A Travellerspoint blog

June 2006

Despite all the great times, there had to be a real downer

This is a strange and very sad entry. It´s also probably worth glossing over completely as it´s really not a cheery one. And to be honest, i don't even know why i`m writing this as I really don`t have any enthusiasm to write it at all. I think i´m only doing it to stay occupied so I don`t break down.

Ideally I would be now boring you all with tales from Germany and the World Cup, especially since i have been to 4 more matches (Australia v Brazil, Germany v Ecuador, Cote d´Ivoire v Serbia-Montenegro and Ghana v USA) since i last posted here, as well as seeing England fail to beat the Swede´s for the umpteenth time to my obvious huge delight. But to be honest, I can`t really. The rest of my time has been spent in hospital with my best friend, Matt, who has been battling Pancreatic cancer. He suffered from a slightly complicated strain which took time to diagnose, and in the last few months has deteriorated rapidly. Changes in his condition was one of the reasons why I almost quit whilst in Vietnam and flew back there and then, although as you know, for assorted reasons I was talked out of it.

Seeing somebody you know and love dearly after over a year is always emotional, but to see him in his current condition was devastating. When I left he was slightly ill, but not overly and it hadn`t yet been diagnosed, and he looked more or less normal. I had been kept updated on his condition and progress as i went along, and had believed that despite what i was being told, that there must be some hope left. One look at him told me there was none, and if he lasted more than a month or so it would be almost miraculous. He was in such a bad way that if i hadn`t been so shocked at his sight, and he not been partly conscious, I would probably have tried to kill him there and then to put him out of his suffering.

The drugs no longer had any effect on dulling the pain, and it had got the point where he had even cut back, deciding that if he was going to live out his time in pain, that he would prefer more pain but trying to remain as lucid as possible instead of more or less being kept alive but so drugged that he was never awake. He had more or less been keeping himself alive on will power alone, fighting on partly until i returned and partly so he could watch the World Cup in his beloved Germany. Together with another great friend, Aldo, we had tickets for a couple of games, including the aforementioned Australia v Brazil, and it was essentially Matt´s last request that we do everything possible to get him to the game. He had never seen Brazil, and it was his life´s dream. After much discussion with everybody involved (and many who weren`t) and against all medical advice, we managed to come to an arrangement whereby an ambulance was paid for and somehow with the stadiums agreement managed to get him wheel chair, drip, drugs, nurses and all to the game where we sat and watched, a group of 7 of us huddled around him in support, until midway through the second half when it just all became too much for him and we left. Despite the fact that nobody wanted to see him suffer that way at all, and all logic said it was the worst thing that we could do, the realisation that we had made a dying man happy, at least for a short time, and had fulfilled his dream and last request mean´t it was most definitely worthwhile. The decision to go probably cost him over half of his remaining life, but he was going to go out on as much a high as possible.

Matt had also made us promise (to our disgust and guilt) that under no circumstances were we to give up any other tickets that we had, and despite his condition and that he could not accompany us, we had to go. Thus it was that i went back to Berlin on a day trip for Germany - Ecuador (which was an absolutely amazing atmosphere. 70,000 happy Germans supporting their own side at home in the World Cup, and with things going well, plus a small number of wildly happy Ecuadorians who had also already qualified) and to watch Sweden v England with the 300,000 others by Brandenberg Gate, another amazing experience. The following morning I got straight off the night train and went to the hospital for the day, before Aldo and I went to Cote d´Ivoire v Serbia Montenegro that evening, back to the hospital and then I went on a day trip to Nürnberg to see Ghana v USA, where the Americans managed to loose by 1 soccer point to 2 after poor second quarter offence. Or some such. I even managed to come across the only other person draped in a large Welsh flag in Nürnberg (plus the likes of Elvis, Captain America, Dubya, the Blues Brothers, Robin [but no Batman], Flash and Wonder woman). In fairness, they were 3 decent games, and a great World Cup experience, but I just wasn`t ever really in the mood, and more or less spent the whole time there feeling guilty and wishing I wasn`t there. As soon as I could, I was back in the hospital, watching and waiting.

Matt lost his battle and died early this weekend. It is strange how you can *know* that it will end that day, for no apparent reason. But that morning we all instinctively seemed to know it would, and it was a very strange and scary experience. Aldo and I had been taking it shifts with his parents, and we phoned them to say. They arrived a couple of hours later, and all 4 of us were there at the end. Looking at him in those minutes, he looked utterly at peace and entirely relaxed, the pain which had racked his face had gone and the release from his pain was almost joyful. I had been dreading that my last image of a dear friend would be one of him in pain, but instead i have a picture of calm serenity. Because of the situation, the initial reaction all around was more of relief than anything else. It wasn´t unexpected or sudden, and he had suffered greatly, thus the feeling that the had been released from that suffering was relief.

I have almost become too accustomed to death for it to register as anything more than a kind of strange "desolate and depressingly resigned sh1t happens" kind of feeling which I can`t really describe at all. Yes, there is overriding grief, but it´s much more than that. It´s hollow, empty, guilty (part "why me?" and part "Why not me?") painful kind of feeling and for the moment that´s all i can really say.

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Images from Germany v Ecuador (above) and Serbia-Montenegro v Cote d'Ivoire (below)

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Nurnberg, and images from USA v Ghana, below

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Posted by Gelli 03:45 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

Which idiot let the entire Swedish population in?

A Blue gold invasion of Berlin

It's amazing just how many Swedish people it's possible to fit into Berlin at any one time. Granted they were going to be playing in the city that very evening, but the numbers were just scary. Two people with a large van full of copies of Aftonbladet (A Swedish tabloid) had driven over to sell their paper and sold out in under an hour. What had started as a decent sprinkling around during Brazil v Croatia had evolved into a full scale invasion of blue and yellow, and with me sporting my large Swedish flag as a kind of cape (as, indeed, I had at the Tunisia v Saudi game and on the train) I certainly wasn't letting the side down. The question was whether the Swedish side would.

I watched Ecuador - Costa Rica in the pub with Toby, one of the English guys who had also headed down to watch the Tunisia game, and in fact even had tickets for the Ecuador game in Hamburg (and his friend, Dan, had gone). Frustratingly for him, he had come down with a problem during the previous afternoon (his legs had swollen to huge red things) and was struggling to walk, so had reluctantly had to give up his ticket in order to visit a Berlin doctor. And with Ecuador being the early kick off, there was no chance of subsequently getting to Hamburg on time. Gutting. For those that have tried to get tickets, you will know what he went through and how hard it had been. To then actually get tickets, be in Germany and be unable to go is about as bad as it can be.

That was followed by another pub trip with some Aussie's to join the hoards of people cheering on the Trinidadians against the poms. Damned English. In fairness for them to loose would have been harsh, but they weren't exactly outstanding against a limited Trinidad side of mainly lower league British players. But they were superb and held on until the last 10mins when Crouch (who's beginning to look like a seriously prolific scorer, by stats at least) finally scored, before Gerrard got a late second.

And then to the main event and the hoards of blue and yellow. We headed again to Brandenberg Tor and the Fan Fest, which was simply a wash with Swedes. The only others out in any force were Aussies (with the exception of Sydney, has anybody ever come across anywhere where there isn't a large crowd of Aussies? It's scary just how omnipotent they are) who were also in yellow, and a scattering of English, many with Swedish partners. You couldn't have told that Paraguay were playing, as there were a total of 4 Paraguayans in a crowd of well over 100,000... The game itself was one of those extreme exercises in patience. The Swedes were on the offensive all game, but couldn't do much with it. Zlatan - long time superhero and saviour of the Swedish people - went off at half time injured, Allbäck somehow managed to have a lob cleared off the line, and with all hope beginning to fade and the entire crowd about to go into mourning, Freddy popped up with a late, late. late winner.

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Queue absolute mayhem and a huge party all around. You would have thought that we had just won the World Cup. The evening went downhill rapidly from there, and ignoring the fact that the 3 Aussies I had started with had metamorphosed into 13 (just how do they do it?!) plus a fair few others - and amazingly considering the make up of the crowd, somehow not including a single Swede - the rest of the events of that evening will remain untold. And not entirely because I don't remember most of them. The fact we didn't make it home until gone 9am probably says something though...

SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE! SVERIGE!


The following day was, shall we say, somewhat unproductive. I achieved nothing at all except sitting outside of a kebab van watching football on TV. Movement wasn't going to happen. Plans to play football really weren't going to happen. And I was the active one - none of the Aussies even surfaced before 7pm. But it wasn't a bad day to be stuck there. Argentina gave a masterclass of possession football and attacking intent, demolishing Serbia - Montenegro 6-0, whilst also having a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, missing several good chances and scoring a fantastic goal, after a 3minute long 25pass (forward and back, left and right), and 9player build up. I've long thought the Argentinians have had the most depth - for the last 10 years or so - but curiously they have often failed to use it to it's potential. Admittedly teams that blow away their groups historically have peaked too early and then blow up in the knock outs, but there's always exceptions... The Dutch then beat the unlucky Ivorians 2-1 to send them out and mean my Cote d'Ivoire v Serbia -M game is irrelevant, except for pride and as S-M's last ever appearance together. The Ivorians again looked extremely good, and to my money would qualify from any other group, easily being amongst the top 5 teams. But unlucky enough to be in the hardest group.

That evening, I somehow managed to score tickets on the FIFA site for 2 more games - the Germany v Ecuador group decider and a tasty looking Ghana v USA. Typically after booking 5 nights in Berlin, only to then have to travel to Munich for a game, I will now be staying near Munich and have to travel to Berlin for a game (plus Nürnberg, which is easy). Oh well.

Left Berlin the following morning to Bavaria which is awash with yellow (Aussies of course, bolstered by a large Brazilian following for their game the following day). I have tickets for that, and now have 4 games in 5 days, but whether we manage to go to them all - or any - depends on a very important external factor.

Some of you know why, and I hope the rest will accept that I am deliberately leaving out details, but things are really not looking good down here, and I will probably now be in Bavaria for the duration. How long I'm here depends upon developments, but sadly we don't have much hope left. And because of that, i won't be around much for a bit as I have much more important things to do than be online. I'll update you when there is news, and hopefully will have some stories from Australia - Brazil et al as well, but your going to have to wait until I am in some kind of useful frame of mind to be able to put them together. If I ever am.

Sadly, and despite what Bill Shankly said, football isn't the most important thing in the world, even when it is the world cup. Life and death don't pay attention to TV schedules.

Posted by Gelli 05:40 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

2006 Battle of the Arabs

The delights of an essentially irrelevant World Cup game

Some people might wonder why the heck I went out of my way to spend 60euros on a second level ticket to see a game between two Arabic nations that I have no particular affiliation with, in a city over 6hours away from where I was staying, and which I would then have to return to only 2 days later on anyway.

For the rest of you, it's obvious. It's the World Cup!

And thus it was that i crawled out of bed at an hour almost as unseemly as the one I first got into it (about 20mins previously) and with two (shudder) England fans also heading there, headed off onto the train to Munich. Spain were opening their campaign against the Ukraine in Leipzig that day, and as the train went via Leipzig, we were first treated to a train full of press, officials and Spanish and Ukrainian fans. I had the, erm, honour, of sitting opposite Martin Tyler (looking somewhat old, haggard and pissed off with the world, despite being paid to be there and report) and a couple of Aussie cameramen, who were replaced in Leipzig by a German newspaper reporter who didn't stop talking for the rest of the 5 or so hours - an hour's delay not helping - although as it was football stuff, I didn't really care.

After an interesting game of sardines, which in fairness was notable really only for watching the chaos - almost at Shanghai levels - of people trying to squeeze on to an empty train, we headed off into the German suburbs, with everybody else (mostly Brits and Germans) complaining about how cramped the train was, whilst I marvelled at how empty it was in comparison to Moscow or Tokyo rush hours... Munich's spanking new (ok, a year old) Allianz arenA really is spanking new, and stunning. Resembling a kind of, erm, dunno really, Maybe a large white alien craft?, it certainly doesn't look liker a traditional stadium. Entering was surprisingly easy, with no ID checks at all, although my water bottle didn't make it, and finding my seat was simple. I had ended up in the middle tier, right in the corner above the flag, with a great and unobstructed view.

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Munich's Allianz ArenA exterior and the stadium filling up prior to the game

Oddly, and despite FIFA's later protestations that it was a 66,000 sell out, there were large chunks of empty seats. Many were in the side reserved for corporate sponsors, who, I'm guessing, being underwhelmed by the two teams on offer had decided not to bother, but were too arrogant to actually return the tickets for real fans to use, whilst even my row of 24 was half empty. It was also a very strange crowd. Of maybe 55,000 people actually there, probably no more than about 5,000 were actual patriotic fans. The rest of us were essentially random football fans (huge numbers of English, lots of Germans, sprinklings of virtually everything else) who had managed to get tickets and were there because it was the world cup. It was great fun, but a strange atmosphere as there was little of other partisan cheering and support that tends to heighten the atmosphere.

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The teams line up before the game starts, and some of the Tunisian fans cheering on their team

The game itself was decent and entertaining without being amazing, although most of the crowd seemed more interested in starting Mexican waves than actually watching the game. Technique and talent seemed to be lacking a bit and it wasn't the most technically amazing game at all, although as there are few African-Asian competitive Arab matches, they certainly weren't taking it easy. The Tunisians went 1-0, and then 2-1 when the veteran Al Jaber, formerly of Wolves scored seconds after coming on with less than 10mins to play, before Raidi Jaidi of Bolton equalised right at the death. Both teams could have won it, but i thought a draw was fair. And with Ukraine (who I've bet on to reach the semi's, woe betide me on that showing) oddly capitulating against the Spanish earlier, a draw certainly gives both sides a decent chance to progress to the next round.

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Action from the game

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The Saudi fans cheering on their team after Jaber's goal, and Me at the end of the game in the emptying stadium


I watched most of Germany v Poland in the Station awaiting my night train back to Berlin, and was amazed to see some common sense and thinking being applied by DB, German railways. Not only were they putting on extra trains on the four core internal routes away from Munich (to Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Köln and the Ruhrgebeit, Hannover and Hamburg and Berlin) to help people to get home after the game, But they had delayed all night trains leaving by between 10 and 30mins until after the end of the German game to allow fans (and staff) to finish watching it. And as Germany didn't score the only goal until the 91st minute, that extra time was definitely needed...

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Crowds of fans leaving the game, and then heading into the U-Bahn station at Fröttmaning after the Tunisia v Saudi Arabia game

Posted by Gelli 05:39 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Welcome to Fan Fest 2006

After spending a happy afternoon in Copenhagen on my way south, revisiting old haunts, watching football (an unexpected and oddly great atmosphere and high number of Angolans for the Angola - Portugal game in the station sports bar) and spending a couple of hours catching up with Camilla (for those with really long memories, I had met her in Romania, and she was there when my wallet was swiped, and had trawled through Rubbish bins with me) it was time to head to Germany.

I had failed to find free accommodation in Copenhagen at such short notice, but had then come up with a cunning plan. I had a ticket which was valid from the following day, and had expected to be on the 07.45 train, but it occurred to me that my ticket started at midnight, and Denmark has a few trains leaving Copenhagen and Kastrup airport in the early morning which I could use, thus saving on accommodation and getting to Berlin earlier to boot. Thus, at 00.30, and with typically convoluted indirectness and cunning (or, perhaps, "me-ness"), I headed from Copenhagen to the German capital via Aarhus, Fredericia - and yes, i did indeed go to all the way to Aarhus for no reason at all except to double back about an hour to Fredericia. I did say it was convoluted me-ness - Kolding, Padborg and Hamburg, eventually winding up in Berlin. An amazing city, and one of my favourites, and I was delighted to be back, football or no.

When I had been killing an hour waiting for my train from Copenhagen, I had farted around online and actually managed to score tickets to another World Cup game. Thus it was shortly after checking in to my hostel, I headed to the Olympiastadia to queue for several hours to receive my ticket for that heavyweight battle to top all others, Tunisia v Saudi Arabia. Annoyingly, it meant that i missed the Australia v Japan game, but that couldn't be helped. Fifa not showing their own football in the ticket centre until huge pressure changed their minds was odd, so i saw it was 1-0 with 81mins gone. I should have actually stayed to watch the last 10mins, of course, but I didn't and only discovered later that Hiddink had inspired a 3goal comeback. Pah!

Instead, i headed to the fan fest in Berlin's central Brandenberg Tor, a mass of colourful fans watching football on some huge screens whilst enjoying German sausage and beer, which thankfully as it wasn't in the stadium, was real German beer, instead of the American cats p1ss cr*p that has to be served within the stadiums due to a certain 'beer' company being one of the official sponsors. I have no problem with official sponsors, and even one who's slogan says 'you do the football, we'll do the beer', except that to have such a slogan, surely they should actually supply beer, and not whatever the heck the water stuff they actually do is.

Despite barely seeing her 2weeks ago on my second pass through Siberia, it was great to catch up with the mad Masha again, although tragically she was neither wearing her superb wellington boots or any fancy multicoloured socks. Gutting. I'm sure that shouldn't really be allowed. Masha had been doing a bit of work in the city, but was now free to enjoy herself, and also celebrate her recent acceptance to Edmonton University. I don't know why, but most of my Eastern European/Russian friends seem to be in the process of moving to Canada. Me thinks at this rate, a new trip will have to be planned very soon... Amongst other things i learned that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the human Trotskyist (the hero in this little tale for those who have no idea what I'm talking about http://gelli.travellerspoint.com/90/ ) had lost his job on his release. You might think that a little harsh for somebody that didn't even have to fight an attempted terrorism rap, but when you realise that he was a primary school teacher, it becomes a bit more understandable...

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Assorted freelance entertainment outside the Brandenerg gate included this group of break dancers etc

We spent the afternoon watching football in the square (Czechs looking good), meeting up with random other friends of Masha's - by the end we were a Welshman, Russian, German Polish expert, Italian, Brazilian and handful of Spaniards - and seemingly constantly walking back and fore between Brandenborg Tor and Fredericksraße S-Bahn station, utterly confusing the guards outside the American embassy on the way and probably appearing increasingly suspicious to boot.

Oh, and Kiki is pregnant. With twins. And Christian is not the father.

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Croatian fans preparing to face Brazil

The following day can probably be summed up in the way that many subsequent days will be. Football in the fan fest. 3 games over an 8hour period where i did little except watch and take in the great atmosphere. The final game was Brazil v Croatia, the first to be played in Berlin, and also the first time I saw the Berlin Fan Fest properly packed. As with the previous day, their were fans from almost every conceivable country, including many from countries not even in the finals. Probably 70% of the crowd were wearing Brazilian tops or waving Brazil flags, although suspiciously high numbers of them were English speakers or Germans, and probably the number of real Brazilians there was very low. The remainder included large pockets of noisy Croats plus lots of Swedes (who play here in a few days time), who added to the general yellow-ness. And even a fair few Scots, including one with a simple yellow T-Shirt with Brazil in big letters, followed by the line 'because my team is rubbish'. It's still slightly odd how such a successful team can attract such affection and support from virtually ever other nation, but that sums it up really. The game itself wasn't great, but the atmosphere was, and it was a heck of allot of fun.

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Brazilian fans with musical accompaniment passing through Berlin's Central Station

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Croatian fans in central Berlin "celebrate" the pitch invasion by a random naked guy...

And the pregnancy (why the heck does everybody i know - without exception - have to have complicated kids. They either have twins or triplets, have one parent missing, unknown, in prison, or some other twist, and even in one case, a single mother still utterly convinced she's a virgin despite obvious evidence to the contrary... Why the heck am i seemingly incapable of knowing a happy couple who have a single child at a time????) wasn't even the twist I was going to tell you all about if the response had been that you wanted to hear about it. That one is even better!

Pictures, like so much of the last few months, will follow at a later date, but for now it's gone 3am and time to try and sleep. I haven't really in 2 days, and I have a 6hour trip to the other end of Germany to watch an Arab game tomorrow.

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I get reminder's of the whole Kiki thing everywhere...
Rich

Posted by Gelli 08:50 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

A boring bit about being back in Kristianstad

Returning home after any trip is strange, but having been away for over a year, it felt even stranger than normal. I was dropped off on the edge of town and walked into the centre, right past my old home. The weird feeling of familiarity hit me quickly as I wandered towards he bus centre, whilst the lack of virtually any obvious changes on my route made it feel like I had never left. The sun was out, and you could tell that it was summer by the sheer number of Swedes wearing shorts. Doesn't matter if it's hot or cold, in summer all Swedes will wear shorts as it is summer... The only obvious changes I encountered was that the ATM now also dispenses Euros as well as Krona (the later of which i had a desperate need to acquire), and that half of the bus station is closed for resurfacing, causing momentary confusion as to where the heck my bus left from. Stora Torg, which had been ravaged by a large fire shortly before I had left, I left for a later visit, whilst my old music bar, Banken (also destroyed by fire, shortly after i left - Kristianstad having been in the middle of a fairly long and sustained pyromaniac attack) looked the same as before.

I utterly confused everybody at work by just randomly appearing without any forewarning at all, with one or two going in to major shock at my appearance. I don't think anybody actually expected me to return at all, and even now, many still doubt it. Do I really give the impression that I want to leave that badly?? If it was strange to be back in Kristianstad, it was even stranger to be back in work. Not a huge amount had changed, although two of the old hands had left (one for 6months, the other permanently), Matthew had finally gained a clone and good old Marky Ryan, an old colleague from the Aylesbury days where we were spent more or less our entire time scheming as to how the heck we could leave the office of doom and get out from under the cosh of the evil boss man, and who I had first encountered at University, had recently joined and was now settling into life in Sweden. Useful to have around, as he is (a) a crusader for mac's as well - of course I was only ever going to Conn TK into hiring Mac people and (b) has enough quirks that my habitual wandering around the office in odd coloured socked feet with numerous assorted holes probably won't attract as much comment as previously...

And the electronic store around the corner had gained a portable Thai food wagon.

Excitement knows no bounds, doesn't it?

But no, don't be daft. Of course i wasn't back properly and almost having to do real work again. That's one I'm really trying to avoid. I farted around for a couple of days, catching up with everybody - work colleagues and other friends - crashing at 3 different peoples places, and trying to work out what the future held for me and at work. Made a few small plans, and after spending an evening in Banken watching the opening two games (Germans don't look bad, Poles look pathetic) and then a good triple bill of watching the English start in customary style (doing not allot whilst trying to defend a 1-0 lead against inferior opposition), the Swede's somehow managing to fail to realise that the ball needs to go into the net if they were to beat Trinidad and Tobago (and that would have been a great party to be at, following the result) and the Argentinian and Ivorian teams putting on a good display of technical and mostly attacking football in the group of death, it was time to head off.

As you may have realised, It's World Cup time. It's in Germany. And i'm not. Yet. This must be rectified. Time to get there as quickly as possible.

Without flying, of course...

Posted by Gelli 08:31 Archived in Sweden Comments (0)

University celebrations and calm before the home coming

Although very sad to be back in Europe and the trip definitely winding down, I was delighted to return to Lithuania. Vilnius has long been one of my favourite cities, and whilst it has started to be discovered more and more by backpackers (who more or less without exception have either come direct from Krakow or Warsaw and then heading to Riga and Tallinn, or are going the opposite direction) and stag do's etc, hasn't yet really taken off and been affected in the way that Riga has. Part of that is that Ryanair only fly to Kaunas, an hour away, and with Vilnius airport at capacity and not due expansion for a few years it should stay that way, and at least keep some of the stag-do horrors away.

The weather was beginning to get decent after a few dodgy days in Russia, and I was looking forward to seeing some friends again. With a few people away at summer camp, and others in the middle of exams or in the process of moving so unable to let me crash, i found myself an excellent (if bizarrely full of Aussie's) hostel in the centre and spent a couple of days wandering around happily, catching up with some friends and generally relaxing. Amongst others, I managed to spend some time with wonderful Vaida who i had met on my way through last time, and who after a very tough few weeks was in the middle of her final course commitments and about to finish, with, hopefully a pass from her Thesis presentation, which ends their course and after which they will know straight away whether they had passed or failed everything. Plus a few others who I knew from various places, and one or two commitments which I won't go into, which were necessary but sadly not the most fun.

Even though it isn't all that big, I never manage to have enough time in Vilnius. I think perhaps I just need to move here for a few months, which would be easier. And I can never tire of watching the girls wandering around, as they are almost to a fault all universally stunning.

In the middle of my time in Vilnius, I went to Kaunas for a couple of nights. Vilnius's second city is about 80minutes West of Vilnius, but despite passing through maybe 20times, I'd never managed to stop off for even a couple of hours to see it, and was determined to rectify the situation. Admittedly my timing was bad - the weather changed so that it was mostly wet or rainy, it was right in the middle of end of year (or course) exams so few people were about, and I arrived Sunday with only Monday as a full day there, which with most things being closed meant they were are the worst days possible. Oh well. But I had managed to find myself yet another (as they all have been) great host, in the shape of Ina - of the many Lithuanian girls with an Italian boyfriend - and we had a look around town. I also spent a day walking through the old town, and out to the convent by the lake, which despite the weather was very pleasant, and I'm more than happy to have finally managed to see Kaunas.

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Central Kaunas, the old town, and covent by the lake


Ina also gave me a chunk of Lithuanian music to add to my growing collection of World Music, and introduced me to a hither unto unknown Italian liqueur, which whilst admittedly on the sweet side, had the totally unexpected quality of tasting more or less perfectly like liquid Bakewell Tart. I used to love Bakewell tarts (a kind of English pie/cake, originally from Bakewell in Derbyshire, for the many of you know wondering what the fr1ggin heck Bakewell tart is) and haven't seen or tasted one in many years, so was both stunned and delighted when the realisation of the taste hit me. I also had an extremely strange experience with 3 young-ish girls in a kebab shop (and another Uni celebration) which for your amusement I should probably expand greatly on, but in this case i really won't.

It's just better that way.

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Progress is building new things right next to old buildings; Kaunas by night; art or really bad parking depending on your point of view, and proving just how safe Lithuania is!

Back in Vilnius it was midweek, so the hoards of English speakers there at weekends and the stag-do mob that do exist had all gone, leaving the city much quieter, more relaxed, and mostly composed of Lithuanians. WooHoo! Vai had had her Thesis presentation that morning with excellent results, and thus we celebrated both her graduation and imminent move to London to join her English boyfriend and start a new life there. Later and deliberately, if a bit more randomly, i hooked up with my old Norwegian friend Tina and one of her friends, who had just finished their exams in Trondheim and who had just flown in to start a well deserved summer holiday.

I've said it before, but I wish I could stay longer.

However, I had another semi-commitment to take care of, and so i took the bus to Klaipeda on the coast, and after wandering around for a couple of hours (the old centre is OK, but I've never liked the city in general), went to the port to get the ferry to Karlshamn and my return to Sweden. The ferry was boring, and I had very little of either Litas or Krona so restricted myself mostly to watching the water pass by. It was the calmest ferry I think i have ever been on, with not even a hint of rocking, and if i hadn't known i would never have guessed I was on a boat or moving. I watched Sweden appear the next morning, feeling very strange about my return, even if only a brief one, and after negotiating one slight problem (Karlshamn port is nowhere near Karlshamn, and there is no public transport to it) with the help of a couple of nice Lithuanian lorry drivers, we passed through Sölvesborg and the Swedish rock festival and I was dropped in Kristianstad.

I was finally back.

Why? I'll explain next time.


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Klaipeda central square

Posted by Gelli 05:35 Archived in Lithuania Comments (1)

Returning to Roman alphabets

It's strange how little things suddenly mean so much. After about 11 months of being in countries with different alphabets or character sets, crossing back into Latvia suddenly meant I was back again in truly familiar ground. And even the EU. Things really are coming to an end with extreme speed.

I'd spent 3 days in Moscow, partly just because I had a little extra time after the Kazan cock-up, and because I managed to arrange my ticket to Riga that way. It was the last possible way that I could have been tripped up and forced to fly (in theory), and even then I had several alternatives.

In Moscow it was heartening to see 90% of people wearing the national costume (jeans, black shoes and leather jackets) and also the requisite number of beer drinkers. I have never worked out exactly why, but i think it must be mandated by law that at least 50% of all Russians must have an open can or bottle of beer in their hands at all times. This applies at any hour of the day or night, and in any situation, with the alleged exception of drivers. Despite having the vodka reputation (vodka generally gets drunk at home and for occasions), Russia is very much a beer country with huge availability and vast variety of Russian - and some foreign brands - most of which are very good. And it is also surprisingly rare with such numbers of constant drinkers to see very drunk people in the streets, which I still find interesting. And of course, the requisite number of Russian stunners out in the sunny weather.

I had arranged to be in Moscow for less than the 72required hours, so visa registration was not an issue, so instead of returning to a hostel I managed to find myself a lovely host at short notice, with the excellent Natasha happy to put me up (the moronic Winston Wu should take note). Unfortunately, poor girl, she is a lawyer at a big firm and works long hours. On my first evening when I went to meet her at 10pm after work, she told me that something had come up and as such she wouldn't be able to leave for another several hours. But brilliantly (and I love this about CS), she was more than happy to hand her keys and directions to me (a strange foreigner she had known about less than a week and had met for less than 5minutes) and told me to make myself at home.

I'm always wary - especially in places where I don't know the language, and with people I don't know at all - about being given keys for the first time, as partly I feel uncomfortable in strangers houses without them, but more that I always dread misreading/interpreting the directions and ending up trying to break into the wrong building, leading to long a long and unpleasant interrogation by the police whilst things are being sorted out. I.e. How long have you known this person? 5 Minutes. Where did you meet? Online What is her surname? No idea. And the like. But happily I managed to find me way through the hoard of tower blocks in Bratislavskaya in the SE corner of the city and got into the correct apartment without being attacked or even queried by eagle eyed Babushka's. It later turned out that poor Natasha appeared at about 5.30. And went back to work before 9am.

After sorting my ticket, i spent a couple of days just wandering randomly, something I love doing in big cities, revisiting a few old tourist spots and doing some chores and bits of shopping. I spent a huge amount of time (and later, money) in a huge toy shop, marvelling over it's size and the sheer variety of stuff available to kids these days - I'm sure it wasn't like that in my day - looking enviously at a life sized fury camel (if I could have afforded it, and also worked out how to get it back to anywhere useful by myself, i would have bought it) which would have almost made up for Erik's sad recent demise and bought a pile of stuff for my god kids and a few others. And picking up other such essentials as a huge wall world map in Russian

The middle day with another CSer, a Portuguese language student and translator (In Russia you go to Uni to do language, meaning it's English and something, but cant seemingly choose the something. Olga had been assigned to Portuguese, like it or not) heading on a day trip to Sergiev Posad. One of the Golden Ring cities, it is one of the most accessible from Moscow and somewhere I had planned to visit on my way East, but failed. In fairness, It wasn't the most exciting place in the end, and the reason for it's golden-ness - the Kremlin - whilst lovely, was half closed to visitors and partly under reconstruction, which didn't help. But we had a good wander, I happily ticked off somewhere that had long been nagging me and Olga was great company and good fun.

Arriving in Latvia was a little anti-climax. No problem at customs, and barely a glance at my strange pile of toys in assorted bags, and I was then back in the lands of cursory passport checks and no stamps. I've acquired a fair few stamps and visa's on this trip and will soon need a new passport. Indeed, the reason that I was coming to Latvia at all is that the direct trains from Moscow to Vilnius all go via Belarus, and I don''t have either a current Belarus visa in this passport or enough space to get a new one. Less than an hour after arriving in Riga, I was on a tram to the outskirts, and barely 5minutes later had managed to find a ride (with a lovely Lithuanian in a huge new BMW on his way home from Tallinn, who even insisted on buying me dinner on the way) all the way through to Vilnius. I'd been in Riga just long enough to post some toys, change a little money so i could buy food and a tram ticket, and then head to the outskirts.

It really is coming to an end now, but despite very strange feelings to be back in Europe (the foreboding of which started before I had left Thailand) I'm still excited. No new places perhaps, but lots of people to see again and in barely a week there is apparently some football-type thingy beginning in Germany which might be quite good...

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Sign near Red Square. Me thinks they haven't quite got teh hang of this yet...

Posted by Gelli 04:43 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Trying to avoid becoming an adopted father...

The last long train journey of the trip.

Sometimes silly things annoy me.

I was disappointed not to be able to get a ticket from Kazan to Moscow, meaning that again, I had to drop Kazan from my plans. That's the 4th time that it has happened, and it's fast becoming my #1 must get to destination, just because it's proving so hard. But as I did manage to get tickets through to Moscow from Tyumen, it wasn't the end of the world. It meant that I would still be able to keep other commitments, leave the country before my visa expires and also get there without flying.

The thing that really annoys me is that after being told that there was no space on any train between Kazan to Moscow, the train I got to Moscow went through.... yup, Kazan. So no space on just K-M, but if I want to travel for the 18hours before Kazan as well, I can get a ticket no problem. Grrrrr.

Ah well, that's life I suppose.

The journey itself was somewhat interesting. I ended up opposite a family of mother and 2 young kids. The kids were wonderful and after the initial few hours distrust of the new strange person on the train became extremely friendly. Both kept bringing me 'gifts', at the quiet behest of the mother. I played football and hide and seek (not two of the easiest games to play in a train carriage, i must admit) with the 4 (?) year old boy, and then had a long session of learning Russian and teaching Swedish to the 9 (?) year old girl, with the aid of a Russian equivalent to an etch-a-sketch. I must admit that using an Etch-a-Sketch to make conversations etc on trains when there is no common language is a stroke of genius, especially when coming from a young girl. Admittedly, it overlooks the fact that I can't draw AT ALL, and my attempts at drawing simple objects for the naming in Swedish-Russian game were at best, abysmal.

The mother, whilst not admitting to speaking anything other than Russian spent much of the day watching me with a strange look in her eye that confused me a tad and worried me slightly more. It's a look I try and stay well away from. And it go worse after the kids had started to adopt me.

What I certainly wasn't expecting was that during the night when i was asleep (in Platskartny, or open dorm bunk style carriages), she decided to crawl into my bed with me. To say I was spooked when I rolled over to discover this strange woman lying next to me - on not un-cramped bunk - is an understatement. A mother and a young child, yes, but I have never even seen two people a bunk on Russian train before. Not couples or very close friends or even when dozing during the day. I somehow managed to wake her and to persuade her that she should possibly be lying somewhere else, but suffice to say i was a tad restless for the remainder of the night.

Why do I manage to attract such people on such a regular basis??

By morning, nothing was indicated about it, although the woman (and the man who had been on the bunk above mine) both suddenly discovered the ability to speak some English, and the woman also gave me two pairs of socks as a gift. I have a feeling that she must have been sent by the "good" people at T-K, as they are the only people I can think of who would be worried about the potential imminent return of my holey socks...

When I disembarked in Moscow, I admit to a feeling of sorrow. Not only had I passed from Asia back into Europe - and all that that entails - and made it to Moscow in 23days, but I was also getting off what was the last long through journey of my trip. From here on in, it's Europe where distances are relatively short and journeys faster, and there will be no more 24hour+ trips for me for a while. In fact, journeys of over 15 hours or so are now just a memory (until the next trip) and I wasn't happy by this fact. I really like long, slow journeys, and have grown to like them even more. Hmmmm.

And so, Moscow. Again. But that can wait.

Sadly, to end, I have some tragic news to impart, regarding my very good friend and long time hitch hiking partner, Erik. Erik, as some of you probably know, is a life sized inflatable (one hump) Camel who I have long hitched with for the simple reason that a heck of allot of people stop when they see a camel by the side of road, who would sure as heck not stop for a normal hitch-hiker. Especially when the camel is in Europe and with a sign saying somewhere as likely as 'Vladivostock' or 'Singapore'.

Erik was left in the care of a friend and hasn't accompanied me on my trip, for the simple reason that he is too damned big and heavy when deflated to be worth travelling with when you are not hitch-hiking the entire time.

Tragically, I have been informed that Erik - and he was an inflatable of growing years - has perished. He was being inflated to check all was well before he was due to meet me in Germany in a few weeks, but had given up the ghost instead.

A long time companion, he will be virtually impossible to replace, and in more ways than one.

Posted by Gelli 06:05 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

The tale of the human Trotskyist

There are some things that you don't always expect to see or be part of when travelling. And one of those is going off to celebrate the release from incarceration (2hours previously) of a crazy Trotskyist.

Let me explain.

I had stopped off in Tyumen for a night to visit Masha, my wonderful HC host from my journey over. For those that don't remember her, she is the crazy girl with the most amazing socks you will ever see. And some wonderful multi-coloured wellington boots that she wears.

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Masha resplendent in her trademark socks and boots, and with the Human Trotskyist in one of her less colourful moments

Depressingly, after having so much luck with tickets in Irkutsk, my luck deserted me, and I failed utterly to get hold of a ticket for the Kazan - Moscow leg. I don't believe it, but allegedly all 9 trains were completely full in all classes for 3 days. And I had no time to wait. Instead I managed to get a ticket through to Moscow from Tyumen for the following day, and even p-ex'd my Tyumen-Kazan ticket. It could have been much worse.
And so to the Trotskyist.

It seems that Tyumen has 3 Trotskyists. Admittedly 2 of them remain entirely unknown and probably a figment of people's imagination, but Trotskyist #1 happens to be a friend of Masha and the gang. A week previously, said hero had decided it was time for a revolution, and that action must be taken.

Thus, he took a powder based fire extinguisher and spray painted the exterior entirely in silver. Then donning a silver contamination suit of the style worn by people in environments where getting the slightest contact with anything could kill you, and the inevitable gas mask he headed to a new shopping centre.

And as far as I know, no, he didn't travel there by bus.

Sadly for him, but perhaps not the rest of the world, In the act of setting off his extinguisher he was over powered by 2 security guards, who prevented his deadly chamber of, erm, fire extinguishing foam, from being released over a crowd of shoppers. Showing that his attack wasn't entirely planned to perfection, he was then taken to the police station opposite. Nothing like going to somewhere which the authorities will take time to get to.

Anyhow, his lawyers seemingly managed to argue 'attempted terrorism' down to 'breach of the peace' and he was given a paltry 500rouble (about 10gbp) fine. What happened next remains a bit hazy, but out Trotskyist seems to have objected somehow, and ended up being given a week's prison sentence.

And it was from this incarceration that our glorious hero (?) had just been released and to which everybody was heading to celebrate his return to the real world. I don't get invited to freedom parties for released convicts that often (this is my first in over 12months), so who was I to turn down the chance to meet the man aiming to start the next Russian revolution....?

I admit to being slightly disappointed, although not actually by the grand hero himself, but more by the level of his comrades in almost arms. My favourite part of the whole story is that, somehow, he managed to argue that the items confiscated (one silver coloured fire extinguisher, one chemical warfare suit and one gas mask) were legally his and as such the court has ordered that they be returned to him on his release....

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Archive picture of the Human Trotskyist. If you see this guy wearing a gas mask (although, obviously, if he was wearing the gas mask, you wouldn't see it was him) and carrying a fire extinguisher, don't worry, either Panic, or get your camera ready...

Anyhow, Tyumen more than lived up to it's reputation and memory of my previous visit, and was great fun. A random place to be sure, but some amazing people, and always something different going on. The previous visit was all about Orthodox Churches (long, long story), whilst this was all about the Human Trotskyist. I admit to being hugely intrigued - and I still am - as to why he was being constantly referred to as a human Trotskyist, and not just a Trotskyist. To me, that kind of implies that the rest of them are not Humans, although I can't quite see how a pig, for example, could be classed as a Trotskyist...

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A strange red glow across the Tyumen night sky

Posted by Gelli 02:03 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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