Archive for August, 2014

Porto Montenegro and the fall of Tivat

August 27, 2014

Montenegro is still up-and-coming as a tourist destination: we are staying very near to Tivat airport and I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly busy airport. But it shouldn’t be, yet: Tivat is not ready.

From the Tourist Centre, if you walk to the beach you find a concrete coast, half-tiled, half dirt-path. There are many cafés and shops but not enough people to warrent them really: a few leather-skinned families waltz past; young people hang about in packs by the henna-tattoo hippy; and the even-younger jump into the water from a two-foot concrete diving board while their parents bake on the beach. To the left is a huge construction site – three skeletons of buildings sit beneath their corresponding crane – and you can see these will be luxury hotels or even more luxurious apartments.

You can follow a small stream of people to these half-completed complexes and around to the other side, through a small alley past a metal fence, where large numbers of taxis sit in a line waiting for prey.

And the prey are here. Coming out of the half-constructed alley, suddenly you’re in a well-lit, palm-tree lined, white-walled, miniature-fountain-laden marina complete with smart restaurants, organic food store and row upon row of pristine super-yachts. At this point, you could be anywhere – in this playground for the filthy rich all character is edited out – any unkempt nook destroyed or replaced. It is not the real world.

Walking along one of the piers with the many yachts tethered to it, it’s difficult not to want to stand in the centre of it all and scream “You all have too much money!”. This is a town surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains with perfectly clear water in the bay coming in from the Adriatic and seriously hot summers and yet it is being turned into a faceless nowhere-land where people with yachts throw money around before going to the next faceless nowhere-land (Puerto Banus or the like). You can see that this whole coastline will eventually be encroached upon by this concrete imaginary-land. All the surrounding big roads signs in Russian and English proclaim ‘Quality Real-Estate Available’ so you know this is not somewhere aimed at locals. As the prices continue to be hiked up, they will eventually be pushed out. No, this new faceless nowhere-land is a party for the super-rich and I, for one, am glad not to be invited.

An Average Summer Weeknight in Dresden

August 9, 2014

It’s 10.30pm on a Wednesday and the Dresdenites are out in force: €1.20 half litres of beer in their hands and the company of all the locals sitting in rows alongside them on the curb and all over the pavement.

The people I’m with are hesitant of this anarchic way of drinking at first, but very soon we’re all dirtying up our jeans and toasting passing cars. What a cheap night out – sitting outside the bars without paying their rates.

And it’s not just the underage and alcholics sat here (as you’d imagine it being in the UK), it’s everyone from cool young professionals to hipsters to ageing punks to people who work in IT and everyone in between. At one point I see a woman walking alone who just sits down in the middle of the pavement and has a rest for a bit – so it’s not even just a drinking thing! They just don’t worry about it.

Police cars drive past as you take a swig and one almost revels in their ability to do nothing. This street drinking is a tradition in Dresden that’s “decades old” the hostel’s night receptionist tells me – and it shows.

“We don’t have much sun and a lot of rain, so when it’s hot here everyone likes to celebrate no matter what day it is” she continues, and I think to myself that the same is true of the British. However, we tend to stick to the pub gardens or head to a park – these guys just sit where they stand – and it’s wonderful.

10 things the guidebook don’t* tell you about… German Switzerland!

August 8, 2014

*For the record, as my brother seemed to think I was under the impression “don’t” is the correct word to use hear rather than the actual correct “doesn’t” – I am using “don’t” on purpose as I think it has a ring to it… All right?! 

1. Generosity: the Swiss have been amazing hosts to me, I can’t thank them enough for making my time here incredibly comfortable. For example, when staying at my friend’s dad’s house on the outskirts of Zurich we came back from a festival covered in mud so left our dirty shoes and clothes on the porch before falling into bed. When we awoke he had hosed down our shoes and washed all our clothes and hung them out to dry for us. And there were four of us staying there – most parents would surely expect things to be the other way round but he wouldn’t let us help out – we were his guests and that was that. My friend Rowan in Bern joked that it’s easy to be generous when you’re Swiss because you just have so much money! Ahem…

2. Nearly everyone has a balcony. Standardly. 

3. There is no such thing as a “seedy area”. I went to stay one night at my uncle’s flat in a place called Trimbach which he said was “cheap and a little seedy”. This place was set into the foothills of the mountains, next to a river; everything was super-clean and the gardens incredibly well maintained; and there was a lindt chocolate factory nearby. I’m surprised there is a translation for seedy in Swiss-German at all! 

4. There are playful (maybe not completely playful) tensions not only between the people who speak different languages in Switzerland but also between dialects! People in St Gallen get taken the piss out of for not pronouncing their ‘R’s properly, and generally German German is frowned upon!

5. And despite being part of a different country the French-Swiss are still looked upon as snobby! The English will be pleased to hear that!

6. They think they are running out of space. Quite a few people said to me that there was so much construction of properties going on that there would be nothing left to build on soon. As a Londoner, looking around at Switzerland’s wide open spaces and even average garden-size and house-size this seemed absurd. It is possible to fit a lot more in I assure you. The thing is, with “foreign” often a dirty word in Switzerland (and I don’t think I’m being unfair here – just look at some of the political advertising from the last election), I felt that maybe it was political canvassing that might have caused this concern. A lot of tensions in England to do with immigrants are exacerbated by this myth that “there’s not enough room for them: we are full”. Which, of course, we’re not.

7. Fondue is only a winter thing. We managed to convince our hosts on a rainy summer evening to get the fondue pot out (every Swiss has one!) and, my God, that stuff is rich! I needed to stay seated for quite a while afterward to let the cheese settle!

8. Education can go on forever. The fees for degrees are relatively low, so you can stay in education for as long as you want, pretty much. My friend is just finishing his bachelors in Linguistics and thinks he will now do another bachelors in Law. Not even a Law conversion – a full bachelors followed by a masters. Why do we put such a high price on education in the UK? It makes no sense.

9. They make really good chocolate ice-cream. Go on, have some. And the ice-cream shop in Bern was open later than the supermarket. You can tell where their priorities lie!

10. Train stations are city hubs. They are the meeting place, the eating place, the shopping centre. There is a rule that allows train station shops to be open every day and later than normal shops – so they have become the place to be, it seems!

I am currently in Dresden, Germany and my post about here (a new favourite city!) will be coming up shortly! Tschüss!