Saturday, December 12, 2009


I'm almost finished. This trip, and maybe this blog, has less than a week left. Here's another weeks worth of travelling.

I was in Bollnas this time last week and the only reason to be there was to meet up with my mate Alex. It was fair to say that there was nothing for me and Alex to do in the small town of Bollnas apart from what Alex seems to have been doing for the past three years - go ten pin bowling, eat, hit on small-town Swedish girls and drink beer. It got a bit boring quite quickly. We went out to a bar, of which there are two to chose from for the whole town, and it was one of the strangest places i have ever had a drink. It contained three bars, three blackjack tables, two dartboards, a dance floor, shit music, a big screen TV and a load of people who for some reason thought that Bollnas night life rivalled that of London or Hong Kong. Somehow me (an idiot Englishman) and Alex (who's from Ethiopia) got talking to a plumber from Uruguay and a drunk Somalian mental case. In Sweden. In winter. I'm starting to miss normality.

Bollnas was the furthest north i've ever been and the frost one morning was so thick that it tricked you into thinking it had snowed during the night. The sun lazily woke up at about nine thirty, struggled in an upward direction for a few hours and then just gave up, wandered back down to the horizon and disappeared at about three in the afternoon. Me and Alex got a bus back to Stockholm and it wound through an edible scenery of trees and fields that looked as if it were covered in icing sugar.

Stockholm is a very chic place. Coffee shops look like furniture show rooms and restaurants resemble modern art galleries with a few tables thrown in the middle. We were walking around the cobbled streets and old buildings when we saw a small demonstration by Italians about Silvio Berlusconi. One of the demonstrators gave us a leaflet and Alex asked what was going on and why.
"How long has he been in power?" he asked.
"Fifteen years", the demonstrator replied.
Alex shrugged.
"Shoot him," he said blankly and walked off.
I almost died laughing. It seems you can take a man out of Africa but you can't take Africa out of the man.

And Stockholm's expensive. It was over five Euros for a beer but that didn't seem to stop me and Alex drinking Guinness, playing darts and reminiscing about life in Hong Kong. But after a few days in Bollnas you'd probably start reminiscing about time in prison. The next morning i was on a bus again and Alex was back in small town Sweden.

Twenty two hours, two buses, two ferries and a loaf of bread separated Stockholm from Dortmund. Dortmund isn't a great city. It got the arse bombed off it by the British in the Second World War meaning the whole place is filled with functional 1950s architecture and all the heavy industry that was there has recently left for other shores. I'd planned to meet Marco who was working in Seoul when i was and was now back working in Germany again. Marco lives near Dortmund in Hagen and him and his family let me sleep on a sofa in the basement for two nights and feed me at every opportunity.

I had a day Düsseldorf which sits next to the Rhine River and was once the financial capital of Germany until all the banks moved to Frankfurt for reasons that nobody seems to know. Düsseldorf is also home to one of the largest Japanese populations outside of Japan. Again, nobody seems to know why but it adds to the city which is a decent place to waste a day and drink a beer. I also went to a small city called Munster which was like Oxford but German. And then i got on another bus.

Koln is spelt Cologne in English (again, nobody really knows why) and i stayed with Stefan who i met in Uzbekistan. He and a load of German students were doing research in Tajikistan and were seeing Uzbekistan while they were there. In Koln, we swapped more central Asian stories and by coincidence i was there the night that they were doing a big presentation at the university about Tajikistan which joined the dots between Samarkand and Koln quiet neatly. I had a few drinks last night in Koln where i ordered a wheat beer which for some reason came mixed with banana juice. Apparently the good people of Koln enjoy fucking up the already wonderful German brews for reasons that, guess what, nobody seems to know. I'm starting to think that Germans aren't as we all thought they were. All the precision engineering and efficiency and beer brewing is just a ruse and they are all, in fact, clueless about everything and secretly hate beer so much that they choose to mix it with fruit juice.

I've been racing too fast through Europe which isn't ideal but better than flying over it and so today i was on another bus to Amsterdam where i arrived a few hours ago. After here it's Brussels, Oxford and then the finish line in Leeds.

Thanks for reading. Have fun.

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