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Feb. 25th, 2012

From Raul

Dubai, UAE

Dubai supposedly has a population of 2 million but it seems much, much smaller than that to me, I thought it was only about half the size of Dublin. Maybe coming from Shanghai had made the place look smaller that it really is. Apparently half the population is made up of Indians but I didn't notice that so much.

Dubai has the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa) at 830 metres high. Compare this to the tallest building in Dublin, Liberty Hall at 59 metres. It also has the biggest shopping centre in the world which I visited - it didn't seem that impressive to me when I visited it. Just like the city it seemed to be smaller than it actually is.

Here is a photo of some of the local street dudes!

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After coming from China, there didn't seem to be much to Dubai really, here is a typical street scene.

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Here is a photo of the "Burq Khalif", the tallest building in the world. It's a triangular shape with an entrance at each side - one for the hotel, one for the apartments and one for the offices.

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Even though a recession hit in 2008 there is still quite a bit of building going on around the city. All the tall buildings use special construction techniques to keep them from sinking into the soft sand underneath.

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The picture below was taken just outside the Dubai Mall. Everything is very clean and pristine.

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Feb. 12th, 2012

Nerd3

China - Hefei

There is so much to say about China. Big would be the first thing. Arriving into Shanghai is quite an experience. It is the financial centre of the country and according to Wikipedia it is now the biggest metropolis in the world with 23 million people, having increased by about 8 million in the last ten years as people from the countryside flock to the city in search of work and better living conditions.

The picture below shows the Maglev train that runs from the airport to an underground metro station closer to the city centre. It ran at 431 km/h when I was on it. The travel time was about 8 or 9 minutes for a price of 55 yuan (about €7).

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This picture is of the new main train station in the centre of Shanghai, it would be a rival to any airport in the world. It was massive and the vast majority of the trains were bullet trains. They also now have a super-bullet train (even faster) which runs direct to Beijing over 1200 km to the north.

One thing I noticed on the journey to Hefei was that I did not see one single animal in the countryside.

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Hefei (population 6,000,000), capital of Anhui province is about 400 km west of Shanghai. Anhui Province is supposedly the second poorest in all of China. The city has got much bigger in the past few years as poorer people move in from the countryside. Unlike similar cities of its size near the coast, there is no metro system. All transport is by bus or car. Huge elevated motorways have been built all over the city (as seen in the photos below). When I was there, everything appeared grey, dull and full of concrete. The constant rain didn't help. The climate here is much worse than Ireland. It was very cold and wet. Smog is nearly a constant feature, both in Shanghai and Hefei. 

The picture below shows where I was staying in Hefei - on the campus of Anhui University.

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This picture was taken on the way into Hefei city centre from the bus. As ever it was a grey wet day. Almost all roads were 4 or 5 lanes wide on each side. Drivers were crazy, many people on mopeds had no lights or helmets. Cars often drove up on the footpaths (even in the wrong direction). The VW Santana (see the green taxi) was a very popular car in China as VW was one of the first foreign car firms in China. It is a reworked version of an old Passat model from Europe.

The amount of building work going on in China is unbelievable, incredible and amazing. Yes, all three. Tower cranes are in every direcction. Blocks of apartments, 30 or 40 stories high stand in blocks of 9 (3 rows 3 slightly offset to each other) and each group of 9 blocks could be surrounded by another 5 or 6 groups. Hundreds of thousands of homes would fit in the same space as a small town in Ireland. 

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At every big junction there are fly-overs like the picture below. These are very ugly but effective in keeping a city of 6 million on the move. The elevated motorways stretch as far as the eye can see and tower over the small old style buildings on either side. Not pretty at all.

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Here are a picture of typical small Chines shops. Whatever about Shanghai, there is no English at all in Hefei. Tourists would be non existent here and we were viewed with amazement many times by the locals (not my fault!!). The chinese script is very difficult to understand - trying to communicate here, even for the most basic request can be a huge task. The second picture shows one of the gazillion motorcycles that whizz all around the city.

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There is not much left of old China in the big cities. Anything that gets in the way of progress is destroyed or moved. In some places there are a few remaing temples (Confucius was the main man here of course). Here are some temples that I noticed around the city - though I've no idea if they are genuinely old or modern versions of old temples.

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Another wet day, another wide road full of cars. The car in the front of the photo is the VW Lavida, a new model developed by VW purely for the Chinese market and for Chinese tastes. In China, the average consumer is more interested in gadgets and features than economy or comfort and the car manafaturers are taking this into account with their cars. They are well equipped compared to the european models. 

Audi's image in China has been slightly tarnished by the fact that most government officals drive the Audi A6 and these people are very disliked by the common person in the street.

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Supermarkets in China are a relatively new phenomenon. There are still not many in China but the biggest western marques are Carrefour, Metro and then Walmart and Tesco to a lesser extent. Chinese people are very exacting about fresh food and there are little or no frozen food products like in Ireland. The fresher the food the better, this explains the tanks full of live fish, tortoises, crabs and toads which are put into bags (still alive except for the fish) and brought straight home.

The picture below shows people buying large bags of rice, the most basic of all food stuffs. All sorts of strange foods are available. In one aisle,along with crisps and sweets were small packets of chickens feet, raw, flavoured with spices and shrink wrapped. I brought a packet home with me.

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Fancy a live crab?

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These poor guys were heading straight for someones cooking pot.

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These toads were evil looking and waiting for the pot too. Apparently the chinese would enjoy a 'delicacy' like this about once a week.

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Here is a picture of the many spices that can be bought - you wouldn't get this in Ireland!

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This is a picture of the local minibus transport. It's used to connect with the main bus routes across the city and services the smaller areas that the bigger buses wouldn't visit. They're pretty basic as you can see.

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The only day that the sun came out (for an afternoon) was the day we went to Hangzhen, a city to the south of Shanghai. It's supposed to be one of the wealthiest citirs in China, the playground of the rich from Shanghai. I've never seen so many Porsches in one place. The local park was full of temples, bridges and old buildings as below. DSCF1458

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This game was very popular in China.

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This was one of the more impressive buildings. Apparently it is a reconstruction of what did stand there for hundreds of years.

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This is a temple devoted to Confucius.

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Hungry for some boiled duck on sale by the side of the street.

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Sep. 10th, 2011

No Neck

Riga, Latvia

I passed through Riga on the way back from the Ukraine. The city (population 700,000) has turned it's back on the former Soviet Union and it clear to see that it is becoming more western/European. The population was forcibly mixed during the Stalin era in an attempt to  make it as Russian as possible, so much so that by 1989 only 36% of the population of Riga was Latvian. Since then however the population has been changing in the opposite direction so that it is now 44% Latvian and 40% Russian (nationally it is 60% Latvian and 27% Russian).

As per other cities that fell under the soviet sphere of influence, the outskirts are full of communist style blocks but the city centre has managed to keep it's old traditional centre as shown in the photos below.

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The population of Riga has fallen by 300,000 in the past 20 years due to emigration and a low birth rate. All traces of cyrilic script seem to have been removed. As in the Ukraine, the ethnic Russian population consider themselves as 'Russians living in Lativia'. As far as I could tell there are no longer Russian signs in the country, everything is Latvian only.

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Here is one of the few remaining soviet style monuments that I saw in the city centre showing the Russian soldier looking west as defender of the union and the proletariot worker looking east towards Russia.

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Country Bumpkin

Yalta, Ukraine

Yalta is most famous for the Yalta Conference held in February 1945 which decided the fate of post-war Europe and the start of the 40 year long cold war. For me it was my second visit to the Ukraine (the first was back in the 1990's as part of the Irish Swimming Team invited to the Ukrainian National Swimming Championships). This time round it was to take part in the European Masters Swimming Championships. I went with John Ryan and his wife Sharon from New Ross.

The city has a population of 80,000 and is located in the very south of of Ukraine, on the Crimean peninsula. Here is a photo of the main hotel in Yalta (I stayed at a diffferent hotel further up the hill).

From Wikipedia: During the 20th century Yalta was the principal holiday resort of the Soviet Union. In 1920, Vladimir Lenin issued a decree "On the Use of Crimea for the Medical Treatment of the Working People" which endorsed the region's transformation from a fairly exclusive resort area into a recreation facility for tired proletarians. Numerous workers' sanatoria were constructed in and around Yalta. There were, in fact, few other places that Soviet citizens could come for a seaside holiday, as foreign travel was forbidden to all but a handful. The Soviet elite also came to Yalta; the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin used the Massandra Palace as his summer residence.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Yalta has struggled economically. Many of the nouveaux riches started going to other European holiday resorts, now that they had the freedom and money to travel; conversely, the impoverishment of many ex-Soviet citizens meant that they could no longer afford to go to Yalta. The town's transport links have been significantly reduced with the end of almost all passenger traffic by sea. The longest trolleybus line in Europe goes from the train station in Simferopol to Yalta (almost 90 km). Most of the tourists here are from countries of the former Soviet Union. Foreigners (this would be approximately 7% to the total number of tourists visiting Yalta) are mostly from Europe and United States.

Stalin, never imagining the break-up of the Soviet Union, transferred the Crimea to Ukraine from the Russian Federation in 1954. To do this day it contains a large russian population with Russian being the majority tongue. The vast majority of the people are very pro-Russian and consider themselves as "Russians living in Ukraine" rather than "Ukrainian".


The last time I was in the Ukraine it was in Kiev in the middle of winter a few years after the break up of the Soviet Union. This time it was in the middle of summer in Yalta. The differences in the 15 years since my first visit were obvious - but many things also did not change. For example the cars which were all Lada's the first time round were now a mixture of modern 4 x 4's like BMW, Mercedes and Lexus mixed in with 20-30 year old Ladas - obviously some people had benefitter more than others from embracing capitalism (or more likey, crime).

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An interesting sign in Yalta...

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Here is one of the many unfinished and abandoned buildings in Yalta.

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Most buildings in the city were a mixture of old and beaufiful churches, horrible soviet style blocks from the 60's and 70's to an array of half finished and deserted buildings from the last decade. These buildings were originally meant as modern luxurious hotels  to service the tourist trade in an attempt to make Yalta a luxury resorting competing with the likes of Croatian and Greek resorts. Of course this didn't happen for the reasons mentioned in the Wiki article above.

This is a picture of the outside of the train station, note the Red Star still alive and well!

Outside Yalta Train Station, note the Red Star!


Here is a picture of some of the trains, still in working order from the soviet era.

Some old soviet style trains at the station


Here is the competition pool, outdoor 50 metres. Note the unfinished hotel in the background.

The competition pool, 50m outdoor


This is the warm up pool (outdoor, 25m pool) which was built just for the competition and dismantled afterwards. Note another unfinished building to the side.
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This is my luxurious hotel room, furnished in true 70's style Soviet decor.

My luxurious soviet 70's style hotel room

The next two pictures are of the high class bathroom of the hotel room. Apparently this was one of the better room
as as it had it's own bathrooom.

My luxurious soviet 70's style bathroom
My luxurious soviet 70's style bathroom

The cit centre itself is very busy with a lot of posh shopping areas which serve the rich tourists that come here, many by cruise liners. There is a park nearby which is dominated by Lenin, still revered in these parts. It is customary in this area to smoke a 'fruit drink' which originated from Turkey at the other side of the black sea. This cost about €10 and the idea is that you smoke it after your meal. 

Very few people speak any English, some of the younger people can speak a few words from what they have learned. Some people can also speak German (e.g. when I went to the bank the woman could only speak German but no English).

Three weeks after returning to Ireland from the Ukraine, John got a phone call from bank in New Ross asking him if he had bought a bullet proof vest for €1,100 in Yalta, Ukraine. Somebody in Yalta had cloned his card and bought it. John only used his card in the hotel and resturants (all of which were supposed to be top class and secure!).

You would definitely get the feeling that it can be a very dangerous place and is very corrupt.

Here is a picture of the fruit drink bong with John giving it loads.

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Here is the main man, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin overlooking the going-ons in Yalta.

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Here is a cruise liner that had just arrived that day.

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A typical streetscape near the city centre is shown below.

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A tiny eastern orthodox church and a bookshop from the city centre.

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This seems to be the main government building in Yalta, note the hammer and sickle emblem.

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On the last day I took a trip down to one of the main beaches. The only way down is by cable car and you have to pay an entrance fee to get onto the beach. The cable car and the woman cashier  were straight out of 1980's communist glory - it looked they (the woman and the cable car hasn't changed for 50 years). The beach was pretty stoney but the proletariot can forget about that as they enjoy their picnics on the broken cement flagstones and rusting iron tables.

Here is a photo of a soviet army truck parked on a street near the swimming pool.

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The babooshka who was collecting the fares for the cable car:

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The idyllic beach entertainment provided all the facilities required by the exhausted proletariot as shown here in these two photos.

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Here is a photo of the cable car and the sign indicating... erm... whatever.

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Nov. 12th, 2010

Country Bumpkin

Venice, Italy, November 2010

I wasn't expecting too much of Venice before arriving, I had heard from more than one person that it "was alright" and that it was very expensive. It came as a nice surprise then, because it's pretty cool in my opinion, especially if you go with such low expectations as I did.

The train from Slovenia arrives into the city via a long bridge (as Venice is a collection of islands). First impressions could have been weather, it was raining, early morning and cold. We were told that public transport in the city would cost €16 per day (all via boats of course), even in the tourist office we had to pay for a map - but as it turned out it was money very well spent as without a map you would get lost very easily.

Luckily we had the sense not to but the public transport ticket since eveything in the city is within walking distance. It is the only city of its size (275,000 people) in the world that fully functions without roads, cars or lorries. Everything is dependent on the canals around the city. It really is impressive to see it. 

The first picture below shows a typical scene from Venice, the ground floors are rarely used if ever. The second picture shows on the most famous bridges in Venice (whose name I don't know), it has got little shops in each of the arches as you walk across it. The thirs picture shows Piazza San Marco, probably the best known tourist site in Venice. The last picture shows another few residential buildings where boats are used as daily transport (the only place where there are cars is Piazza di Roma where you arrive by car over the bridge from the mainland - you have to park here and it is very expensive).


Gondolas were very expensive to hire and totally tourist orientated, we found a taxi-gondola that transported workers from one side of the main canal to the other and made use of that (and very cheap too at only 50c). 

The pictures below show more of the main canals and famous buildings in Venice. Even in November the city was crammed with tourists. There must be serious money spent here every year.


All in all, Venice was very nice but I would say that a day to a day and a half is all that is really needed to see the main sites. 

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Fingers

Ljubljana, Slovenia, November 2010

When we arrived in Ljubljana (population 280,000) it was already dark. As we only had two more days before flying back to Dublin, we decided we would take the overnight train from Ljubljana to Venice. This meant we would only have a half day to spend in Ljubljana. Even though it was a very nice city it was the right choice, being a small city it was extremely quiet on a November Tuesday evening - we found very few tourists and most restaurants and pubs were empty or closed for the winter season.

We eventually settled on an Irish Pub where we met a few Slovenians that spoke very good English. They were part of a professional poker playing group and one of them had only returned from Ireland the previous week after winning €5000 in a Paddy Power poker competition.

Slovenians speak the Slovene language which is quite like Serbo-Croat but also dissimilar enough that the speakers of either language have difficulty understanding the other. Slovenia was also the first Yugoslave republic to claim independence in 1990. It is also the only republic to have joined the European Union and is a member of Euro-Zone.

The city centre was very clean with nice buildings (as shown in the pictures below), hopefully I will have more to time to visit the city again some day but I would only recommend it during the busier summer season.



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Budapest, Hungary, November 2010

Budapest is a lovely city, it's situated on the Danube, upriver is Bratislava and Vienna while downriver is Vukovar (Croatia) and Belgrade (Serbia). We arrived there early in the moring after the night train from Serbia. Like the other journeys by train we were woken up at around 3 a.m. by the border guards, first on the Serbian side and then on the Hungarian side.

After arriving at the main station, we decided to see the real tourist spots during a visit of the city centre. The first pictures shows the parliament building which was built during the era of the Austrian-Hungarian empire and is located next to the Danube, the third shows the most famous bridge in Budapest, the "Chain" Bridge.
 

The first picture shows some traditional old houses near the city centre which have been well preserved. The second and third photos below are from a place called "Fishermans Bastion" which is described as:

Well-known for the wonderful panoramic views it provides of the city of Budapest, the castle-like Fisherman’s Bastion was built in 1905, mainly for decorative purposes.

Designed by architect Frigyes Schulek and built in 1905, the white-stoned Fisherman’s Bastion is described as a combination of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque - full of turrets, projections, parapets, and climbing stairways.

The Fisherman’s Bastion is made up of seven towers - each one symbolizing one of the seven Magyar tribes that came to Hungary in 896. Some describe the building as almost “Disney-esque”
 
The last picture shows the Buda Castle which was begun way back in the 1200's after Mongol tribes had invaded and conquered what is now Hungary. It was expanded during the Turkish Ottoman occupation from 1541 to 1686 and finally extended again during the Austrian-Hungraian empire in 1810.


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Belgrade, Serbia, November 2010

I was surprised by Belgrade, I just wasn't expecting it to be so nice. Its got wide streets (Avenues or boulevards I suppose they could be called) and plenty of nice buildings - very European and is, in my opinion, a match for better known cities of Europe like Vienna and Budapest.

I think if Yugoslavia had remained as one country it would be a country that offered everything, from a beautiful capital city (Belgrade) to fantastic beaches and medieval cities (Croatia), to castles, lakes and mountains (MonteNegro).

The first picture below shows a street name in the cyrillic script (the offical alphabet of Serbia). It says Ulita Balkanska. The secod picture shows the national theatre. The third picture shows an ugle communist style building which was added during the 1960's - these kind of buildings are not that common in the city centre which of course is a good thing. The last picture shows a Yugo, the national car of communist Yugoslavia, built using old FIAT designs.

  
  

Even though all the nations with the former Yugoslavia are of slavic origin, they follow different religions - this of course is a major reason for much of the historical animosity. The Croatians are Roman Catholics, the Serbians are Easter Orthodox and the Bosnians are mostly Muslim. The first picture below shows a nice orthodox church near the centre of Belgrade while the second picture shows a pretty nice outdoor 50m pool which was near the church.

NATO bombed the city in 1999 during the Kosovo war of independence and some of the damage can still be seen in the city. The third and fourth pictures below show a building that we passed by - it was badly damaged by airstrikes during this time. It was never repaired.

Belgrade is the largest city in Europe  (population 1.8 million) not to have an underground Metro, its good to see then that Dublin is not alone.
 


From Raul

Montenegro, October 2010

Kotor

Crossing from Croatia into MonteNegro involves passing first through the Croatian border police and then about 2 km later the MonteNegran border police - the two sides are not very friendly as MonteNegro and Serbia attacked Croatia in the early 1990's and damaged parts of Dubrovnik also from firing missiles.

Once into MonteNegro proper, the landscape becomes even more mountainous than in Croatia. To arrive to Kotor (which we were told was supposed to be very beautiful) we had to travel right around a lake for at least an hour - we could see the other side of the lake at all times so it felt like a long journey. The first two pictures below show the mountains surroinding the lake. The third picture shows the view as you enter the town (population 13,500) from the north with the entrance to the old city visible in front. The last picture shows the towns harbour.


When we arrived at the bus station, we were approached by a woman offering accomodation for the night (just like in Dubrovnik), the only difference this time was that the woman did not speak a word of English, only Serbo-Croat and German, but we managed to communicate using my basic German and bartered the price down from €25 euros for the room to €15 euros, quite a bargain I thought but then again - as the pictures show - it was pretty damn basic. The house which was a duplex must have been at least a hundred years old and the womans sister lived in the downstairs part of the house.


Another curious thing that we noticed during our trip of the former Yugoslavia is that, as foreign languages go, English does not seem to be highly regarded. On many trains that we travelled on the languages would be in the following order of usage; Serbo-Croat, German, French, Italian and finally English (if it all). At least two trains had all the above languages but no English - I cannot ever remember being in a place before where English was not one of the main languages on signs.

Back to Kotor, the city was occuppied by many different invaders; Venetians, Austrians, Russians, Germans, French and Turks to name a few, however most of the architecture of the old city was built or influenced during the occupation by the Republic of Venice. The four pictures below show various buildings from within the old city walls.



Budva

The following day we decided we would head to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. We found a bus to bring us there and on the way it passed the resort city of Budva (population only 15,000), which is the centre-point of tourism for Montenegro - it's easy to see why, beautiful beaches, buildings and apparently a great night life (which we didn't have the chance to try out). The city is reportedly 2,500 years old. The first picture below shows the view of the main beach on the road to Podgorica (the nations capital). The second picture shows the tourist office in Budva, with the words "Dobro Dosli" (welcome) and also shows that Montenegro, along with Serbia, uses the cyrillic script (the other former yugoslav nations use the latin script exclusively).

It's a pity we didn't have more time to spend in Budva but we had to make the choice between there or Kotor.
 


Podgorica

Before arriving, we knew little of Podgorica (population 150,000), the capital of the recently independent Montenegro (until 2006, Serbia and Montenegro was one country with capital in Belgrade and was all that remained of the former Yugoslavia).

As we moved inland from the coast, the nice views disappeared along with the mountains and the arrival into Podgorica was very disappointing - one of the ugliest places I have ever seen. The outskirts are very industrial with grey concrete factories and warehouses, these are replaced by 1960's style communist flats as you approach the centre. The centre itself is an ugly mish-mash of various tacky looking shops and fast-food restaurants. The first two pictures below show two streetscapes from the city centre.


After reading up on Podgoricas history, an explanation can be found for some of the ugliness. The city was bombed over 70 times during World War and was almost completely destroyed. Post-war the communists took control and made the city the industrial heart of the region, building many factories and soviet style housing to accomodate the growing population. It was named Titograd from 1946 in honour of the Yugoslav dictator, Marshall Tito and reverted back to Podgorica in 1992. Since Montenegro only became independent in 2006, Podgorica has only been a capital city for 4 years. 

In contrast to Dubrovnik (one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in), Podgorica has to be one of the ugliest - it reminded me very much of Cuidad del Este in Paraguay - tacky, ugly, poorly designed. It has a long way to go before it can be compared with the likes of Belgrade and Zagreb.

The final two pictures above show the cabin we were assigned in the train to Belgrade (overnight train, journey time 8 hours at a very slow pace).

One other thing I noticed about the MonteNegrans  - they are extremely tall and they smoke a lot (smoking seems to be permitted everywhere - resturants, shopping centres, public spaces). It's also a very cheap country and even though it is not in the eurozone it does use the Euro as it's currency.

Nov. 10th, 2010

No Neck

Croatia, October 2010

Zadar

We landed in Zadar after landing in RyanAir flight from Dublin. At this time of the year (late October) the nights are very cold and we had to try to find out way to the hotel. First impressions were not good at all, we could not find any taxis so we had to wait outside in the hope we could get a bus (at about 10 p.m. at night). It was freezing cold and the place seemed deserted and not very welcoming but finally the bus arrived which would bring us to the area of the city where the hotel was located.

From here on things got much better.The hotel was one we found in the internet for a cheap price so we expected nothing special, but when we arrived after walking up a hill in almost complete darkness we were pleasantly surprised to find a very modern aprtment-hotel, we had satellite television, air conditioning, kitchen and bedroom. All in all very welcome after the cold start to Croatia.


The following morning we walked around the city (population 100,000). It's located on the Dalmation coast with nice views west to the islands off the coast. There are hundreds of boats in the harbours as can be seen above in the pictures. The old part of the city is also very well preserved and survived attacks ranging from Venice in the 12-13th century, the Ottoman empire during the 15th and 16th centuries, Napolean (1800's), the Italians and Germans (WW2) and Serbia during the War of Indepence during the 1990's.


Dubrovnik

We travelled by bus from Zadar to Dubrovnik which took about 7 hours. The distance is only about 370 kilometres and there is a motorway for abour 200 km of that, but instead of taking the motorway the bus went right along the coast for the whole journey, stopping in some of the main centres on the way. The views were really nice, the weather was perfect too which really made it look special. It was very noticeable that almost the entire coast has been taken up by a continuous line of holiday homes, hotels, B&B's and small towns. Its makes Ireland look like a well planned country in comparison and that's saying something!

One very interesting thing about this journey is that to get to Dubrovnik you have to pass through 23 km of Bosnia-Herzegovinia which has its only coastal access at this point (an area called Neum). Thus Croatia is split into two parts at this point. There are plans by the Croats to get around this problem by building a high bridge from the Croatian mainland to an island and from there back to the southern portion of Croatia thus bypassing Bosnia completely.

On the short journey through Bosnia, the bus made a short pit stop at a petrol station. The bus emptied quickly as everybody rushed en masse to the shop - we followed out of curiosity. The reason soon became clear, cigarettes and alocohol. In Bosnia, apacket of 20 cigarettes range from about 70c for local brands to about €1.30 for the international brands. People were buying packetes of 400 cigarettes as if they were buying bread.

We had been advised not to book any accomodation in Croatia since it is very commong that people will approcah you in the bus or train stations offering accomodation and sure enough on arrival we were offered a B&B room for €25 which we accepted. The woman who owned it drove us from the station to the B&B in her 30 year old Yugo which was very cool ! It was based on the old FIat 128 design and was built by communist Yugoslavia for many years at the socalist workers Ferrari. They must have been pretty well built to last 30 years all the same.
 
The following morning we could immediately see why Dubrovnik was worth the effort. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in. In Medieval times it was a strong rival to Venice for trade and commerce. The first picture shows one of the two cruise liners, the Queen Victoria (the other was The Majestica). The second picture shows the old city viewed from the mountain top viewing point which we reached in a cable car. The third picture shows the countrysidelooking inland from the viewing point - this would be looking into Bosnia-Herzogovinia. The last picture shows the first street that we saw on entering through the gates into the old city.


The pictures below show one of the main avennues in the old city along with a famous church found at the end of the street. The third and fourth pictures were taken from the top of the city walls, the first looking out to sea at a cruise-liner leaving the city and the second looking in one the old city with the streets full of tourists.


The next four photos show a small beach where local people were swimming - we could see many people swimming from here, out to the open sea and around to the dock of the old city. The third and fourth pictures show the dock of the old city - during the middle ages it must have been very hard to attack this city.
 

The first picture here shows an old Church and the second shows the dock within the old walled city. There were many expensive restaurants and boat trips to the islands from this point.



Zagreb

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia with a population of about 1 million. We arrived there after taking a journey by train from Budapest. It's another very nice city and all the main sites in the city centre can be seen within a few hours. The pictures below show various museuems, government buildings, churches and parks within the city centre (Croatia is a very Catholic country).
 

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