Wednesday, August 27, 2008

La Tomatina - Tomato Festival in Spain

La Tomatina........

What a crazy, crazy time today has been!

I spent another night down in the El Salver with the Smashed Travel crew and was up at 7am to head in to Valencia to pick up Glen, Meagan and Alyce.

Everyone was a bit slow in the morning, 7am starts will do that to you, but once we stopped off for some treats at the servo, push started a big blue van, and pulled in to the Lidl shopping centre in Bunol we were excited to get into some tomatoes.

We walked into the town and stopped off for a beer (mainly just to use the toilet) at one of the cafes along the way before reaching the main street where it all happens.

There were thousands of people pushed way down the street, and not before long we were cast down a side ally with the force of the relentlessly moving crowd.

As you could probably guess, La Tomatina gets a little wet........... it gets a little messy, so I came up with the idea to put my camera and card into some water proof pouches to save them.

Smart Me.

The girls, however, took it one step further and had their pouches tied around their necks, while I kept mine in the boardies pocket under the safety of a velcro strip.

Sure enough, 5 minutes into the crowd I went to grab the camera for a shot and it was gone, along with it the cash I brought and the debit card I had.

Luckily I had the key on the key rope (as you would when surfing) so we could get back to the van without any hassles.

Of course, that means that all the photos are on other peoples cameras so I can't put up the awesome photo's from the day....... but they'll come.

I'll be surprised if at least one person didn't get broken ribs out of the sheer force of the crowd, it makes a trip on the london tube during rush hour seem like a solitary confinement.

It begins and ends very abruptly, but while it's on it's non stop action which keeps your heart racing and, when your not being crushed, a smile on your face.

I recommend La Tomatina for anyones around the world trip.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sleeping on the beach in Valencia Spain

Unfortunately I don´t have the camera handy to upload these priceless shots, but they´ll be along soon enough.

We arrived in Valencia yesterday and hit the water right away. After a quick swim Glen and myself ventured into a game of hacky sack on the beach, and the girls quickly followed suit.

I´ve now identified at least 17 leg muscles that I didn´t actually know I had, but at least it did some work towards using up the 1500 calories we each consumed at macca´s earlier that day.

Sarah took us to a roof top bar which was awesome, and while all the girls (now traveling with 3 hotties) were being chatted up by the other guys Glen and I sat at the bar and looked on with a smile.

Unbeknown to us, the F1 is on this weekend so the beach is a buzz with people, and the Fasion TV cruise boat is parked in the harbour. They keep sending super models over to get us to come on board, but I kind of like sleeping on the beach so I´ve denied their many attemps.

Meeting up with the Smashed Travel group again tomorrow and we lose Sarah back to London, but we gain Lauren and Gary for the festival!

Photo´s of Valencia and crazy nigths out to follow........

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

West Europe Road Trip - Marseilles, Montpellier, Collioure

Before the car went by the wayside, we stopped in to Marseilles, Montpellier and Collioure to round off our south coast of France trip.

We met a great guy at a pub in Marseilles, Chris from England, who told us many a story about the world and his travels.

It's late though, so I think the pictures will do this part of the journey more justice then my tired stories will.

A view from below the Notre Dame Cathedral, Marseilles

Inside Norte Dame Basilica, Marseilles

Outside Norte Dame Basilica, Marseilles

Montepellier, land of many dentist surgeries and no dentists

The view from our last nights sleep in Dr Who in Collioure

Sarah and Alyce showering in Collioure...... on the beach

Me showering in Collioure...... on the beach

Nearly a Year to the Day

Lately I've been getting on to the laptop and having a look through my iPhoto or onto the ipod and checking out the last 12 months.

It's great because I get a chance to see, though the photo's, exactly what I was doing this time 12 months ago to the day.

I've had lots of fun looking back as it stirs up not just the memory associated with the photo, but the stories, thoughts, feelings and smiles that are associated with each of the pictures.

I'm actually a little surprised after today, because I was sure that I would open the pictures back up and find that a year ago today was the Chrissy van accident on the way to Campeche. It turns out that it was about 3 days before that particular incident, but close none the less.

The wicked van had a bit of a clunk when changing between Reverse and Drive, but apart from that everything was sweet.... until yesterday. There was still a bit of a clunk when changing between reverse and drive, but also when you put the accelerator down to hurry into traffic or climb a hill......... and as we were around the Piranese mountains this was going to cause some trouble. I guessed it was something wrong with the diff, slipping or something was wrong.

We pulled the car into a car park and set up for the night and I called AA in the morning to come out and take a look.

It turns out (never would have guessed that I got this right) that it WAS in fact a major problem withe diff and rendered the car unable to drive, especially to Spain.

This left us sitting around the small town near Perpignan france for a few hours (everything closes between 12 - 2) until we got word on what we could do.

AA were great in helping out, and although the taxi driver they organised dropped us off at the wrong place and it took an hour to get in touch with them again (much to the delight of the girls) they got us a fast rent-a-car and put us up in a hotel until our new wicked van will be ready.

Hooray to Wicked Campers for keeping the cars so well insured, and hooray for AA for doing such a good job in helping. Also, hooray for my two girls on tour who put up with the broken car.......not to mention putting up with me, over the past week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

West Europe Road Trip - Cinque Terre

We left Tellaro and headed towards the 5 towns that make up Cinque Terre.

The area is a fantastic mixture of beach front and mountains.

After being waved away by the police at the first town (apparently the carpark was full and I wasn't too keen for them to see 3 people in a two seater) we headed on down to the second town of Manarola

After a long stroll down the road (very steeply down the road) we came out on a beautiful beach with mountains that adorned the shores. Surprisingly the girls missed a beat on this one and we soon went back to the car (via a walk that nearly snapped both my calves)to get their towels and bathers and headed to the next town for a swim.

The next town was smaller then we thought and we soon found ourselves looking for the beach at the front of a huge electronically controlled iron door that only opened when you turned a key that was mysteriously already in the hole to the side.

As the door opened all I could think of was the movie Hostel and began to wonder if this was such a good idea.

The door opened into a tunnel about 4 meters in radius, and was about 10 degrees cooler then the outside temperature. Judging by the size of the mountain, if the tunnel went straight to the otherside it was about a 25 minute walk............ if it went to the other side.

All of a sudden an old single cab green truck pulled up, kind of like a dyna truck, and a man got out. He roughly explained he could take us, Sarah, Alyce and myself, to the other side in his car for a cheap price.

Once again I began to have flash backs of Hostel and Wolf Creek but thought, bugger it at least the guy escaped it both those movies.

We got in the back and the guy started the rough drive through the poorly lit and privately owned tunnel which was 10 degrees colder then the outside and which we didn't really know where it lead.

5 minutes later, very long minutes for the girls, we emerged on the other side to find a lovely old Italian man with good english who explained how to get down to the beach. Unfortunately towards the end of his explanation he added that it was a "free" beach, which we thought he should rename to "Shlong Beach", "Sausage City", or "Penisville".

None the less we had our swim, however it was very short lived and we were soon on the way back through the tunnel and back to our car.

We decided that seeing as it was our last night in Italy that we should treat ourselves to a nice dinner with some fine wine. We drove back to ............. where we parked the car and found a nice place with fantastic seafood.

After a few beers and a couple bottle of wine, as much bread as we could eat, two entree's and 3 mains we walked up the hill from hell and sat out in the car park for a few more sneaky drinks before retiring to bed.

The next morning we awoke to rain gently falling through the sun roof, but also to farmers picking the grapes on the side of the mountains that surrounded the carpark in which we slept.

We did the last of the towns in the Cinque Terre, swam and sunned for a few hours before pouring back into the car and heading for Monaco and France.

West Europe Road Trip - Tellaro

The drive down to Tellaro was amazing. We went through a few mountains and edged closer and closer to the coast until the ever so beautiful blue water rose over the horizon.

We jumped off the toll roads early and got onto the road that ran parallel to the beach. Along the 8km stretch of road there were hot girls EVERYWHERE! They were walking, bicycling, roller blading, running, or just standing around looking hot.

Unfortunately for Sarah and Alyce we passed two hot guys, much to their dismay.

On the beach side of the road stood rental areas for the beach. Every 50 meters there was a different section of beach with it's own change rooms and sun beds that you could rent out.

Being the backpackers we are we just wandered on through the most deserted section and got ready for a swim........ just before we were ushered further down the beach by the guard at that particular section.

The water was devine, and it was the first ocean swim I've had in............. well probably since I left Nicaragua (link to Nicaragua story) last year.

After a well deserved and very nice swim we headed off to the little town of Tellaro and pulled up at the U-Turn area over looking the water.

Tellaro was amazing, and a crowd gathered around the van as we brought out the gas bbq and cooked up a feed of pasta, pesto, corn and tuna.

We slept there the night and woke early in the morning to have coffee on the water and make our way towards Cinque Terre.

West Europe Road Trip - Florence, David and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

We pulled up outside of a Camping site in Florence. We were only 3 days into our trip, and the first day into the trip with the Van so we were reluctant to pay to stay somewhere and decided the side of the road would be just fine.

We sorted out the van and went in search of some cheap wine to help our first nights sleep.

We came across a small resteraunt on the water and ordered some wine and were pleasantly surprised when they brought out some garlic bread free of charge.

The next morning we went in search of Michaelanglo's David in the Florence city centre, and after a cafe in the morning to kick start us we were struggling to find the Galleria de Accedemia.

Fortunately it lead us across an impressice chuch and also the main attraction to Florence, the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

After a fairly lengthy wait in line we ascended the 381 steps to the top of the church to take in some breathtaking views of Florence.

At street level the place is not much to speak of, but look at it from a 50 meters up and it becomes quite impressive.

Terrecotta roofs extend as far as the eye could see, with the exception of a single aqua-green dome where the only Mosque in the area is built.

After we got back down and our legs had stopped involuntarily shaking we located the place where David was kept and jumped in line............... around 2 corners. Half way along the line, about 35 minutes into the wait, we had started to pay attention to the graffiti and I think this one hit the nail on the head.

Unfotunately you're not allowed to take pictures of David, but I made sure that I was there long enough to permanently remember the impressive piece of art. David stands some 5 meters tall and was made from a single block of marble by Michaelangelo when he was just 29 years old.

From Florence we stopped off at Pisa to check out the leaning tower, get the usual photo that we all said we would never participate in and headed on towards Tallero.

West Europe Road Trip - Wicked Van

Carlo picked us up after we arrived on the bus and took us to the hotel where the car was parked.

After a quick once around the car and usual explanations we were on the road with some instructions on how to get to the nearest electrical store to secure a power inverter and Sat Nav.

Now I know that Sat Nav's kind of take the challenge out of a road trip, but without it we would be relying on maps, my sense of direction, and the girls ability to translate the destination on the map into a series of lefts and rights.

Needless to say I think the 169 euro has already paid for itself with out ability to find some amazing places along the way without the arguing on the way to them.

Unfortunately Carlo didn't have the same navigation abilities and we were soon on the wrong road heading away from the shop.

We did a u turn at the next toll exit and went back to where we entered.

As we exit the toll Alyce put the ticket through.



We pushed the "Ask for Assistance" button which was shortly followed by a barrage of Italian, and then a ticket which then opened the toll.

Unfortunately the ticket said that we had 14 days to pay the total or legal fee's would follow.

We headed over to the station and with the help of a friendly lass had the payment void and we could move on once again.

West Europe Road Trip - Wicked Van

We left Rome in the mid morning in a mad rush.

Alyce and Sarah had been in the line for the Sistine Chapel for over an hour and by the time it ticked over to 9am they were only just approaching the ticket booth.

They decided to flee and get back to the hostel as quickly as possible, and it turns out they timed their run perfectly.

We had to catch the 10.10am bus on the Roma Marche towards San Benedetto and it was 9.40am when we left the hostel.

Running for a bus isn't that difficult, but if you add to the task the need to speak another language and the fact that you don't know where you are supposed to be going, not to mention about 25 kilo's on your back, it takes a different meaning.

So there we were, sweat pouring off us running down the station looking for where you can buy the bus tickets, and it was 10.05 already........... we were in the Amazing Race.

We eventually found the place, and while I waited in line (it was 10.10) Sarah found the bus and worked out we could get a ticket once we were on.

We, now drenched in sweat, managed to find our own seats on the bus....... in fact it was almost as if people were moving so that we could have our own seat (but more likely so they wouldn't have to endure the 3 hour bus ride with our smell).

We arrived without any complications and picked up our home for the next 2 months, the Dr Who wicked Camper.

Monday, August 11, 2008

St Peter's Basilica - Rome, Italy

So far the trip has started in colossal style.

I arrived in Rome on Friday afternoon, and after I tracked down my hostel the jet lag from my trip back from Australia (not to mention the horrendous lack of sleep as a result of Ladies Day, Carbine Lunch, Colemans Cup, Darwin Cup, Darwin Cup Dogs, Darwin Cup Ball, Wedding, Quiz Nights, Bledisloe Cup, Sunday Sesh's, Sunday Jazz nights) set in and I lay down for a quick siesta.

The quick nap lasted until about 9.30pm, definitely time to get up and get some dinner.

My first pizza in the home of pizza was great, although it's definitely not the home of smiling waiters and good service.

The next morning was much better, I was up early (god bless the afternoon nap) and headed out on the Metro to Vatican City.

I was dressed in my Darwin best clothes of boardies, thongs and blue singlet but somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear Lambo saying "You can't wear that to the vatican". Fine, I thought, I'll put a t-shirt in my bag as well.

When I arrived I gave a quick thanks to the little Lambo voice, as there is a dress code to get into the place. I also gave a little thanks that I still had both my legs...... I would have thought the church would be more forgiving.

I'd just like to have a quick side note............ the Vatican, the place where the POPE lives, where the Sistine Chapel displays its marvelous ceiling, where the St Peter's Basilica stands ever so grandly.......... I could wear thongs! But, go to any pub in Darwin..?!?!?!?!

St Peter's Basilica is ridiculous. As I walked around the corner and into Vatican City I was immediately gob smacked at the sheer enormousness of the place.

Romans certainly don't do things small (except maybe the appendages on the statues...... makes everyone feel better about themselves ;)

It's a shame though. Although I plently of photo's outside of the Basilica it just does not do the place justice........ and that is just the outside of the place.

As I walked inside I immediately forgot about the outside. They were seriously now just taking the piss.

The inside is just immaculate, the entire inside is lined with marble, huge marble carvings in every corner and against every pillar, paintings on the ceiling ( there's a mere 551 steps to the look out BELOW the actual ceiling), and a vastness that just can't be explained.

As with the outside of the place the photographs just do not do it justice...... but they're impressive none the less.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


No words really needed.......

Friday, August 08, 2008

Summer in London

The skies are cloudy and there is a slight drizzle.

London during the summer, does it get any better?

Fortunately it does. Yesterday I arrived back in London after a 20 hour flight back from Darwin. I was able to sleep for about 10 hours during the flight which was great, but the final 3 hours heading in to Heathrow definitely dragged on.

Arriving at 5am London time I spent the next 1.45 minutes clearing customs and waiting for my bag to arrive. It seemed at Singapore they forgot to transfer the luggage from the Darwin Jet Star Flight on to the BA flight.

2 Flights with BA into Heathrow in the past month, 2 times lost luggage.

Luckily for me and all the passengers the next plane that arrived had our luggage safely stored away...... definitely lucky for me seeing as I'm now sitting at Stansted Airport awaiting a boarding call to head to Rome.

From there I'll check out the Pantheon and the Fountain tonight before collecting Sarah and Elise to do the Colleseum and the Vatican on the Saturday and Sunday.

Once Monday rolls around it's off to pick up the wicked camper and start our drive across the south west coast of Europe.

The camera is charged and the underwater housing is packed, there's sure to be lots of great pictures, videos and stories to follow.

The Darwin Cup Ball

At nearly $300 a ticket the Darwin Cup Ball was going to have to be massively impressive for me to think that it was worth even half of the money.

Everyone that I had spoken to over the past few years had said that it was fantastic, worth the money, we'll be going every year.... but I had never been able to take their word for it seeing as $300 was a lot of money for dinner and drinks.

I mean, we could go to a fancy as resteraunt, have several courses, drink lots of wine/beer/spirits and I don't think that we'd get to $300 a piece.

Well I thought, time to put this Gala Shmala ball to the test....... I was going to put my money where their mouths were.

I put forward the $300 while I was still back in London, it didn't seem so bad to fork out £140 for the ticket. Fortunately I still had a tuxedo I had bought a few years ago when I realised that it was only $50 more expensive to buy then to rent one..... after I had rented 5 times.

I arrived at the ball with Kwhy, Deep and Nadz and quickly caught up with the rest of the crew at the Darwin MGM Grand Casino. We stood in the lobby and heckled the people who didn't actually come dressed as black tie..... I mean seriously, it's a black tie event and you've paid $300 for a ticket, the least you can do is dress up a little.

We got the call up to move on in, and after walking through 3 security checks to make sure that we all had our tickets and wrist bands we strolled down the red carpet and out onto the lawns of the casino.

As we walked past the final check the lady said "Please make your way to one of the 15 self serve bars" and I first thought that I may have made the correct decision.

We mingled on the lawns for about 45 minutes and took lots of photo's before we made our way through the horse shoe, down the red carpet and into the ball itself.

Deep, Kwhy, Nadz and myself

Sunset from the Lawns at the Ball

Kelli, myself, Darin and Bec

With buffett tables filled with king prawns, bugs, oysters, muscles, salad, vegies and roast meat my stomach instantly started to grumble in anticipation of the fatbarstedoff I'd be having with Paul.

The drinks flowed quickly and the night was never dull. Human Nature funked up the dance floor with their mo town sounds.

Human Nature keep the dance floor entertained

Me with Reanna and Kelli

Myself, Karren, Michael and Kelli

1.30am rolled around much too quickly and we made our way to the tables inside the casino to enjoy more drinks and a bit of light gambling.

When I looked at my watch and realised it was 5.20am and the drinks still didn't look like they were going to stop I knew it was time to make the move towards town. Half of the table had succumb to the excitement, and free drinks, and were busy studying the inside of their eyelids from the comfort of their beds, while Paul and I had one more buffet vist........ the pie oven at the Shell Service Station.

As we raced the sun home (winning by a good 15 minutes) we looked back and reflected on a few hundred dollars well spent.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

FFMpeg Settings for Flash Video

Flash Video is currently the best format to share your videos on the web. Sites such as You Tube, Vimeo, and Myspace all use the .flv format to deliver videos to the end user.

Some of the latest versions of video editing software have included .flv as an export option, however if you are using a free or cheaper option like Imovie, Windows Movie Maker or Final Cut Express then you will need third party software to get the desired .flv file format.

There are hundreds of products out there that can so this for you, for a small fee, however as with all good things on the web the best tool is free.

You can download FFMpeg from

The FFMpeg settings that I use for Flash Video are listed below......

/opt/local/bin/ffmpeg -i /Users/justinavery/Movies/ -qscale 10 -r 15 -s 720x540 -ar 44100 /Users/justinavery/Movies/name_of_flash_squence.flv

There are multiple options to choose from in FFMpeg, but I try and keep it as simple as possible.

Let's break this down into simpler terms.


The first part calls the application. You will see a lot of articles on the web that just start out with ffmpeg, but I've had some issues getting that to consistently work so have chosen to use the full path.

- i /Users/justinavery/Movies/

The - i is where you define the location of the movie that you are encoding to a flash flv file. As a quick way to get the location try using the tab key as you are typing the file path...... if there is a matching name of the file name will automatically be printed.

-qscale 10

This has to do with the quality of the video and the final bit rate. Previously I guessed a bit rate for the video I was encoding, or entered a maximum file size however I usually had to tweak it a few times before the flash video was to my liking. The -qscale ranges from 1 - 25 with 1 being the best quality and 25 the worse.

-r 15

This defines the frame rate, or the number of video frames that are produced each second. Generally PAL works in 25fps and NTSC works in 29.97fps, but as long as your footage doesn't involve fast moving action or quick pans you should be able to set it at 15 without noticing much loss of quality. Obviously, the less frames per second the smaller the file will be.

-s 720x540

As you can probably guess from the look of this, -s is the setting for the size of the video. The camera I use most often now is the Canon HV20 which outputs a whopping 1920x1080, so I need to scale it down to be suitable when previewing. Remember, most people won't be running HUGE screen resolutions so make sure you're not using valuable file size only for the video not to display on the screen.

The setting 720x540 is set for wide screen, but play around with it depending on the layout of your site or your target audience.

-ar 44100

Can you hear me? Well without this you run the risk of your audio content being to high or too low. 44100 is the highest, and most of my footage includes an audio track or musicians playing so I try to keep it that way. If audio isn't important to your clip then halve the number, 22050, halve again for less quality etc etc until you get the desired result.

If you're not good at maths and halving proves tough don't be alarmed, the application will alert you that your audio bit rate is not compatible and give you a list of options you can use.


To finish off the command we need to tell FFMpeg what to call the video and where to put it. Keep the name without spaces, use an underscore as I have done if you want to make it more readable.

Now this is by no means a be all and end all explanation on using FFMpeg to produce flash .flv files, but it's a start that will get you going and allow you to further investigate options that will suit you.

My next task will be to include the exact frame that I would like to export as the preview thumbnail for my video listing pages.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Synchronise Nokia 6085 with iSync

This is a bit out of left field for this blog, but it was a handy pick up for me at this stage of my life.

Three days ago I lost my camera sometime during a Carbine Club luncheon at the Darwin Convention Centre. I was lucky enough to only lose a few photos from the preceding day at the races for teh Colemans Cup, and of course allowed me to update to a new and improved camera.

It did get me thinking though, what if it had been my mobile phone that I lost? It would mean the loss of 18 months worth of travel phone numbers..... contacts in Hawaii, New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Mexico, Bali, Spain, United Kingdon, Ireland, Germany, Nicaragua and more.......

To avoid that I did a quick search and came across this tutorial on Synchronising your Nokia 6085 with Mac Isync.

It works and treat and now all my Nokia 6085 contacts happily reside on my phone, laptop, and my ipod.