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Bilbao: Chasing the Guggenheim

November 18th, 2010 by Raj

Not a city many would rank amongst Spain’s greats; a Barcelona or Madrid it is not and barring those of you whom are not architecture geeks I would happily wager you’re completely unaware of its existence. Hell, the Spanish news doesn’t even include it in it’s list of forecasted cities so who am I to expect you to have heard about it.

That said, it’s not a small place by any means, the population pushes upwards of 350,000 and hosts what is deemed to be one of Spain’s best universities, Duesto. Remnants of Bilbao’s shipping history line the central river, which acts as a natural division between the city’s historic hillside and its newly formed modern life.

The city’s division is personified by it’s uncontested crown jewel, the Gehry designed, Guggenheim museum which takes prize position upon the river’s banks in an almost directly opposite position to the original town hall.

Lonely Planet intro aside there is but one reason for someone to visit Bilbao and in case you hadn’t guessed already it’s for the giant-fuck-off-metal-distortion that is Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim. Old Gehry is one of my favourite architects and his work is admired by around the world. The last piece of his I visited was the Toronto art museum which opened whilst I was living there a couple of years ago and for anyone even remotely interested I highly suggest you watch one of Sidney Pollack’s last pieces of work, “Sketches of Frank Gehry”, a documentary of Gehry’s work.

There was another reason, beyond man-love, for me to see the Guggenheim; which is that simply I’ve never seen one… well not properly anyway. Each time (and it’s been three now) that I have been to visit the Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim in New York I’ve been greeted with no more than a scaffolding clad structure obscuring any chance of appreciating it’s external facade first hand.

So what if it meant an hour long flight to the complete opposite side of Spain that I had flown in to, to a place most people had never heard of, I was doing it (and I’d checked there was no scaffolding on this one).

Excluding a hail ridden thunder storm and hideous grey skies that consistently haunted each photograph this Guggenheim reconnaissance mission was a success. I suppose. I could have sat and stared at the building for hours (should the weather have allowed it), its contents and exhibiting pieces bored me to tears, mostly, but I got what I came for.

As for Bilbao, well if you Google “things to do in Bilbao” every list I came across basically had the museum at number one and then quickly turned in to a random list of bars and cafes. It has a nice shopping mall that seems nice but never has anyone in it and they’re building a giant sky-scraper that sticks out a bit.

Yeah. Unless you’re an architecture or art buff I can’t recommend this one, but if I was ever nearby again I’d be back to Bilbao in a heart beat.

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Hamilton, Ontario: A time lapse

November 10th, 2010 by Raj

Two reasons behind the video above. Number one, I hadn’t gotten my camera out of its bag once since leaving on my trip and I felt rather guilty about that. Two, I wanted to try out doing a time lapse series with the remote I’d borrowed from a friend (Thanks JP) and the neutral density filter (ND8) I’d bought before getting to Bilbao and seeing the Guggenheim, of which I plan on doing the same.

This is the last one from Canada folks, flying to Barcelona via Frankfurt now (well actually yesterday as I wrote this and forgot to post it before I left).

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I ate a Double Down and survived

November 5th, 2010 by Raj

KFC Canada have recently introduced what would at first glance appear to be one of the least healthiest products in fast food history. The KFC Double Down does away with all that pesky bread replacing it with two KFC coated slabs of chicken breast and filling the centre with bacon, pepper jack cheese and the Colonel’s own special mustard/mayo sauce. Naturally I had to try one whilst visiting and did so only a few days ago, a picture of the adventure below. I was, of course, filled with a mass of “Dirty-bird-regret” having consumed what I’d considered to be a heart stopping mass of cholesterol and spent the next 24 hours with a rather unusual churning sickly feeling in my stomach.

Needless to say this morning when I read an article headlined “Eggs worse than KFC Double Down” I was a little surprised. It turns out that KFC’s creation contains a mere 150mg of cholesterol whilst a single egg yolk gives you 200mg! Shock, awe, horror! I’d always known egg yolks weren’t particularly high on coronary specialist’s lists but for it to be worse than this monster I was flabbergasted!

Cholesterol aside the Double Down does contain a massive 1400mg of Sodium (around your daily recommended intake) and is still considered a dietary disaster by specialists worldwide so I can hardly recommend it in any way; nor would I from the after effects I suffered but if they had a t-shirt for eating one surviving I’d no doubt wear it proudly.

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Your mum loves Halloween

November 2nd, 2010 by Raj

Halloween is, as with most celebrated events today, an over-commercialized event where it gives the populous of western society another excuse to spend money for a tradition that is now devoid of any of its original meaning whilst having the distinguishing factor that it does not exist out of Christianity, ala Christmas & Easter.

This is not to say that Halloween isn’t fun, far from it, in the two I’ve had the ability to witness first hand in Northern America it seems that it’s to be celebrated (as an adult) in one of two ways, each requiring some form of personal humiliation/enjoyment by being dressed in an outfit deemed “appropriate”.

Version 1: You get wasted. The very important difference to this being any other party or weekend boozer is that you’re getting wasted, via the poison of your choice, in a costume. Sure you could probably do that any weekend of the year with the odd look or ride in the back of a police van but on Halloween anything goes, and I do mean *anything*. It would seem that for women Halloween is somewhat of a topsy-turvy world the likes of which I can only compare to a Valentines where it was traditionally the only day a woman could propose to a man, because on Halloweens it’s perfectly acceptable to dress as slutty as one might feel without fear and unfortunately self-conscious. It what could be a reoccurring nightmare or Playboy fantasy Halloween doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

Version 2: You don’t get wasted. It may look like I’m saying one thing and it’s opposite but this little umbrella covers a few scenarios that I assure you have a little more to do with the title of the post. Unless of course you’d prefer to imagine your mother roaming city bars in a mini skirt and calling herself “Nemo“?
Walking around the suburbs of Hamilton, Ontario for a couple of hours last night (I got lost trying to find where I was staying) I passed home after home decked out in Halloween paraphernalia, some up to the nines complete with cobwebs, skeletons, tombstones, pumpkins and even giant snow domes filled with dancing scarecrows but what struck me was not so much the decorations and families walking the streets going house to house in search of “candy” but the people (majority of which were women) in these houses waiting longingly for the next round of children to run atop their stoops and scream “Trick or treat!”. For all the fanfare of parties and costumes it was seeing these people, proud of their homes’ spooky appearance, candy baskets at the ready beaming with smiles and open arms to hand out their wares that made the experience far more appealing to me, even if I was on the receiving end of an odd look from time to time as to why a grown man was walking around without costume or child in tow.

I remember being told years ago at Christmas that for the time between you’re a child until you have one of your own Christmas day is just that, another “day” and I guess you can easily apply the same logic to any child-centric event, Halloween example in point. So happy Halloween everyone and remember as I read on Twitter earlier today, Halloween is a day trannies call… Sunday.

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The end of a Canadian Tale

February 22nd, 2009 by Raj

Well ladies and gentlemans of “teh internets” (and yes I meant to write “gentlemans; grammar nazis), I don’t think there is any way I can possibly continue to draw out the chapter of my life that is the “Canadian Tales“. The time has come, one pregnancy term later, to dog-ear the page and put down the book for a well deserved kip.

That’s not to say that I haven’t done absolutely everything within my almighty skinny frame’s power to squeeze every last juicy drop from one poor carcass of an orange that now remains. For instance just one week ago I was once again extending my “working” holiday to the further reaches of Australia’s north, spending five days basking in the glorious humidity of a monsoon season’s grey sky in Port Douglas, Queensland with a friend.

Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas

I couldn’t have asked for a better wind-down than the Sea Temple Resort in little old Pee-Dee (Port Douglas). The holiday destination was borderline a ghost town being the rain season and my days were spent lounging around the pool and drinking. There’s something called the Great Barrier Reef up there somewhere, it didn’t come with a free breakfast buffet and mango cocktails though so I can’t say I got to it. I know, I know, sacrilegious, but another day.

This is all fine and dandy but I guess I should get down to the crux of it, which is the fact that my little soirée into the land of Canuck is over and it’s time to get back to the harsh realities of a real life, a new job and living in Melbourne to which I’ve just resigned to for the next 12 months having signed a new lease.

Obviously I’m asked quite frequently on my opinion of both Canada and my personal adventure and I must say excluding its abrupt ending and the ongoing battle I’m having with my travel insurance company (that’s another post altogether), I had an incredible time! Yes I missed everyone dearly and yes I was homesick on more occasions than I care to remember but it was an experience that I’d never take back, if anything it did nothing more than spur on my interest in doing it again!

For those of you that have seen me since my return I think you’d agree that something’s changed upstairs in the old noggin’. I feel free, unencumbered if you will and enjoying life in all its roller costing glory. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’ve been contracting and not confining myself to an office 9 to 5, 5 days a week but I think it has far more to do with my own growth and a sense of achievement in knowing that I can survive out there in the big bad scary world; even if it was only Canada and everyone speaks English. But enough with excerpts from my upcoming novel “I went to Canada and I came back a self-help guru” let’s talk highlights!

Snow: Canada was just amazingly beautiful! I could list of a hundred different locations that were just so breath-taking but nothing compares to the first time I walked out of the office at 6pm and felt that first snow flake gently float through the sky to rest on my cheek. Sure I’ve been to snowfields before but this was just so different. You didn’t have to drive three hours up a mountain to find it all I had to do was go outside and there it was. I used to sit in my bedroom and stare out the window at downtown Toronto and just watch the wind carry and swirl the white dots as it pleased. It was just magical and I crave to see it again.

New York: Sure it’s not even in Canada but it was just a 20 minute flight across the border and boy does that city steal my heart! Having a couple of Lincoln lads there doesn’t do you in any disservice either. There aren’t words to describe the magnitude that is New York City. There isn’t anything you couldn’t find in the city and yet ironically you couldn’t not find anything to do. The architecture is what truly steals my heart though and with each visit I make the journey to “Top of the Rock” to breath in the enormity of the city’s beauty.

The Moose: Whilst it may not seem like a huge deal there’s a lengthy story to go along with it that I’ll now condense into one sentence. I saw a moose whilst simply driving down the road while my kayaking friends, rather desperate in their search for fauna, paddled their hearts out for six hours and saw squat! I win!

I had a truly wonderful time living on the other side of the world and to those who are thinking of going to Canada be it for holiday or work I couldn’t recommend it more. Now that I’m home I miss Toronto much more than I thought I would and I’m resolved to return (albeit most likely in a tourist capacity) to explore areas I didn’t have the opportunity to see such as Montreal and Quebec if not that then to see another NHL game!

Thank you Canada, or more specifically Toronto (and Hamilton) you were very good to me. And thus ends the Canadian Tales.

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

November 27th, 2008 by Raj

For my second to last weekend in fair-ole-Canada-land I was treated well beyond my wildest dreams. Joined by an all Aussie crew consisting of Andrew “Sweet Cheeks” Dansie, Dave “El Presidente” Smithson and Aimee “Technically American” Wagner we embarked on adventure into the now frequented cottage country district of Muskoka ending up in the appropriately named destination of “Port Sydney“.

Clambering into Sweet Cheek’s new Jeep (after losing it in the Airport carpark for 20 minutes) we were off, cruising down Highway 27 taking in the beauty of pitch black darkness as you become accustom to blanketing the sky after 4pm. To relieve the boredom of it all the heavens opened with a flurry of snow dancing in the glow of freshly installed headlight globes.

Once arriving at the now snow clad cottage, three hours after our originally predicted ETA, there wasn’t a great deal of activity beyond alcohol and sleep to make clear mention of. We had a constant light dusting of snow falling throughout our stay that was just beautiful, a lot of my time I spent staring out the window and watching the flakes fall against the glass amazed at their intricacy in random design. There was one brief parade of enthusiasm, it involved a snowball fight on the side of Highway 11 in front of the gates to the closed national park we were kicked out of (if it’s closed for winter lock the fucking gates you idiots), but after 15 minutes of running around in 0 degree weather your lungs start to burn just a tad, well ours did anyway, and besides there was more alcohol to consume back at the cottage.

Unfortunately for me alcohol still isn’t going down the best since my little hospital stay. I did luckily managed to consume one of El Presidente’s fine Mojito’s made with the skill and precision only that of a true “muddler” master could achieve. It’s a shame they tasted like crap without the sugar added but that wasn’t his fault ;) My lack of alcohol consumption did however mean that I was the only half sober one in the place, thus automatically delegating me as the cottage’s personal chef for the weekend. Over the two and a half days we were there I managed to cook 3 T-bone steaks, 20 marinated chicken drumsticks, chocolate chip cookies, and 6 egg, bacon & tomato muffins each to the individuals personal preference. Hmmm, maybe I should start The Cooking Show back up again!

Put it down to good friends, hospital stays or the miraculous beauty of a snow kissed scenery but with only one weekend left in North America it’s going to be very hard to top this one! Thanks guys!

You can see all the photos here.

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Vancouver: Am I living in the wrong city?!

October 31st, 2008 by Raj

In a recent poll of human beings we asked “When you think of Raj and viewing scenery what is the first thing that comes to mind?” In almost all cases the response was an overwhelming “He has about as much interest in viewing the elements of nature as I do in eating the fecal matter of giraffe.” A strange analogy to be made by just one person (you would think) yet it was recited by almost 99% of the forty three million and twenty eight people interviewed. Odd.

Anyway, I speak of Giraffe feces with good reason as I will now astonish you all by saying just how breathtakingly beautiful Vancouver is. Of course this is now almost inconceivably absurd for you to comprehend as I’ve pre-cursed the statement by highlighting my deep rooted inability to find beauty in nature. Ergo Vancouver is so amazingly astonishing that your head has just exploded to leave the stump of your spine poking out from your clothing akin to something out of the most recent Rambo film.

I’m not really sure how I’ve gone from one of the most picturesque heavenly places I’ve ever visited in the world to the blood splattering exploits of Rambo but I’m pretty impressed with myself (again).

I’d heard different things about Vancouver, some said it similar to Sydney whilst Toronto was more like Melbourne and then others had said the complete opposite. I can see where both arguments come from but the truth of it is there is nothing like it in Australia. Vancouver city is laid out in a nice logical grid format and is on a slight hill very similar to Melbourne but then cuddling the metropolis are numerous mountain ranges akin to Sydney’s Blue Ranges but in much closer proximity in that they’re viewable from almost anywhere. Apparently it rains in Vancouver a lot, another great feature of Melbourne (well in years gone by anyway), but it is also one of the warmest cities in Canada with the mercury very rarely falling below zero even throughout winter, a meteorological trait sadly not shared with Toronto.

I haven’t spent enough time in Vancouver to really tell you anything beyond the majestic beauty of the place but, as mentioned earlier, for me to be so amazed by it; well that has to count for something! Next time I’ll just have to delve a little deeper into the other aspects, get into the nitty gritty so to speak but this is Canada, it’s not like the people are going to wind up being assholes or anything! It more depends on if they let you buy alcohol after 2am (unlike Toronto)!

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