Sunday, 29 January 2012

Czech it out

Night train to Prague from Krakow. I found my seat reservation in a cramped compartment of six, including three pretty Danish girls (result!). Minutes later we became seven when an unbelievably pretty Brazilian man came in and joined us. He was not only beautiful but charming, well travelled and interesting too. I disliked him immediately.

We all tried to find an angle on our seats that might allow for some sleep but I found this impossible because stupid head Mr Handsome Face decided to lie on the floor between us leaving nowhere to comfortably put my feet. I slept for about ten minutes on the ten hour journey. At the border the train stopped for two hours to wait for another engine to pass on the carriages. This happens every night, no one has tried getting the train to leave Krakow later or getting the Prague engine to arrive earlier.

Early start in Prague and I had to motor if I was going to see the highlights. I gave the Brazilian man the 'V' as I left the train and set off up to a castle of some sort which was just starting to fill up with Japanese photographers. Quick look around and then the Franz Kafka museum which was rubbish. I tried to be intellectual and learn something but it really was boring. The entrance fee would have been better spent getting my picture drawn in a go kart by one of the many caricature artists that line the city's streets.

I'd enjoyed Prague, another excellent city and had exhausted myself running round it in half a day. Next up was the challenge of not being completely selfish, I would be travelling the next two weeks with my brother.

We met in Brno, the Czech Republic's second city.
'Hey little brother' I said.
'Hey little brother' my brother replied. (I'm older, he's taller. Only by about half an inch but to him this is important).

And so it was, I was on holiday with someone else for the first time in years. Would I cope? Yes, probably. It wasn't a big ask to be on holiday in cool countries with a good friend but it would be interesting to see if I enjoyed it as much as being a loner.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Eight hours of train ride taking me to Krakow passed uneventfully sandwiched between one man with a calculator watch and another with a helicopter on his t-shirt. Arriving in the city at 11pm I found a bunk and settled down planning for a quiet night, however as is so happily often the case in hostels I was invited to share shots of vodka with two French men - Michael and Benoit.

I take little convincing to partake in an impromptu night out and so we headed in to town, found a nice cheap bar and befriended more French, some Portuguese and a frightening Bosnian man who looked like he had killed. It was even more unnerving that the killer didn't drink, when someone says they don't drink I automatically assume it is because they have been alcoholic and one sip would send them back to the bottle. The Bosnian claimed it was his Muslim religion but I wasn't convinced.

One of the French guys called Cool (confirmed by I.D.) was celebrating his 25th birthday by trying to get through 25 shots of vodka. Benoit was convinced that it was traditional in Poland to eat a mouthful of Herring after each shot so he ordered up a plate and insisted we didn't break the tradition.
'Really? But no-one else is doing it' I said,
'It's tradition, like tequila with salt and lemon' said Benoit
'I think you've made it up'
'Vodka, then Herring' Benoit was determined to shove a mouthful down my throat so I relented and went along with the 'tradition'. It wasn't pleasant.

The vodkas took their toll as the night drew to a close and my insistence that we only speak French meant the conversation slowed while I tried to form a sentence, when I did it invariably came back to me having a crocodile in my pencil case. Another topic that fascinates the French is why we say 'Cock a doodle doo' for a rooster crowing. The French say 'Cockarico'!

The next day feeling confusingly fresh I went out to see the sights. Krakow is as good an example of a European city as I have seen and my day spent exploring gave me an abundance of impressive architecture to enjoy. My favourite of the sights was a bridge with thousands of padlocks attached to it, most with couples names on them. Among the messages of love was one that simply said 'I hate you'. I liked that and I liked the city. One day wasn't quite enough and I bottled a visit to Auschwitz but there were more countries to see and I had decided to take the night train to Prague so that I could tick that off the list.

To Poland and Beyond

Boarding the Ryanair flight to Poznan last meant there was only one seat left. As luck would have it this was undoubtedly one of the best seats on the plane because it was next to a charming Polish girl called Daria.

Daria is a primary school teacher in London and was on her way to see her family for a couple of weeks. I chatted to her and an older woman named Iga using Daria as our Polish-English translator. On arrival in Poznan I had no idea what my plans were and so gladly accepted the offer of a lift in to town with Daria's brother in law Marek.

Marek's son and daughter had also come along for the ride to pick up their aunt. The three year old daughter understandably asked 'who is the strange man and what is he doing in our car?' Neither Daria or Marek had a good answer for this so the girl gave me a concerned stare and returned to her hand held computer game.

Thanking Marek and arranging to meet up with Daria later that evening for drinks I walked off in to the agreeable town of Poznan to explore and find somewhere to stay. My first day of the trip had started rather well with a free lift and a new friend but the run of luck ended with my card not working in any of the three cash machines I tried. I had no Zloty. The trip would be difficult without money so I phoned Barclays who came up with the inspired idea of just trying again. I sarcastically talked the man through me putting my card in to the machine and was surprised when it worked. I sheepishly apologised to the man for my impatient tone with him and looked forward to the idea of sleeping on a bed rather than a bench. The bed I had was in the excellently named 'Frolic Goats Hostel'.

I was sharing an eight bed dorm with one other guy, a Kiwi called Paul who among other things had been Wales' under sixteen hockey coach. I invited him to come out with me to meet Daria and we had a cracking evening chatting and laughing. Paul was meeting up with some hockey friends and so our evening ended in a club partying with the national women's hockey teams of Scotland and Wales who had been playing in a sort of second division world cup. I was like a pig in...

I chatted to a some of the girls, a couple of whom have a good chance of making the GB squad for the 2012 Olympics. I vaguely remember bringing out the line 'feel my t-shirt, does that feel like boyfriend material to you?', but my real attention was still with Daria while I tried to work out if she was flirting with me or just a naturally friendly person. It turned out to be both. We kissed. It was very nice. We said our goodbyes and I skipped all the way back to Frolic Goats. A brilliant way to end a superb first day of my trip to Eastern Europe.