Hello, Ciao, Dober Dan. I finally have a bit more time to sit and ramble on here. Still in Belgrade I am now writing from the ‘dark and dingy cellar’ that I wrote from two years ago. However, the place is anything but dark and dingy now. It’s light, full of new computers and dishing up decent Cuppachino’s courtesy of the new vending machine.
I kind of skipped over the time in Ukraine but it probably deserved more of a write up. It’s actually a pretty interesting place with some of the most impressive sights I’ve seen in Europe and many which I never new existed. The Motherland Statue for example. It’s a huge titanium statute of a woman holding a sword and is located in a park dotted with Soviet statues. Underneath is the museum of ‘the great patriotic war’. There’s nothing in English and nothing but a small cabinet on the allied efforts but the place has an impressive collection of material much of which doesn’t need explaining.
Kiev also has numerous gold dome churches and monasteries and some impressive and proud Soviet architecture. Like many other countries in this region Ukraine suffered heavily at the hands of the Soviets and the Germans and following independence under the rule of a few dodgy premiers. However, the place has a very positive feel to it now, especially after their Orange revolution (which many locals proudly talked about) and new private businesses (like our hostel) are slowly popping up around the place. Despite this we did encounter a number of amusing/frustrating examples of Eastern customer service. When trying to send a fax back to the UK I we were told (by a woman sat next to a fax machine) “No. Maybe later.”. When we asked her why, she walked off and then served someone else. There was also the waitress who told us that “Beer has finished” because she couldn’t be arsed to walk down stairs to the fridge!. Still on the whole the place is fun and the people are friendly. There were numerous occasions when the stopped to offer help even when they didn’t speak English! With few tourists though you still get the amusing stare from many of the locals. It’s an inquisitive “Where are you from?”, “What the hell are you doing here?”, “Are you nuts?” and “It’s nice to see you here in our country” all in one look.
Lviv was less Soviet and very pretty and the night train there was ridiculously chep. 11 hours with a bed for 3 pounds 50!
Budapest was a refreshing change after the last few weeks and should act as a model for countries looking to attract more tourists. From the moment I stepped off the train to the moment I stepped back on again that evening everything was made stupidly easy thanks to the numerous tourist offices, signs, directions, information boards etc etc. The only thing that isn’t easy is learning to say “Cheers” in Hungarian. The Sziget festival was great, the rest of the night was a disaster.
Despite being told at the ticket office that I could buy a cabin and a bed for 5,000 hungarian (which I took out of the cash machine) this was not the case. Of course – they only accept Euros. Stupid me for thinking anything different. Why would a train running from Hungary to Serbia accept any thing else? Local currency – you must be joking! No amount of protesting was convincing these guys. Euros it was or a place with 30 others in the corridor of a stuffed full corrodes at the front of the train. Anyone who’s seen me at 2am after a poor nights sleep and a day at a festival will know how miserable I was. Very. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been that miserable which was amusing the hell out of my 6 Slovakian corridor mates who were well up for talking, drinking and smoking the night away in out 1 square meter of carridge. I often defend the French since I quite like them but, after discovering that this train is run by a French company the phrase “excuse my French” was especially appropriate!
Un-able to speak I followed an Auzzie, an American and (painfully) a French guy to the nearest hostel where I slept like a baby until fully recovered. Since then I’ve felt like a new man and Belgrade has been good to me. It’s also convinced me that the annoying underpasses that are so common in Ukraine and Belarus are actually great. Crossing the road here is little short of terrifying.
And that’s just about enough rambling from me, but if you fancy wasting even more of your day you can check out a few photo’s in the gallery section. It’s not complete because I’ve run out of hosting space. Once I’ve forked out for some more I’ll finish the job.
Be good, keep writing and texting, enjoy your comfy beds and remember – Three is evil.
PS I promise – No more men with moustaches!