And we certainly don't have fast trains. I've spent the last three weeks zipping across Europe on trains, some of which go 300 kilometres an hour. If we had this system in New Zealand I could get from Auckland to Wellington in 2 hours. That includes a couple of quick stops and you'd get to watch Mt Ruapehu whizz by on the way.
It seems everyone from our little corner of the world loves to travel. There are plenty of Australians here so I can forgive the locals for confusing our accents. I have to admit after three weeks of Dutch, French, Spanish and Italian accents, Australian sounds very homely.
Maybe we all love to travel because we feel a bit of fomo, that maybe the grass is greener overseas and we're missing out on all the fun. I'm writing to let you know that everyone should travel to broaden their experiences and to see how they do life over here, to see where things like our language, our ancestors and where civilisation as we know it started.
For example, I just walked on an ancient road yesterday in Rome: the same road Nero, Constantine and Saint Peter walked on thousands of years ago.
The train journeys
One of the perks of train travel is that it's far more relaxed than plane travel and you meet some weird and wonderful people. On one fast train we caught from Paris to Barcelona (1000 ks in six hours) we sat next to four rough as guts Northern Englishmen who smoked electronic cigarettes, drunk a case of beer and played poker.
They bet English pounds which slid all over the place the whole journey, along with their beers. The game they played at least looked a little like poker, possibly mixed with canasta; I think they were the only people on earth who knew their rules. They dealt 10 cards each as they tried to collect sets, run-throughs and backhands or 'Bukhunds' as it sounded to me.
However, in between their cursing which sounds less harsh and almost comical in their geordie accents we did chat to them about their trip and they were four well meaning friendly middle aged men. Well that was just before the train took a sweeping corner and one of their beers slid off their table over our shoes and bag along with some English pounds I felt like pocketing as reimbursement.
It was all very entertaining, although the aging Englishmen were clearly outdone by the guy sitting behind them. He was a pilot with OCD, about five foot tall and he wore those glasses that clip together at the bridge that were in constant movement from hanging at his chest then back to the eyes. He was without a doubt the closest thing I've seen to a real life Mr Bean.
An Austrian Mr Bean, who spoke at least five languages from the loud phone conversations we could easily overhear where he was trying to catch up with various friends after his busy schedule. He hung his headphones on his coat rack almost as many times as he snapped his glasses into place and he went between his chair and his bag as many times as the rest of us in the entire train carriage went to the bathroom.
He looked like a very intelligent man, although seemed to struggle to find solutions to simple problems like which direction his beret should face. Much drama was caused when he tried plugging in his computer charger at every socket within his cords reach. At one stage it was dangling across the aisle, but the best was when he delicately draped his cord across our beer drinking poker buddies laps.
In the end he realised his own chair's socket worked after all, it hadn't been correctly connected to his laptop. I then had to hold in a smirk as Mr Bean offered the Englishmen a half eaten bag of crisps, claiming it was good to eat while drinking. It was as clear as day to us, but Mr Bean was quite oblivious: the Englishmen looked at him like he was from another planet, like a creepy looking slug you'd flick into the garden if it was climbing up the window.
Needless to say between the people watching and seeing the French countryside and mountains fly by we were in Barcelona in no time.
One of the best moments in Italy was another great people watching moment. It was at a small beach town called Nettuno about an hour south of Rome. We went there to visit a friend who used to work in New Zealand. This friend was the only person in the town we came across who could speak English and we were the only foreigners.
This was real Italy, where working class Italians come to stay at the beach for their summer holiday with their kids in 1970's vintage hotels along the seaside. We also stayed in one of these forgotten gems that reminded me of the Grand Budapest Hotel, complete with a vast breakfast area decorated with neon blue lights and hanging ropes like the railing of a boat around the walls. The place probably hasn't changed much in 40 years, but it was the people who made our stay in Nettuno a great one.
Like all the beaches we'd come across previously along the Mediterranean coastline this was no different in that if you wanted to lay on the beach you had to reserve your own pool side lounging chair and matching umbrella for a small fee. Luckily my friend who happened to be the beach DJ reserved a chair for us. (Yes the beach has its own radio station with live DJ broadcast via big speakers).
The atmosphere despite the unreal lack of spare sand and the need to fill the sound of no waves with music was brilliant as everyone sheltered communally from the 30 degree heat. If the Italians weren't in the waist deep water (we may refer to this kind of beach as a harbour in New Zealand) or in the shade, the men were flexing their bronze muscles in the sun or the young women were strutting up and down the beach.
The best moment though was in the evening when half the beach turned up to a comedy show that had everyone rolling around in fits of laughter. The comedian was incredibly talented doing his stand up routine mixed with singing, possibly changing the words to popular songs so they were hilarious! He was either the funniest guy any of these people had ever seen, or the locals were very easily amused. I think it was probably both. The only parts I understood were the words Michael Jackson and some toilet humour.
I was mainly captivated by the way the crowd reacted as they slapped their knees, slapped each other's backs and most impressively laughed out loud with their mouths wide open, none of this polite hand over the mouth business. It was obvious Italians knew how to enjoy themselves on their holiday.
On a train into Rome we had purchased a joint ticket at a machine in our rush to reach the right train and not end up going in the wrong direction to Naples. Mid journey the conductor came to clip our ticket and he looked at the ticket we gave him and with a slightly confused look. He scanned our two backpacks that sat in the two seats opposite us.
He then said in a thick Italian accent, that we also had a child travelling with us, and gestured as if to ask, where is your little one? He pointed to the ticket which indeed showed two adults and one ragazzi. We smiled and said, "oh no our mistake, no child!" But he just walked off with a concerned look on his face like we must keep our little ragazzi's zipped away in bags in the weird country we come from.
It was mainly in France and Italy we encountered people who couldn't speak English although most Europeans can speak about three languages. That fact made me feel very uncultured and simple, especially when I heard that some kids in Belgium learn six languages at school.
There's no place like Rome
As I write this on my phone (I should say swipe for other Samsung users) I'm leaving Rome on a train heading north where apparently it's raining in Venice. The ancient sites were mind boggling, but the heat was all but too much. With no ocean breeze you literally bake.
Yesterday we climbed to the top of St Peters Basilica through less than shoulder width walls painstakingly slowly with the hordes in probably close to 45 degree heat. I've been in cooler saunas. Everyone pops out the top dripping with sweat, thankful for the amazing view, but more thankful for the cool breeze.
A quiet beach
We are green in New Zealand but there is plenty of grass here too, not just in the Amsterdam coffee shops but vast flat farms that make the Waikato look like a local park. It can be all very overwhelming, like when you walk into the 130 metre tall church that is St Peters and feel like an ant walking under Michelangelo works of art covered in gold leaf.
It is incredibly eye opening here but I do know for a fact after travelling in the past, you have a new appreciation of all things New Zealand once you return home. I will miss gelato, and the way they throw back their espressos, something I grew very fond of in Italy.
I'll miss the small, well preserved old cities in the south of France that many places have kept just like they were 400 years ago: made for people. The boutique market vendors reside in these old cities with narrow streets and high walls covered in hanging gardens all usually built on a hill or around an ancient Cathedral. It's the opposite of urban sprawl, and very refreshing to see after also trudging through many big modern cities made for cars and metros.
However after three weeks of travelling with one to go, I will return to New Zealand, home of a thousand beaches where you don't have to purchase your space in the sand. where the water is clear and actually has waves. It's these little things that I'll enjoy and appreciate the most!
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors and almost any sport... For a day job he's a journalist who works at the Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html