July 14th: 7am Eurostar means I’m up all night. Switch from whisky to coffee at 3am to make a 5am bus over central London to St Pancras. Designed by Sir Gilbert Scott it’s even more majestic than Glasgow Uni’s main building. Meet friends in Brussels and get through the gates of Dour Festival. Crash heavily around midnight. Rain begins.
July 15th: Stu looses both his phone and friend from Oman during Cyprus Hill on night one of the festival. No one in group now has a working phone. Series of meeting points ambitiously established to find each other amidst 70,000 people. These work surprisingly well but Mounir from Oman is never heard from again.
July 18th: Leave Dour festival barefoot, exhausted and caked in mud heading for Leuven, where Swedish friends are visiting. Clutch scrap of paper very tightly on which their phone number is written. After gauntlet of foreign phonebooths and tariff cards, manage to make contact. Swedes pick us up and a few long nights begin.
July 21st: Having left Leuven the next day for Brussels with the Swedes, we end up in Gent with a much depleted party. Stay at the house of some brilliant Belgians who a friend from Glasgow lived with during his Erasmus exchange year. Pitch the tents on their patio roof. Belgium rains on.
July 25th: Stay at house of another Belgian friend. They have a friend who is running a psy-trance festival in Croatia who needs people he can trust to help run the cash desks. Expenses paid trip to Croatia looks likely.
July 28th: Visit girlfriend in Luxembourg and relax after a heavy month. Enjoy the cultural amenities of a cash-rich state by going to cheap cinema screenings and exhibitions. Alcohol criminally cheap in supermarkets. I have a bike to cycle. Sun comes out. Things looking up.
August 5th: Find myself in Brussels for the third time of summer meeting more friends. Rent city bikes and drink lots of coffee. Try macaroons for the first time. Goats cheese a bad flavour.
August 7th: Croatia plan is a go-er. At previous festival met a friend of a friend who lives in Vienna who offered us to stay. Not keen on spending more time in Belgium under Scottish looking skies. Quickly resolve to hitchhike to Vienna.
August 8th. Wake up in a wood beside a service station on the outskirts of Cologne. Made barely 200km on first day of hitching and are stuck in a services which doesn’t have working petrol pumps. As a consequence, few cars pass through. Wish we’d taken up first lift’s offer of a bed, balkan music and vegetarian food.
August 9th: Half past midnight and we escape jubilantly into Vienna city centre. Final lift was terrifying ordeal with non-English speaking Chechens in brand new hire cars driving very fast. 1000km in three lifts that day means we reach our friend in Vienna within 37 hours of starting out. Only money spent to facilitate journey went on a burger king.
August 11th: Jump off the high fence of the Viennese palace gardens at night and badly bruise my heel. Next day instead of resting, stay up till 8am at a drum and bass club. Limping section of trip begins.
August 13th: Meet the Belgian car to Croatia in Saltzburg. Lazily make our way towards festival sleeping under the stars in the Alps and awaking to alpine coos sniffing at us with drool and clanky bells. Sun is blazing in the sky. Pasty skin tingles with anticipation of burning.
August 14th: Spend day rowing a boat across lake in Slovenia and eat good (& cheap) dinner in Lublijana. Heat during the day is wonderful. Croatian border security search us very thoroughly for one hour and a half as we enter country at night. We leave laughing. Sleep under sea of stars in an olive grove on the island of KRK, milky way visible.
August 17th: Festival begins. The heat of the sun means everyone wakes up by 7am. Selling festival wristbands to hoards of hippies proves exasperating- everyone adamantly believes they deserve a discount.
August 19th: Visited for second time by Red Cross medic who convinces me bones in my heel are broken. Enlist a friend of a friend to drive me 30km to the recommended hospital. Hospital turns out to be a series of dark empty corridors and have to drive further 30km to Zdar. Dropped off alone at 10pm to enter Croatian health system. Diagnosis and treatment areas 2km apart- laugh at perpetual procession of invalids hobbling between them. Try not to cry.
August 21st: Returned to festival with all-clear from hospital and a seething disregard for Red Cross Medics to find Phil being violently sick. 24 hours later I’m also puking in the bushes. Lie on back in scratchy grass sheltering from midday heat whilst Alsatian shits next to me. Fever is so intense that I don’t move.
August 22nd: Begin to notice how many of the hippies have dogs. A lot of people falling ill. I blame hippy dogs. Festival coming to a close. Between distractions of my heel, working and being sick I’ve seen 3 acts in 5 days. Decide psytrance is crap.
August 24th: Begin our way back towards Belgium by car. Travelling companions feeling rough after two days of staff party so I take most of the driving. Drive past lots of bombed out shit and see a mine-clearance team. VW Polo overheats unless air conditioning on full constantly. Feet blasted all day by very hot air. Sleep beside a lake near Ogluin and discover wild boar riffling through our stuff when we return from beers. Shower of shooting stars rounds off the night.
August 25th: For two euros are enthusiastically toured around a local museum ‘s exhibits on rural life in croatia, mountaineering and a local children's writer. Gets interesting when find ourselves amidst guns in Tito’s ex jail cell. That evening drive up a sizeable mountain to watch the sun set over the Adriatic and sleep in a meadow. Wake to find huge praying mantis, swarms of bees and fat grasshoppers everywhere.
August 26th: Visit Trieste on off-chance we hook up with crew we met at the Croatian festival. Not having working phones sucks. Wander round like tourists for a few hours then get back on the road. Beer, cigarettes and food getting noticeably more expensive as we drive north again. On plus side food options now widening from Croatia’s standard menu of meat or ‘sexy pizza’.
August 27th: After a morning swim in lake Millstatt in Austria, spend day reading beside lake Chiemsee in Germany. Near evening all suddenly decide it’d be nice to be back in Belgium. Take shifts to drive the 1000km back to Gent. Start my shift on autobahn after sunset and realise the four-lane road doesn’t have cat’s eyes, overhead lighting or reflective barriers. Rain thrashes down and it becomes very hard to see. Keep the car at steady 120kmph and grip the wheel tight. In the darkness cars tear past in lanes I didn’t realise existed. Come brutally close to crashing twice. Resolve to be driving a car with brighter headlights next time I’m in Germany.
August 29th: Leave Gent at 5am to the familiar sounds of Phil puking violently, this time out of the top floor window. Step over his sick on pavement outside house and am driven to train station by one of the Belgians. Step off an impulsively booked Ryanair flight in Edinburgh and despair at how gray and cold the city is. Meet up briefly for a much needed Tennents with a friend before returning to Northumberland for mothering and a bed.
6500km on road and rail
800km in the air
21 nights on floors
19 nights in a tent
18 trains taken (excluding countless subways)
11 buses taken
9 houses / flats stayed in
9 cars ridden in
8 nights in a bed
6 passport checks
5 trams taken
5 hitchhiking lifts (Gent - Vienna)
4 types of bike ridden
4 nights sleeping under stars
4 swims (Sea / Lakes)
4 houses / flats visited
3 MacDonald's eaten (Clapham / Leuven / Vienna)
3 Burger Kings eaten (Outside Cologne / Saltzburg / On road near lake Chiemsee, Germany)
lots of coffee,
even more beer.