Category Archives: Russia

South Wales, Iron and Coal – Donetsk and Aberfan

Rhondda Valley Wales

“The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have three different names.” – T.S.Eliot

Leaving Vaynor my pal had another interesting story for me about a Welsh industrialist, a man called John Hughes who actually was a Welshman rather than an English industrialist, born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, where his father was head engineer at the Crawshay’s Cyfarthfa Ironworks.

He was so successful that by the 1840s he had made his reputation and his fortune by patenting a number of inventions in armaments and armour plating.  By the age of twenty-eight he owned a shipyard and eight years later a foundry in nearby Newport.  During the 1850s he won worldwide recognition for the iron cladding of wooden warships for the British Admiralty.

cyfarthfa_ironworks-by-penry_williams_1825

Now we are coming to the best part of the story –  In 1868 Hughes received a commission from the Imperial Russian Government of Alexander II for the plating of a Russian naval fortress and a concession to develop a metal works industry in the Country.  No mean feat I imagine, there must have been a lot of competition from nearby Prussia with Otto Von Bismarck’s industrialisation policy of Blut und Eissen.

Hughes formed the New Russia Company Ltd. and in the summer of 1870, at the age of fifty-five, he moved with his family to live in Russia. He sailed with eight ships, with not only all the equipment necessary to establish a metal works but also much of the skilled labour, a group of about a hundred hand-picked specialist iron workers and miners  from South Wales.

donetsk

He quickly identified a suitable site for development in the Ukraine and started to build a modern metal works that had eight blast furnaces – a huge financial investment for that time. During the 1870s collieries were constructed, iron ore mines were sunk and brick-works and other facilities including a railway infrastructure were established to make the works a self-sufficient industrial development.

The factory complex gave its name to a new town – Yuzovska or in English (Welsh if you prefer) Hughesovka  and Hughes personally provided a hospital, schools, bath houses, tea rooms, a fire brigade and an Anglican church. The land around the metal works quickly grew to become an industrial and cultural centre in the region and by the start of the First-World-War the works were the largest in the Russian Empire, producing three-quarters of all Russian iron.

donetsk

Just a few years later the Bolshevik Revolution Reds chased the Hughes family out of Russia but during the Soviet period the steel industry was expanded. In 1924, it was renamed Stalino and It was renamed again in 1961 as Donetsk, the city today remains an important centre for coal mining and the steel industry.

I have always been fascinated with the way that in Russia they just rename places on a whim.  St Petersburg to Leningrad and back again, Tsaritsyn to Volgograd to Stalingrad and back to Volgograd.  The city of Rybinsk, two hundred miles north of Moscow has had nine name changes in the last two hundred years.  If we did this sort of thing in the UK then Grantham in Lincolnshire would be Thatcherville and Tredegar in Wales would be Kinnockstown.

After bypassing the once great town of Merthyr Tydfil (still the tenth largest in Wales) we entered the second Rhonnda Valley, Rhondda Fach and headed south towards the town of Ferndale where, after missing it the first time, we took a narrow mountain road towards the village of Llanwonno.

Now I had been to two Rhonddas this year, Ronda in Andalusia in Spain and now the two Rhondda Valleys in South Wales – three Rhonddas in fact!

On the way we stopped several times to look down into the valley below and reflect on mining history of the towns in the valleys of South Wales.  One time we stopped near an old spoil heap built dangerously high above the houses below and this was especially significant because we were close now to the fiftieth anniversary of the nearby Aberfan disaster.

On October 21st 1966 there was a terrible tragedy in South Wales when after days of heavy rain a primary school was engulfed with waste from a coal tip that had become dangerously unstable and eventually collapsed.

As the mountain slipped and the earth roared can you imagine anything so terrifying?  I don’t think that I can.  Like an earthquake perhaps as buildings are demolished or a volcanic eruption and a stream of deadly lava but instead of molten ash a stream of cold wet coal dust.  The slurry slid down Merthyr Mountain behind the village at about nine o’clock just as the school was starting the business of the day, killing one hundred and sixteen children and twenty-eight adults.  A whole generation swept away in a matter of seconds.

I can remember the day quite clearly because I think it was the first time in my life (I was twelve years old) that such an incident made an impact upon me and I recall watching the television news footage and the terrible despair of the community.  I visited the memorial cemetery there  in 1973 when I was living in Cardiff.

The old slag heaps have been stabilised now and planted over with trees to make them blend in but there is no really easy way to disguise them and even now they can be easily identified by the conical man-made peaks which do not sit so well with the undulating rhythm of the natural environment.

Old Slag Heap South Wales

An alternative Donald Trump inspired Disney EPCOT World Showcase

trump-hall-of-presidents

Following the unexpected election of Donald J Trump to the office of President of the United States the Walt Disney Corporation may find it necessary to have a rethink about the way countries are represented at EPCOT World Showcase at World Disney World in Florida to more accurately reflect the thinking and the policies of the new Commander in Chief.

Here are some ideas that they might consider…

Starting with China the Temple of Heaven could easily be demolished and replaced with a replica of the Great Wall of China to reflect an immigration policy which will redesign the USA/Mexico border with the construction of Trump’s Great Wall of Texas/New Mexico/Arizona/California.

great-wall-of-china

Rather appropriately we come now straight to Mexico which could be completely redesigned with the removal of the Aztec Temple and the boat ride El Rio del Tiempo with its audio-animatronic figures clad in authentic folk clothing, singing, dancing, and playing music. They are all way too happy and friendly and I suggest should be replaced with a Western theme based entirely on the movie ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which will emphasise the Trump image of Mexicans as fearsome gun-toting criminals showing no respect to their neighbours and swarming illegally over the borders of their village.

magnificent-seven

No really big changes required at Norway except for more emphasis on Elves and Fairies because these are the sort of mythical creatures that Donald consults with at his policy think-tank meetings and a lot more Trolls because he is good at being sexist and insulting and trolling is the basis of his interactions with normal and respectable people.

Little People Elves Iceland

Belgium is a beautiful city” Trump said during a rally in Atlanta, Georgia.

Donald doesn’t seem to have an especially good understanding of the complexities of Europe and the diversity of its constituent countries so to make it easy for visitors it would be a good idea to simply amalgamate Germany, France and Italy into one brand new attraction called the European Union and put the Eiffel Tower in amongst the canals of Venice and next to the Brandenburg Gate.

The United Kingdom could be included if it wasn’t for the distracting issue of the referendum and the decision to leave the EU but thinking ahead it would make sense to place the two attractions side by side so that they could easily be integrated if the democratic decision of the British people is overturned by the Remainers.

epcot-eu

Until that issue is resolved the United Kingdom should remain mostly unchanged to reflect the ‘special relationship’ that Donald has promised to maintain but with one important addition to represent his own personal ‘special relationship’  a waxwork image of his pal and UK BREXIT champion Nigel Farage might be placed at the bar of the Rose and Crown pub.

nigel-farage

The concept of Neighbouring Canada is designed to represent the great healthy outdoors with a canyon and a lake with a waterfall and a healthy forest but to reflect Trump’s threatened environmental policies and a reckless denial of global warming it might have to go through a complete remodelling and a whole different sort of attraction.

My suggestion is forest of stumps, trees killed by acid rain.

dead-forest

Currently the only country at Epcot that represents the Muslim world is Morocco where six shops decorate the pavilion which showcase Moroccan art and skills, selling visitors everything from rugs to leather goods and traditional Moroccan clothing.

Donald of course has little or no respect for Islam and seems to regard them all as treacherous terrorists so all of these representations of art and culture and peaceful religion I am afraid will have to go and will need to be replaced with exhibits that explain just how sinister and dangerous these people are.

bomb-factory

With Donald reassessing his foreign policy alternatives and threatening to withdraw support from traditional allies then there will no place in the new EPCOT World Showcase for poor Japan who I recommend simply be replaced by new allies Russia and a replica of Red Square and the Kremlin and a Victory Day Military Parade ride.

victory-day-parade-2016

That only leaves USA and there seems no urgent need for change in this pavilion, Donald has promised great things and Hillary has said ‘give the guy a chance’ and anyway, there are four years of Trump Presidency so if he fails or lets people down we can return to World Showcase USA and make any changes we want any time we want.

Anybody else got any suggestions for a restructured World Showcase?

EPCOT USA

If you are at all interested you can check out my original World Showcase post here… 

Around The World in Eighty Minutes

European Capital of Culture 2000 – Krakow

On the second day of our visit to Krakow there were two groups with very different plans.  Micky, Sue and Christine were going to visit Auschwitz but as we had been before Kim and I chose Mike’s Crazy Communist Tour instead.

We had seen this on a Michael Palin travel programme and it looked like fun so we were keen to give it a try.

To be honest, we were all a bit surprised that Christine wanted to go to Auschwitz because when we had visited Seville the previous year she refused to visit a bull ring because animals had been killed there but she didn’t seem to mind visiting a Nazi concentration camp where over a million and a half people were abused, tortured and murdered.

Auschwitz

After an early breakfast the Auschwitz group set off in their taxi and with an hour to spare before our trip we walked around the streets of Kazimierz, through buildings that were little more than empty shells with rapidly deteriorating structures, through the grounds of a grand church and into the main square that used to be even more important than the market square in Krakow itself.

Without a street map we inevitably became confused and ever so slightly lost and only made it back just in time for our scheduled nine-thirty pick up.

The feature of the tour is that the transport is in an original ‘communist’ Trabant car with the promise of a ‘crazy’ driver and sure enough outside our hotel was the vehicle and the driver who presented himself as Eric and who immediately introduced us to the features of the car.

The Trabant (which in medieval German was a foot soldier or personal guard) was an automobile that was produced in former East Germany and was the most common vehicle in that country but was also exported to neighbours inside the communist bloc and sometimes even to the west.

It was called the People’s Car and was so popular and production was so inefficient, that it could take up to fifteen years to deliver after placing the order.  The main selling point was that it had room for four adults and luggage in a compact, light and durable shell, which western critics mocked and suggested was made of cardboard but was in fact a sort of fibreglass/plastic.

There were four principal variants of the Trabant, ours was the 601 Station Wagon model, hand painted in black with socialist red trim and finishes.  Eric explained that the engine was a small 600cc two-stroke power unit with only two cylinders which gave the vehicle a modest performance with a top speed of seventy miles per hour and zero to sixty taking twenty-one seconds at full throttle ( for a rather pointless comparison a modern formula one car will achieve 0 to 60 in under two seconds).

There were two main problems with the engine, the smoky exhaust and the pollution because the car was responsible for producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxide emissions of the average modern European car.

Eric explained that the car had no fuel gauge so even though there was a small reserve tank getting to a destination could be a bit of a guessing game and require a large stroke of luck.  Because there was no fuel pump in the car the petrol tank was placed high up in the engine compartment so that fuel could be fed directly to the carburetor by way of gravity.  As the engine does not have an oil injection system two-stroke oil has to be added to the fuel tank every time it is filled up, which I imagine is a bit of a chore.

This all sounded rather dangerous to me because you have to open the bonnet to refuel and after a run to the petrol station it would be almost certain that the engine will be hot so I imagine it takes a great deal of concentration and Indiana Jones type nerves of steel to visit the filling station!

Nowa Huta Krakow Poland

Keeping a car like this roadworthy probably requires divine intervention but once on board Eric carefully negotiated his way out of Kazimierz and towards the main road that would take us to our destination, the communist model new town of Nowa Huta, to the east of Krakow.

Inside, the car was basic with rudimentary controls and dashboard.  The four speed gear box was operated by a column mounted gear change which looked quite tricky to me but Eric seemed to know his way around the gears well enough and he guided us effortlessly through the early morning traffic.  One of the problems he pointed out was that other drivers didn’t often show a lot of respect to the little Trabant and this sometimes made progress slow and difficult.

I was moderately relaxed even though I knew that if the inefficient drum brakes ever failed and there was an accident that my legs were effectively the crumple zone and just a few centimetres in front of my face was the fragile little petrol tank ready to burst into flames and there was a couple of occasions when I found myself operating an imaginary foot brake and Kim admitted later that even though she was in the back seat that she was doing the same.

It took about twenty minutes to drive to our destination and in between dodging the gaping potholes and keeping an eye out for discourteous fellow road users, in preparation for the tour and over the clatter of the engine and the creaking of the chassis, Eric kept up an informative narrative about the history of communism in Poland.

It was great fun especially as we rattled over tramlines and Eric fought with the steering controls to negotiate some tight bends but eventually we arrived at our destination, left the car and began our visit to Nowa Huta.

http://www.crazyguides.com/

An Alternative World Showcase at EPCOT

American Adventure

“When you grow up in America you are inculcated from the earliest age that America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth because God likes us best.  It has the most perfect form of government, the most exciting sporting events, the tastiest food and the amplest portions, the largest cars, the most abundant natural resources, the most productive farms and the friendliest, most decent and most patriotic folk on earth” – Bill Bryson, ‘The Lost Continent’

Some time ago I wrote a post about a visit to Florida and a day at Walt Disney Epcot and an hour or two in the World Showcase.  I called it Around the World in Eighty Minutes” and I took a look at the eleven countries represented there – USA, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Norway, France and Morocco.

In the course of writing, dragging up memories and doing some research I started to think more deeply about World Showcase and became intrigued by the rationale behind the concept, design and construction and in particular the reasons why these eleven countries in particular were chosen for inclusion in the park.

epcot map 2

This is partly explained by the fact that at the time of construction the Walt Disney Corporation was at a watershed moment.  Walt Disney had recently died and with him passed the inspirational concept of the whole park.  The accountants had taken over and with mounting costs of construction and seriously strapped for cash, tried to find sponsors for the showcased countries and failed in all but one attempt – Morocco.

The bottom line is that selection and inclusion was based on simple economics.

This also explains why some of the Pavilions are so disappointing, the absence of rides and attractions and the over reliance on shops and restaurants all designed to get visitors to part with their money.

But the failure to attract government sponsorship or private sector investment still leaves us with almost a dozen countries and no explanation why these eleven so I have been giving the matter some thought and whilst at first the inclusion appears to be rather random I think there is a credible reason for almost all of them.

The United States is of course obvious and requires no explanation for its inclusion or for the fact that it occupies the prime position on the World Showcase Lagoon and is the biggest and the most lavish and expensive of all the Pavilions.

Canada EPCOT Postcard  044 Mexico EPCOT

Canada and Mexico are also easily explained.  It would be rude I suppose not to have your nearest neighbours ( it would be like EPCOT World Showcase in England without Wales and Scotland) but there are some important statistics that reveal that it is not just about being neighbourly.

In terms of tourism by international visitors these two countries make up over half of all travellers visiting the United States and according to official data Canada with almost twenty-three million visitors provided 33% of all international visitors and Mexico with seventeen and a half million contributed 24%.  Way behind in third place was United Kingdom with only 5%.

The inclusion of Mexico is even more easily explained by looking at population statistics that reveal that the second highest number of foreign born residents in the United States (by a very long way) is Mexican.

It is easy to see therefore that the inclusion of these two countries makes obvious commercial sense.  Strange however, and this is just a personal view, that the two Pavilions provide the contrast between the best (Mexico) and one of the worst (Canada).

EPCOT England   germany world showcase 1

And so we move on to Europe with five of the eleven Pavilions coming from the second smallest continent –  but why these five?  Why not Spain or Greece, Poland or Sweden and once again I am rather easily convinced that it is based on US ethnic heritage and visitor numbers.

In terms of ancestry the top ten European nationalities (in this order) are Germany, Ireland, England, Italy, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden.  Germany (at 17%) genuinely surprised me and explained immediately why it is at World Showcase but (at almost 11%) why no Ireland? Why Norway and not Sweden? I suppose Poland, at the time of construction, was part of the Warsaw Pact alliance and that might have ruled it out but why not Holland because surely all of those windmills and canals would have made a great attraction.

Visitor numbers also explain why these countries are here because four of the five (but not Norway) are in the top ten of international visitors to the United States.

ITALY EPCOT  Boulogne Street Entertainer

Japan and China must surely also be explained by visitor numbers.  After Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom Japan contributes the fourth most visitors to the United States and China is also firmly in the top ten. Conversely, in the top ten but not represented at EPCOT are Brazil, India and Australia.

Of all the countries at the EPCOT World Showcase I suppose the easiest to explain is Morocco and this is in part due to the fact that the Pavilion was the only one in which the country’s government aided in the construction and they did this so that they could retain some measure of Islamist control over the design of the mosaics and to ensure that everything was as authentic as possible in the representation of the Muslim faith.  So authentic in fact that there is a story that it was deliberately constructed with deliberate errors because Muslims believe that only God is perfect (might be true, might not).

Epcot World Showcase

So who is missing?  Well, there is nothing from South America but the United Kingdom itself provides more visitors to the USA than the whole of Latin America combined so perhaps there is a clue there?  Apart from state funded Morocco there is nothing from Africa which might be considered surprising when 13% of the US population are of African descent but (and here is the crucial commercial factor) visitor numbers from the African continent are the smallest of all at only three hundred and twenty-seven thousand in 2014.

There is a small African Trading Post and Disney excuses the omission by pointing out that there is an entire African themed park at the nearby Animal Kingdom.

Finally, I have been giving some consideration to an alternative World Showcase and here are my suggestions:

Moscow Metro Park Pobedy

Parthenon Acropolis Athens

First, Australia with an IMAX film narrated by Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue and a ride based on the theme of the World’s deadliest snakes.

Then Russia  because now the Cold War is ended there must surely be space for Red Square and the Kremlin and a Moscow Metro ride.

Next, Brazil, with a ride based on the Rio Carnival and then Peru because Machu Picchu would be a good replacement for the Mexico Aztec pyramid.

After that, Egypt with a Nile Cruise ride;  India and a train journey ride to visit the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple of Amritsar and  perhaps Equatorial Africa, which was once suggested but abandoned.

And from Europe:  Greece with a visit to Mount Olympus to meet the mythical gods in an animatronic show, each one popping up in turn to introduce themselves; Spain and the legend of El Cid and the Conquistadors and the Netherlands with a cruise of the Amsterdam canals (leaving out the red light district as not being entirely appropriate for children).

And finally, wouldn’t it be fun to include the World’s smallest sovereign state – The Vatican where Disney cast members would be dressed as priests and nuns and with a roller coaster ride around St Peter’s Basilica!

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura Spain  Amsterdam by DelphSt Peter's Square, Rome  Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Whoops, Sorry, I nearly forgot Ireland, lets have twelve countries (it’s my list and my rules) and let’s  have a visit to the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway (sponsored by Guinness).

Please let me know your suggestions, I would be interested in your suggestions…

 

Review of 2015 – Top Ten Posts

Ireland Inch Beach

As we nail down 2015, please excuse my annual self-indulgent post to begin the new year as I look back over the last one.  I have ignored the WordPress annual statement to produce my own review.

The top ten most visited posts on my Travel Blog always surprise me but then I don’t pretend to understand how search engines work.  I say visited pages rather than read because I am neither conceited enough or sufficiently naive to claim that a visit equals a read.  I know that a lot of people will arrive here by mistake and swiftly reverse back out via the escape button!

Just to go back a bit, in 2012 the site recorded 170,900 visits and I was optimistic that as I kept posting this number was just going to keep going up but then in February 2013 Google made some devastating changes to its search algorithms and the numbers halved overnight and have never fully recovered. I finished 2013 with 79,470, a decrease of 115%.

I thought it was important to keep going so in 2014 I posted 320 times and the total number of visits recorded was just over 101,000 so there was some significant recovery.  2015 has not seen the same level of improvement but there has been consolidation.  I have posted 311 times and the number of reported visits is 106,600, an increase of just 5.5%.

These are the Top Ten posts of 2015:

No. 1 

Gaudi Casa Batlo Barcelona Catalonia Spain

Catalonia, Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi

No change at the top this year and this post has recorded 8,715 visits which is over 3,000 more than last.  I posted this in August 2013 following a week touring Catalonia and pulling in a visit to Barcelona along the way.

I’d like to think that this is because it is a knowledgeable and scholarly assessment of Gaudi’s architectural contribution to the urban World but I think it is more likely because the image attracts visitors as it easily found in a Google search and people seem to like it because it has been copied several times!

No. 2

royal-garden-party

Royal Garden Party

5,870 hits, up from 3,300 and staying in the Top Ten for the sixth successive year which by that measure makes it my most successful post.

In total it has 17,800 visits which makes all time second after my post about  Norway, Haugesund and the Vikings. This one has been around for a long time ( since June 2009) and has always been popular especially around the Spring and Summer when invitations to the Royal Garden Party are going out and when people are wondering how to get one or what to wear if they have one.

No. 3

Vesuvius Naples Italy

Mount Vesuvius

This one has been around a while as well and with 1,610 hits and a fifth year in the Top Ten is becoming a stubborn stayer.  A bit of a surprise to me really because this is the account of a day trip to Mount Vesuvius whilst on a holiday to Sorrento in 1976 with my dad.  From my memories of the same holiday I posted several blogs about visits to CapriNaplesPompeiiThe Amalfi Drive and Rome but these have only achieved a handful of hits between them.

No. 4

Antoni Gaudi and me

Alternative Twelve Treasures of Spain – Antoni Gaudi

A second top ten appearance again this year for the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi  (maybe I am an expert on Gaudi after all).  After I had taken a look at the official Twelve Treasures of Spain I thought it might be fun to draw up my own personal alternative list.  I included Antoni Gaudi in a general rather than a specific way.  I posted this in March 2013 and this year with 1,455 visits it has risen five places to number four.

No. 5

Angry Man Skelligs Viewpoint Kerry Ireland

Ireland, Ring of Kerry and I Temporarily Overcome My Fear of Dogs.

This is the first of this year’s new entries with a surprising 1,325 visits and no convincing explanation why that should be.

I visited Southern Ireland in June 2014 and wrote several posts that I personally would consider more interesting than this encounter with a grumpy street entertainer and a worn out old collie dog.  Once again, and rather disappointingly, I suspect it isn’t the words but the picture that grabs attention.  It was a map of the Ring of Kerry which I noticed displayed on the front of a shop.

No. 6

L'Escala Costa Brava

Catalonia, In Search of Norman Lewis

The second of this year’s new entries and I must confess that I am rather pleased about this one.

There are some posts that I have written that I would like people to read and this is one of few that have achieved that. Before visiting Catalonia in 2014 I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis which is an account of the Costa Brava in the 1940s and the approach of mass tourism.  In this post I attempted some research and some interpretation of the book and the area.  It has recorded 977 visits and in this case I like to think that this is because of the subject rather than the pictures.

No. 7

wieliczka salt mine

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

This post has also been a consistent performer with five years in the top ten but in terms of visits is this year’s biggest loser, down almost 3,200 hits to just 790, dropping four places from last year’s number two and if that slide continues I expect it to be gone next year.  I posted this in April 2010 after returning from a visit to Krakow in Poland.  It was a good trip but I am not sure why so many people would hit on it.  It is not as interesting as my trip to Auschwitz or the Crazy Mike Communist Tour.

No. 8

Benidorm Hotel Terrace c1960 

Every Picture Tells a Story – Benidorm c1960

I posted this in March 2010 and it finally made the top ten last year and I am glad to see it there for a second year. It has stayed in this year with 740 visits.   It is actually one of my personal favourites  and is a story about the Spanish seaside resort of  Benidorm inspired by some photographs that I came across of my grandparents on holiday there in about 1960.

No. 9

Volare Domenigo Modungo Polignano a Mare

Italy and Puglia, Domenico Modungo and the Eurovision Song Contest

The last of the new entries and another one that I am pleased about. This is the story of the Italian singer Domenico Modungo.   Domenico who? I hear you ask.  Well, let me tell you that Domenico is renowned for writing and performing what is claimed to be the most famous, most copied, most successful ever Eurovision Song Contest entry and most lucrative in terms of revenue, Italian popular music songs of all time.  Think about it…have you got it…

“Nel blu dipinto di blu” or most popularly known as “Volare”.  With 656 visits it has only just about crept in to the top ten but I am happy to see it there.

No. 10

Tourists The Grand Tour of Europe

Travel Journal

Seventh place with 636 hits and four years in the top ten which demonstrates the importance of an ‘About’ page.

Dropping out of the Top Ten this year are:  Moscow and Lenin’s Mausoleum, The Twelve Treasures of Spain – Seville Cathedral and Weekly Photo Challenge – Signs

If you have read one of these posts or any of the 1,785 others on my site ‘Have Bag, Will Travel’then thank you very much!  I guess it proves that George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life) was right when he said: “The three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”  

On reflection, not a bad year but I still haven’t been Freshly Pressed (Discovered).  Do I care? Well, maybe a little bit!

I’d be interested to know about other people’s most popular posts in 2015 and the possible explanations why?  Comment and let me know.  I’m a sucker for statistics!

home-statistics

Travel Issues, The Standing in Line Dilemma – Wait Your Turn or Push In?

Malta Bus Chaos

This year we visited the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta.  Malta used to have an efficient local bus service which was subjected to privatisation and the whole thing turned belly-up.  The service bombed and suddenly the orderly process of getting a seat on a bus became a competitive mad scramble.

This has made me think about the whole issue of good manners in a queue or a line.

A couple of years ago or so I went to an all-inclusive holiday resort in Turkey where you really did need sharp elbows!  At meal times the crowd started to gather around the locked doors in something reminiscent of the waiting period before the start of a European Cup Final or the US Super Bowl.  As the tension mounted they began snorting and stamping like impatient bulls waiting to be released into the ring, agitating like ancient warriors preparing for a deadly battle and arranging themselves like combatants in a French bus queue.

Five minutes to go and the tattooed ones start to perform a HAKA and terrified men behind the doors  suddenly opened the locks and ran for their lives as a tsunami of greed was released.  The whole thing was rather like the first set scrum of a British Lions/New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Test Match, muscles bulging, eyes popping, sweat dripping, elbows flying and fingers gouging and this, let me tell you was only the women!

Catalonia Steeple of People

The majority of the hotel guests were from the UK but there were also quite a lot of people from Russia and Scandinavia and from most other countries in Europe and the nationalities all behave differently when lining up (or not, as the case may be).  Russians and Ukrainians especially don’t like standing in line but I was at an advantage here because I had been to Russia only a year before so  I knew not to hang back when these people are around and I sharpened my elbows and got straight in!

If pushing in was an Olympic sport then Eastern Europeans would be picking up a lot of medals especially if there was a category for barging in because this would require no finesse at all and would be based on simple brute strength as they muscle their way to the front of the line.  Italians would do well in the stealth category because they can slip in with the speed of a stiletto knife and I’d back the Greeks in the opportunistic category because they can slide into a space as thin as a cigarette paper almost as though they had been beamed down from outer space.

Sadly for all of them however they would be destined to be like a British tennis players and they would only ever be left fighting for second place because they would never be able to beat the undisputed champions of pushing-in – the French.  The French don’t believe in distraction or sneaky moves they just move right on in ahead of anyone as though you are holding a door open for them and then look you straight in the eye with a Gallic sneer that says, “I am French and it is my God given right to push in”.  

They really believe this and with the advantage of this being hard-wired into their national psyche they would win over and over again and would be especially good in the being completely rude category.  You would need a police road block to keep your place in a French queue.

Along with the UK, other countries that would not do so well in the games would be the Americans and the Germans who both display exemplary discipline in line but absolutely the worst at this would be the Swiss who I can guarantee would come last every time.

In a French queue, if I am challenged about pushing in my plan is simple, I give an arrogant Gallic shrug, say something like “Bonjour Monsieur, Allez Oop, Vive Jeanne d’Arc, Vive Charles de Gaulle, Merci Beaucoup”  and give a contemptuous sneer as I asserted a natural French divine right to barge in.

So, how do you do it and who gets your vote for best at pushing in?

An orderly queue/line

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate, GUM Department Store in Moscow

GUM Moscow
GUM – the most famous department store in Moscow

This mall was built in the late nineteenth century to replace a covered market and originally contained over a thousand stores.  It is built on three levels with a vaulted glass roof and even today resembles a modern cathedral.  On this first visit, thirsty and hungry we ignored the rows of designer shops and made for No. 57 CTOΛOBAЯ, the recommended restaurant on the third floor with a noble history of providing good quality, reasonably priced food for the proletariat.

We picked up a tray, waited in line, selected our food and took it to our chosen table and it turned out to be really, really good, probably the best meal we had had so far in Russia.

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Cities of Eastern Europe – Moscow

St Basils Cathedral Red Square Moscow

Etched in my mind are grainy images from the 1960s of Russia’s annual May Day Parade when a cheerless looking Politburo would sit close to Lenin’s tomb and watch an endless procession of goose stepping troops and weapons of mass destruction that were going to wipe us off the face of the earth troop by in what seemed to be a provocative display deliberately choreographed to create paranoia and fear in the west.

The pictures were always dull, grainy and grey and my image of Moscow was always that it was a lacklustre, soulless and dreary place so what a surprise it was now to find a vibrant and colourful scene, a square brimming with activity and effervescent energy, a vibrant place with happy smiling people, exciting and lively and crowned by the iconic brightly painted onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral at the opposite end.

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Cities of Eastern Europe – Saint Petersburg

Peter the Great Saint-Petersburg

The next morning we slept in but luckily there was a late start so after a rushed buffet breakfast we were back in hotel reception and gathering with the group ready for the introductory guided tour of Saint-Petersburg.

The coach arrived and after we had all selected our preferred seats the driver edged the bus into the long queue of late rush hour traffic. Actually, as it turned out it was always rush hour in Saint-Petersburg and despite the generously wide streets the roads were continuously congested.

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Warsaw, The Jewish Ghetto and the Warsaw Uprising

Under the shadow of the Palace of Culture and Science I passed now into what was once the Jewish ghetto area.

There is very little to see there of historical significance, the whole area was completely obliterated and razed to the ground by the Nazis and it is now a thriving modern business area with metal and glass skyscrapers that compete architecturally and wide boulevards carving their way to and from the city centre; very different to the Warsaw suburb that became the ghetto in 1940.

Some friends and family have questioned why I would want to go there at all and my explanation is that I thought that it was important.  This is a place where something dreadful happened, a place that perfectly illustrates man’s inhumanity to man and I felt that I needed to go there, breathe the air and walk on the ground where all of this happened.  It is not a place to go to go and see anything, it is a place to go for a personal almost spiritual experience.

In 2008 I went to Auschwitz concentration camp for much the same reason.

Auschwitz

Not everyone likes these stories so I will keep it short.  In pre war Warsaw one third of the population (350,000) were Jews and Poland was a reasonably religiously tolerant country compared to other European countries at the time.

Within a year of occupation the Jews of Warsaw were forced to relocate into an area west of the Vistula which represented just about 5% of the total area of the city – a third of the population in just 5% of the city.  They were treated appallingly, one hundred thousand died of disease and starvation and finally the survivors were moved out and murdered in the death camps.  By 1945 there were no Jews in Warsaw.  You can easily read about it elsewhere if you want to.

I walked the streets and sought out what small reminders there are – a piece of the ghetto wall, the footbridge of memory, a plaque, a monument, a statue but, as I said, there is very little to see.

I was making my way now to another museum, the museum of the Warsaw Uprising.  It was quite a walk, much further than I was expecting and as I got close I worried that it might be closed on a Sunday.  Luckily it was open for business and even better than that, entrance was free!

Warsaw Statue

This turned out to be a very good museum indeed which deals in general with the war years but specifically with the 1944 Warsaw uprising.  It might be surprising to some people but in 1939 Poland fielded the third biggest Allied Army and despite defeat and occupation they never stopped fighting.  Unfortunately they were ultimately let down by the Allied leaders Roosevelt, Churchill and especially Stalin.  Because they were not recognised as an official allied army this meant that the conventions of war did not apply to captured soldiers and prisoners and many were caught and executed.  Eventually Roosevelt insisted that they be officially recognised in a belated attempt to stop the atrocities.

In 1944 the Free Polish army rose up against the Germans in expectation of support from the advancing Red Army.  The support never came.  The Russians stopped their advance short of the River Vistula and cynically allowed the uprising to be quashed with devastating loss of life when an estimated quarter of a million Polish civilians and soldiers were killed.  When it was all over Hitler carried out his plan to destroy the city.

The Polish army officers that survived and took their units into the countryside to continue fighting were eventually rounded up by the Russians, forced to disarm and sent east to Russian labour camps.  The Russians were not good allies even then it seems.  Warsaw and Poland rid itself of one evil regime of occupation and found itself saddled with another that was just as bad.

What the Germans did was inexcusable, they came as open aggressors, what the Russians did was abominable, they came as fake liberators!

I spent a couple of reflective hours around the museum and believe me it is difficult not to feel guilt and shame in almost equal proportions.

It was getting dark when I left and I thought about getting a taxi back to the hotel but then I came to my senses, I hate wasting money on taxis, so I set out to walk the two or three kilometres back to the Polonia Palace.  It took me about half an hour and when I got back Kim was off to the spa for a massage so I opened a bottle of wine and reflected on my day.

I thought about walking out and booking a table in a restaurant but I had done enough walking already and I was reasonably certain that there would be no problem tonight so as quickly as the thought entered my head I let it go again and decided to take a chance.  Sometimes I just like the whiff of danger and the experience of living life on the edge!

Just as I thought there was no problem tonight, the Valentine’s day frenzy was over and we found an authentic Polish restaurant tucked down a back street and we enjoyed the sort of Polish cuisine that we had hoped for the previous night.  It was so good that without consultation we both knew that we would be returning here again the next night.

Warsaw Uprising 1

Warsaw 1945