Don’t you forget about me 31Jul08 | [NickS] 0

Foolishly without setting an alarm, yet trying to eke out as much of our trip as possible, we left a meagre 45 minutes to pack before our check-out deadline.   Choking back the tears (as well as the dodgy cereal and hot chocolate), we trundled downstairs.  First item of business: book a water-taxi to the airport.  Fleeced on all sides, from Rialto to San Marco, we booked a €120 20-minute ride.  Nick M was due to leave for France (some posh holiday with his folks, not a train in sight…), so we were to get to the airport at 4 o’clock.  Only three hours early for our own check-in time.  Better bring a book.

Job done.  Now time for a wander around Cannaregio and Santa Croce, via Rialto Market.  Now satisfied that we had heard “a punnet of strawberries” in almost every European language available to us, we went for a drink in a nearby café, travelling over the river on a stripped down gondola for 50 cents.  Sure, we could’ve taken the five minute journey for over 300 times the price, ridden in the water equivalent of a Ferrari and had an even greasier native sing “That’s Amoré” to us, but that’s not our style.  Sniffing out the now ubiquitous bakeries for a pastry-snack, we took stock of our spending habits.  Money dwindling, the girls decided to stay in the café for about an hour, lest they be tempted by the array of clothes shops.  The men went on a manly stroll, searching out a suitable place to have lunch.

By the time we returned, the urge to shop was simply too great, and we were dragged through a few clothes shops on the way to our luncheon location.  On the veranda of a small hotel, I ate “tagliatelle al Doge” – pasta, with lobster.  It’s good to be the Doge. Beautiful. Bellissimo.  With a chilled beer inside us, topping up our tan in the afternoon sun, we had a leisurely stroll past the unavoidable gravitational pull of more shops, while I took a few more (hundred) photos.

And then, we were back at our hostel, standing outside the luggage room, unable to comprehend that we were nearly at the end of our fantastic trip.  After the sentimentality was interrupted by endless phone calls from my Italian water-taxi con artist booking agent to find out exactly where we lived, An Italian Sonny Crocket, inexplicably with his preteen daughter in tow, arrived outside our hostel.  Clambering into the vessel, we travelled at a speed of knots to Venice Marco Polo Airport.  I like to think the silence wasn’t as a result of us fearing for our lives due to the obvious speed violations and unstable nature of our craft, but because we were reflecting on our own personal journeys over the last three weeks.

Arriving at the airport, tipping our taxi driver with a few extra euros (why doesn’t anyone take Romanian Lei?) we found that it was a further seven minute walk to the main airport.  At this point, we didn’t mind, as we didn’t want to leave at all, even contemplating taking the next flight back to Ljubljana…

We made our temporary interthink base at the airport café and patiently took up an activity for an hour (reading, listening to iPod, blogging, knitting…). With our completed interthink wristbands (knitted by Mummy Gill), we powered up for one last time, before Nick M walked away into the sunset of the International Departures Lounge at approximately 1700

It felt as though we’d lost a limb. I didn’t like that.  I’m fond of my limbs, thank you very much.

Sooner or later, while the sun was setting, our check-in desk opened at 1910.  Then we saw Italian inefficiency at its true stereotypical splendour.  Waiting in line for an hour and a half, various other check-in desks came and went, while our solitary SleazyJet desk trundled along at a person an hour.  Ten minutes before check-in was due to close, another desk opened up, we raced through security to find an epic queue at passport control.  Two last calls were given for our flight, everyone was waving passports and boarding cards in the air…the English were grumbling, the Italians were nonchalant.  Onto the bus, onto the plane.  Of course, the plane was packed, and the interthink crew were dotted around the plane.  I was sitting next to a half-Italian man who was watching The Mighty Boosh on his iPod, while his foreign girlfriend slept.

Reading in the half-light, I finished my second book of the day and we touched down at London Gatwick.  Apparently ‘overcast, but 22 degrees centigrade’.  A bit like Balatonlelle then.  It hit us.  We were…what was that place called again?…home.  No more packing every other day.  The ability to jump in the shower for 45 minutes after getting up at midday.  Clean clothes.

The usual rigmarole of air travel passed us by – passport control, baggage reclaim…we were in arrivals.  We were in Britain.  My parents were at arrivals, apparently pleased to see me.  Maz borrowed my phone to locate Greg Phillips, designated driver for the Yeomans/Phillips/Field contingent.  He was parked in blue, we were parked in orange.  Tearing ourselves away from each other with all the difficulty of a haddock on a waterslide (it’s fair to say we might have needed a bit of a break from each other’s company), we parted.

Twenty-three days after we got to Prague, we’d visited ten locations (including Slovakia), left one phone in the Czech Republic, lost one bag (incl. wallet) in Sibiu, taken over five thousand photos, met countless people and had a really, really good excellent fantastic amazing time.  A route comprising other global locations forming in my mind for the Famous Five of interthink ’08, I’m going to bed.  A clean bed.  My bed.

Without clutching my passport, or setting an alarm.

The Final Countdown 30Jul08 | [NickM] 0

Ah, free breakfast. Always a positive thing, surely? Well, to an extent at least: bread rolls were fine, tea was average, but the cereal was fairly disgusting, having as much taste as running through the Vatican in a thong. Food aside, we washed and left around 10ish to go to St.Mark’s Square and Basilica. Saying the queue outside was horrific probably doesn’t do it justice, but thankfully someone was watching over us, and the queue dispersed fairly quickly.

Inside, the girls were considered to be too revealing of their shoulders and legs, but no fear, the Venetian tourist office was here to help – offering shawls for only €1.50. With the ladies appropriately covered up and resembling something between Guantanamo Bay prisoners and bottles of Fanta, we went in as part of a free English tour. The British guide, Naomi, was extremely knowledgeable and provided a detailed background to many of the numerous paintings within the Basilica, explaining the construction and stories behind these fantastic artworks.

For an extortionate €8 we got the opportunity to go up the bell tower for the most scenic panoramas the city had to offer (and in my opinion, the best on the trip). The sky was clear and offered almost unlimited visibility over the lagoon and the rest of the archipelago.

Afterwards we followed the edge of the square and it went into the Doge’s palace. Paying €13 even after Nick Stylianou’s best attempts to wangle Gill’s UCAS card as identification for all of us (“In England, one card is valid for groups up to five….honest”), we entered without our half-price student discount. The building turned out to be an extensive museum, including the Doge’s apartments, the prisons, the armoury and political rooms of the palace, providing an insight into how the Republic of Venice used to be run and administered. A personal highlight was “The Bridge of Sighs”. Sigh.

We found out that our ticket enabled us to enter another three museums, so even though we were all tired in the relentless heat, we soldiered on by the thought we had already purchased the ticket, crossed San Marco’s square and entered the Museu Correr. Inside were the three additional museums crammed into one side of the San Marco Square – the archeological one, the arty one and the library.

Due to the excessive temperatures and relentless sightseeing, it was decided some rest should be taken before the evening frivolity. Indoor sunbathing I believe is significantly under-rated. You get all the benefits of tanning at the beach without sand being caught in areas of the body best left unmentioned, with the added bonus of a cold shower nearby. Needless to say, very relaxing and enjoyable, but ridiculously whiffy.

It had been decided a few days previously that for the last proper evening meal we would go a bit upmarket…splash out, if you will. We found a lovely place by about 10 pm and proceeded to have a variety of excellent (and expensive) dishes. Highlights include lobster crepes and veal on the bone. Aided by two bottles of lovely Venetian wine, in no time at all it was 12 o’clock and we were reflecting on the previous 3 weeks, the trials and tribulations, the whirlwind romances, the copious drug abuse…okay, slight exaggeration for dramatic effect. But we all gave various awards to each other, such as Most Likely To Be Injured [jointly awarded to Maz and Nick S] and The interthink Sixth Candle award [to the most helpful Croatian nun in the world, made an honorary interthink life member]. Strolling back through San Marco’s square at night, listening to the bands playing, Nick S got caught up in the moment. Topping off a truly excellent evening, in an overblown romantic gesture, he managed to buy [read: haggle shamelessly] the entire lot of roses from two different sellers for everyone to share [so, just the girls]. Totally enamoured, the girls immediately awarded Nick S the winner of the man-points league.

That pissed me off.

But as this is my last blog entry, I must say that this has been one of the best experiences of my life and I’ve loved every moment of it, and judging from the various speeches, this was a view shared by everyone on the trip, so not just me being sentimental. Venice was a truly fitting end to this European Adventure, and all of us eventually fell asleep at about one in the morning, sad that it was over, but with about a hundred photos of roses, people and bridges in different combinations. At night-time. Breakfast seemed unlikely.

Canal-hopping 28Jul08 | [Rio] 29

We woke up at around 6:30am as quietly as possible so as not to wake our room-mates (one of them was called Steve Jones, we later found out… what a unique and completely exotic name!) with whom we’d arrived back at a fairly reasonable hour, but who would probably appreciate a lie-in nonetheless.  We wandered to the train station which was only around 10 minutes walk away, in time for our train to Villach (in Austria), where we would be stopping off before another train from there to Ljubljana.  I think we were all a bit sad to leave Ljubljana – it was a truly beautiful city, and probably my favourite place on the trip.  We all knew that in Venice, not only would prices rise, but the streets would be packed with holidaymakers.

This would be our last train journey, so we were determined not to cock it up – we thoroughly checked every display we could lay our eyes on before boarding the train.  The train journey to Villach passed fairly uneventfully, apart from the consumption of my sandwiches which we’d prepared for lunch after about 10 minutes of being on the train (about 8:10am).

We had around half an hour to spare at Villach, so we waited on the platform, ecstatic after the discovery of some Haribo in a nearby vending machine.

We then took the 10:37am from Villach to Ljubljana.  We’ve been lucky on our trip in that most of the time, we’ve booked 5 seats and have been given a 6 seat compartment, without another single person in the carriage with us.  The spare chair is used for general clutter.  Unfortunately, on this journey, we had to share our carriage with a man, who turned out to be nice enough, and didn’t complain about having to be stuck in a compartment with five noisy and excitable teenagers, even after Gill nearly knocked him out whilst trying to lift her rucksack onto the luggage rack.

I have to say, walking out of the station at Venice took my breath away.  Water was lapping only about five metres away from us, and although the city was very busy, I couldn’t help but appreciate why this had become such a popular place.  The hoards of people did prove to be fairly irritating whilst we attempted to find our hostel since, as Nick Manners put it, with our rucksacks on our backs,  we had the turning circle of a large cruiser.  But after struggling through the crowds, crossing numerous bridges and navigating down the narrow streets of Venice which all look fairly similar, we realised it was worth it.  Our hostel fronted onto a small canal.  It was absolutely beautiful.

We dumped our bags, and headed out to find something to eat.  You’d think it wouldn’t be difficult, but prices were high and we were eager to cut costs- we ended up at a small pizzeria, but we paid the price with some pizzas which… Well, we all agreed that I could have cooked better, and I once set the grill on fire when I was trying to toast bread.  I think I’ve made my point.  Our evening meal wasn’t much better… We had to repeatedly tell the waiter that Nick had ordered chips and not salad with his meal, and Gill’s attempts to order a panini and a vegetable dish were thwarted (it was the wrong time of day, apparently), so she settled for a vegetable soup which was basically hot water with a couple of carrots.  Yum.

The the breath-taking city made up for the food by far, though.  In the afternoon, we all went off in our separate directions to explore the city (after three weeks together, we thought it would be a good idea)- Gill stumbled upon the St.Mark’s basilica in the St.Mark’s square and said she nearly had an accident herself because it was so stunning.  We decided to check it out, so after dinner we headed over to the square.  She wasn’t wrong, and it was even more beautiful lit up against the stark black sky.  The square was edged by restaurants in which string and piano groups played classical groups in the open air.  The music was beautiful, the city was beautiful… I fell asleep that night thinking I must be in heaven.

Park Life or: A Long Slo(venian) Goodbye 28Jul08 | [NickS] 0

As a leisurely morning broke on our frankly enormous bedroom, it dawned on us that we were almost at the end of our travels.  However, the intense emotion was overpowered by another need:  hunger.  Putting our sentimentality aside, we went round the corner to a café and had a hot chocolate.  When I say ‘hot chocolate’, one normally thinks of a drink comprising chocolate, milk…generally powder-based with hot water, perhaps.  Not in Ljubljana.  We were served, quite literally, hot, thick, melted chocolate.  Yummy.  Polishing this off rather sharpish, we had a wander around the impressive colonnaded market under the shadow of the Catholic church. Another slab of watermelon later, and some  shopping for dinner (we were going to cook pasta, what else?), we dumped out bags in our room –  a luxury afforded to us by the incredible location of our accommodation.

Deciding to rent bikes after the success of our journey in Prague, we hit the nearest tourist office.  After passing over ten bikes chained up in the rack outside, we were informed that only 3 bikes were fully functional, with another two to be returned in an hour and a half.  Claiming to be ‘the only bike-rental place in Ljubljana’, the girls, reluctantly agreed to wait, choosing to pass the time by forcing themselves into the nearest H&M.  Myself and Nick Manners, choosing to immerse ourself in culture, scarpered.  We had a walk around the impressive museum buildings (they were closed, because it was a Monday) and saw the lavish university.  Wandering across the river and having an altogether nice little circuit of the city’s back streets, we settled into a table at the Abcedarium (in the oldest house in Ljubljana) for some lunch and to work on our tans.  Running late for our bike reservation, but full of salad nicoise and lamb cutlets, dumplings and ravioli, we arrived at the tourist office, where we found the information lady telling some other people about other bike agencies in Ljubljana.  Well I never.

Parting with five euros each, we were off.  Not the most structurally-sound bikes ever engineered, as mechanical undergraduate Mr. Manners could testify after Maz was lumbered with a unique tilting saddle, but two wheels was better than none, as we didn’t have an adequate spare bike.  The slicks were holding up and we had enough fuel to last the middle stint.  Aiming to get to Tivoli Park for some yoga at six (favourably advertised in the Ljubljana festival/events calendar), we cycled to the nearest bank to change various currencies we found in various nooks and crannies (except Lei! Why can’t we get rid of our Lei?) and decided to see Parliament, which, as a building, turned out to be less impressive than the Science Museum in London.  Right.

By the time we needed anotherr pit stop, we’d found a café after a particularly gruelling section through the centre of the park. With the gravel traps wreaking havok with our tires, we found a grassy patch to sit down in.  Smothering ourselves in a sun-tan top-up, the men tested the brakes and put in a few warm-up laps for the evening session.  Leading the formation out to find the yoga, a catastrophic navigational failure meant that we returned to the pits with terrible telemetry.

Cooking pasta back at the hostel, we struck up further conversation with  Guy, an Oxford hopeful, Kim, an Australian and Steve, the resident Scouse.  Well, everywhere’s got one. Kim and Steve headed off to the castle for a drink, where we were to join them later to watch Last Train to Elah (with Slovenian subtitles) on a huge screen in the castle grounds.  Guy was heading to Belgrade, and on our advice was going to book a stay in Sibiu and Sighisoara.

After two and a half hours of Tommy Lee Jones, we walked back down the hill with our two new friends in tow and finished off the night in the same café we had our ‘breakfast’.  Sadly, by this time they had worked out how to make an old-fashioned instant hot chocolate.  Powder and water – how very disappointing.  We were left with sharing anecdotes in our dorm room (did I mention it was frankly enormous?), sentimentally reflecting on our journey drawing to a close.

Making the Most of It 27Jul08 | [Maz] 12

We left Zagreb early in the morning to catch the train to Ljubljana, a mere two hour ride which passed without a hitch, allowing Gill the perfect opportunity to perfect her travelling past-time – knitting purple wrist-bands for us.  Others find it odd, we find it charming.  Anyway, the unattractive Ljubljana station was flanked by a McDonald’s, conveniently enabling us to eat both breakfast and brunch, before walking to our hostel.  Turning the corner, we found the most attractive city we’d been to, yet.  Yes, even better than Prague.  There were few people milling around, and the hostel was just in front of the quaint Dragon Bridge, with a view of the impressive castle.

We found out that we could not check in until about four, which left us with three hours to kill, so we went to the castle and had a wander up and down the river.  The array of bridges, fountains and statues added to the charm of the city, as well as the imposing Catholic churches dotted around the squares.

Returning to Most Hostel and settling in, we relaxed in our massive dorm (with its own sofa), freshened up and went to the double-recommended Sokol restaurant.  It means ‘eagle’ and was in both the guidebook and the hostelier’s recommended list of places.  The fantastically atmospheric inn-style place served up some traditional Slovenian cuisine for us, including Gill’s onion soup, served in a bread cup, and Nick Stylianou’s lovely game goulash.

We looked for a club called Global, but again, without breaking our little tradition, we found that it had been shut for two months. Then we went to bed. 


Zig-Zag 26Jul08 | [Gill] 0

The 26th was our main day for conquering Zagreb, and so it was the usual early up-and-out.  A few stops down the tram line was the main square with a fruit market that looked and smelled delicious.  Despite best nutritional intentions, many of our meals this holiday have consisted of a slab of bread, with the possible bonus of rubbery ham or cheese, so this was a rare occasion when we fuelled up with Vitamin C.
Having deflated our chances of developing scurvy, we headed up to have a look in a church, only to hastily retreat when we discovered they were having mass.  Instead we went up a size and went to the impressive Zagreb Cathedral.  Inside was the sarcophogus of Archbishop Stepinac, and outside we visited a museum dedicated to his life.  This was rendered a lot more interesting than it sounds by an extremely friendly, if rather eccentric, nun.  In excellent English she gave us a detailed history of Archbishop Stepinac and hs life (very useful as everything was in Croatian), and then insisted we watched a video about him.

This should have been a simple process, but unfortunately watching the English translation required a bit more technical know-how than our 60 year old nun had.  I must confess that I don’t know muc about nuns, but I was quite shocked when she exclaimed “OH MY GOD!” as the TV screens flickered on and off wildly, and also “Argh…Blow it all up” as she strode off to find some instructions.  In the end, our very own Nick Stylianou managed to save the day by sorting it out, and we sat down to learn about Archbishop of Stepinac, who is revered by Croatians for strongly supporting peoples’ freedom and rights during World War II, and following Communist oppressors regardless of nationality, religion etc.

After this, we climbed up to St.Mark’s square, where we believed Parliament to be, found a fairly dull, classic fronted building – attractive but exactly like those which we have seen in about every capital city, but some furious map consultation revealed that this building, devoid of police or tourists, was indeed Parliament.

Somewhat underwhelmed, we continued to the Museum of Zagreb, which had an extremely detailed history of Zagreb, and an exhibition about the famous fashion designer, Zuzi.

After a big lunch to avoid rain showers that seem to perpetually follow us, we had a leisurely walk around the gardens, and puzzled other park visitors by taking pictures of ourselves in letter shapes so that we spelled INTERTHINK.

By the time we got back to the hostel we were all tired, and so were delighted to get our free beer and socialise with the Streatham girls we had met the day before, as well as a girl from Manchester and the 6th inhabitant of our room, a guy from Aberdeen called Jamie.  This group then headed out to central Zagreb to find womewhere to o out.  First we went to a bar that had about 5 other patrons and didn’t serve most of it’s menu (like cocktails…What kind of a beach-themed bar doesn’t serve cocktails?), and after contemplating ignoring the bill as the waiter couldn’t be found, we went to search for a more lively atmosphere.  This came in the form of a cheesy bar/club in a park, which despite not being too exciting, we managed to stay at until 4a m talking about films and weird things about Scotland.  And so we stumbled back to Hostel Lika, pausing only to set our alarms for 8am, a mere 3 and a half hours later.

Best Western 25Jul08 | [NickS] 56

After leaving Serbia with a fistful of dinars, we caught an efficient German train heading to Salzburg, via Zagreb.  This piece of wealthy engineering had air-conditioning and odourless compartments.  If that wasn’t an indication that we were heading West from here, I don’t know what else would have been.

Dozing on the train, ever fearful that we might end up somewhere we’d rather not go to (yeah, we’re still smarting from the Slovakia incident…), we pulled up at Zagreb’s main station.  Helpfully, the directions from the main station, where there was a rather large advert for our chosen hostel, included a rather cryptic instruction to get a tram to Slavonska and “follow the yellow feet”.

As it turns out, these yellow feet were a Wizard of Oz-style path to follow to our accommodation.  With a huge Croatian flag draped over the exterior, we were welcomed by a buxom Croat lass who instructed us to hold tight for a bit while her elderly workman friend welded some railings together.    The usual routine of paying and handing over passports took second place in our minds while we were contemplating what the huge signs saying “FREE BEER” meant, while totally ignoring what seemed like an endless list of “Rules” displayed on an adjacent board.  As students, we have to get our priorities straight.  Actually, it was exactly as described – turn up between 6.30 and 9.30 in reception and get a free beer.  Ice cold.  Awesome.

So it was a little cramped, there was no kitchen, and we met some girls from Streatham (I’ll leave you to decide on where that fits in), but it was clean and there was free beer.

Suitably sated, we headed into downtown via another tram we didnt pay for.  Of note, Budapest has been the only city not to operate a trust-based punch-in-punch-out ticketing system.  Simply put, it means that apart from Hungary, we haven’t paid a penny (or bani, or lei…) for public transport.

Finding a very well-recommended Italian restaurant, we settled in to some posh nosh, failed to find an exciting bar (as is our custom) and came home, where our sixth dorm member was asleep.

Blue Danube 24Jul08 | [Rio] 0

We woke to a more promising looking second day in Belgrade.  If slightly dodgy politically at our time of arrival, we hadn’t witnessed anything extraordinary, except the ridiculous amounts of rain.  The weather looked better today, though.

After a liberal suncream application and a pilgrimage to the truly delicious local 24 hour bakery, we walked over to the ruins of a fortress held by the Austrians, and then the Ottomans… I lose track, but Serbia seems to have been occupied by most of the rest of the Eastern bloc at some point in it’s history.  As a result of Serbia constantly being fought over, the fortress especially (as the main building in Belgrade all those years ago) must have seen it’s fair share of conflict – fittingly, in the grounds of the fortress was a military museum, displaying tanks and other weaponry; models of those used in Serbia throughout the centuries.  Nick and Nick nearly cried with happiness.  Boys and their toys…

Also in the grounds of the fortress was a bar called ‘Oh, Cinema!’ with huge screens playing some sort of Harrison Ford extravaganza.  The location of the open-air bar was absolutely stunning, but I don’t think the Serbians have really picked up on the English tradition of a pint at 11am, becuase it was virtually deserted.  We did come back in the vening, but the bar was still fairly empty – the views made it worth stopping off for a drink, though.

After a wander through the park grounds adjacent to the fortress ruins, we decided to stop for lunch at a highly recommthe ended cafe (we found it in Nick S’ guide book, which has proved invaluable throughout the trip) called ‘?’.  The cafe was situated next to a cathedral, and was asked to change it’s name from ‘The cafe at the Cathedral’ as the cathedral didn’t want any affiliation with it.  The food was nice enough, but the most incredible part of the meal was that it emerged that Nick Manners had no idea what t toilet brush is.  Mr. and Mrs. Manners, you have raised a funny, intelligent and well-rounded individual, but his failing is that apparently, he is not in the habit of leaving the toilet in an attractive state after relieving himself.  How could he possibly have missed the trusty toilet brush?

After lunch, we visited the Konak (residence) of Princess Ljubica. The house was very attractive, and decorated with furniture from all sorts of eras, but it wasn’t as big as I expected.  In fact, the curse of living such a priveleged Surrey lie that we are so used to huge grandeur that it’s dificult to appreciate how wealthy the Princess must have been in comparison with the rest of the Serbian population, as opposed to how wealthy she was in comparison with most of our friends (about the same).

We spend the evening getting ready to go out, in the ‘European clubbing centre’.  Disappointingly, we didn’t seem to find the wild clubbing scene, and had to leave the raft club afloat on the Danube before the party got going, ready to get up early the next morning.

Bring On Belgrade 23Jul08 | [Maz] 0

Arriving at the hostel and finding two men asleep in our room meant that yes, it was indeed time to go out and find lunch. We were told by the owner of Star Hostel of a nice little restaurant about 50m away that did proper food (i.e. cooked meat) for very cheap prices. We needed no further encouragement. After having a Serbian version of sausage and beans, duck pie and some omelettes we returned to Star Hostel for some desperately needed kip.

We went to sleep for a long long time due to not having any shut eye the night before. It was about 6 in the evening before we decided to do anything and I was still bloody tired, but no, that’s not the spirit apparently, so off we went sight-seeing.

I must admit, Belgrade is far more beautiful than I thought it would be. The Church of St. Sava (the largest one in Serbia) was so stunning that I almost converted there and then, but then I thought about it and realised it would be far too much effort for this time in the evening so I stuck with atheism.

We also saw Parliament which had a considerably small amount of security despite the fact that two days ago there had apparently been protests. The sole measure taken to avoid being stormed by an armed angry mob was apparently the little 15x15cm picture of a gun with a red line through it. Hmm, not sure if that’d go down too well in London.

Throughout our nighttime tour of Belgrade, we were all shocked by the huge amounts of 24-hour bakeries – I mean, these Serbians must really love their cakes. No complaints from this group of malnourished underfunded student travellers though, we took full advantage of the service.

Our last stop on our night city circuit was the remains of the old bombed out television studios. I don’t want to say it was the ‘highlight’ because that seems a slightly odd thing to say about such a thing, but it was most certainly very moving and what I found to be the most interesting part of our outing that evening.

I also cannot tell you how relieved I was that there were no more bloody clock towers to climb.

After the sightseeing decided to try and find a small bar near the hostel to find a quiet drink. But no, this is interthink, nothing is ever that easy. For about the third time on our travels the recommended bar does not appear to exist in this plane of reality.

So defeated we trudged back to the hostel, a lot more culturally informed, but very very sober.

We’re going through changes 22Jul08 | [Gill] 0

Tuesday morning was a conventional interthink start – an early awakening for sightseeing to make up for the fact that we’re only in each place for a couple of days.  The pressure was really on today though, because we discovered on arrival that Monday was the day everything was closed, so we had even less time to gorge ourselves on museums.  Imagine our delight when, having got up specially early, we discovered that our guide book is full of dirty lies and the museums we planned to see opened at 10, meaning we had to wait around for ages in the town square, grumbling about the warm beds we had left behind.

Whilst the museums were alright, none of them seemed particularly staggering, although maybe that’s because we were tired and we’ve seen so many recently.  The highlights of the visit was probably finding Guildford on a very old map of Europe (and the elaborate mission to take a picture of this whilst avoiding the gaze of the grumpy security guard), and bumping into some French people who’d been in our hostel in Sighisoara.  We also seemed to repeatedly get on the wrong side of the staff, for instance in the gallery, where Nick S committed the heinous crime of pointing at a picture so that his finger extended past the imaginary line created by the rope in front of it, which was punished by some hag coming along and saying “Can your words not be good enough to show the picture without you going past the line?”.  The group was later rebuked for sitting on chairs (and indeed earlier by the police for sitting on the ground), and at the beginning of every exhibition someone wanted to pick a fight about whether we had the right ticket or not.

By now it was drizzling, and so things did not bode well for our visit to the open air ASTRA museum, which was a large collection of traditional rural Romanian buildings spread round a lake.

No doubt it is very pleasant to stroll around in good weather, stopping to admire the old wooden skittles alley or the house of a tanner and so on.  In the rain and the mud however, the long walk is less appealing.  Furthermore, we had all been looking forward to reaching the “working inn” part way round for some hot food and drink, so we were disappointed when the ordering process went like this:

5 hot chocolates please
No hot chocolate.
Oh.  OK well we’ll get 5 cold drinks and just get hot food.  4 plates of chips and 3 omelettes please.
Omelettes not in afternoon.  Chips not served by themselves.

It seemed that we could find nothing satisfactory as the majority of the menu we had been presented with was apparently unavailable, and so in the end we sat there with our cold drinks feeling miserable.

The night was a night we had been dreading for the whole trip.  An overnight journey to Belgrade, but consisting of 3 trains and 2 long waits in stations with facilities that were limited at best.  One such example of this was the toilets at Vintu de Jos.  After hanging on with all our might, since the toilet on the train was enough to make a blind man with no sense of smell throw up, we dashed to the station toilets.  The womens’ was however inexplicably closed off, and the mens’ left something to be desired.  The best thing I can say about it is that the absence of a working light at least meant you couldn’t see how dirty it was.  Still, this was better than the next station which had nothing at all.

On our second train we made friends with some random middle aged drunk Romanians who insisted on giving us their compartment.  Their kindness also extended to frequently offering us some suspicious beer in a plastic bottle, however we gracefully declined this hospitality.  Despite not speaking a word of Romanian, Nick S managed some sort of conversation with the ringleader, which mainly involved gestures so wild that he accidently flicked off his glasses, and translations for the rest of the group that ran something like “The old man is very happy.  He would like to be friends with us.  He may or may not have just pissed himself.”  (This theory was later dispelled when we realised the intense stench of piss occured every time someone opened the door in the carriage and the air from the toilet at the end wafted down the corridor).  Although we were slightly wary of these men and decided not to fall asleep whilst they were still on the train, in the end they did just turn out to be friendly, if rather inebriated, eccentric locals.

Our second train station wait was longer than expected, as our train was delayed by about 45 minutes.  Cue 5 freezing, hungry, smelly English teenagers standing on a platform in the middle of bloody nowhere descending into delerium as they wonder where the hell their train is (English translation of Romanian train boards being totally out of the question).  Things even got desperate enough for the last Dextrose to be cracked out, and for Rio to be finally allowed to tell Maz the longest and most disappointing joke the world has ever witnessed.  By the time our train eventually came we were on the verge of throwing ourselves in front of it.

But no, in the end, tired, very cold, hungry, smelly, and slightly less good friends than before, we finally made it to Belgrade.