My Stories

Final Thoughts On My European Adventures

Nothing like “Home Sweet Home” when you’ve been away but as I went through Duty Free in Sydney and stocked up on whiskeys before I picked my luggage up, Van Halen’s “Take Your Whiskey Home” came to mind. I guess I prefer to stumble and fall after all.

So as soon as I got inside my house, I started summarizing our Euro Adventure.

So here are my thoughts on my European Adventures.

Berlin

We just touched the surface of what Berlin had to offer. It’s definitely a city I would like to return to (Barcelona is also in this bucket as we only touched the surface of what Barcelona has to offer in 2016) and explore a bit more, especially the villages outside Berlin like Spandau and it’s Old Town.

I was comfortable with the drink prices but believed that the food in restaurants was a bit expensive especially when you have a family of five eating and drinking, but it was easy to communicate as the places always had an English speaking worker.

The public transport was the best in Europe I’ve seen so far (I’ve heard Switzerland is the top one but I’ve never been there, so I can’t comment on it and when we did Barcelona two years ago, we didn’t use the public transport, so I can’t comment on that either) and the way the train stations are situated, everything is within 2 to 5 minutes walking distance. Plus you can buy those one day cards or five day cards that allows you unlimited travel.

I just hope they fix their airports up and finish off their various capital works projects as it makes the city look like a construction site. Then again Sydney has the same problem with construction sites causing mayhem.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen was a rip off. It didn’t matter where we stopped, everything felt like it was super inflated and it left a bitter taste. The only bitter taste allowed is alcohol.

But the city is good to see even in the wind and rain. Most of the shops had English speaking staff and like all European cities it had construction sites set up around some of their old buildings. Plus their public transport system is excellent and we had no worries navigating.

I wanted to go to the Carlsberg Factory for a tour but time ran away from us.

Tallinn

It was windy, cold and rainy on day one and just windy and cold on day two. Then again it was towards the end of September.

We did Old Town and some of the shopping sites around it, like the train station mall/market like shops and an actual three story shopping centre that I believe was underneath a Hotel.

I felt the prices were okay for food and drink but any clothing price was extremely high which I found strange.

A local store worker told me the beaches are great when it’s summer and to come back to experience it, but I’m biased towards Australia and the beaches we have. Our beaches are fantastic, clean, well patrolled and for those who don’t know how to handle waves, currents and rips, very dangerous.

St Petersburg

It was very show offy like, here is a statue of a previous leader who crushed this country in this war and this statue was made to commemorate the victory and here is a statue of that same leader on his horse, stepping on the Danish snake after this war. And this dogma goes on and on. Here is a palace, here is a weekend Palace, here is a Palace with a Garden, here is the Post Office (which looks like a Palace) and so forth.

Everything is grand, everything has gold and every attraction has fantastic ceiling paintings/murals about some religious event/interpretation. Even the underground train stations.

Communication was difficult as the store workers didn’t have a great grasp of English and doing this city via a tour is totally worth it. There is a “Like A Local” tour via SPB that a few friends did that was highly recommended and it included drinking a lot of vodka and eating Russian style food.

Skopje, Bitola, Ohrid and Struga

The price of food and alcohol and cigarettes is dirt cheap. When it comes to food basically everything is made from scratch. There are no additives and preservatives added. The produce is grown organically with no spraying. The mountainous climate must help in some way. Check out this Vogue article that sums up the food side perfectly.

One Euro gets you 62 Denari or in my case, one Aussie dollar gets you 38 Denari so when you compare that beer is more or less between 30 to 80 Denari and a Macchiato is 30 Denari it’s pretty cheap.

Eating out for five people cost me on average 2500 Denari which comes to about $65 Australian. We had salads, entrees, mains, a lot of beers, soft drinks and sparkling water. For what we had, in Australian I would have paid close to $300 dollars. And because you had so much food you more or less ate one big meal and that was it.

And Ohrid had this ice cream place close to Lake Ohrid that was excellent. We visited that place regularly.

But the hotel prices are the same like Australia, ranging from 70 Euros a night which equates to about $120 Australian. And to hire a car, it cost me 25 Euro a day.

It’s pretty easy to drive here. Just need to watch for tractors on the road who don’t even try and give way or people walking on the road and refusing to move to the side. Otherwise all okay.

But it’s polluted. Everyone just burns shit like the crops they harvested or their rubbish.

Funny thing we arrived in Macedonia and left with the Government getting enough votes to change the constitution for it to be Northern Macedonia.

Visiting this place got me interested to check out the other countries that used to make up Yugoslavia like Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Helsinki and Stockholm we didn’t end up doing due to bad weather, which meant our Cruise ship couldn’t dock, but I made a vow to fly there direct and spend time.

So maybe I already have the embryo of my next trip in mind already. We’ll see what transpires for 2020.

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My Stories, Stupidity

More Macedonia

We stayed in Skopje for a night.

The City Centre is fantastic.

Back in the day, the previous VMRO Government borrowed heaps from the EU and started building monuments and statues on a project called Skopje 2014. The opposing SDS Government kept saying that the costs for the project are excessive and they wanted to see the accounting for it.

In the end, the Skopje 2014 project generated controversy because there was no clear transparent accounting with various estimates for the cost. In other words, people took a lot of monies for their themselves. For example, if the monument would have cost 500,000 Euros, the Government would have claimed it cost 1 million Euros. That’s half a million Euros for the pockets of Government ministers.

When the SDS Government came to power they announced a halt to the project and set up a Commission to investigate the possible removal of some of the monuments. The same deal applies here regardless of who is in power. The Commission might cost 20 million Euros and the Government will show that it cost 21 million Euros. That means another million lost which will somehow end up in the bank account of Government ministers.

Regardless of the Government corruption, Skopje for a tourist looks grand.

Macedonian Gypsy Roma people are everywhere in Skopje. The men are hassling you, trying to sell you anything from fake perfumes, watches, wallets and sunglasses. The women are there begging with little babies, while the children who are able are ready to pickpocket you. Let’s put it this way. They are well organized. But we ignored them and they went away.

And the Old Bazaar is brilliant. Cobblestone lanes weave their way through it. It’s on par to those bazaars you see on the Amalfi Coast in Italy which we got a chance to walk in 2016, or even Old Town in Estonia which we saw with this trip.

The drive from Skopje to Struga was interesting. Based on the kilometers to travel, the drive should be between 90 minutes to 120 minutes. But on the current roads it’s between 180 and 210 minutes.

We passed towns with Albanian flags flying high. I asked the driver why is that. He said it’s because the towns are predominantly Albanian Macedonians. And the pollution surrounding Tetovo, an Albanian town is toxic. The Copper Smelter Plant just spews gasses out into the air. The Government wants the Smelter Plant to put filters on. The Smelter Plant says the Government should pay for it. The Government says the Smelter Plant should pay for it. And no one is paying for it and the air quality is poor.

When you hear these kinds of stories, those green house emission targets and pollution agreements in place between large nothings mean nothing to these countries.

There is history there as well with Albanians in Macedonia wanting to merge with Albania. There is history even further back when Macedonian was part of Yugoslavia and the Serbs at the time came down with an iron fist to any Albanian resurgence. It’s just a melting pot and religion is the furnace.

We passed uncompleted roadworks that were meant to have been finished this year. But they are two to five years behind and the Chinese contractor is requesting an extra 150 million Euro to finish them.

The roads that got built when the country was in Yugoslavia are still in service today. Some are getting resurfaced by the current SDS Government and some are just that bad they have turned into rubble and are not getting resurfaced because the other new road is meant to be in service.

As our driver said, these road works are on an old contract that the previous VMRO Government started and it was well funded at the time but somehow the funds went missing. 150 million of them went missing. So when the new SDS Government came in, they put a halt to the project to investigate the missing funds and in the process broke the contract with the Chinese company which meant the Macedonian Government/People had to pay penalties to the Chinese company.

It’s obvious the country has a lot of other issues and the name dispute is just one of many.

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