Logic does not apply to the Georgian public toilets

So much happened in the little Caucasus nation of Georgia due to its friendly, resourceful people and chaotic public infrastructure, that I just had to share the most quirky stuff. The Georgian public toilets definitely made the list, as logic just refuses to stick within those premises, and I will prove it to you. In a sense, this is a part 2 post following the stories from the Georgian public minibuses, which you can read here, but otherwise let’s get started with my review of the insanity of the Georgian public toilets:

Like in many non-Western countries (but also looking at you, Italy!), the Georgian public toilets were all squat toilets, i.e. toilet holes in the ground. That’s usually not a particularly big deal for men, but for us women it can be a bit more annoying… Fortunately I was pretty used to that type of toilets by the time I visited Georgia, but what I did not expect were all the weird things they had going on at some of them.

Naturally, you had to pay a few lari (Georgian money) to use the public toilets and there was always a stern, black-robed grandma there to show you the ways of that particular toilet. My first encounter was at the bus station in Kutaisi, where the toilets were housed in the lower storey of one of the buildings, inside ancient, high brick arches. There were no curtains or anything to cover the toilet entrance and the toilets were built in two opposing lines, so you could chat to the opposite person while squatting down. Sure, I can deal with that and also with the old grandma staring at me the entire time while I was there. I guess she was trying to make sure I wasn’t stealing the ratty doormat-rug placed before the toilet to wipe your shoes on – that was the only thing that was not attached to the walls, so I assume she was worried about that? She must have thought I was insane when I brought out a piece of paper to wipe myself, as she started wildly gesticulating to put it in the nearby bin. I did and that was the moment logic stopped working and didn’t reestablish itself for a while. She took out my used toilet paper with a stick, offered it to her dog to sniff it and threw it in my toilet before flushing it down with a water bottle. I mean, sure maybe the dog determined it will flush?

Next up was the lovely public toilet in Akhaltiskhe, where they actually had curtains for each individual toilet, but they only reached down to your midriff, meaning they became completely redundant once you squatted down. That toilet had an intricate homemade plumbing system, consisting of plastic hoses and ancient Coca-Cola bottles, which somehow supplied flushing water to all 6 toilets, when the attending grandma poured some water into the first bottle. Quite the engineering feat, I tell you. But they kind of lost me when I realised the water then run into a ditch that once again circled through all the toilets before going down the drain, so they could have just poured it into the ditch in the first place? They also recycled the water used for hand washing into their toilet flushing system, so bonus points for sustainability.

The third one was somewhere in Tbilisi. It was quite busy and probably the strangest one. One of the three attending grandmas acted as a policeman, directing men and women towards their respective toilets. Only, we were all going to the same room, which established a sort of one way traffic, as of course men and women couldn’t be in the room at the same time when either of them used the open squat toilets. So, the grannies would wait for a larger group of either gender to assemble and then send them in, which took a while. But apparently if someone was fussy and in a hurry, they would also send them in, even if they were the wrong gender, so what exactly was the point then? To make it even less logical, one of the grandmas would then unroll a sort of a shower curtain in front of the toilet where the “wrong gendered” person was, but the curtain was transparent, so again… completely baffling, although the locals seemed to think it was entirely logical.

In general though, the toilets were actually not horrible. Sure, they were weird and they didn’t exactly smell like roses, but none of them were truly disgusting or soiled in the way sitting public toilets often are. Their improvised flushing systems also seemed to be quite decent as I never knowingly stepped into any human discharge and my shoes never smelled like I had – massive thanks from me to the toilet grandmas for their hard work. So, fear not, the Georgian public toilets are a wholly survivable experience!

We also experienced plenty of other quirky things I didn’t specifically write about here, from all the stray dogs everywhere, to the junkyard window view and the unintentional candlelit dinner without power in Kutaisi; the accommodation we had in Borjomi; the screwdriver embedded in the concrete wall in our bedroom in Tbilisi, the cows on the road to the Sapara monastery etc., and all of it was just part of the adventure. After all, it’s always good to step out of your comfort zone a bit.

The chaos of marshrutkas, Georgian public minivans

My boyfriend and I encountered many strange and quirky things during our 2018 trip to Georgia and one of them was the minibus/van public transport system. They’re called marshrutkas and they’ll get you almost anywhere around the country for a cheap price, at some point. While they do have an official schedule, their departure times are largely dependent on the mood of the driver and the amount of people wanting to go in that direction, so getting to where you want to go requires a bit of patience. We managed quite successfully actually, so there will be a separate travel tip post on how to do that, but this one is all about the tales from inside the minibuses, because that’s where the real fun happens.

#1: It can be hard getting started

When we first arrived to Kutaisi, we were trying to catch the minibus to Chiatura, a rather unpopular destination with a typically unpronounceable Georgian name. Since we couldn’t find any reliable timetables online, we arrived early to the bus station and started asking around which minibus was the one we needed. Usually that’s the way to go, right, but this time we hit a rather large language barrier.

We didn’t speak Georgian and only I spoke a very limited, improvised Slovene-Serbo-Croatian-ish Russian besides English, while they didn’t speak English or in most cases even Russian and naturally wouldn’t speak to a woman if there was a man present. We couldn’t pronounce the name Chiatura properly and they had no idea what we meant, so we tried writing it down on a piece of paper: turns out, they could only read their Georgian letters and not the Latin alphabet, and we couldn’t read their scribbles either… The whole thing was getting quite hilariously frustrating, to the point where we were sitting in front of the wrong minibus for a while, because we thought that was the one they were pointing at. We finally managed to get the right bus, but its departure time was about 40 minutes later, so we settled in to wait.

The minibus progressively filled with local people over that time and a couple of sellers came by the van with the most random assortment of things. They were selling everything from flower bouquets to toilet brushes and disposable razors (both out of their original packaging), individual batteries, dubiously fresh fruit and FA shower gels. I’m not sure how that paid off for them, but I guess it did, because a man next to me bought a shower gel.

Here’s a woman selling random cosmetic and shower gels out of her bag.

Finally, two very old drivers arrived to take us there. Seatbelts were of course non-existent or even if they were there, most people thought they very unnecessary accessories, including the two drivers. I imagine that they assign two old guys together as drivers for unpopular destinations, in case one of them falls asleep or has a heart attack – not to be prejudiced, but those two had probably met Moses at some point. My theory was further confirmed by the way they drove, as brakes are apparently only to be used in emergency situations and road boundaries or traffic signs don’t apply to anyone, particularly not to those over the age of 60. Anyhow, we survived, which is all that matters.

#2: The goat incident

During one of the longer marshrutka rides at the beginning of our Georgian adventure when my boyfriend was still adjusting to the whole non-Central-European environment, someone brought a goat on the minibus. Mercifully, my boyfriend was asleep at the time, as the van was extremely crowded, smelled like feet and way too hot despite the open windows, which, in combination with the culture shock, was making him a bit grumpy. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling particularly cheerful either and I couldn’t sleep to escape that, but it’s all part of the experience.

So, at one of the stops where two more people somehow squeezed in, a guy brought in a goat on a leash and told it to sit down a row ahead of us. The wizened old white goat wasn’t particularly thrilled by all the people in close quarters, so it kept bleating and shifting until it promptly pooped on the floor of the minivan. The goat owner wasn’t particularly bothered by the poop though, as he casually swiped it up with his hand and tossed it out the window. Everyone else around us was also perfectly cool with the defecating, stir-crazy goat, so I figured I was probably suffering from a bit of a culture shock too.

I ended up feeling like a crazy spoilt European, up to the point where some woman started shrieking at the goat’s owner because the goat was licking her shoes. Luckily, both the goat and its owner got off the bus quite soon and everyone seemed a bit happier for it. Naturally, the whole goat experience was accompanied by the typical farm animal smell meets sweaty people smell, so I was desperately praying the whole time that my boyfriend wouldn’t wake up and curse me for dragging him to Georgia.

Here’s a prime specimen of a marshrutka.

#3: Wine is for sharing

Since we were in Georgia, it was only natural that we’d encounter crazy Russians with alcohol at some point, and we did. I believe it was on the road to Tbilisi, when we were sitting near the back of one of the more modern minibuses, which actually had ventilation (amazing how simple things become a blessing as soon as they’re absent). Behind us were a couple of Russian men, which looked exactly as you might imagine: pushing 40, bordering on overweight, dressed in white short sleeved dress shirts and wannabe fancy shoes, loud and friendly with big smiles and limited English.

They enthusiastically brought out bottles of vodka and white wine and started passing them around the bus, which was much appreciated by most of the locals. When they realised we weren’t local, the words “drink, my friends!” in thick Russian accent were repeated an infinite amount of times and half-assed attempts at communicating about our lives were made on both sides. Since I was a woman sitting on the inside seat by the window, I was allowed to refuse the bottles after a few rounds, but my boyfriend had to take it like a man. Next came the loud Russian music played on mobile phones, naturally accompanied by singing, so we got the whole party minibus experience.

The whole thing was so stereotypically Russian, like from a bad American movie, that I had trouble keeping a straight face and the men were almost adorable in their sincere desire to get the whole bus drunk. It finally came to an end when we had to stop for a toilet break and some water, as they fell asleep in their seats after that, like big snoring bears.

The Georgian adventure stories continue in part 2: Logic does not apply to the Georgian public toilets.

How to do laundry in Sweden

I lived in the north of Sweden for about a year in 2018/2019 while studying for my Masters in engineering. Moving to another country naturally required some adjustments to the lifestyle I was used to, but none were as big (or as bad) as doing laundry. It was the biggest source of frustration of my entire Swedish experience and you’re about to find out why.

I’ve taken the readily available washing machine for granted my entire life, as every flat I’d lived in until Sweden came with one, even when I lived in the UK. However, most flats in Sweden, particularly student apartments, don’t come with a washing machine. Instead, there are communal laundry rooms meant for a varying number of flats or buildings and, in true Swedish spirit, you need to book your laundry time in advance through a computerised system, which also didn’t work sometimes.

Where I lived, we had our washing machines in the basement of a next door building (several Swedish apartment buildings share the same entrance key) and we could book 4-5 hour laundry terms (3 per day between 7am and 9pm). There were two available laundry rooms, each equipped with two industrial-sized washing machine with limited programmes to choose from, a tumble dryer, a rack dryer and an ironing table with some other stuff.

Since there were many of us using the washing machines, my preferred terms were not always available and to complicate matters further, four of us lived in our flat at some point and all of us shared one laundry access key, i.e. only one of us could book a laundry term at once. So, getting a weekend laundry term was almost impossible and, since each term was 4 or 5 hours long, doing laundry turned into a whole day affair, as I had to wait for each cycle to finish, throw it into the dryer and wait for that as well.

At some point during winter when I had to stumble through the snow with all of my laundry bags, my frustration meter went off the charts and I made a snarky Swedish laundry “how to” guide to feel better:

I wish I could say it is greatly exaggerated, but doing laundry at our house really was a whole adventure, so I promised myself to always check if the flat comes with a washing machine in the future.

Couchsurfing in Rovaniemi: sauna beer and a possessed cat

I love couchsurfing (an online community, which connects travellers with foreign hosts who let them sleep on their couch/spare bed for free) and some of my favourite travel experiences happened because of it, so I am planning to eventually get them all written down as stories. The first one is also the most recent one, from Rovaniemi, Finland, where I stayed with Elina.

One of my Australian friends, Grant, who I guess is the person who got me into couchsurfing, has been telling me all about his amazing Finnish friends and how I absolutely have to go meet them in Rovaniemi. So, naturally I did and he was right!

I visited Rovaniemi in March 2019 while I was living in Sweden. I arrived on a late Friday morning and checked out the 3 Rovaniemi must-see museums, then met up with Elina in one of the shopping centres and she led the way to her house. We hit it off straight away and the initial new person awkwardness was gone before we even reached the house.

Maya the cat and Suomi the beer.

Elina and her friend had a beautiful, a bit retro styled flat and a small white cat Maya, who was in heat at the time. If you’ve ever seen a cat in heat you’ll know they tend to provocatively shake their butts at you and try to push their little assholes as close to your face as possible, but more disturbingly, they sound like they’ve been possessed by a demon. Cute little Maya would start meowing at random intervals, which progressively turned into outright tortured screaming, a kind of deep throat belching and all out horror movie demon summoning. She particularly loved doing that in my room, so I half expected to find a cat scratched pentagram under my bed and wake up in the seventh circle of Hell. Still, she was a cuddly cutie and the entire thing was hilarious, even more so because Elina was adorably embarrassed.

She had kindly bought me a Suomi (Finland) beer as a welcome gift and I brought her Jaffa cookies from Slovenia (it’s good practice to bring a gift when staying with someone). It turned out she knew and liked the cookie brand and they had a different variety of them in Finland, while I loved the colorful Suomi bottle and it is actually still in my small special bottle collection back home in Slovenia. We drank the beer, ate some food that she got at work for free, talked and got to know each other. I am super happy to say that we continued to get along great and actually became friends by the end of my Rovi weekend, as we had a lot in common.

Elina and I at the husky park.

In the middle of the beer drinking her father called and told her he is going to borrow us the car for the whole weekend, which allowed us to visit the Ranua zoo, so we went to pick up the car. Turns out Elina is the same as me and isn’t the biggest fan of driving, but between us both we had one functional adult driver brain and made it work.

The view from Elina’s balcony.

After that I got to experience the great Finnish tradition of sauna beer! Elina and her friend had a small sauna built into their bathroom and we hang out in there with an ice cold beer, which was an awesome upgrade from the usual sauna experience. In between the sauna visits we cooled down at the balcony with a very nice view of the snowy trees below. Sitting naked in the balcony in the middle of winter and drinking beer with a woman I just met somehow felt like the epitome of modern feminism and we had a good laugh about it. I was never a sauna person growing up, but after spending some time in Scandinavia I’ve become quite the fan and this sauna beer option really sealed the deal for me. 🙂

We turned in early on Friday, then visited the Santa Claus village, the Ranua zoo and ate reindeer sushi on Saturday, before going back to the apartment for more sauna time with some of Elina’s other Finnish friends and plenty of alcohol. True to the stereotype, it takes a lot of alcoholic social lubricant to get the Finns to socialise and the difference after a few beers was noticeable. They actually started sharing a bit about their personal lives *gasp* and their body language went straight from stiff and controlled to full-on party mode. Turns out most of them were huge Nick Cave fans, which worked great and the Weeping song was apparently their drunk anthem (but they weren’t weeping long).

Elina made different jello shots the day before, including salmiakkikossu (salmiakki, i.e. salty liquorice + spirit), which I was forced to try as a good house guest and I’ll admit salmiakki is still one of the more disgusting things I’ve tried in my life, but the rest of them were very good. I also got to try different Finnish long drinks, as Elina’s fridge was well-stocked and she kept offering me new things to try, which was awesome!

We also made some very delicious Finnish foods, such as karjalanpiirakka, the Karelian pasty filled with rice porridge, topped with munavoi (egg butter) on Saturday, and leipäjuusto, a type of squeaky, soft bread cheese topped with hilla (cloudberries) for hangover breakfast on Sunday. Even though I had trouble pronouncing it, I loved all of it and I’ve been trying to find the squeaky cheese in Sweden.

It was St. Patrick’s day on Saturday, so all of us headed out after the pre-drinks, to an Irish pub called Oliver’s corner, where we got the Guinness hats and stayed out drunkenly partying until late.

A group photo from the night out.

We mostly recuperated on Sunday before I had to catch my bus back to Luleå through Haparanda-Tornio. Elina’s flatmate was so dead he couldn’t even get out of bed and his voice rivaled Maya the cat’s infernal screaming, while both Elina and I felt a bit queasy eating breakfast, but the food eventually helped. After I left Elina’s father also brought me a beer coaster (I collect them and plan to cover my kitchen ceiling with them), which I received via post later. Elina has also joined the tiny, but incredibly awesome group of people who collect beer coasters for me so that my future kitchen ceiling will be even cooler and we’ve kept in touch since then.

The Rovaniemi weekend as a whole was a great success, which was just what I needed after the long, dark Swedish winter and I really enjoyed my time at Elina’s place, so kiitos Elina! <3 You are always welcome in Slovenia or wherever I may be.

My Finnish candy haul

The Fazer sweets kingdom.

If you visit the Ranua wildlife zoo near Rovaniemi (Finland), you will have a very hard time avoiding the lure of the Fazer candy shop, which is right outside the zoo entrance. Fazer is one of the leading Finnish sweets brands and with good reason (yum!). My couchsurfing host Elina explained that the Ranua shop is a kind of a candy outlet store, selling all kinds of sweets for a discounted price compared to the regular supermarkets, so I did not even try to avoid it and just dived in headfirst.

My Finnish candy haul! <3

They sell everything from cookies, bread sticks, crispbread with spices, chocolate with tons of different flavours and fillings, a whole zoo of gummy candies, both sweet and sour candy, as well as chocolate covered strawberries and cherries and many other things. However, unless you are Finnish or actually like the insanely weird taste of salty liquorice, you need to avoid the salmiakki bombs. Salmiaki is super popular in Finland, so plenty of mixed Fazer sweets bags had salmiakki candy in it. I carefully weeded those out and ended up with a huge candy haul for a very reasonable price of about 20 € if I remember correctly (in 2019).

They also sell their versions of Jaffa cookies, which are quite popular in Slovenia and Croatia and I did not realise they are equally popular in Finland. I always bring something for my couchsurfing hosts and I had a pack of our Jaffa cookies from when my mum was visiting Sweden, so I brought that for Elina and it turns out she knew all about them and even preferred our version.

Being me, I also bought a plushy in the Ranua zoo shop, because I am a big child at heart. This time it was a plushy beaver and of course I had to try the chocolate covered strawberries straight away, so the cover photo for this post was taken on the road to the Santa Claus village. I bought an extra pack of chocolate strawberries for my boyfriend and another chocolate cherry one, but I ate both of them before coming back to Slovenia, because they were amazing – I regret nothing!

Bonus video of a real beaver munching away at his carrot at the Ranua zoo, any resemblance to me eating all the chocolate treats in one go is just coincidental.

The Finnish-Slovenian token exchange

When I was couchsurfing with my new Finnish friend Elina in Rovaniemi in 2019, her awesome dad decided to borrow us his car for the whole weekend. We got to explore the Ranua wildlife zoo and the Santa Claus village with the 100 huskies, so the car really was an invaluable asset.

The bear coaster from Finland.

I first met her father on Friday, when he brought the car and we drove him and his friend back to the parking lot so they could go do their own thing. He did not speak much English, but he had a big friendly smile on his face and seemed to think it was very fancy that his daughter now had a friend from Slovenia. We got by with my limited Swedish and Elina’s translations and on Sunday when he came back to pick up the car, he brought me a bear beer coaster. But, unfortunately, I was not there anymore!

My token from Slovenia.

So, Elina messaged me that her dad brought me a beer coaster – I collect them everywhere I go and I guess we must have told him that at some point. Anyhow, it was an incredibly nice gesture from him, so I figured she could send it to me via post and I could send something back to him from Slovenia, and so it was.

As these things usually go, both me and Elina took our sweet time getting our respective tokens to the post office, but I just managed to mail mine today, so the Finnish-Slovenian token exchange is on! 🙂

An impromptu road trip to the Blue mountains

While I was couchsurfing through Australia in 2017, I also frequently used the Discussion boards. As a solo traveller, I was looking for ride share options or just someone to grab a coffee with and it worked out pretty well many times. When I was in Sydney I surreptitiously posted something about wanting to go to the Blue mountains, although I didn’t have high expectations on that one, as most people go out hiking for several days and I did not really have that much time.

However, fortune came through and a wonderful lady messaged me if I would be interested in going with her. Her name was Sonya and she was an incredibly smart middle aged computer programmer who loved to travel. She was one of those people who can afford to travel for half their time, working on paid projects the other half, and can actually sustain the lifesytle without making it big on the internet. As she liked to frequently walk in the Blue mountains, most of her friends were losing the will to join her every week, so she decided to offer the chance to travellers instead. She figured there was no point of driving out with an empty car, so she tried to fill it with amicable travellers from the couchsurfing boards as often as possible and wouldn’t even accept gas money.

Probably my favourite selfie from Oz.

We started out early in the morning at the Central station in Sydney and drove out to several spots in the Blue mountains area, which I covered here. A Taiwanese girl named Ann, who was about my age, also joined us that day and the two of us ended up exploring Sydney together for a while afterwards. She was quite funny and easy to get along with most of the time, but got fierce when discussing China or the stereotypes about Asian women, which was quite understandable and eye-opening after seeing it from her perspective.

The three of us got along straight away, finding common interests in not only travelling, but also languages, culture and politics, and Sonya turned out to be a great and knowledgeable guide through the forest. I believe it made her happy to see others marvel at and enjoy her beloved mountains and the entire experience was somehow heartwarming, because it is rare to see someone who cares about nature so much. All in all it was a great day spent in the misty blue nature and another positive couchsurfing experience, so humanity is not doomed quite yet. 🙂

The “don’t judge a book by its cover experience” in Borjomi

I was travelling around Georgia in 2018 with my boyfriend and among other places we also stopped in Borjomi. We’d booked a homestay with great reviews and were looking forward to putting our backpacks down after a sweaty minibus ride. The property’s instructions were something along the lines of find the tallest building on the left of the train station and the room is in the 11th floor, which was a bit unclear, but upon arrival we immediately noticed a very tall, socialist apartment building.

We headed there and one of our first impressions (and likely my favourite thing) of Borjomi was a turkey grazing next to the railway. As we began to approach the very tall, yellow-red building, the words “I hope this is not it” came out of my boyfriend’s mouth and I quietly agreed.

The brave turkey.

The building looked half-abandoned and was decrepit in the kindest sense, with shutters hanging off the windows, paint peeling of the walls and all kinds of general disrepair you can imagine. The neighbourhood we passed began to look increasingly sketchy, with kids playing on the dirty streets and most of the nearby houses in shambles. We began to consider finding another accommodation, as the entire escapade seemed very ill-advised.

Since we were supposed to meet the owner at the building I insisted we bravely soldier ahead and at least check out the room, but kind of lost my resolve and began to panic when there did not seem to be anyone there. Luckily, an elderly man appeared, asking in Russian if I was me and we headed inside. He introduced himself as Albert and he was one of the kindest people I’d ever met.

After squeezing into an elevator, which required 5 tetri coins that he provided for us in abundance, we finally got to the flat on the 11th floor. At that point I was still a bit nervous regarding the state of the room, however when we entered I could see the apartment was very nice. The room had a double bed and looked like your average Eastern Europe grandma’s bedroom, complete with quilt and a bookcase, but it was clean, came with a private bathroom and even had a window niche with a view.

Borjomi, as seen from the top of the cable car hill.

Albert insisted on sitting us down in the kitchen and making Turkish coffee, offering cookies and his homemade red wine. After establishing that he didn’t speak English and I barely spoke Russian, while my boyfriend looked a bit lost, we learned Albert came from Russia and lived there with his mother Julie. After the coffee break he kindly, but firmly threw us out of the flat saying we needed to explore Borjomi while there was still any day left, which is exactly what we did.

Upon returning in the evening we also met his mother, who looked like you would imagine a babushka to look: extremely kind, warm, stubborn and offering a homemade Georgian speciality, some kind of pastry with fresh cheese, and of course also the wine. While we were eating, Albert showed us the important local sights on his fancy Apple computer that he was very proud of. We debated which ones we had enough time to see and which ones would have to wait until next time. When I say debated, I mean lots of hand gestures, half broken Russian-English-Croatian-Slovenian we could squeeze out, with lots of patience. After the virtual tour was over, they taught us some Georgian words and marvelled at Slovenian ones, examined all details of our lives that we could communicate through and explained all about Albert’s son, who was studying in Germany.

All in all it was a pleasant evening and a very enjoyable stay, which felt like home, as the two hosts were so incredibly kind, patient and generous. I could not recommend it enough and you can find their property on Booking.com here. The following morning we left quite early and planned to leave a sneaky gift of chocolate and a thank you note on the pillow – I usually carry small thank you-tokens with me when I travel, but Albert saw it before we could get out of the door. In his generous manner he insisted we have breakfast, which we didn’t have time to do, so he gave us a bottle of his homemade wine for the journey and we left the apartment a whole lot of human kindness richer. Madloba Albert and Julie!

P. S.: To put things into perspective, we paid 11 € for a night in Borjomi, which is considered an ok price in Georgia, but the number serves to highlight the enormous gap between first world countries and the rest of the world. It makes the kindness and homemade food that much more valuable and genuine, and shows how much travelling responsibly can contribute to the local economy and improve people’s lives. I will always support homestays and locally owned accommodation over hotel chains if I can afford to and strongly encourage you to do the same.

The asinine expedition to Štvanice (a Prague island)

The first time I visited one of my favourite European cities, Prague, was in 2012 with three other friends. We arrived by train at 4 am in the morning and went to drop our lagguage off at the hostel, as we were too early for check in, then we decided to walk by the river to the Old town.

Prague after dark.

We passed the larger island of Štvanice on the way and thought it looked quite nice, so we decided to check it out. It was still dark at the time, but there were four of us, including two guys, so we did not think much of it. As we walked across the bridge and explored around a bit, everything looked quite normal and perfectly fine. The views on Vltava river were quite beautiful in the street lighting and we were fooling around the island shore. We even found a playground and decided to give the swings a go.

At some point during our not entirely silent tomfoolery one of us noticed a homeless man sleeping on a nearby bench and we politely moved away, only to notice another one propped under a tree. We got a bit worried and decided to head back off the island, just in case, since the Czech republic is famous for pickpockets and occasional robberies of idiots in dark places. As we started to head back, we began to notice them everywhere: under the land bridge, next to the trees, on benches, leaning on the fences and even sleeping under the playground slide that we’d just been using. They seemed to be popping up out of thin air and I remember my heart started to anxiously pump in my chest, because they were everywhere! It felt like the Night of the living dead, when they began to slowly stir and look at us, some of the quietly muttering who knows what in Czech. We felt severely outnumbred and hightailed it out of there, as fast as we possibly could without running to keep some of our dignity.

I guess we all felt both stupid and threatened at a primal level, because we started to laugh hysterically as soon as we made it far enough away to feel safe. We ended up feeling like complete fools, both for running away and for going to an unfamiliar island park in the dark in the first place. Nothing really happened and we were fine, but it could have gone entirely different if we had been less lucky… So, a word of advice, stay off the Prague islands after dark!

A schnitty rideshare experience in Australia

Hitchhiking and ridesharing have been around since the ancient times and are still thriving today, despite the whole “hitchhikers and serial killers” scare. In Australia, there are several apps, websites and Facebook groups connecting travellers or locals with a car with others looking for a ride, as the distances are enormous. Sharing the journey means sharing the costs and the driving, so it is the preferred option for travelling on a budget.

I pun badly. Incidentally, it might have been a Thursday.

Since I forgot to bring my driving license and am not a very good driver to begin with, I was mostly looking for other people to drive me around in exchange for contributing for the gas. So, there I was, set to go from Sydney to Brisbane with some Aussie guy, who was a friend of a friend of a friend, which is practically family when you’re travelling. We struck up a conversation and everything was going really well, up to the point where he started getting progressively pale and making a very weird face. He choked out something about me holding the wheel and almost doubled over, while I struggled to maneuver the car into the ditch at the side of the road in total panic. It was not a smooth stop, but luckily the road was mostly empty and the other drivers did their best to avoid our swerving calamity car, so we made it somehow.

When we stopped, he immediately jumped out of the car and run into the nearby bushes like his life depended on it, screaming he had to shit. Trying to control my shock from almost crashing and trying to drive from the passanger seat, as well as my laughter, I waited for about 30 minutes, wondering if I should go check on him, but extremely put off by the whole idea. He showed up a while later, looking shifty and avoiding my eyes, then said he couldn’t drive. Apparently his shitting marathon was not over yet, so like it or not, I drove to the nearest gas station about 15 minutes out, anxiously hoping noone would check my non-present license and praying to every known entity in the universe that he could hold it in until then.

He did and I exhaled a major breath of relief that I didn’t even know I was holding when we made it to the gas station parking lot. He disappeared into the public bathroom straight away, while I shouted goodbye at his back, collected my backpack and went to look for another ride. There was no way I was waiting around for his guts to finish their explosive business, even if I had to walk to Brisbane, and he didn’t seem like he needed medical attention. I ended up eating a very greasy, unidentifiable meat burger and sharing a laugh over the situation with an elderly truck driver. His name was Joe and he told me all about his 12 grandchildren, shooting giant snakes at his bush farm and his wife’s superb apple pie, then drove me to the bus station so I could get to Brisbane, as he was heading in another direction afterwards.