Dumbo Rides an Elephant

I didn’t really have a lot planned when I went to Nepal…”I wanna’ ride an elephant!” was basically all I had on my mind; aside from that I was very open! What did I end up doing before I got to that? Well national parks, jungle treks, and canoe rides to name just a few! And yeah sure, sure, they were all fun…of course…but I couldn’t shake the fact that no matter what happened, I would have to ride an elephant on this holiday! Hmmm…perhaps the several million times I had watched Dumbo with my previous class may have had something to do with this fixation…

DUmbo GIF

Whatever it was some guy said that we could book to do it the following day! I was so excited, I couldn’t wait! YEAAUHHHH! It was finally going to happen, WOOOO! FINALLY! Perhaps we would get stuck up in a tree, and there would be a magic feather, and we would make friends with some crows, and, and, and…

Well, no – naturally there was torrential rain…all night. So much so that the hotel room became an overpopulated zoo of creatures and critters; at first it was shocking every time you spotted a lizard on the wall, or a moth at the light – but after the millionth sighting it became far too commonplace to mention. Instead you just sit there swishing every now and again, as every tickle of wind or twitch of your skin feels like it may be a carnivorous insect you thought you would only ever see in the movies. The rain trickled through the badly made ceiling, but the mosquito net was providing ample shelter, despite the fact it had huge holes just about everywhere. A hippo could have made it through some of those holes…never mind a tiny mosquito! But you very much get what you are given in those places!

I had a decision to make that soggy next day – do I miss the opportunity because of the awful weather, or do I just go for it? Well despite not having any kind of raincoat, waterproofs or even a plastic poncho to drape over my pathetic shivering body – I decided fuck it, and went for it; after all what fun can be had in a hotel room? Well, lots of fun (obviously), just ask the owner of the Beverly Hilton  but the possibility for fun is reduced to next to none when you are dealing with a duo of diarhorrea stricken travelers…who have no access to toilet paper, never mind AC or television. With all that said, as soon as I stepped out (in a t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops and a baseball cap) I had immediate second thoughts as to whether this was such a good idea…the rain was very heavy, and I was drenched through and through within a matter of seconds…but still, elephant ride? Probably should still do this? Yeah…this is a good idea…a very good idea…

Rain Truman GIF

We piled into a truck; myself, my sister, and a young American couple. This is when my sister announced that as a vegan she would just be watching me from the sidelines…I mean I understood, it wouldn’t make sense that you don’t want to eat something but it is fine to ride it around…so I nodded in the most understanding way I could muster, secretly hating her for leaving me along with these complete strangers, I mean, who are they? What will I say to them?

The rain was still chucking it down when we arrived. In the distance there were large wooden shack-like platforms, that we would soon be using to (not so gracefully), clamber on these huge animals. I went first, giving one last look down to my sister who stood there with my umbrella grinning at my predicament. I pulled myself up, and was met with quite literally an upturned table and a battered cushion to sit on – that was what they attached to an elephant in order to use it as transportation. Where do I even sit? The guy gestured (in the most awkward way possible), that I should put one of the chair legs between my legs…and wrap myself around it…I fought the urge to laugh, and did as he instructed.

It was now turn for the couple to get on with me. They struggled for a long time, slipping, and sliding on the wooden surface – and often unintentionally pushing their bums in my face…I sat there and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, but whenever our eyes met – I tried to politely nod and smile, but it probably came off as very creepy…there’s no way around it in that situation. 

Not Creepy GIF

Once we got moving we started to chat a little bit, the usual; who? what? where? questions – they were actually pretty cool people; an art teacher and a musical therapist. But once this idle small talk was out of the way, all of a sudden the guy sprang into the strangest bit of dialogue I may ever hear…

“Hey, you heard about claw? The Claw? No? Well yeah…I watched a documentary recently…and there’s this tiger called The Claw. It’s like a killer tiger…runs wild.”

“Oh…really? Where is he a-“

“Here. Yeah, Nepal. And The Claw is female by the way. She’s pretty bad-ass.”

“Mhmm…well, that’s…comforting. Thanks so much for telling me that. Good info.”

His girlfriend chuckled, and looked off into the distance – I wonder if he had kept her up all night talking about The Claw, maybe she watched it with him – I wish I had, then I might be prepared should he jump up and –

“So yaaaah…Claw like…killed fifty people, or was it eighty? Maybe one hundred and twenty…yeah one-twenty in total, fifty people last year-“

“Err…”

“It gets pissed off at elephants carrying people, and jumps up – swiping at people. This dude had a hand off.”

Scared Man GIF

I nodded, but stopped talking for a while, worryingly there hadn’t even been a flicker of humour behind his words…it was spoken to me as if it was a public service announcement that every elephant rider should be aware of – the rain continued to lash down, soaking my now laboriously heavy t-shirt within an inch of its life. I pictured all the way this fabled Claw character could kill me…or how the weird upturned table construction could just slip off its ropes, and I could break my neck quite easily…or maybe we would fall the other way? Then I am pretty sure that the guys beard would break my fall…but then I would be stuck in the middle of the jungle…The Claw would definitely get me then…

THWAAAAACK!

It took me a few seconds to work out where the sound had came from…it was a hollow, loud banging, that echoed around the jungle with a solid dull tone. THWAAAACK! This time I didn’t miss it, I had just saw the “driver” lash the poor elephant full force on the skull with his heavy steel implement. We looked at each other in total disbelief. I stared at the steel rod…it as curved on one side so it could be used for beating, and spiked on the other so it could be used for prodding – both seemed like cruel punishments. The elephants head was battered, pinkish brown where the same torture weapon had been used over and over, year after year, for this very purpose. THWAAAACK! I was filled with an uncontrollable rage – I rarely feel anything like it, but I stared at the back of the driver’s head…trying to stop a crazed urge to pull the implement from his sweaty hands, and beat him around the skull with it – see how he likes it, maybe I would throw four adult humans on his back, and hit him every time he decided he was exhausted. THWAAAACK! ARGHHHHHHHHHH! STOP!

Anger Control GIF

“I hope The Claw jumps up, and eats that guy.”  I muttered. The couple laughed, but I was pretty serious. I had previously had no idea of this side of things, so it was deeply troubling for me – honestly I just wanted the whole thing to be over…but it was now dragging. This was exacerbated by the fact the torrential rain made the terrain very difficult for the elephant to navigate – much to the driver’s disapproval. Yes, we still had a long way to go yet. 

After a short while we spotted a strange fish in the water, it swished and wriggled near the surface, in a snake like motion. “Croco” – mumbled the driver, I hadn’t noticed at first, but he was right – I could see small limbs just under the murky river…it was huge, but paid us no attention. I was amazed to see it in its natural habitat, as opposed to sitting bored out of its mind in a dusty zoo someplace – but when paralleled to the elephant’s situation, it made me even more upset. I was holding out a slight hope that the crocodile was on its way to meet with The Claw, and that they were going to form a superhero team to take out elephant riders for good! It didn’t ever happen, well not yet anyway – these things take planning, and planning takes time. I get it! 

Afterwards I thought about the whole thing, and the issue at large – I know now I will never ride an elephant again, or pet drugged up tigers in Thailand…I don’t knock anyone who does, because I was one of those people up until a short while ago! I just ask that you make yourself aware of the sad and cruel reality at play here. It’s depressing I know, but it’s an important issue we shouldn’t overlook. People are on the poverty line in these countries, and use these things to make money…but it isn’t their fault, it is the tourists fault for giving demand to such things. The cruelty I saw, has me breathless right now  even thinking about it…let’s try and make it a thing of the past. No creature deserves treatment like that. 

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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Indiana John

Due to recently returning to South Korea, (after a few months travelling in a few other countries) I found myself reminiscing on the previous year I had spent in this lovely place…and the certain comedy capers I got up to during that time. One in particular stood out, and that is the tale of Indiana John, I hope you enjoy it!

I had just enjoyed a lovely few days visiting the glorious Jeju Island, a semi-tropical paradise island which is a boat ride away from the mainland. I had went with a large travel group, which isn’t my usual way of doing things – but it is sometimes nice to let free of the reigns, and let someone else do all the hectic brain-work. Your guide tells you when you are all getting on the bus, when you will arrive, when you can take photographs, when you can pee, and so much more…after a while you feel a bit demeaned I am sure – but as a short term solution, it is strangely comforting not to have to deal with all of those irritating issues. You can just relax, and let it all go…

Relaxation GIF

So we were on our way home, the convoy of coaches had dropped us all off at the ferry terminal – and soon we would be shepherded inside, and told exactly what the plan was. Most of us were hungover, sun-burnt, and tired…in short, we had just had a brilliant few days (and we were now all suffering because of it!) As we made our way inside, the guide asked for passports, and ID cards…and got to work getting all of our tickets from the counter. There was some issue that caused there to be a huge delay, but remember I had let those reigns go so I didn’t pay much attention! Something to do with the numbers not matching, or the colours being different, or, well I have no idea – the guide seemed freaked out, in fact he appeared to have entered the realm of nervous breakdown – as he was frantically sprinting around the place from corner to corner, which I found to be doubly odd as we hadn’t even had lunch yet; so where he was getting this renewed energy from, I just don’t know.

Everyone appeared to make the decision to spread out, and dodge out of the way of his mad marathon dash. My friends found a quiet corner, and I popped to the store to get some drinks and snacks – to weather out this tedious wait with a little bit more joy. Others from the larger group had the same idea, or meandered around the shops looking for last minute relics, and souvenirs. I felt like some form of demi-god when I returned, as if there would be a harp playing, and a glowing golden halo around my head – after all it was a sweaty, gross kind of heat, and this was a stuffy and dirty kind of place. We ended up sitting on the floor with our bags as makeshift cushions, taking long slurps from our beer and occasionally pointing out the places people had caught the sun particularly badly. Of course I was the main topic of conversation – as it looked like I had just had a bare-knuckle fist fight with the sun, and lost.

“BLEURRRRGHH-BLEURGHHH-BLAHHH!”

A strange Korean man, who strongly resembled Taz of Tasmania, had just taken it upon himself to rudely interrupt our happy little scene. He was speaking in an odd tone that made no sense to anyone, worse still he was a heavy spitter – and we were drenched with a sloppy saliva shower every time he opened his mouth. As he used the wall to stabilize himself, he continued complaining…we looked at each other, in a don’t look at me, this guy is crazy kinda way, totally dumbfounded…hoping that one of us would be able to comprehend what his problem was, instead we all just shrugged at one another – we felt glued to the ground, as he lorded over us, spraying us with spit, and stifling us with his heavily alcoholic breath.

Bad Breath - GIF

A savior stepped in, thank the Lord! A short middle-aged Korean guy, put an arm around him, and spoke in soft tones, whilst guiding him away…he turned, and politely apologised on the drunk guy’s behalf – “no problem, no problem!” we all stammered, simply happy to be rid of him. The drunk man looked to have been sufficiently calm as he was walked away, but just when we began to begin our past tense “well that was weird” conversations, he BURST back into life! Pushing and shoving the other man, grabbing him by the scruff of his neck and wrestling with him, the man was largely powerless against his drunken flailing arms – our group began to shriek, and gasp – I stood up and ran over, dragging the two apart – and in doing so, I unintenitionally threw the intoxicated guy into the corner with a large crash!

Phew, that was intense. More exercise than I like to do on a Sunday…but necessary. I asked our savior if he was okay,  he rubbed at his throat – but assured me he was…the other guy seemed out of steam thankfully, and decided to stay put.

But…what was…what was that sound?

VVVVVVVVVUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Huh? Wait…“THE SHUTTERS ARE CLOSING?!” I heard someone scream – I suppose that in the scuffle, someone had smashed into the switch, busting it off the wall – and setting the roller shutter doors in motion…in a few short seconds they would close, and we would be locked in the small corner section we had settled in…locked in with the drunk belligerent lunatic! “IT’S CLOSING, GRAB YA BAGS, GRAAAAB YA FAAAAKIN BAAAAAAGS!!” People stared at me, seemingly not sure what I was going on about, they looked almost as clueless as the drunk guy who was still sat on the floor smirking at the whole situation…“COME ON, YOU ARE GOING TO BE LOCKKKKKED IN – FAACKIN LOCKED…URGH! NOW!”

Those who had snapped out of their daze ran under to safety, by the time I made it to the shutters there was only a few feet left before I would be entombed along with everyone else…I hurled the bags under, and did an awkward little roll. CRAAAASHHHH.

Indiana GIF

OH GOD…I’d made it…just. I opened my eyes, and stood up – the main section of the ferry terminal stared at me, people from the group…children, grandmas…all without a clue as to the crazy events that had just unfolded. That was until there was loud, petrified banging from the other end – then they started to pay attention!

Along with some other bystanders, we attempted to use the switch from the other side – but it was well and truly broken, and the mechanism would only go down further, crushing the metal into the ground…we had desperate conversations through the roller shutter door, which were made difficult as the offending mad bastard had decided he too would voice his opinion on the situation, through his typical grunts and growls.

Ten minutes or so had passed, we had tried to pull it up with the aid of ten or so men, but still no luck – we had called for security, and still they were not here…would they really just have to stay there forever?!

“It’s okay, guys…guys? We will get you out of there alright? Listen…guys?”

“Hi John!” Their voices sounded strange…and distant, it echoed around the room – they sounded so close, but they were so far away…

“I’ll get you out – we’ll get you out…I promise you…”

Crying Guy GIF

“JOHN!” they shouted againI began to reply, but was interrupted when I then felt a short jab to my ribs – I turned around to see them all stood there, shaking with excitement…but for the most part, okay. Well, alive at least. I thought I was seeing things, and was largely speechless, I kept pointing at the closed shutters, and back to them – they explained that security had a small door inside that section, just in case (does this happen all the time?!?!) – and that they had taken the drunk guy away, one would hope for a cup of tea, and a lie down; that’s definitely what he needed!

Just as we were happily reunited, the tour guide ran up to us, asking us where we had been – but not waiting for a reply – “COME ON, WE HAVE TO GOOOOO!” 

It was over as quick as it had all started…we spoke about it that night, checking again, and again with each other, just in case it hadn’t really happened…I had always secretly wanted to the Indiana Jones roll…but I thought that it isn’t a thing that happens in real life…well…one of the bucket list. Here’s to that! 

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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)”

Anything but Fine (Austria)

Austria ~ Vienna – 2014

As I walked the streets of Vienna, I couldn’t help but realise something; (well…aside from the gorgeous architectural heritage sprawled out on every block, and the cheery friendly folk inhabiting the bustling pavements!) No, instead what gripped me more intensely was something a lot less in your face – something that passes you by quite easily, but once you notice it – you cannot stop seeing it…Vienna is very clean, well maintained – which is great and everything, but it appears that rules are followed completely by just about everyone. I have probably lost you there, why is this a bad thing you may ask? So let me explain…the reason this struck me as unusual is that it all felt a little…well…forced. Yes, yes, people were following the rules but it was to the letter! Perhaps I am a hoodlum and I don’t even realise it, but it all made me a little uncomfortable at times.

It reminded me of a programme I used to watch as a kid – The Demon Headmaster; where the crazy head of the school would take off his glasses and hypnotise the kids into doing his will…sounds super, super paedo crazy these days I know, but it was a different climate, and the innocent child’s mind doesn’t see it that way. Anyway so in the show the afflicted kids would walk around in a daze just obeying orders, when I saw that crowds of people were standing at the pedestrian stop sign despite the fact that there was not a single vehicle in sight, it made me sure that there was something in the water here, or there was a hypnotism feature built into the Austrian television. It was the only theory that made sense to me.

Demon-Headmaster GIF

Of course my brother and I didn’t have the same problem, we simply assessed the situation and crossed the road – after all, we were drinking bottled water (ahem…okay, okay…I mean beer) and were only watching streamed episodes of our favourite comedy shows on my laptop. So we were safe! Coming to think of it that’s probably a top travel tip, so perhaps you ought to write it down? Just a thought.

You’ve probably already guessed that this policy of ours ended up badly.

On one ill-fated occasion we stopped at the end of the pavement for the red man – just as the rest of the drone population did, we looked right, then left – then repeated – feel free to compliment me on my road safety skills, cheers! – we subsequently came to a conclusion it was safe to cross due to there being NO traffic whatsoever and, well…did so!

WAAHHHHHH-WAHHHHH!” a bizarre screeching sound rang out behind me once I had reached the middle of the small road – I turned around slightly in shock, and in my peripheral vision saw a plump lady dressed in a strange outfit, still screaming and gyrating wildly – naturally I took her to be an absolute mental case, so quickly rushed myself over to safety! Phew!

Running GIF

“Fucking pigs!” my brother joked under his breath,

“What?” I chuckled, vaguely confused,

We continued walking as he explained that the high pitched noise had been two policewomen who had probably been kicking off about crossing the road on a red man – we shrugged in a ah well no big deal kinda way, and went back to the map, we were lost – that’s for sure – but we didn’t really care much, we had ate a huge lunch and a few…err…bottles of water, so we were happy to just wander about aimlessly…we got to the next block and stopped at the red man signal – this time around he was right, the road was impassible as cars streamed wildly in and out, honking as they went.

AAAY! AAAY!” something screamed in my ear hole,

“Erm, hi?” I replied – to the two extremely pissed off ladies standing next to me,

SHLURGUNN-SHLURGUNN-SHLOOZHLE, SHLIGINN…” one of them was blabbering away some total nonsense with aggressive vigor, as the other stood arms crossed, intermittently nodding in agreement.

Confusion GIF

“We don’t understand you, sorry, we-” my brother began,

“English – English!” I begged,

OH, O-KAY. YOU RUNNING AND LAUGHING!” she blurted out, red in the face with emotion,

“No…no…” I almost giggled at the thought of being apprehended for laughing, but held myself together…”I didn’t run or laugh, I would never do tha -”

YES!” interrupted the other one – “YOU LOOKED AROUND! SAW US STANDING! LAUGHED! THEN LOOKED AGAIN! LAUGHED AGAIN! THEN WITH THE RUNNING AWAY! YES!”

Oh my goodness! I really was a menace, somebody stop me!

I glanced at my brother uneasily, glaring with wide eyes – we were both sporting the standard ruby coloured Taggart cheeks – as per usual in awkward situations such as these! I tried to plead my innocence but it was a lost cause, she had fabricated some story blatantly: I mean do I look like the kind of guy who would laugh? Or run? Or even worse, do them both together? Of course not.

SO NOW YOU PAY. YES. THIRTY EUROS – SO IT’S SIXTY EUROS FOR TWO.”

“WHAT?!” my brother exclaimed,

YES! Eeen London you can’t jus cross the road…we knows zis…you have to-”

“YES YOU CAN! IF YOU WANT TO CROSS, YOU…YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO CROSS THE ROAD, REALLY?”

YAH – NO – you cannot in London, it’s the rule – so -”

“WELL IT’S A RIDICULOUS RULE!” he replied defiantly, “yes, yes! It may be a ridiculous rule – but it is the rule, so we have to follow it!” Urgh, what a great mentality to have…I glanced down at my feet because I wasn’t sure where to look, and became aware of the sympathetic stares from the other drone members of the public – which appeared to range from sympathetic looks to shakes of the head…I bet this shit happens all the time, I mean it should be an unofficial rule that if someone looks clueless and has a map in their hand there should be some form of leniency! My brother was going off on one, but despite the fact I was pissed off, I had sudden flashbacks to documentaries about young guys being locked up for years in foreign parts for some bogus crimes, and as we had a plane to catch the next day, I couldn’t see how this would fit into our itinerary:

Prison GIF

“Alright, okay. JAMES – shh…”

I grabbed my wallet and sniffled as I counted out fifty Euros, my brother muttered that he had barely any money left – “HE HAS FIFTY SO HE PAYS.” Of course, of course I do. As I handed over the money I felt my blood pressure rise and every vein in my eyeballs throb – “so where does this money go?” my brother began to inquire, “IT GOES TO US – THEN WE TAKE IT TO THE BUILDING AND YES!” So basically straight in their back pocket then. Fantastic! They began to fill out some little ticket sheet, didn’t once ask for names or any form of ID, or well…anything…just took the money and then that was that.

FIned

We began to walk off down the street (rather than crossing like we had originally planned), just to get away from them – but they followed, we quickened our pace to try and escape – but they stayed with us, largely because we had to be sure to stop and wait for the green man at every crossing. Eventually we looped around and made a break for it, eventually getting back to the hotel where I could top my wallet back up from my stash.

“Fucking ridiculous that!” my brother would repeat, over and over, “THIRTY EUROS?! Fucking ridiculous that!” I would nod and agree, shedding a private tear at paying FIFTY Euros for the privilege of crossing the road when my own brain told me I should. I was also a little irked that someone who had paid ten Euros was being more vocal in outrage than myself…perhaps he had forgotten…I should remind him…nahhh, save that for a rainy day – bank that gold for an argument in the future.

Celebrate GIF

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More from this country below:

https://storytimewithjohn.com/2014/08/28/not-so-fancy-footwork/

Not so Fassi! (Italy)

Italy ~ Rome – 2014

Maps are annoying. I mean, that’s why some genius invented the isn’t it? But when you are without a car in a foreign country, people would be right to think you are odd (at best), or a complete and utter maniac, if you were to wander the streets clutching a big chunky device that is shouting out – “TURN RIGHT AFTER 100 YARDS!” You couldn’t really argue with them for coming to this logical conclusion…I mean you would look mad. That’s unquestionable, even if you did have the Sean Connery setting on…actually, perhaps that would be even worse.

With all that said, I did run into some problems with regular map-reading in Italy. Stupid problems that other people probably wouldn’t have encountered…but problems all the same. You see the friendly chap (Paolo) at the hotel had given me a map and had outlined all of the sites I should look for – I think I still have it somewhere…yeah, here we are –

Fassi Pic

Yeah, so he outlined where we can see the Roman Colosseum, Vatican City, and all of the other tourist must sees, which was awfully nice of him. He did it all with such zeal and enthusiasm, as if he had built them with his own hands just yesterday – he also gave us a recommendation for a historic ice cream place he appeared very excited about: Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, or Fassi Ice cream to ignorant foreign souls like myself. Paolo also recommended that “people like you”, I assume he meant people who are so white they are practically see-through, really ought to stay indoors during the hottest period of the Italian summer day; which is 1-4pm ish. He certainly doesn’t need to tell me twice! I’ve had my fingers burned enough times!

I’ve also had my ears, nose, cheeks, back, and various other parts burned as well…but that’s not the well known saying, so I…yeah…anyway, sorry, you get the point.

So yeah, with the inferno hours well remembered, the next day we set out relatively early, to give us some time before the unforgiving sun turned my neck into pork crackling. I grabbed my trusty annotated map and headed out the door! I had a good idea of the general way we would be heading, but by coincidence we bumped into Paolo as we were on route, and I was able to double check if I was going in the the right direction – “yes, yes! You are exactly, exactly!” Brilliant! It was all working out! I mean so far we were only at the end of the street the hotel was on…but still, we were exactly, exactly! Woooo!

However before we knew it we found ourselves in a very different setting. We had already passed by some boarded up buildings, as well as what appeared to be a deserted railway system… “this can’t be it, there’s no way, this can-” I interrupted my little sister, shrieking defiantly that it is DEFINITELY the right way, as it said so on the map. As I attempted to avoid her gaze I took a brief look around the immediate vicinity…on second thought it certainly didn’t look like the kind of place where you would find a traditional ice cream shop. Why you ask? Well, for one the entire inhabitants were wearing patchwork coats despite the heat, there was also this little man-made cardboard village in a neat row behind some rubbish bins – complete with cardboard doors and tears for window holes…oh and someone was warming their hands over an oil barrel whilst whistling a tune…and…well, long story short, we had clearly stumbled into the bad side of town.

Fearful GIF

Maybe it’s up there? Past that, errrr, cardboard bit?” I muttered halfheartedly…

There is no ice cream here John. Let’s go.”

Argh, no – it has to be here! Paolo said…Paolo said!”

Eventually I had to accept defeat. And one thing was for certain, I was very upset, I mean we had came here with one purpose, and that was to sample some of the world’s best ice cream – but instead I was walking through a piss stench-filled subway for the second time today…life can be so harsh sometimes guys, it is often too much to manage.

I took another look at the map…and instantly recognised that I had lead us to the location of where he had wrote Fassi Ice Cream, rather than where he had pointed with the red arrow…

“Well, I said that John – you didn’t listen!”

YOU MUST HAVE WHISPERED IT, BECAUSE I DIDN’T HEAR IT!” I barked back, delirious with hunger after skipping breakfast…I had expected to be well on my way to diabetes by now, and my instant reaction was an insane uncontrollable anger – I suppose I am a little like The Hulk but instead my problem is people won’t like me when I am hungry. I’ll be the first to admit I am a horrible, horrible person when I haven’t ate. Just the worst.

Hungry GIF

Sorry…I…let’s just head back this way, okay?”

We looped around the corner beside the railway tracks, and as we passed the bushes we were met with two grubby looking gentlemen who were taking up most of the pathway – we automatically went in single file to allow for us to both pass, it was a pretty tight squeeze as they were refusing to budge! As we tried to nudge our way past something caught my eye – I glanced down at one of the two – then looked back in front, glanced down again – what was that? I looked back in front, glanced down again – then looked back in front…errrrrrr…one of them had just made direct bleary eye contact with me, whilst in the process of shooting heroin in one of his thin arms…errrrrrr…I suddenly remembered my manners and gave him a friendly nod, which I coupled with a hiya, probably not exactly the right setting for such a phrase…but it was all that came out of my dry, raspy throat.

Scared GIF

We continued on in single file, around the short bend of the path – I tried to glance behind my shoulder, to see if they were following – actually I was expecting to have someone leap on me whilst wildly jabbing a used needle in my neck repeatedly – perhaps I have an over-active imagination, but it was actually pretty terrifying.

Anyway, a little dark, I know, apologies! But it gets WORSE! Once we actually got to the ice cream shop after a huge nightmarish detour, I accidentally picked out the wrong flavour…with devastating results…you see, the flavours were unnamed – they only had little pictures on…so I thought I was getting chocolate, caramel, and toffee – but instead I actually got chocolate, tiramisu, and rum n’ raisin:

Bad food GIF

IT WAS HORRIBLE. The rum flavour was so heavy that it overpowered the other ones completely…my God it was foul…I had basically skipped breakfast in lieu of some strong rum – if I wasn’t on holiday you would rightly call me an alcoholic. But as we all should know, there are a whole different set of rules regarding alcohol when it comes to vacations! Thankfully!

I spent the rest of the day trying not to be too disappointed, and of course when I ran into Paolo later I told him nothing other than:

“Yeah! Found the place no problem! Thanks for the map! Ice cream…wow…best I have ever had!”

I wonder whether every single person does the same thing, you know – just out of politeness…next time I’ll tell him the truth…mehh, who am I kidding?

Shrug GIF

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Fancy footwork!

My couple of days in Austria were for the most part overwhelmingly positive, (stay tuned for the single negative part in another post soon!) – I mean, the place is beautiful; filled with breathtaking architecture, some of the best art the world has ever seen, and people who are warm and friendly – especially when compared with their far more stern and stand-offish Hungarian neighbours. Case in point, in Hungary someone tried to have a go at stealing my trainers…in Austria a stranger saw me battling with a map and pointed me in the right direction…

Also the coffee in Hungary tastes like someone has put some coffee granules in their mouths, washed it about with a bit of luke warm water, and then spat it into warm-ish milk – making sure to stir thoroughly before serving to unsuspecting customers. Coffee in Austria is totally on point: espresso that makes you feel like it isn’t such a big deal that you haven’t slept more than four hours a night for a week straight…now I look at the situation with fresh well rested eyes, I am starting to question whether the caffeine situation has a lot to do with my (probably) terrible bias – yeah, probably – so apologies to both sides, but you do both have great cakes – so perhaps you can take solace in that? Joint first on the cake podium? No? Okay.

Continue reading “Fancy footwork!”

Sweaty Christmas! (Vietnam)

Vietnam ~ Halong Bay – 2013

I headed to Vietnam over the last Christmas holiday…which meant I was spending another Christmas away from my family and friends, which naturally sucks – but that’s not what this post is about…don’t get me wrong, obviously I love Santa and Jesus as much as the next guy…actually if only this was about them…at least I would have someone to blame.

Colbert GIF Continue reading “Sweaty Christmas! (Vietnam)”

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