Take the blog out your own eye

I find myself doing something I always swore I wouldn’t. Writing a blog.

Aren’t blogs just self-indulgent ramblings by people about themselves that they foolishly think other people are interested enough to read? Or is that another case where blogging might be exactly that… Except when I do it. Then it’s passionately articulated insights into the human psyche as told from the viewpoint of a shape-shifting oracle. Or something.

Although undecided, I’m going to embrace that double standards are the human condition and I’m going to give this whole thing a whirl anyway, sans content plan, in the hope that somewhere along the way my mind-muddle becomes something worth reading. Incidental expressions of opinion that have no bearing on anything of any gravity.

I don’t intend to overshare nor ‘name and shame’; it’s more a case of mini-purge than holistic catharsis. After all, I am a social creature and my real thrills and therapy will always come from people rather than paper. I am just hoping that this blogging lark creates something of value, with character and charm. Like I hope to be when I grow up…

(PS: Please bear with my clumsy debut. I am painfully aware that I have launched with what I’m sure many many newbies do: the equivalent of tautological letter-writer’s ‘I’m writing to you to tell you that…’. I have always suffered from ‘flashing cursor syndrome’, taking just about as long to write the first sentence as I do to the remainder of the final product. Hopefully, both content and creation will improve over time!)

Travelogue EE 6: Venice

20 August 2010

 

The bus trip from Split to Venice turned out to be not so bad after all. Would have been better without the waft of the French stinky cheese feet from next to us (worsened by them having the seats after the middle-exit so they had their legs draped over the railing in front of them and their Pieds de Fromage at our nose level), but still not so bad.

Pulled into Trieste around 7am and were delighted to find out trains run to Venice less than an hour apart. Booked seats on the 08h18 one and busied ourselves with polishing off the picnic pack and playing some cards. Would have liked an hour or 2 to explore Trieste as it seems really quaint (and wouldn’t have taken much time to cover the 5 or 6 worthy sites).

Timing worked out perfectly. Alighted at Venice train station just after 10h30, discovered that the bus station was indeed literally across the road (those ‘just around the corner’ descriptions rarely tend to be literal – especially when there’s heavy luggage involved) and were happily reunioning with Faye, Alex and Robbie 20 minutes later.

Being only 11h00 with check-in at 13h00 (which apparently took quite some negotiation to move forward from 14h00 so was not negotiable), we set to finding somewhere to kill the time. Popping heads in here and there, scanning menus and exchanging snippets with the odd host, Faye and I visualised the perfect spot… And it appeared. Well, there was no fountain and the beer wasn’t free, but it was an awesome little spot down a side street, so was shady and away from the madding crowds on the main drag.

We caught (who turned out to be) Julio as he had just opened the door and was turning the first bar stools off their overnight-on-the-table-upside-down positions. His eyes were bright and his smile welcoming. He had no idea what he was getting himself into.

We managed to avoid economy completely and take up most of the pavement section of the cafe/bar (staunchly to be called “Julio’s” by us, despite considerable branding claiming the place to be called Taverna Ciardi www.tavernaciardi.it – and apparently on facebook so we were told repeatedly) with ourselves, our luggage and our animated conversations and lively hand gestures (no mean feat since the Londoners had been up since 4 and we’d onlysortofslept on the bus).

Before we knew it, it was 13h00 and we were off to our apartment to meet Fabio, our landlord. High 5 to Lixi for her – as always – internet research magic, our place was awesome!!

Double-storey and very modern (like VERY modern with electric shutters and stuff) and light and bright (sky lights, a lovely little terrace) and… Air-conditioned! Even the artwork on the walls was too holiday to take seriously – a series of 3D pieces by Marin Claire with random items (like VERY random things like pepper, paint brushes and flower pots) popping from oil-painted canvases.

After opening and closing the shutters several times (small things amuse tired small minds even more), basking in the air-con, leisurely cool showers and clean clothes, we were ready to hit the streets (and canals) of Venice.

First up, feeding the machines. We found a taverna serving a bargain 2 course plus accompaniment set menu for €11.50. Had a great lasagne (very relieved, Italy was under pressure to deliver me this lifelong favorite) for starter and seafood plate with calamari, shrimps and squidheads with chips for main.

Lix had constructed the world’s best map so we were able to (relatively) easily get our bearings to see where to get to for the touristy stuff. Venice is not an easy city for that. Lots of winding and narrow alleyways, piazzas that look the same, too many churches for them to serve as landmarks anymore, buildings that look like an endless Monte Casino and bridgesbridgesbridges. Still, we managed to find the highlights, get the right pics of the right things (Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square, some buildings and monuments and some things that hordes of other people were posing around so must be important surely), including settling in next to Tina Turner’s leather skirt and Madonna’s black sequinned hotpants for sundowners at Hard Rock Cafe.

Had a stab at the local supermarket (Billa) en route home. Very different to home. Even the simplest things take the longest time as their are new and exciting choices to evaluate in almost every category, new procedures to muddle through and all sorts of absolute essentials that ‘these people surely can’t not have?!’

A few nightcaps at our happy home and, all exhausted, we conceded to Friday being an early night.

What a great night’s sleep! The electric rolldown shutters are masterful and the room is dark as night, even when day comes!

Saturday morning brought all new good humour. A beautiful sunny day in Venice and we were ready to enjoy it!

Lix whipped up some French toast with a tomato/bacon/onion/garlic salsa side (mmmm), which we tucked into at a lovely breakfast on our terrace that was all very civilised… until RoRo got the party started with healthy doses of vodka (Chris and I had been delighted to find a bottle store on Trogir Island the day before and had splashed on 2l of vodka and a litre of each of our four favorite Croat draughts) in our morning orange juice. This, combined with our obligation to wait for the ice to set so we could empty and refill the trays to make another batch while we were out, led to things heading decidedly in the direction of messy.

We ended up ‘waiting for ice’ until about 3 o’clock, when we headed for the local Irish pub to watch the rugby (SA vs NZ, so I’m told). Several shooters (enough that I had Jager splashes on the back of my t-shirt), a bleated national anthem (us, ours, on the bar counter) and many spurts of photos later, we’d lost Faye and Lix. Completely.

Never ones to fret, me and the boys went next door to McD’s to have a Mighty Bite bacon and cheese burger meal and discuss strategy.

That was the plan. What ended up happening was Robbie engrossing himself in our neighbouring table, while Christian ate his AND all but 2 bites of Robbie’s burger and then replacing the remnants in Robbie’s container – and Robbie not realising that most of his burger was missing!

Somehow we managed to get separated in our exit and I ended up manning the bridge to the right of us while Chris went to see if Robbie had gone left. No sign of him anywhere!

I’m super-glad it wasn’t me. With my sense of direction and that labyrinth (and no map nor any idea of our address) I’d still be looking for home!

However, Christian navigated with ease – and who should we bump into at Julio’s…? Faye and Alex having very civilised drinkies. The details are a bit blurry (to all) but we were home shortly after, safe and sound… For midnight snacks (chips and verysloppysortof spaghetti pomodoro) and nightcaps.

Robbie came tumbling in an hour or so later – very short on details on where he’s been, but safe, sound, in one piece and very merry.

Luckily there was a tres bizarre tv game show to keep us entertained (Italian terrestrial tv only seems to be infomercials dotted with cartoons and weirdy gameshows) and we had a very low brain-power, high-relaxation end to an eventful day of mishaps and misadventures.

Then it was Sunday…

Bizarrely, our wonder apartment didn’t have a toaster. But we did have the Alex 2011 with us, so were able to regain signs of human life with fried sandwiches of the best cheese, ham, salami and sliced beef Italy (well, Billa and then our fridge) had to offer. Enough butter to clog an artery… Or in this case jumpstart the zombies on the couch (we were now quite into the infomercials and there was quite pacey discussions about the Stanner Stairlift, the Relax and Tone, Water Smile filters).

Fortunately a channel hop during breakfast left us on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (in Italian, which is weirdly fitting with their Italian painter names and penchant for pizza) and was the perfect impetus for discussing plans for the day’s sight-seeing, which centred around a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and a trip to Giorgio Island to get pananoramic views of the Venice coast- and skyline.

The walk to the Guggenheim was enough to require a refuel, so we stopped in at a little bar/cafe for a quick snack. They have a brilliant snack strategy – a glass counter displaying a wide selection of wraps, tramezzinis, sandwiches rolls, all cheesed, meated and garnished and ready for a quick whirl in the flatbed toaster before a delicious steaming hot and fresh baked item is served to you moments later. Genius!

Having gotten all the culture behind them (we left the others to go to Guggenheim while we window-shopped and got hopelesslessly lost on our way back), we bought vaporetto tickets to see the city from the waterways, get over to Giorgio and take the long way home around the only unexplored side of the island. Bloody marvellous to just sit and let the view come to us for a change 🙂

Made our own Spag Bol for dinner and did a worthy job of it too! A very lovely and cultured dinner at the table and everything – even with champagne for an early celebration of Lix’s impending birthday.

Did the right thing and popped in at Julio’s for a last fond farewell. Having been sane, sober and present at our communal meeting place of choice, he was able to provide some interesting insights into our comings and goings the night before that cleared things up a bit. And opened up all new questions too! All good though and he said we were all fun in our muddle, so no real harm done. :o)

The Londoners headed off at an ungodly hour to catch their flight, while we enjoyed our last lie in with the heavenly electric blinds (would make a great name for a band). Scoffed down a real patchwork breakfast with eggs and cheese scrambled with spaghetti and top with a spoonful of bolognaise mince, and half glasses of this and that to finish them off (thankfully not the vodka or beers, which Alex, Faye and I had had the good sense to finish off the night before).

Headed to Marco Polo airport via vaporetto (without incident despite having not bought a ticket – €13!! – and standing next to not one but two conductors most of the way, and an incident where our driver managed to play dodgems with another vaporetto and a private speedboat causing much armwaving and heated Italian from the shore, causing the vaporetto to reverse to assess the damage, but seemingly only for curiosity’s sake as no details were perceptibly exchanged, bar a few middle fingers which I’m relatively sure weren’t insurance-related) and stuck bags in the lockers (after runaround from the Lufthansa call centre who said we could check in at midday, the check-in desk who said we couldn’t and the luggage check-in guy who had to wait for the security guy to return – newspaper under his arm, clearly having gone off to do his official ‘business’ – to xray our bags) and caught the local bus for a few stops to get off and amble through the greater Venice countryside, popping in here and there for a drink and to play some cards to soak in the aircon.

Got back to the airport and checked in uneventfully. Grabbed a slice of sausage pizza (big enough to be a half pizza at home) and a Peroni and we were off again.

Headed for Frankfurt, we’ve been diverted because of a big storm and are currently delayed in a divert to Nurnberg.

Travelogue EE 5: Split

18 August 2010

 

To our great delight our accommodation in Split turned out to be in the Diocletian Palace, a 1700 year old city built by the Romans for their Emperor, Diocletia.

Not that our digs are *that* swanky mind… Our landlord is an oddball to say the least. He wasn’t there when we arrived (we were tipped off by the note on the door that said ‘Gone out. Back soon’) but the old lady upstairs heard me knocking (I’d gone up the 2 flights alone, leaving Christian on the ground floor with the luggage in an attempt to out-karma a repeat of the Zagreb 6 floor mega-haul) and conferring with some English tourists making their way up the stairwell and went into the unlocked ‘reception’ (the entrance hall of an apartment) and called the landlord who said he’d be there in 2 minutes.

He was super-quick, rushing in all flushed and heavy-breathingy, in what looked like a jogging outfit, but surely can’t have been in the searing midday heat..? He’s a strange looking man, tall and reed-thin, with a shock of mousy (greying hair), skinny discoloured teeth and blue eyes that are pale so should be cool and tranquil but that somehow always seem shocked and panicked. Oh yes, and he has purple legs. Apparently circulation problems from falling victim to ‘some shrapnels’ in the war. Hectic.

He started off our first engagement with ‘so, I need you to do me a favour’. Not a great start (well, restart if you count the wait), and we feared the worst, having already discussed our lucking out with palace accommodation as too good to be true.

Turns out all he wanted was time to clean the apartment as he’s been very busy with all 5 of his apartments and tending to a sick girlfriend (who he periodically shouted to through the – presumably – bedroom door from the ‘reception’ we were all crowded into. No response from her didn’t seem to faze him, so we’re assuming she’s either imaginary or been dead a while). We were planning on heading out to explore anyway so we agreed that he’d keep our bags and we’d return at 7pm.

First on the agenda – food. We walked the length of the Riva (promenade) to get our bearings and suss our options, having decided that sea-view trumped the search for local delicacies (which nobody seems really interested in educating us on, leading to the inevitable answer: Fish? Pasta? Pizza? *groan*)

Found an excellent spot right at the end, next to the famous (apparently) St Francis Church and at the base of Marjan Hill, which offers the best views of the Split panorama. We shared a chicken and mushroom penne (as closest possible homage to the pie that should have been) and a shrimp and scampi creamy tomato spaghetti. With Coca-Cola and lots of iced water, nowhere near brave enough to dabble in the world of beer quite yet!

Walked off lunch with a trek up Marjan. Got to the look-out point and ooo’ed and aaah’ed at the views and ditched the idea of climbing to the top – no energy for missioning to see more churches and old buildings (and feet tender from the sharp rocks in the sea at Lokrum the day before).

On our descent, we pinpointed what would become our sundowner spot for the day (constitutions permitting). Teraca Bamba – a modest, spirited outdoor terrace with amazing sea views… And 12 kuna beer (R15 500ml draughts).

The mission for the remainder of the afternoon was to scope out the local beaches as we’d dedicated Wednesday to be ‘do nothing’ day (except for marking territory on loungers with our towels, out-licking the sun on ice-cream cones and floundering in the turquoise ocean). Plan seemed a little more challenging when we got to Bacvice Beach and discovered their beaches are concrete with ladders into the water like the ones at public pools. And the concrete is quite narrow, so it’s PACKED!

Snap decision – we’re hitting the islands! Popped into the tourist office for advice. There are loads of info/tourist offices and they are all stocked with helpful A3 double-sided maps of tourist sites and transport options that they doodle and circle to show you where you are and where and how you are going to get to where you want to be, and with free info brochures that sometimes are glossy and comprehensive enough to outdo their Lonely Planet type counterparts). Our local office happens to be right on our doorstep (in our Palace) in what looks like a converted (teeny tiny) church on the main square, which was just outside the Emperor’s Apartments and was where all the important stuff went down in its heyday hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Based on their recommendations we decided we were going to try a hop to the nearest island, Brac, the next day to spend it languishing on the ‘most famous beach in all of Croatia’, called Zlatni Rat. With a full ferry-bus-bus-ferry plan for the next day, we retired (satisfied) to our sundowner spot of choice.

It wasn’t to disappoint, nice vibe with all but one table occupied when we got there. Perused the menu and settled on sampling another local brew, Karlovac, to celebrate new town, sea views, returned good humour and the impending beach day.

Marvelled over the new move to measuring everything precisely and metrically, eg the sandwich options of cheese (50g), ham (50g) or ham and cheese (100g). Doesn’t do much to stimulate a clear image in the imagination and is quite off-putting when going weight of main courses seems to be around 300g (of pasta, curry etc steaks seem to be between 100g and 200g) when we’re used to much bigger servings. Always seems to be enough though so perhaps portion control might be a half birthday resolution worth considering.

Anyway, the beers were consistently cold and 500ml and we’d probably still be there if it wasn’t for ordering what turned out to be the world’s worst beer – Tomislav. Thick and dark and tastes like treacle with a hint of coffee.

Headed for home and managed the opening credits of an ancient episode of CSI (subtitled) while applauding the inventor of the air-conditioner, then was comacomacoma.

Up in good time for our ferry to Supetar, so popped into the supermarket to grab our usual picnic pack to nibble on board.

We were lucky enough to be the last 2 people to fit on the bus to Bol (where the beach is, on the other side of Brac, 33km away) even though we had to stand in the aisle most of the way. Still, the people left behind would have had to entertain themselves at the ferry port while we were already lazing sea-side!

Brac is a really pretty island. Even the middle bits which are all olive groves and stone quarries (the marble mined there is so good it was used for many of the surrounding palaces and was used in the US’s White House).

20 minutes later we were dropped off at bus station, which is at the one end of the Riva (promenade) and walked the length of the coast on the wide white stone paved walkway, mercifully shaded by overhanging, to Zlatni Rat.

Gorgeous coastline, famous for its peninsula, which is like a triangle with its pointy bit in the sea, with pine trees forming a smaller triangle within it (providing shade and a natural calming aroma) and with water that is crystal clear at shoreline and goes through the turquoises and azures to a rich navy blue where there is coral and flora on the sea bed.

Heaven.

Except it’s a pebble beach.

Really not funny on the (office) feet. We placed our towels almost at the water’s edge – which is quite static and predictable since the sea is calm and waveless (to the point that people were lurking around on lilos) – and still struggled with hobbling the metre or so up to the water and the next metre or so into the sea so we could swim.

Still, it was an excellent day of fun in the sun and a good time was had by all (especially when we snuck into the pool area of the swanky hotel to revel in the smoothness of the floor of the pool, languish on the (free) loungers and prepare for the return journey with a lovely warm outdoor shower.

We returned to the same restaurant as the previous day (the promenade was heaving and we didn’t want to queue) for a delighful dinner of (me) veal medallions with mushroom sauce and croquettes (of course called muschroom sauce and crochets – lots of Engrish here, like the ‘salty cocked’ potatoes and ‘ball cheese’ as a pizza topping) and (Christian) salmon, chips and a potato and spinach mix.

This morning I finally got my Cevapi for breakfast. It’s a tough, round ciabatta-like roll, as big as a pita, filled with meat fingers (beef mince chipolata), a red spicy relish and a choice of the usual schwarma-style garnishes and fillings. Very yum. And pleased to have managed a local dish. Disappointed to have not managed to find the other local dish that appealed – pasticada, which is apparently a meat stew to die for. Might have to look it up on the internet for a Slow Cooker Monday.

Had a bit of a drama when we tried to book our connecting train for tonight (Zagreb to Venice) only to be told it’s full. Panicked investigations resulted in ditching our existing Split to Zagreb plane tickets and booking an overnight coach to Trieste and we’ll take the last leg as it comes (assured that Trieste to Venice is a regular and frequent route).

Spent our last day in Croatia in Split’s neighbouring town, Trogir, which has the notable feature of closest island to the coast – a 50 metre bridge joins it to the mainland. The town spans the mainland and the island houses it’s original Old City (the usual castle, churches and old buildings) and is allegedly nicknamed Little Venice (not sure why, maybe can tell you when we get there).

Had a relaxing afternoon at Kaleta Kanoba (tavern). Spaghetti Genovese, pizza with Dalmatian ham (called prsut, more or less proscuitto) and more beers.

Soon enough we were on the bus, headed for Trieste and hoping for the half sleeping tablet to make the 10.5 hour trip mercifully fly by!

Travelogue EE 4: Zagreb – Dubrovnik (Croatia)

14 August 2010

 

Having done all our sight-seeing in Budapest (including some things we didn’t want to see, like the punk assuming the number 2 position on the pavement right outside Sziget on a road full of people making their way to the station), we were very ready to move on to Croatia. And very ready meant up and out in a 05h45 taxi to catch the 06h30 train! We nonetheless managed to pass pleasantries with the driver, who was very well-spoken in English (very uncommon in Budapest based on our experiences) and apparently a few other languages, which he learns on course in winter when it’s quiet season for him. He told us that the lack of English was because kids had to learn Russian in school as a mandatory second language during the communist regime so English was optional. Makes sense.

The train trip from Budapest to Zagreb is 7 hours, made easier because we’d left so early (and been out so late the night before) and slept the first 3 away. Spite & Malice and a happy picnic pack (our now usual smokey bacon chips, bananas, drinking yoghurt, chocolate milk and choc chip cookies) helped pass the rest of the journey relatively painlessly.

Got to Zagreb and were immediately enchanted. It was a city that neither of us had any burning desire to go to, but had included primarily compelled because it’s the capital and seconded because Budapest to Dubrovnik direct would have been a hell of a journey to tackle in one go (no direct flight – would have had to go via Paris if you can believe it! – no online train routes because too many stops, and car and bus simply too long to want to do).

Zagreb is a lovely city and very easy to move around. Trams and buses right outside the train station, with simple and logical routes covering all sides of the city – a welcome change from Budapest’s complicated mesh (made more irritating by how unbelievably close together the stops are – no more than a couple of hundred metres each, making for a very stopstart journey!)

A short tram ride and we were at Ban Jelacic Square, which is the hub of the city, with parks and museums between the station and the square, restaurants, shops and hotels around the square and presumably residential and suburbs up the hill and beyond.

We found our hotel with little trouble. Hotel might be a strong word though. We made our way to reception, which was housed in a third storey apartment and were met there by 2 stoner types who look like they don’t leave the apartment much (and are happy with that). One had a glass eye – an odd running theme with the guy on the Gautrain sitting in front of us who had an eye-patch (and moved because the sun was in his eye!), a fellow patron at the table next to us later that day with a noticeably lazy eye and a chap we’d spotted on a Budapest House Of Terror monument that had the squintest squint eyes we’ve ever seen.

Anyway, turns out we’re in the 3rd storey apartment – but they count from reception up, so we had to put the lug into luggage and haul them up SIX flights of stairs. The stoners had warned us that we might happen upon an old lady who cleans the apartment. Turns out that the ‘cleaner’ is actually the primary inhabitant of the flat and ‘our apartment’ really is a sleeper couch in her front room! Hardest on Christian with his aversion to shared bathrooms, but softened with the building’s prime positioning on the main happening street in town (something wildly unpronounceable – like a lot of things here. Between the lack of vowels and a whole bunch of accents, kappies, inverted kappies and double dots, we don’t have a hope of phoneticising anything so have taken to renaming almost everywhere and everything to suit our tongue better). She’d also provided FIVE ply toilet paper. We joked about it being so absorbant that it just about cut out needing the toilet as the middleman! *grin*

Grabbing a quick pizza slice (despite ourselves, being fascinated then horrified how traditional food has been quite hard to come by while there is a pizza bar or spagettaria on every corner) we hit the sight-seeing. The tourist bureau at the station had given us a lovely glossy book, with routes mapped and pictures, descriptions and historical significance of everything we needed to see. A very manageable walk and we saw almost everything – lots of parks, museums, fountains, statues, old buildings and churcheschurcheschurches.

With best intentions of pausing for sundowners and a bite before seeing the last quadrant of the city, we settled into the brauhaus we’d earlier pinpointed as watering hole of choice (from a leaflet at the train station and that serendipitously happened to not only be across the road from our lodgings, but was also recommended unprompted by Glass Eye Guy), called Pivnica Mali Medo (mountain of the bears). We were lucky enough to get an outside table on this stiflingly hot (mid 30 degrees!) and humid day. All the restaurants have pavement tables, but the roads are narrow so tables are limited and there were loads of people out and about being Saturday evening.

We shared 2 excellent local specialities: goulash pasta and mixed grill of Medin Brlog pub sausage, chicken fillet, minced meat fingers, braised potatoes, overdone beans, and mustard. Christian’s beer was a darker red ale called Mrki Medvjed and mine a light lager called Zlatni Medvjed. We had several. We also had a few jagermeisters, which they serve in a tumbler with ice and lemon – we got some funny looks when we threw it back so surmise that it’s a sipping drink here.

We ended up rolling out of there the better part of midnight, having had a most excellent time (and having only spent about R220 for the whole bangshoot! Bargain!)

Word to the wise planning a stay in Zagreb. If you’re only spending one night (as we did) and think you may end up overdoing it on bar street (as we did), do it on a friday night, not a saturday night (as we did). Church bells start chiming at a ridiculously early hour. Every few minutes another church starts its sequence. We’re guessing it’s because there are so many churches in such a small town that they all need to get a go and – rather than a deafening cacophony on the hour – they’ve dished out random times, so you’ll for example get a church that relishes it’s turn and goes hammer and tongs celebrating the 23rd minute of each hour or somesuch. Not easy the morning after the night before… When it’s already sweltering outside! … and your ‘apartment’ only has net curtains!

We did manage to pull ourselves toward ourselves and do a flash half hour trot around the last quadrant ticking the last few must-see checkboxes. We were very sorry to say goodbye to Zagreb – it’s an amazing little city and well worth including in your itinerary if you’re ever in the neighbourhood.

Caught a taxi to the airport, which took us past the less pretty side of Zagreb. The side that was what we’d expected to see – brown and grey apartment blocks, grimy shop windows and grafitti everywhere (seemingly the bane of this side of the world). We were tickled by a particular series of spraypainted messages which went through the usual logos, profanities, proclamations of devil worship, metal bands, to end on The Jesus And Mary Chain (very long compared to the usual Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica stuff), basketball, La Coste. La Coste? Really?!

A 45 minute flight later, we landed in Dubrovnik at 13h00 on Sunday. Beautiful coastal town, no stranger to tourists judging by the fact that every second house advertises itself as accommodation to rent. We dumped our stuff at our very neat little apartment and headed out to explore.

Dubrovnik has an Old City, literally the original city from medieval times within the old city walls etc. It was a bit dissappointing as it was really just restaurants (no surprise mostly pizza, pasta and seafood) and souvenir shops, but we did enjoy wandering the narrow, winding cobbled streets at the top of the town where people still live in the little ramshackle units all one on top of the other, with original little doors and windows).

We’d decided we didn’t want to do dinner in the Old City as the restaurants were all expensive and dime a dozen), so headed for the port where we expected to find bars and restaurants lining the waterfront. No such luck. Oddly, there was very little entertainment there. We managed to find a nice enough place for some sundowners and cards, but all they served foodwise was pizza and ‘sendvices’, so we were once again on a mission to find an eatery.

We walked the full length of the waterfront to literally the edge of town (across the road from the bus station) and found a place that had a lasagne and chicken pasta thing we’d have settled for, but they were out of stock (a very common, very frustrating occurrence) and the waitress suggested we have the… Pizza.

No dice.

We left in a huff and luckily soon stumbled upon a little bistro where we were delighted to find they had awesome seafood pasta options. The waiter was very confused when we greeted him with asking what they DIDN’T have, meaning what was out of stock and whether they didn’t serve pizza. Astoundingly, they had everything on the menu (and a few specials that weren’t) and didn’t even serve pizza at all! We shared a salmon tagliatelle and a tomato/seafood pasta, which were both perfect, alongside a switch to the local brew, Osujkvo. Nice. The only marring of this perfect formula was getting my first bee-sting ever. Not allergic though. Phew.

Monday we took a ferry from the port in the Old City out to a nearby island, 10 minutes to Lokrum. We trekked around to the olive groves, the monastery and the fort, dotting our mission with dips in the ocean on all sides. First time in the Adriatic for both of us! It’s bluer than blue and refreshingly cool and very salty. Pity they’re not sandy beaches though – rocky coastlines make for tricky entry and exit and the big rocks under the water have left parts of our feet a bit shredded. 🙁

Still, a great day out. Caught a bus outside Old City so as the see the remainder of the peninsula – and see if there was anywhere else to dine. We took the bus a full circuit, so are satisfied that we’ve seen everything Dubrovnik has to offer – and found a spot on the opposite side of the marina to where we’d been the night before.

Settled in for a few sundowners on a bar that serviced a little jetty with 4 or 5 tables and entertained ourselves with views of our little piece of paradise and a man in a speedo(n’t) coming into port and mooring his little boat called ‘Tina’ right in front of us.

We had the perfect dinner at a little spot across the road called Bistro Riva. Unable to choose (and not having to), we shared a calamari and rice, mussels (which were peculiarly battered and deep fried – unusual, but good) and lasagne, which turned out to be layers of thin pancakes with mince between and cheese melted on top (notwhat we were expecting, but also nice).

Had planned on walking off our dinner to go home and pack, to get an early night for this morning’s bus ride to Split (4.5 hrs so figured we’d try get out early), but got sucked in by a warm and inviting bar called Cavello’s a few minutes from home). The barman took a fancy to us and plied us with jagermeisters (also served in tumblers, so probably fascinated by us throwing them back) and brough out his guitar and played us sing-along English songs (mostly classics like Stairway to Heaven, Beatles, Hotel California etc) and sang some Croat songs to us, and was delighted when Christian showed him how to play Wonderwall.

Got home much later than expected, which made this morning quite a challenge. Could certainly have used a good old chicken and mushroom pie. No such thing around here. They don’t seem to do any savoury pastries (loads of pancake, croissant and doughnut style things stuffed with sugars, jams and fruit though) and the supermarkets don’t do our typical deli or bakery things, so no pies, subs etc (not even pizza slices which is odd around here!). The locals (according to one of our tour books, which we didn’t believe until we saw it) seem to favour eating dry rolls. No butter even!

We ended up getting our usual picnic pack and getting on the bus for our long journey.

So, first thing on the agenda in Split is to find something (non-pizza) to eat with a view over the magnificent port and azure ocean.

Travelogue EE 3: Budapest / Sziget

11 August 2010

Disclaimer: there may be (more) typos (than usual) in this message as the QWERTZ keyboard is quite different to the QWERTY… and the spell check is in Hungarian so almost the entire message is underlined as we speak, rendering spell check largely useless.

Got up and breakfeasted Kyjev-style and then in a taxi and off to Hlavni Stanica (train station – the very ‘humble’ one mentioned in Travelogue 2) to board for the train to Budapest. Fortunately only a 2.5 hour ride as people fall over themselves to get the seats with a table (the ones where the seats face each other with a table in between), which wouldn’t be so bad if they actually used the table… but most just go to sleep or read a book, which leaves us card-playing-surfaceless for nothing 🙁

Fortunately had emailed beforehand and gotten very clear and literal directions from station to hotel because Budapest is far bigger and more confusing than the previous cities. There’s very little English signage (or spoken) and far more public transport options. Of course, by following the directions so literally we – in our excitement to get to the festival – ended up at Sziget without having taken down our address, so in essence not knowing where we live!

Where we live…

We’re staying at Hotel Lucky (http://www.hotellucky.hu/). A nice enough place, where we were lucky enough to get the round turret room which makes for easy identification and good story 🙂 The day concierge is a bit of a challenge. We’ve taken to calling him Basil (Fawlty)… and not calling him at all. He’s got an annoying habit of echoing questions, eg:

Christian: if we take the blue metro line…

Basil: the blue Metro line?

Christian: yes, the one that connects to the red Metro line…

Basil: the red Metro line?

Christian: the one that runs this way *points to map of underground system*

Basil: runs this way? *adjusts specs*

Christian: how do we get to Obudai Sziget?

Basil: Oboduai Sziget?

Christian: never mind.

Hence, we left ‘home’ without thinking to ask for an address.

We did manage to suss the trams, trolleybusses, busses and trains to get to Sziget though (incidentally, ‘Sziget’ means ‘island’ in Hungarian, and the festival is held on an island in the Danube in Budapest).

The festival is amazing! People streeeaming in all afternoon and evening, but no queues. Very well organised. Sadly, the beer sponsor is Dreher, which isn’t one of our favourites, but the blow was softened when we got to do the ‘Dreher in the Sky’, which is like the Dinner in the Sky concept they had at Monte Casino a while back (which cost R1000 or more) and we were strapped into a seat and suspended at a table 50m in the air to enjoy(ish) a cold pint of Dreher – and the views of the festival below, the city beyond and the countryside for miles around. Very cool. And free (foreign concept for SA, where am sure they’d have charged a fortune).

All the bands we saw were brilliant as well.

First on our roster was The Toy Dolls. THIRTY years they’ve been doing their thing! They were amazing. Never had been on my ‘must see’ list, but super-glad we saw them. Nelly The Elephant seems to be as much a classic here as it is at home and all sorts were jumping around singing along about Nelly’s absconding from the circus. And by all sorts, we mean all sorts – punks, trendy sorts, preppy lots, princesses, mohawks of all descriptions, you name it, they were out to play! Funfunfun.

Caught the tail end of Ska-P, who are a Spanish ska band. Have noted to look them up as their performance was excellent and they seem to be really well known by lots of people (here). Don’t necessarily agree with all their politics (inevitable in this genre), but we can overlook that (especially the bits sung in Espanol hehe).

Then off to grab a slice of pizza (seemingly the staple fast food source of Eastern Europe) and hit Ill Nino. Can’t believe I only heard them for the first time a few weeks ago – very sad that i have wasted so much time!! They were madly excellent. They played in the MTV Headbangers Stage, so was a trifle warm (Mick’s phone weather app would have called it an ‘flan-flopping high 30-somethings and sweaty’… and been right for a change) but still, was totally worth losing the moisture. Definitely going to spend more time on them when I get home.

Managed to work our way back to main stage to catch the last few songs of The Hives. Good performance, lead singer is a bit up his own though.

Beers and Jagers later plus a whirl past the merch stand to see what was on offer (and narrowing down to about 10 tees we simply couldn’t live without) and a flit through the market. Lots of food and drink options … and a Vans stall with prices so heinously low that I was credit card ready… but Christian seems to hate shoes and not want me to have any more ever… and something about impractical to carry around a festival or something.. and I left empty-handed. And -souled. (And -soled).

Madness was incredible. Also a 30 year commemoration tour, with all the favourites and some more fan-pleaser oldies. Awesome stage presence, album-perfect delivery, a TON of fans pogo-ing and walk-dancing about the place. Lots of fun.

Last but not least, Christian’s favourite band of all time – Bad Religion. Also a 30 year tour for them! Am so glad I did the research I did (had been warned) as REALLY enjoyed their show… alongside Christian who was so in his element that there are no words to describe 🙂 They delivered an hour and a half of literally back-to-back songs (not a word or a breath between tracks, just straight from one into the next!) and sounded like I’m sure they did 30 years ago – only giveaway of aging was the bald and balding band and the lead singers ensemble of jeans and red plain golf shirt (which I’m sure that no new punk band would dare, opting rather for some long shorts / angry-message tee shirt and certainly dreads / mohawk / unnatural coloured hairdo). Still, books and covers, they were as energetic and spritely as any of the young bands we’ve seen or saw there). Good on them.

NEEDING merch to commemorate the experience, headed to the tee tent only to be told they’d closed for the night (despite us having checked twice earlier in the day to ensure we didn’t miss out and being told both times that it was open until 3). This was about 1.30 so we weren’t having any of that. After extensive debate we managed a Bad Religion shirt (shh, don’t tell Christian cos it’s a bday present), a The Hives tee for me and a festival tee each.

Then headed for home. Bustling train station, packed train and we ended up at a station we didn’t know (having followed to advice that C got from the Van’s attendant while i was shopping), so ended up looking up the hotel’s address on the internet (what did we do before it?!) and getting a cab. Only got home about 3 in the end, can’t imagine what time it would have been if we’d persevered with public transport!

All in all, an awesome festival. Highly recommend to anyone considering it! (and so civilised to be able to festival and then commute to a warm bed and running water etc).

Thursday we did some sight-seeing. Hadn’t intended to do much with the day having gotten in so early (late), but it’s a city that sucks you in because everything is so close together. Started with the Buda side, checking out the Citadel and Gellert Hill, then on for a walk around the Buda Castle (a whole mountain top complex), through the Palace (which is the opening of the Castle), onto the Church of St Michael and the Fisherman’s Bastion – a look-out point with spectacular views over Pest.

Taking the Chain Bridge (famous as the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest across the Danube) to St Stephen’s Basillica, the largest church in Budapest (and there are many!). Then potentially the most exciting stop of the day – Burger King! Christian had the special – California Whopper, beef burger with guacamole and salsa – and I had the cheese and bacon whopper (obviously). The special also has kettle-fried style chips (but hot like fries), really excellent and we intend to try and microwave Flannigan’s at home to see if we can get the same effect.

All fuelled, we took a quick walk to Parliament Square. What a breath-taking building!! HUGE (691 rooms – largest building in Budapest) and all neo-gothic ‘n stuff…

Had a bit of a hitch there. Decided to go to Acquincum, which is a Roman ruins town just past the Island we’d been on the day before. We had little trouble finding out where it is, nor mapping our route, but couldn’t find the Metro station! Barely perceptible nestled in among the office buildings alongside all the splendour and wonderment of Parliament and Kossuth Park. Eventually found it – and enjoyed the downtime, letting the train do the work for a change. Quite interesting, but the (local) staff didn’t do it justice with their lacklustre attitudes and seeming indifference to us as patrons and interested tourists. Those Romans were a clever bunch, they had underfloor heating and running sewerage systems even back then in 100 AD.

Had a marvellous sundowners session on Margit Island – the one before Sziget Island – named after the poor princess whose dad promised to confine her to a nunnery on the island if some political thing or another was ceded to him. It was and he did. She was only 9, poor thing. place was a bit more upbeat for us and it was great to kick off shoes and sip daiquiris watching the sun set over the Danube.

Stayed a bit too long and ended up on a fruitless mission to try and find a late dinner. But it’s holiday, so still fun to make way back to hotel and have a dinner of plain salted chips over pints of (our least favourite so far) Dreher and playing some cards. 🙂

Friday was chill day. Headed out of town a bit to Memento Park, which is an outdoor exhibition of communist statues and plaques, with memorabilia (that’s what they call it, really just some t-shirts, caps and postcards) and there’s a phone booth where you can listen to communist dictators’ speeches. Was cool to see Stalin’s Boots, which is the remains of a Stalin statue that was toppled during the 1956 revolution and never rebuilt because Stalin was already dead, so they just left the boots. Wouldn’t rush to recommend the park to anyone (except Neal).

Headed back for town – more trains, trams and busses – and another Burger King. Got a ‘Party Pack’ of 2 double cheese and bacon burgers, 2 XL fires, 5 chicken pieces (mini), 6 burritos (more like little deep fried Mexican spring rolls) and onion rings. That ruined our plans of traditional Hungarian dinner; who has space after all that?!

Walked the length of the picturesque, but underwhelming, Andrassy Avenue to see Heroes Square and Varosliget Park and stumbled across a mini German beer fest. Good laugh. And left us on the right side of the park to head to Mexico Street station and catch a tram back to the hotel (we’ve finally got the hang of this transport system – it can get you from anywhere to anywhere, but every journey is complicated with multiple changes and multiple modes of transport). Found a gem of a spot called Randevu (there are lots of cute anglicisations, like ‘csendvic’ which is totally phonetic for sandwich) – where we had a quick beer while waiting for our tram… at R14 for a 500ml AND a 300ml Arany Aszok! We were so marvelling at our bargain that we missed the tram – and had another round while we waited for the next one *grin*

Back at the hotel now and destined for bed – got a super early start for Zagreb in the morning *yawn*

Overall, Budapest was a bit of a surprise after Prague and Bratislava. It is much bigger and more bustling. The people are very unhelpful (we’re inconclusive as to whether they don’t speak English or don’t want to) and the transport systems are very complicated, not helped by all signage being in Hungarian only and the language is VERY foreign with long words and all sorts of punctuation we don’t have. The Communists clearly let the place go to rack and ruin and it’s such a shame that beautiful old buildings are in such a state – grotty and dirty and unkempt – and there is graffiti everywhere (the funniest of which we saw on Gellert Hill’s look out point where people have tagged the pillars with their favourite bands, reading from left to right: Megadeth, Kiss, Satan, Slayer, Warrant, Metallica, Def Leppard, early Bon Jovi. Got a pic of that teeheehee)

Travelogue EE 2: Bratislava – Vienna

08 August 2010

 

So there we were, on the train, when Christian went “oh shit, we’re here!”. ‘Here’ being Bratislava of course. What a non-event of a station. Looked as desolate and ramshackle as the last few very rural ones had – and we’d expected something a little more urban and impressive. Nonetheless, new places and excitement. Jumped into a taxi (a 1980-ish Opel Astra) with an aging rocker-style driver, blaring Iron Maiden while pointing at things ‘n stuff along the way and repeatedly telling us everything was “Short walk. Centrum”, with Yellow Pages finger walking motions for full effect.

Bratislava seemed very grimy, dirty and ‘modern’ compared to Prague (ie not the pretty old facades and bridges, rather grey, grimy glassed buildings you’d expect in Pretoria or any other place that had a building spurt in the 70s and little interest paid to it since). We had a bit of a sinking feeling that maybe we’d started on too high a note, to the detriment of the more modest Central European countries, and that we’d made the wrong choice opting for the extra night in Bratislava over one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vienna.

But all was not lost… we loved our hotel from first moment.

Described as “70s retro” by their own website (www.hotelkyjev.com), the place is a gem, with a little yellow Police Trabbant in the foyer, amazingly helpful staff (who speak good English), a pocket-buster of a metal art nouveau room keyring… and pints for 1 Euro (emblazoned everywhere as ‘the best price in Bratislava’ – we subsequently checked and it sure is!). The room is spartan in a 70’s porn way, with an all-in-one built-in carpeted headboard, side-table cum ledgey thing coupling with a mid-shin coffee table and a burgundy velvet(een) chair to make a very comfortable seating amenity, next to the double-paned windows with blinds between the panes (boy did that keep us entertained for the first few minutes) and the brightest, happiest, least hotel-ish yellow, orange and brown floral curtains you have ever seen!

We tested the in-house bar. The pints were indeed 1 Euro each (and very lovely cold Staropramens – new favourite so far – at that) and the staff amazingly accommodating and friendly (seeing as we got there at 22h50 and they close at 23h00 after actually working an entire day). They forgot to mention on the flyers that the bar also has the highest barstools in Bratislava (and potentially the world, I bet). ironic since the locals all seem quite squattish bulldoggy sorts, men topping out at about 5ft8.

They do a cracker of a buffet breakfast too. Always hate a continental breakfast, feeling like – being the morning person I am (not) – the effort to be grateful for the breakfast inclusion isn’t worth the croissant and fruit offering. This one was a pleasant surprise!

– cereals x 3 with chilled milk (didn’t touch)
– danishes and breakfast pastries platters (didn’t touch)
– fruit (nabbed an apple and orange for later)
– yoghurt (had a strawberry one at breakfast, Christian took a raspberry take-away)
– bread baskets with white and brown rolls and slices of health bread (nabbed rolls for breakfast AND lunch take-aways)
– cold meats platter (nabbed 2 types of ham and salami for lunch rolls)
– cheese slices in 2 light cheese varieties and a basket of cream cheese triangles (liberal handful grabbed)
– fried and scrambled eggs (me scrambled, Christian fried)
– bacon: strange little 5cm x 3cm mini-slices, half fat, half meat (grabbed a heap of that mmmm)
– viennas (nabbed)
– chourico (nabbed)

Too many goodies so we did cooked breakfast subs at the table and made ham and cheese rolls for take away and hit the streets of Bratislava.

We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to see as we’d spent some time studying the map in the bar the night before. We had no idea how close everything was though. Turns out that everything’s a couple of roads this way or that and it’s a really manageable city to navigate around – fortunately with enough to see and do for us to keep ourselves out of trouble for the better part of the day. We walked ourselves flat, touring the Castle, seeing countless churches (including one called The Blue Church, very obviously from it’s garish brrrright blue paint job worthy of no less than Lenasia! Not sure if this is a sign or a warning seeing as things have finally started moving on The Blue House), the Old Square, the Old Town etc etc.

Couldn’t defy convention, so settled into a nice avenue cafe for some sundowners in anticipation of the final trawl home. The Hare Krishna squad had set up shop in the park opposite and were dishing out mounds of white, reddish and yellowish stuff. Likely rice and lentil sorts of things. Bratislava’s needy are an orderly, presentable and well-behaved bunch, queuing for their plateful, retiring to the park to eat, rejoining the queue and wash/rinse/repeating until it was all gone. Not sure where they went afterwards though because, despite it’s humble first impressions, the city is spotless and seemingly free of vagrants or underworld of any sort.

Stopped en route back to the hotel to get a ‘Rich Man’, which Christian had read about online. A chain of sandwich shops (seemingly mostly operating from little portable kiosk akin to the cell phone ones at home) that specialise in a heated sandwich with ham, cheese, mayo and cabbage. 1,60 Euros for a mammoth sandwich that fed the 2 of us. We tried, we like.

Quiet evening in (beer and cards in the hotel bar) to save strength for impending day trip to Vienna (oh, and we were knackered from a day of pushing the pavements. And we love our hotel) and then ended the day with a quick visit to the local KFC. Very disappointing. Mash very good, gravy like coloured water. Skinny chips like McD’s, but cold and chewy. I had the Grander burger, punted as the equivalent of a Chomp to a baby hippo. All that was bigger was the bun, so the poor little chicken fillet looked like Nigel No Mates. On a BROWN bun. I mean, really? Christian’s Tower Zinger was ok.

Still counting ourselves lucky we didn’t hit the McD’s though. Had interest piqued since Prague by their new campaign, which is all blue background, with a feature burger… with a whale tail behind it. Seriously. Closer inspection seems to indicate that the blue / whale theme is supposed to be Mediterranean. The feature menu is:
1) Tzatziki and feta beef burger on a herby focaccia
2) Parmesan beef burger on a parmesan ciabatta
3) Provenciale crinkle cut potato wedges
4) Tempura-style deep fried prawns

Check it out http://www.mcdonalds.sk/sk/novinky/prid_na_chut_stredomoriu.shtml . Very odd.

Up and out bright and breezy this morning. Same routine with the breakfast / take-away rolls for lunch routine, then out for a brisk walk to the bus station to catch the 09h30 to Vienna. Although only something laughable like 47kms away, the bus takes an hour and a half, slowing to a crawl through some very narrow one-lane country towns along the way. Very pretty countryside though – and still pleased not to have to drive as the right hand side of the road is no more comfortable than when we first got here.

Great day out in Vienna. Beautiful city, with beautiful old buildings and plazas, conveniently tightly locked in a very manageable epicentre so we got to see everything – and some stuff we wouldn’t have bothered with had they been any further out seeing as we were on foot and only had the one day to explore. Got loads of pics of us posed like proper tourists in front of all sorts of buildings and fountains that am sure will be a challenge to caption when the time comes, but still…

Made a stop in at the 1516 bar and tried out the local recommendations, then hit the other side of the Danube to see what the residential quarters had to offer. Managed to find a cosy little wendy-house type thing to settle in for our sarmies and joked that with property prices what they’re likely to be, this would be our new settling home should we move to Vienna (which incidentally, we think we’d do in a flash).

Caught the Twin City liner down the Danube for a riverboat route home and can’t say there’s much to report on the journey or view. (Probably because we were both napping after another day of marathon mileage on foot).

Boat docked in the new part of Bratislava, which we hadn’t bothered with. Glad it did – awesome marina with loads of riverfront bars and cafes, a live concert set-up, wonderous sunset… and the inevitable sundowners (Christian’s beered out now and onto wine).

Sticking with the mariners theme, fish, calamari and chips for dinner, accompanied by a local special – potato dumplings with bryndza (sheep) cheese. very good.

Up and off to Budapest tomorrow. Might have to have a lasty in the hotel bar tonight to get Christian to sleep any – he’s super-excited about seeing Bad Religion tomorrow! Bring on Sziget!!

 

Travelogue EE 1: Joburg – Munich – Prague

05 August 2010

 

Our adventure began with using the Gautrain for the first time. Beating the rush hour in Sandton was the first victory, the short queues and helpful kiosk assistants were the second and the literal 12 minute journey the coup de gras! Well worth the R100 each!

Victory was hollow however, having arrived at the airport pre-5pm for a 20h40 flight and waiting around for the check-in gate numbers to be posted, which just never happened. When we eventually got to check in, we were horrified to find that we had seats pre-booked by our travel agent (the lovely people at eBucks who had almost lost my ticket completely because they spelled my name wrong in the original booking) THIRTY PLUS rows apart. Awesome. We managed to change them, but the only seat left side-by-side were in the middle of the middle of the 4 seat rows.

Turned out OK tho as somehow Lufthansa seems to have INCREASED the size of their seats and the amount of legroom… although this loss of income clearly must be subsidised by their savings on the entertainment front – the only ‘new’ movie was Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Junior one), the majority ‘classics’ and the never-tempting Avatar in a category all to itself. Lufthansa must be monitoring my twitter account as they managed to thwart the ‘chicken AND beef’ strategy by only having lamb left by the time they got to us. Hhhmpf.

Fortunately we had very quiet and reserved neighbours (and half a sleeping tab each) so managed 6 hours of uninterrupted blissful slumber, waking just in time for the ‘quiche’ breakfast. Amazing what those airline chefs can do with (to) an egg!

We had an 8 hour stop-over in Munich until the flight to Prague, so we darted into town to the Marienplatz for a very early beer, sausage and pretzel breakfast. The Germans are clearly very experienced with their sausaging having the marvellous idea of serving the sausages (in this case weisswurst white veal sausages) in a turine of boiling water to keep them juicy and hot. Slicing and dicing them, dipping into sweet mustard and complementing with sections of salty bready pretzels makes for a wunderbar snacky-cake!

Pity the weather was lousy, very drizzly and mizzy, so we didn’t do much walking around… but we did find the Hofbrauhaus! Big Daddies all round! Christian had a Photo Ninja moment of note when we got bust doing the ninja to an Oriental group. They took it in good spirits however and asked if we would actually be in a photo with them. Mom and teenage son piled onto our beer bench and arms around shoulders and toothy grins later, Dad took the pics. Christian then offered to take a pic of them, which they seemed quite excited about, clambering over each other to let him out, then letting mom in to sit next to me for the next ‘family holiday pic’.

Further family fun was provided due east of our table where a pre-teen was sitting with dad (?) and uncle (?) enjoying his Hot Wheels colouring-in book between swigs on a pint. To be fair though, he was only drinking pints and not 1 litre steins like the rest of us! Ironically, the oldies next to us were giving US the beady eye while we were trying to surreptitiously get a photo of the young ‘un.

Attempted without success to find a pizza bar to get a good pic of “Germans in the Pizza Bar” for the album (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evaHEryLaUE) and then it was back to the airport without incident (or excitement) (but maybe a short nap) and we were off to Prague!

Taxi guy waiting when we got there, we were planted at the apartment, with Christian’s cousin Lucy and her hubby Mick all ready and waiting to meet-and-greet with cold beers and Cava sparkling wine (and Mick’s genius refrigerated glasses). Anyone planning to stay at Krakovska 3 when visiting Prague should know that Apartment 19 (Mick & Lucy’s) was the one used for the photos for all the web references. The rest of the building looks nothing like it. They got the looks, but we got the TV and washing machine. Granted only sport and Czech channels and was our first day so we had no washing, but still…

Straight off into the Prague night, deftly avoiding being too close to one-man-bandness and super-chuffed to be where we were, we slugged back some beers and played catch-up and nice-to-meet-yous.

Prague is excellent, but don’t eat at Mike’s Cafe. We did. Trying to sample Czech cuisine, we’d bypassed firm favourites like the Colonel and Mickey D’s and the one-on-every-corner pizza/pasta spots to find somewhere authentic. drinks served and ready to order from their Czech Speciality section, we were told they were out of goulash and Czech chicken (which was 3 of our 4 orders). Hmmmm. Christian and I ordered the pork steak, which was served looking and tasting a lot like beef steak, but the waiter, having consulted his notepad (rather than the meal itself) was indignant and aggressively insistent that it was pork. No chance. Mick had the ‘tabaco’ chicken, which was described in the menu as ‘chicken (with garlic, spicy)’. When Mick asked the waiter what the chicken was all about he said it was “chicken, with garlic. spicy”. Very helpful. Especially from someone who’d moments earlier told us that they were out of chicken.

Nonetheless, good time had by all… and we headed for home to rest up for the Big Weekend ahead. Sniffles had set in, likely from the plane germs and walking around in the rain, so Mother Cain’s Care Package was welcome solace, with a comforting lem sip putting us out like lights. Very street.

Saturday was sadly also intermittently rainy, but didn’t dampen spirits! Our hotel was amazingly well situated, right at the top of Wenceslas Square by the museum, making for easy landmarking and being a natural starting point to adventure through the centre, past the Astronomical Clock, over King Charles Bridge and into the Old Town (and up the hill trek to the castle etc). Found a most excellent pub to wile away the afternoon in – medieval tavern style – dark and dingy and all by candlelight. A quick beer became several (as we do).

Disillusioned from previous night’s meal debacle, we decided to play it safe and opt Indian. We shared a lamb madras and a butter chicken, with garlic Naan bread (and the inevitable ubiquitous Praha beer) – a rare gem on Stepanska Street and really recommendable (and the Cain / Lawton / Newcombe lines are no beginners to curry, I’m told).

A lick and a promise later, we were out for the night, ditching the planned tour pub crawl because it was too far to mission in the rain and sliding down the stairs to the Majora Zemana pub literally next door to the hotel. Interesting spot. hundreds of open books nailed to the roof to create a lowered layered ceiling, weird wallpaper of pages from what looked like genetic experiments and rare diseases, life-size mannequins in military uniforms, weird Communist looking portraits painted directly onto the walls, arms and ammunition suspended from the rafters and a map showing what Europe would have looked like in 1941. Tried to take some pics, but the waitron rushed over, index finger extended and wagging and told us ‘No photo! No photo! Police bar’. Uh-huh.

The rest of the pub crawl relied more on us and our witty banter and cracking humour to keep ourselves entertained – 2 Irish bars, a rock ‘n roll themed bar and the knock-knock Club (24hour with slot machines, crusty locals, dodgy Czech music-heavy jukebox and Blade 2 on the tv).

A good night had by all 🙂

On Sunday we did the last of the city that we hadn’t seen in ‘abundant sunshine’ (Mick’s weather forecaster’s prediction) and succumbed to pizza slices for breakfast – although in our defence we had entered the sandwich shop we got them from in order to buy, you guessed it, sandwiches. They ‘were out’. Same like the Czech dishes the night before, but different.

We had a really good river stroll which showed us most of the city from a whole new perspective – and it was the perfect weather for it – and then wandered through the old town again and headed back up towards our hotel from an unchartered angle. Found a delightfully local looking spot to have lunch – finally tracking down the goulash we’d been after. Good 3 course meal option. Easy for us, not so much for Lucy. Being a vegetarian, she wasn’t doing the goulash, but inquired about the breaded cauliflower, only to be told they ‘were out’. False alarm this time though and they came back resolved that they indeed had it and she was on the 3-course bandwagon. Only to find that the lentil soup we’d been served for starters had bacon in it! Clearly, I’m not the only person who thinks bacon is garnish and should be an honorary vegetable!

Fed and watered (well, beered), we meandered back to the hotel, got our stuff, said our goodbyes and headed for the train station. Christian is really good at the time-keeping thing (me not so much) so we were (over-)cautiously early, with a good 45 minutes on our side. And then the train was delayed. What a waste of what could have been more Praha-haha time.

No mind though, very comfortable train and fleeting journey, taught Christian Spite & Malice (the very best card game ever) and before we knew it we were in Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava.

But more about that at another time…

Travelogue Canada 7: Wales (Halloween)

October 2009

 

the day started as every day should – was woken with a “don’t ask questions, just follow me” (barry)… and was led to the kitchen where a full fry-up was waiting! even though it was a heart-stoppingly early 09h30 (which is super-early considering sleep depro the night before and that night’s extended slumber party antics with me and JM giggling like schoolgirls til 3 in the morning) was still an XL YAY! :o)

all fuelled and ready for action, we headed off to town to do the last minute shopping for Halloween, namely costume accessories, pumpkins and a few odds and sods for our dinner feast. mission accomplished, we retired to McD’s for a hearty lunch of a Big Tasty With Bacon (100% Beef patty, streaky bacon, a slice of cheese made from Emmental, onion, juicy tomato, crisp lettuce and Big Tasty sauce – which is sort of like a smoked version of the sauce on the Big Mac – in a sesame seed bun) with POTATO WEDGES with sour cream and chive dip! total awesomeness! mcflurry’s for pudding – with cadbury’s dairy milk caramels oooo!

spent the afternoon around the kitchen table, laughing, giggling, catching up, dying hair, making jack-o-lanterns, decorating the house (with orange spray paint and stensils, plastic bats, fake cobwebs and plastic tombstones) and generally having a grand old time.

was the usual rush to get ready, even though we’d had the whole afternoon to do it. it was all a hubbub of getting costumes on (me morticia, emm vampira, barry a vampire, john the templar knight), applying facepaint for each other, smearing eyeshadow all over the show and (the other 3) putting in wicked costume contact lenses. we were supposed to be out at 5, we eventually left about 5.40. oops.

so, we get to the party the better part of an hour late. and we’re the only grown-ups in costume!! the guy emm works with that had invited us to the party had told emm everyone dresses up, omitting that he meant all the CHILDREN dress up! we felt a bit arse… but was all part of the fun in the end (and the party came to a rather abrupt end about 20 minutes later when, after a short fire-dancing and fireworks display, everyone just packed up and left). the never-say-die people we are, we just adjourned to the pub (The Greyhound, B&E’s local).

2 pints and 2 tequilas down – having been treated to a class joke (john was in a knight’s templar outfit, so one of the locals saw the Maltese Cross insignia emblazonned on the cape and said “how do you make a maltese cross? poke him”. it was funnier when john caught it about 10 minutes later than it was when the local told it though! teehee), watched the kids breakdance, done a modelling shoot in the bathroom using the handdrier for effect – we headed for home to get us fed and Griff to bed. sumptuous dinner of steak tartare and raw salmon (let me hear you say ‘es ki mo’ – see previous travelogue), nachos and sour cream – all washed down with delightful red and to the dulcet beat Shnee Wurt Schnit Shnee Wizey Wize (yes THE SWSSWW that b has been looking for for over half a lifetime!! … which emm also loved in the day… and which i never would have guessed was the song it turned out to be, which i recognise but would never have fitted barry’s fantasy lyrics to!) – and it was bedtime for B&E and back to the pub for J and me.

by the time we got back (about 10 maybe), the pub was more festive and there were at least a few more people in costume. one such being an ‘attractive blonde girl’ that john spotted across the bar and thought had potential, what with her lithe frame and shortshort hotpants… until we got closer and saw the adam’s apple and hairy legs through ‘her’ stockings. we’re still not convinced it was a halloween costume. there were also a fair number of slapper type chicks that i could have sworn were fancy-dressed as pumpkins, but i’m told the tanning salon craze has hit here in a big way. it’s crazy, they’re all orange. orangeorange. like nowhere near natural tan colour. and not – soso very not – attractive.

we made quite an impression on the barman seeing as we ordered tequilas with every round, which is a rarity in these parts apparently. he started pouring us half tots since their standard tot glasses are doubles, until john goaded him into giving us full tot glasses (still at singles prices). eventually the poor man was just pouring for us freehand into halfpint glasses… and having one himself! funfunfun. we calculated 8 pints (and who knows how much tequila seeing as there was no standard measure), which would explain why the details of the walk home (yes, i said WALK home) are a little blurry. we must, however, have decided quite spur of the moment to leave for home seeing as we both brought our glasses home and there was still a considerable amount in them this morning. hmmm…

this morning B&E had to mission in to town as there had been a little mishap with griff spilling water on the tv, killing it dead. while they went to get a new one, me and John walked (yes, there’s that word again) to the corner store (called the Red Shop by emm, have yet to ask why) where i found some of life’s simple pleasures and some great mysteries:
– pringles cheese and onion
– Aero instant hot chocolate sachets
– thick slice bread
– mince with onions and gravy in a can
– All Day Breakfast in a can: sausage, bacon, egg nuggets (intriguing), beans in tomato sauce, cereal (WTF?!) and chopped pork (if it’s not sausage or bacon then what is it?!)

humour restored, i dutifully watched john make omelettes (well sort of, was tres busy with uploading pics from last night) with cheese, ham, onion and bacon. genius, pure genius!

spent the rest of the day much like yesterday, just enjoying the pleasure of each others’ company. we had some really classic moments too. like when john was making comment about my growing mound of clothing starting to impede access to our room and said that we could never live together, expressing very matter-of-factly, with much gusto that he ‘really likes an anal cleaner’. of course, i had no choice but to reply with ‘why? does your anus get THAT dirty?’ … the whole episode cueing all sorts of offers from barry for his plunger to sort out emma’s plumbing in the tradesman’s entrance etc etc etc. hearty guffaws all round and we’ve replayed the joke every which way all day and it’s still as funny as the first time. we’ve had a very non-PC day, but sososo much fun!

tried to get some salt marsh lamb on the way to drop john off at the station, but alas we were too late and the shop had shut. sad to see john off, but not terrible as he’s due home in a few weeks so it’s a literal ‘bye for now’.

back to the kitchen table, Hobgoblins for me, a bottle of red for emm, superlative company for barry, a wheel of camembert with water biscuits (which are completely tasteless but i’m told take more calories to chew than the calories you take in by eating them), ham sarmies (with real butter and mayo) and more chatchatchatlaughlaughlaugh (and some teeter-tottering around in emm’s oh-so-beautiful-but-the-most-ridiculously-uncomfortable-shoes-EVER-made super-too-high-and-then-some emerald green sequined heels).

am loving these peeps and every minute here!! :o)

Travelogue Canada 6: Toronto – London – Wales

October 2009

 

Niagara was cool. glad i did it seeing as it’s a big ‘natural wonder’ deal ‘n all. lots of falling water (but still i’m thinking that their novelty t-shirt industry would make uber$$$ if they did shirts with upside down falls pics and some sort of Viagra joke – there’s a huge market for that if you think about the ‘I’m with stupid ->’ market) but not enamoured by the drenching of close-up shots… ‘specially seeing as it was a foggy day so there was limited WOW photo potential.

did manage to achieve one of my personal Canadian Bucket List goals by finally finding an actualfactual Wendy’s!! had the Baconator. 3 words: in. cred. ible. sort of like a double McD’s 1/4 pounder, with double cheese and a packet of bacon. no regrets, was TOTALLY worth the wait. (and took pics, so don’t rely on imagination because it’ll so understate!)

got to the airport well in time. and learnt a beaut from tour guide (amazing how the dynamic changes when the older, better-tipping-potential americans and brits alight the ve-hicle). they (younger skirt-chasing torontoes – although, with their awful diction am sure they’d pronounce it ‘trontoes’) apparently have braced the world of sms and they reckon you ‘can’t get tail without text’… to the point that they’ve coined it ‘sexting’!

got stuck next to a big fat mamma on the plane, which made for a world of pain. she not only took over the armrest (we were sposed to be sharing) but also had impossibly accurate elbows, that have seek-and-destroy function for my (poor unsuspecting) ribs. ended up leaning almost entirely in the aisle, meaning that every moving body in the aisle bumped my foot/knee/elbow/head as they passed and i dozed in 5-7.5 min spells over the (already challenging) 3.5 hours set aside for sleepy time. not even the chicken breast with creamy sweet mustard sauce and frilly noodles could lift spirits. although the fact that BFM is a veg and had forgotten to order special meal so was reduced to a dinner of bread rolls alone did marginally *evil laugh*

got thro the heathrow experience and to kings cross without incident and was met at burger king (rodeo king deal – cheese and bacon burger with onion rings) by RoRo. SO much better a brekkie than the banana muffin that air canada thought would suffice! then it was off to barry’s office to dump (ever-increasingly heavy) luggage. newly liberated, me and RoRo headed to find Faye HQ – Guardian London. conveniently close + bud with useful gameplan = Camden!

was heaving! and changed so much since i was there last (worked out it was 1992 – believe it. or not) but all for the good – lots of atmosphere and oozing with the under-promise of over-delivering good times! ;o)

first pint in days…

and then second…

and then faye arrived.

*giggles, chatter, hysteria, nostalia, giggles, snickersnort, wittybanterwittybanter, giggle, PHOTO!*

off to next pub. barry got off early, but has the dreaded lurgy so was a tea for him 🙁

needed to head back towards the office to outrun london peak traffic to collect (dreadedstartingtohatethecommitment) luggage. traversed the city effortlessly to deposit selves at Ruby’s. so very the first people there. was a bit ‘eurotrip’ as the next 2 hours disappeared on fast forward and people filled every conceivable space around us.

then it was off to kings cross and paddington to get on the train to wales (picking up BK en route, Bacon Caesar Angus burgers of cheese, bacon, onion straws and caesar sauce + spicy jalapenos and chewy cheese encased in a crunchy batter).

the train was heaving. we got really lucky finding a table for 2 in first class (and no conductor so not having to pay upgrade!) seeing as there were people IN FIRST CLASS who stood 2/3 of the 3 hours journey! passed the time with ‘spite and malice’ (our favourite card game). was 5-1 down at one point, but we ‘agreed’ to call it quits when clambered back to 5-5 position.

quick power-snooze… and we were there. swansea.

interesting locals. very slapperish uberhighheelpelmetskirts types. waited for john (moir) and headed for ‘home’. couldn’t see much seeing as it was about midnight, but happy to get to <the unpronounceable=”” town=””> and the lovely warm home where we could start our Wicked Weekend in Wales adventure :o)

did the usual slumber-party, catch-up stuff and then had the greatest night’s sleep in as long as i can remember (YAY). to wake up on Halloween…

Travelogue Canada 5: Churchill – Winnipeg – Toronto

October 2009

 

so you’d think i have nothing to say seeing as i spent the whole day in transit, right? wrong!

these amazing things happenned before we left churchill at 09h15:
– (no surprises) i woke up before the alarm (set for 07h00) at 06h15. was showered,dressed,packed and ready ridiculously early.
– ate almost my body weight in bacon with breakfast. sacrificed the french toast to make space seeing as Doug had gone out of his way to get 20 lbs (whatever that is in real weight) for this morning as he’d noticed liked it somuch (oh yes, and i complained repeatedly because there was none yesterday). have also taken to drowning breakfast in syrup (like in the proportions i have gravy with a roast dinner!), which is a habit i might have to try and leave in canada
– we got a photo of doug next to one of the (many) yellow school busses so you can see what a Small Town Super Hero looks like
– we intended to get more sunrise photos (sunrise is at a very civilised 08h20 or so), but it was too misty 🙁
– i took a trot to the eskimo museum (which we still muse over why it’s not called the Inuit Museum – see previous travelogue) to purchase a mini polar bear plush. made sense seeing as i have so many that i actually have one from the home of the PB. of course, keeping to convention of naming them after where i get them, have named him churchill

nothing remarkable about churchill airport.

great snack box on the plane though. croissant with hickory type ham with lettuce (which is rare for these parts – considering the weather, it’s considered an exotic and goes for in the region of $9.50 a head!!). there was a marble cheddar cheese stick in the box which i broke up and stuck on the croissant. GENIUS! there was also a bag of small orange deathsticks (baby carrots, which i refuse to eat since the attempted murder incident of circa 1981 where i almost choked to death on one.granted,i used to swallow them whole because my gran insisted i eat them and i couldn’t bear the taste. but still).

Calm Air (the airline that did our winnipeg – churchill return flights) managed to break my suitcase. the zip that works the expander section, so went to report that. expected resistance seeing as the damage isn’t critical to the function of the suitcase, but they called the area supervisor whosaid that i can get it fixed at home and send her the bill and she’ll reimburse. very civilised. so i complimented her on their sandwiches and said i’ll be in touch! :o)

winnipeg airport turned out to offer me the most amazing experience – HARVEY’S!! the best burger i think i’ve ever had! the bacon cheddar 3 ringer burger (the 3 rings are battered deep fried onion rings). awesome burger, similar to Velskoen style patty with lettuce, onion, tomato, ketchup,mayo and mustard. 6 stars!!

uneventful flight (buy-your-own catering. bummer)

and now in toronto. managed to find the hostel no probs (back in room #32, the ‘Wayne Gretsky’). worked the public transport like an old pro :o)

off to niagara tomorrow and then to london and wales!! :o)

on the move