Archive | January, 2013

16 hours in German limbo – What to do when you lose your passport.

17 Jan

You’re on a train, sleeping. Next thing, you’re tumbling out of said train onto a freezing platform with bags and clothing flying everywhere and as you’re rubbing your bleary eyes, the train is disappearing from sight.

What country is this? No idea.

Look around. The LED board for a train that’s just pulled up says Hamburg, so this is either Germany or near Germany. Lets hop on that train.

Shit. A bag is missing.

A bag with passports. Two passports. An iPad. A purse. A camera. God knows what else.

Panic. Get off train. Get on train back to first station. Worldly possessions gone. Lost. Missing. Finito. Pulverised.

Life as we know it has ended.

Slight overreaction. Life is still passing us by, but minute by panic-stricken minute.

We happened upon German-Danish border town Flensburg completely by accident, you could even say it was the last place on earth we wanted to be, because at the time, that’s what it felt like. I have since come up with a number of less agreeable locations, such as further than three metres from shore at any of Perth’s shark/stinger infested beaches (I am terrified of both equally) or in the real life version of that movie Human Centipede that I’m too scared to watch.

We were attempting to make the routine passage from Prague to Brussels, then eventually on to Amsterdam, on an overnight train, changing in Cologne, Germany, which on the natively printed ticket, read Koln.

Mistake # 1. Returning to Prague in the first place. Fraught with disaster, but that’s a story for another time.

Mistake # 2. Not realising that the train was to split into three in the middle of the night, with each carriage creaking away toward the far reaching corners of the continent. Opposite corners.

Mistake # 3. Trusting the train conductor when she tells you that, not only are you in the correct carriage, but that she’s been ‘waiting for you.’

See now that already sounds a bit creepy.

Instead of closing in on decadent truffles and perfectly poured pints, unbeknownst to this pair of weary travellers who had already crashed the rightful cabin of a surprised young Syrian guy, innocently claiming it as our own, as we slept, the train split and we began hurtling north toward Danish seaport Kolding.

In our measly defence, if the Danish train conductor who stamped our tickets couldn’t tell her Koln’s from her Kolding’s, then how were we supposed to?

When 6 am crept around and nobody else on the train was preparing to disembark except us, Nic queried our lovely conductor who promptly threw us off the train, which is how we ended up in harbourside Flensburg.

With only a few rather aloof border police coming off night shift to help us, our options were looking slim. The closest Australian Embassy was in Berlin and an emergency passport would take a week at absolute best, which meant our long-waited and fully booked Amsterdam visit would be down the toilet.

After a futile trip into the town centre for Internet, we made our sorry way back to the train station, where a new shift of much friendlier Police had arrived. They brewed us strong black coffee in police service mugs we were tempted to keep before realising that would not help our case.

They contacted the Danish train service, who, after a nerve wracking wait, called to say hey had found our bag, untouched, in the carriage we had been ejected from, still heading through Kolding towards Copenhagen.

All we had to do was stand on the same platform at 10: 20pm that night and wait for the returning train bound for, you guessed it, Amsterdam, to glide in. Winning!

No camera meant no photos during the 12-hour Flensburg hiatus, but I did manage to have my hair cut and coloured and we bought Pick-up Sticks (Mikado) from the €1 shop, which we played while eating half frozen microwaved Curry Wurst at the train station cafe.

Everything fell into place beautifully. Brussels was a write-off, so we bought tickets for the Holland-bound train carrying our bag, waited on the still freezing platform for 10:20 pm to roll around and enjoyed an emotional reunion on board.

After almost three months on the road, we had learned how to travel by train. The hard way.

Celebratory beers after being reunited with our passports 16 hours later.
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Picture perfect, serene and well, downright weird – the one European location you should not miss.

11 Jan

YOU know when something happens that is so strange and unbelievable that people are not going to believe you when you tell them about it later?

Well, now that I’m safely back in the comfortable familiarity (if you can call 40 degrees and 50 percent humidity comfortable) of home, or the southern coastal suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, even I’m having trouble relying on my own memory of some of the happenings of the last 3 or so months. It all feels kind of like a dream.

But here’s one that was just that bit too unique to forget, or make up.

We were abruptly woken in the early hours of one morning in November 2012 by three thugs ‘from the Projects, man’ bursting into our hostel dorm in the lakeside town of Bled, Slovenia.

While two proceeded shouting in strange American accents, (they weren’t fooling anyone with that thick Slovene lilt) threatening to rob and kill us in the semi-darkness, calling out fairly offensive political propaganda that needn’t be repeated here, the more subdued offender jumped into a bed and promptly went to sleep.

Eventually, (like two hours later) and thankfully, we somehow worked out these unscrupulous felolows were none other than Slovenia’s most esteemed rapper Klemen Klemen and his ‘Tea Party’ who had put on a show at the tiny town’s only nightclub the evening before. Apparently they had nowhere to stay and nothing better to do than to terrorise us. Klemen actually returned later with cold and half spilt ‘apology’ coffees for us and got quite angry when Nic wouldn’t take his.

I’m almost 87 per cent certain you won’t get mugged, unless The town hosts another rap concert, so would highly recommend anyone wandering that part of Europe visit the tiny town of Bled, Slovenia.

In stark contrast to that one crazy night, Bled boasts a postcard-perfect lake, with the country’s only island, a bevy of beautiful but sometimes angry white swans, a leafy, mushroomy gorge you can navigate for kilometres above the rushing stream, leading to a breathtaking waterfall, a bar dedicated to former Man United star George Best, a sex shop with Slovenia’s only 3D porn cinema and devices designed by the owner’s husband and some of the most amazing goulash from this place.

Plus, in summer, the cosy 5000-strong population swells to 25,000 adventure sports enthusiasts who come to take advantage of the pristine lake.

There’s even a toboggan.

Check out our photos below, and if you’ve been to Bled, let us know what you thought!

This swan was friendly – and check out the gorgeous lake.
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View of the mountains while walking to Vintgar Gorge.
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Colours of Autumn.
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Welcome to Bled.
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Island view on an overcast day.
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Some interesting fungi at Vintgar Gorge.
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Vintgar Gorge
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A blog post from me would not be complete without one of these majestic creatures. Ruler of the abandoned house.
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