Thursday, November 29, 2001

And our final moments approach. We're now in Cairo, obviously the final stage in our 3 and a half month Frankfurt to Cairo journey. In just six days is my flight back to Edinburgh.

I won't be taking it of course, choosing to spend a couple of months working in Israel, but after over three months stuck next to Simon, I'll finally be rid of him. Rid of him and his exagerrated nose blowing, rid of him and these AWFUL jokes which he has begun telling with horrific frequency in the last month. He went through Hungary and Turkey without a single pun, but recently it's gone way out of hand. Not helped by the fact that Allie actually appears to find them funny. Encouragement is not what Simon needs. A kick in the head is.

Anyway, yeah, Cairo. A city of 16 million apparently, and one big crumbing mess. It's not as deteriorated as Albania, but it's well on its way. It's a vast sprawling traffic anarchy, crammed full of people, pollution, smoke, dust, crumbling buildings and anything else just about, except alcohol seemingly. Ok, not entirely devoid of drink, but you've got to look damn hard. Yesterday we couldn't find any. You can just imagine my despair.

We're joined too now by Susanne, flying in to join us yesterday. Tempted as we were to leave her stranded at the airport, miles from the city centre, we did greet her and she's currently trying to come to terms with the most manic and intense city I've yet encountered.

More on that later. We arrived in Cairo early Wednesday morning, about 6am. After perhaps the worst goddam bus journey I've ever endured. It was about 8 hours and after spending the previous night on Mount Sinai, you might imagine we were all a little tired. So though we never anticipate a terrific night's sleep on a bus, we didn't anticipate the bus company deliberately and inexplicably sabotaging our chance at proper sleep. I mean, it's this simple. An overnight bus journey - you expect the passengers to want a little sleep. So you dim the lights, you pull the curtains over the windows, you make fairly comfortable seats. All the ingredients for a passable journey. What don't you do? You don't put the TV on and play absolute bollocks Arabic TV comedy at a mind-splitting volume so loud you are rendered useless to even think. Especially on a bus with just 10 people, 8 of them non-Arabic speaking tourists. At least 6 of our 8 hours were spent enduring this evil barrage of loud and banal foreign TV and though I did fall unconscious through exhausation several times, it didn't particularly rest me.

To be fair, the two Egyptians on the bus seemed to be watching the TV with great enjoyment.

So nobody was in a particularly great form upon arriving in early morning Cairo, which was surprisinlgy quiet. We negotiated a taxi and got to a hotel/hostel called Dahab Hotel. It's alright, comfortable with adequate facilities and at least 63 staff to every paying customer. We got some sleep, and about noon me and Simon took on the fury that is daytime Cairo.

It's winter here and I can only imagine how this city would be like in summer, with the scorching 40 degree heat. The traffic is Albania-style - ie continual needless beeping of horns and survival of the fittest car laws. Traffic lights exist, but often more as decorations. Crossing the road alive really does seem like the will of Allah.

This city proves chaos theory basically.

We just wandered aimlessly, unsuccessfully looking for food, because it's Ramadan right now of course, and so we eventually had to settle at eating an ok snack at the hotel. It was...ok. All food in Egypt seems to range from between "ok" and "poison your cat with this."

We didn't do a whole lot else with the day because at 7pm we had to meet Susanne at the airport, and so this required leaving at least two hours early to get there. Finding where the bus departed was task enough. It involved asking many people, guessing which information was correct, and hoping that the random bus you were on would take you there. But we managed it and got to the airport almost an hour before Susanne's flight arrived. We hung around (I ate a gigantic bag of plastic sweets until I felt ill) and finally she appeared, smiling in great relief, looking a little scared, saying show she'd have "freaked" it we hadn't showed up.

She's only grown more scared since.

Cairo is an intimidating city and although fascinating, it's exhausting and for the uninitiated could be a little terrifying. After enduring almost two hours in the bus back to the centre of town, packed with a pile of loud traffic at a virtual standstill, not much helped by the fact that at one point with the bus stuck in non-moving traffic, the bus driver jumped out the bus, ran to a shop to get a kebab and only then did the traffic begin moving again with a lot of angry cars behind us waiting for the driver to find his way back into his bus trapped in the middle of the road.

Then upon getting off the bus, we were hounded by a very persistant and almost aggressive guy trying to trick us into getting Susanne to go to his hotel, and who followed us all the way to our hotel until giving up.

This is a big hassle of Cairo. I'm sure most Cairiens are friendly and pleasant. Unfortunately, a lot of the ones you meet are after something. They see the white Westerner in the street and they chase after you, asking where you're from, asking where you're going and pointing you in various directions. Being "helpful". But it's not help, it's usually trying to force you into their shop. It happened in Istanbul but never seemed so insistant. I think it's worst in our area because there's a number of hotels, and it can make going out a hassle. It's just wearing sometimes, having to be polite (because I hate to be openly rude) while walking on and trying to get rid of your new friend. And it does mean that some of the genuinely friendly Egyptians who are just wanting to help get brushed off because you simply can't talk to and believe everyone who approaches you. Fortunately, as a general rule, anyone who rushes to speak to you can just be ignored.

I got told to "go to hell" by one guy today, despite being polite but firm, but that might have been because Allie said "just ignore him".

So, last night, we just tried and failed to by alcohol, and just all spoke in the hotel restaurant area until about 1am. Catching up with stuff in Aberdeen with Susanne and all that.

Today, minus John (because he's been there twice before), we all visited the Egyptian museum until we were all pharoahed out. Tutankhamun was quite cool, and the room full of mummified corpses was pretty spooky, and the array of ancient relics was astounding. And remarkably preserved. Suspiciously preserved in fact. I'm not entirely convinced the whole pyramid thing wasn't just a scam thought up 100 years ago. I think it's a pretty good build up to the pyramids of Saturday.

Yup, that's the plan then. Tonight, a few drinks because tomorrow Allie and John are moving on to tour round the rest of Egypt, and we're going to pick Justin up at the airport at pm, if we can be bothered. I think that's it for now.

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

How's the weather there in Aberdeen? A little grey? Excellent. Here, in Dahab in Sinai, Egypt, we're being treated to a pure blue sky and glorious sunshine. With the additional bonus that you can sit back with a beer and taunt the dry nation of Saudi Arabia, which is clearly visible across the sea.

So yes, out of Israel and into Egypt, into the pleasant but entirely artificial backpacker resort that is Dahab. We got here on Sunday. After fleeing Jerusalem, getting a bus to Tel Aviv and then to Eilat on the southern most tip of Israel. We arrived there only a little before 1am but while this would usually be considered craziness, because Sandwich-Girl Allie and Birthday-Sharer John met us the bus station and took us to the rather crappy but cheap hostel (the ones we'd selected prior had all been closed or obnoxious it seems). We were rather tired, having been up since 3am, with only two hours sleep after a fairly heavy night drinking. Plus it had been quite a big day, so a good night's sleep would have been pleasant but unfortunately the retards that shared the dorm with us insisted on all waking at 6.30am and talking very very loudly in Hebrew. I made a concerted effort not to be friendly when I finally rose from bed at 8am.

Our stay in Eilat was for business however, not pleasure, purely as a stopover to get our Egyptian visa and this we did. We went to the Egyptian consulate there, filled in forms, paid some money, and a few hours later got our visa. I was rather jammy here actually. You were supposed to bring one passport photo with you and I'm sure I had some in reserve but I couldn't find them. So thank God for my egotistic vanity. In Montenegro I got all my photos developed and... my Lord, if a load of my photos weren't just close up pictures of me. However did that happen? And so very enterprisingly (and very lucky that the guy accepted it) I took one of the photos and cut out my face and voila - a visa.

We didn't piss around then, and the four of us took a local bus to the Israeli-Egyptian border at Taba and after paying yet more money and enduring the prolonged efforts of the Egyptian security people to find guns on us (they became convinced for a while that John was carrying a single bullet) we found ourselves in Sinai, Egypt. Along with a German guy and a Swissard girl, we took a taxi to Dahab, our bags rather scarily strapped to the roof.

Ivo had recommended the Bishbishi camp in Dahab to us, so that's where we found ourselves, greeted by the very friendly and helpful Mohammed who looked spookily like Will Smith, as he himself told us. For just over a pound each per night, we got a pleasant little hut for two. My bed even had a lizard on it to begin with, though after it scurried off I never saw it again. But the facilities were clean and good, and even hot water in the showers.

Simon was feeling rough (the pansy) so pussied off to bed as the night got on, but myself, John and Allie found a bar made to look like a big ship and introduced ourselves to the delight of Egyptian "Stella". Stella by name, but not by nature. It's the biggest beer in Egypt, but don't imagine that's any indication of quality. In fact, quality was dictated entirely by random as each batch differs, according to John who's been to Egypt twice before. If you don't like your Stella in one bar, go elsewhere and you get an entirely different drink.

Our Stella tasted alright though and we ploughed our way through a now regrettable amount. Suddenly it was 3am and we reckoned we should be heading back.

It was my birthday the next day and let's not pretend I woke up bright and happy. Egyptian Stella can do things to a man that you don't want beer to do, so I lay in bed with wave upon wave of nausea spashing at me, until I finally found the strength to get up. Although I felt alright by this point, I discovered soon after that my body was rebelling against Stella and as vengeance for the punishing quantities I'd inflicted upon it, it was immediately converting all food intake into a liquid mess in the toilet.

Still, not to matter. I enjoyed a milkshake with Simon, Allie and fellow birthday boy John, plus endured a pasta that appeared to be 40% sand. Then translated this into the toilet, and just lazed around the whole day. Doesn't sound terribly exciting but it's been the first birthday of my life I've ever had in warm weather. Lazing around outside on my birthday has always been an alien concept previously.

Later on Mohammed very kindly cooked us all a meal of chicken and rice which we ate at precisely 4.50pm, just as the sun set and the daytime fast for Ramadan ended and all Muslims prompty cram their faces with food. It was a good meal, spoilt only by the fact that it too resulted in a messy translation.

I felt fine after though, and we all decided on our plan of action. Likewise, John and Allie hadn't been at peak fitness since the Stellas of the night past, so we ended up only having the single birthday drink. Yes, I apologise, I only had one beer on my birthday. I am officially disgraced. But we'd booked ourselves into an overnight climb up the fairly nearby Mount Sinai, scene of where Moses did a load of biblical stuff. The bus left at 11pm, got to Mt Sinai at 1am, and left back for Dahab at 10am. The 9 hours between were to climb the mountain, sleep a couple of hours, then return back down.

It was all rather cool actually. The minibus was full and upon arriving and trying to figure out where Mt Sinai actually was, we began climbing. Taking the right path this time - while climbing Masada in Israel, myself and Simon managed to go totally off course and found ourselves climbing a gravelly and sheer moutain face in total darkness. But we avoided such errors this time (helped by the fact that this time we weren't both hungover and still drunk). The climb was amazing. A bit tiring, as the mountain is about 2500m, but the moon lit everything up and the view of the stars was remarkble. The mountain was a groovy mountain too - barren, rocky, sandy, craggy. Get some postcards of it and see for yourself - I can't be bothered thinking of adjectives.

It was also pretty damn cold and when finally getting to the top, we all just climbed in our sleeping bags and found some space to rest for a couple of hours.

Hmm, time is running short here. Basically, we saw sunrise, came back down (meeting a heavily bearded Russian Orthodox priest on the way, clad in black gown and giant gold crucifix) and are now back in Dahab. At 10pm we leave for Cairo, another overnighter (we've done way too many of these recently) along with John and Allie. Tomorrow we're meeting Susanne at 7pm at the airport, followed by Justin on Friday.

We might also check out the pyramids too. If we can be bothered.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

I don't believe it. I'd written half my entry and this damn computer pisses up and it's all been deleted. I don't have the effort to write it again, or the time. I am really pissed off by this.

Basically, we're still in Jerusalem but about to leave. We're going to Eilat via Tel Aviv (no direct buses because it's the Shabbat, the Jewish holy day) but only to pick up a visa for Egypt. Then to Dahab in Sinai in Egypt where we'll re-meet with Allie and John, who we met on Thursday night when having a drink with Ivo. Allie has some strange obsession with a plastic sandwich lunchbox, so much so she has tattoos of it, and John's birthday is on the same day as mine. So a big piss-up on Monday then. Hopefully Ivo will be joining us. He has a worrying habit of walking about in his underwear, but it otherwise fine.

Since I last wrote, we saw the Western Wall at sundown on Friday - the beginning of Shabbat. It was incredible. Loads of Jews packed into this space, singing and dancing and having a great time. I was expecting something solemn, but it was nothing of the sort. We got fairly drunk again that night, and went on a 12 hour tour which started at 3am. A very rough morning then. We climbed Masada, a big mountain plateau and watched sunrise, then went to the Dead Sea but I'd forgotten my trunks in the hazy hungover morning, and then went to a quite groovy nature reserve.

In a few hours we set off to Tel Aviv.

I'm sorry. I'd written much more in much more detail but this computer's wiped it all and I'm pissed off. I was counting the number of times Simon blew his nose loudly while I wrote. So far he's on 7 times. All Simon does these days is blow his nose loudly, random at any time. It's become background noise.

I'm going to try and publish this entry now and it had better not mess up again.

Thursday, November 22, 2001

It's our last night in Jerusalem now. I was sort of hoping for it anyway, because I'm getting a bit restless and want to move on, plus the weather's turned cold, but Simon was wanting a couple more days. He's changed his mind now though. I think Jerusalem's getting to him.

Jerusalem, and I cannot stress this enough, attracts some very, very, very odd people.

For all the history, and churches, and mosques, and soldiers, and big walls, and immense religious significance, it is definitely the people in Jerusalem that I'll remember most vividly in years to come. I cannot imagine there being anywhere else on Earth with such a high proportion of insane people. The terrifying thing is that we've only been here three nights so far and I know we've only just scraped the surface of the pure mentalism that exists here.

Last night at the hostel was just ludicrous. As an experience it was unforgettable and I don't regret it, but we have as a result moved to a new hostel, because there's some experiences that aren't worth prolonging. It was like being some in stupid film with over the top, charicatured, stereotyped lunatics. Except these people were sitting right next to us.

I did mention most of them in yesterday's entry, but oh boy, there was some character development since. The killer turned out to be the nicest of the lot. He seemed quite intelligent too, just very nervy and twitchy. You could honestly see him snapping. He seemed to get on quite well with this Russian guy who was sharing a bed in our dormitory. The Russian guy was totally spacey and spoke like he was drunk, but was also quite friendly. Seeing the Russian guy and the killer interact was a most curious experience as the conversation stammered by and leapt from topic to topic. Amusingly, they confided in us that they thought the slugman (who almost grunted at me one more time before getting an early bed) was a bit crazy. We laughed, and in a rare moment of revelation the killer said "Everyone here is crazy!"

It turned out to be the Israeli/Canadian/Swede that was the craziest of the lot. He was called Johnny, or so he said. To be honest, I doubt quite a lot of what he said. Such as him being a marine. He spoke loudly in this blues-singer type drawl. He said he'd been in the Israeli desert, serving in the military, for the last 14 years and had hated every moment of it. "Land of milk and honey?" he scorned loudly, "More like the land of shit and piss!" and he repeated this remark at least five times. He had a "friend" called Andrew, another guy who must have been in his 50s and seemed quite Jewish, who he had loud conversations with. Johnny also warned us that the Russian guy was crazy and liked to take shower at 5am and would speak to himself loudly in Russian.

But the reparte was best between Johnny and the crazy woman allegedly in charge of the day to day running of the hostel, Susan. A nasal American, at least in her forties, with miserable curly hair and baggy trousers in shreds. Her face seemed permanently contorted in an expression somewhere between utter bewilderment and utter contempt. She was a floaty, spaced-out creature, and Johnny delighted in yelling abuse at her. The abuse appeared to pass her by and it was only when Johnny called her his wife that she meandered down the stairs and looked at us and screeched wretchedly "I'm not his wife. He's not a marine. He's a homosexual," and disappeared again.

We had a couple of beers and took an early night, deciding then that maybe we'd just move on the next morning. We'd already shifted from the dormitory to a marginally more expensive private room because it had begun to piss it down with rain and the dormitory roof was leaking water onto our beds, and the electricty sockets next to them really didn't look too trustworthy.

I was woken up in the middle of the night with some sort of commotion downstairs. As we discovered, our room functioned as an ear to the entire hostel. Johnny was cursing loudly about some doorhandle to a toilet door being missing, telling Andrew (I presume, it's very possible he was speaking to himself) that Susan was an intelligent woman and had probably hidden it to get revenge. This went on for ages, and it was later in the morning, when Susan was up, that a small story began to emerge.

All this I gather from Johnny's continued abuse towards Susan, and a phonecall between Susan and the hostel owner. Something about another guest that night, in a private room, who'd paid for two nights but had left that morning and wanted his money back for the second night. She seemed insistant that it was because Johnny had been getting into fights (something he'd told us) and had been breaking glass all over the hostel that night. She kept calling him an "assassinator" and screamed furiously down the phone that she hasn't been telling guests that he was a killer, it had been him boasting about it. She kept saying the word "assassinator" over and over. It's already become one of my favourite words.

So that was two killers, at least, we were staying with. I'd love to have stayed longer but... well, time to move on. We're now at our third and final hostel in the city, and it seems quite good. There's even someone normal in our room, a Dutchard called Ivo. He's pleasant, relaxed, not obviously nuts and apparently not an assassinator.

Still, we're leaving tomorrow to Eilat. Prompted mainly by some mysterious experience Simon had today with a small gay Jew from London, also called Simon. We were doing our own thing today, and when we met back up again, Simon was looking visibly shaken and very quickly agreed that he wanted to leave Jerusalem tomorrow. He met this small gay Jew from London, also called Simon, in the post office and apparently Simon the Jew (as we'll call him) was very intense and tried to psychoanalyse him and was very personal and touched his leg, and as Simon escaped, Simon the Jew asked him if he was 100% heterosexual or just 90%. That's all I've gathered so far, Simon has been very vague on the whole affair so I'm going to check out his account to see if he gives any more detail. But he did seem decidedly shaken by it all.

That's Jerusalem then. A city full of mentalists. Tomorrow - Eilat.

Oh yeah, and it's our 100th day travelling today. Our 100 shots of beers in a 100 minuters has been postponed, but a good few drinks looks pretty certain. And also, in just 4 days time (26th Nov) it's my 23rd birthday, so I'm expecting a simply gargantuan amount of emails wishing me a wonderful birthday and unconfined joy for the future. Ok?

Wednesday, November 21, 2001

It seems Simon's web blocker isn't blocking anything. I've discovered that bestiality has made my blocker kick in.
Jebi se
Sex shop
Simon's web-blocker is allowing him to view my page, whereas my one is much more severe. I'm going to try out a few words and see when his one kicks in. Bear with me.
This is bizarre. I'm at an internet place which is cheap by Israeli standards (12 shekels, ie 2 pounds, an hour) because it's something to do with some Christian charity, but perhaps as a consequence of this, it has a "web blocker", a device that prevents me from entering a website if it has adult/obscene comment. Apart from the obviously distressing fact that I'm being deprived of my duck and owl bestiality sites, I'm not even allowed to enter my own website. Seriously. When I try, this is the message I get:

A Word On Your Blocking List From The Category(s):

Adult Content

I'm allowed to enter Simon's page though. Hurray.

This slight strangeness is just typical of the madness that Jerusalem attracts. It's the centre of three major religions (four by the time my mark has been made) and it's no coincidence that it attracts a fairly eccentric crowd. Especially in the off-season and in this current climate of uncertainity where casual tourists are way way down.

Our first two nights were spent in the Petra Hostel. A fair enough place, but a bit soulless and with an utterly vacant receptionist. It was just a bit bland really, although with a rooftop that gave a good view of the old city, and a nice balcony outside our dorm room (which was inhabited only by us). And it sold beer. Hmm, it's sounding quite good now in retrospect. We've changed to the Citadel Hostel now and already I'm wondering if it was a mistake. It looked so promising when we took a look round yesterday. It's a cool little building, narrow but high, with white stone stairways winding up the building. It feels like it's been carved out of rock. With a nice little rooftop with a good view as well. Our impression was greatly helped by the guy who showed us around - called Mayad or something. He hasn't been present today, replaced instead by this crazy woman with an American (I think) accent that sounds like it's painful for her to force words out. She seems permanently distracted and appears to know nothing at all - "You should ask Tourist Information" is her favourite phrase. We've also had the pleasure of meeting the other guests. I say guests - they all appear to be permanent residents who live in the hostel. There's three others and I think we're sharing the dorm with them. One guy is this older, fat Israeli guy who looks like he wants to sink into the ground. He said "Shalom" to me, and I said "How are you doing?" and he just grunted and looked like he wanted to sink into the ground. He's going to be a slug in his next life, and I think he'll enjoy it. Another guy seems alright, if a tad odd. Again, older, balding with white hair that might be pulled into a ponytail. He just watches TV.

We're getting on with the third and final guy best. He's of Israeli descent but I think spent a long time in Germany. Oh, and he's a killer.

Yeah, we're sharing a room with a killer. It's not that fact that disturbs me the most, it's the fact he told us within five minutes of meeting us. It was self-defence against a neo-Nazi attack, which maybe took place in prison (me and Simon took different interpretations of what he said. What is sure is that he spent a year in prison for something). He seems pleasant but is obviously not quite there. He's twitchy and nervy and I hope he doesn't own any firearms. But he is friendly. He's a Messianic (?) Jew apparently, which is a Jew that believes in Jesus, which I thought defeated the point of being Jewish, but I didn't press him on it.

So we've got two nights with these madheads, and then we'll move onto our third and final hostel before leaving to Eilat at the far south of the country.

Ok, that's our living conditions then. I suppose I should stuff about what we've been doing. It's just the usual tourst stuff mainly, or the places we're allowed into. We've wandered all about all four quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Christian and, for some reason, Armenian) of the old city, we've walked along the part of the ramparts that we were allowed, the other being closed for security reasons, we checked out David's Tower and the museum which was quite interesting, we checked out the Western Wall which has a load of UltraJews standing in front of it, shaking. And we took a tour under the city, along heaps of tunnels, with a distinctly Jewish biased to the tour.

Yeah, this is something that's occurred to me. The Jews and Muslims don't seem to get on very well, as you may have noticed, but from my own casual tourist viewpoint, they really seem very similar. They both believe in the same God and both basically subscribe to the Old Testament (with the Muslims branching off after Mohammed put in an appearance in 600AD), they both have a propensity for beards beyond the normal call of duty, they both quite like hats too, the more religious sects like to cover up women's hair (with the Muslims often going all-out and covering up the entire woman) and there's other stuff too. I suppose it's like just about any group of people in the world - "hate your neighbour" seems a universal philosophy. Nobody seems to like their neighbour. Israel and uh... anyone near it, Croatia and Serbia, Kosovo and Serbia, Pakistan and India, Newcastle and Sunderland, America and Canada (if they only knew how similar they were...) and even myself and the girls who used to live next door. They were awful.

The only hatred of a neighbour that is justified is the magnificent Ross County and the disgrace that is Caley Thistle.

Um, what else then? Today I took a wander into the new city, which was quite good. A few bustling markets just ripe for Palestinian bombing. I've been wondering what a suicide bomber sounds like. Is it a mix between your traditional explosion and the sound of a human body pulping itself into many many chunks? A sort of squidgy blast?

I also phoned Daniel, the Israeli we met in Sofia, and I'm going to phone him again later to arrange to meet up with him. So we'll see what happens there. And tomorrow is our 100th day travelling, which is obvious cause for celebration. We plan to drink 100 shots of beer in 100 minutes. This cannot fail to be a good night.

That's all.

Monday, November 19, 2001

And yeah. I've decided about the kibbutz thing. I'm 100% doing it, for about two or three months, so I'll see everyone about March. Probably.
One very obvious thing about Israel that both I and the supposedly devoted to his girlfriend Simon have noticed is the very very attractive girls. If the Jews have contributed one thing to Earth, other than my own personal amusement at mimicry by going "Oi oi oi", it's a substantial number of really very good-looking girls. Enhancing their looks is the fact that a large of number of them are serving in the military and so march about in a quite fetching uniform. But the clincher, the single thing that might just lift them aboe Croatian girls in the looks stage, is the gun. Oh yeah. Before Israel I'd never appreciated the appeal of girls and guns, but it works. Especially when the gun is longer than your arm.

I phoned home for just the second time since I've been away, and mentioned all this to my sister, and she called me a pervert.

Regardless, the appeal of Israeli girls with guns inspired me to write a poem the other day. I'm not usually one for poetry, but I have every confidence this poem will win me many prizes. It's called "Female Soldier With A Gun".

Female soldier with a gun
Jesus Christ you turn me on
With your semi-automatic
You little Jewish princess

Female soldier with a gun
Defending Jerusalem
Raise your arms - you're patriotic!
As the Palestinian flinches

This last verse is currently optional.

Female solider with a gun
Please come to Aberdeen
I will feed you gin and tonic
And let you feel my inches

I think I'll send it to the head of Israeli security and see if it can be made the song for the Forces. A rallying call for the Israeli army.

Ok, aside from marvellous poetry (incidentally, proving conclusively that my journey has been one of culture and discovery, and not just me getting drunk cheaply), I suppose a fair few things have happened since my last entry. From Tel-Aviv we went to Haifa, then to a town called Akko, and now we find ourselves in the capital city of religion - Jerusalem.

Also, the capital city of curly sideburns. I tell you, these Jews sure know how to grow sideburns. I call them UltraJews, the ones with these cascade curls of sideburns and big black hats, and long dark jackets. Like slightly odd hitmen. They usually have beards too. Mullets have been very thin on the ground here, but in a way I feel the long curly sideburns are almost a Jewish equivalent. They have a definite charm.

One day I hope to see an UltraJew with a mullet. I honestly cannot forsee my heart coping with such a sight.

Right then. Our final night in Tel-Aviv was spent purchasing a pint for 3 pounds 50, running away from that place and into a supermarket, and buying two bottles of cheap wine. We had no choice but to drink both of them that night, although the second did take some effort. Simon maintains it was nice, but it was like strong Vimto.

We cleared off to Haifa the next morning, feeling a little rough but I've felt worse. Simon felt worse actually, which made me feel better. We've both had colds over the last few days. Mine started in Marmaris and is effectively gone now, but Simon's is a few days behind and so I'm getting the joys of his thrice daily nose-blowing harmonies converted into a 24 hour daily symphony of nose blowing. Is it just one hankie he uses?

After our first hostel being closed due to the imminent arrival of 50 kids, we found ourselves in a new and pleasant hostel called The Port Inn. Clean, good facilities, satellite TV, friendly staff. Let down only by the vague smell of sewage that mysteriously persisted in our room, and the fruitloopity of the guests we were sharing with. There were 6 I was aware of. One was just a guy I saw briefly and he seemed alright. Another was just a podgy man with a thick goattee. One guy was either asleep at a random time in the day, or simply not about at all. On his bed was a Russian computer programming book. The most infuriating guy was an Israeli guy who spoke a few sentence to us and otherwise insisted on playing three awful songs loudly in the main communal room. On repeat. Just these three songs. I don't know what they were but one sounded like Freddie Mercury with OMD backing him - but much much worse. It was a dreadful song. He slept quite a lot too. Then there were two girls/women we were forced to have breakfast with. One was a monosyllabic German girl working on a kibbutz, and the other was some ghastly Canadian women called Alex who was far far far far too spiritual and soul-searching for her or anyone's good. Oh man, she was fascinated with herself, and seemed to be involved in some very self-involved artistic projects. She had some story about seeing a koala teddy bear and then later on meeting an Australian, and equated this with destiny. She talked a lot, and finally she needed some "personal space".

Haifi turned out to be a most charming town. Same size as Aberdeen but more obvioiusly attractive. Aberdeen isn't the mostly classically of beautiful cities, though it does have a grey appeal. But Haifa was stretched up a steep hill which gave a great view of the curving coastline, and its buildings seemed bright and happy. It had some Temple of Bah'ia'i'a''i'a'a'''' too, with 18 gardens, all lined up vertically up the steep hill, and perfectly symmetrical, that was very attractive.

We phoned Zahi that evening and he called by the hostel and took us out. First was a failed attempt to get into a club in some kibbutz far out of town. On the way we were stopped by police and searched for drugs. And it was a pretty thorough search too. I mean, as if I look like a hard-drugs user. The club turned out to be a bit of a no-go. After queueing continental style, we made it to the front just as people were stopped being admitted, unless they were attractive and female. However, as the music being blasted was "Sex Bomb" by the Welshman Tom Jones, I don't think I missed too much. We ended up at a pub near the hostel, which was really quite good, except the prices. Israel is even more expensive than Britain for alcohol. We stayed there till about half 3, after Zahi got kissed on the cheek by a guy who'd lost a game of darts and not long after, a girl on the lips who'd also lost. There were two more girls in the same group, so Zahi really should have held out for more.

Second day in Haifa was mostly just wandering about the city really, and later for a couple of drinks with Zahi, but it was a fairly early night for both. An early rise the next day and onto the town of Akko, a town older than Jerusalem. We stayed in a hostel which was a converted mansion, but as we were the only people we had the run of it. And now we're in Jerusalem. I'm getting tired of writing as you may have guessed. Jerusalem's alright so far. It's one of these places I was brought up knowing about as a kind of myth so maybe it needs more time to sink in.

Thursday, November 15, 2001

Hi there. A small piece of advice for you. When the security at Tel Aviv airport ask what your business is in Israel, and you mean to say "tourism", don't stutter and accidently say "terrorism". It is for this reason that myself and Simon currently find ourselves in a Tel Aviv prison.

No, of course not, but it's good advice nonetheless.

So indeed we find ourselves in the country that is the suicide bomber capital of the world. Already I've witnessed over twelve Palestinians blast themselves to chunks. And though I've so far escaped injury, I'm considering claiming compensation for the mess they've made of my T-shirt by exploding their innards all over me. Besides the condensed mass of suicidal Palestinians however, both myself and Simon are fine. Surrounded by Jews sure, but completely fine.

Hmm, the drink is pretty expensive over here however, so I could be finer.

You last heard from us in Marmaris, after the fiasco that was the Marmaris to Rhodes ferry connection. It's been the first "disaster" of our trip so far - about 40 quid wasted, plus what might have been an enjoyable ferry cruise to Haifi via Cyprus - but like the true heroes we are, we've converted disaster to unequivocal success. Well, perhaps. Still, we are going to appear on Israeli TV now. Yup, no joke.

More on that in a bit. First of all, our return to Istabul. Obviously, this return was a humiliating one, having to return to Melissa and "crew" (ie, anybody who happened to be residing at the hostel which was increasingly belonging to her after her extended residence) so on the hellish overnight bus journey back, myself Simon and Owen concocted a story of such brilliance that no-one there would ever suspect us of miserable ferry connection failure.

And our story would have stood, if our good natures had not relented.

It was a simple one. Owen was to simply act confused. When asked why we'd returned, he was to say he couldn't quite remember, but that the important thing was that he was back in Istanbul. Pressed further and he'd continue to be confused and say "Ask Niall". Simon was to act jittery when asked and insist that he really didn't want to say. He just didn't. If pressed he'd get very agitated and ask to simply drop the subject. And me, I was to be more laid back and to just repeat that we really couldn't tell what had happened but that it wasn't important and that the important thing was that we were all ok and back in Istanbul.

Incredibly, this pile of garbage actually worked to great success. Upon returning to the large dormitory room, to a variety of surprised people, we kept to our story and managed to stir up a great deal of concern. Helped greatly by Owen, when dealing with Melissa and Tim (from Canada - the new United States), and managing to pull off a great piece of acting that apparently had Tim's face contorted in such a degree of concern that he looked like he was going to cry. Me, Simon and Owen then went out to get our tickets and everyone else did the rest of the work, wondering what on earth had happened to us. Apparently the story going round was that we'd been drugged on the bus to Marmaris, and a number of the hostel residents began to fear for their own safety on Turkish buses.

We slept or rested or "recovered" in bed for much of the afternoon, thus helping our story along. The simple truth was that we were knackered after some child of Satan screamed and crapped the entire journey, not productive to a night's sleep. The crazy old man who woke me up to ask if he could sit next to me, then walked away, seems incidental.

The big event of the day was Melissa's 21st. She was out most of the day with "they guy" (ie, her Turk), but at 8.30pm we were to all gather and go out for a meal. After a few drinks in the hostel bar a group of us managed to gather for this, although closer to 9.30pm really. A very international group it was too. From memory there were the two Scots of course (myself, Simon), only two Australians (Melissa, Owen), a Belgishman (Eric), a Mexican (Claudia), a Turk ("the guy"), a Canadadaian (Tim), an Englishman (the 50ish Chris, who'd seen less bellied days and had a highly worrying propensity for wandering around in horrifically skimpy underpants) and an American (David). Plus two Turks who joined us later, but how am I expected to remember foriegn names?

We had our meal, eventually, after locating a place that could actually cope with this big group assaulting them at such a late hour (appraoching 11pm when we got there). Perhaps it was for this reason service was excruciatingly slow and the food, hmm, average. Obviously I've been too used to kebabs recently and anything that isn't carved directly from a mass chunk of revolving animal flesh seems less than satisfying these days.

The curious event of the night was our next choice of venue. Chosen by one of the Turks, it was a nightclub with a live band who were very proficient, if with appalling musical taste. Walking down the corridor it struck me immediately - I'd been here before. But in a much less sober state. The week before. With Bambi and Barbie, while so ferociously drunk I couldn't move or speak. Happy memories indeed.

Alas, I didn't get the chance to repeat this feat of drunkenness and myself, Simon and Owen had to leave early (well, about 1.30am), as we had our flight to Tel Aviv the next morning, and no way were we risking missing another voyage to the Holy Land.

And so this time we did make it. After numerous checks in Istanbul's airport, being questioned and metal detected (no deep cavity probing though), we took to the air and landed less than two hours later, with not a single bomb having gone off. And the much reputed heavy Israeli airport security proved very disappointing. I didn't have to strip at all.

It was as we waited for our bus into the centre of town that we happened to meet a girl so crazy that I still haven't begun to figure her out yet. Me and Simon have discussed this and she may be the craziest person we've met travelling yet. Well, this is aside from some of the more obvious lunatics you see, such as the guy in the mulitcoloured suit and fez, with glittery bits, and openly carrying a shotgun who got onto our Istanbul to Marmaris bus and barely got a glance from the other passengers (mind you, you should never stare too long at a crazy guy with a shotgun). No, this girl was crazy in a far more subtle, and rather charming, way. Pleasant - but a fruitloop.

She's called Shevonne and she's South African, but ethinically Indian. She's disappeared now, but if I do go and work on a kibbutz then it's very very likely I'll see her again.

She did start off pretty normal. Very softly spoken and gentle, and it was only the very fact she was in Israel at all that would have given suggestion of madness. That is, she'd never left South Africa before and Israel was the first foreign country she;d ever been to (yeah, a real obvious choice there) and she'd decided to go and work on a kibbutz for four months.

Anyhow, we were going to the same hostel so all got on the bus and arrived, as darkness fell, at "Gordon Hostel" - so called because it's on Gordon Street and not, disappointingly, run by several men all called Gordon. An Italian with the unlikely name of Donald also joined us, but he didn't really feature. I only mention him because I didn't think Italians were ever called Donald.

Following Shevonne's "instincts" we wandered aimlessly for a while, until we found a sort-of restaurant we could eat at. Shevonne went on a madwoman ramble about her not entirely accurate life history, which included being 16 years old with a 3 year old kid, engaged to a pilot called Sanjeesh and later on her theory (which she believed in utterly, and seemed surprised we didn't go along with it) that Germany and China were secretly plotting to take over the world. Right now she'd probably sitting back, smugly waiting for them to declare war so she can say "told you so".

You'd have had to have seen her to fully appreciate some of the craziness, although she was quite fun with it. The night drew to a close on the rooftop of the hostel, drinking pissy lager and her pretending to drink coke.

The next morning we were up early (too early for Simon, when Shevonne woke him up at 8.15am and he angrily told her to go away. The angriest I've ever seen Simon perhaps - never wake this man unnecessarily). Myself, Owen and the girl Shevonne all went to the kibbutz office together and Shevonne chose her desired kibbutz and basically forced poor Owen to join her there. For at least the next two months. I had the get out clause that I'm not intending to go until December, although in all fairness I'll likely join them there.

Things move fast in Israel - they've got to when you could be exploded at every possible second - and they only had two hours remaining in Tel Aviv before having to catch their bus and go to their future in their kibbutz. So with our short time left together we had a picnic on the quite impressive Tel Aviv beach, in the scorching sunshine (it's November and the weather just about eclipses the heights of an Aberdeen summer), before Owen and Shevonne managed to catch their bus.

Not before becoming famous in Israel however. The fame that we stumbled upon in Bulgaria has obviously followed us to Israel, and we're now appearing on Israeli TV. This Sunday or Wednesday I believe. A camera guy and some bird were around the hostel, filming stuff and conveniently, the four of us were about. Would we mind being filmed a little? Well, of course not, and so footage was taken of us acting "natural" in our room, then on the hostel rooftop, and then of the four of leaving the hostel (this bit was natural in fact, Owen and Shevonne had to catch their bus and the cameraman just chased after us). Finally, later on, me and Simon were captured enjoying a sunset together. Looking deep into each other's eyes... (or not)

That's about it then. Early tomorrow we aim to go to Haifa. As long as we're not too hungover as today is our 3 month travelling anniversary. In Haifa we're going to meet up with Zahi (hello Zahi, if you're reading this), who we met in Budapest all that time ago. We'll be there for a few days I expect. Then Jerusalem probably. Jerusalem and me in the same place? Man, we're talking major holiness.

Yeah, and the kibbutz stuff. I'm about 85% certain now. Basically, all I have to do is turn up in December and they'll find me somewhere, that somewhere probably being where Shevonne and Owen being if there are still vacancies. As it's the off-season and as casual tourists aren't flocking to Israel currently, I expect there'll be no problem. So I'm still going through with the full Frankfurt to Egypt plan, just going to Israel from Egypt, and not Scotland. But the decision partly rests on being able to delay my flight home, and also on how I feel in a few weeks time. But right now it's odds on the kibbutz.

Monday, November 12, 2001

Simon wrote:

... and get to enjoy the delights of the security at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. Apparently rectal examinations are quite frequent there...

Christ, I haven't wiped since Croatia. Shalom Israel.
Here's a little mind-teaser for you. It is Monday at noon, in the off-season. You are in Marmaris and you have booked a ferry ticket from Rhodes to Haifi, which departs 5pm on Tuesday. You speak to five Turkish men:

The first Turkish man says boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday.
The second Turkish man says the first Turkish man is wrong, and that boats leave from Kos to Rhodes at 5am Tuesday, and from Bodrum (near Marmaris) to Kos at 3.30pm on Monday.
The third Turkish man says the first and second Turkish men are wrong, and that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday, but that it isn't guaranteed and depends on the weather and number of passangers.
The fourth Turkish man says that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes on Monday at 3pm and cost just 22 million Turkish lira (about 9 pounds) if you pay him now. However, he is manning a food stall outside the travel agents.
The fifth Turkish man says that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes 9am Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The first Turkish man then changes his mind and says that it's 90% that boats leave from Marmaris to Rhodes at 9am Tuesday. You ask him ten more times and he then says no boats leave on Tuesday, just Wednesday.

Question: What do you do?

Answer: Ignore all Turkish men and go with your tail between your legs back to Istanbul for a flight to Tel-Aviv.

Yeah, so we're still in Marmaris, but not for much longer. Due to entirely unreliable ferry runs from Marmaris to Rhodes (only a 2 hour trip) and in fact anywhere in Turkey to the very nearby Greek islands, and the even more unreliable and changeable information, we've had to call it quits. Every option was gone through, but short of swimming 50km with our backpacks or hijacking a boat, there's no way whatsoever we could get to Rhodes before 5pm Tuesday. Not even hitching a ride with a fisherman as it's international water. So instead, we've had to get a flight from Istanbul to Tel-Aviv, on Wednesday. Cancelling our Rhodes ferry ticket (losing us 50%, or about 40 quid), but the flight's pretty cheap, thank God. We've had more than our fair share of good luck in the last three months, so in the end were probably due a little bad luck.

One small bonus is that, despite the humiliation of having to crawl back to Istanbul, we will make Melissa's 21st tomorrow. Hopefully she won't read this before that so we can make up some story of why we've returned. At the moment we're going to pretend we met some Glaswegians at the bus station, got drunk, missed our bus and went with them to Izmir for a day or so, before returning to Istanbul for our flight. That sounds believable enough, although we did have some slightly more outlandish stories. Returning to get Simon's custom-built toothbrush for example.

Back to Istanbul later on then. Oh well. I'm not massively looking forward to it. I have top admit I found the entire Istanbul experience a little shallow. The hostels were a big part of that - huge complexes that had everything you needed so you didn't ever have to leave them. Bars, cafes, restaurants - even a damn travel agency that kept trying to push packagae tours at you. And for all the friendliness of the Turkish, there was always a catch. Whether it be "Eat at my restaurant", "Visit my shop", "But my carpets", even "Give me your address so I can use you to get myself a visa to enter your home country" (I'm serious, though it wasn't me this was directed to specifically). I'm making a big generalisation of course, but of the many Turks who approached you, it's a generalisation that does stand on the most part.

I also felt far more cynical after Istanbul. The (mainly Australian) backpackers were all herded into these giant hostels so I'd be finding myself speaking to new people every half hour it seemed. And it's the first time I've stopped wanting to meet people. It just got too much. I feel so cynical saying I couldn't be bothered making the effort, but it's true. I got fatigued from having to ask where people were from, where they'd been, where they were going to.

I'd still recommend Istanbul as it's got fabulous sights and it's a fascinating place, but I can't say I'm in a hurry to return. I think it's just too geared for backpackers, to the degree that you no longer have the independence that's half the reason you're backpacking in the first place.

As for Marmaris, well. It's alright. By the sea and a very attractive view, being in a bay surrounded by mountains. But it's apparently a big resort for Brits, and it's off-season, so has very much the feel of being a bit of a ghost town. Like Budva in Montenegro, if not quite that extreme. It's pleasant, but feels lacklustre. Even the waiter of a restaurant we ate at seemed confused as to why we were visiting in November. Great weather mind you.

So that's the deal then. Overnight (again) to Istanbul, Melissa's birthday, then a plane Wednesday morning to Tel-Aviv.

I also saw a bus from here to a city called Batman in the east of Turkey. I was tempted...

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Just a quick one. We just arrived in Marmurus after an overnight bus from Istanbul, and in a day or so get a boat to Rhodes, then to Cyprus, then to Israel. This is myself, Simon and Owen (who's Australian but apologetically so). Despite persuasion, the other Australian (or "Italian-Australian") Melissa decided to remain in Istanbul where she's been (except for a short foray to Sofia) for the last month. So much so that she appeared in a travel agency promotional video. Her main reason for this appears to be "the guy" - the nightshift guy at the hostel that she's become acquainted with.

I'm currently in the middle of a decision too. Should I work in a kibbutz for two months in Israel? It's apparently quite easy to do and would be a curious experience, but I'm very 50-50 right now. It's what Owen's off to do there, and Melissa had been talking about it too, and even at worst it'd only be a couple of months out of my life. At best it'd be, well, good. I don't know yet - I'll see what happens in Israel.

Mum, just make up a story for Grandpa's behalf, ok?

Ok, that's about it for now.

Friday, November 09, 2001

Yup, still in Australia... sorry, Istanbul - though it's a very easy mistake to make. The youth population of Australia must be decimated, because if there were a lot hanging about Eastern Europe then Istanbul is crawling with them. Like a sick dog with lice. I think I'm developing a prejudice. Although all the Australians I've met individually have been great, I keep seeing gangs of people that can only be Australian, talking loudly and acting Australian, and I cringe/

But Australians aside, Istanbul is a remarkable city. Absolutely different from everywhere else I've been before. As well as the countless mosques and rocket-like minaret towers that distinguish it from any other European city, the entire place just has a different feel to it. It operates on a different agenda. Also a significant factor is that it's the first place (except perhaps Albania) where it's very evident that I'm not a native. I don't look Turkish. Other countries I just about fitted in, but not here, with the consequences that I'm accosted by numerous Turkish salesmen desperate to invite their new "friend" to their carpet salesroom, silver shop, kebab shop or anywhere that might involve a sale. I have become very very familiar with the phrases "Hello my friend!" and "Where are you from?". But I don't mind it. They're pushy but not unfriendly and as long as you take it in the right spirit, it's quite fun. Mind you, in a bad mood you realll cannot be bothered with it sometimes.

Anyway, our Istanbul experience can be very neatly divided into two halves, the second of which is ongoing (and could be ongoing all the way to Israel possibly). The first half is set in our first hostel, the Orient hostel, with Maurice and Becci, Viking the Finn, Bambi and Barbie the Canadian girls, and various annoying Australians all around. The second is at our second hostel, the Yucult, with two Australians we met (independently) in Sofia and met up with again, Melissa and Owen, plus various other annoying Australians all around (and some, just for a change, New Zealanders).

I'll begin, predictably, with the first half.

We checked into the Orient hostel on Tuesday morning, along with Viking but not Maurice or Becci who ended up going to a cheap hotel. Perhaps a wise choice as our hostel turned out to be pretty awful. Despite its various facilities (Travel agency, internet, bar), it couldn't compensate for the fact that the rooms were small and pokey, and it was part of what I've termed "Hostel Row". Basically 3 or 4 hostels all on one street, with the consequence that I felt like we were all being herded like cattle into one little area. Honestly, I felt like a package tourist. I didn't feel comfortable with it at all.

Anyway, that day we went out with the Canadian girls to the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. The Grand Bazaar was rather fun, albeit full of just tourist tat. I went and argued and haggled with various salesmen over stuff I had no intention of buying. It was fun just walking about and having various Turks pounce on you. Mind you, the hassle we received was nothing compared to what the girls got. They were ok with me and Simon around, but without us they said the "attention" went up a hundredfold. Yeah, girls, if you ever go to Turkey you've got to be prepared for some serious attention from the Turkish guys who see an opportunity with an easy Western girl. They're not necessarily aggressive, just very very persistant indeed.

The Blue Mosque then, a gigantic mosque coloured blue, you may not be surprised to hear. Not very blue though, just slightly. Bluish Mosque might be a more appropriate term. It was the first time I've ever been into a mosque and I have to say, I was hugely impressed. Not what I expected at all. After various churches and cathedrals I was expecting a similar sense of awe and grandeur, but the huge open interior of the mosque instead felt very serene and relaxing. Giant chandelier type things hung from long ropes from the roof, suspended just above your head, and a calm feeling enveloped the whole building. It was really pleasant, very serene.

A guy tried to pick Bambi up there too.

Then, after a while of just pissing around, darkness fell and drinking began. Oh Lord.

This all came from a bet I, apparently, made with Barbie in Bucharest. A bet I didn't actually remember making, but I'm very glad Barbie reminded me. Basically, the bet was that I though Kylie Minogue was less than 35, and Barbie thought she was older than 35. Whoever was right was owed 10 beers. And before you ask, if Minogue turned out to be dead on 35, we called it even. Barbie was insistant she was 37, but I was sure otherwise. Not just from my Neighbours days, but from Vince in the Sofia hostel. He was a big fan of Minogue and said he shared the same birthday as her, and was born just a year before or after her. Vince was 32, and I trusted his Minogue obsession.

So we popped on the internet, and typed in "Kylie Minogue date of birth", and got this: Kylie Minoque - Date of Birth: May 28, 1968. Ten beers were mine.

I'd already had a few. As you might imagine, that night I got very very drunk indeed. Too drunk, even if I say so myself. I was so drunk I was literally immobilised. Thinking clearly but unable to talk or move. Like a zombie.

In the bar opposite the hostel, it was all ok. Maurice and Becci additional, we sat round drinking and talking, along with a bunch of other people I can't even be bothered remembering anything about whatsoever. I'm willing to bet they were Australian, and I know that a few of them definitely irritated me. It was only upon going to some club way over in the other side of town, that my entire body shut down. I was gone. For about two hours I just stood, propped up against a post, watching stuff happen. I could think clearly, but couldn't actually do anything. Just think "Oh man, I'm really rather drunk here." I would have attempted to just head back to the hostel and go to bed, but I didn't have a clue where the hell I was. Eventually I was bundled into a taxi with some guy and gave him mild abuse before making it back alive.

I was in a bad mood all the next day. Hungover, lethargic and restless. I went to the Aya Sofya, an ex-church, ex-mosque, and it was soothing and I walked around, but I was in no form to do anything constructive really. Later on I went on a walk to try and defuse my bad mood but just ended up having an encounter with a damned shoeshine boy that I really don't want to talk about because every time I do I get really really angry, and so was in a bad bad mood. But things relaxed in the evening (after a drink...) and I was better. We had a final meal with the Canadian girls (at Zaza's restaurant, a Turk who accosted me in the street and started putting on a bizarre Scottish accent and was actually quite funny so I decided to eat there) as they left that evening to go elsewhere in Turkey. We're not sure if they're going to meet up with them in Egypt now as their worried mother is terrified of them going there, but Bambi is likely going to be working in Scotland in a few months so it's possible we'll see her again.

They laughed at a lot at my extreme drunkenness the night before. Cows.

And Maurice and Becci? What happened to you? They just disappeared. We'd been hanging around with them since Sofia, forming a band, and getting on well. I even gave Maurice an Uzbekistani hat. We agreed to meet up with them at a bar at 6 or 7pm. They didn't appear, and when we tried them at their hostel they weren't in. We knew they were going to leave Istanbul the next day, but we've no idea what happened to them.

I was exhausted anyway. and just had a few drinks with Simon and was taught how to play Backgammon by one of the bar people. I beat Simon. Twice.

All change the next day. From the Orient hostel to the Yucult hostel, saying goodbye to Viking the Finn in the process (I've criminally said nothing about him - hopefully Simon will). And hello to Owen and Melissa.

Owen was there when we got there, and Melissa arrived from Sofia later in the day. I had a meal with them at some place Melissa recommended, and as she's spent the last month in Istanbul she knows what she's talking about. She walks down the street and all the shopkeepers know her.

Dammit, I've written too much again. I've got better things to do. Basically, this is the story - tomorrow myself, Simon and Owen all go to Marmarus in Turkey to get a boat to Rhodes which goes to Cyprus and then Israel. Melissa is currently trying to decide if she wants to go, torn between actually going elsewhere other than Istanbul and celebrating her 21st birthday on a boat to Cyprus or staying put with her Turkish "manfriend", the night-shift guy at the hostel. At the moment I think she'll probably come along, as we all make a pretty good group and it would be a 21st birthday in style. I'm going to go now and do something better than writing to you lot.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Hello readers. My name is H. D. Rotherham and I am ghostwriting on behalf of Niall as he is now too famous to speak to you directly. He has fled to Istanbul after his fame in Bulgaria made it impossible for him to lead a normal life any longer. For the purposes of this and all future diary entries I will write as the man Niall himself, but any remarks you may regard as offensive or insensitive are entirely my own fault and not Niall's in any way.


Ok, I'm in my Istanbul hostel (the Orient hostel) after doing yet another overnight train, this time from Sofia. I think that makes 3 overnights in 6 days. But don't worry about me - I'm so unbelievably macho that I don't need the same level of sleep that you mortals require. Because I'm famous now, my face plastered all over the Bulgarian press. I've lost count of the times I've been stopped in the street in the last day or so, althoughj admittedly most of them were by gypsy women with dead-looking babies.

So indeed, I've finally left Europe and am now into Turkey, a country that doesn't really seem to belong to any continent. Only arriving today, and the overnight was alright. The first time we've used a sleeper carriage for an overnight, and the extra 5 quid was totally worth it. 14 hours in a 2nd class carriage would have been rough last night, but the sleeper was alright. With us are Maurice and Becci, from Sofia and before that, Bucharest. Everyone's been getting on pretty well, although it does look like Istanbul might be the end of the line for us. And so soon after forming a band together too. Yeah, over a Chinese meal on Sunday we decided to form a band. It's called "Hot Gossip" and our first album is "Internal Chocolate". We used to be fusion, but have since progressed to a sort of post-fusion sound.

But I think I'll spare you further details.

Our final days in Sofia then. I think I vaguely detailed the first night there, basically going out for a meal and drinks, but the quantities of food at the Chinese we kept going to are so vast that, unbelievably, we were so full and so knackered after eating, that we couldn't drink any more and just went back to the hostel and fell asleep.

Hmm, and yeah. Something else unbelievable has happened. Both Maurice and Becci (I feel like I'm talking about a couple of poofy Frenchards whenever I write these names, which couldn't be further from the truth) actually can out-sleep Simon. Maurice can out-eat Simon too, which is no mean feat. Simon's feet still smell 10 times worse, so he still has one feature of "interest".

Sunday at Sofia then was me shopping for hats and globes, Back at the hostel the hats proved a massive hit. I'd already donated my Uzbek hat to Maurice because he strangely suited it so much (it made him look like a rapper and me like a Hare Krishna), and the two girls who help run the hostel - Pauline and Toni - in the course of the day suddenly and seemingly spontaneously became a maelstrom of ultra-excited hysterics and got everyone in the hostel into the communal room and made them wear my hats, plus a few other spare hats, and took photos in between the quite incredible bouts of hyperlaughter. It might be the most excited I've ever seen anyone, ever. Later on a few of us went for drinks. The four of us, plus a Belgium guy whom myself and Melissa (the Australian girl at the hostel) are convinced is using prostitutes, called something stupid and French like "Ive", an old bearded Finnish guy whose middle name is Viking so I refuse to call him anything else, and a Japanese guy with a name I won't pretend to remember. It seemed the fit the pattern of most Japanese names: consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel-saki. Try it - make your own Japanese name. Ripasaki, Boposaki, Vewasaki, Nevosaki.

We drank a bit, before the three extras couldn't hack the pace and left the four of us to go to our Chinese meal and form our band, "Hot Gossip". I have a feeling Simon's going to say a bit more about so I'll spare my words/

Monday was our last day in Sofia. After a lazy morning drinking tea in the hostel (the tea in the hostel consisted of stuff called "Toursit Tea", stuff a year out of date, and stuff when translated from the Cyrillic read directly, and worryingly, as "Bioprogramma". Still, we drank it). Then I went out with Melissa for a wander, and to the dodgy memorabilia market. Simon insists upon calling this girl Maureen, but I'm not going to because she was rather attractive. On the way we searched for a copy of Tema magazine, which was meant to have myself and Simon featured of course, but had no luck, mainly through lack of newsagents.

The market was great. I've totally got into my haggling and wandered about arguing with various old men about artefacts/junk I had very limited interest in. I did find a couple of watches I liked though, and after considerable arguing and walking away I managed to get two for 40 Leva (12 quid), plus two free gifts thrown in because I was the "first customer" and because the guy liked to give presents to his "friend". How touching. The gifts were a medal celebrating 40 years of Communist rule, and a pair of earrings that Melissa happened to be looking at while I haggled. The watches were quite cool. One was a Soviet Russian one that only a day later I discover runs at a rate much faster that conventional time, but the other one works. It's the first Bulgarian digital watch and is big, very ugly and clunky. I've been without a proper watch for many months now, so even though everything I bought is probably made in Taiwan and can be bought elsewhere for 50p, I feel I've somehow profitted.

After that I wandered with the bitter and cynical Melissa, tolerating her mocking of my accent, until we finally struck gold and found the magazine and after a little flicking through it, found my face. I tell you, it's a hell of a strange thing, flicking through a magazine in Cyrillic and coming to a full page photo of yourself. We bought every copy in the kiosk (2), and delightedly showed the girl in the kiosk the pictures. She seemed rather amused.

I went for a coffee with Melissa then, hiding my face from the hordes of admirers. We examined the rest of the magazine, which is a glossy affair and looks very credible and fairly highbrow. There's 2 photos of me and one of Simon and... heck, I'll show you when I get back. We later got Pauline to translate some for us, and half our quotes seemed to have been made up, so hey, journalist is just as corrupt in Bulgaria too. Excellent. The magazine also has tits on the front page, which is probably the only reason I didn't make it. But it's to do with breast enlargement surgery and not porn. Oh well.

And after all that it was simply a case of getting back to the hostel, packing up, getting yet another huge Chinese meal (every evening I was in Bulgaria I ate Chinese) and pissing off to Turkey. Viking the Finn is also with us. We've checked into the Orient hostel, where we'd agreed to meet with Bambi and Barbie, but Maurice and Becci found some hotel. I may like haggling but Maurice is the most damn fussy haggler I've ever seen. You know there's no fear of being ripped off when he's around, or if you are then at least you'll get great entertainment as he gets absolutely furious with whoever's tried to scam him for 65p.

Istanbul looks to be fun then. We've aleady met up with Bambi (Barbie was in bed) and we'll probably be looking round the city with them later. Drinks with everyone later? Uh... I don't see why not. Melissa's going to be rejoining everyone too in a couple of days. She's supposed to be travelling about, but apart from her brief foray into Sofia, seems to have spent all her time (a month so far) in Istabul, and so after just a few days away is returning. It's one of these times when the people seem to "work" and get on so I'm hoping for a good few days. Cursory ideas are for 5 days in Istanbul.

Ok, I realise my description of all these people are still woefully inadequate but hey, I'll fill in the gaps if I ever rewrite this. I've got better things to do right now/

Sunday, November 04, 2001

Man, check this out. From Simon's diary.

...I am impressed with all the people who have emailed me that I do know who are reading the diary. It has gone on a bit of a rollercoaster... first Alice and Robin email me to say they are reading, and when they get mentioned in my next entry, everyone is all desperately emailing now to get their minute of fame on my diary, such as American Jack, Neil from Heidelburg (well, Livingston) and my auntie Hilli. Who else wants a mention? If you are reading, and want to become a part of it, drop us a line! Except Niall. He gets enough mentions already. I am not feeding his massive ego any more!

And he calls me an egomaniac? As he desperately pleads for people to mail him saying they're reading. As if I'd ever stoop to that level, as I'm sure mum, Justin, Justina, Sarah, Karen, Alice, Gauci and my two randoms "Douglas" and "Gerri", would testify.
The clock ticks down... not long until I'm nationally famous in Bulgaria. I may have to invest in some sunglasses to remain inconspicuous.

We're back in Sofia then and have been since yesterday. My entire time sense is messed to hell because we've had two overnight trains in three days, so what has only been about 4 days, seems like about 9. Or something. I don't know.

How was Bucharest then? It was, uh, I'm not sure. It didn't get a fair chance really. We arrived about 9am after the overnight from Sofia, which wasn't terribly restful, and checked into the "Elvis hostel". I know, a name like the Elvis hostel sounds suspiciously dodgy, but the owner turned out to actually be called Elvis, which excuses it slightly. Elvis was, however, definitely suspiciously dodgy. I honestly don't have a clue what was true and what wasn't, but it was certainly true that he was a burly Australian with dyed blonde hair. Whether he was half-Serbian and had been a mercenary in the war, whether he had spent 5 years travelling with no longer than 6 days in any one country, and whether his bullet wounds really were bullet wounds, all depends on your personal trust in the man. Written down it seems nonsense, but I'd rather not bet either way.

Anyway, apart from Elvis (who I spoke to mainly as he was naked, except for a pink towel) there were a few others in this very clean, very pleasant and very social hostel. A guy born in Singapore, from Australia and lived in Canada who I never got the name of, but he reminded me totally of Stan, for those of you who know who Stan is. Which probably isn't terribly many. He seemed to be seeing as many tourist attractions as was humanly possible in one day. Perhaps even more. So I only saw him in the passing. But we did speak a lot more to two rather attractive Canadian sisters called, uh, Bambi and Barbie. I'm not sure how much these names really represented the people underneath. Barbie had been travelling or working abroad for a year, and Bambi had joined her since the month previous. We immediately got on pretty well, as they seemed to be of the same cultural level as us. As anyone who knows myself or Simon well, our level of culture is exceedingly high. We are very, very cultured people indeed. So far in three months we have racked up over two museums and just under two art galleries.

I'm not sure how many pubs we've visited.

We left the wenches to their own devices, as we wandered a little aimlessly round the confusing streets of Bucharest. That first day I was rather pleased by what I saw. From other people's reports, I'd been expecting Bucharest to be a dark pit of hell, swamped with child beggars and evil lurking round each corner. But the weather was bright, the city was bustling away safely, and it looked not unlike Budapest. It all seemed pleasant enough. Maybe after the trashy hells of Shkodra and Tirana, a city really has to be bad. Bucharest was no Zagreb or, ahem, Aberdeen, but it seemed ok.

Our time was limited but their was one very obvious target in the city. Ceaucescu's giant palace. Apparently the second biggest (in overall volume) building in the world, second only to the Pentagon (even with a plane stuck in it). I was really rather excited by the prospect of this. A giant gargantuan palace. I had images of this behemoth monster of a building, sprawling beyond the limits of my eyesight, like a giant ugly growth on a diseased dog. So you can imagine my disappointment when the second biggest building in the world turned out to only to be big to the power of 20, rather than big to the power of 200.

It was very big, sure, but it just didn't knock me to the ground in awe. If it really is the second biggest building in the world then I am disappointed in all of humanity for not building much bigger buildings. It can't be hard to do. If I was president of some small and obscure country, say Liberia or Holland, I'd plunge all my resources into constructing a truly impossibly big building. Perhaps the size of a city. The building could be the city. It'd cost a lot, sure, but imagine how impressed the rest of the world would be. On a scale of 14 to 60, they'd rate no less than 57. I'd called the building "The Almighty Emperor Nev Palace of Wonder and Glory", but I'd get the Latin translation, because Latin always sounds more ominous.

Anyhow, after this, me and Simon got a cheap crap pizza and headed back to the hostel. We talked for a while to Bambi and Barbie, about any sorts of rubbish, until an American Peace Corps volunteer (there's been hundred of them recently) appeared, called Jennifer. And changed the tone of the conversation entirely.

Jennifer was sort of cool, sort of. Both grave and serious, but also totally loopy. She'd been working in a small Romanian village for two years, and it had begun to affect her, as we slowly became aware of over the course of the evening. Just in a curiously eccentric way. After I educated the three of them on mullets, which rather shockingly they were ignorant of, Jennifer revealed her own passion - collecting, uh, phonecards. She was very enthusiastic, and was very delighted when Simon gave her an old one from Montenegro. She gave me a Romanian one with Gheorghe Hagi, because she had loads of them. She also had a fascination for going into shops and touching the products, because most Romanian grocery shops work over the counter. And there was something else too, but I can't quite remember what it was. Finding the 15 year old male pupils she taught attractive?

All this occurred over the course of the night, which went from a couple of drinks, plus pasta we scrounged off Bambi and Barbie because it didn't live up to their expectations (it certainly lived up to mine), into a pub, and then back into the hostel. A few drinks then, sampling the local culture. Everyone was getting pretty well. Upon getting back to the hostel, we headed down to the TV room.

The TV their has 800 channels. Of which only about 20 seem to work, and all of these appeared to be hardcore porn. Seriously. Every button we'd press would take us to yet another hardcore porn channel. A couple - Maurice the Australian and Becky the English girl - were down there when we descended on them (I'm sure they were watching something completely innocent) but didn't hang around too long, so we just sat around, trying to find a channel that didn't feature a mix of men and women in compromising positions.

That was that night then, the next day we left back to Sofia. But first agreed to meet back up with the Canadian girls, probably, in the near future. They were heading to Istanbul that day, which we'll be at on Tuesday morning, so an arrangement was made to meet up with them there. But even if that falls through, then they seemed quite keen to meet up with us in Egypt, when we get there late November. That was their rough time of arrival, and they'd heard a lot of stories about Egypt being ruined for unaccompanied female travellers by incredibly persistant men. So being the weak and helpless girls they were, if they could be around some guys, the whole experience would be far more enjoyable. And hey, any experience withy myself around is more enjoyable. Nah, but neither me or Simon had any problem with it as they were cool girls, easy-going and fun. Also, it means when we meet up with Justin and Susanne (and Bison?) in Egypt in December, they can meet them, so they know we're not making all these people up.

Finding Bucharest bus or train station from the hostel turned out to be an ordeal. It was pissing down with rain, and much I'd like to say our going utterly the wrong way was total misfortune, some less tolerant people as myself would have blamed Simon utterly and completely for the massive wrong direction we went - and continued to go after a ludicrous amount of time. Not me however. We eventually got to the train station after a superior navigator took over, and despite some very pushy and unpleasant dodgy Romanians insisting on helping us buy our tickets, and wanting to see our passports, and then wanting us to buy them a beer for the "information" they supplied us with, we managed to get tickets for the overnight to Sofia. By ourselves.

The train jorney turned out ok. We were joined by Maurice and Becky, from the Elvis hostel, and later a Moldovan student in Sofia who gave us heaps of food. I even got some sleep which turned out useful because upon arriving in Sofia at about 6am, and getting back into our hostel, me and Simon immediately went on a day trip to the very very beautiful but very very cold Rila Monastery (meeting a Korean TV journalist), only getting back at 5pm.

Yeah, I'm rushing this part, as I'm running short of time. I always write too much these days, leaving some parts written about inadequately. I should say heaps more about Maurice and Becky, and about Melissa the attractive Australian also at the hostel as there's a good chance they're also going to be part of our Istanbul experience. So I suppose I'll get another chance to describe them a bit more. Melissa was cool because we felt cultured around each other. The five of us went for a colossal Chinese meal, which had the horrific consequences of filling us up so much that we couldn't drink any more and had to go straight to bed, after a little MTV culture.

Ok, that's about it. Today I shopped at the dodgy memorobila market, filled with Nazi and Soviet memoribilia, and bought four hats (a Soviet Russian one, two Bulgarian ones and an Uzbekistan one) and an old globe entirely in Cyrillic. In addition to the glowing red spider I bought yesterday, and the "pure Romanian fusion" tape and the mobile phone torch I bought with my spare money in Romania. I've been on a bit of a binge recently. None of this fits in my rucksack needless to say.

Ok, have to go. Tomorrow, me and Simon become famous, and have to leave to country to Istanbul. Maybe we'll get drunk in the meantime.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

Well ok then. If any of you caught my hurried entry yesterday, you'll know that there'd been a very sudden and unexpected change of plan, and as a result we're in Romania today (after no sleep on an overnight train) and not in Istanbul. As a result I suspect much of our Middle East tour will be greatly hurried, except for Israel as we now have yet another Israeli connection - a guy called Daniel from near Jerusalem.

Also: me and Simon are appearing in a national Bulgarian magazine - "Tema", the Bulgarian version of Time. All this, as you might expect, is not exactly what we had planned.

Here's the story.

We got to Sofia (ie, capital of Bulgaria) on uh... Tuesday afternoon, from Skopje, Macedonia. A trouble-free bus journey, except for the armed assault on the bus that left several passengers dead.

We had a hostel in mind, imaginately called the "Sofia hostel", and after some classic navigation by both myself and Simon (after three months you'd think we'd know how to read maps) we finally managed to locate it. As it turned out the Sofia hostel was in fact someone's flat with beds crammed into every room. That description doesn't do the place credit though. From the moment of entering, it was apparent this was one of the "good" places. The hallway doubled as the communal room, with a multi-channel TV, and three bedrooms were stuffed with more beds than would be legally possible in Britain I'm sure. The arrangement was definitely cosy, but a homely cosy. Run, as far as I can tell, by a craggy woman who spoke no English, and her daughters, who did.

However, only 15 beds were in this hostel and we hadn't booked. This caused initial confusion as neither English-speaking daughter was about (one in Romania and the other just out somewhere) but fortunately some American Peace Corps guys were staying for a couple of days and had been working in a small Bulgarian village for the last year, and so the situation was translated to us. That exact situation being that five beds were available, but had been booked, but that the people who had booked them hadn't yet turned up. The daughter - Toni - then appeared, quickly followed by two other strays who hadn't booked - an English guy called Vince and an American bird called Tasha (as in mous-tasha, not Nat-tasha... maybe).

What developed therefore was the promise that if the five didn't turn up, then we'd get the spare beds. If they did turn up then we'd be allowed just to sleep on the floor in the communal room, which I think we were all rather up for as we were being charged less (I offered to sleep on the stairwell, a la Sarajevo, for even less, but Toni wasn't offering any discounts on that).

As it happened, the five didn't turn up, so we did get the beds. This me and Simon discovered after going out for a truly colossal Chinese meal, which I very valiantly ate, plus beer for the grand total of 3 pounds. We were out with a Canadian guy with an Irish passport, called Mark, who'd been about Syria and the like and gave us some useful information that subsequent events have probably, alas, rendered useless.

A quiet night that night, and up early for the free breakfast. Me and Simon went down to the train station to check on trains to Istanbul which we planned on overnighting the next evening, and then separated and I wandered (as I'm inclined to do) around Sofia, focussing mainly on the huge market. Called, suspiciously, the "Ladies Market". There was a lot on offer there. After considerable consideration I bought a big packet of biscuits for 30p. They were... ok.

It was upon returning back to the hostel that the main events of the last day or so began to unfold. I was sitting in my room, the only guest currently in the youth hostel except for one of the American Peace Corps volunteers who was extremely hungover (I have rarely seen anyone look quite this hungover) after drinking excesses of rakija for a friend's birthday celebration the night previous. Toni wandered into the room, slightly restless, as if waiting for someone to arrive. It turned out that some journalists were coming by at some point. They were writing an article on youth hostels in Bulgaria, as there's very few and most Bulgarians don't know of such a concept. Excellent, I said flippantly, they can take heaps of photos of me. Actually, she said, they are wanting to take some photos of resident tourists. What else could I say but - "I'm your man."

Vince and Tasha were about, and were also intrigued, but foolishly left for that crucial half hour. And Simon happened to make a timely return. The hungover American Peace Corps volunteer was about too, lounging on the sofa watching MTV in between either complaining about feeling sick or actually being sick. So the three present guests were me, Simon and the hungover volunteer. The doorbell rung and in entered the two journalists.

The hungover volunteer immediately pissed off, not wanting the Bulgarian public to see him in such a way. Simon was in the bedroom, leaving just me "casually" watching TV. The two journalists, after talking with Toni and her mother, came into the communal room/hallway and asked if they could take a few photos. Well hey, I'm only on this Earth to be photographed, go ahead.

There was two of them - a guy photographer and a female reporter (Yana) who was exceptionally attractive. So, looking natural for the camera as Yana kept me engaged, heaps of undoubtedly lovely photos were taken. Simon was taken in, and Yana asked us various questions, such as where we were from and what our travel route was, and all that sort of stuff. Simon took in his Scottish flag, which proved popular as ever, and was photographed, and Yana took down a list of all the countries we'd been too.

So, the deal was, we discovered, they were journalists for a weekly magazine called "Tema", the (unofficial) Bulgarian version of Time. I have no idea how big a magazine this is, but I'm pretty sure it's national. The issue with us is due out this Monday and so after quite some deliberation, me and Simon reckoned it's not often you appear in a Bulgarian magazine, so it was worth hanging about till Monday to get this magazine. Meaning a serious delay to Istanbul, but hey, you don't get many better reasons. Yana told us various good places to visit in Bulgaria (and we hope we have time to follow up a few) and also gave us (well, I like to think, gave me) her mobile number. Just to call, you know, if there's any questions.

Such as, "hey baby, how about it?" of course.

They left, and me and Simon had a heavy thinking session - which yes, is possible sometimes. We had about 5 days till this magazine. We could spend the entire time in Sofia, which wasn't a bad option as it's a cool city, or we could take this opportunity to pop over to Romania for a day or two - the country we thought we'd had to miss out. Bucharest is near Bulgaria at the southern end of Romania - perfect.

We'd go that same night. An overnight train which would arrive about 9am. Asking Toni and her mother if it was ok to leave most of our stuff in their hostel (namja problemi, or however that's written in the Cyrillic alphabest, which I have actually got the hang of mostly) we found we had about 5 hours to kill before the 10.10pm train.

Five hours to kill equals: food and drink.

But first - Daniel the Israeli. He'd been about for the last day or so, and had just missed the photoshoot because he'd been paragliding. But me and Simon had got talking to him, and he seemed a cool guy (all Israeli travellers we've met so far have been cool, but I was especially impressed with Daniel as he'd eaten pork that day for the first time) and we mentioned we'd be heading into Israel at some stage, so he said to give him a call. He lives 10 minutes away from Jerusalem - that safest of safe cities - and said he'd happily put us up for a couple of days. So as well as our Haifi connections - Zahi, and Arnon and Rinat - we've got a Jerusalem connection. Watch out Grandpa, I'll be Jewish and fighting in the Israeli army not long now.

Ok, so food and drink, and hearing of our gigantic Chinese meal, Vince and Tasha decided to come along.

Vince and Tasha are what you could describe as your more "hardcore" traveller. From the people I've met travelling so far, I've gathered that me and Simon are about middle of the road. There's a number of rapid-fire destination interrailing people doing about a month, sometimes less, and quite a lot of people doing 2 to 3 months. And then on the other end of the scale you get Vince and Tasha. They'd only met a few days before in Istanbul but were on equally mental durations and destinations. Vince was cycling (mostly) around, and had spent 17 months cycling around Europe. At one point, he said, he didn't speak proper English to anyone for four months. You could still see that crazy, wild look in his eye. Tasha had only been travelling for about a month or so, but immediately before that she'd worked two years as a Peace Corps volunteer (yes, another one, they all seemed to cluster in this one hostel) in obscure parts of Russia. Both of them - plus some mythical guy called Chris that I never saw - were about to head to Armenia and Georgia, and that area, and Vince planned to later cycle onto India and... well, God knows.

We again attempted valiantly to finish our Chinese, this time failing narrowly, and feeling utterly stuffed we found a pleasant pub and had a couple of drinks before it was time for me and Simon to get our train. Tearful farewells then (as always...) and we got our train to Romania.

Hmm. No electricity. No lights. No heating. Plus frequent interruptions by ticket and passport people, and having to change carriages because the train was splitting in two and we were in the wrong half, and having to shift to a heated but congested carriage with some noisy Bulgarians, and a two hour customs check crossing the border. All this equals no sleep, or perhaps 10 minutes grabbed. Actually, the Romanian customs was rather fun. We were taken out of the train and separated into different rooms, where Simon had his bag searched and I was asked questions about where I'd been and what my business was in Romania. When I told the guy I'd been in Albania , he looked alarmed and said "Wasn't that dangerous?"

And so, we're here now, in a good youth hostel (recommended by the Sofia one) with good facilities and friendly people. I haven't slept but to be honest, after Sarajevo one night without sleep seems little hassle. We're also travelling very light - no backpacks, just the bare essentials. Makes everything so much easier.

I'm quite hungry actaually. I thiknk I'll stop writing.