Friday, August 31, 2001

Oh yeah, while I've got time, I've started something very important - a mullet league table. Every place I visit fo a substantial time I'm rating by mullet quality and quantity. Here, in brief, are the current standings:

1. Prague (an amazing mullet city)
2. Brno
3. Trencin (helped because I was there so long)
4. Kezmarok (and if I'd been there longer, it'd have rated a lot higher I think)
5. Spissky Podhradie (not bad for a small place)
6. Frankfurt (had an amazing kid mullet with dreadlocks!)
7. Heidelberg (very disappointing)

So far Kosice is looking astonishing. A definite contender for no.2 right now, and I've only been here half a day.
Travelling is supposed to broaden the horizons and teach you more about yourself, and others. However, my horizons so far have been broadened only to appreciate the joy of cheap beer and I have learnt nothing about myself beyond the fact that I can go for a whole week without a shower, and still smell beautiful.

However, I have learnt many things about Simon. Things I could never ever have possibly wanted to know.

The worst is Simon's "morning" voice. Oh man. This is the single most revolting thing I have ever heard. When Simon gets up in the morning, for at least the first hour of being awake, he has this drowsy droning sleepy voice he puts on. As if he's not yet fully conscious of what's happening. It's a sickly and infuriating voice that makes me want to slap his face hard and yell "wake the hell up, man". I hope nobody ever has to hear Simon's horrible morning voice.

Everything else pales into insignificance to Simon's morning voice, but his cheesy grin is pretty damn awful too. By the grace of God he hasn't done this too much yet, but sometimes when buying something or doing something that involves basic communication with a local, and a smile, Simon instead replaces the simple smile with a broad and nauseating grin. The grin a politican makes while patting a baby on the head, in front of the mother, while on live TV. It looks ultra fake and insincere, despite the shocking fact that Simon is actually been genuine and sincere.

He sweats too much and looks like a tourist, but to be fair both of these have improved recently. The only big touristy thing now is his sunglasses - colossal and gigantic plastic yellow sunglasses that I now realise make him look like a beetle. No wonder the Eastern Europeans are cautious of us Westerners.

But, he has good points too, don't worry. I'm rather shocked we're getting on still after over two weeks on the road. This is, of course, due to my very easy going nature, and not because Simon is oblivious to my furies and frustrations.

Anyway, yeah. Where am I now? It's been a rather hectic few days actually, and I now find myself in a cheap internet "place" (not a cafe) in Kosice. Before this we were in Spissky Podradhie, before then Kezmarok, before then a campsite outside some small village beneath the Tatra mountan range, and before then Trencin.

Surprisingly, everything has more or less been going to plan. On Monday, we caught the train to Poprad with the Canadians, and from Poprad caught the train to various destinations in the Tatras that don't have the energy to recall the names of. Just your typical unpronouncable and bizarre Slovak place names, with all sorts of little marks above the letters. Come on guys, do you really need these silly little marks above half your damn letters? Keep it simple dudes. And speak English more.

So we camped a couple of nights at "Intercamp" with the Canadians. I think the Canadians have the address of this page so I'd better not say how much I HATED THEM. Uh... no, just joking Canadian dudes. No, the Canadians were cool and provided an interesting diversion to the route we would otherwise have gone. The second night of camping we bought heaps of cheap drink and got very very drunk indeed. So drunk that I woke up inside my tent many hours into the night, convinced it was raining and that I was in some strange and unfamiliar tent. It was quite scary and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise where I was. Probably Simon's snoring helping to remind me.

Hence the next day - Wednesday - was pretty awful. Because the Canadians had other plans, involving going up great heights into the cold and me and Simon possessing only T-shirts, we had to make a very tearful farewell. And me and Simon, fighting through the hangover, managed to get up at 8am and get a 10am bus to Kezmarok.

Kezmarok first appealed to me a couple of weeks ago, when I read in the book that it had a church made of wood, but no nails, and that in 1918 the town of 20000 declared itself an indepedent state, but very quickly absorbed itself into the newly formed Czechoslovakia. Both these facts sounded fascinating, therefore we were very disappointed to find that not only was the place an absolute ghosttown, but the wooden church was made of STONE on the outside and there was no mention of it being independent anywhere (maybe we should have tried the museum).

But all was not lost. It was a very very pretty little place, with all the buildings painted different colours. Cute almost. Very attractive. It had a big church painted green and red which was smart but best of all, our accommodation costing just 2 pounds each was at the football stadium. At a small flat actually built into the football stadium, with windows overlooking the pitch. Ok, Kezmarok FC aren't world beaters, but having a flat in a stadium overlooking the pitch is cool in my book. We even got to see a couple of games - some under 13s, and some game I think was reserves, that had quite a few people turn up. If we'd hung around till Saturday we could have seen them play Poprad. We didn't though, because there wasn't a huge amount to do, although to be fair I think we turned up on a public holiday and we were both in knackered form from the drunken night before, so we didn't give poor little Kezmarok the best of chances.

The next morning it was off to Spissky Pophradie, a small village of about 2000 with a true mother of a castle on a hill above it - a UNESCO World Heritage site, and deservedly so. The castle was gigantic. In partial ruins, but looking great nonetheless. After a short while trying to find the village's single place of accommodation, we got it (for just 3 pounds each) and to our astonishment this bargain but very pleasant little hotel was literally at the foot of the hill underneath the castle, with our room directly facing it. It was an amazing sight. Seriously, in 10 years time a room at this hotel is going to cost 10 times as much.

Yeah, that's one thing I've noticed. There's obviously far less money in Slovakia than Western countries, but that's because they're only charging 3 quid for prime site hotels. Come on guys, rip us off. Charge us more. You're never going to make money by charging me 3 quid. I'm not exactly complaining mind you.

Yeah, so we looked around the giant castle which I really do recommend seeing, and early today got the bus to Kosice, finally finding cheap accomodation in a halls of residence (I think) which is basically just a big tower block overlooking the whole city. We've got the top floor, so have a rather good view. I haven't seen much of the city yet, but it looks ok.

Oh, the lifts in our tower block are mighty terrifying though. They're these tiny little lifts that don't have slide doors, just actual swing doors. You know, like regular doors. Inner lifts doors, and outer doors on each floor. When we first got the lift up to our top floor, the outer door wouldn't open - we were locked in. Fortunately, the door a floor below did, so we escaped. And Simon very cleverly discovered that if you open the inner lift doors as the lifts is moving up, the lift shudders to an abrupt halt.

Remember that sweepstake Joe Gauci did on my death? Well seriously, go for me dying tomorrow, in a small Kosice tower block lift, and I think you may just win.

Ok, so we're in Kosice and plan to be for a couple of days, then we finally leave Slovakia and venture into Hungary. No details yet, but I'm sure we'll conjure up some magnificent plan that will fall apart at the first hurdle.

Monday, August 27, 2001

As Simon slept outside, I slept in the tent with two Czech girls.

That´s one sentence in the English language I never expected to write. Even less, expect to write and actually be true. It was, most certainly, an unlikely situation to be in, and was the mere consequence of a series of highly unlikely events starting from the night before.

First of all, it´s now Monday and we´re still in Trencin. This may seem like little has changed over the last few days, but I can safely say that we´ve remained in Trencin for good reason, although we do finally depart later today with a couple of Canadians. To the Tatra mountain range (not the Tantra range, Simon). All that remains for today is to pack up and get that half 1 train.

So what changed? How come we didn´t leave on Friday, as planned, on the long bus to Kosice? Well, first of all, we´d decided against Kosice and opted for an unknown town called Branko Bzsyszstsurzc (or something), on a bus that left at 6.45am. So that Thursday night, we went into town, had a colossal meal for 6 pounds each, and headed back to the tent. It was about 9pm, we were ready to go to bed and get an earlY night, and we were spending half an hour chilling outside.

And then a Geordie called Johnny, who happened to own the campsite, walked by and everything changed.

I barely know how to continue the story now, but basically Johnny said hello, realised with huge delight that we were Scottish (the first Scottish visitors to the campsite that year) and took us back to the bar where there were a huge number of drunk Slovakians, a couple of drunk Canadians and one extremely drunk Spaniard. All these people had appeared during our absence when having our meal. And they were very, very drunk indeed.

We got talking, to those who spoke English anyway. Which covers the Canadians, a struggling Spaniard, one drunk and struggling Slovak and a Geordie (if you count their interpretation as being English). After a fair while of just having Simon as being someone to speak fluent English to, it was a big relief to have others. I tried to catch up on the drinking, with 25p beers (or pivos as I´m getting accustomed to thinking of them as), but they were all way ahead. The night ended with us all downtown in Trencin, in apub called Jamesons, with Johnny repeatedlz gesturing over to a table with one huge fat guyand a heap of birds and telling us not to look because they were the local mafia. And to placate the apparent anger he sensed they were feeling, he bought them a bottle of champagne. I think he was a little drunk.

We didn´t bother with our 6.45am bus the next day then.

Yes, the next day we were "on tour". Johnny was absolutely delighted to have a couple of Scots with him, so he insisted on taking us on a tour around the Slovakian countryside around Trencin. He was on holiday (although he owned the campsite, he was a silent partner and his main involvement was in a company called Balkan Recruitment, a name that conjures up images of hitmen in trenchcoats if ever I heard one. I have his card) so was more than happy to. In fact, he absolutely insisted.

We were joined by a couple of Czech girls - Zuzana and Klaudie. This wasn´t to plan, as the Canadians (Corey and Laura) had meant to be with us, but they´d gone shopping so when Johnny arrived weren´t around and so Johnny enlisted - ie forced - two Czech girls who´d been camping near us that night (not the Slovakians girls who tried to unzip our tent I should stress. Oh Lord no, these girls were terrifying.) The Czech girls had packed everything up and were ready to catch a train, but Johnny had spotted them and bought them and us a coffee, before telling them about the day´s tour.

Yup, one thing you should probably know about Johnny - he is entirely and absolutely sex-obsessed. Entirely. Absolutely. Even though he´d seen younger days (in his own words, he was now the football coach as opposed to the football star) he wasn´t deterred and in his own inimitable Geordie-Slovakian way, womanised to his heart´s - and balls´ - content. I tell you actually, hearing fluent Slovakian spoken in a broad Newcastle accent is quite something. I suspect most of his women were simply too startled to resist. And he is a very effervescent and persuasive character. "Character", that´s definitely one word to describe him.

So it happened - Johnny plus the four of us on tour, in his little Skoda with the broken boot. First of all we took a drive to the Slovak-Czech border. Not the main border crossing ones, but a little obscure one up a hill and along little winding roads surrounded by trees. We took photos and straddled the border of two nations. Then it was to the lake. He knew some guy who owned a hotel bya lake, so we went there and were treated to a very fine meal and drinks, while looking over upon a really really beautiful lake. You know you hear all these things about these totally unspolit and untouristy locations - like the film The Beach. Sort of like a myth. Well, this was that place - and indeed much of Slovakia. It really is an astonishingly attractive country. You´re just driving along and there´s green hills and pretty villages and giant castles on giant rocks. And this lake, which had a little island in the middle, with a forested hill at the far side, was amazing. Sure, there were some hotel visitors by the shore, but nothing about the place was touristy. Johnny reckons that in about 10 years the place will be inundated, once the place gets heard of, as it reallz is perfect toursit fodder.

From there, and after a stop for drinks, we went to a ruined castle on a hill. Some story about a 12th Century queen or something killing hundredsof people there. The place was in ruins now, and the climb pretty steep. Because of his old age, Johnny left us younger ones to it, and we trekked up the hill and took a look around the destroyed castle - which was a total deathtrap - and at the wonderful view it gave of the surrounding scenery. You could see Johnnyand his car too, which was a big relief for us. He was being so generous, we were all sure there had to be a catch - either him killing us or deserting us in the middle of nowhere - but fortunately there was none.

From there to a small little spa village not too far from Trencin. In a valley and yet again, incredibly attractive. We had another drink on the balcony of a bar, taking in the pure sunshine that had been present the entire day, and talked about "hand shandies". For those of you who don´t know what a hand shandy is (as of course the Czech girls who although had good English, didn´t have to English to stretch quite that far) I...uh... will leave it to the imagination. Johnny brought the topic up of course.

Then finally, at after 7pm, it wasback to Trencin, where we all got very drunk. Corey and Laura joined us, and we sat outside at a bar called Stepspub, listening to Johnny make lewd comments about almost every girl in sight. Everyone was getting on well, and the Czech girls were finding it endlessly amusing to hear us read Czech out loud. In turn, we tried them out with a few Scottish place name - Achiltiebuie working particularily well. They were really cool girls, and from Prague.

The next part of the night descends into a misty haze, and all I know is that we went to some awful club (where I have this simply terrifying memory of seeing Simon dance. HELP ME) and back to Jamesons, with the mafia. Then back to the tent, where my memory is again clearer.

You see, this was the problem. It was late (between 1 and 3am) and the Czech girls had packed everything away, had nowhere to stay, and had no money for another night at the campsite. So there was no other option - smuggle them in. They had left their rucksacks with us earlier anyway, so we got to our tent where Simon insisted upon promptly falling asleep outside the tent, no sleeping bag or anything, just him (although we must have later got him into a sleeping bag, as he woke up in one). Well hey, this suited me absolutely fine, so the three of us crammed into the two man tent, and into our sleeping bags. Actually, though it is a two man tent, it´s a fairly spacious one, so I´d describe the arrangement as cosy rather than cramped.

Simon was snoring loudly, despite his protestations that he doesn´t snore. I can assure you he was snoring very loudly, much to our amusement. The Czech girls found it hilarious he should be sleeping outside, so he was christened "Bla¾en" (crazy man) and I was christened "Fousach" (man with beard). We must have spent about half an hour in that tent just laughing at Simon snoring and at my dodgy pronouniation of these words.

So then As Simon slept outside, I slept in the tent with two Czech girls. They got up at 6am as they had to leave, so we said our goodbyes as Simon continued to sleep soundly (I have never known anyone to sleep as much and as deeply as Simon) and they departed. We´ve all exchanged addresses etc, so we´ll keep in touch.

Johnny was later very disappointed to learn that there were no "hand shandies" that night.

So Saturday then, was a day of just chilling and feeling a little hungover. And yesterday was spent at the Trencin vs Slovan Bratislava match. Trencin are a small side who just got promoted this year, and Slovan Bratislava are the main men of Slovakia, and Trencin´s rivals. Hence a turnour of 8500 (as opposed to a 2000 average). The Canadians joined us, it being Laura´s first "soccer" match and to our astonishment and delight, Trencin won 2-0 to take them top of the league. The Slovaks are violent as hell by the way - at one point a player shoved a linesman out the way, and was allowed to carry on as normal.

Which brings us to today. And as we´re heading in the same rough direction as the Canadians, we´re all taking the train to Poprad, near the Tetras. That´s the plan, and this time I think we´ll stick to it. I´ve written enough now so am going to stop. But it´s been a quite remarkable few days in the obscure town of Trencin with the Geordie campsite owner, that we only went to on a whim.

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Oh, hey, this thing won't do the "c" thing. The below entry - all the è should be a little c with a inflexion v thing above it.
Well, hmm, yes. It was supposed to be Bratislava we were going to yesterday, but there turned out a slight change of plan. We were waiting for the Brno to Bratislava bus, a two hour wait, and as I waited I idly flicked through the Lonely Planet guide, which came in useful for the first time in its existence. It mentioned a town called Trenèin, in north Slovakia, of about 50000 people. Just smaller than Inverness then. However, what really jumped out at me was that there was an island in the town, within the river that flowed through it, and on this island was camping facilities. Plus a big castle. Camping on an island in a river under a big castle. A few quick enquiries later and it was found the Brno to Trenèin bus was a mere 30 minutes away - the decision was made. To Trenèin it was.

So apologies to all those who saw I was intending to go to Bratislava and went there to meet me. I'm sure there were a great many of you.

So Trenèin, as it turns out, is pretty cool. Forget about the fact that these damn Slovak foreigners can't speak a damn word of English, the castle truly is tremendous and the whole place has a nice chilled atmosphere. The town appears entirely dominated by two things. The castle is the obvious first, it absolutely towers over the town, mounted on a giant rock a bit like Edinburgh castle, and can be seen from anywhere. Well, anywhere within Trenèin. Obviously in the Shetland islands you're not going to be able to see the thing. The second thing is the massive sports complex, with two outdoor swimming pools, a very large sports centre, a football (and other sports?) stadium which has awesomely gigantic floodlights that look like they're made of concrete, and various other sports stuff. Apart from these two dominating landmarks, there's a very pretty centre of town, which is pedestrianised and has a very laid back feel.

It also had a supermarket with 10p chocolate. 10p dude! I'm so happy in this backward part of the world. And vodka, a big bottle, for 3 quid. Man. I haven't boguht the vodka yet, but I can see that drunken night ahead already. I did buy heaps of sweet stuff, it was all so cheap, although one particular item - a heap of sugar-type sticks - was two months out of date. Hey you manky Slovaks, I'm going to sue.

Nah, the Slovaks have mostly been pretty decent. Not as surly as the Czechs but, conversely, the mullets have been very poor. Only a couple of decent mullets. It's better than Heidelberg, but nowhere remotely close to the joy that was Prague. I can't imagine ever seeing so many mullets again in my life. I saw TWO whole benchfuls of mullets there at one point - all sorts of styles and varieties, including two females. Prague, I bow down to you.

Yeah, so camping last night on the island, and again tonight, before getting an early bus to Kosièe. 9am it is, and it's 7 hours. Yikes. Just pray I'm not stuck next to a guy smelling of sweetcorn again.

Yeah, slightly odd night last night. Me and Simon had gone to sleep in the tent, and were woken up by the sound of some very loud and very drunk Slovak girls who were staying in a nearby cabin. They were making a hell of a racket - in the joyous days of Communist rule they'd have been shot within seconds. Alas, drunk tarts are allowed to thrive in democracies and they were making one serious hell of a noise - you could hear all the surrounding tents and cabins grumbling. And one of the drunk tarts even tried to break into our tent. First of all she stumbled over the ropes, then unzipped part of the outer tent and was trying to find how to get into the inner layer when Simon leant forward and yelled something you would not expect to hear from the son of a minister, and the drunk tart screamed and ran away.

Looking back, it's quite obvious she saw me earlier in the day and after a few drinks, just needed a bit more. Oh well, girls will be girls.

On a slightly related note, I bought sweets yesterday called "Sweet Love"

Ok, so plans are for tonight in Trenèin, then a long bus to Kosièe tomorrow. However, we've realised plans are liable to change at a whim, so expect your next post from Beijing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2001

And it's Brno now, home to Boby Brno - not a cuddly cartoon character, but a football team. Brno is a city of 400,000 people, and I spent a good part of today at castle Spilbirk (or something like that, I can't be expected to remember these stupid damn foreign names) learning far far more than I could ever hope to need at a simply vast museum that myself and Simon (less sweaty and touristy today) eventually had to run away from, as it kept going up a further floor and had terrifying Czech museum attendants who followed us around and forced us to go into obscure little rooms.

The castle dungeons were quite cool though.

Yup, so Brno it is now. And the last couple of days have been one hell of a ride. When I set of travelling, just a week ago, I expetced to meet a few interesting enough people over time, probably through hostels. But on... uh... Sunday it was, events took an amazingly ludicrous twist. I have photos to prove it by the way.

We took a bus from Prague to Brno (2 pounds 50), a very very hot and sweaty bus that had me forced to sit next to a guy who stunk of sweetcorn. I'd never associated the smell of sweetcorn with unpleasantness, but it's going to haunt me for a few years to come.

I survived however, and we arrived in Brno at after 6pm. On a Sunday, which we soon realised meant that the tourist information places were closed. But there was a big map of the city very nearby, so we started studying that. A hostel was our primary target, but camping wasn't out of the question.

Two Italian dudes appeared, about 40 years old, and started babbling in extremely broken English, and suddenly an old Czech guy with a very Eastern Eutopean beard was also about. The Italian guys had camper vans and were desperately trying to find a camp site (all the ones on their map didn't exist). We had a Lonely Planet guide - which has so far proved pretty useless - and we tried communicating the stuff about camping in that. Not much success, and so the daughter of one of the Italian guys appeared - a mid to late teen girl called Rosabianca, not bad looking at all - who had done three years of English at school, as so attempted to act as translator.

All tis time the Czech guy, who was ok at English though not great, was trying to explain of a campsite he knew about. And so eventually, it came to this: we got into the Czech guy's car while the two Italian camper vans followed in convoy as we were driven 15km out of town to a supposed campsite. Me and Simon simply put all thoughts out of our head as to how we would actually get back into town the next day.

The Czech man was great actually, a genuinely decent guy. Mum and Morag were in Prague last year and said that a lot of the natives were pretty surly, something I've also encountered, but this guy was great. Very friendly, and offering to drive us out to a campsite. He'd lived in Brno all his life and had obviously seen quite a few changes, and had used to work as some sort of tunnelling engineer. He lamented that Boby Brno was a faded force in both Czech and European football.

We arrived at the site, and all vehicles stopped. The Italians offered the Czech man money in gratitude, but he steadfastly refused, but happily accepted their wine and our miniature bottle of whisky that Simon, fortunately, had. I took a photo of the guy too. And he left.

However, bad news was just ahead. The site we were on was a hotel and used to be a campsite, with the emphasis on used. No longer. The Italians flapped wildly and manically, and threw open giant maps and jabbered away furiously as they tried to work out where to go next. We managed to gather from the broken English of the hotel receptionist that there was a very obscure campsite on the other side of the city.

Thankfully, the Italians offered to drive us, they were more than happy to. I mean, we'd have been pretty stuck otherwise. So we got in the camper van with Carlo, Mary and daughter Rosabianca and set off on a long and very meandering drive along dodgy Czech motorways, as Carlo kept in contact with the other Italian guy and his wife (Raphael and Rachel) by radio contact. This was a well organised operation (by Italian standards anyway)

Eventually, and I stress eventually, we rolled into an incredibly remote camping site - "Autocamp Bonanza". The place was deserted, save for a wooden building (which, to be fair, later turned out to host some perfectly clean and pleasant showers and toilets, but from first impression looked lke a shack) and another family in a tent. We drove into the site and stopped.

This man appeared. I say man; ogre may be a more fitting description. He wore only shorts and sandals, walked in a very strange ambling style and had a very suspect lump just below his shoulder. He spoke no English, no Italian and no German. So you can imagine the conversation that took place with us, the Italians, and the Czech ogre was a very confused one. But we managed to sort stuff out, imprtantly working out it was 4 pounds altogether for me abd Simon to camp for the night.

It was getting dark now, although a giant light lit up our small corner of the site, where we camped right next to the Italian camper vans. We were also incredibly hungry - it being about half 9 and us having nothing to eat since breakfast. But the Italians insisted that they fed us (making a great change from our usual diet of cheese and ham sandwiches) and so we were treated to a wonderful spaghetti bolognaise and some tuna thing afterwards, plus a bottle of red wine between the both of us.

This was a very curious affair. There wasn't enough room in the camper van for all 7 of us, so they brought out a table and two deckchairs, and acted as waiters while they laid out makeshift napkins and poured us wine. All in the dark and remote settings of the Czech countryside. Carlo and Raphael were greatly amused by this, and took many photos.

We'd been getting on well with the Italians and so after the meal, we all gathered outside in the still warm air, and talked and drank. Only Rosabianca was proficient in English so she acted as translator for anything other than simple concepts. Maps were taken out and enthusiastic discussions took place as we pointed out where we lived, had travelled to, and planned to visit. Carlo and Raphael were greatly impressed that Simon was from Benbecula, when he pointed out the tiny little island off the coast of Scotland. They had quite some trouble pronouncing it however, and didn't even attempt Drumnadrochit. They in turn showed us where they lived (just outside Naples) and told us of their travels. Every year since about 1990, they travelled around a country for two weeks in their camper vans, having covered Greece (twice), Scandinavia, Holland, France and others. The Czech Republic this year obviously.

They had a bottle of whisky too, which they proudly showed us. It was cheap crap (we were tactful)

They were also very enthusiastic about the Loch Ness Monster, something that appears to be very well known about, as a Czech museum attendant also mentioned it.

We talked and drank, and smoked cigars (Simon had a packet of Cubans) till after midnight, and had a great time. The language barrier was no barrier, in a sense, and the Italians seemed in very high spirits from a good deal of wine drinking. Plus some strange lemon liquer they brought out. They were very very Italian indeed, but excellent fun, and I think they were all as bemused as us at the strange series of events that had brought us to this unexpected situation.

So the next day they drove us back into Brno for about noon, and we departed, thanking them and exchanging our addresses, so I'll be sending them a postcard or two in addition to Carmen and Burkard the Germans.

I tell you, it was a hell of a strange day. From arriving in Brno without a clue as to where we were going to stay, to getting lifts off bearded Czech guys, to dining on fresh Italian food in the remote Czech countryside, in darkness. You hear these stupid travelling stories about meeting people unexpectedly, but we really didn't expect anything like this. It was quite an odyssey. And just five days into our travels too. And after meeting friends of Simons, randomly, and meeting Germans. We also met a guy in the Prague hostel too, called Jason but in my mind he's called Chester. He was a decent guy I suppose, and check out Simon's diary here (weepurpleman) for more, but I'll just say that what Simon describes as an "interesting" conversation about Islam and Christian history and theology was perhaps the most tedious conversation I have ever had to listen to. I lay in bed listening to it, desperately trying to die.

Oh yeah, in Prague - 11p bottles of beer! Oh yes. God exists and he lives on the Czech Republic.

Ok, so we've been in Brno for the last day now, and it's been great, although no stories of any huge interest. I think I've started to expect too much after this quite packed first week of travelling, which already feels like months (can it only be a week ago I was staying with Diana in Edinburgh, in the filthiest flat known to man?) Me and Simon managed to stumble upon a hotel (yes, hotel, not hostel) for just 4 pounds a night each, with shower, TV and fridge. And the hotel is beautiful - really new and clean looking. We keep expecting a hidden catch. From what we've gathered, it appears to be some sort of halls of residence maybe, or something to do with a music academy.

Ok, so that's everything up to date, basically (there's other stuff too, but I really don't have time to write about everything I'm afraid, even when the costs here are just 40Kc an hour). We're spending tonight in the same hotel - the first time we've spent two nights in the same place - and tomorrow we'll set off, probsably to Bratislava by bus. I've been quite impressed with Brno, it's a nice little place. Sort of Aberdeen, but less grey, and more sunny. The people are just as surly though.

Ok, so that's all for now dudes. Internet cafes are quite easy to find right now, so I'll maybe write in another couple of days, depending. Remember, emails always welcome.

Sunday, August 19, 2001

Ah man. I'm in Prague now. Lovely sunny Prague, with big churches and castles and beer for 40p a pint, which I regretfully haven't exploited to its fullest yet. We got here yesterday morning, after spending the night in an overnight train, trying to sleep but being continually interrupted by people wanting to see our tickets or passports.

We met a couple of Germans on the train too. Carmen and Burkard. They were really cool. Just a couple of years older than us, we got talking to them when Carmen asked to sit on the bench me and Simon were occupying. They'd just been over in Wales, joy of joys, but had seemed to quite enjoy it, and Carmen was absolutely delighted with some soap thing she'd bought that frothed up wildly whenever put in water.

So we talked to them for ages in the train, about stuff, and got an address if we ever want to visit, and to send postcards to, and after they departed somewhere in Bavaria, we made some futile attempts at sleep. The train rolled in at about 8am, and we got off, and were immediately beseiged by blonde women with dodgy English trying to give us accommodation in flats that were probably derelict. Unfortunately Simon, in his wisdom, instead of just moving on decided to speak at length to them and so they trailed around after us for ages after, continually reminding us that everywhere else was full, or "dangerous".

Simon in the last couple of days has turned into the ultimate tourist. He has a floppy hat sort of thing, which isn't so bad, but is made worse when combined with his giant yellow sunglasses (oh man), the water flask he hangs round his neck and as he has no direction sense whatsoever, he's always got a map in front of him. He screams "TOURIST" and "ROB ME NOW"

Yeah, this is something that may surprise people that know me. I've actually acquired both direction sense and powers of observation. I've been able to negotiate my way around cities quite easily, whereas Simon stumbles around in stupid directions, trying to make sense of his map, and taking little sips out of his flask.

Nah, Simon's been fine so far, and I'm getting endless amusement by the amount he seems to sweat. That guy is one human sweatmachine. You know they can generate electricity by wave power? Well, if you got one of these machine attached to his body, the waves of sweat that pour down could certainly power a couple of small villages.

So in Prague, we've checked out the castle, which was pretty cool, and gone up the old town hall, which likewise was cool. And we went over some big bridge as well. Was that cool? Yup, I think it was. What else was cool?

Oh man, I'll tell you what's the coolest. The mullets! Prague is infested with mullets. They are EVERYWHERE. It is mullet heaven here. I saw an entire group of mullets sitting on a bench, including a lovely femme mulle, and the sheer multitude and variety of mullets is breathtaking. This is one mighty city. Far more than in Germany. Oh, I'm really looking forward to the more obscure Eastern European locations - mighty mullet metropolises.

So, the plan is now - to Brno. We aim to spend a couple of cheap days there. We've been going through money a bit fast so far, but Germany was rather expensive (compared to here, it's still miles cheaper than Britain) and we've become a lot better with money since. We're getting a cheap bus to Brno (3 quid) and will live on cheap supermarket food (1 quid could possibly do us for a day or two) and hopefully accommodation will be less than a fiver.

So yeah, things are going well, five days in. Send me an email guys, I haven't had one in days. It's lonely here you know, with just sweaty Simon to keep me company.

The Germans are friendly and helpful people. Yes, I have just written that sentence,
and no, it is not loaded with heavy sarcasm.

I´m in Heidelberg right now, south of Frankfurt. I´ve been here for a day now, spending
the night in a campsite that cost just 4 pounds each. Heidelberg´s pretty cool. It´s
about 135,000 people and half of it is just a mass of roads and traffic and half
of it, despite being touristy, is really really pretty. All red buildings and cobbled
streets, eventually culminating with this giant castle on a hill.

Weather´s still warm, unsurprisingly, but not the extremes of that first very sweaty
day in Frankfurt. Guess how many times I´ve changed my clothes now? Yup, that´s right
- nil. I am one big sweatbox. Actually, I´m suffering very little from the heat.
As long as I get a drink now and again, I´m fine.

What have we been up to then? Lots of wandering, because it´s free, and a fair bit
of just lying in the sun if we find a nice location. In Frankfurt we found a park,
so I just lounged next to the pond for a while, under this big tree with big hanging
branches. And here in Heidelberg, we just sat by the river for a while yesterday.

Oh man. They had public toilets there. Lordy, these were scary. I honestly expected
some German dude to burst out one of the cubicles and bumrape me. It was this really
dark and dingy toilet, all metallic and covered in graffiti, with three urinals,
all in a state of overflow. I survived, but the nightmares were bad that night.

Yup, there´s been quite a contrast in our sleeping arrangements. The first night
was spent in Simon´s flatmate´s luxury appartment, with balcony and heaps of stuff
I could have made a fortune with if I´d stolen them. A great thunderstorm that night
too. Then last night was in a tent, on hard ground, next to a river and a busy road.
I slept ok though. I woke heaps of times, but felt rested. And tonight, it´s the
train to Prague. I´m feeling distinctly edgy about this. The rough guide warned of
people gassing your train compartment and nicking your stuff.

Yeah. We also had somewhat of a coincidence today, when Simon happened to bump into
a couple of friends of his, who happened to be at the train station. This ended up
costing us money, as we ate at a restaurant and didn´t just buy cheap crap from a
filthy supermarket. Swines.

Yup, although Germany is clean and with excellent public transport, its supermarkets
are dingy and unappealing, plus they don´t store their drinks in fridges.

And remarkably Simon hasn´t been too annoying yet. Oh, it will happen, I´m sure of
that, but so far he´s just made one really rubbish joke. That´s way less than his
average Aberdeen quote. Plus, today he knocked his small rucksack in the river, which
was rather amusing.

Ok, I think it´s time I finished now.

(this entry was written on Friday, but because of this computer pissing around, I
wasn´t able to post it till todaz, so just emailed it to myself)