Trapped in the bathroom (Chapter 1)

Checks under the bed
Then under the dresser
He looks at the bathroom
I pull out my Beretta
He walks up to the bathroom
He goes up to the bathroom
Now he’s at the bathroom
Damn he’s opening the bathroom?

Yeah. That’s right. In true R. Kelly style, my mate got trapped in the bathroom. Regrettably, he wasn’t carrying his Beretta and was therefore unable to blast the lock off and escape. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Bucharest, Romania (31st July to 2nd August)

So it’s our final day in Bucharest and the final day of our travels. I’ve just had a shower and am applying all the essential toiletries. As I start to put my clothes on, I hear my travelling buddy unlocking the bathroom door. But it doesn’t unlock. I pull my shorts up and stick on a vest, thinking he’ll appear momentarily. But he doesn’t. So I head on over to help him. I try the lock from my side. Nothing. I ask him to try to lift or pull the door in some way while twisting the lock. Nothing.

He’s trapped in the bathroom.

I’m in the closet, like man, what the fuck is going on?

We’re staying in an Airbnb, so our immediate instinct is to contact the owner. I give her a ring and she clearly thinks we’re being a bit silly, but decides to come over anyway. In the meantime, I track down a screwdriver and unscrew whichever parts of the lock I can from my side. There’s a tiny opening at the back of the bathroom, which is looking increasingly like a prison cell window. I hand my friend the screwdriver and he unscrews everything that he can from his side. Then we realise that this doesn’t really make any difference. So we look towards the hinges….but the screws are inside the door frame.

I said, “Why don’t I just go out the window?”

Our host arrives and surveys the situation. Naturally, our next question is whether it might be possible for the boy in the bathroom to climb out the window. Unfortunately, there’s a three-floor drop onto a solid concrete base, so this is not an option. The owner quickly loads up some lock-picking videos and scrambles a hair clip and safety pin together. I’m tasked with straightening out the metal in preparation for busting our man out. But, in a blow to all xenophobes and Brexiters, our Romanian Airbnb’er is not a hardened criminal who can pick locks. The plan flops.

But things get deeper as the story goes on

At this point, time is getting tight. We’ve got a flight to catch and it’s not looking like we’re any closer to opening the bathroom. A deeply emotional exchange begins. On the one hand, I feel the strong desire to show solidarity and support for my friend and stick with him while he’s trapped in the bathroom. On the other hand, Ryanair are running our flight and will be all too pleased to charge us 100 each if we both miss the flight. Ultimately, rationality wins over feelings. And besides, my imprisoned pal is one of those cool cats who meditates, so he has already accepted his lack of control over the situation.

Right now, I’m sweating like hell

I jump in an Uber and head towards the airport. Obviously, I’m pretty stressed and concerned about leaving my mate in the bathroom. However, the driver is a chatty guy, so we talk about his ambitions to ride Uber in London or Paris. The wage disparity between Romania, the UK and France is actually pretty mad, but I don’t have too much time to think about this, as my chauffeur starts telling me that Romanian girls love dick. Anyhow, I’m at the airport on time, so I tip Mr Uber, get to the check-in and ensure that they leave a boarding pass for my buddy.

Now I’ve got this dumb look on my face

The Airbnb hosts rings me with news that the bathroom is open. Yes! I head through security, nab myself a falafel and devour it before arriving at the gate. I’m ringing my friend, but there’s no response. I explain our situation to the Ryanair assistant and he tells me that I have to get on the flight and can’t wait for another passenger at the gate. As loathe as I am to get on the plane without my man, I realise that I have no idea if he’s even at the airport yet. So I approach the plane.

Next thing you know, a call comes through on my cell phone

I’m stood just outside the cabin, trying to explain to the air hostess that our missing passenger is most definitely on his way through security and that we need to wait for him. Then my phone rings. It’s our bathroom boy! But there’s nobody at check-in and no boarding pass. I’m informed that check-in closed three minutes earlier. With regret, I strap myself in and the plane takes off…

R. Kelly, we feel your pain.

From Трг to Трг in Novi Sad

After our Italian dating adventure, me and my mate were Serbia-bound. It’s not possible to get to Serbia directly from Italy, so we spent a night in Ljubljana, followed by Zagreb.

Ljubljana is a great city. It’s got good food, brilliant art museums and I even caught a couple of Poliwags in the Ljubljanica river. At night, there’s a squatted abandoned barracks called Metelkova that gets pretty live. The place is also surrounded by lush green rolling mountains and I’ll definitely be returning to Slovenia.

Zagreb, on the other hand, was not so amazing. We found it difficult to get a grasp of what was really going down in the city. Aside from some nice street art, it was a pretty boring place. And, unfortunately, lots of the Croatian locals seemed incredibly grumpy. You know, like we’d shat in their tea or something. That said, the girls who ran the hostel were very friendly and we managed to track down a tasty vegan restaurant.

Novi Sad and Belgrade, Serbia (25th to 3oth July)

For me, Serbia was the highlight of the trip. A beautiful country, with the most hospitable people and such a chilled energy. Novi Sad and Belgrade are two quite different cities, both in their history and contemporary feel. I’m a big fan of Belgrade. Dorćol is a district full of coffee, art galleries and big communist apartment blocks – a great place to wander. The Belgrade nightlife is also brilliantly unpretentious. Even though the mixing wasn’t always entirely smooth and tune selection was occasionally inexplicable, everyone just enjoyed themselves regardless.

Beeraj

But Novi Sad is also great! It’s a Wednesday evening and me and my travelling friend have just been up on Petrovaradin fortress trying to figure out how we ever could have been there 6 years back at Exit music festival. After meeting one of my man’s Serbian boys, we hit up a microbrewery in Novi Sad called Beeraj. Delicious pale ale (to be precise: Salto Pivo) and the guy running the place is really nice. We’re kind of tired, but on a whim decide to grab some beer and head to the main square.

Trg Slobode

We get to Liberty Square, which is pretty buzzing for 9 at night. We’re sat there sipping on beer when an accomplice of our Serbian pal bumps into us. She introduces us to this Serbian brandy called vinjak and, although everyone tells us that it’s awful, we’re sold. So, with the help of our lovely new friend, we grab a few bottles of vinjak and walk to the Danube river.

Before we get there, we stop off at a kiosk to buy some more beer. As I’m standing there sipping on vinjak, I joke to my mate that the locals in the queue are probably laughing at our choice of beverage. Almost instantly, a London-inflected accent tells us “that stuff tastes like shit, mate”. After speaking to yet another friendly Serbian dude, I discover that he used to live in Lewisham and is 100% familiar with my ends. We say goodbye and head to the river.

On the Danube

We get to the Danube, where we drink, smoke and hang out. I’m struck by the number of other people who are also chilling along the river. Of course, you could argue that there’s a bit too much drinking. There’s nothing aggy going on though and for me there’s a nice sense of community among the young people of Novi Sad. I sort of put my foot in it by asking what happened to a bridge that it immediately transpires was bombed by NATO, but the guys we’re with are so relaxed about it. Later on, a drummer acquaintance with the biggest smile stumbles across us, so we stay a while longer.

Trg Republike

Our final stop of the night is Republic Square. We grab some more beers from a Black Sabbath blasting kiosk. While we’re standing outside the kiosk, we bump into the South London Serbian again. Him and his mate join us on the square and – I can’t emphasise this enough – the vibes are so damn friendly! It’s the early hours of the morning and the square is packed out with people drinking, playing music, loving. This is where we stay for the remainder of our night.

I finish my night sipping vinjak with the wonderful woman who introduced me to it. If the taste of vinjak leaves something to be desired, the place and people of Serbia certainly don’t.

Me and my mate go on an Italian date

A couple of weeks ago, I headed off on some travels. I’m back! As much as I’d love to tell you more tales about coins getting stuck in all the wrong (or right?) places, I think it’s time for a quick update on what I’ve been up to. First up, Italy.

Trieste, Italy (19th to 21st July)

We started our journey in North East Italy, close to the Slovenian and Croatian borders. Trieste is a beautiful city with beautiful weather. We ate lush tomatoes, we drank homemade hangover-free wine, we swam to a nudist beach. But most of that is kind of boring, so let me tell you about a more unique experience we had one evening…

8.33pm

Our Italian friend picks us up to drive us to a restaurant. He’s looking suave as fuck – shirt, jeans, shoes. On the other hand, I can hardly handle these cicada-filled but oh-so-warm Italian evenings, so it’s shorts and t-shirt all the way. My mate makes a joke along the lines of “if I’d know you were putting in this much effort…” to which our Adriatic buddy replies “well, I am on a date”.

8.57pm

We pick up the driver’s date. The penny drops.

9.25pm

We arrive at the restaurant and it’s pretty damn nice. We’re some way up a mountain on the outskirts of Trieste, with vineyards on the one side and an immense view over the city on the other. It’s really romantic….but I’m not quite sure our boy is trying to romance us. The restaurant itself is Italian, but follows an old Slovenian tradition of opening up for eight days over the summer. Everything we’re served is homemade, so it’s a solid menu of cheeses, meats, bread and wine.

9.45pm

Things are hotting up on date night. I’m struck by the intensity of this flirtation – noses are a breath apart, eyes unblinkingly locked in and deep voice vibes from Mr Loverman. My man is on the chirpse, big time! Still, this basically means that me and my travelling pal can just eat a shitload of cheese while the couple are distracted.

10.33pm

We’ve shifted position now so that we’re directly on the balcony overlooking the city. Me and my homeboy have discretely split to give the other two some space and, since it’s a loving sort of night, I’m discussing my own love life. In the meantime, lips are locking a step to the left. We are duly informed that our Roman friend and his date will be taking a short ‘moonwalk’. I assume they’re not off to bust moves like Michael.

12.17am

That moonwalk took some time! We’re now sitting in the date’s apartment, drinking even more delicious wine. See, the issue is that our B&B is in a village out of town that our guy needs to drive us to. Unfortunately – and rather forseeably – he’d like to stay with his date. Even if he didn’t, we don’t really fancy our chances being driven down a series of winding Italian backstreets by a man well over the limit. We suggest that an Uber might be the solution and are laughed at for our London-centric intuitions.

2.25am

By this point we are resigned to the prospect of sleeping in a room adjacent to our star-crossed lovers. So I take the opportunity to talk Pablo Neruda and other love poetry to the young woman our friend is waiting to romance.

2.47am

To bed.

Time hates love, wants love poor, but love spins gold, gold, gold from straw.