Saturday, September 29, 2001

Hey dudes, I'm in Zagreb, the sun is shining, the girls are hyper-attractive and wearing little. And most of you are stuck in the North of Scotland. Bad lack guys.

Yeah, sunny sunny Zagreb has quite taken me by surprise. It had never been part of our itinery before the chance meeting with the Croat girls, but I'm extremely glad I came. It's probably the best city we've been to so far. Busy but relaxed, and with a very European feel to it. And apart from the megagrumps of the people at the reception of our hostel (to quote a couple of their comments, "You know, I just don't care" and "You know the rules". Pricks) everyone is really friendly and pleasant, and with good English. And then you've got the Zagreb girls, oh yeah...

Ok, so we arrived in Zagreb yesterday afternoon after a long but not wholly uncomfortable bus journey. The previous night had been spent having a few drinks with yet more Australians and New Zealanders. I swear, the people from these countries are nomadic. You'd think we'd have bumped into a few Afghan refugees by now, as they make a mass exodus from America's new big enemy, but it's just Australian and New Zealanders everywhere. Fleeing from the obvious horror that is their country.

We found our hostel (crap but cheap) fairly quickly, and took a wander round the very pretty city. Of course, prettiness does not make a city (little Ljubljana was very pretty but after a couple of hours, very boring) but Zagreb had that tangible sense of purpose that a capital city should have. And attractive women. And even better, it had a tower on a hill that you could climb to the top of. Oh yeah. Any city that has a tower I can climb gets good marks with me. Towers were built for a reason - for me to climb. We caught it at sunset too, and it would have been really romantic, watching the sun melt into the hills beyond the city, but I was with stinking sweating Simon wearing his big plastic yellow beetle sunglasses, and that sort of kills romance.

We'd tried to get in contact with Nina a couple of times, to go out with her and the rest (Josipa, Jack and Nick) but they were out, so me and Simon ate at a pleasant little outside restaurant, with a very polite waiter, and returned back to the hostel where we finally got hold of Nina and agreed to meet in the big square with the big statue of a dude on a horse, at about 11pm.

So, we duly showed up, and to our slight surprise Moritz showed up - the German guy at the Pula hostel. We'd known he was in Zagreb, but didn't think he was going to contact Nina. With him he brought two Croatians - a girl he'd met over the internet called Eva, and some guy called Luca. The American guys and Croatian girls showed up soon after and the drinking commenced.

Well, it commenced after a bit of a trawl about town with no-one quite knowing where they were going, but we eventually settled in a pub with good priced pivo and everyone relaxed and talked for ages. A plan was formulated by the Zagreb residents to go to some club that was apparently free before 1am, but for it to be free you had to show some leaflet or something, and the only people with leaflets were some friends of Eva who only showed up at the pub after 1am. Still, the price was a reasonable enough 30kn (about 2 pounds 50) and we all headed in.

The music was awful, I must state this first of all, so any dancing that occurred later on in the evening should try and be forgotten by all present. Man, you haven't lived until you've seen the Big Nev bodypop. Nah, I controlled my movements (this was no Kia-Aura) and made extra careful to keep Simon out of sight. Every time I see Simon "bop" I'm haunted for days after. Simon may be talented at many things, but he was not born to dance. Upon dancing he immediately becomes a middle-aged man at the disco. Not that I'm claiming to be world class either, but fortunately any dancing by me is in a state of extreme inebritation so I never quite remember.

I didn't really dance much anyway. I got a seat and chatted up Croatian birds. Or Mortiz. No, well wasn't chatting up Moritz. I mean, he's got long hair but he's a bloke and he's German. I just talked for ages to anyone who was around, enjoying getting drink bought for me because I'd bought a large round earlier in the evening. Some random bird called Alica got the Big Nev chat, and would surely have succumbed to my charms had her friends not all whisked her away. She'd lived in Britain for three months - in Colchester of all places. Chatting up Croatian girls simply involves talking about them nicking the Bosnian coastline (which they seem rather proud of) and saying how great Goran Ivanisevic is. Which the man is.

Our whole group were cool actually. We've totally landed on our feet wherever we go, and meet really cool people. The slow-drawling American guys, the cool Croatian chicks, the gregarious German guy. At some stage Jack, Nick, Josipa and Nina left because they had to be up for 7.30am that day for some day-trip. Moritz, Eva and Luca disappeared soon after too (the last memory I have of Eva was of her falling down some steps). Which left us with the three friends of Eva's - Bozica, Maria and I didn't catch the third's name. They'd seemed a bit distant the whole evening, but with the others out of the way, we got talking to them and they turned out to be cool. Bozica especially, who I got on pretty well with. All mighty attractive too. I think there must be some law in Croatia forcing ugly birds indoors and out of view from foreigners.

So, unable to resist the Big Nev charms, I now have Bozica's phonenumber so should hopefully be aligning myself for a hot date tonight. Mind you, I won't speak too soon, she'll probably tell me to piss off. Or... oh damn, what was the word? She was teaching me how to swear in Croatian but I've forgotten what it was. I mean, I don't ever swear in English, but swearing in Croatian seems a little classier.

That's the situation then. We're spending a couple more days in Zagreb anyway because it's a great place and will hopefully team up with the Ameri-Croat group again. And I've my hot date tonight (maybe...) so everything's cool.

And I saw an amazing mullet near the train station today.

Thursday, September 27, 2001

It's Croatia and the sun is shining.

It shone yesterday too, except for one big damn black cloud which pissed down almighty. As you would expect, both myself and Simon were in the process of lugging our backpacks about looking for accommodation, and got right royally soaked.

Ok, so I'm now in a pleasant town of about 50000 people called Pula. On the coast as you might imagine. Go check out your maps and take a look at Croatia. It's just one big giant coastline, totally ripping off poor Bosnia. Look really close and you'll see that just to take the piss, they've given Bosnia the most tiny of coastlines. We've decided to go there later on, because we feel sorry for Bosnia's lack of coast.

So, it's been Piran to Buzet (in Croatia) and now Pula. It's all been great so far, and already I know the next couple of days are going to be pretty full.

Piran then. After my last entry, we stayed a couple more days, but not at the youth hostel but at a much cheaper campsite. We'd only booked the hostel for two days and wanted to stay longer, but a heap of damn schoolkids had infested the building so we were forced to evacuate. So that morning, we went to reception, paid our money and were literally about to walk out the door, when in walked Tammy.

Unable to bear the thought of not seeing me again, she'd gone to Piran to find me. That'd be the explanation if I was writing the script, but it had turned out she'd got her ice-cream selling job in the very nearby town of Portoroz, so had left Koper and gone into Piran to find somewhere to stay. So we all headed to the campsite, which was full of caravans with fences round them, and we set up camp next to yet more damn Kiwis and Ozzies. They're like a plague abroad, absolutely everywhere.

Anyway, we hung around for a while, fending off a mass attack of cats who sensed the tuna presence eminating from our tent, and met up with Tammy for a football match. It was Saturday, and NK Piran-Portoroz were playing the might of Kosona. Fixtures don't get bigger, and when speaking to a barman before heading to the match to get information, he just said "Jesus Christ" and we derived from him that NK Piran were "about 4th division".

This probably explained why the total number of spectators (ncluding the freeloaders who watched from the old town wall towers hat overlooked the pitch) was approximately 50. Tammy being female and Canadian, it was her first ever time to witness football played firsthand. We seem to have a habit of introducing Canadian females to football - Laura back in Trencin watched Trencin's glorious 2-0 victory over Slovan Bratislava.

This game was, however, less than glorious. It became evident after about 15 seconds that the level of ability involved was roughly equal to... well, a 4th division Slovenian football team. Oh yes, it was amateur, it was scrappy, and it certainly lacked the ferocity of Hungary vs Romania. One fan seemed somewhat electrically charged throughout the game, at one point leaping onto the spectator fencing, but of the remaining 49 spectators, I'm not exaggerating when I say the three of us were the most enthusistic. That is, Simon clapped, I groaned, and Tammy just made a lot of strange "hmming" noises.

The game ended 0-0. It rained all second half. A Piran player got sent off for dissent and there were a couple of nice saves and a couple more quite atrocious misses, but I'm afraid I got what I asked for when I went and saw a 4th division Slovenian football match.

EXCEPT - the referee had a mullet! And a good one too.

After th game then, we were wet, cold and hungry, so there simply was no choice but to get some food and get drunk. So a happy ending.

Yeah, so it was raining, and we were camping. Two things that seem to go hand in hand currently. We woke the next morning with that familar sound of loud drumming on our tent by heavy rain. I was feeling restless, so made the very foolish decision to go on a wander down the street (which was basically just a series of aggressive streams charging down the cobbled roads) and so fully deserved getting soaked utterly and comprehensively. I returned, very wet, to the tent, changed my clothes, and realised the tent was letting in increasing amounts of water, so we shifted it all under a sheltered area. And then we sat, and waited for the rain to ease.

Anyway, this is all completely irrelevant detail. I'm just meandering here. Basically, to soothe the pain of being soaked, we went out that evening with Tammy for some food, and then got drunk again. This time we managed to acquire an old alcoholic Slovenian woman who spoke no English, called Vera. She had one small hand, but was still quite good at arm-wrestling with the other, though I showed no mercy of course and beat her. We bought her drink and cigarettes the whole night, which in hindsight does seem a little irresponsible, but she seemed happy enough with the deal. She read Tammy's palm, with the barman translating, and was startlingly honest, beginning with the words "You will have an accident..." We stayed in the bar till about 3am (the joy of continental pub closing times) talking the universal language of alcohol.

The next day was warm and dry, and it was time for us to finally leave Piran. Our planned destination was Rovinj in Croatia, and we noted the bus departed at 4.45pm. So before that we packed up our stuff, and hung around with Tammy for a while. After sitting by the sea, we moved onto a cafe-bar we'd been to the day before, and should have realised our mistake immediately.

Tammy had meant to leave Piran the day before, to go to Ljubljana, but we'd all gone down to this one particular cafe where they sell pancakes, and she'd ended up missing her bus by 5 minutes, so had stayed the extra day. So to return there the day after was simply tempting fate, and fate was having none of it. We sat, had a drink, played a couple of games of chess (I'm up 4-2 in the series) and went to get our bus.

Discovering it left at 4.25pm, and not 4.45pm.

It is a little crazy how a simple thing as me misreading a bus timetable (the previous day in the pouring rain) and thus missing the bus, can have such repercussions on the overall trip. Because if we'd made the bus, we'd have got to Rovinj and a whole different series of events would likely have occurred. We'd have met various different people and various different things would have happened. But now, because of the missed bus, we're not bothering with Rovinj at all, and as a consequence of last night in Pula, our plans have taken another right angle turn.

More on that later. Back to the bus stop, and we simply got a bus to the bigger town of Koper to have more options of travel. Due to us getting there quite late, the only bus to Croatia was to some utterly unheard of town calld Buzet. Which we of course took, arriving there in darkness at 9pm, and quite fortunately having a hotel right in front of us upon getting off the bus - the only hotel in town. And it wasn't too expensive (12 quid, not cheap, but not breaking the bank). It had a TV too, and I got a double bed (which didn't have to be shared with Simon, thank God).

Buzet basically acted as chillout time for us. After days of drinking and camping in rain, it was great to have a comfortable hotel room, with a shower and bath (albeit very poor). I even got round to shaving my head and trimming my beard again. The beard especially was looking somewhat "fluffy".

Buzet was just a small town, but a town of two halves. One half - the old half - was perched on a big hill, and was full of winding streets Piran-style, and half the buildings wre crumbling. Some streets were eerily quiet. But it had a curious charm and I liked it (despite the fact I couldn't climb the big churchtower - come on people, sort this out). The other half - the new half - was below the hill and was just an unfocussed sprawl of buildings, with no recognisable town centre. But the weather was pleasant and I got about 8 hours sleep and was recharged.

The hotel owner very kindly drove us to the train station (strangely located about 5 miles out of town, hidden in a hill) in the second morning of our Buzet stay, and we got the train to Pula, accompanied by a pile of schoolkids. By a combination of bad luck and gross stupidity, we managed to spend about 4 hours finding the youth hostel, getting pissed on in the process. However, it was worth the effort, as it's a good hostel, by the beach in a very attractive bay, and with an all-important (outside) bar.

Me and Simon spent the evening in town, looking at stuff, and headed back to hostel about 9pm. In our dormitory room were two foreigners. Hiding my disgust, we spoke to them - a German called Maurice (or however it's spelt) and a Finn called Thomas. "A few drinks?" we suggested, and just as we were about to head outside two Americans and an Irishman arrived. Jack and Nick, the Americans, and Brendan the quite impossibly Irish Irishman. Seriously, Brendan was just too Irish. Wild dark hair and chirpy face. No way he's real. I must have imagined him.

So we all went outside, joined by two Croatian girls (Nina and Josipa) who had been working in America for a year and were with the Americans to show them some of Croatia. And suddenly more people arrived - an Irish girl and an Australian girl. Fortunately the table was full by this point, so no other damn foreigners joined us.

All this was against a backdrop of about 50 German schoolkids on a school outing, making a load of noise. Some of the girls were pretty good looking too, but they were all 18 so it's legal ok?

So our large group talked for hours, a big mass of conversation, and everyone got on well. To the conclusion that our plans have now changed and tomorrow we head to Zagreb where the Croatian girls live and they're going to show us where the good bars and pubs are. Both them and the Americans are pretty cool, so it should be a good night out. I also had an extensive argument with Nina about the Croatians stealing the Bosnian coastline, to the extent that we were within minutes of a Scotland-Croatia war, but fortunately matters were resolved.

That was all last night, and now we're onto today, where me and Simon have wandered about town, and into the mightily impressive 2000 year old Roman ampitheatre, where we met the American guys and the Croatian girls. It's a great day outside, and after I finish this I'm lkely going to have a swin in the sea outside the youth hostel. And then tomorrow - Zagreb, and don't ask me where the hell we're going to be after that.

Friday, September 21, 2001

Oh. An update on the mullet league table.

Reverse order...

15. Szechesfehervar - a quacking cat, but virtually mulletless.
14. Bled - all the beauty in the world can't compensate for low mullet numbers.
13. Ukenc (Bohinj) - cold, wet and only the merest hint of a mullet or two. A poor show indeed.
12. Heidelberg - the scarce mullet numbers seem a distant memory now.
11. Miskolc - Hungary didn't really go in for mullets.
10. Spissky Pophradie - a brave showing for such a small place.
9. Kezmarok - a few avergae mullets.
8. Ljubljana - at first they tried to hide, but dig deeper and mullets do indeed lurk.
7. Budapest - it promised so much, but the expected abundance of mullets did not appear.
6. Frankfurt - a kid with dreadlocked mullet! That's devotion.
5. Trencin - plenty of fine mullets.
4. Brno - a mullet around every corner.
3. Koper - a small town but bursting with mullets from every crevice.
2. Kosice - oh Lordy. Mullets of all sorts, everywhere.

1. Prague - simply breathtaking. Mullets packing the streets. Even two benchfuls filled with many different mullets.
Aha! Here goes for getting everything up to date. I'm still in Piran, nursing a mild hangover in the morning after going out with Simon for a quiet pint and ending up at a bar talking to some drunk old Slovenian seadog who kept saying "Scotland... Europe... together!" and seemed rather keen on bombing some Arabs. This led to us meeting a Frenchard named Phillipe and an Italian called Sergio, but he looked more like a John to me. Phillipe lived in Switzerland which, to those who know me well, is my most hated country in the world. So I duly gave Phillipe abuse about Switzerland, and he agreed with me about its many failings.

And we had a double mullet event! Not once, but TWICE in the evening, we were entertained by mullets playing music! The first was in the bar with the old drunk anti-Arab Slovenian fisherman, where a mulleteer picked up a guitar and began playing "House of the Rising Sun". He was quite good, although quickly deteriorated. But to hear a mullet play music live is always beautiful.

But it got better. We moved onto another bar (which to Simon's intense delight served Tennents lager, which tastes just as goddam awful in Slovenia as it does in its home country) and a live band were playing. And TWO of them had mullets. Verily, this was excitement indeed. They were rather good, with the unfortunate result that I witnessed Simon do what I would term a "minor bop". Simon dancing, even a little, is something no-one should ever witness. If I were a terrorist I'd simply bombard the world media with images of a dancing Simon, and the world would soon be on its knees.

Today then was simply spent looking around the very charming little town of Piran, and its less charming neighbour Portoroz. Portoroz is a cheap tacky holiday resort, a la Blackpool, and boasts its very own beach. The beach is a little underwhelming unfortunately, and resembles a dirty sandpit. We also, by rather large coincidence, bumped into the middle aged Irish couple that fed us in Bled.

Tomorrow we hope to see our third football match - Piran vs... um... a team beginning with K. Kosoran? I took a look at the pitch and I have high hopes that this could be our most obscure match yet.

So then, time now to catch up on previous events. I left you with the agonising cliffhanger of me being in Bohinj with toothache, going to bed at 8pm freezing my ass off despite four layers plus a sleeping bag, in the worst campsite I've been to yet.

Well, first thing the next morning we pissed right off, on the bus to Ljubljana and after a few hours wait, the train to Koper. I'm not sure why we decided to go to Koper, but I think it was probably because it was south and on the coast, therefore "warm". And we were right. Warm weather, praise be. Back to just a T-shirt.

We got into a youth hostel, which was actually a student halls of residence with a few spare rooms. And I think these were "college" students, therefore they lacked the sophistication and manners that I have in abundance. All they did was hang around outside, making noise, and watching mopeds speed up and down the road making a grossly disproportionate amount of noise for a vehicle so small. Koper was moped central. Heaps of pricks on mopeds, speeding up and down.

We got into our room and I went to clean my teeth (feeling much better). As I left my room I saw a girl in the room just up from me lock her door. I did a double take and my mind was flung back to Bled, as we waited with Cindy at the bus stop, as me and Simon were to go to Bohinj.

We'd got talking to another girl waiting for a bus, a Canadian called Tammy. We'd talked to her for about 20 minutes before she'd got her bus. She seemed pleasant, but it was really just a passing encounter. I looked at the girl at the door again. I was 80% sure it was her, so I said hello and yes, indeed, it was. Our first "re-encounter" of our trip so far.

Tammy seemed very pleasant and likeable, but beneath that pleasant exterior hid a marvellously maverick mind. She'd been travelling alone from about the same time we'd started, but her objectives were much different. She'd decided to go to Europe just 2 weeks before setting off, despite never having travelled before, and had decided to get a job in Slovenia despite not speaking any Slovenian. By a chance meeting in a cafe she was looking hopeful for a job in an ice-cream selling place, which would carry her through until she got a job teaching English. She also had a great aunt in Slovenia somewhere that she was preparing to meet, and was desperately trying to cram in some Slovenian phrases in her head. Her dream was to live in Myanmar of all places, the reason she'd taken Microbiology at university (although had dropped out) because she thought that because Myanmar had a high malaria level, they'd have a lack of microbiologists. Or something like that. The oppressive government didn't seem to bother her. One of the things I was most impressed with was that between the ages of 13 and 16 she'd saved up all her money to go and do missionary work in Venezuela. That's dedication. Between the ages of 13 and 16, I think the only thing I did was masturbate.

All this we learnt over the next few days, as we hung about together, went for a couple of meals, and went out drinking. A couple of breakfasts too, because they were free at the hostel, although truly revolting. The first night we went for a pizza then me and her (Simon had to go to bed because he'd been getting less than 10 hours sleep in previous nights) went to the astonishing "Club Elite". Astonishing because it was large, played tacky music, and had only a barman and 3 pervy old men inside. And cost UK prices. Man, I was unhappy.

The next day we all did our own thing for a while. Koper was a cool little place. Heaps of tiny uneven cobbled streets winding about maze-like, and it was on the coat. The sea! I've lived by the sea all my life (both Dingwall and Aberdeen) and this has been the first month of my life I've not seen the sea once. It's strange how you come to miss a gigantic body of water so much.

It was more drinks that evening, and we ended up in an Irish-type pub that resembled the Hogs Head. It even served Kilkenny, which was once my favourite drink (albeit for just one evening). Ah, I still dream of Caley 80. A pint of Caley 80 served Illicit Still style. Not 500mls like these continentals go for, but a good old British imperial pint.

That place closed at 12, but Tammy insisted we make a return to Club Elite, which this time had only the barman, who was called Mario it turned out. Tammy then hid on a balcony while we discussed football with Mario.

And football was supposed to the theme of our thirs day in Koper, if everything had gone to plan. We'd seen posters advertising what we thought was KC Koper vs Ljubljana Olimpija and so decided to go check it out. We spent the day doing various bits and pieces and having drinks at a cafe, and then all headed off to the stadium. It looked distinctly quiet all around. We went in and looked around but God knows what the posters were advertising because unless the Slovenian interpretation of football is for a heap of very tiny children (including one with a rat-tail mullet) sitting in disproportionately large hula hoops, it looked like the football was "off".

Not to matter though, more drinking time. We had a meal at a slightly out of the way restaurant, getting two shots of the local homebrew ("Ruda") for free into the process. We gave the waiter/owner a tip, and he was so delighted he gave us free drinks. Pretty toxic stuff too. It was then just another good old night of alcohol.

Oh yeah. We met the Syrians too that night. We met these guys every day we were in Koper. The first time was when me and Simon had our backpacks on, heading to the hostel, and three of them approached us wondering if we knew of where to exchange money. The second night they'd approached the three of us, this time wondering how to get to the harbour, and it turned out they were all crew in a cargo ship and we'd got talking to them. About all sorts of stuff, the World Trade Centre being one of them. The main Syrian guy who did all the talking thought Bin Laden was innocent. The third night we talked for ages. They were sitting on a bench drinking, and we saw them and talked to them. They liked us because we were just about the only people they'd approached that didn't walk away because they thought they were trying to sell drugs. We liked them because they were these hard drinking Muslim sailors, and Tammy had given us the idea of trying to hitch a ride. This great plan was foiled alas, not because Ishmael was against it, but the captain wouldn't allow for it. Besides, their next destination was Algeria. I believe the current situation in Algeria is less than stable.

Anyway, that was Koper, a nice little place we enjoyed a lot (and where Simon slept an incredible amount, and had some awful foot odour). It was Piran then, and that's everything up to date. We're going to head to Croatia in the next couple of days.

Yeah, so I've still got the Budapest stuff (with the eight Irish - Doireann, Griff, Marie, Rob, Louise, Darragh, Valerie, Sean - and two Germans - Arman, Johannes) and the rather crazy Szekerfehervar experience with the wonderfully hospitable Sajtos family and the quacking cat, but I'm out of time. Check out Simon's diary for details on that.

Thursday, September 20, 2001

Oh crikey. I've finally got a little time at a reasonably cheap internet place, and I've got to catch up on the last two or so weeks. I seriously doubt I'm going to manage it in one sitting but here goes. I'm in a very pretty coastal town in Slovenia, called Piran.

I'm going to start from Ljubljana, the day before the World Trade Centre went down. Before that was Budapest and the eight Irish, and then Szechesfehervavrvar and the Sajtos's and the quacking cat. I do intend to get it all in writing, but maybe not in this sitting.

Ok, so yeah.

So we spent a couple of days in the attractive but rather dull city of Ljubljana, camping in some place that was an hour's walk away from the main city. An hour's walk along this huge long straight and busy road, so on our second day there we opted for the bus. Ljubljana is undoubtedly a great city to live in, as there is a proliferation of bars and cafes and it's all very pretty. However, aside from lack of cheap accommodation and any sort of internet facilities, there really is very little to see for someone like me, who is uncultured enough not to really care about museums and only wants giant castles and towers and gothic architecture. I mean, Ljubljana had a castle, but it was a pretty pansy castle. Like a big house really. If I was a king I would've been embarrassed to live there.

So our first day there was unexceptional, and the people were mostly fairly surly (in stark contrast to the Slovenians elsewhere, who have virtually all been lovely). Simon was also a little grumpy because he'd had to get up at 7am, which is approximately 7 hours before when he'd prefer to get up in an ideal world. The 8 hour train journey had been ok, in as far as 8 hour train journeys can, but Simon had been pissed off that the passport guys had opened up his rucksack and asked him a few questions (like are you carrying drugs, or weapons). They barely even noticed me, which was a good thing because I had 20kg of heroin stuffed into my backpack.

The second day in Ljubljana is the one that you can all probably remember, because that was when two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, reducing it to rubble, another one crashed into the Pentagon, and another one just crashed. I'd spent the morning pissing around in Ljubljana but got bored so had gone back to the campsite, and lazed around feeling a bit ill - just a general exhaustion from the tiring last week. It was quite hot too. I had the radio on, listening to BBC World Service, but not much was happening, so I tuned into some bollocky Slovenian radio station, playing bollocky music. This went on for a while, until it was interrupted by a woman speaking Slovenian, in something that sounded vaguely like this: "zsz gjdjfjxj sisfjkhdf d dhskh vzvzvzvzv World Trade Centre ghhfjkdk djfhjh fh ffos explosion..." Intrigued, I went back to World Service and got the whole story as it unfolded.

When Simon returned from Ljubljana, I told him the news and he'd just nodded and agreed with me, and only the voice of the BBC convinced him I wasn't making it up.

I didn't see the very bizarre pictures until the following evening. Crazy to think I was there last year, standing below them. And they are totally colossal. I didn't go up because I was short on time, but just reckoned I'd do it another time.

I saw the pictures in Bled, a small but popular town north of Ljubljana, in the Julian Alps and with an astonishingly attractive lake with a small island in the middle, with a church. By this time we'd been joined by two New Zealanders, and were about to begin three great days.

The first New Zealander we met in Ljubljana. Called Peter. He was in a nearby tent from us, and had been since we'd arrived the day before. I'd seen him about there, but not spoken to him because for some reason I presumed he was German because he had long hair. The logic behind this isn't worth explaining. But anyway, he'd seen the Scottish flag that Simon had very wisely bought in Budapest and so approached the tent and we got talking. We discussed plans and it appeared we were heading in the same direction, so the three of us went to Bled the following day.

The second New Zealander appeared as if from nowhere. Wanted or unwanted, she forced herself upon us. She was called Cindy. As we got off the Ljubljana to Bled bus, she simply appeared. Waiting on unsuspecting prey perhaps. She just saw our backpacks, got talking, and we were all wanting to camp so headed round the lake and set up camp in an amazingly well facilitated and very attractively positioned campsite between a clump of hills. We set up our small colony of tents deep into the site, away from the caravanning riff raff.

Actually, some of these caravans were colossal. One looked like an armour plated fire engine. Half of them had massive unfolding canopes (if that's the right word) that took up a space three times bigger than the caravan itself.

It was a good day, and still just early afternoon, so we decided to check out the island in the lake. Seriously, the whole place was just too attractive for reality. A church on a small island in a beautiful lake with a small town clustered on one side with a castle perched on a colossal rock overlooking it all, and all surrounded by forested hills and huge craggy mountains providing the backdrop to it all. But the island was what first appealed to us, so the four of us went and hired a rowing boat, and after a "determined" effort by Simon, we managed to get there, and check out the church.

It was cool, but two things disappointed. Firstly, there was a big tower, and I wasn't allowed up it. Seriously, if you have a big tower, let people climb it. As the saying surely goes. But come on dudes, you can't make towers and then not let people go to the top. And then in the church itself was a bell, called the "Wishing Bell". A rope hung down in the middle of the church and you pulled it to ring the bells, and you were granted a wish. For the entire time we stayed at Bled, we heard this bell ring, from the various package toursts who got their gondola ride to the island. So it seemed fair enough I get my wish. But nothing happened. I pulled the rope and it didn't budge. Cindy tried too, but it simply wouldn't move. Somehow all these old people managed to get their wishes, but we were cruelly denied.

Perhaps a good thing. My wish was a little corrupt.

We went back to the campsite then, hung around for a while, watching a bit of CNN in the TV tent, and then later went out for some drinks in the town.

Day 2 in Bled was the best. The night certainly was the best night out I've had all trip so far, even if I don't remember half of it. It was another nice day, when the sun didn't stray behind a cloud, and the four of us went and ventured up to the castle on the giant rock overlooking everything. The castle itself was pleasant, but not as ferocious as some (namely Spisky Pophradie castle, which was the big almighty mother of castles) but the very magnitude of the rock made it seem impressive. We spent some time looking about, looking at the view, eating chocolate, then headed into town for a couple of pints.

We happened upon a pleasant little pub with a pleasant little outdoor area, and by coincidence found ourselves next to two Irish guys who Simon (but not the rest of us) had met in the campsite earlier. Martin and Derek. And suddenly, we had the makings of a great group, and a great night out.

It was a cool as hell group actually. Peter was laid back and easygoing, occasionally seeming somewhat bemused by proceedings. Cindy was a lot of fun, or so I feel obliged to say because she might be reading this. I actually hated the girl. Martin was a human whirlwind and Derek was just cool and laidback, providing an overall balance for the two of them. They were the epitomy of "Irish rascals". Simon was, as ever, Simon and me, well, what can I say? Tons actually, but for the sake of everyone I'll withhold.

So we all had a few pints, joined also by an Australian girl called Cristy that the Irish had met earlier on. Then we headed back to camp to get some food, arranging to meet at 8pm at the same pub. Officially in celebration of Peter's 28th birthday (which has actually been two days before and the swine hadn't told us) but unofficially for just a piss-up.

It's fair to say that my memory of the night has quite a few substantial holes in it, but what I do know is that our group somehow swelled in numbers very rapidly. From the initial four of us, plus the two Irish and the one Australian girl, we began picking up other people. Two were Scottish girls from inside the pub, that Simon overheard in conversation when one said the word "Edinburgh". They were on holiday with their parents (also in the pub and also very drunk) and joined us outside for drinks. By very strange turn of events, it transpired that one had actually met Simon before, at a party at his house hosted by his flatmate Sergio, whose parents of course hosted us in our first night in Frankfurt. Small world. These girls were drunk and loud. But quite amusing. An Australian guy and a Canadian guy also joined us, but my memories of them are a little vague. I do recall they seemed a little overwhelmed by the entire series of events.

So there was, I suppose you could say, a degree of drunkenness. We moved to another pub, swallowing up a middle aged Yorkshire couple in the process. They were very very Yorkshire. I won't pretend I can remember many details but I do know that I had a big conversation with the very Yorkshire woman, to do with her job. She worked in a factory, making marjorine tubs. This still seems like a slightly surreal memory to have.

I remember nothing more, but from what I'm told, our loud but good natured group stormed some quiet and plush casino bar and I fell asleep in a couch, clutching a glass of red wine. We got back to the campsite at about 4am, running latterly because it began to rain, and five of us (me, Simon, Peter, Cindy and Martin) ended up in Martin's tent pretending to drink red wine until Martin got so abusive we were forced to leave.

I woke the next day at about 9, feeling remarkably clear of any hangover. Travelling has been blessedly free of hangovers so far. It was raining, and there continued the theme of our last full day in Bled.

It rained. Sometimes it rained just very lighty, sometimes it pissed down with fury, but it always rained. I spent a little time in the TV tent (with various other English-speakers) watching CNN, and a little doing a small shopping, but before the evening, I was either tent confined or under a nearby shelter. And I tell you, rain on a tent all day drives you mental. It's so damn loud.

As it got dark, a certain bleakness set in. But then came our knights in shining armour. A middle aged Irish couple from a camper van in the site appeared through the pouring rain and offered to make me and Simon a meal. The woman had met Simon earlier in the day, and by virtue of our Scottish flag on the tent had located us and so made the offer, obviously sensing the misery at camping in torrential rain.

So that cheered things up, followed by the most wise idea of Cindy to go down to the nearby pub. Me, Simon, Peter, Cindy, Martin, Derek. A quiet few drinks...

It was wonderful to simply be somewhere that didn't have the continual drumming of rain. But more wonderful to be somewhere that sold drink, cheap. It was "hot whiskies" all round, ie warm whisky and heaps of sugar. The six of us took a corner and a pack of cards and spent the night playing various card games, drinking, talking and making noise. The middle aged Irish couple were also about, but they said they were too drunk to join us.

That was our final night in Bled, for the following day our group had to split. Peter went with Martin and Derek to Italy, and Cindy went to Salzburg to get a 1 pound flight to London. Me and Simon? We perhaps made the worst decision. We went to the Bohinj valley.

To be fair to the Bohinj valley, we saw it under the most wrong of circumstances. It's a series of small towns situated around a lake, deep into a valley with mountains towering all around. We arrived there in the afternoon and it seemed pleasant, and the mountains looked quite impressive. We'd timed our visit with some cow festival that was supposed to be happening, that involved cows and drinking I believe. We arrived on Saturday. The cow festival was on Sunday.

On Sunday it rained and rained and rained. And it was cold, freezing cold. And I had toothache.

Now, many would say my toothache was slightly deserved. My diet of recent has consisted of much chocolate and much fizzy drinks, but I suspect it was the hot whiskies that were the killer blow. I woke on Sunday morning freezing cold, listening to continual rain, and with teeth that became progressively more painful as the day went on.

The cow festival, it seemed, was off. There was some stuff in the morning, but by the afternoon it had disappeared. Killed by the freak cold and wet weather conditions. There was nothing to do in the tiny town of Ukenc, where we were staying. Nothing. A tiny pub, a restaurant which closed early, and a few hotels. No actual sign of houses, just tourist accommodation. The campsite became almost deserted, as those more wise than ourselves disappeared elsewhere. I was wearing four layers, and was still frozen. For entertainment we wandered the cold and empty streets until it became dark. I took some painkillers and we went to bed, cold and miserable, at 8pm.

And with that happy note I must go now. More later.

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Ok, email seems to be back on track so my breathe address is fine to send stuff too. I've got a bit of a backlog of emails to catch up on, but I'll try and get through them all when I have a chance.

I'm in the pleasantly warm town of Koper now, with little winding roads and countless cafes. We're hopefully going to see a football match tonight - FC Koper vs Ljubljana Olimpija, and tomorrow it's to the allegedly charming town of Piran. That's if we don't get a lift off these Syrian sailors... (I'm actually not joking here)

We've teamed up with a Canadian girl Tammy, who we first met up the Bled bus stop with Cindy (a Kiwi) and then by total chance we happened to bump into her at Koper. She at first seemed pleasant and normal, but after a couple of days it's become apparent she exists in a rather charming world of her own. She's managed to get a job in Slovenia selling ice-cream, despite not speaking Slovenian, which is pretty good going.

But more, much much much more later.

Monday, September 17, 2001

My damn email isn't working. It's probably just temporary but if there is something mportant you need to send, go for
Internet access is appalling in Slovenia, hence this is the only chance I'v had to write in a week. I'm back in Ljubljana, just for a few hours until getting a train to Koper. It's been a great week mostly. A few days in the very beatiful Bled getting drunk with Kiwis and Irish and various other undesirables, plus getting fed by an Irish couple with a camper van. Then a few days in Bohinj which was freezing cold and miserable. I've been camping the whole time and believe me I'm looking forward to a proper bed.

A full comprehensive report later - I'm only allowed 15 minutes on this public library computer.

And yeah, the World Trade Centre news in just as big in Slovenia as it is everywhere else. I caught the news as it broke on the World Service and have seen the rest unfold on CNN in the TV tent in the Bled campsite.

More later.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Hey guys, I'm still alive but intnernet access has been virtually impossible recently. Unexpectedly I find myself in Ljubljana, for reasons I'll go into when I have more time. It' been a great few days, from getting very drunk with a whole heap of Irish people in Budapest, plus a couple of Germans, and then going to Szekesfehervar where we stayed with the most wonderful and hospitable couple ever - Mr and Mrs Sajtos. And our only means of communication was by Simon's very dodgy German with Mrs Sajtos's very dodgy German. A long story, but one worth telling, but as I'm in a public internet library thing, I'm only allowed 15 minutes and my time is running out fast. I'm going to search the place for somewhere else, but I don't think there is anything.

Thursday, September 06, 2001


The Hungarian football team. How much do you know about them? Well, in the 50's they were actually the runners up in the World Cup, losing to Italy I believe. However, that was nearly half a century ago and what was the last you heard of their footballing prowess. In fact, I don't think I can even name a single Hungarian football player (if Justin is reading this, then I challenge him to even name one). However, that didn't stop us yesterday from attending Hungary vs Romania in the World Cup Qualifiers. And man, was that an experience.

Yeah, me and Simon took a wander to the stadium yesterday to see if there were any tickets going still, and to our surprise there were. Three price ranges, so we obviously went for the cheapest. 5 quid? Man, that'd buy me food for a week. Or a couple of Slovakian hookers no doubt. But for an international football game, it was pretty good so we got one each, plus one for our Israeli friend "Zaci" (I have no idea how to either write or say his name, it was just a series of sounds unknown to the English language).

And by the way. Although I know my grandfather won't be reading this - don't worry Granpda. I haven't been converted to the Israeli army and I'm still not Jewish. I am however a little more tanned than usual.

So after a day in Budapest wandering around and checking out stuff, like buildings and hills and statues and islands, we headed to the stadium to make it just before kickoff - 8.15pm. Kenneth, a guy from Hong Kong, was also with us.

We got into the stadium, found our seats and suddenly became aware of the cauldron of hatred we had just entered. It seems Hungary needed to win the game to have a chance of World Cup qualification, plus it was against Romania, a neighbouring country. Plus we were in the cheap seats, and the seats nearest to the very fenced off Romanian fans. And plus, everyone was a skinhead.

Anyway, we did survive and quite comfortably, but compared to the game we saw at Trencin, this was an entirely different experience. Trencin was a sunny afternoon with the family. This game was a very wet evening definitely not for the family, unless the family are a bunch of ferocious skinheads of course. The moment the match kicked off, there was a rush of people to the front (seating was entirely disregarded) and a virtually continuous torrent of furious chanting towards the Romanian fans - "Fiyago" being the mos popular. Within five minutes a smoke bomb had gone off right in the middle of this cluster and riot police charged in to break up some fight that had taken place, and the riot police remained at the front the entire game. Various objects were thrown at the police and although I was tempted to join in the fracas, I kept a respectful distance. Actually, I was ok, but it emerged that Zaci was half Romanian which was a fact he wisely didn't disclose to the Hungarian fans.

Anyway, Romania scored after 11 minutes which seemed to subdue the Hungarian fans a little. They still made a hell of a noise but they stopped kicking each other in and letting off bombs.

It ended up 2-0 to Romania, with Hungary squandering some quite awesome chances. Honestly, I even believe a Scottish striker would've done better (mind you, as we lost 2-0 to Belgium, maybe not). So although disappointment for the furious Hungarian fans, it was a big victory for the refeering which I have to say was immaculate. Yup, because the referee was none other than Hugh Dallas, a Scotsman, and the linesmen were also fellow Scots.

So the football game was yesterday's highlight certainly, but the day before (Tuesday) was also quite fun. I wrote my last entry then, but it was upon going back to the hostel that we met Zaci, the Israeli, who was also in our dormitory. He spoke good English and even understood my mutterings, mostly. Simon always speaks BIG and LOUD to foreigners, so they have no problem understanding him, although they probably wonder why he's speaking so BIG and LOUD. He was going out to meet Kenneth, the guy from Hong Kong who was also in our dormintory (though we hadn't met him at the time) so we joined him and got a few photos, then Kenneth went back to the hostel because he was tired, so the three of us had absolutely no choice but to go the pub.

To our horror, we we charged almost 500 Forints for a pint (well, 500mls) at the first pub, which is almost 1 pound 30, so we moved on to a place Zaci knew of, which was only about 70p a pint. You know, still a bit pricey, but you've got to splash out now and again. We were talking for a while when suddenly this girl from either New Zealand or Australia (I forget, but it's the same thing anyway) appeared, having heard our English-speaking. She went to get an ashtray from the neighbouring table, and it turned out they were also from Britain, so they ended up joining us too.

I didn't get to say much to the NZ/Oz girl because I ended up speaking to the three Brits (actually, two Brits and one Finnish guy) - Fee, Timo and Gary. They wre all medics from London and were travelling round mostly Western Europe for about a month, and were staying at the youth hostel me and Simon had tried for, but had been full up. I spoke to them for ages, with drink steadily flowing. Simon didn't like them because they had English accents so he and Zaci left early, but I stayed on and talked about stuff until I looked at my watch and realised it was half 12 and I had half an hour to find my way back to the hostel before the 1am curfew. I made it with a whole 10 minutes to spare.

I think that's about most of our activities of recent (though if you check out Simon's diary, he'll have out in stuff I'd forgotten about. But it's been a fun couple of days, definitely. Today I intend to go to the thermal baths, alone because Simon'a scared of water, and tomorrow we leave Budapest and go to some place called SZxdzxhzdzhdzzddhxzdzdxdzxhzxdxyyy, about 100 miles away. Simon knows some bird there, who doesn't know we're arriving, so we're just going to turn up on her doorstep.

Ok, bye. Write me emails remember, dudes.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

WHAT? I've just read Simon's ( farce of an entry and the total garbage he wrote about the chess games. The first game I won due to vastly superior play - he was gunned down on all fronts. I only lost the second game because of a stupid error by myself, before which Simon was in all sorts of trouble. So yeah, it's 1-1, but if I cut out gigantic errors from my game, I really can't see Simon winning any more.

First of all, separate from all my travel nonsense, congratulations to my brother Ian and his girlfriend Katherine for now officially being engaged.

Ok ok ok. And it's finally out of Slovakia and into Hungary, home of goulash and an absolutely impossible language which has no similarity to any previous language so far. Thank God for universal words - internet, Pepsi, Tesco and of course, sexshop. I'm actually in Budapest right now, which I'm curiously finding quite appealing despite it being a heap of very big and busy roads that happen to have some buildings in between. We haven't yet explored very far as we only arrived a matter of hours ago, spending ages trying to find accommodation.

The first hostel was full up so we were told of another one, which was another long walk away. We eventually managed to locate it, and Simon managed to almost book us a double bed together, in a single room. I think him asking for "a bed for the two of us" threw the Hungarian dude with only broken English. Thank God the double bed cost 22 pounds a night, which was way too much and we managed to eventually get the guy to recognise that we were not in fact gay (Simon saying "We are not homosexuals" helped I think) and we got cheap, normal dormitory beds. Separate beds.

We haven't done much in Budapest, except wander the busy streets and breathe in the filthy air. We checked out the big bridge over the Danube but will save the proper explorations of the old town tomorrow. Then we found this slightly overpriced internet place (3 pounds for 2 hours, not bad but simply not the cheapness of Slovakia) and here I am.

Yeah, so we got here a few hours ago after spending last night in a northern town called Miskolc. It was perfectly pleasant, but very average. Nothing to distinguish it from anything else. It had one curious fountain, but as that very famous saying goes "One fountain does not a town make." It's a famous saying I've heard countless numbers of times. We looked around, had a drink, did some shopping, went back to the cheap motel. I drank a bottle of red wine. And that was our day there. Pleasant, but not exciting.

I am drinking a fair bit these days actually. It's so damn cheap. You could actually get beer cheaper than water in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I'm not sure yet of Hungarian prices, but they seem cheap so far. Although I suspect Budapest could be an expensive few days.

I'm not sure what else there is to tell you. All that's happened since I lastr wrote is that we left Kosice for Miskolc and then to Budapest today. Oh, that Kosice tower block became very populated suddenly also, by students obviously starting the term. Damn students.

Ok, that's everything. A pleasant if unexceptional few days.

Sunday, September 02, 2001

Ok, not much to update since the last entry. Still in Kosice and we will be until tomorrow as Simon has photos he's put in for development. From there, it's to some obscure place in Hungary because there's absolutely no trains or buses to Debrecen or Budapest at a sensible hour.

I'm beginning to despite the place we're staying in. Sure, it might cost only 3 pounds a night and affords a lovely view over the city...BUT - there is an 11pm curfew. What? What the hell? 11pm curfew, you bunch of fascists. It absolutely ruined last night's plans. I was seeing on posters some club night advertised, and I checked out its webpage and the place actually looked quite good. It was on 10pm to 6am. Obviously Simon's not interested, and that's fair enough, but I reckoned I'd go along about midnight and see how it looked. With, I thought, the option to simply go home if it wasn't for me. But of course, upon hearing about the curfew there was suddenly a lot more at stake. That is, if the place was rubbish I'd have to wander the cold, dark Kosice streets alone, until about 8am. I did seriously consider it, but the curfew won. Damn them. Damn them all to hell. Still, there's be other nights, in other places, in hostels and hotels without curfews.

The thing is, there's really no point in the curfew. Do you realise how many people actually live in this massive tower block? Out of an estimated 500 rooms, we reckon there's up to about 8 in use. The place is dead. It's in pieces too, crumbling to oblivion. Yesterday I wa having a bath (carefully worked, as the cold water tap doesn't work) in highly suspicious looking yellow water and suddenly evrything went dark. I thought the bulb had blown but it turned out the power for the entire block had gone. The lifts didn't work. Man, an hour later and I'd have been in that lift, highly suspect as it is. I'm going to take photos of this lift so you can all appreciate the risk to my life I take every time I get into one of these things.

So I hate my residence rihgt now, despite it's gritt communist appeal.

Otherwise, nothing terribly dramatic to report. We're going through a "quiet" phase it seems. Just looking around the city, eating, sleeping, listening to football on the World Service. Slovakia's been great, but I think it's time we moved on now. To Hungary, with it's goulash and Lake Balaton. And yet another incomprehensible language.