Monthly Archives: February 2013

On the road again…

On the road again…

This highly appropriate but rather dull Willie Nelson number (click the link above if you must) has somehow become the anthem for days when we are on the move… Once we are all packed up and ready to go, Amy will invariably try and start a little sing along with her glorious *ahem* silky velvet tones.

Seeing as we are on an actual journey, I thought we’d do a little blog about the traveling side of things – Getting about, modes of transport, and how we’re living on the cheap etc…

If you’ve looked at the pictures, you may be wondering why Amy appears not to understand the concept of a BACKpack. In truth, we both wander around looking this ridiculous. Our backpacks (they call them travel packs) are designed with travelers in mind, as apposed to hikers or adventurers, so they zip all the way round for easy access to you stuff, and they have a separate 10 litre day sack that zips and straps on to the main pack, piggy back style. This little pack can also be clipped on to the front, which despite how ludicrous we may look, is an absolutely cracking idea. All the stuff we want easy access to all the time goes in the day sack, so when we are getting trains, we put the big packs up on the racks, and keep the little ones with our essentials in with us. Also – we are going a fairly long way, for a fair old while, so our packs are heavy. Putting the little one on the front improves weight distribution massively and substantially reduces the amount of times you nearly kill yourself by falling off balance onto the train tracks.

We’ve had quite a few strange glances as we both stand fully packed up, staring blankly at the train arrivals board trying to decipher it, slowly spinning around in circles, bashing into each other like a pair of strange, slightly ill beetles… – but its worth it.

So far we’ve got: a train to Newcastle – a bus to the ferry port – a ferry to Imujdlik – a bus to Amsterdam – 3 trains to Bruges – 2 trains to Berlin – and a train to Prague…. And touch wood, it’s all been unrealistically easy so far. The train network that we’ve experienced in Europe (and the general inner city pubic transport) has been amazingly punctual, efficient, and easy to use. Trains are regular, and always seem to run on time, up to date electronic information boards are everywhere – and – there is leg room – something us Brits are not used to. The international and intercity trains (ICE and IC) are particularly luxurious, with large comfy seats and plenty of room. But even the smaller inner city trains all seem to be great – although it can get a bit mental in rush hour… – Unfortunately we may have been responsible for death (or at least severe annoyance) of quite a few commuters as we spin around in train stations bashing things with our immense rucksacks.

We are managing to stay well fed and watered whilst on a budget. At hostels, breakfast has often been included in the price, but where its isn’t we just buy cereal and milk (we have mess tins, and as its winter – window ledges provide a free fridge!). For lunch we shop at supermarkety type places, buying sticks of bread, cheese, tomatoes, meat, hummus etc – and this keeps us in sandwiches for a couple of days. Some places have pretty cheap food stalls too. For tea we tend to eat in cafe’s or from food stalls. There’s a big difference in cost from country to country, but roughly we can keep well fed and watered with the occasional coffee for an average of about £20-£25 a day (between us). This average may well start coming down as we get further into eastern Europe. (Just arrived in Prague and its mega cheap). Obviously if we’re having a few beers, thats when things can get expensive – so you just have to be careful.

We’ve just arrived in Prague (the scenic train journey here from Berlin was by far the best to date), but we’ll upload some pictures and some inane wafflings about Berlin first. I’m also pathetically trying to grow a travelers beard, so the pictures of this may be a laugh for some.


In Bruges…

Ashamedly, Amy and I admitted to each other that we’d never heard of Bruges until we saw the 2008 Martin McDonagh film, In Bruges. Surprisingly  a lot of other people hadn’t, and tourism in Bruges has boomed since the release of the film. Our hostel even did a tour of the city based around the film. The film certainly wasn’t made by the local tourist board, as Colin Farrels character ponders the towns merits: “If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t”.

Apparently, this is the second time Bruges tourism has had a helping hand from popular culture. In 1892 Bruges la Morte (The dead city of Bruges) was published by Belgian Author Georges Rodenbach, describing the city as ‘dark, poor, and ugly’. Locals weren’t to happy, but some people saw romance in it, and tourism boomed.

Anyway, back to our trip. We are aware that some people might have picked up on the small fact that by going from Amsterdam to Bruges, we are actually heading in the wrong direction to get to Oz. We had originally intended to do a bit of a wiggley journey through europe in order to sight-see, but we never intended to actually go back on ourselves. We were going to go via Brussels or Antwerp rather than Bruges, but we had trouble booking hostels, so that’s how we landed up in Bruges (Also, as we have bought the inter-rail passes, the route we take makes no odds really as we can get on pretty much any train in Europe without extra charge).

It is a decision we have absolutely no reason to regret, as Bruges is a pretty amazing place. The photos we’ve taken can’t even come close to doing it justice. Some of the worlds best beer, waffles and chocloate combined in the one of the worlds best preserved medieval cities, what’s not to like?… Yes, we have come off season, so our opinion might be different if we had come in the Summer, and it does feel like a bit of toy town, but after a couple of days you realise that in some aspects it is still a thriving, working town, with a genuine priest school, nunneries, and big bi-weekly markets.

As you might imagine, we don’t have as many tales of drama, drugs, and debauchery as we did in Amsterdam. We’ve had a lovely time eating delicious chips, chocolate and waffles and drinking top notch beer, and just mooching around the city marveling at the streets and buildings, but it doesn’t make for particularly interesting blog material, so we’ll just mention a few things that have made our stay here ace:

One thing that helped us really engage with the town is a Belgian scheme called USE IT by Tourist Info For Young People. TIFYP produce illustrated fold out map/guides for Belgian cities that are free to pick up at hostels. They are made by local young people, for young people, so the information inside is priceless, mentioning local people their establishments by name and noting things you would simply never find without it. It’s a scheme they are trying to spread across Europe and seems like a top idea.

The hostel set up was pretty decent too. It’s called the Bahaus, but has been taken over by the hostel chain St Christophers. Even though it’s a chain, St Christophers do the hostel thing very well: Large, comfy, clean, rooms, helpful staff and reception. Wi-Fi, common room and Laundry. Free breakfast, and reasonably priced, cosy wood and brick bar and restaurant two doors down.
We saw loads of interesting stuff, churches and general history and the like. I won’t bore by going on about it, but I’ll just say that we saw plenty of class stuff, and we were well unlucky with the amount of things we wen’t to see that were shut for renovation or closed because of unforeseen circumstances. For example, Jesus’ blood (seriously, they have a vial of it they reckon) was unavailable to see as the church was shut Wednesday afternoons…

Things we have learned about Bruges:
– Still no public toilets anywhere, and they have the highest weeing on the street fine in Flanders, 152 Euros!
– Bruges is fairly expensive, waffles with choclate and cream cost between 5-10 euros, but a pint is about 3.80euros, so cheaper than Manchester at least. Bottled beers in the shop are well cheap though.
– Monks are piss heads. All the Trappist beers (brewed by monks at monasteries) are ludicrously strong. Some are proper nice, but they’re a bit hit and miss. I reckon once you take a beer past 10%, it’s impossible to make it very enjoyable, it’s just rocket fuel. (Bruges Zot was the nicest and cheapest local beer, actually brewed within the walls of Bruges. It’s not a Trappist though)
– Loads of stuff shuts on Wednesdays, we missed a few things we wanted to see cos of this…
– Everyone should go up the Belfry. It’s good fun, the view is amazing, and if you have seen the film In Bruges, you can act out the chase scene with Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, like we did…

We are now in Berlin, so these blogs have a bit of a time delay on them. We intend to do a mini interim blog just to mention what the actual journeys are like, and how we are living for cheap on the road etc, just cos we thought some people might like to know…

We hope people are enjoying the blog, I realise I can waffle shit a bit (Amy is going to start writing soon, some might be relieved to know). We do really appreciate hearing what’s going on back home, so we’re very glad of comments on here (and whatsapp etc). As we are on a shoestring budget, we can’t be out galavanting all the time, so it’s nice to keep in touch during our downtime.

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Sleazy Birds

On Saturday night we thought we’d go out for a few cheekies. We knew Amsterdam wasn’t cheap, but you don’t realize how expensive the booze is until you actually try and get drunk. Cheapest pint is 5euros, although bizarrely there isn’t a huge price difference between the good (budvar, leffe etc), and the bad (Heineken)… With the help of a hostel bar happy hour (12 hours long), and some new friends, we somehow manged to get pretty sozzled, arriving back to our boat (covered in chips and sauce) at around 5am. On descending to our quarters, Amy managed to gracefully slide down all 12 steps on her bum, landing in a crumpled heap at the bottom, smiling bemusedly. This was the second major mishap to befall us, as on Friday I managed to drop my hat and gloves in a toilet containing my own wee (I forgot they were under my arm when flushing the chain).

– By the way, cheers for the drinks Mark, and nice to meet you guys (Mark, Lee, Marvin and co) – All the best.

Sunday was a bit of a wasted day as we lay below deck, nursing our heads and feeling generally sorry for ourselves… On Monday we took tram out to Vondel Park, we wanted to get bikes and really get into the Amsterdam swing, but our local bike rental guy had disappeared and we needed one close to the hostel to get our stuff as we planned to get the train later. Vondel park is ace, definitely in my top 3 city centre parks of all time (yeah, don’t you?). As you can see from the pictures I became a wildlife photographer for the day, mainly because we kept running into this magnificent ninja heron who mysteriously appeared just feet away from us a couple of times. He didn’t care about humans at all and would greedily flap himself within touching distance for a bit of delicious port salut cheese… Vondel Park also seemed to be the red light district for a sleazy bunch of parakeets. They were noisily at it all day, and although it could be ignored, it became a bit much when we were trying to peacefully enjoy our hummus and cheese sandwiches.

More things we’ve learned about Amsterdam:
– For backpackers, beer is very expensive. As are the galleries and museums. We didn’t really go in anything as a lot of the main ones were between 10-15 euros each for a ticket, not much less than the price we were paying for a bed and breakfast.
– The Dutch love Daschunds (Sausage dogs) – Much to Amy’ delight, they are literally everywhere.
– There are no public toilets anywhere – you’ve got to go in a McDonalds or something and pay an old lady at least 50cents.
– The Dutch generally seemed to be really laid back, very friendly, and helpful.

The following afternoon we geared up for the next leg of our trip to Bruges. Somehow our backpacks now seemed twice as heavy. We said goodbye to our super cool tattooed host Roy (who’s diet seemed to be cuppa soups, vodka, and fags) and headed to the station.

– We would strongly recommend Roy and the Vita Nova to anyone looking for cheap bed and breakfast in Amsterdam – Rooms are tiny, walls are thin, but everything is clean, no curfew, staff are great, its really cheap, and it’s on a boat!

And so, on Monday, we left Amsterdam with many fond (sometimes blurry) memories, a couple of very heavy backpacks, and Amy’s heavily bruised backside…

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That sausage won’t fit in here!…

That sausage wont fit in here!… These were the words I screamed in Amy’s face just before I broke down and fell sobbing into a crumpled heap on the floor. Fitting everything you need for over a year into a backpack is quite difficult. Much to our disappointment, the mattesons sausage had to stay at home. (Along with the other £20 worth of noodles, pastes, and long life foods we bought for the trip in order to save money).

So on Wednesday 13th, sausageless, we set off. The journey so far has been: Train from Hebden Bridge to Newcastle – Bus from Newcastle train station to Ferry Terminal – Ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry port (actually IJmuiden) – Coach from IJmuiden to Amsterdam – Then we walked to our boat hostel (boatel).

The ferry was a laugh, but booze is where they claw the money back from the cheap ticket. We had a nice few beers watching the cheesy but very competent covers band and playing simpleton bingo. Eventually, semi trollied we went back to the room and to bed, and all was well… Until, I was awoken in the early hours because someone had mistakenly put our room on a rollercoaster. After a few hours of being thrown around my bed on what is definitely one of the roughest ferry journeys I have ever been on, the seas eventually died down… just as we reached the port and it was time to get up.

After the previous night, we weren’t that thrilled about arriving at our next stop, a hotel on a boat. Thankfully the Boatel was great. Tiny rooms and thin walls, but it’s clean, the guy who runs it is really helpful and laid back, and for about £15 per person per night with breakfast, you can’t grumble.

The day we arrived in Amsterdam was valentines day, so being the old romantic that I am, I took Amy to the cheapest hostel in Amsterdam, took her out for a special offer 10euro steak and chips, and then we finished of with a glorious walk around the red light district. Smooth operator.

Things we have noticed about Amsterdam so far:
– The national dish appears not to be pancakes, but steak. There seems to be more steak houses than bars and coffee shops put together.
– You’re far more likely to be killed by a bicycle than any other mode of transport. The bicycle lanes (motorways), and bicycle multi story car parks have to be seen to be believed. The shear volume of bikes everywhere is amazing. It just makes sense, you wonder why all fairly flat cities aren’t like this. As a cyclist, its ace.
– British people are usually passing out/being sick outside coffeeshops. Seriously, you see them everywhere.

On Saturday, after some sight seeing, we did the obligitory coffee shop trip. I very nearly immediatley pulled a whitey, although I just managed to hold it off. Then we had a great time floating around town, wandering around in circles, getting lost, and generally forgetting what the hell we were supposed to be doing.

We have a couple more days here before we set of to Belgium (not sure where yet, Antwerp? Ghent? Bruges? Brussels?) so we’ll prbably do another short entry on the last when we leave.

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