I didn’t sleep last night either. Beginning to see Tyler Durdun. But then I did watch Ocean’s Thirteen yesterday. The lack of sleep has not helped my general disposition. I do have to take my YouTube vids down, I’ve got no choice in the matter. Sorry. The option is a one way ticket to Palookaville, and I’ve already been stuck there for six weeks AND I DIDN’T LIKE IT.
I’ll throw up some footage of Stan and I being manic and hilarious around Europe last year instead. At least I own that mini masterpiece.
So not a good start to the day. Compounded by the fact that I rose at 6am ready to get off the ship (we docked in Rotterdam at 5:45am) and found myself pacing up and down on deck until the shipping agent finally rocked up about 8.30am.
Missing my 8.50am train to Calais means that I’ll miss my ferry across the Channel and therefore my train back home to Liverpool.
This is all conspiring to make a bad day even worse.
As if to add insult to injury, I’m now sitting on a train with a bunch of French kids who have no volume control (and this is coming from Foghorn Freddy over here) and, I’ve got to be honest about this, their ridiculous singy-songy flob of an accent is driving me UP THE WALL. Sorry, there are some accents that make my skin crawl and I’m afraid loud obnoxious French is one of them. The same thing happens when I hear guttural Scouse, dumb Texan and broad Brum so don’t go accusing me of being a Francophobe. Viva La France! OO. LA. LA.
I don’t care much for German or Israeli accents for that matter – they sound like someone hacking up. Or Thai – I hate they way they elongate the last letter of the last word in every sentence. And New Yorkers with all that talking through their nose crap – oh yeah, count Sydneysiders in with that group. And Northern Irish – sounds like real Irish sifted through a babelfish of whiny malcontent. Camp Manc drives me up the wall as well. As for the Welsh… Look. I didn’t set out to be an accent Nazi, but I’m not in the best of moods today. Go away.
I quite like Scottish.
Okeily Dokeily. As expected, I missed my Calais-Dover ferry connection by the skin of my teeth, so I’m going to be an hour and a half late getting into Liverpool – which means I’ll have to wolf down my dinner like an shoeless orphan at Christmas before Kimos – the best eatery in Liverpool (listen up Lonely Planet, I know you’re watching) – closes at 11pm.
But to hell with it! I got the next ferry and now I’m zooming through the GLORIOUS English countryside (it may as well be humming ‘Jerusalem’) as the sun sets in a cloudless spring evening over the brilliantly hued fields of canola. It’s not too hot, it’s not to cold, it’s just right.
Wow. I was a bit wrapped up in myself earlier to think about this, but dagnamit, I’ve just travelled through more countries in FIVE HOURS – (Netherlands, Belgium, France and England) as I did in FIVE WEEKS in the midst of all that Cuba malarkey.
[Which you have now been denied the inside scoop on. Sorry. AND MY FOOTAGE OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE BLASTING OFF WAS AMAZING!!!!! Graham – leave it. Leeeeeeave it].
Oh well, the thing is that barring some major disaster, I’ll be back in dear old Liverpool in just a handful of hours. To me, home is wherever I hand my hat, but something will always draw me back to that crazy cacophony of a city that sprung me on an unsuspecting world back in the late seventies. And you know, it’s done a grand job of keeping my flighty mind entertained these past thirty years. There’s nowhere in the world I wouldn’t visit, but there are very few places I would live. So far Liverpool, Melbourne and New York is as far as the list goes, so I guess it’s a pretty special place.
And I’ll be there in just over three hours.
My friends and family are coming to the station to meet me and the next few days may be some of the craziest of my life. I’m going to attempt to get around the Five Nations of Britain and Ireland in just 17 and a half hours. Without flying, of course. The inaugural Five Nations Pub Crawl Odyssey is about to begin.
I awoke in my old bedroom, mid-morning. A rather strange sensation, I have to say. Is that it? Is it all over? That was easy!
Oh, hang on… rub your eyes mate, you’ve still got a LONG way to go. This is merely a pit stop, and the ultimate goal of all this – to see my girlfriend Mandy again – is still a long way away, calling me to the antipodes via Europe, Africa and Asia.
I could hear that my brother Mike and his son Matthew had already arrived to see me, as well as my auntie Dorothy and my cousin Yvonne (Leo the Webmaster’s wife), so I dragged my carcass out of bed and got showered and dressed.
My mum had made (a damn tasty) lamb roast for lunch and very soon it felt like a typical Sunday meal at the Hughes household, just without the inevitable game of Trivial Pursuit. Only, I had swapped my watch for my old one and it hadn’t been set to British Summer Time. Here’s me thinking it’s 12 noon when actually it’s 1pm – and my train to London was leaving at 1.48!
I bounded from the dinner table to race upstairs and stuff everything in my bag – I hadn’t packed! I ran through all of the things that I thought I would need to keep me going for the next eight months of travel through Africa and the like, but ten minutes isn’t really enough time to make a decent checklist, is it? So anything that got left behind got left behind. Seriously – I’ve only got 4 pairs of underpants now.
Hell with it – I’ve got my passport, credit card and my video camera. Anything else is just showing off.
I said my hasty farewells to my family and got my mum to drive me to the train station, arriving with just minutes to spare. Bye, mum. Waiting for me was Laura, clutching that video camera of hers (well, mine actually BUT LET’S NOT SPLIT HAIRS) to accompany me on the train down to London.
I barely had time to sort out my bag (and dump my excess nonsense on Laura) and conduct an interview before the train pulled in to Euston. It was a quick tube ride to number 1 Regent Street where I nabbed myself an inter-rail ticket and met up my friend Lindsey again.
The weather was bloody spectacular, so Laura, Lindsey and I sat in the shadow of the British Museum and ate ice cream. But all good things and all that jazz…
I hopped on the 6:15 train to Dover. It was packed full of commuters. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my scruffy bags, battered leather jacket and silly hat. I could feel them eyeballing me. Look at this fella here – he hasn’t got a proper job has he? When did this idea of the necessity of having a ‘proper’ job infect the British mind? Did Newton have a ‘proper’ job? Keats? Darwin? Shackleton? Lennon? I think not…
Stick your ‘proper’ jobs where the sun don’t shine, London. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I gazed out of the window at the fields and villages whizzing by, it was like Monday evening being rewound and put back on the shelf. The sun set in the vague direction of Liverpool, but there was time for one last adventure today.
The ferries from Dover stop taking foot passengers at 7pm. Did you know that?
Well I didn’t.
But Lisa, the lovely girl in the Eurolines office, helped me out – she booked me on a coach and asked the driver if it would be okay to pick me up on the way to the ferry. He said yes and so I was all set for the 10:30pm coach to Brussels, arriving at the crack of dawn the next day. That all worked out quite nicely for me, so I headed over to the nearest pub and had my last real pint and joined the locals in putting the world to rights.
My 48 hours in the UK was over. Next stop – continental Europe.
A day which, upon reflection, was as perfect an ‘Odyssey’ day as I can imagine. I arrived in Brussels in the wee small hours, just in time to catch the first train to Luxembourg. Do you want me to tell you something interesting about Brussels? Well bah! I’m not going to, I can’t, there isn’t anything. But my inter-rail pass kicked into gear and I plan to spend what it cost in the first 48 hours.
As the greatest man ever once said, Time Is Relative, that is, time runs at different speeds for different people (usually depending on the force of gravity, but bear with me). Time for me has now slowed down to a crawl. Getting just a few hours of sleep a day will do that to you. The days seem endless and night is just an obstacle to be overcome, there are miles to be had, miles to be done, miles before home. And Europe runs like clockwork.
I arrived in Luxembourg before I usually get out of bed and with nowt else to do but hop on the next available train to Hamburg, that’s what I did. Luxembourg I’m sure is lovely, but a this point, it’s not even a pit-stop. This is what I always envisaged the Odyssey to be, a non-stop race around the world. The Caribbean threw a spanner the size of Gibraltar in those works, but seriously, if I don’t visit Europe (and three African countries) in under three weeks, I’ll eat my hat.
So the sky was blue and the train was fast and before I knew it, I was stuffing my face with a hamburger in Hamburg. But that was not the end of today’s adventure, I had barely wiped the grease from my face before I was on a train heading for Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. England, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark – all in less than 24 hours. That’s what the Odyssey is all about.
The driver of the Danish train let me go in his cab and watch the sun set as we crossed the bridge from the island of Lolland to the island of Zealand (as in ‘New’). I never wanted to be a train driver (I want to be an astronaut!), but there is something marvellously appealing about pushing a lever and the train taking itself wherever the tracks dictate. It’s easy, comforting, the tracks don’t lie – they don’t swerve in front of you, they don’t pull out without looking, they don’t sit behind you and flash their lights because 90mph is just too slow, they just take you where you need to be.
But it’s not playing life on the hardest difficulty setting. I’d rather have a rocket booster attached to my back and be blown into the wild starry night on a wing and a prayer. Or at least some complicated mathematical equations. But that’s just me. Fortune favours the brave.
I split the train in Copenhagen central. There I met Christian, my Danish cousin – the bloke responsible for getting my ass across the Atlantic this month. He treated me to a beer (I should really have treated him, but he was quite insistent!) before we headed over to my Auntie and Uncle’s house to watch the end(s) of Meet Joe Black and to check out the times for tomorrow’s trains. I didn’t get to bed until after 2am, but I’m beginning to believe that sleep is just an illusion and real men don’t eat quiche. All right?
I had about a zillion train connections to make today. In fact, if I just wanted to get to Toulouse, I could have (get this!) got the super-duper fast TGV to Lyon and then back down again in less time, but I had to pass through Monaco, so I had to stick to the coast.
Although in terms of seeing a place, Monte Carlo ranks along with Jamaica – at least in Jamaica I could stand on the bow of the ship and gaze out over Kingston’s city lights – no such fun here – the station is underground!
As Monaco is one of the (if not the) smallest states in Europe, it was going to be blink-and-you’ll-miss-it affair as it was. Oh well. I got to see the Monte Carlo underground station – WHO SAYS I’M NOT SEEING THE WORLD?! Then the bloody train people in Nice (not nice at all!) made me pay for a first-class reservation on the train to Toulouse (30 quid instead of 3 quid). The big poo’s – they said that second class was full. Humph!
I would have stood.
Anyways, to cut a short story even shorter, I arrived in Toulouse, changed THERE AND THEN! for Foix (I had to run) which is in the Pyrenees, a couple of hours from Andorra.
Foix is as picture-postcard Pyrenees as you could hope for. I missed the last bus to Andorra (don’t worry, it was expected) and the hostel was unfortunately full, so I had to make do with a hotel (I can never shake the feeling that hotels are somehow TOO MUCH for me – all I want is a couch and a shower, I don’t need a telly and a complementary soap). That night I ate pizza, felt lonely (nobody had spoken to me on any of the trains today) and went to bed.
Early-early-sickly-feeling start to the day, and onto the 5:20 bus to the Andorran border. Quick change of buses and by about 8am I was in Andorra – another of Europe’s pub-quiz-winning, micro-states. It’s slap-bang on the border with France and Spain, and until recently, was jointly ruled by the President of France (as proxy for the king) and a Spanish bishop. But being a nation of Two Princes is a little too interesting for the people of Andorra and in 1993 they got their own parliament.
I was last here in 1986 (in the days of Two Princes, pop-pickers). I was seven and on a camping holiday adventure around Europe with my mum, dad and brother Alex. I remember it well. It was bloody hot and we listened to Harry Chapin on the tape player. Today, however, was a cool spring day in the mountains and my ipod was out of juice. There are a TON of new resorts that seem to be cloning themselves like an out-of-control virus. All concrete insides, dressed with slate on the outside. Hmm. Let’s not go there today, Graham – just suffice to say that Andorra is THE skiing destination in the Pyrenees, if you’re into slapping two bits of wood to your feet and hurtling down a hill before falling over and breaking something. But at least with skiing you actually move more than a few feet forwards before falling over, which makes it marginally more sensible than the überfarce that is skateboarding.
Actually, it’s good that so many people are into skiing, as Andorra doesn’t seem to do an awful lot else.
It’s quite pretty, though.
A coffee and a croissant (or two) and then I was on the 10am bus to Barcelona… at last. España!!
I was met at the bus station by my mum and dad – we had arranged to meet up to swap out some of my things that I would need for Africa, including my second passport, loaded with visas. Well, some of them – I need about thirty.
I was also met by Matt Bourke, who’s going to be producing the Odyssey television show. I swear, Matt is the Aussie Stuart Lanceley.
We went for lunch on the top for of the Corte Ingles Department store (great view) and then after my dad faffed about for half an hour trying to find the apartment he was staying in (this is why I travel alone, peeps!), I had to run to get to my medical check-up in time.
The check up was to keep the production company’s insurance company happy and in case things go tits-up in Africa. The doctor checked how tall I was and whether I had anything obviously wrong with me, which I don’t (expect for my hyperactivity “disorder” which actually gives me the super-stamina that I need to complete The Odyssey – fast! That one! The ginge! Catch him WITH A NET! He’s got ADHD! Give him DRUGS TO KEEP HIM SANE!!). He charged me €150 [Sonic Ring Ching!] but the production company is going to pay me that back – AREN’T YOU.
After the doctor, a quick trip to the dentist to get my tooth filled in (an Aussie guy called Adam I met on the train to Sicily last week was a dentist, had a look at the chunk of tooth that had fallen out of my gob a few months ago and suggested I get it seen to, quick smart). Then it was back to my parent’s apartment for a cup of tea and to go through packing and visa stuff for the rest of Africa.
By now, my dad was already a little bit sozzled, but I had no idea of what was to come. We met up with Matt and headed over to La Fonda, the restaurant you have to go to when in Barcelona. We had to queue up to get in, which got dad all agitated – not a good start. He then started going on and on about the fact I was wearing a HAT (I know, the least of my sins) before going completely cock-a-loop, not allowing us to order our own food, instead writing our orders down in ENGLISH for the Chinese Waitress (in Spain) to decipher.
Back at the apartment all I wanted to do is pack my things, in good time (the last time in England was a total rush-job) and get a good night’s sleep.
Nah. Dad was going bananas over the visa for Angola. He wanted to know what date to put down. I had told him over and over and over again to put down 15th June, but he wasn’t having it. He then started going off on one that I had worn a hat to dinner (I had actually stuffed it in my bag, but hey-ho).
After the debacle that was Tunisia, this was the last thing I needed, and I didn’t want Matt seeing my dad in this state, so I waited downstairs for him, to drop off his tapes (which we had arranged at dinner). By now it was past midnight, I was SHATTERED and all I wanted to do was sleep. I went back up to the apartment with the tapes, and he was still up and still raving, so I dropped the tapes off and set out into the night.
Only, I didn’t get very far as I had left my wallet in the apartment and I didn’t have a key to get back in. I tried ringing my mum, but there was no answer. The result?
I sat on the step outside for two hours.
Which is why I’m including this whole embarrassing episode in my blog. Maybe my dad will read it (maybe he won’t) and maybe he’ll understand exactly how much I could have done without this, the day before I head into some of the most dangerous parts of Africa on my tod.
At 2am, I finally got back in, but I was too tired to pack. I woke at 6am, was meeting Matt at the train station 7am, had to hurriedly stuff what I could into my bag (I forgot so many things it’s not funny) and hit the road.
The last two blogs aren’t true. I just made them up.
Sorry, it would have ruined the surprise.
Here’s what really happened…
When I was in Cyprus last Tuesday, I discovered that it would take two weeks from the date of application for my visa for my next country (Libya) to come through. I had not been made aware of this earlier (annoyingly enough) – I thought I was just going to pick it up at the border. This meant that no matter what I did in the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t continue with my journey. I might as well pick up the visas for Libya, Algeria and Central Asia from London myself.
I might as well…
Why the hell not, eh? It’s still part of the journey, it’s still in the spirit of The Odyssey; I can’t enter the kingdom of the nightwatchers without first gaining the magic amulet of visa. If I’m going to live my life as though I’m in a 1980s text adventure game, I might as well go the whole hog.
Home… a hot bath, fresh new clothes, a Full English and a roast meal… my family, my friends. It’s just too tempting.
I cooked up a scheme which would see a bunch of my mates teaming up at the Fact cinema in Liverpool on Saturday night and my family gathering around the table for a Sunday roast – I told nobody I was coming home – and hit the road.
I did honestly go to Istanbul on the overnight coach on Tuesday night, but that’s about as far I went without telling fibs. From there, I went to Bucharest, the capital of Romania (€50), and on Thursday night I headed over to Budapest, Hungary on another night train (€50).
Budapest was a bit of a headache, I arrived yesterday morning to find that the Eurolines bus to London was full and so I had to concoct some kind of plan B that wasn’t going to cost the Earth. If I got the train to Paris via Munich and Metz it would cost me in excess of €250, which is way out of my budget. Damnit – the days of buying a through-ticket from Istanbul to London are OVER. Nice to know that Europe had a better grasp of logistics back when Victoria was sitting on the throne and we all hated each other.
I headed over to the bus station to see if I could blag my way onto the London bus… no way, Jose. But there was a Paris bus that had a few seats left. That’d do – as long as I got to London before 6pm, I could get back to Liverpool in time. I got online and tried to buy myself a ticket on the Eurostar from Paris to London. Simple, eh?
It took me longer to buy the ticket than it takes to actually get from Paris to London on the damn train. Sitting on the floor of the skanky Budapest bus terminal, I came close to HULK SMASH levels of frustration. WHY DOES IT TAKE 10 DIFFERENT SCREENS TO GET YOUR DAMN TICKETS? Not everybody in the world has super-duper, fast fibre-optic asymmetrical data lines. Is there a low data-rate version for us poor souls hacking into someone else’s lousy wi-fi? Is there buggery.
I got to the final payment screen on 4 separate occasions only to be told there was a problem with the blah blah blah. I was in Budapest, it was covered in snow – I wanted to go out for a walk, see the place, do some filming, but no, the Eurostar website wouldn’t let me. It’s easier to get Glastonbury tickets.
In the end, I had to call the man of the hour, Stan Standryt, in London, blow my cover and get him to book my ticket for me (what a guy!). Eurostar, YOU SUCK. Hope you go bankrupt and the Channel Tunnel gets turned into a very long art gallery with moving walkways. Or, even better, a ROAD.
Well, my day in Budapest well and truly wasted. I scampered onto the bus to Paris and shut my eyes, hoping to open them in the land of red and white stripy shirts, black berets, old bicycles and garlic necklaces.
But the bus driver had other ideas… is it an EU regulation that buses have to stop every two hours and wake everybody up? Ha! Man, the buses in Turkey ROCK MY WORLD and the buses in the world’s two biggest economic superpowers – the US and the EU – SUCK! It’s a sad fact that public transport in Europe, while not as bad as Africa, is not much better. Having said that, at least in Africa you get what you pay for. Why does it seem to cost more to operate a European train or coach than it does an airplane?
So we stopped and started all the way through Austria, Germany and then through Strasbourg into France. By 9am on Saturday, we were passing Metz and well on our way to Paris.
The coach got in a whopping 20 minutes early (nice!) and so I had time to do a couple of things… one of which was to get a shot of me standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. It took a good hour negotiating the Metropolitan to get there, and once I did the top was covered in cloud! Bah!
Oh well, I got the shot I wanted and then legged it to Gare du Nord, the railway station for the Eurostar, hoping against hope that they would have a shower there – after 6 days on the road and no shower, I was beginning to smell worse than a Gregg’s pasty that’s been in a tramp’s pocket for three weeks. Nice!
Luckily for me, indeed there is a shower in Gare du Nord, unluckily for me it cost €7 and (being French) it smells of effluent. What’s that joke about French plumbers again? But any port in a storm – I don’t want to be turning up in Liverpool after all these months (and two spells in jail) smelling anything less than utterly delightful..
Attention Eurostar trains: not only is your website PAINFULLY difficult to use, your trains are dirty. Clean them. If they can keep my Merseyrail carriages sparkly clean when I’m only paying £1.50 to use them for an hour, then you can totally afford to scrub your rolling stock down once in a while? Got that? Good. I wanted to film out of the window, but it would look murkier than a Mike Leigh movie and I don’t want to depress the hell out of anyone today, thanks.
Soon enough, I was whisked through the Chunnel and arrived at the rather spankingly refurbished St. Pancras station although once again was impressed that the Victorians (bless their cotton socks) saw fit to use beautiful arching cast iron and plate glass to constitute a roof whereas the lazy drunken hacks that pass for architects these days opted for what looks a lot like plastic.
At St Pancras, I met up with Dan Martin, an old chum of mine from back in the day.. He writes for the NME and has been blagging me into gigs and festivals for free for most of the past decade, the top bloke that he is. After a couple of beers and catch-ups, I went to the Euston Station concourse to play the Euston Station Concourse Game. This is where a bunch of hapless commuters stand for the best part of an hour looking up at the information board which will… at any given moment… tell them what platform to run to with all their bags.
The platform used is allocated by ERNIE, the random number generating computer from the 1950s that they used for the football pools. The platform will be allocated 5-10 minutes after the train is due to depart and will only be valid for approximately 90 seconds, after which time the train will depart leaving behind the less athletic members of the great unwashed and anyone who got bored waiting and stupidly went to WHSmith to buy a paper.
This is the Euston Station Concourse Game and it gets even more fun EVERY TIME YOU PLAY IT!
Being somewhat of a public transportation expert these days, I did manage to cadge a place on the big empty train (well, with 99% of the population priced out of this glorious British institution, what do you expect?) and in just a jiff and a jaff, I was back in my beloved Liverpool. Cyprus to Liverpool in four days – without flying. In your FACE, Palin!!
I hurried through the crisp scouse night to the Fact cinema, a architectural carbunkle in the centre of my hometown, but the wi-fi is free and the bar is always empty (perhaps because it is about as aesthetically pleasing as a concrete box) so it was a good place to spring the surprise.
I took the lift to the top floor, took out my laptop and hooked myself up to Skype. There, I got in touch with Anna, my top mate who teaches girls how to pole dance (I only hang in Bohemian circles, darling). I had told everyone that I was in Italy, but we were going to have a virtual night out with me via the internet and Anna’s webcam – the idea being that a bunch of my mates would take the laptop out with them to the streets and bars of Liverpool. Of course, I was really in Liverpool – one floor above them… giggidy…
About thirty of my wonderful mates had turned up, but Anna’s tinny little Mac speakers were not up to the task of broadcasting to so many people, so I suggested they might hear me better if I came down stairs..
It was awesome. HELLO LIVERPOOL!!
So after many, many hugs and beers, we all set out into the night in search of magic and adventure. The Merseyside Derby (that’s when Everton plays Liverpool to you Johnny Foreigners) had taken place that afternoon and so the town centre was more jam-packed than usual with drunken scousers and by Jove, I had forgotten how much I missed this place. We managed to get chucked out of the Heebie-Jeebies, went to the swanky new Studio 2 in Parr Street, got into a fight with the bouncers at Magnet and ended up in a utter dive called Ko Samui wondering where the hell we were.
Woke up at Stan’s gaff at some monstrously early hour, but Stan was good enough to not only make me a cup of tea, but to drive me to the nearest Tube Station. I’ve had mates in London now for years, negating the need to ever stay in a hotel or backpackers. But now I’ve got mates from Buenos Aires to New York City, Nova Scotia to Brazzaville, Pretoria to Iraq, Sierra Leone to Cairo, Reunion to Antigua and Tunis to Melbourne; this is possibly the most exciting thing to come of The Odyssey – I’ve left a trail of mischief from one end of the planet to the other, and I’ve always got somewhere to stay. Hooray for CouchSurfing.org!! I might have gone a few weeks without singing its praises, but by-eck, it’s BLOOMIN’ MARVELLOUS!
The plan was simple: Get to Rome. Go to port of Civitavecchia. Get boat to Tunisia. Visit Libya and Algeria. Back to Italy. Boat to Greece. Bus to Istanbul. Continue with The Odyssey. How long is that going to take? Two weeks? Okay…you’re on.
I got a little worried that I was supposed to check in for my coach to Rome an hour before departure and in typical Odyssey style, I was checking in ten minutes before departure, but there was no problemo, and before long, we found our bus clambering onto the train (which was a little weird if you think about it) that shuttles you through the Channel Tunnel. Well beat my breeches and call me Mary, having never gone through the unfortunately-named Chunnel before in my life, here’s me going through it twice in one month. Bizarre!
Arriving in Paris, I had a couple of hours stopover and had made arrangements to meet with Michelle Hoffman, a journalist from the Associated French Press, who were interested in doing a piece on little old me. So I had to walk about with all my bags (looking quite hilariously chubb after all that damn fine home cookin’ of the past fortnight) while she filmed me…and I wittered on about African jails and visa formalities and the general flotsam and jetsam that has a tendency to drop out of my clanging manhole every time I open it.
It was a fun way to pass the time, but time, tide and buses wait for no man. Soon, I was back on a coach thundering through the night towards Italy. The lethargy of the past couple of weeks was infectious and I have to admit to sleeping pretty much all the way.
At some disastrously early hour, I was roused from my slumber by our rather impertinent arrival in Milan, which necessitated a change of buses. Didn’t get to see too much of the place, but there’s something about just the name of these places – Verona, Genoa, Venice, Napoli that gets my pulse racing… old school, you know? It’s the same thing that affects me exhausted, bladdered and half-awake watching the sun rise after the last night of Glastonbury – a sense of history, that damned feeling of belonging to a world that’s gone that’s nagged me for years now.
All these countries I visit, most of them are shiny and new (comparatively), they don’t have the weight of millennia baring down on them, there are no layers to dig down through. Yes, I find the Kingdom of Benin interesting, Manchu Picchu is sweet-as, and you could keep me happy for weeks teaching me the ways of a tribe of Aussie Aboriginals or Native Americans, but compared with the achievements of Athens and Rome, the mysteries of ancient India and the technological prowess of Confucius-era China, I can’t help but see them as a bunch of Johnny-Come-Latelies.
Yes yes, I’m sure you have some interesting bits of broken pottery and maybe a beady necklace or two, but you’re really not going to drag me away from playing Bioshock 2 to look at them. Yes, you new-worlders will see this as old-Europe snobbery, but I can’t help it, I like the old stuff. It will outlive us all.
After a few hours I had arrived in Florence. There wasn’t much of a chance to grab something to eat (and for some reason, once in Italy the bus driver decided not to stop at any service stations) before the bus pressed on towards Rome. However, by now there were just three people on the bus, which kind of negated the point of, you know, us being in a bus. We would have fitted in a mini. The driver must have noticed this as he proceeded to drive us to a depot somewhere in the middle of nowhere and make us wait for an hour while they decided what to do with us. In the end, we were put on another bus and taken to Rome. It was all a little odd, but don’t ask me, I only work here.
Arriving at Rome at sunset, I headed over to the hostel where I stayed last May when all of this Odyssey stuff was relatively still shiny and new, the Pop Inn by the station. I checked in for a whopping €21 (bit pricey for a dorm bed, but when in Rome, bring a tent) and set off to find internet and cheap food. I was directed to a restaurant that had ‘good, cheap pizza’ only to find (once I had sat down and ordered a beer) that it had no pizza, good nor cheap. So I (reluctantly) ordered a lasagne (big Garfield fan as a kid) only to be given the measliest portion since Oliver asked Scrooge for more pudding.
Damnit. I headed back to the station and got a decent slice of pizza for a couple of Euro and headed back to the hostel. The last time I was in Rome, I was awestruck and spent most of the night wandering around. This time a black cloak of tiredness overcame me like a tidal wave and I found myself crashing out early.
In the summer of 2007, myself and Stanley “Stan” Stanrydt, two grown men with the mentality of 13 year olds, set out on an epic journey across the heart of Europe in search of music, beer, broads and a decent sausage.
In a Mazda sportscar we christened ‘Traci Lords’ (she was underage but could still squeeze us both in), we shot through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Croatia in order to arrive in Novi Sad, Serbia, for the rather epic Exit Music Festival, held in an ancient fort on the Danube river. There we watched the likes of the Beastie Boys and many other bands that I vaguely don’t remember.
After four days of drunken debauchery, we sobered up and decided to take the long way round back to the UK. So we went to Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dubrovnik in Croatia, rattled through Montenegro, got scared by the scary road in Albania, opted to take Traci out for a spin around the streets of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, before dripping our toes in Macedonia, skirting the city of Sofia in Bulgaria and crossed back over the Danube into Romania.
After a spooky trip around Bran castle in Transylvania (where Dracula was supposed to have lived), we thundered hell for leather back to Liverpool via Hungary, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. A music festival and about twenty countries visited for no good reason other than we could? Now that’s MY idea of a holiday!!