Our family


Ah, lovely Lithuania.

We trained through Eastern Poland and Western Lithuania. The countryside became less manicured and populated as we travelled east, we started to see lots of cranes, horse, geese, and (of course) cows. Quite a bucolic feel. At the border the passport control soldiers came on, and carefully looked at our passports before stamping them (well, mine at least, Luke has the advantage of a British passport, but personally I like my stamps), occasionally stroking his gun. Ugh, I hate having people with guns around me. People are crazy, I don't like them having the ability to instantly kill me if they choose. Quite unlike the Polish passport guard, who got bored halfway through our cabin, and forgot to check my passport at all (no Polish stamp).

Further into Lithuania we started to see some of the ex-soviet heavy industry, including the nuclear power plant sister to that in Chernobyl. A stop over in the middle of nowhere (well, the middle of Lithuania, I guess) then off the quirky Vilnius.

And quirky was the right word for it. It had its charm, with beautiful buildings and churches, but nothing like Prague, Krakow or Warsaw. The buildings were not restored to the same level, but it had a very festive atmosphere to it. Luke and I sat down and had a few beers and a pizza (Luke still hasn't managed to find anything other than chips or pizza to eat in Europe, my pizza was a "vegetable pizza", which unlike my one in Prague did not have cucumber on), then just people-watched. Luke was happy to note that the girls were even prettier than in Poland, which I could hardly dispute with their beautiful long legs. Cultural difference was interesting - we almost never saw two Lithuanian girls walking around together without holding hands. I think it is lovely, physical contact enhances friendship, and it is pleasant to walk around holding hands with friends, and sad that you can only do this with a partner in most cultures.

Our second day in Vilnius started with an exit of Lithuania, and a visit to the Independent Republic of Uzupias. In Vilnius, after they achieved independence finally from the Prussians, Russians, Germans and Russians (again), a small group of idealistic artists declared their suburb Uzupias (in the bend in the River Vilnele) to be an Independent Republic. They have their own passport control (but we didn't see them, maybe they couldn't be bothered that day, hey Poland didn't try hard either) and own constitution, and Luke and I loved it.

We criss-crossed the Republic several times, and had breakfast in its only restaurant (mmm... omlette). The Republic was full of crumbling old buildings, lovely statues (such as the Angel of Uzupias in the middle, and a mermaid in the small river that surrounds it) and paintings. Their constitution is engraved on metal plaques in French, English and Lithuanian. While reading the constitution Luke was hit by a van, but it was only a nudge.


This is their constitution:

1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone.

2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.

3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.

4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.

5. Everyone has the right to be unique.

6. Everyone has the right to love.

7. Everyone has the right to not be loved, but not necessarily.

8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.

9. Everyone has the right to idle.

10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.

11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.

12. A dog has the right to be a dog.

13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.

14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.

15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.

16. Everyone has the right to be happy.

17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.

18. Everyone has the right to be silent.

19. Everyone has the right to have faith.

20. No one has the right to violence.

21 16. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.

22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.

23. Everyone has the right to understand.

24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.

25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.

26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.

27. Everyone shall remember their name.

28. Everyone may share what they possess.

29. No one may share what they do not possess.

30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.

31. Everyone may be independent.

32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.

33. Everyone has the right to cry.

34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.

35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.

36. Everyone has the right to be an individual.

37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.

38. Everyone has the right to not be afraid.

39. Do not defeat.

40. Do not fight back.

41. Do not surrender.


After leaving Uzupias to return to Vilnius, Luke and I visited the Museum to Genocide Victims, which is in the old KGB/NKVD headquarters. The Lithuanians never really had a good time since the downfall of the Lithuanian empire, with the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact in 1940 sealing their doom. The agreement between the Nazis and the Soviets allowed Stalin to invade Lithuania and rule it, killing or deporting 40 000 Lithuanians. When the Nazis broke the pact and invaded Lithuania, they were much worse, killing 300 000 in concentration camps (including wiping out the Jews) between 1941-44. The Soviet recapture heralded a wave of retribution killings for "collaborating" with the Nazis (and paranoid Stalin random killing), with 200 000 killed or deported to Siberia. This wave of terror was started by Iron Felix, and run by the KGB/NKVD where the museum now is. It was interesting to see a painting of Iron Felix, about whom I have read so much but never seen a picture, and to tour the old Soviet prisons. We saw the room of water torture, which has a small platform in the middle of the room surrounded by ice-cold water, where the prisoners had to balance on the platform for days, or stand/sleep in ice-cold water and freeze to death. There was also a padded room for prisoners that went insane after torture, and there were pictures of the Lithuanian partisans who resisted the Soviets. So sad to think that only in 1990 did Lithuania finally become independent.

Afterwards for some lighter viewing we visited the world's only statue to Frank Zappa. We walked around Katedros aikete (the Cathedral Square) and visited the Vilnius Cathedral. We looked for the stebuklas (miracle tile, if you spin around it your wishes come true), but couldn't find it. We walked through the Old Town, and looked at the old Baroque churches, and St Anne's church (in gothic style). It was nice, but I'm not quite sure why Napoleon picked that one to say he wished he could take it home in the palm of his hand. We walked up to Gedimino Tower, the only remaining tower of the High Castle of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and visited the Higher Castle Museum.

It was sad to see that Lithuania has no "bankomats", preferring to call them ATMs.

Come evening, we sat in the Old Town to drink some pear cider (very easy to drink, nice and smooth, a little bit sweet), then wandered off to view the Red Army vistory statues on the Green Bridge (the only Soviet statues that weren't pulled down, because everyone says they look nice). Another few ciders, and then a beer wagon rode past (a mobile bar with eight people cycling and drinking beer, one working the keg and drinking beer, and one steering and drinking beer. Must be tough on the cobblestones), so we took that as a sign and went to drink in Uzupias. We had beer glasses that held a litre each (just as well, nothing keep you warm like a few litres of beer), and looked at the menu. My favourites were "rings of Squids" which sounds like a bad sci-fi movie, but I choose some type of vegetable bake. We then ordered this little wooden tray which came out with six double shots of various liquors. As we were sitting in the only bar in Uzupias, which overhangs the river, a kyaker shot past. Vilnius is a very peculiar city indeed.


Polish nuns

The grand total of nuns we saw in Poland? 33. All single or in pairs, and there I was assuming that they only roam around in packs like in the movies.

Having missed the overnight train, we are now catching the morning train to Vilnius in Lithuania.



Painful train to Warsaw, where we found out that the train we wanted to catch to Vilnius is sold out. Change of plans, we are now staying the night in Warsaw and heading over to Vilnius by bus tomorrow.

Sore, tired, and still slightly hungover we walked into the centre of Warsaw. I had a beautiful lunch of mushroom soup. Has been difficult to accommodate my vegetarian diet with Luke's fries/pizza diet (he hasn't got to eat anything else so far on the trip), but this restaurant was a success, the meal was amazing. Just as well, since unlike Krakow, there are no blue pretzel carts (found on every street corner there) for us to have pretzel breakfast/lunch/dinner at. I think I'll miss the pretzels...

Warsaw is such a gorgeous city. Different from Prague and Krakow, very little is old, since WWII wiped out half the population and 85% of all the buildings in the city. However the rebuild tried to recreate the 17th century burgher architecture of the pre-war city, and it looks amazing. The old Town Square is picture-perfect, the most beautiful little building squashed together with tight winding streets. It really is a surreal feeling to walk into history itself.

Oddly enough, there are lots of brightly painted papier-mâché cows in Warsaw, of all different patterns. The one by the old Barbican had wings. I loved it, because all the little kids ran up to play with the cows, running around in circles, climbing on them, pretending to milk them. My paternal instinct knocked up a few notches watching a two year-old Polish girl all wrapped up in her winter jacket stumble around in absolute joy at getting to see a brightly painted cow. It touched my heart.



Yesterday Luke and I went on a bike tour of Krakow. We rode around several neighbourhoods with intense soccer rivalry between the two local teams, Krakovin and Wisla. We saw much graffiti including an interesting one which wrote (in Polish) "Stripes Wisla, Krakovin whores". Whore is the most offensive word in Slavic countries. Supporters for Krakovin painted over whore, turned 'stripes' into 'fools', and drew a Star of David over Wisla, because years ago (when there were Jews in Krakow) Wisla allowed Jews to join and Krakovin didn't. This is still used as an insult against Wisla, which is so offensive.

We rode around the Krakow castle. Krakow was originally terrorised by a dragon (who ate virgins), which the King called knights in to kill. They all died until one day Krak turned up. He was promised the King's daughter's hand in marriage if he could kill the dragon, but he knew he couldn't kill it with a sword. Instead, he killed a sheep, filled it with sulphur and left it outside the lair. The dragon came out and ate it, the fire started in its belly so it ran down to the river to drink. It drank and drank until it exploded, and Krak became the next king, renaming the city after himself.

 We cycled around the Town Square and the Church of St Mary. It has two towers, which are uneven in height, very unusual for a church. It is because the design was given to two brothers who wanted the same woman. They competed by trying to build the highest tower each (of course), until one brother stabbed the other to death, and made his tower higher. Actually, the reason why the towers are of different height is because the Town Council only gave permission for them to build the Church if they could use the tower as a watch tower, which requires a 360 degree view (hence it had to be higher than the other). During the Mongol invasion of Poland, legend has it that the watchman saw the Mongols coming and blew the warning tune on his trumpet, but halfway through the song was struck in the throat by a Mongol arrow, mid-note. Now every hour the city plays the same tune from each of the four windows of the tower, always ending with a break in the tune at the same note where the watchman died. To me it seems odd that they play it four times with the death rattle each time.

The Town Square (the largest medieval town square in Europe at 200m x 200m) was surrounded by gorgeous old buildings. It was so much nicer today in the sun than the day before when it was wet and empty. There were so many people out, and thousands of pigeons, covering everything and landing on everyone. I ate Georgian cheese pie, which was beautiful, and listened to a Polish language cover of Celion Dion, which was not.

We saw where Pope John Paul II was Archbishop, and I found out that he made more saints than every other Pope put together. Pfft.

The Jewish quarter

The bike tour included some important Jewish sites. The Jews were invited to Krakow by one of the early kings of Poland, who wanted to stimulate business. Since Christians were not allowed to charge interest on loans (the sin of usury), a Christian community tended to have very little business investment. Jews were allowed to be money lenders and financiers (in fact they could pretty much only be professionals, since they were blocked from the guilds and from owning land), so they stimulated the economy and became rich in the process, which (combined with having a distinct and insular culture) is what stimulated so much racism towards them. 1000 Jews came to Krakow, which was 10% of the city population at that time, and more came as the city grew, giving a 25% Jewish population. One of the later kings decided to segregate the Jews from the Catholics so he forced them out of the city onto a near island, which was developed as the Jewish quarter. Interestingly the Catholics charged the Jews a fee for "clock usage" since, while out of site, the Jews were close enough to be able to hear the Catholic clock strike the hour, and thus were told the time. Very stingy. We rode around the old Jewish Town Square, and the oldest Synagogue in Europe (now a museum, since Krakow has no Jews).

We saw the old Jewish cemetery, which is now abandoned and overgrown, because of the 60 000 Jews in Krakow in the 40s, all but 1500 died in the holocaust, and all survivors left the country afterwards. There are now no decedents of the people buried there, except for a few overseas, so it stands neglected. It is hugely crowded, with graves up to 14 layers deep, as befits a tiny graveyard that served a quarter of the population of the city.

History repeated itself for the Jews, but at a far worse level. When the Nazis took over Krakow they wanted to segregate the Jews further. They still hadn't decided what to do with them, to kill or steralise them? Either way, they needed to control them first, and the Jewish quarter (Kazimierz) was too open. So they forced the Jews to pack up once again, and crossed them over the bridge into a satellite town (Podgorze) of Krakow that could easily be walled off (in Schlinder's List the Jews crossed the bridge in the wrong direction because Speilberg could not get permission to set up cameras on the correct side of the bridge).

Things were not looking good for the Jewish Ghetto. The Nazis made the Ghetto wall in the shape of orthodox Jewish gravestones (a round top), as a not-so-subtle hint to those within of their future fate. The German's had to travel through the Ghetto to get to Krakow, so holes were made in either side of the Ghetto, but SS soldiers rode the tram each time and closed off the windows to block normal German business men from seeing what was occurring in the Ghetto, or from using the trip to feed supplies to the Jews. Within the Ghetto the Jews starved, with supplies periodically thrown over the wall, and the only exit was for slave labour workers, who were rewarded with 650 calories per day of cabbage soup and stale bread.

In Krakow at the start of the war, there were 60 000 Jews. They were stuffed into the Ghetto in numbers that gave about 20 people per room. New Jews were carted in from around the country, to concentrate them. When they arrived they were asked one simple question "What do you do?". Those that were tradesmen or skilled labour where sent into the Ghetto, while those who were professionals were sent to Auschwitz. In total 260 000 Jews entered the Ghetto, but due to the death rate it only housed ~40 000 at a time.

On January 20, 1942, Heydrich presented the "Final solution" in the Wansee conference. The entire plan for Ghetto slave labour, transport across Europe, and ultimately eradication of the Jewish population was structured down to the last detail. On Saturday, March the 14th, 1943, it was time for the Krakow Ghetto to be "liquidated". The soldiers moved in and told the Jews they were being relocated once again, marched them into cattle cars and sent them to the eradication camp in Treblinka (not Aschwitz for some reason). The Jewish doctors in the intensive care hospital in the quarter (there were three hospitals so the Nazis could tell the Red Cross the Jews were being looked after, but they had no supplies) knew their patients would be killed rather than transported, so they poisoned them all with cyanide infusions. 4000 Jews didn't believe the relocation, and hid in the Ghetto. They hid in every possible spot, in holes in the walls, floors, ceilings, in pianos or in the furniture. The Nazis waited for 16 hours, then came in with sniffer dogs and stethoscopes and shot every Jew they found.

Today the Ghetto is the worst area in Krakow. It is dangerous to go in at night, and sometimes the bike tour gets rocks thrown at it. Much of it was redeveloped during the Communist era, and few historic buildings are left. Only 10m of the wall remains, and there are no monuments to the tragedy that occurred.

Oscar Schlinder

The highlight of the trip for me was seeing Schlinder's flat and factory (neither are protected as museums, you wouldn't know the historic value they have without being told). Oscar Schlinder was a German Nazi party member who wanted to make money. Lots of money. The war was his ticket to fortune. He had the connections and the style, so he turned up in Krakow, wined and dined the Gestapo officers, and was given a choice of any Jewish house he wanted. He picked one right in the centre of the town, the owners of which were shipped out. He then bought from the State a Jewish factory stolen from the owners, and started to produce mess kits for the army. He hired Jewish slaves from the SS because they were cheaper than Polish workers, and he made lots of money and was very happy. One thing that soured his happiness was when the Jews started to turn up late. They were being forced to shovel snow in the Jewish ghetto as a punishment. Less hours of labour meant less money for Schlinder, so he threw elaborate parties with alcohol and women for the SS officers, to charm them into giving his workers exemption from this degrading punishment. For profit only, but this kindness made Jewish workers beg to work for him. Schlinder continued being the disgusting person he was until one day he had an epiphany, and decided that what he was doing was immoral. He tried to help his workers in little ways, bribing the SS to allow him to hire the eldery or sick, knowing that these workers would be killed otherwise. When the war turned against the Germans, mess kits became irrelevant as opposed to ammunition, so the SS forced Schlinder to swap production. They wanted him to move out, they would "liquidate" his Jews and give him new ones in the new factory. He had to bribe the SS with a bag of diamonds to be allowed to give a list of "essential" Jewish workers that he could take with him. He had one night, so he stayed up writing a list of all the Jews he knew, with his Jewish accountant, Stern. 1098 names were written on Schlinders list, 1098 Jews to be killed where allowed to go to his new factory. Then one day the war was over. The SS gave orders for all remaining Jews to be killed. Schlinder went to the SS guards in his factory (16 year old boys with machine guns) and said "I know what your orders are. You can obey them, and go home to your family as murderers, or you can ignore them, and return as men". They allowed the Jews to surive until liberation by the Red Army. Schlinder was arrested as a Nazi and slave camp owner, but after 4 months his previous slaves interceded on his behalf, telling the Americans what he had done for them. Schlinder moved to Argintina and tried to start a farm for capybura which went bankrupt. He moved back to West Germany and started numerous companies which all failed, he died broken and poor in 1974. There are now 7000 "Schlinder's Jews" descended from those he saved.

Interestingly, after Spielberg heard about this story he wanted to film it, but Hollywood would not support the project, calling it a "European arthouse picture". In the end Universal offered Spielberg a deal - they would support "Schlinder's list" on the condition that he also directed "Jurassic Park.

It is interesting that it was not only the Jews that were persecuted, the Nazis were also terrible to the Poles. The intent was to create a slave labour nation, so they banned education for Poles, and for six years no Poles went to school or university.

A cheerful end to an intense few days

For our last night in Krakow, Luke and I went to an Irish pub (with a sign on the door saying "No Kebabs") that was having a trivia night. The first round was Polish entertainment. We came last. Then geography, we thought we would do well, but no, it was all about various counties of Ireland. Then sport. By the time the final round came 'round we were chatting to Emma and Steff (two English teachers from Liverpool) and missed the Science round, but I'm sure we deserved our last place. We stayed out chatting and drinking with Emma and Steff until 4am, when we finally collapsed.

Up at 8 this morning to train to Warsaw.

Second ever hangover.



The wrong bus that Luke and I hopped on ended up in Oscwiecim, which was quite fortunate as it was a place that we both had down as an essential for a trip to Europe. Better known by its German name, Auschwitz. Auschwitz is made up of three camps, of which we saw the main two, Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Seeing the massive military camp, semi-destroyed by the departing Nazis, was extremely intense. We wandered through the gates inscribed with the lie "Work brings freedom", and around the camp, looking at the corridors of electrified barbed wire through which the prisoners had to walk from their slave dorms to their work place. The group toilet with a long concrete slap with 100 bowls in it, each prisoner only given 2 minutes twice per day at a set time, no privacy and no water. For those who went to the toilet at any other time than that allowed - the punishment prison, a prison within a prison, a hellhole within a hellhole. There was the suffocation room where 35 prisoners were shoved inside and the door was sealed until they all asphyxiated. The standing room, where four prisoners were forced to stand in a 1m x 1m cubicle all night without sleeping, only to work again the next day (four days of this killed any prisoner). The starvation chambers.

Auschwitz was mostly a concentration camp, where the prisoners were worked to death. But it was also an eradication camp for a few years, until the high-throughput Birkenau camp was completed. Cattle trains of prisoners (first Polish political prisoners, then Jews, Roma, anti-social elements, Communists, etc) would turn up at the camp, where the Death Doctors decided which went to the concentration camp, and which to the eradication camp. The elderly, children and sick were mostly sent to the eradication camp, except for those to be experimented on (such as all twins). At the eradication camp the prisoners were stripped, shaved and gassed, before being cremated in industry-style furnaces. In both the eradication and concentration camps, over 1.5 million people were murdered, 90% of whom were Jews.

The most intense experience for me was the Canada warehouses (so called because in Nazi Germany Canada was an icon of wealth), where all the goods stolen from the prisoners were stored before being redistributed to Germans. The piles of baby clothes. A two tonne pile of women's hair, shaved from them before gassing (it was turned into textiles by German industry). I felt physically ill at this point.


For ever let this place be
a cry of despair
and a warning to humanity
where the Nazis murdered
about one and a half

men, women, and children
mainly jews
from various countries
of Europe



The sleep train wasn't. Packed into a little cabin. Uncomfortable chairs. Can't sleep. 10 hours on the train. 2am, police come in to check passports. Get bored halfway through and don't look at mine. Will I be able to leave Poland without it? Off train at 5am. Need to go to toilet. It costs 2 zlotny. Takes half an hour to exchange enough money to go to toilet. Raining outside. Tired. Wet. Follow Lonely Planet instructions to catch bus to Wieliczk. Instructions rendered invalid by new construction site. Lost. Tired. Wet. Finally catch bus to 'Weiliczk'. Wrong bus. Saw 19 nuns.


This little mother has claws...

Oh so tired!

The night before last I had so little sleep due to the time difference and my fear of sleeping on the top bunk (I always worry I will fall off). Still, I was awake enough to go out and see Maticka Praha (Little Mother Prague). Luke and I wondered through this most gorgeous city, and fully understand Franz Kafka's phrase, "This little mother has claws". We are both in love with the beauty of this city.

First off we organise our sleeper train to Poland, then we walk to Charles Bridge (built in 1357) and cross to the Hrad, Prague Castle. It is the largest castle complex in the world, and climbing up the stairs to it we can see the commanding view it has over the whole of Prague. Gazing out of the city we see that it isn't only the charming city centre that has gorgeous old building, the entire city is paradise. We wander into the castle and see the Golden Lane, a series of tiny rooms carved out into the castle wall where tradesmen lived. We saw number 22 where Kafka lived from 1916-1917 in his sister's room. It is the cutest and tiniest little thing (and for me cute and tiny are always synergistic), and I find it delightful that I can think to myself that Kafta literally lived 'in a hole in the wall'.

We wandered over further to the imposing cathedral, with it's marvellous gothic architecture. It rose up and dominated the castle, just as the castle dominated the city. It was raining, so we got to see the water running off through the mouths of the gargoyles (an interesting titbit I learnt in Oxford is that statues on buildings are grotesques, they are only gargoyles if they have a water spout through their mouth). We lined up and went inside to marvel. We climbed the highest tower, with 287 steps in the narrowest of stairwells, with two way traffic through a stairwell that I struggled with by myself. We were stuck behind a nun who kept on pausing, but on reaching the top the view was worth the effort.

Coming down from the castle we visit St Nicholas' Church. It was built in the beautiful extravagant Baroque style, with gilded statues and painted frescos on the ceiling. It took our breathe away, and we can both understand how people used to be converted in an age when peasants lived in thatch huts. Who but a greater power could build such a building? On the other hand how they used to collect alms after a sermon still confuses me, with the profusion of gold.

Early afternoon now, and we wander through the New Town (it was founded in 1347, so 'new' can be deceptive) then the Old Town again. We have a beer in several out of the way bars, then another few in the Town Square. We decide to see the astronomical clock strike on the hour, but it takes three hours before we pull ourselves away from the beer. A small skeleton rings a bell on the hour, in an anti-climatic event unless you consider that the machinery was designed and built six hundred years ago.

Time to leave the little mother, we hop on our train to Krakow at 10pm, slightly drunk and having deep and meaningful conversation.


Old style Spanish porn...  

It is 5am. Or possibly 10am, my body is a little bit confused right now.

I woke in Seoul yesterday at 6am. A relaxing morning spent mostly in getting to the airport. A very long flight, the highlight of which was at the start when the flight attendant announced "if there is anything we can do to make your flight more uncomfortable please alert the flight staff". I laughed and the other passengers (all Korean) looked at me. We flew over the Gobi desert, the Mongolian steppe and the central Siberian plataeu. It was very flat and very very large. Also, we had more turbulence than I have ever had on a flight before.

I finished 1812 by Adam Zamoyski. It was an excellent read following on War and Peace, I felt like I knew all the historical characters, and kept on expecting Prince Andrew to be mentioned. Two things I have learnt from Napoleon marching into Russia and having over a million soldiers killed: how to cook Spartans' Gruel (First melt some snow of which you need a large quantity in order to produce a little water, then mix in flour; then, in the absence of fat, put in some axle grease, and, in the absence of salt, some powder. Serve hot and eat when you are very hungry) and what to do when you get frostbite (rub it with snow until you can feel excruciating pain. Don't warm it with fire). Nobody listens to the Poles. Turns out that the Bordineo battle in 1812 had the highest amounts of causalties in a single day of any battle until the Somme in 1916.

Landed in Prague, caught train, bus and tram in order to get to Sir Toby's. Found Luke, whom I haven't seen since December. Very tired at this point - only 7pm in Prague, but that was 1am by Seoul time. I told Luke that I needed sleep or a beer.


We choose beer, caught a tram into Stare Mesto (Old Town) and looked around this gorgeous gorgeous city. Unlike many European cities such as Berlin and Warsaw, Prague was taken so quickly by both sides in WWII that it suffered almost no damage, giving the town centre real history in every building. Unbelievably gorgeous old stone buildings everywhere you look. Luke said it was a "Goth's orgasm". The Town Square was amazing with the Gothic steeples of Tyn Church (built in 1365) and an Astronomical clock built in 1410 which has a parade of apostles and a skeleton ringing the bell on the whole. There were lots of tourists, but it was nice with beautiful weather and a festive atmosphere. Unbelievably gorgeous.

Steins of Czech larger were 30 Crowns each (about a dollar) so Luke and I had about five each, and also a pizza. At 11pm, being my 24th hour awake, we stumbled across the Prague Sex Machine Museum. What is the Sex Machines Museum? It is an exposition of mechanical erotic appliances, the purpose of which is to bring pleasure and allow extraordinary and unusual positions during intercourse. On an area of three floors there are more than 200 objects and mechanical appliances on view, a gallery of art with erotic themes, a cinema with old erotic films, erotic clothing and many other things pertaining to human sexuality.

An eye-opener was the 1920 Spanish porn film (silent black and white) commissioned by the King. It was surprisingly hardcore and graphic, and contains the oldest filmed threesome and lesbian sex. They had peculiar ideas of beauty in 1920s Spain. Painful to look at was the collection of genital piercing and the range of patented machines, including clitoral clips, multiple dildo performance machines, and a machine for the enhancement of breast size by the injection of "body-compatible fluids" through the nipple into the milk duct. There was an old Golden Shower throne, and hand-cranked vibrators (looked a bit like egg beaters). My favourite may have been the dildo with a mouse face on the end, which would have made a great gift. Finally even sex machines and beer couldn't keep me awake, so I had to go back to Sir Toby's (well... one more beer there).


Alone in Korea...

A World Heritage site in the morning, how to spend the afternoon? I don't think I'd be the only one to assume it'd have to be another World Heritage site.

This one was Changdeokgung, built from 1405-1412 by the Joeson kings. It is an enormous palace complex, with multiple buildings and squares, pathways and gardens, all enclosed by a long wall. Very traditional North-East Asian style buildings with the classical oriental roof. I had to go on a tour to enter (there must be no tourists in Korea, only three English-speaking tours a day and only a handful of people turned up).

Right at the start is Korea's oldest stone bridge (built in 1411), then we wandered through the King's throne hall and bedroom. There were also stone counters where the Nobles lined up, numbered so they could line up according to rank, with military on one side and civic on the other side.

Most of the buildings are not as old as the complex, as they have burnt down multiple times. Outside the King's bedroom there were four old brass pots full of water, for just this reason. Not to put out fires, but rather to act as mirrors. Turns out that fire ghosts are very ugly, such that if they fly over the mirror and see their own reflection they die from horror, hence no fires. Also of interest in the King's bedroom is that unlike every other building it has no roof ridge (hmm... not sure what to call it? On a ship it would be a keel), because the roof ridge represents the dragon/god, and the King is a dragon/god, and two dragons is one to many. Also, the King's bedroom had no furniture, because it gave something for Japanese ninjas to hind behind when trying to kill the King. This happened a lot anyway.

I also walked through a doorway carved from a single stone block. It used to be reserved for the King alone, and inscribed above it was "never grow old" to grant the Kings eternal youth. However the average Joeson King (there were twenty four) had a life expectancy of 46 (mostly assassination), so I guess you could interpret the message in several ways. I should watch out in 21 years time for Japanese ninjas.

Also of interest was a replica of a Noble's house. The King was so out of touch with people that to find out how the Nobles lived he had a Noble's palace built on the grounds for him to play dress-up in.

My favourite part was the Biwon (secret garden). One of the Kings (like a good Confucian) decided to have a study glade built, with a library and a reading pagoda overhanging a scenic lotus pond (with an island with Chinese Juniper trees in the middle). It still amazes me that Confucism, a religion which forces Nobles to spend their entire life studying as part of their civic duty to those that owe them allegiance, managed to stay the State religion in many countries for hundreds of years (500 years in Korea). I guess it goes to show that social duty is a strong force once invoked, because the benefits are obvious. One of the Kings spent his reign inventing a written language for Korean. He boasted (and many modern linguists agree) that you can learn the alphabet in a day, since each letter (there are only 11 I think) is written in the shape the tongue forms when saying the sound it represents.

Afterwards I wandered around Iseong. I sat down for dinner in Dimibang, which Lonely Planet described vegetarian. They called it a 'Herbal Restaurant', which considering the extensive seafood and beef menu, I think is more accurate than vegetarian. I had to point again, but I ended up with a huge plate of tofu, pickled cucumber, radish and chilli-covered raw onion. They kept on filling up dishes I finished. The place was gorgeous, with beautiful furniture and a traditional Korea atmosphere. They had a TV on with a hippo documentary and then Kim Possible. An amazing day in a new culture, seeing history come to life, and I was all alone. I drank my beer by myself, wrote a postcard, and wandered off.



I woke up very early this morning to go to Suwon. Piece of cake - take line 3 to line 1 (make sure it is line 1 that continues south not west) then transfer to bus 13 to the Suwon fortress. Who needs language to use a subway? I am very good at subways now, they are so easy and truly the sign of civilisation. They don't have turnstyles at their stations, relying on the honour system for people to pay. Very nice, I guess that is what happens when you have a society infused with Confucian principles. At one point I became worried when a guy hopped on and start to announce. It looked important. He held up a sign. People looked at him. Then he started to sell hair ties. It was all okay.

Suwon was great. Meant to be a little town, but it was huge, it had all of those domino-style highrises that you see in South East Asian hubs.

I caught a taxi to the fortress. You would have thought that "free interpretation" (written in English) on a taxi would imply English speaking, but sadly no. Maybe it meant Japanese? There are a few (only a few) Japanese tourists here, but almost no western tourists. Luckily I had a picture of the fortress in my book that I could point at. Surely Suwon doesn't have so many attractions that a World Heritage site isn't the obvious place to take someone?

Very odd, a World Heritage site with no souvenirs or postcards, no tourists, just some locals sitting quietly or doing exercises. Very novel. Very nice. The taxi driver dropped me off at the best bit (not the bit Lonely Planet mentioned). Beautiful wooded hills with ramparts and forts lining them, rising up to the summit of Mt Paldal. The rampart is 5.7km long. Hwaseong Fortress was built between 1794 and 1796 under the reign of King Jeongjo (in honour of his father killed by being locked up in a rice basket - such is life). 80% of the fortress is intact, and much was been restored, making it a very impressive structure. The city continues through the fortress, but along the walls you can pretend it doesn't. It looks quite like Tallinn, except with pagoda-style roofs on the fortifications. There are four Jeokdae (gateguard platforms), two observation towers, two Dongjangde (command posts), five firearms bastions, five sentry towers, five secret gates (what fortress is complete without secret gates? They were cool), two floodgates (the south was destroyed though), a beacon tower, two nodae (multiple-arrow launcher platforms and a 170m bastion. Only seven of the fortifications were destroyed. Walking up and down hills for several hours in 35 degree weather made me sweat litres  but I got to see cuckoos (ugly little heads but beautiful blue feathers) and this wonderful fortress. I also saw an odd squirrel. The only let down was the South Gate (that Lonely Planet recommends), designated National Treasure #402, as are most historical National Treasures that are now the centre of round-a-bouts. Much preferred National Treasure #403. What are those beautiful Japanese trees that make up the woods?