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!

 

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.

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!


The Most Perfect Response to Perfect Responses

We have seen the most defining moments upon defining moments that anygwneration had seen since Adolf Hitler took power, but this is something else entirely!

in a bizarre flood of everyone speaking truthfully and correctly – with appropriate wit, humour, and charm –  the syntax Perfect, the medium and message in beautiful alignment… The most perfect responses ever given to anything!

Watch This Five-Year Old Destroy Racism!

Watch This World Leader’s Spark a Revolution!

Watch This Guy’s Perfect Response to Perfect Responses!

It’s all such bollocks.

Five-year olds may say some very clever things, beyond their experience, and towards some deeper truth. This, I own, is incredible and worth our universal commendation. But to see a five-year old destroy an entrenched system of privilege, which for years plagued academia, science, culture, day-to-day conversation, comedy, and art? Give me a break.

A five-year old said something you agree with, no need to get on some very high horse about how children are somehow omniscient creatures now. Are they omniscient when they say that the moon is made of cheese and it’s only rainy in the puddles?

Or if a world leader says something you think is laudable. They stand for something and they make their case. In driving. Pounding hard. Strongly worded. Deep seated. No-hold’s-barring. High-flying. Speeches?

Oh, so just like they have been trying to do for years but in this one instance they have managed to strike a chord you can agree sound a like a happy G-major! Well done. Have you considered their actions? Those actions, which are often anathema to your core beliefs about the Right and Wrong of this world. These politicians who will talk shit about something only so far as I think is not politically relevant to their particular sphere but then come back hypocritically begging the second it is of any use to them.

Behind closed doors, the strings they’ve got to manipulate. You better not pull that thread. They are dangerous people.

See, the internet has somehow made us all immune to actually reading stuff and thinking about what it may actually mean. Sometimes we take things too greatly at face value and sometimes we just discount it because it doesn’t fit with our feelings for it to be false. You know what? I’m kind of tired of clickbait titled articles and misnomer headlines leading us down rabbit holes which drive up our hopes and further degrade our expectations of anything reliable coming from anyone.

Authenticity is a crapshoot that won’t get us nearly enough likes of shares to make it worth our while so we are all left screaming into some obsolescent void which it turns out is already filled.

And you know what it is filled with? Hundreds of articles and videos which are titled with people saying their view is right and justified by something, but who must deep down know they are peddling nonsense for Ad hungry clicks. So, if you see something peddling perfection, look to see who is taking your wallet. What’s the source and has it been reliable to you before.

My always solution to every societal problem I’ve ever come across is simple. It goes thus: people need to be better.

Stop clicking around and do it!