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.

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