The City of Gnomes

One thing that’s always fun about travelling is finding your legs in a new city. My girlfriend and I pulled into Wroclaw bus station with no clue on where we were going next. After about 10 or 15 minutes we realised the logic of the place.

I have been told Wroclaw is the most German city in Poland. Having neither seen much of Germany or a lot of Poland I couldn’t especially say. Instead, I’d like to talk about gnomes.

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Many

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Many

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Different

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Interesting

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Different

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Cute

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Gnomes.

Wroclaw has over 300 of these gnome statues all around the city. It has something to do with their history, some anti-Communist group made political points using depictions of gnomes. He city decided to honour them with a statue. Before you could write an op-ed on the effect of gnomes on society, they were everywhere.

I’m not perfectly certain if they are gnomes or dwarves. The map we bought says gnomes but the website says dwarves. I’d fancy, at least in a Tolkeinesque style of myth, Dwarves would be bigger. Like the first one.

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Technical distinctions aside, I highly recommend Wroclaw as a place. The food had that nice Eastern European homeliness to it. Alcohol remains fairly inexpensive as with most Slavic countries. Like any good European city the buildings are beautiful and the public transport affordable. They have a delicious type of cake, vaguely like a donut, called a paczek. And they have hundreds of gnomes to search through the streets for.

Happy hunting!

Coming up in future weeks – a review of some restaurants in Zizkov (Magical Listicle Tour II) and probably some politics chat. Stick around!

Magical Listicle Tour I – Cheap

For my birthday this year I had an aim: find the cheapest night out possible in Prague. I figured it had some non-birthday applications, like for showing visitors an affordable and decent time. Fortunately, from the pubs desperate for some early afternoon custom to the drinkeries of Zizkov trying to tempt people despite the area’s bad reputation, there are several places where drink can be got for a song.

Here’s a handy guide on how to have a great night on a small amount of  money. Everywhere is within a 10-minute walking distance. The plan does require that the night is a Tuesday.

Unlike a traditional crawl of 1 or 2 drinks per place, I recommend you stay while the drink is cheap.

Ingredients

200 crowns, at least

1 woman, at least

A birthday boy (optional)

1. Soma (5 – 6)

(Budecska, closest to tram stop Vinohradska Trznice)

I found out about Soma when my girlfriend moved to a place near there last year. I had heard whisperings of the place and it’s legendary drink deal, formerly between 5 and 7. Being able to take advantage of this deal on my birthday was especially useful.

Of course, I planned the birthday crawl on pretty short notice so it turns out other people were not available between 5 and 6 on a weekday. A nice quiet start for me. It’s very rare to be the only person in a bar.

The place feels earthy. Like a “real” place, no gimmicks. Not like one of those Mickey Mouse pubs where everything has been produced in some big anonymous factory then made to look individual. A comfortable place to spend a couple hours.

10 crowns for a small beer here. It’s possible to buy 2 at a time on occasion, though sometimes the people on the bar are not as keen on that as you’d hope. A good place to warm up with a few.

2. Ananas Bananas (Before 8)

(A cocktail bar on Seifertova. 66 crowns per cocktail, and they’re fairly delicious.)

This place is open every day of the week and has cheap cocktails before 8pm. The interior is cool, dark with soft coloured light. The back room seems a bit more grunge than the front, the front is more Americana.

An ideal place for the middle of a crawl as it’s affordable yet varied. At Soma, beer is the only cheap thing on the menu, and Bukowskis has a similar issue. The good thing with Ananas Bananas is that you can have whiskey, vodka, rum, or gin-based cocktails and they are all only 66 crowns (about £2, for the UK people, or $2.40, for ‘Mericans).

The name also translates to Pineapples Bananas.

3. Bukowskis (Till They Run Out)

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(Borivojova, opposite the bowling clubs)

What Tuesday is complete without free sangria? Very delicate procedure to produce this, if you’re a bloke, anyway.

1) Be with woman.

2) Woman gets sangria pitcher from bar.

3) Bloke has to order glass of red wine.

4) Empty.

5) Refill with sangria.

The sceheme relies on you not being obvious to the bar, as sometimes their staff are more strict on it. It also relies on the woman you’re with not being snitches and wanting to share. I have had no problems with women grassing on me, nor have they been particularly territorial.

Bukowskis is alright, pretty well-decorated on at least one wall. It’s open pretty late too. My one complaint would be with their prices. Generally, standard big drink prices for small beer. I understands it’s craft beer, but this means your paying almost double, and does craft beer ever taste that amazing as to justify double the price?

Still, on cheap sangria the place is a jewel.

The Pit-Stop: Burrito Loco

(Corner of Namesti JZP, top of Vinohradska hill)

Okay, so even on a birthday, when several lovely friends bought rounds, the night’s expense ran up a little, primarily because I had not eaten dinner when I started. Who eats dinner before 5 anyway? To go home would cost valuable cocktail time.

The best bet, and between Soma and Ananas, is Burrito Loco.

I feel like Burrito Loco deserves an Epic poem. I used to live near one, and another is being built near my new place, and it reminds me of the Robbie Williams song “Angels”:

And through it all

She offers me protection

A lot of love and affection

Whether I’m right or wrong

Burrito Loco is that place you go, that’s open 24 hours, when you’re hungry. It’s delicious. While lots of people like to rally against it for not being “authentic” Mexican, those people can fuck off to Mexico because what the hell do they expect in an extremely landlocked Central European country? If they’re so annoyed they can start calling it Czexican instead and nobody with any sense will care because it’s great.

If ever you are part drunk and very hungry, now you know where to go.

and this concludes our Magical Listicle Tour.

Hungary Like The Wolf

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It’s funny when you’ve moved country how travel retains the same sense of wonder and confusion. Most recently, for the Easter Weekend, I was in Budapest. Here are my thoughts thereof.

My girlfriend and I took the bus from Prague to Budapest, via Brno, Bratislava, and some Hungarian town which I think was called Gyro, but with accent marks I cannot readily recall. Due to holiday traffic, the journey was annoyingly delayed. On the upside, we did get to see the countryside at length, especially beautiful on the westernmost part of Bohemia and the easternmost part of Moravia. On the downside, we arrived in Budapest quite a bit later than originally hoped. There’s a big advantage in a four day weekend, though, in that we had two days of no travel to see the city. As an additional benefit, Roland, the landlord of our AirBNB, a good-sized flat in a leafier, hillier district on the Buda side of the river, was able to give us a lift from the bus terminal.

We met Matthew, a friend she’d made while at university, and who has lived in the city for several years now. He was a very excellent guide to the cool places on the Pest side. Always good to have allies in foreign cities as they know how much things are supposed to cost and where the most is happening. With him the nights we had in the city were far fuller than they likely otherwise would’ve been.

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Some thoughts in the coming city in comparison to Prague; bigger, quite a bit dirtier and smellier, more differences between streets as far as architectural style, more pubs with different flavours though primarily fairly punkish. A hell of a lot of character. When I said dirtier and smellier back there you might think it’s a criticism, but I personally love lived in places. And the smells weren’t all bad necessarily. The food is more spiced than food in Prague, especially paprika, and it drifts throb the streets. Really, it smells like any European city; meat, coffee,  chocolate, alcohol, occasionally piss in the streets. It smelt of gyros and life.

The place was tense. Years of political unrest appears to have led to a fomentation of protests. Most recently, the government shut down Central European University. Students, already prone to protest, having not been made fully cynical of the world yet, now have nothing to do but protest. As a result, there were a litmus of events in the city related to these protests. From small demonstrations in the streets to full on shutdowns of the public transport network. I hope they get the University open again without any violence bubbli over. But it appears the government is doing its best to further stoke up resentment between protestors and the police. At any rate, not nearly something I can comment much on beyond acknowledging the injustice of trying to quash dissent while simultaneously making the operation of NGOs more difficult, so I will abruptly stop commenting here.

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To conclude, definitely worth a trip. Beyond the standard things that make cities worth visiting, this is an especially vibrant and vivid place. Watch yourself on the money front, as Forints are a totally different beast from Euros, Pounds, Dollars, or Crowns. They look very good, I think former Communist countries do their best to outdo each other on note design, and the value of the Forint is very different. Multiple 0s different. Also, look out for the protests when the Rendorseg (Hungarian is the one language where police is so different) are in an offensive mood.

Also, thank you to my girlfriend for paying for a lot of the trip, and happy birthday to me!

 

One Year On – Growth and Ireland

I have now been in Prague for a year, with my girlfriend for a year, and a teacher for a year (almost). It’s been a massive year of growth and change, and generally pretty good for me if a bit awful for the planet as a whole. (It’s annoying that now anytime someone asks how you are you have to respond “pretty good, considering”, but let’s leave that aside a minute). In addition, it was my mother’s birthday recently! Her 40th.*

And so I went to Edinburgh for her festivities. Here we can see clearly a point of growth: I booked all the flights and none of them were incorrect!

It was a great trip. I saw my brother for the first time in 4 years. These days he farms in Australia so it’s a bit too long for afternoon trips to the pub like we used to do. Still, great stories about farming, which is different. His farming stories didn’t used to be as interesting.

I had the chance of showing my girlfriend my home town – might have scared her a bit because I went into a bit much detail about shit and corpse disposal in the old days, which is an idea I had for an Edinburgh tour years ago. The Sex, Death, and Shit Tour of Edinburgh. Shelved for, among other things, I could not find enough things to say about sex in Edinburgh. The location of sex is hard to pin down sometimes. Still, a good trip for us as we went to Mary’s Milk Bar, featured on a Buzzfeed list of the 19 best hot chocolates in Edinburgh, and Mother India – which may be the best Indian food in the city, country, or beyond.
Following on from the trip home, we made our way onwards to Ireland. Despite living most of my life a very short distance from there, I had never before been to either part of the island. I don’t know if it was lack of money or just a general apathy about going anywhere that stopped me, but I’m gladly over the latter. It certainly wasn’t fear though as I don’t think I’ve ever been clever enough for that at the right times.

I feel like a tree, but the new rings are months rather than years. Now I travel AND I get appropriately concerned when stuff is bleaker than normal. Speaking of trees and bleakness, the dark hedges.

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Anyway, onto the trip. It’s a long one so you might want to put the kettle on.

On our first day, we had no plans. Just walk around Dublin and see what the craic is. We wandered about the university buildings, but didn’t visit the Long Room as I fancy the queue was even longer. They have an interesting design, a real mesh of architecture with some more modern buildings further back in the campus but with the majority of the front facing parts probably around the late 18th or early 19th century. I wanted to see some building that had Oscar Wilde’s name on it but couldn’t find it. We did however find a donut shop called Offbeat Donuts, which claimed to be in the same address as his birthplace. I now choose to believe Wilde was born in a donut shop.

Here’s some Dublin:

I remembered how much I loved Irish born writers only when we arrived in Dublin. Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats. As luck would have it, we were walking past the National Library right as it opened for an exhibition for him. My girl bore my love of poetry for a while and in we marched. I saw the book in which Yeats wrote ‘The Second Coming’, amongst my favourite of the poems anyone has written. Couldn’t read his writing very well as it was a bit small and joined up, but I feel an affinity with the hard to read. We walked more then ate tapas for dinner, with a half of Guinness because the desire to drink Guinness in Dublin has clearly been priced into the market.

We went on a couple coach tours with a company called Paddywagon on the second and third day. The story I’ve heard is that it was started by two brothers who ran a hostel when the tourism boom began. They bought a bus, painted it green, and put a leprechaun on the side. The drivers we had were hilarious, totally different characters, making wee jokes throughout the trip. I would imagine the brothers who started the tours are extremely rich now as the buses are famous throughout the country. No idea if the buses go up north during marching season. I’d have to guess they don’t as the insurance would probably cost a ton, but that’s not for several months so it was safe to go North.

The difference between the borders is subtle. Only the line at the edge of the motorway. It’s broken on the Republic side and solid on the Northern. Blink and you’d miss it. In the past, I’m told, it was far more solid. British Army solid. The North looks a lot more rugged in it’s terrain, many more hills and cliffs once you cross the border. It looks like a butter advert in places on the way up to the border from Dublin but then gets a lot more dour and sharper once you cross. Kind of like the difference in character between the more orange Northerners I’ve met and the more green Republicans.

With that tour company we saw the Giant’s Causeway on our second day and the Cliffs of Moher the day after. Here is the best picture I took of the Cliffs, famously used in The Princess Bride and one of the Harry Potter films.

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This day the visibility was marked fair to good. You could have fooled me. Visibility is a lot better with a camera than live. I could hardly see the path and was very thankful for the solid enough looking wall. Visitors would be advised to pack a raincoat or poncho. Also, if possible keep a keen eye on the weather patterns. Still, I love rain and mist

So that was our trips. They were exciting, a bit different
*Not actually but I have a hard time imagining her as much older than that. She has so much energy all the time.

Why Donald Trump Must Be Given a State Visit to the UK

 

We’re past the threshold of normalising Donald Trump, he has been inaugurated, his name has appeared next to the words ‘The President of the United States of America’ too often to easily ignore and resistance grows by the day and with each decision his administration makes, so here are three reasons Donald Trump must be permitted a state visit to the United Kingdom.

3. The Great British Public

The Great British People deserve to see the man. Additionally, he deserves to see the Great British public.

At least 100 000 people attended the Women’s March in he UK, going off the numbers reported in London by the organisers plus the numbers of the many marches in the rest of the UK. These people evidently have many things to say about Mr. Trump, and isn’t that freedom of speech to be respected? Doesn’t Theresa May, our Prime Minister who made such a great deal with Trump, deserve the adoration of those crowds?

In fact, it seems like entire cities could shut down in adoration of those two Colosses of the world stage. That would certainly prick up the ears of the metropolitan elite, and I’m sure businesses supportive of them wouldn’t mind the chanting, surely in praise.

2. The Monarchy

The Monarchy is an institution supported by 75% of the population according to Ipsos MORI, with 17% supporting a Republic and 7% not sure or not particularly fussed. Mr. Trimp’s visit could unite these two factions quite easily.

For Republicans (UK context, not US), it shows the Queen earning her keep and entertaining a foreign world leader as is her constitutional duty. For Monarchists, it is a chance for the Queen to show off the UK to an important ally and let him know what the nation thinks of him. Surely such tests are necessary for the Head of State?

In addition…

1. Prince Philip

By far and away the most important reason to invite Mr. Trump to Buckingham Palace, the Prince Consort of the UK is known for making off-colour remarks that have been known to offend people. I hope the same will not be true when he meets Mr. Trump of course, but one can so rarely tell.

I’m sure we’d all hate for some diplomatic fracas to occur over one of the Prince’s trademark phrases: ‘ghastly’.

People the world over should be thrilled to test Mr. Trump’s diplomatic ability against the Royal Family, to test the sturdiness of May’s diplomacy, and witness the reaction of the Great British Public to the businessman.

This Time is Different

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This time it will be different.

We hear the cries of people saying
Hope is dead. The End is nigh.
But we won’t listen to them.

For once, the path is clearing up
As old certainties drift apart.
The new way forward breaks the debris
From the countless insurrections, we have seen
The only alternative is right.
All the clever types are telling us.

A movement of hope against a project fear
There can be no question who will win between
Such choices. My mind is made already,
It is simple: cut or work out how to make

Life work. The way ahead is easy.
It has been the culmination of a group’s
Progress against the backdrop of a crash.
Thoughts like theirs caused the mess, we bring
Better ideas. Let us convince you

This time it will be different.

Here Comes the

 

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Recently I finished a read through of the great work of Alasdair Gray, Lanark, an astounding book that everyone should read at least once, and cannot help feeling like the titular character in one important area. The first and last thing he does in the book is look towards the sky.

First post of a new year and already it is turning into a shitshow of piss scandals, possible Russian interference in elections and collusion by the incoming POTUS, Theresa May leaning towards a Hard Brexit which may precipitate a second Scottish Independence Referendum, big things in Northern Ireland as a corruption scandal threatens the peace process, and other newsworthy events of colossal importance, but let me take a brief minute to instead talk to you about the sun. That big hot thing.

Several of my most important decisions are based on it. I remember when I first arrived in this city. Nothing to do but figure out how to get in touch with my friend, find my hostel, and map out the region in my mind. My first steps were all guided by where the light was. A choice between a sunny street and a gloomy one.

It’s easy to forget that it’s up there illuminating and radiating, but it fills me with hope that for at least a few hours a day we get some natural light. It’s especially comforting on cold days. While it’s often not great in the morning, either burning the day into existence or shrouded by dark clouds behind an impenetrable horizon, today it felt like some consolation that in my home town it would not rise for another half hour.

The sun is a great seasonal worker. It puts in 8 hours in Winter and 16 at its height. Inconsistent, sure, but it gets the job done. Unfortunately, our world is not set to maximise this time.

I remember the darkest days of Winter in Scotland. For some reason, I always ended up in especially dark places for work. On the shortest day of 2014 I think I maybe saw it for 15 minutes. 2015 found me in some huge warehouse style building for much of the day, maybe half an hour of natural light. Last year, by this standard, was a huge success. I must’ve seen the sun for an hour or more.

So, I hear you getting bored back there, what is the point of this all then? It’s a pretty valid question and I wish I could tell you but since I can’t, here instead is a take away offering: Find something important but mundane. Focusing on that will make you far happier than decrying all the bad shit going on. Bad shit will go on for bad shit seems to always go on. If you look at your mundane but important thing though you can at least sometimes acknowledge that not everything is terrible.

Love as you want; Grieve as you need

A Place to Get Lost

We can’t wait for this year to end.

It’s not your imagination. In the first three months of this year, we saw a huge increase in celebrities (“Notable people” as the BBC puts it) passing away (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38329740). Admittedly the number has actually dropped back to normal levels, but the damage is still done.

And we feel sadness. For some, it’s serious – people have died who really affected us growing up, even if we didn’t realise. And their mortality hits us like a block of ice to the stomach. To others, it’s become a joke or a parody. “2016, when will you be satisfied??” But the joke has gone beyond satire, and suddenly everything is starting to seem a bit strange.

And between that all, you get people who can’t be bothered with it at all. “You didn’t know these people”, they say. “How can you be sad…

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Festive Seasons

Winter is a very popular time for celebrations, but I have a particular date of note in December – this one. On the 16th of December, 2004, I did not die.

To a lot of people, that’s no big news. Indeed, everyone over 12 has the accomplishment of not dying on that day 12 years ago. But not all of them were involved in, and I quote from my personal statement for entry to the University of Edinburgh: “an altercation with a van, which necessitated a 3-month stay in hospital”.

So, the story. 12-year old boy, fresh, new at high school, clever but a bit reckless, crosses the street behind a school bus. Standard practice, really. He and every other school goer went behind the bus at round about the same time. That day, he didn’t look quite hard enough, was standing too far to the left, and was struck by a white Ford Transit van.

That 12-year old was me. Got quite broken up over that. My left leg has the gnarliest scar you are ever likely to see in person. My right hand was somehow ripped in two – straight through the life line as a palmist would tell you, probably a bad omen but let’s shelve that for now. Add to that a stable fracture to the hip and an unspecified amount of brain damage – which hasn’t affected my ability to learn, process new information, or otherwise succeed in the slightest – yet I am totally fine.

it so funny how life takes turns like these. The true victims were my family, who had to sit around in anxiety hoping for some positive change in my condition. I do not envy them those 13 days of coma plus the months, even years, of worry about the rest of my condition. They are amazing people. This goes to my brother, who hardly let me lift a finger to get myself a glass of water in the first few months when I came home. It goes to my dad, who visited every night to bring me Frazzles bacon crisps and play chess with me. It goes to my mum, who was at my bedside every single day I was in hospital.

To finish, just a couple quick reminders. First, always cross the road safely as not everybody is as lucky to make such a perfect recovery a day I did. Second, make sure you let those you care about know you love them, a day you can never know when it’s too late. The worst that can come of telling people you love them is that the world will be a slightly better place for having more love in it.

Here’s to Vanniversary 12! Now over half a life away…

 

 

Brexit Poem

The consequence clear, I’ve called and I’ve checked it,

The people have gone out their way and they’ve wrecked it!

And no one is quite sure just how far to test it –

The English went out and the voted for Brexit.

Now Sterling has fallen, straight down to the floor,

It may yet fall further, it hasn’t yet landed;

It fell, and it dropped, and it’s falling some more.

It’s unprecedented, no one understands it.

In a final retread

Some have tried to fix it

But they’ve shit the bed!

They’ve gone and they’ve bricked it.

So, the old all went out, and they voted for Brexit.

Now Scotland wants free – a sexy ass Sexit.

Is Czexit or even Hungrexit to follow?

Drink up, for now there will be no tomorrow!