Frozen (Sweden)

Sweden – Karesuando ~ 2013

“Live a little” – what does that phrase conjure up in your mind? For me it used to be something I would attribute to getting out, and doing things, experiencing, you know…living. I thought it was usually coupled with things that are a little reckless, or less than mature – for example; perhaps you may think it is a bad idea to have another ten drinks when you have work the next day, “live a little!” your moronic friend will cry…and you do it. Or maybe someone suggests you go on holiday with them, but you really think it is best for you to make the rent payments you owe – “live a little!” says the friend with no money-worries, and therefore no understanding of what you are going through. AND YOU STILL DO IT.

Well sometimes you do, it feels good to throw caution to the wind sometimes – just to do something, even though you know it is stupid…perhaps it is the fact you are going against societal expectations? You are acting out of character for a split second – so for a moment you feel free, as if you are in complete control of your choices…then the next morning happens. Shit. All that responsibility starts flooding back…hello, old friend. 

Whatever GIF

Anyway, this is a story of one of those times – those silly moments where you go against your better judgement, and just act irrationally for a change…it feels good! Then it feels terrible! Then…well, just have a read, then you’ll understand:

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The Land of Confusion (Japan)

Japan ~ Osaka – 2015

What do you think of when you hear Japan? Probably a lot of things flash by in an instant…from the deep rooted cultural elements, to the checkered history, the strange and bizarre…all the way to Pokémon and Dragonball Z (as well as so much more) – it’s safe to say that Japan has always painted a colorful tapestry for themselves, one unlike any other place on earth.

Like most western folks I confess I have a rather bare knowledge regarding the so-called land of the rising sun…but that’s alright – as it’s always more exciting and rewarding to go into a place totally unprepared! Every sense is more receptive – your eyes wide like a newborn baby…not wanting to blink so as not to miss anything as you stare up and around at all the newness in front of you. Like being unplugged from The Matrix – all of the preconceptions and travel guides can go out of the window, as you are witnessing it all first hand…you are truly living it in real time. And if you are lucky, nothing will be like it seemed from your armchair back home.

Exhilarating right? RIGHT! So how would all of these aesthetic commodities manage to impossibly mesh together then ? I didn’t have the foggiest idea – but of course I was still beyond curious! I mean…what would I find behind Japan’s veil of mystery?

Curtain GIF

Well my friends I will say this…Japan is weird and wonderful – no actually, wait – let me rephrase that…Japan is weirdly wonderful. You see many things in Japan are weird; very very weird – but the weirdness often makes them wonderful…and the things that are wonderful, wellllll they still often cling to a certain sense of weirdness. Sorry…I know I’m sounding like some sort of deranged Willy Wonka right now…but this is the best way I can think to sum it up! 

You see there’s battles on every single street corner! And by “battles” I don’t mean Pokémon battles (to my great disappointment), but battles between juxtaposing cultural elements…it’s bizarre, it’s crazy…but they manage to meld together in the strangest of ways…it shouldn’t work…they shouldn’t be able to coexistbut somehow they do in a way only Japan can manage. 

Think the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang – two opposing forces that form together in perfect unison…well yeah it’s like that except rather than good/evil, or light/dark it’s Buddhist temples and pornographic manga characters…to give just one of many examples…

Unbelievable GIF

There’s also a perfect fusion between the old and the new which I found rather fascinating. On the one hand you are ordering your food through a machine in a restaurant rather than dealing with humans…very Bladerunner-ish…but then on the other side of things you are paying in coins to get a paper ticket stub to ride a rather dated subway!  I like this idea though…not everything has to be updated, smooth, and futuristic – then again I’m biased as I still dream of living in a castle with a moat in the next ten years, so perhaps you shouldn’t pay attention to silly old me!

Mind one thing I didn’t quite enjoy as much was the confusing nature of the transport system…it actually seemed intentionally difficult. The lines criss-cross in the most nonsensical ways imaginable – I would assume because they were just built one after another, and so the map took shape without forward-planning…either that or the architect dropped a bowl of noodles and thought “mehhhh, good enough!”

Anyway, what that means for the user is that they are sure to pull their hair out attempting to understand that which cannot be understood! I’m not even talking about the fact that it is all strictly in Japanese; which sure is frustrating but as I was in Japan I felt was fair enough! I’m really just raving at the layout of the tracks, and routes…my advice is this; attempt to be constantly partially intoxicated on Japan’s surprisingly good, and cheap selection of beers – that way you won’t mind as much, and will just go with the flow!

“Oh, we went the wrong way by 20 minutes? Never mind…these things happen! Let’s go!” as opposed to: “FUCCCCK! WHY DOES THAT LINE GO THAT WAY?! WHY DOES IT HAVE THE EXACT SAME STATION NAME MINUS ONE NUMBER! WHY AM I NOT DRINKING BEER RIGHT NOW?!” – it’s really your decision, but I feel comfortable with my choice.

Smug GIF

I came to the end of my trip seriously wanting more…which has to be a positive? Sure there had been some lows – losing on Tekken to a young Japanese kid which basically destroyed my entire belief that I was a master of that game…continually relying on body language rather than spoken words, so much so that I now feel like a professional body-popper…and finding out there are so few vegetables in the Japanese diet that I may have scurvy, BUT – despite all of this it has piqued my interest massively as both a country, and as a culture – due to that I want to return very soon…next time Tokyo I reckon, so I can experience a change of pace – mind, I’ll still be going in as a rather clueless and ignorant tourist; and you know what?

That suits me just fine. 

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CHEEZ ND UNN EE N (Germany)

Germany ~ Baden-Württemberg (The Black Forest) – 2000

We encountered some pretty strange kids when we were on our summer holidays, in fact it often seemed that every other family we ran into across Europe were…odd. Or maybe we were the weirdos? Nah, surely not…that’s not…possible…

The Black Forest in Germany is an amazing place, it looks straight out of a fairy tale, full of ancient natural history and a mysterious beauty. The campsites on the outskirts however, are anything but. I suppose there is still a certain kind of mystery to it…but rather than “wow, I had no idea there were trees of that colour!” it’s all “wow, I didn’t expect there to be so much pubic hair in the communal showers!” So yeah, as always – pros and cons guys, pros and cons!

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Fun Zone (North Korea)

North Korea ~ DMZ – 2014

It was horrendously cold on the winter day that I decided to visit the DMZ (demilitarized zone) of Korea – so cold that as I woke up (at 4pm or something crazy like that!) I very nearly thought fuck this I’m rolling back over, waking up after 12, and having a full on winter warmer duvet day…whilst that would have been wonderful, I am thankful I didn’t, as there is a lot of interesting and dare I say it funny stuff to see there – oh, for those who may not be aware or fully clear, the DMZ is the open land that separates the Korean peninsula, sort of a no man’s land between the north and the south. So, despite North Korea being famously difficult to get into, you can actually go up there in that restricted space, and have a look around!

Image

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Waka Flocka Flame (USA)

USA – Atlanta ~2011

Naturally while I was in the USA I wanted to soak up as much….errr…culture, as possible! This is my vague aim everywhere I go I suppose, after all before you know it, the trip, holiday, or stay, is over – and you are back in your “ordinary” setting, almost like it didn’t ever happen at all! You are just left with the memories…so why not make ones that are worth remembering? Ones that are unique to the place you momentarily find yourself?

Wale uh huh GIF

Makes sense, right? 

Well, one thing that is undoubtedly HUGE in the USA, particularly in Atlanta...is rap music. So when a friend of mine told me that one of my favourite artists, Wale, would be performing at an intimate venue within the next week – I didn’t even have to mull over whether or not I would be in attendance, it was a simple:”YES, YES, YUSSS!” Or you know…like, words of that nature.  

After all the way he constructs his songs, the topics he touches on, and his overall lyricism, are something which I had deeply admired for some time! My friend told me that an up-and-coming local act, who is popular in the area (Waka Flocka Flame) would be supporting him. I thought this was fair enough. But…I didn’t have a clue who this young chap was, so I did a little research of my own…

Here’s an example of what my search came up with – this is  taken from his break-through track ‘Hard In Da Paint’;

“what the fuck you thinkin’ n***a, I won’t die for this shit – or what the fuck I say – BRICK SQUAAAAAD! – front yard broad day with da SK – BA BA BA BA BA BA BOW!”

Waka Flocka GIF

Alright Mr, Waka, to each his own! And just for the sake of comparison, here’s an example of Wale’s lyrics, taken from his track ‘Bittersweet’;

“understand every imperfection – I just embrace it, and take it in within my essence, with little effort, soon they will respect it – I am the smelling-salt, to whomsoever narcoleptic!”

The astute among you will probably notice that they are two very different artists. But this didn’t stop me from heading there anyway, why not see what the people loved so much about Flocka?! When we arrived there it was packed out, and we could smell those weeds cigarettes things strongly (what are they called? I wouldn’t know..) Anyway, we pushed, and squirmed ourselves awkwardly to the front, and waited it out. I was squished in, and my arms were locked into a T-Rex position…but at least I had a good view. I wouldn’t get to do much dancing, or bouncing, or anything else of that matter – I could probably do a great mime of a bongo player, but that’s about it.

After a couple of, errr, sub-par warm up acts – it was announced that the home-town hero Waka Flocka would be coming out…the place went fucking bananas! It became apparent that most had came to see him, rather than the main act himself, Wale…

Waka Flocka Crazy GIF

Out he popped, bringing ear bleeding bass along with him, it was thumping so loud that I thought my heart was going to burst out of my rib-cage…but with that said it was all a pretty exhilarating display – before long he was diving into the crowd, I didn’t exactly know what was going on but I sure was enjoying it!

There was pushing, and shoving – my arms were free at last! But then some huge sweaty titan had his arm around me all of a sudden…a long slug like trail all across my shoulders, and the back of my neck. It was the man himself! He was shaking his head in a mad frenetic motion, flicking it, and swirling it along to his booming beat. (A bit of one of his deadlock things slapped me in the eye, which kinda hurt, but I didn’t have much time to think about it!) 

Security moved him away, and he pushed on to the other side of the stage – grasping arms outstretched trying to catch a feel. He made it back up to the steps with huge difficulty  – but it’s at that moment that Wale came out. It was kind of weird to have him there all of a sudden, I enjoyed hearing his material, and he is certainly a cool guy in the flesh – but the crowd wasn’t right for it…in fact he kept making apologies, and at one time even said “I know you came here to see Flocka, and don’t know the words to my songs – but just vibe with me anyway”… I wanted to be like “I DO, I DO, MR. WALE – I DOOOOO!” But then I thought I would come off like a goody-two-shoes at school, a teacher’s pet, you know? And anyway, it’s not like he could have heard me amongst all the ensuing crowd madness.

Wale GIF

When the show was over, everyone was grinning from ear to ear – it had been a fantastic night after all. I realised that in the hustle, and bustle I had lost the cap I was wearing..,probably during the whole Waka Flocka man hug dance situation, or whatever you want to call it. I’m not mad or anything, but if he wants to send me a new one, that would be fine with me.

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Red Light (Netherlands)

The Netherlands – Amsterdam ~ 2010

(I am missing my friends from home – so, I naturally find myself reminiscing on old times…in particular, about an old adventure we had together a few years ago…I thought you may as well come along for the trip down memory lane!)

One good thing about where I’m from…(and there are many reasons don’t get me wrong!)…is that  you can hop on over to the ferry port, spend the night on a ship, and wake up in Amsterdam. I must have signed up for something many moons ago, as the company often emails me with special deals, and offers – the most important of which is said trip for £35 ($55!). There’s no excuse, so you get together your nearest, and dearest – your A-Team, and rush to pack your bags for a fun-filled weekend! And that’s what I did back in 2010! 

Celebrate GIF

I’d have to miss some time at university…I don’t even know why I am including that bit of information – as if I deliberated the decision at all – pfft,  I didn’t give it a second thought! I think I “asked” one of the professors, and they said it was a bad idea…and then I went ahead, and booked it all up anyways! I hadn’t ever been on a holiday with friends before, and the thought of a few days away with a few of my best’uns, had me in no doubt whatsoever…that this was a good idea!

We arrived at the ferry terminal early, we were well prepared – which is another way of saying; loaded up to the necks with alcohol, we only had to endure a couple of nights, but didn’t want to be either caught short…or worse, having to pay the extortionate rate on drinks at the ship’s bar. You are quite literally held hostage…in the middle of the sea, and have no choice but to shell out whatever they ask…it’s piracy basically, they are just less ARRRRR about it, and no one has a peg-leg, or a sharp hook for a hand. But still…pirates in the most underhand way! 

Anyway, there were four of us – and it was two to a room, so naturally there were some fights over who was with who…and after that was finished with, a fight over which room was the main room, so to speak. You know; the room where everything fun happens, and everyone congregates in for the partaaaayz (with a z to emphasise the  extra coolness)…people tried to give stupid excuses, but the fact is it’s easier to pass out in your own room…and depressing to leave a lively place, and enter a silent graveyard.

Still…you’ll have a cleaner toilet…so…hmmm…maybe I didn’t think it all the way through…

Never mind! Because soon we were all together, laughing, and drinking – I don’t know which we were doing more…the laughing, or the drinking – but both were seeing their fair share of action! I can’t even remember what was so funny now, but I still get the warm feeling looking back; something about a badger had me in stitches…and, errr…someone’s socks or something? What was it? Hmmm…well whatever it was, I couldn’t fucking breathe for giggling!

Laughing 70s GIF

The shenanigans were just getting started when there was a bang on the door…somebody with a name-badge, saying we had to keep it down…it was 8:00pm after all, and people were trying to sleep. (Huh?) We tried our best after this, but soon it became apparent that this would be impossible – this was back when I thought vodka mixed with something sweet was the best thing in the world – it isn’t, but after a few strong drinks you begin to believe your own bull-shit. Anyway, some bright spark said that we should go out on the top deck…that way we could be as loud as we wanted, and not bother anyone. Seemed like a stroke of genius! What wasn’t genius was one of my friends knocking on everyone’s door in the corridor as we headed out…”YOU FUCKING STUPID BASTAAARD!” I said, in one of those really loud-whispered screams, where you want to make it seem like you are shouting, but still want to do it quietly so as to avoid detection…I think he got the message, anyway – we fled the scene, and began to scarper up the metal steps to the deck…

There we serenaded the night away – sing-a-long, after sing-a-long – of whatever tune came to mind…we probably acted out a few Titanic scenes too, and definitely had many more laughs at each other’s expense. After all, that is what being real friends is all about!

The morning after was, well…rough. As we were leaving the ship some official looking types with shirts, and practical shoes said we had made a lot of noise last night, and they weren’t too happy about it…we didn’t have the energy to deal with it all, but tried to explain that we had went outside so as to avoid bothering people…everyone could still hear our singing somehow…I was a little offended, as honestly I thought I had been hitting some good notes, and particularly when it came to some of The Libertines tunes, I thought I had really shone. Suppose not. They stripped us of our passports, and said we’d get them back “if we were good.” We didn’t understand, but nodded, and moved on – hoping we would be able to sit down sometime soon.

That’s when we were shooed over to the far-side of the parking lot, and instructed to get on the coach that was set to take us to the town-center of Amsterdam…it was a harsh ride; we spoke largely in mumbles, and most of that was based around the subject of being sick – and how if the driver wasn’t swerving so madly – we’d be fine. As soon as we arrived, one of us immediately sprinted down a back alley…so we ran after him, thinking he was leading the way (he had been bragging the night before, about how he has been twice already)…when we caught up with him, he was hurling his guts up next to a cheese store. Maybe he was like, allergic to dairy? Yeah, probably not. Anyway, it took everything I had not to join him, as the faint foul flicker of stomach acid trickled up my nostrils…

But then I spotted a McDonalds, and all was forgotten! This would sort out the killer hangover! And it certainly did! Soon we were renewed, and replenished – and bounced out on to the streets for a good look around!

Regret Austin GIF

The cool guy strut didn’t last for long though, as I was nearly killed by an over-eager cyclist on every single street – before I knew it, I found myself walking a lot slower, and with a lot more caution than before! In other words I stopped stupidly meandering into the cyclist path…oh, the shame. 

Anyway, the “experienced” friend said we just had to see the Sex Museum so we did – but…honestly…no one has to see this place. Not ever. Oh my goodness, what an unnecessary pile of shit place it is! Just a load of bits, and pieces…cocks, and knobs, willies, and twinkles – jammed together in one place…I think it was supposed to be shocking or something, or overly vulgar for comedic effect – but seriously if you’ve seen it once, then this will probably bore you as much as it did me, (and I was 19 at the time!) It’s safe to say, that after this we were very suspicious of everything said friend said, we had to see.

To raise our spirits we visited a local cafe, where amongst other things you can buy these special cakes which have magical powers (or something). We sat for a while, and just relaxed…soon the positive spirit was back with us, and we began to find our sense of humour again. Mind we were a little tired, so much running around the night before…and then today, so busy…what with the coach, and err…the McDonalds…we had a little lie down on the couches, but this didn’t last for long. One of my friends wanted to have a discussion about a pressing issue, something that just couldn’t wait, something that I simply had to hear!

“Why did the cow jump over the moon? Like why? And…how? That is never explained…”

I didn’t really have an answer for that. Actually I didn’t have a fucking clue what he was even getting at, but I nodded politely all the same. But made sure to roll my eyes at one of my friends, so I could get his attention – and  start my own discussion with him…this one was really a pressing issue – not just some stupid cow-moon scenario. This one mattered – this one was important.

“Hey…hey…seriously though now – Martin Luther King was a fucking nice guy. Don’t tell me any different. He was a nice guy. People think he wasn’t…BUT HE WAS, AND THEY ARE WRONG.” 

Rock Proud GIF

This is what I can recall (ish), but the rest is lost in the fog. There was probably a lot more – but it will have just been along a similar theme…that he was nice, and no one knows it (pretty sure people widely agree he was nice, so not sure where I got that from…hmm…) Perhaps my friends got sick of me, or perhaps I had suggested it – but for whatever reason, we were back out on the street, looking for more sight-seeing spots. What actually happened was a lot of walking down the same streets, and circling around…and overall confusion. Where were we? And what were we supposed to be doing?  The cow jump over the moon friend was leading us…but to where?!

Now I must point out he isn’t the brightest in the world, God love him – but he started to explain that he had been leading us towards the red lights. Because “you follow the red lights, and end up in the red light district.” We laughed in his face (obviously!), and said that was the stupidest thing we had ever heard. And also, why did he even want to go there? I am no expert in those kinda things…but 2pm, really? He said he was intrigued…that’s all, just wanted to see the place…and with that he spotted another red-light, and was off on his way. It’s almost biblical isn’t it? Well no, it isn’t…but, yeah. 

We laughed, and considered just letting him go – and returning to the bus without him…but that little thing called guilt began to sneak in (dammmn youuuu!) and we ran to pull him back, in a bid to make him snap back to his senses, if at all possible. The lure of more food seemed to do the trick, just fine! Go figure, ey?  

It was a shame, but our trip was soon going to be over – and as we piled back on to the coach, we were able to reflect on the last couple of days…actually we just fell fast asleep…but still, reflecting on things sounds better.

Amsterdam Pic

 A few snap-shots I have just re-discovered! Please note my friend’s “hotmale” t-shirt he bought in one of the tourist shops – also note my fake smile (I was jealous that he spotted it first!)

Once we got back to England we were all exhausted…and it was mutually decided that the only thing that could remedy this, was a humongous breakfast…a colossal amount of bacon, and sausage…eggs…toast…mushrooms…whatever else you can find, throw it on a plate! Oh, and a cup of tea – milk, no sugars…because, you know – diet, and all that…we began to discuss everything that had went on, as you do…checking, and re-checking who had said what, re-opening certain situations, and moronically trying to defend our actions to one another.

I laughed so much that weekend, and things were certainly more simple back then – but at least I have the memory – and at least I now know, that most people do agree that Martin Luther King was a fucking nice guy. What a relief. 

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Waffling On (Belgium)

Belgium ~ Bruge – 2004

I re-watched the fantastic film In Bruges recently, and it reminded me of my trip there over ten years ago! Back then I had no idea about what to expect from this idyllic little spot…I remember asking my Mother, and her telling me something about riding a canal boat.

Didn’t exactly sound like party central to the thirteen year old me!

Canal Bruge GIF

But what I found in Bruges, was a treasure trove of beauty, and a haven of delicious things!

I mean the beautiful Gothic center alone, some of which dates back to the 1200s, is simply awe inspiring…and reason enough to visit as it’s an amazing place to just wander around. It is one of those places, that is nice to get lost in…unfortunately, after a while your arm hurts from all the whoa, look at that pointing when you spot little things of interest…but that’s actually alright, because you can sooth your pain by eating your body weight in some of the finest waffles on the planet!The best emporiums make it in front of you, which is a bit of a tease, but makes the experience all the more special…then you layer them in cinnamon, and sugar…I can’t stress enough, how good these things are – they are crunchy on the outside, and chewy in the middle (if done right!)…oh sweet Jesus, Mary, Moses…that stuff is the thing of heaven.

I can picture that first bite now…that taste that made my whole life flash before my eyes…

Life Flash GIF

Speaking of which, I remember buying a couple of bags of them, to bring back, and share with friends at school. They were battered, and broken by the time we arrived back in the UK…I remember the surge of secret glee I felt at considering they would probably not want them anymore…I’d pretend to be hurt for a bit, then take them home, and scoff the lot myself! Fools!

But that didn’t happen, and I had to fight back bitter tears as I watched the waffles deplete one after another, till I was left with a load of empty plastic bags,  and even more regret. So word to the wise, triple what you think a normal sane person would bring back…and then triple it again. In fact, you will want to pick up some of the delicious chocolate too…so best to just bring an empty case, or throw out all of your clothes, and possessions before you leave so you can have plenty of space for that which is more important: confectionery items. In fact, it is totally okay to tie whoever you are travelling with up, and use their plane seat as extra storage for all of the tasty treats you want to bring home with you.

I know I am waffling a lot, about…well, waffles…but if you are going to waffle on, then what better subject than waffles? I can’t get waffles out of my head…there’s nothing else I can remember about the place…

Oh wait, no ~ did I mention beer?!

Beer Bruge GIF

I was underage by quite a bit, but from what I remember this wasn’t a huge issue, I mean having a little try isn’t a big deal…right? Well apparently not, so we headed to a brewery, which doubled as a museum – and were shown around…we saw all of the machines in action, and were told the history of the place by the cheery owner. He would stop us every so often, and let us try small tasters of each type they produced. I felt like a rebel with every sip, but looking back, the only person who thought I was being naughty was…well, me! 

After a short while the tour came to a close, and I will never forget the Belgian’s closing line…and I quote directly;

“So you have seen what we have, and you have tasted what we have…so I now hope that you no longer drink that English piss. Thank you very much!” 

He then did a little bow, as the group laughed and applauded. I mean, yeah – our beer does taste like horse-piss…even worse when you compare it to the Belgian stuff…but come on, low blow. Mind, he wasn’t all bad, as after that jibe he handed out coupons for one free pint of any beer we wanted! Perfect, the day was getting better, and better! 

“I’ll take that! You won’t be allowed it anyway…” that was my Dad – all I could see was a cloud of smoke, as he sped off to pick up my beer for himself. My Mother snatched my sisters, and quickly followed after him.

There was only one thing for it, only one way in which we could drown the sorrow that accompanies huge losses in life…“another waffle?” I suggested…

And you know what? The world felt right again. So in short my friends…although this was a funny line in the film…

Bruge GIF

I can’t say I agree! Because, well…I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I was still pretty impressed!

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Hate at First Sight (Hungary)

Hungary ~ Budapest – 2014

I hadn’t been to Hungary in well over five years, so on this recent trip to eastern Europe I was hoping for a different experience with more mature eyes…for those of you who didn’t read it before, this was my last encounter with the country:- “scrotum-stares-hungary” I mean the name says it all…but it’s still probably worth a quick read just so you are up to speed!

Anyway, rest assured I had my fingers crossed hoping that there would be a lot less scrotums this time around, and a little less staring if possible! Well the short version is that I didn’t see any scrotums on this adventure (automatic huge plus!), but the staring was at threat level midnight! This time there was a lot more hostility to the gazes, I think it was due to the fact that I was now a young man…so therefore probably fair game, perhaps when I was a child they didn’t think it was so acceptable to give me the type of look that suggests they want to rip off my head and use it as an ornament, or more likely – an ash tray.

Hostile GIF

As my brother and I walked around it became clear that the male portion of the population were the most forthright in their glares – they sneered, growled, and made every other caveman-ish attempt to make us feel uncomfortable. We stood out I guess, the native’s clothes looked like they had been purchased in the early 90s…usually the look was completed with a raggedy mullet curling down the flabby neck of its owner – so in comparison, despite the fact we were just wearing shirts and dark jeans, in their eyes we may as well have been wearing Elton John style glitter jackets. This is largely conjecture, but we came to the conclusion that they probably thought we were two young homosexual chaps on a nice week break together…and that they would try and laser-eye the homosexuality out of us, or at least make us feel sufficiently uncomfortable with the whole thing. Hard to enjoy licking an ice cream cone, with 20 bigoted men staring at your every movement. Very awkward. 

On the subway we took to staring at the ground, pretending we were not aware of the blatant display of hatred – in our hometown it was pretty much the same drill in certain areas. Both places were filled with people who will aggressively stare, and if you even glance at them it will be all, “are you looking at me?! You want to start something?! Someone hold my brain I’m going to fuck this cheeky bastard up!!!” I can’t speak Hungarian, but I imagine it is pretty much the same, word for word. One time we stepped on the train, cue hateful stares of course – but this time we were also met with a strange gypsy-looking lady humming a bizarre tune loudly to the rest of the cramped carriage…I assumed she was asking for money for her performance, but nope…she was just rocking back and forth wailing out of her lungs…this would make a great eerie tune on a horror movie sequence, I thought to myself…but was cut short from this imaginary sequence by a mustached man in front of me – he pointed at my trainers, so naturally I looked down…maybe my laces were untied, or a bird had shit on them or something…nothing…I looked back at him, and he pointed again – oh God, leave me alone – I shook my head, and looked away, wondering if my ear drums would explode anytime soon so I wouldn’t have to be subjected to the lady’s groaning tune anymore –

“JUST LOOK, JUST LOOK!”

I knew it was him. I took my time to turn to face him, and even when I did it was with a slow robotic movement…I didn’t want to have anything more to do with him, but perhaps if I didn’t give him drips of conversation he would pin me down and make me listen to the harpy-lady’s song for the rest of time. And I couldn’t take that. He made gestures that insinuated he wanted me to take of my shoes, and give them to him…you know, just so he could look.

Oh my God, I am going to be beaten up and robbed for my trainers…I’ll have to walk back to the flat in my socks…I bet there will be loads of little stones that are mildly uncomfortable to tread on…oh God, no…just FUCK OFF, comb your mustache, slap a Gran, go cow-tipping, something, anything – whatever you do – JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

So scared GIF

I shot him a confused look, that in my head would be perfect Oscar-winning acting…”I done, I done no…what you say…when…I done” I stammered to him slowly, even introducing my hands and shoulders, to further emphasise just how little sense his broken English was making to me…in my head I was Russian…but I suppose it doesn’t really matter, so long as he didn’t run off with my Nike Airs.

We arrived at a station, the doors opened – and the majority of the cabin flooded out together, they had been some kind of strange collective group…the strange singing lady, the burly sneaker thief, and the rest of his staring entourage. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief…as did my shoes.

Stepped in shit on the way back to the flat though, go figure – should have left him have em after all! 

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Unholy Climb (Vatican City)

Vatican City ~ St. Peter’s Basilica – 2014

You would have to be a complete and utter moron to not anticipate a long line when it comes to visiting the Vatican City…what? …WHAT?! No, that wasn’t an inference towards me being an ignorant moron – how rude of you to assume! SHEESH! But now you say it…I was slightly taken aback at just how massive the line was! In fact I recall that when we got to St. Peter’s square there was a cartoon-ish moment where I found the back of the huge line and thought “urghh, great!”, only to be shot a thousand disapproving glances from the surrounding mob of strangers – which made me aware that the real back of the line was actually approximately five miles down the road…“Oh Jesus Christ?!?!” (OOPS!) Cue more stares from my grumpy neighbours as I slumped off in defeat.

This was going to take forever, if the searing heat doesn’t kill me, then I am sure that boredom will. Perhaps the Pope pops out every now again, with sandwiches, ice creams and milkshakes – just to keep the punters going…surely, if there is anything that would get a guy the saint badge these days it would be that…just picture a nice statue…of him with delicious grub in both hands, and a nice little description underneath…Saint Francis, the patron saint of confectionary. That would be sweet. Argh, getting sidetracked as per usual, sorry – when is lunch?…I know I just ate breakfast, but still.

Food cats GIF

It actually didn’t take too long! I guess we can safely put it down to some kind of miracle? Well, whatever your explanation the line sped along at an ungodly speed, which was a blessing as I am pretty sure the devilish red glow of my skin was starting to attract unwanted attention from concerned onlookers. There was one final hurdle to go however, you see there are checks just outside the entrance gate – and it is here that people’s true ugly colours start to emerge…these people, your supposed best pals for life line buddies – (well strangers I guess), suddenly decide that now they don’t give one solitary shit about you…or your new friendship, and instead make every effort to cut in front to save themselves a few seconds! It’s upsetting to be honest, because they really meant something to you – you shared a moment together, a lasting memory – you smiled a few times, possibly nodded when you felt it appropriate, agreed with whatever they said despite not really hearing, you are probably in the background to some of their photos…basically you were well on the way to becoming legitimate best friends…and then what happens? All of a sudden they are ruthless line pirates, with no respect for etiquette. Disappointing, very disappointing.  After all I had even taken the time out to give them little nicknames in my head, and they value that at 0 – trading you in like you don’t matter at all, as if they don’t even know you! And when they do cut in they do that weird lizard side eye, as they are pretending not to know that you know that they…err…I’m lost.

Safe to say Beard Belly, I CAN see you – and I wholly regret waving at your (not even that cute) child half an hour ago, I really do.  

Sad Will GIF

Anyway, it took us a little longer than most to get through the checks as the guard insisted that my little sister pull her skirt down, further and further, and further, until there would be some serious lower stomach situation going on…meanwhile ladies with dresses revealing major upper thigh could just strut on through – confusing system, next time I am wearing some short dungarees, just to see what’ll happen. 

Once we were finally through, we were given the choice of walking up the stairs to the steeple, or taking the elevator – it seemed like one of those choose your fate Goosebumps books…which one would be least agonizing? We took the stairs, I mean it’s just walking right? I like walking…BIG MISTAKE! HUUUGE! I mean, yes, you don’t want to be stuck in a horrible steel box, like a sweaty sardine – but those stairs seriously take it out of you, in fact I think my knees are still crying from the ordeal. I actually don’t think anyone else took the stairs…maybe they were not as clueless as me, or maybe someone else had waned them…but whatever it was, I found myself pulling at a rusty banister, as my thighs burned with a vicious ferocity…as if to say SIT DOWN…SIT DOWN…JOHN, SIT DOWN PLEASE, GOD! LIE DOWN – PLAY DEAD, PLAAAAY DEAAAAAAD! 

They were not far wrong, it was absolute hell…hell in the Vatican, so that is like – double bad, right?

After what seemed like an Everest climb, we found ourselves at a false precipice – a little courtyard before the real top – it was then that the smug little bastards in the elevator strolled out…the sight of mandatory stairs soon wiped that self-satisfied smirk off their faces, I will tell you that for sure! The steeple climb is the worst part, the curve means that you have to walk at a 90 degree curve…it is a bizarre sight to behold, boomerangs of all shapes and sizes, shuffling up at a snail’s pace, puffing and panting, urging themselves on…occasionally releasing a pressure valve with a grunt of either: “oh shit!” Or, “fuck!”… or even, “why God? Why?” I was seriously concerned at the life threateningly elderly who were attempting it, as well as the seriously overweight…and actually, myself – I didn’t feel up to this at all, what is the safety procedure? We are all packed so close together – I have a stranger’s nose up my ass one side, and a stranger’s bum in my face on the other, if my heart gives out, there is no other way to deal with me than throw my out of a window and hope for the best. Not exactly reassuring.

Eventually we made it. I felt like we should all go for a round of high fives – but no one was up for it. They were busy wiping the sweat from everywhere. and attempting in vain to catch their breath. Fair enough…but they should really be focusing on the view from up the top – you could see the rest of the smallest country in the world, The Vatican City, all of Rome – and even further afield…

Amazing view GIF

You attempt to take photos at a time like this, it is almost our first instinct – if something looks sensational we want to snap it, immortalize it, as proof that this spectacular thing exists…but I realised after a few tries that nothing I could capture was a true reflection…it just looked like buildings, and building, and buildings in the form of a photograph…but with the naked eye it was so much more.

After that rather deep philosophical moment, I gave my sister the nod – which was reciprocated, that basically meant “done with this? Yeah me too, I am starving though…ginormous lunch and even more beer? Yeah, great – let’s get out of here.”

No better place than Rome to wine and dine, so my stomach was certainly happy…my thighs and ankles however…well, they are still in a bad mood with me. I guess this is my confession – I know I did them wrong. I should have broke the rules, like this guy – no better man than the Pope to wipe away my sins…

Pope-Francis GIF

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Mermaid (France)

France ~ Dordogne – 1996

You may note that this is a tale that dates back to some time ago – in fact it is from the dusty shelves of the Taggart family archives ~ so you could say we’re going in a time machine all the way back to 1996(ish)…yes, so you’ll have to picture me as a little four…or maybe five year old…actually, maybe even six year old! (I have literally no clue!) Strange, I don’t really have too many memories of the early years of my life; I think most of them are just made up ones fabricated by looking at old photos and imagining the scenes they depict…actually, I do recall  as a very, very young child scampering up to my Mother sobbing; claiming that I was not a human at all, and was in fact a robot -my proof being that I could see mechanical cogs spinning in circular cycles inside my head, and could only see black and green stripes due to my limited robotic vision…what would I do? What kind of life does a robot have in this world? How do robots pee…eat…BREATHE?! I remember the horror at seeing her immediate reaction, which was of course to laugh…and tell me that it was just a figment of my bizarre imagination – but I was never truly convinced…hmm…

So no, no real early memories – I hope that isn’t my brain blocking out something horrific…come to think of it maybe I was tested on by mad scientists, possibly even aliens…that would actually explain a lot. No proof yet though…YET.

Mulder GIF Continue reading “Mermaid (France)”