Archive for February, 2003

It’s Cool in Korcula

Zadravo All

This week I am in Korcula, which is an island off the coast of Croatia. As well as being the birthplace of Marco Polo, Korcula is famous for wine, crystal clear waters, beaches and sunshine.

Despite the fact that is is still a bit chilly (and I had to fight my way through 2m snow drifts to get here) it is absolutely gorgeous here. I have been spending plenty of time “chilling out” reading books in the sunshine on sidewalk cafes, beaches etc.

The other benefit of Korcula is that, like much of Dalmatia it is an almost untouched 13th century town, and is fantastic to just wander around.

It has been pointed out to me that my last email would have been more interesting had I extended my experience a ‘bit more’ with an; arrest at gunpoint / detainment in a heavily fortified prison / physical torture / a daring escape through an undiscovered tunnel (left over from the war) under darkness / an explosion of stockpiled ammunition that blows up and destroys the whole of Bratislava with the subsequent fires….AND a smart, beautiful MI5 spy who masterminded my liberation and falls in love with me!

If only!

Since Bratislava I have spent a few days in Vienna which was enjoyable but spoiled slightly by WW2 bombing and thoughtless rebuilding thereafter. If you have a choice and want to experience the joys of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then go to Budapest instead, it’s much more beautiful (and cheaper!)

From Vienna I caught the train through Slovenia to Zagreb which, (in the snow) would have to be the most scenically beautiful trip imaginable. Very very “Christmas Card” the whole way, and the hours flew by in no time.

Zagreb is an attractive 18th Century city with a very powerful positive vibe. The people are very patriotic and the war did have a big impact, but a little like the Czech Republic there is a real positive feel about the place. Be warned though, Croatia is not a cheap place. Property prices etc. are very high and four sausages costs USD10.

From Zagreb I caught the train to Split, which is a beautiful Roman City. Unlike most Roman Cities it has people living in it. It was a strange sensation sitting in a 4th Century AD Roman temple sending an email while watching the locals install an new LG Air conditioner.

And so here I am in Korcula.

From here I plan to visit to Sarajevo in Bosnia, then down the coast to Dubrovnik from where I will make my way to Venice for the Carnival. As the attached photo shows, the locals are already getting into “Carnival mode” here.

It’s carnival time!

After that I head back to Prague to start my new (grossly underpaid) job on the 14th of March. I doubt I will be doing it that long as I already have some interesting “irons in the fire” in Budapest, but as I think I’ve already said, it does provide a great starting point for Prague.

Dovidenja

 

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In this exciting episode

You may recall that in the last episode our intrepid hero was attempting to infiltrate himself in the eastern block – planning indeed to blend in with the locals by working with them and speaking their language.

Tune in this week to see our hero escape by foot from a grey Stalinist city back to Western Europe and tangle with border guards. . .

It’s been an interesting fortnight actually. I’ve made terrific progress in Prague.

So I do now have a phone, and have almost finalised a job.

The job doesn’t start till the middle of March, so I have had time to do a bit of travelling, (and will manage to fit a bit more in yet)

So I thought, why not go to Bratislava?

Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia which is the other half of what was Czechoslovakia and so seemed worth a visit albeit that it’s not a tourist destination.

I like going to places that aren’t popular with tourists, Sometimes you discover places that are beautiful and unspoilt. Of course sometimes you discover places that aren’t popular with tourists for a reason – they are horrible!

To be fair, Bratislava has a very attractive 1 sq kilometre of medieval city, somewhat akin to a randomly selected 1 sq km of Prague, just not as well maintained. The Museum is also very good.

Bratislava also has a medieval castle, but the fact that it burnt down in the 19th century and the current version was rebuilt by the Communists in 1950 somewhat spoils the magic.

The rest of Bratislava is grey, Stalinist, pre-fabricated concrete and horrible. I have enclosed a couple of photos, one showing a view of the Danube (check that skyline!) and another shows Slovakia’s national liberation monument. The statues look a bit unhappy I think, but this is only in keeping with the rest of the populace who also seem to try hard to blend in with the greyness.

Happy Liberated Ones

So after three days I’d had enough. Luckily I had an open dated rail ticket to Vienna, so I checked out of the 1970s retro Stalinist Hotel Kiev, and made my way to the train station to learn that the Slovak Public Transport system was on strike – indefinitely!

Had this been another place I might have retuned to the hotel and carried on searching for the hidden cameras, but instead I felt a compelling need to move along. I had also pre-paid for accommodation that night in Vienna.

So I caught a local bus to a suburb near the border and walked across into Austria.

Quite interesting really, as there was still a strong cold war feel about the border, and they were also a bit “surprised” that I was doing it on foot.

In any case, after walking about 7 km, and being stopped at gunpoint by some Austrian border guards who jumped out from behind a bush, I eventually found an Austrian railway station, and here I am safe and sound in Vienna.

From here I am going to head down to Zagreb, then Split, Dubrovnik and Sarajevo – which is now apparently reasonably safe.

Auf Wiedersehen.

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