I'm back in Berlin after a month of travel throughout Italy.
I didn't set out to write this blog for any specific purpose, so I'm just writing about my experiences.
This entry will have an outline on the travel I've done, then a reflection on the thinking I've done.
Me and Skaidra left Berlin on July 17th, we got €13 flights to Milan and headed straight down to Florence, meeting up with one of her friends, Grace.
We stayed in Airbnbs the entire time, changing it up between private apartments and shared ones with people we didn't know, or the hosts themselves.
Florence July 17-19
In Florence, we stayed with a lady who was really helpful, she gave us great tips about where to eat and what to do.
On the first night, we went to see the sunset up on the Piazzale Michelango, which is a must do.
We then went to some random restaurant and I ordered what I thought was chicken pasta, but after it came out and I googled the translation it was literally "slices of chicken".
It was nice but I had this anticipation for Italian pasta that was let down. Don't worry I definitely ate amazing pasta later.
Tips for Florence:
- Book all your touristy stuff in advance, everything is full about 7-10 days ahead of time.
- €5 Paninis at All'Antico Vinaio.
- La Fettunta for Florentine Steak.
- Watch the sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo.
- There are loads of the buffets €8-€15, they usually come with a drink and you can eat as much as you want.
- Best Gelato (we tried a lot...) was Vivoli.
- Definitely buy transport tickets in advance, maybe buy 2 days worth at a time, because you can't always buy them on the bus, and you'll get a €300 fine if you get caught.
Venice July 19-21
We arrived on the weekend of Redentore, which is a celebration of the end of the Plague. People were wearing these crazy outfits and masks. We ate some amazing tapas, drank a lot of €3.50 Spritz.
Skaidra's Aunt was in town, she was about to begin a month long Italian class that she does every year. We met her and went for lunch on Murano, the island famous for it's glassware. Considerably beyond our budget, but beautiful to behold.
We saw a glass blowing display, which was very impressive.
On Saturday, the night of Redentore, there was a fireworks display. We had this wild experience of not knowing where it was. We assumed we could sit on the main canal and share a bottle of wine.
It dawned on us about 20 minutes before the show was due to start at midnight, that nobody was around. We were in the wrong spot.
We ran through the alleys of Venice in the dark on our own trying to get to the San Marco area (opposite side of the island). Eventually we got there, it was an amazing view. Thousands of people all on one road watching this amazing fireworks display. An experience you couldn't plan.
Tips for Venice:
- Again, book all your touristy stuff in advance, it sells out.
- Ask for the price of what you're about to eat or drink before you order it. Just because a place looks cheap doesn't mean it is.
- Get the 24 hour Venice pass, gives you access to all the gondolas and you can see a lot more of the place that way.
- Walk around and see the alleys, you come across these intersections in the middle of the city, that are nowhere near a canal that have these amazing bars and cafes.
Trieste July 21-23
This is a must visit place. Beautiful beachfront without sand. It was a new type of water experience for me, you climb over these big rocks and it's deep straight away, climb back out over the rocks or there are some ladders scattered along the waterfront.
There are these little bars with deck chairs and logs to sit on. €5 Spritz on the beach at sunset is a beautiful experience.
We went to a Nazi processing camp, where people got rounded up and sorted before getting shipped off to the larger camps. It was my first experience in a site like this and it was pretty hallowing.
There is an exhibition detailing the persecution of Jewish children in Italy. The Nazis tried to create a whole generation of uneducated Jews by expelling them from all schools under their control, but groups of parents found loopholes that kept the students in school for longer.
Teachers found ways to get some of the expelled children into a Jewish run school in Trieste, which is why the exhibition is there.
We brightened up our day after that by meeting up with Skaidra's Aunt again here and we went for lunch before we jumped on the bus heading to Croatia.
Tips for Trieste:
- You can't really go wrong, just go to the beach and enjoy the #beachlyfe.
Rijeka July 23
We arrived about 6pm, checked into our accommodation and went for a climb up to the castle. Went for dinner and spent waaaaay too much money on a real medium seafood pasta.
The next day we went for a swim at the beach, which is right next to a port. The water had a thin layer of oil on the top of it. Was a bit gross, but the scenery was beautiful.
Zadar July 24
Another beautiful Croatian city. We arrived at about 2:30pm by bus, checked in and went for a walk into town. Wow it was hot. It was 43 and dry, haven't felt that feeling since living in Perth.
We walked around the old city, which is a Roman ruin. Those guys really got around. We saw the famous sea organ, which is a completely different experience in person, I would recommend going at night as they have a good light show.
The Adriatic is beautiful.
Tips for Croatia:
- Watch what you are buying. We basically paid Australian prices for everything except accommodation. It's not the cheap paradise it used to be.
- Eat dinner at Proto in Zadar. Beautiful seafood, not cheap but worth it.
- There is public transport, but it is signed really badly and it's not hooked up with google maps. Ask locals, who are more than happy to help you.
- The bakeries in Croatia are really good. We had this super thick cut pizza that was delicious in a couple of different bakeries.
We originally planned to keep going south, all the way to Greece. With an extended stay in Albania. We'd heard that it was cheap there.
We couldn't get there... We planned to go to Split from Zadar, but looking into the bus from Split to Tirana was going to be a 10 hour trip and €70 each for a distance of about 150km.
So we flew back to Milan.
Milan July 25-29
We were exhausted after our time in the Croatian sun, and Skaidra was getting sick.
All we wanted to do was to go to sleep when we arrived at 8pm, but the Airbnb host informed us that he had to go to an Apertivo (pre-dinner drinks) and that he could meet us at 10:30pm in the city centre to pick up the key.
He met us with a big bag of linen and explained that the house was dirty and that his Grandfather had just died there. Really weird vibes. We got into the house about 11:30pm and it was pretty much empty.
The photos online didn't match the room, furniture was missing. We went through the bag he gave us and it only had one towel and one pillow. We got out money back from Airbnb, but we had a rough night.
We moved to a different place, which was much more comfortable. We took it easy and enjoyed the local neighbourhood, cooking at home to save money.
Rome July 29 - August 5
What a place... We stayed right up in the north, the commute in was about 90 minutes by bus. The buses seem to not follow any particular schedule. We were tired from our 10 hour bus trip from Milan, €12 each so worth it.
We had a day off when we first got there and just explored the little community and ate some crappy Chinese food. When we got home, there was a BAT IN THE TOILET. We spent an hour trying to get it out, we read that if you turn the light off and leave the window open it will just fly out.
It didn't. I put a stick in the toilet so it could climb out, Skaidra reckons I speared it with the stick, but I totally didn't. It was dead after a while and the host told us to just flush it. Problem solved.
We did the 48 hour Rome pass thing and saw the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, Colosseum and the Museum of modern art.
The food recommendations I had from our host were amazing. We went to place called Pizzeria Ai Marmi, 45 minute wait but oh my god it was the best pizza I've ever had.
At the Colosseum, we got drenched by a surprise thunderstorm. We refused to buy the ponchos being sold at extortionate prices by the scabs running through the crowds, so we got wet.
We walked around trying to find a place to eat, it had to be outside because we were wet and undercover so we didn't continue getting wet. There was this little place called Ristorante Colosseo Luzzi which was super cheap and really tasty.
I had a lasagna and it was everything I wanted it to be. We went back another night and had the Roman style chicken which was incredible too.
Tips for Rome:
- Pizzeria Ai Marmi, best pizza I've had.
- Ristorante Colosseo Luzzi, simple Roman food.
- Book touristy stuff in advance, it's not as bad as Florence and Venice, but still rather be safe if you want to see the interesting stuff.
- Book the 48 or 72 hour Roma Pass, free transport and huge discounts on most attractions.
- Stay central, the commute was a bummer.
Empoli August 5-8
My god. It was hot. There was no Air con. The fan did nothing. There was no escape from the heat wherever we went.
We thought we would escape the heat in the pool. After paying €7 each for entry, we got kicked out because we didn't have swimming caps on. Apparently that is a thing in Italy.
We changed our reservation and moved back to Florence to a place with air con.
Florence August 8-14
Back in the big city, we had a much more comfortable existence. We had air con, and were able to time our walks to coincide with the early evening so that we missed the hottest part of the day.
I think we just ate gelato for every meal. Not really we had a 1.3kg Florentine steak from La Fettunta. €38/kg, quite cheap really for what it was.
We went to the Leonardo Da Vinci museum which was heaps of fun. All these crazy interactive contraptions and puzzles for you to solve.
Riomaggiore August 15
We caught the train out to the Cinque Terra national park. It is a strip of coast which has 5 fishing villages on them. We stayed in the southern most town called Riomaggiore.
You will have seen pictures of this place. The towns are made up of these tiers of houses on the side of the hill, all red, yellow or cream coloured. Famous for it's seafood and pesto, this region attracts hordes of tourists for day trips, so it can be a bit hectic walking around during the day.
The reason we came here, was meeting Skaidra's friend Maud. She was there with her husband Josh and few others. After a learning experience swimming at the pebble beach, I was the only one to go in because it was so choppy and dangerous to climb over the slippery rocks in the surf, we moved to inside the breakwater.
Me and Josh worked our way up jumping off the rocks until we did the big one that all the local kids were jumping of. That was scary, probably about 8m. I copped a bit of a slap to the face when I landed the first time and that was enough swimming for me that day.
I did it again the next morning with better technique and it didn't hurt. What a beautiful little town. It was a wonderful way to end our time in Italy, swimming and having some great company over great food.
We ate at La Cantina del Macellaio, ordering some pesto pasta, ravioli, 1 900g Tomohawk steak and a 750g T-Bone. Very reasonably priced for the high quality of food. Josh's brother Sam is a winemaker, so conceded the choice in drinks to him. This was a correct decision. Beautiful local wines, we had a Chianti from 2017 and a bottle of Meme wine from 2016.
Tips for Riomaggiore:
- Don't bother with the pebble beach, it's not that good. Go to the breakwater and have a paddle around the tidal pools.
- You're pretty safe eating any of the fried seafood from the little fish and chip places, try one of the calamari cones.
- La Cantina del Macellaio
This entry is already long, I'll upload my thoughts of my whole time in Europe at a later date.
I've been in Berlin for 6 months today. I'm loving it here, but I've decided that I'm gonna come home for summer this year.
A couple of things have lead me to this decision which I'll go into a bit later.
I've met a lot of people here who are making music, keen to colaborate or are already doing gigs and want me to play with them as a session player.
The thing that I've come to realise is that all of these people are surviving entirely off music. They hustle real hard, but it's all they do. They live and breathe it. There is no easy route to getting work in Berlin, or any city for that matter.
So I was thinking about what my hustle is.- Am I a freelance drummer like Vinnie Colaiuta or Chris Dave? Well I've certainly made a decent living on that in the past and it is slowly picking up here.
Am I an educator? I've also made a decent dent in a career as an educator, but what is it I actually want to be spending my time on? I don't see either on their own being particularly fruitful in terms of the standard Australian dream model. So what is it I want to do with this weird career thing we have to work towards?
The work I was chasing here has primarily been in the realms of production and education. The production work hasn't really gone the way I hoped it had, so I looked into an education postion at an international school.
They offered me a contract which I accepted, but on the day I was supposed to sign it a few things happened that made me change my mind. Firstly they wouldn't give me a translation of the contract (all in German far beyond what I can understand), they did some weird stuff with my pay and tax classes that resulted in me getting paid nearly 50% of what I was expecting for the temp work I've been doing.
When they failed to give me a good explaination of what the reasons for this were and how it can be remedied I walked out. It's the first time in my life I've walked out of a proper job mid shift.
I was getting screwed by the big wigs of an organisation that doesn't care for it's employees. It was remarkably similar to the situation I left earlier in the year, Working as a catering driver for minimum wage.
After walking out I decided that this is a milestone year for me and that I'm not going to work on other people's terms any more.
I have some exciting ideas that I've bounced around with some close friends and will be making them happen next year. I will be combining my music and education skills that I've developed over the last 10 years with my love for travel and will slug that out as my own hustle and brand.
I will be producing some video content over the next 6 months that I hope people can find useful and I hope I will be able to successfully monetize. I feel like I'm able to achieve this in Australia easier due to my existing network and access to higher paying work to support me through the impending grind.
It's funny, sometimes things need to get bad before they get better. I gave up everything to come to Berlin, and I feel like I'm coming back with less posessions than I've ever had but more knowledge and drive.
Also worth noting is that my distance to my very tight social group has made me appreciate them even more. I've spent a lot of time on my own over here, and while I do ok on my own, it is nice to have some of your people around you. I will be soaking in as much of that social stuff before I head back out in January overseas for another adventure which I'll anounce at another time.
The rest of my time in Berlin this year will be spent taking it easy. I have some shows, playing a festival this weekend with a blues band called The Lips and a great gig last Friday in Schillerkilz with Hektisch Kunst which is bad German but funny english. that I'm excited about. I've booked a tour with Dale, an old mate from Perth. It's my first effort booking an international tour so let's see how it goes... I stand to make some decent cash if it doesn well so fingers crossed.
I'm heading on a trip with Skaidra in mid August. We'll be going to Italy, Latvia, The Cheque Republic, Spain, Portugal and catching up with my Paris crew in France before returning to Germany to see Solange in Hamburg a few days before I come home.
My general feeling is very positive. I feel like I've learned a lot and have a clear idea of what my next steps are. For the first time in my adult life I'm not going to be carried someone else. I'll be back in Berlin, but I think it is a place I only need to be in during the warmer parts of the year.
With that said, this next year is going to be a real grind. So if you have some gigs to throw my way in Melbourne or Berlin, hit me up I'll be looking.
A lot has happened since my last update.
I’ve been to Paris and seen some amazing people who I met on new years eve. They were super accommodating and let me stay at their places. One of them even organised the whole weekend’s activities for me. I spent a lot of time lying on the grass with good food (let’s be honest it’s Paris, mostly baguette and butter) and good conversation. It’s made me really think about the sort of person you can choose to be. I didn’t know these people particularly well, beyond a few nights drinking around the new year. But they still gave me a bed and their time. I have some friends coming to Berlin in a few weeks, and I would like to pay it forward to really show them around. It makes people feel really good when you put time and effort into things like that.
I’ve also finished my composition portfolio, which is a big milestone for me. I’ve got 4 pieces to footage which you can see HERE. Next step is to hustle some freelance work, because to be honest. The $$$ is getting real tight. The goal here is to be in a position where I can support myself through original music. I want to work in a variety of fields within music. I enjoy performing, I enjoy education, I enjoy writing and producing. You hear a lot of people talk about the grind, doing it rough or having to stick it out. I guess this is that period for me. Only thing to do is watch my spending, keep my head down, work hard and meet as many people as I can that help me in this pursuit of a career.
Until next time.
I'm currently in Strasbourg which is a beautiful and very old city on the boarder between France and Germany.
It's clean and relaxed, it reminds me of Perth.
My first subjects in German class are done and I'll be downgrading to a part time school for my next subjects.
It's not too expensive, it's about €380 For 4 months of 2 nights a week. I was getting a little burned out towards the end if the last subject doing 5x20 hour classes per week. It's just too much.
So... I have a break now until March, I'll use that time to consolidate the information I've learned and try to make sure that I'm ready to begin freelancing in music here.
Freelancing is new to me. I've never really tied to push myself as a freelancer before, but I have a lot of friends that do it and it looks like a lifestyle I would like.
So I've set myself the goal of completing my composition portfolio by March. There isn't really a reason that I shouldn't achieve that. Then from there, the plan is to submit proposals on freelancing websites until I get a bite.
I'm feeling very positive about this while experience so far. I had someone mention to me that my blog made it seem like I was doing it rough here. I don't think that is the tone I was going for, but to be clear. I'm having a great time here.
P.S. I'm in Strasbourg to compete in a tournament for MTG. I bombed out at 3 wins and 3 losses, but I'm gonna have another crack tomorrow for the pro tour qualifier. Fingers crossed.
What does it mean to have a career in music? Does it count if you only play to 80 people in a room, in your home town every 3 months? Does it count if you don’t play live at all? Does it count if you work another job to support your music? Does it count if you don’t create original music and only play wedding gigs?
I think the more important question is: Who is counting?
I just started the lowest paying job of my adult life. Delivering salads to people in offices for minimum wage. I’m doing it about 20-25 hours a week, because if I do less, I won’t be able to stay in Berlin very long.
Currently my daily routine looks like this:
Wake up at 730, exercise and stretch. Practice piano for as long as I can before I have to go to work. I usually end up at work around 10:00-10:30am. Usually, I work until around 14:30, sometimes later though. Come home and write some music for as long as I can before I have to go to German class at 17:00. After German, I’ll get home around 9pm and either go to a rehearsal, work on some mixes from the stuff I’ve written, write more, or go out to a gig. I try to be in bed by 1130, but it doesn’t ever happen.
Somehow, I’ve managed to get myself in a position where I am spending a lot of time doing music. I am also making a total of $0.00 from music at the moment. But for the first time in my life, I am ok with that.
I had this realization today that I’m the happiest I’ve been in many years and I think it’s because of how much music I get to make. My job is low pressure, I don’t have to take it home with me. There is no drama in my life to distract me. And yes, I have days where I choose not to do music, or a friend will want to catch up and it ends up writing of the productivity for the day, but this is fine. I feel like this mindset has gotten me moving forwards in my career, purely from a skills point of view. And it feels good to be improving.
Maybe it’s because every second person I meet does music as a side hustle, or is on the same journey I’m on. Maybe it’s because the number of people I’ve met here that are pursuing their own idea of a career in music without really caring what anyone else thinks, is inspiring.
This city has an aura that encourages the individual. It doesn’t feel like NYC did, crushing you if you aren’t at the top. It doesn’t feel like Perth where if you aren’t considered a shit hot player or in a cool band, you don’t get anywhere. It doesn’t feel like Melbourne either. It let’s you define your own career. Something that can be taken back to the above mentioned cities after a lot of work. Some people work this out without having to go on a physical journey, they’ve managed to do this journey in their head or their local environment. But for me, I’m learning a lot about what my career in music is.
I’ve been in Berlin for just under a month now. It’s an amazing city and it makes me realize what a small town I come from. I’ve been to big cities before. NYC back in 2010/2011, Tokyo in 2008/2009, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok in 2017, Ho Chi Minh earlier this year, but there is something about being on my own in a big foreign place that is different.
Perhaps it is the fact that I only know a handful of people, and they are all out of town for a few months. Perhaps its that I gave up my gigs in Melbourne and quit my jobs to come here. Perhaps its that I don’t know what I’m going to do for money and I have a very real financial time limit to set myself up. It seems like a crazy thing to do, but I felt like I needed to get out of Australia while I didn’t have anything tying me down. I’m 29. I have 6 months left before the working holiday visa isn’t available to me anymore. Now seemed like the right moment in my life to do it.
I’ve had a lot people asking me what my reasons were for coming here, so I guess I’ll explain my thought process.
18 months ago, a friend of mine was nearing the end of her honours degree in music and having a natural freak out about the life she was about to be thrown into once her study ended. She called me and we had a long chat about having a career in music. I told her about my experiences, the successes, mistakes and the lessons I’d learned so far. I ended up telling her that she should move overseas, away from the small town she lived in and pursue music full time. You’ve got to make it work, because nobody is going to do it for you. She was inspired and when I hung up the phone, so was I.
I realised that when I was 18, I had written out goals and that my 10 year goal was to move to a big city and try and make a living, playing original music. So I called a close friend of mine, from NYC and asked him what I needed to do to move there. He told me not to and to consider LA. I spent 6 months practicing hard, planning for LA and working out how to save enough money to make it work. Then one day I had a friend just mention in passing that there was a small group of Australians in Berlin that I knew. The idea took seed and 12 months of savings and practice later, here I am. Part of this move was that I wanted to diversify beyond being just a drummer. So when I meet people here, I tell them I’m a producer, drummer and synth player.
I made a checklist of the things I needed to do to make it possible for me to be here long term. Things like get an apartment, get on the correct visa pathway, find some work to support myself while I build my network. I’m currently in the process of sorting these out. I’ve got an apartment and a good job offer (but it doesn’t start until August, so I’ll have to wash dishes / slumlyfe until then). I’ve been to a bunch of gigs and met a tonne of the musicians here, I’m keen to start collaborating with them in the coming months.
I have joined a band playing Synth and am meeting someone who wants me to make beats for their hip hop project this weekend. It’s slow and scary, but it’s liberating and I guess I’ll have to continue trying to make it work.
I’m going to update this blog from time to time as a record of my journey. I’ll make note of stand out experiences and performances and what I’m up to with my music.
At present, I’ve bought a tonne of studio gear and have been writing beats every day. You can hear them here: soundcloud.com/leonardbarkermusic