Saturday, December 01, 2007

West to East - can I get whoop whoop??

Now you know you’ve had a hard weekend when there has been two arrests, a fight, a case of gastro, a dance off and someone being taken off the plane by paramedics and going to hospital while his ‘mates’ film it and put it on YouTube while saying: 'I wish you were dead'. Here begins the final legs of my multi-European sojourn. In fact if I was Indiana Jones (firstly I definitely would trade the Holy Grail for the Nazi spy - wouldn’t you??)…I mean, the past month (this weekend inclusive) would have looked like this on a movie screen: It may have made more sense to stay in one area, but hey, you know what they say about the size of a man’s carbon footprint. But first, off to that little Russian border country of Latvia, and time to rip it up in its capital, Riga – or the surrounding rural areas in some cases.

Riga, Latvia

Two days away from work and off again, this time to Latvia. Appearing at the airport on Friday with gastroenteritis, I knew this trip was going to be hard. Passing on the drinks and food at the airport, drinks on the plane or even drinks at the hotel bar in Riga, I was struggling. But thanks must go to Posty for giving me some great advice for the night – straight scotch - and plenty of it. And what do you know, the vomiting only occurred ever second hour; but burned the crap out of the inside of my nose. Soldiering on I made it out to three, but not without the help of the locals. Spending the evening at a bar called Nautilus, we were gob smacked. Every person in the club was a supermodel. I had to go to bed due to my eyes hurting so much. Well, not from the talent, just watching Coombe try his sidle up dance moves or Crowey’s karate chops. I’m really not going to say too much about Riga, as it simply is Eastern Europe in winter. That sounds quite basic for those that haven’t been there, but those that know the former Russian states, know that they are miserable without sunshine.

Eastern Europe has this romanticism about it, but nothing can be further from the truth. Most people don’t live well, it’s grey, cold and they are sick of people they think are English coming over and spending big and leaving. I got talking to a few locals on this trip, but usually it’s fairly difficult. Second, these weekends tend to be simply footy trip-esque. Although I couldn’t do it this time, so I decided to wander around the town while most simply sat in the bar. After wandering around Riga for 2 hours I think I saw everything – a statue commemorating the Soviet withdrawal and the Museum of the History of Latvian Occupation 1940 – 1991: I went in. There was a Latvian flag, a Russian flag and seven books on stands. I picked up one of the books and was yelled at for touching it. I went back to the bar.
The flight back was a little more eventful with one of our members passing out and having to be taken to hospital. I don’t think the cries of ‘harden the fuck up’ from us helped. Anyway, I had three hours to get from Luton to Gatwick. This was going to be tight. Rushing back home I managed to pack a new set of clothes and straight out to another airport, but made it in time. I was on my own and bound for the dinky dye Irish city of Dublin! But seems my mates had got there first: Man steals Guinness

Ireland & Northern Ireland

Arriving in Ireland I was a little excited. I was by myself. I haven’t been by myself for so long. I live in a house with three others, I catch the tube with 3,000 others, I get to work, I go to the gym with others, I go out to a bar with heaps of people, I get home and people are there, and on the weekends I’m always surrounded by mates. This was going to be good. Walking around Dublin on a Sunday night I bumped in to some locals and some travellers and we teamed up for a pretty good night.

The next day I was off to Derry. Now Derry was where a lot of the troubles in the 60s started. After wandering around the town for a little but I ended up in an old mans’ pub on the Catholic side of town. Settling in it wasn’t long before I had a few locals chatting away. After several pints I decided to broach the subject of the troubles over the past few decades. I wasn’t expecting how honestly they answered some of my questions, but a couple of responses I was not prepared for at all. From Derry it was off to Belfast via the Giant’s Causeway – the large piles of hexagonal rocks on the North coast. It was there that the sheer beauty of the coast line inspired me to write a poem:

It's winter in Ireland;
Fuck i'm cold.


Moving swiftly to Belfast.

Now while the troubles in Northern Ireland started in Derry, they reached breaking point in Belfast. After watching Derry slowly turn in to a powder keg the residents of Belfast waited. And in 1969 it happened. A Catholic walked in to a bar in a Protestant neighbourhood, said something and was shot. Two days later it all kicked off.

Despite me thinking a lot of the troubles had ended, they really haven't ended. Pictures tell a thousand words, so what better way to explian.

A wall on the Protestant side - Ulster Freedom Fighter - it follows you wherever you walk

To seperate the two groups, this gate shuts at six and doesn't open until morning

Writing on the Peace Wall. About 10 metres high the wall stops the two groups throwing firebombs at each other... I thought this advertisement on it was in poor taste!

Enough of this little collage, let's move on. A charming night was spent in the Belfast Christmas markets. Basically a way to fleece pensioners from their savings, Christmas markets sell tacky over priced shit for a stack of whatever currency you have - they're all over the place throughout Europe. But they do sell one thing; namely my number one gastronmic delight - Bratwurst. But then who can resist some fudge packing too?
After stuffing my face it I decided to settle in at the Crown. The Crown was founded in the 1800s by a Protestant woman and her Catholic husband. Swearing allegiance to the monarchy, the wife wished to call her pub, The Crown. Not having any of this the Protestant husband refused, until he has a canny idea. He agreed with his wife on a proviso: that if they call it the Crown, he could put a tiled mosaic of the English Crown at the door so his Cartholic friends could walk over it whenever they wanted to enter. Smart man.

Whilst in the Crown I started to talking to a local lass named Siobhan (Chevon). After about 15 minutes she let me know that she was about to head out for a concert. So saying goodbye she left. Five minutes later she walked back in, grabbed me by the shoulder and said: "You're coming with us." Rushing me out to a car, I had no idea where I was going. After about ten minutes driving through Belfast I finally found out that one of the group's friends was too drunk to take her ticket to this show and I was the replacement. It wasn't until we got to the arena that I finally found out that the band in store for me was the Stereophonics... live in Belfast - damn I love random travel!!!!!!

A great night topped of Belfast and after flagging down a bus I was back to Dublin. Another night ensued where I bumped in to some random travellers, but it was early to bed – 2am – to get myself ready for the main deal: Guiness factory!!!!

Traipsing off on an early Thursday morning I made my way around the city of Dublin, finding myself at the Guiness factory. Not really much to say here except I really went a little nuts on the free pour and stumbled out of this lovely place.

Heading back out to the airport I looked back and bid this fair land farewell, only to know that I will return at Easter. Ireland is full of friendly people and fun experiences. Eastern Europe is dreary, most of Western Europe thinks you're English so won't talk to you, but Ireland is different. They speak your language, know you're not English and are more than happy to show you a great time. I thoroughly recommend it and can't wait to get back.

And I finally was awarded for pouring a perfect pint!


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At 7:43 PM, Anonymous The Bionic Man said...

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