A guide to Interrailing around Europe

I haven’t posted anything on this site for absolutely ages – mainly because I was lucky enough to spend the summer interrailing across Europe. So I thought I’d mark my triumphant return to the blogosphere with a bit of a guide to interrailing and a little bit of information on all the places we visited….

Planning the trip

It started with four friends and one crazy dream… to get drunk in a variety of European locations. Slowly but surely after pouring over maps of Europe and many exchanged Facebook messages we came up with a rough preliminary route of where we wanted to travel.

The plan was to meet in Barcelona before travelling on through France and Italy towards Eastern Europe. From there we wanted to visit the likes of Ljubljana, Budapest and Krakow before heading back towards the UK via Berlin and Amsterdam.

For this route we decided to get the 10 journey in 22 days pass from the Interrail which cost £219. (http://www.railpass-shop.com/). It is possible to buy an unlimited one month pass but we went for the cheaper option. In the end it was a wise decision as we didn’t even use up our full ten journey allocation.

I then bought a couple of books that were pretty indispensible on the trip: The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget and Thomas Cook’s European Rail Timetable.

The Rough Guide (along with Kim’s Lonely Planet guide) gave us a really good of what to see in each town as well as decent places to eat and drink at reasonable prices.

And the European Rail Timetable was indispensible in helping us plan journeys from place-to-place. While it is possible to find out train times over the internet, web timetables are limited by the locations and times you enter. In comparison the Thomas Cook guide shows you pretty much all the routes and times of every train running through Europe over the course of the summer. It also had a useful key guide showing which trains required a reservation. In short, if you are going Interrailing: BUY. THIS. BOOK.

So we booked our flights, packed our bags and headed off to our first destination…

Barcelona (14th-18th August)

We had four days in Barcelona and it proved to be a great place to start the trip.

We stayed at the Urbany Hostel- an absolutely massive and pretty great hostel. Our room, which we shared with a super chatty Swedish guy and a bus driving Italian lady, was basic (bunk beds, etc) but decent. The massive bar downstairs served dirt-cheap beer and Sangris at only four euros for a 1.5 litre glass. Well I think it was four euro but my memory of that bar is a little hazy!

Interraiing in Barcelona

For our first day in Barcelona we took a stroll down Las Ramblas and around the port. We had a great all-you-can-eat luch at Fresh Co. before heading down to Citudell Park for a well deserved siesta.

In the evening we had a few sangrias at the hostel before heading out to the Fiesta de Gracia, an annual week-long street party held in Barcelona. The streets around the fiesta are all decorated and there’s a variety of different bands playing through the night on different stages.  Definitely worth going to if you happen to be in the city when the fiesta is on.

Interailing in Barcelona

On the second day we hit the beach. We accidentally got on the wrong train and headed in completely the opposite direction to where we thought we were going but by a massive fluke managed to arrive at Badalona, a small town outside Barcelona. Badalona happened to have an awesome and not-too-crowded beach which we spent the morning and part of the afternoon at.

After that we headed to Parc Guell, which was designed by Gaudi and overlooks the city. It’s massive and massively popular, mainly for the spectacular views it offers of Barcelona. We  eventually managed to find our way to one the highest points of the park – a cross that gave a 360 degree of the city. We sat there for about 40 minutes and it’s genuinely hard to describe how amazing the view from there was. I wish I had a picture to show it but sadly I used up my camera’s battery a few minutes before by taking a picture of Kim sat by a bin. C’est la vie!

Interrailing in Barcelona

The next day we managed to sort out the next stage of our Interrail journey at the train station. The plan had been to go on to Nice but sadly we found the train was fully booked and decided to go to Montpellier instead.

After sorting that out we headed to the Gaudi house, which was rather expensive at €8 each for etry. Still quite interesting though, especially for anyone interested in architecture. When we finished there we headed down to the Gothic quarter for some paella, which made for a good start to our attempts to eat some kind of local speciality in each country we visited.  

On our final day, Kim and Ollie continued with the Gaudi theme and visited the Sagrada Familia. Old Gaudi was quite the busy architect it seems. Darren and me went to the Nou Camp instead. It was absoutely with rammed with people willing to pay the fairly extortionate €18 entry fee.  The stadium tour saw you herded around the changing rooms, the stands and the manager’s dugouts. It was ok but the huge number of people doing exactly the same thing made it slightly less enjoyable.

The extensive museum at the stadium was, in my opinion, more worthwhile than the tour containing thousands of artefacts relating to Barcelona and football in general. The sheer amount of things they had on display did mean some of them were fairy irrelevant though – the box used in 1950 presidential elections at the club, for example.  

Nou Camp

Overall, I’d say a visit to the Nou Camp is only worth it if you are really into football – anyone who isn’t will just get bored senseless. And even if you are into football, I’m fairly sure watching a game at the ground (if you can manage to get tickets) would be a lot more memorable than just taking the tour.

After that, we packed our bags and headed for the train station, tickets to Montpellier in hand. Our Interrail adventure was ready to truly begin…

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Ashes preview

With the Ashes due to get underway in less than a week the hype surrounding the tournament is reaching new levels of intensity. Acres of newsprint and hundreds of hours of radio and television coverage have already been dedicated to the event. In the UK, there seems to have been an unspoken decision to forget about the 5-0 Aussie whitewash Down Under in 2006/07. Most of the coverage has been centred around misty-eyed nostalgia over England’s triumph in the 2005 series. Since that series both teams have gone through large changes in their personnel. While it can be argued that England now have a team equal to or better than their 2005 counterparts, the current Australian team does not appear to match up to the 2005 vintage. They have seen four of their biggest names and most potent weapons retire from the international arena. Losing Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist has undoubtedly weakened their side. Of course it is possible their replacements, Nathan Huritz, Mitchell Johnson, Phillip Hughes and Brad Haddin, will go on to prove themselves to be the equal of their predecessors. But at the moment their names do not strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Cricket is a game played largely in the head and England’s players will feel far more confident facing the bowling of Huritz rather than Warne. It will also be a psychological boost for England to have Andrew Flintoff playing in the series. In 2005 he was England’s hero as his bowling ripped through the Australian batting while he smashed their bowlers round the field with the ball. since then, beset by injuries, he has struggled to recapture the form of that famous summer. But the stage is set for Flintoff to shine once again and recall former glories. Much of England’s success will also depend on the captaincy of Andrew Strauss. He has done a reasonable job with the team so far but perhaps lacks Michael Vaughan’s tactical nous, which was so crucial to England’s series victory last time out. With the likes of Bopara, Pieterson and Anderson in the side, Strauss has a team with the undoubted potential to regain the Ashes. But Ricky Ponting’s men will play with all the tenacity, intensity and sheer skill that has always characterised Australian sides. This year the Ashes contest is on a knife-edge. It promises to be a fascinating summer.

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Daily Show visit the New York Times

Funny Daily Show report on the New York Times (although the unintentional best bit of the clip is at the end when all the Fox News anchors start mocking the concept of  ‘factuality’ and serious reporting- no need to worry about that at Fox News obviously!).

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Big Brother Launch Night: Muppet by Muppet Guide

Big Brother is back with an exciting new set of idiots ready to be humiliated on national television. Of course, you could argue that BB is an important social experiment but its only been going an hour and they’ve already made Noirin have her eyebrows shaved off before getting a moustache and glasses drawn on her face in permanent marker in order to earn housemate status.

Here’s my guide to this year’s contestants:

Freddie

Token posh bloke who lives in a palatial home in the country. His hypothesis is that he’s the coolest guy in the room. Sadly seems to be a lot closer to Tim-Nice-But-Dim.

Lisa

Middle-aged mohicaned lesbian from Birmingham . Reckons she will be ‘Hugh Hefner in the tub.’ Frightening.

Sophie/ Karly/ Noirin

The wannabe WAGs. Appearing in a copy of Nuts magazine near you in about six weeks time.

Kris

Definately the biggest tit on the show (no mean feat). Dresses like he is in The Kooks- skinny jeans, tousled hair, the lot. Everything that is wrong with modern masculinity today in my opinion. Although to be fair to him he made a pretty funny comment when he made his grand entrance to the house- “Smells like Allied Carpets in here.”

Cairon

American teenager who has definate potential to be a legend and bring a few people down to size. When asked if he was gay- “I feel kind of weird wiping my own ass.”

Angel

Absolutely crazy Russian professional boxer who used to be in a rock band. Arrived into the house carrying a cane and in a top hat performing some kind of weird Chaplinesque mime. Could easily imagine her as a Roger Moore-era Bond villian.

Marcus

35 year old window fitter who models himself on Wolverine and had easily the funniest intro-video.  “The things I do are fucking heroic” although he would like to clarify that he’s an action hero, not a superhero (that would just be silly). These heroic gestures include setting fire to his own face. His nickname is Dark Horse. Hope he wins to be fair.

Beinazir

The show’s first Pakistani Muslim woman who managed to namecheck Beinazir Bhutto about 10 times in two minutes. Seems pretty funny- described as celebrity lookalike (quite accurately) as Amy Winehouse. Definately one of the first to get involved in a screaming row with someone I reckon.

Sophia

 She hates WAGs and is a ‘passionate Eurosceptic.’ Also a midget.

 Rodrigo

Bisexual brazilian student who is full of happiness and wide-eyed wonder with the world.  This attitude is highly unlikely to last long in BB.. he’ll be in tears at some point by the end of the week.

Charlie

Gay Geordie chav. Apparently if Botox doesn’t work for him when he gets to 50 he’s just going to have a full face transplant.

Saffia

Man-hating dental nurse and mother-of-two who would consider lesbianism while in the house. Despite her feminist beliefs, she is willing to make an exception for Philip Schofield, who she thinks should get a knighthood for services to television.

Sree

Indian student whose parents dictate his life, from what shoes and trousers he wears to who he may eventually marry. His belief that England is a fantastic country full of wonderful people will be severly tested over the next few weeks.

Siavash

A challenger to Kris in the arsehole stakes. An event organiser, stylist and model he does “what rockers pretend to do.” He has the world’s stupiest moustache and beard combo and is allegedly mates with Usher. A man best summed up by the fact his favourite word is Siavash. 

 

So that’s all the 16 contestants, who prove the well-known saying ‘A man tired of Big Brother is tired of life.’ Happy viewing!

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The Wire: Top 40 Characters: 5-1

5. Marlo Stansfield (Jamie Hector)

In a show packed with fantastic acting performances, Jamie Hector provides one of the very best in his portrayal of ice-cool Marlo, who runs a drugs empire based on killing absolutely anyone who stands in his way (and even a few who don’t).

Marlo is a terrifying figure, completely devoid of any sympathy or empathy to anyone else. Once you cease to be of use to Marlo, you often simply cease to be. Like the Greek, Marlo is chiefly driven by power rather money… despite being a millionaire the only thing that matters to him is his feared reputation.

4. Stringer Bell (Idris Elba)

Stringer is Avon’s right-hand man in the Barksdale empire, responsible for much of the day-to-day running of the business. But while he is highly effective in this role, his ambition is to be a legitimate businessman, taking economics night-classes and investing in property in an attempt to make the Barksdale operation more professional and business-like. But for all this he is more than willing to eliminate anyone who threatens the business.

In Season Three the differences between his and Avon’s approaches to business come to a head and their relationship falls to pieces. It gradually becomes apparent that Stringer can never achieve true legitimacy and is another character in The Wire whose aspirations to better himself are doomed to failure. 

3. Bubbles (Andre Royo)

Heroin addict and police informant Bubbles is one of the characters that makes The Wire so great. His addiction is depicted in unflinching terms but the writers and actor Andre Royo ensure that the viewer never loses sight of his humanity and in fact bubbles is one of the most straight-forwardly likeable figures in the show.

He is also one of the very few characters in the show who is allowed any form of redemption, although he has to go through a great deal to get there.  Royo gives a brilliant performance as a decent man trapped in a desperate life because of drugs. Importantly, he puts a human face on the misery caused by those who propogate the drugs trade.

2. Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce)

Bunk is a gruff Baltimore homicide detective, often working alongside McNulty or Freamon. He is almost as hard-drinking as McNulty but possesses a stronger conscience than his partner, which comes to the fore in the Season 5 storyline involving the pair.

He is driven to solve cases rather than advance his career and is generally hugely successful at doping so. The reason that Bunk is so high in this list comes down to him being one of the program’s most likeable figures, who is given some of the show’s best one-liners (‘I’m just a humble motherfucker with a big-ass dick… Okay then. I ain’t that humble’).

1. Omar Little (Michael K. Williams)

  

Omar is a mass of complexities. A street robber with a strict moral code, a gay man in the homophobic world of Baltimore and the show’s most feared character who makes a point of never swearing.

He only ever robs drug dealers but such is his reputation that when he appears in the street everyone literally runs away. He frequently outsmarts his opponents, outthinking them and anticipating their next move at every turn.

He understands the deeper meanings and hidden connections that hold the city and drugs trade together and makes one of the most important statements in the show during a court appearnace in Season Two. When Levy accuses him in court of profiting from the drugs trade, Omar rebukes him: “Just like you man. I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?”

With this statement Omar illuminates of the show’s key messages: that everyone is to some degree complicit for society’s ills and no one can claim innocence as all live flawed lives of constant comprimise, both powerless and unwilling to change the system. 

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The Wire: Top 40 Characters: 10-6

10. Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)

Avon is the kingpin in the Barksdale operation, which he runs generally ruthlessly, but with occasional flashes of humanity and compassion 9like when he allows Cutty to retire from the game).  His relationship with his best friend and confidante Stringer gradually detriorates over the course of the show and it is thier faltering relationship that drives the show’s third season.

The stand-offs between the pair are acted absolutely brilliantly by both Wood Harris and Idris Elba as their conflicting approaches to the game clash diasterously. Avon has his a skewed moral standpoint that justifies any act in the name of family, but this moral code makes him a more human and emphathetic figure than someone like Marlo.  

9. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West)

 

McNulty  is in many senses the lead character in the show- especially in the first two seasons (emphasised by Dominic West’s name appearing first in the cast list in the titles while the rest of the actors appear in alphabetical order).  In many respects his character ticks every cop cliche: a hard-working, hard-drinking loner willing to fuck up his life and and the lives of everyone around him in pursuit of a case.

But he is brilliantly played by Dominic West (who in real life is an Old Etonian with one of the poshest English accents you’ll hear) and for a while he was my favourite character in the show. However, in the last season he becomes just TOO much of an asshole to warm to. Still a great watch though!

8. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters)

   

Freamon, alog with Bunk, is “natural police”-  one of the most talented officer in Baltimore who is frequently responsible for major breakthroughs in cases. He gets just as consumed  with cases as McNulty but throws his energy into quietly and methodically connecting the dots to build a case.

In some ways Lester is the character who most closely parallels the writers’ vision of Baltimore (and America).  He sees with clarity the hidden strands that connect society, from politicians to drug dealers. And like the writers, he is unafraid to follow up those strands up the chains of power to show precisely where the power and blame ultimately lies for many of Baltimore’s criminal acts.

7. Roland ‘Prez’ Prezbylewski (Jim True-Frost)

 

Prez is first introduced to the audience as an incompotent and arrogant police officer, whose career in the police has only survived because of his father-in-law, Stan Valchek. Under the guidance of Freamon he gradually becomes a better officer, adept at wiretap working and chasing up the paper trail. For much of the show he is a bit-part player, but when he leaves the force to become a teacher in Season 4, he becomes one of the show’s main figures.

His enjtrance into the unforgiving Baltimore school system mirrors that of co-creator Ed Burns, who despite being a policeman and Vietnam veteran, has said that teaching in the American state system was the toughest job he ever had. Prez’s journey from naive and out-of-his depth to respected teacher is one of the key storylines in Season Four, the series generally acclaimed as the best one by Wire fans.  

6.  Ellis Carver (Seth Gilliam)

 

Carver starts the show as Herc’s partner and the pair have similar views on how policing should work: cracking heads to get results. But while Herc never really abandons this philosophy, Carver evolves to see the bigger picture as he gradually rises through the ranks.  

It is Bunny Colvin who shows Carver the futility of daily low-level drug busts in Season Three and Carver progresses to see the wider implications of alienating rather than serving the community. He befriends the likes of Cutty and Bodie in an attempt to know the community better and bacome a better officer. In Season One he is stealing money from drug raids with herc and snitching on his spervisors to Burrell; by Season Four Carver is attempting to save Randy from a bleak future in a care home.

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The Wire: Top 40 Characters: 15-11

15.  Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillan)

Carcetti is a key figure in the show’s final three series, as he rises from the city council to become the city’s mayor.  He constantly swings between serving his own self-interest and (apparently) genuinely trying to change the city for the better. Carcetti is both ruthlessly ambitious yet idealistic and the audience is never truly sure for most of his time on screen whether he truly serves himself or the city of Baltimore. However, by Season 5 it is clear that Carcetti is ultimately willing to sacrifice the good of the city for his own long-term political ambitions. The ‘new day’ he repeatedly promises in his election campaign never comes to fruition.

14. Wallace (Michael B.  Jordan)

File:Wallace.jpg  

The 14 year-old Wallace works under D’Angelo in the low rises as a drug dealer.  Despite the poverty of his surroundings and hard life he is a relative innocent- at one point found playing with toys when he should have been on lookout duty.  He is badly hit when he is partly involved in the death of Brandon- whose mutilated body is left rotting outside Wallace’s home (by coincidence) by the Barksdale crew.

13. Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom)

A Baltimore police major close to retirement, Colvin becomes disillusioned with the futility of the war on drugs. Knowing that he can effectively do what he wants now his career is coming to to an end, Colvin sets up a secret drug ‘free zone’ where dealers can work without fear of arrest. The aim of this is to clear the corners of drugs and the scheme is highly successful but is brought to a close by political pressure.

Colvin is perhaps the closest thing to a purely heroic figure. Throughout the show he strives to do the right thing and is a greatly influential figure in several other characters lives- from Dectective Carver to street-kid Naimond. But his good intentions are constantly underminded by the political and social systems in which he is forced to operate.

12. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick)

Daniels is one of the few career-driven characters in the show who is willing to sacrifice his ambition to do the right thing. He begins Season One as the man in charge of the Barksdale investigation, initially keen to do Commissioner Burrell’s bidding and make a quick, simple case that generates good headlines for a minimum of fuss. But as he gets drawn deeper into the case Daniels stands by his officers work at the cost of a promised promotion.

Daniels career ambitions resurface once again after Season Three as he impresses Tommy Carcetti with his candour about the state of the BPD when the two men meet. He rises quickly through the ranks while remaining determined to be good at policework rather than police politics.

11. Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer)

Sobotka is one of the most tragic figures in the show. The gruff docks union leader is trapped in a mire of corruption as he attempts to influence local politicians in order to keep the dying docks alive.  He is trapped in a life he has had no real choice over and his attempts to do the right thing by his stevedores as well as his feckless son Ziggy are doomed to failure.

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