Portugal 2007 Part 3: Sintra and Lisbon again

Originally posted September 22 2009 on em411.com

The third and final instalment of my Portuguese trilogy…

Continued from Part One and Part Two

Sintra looked like some sort of fairytale place. I hadn’t heard of it before planning the trip to Portugal but after reading only a few paragraphs in a guidebook I knew I wanted to go.
The town itself is an UNESCO world heritage site and is only a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon. Pedro had told me that the main station in Lisbon (Rossio) was closed so I would have to use Entrecampos instead. The train line runs over the main road and when you approach Entrecampos from the south, there is a sign that tells you that the entrance is immediately to the right, which takes you to a dead end, walking under the tunnel and then taking a right turn I actually walked past the entrance and kept going until I came to a bridge that this time took me over the railway, from there I realised that I could see the platforms and waiting passengers back the way I’d came…retracing my steps I discovered that the entrance, a dark passageway, was clearly marked by the words “Water of Portugal”. So next time I’m in Lisbon looking for the bus station I will presumably look out for the Portuguese gas company!
Once inside there was a choice of escalators taking you to each of the four platforms, though I had no idea which to pick. I emerged on one of them but there was nowhere to buy tickets. I discovered through, that the escalators at the far end of the platform took you below to some shops and a cafe, and that going a further floor below took you to the ticket offices, where the main entrance was clearly marked on the opposite/northern side of the main road. I bought a ticket and returned to the platforms, looking at each departure board before realising that not a single one mentioned Sintra. My guidebook said take a direct train to Sintra, which is the end of the line, but according to the info on the platforms, none of the trains went there so I went back downstairs to discover that all I had to do was change at Agualva-Cacém. Returning to the platform I realised that in my brief visit to Entrecampos station I had already went RIGHT, UP, LEFT, DOWN, DOWN, UP, UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN, UP, DOWN, DOWN, UP, UP. So I did wonder whether the planners were addicted to Sonic the hedgehog when designing the station.

It cost me 3.40€ for my ticket and once on the train I realised that I could have topped up the Viva card that I had used on the metro and trams and the cost of my journey would have been slightly cheaper. Two American women sitting along from me used this option and despite procuring a map of the rail network from somewhere asked the conductor “does this train go to Sintra?” they then asked how many stops it was to Sintra. Clearly not Cartographers by profession, I wondered if they had struggled more than me getting this far. The conductor advised them to change in 2 stops and then get on the next train for 2 stops and he repeated this when he came to check my ticket. We got off 2 stops later and waited for the Sintra train. “Is this it?” one of the Americans asked as the clearly marked Sintra pulled into the station. After sitting on the train for 1 out of only 2 stops one of them said “Is this Sintra? I guess this is it?” While they were struggling with the basics of railway travel a Portuguese passenger leaned over and asked if they had trains in America. Well, he should have, he actually he just informed them to wait until the next and final stop.

When you arrive at the station you look up onto a hill and see the Castle of the Moors commanding a strategic location, walk past the modern art sculptures into the main part of town and you find the royal palace, walk past here and another hill emerges, perched atop this is the colourful
Pena palace, keep walking, past the beautiful Town hall and you come to Quinta da Regaleira, a mansion with massive labyrinth and grotto filled gardens and an eccentric history. There is also a modern art museum, the Seteais Palace (now a hotel) and surrounding the town is a nature park and mountains, where you can also find the Monserrate Palace and the Capuchos convent. I spent one day here but you could spend a few more, and it’s near the coast and the most westerly point of mainland Europe. Actually, I would advise everyone to spend a few days here because it is quaint, full of things to see and is a huge change to the bustle of Lisbon.

A “return” on the “sightseeing” bus was 4.50€ and you can buy tickets from the tourist info/ticket office in the train station. I had expected the ticket to be an all day hop on/hop off affair but now know that you need to ask for the more expensive Day Rover ticket. You can always walk, which you should do if you have the time and energy.
A sightseeing bus was waiting was just outside the train station but the driver was a sourpuss asking 2 eager passengers to get off the bus while he had a cigarette. The doors were open, but we all stood waiting while the driver smoked. When he finally sat down the same couple barged their way to the front of the queue only to be told that they had bought tickets for the wrong bus. They left dejected. The next couple were then faced with the same onslaught. “These are not valid! Where did you get these?” he demanded, “from the tourist info office inside” they replied, as if there was a massive counterfeiting operation taking place under his nose. He eventually took the tickets from them and apologised saying that he would be having words with someone later…

My first stop of the day was the Pena Palace . Admission was 11€ and I usually have a 10€ cut off for visitor attractions, however I couldn’t see the palace for the trees and wasn’t leaving without a photo! They did a combined ticket that granted entry to both the Palace and Moorish castle for an extra 2€. So I opted for that and went inside the gates, where there was a bus. 1€ each way, or you can walk up the hill for free. I walked.

The Pena Palace is a curious multi-coloured affair and I’d love to bore you on the history, but to be honest I can’t remember any of it! I spent at least an hour in the palace and then an hour or so in the grounds making my way to the
Moorish castle a short walk away. If you are afraid of heights, or have bad asthma then it probably isn’t recommended climbing to the highest tower. I finished my last bottle of water just as I reached the summit and luckily there was a rubbish bin there. I’d hate to be the person who has to empty it everyday.

After I’d returned to ground level I made my way to the Quinta De Regalia. Pedro from Test Tube had recommended this place above all the others in Sintra. It cost 6€ to enter and immediately reminded me of the Bomarzo monster park that I had visited in Italy, only more bizarre, bigger and better. I spent a good few hours working my way through the labyrinth-filled grounds photographing the ornate chapel, grottoestowers and half built wishing wells. While some of the tunnels are lit a torch is recommended and luckily I had one. The palace itself is very impressive, more so from the outside, with the intricate carvings and gargoyles, but inside there is a wealth of historical information, building plans and photos. You also get a good view of the Pena palace from outside the building. It was getting late so when I decided to leave I realised that the main entrance/exit was now, erm…closed and there was no sign of anybody anywhere. A sign suggested that an alternate exit lay to the left somewhere but none of the doors budged so I headed back inside the palace to find someone when I noticed the French, or possibly French-Canadian couple who I had met earlier heading to the exit. I watched as they went through the exact same routine as me. I came down towards them and they shouted over to me asking if I knew how to escape. Together we established that the door to exit was just up one set of stairs, down another and had a stiff handle. Some clearer instructions for tourists would’ve helped but who knows perhaps we were being recorded for Portugal’s top rated “Escape from Quinta De Regalia”, where the Portuguese laugh at idiots of various nationalities who are so close yet so far…

After escaping I debated where to have dinner. I walked past several establishments that looked enticing but Pedro had recommended a particular place in Lisbon so I hopped on the next train, Rossio bound (the main station was open after all!) and luckily the restaurant was near the station. I made my way there past eager waiters trying to lure me elsewhere but I brushed them aside and when I got to the door of “Casa Do Alentejo” (House of the Alentejo) there was no one touting for business. A good sign I thought as I walked inside. Apparently it was a former 17th century Moorish palace and it was very ornate but would fall under the category of “faded grandeur”. The restaurant was upstairs, along with a laid out dimly-litballroom, it too had seen better days. Pedro had told me that the Alentejo region was famed for its food and that this place served the best food from the area and most importantly, it was a place were the locals ate. It was a Friday night and I hadn’t booked, I wrote my name on the waiting list and waited behind a large group of Germans. The locals may eat here but so do a lot of foreigners I noted. I txted Sara, Hugo’s girlfriend and agreed to meet up after dinner.

When I was seated I decided to see if the wine lived up to the reputation described in my guidebook. The cheapest glass of wine was 4€ but the cheapest bottle was 5€. It was my last night in Lisbon so guess what I asked for? When the waiter took my order he gasped “bottle?” and mimed a bottle shape with his hands. I regretted this decision soon though as the wine was crap and I could only stomach 2 small glasses before giving up.

I ordered Dourada (grilled Dory) that came with garlic, grilled potatoes, courgettes and carrots, and while I waited for my main course meat and bread arrived, which I ate. Only later did I realise that this would cost me a whopping 7€ for the meat and a further 1,60€ for the bread! The fish, when it arrived, was actually pretty damn good. While eating it I was aware that the couple who had just arrived next to me were not very happy. They spoke French and it seemed that the Portuguese waiter also spoke French, or thought he spoke French. He was guilty of a mistake that surely even I wouldn’t have made. They had asked for a “rouge” wine, but a white one was opened and poured into their glasses. A discussion ensued that went something like:
“Rouge?”
“Oui, Rouge!”
“Non Rouge!”
“Oui Oui, Rouge!”
A finger was pointed in the direction of my white wine which made a change from the constant staring at my dinner. I felt like butting in to tell them that my wine was not what I expected either. In the waiter’s defence though, the couple looked about as much fun as a wet and windy weekend stuck with your least favourite relatives in a leaky caravan in a bog-ridden field in Wales in December during a power cut and bus strike. When their food arrived, things didn’t improve, they picked at their food cautiously as if expecting to find human digits, rat shit, or something equally repugnant inside and their chat, even though I didn’t understand much more than the occasional word was morose, managing to make the French accent sound as sexy as a scratched gramophone recording of a 40-a-day smoker with laryngitis impersonating a crow dying a slow and agonising death from bird flu. I got the impression that the basis of their relationship was that they both hated everything, including each other. They left before me, without tipping or pudding, whereas I went for Cecida (a slice of tart) with prune ice cream. It was lovely. I had a coffee to finish and my bill came to 28€. I left 30€ and headed out to meet Hugo and Sara, who had suggested meeting in ‘Crew Hassan’. Despite being on the same street I had trouble finding it and had to ask a waiter in a café for directions, he pointed further down the street and said “do you see the bins?” I nodded, “it’s there” he said, and it was, up a dimly-lit flight of stairs with no “water of Portugal” sign for encouragement. It was the sort of Bohemian place you rarely see in Britain, it looked like someone’s flat, actually it probably was someone’s flat but he’d left his doors open, bought a lot of cheap booze and spread the word. I hung about the bar waiting for Hugo and Sara and someone approached me and said something. I asked him if he spoke English and he said it cost 2€ to enter. It seemed unlikely that a random person who emerged from the crowd worked here and knew who hadn’t paid but hey, maybe this was someone’s flat after all and being a gatecrasher I paid him and got a beer served in a small plastic cup from the bar. I sat down at a table and a couple approached me. I thought it was Hugo and Sara but they just asked if the seats next to me were free, I gave them up and resorted to standing near the entrance again hoping that I wasn’t charged another 2€. Hugo and Sara arrived and we sat down and chatted. It turned out that neither of them had ever been here before, they just suggested it because it was on the same street as “Casa Do Alentejo”. They asked how long I had known Dan, who had given me their contact details and I truthfully replied that it was only a few days! Luckily this did not seem to scare them off so we had a few more beers. After a few visits to the bar the girl behind decided to teach me how night life worked in the place beside the bins, explaining that you get a discount for each empty cup returned, and we had already had quite a few beers. I looked behind and realised that someone had made off with our empties. D’oh! An acoustic gig started and finished in the room next door while a TV in our room played some awful art school project. If ever there was a contender for a future STFU venue this was it!

I had to go to the toilet and discovered that there was none. Presumably the only toilet on the floor was reserved for bar staff, so instead you had to make your way outside the building onto the street below and then into the record shop next door, which was held open so you could use the one-and-only toilet. I would not look forward to spending a busy New Year here!

We decided to head elsewhere and inspected a few places before ending up beside the river at an outdoor bar. Once again toilet facilities were a curious affair as you had to use the toilets belonging to the shopping centre next door (getting an alcohol license in Portugal must be much easier than in the UK). We stayed here until it closed and then headed to the nearby square to catch a night bus. Hugo and Sara kindly got off at the same stop as me and explained how to get back to the hotel and asked if I would be ok. All I had to do was walk straight down a main road, so I knew I’d be fine. I only saw a few people on the way back to hotel, mostly homeless people sleeping, and when I arrived at the hotel that’s what I did too, I slept straight away because in only a few hours time again I would be awake again.

I got up early and packed my belongings away. As I left the hotel I asked the owner about getting to the airport. He told me to buy 2 single trips at the metro and this would be valid on the metro and the bus. Like Porto, Lisbon uses a RFID chip in a credit card sized ticket for metro, tram, bus and regional train transport, as I discovered on the way to Sintra. Rather than purchase a new ticket every time you travel you can top up the same card, which costs less than a new card. The problem with this however, is that they can be easily damaged and once that happens whatever credit is on the card is lost and I had already bent my first viva travel card, so had put its replacement carefully in my wallet where I thought it would be safe. I topped it up with 1.60€ for 2 trips and the machine gladly took my money. On exiting the metro however I had a bit of trouble as the turnstile wouldn’t let me through as it claimed that my card was invalid. I had to scan it about 20 times before it eventually recognised that there was sufficient credit to let me escape.

I found my way around the corner to a bus stop full of waiting Germans. I was ready to ask if they were waiting for the bus to the airport in “Deutsch”, since this is one of the few things I know how to say in German but then realised I’d probably make an arse of it anyway, besides they all had lots of luggage, where else would they be going?!

The bus arrived and I got on first and scanned my viva card. The machine beeped and flashed, which it does when you have insufficient credit on your card. The rest of the passengers got on behind me and used the other card scanner without a problem, while the one I was using continued to beep. The driver said, “look at the message, your card has expired!” I told him that I had just topped it up with 2 single journeys and had only used one and explained that it had taken me 20 attempts to escape the metro and that if I just kept trying…beep….beep…beep…
With a bus load of irate passengers heading to the airport I finally relented and paid the 1.40€ standard rate bus fare.

Lisbon airport is very expensive, even by airport standards; I presume it is because they need to fund the building of a new airport further outside the city. The average price of a sandwich was 5.75€ and I kept looking till I found one at the bargain price of 3.50€ which I purchased from a woman who looked like she had never ever smiled. I smiled at her and thanked her with an “obrigado” as she gave me my change but her face didn’t twinge. They say you get what you pay for and my 3.50€ sandwich was rubbish. If only I’d paid the extra 2.25€, I might have got a smile.

My flight took off on time and I got chatting to the 2 women beside me. The furthest away woman had a hearing aid and couldn’t hear me, so the other one had to relay the conversation, but she struggled to understand me. I’m not sure if it was the accent or that I was just talking too fast but the conversation went something like:
“I was in Lisbon for 4 days”
“where?”
“In Lisbon, for 4 days”
“eh?”
“I think he said something about Mel Gibson”
“No, I said I was in Lisbon”
“Oh, I think he said he is Mel Gibson”
So there I was 8 days in Portugal and I had conversed perfectly with many Portuguese yet on the plane home the native English speakers were struggling to understand me. The conversation soon turned to booze as it always does with Brits, the old dears had been introduced to Caipirinha while on holiday. None of them could pronounce it properly and none of them knew “what were in it” but they all thought that it was “nice”. I expected that after arriving home they would all sit down to a nice cup of tea and watch Emmerdale, and with that thought I touched down in a dull drizzly Manchester and jumped on the next train to Leeds where I would be performing later that day at STFU Leeds.

On the rail journey back to Glasgow from Leeds I had the misfortune of being chucked off the train in Edinburgh due to there being a “driver shortage”, even though the train was scheduled to terminate to Glasgow and presumably a driver had gotten us that far. We were all told to get off and get the next train, which everyone did and the train disappeared…in the direction of Glasgow. It was only once the train was far far away that we realised that there were no more Cross County trains and so nobody had a valid ticket for the remainder of the day’s trains. Most people got on the next train to Glasgow. Cue moaning from the conductor who knew nothing about this but accepted my invalid ticket anyway, luckily I was on the last carriage so got spared of the original arguing that would no doubt have taken place. I arrived in Glasgow later than planned wishing that I was still in Portugal.

The End.

A few final remarks on Portugal, If you can’t find what you are looking for in a supermarket, keep looking, they might have it in more than one location. Empty shelf for sunscream on the toiletries aisle? Try next to the dog food instead!
And very important – don’t forget to hold your nose when walking down back streets. They may reek of pee. Yes, I found plenty of these in Lisbon too.

Originally posted September 22 2009 on em411.com

Portugal 2007 Part 2: Coimbra and Lisbon

Originally posted September 14 2009 on em411.com

Coimbra

I was staying in Coimbra with Vic, whom I met at the first Stfu Porto. The city is home to Portugal’s first university, which is also one of Europe’s oldest. Luck would have it that I was in town for the annual week-long “Queima das Fitas” AKA the “Burning of the Ribbons” festival, so called because of the symbolic burning of the ribbons that represented the particular faculty that the student was tied to. It goes back for centuries and is a bit more stylish than your average student graduation ceremony.

My introduction to Coimbra however was anything but stylish and involved waiting for a long period in the train station’s taxi queue on the busiest night of the year while drunken top-hat and cape wearing graduates sang, shouted, threw things and generally annoyed the hell out of all the non-students in the queue…I take back what I said about luck as well, because although I arrived on the first day of festivities I was too late for the street parade and free beer, kindly provided by some beer companies. Some 30,000 bottles or so were handed out according to Vic and allegedly more beer is drunk during one week of the Burning of the Ribbons than one week in Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany! When we finally arrived at Vic’s I realised that a few student friends and relatives were also staying over, and when I say a few I mean there were about 15 people squeezed into a small 3 bedroom flat!

I had brought Vic a lovely present from Scotland, a Tam O’Shanter hat, you know the tartan type with the ginger hair poking out from underneath? In exchange he showed me his kilt. Yes, he really did have one, but it was in need of repair and regrettably I had left my kilt repair kit at home. After dinner I was invited out to experience the Coimbra nightlife but declined being on the sleepy side, oh yeah, I had been to an all night rock club just that morning so had been awake for over 24 hours without any sleep…

I was in Coimbra for 2 days and did what I usually do when I’m on holiday on my own in a strange city; I wandered about, mostly aimlessly but with a slight goal in mind – to meet up with Vic and Filipe after they finished work. I had stupidly only packed one pair of shoes for the trip but was doing a lot of walking and remember what I said about smelly feet in part 1? So I bought some 5€ flip flops in town and went walking. I was conscious that there was a strong smell of urine on many corners of the old town and was beginning to think that this was a trait of Portuguese towns but then I remembered the previous night’s festivities. Lots of students, lots of booze but a distinct lack of all-night public amenities because the shopping centres and record stores were shut (see part 3!)

And then drama! my girlfriend’s new Sony Alpha DSLR camera that I had borrowed started malfunctioning, and all I did to it was switch it off! Contrast this to my own non-SLR camera that had been dropped from various heights, numerous times and has had allsorts spilled over it and yet still worked fine. For the remainder of the trip the camera would work but would make a horrible motor noise every time it was switched on and off and it would struggle to focus correctly. Urgh.

At some point on the way to Vic and Filipe’s workplace I realised that my crudely hand-drawn map didn’t really make sense and that I was running out of time to meet them on time. I managed to nip into the tourist info just before it closed and got a proper map. I had to head south to meet them and estimated that it would take 40 minutes on foot to get there, meaning I would be a little late so I decided that taxi was the best option. According to the map the Parque train station was a 10 minute walk south, surely that would have a taxi rank right? No, it didn’t and the little old woman whom I accosted didn’t speak a word of English. She had veered away from me the minute I approached her and she didn’t want to be any help whatsoever, refusing to point out anything on the map. I didn’t see any taxis on the way here nor did I see any on the 10 minute walk back to the tourist info office, which had now closed. I looked at a few bus timetables but really had no idea where they were going so walked a further 10 minutes north to the central train station where I eventually got a taxi, which then got stuck in traffic and arrived 10 minutes later, at about the same time it would have taken me to walk the whole way. D’oh! I was quickly introduced to another of Vic’s friends before she went home, leaving myself, Vic and Filipe to go for a few beers, a tuna sandwich and lupini beans, which since my first trip to Portugal I had been trying to track down in Britain without luck (EDIT: but I have now found them in Super Asia on Pollokshaws Rd). I taught Vic some Scottish slang for when his kilt is repaired and then we went to the train station. While waiting for the train I bought a carton of Um Bongo from the shop, which brought back happy memories of childhood as they stopped selling it in Britain a number of years ago, though there is a campaign to bring it back. The train pulled in, I said goodbye to Vic and I hoped on, in 2 hours time I would be in Lisbon…

Photos from Coimbra here

Lisbon

Arriving in any city late at night when you have never been there before and have only a vague notion of where you are going is not recommended. I arrived at Lisbon’s Santa Apolonia at 23:30 and had picked a hotel 2 metro lines away. Unfortunately I only had a single map from a guidebook that was slightly inaccurate, suggesting that the street where my hotel lay began at the intersection and did not cross the intersection, and so when I walked out of the metro at around midnight at a crossroads and looked across the road and saw the name of the street I was looking for, I crossed over and walked off….in the wrong direction.
Perhaps the police standing at the beginning of the street was a warning and when I noticed that the street numbers were going down instead of up my brain really should have kicked into gear (I blame it on a lack of sleep), instead I kept walking and ended up in a poorly lit neighbourhood which I can best describe as highly intimidating. A large group of African immigrants eyed me suspiciously as I walked past, there were groups of people milling about, some laughing, some shouting, some arguing, but most just standing about watching…waiting…in a street that had virtually no lighting at 00:30 on a Wednesday morning! I was surprised no one approached me as I was clearly lost. I walked out onto the main road, backtracked to the metro station and found my way to the hotel. I was late but the owner was not bothered – he was friendly and agreeable. I asked him about the area I had just walked in and he advised me to steer clear of it as it was where the drug dealing went down. Mind you, in the following 4 days I spent in Lisbon I was actually offered drugs 3 times, each time in broad daylight and in the main shopping streets.

I settled down into my room and then the owner knocked, he told me to come with him and I followed him into a darkened room…a light came on. “This is the fridge” he said proudly. “You can keep your things cool here, but shhh, not tell everyone. Just for you.”
I had gained his trust and had VIP access to the secret fridge! I returned to the bedroom. My room had no TV or en-suite shower but had a double bed, washbasin and a bidet so I could wash my arse to my heart’s content.

The following morning I awoke to strange noises outside my door, sounding to me as if someone was continually hoisting a sail, not that I’ve ever sailed a ship! Eventually I stuck my head out the door. “Good morning” said the hotel owner, who was ironing a million and one bed sheets right outside my room.

I nipped into the shower next door and showered in the cold (no, it never got hot) water. When dressed I asked the owner for advice on how to spend my time. “Go to Belém and have a Pastel de Nata” he said and so I did. But not before I asked for suggestions for breakfast, which wasn’t included. He led me out the door and down the street to the local pastelaria. “This is where I take all my good guests” he boasted proudly. He spoke with the owner of the pastelaria, first of all in Portuguese, probably saying “here is the victim for tonight’s human sacrifice” then in English “He will take good care of you. See you later” The pastelaria owner proffered me to sit down. After croissant and coffee I got the metro down to the river and then the tram along to Belém, or at least I tried to. I missed my stop.

As I found out – press the stop button if you want off a tram in Lisbon. If you don’t and no one else wants on or off it will whizz past your destination, and the next stop, and the next…
I walked back to Belém and visited the Torre de Belem, which is a little castle like building on the beach. A former prison and Customs House, today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is popular with tourists though there isn’t really that much to see. I did get a few good photos, though getting up and down the stairs was a pain as it is very narrow and clearly not designed with the foresight that one day fat Germans and Americans would be clambering up and down. After that I walked along the riverside, took a few photos of the Henry the Navigator monument and headed back into Lisbon.

When I was in Porto a number of Portuguese delicacies were recommended to me, some of which I had tried but some still eluded me. I asked the hotel owner about them, all of which contained meat. “I am vegetarian” he told me, “and my wife is vegetarian also” Thwarted. He suggested that any decent restaurant in downtime would have these dishes on the menu. “Isn’t downtown expensive?” I asked. “Not if you stick to the pastelarias he told me, you will get lunch for 5 euro”
And so I headed to downtown. I looked in a few of the pastelarias and noticed something that probably should have dawned on me during the earlier conversation. Pastelarias sell cakes and pastries. If I wanted a filling meal I’d need to find a restaurant. And so I found a place that did “Alheiras De Mirandela” for a mere 6€. This was the “garlicky chicken sausage” that I had been told about in Porto. It was created by the Jews living in Mirandela, being kosher and fearing persecution from the inquisition, they created a sausage that looked like pork, tasted like pork but was made from any meat other than pork. Whether it fooled anyone or not I can’t say. I walked inside and made it clear that I was a dumb foreigner and was given an English menu. On the badly laminated menu dishes lost their exotic names, and beef specialities simply became “beef steak”. “Crème Caramel” and “Crème Brulee” had all the life sucked out of them becoming simply “custard desert” and “caramel desert” respectively. But worst of all, average prices were now 12€ and there was no 6€ non-pork pork-meat tasting sausage listed! I requested to pick from the local menu and paid the local price for my sausage. My 2 orange juices, main course, desert and coffee were all delivered promptly. However, when it came time to pay for the bill, suddenly no one wanted to know I was there, and so I waited and was avoided, repeatedly. What had I done to offend them? I watched as the woman opposite me had her main replaced by coffee and a bill. She paid and left but still the waiters walked past me with not a single one making eye contact. I had to stand up and walk to the till before a bill appeared. I didn’t leave a tip and I’m sure they were talking about me as I left “The Brit who refused to order from the English menu and had the audacity to order a coffee after his pastry and then didn’t leave a tip!”

I hadn’t been on the internet for a few days and was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms when I found a place called “CAFÉ INTERNET.” A girl stood outside the door holding a menu. I asked her about the internet, she asked me about “luncheon.” I told her that I was only interested in the internet; she told me that she was only interested in “luncheon.” I told her that I had just eaten. A minor point as far as she was concerned as she pointed to the menu on the sandwich board and smiled. I repeated that I had no desire to eat and as things were at the pointy stage, pointed to the sign above our heads that said “INTERNET” in big shiny capital letters. She shrugged her shoulders. She’d never heard of it. Seeing that she was getting nowhere, she then resorted to asking me in Spanish whether I wanted “luncheon!” I told her thanks but no thanks and walked off.

The search for the internet took me to near the cathedral, where I spotted a sign pointing to “Cyber Café” I followed a few of these signs towards the castle where they seemed to stop. I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to stick to the main road, or head towards the castle. I stupidly veered off the main road and found nothing so headed back to the main road and the signs re-appeared a bit further along, pointing off the main road eventually. After 20 minutes of walking and no Cyber Café and no more signs I gave up and headed to Castelo De São Jorge. You get an excellent view of the city from up here but by the time I got there I had missed the last visit to the camera obscura. Damn you Cyber café!

When I left the castle I continued in the same direction I was walking earlier and kept going until I did find an internet café. I checked my emails and had one from Dan with a contact number for his friend Hugo. I tried txting Hugo but got a strange message back. Dan explained that it was a landline that I was txting as Hugo did not have a mobile phone. So I phoned him but as he worked until 9pm each night he suggested meeting up for a few beers on Friday instead. His girlfriend Sara had a mobile and so it was decided that I would call or txt her to meet-up. I also had a reply from Pedro, who runs the Test Tube net label and monocromatica records. He was available to meet up for a beer or coffee that night in Belém. I let Pedro know I was coming and headed there. Upon leaving the internet cafe I noticed something curious. There were 3 internet cafes on this street and the very last one (i.e. the furthest one away from all the signs) was the fabled “Cyber café”.

On the way I stumbled into a place called “Megavega” for a cold drink but then so intrigued was I with their “all you can eat vegetarian buffet” that I decided to stay for food and had the whole place to myself. Not a single soul even bothered to look in while I sat there. It cost 15€ for the food and 2 drinks, which I thought was a bit steep given that there’s only so many ways that you can package falafel and couscous.

In Belém I met up with Pedro, he took me to a local bar for a few beers and then gave me a car tour of late night Lisbon, which was a welcome surprise but depressingly the most common sight on our trip were prostitutes. He even dropped me off near my hotel and warned me about the drug-dealing area and he gave me two free cds! Sadly I didn’t have anything to give him in return as although I had brought vinyl with me I had given it all away in Porto and Coimbra.

Dan had recommended that I visit the Gulbenkian museum (4€ entry to the permanent exhibits), so I paid it a visit on the morning of my last full day in Lisbon. It houses a large collection of artefacts from around the world amassed by an oil-made Armenian collector. Portugal was the only European country to offer him a passport, hence why the collection ended up here. It’s a bit similar to the Burrell collection in Glasgow, so if you’ve been there you know roughly what to expect. The Gulbenkian features Ottoman rugs, paintings, furniture, jewellery. If you go, look out for the dark humour in the tapestries with the cherubs. The best bit of the gallery for my money is the Rene Lalique collection. An assortment of mostly art nouveau jewellery. Incredibly intricate work with ivory, metal interspersed with gemstones. My personal favourite was a letter opener with ivory handle depicting an open book (most probably the bible) and souls falling to the demons below. Made circa 1900, his work reminded me of an old school H.R Geiger, art nouveau but dark and mysterious.

I edged past the school group who were visiting and made my way to the nearby Entrecampos train station. It was time to visit one last place…

Originally posted September 14 2009 on em411.com

Portugal 2007 Part 1: Porto

Originally posted September 08 2009 on em411.com

In April I returned to Portugal to partake in the 3rd year of the STFU Porto music festival.

My first impression of Porto airport, when I arrived 2 years previously was that it was the most futuristic looking airport that I had visited. On returning I can say that this is still very much the case as you can now bypass the passport control queue and self-scan your passport at a turnstile and be on your way before everyone else, provided you have a biometric passport.
I don’t however, so I had to wait in the lengthy queue and grumble. Once in arrivals I was greeted by Hélder and Nuno, who are responsible for putting on STFU Porto year after year, unfortunately it was late at night so there was no time for food, chatting or sightseeing, instead they would drop me off at the hotel and we would meet up the following day.

Hélder told me that I was staying at a hotel named after a king. The last hotel I stayed at in Porto was also named after a king, well, Christ the King, and it was a shithole. However given its central location, en-suite shower, double bed and bedside cabinet complete with 3 stale bread rolls, a coin and an empty packet of paracetamol for the thrifty sum of 7€ per night I would return if that was all my budget allowed. This time however I was breaking the bank at 20€ per night but I was just a stones throw from the venue.

We arrived at the hotel. The smell hit me first of all, that familiar stale cheap European hotel smell. Fit for a king? Maybe Jonathan King perhaps. Hélder did the talking to the guy at reception but he did speak some English. He led me to the 1st floor and showed me the room. It was larger than I expected but smelt just as bad up here. I smelt bad too though as I had been travelling all day, so to cool off I stripped down to my underpants (after the hotel guy had left of course!), my shoes smelled awful and I was relieved that it was the guy in front of me at Stansted airport who was instructed to put his shoes through the x-ray and not me. I had no windows, just a frosted glass door leading outside. It was a warm night so I stepped out onto the balcony; it was huge and had a table and a few chairs. I could get used to this I thought but then the washing line came into view, complete with underwear – someone’s knickers were drying on my balcony! There were no other doors, though the window of the neighbouring room did look out onto my balcony. I thought about the options, either Bo and Luke Duke were next door and made frequent washing trips through the window, or I could be dealing with the Portuguese Spiderman…worse yet was the bland but more realistic prospect that the cleaner simply used the room as a means of getting to the balcony and if I’m hung-over and fondling myself that’s not something I would really want.

I had recently purchased a new 1.4 aperture lens for the Sony A200 camera that I was dying to try out in low light conditions and so before bed I pulled the camera out and took a few shots outside, a couple of shots in and the door of the property next door opened. A dumpy woman walked out, and realising that I was standing in my underpants and brandishing a camera I scrambled back inside.

Outside I could hear a cat calling for a mate. For some curious reason I’ve only ever heard cats like this on the European mainland, never in the UK. Is it something about the heat that makes one, well…in heat? Then a dog started barking and wouldn’t stop. I wasn’t going to sleep in a hurry so decided to have a shower. The en-suite light had a decidedly seedy glow and it took forever for “hot” water to come through the shower head – this is after I finally realised which tap was hot and which was cold. Then I noticed all the hairs at the bottom of the shower. Yeww! Chances are that I did not suddenly become a member of the Sasquatch family and that these possibly belonged to the hirsute bear who put their knickers out to dry and went out for a drink, only to come home and ask “who’s been sleeping in my bed?” I also noticed that the bin in the toilet contained more hair that wasn’t mine! The bathroom sink appeared to have 2 hot taps and after leaving both to run for a considerable length of time they still only deposited cold water. I returned to the bedroom. Oh God! The smell! Are my feet that bad? And then I remembered that the room stank anyway. I lay on the bed and a mosquito floated past, I made several pathetic attempts at swatting it and then realised that I had packed nothing to protect myself from mozzies, and from past experience they like me…well they like my blood so I was at their mercy.

I couldn’t sleep, it was hot, the room stank and the dog was still barking so I turned to TV in a desperate bid to knock me to submission by watching badly dubbed American movies…

I woke up the following morning to noise on the balcony. Yes, someone was definitely on my balcony. I couldn’t make anything out through the frosted glass door but I had no plans to engage them anyway, they can have their knickers! So I turned on the TV and watched a subtitled American film called “Frostbite”. It was 10am and there was an awful lot of swearing and sexual references. It made me wonder, do most Portuguese adults have a clue what’s being said or does “I’m going to fucking kill you for screwing my wife!” translate into the watered down subtitles of “You’ve been a naughty boy!” for the pre-watershed viewing public?

My left cheek was itchy; I walked into the en-suite and saw that my Portuguese mozzie friend had left her mark already. I was on day one of my holiday and sported a great big red swollen cheek shining like Rudolph’s nose and I hadn’t packed antiseptic or anti-histamines or anything. I got ready to go out.

Breakfast wasn’t included with the hotel so I wandered about until I found a supermarket, my shopping came to 7.88€ so I handed over 10€. The girl at the checkout said something and I immediately knew that it would be a request for something smaller, or the exact amount, because in Europe no one ever has change.
From my experience your shopping could come to 9.99€ and if you don’t have it exactly a frown from the cashier is to be expected. I didn’t have 7.88€ but I did have 2.88€ and when I counted it out the cashier excitedly took it from me in exchange for a 5€ note.

My first day’s lunch would consist of a “fresh moment” salad. And let me confirm, it probably was fresh for only a moment and then packaged and left it to sit on a Portuguese supermarket’s chiller for a few days. While I was eating it an old Portuguese woman walked past me, stopped, saw what I was eating and laughed heartily and tried to engage in conversation. I think I made it clear pretty quick that I didn’t speak the language so she walked off disgruntled. She was probably just saying “Ha, those things? I bought one for the first time yesterday, what a load of crap! Fresh moment? Fresh my octogenarian arse”

The “moment” gave me a “fresh” idea however, T-shirts for tourists written in the local language that say “I don’t speak the language so don’t even waste your breath”

After that I walked around Porto taking photos and had a moment that was definitely not fresh when I reached a street corner that stank so badly of pee that I was almost sick. This, where the two ladies are talking, is the offending corner. They obviously have weaker nasal passages than myself. After that I returned to the hotel to freshen up, when I was leaving the guy at the desk told me that they wanted to move me upstairs and asked if this was ok. It’s their hotel and someone else’s knickers stuck hung on my balcony so I agreed. They said they would do this when I returned later but when I did return a few hours later they had already moved my stuff into a 2nd floor room and none of it was packed away – the cleaner must surely have had her mitts on my underpants! I bypassed her on the stairs on the way to the new room and found that my stuff was dumped in piles but my laptop was missing! I explained to her that the laptop wasn’t there. She didn’t understand. “Computer?” I tried. Não compreender. “Ordinator?” The bemused look didn’t go away. I performed my best monkey at a keyboard routine. Nada. I indicated that I was going to my original room. The door was ajar and no one was there. In the drawer sat my laptop and a few other things. Phew. I twaddled back upstairs with my belongings. “Ah! laptop!” the cleaner exclaimed as I passed. The new room overlooked the old room. At least I had a window now and could watch out for the pervy Peter Parker on the balcony below.

Before each night of STFU Porto, Helder and co treated us to some local cuisine at a restaurant near the venue, where I tried “Caldo Verde”, a light and unadventurous soup made from cabbage and potatoes; “Arroz de Lampreia” (Lamprey in rice), which arrived in the pot it was cooked in. It was ok, but it was just far too much of the same thing, “Bacalhau” (Salted cod), which was served with thin potato slices and not too dissimilar to fish n’ chips back home; “Feijoada”, a mixture of tender beef, rice and beans and “Tripas à moda do Porto” (Tripe with beans), something that I’d been avoiding for years. They’ve been eating it for years in Porto however, since the 14th/15th century when the best meat was sent off to soldiers in Northern Africa, or to Henry the Navigator’s sailors depending on whom you believe, so all that was left for the local inhabitants was the cheapest of cheap meat. It is now the “dish of Porto” and was actually ok, but was a bit too chewy.

Onto Stfu Porto itself – over 3 nights I drank lots of beer, sangria and muscatel, and introduced the bar staff to the delights of Glayva whiskey liquor! I listened to lots of good music and met Ingrid (Filmjölk) and her boyfriend who are both from Brussels and whose music I was familiar with from em411.com. I met Floris (Murw) from Utrecht in the Netherlands, who I linked up again with at STFU Leeds the following week. I met Dan from England who now resides in Porto, working as a web designer. Sofia and her friend behind the bar supplied me with antihistamines to speed up my recovery from the mosquito attacks and Sektor 304 kindly told me the best places to experience the real Portugal, which seemed to involve a lot of goat eating and devil worhsipping. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit any of these places, but hey-ho that’s my next trip to Portugal already sorted! I once again met up with
Filipe Cruz, who was responsible for organising the very first STFU Porto festival and João (Ocp), who played at the first STFU Porto.

It transpired that DJ Infekt[ion] whom I met on the 1st night had studied at Glasgow University for one year. I asked her if there was anything she missed about Glasgow and she said “yes, the pakora!” She told me that the best pakora was to be found at Aladdin’s on Great Western Road, which is a place I had never made it to. Sadly on returning to Glasgow I discovered that Aladdin’s is no more, but a new restaurant (Persia) now stands in its premises.

After the last night of STFU myself, Dan and Pedro, whom I had only met on the last night went to Tendinha Dos Clérigos, an all night rock club, where we stayed until 7am. You are given a card on entry, which has a list of drinks; whiskey, beer, rum etc and then 10 boxes next to each drink. When you order a drink one of these boxes is ticked off, no cash changes hands at the bar, then as you as are leaving the club you hand your ticket in and pay the appropriate amount. We passed a couple ofcasualties who’d had too much drink and not enough sleep on the way out.

When I got back to my hotel room I realised that there was another casualty, I was a pair of underpants down. Each night I had been washing my socks and underpants and leaving them to dry on the window ledge but the underpants were gone! Mmaybe Spiderpants man had climbed up the drainpipe to nab them or they’d simply fallen onto the balcony below, but I looked down and they weren’t there! When checking out I tried to explain the predicament to the guy in the hotel and got Dan to translate but he was adamant that no one had seen my boxers.

And do on my last day in Porto I hung out with Dan. He took me to Fundação Serralves, the modern art gallery, which was a bit rubbish to be honest, the grounds are worth visiting though, and it was while walking through here that I told him that I was heading to Coimbra and Lisbon next. He told me that he had a friend in Lisbon and suggested that we meet up and would send me his number.

We left and waited for a bus outside but then realised that only one bus came this way so we walked towards the main road where we had a choice of buses to choose from. There was only one other person at the bus stop, an old woman, who after a few minutes asked me a question. As I don’t speak Portuguese Dan took over and engaged in a fairly lengthy and frantic conversation. Dan said he would be back in a minute and walked across to another bus stop to scrutinise a timetable. I hadn’t a clue what was going on and then a bus appeared. Dan ran back over and we got on the bus. The woman then started talking to the driver, again in the same frantic manner. The woman eventually gave up and the bus departed. I asked Dan what it was all about and he said that the woman couldn’t read and was travelling to somewhere she had never been before and she didn’t know how to get there and her destination wasn’t listed on any of the timetables and the bus driver didn’t know where it was, or how to get there either! It was a really hot day as well; we had visions of her stuck at the bus stop collapsing from heatstroke…

We then visited the Casa Di Musica, where I had met the enigmatic, or just plain nutty “Dr Sound” 2 years earlier. This time though we were only going for food and a sit-down. Dan ordered us both a Tosta Mista (ham and cheese on toast). I was still hungry so went back for another. “Tosta Mista” I said to the girl at the till, who looked like I had just beamed down from Rigel Kent. “Tosta Mista” I repeated. I was really struggling with conveying the most basic requests to locals. I said to her in English that I wanted another but she didn’t speak English. I had my receipt from before so pointed at it. “Ah” she said, and indicated that I should wait, she shouted through to someone in the kitchen and served someone else while I waited, and waited, and waited. Then the manager appeared. She thought I wanted to complain about my Tosta Mista! She told her colleague who apologised and made me another sandwich. Dan had some work to do and I had a few hours to spend before my train to Coimbra. He recommended that I go to the beach. Porto is not the sort of place where a Brit goes on a beach holiday but certainly one could as there are a good few miles of beach and a metro station within easy reach. I spent some time here and then headed to the opposite end of town to see FC Porto’s Dragon stadium, before casually making my way to Campanhã train station. On the train I met-up with Filipe Cruz. He now lives in Coimbra a 1.5 hour journey away, and that was my destination too.

Originally posted September 08 2009 on em411.com

Amsterdam 2005

I found this half-finished blog while clearing out stuff and tidied it up. It’s almost 6 years old and is about the journey to, rather than events of the EM411 meetup that took place at New Year 2005 in Amsterdam. Well you know what they say, better late than never…

I’m standing in a cold dark rain soaked street in Glasgow waiting for the night bus to London. It’s 11 pm and I’ve been standing here for almost 45 minutes; all that time getting progressively wetter. There is a bus shelter but it’s fully occupied so I’ve had to put up with the rain. I look around at the others waiting and it is quite a diverse crowd…there are Australians and I believe New Zealanders as well, the couple in front are Spanish and off to the right, I suspect Turkish. A group of Indians further along, and I heard eastern European voices as well. I’m on my own and I’m casually drifting in and out of other people’s conversations, but I can’t understand a word.

The bus eventually turns up 30 minutes late. The crowd piles toward the bus door, passengers from Aberdeen and Dundee who were already on the bus get off and force their way past, luggage is put into the hold but just when it seems we’re about to leave the driver spots a lonely item of luggage lying on the pavement. The driver asks three times ‘who owns the bag?’ but no one wants to admit responsibility…eventually there’s arguing at the front of the bus…and someone finally does something about the bag and the bus pulls away.

I can’t hear any Scottish voices nor any English being spoken. I can hear Spanish…I tune in and hear ‘Ferrari’ repeated, then it becomes clear, ‘Italian’. Behind me I can hear Polish or another Eastern European tongue. And what’s that? ‘Danke?’ someone definitely said ‘Danke’. Who invited the Germans? Did they sneak on when I wasn’t looking? Maybe they were already on-board, as the bus arrived fully laden with passengers from north-east Scotland. The journey for me will take around 8 hours, for those from Aberdeen around 12 hours! Ouch.

The Italian couple opposite me are kissing…constantly. Every few minutes I hear the smack of lips. I swear they do it on purpose…deliberately picking the most sexually frustrated person on the bus to sit opposite. I look around and there doesn’t appear to be anyone else kissing…in the corner of my eye I can see them, but he has friends in the row behind and he’ll turn and talk to them and then suddenly he’ll place a kiss on his girlfriend’s cheek and then he’s straight back into the conversation as if the kiss was an integral part of the conversation. Perhaps it is, I’ve no idea what they’re talking about, and all I can make out is yet more references to ‘Ferrari’. Maybe he’s comparing his girlfriend to a fast Italian car…or a prancing horse.

I’ve started reading, but the book isn’t holding my attention. I have 3 books with me, 2 are packed in the luggage compartment so I’m stuck with what I’ve got…I’m bored, so I’ve started counting the kissy noises…41…42…the man sitting in front looks like David Coulthard…perhaps they’re joking about David Coulthard in a Ferrari, mind you if Eddie Irvine can do it…Kiss.

The roof is leaking. drip, drip, kiss. The driver takes the main lights off so I stick on my overhead light to attempt reading again while the rest of the bus is in darkness and everyone is trying to sleep. Even the kissing has stopped! Wind and rain batters the bus. The leaking gets worse. This is going to be a long night. I have a small bottle of Jaggermeister which I take out and start drinking in the hope it will knock me to sleep as I really don’t want to be awake for the next 7 hours…¾ way through the bottle and I need to pee but the toilet on board is out-of-order. I’ll compose myself until we stop…10 minutes pass…20 minutes becomes 30, this can’t be good for my bladder, I ask the driver if he’ll stop…he says we’ll be stopping ‘soon’.

Another 20 minutes later we stop. We switch drivers; the new driver announces that he is “Magic Danny”. No one is allowed off to pee instead a man comes on to look at the toilet but says there is nothing wrong with it. So I’m first in. A fat woman tries to push her way in while I’m peeing. I flush and she goes in once I’ve finished and then as I’m back in my seat she walks past me to the driver, apparently the toilet is broken…don’t look at me! I didn’t do anything! We make a proper toilet stop this time at the next motorway service station, which adds more time to the journey…

I fall asleep listening to a Yann Tiersen CD…but I’m awoken by the sound of my CD player crashing against the floor and smashing apart. It must have been loud; people are looking at me as I pick up my broken CD player…either that or I was talking, or worse singing in my sleep.

The Jaggermeister is down to the last 1/3 but I’ve only slept for about an hour and am wide-awake as we come into London. The bus stops and “Magic Danny” announces that we’ve arrived on time thanks to his “superb” driving skills! Pfft, that was nothing; bring on the 9-hour journey back home!

At Victoria railway station I meet up with Chris (Zanf) and we go back to his flat. In the evening we meet up with Eric (Lowlifi), his girlfriend Rebecca and her friend Daniella in Chandos pub near Trafalgar square. Later that evening we go to Tower Hill and are introduced to Daniella’s extended family who are all American but are staying in Cambridge and together we go for an Indian meal in Brick lane.

In the morning one of Chris’ flatmates drives us to Stansted airport, we check in and go for coffee and a bite to eat. I’m looking forward to the flight. This will be the first time I’ve been anywhere other than Glasgow for New Year. I’ve been listening out for flight announcements but there’s been none. The flight leaves at 1:15 and we realise that time has crept up fast and it is now 1:00. The screens say the flight is now boarding and we realise that we’re miles from the gate. I’ve never flown from Stansted before and wasn’t aware that a train was required to get to the gates. We hop on the next train, run up the escalator and along the corridor and arrive bang on 1:15 but the gate has already closed and they refuse to let us board even though we can see the plane on the ground from the window.

We are told to wait and someone will speak to us about putting us on another flight. No one comes, we ask again; we’re told someone will be with us soon. Time passes 1 hour and 15 minutes later someone meets us and takes us back to the check-in. There are no more flights to Amsterdam from Stansted, but there is one from Luton, but it leaves in just over an hour. We’ll never make it…I’ve we’d been told that immediately instead of wasting 75 minutes we could’ve made it. No matter, we book on flights for the following day and Rebecca has a plan.

After trying various credit cards, coins and numerous numbers Rebecca finally gets through to Daniella and it’s decided that we’re going to Cambridge for the night, and to spend New Year there.

We get on the next bus to Cambridge and take a taxi to the address Daniella has given us…but then we realise that she neglected to give us a street number! Luckily Chris spots Daniella’s uncle in one of the windows. Rebecca chaps the window and then we wait for someone to appear at the door…nobody comes, then we realise that the entrance to the flat is actually round the corner and we’ve been chapping someone else’s door. It transpires that some of Daniella’s family have already left so there’s a room with 5 beds which is free for us to use, complete with fridge full of food, which would only have been thrown out anyway!

I email the hostel telling them we’ll be a day late…I’ve already amended the original booking as Martin/Filarion pulled out (so asked for only 4 beds instead of 5) but then Pietro/Pierlu and his friend were going to come (so I asked for 6 beds) but they couldn’t make it either but Rebecca thought she could persuade Daniella to come so I asked for 5 beds again…

We make some dinner from the mountain of food left in the fridge and head out to see what exciting nightlife Cambridge has to offer. In the process we even manage to witness drunken a fight between toffs. After a few pubs we eventually end up in a club called the Fez. It was shit. It was just like New Year in Glasgow.

The following day we awake early. There’s a number for a taxi company pinned to the wall but it ain’t working, we’re running late (again) so we run through town and only just catch the bus. Today’s departure time is the same as yesterday’s and we find ourselves in the queue at the gate at the exact same time as when we arrived the previous day only this time we are standing waiting and the queue for check-in is not moving far. Sod’s law. While we’re waiting an announcement is made asking the stragglers to board…where was the announcement yesterday?!

A mere 30 minutes later and we’ve touched down in Amsterdam Schipol. We buy 2nd class train tickets and board one of double-decker trains to central station and arrive at our hostel in the red light district located next door to sex show and on the same street as the cock fountain where I say to the man at reception “Hi, I booked a room, we were supposed to arrive yesterday but…”

“Ah, Mark Murphy!” the man laughs. I explain how we booked a room for 5 people but now we only need a room for 4 and if we can pay for a 4-bed room instead. He says he’ll have to speak to his boss. He phones his boss, he talks away in Dutch…”Mark Murphy” he says while looking over at us “yes, MARK MURPHY!” he emphasizes. We get a 4-bed room and he knocks some money off the original 5-bed room price.

Over the next few days we did the usual tourist things, like visit Anne Frank’s House (moving but I can see where Ricky Gervais is coming from regarding his bad taste ‘nazis were rubbish’ joke!), the Van Gogh Museum (very busy), the Rijksmuseum (also very busy) and we went on a canal boat trip, although there are different companies running them and I think we picked the worst one, highlights included “on your right is the Mayor of Amsterdam’s house…from 1984 to 87” We also paid a visit to the indie film theatre and asked the woman on the desk if there were any films in English or with English subtitles. She said there was only 1, a movie called “The eye of the day”, in Dutch but with English subtitles, so we agreed to come back when it was showing…but when the time came once again we were running late so we caught a taxi but the driver didn’t know where the movie theatre was so he dropped us off at the wrong end of Vondelpark, we then ran through the park but by the time we got there we’d missed the first 15 minutes of the film, no big deal we thought but then it quickly dawned on us that the film was actually in Indonesian with *Dutch* subtitles. I could only pick out a few discernable words like “Fuck you.” But other than that I’ve no idea what was going on. As soon as the film finished all the subtitles were in English, perhaps the woman on the desk only caught the end credits before.

As if we hadn’t already tortured ourselves enough we went back to the hostel and watched “The Gathering” starring Christian Ricci, the film was dubbed into German so once again we had no idea what was going on. Regardless we all concluded that it was crap.

Anyway, onto the EM-meet itself!

We met in the Abraxas Coffee Shop, where I was ID’d by the same bouncer at the door pretty much every time I went in and out. Myself, Zanf, Lowlifi (and Rebecca), KidQuaalude (and Jenny), Akida (and girlfriend), Cbit (and Esme) and Raapie who even brought along a guitar were there and the mysterious Jajah appeared briefly and Zanf brought a few mates along who also happened to be in Amsterdam. Most of us had a stint at laptop DJing but I thought that being a coffee shop they would have wanted…well, something laid back, maybe a bit trippy…stoner music if you will, I intended to play a lot of DJ krush, but we got a few complaints from the manager that the music wasn’t fast enough…’as it helps the staff work’…I think they wanted trance like the majority of Amsterdam bars. Why anyone who is getting stoned out their face would want to listen to trance is beyond me, but well, there ya go…so I made a fair amount of mistakes and thought I was a pretty poor DJ but the doorman who ID’d me gave me the thumbs up and one of the girl’s who worked there asked me if I fancied DJing at a bar she worked at in a few days time, I would’ve loved to but had to decline as I had a flight in 2 days time to catch…

A photo from the meet-up:

PS Despite staying in the ‘red light district’ we could see a place with a blue light from our hostel window. Cbit explained to us what this was, basically if you see one, don’t go in  it means the “girl” inside is a transexual!
Unfortunately I left my camera in London so no photos from me…

Originally posted October 22 2010  on em411.com – but written in 2005

Hamburg 2006

Originally posted Jan 28 2006 on em411.com

Last weekend i flew to Hamburg, Germany’s 2nd largest city, which has 2,300 bridges and more millionaires than any other city in Europe!
I went over to visit one of my friends from university who now lives there.
I hadn’t seen him for over 2 years so thought it was about time to visit and when you can get flights that cost less than the train journey to go see my brother who lives in the north of England then why not eh?

When we landed at Lubeck airport it was freezing and snow covered. The snow melted by the time we left, but it certainly didn’t feel any warmer! It was freezing the whole weekend, so it was good to get back to a “warm” Glasgow afterwards

While i was there I bought lots of cheap beer in a beer celler. 8 500ml and 2 330ml bottles of good quality German beer came to less than 9 euros! That’s about £6! Plus you get refunds on the bottles! To buy the same or similar bottles here would cost £15 or more!

While there i visted the Reeperbahn, which is a street filled with sex shops, peep shows and brothels…oh and mc donalds, pizza hut, subway, burger king etc…(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reeperbahn)
I also heard a few scottish voices on the Reeperbahn, including one guy who kept exclaiming “I’m a Dundee man! I’m a Dundee man!”
Here’s a few photos i took on the Reeperbahn:
link The ambiente Hotel
link Cocktube Warning NSFW!
link The fitting combo of fashion and Tools

I also visited the Golden Pudel club, as recommended by both yghartsyrt and filarion. Unfortumately the taxi driver didn’t know where it was. Even though we gave him the correct address he still dropped us off at the wrong place, we found it eventually and it was really small and crammed full of people.
While i was in the toilets i took a photo of graffiti on the walls and some guy walked in and said something, i had no idea what he said. He then pointed at me and said “Window Licker” I thought he was insulting me so i promptly left, it was only once outside that i looked down and realised that i was wearing my Aphex Twin T-shirt!
This guy was also in the club (if you can make him out) link
He was an old guy with a hat, beard and staff. We summised that the more his staff waggled the more he approved of the music. I tried to take a few snaps of him but he kept ducking out of the way! He looked pretty cool and not the sort of person you expect to be in that sort of club at 4am in the morning!

The one thing i wasn’t expecting about Hamburg was that i was thought most people would speak English as i’ve had relatively few language problems everywhere else i’ve been in Europe, heck, even in Estonia most people i met spoke English so i was surprised when i picked up 2 chocolate bars in a garage and went to pay for them. 1 wasn’t scanning so the guy in the garage asked me a question, i did think he was asking if i’d swap it for another but as i don’t speak German i wanted Clarification so asked him if he spoke English.
He just said “ah English…” went a bit red in the face, ducked his head and carried on scanning…
the guy behind me in the queue introvened and the chocolate was swapped but it still wouldn’t scan…

Then there was the woman at the information office in Ohlsdorf who couldn’t speak English, there was another visitor, (i assume) a German tourist in the office at the same time who helped us but even then his English wasn’t the best.
I don’t mean to be rude and sound like a total pig headed idiot tourist but shouldn’t people employed at places where tourists visit know at least a little English?

And then when i asked the guy in the shop at Ohlsdorf Station if he could speak English he just shrugged his shoulders. Not even a “Nein”
Is my pronounciation of “Sprechen Sie Englisch” really that bad?

When i got home i vowed to put the effort in and try my hardest to actually learn German since i’ll be back there in May for STFU Weimar, so i’m on day 3 of learning and i think i’m making decent progress already.
I also found out that i had also broken the law while i was over there. I threw some used batteries into a waste bin on the street, which apparently isn’t allowed. So for all i know i’m a wanted man.

I noticed that in certain parts of the city they had colour coded bins on the street for recycling plastic and glass. We don’t get that here. I had a discussion with some Europeans about recyling, seems the UK is way behind but then i just watched the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode about arguments in favour of recycling being mainly Bullshit so i don’t know what to believe now…

Anyway,
Here’s the link to my photos:
link

photo highlights include:
link Batman Restaurant. Alas Batman wasn’t around when i took the photo
link The xmas tree on the crane. I actually witnessed the tree falling. I should’ve taken an “after” shot
link My favourite snap of the Tv tower!
link The son of God is alive and well and selling jewellery in Hamburg!
link Ohlsdorf cemetery, which is so big it has bus stops throughout it!
link The elbtunnel, this takes you under the river Elbe. Be warned if you need the toilet at the other end as the only toilet is disgusting chemical toilet
link The majestic Town Hall
link Mahnmal St. Nikolai (images 52-56 are taken from the top of the tower)
link Really bad translation from an Italian candle
link “spunk” salty licquorice sweets!

unfortunately i forgot to take a photo of the “Harley Davidson Drugstore” and i meant to take a photo at Schlump underground station as you can actually see the platfom of the next station if you look down the tunnel, and i don’t mean it’s a dim light at the end of the tunnel, no, i mean if someone stood at the end of the platform and waved you’d see them quite clearly!

Tallinn and Helsinki 2005

Originally posted Sept 22 2005 on em411.com

At the end of February 2005 I played my first ever solo gig in ESTONIA of all places!

I was going with my (then) girlfriend, and after sorting the problem with my name of both
tickets twice

I had a half-day at work; I left at 12 to catch my flight. I made my way to the train station where (my then) girlfriend phoned me to tell me the flight was delayed by 2 hours.

I caught the next train into town anyway then caught the airport bus.

I was sitting at the front of the bus and the driver was tearing it down the motorway when his phone rang, he answered and the conversation went like this:
“Hullo”

“Aye, we got banned at tha’ weekend”

“We got caught goin’ in tae a cubicle tha’ gether”

So I arrived at the airport and met up with my girlfriend and found out that the flight would be delayed by a few hours more. We passed the time by playing cards.

I was flying from Glasgow to Helsinki; changing at Amsterdam. We were told that we might not make the connecting flight and may have to spend the night in Amsterdam, and that’s what happened, when we arrived in Amsterdam the last flight to Helsinki had already left, so we booked ourselves on the first flight to Helsinki the following morning and were given full board in one of the airport hotel’s for the night, unfortunately we couldn’t get near our luggage but we were given a little toiletries bag each.

I phoned my friend Jorma in Helsinki, who I had planned to stay that night with, but he would be leaving for Tallinn before we arrived so we’d have to make our own way there, but he gave us instructions on how to find the port. The hotel room was incredibly hot and neither of us slept well.

The following morning we almost missed the bus back to the airport and almost got lost in Schipol airport…it’s a big place! When we checked our tickets, it seemed that our seats were in business class…some mistake surely? Nope, as the airline had screwed up they gave us 1st class travel…and it was the most enjoyable flight I’ve ever had, we had 1 hostess specifically attending to about 6 people, we had a 3 course meal with numerous free alcoholic drinks, while the rest of the plane got…a sandwich.

We landed at Helsinki airport where it was snow-covered and freezing (– 15!)
We got a bus into town; on the way we spotted a KKK supermarket (no joke!) look here link
I saw signs for ‘Technopolis’ ‘Fag’ and a bus called the Trivia bus that made me chuckle.

Once in town we headed to the port but thanks to me reading a map wrongly we ended up at the wrong port but we found our way to the right one eventually, once there we followed the signs to the Tallinn terminal, where we found an empty locked building. Panic set in! We walked along to the busier looking Stockholm terminal, which was actually where we would board the Tallinn boat. Unfortunately it wouldn’t be leaving for some time, meaning the event I was playing at would have already started by the time I got there! To pass the time we played cards again and bought 2 standard beers and a large pack of peanuts, which cost 12 euros!
The boat was massive; it had 10 floors and took almost 3 ½ hours to reach Tallinn, traveling slowly over the dark ice-covered sea. I took a few photos of the icy waters, it was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it. I also booted up the laptop and attempted to put the finishing touches to my set.

We arrived in Tallinn around 10.00pm. I tried phoning Jorma to tell him we’d arrived but my dodgy phone was acting up (I’ve since replaced it)
We got a taxi to the hostel. On the website the hostel looked cute and picturesque, in the cold dark night it just looked creepy. We rang the bell.
It was a Russian couple that ran the hostel, and they didn’t speak much English. The woman showed us the breakfast area, which was right beside the reception desk, then she showed us our room, which was er, right beside the breakfast area, which was right beside the reception…basically she was right outside our door and in our room we could hear everyone talking in the reception, the man was always watching TV, so we got loud blasts of the Russian edition of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’
We asked for a double bed, we got 2 singles instead. We unpacked, I went to close the curtains and the curtain rail fell knocking over a vase full of twigs!? I dunno, it must’ve been some weird Estonia plant but to me it just looked like twigs in water. So anyway the curtains and curtain rail were now lying on the floor and the carpet was soaked. I got a towel to mop up the water. I returned the vase to its original position, which still had a small amount of water to keep the er, twigs, alive. So after much effort I put the curtain rail back up and attempted to close the curtains again, only for it to fall once more and knock over to the vase again. I was now in an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Eventually I did manage to close the curtains and so we got ready to head into town. It was now almost 11pm. The event I was playing at started at10pm and was on till 3am. The address was No.1 Townhall square.
Now, with a name like No.1 Townhall square, wouldn’t you think it would be easy to find?
I asked the woman at the reception, who pulled out a map and studied it carefully…
“Townhall square, townhall square, townhall square…” she repeated, while her finger glided over the map.
The man came over and looked at the map too, she circled something and pointed at it, “niet” was the response…she made a few lines with her pen and circled something else “niet” again. They had a lengthy conversation together while I stood there watching. Eventually the man told me to follow him into one of the rooms here he pointed at a window “Townhall square, 10 minute straight! 10 minute straight!”
And so we headed off in that general direction…and got lost.
I tried phoning Jorma again but my phone switched off. I tried to make sense of the map, while my girlfriend stopped a few strangers and asked them for directions. It seems that no one had heard of this fabled “Townhall square”
Then we found a sign that pointed to “Raekoja Plats” Underneath was the English translation “Townhall square” We followed to the sign to a square of sorts, I assumed this must be it. No it wasn’t. It took us a while to realize there was another sign pointing North from here. Eventually we found the “Townhall square”
So you would think that now that we’ve found “Townhall square” finding “No.1 Townhall square” shouldn’t be too difficult right?
I could see no.3 and no.8 but no sign of No.1! The numbers were a bit random and didn’t make much sense. The place was called Saicang café but I could find no mention of it either. We wandered from one end of the square to another and down numerous back streets.
We asked a few people where the café was, no one knew, we even bumped into an English guy, he didn’t know either. There was a group of guys we’d wandered past a few times and so my girlfriend decided to ask them if they knew were it was. They did and took us right to the door; it was a small almost unmarked doorway through a lane just off the square. It was now around midnight. I played last. It seemed to go down well with the crowd. It turns out that the actual room were I played looked right onto the Townhall square, but from the outside the window was dark and unmarked. I met Taavi from the site afterwards. I considered going to a drum n bass club night, but really I was exhausted and so went back to the hostel for much needed sleep.

The following day we visited the market where I was cajoled into buying a pair of mittens. We then ate lunch at a medieval style restaurant, in a dark candle lit basement where the waiters dress liked musketeers! We also visited a pub just behind the Townhall. A cauldron sits outside, all the staff are in medieval dress and minstrels play music, the cinnamon, honey and herb beer’s they sell come in old clay jugs. Touristy yes, but far cheaper than any tourist area in any other European city I’ve been to.

Tallinn’s a really beautiful place, with a well-kept medieval old town; I recommend a visit, and although it looked beautiful in wintertime I suggest a summer visit as it was absolutely freezing!

My photos of Tallinn here:
link

My photos of Helsinki here:
link

And photos from the event (taken by Ivan) here:
link

And I even had a track played on Estonian Radio!

Sweden 2005

Originally posted Sept 18 2005 on em411.com

So finally i’ve gotten around to blogging about my recent trip to Sweden (via Germany and the Netherlands)

Last year i attended the Norberg festival in the town of Norberg, about 200Km north west of Stockholm, this year i returned to the festival as a playing artist, but the gig didn’t quite go to plan…but more on that later as the journey begins at Glasgow’s Central Station…

For those who know me, you’ll know my time keeping isn’t the best so when i arrived at Central Station i was there 30 mins later than i had intended. I looked at the displays for the next train to Prestwick airport, found it, dragged my luggage on and sat down.

A man stuck his head in the train door and asked if the train went to Paisley Gilmour Street
I said i didn’t know, to which he exclaimed “you’re not sure!? what bloody use is that to me?!”
he then walked away mumbling…

Unfortunately this man forgot to take into account that there are BIG LCD DISPLAYS IN THE STATION WHICH TELL YOU WHERE EACH TRAIN GOES, THERE ARE ALSO MONITORS ON EACH PLATFORM TELLING YOU WHERE THE TRAINS ARE GOING…

But although i was certain i was on the right train that man had put doubts into my mind, so i asked the man behind me and he said i was on the Largs train…i used to go to Largs as a kid…it’s the end of the line and most definetly not the same line as Prestwick airport…I asked him if he was sure and he said “no” and suggested i ask the old woman sitting at the end of the carriage, so i did, she said she didn’t know where the train was going…WTF!?!

So…i got off the train and ran to the monitors at back of the train…and sure enough it was the Prestwick airport train AND Paisley Gilmour Street was the 1st stop. Phew. So i ran back on the train and told the guy who thought it was the Largs train that it was actually the Prestwick Airport train and what did he say???
take a guess…

he said, “Good, that’s where i’m going as well”
wanker. cheers for making me panic.

Hmmpff, so anyway i got to the airport in time, boarded the plane and looked for a window seat, of which i thought there were plenty, but no…the plane was just absolutely full of small kids! So no window seat for me this time, i ended up sitting next to someone who made ‘the sign of the cross’ on take off and then starting taking photos frantically once the plane was in the air. I flew to Dusseldorf Weeze airport (formerly known as Niederrhein military air base). The plane arrived 20 minutes early.

My friend Eric picked me up and took me to Beuningen, just outside Nijmegen, where i stayed at his house.

The following day we went back to the airport, this time heading for Stockholm.
Eric gave me a can of beer, which i placed in my laptop bag, maybe not the best place to put it and perhaps the reason why my bag was then searched, both my laptop power supply and beer were inspected. The plane arrived almost 45 minutes early! how is that even possible!?

Due to the early arrivial of the plane, it was clear when we got to the baggage reclaim area that our luggage wouldn’t be appearing any time soon so Eric suggested we crack open our beers. Now i know Sweden has draconian alcohol laws so i did wonder if we were just asking to be arrested.

As the stores in Sweden aren’t allowed to sell alcohol stronger than 3.5% i noticed that shops sell special 3.5% versions of popular brands, such as guiness and murphys but it isn’t making anyone less drunk, we went to a pub in Norberg town on the Saturday night was completely FULL of really drunken people! i was even chatted up by a mature Swedish lady who whispered “Tomintoul!” in my ear. Tomintoul is a town in northern Scotland, where whisky is made. I assume she’s either been there on holiday, sampled the whisky or was uttering a swedish chat up line that sounds uncannilly like a small highland town.

So back to the story, i stayed for 1 night in a town just outside Stockholm with 2 other friends, before meeting up with the final member of our party the day after in Stockholm. So 5 of us in total set off for Norberg where 3 of us would play.

We stayed at a hostel in the centre of town, the hostel was nice, but i’m still not totally sure about Swedish showers, i managed to soak the entire bathroom floor and didn’t realise it came equipped with a squeegee for such accidents.
In the room next to us was a guy called Daniel Araya, who we traded cds with. He also played directly after our sets at the festival.

So onto my set…
i experienced some technical difficulties, i’d been having problems with my ASIO sounddrivers for my indigo IO when using Ableton Live, So i thought i’d try the DirectX drivers instead and they worked absolutely fine in the hostel, but then when it came to the gig they failed…about 12-15 minutes in and the audio started cutting out, i thought it would pass but it gradually got worse and worse and so i had to stop, close down Live, take the indigo out, load ableton again, change the sound drivers, using the internal soundcard and start mid set…i had laid my set out in Live and it would run for 54 minutes but the combination of starting late and having probs meant that my set was running well into the next one…so i then had to edit on the fly.
I had a midi keyboard, which i intended to use but after having the problems i didn’t bother touching it…
being more prepared would’ve helped, as (typical of me) i was still working on my set 1 hour before i played!

So, the festival itself…
There were 2 stages less than last year, and still a lot of small acts playing that i’d never heard of, the rest probably thought the same of me.

Like last year the sound for a lot of the gigs in the main stage was too loud, resulting in distortion and dynamics being killed…loudness seems to be the top priority but many of the acts playing are what you would consider ‘ambient music’ so why the hell do they need to blast the music as if it’s a rock concert!?

The best act was probably EMS (institute for Electro-acoustic music). 4 artists played in this particular showcase, 2 girls, 2 guys. I bought a solo cd of one of the guys after the show.

I qualified for free food and drinks since i played, the food was alright but the drinks were better, as they were selling hoegaarden at the bar this year! mmm hoegaarden…but because of the alcohol laws you can’t take your alcoholic drinks with you to any of the stages and have to drink it inside the food tent.

Mira Calix headlined the festival and played last, i missed her set as i was tired and relaxing back at the hostel, but she sat opposite me at a table in the food tent and asked if she could borrow my festival program. I was gonna chat to her but couldn’t think of anything to say to her that wouldn’t make me sound like a twat, but it seemed clear that she wanted to be recognized. I saw her mingling with the crowd on a few occasions, she was the only artist i saw doing that.

There was definetly more girls at the festival this year, which is a good thing. A few cuties too, shame i only get chatted up by mature ladies, ho-hum…

So overall the festival was good fun but maybe not quite as much fun as last year.

After the festival i got to experience the ‘real’ Stockholm! Thanks to clarkq and kovakone, who took me to a few pubs in the cheaper parts of Stockholm and i even managed to get a knock back from one of them because i didn’t have ID!

So after Sweden i headed back to Holland. The plane was delayed this time and while waiting i had a chat with a Swedish pink floyd fan who was going over to Germany to go to some metal festival with his girlfriend.

On my return to the Netherlands i rode a bike for the first time in a year! I ate raw herring – the dutch way…i watching the fish being gutted before my eyes …yuk! The guy serving me asked where i was from, i said Glasgow. His next question was “Celtic or Rangers” Turns out one of his neighbours was a Rangers fan from Glasgow. He then told me that Celtic had been hammered 5-0 in the Champions League qualifiers.

In Nijmegen i also saw my first outdoor escalator, but i didn’t spot any outdoor urinals and i swear i witnessed 2 bees in the act of either fellatio or cunnilingus. I was gonna take a photo but i thought i might get stung for invading their private moment.

So on the flight home, one of the flight attendants came to my row and asked if anyone would like a magazine? The guy next to
me said “yes” and so did i, the attendant handed a magazine to the other guy then looked at me sternly and said “No! only 1 per row!” Pffft…

On returning home i started work on a track for a field recording based compilation using samples that were recorded whilst in Sweden. It took me a while but i finished a track eventually, you can hear it here if you haven’t already:
link

and you can download the whole album here:
link

My photos are finally online, which you can view here:
link
link
link

and view some other random people’s Norberg Photos here:
link
link
link

Oh, one last thing…

I learned from my travels that a short walk to someone from the Netherlands is a 5 minute walk, a short walk to someone from the UK is a 10 minute walk, but a short walk to a swede seems to be a 30 minute walk!

I’m also wondering if i should go ahead and post blogs about my trips to Amsterdam and Tallinn, which i started, forgot about and never got around to posting, would it be a bit pointless to post them now?!

Where it all began: Sweden 2004

Originally posted Aug11 2004 on em411.com 

Recently I went to the Norberg Festival in Sweden, before I left I’d never been abroad, apart from a 3-day trip to Ireland (for my gran’s funeral, which wasn’t exactly a happy affair). I had never flown and I hadn’t met any of the people I was going to the festival with! They were all people I’ve known for a few years, who have similar taste in music, who I met over p2p files sharing networks!

Here’s how I got on:Firstly, flying is fun! One of my friends hates take-off and landing, another just hates being up in the air, personally I thought it was all a buzz!

My plane arrived at about 9:00pm, I got a bus ticket and then had to phone my Swedish friend Caspar (who I was staying with) to arrange to meet at the bus stop. My phone had tapped into the COMVIQ network but decided that it didn’t want to function! Every number was greeted with a warning about “barring settings” I couldn’t phone within the country and I couldn’t phone home either! Crap, the phone was supposed to work abroad! I asked the Swedish couple beside me if I could borrow a mobile phone, they gave me that precious look, as though I was from another fucking planet, never mind another country! Apparently they both had phones but neither of them were charged…I don’t think they realised the seriousness of the situation…if I couldn’t get access to a phone I was sleeping rough for the night! Ok, so I could have used a pay phone…but I didn’t have any coins so I’d probably need to bum some change…(besides I can’t remember seeing a single pay phone while I was there), so just as well I realised that I could change the network on my phone, up until then the phone settings option on my phone was a mystery! So I switched over to the Telia network and hey presto, it worked…so I phone Caspar, he tells he’ll leave immediately and meet me at the station…

So the bus arrives at the bus station which is also a train station at about 10:20pm. I walk inside, the place is open but no one’s around, after sitting on my own for 15 minutes I see the bare-footed duck woman. This girl just waddled in off the street with no socks or shoes on, walked up to a ticket machine, hit a few buttons and left, a few minutes later she returned with who I assume was her boyfriend, they went up to the machine together and soon duck woman was screaming “YEEEEESSSS!” She got a ticket! Wooh! Yeah!

So anyway, the couple disappeared, then a guy with a lot of chains around him wandered in a door of the bus station and walked out the other end then some time later another guy did the exact same…obviously there must be a lot to do in this town! Time is passing, I give Caspar another call, no answer, I try again a few minutes later, turns out he left his phone at home and I’m talking to Dan, another of the guys I’m meeting, who came all the way from Syndney and is at Caspar’s place right now!

45 minutes pass and then Caspar finally appears, he says he missed the first train so we go to get the train to his place, but we end up on the wrong platform and the train leaves without us…and the next train isn’t for another hour!
So, we get a bus instead, which drove for about 10-15 mins and then we realise that the bus has just passed under the bus station station where I started…the bus has just went around in a circle, it took about 15-20 minutes to finally reach the stop, and it could have gotten there in 5 if it had the decency to just go in a straight line!

We still need to catch a train and there’s one in the station, it’s the end of the line, there is only one way the train can go…so the train starts and a black man with horrid fashion (his tracksuit bottoms said “Jamaica” in colourful letters) comes over and sits with us, he was speaking in English but I haven’t a clue what he was talking about…other than that he asked if I was happy or sad…i think I should have replied that I was very fucking scared!

So the train comes to its first stop and does a very curious thing, it goes backwards, as I said the train could only go one way…by this point I was thinking that I’m never going to leave this place! It was like something out of a David Lynch movie!

But the train was just switching tracks, so we finally reach Caspar’s house after midnight. The following day everyone else arrived, Erik from the Netherlands and Jorma from Finland and we set off to Norberg…

We were staying in a hostel just outside the town of Norberg, beside a lake, lakes are bloody everywhere in Sweden! The countryside reminded me of Scotland only flatter…but had a definite Swedish-ness to it. There was a sign pointing to a town just along the road, on the main road it said the town was 13 km, turn the corner slightly and another sign says 12km, must be the shortest kilometer on the planet!

Onto the music festival itself, it’s quite a small festival with a maximum of 1500 people I believe but I don’t think they sold all the tickets, the camp site was pretty small too. The main stage is probably the strangest venue I’ve ever been to, its actually a disused mining refinery…very industrial! It reminded me of the Crystal Maze’s Industrial zone! Being dark and dusty inside, I got some good photos of light coming through the buildings windows…and there was a strange home-made musical device in the bottom corner…just behind the erm, wrecked car!

The festival was a good laugh, especially with some of the language problems, like when I asked for “2 cola” thinking “cola” was an international word and got 2 beers instead! Philip Jeck was the best performer, I’d seen him once before and he was more impressive this time around. The most entertaining act was Je M’appelle Mads…2 sometimes 3 guys…complete with “filthy” by my prudish-Brit-attitude visials comprising lots of nudity! There was even some audience particiaption, I have no idea what was said…but I think the gist of it was “guess what’s under the foreskin!” and I was disapointed that I only caught 5 minutes of the Europussy band, with their “is that a man with tits or a girl with a beard grinding his/her crotch!?” :O

There was an open stage and spaces in some of the venues for anyone to play. Daniel, from Australia played a nice mp3 mix set in one of the tents. Overall though not all the music was great, a lot of it was just background music, nice to listen to but not all that great to watch someone twiddle a few knobs or fart about with a laptop. Most of the acts in the main stage had visuals though and you could pretty much lie down and go to sleep if you wanted! I wasn’t so sure about the guys in control of the PA/mixing a lot of the stuff seemed too loud and distorted…luckily I brought along ear plugs!

Stockholm was really nice, very picturesque, so I’d like to go back again, though there were too many McDonalds in and around Stockholm for my liking, there was though some guy on a street corner ranting, he had a sign that said “Fuck McDuck”.

I’m a fan of the Swedish metal band Meshuggah and I figured while I was there I’d look for a Meshuggah T-shirt…I tried a few stores, even one that was dedicated to music t-shirts but no luck, of course it wasn’t a problem finding a Mariyln Manson or Linkin Park T-shirt!

I went to the modern art gallery and IMAX cinema and watched an enjoyable though cheesy movie about coral reefs and I shat myself during the trailer when a giant lion appeared on screen!

I had a funny encounter in a Chinese restaurant too. A dish was described as having “meat” so I asked:
“what meat is it?”
“meat”
“but what sort of meat?”
“meat meat”
“I mean from what animal?”
“yes, meat from an animal”
I still ate it whatever it was.

A car almost hit me while crossing a road, I said to Caspar, “Hey! I had a green light!” he replied “but he had a green light too!” So that was my introduction to how traffic works outside of Britain.

I noticed lots of Swedish flags on buildings while I was there…are the Swedes a patriotic nation then I wonder?
Swedish + points:

• cute girls who speak alluring and far better English than most Glasgow girls!
• power saving escalators, which only operate when you stand on the pressure pad thingies
• toilets with 2 flush settings
• Free maps of towns in bus stations etc.
• The language:
slut = finished
fart = speed
fartyg = boat / ship
infart = entrance (for vehicles)
utfart = exit (for vehicles)
bra = good
fukt = damp
hiss = elevator
Swedish – points:

• Shops & cafes only stock light beers (under 3.5%) pussies!
• Big insects, big grasshoppers, big slugs, big dragonflies, big flies!
• Those horrid “salt” sweets/candies
• cafes/bars play all the same shite music they play here!
Overall:
Good Fun. A very enjoyable holiday, I want to go back to Norberg next year, only I want to be playing there instead!
Sidenote:
WTF is it with life!? In the past three years the only place I travelled to was London for just a day and then in the space of 3 weeks I was in Edinburgh, Fort William, Durham and Sweden…and after being unemployed for months, without any luck I have 3 interviews in 1 week! And as for the interview I had yesterday, the interviewer told me there was only 1 other guy interested in the job, so it was between me and him, so I was talking to one of my friends today…turns out he was the other guy and he got the job! D’oh!