Wacken 2019: Wandering London

As is my habit, I like just… walking. I’ve been to London umpteen times (nice place to visit, don’t want to live there) and there’s always something new to see and do, usually for nothing. As well as the other stuff that’s stupidly expensive.

This morning at 10:30 (after a £2.50 breakfast that absolutely stuffed me) I left Clink-261, turned left, walked to Kings Cross, turned left onto Euston Road… and kept going. Well, I stopped at the Wellcome Trust that I’d missed on many occasions. I was just in time to get a little tour based around “what happens to our bodies in space?” before wandering around their current “Psychology of Magic” exhibition on the ground floor. Great stuff and all free.

My aim was to head down to Westminster as it’s been a long time since I walked past the Parliament Buildings and the Cathedral. It took me a good while to get down there, passing through the Magnum ice cream shop that’s opened up on Leicester Square, down a few smaller streets because the looked interesting and so on. I dodged the people giving out free cold cans of Pepsi Max because it tastes like stale money piss (why don’t you give out cans of proper Pepsi? Oh, that’s right, it’s because people actually like it so you don’t need to foist it on them to get rid of your excess stock), and finally made it to Downing Street which has a lot of security for what is now effectively a literal monkey house. Ook, ook, Boris. You mop-headed gimp.

From there to Westminster where I’m still impressed by the scale and architecture of both the political and religious structures, though both are currently largely shrouded in scaffolding which is a shame. Democratically elected morons and people who believe in fairy tales aside, they’re both fantastic buildings visually. A shame they’re both inhabited by those with destructive egos.

Down to the River and over one of the many bridges to the south side as I wanted to pass by the Shard. No reason other than I’ve not been there before. Again, a nice wander looking at nice buildings, and a quick stop in at a museum of art and science where I again lucked out by arriving when a little tour had just started. The exhibits were pretty cool – mainly focused on the current topic of dark matter – if more arty than science-y. There was a woman in our little group who had two children with her, a boy of around 8 and a girl maybe 4 years old. He was very observant, and his little sister asked incredible questions. I passed a little comment to her mum at the end and told her never to stop her doing so – a little girl with a mind like that has the makings of being a brilliant scientist in her own right!

On past a large railway carriage covered in gigantic ants (yeah… I know, odd) and then to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London itself. I crossed here knowing, because my memory remembers shit like this from 20 years ago, there’s a KFC in an underground location near the Tower that sells beer! Well. Budweiser. But hey. I found it with not trouble, but was disappointed to find that they no longer sell beer. Boo! I was hungry so ordered a meal… only to find that they also didn’t sell any drinks with sugar in! So, erm, no. Order cancelled, I walked off and looked for a McD’s instead.

I didn’t find one. Seriously, I walked all the way past the rear of St Paul’s (there’s a joke there somewhere) and all the way back to the hostel without passing one! Incidentally, I’d aimed to get from where I was back to the hostel by 5pm. I walked through the door at 17:00. On the dot. I also hadn’t stopped for anything to eat or drink since I set off in the morning. Oops.

As it happens, there was a McDs a 2 minute walk up the road so I splurged £1.99 on a Big Mac and chips before meeting Jonathan for dinner (well, his dinner) and drinks round the corner. Jon, I checked – it was 2001 the last time we met! Bloody hell.

A great night was had between two bars and several pints before he headed off and I collapsed into the 18-bed sweat-pit.

On an additional point, I’ve found London very pleasant on this visit especially given the hot weather which normally makes people short tempered. Sure, the drivers are all dicks (what’s new), but everyone else has been lovely and polite. I even had two people compliment me on my (pink rainbow Death Metal) t-shirt!

Wacken 2019: London first

I’ve not updated this blog in bloody ages so I’m going to use the trip to Wacken as an excuse to put up some garbage that none of you will read.

Wacken may be in Germany, but as usual I decided to head through London for a day or two to chill out and to catch up with old friends as I do most years. The sweet spot for train tickets (£30) this time was the Thursday evening. Unfortunately this was Niamh’s birthday but at least I got to see her in the morning when she woke up where I’d missed the entire day last year as I was in Slovenia covering Metal Days.

So, come 2pm and I started packing in the knowledge that I had to be out of the house by just after 3… Fortunately I travel light. Courtesy of EasyJet (and every other budget airline) now saying you can only have one tiny bit of carry-on luggage without paying £30+ for another bag, I’d picked up an appropriately small wheeled suitcase and ensured it had enough room in it to stuff my daybag for the flight back. Journey out: denim jacket in suitcase. Journey back, that space taken up by backpack while I wear the jacket.

Beyond that, one plug bar, a foreign plug adaptor, 5 t-shirts, 8 pairs of socks, 5 pairs of undies, a spare novel, a lightweight pair of trousers and my trainers. I chucked in some chocolate bars and peanuts I could snack on throughout the week and some toiletries I could throw away before the flight (because heaven forbid I try to down a Boeing 747 using 10ml of toothpaste).

Time was getting tight for my train to London, so I hopped on a bus into Glasgow (which turned out to be almost twice the price I expected – I’d have been better off getting the train), and went through my usual mild panic waiting for it to get to Glasgow Central. Just as Google Maps was telling me to stand up for the final stop, the bus hung a sharp left and kept going. And going. And going. Eventually dropping me off at the wrong train station.

I belted through the heavy crowds in the hot sun, knackered a wheel on my suitcase, sprinted into Central Station only to find… my train had been delayed by 50 minutes. Turns out that the overhead cables in London don’t like 40-degree heat and melt or something. Bizarrely this had caused problems with the rail network.

Well, I eventually made it to London over an hour late (which means I qualify for my ticket to be fully refunded) and I only got soaked a little bit as the aircon in the carried crapped itself having to deal with heat and leaked profusely from the ceiling several times. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually what they’re built for or anything.

Thankfully Clink-261 (10 mins walk from Euston) has a 24 hour reception. My 18-bed dorm, filled with very sweaty yet considerate people, had an air conditioner the side of a hair dryer in the corner which was making apologetic noises for how ineffectual it was. Thankfully months of acclimatisation in $3 per night Bangkok hostels came back and I slept moderately well despite one cohabitant snoring like a pig oinking underwater. Through a megaphone.

Metal Days trip: Day 7 (Kobarid by bike)

Don’t worry, you didn’t miss a day – I just didn’t do anything particularly touristy on day 6!

Soča River

Today I decided to remind myself why I hate cycling so much. It’s not the exercise, or the effort, it’s the bloody saddles. I write this several hours after I got back and even though I’m on a soft seat in the hostel I can feel the bruises on my bum! Regardless, for €10, the hostel rents bikes out and I decided to use one to explore places a little further afield.

The next large town along the Soča Valley is Kobarid, about 18km away. The route passes through a handful of smaller townships – the kind of places where the addresses don’t go as far as streets; you live at “number 6 in This Town”. Despite being up in the mountains, the road wasn’t too hilly with only a couple of stretches which were hard work.

Slap Kozjak

The villages and townships I passed through were gorgeous. Brightly painted houses, many in a modern version of traditional styling and all with the most stunning views of the mountains and the river which flows through the foot of the valley. I stopped at a couple of waterfalls for some photos, but my first major break was at Kobarid itself where I grabbed some lunch at a supermarket (and got talking to a guy in a Huddersfield Town t-shirt who, it turned out, follows Moshville Times on Twitter!).

I took a quick detour around nearby Idrsko before heading into Kobarid and back out again to pass a few sites. I stopped off for a brief look at the Kostnica s Cerkvijo Sv. Antona, a church up a steep hill which also plays host to a war memorial to Italian soldiers who fell in the area during WWI.

Slap Kozjak stones

I continued up the hill and onto a path through some woods, eventually (after many ups and downs) reached Kamp Lazar, a campsite with a large restaurant attached. A shame to waste a visit, I popped in and enjoyed a fruit pancake for €4 and a pint of Budvar for only €3. Surprisingly good value for somewhere which could easily charge more based on its location. The serving staff were excellent, also. I could see this as being a very nice place to stay if you’re in the area for a couple of nights.

Napoleon Bridge view

Further on from there, I visited the Slap Kozjak, a waterfall at the end of a gorge. Close to the waterfall, visitors have stacked countless rocks and pebble into little towers. A nice walk (not a cycle-able path) and worth the time spent. Back downhill I passed the impressive Napoleon Bridge and began the long cycle back to Tolmin, arrive back around 6pm – very sweaty and with a sore bottom!

The thing that struck me was how friendly the people in the area are. It’s not just the service staff at the various shops and restaurants, it’s everyone. From the people on the street who greet you with a smile, to the motorists who know how to deal with a bike in front of them on a narrow road. This is a very friendly part of the world, making it all the more pleasant to be here.

Metal Days trip: Day 5 (Tolmin Gorge)

With day five of the festival not kicking off until 5:30pm, I had plenty of time to explore the local area. Within a short walk of my hostel is Tolmin Gorge, a local beauty spot which was recommended by the lovely lady who sits at reception.

While there is a bus once an hour which goes there for 50c, it’s only a 2km walk so I made my own way there in the morning sunshine. There is an entrance fee, which gets you a map and a sense of knowing that you’re helping to maintain a lovely piece of the countryside. It’s usually €6, but with a festival wristband you get €1 discount which is nice.

The gorge is enormous in terms of height and scale, as any good gorge should be, and contains a couple of particular features to see on the circular path around it. Expect to spend an hour or so on the route if you come here, and beware the 300-or-so steps towards the end! There are rest spots, so don’t panic too much.

The first thing that struck me was the colour of the water. Other than a slight blue tinge, it’s so clean and clear it may as well be tap water. It is the main water source for Tolmin so this is perhaps a good thing!

I’d set off fairly early as the weather for after lunch was set to turn to more rain, but even then the air around the gorge was pleasantly cool due to the cold water. There is a spot with warmer water as there are some underwater thermals, but it doesn’t take the chill out of the air!

A couple of bridges have been put in place for crossing the water, all recently installed and maintained, and the path is generally wide enough for a couple of people, as long as anyone coming the opposite direction is polite. Or friendly enough to squeeze.

Towards the top is Dante’s Cave, apparently somewhere the famous poet visited which inspired his “Inferno” opus. Only the opening 20m or so are accessible, but you do get the feeling that they could lead to somewhere… unsavoury.

The views were fantastic and there are a few photos scattered here for you to look at. Obviously, they’re no substitute for the real thing.

A quick run back to the hostel and a visit to Hofer (Aldi) ensured I had some snacks for after the festival tonight, as well as a cheap dinner. Usually the shop closes at 3pm on a Sunday, but with Metal Days officially opening today, they’d extended the hours to 8pm. Given the size of the queues, this made sound business sense! The place was absolutely full of people in black t-shirts buying everything from cheap local beer to Haribo and barbecue supplies.

An alarm kept going off over by the tills. I assume this was a metal detector.

Sorry.