Hard Bass 2012

Here it is – my first rave for 2012 and one of the best parties all year! After thinking I was going to miss out, I scored tickets at the last minute, and was totally psyched to be heading back to the Gelredome again. It is such a great venue with huge crowds and a great setup. I had really high expectations after Qlimax last year and the lineup was amazing. All my fave artists, playing together in groups, plus four live sets. Keen does not even begin to describe my excitement that day.

We arrives at the Gelredome, headed straight to VIP, and got straight in thanks to no line. We headed right to the lockers, donned my fluffies and candy, grabbed some merch, and got ready to party. Unfortunately, the set up was different to Qlimax, so the entire upper level was general admission. This meant we had no private bathrooms or bars, so we went early and decided it wasn’t worth going again that night, or we’d risk missing all the fun. We headed inside to see the setup that awaited. We went straight to the VIP viewing deck, which thankfully did have its own bar, to take some shots of the stage and the crowd that was pouring in.

DJ Beholder was having a baby, so DJ Balistic filled in to open the night. We caught the very end of his set as we entered the hall. The stage was set up with a large pod in the centre above the decks with hard bass written on it, that displayed images of the djs playing throughout the night, with a large ring of lights above it. There were two giant display pillars on either side, that projected an amazing range of patterns and pictures and dominated the stage. There were banks of lights all around the stage, and further down the hall to light up the crowd. The B2S symbol was lit up at the back of the room, and there were square lantern shaped light columns hanging from the roof throughout the room.

We watched the intro to Team Yellow from the viewing deck, with the voice over unlocking sound modules and releasing the colour code into cylinders. I love the colour coded teams theme for the event, and the whole room lit up yellow as the cylinders were filled with yellow liquid displays as numbers flashed on the display screens and the lanterns lit up around the room. The DJs were announced and their pictures flashed up on the columns as fireworks shot out of the stage and were released from the lanterns in the ceiling, dropping down toward the mass of people below. I was really looking forward to seeing Brennan Heart, Toneshifterz & Wildstylez playing together. I think what makes Hard Bass such a unique and incredible event is seeing these DJs play together, sharing their love of the music with each other and the crowd. Individually they are all fantastic DJs, but together they play at a whole new level. I was not disappointed.

After the intro, we quickly headed to the front and centre to really be a part of it all. The crowd had started off a little quiet, since the room was only half full at the start of their set, but it didn’t take long to get everyone going. Wildstylez opened with Back 2 Basics, which was a perfect start to the night. These guys dropped so many popular tunes, one after another with seamless mixes as always, that really got the crowd pumping. They played so many of my favourite tracks that I cannot possibly list them all. Some highlights were definitely Wildstylez – I See Stars, which had everyone singing along, flowing into Code Black vs. Toneshifterz ft. S-Dee – Get Your Hands Up & Party Down (Mashup) which got everyone clapping their hands and starting to dance hard. Brennan Heart followed with the Hard Bass Tool that really got us all bouncing. Everyone loves Noisecontrollers – So High,  and Jaydee got everyone started singing their ‘doo-doos’ and ‘bap-bas’. It was thrilling to see all the DJs singing and fist-pumping, batting their hands along with the beat. Sometimes I swear they were having more fun than the crowd.

It was great to hear  Code Black & Wasted Penguinz – Activated, one of my favourite new tracks, and MC DV8 really came into his own, getting the crowd to sing along to Zany Feat. MC DV8 – Break Away (Wildstylez Remix?) and Running Late (Brennan Heart & Code Black MF Earthquake Rawmix / Original Mix). Headhunterz & Wildstylez Vs. Noisecontrollers – Tonight (Alpha² Remix) got the whole crowd jumping as one, moving their hands back and forth in time with the music. I have seen DJs overuse this move with the crowd throughout the last year, but in this track it was perfect, and they thankfully only did it a couple of times throughout the night. They finished with  Toneshifterz – Elektro Shock Your Mind (Mashup), Brennan Heart – Just As Easy & Reputation Game & ? (Mashup), Brennan Heart & Wildstylez – Lose My Mind (Dub Edit) which are all great tracks to sing along to, especially with all these DJs playing together on stage at the same time, and the surprise they had in store for us. As the set was coming to a close, Brennan Heart grabbed the mike to announce that Mr Just as Easy himself was making an appearance to sing. Although we were a bit out of time with the music, we had a great time singing along to Just as Easy and Lose My Mind, one of the biggest tracks of 2011. All of the DJs and MCs were going crazy, nearly jumping off the stage, dancing on the decks, hugging each other and fist-pumping like mad. It is so great to see their camaraderie and love for the music, celebrating the success of their tunes with the whole crowd and each other.

So with that great start to the night, we waited for The Pitcher‘s live set. I have really enjoyed watching him play last year, I don’t think I’ve seen any other DJ who loves the music as much as him. He always plays with a huge smile on his face, bap-baaing along to every beat, and has released some great tracks in the last year. He opened with The Pitcher – I Just Can’t Stop (2012 Re-Amp)
02. The Pitcher Feat. Slim Shore – This Is Who We Are (Hard Bass Edit/Re-Amp) which was a brilliant opening to continue the whole crowd singing along, and jumped up on the decks to guide the crowd along. He was playing from decks set further back and higher up on the stage and must have had a great view of the whole room from up there. In the middle of his set, he played The Pitcher & Slim Shore – I’m Alive (Hard Bass Outro Edit) and The Pitcher Feat. Szen – Let It Rain (Original Mix), two of his latest tracks that I totally love, followed by The Pitcher – Ain’t Nobody (Re-Amp), another great track to sing and dance to. He finished with The Pitcher – Kick It To The Bone (Hard Bass Edit). It was really cool to hear him play some more raw sounds that I hadn’t heard much of from him before. This was a great build up to Team Red.

Again the voice over announced they were downloading sound and unlocking the colour red, lighting up the whole stage and columns with a red glow. The columns lit up with a red, bloood-like liquid filling them, and the lasers made their first appearance. More fireworks shot across the stage from left to right and back again. Coone & Deepack & Luna with D-Block & S-te-Fan were announced, with their pictures displayed on the columns, as they jumped out from behind the decks. D-Block and S-te-Fan stayed on the stage although they were playing a live set later, supporting the others and enjoying the atmosphere. They opened with Team Red – The Final Curtain Intro which was a weird, badly sung version of Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Gratefully, it was over quickly and led into Josh & Wesz – DSTRCTN (ZR’Z CN’T TCH THS DT)
and Coone Feat. Nikkita – Big Bad Monstah (Qlimax DJ Tool), one of Coone’s best songs. I love this mix from Qlimax, it really adds to the original with a harder kick and the intro including wolf sounds to create atmosphere. The crowd went wild, singing along to the melody as loud as they could, when they dropped Code Black – Red Planet (Original Mix), one of the best new tracks out. It was awesome to see them play E-Force & Luna – Evolved, Coone – Beat On My Drum, and Frontliner & Deepack – Move 2 Thiz (Original Mix). They were all so full of joy, nearly bouncing higher than the decks as they got the crowd moving with their own sounds. The room was now packed and the room went off when they played Crypsis – Gangsta Shit. They finished with Zany & Ran-D Feat. Nikkita – Son Of Torture (Original Mix), which was a fantastic end to the set with a song that everyone always goes mental to. I was surprised they played it, since Ran-D was playing later, but still really glad they did, as the crowd was screaming along.

Next up was D-Block & S-te-Fan Live and I was so excited to see them. They have so many brilliant songs, and they are the only DJs I hadn’t seen live yet since arriving in Holland, but they blew my mind at Magic City in Australia in 2011. They started with  D-Block & S-te-Fan – Loopmachine (Hard Bass Edit),Take Me There and D-Block & S-te-Fan Vs. Deepack – The Dream Goes On (Hard Bass Edit). These were all great tracks to keep the crowd amped up and continue the excitement from the previous sets. I loved D-Block & S-te-Fan – Rockin Ur Mind (Hard Bass Edit) and D-Block & S-te-Fan Vs. Nero – Promises (Bootleg), singing along at the top of my lungs with the rest of crowd. It was really starting to warm up in the pit, especially with the flame throwers on stage going off regularly. Luckily we had positioned ourselves directly under one of the giant lanterns on the roof, which occasionally let out huge jets of cool air directly down onto us. This was such a relief and gave us the air we needed to keep on going. They finished with D-Block & S-te-Fan Feat. MC Villain – Sound Of Thunder (Hard Bass Edit), Our Music, and D-Block & S-te-Fan & Zatox – Madhouse (Hard Bass Edit), really going out with a bang. I couldn’t believe how quickly time was flying, especially with the short live sets at the end of each team, and couldn’t wait for the next line-up.

Team Green was on next and their intro was spectacular. The columns lit up with eerie lines of green and all the lasers flashed momentarily. The voice over announced maximum frequency, then a circular pattern of light moved from the centre of the stage outwards, as the lasers came into full effect, counting up to 8000 cycles per minute, with the whirring noise building as the lasers circled faster and became brighter and more intense. Finally, the columns filled with green liquid and Headhunterz & Zatox & Psyko Punkz were announced. I was really looking forward to this set, as I listen to Hard With Style every month, and it has been inspiring to see Headhunterz develop into the artist he wants to be, culminating in his tribute to Skyrim, Dragonborn, which I couldn’t wait to hear live. Zatox had an epic set at Qlimax, and his anthem was one of the best tracks released last year, and Psyko Punkz are always fun to watch, with such high energy and many classic sounds.

They opened with Headhunterz – Eternalize (Hard Bass 2012 Anthem) which we had all been waiting to hear. This is such a fantastic anthem with its unique sounds and crazy builds, and the whole crowd was amped, singing along to the melody as loud as they could. He of course followed with Dragonborn, and it was a pleasure to see his face light up as the crowd sang along. Zatox followed with No Way Back (Qlimax Anthem 2011) which I can never get tired of, then Psyko Punkz played DJ Isaac – On The Edge (Psyko Punkz Remix), which really got the whole crowd moving. In the middle they played Psyko Punkz – Beyond Belief (Official Reverze Anthem 2012), Psyko Soldier and Headhunterz vs. Psyko Punkz – Disrespect. It was definitely a highlight of the night to see Headhunterz and Psyko Punkz at the front of the stage singing along, play fighting and shooting each other. The beats kept building and getting more intense, working the crowd into a frenzy. Finally, they finished with  Psyko Punkz – Pull Your Strings (2010 Remix), Tatanka & Zatox Pres. Wild Motherfuckers – Hard Bass,
and Headhunterz – Headshot. With the lasers going wild and fireworks and cold air shooting out of the lanterns into the crowd again, it was a really exciting end.

Next up was Frontliner Live to finish off Team Green. He opened with  Frontliner – Dreamdust, clapping his hands in time with the crowd. I love watching everyone’s hands shoot up into the air to this song, many moving their fingers along with the melody like a conductor. He also played Technoboy – Rage (Frontliner Remix), one of the best songs this year. Seriously, it’s just brilliant. He also played You Want It and Whatever! which are great tracks to dance hard to. The lasers were really being used to their full effect now, rotating around the room and flashing different colours, and the pillars and stage displayed a series of moving dots, making the whole stage come alive. He finished with Discorecord and Extreme Loudnezz with the whole room fist-pumping and going wild. There were more strobe flashes and then it was over.

Team Blue were up next, promising to be one of the best sets of the night. As the announcer spoke, flames and fireworks shot across the stage and the lasers and banks of lights swirled across the crowd. The DJs appeared and bounced up before the crowd, opening with Frequencerz – Bitch that tore the house down. It was fantastic to see them all playing their own songs live, coming out to the front of the stage to amp the crowd up and nearly jumping off the stage with passion. They dropped Chris One – Recruit,  The R3belz – Armageddon, and B-Front & Digital Punk – For The Girls. Every track was full of energy and the stage display was amazing with backlighting, spotlights and lasers combining to create an enigmatic show. They finished with Chris One – Psycho, B-Front & Frontliner – Magic (Original Mix), and The R3bels – Pattern 2, some really banging songs that everyone was jumping, fist-pumping and hakking to. It was the perfect finish to an epic set.

Finally, the night was drawing to a close, but the final set promised to be a special one. It was the A² Records Allstars Live (Alpha Twins, E-Force, Ran-D & Adaro) with MC Tha Syndrome announcing them. The lasers shone blue and the cylinders glowed, then the final performance began. They started with  Headhunterz & Wildstylez Vs. Noisecontrollers – Tonight (Alpha² Remix), which we had already heard, but seemed harder the second time around. You just have to move to this phenomenal tune. MC Tha Syndrome really pumped up the crowd throughout the set, and the energy was higher than any other point, even though we’d been dancing all night long. Next was Artic – F#ck The Fake Shit (Adaro Remix), Ran-D Vs. Villain – X (XXlerator Anthem), which brought back so many memories. Every time I have seen Ran-D, Adaro or Gunz 4 Hire last year they have been outstanding, and one of the best sets of the night. Hard Bass was no exception, this was by far my favourite set, it was out of control!  Gunz 4 Hire Feat. Ellie – Sorrow and E-Force & Frequencerz – Attention went off with the whole crowd thrashing and pumping. They finished with Gunz 4 Hire – Kings Of The Underground and A² Records Allstars – The Resistance which had everyone going mental. It was fantastic to end with a track they had all worked on together, and was a fitting representation of the collaboration of all the artists to create such an incredible event.

Out of all the events I have been to, this would definitely be one of the best. If you have never been before, do yourself a favour and get to Hard Bass 2013. I know I will.

Check out the full set list and replay of the sets from Hard Bass 2012 here!

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QORE 3.0

While our days were spent lazing away at the Flying Pig, my weekends were mapped out for an entire two months. As Holland is the capital of hard dance music and home to some of the best DJs in the world, we had many events to attend. My next event was QORE 3.0. This was the first Qore, an entirely hardcore dance event. Personally, I had never really enjoyed hardcore, except at the end of a rave, and I did not recognise most of the DJs on the line up. I had enjoyed Endymion at the end of Coone, especially when Lily Julian sang live on stage, and I had learned to Gabber at Defqon Australia this year, so I was looking forward to learning more about this style of music. Mostly I figured I would get pretty smashed, dance for a few hours, then sit and enjoy the light shows, my favourite part of q-dance events.

Qore was held at Heineken Music Hall, just out of Amsterdam city. This venue regularly hosts concerts and large events, and it was my first time to see it, and finally party in the Netherlands. We got there shortly after it opened, put our bags in lockers, and headed off to get the party started. We went straight to the bar, where I enjoyed my first Flugel. Flugel is a raspberry flavoured vodka shot that comes in a tiny bottle. You open the bottle, place it in your mouth, touch the base together with whoever else is drinking it, then upend the drink and swallow without using your hands. The tagline for the drink is ‘let the duck out’, as you resemble a duck while drinking it, having your hands behind your back and leaning forward to touch bottles. Not only does it taste good, but I also enjoy the ceremony of drinking it. Unfortunately, you can only find it in Holland and a couple of other European countries at this stage, but I’m hoping to petition the company to bring it out to Australia when I return.

After a few flugels we headed upstairs to the second room as the main arena was not open yet. The room was decorated with giant hands arranged in an array of poses on the walls, with a small stage up the front, and some cool lasers already lighting up the room. We quickly met some Australians to hang with, as Tegan was wearing her Aussie sash, and one of them was wearing phat pants. Holland has moved past the ‘kandi ravers’ scene, so generally if you see anyone wearing phats, they are from another country. We hadn’t worn our gear, as hardcore and hardstyle crowds are totally separate in Holland, and we weren’t sure what reaction we would receive, as Tegz and Timmy had been hassled at some other events. Hardcore listeners have a reputation for being more intense and violent, and there were plenty of tattooed skinheads running around, in amongst your typical male crowd. Although there were a lot less females, they were a total mix of styles. There were girls in nice dresses and heels who looked like they were going clubbing, skanks wearing short skirts and see through tops, goths wearing black, covered in piercings with dreads, and some even wearing fluffies. In the end we discovered that everyone was really just there to enjoy the music, and it was one of the most interesting crowds I had ever observed. While upstairs we had a nice chat and a bit of a dance with the crew from QLD, who had flown here specially for this event. Then it was time for the main stage to open.

We headed into the main arena, had a brief dance at the front, then headed up to the VIP section upstairs for a different view. VIP gave us access to two elevated platforms with cushy seats on the sides of the room. There is generally a viewing platform at the back of the room as well, but this was closed off as it was a much smaller event than usual. From the right hand side, I noticed how small the main room was, and wondered how many people it would fit for a normal concert. The foyer was decorated with pictures of the artists who had played there, like Pink, Avril Lavigne and Pearl Jam among others. In contrast to large Australian venues like the entertainment centres and arenas, the place was tiny. I think the venue would only fit 5-10000 people at a time, so they would have to have many concerts in a row for everyone to see these performances. The room was arranged with a large stage at the front that was surrounded by giant square pixelated display screens, with lasers up the top. We had a clear view of the DJ, elevated in the centre, and there were two mini stages in the crowd for dancing on. I was really excited to hear the first DJ drop a couple of dubstep mixes, which eased me into the faster beats of hardcore.

We went back downstairs for a dance as Sinister Souls began to play, practicing our Hakken. This is a dance style similar to Australian Gabber, but the Dutch use straight legs and bend their knees up to kick out in front of them. To an onlooker, they resemble someone having an epileptic fit on their feet, kicking their legs and punching or slapping the air as fast as they can in time to the music. It is quite humorous to watch, especially by the end of the night when the beats are doubly fast. Nevertheless, it is quite a challenge to shuffle to hardcore, so we gave it a go. After watching the locals for a little while, I did my best impersonation of hakken, quickly integrating some grapevine type cross steps and a couple of small jump kicks. Tegan used more of a bouncing high knees step in time with the music, resembling an aerobics instructor. We must have been doing a reasonable job, as some of the locals came over to dance with us, rather than pointing and laughing. I found it surprisingly easy to keep dancing at this pace for an hour or two. While we danced on the elevated platform, a video camera was making its way around the room, as they often make aftermovies to promote q-dance events online. As this was the first Qore, they were filming a lot of good looking girls, to try to make it look less like the male dominated event that it was. He then headed over to us, and filmed each of us dancing for a while. Surprisingly, I’m quite video camera shy, so I looked away as he filmed, trying to ignore the camera and concentrate on the music. Most girls smile and play up to the camera, so they then make it in the aftermovie. Tegan and Tim made it in, representing Aussie ravers once again. I have since worked on my camera shyness, thanks to the help of everyone having iphones, and randomly pulling them out to film people around them at every event they attend.

As the music sped up, we decided it was time for another break, got some more drinks and headed up to the viewing platform on the left. By this stage they had also turned up the volume, to levels I have never experienced in Australia. Gratefully, we had been provided free earplugs on entry, and I put them in after only an hour or two, as I could feel the hearing damage developing rapidly. It felt like the air pressure build up you experience in planes at high altitude, and I found I could still hear the music clearly even with the ear plugs in. From the VIP section I really enjoyed filming and taking photos, and watching the many different images they had programmed to display on the screens, and the effects they could create. Tegan quickly made friends with some Dutch people, as always, while Tim and I sat together, chatting and enjoying the music, occasionally getting up for a dance. I pulled out my finger lights to entertain myself for a while, and was quickly surrounded by Dutchies asking to borrow them. I find it funny that you can’t buy finger lights over here, and never see any locals with them, since they look down on the Kandi Raver scene, yet every time I pull them out, they watch in fascination or ask to have a turn. The rest of the night passed in a blur, especially since I don’t know most of the tracks or artists, but I remember really enjoying sets by The Playah and Endymion, who had Lily Julian as a special guest singer again. She has such an incredible voice, I could never get tired of hearing her sing live.

The final set turned up the volume and production again and was so fast, I thought my head would explode at one stage. It didn’t even feel like I was wearing ear plugs, the music was so loud and clear. I honestly don’t know how Dutch ravers have any hearing at all. I was told by one person that there is no decibel limit in Germany, so the music is even louder there. Yet fanatics dance away right next to the speakers at the front of the room all day, permanently damaging their hearing, and having a great time. Unfortunately at this point in the night, we noticed Tegan and Tim’s camera was missing. Since they had already lost a camera the week before at Sensation White, this one was brand new and bright green. Although there weren’t many people in the VIP area, it had obviously disappeared very quickly. This put a dampener on the end of the evening, as we searched through the rows of chairs, hunting just in case. Some of the locals helped us look as well, but to no avail. So we sat and watched the final performance, not really feeling like participating anymore, though it was still a spectacular sight, with even more images and patterns created with lasers and projections across the entire undulating crowd.

Once it was over, we quickly gathered our things, reported the camera lost, and headed to the train station. The event had finished at 7am, but being a Sunday, trains didn’t start running again until 8am, and even then, did not head in the direction we needed to go for another hour. As it was freezing cold, we decided to jump on the next train to Utrecht, as this is a large central station, and hoped to find another route home from there. When we arrived at Utrecht our train was leaving in two minutes so we hurried to the platform and jumped on just in time, not purchasing a ticket on the way. There are ticket inspectors on nearly every train we have caught across the Netherlands, making fare evasion nearly impossible. We always normally buy a ticket, as it is just not worth the risk, but in this case we panicked in our hurry to get home. Unluckily, there was an inspector at 8am on a Sunday morning, and he kicked us off the train at the next stop. This provided us with another dilemma, as ticket machines don’t accept credit cards, or notes, only coins and local Dutch chipcards. At large train stations we use the ticket counters where we can use notes, but in smaller suburbs they do not have these. We were now at a small platform, no real idea where we were, with half an hour until the next train, unsure if we could buy a ticket or be forced to try and jump another train with no fare. We frantically hunted through all our belongings, searching for 20 euros in shrapnel, as train tickets are quite expensive. Luckily, we had been lazily breaking notes all that night so we had plenty of change.

We boarded the next train, only to be kicked off at the next station due to trackwork. We were guided onto a replacement bus, which took us to another station, where we were transferred to another bus. We finally arrived at our nearest train station to catch our final normal bus home, nearly an hour later. By the time we got back to the Pig, it was 11am, and we had been travelling for over three hours. Tired, fed up and ready for bed, we dragged ourselves inside and crashed out. Despite the dramas of the morning, I had a surprisingly great night overall, enjoying myself far more than expected, and gaining a new found respect for hardcore. This was great preparation for the events to come, as our partying was only just getting started…

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People at the Pig

You meet so many interesting people passing through hostels. Especially during the off season in Noordwijk, these encounters are generally brief, as people are passing through on their way somewhere else, or visiting for a weekend away. Many times we create fleeting relationships with these individuals, asking the standard questions – where are you from, how long are you here, where are you going next – often without bothering with names. Even when you get their names, they are often hard to pronounce or difficult to remember. When you meet so many people so frequently, these details can often be irrelevant, unless it’s someone you actually want to see again. What has amazed me throughout my trip is the generosity of such individuals. So many travellers are happy to share whatever they have to give. Everyone has a mentality of ‘what’s mine is yours’ as so many understand what it truly means to have nothing. People regularly offer up their homes if you visit their country, even if you only had a conversation for a few hours. I admit I have offered out my parent’s place in Australia on a few occasions, knowing they won’t mind as I won’t be home until October anyway. What’s great about travelling in the modern age, is technology. Nearly everyone has laptops, iphones or ipads, and most places now have wireless internet. Apart from keeping us entertained by spending hours online or downloading the latest music, movies or episodes of our favourite tv shows (which I think sadly takes away from the art of conversation and creative entertainment) we have facebook and skype. Now you can easily add a friend, message them when you’re coming to their country, call them really cheaply from skype then look up their address using google. The world has rapidly become a much smaller place, creating a truly global community.

Of course, there are also the individuals who you hope to never see again, although they certainly provide entertainment value. And for a quiet hostel where one day meaninglessly blends into the next, with time disappearing before our very eyes, it is always refreshing to have someone new to talk about. One such eccentric who stayed with us that week was the OCD guy. I never heard him speak, and he spent most of the day in bed, but when he was awake, he certainly provided us with a new topic of conversation. He would often sit in the smoking room simply staring at us, as we went about our day. Sometimes, he would stand outside the smoking room, looking in, but not entering. He also needed to spin around before he sat down in a chair, touched every locker in the room, and made a strange snorting noise, mostly at nighttime, often as I was attempting to go to sleep. In the end he stayed for over a week, but was perfectly harmless, even letting me into the room one day when I had forgotten my key. He politely thanked the manager when he left, and disappeared into the world.

Then there was the strange Indian guy from France. He hovered around the smoking room for a while, observing our conversation and trying to figure out the lay of the land before joining in. He decided to start talking to me halfway through a mouthful of dinner. I tried to converse in between gulps of food, as I was starving and still not used to the late eating time at the Flying Pig. Later that night I was downstairs trying to finish my latest Matthew Reilly book as it had gotten really exciting as usual and I couldn’t put it down. Again, he decided this was a good time to continue our conversation. I resigned myself to finishing the book tomorrow, and politely continued talking. After all, he seemed harmless, just a little bit odd. We talked about life coaching and NLP, massage therapy and reiki, and I really enjoyed having an intelligent conversation for a change. When I went upstairs for another smoke, he decided to follow, and then followed me back down when I said I was going to bed. I had a pretty bad cold at this point, probably from my several hours on a freezing cold train station in Denmark. He sat on the floor next to my bed and kept talking. When I politely suggested I was going to sleep now, as I had a cold, he offered to give me a head massage (as he was a masseuse). I refused several times, but then decided it might be easier to just say yes and get him off my case. I laid down on the floor with my head in his lap, and it somehow turned into a full body massage that lasted over an hour. At this point I realised he may not in fact be a masseuse, as it wasn’t very good, and could just have been an excuse to feel me up. When he started getting too handsy, I said that was enough, thanked him and went to sleep. A few hours I later, I woke up to him whispering to me inches from my face. I screamed and swore and woke up half the room. It turned out he was checking to see if I was sleeping alright. I replied that I was before he woke me up, and would now like to be left alone. Gratefully, that was the last time I saw him as he had already checked out when I awoke in the morning. Some of the other guys commented the next morning that they had never seen anything like it in all the hostels they had stayed in. It is funny to look back and laugh now, but I am definitely less trusting of eccentric strangers.

Of course, with the bad, also comes the good. I have had some great brief friendships, providing me company and entertainment for a few days, and tips that are always useful in the world of travelling. I have learned about couch surfing, wwoof (working on organic farms), carsharing and the cheapest websites for flights. Again, thanks to the internet, lots of the previously difficult parts of travelling have been simplified. Although some people you never see again, others become real friends that you will definitely see at a later point. I have found that people who keep coming back to the Pig really enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and friendly banter, and it quickly does become a home away from home. The following week, when I had been away from home for nearly a month, I was beginning to get a little lonely. While I loved my Piggie family, it didn’t help that I was surrounded by couples. We had had several departures of staff over the last week, and they were all single people. While no one intentionally makes you feel left out, sometimes they are a constant reminder that you are alone, and likely to stay that way for the next twelve months. Luckily for me, that weekend someone walked through the door to provide me company, conversation, and of course, cuddles.

We were all enjoying a few drinks as it was another staff member’s final weekend. She had some friends come and visit her from the UK, and being a mix of Irish and English, drunken hilarity ensued. They all donned their ‘drinking apparatus’, an assortment of hats and headbands, and put on their ‘catwings’, cat whiskers drawn on their faces in eyeliner. Later that night, some of the other guests started arriving on the shuttle from Amsterdam. One of them happened to be a tall, fit, attractive American, who I figured was totally out of my league. He sat quietly in the corner watching our antics, occasionally joining in, until the girls attacked all of us with their eyeliner and we became a cat crew. Unfortunately I then had to walk to the shops to get more money out for Jagerbombs, and show my whiskers in public. Needless to say I got a few second looks from the locals. We all continued drinking and dancing and talking rubbish for hours, until it was time for the girls to leave. Things settled down quickly after that and many people went to bed. With the new found confidence of a few drinks under my belt, I found myself in the corner chatting to the American, who turned out to be intelligent as well as good looking much to my surprise. Too soon it was time for bed, but we were staying in the same large dorm room, so we had to use the same large bathroom to clean our teeth and wash makeup off our faces. I found myself dawdling in there for far too long, delaying the inevitable moment when I would have to say goodnight, go to bed alone, and fantasise about ‘what could have been’. In this instance, to my total surprise, that moment never came. Turned out my inept flirting and modestly good looks had worked. It’s also true what they say about black guys – they love a curvy woman, and I have been quite blessed in this area, with an ample derrière.

After making out for a while, still not sure if I was dreaming, we decided to go to bed. This provided my next dilemma, as I can’t in good conscience, fool around in a room with twenty other people trying to sleep, especially after my previous rants about being the sleeping person in question. So I spent an extremely frustrated night, curled up in the arms of a gorgeous man, mostly unable to sleep. It didn’t help that he is more than six feet tall and we were sharing the top bunk of a single bed. The next day he got a private room, problem solved. I also learned a valuable lesson that week. You cannot keep a secret in a hostel this small. Since our days are so mundane, everyone thrives on gossip. Despite the fact that we went to bed after all the staff, when I came up for breakfast, the manager greeted me with a knowing smile and a few choice words, even though she hadn’t even been there the night before. It turns out my sister was so proud of me she had told her first thing that morning. It wasn’t long before everyone had something to say. From most of the girls, the comments were ‘good for you’, ‘how did you manage that’ and high fives all round. He had made such an impression that the UK girls had decided it would be a terrible waste if no one ‘hit that’. Keep in mind we get pretty bored, and there are not many attractive singles coming through our doors in the off-season, so it was a bigger deal than in ‘the real world’. He was only supposed to stay for the one night, but ended up being at the Pig for over a week. I really enjoyed the company, and it certainly cured my loneliness for a little while (not to mention the ego boost). Ultimately, he became another independent member of our Piggy family. I feel truly blessed for the people I’ve met and the lessons learned so far and am really looking forward to the people and adventures of 2012.

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Sensation White – Denmark

After checking in at Munich, I waited in the terminal at my gate for my plane. Lufthansa provides free coffee and newspapers, and have smoking rooms inside the terminal. Unfortunately, the exhaust fans don’t work too well, so I smoked in there for the novelty value, but would not do it again since the room was so smoky. I boarded my flight to Copenhagen, using SAS again, and waited impatiently to arrive. Unfortunately, the only flight they had that day was scheduled to arrive at 7:30pm, and Sensation White started at 6pm, so I had to get there as quickly as possible, then meet Tegan and Timmy inside, as they had already been in Copenhagen for the day.

I grabbed a taxi and headed to the venue. More than half an hour, and 50 euros later I arrived. It was extremely busy, with people dressed in white lining the streets. I got off on the main road, took some money out and walked to the venue, following the crowd. Along the path were lots of stalls set up selling glowing and flashing apparatus, from swords, headbands, lights and glowsticks. I also noticed as I approached the venue, that there were empty alcohol bottles lining the streets. In many parts of Europe, you can drink on the street, and the locals were taking full advantage of this rule, predrinking in preparation for the big event. When I arrived at the venue, which was huge, there were crowds of people lining up everywhere. I managed to find the locker key collection area, and went to put away my backpack. Unfortunately, my locker was near the ground, and I lost my balance and toppled over onto the filthy ground. When I stood up, I noticed a large patch of brown, staining the right knee of my white pants. My clumsiness had struck yet again, and I had ruined my outfit before even entering the venue. I scanned the lines of people, looking for a sign for Deluxe, but when I couldn’t see one I chose the shortest line. One line curved all the way around the carpark and back for about 100m. I noticed a little side line next to this one, which only had about 20 people in it. After being checked by security I entered the hall, only to be told that I couldn’t enter here as I had a Deluxe ticket, so I had to push my way back through the crowd and go around the other side of the building to Gate G.

As I walked to the other side of the arena, I saw a sign for Deluxe entry but it said Gate A, so I kept walking. The further I walked the less people I saw, then I finally spotted Gate G, fenced off and covered by a walkway leading back to Gate A. I hurried back to the Deluxe entrance, where again everyone was forming one long line even though there were eight queueing points. I jumped in the shortest line and waited, highly frustrated at the poor organisation of this venue and event. It was now 8:30pm, so the event had been going for over two hours. While waiting in line, two very tall girls in tiny dresses and stiletto heels, jumped in beside me, started talking to the guys in front of me, then boxed me out and pushed their way in front of me. This happens to be one of my pet hates. I noticed throughout the night that there were a lot of girls who acted like this any time there was a queue at the bathrooms or bar, or even cloakrooms. They walked with an air of ‘I’m beautiful, what are you going to do about it?’ before abruptly shoving their way in front of you. Luckily I was sober at this point, or I may have decided to take them down a peg or two. The funniest thing was, most of these girls were not very attractive. They were all tall and slim with great bodies, but when you looked at their faces, they were strangely shaped, or had caked on so much make-up they looked like transvestites. By this stage I was just relieved to finally be in the venue ready to enjoy the event.

I quickly cloaked my jacket and headed to the right hand viewing platform where I had agreed to meet Tim and Tegan. It was this point when I realised I had left my phone in my backpack in my locker. Looking around the room filled with people all dressed in white, it suddenly dawned on me how difficult it may be to find them without a phone. I decided to have a few drinks by myself, sit in one spot so it would be easier to see them if they walked past, as there were a limited number of deluxe tickets, and enjoy the show. When I got to the bar, I found the drinks to be cheaper than any other event I had ever been to. Usually, you have to buy tokens and the mark-ups are extremely high. These events had no tokens, and you could buy a 600ml bottle of Smirnoff Vodka at the bar with six energy drinks for 600 kroner (approximately 75 euro or $100AUS). As I was by myself, I didn’t think this was a safe option, so I bought straight vodka (which I had gotten used to drinking in Germany), and they made me doubles. These only cost about 40 kroner (5 euro or $7.50AUS), so I was a happy girl. I found myself a raised vantage point to keep an eye out for the others and enjoy the spectacle.

In all my raves and events, I have never seen a sight as spectacular as Sensation White. The whole event is set in a huge indoor arena with general admission on the floor, and Deluxe had two elevated viewing platforms, and seating overlooking the whole arena, including a third tier up high with cushiony seats. Behind the seats were walkways with bathrooms, bars and cloakrooms, and there were more bars on the platforms. In the centre of the arena was a giant flower, where the DJ played from one of the petals that rotated around the flower, so he could play to all sides of the room. There were four smaller flowers in the corners of the room, and all of these flowers were illuminated with different coloured lights throughout the sets. As everyone was dressed in white, the crowd also changed colour, depending on the lights displaying at the time. At the back of the room were three large round screens, displaying the DJs playing, or words from the songs. The most amazing sight were the hundreds of white orbs lined in rows across the ceiling. Throughout the night these lowered toward the crowd, where you could see each was a few metres in diameter. Each ball could be raised and lowered individually, so sometimes whole rows would lower, creating a canon effect, other times individual orbs would rise and fall, creating waves or spiral patterns. From each of the flowers sprayed fireworks and flames to emphasise the movement of the room. At other stages dancers were lowered from the ceiling around the main flower. They then went out on spires along the flowers edge into the crowd to dance with the music. There was also an elevated platform directly above the DJ flower, where a singer came out to sing with the music. As she sang, a spray of water spiralled around her, lit by different coloured lights, creating a waterfall effect around her. I tried to film and photograph some of these events, but it really didn’t do justice to the amazing feeling all these effects created.

After waiting for Tim and Tegan for an hour and a half, I resigned myself to not finding them, and decided to enjoy the rest of the night on my own. I headed down into the pit to circle the flower and see how the crowd was down there. Although there were heaps of people, there was still plenty of room to move and dance, and work your way through the crowd. This was lucky, as everyone was so drunk they would constantly crash into you or fall into each other. I realised as I moved through the crowd, that there were a lot of really good looking guys with their shirts off, who would randomly grab you as you moved past. I kept walking, as I just wanted to see what else was around, but figured I could make friends really easily in the pit. The music was awesome, old school electro house beats, that reminded me of the music I used to listen to when I went clubbing when I was 20. Some of my favourite old tracks were played, as well as remixes of songs I did not expect, like Nirvana and REM. It was a nice change from all the hardstyle we had been partying to, and reminded me why I fell in love with dance music in the first place. After circling the DJ flower, I went back through the Deluxe entrance and out to have a smoke. As I walked out the door, I heard my name called, and looked right to see Timmy and Tegz! I couldn’t believe I had found them after resigning myself to spending the night alone.

My night was definitely more enjoyable once our threesome had been reunited. They took me upstairs to the comfy seats with an awesome view, and showed me the white masks they had collected from the floor. Luckily people had been dropping items everywhere, so they also collected a string of blue LEDs which we attached to Timmy’s hat. I couldn’t believe this was the one event where I hadn’t brought my finger lights, which are not very common in the Netherlands, but everyone had them here. We headed down to the main arena to dance some more and had a good shuffle together in open space. As we headed towards the centre, we noticed some people had blue glowing lightsabers. We then realised that they were being thrown into the crowd by the Smirnoff girls, and quickly collected a few each. At one stage Tegz was walking round with four shoved into the top of her pants. We then had a lightsaber fight, naturally, and started spinning and twirling them around our heads. The rest of the night passed in a blur of laughter, lights and music, but I know we had a great time. Especially considering this style of music was not what Tim and Tegz were into, it was surprisingly good fun. Of course by the end of the night, most of the sabers and masks were broken or lost, so we then had people trying to steal them off us, or buy them. In the end, Timmy and Tegz sold their masks for a pile of change worth about 5 euro, and we gave away our sabers to people who asked nicely. We also fought with people who tried to snatch them for being rude. It was amazing the number of people who had travelled from different countries to this event. I overheard some British and Americans talking in line, met some Spanish and Italians in the pit, and a Brazilian girl in the bathroom. Most people described it as the best event they have ever been to, though I feel as it’s more popular style music, some of these people haven’t been to many events. It was definitely the best staging I have ever seen, though I have experienced better atmospheres and productions. I am definitely planning on attending another one while I’m in Europe, hopefully in Amsterdam. The good thing is they change the theme every year, but have different themes running in different countries. So I have already experienced Innerspace, and am looking forward to a different theme. Hopefully they will bring it out to Australia again one day.

After leaving the venue and grabbing our things, we walked to the main road and fought the crowds to grab a taxi, sneaking up a side street that was less busy. We went to the train station, to head back to the airport for our early morning flight, then realised the train didn’t come until 4:40am. Sensation had finished at 3am, but unfortunately, it was the end of daylight savings time across most of Europe, so it was now 2am and we had wait another two hours, on the open station in the freezing cold. Luckily we had tracksuit pants, but it was still an awful experience. I don’t know why Sensation White is on from 6pm-3am, as most events we attend start and finish later, but it was definitely an inconvenience. When we finally got to the airport, it wouldn’t let me self check in for some reason, so I had to line up behind a giant family and wait another half hour. We then found our gate and tried to sleep in the little chairs we found there. These chairs were two seaters, with metal armrests at each end, so you could only half lay down, but at this stage, that was good enough for me. We woke up just as check in was closing, and got roused on by the clerk, who told us we shouldn’t fall asleep in airports… yeah right. We rode on another bus to the middle of the tarmac surrounded by tiny planes to catch our little SAS ex-private jet home. I felt so relieved to arrive in the Netherlands and go to bed. The rest of our events were in the Netherlands, so no more flying, but we were destined to spend much more time on train stations in the freezing cold.

Next up… more interesting people at the Pig, and Qore 3.0

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Munich, Germany

Shortly after arriving in the Netherlands, I got a message from my friend Mai, who I hadn’t seen in years and was living in Munich. I was really looking forward to catching up with some of my long lost friends and relatives during my travels. I decided to see her and her husband Mikey the very next week, as my weekends were all pretty full with events over the next month, and she had a few days off. I searched for cheap flights on the internet, and found there was no such thing at a week’s notice. As I had to fly to Munich, then Copenhagen for Sensation White that weekend, then back to Amsterdam, I could not book online, so had to call SAS (Scandinavian Airlines was the cheapest) in the UK, who charged another 20 pounds for phone bookings. Total trip cost nearly $400. I have quickly realised that my dream of not planning my travel, just seeing what happens, and hoping to book cheap last minute travel was not feasible. For anyone planning on travelling, plan ahead. Plan every detail including where you’ll stay, how you’ll travel and budget carefully. You can save thousands of dollars by booking as far in advance as possible. Unfortunately, booking everything last minute has burned through my cash at double the expected speed.

I flew SAS to Copenhagen, then down to Munich. The plane ride was an experience in itself. It was a beautiful sight flying over the coast of the Netherlands during the day, seeing the coastline clearly, with all its dams and weirs and modern windmills lining the borders of the sea. SAS are highly awarded for their excellent customer service, however they use a lot of small planes for their shorter trips. Each of my planes was no bigger than 60 seats. I’ve seen private jets that were bigger. You can feel turbulence a lot more on a smaller plane. Luckily the weather was good so we had very little. At each airport we landed out in the furthest section from the terminal, with the tiny private planes and maintenance sheds, and were shuttled by bus, in and out of the terminals. The staff was lovely, and we landed early. Since I only had a backpack, I left the airport quickly, and headed for the train station.

At the exit to Munich airport there is a large open square covered by giant white sails, with many different sculptures in cages. I caught the S-Bahn (express trains for travelling inter-city) to Leim to meet Mai and Mikey. Unfortunately, I did not realise the text I had sent them earlier did not go through, as it was a local mobile number. Luckily, there are payphones everywhere in Germany, and they accept card, so it was easy to call them, and they only lived a 10 minute walk away. They lived in a unique looking terrace house shared with five other travellers. It looked like a large barn on the outside, which had been split into three separate properties. They had a large backyard, with a very dark green blow up pool (well past due to be emptied) and an internal foyer to leave your shoes with an old piano. Inside there was a kitchen and toilet attached to a living and dining area. Downstairs was the basement where Phillipe, their French-Canadian flatmate was living. Up the beautiful large wooden staircase was the main bathroom and three large bedrooms. In these resided the French Francis, and the Italian-Germans Pasco, Vanessa and Fabio. These three were from a northern part of Italy, close to Austria, that used to be part of Germany before the border was moved again, so they all spoke fluent German, with an accent, but only some of them spoke Italian. At the top of these stairs was another staircase that resembled a fat ladder to the loft. This is where Mai and Mikey lived and it had a room and an open foyer that had a sink and open shower (which we didn’t use). There was also a small attic/storeroom with a mattress, which I fondly nicknamed ‘The Cave’. This is where I slept, when I could.

Mai and I used to party pretty hard when we were younger, and as we sat on the couch catching up on the details of our lives for the last four years, we polished off a bottle of vodka that I had bought cheap through duty free at the airport. We laughed and joked and argued until five in the morning. It was refreshing to realise that nothing much had changed in our friendship, and that we were both pretty much the same people we had been in our early twenties. The next day we went for a day trip into Munich city. We caught the U-Bahn (slower trains for city travel), with Phillipe who kindly offered to be our guide for the day, as he had recently taken a guided tour of the city. There are u-bahn stops practically every 500metres in the city, so it is easy to walk past several stations on our wanderings. Our first destinations were some of the cathedrals. There are fifteen cathedrals in the heart of Munich, and we visited four. Luckily, they didn’t charge an entry fee like in Belgium. I was amazed by the completely different styles of each church we visited. Some were very ornate, gilded with gold, built high into the skyline on monumental columns, clearly designed to impress. Others seemed more renaissance style with beautiful artworks decorating all the walls and alcoves and ceilings. Or else they had elaborate white stone sculptures lining the walls and columns. The gothic cathedral has a lot more punishment and retribution in its themes, with skulls and demonic looking creatures decorating its doors, archways and columns. One of the churches had a crypt at the back of the church with several important priests and members of the royal family buried there. I didn’t stay down there long, it felt very oppressive and there were definitely some unhappy spirits down there. The last church we looked at was Mai’s favourite. It was clearly not a tourist church, as it was very quiet and practically empty. The walls were rough looking red brick, and it was only small, but it had some of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen in my life. Huge paintings dominated entire walls of large alcoves, and the entire high dome across the ceiling depicted beautiful angels. A window in the roof let in a beautiful light at this end of the church, in contrast with the dark entranceway, creating a light path leading to the bright pulpit and cross in the centre of the altar. It was a humbling and beautiful sight, in a church that was unassuming and felt very spiritual, unlike some of its grander tourist attracting cousins.

Next stop was the main markets, which looked like an old watercolour painting. They had tiny little shops and stalls with green or red and white striped sail covers, along a cobblestone road that ended in a square. It smelled so good with fresh bread and pretzels, sausages and cured meats, fruit and vegetables, a huge range of fish and cheese. At the square there were long lines of wooden bench picnic tables, which were full of people drinking pitchers of beer, even though it was 2pm on a Tuesday. At the end of the square was an old maypole, and there were ancient fountains with small sculpted figures decorating the place, which spouted cold running water you could drink. After a quick pit stop for the bathroom (50c later, you have to pay for public bathrooms across most of Europe, I think they made a killing at Coone and the Gang with 15000 partygoers using the toilet), we headed off for a snack. I bought my first German sausage roll (like a hot dog). I got a spicy sausage stuffed with cheese. Don’t ask me how they get so much delicious melted cheese through every section of the sausage but it tasted divine, though very filling. Then we headed along another road, under a huge archway, touching three out of four lucky lions lining the wall of a small palace as we walked along. Touching four is bad luck as you are being too greedy. I then climbed some giant steps to have my photos taken with giant lions, ignoring the giant statue of the arrogant looking Duke overlooking the same square. There are many lions of varying shapes, sizes and designs all across Europe. On a return trip I think I might do a tour to find as many of them as possible.

Next we headed off to the English Garden and parklands. The place really felt like Autumn with beautiful large trees boasting a range of brightly coloured leaves, with just as many on the ground crunching underfoot. The grounds were green and lush, and we walked along a covered path lined with trees, along to the Japanese garden. This was a small Japanese style house with some maples, sculptures and rock gardens, which were connected to the main garden over a small river via a range of arched bridges. I found out later that at the bottom of this river, some rocks are stacked up to create waves, which the locals surf in. I am definitely going to check it out if I return to Munich. We wound our way up a long hill to a beautiful monument that included an old bridge or canal way with vines growing on it, attached via glass walkways to a modern building with an older building in the middle of it. Phillipe said it was some sort of military building, and they built the extensions in glass to show they had nothing to hide, since the earlier wars. At the end of the archway, was a small monument to a group of students who were killed by the Nazis for protesting against them. Next to this was a recently constructed marble pit leading down to a fallen soldier, for all the unnamed soldiers killed during both wars. I found both of these really moving, understated pieces to demonstrate remembrance and respect. With peace in my heart we wandered back to the train station then home, for another night of drinking.

Our plan was to head to Dachau (a concentration camp near Munich) the next day. Unfortunately I woke up with a killer flu, so decided to stay home, drinking lemon, ginger, garlic, chilli and honey tea. After ten cups a day for two days, the germs were gone and we went out again. We headed to the Hofbrauhaus with the whole gang. I was very excited to see my first German beer hall, especially since it is one of the oldest in Germany. We drank one litre beers in Maß (pronounced mass) glasses, which most tourists call steins. I also drank Weiss beer, which I was informed is a breakfast beer, but it was much lighter and tastier than the standard beers. So I could try as many different types of German food as possible, I ordered the mixed appetiser. This included dark rye style bread that’s a little bit sweet, a couple of different cheeses, mixed pickled vegetables, and eight different types of sausages. Though I tasted everything on the plate, it was so rich I could not finish it all, and some of the cheeses and sausages were so strong I nearly felt sick. I finished with a pretzel and a radler, which is half beer half lemonade, as I really did not have room to fit another litre of beer in. I have no idea how people traditionally eat such rich food and drink so much beer every day. There are sausages and beer designed for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner. Needless to say I put on some weight that week. We finished up at a dark little cocktail bar around the corner, drinking scotch and vodka. Spirit shots are only 3 euros in most bars, but they charge up to 7 euros when you add soft drink, as it is treated as a cocktail. I learned to drink straight spirits very quickly to save money, but the quality is high so I really enjoyed it.

The next night we went out for dinner again, as it was Francis’ last night in the house before she headed to Nepal. As Mai is Japanese, and Mikey lived with her in Japan for three years, we hunted out a good sushi restaurant. The first place we tried was really crowded, we couldn’t sit together, and the owners didn’t speak a word of Japanese. Deciding we didn’t want to eat Chinese made sushi, we tried another restaurant. The food was quite nice, I had a bento box with teppanyaki chicken, salad, rice and tempura, though it was a little expensive and the staff were rude. We then headed to an Australian bar to meet up with some crazy Kiwi friends of theirs. The pub was downstairs, and joint owned and run with an Irish bar. It was a classic picture of what an Australian bar might look like in a Hollywood movie, made by someone who’s never been to Australia. The only Australian beer they served was Fosters, and there were yellow road signs decorating the walls depicting place names and animals. There was a surfboard hanging from the roof, and pretend Aboriginal art that was definitely not traditional, as the dots were way too big. Although I had to laugh, it did feel a little bit like home. The place was packed as it was karaoke night, and all the traditional bar karaoke songs were murdered in the usual fashion, though there was the odd good singer. Most of the patrons were American or English, with a few Germans. We left after a few drinks as it was so crowded and loud, it was impossible to have a conversation or really enjoy ourselves. We headed to another bar, with dark red lighting and a strange mix of mellow house/reggae/folk music. Definitely not my scene, but I made the best of the situation by drinking more and dancing like an idiot. It helped that I had a really awesome group of people to hang out with, which made it a lot of fun.

For my final day in Munich, Mai suggested I check out this big park near Leim, since the others were working or beginning to move rooms. I walked for a while, discovering what looked like a small self-maintained community village. There were small garden plots with tiny log cabins, wooden picket fences and dirt paths. There were no electricity lines, and the gardens contained a range of vegetables, flowers and hedges. When I got back the others explained to me that they were gardens for hire. Many European countries purchase small garden plots away from their homes, which they tend to, then relax on the front deck of the small cabins to enjoy their weekends. They are also very popular with the elderly community, giving them a hobby during their days. I kept wandering, pretty sure that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere, but having a good sense of direction and enjoying my walk. I eventually found a main motorway, and a small park with play equipment, and lots more autumn leaves. This made for some beautiful pictures. Then I headed home before it got dark, just in case I was lost. I did find the main shops up the road from the house and made my way home. I found out later that I should have turned left instead of right as I exited their street, so I headed in the opposite direction to where I should have been going. It had been a week since I had arrived at Leim, and we had walked in the dark. I tend to pay less attention to directions when I am following people than wandering by myself. In times like this I reflect that maybe I should have bought an iPhone before I left home, in case I ever get seriously lost. It would also be nice to check in to some of the awesome venues I have been to, an option that is still not available on normal Facebook. However, I trust my instincts and sense of direction, and have not gone badly wrong yet, and enjoy the feeling that I am travelling more traditionally, before amazing apps and technology. Anyway, if I hadn’t gotten lost, I would never have found those beautiful mini gardens.

On my final night in Munich, I decided I wanted to go back to the Australian bar to watch Australia vs. New Zealand in the Four Nations game. It was not so crowded this time so we could have a decent conversation. As the game was playing in England, it started at 8pm. Unfortunately, even though it was a sports bar, the screens were quite small, so I had to watch carefully as I didn’t have my glasses. It was a good game and I felt patriotic and closer to home. We decided to grab a snack, and browsed the very mixed menu which included asian, fried, salads, burgers and steaks. We got a mixed seafood basket and some wedges, which were pretty fatty, and they had no sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. There was no bbq sauce either, only HP (an English version), so I called that another Australian fail.

We then headed out to a club called Backstage. The Italians had stayed at home to have dinner then meet us there. Unfortunately, they were on Italian time, drinking coffee and enjoying themselves, so they didn’t get there until 1am. The venue had four separate areas. Outside was already closed when we got there. There was some international death metal band playing in the main building, but entry was 30 euro. The building out the back had two more rooms, one playing metal and one reggae. Entry was 10 euro and metal was deserted so we went into reggae. It’s not normally my style, especially for a whole night, but I broke out my RnB dance moves and drank plenty of jagerbombs. Each time you bought a drink they gave you a token worth 1 euro which you could change back for money when you returned the can. Judging by the amount of empty drinks lying around the venue, I would say they make a lot of money out of this enterprise. Later in the night they had a dance off competition, where a bunch of riskily dressed females shook their ass on stage. While I was impressed with some of their moves including upside-down star jumps and hip rolls that went as low as a limbo stick, most of them were pathetic. Vanessa suggested I get up there after watching me do my thing on the dance floor, but I didn’t want to show them up (joking!). The final was one hopeless trollop wearing fluoro mesh versus one Jamaican girl wearing a bikini and woven skirt. Thankfully, the Jamaican won as she could actually move. She is going to the finals in Berlin next month. I was grateful when the whole charade was over, so we could get on with the music and enjoying ourselves. We left an hour early, and somehow walking home, Vanessa and I lost the others. We also discovered that neither of us had really wanted to leave and would have enjoyed dancing the night away until close, but as we thought we were the only ones, it wasn’t to be. We got home, realised we had no keys, and waited for the others. After 15 minutes and still no sign of them, we decided to knock on poor Phillipe’s window to let us in. I passed out upstairs, to be woken up half an hour later by the others, desperately looking for Vanessa. She had gone to sleep on the couch in the lounge room in the dark unnoticed.

The next day after sleeping in, I collected all my belongings and tried to hastily say goodbye to everyone. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realised how long this would take, and by the time I walked to the train station I had just missed my train. I caught another train, heading to the airport via a different (and much longer) route, rather than waiting another half hour. I sprinted through the airport, knowing I had already missed the two hour check in deadline by 15 minutes and hoping to argue my way onto the plane, as I had forgotten to use web check in (again). Fortunately, Lufthansa are not worried about the deadline when flying within the EU, and I checked in easily using their self-service system. I had a really good time in Munich and look forward to heading back there later in my travels to hang with my new friends again.

Next stop… Sensation White at Copenhagen

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Antwerp, Belgium

I was really looking forward to my first visit to Belgium. We caught a train from Rotterdam, that only took 1 ½ hours. Unfortunately, it was a night train, so we didn’t get to see much of the countryside. Halfway along the trip, the lights in our carriage went out, and time flew once we were telling stories in the dark. We arrived at Antwerp to a huge train station, which was nothing like anything I have ever seen before. It was a very old and majestic building, with more than twenty platforms, many of them underground, and large escalators that took you up several floors at a time. We went outside and decided to catch a cab, as when we looked up the hostel online it was nearly 3 kilometres away. We gave the address to the taxi driver, who said we could easily walk it, and pointed us in the right direction. We decided to take the cab anyway, as it was late and we were tired. Although not a long drive, I’m glad we didn’t walk as it would have been very likely that we got lost.

He dropped us off at our hostel and we looked along the row of buildings, not sure we were at the right place. Every building on the road looked like an old three or four storey house, and there was no sign for the hostel. After having a closer look at the numbers, we selected the right entry and saw ‘Boomerang’ scrawled on the wall in brown paint. We rang the doorbell, which was answered by a quiet Asian woman, who led us to ‘reception’. We quickly realised why this hostel had been so cheap. We were checked in using a laptop at a large dining table in a dark lit room, where they wrote our names on a piece of paper. We were then led up three large flights of stairs to our room of five bunk beds. We were not given a key as there was no lock on the door, and were shown the small toilets and bathroom across the hall with a strange smell. We left our backpacks in the room and went downstairs for a drink. In the same room as ‘reception’ was an assortment of furniture, covered in about forty guests with a range of bottles and snacks piled around them, getting ready for a night out on the town. The nightlife in Antwerp is meant to be very good, but we decided to save ourselves for Coone and the Gang the next night.

We bought a few bottles of Jupiler from the bar, for only €1.50 each, by far the cheapest beer we have had so far, and sat on the floor for a smoke, as there was nowhere to sit at the moment. I was served by a nice African man, who brought out slightly dusty bottles, but at least they were sealed, and rang up our purchase on the most ancient till I have ever seen. It was like something from the 1900s with each key sticking out like a typewriter, and numbers on cards that pop up in the display panel. We observed the room more closely, laughing at the range of items decorating the room, many that looked like they had been flogged off the street during a council clean-up. There were old wooden beer kegs for tables, foam mannequins distributed around the walls, and beanbags hanging from the ceiling as a lampshade, from an electrical cord that had been duct taped to a chain that used to belong to a chandelier. The room started to clear so we moved to an old wicker couch covered with blankets and cushions. While leaning on the couch arm, I noticed there was not much support, and lifted the blanket to reveal the cane arm had completely caved in! I looked across the room and noticed the other wicker couch’s arm was completely detached from the rest of the sofa, and slowly making its way across the floor. We also saw a television that looked like it was from 1950 and an old stereo that reminded me of the one we had at home, complete with tape decks and a record player on top. My favourite item in the room was the toadstool shaped stools that were barely big enough for a leprechaun to sit on. We grabbed a few free map guides, written by travellers, and planned the places we wanted to see the next day. After finishing our beers we went to bed to get a good night’s sleep, so we could start the day early.

Unfortunately, some other guests in our room had other plans that ruined our good night’s sleep. About 4am, some English guys came stumbling in, crashing into things and making a lot of noise, then telling a story from the night at normal volume. I told him it was fascinating but could he please tell it somewhere else as we were trying to sleep. Five minutes later, they had all crawled into bed, then the couple on the top bunk started going at it. To be fair, they were extremely quiet, but unfortunately, rocking the top bunk does tend to make a squeaking noise. Gratefully, it was over quickly, then I heard another bang, and glanced up to see some guy’s fat ass staring me in the face. Tegan wasn’t so lucky, she copped the full frontal view. We finally managed to get back to sleep. While having breakfast we decided to get some revenge. By now it was 10am, so all our other roommates had left, so we re-entered the room for Timmy to turn on his laptop and play the fastest, loudest, nastiest hardcore music he had. They still didn’t wake up, so I went to take a shower. From the shower I heard screaming and yelling, and figured they had finally woken up to pounding hardcore to match their pounding heads. Timmy had turned it up to full ball in my absence and the guy launched out of bed, pushing him against the wall and threatening to break his laptop. As he screamed about respect for other people in the room, Tegan pointed out their lack of respect the night before. With our point made, we went downstairs and got on with our day. They must have learned their lesson, for when they crept in at 6am the next morning, we didn’t hear a peep.

We decided to walk to Centraal Station, via Diamond City. Antwerp is one of the largest diamond producers in the world, and there is a whole street lined with jewellery stores called Diamond City. Unfortunately for us, it was closed on Saturdays, so resembled more of a back alley, lined with roller doors and security cameras. There was some beautiful jewellery on display in the windows, and we marvelled at the sparkling items on display, and then dreamed of being able to buy one someday with the exorbitant prices we witnessed. Strangely enough, there was a synagogue in the middle of all these shops, whose service had just finished as we were passing through. We headed up to the central square to visit the diamond museum. We saw some amazing antique jewellery using an array of valuable stones, carefully set into a variety of shapes, including flowers, insects and a peacock. Many of the pieces were created to have detachable segments, so a large crown could be broken into a smaller tiara, earrings and bracelet, or intricate headpieces became a necklace and brooch. Many of the pieces were designed for European royalty, and all of them had a story. The majority of diamonds came from South America, and there was a section where they demonstrated how diamonds are cleaned, cut then polished into the myriad of shapes we see today. Although most of it is now done by laser, I found it amazing to see the range of tools they used to use to shape the diamonds by hand.

We quickly stopped by the gates of China Town and the Zoo for some photos, but didn’t have time to explore these areas further on this trip. Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest and largest zoos in Europe, and even the decorations on the gates were magnificent. We headed for Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Cathedral, on the other side of town. We walked down the main shopping boulevard, and I nearly lost Timmy and Tegs again, as I wandered along taking photos of all the amazing architecture. I am continually amazed by the age of the buildings and the great condition they are still in, but I am most fascinated by the detail. Many of the columns are carved in an ornate range of shapes, with huge oak doors, and tiny figures perched on the rooves. Many of the structures are gilt with gold that shines in the sunlight, making the whole town seem opulent and magnificent. I love the many statues and fountains, with their famous figures, cherubs and angels. I wonder if Europeans truly appreciate how blessed they are to be surrounded by such history, that cannot be imagined in a country as young as Australia. Luckily, as I was spying through my camera’s screen, I noticed the Disney store. We had to side-track through this world of wonder, and Tegan and I became mischievous children again as soon as we entered the premises. We hid in castles with princesses spinning on top, dressed up in the many costumes and played with the vast array of toys. I’m not sure the employees of the store are used to adults behaving so childishly, as we received some interesting looks from the staff, but we had a fantastic time. Unfortunately, my camera battery was low and I wanted to save it for the cathedral, and Timmy lost their camera a few weeks later, without uploading the pictures from that day, so there are not many photos, but it is a memory that will stay with me forever. I am definitely taking my children to Disney stores so I can have that much fun again.

We finally arrived at the cathedral and it was definitely worth the walk. This was my first ancient church, and I took many pictures. Although it has been turned into quite a tourist attraction, we had to pay to get in and there was a souvenir shop at the exit, you could still feel it was a very spiritual place. I gaped at the huge columns holding up the high ceilings, at the art and sculptures displayed in every alcove, and the mammoth crucifix hanging from the centre of the church. The altars at the front of the room are my favourite thing to observe while in churches, and I sat in a pew for a while to just observe the glory around me. I love the ornate carvings that decorate the columns and ceilings, the stained glass window scenes, and the imitation ark of the covenant. This cathedral also had a display of ancient dress robes that priests have worn in the past, and even these were so beautifully decorated with gold thread and intricate designs. As I wandered around the vast space, I noticed many of the alcoves had candles lit in prayer to remember the deceased. In one smaller alcove, I found a wooden alter before a beautiful white sculpture of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. It reminded me of a piece of jewellery my Grandma used to have. I am not religious but my grandparents were both Catholic, so I bought a candle and lit it in their honour, reflecting on how much they would have loved to see this special place, in all its glory reflecting their faith. I wondered what other ancient churches they had visited, and felt they were there with me, witnessing the beauty of this amazing place.

We exited to the main square, where we visited a few souvenir shops, looking for gifts, and then headed back to central station. I decided to take a different route back, assuming the road I had selected ran parallel to the road we had come in on. Unfortunately, we had been walking for a really long time before I decided to check the map. By then, we couldn’t find any of the street names around us on the map, as only the main ones are written. I have a good sense of direction and knew which direction to take, and we eventually appeared at the road to our hostel. Unluckily, I had taken us on a rather long circuitous route around the main part of the city, and as much as I enjoy getting lost, the others not so much. Especially when we had a big event on that night and were going to be on our feet for hours. We still had to go to Central to lock our laptop away for the night, buy some batteries, print our tickets and get dinner, which involved more walking. On the plus side we now knew our way around quite well, and the man at the information desk was very helpful so we found what we needed quickly. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera charger was in the laptop bag, so I had no photos from Coone that night. The whole trip does seem to be a comedy of errors, though I do seem to be a slow learner, as this was not the last mistake I would make on my travels.

So we managed to catch the correct tram, and got to Coone before the doors opened. I was really excited to be attending my first international rave, especially after Coone played such an awesome set at Defqon in Australia, and some of my other favourites like Zatox and Wildstylez were playing too, and they released my two current favourite hardstyle songs. Looking around, I noticed a lot of young kids, and we found out it was a 16 and over rave. In most parts of Europe, kids can drink beer, wine and premixes from 16, but are not allowed ‘hard liquor’ or spirits until 18. The bouncers checked everyone thoroughly for weapons, but did not check ID, and I swear I saw many teenagers who couldn’t be more that 14. This sets a different tone for the night, as some of them can be quite annoying, and we had to find areas to avoid them. The drinks were really expensive, so we decided to stay sober, keeping ourselves going with red bull and water. Timmy was so pumped he fist pumped through the whole night, as amazing sets were played, one after another. Tegan and I were more tired from our epic adventures throughout the day, so after the first couple of hours dancing, we decided to sit down and film many of the awesome tracks being played. By 3am I could barely keep my eyes open, and we struggled through to the end so Timmy could see every set and write his review. It was still an amazing night, with many musical highlights, but I learned that I need a nap before such epic events, especially if I’m staying sober. We caught a taxi back to Central, got a few hours sleep at the hostel, had waffles with ice cream for breakfast and went home. Even though I stayed sober, I felt wrecked like I’d had a massive drunken night, and really enjoyed coming home to the Flying Pig.

See Timmy’s review at http://www.fear.fm/magazine/partyreport/report-coone-amp-the-gang-public-enemies/51

I loved Belgium, with its beautiful buildings, friendly people and awesome food. I can’t wait to go back, hopefully on this trip I’ll make it to Bruges and Brussels.

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The Flying Pig Beach – Noordwijk (Netherlands)

http://www.flyingpig.nl/hostels/flyingpigbeach.php

After flying in, it was really nice to meet up with Tegs and Tim and have a guide while I found my way around, so I didn’t have to struggle to get directions, use public transport and find my hostel. They ended up at the Flying Pig Beach Hostel in Noordvijk where they found work, so it was my first point of call. The Flying Pig is a really nice relaxed hostel, on one of only three beaches in Holland, with shops just down the road, and sand dunes in the other direction. The whole place has a beach feel, with surfboards and guitars hanging on the ceiling and walls, and beach scenes painted in all of the rooms with bright colours. I spent most of my time in the smoking room my first week, sitting on the multi-coloured cushions on the stage, or the awkward wooden bar stools, enjoying the morning sun coming through the windows and reading a book or writing, and chatting with the regulars.

There are four different types of people who frequent the Pig. Staff, who work here for free food and accommodation, guests, locals, as it is one of few venues in town with a bar and a smoking room, and the furniture. I quickly became part of the furniture with other guests who stay during the week, socialising with the staff when it’s quiet. On the weekends the place is a noisy madhouse, filled with guests from many different nations intermixed with locals, speaking twenty different languages, smoking, drinking and making a pleasant ruckus. My first run in with such guests, were five Germans who checked into my room late on a Thursday night. Unfortunately they were put in my room despite the empty rooms around me due to the length of their stay. They woke me up when they entered, apologising and saying reception said I could move, but I would have to pay more. I chose to stay, assuming I can sleep through anything, I was wrong. Welcome to the wonderful world of hostels. At about 4am they came crashing in, still talking at the top of their lungs and getting ready for bed. An hour later I finally fell asleep, and found out the next morning they had woken the whole hostel. Luckily for me, when I complained the next day, I was moved to a smaller room on the top floor for free (thanks Lori). After my first few days, I moved downstairs to the 20 bed dorm, staying with staff and regulars. I quickly learned to fall asleep with the sound of music over my head in the bar, blocking out the snoring of drunk males. I am so glad I sleep easily.

Many days were wasted in this manner, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I quickly adapted to going to bed late and rising later. During my first days I was up around 8am each day and was told I was an early riser. I had to laugh, thinking of 6am starts back home, but as reception and breakfast doesn’t open until 9am anyway, there is really no point in being up earlier. So I stayed up late, having random conversations with a range of people, most of whom I still don’t know the names of. In hostels, people tend to start conversations with where are you from and how long have you been travelling, bypassing normal introductions until you have been talking for an hour, and it is now past the point where you can safely ask someone’s name without being embarrassed. I met one guy who really loved the anonymity of it all. Sometimes you glean a name here and there, from groups who call each other by name, or people who tell stories about themselves or talk in the third person, but mostly people are referred to by their country of origin. There’s the Canadian guy, the French group, the Irish couple, or the more obscure Australian-Canadian, French-Italian, or my favourite The Swede. I am often mistaken for staff and help out where I can, unofficially, while enjoying myself and waiting for my visa appointment so I too may look for work.

Early one such night, I enjoyed a pint of beer and sampled the local wares. Unfortunately, my Australian constitution was not prepared for such an encounter. After only one beer and a few samples, I found myself very tired and feeling pretty bent. I decided to go to bed before I passed out on the cushions and stumbled my way up the stairs. I was then faced with the challenging task of unlocking my door, with a key that I had struggled to use all week. Fortune was in my favour, it opened easily, and I turned the light on so I could aim for the bed then turned it off and made my way over. Next thing I remember I felt quite strange, like I’d had a weird dream and the bed was very hard. I pushed my fingers against it, to notice there was carpet underhand. I opened my eyes to confirm I was on the floor. As I tried to remember if I had bent down to get something then passed out, I noticed a large shadow looming overhead. Thinking I was imagining things, or it was a play of light and shadow, I got up and turned the light switch back on. Only to see an entire bunk bed laying diagonally across the room, the mattresses dangling from it by the bedcovers on a strange angle. I could make out a vague crash in my memory’s subconscious, and realised I must have reached for the bed to support myself as I blacked out, and pulled it down on top of me until it crashed into my bed frame. Keep in mind that these are made of cast iron, and lifting it back to upright while still under the weather was a mammoth effort. I thanked my guardian angels once again, that the smallness of my room meant my bed had propped it up as it fell, instead of crashing on top of me to my demise. I have only ever blacked out one other time in my life, and for those who know the story, this time I was luckier still. It is a scary thing, and while the story is hilarious in retrospect, it also serves as a reminder to me to take it easy while over here, encountering local pastimes that do not compare with anything we can experience back home. I also vowed to spend less time in the smoking room, as I think the aromas I inhaled from sitting with smokers all day, had a more profound effect than I had first imagined.

Keeping this in mind I was more cautious on my first attempt to consume truffles. Similar to ‘magic mushrooms’ though those are now illegal here, they are supposed to create a euphoric effect and enhance vision and sound. We went to the beautiful dunes down the road to try them, and shared a packet of 15 grams. After waiting an hour, watching the sunset, kids playing in the dunes and people walking their dogs, we decided it was too cold and went home. After warming up for an hour and watching some TV, we got the giggles like a teenage schoolgirl and found some very interesting patterns in the bedframes and coloured jigsaw puzzle paintings around the room. It was a mild effect and while we looked like idiots to anyone who paid attention, it was an enjoyable evening. I look forward to my next full box of truffles at the beach, as it is truly a picturesque location with beautiful sights and sounds to observe on your gentle wanderings.

Stay tuned for my first weekend in Belgium…

Posted in Holland, Netherlands, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment