Europe

Happy Days!

Now less than three months until my next trip to the happiest country in the World – pastriesDenmark.  Looking forward to the best bacon sandwiches and pastries known to man……

Oh and of course being a tourist and visiting the Little Mermaid.

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Land of Art Nouveau. It’s Latvia!!

Being close neighbours, it’s hardly surprising that Latvia follows similar themes to Lithuania including their extreme love of zebra crossings.  Here though closer ties with Russia remain, and are evident in the popularity of borscht (cold beetroot soup), high heels on the beach and the rival political party.Riga

I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, the people were friendly and life just seems to amble along at a pleasant pace.  So what Latvian snippets can I mention to encourage you to visit this beautiful country?

  • As mentioned, it’s the land of Art Nouveau with the city of Riga boasting more buildings of this architectural style than anywhere else in Europe.  Some 300 buildings adhere to this style, with plenty of gargoyles and sculptures peering down from the pastel coloured buildings.
  • The national drink is Black Balzam.  This medicinal drink concocted using a variety of alcohol and “herbs” was so liked by Queen Victoria that a decision was made to drink Black Balzam not only when ill, but whenever you fancied it.  Purely for experimental / medicinal purposes I tried a shot.  And it most definitely warms your cockles and burns your throat!
  • Gents, you simply won’t fit in here without your man-bag.
  • And for the ladies, neon clothing is the apparent trend.  Currently global trends suggest a level of subtlety when wearing day-glo colours, unfortunately here the all or nothing effect is rather more horrific and blinding in the strong sunlight.
  • By a sheer stroke of luck I was in Riga for the “Street Workout Championship”.  This consisted of contestants from all over Europe flexing their muscles and doing gymnastics on standard park equipment in time to Eminem and other pumped up tunes.  There was plenty of crowd Riga 2interaction, including babushka’s cheering on the huge, proud muscle men strutting their stuff on the stage.  A recruitment drive for the Army appeared to be part of the proceedings, although to me it just looked like an opportunity for randoms to handle large weapons whilst scary uniformed men watched on.  A hugely popular family day out in Riga and loads of fun.
  • Again, the beer is good and cheap.  A Baltic trait?  I will have to sample the offerings in Estonia before giving my final verdict!

I have a theory that life is too short, and the World too vast and interesting to visit places more than once (especially when your annual leave from work is a mere 20 days a year!)  But I have a feeling that I’ll be back in Riga.  Next time I visit however, it’ll be in winter for a different snowy spin on this amazing cultural city.

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Yorkshire wins Europe’s Leading Destination award!

I know I’m a huge advocate for my home county, but it seems that I’m not the only one to love Yorkshire.

No wonder it won!

No wonder it won!

Excitingly Yorkshire beat Berlin, London and Madrid to win the title of Europe’s Leading Destination in 2013.  Now that’s something to be proud of!

Apparently this award is described as the “Oscars of the travel industry”, and it’s some accolade with previous winners including Istanbul, Paris, London and Barcelona.  It’s all happening for Yorkshire at the moment with Leeds hosting the start of the Tour de France 2014.  I might just have to get there to cheer on Mr Wiggins and Vaa Vaa Froome…..

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Police on Segways?? Whatever next in Lithuania….

…… well additionally they have the most zebra crossings I have ever seen.  The population in this small Baltic country is a mere 3 million, and I personally don’t believe they ever struggle to cross the road due to traffic congestion.  But nevertheless the transport department appears to have gone crazy with zebra crossings, they are simply everywhere!

Other Lithuanian points of interest worth a shout out include:

  • Bad haircuts for men are clearly essential.
  • In 1989 a 600km long human chain was established from Estonia to Lithuania
    The Baltic Way

    The Baltic Way

    consisting of around 2 million people.  It’s aim was to raise global awareness during the Baltic states fight for independence from Russia.  Seven months later Lithuania was the first Baltic country to successfully regain independence.

  • There are male muscles galore, and I mean muscles.  The appropriately named 80’s fashion garment the muscle vest is worn to full effect here. 
  • An area in the capital, populated by a largely artistic community, has claimed autonomy and named itself Uzupis.  It’s a somewhat tongue in cheek idea, with a bizarre constitution including “everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat” and “everyone has the right to die, but it’s not an obligation”.  The fact that it’s National Day coincides with April Fool’s Day is no accident!
  • Art is a significant part of life here in Lithuania, it is hugely celebrated and
    Yep ninja knitting...

    Yep ninja knitting…

    encouraged.  I have seen ninja knitting, modern sculptures and graffiti everywhere.

  • Each city displays an interesting architectural mishmash of traditional wooden chalets, stylish Baroque houses and soviet apartment blocks.  The latter highlighting a dark foreboding past of occupation.
  • I also can’t fail to mention the beer – it’s good and cheap.  Enough said….

But back to my Segway curiosity.  I have been round the block with my travels and never seen a Segway used for anything useful.  They appear to be a foible of rich tourists for a five minute thrill, followed by a dull fifty five minutes traipsing after their city tour guide.  However in Vilnius I spied police officers on the weird transport that is a Segway.  Apparently they have been used successfully here to apprehend thieves, unsure if this new trend for policing however will become popular globally.  I wonder what speeds they can reach??

Note for those who are wondering as per previous post, no disappointingly I never did see a Lithuania tree-cake!

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Twelve more sleeps….

…. till my next jaunt to Europe, and my trip to Lithuania certainly promises to be of interest.  Doing some early research and attempting to discover transport options from the airport into Vilnius itself the top six FAQ on the airport website included:

  • Can I take a bouquet of flowers and a Lithuanian tree-cake on an aircraft?  So what is a Lithuanian tree-cake I ask?  And would you want to carry one of those and a bouquet of flowers?
  • Do I need a doctor’s certificate if I have an un-removed fragment in my body? 

Bizarrely I found nothing in regards to transport to the City, apparently it’s not worth mentioning.  So now I am starting to wonder what an eclectic mix of people will actually be on my flight, and whether I’ll end up partially nursing a tree-cake.  Bring on the adventure! cricket

Aside from my visit to Eastern Europe, The Ashes – a monumental cricket match between England and Australia, is calling.  A glorious day in the sunshine with a beer in hand whilst watching a sporting rivalry second to none is just what the doctor ordered.  A predicted highlight of my travels.  I can’t wait!!

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Going back to my roots…….

When I left my home in Yorkshire for one of my big adventures little did I realise that it’d result in dual citizenship some nine years later.  A combination of a need for financing my travels, and the desire to unpack my backpack properly after seven months of slumming it, found me applying for jobs in Sydney, Australia.

Home...

Home…

And I found one!  The rest is now history……  Until last week that is, when I received approval for Australian citizenship!!  So what do I miss about Yorkshire?  In keeping with the travel theme here are just a few of the points worth mentioning about my home region:

  • Yorkshire is  famous for its rhubarb, and boasts some of the largest producers in the UK. Part of the county has become known world-wide as the rhubarb triangle.
  • In 1630 the last witch in England was burnt, and that was in Yorkshire.
  • My hometown (Northallerton) has the world´s largest treadmill.  Beat that if you can.  Truly useless trivia fact and unsure exactly what the point is.
  • Dry stonewalls are quintessential, and never fail to make me feel at home.  There is something very Wuthering Heights about being in the Yorkshire countryside.  I feel a Kate Bush tune coming on…..
  • 216 million visits to Yorkshire are made every year, equivalent to the total number of visitors to Walt Disney Attraction Theme Parks worldwide.  Now that is a wow fact!

    Rhubarb love...

    Rhubarb love…

  • North Yorkshire is the biggest county in England – oh yes!
  • Lots of top bands hail from the county – Kasier Chiefs, Chumbawumba, Terrorvision, Human League, Pulp, The Cribs and Moloko to name but a few.  Sadly so does one of the Spice girls, well you can´t have it all……….
  • And last but not least 1st August is Yorkshire day, so be prepared to don your flat caps and have your *whippets at the ready.

* note a whippet is a low budget greyhound.

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There were many reasons why dating a Spaniard, however handsome, was never going to work…..

I travelled to Burgos, in northern Spain to visit my boyfriend’s family.  The city plays host to Europe’s third largest cathedral.  The famous Santiago de Compostela (St James’ Way) pilgrimage also cuts through Burgos, with symbolic scallop shells highlighting the route for followers.  At this point I ought to point out that my Spanish is average at best, and is limited to tourist conversations.  I also am not the bravest in the culinary department.

Viva la Espana

Possibly the most uncomfortable weekend in my life began on arrival.  *Pablo’s mum answered the door in a housecoat, something I have never seen before nor will anyone under the age of thirty ever of heard of.  Being used for its correct purpose the pockets were crammed with all kinds of paraphernalia.  Even though it was around 8pm his dad was bizarrely in a dressing gown. We were served mussels in a cramped kitchen with underwear drying on the radiator next to the table.  Spanish was being spoken at a speed of knots with me unable to understand but a few words.

The next day I was given a guided tour of the aforementioned cathedral by Pablo’s dad, all in Spanish of course.  Built in Gothic style it’s an impressive structure although I’m sure I’d have been more impressed had I of understood anything.  My responses of “it’s big” and “it’s beautiful” got tedious after a while for all concerned.  I felt truly ashamed of my inability to communicate, and wanted to escape pronto.

Pablo and I then spent the afternoon in his uncle’s bar, where we were fed tapas including more mussels.  Burgos isn’t even by the sea, so I’m unsure where this fascination with mussels comes from!  Dinner that evening was yet more culinary surprises, I was given a plateful of snails.  Yes snails, complete with antennae, cooked in a tomato and ham sauce.  Of course I had to exclaim they were delicious, so lucky me I got an extra helping.  Several other unusual looking dishes were presented and I tucked in with as much gusto as I could muster.  Full to bursting I said what a lovely meal it had been, only to discover that we’d not even got to the main course.  Horrified I had to eat yet more food to be polite and afterwards I could hardly move.

The next day I bid my farewells, not just to the family but to the relationship.  But of course I’m not going to go into that here…………

Picturesque Granada

Jumping on a bus to Granada was the best action I could have taken.  It’s a beautiful city in southern Spain with the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the Alhambra palace forming the skyline.  Food is cheap, and there wasn’t a mussel in sight.

*name changed to protect the innocent

Categories: Europe, people | 2 Comments

“You’re going where?” Benelux!

Everyone questioned my decision to visit Luxembourg.  This small country doesn’t appear on most people’s radars.  As always going against the grain, I decided to team Luxembourg and Belgium together for another foray into mainland Europe.

Chocolate box…

  • Visit Luxembourg City, perhaps the most beautiful European capital I have visited.  The old city is built on a hill for defence purposes with thick surrounding walls.  Below is a canal, a river and the Grund – a UNESCO listed gathering of houses built in a forgotten time. Sadly aside from the beauty of the city, there is little else for tourists.
  • Immerse yourself in Brussels’ cartoon trail.  Several famous characters hail from Belgium including The Smurfs and Tin-tin.  In celebration of this rich history several huge cartoons are painted on buildings throughout the city.  Hunt out these awesome sketches and ignore the famous disappointing Manneken Pis (boy peeing statue).
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Continually changing times in the Balkans

The Balkans continue to be a volatile region of Europe.  A beautiful area with many qualities to offer tourists whether that be beaches, lakes, culture or history.  But peer under the surface, and not unsurprisingly a bitterness remains.  Plus the uncertainty with Kosovo lingers on…..

  • Take in the renowned Exit music festival in an ancient citadel, Novi Sad (Serbia).  Amazing venue.

Sarajevo

  • Now for some history.  In 1992 the city of Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was surrounded by Serbian and former Yugoslav troops in a siege that lasted almost four years.  Being located in the foothills allowed the opposing forces to have a strong vantage point on the civilian city.  Appallingly 11,000 people were killed and eminent graveyards are a strong reminder of the siege.  But the city has bounced back.  It’s a fantastic place to visit; the people are amazing, the food is tasty and beer cheap.  I just can’t recommend Sarajevo enough.
  • Due to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fragile status and it’s three divided ethnic groups, it has some unique features:
    • It has three presidents.
    • The design for national flag couldn’t be agreed upon, so it was outsourced to another country.
    • The national anthem words have not been finalised, people hum to the tune.
  • Indulge in a Slovenian horse burger.  OK so I didn’t try one (they weren’t all that cheap!) but here is suppose to be the best place to sample one.
  • Check out the innovative award winning “Museum of Broken Relationships” in Zagreb (Croatia).  It has an interesting array of objects donated by the broken hearted and an explanation as to why the object is relevant to the demise of aforementioned relationship.  It’s funny, sad and shocking.  Definitely worth a visit!

Stunning views

  • Croatia and Montenegro hog the majority of the Balkan coastline.  They play host to  many beautiful towns including the spectacular Dubrovnik and quaint Kotor respectively.  However after a couple of weeks I needed to escape these walled cities.
  • Best remember to set your alarm clock when you have a ferry then plane to catch.  Waking up just after the ferry had left for Venice I had to take on mission impossible to catch my flight.  I paid 120Euro for a taxi from Croatia, through Slovenia to northern Italy.  Then made a dash for the slow train to Venice, hoping to then make the bus connection to the airport.  I arrived with just minutes to spare, having aged some five years in the process.
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