Sent Monday 24 June 2002 from Berlin
Oh, what a CLEVER heading. Really excelled myself this time - bet no-one who's been to Czech Republic has ever thought of that...
OK - How are ya's. As threatened/promised, this should be the final update in the long series of catch-up updates, to bring you up to speed with where we've been, and with whom ... and why...and...where, so that your lives will be just as complete as they were before you read the e-mails, only you'll be a little older.
Mick Crossland seemed to think that the last e-mail was "Maybe not quite as funny as the last one", which hurt me as I am merely trying to provide you with an educational insight into foreign cultures and their beers. Any entertainment you may receive is unintentional and purely coincidental.
And I really AM going to try and be quick this time...
CROATIA (or “HRVATSKA” to the Croatians (“Hrvatskans”))
We'd just entered Croatia after yours truly had shaken hands with a couple of bees.
After spending a night on the Istrian coast with Tasha's brother and co., they dropped me in Rijeka so that I could (sob) make my own way all by myself, alone, down the coast of Croatia. I managed to obtain a train ticket (despite the train-ticket-seller telling me that the bus would be much better and that I'd be stupid (or cheap) to catch a train) for a train that would leave at 7:30 that night and, with one change, arrive in Split, after a good night's sleep on the train, at 7:00 in the morning. It looked like I really could do this travelling thang on my own!
After having an entire cabin to myself on the first train, the second train that arrived a little after midnight with smoke and noise pouring out of every orifice was COMPLETELY chock-a-block and I ended up lying down in the doorway of the train on top of my backpack and other gear, managing to sneak maybe an hour total of fully interrupted sleep by the time I arrived in Split. Are you jealous of my travels yet?
The answer is no. Split is very nice and it was good to be on the Dalmatian Coast with little to no sleep. Highlight of Split is Diocletian's Palace - a huge old construction commissioned by the former Roman Emperor – who is famous for making Christians get jiggy with the lions in the gladiatorial games - that has since been filled with thousands of authentic tourist shops and restaurants amidst the ancient ruins. I went there.
Then caught a bus down to Dubrovnik - the Jewel of the Adriatic or of Dalmatia or the Nile or something. Most of Croatia is coast (check it out on a map if you don't trust me or have little else to do), so this was a particularly scenic drive, briefly interrupted by a quick stop in Bosnia to buy some consumer goods (I've now ticked the "Bosnia" box in my travel must-do's).
Dubrovnik - constantly shelled in the Croatian-Serb War (it was on TV, so you must know about it), now looking a picture and being gradually taken over by Cletus the slack-jawed yokel and other members of his tourist family. We had been somewhat privileged in travelling for the past month through dodgy Eastern European countries that no-one else wants to go to, so I was unused to seeing and smelling (and tasting) so many tourists – probably the most since leaving Turkey (I counted and it's true).
It also rained two out of the three days I was there, which was really, really good.
Really, though, Dubrovnik is gorgeous and I had fun cruising around by myself for a while and then with a couple of Canadians I hooked up with. Well, one was a Croatian-Canadian and the other was a Norwegian-Canadian who both embarrassed my sorry Australian-self by being completely fluent in languages apart from English and Australian, but, you know, they were still Canadians, eh. I like Canadians from Canadia.
Looking for a place to stay on one of the islands off the Dalmatian coast, I found a newly built complex of condominiums near the beach. They were/are due to open in July, so they were deserted, but in wandering around I noticed that one of the windows of one of them was slightly ajar. Prying it open, I saw that the rooms were fully furnished and just waiting for a passing backpacker to throw his backpack in through the window and spend a night or two there. I was practically invited!! So, I threw my backpack in through the window and spend a night or two there. Very cozy set-up.
The second night that I was in the town (with my backpack securely locked in my new condominium), I met a bunch of New Zealanders who were crewing a yacht that had stopped in at the island. After a few beers and pretending that I knew something about Rugby, they said that if I turned up by 9:30am the next morning, I could sail with them back to Split, saving me the ferry fare. I thanked them for the offer and was glad to retire to my bungalow, yelling at a few kids to get off my lawn.
Next morning, a Monday morning I later realised, I was woken by some unusual sounds. Instead of the perfect silence I usually enjoyed in my deserted condominium, I could hear activity outside. Lifting myself slowly to look through the window I saw heaps of dudes walking by outside wearing overalls and carrying tools and generally looking like they were doing work on the place. Working dudes!! In MY condominium!! They probably didn't even know that I'd been invited to stay there for a night or so!
I quickly got dressed and then, when there was no-one immediately outside the window, threw the backpack out and silently followed, strapping myself up and then nonchalantly walked towards the nearest exit from the grounds. Around the first corner I came across a painter who looked more puzzled than a painter should look when he sees a bloke who wasn't there before walk past him with a backpack in the grounds of newly built condominiums ("condominia"?). He shouted something out to me that I clearly didn't understand ... or hear ... and I walked as fast as my 30 kilo backpack would allow, also developing a problem with my eyesight on the way. As soon as I was out of the exit I ran (slowly, looking like a crippled backpack dude) to the New Zealanders' yacht. As soon as I got there I threw my backpack on board , jumped over the rail and hid next to their ropes and pieces of eight and other nautical items strewn about the boat. They looked pleased and then confused to see me, and I assured them I was all right and waited an hour or so until they left the island before I allowed myself a peak over the side, seeing hundreds and thousands of painters and electricians and brickies who all looked like Super Mario searching the docks for me.
What a minute! Did I say this happened to me? I MEANT this happened to Captain Pivo, or "Jamie" as he likes to be known (no doubt a pseudonym to protect his secret identity), a bloke I met in Dubrovnik who was from New Zealand. A bloke I met in the HOSTEL I was staying in. Silly me! True story, embellished somewhat by my gift for story-telling and desire for a story that would beat the real ones I was writing above. Jamie and his originally-named Australian sidekick, James, really had some good ones and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Sorry. True story, though!
OK. Gotta be quick.
Do you know that "OK" apparently comes from when President Roosevelt's secretary, who was apparently Greek, used to write "OK" at the bottom of correspondences as an abbreviation for "Ola Kala" or "Everything Good"?
Gotta be quick than that...
I needed to get back to lubberly Ljubljana by midday Friday so that I could pick up my waiting Czech visa so that we could leave for Italy on the Sunday. To do this, I had to leave Dubrovnik on the Thursday morning at 7am, catching a ferry from there to Split, then a train to Zagreb and then a train to Ljubljana. Connections were tight, but easily achievable in any other country apart from Croatia. What would happen, I wonder? The ferry arrived in Split from Dubrovnik around 2 hours late, but I still had half an hour to catch my overnight train (showing a marked lack of ability to learn from my previous heinous mistakes). Sure enough, despite having a very restful ride to Zagreb, at 6:30am the train ground to a halt about 20 km outside of Zagreb. And remained in a halted position for the next hour and a half - just enough to time to ensure that I missed the train to Ljubljana by an hour. The next train left at 1pm, so I sat, around, on my fat ass, for five hours in Zagreb as I had spent all of my Croatian money the night before in the sure knowledge that I wouldn’t need it any more. The train to Ljubljana then HIT A DUDE and also waited around while they cleaned bits of dude off the train or whatever, meaning that I rolled into Ljubjlana at 5pm, around 7 hours late. And Tasha said "Where the hell have you been?!?! Out drinking last night, I bet. I leave you alone for five days and so forth!!"
Unfortunately, that one really did happen to me.
SOOOOOOOOOOooooooo, we got the visa on the Monday (by the way, if anyone needs to know ANYTHING at all about me, it’s all on the Czech visa application form - star sign, expected date of death, addresses of everyone I know or expect to meet - astoundingly ... thorough...) and left Slovenia, and Eastern Europe for the meantime, for Venice that day.
Italy – everyone’s been to Italy (we saw most of the population of the world in Venice that night) so I won’t go into it. Eat some pasta in the bath and watch the Godfather and you’ll know what it’s like.
Then it was into beautiful Austria, the land of music, Hitler and Bad Aussee (a small town near Salzburg – don’t worry, I boycotted the place, and they felt the shame).
Stayed in Salzburg - a town with a rich musical tradition, as displayed in the movie - "The Sound of Music". Also, a guy called "Mozart" (pronounced "Moats-art"!!!!!!) was born there. Actually saw "The Sound of Music" for the first time there and the experience was probably similar to watching it elsewhere. Also, saw a classical music gig (or whatever they’re called) for the first time as well - a bit of Mozart up in the Prince’s Chambers in the Salzburg fortress. Oh yeah, baby. I positively ooooozed class on those Arnold Schartzenegger-sounding muthas.
Also visited the "Eagle’s Nest" – Hitler’s bunker up in the Bavarian Alps - but he wasn’t home, so we ate the cake ourselves. It was EXPENSIVE, all right!!! Sheeesh.
Stayed in the best hostel we’ve found so far in Grünau - the Treehouse hostel. It rained ALL day the second day we were there, which we didn’t mind none coz they have the best video room I’ve seen in my life (except for mine, of course). Settled down that day and bumped off "The Graduate", "12 Monkeys", "Lethal Weapon 4" (stupid democracy), "Easy Rider" and "Goodfellas".
Experienced the "true Austria" as.
Then on to Vienna - the home of Weiner Schitzel and probably some other things – the first night we ate the "Wheelbarrow of Garbage" (literal translation of the Austrian name on the menu – “Scheibtruhe Mist” (?) which is “Für die große Gruppenmampferei”) - a wheelbarrow full of various meats, pasta, potato dishes, other meats etc. As our guide told us - "You are now in the land of "three meat and veg".
Despite feeling sick and bloated, we went back the next day and had another wheelbarrow with our good mates Paul and Janie who also worked with us at The Red Lion in England and whom we happened to just bump into on the streets of Vienna.
Tried to be cultural, too (as usual), and got tix to the see an opera at the Staatsoper for only 2 EURO!! Stood up the back to watch bits and pieces of a mildly interesting opera while being studiously ignored or frowned upon by the more "classy" people - just because they were wearing shoes! So high and mighty, think they´re so good, one day I´ll show them, "You want shoes, mister? I´ll give you SHOES!", make them see you can’t EAT shoes...
Please ignore the preceding paragraph.
Vienna very nice, but we just couldn’t help jumping across the border to grab a bite to eat in Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s right there! We’d be stupid NOT to!!
Slovakia was an interesting experience - "Rain" is one word I could use to describe it.
(Slovakia box? Ticked.)
On the way back to Austria, caught up with some Australians that we had met on the train to Salzburg and who had made the trip to Slovakia after we had told them all about ... Slovenia ...
Their cheeks were blushing when we saw them.
CZECH REPUBLIC (or, as comedian Rich Hall mistakenly called it one night at the Melbourne Comedy festival, while trying to reverse-heckle a guy with an accent in the crowd, “CHICKORY-BOBBLY”. “So, where are you from, you little comedy monkey?” (Reply in a heavily-accented voice) “The Czech Republic”. ““Chickory-bobbly? Where the hell is that, you crazy, moonshine-drinking, Chickory-bobbly-boy?” Needless to say, he was very embarrassed when he realised his mistake and, needless to say, I called it Chickory-bobbly the whole time I was there and, needless to say, no-one understood what I was talking about. Not even the people I e-mailed with the story tediously set out in full.)
So, it was then time to enter Bohemia. By means of a tram, three trains, a bus and a fair amount of walking, we made our way from Vienna to Cesky Krumlov in Chickory-bobbly. Cesky Krumlov is an absolute gem. We stayed there 3 nights and could have spent more. Paul and Janie were there for ten, count ’em, TEN nights. Not that there’s that much to do there, it’s just a really cool place to be.
We hung there with our new gang of six (yes, yet ANOTHER gang), this time made up of the two Australians that we’d told about Slovenia/Slovakia along with the two unwitting victims they had dragged along to Slovakia on the basis of all the cool things they’d heard about Slovenia. Kicked the footy around on the Palace gardens much like the kings and queens of old used to do, drank excellent Czech beers (including the original Pilsner – Pilzner Urquell – and the original Budweiser), walked around the medieval streets or just chilled by the banks of the river that almost completely encircles the town, much like a fat woman with her legs around a skinny man. Actually, that would probably go all the way around... More like a skinny woman with her legs around a fat man. Yeah.
Be that as it may, Cesky Krumlov is brilliant, but will probably be taken over by hordes of tourists as Chickory-bobbly gets closer and closer to being a part of Western Europe. UNLESS my tourist-disintegrating invention is ready by that time, and we all hope it will be.
Very sadly, we, being the gang, left Cesky and made our way to Prague, by all accounts one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. And it was nice ... I guess ... (what a travel snob I have become). Personally, I think I preferred Budapest – which has a similar look, although I was assured that Prague has a greater variety of different styles and ages of architecture and is contained within a smaller area. I guess I was affected by the unbelievable number of tourists there. A VERY popular destination, popular with every yahoo who can afford a plane ticket. It has been interesting to note since coming back from Eastern Europe (REAL Eastern Europe – in the east, not your try-hard Chickory-bobbly, Central, Eastern Europes) the number of Americans in the popular tourist centres. An American we met in Grunau made the good point that MOST Americans tend to be very cautious and follow the advice given out by their State Department against visiting countries that may be hostile to Americans (which, it seems, must be a lot of countries). Meaning that you can travel through, for example, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia meeting hardly any American travelers (though the ones you do meet tend to rock Bill Hicks-style), and then can massively exceed your American-meeting quota by only visiting Venice or Vienna or Prague.
But you don’t care about this. Especially you Americans. Especially you humans.
So! In Prague – highlights:
The Museum of Communism (excellent museum, not just about communism in Chickory-bobbly but in the Soviet Union and all countries under the Soviet influence).
Star Wars Episode II for the second time after frantically trying to find it in English (to any Star Wars fans out there: when seeing the bit where they are on that robot production line, did anyone else cynically think that it looks remarkably like the computer game that will inevitably follow the release of the movie? And Threepio’s one-liners are much, much worse the second time round...)
Day trips to Kutna Hora (visited a church decorated with 40,000 bones of dudes who would not have thought when they died (if they thought...before they died...) that they would be buried only to be exhumed, cleaned, and turned into a Chandelier) and to Karlstjein Castle.
Haircut for about 2 Euros.
World Cup viewing – Kind of getting into it, but I still think that soccer would be make much better viewing, and would be less annoying as it would weed out the big girl’s blouses, if it was a full contact sport. However, I did see two very good games: watched Senegal beat Sweden with a golden goal- that was cool (pity they’re out now) and also watched Ireland get beaten by Spain - that was uncool.
NOW AND THEN
Recently arrived in Germany, but I’ve pretty much caught up in the updating stakes, now, so I’ll leave this as we leave Eastern Europe well-and-truly behind us. Goodbye Eastern Europe!! Don’t forget to write! Spending some time in Dresden and Berlin and then making our way to Amsterdam. From there, since we’ll be in the area, we plan on heading down through Belgium to gay Paree and from there across to Brittany for a bit of a birthday party. Were also hoping to make it to Roskilde in Denmark, but the 130 Euro tickets (and lack of tents) discouraged us somewhat.
Looking at being in the UK by mid-July, then hitting the Edinburgh Festival, and then (gasp) probably home!
THE CRAFTING REPORT
I was introduced to “crafting” by Uncle Macca and co. in Turkey. This basically involves crafting your facial hair to look (a) ridiculous and (b) like someone else. I started out as Pando (Bryan Brown’s character in “Two Hands”), though, since Uncle Macca already had the Pando look going on, I was simply referred to as “P2”. Shaved off the handlebars and was then going for the Errol Flynn look - one of Natasha's cousins said I looked like I was one of the Three Musketeers (but which one?) My latest look is ... oh, but I’m running out of time.
Sorry these have taken so long - some so long they probably make little or no sense. SOMEONE spends all his internet time inventing fictional travel stories...
In no particular order...
Mick S – Fantastique indeed, mon...cherie...
Vicky D - Won´t be in the country then, but let us know if they have gigs later.
Zhanna and Chelsea – home safe and sound, yet?
Kaz and Mark and other Palma's - Congratulations!! Love the Irish connections...
Odine – Tasha is alive and well, I promise. Please don’t ask any more questions or you will suffer the same fate. And I was wondering how you knew about The Wiggles and then I remembered that you have John.
Pelle - The shish-kebab and baklava WAS good, but no doubt not as good as the "A Kind of Meat Pizza" we saw advertised outside a disreputable pizza store in Istanbul... Not sure how close we're going to get to good ol' Scandinavia, but we may go out of our way to visit either on our way through Germany or after our return to the UK.
Beej - Sounds like nothing's changed. Which means everything's changed. Into nothing.
Andy Lam - You tha man. Get your cute little ass over here. You make me laugh.
Spud - Thanks for forwarding that Telstra info. It was very useful.
Mickey "Spectactular" C - Thanks for your other scarily lucid e-mail, too. Wish Mandy luck for us, sounds like she's got a great gig. And it's good to stay in contact with Swan Hill - you can never get too many $5 Terry Towelling hats.
Collette C - Good luck in Oz, I hear it's nice. Did you get any TV work?
Michaela M - That flight info is a little worrying... Looking forward to hearing your stuff when we get back to the UK. Are you (and all the rest of our gang in the UK) interested in going to the Reading Festival?
Fiona L - Ummmm... Oops! And...er...good luck with the hulking Scotsman, whether or not he's in a kilt...
Andy K - Couldn't open your doc, but I bet it was gooood. How's Reading sound?
VT - Love any Anna Kournikova update you're willing to send me.
Tim G - Congratulations on the double girl thing you've got going on there and good to hear you're equally impressive travel stories!
Marg D - Gig at a Hindu wedding? Now THAT'S a story!!
Matty S - May see you in Scotland!
Bessie A - May see you in Scotland!
Brett P - Thanks for the e ... but what'd you call me!?!? And Gary sounds like he's doing better than us! Say hi to the dude for us, you La Puta...
Amy S - 14 days in Turkey is fine - we were there for about 20, but you can see a lot in 2 weeks. I'm getting jealous!!! (and I’m sorry I couldn’t time this e-mail to arrive on the Monday morning...)
Steve S - Darwin is in the plans. The wheels are in motion.
Chris L - Man boobs.
Gillian D - Say "hi" to Dengue boy for me.
Emi T - I liked your "Mini-apple" story. And I must say I like the sounds of your job, too! I'll send you that photo as soon as I get it developed...angel girl...
The Fez Gang, especially those of you that have kindly e-mailed - Bus 34 was...good...
Uncle Macca, Wrighto and Tractor - Still no albatross...
Susannah R - "Soonish" is getting sooner...
Steve L - I can't remember if I told you this, but I AM interested in the radio show idea. Veeeerry interested...
Lauren C - Tasha says: "Good on ya, honey. He took his time!" I say something similar.
James K - Excellent news! I haven't been able to get into the document, but it sure SOUNDS excellent. Good luck!
Joey Jo-Jo - Thanks for sending that sticker - I hear they got it!!
Duff - I wasn't sure if you were joking about wanting my expert advice re: your Capitalist Philosophies, but I thought they were all good. Only suggestion: "No man is an island, but if he was, he would be more attractive as an offshore tax haven"...
Marie O'B - Good luck with the whole working thing you're going to be taking on there!
Jo R and Megan H and all you other travellers - keep up the good work.
Everyone else – I love yooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuu...
The following unfortunate people haven't been getting my e-mails or WORSE, having my e-mails "truncated", so if anyone else would like to inflict them with the Length, please feel free...
Haz from Palestine
Logan Jones (I think...)
Thanks to the rest of you for reading all the way to here. Keep those e-mails coming and I’m looking forward to seeing you all one day soon...
Love the rilestar!!
PS Mickey: I think this one was even LESS funny than the last. Please send jokes and funny-making juice.
PPS Sorry about the cruel trick with Captain Pivo’s story. It just couldn’t go untold!