Ви благодариме, Охрид (Thank you, Ohrid)

Before I knew it, my time in Ohrid was coming to an end. I was sad. This place had really gotten under my skin. A year ago I had a wonderful time in Piran. And, don’t get me wrong Piran is great. But, Piran is no Ohrid (remember Lloyd Bentsen: “Senator, you are no John Kennedy!”)

I visited the St Naum monastery which is now a hotel. Only for the second time in my life did I see a peacock strutting with its tail fanned! Wow (I can remember as a little boy experiencing it in Kirstenbosch!) I went on a boat ride in the Galicica National Park where I saw the clearest, crystal-clear water ever!

I went to Kaneo. Had dinner there with the Palmers. Talked some more and more about Ohrid. What an incredible place it was. How I would like to promote this gem. Sounded like another one of our typical conversations. But, out of all these “typical conversations”  transpired the following: I will return next year, during the summer, with 4 – 6 students and we will create an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) plan to promote tourism to Ohrid!!

 

We will be working for free. We will find our way to Ohrid on our own dime. Double room accommodation will be provided for the students. I will pay for my own. We will be allocated a location where we will be able to work. Every week day from 10 – 4. For two months. The students will get credit for their obligatory internship. We will do marketing seminars. Design menus. Do whatever we can to help the wonderful people of Ohrid to increase tourism to this incredible venue.

 

All of this will be done in conjunction with Vesna Palmer, President of Multilingual and Multicultural Harmony. Look forward to working with you Vesna and I know there will be a lot of correspondence between now and next May.

 

THREE MONTHS OF OHRID WEATHER, I CANNOT WAIT!!

In the mean time, I will enjoy Tose Proeski’s Zajdi, Zajdi. A song that I “discovered” in Ohrid. What a pity that this young man was killed in a car wreck at such a young age. His wonderful and warm voice, this haunting folk song, will keep me going until we meet again!

Mostar: what happened?

As many, if not most of you know, my visit to Mostar during the summer of 2010 was a very emotional one as I saw incredible beauty and devastation all at the same time. I saw plaques of young people who died in a war. I believe that wars are senseless and serve no purpose other than making certain “world leaders” look “strong.” I spoke to many people about the war, both in Mostar and back in Pittsburgh. I have researched the war since I have been back and then I stumbled upon a blog. It brought back all the emotional memories of when I visited this incredible town. But, most important of all, I believe, it gives me the answers to the horrible, horrible war of 1993. I will never understand how anyone can destroy the way Mostar was destroyed. And then I sit back and realize, it is always the same reason/excuse for war: ETHNOCENTRICITY. My culture is better than yours and if you don’t see it my way, I will invade your country and make sure you see it my way. Remember OUR CLOWN who was so war hungry? At least the blog (there’s a link to it at the end of this) gave me the answers I was looking for: WHY the war? It made me realize that the leaders of the Croats AND the Serbs at the time were equally bad/screwed up. It made me understand why the Croatian government has the ridiculous, “let’s make babies policy” [According to this policy, a woman gets 12 months maternity leave, fully paid, for a first baby while her job is being kept should she decide to return to the workforce after the birth. It is 18 months for a second child, with the same benefits and THREE years for a third child, with the same benefits!! I cannot see how any economy in the world can sustain anything like this]. The irony to all of this is what is happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) today, politically wise. The country elects THREE presidents for a three-year term. The three elected presidents rotate and each serves for only one year. The B&H electorate elects ONE Croat, ONE Serb and ONE Muslim! Now, if that is not compromise, what is? Below you will find opinions (in bold) apparently heard around Mostar.

This is from the blog, The Velvet Rocket (remember there is a link to this blog at the end and I urge you to go there and read it  and LEARN).

Croats who call themselves an alternative government to the one that exists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, are openly planning a future state and it is common to hear comments like this if one speaks to a Croat in Mostar:   “We don’t have any kind of federal unit to protect our rights here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We don’t even have media in our own language. The only way that we can protect ourselves is through a Croatian federal unit.”

OR

“The main reason for all the problems now is that Bosniak Muslims are a majority. We don’t have any legal representatives at state levels of power in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reason is we don’t have a legal framework, or any kind of opportunity to establish equality with the two other peoples.”

OR

“At the beginning of the war, we were fighting for the liberation of all the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Muslims had our support, there were many of them who were fighting in the Croatian defense council. But in the end, we were betrayed by them. Many ran away. I don’t believe we can live together. In principle, maybe, but in my soul – I don’t believe it.” 

Before you go to the blog, look at this: The Old Bridge BEFORE the war, DURING the war (after being destroyed) and the “new” Old Bridge. And then we call ourselves “human beings?” Don’t get me started on the genocide in Srebrenica. I am, however, still seeking THE one answer to my question: Who started all this crap between the Christians and the Muslims. If you have the answer, please, pretty please, email me and let me know and lets get this out in the open. 

Before you go to the link of the blog, look at the pics I’ve posted: the Old Bridge in tact, the destruction, the reconstruction, and finally the “new” Old Bridge. It took seven years to complete, and it will never be what it used to be, it’s a helluva improvement compared to the other pics.

Now, go to the blog. Go there and discover the truth. Go there and try to figure out why/how people can be so cruel. Go there and weep.  Not only for Mostar, but for mankind: for the sorry excuses-of-human-beings we have become!  http://thevelvetrocket.com/2010/03s/07/mostar-bosnia/

 

 

Faces of Piran

I lived in Piran for a month. I got to know the people of this quaint medieval village of 4,000 souls. They got to know me (“The American who is here for a month and works at Bonazza every day”). I felt so at home that in no time I greeted them by saying “ciao” and said my goodbyes via “ciao, ciao.” To such an extent that I am now using that in the Burgh.

I MISS Piran. I will NEVER forget my month there. Thank you, people of Piran.

My favorite European places (2010)

Not wanting to sound like Julie Andrews, but it’s a year later, and time to update my list of favorite places. Yes, there have been changes and I will discuss the “newcomers” in depth; however, visit Top European Places (2009) for a more detailed description of places which have made it back onto the list.

1.  Mostar

The jewel of my 2010 trip that jumped straight into the #1 spot. There is a lot one can say about this town that is/was ravaged by war. But, one simply has to include reference to the bridge. The Old Bridge, the Stari Most, was built in the 16th century during the Ottoman era and connected two parts of the city. The bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed in 1993 during the “War.” Reconstruction started in 1997 and it took 7 years to complete before it was reopened in July 2004. The new bridge is an exact replica of the Old Bridge and the following year UNESCO added it to its World Heritage list, despite the newness (I learned all this the next day during a conversation that I sought out). The bridge footpath and the approaching roads are paved with cobblestones and stone steps enable pedestrians to ascent to the bridge from either side.

One cannot help but feel sad when walking through Mostar. Remnants of the war are everywhere and made me wonder: Why, why, why?

P6230595P6230606It was while I was in Mostar that I had a hilarious experience. I stayed at Kiki’s place where I had a kitchenette at my disposal. Seeing that I had been gone for nearly two months and desperately wanted home cooked food, I planned a hearty breakfast for the next morning. Two doors from Kiki’s place was a supermarket, where I found everything I needed, except the most important ingredient: EGGS! And there was no ways I was going to have breakfast without eggs. It was a small, cozy place. I asked the cashier in English about eggs and, yes you guessed it, she could not speak English and I do not speak Bosnian!

I was determined to have my eggs. I placed my hands under my armpits and made the gestures and sounds like when we call someone a chicken. Everyone in the store burst out (yes, I did ask the other customers if there was anyone speaking English, but to no avail) in laughter and the cashier returned with a chicken! I looked at her, shook my head and said no, while motioning with my hand away from my butt and pointing to the ground … like a hen laying an egg. By this time everyone in the store was hysterical, but I got my eggs!! Mostar has about 170,000 inhabitants. Mostar has two universities. Mostar made such an impression on me, I am going back next year. Thus far, Mostar is the most beautiful place I have been privileged to visit.

P52702472.  Croatia

Remember my rule? If there are more than two places from one country, I have to include the entire country. After all the places that I visited in Croatia during the summer of 2010, I had to do this. I have been to several places in Croatia and am gaga about all of them, with the exception of Split. There is something about that town that simply does not appeal to me.

I visited Zagreb in 2009 and it was love at first sight. Maybe a bit light on sights, but a great place that is hustling and bustling, great food, great people. The Hobo Bear Hostel has been voted one of the top hostels in Europe. I also visited Dubrovnik in 2009. Words cannot describe the emotions I experienced when I saw this pearl for the first time and I knew I would be back. Villa Micika in Lapad is a wonderful place to stay. Away from all the craziness and madness, near the promenade with its great restaurants and bars.

In 2010 I started in Rijeka and thoroughly enjoyed this port city. A bus ride took me to incredible Rovinj … a MUST! On to Pula I went where I stayed in an incredible hostel, Hostelling International with its own private beach. I flew toZadar and really liked this town.

P5300276P6040399It was from here that Zoran took me, and others, to the Plitvice Lakes … a sight I will NEVER forget. I took the bus to Trogir, yet another outstanding place, from where I took daytrips to Primosten (OMG!) and Kastella. At Split, I caught the ferry to Hvar island (Hvar City), ferry to Korcula and then the bus to Dubrovnik. If I had to choose one thing that stands out in Croatia, it is the coastline. It does not matter where one travels in this country which I consider to be the most beautiful in the world, the coastline is very long and gorgeous everywhere.

3.  Cesky Krumlov will always remain a favorite place of mine and am thinking of revisiting, although I do not believe it will be in 2011.

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4.  Cinque Terre … what an area. If I continue with my plans for next year, there is no doubt in my mind that there will be more than two great areas/places in Italy and I will have to include the entire country (remember my rule?)

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5.  Austria is the country that I would move to in a heartbeat … what, not Croatia? No, I consider Croatia to be the most beautiful in the world, but Austria with all its class and style is the country where I would live (if they would have me). And please do not get me wrong, Austria is no slouch in the beauty department. Those magnificent Alps ….

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6.  Rome

Plan to revisit my favorite city in 2011. An incredible place, incredible sights, commands several visits.

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7.  England.  It has been a long time since I have been to UK and in particular England. Don’t know when I am going to go back, as there is so much to do/see and so little time left.

8.  Amsterdam is another one of my favorite cities. One that I have visited several times and because of that, I do not foresee a visit in the near future.amsterdam

VltavaRiverAtPrague9.  Prague. I love this place. Had a 15-hour overnight layover in October 2010 on my way back home after presenting a paper in Krakow. You guessed it, I did NOT spend the time at the airport … got downtown so fast and enjoyed every moment I had before catching the last train and bus back to the airport!

 

Beautiful Croatia

I am not crazy about Croatia, I am ga-ga about the place, I am hooked on it, I am addicted to this land. She is under my skin. I dream about her day and night. No sooner am I back when I start thinking about next year’s visit. From all the places that I have visited, and where I have lived, it is the most beautiful country in the world.

A few years ago I was sitting in my hostel in Budapest, when Dominic walked in. He was from Zagreb and “escaped” because of girlfriend problems. We hit it off, spend the evening together, having a few beers, eating pizza and walked back to our hostel later that night. We talked about a lot of things, including his girlfriend problems, but the one thing that stood out in my mind, was his love for his country, which he described as “the most beautiful country in the world.” Now, I did not pay a lot of attention to his comment about Croatia being so gorgeous as most people feel that way about their countries. Before we went to bed, his cell rang. Yeah, you guessed it. It was the girlfriend. They sorted out their problems and the next morning he went back to Zagreb. I went on to Bratislava. Sitting in my apartment on the Danube one night, I was watching CNN and saw a commercial. About a country. It was jaw dropping beautiful. It was a commercial for Croatia. I got off my butt and went to an internet cafe where I googled Croatia and realized that Dominic was telling the truth. As I was coming to the end of my trip, I decided to go the following year.

In 2009 I started off in Zagreb. Loved the place. Not a lot of sights, but the hustling and bustling reminded me of my beloved Johannesburg in the 70s. While in Zagreb (stayed in an incredible place, Hobo Bear) I met a young girl from Norway who urged me to go to this “park.” Of course I did not (more on this “park” later) and when I eventually did, I kept on thinking back about this conversation. From Zagreb I flew to Dubrovnik. OMG, it was love at first sight. Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.

I took the bus from Dubrovnik to Split and that was the first time that I encountered the Croatian coastline and the Croatian riviera. It is breathtaking. It was the first time that I came under the spell of the Croatian coastline. I did not care for Split and upto this day, I do not like the town. I took the bus back to Zagreb and knew I had to be back for more. There was just too much that I wanted to see.

The summer of 2010 I went back, I started off in Rijeka. Then Rovinj (OMG!). Pula (home of the Roman amphitheater). Zadar (from where I visited the Plitvice Lakes national park … yes, the “park” that the Norwegian girl urged me to see a year earlier while I was in Zagreb! Plitivice is on of the top three sites of all times). Further down you can watch a video of Plitvice during winter time … just imagine what is like during the summer!  Trogir (day trip to Primosten and Kastella). Hvar (going back next year as I have discovered once I was back that there are several towns/cities/villages on this island). Korcula (OK, but not as great as Hvar). Dubrovnik (visited the island of Lokrum … and once again was under the spell of this city).

And then I moved on to other previous Yugoslavian countries: Montenegro. Serbia. Bosnia & Hercegovina. Then I started wondering: is it possible that the previous Yugoslavia is the most beautiful country in the world and that Croatia is just part of it? I will be back in Croatia next year. As well as in Mostar. And would like to include Slovenia.

On the home page is a video on Croatia. Watch it and you will understand …

The Adriatic Sea

The first time I encountered the Croatian coastline, and therefore the Adriatic Sea, was on a bus ride from Dubrovnik to Split. I was mesmerized. I could not believe the sheer beauty. The magnetism. And, this coming from a man who has witnessed and experienced the majesty of the Garden Route (South Africa) many, many times. Sorry South Africa, the Garden Route is great, but the Croatian coastline has one up on you guys! It was during this 4-hour or so bus ride that I KNEW I was going to come back. I did. The summer of 2010. And I realized I had to come back again. And again. And again. And again.

TremityAdriaticMakarskaThe Adriatic Sea separates Italy from Croatia (or if you wish to be more precise, the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan Peninsula – where the latter includes the countries of Slovenia (47 km), Croatia (5,835 km), Bosnia and Herzegovina (26 km, the Neum corridor), Montenegro and Albania (the figures reflect the length of the coast line for those countries). Thus, the western coast of the Adriatic would be Italy, while the eastern coast includes the countries referred to above. Along with many other major rivers, the beautiful Neretva that flows through Mostar, says her “goodbyes” when she joins the Adriatic.

The Adriatic is about 480 miles long with an average width of 100 miles (maximum 140 miles). The average depth is about 800 feet (which makes it one of the shallowest parts of the Med) and the deepest italian adiraticmasseria-san-domenicoCroatia.the-adriatic-seaspot (4,034 feet) is midway between Bari (Italy) and the coast of Montenegro. The area is approximately 51,000 square miles; slightly less than the area of Lakes Superior and Michigan combined.

Notable cities on the Italian coast include: Trieste, Ravenna, Rimini, Ancona, Pescara, Bari and Brindisi. Major cities on the eastern coast, are: Koper, Izola and Piran for Slovenia; Umag, Porec, Rovinj, Pula, Opatija, Rijeka, Seni, Zadar, Biograd, Sibenik, Trogir, Split, Makarska, Ploce and Dubrovnik for Croatia; Neum for Bosnia & Herzegovina; Herceg Novi, Kotor, Tivat, Bar, Budva and Ulcini for Montenegro and Lezhe Durres and Vlore for Albania.

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The boat of Miodrag Kostic Cole, nearly 160 ft long, cost nearly $38 MILLION!

Apparently there is a vast difference between the Italian and Croatian coasts with the Croatian coast and beaches many times clearer, cleaner and bluer than the Italian coast. Something I intend to find out. With water, come yachts of all shapes and sizes. Something that I can attest to after my last trip. The most expensive LUXURIOUS yachts on the Adriatic belong to the people listed below:

  1. Miodrag Kostic Cole (48m/28 m euros)
  2. Dubravko Grgic  (44m/20m euros)
  3. Sinisa Mihaljovic (41m/20 m euros)
  4. Pavo Zubak (37m/15 m euros)
  5. Luka Rajic (34m/10m euros)

I was pondering where to go next year, and of course, the Adriatic came up. Which means going back to Croatia! I also know myself. Once in Croatia, I won’t leave (look what happened this past summer!) And then the light bulb went off: go to both sides of the Adriatic! Thus the plan, at this stage (y’all know how easily my travel plans change) is: Fly into Munich, train to Salzburg (has been too long since I have been there), train to Ljubljana, Trieste, Ravenna, Rimini, Ancona, Pescara, Brindisi and Bari from where I will take the ferry to Dubrovnik. At this stage I do not know whether the ferry will run when I need to get to Dubrovnik, so I may have to find my way to Rome (before I get to Bari) and fly from there (EasyJet) to Dubrovnik where I will meet South African friends. The plan is to spend a week with them (Dubrovnik/Mostar/Hvar) and then I will return via Makarska (have to go there) to Dubrovnik from where I will wait until I can get onto a ferry to Bari.

From Bari (after 2 days, or so) I will move onto Sorrento where I will stay for up to 10 days and do day trips to those wonderful villages on the Amalfi Coast, Capri and the name of another place of which the name escapes me (my Italian friends will kill me if I don’t go, so I will find out from them) and then finally Rome. The eternal city where I will spend a minimum of 4 days before I fly back to Pittsburgh.

But hey, that is the plan today, towards the end of September. Lets see what they are when I hit the plane on May 10 2011 (DV)!

Summer 2010: Croatia, The Islands

The gravatar depicts a calla lilly … what the hell has that got to do with Croatia, and in particular, Croatian islands? It is NOT a calla, it is an arum lilly which is indigenous to South Africa and this pic was taken at Luka’s Lodge where I was preparing the beer butt chicken, thus I could not resist the moment of being “watched” by a beautiful flower while preparing a great dish!

Ever since I can remember I wanted to visit Greece and do “island hopping.” Well, that was until I discovered Croatia … in my mind the most beautiful country in the world, yes including the USA! Croatia has more than 1,200 islands. From Trogir I took the bus to Split (remember the place I “luvvvvv!” from where I caught a ferry to Hvar island. While I was in Trogir I met Klaus who had just been to Hvar who suggested that I stay at Luka’s Lodge. Marin called and it was arranged for 14 euros/night.

When I arrived in Hvar city, I called Luka as was arranged. He said he would be about 20 minutes before he could come and fetch me. I ordered a beer. I recognized Luka from his description (and he me, the guy with the very bright yellow T-shirt). Much to my surprise, “fetching me,” entailed showing me the way to Luka’s Lodge on foot! Yeah, with that terrain! In any case we got there and Luka’s Lodge offered a breathtaking ocean view from the front porch.

The most fascinating feature for me was the outdoor cooking area. At this stage I was sick and tired of fast food, restaurant food, picnicking … all I wanted was a home cooked meal. Luka took me to the grocery store and I bought everything I needed for a beer butt chicken. There was a young couple from Canada (Adam and his girlfriend whose name escapes me) and I invited them to join me, to which she responded: “Yes please, beer butt chicken is what my Dad does all the time.” Luka and his help were dumbfounded by the chicken perched over the beer can … not very attractive, yet so delicious! Served potatoes and onions with that and we had a feast.

I stayed for three days on Hvar island, in Hvar city, and walked a lot. It is really a fascinating place. I went to the castle to enjoy breathtaking views. When I asked the attendant for the road to the village, he was offended: “We call it a town!” Luka took me to his cottage in Losna OMG, I immediately booked it for next year and, hopefully, I will go there with South African friends. It is going to be bliss. Afrikaans and South African food! (You check it out at Lukasbayhouse and you’ll see what I mean).

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After three of the most fun-filled, life-is-wonderful days I moved onto Korcula. The ferry runs late afternoon. Once again, my accommodation was arrange. Luka has this friend, Maria and it was agreed that I could stay there for 10 euros/night. Maria was waiting for me when the ferry docked and led the way to her abode. Korcula (or so it would appear from the ferry) is much larger (area wise) than Hvar but not as exciting as Hvar. I only stayed for two days and it was great, but not super great like Hvar … it simply does not offer the same. The place where I stayed, however, offered better views than Luka’s Lodge.

Also staying at Maria’s place (Marija who can be contacted at marija.sansovic@post.t-com.hr) was Helmut and Dorothy (below, left), a couple from Germany. We had loads of fun while solving the world’s problems!

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I have been back now for about three weeks and made a startling discovery. Hvar is a HUGE island with several towns/villages! When I go to stay at the cottage in Losna next year, I will make sure that we rent a car and drive around on the island … for what it is worth, we will rent a car in Split and take it to Hvar on the ferry … if one had to rent a car on the island, one will pay through the kazoo!

All the Rivieras

  • Those of you who had read Ms Janoski’s piece on Malta, may have noticed that she wrote: Why Malta?  I consider this lovely country to be the “poor man’s Riviera.” Many years ago, I was conned into going to the Outerbanks in North Carolina. I hated it and dubbed it the Redneck Riviera.

So, what does Riviera mean? I found two definitions.
1.    A narrow coastal region between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea extending from southeast France to northwest Italy. The Riviera, known as the Côte d’Azur in France, is a popular resort area noted for its flowers grown for use in perfumery (also identified as a resort area along the Mediterranean coast, extending from Saint Tropez, in SE France, to La Spezia, in NW Italy).
2.    any similar coastal resort area: the Florida Riviera.

The second explains why there is French Riviera, Italian Riviera, Croatian Riviera and, now according to Ms Janoski, a Poor Man’s Riviera and my Redneck Riviera.

French Riviera
I do not write about places that I have not visited, and will only acknowledge the existence of this playground of the very rich and jet set society. The Côte d’Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera, is the Mediterranean coastline of the south eastern corner of France, extending from Menton near the Italian border in the east to either Hyères or Cassis in the west. I doubt that I will ever visit as it would appear to be exceptionally expensive.

Italian Riviera
It extends from the border with France and the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) near Ventimiglia (a former customs post) to Capo Corvo (also known as Punta Bianca) which marks the eastern end of the Gulf of La Spezia and is close to the border with Tuscany. Thus, it includes Levanto, that wonderful town at the end of Cinque Terre. I told you about sitting at Nadia’s Bar, overlooking the ocean and noticing the two topless ladies on the beach. According to this definition it will also include the Cinque Terre, and I am not that sure about that … nevertheless, if it makes the Italians happy, so let it be. I was told (by the locals) that Levanto was the starting point and that it extended to the French border where the French Riviera starts.

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Croatian Riviera
I always believed that the most beautiful road to travel was what is known in South Africa as the Garden Route. Until I visited Croatia and traveled from Dubrovnik to Split by bus. A 6-hour ride filled with such natural beauty that even the hardest and biggest of grown men will choke up when they experience this. Students, of course, will freak out when they see the beaches.

Words cannot express this beauty. Pics cannot, or will not, do justice to this beauty. One simply has to experience it personally. My guess is that the area between Dubrovnik (south) and Rovinj (north) will classify as the Croatian Riviera … this area will include (from south to north, after Dubrovnik and before Rovinj) Makarska, Split, Zadar, Rab, Rijeka, and Pula. Trust me, I intend to visit this area during my visit the 2010 summer (D.V.)

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I have recently learned that there is, yet another riviera.  The one in Montenegro. I wrote about how I “discovered” Montenegro elsewhere and that I intend to visit the summer of 2010. Will report back then!

The Czech Republic

Many years ago, a friend called me when he got back from a visit to Prague. He swooned about how beautiful the place was. My response? “Once you have visited the REAL Europe, talk to me!” (I was, of course, referring to Western Europe). When I eventually made my way to Prague, I was so ashamed of such a narrow-minded view … remember that piece on ethnocentricity? Well, even I can be guilty of that … that’s why one has to guard against it.

Now, with that out of the way, back to Prague (the first time, in 2007). We flew into Cologne, Germany, picked up our car and spent the night near the famous Dom Kirche. Early the next morning, in fleeting rain, we hit the road to Prague. The manager at the hotel in Cologne printed out Mapquest directions for us. Everything went fine, until the info no longer gelled. As I am too old to drive around in circles, I made a U-turn and headed for the gas/rest station that we had just passed. Although the people were very helpful, their English was as good as my German (non existent!) A lady, who was fluent in English, came in and said: “Did you see the two young guys out there? Well, they are looking for a ride to Prague.” I went out and approached the one guy who was standing there, with: “I believe you are looking for a ride to Prague and you know how to get there?” “Yes,” he replied, to which I responded: “So what are we waiting for? We have a car, you have a directions.” “Well, I am traveling with a friend,” he said. I looked at him and said: “There’s room for two at the back, as long as you can take your luggage (which was not a lot) with you in the back, as the trunk is full.” That’s how we met the two Simons simon(pronounced Sea-mon). I immediately dubbed them Simon #1 and Simon #2 and was informed that is what their French teacher used to call them.

We had a pleasant journey to Prague and were shown a place, just inside the Czech Republic, where illegal immigrants, were selling fake brand name stuff and were told by the two Simons NOT to buy anything from these people as they get raided all the time and buyers are as guilty as sellers. When we got to Prague, we went straight to the “i” (information center) to inquire about a place to stay. We found a very nice self-catering apartment, while the two Simons opted for a hostel and our ways parted (until we saw them in the train station a few days later!) We were both beat and headed to our apartment (finding it is another story), walked around the neighborhood a little, had a beer or two and went to bed.

We got up the next morning and headed towards New Town (Prague has a New AND Old Town) for my much needed morning coffee (the kitchen of the self-catering apartment, was INCOMPLETE and NOT equipped! … so much for a self-catering apartment). As I came around the corner, entering New Town, I saw a restaurant where the folks were having breakfast and BEER! I immediately said out aloud: “This is my kind of town,” to which my traveling companion, responded: “For Gawd’s sakes, it is 10 in the morning.” I looked at him and said: “Yeah, I do it every day of my life, right? We are on vacation and when in Rome (Prague) do as the Romans (people in Prague) do!

prague too Panorama5I have to digress now, onto a very important topic: alcohol consumption. In the United States, we have a “thing” about alcohol …in Europe it is a way of life. The only drunk people I have encountered in Europe during my travels were NOT the locals! So, boys and girls, it all goes … in moderation … even at ten in the morning with one’s breakfast. As a side note, I do NOT drink beer in the US, as I consider American beer to be PATHETIC, although it is basically all I drink abroad … there is just something about their beer.

IM000266IM000275IM000270But enough digression: I cannot say enough about the beauty of Prague. It is an incredible place and fast becoming the number one tourist attraction in Europe, thus, prepare thyselves for millions of tourists. “Must sees “in Prague, are: New AND Old Town, the castle (the view from there takes one’s breath away), a visit to the Opera House (only about $10/ticket), St Charles Bridge (on the way to the Castle) and simply walking around, taking it all in and visit numerous restaurants and pubs for local cuisine and Czech beer.

From Prague we went South to Ceske Budejovice, home of Budvar (Budweiser) beer. Google this and learn about the fights/court cases between Anheuser Busch and Budejovice for the rights to the name of Budweiser. Budejovice was fine (DO go up the tower, but be prepared for a long, steep climb on a narrow staircase), but it did not justify more than a one night’s stay. The plan was to have lunch in Cesky Krumlov the next day … on the Vltava (Moldau) river.

When we got to Krumlov, we fell in love with the place and stayed for 4 nights (see why it is vital NOT to have a rigid traveling schedule). Cesky Krumlov is my most favorite place in the whole world and I go back every other year and in 2011 I plan to stay in the castle for $24/night. Krumlov is an historic town, on UNESCO’s list, and words cannot describe the beauty of the place. It is the second most visited place in the Czech Republic (after Prague) and the only place from this country to be featured (#16) on the list of National Geographic. Krumlov is about all the wonderful restaurants, great food, good beer, wonderful locals. We were in a restaurant one night, and befriended the owner. He suggested that we travel through the wine country of the Czech Republic.

And that’s what we did, or attempted to do, as we got so lost and despite numerous inquiries for directions, could not find a certain road. That’s when I saw the sign that pointed towards Wien (Vienna) and off we went.

Finally, anyone who visits Prague and does not include Cesky Krumlov, is a FOOL! On my way to Krumlov in 2009, we befriended two young American women and became great friends. It was their first visit. Once we got there, they both said: “This is Europe.” We stayed at the same place (Pension Merlin) and I can highly recommend this pension ($17/night with own bathroom), as well as the owners’ other place, Hostel Merlin (on the Moldau river).

The Netherlands

I have visited the Netherlands many times and enjoy every visit. It seems like I discover new things every time. Be it my South African background, but I really like the place. The FOOD. The PEOPLE. Just every thing. The Dutch are very hospitable people and their food incredible. A huge variety, well prepared and very, very tasty. They like their spices … check out the history of the Dutch East Indian Company and you will also understand why Van Riebeeck was sent to South Africa.

The Netherlands is a small and flat country. The Dutch have been very successful in recovering land from the ocean in fact it is most probably the only country in the world where land area INCREASES, rather than decreases (losing out to the sea). Known for its windmills, excellent cheese, and tulips, it is an experience that you will never forget.

Amsterdam
For many, Amsterdam is synonymous with drugs and prostitutes. I did, however, found on my last visit that restaurants are not tolerating drugs (although legal) and tell patrons that they will be asked to leave if they use drugs. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands. The ladies of the “night” sit in huge windows, scantily clothed, in order for customers to inspect the “goods!” But, there is considerably more to Amsterdam than getting stoned and laid.Amsterdam-Bridge

Central Station is a must, as there is so much to see there and the surroundings area. Should you visit, you will inevitably end up at the station as you will be using the excellent Dutch transportation system to get around.

Things to see/do in Amsterdam
• Damrak
• Rijksmuseum
• Anne Frank museum
• A canal trip
• De Bijenkorf (incredible store with incredible cakes!)
• Eat an “uitsmyter”
• Visit as many restaurants as you possible can
• Drink a lot of good Dutch beer
• Make sure you order a dish with sate sauce
• Church square
• Eat at an Indonesian rijstafel (rice table)
• Keukenhof

I can go on and add much more to the list, but the best way to see Amsterdam (as is the case to wherever you may travel) is to WALK, WALK, WALK. Talk to the locals and ask them what you see, where you should go. If you are “shy,” go to the local i and inquire there. Built around gragte (canals) Amsterdam can be very confusing, so make sure you have a map with you at all times.

During my last visit, I stayed outside Amsterdam in a campground. It was inexpensive and beautiful. The bus would pick one up outside the campground and drop you at the metro station (it is about a 20-minute walk away) and in no time would one be in the center of Amsterdam. The beauty of staying here is that it is within walking distance to nearby neighborhoods with outstanding restaurants and pubs. It was at one of the restaurants that I “discovered” sate sauce. An absolutely must when you visit the Netherlands (btw, recipes are available on the internet, however, a fair warning: One gains like 20 pounds by just looking at this incredible sauce, let alone eat it!)

Because the Netherlands is such a small country, I strongly recommend day trips, and top of my list would be Delft, famous for its blue and white pottery, appropriately named after the town. Traveling by train is very inexpensive and the rail system is very thorough and trains run regularly.