Friday, July 27, 2007

Exit... Stage serbia

3 dimensional stages
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
When we heard the Beastie Boys were touring Europe this year, Dan, a buddy from work, and I had to go see them. Where was a question. It was narrowed down to Denmark or Serbia. Dan was sold on Serbia after his research so we decided on the Exit Festival. Started 7 years ago as a student protest against Slobodan Milosevic. The first few years each had a real themes and messages. MTV took it over a few years ago and now there is no longer a specific message. But in any case, a fortress on the Danube doesn’t sound like a bad place to watch a show. I had no idea, how great of a venue it would be.

The flight from London got us to Belgrade just before midnight. We caught a cab to the Hotel Royal. A bit run down but it had a 24 hour restaurant, bar, and shop. We stopped at the bar for a beer. 100 dinars, about 1.75 each. It also had a hot line in the bathroom. There was a bright red phone in the bathroom. Just in case I needed to call in a nuclear strike from the toilet.

Next morning we headed over to the train station. There were plenty of other Exit Fest types. Enough that when the train pulled into the station people started jumping on before it even stopped. They needn’t have bothered, there was plenty of room. It was the first time I had to jump on a moving train though.

When we finally got to Novi Sad, we encountered a huge unorganized queue to get into the campgrounds. It was all Brits too, I thought they were supposed to be good at queuing. It is one of their national prides but I guess when in Serbia all that goes to hell. Other than having to muscle your way through crowd to get close enough to be in the 10 people they let in at a time. All told the line took about an hour to get through the camping line. Unlike other festivals I have been to, well, THE other festival I have been to, there was no organization in the camping area. Just a large field and tents 15 and 20 deep.

We eventually found a spot a little off the beaten path and set up. I recently bought a new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, etc. I ended up getting some all in one kit. It is pretty decent, on the lower end of the quality gear.

Once we were set up, we headed to the beach. They had a DJ set up and all the brits were out sunning. One annoying thing was that they had some funny money setup for the drinks. You had to buy tokens to get beer, different ones for water, others for wine, energy drinks, sodas, etc. Ugh, annoying especially since later in the camp they weren’t accepting the tokens (despite all the signs that said you couldn’t use cash). In the festival, they only ever took tokens. After having a beer on the beach though, it was really starting to feel like vacation.

We decided to head over to the festival to get our tickets squared away. The fortress was straight across the Danube, not far as the crow flies. As I walk, however, it is a bit far to be going over to the bridge and back. We started hatching a plan to find a room closer to the festival.

After sitting through another queue, we went into the festival grounds. Nothing was going on yet so we just wandered around and got the lay of the land. The main stage area was a bit small but other than that, the grounds were great. 13 large stages with 29 discreet areas. The 3D effect was great. There were places you could be at one stage and see one or two others in the background. For the sound all they did was turn it up really loud. If you were at any of the stages, the sound was all encompassing.

After a tour of the grounds, we went back into town to look for a room. I asked a cop that was standing on the side if the sign behind him said room for rent. He was super nice and ended up going out of his way to ask around for a room for us. He made some calls and comes back and tells us somebody will be there in 20 minutes. Well, since we are at the bar, we might as well celebrate. Tequila shots are only 80 cents you say? Well serve em up. While we drank we met some of the locals, All told the locals were extremely nice.

Eventually our cop friend had to leave but he came up to us and told us that the guy would be there in 10 minutes. His English wasn’t great but he conveyed that the guy ‘looks like Jesus, long brown hair, blue eyes’. Had an awkward moment when I tried to go to the bathroom. Somebody pointed me towards an archway and told me to go downstairs. I went down and found a small underground bar. I was waiting in line for the bathroom when an older Serbian woman comes up and starts berating me for bringing my beer in there. “We don’t serve beer in plastic glasses”. Now, I see her point but I had to go to the bathroom and I was close to the front of the line so I couldn’t leave either. Her English wasn’t great so I had a time trying to talk her down, offering to buy a drink (but after I went to the bathroom) etc. She seemed to calm down and all was ok. Randomly, a girl came up later and mentioned she had seen the whole thing and complemented me on how I handled it. All of this did mean that I had to buy another shot of tequila after I went to the bathroom. This day is getting messy.

Eventually Jesus showed up, I was waiting to pay for a round of drinks so Dan went off to deal with it. We ended up paying 12000 dinar (about 25/per person/per night) to be about 100 feet from the entrance to the festival. The room was private but the bathroom was down the hall. The Ritz, it ain’t. There was a constant leak in the bathroom so it was always covered in water. The beds were basically just little foam futon things. All that said, it was a private room and bathroom 100 feet from the festival. Score.

Since we were running out of time, we decided not to go back to the camp. We headed back to the festival. They gave us crap about coming in saying we had already been there that day (earlier when we took a look around) but we argued it through. That would have sucked. But it didn’t so we headed over to see Robert Plant. His show was sweet. The lack of dinner is starting to get to me. After his show, we went wandering around the show. Of course we completely forgot that we wanted to see Prodigy and Groove Armada. Ahh well, we bounced around and eventually made it back to our room.

I was feeling the love in the morning. Gotta stay away from that tequila. We eventually made it out for some breakfast and then over to the camp to get our stuff. After we moved, it was time for food again. We asked one of the vendors just outside our door where to get a real meal. He mentioned a few places in town but nothing close. We resigned ourselves to heading back over the bridge but decided to check the place on the water on the off chance that they had food. Turns out to be a great meal, no idea why the guy didn’t mention it.

After dinner it was nap time. We were just getting ready to head out to the show that evening when there was a knock on the door. The owner of the room, an attractive Serbian girl, came in and gave us a 15 minute history of Serbia. She set up to meet the next day for a more in depth tour. Odd, at this point I am still worrying about ulterior motives. Ahh well, problem for tomorrow, back to the show.

We were much more ready for the show tonight. We started with a cool Serbian ska band on the Fusion stage. The next band on that stage was also good, Defence, a Bosnian reggae band. Not looking at him, you would think he sounds like an old rasta with dreads. Looking at him you see a balding white accountant guy. Odd, but the sound was good.

More wandering, we he headed over and caught CSS, a brazilian band that we saw in the 02 festival in LDN. They are good with a fun presence. Next was the Beasties. This is why we came. We had worked our way up pretty close by the time they started. This was a bit of a problem b/c there were a bunch of big as Serbians basically moshing. I am getting to old for this shit. We moved back a bit and had a much better show.

We wrapped it up around 3am, feeling much better for having played teetotaler. I added another mattress that was leaning against the wall to my bed and made it much more comfortable. Feeling nice and human again.

Mmm French Riviera... (pt 2)

Exotic Garden in Eze
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
We woke tooo early the next day and set out to explore Menton. Looking for breakfast we wandered down to the café from the day before, La Cigalle. They had fantastic almond croissant, everything was pretty good at this place.

After breakfast we walked down to the beach and I tried to get a little sun in an attempt to cure some honkeytude. The beach didn’t seem nearly as rough. Eventually we found some random sculpture garden in an open park. After wandering through the sculptures, we headed to find a post office and then to the tourist info bureau. With no particular next destination, we decided to head to the exotica gardens which were next to the palace of PAIN, who wouldn’t want to go to a place called the palace of pain? OK, I guess I am thinking in the wrong language.

Our path to the palace of pain took us through a pedestrian shopping area. One nice thing about it was that there were no international chain stores that I recognized. Many of the shopping areas in these cities (Vienna, most recently) all look the same. Same stores, same chains that you would see on 5th ave or Broadway.

Given the Jones luck, when we got to the gardens, it was closed for lunch. Doh! Ahh well, nothing to do, we walked back through town taking the high route which afforded some great views. We made our way back to the pedestrian area for some lunch before packing up and leaving Menton.

Next up was Eze, but before we get there, a quick product placement. My latest cannot live without app is gmaps with a GPS tie in. mmmm great toys. Built into my phone (BB8800) the new gmaps takes advantage of the phones GPS (which the last version didn’t). This let me say, take me to eze, and actually get there. I really like that I can pull up a satellite image of exactly where I am at any point. Just need to get it to real time now. B)

Anyway, Eze. Eze is a fortress castle on the top of a hill. It was actually very cool. You can just imagine living there, hundreds of years ago in a completely different world. At the very top of the fortress was an exotic garden with some more great statues. Another captivating view of the rocky countryside and the Mediterranean sea. Apparently there is a walk from the fortress down to the see called Nietze’s walk (as he used to walk it often). We started down the path a bit just to see what it was before heading out. Inside the fortress is a very expensive hotel. I don’t really play cars anymore but even I couldn’t help noticing the valet area with the Porche next to the Ferrari next to the Lamborghini behind the Bently.

As it got late, we packed back into the car and headed to Villefranche. After checking into our home for the next few days we wandered through the old town and eventually found a restaurant on the beach. As in, the tables were in the sand. Sweet. As the sun went down the bay lit up with the reflection from town. Double sweet.

Next morning we headed to Nice to drop of the car at the airport and then wandered through Nice for a couple of hours. I got some more sun and Anne took pictures ‘for Bobby’ to prove we had actually been to a topless beach in the Riviera.

After lunch in Nice, we headed to Monte Carlo for the afternoon. Heh, I like the sound of that. Anyway, Monte Carlo was nice. We tried to hit the casino but they wanted some 10 euro. Basically to keep wanderers like us out, I would guess. The casino itself was extremely gaudy. I generally like buildings with lots of decorations and statues and what not but this thing was ridiculous.

After wandering through Monte Carlo for a while we came across some horse show or something down by the piers. (I did notice all the boats are registered in the Grand Caymans. There is a whole other world of that kind of money out there.)

We caught a bus back to Villefranche and I ran out of steam. I passed out cold for the trip. I made it out for dinner but then I was done, I headed back to the hotel while Pop and Anne explored some more.

We got up the next day for our last day in the Riviera, so sad. We assembled a picnic from the local markets and had a picnic on the hotel terrace. (With olives falling off the trees all around us.)

The big attraction in Villefranche is the citadel. This structure holds true to its name. An imposing structure with tall walls and a heavy gate, I would hate to have to storm the citadel. Inside were a couple of interesting artist showrooms. Reminiscent of the Eze castle, with the small cubby-like little rooms.

Eventually, it was time to go. I judged the time a bit wrong and ended up getting to the airport but it was a good thing I did. I knew I might be in trouble when the entire top screen of departures were either cancelled or delayed. Not a good sign. There were 3 flights going back to London that night from my terminal. My flight, the stansted flight, was the first one but the Luton flight got a gate first, then the Gatwick flight got a gate. Still no gate for Stansted. I went and asked just in time. Apparently there is an easyjet policy to only allow 2 transfers per flight. When I got to the Luton gate and asked they told me that my flight was already 2 hours delayed. I and one other guy managed to get on the Luton flight (The other guy that made it on the flight mentioned that he lived in London and had a weekend house in Nice, nice.) The annoying thing about the EasyJet policy was that there were empty seats on the plane to Luton. My original flight was eventually cancelled and many people were still stranded there the next day when Pop and Anne came through. I guess they have some excuse as that was the day somebody drove a flaming jeep into the Glasgow airport. IN any case, I finally made it back to the wrong airport way after the last train.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mmm French Riviera... (pt 1)

Ventimiglia Moon
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
I had to cut work a bit early on Wednesday to head out to the French Riviera to meet my parents. Hustled through the airport and caught the flight. It was actually a very easy flight. I passed out just after sitting down. I woke just in time to see a great view of the Nice coast line and us banking to catch the runway. The runway is on a peninsula jutting out into the water. These seemed a bit odd as we were coming in but I realized the pilot has to be just as precise on land.

By the time I got in, there was no cheap way to get to nice so I caught a cab to the hotel. The cabby was very nice which turned out to be a recurring theme in this part of france. Much different than Austria, the people down here are very friendly. He mentioned that he hoped I didn’t come to Nice to meet any French people, but I would meet plenty of Brits. I was staying at the Hotel de la Mer. The location was fantastic. On the edge of old town a block or two from the sea. There was a great fountain and park just in front. The rooms were, well the rooms were French. Many of the hotels I have stayed in in France and especially Paris are pretty run down. It was clean enough but small and run down. The closet was missing the doors and I hardly fit in the toilet area. Clean but not nice.

I wandered around the old town a bit that night. Very romantic area. The beach wasn’t sandy but was made up of nearly fist sized stones. The waves would crash in and make a great sound when they pulled back. I tried to record it but it came out more or less sounding like static. Not much of a swimming beach. I watched one girl struggle to get out. The incline at the edge of the beach was quite steep and every time she would get near it, the undertow would throw her around. Her friends just stood there and laughed at her before eventually helping her out of the water. She had a lot of clothes on and I think alcohol may have been involved.

Woke in the morning and wandered to the flower market to look for breakfast. I didn’t really feel like sitting so I bought some cheese/meat/bread thing I found. Before I could make it out of the market though, I saw some really good looking sandwiches. I decided I could have the bread thing later and got the sandwich as well. It ended up being tuna, egg, lettuce, tomato and some good bread. Yum, I ate breakfast sitting on the edge of the beach.

I realized I was in the Riviera, this may be a topless beach. I didn’t notice anybody topless at first. As I wandered down the beach the first topless woman I saw was 60 and weighed at least 200 lbs. That seemed to be a reoccurring theme for about half my walk, only old topless ladies. I was wondering if it had gone out of fashion. As I wandered more I began to see fitter women topless, which is always nice. I did see some uncomfortably young girls topless as well. This was a bit disconcerting until I realized that the only reason I am noticing any of this is my prude American attitudes. Can’t overcome those entirely but it minimizes them to realize the root of these thoughts.

After the beach I headed back to the hotel to meet Pop and Anne. I was a bit early but I sad near the fountain and read my book. There was no padding or anywhere comfortable to sit so I found a perch in a low windowsill and read for a while. 12 came and past and I had to get up and stretch a couple times. Just as I was realizing I couldn’t sit there any longer, they showed up and all was well but it was a case of wishing for modern communications.

We headed out of Nice towards Menton. Drove through Monaco on the way (but didn’t get a stamp). Menton is supposed to be the locals version of Nice. Not as ritzy but simpler and more for families. We found our hotel, checked in and headed out on the town. First stop was towards La Cigale to try the tart du citron, a specialty in the area. On the way, we passed a patisserie that was selling them as well so we got one to have something to compare. It was quite good but when we found la Cigale and tried theirs, there was no comparison. Yum.

After the tart, we caught a quick train over the Italian border to Ventimiglia. It was a short trip, less than 15 minutes but it had a very different feel from France. No border crossing here either. We wandered down to the water had a snack, had a wander and had dinner. We headed back to the train station and saw that we had missed the 8:30 train. The next train wasn’t until 11:30. Ok, oh well, nothing to do. We wandered back to the beach. It worked out b/c we found the one restaurant that I had read about San Guiseppe. We should have eaten here. Our meal was ok but somewhat disappointing to have as our Italian meal. The San Guiseppe had great looking food. We had some dessert and café one the water and watched the moon come up.

When we headed back to the train station, we saw that our train was the last train out of town until 4am then next morning. We also noticed that our line said ‘sopresso’ and we didn’t have a track number. Hmmm what does that mean? Nobody around to ask but google tells us that this means ‘cancelled’. Sweet. Luckily we found a taxi and got to say ‘Take me to France’. Not so bad, it costs us 35 euro. No Italian stamp either. When we mentioned this at the Tourist info the next day he shrugged and said the must have been on strike. The general feel in the area is that the train is faster but completely unreliable.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Vienna: √

Originally uploaded by cornasdf
After an whirlwind few days with Pop and Anne visiting I was really tired heading to Austria. They arrived on Tuesday night and between work we managed to see A Merchant in Venice and Spamalot (both fantatstic and the Merchant was at the Globe theater no less). We wandered London, went to a couple museums, a Taste of London thing and I even snuck in a date in there.

Out the door Sunday morn to catch the 7 am train to Heathrow. I had to go to Vienna for a client install so I figured I would take the opportunity to see Vienna. The flight was delayed as per usual, I don’t think I have been on a flight in some time that wasn’t delayed. (I type this as I sit in the Nice airport looking at half the flights on the board with status of delayed and a quarter cancelled. The final quarter, including mine for now, have no status yet).

When I got to the airport, I decided to take the CAT shuttle to the center of town and find a cab there. I went to a cabbie and showed him my reservation and he refused to take me. Through the language barrier, I managed to decipher that the hotel was too close for him to bother. Just on the other side of the train station apparently. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help me. I went to the other side of the station and wandered around for a while until I found a Hilton. I went inside and asked them and they directed me. Turns out my hotel was down the road a bit and then back down an alley in the middle of a big block of buildings. Alley has some of the wrong connotation I suppose. It was a really nice alley. There were cafes and museums and such down the alley. The hotel was so far back from the road that I realized later that night, that I could hear absolutely no noises. This was a bit weird for me actually. Even the country has noises.

After check in, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. The town was mostly closed (par for Europe on a Sunday). I caught a cab down to the museum area. It was a beautiful sunny day. Not London sunny but actually sunny. I wandered around the palace and museum area and snapped some pics. Didn’t really feel like paying to wander their museums so I wandered around behind the museums in some shopping district until I found a microbrewery. 7 Stern Brau. It was actually a really good find. I had dinner there and the dinner was good. I like Austrian food. Sautéed meats and noodles covered in cheese for the most part. The good thing about this place was the beer. Everything I had was excellent but the Hemp beer and the heiferweizen were the ones that stand out in my mind.

After a couple beers, I wandered back to the hotel. Stopped at a cinema to see if the movies were in English. The only one in English was shrek 3 and not at a useful time. Ahh well, back to the hotel to pass out for many hours.

Work was fine, they managed to get the install through in one day. And we only wasted about half of the day. Not bad for a bank, especially compared to certain French type countries.

The plane back was late and I didn’t get back home until pretty late. This was Monday night by this point and I fly out to Nice on Weds night. Better get some work done in between.