Up the Awful Tower

Managed to have breakfast and leave by 9am which was a promising start. RER takes us speedily to Champs de Mars and then join a dauntingly long security check queue just to get into the site. Another long queue to buy the tickets and then another security check queue to get onto the lift to the second floor. A shorter queue for the small lifts that take you to the summit. Dexter is struggling with vertigo but there is no turning back. Sunshine and a clear sky makes it all worth while. Everything does look very small, from people who are playing football on a flat roof to cars buzzing along broad boulevards.

Dexter suggests we take the stairs from level 2 down. The faces coming up are anguished but become more relaxed the lower we get. April has waited patiently for us for over two hours.

We flee on a number 30 bus which takes us straight to the Arc de Triomphe. The only cafe with room is a very new and tidy vegetarian. This is not Dexter’s idea of nourishment. But he bites the bullet with a tomato mascarpone soup and the rest is all excellent..

We are booked for the Procope this evening so a light lunch is good in the circumstances.

Selfies in front of the Arc de Triomphe are duly taken and we make our way across the grand boulevards to the Champs Elysees. It’s just how you imagine, quirky buildings, outrageous windows and crowds of rather self-conscious people walking around. Higher end seems to be reflected in their quality-people and merchants. Come to the conclusion that lower castes start at Concorde end. Lois erupts into much squawking as we bump into two of her friends from Huddersfield from drag club days. A visit to Chanel produces a rare bottle of perfume and stick deodorant for me that they have stopped making. Can’t get the Joe Dassin song out of my head.

Dinner is as good as remembered from two previous meals-1994 with Pierre Schott et famille and 2003 with Joe Bear when he was 13. Food classic and well presented and the service comme il faut. And the price is as nothing compared to what you would have to pay in England for its equivalent.

Tomorrow we meet up with April’s friend of 60 years. We have met her grandsons now she will meet ours.

Sunday boating on the Seine – day 2

A rather chic boulangerie in what has become a rather bobo district furnishes early morning croissant but no baguette – not healthy. Fortunately for Lois there is a cafe close by that does.

So first breakfast is suitably French, even down to Nutella for Dexter which is currently all the rage here.

Bright sunshine and a clear blue sky cover our walk by the river to the Port d’Alma to meet two Parisian friends whom I met in Iran and stayed in touch with. We are all going on a bateau-mouche. He an agronomist who worked in India long enough to understand cricket! A rare chicken.

The morning chill has gone by the time we reach the boat and up on deck it is warm. He and Marie- Noelle know all the buildings along the river often with stories attached.

Our approach along the Quay by the boat involves cutting through gaggles of testostero-fired Parisians who have all brought their immaculate high-powered supercharged cars to be admired by lesser mortals. What was surprisingly absent were cops of any sort.

Lunch at a nearby restaurant lived up to its good T/A reviews with 7hour lamb on a bed of flageolets particularly tasty. And Dexter and Lois made short work of crepe with Nutella.

We parted on a note of trips to Devon, though their friend no longer had a connection with Budleigh Salterton.

A taxi ride up to Montmartre included the driver pursuing my claim to speak a little Turkish by checking on my limited vocabulary. He had left Adana over 20 years ago. He lamented the changes since Erdogan took over and had no wish to return.

Sacre Coeur was heaving. The marathon dance was still going on, groups of earnest teenagers taking their turn centre stage. Place du Tertre likewise with quick draw artists and silhouette cutters shoulder to shoulder. A quick glance over several of the portraits revealed outrageously flattering portrayals – chins and wrinkles disappeared at a stroke! Shrewd.

A first foray onto the metro brought us painlessly back to St Michel a lot quicker than being stuck in endless traffic.

On arrival at Les Deux Magots the waiter sniffed we were lucky to get any table without a reservation much less one inside. In fact sitting in the outside greenhouse was fine. The food was fine and the range of drinks wide, all served up by an impressively slick and professional waiter. It really is a profession in France. But the prices are extortionate and based upon history rather than substance. On reflection a good place for a coffee and a look around. No budding Hemingways in sight.

But we did find a good ice-cream parlour in r de Buci called Amorini (Italian?) on the way back.

Tomorrow we tackle the Tower without tickets. Could be a long morning starting early.

Saturday Dawns juniors yawn

All geared up and ready to go. A slight hiccup last night due to junior members of the party getting on the wrong train from Leeds, but using the reservation seats for the earlier one which landed them in 1st class. By the Tim the guard had worked it out they had consumed complimentary drinks and snacks in all innocence!

Breakfast in Pret a Manger and stock up with posh sandwiches for the Eurostar stage. Last time I was heading for Budapest So this is just a hop. But not judging by the queues to check in. Enormous and daunting. Alleviated by numerous staff to manage it all. In fact we were processed relatively quickly and very little hassle. Minimal Covid checks and all the various forms we had all so conscientiously filled out were basically redundant! Signs of a storm to come?

The train was smaller than originally ascribed so new seats. Odd given that it was 100% full. The seats are comfortable, particularly in contrast to the new GWR stock. It is a seamless way to transfer from UK to the Continent, no stops and the tunnel not such a lengthy darkness. But you have only to look at the farmhouses to know you are in France.

The apart /Hotel is very slick and the manager extremely helpful in resolving a mess up over the booking. The request for twin beds and Seine view has gone unnoticed and we have to accept top floor larger flat but without view. If that is the worst that befalls us I shall be very grateful.

Once installed time to take in the sunshine that greets us as we head across the Pont Neuf (obviously the oldest bridge in Paris!)

Apparently iit snowed last night so all Paris is out making the most of the sunshine plus usual waves of visitors. Around the West end of Notre Dame there is a sense of people lost or disorientated in the face of such monumental destruction. We retreat to nearby Ile St Louis and console ourselves with ice-cream from Berthillon. Worth waiting in the queue and the notoriously brusque serveuse turns out to be really friendly.

Dinner is next door to Shakespeare and Co, which has an enormous queue of presumably curious bibliophiles. Presumably not looking for a room for the night as some have done in the past.

Reserving a table saved the disappointment of being faced with a regretful complet. The cuisine was honest S W France and coupes de Champagne and a bottle of good Brouilly admirably complimented scallops with bass, beef cheeks s bordelais and puy lentil soup. Mango and raspberry cremes brulees were unusual desserts as was a compote of pruneaux d’Agen. Only bum note for her was the ice-cream in April’s profiteroles albeit they were clearly home-made.

A brief stroll back along the Seine took us back to an earlyish night ready for tomorrow’s first escapade.

Spring in to Paris in Spring

A week is a long time in politics but I don’t think that applies to family outings. Having spent a glorious few days in Venice in 2019 with teenage grandchildren, we were pleasantly surprised when they started asking about another Continental foray ( to Paris) which we had casually mooted.

Covid laid waste to any thought of going in 2020 and the same held good for 2021. So now miraculously we are on the brink of going down the rabbit-hole that leads us to the heart of Paris tootsweet.

There remains a sense of dej’a vu about this. Back in March 2020 and a Trainride around the Balkans that had ended in a flurry of last minute booking to get the last flight out of Sarajevo back to England.

Couldn’t possibly happen again. Even if all trains were cancelled while we are there, we can always buy a rubber dinghy.

And now France has lifted most of the Covid-related requirements. We still need passes though in case restaurants and museums take a different view. So phones and tablets downloaded with up to date copies plus various bits of paper.

And Eurostar require wearing of masks on trains – apart from when you are eating the comestibles.they have sold you!

Unless you are to slide it in neatly underneath the mask like they do in Muslim countries.

April is keen on getting the trip off to a bright start in the champagne bar at St Pancras. What a lark.

End of the Line – again

Although I managed to doze for an hour or so it was a long night and I was more than glad to have a quick wash, clean my teeth and make the long way down to the gate for the Heathrow Express. At least the Interrail Pass includes that without a surcharge. I was surprised how many people were waiting at 5am to get on the shuttle to 4&5.

The 6.08 is almost empty and it arrives on the dot which means I can just catch the Exmouth train with 2 minutes to spare. It’s full of teenagers and for a moment I have to check that I am not on the wrong one.

After Topsham the Estuary comes into view and I can finally believe that I have made it back.

It’s a few days now since my return, and my own world that I had been in for over two weeks has had to settle into a vstly different landscape. One that threatens to change totally and that will not return to wht wwe had come to take for granted.

I have been through eight countries, talked to a lot of people, come to understand better what happened in the post-Yugoslavia wars. I have also seen a lot of cultural treasures, particularly Secessionist/ Art Nouveau, that reflects the strong post-Ottoman Austrian influence. I have eaten a lot of ( mostly) good food, courtesy of the Turkish presence for four hundred years.

Apart from the last night I have stayed in comfortable, friendly and welcoming accommodation. The trains ran pretty much on time and generally on the days they were supposed to.

A last memory of something that in retrospect is moving and leaves thought for contemplation on humanity. It’s the translation of the Will of a rich merchant in Sarajevo that pretty much speaks for itself

Was it all worth it? During the planning stage I had my doubts. Interrail customer service is appalling and their App almost useless. And it was only having it to get back from Heathrow (£120!) that stopped it being a very poor deal in money terms.

Despite the trauma of getting home in a rush, I would say yes I’m glad I went. I watch the people currently stranded in Majorca and wonder how they ever manage to cross the road.

I can’t imagine I will ever go back to finish the missing bits in Sofia and Edirne, but there are other fish to fry elsewhere. I have not yet stepped foot in Africa.

Thank you all for keeping me company. Your comments and asides are enormously encouraging and it is good to know you are out there somewhere.

All that remains is to work out how to stop the spammers leaving their trail of debris on the blog.

Bye for now

Paul.

Escape from Sarajevo

Breakfast is unappetising but an interesting conversation with the chap serving it. He is Turkish, did a business management degree, and has been running his own travel agency for the last five years. He is about to go bankrupt because three operators have cancelled large groups which he has set up and paid for. More though is his description of the corruption in local government. Apparently the Serbs over the river are doing much better at attracting investment by only seeking 10 per cent whereas the Bosnians have priced themselves out by asking for anything up to 100% to get planning permission.

Going to collect my forgotten green shirt from Ada, she is not there and after waiting for a while I leave the Kate Atkinson on the doorstep and head off. She can give it to a worthy immigrant. One thing I had remarked upon in Sarajevo was the large number of people scavenging in the big dumper bins, men and women.

Finding the airport bus is tricky. The Baker is in, fires lit but a bit late so no bread yet which is a shame. Several people give me different versions of where it starts and I eventually walk down to where I know there is a stop behind the cathedral. Twenty five minutes after it is due it eventually comes hurtling down the road and rather than stop behind the tram it just pulls out and whizzes by. So resort to an ordinary bus that goes near to airport which the Google map should allow me to find my way to. I am very early or rather I was. Its a hot sunny day and a ten minute walk through a housing estate brings me out at the airport. But no sign of any planes taking off. More doom and gloom.

In fact when I get inside the flight is one of five today, with another going to Koln. The last of the day at 2020 goes to Istanbul. Another time. All I want now, is to get out and away and back to watch the tide come in and out on the Exe. The Koln flight leaves on the dot but we are left on the runway for ninety minutes waiting for an illegal passenger they brought in today to be put back on the flight to Stuttgart. My connection to London had a 75 minute gap so that has gone down the pan. Stewardess tells me there are no other euro wings flights to London. So when we finally arrive there is a new box of tricks awaiting. That is if we ever get off the plane. Announced that the police are not happy and then an ambulance appears full of gents in hazmat suits. Prospect of us all being sprayed or even sent back to Sarajevo? I can see an assorted group of police, workers and crew milling around aimlessly. After 20 minutes the hazmatted get back in the red ambulance and the others wander off. We disembark.

Quite a few, people have to get new connections. Dutch couple in front of me going to Amsterdam, which is not that far, have to wait till the morning then take a, flight via Frankfurt. Not a good prospect. Another younger Dutchman behind me goes the same way and there is a moment of comedy when the desk girl asks how many rooms they want for the hotel that night. I think they settle for two. My lucky dip produces a Lufthansa trip to Heathrow via Munich that same night, getting there at 10.45. Too late for a train and a longish wait till the first in the morning at 5.32. Hobson’s choice. Once again two steps forward one step back. Started to feel frayed round the edges. Checking the trains, the price of a single ticket from Heathrow would have been over £120 so the pass, even with only four trips used, has paid its way.

A text from pegasus air comes in saying they have cancelled my flight on 30th from Istanbul so that will be refunded I guess. Realise I currently have six different flight tickets waiting for refunds.

The flights on Lufthansa are virtually empty, though a stewardess tells me they were packed solid with people coming from UK. Seems that either the Brits have not been travelling or they got out earlier than me.

At Heathrow because I am in no hurry my bag is straight off and I go looking for a bar. Guess what, they are all closed. Cafe Nero has seats and charging points. When I look more closely it also has, every sofa, comfortable chair and bench occupied by sleepers. Cafe staff seem unphased and just carry on. I have heard stories of homeless people inhabiting airports and wonder if that is the case here. A can of San pellegrino lemonade and Zagreb peanuts while I catch up.

Do we travel more now because the Internet makes it so much easier to organise and manage?

Make God laugh- tell him your plans

Hubris? Inane optimism? Not long after posting last night I had a message from Air Serbia and the sky fell in. Flight cancelled, Serbia shut and me in jolly old Banja Luka which has been shut down.

So I spent two hours trying to find a way out of what has become a logistical nightmare. Best I could find was a two legs to Heathrow via Stuttgart with eurowings. Gets in 6 o’clock so should be able to get last train from Paddington at 2002. And if that is cancelled, go to Istanbul overnight and end up in Brussels 1040 on Wednesday. Can then use a journey on the pass all the way back to Exmouth.

Felt totally drained, plus finished off gin left in the fridge with a bottle of Schweppes. Had to rearrange the pickup twice in all this. Fortunately he was very accommodating. But it means back to Sarajevo on the bus again. At least in the daylight. And Aldina has a room for me at Ada after another cheaper place took a booking and cancelled it an hour later with no apology.

Bright blue sky and crisp warmth to underline what a waste of a day. At least it is a proper coach not a rattletrap. We arrive half an hour early but way out of time by the airport. It is a Serbian coach so goes to the Serbian part of town. Driver is a surly and unpleasant piece of work – more stereotyping? Fortunately an anglophone points me at the right trolleybus. Go from one terminus to the other, a good 90p worth.

There is no answer to the hotel door. I look at tablet which picks up their WiFi. Messages from Aldina- H&S have fumigated the hotel that morning and told her no guests for two weeks. But she has spoken to hotel round the corner and they have a room, same price or less. I seem to be continuously tiptoeing on the edge of a chasm. So far just about kept my balance.

Hotel is insalubrious. Tries it on for forty euros till I remind what Aldina has said. Only one night. Walking into town I pass what appears to be a derelict wood fired bakery. As I peer in two burly citizens stop by and turns out younger is the baker and older his woodcutter father. Happy to show me around. In a mixture of English and German he says he is one of five in town who still do it this way. He shoots off for a few minutes and returns with a large bottle of dad’s home made apple distillation. It is fruity and clean, but obviously strong. Memories of Georgia!

Dad had horrendous scars running down one thigh from a Serbian mine. Despite their looks they are Muslims, Ekrem and Mustapha. Ekrem says at 25 he is still too young to drink spirits, sticks to beer.

Subsequent quick walk round turn reveals a sullen and vacant atmosphere. Difficult when you have come to rely on tourism.

Supper at same place as Saturday though not as good. Breaded veal steak actually comes in a sort of calzone. But the grilled vegetables are good.

And rather smothered in white sauce.

So tomorrow, what will it bring? Keep checking email for cancellations but happily nothing.

Is there a Train to Banja Luka?

I bought a tram ticket yesterday so there had better be. The thought of five hours on a coach is not attractive. But yes today we have trains. Though I spot a notice saying 13 March was the end of a fortnight of engineering works. Who knew?

The train is Portuguese Talgo so spacious and comfy. But the engine is knackered and our top speed on the screen is 70kph and a lot of the time more like 40. But the scenery is lovely and the sun soon breaks through into a cloudless sky.

We arrive only half an hour late and outside the station the guy from Good Host Banja spots me and he and his mate Stefan take me to an apartment the other side of town. The bad news is the authorities have ordered a 6 oclock curfew on all restaurants and shops shut by ten. So after showing me the ( very tidy) flat I need to find a restaurant before five. The place they recommend turns out has shut up the kitchen but the owner suggests another decent place along the river which indeed serves up an interesting dish of a chicken fillet the size of an escalope then a layer of cheese and four rashers of bacon on top. Tasty and filling- no photo. It’s proving quite hard to use up the Bosnian marks in my pocket. Even with a bottle of beer, it still only cost £5.

This is definitely a Serb town. All the signs are in Cyrillic as well as roman. And no smiles on faces in the ztreet. And almost no-one speaks English.

A walk back along the river, stopping at a bakery for breakfast bread and cake, and a supermarket for crisps and peanuts,I still have a ten mark note. It can go towards the flat/taxi tomorrow.

Sunset on the Vrbas

So it’s 8 o’clock, up to date and I have to reconsider the whole scheme of what is to follow. Getting to Belgrade tomorrow seems clear. Internally to Nis on 18th by train. But then next day to Dimitrograd and Sofia could be problematic. If I can get that far the option of Ryanair back to Stansted is there. But at the moment Turkey seems ok to get in and I would be very sorry to miss Edirne which is bit cherry on the cake. Rather like Macchu Picchu was. I need to be flexible.

Aagh! Someone lock me up. Went to check passport was in travel trousers and found the pat of butter I thought I had forgotten to grab this morning at breakfast for tomorrow in the flat. It has been a warm day. How many different morals can you draw from this incident. More answers on a postcard.

Being in SARAJEVO 2

Back to grey and cloudy. Breakfast a repeat of yesterday, except it is cooked by the beautiful young man, at least he doesn’t give me the where it is all sourced shtick.

Planning to buy some fruit in the market, look at the mosque and go up the mountain on the cable car. But it turns out the sign at the mosque yesterday about no tourists was not because, it was Friday afternoon prayer but because of covid19. They are still holding prayers though. So could be a lot of coughing Muslims in town.

Several people have said beware of immigrants, thefts robbery pickpockets. Although there are certainly a lot of beggars or people selling packets of paper hankies, it hasn’t been bad. Worse are the mutilated from the war begging.

It is a fair uphill walk just to get to the beginning of it, over the river and past the big Brewery. The price is quite steep as well if you are from out of town.

It takes you up to about 1100 metres so you definitely notice the air is thinner. Nothing like the Andes, but crisp and clear despite the cloud cover. Almost no-one else on the ride or when I reach the top. Sarajevo has become a sea of earthenware cloves dotted with mosques and church towers. A lot of the town had to be rebuilt but com’era.

At the top it is a strange in between of family strolls and logging pine forest. I head straight up a cleared ride that brings me to the ruins of a 16th century castle that was the focal point for.a whole network of defences when this part of the world was being used as a bulwark against invading forces. So horrible irony that it was from these heights that the Serbs pounded Sarajevo for four years while the World turned a blind eye. When I get back I am going to revisit the Martin Bell book Something Junkie about it now that I have seen the places.

The far side is dramatic as it looks out over hills and a huge scarred slope that is a quarry

I can’t say the sarajevans are too well brought up. Walking through the pines woods they seem to have used it all as one big toilet. And a lot of litter. But then what is your relationship with the environment when you have been through a brutal war?

There are a few flowers out, mostly crocuses, but then a dwarf hellebore . Roger will know. But few birds though this one sitting on top of a tree had a fine song

At least two people have said the Town Hall is a must and it is right opposite the gondola back in town. Apparently the architect had been to Cairo hence the design and style. It’s reminiscent of the Brighton Pavilion in being very overstated and almost brash. I expect it is great for weddings.

!Hall Town The

Can’t work out how to reverse the caption.

On the way back to the hotel, about three, the bakery has what look like pasty shaped pizzas so I indulge. But of a mistake in that it is filled not with a bit of cheese and tomato but also very small pasta like orecchietini. Delicious but filling. Supper delayed tonight.

Fed up with the very touristy centre for eating so aim for a small place out of town up the hill towards the railway station. Google maps blue dot refuses to connect but I can manage with the map, walking through quiet back streets. Finally come to a tricky junction at which point the blue dot appears and I follow it’s guiding light to Avlija.

Being Saturday night I was bracing myself for a struggle to get a place for one. Haa!

Really glad I have made the effort to get away from the throng. Added also that the young man had said it wasn’t worth the walk. So at last a picture of food!

Veal and vegetables casserole, delicious. And two glasses of good red wine though I can’t tell you what they were. The walk back is slower but without the need for constantly looking at the map. Lois and Dexter aren’t the only ones who can memorize a route. Up earlier tomorrow for the train( in theory) to Banja Luka.

Being in SARAJEVO

Well, after the effort made to get here, I hope it will be worthwhile. Bosnian Turkish coffee at breakfast means ensuring you stop well before the bottom of your cup. After yesterday’s diet of cheese and salad rolls I was hoping for something tasty but just standard packaged bits, processed cheese, tasteless tomato and some rather odd minced mushy apple with cinnamon.

I am the only candidate for the free guided tour but Aydin goes ahead anyway. As before, he is well informed and has good English. Gives me a clear idea of of the politics, why there are three Presidents, and some of what happened in the war in the nineties. We wander round the old(Turkish) Town and then cross into the newer (Austrian) part. By the end I have a much clearer grasp of its history and people. Despite a lot of rebuilding in 1890s, no sign of Secessionist architecture. Four hundred years of Ottoman rule left a deep mark on the culture and environment. He gives me a detailed description, standing by the bridge, of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The museum I visit later has the gun he used on display. Looks more like a water pistol

I try to change £40 but the girl won’t accept anything but the new plastic 20s! Even after queuing up in the bank cashier looks very suspicious before finally doing it. At least the rate is easy to keep in mind, pretty well 2:1. And the euro also virtually the same.

The first museum, an old merchant house, has an all in five ticket for places I had in mind anyway. This one by the river is all wood panelling and carpets, and there is a copy of a Will that is delightful to read.

He would have been horrified and appalled by what happened after 1992.

Moving through town, I pass what is described on the map as “The old Church”. It turns out to be a thirteenth century Serbian Orthodox which has survived the siege. Apparently they were pretty accurate on where they landed the mortars. Which makes the 62 killed in the market all the worse.

There is a beautiful painted and gilded iconostatis from 16th century that glows in an otherwise gloomy place.

Part of the whole

A similar merchant house at the top of town is older and more opulent. The used the first floor as a piano mobile, keeping downstairs for kitchen and storage of merchandise. In a corner of the room where the girls did embroidery all day I spot one of the long-necked Turkish jugs that come from Cannakale, of which I have a yellow version bought years ago in Lymington. I have always wondered what its story was to have ended up in a quiet Hampshire harbour. The warden says that within the home men and women lived and ate together, even when guests were present.

Years ago in Konya, an antique dealer was asking almost a thousand pounds for old green ones.

I embark on one last leg for the day, to climb up to a ruined bastion for a good view over the town and the river. It is very steep as it winds past a Muslim cemetery. In one part there are several stones with turbans on which I think means they were Sufi. It is worth it and the sun is sitting behind the hills right behind. There are a lot of young couples and groups of friends up there enjoying it all.

The guide this morning had pointed out the two “best” cevapcici in town so I went with that. It turned out to be a cafe really, and Bosnian kebab was the sole item, in three sizes. It was a bit odd as I was quite alone but I put it down to covid19. No alcohol, so a Schweppes bitter lemon as a novelty. It was very like what I had had in Ljubljana though the meat was more succulent here. Same format, chopped onions and spicy pepper as asides. In fact as I was finishing people started to come in. It was gone 8 o’clock. Again Aydin had mentioned a very good baklava shop and the waitress recognised my description and pointed me to it. One piece classic, one pistachio and one almond. It will keep for tomorrow if need be.

Back at the hotel, make a list of what still needs sorting. It seems rather long. I try to check a room at the airport Hotel on 29th and panic when it refuses to accept any dates for March. Has, it, shut down? Write an email, but then start exploring alternatives to flying back if airports are being shut. Trains, from Edirne would take over two days and go via, Bucharest to Budapest which is a nightmare. Nine changes. And one connection is a ten hour wait in Germany! Change of tack takes, me on a train to Sofia and Ryanair it from there to Stansted which would actually be in good time to catch my original train! A reply from hotel in istanbul, apparently the website doesn’t work properly if you have the device horizontal, it has to be upright. Always something new. And yes they are, still open.

Back to the list. One night in Nis now booked to allow, for trains from Belgrade to Sofia to be at a sensible hour-it was a, suggestion from the “man in seat 61”.

Looks as if today’s baking sun was the end of the hot spell. Possibility of snow even over the weekend. At least I am equipped for that.

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