miércoles, 15 de febrero de 2017

New blog

Hi everyone, from now on I'll continue writing stuff here, as I like the format much more. I'll mostly write about music and some of my trips but I may try to write about other stuff too. I hope you enjoy it!

miércoles, 1 de febrero de 2017

The longest train trip

There is a story I’ve told my friends about a thousand times. Actually, I know for a fact that if I ever have grandchildren they will hate me because of this story. At this rate, however, my maximum aspiration will be to own a chihuahua, so no problem.

While I was on my Erasmus year in Rzeszów, Southern Poland, I went on a trip to Budapest and Bratislava with three friends in March 2012, which is ages ago and means that I’m getting old. After spending two days in lovely Budapest, we bought a two way ticket to Bratislava. Why two way if we wanted to go to Rzeszów from Bratislava? Because it was cheaper than buying a one way ticket. Yes, cheaper, less money. No, I don’t understand either.

We arrived at Bratislava one cold morning and decided to spend the whole day walking around and take the 11pm train to Rzeszów. However, we changed our minds when we got back to the train station at 10pm and we were told the train was 50€. Definitely not what we considered a student-friendly price. We needed another way.

I called Jozsef, a Hungarian friend, and asked him to search for a cheap way to go from Budapest to Rzeszów (remember, we had a two way ticket from Budapest so we could go back there “for free”). There was: bus, 25€, next day at 7am. Let’s go back to Budapest, look, that lady who Works here told me there’s one in a few minutes, let’s take it, go go go. We got in. We sat. The controller came:

-          Controller: Ksliufhslifunsfgihsdgsg (or something like that, sorry I don’t speak Hungarian).

-          Us: Sorry, do you speak English?

-          C: Yes, please show me your tickets.

-          U: Here they are.

-          C: … these tickets are useless here. This train doesn’t go to Budapest.

-          U: WHAT.

-          C: Yeah this train goes the opposite way.

-          Me: Ok ok you saw we have a ticket, we didn’t try to cheat or anything, please let us get down at the first stop.

-          C: No, you have to pay for your ticket.

-      M: Oh come on, we don’t even have cash (at that moment I swear the coins in my pocket made a clinking sound cause by the rhythmic sway of the train).

-          C: Oh well… fine, get down in ten minutes when the train stops.

This is obviously not the exact dialogue but it was pretty much like that. Anyway, we obviously got down at the first stop, which turned out to be a place called Kuty, at around midnight. The plan was to wait for the next train back to Bratislava. We were young and wishful.

There was no next train any time soon. After a brief exploration of the station, in which I discovered the oldest toilet mechanism I have ever seen, we were told to leave at 1am because the place had to be closed for the night.

Some time later I learned Kuty is actually a town so I guess we actually were in some station in the suburbs slightly away from the town itself, because when we left the station I swear we saw three buildings. Literally three. It was March and it was very cold so we were pretty much screwed, but one of those buildings turned out to be an abandoned (and open) police station.

We spent four hours there. It was really cold and I had to give my coat to the only girl in the group so I climbed up and down the stairs to keep warm. The place was perfect to film a gory horror movie and the basement was in ruins. We didn’t even get there because we couldn’t see a thing and who knows what creatures from Hell were lurking in the shadows.

We took a train to Bratislava at 5am. There was no way we could make it to Budapest and we didn’t want to wait until 11pm to take the train to Rzeszów so we had to take three trains: first to Ostrava (Czech Republic), then to Katowice (Poland) and then to Rzeszów. Oh, and we paid 50€ anyway (plus the train that went from Kuty to Bratislava). All in all going from Bratislava to Rzeszów took five trains and twenty-one hours when it should have taken one train and ten hours. Ah, I was such an amateur traveller back then. Good old days.

viernes, 6 de enero de 2017

Minsk (II): green, wide and clean

Lovely Loshitsky
After a not so pleasant fourteen hour long bus trip and a long night’s sleep, it was time to see Minsk. My friend Zhenia took me to Loshitsky Park, which surprised me because of how calm it was considering the city centre was not too far away. Really charming place. In fact, one of the most noticeable things about Minsk is how green it is.

Check the front door: it's open!
After a summer with really horrible weather in Warsaw I didn’t expect sun, no clouds and almost thirty degrees in Minsk, but each and everyone of them was very welcome. At least I welcomed them, although I’m afraid that people who were travelling by bus didn’t agree with me. As every other place in Eastern Europe, things are prepared for the cold and when the weather is hot, some places get VERY hot so buses, for example, had their front doors open so their drivers wouldn’t literally melt and leave the passengers slightly unprotected.

Independence Avenue

Once there was nothing else to see in the park we went for a walk around the centre and the old town (which, I have to admit disappointed me a bit). Another interesting thing about Minsk is how huge the avenues are. Warsaw has some wide avenues, but nothing compared to Minsk, or at least that’s the impression I got. To top all this grandeur, the names of the main places were really patriotic: Independence Square, Independence Avenue and so on.

Don't be fooled, this was a very good party area
When we had done enough sightseeing to make me feel at peace with myself, we went for a beer in a very interesting place, a street which had been once full of industrial factories and in which some bars and party places had slowly sprouted. By then, another friend had joined. She introduced us to some people, including a couple that had hitchhiked around the world and had written a book about it.

Strangely enough, we went home at 9pm. One of the few things I regret from this trip is not exploring the nightlife, shame on me. A problem with one of my friends put me in a weird mood and, as I write about this trip almost several months after coming back, I realize I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. Still, in the next couple of days I'd see many more interesting places.

viernes, 9 de septiembre de 2016

A Polish wedding (The Survival of the Fittest)

I’ve lost control of this blog thing.  Three blogs and I’m not really writing for any of them often enough. Now I should keep writing about my weekend in Minsk before it’s something I can just tell to my grandchildren, but that’ll have to wait a bit because something I had the honour to attend a Polish wedding. And no, it was not mine, I’m still available, ladies.

Me at the beginning: what am I doing here?
A bit more than a week ago, a friend told me she was going to a wedding and her plus one suddenly couldn’t go. We didn’t (and don’t, I guess) really know each other that much but going to a Polish wedding was one of the things in my to do list for this year so I couldn’t say no. It was in Jarocin, a 28,000 inhabitants town four hours from Warsaw, so I spent Friday night in Poznan, where I met a really kind CouchSurfing host, before meeting my friend and going to Jarocin.

The ceremony was quite simple: around 45 minutes in the church filled with some religious songs and speeches by the priest, speeches from which I could understand basically one word, “modlitwa”, and that’s just because it’s the name of a very cool song.

Once the ceremony was over and I could interact with people again, bazillions of one grosz (one cent of the local currency, the zloty) coins started falling from the sky. Ok, not from that high, people were throwing them; apparently in weddings you throw them to the happily married couple and they have to pick them all up, which often takes from three hours to seven weeks.

Very tasty stuff 
Immediately after that we went to some kind of celebration hall which smelled of cabbage (proof that we were in Poland) decorated with red and white balloons (more proof that we were in Poland) and the real party begun. The real Polish wedding. The main reason why I was there. I knew I was going to need quite a lot of energy so I ate a lot at first: huge tasty croquettes stuffed with different things, different meat products, some traditional Polish soups, etc.

This is how you fill a shot glass
Once I was ready for the real challenge, I turned from the food and faced it: the vodka. No bullshit here: there was no other alcohol. I mean, I saw a few bottles of beers at the entrance, but nobody touched them. I wondered if they were for the dogs or what. No wine, of course, just vodka. The plates were changed several times during the wedding, as well as the bottles of vodka. The shot glasses, however, were our faithful companions throughout the whole evening.

Who needs Bruce Springsteen when you have Calypso?
After a few shots, I felt ready to face the other real challenge: the music. Music of questionable quality, if I may add. Three guys with cheap keyboards and a saxophone delighted our ears with a selection of Polish music to which I’m sure most people would be allergic in different circumstances. Not gonna lie, I danced as much as anyone else and it was great fun, as I had the luck of meeting a few people there who made me feel extremely comfortable the whole time.

I have also realized that, when it comes to weddings, it’s not that Poles can drink like crazy without getting drunk, but rather that they know how to drink in a very smart way. What happened at this wedding was that for 20-30 minutes there would be some background music while people talked, drank and ate, and then the next 30 minutes would be of live music with everyone dancing around. This sequence would go on for eleven or twelve hours. The good thing is that if you dind’t stay on your chair during dancing time, it was just imposible for the alcohol to get to your head. I won’t say how much I drank (although I’m quite sure it was a personal record), but I was absolutely sober all the time.

Don't ask. Please. Don't ask.
To make things better, some dancing games were played. I don’t really know how to explain them, but when I saw some people being chosen for who knows what, I sneaked out for a couple of minutes. When I came back, I saw things that can’t be unseen. Oh, and I should also mention that, to remind us that we were in Poland, the waiters served more cabbage… at 1.40 am.

The celebration finished at some point between 4.30 and 5am and I danced until the very end; my obviously sweaty hair in many photos is the best reminder. After that, we all went to sleep hoping that the next day we would still be human beings. I can’t really say I was, but it was totally worth it. An extremely fun experience. Congratulations to the husband and the wife!

Thanks to everyone for making it a perfect evening

viernes, 26 de agosto de 2016

Minsk (I): a not so pleasant bus trip

I’ve liked Eastern Europe for quite a while now and, as I’m living in Warsaw, I’m trying to explore it a bit further by going to some not so typical destinations. One of the places in my bucket list was Minsk, and that’s where I went the 19th of August.

Getting the visa done was relatively straightforward, although it’s a totally overpriced one (I’m including this information for whoever is interested). First of all, a local friend sent me an invitation to go (20 or 25 euro, depending on how fast you want it to arrive). After that, I had to go to the Belarusian embassy in Warsaw with three or four documents, all of them quite easy to get. Finally, I went to the embassy again one week later to get my visa (which is 60 more euro, so the total price is 80 or 85).

The bus even had these internet/movie/music screen thingies
I must admit that, although I had a good time in Minsk, the bus trip was definitely one of the highlights. First of all, the price: buying the ticket in Belarusian rubles was almost half price as doing it in euro or in zloty (big thanks to my Belarusian friends for pointing that out). Anyway, I took the bus at 10am in Warsaw and I was relatively surprised to see there was free Wi-Fi, a plug per seat to charge whatever devide you were carrying and a free tea and coffee machine. I was thinking wow, quite nice, is there anything this bus doesn’t have? Oh wait, no seatbelts. Yep, it makes sense, who needs a seatbelt when you have free internet. I’m going to leave it here because otherwise I’ll get so sarcastic I’ll have a sour taste in my mouth.

I was having a pleasant trip, sitting in the back of the bus, not bothered by anyone, when suddenly the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t pay too much attention at first, but after a few minutes it was obvious something was wrong. Two hours later the driver fixed whatever it was that wasn’t working and continued its way until the border, where another little surprise was waiting for us, or rather for me. Apparently the guy in my passport photo is someone else with a slightly thicker beard and slightly shorter hair, so the guy who worked there politely (fortunately no sarcasm here) asked me a few questions about my name, the duration of my stay, who I was going to stay with and so on.

Green green Belarus from the bus

Two hours or so after getting to the border, they let us go and I finally entered Belarus. We changed bus right after that, as ours was still not working that well. The new one had seatbelts, how luxurious. The rest of the trip went on placidly; two weird-looking guys with a bottle of something that didn’t look exactly like milk sat next to me but they were totally ok. I finally arrived at Minsk at 1am, more than four hours later than expected, but luckily my friend lives close enough to the station so she was there waiting for me. We fell asleep immediately after arriving at her flat: a weekend of very long walks in green Minsk was waiting.

jueves, 14 de julio de 2016

A weekend in Kiev

If there’s something I’ve realized since I came to Warsaw in January it’s that Poland is not Eastern Europe. It’s not Western Europe either, actually, but rather something in the middle. I guess there are different reasons for that, but one of them is definitely being part of the European Union, which has made it relatively easy for some foreigners to come to Poland. That is obviously more noticeable in the capital, where half of the friends and acquaintances I’ve made are not Polish. Sure, I’m not Polish so it’s easier for me to hang out with other expats, but that wouldn’t happen in other countries.

When I say other countries, I mean basically non-EU countries like Moldova and Ukraine, two countries I have visited recently which have made me see the real Eastern Europe. I already wrote about Moldova a couple of months ago and now I’ll do the same with my weekend in Kiev.

Fast & Furious: Ukranian version
I arrived with Jesús, one of my colleagues, on a Friday evening. Due to the heavy rain, I guess, we had to stay in the plane for another hour once it had landed, and after that we needed some time to get some help from an Ukranian guy to call a taxi. As you may imagine, taking a taxi there is a big mistake: I asked one guy and he told me the price was 850 grivnas, while the price we finally paid for the taxi we called was 270 (at this point one euro is almost thirty grivnas).

The city made an impression on me since I started approaching it. Huge grey working class apartment blocks sprouted from the ground, menacingly guarding the lower buildings, while an upside-down red car in the middle of the road made us wonder how well people drive in Kiev.

We arrived at Javi’s place rather late and he and another colleague of mine were waiting for us. We decided to take it easy that evening and we just had a few pizzas and watched a random Eurocup match.

Countless bracelets can be found at Maidan
The next day, after a long and nice sleep, we went for a long, nice walk. Until it started to rain quite heavily, that is. Before that, we went to Maidan (Independence Square) and walked through parks unnamed in my mind. Maidan is already an impressive place in itself, but when you hear what happened there a couple of years ago and you see the photographs and the flowers you can’t help becoming very solemn. I don’t think this is the place to discuss those events so I’ll leave it here.

Year 2500: the human race has been extinct for 200 years...
Kiev is a very green city and I love that. A few minutes after leaving Maidan, there was a point where I could see big buildings very far away, separated from me by a sea of trees. The whole thing seemed to be taken from a post-apocaliptic movie, like one of these scenes where you can see the city far away, behind the overgrown trees.

The Motherland Monument watches over Kiev
It started to rain when we were arriving at Lavra, so we decided to continue walking and go to the Motherland Monument and the WW2 Museum first. I strongly recommend the museum, although many things there will make you wonder how can we get to the point where we lose our soul. I swear I was terrified when I saw the bone crusher, a machine that transformed the bones of dead people into fertilizer.

After that we went to Lavra, a place with several religious buildings which we didn’t have much time to enjoy. I’ll probably go there again next time I go to Kiev, as the place was very interesting. I was surprised by the many young priests I saw, many of them in their early thirties.

We took the underground to go back to Javi’s place. The remarkable part is that we went to the deepest metro station in the world, Arsenalna: 105,5 metres deep. Not bad, huh? Going down took actually more (I think) than the trip itself.

Then came the obvious things: dinner, chilling a bit, watching another Eurocup match, same old. But the day wasn’t over: we couldn’t leave Kiev before a good party. Well, actually I could, as I stayed in with Javi. The rest of them went to a club, joined by two Italians and two locals. According to my friends' report, they contemplated in amazement how, for the first time, there were many more girls than guys in the club. And excuse me for discussing mundane matters of the flesh, but most of them were extremely attractive. Unfortunately, many of the guys there looked as if they were looking for an excuse to break your face and they certainly seemed to have the muscular power to do it. Long story short, they behaved and didn’t use their Spanish charm.

The next day we took it very easy and, guided by a local girl we met, quickly saw a few orthodox churches and a nice park. Before, we saw how a guy in a minion costume chased a pretty girl and kissed her hand fifty-seven times before she could get rid of him. Note to self: buy a minion costume before the next trip to Kiev. I’d write more about my impressions of the churches and the park but I’m writing this two months after the trip so my memories are quite blurry, plus I think I was too tired that day to pay attention to my surroundings anyway.

All in all, it’s a city I really loved and I’ll definitely go back again, because I realise there’s so much I didn’t see.

Here are some more photos from the trip.
First view of Kiev

Arsenalna: the deepest metro station in the world

Jesús and me trying to steal the spotlight from a newly married couple

Maidan is a really impressive place

Orthodox church


When you buy metro tickets, you get these

martes, 19 de abril de 2016

Moldova (III): Orheiul Vechi and last adventures

Once we had seen Chisinau and Transnistria we felt like breathing some fresh air, so we decided to go to Orheiul Vechi (Old Orhei), an old historical complex 60 km from Chisinau. Jorge, a Spanish guy who was in the hostel, decided to join us.

Many houses in Ivancea were like that
Javi called the taxi driver who took him to town they day he arrived and they negotiated a price to go there. Why a taxi and not a bus? Because we are so hip that we wanted to stop at a random village and see rural Moldova. We stopped at a village called, I think, Ivancea, which had around 500 inhabitants according to the taxi driver.

One of the many wells we saw
Even though I know there are much worse places in the world, walking around Ivancea was a humbling experience that made me realize once again how lucky I am and how easy my life is. There was hardly any pavement, and the little that could be seen was in an awful state. Most of the paths were really muddy.

Even the most random villages have nice Orthodox churches
I don’t know this, but I have doubts that there was actually running water there because there were a lot of wells which had very transparent water. Yes, the water was good, I tried it and I’m still alive, my skin is not green and I don’t have three eyes. So my bet is that the water was good. Another option is that they only use the wells when they have a problem with running water; it’s perfectly possible and I don’t really know what’s the answer.

The last surprising thing about Ivancea is its Orthodox church. The view of a village in which most of the houses looked like they could fall down at any moment but the church is so (relatively) magnificent was certainly interesting. By the way, I have the feeling most Orthodox churches I’ve seen are made of cardboard, and that one wasn’t an exception.

The chapel's walls were surprising
As for Orheiul Vechi, there was not a lot to it, but the landscapes were nice and I always enjoy a walk in the countryside. It’s a dead place in winter, so dead the woman from the information office didn’t even have a couple of the most common banknotes to help us change money. We didn’t really see any archaeological remains, but the landscape was very nice: a valley surrounded by a U-shaped river and, right behind it, some hills, on which we walked. We also entered a little underground chapel which a very old couple had decorated very nicely. The chapel had another exit, which led to a narrow ledge and then to a precipice. Yes, the mandatory pictures were taken there.

Javi and me next to the precipice
I don't often take selfies but admit it, this one is cool
The photo doesn't say much, but trust me, this was good
After a nice walk, we ended up in a village called Trebujeni, which is a funny name there’s a village not that far from my hometown called Trebujena. There was a restaurant which only opens in summer, so Javi worked his Russian magic to convince the old woman who was there to work for the three of us. She told us she’d need an hour, which was ok because we didn’t really have any other choice if we wanted to eat hot food. After a little more than an hour, she came to our table with food for approximately four hundred and seventy-one people. Man, it was good. An orgasmic stew, tomatoes, a weird omelette thingy, some kind of fried bread with goat cheese and I don’t even remember what else, but the thing is that we couldn’t finish everything. We tried our best; it was just impolite to not finish the food this woman had cooked for us, but we just couldn’t. She asked for such a ridiculously small amount of money that we gave her a bit more; after all, the difference was bigger for her than for us (here I am, possibly sounding snobbish again).

Abandoned hotel in the main street
After eating, we took a marshrutka back, relaxed, and exchanged out blood for beer in the evening in the company of Alina and a very nice friend of hers, Ana. This proved not to be the best of ideas, as the next day there was a disco party inside our heads. I got better early enough but Javi was a corpse until lunchtime. We went for a couple of short walks to regain consciousness and then Javi, Jorge, Alina, Ana and Aluna, a lovely local we met in the morning, and me went to a nice bar where a guy was delighting everyone’s ears with the way he played jazz with his guitar.

One last pointless story: I bought a Transnistria postcard as a souvenir and, as I was walking back to the hostel with a happy grin on my face, the wind decided to laugh at me and blew the postcard away. It danced away, teasing me in slow motion, until it fell right in the tiny gap between a wall and a bunch of stones used to pave the streets. No way to get it back.

I saw this at the airport: not stereotypical at all
I left at around 2pm the next day, after buying a bottle of Moldovan wine (try any of them if you have the chance) at the airport. It was an amazing trip, I met people I want to keep in touch with and I definitely recommend you to go to Moldova if you want to do something different during your holidays.