One week of work to go. Actually, the Monday holiday makes that four days. A house to pack, four websites to finish, a bike to sell, data and memories to back up thoroughly and send by different means. Then, a long holiday with lots of driving and camping. England, Wales, Dublin, England, New York City, Chicago, Wisconsin, San Francisco, Yosemite, the Rockies, (Canada?), the west coast, LAX, Brisbane.
Right now, everything we do is for the last time. Yesterday, as I rode to work, each tree, building and light was, potentially, never to be seen again. Never to weave my way along Clapham High Street, never make that call about which way I should go around Clapham Common, and to slowly forget where all those potholes lie in wait. Am I going to ride across Battersea Bridge one last time? Will Nic and I ride together in London again?
On a bigger scale, will the UK be even roughly the same when we eventually come back? When I left the UK at age 8, nuclear war was a serious scenario, one of the reasons my family migrated. Once more, there's an underlying tension, a fear of destruction and loss, though not as bad as the US seems to have it. One big attack can change the psyche of a place for a long time, and everyone entering the US is photographed, fingerprinted, interrogated. A friend just back took two hours to enter San Francisco, and had her bag entirely emptied. Hopefully, we won't be behind a flight from the middle east when we arrive at JFK, or we're stuffed.
To return, the scooter is for sale on gumtree.com, in Loot and on its spiritual home, byscooter.com. Someone called about the bike yesterday, and arranged to see it last night. Then stood me up, stealing valuable beer festival time.
It's a shame that scooters like this one fall between the licensing gaps. A bike licence is required for anything over 125cc, so you have to want to ride a big scooter to want to buy the bike. The audience is limited, and it's not that it wouldn't sell, just that it will take time that we don't have. If I'm lucky, I can convince a friend to buy it. Otherwise, if a dealer wants it, they can have it. We'll see. I'll let you know.
Our Honda Foresight scooter is for sale. If you're in London and would like a reliable, comfortable 250cc beast to zip through London traffic congestion-charge-free and get you into the country on the weekend, check out the page and give me a call. More photos on request.
It's for sale because we're leaving the country, but you probably knew that. Oh, it's currently for sale at £1100 or best offer.
I'm not a financial advisor, but I'm about to offer some long, boring financial advice. Those of you who know me may think this is a dumb idea, as I'm not a big money person. You get it, you spend/save it, whatever. I don't invest, my superannuation (Australian pension supplement) is way, way behind, and I avoid debt wherever possible. I hate what capitalism does to our environment and ourselves, yet I'm not planning a revolution because I can't think of an alternative. (Though it might be fun to watch.)
Anyway, I'm here to offer a little advice about foreign exchange. Not for huge amounts of money; if you know someone who does, listen to them instead. This is for anyone travelling overseas and anyone working overseas and sending money home.
The basic bit of information here is that it's always better for you to buy local currency, not foreign currency. So if you're in the UK (pounds sterling), travelling to Western Europe (mostly Euro) then you shouldn't buy a whole heap of Euros from the currency exchange kiosk at the UK airport. Buy enough to get you from the airport to a bank machine in Europe (automat, whatever), and maybe a buffer for the first night.
You will get a better rate buying local currency from a European hole in the wall, using your usual bank card (look for Maestro/Cirrus or Visa symbols on the back) even though they will charge you for the privilege. The exchange kiosk will charge too.
(A buffer is still a good idea, in case you can't find a teller. Japan's Visa machines don't normally deal with foreign cards, and you'll have to search one out. Ghent, in Belgium, is just short of them. And sometimes you won't feel safe using them. A buffer is a good idea.)
This doesn't only apply to cash, but also to large electronic transfers (TT) as performed by banks. If you're sending money (say) from the UK to Australia, somewhere along the line there will be a currency exchange from GBP to AUD. The local bank in the UK will ask if you want to send pounds or dollars. They will then give you crappy, wishy-washy advice on which will be better.
Yes, exchange rates change, sometimes quickly. I've seen the pound range from 2.89 dollars to 2.30 in the last few years. But you will get a better rate if you buy the Australian dollars locally, in Australia. Yesterday, each pound sent from the UK would have bought 2.56 Australian dollars in Australia, but buying them here and sending Australian dollars directly buys only 2.51.
Sure, the exchange rate could change in the next few days, but you're unlikely to win out buying a foreign currency. If you need to know exactly how much you'll get at the other end, then sure, maybe that's valuable. And of course, both of those rates are better than the rates from just two weeks ago. So it's all a big crapshoot. Just don't let the banks rip you off any more than they're going to anyway, and buy your currency locally: buy Australian dollars in Australia, and pounds in the UK.
Lastly, if you're sending a lot of money back, don't do it all in one hit. Spread it out over time and you'll minimise your losses, plus probably gain from spreading your income across two countries. Your mileage may vary, no responsibility taken, these statements are forward looking, Blah, Blah, Blah.
Pointless crap alert:
You know how orange juice tastes after you've brushed your teeth?
Well, we've just discovered a new one. Drink grapefruit juice, and follow it up with Peppermint tea. Or, rather, prepare it as a prank for someone who's done you wrong.
OK. Still not Norway, but I should get out a few things while I remember them. For no better reason than I've been meaning to.
- If the plane you're getting onto has stairs at the back, use them. At least 80% of passengers will sheepily head straight for the front. On cheapo airlines that don't allocate seats, those at the back will get seats where they want.
- Move out of the aisle to put your bags in the overhead locker. Please. You are annoying an entire plane for no reason.
- Lonely Planet can lead you astray. Not all trails noted as "well marked" are so marked, and not all maps noted "excellent" are thus. Use your nose, and carry a compass.
- iPods are great for long, boring plane/bus/train trips, plus any public transport. If you can afford it, get one and extra travel insurance.
- If you have an iPod and a digital camera, buy an iPod Media Reader. You can offload photos from full media cards and use them again. Never run out of space. (Oh, always buy media cards on the internet. High street stores rip you off in every way.)
- If you've got a camcorder, buy a polarising filter. It'll make a huge difference to any subject with skies or water.
- Watch your tapes back. A dud camcorder can record tapes that won't play back, or play back poorly. This is bad.
- Getting a little away from travel now, aren't I? When in Photoshop, never view a photo at anything but 25%, 50%, or x00%. If you view in other ratios (ie. you drag over an area with the magnifying glass) then the on-screen image will be distorted in important ways. It's impossible to judge noise or sharpness in an image like that, so don't try.
- Please, Londoners. Look for yourself before you cross the road. So the person ahead of you crossed. Great. You're both going to die.
- And for god's sake, get off your bloody mobile phones while you're doing it. Your driving/walking/mobility IQ dropped by half when you plugged that phone to your head.
- Norway, please don't be so paranoid about alcohol. (It didn't work for Chicago.) But the kid-friendly stuff is great.
- Those fresh Norwegian prawns were pretty good, and I don't even like prawns.
- I should have stopped already.
- Now that "I Power Blogger", should I feel warm and fuzzy?
Oh, it's a cool little program that runs under OS X, is GPL open source, and lets you "paint" on a spinning canvas. Like a spirograph, except that the canvas spins instead of the pen, and you can draw whatever you like, change the spinning speed, direction, frame rate, colour, colourspeed changing... not so much like a spirograph really. But a great idea, and hopefully when back in Australia I'll get a chance to VJ some of this live.
Oh, and if I haven't blogged our recent trip to Norway by this weekend, someone let me know, yeah? Email is blog [at] funwithstuff.com. Many, many photos to sift through, so I'll post the best few.
OK. Here's a way for anyone interested to contact me. I don't really need another email service, but since they offered, I've now signed up as a tester for Google's Gmail. (Blogging has perks - who knew?) There are privacy concerns so I'll watch for any news and keep you posted. In the meantime, email me at funwithstuff [squigglysymbol] gmail.com if you don't know me yet but have something, anything to say to me. (The usual addresses stand if you know them.)
Actually, drop me a line at the Gmail address even if you do know me. It'd be nice to know I'm not just typing this for my own benefit. If you want to send lots of pictures, 1GB of email space is the ideal spot for it. And it'll probably be good while travelling.
Google may not be perfect, but it's a long, long way from Microsoft. Let's hope the IPO doesn't screw it up.
We're leaving London soon, after three years spent here with the old buildings, the drizzle, the tube, the beer, and Londoners. Everyone's experience of a place is different, coloured by their individual experiences. For us, though, it has been enough.
London, and other big cities, are great at delivering the exceptional time; the wonderful theatre experience (Jumpers) or the amazing restaurant (Roussillon) and the best chocolate shop in the world. (And we had a good day today looking at old buildings and gardens in Mayfair.) The metropolis is also great at connecting people in unusual ways. But big cities are lousy at the everyday.
Daily life in a city where everyone wants to be is crowded, dirty and overpriced. The tube is a living hell in rushhour, traffic a slow negotiation between crawling psychopaths. A ray of sunshine is such a rarity that everyone drops their top and takes their towel to the local park to sunbathe.
We'll be reversing this little equation by moving to a mountain community outside Brisbane, Australia, using rain as our water supply, eating happy organic vegies and enjoying daily warmth. The exceptional experiences may be fewer, and further between. Daily life will be far more fun. (We hope.)
Five weeks left here, a few weeks around the UK, two months around the US, then back home.