Friday, 27 May 2011

Ohh, moppie moppie moppie

Last weekend we travelled for 18+ hours each way and spent a ridiculous amount on train tickets in order to spend just over a day in Amsterdam. A waste of time and money? Definitely not!

Amsterdam, we were told, is not particularly famous for any stunning architecture or historical sights; instead it is famous, or maybe that should be infamous, for its liberal take on things, especially the legality of cannabis and prostitution. The city centre is built in the shape of an octagon (with a bit sliced off the top where it meets the water) and has canals running all around it. We spent the morning on a canal ride which was very much like all other touristy boat rides- not much to say there other than that it was very pleasant and watery. The afternoon became very hot and after posing in large letters saying 'I amsterdam' in the Museumplein everyone went for a paddle in a deliciously refreshing-looking fountain.. everyone except yours truly who stupidly decided to wear tights and had to sit out looking sad. We then paid 4€ to go round the Sex Museum and had a good giggle at all of the weird and wonderful phallic-shaped objects it contained.


In the evening we had a wander down to city's the red light district which was massively disorientating and a little bit scary (although I'm not sure how much of this was to do with the muffin I had eaten in a 'coffeeshop' a few hours beforehand) and consisted of narrow streets with prostitutes sitting in glass windows and large groups of men, presumably on stag dos, wandering round gawping at them. My lasting impression of the place was of the scary rubbery appearance of the prostitutes and the horrible leery eyes of the men, and I was glad to escape that area of the city and go and get a chocolate waffle.

As soon as we arrived in Amsterdam I was tinged with sadness that our stay in the city would be so brief, however I think we managed to pack such a great deal into our day that I don't regret it one bit.

By the way, the title is taken from a wonderful piece of Dutch hip-hop (call me naïve, but I didn't even know the genre existed) called 'Moppie', which we heard in the foyer of a hostel. Those interested can listen to it here. Moppie apparantly means 'babe' in Dutch.

Okay, I must dash as we're baking cakes this afternoon! My life has been devoid of banana bread for too long.


Monday, 16 May 2011

An effing good trip

This is an entry I have wanted to write for quite a while now; unfortunately, due to a nasty 3000-word German literature essay inconveniently getting in the way, I haven't been allowing myself to write anything non-academic. However this meant that instead of concentrating on my work, most of the time I just ended up writing nothing at all.

But anyway, this entry is about my recent trips to Prague and then to a small village in Austria called Fucking, stopping off in Salzburg on the way.


We went to Prague as a group of five: three Americans and two Brits. The whole trip was quite spontaneous- three days beforehand it just looked like it was going to remain a pipe dream until someone miraculously stumbled across a hostel with vacancies and so brought it to fruition.


Our first stop across the Czech border was in the town of Plzeň, the homeland of Pilsner beer. We thought that a place so close to the German border would be almost identical to Germany aside from the language.. how wrong we were. Admittedly we saw little of the town outside of the Eastern Bloc-era train station, but unfortunately what we did see lived up to all the wrong stereotypes: grey, grotty and run-down. We did however spot a large Tesco upon arrival, which caused much excitement for Kim and I and much confusion for the Americans. After an interesting 'conversation' with a lady selling tickets who spoke nothing but Czech, neither party understanding what the other was saying, we made it onto our connecting train into the capital.

I do think that you get a much better taste of a country if travelling by train; whilst coursing through the Czech countryside we saw beautiful fields and forests which we would have missed entirely had we gone by plane.


Prague station was a world away from the one at Plzeň and it set the stage for Prague as a whole: a historic yet modern city full to the brim with tourists. The shopkeepers and waiters in the city spoke near-perfect English, and although I don't like to rely on others speaking my language when abroad, the handful of Czech phrases I had learnt for the trip wouldn't nearly have been enough to get me by.


As we were in the city over the Easter weekend, there were a large number of market stalls and food stands in the Old Town Square including a lot of places selling a Slovakian speciality called trdelník, a tasty sweet pastry grilled on a stick and covered in sugar and cinnamon. Another Easter tradition in the Czech Republic is for the boys to whip girls on the legs with wicker sticks called 'pomlazka', the tradition being that they bring youth and good health to those they are used on. Kim, Jenny and I (although we didn't know this background information at the time) saw some pomlazka in a shop, were drawn in by their charms and so bought one each. Needless to say a lot of whipping ensued.


We were all sad when our three days in Prague drew to a close, but less than twelve hours after arriving back home we set off again for our next adventure:

Salzburg and Fucking

This trip was possibly the longest and furthest journey I would ever make to have my photo taken with a rude-sounding road sign. Before reaching the unfortunately named village of Fucking in the Austrian countryside, we had a six hour journey ahead of us to Salzburg, near the German-Austrian border. This, however, brings me to another reason why I love train travel- party time! Our large group of international students occupied the whole rear carriage of the train and, thanks to a swift trip to Lidl during our changeover in Landshut, we had with us copious amounts of alcohol to help pass the time.


I am ashamed to say that I managed to polish off quite a lot of beer during those few hours and by the time we arrived into Salzburg I wasn't sure I wanted to get off and would quite happily have stayed on the train for another round of YMCA. As a direct result of my beer consumption, my memories of us all venturing up to the castle and enjoying the beautiful panoramic views from the top are hazy at best.

Our hostel was huge, painted orange inside and out and played The Sound of Music every night in the foyer, although we didn't stay there very long at all due to having to get up at 5:30 the next morning to set off for Fucking. The journey from Salzburg to Fucking was a complicated one: first we took a bus, then a train, then a coach, then the last part we did on foot. The weather was beautiful, as was the countryside we passed through, and as I had managed to escape a hangover I quite enjoyed the walk.


The village of Fucking bears no relation to its vulgar title: it is just a very unassuming settlement of pretty houses and farm buildings with the odd car passing through every so often. Nonetheless we had great fun posing in front of the signs and also managed to befriend a local cat who we tried to get into a photo of us but ended up vomiting just as the camera's shutter clicked.


I shall treasure my photos of the day we went to Fucking- definitely one to bring out in fifty years' time to prove that I was once young and interesting! This weekend a group of us are going to Amsterdam and I cannot wait for our next adventure.