Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Choo Choo Pain: Struggles of the Melbourne Train Traveller

Trains.  The important thing to remember is that nothing good ever happens aboard them.  Trains have been the setting for some of the most horrendous events in human history; transporting people to concentration camps during WW2, the deaths of countless Agatha Christie characters, and the Steven Seagal film ‘Under Siege 2’.  Secondly, you need to keep in mind that being a regular train commuter is like being in an addictive relationship with an unprofessional high-end prostitute; you know they’re constantly going to be late, that they’re servicing more people than just you, and yet you’ll keep paying too much just to let them screw you.  This is a look at the struggles of the daily train travellers rather than the train tourists taking scenic rides through the Swiss Alps and the Aussie outback.  So come on this train journey with me because despite what Metro and Myki would have you believe (and like a songwriter with bad grammar once wrote), “you don’t need no ticket, just get on board.”

Not even Steven Seagal can get a seat on the City Loop.

The experience of catching the train is a difficult one to capture in a single sentence without using expletives.  Like explaining the taste of Vegemite to a tourist or describing the feeling of copping a really solid hit to the nuts.  Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go; catching the train combines all the aggravation of expensive and slow travel to an urgent destination, with the joy of spending extended periods of time in uncomfortably close proximity to strangers.  Then there’s peak hour train travel, which manages to capture the experience of being caught in traffic on a busy highway, whilst still keeping the rail factor of the journey in order to eliminate any possibility of overtaking should a vehicle breakdown in front of you.  What a brilliant flaw for such a powerful piece of machinery.  In layman’s terms, this would be like if the Hulk had his unbelievable strength but his ‘Achilles Heel’ was that he could be stopped by a low fence or a midget with a stop sign.  You’re probably already wondering why I’m not getting stuck into trams as much as trains.  Well it’s because trams are essentially the “slow” children of trains that never lived-up to their full potential of becoming buses, and I don’t pick on kids.

It’s quite a remarkable achievement that in a generation where scientists have produced information that can travel at the ‘speed of light’, the people behind V-Line and Metro trains have developed transportation that travels at the ‘pace of darkness’.  These are trains that move so slowly, their position on the ‘speed of sound’ scale is ‘mute’.  In reality, they’re closer to travelling at the ‘speed of Sound of Music’; because there’s a good chance the trip can have a duration of almost 3 hours.  Most of you might not be aware of this unless you’ve had the “joy” of catching a V-Line regional service to Geelong to catch a game of football and inspect the museum dedicated to wool, or even headed over to Ballarat to pan for gold and see what a pie shop-based local economy looks like.  Without getting into complicated physics jargon, this is essentially the situation; the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the longest distance between two points is a V-Line.

"One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong."

One thing you’ll often hear regular commuters refer to trains as is “cattle carriages.”  Now I’d respond to this by saying I’ve seen cattle transport trucks and I’ve ridden the train and the only thing the two have in common is that we both usually have to stand during transit.  Other than that, I’d go so far as to say that cattle have it better; they travel on the road, have more ventilation, fewer stops, arrive earlier and they don’t have to pay for a ticket.  I’d also be willing to wager that they have a less pungent aroma of urine on the average trip.  Also, if you’re one of the many that are catching the train in a crowded, smelly carriage to the races this cup carnival, keep this in mind; even the horses got to at least travel there in private trailers.

A peak-hour train is also the answer to the question; “Except for being inside a ‘Krispy Kreme’ store during their ‘closing down’ sale, when would you otherwise get a chance to be squashed against a window next to a sweaty and morbidly obese man?”  You don’t know my struggle until you’ve been aboard a V-Line train so overcrowded that you can actually see that morbidly obese gentleman’s “P-Line” and indeed his lady companion’s own “V-Line”.  By the way, the only reason they’re even called “trains” is because “windowless over-priced fart lockers” was too wordy.

Horse racing doesn't take the title of 'cruelest option' for a change.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about trains though is that they’ve never lived up to the brilliant adventure we built them up to be as children.  They don’t have names, they can’t talk, and job cuts in the transport sector combined with strict OH&S uniform policies mean we don’t even have fat controllers in formal wear and top hats.  If ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ was adapted to fit a modern tale, Thomas would have illegible graffiti down his side, his friends would’ve all turned into ‘metros’ and he’d be arriving so late to the station he’d only just make it in time for a short appearance during the closing credits of each episode.  Basically our multi-billion dollar rail network is a wide range of “Little Engines that Couldn’t.”  I really feel sorry for all of the people who are having these bad train rides on the way to jobs they hate, because that’s the equivalent of having to sit through a series of crappy film previews at the cinema ahead of a movie you don’t want to see.

The epitome of the term "youth going off the rails."

What I’m getting at is that essentially the only reason you should be catching a train to school or work is if you’re starting your new school year at Hogwarts or you’re late for a crucial business meeting and Doctor Emmett Brown pulls up out the front of your house with the time travelling locomotive from ‘Back to the Future 3’.  Other than that, the only trains people should make time for are conga trains, trains of thought, sushi trains and (in moderation) music by the band ‘Train’.  In the meantime, invest in a bike or a car that runs on gas, stop the train-waiting and spend that time weight-training, then engage in some resistance training and resist taking the train.

How to keep kids in school and reduce the number of workers taking sick days.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bach-man: The Dark Knight Surprises

Now that you’ve all had a week to deal with the fallout of the ‘Bachelor’ finale, it’s time to look at whether the writing was on the mansion wall for this ‘creek tragedy’ much earlier.  I say ‘creek tragedy’ rather than ‘Greek tragedy’ of course because of the uniquely Australian spin employed here; a bloke dates numerous women simultaneously and then breaks-up with one overseas within weeks of proposing.  Here’s a quick look at some of the reasons why this fairy tale (short of the final episode being set in Bangkok) was never going to have a happy ending.

First and foremost ladies; don’t mistake meeting a douchebag in a rented mansion for meeting prince charming in a royal palace.  No successful monogamous relationship has ever started in a mansion.  They’ve ended there and they’ve visited there, but they’ve never started there.  If you want a mansion-based love affair, put on bunny ears and hope when Hugh Hefner scraps your name and replaces it with a number, you’re at least in the top 50.

Secondly, how did any of the viewing audience or competing bachelorettes think a show based around letting the male make all of the choices was going to end well?  Any girlfriend, wife, sister or ‘gal-pal’ that’s ever asked a straight man to choose which of her two dress options he prefers, would know that making executive decisions is not in a straight male’s skill set.  It ranks right up there with sharing our feelings and remembering anniversaries.  How did you think getting him to choose from 24 options would turn out well?  For crying out loud, host ‘Osher/Andrew/G/Gunsberg’ can’t even decide on which name he wants to go by!
While we’re on the topic of choices, whose brilliant idea was it to send the girls to South Africa for ‘Le Grande dumping’!?  South Africa; the country that gave us the 'vuvuzela', apartheid and the villains of ‘Lethal Weapon 2’.  The only way this whole experience could have ruined my memories of ‘The Lion King’ more, was if Blake had dumped Lisa and then immediately pushed her off pride rock.  The symbolism was there; elephant bones, red sand and an environment where a cactus would struggle to grow – what made you think love could?  If you got called into your boss’s office and it looked like that, you’d know you were getting made redundant before you were getting a heartfelt marriage proposal.  Not since Prince William and Kate’s Australian visit has a couple had to sit through more native tribal dances.  Sorry Channel Ten, but if I want to see heartbreak on the African continent, I’ll watch ‘Blood Diamond’ or simply tell my sponsor child his drawings are shit and I’m stopping payments.

Also, sorry to crush the illusion for the girls at home and in the house, but Blake didn’t organise the dates.  I know, I know, it's the news heartbreak is made of but then again, the truth both hurts and heals.  If that was part of the attraction, you should’ve focused your affections on the producer or the work experience kid who died a little inside every time you or one of the Bachelorettes uttered the words, “Awww Blake put together this beautifully romantic date”.  If you listened carefully after each time someone said it, you could hear ‘Jason the intern’ shouting off camera, “alright next time Blake can try driving out to Narre Warren looking for a store that stocks candleholders suitable for replicating a Thai sunset!”

Side note:  never trust a man who sounds like he’s getting a chunk of the band Journey’s royalties every time he mentions their name.  Blake mentioned the word “journey” so many times, I started to think he was saying ‘Germany’ and I assumed the final episode would be filmed in Munich at Oktoberfest.  In fact, what should have happened is that every time Blake mentioned the Bachelorettes being on this ‘journey’ with him, each girl should have gotten 20,000 frequent flyer points.  You’re not a hobbit mate, this isn’t Middle-Earth and you’re not on a journey.  I mean sure it did end up with you grabbing a ring, but that’s by-the-by.

People believing all along that Blake was a nice guy and how wrong they were is essentially a very good explanation for how Ivan Milat was able to get backpackers into his car and how Tony Abbott was able to get elected Prime Minister.  A vast majority of the Australian public are to judging character what ISIS is to peaceful protest.  With all due respect to Blake, you don’t get to claim a broken heart if you’re the douche that causes it.  And if you do feel pain in your heart, it’s in all likelihood a result of steroid abuse rather than disappointment at love lost. 
The question needs to be asked – do people who are desperate to meet someone even need shows like ‘The Bachelor’ anymore?  With the rise of programs and applications such as Tinder, Grindr, Facebook and Instagram, it seems ‘dating shows’ are being made obsolete by what I’m labelling ‘relationsh-apps’.  Not sure if I can trademark that but it certainly gives credence to the theory that ‘The Bachelor’ is potentially more of a tool for people trying to find fame rather than look for love.  Word to the wise; don’t let your sibling or daughter go on a show where she competes with other women for the affections of one man.  It’s demeaning and probably quite damaging.  We shouldn’t have ‘The Bachelor’.  What we should have is a show, with a similar format called, ‘The Bachelor Degree’.  A show where 24 women compete for university degrees while fending off the advances of a creepy guy with a voice like ‘Love Song Dedications’ host, Richard Mercer.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, be it ‘Team Sam’ or ‘Team Blake’, one thing’s for certain; people haven’t turned against a bachelor this much since Jesus.  And he at least left the booming voice and process of eliminating people he didn’t like, to his dad.  I will say this though; if you’re disappointed in ‘The Bachelor’ finale, you should really be disappointed that you ever invested so much interest in it in the first place.  It’s like investing more money in a 'pyramid scheme' each week and then blaming the scheme when it goes under and takes all of your money with it.

In the end, we can say two things with absolute certainty; the first being that whether or not the claims about there being no sex in the ‘Bachelor Mansion’ are true or false, the viewers at least got well and truly screwed... and they didn’t even get a rose.  The second – no girls are going to be shining the 'Bach signal' into the night sky for Blake any time soon.

Friday, 3 October 2014

‘The X-YU Factor’ – 7 Easy Steps to Balkan Pop Stardom

If Shakespeare was right and “all the world’s a stage”, then Eastern Europe’s standing in the spotlight with its people singing and dancing away in front of the old ‘iron curtain’.  Now I’m not painting it as a region of show tunes and spirit fingers.  With a seemingly endless supply of Eurovision contenders and popstars with catchy tunes, it’s a healthy balance of kitsch and cool.  It’s arguably the best place in the world to consider a path to the top of the pops and they have a fine-tuned formula for success.  So if you’re one of the budding performers out there less interested in climbing a “stairway to heaven” and more interested in taking the less arduous “escalator to fame”, this might just be the handy instruction guide you’ve been looking for.  From concept to reality, here are your ‘poptions’.

Step #1 – Sing about the unattainable not the affordable

The first step to Balkan pop stardom is simple; make sure you’re singing about things no normal person in your home country can afford.  Few things will make you look like a big star more than appearing to live a life your formerly-Socialist listeners couldn’t.  This means making sure you’re singing about rolling in Audis and Ferraris in the Summer time on the way to a private party on the Adriatic coast aboard a yacht with models and top-shelf drinks.  Fact; no one ever wrote a hit song based around trying to jump start a Fiat on their Winter caravan park holiday by a pond in Romania.  The ‘rule of three’ is a safe bet for what your song should contain; luxury cars, excessive alcohol consumption and the Montenegrin coast.

Here are a couple of popular and sure-fire song themes to get you started:

Winning theme for girls:  You’ve just broken up with your boyfriend, you’re fine about it and now you’re heading out with 16 of your closest girlfriends to drink, dance and party the night away.

Winning theme for guys:  Your girlfriend’s just broken up with you, you’re fine with it and now you’re going to try and woo a new one with a combination of a fast car, VIP parties and all-night partying and drinking.

This leads me to the next step….

Step #2 – Gratuitous product placement is essential

You don’t know how long this Miley Cyrus 'Balkan wrecking ball of fame' is going to keep swinging so do everything you need to do, short of naming the song “Cash for Comment”.  Include lyrics like, “cruising in my Merc while I’m sipping on some Moet, grab a booth at Eve then Crown Casino’s where we’re going.”  In the midst of that, make sure you mention so many capital cities that Google Maps might want to chase you for royalties.  You haven’t made a truly catchy and kitschy Balkan pop song until you’ve mentioned the top ten cities that Eastern Europeans have migrated to in the last 50 years.  From Zurich and Vienna to Berlin and Sydney, start practicing your pronunciations.

Step #3 – Piano accordion or trumpet solos are ‘instrumental’ to success

Whether your song is a woeful tale of lost love or a power ballad with more electronica than a Berlin rave, you don’t have a chance at a hit unless you squeeze in the old squeezebox somewhere.  Think of it as a piano you can walk around with that has the sounds of summer inside it.  As for the sound of Balkan trumpets, they’ll get people up on their feet quicker than a surprise terror raid by federal police.  It might even mean that you have the privilege of being ripped off by Jason DeRulo.

Step #4 – It’s OK to make a DJ your new BFF

You’re going full Balkan on this one so you have no choice but to do it right.  This means teaming up with an average-looking Eastern European DJ who seems hell-bent on his main contribution to the track being a short blurb about the song and random announcements throughout the track in very broken English.  I mean properly ‘written-off’ English.  Like ‘Allianz’ Insurance would need to replace his accent and vocabulary kind of ‘broken English’.  The technical term for the accent you’re looking for is ‘Eurovision vote announcer’.

Step #5 – Be your own hair, make-up and wardrobe team

In terms of the male Balkan popstar hopefuls, a $200 gift voucher to spend at Tarocash and $20 for Hairhouse Warehouse will have you covered.  As for the potential Balkan popstarlets, in much of Eastern Europe the saying “less is more” may not apply to meal sizes or economic strength, but it definitely applies to the outfits of the female popstars.  You could be forgiven for thinking the people hardest hit by the economic crisis in Europe have been Eastern European clothing retailers.  The budget for wardrobe is usually inversely proportional to the budget the singer’s spent on cosmetic surgery.  So say $45,000 has been spent on nips, tucks, fills, extensions, keeping things up and sucking things in, the wardrobe receipt should be around $16.50 for a white two-piece bikini that only gets more revealing as the video clip progresses.  It actually makes a lot of sense; if you’ve gone ahead and spent $250,000 on a new sports car, you wouldn’t go and cover it up now would you?

Step #6 – Making music doesn’t mean having to make sense

For the Balkan popstar, the irrelevant and illogical video clip narrative is king.  This means even that if for some reason you choose to sing about your tough upbringing and the state of human rights in the world today, you’re still well within your creative rights to do so alongside bikini-clad girls or oiled-up guys on a beach in Mykonos.  It’s important that your video clip and lyrics make no sense when compared to one another.  That means more room for creativity plus it should at least double your YouTube hits as people go back to watch the video again in a quest to figure out exactly what’s going on in it.  You want to leave your audience asking questions like, “Did they just use this as a chance to hook up with the model acting opposite them in that video?”  Make sure at some point in the video you’re throwing around dollar/euro bills at an amount the equivalent of the GDP of Bulgaria.  If, on top of this, your song and video clip contain more spilling of champagne than a Formula 1 Grand Prix winner’s podium, you’re on the right track.

Step #7 – Cooking-up the video: Turn up the heat and just add water

Hot Balkan pop hits aren’t set in the cold so your video should make it look like Summer in Eastern Europe is year-long and Winter’s been exported to England.  Plus it’s harder to get away with wearing a lace bikini or singlet when you’re standing in front of a glacier rather than a beach bar.  Summer videos are the realm of hit pop songs and attractive people enjoying life.  Winter videos on the other hand are for Bear Grylls expeditions and Rocky Balboa training montages.  Remember, this is why people write songs about partying away in Serbia rather than “living it up in Siberia”.  If you’re a girl singing, your lyrics should be telling the opposite of your visuals.  Sure you’re drinking copious amounts, dancing with strangers, wearing next to nothing and have filmed a sex tape prior to the launch of your pop career, but you should definitely remind people incessantly that you’re not ‘easy’.  Partying by the beach is essential.  Realistically, the bigger the body of water, the better.  The video should show you either on it, in it or beside it.  Here’s a guide for you; ither on it,Sea > Lake > River > Swamp.  However a private pool on a boat, in a club or above a hotel is like your Uno ‘Wild Card’ and trumps them all.
So there you have it, your step-by-step guide to becoming the Balkan popstar you've always admired from afar but thought just disappeared into hibernation in a Macedonian cave somewhere once Eurovision was over each year.  In the end, I guess to really achieve that vibe of the true Balkan popstar, your song and video should basically be the TAC and VicRoads' worst nightmare; a mix of young people drinking excessively, driving fast cars with no seat belts on while standing up with the roof down.  After all - one man's Euro trash is another man's treasure!

** For more info, updates and photos, follow me on Twitter & Instagram **

Friday, 12 September 2014

All Aboard the Balkan Express! 10 Reasons to Set Off on a Serbian Adventure!

Attention back-packers, frequent flyers and Lonely Planeteers! This is a public service announcement telling you that it’s time you looked past Phuket, beyond Bali and further than Fiji in search of that completely unique getaway you’re after that won’t break the budget. I can assure you it’s great because Jetstar doesn’t fly there and it’s safe enough to warrant you not wrapping your suitcases in 12 packs of Glad Wrap before you check-in your luggage. Here’s the deal; ensure your seat back and tray tables are in their full upright position and you’ve left all emotional baggage behind, because I’m about to take you through 10 reasons why Serbia should be your destination of choice and how it’s going to restore your enthusiasm about taking a European vacation. 

The People

Serbia was just voted in at #5 in a poll of the most attractive countries in the world. To put that in context – this is a country that borders (among other countries) Bulgaria, Albania and Romania. So to say genetics play a bigger part than geography is an understatement. From tanned skins rarely susceptible to sunburn, to beautiful features and people with genetic cocktails that allow them to generally drink and eat large quantities without gaining weight, the benefits of being a nation that was never an English colony are endless. Another bonus; hipsters don’t exist in Serbia! On the off chance that you do see a person with tattered pants, dishevelled hair and a woollen jumper that looks like they knitted it themselves, they’re not a hipster – they’re homeless. In a country where the girls are tall and the men are taller, probably the only people who are going to be a little disheartened in Serbia might be short guys. You know what girls in Serbia call guys under 5ft 10”? Nothing… girls in Serbia don’t call guys under 5ft 10”. With a female population that lead you to believe there’s a potential cover girl around every corner, it may be Victoria’s Secret but it’s Serbia’s reality.

The Food

In short, from fine dining to fast food, Serbia’s a country where ‘low fat’ labels go to die. From gourmet burgers that would make McDonald’s their McBitch to pastries that ignore the existence of any such thing as ‘gluten free people’ and offer only a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to dining evolution – Serbia is to food what China is to mathematics. It’s also one of the only countries in the world to have completely banned GMO products, which is like a big F.U to the E.U, U.S and U.N… and Serbs are O.K with that. Ultimately, you’ve got to love a country where when you go to a bakery, yoghurt isn’t a dip – it’s a beverage.

The Culture

If you’re wondering where all that hospitality that the French seem to be lacking went, it’s over here. It’s been divided-up pretty evenly among the Serbs, with a disproportionately high quantity going to every Serb grandmother with a pulse and a stovetop. Unlike Australia, the only time you’ll hear someone in Serbia ask you to “bring a plate” to a get-together is when they literally want you to bring an empty plate so they can pile it up and send you home with more of their food you couldn’t fit into your guts in the first sitting. You might arrive hungry, but you’ll never leave that way. While western households tend to say that “less is more”, Serbs believe “less is an insult and more is in all likelihood still not enough”. In short, in Serbia texting someone the letters ‘BYO’ is more offensive than ‘F.U.’

The Affordability 

Don’t get too excited when you see Serbian dinar notes with a couple of zeros on them, Richie Rich. It’s probably just the equivalent of a few dollars. The good news is that while Serbia is located in the heart of Europe, it’s not a European Union member. The currency is still the Serbian dinar (RSD) and not the Euro, which means more savings for you, the travelling consumer. It’s pretty much like Serbia’s the only homeowner in a beautiful street where most of its neighbours come over to have fun because they’re all stuck renting from the same douche bag German landlord. Even in when it comes to looking for accommodation in Belgrade (the most expensive city in Serbia), a one-bedroom apartment close to the centre will set you back around $260 AUD a month, your average beer price is around 170 RSD ($2 AUD) for a pint, while you can pick-up the gourmet burger I mentioned earlier for around 250 RSD ($3 AUD). Basically, it’s cheap enough to warrant making it your first choice destination, but not so cheap that you classify it as a third-world destination. A Paris holiday on an almost Bangkok budget.

The Morning, Afternoon & Nightlife

Serbia is a place where socialising is such an important part of life, it was in fact a socialist country for more than half of the 20th century! Like a real-life Balkan Facebook, the country is a living breathing social network, where everyone’s online at any time of the day and night, there’s plenty to see and yet no one’s going to walk-up to ask you to come checkout Farmville with them. Whether you spend your time wandering, your money shopping or your energy partying, rest assured Serbia’s open and operating 24-7. Busy city beaches, consumption of alcohol in public and floating raft nightclubs (splavovi) on the rivers that run through the country are just a few examples of why it’s fun and games at all times of the day in Serbia. It’s the perfect setting for another ‘Hangover’ sequel and it’s no coincidence that neither the words ‘Serbia’ nor ‘fun’ contain the letters ‘OH&S’!

The Festivals

There are 4 ‘Cs’ on the Serbian coat of arms and you could be forgiven for thinking they all stand for ‘Celebrate’. From foods you love to eat to beverages you love to drink and music you love to dance, sing and play air-instruments along to, you can be sure that Serbia has a festival celebrating them. ‘Belgrade Beerfest’ corrects all of the mistakes made by Oktoberfest; more live bands, cheaper beer, fewer Germans. Voted best festival in the world and winning the award for “Best Major European Festival 2014” is Exit Festival in Novi Sad. It combines modern music and pyrotechnics set against the ancient backdrop of the Petrovaradin fortress on the Danube River so it’s like ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘Big Day Out’. Then there’s Guca Trumpet Festival. A festival where for a few days every year in August, a quiet village of 2,000 people opens its gates to a river of alcohol, roast meats, brass music and around 500,000 people. An eruption of joy, gypsies and insane frivolities worthy of Dan Bilzerian’s Instagram account. I know that even as you read this, you probably don’t believe it because in Australia and much of the western world, brass music is usually associated with pubescent boys or geriatric gentlemen in marching bands and camp military costumes, that usually form the soundtrack for the dissolution of the human sex drive. Basically, an atmosphere that’s about as arousing and as likely to get you up and excited as watching your grandparents making out while their teeth are in respective glass jars beside them. Rest assured, in Serbia there are more than a few gypsies waiting to prove you wrong in exchange for what here might be considered pocket change.

The Capital City – ‘Belgrade’

If New York and Paris got together and had a lovechild that combined the rugged coolness of the former and the euro-chic style of the latter, then had to give that baby up for adoption to a good family so that London didn’t get jealous, then Belgrade is that baby and Serbia’s signed the adoption papers. I really don’t know what I can say about this city that compliments it enough; it’s got old-school charm, modern day style and eternal beauty. If Kanye wasn’t so hooked-up on Chicago, he’d write a song about it. It’s also a city where hot people use public transport! Yes! You wouldn’t think this is such a massive a selling point, but you’d be surprised how much easier it is to go without a car and how significantly the complaints about late public transport reduce when you’re fare-evading alongside a woman that looks like she’s Adriana Lima’s Slavic cousin. Belgrade was again voted “Best City to Visit in Europe in 2014” by travel site Yomadic and is regularly in Lonely Planet’s Top 5 world destinations. I’m not going to say it’s Heaven but you do pay no admission to get in, it’s name in English literally translates to “White City” and there’s a good chance the guy stamping your passport at Belgrade airport customs and deciding whether to let you enter the country will be called ‘Petar’. Sooooo, you be the judge…. Amen.

The Sport

Sport is as much a part of Serbian culture as mono-brows and an inherent fear of Liam Neeson are to Albanian culture. So much so that it’s probably the only country in the world where you can find basketball and tennis courts inside the walls of a 1500 year-old fortress. Amusingly, this also makes it incredibly easy to convince many American tourists that Serbs defeated the Ottoman Turks in a game of 3on3 or that the Second Serbian Uprising was decided in a 5th set tie-breaker. World and European champions in sports from waterpolo & tennis to football & volleyball, not to mention more World Championship basketball gold medals than any other country, it would seem Serbia’s run the ‘human race’ and lapped every other nation along the way. Whether you want to watch it, play it or just bet on it – sport in Serbia isn’t a past time – it’s a way of life.

The History

Serbia really lives up to the phrase; ‘Poor economy, rich history’. It’s a history that’s seen more battles than Rambo, more rulers than a Catholic schoolboy’s backside and more major events than Ticketek. So much so that the Serbian flag is the only flag other than the U.S flag to have flown above the White House. Another interesting fact is that the word “vampire” comes from the Serbian language and Serbia is also responsible for exporting most of the world’s raspberries. So if you’re a Twilight fan who also enjoys eating Pavlova, you’re welcome. Serbia even took the time to give the world Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Albert Einstein’s wife and to give Australia Sam Kekovich and two Stefanovic brothers. It’s also the country responsible for Nikola Tesla; the ‘man who lit the world’, designed (among other things) Alternating Current and therefore without whom we wouldn’t have the band 'AC/DC'.

The Sightseeing

Without going on about it too much, Serbia’s basically like a giant Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory; there’s heaps to see, most of it’s edible and you can actually drink straight from some of the rivers. As for the oompa loompas, they live next door and are called ‘Romanians’. In addition to the monasteries, the architecture and the resorts, there’s more natural beauty than you can poke a stick at. Over 30% of Serbia is covered by forest including 5 national parks, 22 nature reserves and most importantly, no Ivan Milat. With plenty of hiking and rafting tours to choose from as well as an abundance of cascading waterfalls and rushing rivers, despite what R&B trio ‘TLC’ may have told you, in Serbia at least, you can go chasing waterfalls and stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.

So take the opportunity to visit a nation where the natural beauty of the country is surpassed only by the overwhelming hospitality of the people and the range of adventures on offer. You’ll fall in love with this land where surnames ending in ić are common and can rest assured that even if you’ve got 99 problems, an ić ain’t one.

** For more info, updates and photos, follow me on Twitter & Instagram **

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Two Goals – One Cup: Your Essential Brazil 2014 World Cup Round-up

Only a quarter of the way into the world’s biggest sporting competition, the FIFA World Cup, and the planet is well and truly Brazil nuts!  From games with own goals and games with no goals, to free kicks and costly mistakes, it’s already been an exciting week of play.  What’s been missing is a lighter look at some of the nations whose teams are performing on the world game’s biggest stage this year around.  So with that in mind, let’s get this World Cup ball rolling as I risk a red card and put my boot into 16 of those teams at random – the good, the bad and the English!

Brazil – Not only are they this year’s hosts, but they’ve raised the World Cup more times than any other nation.  Also, between all of that, they’ve even found time to patent a style of intimate hair removal.  Amazing given the fact that poverty is so predominant in Brazil, most of the Brazilian players such as Marcelo, Maicon and Hulk, can’t afford more than one name each.  They’re the only team at this tournament in the ‘green and gold’ kits that are expected to achieve greatness.  The team carries the name the “Little Yellow Canary”, which refers both to their kit colours and possibly to the fact that they will be the first to drop in the event of a gas leak at one of their hurriedly completed stadiums.  Big props to them for also playing with such great enthusiasm despite the fact their Football Federation’s initials are ‘CBF’ and are sewn onto their shirts.

Bosnia & Herzegovina – A nation with a past so complicated, they have to put an ‘&’ in their title.  It’s their first FIFA World Cup and in “World Cup” years (1 ‘World Cup year’ = 4 calendar years) they are less than 5 years-old.  Like most toddlers there’s a good chance they’ll make mess of things and be put to bed early.  Conceived during a drunken World Cup ’94 after-party they are somewhat of a ‘Balkan bastard child’.  Their team nickname is “The Dragons”, presumably because the World Cup has never seen them before and those who have heard of them still believe their nation is made-up.  Sledging tips for other teams; remind them that their flag looks like their nation is based on the ideals of the ‘Bank of Queensland’.

The Netherlands – Or as the USA calls them; “That place where Michael Jackson and Peter Pan lived.”  It’s very important to note that people from the Netherlands are happy for you to refer to their country as “Holland”.  They are not happy when you refer to it as the “Nether-regions”.  Dressed in Oompa Loompa Orange and looking as scary as an aggressive pumpkin, one thing’s for sure; whether wearing clogs or boots, the “Clockwork Orange’s” recipe for success will be prepared in a ‘Dutch oven’.

Australia – Some people take away points from games, but the Socceroos are that team that’s always “taking away positives”.  Remember Eric Moussambani in the pool at the Sydney Olympics?  Well, most of the World Cup community pretty much sees us as the Eric Moussambani of this tournament… “The Soccerics”.  While others are aiming to break records, we’re just happy to get to the other end of the pool without drowning.  Aussie supporters get pretty excited at every World Cup, mainly because most believe “soccer” is a sport that’s only played every four years and was invented in 2006.  This team’s big asset – multiculturalism.  Our national team is like a mini World Cup, where we took players from each nation and threw them in a mixer.  The taste might not be great, but we should at least get points for a diverse range of ingredients.

Colombia – A team that gave new meaning to the phrase “it’s more than a game”.  As a nation they have a history of “white line fever”, a lenient stance on drugs and yet a zero tolerance approach to “own goals”.  They’ve chosen to name their team “The Coffee Growers” because judging by their dramatic history, their brand of football is sure to keep you up at night.  One thing’s for sure, if they manage to make it across the finish line, it’ll be by a nose.

USA – They make us happy they didn’t choose to follow Colombia’s lead of naming their team after their chief export, because “Obese under-educated war-mongers” is a lot to fit on a Nike shirt.  We can only assume that their team philosophy is the same as their national philosophy that “the best defence is a strong attack.”  Exciting match-ups we want to see are with Russia and Iran.  Best tips for opponents – a candy bar or smart phones in the pocket could be well-used ‘weapons of mass distraction’.

France – Not a nation known for their attack, my prediction is that shortly after their first encounter with a strong opponent, they’ll surrender, give-up their half of the field and hand over at least a third of their players.  Their nickname is “The Blues” which essentially makes this group of men the second batch of Blues Brothers, and as we all know, the sequel is rarely better than the original.  Things they have in their arsenal; they’re previous winners of the tournament, they’re home to some of the best players in the world and they have a star player that looks like a Bond villain.

Croatia – Chess board shirts match a chequered past.  While they can’t seem to imitate Germany’s history of quality football, they did have a player suspended for the chanting of Nazi epithets before the World Cup, so that’s something.  They also have more “ić’s” in their team than an Aus-Kick clinic during a lice outbreak.  Another sledging tip for opponents; remind midfielder, Luka Modric, any time he goes down and complains about contact, that “this is what happens when your name, literally translated, means ‘Harbour Little Bruise’.”  No confirmation as to whether striker, Ivica Olic’s dad is in fact named ‘Alko’.  But will the team nicknamed ‘The Blazers” burn out suddenly or set the field alight?  Whether you’re ‘pro or ante’ Croatia, you can be sure the team whose kit looks like a French restaurant table cloth, will be eager to serve-up a title-taking dish.

Switzerland – A country unlikely to kick into gear in this tournament as they’re first choice has always been ‘neutral’.  A team from a nation so bland, they even managed to avoid getting Hitler offside.  If you don’t believe me, they’re national team nickname is “The Schweizer Nati”, which means simply, “The Swiss National Team”.  Intimidation is not in their list of powers.  In fact, there’s a reason their country sounds like Disneyland… I mean… it is a “small nation after all.”  They also gave the world cuckoo clocks, which I hope means there’s a good chance their keeper will step out of his box perhaps once an hour, make some noise and then go back in and not do much.  Their national flag is a first aid kit, their best known army weapon is used more on scout camping trips than battlefields and they’re more likely to produce holes in cheese than in their opponents’ defence.  A stable economy, a well-educated nation, a quite undramatic history; their back story just doesn’t read dramatic or romantic enough for me to believe they could make something happen at Brazil 2014.

Germany – Colder and more clinical than a Siberian doctor’s surgery they’ve faced-off with almost as many nations in war than in the world cup.  Reasons to watchout for them;  they have a history of football success, quest for world domination and a teamsheet of player names that read like a Nuremberg trial list of defendants.  They’re team nickname “The Mannschaft” resembles a World War II tank or German word for male genitalia.  That seems appropriate, because this is a team that likes to score and has proven they can penetrate the box and produce results.  Free kicks against them could be an issue as they have a history of constructing big strong walls that are almost impossible to get over.  They do what it takes to win, even if that means having a German team with hardly any Germans in it.  Tactics you can use against them; what tactics?  These people don’t get comedy, their leader has the Star Wars title of “Chancellor” and they list David Hasselhoff as a national hero.  On a scale of 1 – 10 (‘10’ being “no chance of beating them”) most teams will come in at a “NEIN”.

England – If Germany resemble the guy that turns-up and gets the job done, England is the guy that draws-up a great design, gets the job, and leaves mid way through construction but vows to come back in four years to finish it off.  Also, I have to point out that for a country that’s seen its fair share of war, it seems a little ironic that they’re most likely to be taken down in a penalty shoot-out.  The only place where England is likely to perform worse and score fewer points is at ‘Eurovision’.  You get the feeling the cup could be won, by the ‘Two Ronnies’ before the team named “The Three Lions.”  They’ve certainly been England’s least successful boy band.  In fairness, Katy Perry has shown more “roar”.  Realistically, the toughest opponent for England at Brazil 2014 will likely be England.  If World War II was fought as a football game, Londoners would definitely be speaking German.

Spain – The country who lets their football do the talking, mainly because the Spanish language means all their players speak with a lisp.  They won the last World Cup and the last two European Cups, which means they’ve actually won more international competitions than many of the teams at Brazil 2014.  “The Red Fury” seems like an apt nickname given how they must feel after their performance at this World Cup.  Easily the most disappointing Spanish performance at Brazil 2014 after Pit Bull at the opening ceremony.  The Spanish are known for a famous inquisition so it seems ironic they haven’t really asked any questions of their opponents.

Mexico – They don’t need to do anything.  They’ve already given us tequila, turned chips into a main meal and own the rights to the wave most people will be doing in the stands.  No matter who lifts that trophy in the end – they’re the real winners.

Argentina – One thing you can say for sure about the “White & Sky Blues” is that they’re the first to put their hand up to grab a World Cup title… literally.  With Messi, Di Maria and Aguero among others, they have more stars in their team than Bosnia & Herzegovina has on its flag.  And unless the lyrics, “Hello, is it me you’re looking for” give you nightmares, it’s the only time a man named ‘Lionel’ is ever going to instil fear into the hearts of any opposition.  As well as being the country that brought us ‘Tango’ dancing, they’re the only national team to have had goals scored for them by Maradona and a song sung about them by Madonna – what a difference a consonant makes!  Whether it it’s from the ‘hand of God’ or the ‘boot of Messi’, it’ll certainly take more than two to tango with this team.

Italy – Italy’s economic troubles are rarely as well-illustrated as at the FIFA World Cup where we see that to save money, they’ve had to combine their national football team with their national diving team.  With a steady diet of pasta, pizza and garlic bread, the term “carb-loading” is etched in their culture and the “Azzuri” are ready to try and sip from the World Cup.  There’s no “i” in “team”, but there is an “i” in “Italy” and even more “i’s” in their players’ names.  Beware; this is a country so in love with football that they shaped their country like a boot kicking a ball.  Tip to opponents; if you see an Italian striker with the ball outside the box and another inside the box in a good position, be very careful – if you believe the bible, a Roman was responsible for the first ever “cross” and it ended badly for the opposition.

Greece – If ever there was a team voted most likely to win the World Cup and then melt it down and use the gold to repay foreign debt, Greece is that team.  Always assured a top spot in the “group of debt”.  They’re the nation of hard rocks and soft pastries and by having midfielders with surnames like ‘Christodoulopoulos’, their biggest concern isn’t winning, but rather fitting the names on the back of their kits.  Clashes to watch out for will be if they face off against Germany in a battle of the “Borrower Vs the Bank”.  They’ve almost single-handedly managed to bring down Euro – the world seems the logical next step.  Their team nickname is “The Pirate Ship”, one can only assume because their team consists of a group of swarthy bearded men who are on a quest for gold and speak broken English.  Hot tip for anyone going up against Greece; just focus on getting at least a one-goal lead.  Greece’s national track record shows they have trouble bridging a deficit.  Ultimately, with a team full of players whose names end with the sound “loss”, odds are Brazil 2014 could prove to be a Greek tragedy.

And THAT folks, is the final whistle!