Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Serbia...the countryside til belgrade, and entering the city!

Yes, its cobbled...we continue the journey. We enter z wealthier part and my preconceptions are thus blown away. I expected the poorest country so far, yet new tudor white plastered buildings with clean red tiled roofs and dark window and roof trimmings. The country itself is richer than before the border, but we have entered a large plain, the land behind riddled with by mountains, alkes and tight valleys. The sky is vast, and vague, corn in one direction stretches for a kilometre at least, in the sunshine it all seems to be blessed by riches. And ah! Telegraph lines on wonky nude weathered tree stems, grey and brave like crutches, old materials holding up the new.
A bit like Belgian town planning, the plain is strewn with hamlets, diverged to appropriate distances, private but social. Thus town size is demphasised in this plan, ruralising the populace and by carefully cohered townlets placed like gems among the corn, Nature takes on a convivial and civilisingly friendly appeal. The odd palm tree reiterates the southern, continental climate.
We stop again, the drivers tucking into yet another kebab (called Cevapi) and coffee, I help myself to a large 45 pence cappuccino. An Australian couple are stung for 6 euros for two sandwiches, at the time I heartily disapprove of the opportunism of the restaurateur, but then I remember the story of Robin Hood and think that it is only the poor robbing the rich. A flotilla of clouds rides over us, in the bus again, like liberated heads of gigantic foaming flagons of beer, abstracted from pint and glass and taken by the wind and quiffed, raised into a boiling magnifence, a hundred in one direction, rarified by the light and the pressure of their Elysial couch.
I notice from the way the other people on the coach seem to me, and how I seem to them, that I am growing a little wild! I am sensitive when approached, like a young deer, the hours alone, away from familiarity, have worked their wonder upon me. Like the deer, I am patterned into my own private domain of the traveller, my own niche in the landscape. This mould is a surprisingly comfortable dressing. As Herman Hesse once said, music came about at the edges of forests, where humanity was alone and watchful for predator and prey. In the silence and simplicity of their existence, music sauntered before them and illumined their olfactory gaze. And so for writing I think it helps to 'feel' alone, I am writing better now because I feel I cannot care less about others in an important way. So this is my kind of music.
We cross a great river with a boat upon it, a pleasure boat, each back clad with long fingered willows, and a chapter of my book later we are in the city.
Holy Tito! Is this a new world? The star coach Enterprise has docked on a strange new planet. A double block of beige flats stands by the road, joined at their summit by a concrete Bridge Of Sighs, an eighty foot high advertising poster inexplicably covering the view of at least 100 windows and on top, a space needle looks a lot like some sort of robotic probe. Communist architecture! Next we pass a colony of small blocks, uniquely in appearance as battered concrete hedgehogs and then the plush and more sophisticated splendour of the Belgrade Arena, home of the Red Star Belgrade football team, a set of at least 30 flags outside the stadium flaps as the coach speeds by. Next a leisure centre, its greened windows and damp concrete make it seem as if it is filled internally by pond water. We cross the Danube, and Belgrade looks like a Serbian Newcastle, the town reaching upto the top of a small hill by the river, crams loom orange and insect like and boats are moored, ready to take clubbers on a swirling dance and drinking escapade of the riverway. And here a sign says M, Im lovin it - McDonalds is even here, and on the coach radio Slavic lyrics rolls around the coach like lusty sailors.
We get off, and I go straight to the internet cafe, and find a message to meet Began and Marko at 8. They take me into their home and it seems they dont have room after all, but I have a Reikja (60% strength) and we go for walk/waddle to the Orthodox church here, still under construction after over 100 years, its interior big enough to house a power station, a bigger Orthodox church than in the whole of Russia. They are unexpectedly helpful, and though I cant stay with them, Marco rings a friend and I get a bed for a 3 euro discount at a central hostel. Tomorrow I sleep and decide not to sleep in a corn field. I am ashamed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Serbia - they batter hedgehogs here...and please comment, I am REALLY wanting for constructive words!

Part of the mainroad into this nation is actually cobbled! It makes a pleasant change from the earlier potholed stretch. At one point we run by an overgrown factory, foliuage fringing its rooftops, its rusty corrugated iron sides and gateways are firm and woodern like weather beaten sundried cardboard, eerily crisp and breakable. In a town a couple wait with cigarrettes and shopping bags by the road to cross, in front of them the road has gathered into loose folds like skin where detritus has gathered. People look grey.
A man on a scooter marks a change from the very old automobiles that are visible everywhere, Yugo, Opel, Zastava and Lada.
A wealthier part comes, newer white plastered houses... sorry, am so tired, will finish writing this tomorrow (smiley face thingy), ciao for now.

Bus ride and I write a long pastoral prose poem - you have been warned!

Well, Suki wasn't actually stood up, as she stood him down again, so there you are, that's why i was scared by the cat because he wasn't home and i was expecting him.
Sarajevo is small, and we pass through great fields very quickly, and every kilometre 5 or 6 burned-out buildings are clearly visible. One building in a giant field has been reduced to a scorched concrete skeleton, as if a cake where the mixture has perished but the jam remains, calcified into aa solid form of a cage. Out beyond the city, and into the mountains (Sarajevo stands at 2000 feet), farms with giant Van Gogh-esque haystacks, skewered down the middle with wooden poles like the gimmick with large burgers in restaurants to keep the filling in. 80 foot pines loom all around, enormous trees heavily leafed and spruce, fastidiously fishboned into acreages of detail, like ornate clubs or crystallised green snowflakes. they form the texture of one vision for a while.
Haystacks come by the dozen now, someone has been busy, and the hills mellow and deciduous trees have sprouted out for the viewer. Cute rectangular battalions of corn, only the size of tennis pitches, stand like sinister battalions on an agricultural battle ground, and i spot by one farm stead a cow with the grey and dusty cream pelt of a linoleum floor, lithe and more stretched than the more heavily bred varieties, its forms more rounded and with a happy bulbous face. Clouds here are more bubbly, the sky an intimate and deep blue in contrast to the aloof and high racked clouds of Sarajevo.
Hmmm, a bit on sheep...(look away now if you are easily, well, easily...)
Then I spot sheep! Like wildebeest int he valley, shadow-spotted by the vulture sun into fatter beasts, hippo or pig, their second coats of blackness like external properties of un-vampiric and non-neverland substance, doubling their numbers into a second herd shifted down and to the right. Yes, shaggy coats of anti-colour, anti-matter, neigh anti-sheep these shadows, blackholes under the wings of these bullheaded trojans, stalkers of the served up luncheon of grassy dinner plate, perhaps a truly wondrous sighting of the never spotted balkan master breed...or perhaps just the odd feeling you get when you havent seen any of them having spent two weeks in a country! Further scoping of the sky does reveal field boundaries, diminishing the poetry of the moment a little, but the sun that has chained these animals to this little window of meadow has illumined something so unexpected as to grant a little poetic reconstruction and to imagine these beasts roaming a giant inland balkan savanna of a grander poetic scale, it would be very cute anyway.
You can look back now
And once again this international coach stops in the middle of nowhere, literally, not a house to be seen, as another passport-verified ticket holder mounts the bus as cars pass us by. The passenger looks happy, perhaps just happy to be alive, or perhaps just happy to be picked up! But this unsophisticated means of country swapping has very much an "I'm happy to be alive" school trip feel about it, every kilometre a sort of bonus. Just to be ticket holder is to be tickled and spruced up by the gentle summer sun, and even the road has a lilting comedy about it, its endless sinuousness (heralded every kilometre by the humorously redundant "twisty road" sign), its almost no problem to spin it out even longer with lengthy pit stops to have kebab and a coffee (only two pound twenty for both!).
The landscape changes again. An undisturbed screen of water looks up at the coach, in it a second sky, above the crags peer baldly from the trees, their chaotic structure mirrored by the whorls of trees that are now around them, a more mixed and deciduous canopy of heterogeneous appearance. The water is a lake, houses come to its shore and are luxuriously elongated along the vertical, a mini alp up above waves like a musical clef and the coach plunges through tunnels along the edge. And a lie down later we are at the customs for Serbia...

Sarajevo from the hill, and a 1 litre bottle of 1 pound thirty wine

Oh, and thanks to my followers for following me, we shall all commit suicide very soon, but for now read on! And a special hello to a new follower, ATOPOS from Spain, a stranger to em I think, so welcome, it is great to have reached the Iberian peninsula.
While Suki was in the flat making love (again!), he had asked me to go away for a couple of hours, I crept, well flop-flipped, up the cobbled and cracked streets of this side of the ravine that is the steep hill south of the center just 100metres away below. The city is really an oblong, the flat part particularly, and seen from on high it forms a narrow strip, only fanning out away to the west in the modern part, where the modern tower blocks jut out goofily white like teeth, catching the last light. The main street, statistically, you will cross once a day, most likely! In the middle distance, the Avaz building (meaning voice) and several other modern sky scrapers stand tall and watchful, one of them a chalky grey blue with a matrix of windows variegated into midnight blue motes with occasional panes colourwashed with milk white splashes as the sky catches them. Its sharp sides were also rimmed in an ergonomic white casing, the entire rectangular prism curt sharp looking like a wonderful imitation of what God's remote control must look like. And a s I ascended, I saw the 'centar' cupped by the green crests of the hills around, a bowl of buildings in a niche of a great rucked carpet and the stark white and prickly paddocks of grave stones stuck to the heights of the hills took on a bolder emphasis as night fell.
Climbing higher, at one point watching to avoid a mini avalanche of falling apples down the lane, the sweep of the city revealing the only town planning limited to the modern quarters, the financial, diplomatic and administrative centre and the third arm of the city, its third dimension, the vertiginous reach of the skyscrapers. All else lacked definition, and houses swarmed this way and that way up the sides of the central basin, clustering around white mosques, their central white minarets looking like the centre-piece turret of a Disney castle, or at least a sinister, perhaps soviet, rocket. Fields encroached into the main metropolis, giving the whole thing a saggy feel to it structurally, further enforced by the spotting of buildings, this way and that, that were collapsing in situ, perhaps wrecked during the brim and rage of recent history.
The tower blocks visible in the centre, housing ordinary folk, looked positively scorched, or at least as grimy as a pub toilet in an east lancashire mill town, bearing also a passing resemblance to burned-out cigarrette machines. I could imagine the American realist expressionist, Edward Hopper, enjoying such buildings, his thickly applied, wistful and tenderly felt oils apt to render their facades, scenes of urban melancholy.
But turning my back upon the grand sweep of things, the intimacy of the steep street and its dwellings was pleasant to behold and the people on the whole friendly, one Macedonian shop keeper, cheerfully chatting with me in my halting Bosnian mini-array of one word communication tools as she gave me a full bag of goodies for only two pounds twenty! The houses were quaint but almost looked foolhardy in their basic construction, seemingly finished with only breeze blocks mortared together and the only finery being the red tiled roofs, lintels and doorways. And yes, there was a one litre bottle of cheap Bosnian wine, and when i got back poor Suki had been stood up, i washed my clothes (a nightly chore) Suki went out and I slept, being woken at 3am by a cat (we leave the door open) and leaving the house at 5am to get the 6am bus to Belgrade. I wanted to see the piece of Turkish art that is the Old Bridge at Mostar, but it would have been going backwards and I was getting soft, so 20 euros bought me a ticket on quite a fun and interesting bus ride. Thanks for reading, and hope you enjoy the next one.

Belgrade not mostar, and a writer takes stock

The last few days have been a bit boring, and also my writing is a bit too stream of conscious, so i promise two things, to prepare in advance (1500 words on my pad, so watch it!), and also to be more adventurous (i have just been frequenting cafes for 3 days, my bum is going soft and if i was to gambol away from a boulder I think i would trip, un-indiana jones style over my laces). Sadly, the latter has been slightly thwarted today by me striking couchsurfing gold and getting a bed for the night, an email and a phone call and a complete stranger is giving me a bed with precisely 5 hours notice. I say again, when you ask for help, you see how good people are! Also, as you may have also guessed, this is becoming an idea for a book, perhaps the wanderers guide to adventure, the daft buggers guide to being a drifter, or the way to travel while getting other people to pay for it (also known as the poor persons grand tour). I like the last one best. So be prepared, the next3 entries are coming hot off me fingers, but they are prepared.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A skyline I am falling in love with

For the second night running I sit and watch the sun go down over Sarajevo. Suki's terrace has a 60 degree slice of sky line, and as we are thrust right into the city here, you can see a lot.
Falling in love is a strong phrase, but I have got a soft spot for this view, this is what I wrote about the couple of mosques you can see:
"Mosques stand at several sites, and at twilight from this hillside vantage they look a little coy, their grand domes like mini nuclear power plants, residual heat glowing on them, quietly magnificent in copper-grey hue. They also seem quite jocular, gigantified jewellry boxes amid the rest of the buildings in the centre, the stately embassies, civic mansion houses and bland office buildings. Backstage, the twisting modern metallic blue windowed sky scraper, the Avaz (meaning "Voice") building, hosuing the media organisation of the same name with the TV station Suki works at, looks sophistcated, the other tall buildings are concrete tower blocks bare like cakes with the icing fallen off, pocked by wartime shelling and with large cracks showing."
I wrote this on my first night. Last night, the view was serene, and it seemed to exhibit to my mind a city in peace time. A bat took a fly, erased its black dot from just above the twilight horizon line, a jackdaw winged its unfolded aerofoils out into the valley from a nearby perch, and then later a duck drilled a line from right to left along the oblong spine of the city. An inquistive cat came and looked at me, flinching and running away as I moved, and children raised a din in the street behind me. One widnow had no glass on it, a lady stood solid over its frame and gazed out with me, a child on another balcony in a nappy was also looking, this time down at a dog on an adjacent promontory, an extrvagantly noisy fat beast of a doberman that flared up at the slightest movement from me or her. In the book I have been reading, the Chetniks surrounded the city and pumped shells into this midst for nearly 4 years from 1992 until late 1995. alittle girl in an apple tree, holding out fruit to a persecuted neighbour (an outcast, misunderstood for his holding of an automatic weapon, perhaps because of his own fears), wondering as she does so whather they are watching, and if so, what are they thinking. So too, in the Jergovic book, another story depicts a cactus given to a lover, which grows pointing in the direction of a major chetnik position, buit which eventually dieing, as the love between the lovers dies due to their seperation in the siege, in separate musty and coal soot smelling cellars at different parts of the town. This occurred here, but now you sit ina n internet cafe flanked by two english ladies, having chatted with two americans and a german in the street outside, where you go to an intenrational bank and are warmly and courteously receieved, and where your host buys you dinner and coffee, and shows you his store of anateur pronography, and people while away hours in coffee shops.
A spiv in a fake jewel clad hat, outside the restaurant around the corner, says to you:" Iym goin to studee Eenglish at Oxford University" in midatlantic accent, "I know 20 languages" This is spurious, but it represents to me there is no trace of the war in a superficial sense, only when I ask Suki about it, he speaks lower and goes into deeper private feelings, and soon doesn't want to talk about it. Also, it at no point feels unsafe, even the guy who stole my bag seemed harmless, even more so given what he was doing, his countenace was one of complete passivity, just wanting money. So tomorrow I finally go to Mostar, for 2 nights, in time to see the diving at 4pm I hope from the bridge.

Sarajevo Suki, the Spartacus of Sex, and my bed of loneliness misery and despair

"I am sorry sir," says the waiter,"We have no breaded Smoothhound. It is a winter dish."
Sorry, this was what a waiter said at a restaurant in Split when we, gigglingly, asked him for this bizarre item on the menu. I just wanted to write it down, it has been making me smile again recently.
Another night has been spent with Suki, my host here, and today he gave me permission to reveal the details of the first night I spent with him. You see, they were explicit details.
Having gone out, leaving me to sit and watch the sun go down over the city from his sun terrace, having some time alone for the first time in a long time, reading and admiring the houses and places of worship, I went inside to sleep and he appeared, agitated with excitement saying he had a girl to come back with him, for sex, and it being a new thing for the girl he wanted me to be out of the way, so I moved into a side room and got down to some sleep there among the moonbeams, wrapped in blankets lying on a couple of rugs. A sad scene indeed. Despite what was going on a few rooms away, I heard nothing, but in the morning I was surprised to wake to find a note by me:
"Stay in the room. We are leaving at 0830! She don't know for you! We broke the table during sex! :-)"
I was happy for him, and indeed there the table was, the surface now propped up by a computer terminal at one end and some jauntily arranged broken legs at the other. I thought nothing of it, but that evening, when he disclosed a side of him I found unexpected, weird but refreshingly weird and actually rather admirable. Suki it turned out was a sex enthusiast, even a Spartacus of Sex, and he had the pictures (and videos!) to prove it.
"Is this wrong?" he asked," are you insulted?"
"No," I replied, a little bashfully, "its, err, interesting!?"
I was baffled a little, but only momentarily, and while he showed me a photo of her naked body, shot from behind, she arranged in doggy position on his knee high coffee table, like an extremely shapely untrussed chicken, legs akimbo, holes unashamedly visible, I gained full access to the mementos of his sexual world. Bizarre but bold, refreshingly so.
"My mann!" he boomed, showing me the photo of the wreckage, and acting out how she had fallen off of him, doing a rather effective mime of him as a coat stand with his penis hook, she startled on the floor, "this is good!"
We clasped hands like indian braves, sharing a moment of amateur pornography as fellow men. It turned out Suki puts his photos and videos on a a Croatian pay per view station, the girls's faces marked out, and on his camera he showed me around ten of the 50 (he has a list!) of the girls he has bedded.
As he scrolled through repeated images of him shagging, in full technicolour, moving pictures with crystal clear shots of piston-pumping pleasure, I couldn't help think back to the previous night while I vainly attempted to sleep in the dark, with my rucksack by me and its ten or so condoms (given by a friend as hopeful good luck gifts) buried in the bottom, packaged circles like redundant left-over rings at a Japanese mass wedding ceremony, symbols of my relative misery.
I will put up the link to his site, he is happy for you to see it, so it will appear soon.
Well, just writing this has me on the brink of a dark mood ;-) so well, there we go, the story of the broken coffee table and the revalation that sex need not be taboo. My alcohol and shoes were left outside Suki's door, but inside sex is A-okay, and quite right, alcohol can harm you but sex can't perhaps. Okay, ciao for now...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sarajeeevooo calling...

We say our goodbyes and the bus drives off to Sarajevo, and despite foiling the attempt of a money pincher from my briefly unattended bag - "LOUSHE," I decree to him, wagging a finger at him, "LOUSHE!" This means bad, and I say this as I shake his hand, it is wrong and I want him to know this, but I don't hold it against him. I am angry, more so that a security guard has no intention of telling him off or calling over a police officer, as nothing has been stolen. Maybe I am naive, but I do feel sorry for the man, in my opinion cowed by whatever life he leads into a very mild and weak demeanour.
Sarajevo. Suki, who is going to let me have his couch for tonight (couchsurfing is brilliant) meets me at 5 on the steps of the cathedral and after pocking up a copy of the acclaimed short story collection, "Sarajevo Marlborough", by Miljenko Jergovic, a collection based upon his experiences during the time the city was under siege from 1990, we go for Ćevapi and talk together, well we try to talk, that is when he is not being noticed for his appearance on a reality TV show, managing two months of surely an exquisite and banal torture. And he is also a journalist, working for the local TV company, so again I feel quite fortunate to have met a mini-hub of the city, and one who is so generous to pay for my Ćevapi.
I don't know if I have yet to mention this, but my feeling from this trip is overridingly that I have discovered so much goodness in people that I wouldn't have otherwise found, and the reason was that I was a person that, in this case in terms of accommodation, was asking for help. And so you really find people are good when you ask them for something. You give them an opportunity in fact!
His flat, halfway up a hill which cuts straight down to the banks of the river , 100 metres from the central quarter, has a massive terrace with a panoramic view of the city, and he begins to show me on his tv a short film he has put together of a couchsurfing host who has had 200 visitors! Bosnia, to this knowledge is open! Australian swedish and german visitors, to name just a few examples in a full 24 hours here now, this is an international city. Graffiti bears the name of Srebrenica and there are mortar-looking pock marks on the buildings, Suki has some paraphernalčis form the war and mentions it with feeling, I shall ask him about it tomorrow. At night I watch the sun go down on the aforementioned terrace and feel quite royally at war with myself as the tranquil and beautiful note of a man calls the city to prayer, being an ousider is occasionally playing with my mind.
I awake in fresher mood, the people of the city being polte and friendly as Ia sk them for directions, one girl says the people here are not very kind, perhaps friendly with me as I am a foeigner, but I am making an effort, and know perhaps 50 words! Well, as they say even here, Ciao and hopefully see you soon...

Međugorje - of how I attend two masses, one rosary and go for confession

Providence, providence, providence. Up I pop from my delicious slumbers, out the door, past a few stores selling religious miscellany, tat and gaudy monstrous Virgins so cool and composed int he blistering suntrapped shop windows, and I hear the words "Thomas!" it is Luigi! We kiss once, he detecting my early morning unsophistication and so failure to mitigate any understanding of his custom, and so foregoes the second customary peck of the italian, we nevertheless are quite understandably happy and surprised to see one another.
"Let us eat!" So we stroll to a nearby bakery and, looking in my pockets, I haven't enough KM (convertible mark) money, so rather brilliantly I am able to make up the difference with euro of various shapes and numbers. It is like the way Willy Wonka would pay!
Then to mass, an italian one, and I take a bit of bread (no currency required). I am quite happy to try anything, and after a bit of singing in italian (from a projector, my name is not Leonardo!) we wander out into the sunshine and, yet more shiny stones, and repair back to Luigi's hotel and meet the landlady, the eponymously named Maria. Some Schnapps is offered, so I take two extravagently alcoholic doses, and we drink Turkish coffee (is thicker, with the coffee grounds included, dark and chocolaty to taste and less bitter than coffee I am used to). She is very hospitable, and at only 7.5 euros for the night I accept another night. Then Franco appears, and we hug and resume a casual and earnest relation of a free and uninhibited friendliness, Luigi and he discussing my arrival. Then we head out to Konzum supermarket (with a crucifix on its wall) for spaghetti and return, Maria cooking it up for us three vagrant lords and serving it to us with her homemade wine, refreshing, sweet and with a taste of aniseed, sitting under kiwi trees trained to a sun-shading trellis.
Franco and Luigi are concerned that as a baptised protestant I go to confession to ask a priest about whether or not I should have taken eucharist. To catholics, the bread is Jesus incarnate, whereas to anglicans the bread is a mere symbol of something greater. "Do you have any big sins to offer up?" asks Luigi.
So a siesta, internet cafe and purchase of rosary beads later, Mr Thomas, trainee Catholic, finds Franco at the church in a slight agitation at my failure as yet to procure the services of a priest. There are ten minutes still until the rosary, and so I join a queue for the english peaking priest, among queues formed for about 15 priests. A crowd has gathered, and the english speaking priest is sitting ouside so I will be sitting en plein air when I reveal my revelations, as yet undefined. The rosary starts and with Franco next to me keeping me company I begin working my way from bead to bead while the queue gets smaller, feeling slightly penitent for I do not now what reason, and a little baffled by the heat and being surrounded by people subscribing to beliefs and acting them out all around me, that I do not subscribe to.
"Santa Maria, madre dei, forgive us for our sins, and pray for us at the hour of our death" This, the spoken component of the Hail Mary, is uttered once for each of the ten beads of each of the 5 "decades" that form the circle of the rosary chain.
I get to the front and the priest is free, an american man with kind intelligent eyes and after a quick crossing, we establish me as the impostor that I am, and he says that I would need to convert before taking bread. No confession! I can take my stories of self-harming with me to the grave then!
I enjoy the rosary, its meditative quality, and the fact that it is interspersed with singing. It all becomes a bit much for me though, and when the mass starts all my spiritual energy has etherised, we wend our way back and I set my alarm to get up early for the hike up to the Vigin's hill.
But then...oversleep! Drat. Nevermind. Franco is dissapointed with me, somewhat cryptically, but mutters an italian prayer and blesses me as i take off accross the cricket-hopping field. Maria helps me with my little bag and takes me to the bus stop.

I Split with Croatia and make a pilgrimage with Franco and Luigi in Medugorje

Fabrice's father worked for the UN Peacekeeping force in Sarajevo, and had left to visit him, so it was just Kieran and I enjoying the performance. I say "enjoy", the taste was rather special, the day somehwat submerged in lethargy at the dawning of another 35 degree day, baking in the stone oven of the medieval buildings, I dozed on a 1700 year old plinth watching Verdi's Naboosh, a free rehearsal that many people attended in the Palace of Diocletian, a roman emperor.
Well, I stayed another night, the hostels in Mostar were all booked when I checked, so I stayed again at Jagoda's. I took a trip courtesy of the very kind 100 kuna that Janja gave me to the picturesque town of Trogir, only medieval and not classical in age! Huge luxury boats sat all shiny and shark like, high in the water and casting great shadows along the palm tree lined harbour, the miniature town surrounded entirely by water, at the far end of a cresecent shaped bay from Split. As the boats discourged their clientele, you had to stand back and not try to buck the tide, creamy icereams swirling in their eyes and electronic gadgets dangling from their sides like trinkets of good luck for the traveller.
It was hot and tourists swarmed like flies, I placed myself in acafe in the main square and put my feet up to read Voltaire's Candide, resolutely aloof to these imposters all around and their stupid oversized sandals, eerly exactly plush with the shiny stones, were they scared gravity would fail and they would fall out of this place? They waggled around, following the grim LEDs of their cameras, filming...what?
Candide is a story about a man expelled from a perfect life in the plentiful castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh where he was in love with the beautiful Lady Conegunde, and is forced to walk the earth and have his philosophy of optimism put to the test. This is descirbed as a passion for seeing all occurrences, no matter what, as having some positive end, and so in as much it mirrors my own sense of hopefullness it has been good tor read as I too have travelled and looked for providence along the way.
This is overlong, I am sorry. For our last night, Kieran and I went out to a restaurant and then few bars in the town, he reading Heideggers Being and Time, and we attempted to discuss this, me giving the fearful, briefly understanding and pleasured, then compleely baffled expressions of the foreigner. A lot of communication is like this as a tourist (I mean traveller!).
Providentially, Jagoda had given me 100 kuna to take me to Mostar, but the enxt day ont hue bus I got chatting to a pilgrim in sack-cloth robes called Franco, and another strnger to both of us, Luigi. They were speaking in italian, but Franco's wild grey hair, puppy dog friendliness, huge frame and simplicity of deportment (mirroring his unadorned tan sack robe) drew me into speaking with them. Luigi was a busker, making only enough to live on with his classical guitar. Franco, after finding God in 1997 and spending 2 years int eh vicinity of Turino wandering and praise giving, in the domain of his life and his acquantaince-making, spent 10 years making roads all around Europe. In his words, pointing up into the overhead strorage, "He is with me, every minute, every second, every moment. What I feel in my heart I do, where He says to go, I go. And in every place, I trust to providence."
Providence! They told me where they were going, to Medugorje, the famed Bosnian locale where the Virgin Mary is reported to have appeared to soem children in a vision in 1981, telling them to pray for peace, tears streming down her face. 9 years later the Balkan War began, and said Luigi, Mary is the embodiment of Faith. She trusted the divinity of her babies conception, and trusting the Godpath despite the societeal threat of death by stoning to conceptions occurring outside marriage. And so, he said, people should have had faith in her and prayed, prayed for peace, but they did not. They didn't have faith. Each tear she shed is a tear for many lifes, a tear for every life at Srebrenica, and later for every life at Kosovo. Anglicans trade blows with Catholics about such reverence for a mere mortal, a sinner, but as a Humanist I admire this worship for her and her exemplorary traits of total unquestioning, unwavering and unrationalised faith.
So shortly after saying goodbye to them en route to mostar, as I changed bus, the bus climbed one of the many mountains in bosnia and I ahd a change of thought, I would go to find them in Medugorje. By the time I harangued, and probably scared the unimpressed bus driver to let me out of the bus, in the middle of nowhere! we were 2 kilometres out of town, and so I hitched back to the bus station with some very pleasant and helpful party of american and bosnians. A coffee in the shade of the retro-styled bus station ("kava, molim vas?"), groovy in its 1960-70 yellow and orange roofing arching over the concourse like a table from a plasticated cafe, I decided to wait out the heat from 330 til 530 pm, chatting to Eldin and Leila, two young "European Muslims" about the beauty of Mostar, its two "sides" straddling the river and the beauty of the two old bridges that synthesise the two spheres and the ugliness of the politic that seeks to emphasise the cool and rushing river in the gorge below and its boulder ripping divisiveness. "Welcome to Bosnia", they said, "I hope you feel at home here!". And I actually did. Loneliness was ripping the composure out of me, and the labryinthe of insecurity had felt to be closing in, but I was pulled back and placed on my feet again. Thankyou to strangers.
So, the road, and after 45 minutes of humorous, sometimes ironic, baffled and often deadpanned expressions from the drivers of the cars (much cheaper and older models than in the land of United Kingdom) Zdravko stopped! Expressive and humbly friendly, we took me about another kilometre, but I seeing the beautiful country asked him how far? and as it was only 7 kilometres I decided to walk.
Flip. Flop. What do I see? I get my glasses out as I climb up the hillside, and glancing back turn around. A festival of hill shapes confornt my sensibilty and tug my artistry. Eldorado! The name of the promised land Candide inadvertantly discovers in Voltaire's satire, Eldorado, the "best of all possible worlds".
Pryramidal peaks, traingular and finely described in the low sun, come out of the pale beyond dark with yellowish sillhouettes, ranged together perhaps twenty in total, upright like rhino's horns, the green foothills below a passing resemblance to an undulating savannah.
Lookign to the other valley, greater peaks rise up, white rocks amid green scrag, rough and severe, but lower, a pure green shrub coated mantle dresses their feet, wooden and full in its geological shape, like enormous doorstoppers making a more sensitive angle between the precipitous mountain and the flat pastoral land beneath that walsk towards me in the sunlight waving, fields, red tiled-houses and barns, and a lush and watery green pierces the arid air and is illumined in fresh tranquility.
The road passes burned and regrowing hill,a nd then turns around to climb another hill, at whose top a brown slender farmer's daughter tends to the coppery soil of a vegetable garden before a humble hometsead, the garden a display of jubilant growth, the whorls of grape vines and kiwi trees flourished like prize-winning rossettes.
At the very summit of my walk, I come accross a boy returning from the fields with an insect spray tank on his back. Unexpectedly, he actually hails me and we speak, his name is Srećko and while we exchange polite words and exhaust my repertoire of Bosni-Serbi-Croat, we have arrived at his veranda and I meet his father and sister. They bid me sit, grant me coffee and a cigarrette (honestly, the first in 4 days! it is rude to decline I feel) and thus begins a rapid and vertitudinous langauge lesson, the voluptuous Sladana joining us, the charm in her warm eyes fabulous like the land. Dopily, we are all still chatting as the sun sets, and I make a too hasty departure, regretting my demure and bashful failure to flirt, and the night bullies me into a punishing march, hsutling and bustling me past the now cloaked giant spiders on their road side web dwellings (they were was fat as spruots, looking like fun-size everton toffees and as creepy as crabs hooked onto nets) towards Medugorje, still according to a local 5 kilometres away! My tarrying!
So I stick out a thumb and Nicola hicthes me into town, his rosary beads jangling with each pothole. I have no idea where FRanco and Luigi are, people are gathered by the church with candles and guitars, I join them in body and voice ofr a little song, but no great big wild haired Franco or tanned bald and bespctacled Luigi. And so to bed... "10 euros? Dobro, hvala! I will take it". The langauge is the same here, so I bid you doberveche!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Note to the reader

Must say.... these are written very wuickly in an internet cafe that is so exorbitantly expensive i just doin't have time to spell check, so i am sorry about this.
Also...make comments, and add yourself as a follower, i don't mind criticism as this is really just spontaneous prose so i wouldn't be offended as thoug it has a serious use for me, it is also just a bit of fun, so make comments!

The streets of the traveller are paved with Gold

And on friday night it was TV gold - yes, that's right dear reader, we appeared on TV! On a show hosted by Martina, our Split connection we made through couchsurfing (who swims like a shark, lots of splashes close to shore, and rather menacing, like in Jaws) we turned up to the studio, had a glass of water, got wired up, sound check and then we were on TV, a chat show debating the pros and cons of hithiking! In fact, I had no idea this had happenned, and asked on live TV whether or not the camera was rolling!
So it was Martina, kieran and I, plus a guy caLLED fABRICE WHO WE WERE HOSTING AT OUR APPARTMENT (i HAD SPOTTED HIM IN THE INTERNET CAFE, LOOKING A BIT LOST AND IN NEED OF A HOSTEL (sorry about the caps locks but I am not retyping that, cost etc.) we negotiated our way through 90 minutes of Q&A and phone-ins, some of them practically psychotically weird ("Martina, you look better from behind. THAT IS A COMPLIMENT!" was a particularly good one) but some good points were made about the ecological sense of hitchiking and its benefits in getting to know people in the country you are travelling in. There was a pervading caution regarding this pursuit, and at one point someone got a bit angry with us for not being Croatian, something we really couldn't do very much about, but on the whole it was interesting and quite relaxing, I was even tired of falling asleep. A fly landing on my nose was a good moment, prompting Fabrice and I to exchange funny looks and me to try. successfully, to stifle giggles. Martina was an excellent host, and very relaxed and humoured us where possible, wanderinf of camera and leaving us to chat amongst ourselves, again with the camera rolling. One caller said she loved our accents, and when we left we realised just how tired we had been, the show taking us into a dream world quite briefly, and we came back to realitx after and went home to sleep.
The next day I met Janja, another friend of the family, and at this point dog tired from the sleep deprivation of the travelling, felt quite emotional as she told me about my grandfather I had never known, how he was a man of such soul and was so very human, a man in charge of his own mind and an inspiration to her. She bought me a meal, took em around the galleries, many of the local of artists she knew and she talked knowledgeably, it was a lovely day and i repaired to Jagodas with an enormous potential energy for sleep, sleep diving until 1pm the next day (today) and as crappy as this last post is, you are up to date. One more night here, and I can't wait, I am off again, have stayed too long here, it is too touristy for me, there is a lot of unfriendliness in Croatia towards foreigners that is quite baleful and pointless and most of all I need to keep moving. Next stop Bosnia and the town of Mostar.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Split-ing headache, and some home comforts (sorry, this cafe is costing me a fortune so will not spell check this (have found out how to do it!))

Well, yes, we arrived in split, just two lifts, one from a wealthy oil man, another from a bristling but friendly book salesman, his car struggling up the hills around split and over the gorge of the wide waterway that is the Krca river, Croatia's main river, peering down from narrow cliff edges as we drove to the seaside resort. A day was spent, first congratulating ourselves on our enterprise in getting up from our illegal camping ground and away to our destination for 9am (and covering our tracks in a dust and flung gravel), we supermarketed ourselves (Konzum, i think is the word) and coffeed ourselves for less than a euro, hit the tourist information and the bureau de change (it was probably an honourable thing to make some attempt to spend money in the country) and then beheld the shiny stone streets of the old town and its heart, the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. Lugging our heavy sacs around, a day at the beach was prescribed by our own internal doctors, reading, lying, washing (it is fun if you haven't done so to wash in the sea, although you need a lot of soap - it felt very natural and reviving) we drifted back to the centre in the evening and grabbed a one litre bottle and sat talking, about the world and trying to look aloof among the tourist throng.
Night brough its firm hand down on the table of reality, no bed booked and none of our couchsurfing e-mails taking a bite on the night line we had left out, we grimly headed to the beach, coated in dust stuck onto our sweat. By the beach, atop a crab, i had spied an overgorwn garden crested with scented pines, a pleasant eerie whwere i had considered going for a 3 kuna saving pee while we had been bathing (i opted for a widdle in the sea in the end, my BNFL training informing that if sufficiently diluted effluent is okay to discharge in some small quantity anyway) we lay down in the metre high grass, and began a nightlong battle for sleep above the din of the cicadas bedlem and the nutty pop rave on the beach below. at 5, I had slept surprisingly well, kieran not a wink, so we went to the park where at 930 i awoke to the curious gaze of a batch of pigeons and an elderly man eating his breakfast on a bench. Guilty somehwat at my vagrancy (recalling a humbling momnent in zagreb where total failure to get a lift had me sitting on the edge of angry tears almost, or at least a dark mood, 6 hours of trying, resting, trying, resting, sitting with my card saying "Zadar" between my legs like a begging bowl, sitting like a beggar and hoping without even a trace of deferred gratitude, sullen and sapped), though not sure why, our wanderings brought us accross a mane named Ante, whose job seemed to be to sit in a cafe for his whole life and busk for passing wanderers like us to rent out his apartment (after some successful haggling, I did the talking, being the hard man, kieran did a friendly bobbing bow of pleading prayer at the crucial node of the haggle, we sliced 5 euros off the stay, a not bad 35 euros for two nights (each) including a kicthen shower and very nice crocheted bed linen.
The very pleasntest moment of the day was visiting Jagoda, a lady who was very good friends with my grandparents, through meeting with my globetrotting uncle bill, diseased but very much missed and often remembered. My parents too had come to visit Jagoda, and Bill also went to the delightful length of driving out with a car of supplied during the war. So I felt like an ambassador of goodwill and of renwing relationships, pratcically through the spritual medium of the ancestors, but also this Shaman desired his belly to be filled, and the flower eyed jagoda, with her classic blue and white striped dress, sun hat with red ribbon and emphatically engaging demanour was the perfect host. Seeing the eruptions of sweat on brow and garb, she offered me a bath, a towel, and tea and nap, so i washed my face and took some tea only, but then a spread materialised out of nothing and my belly (i keep telling myself that it is bloated, but i think really that it just my excuse for consuming inordinate amounts of bread and pate, along with the mantra "I never know when I will be able to eat next", a bit like Ray Mears and just as portly) was soon full. She then took me on a virtual tour of the city beginning with the emperor and his Tutenkhamun derived sphinxes arriving in the nestling Split, betwixt the east and west parts of the Empire, and told me of how unsusual to very many places, a town grew out of a palace.
That evening, our internet connection, Fiona (really Martina, she wants to change her name), appeared out of the guady masses and the opportune encounter we had with some lovely, bravado (or even brillado!) folk music that conjured up images of slavic talk in pubs and monumental drinking, song and some hefty chutzpah with some manly people with rolling rrr's and moonshine, she walked us around her Split, opening a door among the narrow streets that led into novel encounter in speakeasy style no nonsense alcohol emporium, empty, but perenially empty of tourists we intended to return. In the end, out walk took us to the beach, another one to the west, where we bought wine, noxious local herby spirit and the imfamous Rekjya (not sure of the spelling), soem reckless nigth swimming (the alcohol presumably kindling to gas as i imbibed it, preventing my demise) and breathless conversation in which i very much did sink, Fiona, actress, interesting and energetic in her speech leaving me behind in her wake, i remember some of the walk home but when i awoke in the morning it was a bit like arriving on a beach after a storm, and i examined the flotsam of my baked and bothered thoughts to see what was worth keeping and when it was best to move without disturbing the precariously dangerous spread wide glass in my head. Today i am feeling lonely, and a little scared by the imminent task of trekking sole (yes, dear reader, i am sad to say that my good companion is putting down roots here to take on the masterpiece of philosophical thought that is Being and Time by Heidegger (something that there not being time (!) for while always on the move) but then i am magnificently hungover (was a feelinfg blind this morning? No, that was the sun, but it was an interesting thought) and at least can relax and not get upto much, one more night chez kieran, then will take up jagoda of her offer of bed tomorrow, and then off to Balkans central - Mostar, Sarajevo and Belgrade. Tomorow i meet our other Split friend Janja, who will show me the gallery of the most famous croatian aritst metrovic. Pray for me (seriously actually, if that it your thing then do). Ciao for now and adiue, Alexander Supertramp

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zadar zadar zadar, whatever will be will be free!?

Well yes, we did take the boat out to an island. First I met Kieran at the airport (while waiting in the sun terrace of the airport cafe, where long legged waitresses walked professionally and among the ragbag mixture of customers, I heard an english man say to his wife: "And then i must meet my Chinese associate...", as if in a john Le Carre novel!), noticing his medusa hairstyle from between the heads of the meeters and greeters, and we took the bus to town and sat at the bus station with the one litre bottle of Split red wine, bought for a proud one pound seventy! Through the streets to the harbour and the old part of town, standing on the lit up walkway over the harbour listening to a meek elfin busker, plucking her violin to some quite subtle and mournful music, we enjoyed our meeting and the headiness of the exotic location.
It was late and the boat brought us into Ugljan at around 1130, and tired and without accommodation we noticed a beautiful white house with rubble at its feet and builders materials, an obviously unfinished place, so we took the steps up to the uppermost terrace and, looking out towards the twinkling lights of Zadar about 5km away, we slept a grateful but uneasy 5 or 6 hours and awoke sweating ears ringing with the hyper shrill arguments of the cicadas. At this point i noticed my big toe had split, presumably in the humidor confinement of my daily trainer wearage, and the massive and motherly pharmacist down the road prescribed me spending a lot of money on assorted things which, a bit sun bothered, i grimly accepted - my feet after all quite important. A bus ride int eh direction of a place to camp took us to Preko, the island's main village, where I slept with a mad dog in the midday sun on a whiter than white bench, and we both took a dip in the cold bath of the crystal clear, glacier blue and swirling turquoise water. The water, the flora and the vista were truly like something out of heaven for me, rich in colour and a balm to the soul and the battered body.
Food had been consisting of a diet of a large loaf of bread, pate, fruit and the odd fish or lamb or chicken, coffee for a treat and the odd bottle of wine to appease the spirits. I think about three pounds fifty only per day on comestibles, and then perhaps one pound fifty on extra comestibles. Then with free accommodation nearly every night, and also free travel apart for the odd one - two pound bus, tram or ferry ride (save a singular large expense on a train, 25 pounds, from zagreb) and paying for museums, sun tan lotion, then the 65 pounds spent on tent (halved with kieran), we were living it cheap. Internet cafes took a hefty bite, and were my Writer's luxury, one to four euros for an hour! So, looking for the campsite, and in a way fleeing from the law, we found Camp Marijo, and on arrival the brilliantly kind lizard faced old man took from a plastic bottle int he communal fridge a colourless liquid and pouring it into two glasses bade us drink. Yoweee, was the cry, as surely %60 of rough but tasty alcohol was imbibed. A night in a cafe, a one hour clothes wash and bed, the next morning we arose and headed back to zadar.
And so we got set to hitch out, first taking a bus down the coast, then after only half an hours a life - faith in croatia restored! Where are you going, we asked.
"Pakistan!" he replied.
"Where?" kieran snorted.
The place turned out to be called Pakostan, and apart from being the home of an annoyingly angry dog, chased by an ancient peasant lady with a six feet long stick, we took turn as to fail to hitch a lift, the other sitting int he shade of a hoarding advertising the resort. Another peasant lady, bent double like the three women in Millet's The Gleaners, monumental in her archetypal role, bent into the position after many years in the mould of her daily necessities, and swallows bustled over our lame attempts to fashion a living and activity, of any sort. So we wandered into the woods and down to an enormous lake, pitched our tent, and once again helped ourself to a free slice of the Croatian night. Dobervech!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Zagreb(with extra internet cafe credit) and thence to Zadar

The tram filled with revellers, and when we departed it cruised among the cracked buildings, over worn down and dented roads, and through a city that seemed a lot like a museum to the inhabitant of an environment with an eternally renovated infrastructure. The station is in the hotel and upmarket quarter, and when I walked though an extended garden that ran several for blocks, away from opposite the station entrance, people's lives were occurring in twos or threes moving between places, one group a band of youngsters with guitars trouping upto the bandstand to play among the pale yellow light of the lanterns of the tree-lined tracks of the strip. Meeting a gaggle of french girls and an Englishman, I sated myself on some company after the genuinely unnerving 3 hour walk in the dark and established that we wanted the same train(I had given in, you can't win them all and I feared that Croatians were simply too poor or suspicious, or perhaps bitter also, to stop for a stranger (or probably they just weren't used to it and didn't understand) but either way, luxury awaited me...but at 7am!
So another night of unsatisfactory sleep, this time on the marble floor of the station, took my 3 day sleep tally to around 7 hours (below the 8 hour "legally sane" sleep threshold, according to my brother's information anyway) and proved the case that hitchhiking is exciting but prone to being rather tiring and unpredictable.
The train took those lucky enough to be on it, through perhaps the largest lawn in the world, the land south of Zagreb an enormous carpet of grass, either bare or peppered, sprinkled or hoarded with medium or small trees and shrubs. With vast valley floors and far-off mountain faces rising up from it, the region had the appearance of a greened over wild west, the epic scale of the curious fauna a dramatic sight and fairly rejuvenating. Deeper to the south, soil flushed red, sun-dried and rich, stones popped out of the ground and crags bore their naked shoulders from the rugged peaks, and the train took bends around the contours like a roller coaster, tipping ones face down upon the red tiled houses and farmsteads here and there in the valley just below.
Looking up from my dozing expiration, now clean from a patented stand-up wash procedure in the toilet(with its lock double checked), the sea ran alongside the train, azure blue and white houses, shacks and factories flickered its sight and honed the mind to coastal life and imminent departure. Checking the zips of my bag and snail-shell "house" that is the 3-man tent i had strapped onto my moist and respiring back, i leapt from the train driven by hunger and chutzpah at the overcoming of the distance, 8 hours in advance of Kieran's arrival.
Zadar, a sea-port, had the black shadows of 1pm, and as I walked among houses and squares to to a supermarket, a man sat on a bench so brown it appeared he had turned the colour into a quantity. Sweating, I ate some hot herbed bony fish with a tub of fresh potato and onion salad, for only one pound eighty from the supermarket and headed into the centre. In a park, an old man regailed me from his pigeon feeding with a cluster of indecipherable linguistic signs and I nodded and grinned at his friendly meanings, and further on ferral or semi-ferral cats scuttled and slinked, limbs tight and leggy like twisted socks, on invisible missions among the flower beds. Boats bobbing in the long plate of harbour water, walking by them I saw the tied-dye shapes and movements of the sparkling undulations of sunny water against glassy hull, a mesmerism to tired eyes irrespective of jaded senses. Zadar had me in its arms, and i moved automatically from tourist information, to public toilet, via restaurant menus and a quick change and wash. The vitality of the day had even the blue sky irradiating light and in the old town, the shining paving stones of the streets were as exquisitely smooth as a cathedrals walls, tight thoroughfares creamy, cool and with surprising views and turns, dead-ends revealing lively restaurants and the flamboyantly coloured rosettes of municipal gardens. Vines wafted their green sprays over the old walls like fans, perhaps keeping their modesty for now before an evening clothing change.
And perhaps the women here are better looking than at home? They certainly have a snaky physique twisting up and around at the bottom and into the back, dark sad eyes and lips inflected in seductive half-sneers. Looking over the top of my computer as I write this, a man and woman sit at a bar backed by the cricket-loud light of the rippling water, coating their edges in glowing yellowed wool and giving their silhouettes a cut-out angelic aura. "Fancy another drink?" I imagine the man says.
In my bag, a 2 euro bottle of wine from Split (thus Croatian, or by the other name Hrvatskian), and I will now go to meet Kieran off the plane. Am going to suggest us taking the ferry out to a local holiday island tonight, to make use of the tents and start off this leg of the Grand Vacance with a relaxing and novel beginning, after the motorway madness of recent days. So, I shall leave it here and bid you good bye, or as they say in these parts "Dovidenia!".


Over a beautifully bleak rushing river, I took some steps down into the town at a tram stop facing a line of nightspots, clubs and takeaway places, and the young of the town were debauching it like there was no tomorrow. Girls, beuatiful girls, chocolate lipped and nubile and men wearing shocklingly tight trousersand with wavy hair of flamboyant and exotic styling, strutted, crooned and kissed asmy sweated steps sauntered a track among them to an r-rolling taxi lady who told me the tram i was to take. Boarding, the tram's lighting pulsed, dimmer and brighter, as if some filament within it was toying with packing it in, or the whole device was too much for itself, a technology beyond its limits of oomph. This, and the concrete sprayed walls all around reminded me a lot of bladerunner, terrific! Somwehere New, and exciting. The conenction is about to brake so will sign off, my speed also why i keep making errros

A hitchikers guide to not sleeping

And the day went its merry way, and I had my photograph taken with a lovely fraudelein in a reputed beer kellar, in traditional costume! This fantasy over (thank you rachel!) it was time to hitch off, leaving munich for a travel experience par excellence, the hitch to croatia, i was to attempt it in one go, aiming for Zagreb. Bidding au revoir to Rach (she had decided to return home as she missed her folks) Simon, a consultant in energy efficiency on behalf of the german government, whisked me off 50km to near the Austrian border. Here, chancing a lorry driver's good will, I came accross the powerfully communicative Papez, a liquid male of extraordinary energy and booming, slighlt alarming speech, who was destined for Ljubliana, Slovenia. He was to leave in 7 hours, at 3am, so i coffeed myself and stayed awake, outside his blacked out truck an hour early keeping watch for his stirring.
And then, a lion awaking to roar accross the borders of two nations, he stirred his car transporter into honking and verssatile mobility and we sped and bullied our way accross the border and deep into austria quicker than you could say "zehr gut". In a mixture of halting german, bizzare gestures, and having the courage to look the manic meatro straight in his wide eyed face, our meanings somehow convened on some basic facts and back-slapping rapport (if this had been possible accorss the roomy cab). Despite at one point, slowed by a problem in the chucklingly named Karawanken tunnel, prompting a Gollum style snarl of "SCHIEZE" from Papez, we ploughed into Ljubliana at 940 am. PApez bead e ma goodbye, he had been very kind and excellent host, giving me cigarrettes and coffee, which we consumed together in the "cockpit".
Croatia was found by 1pm, after a much deserved lie down under a service station tree, Mario and Tanja dropping me with an ice cream and a chicken sandwich. Then began an impossible, 6 hour attempt to hitch a lift, my gathering spentness driving a certain paranoia and, married with the unsubtle unfirendliness of a chunky cohort of the natives (finger wagging expressions of contempt or blankly looking straight through me) Iw as almost in tears when I ahd the "bight" idea of walking to Zagreb 5km away. this was 9pm, and the walk took about 3 hours in the end, wadnering through a brownfield site the size of Burnley, and having chosen not to sleep in a golf course's bunker I slipped in to the city like a rat, along tram tracks, motorway verges and graffiti lined boulevards under the carways. Zagreb, but would I sleep and would i find a way to get to Zadar 200km away for tomorrow night to meet Kieran off his plane?
Stay tuned...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Munchen, we have a problem!

When we finally set off, me myself and Rachel, the day had trickled by idly and croatia was no nearer. In the aforementioned Heidi-burg at a sedate 2pm, we prepared by purchasing a three man tent and also a sleeping bag, for me, and had ourselves a cigarrette (too many french films have been watched, it makes you look good!?). Our first lift took us to the Autobahn, in the petrol station one man wanted 20 euros each to take us to munich. A few minutes after our polite turning down of this obvious extortion, he timidly suggsted 5 euros each (or was it for both of us!).

"Pah!" I returned, "that is not good. We are planning not to pay, and pay we will not! It is the Principle." Obviously I didn´t say this, but when he drove off down the motorway and we realised that indeed it was only 5 euros for the pair of us, imbecile is a word I was using to describe this folly. At 250 km of distance, direct in a fancy BMW, we hopped around chuckling at the sillyness of our high brow ideas, pretending we would rather sleep in a layby than take a lift with such a vulture. But then another car, with Florian and Ben in, two business men, Ben doing his Phd in conjunction with the company, in a fast and capacious BMW...and they didn´t want payment either! Victory was ours!
Despite nearly breaking my bladder, then releaving myself in a layby like a happy cow somewhere near Munich, we arrived. The sleepy town was tinkling with fountains and chamber music, a band playing Vivaldi and Bach, and we sat, dranka cheap bottle of red wine and drank, abusing the night until it ws so late that all the hostels were closed, retiring to a park´s climbing frame to sit and chat under our sleeping bags and while the world away with the ancient words of youth - life, angst and wonderment. Rain came, and we went abroad, taking in a comic who sang and poked fun at evryone in the audience, his show a popular attraction on the main plaza. at last, tired and with Rachel´s experience of accomodation-scamming, we strolled into a cash machine chamber of a bank, using my card for access, took out our sleeping bags and went to sleep!
Next thing I heard was slighlt shocking.
"This is not good. I am the manager. You have two minutes to get out!"
Okay! It was 640am, and German´s being boring people, they wish to work, so up we got like the scallywags we were, or had transiently become at least, and out we jumped into the muggy morning to head to that treasure trove of cheap delights, McDonalds. Wunderba.

Heidelburg - the town

Hitching in, ah, so effortless now, just like riding a bike, except without any effort or financial investment, our 130 kilograms a payment we would never foot. Our second lift, connecting us with the city dropping us at the beautifully placid green river, was by a young man who looked like he had stepped out of a Michelangelo fresco, gold locks and blue eyes and the surity of a celestial destiny in his deportment. What´s more he had the improbable profession of a truck driver. Don´t confuse me, but looking at people like him makes me want to have sex with women all the more (although he probably do very well instead!), the transferrability of eroticism.
Stood either side of our drop-point the houses ranged among the arboreal landscape like original licquorice allsort constructions, rhthmic 3-story variations in brown, cream and black, the rich green hills peaking above them as the gardened town changed to forest.
Down the main street, Rachel, Joellie (Rachel´s sister) and I walked among the leisurely bustle, and off the strasse little squares and fountains with dramatic centre-piece sculptures crafted in warm brown stone and adorned with gold. Meeting with her family and extended family, we walked up to the Schlosse (castle), and our view out to the west was stopped short of infinity by a line of dark hills, wetting our appetite for the immense journey we were to embark on tomorrow, hitching to Croatia, a 1000km trip. Homemade pizza from Miriam, and David´s joke that I should pass the "Juice" which sounded a lot like "Jews" revived a few stock second world war jokes and this ritual out of the way, we returned to the present with renewed vigour and a very pleasant evening was had by all. Bed came quickly after hitching back in the dark and I slept long into the morning, the days travelling needing a little pay back. A boring entry, but it was a lot better than I have written, tomorrow was to be exciting enough to rouse even a tired writer and accounts for my current failureto write this well!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Dropped off in Heidelbourg by a lovely social worker lady called Dragmar, a seasoned hitchiker herself, I marched into the central station and sat on a bench. Texting Rachel, my friend from UCLan and my ´contact´in this area of Germany, I took up a position oustide of great vigilance against her "ambush" style tactics of greeting.
And then there were five Skoczylis´s, Rachel, Miriam, Joelli, Simeon (13 months) and another little one inside of Miriam. Simeon was clearly a future hitchiker, as, needing to pee, he toddled over to the side of a water-surrounded office block and relieved himself with no discernible inhibition. Good man!
So we ambled through the town, via the post office where Rachel kept up her ice cream addiction, sharing magnums around with us too, and then the others took the bus and we then did our first hitch together. Immediately I noticed her different hitching style, "the wagging arm". Standing behind her and doing the same, she would appear like a batty three armed woman to the approaching cars, so only slightly different from usual!
After two hitches, we bobbed down the little lanes of the clustered village among the tree blossomed peaks to her wondrous home. Wooden doors and floors, art painted on the walls of cartoon characters and in one room the Wizard of Oz, nooks and crannies, creaks and yells of children dashing and curious at the new guest. Tea was a cacophany of conversations, whizzing backwards and forwards, with ten of us around a very cute spread of cake, compote, apple sauce and a whopping bowl of krise (semolina) with cinammon top. It was like having tea in a grotto with a very kind family of woodland trolls! And the children´s faces like heros and heroines of a brothers Grimm story, bright with the wonderment of youth.
After tea, we all went our separate ways, weaving among the rooms on the various stories, like Renaissance monkeys in a heavenly tree house and by night a film on their TV as big as a car, mesmerising, a gift from an American family, Rachel and I stayed up chatting about the pangs and pleasures of existence and then to sleep again. Guten nacht!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Part 2 in Koblenz, and just as badly spelt!

And so i ran down the runway to the first gate. Huge! An enromous sixty foot massif reared itself into my pale sweaty face, my rucksack wagging on my back as jolted I blumming started to leg it! 1130 and am ina very badly lit monstrous fortress, the second biggest in europe, and there is noone here. Really, I didn´t see anyone as I ran to the next gate, this time leading into a fabulously gothic tunnel, my adidas earning their money as i turned my wild eyes into all the shadowed doorways leadin off it as i took the corner brilliantly. Next another large one, shutting out the moon, and another tunnel. This happened another time before i emerged into perhaps the weridest part, I emerged into the place of my eventual habitation to find a great flat plateau with some black buldings, a vista of Germany far below, and a solitary locked but lit up four storey bulding, alone at the edge like a jumper.
Well, the youth hostel it turned out was shut, and after trying to get the person in this building to help me and open up and tell me where I could go to get some sleep "Speak to the Police, he said, go away! Please, will you, just go away!", a car arrived on the plateau and told me just that. Matthaus and Lira, the couple who had told me how to come up here, arrived contrite to say sorry and to help out. No opther places were open that didn´t want less than 30 euros, so they took me into town and, at my behest, dropped me at an irish bar within easy reach of my putative ´bed´ at the train station. Luckily, Heicke, a lovely german lady, took me in along with her rescue cat and I had a spare mattress for the night and some very pleasant sleep.
Great, I was getting into this adventuring in foreign places thing now, and was even, dare I say it (am I allowed to say it?) doing the voices!

Koblenz, an old man and an Irish pub

Well what can you say about Maastricht to Koblenz? En route, i met Nursel (hitching once again) who as well as giving me a pack of Galousies cigarrettes, which I inpetly nearly burned my back with trying to nonchalantly deposit my used one out of the window as we drove, and inviting me to her wedding (where we shall dance Turkish style!), she told me a lovely storey of how she rescued a girl in distress and my eyes watered over and it wasn´t the cigarrette smoke! Side-stepping cliche, there is an opportunity that the traveller offers to those they encounter them to excerise their kindness, slumbering within their dulled and habitualised hearts. Good people there have alwys been, but i have never seen so many as now after spending a week asking them for help. Several other lifts later, a few of them very little ones, I came accross a skulking Koblenz, and a rather reticent pair of police officers at the central station, no doubt shelering here from the rain clouds that had been crossing europe, battering its itinerant bretheren.
"Youth Hostel?" one said, "Go to the Castle!".
Glowering down upon me from its rather smug natural advantage of a sheer and sharp ravine, Koblenz castle pratcically laughed at me, as the bus driver, having driben all the way up there and back and failing to tell me where to get off (rather, i was dreaming and didn´t ask and when i did he didn´t understand)i was again at the bottom. A car stopped. TO the top, they inofmred me, you hike up this road, then cut accorss throught the forest. Dear reader, the time was half past ten, and german hostels shut early!
Like a bad haircut, or some weird tattoo, a suburb seemed to hang on the side of the said laughing fortification, and intop its shuttered streets i blundered, with a pathetic little trot, selecting only the roads that weren´t dead-ends until, none left, i rang an intercom. An old man led me into his apartment, up a flight. A series of non-verbal beckonings led the very scared Thomas into kicthen, sitting room, conservatory one, conservatory two, then amazed intot he garden. "Out here?" I said.
And like in Narnia, he led me up the jet black garden to a gate, opening wonderfully onto the heights of the Berg, and only 500m from the castle.
Only speaking german, i series of wild gesticulations and eleborate walkthroughs, i made oput what he was saying, guessing the word (3 syllables) in only a couple of minutes. The jogging motion meant there was little time, so i sprinted off like a gay stag to the grim slaughtering heart of darkness that was Koblenz castle.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fleischer der auto (this is how it sounded)

Okay, so a week has gone by and here it is, brussels, one night, bruges, one night, Amsterdam three nights, maastricht one night, and now i am here in koblenz, by accident,where the youth hostel in the castle is closed for one year and i have just been rescued from a very nice Irish bar where i was to spend most of the night before going to the railway station to sit or sleep by the lovely and vivacious Heiche, and am doing and impromptu couch surf with her and as i write this a glass of the hamburg beer Rotlight, named not surprisingly after its famous and imfamous red light district street.
Amsterdam was weird and wonderful and everything from a stoned cat, enormous naked women winking at me from shop windows like super animated mannequins, and the library on the harbour being filled by a holidaymaker playing some jazz on its open-to-play piano. My host, Nathelie, was super, a girl more french than roquefort on a baguette and when we awaited my bus after my three nights on her settee, she was singing Edith Piath and Jacque Brel to the whole smiling street.
Am damn tired so will leave it here, so thanks for reading and i hope when i am less tired i can up the quality and be more coherent too. Bye for now, tom.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Faire la autostop! Brussels to Bruges

Well, here I am in Europe and writing retrospectively, am loving the adrenalin-driven surges that hitchiking, couchsurfing and proclamations of literary intent are having upon me. My aim is to voyage accross Europe for the month of July and then settle to reside in Paris for all of August in the hope being that my writing in my paper journal, on Microsoft Word and in this blog might generate a body of words that could one day lead to something. That something being a pencilled-in novel by the name of "Bohemian Bootcamp", based on my plan to live in Paris with my friend Kieran and persue the life of the Writer in the Orwellian and Hemingwayian sense. But here I will write a travelogue, and keep it brief, light-hearted and interesting (though this first effort is really none of these, so stay tuned for later and better ones when I am not justalittlebittipsy).

I arrive by plane at 2.30pm on the 30th of July with a large piece of hand luggage and a sizeable promise of financial gurantees from my parental benefactors for my very own Grand Tour! My first hitchike is from the Charlerois airport at Brussels to the town centre, and set in motion a series of predictiably batty conversations all with the hilarious premise that my french was rubbish and that I was happy, indeed more than happy, to play the clown and be laughed at. "You want to come and live with us!"said Ludivine. "Ah non"I hastily correct, delighted at the error and the resultant note of mild terror it arouses "Non, non et non. Parlez-vous anglais?"
Terrific, already nearly a bed for the night. Once in Brussels and at an Internet Cafe, I am pleasantly surprised by the communicability of the Internet, already "Friends"with my escorts on the eternally convivial Facebook!

The night came down upon me kindly, resting as I was with a large can of Platinum 12% 'beer' and teased into submission by the cultural Smurgasboard of the Ommegang festival in the wondrous Renaissance spledour of la Grand Place. Basically, lots of happy Beligans prancing around a cobbled square to a perky medieval soundtrack and theatrical lighting, an annual commemoration of a visit by Charlemagne or Charlesomeonelse.

Wednesday: after seeing a little bronze cherub gleefully urinating into an elaborately decorated marble pond, I took advantage of the lack of supervision on the metro to get out of the city to the metro without expenditure. Taking my own little widdle at a local bar in the immigarnt's quarter, one woman at the bar seemingly a professional gurner of expressive facial arrangments, dressed for evening at noon and with a hint of edith piath about her, I made my way the my hitching point, direction Bruges. After a mere ten minutes I punched the air as an airconditioned Volvo stopped traffic for me to alight my sweat bothered body onto Jean's very nice front passanged seat, my bag a 3rd front sitting passanger.

Great, I said, Bonjour, I am glad you read my sign okay!

"I did, imparted Jean, and that is why I stopped"

"PLEASED to meet you!" I regail, "Friend you are and happy to say so!". The joy of travelling, i thought, wise as a king to be avoiding that foppish 'tourist track of the common man. Indeed I am a natural.

Ï stopped," he rejoined,"because this road goes in the wrong direction"

Ah. Ok.

Here began another portentous trend in my adventures, the art of holding up a sign to hitch somehwere to traffic that are all going in the wrong direction. So Jean dropped me in the right place, and set down there, Jimmy and Kim dutifully plucked me out of the Euro Road ether a petit 5 minutes later and off we went to Bruges.

Kim was lovely, and Jimmy, despite being a self-proclaimed racist, was also terrific and we had a jolly chat about the Canon of rock music, Kim's forthcoming baby (a funny chat about its lack of Gender, that only happening at the age of 4 months, its angelhood turning into an envitable fall from grace, so they hoped, that the scanner would probe and they could decorate the little one's living quarters in advance of its wordly debut) and the benefits of the quiet life in Bruges versus the busy Waffle munching hubbub of the capital.

Alighting in Bruges, I bade my farewell to my travel buddies and strode into the main square with lordly gait and a buoyant sense of pride at my full lack of preparation and new found skill at comandeering people's vehicles for money-neutral transit and gleeful conversational exchange and intrusion into their private lives. The au citron and a slightly put back waiter (Non, rien a manger) and a fine view of the horses and traps, the tanned tall girls atop high bicycles with Holly Go Lightly sunglasses peddling by and the dozy pigeoned commotions of the twilight square, a pleasant evening began to unfold in a manner i was beginning to recognise - somehwat meandering, speonatenous and fun. Bruges, a lovely city, and tonight she was mine.

Stay tuned for my next installment....