The hills are alive with the sound of Salzburg.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Austria - Salzburg, General | Posted on 17-01-2010


Quick facts learned in Salzburg:

1) Mozart was born here. The city is cashing in on him huge. He hated the place.

2) Red Bull comes from here. The guy who owns it is the second richest Austrian, and has his own hangar at the airport filled with toys.

3) Yodelling sounds *exactly* like hawaiian music if you slow it down.

So I’ve been in Salzburg for the better part of the week now, and it’s one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been. It’s a small little oldschool city nestled up in the mountains with craggy cliffs and castles scattered all over town.

That beauty is put in check by the Austrian people – they speak German, and there’s something really bitter buried within that keeps them all scowling and unemotionally standoffish. Shouldn’t really paint a whole culture with the same brush, but so far all efforts to allow myself to experience otherwise have failed.

Not to say the week hasn’t been pretty awesome none the less…

Monday it was snowing, so we wandered around town in the snow, stopping here and there for coffee, shopping and an amazing dinner of fabulous fingerfood. Beauty beyond words.

Tuesday I trucked up into the hills with a few guys for a day of snowboarding at Saalbach-Hinterglemm, which are two towns in a valley that are literally surrounded by ski hills. I’ve rode all over the place, but have never been anywhere as massive as this. We kept moving all day, and we only made it about 1/3 of the way around the valley, and still had a good hour ride back to where we started at the end of the day. The snow wasn’t the best, but we managed to find some stashes of powder that weren’t technically out of bounds. Endless blue skies, sun, and good company made for a killer day.

One of the girls on the tour’s dad (a poker-pro) was opening a bowling alley in town, so Chris and a bunch of others were invited down to play poker with some of his poker buddies. The game didn’t last long, but the open bar and really crazy bowling alley kept things rolling till pretty late (nyuk nyuk).

Wednesday was a work day, and I popped over for dinner at the venue. Still not sure why the bus driver was yelling at me, or what he was saying, or why he refused to take my money for a ticket. Yay German.

Thursday was Chris’ day off, and we started it off with what might officially be filed under “gayest thing ever”: The Sound of Music tour! The classic musical was filmed in and around Salzburg, and a group of us from the tour joined a busload of gays and greys visiting the sights around town and heading out into the lake district. I watched the film a lot as a kid, and though I remember the music, I never really grasped the social context of what was happening. Travelling around and seeing where it was filmed, and realizing the actuality of the Nazi occupation and the dark shadow that hangs heavy in hearts around here, gave the tour some depth. Of course, that depth was wiped clear by the campiness of the tour guide, the whole bus singing Lonely Goat Herder (odelay, odelayee, oldealyeeehooo!), and just the general silliness that we brought along. I will admit to having a lot more fun than I expected I would.

To help boost our sagging testosterone levels after that morning, we spent the afternoon touring the menacing fortress that looms perched up above Salzburg. It’s got a thousand years of history and warfare to explore – guns, torture chambers, death, rebellions, mayhem! Hell of a way to flush Julie Andrews outa the system.

Nice Italian dinner (mmm – seafood risotto) and an early night wrapped things up nicely.

It’s been a bit of a slow work week as we’ve been having endless problems with the Internet at the hotel, and I’m just frustrating myself with idle efforts in wasted time. Would love to keep moving with the project I’m wrapping up, but figure this being the last few days of my trip I’ll spend the time where I get the most out of it.

Bittersweet on the fact that I’m heading home on monday — it’ll be nice to be home in my own bed and see my cat and apartment, but it’s been a great month and I’m going to miss the adventure and company… Hotel rooms can become quite homey very quickly. Chris’ll be home in 3 weeks for tour break and we’re really looking forward to the Olympic experience.

Ah well…
Dreams of Italy in 6 weeks are floating through my head, which’ll keep the travel bug at bay 😛

I’ve left a piece of my heart in Barcelona.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 10-01-2010


Today was the first time in my travelling that I had a really hard time leaving a city.
I really didn’t feel like I was finished with Barcelona…
The city just felt alive and fantastic.

Styles and smiles.

I’d fallen into a fantastic rhythm.

Our second week there landed us in a really comfortable routine: wake up around noon. work till 10. micronap. go out around midnight or 1. get home around 5-6am. repeat.

I got myself well into a project for work (thanks to some inspirational help from this article about developing in a bubble), but still managed to balance that effort with the opportunity to explore somewhere I can’t imagine not coming back to…

Some highlights:

1) Parc Guell. Brilliant park designed by Antoni Gaudí. I love the fact that Barcelona doesn’t treat architecture just as a funcional requirement, but as a canvas for beauty.

2) Three Kings Parade (Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos). I normally *detest* parades, because the ones I’m usually forced to suffer through are boring and painful to watch (slow. spaced out. dull. uninspired. crap.) This on the other hand, was not. Christmas Day as we know it comes a little later in Barcelona – on Jan 5th, they celebrate the return of the 3 kings and hold a parade in their honor, and that evening is when the kids get their gifts. The parade was great – tons of music, great floats, awesome and HUGE crowd, fireworks and firebreathing… [Side note: We watched it in the city square (Catalanya) and then went to go check out a magic fountain a short train ride away. Fountain wasn’t on, but as we got there, the same parade shows up as it was the end of their route, so we watched it again.]

3) The Picasso Museum and in particular their current exhibition called “Secret Images”. It was an exhibition focused around 20 shunga pieces that Picasso owned and carried with him through all his moves. They’re a japanese style of erotic art that are not suble in their explicit attention to detail. The exhibition went into the history of forbidden art and erotic works and how even though they were being produced by grand masters, they were taboo and could only be shown behind locked doors. It was interesting how the whole ‘tentacle rape’ genre so familar to anime and hentai fans is actually nothing new, as shown by this definately not safe for work, but classic piece from 1814 , which was then shown throughout the next century for the inspiration it provided to more than a few well known artists…

Tentacle rape aside, the regular exhibit at the Picasso museum was hugely educational and impressive. It chronicled his life and works so you could walk through his evolution from schoolboy paintings, to training artist, through his cubist explorations and into his drawings. The cubist pieces were brilliant, as I’d look at it and know exactly what I was seeing on a simple level, but when you broke down the details of the image you were looking at you realized how none of it was as it simply appeared [1 2]. I’d never really been able to fathom what made someone a master artist, but looking closely at the pieces, I saw in each single stroke an intention of vision more focused than anything I’ve ever been able to put to paper.

4) Sagrada Familia. Calling it a church belittles the effort. A temple? A shrine? I can’t really do it justice through words, so go ahead and read the link there for the lowdown. It’s insane. It’s huge. They’ve been building it 1882 and don’t expect it to be finished for another 50 or so years. I spent the better part of an afternoon looking at the details. And an eerie special thanks go out to the invisible hand that pushed me out of the way of the car I didn’t see coming.

5) Getting bombed. I don’t mean the fact that the bars don’t even open until 1am and don’t pick up till 3 and are packed every night. I don’t mean the fact that we went out clubbing more in the past 2 weeks than we did in all of 2009. I don’t even mean the time we spent at this fantastically named drinking haunt (that unfortunately does not serve bacon). By getting bombed, I’m really actually alluding to…

6). Getting bombed on the train. No, nothing blew up… But picture this… You’re one stop into the 25 minute train ride at about 1:30am on a Friday night sitting on the last train back (about 4 cars to a train). Haven’t hit the party stations yet, so there’s but a few people on the train, mostly people coming home from work.

Suddenly, you notice a guy getting on the train wearing a bandana covering his face. He turns and yells to a guy behind you, who you realize is also wearing a bandana, and you see another 10-15 guys with bandana covering their faces pouring down the stairs directly outside your train. The guy who yelled first goes to the front of your train, pulls out a knife, and pops the emergency exit door, which triggers the alarm so the train can’t move. About then, the chinese lady coming home from work clutches her purse and starts screaming hysterically.

Luckily, they weren’t mobbing the train to rob us. The whole group whipped out spray paint cans, and went to work on the side of the train. The sea of bobbing balclava covered faces faded as the windows got covered by layer after layer of spraypaint applied in a well choreographed dance of creation. They’d done this before, and were getting this done quickly. The train conductor tried to stop them, but they’d just swarm around her and take off where the guy she grabbed had left off. The conductor finally gave up on stopping them, and went to work on fixing the alarm and getting the train moving again. By this time, we couldn’t see out of the train but just picked up a symphony of a cussing conductor mixed with hissing spraycans and panicked spanish catcalls and whoopings.

The train finally started moving, after what seemed like ages but was probably 5 minutes. When we popped our head out at the next station to see what’d happened, the train looked like this.

Yeah – graffiti is bad… vandalism… yadda yadda… Their planning was great. They did this as a very, very well orchestrated group in almost no time. No one was hurt. I was just plain impressed.

7) The Wandering. Endless tight classic streets that offer up new little haunts around every twist. Eating somewhere different every night that we’d never find again. Tapas, tapas and more tapas. Custom shops buried here and there… (big note: I have never been in a city that has anywhere near as many fantastic clothing shops for men. omg. shoes.) Every walk was a new adventure.

So yeah…
Sorry I haven’t been updating much.
I’ve been too busy working and letting Barcelona treat me right.

Again, I had a really tough time leaving there this morning…
Can’t say enough good things about it,
and can’t wait to go back.


…going where the climate suits my clothes.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 03-01-2010


This post has been a little long forthcoming, because I’ve been much too distracted with Barcelona.

I had no idea.
I really just had no idea…

It’s fantastic here.

The city is old and insanely beautiful.
The people ooze beauty through style, but with sincerity.
I’ve never been in a city this bustling.

Barcelona seems to run on their own schedule… I don’t know if it’s a mediteranian thing, or a spanish thing, or what, but they’re on a different rhythm than I’m used to. Restaurants don’t open until 8 or 8:30 at night. Bars don’t open until midnight. Clubs don’t open until 1 or 2, and dont pick up until much later. I gather this comes from summer siesta, where it’d be too hot here to do anything during the day, and they just go and chill and build up some energy to go out when it cools down and enjoy the evening. Back home, fight to get up early, drink coffee to power through the day, and then crash exhausted. I’m a night owl by nature, but even though I’m keeping “weird” hours, I’m feeling better rested than usual, and making the most of the days here… It just feels like a much more natural rhythm.

We had a great NYE: None of the parties in town started until at least 1am, so stayed in and did our own thing until about 2. Went out to a club to meet up with a bunch of Chris’ work people who’d landed a private section at a big beachfront club. Good times.

Have been wandering but not taking many pictures. I usually find myself stopping to snap good architecture, but there’s literally so much beauty and intricate details all over this entire city that taking a single picture would be pointless.

I do appreciate how they’ve got a sense of history that lets them put effort into perspective. I’m sure they didn’t need to do all the detailing to get it up and functional, but when you know it’s going to be there for a few hundred years, you might as well put in the effort to long term effect.

Was worried about Barcelona’s reputation as pickpocket paradise, but though it’s a matter of fact it happens, I still have felt safer wandering around here than I do in back home (I’ll take petty crime over violent crime).

Did have a bit of a hard time with the language barrier – this is the first time I’ve been somewhere that didn’t have a default English backup, or able to get by on my French. Getting better at it, but it was intimidating trying to get food or interact when you can’t read a single sign or communicate what you’re staying without making strange noises and doing some pidgin version of sign-language.

So, Barcelona… Still not sure if it beats out Copenhagen, but easily falls into a close second in my wanders so far… It still has a fighting chance though:

We’ve been here a week now, and luckily have another week to go.
This city has a lot more to offer, and I’m really not in any rush to leave.