Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Namur - Brugges - London

Recap - Doug, Jim and I found the coolest hostel in Belgium. The staff were totally laid back in stark contrast to the iron rule of the disciplinarian German hostels. We'd planned a bike ride but sat around writing "Let's Go Home", drinking beer, listening to tunes and basically ruling the roost.

Eventually Teri and Diane fucked off somewhere so we could concentrate on everyone else. It was a fair crew who sat around the table genuinely wanting to be involved in our project. They all had stories of being crapped on during their travels or accounts of bad places to visit. We included the lot. It didn't take long for us to devise the format for all contributions; it had to have a nasty cheap dive, a really fucked up host and the worst possible scenery. We spent all day and a lot of the night on the thing and our brilliant host, Dave, kept us supplied with beer and music. Eventually later in evening the beer took hold and we couldn't be fucked writing any more. We stuffed most of the scribblings into a folder and entrusted Doug with its safe conveyance to the publishers. We should have known. At least Jim or I would have actually tried something. When I asked Doug about it a couple of years later he just laughed and said,

"You're not serious. That piece of crap? I trashed it."

If we'd been a rock band that would have caused the Big Split, followed by ever-lessening solo careers, then by guest spots on TV quiz shows and finally, twenty years later, a half-arsed attempt at a comeback tour. But we weren't a rock band and if I'd wanted I could have recreated most of it from memory at the time, having spent a couple of days going over it and basically knowing all the best bits and enough of the rest to wing it. That however would have taken a bit of effort which wasn't really in either of our natures. Would have been fucking funny though.

During the night various people had spent time in the kitchen cooking up tasty dishes so with "Let's Go Home" now secured in Doug's safe hands (cough, cough) we tucked in on a range of pasta, stews and salads. These were accompanied by some reds from France and a couple of Moselle and Riesling varieties. How fucking civilised! I helped Karen clean up in the kitchen and we were joined by a couple of the Brits. We remarked on how the laid-back atmosphere felt so much better than some of the luft stalags we'd previously stayed in. Karen was helping run the place basically for free room and board. She was adamant that the style of the place was down to Dave, the American who ran it;

"He really doesn't give a stuff for rules. He's only had to eject two people and they were basically vagrants. One thing he doesn't accept is school groups. The place is too small and they're too much trouble." My memories of the German troupes we'd seen flooded back,

"Yeah, the Kraut Kinder. I've seen them in action. Nasty business." Karen just nodded.

No Kraut Kinder, no gestapo tactics needed to keep them in check.

When I got back to the lounge everyone was settled in, listening to Doug's description of the events leading up to the encounter with the Crazy Belgian and what happened afterwards. Everyone was enthralled, particularly with Doug's descriptions of CB's scarred face. He made it sound like we'd encountered Freddy.

"Degeulasse. Sounds very degeulasse." Was Dave's comment.

"What the fuck does 'degeulasse' mean? What a great word!" I loved it and wanted to know about it.

"It means gross. Yucky. Very unclassy."

From then on we used it frequently.

Because we'd been running this whole "Let's Go Home" thing Doug, Jim and myself found ourselves fielding a few questions about what we'd been up to. I banged on about the cool vibe of Il de Batz, tooling around in Switzerland with Dave from Preston. Doug had people chuckling at his descriptions of Nijmegen and Jim did a great Werner Klemperer whilst describing the hostel oberfuhrer in Bingen and our impromptu beerfest there. All the while our host Degeulasse Dave made sure the music was pumping and the drinks flowing. He reminded me again that our original intention had been to go cycling that day. I reminded him that even though his margins on the beer weren't great he was doing better business with that than hiring out bicycles which we probably would have returned to him via the agency of a scrap truck. The evening lasted well into the morning with us eventually surrendering to the call of Crash Dance.

At our breakfast we were once again surprised with the culinary skills of a few of our fellow travellers. There was a big stack of beer pancakes and one of the Brits turned out to be handy at French toast. Just what we needed. We bid farewell to the Namur crew with promises to meet up at the Oktoberfest. It was to be opening day in the Hofbrauhaus tent at midday. I hadn't figured out how I'd manage it but I was certainly going to suss it out. Doug, Jim and I got on a train to Brussels where we said goodbye to Jim. He was off RV'ing with some friends while I had a couple of days before I was due back in London. Nice to meet you Jim, it was fun.

We disembarked in Brugges and did a bit of a tour of the city before traipsing out to the hostel. By this stage our hangovers told us we needed to rest so we crashed out on the front lawn decorating it as sozzled, over sized garden gnomes. After checking in we freshened up and headed back into town. Doug had met some people in Brugges before so we went to a couple of bars and caught up with the crew. Dinner was bar food and the drinks were a series of Belgian beers selected by a couple of our new friends. They even got the DJ to play some Aussie standards - INXS, Men at Work, Midnight Oil. After a while I felt the effects of a couple of months travelling, partying and not being settled. I zoned out, just watching the crowd, noticing how it moved, ebbing and flowing with occasional eruptions and then back into its flow again. Sort of reminded me of watching the ocean. In my reverie I was clipped back into the moment via the agency of Doug's hand slapping on my shoulder,

"Sure you have to get back to London? There's still a lot to be done here."

I was hesitant,

"Yeah, I know. A week down in Greece would be fine. If you get there, go to Ios. Lots and lots of drunk Scandinavians. But still, I have some people to see in London."

"Those guys you missed in Basel. Look how much fun you've had because of that."

"Yeah, I know. It's been a blast but I need to catch up with them. Besides, my rail pass runs out soon and I don't think I could afford another one. You gonna go and pick up your bike from Nancy's?" Neither of us really wanted to spin this out with maudlin talk.

"I'm going to do a bit more on the train. Catch up with Jim again in a week. I'm due to fly back pretty soon after the Oktoberfest." He looked around, " I s'pose we'd better split, its getting close to Fruhstuck Express Punkin Time."

"Okay Cap'n Doug. Move 'em out."

We said our goodbyes to the Brugges crew and made it back to the hostel before curfew time. We split beers and a half bottle of schnapps in the lounge room, chatting about future plans and what we'd experienced. I'd already pretty much decided that my next travel destination was North America, so I was going to make Toronto a definite stop just so as I could annoy the crap out of Doug in his home town. Act like one of those guests who you have to have ejected by blokes called Vito or Tui. As we stumbled into our dorm we noticed a row of packs with the German flag on them. Another troop of German teenagers. Great, I wasn't going to miss those guys. I slept with my .303 ready at hand and a grenade clipped to the side of the bunk. I'd seen enough war movies.

We avoided the army camp fruhstuck and headed to the station, finding a cafe which did tasty waffles for breakfast and great coffee. Nice. So it was bye-bye Doug at the station as I headed off to Oostende for a ferry to England. We both did the bottom lip pout as we waved but it looked so stupid that we cracked up. As the train rattled on I thought about what we'd done and how lucky I'd been running into Doug. He was worth it, if only for his Gorilla Hangover Theory. My thoughts went back to Basel. Oh yeah, that's right. I needed to give Jerry and Chris a big serve when I caught up with them in London.

I hit Oostende and lobbed onto a ferry bound for England. It had a bar so I spent some time between that and watching vids of crap movies. The Duty Free store came in handy for cheap booze and smokes. At Dover I made it through UK Customs, lobbed onto a train to Victoria and then a tube to Paddington. When we'd first hit London a few months back we'd stayed in a hotel for a couple of days and then found a cheap dive near Lancaster Gate. It was called Derry Downs and was run by a Portuguese lady, her alcoholic husband, two large dogs and a cat dying of cancer. The husband in desparation one time actually drank the cat's cancer medicine which, as I pointed out to Jerry, subsequently put him in the dog house.

This place was popular with Aussie, Kiwi and Seth Efricken travellers who used it as their London base. You could leave excess luggage there and be confident it would remain untouched. So it was Derry Downs I walked into early one evening with the grime of travel, a Brugges Youth Hostel breakfast ticket in my back pocket and a bag of duty frees in my hand . I cleaned up, went to the London Walkabout Club (22A Craven Terrace, Lancaster Gate) and collected a stack of mail from home. I read through these down in the bar, nursing a pint. After I finished those and caught up with the latest football scores I recognised one of the guys from Derry Downs. I had a beer with him and he told me about a bad taste party back at DD that night. I was impressed and remarked,
"That's nice of you lot to throw me a Welcome Back Party. Didn't know you cared."

"Ha, nice coincidence but it does give us another excuse to go hard."

We headed back there, stopping off to get some beers on the way. I had no party clothes so I simply smeared some coffee onto the crack side of a pair of white jocks, wore them outside my jeans and smeared more coffee onto a strip of toilet paper and hung it out the back of my jocks. Apparently that was good enough. I recognised a few faces and we all hooked into some beers, Scotch and catch up of what we'd been up to. The party lasted until about two when it broke up into a couple of sub-parties. The one in my room lasted about half an hour. I sprawled on my bed, trying to keep my eyes open so they could record any funny bits. It didn't work. In my nearly unconscious state I'm sure I heard someone say,
"Welcome back to London, mate. Have a good sleep, you'll need it."

Friday, July 24, 2009


Doug and I clambered aboard the train and Doug explained a bit about Jim. He was American but not the college type who had a four week Euro trip all planned out with lists of things to tick off. He was basically cruising around, checking things out and getting into the vibe of a European summer. We changed trains at Koln and made it to Bingen. We went into the main station and Doug went off to find Jim. Be buggered if he didn't pick him out, first up. A surprising chap was Doug. They'd planned the time and place and were spot on.

"G'day Jim, how are ya?" I stuck out my hand,

"Getting thirsty, Nick. I've figured out where the Youth hostel is." He seemed pretty switched on.

"But not in Bingen. I'm fine for Dusseldorf!" Then he and Doug cracked up and I soon joined them. The ball-bearing plant in Dusseldorf was a standard Hogan's Heroes gag and Doug and I had played it out a few times. Jim had obviously done the same. We hoisted our packs and moved out. My main memory of getting to the hostel was Jim asking people "Vo is der Jugendherberge" and getting no response. On the way we pointed out a couple of likely venues for the evening's frivolities.

After checking in we sussed out the curfew time and did a recon of the ground floor windows. The idea was that on our way out we'd prop one slightly ajar, hence giving us an in to the hostel after hours. The Hostel Kommandant had obviously done his research and installed proper latches with key locks. Bastard, he had us worked out. We checked the first floor but it was the same. The whole place would be secured at night; no good having the prisoners come and go when they please. We ran a book on the name of the jugendherbergoberfuhrer being Major Hochstetter. Waht it boiled down to was the enforcement of a relatively early night. .

We started our night with a meal at a pizza joint accompanied by a nice drop of Schoftehoffer beer. Then we hit a local beer garden which was okay but more tourist class than anything. We wandered around checking places out and ended up in a small bierhaus which was more like a pub than a beer hall. Jim again tried out his German on the locals but got nowhere. I gave him points for persistence. Each time he tried Doug would crack up with laughter and that would set me off. Poor old Jim had no chance. We settled in for a few hours, piecing together each others' journeys and laughing at our combined misadventures. Jim thought the Crazy Belgian was the funniest episode and was appalled that I couldn't convincwe both Ann and Leina to share my bed. He and Doug had seen a bit of Germany together and told some tales of messy times.

Fifteen minutes before curfew we realised we'd be having to get back to the luftstalag before the gates were shut. Nothing for it but to take some pubness back with us. This ended up being a stack of beers. Where in the hostel would we drink them?

"How about the kitchen? It has a fridge." I thought my idea was good.

"No, Klink's room is next door. He'd wake up for sure and plug us with his Luger." Jim was right and then Doug settled the matter,

"The locker room. It has sinks where we can stash the beer."

When we reached the hostel the main lights were out, with only the night security globes still lit. Well that was enough light for us to get into the locker room. So it was there that Jim showed me how to do those complimicated homey hand shakes, we practiced some hip hop moves and generally went silly, laughing at the idiocy of it all. At one stage I ran out of cigarettes and retrieved a pack I'd bought in Russia. The others were impressed until they lit up. We finished off our last beers at around two in the morning and crashed our way to our bunks.

The Fruhstuck was bearable and necessary the next morning but we needed to supplement the bread roll with some grease. This time we munched out on bierwurst hot dogs. As we munched on these we saw a Rhine cruise boat pull in. On we hopped for a cruise up to Koblenz. We wandered around, saw a laundromat and decided we needed to get our clothes into order again.

Once we'd finished we went to the station and headed off for Koln. During the short trip we looked at our guide books and maps, picking out places. Doug had been in Brugges a week or so back and was keen on revisiting. We sttled on a place called Namur because one of the guidebooks said the hostel had bikes we could hire and the scenery was great. Jim called them and sked them to reserve a few bunks and told them we'd be in around 11.00 p.m. After that we grabbed a six pack for the train and headed off. There were a couple of lay offs on the way so we bought some food for our proposed bike trip the next day.

It was after eleven when we got to thehostel and found it was fairly empty. A few of the staff were still up, and they seemed pretty cool, basically just told us to sit down and chill out. There was one guy behind the counter fiddling with a stereo and we asked him should we dump our packs in the dorm room. He said,

"No, relax. Want a beer?" and he reached down and pulled out four beers and popped them open. We handed him some francs which he looked at and put on the counter,

"I'll figure that out later." His name was Dave and he was American. Karen was Australian and Betty was American.

We'd managed to find the coolest youth hostel crew ever. Dave acted DJ and played mainly sixties classics like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Doors. When we launched into our second beers we asked them about where we should sleep. They pointed in the direction of the dorm rooms but didn't seem fazed about when we crashed. We told them about some of what we'd been up to and who we'd met, including the Crazy Belgian. They claimed not to have known him but we weren't convinced and Doug and I did our best CB impersonations to jog their memories. No dice but we got a few laughs. At two in the morning our packs were where we'd first put them when we walked in, there was a pile of empty beer bottles in a crate and it was time to for beddy-byes.

Around 10.00 I got up and found the others stumbling in the fog of the morning. Freshly showered and wearing clean clothes from the previous day's laundry detail I felt up to speed. Cornflakes and toast were dished up by the crew and I added a toast thing I'd seen in Italy. I toasted bread with a slight drizzle of olive oil under the grill and topped it with sliced tomato, another slight drizzle of the olive stuff and cracked pepper over the top. It went down well.

We then sat arpund the big table of the main room and discussed what we'd do. It wasn't long before Dave got busy with the beers. He told us he could fix up a couple of the bikes for us. We asked about the possibility of rain and he reckoned it was a slight chance.
"Decide later, the offer's still there." he added.

I started writing on a pad of paper about a couple of my experiences. "How to Meet Crazy Belgians" was the first, then Doug had a look and started scribbling his own. Jim grabbed a sheet of paper and chimed in as well. We then started talking about a title for our anti guide book.
We settled on "Let's Go Home" after the popular "Let's Go" series aimed at the backpacker market. It wasn't long before others asked us what we were up to and a Scot and a couple of Brits added their own tales of dodgy events. Dave wrote us off as a bunch of messes, told us he didn't expect us to go bike riding and concentrated on keeping the beers up and the music spinning. The only sour note was a couple of brainless Californian girls. They were impressed with our efforts. We encouraged their interest as normally we'd be going for the vacant types, but these two were simply too punishingly stupid. And their voices were horrendous. During a post mortem on the day Jim told us that on behalf of the U.S. he was deeply, deeply sorry. The fact that out of three young male backpackers full of the juices of life who had had some success with travelling romances, none of us followed up on these bints says something about them. One of them even suggested we put pictures in the little tome of ours. "Let's Go Home" became our pet project for the day and we ended up with a pile of pages of helpful travel advice. We'd worded it like other guide books and thought we were on a winner. We even theorised on how to get the "Let's Go" publishers on side to avoid legal wrangles. Basically the book explained the worst places to visit and the worst people to meet in Europe. Guys from England and Scotland offered tales of really sorry industrial towns they'd been through in Italy, the worst dives in Spain and other assorted place to be avoided. We convinced everyone it was a genuine project and the became the cause celebre of Namur youth hostel for a day.

We also really liked the crew of the hostel and made promises to meet up at the Oktoberfest on opening day, in the Hofbrauhaus Tent at midday. We didn't know where it would be but at least it was a plan. Jim would miss it because he'd be back home in the land of the Big PX by then, but the rest of us were keen. We'd discovered kindred spirits. Karen and Betty also appreciated our efforts in deflecting the inanity of the Californian girls. We asked the two airheads to write about Yugoslavia and Greece and that kept them occupied (and not )for half an hour. So Diane and Teri of Torrance, CA 90504 USA, bad luck girls. Your writings were discarded by Doug at the first opportunity which presented. I believe that may have been just after dinner when he belched, shook his head and announced,
"Bye bye space cakes!", throwing a screwed up piece of paper into the bin.
If anyone wants their full names and an old address, I'm not giving. Seriously, you have better things to do. Like seeing how many nails it takes to fix your ears to a wall.
Trust me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Koln - Kleve - Nijmegen

Lobbing into Koln, I was keen to see whether Doug had showed up. I went to Poste Restante and retrieved a letter from him. Basically he said he'd been there and cut out early for Nijmegen, not really being in good health. "I'm a mess" is what he wrote. My interpretation was "hungover like a bastard, following an attack oby the primate population of 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes'". I checked out the extremely fucking impressive cathedral then made my way to the hostel. There was a notice in German which looked like an order to get in my tank and go and trample all over flower beds in Poland. The actual English translation was "Full for tonight." Hmmm. Bugger. I headed back into the centre of town and got out a map. Time for some planning. Doug would be in Nijmegen the day after tomorrow. Was that right? Better check his letter. No, tomorrow afternoon. What towns are between Koln and Nijmegen? There's one, Kleve. That'll do.

So I went off to Kleve. A cute little sign at the station read "Klever Kleve." How droll. I walked out to the hostel, noting bars and cafes on the way. When I checked in I found that the hostel was incredibly empty. There would have been half a dozen all up in a place which could house at least 60 people. I cooked up a pasta feed and then did a circuit of the grounds. It was well maintained parkland with good gardens and some great lawns which would be fantastic for cricket matches. That was all nice and touristy but I felt like a cool beer and headed back towards town. A couple of blocks in I stopped at a bar I'd mentally earmarked on my walk to the hostel. The Grotto Bar. I walked in with a big grin on my face;

"Ein Pils bitte." The Bieroberfuhrer duly poured one so I slipped him a few marks, took my change and had a look around. It was a weird bar. A melange of a nautical theme combined with rural. It had a horshoe bar service area with attendant wooden stools and a series of tables leading to the rear and side walls which had a stucco finish and sported tacky prints. The other striking feature was the modest number of patrons. I definitely hadn't found Kleve's 'It Place'. I wasn't that concerned, the beer was good and there was sport on TV. It was baseball! I didn't realise Germans liked baseball and given that this was pre-internet, pre-Euro cable TV it was surprising. I didn't recognise the teams at all. No Dodgers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Brewers, Cubs, Indians, Mets or Reds (the only teams I would have been able to pick out). Nevertheless, it was summer, I had beer and there were tasty slices of wurst being handed around. I settled in for some sports. I also checked out the other patrons. They were in a few groups of two and three, mixed gender, casually dressed and neither loud nor obnoxious. They looked like locals.

I ordered another pilsener but this time in a larger glass and the barman asked me where I was from. I explained and he said something about "Jugendherberge" (youth hostel) and I said "Ja".

I asked about the baseball but couldn't understand his reply. I apologised for my lack of German-speakingness and even held back on mentioning how I learnt my German from "Hogan's Heroes". He motioned for one of the other patrons to come over and asked him to act as interpreter. The local asked me where I was from in Australia and I told him Sydney. The barman said,


I replied that I knew where it was and how the fuck did he know of that inner-west home of the Western Suburbs Leagues Club, the Polish Club and a burgeoning Asian population? It turned out he had a cousin who had migrated and settled in Ashfield, running a plumbing supplies business. His cousin was looking to upgrade to the beach. This was before the deep ocean sewerage outfall at Bondi when the stuff used to be piped just slightly offshore. Bondi Mars Bars were a non delicious local delicacy. I advised,
"He should move to Bondi."
Then I explained. The barman laughed and promised to write to his cousin and suggest it, because it sounded like the sort of place which sorely needed plumbing supplies. His laugh was joined by another "grosse" beer, on the house.
"Prosit!" At least I knew a few drinking type phrases. They toasted back and we settled into the sort of conversation which flits about, trying to latch onto common meeting points. I told Hans a bit about Sydney and started in on my usual probes about the West/East German divide.

Like most West Germans these guys were convinced that Germany would one day become whole again. They just didn't want it to be as the result of another war. Also like a lot of other West Germans they only had sporadic contact with family in the East, had done compulsory military service and knew what to do if the Russians invaded. Their military designations would be reactivated, some of their friends would be part of "stay-behind" units if they were overrun by the Russians and they knew where to meet up to be issued weapons and other gear. I asked what the "stay-behinds" were about and was told their job was to melt away when the Russians were on top, and wait for them to pass by, establish ambush points, attack the enemy supply columns and provide intelligence to the NATO commands. That was enough war talk for me. A combination of their accents and their real war plans left me a bit cold. It just seemed that Germans always know what to do when a war comes along. I changed the subject to the baseball on TV. It turned out that the barman hooked into a feed from the US defence force TV network. It was an illegal patch job rigged up by one of his mates who'd been in a communications unit, but he did it because the American college kids staying at the hostel usually liked it and the locals enjoyed it as an occasional curiosity. I finished another grosse beer and accompanied by Germanic farewells, lurched back to the hostel.

There no Fruhstuck on offer in the morning due to the lack of punters so I breathed a sigh of relief and headed back into Kleve. The fuzziness of my brain needed attention. I grabbed a ham roll and hard boiled egg from a cafe type place and hit the station. At the station I was faced by a wait of 2 hours for my Nijmegen hook up. Once again I opened up "Ulysses". This time I lasted six pages before closing the thing in disgust. Jimmy fucking Joyce was a prize wanker. I noticed a few people having a morning beer so I joined them. I noticed this a lot in Germany, commuters at the station having a quick beer before heading to work. They certainly earned my respect. I had most of the day to sleep off a few beers and it was fun, propped at a railway bar, updating my diary and wondering what everyone else I'd met was up to. Fuck 'em. I got on the train, and had a nap. Missed my connection. Damn! What would Colonel Hogan do? Arrange for a bombing operation to hit Dusseldorf. Well, I wasn't interested in the ball bearing plant there but I was interested in the rail connection to Nijmegen. I jumped off the train, switched to one going to Dusseldorf then switched for one to Nijmegen. At last I got off the train and had a half hour wait for Doug to come and get me (we had organised a 5 p.m. meet). After changing money and grabbing a beer I hung in the waiting area. Sure enough, in walked Doug, ten minutes late. We just cracked up. It was both fear of what sort of mess we'd make and knowledge that whatever it was would be funny.

"So we're we headed? The local Fruhstuck Express or has that sheila decided to put us up?" I was fingering my YH card (Fruhstuck Express).

"Lucy's. Not too far to walk, unless you're a messed up Aussie drunk. If I'd known you were handicapped I'd have brought a wheelchair." He was straight at it, time to fire back,

"So is Lucy the name of your speech therapist or the hack who performed your lobotomy?"

"My drug dealer. Speaking of which you have to see the drug shop at the college. You'll love it. Just like Amsterdam but sort of nicer."

We stopped at a beer shop and bought a crate of Grolsch as a sweetener for us and some wine and flowers as a sweetener for Lucy. Nothing like getting in an apology present before the fact. We made it to Lucy's with our arms full of gifts and booze. She seemed happy to see me but I had my doubts as to how long that would last. Her connection with Doug was that she was a cousin of a family friend. She was Dutch, spent a lot of her school years in Toronto and was now studying in Nijmegen. She spoke perfect English (except for the Canuck accent, ay) and was looking forward to our visit. We'd planned on two days, it ended up being a day longer than that.

Lucy had a number of student friends who were keen to meet up that night. First up we had a beer and Lucy served spaghetti bolognese to fuel us up. It was great to see that student cooking is the same in Europe as back home. Spag Bol. It was delicious, she had a fine touch. Next on the agenda was the local campus and their drug shop. It was a casual thing based in the student union office. I checked out all their products from Lebanese Blond to Durban Redhead. Doug settled on some Moroccan hash and after a smell test, I bought some Jamacian heads. We didn't buy a lot, just enough for a couple of days. Then it was off to Swing Bar. It was on a nighclub/cafe strip and when I walked in it reminded me of some bars and cafes in Amsterdam. We got some beers and sat on lounges, rolling up spliffs. I took it easy, not knowing the strength of the gear and was glad. My stuff was a creeper, the sort of smoke which doesn't smack you around the head but gradually builds up. And build it did. There was a group of six of us but I had no clue as to who the others were. Well, I had some clue but their names all blurred into each other as the music cranked in and they all started passing funny smokes around. The locals started in on playing mind games with Doug who was grinning and laughing at my tales of France and Germany. The students would say something in perfect English and then continue on in Dutch. When he asked them to repeat they'd do it all in English. Then Dutch. After the third time he caught on but couldn't do much about it, being monolingual. I simply cracked up. These Dutch had been out with Doug the previous two nights and had a game plan for fucking with his mind. I learned to recognise the warning signs by Doug's admission,

"They're playing mind games again."

We left Swing Bar in fine form and ended up at another bar for a few beers and swapping war stories. Eventually we headed back to Lucy's on bicycles. Where the fuck had they come from? Oh yeah, we'd ridden them. When we arrived back we munched out on left over spag bol and bread rolls. We washed this down with more beers and sat around chatting and listening to music. After a few months of mainly living in hostels, under canvas, in cheap dives and sleeping on trains, ferries and an occasional bus it was great being in a proper loungeroom. It had real house furniture and finishes, all the bits and pieces which make something a home, not a dive for the night. The warm glow I felt wasn't just the booze or the smoke, it was feeling of being at someone's home. I just went all hippy like and grooved on the vibe. Doug and I caught up again, explaining where we'd been and what we'd been up to. He'd biked around mainly in northern Europe getting up to mischief in Germany, Holland and Belgium. He had a couple of ideas of what to do after Nijmegen, as did I.

I crashed out very pleased with myself on a few counts; firstly I hadn't made an arse of myself under the influence; secondly I hadn't made any dyke jokes and lastly I was in the company of fine people. We stumbled out of our beds around ten the next morning and I cooked up some breakfast of suitably greasy consistency. Fuck the bread rolls and hot chocolate, I forced bacon and eggs onto them, even adding some mushrooms and tomatoes, with thick wedges of toast to mop up the yolky bits. It went down a treat. Once we were back in tune with the day we headed off to visit one of Lucy's friends, a guy called Joss. We hung there all afternoon, having a few beers, listening to music and once again the strange smokes were passed around. We left in late afternoon and went back to Lucy's where we helped her whip up some soup and potato salad, washed down with Grolsch. We were kicking back listening to some tunes when Joss came in, accompanied by Karen. It was a chilled out night, relaxing, cracking jokes and trying to rile up Doug. He wasn't really the sort who would get riled up, more likely just bust up laughing. Once again it was a very late night, 4.00 a.m., but that seemed de riguer with these student types.

After a quick breakfast Doug went and collected his bike from storage. We were moving out the next day. The two of us held a brief tactical meeting and headed off to the shops. We bought a couple of gifts for Lucy, embellished them with a bottle of wine and flowers. Doug needed a pack as he was going to be abandoning his tour d'Europe and hitting the trains and buses for the next month or so before heading back to Toronto. It was also getting close to me leaving the continent as well and getting back to London to meet up with Jerry and Chris, the guys who'd missed me in Basel all those weeks ago. The two of us still had a week to get around a few places and Doug was keen. So was I.

Back at Lucy's we cracked another case of Grolsch which I'd procured and started in on some more of the Jamaican smoke. For those who've had Mullimbimby Madness it was mainly like that but a bit mellower with a longer lasting effect. Joss and Jacques rocked up with the makings of dinner so we got stuck into making and eating that and then headed off to Karen's place. There was a fair crew hanging out there so we cracked some more beers, people smoked funny stuff and they wound up the mind games with Doug for our last night in Nijmegen. We danced, laughed, drank and said stupid stuff, with a backbeat of kickarse rock moving us along. At around three-thirty morning time it was time to go back to Nancy's. Doug was a mess and crashed out in one of the student's beds. Bastard must have teed this up on the sly. There was however only one bike. Nancy was an expert cyclist who knew the local roads and cycle ways, short cuts, all that sort of thing. I was this solid, drunk, stoned Aussie who was in no condition to pilot the bicycle. So I did. The journey was fun with Nancy screaming all sorts of stuff in English and Dutch while I peddled and swerved like a demented clown. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Nancy didn't. We made it back in one piece and as I dragged the bike inside Nancy could only make one comment;

"That was the most terrifying bike ride I have ever had! Never again!"

"Anything I can do to calm your nerves?" I added a cheesy wiggle of the eyebrows.

"Definitely not! It would be frightening." Now was this mind-game time or was she playing a straight bat. Then I remembered Joss. He'd been hanging around a fair bit and seemed keen. I had to find out,

"You're seeing Joss?"

"Not officially so please don't say anything to anyone. He's about to break up with someone else." Clarity and frustration met sleepiness so I kissed her goodnight and went and started up my nasal chainsaw. Nancy was just a bridge too far for me that night.

Doug made it back to Nancy's in time for breakfast. He didn't look like a bloke who'd just had a great night's lovin' so I left those questions for a later time. We had our breakfast and cleaned up our mess, even doing some vacuuming and bathroom cleaning. We may have been wasted messes but we did have pride. Nancy appreciated it especially when we gave her the second round of presents, including a nice bottle of Moselle. Doug said bye-bye to his bicycle, it was being coralled at Nancy's for a couple of weeks. It seemed a bit like how farmers in Australia send cattle off for agistment to fatten them up or when there's a drought. In Holland they put bikes on agistment. We said bye-bye to Nancy with Doug warning her about another visit. She seemed happy about that which was a complete puzzle to me. Maybe she was just being polite. Who the fuck would want Doug fronting up again for seconds or thirds? Nevertheless that was us off to the station and for me at least, the end of my Nijmegen experience. I was just fucking glad I hadn't had to hold a bridge from a bunch of Kraut bastards in tanks. When we reached the station I pulled out a coin and said to Doug;

"Heads its Germany, tails its Belgium." I was about to toss the coin when Doug piped up with,

"No, hows about we go to Bingen. I told Jim we'd meet up with him there today."

Oh yeah, the other night Doug had mentioned some American party dude called Jim and how they'd planned to meet up again. Fair enough, it could be fun. Bingen it was.

I hear the train a comin'; its rollin' 'round the bend.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Germany, Nijmegen

Here's a verse from "Convict Streak" by Dave Warner From The Suburbs;

The Poms are weak as piss, the French are queer

The Germans are wankers but they make good beer

But don't you ever say we're weak

Or you'll learn all about our convict streak!

Classic stuff from the "suburban punk".

Its pertinent on several counts; Dave Warner also happens to be the name of a future Australian Test Cricket opening batsman who will one day play against England, who are currently going around against our current crop of heroes in The Ashes; the Tour de France is back in France and in my travelogue here I'm about to leave France and invade Germany. The German segment is a compilation of a couple of different sorties, one of which would have interrupted the flow of the Switzerland-France narrative.

After the others got off at Rennes I went onto Paris, then jumped onto the Frankfurt train. Didn't get a lot of sleep on the train but I was in a groove and headed to Munich. In Munich they had an overflow hostel called The Tent. Basically an enormous refugee camp affair where I paid a couple of marks for a sleeping space and the use of bathroom facilities. Being on my own I got a crew together to hit the Hofbrauhaus, an historical beer house made famous for an attempted revolution by Hitler and his scumbag bootmen back in 1923. Or so the tour guides would tell you. Nothing of the sort. That beer hall had been mainly destroyed back in 1939 during an attempt to assassinate Hitler. The Hofbrauhaus had been used by Hitler's henchmen to dream up their schemes and to draw up the rules of the Nazi Party. So much for history.

The one litre steins were brought around by a crew of solidly built ladies, some of whom could manage six of the things in each hand. The very model of muscly beer efficiency.
These beer halls are very much tourist drawcards and it seemed as though every tour group in Europe was in there from the safe and sound hotel coach tourists to the out of control Antipodean camping tour punters. Mix this in with the North American college fraternity and it was pretty messy. One of the tour groups was rewarding its punters with badges if they could manage four steins.

"Soft cocks!" I observed.

My crew were a mixture of U.S. collegians, Brits, and some escapees from The Tent refugee camp attended by U.N. relief workers from Finland. Funny mob the Finns. They were really in love with big fuck-off knives. Much like some Icelandic types I ran into in Basel. Fucking Vikings and knives, what's going on there? Fortunately said knives were not used in anger nor by accident so there's no stabby-stabby-hurty-hurty involved. Not in my presence and not to my knowledge your honour.

Laurie from Minnesota observed the mix of people she had joined up with back at The Tent and was startled by the almost professional manner employed by a couple of the lads in her group. A solid looking Australian seemed to be enjoying himself and she was both puzzled and amused by the interraction with one of the tour groups. They seemed to be mostly Australians and New Zealanders judging by their alternate shouts of,


"Kiwi!" ,

which was followed by raucous cheering and downing of large quantities of beer. Then she heard the Australian guy in her group say,

"Soft cocks!"

"Excuse me, what did you just say?"

I didn't know whether it was the language she was questioning, the meaning or whether she was just plain dozey.

"I said that they're soft cocks. Weak as piss. Wouldn't survive eating a granny smith apple. Soft cocks." I decided that was enough embellishment.


"Well, they're getting awards for drinking just four glasses of beer. Admittedly they are large glasses but still, all up its only four litres. That mob of Top Deckers will probably earn two medals each. They've obviously been in training and look in top form. The Contikis however might struggle. I reckon there might be a few vegetarians amongst them. Probably worse, some of them look as though they read books which don't have pictures. The kind which you can't fit in the back pocket of your jeans when you get up to go to the dunny."

"Sorry, I don't really understand what you're saying." she was looking confused so I kept at it,

"Okay. See that mob over there with the crazy ginger nut doing the chicken dance? They're from Top Deck if that t-shirt isn't lying. That mob of woofs over there? The ones sitting politely at their tables? They're Contikis. See that brunette with the large chest? That's a Contiki t-shirt she's wearing. The Top Deck ones are mad alcoholics, the Contiki ones are mere apprentices."

Glad I had that straightened out. I signalled Brun Hilda for another stein.

"How do you know them?" Laurie seemed fascinated by these tour groups.

"I went with Contiki to Scandinavia, The USSR and Poland. " I then explained how we'd met up in Helsinki with a Top Deck group who were on the last legs of an Asia-Europe overland trip.

The Top Deck mob were full on pissheads, every single one of them and keen for sport drinking. In our lot there were about half a dozen of us could hold our own with them but we were simply outnumbered. The majority of our crew either didn't participate or put up the white flag early on. After a couple of hours us brave half a dozen were captured and held hostage by the TD'ers.

"So just think of Top Deck as 'Animal House on Wheels' and Contiki as 'Happy Days'. They go on other sorties to Pamplona, for the Running of the Bulls, New Year's in Edinburgh and for some reason Easter in Amserdam. They go from the bus to bars and back to the campsite and sleep through the sightseeing bits. Ask them about Paris and they'll tell you a brand of beer. Ask them about Rome and they'll talk about the disco in the campsite. They wouldn't know where the Mona Lisa is or what to look for in the Basilica. They're only interested in drinking their way around Europe." Hmmm. Seemed as though I was describing a more alcoholic version of myself.

Laurie seemed happy with the analogy. I went around, scoping out both groups seeing if I recognised anyone. Nope. Then I went for a longer walk, checking out the whole place, imagining SS conspirators planning their madness in an atmosphere of murderous self-righteousness. A chilling thought. I was thinking that they could have been stopped, right there, if enough people had come through the doors and said "hold on you nutters, you ain't doing that". Well, that was most likely bullshit but they could have done something to break down the process. I'd previously been through one of the concentration camps, Matthausen and it had made me angry. There was always the thought 'someone could have done something'. Not a pleasant mood for what I'd planned as a nice little diversion. I went back to my table, shaking my head just as another round of the "Aussie-Kiwi" chant was finishing up. For fuck's sake, don't these fuckers know what was going on here back in the Twenties? One of the Finnish guys walked over to where I was seated. I must have looked really pissed off because he was hesitant about approaching me. All he wanted to know was did I want another stein? Yeah, sure. He handed one to me and I attacked it with full force. Didn't take long to finish it off, I was both angry and thirsty it seemed. Then Laurie came over and showed me a metal trinket. I ws curious,

"What's this?"

"Your medal. That was your fourth stein." She pinned it on my shirt. This was getting fucking ridiculous. As she did this I stood up, looked at the row of steins on the table and then started making sense of it. We were getting gee gaws for drinking four litres of beer. Those Nazi bastards got them for murdering people. I preferred the beer one. I then checked out who else was wearing them. A number of the Contikis and most of the TD contingent were sporting them by now, laughing at each other and starting to take the piss out of the whole thing by trying to lob the medals into each others' steins. Yeah, I much preferred the beer one.

"You gotta medal didja mate? That's tops, eh. Ya not stoppin' are ya? That'd be piss-weak!"

It was one of the TD'ers who'd decided to check out our table of Big Tent refugees.

But don't you ever say we're weak

Or you'll learn all about our convict streak.

"Nah mate. Just catching my breath before I take on the Nazis." Old mate's blurry eyes brightened a little, he sparked up;

"Yeah, that's right innit mate. Hitler used to drink here didn't he?. Wish he were here now. I'd fucken deck the cunt."

I had to laugh, "So would I mate. So would I."

I joined in with the rest of the table, knocked off another stein and by then was ready for the troop tram back to the reffo tent. The tent was a sprawling mass of refugees. Most of the lights were out yet the darkness only seemed to amplify the drunken stumblings of the returning beer hall invaders. I crashed out, adding my snores to those of the steined masses.

The following morning I eschewed the fruhstuck and headed straight for Mickey D's. I needed his junk breakfast. I then went to the station and checked out the Landshut trains. I'd previously remembered that I was sort of due to meet Colleen and Anne in Landshut, but wasn't really that keen on the idea. I wasn't that happy around these parts. I moped about, caught the train and walked to the hostel. Landshut is a quiet place an hour or so outside of Munich and that sort of quiet just happened to be a good tonic for me. I basically ignored everyone else and buried my head in Ulysses, tossed that aside for the thousandth time and hooked into an anthology of scribblings by Myles na Gopaleen. Geez he was a funny bugger. His real name was Brian O'Nuallain (Brian Nolan), but he mainly wrote under the name of Flann O'Brien. I'd read some Flann O'Brien stuff at uni and dug his weirdness. "The Third Policeman" was a real brain burner but I found it amusing. Basically it I thought it was a narrative the author was conducting with himself about penitence and the neverending reality of where we all end up. I still prefer to see it as a book where people turned into bicycles. Anyway I read through his anthology, consisting of columns he wrote in the Irish Times. It was an absolute cracker. I reckoned he shat all over Jimmy Joyce.

It was getting on tea time when I realised I hadn't seen the two girls. I went and asked the hostel oberfuhrer if he'd had any word from a couple of American girls looking for me and he said "nein" and went back to loosening the tread on his tank. Obviously he was planning a desert campaign. I lobbed into a local cafe and launched into some shcweinflesch. If the Germans do two things well, its dead pig and beer, no make it three things. Can't forget their ability to crank up a world war every now and then. It was a quiet night so back at the hostel I read a bit more of Myles and crashed out early. The morning brought with it a new plan. I decided to head south down to Romanshorn. It was near a lake and I felt like a swim. One other thing about Germany is that th their trains are good. But geez its easy to get bored. I spent a day down in Romanshorn, went for a swim and headed up to Berchtesgarden. I made it up to the Eagles Nest and had a beer up there checking out the scenery, what Hitler and his cronies looked at. It was impressive, but would have been more impressive if someone had dumped a million tons of bombs on it when Hitler was on vacation there back in the Thirties. However, the beer was nice.

From Berchtesgaden I wended my back up through Germany and hit on a town called Kassel. Basically what I was doing was getting to railway stations, tossing a coin and that would decide where I'd end up. Hence I got to Kassel one afternoon during an art festival. There was this weird sculpture in the main park, it sort of looked like a bunch of those tank obstacles and I was drawing it in my diary when a young lady walked up and interviewed me. She was astounded that I wqs from Australia and asked if I'd come especially for the art festival. I told her the truth and she started asking more questions about what I thought about art. I told her I'd seen a fair bit in Europe (I've left the art out of my story as I'm crap at writing about it), from the Renaisasnce stuff, the Dutch masters, some modern stuff, the Louvre, Florence (David), the Hermitage in Leningrad, etc etc. I crapped on a bit about the artist's eye, she took one last shot of me and told me she'd push her interveiw in some local magazine. Whoa! Therbs the media star! That was pretty weird. I headed off to the hostel, found the shower and while I was washing away my artistic dirt I also found that the showers were unisex. Two young frauleins came in, togged off and started showering right next to me. Fair enough. I didn't make my observations overly obvious but I did get a good eyeful of ripe German bumps. This is where I should lead into a three-in-a-bed-romp piece of porn writing, but I won't. It didn't happen. I talked them into going to a local bar for a few settlers after we'd eaten our rations and threw a few compliments their way, talked about the art exhibition and my new found media celebrity but they didn't budge. Nothing, zilch, barely a laugh. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned the war or told them about Colonel Hogan's escapades. I was rueing my luck when the art critic chick lobbed in the bar. She gave me a winning smile and came and joined us. After a brief round of introductions and an order of drinks all round we settled into a discussion about art. The critic/writer girl gave me a couple of funny looks which I put down to sexual curiosity. The two shower girls explained something to Kat (the writer) and said "choos" as they walded out the door. Kat looked at me and said,

"You shower with those girls." I nodded, replying

"Yeah, but they weren't dirty at all."

"They are witt each other. In love." Ah hah! That was the answer.

"Too bad, they were kinda cute. Could have been fun." My eyes were like big question marks as I looked at Kat. But not as cute as you."

"You are staying at hostel, yes?" She already knew the answer but I played along.

"Unfortunately yes." Where was this leading? Then she threw in a dipping, curving delivery,

"So what did you think of the art?" What the fuck's going on here?

"Not much really. I didn't see a lot as I didn't want to pay the entrance fee."

We chatted on for a while and she started to warm up, getting closer, doing that touching flirty stuff so I responded in kind. Didn't take long for the first kiss, quick and sharp. The second was slower, softer and more passionate. It was similar to the final one at her place the next morning as I said goodbye. We hadn't discussed a lot of art, just created our own. As well as feeling lucky I was glad I didn't have to wash the sheets. As I walked down the road the animated version of Therbs was going "Yabba dabba doo!" and running up and down lamp posts. I eventually reigned him in enough to get myself back to the hostel to retrieve my gear.

A little while later I was at the station doing my coin toss thing and ended up on a train to Wurzburg. The next day it was Saarbrucken. I was just riding trains and looking at towns for the hell of it. It became a routine where I'd hit a town, check out the main centre, look at the tourist pamphlets to find anything interesting then book into the local youth hostel. The next day, find another town and do much the same. I broke the cycle in Saarbrucken when I checked my RV schedule and found I ws due to meet up with Doug in a couple of days in Koln. I gave up on the coin tossing and went to Koblenz. Its beautifully situated at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers. I checked into the hostel and went exploring. It was well worth it. Despite being a tourist haunt there was enough old school charm about it and the two rivers added some great watery backdrops. I had a couple of beers at a local bar, watching some Euro soccer, totally digging a holiday vibe.

When I walked out of the hostel down past the river I noticed a shit hot looking ferry heading to Koln. It accepted my Eurail pass so that was me, on a river cruise for the day. The river cut through some picture perfect landscapes with old castles strategically placed here and there, guarding against invasions and acting as road houses for toll collectors. I had to neck a bottle of Moselle to get into the occasion. Seated nearby were a man and his Downes syndrome son, out on a special excursion for the kid. The father noticed the small kangaroo stitched onto my pack and politely enquired where I was from. So I told him and gave him a description of Sydney. His son's eyes lit up when he heard me talking about a weird place such as Australia and he asked me about kangaroos. I told the truth for a change, explaining that they were common enough in the country but never seen in the city. The boy was keen on knowing more so I kept up, answering his questions. His dad was fluent enough in English and seemed to translate the Q & A session quite well. Fortunately for his son I'd been dealing with dozey ratsackers for the past few months and was thus well practiced in the art of communicating with intellectually disabled children. It was a fine afternoon and I felt well happy when we reached Koln. Would I remain as happy once I launched into another series of mishaps with Doug? I'd soon find out.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Roscoff - Il De Batz

The bus to Roscoff was a puzzle. Why the hell did I walk from Morlaix station to the hostel the previous day, ending up a sweaty, thirsty mess when a bus was available? Answer is that it was one of those "as needed" types of services which occur in third world countries. If I'd bothered to read the pamphlet this would have been old news to me. I was worrying about this to overcome my broken heart. Louise, the girl with whom I'd made life plans, had chosen another bloke and become engaged during a Gaelic festival held in Toulon the previous evening. It is irrelevant that the plans I'd made were on the basis of her sexily intoned (everything is sexy, especially if it is broken English spoken in a French accent by an attractive mademoiselle), invitation to attend said Gaelic festival and that we never discussed these plans. The shards of our love lay in the dust of Toulon so I got back to what I knew best; figuring out what to do on Il de Batz. There'd be cafes and such and the hostel sounded pretty cool. There'd have to be a beach somewhere and I'm sure the other ratsackers would provide some sort of entertainment. it wasn't as if this were one of those places advertised as a must see in "Let's Go" or other travel guidebooks. So there'd be less of the college-kid mentality, no groups of German schoolkids and no busloads of Contikis. Yeah, I reckoned this should be good.

I reached Roscoff and had enough time to stock up on some basics (beer, wine, bread, cheese, tomatoes before the ferry took me across to the island. From the jetty it was a short walk up to the hostel where I signed in, claimed a rack and sorted out my day pack. Mick, Deb, Brian and Tim were due in on the last ferry so I went down to the jetty and met them. They were able to claim a separate 4 person cabin which had its own cooker, fridge and table. Perfect. We had dinner in the main hostel, savoury crepes, and knocked back a few wines. The vibe of the place was very, very relaxed. It had been a sprint for them to make it to the island and I was still nutting out what had gone on during my Morlaix interlude. Deb reckoned that Yvette had been originally messing with my mind and then had second thoughts but that my protestations about Louise's undying and everlasting love were delusional. Ya think?

The following morning I invaded the others' cabin and we made up some breakfast. Its funny how scratch omelets cooked on a cheap French cooker with not much in them except for cheese and tomatoes tasted like the best thing ever. We went for a wander and found the beach but the rain gods intervened. In fact it started giving us a nice old drenching so we bolted for the nearest cafe. It wasn't yet midday but we had something to eat and then discovered they had draught beer. Well, one thing led to another, we found a jukebox and started in on surviving a flood. Whenever we'd step outside another burst of rain would shepherd us back inside. Luckily we were the first ones there because after an hour or so tables and chairs were at a premium. As long as we kept buying, we could keep our table. So we kept on buying drinks. We laughed at our situation, comparing it to pub sessions back home and why the fuck had we gone all the way to this small island in northern France to do exactly the same thing? I couldn't be arsed explaining it, just said that it was happening for a reason and Mick, must be your shout eh? I got the next round in and quizzed Deb about some pictures we'd taken in the first couple of weeks of this European jaunt. It was Deb, Jerry (Wally - who dogged an RV in Basel) and myself who'd landed in London a couple of months previously. In the first couple of weeks we did a few mini jaunts. One of these was down to Brighton to see what the fuss was about. Pebbly beaches, rain and damn fine fish ' n chips. Who were we to argue with what the Brits considered seaside holidays?

Deb had her camera and asked me to take one of her and Wally on the beach. I focused in and waited as a dog in the background behind Deb took a dump. Click! I was hoping the shutter opened just at the moment when the shit hit the ground 'cos it would look like it was crapping on Deb's head. She said she hadn't had them developed as they were slides. Slides? What the fuck? She reckoned it was cheaper that way, the pics would be better and she intended having a slide night when she got back. I begged out of that one and kept shtum about the crapping dog. Slide nights were meant for people interested in things likes garden gnomes or train serial numbers, a real Sixties Aunties kind of thing. It was a month or so after we'd got back in Sydney that Mick told me the shot of Deb on the beach had in fact turned out as intended and the guys had ended up laughing hysterically for a good while, with Deb being suitably embarrassed and wanting my blood. Gold medal to Therbs! Back in the cafe the juke box copped a pounding, we did post mortems on everything we'd experienced and our resounding assessment was a big thumbs up.

We headed back to the hostel and cooked up some sausages and other bits and pieces for dinner in the cabin before moseying on over to the hostel proper. I went upstairs to get my jacket and stumbled on a wine party in the makings. Part of the makings was a familiar face. Holy shit, it was Leina! The Norwegian girl I'd seen in Sete. She'd been the only reason I shambled in a long hot queue at the hostel. She'd also been a future Mrs Therbs, a Norwegian stunner who'd also avoided my advances. It was brilliant finding her there so I introduced her to my friends with Mick showing some interest. Heh heh heh, no dice there sunshine. They already knew the background so everything was cool. Man, this was just like one very cool, very together party. A few musicians were twiddling away in the background but mostly it was laughter, wine and more laughter. It was one of those times which wraps you up in a big warm blanket of bliss and makes you think that, yeah, life is a wonderful thing. The laughter and music gradually diminished until there remained soft murmurings and the noises of people getting into their sleeping sacks. I lay down with Leina for a short while, kissed her goodnight and went to my own rack. When I got up a couple of hours later to relieve some pressure the sleeping dorm looked cute. It was like a pile of kittens and puppies sprawled over each other, sleep-breathing a collective content.

The morning began with a mixture of eggs, bacon, toasted baguettes, croissants and cornflakes all spread around the hostel's kitchen while the party-goers recharged themselves. The ones leaving on the morning ferry looked sad as they shouldered their packs and trudged off into a fine morning. The sun was out! I went to the cabin where the others were finishing off breakfast and we went off down to the beach. The beach looked a bit windswept with evidence of the previous day's squalls lurking on the fringes in scattered clumps. We'd been inside for too long and it showed. We'd gone slightly bonkers. Brian on his side, pushed himself round, doing circles on the sand a la Curly Stooge, Mick and I made 'Whoop whoop whoop' noises and Deb simply laughed and shook her head in disgust. Someone took out a frisbee so we tore it up, across and down the beach expending a lot of pent up energy. We were young, exuberant and being full of ourselves we behaved accordingly. We were fair and square in our spring days.

The rest of the day we spent scrambling around the island looking for pirate treasure and found it in a cafe. It looked remarkably like the cafe which had sheltered us from the storm the previous day. So once again we slaked our thirst and munched on baguettes with tasty fillings.

Back in the cabin the night was closing in. We talked about what we were doing next. I had a need to get to Munich and then to Nijmegen for an RV with Doug. I wondered what the silly Canuck was getting up to and couldn't wait to find out. The others were now squeezing a bit of time and wanted to be lit out for the south of France pretty soon. So it was decided that tomorrow we'd take off. The island was small, the vibe had been good and we didn't want to stretch it, twist it into something it wasn't. That left our final evening needing some worthy attention. I really can't remember where all the booze came from but we chilled out in the main hostel with a few beers before someone tapped a never ending wine supply. It was seriously good stuff and seemed to cost not much at all. Whether it was pirates' booty or someone on the island had a lead on the so-called EEC "Wine Lake" I wouldn't know. What I do know is that it was a fine drop. Once again a scratch band of musicians started twiddling away, one of whom was a violinist. She was astoundingly good. I had to ask and found that she was studying in Vienna and with any luck would be getting a gig with an orchestra within a couple of years. Apparently the main companies send out talent scouts, just like a good football team and start sweet talking students in their second and third years. She gave good classical. She also dug in and brought out some rollicking fiddle playing, accompanied by a guitar, harmonica and a flute.

In the background I spotted Kristen. I'd first encountered her in Switzerland when I was telling a group of other ratsackers about Lauterbrunnen and how fucking beautiful it is. I went over and said hello and we swapped travel notes. Then I noticed Leina, who came over and joined us.

I knew she was basically off tap but wanted to see if she'd be interested in a jaunt over to Krautland for some beer and wurst. Sigh, it was the old story of having to get back home soon. She even showed me the ticket. She must have misinterpreted my look of hope for a storm of doubt. I really didn't care. I'd asked in case there was a chance, not really expecting success. Excusing ourselves from Kristen we went outside for a short farewell snog 'n grope but that's all it was going to be. She reminded me that she had been in the same room as Ann and I that night in Sete. Fair enough my Nordic princess, it was great meeting you the first time in Sete and catching you again on the fly was a bonus.

Back inside the party was motoring along nicely. The spark was good and the carbies were delivering the fuel-air mix in perfect blend. Mick noticed my return and Leina's divergence to her crew after we'd walked back inside.

"What goes with the Viking? She your way or what?"

"Well mate, she doesn't want a sausage fest in Germany 'cos she has to get back to building long ships. Wasn't a complete brush off, she showed me her ticket as poof of her verfuckingracity."

"So that's what you call it now. Heard some euphemisms before but that one's certainly a new one to me. Okay if I tell the crew back home next month? Dave will love it."

"Mick, fuck off and get me a beer. "

Kristen came over so I told her the Leina story. I was interested in her take on the scene. She reckoned that Leina was simply not interested. But what about the pash 'n prod outside? Just a bit of harmless, meaningless fun was her analysis. She gave me one of those looks which is all question. I looked back and she nodded.

"So you're not really in love. I can tell. You are not lovesick."

"I never said I was in love. Just fancied her is all." Damn, caught out behind the wicket by that demon cricketer Telling-the-Truth.

"That's good. She is a beautiful woman. Natural for you to want her. Now you must look elsewhere."

I was looking straight at her and said;

"I am. Right at this moment."

"Ha! I am happy with my boyfriend. He is just over there. Come and say hello later."

Geez, I was getting bowled out all over the shop this night. Never mind. I looked around and saw Brian a few feet away with Deb. I let them in on the latest. Brian cracked up. Mick came back with beers, handing them out. He looked at Brian and said,

"See that girl over there with the guy wearing a green jacket? She knocked me back. That's her boyfriend." He'd missed my encounter with Kristen and didn't understand why we broke up laughing. He was quickly brought up to speed and we swapped rueful grins. I turned to Brian and said;

"How about you mate? Fancy a root?"

"Nup, dunno where you've been sticking it mate. Besides, Deb smells nicer than you and has better tits. "

Deb did one of her trademark head shakes;

"You're not on, both of you!" She was a quick study.

The rest of the night went well. Lots of drinks and music and I even stole a slow dance with Leina again. Eventually the party broke up and we all found our way back to our racks to share snores. The island had seduced us, wined us, laughed and danced with us and now was drawing a curtain on our performance. All that was left was for us to take a final bow and leave the stage.

In the morning we scrambled around a communal breakfast, laughing at the previous night and I noticed quite a few knowing looks between various parties. I suspected a lot of night-time frolics were had by people who weren't me. C'est la fucking vie, time to pack up, grab the others and get the ferry to Roscoff. We did all that and then hit an inkblot on our page. The bus wasn't due to leave for a a couple of light years. Hmmm. Hold on. There was a group of us! Taxi! Morlaix s'il vous plait. We made Morlaix in time to wait a couple of hours for a train. We said our good byes on the train with promises to tell everyone back home every single detail of what each other had done. The gloves would be off. None of this "what happens on tour stays on tour" crap. Oh no, we'd be slinging mud like an inkstain of tabloid scribblers. Once again I was saying goodbye to good friends and heading off into "stuffed if I know but it should be great" land. We hadn't been over emotional in our good-byes. Simply an acknowledgement of good times shared and a knowledge that we'd be badgering each other again within six months.

Right! It was now time to invade Germany again. Decision time. Where to first? Munich? They sell beer in big 1 litre glasses there don't they and those tasty bier wursts. Ja fucking wohl they do! Raus. Macht Schnell!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Chartres, Paris, Morlaix, Louise & Yvette

The gorillas hadn’t attacked in force the previous night and I was already buzzing at the thought of meeting up with Mick, Deb, Brian and Mick’s cousin, Tim. Deb and I had been flatmates when Mick and a bunch of others from a Rozelle share house had gone off on a motorbike adventure around Oz for six months and I was drafted in as first choice replacement housemate. You know, one of those people who people don’t mind sharing with – house trained, able to handle a bong and a beer, knew the in-off rule in pub pool, liked live bands and was happy watching Moto GP’s late on a Sunday night. In the Drummoyne House, Dave cooked the mains, I did drinks and dessert and Chanel kept us in check, cleaning wise. We did well. Brian worked with us and was Deb’s future husband. Fine people, each of them.

I lobbed onto the Paris train and got to the gare I wanted with enough time to decipher the Metro map for the closest stop to the Eiffel Tower. I arrived fifteen minutes early and started searching the milling crowds for signs of my friends. I was half expecting a Rugby League scrum to rumble its way up Le Champ du Mars but that wasn’t to be. Just after midday I spotted Mick who was with his cousin, Tim. Then Deb and Brian also filtered into view and it was Happy Times! What to do? Well we hugged, laughed and then started walking and talking. We ended up in a left bank cafĂ© ordering couscous and beers. Their largest beer glasses were called “formidable” and that’s what we hooked into. We spent a fun afternoon telling travellers’ tales, listening to the jukebox and ignoring the looks of distaste angled our way from the visages of the locals. Fuck ‘em. If they wanted to argue we’d simply display a VW logo and wait for the white flags to start fluttering. A lot of people say the French are arrogant and Parisiennes doubly so. I disagree. What pisses them off is loud English speaking tourists who make no attempt to acknowledge the French language. We were most of the above except we loved practicing our crappy French, particularly when ordering drinks from toothsome bar wenches.
To further put off the locals we pulled out our maps and started planning our next RV. It looked like an invasion planning session and it didn’t take long for the Parisiennes to realise they’d lose this war and they actually started giving us a few snippets of information. I’d planned on looking a bit more at the north of France while the others were spending a few days doing the Paris thing. I’d been Parisfied on a previous trip so was more keen on seeing some other towns. We settled on meeting up at the Palace de Versailles the following day and then a couple of days later catching up on Il de Batz. The only reason we chose this place was because it sounded almost exactly like Hildie Bartz, a work colleague of ours. We found this incredibly amusing, belly laughing at the whole concept. In our guffaws we stuck the island on our “to do” list in large, blinking, neon letters fixed with the superest superglue we could find. Our muse bore genius that afternoon. It ended up becoming one of the best travel decisions ever made.

I left the others early in the evening and got back to Chartres in time to have a couple of settlers with some Danes back at the hostel. The following morning I was feeling chipper about the day trip to Versailles. There were no treaties on offer nor was Louis XIV putting on a typical “Sun King” bash but it’s a magnificent estate nonetheless. I’d been there previously and dug the palace and the surrounding gardens and parkland. It was all tres cool.

We wandered around digging the civilised vibe, checking out the palace and the gardens. Being summer the tourist coaches were lined up outside and amongst them I spotted a couple of the camping tour operators, Contiki and Top Deck. I’d been on a Contiki invasion of Scandinavia and the USSR previously and recognised the driver, Ian. Seeing him skulking around his bus reminded me of an episode in a campsite in Russia one night. We’d hit the champagne and vodka hard and a lot of trysts were formed. As a result of my encounter with a Kiwi lass I had drunkenly fronted Ian with “Are all Kiwi girls like that?” before stumbling into my tent. The next morning, in amongst assessing the gorilla carnage and suffering severe short term memory loss, he walked up to me and repeated my question as he saw me groggily trying to make sense of the morning. “Oh shit. Did I do that?” as I vaguely grasped a memory of Roberta and the pashing session we’d conducted. He cracked up, slapped me on the back and finished off doing his bus maintenance checks.

I snuck up behind Ian from the off side of his bus in the Versailles coach park and enquired “Are all Kiwi bus drivers as dozey as you?” Surprised the bejaysus out of him but he soon had his crafty laugh cranked up. We shook hands and swapped updates of travels. He'd landed in Paris the previous day picking up another busload of punters for the start of a six week tour around Europe. Like most employees of the camping tour industry he was always having to reject most of the offered favours from young females who saw his profession as somewhat romantic. Like most of his colleagues he just saw their offers as the side benefits of a largely routine, poorly paid job. They earned extra cash through kick-backs, and for those on the trips behind the Iron Curtain, black market deals. It was good to see him still in fine fettle and telling me of his trysts and he was amused by some of my travel vignettes. We promised to try and catch up in London for a few settlers.

After traipsing around Versailles our little group headed back to Paris and the cheap dive where the others were staying. Brian had the ferry times sorted out for the island, we confirmed dates and times over baguettes and wine then I headed off back to Chartres. That night I did a clean out of my pack and found I had too many books. I left a few well worn tomes in the hostel library as was the custom of the day. Those little libraries were a marvel. If you had a book you’d finished you’d leave yours and take any others which jumped up at you. I tossed up whether to finally give up on “Ulysses” but decided that hanging onto Jimmy Joyce’s piece of confusion could still be worth the trouble. I left behind Hemingway, Arthur Hailey, Robert Heinlein and Clive Cussler, picking up Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld 2” and the first instalment of Jean Auel’s Wonder Cave Girl epic. I’m surprised her heroine didn’t get around to inventing the internal combustion engine, television and faster than light drive.

In the morning I headed off to Morlaix. It was close to Roscoff where the Il de Batz ferry terminated. The walk from the station to the hostel was a fair step and the weather was surprisingly hot so I’d become thirsty by the time I booked my bunk. Ha! Beer! I sat around in the company of a bunch of French guys and gals, falling behind in the froggy chat but more importantly keeping in front with the Kronenburgs.
I seemed to be missing out on something, a key fact, that vital detective’s clue which would unlock the secret of romance and music. Fuck it, more beer thanks.
We cooked up a communal feast replete with half decent wine and some amusing monologues from the hostel manager. He ended up being a useful raconteur, with one of those stretchy faces which was able to evince a wide range of emotions to embellish his anecdotes. After we’d eaten I helped clean up and when I returned to the table everyone seemed to be ready to call it quits for the night. Whip off the bails and call it stumps. Bugger! I was flummoxed. I’d obviously been misled into thinking we were going to have a great evening of wine, song and laughter and maybe something else. I’m sure a few of the girls were dead ringers for potential Mrs Therbses. My confusion was answered by:
“Would zhoo like dansing tonite wiz us?”
It was uttered by this really nice looking girl using a really, really hot French accent. It was one of those moments where your head is zapped with thermoblasts of lust and love and you have the wedding planned, kids named and decisions about living in France in their summer and Australia in our summer confirmed; all done, dusted and sealed in a microsecond. We'd get jobs in the U.N. and live fascinating, jet-setting lives, solving the world's problems and making love in exotic places.
"Sure, er... I mean oui!" I rasped it out , affirming the verbal with a nod of the noggin.
"D'accord. "
She rose as a goddess with my mortal form an unworthy shadow. There were six of us crammed into a Citroen 2CV. The "deux-chevaux" (two horses) was France's answer to the Fiat Bambino, and the VW Beetle. It was designed for a couple of adults and two children. What this meant was that the going was very slow but I didn't mind this, cushioned on one side by Yvette and on top by the lithe form of Louise, who seemed to be laughing a lot and patting me on the head and the leg. It interrupted my design of Louise's engagement ring and the wedding guest list. I know, we'd have an ice sculpture! That'd be great. Stick a mess of beers at the botton and it'd keep them cool for days! Genius!
"What do you think of ice sculptures?" I asked Louise
"J m'excuse - eyece skoolpture?"
"Oui. Objet d'art made of ice."
"Sorree. Don't know zis one".
Bugger! Here we were planning the wedding and I didn't even know if she liked fancy shmancy ice blocks!
It was at this stage we pulled up at the grounds of a festival. The hostel crew explained it was an annual Gaelic Festival and then something clicked. The Prof with the gammy leg in Chartres had told me about this and bingo! Here I was. The grounds were a couple of hectares ( a few acres) of stalls, a stage, a large marquis, a big bonfire and lots and lots of French with a few Scots, Irish and Welsh along for the ride. There was beer, wine, local food, and some sort of cider style beverage which was more potent, more "spiritual". It wasn't scrumpy but whatever it was went down a treat. There were gaelic bands playing including some Irish and Scottish groups and the whole thing was a blast. I ended up in the dance square with a couple of the girls. I then noticed Louise, my fiance, snogging some other bloke. Turned out it was her real fiance. They were getting engaged that evening. Oh well, I guess it saved me a lot of air travel. My wedding plans went "ploot!", a bubble of hope and love vanishing, leaving behind only a few scattered reminders of its once proud, verdant existence. I'd been clean bowled with very few runs on the board and tucked my bat under my arm and headed towards the pavillion wondering how to explain my innings to the press.

"Dance, oui?" A voice from the onside, 'round about fine leg. Except this wasn't cricket, not even the French version. I turned slightly going with the line of the ball. It was Yvette.
"Oui indeed! Cheers Yvette!"
So we danced for a while then things got a bit closer and our lips met. Over Yvettes shoulder I noticed that this was de rigeur for dancing couples. Everyone was playing lip wrestling. Then things became tonguey and gropey and we were no longer in the dance square but on a patch of grass near the apple drink tent. I found this pretty amusing. These French had basically taken me along on a last minute impulse and I knew one of the other blokes really fancied her. So it was likely I was simply cannon fodder in some bizarre love war. There wasn't a lot of ardour in Yvette's efforts, it was like she was going through the motions. So I put the hard word on her, to see what was really going on.
"Non, no sex." She hook her head firmly on this and got up. I stood up, straightened myself, and offered,
"Like another drink?" I nodded to the tent, "Encore boisson?"
We went and listened to a Scottish folk band, had another couple of dances with pash and visited another tent which was pouring beer. Just outside was a bbq operation run by a couple of blokes who looked as though they knew their way around cooked flesh so I indulged in some small but spicy sausgaes and a bit of juicy pig. Brilliant stuff.
I then noticed that Louise had rejoined Yvete and they were doing that girl catch-up thing, nodding, frowning, laughing, frowning, glancing at me, laughing then finishing their drinks. Louise waved me over.
"We go."
"Allons-y" was my reply and the girls just laughed. We stumbled back to the 2CV, tangled ourselves in the back seat where this time Yvette found herself sprawled over me. Poor girl, that'll teach you to play love games with a heart-broken bloke from Sydney. She even whispered sweetly into my ear'
"No sex. Da'ccord? No sex."
"Gotcha the first time sweetie."
Back at the hostel we had some of the apple drink which someone had brought back as a souvenir. A fine souvenir it was and we sat outside, with couples gradually pairing off and disappearing into their own world of festivities. Lousie gave me a sweet peck on the cheek as she went off with Fiance M. le non-Therbs which left me, the hostel manager, Yvette, another girl and Yvette's suitor all eyeing each off. By this stage I was back on the beers and it was getting a bit silly, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on without being able to speak properly or follow exactly what they were saying. I got up, said "Bon Nuit" and headed off to my bunk. Well, stumbled is a more apt description.

The next morning I woke up with my sleeping sheet half covering me. I was also fully clothed including shoes, so I stripped off and clambered back into the sack to get in some more snoring.
A few hours later I got up properly, cleaned up and headed into the kitchen. Louise had a rosy glow to her cheeks as she flipped omeletees around a couple of pans and I made a brew of coffee and rustled up some toast. The bread was thick and tasty and the butter was rich, melting on the warm bread in luxurious puddles. I scooped out jam from a pot on the bench and tore in.
After my breakfats I felt reasonably healthy. I was impressed with last night's apple beverage. It was quite drinkable, had a fair kick but didn't seem to be a hangover hellboy.

So, all clean and fed I hung outside for a local bus to take me to Roscoff. As I was waiting Yvette came out to say goodbye. She kissed me with one of those "Perhaps I was wrong" kisses. Tender, but not full on, with hints of tongue and a caress of the cheek. We were standing there as the bus puuled up, I offered her "Bon chance, 'revoir". I heard "'Revoir", took one last look at her and saw Louise waving from the hostel door. I yelled out goodbye to her as well.

Fuck it, Roscoff next then the ferry to Il de Batz!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, Yanks

To all the Americans out there, Happy Fourth of July! I'll be hunting down a hot dog and maybe even an American beer to have in your honour tomorrow. Enjoy the fireworks, games of horseshoes and try not to choke on burnt bbq offerings.
"Oh say can you see?"
Well, if you can by the end of July 4th you haven't really celebrated properly. Rave on!