Eastern Europe 2017 – Part 1; the prep and plan.

In 2017 I planned on going to the European Juggling Convention (EJC) in Lublin, Poland. I had a meeting in Praha, Czech Republic, a few weeks later and decided to combine both trips. I also had a potential travel companion who wanted to visit Poland. So we began planning the weeks in between EJC and CZ together. It started off as a few days in Poland together and extended into a wide semi-circle clockwise from Poland to the-as-of-yet-unknown across about two weeks.

Circus clothing for EJC.

I bought my EJC ticket early on, and soon booked my flight to the EJC, arriving late on  Saturday 22nd of July (the first day). It was a good choice of flight as a lot of people I knew were to be on the same flight. Because I was leaving for Poland about two weeks before my travelling companion we had to throw together a plan. They wanted to visit a friend in Rzezsów, a small town in Poland. We decided we would try to take trains from Poland to Serbia, they would fly home, and I would continue on to Czech Republic for my meeting.

Pile of stuff to be packed.

This was the longest trip I’d ever planned, and the first time I would be travelling with someone so I was a bit nervous and tried to prepare and pack accordingly. I knew I was going to be camping at the EJC, but not after so I arranged to leave my tent with a friend who would also be at the EJC, to save carrying the weight of it for five or so weeks.

Backpack packed for six weeks.

Tragedy struck when I lost my bank card two nights before leaving the country. I had to withdraw all the money I had saved for the trip, including emergency cash. I resolved to carry some of it with me, and asked my travelling companion to lodge the rest in their account and we could withdraw and split money as we travelled. I knew I wouldn’t be spending much during the EJC (camping, supermarkets) so thought it was best if my travel companion lodged most of the cash.

We planned to meet in Krakow a few days after the EJC (post-camp-site-tear-down), travel to Rzezsów, Poland; Kiev, Ukraine; Odessa, Ukraine; Chisinau, Moldova; Bucharest, Romania; Beograd, Serbia; and then hoped we would have devised a plan for getting home and getting to Czech Republic.

What is an EJC?

The European Juggling Convention (EJC) is the largest juggling convention in the world. I mention it a lot and decided to explain it a bit. The EJC has been running since 1978, when it was held in Brighton and had only 11 attendees. Last year the 40th EJC was held in Lublin, Poland, and roughly 3000 people attended. Every year it welcomes circus people, not just jugglers, from all over the world. For the last ten years attendance has been between 1200-7200 (usually depending on how central it is).

The green space at EJC 2017 Lublin, Poland.

A sign suggesting you enjoy your coffee rather than taking it to go in a disposable cup.

Every year the EJC is held in a different European city. Independent teams, guided by the European Juggling Association, bring their proposals forward to the General Assembly of jugglers who vote on locations. These teams then voluntarily give up their time to organise an EJC including shows, venues, discussions with local councils, advertising and much more.

Currently the EJC is nine days, including arrival and departure days. Camping is included in the price of your ticket (though some people book accommodation, and some do both). Tickets are available online from four-to-seven months in advance and are sold in “Phases”. The earlier you buy, the cheaper your ticket is and it helps the EJC team in booking things. Arrival and departure days being the exceptions (but not always), there are workshops from 9am ’til 8pm (and more) which are voluntarily led by attendees, a major evening show (or two, if it’s an especially big EJC), and a renegade.

You can find a handy guide on what to pack for the EJC, compiled by the team of the 2014 EJC held in Millstreet, Ireland, here!

Standing ovation in circus tent

A renegade is a late-night show for jugglers, like open mic. Anyone can get up and do a trick, and it isn’t necessarily circus-related. If the crowd likes your trick you win a shot of alcohol or sweets.

A sculpture built of juggling clubs.While the days have some structure to them, which is worth keeping an eye on especially at your first EJC, there are lots of other things people like to do; juggling outside, touring locally, eating and drinking, building sculptures, making other art, napping, swimming, academic discussions, video projects… It is still vacation time and the EJC is a very open and welcoming environment which is a chance to live freely without having to do too much.

The EJC is open to everyone – EVEN if you can’t juggle [yet]. If you enjoy fun and shows, it’s a great way to spend a week and a bit late July/early August. The 2018 EJC will be held in the Atlantic Ocean in São Miguel, an Azores Island of Portugal, July 28th to 5th of August. If you have any specific questions you will find lots of information on their website, Facebook and the EJA Twitter. You can also find lots of groups on Facebook, some even for specific countries. Each European country also has its own country contact/representative who’s job it is to provide you with information about the EJC!

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 5: Night trains to Berlin and the start of interrailing.

The morning of Sunday, the 7th of August, was a sad affair. The nine days of the European Juggling Convention (EJC) were over for another year. Camp Ireland, including some of us who’d been here two weeks, many at least twelve days, had to pack up our tents and head on. Most people weren’t leaving until at least the next day, one person was staying on for the take down, and many of us were to continue travelling before going back the way we’d come.

I woke up a lot between 6am and 10am and finally made the decision to get up and start packing. There were decisions to be made about what to keep, what to leave, who should take what home now, who could use that half bottle of shampoo best and who would make the most use of leftover food.

The ticket machine in Almere Poort only takes coins or card – no notes. When I arrived at it I was, of course, met by a huge throng of people. Eventually it transpired that  the ticket machine was no longer accepting coins – then no longer accepting cards. With some people in a rush to get to the airport and main train stations, people began climbing the gates – after taking pictures of the machine’s angry, uncooperative screen.

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I made it to Amsterdam Centraal early thinking I’d soon be on a train to Berlin. I was told I would have to wait until 8.28pm, take a train to Karlsruhe (south west of Germany) wait an hour and then go to Berlin. So I ended up sat in the station a long time. After bidding godbye to everyone back in camp Ireland I was t spend another few hours with me companion and a friend of ours who had a few hours to kill before heading to the airport.

After they left I went and sat at my own platform, 10b, and immediately had someone ask me “Did you enjoy the EJC?”. So there I sat an hour with a German juggler, who’d apparently spotted me simply because I looked a bit odd (I didn’t have any juggling equipment tied to my bag).

The journey to Berlin was long. It was my first time interrailing and for this journey I hadn’t thought to book anything beyond a seat. As well I did because it turned out to be quite busy and there was plenty of people sat on the ground for hours. I slept on and off, made an exciting journey through many carriages to buy water (somewhat Snowpiercer-esque).

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My alarm woke me at 3:30am. I gathered my stuff and got off in Karlsruhe just after 4am.

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I would’ve been more excited to be somewhere that had held the second largest EJC were I not wrecked and confused as to why I’d had to come this far south and not simply gone as far as Duisberg or Dusseldorf.

Got on the 5am ICE 1092. Was sat in a six person carriage that appeared to have only one other reservation – so slept on and off .

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I arrived in Berlin at 10.22am, Monday the 8th of August.

 

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 1: The journey to, and set up of, the EJC

My travels to the European Juggling Convention (EJC)began Friday the 22nd of July. I packed checked all my packed bags and travelled from Galway to Dublin with my companion to sleep for a few hours before getting up at 3.45am to go get the bus to the airport.

I got the 4.35am AirCoach from Cabinteely to Dublin Airport, T1. Coincidentally, my radio co-host and oldest friend was flying out the same day, and almost same time, from T1 – but to Japan.

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We only realised the timing about a week before so it was very amusing to navigate the airport together before our 7-ish a.m. flights.

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I arrived in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands, around 10.30am local time (GMT+1). At this time the  direct train was still available to Almere Poort, where the European Juggling Convention (EJC) site was, though I was a week early. I’d applied to assist site set-up but thought I was three days to early even for that.

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But I hopped off the train, and almost immediately had someone new come up to me, smiling, asking “You’re here for the EJC? Come on in!”. I later found out it was Tom, one of the five members of the EJC 2016 core team.

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I was introduced to the ten or so people currently on-site, given some water and coffee and asked if I’d like to start working now or later. So I started laying power cables immediately. One of my co-volunteers joked about how this was how he spent his vacation time; manual labour. And it was a great time!

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The weather was warm and the site was dusty from the lack of rain. None of the big tops were yet up. Everyone currently on-site, the core-team and five or six volunteers, ate together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That evening set the tone for most for most of that week’s evenings; We sat around, people discussed their juggling clubs and circuses, people juggled and played instruments.

Everyday for the pre-EJC week more people would arrive until there was about eighty of us. The first few days were my favourite, when you knew everyone and worked the hardest, all day every day. Some days we took breaks if it got too hot during the day to work, and visited the lake nearby.

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During the week there was every kind of job to do, building fences, planning tent sites, painting signs, repairing the workshop sheet, building trusses, signage, laminating, registration packages….

And also hanging lamps!

And raising trusses and looking at new boards.

Then Saturday the 30th came to open up!

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 8; Budapest, Hungary

10th of August. Monday.

I got the train from Innsbruck, Austria at 5am to Budapest, Hungary. The sunrise was beautiful.

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I thought I’d have to change but it turned out it was in fact a direct train. I had however misunderstood the instructions in Innsbruck and sat in the wrong section of the train, so I almost didn’t get to Budapest, and also nearly lost the train entirely when I jumped off at a random station to get into the right section. My minimal German had failed me.

As the train pulled out of Vienna it got very crowded and I ended up sat in the aisle. But I made friends with an Italian person I was sat next to. We played cards and I taught them the numbers one to ten in Irish (bhí mo phaicéad chártaí trí Gaeilge, buíochas le Foras na Gaeilge).  We parted ways at the station as they went to meet their friends, after helping me find my tram to Haller Utca, where I was planning to camp.

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It was 2,700 forint per night (or about €25 for three nights – with the fourth night free). They also had free Wifi and the showers were free. The camp managers had quite a laugh when I said I’d had to pay to shower in the camp-site in Munich, Germany. But Budapest is very cheap, especially in comparison to Munich.

The weather was even hotter than in Bruneck, Italy. So no need for the second layer on your tent most of the time. I did realise here that one of my tent poles had nearly shattered. It looked like it was weakened some how. It was sorted with some duct tape.

I’d visited Budapest once before for a fire-performance training course and had stayed in the hotel near the camp-site, so I knew the area quite well.

Unfortunately I realised I was running out of money and decided there to go straight to Berlin, and fly back to Ireland from there. I originally planned to stop in Prague on the way, and go to Belgium or the Netherlands from Berlin. I booked the flight on my phone for the 22nd from Tegel (cheapest flight). I took a short wander around that evening.

On the Tuesday I wandered over to the train station to buy my train ticket to Berlin. When I had looked them up online the cheapest has been about €80 but the site was difficult to understand so I decided I’d go straight to the train station to investigate.

I waited a long time (just shy of three hours) to buy a ticket. But while I waited I was given some bags of cold water, which was pretty fantastic.

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I had a problem with my card while trying to purchase a train ticket (which ended up being being €39) which meant my card was locked, making it unusable. I used up most of my phone credit trying to contact AIB and eventually went to the Irish Embassy so I could basically use their phone.

Long winded description of what happened with my card:
I ended up ringing AIB multiple times and was told twice my card had been unlocked. The third time I was told I could finish unlocking it by using the Pin Services on any ATM. However foreign cards can’t do this on local ATMs. I got some money out at a desk somehow. I decided to wait ’til I got to Berlin where I thought I’d have better luck dealing with their banks. This will be continued in the next post but long story short I had to very embarrassedly contact a family member and ask them to send me money via Western Union.

With hardly any money on me, I spent my last three days in Budapest wandering around looking at some of the art and enjoying the dusty heat.

I spent a lot of time reading and napping in the shade of a tree in the camp-site and woke up to some wildlife a few times.

I took one last wander around on my last full day, and promised I’d visit again and be more organised with my money.

I spent my last 350 forint (about €1.15) on lángos, a traditional Hungarian food, which is basically deep-fried flat bread, which you cover with cour-cream and cheese. A stall near the camp-site does it and it was something I was really looking forward to having all week!

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Finally, on Friday the 14th I packed up my tent for the last time. My cheap two person tent had done its job for the trip. I headed on over to the train station and hopped on my train at 10am, prepared for my 12-hour journey to Berlin.

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Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 5; EJC Bruneck

Day 2) Sunday: It was a bit foggy waking as we got up this morning (I moved from by the trees, which I was told was prone to flooding, to Camp New-New-Ireland which is comprised mostly of Irish jugglers from Dublin, and one Danish juggler).

I woke up this morning to find a spider in my tent. I tried to catch it with an empty botle but ended up drowning it in rum. I shouted out asking did anyone have a tissue and one of the Dublin jugglers asked why;
I just spilled rum in my tent!
“OH! Here! *another bottle of rum*”
I decided to leave the rum outside in case anyone wanted some.

Today was parade day. Parade’s are common enough at juggling conventions. They’re a way to thank the town for having us – and also warning everyone (just in case you lived in a tiny town like Bruneck and didn’t realise the world’s largest juggling convention had set up camp for the next week and a bit).

After the parade I went to find food. I’m not usually one for the shoe-less juggler look but there I was, shoeless, wearing short-shorts and a bikini top. Though I did regret not bringing shoes with me to go into a pizzeria. The local people, despite it being a very small town, were very welcoming and friendly towards the jugglers.

That evening also saw the first Open Stage and renegade! An open stage is where anyone (generally) can volunteer to perform something. It is usually a polished piece though, but people are happy to perform for other jugglers at a convention for free. I volunteered as a stage-hand at it and had a lot of fun, meeting all the performers.

After that was the renegade which is like an open mic for jugglers. It generally starts off with tricks people have just learned or short bits of unfinished choreography. As it gets later and people get more drunk it degenerates into a lot of shouting and chaotic madness and people doing tricks with extra beers involved (which is also very impressive). You generally also get a shot of tequila if the audience likes your performance.

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This person is playing a clarinet while balancing a juggling club on it with an added beer bottle on top. Pure skill.

Day 3) Monday: We woke up to a beautiful sky.

Time to go see what’s been added to the workshop board!

The two bottles of rum I left outside my tent had also multiplied in the juggling weather. So we decided to make a small bar.

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I found the UFO café behind the main EJC area.

 

 

Watched some of the Team Combat. Combat is where people juggle three clubs in cascade (the usual pattern) and try to knock other people out by breaking their pattern, stealing their clubs and such. Team Combat is basically the same but with two people working as a team – great for club stealing.

That evening we saw the Flaque show which was really amazing. They had a technician who was secretly a juggler – it really appealed to me. After that was also the second Open Stage – one of the acts, Yosuke Ikeda, was great. You should watch the video, especially if you like The Beatles. After this I went following the Dundu puppet.

Attended the improvisation night for a n hour and then to bed.

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 4; An Introduction to the 38th European Juggling Convention

The European Juggling Convention is the world’s biggest juggling convention. It takes place in a different European country every year and was in Ireland in 2014 – my, and many other Irish people, first EJC! It runs for nine days from Saturday to Sunday the following week. It’s like a regular convention in that people give workshops, there are masterclasses, lots of shows, people playing games. It’s also different in that it’s longer, all camping (conventions in Ireland have little to no camp space), has people from all over the world, and thus has pretty much every circus discipline you can imagine.

We had arrived a day early to Bruneck, on the 31st of July. As had a lot of people who were currently camped outside the gates. One of our party new someone who might be able to get us in so we made our way straight from the station to the site – and magically passed inside when our small party was mistaken for the much larger group of circus students from Berlin. We had infiltrated the EJC a day early!

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The camp site was still very empty save for a few tents belonging to organisers and volunteers.

We didn’t bother trying to leave camp again and just set-up our tents near the trees,

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The small blue dot by the trees is my tent.

shared the food we had and went to the bar tent “The first one’s free”.

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Day 1) There were some romantic views to behold.

As well as some not so romantic.

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People mostly arrived today so it was time to check out the camp, the town, and collect my ticket!

EJC is like a small town. It even has its own rocks!

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Then I went into the actual town of Bruneck to get some supplies and have a look around.

I then returned to perform my civic-juggler duty and get people registered!

My ultimate language goal is to be proficient enough in three languages to work at an EJC registration desk. This year I settled for shouting at people asking did they need pens or paper – Stylo? Peann? Páipéar? Stift? That evening Matthias Romir had a solo show which was a Very big deal to me. He’s one of my favourite performer. He’s a great juggler but he has great stories as well. After which we all went to the bar, where people juggled and danced and drank – and that is what you can expect from a regular first day of a convention!