Saturday, August 21, 2004

Another Sore Head


Went out in Krakow last night with a few English guys. Ended up in an achingly hip club called Prozak where the beautiful people were all hanging out. A funny sort of place, lots of cave-like rooms and passages with metal stairs leading everywhere. It must be trendy because the beer costs more than a quid a pint. Didn't have much of it for once, was introduced to the delights of apple vodka with apple juice and things get progressively hazy from there on in.

I've had a few hours to kill here and took as extensive a look around as my hangover would allow. The city was almost completely destroyed during the war and, apart from a few handsome buildings redone in the original style, it's a symphony in Communist-era housing blocks and sparkling new office and hotel towers. After lovely old Krakow it's a bit uninspiring.

Off to Vilnius on the sleeper shortly. I've reached the limit of my inter-rail ticket so I'm going to have to get used to paying for train journeys again. Plenty of opportunity ahead for halting conversations with surly looking conductors who don't speak any English.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Not All It Should Be


I went to Auschwitz today. I wasn't going to but everyone I've met over the last couple of days told me "you've just, like, got to go" so I jumped on the train to the little town of Oswiecim and took a look around.

It's a big site and it would take a couple of days to do it all properly but one afternoon was enough for me. It's grimly impressive, but finding a quiet spot to take it all in was nearly impossible without some tourists barging in to film everything. The punishment cells and gas chambers made my hair stand up, at least until some fat Americans came round the corner chattering away. Why do people feel the need to take pictures of themselves in a dimly lit, dank place where thousands of people died? Are they going to put on a slide show for the neighbours when they get home? And why do Israeli tourists insist on carry huge flags as they walk around? I should have brought some of them down to earth by making the watchtower joke, but like so many things for once it wasn't appropriate. Instead I kept my camera firmly in my pocket and solemnly ambled around, hoping it might rub off on the other people, but unsurprisingly it didn't.

In the end the best bit was the exhibition about Poland itself during the war, the resistance movement and the Warsaw uprising. Lots of interesting displays and no tourists. If only it was all like that.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

In The Heat Of The Night


The train from Budapest was the worst I've been on so far. A real Cold War relic, signs were in five languages but not English. That's what you get for calling the Eastern Bloc an "Evil Empire" I suppose. The train bore more resemblance to an oven than a means of transport, but with all windows and doors open and some friendly Portuguese guys giving me some of their beer, I ended up merely drenched rather than drowned in sweat. It was quiet so I was able to stretch out across four seats and get some proper sleep, so that was something.

Krakow is beautiful. Most of Poland got flattened during the war, but the Soviets surrounded this place so quickly in 1945 the Germans more or less gave it up straight away. With the possible exception of Brussels, it's the best looking main square I've seen. Aiming to get a proper look round later on.

Looks like I got out of Hungary just in time. Don't think I could have stood watching our boys getting stuffed again. It's Spain next, then the really hard matches start.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Strong Cocktails


Went out last night with my stepsisters to a bar/restaurant owned by a former world boxing champion. Marianne's boyfriend knew someone who worked there so we were ushered into the back room where pictures of various celebrities adorned the walls, as well as one of David Coulthard's old McLarens. Given his form this season he'd probably rather still be using it, but it looked great backlit and in a huge case in the wall of this place.

I was told to have a Long Island Iced Tea. I don't usually drink cocktails especially as the ones you get back in Britain are either weak, expensive or both. It quickly became obvious the reverse is the case over here. On taking a first quick slurp I practically choked it was so strong. After gamely finishing it I took refuge in some dark looking Czech beer, much more my normal kind of thing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

On The Box


For the first time in ages I've got access to British telly. I've found so far that not having any TV to watch or job to go to makes days go on forever. When you haven't got any of the normal time killers, 16 waking hours can be a long stretch. Not that that's bad - the month I've been away feels at least double that.

The only UK channel my dad's got is, funnily enough, Sky News, but I'm not sad to report it doesn't make me feel homesick. Turning over to the local coverage of the Olympics is much more entertaining. From what I remember the BBC focus on sports we're good at like rowing and three day eventing. Over here they do the same except that means fencing, water polo and - best of all - handball. Watching the Hungarian team scrape a victory over that well known handball hotbed of Brazil kept me occupied for a bit, even if I couldn't really understand what was going on.

Off out for some drinks tonight. I suppose it's best I tear myself away from that ludicrous synchronised diving.

Monday, August 16, 2004



I've been going for four weeks now and over that time I've developed an unhealthy obsession with Fanta. Growing up I always just remember plain old orange Fanta. A good soft drink - not quite Irn Bru admittedly - but a fine alternative. Recently they brought in lemon flavour too, which is also very nice.

None of this prepared me for the orgy of Fanta I've experienced over the last month. Every other country in Europe leaves us way behind when it comes to fruity carbonated treats. In Germany the other day I had some very tasty blood orange Fanta, in Sweden there was one that seemed like cherry. But the holy grail on my trip has been the near-mythical Blue Fanta, a sweet taste of melon and possibly lemon, and mysteriously only available in the former Yugoslavia. Hunting through the fridges at Copenhagen station yesterday, trying to spend what little Danish cash I had, I picked up a clear bottle of Fanta. Opening it on the train I discovered to my delight that - yes - it was the same melon-based drink so beloved of the Croats and Bosnians. My happiness was enough to get me all the way through the 28 and a half hour journey down here.

Partly Fanta's dominance is probably due to Coca Cola's stranglehold on most of the emerging markets, and partly because of its history as a drink brought in as a Coke substitute during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s, but I can't help thinking we in the UK are somehow being punished. But what for? Centuries of imperialist empire building? The war in Iraq? David Beckham's haircut? I think we should be told.

(Warning: other soft drinks are available.)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Grim Reeper


Faced with a few hours to kill here on my way to Budapest I've decided to head along to the Reeperbahn. Admittedly a dreary Sunday afternoon may not be the best time to see it, but dear me it's a right dump. Like the worst bits of Amsterdam only without the canals and pretty girls and with added dirt and grime. The only place I can find that isn't some kind of strip bar or porn cinema is a Lidl surrounded by down and outs drinking white wine out of cartons, and the place I'm sitting in now which is a curious internet cafe/betting shop full of sweaty middle aged men watching Chelsea against Man United. Maybe I'm only being down on the place because I've just found out St Johnstone have lost their third game in a row, and I'm sure the whole area comes alive at night, but I'd still rather not stay to find out.