Lip of hell in Zagreb summer sex Olympics

Monday 29 April

Hello there dear reader(s).  It’s all been a bit good recently hasn’t it?  Healthy activities, busking in sunny streets, very little hedonism and debauchery.  I’ve set up my youtube account to document hitchhike videos, and the ball is well and truly rolling when it comes to the charity page.  YOU just need to check it out now; see the new donate link at the top if the site.  Anyway I feel it’s time for some first world, warts n’ all, typical Stuart problems.  I don’t want you getting bored now do I?

First of all I’d like to apologise for the blatant attempt to get your attention with a sensationalist headline.  Draw your own conclusions from the content of the post.

I’ve managed to hitch to Zagreb with two lovely folk who regale me with wonderful tales about Croatia along the way, point me in the direction of volunteering offices, drop me right at the hostel door and offer to show me around for drinks at the end of the week.  I then lose their contact details.  Unperturbed, I’ve deliberately chosen to stay at a party hostel, and proceed on a 48 hour bender with a bunch of UK randoms.  I apparently attempt to chat up a cute English girl by using the line; “we both know what’s going to happen…” which I have no recollection of saying at all.  This mortifies me for two reasons; one – it’s not my style, and two – yes it is my style and I wonder what other shite I come out with when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Fast forward six odd nights and I’m still in the same bed.  I’ve moved only to urinate, eat and try to wash myself on the odd occasion.  I’ve come down with some kind of fever, the poster boy of which is the mother of all cold sores on my top lip.  Mount Vesuvius has chosen to erupt on my face.  K2 with lava.  I’ve had full-blown conversations with it.  It’s demanding its own talk show.  Now as well as the propranolol and doxycycline I’m taking for acne and rosacea every day, I’ve added full strength multi-vitamins and lysine pills.  I’m also having to take ibuprofen for the pain.  Basically there is a pharmaceutical company by my bedside and none of it appears to be working.  The propranolol is a beta-blocker and slows my heart down, which is extremely dodgy as I already have low blood pressure.  The doxycycline is supposed to get rid of spots but it looks like it’s causing them.  The lysine is invaluable for cold sores and apparently good for rosacea, but it will give me acne.  I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.  I’ve self-diagnosed my symptoms online and I’ve either got cancer or AIDS.

All this through a weekend of crazy party hostel antics, the worst nights sleep I’ve had since being on the road (apart from that time in the field) and what appears to be a lot of missed opportunities.  I’ve not managed to see anything of Zagreb, go busking on the busiest day of the week, or watch decent porn.  In spite of using copious amounts of hand sanitiser I’m just not risking it.    I’ve not so much as kissed a girl for nearly two months and Hades’ own herpes has decided to rent my top lip.  With pets.  And kids.  Even the pharmacist noticeably backs away from my decrepit, hooded mug as I discretely attempt to buy drugs:

“Oooh, do those HERPES VIRUS patches work?”  She chimes in perfect English.

“Only if you get it early” responds the lady behind me in the substantial queue.

“Yes do you have any more?” I mumble out, head down, keen to slip into the hole of mortification and die.

“Is it these ones?”  She trills from distance, holding the packet up for all to see.  I throw across more Kuna than required and bolt for the door.  As luck would have it I fall in love twenty times down the street while my face is covered like a Caucasian ninja.  I manage to slither back to sanctuary with two slices of lukewarm pizza; doomed to my bed while glorious, primary-colours Croatia bursts into summer life outside.  At least I can have a wank.  Oh wait.  No I can’t.


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Lake Bled

Wednesday 17 April

I’ve been told it’s pretty wonderful, so I pack a small overnight bag, sling my guitar across the shoulders and make my way up to Lake Bled.  Bled is a small town about an hours drive from Ljubljana, but I’m not in a hitching mood and the bus is only seven euro.   It makes a change to ride in relative comfort and reliability.

The scene that awaits reminds me of home, with better weather and no midges.  And no knife crime.  It’s an absolute joy to sit by the mill-pond lake and strum a few chords, after a day hiking through one of the spectacular gorges in the nearby lower Alps.  There is so much to do in the area that a few words here will fail to do it justice.  I’m thankful it’s still the off-season though, as apparently it’s rammed come the summer.  Forget about being single too; Bled and it’s surroundings are geared towards romantic getaways and gondolas.  You can bet your bottom dollar many a proposal has been uttered in the shade of the stunning castle.  Sitting by the water I’m not passed by a single…err…single…person.  Everyone is arm in arm or arm round waist.  It drives home my melodramatic, melancholic, lonely, woe-is-me, first world single problem; but somehow the beauty of my locale pacify’s the need to cry into the lake.  Or indeed walk into it.  Or pick a fight with a swan.  Or with guys rowing their emotional property across the water.  There is the unmistakable whiff of hope through the charcoal air.  Or maybe that was just charcoal.  Or my kebab.

I might meet someone tonight!   Indeed I do!  She waits five hours to tell me she has a boyfriend!  Still it’s a nice place.  I’ll be back when I manage to convince someone to love me.




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Tuesday 16 April

Since I managed to get to Ljubljana before midday, it’s actually taken me about two hours to see it, which means I’m free to attempt some busking in the late afternoon.  It’s yet another glorious day and this has got to be one of the prettiest capital cities I’ve ever been to.  It has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it centre, with a charming square, unique bridges and the castle overlooking the friendly natives.  It’s all very romantic, and there are certainly a few musical types out to get your money.  I avoid the Hare Krishnas like the plague, taking up a decent spot with kite-high smiles, banging a drum and tinkling a cymbal.  There’s a decent chap cranking out some Mozart on an old fiddle,  and two old dudes with an accordion and a kazoo.  I get the impression the accordion player has allowed his talent-less mate along to buzz out a couple of tunes to get in on some of the action.  Finally in the last decent spot is the inevitable hapless looking girl on her knees begging for her crime syndicate.  I opt for a quieter street and test the water.

It’s a poor showing for two hours compared to Maribor and I’m not reaching above the mopeds that are chugging by, or the general bustle of the street.  They have these cute motorbike things that are actually just a bicycle with a small engine on it, but they’re easily drowning me out.  It becomes more a struggle than anything else, and when Radiohead’s Creep doesn’t pull in so much as a bean, it’s time to call it a day.

After wandering the centre again however, I found a nice little spot and decided to play just for myself.  If I make anything it’ll be a bonus, so I start rolling out the repertoire again.  Once again nobody is biting, but two younger girls have settled opposite me to listen, and they keep cheering every tune.  Eventually they’ve come over to present me with a delicious looking chocolate, whereupon they ask to “touch me” in case I become famous.  After complimenting me on my voice, they wish me good luck and giggle off into the next square.  Singing like a screaming cat and I still get the teenage girls.  This must be how ‘One Direction’ feels.

I look down onto my guitar bag and I’ve got enough for a pint.  That’ll do to wind down the day.


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Hitching to Ljubljana

Monday 15 April

The road looks inviting coming off the back of my weekend busk success.  It’s not going to make me a millionaire by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll certainly take the edge off hostel beds, food and nights out.  The sun is shining and it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Slovenia’s capital.  High spirits indeed.

I’m waiting for about 45 minutes with the usual handful of folk giving the hilarious ‘grin n’ wave’ as they speed past, when in swings a shiny Mercedes.  Now I’m not normally picked up in swanky motors such as this, as most businessmen would rather be seen dead than have a what they perceive to be a smelly hitcher cadging a lift on their white leather.  What makes this even more remarkable however, was that the driver was a women.

Over the moon doesn’t cut it.  My first ever pick up by a woman!  Equality!  She’s a teacher, married with kids and driving to work in the capital.  Clearly I don’t look like Rutger Hauer in his 1986 road horror movie.  The tag line for The Hitcher is; “never pick up a stranger.”  It’s lucky for me not many Europeans appear to have seen it.

After a pleasant sunny drive complete with local history and geography lesson, we pull into the relaxed streets of Ljubljana around midday.  I’m deposited within yards of the city centre, and seconds later a middle aged woman has asked where I’m from and if I need directions.  She’s pointed me off towards the decent hostels, keen to practice her English and seeing the snail house on my back.  I’ve got the rest of a beautiful day to explore one of Europe’s most charming capital cities, and Slovenia is already leaving me with a very good impression indeed.

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Busking in Maribor

Saturday 13 April

Since I’m not in the UK and I’m lugging my guitar about with me, I think it’s about time I tried to make some money with it.  I’ve tried busking once before, after a particularly (and usual) bad fight with my ex, I thought the fear of it would take my mind of things.  I made about eleven quid in an hour.  Probably because I was crap.

Abroad however in non-English speaking countries I can get away with it.  Also I’m not subjected to constant requests for Wonderwall.  Everyone is a musician in Glasgow, and if you’re not a musician then you know and appreciate good music.  Basically it’s a town of critics, and you’ll get lynched if you make ears bleed.  Don’t play anything people don’t know.  Don’t murder Pink Floyd.  Don’t play near a load of Buckfast swilling chavs.  The last one is pretty much impossible.

So there I was wandering around the quaint town of Maribor looking for a suitable spot.  Lets see now.  You’ve got your decent flamenco songster who has a mike and amp set up, so we’ll not be playing near him.  There’s an old creepy looking guy in the best spot with a load of worn out dancing puppets.  He looks like a worn out dancing puppet himself.  I’m guessing his wife left him years ago after she told him to get rid of the damn puppets.  Either the puppets go or she goes.  He chose the puppets.  He plays odd Slovenian ditties on a CD player and dangles about what looks like Eeyore dipped in acid.  Kids love it.  I’m saying it’s a red flag.  Alarm bells are ringing.  The only thing he’s missing is a bottle of chloroform and the ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ badge he paid thousands for on eBay.

Further down the street there’s a woman who sways and sings really badly.  She’s quite famous apparently, and people give her lots of money because of something bad that happened to her.  Regardless, she sounds like Sloth from the Goonies cheese-grating a cat.  I move on.

In the main square there’s a Jimi Hendrix type cranking out lazy afternoon riffs on a big-ass amp. He’s part of some kind of event happening, so this is a no fly zone.  I’ve got one option left, which actually was my top pick due to the acoustic use of the walls.  I don’t have an amplifier, so I’d be lost on a busy street.  You have to either play opposite a good wall, or find an archway or underpass.  I make my way to such an environment.  As I approach…is that… …yes…yes…that’s it, the unmistakable sound of a generic Native American Indian playing those fucking pipes.

He’s not actually doing anything, standing arms folded, bored out of his mind, blasting out lift music and selling dream catchers.  I think twice about an icy glare for fear of the hatchet.  I honestly hate these guys.  They’re everywhere, convincing naive folk that it’s a good idea to swap hard earned money for CD’s with endless cover versions of dire songs.  I can’t think of anything worse than a pan pipe rendition of ‘my heart will go on.’  I’d rather stab my ears with knitting needles while chewing styrofoam and urinating into one hand.

I opt for a spot between flamenco fingers and the puppet master.  At least neither of them are singing, so I might win the variety vote.  Starting is always the hard part.  I play safe with Tom Petty’s ‘free-fallin’, and the euros start to roll in.  I’m actually pulling this off.  The Great British busking scam.  In two hours I’ve rattled through everything I know, including a couple of my own crap songs in a bid to convince people they’re actually covers.  By the time I’m cashing up at the local coffee shop, I’m staggered to discover I’ve made 52 sheets.  52 smackers.  52 big ones.  52 reasons to go and get smashed.  I awake in a field wearing my kilt with dogs licking my face and kids laughing at me.  Job done.



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