Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Often the journey to a destination is worthy of a mention but this time I shall skip by the early rise, the drive through to Ingliston in the dark and the entirely perfunctory flight. They just happened before my brain was awake enough of take notice of anything. I would however like to thank Clairwil's dad for driving us through at such an ungodly hour. I'm sure the bus journey's involved wouldn't have done us any harm, but it was great to get under way with only our check in to contend with. Flying isn't really my bag, though I do like the take off/landing. All that bumping about at thirty odd thousand feet you can keep though......

We took off in murky conditions and landed in the same. We then proceeded to get the wrong train from Schipol. A rather kind conductor let us know before we found ourselves in Vladivostok and pointed us in the right direction. She even marked our tickets in Dutch lest we encounter a more pedantic ticket puncher on the train back and incur a fine (thirty Euros being the going rate)

The Ibis was our first port of call in Amsterdam and to the relief of my not yet aching shoulders the hotel was mere yards away. Anyway, all booked in and having examined our digs, Clairwil and I set about a bit of mild exploring.......

The first thing you notice about Amsterdam is the traffic. Five lanes of it. Bicycles, then cars, then trams, then cars and bikes again. I was almost mown down by cyclists on a number of occasions and at least once unwittingly played chicken with a tram. We get very casual about our traffic signals in Britain but a tourist in a major Dutch city can very easily end up as roadkill by not adjusting themselves to the new environment and using the crossings. Part of the fun I reckon......

A wander through the side streets took us to the rather huge and impressive Dam Square. Cue the statue 'artists' (go on, punch them in the nuts for me!) and an old lad playing what looked like a Glockenspiel. I liked him, he seemed to be battling the odds and the elements with a determination I rarely see from any Glasgow buskers (punch them in the nuts too if you want) We soon found ourselves in a busy little bar and got some much needed food and drink. The seats we'd landed in were in a small conservatory in front of the main bar and afforded us an excellent view of the Amsterdam rush hour. Trams, cars, bikes and pedestrians gliding around each other like chaotic clockwork in the dimming light. I'll admit I've never been one for watching the world go by but I'd have happily stayed for the rest of the evening.

A pleasant Indian meal was followed by a jaunt around some local bars. We eventually stumbled across a small pub across from the hotel, the name of which evades me at this moment in time. It was run by a portly and slightly offhand gent who nonetheless patiently put up with my inept pronunciation with regard to the local beers. Clairwil directed my attention to the floor and asked if it was really sawdust on the floor. It looked to be. Failing that the cleaner hadn't turned up for a good week or so. That said, it was probably the best pub we were in throughout the whole week.

Day two in Amsterdam should have been one tackled with vigour and enthusiasm. It wasn't. Certainly not on my part. I awoke with sore legs and arms and a throat that felt like it had been scoured with a brillo pad. Theoretically I should have called off on it but since it was to be our only full day in the city, I think I made the right decision. A hearty breakfast across the road from the hotel and we were off. Our aim was the Museumplein and possibly Vondelpark. We wandered for a while in the general direction of our destination before becoming a smidge lost. We soon regained our bearings and found what we were looking for. At first we marvelled at the wonderful outdoor skating rink. Every so often a tractor would appear to smooth the ice and of course the local kids used this as a way to drag themselves around the rink for no extra effort on their part. In Glasgow the tractor would have been driven by an officious, red faced wee man shouting at the kids to "get away from the vehicle". The bloke on the tractor in this instance seemed unperturbed by the tomfoolery and just got on with it. He obviously realised the young 'uns knew their arses from their elbows and were perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.

An hour or so was spent wandering about looking for somewhere to put our feet up and have a few drinks. We somehow ended up in a completely dry part of the city. Nothing but expensive clothes shops and well heeled types in Chelsea Tractors. After a quick coffee in a posh hotel bar (very good it was too) I headed off to the Van Gogh museum whilst Clairwil retired to a nearby pub we had belatedly spotted. She had been to the museum twice before and saw little point in accompanying my man-flu ridden carcass on a third visit. The museum was mobbed and I wasn't really in a mood to fight my way through the hordes to get at the main attractions. I wandered up into the two other upstairs galleries which were less crowded. The old smoking skull painting was rather jolly. Not a patch on the bizarre self portraits that resided in the basement area though. I was also pleased to see a few Egon Scheile paintings.

I purchased a book of Cartier Breson photographs and made my way back to the pub Clairwil was ensconced in. By this point I had decided the best thing for my miseries was plenty walking, plenty beer and a good meal. One down two to go, eh? We found ourselves in a series of little back streets just off a nearby square and much to our bemusement found ourselves knee deep in restaurants and bars. A quick stop in another Irish bar was followed by a proper hunt for a place to eat. We eventually settled on a wee Italian restaurant with a bizarre looking water feature plonked in the middle of the floor and a huge but slightly grubby looking goldfish tank at the back. Fine pizzas though. Because of the concentration of restaurants in the area, some of the establishments seem to feel the need to employ someone to stand outside and 'woo' the customers. You know, all that "We have one table madam, just for you" stuff. We decided that frankly they could go and get stuffed and that there must be a good reason why they feel the need to have someone accosting pedestrians to drum up business.

We got lost for a bit on the way back, then missed the canal boat that would have taken us back to the hotel. Never mind, a few more drinks in the 'Aran' Irish bar and a quick look at what the guide books had to say about the trams and we were off again. Of course, the Ill Man, being a tediously cautious type wasn't sure. How does one pay? Do we need a 'Stippencarte'? What if they fine us for transgressing some bizarre Dutch public transport custom?

Clairwil suggested we just get on and see what happens. A cuff round the ear for yours truly wouldn't have gone amiss. Anyway, we fare dodged our way back. We got on a side door in the packed tram and nobody came for our cash. Yay! Celebrated with a drink at the little sawdust bar near the hotel. The Amstel Bock and the 'Wieckse Witte' being our drinks of choice.* Back to the hotel then for an exhausted Ill Man and before I dropped off I got the chance to marvel at the wonder that is Dutch late night TV. They seem to have phone sex/contact programmes on in the wee hours. Nowt too racy, though the adverts would certainly raise eyebrows in dear old Blighty. The funniest thing about it was the contact ads which seemed to consist of details of people like 'Dirk from Utrecht' or 'Greta from Zandtvoort Am Zee' and pictures of random porn models obviously chosen to signify nothing other than the sex of the lonely/randy/desperate person in question.

Friday morning was our last in Amsterdam. I got some Nurofen (Sweet Fucking Relief, I tell thee...) and some Strepsils and was right as rain for the rest of the day. We had a delightful little stagger round China Town and stumbled upon a Buddhist Temple that defied belief. Glasgow needs something like that. Hell, every town does. Let's start a campaign kids! Amsterdam needs at least a week to explore it's various nooks and crannies but to be honest, if the two days I spent there are to be my only memory I ever have of the place I shall have no regrets. Wonderful place.

All too quickly we were on the train for Rotterdam though. Another story for another day.
*Take no notice of the real ale snob in this link. Such anal little men I have no time for. That said, we could have done with his pub guide to Rotterdam in hindsight.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I've been struggling with this for months. I don't want you to imagine that I've written anything great on the subject because before we begin let me assure you that I haven't. Everything I have to say about that place feels to me like I'm belittling the Holocaust, which is not my intention. This will not be especially articulate either, I'm just writing of my feelings as I walked round.

Let me start by telling you that I skipped parts of Auschwitz. There is not a force on earth that could have taken me into the building where they used to experiment on women, a little near the bone for me and I must say something about the long queue snaking into the building sickened me. An atrocity exhibition for giggling school boys as far as I could see. I think I would have got violent. The whole place makes me queasy. I wonder if it should be demolished and replaced by a memorial. Though I'm sure that would just inflame the deniers. Cunts that they are.

My first impression of Auschwitz was that it is such a mediocre little place. When I first saw the camp I laughed and in that laugh was all the scorn in the world. I expected something big and imposing, instead all I could see was a something with all the soul of a call centre. I have always believed that terrible events leave a horrible atmosphere behind them but in the case of Auschwitz I imagine all the souls that died there have swanned off somewhere more exciting.

Everything about the place is stunted, little and dull. A testament to the banality of evil, a vision of the world if it were run by managers. Having seen Auschwitz I, on an emotional level cannot believe the Holocaust happened. I know that it did but it's like a murder in your local train station in the sense that one thinks 'there -surely not'.

The only moment of light relief was seeing the gallows where the camp commander was hanged after the war. Though that was a grim laugh, in that it was the same gallows where he hanged prisoners. The worst bit for me was standing in the 'ovens' , the rail tracks on the floor brought it home to me how planned the whole thing was. That's where I find my brain is far to small to deal with the Holocaust. Think of the process: someone had the idea, people built the camps, then people were asked to work in them. Did no-one at any stage not realise what they were doing was wicked and evil beyond belief? Who the hell staffed these places?

I can understand a spontaneous massacre born out of rage, even if I don't condone it. What I cannot believe or understand is thousands of people taking part in mass execution where there was every opportunity to pause, reflect and at least opt out.

The line between savagery and civilization is far too thin.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More Krakow Snaps

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hostile Hoors Krakow Part 3

After a pleasant stroll through Krakow, I decided to repair to the hotel bar for a nightcap. The hotel's website states 'Friendly, and professional staff will ensure that your stay in Krakow is pleasant and memorable', in fairness the truly remarkable assortment of hoors seated around the bar will live on in my memory even if with one or two notable exceptions they were hardly friendly, to me at any rate.

Imagine your Clairwil strolling into the bar, ordering a big beer, a poke of peanuts and as there were no other seats placing myself at the bar. I struck up a conversation with a Finnish gentleman seated to my right, pleasant enough fellow with a huge moustache. Almost at once I sensed I was the subject of comment from the left of the bar, sure enough a short, fat hoor who I shall refer to as 'Roots' was giving me the finger, egged on by 'Pencil under a wig' and 'Tits of a Goddess'. I am not accustomed to hostility from hoors in fact on the occasions our paths have crossed we have always enjoyed cordial relations.

Eventually Roots waddled over, spilling out her lime green suit and began bawling at me in Polish. It was a tense moment, fight or flight? What to do? I was abroad, an ambassador for Scotland. One wrong move and our international image would lie in tatters. There was only one thing for it, I hopped off my stool and bellowed at Roots something along the lines of this ' I am a Scot, a Glaswegian at that and we move for no-one. No tuppence ha'penny hoor fucks with me, You need your roots done, I need a box, so c'mon outside.' Poor Roots was baffled and returned to her seat. She sent the barman over to question me and having established that I was in fact a harmless tourist and not a new hoor in town, I was left alone.

The Finnish gent was very impressed with my ability to talk a good fight and bought me a drink. That was a good drink more than I should have had. I left the bar, got round the corner, tripped and skint my knee to buggery. The next day I walked for miles down a salt mine, sore knee and all......

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Krakow Part Two

Everything I'd read prior to my arrival in Krakow led me to understand that the food was utterly foul. Maybe I was just lucky but I didn't eat a bad dinner or breakfast the whole time I was there. Lunch was taken on the move and was a bit more mediocre so I shall never mention it again.

For our first evening meal we ate at a wonderful Indian restaurant on Slawkovska. A channa pindi, a vegetable curry, a lentil Dal, two Soups, onion bhajis, three portions of rice, a portion of garlic nan to share and three pints of lager came to a total of £7:50. One can live like a king for next to nothing in Poland, though I'm sure that will change as the EU tightens it's grip. As an aside my late grandmother was convinced that 'common market' sent prices through the roof. I remain convinced it was the shock of that and then Thatcher being elected that killed her.

After dinner we took a stroll through town and had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a cat by the name of Mr Hippolyte. He was a rather distinguished black and white beastie who we found sitting at his own table outside a cafe. A man who seemed to be employed by Mr Hippolyte to lure tourists into their gallery invited us in as 'honoured Scottish guests'. I was quite touched, I am more used to people making bad jokes and calling you a drunk when they find out you're Scottish, though in fairness that does seem to be confined to the U.K. Anyway the man reckoned that the Polish people are in the debt of the Scots because our government is very good to them. I was too stunned to ask what on earth he was alluding to. Other than the occasional belly laugh I wasn't aware Scotland's rulers had done much for anyone.

Later that night I went to the hotel bar for a drink........

Krakow Part One

I have my shoes in one hand, my bag in the other and I'm sure that policeman is pointing that gun at me. If you've ever wondered whether or not airports could get any worse, the answer is a resounding yes. If anyone clever is reading would they mind awfully inventing a high speed boat or something so I could avoid the airport altogether.

However I won't dwell on the horror of Edinburgh airport any longer, it's just too upsetting. Fast forward a few hours and I am in Poland. I was horrified to find that the toilet paper dispensers in the airport appear to have been filled with a cross between recycled newspaper and tracing paper. Apparently they used to have the effrontery to charge you by the sheet for this rubbish but have since abandoned that scam. Progress of sorts.

We were collected at the airport by a quiet gentleman of suicidal appearance. My fears regarding his state of mind were not entirely unfounded it seems. The man drove like a drunk stuntman along a series of narrow roads and most hair raising of all, accross a railway track that some drawing board maniac had plonked in the middle of the road. I'm happy to say that our driver didn't take any risks with red lights though less so to report that there were in fact no travel signals in evidence at all. Mercifully the trains didn't seem to be running and we crossed the track unharmed.

After a few hours sleep we get up for breakfast only to be confronted with perhaps the most terrifying, old bag I've ever had the misfortune to meet in my life. I'm struggling how to describe her, the best I can come up with is angry Tory lady of a certain age. I could barely eat my breakfast for staring in total disbelief of this woman's constant complaints to the staff. She sent no less than six pots of tea back because she reckoned they weren't 'boiling hot'. The poor staff were baffled by her regular cry of boiling hot, possibly because she was bellowing at them in English rather than trying a bit of phrasebook Polish. Finally a 'boiling hot' pot of tea arrived only to be rejected because it wasn't 'English tea'. The pot was taken away, whether it was filled with English tea or just taken out and brought back in I cannot say. I must confess I became distracted as she started sending jugs of milk back for not being cold enough. At this point her friend, who looked embarrassed enough to crawl under a rabbit raised the possibility that the staff didn't understand her endless demands. This seemed to make the ridiculous old bag very angry indeed 'they understand all right' she replied, presumably in the belief that they all speak English really and just lay on the Polish for the tourists.

After breakfast I was writing my notes about the madwoman and smoking a fag outside the hotel when my blood froze in veins. She was right behind me, I don't mind admitting I was frightened. Fortunately for me she quickly found a Pole to shout at and demand that the souvenier shop be opened for her. Other than overhearing her later in the day telling the receptionist that she would have done well in the SS, I never saw the woman again and I hope I never shall.

More to follow...

Sunday, September 24, 2006


More to follow.........

Monday, September 11, 2006

North Berwick Gyp - Views From Berwick Law

North Berwick Harbour

Bass Rock

Looking across to the west bay and Fife in the distance

Patchwork of fields behind the town.

I'll have a full report up tomorrow night.