A Travellerspoint blog

The Balkan Bonanza pt. 2

Catching Catching Catching Up! Lake Ohrid to Thessaloniki to Kavala to Istanbul July 15th to July 24th


As always we are weeks and weeks behind on the blog and the guilt hangs over us like the awning we keep planning to make for our Hajji. Tomorrow we are off to Sziget Festival for over a week and again the madness will will us to the edge of perception. Lets talk about saner times....

After the Hajji-Disaster (outside of Skopje) the mood was a funny funky vibe as everyone was expecting trouble to descent again. Ben took our phoenixian motorbustrain for a testdrive and all seemed ok. Everyone in. Lucky the time was on our side and everything came together to get Latif and Paul to the airport in Skopje for their flights. Goodbye my sweets. Our crew down to 7 (Ben, Marcus, Lauren, Adam, Tannis, Jilal and Serbian Milan) headed into Macedonia to the picturesque Lake Ohrid.

On route we had our first run in with the law, the Macedonia police tried to stop us for not having our lights on and we cruised past, much to their dismay. A single officer took the chase and stopped us not far up the road. Milan immediately assured us that there would be no trouble (it is quite clear to us now that police serve a much different role in Eastern European countries). He first tried to stitch us up to the bill of 300 euros but quickly reduced his demands to dinner and beers for him and his partner. While we were discussing how much we should give him (if any at all) he decided we weren't worth the effort, gave us a thumbs up and drove off. Hah! Yet again, having a native Serbian on our side prevented an almost-certain financial setback. Later on the road, we missed our turn and my immediate instinct would be to head to the next turnoff and turn around and head back. Milan was utterly perplexed by this and shouted "Pull over Pull over" on the large and extremely busy highway. After pulling over, he commanded me (I obliged) and we backed up down the shoulder of this massive motorway about 500m to the missed turnoff. Isn't this illegal I asked??? Milan was surprised that you would get into trouble for doing this in North America, and doing so seemed completely natural to him. We arrived in Lake Ohrid quite late and had some beers and kebab on the water and found a nice parking lot to camp out (parking lot camping out = sleeping in and around the van on the ground in a parking lot). The next day we awoke and got to see the majesty of the lake.

Lake Ohrid was absolutely beautiful and certainly a highlight of the trip. The water (fresh water at that) was perfectly clear and warm, our campsite was right on a beach (albeit busy) with a number of bars spread down the rocky coast and connected by wooden bridges which dipped out over the water. It was the longest camping we had done (spending 3 nights was easy at 9euros/night split 6 ways) and most of our time was spent laying on the beach and playing in the water. We ventured into town and took a boat tour of the lake with a hilariously old little Macedonian man (who demonstrated the cleanliness of the lake by repeatedly scooping up and drinking its water), made a massive bbq meat feast one night at the Hajji, went to a hip hop party, swam under the moonlight, and drank a bunch of beers. It's a Hajji Lifestyle.

After Lake Ohrid we continued our journey south (sans Milan after dropping him and Laurens shoe at a street corner in Ohrid) and along the way were signaled to pull over by some wild Macedonia party boys who saw our Dutch plates and thought we might be able to sell them drugs (we couldn't). They told us they had just come from a party (it was 3pm on a Sunday at the time) and were heading to the afterparty (which had slides and a pool and everything they said, what "everything" meant we did not known) and that we should accompany them. Never to say no, we followed their erratic car through the coutryside to the afterparty....which turned out to be a public pool. At the afterparty they sat in the corner smoking cigarettes and trying to speak to young women who walked past. It was obviously not our scene, and after a quick dip and a couple of free jars of beer we touted elsewhere. South! To Greece!

We headed across the border into Greece (Welcome to Hellass! the signs said) and found a campsite about 40km from Thessaloniki. Arriving late we opted to camp for free out front of a nice beach side restaurant (the proprietors were quite friendly) and set up camp in a proper site the next morning. After some sun-soaking (a very common activity for the group) we headed into town in a futile effort to get our greasy little eyeballs full of Harry Potter cinematics. Sadly it is released in Greece a month later than all the other countries we are visiting so we decided to postpone it (this is foreshadowing). We decided to reconnect with the world at an internet cafe. Wham! Suddenly big news was all around us, Cous's sister Caroline had just popped out a little baby named Maggie Jean down in Australia! He was an uncle! We ran to the nearest supermarket and bought out all their cheapest champagne and celebrated in the streets (and in the theater at Bruno which was a disappointment). Our last night in Thessaloniki we bought a kings share of sardines from a local fishmonger, borrowed our neighbors bbq and made yet another feast. Sardines with salt and lemon, massive Greek salad, hot piping rice, bottles of Ouzo....ooooh. A sweet Scottish mother came over and was so happy to be hanging with younguns like us and listening to our stories. The next day her and her husband made us a sweet lunch and gave us beers to send us on our way. They also had a great/crabby old British friend named Peter who made us all sign his giant thatch sun umbrella.

With Thessaloniki in our rear-view mirror we headed east along an absolutely stunning coastal road on the way to Kavala, which is a little tourist town spread along the coast and much nicer than the bigger bustling city of Thessaloniki. Jalil's flight was early the next morning, so after briefly checking out the town we drove straight to the airport (getting lost numerous times) and set up camp in a ditch near the tarmac. During the celebrations (it was Jalil's last night, for which he got three wishes 1. Internet, 2. Breakfast for Dinner, and 3. A Cooler full of Ice and Burr) we were interrupted by a couple of Airport Commandos with full body armor and large machine guns. They were not happy at finding us in their ditch, but after telling them our situation (in proper friendly Canadian fashion) they were quite nice and let us spend the night. We sucked on ouzo until the wee hours of the morning. Jalil made his 6am flight with 10 minutes to spare. Down to a slim 5 people in the Hajji (the lowest since ages ago in Western Europe) we headed back into town for an afternoon of beach sleeps. Another afternoon of beers at the water (me and Cous snuck off and got a much needed replacement for our MP3 Player - Tape Deck adapter, the gift of music was again in our ears) and we even splurged and went out for dinner. Having a taste for free camping on our tongues we snuck the Hajji under the shadow of a tree and slept in the loins of La Plage.

Next morning (Friday, July 24th) our crew (Ben, Marcus, Ren, Adam and Tannis) packed up and continued east. With nearly 5 weeks being spent in Europe it was time to play our hand in another continent, the bridge between the East and the West, the majestic land of Turkey, the Occident and the Orient in one neat little package, truly a city unlike any other we had been to.....it was time for Istanbul.

Posted by rencous 02:33 Comments (3)

Breathe Easy...

...for the Hajj is alive and full of malt and vigour. As soon as the debacle simmered, and the smoke cascaded out into the Serbian morning sky, a tow truck descended and brought us up the hill to the mechanic's. All they kept saying was that the engine was dead, "Kaput!", and that Hajji would never ride again; the group was confused, angry, completely lost and spiralling. The price for a new engine: 1000 Euros. Jeez...well, if that's what we have to pay, then I guess that's what's gonna happen. 1000 Euros!! Adam, sweethearted super gentleman and destroyer of van, offered to pay most of it, but we would have nunavut. We were withering away, wandering around the garage, organizing a tow to Skopje for and additional 260 Euros, when Ren piped up..."Maybe we should try to just start her." Seemed like a good enough idea, though the mechanics at the garage and the wannabe mechanics in our crew thought it lacklustre and reckless.

But try we did! And Hajji sprang to life like a phoenix from the ashes, or like Uma Thurman when John Travolta stabs her heart with that needle!! Ressurected. A quick spin around the parking lot to ensure its health, and we piled back into her, with Adam staying away from the wheel. (He would later have nightmares re-enacting the whole scene.) Turns out that the catch under the gas pedal had just come unconnected, and caused the Hajji to go berzerk with fury...all that had to be done was to re-attach it (10 seconds, no Dinar)...no new engine please.

We hit the highway and made it to Skopje, sans further occurences. But what happened after, on the road between the capital and Lake Ohrid...that's for next entry!

Posted by rencous 05:58 Comments (3)

The Balkan Bonanza pt. 1

Belgrade to Prokuplje and almost to Skopje

The Hajji winds came blowıng after EXIT, sending us South to the former capital of Yugoslavia, the big badass first city of Serbia: Belgrade!!

On the outskirts of town, Tannis' scanning eyes found us a campsite on a ridge above the Danube, and we rolled in - Hajji's fırst night of trueblue-down-to-earth-back-to-the-basics nature tramping. Uneventful, except for we were again reminded of the Michelin-level grub that Hajji never fails to provide for us: roast chicken, mashed taters, and stir-fried veg. The morning saw us into the city for a short affair wıth Serbian nationalism, before yet again smacking the highway, bound for the world's newest nation, Kosovo!

With Paul Walker manning the steering and pedals, and 7 more drivers ın the backseat, we got lost. Highways gave way to roadways which turned into country roads before becoming small-town Serbian streets - we lost Kosovo, but gained Prokuplje. Sitting on the side of the road, debating what to do as the day disappeared, honks and hoots came out of the night. A car pulled up and a young man emerged, voice excited, telling us he recognized Hajji from EXIT. What were we doing ın Prokuplje, a town of 20,000 in the south of Serbia? Did we need a place to stay? Were we hungry, thirsty? Milan, this angel of a man led us to his family home, where we were to spend the next three days living with him, his sister Anna, his mama and papa, and his tear of a granddad. He spat out some Serbian and immediately his mother was arranging sheets, apples, drinks and even packs of condoms at the head of our beds. We said such generosity was not necessary, but the Serbs were not having it. Kosovo could not compete with the likes of this and we found ourselves having an incredible time in the unsuspecting village of Prokuplje (little fact, it was the first town bombed in the Yugoslavian War some 15 years ago). Lauren and Paul still very much wanted to see Kosovo so split off in the afternoon and had quite an adventure as the Hajji could not enter Kosovo (registration was forgotten at the house) so they hitchhiked across the border and explored the less than 2 year old country for a couple hours. Helicopters, UN troops, barbed wire and machine gun nests ran amok and the sight really opened their eyes. The rest of the crew (Ben, Cous, Tannis, Adster, Jalil, Milan, his sister Anna and their dog [Latif stayed home to book his flights...] went to a gorgeous lake in the afternoon and then were fed a MASSİVE feast which his mother appartently spent all day creating. A huge bean dish, fried fish and peppers, meat, wine after wine. Lordy lordy it was nice. That night (July 15th) was Latif and Paul's last, so we headed into the historic city center and celebrated with scores of Serbs, young and old.

A few hours of sleep later we quickly saddled up the Hajji and began to head to Skopje where Paul Walker and Latif had their flights to start the journey back to Canada. Little did we know what this day would hold. Our first mishap was about an hour and a half later when suddenly the Hajji puttered out and would not start. We diagnosed a lack of fuel, the diesel had run low and we were in a hurry to get our friends to the airport. Lucky for us, we had a super Serb on our side as Milan had tagged along for the journey. Ben and Milan hitched to the nearest fuel point and filled a massive water jug with diesel. 30 minute delay. No problem. Still plenty of time to make their flight in a few hours. We fueled up and Adam decided he wanted to try his hand at driving the Hajji. Uh oh. Changing from 2nd to 3rd the engine suddenly erupted and was holding firm at what sounded like a million screaming bees. Clutch we shouted! Change gears! Adster knew what he was doing, but the Hajji would not follow his lead. Suddenly smoke cummed from her loins and filled the entire van so thick you could not see your own moustache. Escape!!!! Paul Walker led the batch to escape and Latif and Jalil both bunged up their legs smashing into the unforeseen guard rail which lay mere feet from Hajjis doors. Marcus was sleeping in the back and awoke in a cloud of smoke, slowly crawling to the front to ask Adam (who decided to sink with the ship, feet off all pedals and keys out of the ignition) "Addy....whats going on man?"......"İ DONT KNOW!!!" he shouted. After what seemed like an eternity of insanity with the better part of our crew scattered in a Serbian field, some bleeding, lungs full of smoke, and echoes of screams wringing in our ears the Hajji rumbled a final breath on the hot black asphalt road, and died......
to be continued......

Posted by rencous 07:26 Comments (7)

Exit Festival - A bucket of Brits, beach-time, and bustle

Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, Prodigy, Madness, Grandmaster Flash, Silent Disco, Carl Cox, Casper and Roscoe and so much boom boom dance music

Cheers from İstanbul! Life....as always....is wonderful. A couple spares minutes for an update so here is Exıt Festıval! No photos yet but we will go back and add some later....in the meantime, check out Latif and Paul's photo links from the last update.


After the quick paced travel of Western Europe, we had finally reached our destination and the purpose of this trip. A Balkan Adventure starting with the former Yugoslavian Grand Empire. First up on the itinerary, Serbia, the bullies of the bunch. We picked up Tannis (with her new temporary passport after an overnight 22hr bus-ride from Amsterdam) on the morning of the 8th in Vienna, and hopped on the highway straight to Novi Sad. Our crew was 8 at this point (Ben, Marcus, Ren, Adam, Paul, Tannis and our two new crew Latif and Jalil). We left very early so had a lot time to spare and took our time to get there. Crossing the border was fun, as our crew unloaded and pushed the van through. We have been universally appreciated everywhere we have gone and authorities consistently laugh at us rather than question us. Going into Serbia we were met with cheers and applause, and the border crossing guards found us genuinally hilarious. The highway was uneventful, and by dinnertime we found ourselves in Novi-Sad, Serbia. A year-round fairly quiet town, the city explodes with activity each year for Exit Festival, and there were younguns meandering the streets everywhere; we had found the party.

There were many thıngs to be done, buying tickets, getting Paul his press pass, taking out a dollop of Serbian dınars to whether the storm, stocking up on a dozen boxes of 1 euro Serbian wine, etc. etc. After popping into town and dancing with all this responsibility it was time to head into the festival. Exit Festival was celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and was incredibly good time. From Wikipedia: "Held in the picturesque setting of an eighteenth century fortress by the Danube, the festival quickly grew in stature and reputation. From its grass roots political beginnings, over to occasional problems with financing, and ending with wide praise it's lately receiving, EXIT tries to stick to its initial mission of providing relevant entertainment to Serbian youth while also bringing pertinent social topics to the forefront.". Blah blah blah. The only social topic we were confronted with was the prevalence of youth alcoholism.

We camped out at the festival campground which housed thousands of drunken young Brıts and was a really rowdy time. The festival itself was about 20 minutes walk from the camp, so each day we would head to the beach of the Danube and soak up the rays for hours on end and then head back to camp, slurp some cold and/or warm jars of beer and head in for a night of adventure. As with Fusion Festival there is simply too many stories to recount in a blog post, with days on end spent roaming and dancing and meeting so many wonderful people. Our group stayed in the Hajji, on her roof, and in one tent and was surrounded by some hilarious young drunken Brıts (İ will emphasıze this population only one more time). In the morning it was so friggen hot we would awake in sweat and cab to the beach as soon as possible. The beach was a lot of fun everyday, playing ping pong, swimmıng and lounging in the sun.

Comparing this festival with Fusion, it was very different. At Fusion the festival and camping were a single organism, which made coming and going a breeze, while Exit the festival was staged inside the massive fortress and camping a short jaunt away. Exit was also a lot more mainstream, with the general populace being normal drunken younger Brits (in the campsite at least) while Fusion was more mature and fringe-hıppıe vegans. The setting at Exit was something to behold, with all the stages being scattered through a massive fortress which was really epic. We also knew a lot more of the bands (at Fusion we didnt know any....) so got to see some cool shows. İt was also VERY nice to have flowing water near the camp as Fusion the hot heat and lack of daily hygiene definately added up. İt was very interesting to have another festival to compare, apples and different types of apples.

The group tried to stay together as much as possible but this proves to be VERY difficult when washing around in a crowd of 20 to 45,000 people). Arctic Monkeys were really cool to see, as well as The Prodıgy which were really wild. One highlight was certainly the Silent Disco stage, where everyone is given a headset upon entering the stage and all the music is played in the earphones rather than out of speakers. İf you take your headset off you are in a massive dancing crowd of silent people, wıth some singing along and everyone moving to the same beat. İt's really cool. The festival had a strong emphasis on electronic music as well, but it was tucked away mostly in a massive Dance Stage at the back of the fortress. A couple of nights we would scurry there at 2 or 3am and dance until the blazing sun roze over the crowd. Unforgettable experiences. Some other artists whıch pop to mind are Lily Allen (talented and hot), Grandmaster Flash (an old hack), Moby (surprisingly rocking) and a couple Swedish Death Metal acts (only Adam frequented these, and he was very happy).

After 4 days of squalor we packed up our tents and said goodbye to our party friends. The crew set off south to begin its Balkan exporation. Next stop, Belgrade.....

Posted by rencous 06:32 Comments (1)

The Brevity of Boxer Briefs

My sunburnt fingers go boom boom boom

Cheers from Kavala in sunny north Greece.
The Hajji crew lost Jalil back to Canada this morning, and in the coming week will also see Adam and Tannis depart. They will be quickly replaced with our dear friend Foget and Morgan and the journey will continue. Change change change, turn turn turn.

We promise to write up the Exit Festival adventure, as well as our travels down through Serbia to Macedonia, and the past couple of days in Greece. To tide the masses, here are some links to some photos which have been posted.

Latif met up with us in Prague and joined the crew for Exit fest and Serbia before scooting off in Macedonia. Here are some photos of his time with us...
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2252975&id=122613180&l=89c9effa90
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2252986&id=122613180&l=86a68518bc

Paul Walker is now back in Canada, and has had some time to edit some of the beautiful photos he was able to take with us. Here is a link to his Flickr page where you can view some of the gems.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/pwalks

Also Adam is running a seperate blog which he started for his travels in Ghana before meeting the Hajji. İt contains some Hajji stories as well...
http://addyinafrica.blogspot.com

More to come!
Much love,
Ben

Posted by rencous 10:42 Comments (1)

Western Europe Bonanza

Soaking up the fruits of our wonderful friends hospitality Berlin - Holland - Prague - Vienna

It's hard to describe the feeling after camping out in a dry and waterless plain for 5 days amidst 30,000 people who would best be described by most as members of the fringe. The comforts of silence, showers, hygiene, rest, toilets, and most of all, silence, hold a lot of appeal. On the last day of the festival we began to say our goodbyes and skirted around, checking out a last couple of concerts. The festival manages its waste by having every participant pay a 5 euro deposit which is returned when a full bag of garbage is collected before leaving. Garbage is suddenly valuable! A couple of quick faucet showers, and we set off to Berlin accompanied by a number of new friends who were also headed in the same direction. The pace of the Hajji was starting to become a little more understood to the group, but with the massive exodus of people from the festival we ended up doing the 100km jaunt to Berlin in about 4 hours.

I had visited Berlin in the fall of last year with Dan, and was lucky enough to be hosted by one of the most generous men I've met here in Europe, Arne. People really make the places you visit, and to see Berlin through the eyes and ears of Arne is a delightful experience. Our dirty and disheveled group found its way to his place on Sunday evening and quickly spread its greasy little feelers into all corners of his home. Showers, laundry, store-bought turkish pizza's, cold beers....all the luxuries were suddenly available. We indulged.

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Hajji Crew at the Berlin Wall

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Berlin - Poor but Sexy

The next day we woke up and spent a couple hours connecting with the world again. Not for long, as Berlin laid in wait as well as a new addition to the Hajji crew....Paul Walker! A friend from our old stomping grounds at Western, he is now a fledgling photographer and highly functional member of the team (just to update we now have Ben, Marcus, Lauren, Tannis, and Paul, as well as Conrad tagging along for the Fusion-Berlin adventure). We found him outside a BMW/Bentley dealership as a small degree of hustle and pranced off into the streets. Berlin was a big change after our time at Fusion, and we spent our time checking out the Berlin wall, soaking in Arne's childish enthusiasm, eating cheap kebab and burgermeister burgers, and generally loving life.

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Ben and Tan on the Swings - It is nice to have a beautiful photographer like Paul around!

Our time in Berlin was boxerbrief, as Holland and the 6th member of our emo-hiphop-power group awaited, Adam. A couple nights of adventure and we were back on the road...straight to Maastricht. The Hajji is a gentle soul and after a late departure we arrived in Maas around 2am. A couple quick glasses of wine and reunions with my old friends (I have lived in Maastricht the past 2 years and finished my Masters there) and it was bedtime. The next morning we continued our journey north to Utrecht, where Marcus and Ren officially signed on as owners of the Hajji. To celebrate the legal automotive matrimoney we sadled up again and rolled into Amsterdam around dinner time and camped out in a parking lot.

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Marcus driving the Hajji on the Autobahn!

A friend and true spirit friend of mine Tommy lives in the city, so we parked our Hajji in a little lot just outside his house. The people surrounding the Hajji had never seen a bunch of scoundrel Canadians like us before, and everyone was out on their balconies at first laughing at our arrival and then scowling in confusion as to why we were suddenly living (cooking, eating, changing, doing make up) there. Amsterdam was a blast as always, and as with all the other cities we visited in Western Europe, was a true example of how important the people you visit in a city are over the city themselves. In Amsterdam we had Tommy, and an old Queens darling named Idette who is currently doing an architecture internship there. Tommy has just launched a line of casual footwear called Dippers (http://www.dippershoes.com) so life is very exciting and busy for him! We explored the red-light district, did some partying, and finally met up with the last member of the Hajji crew - Adam Ambrozy! Just returning from doing a University of Alberta (where he is doing teachers college) course in Ghana, he was joined by his lovely girlfriend named Pam for a few days before we arrived. We met up with them on the 2nd day and paroosed the sunny streets for the afternoon, but settling in a park and telling tales of yesterday and tomorrow. I also received an exciting phone call inticing me to switch my PhD from Australia to Vancouver in this park, a ball which has been rolling for a couple weeks now. Unfortunately, Tannis had a setback with a stolen wallet which gave her a (in)convieniant extra couple of days in Holland to get a new passport when we left for Prague a few days later

After a couple days in Amsterdam, we again said our goodbyes, and rolled south to the crown jewel of Hollands south, a city which should not be missed by any visitors to this tiny lowland country, and a place which holds a lot of love in my heart...Maastricht! It was a Friday night, our friends had just finished their final project for their fashion degree, there a large graduation party for one of the bigger faculties at the school, and we decided to throw a large BBQ party to celebrate/mourn the end of a wonderful era for a lot of people. The BBQ/party was at Conrads amazing mansion of a house and EVERYONE was there. There was also an amazing party at the large factory squat which I've been involved with through various capacities for the past few years. It was a busy and big night, so we stayed up all night.

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Ben and Marcus playing pong at the factory

Early the next day (Saturday, July 4th) we all packed in the van, strapped all our bags to the roof, and hopped on the autobahn for another LONG day of driving. The first week of the trip contained a lot of driving as we had so much distance to cover to escape the capitalistic clutches of Western Europe and escape to the crazy solace of the East. We arrived in Prague at the wee hours of the morning (yet again) and hired a taxi driver to lead us to our new home, the home of a great man of noble Cordoban descent that I know from my days in Sweden, Alvaro Recio Garcia a.k.a. Pelon Loco. He is currently doing an internship in Prague, and was happy to host our crazy crew. Prague was as adventure as usual. The first day we were there (Sunday July 5th) was the Wimbledon final, so we all went downtown and watched the game in one of the fine drinking establishments right in the main square of town. After that we went for some cheap massive pizzas (finally starting to reap the cheap rewards of the East). The pace of travelling took its toll on us that night, and we succumbed at a decent hour. The next day we spent some time doing Hajji upkeep, and changed her oil and fixed the tire on a bicycle. Boo and Cous took a wild ride on the highway on our bicycles in search of additional oil, and at one point were biking down the shoulder into oncoming traffic when a police car with a couple of startled officers flew past, unable to keep up with our antipedal pace.

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The Hajji Crew (minus Tan) enjoying many massive Pizzas in Prague

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The Famous Clock in Prague Main Square

Our last night in Prague we celebrated like insane people and found a number of Mojito's and glasses of champagne falling into our arms at a relaively swanky divebar. At one point, outside to take a pee and breath of fresh air, Cousman felt a zinger in his leg and knew that all was not well. A sniper had taken hold in the windows above, and he was again peppered with a hot pellet in his leg. "Sniper!" he shouted and before he took refugre, Lauren and Paul Walker were also struck down by the mad Czech gunner. We got some police officers and told them of the assailant above, but they didn't seem to care much. We also managed to meet up with an old friend from highschool Latif, and his friend Jalil in Prague, who were there randomly at the same time doing the same thing as us. "Do you want to join our crazy crew and come to Serbia?".....of course they exclaimed! The Hajji crew was now expanded to the cozy number of 8 (although Tannis was still in Netherlands at this point). Another late night...early morning, and we were off to the last bastion of Western frivolity...Vienna!

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Lauren ripping off Ben's shirt infront of the UN headquarters in Vienna

We arrived in Vienna around dinnertime and had no idea where we should go. Lauren (a inexperianced standard driver who was quickly learning) found her way to the "European Center" where we parked and saught out a phone to call our host for the evening, a man of undescribable quality and integrity, the founder of gentility, Johannes Braune. Johnny, an old drinking buddy of Couster from Dalhousie, is working for the UN in Vienna, and it turns out that the random location we found ourself parked at, full of urban climbing walls and enthusiasts (including us) was RIGHT infront of the UN buidling and his work! The Hajji truely is a blessed vehicle, and the times we have had luck deliver us boons of fortune are uncountable at this point. Johannes took us back to his beautiful crib where we listened to the wonders of his life (this man is incredible) and went out for some delicious wienerschnitzel. The next morning we said our goodbyes...again....and picked up the Tannis with her new official temporary white-gold passport and set off for Serbia.

Western Europe was a very comfortable sojourn between Fusion Festival and our next stop in Seriba, Exit festival. We regenerated and recooperated under the care of our dearest friends. Visiting any city is defined by the people you see it with, and we were very lucky to have amazing hosts from Berlin, to Amsterdam, to Maastricht, to Prague, and finally Vienna. Thank you for everyone who helped us. Now on to a lost place full of mad individuals, Exit Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia......

Posted by rencous 10:39 Comments (1)

Fusion - Our First Festival in the Van

The Hajji is Upon Us

As you may have noticed, the life of indulgence seems to trump the effort involved in maintaining a blog. We're sorry for being so selfish. Here is a post about Fusino festival that was written a couple weeks ago, we are camped out in Macedonia for the next few days and will try our darndest to catch everything up. I hope all is well my friends......


June 27th, 2009
Fusion Festival: June 24th to 26th
Finding time to blog is turning out to be tough, but we have a couple hours tonight in Berlin so me and Cous are taking a two pronged approach to maximize our creative output. Life is grand, but before we get to this lets roll back a couple days....a couple of days which few would describe as normal.....

Everything all began last Wednesday, over a year of planning and careful deliberation leading up to this one day. Conrad and Ben packed up and head off to pick up Tannis at the Amsterdam airport. We found her a little lighter than expected, as her bags had not made the transfer in London, but no time for looking back. After a long trans-atlantic flight, we stuffed her in the van and began the 600km journey to Rostock. The Autobahn is a cinch, and with the calm and reassuring voice of Conrad lapping in my ear we were soon pulling into a parking lot to the much delighted smiles of Marcus and Ren. Other than the bags (and my missing passport which was later found) everything worked out perfectly! Success! Where to....
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The Hajji Crew en Route to Fusion

Fusion Festival is a 4-day music festival held at an abandoned German air force base a couple hundred miles outside of Berlin. Over 30,000 people set up camp and loud music plays around the clock. Although the music is predominently electronic (with a couple 24-hour stages) there are other genres represented. We arrived late on Wednesday night, found a place for our Hajji van and set off into the night. There is people everywhere, all shrouded by darkness, all of which is very disorienting. Our first night we wandered in awe.
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One of many Fusion stages in old Air Force Bunkers

The next day we had a couple pertinent tasks. The first being to co-ordinate the delivery of Tannis's lost bag to an abandoned airforce base in the middle of nowhere Germany. This took a little diligence and time but ended in success. There was also an extended social network which we had to tap into, which worked with some and failed with others. Its quite easy to loose or not find people in such an environment! The time spent at the festival included wandering, massive 20 person ping pong matches, dancing, singing, exploring, cartwheeling, bicycling around, meeting crazy people, etc. etc. etc. Here are some pictures....
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Marcus Ren and Tannis on a overcast afternoon

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Ben on-stage at a pro-sex feminism rap/techno show. Girl in the back is the lead singer....

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Tannis and Ben in one of his crazy costumes....

We focused on more the leisure side and atmosphere of the festival as the majority of the bands were foreign to us. We did manage to catch a bit of hip hop, folk and rock music (albeit much of it in German). Although the techno they were providing did not rely on ones ability to understand German, the artistry in its sound was often lost to us. The festival was truly a wonderful experiance, much thanks to the amazing group of people we spent it with. Through friends of Conrad, and the Landbouwbelang in Maastricht we knew a bunch of people to party and guide us around. After 4 days we were dirty, hungry, tired and much in need of rest. On to Berlin.....
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A Mere Fraction of the total people there - over 30,000 were camping

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Our group right before leaving - its been a LONG weekend!

Ok so this is a start of the catching up...more to come. We have had some ADVENTURES in the past few days and can't wait to write them up so you can enjoy as well.
All the best my feathery friends,
Ben

Posted by rencous 11:29 Comments (1)

Scandy Dandy

From Helsinki to Hajji!!


View Getting the guys and then Fusion & The Pig's Tail & So Far... on rencous's travel map.

Hello. Cous again. Just crossed the border into Serbia from Hungary. Exit Festival in less than 90 mins, so this damn blog quebecois has to get done, cus we still haven't made it to when we touched Hajji, and so far we've been with her for 2 week.

It was on the 15th of June that we left dynamic Ivo and made it to Helsinki. As soon as we touched Finland, the weather turned sour grape and Ren and I had about 3 hour to kill before we were to meet my friend Anna, from my Copenhagen days, so we decided to hunker down somewhere and pass it. We holed up in an urban cave, underneath an apartment's window, sleeping bags and toques. Our first Finnish encounter walked past and screamed through the gale, with his finger pointing to the sky, "Lousy veather!" We nested on a bed of pebbles and ate peanuts and dried fruit while we watched a movie about Danish pervs. Time flew, and the rain stopped.

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Our cozy rubadub Helsinki hubnub.

That night, Anna started right away showing us what a nifty hostess she is. We went to a screening of short films made by friends of her's from the city film school. There were about five shorties from the spectrum over; Finnish-language shorties at that! It was all terribly cool and avant-garde, and then we drank some of Anna's fave beers with some of the artists/stars/hipsters.

Helsinki was what it was because of Anna, and we owe her everything. She took us to a friend's place for Spanish omelettes and juice, 2nd-hand shopping where Cous, (that's me), got real neat shoes and shorts and postcards, and even a swanky scarf for Paul Walker. We also took a train to Turku and made hang-out with some of her pals there - couple of extra-cool Finns who we played bar bingo with. The fella worked at-slash-owned a record shop 'round the corner and was a musicman extraordinaire - 2,000 CDs and many, many LPs. Had a ball in that delicious town. Then it was back to Helsinki for a nice day at an abandoned power plant...a concert that never was and a graffiti wall littered with artists in the midsts. Beers with more friends followed.

The next morn Anna walked us to the bus stop for our ride to the airport - Helsinki to Stockholm, express! And we were off.........goodbye my sweet Finnish friend!

After an 18-Euro shuttle from Arlanda to the centre of Stockholm, and a metro ride to Andrea's place, we took a walk though the pretty city and bought 6L of wine for the Mid-Summer party the next day. We only had one night in Stockholm, at a friend's of Andrea's who was out of town, (and whose place was this incroyable aparta, all to me and Ren and nobody else).

For Mid-Summer the next day, we hopped a bus to Vasteras, an hour West of Stockholm, and made it to our friend Krista's place just in time for the food. Now let me say this, the place that she rents is like something out of that lovable Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables. It's a one-bedroom affair behind the main house, with gardens surrounding it, running down to the river. Flowers and trees and chickens and roosters and an old gate and rural silence all trick you into believing you're at an old farmhouse miles and kilometres from any city, but from her door to the city centre is a 10 min stroll, no more!

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So GD darling......

The party was an international gumbo - Swedes, Germans, Dutch, Canadians, and even a French. Food and wine and music and a maypole that tonnes of Swedish people insisted on twirling and flouncing around. That day and night were so perfect, and Krista K. Walsh is a damn saint. We spent another day in Vasteras, more of the same, with wine and food and Euros, until the next morning when Krista dropped us and our trappings at the local Shell, where we started the hitchhike to Copenhagen.

The going was slow, with nobody actually going out of town, but when we decided to move to the on-ramp, we were scooped up by the first car! Not going far though, the Turkish father and son duo dumped us at a nice little junction with tonnes of traffic. But, like everybody had been telling us, the Swedes are a suspicious bunch, and all we got was squints and leers and puzzled housewives averting their eyes. So we walked a bit to a new spot, I hid myself so that more dudes would pull over hoping to give a pretty girl a ride sans me, and almost immediately a guy pulled over, going to Malmo, right across the strait from Copes. We popped in and the ride was smooth as, a 6-hour jaunt South through that glorious kingdom of Three Crowns.

Another hitch from Malmo to Copenhagen, across the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark, a free bus deeper into the city, and we were at Thomas' place. Thomas Hansen was my best friend from my exchange in Denmark, and it was the tip-tops to see him again. By some stroke of heaven he is without job too, so we got to spend all day every day with him, wandering this way and that through the city, taking burr at every turn. It was the bestest to be back, to see the sights and feel the feels that made me love every day of the six months I spent there back in 2005. Kongens Nytorv, Nyhavn, Amalienborg, Islands Brygge, and to Amager Beach for another Mid-Summer shiner. God golly goody every minute spent in that bodacious babe Copes was magic. It made me swear to myself that I will go back every opportunity I can, and to spend some real time there soon.

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Ren, Thomas and I on the dastardly beams of Nyhavn.

After 3 day with Thomas, we were forced to vamoose. We took the train to the highway, and after some upstart walking through reeds and weeds along the Holbaek Motorvej, with Ren leading the way, with calves suffering, with sweat trick trick trickling over our hitchy signs, and with maddening Danes zipping and zooming and honking past us, we were picked up by a VW-kinda man willing to throw us anywhere...and he did. Then then, after 3 hour heading South with a silent great dane, and a drop in Gedser, we were graciously ladled onto the ferry with some Germans who were pleased beyond belief to turr with us. They scurvied us aboard the crossing, and then when it came time, made big time to wait and see Hajji come around the Rostock port and find us by the duty-free shop-stop. I love everyone that was involved in that rendez-vous. Ren and I finally met Hajji on the sensual docks of the Rostock docks...and I will never forget it. Boo, Tannis, Conrad...there to scoop us and scurry us to Fusion...........heart and beauty. And off to Fusion.

Posted by rencous 19:43 Comments (0)

digital delinquency...

more to come!

sorry for the lack of golden nuggets flowing from our fingers. we just finished Exit festival in Novi Sad, Serbia and have a lot of back blogging to do. it is constantly on our minds and will get to it soon!

the journey continues south to Belgrade tonight.
more to follow....

Posted by rencous 03:16 Comments (0)

Getting there...

Moscow to Tallinn

Rolling down the highway toward Prague, nestled in Hajji's boob, tapping this out on Paul's computer. Knew we had to catch up on the blog and keep you all satisfied. The trip is definitely on now, and it's getting tough to find time to sit and write, what with all the fun to be had otherwise...but you still need to hear about my and Ren's solo jaunt from Moscow to Rostock.

We got off the train in Moscow city and got right into the metro to head to the home of our Couchsurfing hosts, Dmitry and Elena and their 2-year old Jaroslav. So we found his building, but hadn't counted on him being at work all day. We were wondering what in the Sam Hell to do when a Russian lady walked up to us and started speaking French, seeing if she could help. She called Dmitry for us, figured out that he'd be home around 10pm, and then brought us up to her apartment where we left our bags for the day so that we could go see the town; turns out Russians are only terribly scary on the outside.

We met Dmitry and his family later that night, and they were amazing. So friendly and eager to accomodate us in any way. We told them that we wanted to catch an overnight train to St. Petersburg the next night, and so, at 11pm, after a long day working, Dima took me out in the pouring rain to the station to get tickets, trading jokes back and forth the whole way.

The next day was a juggernaut through the city, running this way and that, scoping all the scoops. Started off at the Red Square, the Kremlin, Lenin's Mausoleum, St. Basil's Cathedral...all that necessary mumbo. Then I super wanted to see the War Museum at Victory Park, so we went and ended up having lunch with all the hilarious rollerbladers striding around. That night, it was off to St. Petersburg.

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Ren - that´s my girl.

SPb was more of the same, as far as Couchsurfing goes: our host Semeon was working until 11pm so Ren and I dumped our fat bags at the train station and danced down the boulevards of the prettiest city in Russia. Made it to the Hermitage, didn't go in, but the outside was just darling, then had an ice cream on the lawn and walked along the river...and actually bumped in to a Korean guy that we had met on the train from Ulaan Baatar...what a gentle soul that Asian was.

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Midnight in St. Petersburg...so light!

Next day, Ren and I made it out to Peterhof, the Russian Versailles, in the drip drip of the rain. It was a sight for sure, even with the throngs milling around everywhere, with elaborate gilded roofs and gold fountains. Semeon took care of us after that, feeding us some tea and warming us up. It was really too short to spend in St. Petersburg, only 36 hours, cus it's such a delightful babe of a city, but we were happy to be heading to Tallinn.

We arrived in Estonia's capital earrrrrly, at 6am, and walked over to the next CSer's place. That day turned out to be one of the best of the trip: Sven took us to a friend's bicycle repair shop in the middle of an old Soviet industrial factory park, and we had a barbecue, drank beers, had laughs, saw a skate demo in the next factory, and took in the Estonian hospitality. There were actually two other CSers there - a German and an Italian - and the dynamic was dynamite.

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Ivo and I, lover´s roll.

The following day was also a beauty, and our real host, Ivo, took us out on some bikes to see the famous old town of Tallinn. Man, that place is good. Chock-a-block full of timber houses lining countless cobbled alleys, Tallinn is known around Europe for having perhaps the most beautiful and well-preserved old town centres. The sun was shining and the bikes were riding smooth, even though mine was sans brakes. We spent a quiet night back at Ivo's place, as the next morning it was an early ferry that was to take us across the sound to Helsinki, and Finnish Anna.

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Ivo and Ren momenting on the Parliament wall, overlooking the old town.

Posted by rencous 04:21 Comments (2)

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