Thursday, November 17, 2011

Teargas and a hug from a nationalist

Mars der Patriotten, Wrocław, Polen

When I was a little alternative girl I walked in a protest march once. I didn't quite know what it was about, I think it was against the enrichment of uranium or something like that. At that time I wasn't sure as well, but I went to march anyway. In the 13 years that followed I never participated in anything like that again, also I never went to a protest march as a journalist. Now I do have this experience, and how, since I've been to the Patriot March in Wrocław on Independence Day.

Every year on Novembert 11th the Polish celebrate their independence and there are always Patriot Marches being organized. The biggest march is of course in the capital Warsaw, but also in my city Wrocław there were 2000 people on the streets to show that they are real Poles who stand up for their country. It's not only patriots that are participating, but also nationalists, fascists and hooligans. They all grab this chance to shout their nationalist slogans and light up flares and exploding fireworks. All together it creates an unfriendly and agressive atmosphere which I never experienced before. Since there are also demonstrations from antifa there is a big police force to keep the two groups seperated from each other.

On Rynek, the market square, the march started out pretty quiet. They walked a few rounds on the square, shouted some slogans, lit up some fireworks and flares and looked angry to the photographers and journalists, including me. When the group walked through the rest of the city centre, they came close to the other demonstrating groups and then the atmosphere totally changed. Suddenly I saw thirty extra police officers coming out of their vans and they runned towards the crowd. Curious as I am I decided to follow them to see what was happening over there. That may have been not the best decision of my life, because I couldn't find a safe spot to stand. The benches on which most of the photographers were standing were more than full and the only solution was to stay in the group of angry nationalists and hide my camera and phone, because most of them didn't quite liked the media.

I put my hood over my head and my scarf over my face to blend in with the crowd, this seemed to be the dress-code for being in the march. People were throwing flares to the police and at the same time a guy in front of me decided to lift a trashcan to hit the police with. Then all hell broke loose, the police force came towards us in one big line of shields and sticks. The guys around me decided to run into the police and I couldn't do anything else then to move in the same direction the crowd went and try my best not to fall.

Luckily for me I was able to stay on my feet and I even picked some patriots from the ground so they wouldn't get trodded under feet. At that exact moment I felt some liquid in my face and a very spicy taste in my mouth: teargas! I acted quickly and put my scarf over my entire face and held my hand over my mouth and nose to keep the rest of the gas away from me. Everyone started running away from the police, except from the first line of patriots, who lay on the ground screaming in agony. Shortly after this it got 'peaceful' again and the march went on to the other side of the city center. I decided to walk with the group to check out what will happen there, with my left eye closed and the feeling like I had just had a bucket full of wasabi in my mouth.

I planned on checking the opposite party, but due to the huge police force I had no other choice then to stay on the side of the nationalists and patriots. Since the whole centre was closed down by the police I couldn't go to my tram stop to go home, so I decided to update my Twitter and Facebook on a bench near to where the patriots were ending their march. After a few minutes a Pole came up to me and asked where I was from. When I said I was from Holland his face lit up and he decided to give me a very long and extended hug. Why he did that I still don't know, perhaps he thought I came all the way from Holland to participate in this March of the Patriots. I really have no clue whatsoever, but at least I had some first-time-experiences again in Poland. I now know how it feels to get sprayed with teargas and I know how it feels to be hugged by a nationalist.

Watch my video from the March of the Patriots:

Check de Nederlandse blog over de Mars der Patriotten hier

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My first Polish Independence Day

On November 11th Poland celebrates Independence Day and I was there to check it out. Of course I woke up way too late to see the actual parades, but hey, it's a free day after all, also for non-Poles, who cannot really celebrate the Polish Independence Day themselves. I did went to the city centre to check out what was happening in the afternoon. Families gathering on Rynek (the marketsquare) with kids playing in the dry fountain. I saw lots of Polish flags and even some bikermice from the Harley Davidson club.

Later that day there was also the March of the Patriots, where around two thousand people participated in. There were nationalists, patriots, hooligans, lots of journalists and also some regular people. I had my first experience with teargas, but more about that later on this blog, with video's and pictures. For now only pictures of the Independence Day when the atmosphere was still nice and calm.

Slideshow of Wrocław during Independence Day:

Click here for my Dutch blog about the Independence Day

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Polish language is one big tongue twister

They occur in every language, the so-called tongue twisters: phrases with words and sounds in it that are very much alike, which causes a conflict between your brain and your speech and use of the tongue. In Holland we have a tongue twister about a pretty hairdresser:

De knappe kapper kapt knap, maar de knecht van de knappe kapper kapt knapper dan de knappe kapper zelf kapt.

It doesn't even has to be a full phrase, even some words cannot be pronounced properly when said too many times in a row. For me the word 'Toy Boat' is a mini-tongue twister, if I try to say it three times in a row I just can't. It will sound like this: 'Toy Boat, Toa Boyt, Toy Boyt.' Most of the tongue twisters are just weird phrases, which do not have a specific meaning, but are just hard to pronounce, like this one:

If Stu chews shoes, should Stu choose the shoes he chews? 

Since I started learning the Polish language I found out that learning a new language causes the same problems between brains and speech. I see a Polish word or phrase on my computerscreen, I want to pronounce it properly, but then it appears that my brains have a mind of their own. It's sending the wrong commands to my tongue, so I only say 'pllllaaahhh'. The letter combinations of SZ, CZ en RZ are particularly difficult for me and the letter Ł is a cause of master confusion too, since it's not an L at all, but it needs to be prunounced the way we Dutchies use the W. 

Here you can read some examples of Polish tongue twisters. I am not sure if I'll ever reach the point of pronouncing those lines in the correct way:

W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie i Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie.

Nie pieprz Pietrze wieprza pieprzem, bo przepieprzysz wieprza pieprzem.

For now I'm glad I can remember most of the words I have been learning. I am able to name 36 different animals in Polish. I can say the days of the week, most of the colors and some common phrases. At least, if I'm behind my laptop, alone in my room. I have no idea if I'll be able to have some sort of conversation when I'll be in Poland, which will be in two days.

The next few weeks I will update my blog regularly with the process of learning this weird and difficult language. I'm expecting it to be a really bumpy road, with lots of awkward and painful situations, with me insulting people instead of complimenting them etc. Luckily for me though, I have a high dose of self mockery and that's why I uploaded a video with me practising the Polish language. At the moment of typing I know those lines by heart, but it really took me a while. 

Check my Dutch blogs at

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Visit to Metelkova Mesto starts Irish

The search for a hot meal at 11 p.m. in the, for us still unknown city of Ljubljana, was not as easy as we expected it to be. Somehow we thought every restaurant would still serve dinner, but after weeks of travelling through Central-Europe we should know better now: they eat their warm meals in the afternoon and mostly eat snacks and other small dishes at night. Luckily for us there's always an option to get some decent food in every big city: The Irish Pub.

Almost starved to death we entered the pub and there he was: a nice bartender who could tell us that they still had plenty of fish & chips to feed all three of us. After a pint of Kilkenny and a plate full of fish & chips we left the pub satisfied and went back to our hostel. After some wrong turns we eventually saw our hostel right in front of us, but at the same time we heard some beats from around the corner, with a large group of partying people next to it.

It was clear to me immediately, this has to be Metelkova Mesto, the place I heard, saw and read so much about already. I took my travelbuds along to the crowd and saw that my research was right: this is a very bizarre and cool place to be. Everyone was drinking beers from cans, some were smoking weed and there were more then hundred people just sitting on the ground, on benches and on a extremely large playground high up in the air. This place was crazy and totally new to me!

Marya and Jeroen, who are not enjoying the long trainrides as much as I do, were very tired and decided to go back to our prison cell in Hostel Celica. Because Metelkova Mesto for me was the reason to visit Ljubljana, I decided I just had to stay and see what kind of place this really is, feel the atmosphere, talk to some people and have a good night. After I said goobye to my travelbuddies it seems to me that it was best if I first bought a beer for myself, even though it's a bit silly to buy only one beer for myself, I really needed one and did not make friends yet to drink with. When I wanted to pay with my twenty euro bill, the barmaid told me that they did not had enough chance for such a large amount of money in club Jalla Jalla. I was kind of shocked, but eventually I found a five euro bill in my wallet and I could pay for my beer, half a liter for 1,80 euro.

Feeling quite relieved when I finally got my beer I went outside, where the partypeople were. When I opened my beer I started to listen what languages people around me were speaking, since my Slovenian is not that good I was looking for people who spoke English. It turned out I was in the middle of an Irish group of drunk youngsters who were, just like me, on an InterRail trip across Europe. I started talking with a guy named Peter Murray and he tought me which drinking game they were playing at the time. The name was Cheers Buffalo, and it all comes down to one simple thing: you have to drink and hold your beer in your left hand. If you have it in your right hand, someone can cheer with you while saying or shouting Cheers Buffalo! The person drinking with his right hand is then obliged to finish his beer in one time.

This didn't seem that difficult, but still I had to try my best to hold my beer in my left hand, since I'm not used to that at all. After some talks with Peter about Ireland and Holland I suddenly saw that he was holding his can in hist right hand. Without hesitating I cheered and shouted out 'Cheers Buffalo!' He looked at me quite shocked, but did not say anything. Then he put the can to his mouth and drank the whole beverage in one time. Now I understand why those Irish people are always that drunk, this way you have to drink a lot in a very short time! For the rest of the time I held my beer in my left hand very scrupuleus, because I prefer to enjoy my beer a bit longer.

This was only the first hour in Metelkova Mesto, the rest of the stories will be told later and they will get better, or worse, it depends on how you look at it. I met some crazy locals and there was also this group of Australian guys who travel from London to Bangkok in their Adventure Taxi. Keep a close eye on my blog to read the rest of the entries.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Metelkova Mesto: Ljubljana's place to be

Metelkova Mesto: a free and artistic place in Ljubljana, where nothing is impossible and nothing is regulated by laws or restrictions. By day it is a colorful arty place with weird buildings, sculptures, mosaic and local artists doing their things. At night the whole area is taken over by partying people, locals and tourists drink cheap beers together, there is no door policy or dresscode, there are no closing times and mostly there is freedom, in many, many ways.

Take a look at the slideshow and you get an idea of how it is during the day, use your imagination to see how it is at night, or take a train, plane, bus to Ljubljana to find out for yourself. Stay over in Hostel Celica then which was a militairy prison from the Yuguslav Army years ago. You can stay in a prison cell for the night and just roll your way home after too many cheap beers, because it's also located in Metelkova Mesto.

There will be more updates about Metelkova Mesto in a short period of time, and also my blogs about Wroclaw, Olomouc, Kosice, Ljubljana, Prague and Stuttgart.

A night in jail in Ljubljana

The cell door closes with a squeaking and creaking sound, you can hear the key turning in the lock. There we are, in a prison cell, all three of us... With internet connection, laptops, cellphones and all of our luggage, at least we have that. And of course we have our own key for the cell door. Oh, and we paid more than twenty euro's just to sleep in the prison cell for a night. This was one of the strange experiences in Ljubljana, as there are many more to come.

Earlier this week I already mentioned the free and unlimited atmosphere in Metelkova Mesto on my blog. This squatted place in Ljubljana has no rules, the police will not check the area, so everything is possible here. It once was the property of the Yuguslav Army, with barracks, storage space and a military prison. The whole area was squatted in 1993, after Slovenia freed themselves from Yugoslavia in 1991. There is not much left of the buildings that remind you at that time since everything has been changed over time, but the one thing that kind of stayed the same is Hostel Celica.

This hostel was once proclaimed to be the most hip and funky hostel in the world by the Lonely Planet and they might be right about that. Over eighty artists has been working on the different prison cells to change them in to artistic hotel rooms. Each room is different: with round beds, glass floors, stairs and ladders, paintings and photo's on the wall. If you ever visit Ljubljana, you should definitely book at least one night in one of the prison cells of Hostel Celica. In the hostel there's also a bar and a restaurant, a terrace and a garden with hammocks and beach chairs. It's a perfect place to chill out after a night out in Metelkova Mesto.