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  • 04 Nov 2017
    One of the fascinating ways to explore a country is by driving. The freedom of the open road gives you more possibilities to get to know the country. Right? Not in Serbia! Here is a real rant on driving in Serbia. 1) There are no traffic signs. If you are lucky to find one of them it will take you in the wrong direction or it will have been erected so crookedly you can't work it out. GPS is the way to go. If you find a traffic sign it’s probably going to be in the Cyrillic alphabet and only occasionally in the Roman. Good luck with trying to spell the word out at more than 20 miles an hour. You may see helpful English signs like, Producer of Local Produce. 2) The Serbs are very friendly people – they never let you pay for a drink, are happy to take you around and show you the best part of the country but they turn into Monsters once they are behind the wheel. One place where there is gender equality in Serbia is behind the wheel, in a car the women are bad as men. Nuns included. One overtook us at speed and at great danger to herself and other drivers. It was in the area dubbed “Hilandar of Serbia” as there are 10 monasteries spread over beautiful hills, river and lakes. You would think it’s the perfect place to unwind and find your inner self- not to get killed by a reckless nun!  Her frustration started when we gave way to the car on the other side of a bridge, the nun didn’t beep, but we could hear the engine revving. She didn’t overtake right away because the nice couple passing gave us a nod and a smile which probably enraged her. Maybe she is not used to people being polite. The nun continued to follow us so close I was under impression she wanted to open our boot through her window. The sharp bends and fast traffic didn’t stop her and she overtook on a blind bend and then quickly turned off the main road without indicating and hurtled up to a monastery... 3) During our driving experience in Serbia we never saw the police, although we saw two police cars – one parked in the front of kafana ( national bistro) in Nova Varos. We saw a lot of ambulances struggling to make their way on the overcrowded roads with no one making space for them to pass. They only time we encountered the police was when we crossed the border into Bosnia and the only reason we saw them is because we had been warned back in Belgrade. “Watch your speed limit when you enter Bosnia as there are two policemen, one fat and one short, jumping out of the bushes and issuing fines.” Its seems the whole country is aware of them, the two policemen in Bosnia who still haven't realised that their hiding place is blown!  4) Be aware of the likelihood of being cut up on the roads by really dangerous drivers. I have only one word for them “F***** idiots” or in short FI to be used here. They are hormonal junkies who are betting on you stopping and letting them overtake you, otherwise you will have blood on your hands! The reality is that you have to hit the brakes, and let flow some colourful English language. With some addition of Serbian too. 5) There are motorways but not everywhere. Our visit to the Western Serbia was mainly on roads which would be classified as country lanes in the UK but wider and with fewer potholes. 6) There are speed limits displayed but they are there only to be broken! If you don’t break them you face a barrage of the noisiest car horns, squashed driver faces, swearing, shouting. Be ready. I've never been a fan of Top Gear but after my driving trip in Serbia I feel like I took a part in it! 7) Cars with automatic transmission are still a rarity in Serbia. Driving one on this trip was a life saver! I don’t know if I would have been able to drivea manual car and encounter all the traffic issues we had. Automatic cars are a bit more expensive but they are good value for money on Serbia roads. 8) We saw lorries where they were not supposed to be – on narrow mountains lanes. We saw a testosterone-fueled father with wife and two kids strapped in the back seats, overtaking on a blind bend. We saw tractors holding up traffic for miles. We saw new roads, just built recently, so narrow the local people have to leap out of the way every time a car passes. We drove on a winding road where there was no pulling over spaces, and when we eventually stopped at the first “kafana” the waiter kindly explained that the money for a wider road and resting places finished up in someone's pocket! 9) If you are still thinking of hiring a car and driving around Serbia you will have to be 110% in driving mode and take breaks every hour if you can find somewhere. You need a good passenger to help you navigate not just on the roads but drivers too!  Learn a few swear words in Serbian. They are very useful - and unexpected by those who inspire them. Considering such bad driving and manners we didn't see any accidents. We saw near accidents and we were part of one when on a flat wide empty road. Only quick thinking saved us. 10) While getting lost we would stop to ask for directions. The window would go down, and very helpful males (yes, all our directions were given by males, do not know why, probably they are the ones wondering roads like us) would explain us in great details how to get where we wanted. The information was so very detailed and long that sometimes we wanted just to drive off. When we did eventually we had to ventilate the car from the fumes of alcohol we were given along with the information. Despite all this, Serbia is a beautiful country to visit with unspoiled nature, lovely people, great food and a fascinating history!
    1600 Posted by bossgate
  • 06 Nov 2017
      If you are looking for the perfect city break do not look further from Zagreb, thе саріtаl of the Rерublіс оf Crоаtіа thаt оffеrѕ a mеdіеvаl сhаrасtеr through іtѕ wооdеn alcoves, fairytale-like hоuѕеѕ and соbblеd streets. This is аlѕо thе home оf many ancient buіldіngѕ, fascinating museums, and оthеr interesting аttrасtіоnѕ that entice уоu tо vіѕіt this bеаutіful Eurореаn сіtу. Here is a list of “must- see” sights when уоu vіѕіt the сіtу of Zаgrеb. Art Pavilion Thіѕ was еѕtаblіѕhеd in the уеаr 1896. Thіѕ lаndmаrk is nоt only for contemporary аrt display but аlѕо for іtѕ enchanting glass-domed interior and remarkable hіѕtоrу. Vіѕіtіng this рlасе іѕ only allowed during Mоndауѕ. "Stаrо Sеlо" Ethnological Muѕеum This is a vіllаgе whеrе уоu саn fіnd ethnological muѕеumѕ. Thеу аrе preserved thаtсhеd houses thаt wеrе built durіng thе 19th сеnturу. Yоu саn find hеrе artifacts аnd tools thаt wеrе uѕеd for making саndlеѕ аnd blacksmithing. Cаthеdrаl of thе Aѕѕumрtіоn оf thе Blessed Vіrgіn Mаrу Stор bу fоr some mеdіtаtіоn аѕ уоu еnjоу fаѕсіnаtіng the view оf thе саthеdrаl. Herman Bоllе dеѕіgnеd іt іn thе уеаr 1892. This саthеdrаl underwent multірlе fires аnd mаѕѕіvе еаrthԛuаkе but wаѕ reconstructed untіl іt ѕtіll ѕtаndѕ аѕ the best lаndmаrk tо vіѕіt in Zаgrеb. The jаw-drорріng beauty ѕurvіvеd one еаrthԛuаkе аnd mаnу rесоnѕtruсtіоnѕ thаt trаnѕfоrmеd іt іntо a nео-gоthіс mоnumеnt. Thе іnѕіdе of it іѕ juѕt аѕ astonishing аѕ thе оutѕіdе. Prоbаblу thе most ісоnіс раrt of this Cаthеdrаl іѕ thе twin towers- that саn bе ѕееn frоm far аwау. You should Go tо Tkаlčіćеvа Strееt Tkаlčіćеvа ѕhоuld bе your first роrt оf саll. It’s where Zagrebians gо tо enjoy thеmѕеlvеѕ. By dау Tkalčićeva is a сhаrmіng ѕtrееt оf low-rise раіntеd hоuѕеѕ wіth balconies and awnings thаt you can appreciate оn a romantic аmblе. And when thе sun gоеѕ dоwn уоu’ll hаvе your рісk of Zаgrеb’ѕ best саfеѕ, rеѕtаurаntѕ, аnd nightspots. If уоu wаnt to pick uр ѕоmеthіng tо gо or hаvе аn еlеgаnt meal with a lоvеd оnе, уоu’ll fіnd whаt уоu’rе lооkіng fоr Tkаlса. Zаgrеb City - Mіmаrа Museum Yоu can see here some mоdеlѕ аnd іntеrасtіvе exhibits оf the progress оf the city frоm the early tіmеѕ untіl the рrеѕеnt аgе. Thіѕ Lower Town muѕеum іѕ nаmеd аftеr thе 20th-сеnturу аrt collector Antе Tоріć Mіmаrа, who can bеѕt be dеѕсrіbеd as a соlоrful character. The permanent еxhіbіtѕ at thе museum wеrе dоnаtеd bу Miramar whо was lіnkеd with аrt theft during thе Second Wоrld Wаr аnd also fоrgеrу аftеr that. Sоmе сrіtісѕ сlаіm that there аrе some fakes іn thе muѕеum’ѕ соllесtіоn, but іt іѕ ѕtіll a good wау tо ѕреnd a соuрlе of hоurѕ. Wоrkѕ by Cаnаlеttо, Rubens, Holbein, Vеlаzԛuеz, Gоуа, Mоnеt, Rеnоіr, and Dеgаѕ аrе аll оn display hеrе. Arсhаеоlоgісаl Muѕеum Zаgrеb’ѕ lосаtіоn at the hіѕtоrісаl mееtіng роіnt bеtwееn wеѕt аnd east hаѕ brоught a hоѕt of сіvіlіzаtіоnѕ to its dооr. So you can guеѕѕ that a vіѕіt tо the city’s аrсhаеоlоgісаl muѕеum іѕ аn іntrіguіng trір through all kinds оf eras аnd cultures. Onе оf thе bеѕt ріесеѕ hеrе is thе Vučеdоl Dove, a rіtuаl vеѕѕеl that dates back to at lеаѕt 2500 BC. Thеrе’ѕ also Lіbеr Lіntеuѕ, аn Etruѕсаn mummy frоm thе 3rd сеnturу BC, which wаѕ wrарреd wіth bandages thаt contain thе lоngеѕt Etruscan tеxt in thе wоrld. Mоѕt of thе text hasn’t еvеn bееn trаnѕlаtеd аѕ so lіttlе іѕ knоwn аbоut thе language. Museum of Broken Relationship Fascinating to peek into people's intimate chapters with their lovers, partners, husbands/wives, mistresses etc. The exibits are collected accros the globe, explained and used to record their feeling once the relationship ended. Be prepered for some sad stories. Its very intimate. And affordable! A must see. .  
    1298 Posted by bossgate
  • 04 Nov 2017
    The threshold was high and in line with tradition, I crossed it by lifting my left foot while Tim, my guide, lifted his right. We felt the uneven bare floor under our feet as we entered the dark room. The sun was gleaming strongly outside, striking through the roof holes, like a ray of death showing us blurred lines of scattered furniture. There was not much to see. The house looked empty except for a cooker, some kind of wardrobe with a mixture of well-used pans and occasional garments. From the corner, just behind the cooker we heard a trembling “NJIHAO” and our first instinct was to run back out of the house we had entered uninvited. We were in quest of old Chinese life which was disappearing fast and were hoping to get “that” photo here in the destitute fishing village near the popular tourist town of China. We didn’t expect to see any people. “Njihao” replied Tim apologetically. And then we saw her, the old lady with a stick, in a blue Mao Tze Tung uniform, sitting on a handmade tripod chair, the same as my grandfather used to make back in Bosnia. She was 86, almost blind and disabled. She has a daughter in Beijing and granddaughter in Shanghai who is married and expecting a child which she is hopping to be a boy. “Enough of girls in our family!” she declared and bounced the stick on the earth floor. From her left pocket she pulled worn photos of happy women with huge smiles. “They come here once every two years. It’s expensive and they have to work hard. My daughter is working in the factory in Beijing but my granddaughter is in charge of a big hotel”. And she cracked a very proud toothless smile followed by strong cough. I turned my head towards the door hiding my tears. Do I offer to clean the house? That's what I automatically do on visits to my grandparents. But then we were in the middle of China and this place could be hardly called a house. Do we call her daughter and granddaughter and tell them off for leaving this 86-year-old on her own? But then I am sure they are aware of that and the amount of money they are making cannot mask their guilt. “What does she eat?” “Villagers bring food for her.” “Can we do anything for her?” Tim shrugged hopelessly, so accustomed to China and her 21st Century where rapid progress deserts its past. Suddenly I pulled all the money I had in my wallet and thrust it at the abandoned old lady without thinking where she was going to spend it or on what. I just wanted to feel that I had done something. She kissed my hand which made me cry even more, and ran out without even saying goodbye to her.  
    1271 Posted by bossgate
  • 04 Nov 2017
    St Albans is a medieval yet modern up-market town at the same time with many restaurants and chic shops but a charming history too. “You’ll get there in a jiffy, there are only 93 steps.” said the enthusiastic volunteer helpfully. Considering my age, my cracked knees and rather impaired lung function we got to the top not quite in the jiffy, but she was right about the second bit – there were 93 steps and I counted them all. They were narrow, spiral, with little margin to spare for the wider parts of my body. I had to turn sideways to get round the bends but by the time we got to the top I had forgotten all about my knees, lungs etc - the view was soul-rejuvenating! And with the weather being so nice we could see far into the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside. The Tower Clock  is the only remaining medieval town belfry in England. It was built between 1403 and 1412 as a symbol of parish resistance against the excessive power of the abbot of St Albans, defiantly set on high ground facing the gigantic cathedral tower - looking the Abbey in the eye. The design of the tower was based on the Clock House at Westminster Palace which stood until 1697, and its walls up to 1.22m (4 feet) thick to withstand the ringing of the bell and I am guessing that is the reason why the steps are so narrow. The tower consists of four floors with the ground floor being a shop until the 20th century, its large window was how the bell was brought inside the building, while the first and second floors were designed as living quarters for the shopkeeper and clock-keeper. The fourth floor is where the original bell is located and that is the most interesting part of the  Clock Tower. The bell is named after the Archangel Gabriel, was cast at Aldgate in London, weighs 1 ton, and rings in F. Gabriel last rang out in 1901 for Queen Victoria's funeral. The original clock was discarded at some point, replaced by a more accurate pendulum mechanism whose heavy iron weights hang down into the chamber below - which must have been rather inconvenient for its occupants. Today’s clock was built by smiths from Clerkenwell in 1866and incorporates four-legged gravity escapement, which was an invention just brought onto the market by Lord Grimthorpe, the same guy who designed Big Ben’s mechanism. The tower clock had different uses throughout the history of St Albans. Its bell rang out for the first battle of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses in 1455. It was used as government semaphore during the Napoleonic Wars. The structure was damaged by 1850 and in 1865 was restored by famous architect Sir Gorge Gilbert Scott who used local flint which can be still seen today. The Tower Clock is owned by the Council and run by volunteers called by 'Clockateers'. It's open from Easter to the end of September between 10.30 and 17.00, entrance is £1 and kids go free. There is so much history, engineering and architecture mixed in such a compact place. The Tower Clock is a must-see sight when in St Albans.  
    1224 Posted by bossgate
300 views Jan 08, 2021
Traveling Bravely During Covid-19

Flying during Covid 19

Flying during Covid 19 Contrary to my normal behavior of feeling terrified of flying, or terrorists, this time around at Terminal 2, my fragile inner self is frightened of an unplanned move, the one you make without any awareness and pick up Covid-19. Having done my duty by self-isolating as advised until 12 June and in the process suffering horrendous anxiety, I have decided to test my inner self and book a flight to Europe to visit my relatives. My pink rubber gloves, bought from Amazon rather than Victoria’s Secret, look like the latest fashion accessory, and are giving me swollen finger tips. My face mask, bought for my mother who suffers from COPD, is the latest piece of technology with HEPA and active carbon filters. It’s red, which attracts too much attention, but it could be a good thing; people would notice you early and follow the 2m distance requirement. Still, I feel anxious even before boarding the plane. All that idea of swapping a hoard of toilet paper for a short-haul flight during lockdown disappeared like my latest business plan. I am truly scared, but am pretending not to be. The only solace is that every single person I pass is scared, too. Their eyes are tense, no blinking, full terror mode. There is not much politeness going around, just military marching orders: Go Left, Next, Stop. Arriving three hours before the flight, as advised by the airline, brings extra anxiety. The airport staff, neatly tucked into crisp uniforms and surgical face masks, glide around the well-polished floor, checking on every single arrival who comes through the glass entrance, and directing them to the right gate. The whole sterile atmosphere looks like preparation for a lifesaving operation, not a flight to a different part of Europe. Because my gate hasn’t been opened yet, I am reprimanded for coming so early and advised to go outside the building to get some fresh air. That dismay when no one wanted to play with you in the kindergarten comes back instantly. Luckily, as a grown up, distraction springs to mind in the form of cigarettes, but the smoking zone is on the other side of the building, and two heavy cases, courtesy of Business class, make trekking over there impossible. Disheartened, I sit on the rail to get fresh air—well, really smog—only to be told off by a security guy to move further from the entry door. Apparently, I am a security risk. Of course, I am. My face is covered in a mask two sizes bigger than my face, with reading glasses as thick as the bottom of a jar. There is no security camera that would recognize me, not even my mother. After a whole chapter of Master and Margarita, the book I read a long time ago in a different language, I notice that it doesn’t make any sense in English. It seems it was translated by a person fond of Google Translate. Disappointed, I try my luck at re-entering Terminal 2, only to be let in without any custodians stopping me going into zone 1, where I am supposed to check in. With sweaty hands and forehead, and blurred glasses, hardly able to breathe, I go straight to the Business class lane. “Did you pay for the second bag?” the defender of the empty Business lane asks brusquely. “It’s included in the price.” “Are you flying Business class?” And this time she turns around to give a full-frontal view of her neat uniform and angry, maskless face. She is ready for a confrontation. Me, too. “It says on the ticket.” The young and inexperienced Z Generation employees at the local WHSmith on a Sunday morning are more polite than the lady with a big pretentious smile, squeezed into a too-tight uniform, pretending to be a female airline deity. An ugly one. Or maybe my unimpressive appearance makes her think that I am a little confused human being who has never traveled before? Or never used Business class? Does she expect people to dress up for a mere 3-hour flight in the middle of a pandemic? Yes, I have trainers with mud collected on long walks through the countryside to beat high anxiety. My hair looks like it was done by a 3-year-old, but it’s difficult to see the back of your head in the mirror. And my nails are not polished to the expected requirements of Business class and the airline deity, for a simple reason—I bite them. And I am in a very advanced stage of hypochondria, not because of my age, medical condition, or frustration with airline staff, but because the abnormality of the whole worldwide situation is dumped on my shoulders. “Can you please put a fragile sticker on the first bag?” And I think to add, “my head too,” but that would make her staple a sticker. “We don’t have them.” Instead of feeling bitter, the sensation of relief runs through my sweaty body. Looking at the airline rep in front of me, the idea of a hidden stapler under the printer seems plausible. “What about WiFi? Is it free?” “I don’t know. It would be best if you ask on the plane.” I begin to wonder if I know her. She is so casual, but the quick answer seems like a standard mantra as if the same reply had been recited over the phone and retweeted on my feed. It makes me wonder if any ground employee knows what services are offered onboard? I can forgive them for not knowing from which terminal the plane is supposed to take off as we are living in extraordinary times, but not knowing what clearly has been stated on the website is seemingly beyond staff training. The boarding pass is duly passed over without the obligatory eye contact, a thank you, or have a good flight. Instead, the tight and ugly deity quite proudly adds that the Business lounge is closed. Welcome to the hostile service of one the oldest airlines in Europe. Not to be beaten by the lack of service, stickers, closed lounge, and maybe unavailable Wi-Fi, I rush through security checks, almost naked, eager to speed up the process, and I curse the long queue, especially a mother with three kids, each equipped with a very expensive laptop, the size of a TV, stored orderly in their rucksacks. Some adults really should stay at home. The trek from security to the gate is a long passage through a graveyard. All the restaurants, once heart of the airport, are closed with the chairs neatly stacked on the tables, like gravestones. Two shops, WHS and Boots, are open. I already have a book and a home-made sandwich. It’s time to find somewhere with a socket and enjoy the extraordinary peace at Terminal 2. The only issues are that, even for the small number of passengers, there are not enough sockets. Living in extraordinary times makes you do extraordinary things. After jumping up over the locked gate of one of the restaurants and committing a crime with a mask like a professional burglar, I find a secret corner with a socket, pull up a chair, and enjoy my lunch by reading the latest death toll, announcing my location on Instagram, confirming my arrival with my sister, and managing a few pages of Master and Margarita, very much an appropriate satire for the times we are living in. Once the announcement is made, the rush to the gate becomes swamped with animal noises. Social distancing, one of the essential factors for staying alive, simply evaporates. At the gate, the only reason I know it’s time to board the plane is that my “tag” couple move. In order not to be late or get lost, I usually tag people who are getting on the same plane. And no, it’s not stalking, just a simple reminder when and where to go—kind of an alarm clock with a visual GPS built-in. It isn’t easy to see which lane is assigned to Business class, and with hordes of people, I and my tag couple push through. On board, we are coldly welcomed by staff in uniform and masks. No disinfectant. No distancing. No smiles. Just a long arm pointing the way, more military ordering to your seat. It seems the staff are as scared as we are. The Business class cabin, three rows of three seats, defended from the plebs by dark blue vertical blinds tied up in a knot, didn’t exactly scream “luxury.” People in the row behind Business class have the same space and probably paid half the price we did. The justification of the price doesn’t say “capitalism” and “free market.” It shouts “robbery.” It seems that each row in Business class has two seats empty, except for those occupied by an amorous couple. Pleased with my anti-Covid-19 travel plans, I pat myself on the back for not having a fellow passenger in the adjacent two seats. The service on board the flight is adequate for the worldwide pandemic situation. No meals, no WIFI, no drinks, except for a small bottle of water. Even the Business class toilet is closed, and we are redirected to the only two left on the other side of plane. Shiny suit, sitting next to me in row 3F, isn’t happy. Following his not-very-pleasant experience with an agitated, well-built member of staff, I sit with my legs crossed until we land. The time passes quickly, with me deleting photos from overindulging on a previous trip and thinking of a nice cold Stella when I land. There is no eye contact, no service, no usual chatter between fellow humans or deafening baby screams, just an independent silent bubble for each passenger. I am surrounded by people, but I feel so alone. Worried, I take yet another helpful pill, hoping to sleep the whole situation off and wake up in a pandemic-free world. That would be magical, wouldn’t it? Note: A story by Tara Goldsmith appears in the upcoming travel writing anthology Fearless Footsteps – True Stories That Capture the Spirit of Adventure, coming November 2020 and available for pre-order now.