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: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 1; the beginning

For most of August I did a relatively short circuit of Europe. All my plans revolved around being at the European Juggling Convention (EJC) in Bruneck during the 1st to 8th of August (the ticket of which I acquired through a trade, sending a letter and parcel full of mystery Irish/camping/hiking goodies to a friend in New Zealand).

My original plan had been to fly to Munich, Germany, travel to Bruneck, Italy; Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; Berlin, Germany; Enschede, Netherlands, and fly back from Brussels, Belgium. What actually happened was I flew to Munich, travelled to Bruneck, then Austria briefly, Hungary, and flew back from Berlin. These entries will be separated roughly by place.

Before departing I had a lot of things to get. I knew I was going to be camping quite a bit so I took the time to do some research and invest in my first tent and back-pack, and a sleeping bag. I bought a cheap light-weight two person tent – and it was still a pretty tight squeeze for me (5’2″) and my backpack. I got a cheap, plain sleeping-bag, and a cotton liner in case it was cold (which could also be slept in on its own when it was hot). I got a bag similar to this one, and attached my tent and ground-mat to the outside.

I also had a water-proof bag with all my important stuff (plus spare socks and undies) at the bottom of the bag (for easy access and also if the bag got left on wet ground). I also brought a personalised first-aid kit; a regular first aid kit plus vitamins, sun-cream and after sun, painkillers (strong, weak, ones you can take with alcohol and won’t kill you), pads, tampons, condoms, bug-repellent, after-bite care and sweets. After that it was clothes (shorts, convention t-shirts, rain coat, flip-flops, old runners, a hat), a micro-fibre towel, shampoo and conditioner, a book, a travel diary, a plush ray (Gunther, my travel buddy) a vague travel plan, juggling equipment and my wallet.

On the 28th of July I travelled to Dublin, met up with a friend in the city before heading to the airport at 9pm. I had €300 in the bank, €55 on me, expected another €300 payment to come in while I travelled, one train ticket from Austria to Hungary booked, and one ticket to the EJC and a one-way flight to Munich. I “camped” overnight in the airport in preparation for waking up at 5am to fly out.