Day 121: The Swines!

01.05.09: What transpired to be an incredibly long day, started in Thessaloniki before dawn. It was raining hard and John and I took far too long getting off the train, so we found ourselves shunted into the goods yard and having to walk the five-hundred meters back to the station like a pair of divs. I had a few hours to mooch about, say hello to the Aegean Sea and drink an overpriced coffee (I needed the toilet and McDonald's was closed) before returning to the station to hop on the train to Skopje (pronounced Skopia, by the way). Incidentally, on the off-chance that the girl from Canada with the hotpants - whom I helped get the coach to Athens because no domestic trains were running - is reading this, when you ask for somebody's help and they give it, try saying thank you next time,…

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Day 122: Top Of The Balkans

02.05.09: We got into Podgorica so early, my legs were shaking. I immediately hopped a taxi to the nearby border with Albania. My driver, Ratko, was top - he didn't speak much English, but he got the gist of what I was doing and was happy to take me into Albania for a couple of minutes to stomp around and get some footage and GPS readings to prove that I had broken in. But like when I went to Albania with Stan a couple of years ago, we soon turned around and headed back to civilisation. Interesting fact - everyone with a car in Albania owns an old Mercedes. Everyone. Weird. Tell you what though - last time I came along this road, it was the middle of the night and we though that we were in the middle of farmland or something because there wasn't…

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Day 123: The Bag Drop

03.05.09: Was rudely awaked by Tom ‘accidently' throwing water in my face. Ah, well, it did the trick anyhow. We got off the train and said our farewells. Tom would be heading to Ljubljana in Slovenia, whereas I'll be shooting straight through Slovenia on the way to Vienna. It means nothing to me... OH VI-ENNA! Wasn't there long though - a quick change and I was heading east towards BUDAPEST! AGAIN! GET. MY. BAG. BACK!! Now, you should know by now that things are never that easy when it comes to The Odyssey. I only had ten minutes to run off my train, get my bag and run onto the train back to Vienna. It means nothing to me... OH VI-ENNA! If I missed it, I'd miss the night train to Liechtenstein and end up waiting until the next day. Timing was critical. I guessed which…

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Day 124: They’re Digging In The Wrong Place!

04.05.09: It all started so well... By 5am in the morning, I had already stepped foot in both Liechtenstein and Switzerland. My logistical powers were at an all time high and so far in Europe, I hadn't made one serious cock-up when it came to getting the right train to the right place at the right time. That was before I realised that there were two San Marino's in Italy, and they are jolly close to each other. One is a city state, a principality with it's own Grand Prix and everything, the other is a small village in the foothills of the Alps. Guess where I ended up today? After an impossible number of train changes, I was on a train that was going to a place called S. Marino (which I naturally assumed LIKE AN IDIOT stood for ‘San'). After half an hour in…

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Day 125: Dear Rome, Please Help Me

05.05.09: And so on to Rome... I arrived at some ungodly hour, which I thought was actually quite appropriate. I slung my bag into the Pop Inn Hostel (with crazy guy Cesar running the joint, I warmly recommend it - it's right by the train station too), and hit the streets - I had to step foot in Vatican City tonight. And so, I found myself walking through Rome with my heart on a string, dear god, please help me. I'm so very tired of doing the right thing... It was past midnight when I got to Popesville and there I found that the entire Piazza di San Pietro was cordoned off. No public access tonight, young Hughes, you atheist dog. Oh well, might as well see if there's a back entrance (I would expect that of the papacy, wouldn't you?). So I set off for…

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Day 126: The Sicily Circuit

06.05.09: Our ferry got us into Pozzallo, which is not the same place we left from (Catania), so we raced to the train station and hopped on the OLDEST TRAIN IN THE WORLD up to Catania. One of those trains where you can OPEN THE BLOODY WINDOW and STICK YOUR HEAD OUT!! Health and Safety be DAMNED I say, be DAMNED. The conductor was bo-diddly crazy, and everyone on board didn't seem to be heading anywhere - they were just there for ‘the craic'. I can't express to you, the joy of windows that OPEN - in buildings, in trains, on buses - give me AIR! Not phoney, dry through-the-(might-not-be-working)-AC air, real immediate O2 - air that you do not have to ask someone else for, air that can't break down on the hottest day of the year - fresh, flowing, cool democratic air. Happiness is…

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Day 127: Welcome to Africa

07.05.09: The ferry to Tunisia was supposed to leave at 8am, so Laura and I dragged our asses to the port for 7am. The ferry didn't arrive until 8am. By 10.30am, we were still in port. Welcome to Africa. We haven't even left Sicily yet. Better get used to it. The ferry took all day - it was supposed to get into Tunis at 4pm. Ha! We got in around 8pm. The first guy I spoke to (well, he spoke to me) claimed to be a taxi driver (he wasn't) and would charge us 20 diner (about a tenner) to take us to the bus station. I haggled him down to 15 diner and we jumped in his ‘taxi' ('twas a car). Upon arriving at the bus station, he demanded 20, which considering we had made some unscheduled stops along the way, I thought was fair…

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Day 128: Interdit!

08.05.09: Laura and I hauled ourselves out of bed as early as we could and jumped a taxi for the short ride to the Algerian border. Now, if this was anything like the border into Panama, Ukraine or Belarus, it would be possible to get through the first set of border guards (the ‘home nation' if you will) and talk to the second set (the country you wish to enter) and by doing so step foot over the border, which invariably runs half-way between the two. That's not the case in Tunisia, though, as I was about to discover... We arrived at the border around 7am. Laura stayed in the cab (best not filming stuff on borders - gets you into trouble!) and I went to speak to the guard - would he let me pass to go and speak to the Algerian guards? Would he…

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Day 129: Close But No Cigar

09.05.09: Again we were up at the crack, I said my farewells to Laura and shoved her on a Louage back up to Tunis (or at least I thought I did). I got a Taxi to the Libyan border, and in a damn near carbon copy of what happened yesterday, the Tunisian border guards turned me back. Leo - the Webmaster - doesn't like me swearing on my blogs, but you can probably hazard a guess at the string of expletives that I launched at the desert. But they said I could get a visa from Sfax, a city halfway back to Tunis, and that the embassy was open today. I made a beeline, passing up my change to go and visit Tatouine (oh yes it exists!) and the Star Wars film sets. Bah! Upon arrival in Sfax, I headed to the Libyan embassy, which was…

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Day 130: Deal or No Deal?

10.05.09: So I missed the ferry back with Laura, I had shelled out for a cabin and everything. Having a relaxing night on the boat before saying our farewells over an ice cream in Sicily would have been perfect. But the world is not a perfect place and Africa is not my friend - it doesn't want me here, I can tell. I met Raouf that morning, and we went for something to eat (not such a great idea, I was hungover to hell). There he pulled out a letter, written in Arabic, with only the words ‘visa' and ‘BBC' in Roman font. It had a stamp at the bottom and all looked quite official. But when Raouf wouldn't let me film it, that ol' spidey-sense turned into full on alarm bells. Something wasn't right. We then walked around the town to where the louages leave…

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