My Stories

Final Thoughts On My European Adventures

Nothing like “Home Sweet Home” when you’ve been away but as I went through Duty Free in Sydney and stocked up on whiskeys before I picked my luggage up, Van Halen’s “Take Your Whiskey Home” came to mind. I guess I prefer to stumble and fall after all.

So as soon as I got inside my house, I started summarizing our Euro Adventure.

So here are my thoughts on my European Adventures.


We just touched the surface of what Berlin had to offer. It’s definitely a city I would like to return to (Barcelona is also in this bucket as we only touched the surface of what Barcelona has to offer in 2016) and explore a bit more, especially the villages outside Berlin like Spandau and it’s Old Town.

I was comfortable with the drink prices but believed that the food in restaurants was a bit expensive especially when you have a family of five eating and drinking, but it was easy to communicate as the places always had an English speaking worker.

The public transport was the best in Europe I’ve seen so far (I’ve heard Switzerland is the top one but I’ve never been there, so I can’t comment on it and when we did Barcelona two years ago, we didn’t use the public transport, so I can’t comment on that either) and the way the train stations are situated, everything is within 2 to 5 minutes walking distance. Plus you can buy those one day cards or five day cards that allows you unlimited travel.

I just hope they fix their airports up and finish off their various capital works projects as it makes the city look like a construction site. Then again Sydney has the same problem with construction sites causing mayhem.


Copenhagen was a rip off. It didn’t matter where we stopped, everything felt like it was super inflated and it left a bitter taste. The only bitter taste allowed is alcohol.

But the city is good to see even in the wind and rain. Most of the shops had English speaking staff and like all European cities it had construction sites set up around some of their old buildings. Plus their public transport system is excellent and we had no worries navigating.

I wanted to go to the Carlsberg Factory for a tour but time ran away from us.


It was windy, cold and rainy on day one and just windy and cold on day two. Then again it was towards the end of September.

We did Old Town and some of the shopping sites around it, like the train station mall/market like shops and an actual three story shopping centre that I believe was underneath a Hotel.

I felt the prices were okay for food and drink but any clothing price was extremely high which I found strange.

A local store worker told me the beaches are great when it’s summer and to come back to experience it, but I’m biased towards Australia and the beaches we have. Our beaches are fantastic, clean, well patrolled and for those who don’t know how to handle waves, currents and rips, very dangerous.

St Petersburg

It was very show offy like, here is a statue of a previous leader who crushed this country in this war and this statue was made to commemorate the victory and here is a statue of that same leader on his horse, stepping on the Danish snake after this war. And this dogma goes on and on. Here is a palace, here is a weekend Palace, here is a Palace with a Garden, here is the Post Office (which looks like a Palace) and so forth.

Everything is grand, everything has gold and every attraction has fantastic ceiling paintings/murals about some religious event/interpretation. Even the underground train stations.

Communication was difficult as the store workers didn’t have a great grasp of English and doing this city via a tour is totally worth it. There is a “Like A Local” tour via SPB that a few friends did that was highly recommended and it included drinking a lot of vodka and eating Russian style food.

Skopje, Bitola, Ohrid and Struga

The price of food and alcohol and cigarettes is dirt cheap. When it comes to food basically everything is made from scratch. There are no additives and preservatives added. The produce is grown organically with no spraying. The mountainous climate must help in some way. Check out this Vogue article that sums up the food side perfectly.

One Euro gets you 62 Denari or in my case, one Aussie dollar gets you 38 Denari so when you compare that beer is more or less between 30 to 80 Denari and a Macchiato is 30 Denari it’s pretty cheap.

Eating out for five people cost me on average 2500 Denari which comes to about $65 Australian. We had salads, entrees, mains, a lot of beers, soft drinks and sparkling water. For what we had, in Australian I would have paid close to $300 dollars. And because you had so much food you more or less ate one big meal and that was it.

And Ohrid had this ice cream place close to Lake Ohrid that was excellent. We visited that place regularly.

But the hotel prices are the same like Australia, ranging from 70 Euros a night which equates to about $120 Australian. And to hire a car, it cost me 25 Euro a day.

It’s pretty easy to drive here. Just need to watch for tractors on the road who don’t even try and give way or people walking on the road and refusing to move to the side. Otherwise all okay.

But it’s polluted. Everyone just burns shit like the crops they harvested or their rubbish.

Funny thing we arrived in Macedonia and left with the Government getting enough votes to change the constitution for it to be Northern Macedonia.

Visiting this place got me interested to check out the other countries that used to make up Yugoslavia like Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Helsinki and Stockholm we didn’t end up doing due to bad weather, which meant our Cruise ship couldn’t dock, but I made a vow to fly there direct and spend time.

So maybe I already have the embryo of my next trip in mind already. We’ll see what transpires for 2020.

My Stories

The Roma People

Roma Gypsies are all over Europe. They set up their shanty corrugated tent houses/cities along a water source and in most cases it’s right at the entry of a large city.

It’s sad in a way because it gives the city a garbage dump look.

They are not registered, so basically if no paper exists to say they where born then they do not exist.

They cannot gain proper employment, but a very small percentage do gain work however they are paid very low.

They cannot have access to medical services as they are not registered as citizens so their illnesses are treated by their own shed doctors and their children are born in those same sheds.

The Government has no idea how many they number, but what is known is that they are growing.

However the main rule of law for the Roma Gypsies is to beg for money and if that yields no money, they scavenge for throwaway materials or they end up stealing.

This is a general European problem. Every nation has them. For all the wealth the people of Europe flaunt there are millions of people who are not even recognized.

My Stories, Stupidity

More Macedonia

We stayed in Skopje for a night.

The City Centre is fantastic.

Back in the day, the previous VMRO Government borrowed heaps from the EU and started building monuments and statues on a project called Skopje 2014. The opposing SDS Government kept saying that the costs for the project are excessive and they wanted to see the accounting for it.

In the end, the Skopje 2014 project generated controversy because there was no clear transparent accounting with various estimates for the cost. In other words, people took a lot of monies for their themselves. For example, if the monument would have cost 500,000 Euros, the Government would have claimed it cost 1 million Euros. That’s half a million Euros for the pockets of Government ministers.

When the SDS Government came to power they announced a halt to the project and set up a Commission to investigate the possible removal of some of the monuments. The same deal applies here regardless of who is in power. The Commission might cost 20 million Euros and the Government will show that it cost 21 million Euros. That means another million lost which will somehow end up in the bank account of Government ministers.

Regardless of the Government corruption, Skopje for a tourist looks grand.

Macedonian Gypsy Roma people are everywhere in Skopje. The men are hassling you, trying to sell you anything from fake perfumes, watches, wallets and sunglasses. The women are there begging with little babies, while the children who are able are ready to pickpocket you. Let’s put it this way. They are well organized. But we ignored them and they went away.

And the Old Bazaar is brilliant. Cobblestone lanes weave their way through it. It’s on par to those bazaars you see on the Amalfi Coast in Italy which we got a chance to walk in 2016, or even Old Town in Estonia which we saw with this trip.

The drive from Skopje to Struga was interesting. Based on the kilometers to travel, the drive should be between 90 minutes to 120 minutes. But on the current roads it’s between 180 and 210 minutes.

We passed towns with Albanian flags flying high. I asked the driver why is that. He said it’s because the towns are predominantly Albanian Macedonians. And the pollution surrounding Tetovo, an Albanian town is toxic. The Copper Smelter Plant just spews gasses out into the air. The Government wants the Smelter Plant to put filters on. The Smelter Plant says the Government should pay for it. The Government says the Smelter Plant should pay for it. And no one is paying for it and the air quality is poor.

When you hear these kinds of stories, those green house emission targets and pollution agreements in place between large nothings mean nothing to these countries.

There is history there as well with Albanians in Macedonia wanting to merge with Albania. There is history even further back when Macedonian was part of Yugoslavia and the Serbs at the time came down with an iron fist to any Albanian resurgence. It’s just a melting pot and religion is the furnace.

We passed uncompleted roadworks that were meant to have been finished this year. But they are two to five years behind and the Chinese contractor is requesting an extra 150 million Euro to finish them.

The roads that got built when the country was in Yugoslavia are still in service today. Some are getting resurfaced by the current SDS Government and some are just that bad they have turned into rubble and are not getting resurfaced because the other new road is meant to be in service.

As our driver said, these road works are on an old contract that the previous VMRO Government started and it was well funded at the time but somehow the funds went missing. 150 million of them went missing. So when the new SDS Government came in, they put a halt to the project to investigate the missing funds and in the process broke the contract with the Chinese company which meant the Macedonian Government/People had to pay penalties to the Chinese company.

It’s obvious the country has a lot of other issues and the name dispute is just one of many.

Music, My Stories


You need to have a lot of patience to travel with kids under the age of eighteen months on a fifteen hour plane journey.

On my Sydney to Doha flight we had a lot of them.

My kids are now thirteen, twelve and six. I travelled with them on a few local flights in Australia when they where under eighteen months, and it was messy with the crying and whingeing for the local trips, so overseas was a big NO. Our first long flight was in 2010 and the kids had a ball with the in-flight entertainment.

And as much as Dads are meant to do their share, it was the Mums standing in the corner of the plane, rocking the child and trying to calm him/her.

The more older crowd didn’t like it, and just kept breathing heavy. Me, I didn’t mind it. I put the headphones on and kicked back. Well, kicking back is not really true. I felt like I was sitting on a piece of wood and after one hour my bum cheeks started aching.

And when I can’t rest my elbows on the elbow rests because of the other passenger, I’m very uncomfortable. Guess I need to save some more and move up a seating class.

Anyway I caught up on the movies I said I would watch in the last twelve months but didn’t get around to watching like “War for The Planet Of The Apes”, “The Quiet Place” and “I, Tonya”.

On the second plane trip from Doha to Berlin, I watched “American Animals” and “Hotel Artemis”.

If you haven’t seen em, I recommend em all.

Also on the plane trip to Berlin, I checked the audio section of the planes entertainment. I was surprised at a few like Europe “Walk The Earth”, Judas Priest “Firepower” and “Turbo Lover”.

Then it had some albums I expected from artists like Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Oasis and Jeff Buckley.

Anyway I called up “Sonic Highways” from the Foos first and went straight to “I Am A River”. It was the first song that connected with me from the album.

I was pissed off because the headphone jack was playing up as it switched between one ear piece and then both. I played around with it, until I got it working and then clicked repeat.

The feel of the song towards the last 4 minutes is major key feel good happiness and you feel like you can accomplish anything. The same way rivers flow and bring life and sustenance to areas, I feel like I flow into each day with hope and optimism.

I couldn’t pass on “Turbo Lover”. I just dig the way it builds with bass, synths and drums, then vocals and the guitars. Even the guitars build in the song.

Then I was walking the earth with Europe. Pretty ironic since I’m landing in Berlin and Stockholm is in my itinerary a week later.

It’s daunting to some to check out an album, so I’ll set you on the path. Check out “Walk The Earth”, “The Siege”, GTO”, “Whenever You’re Ready” and “Turn To Dust”. If those songs don’t connect, then the others won’t either.

King King with the kilt wearing Les Paul playing vocalist/guitarist was next and their album “Exile And Grace”. The song I went to straight away to was “Find Your Way Home”. It’s one of those bluesy ballads that has killer playing and emotive vocals.

And like Europe, if you want to know what tracks to check out first, “Broken”, “Find Your Way Home”, “Tear It All Up” and “Betrayed Me”.

My Stories


Its been a crazy week.

It all started with the MH17 disaster. Waking up on Friday morning, I was in shock along with the rest of the world at the loss of innocent lives. And I was concerned.

I was concerned because I was flying from Australia to Europe the next day (Saturday afternoon) at 4pm. So I asked my wife to call the travel agent and see if anything has changed for our flight.

Of course, our flight got changed to 10am. I was like WTF.

And I had questions.

Like when was the travel agent going to call and tell us that the flight changed. Of course the travel agent put the onus back on us. She said that they advise all of their customers to call and check 24 hours before they depart in case something changes. I have no problem with calling, however when I booked the flights back in January, she did not mention nothing of the sort.

Anyway, it got changed, it got changed. What else could I do except roll with the new schedule. So I asked if our connecting flight at Bangkok got changed as well.

The answer was NO. I was not happy right now. So instead of having a 2 hour stop over at Bangkok, we now had a 8 hour stop over. With three kids aged 9, 7 and 2, I did my best to book a flight that had hardly any waiting time. And now it was coming all undone.

And it had nothing to do with MH17. It was just airline politics. But if it wasn’t for the M17 disaster I would have missed my flight because I had no intention of calling the travel agent.

So on Saturday morning at 4am we got up, left home at 5am and drove to Sydney airport. We checked in at 7am, had some brekkie and then boarded a Thai Airways plane to Bangkok. 9 hours later we arrived in Bangkok.

The Bangkok eight-hour wait was a killer. And the following lyrical line from the song “City Limits” just kept on repeating in my head;


While we walked the airport to kill time, the Thai workers just kept on saying “how cute” to my little guy. And they always reached out to touch him.

Now my little guy is not a strangers person, so he always moved his head or body away to avoid their touch. And then, a few hours before our midnight flight, he avoided another strangers touch and this time in his tiredness his chin hit the ground and he split his lip. He screamed and screamed and screamed until he fell asleep on my shoulder.

And to top it off, the Austrian airplane we caught was even worse. While the Thai Airways plane had a decent amount of leg room and space, the Austrian airplane had neither. 10 hours later we arrived in Vienna.

And we had a four-hour wait before we caught our final plane to Skopje. This wait was okay and bearable. However it was not without hiccup. Austrian Air had overbooked the flight, so they asked people if anyone wanted to surrender their ticket and they would be compensated 260 Euro and given a flight six hours later.

After two flights totalling 19 hours and two waiting periods totalling 12 hours, I was not giving anything up.

So as is the norm, hundreds of people stormed the boarding gate.

As I had kids, I had priority to board first and thank god for that. We caught our plane and 1 hour and 30 minutes later we touched down in Skopje and prepared ourselves for a three-hour drive to our destination of Struga.

And holidaying is meant to be relaxing and easy.


Black – Some Songs Just Cannot Be Covered

I had a pretty crazy 36 hours that involved a three-hour drive (with toilet stops and breakfast stops) to Canberra, the Australian National Museum, some shopping, dinner and then the next morning, we took in Questacon, some more shopping and another three-hour drive home (this time I made sure that I laid down the law on the toilet breaks).

I have three boys, aged 8, 7 and 2. I love em to death, but they drive me mad. Especially on holidays. For example, today, we had breakfast at the hotel. My eldest and me were the last ones to leave and from the looks of it, he looked pretty full. So we go back to the room and we start packing. I open the fridge to grab the few items we had in there and he asks me, “Can I have a coke?”

I am thinking to myself “WTF”. Didn’t he just tell me, two minutes ago that he is so full he cannot breathe. Now he wants to drink a bottle of coke and it’s not even 10am. I turn to look at him, with an upset angry face and reply a stern, “NO”. I hate doing that, however I am seeing that the kids have no self-control when it comes to soft drink.

Quick getaway’s are stressful. I don’t even call them getaways. I call them stressaways. Sometimes going back to work is more of a holiday than the actual holiday. Especially when kids are involved, however I wouldn’t even dream of going somewhere without them. The room we stayed in at the Grand Mercure had two levels. I don’t know what the hell my wife and I were thinking when we booked the room. For the short time that we actually stayed in the room, all we did was walk the 2 year old up and down the freaking stairs. Then towards the end of the stay, he started screaming the room down to go solo on the stairs. Fun and games. Fun and games.

So in all of the craziness of today, I had a small window, a small opportunity, a small chance to read some emails and one of them was an email from YouTube, telling me that the song “Black” is up for viewing from the Smith and Myers acoustic project.

For those that don’t know, Brent Smith and Zach Myers are from Shinedown. In order to pass time between albums, the band asked fans to vote and recommend songs that they would like to see the guys cover. The final agreed list was finalised and in April 2013, Smith and Myers went in and recorded the final ten songs acoustically.

We are finally seeing the songs starting to filter through on YouTube. What a 9 month build up to the release? Bon Jovi, Phil Collins, Pearl Jam and Adele didn’t approve the YouTube releases because that meant that Smith and Myers are effectively giving the performances away. For the original artist (or whoever owns the rights at this point in time), this means no income.

So the original 10 song release is down to six for the time being. “Acoustic Sessions” will be released digitally on Jan. 28, and the list of songs are as follows;

“London Calling” by the Clash
“Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallic
“She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes
“Runaway Train” by Soul Asylum
“Blue On Black” by Kenny Wayne Shephard

The other 4 songs that will be released at another time are;
“Black” by Pearl Jam
“Wanted Dead Or Alive” by Bob Jovi
“In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
“Someone Like You” by Adele

So I was very surprised to see the email that “Black” from Pearl Jam was up. Thinking that it was a mistake and that the song would get taken down, I suddenly made sure I found some time on my holiday to check it out.

First, let me tell you a story about Pearl Jam and “Black”. I really didn’t like “Even Flow” or “Alive” when they hit the air waves back in 1991. They just didn’t connect with me at that point in time. In addition, I was really anti-grunge because all of the rock bands that I was into started to disappear. So I was staying loyal to my team. The hard rock team.

Then in 1993, I saw an live performance of the band doing “Jeremy” going into “Rockin In The Free World” with Neil Young at the MTV Awards and I was suddenly interested. Loyalty to hard/glam rock was still strong, however in the end I am a fan of music and if there is great music to hear from other genre’s I will dig deep and hear it. So I asked a previous hard rock friend of mine who switched to the grunge side to copy the album onto a cassette for me.

Oh, the shame of admitting defeat. My mate made sure that he dug in the hooks, while twisting the knife. On my way home, I pressed play on the Sony Walkman and there it was, hidden away at track 5. “Black” had entered my life. “Her legs spread out before me”. What a hard rock lyric, however it doesn’t sound cliche or derivative of the hard rock genre. It is original and fresh.

By the time “Black” finished, I wanted to hear the whole song again, just to hear that unbelievable outro this time around. And when it finished for the second time, I rewinded the tape again and heard it again. I did that non stop for about two weeks, until the tape got tangled up (or chewed up – the people that had tapes would totally understand what I mean by this) and then I was off to the record shop to purchase the CD. I paid $27, just to hear the song “Black” over and over again, almost 2 years after it was released.

“Black” was the car that put me on the road to Seattle.

So now I am listening to the Brent Smith and Zach Myers cover of that song. It takes a lot of guts taking on a song that was a hit, however it was never released as an official single. The fans made this song go viral back in the early nineties, by spamming radio stations to play it and since the Billboard charts have some funny connection with radio plays, the song hit number 3 on the Billboard Rock Charts, beating out songs that had actual single sales on the board.

So Smith and Myers have shown a lot of guts taking on a song that has over 50 million YouTube views from all the various channels that host it. One channel from Nothingman54 has the song at 33,717,347 views.

Aaron Lewis from Staind has also taken the song on. He slowed it down a little bit and his version would have been a definite keeper if the ad lib Eddie Vedder outro was nailed. Again it was a good version, but the pure raw emotion that the original version invokes is not achieved.

For Brent Smith to cover the song and to do it justice he needed to have lived the song before covering it. I always say that some songs cannot be covered. And I have always said that Pearl Jam’s “Black” is such a song.

While the Smith and Myers version is good, it leaves me feeling a bit empty. Maybe I expected a lot more. Maybe they should have included a piano into their acoustic version, as the piano is an integral part of the song. Maybe Brent should have strummed some chords while Myers took the song on in the outro with the piano that wasn’t there.

I really really like Shinedown, so to be critical of Brent Smith (who to me is Shinedown) is painful. I actually went back to hear the original Pearl Jam version after this. Spotify has the “Ten Redux” album up and I was transported back to the same day in 1993, pressing repeat over and over again to hear the song. Then I went to the 2004 remixed version that appeared on “rearview mirror” and set it to repeat.

So even though the Smith and Myers version didn’t connect with me, they did make me go back and listen to the original version, over and over and over again. And that is the power of music. Du Du Duu D Du Du Duu