A Travellerspoint blog

Bill's European Adventure, 2001. Part 8: Zagreb to Budapest

Back when 'going emailing' was a thing and cold coffee wasn't

Sep 6

Got up late again, and ended up having expensive cheap breakfast in a swanky hotel right on Ban Jelačić Square out of laziness.

Had Boban's booked for 8pm, and went emailing to fill the weary hours between lunch and dinner, as rich people termed it.

What was so funny about the meal was that we ate more in a more renowned restaurant than the day before but cost us less - £8.50 each for four starters, five main courses, three desserts, four beers, two bottles of wine and eight coffees! My main course was the nicest pasta of all time - penne with smoked ham and cream and breandy sauce! French people at the next table were laughing at us because we ordered cold coffee by mistake.

We went upstairs to the cocktail lounge and had the strongest Irish coffees of all time, and then had a round in a jazz bar the book (Lonely Planet Europe on a Shoestring) told us was good but it was a bit dead, and they closed up, so we went to the Hard Rock Cafe nearby for one more and then relaxed in bed with really sleeping because of the coffee adn had to check out the next morning at 9am - doh!

Sep 7

On the tracks again! Had breakfast in what we called Dublin 7 because it was so far from Ban Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb. Got coffee and a tiny ham and cheese toasted sandwich for £2.60 and then lazed in a park until it was time to go to the station for our 13:20 to Budapest. Paul & Mary left us at the station as they were getting a night train to Venice. We were in a cabin (six-seater) by ourselves for most of it, and it was a smoking carriage - cool!

As we got off the train some guy gave us a leaflet for the Cozy Guest House but he seemed dodgy so we went to the Museum Hostel which was full so the owner there got us three beds in a hostel over the phone and then told us it was called the Cozy Guest House! It turned out to be ok after we stopped in a Chinese 'buffe' for a Chinese with a small can of beer £1.70! Went to a pub (for once not a cafe bar bistro or anything) for a few quiet pints and then left because Julie was sick or tired or something. Ollie had to sleep on the floor while me and Julie shared a double bed - the first time she had slept with a man since she left Dublin!

Sep 8

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Arose about 12, determined to do a half-day's sightseeing. Wandered around the city in the rain, crossing a gigantic bridge over the Danube to Buda, the historical, cultural rea of the city. We took a cable car up the side of a mountain (technical term: funicular railway) to Buda Castle, which we didn't go into because of the queue but browsed the market stalls, where I bought a huge, real leather wallet for £11. Took a trip to the war museum, where our student card got us in for 24p and when we asked the old man in charge what was the best to see as we only had 20 minutes he gave us a free guided tour. Went down into the labyrinth where we had great fun runnign around in the dark with paraffin lamps, with cup of strawberry tea included in the admission price!

Went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, where I had duck for the first time (gorgeous!), and fried ice cream (a golf ball-sized lump of ice cream in batter). Crossed the street to Cafe Mediterranean which had crap waiter service and so-so beer. It closed at 12 so we went back to the hostel but the NI guy took us back out to the Old Man's Pub, a sweaty cramped night club with sporadically good music. The barwoman served me Pall Mall cigarettes in error but I took them anyway as she opened the packet first. Got back around 5am.

Posted by BillLehane 06:06 Archived in Hungary Tagged trains budapest travel hungary youth croatia zagreb interrail blogs Comments (0)

Bill's European Adventure, 2001. Part 7: Our Zagreb Sojourn

Paul & Mary join us in living it up like rich people

Sep 3

Today started well - woke up feeeling great, and the dodgy shower, cornflakes and cofffee failed to dim my spirits. Paid the hotel concierge - whom we had seen working the previous morning, drink beside the reception all day, and then get back behind the desk that night. He even told us he was too drunk to work.

Got the 10:50 train to Dobova, a border town on the Slovenian side, and promptly relaised that the drunken motherfucker had forgotten to give me back my passport, held as a deposit, and I hadn't noticed. Waved goodbye ot Ollie & Julie as they boarded the 12:55 to Zagreb (our destination), as I strolled onto the same train I had just got out of, which was now the 13:00 to Ljubljana. It's now 13:20, and when I recover my passport I'll be boarding the 16:10 direct (at least) to Zagreb, arriving 5 hours and 18 minutes after Ollie & Julie at 18:55. Bollox.

On my way to Ljubjlana, I was propositioned by a Slovenian homosexual student, who would not shut up. He talked, leaning towards me with a big grin, and offered me free accommodation in Ljubljana! Scary. Arrived with Ollie & Julie having sorted accommodation, had cheap dinner in Trattoria Leonardos and then was hugely annouyed when Oille & Julie wanted to leave after one pint in the pub.

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Sep 4

Woke up at 6:45 to see that Paul & Mary in the room - cool! We lounged for a while, and then wandered Zagreb for the morning, trying to kill time before going to the pub! We bought fruit at the fruit market and then had lunch outside in Trattoria Leonardos (again). Big slap-up lunch for about six quid. Lolled around and then had dinner in the restaurant beside Leonardos.

Went to a bar nearby, and when they tried to close at 12, Ollie went up and argued with the two barmen, and made a deal where we paid for our and their drinks in their dad's pub, where we were, and they would get free drinks from (for?) us in an Irish bar they wanted to go to. It was très bizarre, but great fun, giving Paul & Ollie pints with shots in them. It worked out really cheap, a fiver for six bottles of beer, and they gave us a lift to the bar in one of the guy's Lancia but the bar was closed so they dropped us to the petrol station near our hostel but it still took 1 hour and 20 minutes to walk home in the rain!

Sep 5

We didn't have to get up early so we didn't! After much lolling and debating over whether the 'minging' shower was even worth using, we ventured to the supermarket and got bread and bananas and crisps for brunch.

Because we got up so late, our first move was to geat ready to go out for dinner. After much traipsing around the city in the rain, we ended up in the restaurant Trattoria Leonardos again! The waiter recognised us and got us five Karlovačkos at his own suggestion.

After taking our time at the restaurant again we rolled into Caffe Bar Thalia, where we drank beers and drambuies and jagermeisters until twenty to 3:00, even though the last people before us left at 1:30 and it was supposed to shut at 1:00, all because it was worth the barman's while staying open for us five drinkers! He even only served me the last round because I pretended not to understand his Croatian ('keput' was fairly lucid!) and he couldn't be arsed explaining.

Before and after this point in our Zagreb sojourn, I noticed days and nights roll into each other, as all we did was play rich people, by just drinking coffee, eating lunch and dinner and drinking. It was a great laugh as a novelty, but I can't see myself living like that no matter how wealthy I got without going mental!

Posted by BillLehane 05:27 Archived in Croatia Tagged trains food beer travel drinking croatia zagreb slovenia ljubljana interrail blogs Comments (0)

The colour of life

semi-overcast 11 °C

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I may not know why I like art but I do know that I have always loved it. Something not a lot of people know about me is that before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to be a painter. And I have wanted to be writer since I was eight, lost in the otherworldy dreamscapes of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, C.S. Lewis' Narnia and Mary Norton's The Borrowers, curled up in bed encircled by the red bricks and rowan trees of Rathfarnham dreaming of making imaginary worlds of my own. I dream of that still.

Before even then, I was an enormous fan of colour. Sometimes I think I liked blue before anything else on this Earth. My overriding sensory memory of my first years at school is the smell of school-supply paints and chalks. My earliest memory of all is of my mother taking me down the corridor of a grey and crappy but then stlll-new prefabricated building as a very small child of four or five to meet my teacher, the round-spectacled, white-bloused, blue Hillary Clinton-jacketed Mrs Donnelly. I don't remember if it was my first day of school or some other day, only the vibrant red of the floor and how it shimmered in the morning sun. A few years later, my parents were so proud of a oil painting I made when I was about 11 of a canal barge they bought a frame for it and hung it up on the wall, even though it was colour by numbers. It's still there, and I'm proud of it too.

In time, my interest in writing grew as my vocabulary swelled and I started to become known as the boy who was the best at English - a title I held on to all the way through to the end of school when I got the A1 grade everyone said was impossible to get because they gave it to no one - and I forgot about paintings, thinking I wasn't really that good at it anyways. When at secondary school and given the choice of Art, History or Music I went for Music and traded the paintbrush for a clarinet and that was it. Looking at the tubes of paint above I can't help but feel nostalgic, though it must be more than 20 years since I held one of them.

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Still, you never lose an eye for art once you have it. Other people yawn through art galleries and delight in history museums, I yawn at museums and eagerly await the gallery. The first thing I look up about a city when I'm going or thinking of going there for holiday is - does it have a good modern art gallery? Every time. I once visited the medieval town of Albi in southwest France because it's the hometown of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and has a nice little gallery devoted to him. What else is there? Aside from a train station, which I know because that's how I get there, I have literally no idea. It applies to daily life to: I have lunch in the Barbican almost every day now just so I have an hour to feel cultural amidst the City hubbub

Travel for everyone is about sights, but which kind of sights varies more than you might think. I saw a listing for an animal theme park in Tenerife the other day and was little short of revulsed. And it's #1 on Tripadvisor. My kind of travel is to go to a place, learn about the people there and their culture and try to experience a little of the life they live. You can do a lot of this through art because it gives you a view of what inspires them, what they like to look at and what they choose to immortalize in pigment. Picasso will give you visions of Spain (along with his adopted Paris of course), and Canaletto's paintings are more Venice than Venice itself. And while his brother William Butler vies for attention in the crowded Irish canon of poets, authors and playwrights, Jack Butler Yeats stands alone in his many paintings chronicling Irish life.

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Plus when you travel you can see a hell of a lot of nice art. The Chagall stained-glass windows of the Fraumünster are one of Zurich's finest assets, to name one of many I've seen all around Europe and further afield at this stage. I'm glad I queued for two hours in the August sun to get into the Uffizi in Florence and see its many artistic delights at the age of 21, because if i tried to do that again I would probably faint from heatstroke. Aside from the many amazing Japanese things I saw on my first trip to Tokyo in 2006, obviously, another memory that sticks out strongly is going to Africa Remix at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. A truly fabulous collection of art from all over Africa, I had no idea until afterwards it had already been on show in London, Paris and Hamburg before I travelled from Dublin half way round the world to see it and love it in Asia. Of course some paintings are so powerful they transcend location. After all Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night is for many the timeless epitomy of the Paris cafe scene even though you have to go to a gallery in Otterlo, Netherlands to see it and it actually depicts a cafe in Arles.

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Art is different for everyone, and as much as people may love portraits of 17th century royals of various hues, I think they're vacuous and vanishingly dull. The National Portrait Gallery, sitting proudly in the centre of Trafalgar Square, is London's least interesting art gallery by my reckoning, especially while the city boasts a regular program of visiting exhibitions at galleries all over town to rival any other city in the world. Give me Mark Rothko's visionary monochrome of the Moon that recently landed in the Royal Academy or Kazemir Malevich's many Suprematist masterpieces that lit up the Tate Modern last year any day.

As much as the temptation may be to list out your favourites, the best painting for me, I'm sure, will always be the next one. I'm really looking forward to seeing Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 at the RA, and am currently waiting like a sleeper cell of art fandom for a quiet Tuesday some weeks after the opening to see it and have the room all but to myself. Ditto America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. And so on. How lucky I am to live in London and have the luxury of waiting for the right moment. After all that's art itself, life at the right moment. Grab it while you still can.

Posted by BillLehane 09:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged art london france colour holidays youth painting irish blog Comments (0)

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