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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!
    264 Posted by bossgate
  • 04 Nov 2017
    Two soluble co-codamols taken against medical advice on an empty stomach didn’t help to stop the constant and horrendous noise of happy water streaming under our idyllic apartment somewhere in Portugal. Exhausted with spending the previous day reading a map which made the Mappa Mundi look like the latest cartography achievement of the 21st century, and with listening to a posh voice on the GPS that we constantly debated whether was Joanna Lumley's or not and which navigated us into deepest Portuguese countryside. We made endless failed attempts to talk to natives who didn’t speak any English, French, German, Serbian or Russian, religiously showing them our useless map only to be directed the wrong way. We spent six hours driving up and down green hills stopping occasionally to take amazing photos of spring in its infancy, continuing east of a bridge which wasn’t on the map, then south of the field with lots of cows, north of a lake but we didn’t go west knowing full well we would end up back in Porto. The narrow roads were without any traffic signs except Romantico Ruto which we lost hours ago. We were on Horribilis Ruto and we didn’t need any signs for it! The villages we passed were not on the map and the ones engraved on the map were not on our route. The GPS was stubbornly showing we were on road 225. Then we decided to take a different approach – forget about “getting to know the country” and get to the main road. Any main road which luckily was the one we wanted. The relief of not spending a night in the car was replaced by utter bewilderment at spending two nights without internet at the creatively converted water mill in the middle of nowhere. Without speaking and secretly holding each other responsible for such a blunder we went straight to bed.  Luckily, I had a book on standby which was hidden deep in the luggage between the dirty washing and a rudimentary first aid kit. I read all about the author and fell asleep. My usual 1am, 3am, 5am waking ups followed by quick glances at the news, checking of emails or number of likes on the last FB entry were replaced by frustration and loud cursing of the cottage's lack of internet. The hissing noise of my overheated computer sounded like lullaby compared to the constant water rumbling under my bed. “Where is all this water rushing to at 5 am?” “Stop! Go to sleep. You are addicted!” “No I am not. I just want a peace and quiet” “But this is peace and quiet!” Yeah, right.
    246 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. .  
    243 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.  
    227 Posted by bossgate
166 views Dec 04, 2017
The Emperor’s Chair  

The Emporer’s Chair

9 Dragons on Emperor readyclickandgo travel

His short legs were dangling from the chair like ripe cherries ready to drop, making him look like a naughty child punished by sitting on a high chair but still wriggling about. His left arm was comfortably spread on the square table made of the same wood as the horse-shoe backed armchair – reddish-brown, worn out, but very pleasing on the eye. Sitting comfortably high above all of us he displayed all the mannerisms of the Emperor proudly sitting on his throne. Except the high chairs and table barely fitted into the small space that housed lounge, kitchen and bedroom all together. Tim, my loyal guide, and I were sitting on very low and uncomfortable stools, staring at the Emperor like a pair of eager-to-please courtiers, hanging on every single syllable. The Emperor was making sounds but I didn’t speak any Chinese. For Tim the Emperor was making sense, talking about his life before he retired to the hutongs in Beijing instead of one of the high-rise flats scattered around the city. The squat houses lining the busy street somewhere in the hutongs area of Beijing all feature one outside window and one door. Once inside the establishment and under the impression that you are entering one household, the natural light and greenery of the courtyard challenge your expectations. You are entering a fortified dwelling in the centre of Beijing where few families are squeezed into a small space within the rectangular configuration. Those dwellings are mainly built  of brick and plastered with cement for protection in the long and cold Beijing winter, but in some parts of the houses, the oldest parts, you can see mud used as a building material. From the main street the houses all look the same to me and I would probably get lost here while venturing out to get a newspaper or on the occasional night out. The main colour of the street is grey, broken by a gust of gold coming from the random basswood trees.  The street is so dynamic even though there are not many shops around and if it were not for so many people around, one might mistake it for an affluent area of Beijing. The Emperor, sensing my doubts about his abode in this part of Beijing, reinforced his decision to move here, in the hutongs, where chickens would cross the paths of fast paced rickshaws, commented on the fresh air of the courtyard which was, I must admit, in short supply all around China. Mrs Chu, a humble and gracious lady, was carefully listening to the conversation while making tea, but without any desire to join in.  I was worrying how I would cope with her best porcelain without making a fool of myself, when she, as a great host, pulled a smaller table of lesser quality and placed it in front of Tim and me. She sat alongside her husband and my wondering mind could see them wrapped in deep yellow, almost golden, robes covered in dragons, nine preferably to fit the Emperor's status, mimicking Yongle and his wife, Anne. I couldn’t remember the Emperor Yongle wife's full Chinese name as there are too many consonants and my little brain can’t put them in the right order. And her name Anne was given to her after she converted to Catholicism. Could Mrs Chu's secret name be Anne? I looked at her again with the biggest smile I could produce without showing the shiny plate inserted in my gum holding a few teeth together, courtesy of extreme pub-hopping around London. “No. She is too obedient and dedicated to her Emperor to convert.” Before tasting the tea, I obeyed all the unwritten rules – I sniffed it tenderly with my left hand holding the bottom of the cup, lifted it to Mr Chu first and then to Mrs Chu, thanking them for their kind hospitality. The Longjing tea, the best in the country, produced in the tea capital of China, Hangzhou, and bought at the local shop, tasted sumptuous. “How old is this?” Devilishly smiling, Mr Chu tapped the table with his short finger. I had seen those tables in the Forbidden City where the guide would make a point of saying they were not antiques but fake. With the Cultural Revolution everything was gone. Where? He didn’t know. “No nails or glue.” the Emperor added proudly. “And it’s from tree grown on the Hainan Island.” translated Tim. The only thing I could remember from the tropical island of China, Hainan Island, was the overcrowded beaches with people offering live crocodiles for souvenir photos.  Not trees! And my knowledge of Chinese antiques was based on a few trips to Panjiayuan market in Beijing where the artefacts spread on newspaper in the street looked the same as the multi-million exhibits shown in glossy Sotheby's brochures. I was hoping to see original antiques in palaces across the country but instead I was finding empty rooms with bare walls and the occasional modern piece of furniture. The inventory at the tea room in Chengdu looked the same as the table and chairs Mr and Mrs Chu were using. Considering there was no protection on the surface of the table, like a cloth or tray to put the hot teapot on, I guessed that the wood, even though it looked so nice, wasn’t that old. “The table must be younger then you.” And the corner of his lips, tightly closed until now, opened up showing teeth in a variety of yellow hues. I felt stupid. Tim took his jacket off and started translating very fast. “Ming Dynasty, 300 to 350 years old.  Mr Chu was working as architect in 1925 and was given a table and two chairs as a token for the good work he did preparing the city for its opening to the public for the first time.” “Is the teapot from the Ming Dynasty too?” “Oh no, no, no…we got it from our daughter for our wedding anniversary.”