a lover of English history, this was all much too exciting.

A couple of hours later we were in Westminster. My excitement now overwhelming my usually placid exterior. We arrived into the Houses of Parliament and gained entry into the public galleries of the House of Commons.

I admit to moments of asphyxiation, as the excitement of the moment got the better to me. Here I was in Parliament. I sounded like a revolutionary as I explained to the underwhelmed Sarah the importance of this place. ‘Freedom, Democracy, Universal suffrage!’ It was all exciting.

In the commons there was a debate about national security. Only a few MPs were in the house. We entered when one MP, a large, tall man, was giving his maiden speech to the house having been elected at the recent 2015 election.

In the Gift Shop, this was the moment to finally purchase a copy of Manga Carta! I had requested it from some friends who had travelled to London before me, but they had not found it. I suppose there aren’t many of people who would go into the Houses of Parliament of Britain, well not people I know anyway. Nonetheless I found it. I shall have it framed upon my return to Australia. I also bought a gold pocket watch ‘exclusive’ to the Houses of Parliament, with House of Commons printed onto it.

It cost a little, yet I didn’t care. What more do I want?

Sarah’s done now with her shopping! Back to London!

Day 1 – London – 24/06/2015

Finally arrived in London. After more than 36 hours of travel, the Etihad flight landed ever so softly at Heathrow and my European adventure has begun.

Been in London a few hours now, most of it has been travel. The so-called express train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, wasn’t too express, owing to delays on the train tracks this morning. It was alright, nice just to soak in that dailiness of London life. Not too different really from Sydney, even the train announcers voice, the one who gives a run down of the stations the train is stopping at, sounded identical to the one in Sydney.

Arriving at Paddington station and walking up the stairs from the platform to main foyer, I immediately felt like a rural child in the big city for the first time. There were people crawling everywhere, making obscene amounts of noise as they travelled through. People in suits, others in thongs. People with travel bags, others with suitcases. Trains being announced at every moment. Support staff being swamped by people (including yours truly) unsure where to go or how to pay. The ceiling so high up, you feel invigorated and free as you walk through this enormous station. I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. This was the moment it hit me. I’M IN LONDON!

The train from Paddington to White Chapel, took approximately 15 minutes. There being several stops, all within short distance of each other, on the way. I got off the station and walked out onto Whitechapel road. The site was rather surprising. Rather than being in downtown London, it felt more like downtown Tripoli. Up and down the road, there were stands of food and clothing, of an Arab and Muslim variety. They were manned by what had to be Turkish or Central Asian Muslim people, because they were certainly not Arab. I would have understood what they were saying if that was the case.

Still waiting on Sarah to arrive. She’s caught in the busy London traffic, of which there is much to behold! A lot of the traffic I’ve observed so far has been as a result of construction and infrastructure improvement. There is so much work being done in London right now, it’s crazy.

Went for a walk and ended up at the Gherkin Building. You know, that famous oval shaped building in London. It is quite a site! And there hundreds of people stand around drinking beers in restaurants, in their expensive suits with expensive cars stuck in traffic behind them. Just fantastic!

Sarah’s here now. Off to explore some more!