Where We're Going

Where We're Going

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Taste My Rust!

Breakfast the next morning was another splendid affair, this time served in the ornate Venetian Room. Unfortunately we were unable to see Edward, my Granny Kate's brother, as he had had to fly to London on short notice, and his flight back to Salzburg got in at the exact time our first train of the day left :( the first train of the day, to Linz, was a little late and packed full of Austrian football fans from Innsbruck on their way to Vienna for the match against Germany. Sat opposite us was a man with an Austrian football shirt, lederhosen, long red socks and traditional-looking fringed shoes. On his knee was a Tyrolean mountain hat, which we had been tempted to buy in Innsbruck, with a huge pheasant feather sticking out of it. On our second train we picnicked and I sang about sweetcorn and insects to pass the time. Our passports were not checked as we left Austria and entered Slovenia, like they haven't been for the last few borders we have crossed. Our final train, from Maribor to Ormož, was brightly grafittied on the outside and full of students. We nearly missed the station, as each one has only a small sign informing you of where you are. When we got off the train it was completely empty apart from the two other people who got off the train when we did. The station appeared to be closed, there were no timetables and no staff. We got a taxi to our village, Lačaves, and were met by the neighbour's son, Jerry. The house is perched on a hillside with vineyards all around it and behind it down the sloped garden. We spent our first few days there getting ourselves used to the area and took walks between the vines where we later saw a young deer. Outside the house are two large cherry trees, one of which is home to a family of blue tits, who we watched with interest the whole time we were there.

We stayed at the house in Slovenia for 2 weeks, but had no access to the internet so you'll have to have the whole lot in one go...

After dusting off the bikes we found in the spare room we headed out for a ride, our first being a mere 5km, the second trip being over 15km! We were very impressed since it's been about ten years since either of us cycled! During these bike rides I taught John the names of all the flowers, birds, insects and butterflies and we made friends with a small grasshopper who hopped onto John's belly and from there onto my head! In a bit of a role switch, I also had to mend his bike chain twice during our rides, silly John!

We tried all the local wines, the ones from the vineyard outside the house and some from the neighbour's vineyards too. We had been given bottles of the stuff by the neighbours and been told to help ourselves to the cellar in the house, woop!

After a few days we decided to take a long ride to the nearest big supermarket, nearly ten kilometres away, but foolishly didn't think to take our backpack and were given only shoddy bags which broke after a couple of kilometres. What a sight I must have looked with a packet of Jaffa Cakes poking out of each of my side pockets and a huge tin of peach slices down my vest top! Cycling around here (preferably sans peaches) is just perfect - whizzing past vineyards and patchwork fields on either side of the roads, the air perfumed with sweet figs and rosehips.

The first few days at the house were thundery but the second week was crazy hot, and eventually became too hot to go for bike rides during the day and we had to resort to watching Adriatic MTV (it was awesome!) and a local channel which showed people playing the accordion no matter what time of the day or night. During the thunderstorm that night we watched tacky-looking Latin American soaps and read. In the time we were there I got through 9 books, including 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime', 'Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress' and 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' which had reviews on its front cover from, amongst others, my great aunt Shena and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, which was an odd combination to come across!

One of my favourite memories of the entire time we spent there was a warm, stormy evening (after the week of crazy sun when it was too hot to do anything except read) when we were entertained by the biggest and most beautiful storm either of us have ever seen. The lightning started just in the sky, volleying between the clouds, highlighting them in golds and pinks, then when it finally started raining it came down in silver streaks, lighting up the rain and making it look like glitter falling from the sky. The storm caused most of the TV channels to die so we stood on the balcony and watched the storm play out above us until the rain got too much and we retreated to watch it from the sofa. I have never seen a storm as pretty as that, the lightning wasn't like "normal" lightning, instead of heading down to the ground from the sky it moved between the clouds, zigzagging across the sky horizontally, in single streaks, in forked streaks and one time spread out like the veins of a leaf. The thunder rumbled for hours and the lightning struck pretty much constantly. After a number of hours it finally stopped and the silence was filled with the chirruping of a hundred grasshoppers.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Funk Taxi, Bar Flip & mermaid horses

A long overdue Salzburg catch-up...

We woke to sun streaming through our windows and excitedly went to breakfast in the Great Hall. We were not disappointed: breads, jams, yoghurt, cereal, fruit, nuts, chesse, cold meats, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs and cake! Guests from the wedding trickled in, but we had a table to ourselves. I drank Assam tea and multivitamin juice and devoured an entire plate of eggs on toast, and John was as happy as Larry with all the meat he was now able to have.

We took a stroll around the lake after breakfasting, where we saw dozens of pretty blue dragonflies, lots of geese and a coot family with a couple of ducklings who followed us up the road for a good 10m, as though we were coot pied pipers. I was amused to see other "grown-ups" making goose and duck sounds at the birds, and relieved that it wasn't just us. We walked the circumference of the lake then past wild strawberry-lined hedges towards the Festung Hohensalzburg. Typically, part of the fortress had scaffolding on - that stuff seems to follow us! Regardless, it was a really awesome castle, there were rooms full of weaponary, armour and medals, a Golden Chamber, a gallery of torture devices and a museum called 'Welt der Marionetten' which was fairly freakish. During our walk around the fortress we saw a woman dressed all in Burberry, shoes and all, and learned about Archbishop Leonardus whose coat of arms has a turnip on it. We walked up to the highest point of the fortress, the viewing platform, and giggled as an angry Japanese man was being told off by a tour guide for not smiling in his photos.

We walked to the main part of town through the Fan Zone and saw a poster advertising bands who were due to be playing there later in the week. Our favourite band was Pond Pirates who were apparently an amalgamation of rock, jazz, ska, reggae and polka. We walked past a lovely shop called 'Christmas in Salzburg' and got all excited about it, despite it being 191 days away and passed YET ANOTHER Hotel Bristol, the swankiest we have seen so far. Heading towards the train station we passed Elmo Cafe, a sign saying 'Space Invaders Against Sexism' and a woman on a bike wearing what used to be a floppy straw hat but had been cut into a baseball cap.

After reserving our seats we walked through the city, now almost empty of fans, and saw a baby bluetit, a hoover shop with the "Vampyr Power" hoover in the window and a Hotel Sacher van with a pun on the numberplate. Having had such a nice day we rewarded ourselves with some warm food (more falafel for me!) and wondered why English takeaways don't also wrap the food in foil to keep it warm. We saw two nuns, neither singing, one of whom was dashing somewhere at great speed. We took a shortcut back to the Palace, and on the way saw a horse with an emo hairstyle and a foal, a pond full of flamingoes, some baby goats and piglets, and two ducks with blue beaks (they are called ruddy ducks)! We took a final walk around the Palace grounds and met another family of ducks, this time with ELEVEN tiny ducklings!

The Cow of Music, Fingerlos Cafe & brooms with glasses

We caught an early train to Salzburg and arrived to beautiful blue skies and sunshine. Despite having looked for a hostel months in advance we were unable to find anywhere to stay (unaware at this time that the football was on) and it had looked for a while as though we would have to remove Salzburg from our itinerary, until I was reminded that my Granny Kate's brother and wife live here. We contacted him and arranged to stay with him here, at Schloss Leopoldskron. Some of you might recognise the Palace, as it was used in the filming of The Sound of Music! It is a really beautiful building. We knew we would enjoy Salzburg, but having somewhere so magnificent to stay really does help!

The palace is only 15 minutes away from town so we checked in and headed straight back out again. The streets were flooded with Russian and Greek football fans and it was impossible to get a real sense of the city when it was so full. We walked through the old part of town, over one of the bridges and through the Mirabellgarten, which was also filmed at, and found ourselves in a dwarf-filled garden. It wasn't so much a garden as a patch of grass with a path lined with stone dwarves circling it. There were lots of people taking "wacky" pictures of themselves with the dwarves but we refrained from doing so. I could not resist, however, having my photo taken with one of the huge stone unicorns we later spotted. I expected that picture to be my favourite of the trip, little knowing that the actual best picture of the trip was waiting for me just around the corner... Sat on a bench were not one, not two, but THREE NUNS! I know some of you will no doubt shudder with embarrassment at what I am about to tell you, but I simply couldn't walk past them without asking to have my photo taken with them. Even with my poor German I was able to ask them and they laughed, I think in disbelief that I would want to have my photo taken with them. They shuffled up, I sat down and we chatted in broken German/English about our trip and they chuckled when we told them England weren't in the football because they are rubbish. I wanted to hug them to say thank you as we left, but wasn't sure how appropriate that would be. If only they had sung to me, my Nun Quest would be complete.

Skipping through the streets, as only a nun-obsessed Vixie can, we reached a fairly dull looking modern area of town which we would have walked straight past had we not noticed what looked like the Crystal Dome from The Crystal Maze. Never wanting to miss a good photo opportunity, and obviously not having had enough excitement so far, we stepped into the "art" and had obligatory photos taken. Thinking things could not get any better we walked up a street where two women were playing badminton, right in the middle of the road. Salzburg is an odd place.

Because of all the football fans it was hard to get through town and see it properly, so we walked back to the Palace we'll be calling home for the next couple of days. When we got back we saw lots of people in wedding attire. Wondering how awesome it would be to have your wedding in a palace, we remembered how perfect our own wedding was (even sans palace) and went to bed happy and content.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Ich habe nur meine lederhosen vergessen!

On the way to the station to catch our train to Munich we passed, for the last time, my favourite shop in Innsbruck: 'Feeling Fashion - Trendy clothes for Trendy people'. The shop contains my favourite t-shirt slogan of the entire trip...

Secret Service Days
55 Days
Eddie Tigger
Secret Service

...written in silver on a turquoise t-shirt. Had it not been €35 I would have bought one for everyone I know.

Seeing another nun on the way to the station brought the Innsbruck Nun Count to an abysmal 2. She did not board the train, and instead we were joined by a dozen German football fans. As they sat down we noticed one had an enormous gash in his head, one had underpants on his head and one had an incredibly rude (but I don't think he knew that) slogan on his t-shirt. They ate sausages from a jar during the two hour journey.

We pulled into Munich earlier than scheduled, dumped our bags at the hostel (fifth floor with no working lift, gah) and set off to explore. The first shop of note was called 'Wormland' so we knew we'd like it here. Further down the street we walked past a Muslim woman whose headscarf was interesting to say the least, there were four motifs printed repeatedly on the scarf fabric and these were: a pair of lips with a big cross through them, an envelope with the words 'love letter' on it with a big cross through it, the word 'love' with a big cross through it, and a telephone with a big cross through it. I was desperate to ask where she had got it, but was distracted when we walked past a chocolate shop with chocolate ladybirds in the window. We went in and it was incredible! We bought what looked like a dark chocolate Colorado beetle decorated with milk and white chocolate, the size of my palm. Thinking it would be hollow, imagine our delight when we bit his tail off and found two little individual chocolates nestled inside! One was a fudge and one was a pistachio/marzipan affair - both were delicious.

We sat eating him on some steps where we also saw a priest with a briefcase and a man with a hat, beard AND pipe! I don't know if anyone else is familiar with the game 'hat, beard, pipe' but basically one receives points for men with hats, beards or pipes, double points if they have two of the above and bonus points for three of the above. It is a rarity, and you can only imagine how hard it was for me to contain my excitement. We also saw a man with a motorised push-bike sailing up a hill while other people were pedalling furiously, a van with a picture of a "rapper" and the slogan 'Pimp Juice' and a poster advertising 'pheromone clubbing'.

We saw lots of pretty buildings, the Theater Kirche, Staatskanzlei, Haus der Kunst and various other things before deciding to cross the river and head towards the Maximilianeum. The hedges that lined the road across the river were swarming with pretty yellow ladybirds and while looking at them we noticed a tramp washing his feet in the river below us.

We walked back to town through the Englischer Garten and stopped off at a supermarket which had cool shopping-trolley-basket contraptions, where we noticed that the eggs come painted fun colours, they sell McDonalds brand ketchup and you can buy chocolate katzenzungens (kitten tongues!)

We watched the Croatia - Germany match in the bar below the hostel and as soon as it had finished there was an enormous thunderstorm. The other bar opened shortly after the match finished and we went there for a free beer tasting. The guy running it, Pete, is awesome. He has a degree in the history of beer, and man does he know his beer. He explained to us all about the Bavarian monks who were the ones who made the beer and how all the peasants were starving to death because the monks were using all the best barley and yeast for beer-making. During Lent the monks had to fast, but they invented a "fasting beer" and they were permitted to drink 3 litres of it a day, and one litre of water. We met an Australian girl called Elise (and her huge stuffed crocodile, Barry) at the bar and we sat and watched Austria - Poland and drank with them until bedtime.

After having the best nights sleep I have had this entire trip, we wandered into a very grey looking Munich. We passed a shop we hadn't noticed the day before called 'Christ'. I wondered what it would sell, but was disappointed to find it was only rubbishy jewellery and I'm not entirely sure the Son of God would put his name to that. We ate chocolate beetles for lunch and continued wandering around in the rain.

We had another fun time that night with Elise, Pete and more beer tasting. We met the old man who lives across the road and comes in for a drink every night without fail. We saw him briefly last night, but he was in high spirits tonight and wanted to join us. For some reason he singled me out of the group, and decided to show me pictures from his wallet of various "sexy" ladies, and some very old newspaper articles along the same theme.

After the beer tasting had finished and the old man had gone home, conversation naturally turned to unicorns, and we were able to show Elise the wonder that is Planet Unicorn. She came to the conclusion that we were insane and I had to remind her that she wouldn't have had as much fun in Munich had it not been for us. We drank and ate pizza into the night, and had a grand old time.

Flying Power & number "0" buses

Breakfast at the hotel was the biggest luxury we have had so far: croissants, jam, nice bread, yoghurt, multivitamin juice, eggs for me and ham for John. We ate as much as we could manage, it was free after all, then set off to catch our train to Austria.

The first thing we came across on the train was a topless fat man with a tattoo on his huge upper arm saying simply, "SPACE BEER". This train terminated at Brenner, which is 45 minutes away from Innsbruck. All the signs in the station were in both Italian and German so we had no idea which country we were actually in. We had had no passport checks during the entire journey and everyone there looked bewildered when we attempted to speak Italian to them, so we assumed we were in Austria. The second train was more like a London bus than a train, it had bendy bits, handles coming from the ceiling and fold down seats, but unlike London buses it was full of people dressed in lederhosen! What more could I have asked for? It was like an Austrian dream come true.

The change in temperature hit us immediately, and we were helpfully notified by an LED display outside the station that it was 23 degrees. Walking through Innsbruck we noticed crowds of people wearing red and yellow, and were curious until we realised that the football was actually being played there that night. Our hostel (technically a B&B) was in the old part of the city, above a café. We dropped our bags, grabbed a map and made our way out for a wander. We had been told by the ladies at the hostel to help ourselves to anything we could find in the kitchen, and spying some chocolate milkshake powder we couldn't help but go out to get milk. In the supermarket queue ahead of us was a guy around our age wearing a t-shirt saying "Best of Pork".

As soon as we left the supermarket, milk in hand, the rain started. All the fans watching the big screens must have been drenched, it was a pretty big downpour. We didn't sit to watch either of the matches, but we walked past lots of people huddled under umbrellas watching it, including a large group of Spanish fans outside a café next door to our hostel. As we walked past we noticed two old ladies walk slowly between them and the screen, and they must have thought the funnily-dressed people with flags were waving at them because they stopped, laughed and waved back, staying there for a good minute or two before realising that they weren't waving but telling them to get out of the way of the screen! Old ladies are funny everywhere in Europe!

People in the streets were singing various chants and we felt a little left out, so we decided to join in, shouting and singing the word "milk" (for it was still in our hands) in as many tunes as we could think of. I think it made us fit in :)

As you'd expect there were scores of street vendors, all the usual suspects, but it was the first time I have ever seen a street stall serving champagne by the glass. Austria is so civilized, even the football fans who came into the hostel late that night were sure to be quiet, as they knew we were tucked up for the night.

Breakfast the next morning was yet another treat: bread rolls, delicious homemade jam, creamy hot chocolate, cereal and CAKE! The morning had started so well, until some Scousers came down for breakfast - even the brash American girls shut up when they boisterously entered the room. Listening to them grunting and snorting their food made me think I should pretend to be from Sweden in future. It was like they were speaking in another language, and as they belched their way through breakfast the café quickly emptied.

We did the usual tourist shop expedition, finding only ridiculously over-priced snowstorms. Again, my little heart fell until John suggested that we buy a tiny, kitsch little cuckoo clock instead! I love the man more every day, and I am now the very proud owner of possibly the tackiest, and yet somehow cutest, plastic cuckoo clock ever! It is so awful that it is actually, in fact, sans cuckoo. But I think that adds to the charm and I love it! After dropping it off at the hostel (I don't want it to get damaged now, do I?) we went for another wander, steering clear of the tourists as best we could. We saw yet more signs of how civilized a place this is: the youth spit not on the floor but into bins, and the silhouette men on the roadsigns are wearing hats!

Our nun count was a very disappointing 1, but we did see a fat priest chatting with some football fans and a priest dressed all in white who looked like the Angel Islington from "Neverwhere". We have also seen some Christmas themed graffiti so I think it makes up for it.

Remembering the demand to eat the food in the kitchen, we dutifully responded by eating almost our own weight in free pasta. Lacking any kind of sauce, we headed to the Aldi up the road (they call them 'Hofer' here) where we saw chess piece shaped biscuits and dragon shaped crisps and were served by an A. Unterberger, the fastest checkout girl I have ever seen. It was as though she was possessed - she ran through the items at crazy speed then, inevitably, had to wait ages for people to fiddle with their change, but she even predicted with which coins they would pay and had their change ready before they had even opened their purses. We fooled her by paying for something costing €1.99 with a €10 note.

We also bought some chocolate (the first for ages) and took it with us when we visited Schloss Ambras, the castle just outside the city. We had one of most fun days there: we watched a peacock eat an entire lawn of buttercups, saw a goose chalet, met a hyper-intelligent duck with an enormous head, cheered on a duck dance-off, saw a tiny woodpecker and fed a duckling. Not all of our fun was bird-related, but the majority was. After feeding the duckling and a couple of dancing geese we sat down on a nearby bench to have our chocolate. A squawking sound stopped us mid-bite and we looked around to see another peacock marching towards us. I think he must have been annoyed about not being given any seeds, as he came over and snatched the chocolate out of my hand with his beak! Luckily, it was only a couple of squares, but he swallowed it in one go and then ran off! We finished the remaining chocolate and on the last piece he came back and tried it on again, the cheeky scamp! We quickly hurried on, fearing he might come back and peck at us regardless of whether or not we had chocolate, and stumbled across a bloody great waterfall! Not the kind of thing you expect to run into, but there it was tucked behind the trees, hidden from view like a sneaky assassin. Looking at the map at the entrance when we left, we saw that we had barely walked a third of the actual grounds of the place.

After yet more pasta we walked to the Swarovski shop near our hostel, which was holding an exhibition called 'Winter Wonderland'. Ooh, it was so sparkly! The exhibition itself wasn't as interesting as just walking through the shop seeing all the pretty crystal sculptures, including a tiny purple pufferfish and a tiny green and red cactus.

Unfortunately, our hostel room has no window to the outside world so we are not able to sit and people-watch at our leisure, we have to actually leave the house. The whole city has embraced football fever, every shop has incorporated the theme into their window displays, my favourite being a ladies fashion shop whose mannequins are dressed in pretty floral dresses, shin pads, socks and football boots and made to stand in various football-y poses. Hung from nearly every window of every building in the centre of town are flags of all the participating nations, and fans walk around in their full regalia whether or not their country is playing that day. We decided to watch the Switzerland - Turkey match in a café in town, and found one with a horde of Swedes. We do like Swedes, so we knew we'd have fun. I think we must have watched them more than we watched the football to be honest, they were so entertaining! They were all singing and chanting and having a great time. They had one song in particular that we especially enjoyed: it was to the tune of 'Go West' and it sounded as though they were singing "Stand up, be a unicorn! Stand up, be a unicorn!" We couldn't help but join in the singing, and I wished Toby was with us.

Pope TV & Crock Da Shock!

We left Venice for Verona on a super swanky double-decker train. Verona is the most expensive place on our trip, accomodation-wise, so we only spent one night there. When I booked the place I had no idea that it was actually a 2 star hotel that I was booking! No wonder it was a bit pricey, but it was nice to have a bit of luxury instead of the usual dorm rooms. The hotel itself was lovely, as was the guy at reception when we arrived who thought we must be brother and sister as we looked much too young to be married.

The city is beautiful and, naturally, incredibly romantic. We walked the 3km from the hotel to town in the afternoon sun, passing small lizards left, right and centre, and soon found ourselves at the castle. There wasn't a lot to it, but the views were very pretty. We walked further into town and stumbled across a very famous balcony in a very famous house that belonged to a very famous young lady named Giulietta. The doors and walls leading to the house were absolutely covered in declarations of love and the gates were covered with brightly coloured padlocks inscribed with people's names.

Amazingly, even after looking for snowstorms in all the touristy shops and seeing THE balcony, John still didn't realise why I had wanted to visit Verona, and assumed it was something to do with the castle or the arena, which were his highlights. I couldn't find any snowstorms that had the castle or anything on them, apart from Romeo and Juliet, and the ones I did find were so expensive that I began to wonder if snowstorms are even worth all the hassle!

The sun was still strong (28 degrees apparently) and we "mutually" decided it was ice-cream time. We had Nutella and Crema Biscotti flavours. While eating ice-cream we watched out for nuns, seeing only two in the end, one dressed all in blue and one with a big suitcase. After our short break, we walked past the arena and down towards the river to stroll hand-in-hand in the early evening sun.

On our evening supermarket adventure, this time to look for peanut butter (there was none, but there was hazelnut butter), we saw in the toiletries aisle milkshake-scented and tea-scented body spray! I couldn't help but buy the tea one, mmm tea.

That night we watched the Italy - Netherlands match and felt glad that we hadn't decided to go out to watch it with the Italians of Verona.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Solar-powered pigeons, Moonwalking dogs & The Spank Mob

We woke late the next morning, after a much needed rest, and, forgetting it was a Sunday, missed the hourly bus to the city. Not wanting to wait, we walked the few km to the airport to get a bus from there. Walking a different way through town (it is difficult to re-trace your steps in the city even if you tried) we passed pigeons basking in the sunshine and a man wearing a t-shirt declaring "I am an abstract piece of art". Despite it being a Sunday the streets were far busier than they had been the previous day. On Saturday it had felt like we had the whole place to ourselves, but now there were people everywhere! We walked and walked in an attempt to escape them and found ourselves alone again just when the heat was getting more intense, both desperately needing a drink. Shops are harder to come by off the main strip, but 'Boutique Del Gelato' was our saviour: tucked around a side street, it had a huge queue of people, none of whom were tourist-looking. We had found the locals favourite! The ice-creams were cheap and enormous, I had tiramisu and hazelnut flavours, and John had a lemon granita, the most refreshing thing known to man.

That evening John dined on supermarket sandwiches (white bread with the crusts cut off, how terribly British) as we sat in the park. A small family of sparrows came to join us, and there were even some tiny, fluffy chicks! That same evening
I was finally able to give in to my craving for falafel! Mmm, real food! The guy in the falafel shop was hilarious. He had his radio turned up loud and started singing to us when we came in, using a rolling-pin as a microphone. He told me he loved me and asked if I was married. I said yes, and he shouted, "me too!" before asking John if he could buy me from him for a Porsche and a thousand falafel "only for nine months, we make beautiful babies then you can have her back". Nice.

Nun count: three, dressed all in white.

Wine Horses, Marshmallow Smurfs & Photographing Doorbells

We left for Venice early the next morning, after a fairly solid nights sleep, interrupted only by one of the Aussie girls in our dorm sleep-talking. The first train of the day was to Villach in Austria. For some reason it´s only possible to get to Venice directly if you take a train at 2:22am, and we didn´t fancy that so we had to go via Austria. We snacked on cipi cips (I´ll do the correct accents when I can) and Vic Sticks on the train, as we passed through LONG tunnels in the pitch black darkness, and again had a nice little compartment to ourselves.

Sunshine and warmth greeted us in Venice. We got in around 1pm, and it was a pleasant 26 degrees. We took a bus to the campsite which, as we later found, was more like a caravan park, with a few tents and chalets. It was technically in Venezia Mestre, across the water from Venezia, but less than half the price of staying in Venezia itself.

Naturally, the first thing we did was sample some Venetian ice-cream. I had star biscuit flavour and John had chocolate mousse flavour. The side streets of Venice are the prettiest I have seen, and we immediately got lost, reaching dead ends at almost every turn. I couldn´t help, while walking through the streets I had only ever seen in anime, imagining I was on the island of Water 7 in "One Piece", secretly looking out for members of Cipher Pol 9, but with no luck. We did see dozens of men with poodles and found a shop with not one, but a selection of snowstorms! We also found possibly my favourite thing so far, a "sexy priests" calendar! Oh, it is truly spectacular and we cannot wait for June 2009!

There is very little graffiti in Venice, and the small amount we did see was pointless tagging. One tag I didn´t mind so much was VMFC, my initials! I had never seen my name in graffiti before and now the last two cities have had it! Having no graffiti to photograph we had to find something else; we chose doorbells.

Peckish after our long trek through countless streets we found a supermarket to stock up on supplies. Tummies feeling a bit odd we decided to swap chocolate spread for honey, biscuits for cereal bars with blueberries, white bread for brown and bought some natural yoghurt, peaches and carrots. I don´t think we´ll be giving up the ice-cream any time soon though!

I spent the entire day looking for nuns, and had almost given up hope when we spied two in the bus station on our way to the shuttle bus, hurrah!

Country Weddings, Foot Pedal Flushes & Copulating Skeletons

After washing our clothes the next morning (wahoo for access to a washing machine at last!) we walked in the rain to town. We headed up the hill to Ljubljana Castle which from the outside looks like a fairly modern castle but inside were swanky bars and galleries, fancy glass floors and a virtual museum. The central square is covered by tables and the grassy edges are spattered with pieces of "modern art". The castle gallery had two shows on, one was an interesting installation with lots of rocks and photos taken down what looks like a well, and the other was a collection of black and white photos in an exhibition called "Country Wedding". It was a really cool show, but I will have to tell you about it another time, as we´re still in Expensive Internet Land!

The sky was cloudy so we didn´t go up to the viewing deck but instead wandered down the hill, in our soggy shoes, to look for some hot chocolate. We sat in Cafe Don Cortez and ordered our drinks. The chocolate was less a drink more like melted chocolate mousse and it was delicious! As we were drinking (eating?) we heard the eerie church bells from the Church of St James, which has the highest belltower in Ljubljana and the spookiest bells I have ever heard. When leaving the cafe I noticed an interesting numberplate: LJ 30 ORK!

Heading towards the rail station we passed a car at some traffic lights blaring out Euro Pop. There were two youngish guys dancing wildly in the car, and we couldn´t help but dance as we walked past them. They even turned their music up for us and gave us a thumbs up. Making friends is fun! By now our feet were super wet. I was wearing my jelly shoes but John´s shoes had almost completely given up hope. He bought some new ones, and after leaving the shop we saw some old men wearing skate shoes and realised we were no longer "hip".

We saw two blue nuns on our way back to the hostel and on our daily stop at Mercator to buy strawberry juice we noticed chocolate and vanilla scented washing liquid and wished we´d known about it before washing our clothes in boring powder. The prices here are around 3 times higher than in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, as I noticed when I went scouring tourist shops for snowstorms. I came across only two and they were both around €8! I refuse to pay that much for tourist tat, much as I love them. I did, however, buy a postcard showing the Ljubljana dragon. Legend says that Jason (and the Argonauts) founded Ljubljana and slew the dragon who lived there (which appears on their flag and all over the city).

That evening we ate pizza in the pizzeria below the hostel and headed into town to visit a bar we had read about in a guide book. The bar was called Pr. Skelet and the guide book says it is full of "grinning, cackling, spinning and copulating skeletons". We foolishly forgot it was a Friday night in a studenty city and by the time we got there it was completely packed, but it was, indeed, full of skeletons: animal skeletons in cages, human skeletons in glass coffins set into the floor, skeletons everywhere you looked.

We left the bar, deciding to go again next time we were in the city, and the rain started again. It was heavy. This time, my shoes decided to die on me and John´s new ones performed brilliantly.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Horse burgers, traffic light countdown & old women with trolleys

We left Zagreb the same way we had entered it, tired and being rained on. I´m sure when the weather´s nicer the city is more charming, but from what I saw I can understand why most of the people we have met use the city as just a stopover to other destinations.

The train to Ljubljana was nice, we had a little compartment all to ourselves. After border control, where a band were asked to leave the train, we zoomed past the Slovenian countryside, which with its fields and pretty hills looked an awful lot like English countryside. We ate Jaffa Cakes in celebration.

The rain followed us from Croatia. We waited outside the station for Marko from the hostel, who was only 40 minutes late (this is good for him, apparently). While waiting we people watched, and there was not much of note apart from a priest wearing a medallion. While sitting in the back seat we noticed a little furry head poke through from the front seat and out popped a little sausage dog, eager to say hello. Neither of us are fans of dogs, but sausage dogs are definitely an exception! He was more like a cat anyway, tootling around our feet, trying to jump onto our laps.

The hostel is above a pizzeria and is lovely and spacious, feeling like an actual house rather than a hostel. We braved the rain after having bought an enormous umbrella and walked the 30 minutes into town, passing some odd tampon-related graffiti. The first thing we saw as we entered the central area of the city were some roadworks, it was not cordoned off with tape or a fence but instead with bunting! I loved the city immediately. The rain stopped after a while and we slowly made our way around the small centre of town. We saw an awful lot of graffiti, my favourite being one young lady who had tagged "Miss Vix" all over the place :)

We were quite obviously in the studenty area of the city, the young people and shops all looked very "cool" and we passed a fast food place called `Red Hot Horse Burger´. We had been entertained by the sounds the traffic lights make in Europe, ever since hearing the ones in Sarajevo, but here there were not only sounds but an LED countdown to the green man! We were incredibly excited and may well have danced across the road... maybe. We sat by one of the three bridges in the centre with our huge umbrella and watched people pass us in the rain. An old gypsy woman with a trolley walked past and for some reason John decided to make up a song about her. We sat on the bench singing and decided a good name for a band would be The Plazma Wrappers. I danced while he sang, in the preferred style of Margaret who we had met in Split. The rain started to get heavier so we walked back to the hostel, past a street of Embassies. We saw a particularly pretty one and I remarked that it was like a fairytale castle. John said it was like (cue American accent) "a make believe castle" and we chatted about how much better the phrase "fairytale" is than "make-believe" and we shook fists at the Americans for not using the term before noticing it was actually the American Embassy...

We bought bread for dinner, and Hobbit biscuits, in the local supermarket, Mercator, and discussed whether or not Jean Claude Van Damme would star in a film of that name. That evening we watched some incredibly low-budget and fairly humiliating kids TV and some very expensive looking but equally crappy Slovenian music videos. Nothing has yet beaten Bosnian TV! We ate our bread and cheese and chatted about music with Marko. He played us some traditional Slovenian music while Britney Spears was muted on the TV. They suited each other surprisingly well! He then played us some Slovenian pop which was really good! I think he was quite taken aback when we told him that we actually quite liked it. He told us there were over 200 radio stations in Ljubljana, most of which are based in peoples houses, and apparently even the house next door runs its own a radio station! We sat in the living room chatting with the hostels other guests until bedtime. There are 4 Aussies and 5 other Brits. For the first time on our trip the British are the majority. One of the girls was reading "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace, so we got chatting about Join Me and I told them that that was how John and I had met. They all laughed nervously at the mention of the word "cult".

Turbo-Folk, Batman Tomatoes & Nun-o-Rama!

We finally have internet, and although the hostel website said it was free it is not! Grr!

Anywho, a catch up is needed...

The first train ride of our adventure was a long one and foolishly we had no music with us. The scenery was beautiful and dramatic, made even more so by the big lightning storm we encountered. We went o´er misty mountains, past lakes and huge forests, and were given cheese and gherkin sandwiches.

We got into Zagreb (where it was still raining) later than we had planned and headed to the nearest tram stop. The first tram didn´t come for 20 minutes, and after 40 minutes no #6 trams had appeared. We hopped onto a #13 that apparently went half way. There was a sign on the tram with a picture of what looked like a Michelin man with a big cross through it. I have no idea what it could have meant. While looking lost and wet on the tram, a young girl came up to us and asked if we were OK. We told her where we were headed and she said she lived near and would show us where to go. Bizarrely, she wouldn´t let John look at the map at the bus stop, which concerned us a little until we caught another tram with her and realised we were heading in the right direction. John went to buy our tickets from the driver but the girl blocked his way and told him, forcefully, that he must not buy a ticket because no one comes to check at this time of night. We got off at the same stop and she pointed us in the right direction. If it hadn´t been for her we would probably have missed our check-in, so we were thankful despite her weirdness.

The room was small and bright green with 4 beds. There was a lovely girl from Argentina in one of the beds and a girl from Copenhagen in the other. The common room is in the basement of the main building, and it sounded pretty lively so we made our beds and joined the fun. There were some Canadian girls who were all pretty cliquey, a North Londoner, a Welsh guy and the Argentinian girl. We were given free beer and sat and talked about drug trials, being locked for 7 days in a white room, Pontypridd and a whole bunch of other stuff. They headed to a bar later in the evening but we decided on an early night after our horrendous journey. The dorm was woken at 5am (for a change) by the Danish girl leaving for an early train to Sarajevo. We had breakfast in the common room, where two guys had fallen asleep on the sofas and were snoring loudly.

Zagreb seems to be a lot like other capital cities, there are pretty buildings, but they´re vastly outnumbered by more practical things. We went to St Francis´ church which was incredibly ornate, but had scaffolding on the outside of it like most of the churches in Zagreb. Inside we saw our first confession booths in use, with a very long queue of people waiting. Staying on the Catholic theme, I am pleased to report sightings of no fewer than 12 nuns, including two on a tram wearing sunglasses, one on a mobile phone, a grey nun in the rain and a jay-walking nun! We have also seen two men with poodles, another thing we have been collecting since Sicily. On our wanders we found only two touristy shops (though they were huge) but no snowstorms worth buying - they were tacky but in the wrong way, and said Hrvatska rather than being city-specific, and that is frankly not good enough! The disappointment was quickly replaced with joy when we continued our walk into town and found a duck with a thermos and lots of awesome grafitti, like little David Shrigley sketches, and depicted man, skeletons and trains, the most sinister things being faces made on jam-jar lids with gum eyes and a mouth made of chewing gum but with dozens of pins stuck vertically through the gum. It´s hard to describe, but I´m sure you´ll all see the photos. We´re surprisingly only on our 8th film. We didn´t really take many pictures in Zagreb though, other than the grafitti, as all the main pretty buildings were scaffolded. We went back into the centre of town, past a market selling `Batman´ tomatoes, just in time to see the final part of a strange street performance by a guy wearing knickerbockers, a black and red goth-style pin-striped jacket and a helmet. Other than the attire he reminded me of a Mr. P. Hatchard. I couldn´t tell you what his act actually was, there were too many people and I am too short a Vixie, but he received a big round of applause. Immediately after his show had finished, the heavens opened. It rained and rained and rained and rained, like I had only ever seen on news programmes on TV. Miniature streams formed down the middle of the streets and we took refuge outside a very expensive looking hotel. Silly us for forgetting to bring an umbrella! A nun walked past us just as I sneezed and I wished she had said "Bless you". I wonder if Catholics do that? Thunder boomed around us, we counted 9 seconds from the first lightning strike, and after another few strikes the lightning was directly overhead. The storm lasted for nearly an hour and we had to finally brave it and run back to our hostel. We were staying about 20 minutes walk out of town, slap bang in the middle of the Croatian equivalent of a council estate, we were told. The hostel was huge compared to others we had stayed at, there were 12 rooms each sleeping 4 people. There was no kitchen, annoyingly, so dinner had to be bread and cheese again. John had another cevapi on the last night, which is like a posh kebab, but being a capital city the majority of the food places seemed cheap and greasy. I have officially given up my search for burek, it doesn´t seem to exist in Croatia. We spent the evening in the common room, with it´s `eclectic´ mix of `decoration´. I checked my emails and was pleased to find one from Jay, the class teacher in my old school. She said that the class have put up a map of Europe and are following my travels! I have sent them a postcard from everywhere we have been so far, and she said that she has been teaching them about the places we´ve been and some history about the castles I´ve told them about!

We finally heard some turbo-folk on the radio in the common room, as John was being taught a high-speed card game by a drunk Australian girl. At least she seemed drunk, she may have just been really eccentric, either way she was also incredibly posh. The game turned out to be one I had attempted to teach him months ago, and he was no better at it this time around. Unfortunately we didn´t get to see the Londoner or Welshman before we left, but the Australian was more than entertaining enough.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

We're still alive :)

Hello, we're in Innsbruck in Austria.

We haven't had free internet in nearly a week, but should have tomorrow so I will do a HUGE update then, and maybe John will get a chance too.


Wednesday, 4 June 2008

People-watching galore!

On our last day in Split I woke early (5am again) just as the American couple were leaving for the ferry to Hvar. At 7:45, before the girl who worked at the hostel had arrived, two more American girls turned up, and I took it upon myself to let them in. They had reservations, I wasn't just letting in strangers! They had come that morning from Budapest and spoke very highly of it, as well as of Bratislava. A lot of the people we have met so far have said that Bratislava is overrated and unenjoyable, which is a shame since we are planning on staying there for four nights. We discussed castles and Erin mentioned two castles they went to that aren't in the guide books, but are much better than Bratislava Castle. They both sounded amazing, so we'll add them to the to-do list. She also told me about a guy she had met there who was travelling around schools in Slovakia teaching English, and that for his first placement he was sent to a town with no hotel or hostel and had to stay with the town's priest, who on their first night together shared bottles and bottles of the blessed Communion wine with him, and they both ended up completely drunk. Naturally, the conversation moved swiftly onto nuns, and how many of them there are in Croatia. She said it was really exciting to see them as you didn't get many Catholics in Canada, and she'd never seen a nun before coming to Europe. I told her about when we were in Sicily and would see nuns every night eating ice-cream in the streets. We giggled lots about how we should record all our nun sightings and create nun photo albums, and try to have our photos taken with nuns in fun poses.

We walked into town for a final wander before our train and saw Margaret in a cafe. We sat and watched bored-looking tour groups and discussed how if John and I lived here we'd be city guides, but we'd dress up and it'd be way more fun than the tour groups we saw in the town. We listened to a couple of the guides, and even the interesting stuff about the town was given in such a dull manner that it seemed dull itself. If we did give tours we'd split the group up, John would have the adults and I'd have the kids tour where I'd teach them loads of cool stuff and we'd make hats to wear while we're walking through town. Margaret suggested we dress as dinosaurs for the tours and add in sneaky bits of fake history to make everything more exciting.

We ate pizza in a park for lunch and I shared some of my crust with a tiny sparrow. He was like a squirrel, he'd get a bit of crust then hop away, turn his back to us, nibble some and then take it away to a nearby tree before coming back for more. As a final treat we sat on the steps outside cafe LVXOR and people-watched. Some of the steps have cushions on, belonging to the cafe, and when you sit there you are expected to order a drink. I understand why they don't like people sitting on their cushions without ordering anything, but they were really forceful this time, and moved on a little frail old woman with a stick and neck brace. I know they have been told to ask people to move, but no one should be so rude, especially not to little old women. The two guys dressed as Roman Legionnaires were there again, taunting the tourists and turning their backs on people who tried to take photos of them without tipping them. We sat there for a couple of hours and saw dozens of people wearing red trousers (we have been collecting them since Sicily) but as yet no trouser capes. We did, however, see what looked like Emperor Palpatine but with a tracksuit, yellow baseball cap and breasts. We walked through the underground crypt for the last time and noticed some really cool prints by a guy called Marinko Jelača, and now I'm feeling all inspired again.

Riding sharks and rocket sandwiches

We woke early for the first ferry of the morning out of Dubrovnik to Split. We were told check-in was at 8am so we were up in good time. The lady and gentleman of the house had, it appeared, been up for hours when we sleepily fell out of our room at 6:40am. When we left they were overcome with gratitude, thanking us again and again for our visit and hugging and kissing us. I no longer regard this as anything out of the ordinary as everyone we have met here has been full of the same enthusiasm and hospitality.

Waiting for the ferry we met an American named Adriana, who had been staying with the guys we had met in Sarajevo and then again in Mostar. They finally showed up just before boarding, after having got home at 3am. There are a lot of hostels in the Balkans, hundreds of towns and infinite routes, yet we seem to keep meeting up with the same people again and again! You would think it would be weird to see someone a couple of times, but we have bumped into these guys a lot more than that already!

The journey was very long but relaxing, the sea was calm and still, and the deck was quiet. The ferry takes roughly 4 hours longer than the bus, but it's cheaper and, I imagine, prettier. Adriana left first, for Korčula, and the guys were with us until Hvar, then it was just us and the open sea for the final stretch. Split was light and warm in the evening sun so we slowly wandered to our hostel in a little backstreet just outside the palace walls, we later found to be surrounded by bakeries and shoe shops. We shared our dorm with a couple from Oregon who are due to be married in 3 weeks time, so we naturally started discussing weddings. They liked the sound of our wedding, and seemed a little disappointed that they hadn't thought of a bouncy castle. We settled into the hostel, then went for a dusk wander. The city was instantly charming, the white marble sparkling in the low sun and the swallows circling above the palace walls. John fell in love with the city immediately and has declared it to be his favourite place so far.

I woke at 5:30am the next morning, partly because of the sun streaming in through the open windows and partly due to a mini sneezing fit. I headed downstairs so as not to wake the rest of the dorm and stayed there until I decided to wake John at 8am. Off we trotted to the nearest supermarket for breakfast - delicious fresh bread and praline chocolate spread with chipmunks on the jar. We had another wander after breakfast in the sweltering sun (9am and already over 30 degrees). We had done all the stuff in the centre last night so we did all the more exciting non-touristy bits today. All the burek shops we had seen had just cheese or meat burek, no potato, spinach or pumpkin like there had been in Bosnia, so we headed in the direction of a burek shop that had been recommended to us, but to no avail. We had to settle with ice-cream. I had Kinder flavour (mmm, children) and John had Ferrero Rocher flavour. An old man at the same ice-cream stand asked what flavours we were having and I ended up having quite a long chat with him about the local ice-cream, despite him claiming he didn't even like ice-cream. We sat under some palm trees by the waterfront to eat our ice-creams and watched a scrawny ginger cat climb a palm tree.

We have found some brilliant postcards so far in Split, not just the regular tacky nudey ones, but ones with babies on, ones with old men riding sharks and our favourite, a pair of Dalmatian dogs playing chess. The underground crypt, where we found the postcards, was full of tacky souvenir shops selling an assortment of tat, but alas not one snowstorm in sight. Shocking. Disappointed by the distinct lack of snowstorms, we treated ourselves to a Croatian comic book about a fellow named Zagor who has cowboy boots and a stone hammer. Awesome.

That evening we went out with some guys from the hostel, Will who we met in Sarajevo, saw in Mostar and was on the ferry from Dubrovnik, Young John who was in our dorm and some American girls, Margaret and Hannah. We went to a bar called LVXOR in the centre of the palace. Upon arrival, literally as we were sitting down to a table, the waiter asked us what we wanted to drink. Funnily enough, we had no idea yet. The waiter was not impressed and immediately took a disliking to us. The only other waiter on duty had a stupid rat tail in his hair, so we took an instant disliking to him. We ummed and ahhed because of the huge choice and eventually decided on beers, coffee and chocolate cake. The cakes had some interesting names, and we weren't sure what we'd get when we ordered them. They had names like Triple Pleasure and Doughnut Princess, but the slices were enormous and the beer was cheap so everyone was happy. Other than the waiters, the bar was nice enough. The ceilings were painted turquoise and gold and depicted various mythological characters: Egyptian Gods, Centaurs, Griffins etc, and had huge gold chandaliers. On the walls were some very "modern" and "arty" black and white photographs, shot with a wide angle lens. Our favourite picture was of a parade of Bishops - it reminded us of Adriana from the ferry who claims to be the biggest fan of Pope John Paul II (who she affectionately refers to as PJPII). Apparently she has loads of pictures of him and collects anything to do with him. I am tempted to make and send her some PJPII PJs. I think she'd love them, and as Margaret quite rightly declared: who wouldn't like them?! Will told us that while they were staying together in a hostel in Hvar it was her main topic of conversation. He also relayed a story about another girl we had both stayed with in Mostar. I hadn't thought of mentioning her before as she was the quietest and most socially-awkward person I have ever met. On the night we were there everyone in the hostel had gone out to a local bar. John and I hadn't stayed too long as we had wanted to see the town by night, but oh how I wish we had stayed now. Despite not talking the whole night she drank like a fish and by the end of the night was completely wasted and came right out of her shell: she told the entire group about how going travelling had boosted her confidence and that there was a guy back in New Jersey who she worked with in the dairy section of a wholefood store, who she really fancied. She continued by saying that when she went back to home she would tell him how she felt about him and hopes that he'll ravage her in the dairy section of the store, amongst all the yoghurts. Try to imagine this coming from the most shy, quiet girl you can think of. It was hilarious and shocking, especially as we had actually met the girl, and would never have thought she'd have it in her. Will told us that when he was in Dubrovnik he got chatting to some people in a bar and they had asked him if he had heard the "yoghurt fetish story" and they were people who had not even been at the same hostel! The story seems to be doing the rounds amongst the Balkans 2008 crew. Eventually it will probably get back to her, after being completely distorted and hugely exaggerated. I doubt she'll even remember saying it, so she'll probably just think the girl in question is just some kind of weirdo.

No Freddie Mercury Impersonators, Please!

On our last day in Dubrovnik we had an island adventure! (Had you guessed?) We got the ferry to one of the Elafiti Islands, called Lopud, which had been recommended to us by an American girl we had met in Mostar. The journey alone was worth the 3 pound cost of a return trip, it was truly beautiful.

I wouldn't say that the island was abandoned, as such, but other than the front stretch of cafes and souvenir shops there were no people evident on the entire island. We took to the back streets (naturally), armed with my trusty Lomo camera, and we were in for a treat! The photos we took could never do the place justice: it was stunning and absolutely silent, but in a nice, calm way rather than a ghost town type way. The insects on the island seemed to be double the size of regular insects - dragonflies, ants, beetles and butterflies were plentiful and huge. The one other soul we saw on our walk was an old man sleeping alone on a building site, with a brick fior a pillow. We continued down the hill to the sea where I was able to walk in the sea in my new jelly shoes, no longer fearing the sting of a cheeky sea urchin. Along the waterfront, but slightly up from the main promenade, we found two pretty, secluded little chapels. There was a bigger church up towards the harbour. It was largely unexciting apart from a sign outside the church with a drawn picture of what looked like Freddie Mercury with a big cross through it.

Waiting for the ferry we had ice-cream, todays flavours of choice were pistachio and dolce latte, yum! On the sea front were lots of old ladies selling very traditional crocheted doilies and table cloths, which were all very similar to each other and to all the ones we've seen on our travels so far. We ate our ice-creams and discussed how they'd do a roaring trade if they broke away from the norm and did more exciting patterns or, as John suggested, "ones with Darth Vader on".

On the slow walk from the ferry to our rooms in the warm, still evening we wondered why so many people we had met on our travels had decided to miss out Dubrovnik and head straight to Split or further inland. OK, so Dubrovnik is not a party city, and other than bars there isn't that much nightlife, but if it's forts, ice-cream and prettiness you like, then this place has them all.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Snowstorms and ice-creams and nuns, oh my!

We left Mostar early for our bus to Dubrovnik, but had just enough time to watch some of an amazing Bosnian soap opera, where the suspense music lasted for almost an entire 10 minute scene. From what I could tell it did look pretty gripping but even I would regard 10 minutes as being a little long. We had ice-cream for breakfast and noticed in the newspaper and sweet kiosks that all the porn was on the lowest shelves, and clearly in view. Similarly, in Split the porn is housed with the comic books oddly.

Leaving Mostar by bus we noticed a sign pointing towards a "Hotel Bristol", we seem to have seen the same named hotel in every city we have stayed in so far, and they all look really swanky. I think they would get a bit of a shock if they actually went there. The bus took 3 hours and was incredibly pretty, plus there was sea at the end! As we got off the bus we were swamped by old ladies offering us rooms to rent. We politely declined and one woman chased us as we were leaving the bus station, adamant that her room was much better than our previously booked room! We made our way to the hostel up yet another hill. If it hadn't been for the sea breeze I'm sure we wouldn't have made it, it was another scorcher. We arrived at the hostel after a good 20 minute walk. I call it a hostel, but in reality it was a picturesque little house perched on a hillside, covered in vines with fig trees outside in the road, belonging to a guy who lives there with his parents and rents out the two spare rooms. Our room was enormous, and furnished more like a hotel room than a hostel. We were told to leave our bags in the room and come straight to the balcony for juice. The whole air of the place, the laid back attitudes and the feel of the area made us feel like we were on holiday for the first time since we've been on this trip. Despite being told repeatedly to take it easy we couldn't wait to get to the Old City we had heard so much about. In no way did it disappoint, it was far more spectacular than I had expected. The pretty stepped side streets leading off the main strip were as perfect as the alleys in Taormina, and no less photogenic. We missed a great photo opportunity while sitting outside the city walls as three old men wearing trainers, fluorescent bumbags and caps walked past in a row. The old men who weren't tourists were sitting on various steps dotted around the city sketching their surroundings, and the old ladies were out in force. As were the nuns, there were hundreds of them! Amusingly, most of them looked like fake nuns in fancy dress. We also saw a fake-looking monk in Mostar, forgot to mention that earlier.

Walking back to the room from town we popped into the local grocery store to buy supplies. We've been living on a basic diet of bread (the nicest one being from Sarajevo), chocolate spread (Barpy from Bosnia is the best), crisps (the only available flavours being red pepper or peanut flavour), cheese, biscuits, the odd bit of pasta, cola (so far we've had Sky Cola, Hevi Cola and Cola 21) and orange juice, you know, for vitamins. When we're feeling a bit posh we'll get the odd burek (Bosnian being the best so far) and, of course, ice-cream! There were some old women in the shop who seemed to be causing quite a fuss with their money at the till, and I couldn't help but giggle at them. We started each other off, and they started giggling then the shop assistant started giggling too. I love old Croatian women!

The next day we went for a nice walk again along the seafront and down to the sea, woop! The sea was really clear but I didn't paddle for fear of sea urchins (I had read about them being in the Adriatic off Croatia and didn't want to go in barefoot). We had another lovely walk through the Old City, weaving our way through the throngs of old Americans on their guided tours. We have generally felt pretty happy walking around foreign cities, keeping out of the way of the tourists, especially in Belgrade where we were stopped and asked for directions in Serbian. I can, however, no longer honestly say I don't feel like a tourist: my trusty Birkenstocks finally gave way in Mostar (damn those cobbles!) and I simply couldn't resist buying some green jelly shoes for 10 Kuna (£1). The sun was at its hottest and the streets full of people so we ducked into a shady alley to escape. John was as happy as a badger with a beard in the labyrinthine alleys of the city. Every alley we headed down, as well as demanding to be photographed, was full of cats. There were little money boxes dotted about the streets with signs saying "Please give us some money for food" and signed "The Cats".

We eventually met up with the main street again, conveniently just as my tummy decided it fancied an ice-cream - 7 Kuna (70p) for a nice sugar cone with a huge scoop of creme caramel flavour. We ate ice-cream and watched some small children play with the pigeons in the square. That is, until they noticed us watching them when they decided pigeons were no fun and that they would do a little dance for us instead!

The heat finally got to us and we headed home for a nap. I dreamt about a certain Mr Tim Kennington who was wearing a long navy blue jacket and culottes combo, with the periodic table printed on it. I think he had gone a bit mad: he kept jumping around and dancing in his pretty suit, pointing at and singing about various elements.

That night we headed back into town to take some more photos, and saw some stoat like animals frolicking around the city walls. The same animals are on the 2 kune coin, interestingly. While waiting for a really good photo (there were people in the way) an old man on a bicycle sped past us making motorbike sounds, and then suddenly came to a halt when he saw us trying to subdue our laughing. We assumed there would be some kids on bikes following him, but no, he was followed by another old man. They seemed so embarrassed about the whole thing, greeted us in Croatian and slunk away down another quiet street.

Highlight of the night: I finally found a snowstorm!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

A Bosnian catch-up

We've been to two cities since we were last able to do this, Dubrovnik and Split where we arrived this evening.

But firstly, thoughts about Sarajevo and Mostar:

The bus journey was fairly hellish, but the scenery was pleasant. We stopped half way through the journey to change buses. We weren't told to get off the bus and onto the other, even in Serbian/Bosnian, so we followed the crowd. There was time for a quick toilet break and instead of the usual signs on toilets to show which was ladies and gents, these had a crudely drawn high heeled shoe for the ladies and a flat for the gents. We eventually got to Sarajevo, or so we thought, when our bus whizzed straight through the city and ended up 5km out of town. We were unfortunate enough to meet horrid taxi drivers who charged us a small fortune for the 5km journey. Even then we were in the wrong place and upon our arrival in the main city, tired and weighed down with backpacks, the begging children started swarming. Luckily I found my teacher voice to be the perfect deterrent. We met an old, butch lady at the hostel office who sent us with our key and what appeared, on first impression alone, to be a madman. It seems we weren't wrong. He led us away from the bustling city we had glimpsed and up a dark and deserted hill leading towards a vast graveyard. This was the only time on our travels so far I have felt nervous about a new city, made all the worse by his seeming to not know where he was taking us and his frequent looking back at us and giggling to himself. We must have looked tired and annoyed, but I for one was starting to become increasingly worried. Eventually we turned off onto a little side road, just before the graveyard, and were led down some stone steps towards the sound of a loud and very close barking. The room itself, other than the lock getting often stuck, was fine. We woke late the next morning and had eggs for breakfast. Woop - protein!

Wandering through town we stumbled into Kevin who we had met in the hostel in Belgrade. We sat and had 40p coffee and 70p ice-cream. Leaving the centre of town and heading out towards the actual bus station we saw the best street performer ever: an old man, wearing lycra shorts and a vest, with a tape player dancing like a crazy fool, Napoleon Dynamite style. It was sweltering just standing in the sunshine and he was dancing in it! We appreciated his artistic flair and rewarded his efforts with our loose change. Had I had a video camera he'd have become an overnight sensation on YouTube.

The next morning we bussed it to Mostar. The scenery was, again, genuinely awesome. Mostar is not as pretty as Sarajevo, but it's actually fairly authentic, unlike the faux old city we had just left. The cobbled areas around the famous bridge are beautiful, though touristy, and have a North African feel about them. The views from the bridge are spectacular, the Neretva River so turquoise, that watching locals prepare for the 29m jump into the river below (common here, we are told), I was tempted to join them. The Mostarians are exceptionally proud of the bridge, though this means that all the other pretty things about the city get lost in the hype. The bridge is nice, but the rest of the city is nice too.

We were staying at a "hostel" that was in fact a lady's house which she shared with her mother. It was called Majda's Rooms and I would strongly recommend staying there if you ever find yourself in Mostar. We walked in the door and were shooed onto the balcony by Mama, who then thrust juice and cake at us. We were given maps, told where the best burek and ice-cream in town was and given books about Mostarian history to read while we drank. The house itself was a fairly small place, but so intimate and homely. We'd only been there half an hour when no fewer than 10 other people came bustling in after an "adventure day" organised by Majda's brother, Bata. The adventure sounded amazing: swimming in waterfalls, horse-riding, fortresses and so much more that we regretted only booking one night there. We saw Mostar as merely a stopover before reaching other more exciting places, but it was much more than that. Majda and Bata made our short time there really memorable with their welcoming attitudes, amazing knowledge and funness. One of my favourite memories is when Bata tried to explain about a new music craze called Turbo Folk, where traditional music is played but with more oomph, as I'm sure you can imagine from the title. He said there was no need to go to a club to experience Turbo Folk and proceeded to sing and dance around the small and very full front room, in a jolly world of his own.

Reading the guest book before we left, we found that everyone had had the same impressions of Majda and her family as we had, and that some people had even described their stay there as "life-changing". Though I couldn't honestly say that myself, I am very much looking forward to visiting Madja, Bata and Mama again in the future. We left Mostar knowing we'd be back again.