Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Hi guys. In Sofia - there's been a very sudden change of plan. Because me and Simon are now going to appear in a Bulgarian magazine which comes out on Monday, we're not going to Istanbul tomorrow, but Romania on an overnight train tonight, then return to our lovely hostel in Sofia to pick up this magazine featuring us. THEN we go to Istanbul, almost a week late.

More later, I was just in checking on the visa situation for Romania as all our plans have changed in the last 2 hours. In Romania we may get a chance to write properly, and I promise I'll reply to some emails.

And mum - excellent. You're a lifesaver.

Monday, October 29, 2001

This is to the bunch of kids who are in this internet place with us, making a heap of noise and annoying the hell out of me


I bet they all die before I do.
So... it's... Skopje, everyone's favourite city in Macedonia. The city that a couple of weeks ago we were warned not to go to by someone in Dubrovnik because they'd met people who'd arrived there and found themselves in the middle of a gunfight. So we had to check it out then, obviously. Nah, apparently these people turned up at 1am in Skopje and we planned it a little wiser and made it for just after 1pm.

Skopje was certainly not planned though. But unexpectedly I met the girl I'm going to marry in Prishtina, and so we're now travelling together. Simon's gone to Sofia, I believe.

No, no, just joking. No, the damn guy who told us that there was an 11am bus from Prishtina to Sofia turned out to be a filthy, ugly, stinking, fat liar. He can suck my cock, the retarded prick. Nah, I don't hold him any big grudges, but I hope his family are killed in a mortar attack. It meant that our supposed bus to Sofia didn't exist, so we took the next best thing, an 11.30am to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.

First of all, our time in Prishtina. Pretty unexciting actually, but after our chaotic Albania experience that was just what we wanted. We decided to stay over the weekend, not due to any great desire to stay in the city for three days but because we were out of money and needed to wait till Monday for the bank to open. And as it happened anyway, Kosovo isn't yet geared for international money withdrawals so we ended up having to change all our remaining dollars and Simon's pounds to just scrape paying for the hotel and subsequent bus.

So, our second day in Prishtina was spent wandering, and me buying some pirate CDs. Oh man, if only I'd more money and space, I'd have bought hundreds. One pound a CD. We lounged about rather a lot, and in the evening bought a dirt cheap bottle of wine and dirt cheap litre bottle of whisky. The wine lasted seconds, and we valiantly made our way through the whisky. All this was done by candlelight because the electricity supply in Prishtina was highly erractic and cut out for the entire night. So we drowned our sorrows with revolting whisky (but for 4 pounds for a litre, I'm not complaining) and I believe I fell asleep on the floor. Because I certainly woke up on the floor. I suppose Simon might have rolled me off the bed during the night.

What a horrible thought.

Talking of thoughts, in the bus today I suddenly forgot how to think. Seriously, it was really off-putting. I think I was at that point just before dozing, and for some reason I was thinking about a prince (I really don't know why) and suddenly the concept of "orange" burst into my head and got entirely confused with the concept of a "prince" and I found myself utterly baffled, and unable to think properly for at least 2 minutes. I'm ok now though, don't worry.

Ok, that was a bit of a tanget. Our final full day in Prishtina was absolutely uneventful. Really, aside from the electricity going on and off, there is absolutely nothing of any interest that happened that day. I just lazed. EXCEPT...

...I've been the victim of crime. No joking. Admittedly I could be worse off, such as decapitated or have my face burned in an acid attack, but nonetheless I've suffered from a crime. It's a bit of an odd one, I'm still trying to figure it out. But that day I decided to casually flick through my photos. I got them all developed in Kotor and each set came with it's own free little photo album that I put each photo carefully into. So, I went to look at my photos and... a whole set of photos were loose. Packed together neatly, in order, but out of their album. And the album had gone. Eight remained, but the ninth... had vanished. Someone had taken all my photos out an album and taken the album. I'm completely confused. The only possible perpatrator of this crime can be the cleaner at the hotel, because she tidied all our stuff away. And stole my photo album?

Anyway, I think that just about shows you the great excitement that's been had recently. Sop, we're in Skopje now, which has turned out to be really rather pleasant. A cynic might describe it as anonymous but I think I had image of Macedonia being another primal Albania type of territory, but Skopje is pretty and modern and not backwards at all. It even has a MacDonalds which though hardly a commendation, is something that all the countries I've been to recently have lacked. Not that I've gone to it, of course. I've been sampling the local food... a pizza slice from the large shopping mall. Travelling is such a cultural experience.

The hostel is extrmely pleasant too, if a little anti-septic. But I'll take anti-septic when that means clean, warm water, proper toilets, comfortable and not infested with evil.

Is that everything then? Yup. Sofia tomorrow, for a couple of days. I hear there's a very high rate of violent assaults on tourists there.

Just joking mum.

Saturday, October 27, 2001

I've just read Simon's diary and see that he has made his "hilarious" acryllic joke about the Cyrillic alphabet. He seems disproportionately amused by the joke. The first time he told it, it was passable in an instantly forgettable way. But some jokes are like radiation and have a half-life, getting less funny each time you hear them. I'd venture that Simon's jokes have a quarter-life - that's if they were every funny in the first place.

His Cyrillic alphabet joke has long ceased to amuse.
Ok, and time for the all new and updated Top 10 Mullets of each place I've been. The only true way to judge a place.

10. Zagreb - specialising in skullets (ie, bald with mullet) which existed in plenitude. Also, heaps and heaos of guys with chinbeards, which obviously don't count here, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
9. Trencin
8. Pula
7. Brno
6. Koper
5. Kosice
4. Tirana - the Albanians went big style on mullets
3. Piran - mullet singers, mullet guitarists, mullet referees. A small town with high profile mullets.
2. Prague - finally, knocked from the number one spot. Mullets everywhere, benchfuls of them. A magnificent mullet city, with only one better so far...

1. Shkodra - oh my Lord. How can it be possible for so many mullets to exist in a town of 80000. EVERYWHERE. An audacious land of mullets of every kind - kid mullets, skullets, femme mulle's, a dwarf femme mulle (!) and just mullets coming at you from every direction. It is the first time in my life I have ever been mulletted out.
Good morning everybody. How are you all? Wonderful. I'm in the exceptionally cold city of Prishtina right now. I think the best to way to proceed is to actually go to the handwritten travel diary I'm keeping and write, word for word, what I wrote at 2pm yesterday, in the depths of despair. It says everything that needed to be said then:

************(2pm yesterday)********

"I think we're getting quite a lot of stares right now," Simon says to me.
"Backpackers probably aren't terribly common in Prishtina," I reply.
"Then we're pioneers!" Simon says, determinedly.
"Or idiots."

So this is the Prishtina Fiasco.

I'm sitting in the bus station. Again. It's damn freezing. Still. There's a bus to Sofia. Hurray! It's 9am tomorrow. Odjebi. Prishtina has nowhere even remotely budget to stay. We have nowhere to go, nowhere sensible and cost effective. Except here. At the bus station, with our backpacks.

We have one vague hope. Simon knows some guy in some place called "Jgakova". He's checking his email now. If this guy has got back to him with even vaguely positive news, we're off there today. And we'll be alright. Somewhere to sleep. Somewhere with water. Somewhere warm.

Otherwise it's the night in the utterly bleak and cold bus station. Miserable and freezing cold. Unable to go anywhere because there's no left luggage. What a way to die.

Blame all of this on Simon. I don't care if that's harsh. He's the only reason we're here. To hand in some letter to the student union and then "hope" they'd give us somewhere to stay. Perhaps informing them of our arrival would have been helpful. Instead, after a trek to the old student union (now some UN building) and finally, after a search, locating the new one, we waited two damn freezing damn hours until hearing the president wasn't around (strangely, not anticipating the arrival to two Scottish backpackers, he was elsewhere doing stuff) so Simon just handed in the letter and we headed back to the bus station - via an overcomplicated route - to find there's nothing going anywhere remotely useful until tomorrow morning.

This is on top of a whole night without sleep anyway. After returning to our filthy, water-less, scabby hotel yesterday, getting soaked, we went to the bus to Prishtina. 6pm to 5am. Mostly on Albanian roads. The damn backwards Albanians are unable to have roads that do anything but crumble utterly, so the journey was - and I don't exaggerate - one continuous aeroplane landing simulator, crashing about violently. It didn't help that the driver had loud Arabic-Indian music blasting loudly the entire journey which became most irritating after the first half hour.

There was a Kosovan Albanian called something like Fahil on the bus who spoke tto us - or Simon - in German. He seemed ok. We thought he'd proved useful by informing us that approaching a KFOR British guy would likely get us a room for about 4DM, but this turned out to be bollocks.

Indeed, upon getting off the bus at the icy cold bus station at 5am, we could do nothing but sit and wait. Freezing. A cafe opened at 6am, which gave us an hour drinking two coffees, then I paid 50 pfennings not to have a crap at a filthy bus station toilet. Or hole in the ground rather. Dammit ass. Crap. I haven't done so properly in days and sometimes I feel like a desperately need to but obviously the horror of such hellhole toilets scare my body rigid.

We took a freezing cold 7.30am walk into town and I waited by a building while Simon did some futile searching for accommodation. In fact, other than the fact that Albanian exit customs didn't seem to bother with us thus saving us $10 each on exit, this turned out to be the saving grace as an American 50-something policeman/military guy at the adjacent cafe bought me a coffee and I was able to sit in relative warmth. He'd been in Kosovo for a year and a half, with 7 months left, and seemed totally terrified of Albania, especially the north with he regarded as highly dangerous.

Then the fruitless trek on this letter delivery mission. What a waste of time. All I've eaten today is some chocolate roll type things and a bag of sour cream and onion crisps. In quick succession which I'm sure my digestion won't like.

I need a piss now. Hurry up Simon. Hurry up. Man, another 18 hours of this. There is no God.

I'm in a bad mood, yes. Oh yes. I'm tired, hungry, filthy and freezing cold. Thank God for Alice and the gay Norweigan fisherman jumper. Without itt I cannot see how I'd have survived. Really. It's ultra-warm and even now I'm chilled.

What a way to die. Goodbye cruel world. Hope the Arabs extinguish the lot of you.


So yeah, not at top form there, but things changed upon Simon's (eventual) return. He went from sinner to saint. Well, perhaps not quite saint, but the hell I'd comdemned him to changed back into a limbo sort of state, where he'll likely remain for a while, until further judgement. He'd checked his email, but the guy in Jgakova hadn't come through, so he'd done some searching and after ages, by asking numerous military personel, he'd finally located rooms for 70DM. Working out at about 12 pounds each, which is just within our very upper limits we're willing to spend on accommodation, occasionally.

It's turned out to be excellent accommodation too. Private rooms with a hot shower, proper clean toilets, a TV, and comfortable beds. It would be warm and heated too, but (like Albania) the electricity supply is notoriously unreliable and so the power keeps cutting out and so the TV, heaters, and bathroom lights have proved useless. Fortunately the main room lights are on some sort of emergency supply.

So what have we done since get there? Well, I've done a Simon, you could say, and from 7pm to 7am I slept. More or less soundly. Simon managed 6pm to 7am. And then we ate breakfast, and now we're here.

Prishtina is bitterly cold right now, although it may warm a little as the day goes on. The American guy who bought me coffee reckoned it was winter, coming early. Because just a couple of days ago we were enjoying wonderful sunshine, and suddenly now I'm wearing a T-shirt, a gay Norweigan fisherman jumper and my crappy "cag in a bag" jacket, and I'm still cold.

We're going to spend the day in Prishtina, then piss off to Sofa for a couple of days, and then Istanbul. Head south from the coldness basically. Prishtina, for all it's ugly communist buildings and lack of obvious sights, does seem rather intriguing. It might be the very high military and police presence, and as a result, the vast ethnic diversity. I've seen the first black faces in almost two months, with American troops (and other countries too I believe). It feels completely safe as a result, and the lunatic driving of Albania isn't present. Likewise the horn-happy drivers. I do wonder how the place will cope when the military eventually pull out, as the economy seems prettyt dependent on the huge number of wealthy foreigners, and while the place is currently abound with pleasant new shops and buildings, somebody and some time is going to have to make sure the place doesn't crumble into the mess that is Albania once it loses all the troops.

So, from what looked to be disaster, we've managed to just get by. We've been winging it for quite a while now, and I think we were very lucky not to have had to spend that night at the bus station. Caution is going to have to observed for a while now, because I don't know long our luck can really hold out for. Nevila and Izet in Shkodra was a gigantic piece of fortune as they not only set us up for Shkodran accommodation, but also in Tirana, and Tirana appears to have nothing else obviously budget (and we'd never have found our filthy hotel without their help). Our luck failed in Prishtina, but hard work by Simon saved us. But I don't want to have to be in yesterday's situation again. Sofia looks to have good budget accommodation, and Istanbul is awash with hostels, so we should be alright.

But my advice to any travellers wanting to go to Albania or Kosovo is - don't. Not unless you're sure you can find somewhere to stay. Or you don't mind freezing cold damn bus stations.

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Oh man. We're in Albania now. A different country and, oh boy, an entirely different world.

We arrived in Albania a couple of days ago - Monday. Our final night in Montenegro was spent in the company of Vekac, drinking. Me and Vakec on pissy lager and Simon on the hard stuff - mineral water. Simon's off alcohol right now, the big gay poof, because he's paranoid that it's giving him "problems". The only thing giving me problems in the last few days is the godawful toilet situation. Foreigners, come on. Toilets are not sophisticated inventions - they've been around for 100 years. At the very least, given that we've got to turd into a damn hole and bring our own toilet paper, at least give us a damn door to the toilet. Do you really think I'm going to go in public? Sort this foreigners - now.

Monday morning then and only suffering mildly from the effects of pissy lager, we were up for 7am and got the 9am bus, after a farewell to our Serbian metalworker hosts. We'd stayed the night in the supplies building, which was infested with insects and I'm still itching from the various insect attacks to my arms. That damn divebombing fly was about too. He was in Miskolc, Koper and Kotor too, bizzing around before divebombing loudly into your ear. I'm sure it's the same one. I've seen him a few times and each time he's looked identical.

To Podgorica then, the unremarkable capital of Montenegro. Our plan was to go to Albania so we checked out the bus times. Hmm... no buses to Albania. We checked out the train times. Hmm... no trains to Albania. In fact, Montenegro really didn't want anybody to go to Albania. A bus to Istanbul, no problem, but not one to the country just 30km away. Further checking revealed a single bus to Prishtina (Kosovan capital) at 7am. Meaning we'd have to hang around for a day in nondescript Podgorica, with no apparant cheap accomodation.

Thank God for taxi drivers - and that's something I never expected to say. Seeing us sit at the bus station with our backpacks, one approached us, and he spoke good functional English. He said he'd take us to the Albanian border for 40DM in total - about 13 pounds. Less than 7 pounds each, and after consideration we reckoned this to be a pretty good deal. Nema problema, we told him, and off we set.

t didn't take us long to realise why there was no bus service to Albania. The road, winding through the mountains, was single-track and in fast decay. Even our friend the taxi driver wasn't able to drive fast. He did however warn us a number of times as to the barbaric nature of all Albanians, and that it was very dangerous over there. His concern was touching, obviously, but didn't extend so far as to not drive us there and not get his money, and so we duly arrived at the remote and dusty border controls between Montenegro and Albania. Bleak hills all around with just a reedy lake to interrupt them.

Getting across was no big hassle. The Montenegran border police were rather fun actually, seemingly impressed by our small knowledge of Serbian (aka Croatian, Bosnian), and laughed and joked with us. The Albanians were a little more sour, and we had to pay $30 for the privilege of entering their country. You damn swines.

Our options once across into Albania were limited. Walk for many hours, or get another taxi. Fortunately, the Albanian speaking taxi driver who approached us only wanted 20DM to take us to Shkodra, a town in the very far north of Albania. This seemed a fair deal, and our only option anyway, so we said "Po!" (yes in Albanian, we weren't just gabbling) and off we went.

Albania is just one big farming community, as we soon discovered upon driving along the bumpy, narrow road to Shkodra. With dark mountains silhouetted in ther background, all around was a steady stream of small farming crofts. Not unlike how I imagine Britain might have been many years ago. Just heaps of small farms scattered up until the foot of the mountains. The only thing suggesting the 21st century being this dusty road cutting the land in two, with Mercedes taxis motoring along and beeping at every possible occasion. Oh yes, the Albanians sure do love their car horns.

We arrived in Shkodra, but it took us a while to realise we'd actually arrived in this town of 80,000, as it really just appeared to be a slightly more concentrated area of farming houses, until arriving in what I presume was the town centre, a noisy, beeping, filthy mess of cars, mud, dust, horses and carts, people, bicycles, stalls and anything else the Albanians cared to throw in. We were dropped off by the "bus station" (a dirty road with some transit vans, I kid you not) and almost immediately were dragged into a travel ageny by a man and woman.

Here is what the foriegn office website says about north Albania - "There is still the possibility of threats from armed criminal gangs in the far north..."

Here is what the Lonely Planet book says about it - "Once in Albania, general caution can be observed by never travelling at night and avoiding the northern part of the country, where banditry is particularly widespread"

Here is what all Serbians told us about Albania - "ALL ABANIANS ARE DANGEROUS BANDITS"

And here is what, basically, this man and woman in the Shkodra travel agency told us about Shkodra - "Never go out at dark","Never go out at dark, especially down this certain, main, street","Lock your hotel doors" and, what they concentrated on mostly, "Two months ago, two Czech brothers and a Czech girl came backpacking in Shkodra. They haven't been seen since, no trace of them exists."

I was beginning to feel a little unsafe.

We talked to this man and woman for ages. Well sort of. The woman was called Nevila (yes, a female Nev, I was most delighted) and the older man, Izet. Nevila seemed to speak multiple languages, including English, but preferred to communicate with Simon in German, and occasionally French, so my understanding of matters was sometimes limited. More than poor Izet though, who was limited to Albanian, and perhaps Italian. They appeared hugely concerned for our safety, and we must have stayed in that travel agency for about an hour, with this mostly German conversation taking place. Eventually, they said they'd find us accommodation, although I must stress for any future backpackers hoping to use them for such a purpose - they are a travel agency, not an accommodation agency. However, they do tours of Albania for groups, and so if any groups reading this are interested in tours of Albania, which I believe would actually be rather more interesting than your bollocky tours of France, get in touch with me or Simon and we'll set you up with them, ok?

The accommodation, conveniently, was in a hotel just across the road, the short distance perhaps minimising the risk of us getting slaughtered by bandits. It cost $10 altogether, which was a very decent price. They took us across and sorted all the details out with the receptionist, and told us to check back at their travel agency at 11.30am the next day, where they'd sort us out for a bus (ie tranist van) to Tirana. They also gave us an emergency phonenumber to call in case we looked like going the same way as these poor Czech backpackers.

So once in our pokey little hotel room, hiding under the bed for the night suddenly seemed a good option. But the sun was still shining and so with a deep breath, we hit the town.

It wasn't so dangerous, except for the highly erractic driving, and proliferation of big holes in the pavement, and soon we were speaking English to each other in more than a terrified whisper. The streets were filled with stalls selling local farm produce - fruit and vegetables mainly - and heaps of other stuff like clothes, tobacco, fish and wooden stuff. It was very clear that the people on the many farms in the badlands outlying Shkodra simply came into town each day to sell whatever they had. There were a few shops in town, but all small local things. No big chains, although coke and pepsi were, as ever, present. The streets were filthy, wrecked affairs, covered in mud and litter and horse crap, with broken and uneven paving stones. The whole scene was of a messy chaos as cars and vans chugged by, overtaking horses, and beeping their horns continually.

We spent a while just wandering, until light started to dim. Perhaps unwisely then, we actually wandered down this very street we'd been told not to go to at dark. It wasn't a conscious decision, we just happened to wander down it looking for a cafe, as it was a big street, and it was as we reached the end we suddenly thought "Oh, hang on..." By a junction in the road stood several police and several more balaclava-clad men holding what appeared to be semi-automatic weapons. Standing around, checking cars as they drove by. Tempted though we were to take photos, we decided to retreat to safety and found a pleasant cafe and had one beer before hiding for the night in our hotel room.

One toilet, by the way, served the entire corridor of our hotel level. It had a light, which worked only with the erractic electricity supply, no toilet seat, wouldn't flush, and the door had no lock and you couldn't close it anyway because if you did you'd be standing in complete darkness. There were no showers anywhere to be seen, as you might expect.

AND - the big news about Shkodra is - MULLET PARADISE! Oh My Lord. The quantity of mullets in this place was simply breath-taking. I have never ever ever seen so many mullets concentrated into one place. It was as if a conference was taking place. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere. And not just quanitity, but quality. A magnificent kid mullet of epic proportions, long and short male mullets, both straight and fluffy, but the jewel in the crown (and this is no joke)... a dwarf femme mulle. Yes, a female dwarf mullet. How many of these can there be on one world? When I update the mullet league table, expect some big changes.

Anyway, up early the next day, and we took a wander about again, and back down the big street we'd attempted to go by the night before, because at the end of it, on a hill, was a big ruined castle and it looked pretty cool. Unfortunately, our time was limited and we couldn't go and check it out, but we did notice that all the buildings in this area (outwith the police and balaclavad men controls) had high stone walls with barbed wire or broken bottles stuck on top. With the barren hills around, and dusty and neglected roads, it was a scene straight out of Mad Max. That's definitely what North Albania reminded me of - Mad Max-style badlands, with their supposedly terrorising badlands.

At 11.30am then we met up again with Nevila and Izet, and after a bit of talking, they offered to show us the castle, as it's pretty much the key (well, after the mullet magnitude) attraction of Shkodra. Hopping on a quick bus, which was free because Izet knew the conductor, we got to the foot of the hill and trekked the short distance up, as Nevila explained the hostory of the castle. There's some beautiful story behind it apparently, and which I do intend to check up on properly one day, but as far as I could make out that day, it involved three brothers working all day and their wives bringing them food, and then one wife getting walled into the castle so it wouldn't collaps,e but leaving two holes in the wall so her baby could feed.

The castle was great though. A great view over all the badland territories around it, and the ruins of the castle itself were great. It was free to get in, and you could just go wherever you wanted, including up the big tower which, at the top, was completely exposed and one wrong step would have sent you plunging.

Ok, ok, I'm writing way too much here as there's simply way too much to write, and I don't have time. But basically, after all that, we went back with Nevila and Izet to the travel agency, and they fixed us up with transport (just 1pound50 each) to Tirana and so after a big "Falaminderit" to them, we went to Tirana.

Arriving there just before dark, but thankfully Nevila had told us where some good cheap accomodation was, otherwise we'd never have found anything decent (all Tirana hotels are way too expensive, and there's no tourist info, or obvious private rooms). It was indeed cheap - 2pounds50 a night each, and yes, you get what you pay for. No showers and toilets that are just holes in the ground - no paper, no electricity, no water.

So while I've been cleaner, I've almost been a bit of a filthy whore, so I've just a little grime on me right now. I don't smell or anything. But Simon... oh man. His feet, oh Lord, please spare my misery. Seriously, Mr Bin Laden, if you read this, please kidnap Simon as use his feet as a chemical weapon against the Western World. They'd bring the US to its knees in seconds. I had to hold my breath the entire night last night. This boy has some serious health issues with his feet. They are dangerous.

Ok, Tirana's quite interesting - just a bigger version of Shkodra. Chaotic, loud, filthy, buildings falling apart. We'd stay longer, but without showers or decent toilets, and with time pressures on us anyway, we're leaving tomorrow. To Kosovo. We leave at 6pm tomorrow, and arrive 5am Friday. Here's what the foreign office says about Kosovo - We advise against all holiday and other non-essential travel to Kosovo.

It's looking good.

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Oh, and happy 87th to my mother today. Sorry, I meant 21st, yeah. Happy birthday mum. Did you get the huge present? Hmm, must have got lost in the post.
Oh yeah - use now. Breathe has not worked in almost a month. I have been unable to check any breathe emails in that time, and have effectively given up on it. If you've sent me an email to that address in the last month and want a reply, please please forward it to hotamil and I promise a fairly swift response.

Also, I got all my photos of the last two months developed (delightfully cheaply) the other day. Strangely, my usually epically awful camera skills have disappeared, and I actually have some nice photos. The Bled ones have turned out very well - a really lovely one of Cindy holding a cat, and Peter and Derek on the 3rd night. Some nice ones of Tammy in Piran (even with Vera), the Czech girls in Trencin have proved very photogenic, and to my surprise I even got one of heroin addict Ivan, that I thought hadn't worked. Plus, some curious ones of Dubrovnik. Hmm. Budapest film has gone AWOL though, so hopefully it can be salvaged. If anyone from Budapest reads this, if they have any photos I'd be hugely grateful if they got in touch as it's a big gap in the collection.

I intend, upon returning, to scan the best ones in and post them in this diary, so watch out for that.
We haven't camped in almost a month. It hasn't rained in almost a month. We've decided to camp.

Guess the rest.

So, we're in Budva right now, in an internet cafe of all places. Actually, I lie. We're actually in Edinburgh. We missed the flights to Frankfurt and have been so embarrassed we've been sleeping with an elderly gentleman called Ronald, who has kindly let us share his bed. My finances on the supposed trip have actually been spent on scabby prostitutes, and Simon's money on sweets. It's been a hell of a ride, I can tell you. God knows what diseases I've caught.

But anyway, to continue this pretence, yeah we're in Budva in Montenegro, a fairly attractive town by the coast. We arrived yesterday and after a small amount of searching found a campsite, which is closed, but which we're staying in nonetheless. This is due to the Serbian metalworkers from Vojvovdina whi have let us stay there, alongside the entire Earth's population of insects and derelict caravans, for the small price of some chicken and some beer.

Yeah. Let us not pretend - this campsite is hell. Awful, not only with a capital A, but a capital W, F, U and even L. The moment we pitched our tent, a furious hoard of flies immediately commandeered the inside of the outer layer of the tent (we've been extremely careful with the actual innermost layer and only a few hardcore flies have got in) and next to the tent we actually witnessed the terrifying sight (for a lady) of waves of spiders. Yes, quite literally so many spiders moving so fast it became spiderwaves. I'm not kidding.

The hell does not end there. Then there's the toilets. Holes in the ground are bad enough, but these holes are not just utterly, but comprehensively and absolutely filthy. Not even my scatalogical mind can fully describe these toilets, but let's just say the insects are not deterred. Toilet paper is an invention for the future here. I have not yet had to insult by body by "fully" utilising these holes in the ground (thank God for more advanced cafes) because I just know that if I did, I'd have a nest of spiders immediately colonising my bowels.

Poor Simon, alas, has been severely suffering ever since Sarajevo and especially Dubrovnik (aka Fistfest 2001). Tomorrow, I predict, 20000 insects explode from his stomach.

But there is redeeming features. Not with the campsite, but with the fact that we are staying there virtually for free, and we have had the curious company of some Serbian metalworkers from Vojvovdina. We've drank some beer with them, they've made us a huge meal, and they've terrified us with Serbian politics.

We met them yesterday, because they're making a new gate for this godawful campsite. I can only imagine the gate is to keep away all future potential visitors. The owner hasn't been about (except briefly, but he didn't seem to care that we were there) so they've been happy to let us use the "facilities". Our payment has merely been a heap of chicken and some beer, costing us less than 4 pounds each altogether, and for which we got a massive meal. There's three of them, but only one speaks English, called Vekac. He's clad permanently in camoflage gear and has a nose that looks exceedingly broken. He's 31 and has served in the Serbian army. He's been very friendly to us, but thank God for being Scottish. Because he hates Croatians, he hates Muslims, and oh boy, he hates Kosovan Albanians. He fought against them and when we said we planned on going there, it was a bit of a bombshell. He's dead against it, primarily because he genuinely thinks we're going to die. He honestly doesn't believe we'll survive Kosovo, so much so that he's taken our emails so he can email us in December to see if we're alive. He seriously can't believe that we could leave a Muslim country alive.

It's strange. He's a decent guy and he's been very friendly to us, but his beliefs are very obviously warped by growing up in a country that's had some serious turmoil. The Serbians have taken a kicking. It's easy for me, an outsider, to see that Serbia has behaved pretty badly in the last bunch of years (though certainly not the only country to have done so from this area) but obviously from the Serbian perspective, living in Serbia and bombarded by Milosevic press, and especially when you've fought for your country, it's hard to see those other countries as anything but "enemy". When he discovered we were Scottish and not English, it was a massive relief for him, as suddenly we were no longer guilty of trashing his country. When other people passed by an spoke to him, and he mentioned we spoke English, he'd immediately tell them we were actually Scottish. As if to say, "Don't worry, they're ok"

I could write much much more on this, but I really don't have time. This whole area is way too messed up with petty differences. They're killing themselves over nothing. All these peope are pleasant and friendly to me, an outsider. I see no difference in these people, except for the fact the affiliate themselves with a nationality that therefore appears to make them sworn enemies with people just like them, but affiliated with a different nationality. They're just being a bunch of idiots. Like schoolchildren on a bigger and more genocidal scale, but the fundamental remains - grow up.

So tonight, because I don't trust the weather, I've decided to sleep inside a storage type building. It's got a soft spongy mattress type thing but, more importantly, the Serbian's stash of beer. This may put paid to tomorrow's plans to get up early to go to Podgrice and then wherever the easiest bus is.

Yeah, I'm alcoholic now. The last day I didn't drink was in Zagreb, and that was just 1 day from 10. Before then... oh, maybe Buzet or Piran, but we're talking single days here. The last time I didn't drink for two days in a row... I honestly couldn't tell you.

Simon however has gone on the wagon. He's realised that it's all the alcohol that's been upsetting his stomach. Good luck man.

When I return to Aberdeen, when you spot me hiding the whiskies under my bed, I'd appreciate it if you could help me out through this imminent problem of mine. Or failing that, just buy me a pint. Cheers.

Friday, October 19, 2001

Let joy be unconfined! Let angels sing from the heavens! Let the people dance all day and every day in the streets! The unthinkable has happened. Something so unspeakably wonderful that even now I expect to wake from this glorious dream. To live in a world so great makes me weep in awe.

Yes - Simon has got rid of his beetle sunglasses. His giant plastic yellow sunglasses that make him look like a colossal dopey beetle. After two months of these unutterably horrendous sunglasses haunting my every moment, my hell comes to an end. How did this happen? Well, it was all part of our three days in Dubrovnik, three days and three nights which have now earned the undoubtedly dubious title of "Fistfest 2001". Made all the more dubious by the fact the name actually hints at a Fistfest 2002.

With a name like this, you probably really don't want to know about the last few days, but I'll tell you anyway. From my last entry, I'd left you after telling you about the first night in Dubrovnik, spent drinking with an English guy called Peter and the truly awful Australian girl called Alice. There were some others, but Alice scared them off by brnging up the subject of double fisting. She has since tried to defend this accusation by claiming she merely mentioned it in the passing (as if that's possible) but what's undeniable is that this really quite questionable topic of conversation dominated the next couple od days. Even when we weren't talking about it, the subject was hanging in the air, waiting to reappear.

So, the second day in Dubrovnik began with a drink with Peter and Alice in a cafe, and then a short wander into town, and then simply relaxing about the hostel in the pleasant sunshine. But something was in the air (and not just double fisting). Earlier, myself and Peter had formulated the excellent idea of extreme drinking. Bottles of Ozujsko cost 7KN at a nearby shop, but upon returning the empty bottle, you got 3KN back. So, the more Ozujsko we drank, the more money we'd get back. Flawless logic.

It began at 6pm. Me, Simon, Peter and Alice having a couple of bottles each. Warming up. Upon finishing, we went on a second foray to the shop, returning the empty bottles and getting some more. We were now joined by Ian, an Australian guy from the night before (the others from the night before - the very very Australian Danny and the very pleasant Joe from Canada - had been so terrified by the conversation that they had actually left the country) who we decided to rename Zack, because he really didn't suit the name Ian. Seriously, every time someone talked of "Ian" we'd all get confused and have to explain who we meant. He just didn't suit the name. But the moment we christened him Zack, it felt natural. It was his instinctive name. If he takes nothing else from meeting us (and I seriously doubt he will) the I hope he keeps his new and improved name.

So, that was two trips to the shop and things were warming up. Several drinks down us each, but then things changed. Because suddenly four girls from Leicester appeared with a few hours to kill before having to catch a ferry, and the shop that sold the Ozujsko was due to close. And so, with Peter and one of the Leicester girls (Rachael), we went on a final Ozujsko mission and bought 23 bottles of the stuff, and that doesn't count what Rachael bought for her lot. Quite simply, there was no way any of us were going to end the night with actual distinct memories, aside from clouds of drunken haze.

So let's not pretend my memories are ordered and detailed. What I do know is that we really must apologise to all the other residents of the hostel for the awful raucous din we made. There weren't a great deal of others - and one in fact, Stevan, joined us and got on rather well - but those we saw glimpses of looked pleasant, but timid. Especially the poor shy-looking Japanese girl who must have been hiding in her bed, quivering with fear. Because outside, we'd turned into devils, with double fisting jokes flying around, and becoming the depraved and filthy individuals we only imagined we could become in our most dark and horrific nightmares.

I apologise also to friends and relatives, not just of myself and Simon, but of Peter and Alice, when we went on a postcard sending frenzy. Writing perverted postcards to each other's friends. Simon, very foolishly, let us all write a little piece in a letter to Claire his girlfriend, with Zack writing a sickeningly nauseating sentimental piece of garbage, Alice writing some rubbish about red bottoms (the girl was obsessed) and the rest of us clubbing together and creating a fictional girl called Karen with whom Simon was supposed to be having an affair with, and which we all hinted at in our messages. We all await the end of their relationship...

After a flurry of photography, the Leicester girls had to get their ferry, although I suspect if the tickets hadn't been bought in advance, they might have stayed. However, the disappearance of the four girls didn't quieten us down, oh no. Oh no. The sinning continued, and the drinking unabated and I have an indelible memory of that long table we were gathered round literally covered with empty Ozujsko bottles.

I remember nothing more of the evening. If you email me, I might remember a bit more.

The next day then, there was a degree of suffering all round. Because you can't go two straight nights of double fisting without a little pain. Man, listen to me. I apologise to everyone reading about the amount of times I've mentioned double fisting. I think Simon was hit the hardest (um, no pun intended), so hard he's still suffering today and seems unable to eat food without it quickly being evacuated. I was alright actually, after a slightly lazy morning. Alice too wasn't in bad shape, and Peter apparently was up at about 6am, although both complained of delayed effects.

So we (minus Simon, who was afraid to be too far from a toilet) conquered any ill effects by climbing the hill behind Dubrovnik, in the hot sunshine, to the telecom tower and the ruins that were scattered around. It gave a really marvellous view of the area - the old town of Dubrovnik, the castle on the peninsula next to it, the forest covered island nearby, and the entire craggy coastline.

What happened that night then? Uh... more drinking.

Nah, we took it easier this time. Enough to be tipsy, but not psychpathically drunk. It was here that Simon and his sunglasses were parted. Everyone took their sunglasses out, in the dark, to wear for a few minutes, and we all tried each other's on. And to everyone's huge astonishment, Peter actually rather suited Simon's sunglasses from hell. So, if Simon looked 0.01% good in them, Peter looked an unthinkable 1% good. One hundred times better. Simon now has a much better pair of sunglasses. Simon and Peter weren't only people to profit from the evening - I now have a thick jumper, a pair of white socks, and a whistle, all courtesy of Alice. I think she's trying to turn me gay. The jumper especially. She gave me it because I only have T-shirts and she has too many jumpers, and really, this jumper is awesome. As well as being very warm indeed, it has the remarkable quality of making me look like a gay Norweigan fisherman. It was unanimously agreed upon. That's not to say I don't suit it. I do, I really do. It's just that I look like a gay Norweigan fisherman who suits his jumper. That, plus white socks, plus a whistle, and my homosexuality is confirmed.

But the night was more peaceful - perhaps as a result of the sadness in all our heart's that it was our final night together. Or perhaps we were too ill from the night before. But it was a fun night definitely, where me and Simon educated Peter and Alice, plus Stevan who later appeared, as to the wonders of "Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen, letting them listen to it and then giving them a detailed description of what the song was about. Honestly, I could write a thesis about the song. I haven't listened to it in almost a month now, and still am unsure if I ever will again, because it haunts my every waking thought for at least a week after every listen.

So, it was a good night, and early the next morning Peter and Alice left. Probably for the best, as we were all a very bad influence on each other. Not much later, me and Simon left Dubrovnik, and (finally) Croatia.

To the incredibly beautiful town of Kotor in Montenegro. A town at the very end of Europe's biggest fjord (outside Scandinavia. And no, Simon has not been able to resist making a "hilarious" fjord pun) with craggy mountains clinging to the coastline, and a massively impressive partly ruined wall zigzagging up the mountain behind Kotor. We pretty much went here on a whim, with no idea what to expect, and we've been hugely impressed and surprised.

Oh, here's an interesting little fact for you. Montenegro, in Serbian (which is the same language as Croatian, but the two countries hate each other so much that they pretend they've different languages. Like me saying I spoke Scottish. And someone from Newcastle actually claiming their language was English) is Crno Gora. From our Croatian beer experiences, we know Crno to mean "black". As in "crno pivo" or black beer. Therefore, Crno is the negro of Montenegro. Yeah? So, the Gora par is the Monte part. Monte, as in the Alpine mountain Mont Blanc, simply means mountain. So Montenegro, or Crno Gora, means "Black Mountains" - a very appropriate description. And so we can use this knowledge further. The common Croatian/Serbian surnames ending in "-sevic" obviously means "son of", just as the Mac on Scottish names. So, the famous tennis player Goran Ivanisevic means, literally, "Ivan son of the Mountains." Indispitable logic.

I haven't actually checked this with a native Croatian/Serbian speaker, but it's obviously right.

Anyway, our Kotor stay has just been chill out time. We've been staying with an old goatherder (this is true actually, though makes it sound a little more rural than it is) and feel rather guilty as it appears that our 5 pounds a night has actually given us full reign of their house while the goatherder and his family are confined to a tiny little building outside. Oh well. None of them (except the young son) speak any English, but we've actually been getting on very well with our Coratian/Serbian, which is developing quite well. We know a fair few words now, and not just swears.

So, there we are then. Tomorrow, we move along the coast to a town called Budva. It's supposed to have a beach and we're going to risk camping, because the weather's been non-stop good for the last month. It's obviously going ot begin raining tomorrow afternoon. Then, it's going to be a fast moving couple of weeks as we're way behind schedule and if we hope to have a month in the Middle East, we need to be in Turkey for the start of November. So it's going to be a trip through Albania, Kosovo, possibly Macedonia (though we've been hearing some horror stories recently) and then a long long bus/train through Greece to Turkey.

That's the plan anyway. Chances of sticking to it: 8%

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

It's Dubrovnik, the place we thought we'd never go to because it was so hyped up by everyone. And to my great surprise, it's actually worthy of the hype. Yeah, it's totally beautiful, the old town especially. It's all sprawled round a rocky coastline with little forested islands dotted around, and the old town is surrounded by giant town walls. The place feels relaxed, but not stagnant. Yup, Dubrovnik's good.

We arrived here at 2pm yesterday and after surviving a ferocious attack by a ton of psychopathic women desperate to sell us a room for the night (two Japanese travellers were less fortunate than ourselves and the last I saw was their bodies being ripped to bloody chunks by the furious horde) we found our hostel, where we are staying now.

The intention was to rest, relax, and recover from being up the entire night and the night previous to that (save 3 hours sleep, mostly on a stairwell), and the fact that in 36 hours we'd eaten only a plate of Mama!'s scrambled eggs and a pizza that had gone right through us. We'd also just had an 8 hour bus journey, and a cold wait in Sarajevo bus station. So rest, after a little food, was the order of the day.

This, of course, didn't go to plan. We began ok, getting some cheap takeaway in the old town. Simon then decided to go back and sleep, while I reckoned on walk around the giant old town walls. This I did, and it was very beautiful and peaceful, mercifully it now being off-season. I headed back to the hostel, ready for a quiet night.

As I passed a cafe just before the hostel, I heard Simon shout "Niall!" He was with a bald English guy called Peter, who was staying in the hostel, and they'd met when Simon climbed a telegraph pole to get into the hostel. The main door had been closed, and I had the keys, so he'd been forced to break in by climbing a telegraph pole next to the upstairs patio bit. Peter, plus an Australian (Australian? Abroad? Well, there's a novelty...) girl called Alice, had been there and seen this most probably bizarre sight, but Simon had explained it away with "Don't worry, I'm not a burlgar, I'm staying here".

Anyway, what came of all this was drinking. We bought a heap of Ozujsko (alas, no Tomislav) from a shop and drank the night away. We were joined by others - Australians and Canadians - and the drinking was steady. Later on, Alice managed to somehow bring up the perhaps dubious topic of "double fisting" and within 10 minutes her, me and Simon managed to scare off all the surplus Australians/Canadians as they retreated in disgusted horror.

Anyway, I did get 6 hours sleep in the end (waking up at 7am because my watch mistakenly said 9am, and I thought I'd missed breakfast) and I think it's going to be a bit of a drinking session tonight, by the looks of it. There's a place nearby with bottles (and not gay quantities) of Ozujsko for 40KN (about 35p), so we're going to see how many we can clear. The outdoor patio section of the hostel is warm, pleasant and relaxed, so makes for a pleasant spot to drink.

That's about it then. We should be heading to Monty Negro about tomorrow, if we're not too hungover.

Sunday, October 14, 2001

We decided that when they make the film of this journey, Ewan MacGregor will play me, although I still quite like the idea of it being Robert de Niro. John Cusack's been pencilled in for Simon, although I do feel there's someone else out there more suitable. If anyone knows, email me.

I also quite fancy the idea of the film being entirely acted by monkeys. Hollywood should employ more monkey actors.
Oh man, dodgy pizzas in Sarajevo. My stomach's been doing all sorts of grooves in the past few hours, and you don't want to know what's been coming out my ass. I'm doing an all nighter (its 3.50am now) on an Internet place because we have no accommodation tonight. Afte getting 3 hours sleep last night, you can imagine this is a little tiring.

I can't be bothered writing about today because I'm too tired to think. Check out Simon's version of events ( because it's pretty accurate for once. No Indian restaurant in Sarajevo - damn you Lonely Planet for your misguiding information. You see what you've done to me - no sleep, certain nightmares for the rest of my life about Mama!, and evil pizzas that have made me a slave to the toilet. We're going to Dubrovnik...soon. Please God, let it be soon.

Nah, I'm not actually in that bad a state, and my digestion's been on good behaviour for the last few hours. One more trip to the toilet might do it.

Whoa, a moth just flew out of my head. Where did that come from?
I'm only actually here writing this because I was absolutely bursting for the toilet and this Internet place has a proper toilet with toilet paper. Man, what a relief. No way could I face one of these holes in the ground without paper. Big Nev does not use his hand.

Right now we're in the middle of what has already been termed "The Sarajevo Situation". I'm feeling just a little spaced after getting all of three hours sleep last night (part of which was spent slumped against a wall inside a tower block). We have nowhere to stay now and so don't anticipate getting any sleep tonight, and will get a bus to Belgrade probably tomorrow.

So here's the deal:

We headed out yesterday with the very simple idea of having a couple of drinks and getting back to our delightful residence with Ivana and Mama! before 10pm. After surviving the indignity of going to a small restaurant thing and having to drink coke because they didn't serve alcohol, we then spent at least an hour and a half wandering about, looking for somewhere - anywhere - that served proper measures of beer. Failing comprehensively.

Sarajevo nightlife appears to consist not of actually going anywhere, but walking up and down the big main pedestrianised street. It's absolutely mobbed with people, going nowhere. We actually followed a group of guys, hoping they might be going somewhere that served proper sized beers, and we followed them all down the street until we reached the end - and they simply turned round and walked back again.

We relented eventually, and settled for a gay beer in a "shiny" bar. It was getting later now, 9pm-ish, and so we reckoned it was probably time to head. Make sure we got back in time so as not be locked out by Ivana and Mama!. Then something slightly improbable happened.

I know one person in Sarajevo, and one person only. And vaguely too. That girl Marina that I met last week in th Zagreb hostel. Just for a morning, and that was it. She doesn't even live here anymore - having set up camp in the war torn country of America. So it was perhaps inevitable we'd bump into her in the street.

At first she just walked past, flashed by, and I stopped and said "I know that person..." but I wasn't sure. Simon had never seen the girl before, so had no idea, but he persuaded me to find her again and after a small hunt, we caught her.

She was a little surprised, but obviously absolutely delighted to meet me again - as all girls would be. She was meeting some friends, but said to come along, and as it turned out it was just the three of us that ended up in some out of the way bar called, imaginatively, "The Bar." A name rivalling Dingwall's famous club "The Club" for innovation.

"The Bar" turned out to be a really rather good bar. Underground, dark and extremely smoky, but with very good laid-back music that picked up tempo during the night. And it appeared never to close too. Importantly, it sold proper sized beer, albeit expensively. And so the drinking began, and any thoughts of returning back to Mama! before 10pm thrown out the window.

I don't know how much I drank, and really don't want to know how much I spent, but things definitely get hazy later on. We spoke to Marina for ages, and the place got busier and busier. There was some dancing, Simon mercifully being too tired to participate, in where I spoke to some guy from Portugal apparently. I don't know what language we spoke, because I don't recall it being in English, but as I don't speak any other language you'd have thought it would have to be. The international language of drunkenness.

We left after 5am, Simon enjoying some sleep on a couch. It was still dark, and quite cold (I still have only T-shirts with me), and we made out way back to our tower block to find, rather obviously, it was locked up and we had nowhere to go. Except hanging around outside the door, on the 5th floor of a Sarajevo communist tower block. Simon slumped to sleep by the stairs, after getting extremely angry with me repeatedly trying to open the door (honestly, a good Christian boy should not know such words), and I'm not sure exactly what happened with me, because the last thing I remember is beng crouched against a wall and suddenly I woke up on a couch, with the terrifying image of Mama! bursting in the door, grinning maniacally.

Apparently Ivana found us sleeping outside her door, and bustled us inside. With great excitement I imagine. Her and Mama! found our whole going out for the night ("Disco!") higely amusing, with Mama! repeatedly patting my head affectionately. She also made us yet more soggy scrambled eggs which I'm sorry, but was not what the doctor ordered after 3 hours sleep and hungover. Especially with a big long strand of Mama! hair included.

Anyway, time is running out here, but we've left now, saying our fond farewells, and have decided to go another all-nighter, probably with Marina as we're meeting her later tonight. Our bags are in lef luggage, which we'll pick up tomorrow morning. Our plan is to zip through Belgrade and to Monte Negro in just a couple of days, on overnight trains. I can see great exhaustion ahead.

Saturday, October 13, 2001

Also, I got an email from my mother today, saying she's taken up gliding My mother is flying about, in the air. Empire State Building - watch out.
I'm alive guys, don't worry. Afraid for my life with every breathing second (because it could be my last you know) but I'm surviving the terror of Islam so far.

I'm in Sarajevo now, but haven't had long enough to really make my mind up about the place. It's like Budapest - with Mosques. I even spotted a MegaMosque - huge domed bit with two big towers.

Our final night in Mostar was spent doing very little. Although the place was bustling, there seemed no great excitement to the place for us. Just heaps of cafes - many of which playing what I can only describe as Islam Europop (Islamapop?) - and one nightclub from the school disco mould. We had a couple of drinks but because we were afraid Omar would lock us out if we returned home after 11pm, we didn't bother staying out. Besides, everywhere just sold gay beer. Gay beer seems a worrying trend as we head further south. Beer should be served in 500ml or pint measures, without you even having to ask. But all around here seems to specialise in gay beer - 300ml measures. Come on, that's pansy drink. Sort this out foreigners.

The light in our room seemed in a strange mood last night too. From a corner, a loud crackling fizzing noise began, and smoke started pouring out. I was content to watch and observe, but Simon was more proactive and started examining it closely. With great anticipication, I awaited the explosion and Simon's melted face falling to the floor, but this didn't happen. Sorry guys. No, the light just fizzled on for ages, and finally stopped.

You can clearly see that last night was full of great excitement.

Oh, I never mentioned the floor of our room there. It was ace. Poor Omar seemed rather upset by it, as he'd only fitted it the year before, but from the tourist's point of view it was an excellent novelty. Heavy rain had managed to seep from the room and somehow completely warped the floorboards so that they were contoured in fanatastic mountainous curves. Up and down, like a wave frozen in time.

So we left all that this morning, saying goodbye to Omar and "the cat" (it didn't have a name, and the very suggestion of it having a name seemed to alarm Omar) and took an incredibly attractive bus journey to Sarajevo. Bosnia is a very hilly country, with wide green rivers and lakes, and the small winding road took us along a very scenic route, all the way from Mostar to Sarajevo.

Problems exist with Sarajevo though: accommodation mainly. The "book" (ie Lonely Planet) is useless here, not that it's ever been much more than a rough guide. There's no hostels and only expensive hotels, for various military personel from around the world on paid accounts. The tourist information was also an hour's walk away from the bus station, and closed at 2pm today anyhow. Which is why we are where we are now.

In the living room of two madwomen. They, of course, speak no English.

You get these women, usually blonde and haggard, at bus and train stations, and they pounce on you with details of their rooms to let. Usually we decline, and this we did today, until we realised our alternative options were non-existant, so we approached the cheapest one. And you get what you pay for. We were taken along some dual carriageways and bundled into a tram which chugged for ages along a fast road alongside an infinity of tower blocks from the good old days of Communism. It was no surprise when this woman (communicating entirely by means of "Nema problema/no problem", "Mama!" and "Japan student",the latter we never quite figuring out) took us to one such block. Her name was Ivana, and she stayed with her crazy mother, called simply "Mama!". The exlamation mark is intentional. Mama! is indeed one crazy mama. The first thing she did was to try one Simon's hat, which she strangely suited, and then began a manic series of chatter and hand gestures. She kissed me too, I'm not sure exactly why, but I don't think I caught anything.

So, they took us to our bedroom - ie, their living room - and Mama! made us some soggy scrambled eggs which we had no choice but to consume entirely. We did manage some conversation with her and Ivana, but I'm not sure if we took the same conclusions. It was a bit like trying to communicate with Ewoks, as half the time they would make strange eating gestures and say "Num num!" Oh, the mother looked a bit like that mother in The Goonies too.

We're just staying there for one night, because although it's a curious experience, like with Omar we can't see ourselves in permanent residence there. Also, we have no key so think (think being the key word here, as what the hell Mama! was actually trying to tell us is likely something entirely different) we have to be back home for 8 or 9pm, when they go to bed. Hopefully tourist information will be open tomorrow so we'll get somewhere a little more conventional to stay. I have a feeling too that Mama!'s entire culnary repertoire consists of bread and soggy scrambled eggs.

So, tomorrow - Indian food! Yes, Sarajevo has an Indian restaurant. It's the only reason we came here. I'm not going to eat for the next 24 hours so I can savour it especially.

Friday, October 12, 2001

Bosnia then. For all those currently anxious about the supposed Christian-Islam tension caused by a few crazy Arabs driving planes into giant buildings, youll be reassured to know that Bosnia has a very high Muslim population - the highest in Europe I think. Even better - we re staying with a few of the jihad crazed psychos.

We arrived yesterday then, into Mostar. The night before had been spent having a few drinks with Ivan, and leaving on a better note than from the afternoon. He did still seem to want to kick his habit and there appeared some hope in this happening, if he keeps in the same frame of mind. We ll remain in touch so I suppose Ill find out.

Mostar then, is a city of 100,000 nestled into a valley surrounded by some very attractive mountains towering on all sides. All landmined to hell no doubt. The city itself seems more like a village, with even the main street (on the Muslim side) simply being an extended winding lane. Buildings everywhere are peppered with bullets, many entirely derelict and in a total state of collapse. Hollowed and gutted. Bridges are collapsed into the water and abandoned and destroyed vehicles are dotted around. There appears to be no hurry (or no money, more accurately) to repair any of this. And its all got a charm to it, meandering through narrow high streets with buildings collapsing all around.

The Mostar birds are pretty good looking too.

So we arrived yesterday and quickly found a place to stay - with a mad professor called Omar. Omar is tall, thin and gaunt, and mostly appears solemn and silent except for the occasions he grunts something in a throaty murmur or laughs at something usually very silly. Like when I helped him take down the washing and he handed me a pair of pants.

Im presuming hes Muslim, not just because of how he looks but because immediaely upon entering the house we had to take off our shoes. This has caused one big problem - Simons feet. Put quite simply, Simons feet were not built for Islam. Usually they are hidden away, out of my noses reach, but this time theres no escape. The fumes are almost visible. I think Omar must rapidly be considering a conversion to Christianity.

We re staying in the Muslim side of town, full of Mosques. The city used to be well integrated, but its now separated into the Muslim side and the Croat side, the two sides apparently mixing little. I havent yet been to the Croat side but I imagine its got all the facilities of the Muslim side. From an outsiders point of view, its all very petty. The difference between these people is negligible, but they let the small differences they have create a major division between them. And unfortnately, Bin Ladens mates blowing up buildings isnt going to help matters.

So, we re going to remain in Mostar for the day, and probably tomorrow head to Sarajevo (pronounced sar-ADGE-eh-vo, in my world anyway) in search of a fabled Indian restaurant (!) and hpefully this girl Marina I met in Zagreb.

Thats it for now then. If I dont write again its because the evil Muslim Omar has cut my little white Western throat.

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Hey everyone, I haven't been stabbed to death with a syringe yet, so it's cool. Nope, Split has turned out to be a quite pleasant place and our (ex)soldier friend has been a most gracious host.

So yeah, after a mammoth stay in Zagreb, it was finally time to leave to pastures new on Monday. With just a few loose ends to tie up before we left. First of all, our thank-you to our hostel hosts by means of buying them a bottle of wine. And I know that we paid them for seven nights anyway, but they really went above and beyond the call of duty and it's certainly been our best accommodation to date. So we said our thankyous, gave our wine, and took photos and now a photo of us is to apparently grace to reception of the hostel as soon as it's developed. So: go to Ravnice hostel in Zagreb and see a picture of me. Can there be a greater recommendation.

The next thing I had to do was to say goodbye to Bozica, so I met with her and her blonde friend (whose name I now know to be something like Zrnci) for a farewell drink. Oh, there were tears, I can tell you. However, that was more due to their choice of drinking venue - yet another extortionately expensive bar. Thank God for feminism and girls paying for their own drinks.

And finally, and just before getting on our overnight train to Split, there was the goodbye to Nina. The three of us went bowling, thus letting my considerable bowling skills impress one and all. I came last each game.

And then, and only then, it was time to leave Zagreb. Almost relucantly too, as we've had a great time there and in just 10 days I'd made a number of good friends. And the girls are all so attractive (have I mentioned that before?). But I'll be keeping in touch with them, and will definitely return one day.

The overnight train to Split, and the subsequent morning, have all turned into a very indistinct haze of clouded memory. Alas, not due to massive drug intake, but because of a very weird night's sleep. Myself and Simon were joined in our train compartment by a Croatian soldier, though he actually enjoyed the military and wasn't a heroin addict. But, like Ivan, he did wear quite awful tracksuit bottoms. Anyway, I did manage to get about 7 hours of more or less ok sleep in the train, slightly uncomfortable as it was. But it's all become like a vague dream now, and the subsequent getting a room in Split by fortunate means of an old man entering the train and telling us about his 80Kn a person a night room. Upon getting there I slept four proper hours and we then took a look around Split.

Split is like God accidently dropped a city between the sea and some mountains and let it spill out in the gap. It's very white and pretty and hugs the coastline as it creeps up the hills behind it. It's got a relaxed air to it, and despite the mass of Croatians in Zagreb telling me about the junkies lurking in every corner, the only junky I've noticed so far is the one we befriended in Zagreb. There's quite a lot of grafitti (in Croatian, disappointingly, as for some reason there's a ton of grafitti written in English around Eastern Europe) but looks much less like a heroin haven than, say, Aberdeen.

Anyway, the time came at at 6pm, we went to the train station to wait for our soldier friend and to our semi but not total surprise, he arrived, along with a friend called Pete who spoke English - loudly. Pete also had a car, and could drive it, although his actual grasp of driving could be described as tenuous. From the large gash along one side of his car, it was evident that Pete was of the school of driving that presumed that all other drivers weren't like him. Cramped in the little car, the four of us motored off on the junkie tour of Split. Ha, no, not quite, though they were rather keen to show us their favourite spots for smoking illegal substances. I'm not quite sure if there was a pattern to the tour, as we appeared to go in a number of circles, picking up a non-English speaker called Pave (Pav-eh) on the way.

We visited a pleasant and peaceful area by the sea, where we rested on small cliffs over the water. Then we were whisked around town, past the groovy stadium of Hadjuk Split, and into a small neighbouring town where we sat and had a drink, before zooming off around various destinations. Though poor Pave was effectively mute throughout the evening, Pete more than compensated. He was very talkative and interested in what we were doing, and seemed rather determined to visit us in Scotland this New Year, although from what I gathered he seemed to be banking quite a lot on the hopes he'd be able to find himself a Scottish bird to stay with to avoid returning to Croatia. So girls, if you're interested...

The night continued like this, whisked round various places and pubs, until it was time to end as Pete had to be for 6am the next morning, for work. I was knackered, as it had been a long day, and Simon was likewise (though at any one time there is a 93% chance Simon will be knackered) so we slept quite well.

Today then, it was just Ivan, who we met at 11am. No car, but just as well, as he showed us around on foot. The city centre is rather pleasant and I could definitely spend a day just looking around it. Frustratingly, there was a big tower which you could go up - but Ivan didn't want to. Agh. No matter, he did take us up one of the hills the city clutches to, which afforded a great view. There was a cafe/bar on it too, which made for a pleasant drink. Even if Ivan did vanish to the toilets for a suspiciously long time, returning seeming decidedly more spaced than before.

Because, yes, Ivan does have a problem. Made moreso by the fact that upon returning home last week, he's been kicked out by his family, and so is having to stay with friends for the time-being. And I - and Simon too I'm sure - feel helpless. I'm just a tourist in this city and a tourist to Ivan's life. All I can do is pass through and observe. Ivan knows he's got a problem but doesn't seem in a hurry to sort it out. All I feel able to do is give glib advice - "these things just take time" etc - which is no good. Ivan's a nice guy, he really is, but he's going nowhere and doesn't seem to want to go anywhere. Not really. If there was something I could do in the space of my two day visit I would - and paying for some food and a couple of drinks doesn't count - but I can't because I'm only a tourist here. I'm going to keep in contact with him, and I hope he sorts himself out, but he seems less likely to now than he did last week. Last week he was needing a fix and was very honest about it, and about being a "slave to drugs". Now he's got his fix, he seems less concerned and more content.

Anyway, that's all for now. Tomorrow, Mostar probably.

Monday, October 08, 2001

And my final hours in Zagreb approach. After 10 days, it's time to move on to pastures new - or to meet with heroin addicted AWOL Croatian soldiers in Split, to be more precise.

As ever, the sun is shining in this most consistently warm of cities. Ten days of wonderful sunshine. After living in Scotland all my life, I admit such a concept was beyond the realms of my imagination. As was walking down the street and having wave upon wave of attractive girls pass me. No, no, Aberdeen girls, you're lovely too of course, but you really should start wearing less...

So since my last entry, Zagreb has of course been treating me well. All night sessions, international football matches, morning coffee with Croatian models and enjoying the novelty of being Scottish. Where will I start? Hmm, how about Friday?

Ok, so Friday I imagine the day was spent doing something or other. That's a fair guess. A morning would typically consist of me getting out of the very comfortable hostel bed at about 10am, and lounging on the balcony for a couple of hours. Usually talking to the hostel cleaner, Seka, who was very chatty indeed, and the hostel owner Vera and her very pretty daughter Leia. After being there so long I was beginning to feel somewhat of a permanent fixture, and was rewarded as such by daily coffee.

Friday night then had a couple of options. What was certain was that there was to be a night out with a few people - myself, Simon, Matthew, Antoine and Nina, plus her friend Ivana who turned up also. What was less certain was my exact plans. For the whole week I'd been building up this club - or disused factory playing underground techno. I was keen to go, but as only I was interested I didn't want to desert everyone midway through a night out.

So, the six of us met up in the city centre (by the statue of the Turk-killer on a horse) and went for a drink, before Nina had to retire home after one glass of "soda." Poor Nina. She's the main reason we came to Zagreb in the first place, and in 10 days we've seen her twice now. Not through deliberate avoidal by either party, but because of a series of missed chances, be it by day-trips, missed phonecalls or illness. And I think that on Friday she still wasn't fully fit. We tried to phone her last night, but missed her, so hopefully we can get hold of her today before we leave. If not, and Nina does read this - it's ok, don't worry. We've had a great time here, and if you ever come to Scotland we promise not to avoid you too much...

With Nina and Ivana out of the picture, us four males moved onto a different pub and hit the Tomislav. Oh, Tomislav, the drink of the heavens. Hmm, perhaps not heavens bu it's certaily something not quite of this world, because we're talking pure potency here. Tomislav seems to have ingredients not contained in usual pivo. Pure toxic excellence. So time managed to disappear in a haze of Tomislav as the four of us sat talking about... well, details are resigned to the mists of time. And suddenly it was 1am and suddenly I realised, "Hey, I'm a little drunk!" and that it was time to hit the disused factory. So I departed.

A quick apology first. To the poor unsuspecting 16 year old waiting for her tram. Matthew was with me, not to go to the club ("Matthew" and "club" are two words I cannot ever imagine in the same sentence, unless accompanied by the words "definitely not ever") but because he was cycling back to the hostel. He was drunker than me and his cycling was less straight-line and more perfect sine-wave. As we passed the tram spot in the city centre, we passed a blonde girl sitting waiting and Matthew said hello and struck up a short conversation. In English of course, but fortunately she spoke it well. She did seem extremely amused with us two drunken foreigners talking absolute rubbish, and at our concern at her being so young and out so late. She also appeared impressed (well, amused at least) with my perfect grasp of Croatian swearwords. She was saved however by the appearance of her tram, and so we all departed. Her to her home, Matthew to his hostel (apparently falling off his bike at least once) and me to the disused factory by the river...

I must make something clear. I'm not the sort of person who goes to pubs, restaurants or clubs by myself. I think once in Aberdeen I waited for Joe in the Hogs Head for half an hour, sipping a pint alone, and hated it. So to go into a Croatian club alone seems out of character. But I was just curious, to see what the Croatian underground techno scene was like, and after a number of Tomislavs I decided to satisfy my curiosity. And yeah, it was good. Really, really good.

It was in the dark and concrete basement of the factory first of all, so underground quite literally. I meandered in, and to my delight found drink was a mere 8Kn (about 70p). So, if you want, you can perhaps forgive me for the extremely patchy memories than now occur.

The music was good first of all. Ok, I thought it was good, it might not be everyone's cup of tea, or pint of Tomislav. Behind a purple curtain lay the concrete dancefloor, with thick conrete pillars scattered. Before the dancefloor was the bar. There was no toilet - except for the bushes outside.

Ok, so memories are vague, but I talked to various people, one of whom was desperate to sell me marijuana, and latterly danced a lot. I recall my dancing being exquisitely performed, silky movements and dynamic bodypops. "Bustin' a groove". However, if any videotape exists of the night, I really would rather not study it. Some hazy memories are best left as hazy. Later on, somehow, I ended up talking to some Croatian girls (perhaps they'd been admiring my dancing). They seemed rather intrigued that a Scottish guy had made his way into this clubnight, and were awfully concerned about my likely travelling through the Middle East. I know I talked to them until the music stopped - a rather premature 4am I believe - and they both departed, after giving me a kiss on the cheek of course.

Ok, so things get even vaguer here, but I know I managed to find my way home in the space of a "mere" two hours. So it was around 6am, and I decided not to bother sleeping. On th balcony of the hostel were three Croatian guys who I spoke to. They were there for the Croatia-Belgium footbal game on later that day, so I spoke to them a little. I was rather out of it at this point, so I canno imagine I was too eloquent. They disappeared, so I spent some time relaxing on the balcony (perched, I believe, rather dangerously on the side) then went downstairs to the outside benches. Memories begin to clarify a little now, and I know I was saying "Dobre utro" and "Kako ste" (good morning and how are you) to various passers-by in the street, most of whom replied cheerfully. Vera, Leia and Seka also appeared later on, but fortunately I was more compis mentis by this stage, helped by the coffee they fed me.

Ah yes. The models. Antoine, that previous night, had talked of two Croatian models staying on our floor. I'd not met them however. But as I was up and about early that day, Vera trusted me with reception as she popped out for 20 minutes. And during then, one of the models came downstairs to pay, which I dealt with, and Seka then made us coffee, which we drank together on the balcony. The dark-haired model was really rather attractive, and was very friendly too. The blonde one less so on both counts. They were in Zagreb to meet with some agency, and it appeared to be straight down the line modelling, not pornographic alas.

It's a story that perhaps isn't as good as it's synopsis sounds: after spending the whole night at an underground Croatian rave, I enjoyed a pleasant morning coffee with two models. In my autobiography I'll definitely spice it up a little.

Antoine also left that morning. Antoine was somewhat of a revelation, because he was French-speaking Swiss and I really liked the guy. He was a genuinely decent and cool guy. I know, I know, all that know me will know of my anti-Swissness, but he was a cool guy.

Anyway, so being without sleep, Saturday was a bit of a spaced out day for me, though I still made constructive us of it. After taking a wander back to the club (very intelligently I'd hidden my coat in a "safe" place that night, but had been able to find it later on, but managed this time) it was time for the football. Croatia vs Belgium.

The situation regarding the game was this: If Croatia won, they qualified for the World Cup, Belgium would have to play a play-off, and Scotland would be out. If Belgium didn't lose, then Belgium qualified and Croatia would have to do the play-off. Scotland would stll be out. BUT - if Belgium somehow thrashed Croatia and Scotland thrashed Latvia, then Belgium would qualify, Scotland would do the playoff, and Croatia would be out. Got that? Basically, I wanted Croatia either to win, or get comprehensively annihilated.

The city was buzzing. More than buzzing, it was totally charged. The red and white checks of the Croatian football strip everywhere, cars driving by with horns blasting, flags waving, a total excitement everywhere. We arrived at the stadium an hour before kickoff to be met by riot police, holding back the huge numbers of Croatians trying to pile into the inadequate entrance gates. After a considerable wait and considerable crush, we got into the stadium, and climbed the mass of steps and as we entered the stand that towered above th pitch, the match kicked off literally as we entered into our stand.

The Croatians sure were up for the match - both the players and the fans. The fans had quite a fondess for fireworks/flares too, which were thrown at the pitch with great regularity. I've never seen as many fireworks thrown at a pitch before - especially after an "event", ie the missed penalty, a missed open goal and well, anything really. Most were saved for the single goal of the very entertaining game that Croatia rightfully won, scored after 78 minutes by Boksic.

I didn't go out that night, instead preferring to sleep soundly despite the wild revelry by the mass of Croatians in our hostel, plus the few Belgians, including the really rather fat Jean-Ive who apparently snored very loudly that night, but was unable to wake my sleep.

Ok, yesterday very briefly, as I'm running out of time. A lazy day, but in the evening sat on the balcony chatting to two Germans (Stefan and Katarina) and later the two Israelis (Arnon and Renat) who we plan to visit while dodging bombs in Israel next month. This morning, a sad farewell to the hostel, although we return later to get our stuff and give them a bottle of wine as a thankyou. Later we'll hopefully see Nina, and I'm meeting Bozica at 7 for a departing drink.

That's it. Take it easy.

Friday, October 05, 2001

Oh yeah, my damned breathe email is playing up again. If you've sent me any email in the last few days, and until future notice, can you send stuff to That's hotmail, not breathe.
Ok. Read this entry particularily carefully, because I'm going to throw in a slightly unexpected sentence during it.

I'm obviously still in Zagreb as I write now, and the last few days have been a mixture of the relaxed, the tiring, the expected and the perhaps slightly less than expected. It's still warm and sunny here, and attractive girls in every nook and cranny. I'm feeling a little crappy at this immediate moment in time, but that's only due to this general trend of continual drinking that seems to dominate life right now. I haven't had a drink all day, so I'm getting some withdrawal symptoms obviously.

So, what's been happening then? I'll go chronologically, because it's a pretty sensible way to structure things, y'know.

So I think it was Monday I last wrote. Was it? Maybe Tuesday. Yeah, Tuesday. Not much really happened on Tuesday, or if it did I certainly can't recall. I think I had a couple of drinks with Simon but it was an early night.

Wednesday then, and upon eventually getting up and getting into town, I took a wander to find the old disused factory that is hopefully the site of tonight's "Theory of Techno" club. Or "rave" I suspect these backwards people still call it. Rave, what an awful word. Mind you, so is "clubbing". Clubbing just conjures up images of awful blondes in stilletos, wearing tight white dresses and with too much makeup. I'll have to devise a word that I find suitable. How about "zeephar"? But anyway, I took a wander and would have found this factory after 20 minutes had I any powers of observation, but instead I spent well over an hour walking by the side of the river. But eventually my heightened senses tracked down this old disused factory, and it looked pretty cool. So I will probably be there tonight, if all goes to plan (which is by no means certain).

I think just did a little wander round the city, looking at stuff in my own vacant way and at just before half 7, I met up with Simon at the statue of the guy on the horse (he killed Turks apparently) in the big city centre square. The plan was for a couple of drinks, and see what happens. So Simon went off to see if he could reach Nina on the phone.

It was then that I met the heroin addicted, AWOL Croation soldier. He approached me thinking I was from Zagreb, and might be selling drugs. On Tuesday we're going to visit his home in Split. If he doesn't murder us and sell our possessions for drugs, he's going to show us around the area. His name is Ivan.

Yes, this was one of the more unexpected twists of our travelling so far. Of course, the above paragraph took a good few hours to slowly develop. Fortunately the 8 or 9 years all Croatian kids learn English for proved very useful, and Ivan was very proficient. He had a couple of bags with him and as we waited for Simon, we got talking. He'd been in the military - compulsory for all Croatian males for about a year - but had had enough and had decided to "escape". His home wa in Split but they'd posted him on the other side of the country, and he hated it. He was the same age as me.

He had his train to catch at 10.45pm, but until then was just wanting something to do (use illegal drugs, it transpired later). He was bored. He'd been in the city all day and had absolutely nothing to do, no-one to speak and no money. Simon arrived back and we all talked a little longer. Simon and I were going for a meal, so we told Ivan we'd be happy to buy him a drink. He initially declined out of politeness, but we convinced him it was no problem.

He was very grateful, and Simon insisted upon feeding him a slice of pizza. We talked about various things, and it was when at the following pub it came out he was a heroin addict, for the last year. He said he knew it was wrong, he knew he was a "slave to drugs" and he knew he was a bad person, but he was a danger only to himself. It was, although he never said so in quite so many words, why he was going AWOL. He has dealers in his home in Split but not where he was stationed with the military.

He was however a genuinely decent guy. In Split there's a big problem it seems, and he'd just succumbed to peer pressure. He knew he was weak, but just couldn't do anything about it. The military wasn't helping because if they found out it'd be hell to pay.

Anyway, to cut everything short, we got on well and we've agreed to meet with him in Split. I know, written down, some would call it unwise to be meeting with crazed drug addicted AWOL Croatian soldiers, but he was a good guy. It wasn't as if he was tagging onto us, leeching drink. We had to insist, and he was very grateful, hence he should be giving us a tour of the area when we get there. Whether that means a tour of syringe-filled drug dens remains to be seen. But no, seriously, I have a feeling now that my mother is going to be getting all worried but hey, what's the worst that can happen?


No, it's cool. Mum - chill out.

We let him get his train, and we'll meet him in a few days again. We just went to bed after that.

The next morning (Thursday)I was up fairly early and immediately made another useful contact. In the hostel was a Croatian girl called Marina, just staying there overnight as part of some travelling. She was just about to head back home to Sarajevo (which for those not up to scratch on geography of the area, is in landmine-filled Bosnia) but gav me her email and said that if I got in contact in the next couple of weeks, she'd still be around and would show us about. Avoiding the landmines and all that. So Sarajvo will likely be our next stop after Split. We were going to go there anyway because it has an Indian restaurant and I'm dying for a good curry.

After that I was treated to coffee by the very lovely cleaner - "Seca" - and the hostel daughter, Leia. Along with a German guy and girl who have since disappeared, and later Simon and an English guy called Matthew. The hostel we're in really is great. Just so friendly and relaxed. Man, Seca sure can talk. But it's cool, and I hope it doesn't change with time as the hostel is still fresh and new.

Me and Simon took a few trams and buses and a very long walk up a steep hill to a castle with a good view but a tower that I wasn't allowed to the top of. Tch. We went back to the hostel where we found we were sharing our room now with a Swiss guy. Swiss! No fears, I tore into the Swiss later on, after a few drinks. The most neutral nation on Earth. And proud. Nah, I let the poor guy off from my full wrath. With Matthew we went to a very Archies-style pub (no doubt pleasing Simon who always inexplicably liked Archies) which had cheap but good drink, and a table full of neo Nazis.

Leading onto today then, and if Nina's got over her apparent food poisoning (honestly, you'd think the girl was avoiding us...) we'll meet up with her, along with Anthony with Swiss guy and Matthew the English guy. Oh, and Hannah the American bird, who we met today too at the hostel.

And tomorrow we see Croatia vs Belgium, silently willing the Belgians to thrash Croatia so Scotland have a chance of qualification. From what Seca said, the Croatian fans can be a little violent, so I'll try and suppress me cheers when Belgium score their 5th.

So that's me then. In Zagreb, only a little hungover, and making good friends with drug addicts.

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

Kako si? Dobre, hvala. Dva pivo molim. Tomislva, ya. Jebi se.

Just a few days here and I'm virtually fluent in Croatian now. Almost indistinguishable from a native Zagrebian. Yup, we're still in Zagreb and will likely remain here for the rest of the week. Maybe heading off into Bosnia on Monday. Zagreb is excellent. I expected nothing of it whatsoever, and it's been a massive surprise. Everything about it is great - the people, the cafes and bars, the beer, the law that forbids ugly birds from going outside. It's relaxed but vibrant. A really wonderful city. And like New York for me, I don't really have to be doing anything because just walking around feels good.

It's been a good few days and I'm hoping the next few should be likewise. Even better, we've left the crap hostel with the only bad-tempered people in Croatia and moved to a new one, which is much further away and marginally more expensive, but infinitely better. It's a great little place, one of the best places we've stayed. Only open for a couple of months, and still getting built partly, but it's new and clean and the people in charge are wonderful. I think it might be a family-run thing, and I've met both the mother and daughter and they've been great. The daughter, needless to say, looks good.

So, what's been up for the last few days? Drinking mainly, with a mixture of Croatian girls, and Argentinians, Irish, Finnish and English. I think it was Saturday I wrote last. Saturday itself turned out to be a quiet affair. I phoned Bozica and arranged to meet up with her for a drink. Not counting on her bringing her two friends. Curses. I mean, it's almost as if she thought Big Nev's intentions were anything but honourable. Yes, anyone who knows me will be as shocked as I was that anyone could doubt my intentions. I am a man of honour in the old fashioned mould. Thoughtful, respectful, considerate. But uh, yeah, it turned out cool anyway. We went to this pleasant cafe in the street and had a drink and talked about stuff. They were cool girls. And mighty attractive. Bozica, Maria and I still haven't got the blonde girl's name, and it's now got to the point of no return. Because I know I've been told a couple of times, but each time I've just plain forgotten or not heard properly. Very considerately of them, they've taught me how to swear in Croatian, which I can promise all those I know in Aberdeen will be virtually the only words I'm going to use upon arriving home. Anyone who knows me well knows I never swear - in English. I am a filthy mouthed son of a kurva in Croatian.

It was just the one drink in the early evening, because they'd been in town all day shopping (or looking at shops rather) and were tired from the night before. But I arranged to meet up with them in a couple of days time, and headed back to the hostel (still the crap one at this point).

Jesus had arrived. That was my initial impression when I walked through the door. A long-haired beardie lay in a lower bunkbed, dozing. Rather disappointingly he looked less like Jesus upon getting up and speaking to me and Simon. His name was Luciano, which might appear to be a girl's name but he's from Argentina so things are different there. He'd been living in Berlin for two years and was doing a little tour of Europe before hoping to study in Rome. Him, Simon and myself were hungry so we went out to get a cheap restaurant meal and we headed back to the hostel again. The intention was to go out for a few drinks, but we all had a quick lie down and promptly all fell asleep until the next morning.

Sunday then, and I already can't remember what happened. Hmm, let me think. Oh yeah, I wandered about town, phoned mum for the first time since I've left (I made sure she had to pay of course) and generally just enjoyed the Zagreb sunshine and city centre, before going out and getting drunk. With Simon, Luciano and an Irish guy, called "Cathal" but pronounced Ca'al. I think. Some people have pointlessly difficult names to pronounce. Like the Israeli guy from Budapest, "Zaci" but pronounced in a way I cannot possibly reproduce in words. When I'm in charge, all names will have to be reduced to one easy syllable. Like Niall. Can't go wrong with Niall, can you? Well, actually, the Italians from the camper van saga way back in Brno had huge trouble - "Nee-yall... Nee-ello..."

Oh, hang on. Yeah, I did go out with them, but before that we had a meal - minus Cathal and plus a guy called Martin. He was English, and estimates as to his age have so far ranged from between 40 and 60. What is known is that he'd seen quite a bit of the world. He'd just quit his job to see a bit more, which included a couple of the ex-Yugoslav countries which were the only countries in Europe he'd not yet seen. He also seemed wildly enthusiastic about ceilidhs, apparently attending them quite regularly with friends in Scotland. He even wore a kilt for them. An Englishman in a kilt? I can't imagine such a concept.

Yeah, so we'd a meal with him and he was rather cool actually. Even Simon, English-hater extraordinaire, got on with him. He had some good tips for us too, which we'll probably follow up. Mostar in Bosnia was one recommendation in particular that we'll check out.

Being between the ages of 40 and 60, he couldn't handle the pace of a night out, but Cathal replaced him and we hit the town. And the Tomislav.

Man, Tomislav is good stuff, but it's powerful. It was only Monday, upon inspecting a bottle, that we realised how powerful. It's 7%, which after about five pints/500mls, really hits you. As I found out the next morning, with memories of speaking to politically angry beatnik Croatian theatre puppeteers (seriously) and some guy with a very odd moustache.

Monday then, and it was time to up and move hostels, arriving in the refreshingly cool morning at our current hostel. We arrived and were settled by noon, and I headed off downtown for the day. Taking a wander round random streets in the north of the city, before realising all I was actually doing was wandering around residential areas. I went back to the centre, bumping into Simon, and so had a Tomislav with him. It was the afternoon, so just the one Tomislav was enough, and I decided to go find out about Croatian dance music. By very good fortune, the first record shop I sourced was a gem. It had stuff like Speedy J, four Aphex Twin albums, and even Banco de Gaia. Yup, I just know you're all excited. So I asked the guy if there were any good Croatian dance/electronic dudes.

No, basically, but there was some guy who appeared on some compilation album, so I gave it a listen and it was actually rather good, so I bought the CD. I think it's some Belgian club or something, called Kozzmozz. Already it's been a massive relief. One of my big regrets about stuff I didn't take with me is that I left all my CDs behind. It's killing me. All I've got to listen to is Simon's CDs, which to be diplomatic, is mostly "not my sort of thing" and two CDs I've bought in the last month or so. One is Mr Oizo, you know, the guy who did the music for the Flat Eric Levi jeans advert. It's good, but not able to sustain a month's listening. The other is a Leonard Cohen album, which I've actually had to ban myself from listening to. Not because it's sometimes suicidally depressing, but because every time I hear the song "Famous Blue Raincoat" it gets lodged in my head for days and days after. On continuous repeat, and it drives me mental. A great song, but it shouldn't really be your soundtrack to travelling Eastern Europe.

So, anyway, I bought the CD and then asked the guy if there were any decent clubs in Zagreb, and he got me a few fliers and one especially looks good. It's in some old abandoned factory on the edge of town and looks very promising. On Friday. Worryingly, Simon's shown an interest and I really don't know if I could survive a Simon "megabop". I'm scared, I admit it.

I met up with Bozica, Maria and "Girl 3" after that, for an extended drink. They'd heard of the club I'd been recommended and said it was good, then recommended some good Croatian hip hop. Apparently, Croatia has a few good hip hop bands, so I've now got a list (somewhere, I hope I haven't lost it) which I might look into. The girls also demonstrated a quite astonishing knowledge of British culture - the Royal Family especially. They were big fans of Prince William, and they liked Camilla too, thinking her and Charles really loved each other. They knew a good bit of TV too. It seems 'Allo 'Allo and Are You Being Served has, alas, escaped our shores. They hadn't heard of Neighbours.

Oh yeah. If anyone reading this knows what's happening in Neighbours, email me. I'm a month and a half behind now.

As luck would have it, Bozica's had to go to her grandmother's in... oh, what's the place called. It got shelled a lot in the war. Anyway, she's had to go there until Sunday, so it looks like my hot date has gone unfortunately cold, but it was agreed to meet up then if I'm still in Zagreb and we'll be in contact anyway because we all got on really well.

That night it was just more drunkenness, with myself, Simon, Luciano, Cathal and Tuomas the Finn who we first met in Pula and happened to also be in Zagreb. They were all leaving the next day so it was one final night, although I just about remember everything, except for getting home. Tomislav, man. There's no way the stuff would be legal in Britain.

Ok, so that's about it up to date then. Still in sunny and charming Zagreb and planning to for the next while. It really is a great city. We've realised too that on Saturday Croatia play Belgium here, in the last game of the World Cup Qualifiers. If Croatia lose by about four goals, and Scotland beat Latvia by about the same, Scotland have a chance of going to the World Cup. So if possible, we're going to try and score tickets for the match and be in the unlikely position of supporting Belgium. Otherwise, we'll just see what turns up as something usually does. We haven't seen the Ameri-Croats for a couple of days, and the last I heard was Nick was heading homewards while Jack and Josipa were in Dubrovnik. But I expect we'll meet up with them again in the course of the week.

So yeah. Zagreb. It's good.