Good, Bad & Strange
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 Good Bad & Strange


Latest GBS

This section is where you will find my latest efforts.  If you are new to the site I suggest you read the
What is Good, Bad & Strange section first and then make your way around the world using the links above. For the rest of you, the latest GBS are currently:-

Sonisphere - 2011

Alberta - 2009

Virgin Festival, Calgary - August 2009

Calgary Stampede - July 2009

Return to the UK - May 2009

Canada First 6 weeks - November 2008 to January 2009

Salzburg - October 2008

 Good Bad & Strange

 Sonisphere – July 2011 

As we are currently living just up the road from Knebworth, it seemed rude not to go along to the Sonisphere festival at Knebworth House and experience three days of heavy metal in a field.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.   

 

On Stage Snippets 1 – Making an impression?

“Hello Castle Donnington” – Opeth start their set in the way they mean to continue.

On Stage Snippets 2 – A little bit wet?

“This one is for all of you out in the rain, not those pussies hiding under tents.”
“Hey dude, we’re pussies hiding under a tent.”
“Yeah I realised that just as I said it.”  - All Time Low teach us a thing or two about hypocrisy.

On Stage Snippets 3 – A bit of excitement?

You Me at Six singer to shoulder mounted girl in crowd:-
“Did you just flash your tits?”
“Do it again” – The girl is more than happy to oblige, especially as she is now on the big screen on either side of the stage.
“And again. That’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me all day.” – It was certainly better than their set.

On Stage Snippets 4 – A difficult choice?

“So are any of you are going to leave our set early to see Metallica?” – the lead singer of the Defiled asks pleadingly.
Huge cheers and shouts of “Yes”, let him know the Sonisphere crowd isn’t going to spare his feelings.

On Stage Snippets 5 –  We get the point?

“You are real crazy motherfuckers out there.” or some variant of crazy and motherfucker, every, single, band, that played at Sonisphere at some point during their set. 


Good Things

Big 4 – The only reason I needed to turn up, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax all on one bill, on one day.  Most of the songs played (90% at a guess) were over twenty years old, but any day when you get to hear great live versions of any one of “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Raining Blood” , “Peace Sells” and, well, I’m sure Anthrax played some decent tunes, is a great day.  To put the icing on everything, all four bands got together at the end of Metallica’s set to play a version of “Am I Evil?” and were joined by an unassuming bloke called Brian from Stourbridge who inadvertently created thrash metal when he wrote the song for his band Diamond Head.

Local festival –  Some people will tell you that an essential part of the festival experience takes place on the campsite, where you get little sleep, no access to cleaning facilities and spend most of your time scrapping mud off your ruined clothing, trying to drink or smoke yourself senseless while some miserable sod pisses up the side of your tent and someone else steals your only dry sleeping bag (The Glastonbury 97 Experience).  Those people are wankers. The sensation I experienced at being able to be home within ten minutes of the headliners finishing and asleep in a comfy clean bed not long after was joyous.    

Slipknot – After a two minute silence earlier in the day for late bassist Paul Gray (impeccably observed) and with the rain coming down more heavily, Slipknot’s headline set on Sunday could have been a miserable affair.  It wasn’t.  Stunning visually and ferociously loud, by the time they were half an hour into the set and started into ”Duality” Rebecca was enjoying it and she can’t bear to listen to more than one track at home.

Motörhead – Starting sombrely with the announcement that former band member Wurzel had died the previous night, Motörhead’s set could have been a letdown.  It wasn’t, starting with “Iron Fist”, passing “Ace of Spades” and “Killed by Death” on the way, they finished with a version of “Overkill” which was probably the performance of the festival for me.  “We are Motörhead and we play rock ‘n’ roll,” indeed.   

Mastodon – No real surprises here as I’ve been enjoying Mastodon’s albums for a while now, but live they left nothing to chance. For an hour they were relentless, with about twelve seconds of silence in the entire set they blew away a steadily growing crowd on Sunday afternoon, before the rain started. 

Jagermeister stage – The best of the smaller stages, rather than being an enclosed  tent, it was set up outside, in the manner of the two larger stages.  We stopped by on a number of occasions and enjoyed bits of sets by The Defiled, Saint Jude and Amplifier.  

Weezer – A bit of a surprise here.  Weezer didn’t really fit the bill for Sonisphere.  That didn’t matter a bit as the same people who were in the pit for Slayer were jumping up and down to “Hash Pipe” and even singing along to their impressive cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”

Ginger and the Wildhearts? – In the sweaty confines of the Bohemia tent I managed to catch the last two tunes of Ginger’s set, where he appeared to be joined by a bunch of people who didn’t look much like the Wildhearts.  Two tunes and it gets included in good things you ask, “Suckerpunch” and “29 x the Pain,” I retort.  

The Pub – The Lytton Arms in Old Knebworth is a nice country pub across from the festival grounds.  If you go to an event at Knebworth House it’s worth popping in for a decent pint, for a fraction of the price you pay inside and the food is pretty good too.

Main stage set up – At last, festivals seem to have got the hang of main stage set up.  Having been impressed in Chicago by the way Lollapalooza was set up, I was pleased to see that we didn’t have to move any further than turning around to take in both main stages. Excellent scheduling meant no overlap between and crucially, no gaps, between acts appearing on both main stages.

Bad Things

Weather - When Dave Mustaine finished Megadeath’s set by thanking the sky for not pissing down all over us on Friday evening we hoped the weather would hold through the weekend.  It didn’t. Torrential showers on Saturday and persistent rain through most of Sunday made it a much damper Sonisphere than we would have liked.

Airbourne – I am big AC/DC fan, which is probably why I disliked Airbourne so much.  I know they are Australian, I know they are “influenced” by AC/DC, but if you’re going to wear your influences on your sleeve choose the Bon Scott era or even something from “Back in Black” through to “Flick of the Switch”, don’t try to sound like an outtake from “Fly on the Wall” or “The Razor’s Edge”.        

Beer Choice – Tuborg or Strongbow as choices might appeal to your average snakebite loving student, but I would’ve liked a little more choice.

Toilets- Festival toilets are never good, but when mixed with rain and mud, they can get very nasty indeed.  

TentsNo, I’m not slagging off the vast majority of people who turned up with their own tent and were camping. That’s their choice. In this instance I’m talking about two of the stages, the Bohemia and the Red Bull, which were both set up in tents.  Both were horribly packed most of the time and when you could get in it wasn’t long before it was so mind-blowingly hot inside that you just wanted to get out.  What was wrong with setting up all of the smaller stages up like the Jagermeister stage, why did you need tents at all? As a result of tent overflow, I missed sets by Cancer Bats, Pulled Apart by Horses and the Black Dahlia Murder which I would’ve quite happily watched on an outside stage.

Fairground rides - Perhaps I’m a tad old fashioned here, but I always thought going to a festival was about seeing live music and getting totally shitfaced. When did the fairground rides suddenly appear?  I half expected Ray Von from Phoenix Nights to appear, do a quick DJ set in the Red Bull tent and then spend the rest of the day shouting “The louder you scream, the faster the ride”. 

Getting old – On Sunday I dug out an old Iron Maiden t-shirt (The Clairvoyant from the Seventh tour of a seventh tour in 1988) to wear.  Although it was quite large when acquired, it now fits nicely.  After a while I began to realise that the t-shirt was older than many of the people in the crowd, so I had to go for a sit down and a nice cup of tea.

Strange Things

Bill Bailey – A strange choice to close the second stage before Slipknot closed the festival, but Bill Bailey didn’t let anyone down. While some may have enjoyed the West country Lady Gaga version of Pokerface and others would’ve said his original songs like “Insect Nation” or “Majesty of Emo (I bleed on your Panini)” were highlights.  For us though, nothing compared to the Rammstein inspired cover of “Scarborough Fair.”

OpethHaving started their set with on stage snippet 1 above, Opeth veered between the odd, the extremely heavy and the insane – see this clip of silent head banging to get a feel for what I mean.

Limp BizkitThrowing away the set list to just play audience requests is a fine idea in principle.  But sadly this led to a set that in which both of their decent songs were out of the way very quickly. Throwing in a “birdie song” sample and a bit of “Eye of the Tiger” guitar while trying to work out what to play next just made it all a little bit strange. 

Friday superheroes – While the Big 4 entertained us on Friday evening, several superheroes could be spotted in the crowd. I saw Batman, Robin, Superman, Bananaman and several Wonder Women.  But of all the Friday superheroes the only one who made it through to Sunday was Captain Cock. Sorry I don’t have any pictures, but the homemade cape and head gear were a sight to see.   

 

Tits out for the camera– A large number of girls seem to spend entire sets sitting on the shoulders of other people.  The vast majority were inclined to flash their tits as soon as they appeared on the screens on either side of the main stage.  While this may seem extremely appealing, it’s just a bit odd when Megadeth or Slayer are playing.

Cockface – During the Mastodon set a bunch of lads immediately in front of us grabbed one of their number and held him on the floor.  Did they try to force drink down his throat? No.  Did they make him swallow something unsavoury? No.  Did they get out a permanent marker and draw a moustache on his top lip, before adding a cock pointing directly to the side of his lips? Yes they did – the evil bastards.

Biffy Clyro – Headliners on Saturday night, there was nothing wrong with them, but in comparison with Friday (Metallica) and Sunday (Slipknot) they didn’t really stand a chance.  It was fairly obvious from the crowd that the vast majority of people had turned up to see other bands.  We left after about half an hour and enjoyed the last part of their set from our back garden, three miles away.   

The Mars Volta – At times wonderful, often insane, generally in a strange mood and always loud, The Mars Volta are probably best experienced in a festival environment. My friend Martin who I dragged along to see them at the Roundhouse a couple of years ago would certainly agree.  Not so sure about the two lads in front of us who had a circular “You must have heard of At The Drive-in,” “No I bloody well haven’t” conversation going for several minutes during the set.   

Bad Religion – Possibly the greatest punk band ever, Bad Religion appeared at 3pm on Saturday. Nevertheless, they turned out great versions of “Los Angeles is Burning,” “Punk Rock Song” and “Fuck Armageddon...This is hell” amongst others.  But throughout there was a strange sense that they really weren’t used to playing so far down a bill, or even in daylight.

Macarena boys – After All Time Low had learned all about hypocrisy (see onstage snippet 2 above) their slices of pop punk excited a large crowd.  However the roots of their devilish tunes were exposed as a group of four lads in front of us managed to dance the Macarena in perfect time with one of their songs. 

Red Bull Techno bar – To ensure that everyone had access to unlimited supplies of energy / stupidity, Red Bull cunningly had a bar set up with a DJ playing in a small area above it.  In line with the energy idea, many of the tunes where dance based, which seemed very odd at a metal festival, but it didn’t get any odder than a bloke in a Santa suit dancing to Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out” while thousands of metalheads shuffled past to the toilet block nearby.  

Jinxed by the Sandman – Back in 1991 at Donnington, I got hit in the forehead with a fairly full 5 litre bottle of piss, just as Metallica started their set with “Enter Sandman.”  Thanks to a friend or two I stayed upright throughout the set.  Twenty years on I get hit in the back by a fairly empty 500ml water bottle while Bill Bailey played the same tune using old car horns.  This time I laughed.

Click on the picture below for a few Sonisphere pictures.

 Alberta – 2009

Conversation at work 1 – Weather

How many people live in Calgary?  One million?”

“Yeah about a million.”

“Well if the weather was any good there’d be two million.”

Conversation at work 2 – Small towns and technology

“He says he knows where the hockey rink is up there, he checked the address on Google maps.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, he said you can look at it on a satellite picture, then put in the co-ordinates in your iphone or something.”

“That’s great eh.  But I was thinking of just going to the town and driving down the main street. Then if I don’t find it, I’ll drive down the other two roads in the town.”

 Conversation at work 3 – Sport (and I thought Forest fans were fickle)

“What about them Flames, eh?”

“Stanley cup winners, I’m telling you now.”

Two weeks and three defeats later:

“What about them Flames, eh?”

“They suck, worst team I’ve ever seen.”

We spent the whole of 2009 living in Calgary.  But we didn’t confine ourselves to the city.  Occasionally we got out and discovered a little more about Alberta, the province that we lived in. 

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Royal Tyrell Centre, Drumheller – If you like dinosaurs and fossils, then this is the place to be. The badlands around Drumheller are a huge repository for fossils going back millions of years.  For me, the painstakingly restored dinosaur skeletons and the Darwin exhibit were worth the visit alone, but there is plenty more to experience here. 

National & Provincial Parks – From the vast, tourist filled national parks between Banff and Jasper to Fish Creek provincial park on our doorstep, it was great to have access to some of the best scenery Canada has to offer.

Cochrane – A small town to the north of Calgary that seems to be known mainly for MacKay’s Ice cream store.  The ice cream is pricey, but tasty, which is good because there isn’t really anything else worth mentioning in the town.

Edmonton – The capital of Alberta, a smaller city than Calgary, but with less of a propensity to blow its own trumpet, Edmonton feels like a nicer place to be.

Blackfoot Crossing – A very impressive centre explaining the history of the Blackfoot and the other indigenous people that roamed Alberta before the Europeans arrived.

Frank Slide Interpretative Centre – The story of the Frank slide is shocking. The sight of half a mountain in pieces on the side of the road a century later is a little unnerving, but the interpretative centre at the site provides an excellent explanation of the event.

Bragg Creek / Elbow Falls scenery – Rebecca’s friend lent us a number of DVD’s, one of which was Brokeback Mountain. The film seemed really familiar, not in a forbidden gay love story kind of way, but because it was filmed just down the road at a local scenic area that we had visited the previous week.

Bad Things

Looking after No.1  While most Albertans are friendly and approachable, there are certain things that send them into apoplexy.  Just mentioning raising taxes will get you singled out as a lunatic, regardless of the reason.  Suggest that the litigious society they live in is a blatant way to apportion blame for financial gain and they’ll threaten to sue you for defamation.  Tell them the development of the oil sands is terrible for the environment and they will tar you with the jibe of liberal, or worse, French loving liberal.  And finally, if you tell them they are acting just like the neighbours to the south in the USA, they’ll threaten to string you up.  

Service charge society  Service charging has reached an art form here, they have places called registries that perform administrative tasks and then charge for it.  These are simple things, like paying the equivalent of car tax or getting a driving licence.  For all of the tasks they perform they charge a service charge on top of the cost of the licence or permit.  Outside of the registry you pay service charges on top of normal charges for changing address, cancelling items, reordering items, taking your money from a machine not belonging to your bank, using a bank account, getting electric and gas to your house along with many other things.  Perhaps most annoyingly you are charged the same rate for receiving incoming calls to your mobile phone as you are to make calls. 

Weather – Cold doesn’t cover it, snow on the ground from November to April and still falling in June.  The scenic beauty of the Chain Lakes Provincial Park somewhat spoilt by the lakes still being frozen solid in May.   

Development – Much of Alberta is unspoilt and scenic, sadly, much of the rest of is split between farmland, environment destroying oil sands and unsustainable city sprawl.   

Strange Things

Black Diamond – A small town south of Calgary, Black Diamond has escaped the advances of time for several decades, leading to a quaint Main Street and a rather odd feel about the place.  The diner on Main Street complete with fully dressed up Karaoke Elvis on a Sunday afternoon added to this feeling, as did the classic cars rally that had parked up just off the main street.  We went there in search of cheese (one of Canada’s best selling brands is called Black Diamond) and were disappointed to find that the name of the place was actually derived from the coal mining that took place in the area.

Irricana sound effects – We drove to the small town of Irricana one Saturday night to see a play in the local hall.  The setting was an old English mansion and the plot was rather dark and nasty.  To add to the atmosphere the weather outside seemed to have been let in on the script, as at one particularly nasty point the whole hall shook and the lights flickered, as thunder exploded directly above us.

Bragg Creek / Elbow Falls people and places – They may be twenty minutes drive from Calgary, but out here, especially at the pub/saloon, the cowboy hats and boots stay on all year, not just for two weeks at Stampede time.

Spruce Meadows – Apparently a world class sporting venue, this show jumping ground feels distinctly local.  The Christmas market we went to out of jumping season made the place feel more like a village hall than a top class facility.

West Edmonton Mall Calgarians will often refer disparagingly to Edmonton as that town with the mall. But to be fair, West Edmonton Mall is a town in its own right. The biggest mall in North America (Yes, bigger than any shopping centre in the USA) is by turns, awe inspiring, fascinating, dull, cheap, expensive and worryingly unable to keep its toilet facilities clean, just like most big towns. 

Nanton – Travelling down the main highway south of Calgary the dual carriageway suddenly splits to accommodate a town. Slowing down to keep to the speed limit, you notice several old aeroplanes appearing  on either side of the road.  A few minutes later the dual carriageway resumes and you’ve passed through Nanton.

Okotoks erratic – Okotoks is a small town to the south of Calgary. In the local Blackfoot dialect, Okotoks means big rock, which when you see the erratic makes perfect sense.  It’s a big, odd-looking rock.  The strange thing is that the erratic is surrounded by a small railing, which seems to stop absolutely no one from climbing all over it.

Vulcan – The town was there before Star Trek, but it has made the most of the coincidental name (see the photo album)

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 Virgin Festival, Calgary – August 2009

Conversation 1 – Oblivious

“We were standing by the stage waiting for Pearl Jam and there were only about ten people around.

Then one of the guys that was with us said they were on the other stage and there was thousands of people there.  I didn’t even know there was another stage until he told us.”

Conversation 2 – Blind drunk

“Check out all the babes in the bikinis man.” – a few moments later after fumbling to light a cigarette.

“Wow check her out man, she, is, hot.”

Conversation 3 – Lost it

Announcement by the school bus driver on the way into the festival:-

“Please make sure you take your cell phones with you.  I’ve been driving for an hour and I’ve all ready found three left behind on the seats.”

And that was on the way in, when most people were vaguely with it.

Instead of having to travel hundreds of miles to a festival this year, we were lucky enough to have one in Calgary.  So we went along to see if it would measure up to Glastonbury or Lollapalooza.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Location – The festival was held in Canada Olympic Park (COP), with the main stage at the bottom of the ski hill.  This provided good views of the stage and over the city, as well as ensuring that there was never an issue with the person in front blocking your view.

Pearl Jam – Far and away the biggest band playing the festival, Pearl Jam turned up on Saturday night looking slightly bewildered (it was their first gig since June last year) but they soon found their stride and the vast crowd, most of whom had only turned up to see them, were duly satisfied. 

Changes to the layout on the second day – On the first (and busiest day) the layout was messy and confusing (see bad things below), but the organisers obviously learnt from this and made some small but significant changes on the Sunday that really helped.

Metric – Worth watching purely to see demented singer Emily dancing around in the style of Juliette Lewis, from the days when The Licks were still playing live.  Some of the songs were good too, I prefer “Dead Disco” and “Monster Hospital” to the latest stuff, but most of the crowd seemed to like “Sick Muse” and “Gimme Sympathy” just as much.

Local content – The Virgin festival takes place in five locations across Canada with a different set of bands in each location, but in Calgary, other than Pearl Jam and White Lies, each band was Canadian, which meant we got to see loads of bands usually overshadowed by their American cousins.

The Arkells – An excellent Canadian band.  Yes, I know, but excellent and Canadian do fit in this sentence together.  After a few initial guitar problems, they proved that they are as good live as their fine debut album “Jackson Square” suggested that they would be. 

Main Stage Security - The best I’ve seen at a big event.  Easily pulling people out when they were struggling close to the front and sending crowd surfers around the edge of the stage without admonishment or shitty attitude, I was impressed with what I saw. 

Billy Talent – Headliners for Sunday and undoubtedly far less popular than Pearl Jam.  They crunched their way through a decent set that mixed in old favourites with new material and made me think I could actually get to like them, until I realised the average age of people wearing Billy Talent t-shirts was about eleven.

Weather - Not too hot, not too cold, bright and breezy until Sunday night when the promised hail storm didn’t turn up, but the rain lashed down for the final part of Billy Talent’s set.

K-os – Getting away with taunting the locals (“this is the richest province, try and sound like it.”) and causing scenes of unnecessary excitement by playing and then rapping over the intro to Stairway to Heaven, K-os seemed to be the only band not in awe of Pearl Jam or thanking the organisers for a chance to play.  I wasn’t that keen on them musically, but they get into good things based on their feisty attitude alone.

School Bus – Taking public transport to the COP was made easy. A fleet of yellow school buses were used to ferry festival goers along the twenty minute drive from the end of the line train station to the entrance.  

Tokyo Police Club – They came on, they played decent indie tunes for half an hour and they left.  It could have been Glastonbury 1995, but it wasn’t.

Bad Things

Beer tickets & Alcohol choice – Not content with a ridiculous system of queuing to buy tickets to exchange for beer in one area, before queuing again to get into a beer area, I then had to face the indignity of having my ID checked by a spotty lad young enough to be my child, before I could exchange the tickets for a pissy can of Molson or two.

Smug Virgin crap everywhere – Virgin ran and sponsored the festival; they also took every opportunity to ram their awful Virgin mobile product in your face. And yes it is awful – I have one of their phones.

Prices - $6 (£3.25) for a small can of Molson – no need to say any more.

Constant Season – A truly awful band that didn’t deserve their headlining spot on the CJAY stage on Saturday.

First day layout – Selling beer tickets outside of beer gardens led to confusion, crowding and frayed tempers. In the beer gardens, a complete lack of a system for queuing made things worse. Not being able to take beer out of the beer gardens meant that over 50% of the people watching Pearl Jam were squeezed into less than 25% of the available space.  Small changes were made on Sunday, beer tickets got sold in beer gardens only, which helped and it showed the organisers were able to respond to problems, but with only half of the number of people attending on the second day, the congestion would never have been as bad anyway.  

No kids please – In general the (much) smaller of the two stages sponsored by local radio station CJAY 92, had a pleasant intimate feel about it and afforded those of us old enough to drink a reasonable experience.  But if you were under eighteen and your favourite band was playing on that stage you should demand your money back.  As it was located in a beer garden area, the only view of it you could get without ID was over the barriers and queues of adults heading in for a beer.  Not particularly clever for an all ages festival.

Put your shirt back on please – It was hot on Saturday which seemed enough of an excuse for several blokes to go bare-chested.  Some of them had spent enough time in the gym to get away with it, most hadn’t.  Even more sadly, a large number of women had decided that bikini tops were appropriate festival wear.  Sadly, you say.  Yes sadly, the bloke slurring at me in the “blind drunk” conversation above, may have seen babes, where as all I could see where a mixed bag of thick thighs, muffin tops and ill fitting shorts and bikini tops.

Changed set times on Sunday – Information was in short supply at the festival.  Set times were flashed up on the video screens by the main stage, but Sunday’s got shortened and changed between posting them on the website and our arrival at the COP.  The idea seemed to be that you could go online on your Virgin phone to find out more and, of course, pay through the arse for the privilege. 

Strange Things

Lack of trust - Why is it more or less impossible to go to a bar and buy a beer in this country?  Why do you need to buy tickets in one area to get a beer at another spot? Are the servers too thick to take money? Perhaps most strangely, why does everyone with a beer have to stay inside a beer garden, in this case with a very crowded and crappy view of the main stage?  It seems the authorities here don’t trust people with alcohol in general and beer in particular, but if you treat your citizens like naughty kids, that might explain their behaviour. 

Unmovable beer people – On Saturday I was convinced that some people hadn’t strayed outside the beer garden for the entire day.  On Sunday this was proved to us.  Early in the day we went for a quick drink and stood close to the fence by a loud woman and her friend.  Six hours later we walked past the fence to see the same pair standing in exactly the same position, but looking slightly groggier than before.  In true Canadian style they didn’t appear to have moved at all during the day.

Not a VIP – The (rather pointless) VIP area required a special wristband for entry, which several hundred people got.  They then took off their wristbands and passed them through the small wire fence that surrounded the area to their friends without VIP tickets, who got in, took off their wristband and, well you get the picture.  By the time Pearl Jam’s set was in full flow the VIP area was almost as busy as the rest of the festival grounds.

Stairway to pizza – The K-os guitarist, plays the intro to Stairway to Heaven and mass excitement arrives at the festival, so much so that a bearded lad muscles his burly, but rather short frame in front of us while desperately munching down a slice of pizza.  He is so excited that he has finished most of the slice, with the rest of the cheese dripping off his beard, before he realises that singer has started rapping over the Stairway lick and Led Zeppelin are not on stage. 

Get fit through pole dancing – As with many things, the “Pole dancing can keep you fit” craze has arrived a little later than in Canada than the rest of the western world.  Three confused young girls stood around a pole apparently to discuss the phenomenon, although they didn’t actually seem that keen to demonstrate, which made the stall fairly pointless.

Michael Bernard Fitzgerald – An odd man from Calgary playing on the CJAY stage, clearly confused by the altered set timings on Sunday, he came on ten minutes late and was then surprised he had to get off again so quickly.  Musically he was somewhere between quirky and entertaining without really being either.

Please stand up -  White Lies, a dull, London band, that sounded like a poor copy of the Editors, asked the crowd to stand up for their last tune, as they had flown half way around the world just to play the festival and the polite Canadians in attendance did it.  Hundreds of them, stretching half way up the ski hill.  We were standing at the time and deliberately sat down. 

Who’s in the band? – On the Sunday evening we left by a different exit, which involved us climbing to the top of the ski hill, in the rain. Close to the top, out of breath and struggling we were stopped in our tracks by a lass asking us if we knew the names of the guys in “Billy Talent.”  I managed to gasp, No sorry, while I was thinking “get out of the way, before I expire, you stupid bitch.”  

Joshua’s Habit – Redneck rock ‘n’ roll lives on the CJAY stage Calgary.  They finished their set with a song called Whiskey and Women, both of which would’ve improved them a great deal.  Strangely the local DJ that came on straight afterwards, suggested they should be on the main stage next year and there were enough drunken fools shouting their appreciation to suggest it might just happen.

Virgin phone boxes – Need a quiet spot to use your crappy Virgin mobile phone, here’s a lovely old red British phone box for you to use, until someone pisses in it anyway.

Dancing trees – Well it’s a way to make a living I suppose, see the photo album below.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 Calgary Stampede – July 2009

Announcer before the start of the Chuck wagon Races

“Are there any people here from Edmonton?” – widespread booing

“Hey now, no need for that, I’ll just speak more slowly.”

Rodeo Commentary 1

“At this point all you can do is grit your teeth and pull an ugly face.”

Rodeo Commentary 2

“So what you gonna buy with that $100,000 prize money.”

“I was thinking I might get a pool table.”

Conversation about “Tub tarts” at a Stampede after Dark party

“The girls work out how much a boob job costs and match that with what they’d expect to make in tips over the course of the Stampede.”

“No way, you’re joking.”

“Not at all.  They come in from Saskatchewan and Northern Alberta and at the end of the Stampede they’ve paid for their boob job, kept the local cowboys happy and gone home with plenty of cash in their pockets.”

The Calgary Stampede is grandly billed as “the greatest outdoor show on Earth.” I think the organisers of the Olympics or the World cup, amongst many others, might argue with that title. But it doesn’t stop the local cowboys from believing that their town is the centre of the universe for 10 days each July.  To be fair, most of the local rednecks think that Calgary is the centre on the universe all year round, but that’s a different story.  The arrival of the rodeo, the chuck wagons, the fairgrounds and all that goes with it to the town, make the start of July the most exciting time of the year to be in Calgary.

We got into the spirit of things, visiting the grounds on two occasions and Rebecca even borrowed a cowgirl hat to wear.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

Rodeo – We had the pleasure of seeing the final day of the rodeo in excellent weather.  Stunning performances, especially in the bull riding, a sport for which insanity is mandatory.

Mini-Chuck wagon races – A miniature version in the agricultural building in every sense. A smaller course, a smaller wagon and four miniature horses pulling the whole thing along.

Chuck Wagon Races – The event that made the Calgary Stampede famous, it is chaotic, exciting and fun to watch, at least for the first few races.  After nine races in a row in just over two hours, we were realising why most people only go to one of the ten nights racing.  Now if you could gamble on each race it would be an entirely different matter.

Indian Village – The local tribes have been involved in the Stampede since it started in 1912 and these days it is no different. The Indian village offered the chance to see impressive tipis and traditional cooking methods along with dancing and tug of war thrown in.  Ironically it was set up at the edge of the grounds where fewest people go, just like the reservations where the majority of the local Indians live.

Free Pancake Breakfast – Every Stampede morning, between 8 and 10am, twenty or so heavily sponsored chuck wagons set up in the downtown area and served up a pancake crowned with a strip of bacon to anyone who wanted one, for free.  This gesture is one of the feel good elements of the Stampede, completely in contrast with the food rip off seen inside the Stampede grounds.  It also allows the city’s workers and homeless to socialise for a couple of hours each morning.  I ate my pancake, but I gave the bacon to Rebecca.

Agricultural centre set up – Nicely put together, with the opportunity to learn about several agricultural animals and plenty of chances to meet the critters face to face. Even a small bison was on show.  The section on modern farming and Canadian eating habits was entertaining for us, but then we don’t stuff in six eggs, half a pound of bacon and a stack of pancakes with maple syrup every morning.

Milk & Cookies – Most food inside the stampede grounds was grease based and highly expensive, the exception was a small stall in the agricultural area that sold small cartons of chocolate milk and a wagon wheel for $1. A tasty bargain I couldn’t refuse.

Western Oasis – A calm and peaceful area with lots of paintings, a fairly quiet stage and a wine tasting area.  It didn’t feel like the rest of the Stampede at all, but it was a nice antidote to the constant noise and bustle of the fair ground. 

Weadickville – Sounds like a Scottish insult, but actually was a pleasant, if extremely contrived, replica of an old west town.

 

Bad Things

Weather – It didn’t rain all of the time during the Stampede, but when it stopped you always felt it wouldn’t be long before the greatest outdoor show on earth became the wettest outdoor show on earth, again.

Idiots – Every big event attracts people with fewer brain cells than average.  The idiot screaming at an innocent bystander that he had stolen one of his flip flops (in the pouring rain) deserved a slap, but I didn’t have the energy at the time.

Beer – Canadians can’t be trusted with alcohol, so instead of being able to buy a drink from anyone that sells food (the German principle), the only places to get booze were a couple of very small beer gardens, the indoor live music venues and the casino.  For each of these outlets queues were vast and the small tasteless beer you received for $7 didn’t feel worth the effort.

Lottery – Way too many stalls in the fair grounds were selling horribly priced lottery tickets for the benefit of some charity or another.  Not sure if the prizes were any good, it just felt like an extension of the poor tax, with each person we saw buying a set of 100 tickets looking increasingly desperate.

Casino set up – A confused feel to the casino wasn’t helped by the lack of booze availability and the feeling that no one was winning anything.

Food on a stick – We saw loads of odd food on sticks in Asia, but never before have I seen Pizza on a stick.  For $9 a go I didn’t try it either.

Strange Things

Stampede Parade – The opening event involves hundreds of people parading through the centre of town on floats, on horseback and mostly looking like they are on a potent speed and acid mix, while they wave and smile at the assembled crowds of thousands, for nearly three hours. Truly odd.  

Ticket pricing for the grandstand – Pay $150 (or more) for a top view of the rodeo or chuck wagon races in the platinum seating section and then get slightly annoyed when those who paid $12 for standing tickets are closer to the action than you are.

It’s a BIG show – The grandstand show presented each night after the chuck wagon races, was BIG, with lots of fireworks, special singing and comedy performances and even some mad freestyle motocross riders involved. But mainly it was about songs telling us what a “BIG show” it was.

Heavy horses with the Calgary Philharmonic.  – Show horses with carriages parading around a ring doesn’t sound that interesting.  But with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra providing a medley of cowboy film classical tunes in the background, it turned out to be an unexpected highlight.

Tub tarts – As mentioned in the conversation above, young, slim lasses with their fake breasts on as much show as possible, generally seen in stampede “after dark” parties in the town, serving expensive bottled beer from huge ice water barrels (the tubs).  Great for middle-aged cowboys with too much money to spend.  Not so good for their wives.

Tipi raising – In the Indian village we were treated to a race to raise a tipi between a set of boys and girls.   The boys won by a fair way, but that was probably because the girls spent the first five minutes ignoring the shouts of watching knowledgeable mothers and tried to put the thing together in the wrong order.

Hat stomping competition – 30 seconds for six people to destroy their cowboy hats in the most effective and stylish way possible.  The prize for the winner?  A brand new cowboy hat.

Calgary Show Band – At the start of the “BIG show,” this fully uniformed marching band inexplicably launched into a brass inspired version of AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”  I nearly choked on my expensive tasteless beer.

Superdogs – Dogs run around an obstacle course, then compete to catch frisbees and then dance to tacky disco music.  Highly entertaining for anyone under the age of ten who likes dogs.

Vaulting – Gymnastics set to music on horseback.  The kind of thing you just don’t see anywhere, ever, really.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 

Return to the UK – May 2009

Conversation at the receiving line at Denise’s wedding with the groom’s parents

"Mum, this is Rebecca and Liam, they’ve come over from Canada.”

“Pleased to meet you.”“Why did you bother coming back for this?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Can you fit us in your suitcase on the way back?”

Conversation with Rebecca a few days after arriving in the UK

“I just got an email from Aileen.”

“What has she got to say for herself.”

“She says it was sunny yesterday, but snowing today.” – 17th May

Having spent nearly six months in Canada we returned to the UK to help celebrate my mother in laws 70th birthday and one of Rebecca’s friend’s wedding.

Here’s the good, bad and strange.

Good Things

A Green and Pleasant land – I know it’s a cliché, but when you’ve been away in a monochrome landscape for a while, the UK really does look and feel like a green and pleasant place.

Friends and Family – Six months away seemed to render old irritations irrelevant, and it was great to see our friends too.

There’s life here – In two hours walking around central London I saw more movement, more attractive women, more stylish men, more children smiling, more wheeler dealing, more confused tourists and more life than I had in six months in Calgary.

Sports Coverage – I didn’t realise what I had been missing.  Real coverage of sport; no adverts every few minutes, commentators who knew what they were talking about (except David Pleat).  Sky Sports made TSN, Sportsnet and The Score look dull and pointless in comparison.

People – Not sure if it was due to the weather, but practically everyone we came across had a smile on their face.  What happened to the miserable buggers who populated the country before we left?

New Forest – A fabulous setting for Joyce’s 70th birthday celebration, wonderfully green, full of deer and newly born foals of wild mares. Perhaps most importantly there were no restrictions on where to go or “stay on the trail” signs.

Taking the piss – We had been at the airport for about five minutes before we heard two lads taking the piss out of their friend.  I didn’t realise how much I’d missed it until then. The Canadian sense of humour tends to be an American sense of humour with a dose of self deprecation, no piss taking allowed, or understood for that matter.

Champions League final – I spent most of the match with a blissful smile on my face.  The only thing better than Barcelona’s wonderful flowing football was that they were completely outplaying Man Utd.  It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.

Bad Things

Food poisoning – while I was enjoying myself in Nottingham, Rebecca was foolishly eating snails in a Hemel Hempstead restaurant.  The resultant food poisoning was as nasty as it was predictable.

Traffic – Busy doesn’t cover it.  I suppose the kids being off for Whitsun week  didn’t help, but we seemed to spend as much time stationary in traffic jams as we  did moving.

Over indulgence - Too much food, too much drink, too little sleep and a schedule that allowed for no rest at all, was great for the first week. Then exhaustion and the food poisoning got to us. 

Travel prices – Travelling on a train anywhere near London seems to have got even more expensive and even less efficient.  Petrol prices of £1 (C$1.75) / litre had us gasping after paying 80c (46p) / litre in Calgary.

Airline food problems – Normally we order low fat meals on planes, as it tends to get served first and is often a lot less greasy and nasty then the standard meal.  On our flight to the UK, BA forgot one of them, on the way back they served the most disgusting sandwich I’ve eaten in years.  It seemed to consist of fried pus and red pepper skin.   

Missing out on a job interview – I’ve been looking for work for several months now, so when I got a message to say I had secured an interview with Trans-Canada pipelines I was very pleased.  Just a few days later I was extremely pissed off when I was told my agent had forgotten I was away and that the company wouldn’t wait for my return.

Strange Things

Denise’s wedding – Rebecca’s friend Denise had conveniently planned to get married during the two weeks we were back. So we attended a good natured wedding and had fun, which is more than can be said for the groom’s side of the family.  While I have nothing but good wishes for Neil (the groom) his family left a bit to be desired (see conversation above) and his best person (sister) gave possibly the dullest speech I’ve ever heard at a wedding.  However this was all nicely balanced out by the folks at our table who ranged from polite, to insane via very interesting.  Keep up the good work with the street kids in Africa, Patrick and be careful where you park that car Graham, you never know when Ricky Gervais might turn up.

A typically English five minutes – A warm May Sunday afternoon, M25 slow traffic, Radio 1 on in the car, Dizzee Rascal’s “Bonkers” is followed by DJ Nihal chatting to a bunch of teenagers about what they are definitely going to do this summer.  16 year old Christian tells us he’s going to cross the English Channel in a canoe for charity.  Nihal asks what his parents think about the idea.  Christian admits that he hasn’t told them yet and thought he’d tell the nation on Radio 1 before he surprises them with the idea.  Chuckling away, we crawl under a bridge at ten miles an hour. Six foot high whitewashed capital letters on the bridge telling us to “GIVE PEAS A CHANCE,” fade in the sun. 

Whaley Bridge – We met my sister in the Peak district, in the small, but strange town of Whaley Bridge.  It’s a pretty little place, complete with a canal and park, featuring dope smoking youth.  But the crowning achievement is a cafe that belongs somewhere in the midst of time, where my 18 month old nephew was nearly served a cheese and chilli sauce sandwich as the nice old man taking orders had got confused and where butter was the main ingredient in all of the dishes. 

Let There Be Rock – In the Proud Gallery in Camden we spent a few minutes looking at some excellent early photos of AC/DC, a few of which were from before the Bon Scott era. Although some of the shots were excellent, I was put off buying any framed copies by prices that started in the region of £200 and got substantially higher.  That and putting pictures of blokes in school uniforms on the wall just doesn’t seem right. 

Not as painful as it could have been – Leeds United’s exit from the League 1 playoffs happened in the semi-final before we landed. So while I was somewhat upset at the time, at least I didn’t have to sit amongst my friends while we got beaten in the final, again. 

Flick of the Switch – On our first day back, I found it strangely comforting to be able turn off an electrical device with the switch on the wall instead of having to yank the plug out.

Relative Size – After six months of Canada, everything in England seemed to have shrunk, especially in relation to driving.  The roads had got smaller, in some places tiny. The cars had got smaller too, with virtually no pick-up trucks around. Perhaps most disturbingly, parking spaces had shrunk several feet, which took a few days to get used to.

Ski Jump Wii champion – Whilst my efforts with the hula hoop and the balancing balls left a bit to be desired, I managed to discover a hidden talent for Wii ski jumping. Somehow I’m not convinced I’d be quite as good at the real thing.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 
Canada – First 6 Weeks – November 2008 to January 2009

Conversation with a Service Canada official while getting a Social Insurance Number.

“Ok, it seems I have everything here, can you just check these details for me?”

“Yes that looks fine.”

“Great.  Now can you stand up and sing the Canadian national anthem for the whole office?”

“I could, but I don’t think you, or your colleagues would appreciate it.”

“That’s ok.  You don’t really have to do that.”

Conversation with a Canadian immigration official on arrival in Calgary, Alberta.

“We’re going to Las Vegas for a few days in a couple of weeks.  Will we have any trouble getting back in?”

“No your details are on the computer, you might get some stupid yahoo in the States that won’t let you on a plane, but if that happens, contact the Canadian embassy and they’ll sort you out.”

“Nice one.  It’s as easy as that?”

“Yeah we make it easy for you.  Where are you staying in Vegas?”

About five minutes later in the same conversation.

“So if you go towards Cima in the Mojave area you’ll get a really clear road through to LA.”

“Thanks that’s really helpful.”

Conversation at a mobile phone store; two days after arriving

“I think the weathers going to be tricky to get used, minus nine this morning.”
“Minus nine, that’s warm.  Wait until it gets to minus thirty, your nasal hairs freeze when you breathe in.”
“No, you’re joking.”
“Honestly. It’s a really strange sensation.”

Our first two encounters with Canadian officialdom were a little different to those we had been used to.  They were helpful and had a sense of humour.  As for the weather; that was a different matter altogether.

We’ve been permanent residents of Canada for six weeks now and there’s been plenty of good, bad and strange.

Good Things

The “Locals” – By and large a friendly and helpful bunch of people, although it is proving quite difficult to find anyone who is originally from Calgary. 

Local beer – Canadians love beer, especially Canadian men.  In an effort to blend in I’ve tried several local brands of beer and while the locals seem to have produced a decent brown ale; I’m still searching for a good pint of bitter. 

Chinatown – Calgary has an impressive Chinatown, although like most Western efforts it’s more of a generic Asian town, so there are some excellent Japanese, Korean and even Malay influences too, which is a bonus.  However one thing you’ll only ever get in a North American Chinatown is an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

Figure skating with sticks – The one thing Canadian men seem to love more than beer is ice hockey.  In the spirit of learning more about the locals, I’ve tried to watch plenty of televised games and I’m slowly getting to grips with the only non combat sport I know of that encourages players to knock lumps out of each other. 

First Canadian Christmas – We thoroughly enjoyed Christmas thousands of miles from anyone we knew and would happily recommend it.

+15 Walkways – Much of downtown is easily crossed 15 feet above the ground in heated walkways.  Handy for most of the year, indispensible when it’s –25ºC outside.

Happy New Year – We finished 2008 and started 2009 watching a band called the Joe Defendants on a small outdoor stage in Calgary’s Olympic Plaza.  They played an eclectic set in temperatures worse than –20ºC.  Not many bands can go seamlessly from Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly covers to a version of The Ramones “I wanna be sedated” in decent weather, let alone while their fingers are freezing off, so well done folks.   The fireworks on the city hall at midnight were short lived but fun and the flame on the Calgary Tower looked very effective.  

Let it snow – Before we got here I explained to a lot of people that one of the things I was looking forward to was a proper cold winter.  There was snow on the ground when we arrived and it made us both smile.  On the day we flew to Las Vegas it snowed heavily for hours.  When our flight was delayed for three hours I was beginning to wish I’d kept my mouth shut.

On my radio – We hired a car for our first few days in Calgary.  It was equipped with Sirius satellite radio. While flicking through the million or so channels, I discovered AC/DC radio, playing AC/DC, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.  I was overjoyed; Rebecca wasn’t quite so thrilled.

AC/DC live – We went to Las Vegas for a few days, partly to celebrate Rebecca’s birthday, but mainly to see AC/DC play in LA.  They were great, as usual; even Rebecca enjoyed it, in marked contrast to her feelings about AC/DC radio.

Bad Things

Frozen – I might have wished for a proper winter, what we got was painful.  We arrived back from Las Vegas (12ºC cloudy) the day after some of the worst December weather in memory had arrived in Calgary.  There was snow everywhere and the temperature was –27ºC, -38ºC with wind chill.  It was the kind of cold that is difficult to imagine unless you stick your head in the freezer for a couple of minutes.  If you forgot your hat you couldn’t stay outside for long without your ears feeling like they were about to snap off.  For a period of ten days the highest temperature was –10ºC. We had definitely got a proper winter.     

Where the streets have no names – Like many North American cities Calgary has numbers for many of its roads.  Avenue numbers run north and south from the Bow River, while streets go east and west from Centre Street.  This causes no problems if you know which part of town you’re in.  For example 32nd Avenue North West is nowhere near 32nd Avenue South East.  The really confusing thing is the property numbering.  Normally between 3rd and 4th Street you would find numbers like 301, 320 and 350.  In Calgary between 3rd and 4th you get 401, 420 and 450.  But the avenues do work as expected.  Confused?  I was for several days.

TV – Too many adverts, too often.  The same adverts at every break.  Warnings for unsuitable, offensive TV not only at the start of the show, but after every set of adverts. Most painfully, films are cut “to fit the allocated time allowed”.  So two hour and a half hour films are put in a three-hour slot, but as one hour of adverts need to be shown, the film is cut accordingly.  I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the BBC.

Connection problems – It’s official. Mobile phone vendors are tossers no matter where they are based.  The number of total wankers in phone shops who tried to convince us that their phones were the best, before talking about three year contracts and hundreds of dollars of pointless extras was astronomical.  Even more galling is that every mobile provider charges for incoming calls, which I think is crap. 

Sugary Food – Most Europeans would have you believe that North Americans have sugared coated everything to make it easier for them to swallow. While that may be a valid metaphor, it seems to have been taken too literally in the case of food production.  Worst affected is bread, nearly all of it tastes like cake.

Gun crime and gangs – Both are becoming more prevalent in Calgary.  Four homicides within the first twenty-four hours of 2009 and an ongoing war between the two most prominent gangs suggest that the problem won’t go away anytime soon.

Strange Things

White Hat Volunteers – On arrival at Calgary airport you’ll be greeted by one or more friendly volunteers in red waistcoats and white cowboy hats.  The uniform isn’t in use much outside the airport, so if you’ve come in on a long flight and were barely awake when you cleared customs, you might get a bizarre sense of déjà vu when you get back to the airport to fly home and spot a white hatter.   

Happy Holidays – While rampant levels of Christianity are evident here, it still unusual for anyone to say Merry Christmas.  Instead, the rather bland “Happy holidays,” is dragged out, so those celebrating Hanukah, Kwanza or anything else aren’t offended.

Learning a new language – They speak English here; but it’s not the language I grew up learning.  F'sure, anyways, eh?

Downtown Monastery – Not quite sure if downtown Calgary is the most tranquil of surroundings, but the Avatamsaka Monastery has set up there anyway.

Political intrigue – In early December, a recently elected, minority, Conservative government faced an angry coalition after trying to cut public financing for all parties.  With the possibility of losing power to the coalition, the prime minister got parliament prorogued (suspended) until January so that new financial measures could be worked out and from his point of view, so the coalition could fall out with each other and disintegrate.  That’s the very short version of the most contentious and exciting week in Canadian politics for years.

Chinese tweaks – While looking for furniture, we discovered lots of items that looked very similar.  In one furniture shop we were told that all of the furniture is made in China. The only difference is that each shop has their own design tweak to make sure their furniture is slightly different.  That way no two shops sell the same thing and all of them can promise that theirs is the lowest price on that piece of furniture, as no one else stocks it.

Should drug dealers charge GST? – Alberta has the lowest rate of tax of any Canadian province, but for most Albertans it’s still too high. Obsession with tax finds its way into many conversations. A few days ago Rebecca overheard two blokes trying to work out the best way to avoid paying tax while sharing a large spliff.

Local drinks – The Caesar cocktail, invented in Calgary, combining vodka, Worcester sauce and Clamato juice (tomato and clam mix) sounds almost as disgusting as Canada Dry, Green Tea Ginger Ale. 

Pear shaped? – The female Canadian, especially in middle age, seems to be bottom heavy with short legs.  Possibly from years sat on comfy chairs watching crap TV and eating sugary food.

Local Teams – Ok I know the Flames idea fits in with the oil industry connections of the town, but I’m not quite sure what the names of the other teams, the Hitmen and the Roughnecks, are trying to convey about Calgary.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 
Salzburg - October 2008

As we’re about to emigrate to Canada, we decided to spend a couple of weeks travelling in Europe before we left.  Most of our destinations were very familiar and have been covered elsewhere on this site.  Salzburg was somewhere new, so here’s the good, bad and strange.

Conversation in a café in the old town (Altstadt)

“What language are they speaking?”

“Those old biddies over there.  The ones that just asked for a cup of coffee in a really loud and obnoxious fashion?”

“Yes.”

“English, with a very broad Irish accent.  They’ve been moaning about young people having no manners.”

Good Things

The Altstadt – The old town has been tastefully preserved in its medieval form and is a nice place to stroll around.

Mozart – This is where the great composer was born and grew up. The town obviously holds their favourite son in great esteem.

Scenery – Salzburg is in a sub alpine area, so you can see fantastic mountain scenery without having to leave the centre of the town.  Although if you make your way up to the local palace (Schloss) the view is even better.

Residence Galerie – The gallery was showing a special exhibition on the nature of sin and its portrayal in paintings since the 1500’s.  It was thought provoking and well put together.

Sacher Torte – The delicious chocolate covered cake is really from Vienna, but that doesn’t stop it being exceptionally tasty in Salzburg.

Mirabell Gardens - Cunningly cut out and planted, the local council buildings gardens are surprisingly nice. As you will see from the picture in the album below.

Bad Things

The Cathedral (Dom) -  Outside, a fairly pleasant if not great looking building. Inside a rather vulgar display of the affluence of the town.  I’m not a religious person, but that didn’t matter here. The Dom is set up as a tourist attraction, not a place of worship.  If you want one of those go to the Franziskaner church around the corner.

Red Bull – The bloke that invented it (Dietrich Mateschitz) is from Salzburg.  Sadly I didn’t know where he lived; otherwise I could’ve drunk a bottle of vodka with a couple of cans of his stinky, syrupy liquid.  Then I could’ve gone to his house and annoyed the hell out of him for hours before the caffeine high wore off, instead of just falling over and then asleep, which is what would’ve happened if I’d only drunk the vodka.

Mozart – Favourite son he may be, but he’s also the favourite brand.  Mozart’s image adorns far too many things from restaurant frontages to chocolates and perfume.  We didn’t try Mozart flavoured liquor in a violin shaped bottle and if you did, or even worse, bought a bottle, you need a slapping.

Dodgy Busker – Yes, I can see you strumming a few dull chords while a marvellous melody comes out and if I look a little harder I can spot the speaker, half hidden by a blanket on your left leg, where the music is coming from, you nasty little fraud.

High on a hill, with a bloke pretending to herd goats - Possibly a worse rip off than Mozart liquor, the daily ‘Sound of Music’ tour offered a trip around the locations for the filming of the famous (and somewhat annoying) tale of the Von Trapp family.  Yes the Julie Andrews version, not the real story.

No Kangaroos – A few years ago in Vienna we smiled when we saw a “No Kangaroos in Austria” t-shirt.  Sadly there were Australians in Salzburg, showing all the tact and understanding that we’ve come to expect from them when they leave their tiny little corner of the world.

Strange Things

Sat Nav Madness – Our satellite navigation system got very confused on the way in to Salzburg.  As well as sending us around in concentric circles for nearly half an hour, it also managed to produce a route on its ‘short’ setting that was a longer distance than the ‘fast’ setting, which I thought was impossible.

What are you looking at? – Outside McDonalds some of the local Salzburg youth hung around making a bit of noise, in the manner of teenagers the world over.  The only difference was that they were all dressed in designer clothes and none of them looked like they’d ever need a job flipping burgers.  Salzburg really is a very affluent place.

Open Lift – The hotel we chose had an old style lift where you open an outside door and then climb into the lift. Usually there is an inner door or at least a cage style metal sliding door.  In this instance there was only the outer door, which gave you the strange sensation that you weren’t really held in.  We used the stairs quite a lot after the first night.

Horse shit shovelling man – Riding a bike with a cart on the front, Salzburg’s smelliest man stops regularly to get his shovel out and fill his cart with the copious droppings of Salzburg’s horses.  If you can stand the smell he’s a good man to follow through crowded areas.

Plastic Pod Bathroom – We also tried to spend as little time in the bathroom as possibly, as it looked and felt like it had been stripped straight out of a cheap cruise ship and then inserted into our room.

Blaine? – In a Salzburg square a figure balances on a large golden ball.  Is it pretentious wanker David Blaine performing his latest dull stunt?  Probably not.  See the picture in the photo album below.

Tourist Tastes – Salzburg has restaurants that specialise in Austrian food, restaurants that specialise in Italian food and even the odd one or two that specialise in Indian food.  Sadly a couple of local proprietors have decided to specialise in all three.  So if you fancy a curried schnitzel pizza just head to one of the Austrian, Italian and Indian restaurants.

Mozart’s Balls – With a picture of the ubiquitous Mozart on the wrapper, this chocolate with a puréed nut filling was the size of a large testicle.  So like many visitors, we left Salzburg with one of Mozart’s balls in our mouths.  They were quite tasty.

Click on the picture below to see a few photos (opens in a new window)

 What is Good, Bad and Strange?

   
Welcome to the Good, Bad and Strange website.

My name is Liam and I spent the end of 2006 and most of 2007 travelling around the world with my wife Rebecca.

I'm the one in the hat.

Good, bad and strange is the concept I devised to make sure that my friends actually read the travel emails that I sent home.

The original idea was easy enough.  Instead of sending pages of drivel, like most enthusiastic travellers, I would send an email in simple bullet point form about all of the good, bad and strange things that we encountered and then throw in a few jokes.

To start the mail, I found that a simple conversation was a useful way to introduce a country.  A few pictures always helped to finish things off, if nothing else, as a welcome distraction when I’d got carried away with too many strange things.

Subsequently I realised that everything we came across was either good, bad or strange, or none of the above and therefore not worthy of comment anyway.  I started to think purely in terms of good, bad and strange and wondered if it could be applied to other subjects outside of travel.  I think it can and that’s part of the reason for this website.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading the reports and will be interested enough in the good, bad and strange concept to start putting together your own GBS, not just for travel, but for, anything, really. That's what the Other GBS page on this site is for. Hopefully people from all sorts of places can write Good, Bad & Strange reports on all sorts of subjects to add to the ones I have all ready posted on that page.

After all, good, bad and strange is an easy way to make sense of things and if something isn’t good, bad or strange, it isn’t really worth talking about.

Have you written a GBS?

If you would like to contribute to the site, please send your GBS to:- liam@goodbadstrange.com

All you need is a conversation, at least one good thing, one bad thing and one strange thing.  Pictures are optional, but if you do decide to include them, I suggest you set up a web album in Picasa and then send me the code to paste into the site. 

It's not that difficult; believe me, if it was I wouldn't be able to do it.


 Good Bad & Strange