Around Europe – Part 2

For a few people (about 40 or 50) – a special treat, I wrote this a few weeks ago but never got to finish it and send it. It’s very out of date, and so there’s a lot of stuff which seemed funny at the time but it’s pointless now… So, just imagine you got this about 3 weeks ago – which is before some of you even knew I existed! Enjoy. It was written by a younger man, who had yet to learn some hard lessons about life… ;-)

I hope you all enjoy it. For those of you who have only just met me, I’m sorry to do this to you but you might find some of it funny. If not, just mail me. It’s all in good-natured fun. And girls, don’t take some of it too seriously, I’m only joking…


It’s quite long. You should print it out. If you don’t want to print it out, just delete it right now. I’ll put it on the web before long so don’t worry, you’ll still get to read it very soon, ok?

All that said, some of you might find it worth sitting through it but I make no promises.


Update #2

This comes from Kecskemet (pronounced Ketchkemeht) in Hungary, no, actually it’s coming from Timisoara (pronounced Temeshora -don’t forget to roll that r!) in Romania – over 3 weeks since the last update, and lots done and seen since then… This week sees the Escape from Poland, drunken hijinks in the Czech Republic’s most kickin’ nightclub, a re-assessment of what is this all really about anyway, dangerous antics in The High Tatras mountain range and even more dangerous antics in Budapest…

The bad news is that I’m banishing myself from the Internet after today, so I might do another, I might not, although I’ll try to check my mail once a week if I can. So you’ll see that half way through this update I’m just going to terse and abandon wit and detail just to keep it small. Remember, I do these for myself as much as you guys, it’s my online diary, but I just can’t keep up anymore and still do stuff. It’s costing me a bit too.

As usual, if you don’t want this, let me know. If you do, and you missed the last one, let me know. There has in fact only been one so far, so you can only have missed one. Also, I know some of you didn’t read all the way to the very end – shame on you. My sparkling wit and delicate prose flowed with untarnished beauty right to the end.

Also, for those of you who take this update business seriously, pick a good, exciting track to listen to for later on in the update; I’ll give you due warning about it. I recommend ‘Phat Planet’ by Leftfield, or ‘Holiday Song’ or ‘Debaser’ by Pixies, or ‘Lust for Life’ by Iggy Pop, or ‘Born Slippy’ by Underworld or ‘Begging You’ by The Stone Roses. Actually, you can pick anything you like, but they spring to mind. Don’t put it on yet; I’ll cue you up. If you don’t have anything very exciting and you’re stuck for ideas, get David Donohoe and sprinkle him with lemon juice and 2 spoons of sugar, and keep him handy.

Right here, right now

(this bit is sadly out of date by 2 days now. Still, it’s good copy) I’m in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, where it is warm and intermittently very, very wet. What can I say. I feel great. I’m confident. I feel good about myself. I can be put into a city somewhere in Europe where I don’t speak the language and know nothing about it, and land on my feet. I didn’t know I could do that (we all can). I’m very tanned and leaner than before, a bit smelly and scruffy in a travelled kind of way, and my hair’s getting longer because I’ve been talked into not cutting it, so I might leave it and see what happens. I just really feel like everything’s possible, if I want it I can make it happen, and it’ll be fine. That’s new for me. I’ve made lots of new friends too, and that’s also a very big thing for me.

Carolyn and Cliona, and I think Diana too (and my Mother too, of course) have expressed concern about my use of sunblock (which says a lot about my relationship with those girls, actually – I’ve been cleaning my teeth and eating my greens too, girls!); yes, I’ve been careful, I don’t want to get toasted either.

I’ve stopped writing exhaustive accounts of every day into my diary. There’s just no time. That’s not to say I’m not writing, I am, but I’m taking much briefer notes on each day, and then expanding on the important thoughts, if that makes sense. It’s just a better use of my time. It’s unfortunate in a way, but on the other hand, it’s good that I’m doing too much to spend my time writing. After all, I’m here for the experience, not the documenting of the experience.

Some Personal Thoughts

Something really struck me this week, and it’s really taken up a lot of my thoughts in the last few days (and as we know, I can really run with the whole ‘thinking’ thing). I’m far from having seen it all; I’m not well travelled, and I’ve been blessed with a comfortable, some what sedentary (quiet) life so far – one of my reasons for doing this trip – more on that later – is that that I feel it’s time to have more challenges, to see new things, meet new people, stuff like that. So this week I’ve seen a little of what’s it’s like to not have that option. What if I wanted to travel but just simply couldn’t because, for example, the currency of my country was worth fuck all?

So, there’s a reason for thinking this way which of course you’ll have to read the diary for, but in a nutshell, I think that if there isn’t already something then there’s certainly a possibility for an EU scheme where people in member countries could travel through other countries with some sort of voucher system. I have for example an InterRail pass which allows me unlimited travel in the specified zone for 22 days. So, what if there was an EU sponsored system so that someone from Ireland or Greece or Slovakia or Spain could visit 5 or so countries and get vouchers for travel and accomodation, and some expenses? Someone from a country selects 5 countries with limits on travel mileage and accomodation, and maybe with the possibility of supplementing it themselves if they want more. I can see it working, and allow people who couldn’t otherwise afford to travel the chance to go and see and understand something of the rest of Europe… I’m going to pursue it, because I think it’s worth making it happen. Travelling around Europe isn’t just for people with money, it’s something that should be open to everyone, and the EU can afford to make it happen.


Neil Creagh hilariously replied with a mail asking me what I’d been up to. I nearly got thrown out of the Internet cafe for laughing at that one, but I showed them and they all joined in. How we laughed. Delany said he had changed something in his life, just like I suggested: his socks. Boom boom.

Apart from that most of you have been quite quiet, and I have only to say: it’s not down to luck – you can all do this, if you want to see something different, then do it, it’s only a couple of hours away (faster and cheaper than Cork for example). And you’ll find me pushing Slovakia as the destination to go to for your next holiday. Lastly, I’m not terribly sorry I didn’t chase German lesbians, but for next time I’ll let those of you who are interested know and you can try ;-)

More feedback and questions please, I really enjoy your emails!

The Trip So Far

All in all, the trip is going well, I’ve met lots of people and seen and heard lots, but I have to keep perspective about stuff, and be more relaxed. I should also do more site-seeing. I tend to just wander around town aimlessly (like I do in Dublin) because there isn’t anything I particularly want to see. I don’t like being around the other tourists, and I’m not into shopping really. And finding where to go out is a knack I just don’t have – you need to know the towns to know where to go that isn’t inhabited by loud Germans and Americans with camcorders. I’ll get the hang of it, it’s got a lot to do with my inexperience at travelling and being in new places. I just have to careful about getting into the assault-course mentality about travelling. I seem to be adapting to the heat, which is good. It’s partly down to breathing I’ve discovered; for a guy with the nick-name Inflator I actually don’t breathe very deeply, which was part of the problem. And keeping the activity levels down during the day.

(I wrote this a week or two ago; I’m keeping it in for posterity because I feel differently about things now – I had just had a few hard days in the Czech republic from travel fatigue… ) It’s now two weeks in and something I’ve been thinking about a bit the last few days is my reasons for doing this; as most of you know I have a variety of reasons for making this trip, from seeing the last of Non-EU Europe before it is absorbed into the United States of Europe, to Always Wanted to Do It, to have to get out of the office for a bit, to leaving the Internet and my computer baggage behind for a bit so I can deal with people instead, to Personal Challenge, to exploring different cultures and languages, to have to learn and grow, to finding myself, to finding out where a bunch of my friends come from, to having an adventure, to how much can I take before I break – many reasons. So this week I started to run out of steam a bit because I’ve seen four countries, more than six cities in two weeks. I don’t think it’s a lot, but as I realised this morning, that’s more disorientating than I realised, to have to orientate first thing every morning, wake up every morning with no idea of even which country I’m in until I get my bearings, because most mornings I’m in a new bed in a new room, and then try to remember which language I have to use. Carolyn asked me the other day how that felt, to be able to be in a position to be asked which country did I wake up in this morning; well, it’s great, but also head-wrecking. So, I came up against ‘how much can I take before I break’ the last few days but I’m not sure that stressing out is really helping me to, say, find myself. Anyway, I don’t want to find myself counting the weeks till I get home while I’m still only two weeks in. That would be missing the point. I have to just be careful that it doesn’t turn into a survival mission, where every day I have to ‘take and hold objectives’ – where’s the accomodation, where’s the food, where’s the toilet, how do I get there, am I being efficient. It’s a holiday, a trip, not a f*cking assault course.

I know it sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to loose perspective, and that’s what happened a bit over the last few days.

My baggage has been an interesting issue (believe it or not) – I wanted originally to have one bag, and then a day pack which I could fold away. However, my stuff seems to expand and I now generally have the two with me, except when I can ditch the main one for the day. I thought that the camera might be the problem, but it’s just various stuff that I want with me. Over the weekend I threw out heaps of stuff (well, you’ll read about it) and that’s helped. The thing is that apparently in Romania you need to bring everything – Vlad, Diana, I’m sorry but that’s what the guidebook says. And I always thought you guys were so clean and civilised… ;-)

The sandals… Amazing? Hopeless? It’s part of the story.

The camera, for those of you who’ve seen my expensive and over-engineered bit of Japan, is great (apart from the so-called ‘eye-controlled focus’ which accidentally switches on sometimes and annoys me; one of the few times I regret not taking Neil’s advice… ) but of course I do have to think around it, and I don’t take it out very much for obvious reasons; it’s worth 3 – 4 months wages for some people here, and I have to consider that. It’s also quite big. That said, I’m sure the photos will be as good as I’d want them to be. As Kenny says, it takes great photos. Lucky me.

Also, I have to take my hat off to the penknife. It’s been years since I’ve had one, but man, those things are amazing. Really, I can scrape cack from the inside of my sandals, and then make my lunch with it. Genius. And yes, my cleanliness ‘issue’ may have gone the way of the Dodo – let’s hope it stays that way.

In the previous episode…

Because I know some of you delete emails either because you have to (I know these are big) or because you’re neurotic (and you know who you are

Last time, I was in London, then Berlin. At the end of the previous episode, I had been forced through circumstance to sleep in The Tent in the camping ground because I couldn’t find anywhere else to sleep, thanks to The Love Parade which is allegedly a sort of gay pride party but in reality is a big sponsored outdoor rave for anyone who wants to get off their heads. In the previous episode we got to meet Roberto, Pilar and her sister Parnney, Romert and Lotte, Caspar and the incredibly drunk Christian.

In a nutshell

It’s been over two weeks now since my last update and I’ve seen and done a lot; I left Berlin, went to Poznan in Poland which was ok, then on to Krakow which I really liked, then on to Ivan via Brno and Vranovice. I stayed with Petr Soudek and his family in the family home, experienced some hard partying in the Czech country style, and then went on to Brno and wondered how I was going to last another 5 weeks… From there to Prague for several nights, including staying with Jirka and Vendulka and another bad hair day, and then via the arguably dangerous overnight train onto a very adventurous weekend in the High Tatras mountains in Slovakia, where I saw what I was really out here for… And then back to the crazy Bratislava for a few nights recovery, on to a disappointing Vienna and back across to even more crazy Budapest, which is where I am now. It’s been quite a few weeks!

The meat


I woke up in Tegel in the Tent City, and as I said last time I spent more energy sleeping than I actually got from getting the sleep. I also knew I’d have to get a real bed for the night. So, I said goodbye to Rommert and Lotte and set about gearing up for a determined effort to find a bed for the night which I figured might be a bit of work (what with the aftermath of the Love Parade). However, it turned out that the Youth Hostel on whose grounds the Tent City operated from had a room free, on the conditions that a) I was out by 8.30 to 9 on Monday morning (room booked for next night or so) and b) I was my brother Conor because he’s 27 and they have an age limit for tax- reasons. Mind you, at eu20 I wasn’t buying his explanation, but the alternative was several hours of probably futile searching for an alternative across Berlin along with all the associated travel. Or, of course, The Tent. I was too tired.

So nothing happened on Sunday. I wandered around Tegel, slept for a while in the afternoon to catch up, stuff like that. It’s a nice suburb.

Kenny’s family really have Germany stitched up good, incidentally; you can’t throw a falafel without hitting a Turkish fast food spot. They really are everywhere, and although I was hoping to have a real German meal that evening, I gave up and went with Turkish. Why fight it. Falafel, everywhere.

After a good falafelling, I wrote some more and then wrestled with the Interweb for a bit. the thing about the Internet access in this place was that it was free, but there was only one PC. Also, it seemed to be used almost entirely by the tent city crowd. In a nutshell, 15 mins on, 30 mins waiting, etc, depending on the queue. It was just so damn good to be back in a bed again, even after one night… There did seem at one point to be the threat of having to relive the Love Parade again through someone’s stereo, but someone pulled the plug. All in all, a good day of recuperation.


I had to be up early to get out on time, which was good because I could get breakfast on time, have another stab at checking timetables on the web, and get into town on time… And even send postcards! Ambitious, I’ll grant you that, and we all know abut me and ambitious schedules. In the heel of the hunt I had a great breakfast, and I got my Internet.

Not before being taunted about being from Dublin by the janitor who was in his mid to late 20′s, stocky guy in overalls, trousers apparently too short in the German style – I needed him to switch on the PC. He had limited English to say the least, but more than enough to explain to me “US Marine! Best in world! You know US Navy?” Sure I did. “Best soldier!” He elaborated on this by pointing at his head (crew cut) “I’m US Marine! Best In World! Kill everyone! Ehrehrehrehrehrehr! US Marine!”.

It crossed my mind that he could have been a couple of genes short of a test tube, rather than short on clue, but I’ll never know. Somehow he managed to start the computer, in between demonstrating his lethal accuracy with a fully loaded strip of plastic. Anyway, eventually I gave up on that since the queue started building up after I had my share, so I went hunting for cards and stamps. Got them and headed into Berlin centre to see about a train, which after some queuing and negotiation (and momentary panic – this was pre- travelled Kev) turned out not to be a problem. And sent the cards, and even managed to do some typing for my ever expanding email update. So I did it all, experienced a kind of German hamburger, and got my train…

The trip was fine: I was very curious to see if I could tell the difference when crossing the border into Poland, would it be noticably poorer, stuff like that. The answer was surprising; sure, there were lots of green fields, forest, less houses, in less organised settlements… But that wasn’t it. No, what made Poland visibly different was that every house I saw in Poland had a satellite dish. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, maybe Polish people needed to keep up with current affairs, maybe they like MTV a lot. Who knows. So the trip was uneventful; I was amused that the passport control guys came onboard with a big team, twice as big as the German exit passport control guys. And I got to use my Magic Ticket (for those unfamiliar with my own little language, that’s the InterRail ticket I have for Eastern Europe). The Polish ticket guys seemed a little perturbed by having to write into the ticket book so I figured maybe he wasn’t familiar with it.

So after a few hours we got to Poznan; coming into the station you could see the difference. It was clearly much poorer – clapped out old trains, overgrown tracks, old carriages with missing doors and covered in graffiti and still being used, somehow… The station was a bit crazy too, people just getting on and off carriages, milling around, crazy little fast food stalls outside. Even by Irish standards it seemed very dodgy – remember, I’m not well travelled.

The little map that came with my Lonely Planet guide was enough to point me to the nearest youth hostel. I was very intimidated by the groups of youths (that makes me sound old, doesn’t it?) hanging out in shop doors, street corners, etc drinking beers and… hanging out. I’m just not used to it. I figured they’re probably harmless, but you never know. So, I got there and had to negotiate with the old proprietor who as I quickly discovered didn’t speak a word of english. That didn’t matter because he was very enthusiastic, and my smattering of Czech helped too, so we established that I needed a bed, and before we could do anything I had to go to the shop to get change from my 50 zloty for him.

There were a few others staying there; some slightly crusty traveller types, a polish girl (who lived in Canada, and so was called on to interpret quite a bit) and her polish boyfriend, and later on a german who was annoyed that he might have to share a key with me for a room, and the illogic of the little old man.

Oh, and I found out the hard way that in Poland the circle means ‘women’s toilet’ and triangle means ‘men’s toilet’. I should have read up on that. I thought it was a zero. Poor girl. Mind you, the proprietor had a laugh – “Ahahh, Irlandia! Irlandia!”


After a good night’s sleep I got talking to the German guy in the morning, whose name was Sven. Myself and Sven decided we’d team up and explore Poznan for the day. Sven was heading home from a few days up near Gdansk, enjoying himself on the beach if memory serves me correctly, and he decided to check out Poznan on his way back.

So we headed out, me to find an Internet cafe and Sven to find knik-knaks to take home for his friends, and this was my first real experience of Poland. Poznan doesn’t see a lot of tourism – it actually makes most of it’s money from hosting trade shows and similar business gatherings so there’s a lot of corporate orientated stuff going on there. Because of the lack of tourism there it’s inhabited by Polish people – that might seem like stating the obvious but in most larger towns a lot of the people you see are in fact foreigners to that area. But these people were recognisably… Polish. They weren’t from anywhere else (the Guide describes Poland as ‘ethnically homogenous’ – this is largely thanks to WWII). And the women… I will come to that later. I learned a lot from Sven about Germany; typically, I had to come to Poland to meet a German and learn about Germany. Something told me this might become a routine.

I got my Internet cafe, and finally sent the previous update, which you’ve all enjoyed. I hope. When I paid and left the assistant and I eyed each other craftily and smugly – he’d just screwed me for a hefty price, while I got an hour and a half of Internet and a hot chocolate for 3 and half euro.

So we set off walking around, having a look, Sven also wanted to get some odds and ends to bring back with him, and I wasn’t too bothered as long as I got food and beer at some point. Right, at this point I have to say it.

Parents, and some of the older members of the audience (probably friends of my parents) and anyone with a hint of innocence, skip ahead a few paragraphs. There’s a funny bit with the little old guy from the Hostel concerning small change which is sort of amusing, and it’s more pre-watershed friendly than this bit.

Girls, ladies (if I can call all of you that) I consider myself to be very lucky in that I hang out with some of the most attractive, sexy women a guy could hope to hang out with. I can just pick up the phone, or send an email, or be served with a barring order and the woman on the other end is a wonderful, intelligent work of art. Really, I mean that, and I’m not even trying to get a lend of money or a place to crash when I get back on Tuesday the 26th August, late in the evening when it’ll really be a pain in the ass to get out to Bray. I’m very lucky indeed. You’re all truly very lovely, beautiful women.

But Polish women!

They’re all stunning! It’s like walking around in a photo shoot from Face magazine, there’s just all these stunningly beautiful women, walking around, crossing the street, buying things, handing out flyers for cheap flights, pushing prams, doing whatever stunningly beautiful women do, AS IF IT’S COMPLETELY NORMAL! They even get busses and stuff like everyone else – they’re just there! As if it’s funny or something! And they’re all fantastically well dressed! I had to seriously consider getting paperclips or a stapler or something to stop my tongue just flapping around. It was like being in a fantasy of Keith Wood’s (Keith Wood – a mate and ex-work colleague – superb fellow, superb I tell you, but a bit too many of those kind of pictures) – lots of supermodels just hanging out in designer clothes, and all the guys look like Pavel Horacek. Babes and fatheads. It was very weird.

So there you go. I was flabbergasted, and that doesn’t happen too often. Speaking of which, 8 out of 10 Polish guys prefer no hair at all, so for those of you who know Pavel Horacek or Duncan Goodhew, you know what I’m talking about.

Just, everywhere, on the street, in shops, at the market, hanging out with their nerdy boyfriends. If Poznan wasn’t so… lacking in things to do, I’d buy a tub of swarfega, a telephoto lens and move there.

Anyway, we got beers and yakked, we got a couple of pizzas (the currency difference is such that you pay in Zloty what you’d pay in Ireland in Euro for such a pizza – which is 14 zloty; 3.5 – 4 euro). We headed our seperate ways, I needed to check for replies, you know me and email, and get something to drink (and tried to find out in the Internet cafe where would be a decent place to go in the evening. The – of course, stunning – assistant thought I was making a pass at her and the whole exercise went pear shaped in like 5 seconds. Classic.). We caught up at the hostel, and we talked to Martha and Daniel, the young Polish couple, which was interesting, about Poland, the quality of life issues, just chatting.

I noticed that Polish traffic is something else, by the way; when the lights turn green, all hell breaks loose. When the lights turn red, all hell breaks loose. When nothing happens, all hell breaks loose. I know, I know, there is a place called Italy, but even so it was disconcerting. Real roulette situation when you’re trying to cross the street.

Ok, I somewhat uncleverly billed the ‘small change’ incident as being amusing. Well, we’ll see. I had to pay for my second night, having decided after the excitment after the first day that I’d stay one more night and then clear off, to Krakof which Martha and Daniel assured me was a great place to see. So, once again, the lovely little old guy refused my 50 zloty because he had no change and he wanted more or less exact change. Hmm. I didn’t have it, and more over since new people had arrived I knew that he definitely had change. For sure. Well, he’s a lovely old guy, so I dug around and lo and behold, a 20! So. But I decided that it wasn’t on, so I tried to explain to him that he should give change to people – remember, I had no Polish, and he had no English. He wanted to get the Canadian Polish girl to translate, but I made him stay, drew diagrams, did mime, and generally scared him until he got it. Actually, I know that he already knew what I was at, he just didn’t want to cave. But then showed me that he did have change, and was so sorry that he offered to give my money back. Which of course, I refused. Later, he brought me a card with the stamp of the hostel on it, so he obviously felt guilty. I have to send him a card from somewhere, maybe Ireland. The thing that was terrible is that he really said a lot, and it was largely incomprehensible, even to Polish people.

Later on Sven and myself headed out to see where the supermodels hang out in the evenings, but all we managed was a bar that they shut as we entered because of not enough people (and possible we weren’t bald fatheads), so we ended up in another place which was ok. We drank lots of beer and discussed Germany, Berlin, the German guilt culture and all sots of stuff, rounded off with a trip to MacDonalds, which I know is against The Rules, but there literally wasn’t anything else nearby.

* By the way, I’ve noticed in the past that some of you don’t ‘get’ when I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. The bit about the Polish women was me being deliberately a bit shallow – books with nice covers are all very well, but I prefer a good read ;-)


Sven and myself headed off, and said our goodbyes, him on the train to Germany, me to the town for this that and the other (yeah, quick Internetting and other stuff too) and then later on I got the train.

That train journey. Oh boy. What a f*cking trip. It lasted forever. It was about 8 hours or so, and I was standing or sitting in the passage-way for about the first half or maybe third of the journey (for those of you not familiar with the trains out this way, they have compartments seating between 6 to 8 people, with a corridor on one side in which people can get in the way of each other, continually visit the toilet or rob other compartments). It was hot. I discovered that, and I realise that this isn’t the kind of detail people want to know, that these long slightly bumpy train rides provoke wind in me. And of course, I can’t exactly sit there farting for 7 hours in a compartment. On the bright side, I got to share it with some weird looking older guys and some predictably gorgeous women, which slightly made up for the agony.

And I smelled. No, I stank, yes I did, and it was horrible. There were these two polish girls who were messing a lot and having a laugh in the compartment, who were there for about half the journey. I kept thinking that the two girls were talking about me, but it was probably paranoia; for me the subtitles were like “Hey, get a load of Stinky over there!” “Yeah, he really smells. maybe we can get some kerosene off the ticket guy and burn him”. Actually, in truth they were probably saying something like “Hey, get a load of the heat in here!” “Yeah, it’s really hot, maybe it’s like being covered in George Clooney and molasses”. Either way, I did seem to make an impression on them. This could have been my Germanic good looks, my piercing gaze, or my incredible body odour and that fact that I looked like I’d been wearing the same clothes for months. I’m not sure if that was a thrill for them. And when we got off in Krakow, they gave me a last, wistful look that spoke volumes to me about how much they’d like to have a go with a few litres of bleach and a wire-scrubber. It was touching.

At that late hour the train station in Krakow and the surrounding area was pretty crazy, with small stalls and mutants and stuff, and it was getting dark quickly; However, I managed to buy a map, a tram ticket, and make my way out there. I had my ticket inspected by a plain clothes guy on the tram – they just at some point whip out an ID and start checking everyone there, and then disappear. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but, as I found out later…

Turning up at the hostel at 10.15 or so was something I didn’t think too hard about. That’s just the way it was, but it certainly didn’t go down well with the woman who ran the place, and she gave me a disapproving look that could, I believe, find and destroy Stealth Bombers. It was scary.

Jesus, did I smell though.


It was great to shower, and clean up, and head into the world refreshed. It was so good.

I decided to do the tourist thing and walk around town, I tried to buy butter and stuff to eat (and succeeded, just about) and saw Krakow’s tourist laden Old Town. It was beautiful, it really was, very medieval and yet kept in pristine condition.

And it was hot. It was way, way too hot for me. I just can’t take really blistering heat, and this was killing me. After I walked the old town I set off to find a bit of parkland outside the town, and after walking quite far in the wrong direction (and getting toasted) I eventually got there and tried to chill out for a bit, in spite if the heat and the ants and flies and everything else. And the two old guys who called me over when I was leaving to try and, as far as I could tell, get me to talk to some girl in a neck- brace who was sunning herself, or get her over to them or something. What was all that about – I decided to give it a miss but I’d say they were pretty angry about it. You what old men are like when they get an idea into their heads.

Anyway, after I got back I decided to try and do some planning for the coming weeks and repacking, cut up my Lonely Planet guidebook to save weight and room in my bag and in the process lopped off a chunk from my finger to see if that might help (it didn’t – don’t try this at home kids!), and tried to keep a bit of perspective. After getting some reassurances from the woman of the house about opening hours (open all night) I went off to find beer and food and who knows, maybe some Krakow crazyiness…

I had a reasonably good meal in a restaurant in the town square, with what was supposedly a traditional Polish meal (new wave Italian, I would have thought) and some damn fine beer – the Poles have slightly sweet 8% beer, two bottles of that and you’re ready for anything. Which was good because I discovered I’d missed the last tram back, and that was a problem. But it wasn’t because I discovered from talking to a slightly nerdy accountant-type guy at the bus station that there was a night-bus, which I could get a ticket for (off the driver, if needs be) for about 6 zloty or just don’t get a ticket which is what he always did. Hmm. He was a young financial controller, concerned with getting a car and all the mod-cons for himself, a bit smug if you ask me, but at least I learned a bit about life in Poland. The bus came, and I joined the queue tormenting the driver for a ticket, 4.50 as it turns out. He didn’t have change for the tenner I had so he didn’t want to give it to me, but I insisted – me ticket, you dva piva (two beers) – come on, give ticket! So he gave in, thinking of his dva piva (and no doubt thinking I was another dumb-ass foreigner with too much money), and I went back to the now even more smug guy, who was pleased that he had rather shrewdly paid nothing while the clueless foreigner paid way over the odds for probably uneccessary ticket. To his credit he even managed to stay smug after the three ticket inspectors took out their IDs and raided the bus, and fined him 50 zloty for not having a ticket.

I laughed smugly all the way back to the hostel, but I didn’t keep it up when I discovered I was locked out. I managed to get in after a b*llocking from the fierce lady – apparently, open all night means until 23.00 – who was actually considering not letting me in at all. Oh boy. Definitely staying somewhere else tomorrow, thought I’d outstayed my welcome there.


First things first. Would I stay another night, or would I go to Czech Republic? I decided after some calls to Petr Soudek, my good friend who I would be meeting and staying with for the first part of my trip to the south of Czech Republic, that I would stay another night in Krakow. It was a great town and I wanted to send cards and see about a good night out there. So – Saturday morning train, booked. Dodgy station though, the homeless and the drunk wandered through the ticket office unchallenged, asking people queuing at counters for money. Next, new hostel. Ouch. Not the friendliest. I wandered about for the day, organisng cards – incidentally, some people have actually recieved theirs, and I hold out hopes that the rest of you on the Poland card round will get yours eventually; they’re out there somewhere – tried to get a t-shirt (apparently, they keep t-shirt shops for men far away from town for some reason), took a photo of some Latvian girls with Polish boy scouts, and generally tried to see some new stuff.

You know, it struck me how much like Ireland Poland is – if didn’t look at the Polish signs, and didn’t listen too carefully to what people were saying, I could be in Ireland.

Also, I think it was about now that I broke it to Pavel that I thought the Polish girls were really quite something, and that I liked Poland. Michaela, who is like Pavel from the Czech Republic, accepted that I might have this opinion, but I might have another look at the Czech girls. Pavel raged. Pavel wanted to know how much they paid me to say this, what kind of sell-out b*stard was I to think that Poland could be good and that the girls might be better than Czech girls. It was scary, I could picture Pavel shouting at the monitor back home, and hitting things which he does when he has his righteous wrath, or when someone mentions Poland. You know, if I said “Polish guys? Tall, shaved heads, rolled up trousers, drink lots of beer, muttering in some slavic language” then a lot of people would say “Hey, I know a guy like that!” and I’d say you’d be right. That’s all I’ll say. He knows what I’m talking about.

Back at the hostel, which was a lot more friendly after the approved checking in time, I met Pauline and Martin (was that Scotland or North of England?), also travelling around Eastern Europe similar to myself (if you’re reading this, Hi guys! Hope it all went well!) and Gary all the way from Australia, doing a similar trip, in reverse – since we both could learn a bit from each other we decided to check out the night life and the beautiful Polish women. Gary learned the hard way that Hell Hath No Greater Fury than one of these Polish Supermodels getting told that the beer she was pushing fliers for was in fact quite expensive. Man, they sure don’t take to that too well, do they? In fact, I’d discovered in Poland that handing a flier back (quite normal for me in Dublin) if it’s not good to me, is quite an insult in Poland. It’s not on. Especially for these tall exotic women for whom ‘no, thank you’ is a strange and abusive thing to hear. So we got beers and had a meal somewhere, and swapped great stories. Gary was enroute to Ireland (via Northern Europe) to visit his sister – I hope he made it ok. Oh, and we made an incredible racket coming back into the Hostel, somehow.


I got woken up very early by the motorbikers who were in our room, at about half five, for about 2 hours of hardcore noise making. This was, considering our return the night before, karmic justice of some sort. Well, we asked for it, I guess.

So I swapped addresses with Pauline and Martin and Gary, and headed off to get that train with a last walk through Krakow (and posted those cards – still on their merry way, bless). On the train, I met Jason from the US, travelling around Eastern Europe, and Johanne and Anne, young girls from Scotland who were, you guessed it, travelling around Eastern Europe. Doubtless I bored them to tears but it was good fun, swapping opinions and stories, and I survived the journey quite well. I also had a brief but very informative chat with a bearded Czech man who explained to me how Poland was poorer than the Czech Republic, and some opinions about the EU.

There was a bit of panic with me getting of a stop earlier than I should have for the transfer train to Brno, but it all worked out ok. Then from Brno another train to Vranovice, where I’d be collected by Petr Soudek and treated to a bit of RAC Rally driving on the backroads of Southern Czech Republic. It all worked out, it was great to see Petr again and I was treated to a visit of the family vineyard which was great too (I’d heard a lot about it) and then onto the Soudek home in Ivan. I did get the RAC Rally treatment – Petr says he prefers to drive in the middle of the road, and I’m not going to argue.

It was a Soudek family weekend, where all the sons collect in Mama Soudek’s house and help out with the farming, drink beer and eat a lot, and of course I was very privileged to be a part of it that weekend. It was good to see them again, myself and Petr’s brother Pavel (not, by the way, the bald fathead that most of you have met here – as adorable as he is, he’s not Petr’s brother) had a lot of fun the last time drinking and partying (as some of you heard from my last trip there back in February).

Food, beers and before I knew it I was hurtling across the czech countryside in a packed car looking for a disco somewhere. And Pavel had decided that what I needed even more than beer was “Blondiem, so high” and well, off we went, into the crowd at a disco where everyone was getting wrecked and the DJ didn’t have more than 7 or 8 tunes that he could play…

Next thing I’m chatting to a girl (with more than a bit of encouragement from Pavel, who was determined to make sure that something scandalous would happen, which would have amused him no end), Monika, and getting drunk and dancing. Now, girls, as you all know I’m well behaved (I know there’s at least a couple of you wish it was not so, but that’s a story for another day… ;-). But nonetheless, I was chatting her up, despite the fact that between us in both languages we shared about 12 words or so, and understood a few more. Here’s what I found interesting: as anyone who’s tried to have a conversation in a night club knows, and particularly anyone who’s been involved in a chat up in Judge Roy Bean’s or Break For The Border, actually hearing what someone is saying isn’t really neccessary if you both have a fair grasp of body language and have some idea of what you’re trying to talk about. As Colin Farrell would say, “C*nts everywhere talk the same f*ckin’ shite”. So we didn’t really have to worry about the language barrier, which I have to admit I found a very interesting idea. For her part, she was having fun and wasn’t, I believe, out ‘on the pull’. And neither was I believe it or not. Just people having fun, folks, and I say this knowing that there’s already been a lot of discussion about this since then by people who’ve heard about it – and you know who you are – but I’m serious.

So she made it clear that dancing and having a laugh was cool BUT NOTHING ELSE, and I for my part tried to make it clear that I was totally happy with this. Yeah, yeah, I know what I’m going to hear about this one and I’ve heard it all before, and maybe I’m just not that kind of guy, like it or not. Anyway, later on she left, and I went and lost myself in the whole Lord Of The dance routine that I do if I’ve had too much to drink and the DJ puts on Born Slippy, got covered in beer and sweat, at which point Pavel decided that I probably better go home before I got sent home. Aww.


What a hangover. It could have been worse, and I got have a lie-in, but I’ve felt better. It was just typical that I’d been here, there, even in the middle of the Love Parade, but my wild night out was right here in near the little village of Ivan, and it was worth it. I did have a dark spot in one eye, which worried me; while I don’t want to be a hypochondriac, I have as some of you remember been in the situation of having something odd happen to my vision, go to a specialist and then get rushed into hospital the next day to have a brain scan – as I later found out, to see if I had a brain tumour. So I take these things seriously, but luckily it disappeared. Lunch with duck and potato, morning beers, and a cycle with Petr, Pavel and their friend Marek (who was also out with us the night before) to see the wildlife, the local terrain and drink more beers.

The sharper observers among you will have noticed that beers come into this quite a bit. The more knowledgable will also know that the Czechs are number one in the alcohol consumption league table. Ireland is number two. I can see how it works; in Czech republic, they tend to drink steadily, in managable amounts through out the day instead of saving it all up for a massive binge all in one go at the end. Maybe I’m wrong, but it certainly seems to be healthier in every way to take it easy like that.

Of course, I have wonder where they get the time to sit in the local all weekend.

I had a nap and spent a couple of hours rationalising my bags; in English, throwing out all the useless sh*t that I packed in case of, for example, nuclear fallout or being attacked by marmots or getting laid. I figured that they were starting to look unlikely, and I could use the space (I’m still wondering how Petr’s little brother Tom is going to react when he comes back from the US and finds Romanian phrasebooks, Lonely Planet guide sections to the Ukraine and half a pound of ultra-sensitive lubricated rubber in his room. Well, he’s young, he’ll adapt.).

So, that rounded out a fantastic weekend in Ivan, and I noticably put on weight; Petr’s mother cooks a lot, and she tends to be offended if you don’t take a full plate of food when you pass the kitchen or take third helpings. It’s a Czech thing, I think – for anyone that hasn’t experienced Czech culture, they like to celebrate with food. In the morning they celebrate the new day with food. When they get to work, they celebrate that with food. When it’s halfway between breakfast and lunch, they.. Yes, you’re getting the hang of it. Look, I tried it, and I spent two months trying to lose the weight I put on. I don’t know what the secret is, but it could be rock-climbing or shouting and shaving, because Czechs do them a lot and they burn a lot of calories.

And yes, if it’s a very exciting celebration then they get out the alcohol – end of week, end of working day, end of previous celebratory drink, that kind of thing.


Early in the morning I said my goodbyes to the Soudeks, and Petr and myself collected Petr’s wife Bohdana and set off to Brno, which was actually reasonably short journey since Petr’s car doesn’t have a working speedometre which rather handily for Petr means he drives as fast he likes. Which for a brake horsepower nut, is very fast.

I wandered around Brno trying to get food, transport tickets, a t-shirt, and a place to stay (which rapidly became an ordeal because Brno was suddenly short of accomodation). All in all, I managed to waste a day in the heat in a lovely town where there is actually a fair bit to do, especially with Pavel Horacek and Michaela continually texting me to see what I was doing, and giving me great suggestions for stuff to do and places to go (and I’m sorry about not meeting up with Marek, but with the way things were going for me, probably just as well). Thanks a lot guys! However, I got obsessed with finding that place to stay, and the t-shirt, and managed to make a complete balls of it all. I stressed out.

I got the t-shirt (which is a nice one, even though it was pricey). I got some encouraging messages from Carolyn (with a question that became very important a few days later – How does it feel to be asked what country did I wake up in this morning?). I got food. I got transport tickets. But it all took all day, and by the time I had to get to grips with getting up to the place I had to book into for the night, I was losing the plot. I was at a low, I finally found the stop I was looking for but I discovered the bus I wanted was in fact a night bus, and there’d have to be more than a bit of walking to the place I wanted to stay… And then this absolutely lovely Czech girl with a beaming smile walked up to me and asked me if she could help me with anything.

It was too much. I wanted to just sit down and cry. This was what inspired me to think about my reasons for being here, and what I hoped to achieve by doing so much in a short space of time. But we’ll get to that later. I really wanted to go home and have a break, you know? Fly back for more after a week.

I felt bad afterwards because I didn’t really say anything useful to her, I was just stumped – it was unexpected and I was at my most uninspired. Anyhow, I got there, I discovered with shock that it was in fact the Brno Technical College (the place of learning for all that is Soudek) – where I stayed the last time I visited Brno, though that time as a guest of Petr’s little brother Tom. It was actually good to know I was going to be sleeping in a good room to myself with good facilities that I didn’t have to share with 200 other people.

That evening I went for uninspired pizza with Petr and Bohdana – we agreed that, though pricey by Czech standards, it wasn’t great, and we went somewhere else for more traditional food (Carp and potatoes – lovely), and the best beer in the world. Really, it was something else, and it’s worth going to Brno for that alone (well, Petr and Bohdana are a good reason too, but if they’re off climbing or making goulash then get the beer.).


The heat meant that I didn’t get a great night’s sleep and I had to get up early to be ready for an expedition to the wilderness outside Brno where Petr was going to go climbing with one of his buddies. It was still bothering me how I hadn’t adjusted to the heat, and I knew I was going to experience hotter while on the continent (and elsewhere).

It was good, and relaxing, and best summed up by the photos I took – praying mantises, lizards, things – hopefully they’ll come out ok and you’ll all see. Meanwhile Petr clambered over the rocks somewhere, though his buddy never showed. There was also a great view of the Brno factories there, massive Communist-era industrial constructions. Of course, they also provided a lot of jobs for people, which are no longer needed and that’s a big problem in these countries – what are they going to do now?

Petr dropped me back to Brno and gave me a comprehensive guide to hiking in the Tatras Mountains in Slovakia, which I figured I might do because it would be a good break from the whole urban/suburban routine and let me destress – other than, of course, any possible savaging by bears or marmots.

I got the train to Prague, which was notable only for the fact that on the Czech railways they have a habit of hobbling the windows in such a way that you can’t keep them open and myself and another guys improvised bottles to keep them open. It’s trite, it’s uninteresting, but it’s true.

While I was trying to organise myself in Prague Central Station, it pissed down. It just started raining like nothing else. Luckily, after organising a hostel bed for the night I was able to get the Metro and trams there, and it was all good. There was a guy from South Korea in the dorm, who expressed a keen interest to make friends – which is great, me too, but I always get alarmed when someone states this as an objective upfront. I think, if it happens it happens. Let it happen.

There was no sign of Michaela’s friend Marketa, because the plan was to try and get her and her friend Jana out for a night (They were very busy) but that was ok since I got to have dinner in an ‘authentic’ Czech Restaurant. It was called ‘Pivnice U Svejku’, and is based on a classic Czech character from WWI – which is what Petr and his family like to call me – ‘Svejk’ because he has short hair like me. Hmm. It was good, the beer was good, the service was great and even in spite of the Stormtrooper of Accordion who insisted on playing at people until they paid up it was a good end to the day.


Woken up early enough, and I didn’t have an entirely peaceful sleep either by the group of (I think) Japanase girls that were in the dorm. And I discovered that although I can – and I know some of you will be shocked to hear this, based on my track record – be ready to moved out in about 10, 15 minutes, these girls could probably take about 2 – 3 hours over it. I was impressed.

The rest of the day was – and I know I’ve been accused of overstating these things in the past, you know who you are and you’re right, I’m guilty as charged – a fiasco. I did it again. I went to the main park in Prague, and planned my day, and it just became a series of objectives, which ate up a potentially beautiful and constructive day in a great city. I started worrying about where would I find a toilet. Where to get Internet, A haircut. Cards. Food. Drink. Then, I sat down near the memorial to the victims of Communist Oppression (I think), and managed to break several of the bottles of Belgian Leffe beer I got for Jirka and Vendulka who I would be staying with that night and also destroyed the map too. It was nearly too much. I ended up having to get another map, and more beer, and the day was gone. What a waste. Instead of taking it easy and enjoying myself I got trapped into the Survival In Prague mindeset, like some sort of twisted Reality TV show. The Czechs enjoy writing ironic plays about stuff, and since there’s no Communism to write about any more you’ll see a new breed in a few years where the theme is Irish Guy with Dutch Passport Who Hunts For Toilets and Hairdressers. When Vaclav Havel retires from dating models a third his age he’ll probably get back to writing, and he’ll be all over it.

So, I had to go and find Jirka and Vendulka’s hot new pad on the other side of town – I didn’t get replies to my txt messages, but Jirka’s a busy guy. I got there, I found the street, and also found that Czech street numbering is a complex abstract system which involves two sets of numbers that don’t relate to each other, and one of which in fact has no rational order at all. And still no reply.

This wasn’t one of the safer parts of town, I felt, and it was getting dark.

I might have called it day, cut my losses and checked back into the hostel and just wrote off the night, but of course there was light, from our very own Pavel Horacek and his shaky grasp of structured english prose. I got some more numbers for Jirka from him, but that didn’t work. No answer. But I will quote: “:-) cool lesson,forget word properly u r in unmatrix::: There is no rules!Do you need manual of this game?” Which is Pavel-speak for get your shit together and make it happen. So, I figured out with a little bit of help from passersby how the numbering system worked. I got the door. There were 26 unlabelled bells, but I figured out which one would be them based on the colour and the tape-marks that I figured they left behind.

Nothing happened.

Jirka phoned.

Well, he tried, but he seemed to have enough coverage for us to shout ‘hi, where are you?’ at each other before getting disconnected. We got there, and Vendulka let me in (she was there, as it happens, and I had not only the right door but the right bell – she ignored it because there was a scruffy looking asshole outside with a backpack and plastic bags).

So, we ended the night in a nearby pub, drinking beer and me and Jirka trying very hard to stay awake while we discussed deep and meaningful stuff, while the girls excitedly yapped away about all sorts of stuff. There was Miki, a friend of theirs who might move in with them, and some others whose names I can’t remember – an English guy and a crazy Finnish girl.

It all worked out, and I was very glad. Jirka and Vendulka, you guys rescued me that night.


Ok, new strategy. A few things to do, but take it nice and easy. I sat down in a park near to where Jirka and Vendulka live to write my postcards, had an amusing incident with an attack by a hoover dog that ran over and hoovered my bread up while the owner looked shocked (she didn’t want to pay for it. Not that I was going to ask for it.). Well, it was a bit old anyway. And txted with Martha, to see what she was up to in Australia.

I got information on the trains to the Tatras Mountains, I internetted, and I shopped. It was an easy, lazy day, just what I needed. I even abandoned the haircut idea because Vendulka thought I should let it grow and she got so worked up about it that I figured I’d try and leave it grow for a bit – I’m travelling, and the hardcore guys all have dreadlocks and stuff. There could be something to it.

We had dinner in the apartment later on which was fun, and then Pavel phoned me from the pub in Dublin where he was drunk and happily shouting away at everyone. It was good to talk.

They have a medium sized Iguana in that apartment, and by the look of it he really didn’t like me. Listen buddy, you might crawl tough, but I see handbag.


Today was Train to Tatras day. I made my mind up to get the overnight train there, early in the evening. More of the same today, though I really set about finding a ‘Pac-safe’, which is a kind of metal mesh bag/wrapper that you put over your bag and then lock to something – thus making it harder to steal the bag. I talked briefly to a Brazilian couple in the youth hostel in Tegel, Berlin, who said they swore by it and of course, I thought they were mad. If you put one of those over your bag, you’re advertising the fact that your bag is worth stealing, so I think it’s better not to have one, and they’re heavy enough. But, on the night-train it could be different and suddenly I started to think that the Brazilians were not so mad after all. Well, not for that reason anyway. I went to some sport shops that were enroute for me, and encountered not so much a language barrier as a barrier of ‘I kind of want to help you, but I’m not sure how to do that so I’ll be nice and yet deliberately unhelpful until you go away’. There first shop was ok, the second shop was great – there were two assistants in the bag/travel section, and they looked nervously at me, at each other, then one of them stepped forward, took a deep breathe, and said very carefully “Sorry sir, how may I assist you?”, then they both looked very pleased with themselves. Real training video stuff. But the next shop was bizarre, and even when after 10 minutes of unhelpfulness I settled for some compression straps, which he had IN HIS HANDS, right there, he sheepishly told me that he couldn’t sell them to me.

So, I touristed for the day, I had beer, I had ok pizza and more beer, and wrote some slightly drunken notes on my feelings about Prague which I’ll go into now.

There was something about the feel of Prague which was bothering me, though not in a bad way, which I couldn’t articulate. It’s about the feel of the city; I didn’t get it so much in Berlin and it disappointed me, but I didn’t know what it was. It’s something I recognised in Prague from some parts of Amsterdam – it’s a creative energy, a sort of young artistic drive which I suppose exists in Dublin too to a dagree but not with the same feeling of being connected to other places – here felt part of something, which I guess is Continental Europe. It was a good feeling and it somehow explains a feeling I always got when I was reading about continental artistic/creative movements. I think I didn’t find it in Berlin because I wasn’t looking in the right places. I wonder if Warsaw has it too? Maybe I should have gone there. Maybe going further afield is a mistake until I’ve fully explored Europe a bit more. I really felt at home in Prague.

I was a little drunk, so maybe a bit over stating things I but I really did feel at home in Prague. It’s a great place, and who knows, when I go looking for somewhere to live…

Anyway, back to the apartment after that, with a quick stop to get some touristy photos of the old town centre so you guys can all see it, to get my stuff and say goodbye to Jirka.

Jirka came with me to train station partly to see me off and partly because he was concerned that they might try to give the wrong ticket or something like that, which was great. In the event, the Magic Ticket wasn’t a lot of help other than to get me a standard 2nd Class seat, and upgrade to first was impossible (the ticket guy got very aggressive about it that so I guess he had issues about it) and upgrade to sleeper was awkward so I figured I’d just wing it and see what happens. The train would leave at 21.23, and get to Poprad in Slovakia at 6.31am the next day, a journey of about

I got on the train. If you’re the melodramatic sort, or very excitable, you can put the music on now, or if you went for the Donohoe option you can give him a good rub and put him into your right pocket. I’d advise hanging on for the good stuff though, which is going to happen shortly.

People, this is where the travelling started. The previous 2 and half weeks, they were the warm up. Just to get me into the mood, a dry run; something I did months ago. Small stuff. This is where it all started for real, and I haven’t looked back since; it feels like a separate holiday.

The best way to sum it up is to use a line from Dylan Byrne (which he probably got from Homer Simpson, I dare him to contradict me!) which he used to say to me a lot: It wasn’t big, it wasn’t clever and it certainly wasn’t funny. There were 4 other guys in the compartment, who looked like responsible types who were unlikely to pull any surprises. I got a corner by the window which meant I could sleep, and they were mystified by my locking my back to the overhead luggage rack. However, it wasn’t them that I was worried about… This was good, and we had a good start, everything was fine, the sun went down, and then a couple of stops in, a classic old style authentic Czech Tetka (like a Babushka) got onboard, and since I was the junior, I had to give the corner to the Tetka. Ouch. And she talked. She didn’t stop talking, she jsut started, put some clear blue water between herself and Dave Fanning and kept going. The compartments are designed for 8 people, with a headrest in the middle (which means, of course, that you can’t sit in the middle) so I had to awkwardly wrap myself around the centre headrest while avoiding one of the guys who had a corner to himself, the lucky b*stard. It was uncomfortable; and I can sleep anywhere. This was too much though. And then I got the intestinal gurgles/wind which made my trip from Poznan to Krakow such a joy. As we started getting closer to the border with Slovakia, in the darkness, we stopped at stations where very dark people wearing shiny tracksuits got on. It’s interesting that I mentioned David Donohoe earlier, which I thought would make a slightly amusing reference for the music heads and possibly even David himself; the thing that I thought when those people got on was they reminded me of David very much for some reason – a whole family of them, very tanned, in shiny tracksuits with ‘taches. I reckoned that these were the infamous gypsies, or Roma. More dodgy types came by later, and one tried to get in to our compartment, but we all told him to clear off which was great. Later on of course we had passport control, and then the guy I was almost sharing a corner with got off, which was a ray of light. I got a bit of sleep after that. However, in between, as we travelled through Slovakia, the sun came up, and through the greyness and mist I saw the huge dark outlines of the Slovak landscape. It was incredible. I had never seen anything so stunning. The train line itself just added to it; we passed through stations where in the darkness you could see abandoned engines, even old steam engines, long beyond use, and rusted carriages. It was frightening and beautiful.


In due course we got to Poprad and we said our fairwells; it was very different to the Czech Republic in how it felt – immediately I saw the Roma (gypsies), who really do stand out because they’re obviously not native Czechs. It also a bit looser, less formal. I farted for Europe. After 10 hours of agony, I farted in a way that brings joy, pain and hope, for many long minutes. I think the guys running the toilet put out a gas warning. So I got organised, and after 7 sometime got on the train to the next port of call, a village called Stary Smokovec. It was more a sort of hill tram than a train, but I was delighted to see that the Magic Ticket was good for that too, and it was comfortable. It took us up into the woods, and I could see the famous High Tatras mountains in the distance. They were awe-inspiring. They were huge, just towering into the clouds.

In Stary Smokovec I discovered a quiet tourist town – it is literally a tourism machine, existing only for the visitors to the Tatras Mountains. In comparison to what I’d seen so far, this was well funded and organised, and even with Petr’s basic instructions it was very easy to find everything and get started. So I started walking; Petr recommended the Funicular, which is a sort of cable car railway (one goes up, while the other comes down) but I wanted to walk it. It wasn’t far.

The next stop was Hrbienok, where I had breakfast and stocked up on drinkables for the next part. There were some crazy Slovaks there, a sort of Captain Quint of the toilets if you will, and pesky wasps.

And then, the walk. It was hot, and it was packed, there really were a fantastic amount of people there. I also can’t adequately describe how beautiful it was. It was stunning, just beautiful forest which was also well preserved because they are very strict about sticking to the paths, littering, stuff like that, which is great. I repacked my back enroute to make it all into one bag, and so I could keep the camera out on my shoulder. And I went up, and up.

It started to drizzle, which made life harder for me, with my sandals. One slip on the rocks and I’d be in trouble, since my ankles aren’t the strongest. The view was stunning – from up there you could look out onto the plains below which was amazing. Hopefully the photos will be ok, but they can’t do the experience justice.

I went past the next hill ‘hut’ where it seemed most of the families were stopping and taking a break, heading back even, but of course, I kept going. It rained harder.

The path got out into the open. It was stunning, just the most amazing view. Is this what New Zealand is like? I could certainly imagine filming Lord of The Rings here, the make fight with the fokking boo’sheets, as Pavel might say if he hadn’t suddenly made his Anglitsky better than mine in the last month. It was just incredibly beautiful.

It pissed down. I could almost hear the words ‘Son, if you’re trying to punish them then it’s no good sprinkling them, you really have to pelt it down on the b*stards like you mean it! That’s what deluge means! Here, let me show you’. And low and behold. The sandals actually helped here because I could move through the water without any worries which was great (it wasn’t that cold) and even ford a stream just by wading through it. Not a bother (I probably needed the wash anyway). On the way up, some of which was a bit scary since it was wet and slippery, I met a couple (I later learned it was Mother and Son – Tomas, tell your mother that’s a compliment!).

I kept going, up and up, and just when I thought I could take no more, there was the hut.

It was spartan, a real survival tool rather than a place to stay, and I booked in for the night. I met the ‘couple’ again, who as it turns out were mother and son, from the Czech Republic. The dorm was a tiny room with just enough space for two bunks with three people each and some lockers. As it happens, the others there turned out to be some crazy baldheaded Polish guys called Jacek, Jacek and Mariuz, who I had a good chat with after dinner; they had all travelled quite a bit on real shoestring budgets, and were now settling down in various parts of Europe – this was like a get-together for them, stuff they used to do when they were younger (they were about 28 – 29, I think). Dinner was real survival stuff; salty soup, and meat stew with bread dumplings. After that walk, it was the most incredible meal – Tomas volunteered that it was probably designed to replace whatever you lost in getting up there. You know, as long as it was food of any sort, I didn’t care. It was just good to eat.

The rain stopped, and it was amazing later to see the clouds come down to the same level as the hut. I didn’t get photos, unfortunately, I was too tired and had my stuff set-up to dry but I doubt I’ll ever forget it. It was unreal.

The other thing about the hut was the guy in charge of running it. He was a hard-ass. You could imagine him getting the water for the place by squeezing it from rocks with his bare hands (there was no electricity or mains water, and all supplies were carried up by hand – every once in a while I passed some guys coming back down with huge crates and barrels strpped to their backs). One of the Polish guys asked about vegetarian meals, and was a bit taken aback to to asked “What do think this is, Grand Hotel?”. I saw some other guy getting b*llocked out for something else, probably for leaving a wrapper or something behind – “Who bring it down, huh? You? Me? In car, huh?” – he was pretty scary. Now the Polish guys reckoned that it was sexual frustration, from sitting up there all year with no woman. Personally, I think he scorned us because we were weak, we stopped when the strongest continue, we didn’t deserve food or shelter. Later I had to ask about the toilets (which stank, thanks for asking – the smell was incredible, worse than me even) but somehow he was reasonable. Maybe he knew I was already scared, so it was enough.

That was sleep well earned, that night.


Early in the morning I got up for peepee and found that the floor out in the main eating area was covered in people, loads of them. By the time we got up for breakfast, at 7 or so, they were long gone. These must have been the hardcore, people who were only there because they couldn’t find any bears to kill with their teeth and skin for use as a tent, and left early to go and wrestle marmots.

Breakfast, like the previous dinner, was more durable than anything else, real hard boiled stuff, but you could see the thinking behind it. I should eat like that every morning. So I packed, said my fairwells, got my stamp for Teryho Chata, and got ready to leave.

Ok, now is a good time to put on that music, and put it on loud. Like I said, ‘Phat Planet’ would be my choice here, but feel free. Seriously, now is a good time to put on that loud music.

I asked the hard ass proprietor if I would be able to make the route I had decided to do, the yellow track. He looked at me, looked away, and then looked at me and said “You are young man, you can do it”. That’s what I wanted to hear. I could do it. I think he was thinking just a little bit about how much goulash he could get out of me, but he obviously thought the better of it, which is good.

So, I set off. It was a clear day, absolutely beautiful. Perfection. It quickly got steep – the thing was that every time the track seemed to disappear going up, it just winded backwards and forwards and climbed steeply but it was still as clearly marked as ever and never impossible. I have photos, you’ll see! So, up and around, the most stunning views, and there was still ice in pockets. Absolutely amazing. And of course, ahead I could see the stuff I’d have to climb, which I just kept laughing at, because I couldn’t believe I’d actually be doing. I met some guys going up there who seemed to be ok, so I figured I should be able to do it.

I got there, the bottom of the ‘hard part’, where apparently there were chains to help go up… They weren’t kidding. There were chains. It was a cliff, almost, I kid you not.

So I started. I had learned some rock-climbing from Petr Soudek which was helpful, but of course I had my backpack and my sandals. And The Fear. For those of you who don’t know, I have a pretty bad fear of heights and stuff like this quickly gets too much for me. I got a bit of the way, and then it all got too much. Some young guys just ran up past me – ran! And I couldn’t do it. I was too scared. After a while, I slowly got back down, practically in tears from fear and disappointment.

So, I sat there, at the bottom, wondering if I’d be able to do it at all, would I just have to go all the way back the way I came, past the hard-ass, past all the other people who were going to run up it like it wasn’t there? Just go back and tell everyone I was there but I alone couldn’t do it? Have I got balls? Am I like everyone else or somehow disabled in some way? So I was just sitting there, watching people go up, like lemurs or marmosets or something, all ages just flying up it, even some crazy Americans, where one of them kept enthusiastically hollering at the others about ‘there’s a great line over here’. There was a trick to it, which was ‘properly’ – they were actually not climbing, they were walking up, using the chains, which meant a different approach. So I watched, asking myself if I had balls, and if I’d be able to face myself in the morning knowing I’d been here and couldn’t do it.

I did it.

I decided, I have balls, I’m like everyone else, and I could do it. But of course, it’s not as simple as that. I had inspiration, and help, and above all encouragement. I followed up after watching a family go up, and decided that if they could do it, I certainly could it, not least because they had exactly the right approach – the mother was obviously afraid of heights, and the young guy and two girls were helping and giving encouragement; one step at a time. So I climbed up, and they actually gave me some encoragment and help too! They were fantastic, and it was a huge help. I thought they were experienced rock-climbers, although they denied it – I thought the young guy was a climber for sure, but one of the girls told me he was a painter. Well, maybe. I thought they must have been like Angels, sent down to make sure I didn’t fall off and flatten the people under me. So we talked a bit on the way up, which was a huge help for me because I really just needed to distract myself from the fact that I was a hundred metres up from being a stain on the sharp rocks, and what was preventing that was my ability to hang onto a slightly greasy chain. The mother and her two daughters were the Karwats, and the guy was their friend Michal, all of them from Krakow, Poland. I did tell you I liked Krakow, and this was the proof that it’s the best place around. I also had some help along the way from the people behind, who were keen to go a bit faster I think, and from an older couple, who were clearly quite experienced at this and gave me some good advice. There was another family who gave me some encouragement near the top, the Rostislavs from the Czech Republic, and there was even one helpful chap who looked at me disdainfully and said “You have wrong shoes, this is your problem”. Thanks. That’s what I needed to hear, a couple of hundred metres over the ground, on a cliff, hanging from a chain. Well, we would see about that then. All the way up I was muttering to myself “I got balls!” and singing “This ain’t no holiday, here I am with my hands” (the Pixies) and “Just like everybody else, just like everybody else” (The Wonder Stuff). Apart from the footwear expert, the only thing that really bothered me was the people coming down (it’s not allowed, and with good reason) and the enthusiastic people who couldn’t wait so they just clambered over everyone else.

So I got to the top, which was an achievement and a half (no photos, sorry – there were a lot of people coming through, and it was too small and risky to get the camera out and take photos), and then down the other side, where I tore the hell out of my trousers sliding down.

I met the footwear expert again, but of course I could look him in the eye with a look that said ‘knobcheese’ and he knew it. Hell, yeah! I caught up with young Tomis Rostislav and his family, and we swapped details and took photos of each other, and then sat down for a bit with Mike, Kate and Kate’s family before we headed to the next hut for drink – that was a good beer, not least because I know a man spent several hours carrying that beer to the top of the hill. It was great to talk to them, Mike and Kate were interesting and interested, and I was delighted to see that no matter what, they would try to see a lot of stuff around Europe, and they were going to college in Poland next year, which was also great to hear. Good luck guys! I walked down there with them, and then we walked down together to Hrbienok, where we got the cable car to Stary Smokovecs. I said my goodbyes there and decided I’d try and get down to Poprad and get a train from there to Bratislava – a crazy, turbocharged plan, but what the hell. I’d had such a weekend that I could really do anything I wanted from now on, and that’s exactly what I did. I got there, toilet, ticket, next train, that was it.

I got a reservation on a smoking carriage, because that was all that was available – I wasn’t entirely sure how bad that would be, but in the event it wasn’t that bad at all, certainly much less bad than being in a pub on a Friday night – the carriage was very modern and fully air-conditioned, so it was fresh air by and large. That was also good because I smelled, a lot.

I had been warned about Bratislava, and that was good. Although it wasn’t so bad, the train station wasn’t a place to be after dark, with a lot of homeless and generally dodgy characters hanging around outside. I was still not sharp enough to avaid missing the last tram to where I wanted to go, but after some wandering around in the dark I found one of the youth hostels (which was open, and yet somehow closed) and then another (who initially didn’t want to give me a room, and then did, as long as I got out early). It was a hard bed and facitilies weren’t great, but a bed nonetheless.

What a weekend. Now I’m travelling and I can do anything.

Right, from here on it’s going to be short terse summaries, lean on detail and wit, because I just don’t have the time and money… :-(


Met Lukas, a young Slovak working in the Youth Hostel – we had a long discussion, about life in Slovakia, travel, and how people in this part of the world know about Ireland, and it gave me the idea for the EU Scheme for travelling.

I checked out my travel schedule and went to the next Hostel, actually a student residence. I slept, phoned Mom (she needs to know everything’s ok) and later on went back to town for food and to have a look at the town. I was still too sore to get up to much, so no partying that night.

I was going to leave really early to Wien, but I was still too wrecked, so I decided to take it easy and go a bit later instead. I wandered around town some more, sorted out some postcards – have they arrived yet, anyone? – and then got the train to Wien.

Austria was clearly, obviously, German. Getting off the train in Wien, it was German. So, with no knowledge of Wien and no guidebook, I went looking for a hostel and eventually ran into Adam and Nick who I last saw in Berlin in Tegel. That sorted out my accommodation too, we had some beers, back to the Hostel for trying to negotiate a place to stay and I ended up in a room with an Australian, Arthur, and some nice Americans who I only properly met the next day. Arthur and myself talked for ages, he was very interesting with lots of stories, which made me feel small and at the same time good about travelling – here was a guy who really had seen it all.

Had a tiny free pint with the guys (which you get for staying at the hostel) and called it a night.


Met the Americans I was rooming with, and then gave Adam all the information he needed to tackle Slovakia, since they figured it would be a good bet. I hope so, I figured they would enjoy it a lot more than Wien, which I found arrogant and boring.

Spent a few hours walking around to have a look, organised some postcards, and then took off to Budapest. I shared the train with some irritating German/Austrian youngsters, and then a compartment with a German woman, and Austrian woman, and… a Hungarian! So I knew what they looked like.

The station was crazy, I was immediately assaulted with various offers of accomodation, and ended up finally getting somewhere by making phonecalls and getting a tram. It was another student dorm, and I met the excitable Takamasa, a retired Japanese teacher.

Some notes

This is much curtailed because I just don’t have time. I wish I did, and there’s so much to say, but I just… don’t… have… time…

Berlin: Cool. Great place, but maybe a bit over-rated?

Poland: Reminds me of Ireland a lot, laid back but bothered a bit that there is a lot of vanity here. It’s a poorer country, so about 10, 15 years behind Ireland in some respects – but of course, much better public transport, etc so maybe it evens out a bit.

Poles: Nice people, laid back but a bit vain, maybe? But since being there I’ve met some fantastic Polish people, who really are the nicest people in the world, which made up easily for the hard sell that I got over there.

Czech Republic: As some of you know, there is a big Czech audience for this email. What can I say. I like Czech Republic as much as always. In fact, even more this time than the last time, because I could get more into things and enjoy myself more. I reall would like to learn Czech.

Czechs: As some of you know, there is a big Czech audience for this email. What can I say. I like Czechs as much as always – they’re not as laid back as, for example, the Poles are, but not as uptight as the Germans by a good margin.

Trains: They disagree with me. For some reason, my body just reacts badly ton the older trains and I get the Big Wind

The Tatras: It’s stunning. They are beautiful and for anyone who wants the outdoor experience, this is it. Just come and see it.

Slovakia: Great place and yet extremely poor at the same time. I think people should know about this country, and visit it. That helps them, and it’s a good place for a holiday. They really have a handle on tourism here and I’d recommend it. It is also very different from the Czech Republic, incidentally

Slovaks: They have their balls, and their word, and etc – you know the lines. That sums them up, I think from my limited experience. They’re friendly and spirited, and at the same time, I feel there is little bit of a complex from having been told what to do by other nations for so long, and having those other nations look down their noses at them…

Wien: Beautiful. Arrogant. Like a beautiful woman in a bar, who treats guys like they’re lucky even to be on the same planet as her? And ultimately for all her fine clothes, she has nothing to say. That is Vienna.

Budapest: Crazy place. I mean, I have people coming up to me on the street and being friendly, people coming up to me on the street and trying to rip me off and putting me in situations where I might get the sh*t beatten out of me… This is what I was told to expect in Bratislava, and this place is way more nuts than that.

Hungarians: I don’t ‘get’ Hungarians, or the Magyars as they call themselves. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I think I do, but I just don’t understand a lot of the attitude that I’ve seen. And they have an awful lot of attitude here.


Thanks for all the humour I get sent, almost entirely from Daragh, Mary, and Miki, but now for the winner – a quote from Dylan:

“a mate of mine was with this one from tallaght, and she turned to him and said “Lash me out of it Pat!” – that’s when he decided to leave Dublin”


Hope to see you all soon, keep up the feedback!

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