Bootlegging in the Balkans

The ride from Budapest to Belgrade certainly could have been disastrous as we went to the wrong train station – a small one out of the way from the main international station that was actually only walking distance from our hostel. We took a cab out to this almost industrial looking rail station to only to find out that we couldn’t actually buy tickets at this station to get to Serbia. So, in a panic, the Poo Crew are frantically running around like chickens with their heads cut off asking anyone and everyone whether or not we could just get on and pay the conductor and if the train even stopped there. We decided to risk it and knowing which train was which, thanks to one of the staff members at the station, we hopped on, fingers and toes crossed. All the cabins were full and the slim corridors were too small for all of us and our packs. We ended up popping a squat in the exit hoping that someone would get off at the next stop so we could sit somewhere for the upcoming 8 hour train ride. So, there we were sitting beside the train exit, the stenchy dunny, and the motion censored door to first class on the train which appeared to be empty. At least we were on the train, ticket or not. The train conductor came by not too long after and motioned us into first class. We looked at him with hesitation and then he ushered us in to sit. Apparently the woman that helped us find the right train had explained to him our situation and he was kind enough to allow us to first class for the trip. And for regular price.  Who’da thunk it?! What could have been a major muck up turned into a first class ride into Serbia! Belgrade here we come!!

Belgrade, Serbia is a destination designed for those who don’t want to sleep. Belgrade’s specialty for all those night owls out there are the heaps of Splavovi barges. These are basically giant rafts that have been turned into clubs and are anchored at the riverbank. Most of them are open until the crack of sparrows and I can tell you wh-at, Serbia knows how to party. It has now become routine for me to not leave the hostel until midnight or 1 AM and then party until 6 AM. This is how it’s done Eastern European, folks. For those of you who don’t already know, Belgrade is also a man’s paradise – the Serbian women are so beautiful they put Aphrodite to shame. Thanks to traveling with a pack of wild boars (men), I was privy to weakening of the knees and absolute awe these women possessed. Ladies out there, Serbian blokes unfortunately do not compare.

We stayed at a hostel called Hedonist which proved to live up to it’s name quite accurately. We had a sneaky peak at some of the not so PG activities taking place in the common room via the front desk’s security television. Couple of crazy Aussies didn’t check for a camera after everyone left I reckon. Anyway! Hedonist is located right near the downtown shopping district and close to heaps of bars and restaurants. The staff are so vibrant and energetic as well, loved partying with us.

Friday night, having only just arrived and gotten settled in by midnight, was a quiet one. We barely survived Budapest and needed to be in tip top condition for the Warrior Dance Festival the following night which was to be held at the Belgrade stone fortress. So needless to say, I won’t bore you with the Friday details.

Rise and shine on Saturday and we wake up for a quick nosh before racing over to the ticket center in the square to get our Skrilly Willy tickets. Success! The day was basically spent having a wee exploration of the place. There are nice parks there but otherwise, dog poop is the main sight seeing for Belgrade. I was told there wasn’t a whole lot to see in Belgrade but that the night life was worth the visit so I wasn’t all too surprised when there wasn’t too much to look at other than shops and the occasional tower here and there. The poop though, definitely was Team Brown’s highlight. That and the outrageous traffic. The cars honk at each other so often it would appear they were having a chin wag. We then strove to get the cars honking at us. Natural honking became a goal of the stay in Belgrade shortly thereafter. As the sun began to settle, we headed back to get the festivities in order for some serious Warrior Festival dancing. With tons of grog to go through, we were about to get right yobboed. We started off just the crew playing the card game Shit Head and then after getting into the Clap game (which is better shown than explained via writing) recruited half the hostel into this sweaty drinking game. Marijan, one of the very handsome staff members, then came over and offered us each this strange looking liquor in fluted shot glasses. Rakia (also Rakija) is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by the distillation of fermented fruit such as plums, apricots or grapes; it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans. Its alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50% to 60%). Which is the stuff that Marijan foolishly gave us. It’s classically a sipping drink but being the ignorant tourists we were, we thought it was for shooting. Our mistake. The second we downed the stuff our trachea started burning and our eyes watering. Should have known better than to trust something out of an old plastic gasoline container. Ah well, when in Rome! Err… Serbia.

And this was the evening that marks the beginning of my recruitment into the Game of Life which has played a role in every country since Serbia. Basically, the game is centered around how the world M-I-N-E is a very selfish word and therefore should not be said without consequence. Any time this word is uttered and caught, the perpetrator has to do 10 push-ups with a clap during the last one. Doesn’t matter where you are – nursing home, grocery store, mud pit – anywhere you get caught. So, this being also a “game”, you can imagine how we would all try to set one another up. “Hey, who’s beer is this?” or “Who’s fart was that?!” In any case, once you’re in, you’re in for life. And now there are people all over Europe doing push ups thanks to our recruitment process. Photo evidence.

After getting well watered we were off to Warrior Dance Festival – an open air concert at a fortress. What an amazing night. I wasn’t really into electronic music before then but hot damn I can say with conviction that it definitely gets everyone going. What a good night of rampant dancing and near front stage views of Prodigy and Skrillex.

We slept quite late the next day after a seemingly long night getting lost on the way home at some ungodly hour. The next day was spent in the shopping district picking up some new Connies and staying far too long at an ice cream shop because Ollie’s future wife was working there. Sunday evening was taking a turn for a repeat of the previous night but alas, I was too tired and fell asleep while the boys went out and didn’t roll back in until 11 AM the next day. Sweet heaven almighty, Belgrade is very much a vortex in that sense. Monday was spent in the Bohemian quarter of Belgrade where there are fantastic traditional Serbian restaurants and little pubs. I probably ate the biggest stuffed pork chop on this side of the moon. After a late lunch, Dougie, Ollie and myself went over to the massive shopping center across the river to pick up a few things. Namely a netbook for myself because traveling without a laptop is an extreme hassle when everyone fights for a turn on the communal hostel computers. Here is where I had a lesson in Serbian gypsy cabs. I was lucky enough to get into a good one but the driver was kind enough to learn me on the ways of unlicensed taxi drivers. Essentially, if you get into the wrong car, they will either lock you in and take you for a goose chase demanding an obscene amount of money or, if you’re completely green, they will just savagely rip you off. Serbia is a very cheap country but the exchange rate is ridiculous so it’s easy to not be able to figure it out in your head. 1 Euro = 115 Dinar, which makes the math a little tricky. Serbia is also only an up and coming tourist destination so there is not a lot of knowledge on these types of things and the locals look at visitors like absolute aliens. Despite this however, the locals are very well versed in English and are very friendly people. Thank you in Serbian is “hvala” but sounds an awful lot like “koala” which we proceeded to say in jest so I’m sure we looked like fools the entire time.

The last night in Serbia was a total ringer. Serk didn’t come out with us as he was to fly to Istanbul the next morning but god Jesus love me, what a night. We went down to one of the barge clubs with the whole hostel and everyone found their “soul mate” that night. Imagine a pack of us stumbling home in the wee hours. The poor locals must have hated us. “DO YOU SPEAK ENNNGRISH?!”

Our last day in Belgrade was spent sorting out overnight train tickets to Bulgaria with Alex, Ollie and Doug. And what an interesting train ride that was. The Eastern European trains are exactly how you would picture them to be. Especially the sleeper trains. Tiny cabins with six bunks with maybe a couple feet between each one. Tiny tiny tiny. And of course the shortest female of the bunch is in one cabin over on the very top with an older man underneath her from Montenegro who, dare I say it, was a “sleep wanker”. Thank god for earplugs because that was definitely not in the bargain.

I’ve been surprised that border control has been so easy so far. Mind you, I haven’t been out for as long as the boys have and they were questioned ruthlessly a couple of times with regards to a lacking of stamps from certain countries. Sometimes you just don’t get a stamp when entering certain countries within the Shengen zone depending on your form of transportation. We definitely got stamped coming into and exiting Serbia as they are not part of the Shengen zone, weirdly enough.

Anyway! Took the night sleeper wank train to Sofia. The toilets were Trainspotting and the cabins were surprisingly full of locals who just drank and smoked out the corridor windows of the train. Good times.

Sofia. There is not a lot to say about Sofia… There isn’t much there save for a mountain which helps pick up their tourist industry in the winter. There is also a monastery to visit in one of the Bulgarian mountains but because we were only staying a few nights and because there wasn’t much to see in the town, we just partied our nights away. Or tried to… There is a very interesting subculture of clubs in Sofia called “Chalger” clubs. It’s basically Bulgarian teeny bopper electronic music which was then extended to categorize the type of people that listen to the music and then the type of clubs that entertain these. You know you’re in a Chalger club when there are tissues all over the floor. Apparently, it’s trendy to buy a packet of kleenex and to one by one throw them in the air when you’re at the club. Very interesting indeed. I think a lot of the Bulgarians take the mickey out of these places. Hmmm yeeshh. I don’t know if it was because we went mid-week but we didn’t find Sofia to be anything special and the people not nearly as friendly. But then again, anything would be crap after Belgrade. Especially for the Root Crew. Other than spending time in our private dorm making a fool of ourselves because the weather was so crap, we were gypsy cabbed to the “Studentski” district where the bartenders MADE us buy and entire bottle of vodka. Not the friendliest of places. The interesting thing about the Bulgarian language is that they do adopt a lot of other languages as part of their own.  For instance, thank you is “merci” and goodbye is “ciao”.  Also, in Bulgaria, nodding your head means no and shaking your head means yes.  Perhaps that’s why they thought we wanted an entire bottle of vodka?  But that is all a part of the past because Istanbul changed my life. It took us a hell of a long time and a whole lot of hassle to get there but we finally made it.

Words for the wise, anyone in the Commonwealth and the United States actually has to pay 45 euro for the Turkish Visa to get into the country rather than the 15 euro that all the forums tell you. But the 45 euro is amazingly worth it. Istanbul will be my next home, no word of a lie. More to come on Turkey – the place that has healed me and never made me feel so alive. ❤

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Retoxing in BudaBEST!

Oh sweet sweet Budapest, where do I begin. You have stolen my heart from me. In actuality, Retox Party Hostel has stolen my heart from me. Serk and I rolled in to Budapest like a pair of ferals, cunning as dunny rats, around mid-afternoon. We originally were going to stay at Carpe Noctem (“Seize the Night”) but hostel bookers pulled a fast one on us because Carpe Noctem was full. The Carpe Noctem staff were just gems and booked us into Retox instead, which is one of the sister hostels alongside Grandio Party Hostel (the horror stories I’ve heard!) and Carpe Noctem Vitae. This was possibly the best outcome for a potentially dodgy situation. The moment we walked into Retox, I felt the tinglies. A lot of the bars and hostels are set up in abandoned communist housing blocks where you enter into a courtyard in the middle of the block and balconies from above surround you where everyone can see what’s going on below. The hostel dorms were located in rooms around the balcony and the open air bar in the center courtyard below.

According to some reading I had done, the beginning of the 21st century was an exciting turning point in the nightlife of Budapest: in the central area of the city new places were opened one after another in tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. These were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, bringing a retro feeling into these places. They were soon called ruinpubs and became popular very fast among the youth of Budapest – ruinpub is the exact translation of the Hungarian name.

Needless to say, this ruinpub hostel lived up to every expectation I had. Everyone in there were walking around half naked with a beer in hand or sitting around the tables playing drinking games. There was no check-in office, so the really laid back also half naked staff just keep their eyes peeled for anyone who looks like a newbie and just strolls on up for the greet and meet. One particular staff member who shall remain unnamed had me grinning like a shot fox before we even sat down for a bevie. We were given wrist bands and watch-like bracelets that flash the electric locks open. The wrist band cleverly has the address of the hostel in case you get lost three sheets to the wind in Budapest and have to flash it back to the hostel. The rooms were not as greasy as I was expecting them to be in what I deemed to be a “squatstel”. Things were well maintained and the bed were clean and comfortable which is a blessing when coming to a place like this as I’m sure everyone who has stayed in this place has had a bit of a naughty on them. Not very many electrical sockets but you can forget about socializing with the rest of the world when you stay at Retox. Because yes, it is indeed the opposite of Detox. There is no check out so we couldn’t get to our beds right away but who wants to sleep the second you roll into Budapest? Not this screamer, nope!

After getting settled in and “watered”, we headed out for some grub with two lovely ladies from Australia to prep for the pub crawl the staff were hosting along with all the other sister party hostels that night. And what a ripper it was. I swear the Aussies all congregate in these hostels, even Thor’s lookalikes… Delicious. We made a few more friends at the hostel bar before heading out to this club for cheap buckets of liquor and these infamous shots called Fane. It’s basically a touch of black currant syrup filled with carbonated vodka. The carbonated vodka is meant to act like a torpedo in your stomach making the alcohol enter your bloodstream at a much faster rate than normal. Hooo damn! We all split buckets you would find in a sandbox of cocktails round a table with various long straws. One thing led to another and everyone starts blowing liquor at each other and throwing ice at the ceiling to explode all over the crowd. We then ran into Ollie, Alex and Dougy who we didn’t know at that moment that we would continue traveling with them to Serbia. We did five rounds of Fane and cheers to anything from “When in Rome!” to “Queen Elizabeth”. Ridic. After losing steam at this club we decided to hit something more local friendly where I tried some very tasty black cherry beer. Late nights, late nights. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Sucha root rat, wink wink!

The following day was beautifully warm and could not be wasted indoors. For those of you who don’t know, Buda and Pest are two different cities that are separated by a river. We were located in Pest which is relatively flat terrain and Buda is more hilly where the castle district and citadel are. Serk and I went more into Pest where the best Turkish bath was hidden and a big park with a castle and a few monuments. Stopped for a lakeside cocktail after a long walkabout before heading back for round two at casa del mortum. That night was to be the ruinbar pub crawl which we were really keen on from the get go. This was also the night that the Pooper Troopers/Team Brown was born into existence. After rounding the troops, we all headed down to ruinbar numero uno. One of the Aussie country girls we met really needed to use the dunny and what do you know she broke the damn bowl when she sat down on it, flooding the bathroom, and was convinced the Hungarians were going to kick her out of the country. So you can imagine what kind of poop and fart jokes came out of that. We had the majority of our hostel making fart noises all night. Szimpla bar was definitely the best out of them all. Szimpla is a labyrinth of different rooms ranging from dark lit caverns, to a giant open air jungle; all levels set up in the same housing block style so you can see what is happening in every room. They sell shisha and with it you get a massive carrot with which we assaulted each other with. BOOM BUDAPEST BABY! The final bar we went to was more of a night club in the end. Here things begin to get a little greasy as we proceeded to play shotgun. Basically how the game works is that a team member will shotgun you a member of the opposite sex and the rules are that you have to go and get your snog on with them. We decided after the game getting a wee bit out of control that there are guidelines and you cant just shotgun any one and everyone.

What we didn’t know was our last day in Budapest was a bit of a bust as it was raining and people were feeling rather rank from the night before. We spent the majority of the day tucked away in a cozy restaurant laughing about the antics from the night before. That night was suppose to be a booze cruise down the river but we decided that we would rather go back to Szimpla bar. When our new friends mentioned that they were to be leaving to Serbia the following day for Warrior Dance Festival with Skrillex and Prodigy, we impulsively decided, Hey! Why not?, and decided to join them. The train was to leave that following morning and despite having to get up early, we went spastic again that night. Needless to say, as we sadly departed Retox, the entire place exploded into a round of applause as we walked away. We knew we did a job well done. Team Brown, roll out. I have been keeping in touch with one of the staff members with regards to potentially getting work when I go back to Budapest in the next few weeks. I definitely left my heart there. And one of my flip flops.

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Polski out and Czeckin’ In!

Ho damn, life has been too fast paced to sit down for even in hour to write. Where did we leave off? Krakow I believe. Wroclaw, (actually pronounced “Frutzwoiv”), was a time and a half, mate.

It is quite a smaller place in comparison to Krakow but has a plethora of history behind it. One of Wrocław’s most popular, memorable and iconic attractions is not a cathedral, not a castle or monument, but a legion of little people: Gnomes, or ‘krasnale’ (in local parlance), to be precise. In Wrocław’s city centre these merry munchkins are simply ubiquitous, dotting doorways, alleyways and street corners, constantly underfoot but seldom seen by the unobservant. Although it sounds like little more than a twee tourist gimmick, gnomes have long held a place in Polish folklore, and their current iconic incarnation as symbols of Wrocław actually has a direct correlation to the political climate of the 1980s. Under communism gnomes became the absurdist calling card of the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement – an underground protest movement that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful, yet subversive protests. Armed with paint cans and led by Waldemar ‘Major’ Fydrych, an artist and art history student at Wrocław University, the group specifically ridiculed the stablishment’s attempts to censor public space. During communism, any anti-establishment graffiti or public art was quickly painted over by the militia; upon seeing fresh daubs of paint, the pranksters of the Orange Alternative quickly painted over them yet again…with gnomes. As the movement gained popularity, gnomes became inexorably linked with the Orange Alternative and Wrocław, though they soon began appearing in other major Polish cities as well. Most people have lost count of these quaint little creatures over the years and nobody knows exactly how many of them there are. We stayed in a really chilled out hostel there called Babel, where the staff were the most helpful and friendly up to date. Apart from touring the town afoot whilst getting laser eyed by the townies, we asked them what the locals like do to in Wroclaw at night.

Second best night of our lives after breaking into the abandoned spy tower in Berlin. Both nights we were there, we went to Niebo Cafe, which is a small local bar. The toilets are Trainspotting, the music is heavy, and not a single tourists other than a couple of Canadian louts (yours truly!) were there.

Needless to say, being the only Canadians at that bar, the Polish flocked to us. Leaving out the greasy details, let’s just say that I’ve received several emails from a guy named Grzegorz about how he’s in love with me. Sorry ya punta, but I only have time for two feet and a heart beat. Anyhow, for those travelers out there who are looking for a less tourist clogged city where you can party down with locals, go to Wroclaw.

Prague was next on the list and lets just say, I’ll have to go back to see if the city can prove itself to me again as our manky hostel set the precedent for our trip. It was a Saturday so granted the majority of good hostels were booked up. We stayed at the Prague Lion which was the most UNcharming and lifeless place. I highly do no recommend the place. Well, unless you just want a dark unpopulated room to put your head at night and not meet a soul. The staff there also weren’t the greatest of people. Whatever, moving on. Being Saturday night in Prague, despite getting maybe 2 hours of sleep the night before, we had to go out. For all the vagrant metalheads out there, check out the website metaltravelguide.com for all the sin dens all over the world. After looking through the ratings on several metal clubs/bars in Prague, we decide to attempt to find Hell’s Bells. It’s tucked away in a quiet and seemingly lifeless little area of Prague. Hard to find but well worth the effort. Once you find the tiny little sign, you walk down a few flights of stairs into a huge brick cellar blasting heavy tunes with a giant mural of Eddie on the ceiling. There are hidden rooms that are only lit by candle and the bathrooms have painted on them a giant dominatrix (for the lasses) whipping her gagged male slave (for the lads). The bartender saw my Death tshirt when I walked in a instantly put on The Sound of Perseverance. Kiiiiller place. All local Czech metalheads too. Despite it being a Saturday night, the place however, wasn’t heaps busy but this was a blessing in disguise. After a few savagely cheap beers, sleep deprivation sunk in. What’s the point in staying out when you don’t have the mind or the energy to attempt meeting locals? We decided to call it a night and head back to the hostel. Not before getting drive by super soaked by screaming Czechs. We couldn’t help but split our guts laughing. Oh, quick word for the wise – Czech bartenders love their heady (cough!) beers so, if you’re anything like me, you will get a wicked case of the bloat toots.

Sunday, was basically spent touring the city and going to Prague Castle. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Prague Castle is the largest coherent castle complex in the world. On the other side of the Charles Bridge, where the castle is situated, is a swath of steep cobble streets so for a couple of bangers such as ourselves on a blistering day found ourselves a wee bit MOIST. Swupper lip, swass crack, the whole fandangle. Because it was as hot and sticky as Hades bullocks, we eventually just caved and climbed our way up to a hill top beer garden that overlooked the city. It was too hot to do much else so we just relaxed in the shady citadel over a few wobbley pops.

Eventually, we trekked back through the town hitting some touristy buildings on the way back to the hostel (museum, opera house, etc). Prague is definitely a very beautiful city. I will have to go back when I work my way up again.

Our second last night in Prague was definitely the best. We decided to move to the Czech Inn hostel that day for a change of scenery. CZECH YOURSELF BEFORE YOU WRECK YOURSELF. And ho damn, am I glad we did. We couldn’t get our rooms until 24 hours later so in the meantime we went to a restaurant nearby that was recommended by the Czech Inn staff. The food was glorious. The lamb (baaah) was some of the best I’ve had yet I reckon; flake off the bone best. After a late nosh, we hit up this reggae club nearby. Picture a huge concert hall with various labyrinths of dank dark bars featuring sounds from reggae to dub step depending on your fancy. It started out slow with a couple of Rastas dancing in overalls at the front and me drinking the most enormous Hoegaarden the size of my head, drooling over the godly bartender. As the night went on into the wee hours, BANG!, a random couch surfing group showed up. We met the chillest most laid back guy from South Africa, Chris. I’ve always been told that south Africans aren’t the nicest of people but this guy destroyed that rumor. He had just arrived into Prague that night via hitch hiking and literally had no clue where his hostel was and no map to find it. No worries, mate! Bangerang. He went up and grabbed his bongo drum from the ride’s vehicle and brought it down to jam with the reggae dj. I was chuffed as nuts. Then the reggae dancing began and things start to get more interesting. I went to the bathroom and on my way back out this rugger from Liverpool sitting with a wasted and toothless Czech local flags me over. Why am I such a magnet for British munters? Needless to say, after bantering with this Brit and the Czech for some amount of time some certain unmentionables were put on the table. Hey, when in Rome! Uhh, Prague? Things are a bit of a fuzz thereafter as we just got rat arsed. Serk and I exchanged info with the likeables and then got lost as a ball in high weeds on the way back to hostel dank. Drunk vision and tiny map script are not a good combination. Made it back however with only a few hours to spare before “czech” out time. Crack of sparrows power nap, engage. The walk from hostel dank to Czech Inn was hot and brutal but upon arrival we had an all-you-can-eat buffet before putting the head down for the rest of the day. Prague was too hot to do anything as it was. Our last evening there was spent relaxing and playing a bit of trivia at the hostel bar with some Yanks who had freshly moved to Prague to teach English. Aimed to go to bed early but ended up staying up a touch too late for a 6 am bus ride to Budapest the following morning. BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS, I fell in love with Budapest!

Auschwitz Death Camp

Where do I begin?  Well, from the start I guess.  Originally I wasn’t going to go because I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to handle it.  I’m glad I did because it’s an important memorial of a history we cannot forget or chose to ignore however privileged we may be.  I had the opportunity to go with an Israeli friend, Hemy, that I met in Krakow.  And what an amazing honor it was to go with him.  We took the bus out of the city to Oswiecim, the small Polski town where it was built.  I had an upset stomach the moment I stepped onto that shuttle.  I took us an hour to get there and how shocking it was to drive into the middle of this small city where PLUNK right there – Auschwitz.  At this point as we were walking toward the entrance, I was feeling a little weak in the knees and had a lump in my throat.  My stomach was turning and I hadn’t even been inside yet.  For anyone who hasn’t been, there is Auschwitz, the administration camp, and then Birkenau, the extermination camp which is just a short bus away.  There we quite a few tourists there of many nationalities and unfortunately, because we did not arrive early enough, we had to pay for a mandatory tour.  This didn’t deter us though, once we got through the gates after being given headsets for the tour, Hemy and I just plugged in our own iPods and went off on our own.  The large iron gate has scrawled across it “ARBEIT MACHT FREI”, which is German for “Work makes you free”.

Walking down the gravel road, on either side, there we blocks and districts for each country directly affected by the Third Reich.  Inside each of these were plaques with descriptions and pictures for each country.  At first, I managed to stay strong.  But only until I came to the Austrian exhibit and that is when I broke down.  There was a picture of a woman and her family all in bathing suits looking beautiful, happy and healthy, and beside this photo, another of the same woman after she had been in the camp.  The setting of the photo was the infirmary and she was being held up by two German nurses because she couldn’t stand on her own.  She was so malnourished she looked like a skeleton with skin stretched over it too thinly.  Devastating.  This was only the beginning.  Hemy and I split up to have our own moments and I came into the building where all of the shoes, glasses, bowls, and hair was kept.  Although not representative of the actual quantity during the time I’m sure, it was absolutely flooring to see the remnants of so many people still there.  The Nazis would painfully shave down men, women and children with dull razors, oftentimes injuring them, to keep their hair for making textiles.  If I thought this was difficult, well I had another thing coming. My heart hurt especially for Hemy as not two days prior his father sent him a list of something like 50 names of his family who were exterminated at this camp.  I went inside the extermination shower and stood underneath the small square opening where Zyclon B was poured into these concrete locked rooms, killing hundreds at a time.  There were crematories in the next room over where they burned the corpses of over 1.5 million Jews and non-Jews between the 1940-1945.  This was not nearly as harrowing Birkenau though.

Hemy and I met up at the front when we were both finished to take the shuttle over to Birkenau, the slave and extermination camp.  We got out of the bus and walked through the main entrance – a large red brick archway with a lookout tower on it.  Upon entering, the second I saw this place, I fell into a shocked submission and my heart and body could no longer feel.  I could not speak or even think.  The air was thick and hard to breathe.  It was absolutely silent; not a single bird.  You feel the death when you walk in.  The hair on the back of my neck raised and, despite it being a sunny day, I felt cold.  I walked down the same train tracks that millions of people walked to their deaths.  As far as the eye could see there were red brick crematories spread evenly side by side.  I never imagined how many there were and how giant this place is.  We were alone at this point and I listened to Hemy singing in Hebrew while we walked and walked down the long brick crumbled red dust road by the masses of chimneys.  You can still smell a faint burning in the air.  Ash.  Most victims were killed in Auschwitz II’s gas chambers using Zyklon B but other deaths were caused by systematic starvation, forced labor, lack of disease control, individual executions, and purported “medical experiments”.  After about half an hour we reached a small wooded grove where a plaque with a haunting photo explained that this is where thousands of families stood waiting to be murdered.  I couldn’t believe I was standing in such a place today.  Not too far from this haunting grove is a murky pond where the Nazis would dump all the human ashes that they not only used for fertilizer but also dumped down rivers and streams once the surrounding ponds were full.  There were roses floating in the water.  There were a few memorials in each language, candles and offerings surrounding each one.  Hemy knelt in front of the Hebrew memorial to light a candle and sang.  It was beautiful and full of sorrow.  

We reached a building where the men, women and children were stripped naked and left for hours outside humiliated and cold, waiting to be deloused and shaven.  Inside, a plaque described how all material affects were taken from these families and sent to warehouses called Canada I and Canada II.  I can’t describe how that felt.  We worked our way back through to the camps where concrete stables meant to house five working horses were renovated to imprison 200 people in cramped unsanitary wooden bunks.  They still feel cold and smell damp.  The heaviness of the air you can feel in your lungs.  Thick and sickening.

After walking around the camp for a total of three hours, we were back at the train tracks.  Hemy stopped to pray.  He was hoping to find a group of Israelis because he said he was supposed to have at least 10 Israelis to do the prayer with.  Unfortunately he couldn’t find any.  Witnessing him was truly an honor and privilege.  Exhaustion set in as we decided it was time to leave.  Mentally and physically exhausted. 

The ride home was spent in reflection of how lucky I have been in life and to appreciate and be grateful for everything I have.  I reflected on how I had been standing on the most gigantic cemetery in the world, a cemetery where there are no graves, no stones, but where the ashes of more than one million people lie.  Where absolute hate and evil was perpetrated.  I’m glad that I went because I felt it important to pay my respects to the many lives stolen during the Holocaust.  Understanding that having the choice to decide if I wanted to confront these atrocities or not is a facet of white privilege that I did not want to participate in.  As Elie Wiesel said, for the dead and for the living we must bear witness.  

It was truly an altering experience.

Emotional Debauchery in Poland.

Eff me sideways, travelling can be quite exhausting.  Once we landed in Krakow, we did a bit of exploring in the market square where I saw some intense woman in red levitating in front of a church.  An optical illusion I’m sure, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how she was doing it.  MIND FREAK!  After doing the classic tourista bullshit we went back to the hostel where we met a couple of crazy French dudes and this absolutely MENTAL guy from some city in Poland who’s car broke down so he was crashing at the Goodbye Lenin hostel.  He started this whole hip hop revolution in Poland about legalizing marijuana called Grubelolo meaning “fat doobie”.  Needless to say, the guy slams a bottle of vodka down on the table and says, “We drink!”  You can imagine how it went from there.  Various different countries then sat down and joined us on the patio getting drunk, a wasted G8 meeting.  Anita, Brittany and Hemy finally arrived back and we went out to some intense bar that looked like an old stone viking dining hall.  DRINKS DRINKS DRINKS!  Everything is so cheap in Poland.  The exchange rate from Polski Zlotys to the Euro is about a quarter.  So imagine me buying four packs of Malboroughs and only paying approximately 12 euros in total.  Hot diggity damn, this place may be the death of me.  Especially the 50% proof vodka we seem to have decided is our drink of choice.  After chewing the fat until some ungodly hour, we all hit the pit to prepare for our trip out to the mountains of Zakopane which I will officially dub “Sack-of-pain” for all intents and purposes.

We are like Pringles, once we pop we just can’t stop.  Henceforth, tallies of Zyviec on the four hour train ride.  Anita and Brittany are amazing women – survived hell and back.  The connections I have made with these people I cannot describe adequately.  We finally arrived in the Polski highland mountains and all I could see was green for miles.  I could taste the trees the air was so fresh and so clean clean!  The five or so days we spent in the mountains were heavy.  It was almost like a group therapy session for us all as we got drunk and spilled our guts to each other.  Literally at some points too… there was some weird virus going around and sudden onset violent vomiting for 24 hours.  Every one came down with  it except for Hemy and myself.  Knock on wood.

After a speedy recovery from the group we took on the highest peak in Poland, mount Rysy.  It’s something like 2550 m above sea level.  I was really scared to do it because the other day when we went for a minor hike, I had to turn back short of breath with heart palpitations due to the altitude and dehydration.  Having to turn back the other day made me feel so disappointed and discouraged in myself.  I almost felt as though I had let my Dad down by “wussing” out.  On the day of Rysy though, after getting a little more acclimatized, I pushed myself to conquer the challenge of a hike much harder than the previous one and I made it up!  Bloody hell it was hard – a 12 hour hike.  I was one sweaty Betty!  We reached what is called the Five Lakes Canyons at the top of the mountains above the tree line and these waters were the clearest and most azure I’ve ever seen.  We spent a good half an hour back there before deciding to head back and just in the nick of time.  A giant hail and rain storm hit us on the last leg of the hike back down.  Thank the dark lord we were not still up on the rocky steps and cliffs.  Anyway, while up there, the sense of accomplishment I felt was like nothing else and I was thinking about Dad the entire time hoping he would be proud of me achieving something that normally I would doubt myself in doing.  I cant describe it really.

Anyhoo! We all had to buy these ridiculous neon ponchos from the lodge so we could hike back down to the bus.  Most metal Teletubbies on the mountain!  ERMAHGERD!!!

The mountains were rejuvinating but I’m glad to be back in the hum drum of the city.  Itchy feet!  Gotta keep moving.  Back in Krakow, after riding the vomit train, we hit up Flamingo hostel and got to the drinking.  Went to this wicked bar in an old brick cellar called Carpe Diem, cliche I know, but whatever.  It was set up like a giant pirate ship underneath the city floor.  Dank, dark, cloak and daggery – just how I like it.  I got pretty MC Hammered.  We are no doubt idle and deserted children who generally swarm in great cities, nurtured on vice and daring.  Ready for anything.

Started out of bed the next morning like a bat out of Hell to catch free continental breakie at the hostel before heading to Auschwitz with Hemy.  Hemy is so strong and brave to go back a second time.  He is from Israel and his father, a couple days prior, gave him the names of something like 50 of his family members that were exterminated at that camp.  It was really emotional.  I will write a separate post about Auschwitz as I believe it deserves a special kind of space and not just a blurb within this post.

Anita and Brittany have now headed out to Warsaw.  I will miss them tremendously but we plan to meet again in Istanbul for some more EMERTIONERL DEBERCHERY!

After eating the biggest meal of every kind of meat for little to nothing, we spent our last night in Krakow with a bottle of vodka and 1 L beers.  I think I’m losing my flair… I went to bed at 2 AM and everyone else stayed out til the crack of dawn.  Come on, Ghouls, they don’t call it “Getting Julia Drunk” for nothing.  Tonight, once we arrive in Wroclaw, I will burn the city down.  Hide your kids, hide your wife!!  Just don’t hide the sexy metalheads from me.  I will find them… and I will rape them…  Don’t threaten me with a good time!  Today we have to say goodbye to Hemy.  Sad panda.

 

 

In any case, this one’s for you Anita, Brittany and Hemy:

The pleasures of the damned

are limited to brief moments

of happiness.

Like the eyes in the look of a dog,

like a square of wax,

like a fire taking the city hall,

the county,

the continent.

Like fire taking the hair

of maidens and monsters;

and hawks buzzing in peach trees,

the sea running between their claws.

Time.

Drunk and damp,

everything burning,

everything wet,

everything fine.

All my love.

Diary of a She-Devil in Berlin

Finally!  A moment to sit down.  My last couple days in England were spent with my cousin Matt at Thorpe Amusement Park riding insane roller coasters and drinking with the rugby team.  Thorpe park was tons of fun but if it’s any indication of what England is about, it is staggering long queues, a rubbish sense of fashion that supports camel toes, and is largely overpriced everywhere you go.  Said goodbye to the fam damily on August 25 and my mother indeed had a bit of a wobbley.  Pray she doesn’t lose sleep for the next four months.  I stopped in at Oxford for a quick tea with one of my great aunts who ended up paying for my fare up to London again.  Pays off to visit family, yanno!  Got to London just a-okay on the bus and tubed it back to Auntie Rosie’s and Uncle Guy’s.  They treated myself and my cousin Clara to a lovely Indian dinner which was coincidental since the night prior, the Olney rugby team took me out to another Indian restaurant that Snoop Dogg got helicopter take-out from.  Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.  The ruggers definitely live up to their reputation.

Clara and I stayed up drinking gin until 4 AM and I only slept two hours before getting on my flight to Berlin from Heathrow.

Holy doodle, Berlin is wicked!  We stayed at the 36 Rooms hostel in the Kreuzberg district after meeting with Serkan at Alexanderplatz.  After organizing the room sitch, we then proceeded to walk around the city whilst legally drinking 1 Euro beers in the streets.  We went over to the East Side Gallery which is the largest remaining chunk of the Berlin Wall turned into a giant canvas for graffiti artists.  Amazing art.  Photos to come.

By the beard of Zeus, there are so many good looking punks and metalheads in Berlin.  Yoooow Mammy!!!  This was a nice refresher to England because there, I could carve a better man out of a banana.

After stopping for some eats, we then met up with some folks from our hostel dorm.  Two girls from Miami, one of whom was originally from Puerto Rico who when asked she would wiggle her shoulders and say, “I’m from PUERRRRTO RICO!”, rolling her R’s.  The other two were a couple of handsome party animals from Holland.  They slept all day until we got back but were down to break into the abandoned spy tower that night.  We took the train slightly out of the city to Teufelsberg ( http://www.abandonedberlin.com/2010/06/teufelsberg-abandoned-spy-station.html ) an American spy tower left over from the Cold War.  It was built on top of old Berlin ruins entirely from rubble after the war.

We hiked down this winding road to a dark cobblestone path through the woods quite a ways before finally hitting barb wired.  We had to dangerously climb up an old iron gate where the wire had been cut and had to reach out to slide down a pole to the ground.  I caught my leather choas pouch (my fanny pack) on the barbed wire and slashed it up pretty good.  Casualty of war!  Good thing I brought my punk rock sewing kit – needles and dental floss.

I spent a lot of the evening trying to scare the piss out of the Miami girls with horror movie what-if-scenarios like a total asshole.  I don’t mean to toot my own horn (boop boop!) but I think I’m hilarious.

So!  We find the big entrance to the largest part of the tower and treck our way up like 20 flights of stairs in the dark following Serk who had the only headlamp that didn’t crap out on the way there.  GRAFFITI ON EVERYTHING! And I’m talking straight up graffiti, incredible artistry.  (Photos to follow)

We had to be careful for guards, squatters, and rapist demons from Hell.  Luckily we ran into no such things.  Each tier of the tower had a completely open level balcony with plastic sheets flapping in the wind and secret rooms where no doubt a number of depraved things could take place.  Wink wink nudge nudge.

We finally reached the top and are inside this GIANT dome that echoed even a whisper.  We sang with the echoey acoustics and made weird noises while drinking and overlooking the entire cityscape of Berlin city for a good 45 mins.

We almost missed the last train back into town but hot damn, thank the dark lord we didn’t.  Once we got back into Berlin, I stayed up drinking with the Dutch boys in a park until 6 AM or some ungodly hour.  No rest for the wicked they say!  But I’m probably dumber than a planet of unemployed  peas for burning the candle on both ends so often.  Some drunk as a skunk Scottish dude took quite the liking to me but he definitely was not my type.  *Shudder*
I plan on returning to Berlin again as I move my way back up from Istanbul at the end of this month because we only stayed a couple days before heading to Poland.  Berlin and your metal underbelly, I will be coming for you!

After a 12 hour night bus, we got to Krakow to meet some friends so we could go to the mountains all together.

Anything could happen at this point.  We are all bugs suspended in amber.