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Toulouse, Haute-Garonne, France
Living alone is the key to inner happiness...Isn't it?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Interrail Experiences and Travel Guide for the Unprepared

In the last three weeks, my research for this blog has taken me to four countries and nine cities in Central and Northern Europe. I traveled with an old friend and PIC, who shall remain nameless for the sake of any court cases that come up against us in the future, given the un-PC way this blog is written. Therefore, he is AKA'd as Tiger. Also, this whole thing was actually a holiday, not research. However it can now appear as such as I provide you with a totally fair, accurate and unbiased account of said cities, so you can go and explore them for yourselves (not Frankfurt though, it's rubbish).


Food / Drink : 7
Prettiness : 7
Atmosphere : 9
Accommodation : 6
Transport : 4

Not bad. But not good. Like purgatory. Lots of nice canals, but waaay too many bikes. Bikes everywhere. All up in your grill. The reason why transport is so poor in fact. There are trams, but they can't move - because of the bikes. So you go on foot, but you can't move - because of the bikes. The buildings were ok, although mostly brown brick, which is the same colour as the really ugly Tescos in Newport Retail Park. The food was pretty standard, although they put watermelon in the salad. WHY?! So after you've arrived late, been run over, nearly got killed by terrorists and poisoned by mal-positioned fruits, you get diseased in the red light district, merely by walking through it. This is not a comment against the (actually sanitary) girls who work there, but rather against the hygene and social lifestyles of the punters who frequent it. Most of whom are from Essex. Burned.

Most of the bikes aren't even locked up. Trustworthy, these Amsterdam folk...


Food / Drink : 7
Prettiness : 9
Atmosphere : 9
Accommodation : 7
Transport : 4

"Where is Antwerp?" I hear you ask. Don't worry, you're not geographically retarded - it's in Belgium. I don't know why everyone mocks Belgium. Actually, it's probably because of their funny cars and dated agicultural practices. However Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, is lovely. Often thought of as a smelly little brother to France, Belgium is clean, ordered, respectable and fun. We stayed in a hostel that was so early on in its renovation that there was sand on the floor. We were told by Mike, the effervescent Irish drunk who owned it, that this was partly to do with trying to 'make it look like summer', but mostly because there were 'stains all over the real floor'. The bar downstairs was a riot though, and there was a cracking massive cathedral in the main square. And not a bike in sight. The metro is unusable however. After three days we were still not sure how many lines there were, or if indeed they were any lines. The map looked like it had been envisaged by Stevie Wonder directing to a freehand Stephen Hawking and there were never any ticket offices at which to ask. It didn't matter though, after Amsterdam we were just glad to be able to use our feet again. Also, in a bakery, we found a cinnamon whirl that was bigger than my face. Om nom nom.

It's probably the first ever pastry I've not finished.


Food / Drink : 8
Prettiness : 6
Atmosphere : 10
Accommodation : 10
Transport : 8

What a success! Hamburg was immense. Party town, friendly people. No Belgians selling you chips and chocolate, which never go well together. The Reeperbahn, a.k.a die sündige Meile (the sinful mile) was especially vivante, given its position as the 'unofficial' red light district of the city. Lots of cool bars, relatively cheap, and decent food. Since we were in Germany, it was basically bratwurst. Nice though. It rained most of the time we were there, but that just added to the North German Port feel to it. Architecturally speaking it was decent, with some more impressive religious buildings. It was at this point that Tiger and I considered getting t-shirts made with the slogan 'Cathedrals and Prostitutes tour 2010'. We didn't though, because, well, we don't think it'd be accurate. We only went in two cathedrals...

Right where we wanted our holiday to go.


Food / Drink : 8
Prettiness : 6
Atmosphere : 10
Accommodation : 8
Transport : 10

Of course its 10 for transport. Berlin is the home of so-called German Efficiency. Not so-called actually, it's true. And a good thing it is too! I'd go there again just to ride the S-bahn. Britain could learn a thing or to from our germanic cousins in this field. They may have ravaged Europe on two occasions in the last century but at least their busses run on time. And their metros and trams. Great atmosphere here too, lots going on. Arts and Banter. The most important A-to-B in modern life. The history of the city is fascinating (stop yawning, it is), mostly because it's still very much a history of living memory. You can still see the massive divide the Wall caused between the old East and West sides of the city, and its effects both on the image and the feelings to the two areas. And you can get a pint for 2 euros. Cracking.

Bratwurst am byth even. Why the hell not it's in every other language!


Food / Drink : 5
Prettiness : 6
Atmosphere : 8
Accommmodation : 7
Transport : 6

The best thing about this stage of the trip was the Segway tour. A city tour, on Segways. Drool. However, I have given Prauge a 5 for its food and drink, because its bars and restaurants are full of THIEVES. It is now such a tourist trap that you cannot go out anywhere to eat without getting fleeced for everything you order. And some things you don't. We got charged extras for;
  • The giant pretzels that were already on every table
  • The 'complimentary' bread
  • The garlic sauce that came with the bread
  • The kitchen service (food wasn't that good)
  • The bar service (there's a bar?!)
  • 20% v.a.t. 
After a prolonged argument with the badly attired - and frankly rude - waiter, we ended up having to pay somewhere in the region of 400 czech crowns (16 euros) over what we owed. Each. Here is my advice: Don't go to Prague. It's not cheap, not overly pretty, and on the whole, the people are all c*nts. Good Segways though.

Catch me now, Mr rip-off restauranteur!


Food / Drink : 10
Prettiness : 9
Atmosphere : 9
Accommodation : 9
Transport :10

Basically, beer and Nazis. Classic combination. After the horror of Prague, it was great to be back in friendly, safe Germany. Although the Bavarian people have a somewhat unique way of showing it, they are extremely amicable, especially towards tourists, and we had loads of fun. It's a really interesting city (its history is fascinating, yet tainted by the birth of National Socialism), and grrreeaaaatt beers. They rivaled the Belgian ones. In the Hofbräuhaus you can buy litre glasses of the stuff, and swing them merrily in time to the Oompa band blasting its way through every bavarian marching/drinking song they know*. For 3 hours. Also, our tour guide alerted us to the local Bavarian tradition of stealing May Poles. Back in the day, if one town managed to nick the May Pole from a local rival, that town has to throw them a party to get it back! It still happens today, and that, for us, was the definition of banter. Rock on Munich!

*Amongst which are classic hits such as We March Whilst We Drink, and We Drink Whilst We March.

Anyone got a hacksaw then?


Food / Drink : 7
Prettiness : 4
Atmosphere : 6
Accommodation : 3
Transport : 7

What we didn't realise before booking a hostel in Frankfurt, was that there is nothing there. Actually, this isn't strictly true. It would be more accurate to say there's nothing there except banks. Our hostel was awful (two showers between 40 people), and the city grey and drab. But we were only there for one night, so we went for a look around. It was actually more of a butchers, because we had bratwurst (Aha). Luckily for us thrill-seekers, we found a cracking festival down on the river. Not sure what it was all about really, but there was food, drink and music and we had a royal time. Excellent German beers notwithstanding, these guys don't half make some weird drinks. One of these was a particularly piquante (to put it politely) wine made from apples. 'That's cider!' I hear you say. No no, this is wine. And it is d-i-s-g-u-s-t-i-n-g. Otherwise though, we stayed one night, sampled the interesting frankfurter atmosphere, and moved on the next day, feeling slightly ill.

Mmm apple wine.


Food / Drink : 8
Prettiness : 6
Atmosphere : 10
Accommodation : 5
Transport : 8

Cologne was great. Apart from looking like the only bit of Birmingham that hasn't been lavished with money (that's a joke, by the way), it was a really cool town. There is another MASSIVE cathedral (the difficulty named Koln Dom), but after that the prettiness is used up. It's as if they were given the same amount of nice brick as every other city in Germany, but decided to use it all on the church. The rest of the town might as well be made out of Swansea's spare parts, for all it looks like. But the night we had was a cracker. Friendly people, those West Germans. Lots of Stag and Hen nights, but these were for the most part German, and therefore much more considerate than our horrible ones. No nakedness and no annoying other people! Tiger and I found two delightful girls in a bar and tried to chat them up for about a minute, until we realised the only thing we can say in German besides the staple 3 phrases is a saying that translates as an ironic 'that's about as clear as dumpling soup!' - and there's not much use for that when you're trying to impress the fraulines. I don't even think it makes sense.

For some reason, we never managed to get any of the balls in...


Food / Drink : 9
Prettiness : 8
Atmosphere : 3
Accommodation : 6
Transport : 4

In a word, overrated. Bruges is (apparently) the Venice of the North. In what way?! It has a few canals, and old buildings. Big deal, so does Cwmbran. If I had a better half it may have been better. I can see the romantic attraction, but, to quote Colin Farrell in the smash black comedy In Bruges, "If I had grown up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, so it doesn't". Fair point really. Talking about films, Tiger and I like this one, so we decided to do the (un)official In Bruges walking tour of the city. Great, except for the only way the tour was remotely connected to the film was due to the fact that it was actually in Bruges. And judging by the tell tale signs in the bloodshot eyes of our idiot American tour guide, this may have been by chance. "I work completely on tips!" Looks like you're going hungry then sonny. And take your trilby off. 

That's the hotel in the film. Always disappoint in real life don't they, film locations?

 Conclusion / Disclaimer

So there it is. 9 cities in as many minutes. I feel it necessary to say that (as usual) I may have raised some eyebrows during this post. Just to clear everything up therefore, I'm not into prostitutes, not all people from Essex have STIs, Belgium isn't weird and not everyone in Prague is a - well, you know what I said. They're ok, I expect we just were unlucky in who we met. 

Frankfurt's still rubbish though.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Quarter Pounders, Katie Price and Shoes vs Food

This week I was in London. As I recline in my Ikea Jerrik Swivel Chair and consider the events of the last few days, several in particular jump out at me and present themselves as Blog-worthy. None of them really are, I just don't have much else to say; it's been a lean week. Haha. You'll laugh later.

Katie Price to Quit Music

That's right folks - you heard it here first. Except you didn't, because we all knew it was definately going to happen when she announced her intentions about going into music in the first place. And what does that even mean anyway? At which point did her ever being 'in' allow her to qualify to 'quit' the music business? She was never 'in' music. Idiot. According to our friends at Marieclaire.co.uk, the star (again, negligible use of the word 'star') has decided to arrest her efforts at making music, after her single, Free to Love Again, flopped, reaching just #60 in the charts. Basically it was terribly and amazingly awful. Quelle surprise. No but really, I had thought, going on past occurences of similar nature, that a washed-up topless model (who are often renowned for their wide range of talents by the way) would be really good at singing! Whoever said that is a moron. Her agent probably. Having just listened to the song again, I'm frankly surprised it got as high as #60. The poor thing's probably got vertigo, given the lowly place it truly deserves. She attemps a kind of Madona/Gaga dance trip, but instead achieves a rather unimaginative computer-generated drone. The backing instrumentals aren't great either.

Also, 'Free to love again?' Not with that picture love. Looks like she's been taken for a joyride by Hector from the Illiad. If you didn't get that joke, then I apologise for all of the above. Because you're probably a Katie Price fan.

McDonald's, I'm NOT loving it

This week I have uncovered a fact about the world's best-known fast food chain that is more groundbreaking than Watchdog, You Are What You Eat and Supersize Me combined. Upon entering the aforementioned establishment on the 23rd of July last, I fixed my gaze on their oh-so-colourful electronic wall-mounted menus. Oh the modernity. My eyes came to rest upon one item in particular; the Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Now, I didn't have enough cash for a 'meal'*, so I thought I'd go for the staple QPwC. No problems you say, wap your quid on the counter and be done. No no, it costs £2.99. That's ALMOST THREE POUNDS! That, my friends, is a disgrace. Firstly, they never used to be so expensive. And secondly, the name suggests that the thing should cost a sixth of what I paid for it. In case McDonald's haven't noticed (and I'm so sure they haven't), a quarter of a pound is 25p. Maybe an extra 2p for the plastic masquerading as cheese, but essentially, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese should cost 25p. Plus cheese costs.

*Their use of the word 'meal' is so far from the truth here, it almost becomes 'meat'. Oh the irony.

Food vs Shoes

Forget bullfighting in Catalonia, the battle worth recapping this week is the one I had with the National Express bus driver, on my coach home from London. Contrary to what they said about doing their best to 'assure my comfort and safety', it turned out you can't have food on the coach. And I was Marvin, as they say down there.

 "You can't take food on mate. Food smells, see? Drinks are alright though, they don't smell".

Now, I took issue with several things in the Driver's immaculately gramatically structured parlance. Firstly, food does not always smell. MY food smelled, but that was because it was a bit of dodgy cheese and a positively biohazardous megabag of roast beef flavoured Monster Munch (incidentally, have the people at Monster Munch ever even tasted roast beef?). However, you know what they say; same rules apply for all. So if little Jimmy No Mates in seat 47 is allowed a Taz bar, I should be allowed my pungent sarnies. Secondly, drink sometimes does smell. What if someone brought some milk on? It was 28 degrees in London that day...

So we cannot eat food on the coach, yet people are permitted to remove their shoes. Let me tell you, I'd rather choke down a load of ageing cheesey sandwhiches than have to sit in front of the bare-footed Miss Hot Dog Jamaica 1995 for 2 and a half hours. Trust me, I did both.

In summary then, this week I discovered, and have since proved, the following three things. Or facts, as they are now known:

1. Katie Price is, has been, and always will be, rubbish. In every sense of the word imaginable.

2. McDonald's are conniving little cheats, who employ false advertising as a building block upon which to murder the whole planet through cholesterol overdose and other heath-related complications.

3. National Express Group PLC employ fascist, illogical drivers with no common sense or rationale regarding odour prevention.

So, another positive week then. Here endeth the lesson.