Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Sick of spending too much time despising the Dutch, today I threw myself into the cultural life of Amsterdam and started hitting the museums.

Amsterdam has a lot of museums. This is possibly because the Dutch value education and knowledge, but it's probably more to do with their autism-level obsessiveness. Of course there are the expected museums of windmills, tulips, clogs and Anne Franks, but there are also museums of pipes, canals, toilets, funerals, sex, clocks, handbags, diamonds, pianolas, ships in bottles, houseboats… basically if you can obsess about something to the point of being socially awkward, the Dutch have already erected a building to facilitate that.

I started my cultural journey in the Reijkmuseum, the sprawling edifice housing Holland’s vast national collection of pretty much everything. I spent five hours patiently trying to see all of the fine art and sculpture, only to discover a huge gallery full of priceless jewelry, porcelain, glassware and weaponry in the basement on the way out. D'oh!

Occasionally, between sitting to massage my aching feet or leaning against a wall while bemoaning my interest in the finer things, I took a moment to helpfully rename some art.

The Last Supper, Featuring That One Disciple Who Always Focused on the ‘Supper’ Part, Artist Unknown, 1520

Madonna With Child and Seriously Like Her Fifth Mimosa, Artist Unknown, 1350

The Christ Child Three Months After Getting an AbBlaster for Christmas, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, 1528

Okay, Who the Hell Ordered Cow Face?, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen, 1530

Bossie, Suspicious of This Whole Jesus Thing, Pieter Aertsen, 1560

Portrait of Clara Billows, Inventor of Farting and Blaming it on The Dog, With Research Assistant, Therese Schwartze, 1879

The Fat White Bastards Who Rule the World and Don’t Care Who Knows It, Govert Flinck, 1645

Portrait of Esmerelda van Lemonsukker, Inventor of Resting Bitch Face, Daniel Vertangen, 1660

Monday, April 29, 2019


My foul mood started to break today, or at least commenced the first hints of a thaw. I discovered that one of the Amsterdam H&Ms was selling a 20 euro tie and pocket square combo I’d admired in a H&M in Italy for 3 euros. There’s nothing like a bargain to improve one’s outlook.

I also remembered that for all the Dutch failings with savoury food, and their indefensible salty licorice, these people do know their way around a pastry. The apple pies that feature in every cafe, as inevitably as croissants in France, are superb. Any country that regards apple pie as a standard breakfast food can’t be all bad.

Just mostly bad.

Benny was happy. But then Benny is always happy. It’s one of the benefits of having a plastic head.

Sunday, April 28, 2019


I spent the day in a foul mood, thanks to my experiences with Dutch credit card shaming, which coloured my view of these people and reminded me of all of their worst qualities.

They look like giant human dumplings, and dress accordingly. They are stubborn to the point of rudeness. Their language sounds, at best, like someone mockingly pretending to speak Dutch and, at worst, like someone choking on mashed potato. Amsterdam is full of Starbucks, McDonalds and KFCs, probably because they offer better food than most authentic Dutch restaurants. The coffee is triple of price of that in Italy, and half the quality. They ride around on clapped-out bicycles with a curious upright posture, as if primly judging everyone else as they rattle by. The reason why they invented gay marriage is because two men boinking is the least perverted sexual thing they do. And the only Dutch contribution to the world of hospitality appears to be the Dutch Treat, or the act of inviting someone out for a meal then insisting that they pay for their half of it.

While stewing on all this, I remembered that I know Dutch people back in Australia… and I don’t actually like any of them. They are somehow simultaneously sanctimonious and crude, like someone farting in church then loudly thanking God for the gift of a digestive tract.

You might ask what I am doing in Holland when I can’t stand the Dutch. I’ve asked that question myself.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


The day started on a cruise ship in Bari, on the east coast of Italy. It ended in an AirBnB apartment in the Eastern Docklands precinct of Amsterdam, on the north coast of The Netherlands.

We woke early, just before 7am, as the cruise line had advised us that it wanted us out of our cabin by 7.30am and off their damn ship by 7.45am. And so, naturally, at 8.15am we were sitting in the buffet having breakfast. As I’d realised at the Torre della Ziro, it’s culturally appropriate to ignore the rules of Italian bureaucrats. We reckoned that the worst they could do to us was throw us off their ship, which would have allowed us to skip yet another queue, so frankly we could see an upside to it.

From the ship, we walked up through Bari Old Town, a maze of pale stone buildings reminiscent of Split, and then into Bari New Town, where a dedicated pedestrian mall allows people like me to go all the way to the train station without encountering a car. Except for this one, which was okay by me.

From there, we took a local train to the Bari Airport, then got on a plane belonging to an airline I’d never even heard of to fly to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, a flight of about two and a half hours.

From Schipol Airport, we took the special airport train in to Amsterdam Centraal, then a local train out to Indische Buurt, then walked to our AirBnB and collapsed in a heap.

I rallied long enough to walk to the local supermarket, which after the charmingly haphazard supermarkets of Italy seemed like a bright modern space filled with good food and drink. I bought French wine, pastries, berries, salad and crusty bread, then took it all up to the cashier and whipped out my credit card.

Which was declined.

Not because there was anything wrong with my credit card – it’s still working fine. But apparently Dutch supermarkets don’t take credit cards. It seems that the Dutch regard buying something as basic as food on credit as morally reprehensible, and they won’t be a party to that.

Never mind that I use my credit card as a debit card and haven’t paid a cent of interest in years. Never mind that the rest of the civilised world has accepted credit cards in supermarkets for decades. Never mind that the Dutch supermarkets even have the machines set up at the checkouts, but only for proper Dutch debit cards.

So I had to use about half of my rapidly dwindling reserves of cash to pay for my groceries. Which left a rather sour taste in my mouth, alleviated only by the aforementioned French wine and pastries.

Friday, April 26, 2019


Corfu is the largest of the Greek Islands, and also possibly the least Greek. Unlike the cute little whitewashed buildings of Mykonos and Santorini, Corfu boasts elegant Venetian townhouses and huge stone fortresses. Given that Corfu was the southern gateway to the Venetian empire for nearly 400 years, this is not surprising.

The weather cleared for Corfu, bringing back bright blue skies for the last day of the cruise. However we were not destined to see a lot of it, thanks to two issues. One, the cruise line had only arranged to stop at Corfu for five and a half hours. And two, they only opened one disembarkation point for the two and a half thousand passengers who wanted to spend as much of that five and a half hours as possible actually enjoying Corfu and not, by contrast, standing in a stuffy queue wedged between loud, bad-tempered Bavarian tourists.

I mean, why would you want to be out and about in this?

The only reason I got off the ship after an hour was because someone in the crew finally came up with the bright idea of opening a second disembarkation point.

With limited time, I scurried to one of the two crumbling forts that sit on either side of Corfu’s main town. I found the New Fort easily enough – it’s the size of a largish city block – but it took me half an hour of circling its huge walls before I worked out how to get in. At which point I discovered that it was closed for a local public holiday.

Nevertheless, I could still take pictures of Benny enjoying the fort's unintentional bounty of spring wildflowers.

Having been foiled in my attempts to breach the New Fort, I trotted off to the Old Fort - which ironically looks a lot newer - on the other side of the town.

It was open… for another fifteen minutes. So I did what I do best and bolted to the highest point in the fortress I could find. And just as I got to the last doorway, the attendant slammed it shut, then proceeded to have a huge screaming match with a disappointed local tourist in that way that impassioned Greeks do so well.

I still got some good pictures from the slightly lower points, since the attendant was too busy trading ferocious abuse with the tourist to trouble herself with shooing me away.

I still had an hour or two before I had to be back at the ship, so I wandered through the shopping area, had some gelato, observed the tomb of Gerald Durrell, and watched some sort of Catholic parade associated with the aforementioned local public holiday.

And finally, I realised that throughout this cruise I’d been meaning to take a swim in the Mediterranean, but I’d never had a decent opportunity. So I walked down to a quiet stretch of the seafront and paddled my feet in the water. It wasn’t a swim… but then it wasn’t the Mediterranean either, since Corfu is in the Ionian Sea. But I immersed part of my body in seawater, so I figured that counted.

Benny got his feet wet too.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Knowing absolutely nothing about Santorini, I was expecting it to be another Mykonos, but the similarities between the two extend no further than cute whitewashed houses and Greek Orthodoxy. The main town of Mykonos is nestled within gentle hills on the waterfront. By contrast, Santorini’s main town, Fira, is perched at the peak of one of its highest cliffs, with the waterfront only accessible by cablecar, a very, very long stair climb, or by the island’s famous donkeys, who do your climbing for you.

Or you can drive up from the opposite side of the island, where the airport is, but in true cruise style, they choose drama over practicality.

Fira itself is much like any other Greek island town, or indeed, much like any small town whose income is based entirely on tourism. There are the same jewellry shops, the same clothing stores, the same gelati stands, the same souvenir stalls selling novelty penis-shaped bottle openers, all with owners making imprecations to tourists in broken English. If it was insufferably humid and the hawkers and touts had a slightly different skin colour, it could just as easily be Phuket as Santorini.

But the ship was only docked for a few hours, so there wasn’t too much time to explore the tea towels and sunglasses in the market. It made more sense for Benny and me to walk along the paths on the clifftops, taking photos and fighting down the vertigo.

At least Benny got a Hallelujah Selfie.

Then all too soon, it was back down the several hundred metres of donkey poop-strewn stairs to join the queues for the shuttle boats to go back to the ship. Very, very long queues… it takes a while to process two and a half thousand passengers through one ship security checkpoint: two hours of my seven hour stop were taken up with me standing in queues.

But then like I said, this cruise line tends to choose drama over practicality. What can I say; they’re Italians.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


It was a slightly strange day in Mykonos. The sky was overcast in a light, dull, almost white shade of grey. This reflected into the sea to make it a slightly darker shade of white-ish grey. Against the famous white buildings of Mykonos, the entire landscape became one solid blanket of dirty white: basically, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ worst nightmare. As a white man in a white town under a white sky, I felt very problematic... even moreso than usual.

For a place with no trees, less fresh water and a whole lot of rocks, Mykonos has done pretty well for itself. The prices on Mykonos are a bit of a shock after those of Koper, Split and Kotor. Basically, everything triples. I sat down to have a couple of scoops of gelati and it was nearly 6 euros, where you’d normally pay about 2 in the other cities. Was it perhaps magical gelati? Or rather, gelati that is significantly more magical than ordinary gelati, which is pretty darn magical to begin with?

Of course when I tasted it, my reaction paraphrased Barney Gumble: “This better be the best tasting gelati in the world”. *Takes mouthful*. “You got lucky”.

We spent the day walking around, having coffee in cafes while using the wifi, and taking photos of picturesque buildings, lazy local cats and a gorgeous 1972 Citroen SM with more retrofuturistic sex appeal than Barbarella.

At dusk we headed back to the ship. Mykonos is famous as a party island, but in late April it was too early in the season for the partying to be properly underway. In any case, the Mykonos style of partying, like the Ibiza style or the Tennerife style, isn’t really my style. I’m too self-conscious, too introverted, too discreet and too non-appalling. In any case, if I wanted to party with scrags and chavs, I could stay on the ship and visit the disco. Or any of the lounges. Or the coffee bar. Or indeed any part of the ship, given that the most cultured thing on this tub is probably the yoghurt in the salad bar.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Our sole day in which we don’t make landfall was marked by a howling storm. There’s a constant low, throbbing growl as the ship’s stabilisers compensate for the rise and fall of the ocean, but nobody minds as the stabilisers prevent us from being tossed around like peanuts in a can. Even with them, the ship rolls and dips slightly between the waves. I can hear coat hangers thudding against the wardrobe doors, and the creak of cabinet frames flexing. Occasionally the entire room shudders and drops in a way that would be sickening if it happened for more than a second or two.

The most difficult thing is actually climbing stairs. Having the stair treads either move slightly towards you or slightly away from you means that you feel as if you’re climbing in higher or lower gravity. Staircases that I’d normally ascend without a thought now take noticeable effort.

I woke late, partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that we’d moved east into a new timezone and thus lost an hour overnight. After enduring the neverending chaos of the buffet (does that greedy fat kid really need those dozen sausages, or is the little bastard going to eat three then throw the remaining nine away?), I took a shower, did what we’ve come to call “Ghetto Laundry” (ie washing small items in the bathroom sink then hanging them to dry around the cabin like it’s a share room in Hong Kong with ten migrant workers living in it), made up the Lego set I bought in the ship’s toy store at 11.30 last night, listened to some podcasts, had lunch in the restaurant which normally isn’t chaotic but is today because the storm has chased everyone inside, and went up to Deck 12, the highest on the ship, to take photos and nearly get blasted off my feet by the screaming gale. Then I did some blogging, went to the gym, saw the evening show in the theatre, had “elegant” dinner in the restaurant, then inelegant cocktails in one of the bars. Or rather, I bought the cocktails in one of the bars, then carried them down a floor and into a separate lounge area where "Aldo LeVar with Svetlana" weren’t massacring some pop tune from the 80s.

I also found time to undertake one of my favourite passtimes on a cruise: encapsulating the passengers and crew in prose.

Slightly Brad Pitt: an officer who bears a passing resemblance to a certain famous actor, who spends all of his time standing on the buffet patio, speaking tersely into his phone and looking tired and worried. I’d be concerned if he was in the engine room or on the bridge, but it’s the buffet – how dire an emergency could it possibly be? The ketchup dispenser is clogged again?

Low Rent Jacqui Weaver: a passenger who bears a passing, rather haggard resemblance to a different certain famous actor, only this one wears so much smoky eye makeup that her eyes look like they’ve fallen through a wormhole and retreated to another dimension. Paired with pearl-augmented denim, sequin-augmented cotton and fringe-augmented leather, she cuts quite the figure in the buffet line.

Homeless Man: I saw one old man in the buffet who I swear was homeless – clothes badly fastened, unwashed and shambling about with a vacant look on his face. I suspect the only reasons he wasn’t begging were because nobody carries cash on a cruise liner, and because it’s hard to convince generous strangers that you need money for food when there are trays of free mushroom omelets and chocolate croissants right behind you.

The Aspirational Couple: a husband and wife in their 40s, both ridiculously good looking, lean and fit, poised and beautifully dressed. He has immaculate dark hair and stubble with a hint of grey. She has a tumble of chestnut hair and flawless makeup. They look like they came onto the ship directly from an Audi commercial. Their stylish outfits – always elegant and beautifully pressed, by some sort of black magic – are coordinated. Not matching, which would be tacky; coordinated, in subtle nods to the colours, patterns and textures of the others clothes. They are completely out of place on this ship of fat Kazakstani businessmen in stretched polo shirts and chubby Italian housewives in bad dye jobs and zebra print nylon blouses… and they know it. They drift about the ship, looking perfect, with smiles of barely contained superiority.

Monday, April 22, 2019


Kotor is not, as I would have assumed, the chief villain from a cheap 80s Saturday morning cartoon.

Puny mortals! I am Kotor, and soon you will feel my wrath!

In reality, Kotor is a quaint little town squeezed onto some of Montenegro’s very limited supply of flat land, wedged in between the mountains and the sea. Besides its spectacular setting, Kotor is famous for its cats, who wander aloofly around the streets and squares as if exhausted by the stress of being beloved by an entire population.

Kotor is also the place where I realised that I have a strange quirk – wherever I go while traveling, I always feel compelled to seek the highest ground available. The mountains in Amalfi, the Duomo in Florence, the towers of St Mark’s in Venice and the church in Koper, the Marjan hill in Split, and now Montenegro. What’s with that?

To be fair, Montenegro is 90% mountain, so not meandering onto higher ground actually requires careful planning. After a quick reconnoiter around the town, I headed up the steps that rise up the mountainside to the ruins of an ancient fort. It was a warm, sunny late spring day and I’d forgotten to bring any water, so I reached the fort exhausted and woozy. But not so exhausted and woozy that I couldn’t enjoy the spectacular views.

As ever, Benny tried to frolic in nature but got himself into trouble.

But he overcame.

Sunday, April 21, 2019


The cruise's second destination was Split in Croatia.

I rather liked Split. Its creamy, ancient limestone buildings are normally festooned with weeds growing in cracks and joints, but at this time of year those weeds show themselves to be wildflowers, and the buildings become peppered with snapdragons and daisies. At the same time, the limestone pavements have been worn over the centuries to a glossy shine. It looks like a fantasy world, which explains why Game of Thrones is filmed here.

I had coffee in a cafe which met my three criteria: it had wifi, it took credit cards, and it was happy to sell me a $3 cappuccino and then ignore me for an hour while I checked my messages, updated my Instagram, read the news and generally reconnected with the world.

Then, since it was Easter Sunday, I tried to visit the cathedral so that I could stop a moment to reflect on the Resurrection. However, Split was having none of that: the cathedral had a bouncer, who politely but firmly explained, to a fresh tourist every 20 seconds or so, that the cathedral was only open to locals today. I was disappointed but I appreciated their perspective - if you want to worship God on the holiest day on the Christian calendar, the last thing you need is having a party of Chinese tourists elbowing you out of the way so that they can take their selfies with the altar.

So instead, I climbed to the top of Marjan Hill, a huge public park just outside the Old Town. There were awesome views back over Split, out over the Adriatic, and off to the mountains.

After I walked back down into the city, Benny and I had a beer in a back alley expat bar, which eventually turned out to be a free beer when their credit card machine refused to work.

Hooray for Split!

Saturday, April 20, 2019


The first stop on the cruise was the town of Koper in Slovenia.

If Koper has a claim to fame, it wasn’t apparent to me. I wandered around the old town, then I wandered around the new town. I climbed the spire of the main church to take in the view, looked at a small but decent modern art exhibition, and bought some chocolate Easter eggs in the supermarket, since I haven’t had a chance to celebrate Easter in any form yet, and cramming chocolate into my yap hole is the easiest of the traditions to embrace while on the move.

Then I went back to the ship, to indulge in the buffet, drink a poorly-made cocktail and take a nap. Ah, the glamour of cruising.

Friday, April 19, 2019


For my last day in Venice, I slept in, then had to scramble to clean up and clear out of my AirBnb by the 10am deadline. I actually left it by 10.15am, just as the owner arrived to arrange it for the next tenant. She didn’t seem too put out, but I got the impression that she didn’t like to meet her AirBnb guests – if they invisibly moved in and out of her life, leaving only some rumpled sheets, a bin full of empty prosecco bottles and a large pile of cash to show that they were there, that was quite alright with her.

I then dragged my luggage to the Venice cruise ship terminal to commence the next leg of my holiday: a 9 day cruise around the Adriatic Sea. I arrived at the terminal footsore and sweaty and wondering why I’d bought so many beautiful but heavy Italian shoes in Florence.

Benny just drove. The smug little bastard.

At the cruise ship terminal I was shunted by various cruise line employees through security checkpoints, up ramps, through a lounge that looked like it was decorated by the Golden Girls, and finally into the sort of tiny, tiny cabin you get when you’re a skinflint like me.

Fortunately the tiny, tiny cabin has little cupboards tucked away in every conceivable place, so there’s enough room to stash my clothes, luggage, toiletries, souvenirs, Benny, Benny’s Fiat 500, and his spare head.

Once I was settled in I went up to Deck 11 for a cocktail while watching the ship cast off. I ordered the special house cocktail of the day – an Electric Iced Tea. It came out the vivid green of radiator fluid, and unlike the deceptively mild taste of a traditional Long Island Iced Tea, this announced its high alcohol content like a roundhouse kick to the head.

The time required to nurse this drink, and judiciously water it down with extra ice, gave me an opportunity to observe the collective character of my fellow passengers. Unfortunately they turned out to be no better than the passengers on my previous cruises. If you ever meet a bigger collection of noisy, entitled Eurobogans with the fashion sense of a reality TV contestant and the class and good manners of a different reality TV contestant, then I pity you.

Thursday, April 18, 2019


While the Florentines concentrate almost entirely on their artistic heritage, the Venetians are clearly fans of art both modern and historical. Possibly this is because in most respects Venice is trapped by its history – it can’t change its architecture or industries without ruining its unique character, but that unique character makes it ideally suited to embrace the avante garde art scene and still remain itself.

I’d like to think that Peggy Guggenheim realised this, which is why she set up her modern art museum in her Venetian palazzo, which is now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection that we visited this morning. It’s a glorious collection that only a ridiculously wealthy art collector and patron could amass, featuring amazing works by Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Vasily Kandinsky, Rene Margritte and Ray Calder.

That was just the permanent collection. The museum had just opened a temporary exhibition based around the Dadaist artist Jean Arp, which was surprisingly intelligible and engaging. The Dadaists challenged the prevailing assumptions about art a century ago in ways that can look obvious and therefore amateurish now, but that work was groundbreaking, and the best of it, as included in this exhibition, still looks exciting and beautiful today.

But the high point of the visit came when we overheard an American woman, with the penetrating voice of her kind, drawl loudly to her friend, “Who is this Kandinsky person? I’ve never heard of him, but he seems to have a lot of pictures around here.”

It would have been interesting to ask her how she came to be in a modern art museum when she’d never heard of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, but by then she’d stumbled across the Marino Marini sculpture of a man with a large erect penis sitting astride a horse with a large erect penis, and she was lost for the remainder of her visit in delighted hysteria.

We had a quick break for gelati, then walked across the city to the Ca’pesaro Museo, first for lunch on their gracious waterfront patio, then for a wander around the museum.

The Ca’pesaro isn’t one of the premier art galleries of Venice, so it isn’t on most tourists' agendas, yet it is home to Gustav Klimt’s beautiful ‘Judith II (Salome)’ and also one of the handful of editions of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ (he cast 22 in total).It's well worth a visit.

Of course, there was the obligatory renaming:

Jean-Luc Picard’s Final Portrait at Starfleet Academy, Scipione, 1933

Her Worst Tinder Date Yet, Antonio Donghi, 1963

Werk it, Gurl!, Constantin Meunier, 1905

And Benny got himself into trouble, as usual.

The Ca’presaro is a clearly well-funded art museum, but it still suffers from the same dilemmas of all Venetian buildings; it’s very old, it weighs a ton, and there’s only so much that ancient wooden pilings can do to support it. It’s alarming to walk over to view an Arturo Martini sculpture and find yourself drifting to one side because the floor sags, or standing at the bottom of a grand stone staircase and realising that the left side is markedly lower than the right.

At least Benny found a series of paintings inspired by outer space, which made a perfect backdrop for him to recover from being chased by a killer baboon.

As afternoon merged into evening, I made the obligatory journey to St Mark’s Square. Here the tourists throng as thickly as they do around the Duomo in Florence, taking selfies and buying souvenir teatowels. I’d already purchased my ticket to climb the cathedral’s bell tower, and was rewarded when I found I could skip past the hundred metre long queue like an ersatz VIP. But then it turned out that nobody climbs the tower: they installed an elevator. So I rode to the top with a dozen tourists and an Italian lift operator who looked like he was one whining French backpacker away from killing himself.

The view from the top was magnificent, revealing Venice with all of its slightly leaning towers, sinking palazzos, tourist cluttered piazzas and unique, surreal beauty.