Jonathon Dean

Writer. Human. Nerd.

Tag: vacation

There and Back Again

So here we are, the third and final [yeah, this was the plan – sorry, you’ll just have to put up with another part or two, otherwise it’ll nd up far too long!] part of my summer roadtrip adventure.

After the exhausting, exciting and ex…tremely awesome week that was Metaldays, it was time to bid farewell. Farewell to metal (particularly since the van’s music system had gone bust), farewell to the awesome Metaldays arena pizza, farewell to that melon flavoured vodka stuff that we drank near constantly… and back on the road.

Getting out of Slovenia was considerably easier than getting into the country. The lack of any van-related smoke was a good sign, for starters, and it wasn’t long until we had crossed the border into Italy.

Just a few days after we left continental Europe, it entered a danger-level  heatwave, with the temperature in many places exceeding 40°C. Luckily we missed those highs – in a van without air conditioning, that sounds like a pretty good approximation of hell. Passing Venice, the heat hit its highest temperature of the week at around 34-35°C, and even that was a little too much, with windows open fully as we belted down the autostrade, trying desperately to make enough breeze not to cook, and guzzling down litre after litre of water.

In fair Verona, where we made our first stop, the sun was high, the river was beautiful, and our clothing was already soaked with sweat. Well, we had to have something icky, otherwise it’d all get horribly, sickeningly romantic.

Of course, we couldn’t go to Verona without doing something a bit Shakespearian, so we all held up skulls and… nah, just kidding. We did actually go to the balcony of Juliet. Two things struck me while there – first, the decades of regular rubbing have meant that Juliet’s statue’s breasts are a noticeably different colour than the rest of the statue, thanks to the repeated polishing. Second, that the romance of lovers writing their names on paper and sticking them to the inside of the courtyard entrance is slightly undercut by the fact that a not-insignificant number of them are written on sanitary towels.

Much of the pageantry and tradition here seems to be for people hoping for luck in their love lives, which seems particularly unusual to me. Do these people not know what happens in Romeo and Juliet? Luck in their love life is pretty much the exact opposite of what they got. Might as well rub a statue of Richard the Third in the hopes of good posture. For that matter, I wonder what happens if you rub Bottom’s bottom?

Our bed for the night (I know, actual beds!) was at a hostel at Lake Garda. Annoyingly, the absolutely stunning Lake Garda was a place we had deliberately planned to spend time in, but by the time we get there it was early evening, we had a vanload of laundry to do on the single washer and dryer available, and another gigantic thunderstorm was about to start. And so, the night was spent eating watermelon in a large room filled with Italian teenagers playing drinking games, and waiting for our laundry to finish, because we are just so damn rock and roll. Any other night I’d have personally outdrank the lot of them, but the night after a seven-day booze-filled metal festival? Nah man, I just needed to go to bed.

The next day, another disappointing lack of time meant that we couldn’t spend any time at all in Lake Garda (so that one’s in the “to revisit” folder!) as we had to hightail it to Milan, as luckily we had a local guide to show us around.

My first thought in Milan was “Wow”, my second thought was “Bloody hell”, and my third thought was “I really wish people would stop trying to scam money out of me.” This third thought was primarily intended for the street-level scammers, who attempt to tie string bracelets to you and then guilt you into payment, but in hindsight I should have also applied it to the local shops, who apparently quoted us a price of €2.50 for gelato, before revealing it was in fact €6 after the fact.

Many of the sites in Milan are churches and cathedrals – including one church that’s made out of bits of other churches (and also has the skeleton of Saint Ambrose on display in a glass coffin, because why not?). Which does mean that I’ve been to more churches this year alone than I have at any other point in my life – which, for someone who had a full Roman Catholic education, is actually quite impressive.

Holy hell though, Milan is pretty. The sheer amount of marble and gold and effort that must have gone into everything is truly staggering. It does make you wonder what architectural treasures the UK might have had if Henry VIII hadn’t bulldozed as many monasteries as he could get hold of, if there had been a true British Renaissance in the Italian sense, and if the Georgians and Victorians hadn’t simply decided they could do better and gone on demolishing sprees of their own.

I couldn’t let this write-up of the day in Milan end without my favourite statue of the whole place, though;

Yeah, that’s right, I am not a grown-up.

After loading up with a hell of a lot more drinks, we made for the final campsite in Italy – based in the grounds of the Monza racetrack – before making our way northwards to Switzerland.

 

To be continued. Again. Sorry.

Metaldays are Here Again

Last week I posted the first part of my trip; the drive down from Manchester to Slovenia and the various ups and downs (both in terms of events and, y’know, altitude) that it involved. But why drive all the way to Slovenia? What madness could possibly have possessed us? Why not just fly, for Odin’s sake?

The answer, in short, is Metaldays.

Last year, my festival quota was filled by France’s Hellfest, but Metaldays is an entirely different beast.

First off, the sheer length of the thing; three days is one thing, but seven? It becomes the difference between a sprint and a marathon. Second off, the heat, since Slovenia regularly reaches 30+°C, and so by 8-9am sleeping in a tent becomes sleeping in an oven. Not exactly conducive to hangover sleep. In fact, from what I hear, it’s the heat that dictates the festival’s length; attempts to run a 3-day festival in the blazing sun resulted in a lot of people fainting in the heat. Solution: spread the bands out over a long time, and start the bands around 3-4pm.

The result is one of the nicest, most laid-back festivals ever. There aren’t many rock festivals where getting up early, having a proper breakfast, a shower, perhaps a walk into town, a few hours’ swimming and hanging out on the beach, and then catching every band on the bill is feasible – but Metaldays has all that and more.

Given that, the fact that the first two days had what I can only describe as biblical f*ckstorms, complete with constant lightning, rolling thunder, and rain and wind so hard they even took down the third stage, and you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d made some terrible mistake in choosing to go there – but the weather in the mountains is a fickle beast. An hour, maybe two, of torrential hammering rainfall, of lightning illuminating the skies and thunder loud enough to set off car alarms, and then all clear again. All sun, all shine, and back to hot.

And hell, to watch the clouds roll up the mountainsides, it was majestic.

The only miscalculation was to use a single-skin tent, that has done me well in France and the UK, but in those kind of hammering mountain storms? Well, even the best water resistant fabrics can only withstand a certain amount of water before they simply give up (otherwise they – and their occupants – wouldn’t be able to breathe, naturally), and in this case… yeah.

Luckily, the van was available to throw all the drenchables into, so my tent just needed mopping out and it was good to go for the night – though, in future, that’s gonna need replacing!

As for the van itself. Just having it there felt like decadence. We actually had a fridge to keep beer cold, and a place to charge phones! Luxury!

After the storms, we spent most of the day just relaxing on the beach by the river. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been as prepared for anything in my entire life as some of those guys – and I’m looking primarily at the Germans and Austrians – are to hang around that river. Some of them brought soundsystems, parasols and beach shelters, giant novelty inflatables (a strange quirk of fate meant that Lidl stores across Europe were all selling giant unicorn inflatables for cheap – so the sight of a hundred metalheads riding inflatable unicorns down the river was inevitable), and one guy even brought a full sized accordion to play as he sat in his inflatable boat.

(Alright, I didn’t get any decent shots of the river, so here, have these official ones courtesy of Stipe Surać – yes, I am in one of his shots, and no, you can’t see it.)

As for the bands themselves? Honestly the one band I absolutely wanted to see were the mighty Iced Earth, who I’ve never managed to see since they come to the UK so infrequently (and almost exclusively London), as well as Doro, Equilibrium and Amon Amarth, among a fair few others. All of whom were, predictably, fantastic – and even those who I thought were a strange choice for Metaldays (Marilyn Manson, I’m looking at you) still put on entertaining shows.

I think the number one thing this festival will be remembered for, however, is the moment grim, kvult, black metal legend Abbath fell down a hill mid-set, live on the jumbotron.

Brvtal.

At least his Motörhead tribute band are goddamn awesome.

For me, these kinds of festivals are as much about the bands that you don’t expect to see as the ones you do. I love seeing bands I’d never heard of before, and leaving as a fan. This year, that honour goes to Triosphere, Shotdown and Greybeards. Rock on, guys.

So that was that, a solid week after it had begun, Metaldays was over for another year. Goodbye Tolmin, I will most certainly be back.

Next stop (and next post): Italy!

On the Road to Metal

So, I’ve been pretty quiet lately, and that’s because I’ve been pretty busy.

I mentioned before about all the groovy stuff getting in the way of getting any actual work done, but it’s kinda difficult to feel bad about it given how just gosh-darn awesome everything has been for the past few weeks.

I suspect this will be a pretty long thing, so I’m gonna have to split it into a few parts. First up, the route to Metaldays!

For those (I suspect most) of you who’ve never heard of it, Metaldays is a week-long heavy metal festival in the mountains of Slovenia.

And guys, it’s really hard work.

I’ve been to this festival before, back in the long-long-ago when it was called Metalcamp and I could recover from hangovers much more easily.

But I’ve always flown, and this year we decided to roadtrip the thing, all the way from sunny Manchester, through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. And hell, what an idea that was!

With a bit of a rocky start – the Eurostar sold out just before we managed to book our tickets, so had to reorganise the trip around the ferry instead, leading us to spend the first night of the trip crashing in the van in a pub car park in Maidstone – the rest of the trip went pretty smoothly.

As we got into Belgium, ready to stock up on water and snacks for the long drive south, we were surprised at how quiet it was. Slightly later, we were surprised at why the Aldi was closed, even though the sign quite clearly said it should still be open for another six hours. Slightly later still, we discovered that July 21st was Belgian National Day, and thus everything was closed. Bugger. Eventually, after some frantic googling, we managed to find a supermarket across town that was still open for half an hour. Foot down,  a scramble down the supermarket aisles and some frantic French translation later, and we had some basic provisions to last us all the way to the camp site in Luxembourg. Huzzah!

Actually, the camp site in Luxembourg was by far the nicest one we stayed at over the course of the trip. Even in spite of the kids’ disco that inexplicably ran into the early hours, a camp site with decent facilities makes all the difference, particularly when you’re unlikely to sleep indoors for another week and a half.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the case. Despite heavy traffic, and heavier rain meaning that we were delayed in getting to the city – and didn’t have time to explore, boo! – we met up with some friends in Freising, and got drunk Bavarian style with those guys, before crashing on their collection of couches and air beds.

It was a shame that the heavy rain and heavy traffic meant that we didn’t get to see a great deal of Germany, but the next day driving through Austria was completely different. Driving through the tunnels and mountains afforded us stunning scenery. And if the mountains themselves weren’t stunning enough, the Austrians have done a bit of decorating over the centuries, and adorned half of the mountaintops with magnificent castles. Who needs fantasy landscapes when this is the view from the motorway?

From there it was a flat out drive to Slovenia!

…with one stop. Of course, it couldn’t be that simple. As we entered Slovenia through the mountains, the weather was at a balmy 27°C, the roads were steep and single-lane, and the brake discs began to let off smoke.

Now, this isn’t a good thing at any point, but at the top of a mountain, with at least a mile until the next place it’s possible to stop, in the blazing sun and a steep downhill road where the brakes will be needed constantly? That’s an issue. Eventually, though, we found a place to stop, and honestly, I can think of worse places.

Luckily, the stopping point was by a glacial river. Not that that helped a great deal; over an hour later, and after around 8 litres of icy cold water dumped on each brake disc, and water was still boiling on contact. Honestly, I think that if it has been a little further away, the van just wouldn’t have made it intact (or at least, the wheels wouldn’t).

Clearly the gods of metal were raising the sign of the hammer at us that day, because we made it to Metaldays, rather than Valhalla.

 

To be continued.

Handsfree Summer

The whole ordeal is over – more or less – which is marvellous news! It means that I can get back to work… sort of.

After almost four months with either a completely or partially useless right hand, rather a lot of things have started to slip. My typing speed, for one, has simply plummeted, and it’s going to take a lot of practise to get that back to anything like what it should be.

Other things are a bit ambiguous as to whether or not they are technically problems. See, my hand has broadly healed just in time for various trips and events that obviously eat into my writing time, though I’m not exactly the first in line to call these things “problems”.

Taking part in the Manchester Day parade, for example, was a lot of fun.

Not exactly a problem, per se (though my wings did keep getting caught in various things), but with a lot of preparation and recovery involved with marching several miles in the blazing sun pushing a giant phoenix float. Not something that leaves me a great deal of time and energy to get the writing show back on the (paper?) road.

And this was just a few days before the other big issue-but-not-issue; a week in Corfu with the girlfriend. Technically I’m claiming the amount of swimming done counted as part of my physiotherapy, because, well, it can’t have hurt, right? But living in Manchester, where summers are an endless procession of grey, miserable days, interspersed with the odd bright day that turns to rain the instant someone lights a barbecue, a little bit of guaranteed sun is required to not go mad. And who can argue with this?

So this leads me to the next predicament; Metaldays. In a week’s time, I embark on a ridiculous road trip through Europe, to a  7-day metal festival in Slovenia, and then back again. That’s another two weeks where writing will be… let’s say difficult, for various reasons, some of which aren’t even alcohol related.

So that’s seven days. Seven days to get as much work done as humanly possible.

It’s… it’s just not looking good, is it?

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