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We live in a country where shooting guns is considered uncommon, unless you are the estates gamekeeper, in the army or a criminal intent on blagging a bookies or a bank with a bit of armed robbery. It just so happens we’re on a break in Poland where, certainly for the tourist crowds, shooting guns is normal, so we’re giving it both barrels and gaining some instant macho swagger by shooting guns in  Krakow.

Shooting Guns in Krakow, Nick with Uzi and Sam with 44 Magnum

Strangely enough, you even get the chance to pick your weapons of choice. This may sound weird but we’ve gone for a custom package and I’ve picked my favourites, or certainly ones that have I’ve heard of. Everything you’ve heard of in Call of Duty seems to be in their weapons armoury.

Of course, it’s all in a controlled environment, we’re not nutjobs on a rampage or gun toting gangsters, but I don’t know if its more scary that I still want to shoot a gun or that I still know the muzzle velocity of the ones I have fired. We’ve got a selection of weapons at our disposal and its time to cock the Glock and take some shots.

Growing up as a child in the 70s and 80s in the cold war paranoia of a decadent western government, the temptation to pick the Belgian FN FAL, the so called right arm of the free world, and the very first weapon I ever held and fired in the RAF, is tempting for the sake of nostalgia. Instead we’ve picked the iconic, for all the wrong reason, Kalashnikov AK47. Adorned on country flags, adopted by guerrilla groups, the main armament of 55 armies across the world and the very weapon that Ivan and his red Russian army would have attempted to stomp all over the western world with during those MAD days during the Cold War. Apparently cheap enough and plentiful enough that you can by for the same price as a pack of fags, I’m glad I don’t smoke.

I can’t think of many reasons why I’d need to spray six hundred rounds per minute from a sub-machine and lay down a large amount of suppressive fire. Unless that is, I was a killer robot from the future sent back in time to prevent the leader of the human resistance from being born. In that case, I’d be marching in to a gun shop in down town Los Angeles ordering an Uzi 9mm with a strong Austrian accent Terminator style. I’m not a cyborg assassin from the future but I’m having a go anyway and on full automatic. It takes about 1 second  to expand my bullets on full auto and we both laughed, enjoying it a little too much.

It is impossible to order an Uzi 9mm without a very strong Austrian accent like you were a killer robot from the future sent back in time

I was 8 years old and it was the 4th May 1980, we were in London walking along Prince’s Gate. The very next day, we were huddled around the television in Didcot watching the news as the SAS exploded onto the scene as they stormed the Iranian Embassy. Any weapon that’s good enough for the SAS’s Counter Revolutionary Warfare wing to storm embassies has to be good enough for me. A Heckler and Koch MP5 to take a terrorist tango down. I took down the paper target in front of me with a mix of single aimed shots and burst of 3.

Then it’s on to an AR15 (M4) Carbine with an EOTech holographic sight, very Call of Duty, and then we had a blast with a Uzkon pump action shotgun.

Taking a break from the assault rifles and a rain of hot brass, we turn to handguns. I say handguns, but the next gun,a Ruger Redhawk, was more like a hand cannon. Seeing as this a 44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky punk, well, do ya? Hell yes I do! That paper target positively quivered as Sam levelled the sights. It nearly knocked her out of her socks and sent her staggering back. Its got one hell of a kick and I swear there was a shockblast, it’s a huge chunk of metal and an absolute beast.

Sniper Sam

The iconic opening sequence of a tuxedo wearing , suave, debonair man, walks, suddenly turns towards the camera and then shoots, blood runs down the screen. Its not the man form the Milk Tray advert but the James Bond gun barrel sequence. Because of course, no self respecting British spy would be caught dead with a weapon that ruins the smooth lines of his suit, he’d wear something small that could be tucked away like a Walther PPK. Unfortunately this had broken so were given another choice and opted for a CZ P-10C pistol. Its the equivalent to a Glock 19 and known as the Glock killer and ended up being my most accurate grouping.

Shooting guns in Krakow

We’ve had a great time at Grotgun, the instructor was patient and helpful, showing us other weapons and helping where needed. A little strange for me not having to load the weapons or clean them though. It was a breeze to book online, we just turned up and everything was already for us. We expected to see stag do groups but only saw couples while we were there. You’re not allowed to take videos of photograph while shooting but can pose afterwards, even if we do look like a poor Dempsey and Makepeace, we’ve enjoyed shooting guns in Krakow, something a little different and certainly coming away with some instant macho swagger.

Under siege. That’s how I would class any visit to Prague. A city of a hundred spires and home to amazing Gothic architecture untouched by the grubby hands of Communist block buildings and now under siege from stag do’s and tirades of tourists. According to most people we know, we were probably the only people on the planet who have not already visited. So in case there are any other hermits hiding under rocks and do want to go, Czech out the top picks of Prague.

Old Town Square

In some kind of twisted tradition, every major attraction we end up visiting (Trevi Fountain in Rome especially) seems to always have scaffolding draped over it. In this case, we made our way top the cultural capital of Prague’s old town square to see the Teutonic decadence of the astronomical clock. Completely covered and under repair. The streets around are of a forgotten age and much better explored.

The Charles Bridge

A pick pockets dream destination as you fight your way through the crown to the other side. Instead, head up the 14th century old town bridge tower for a sweeping view of Prague.

prague chalres bridge

Prague Castle

We enjoyed a slow walk around Prague castle taking in Golden Lane, St George’s Basilica and St Vitus Cathedral which dominates the high point. We were lucky enough to hear the tannoy alert system blaring out as though “air attack red” was underway as we were walking up the castle area. Straight out of the 80’s Cold War era but minus the wave of cold war bombers.

Admire the Art

I’m not quite sure I’d call the John Lennon Wall art, but there will be approximately one million people trying to Instagram the shit out of it while trying to look like they’ve just stepped off the cover from an 80’s album. Yes, someone with a guitar will rock up and play The Beatles. The Crawling Babies are freakishly huge with a slot for a face and will have kids climbing all over them. The Hanging Man is Sigmund Freud hanging on by one hand, probably fed up with the boozy Brit brigade. The Head of Franz Kafka has a mesmerising quality to it as it rotates through but not nearly as much as the controversial statue called ‘Piss’ which has two men taking a piss on the shape of the Czech Republic.

Beer

The Czech’s are the biggest beer drinkers in the world and you can get pretty pissed in Prague quite cheaply with conclusive proof that 20 pints the night before is great for a hangover the next morning. Hell, you can even have your beer delivered by train and I have absolutely no shame in admitting we ordered more drinks just for the kick of it, lost track of how many we had. Choo choo cheers I guess. The bottom of a beer glass is not the only sight though.

 

St Wenceslas Square

The half mile long 14th century St Wenceslas square, named as in the good king who looked out on the Feast of Stephen as the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. Though I suspect he lounged around to gawk at the improbable number of shops, strip clubs, hookers and hotels that adorn the place before giving alms to the poor.

The Prague Sex Machines Museum

There is a whole separate post on that here. It might make your eyes water though.  Some of those items might look like they’ve been stolen from a back alley sex shop, not that I’ve been in one…

Nick Cook - Sex Machine

 

In summary, Prague has been lovely but we’ve probably made too many comparisons with Budapest which we thought was just as pretty and cheaper. Not that Prague has been expensive, you can eat cheaply or expensively and we paid beer prices from 35 to 79 CZK, which is a good job because Mrs Cook can knock the booze back better than anyone I know.

Another top pick of Prague has to be the transport system, it’s a breeze and far from the unfriendliness of the UK. When you land, go to the yellow kiosk at the airport and buy a ticket for 80 minutes of travel costing 32 CZK which is £1.12! (you can pay by contactless card). Prepared to be squeezed on the 119 bus to the last stop which is the metro station at Nádraží Veleslavín and hop on the green metro A line to Staroměstská  (Old Town Square). Prague has a very easy to use, cheap, efficient, reliable public transport system (take note UK government). An Uber back to the airport only cost us £11.

nick and sam cook in prague

Cheers Prague!

If you liked our top picks of Prague, you may also like…. The Creative Contraptions at the Prague Sex Machines Museum

Just back from a 3 day trip to the ridiculously under-priced eastern Europe, this time in Hungary for a Budapest city break. Savvy people that you are, or for those that have picked up a guide book (yes that was us) I am sure you are aware the Budapest is actually two cities that straddles either side of the Danube River, the hilly and green Buda on one side and the more modern Pest on the other. This is our rather rough guide to a Budapest city break. Rough, mainly because I’ve still got a hangover from the cheap booze and rich food we’ve gorged ourselves on.

Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube

What we got was a city of unexpected elegance, grandeur and cosmopolitan culture. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Budapest has had its fair share of visitors from Romans, Magyars, Turks, and the Soviets all leaving their mark.  Today, the tourists are its visitors to stunning architecture and beautiful baroque buildings.

A view of the Danube and Pest from Buda Castle

The journey could have gone a little smoother, a late night trek across some very busy roads from Stanstead’s medium stay car park to the airport hotel and an inappropriate joke about fireworks being anti aircraft artillery when waiting for a flight with your wife who doesn’t like flying and who isn’t sitting with you, doesn’t always go down to well. Further frustration followed by a delay to the fight caused by 3 rabbis not sitting down despite multiple intervention from the cabin crew, Unhappy at not sitting together, they worked their way down the plane asking others to move to suit them. 25 minutes later…..

After unceremoniously stepping out of cattle class by Ruin Air, some call them Ryan Air, we made our way onto the bus where we were sandwiched in like sardines and forced to smell the underarms of other travelling passengers who smell worse than a can of sardines for the 40 minute drive to the city. It’s at this point we wondered if it was worth investigating the species of taxi driver that Hungary has to offer, we had heard that they feed off tourists.

Little Princess and Buda Castle

The language is impossible, and I can only assume that Hungarians must be absolute masters at playing Scrabble with the amount Z’s they use in their language. Apparently Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn. We managed to get along in English just fine. Which was a good job really considering that when we first landed in the bustling and busy Pest city centre, we had no idea where to go. Phone data doesn’t work, you have to rely on hopping on WiFi signal from various shops and bars like we had to in Reykjavik. Might be an idea to download Google Maps offline before you go next time.

After dropping our bags off at the hotel we venture into the city centre to arrive at a rather Christmassy market that had the most fantastic looking food which of course we dived into with a drink. A walk around to get some bearings with a walk into the Jewish quarter to visit the infamous “ruin bars” of Budapest. Called ruin bars because they are often in old buildings, turned into pubs with a bizarre set up of rooms, indoors and outdoors with a mish-mash of decoration. We spent more than a few hours in Szimpla Kert getting ruined. We were forever trying to work out if anything was expensive due to the crazy currency notes. In the end, eating and drinking was very cheap.

Although the 48 hours hop on hop off bus is (relatively) expensive, it’s also probably the best way to get around. This took us all around the city and included multiple boat trips on Danube. The Danube is supposed to be blue if you are in love, so I’m expecting at this point that Mrs C  needs her sunglasses ‘cos the blue is so shiny – it never happened. A trip on the Danube at night is a must, the Gothic parliament building lit up at night is beautiful.

Hungarian Parliament Building

When we got to the hilly Buda area after Chain bridge, we found that there wasn’t any need to ride the funicular up to Buda Castle as there was an easy set of steps up instead. The Buda castle area, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are all fine buildings and give a pretty city view with a sweeping vista of Budapest and the Danube.

We walked from Heroes Square down the famous Andrassy Avenue to the House of Terror that was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazi Party and then the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party. As if  being invaded by the Nazis wasn’t bad enough, the Soviets occupied and stayed with conditions getting much worse. The House of Terror is a now a museum that commemorates the victims of terror. Greeted inside by a huge Soviet T54 Tank that once trundled down Andrassy Avenue, and the faces of those who lost their lives under terrible dictatorship. Sadly, most Britons have very little idea of how it was for lots of Europe.

House of Terror

It is the last few rooms that are the most memorable, the cells, torture chambers, and the gallows. It’s a sobering reminder that we must never let right-wing nationalism or extreme left-wing rise again. Open up a history book of Europe from the late 1930′ to the mid 1950’s to see the devastating impacts and the parallels in modern times with politicians building walls and barriers craving nationalism. Remember that the next time you see people being labelled as dissenters in the papers being labelled as unpatriotic or not carrying out “the will of the people.”

We’ve had a great time with our Budapest City Break. The people of Budapest and Hungary were awesome, very pleasant, helpful and welcoming.

 

Spending our Honeymoon in Rome in the romance of the most ruinous ruins of the ‘Eternal City’ in the republic of Rome.  With traditional British gusto, we’ve managed to curse at an early flight but get 3 whole days when it’s uncomfortably hot.

Catching the Terravision bus from Fiumicino airport to the termini station is considerably cheaper than hailing a taxi and being taken for a ride in a foreign city.  I will assume the bus service is called Terravision due to the look of horror that follows on the faces of British travellers as their orderly queues are disintegrated as the bus pulls up and you are expected to rugby scrum your baggage into the hold yourself and then jostle and shove your way onto the bus.

Do not expect any assistance or crowd control.  How on earth these guys in their toga and Centurion outfits managed to conquer the world I do not know – they can’t even queue for a bus.  On reaching the termini station, it’s a frantic few minutes as you attempt to rescue your luggage while others are trying to load theirs at the same time – it doesn’t work.  I’m pretty sure that UK Police would have deployed horses at this point.

Wheeling our luggage behind us and clutching a map in hand, we’ve decided to walk to the hotel quoting the mantra of the guidebook that everywhere is walkable in Rome.  The hotel is supposed to be a stones throw away from the Trevi Fountain, I just hope the travel agent didn’t mean a stones throw away by a ballista.  Google says it’s walkable in 20 minutes.  That’s 20 minutes if you follow Google maps and don’t take a slight unplanned detour past the official residence of the President of the Italian republic at Quirinal Palace.  There we were thinking the armed guards and reporters assembled outside were there to greet us.

It would also have been a little quicker If we didn’t have to keep consulting the map with Sam asking “is that the Trevi Fountain?” every two seconds when stumbling past some sort of old marble monument.   Eventually we arrived at our hotel being lucky enough to have a private veranda but unfortunately no ballista was provided to throw stones at the Trevi Fountain which really did end up being only a stones throw away.

Off we trudge to the much talked about Trevi Fountain.  You know that scene in the film La Dolce Vita when Anita Ekberg decides to frolic around the Trevi Fountain?  Well, it looks nothing like that. It’s currently hidden behind tons of scaffolding and what looks like 2 inch thick bulletproof plexiglass (maybe some was left over when they made the Popemobile).  There isn’t even any water.

The whole thing is undergoing restoration although you are able to examine the scaffolding close up by walking across the gangway.  We didn’t even toss a coin in, throwing a coin in is meant to guarantee a return to the ‘Eternal City.’  To be honest, it’s a little underwhelming so we have an ice cream that immediately drips and stains my pristine white shirt.  I feel right at home.

It is easy to wander around Rome, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and before long you’ll happen upon something old or ruinous.  Your feet will soon become ruined at the amount of walking.  Not everything old is in ruins though, the Pantheon is an impressive structure especially when you consider its 2000 years old.  While Britons were mucking about with wattle and daub, the Romans built this.  Not sure we’ll be saying that about a Barratt house in 20 years time.

One thing you can’t help but notice is that these Romans like to pose, everywhere you turn there is a column or statue, even that bloke from Gladiator managed to get himself a column with intricate carvings depicting his military victories in northern Europe. It appears ‘selfies’ have been happening for a long time.

Looks like the god squad didn’t spare much when it came to painting their houses.  Stumble into one of the many churches to see amazing baroque and renaissance art that adorn the walls and ceilings.  I’m thinking of doing something similar to the bathroom ceiling.  Popping along to the Vatican to be greeted by the sight of billions of tourists snaking along in a massive giant queue on St.Peter’s Square queuing to get in the Basilica.  The size of this queue is definitely unholy and crucifying slow in the baking heat.  Unfortunately the secrets of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel would have to wait for another trip.

Instead, we opted for the mausoleum of Hadrian, the Papal stronghold of Castel Sant’Angelo which give great views of Rome.  It’s also the place where Tosca from Puccini’s opera got a great view of Rome before she flung herself off, probably at the thought of joining the queue for St Peters.

Staying on the theme of queue’s and death, we popped along to the Spanish Steps.  It’s busy during the daytime with every nationality resting their weary travel-worn feet plonking their bum down on the steps to eat their gelato, have a rest and soak up the sun.  Maybe they’re just queuing to get on these steps for later.

If we thought the Spanish Steps was busy by day, that’s nothing compared to nighttime where there isn’t a spare seat to be found and hordes of nationalistic young Europeans are seemingly intent on out-singing each other.  Quiet it is not.  The romantic poet John Keats came to Rome to help recover his health and ended up in a house at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.  It comes as no surprise to find that he ended up dying here at the age of 25, no doubt pissed off with all that singing.

At least food in Italy is a simple delight, apparently you can’t eat badly in Rome and we can attest to that, but Sam was disappointed that food we ordered wasn’t riddled with garlic.  Simple and tasty dishes, the hardest thing to complain about is how to pronounce bruschetta, it really doesn’t matter if you say it with a ‘k’ or with a ‘sh’ the waiter always understands you.  Very cosmopolitan like most other homogenized western capital cities.

The only off-putting thing is when you order seafood pasta and your dish ends up staring at you throughout the meal.  Sat down at one restaurant to find it was occupied almost exclusively by honeymooners.  If you fancy a little more romance, pop along to the Pantheon to witness a waiter singing opera style as the restaurants put up their prices while you are distracted.  When in Rome I guess.

Of course, no visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the ancient part of Rome including the Forum and the Colosseum.  The forum and the surrounding area can best be described as a load of old republican rubble and ruins.  Mentally project every film you’ve seen of ancient Rome with senators squabbling and you’ll soon get the idea.  Now these Romans love a bit of violence, so we queue to the Colosseum, the Flavian Amphitheatre,  to get slaughtered in the sweltering sun.

Totally unprepared for the hustle of water sellers, ticket jumpers and others dressed up as the Roman Legion.  They were lucky they didn’t get their Gladius snatched and shoved where the sun doesn’t shine.  Once inside, we managed to get on a tour of the place, the types of gladiators and informed of how criminals were dispatched to the lions.  I’d do the same thing for the ticket jumpers personally.

You might fancy your chances as a gladiator, nice fancy outfits and always paired against another gladiator that offset strengths and weaknesses.  These Romans used to insist on a sense fair play, if you can call invading your country and selling you as a slave as fair play.

It’s definitely worth a trip and a Honeymoon in Rome felt special. The main sites are walkable although your feet may not love you for it after 3 days though.

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