Around Europe – Part 1

Hi everyone! The first update, all the way from sunny Poland. First off, if you don’t want to recieve any more of these, or if you’re receiving duplicates, let me know! I’ll make the bad messages go away. Secondly, as you’ll see, I’m using my hotmail account; the software that comes with my website account is pretty ropey and I want to try to keep it simple. If you find that this address is blocked from you somehow, let me know and I’ll advice you on it if I can.

Ok, it’s a big one and the next ones will be a lot smaller, I think I just have to get the writing out of my system. Mail me, let me know how you’re all doing. Also, some of you are going to get cards whether or not you want them, but if if I haven’t asked you and you want to get a postcard, **send me your address please**. Incidentally, if you gave me my address and someone got a card and you didn’t, etc, then it’s because I can’t send 30 postcards everytime and I’ll get you on the next round. Honest.

In a nutshell

In a bit of a panic I got my shit together (no small thanks to my Mom there), got packed and semi-organised, and left the country. Trekked around London for a bit, slept a lot, did some sight seeing, flew to Berlin, getting the hang of Berlin and German.

The meat


That was some episode, the run up to me leaving, I tell you. But, I got it all together, just about – my Mom drove me to the airport which was handy (thanks Mom!) and I left in good time, almost off my head with fatigue. So, first off, after all I’d heard about Ryanair, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the real difference between them and The Other Lot is that they’re faster and they just don’t fuck about. Get in, go, get out and piss off. So that was fine. They more or less own Stansted Airport too, which is probably why they’re so blase about pissing everyone in Aer Lingus/Aer Rianta off. Very impressive.

Got the train to London. This, as it happens, is where you get the kick in the teeth after the flight in from Dublin; it can easily cost more than the flight if you got a good price on the flight. Ouch. Stansted is actually quite far from London. But I got to see the beautiful English countryside (Allotments!) and that was good. Also, at the other end when we got off I discovered I had been sharing the carriage with none other than Har Mar Superstar. I tell you, that mullet-headed dwarf man would escape you if it wasn’t for his dayglo outfit. I should have asked him to spin me a signature, but we’re all stars, right? Yawn.

So, I trekked around London for a few hours, gradually making my way to the legendary Camden, home of both Suggs and my Hostel, where I could wait to get to sleep, Suggs or not. Now, I’ve been to London before, but I was still blown away by the sheer weirdness of it all. There’s so much happening – historically, architecturally, socially – so much stuff just mixed in and some how it all just seems to work. Amazing.

Camden reminded me much more of Dublin, but of course it’s still bigger and more varied, much more multiculural. Suits ‘n’ Gangsta Homies, fat cats in windows, beer in the sun, falafel… I wish I could have explored it for a whole week, i just walked around a bit after checking in at the hostel to get my bearings and see what I might get up to later on.

The hostel was fine, I had some good roomies (Roberto, an articulate spaniard and an 18 year-old Polish girl, of all things – first trip to check out London by herself – as well as a few others). I crashed out early, and slept for what seemed like days. I can’t remember if I was supposed to get a pnt with the Polish girl or not but I slept through it all.


I was up early on Wednesday, and it felt great. a good night’s sleep. You know, you can’t buy that stuff, I think you have to earn it. I went walking around Camden which was really quiet, and headed to Regent’s Park. This was beside London Zoo, which I decided I’d have to see. Now, as Roberto later asked, I’m ina London! Why I go see Zoo? Well, although I think zoos are almost by definition a bad thing, I’d read about this one (Animal Days – Desmond Morris) and I wanted to see if it lived up to it’s reputation and aims. More importantly it’s something I’d wanted to do ever since reading the book.

I saw macaques! Sulawesi Crested Macaques, for fok’s sake! And all the other stuff, largely in the name of genuine conservation. I also discovered that Roberto worked there which was worth a free 7up. Somehow I thought he was a computer engineer on holiday or something, but here you go. I caught a reat outdoor exhibition of photography in Regent’s Park, and then I headed back into the city centre.

London is great. I really like it. I mean, I know I’m preaching to the converted here, you’ve all been there and I’ve seen it before too but it’s really made an impression on me. Why am I not going to London more often? It’s also sort of Dublin-weariness. I could be in Balbriggan and be delighted with and getting culture shock and all the rest of it. I also realised how much this city is tied to the music I listen to. Got back later than I expected, and ended up talking to Roberto about hs ideas for changing the world. As it happens, Roberto works in the zoo, selling drinks and stuff, and lives in the hostel. He’s been doing it for almost a year. And some nameless traveller arrived with some amusing anecdotes. He’s been travelling for 7 years and he’s 29.

No sign of Polish girl, tragically. And I didn’t manage to go out either. Stuff shuts early out that way.


Thursday I got up bright and early, all fired up to the lilting tones of Wogan, and headed off to Stansted for the trip to Berlin. No problems there, though the security check is something else, they really go to town on it. And once again an efficient and fast flight with Ryanair to Berlin Schonfeld. I’ve never been to Germany before, so I was pretty excited about it.

Getting around in Germany has proved to be easy enough, like in London it’s a well organised public transport system. I didn’t know how to get to the Hostel, but I figured I’d wing it, get into the city and I’d probably find a bookshop with a map near a station… Which I did, and I was able to walk to the hostel from there. That was quite a walk, but visually amazing for me. The hostel itself is huge, it holds thousands and it’s actually rated as a one star hotel, and it’s full of German youngsters. However, although it is huge the first thing I learned is that I couldn’t book Saturday and Sunday night there, or indeed anywhere else… because as it happens it is Love Parade weekend. Why doesn’t anyone ever tell me these things? So basically, all these gay people have taken all the rooms in the whole of Berlin, and the only way to get a roof over my head is to score or get out of Berlin (technically, I could find myself in a room full of randy lesbinins getin’ fresh wit’ it, but I doubt it).

I figured I’d worry about it on Friday, and in the meantme have a look at the nightlife.

So I went out after having a pint, and ended up wandering around Berlin At Night in the dark. I was completely safe because even the hard thugs were at home watching tv, possibly scared off by the roaming packs of vicious guitar playing stoners. The place was empty so I guess I’d have to do better homework. Still like Berlin though.


I slept terribly that night because of the heat. It was something else and I was dehydrated. I decided I’d track down the tourist information office to help with finding somewhere and also to send an email, and have a look around. Had great fun getting around on the U and S Bahn – I seem to remember that when it was West and East that each side got one part of the system even across territories. Crazy. More walking in blistering heat but it was great just to get a feel for the city. I found the tourist office which gave me info for a tent farm of some sort. And I spent a few hours wrestling with a pc in an internet cafe trying to make an email while dodging workmates on MSN. And while helped by incredibly beautiful German women! Which helped.

On the stern recommendation of one of my dear friends I went to see Potsdammer Platz. I had no idea why I should want to see it, especially because went I got there I just saw huge skyscrapers and sand and some kind of small social and architectural disaster where some guys were belting out incredibly bad techno – we haven’t seen that spirit here since 1989. Leigh: worst tour guide ever.

However, when I dug a bit deeper I discovered what it was all really about… I saw a free standing bit of The Wall, I discovered that a) the techno assault was actually these bald stoners in an old watchtower, this was their way of communicating the pain of a city divided (and selling stuff to help people remember) and b) Germans know how to stuff roast pork into a bun. Really, they do.

So I saw The Wall, and after exploring further I found an exhibition about the rise of the Nazi Party and how The Wall came to be which was set in behind a long stretch of wall which hadn’t been sprayed or defaced, and it was very moving. it was in German but I got the gist of it. And I got to touch The Wall. I mean, I’m here to see Eastern Europe and if there’s one thing which represents why all these countries are only now getting to join the EU and embracing democracy, most of the last 50 years, then this is it. This piece of decaying concrete.

Si I guess that Leigh guy knew what he was at after all, and I owe him one. Knowing him, he’ll collect too – Friday 29th, Nealon’s? Right.


While I was putting all this into my ever expanding email update (mental note: if every cafe used Linux, we’d be fucked because then there’d be no MSN. Think about that one, Open Source wannabes!) I met two Australian girls with a Dutch mobile phone problem. So after some unsuccessful wrestling with Vodafone Nederland, we decided to go wrestle some pasta in a nearby Italian restaurant instead. Pilar is travelling round Europe (and possibly the world) while her sister Parnney came over from London to meet up. Pilar kept us entertained with various stories of wanker related incidents she’d had over the years. And when I say wanker, I mean just that. So did she. She didn’t mince words – is that an Australian thing? She insisted on getting my number in case her phone started working again, or maybe if the wankers were getting her down again, and she’d txt me. So that was a fun evening.

Australian girls! So, maybe I don’t need to go further than Europe after all… ;-)

And a young french couple moved into the room. That was ok, as long they decided not to go for a workout since they were in the bunk under mine. I wake easily.


That was it for civilisation: after this it was going to be tent land thanks to the increasing numbers of January-tanned PVC-clad muscle boys roaming around the city trying to make it look like dressing like that is a perfectly normal thing to do outside of a Berlin S&M night-club. Not that I’d know anything about that. But first some sight-seeing.

I went to Hackerschmarkt for some reason, where I had a fantastic and overpriced banana milkshake while figuring out how to get to the Museum of Modern Art (another Leigh choice: after Potsdammer Platz I figured he was on the money) which located using a free web terminal in a bus stop – I really like this place.

It took some finding but it was worth it for sure – Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein, Martin Kippenburger, various other nonsense, rounded off by dropping my cap in the toilet (well, I was in the Museum of Modern Art after all). On the S-Bahn back to the centre I saw something interesting: an old building (a museum) which still had WWII damage on it – we’re talking huge craters, shell holes, the works. I wonder why they’d left it like that, so visible, though you can’t get to it from the ground. They have a habit of leaving reminders lying around so maybe that’s it. I’m not sure.

I was wandering around town when i found myself on what I realised was the Berlin main street and it was covered in party people, in all sorts of bizarre outfits. A few minutes and a few hundred metres later I found myself right in the middle of an obscure little Berlin event called the Love Parade. For those who don’t know, it’s an open air old skool rave, with about 750, 000 people, most of them off their heads. The gay and ‘alternative lifestyle’ contingent were out in force, but it was for everyone – it seemed quite commercial, too. The photos will tell all because it has to be seen to be believed; some of the most amazing looking people, really stunning, bizarre outfits, and the worstest rave music ever.

I had to get through the middle of that to get to a place where I could make it out to the tent city, fully loaded with all my stuff (I only got hit on once, incidentally, and he took the hint, kind of). That was epic.

I got to the tent place ok, it was way out of Berlin centre in a small town called Tegel, got settled (which is, I got a mat and some blankets for my place in The Big Tent). It was ok, but you wouldn’t want to get your hopes up in a place like that. I was up talking to people until 4 in the morning – Romert and Lotte (an almost stereotypical Dutch couple, but they were hilarious, and I learned a lot from them), Caspar and the incredibly drunk Christian (Danes, who were also amusing) and some very fucked Americans (Boy were they popular – they really had no idea, I think.) And some little Swiss guy who was a quick learner. Brilliant night, I learned a lot, including various ways to open beer bottles, got up to speed on what’s happening in Holland these days, and got to talk Dutch a lot. There were a lot of Dutch there, even though they don’t like the Germans at all, and they kept shouting ‘Hey, George W.!’ at the Americans. Which, actually, said a lot.

So we yakked away until 4 in the morning before settling down to an atrocious night’s sleep. Actually, it could have been worse, and I tend to be able to sleep almost anywhere, but it was cold and I wake up when there’s activity nearby – such as people arriving in from a hard night’s raving for example. I spent more energy sleeping than I actually got from getting the sleep, if that makes sense. Great adventure all the same, and made me truly understand, deep down, why exactly I’d have to find a real bad for the next night…


More to follow on what happened next on Sunday and Monday, in the next update…

What’s next

In the next installment, I hang around recovering from the tent experience. And try to get Internet access from a ‘US Marine, best ever, kill everone, erherherherh!’. Don’t ask.

Poland! Bring it on! I’ll be trying to learn a little Polish, and figuring out where to go next – let’s see how much I can use this Interrail ticket before I get mugged on a train (apparently a very serious problem in Poland… )

Some notes

Ryanair – a great lesson there. Do it fast, do it well, and don’t fuck about; that’s how they’re ahead and I have to say, I appreciated it. They don’t seem to cut corners on anything but the bullshit.

Englishers – Friendly – or should that be courteous. But they’re easy going. There’s actually a noticable language barrier there, we’re definitely not speaking the same language.

German – too easy! Almost. With a good grounding in English and Dutch I find it pretty easy actually. The Dutch helps a lot. I’m still not using it enough, but I can understand it, and hopefully I’ll build up some confidence to try and have a conversation in it. It’s not quite as complicated as some people make out, and I think I could learnt it well without too much trouble. Of course, I don’t understand everything but when they really start hammering away it’s hard to keep up.

Germans – I like them, they seem to be a friendly lot, but I’d like to get to know them better. They seem like fun, but they’re… I’m not sure; it’s not law abiding so much as rule abiding. They like their rules and proceedures, and they respect them, so even if the road is empty they’ll wait for the lights, that kind of thing.

The sort of thing I get accused of, so you can imagine I feel right at home here…


Again, if you don’t want any more of these, let me know. Also, feel free to pass it on, and please don’t send me any attachments. And send me some mail! Questions, whatever, I’ll be happy to answer.

Mom, could you print this out for Dad please? And pass it on to Elly? Conor could you pass this on to Ruurd please? Kenny, could you pass this on to Edmonds and Rooney please? Clarky, hopefully I’ll have good news for you soon but I can’t promise anything. Oonagh, I know there’s spelling mistakes and shit in this but I’m in a hurry. Pavel, it’s a shame you missed the Parade, there were lots of other fatheads there too ;-)

Lastly, someone change something before I get back. If everyone changes one thing, something this week, everyone will have a much more interesting time. If I can do it, we all can :-)

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