All Posts Filed in ‘Europe


Lviv, Ukraine

Things are difficult in Ukraine. Even though I didn’t understand the language in Slovakia, Poland or Lithuania, at least I could read the letters, and then it’s often possible to get an idea of what’s going on. The culture here is also quite different. East Europe by comparison is very European. I’m in Lviv now, which is a big town. There don’t seem to be many restaurants or bars here. There are stalls where they sell beer and you can sit outside to drink it, but last night the only place I could find to eat was a McDonald’s. I think I might have signed up to the KarmaBanque boycott of McDonald’s, but I lapsed last night. At least Big Mac is the same in any language, and even looks similar the way they write it in cyrillic, but it’s just as repulsive in Ukraine as it is in any other country.


Chop, Ukraine

I got on the train for Lviv at Kosice, Slovakia, at 7:24 but I didn’t have a ticket. I’d gone to what I think was the Kasa, ticket booth, in kosice station but the woman behind the curtains didn’t speak any English. I showed her my print out with the train I wanted to get on it, but she just wrote down the time of the train on it, even though the time was already on there. I told her I wanted to buy a ticket but she was just pointing to the train. It was about 7:10. I should have said billet instead of ticket, she probably would have understood that. Anyway, I assumed I’d be able to buy a ticket on the train.


Email to Gordon Brown

Re: Government response to petition ‘NoVATonBikes’

Dear Gordon

Thanks for the reply. It’s good of you to get back to me. Tony never did. However, I’m a bit disappointed you don’t want to go for this, and your response that you can’t because the EU won’t let you sounds a bit lame, and plays into the hands of Eurosceptics (you’re not a Eurosceptic are you?). If Europe is a democratic institution, which it’s supposed to be, then surely the British government could campaign to abolish VAT on bikes and bike parts as part of a Europe-wide kind of thing. Climate change is going to affect all EU nations so I would have thought they would all want to encourage people out of their cars and onto bikes wherever possible. As well as being good for the environment, cycling is also good for people’s health and for their state of mind. When you’re on a bike you’re open to a world, and on public transport you’re in a social environment, whereas people who spend too long in cars, closed off to the world and to the people around them, end up like Jeremy Clarkson, which I’m sure you’ll agree is not good.


Message from Gordon Brown

You recently signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to “Encourage
people to cycle by removing VAT on bicycles, tricycles and human powered
vehicles and on all cycling parts and spares.”

The Prime Minister’s Office has responded to that petition and you can view
it here:


High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

I walked out of the pension and turned right. I walked up the hill, past two small churches and several hotels and pensions, to the cable car station, where there are a load of snack bars, a tourist information office, and bureau de change, and the ticket booth for cable cars that go up the mountain, which is where I was going. It had clouded over but it wasn’t raining like it was yesterday. In my bag I had my waterproofs, just in case, along with my camera, a bottle of water and some sandwiches.

I bought a ticket to Skalnaté Pleso, 1751m above sea level. It’s possible to then get another cable car all the way to the top of the highest peak, Lomnike Stit, about 2600m above sea level, but I wasn’t planning on doing that. The top of the mountain would be covered in clouds anyway, and it would be cold up there. 5 degrees at Skalnate Pleso according to a sign down at the bottom.


Srara Lesna, High Tatrys, Slovakia

The food in Poland was generally not that good, slabs of dry boneless meat with potatoes, though I’d taken to having salad, but it was always in a salad bar and seemed to have been sitting there for days. But on the last night in Krakow I ordered ribs, potatos, cabbage and pickled cucumbers, and apart from the fat on the ribs it was quite good. All the restaurants in Zakopane had unvarnished wooden furniture and fittings, and always a group dressed up and playing traditional mountain music.

I went to the hospital yesterday to have the stitches in my finger taken out. This hospital, like the one in Krakow, had building work going on in it. Now I’m sitting in a hotel bar in a small town in the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia, the sound of drilling and hammering coming from beyond one of the walls.

After the hospital I took a walk up into the mountains. All the way up to the top of a ridge, up where you were about level with the clouds, a good three hour walk I think, there were always people right in front of me and right behind me. It’s high season now and it seems like everyone in Poland comes to Zakopane and some point during the summer. Also, today was the first fine day for a few days so I guess people were making the most of it.

I was hoping this hotel would have wifi internet but it doesn’t. It’s an expensive place, so I would have thought it would. I asked about rooms here at the reception, knowing it would be too expensive for me. I’m staying in a private house about 3km down the road from here, in a small village. It was arranged by the tourist information place in Stary Smokovic, about 10km away where everything was full. The woman came to pick me up in her car. She was short and fat, about 50, with curly ginger hair. She spoke a bit of English and was a terrible driver, driving into a rock in the car park because she went forward instead of reversing, stalling a couple of times, then almost running over a couple – and we still haven’t got out of the car park. As we were driving her phone rang a couple of times and so she was driving without changing gear, which didn’t work out so well on the small mountainous country roads.

In Zakopane I didn’t go out much. There was internet in the hotel and though I’d planned on doing some work I got distracted with catching up on the news, then watching some videos online. including The Great Global Warming Swindle, shown on Channel 4 a few months ago, and then I downloaded Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, something I’d been meaning to watch for ages, and had been feeling I ought to watch but thought it would be a bit of a chore, but as it turned out it wasn’t. It was quite watchable and entertaining, though as much a promotional video for Al as for action on climate change. But much more honest than TGGWS, which, with an invisible narrator came across as a Horizon or Equinox programme, presenting an objective truth, which it wasn’t at all. A bit of searching on the internet plus watching a very good Australian TV programme, The Great Global Warming Swindle Debate, which included an interview with Martin Durkin, the films producer, that ripped him apart, exposing his faked graphs and high misleading and frequently inaccurate statements.


Zakopane, Poland

The main pedestrianized street of Zakopane, whose name I forget because I don’t know how to pronounce it, is full of people walking up and down not seeming to be going anywhere, many of them going there with ice creams, binoculars, cameras and pushchairs. Most of the shops are restaurants, either fast food burger kebab type places, or grills, where you can have a slab of meat, a kilo of potatos and salad.

Neon lights opposite say “Cocktail BAR Morskie M Oko Sam — AR”. A sign in a shop says “WAKACYJNY SZOK CENOWY !!!” In another window it says “END OF SALE” four times, white text on a pink background with some fancy bordering at the top and bottom.

It starts to cloud over. It seems to do that here at around this time. The mornings are sunny but by mid-afternoon it’s cloudy and then late afternoon it’s raining and then the evening will probably be cool coat-wearing weather.

People in costumes and painted faces, one all gold, many silver ones and a pink lady, stand still and until someone wants to take their picture, then they collect money. Further up the street is a guy with amputated legs, his stumps showing, sitting in a wheelchair.

It’s become quite a bit darker since I’ve been sitting here, in a cafe on the street. Thunder sounded just now, some way off. There were some ooos from people walking past. I could go now and try to get back to the hotel before the rain comes, or I could wait here under the canopy.


Zakopane, Poland

A week in Krakow is more than enough, particularly if you’re staying in a hostel that seems to have been set up to cater for the stag party crowd: groups of between 5 and 20 British and Irish men. The hostel laid on a booze cruise 3 nights a week (90 zlotys to eat and drink as much as you like) and a notice in the bar challenged people to drink as many different vodkas (they appeared to have more than 20 types) in an evening. Away from the hostel, the main square of Krakow is entirely circled by outdoor bars, and is said to have a higher density of bars than any other city in Europe (but I’ve also heard that said about Salamanca in Spain, so it probably depends how you measure it). I also heard people a few years ago saying Krakow was the new Prague, and Prague was the new Paris, or something like that, but I think now Krakow is more like the old Basingstoke on a Friday night. There are clubs and there is live music and restaurants and a number of things going on but it seems the only thing worth doing is to drink. Beer is about 7 zlotys a pint, which is about £1.20. It’s cheaper if you get it from an off-licence. Someone said it was these high earning Londoners who could afford to come over to places like this and drink so much, but if you come over on a budget airline and stay in a hostel a weekend in Krakow is probably cheaper than a weekend out in London or Dublin, so I don’t think these stag party types are necessarily that rich, though they can’t be that poor either.

The centre of Krakow is dominated by tourists. Everything is set up for tourists. If people approach you in the street, trying to sell you something, they will most likely speak to you in English, particularly if you look and sound English/Irish/Aussie/American etc.. With a couple of other English the other day two women got us to test aftershave, saying they were doing market research. They got us each to put a bit on our wrists and smell it, asking first if we thought it smelt nice then if we thought 79 zlotys was a reasonable price for a bottle. The other two were polite and said yes, it smelt good and 79 zlotys was quite reasonable, but I said I wouldn’t buy it whatever the price. From then on they ignored me and started handing the other two free gifts, various boxes, suggesting that for helping out with the market research they were being rewarded, though it turned out the gifts were only free if you paid for something else, the original aftershave I think. First 60 zlotys, and then 40 zlotys – they said because they were the last two bottles and they were finishing up for the day so they could virtually give them away.

The two English I was with that day had both travelled overland from Japan (where they had been teaching English) to here. They hadn’t known one another in Japan but had met in China and then had taken quite different routes, one going up through Mongolia to Irkutsk in Russia and taking the trans-Siberian, stopping off in several places in Siberia, before heading down through the Baltic states. The other took a southerly route, through Kirgistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine. On BBC World just now (I have a TV in my room) there was an advert for Kazakhstan, directing you to the website, though on going there it says
…has recently expired!
and then has a page of links, including: Flower to Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan Girl, Kazakhstan Flag, Kazakhstan Hotel, Kazakhstan Woman, International Adoption Kazakhstan. Each link leads to a page of advertizer links. Whenever someone clicks on one of those links the site owners will earn a small payment.

Apparently Kazakhstan is quite expensive. About €40 a night for a hotel room.

Some people were watching Borat (Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) in the video room in the hostel the other day. They watched the whole film in about 20 minutes, fast forwarding through most of it.

Meanwhile, in the virtual world, since I have wifi in my room I’ve been watching some things on the internet. The Great Global Warming Swindle was shown on Channel 4 a few months ago. It challenges the idea that global warming is caused by humans. It was very professionally made and for a while quite convincing, until you start looking up its claims on the internet and find each of them rebutted. But perhaps a film like this is enough to make a number of people think, oh well, since there’s doubt about global warming I can take that flight to Krakow this weekend and getted pissed out of my head without feeling guilty about it. I watched a Canadian film, made by the CBC, called The Denial Machine, about how this denial business has been funded by the oil and coal industries, backed by the White House, and how it operates in a very similar way to the tobacco lobby when they were claiming (not so long ago) that the link between cigarettes and cancer has yet to be proven.

If you watch any one of these videos on YouTube, or anything related to global warming, you can see part of the denial industry in action in the comments section. At first sight it looks like there are loads of deniers, but then you see that the same names keep appearing, and then if you read their posts you see that often they have been copied and pasted from their posts under other videos. Usually these people appear to be American, because they say things like Global warming is a conspiracy by Al Gore to take over our government / raise Americans’ taxes / make America weak… Everything revolves around America on YouTube. Google video seems a bit better, and the comments on there aren’t quite so inane – or there aren’t quite so many inane comments, but perhaps that’s just because there aren’t so many comments.

Some good websites on this subject are:
Climate Denial – a blog looking at why
Real Climate – climate science from climate scientists
How to talk to a climate skeptic

And also see the LegJoints page: Climate Change Denial

Climate change deniers don’t like being called climate change deniers because it sounds too much like holocaust deniers. (Max Keiser of KarmaBanque actually calls them holocaust deniers, because they’re denying the coming environmental holocaust.) Last week I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camps that are not far from Krakow. There’s a 3 hour tour, that starts with a short film and then you’re guided around the Auschwitz museum, through room fulls of the hair the Nazis collected from people, and their possessions, how gold teeth were extracted from the bodies by dentists etc., it’s hard to take it all in and I found myself wondering whether holocaust deniers, on seeing all this, would finally accept that the holocaust really did happen or whether it would just make them more adamant that it was all a big conspiracy and that all the evidence was manufactured.

It’s very hard to prove anything. If you were to travel back in time, to the middle ages say, or further, could you convince them that the earth was round? Or that the earth goes around the sun?


Krakow, Poland

Polish bread can be quite solid, unless you go for sliced bread, which I will now after slicing my finger this morning and ending up in a Polish hospital. The taxi driver took me to one place, which was a bit like a hospital, but not really. It was a back entrance. A guy with short cropped hair was standing outside smoking a cigarette. When he’d finished his cigarette he went in side, put on some surgical gloves and peeled the toilet paper off my finger. Blood dripped on the floor. He bandaged up my finger and told the taxi driver to take me to another place, which was a hospital, though building works were going on there. Through a couple of corridors there was a small packed waiting room. The taxi driver pushed his way to the front and gave my EHIC card to the nurse. There was some discussion in Polish. The taxi driver told me we’d have to wait a few minutes. There was someone else there who spoke English. He was with a couple of French women, one of whom told me they were first in line then I would be next. All the other people were waiting for a different doctor.

Across the corridor from the waiting room, behind some netting due to the building works, was the hospital chapel. It was empty.

The doctor arrived, the French women and their translator went in and came out quite quickly. Then I went in. I asked if I’d have to pay anything. I asked if I would have to pay anything and was told no, the British government would pay.

After that there wasn’t much communication. In another room I lay down on a table and watched the doctor get a syringe ready. Without any warning he stuck it into my finger. Looking at my contorted face he smiled and said “pain?” I nodded, but then my finger went numb and I didn’t feel the stitches, but I did feel the nurse sticking a needle into my arm on the other side, also without warning. That caused pain as well.


On the train from Vilnius to Warsaw

I took the bus from Palanga to Vilnius. It cost 51Lt. Now I’m on the train to Warsaw. 67Lt. I have 10Lt in my pocket. The rest of my money I changed into Polish Zlotys. The woman in the bank seemed to find the way I said Polish amusing.

It took a while buying the train ticket, queueing at three different tills before I found one that would sell me the ticket, and then there was a load of paper work and a phone call. It was about a ten minute wait.