Photographs From Rome’s Testaccio District

The Testaccio neighbourhood of Rome located by the Tibor river and south of the Coliseum and ruins of ancient Roma is an interesting part of the city to stroll through. For a long time it was traditionally a working-class district. In recent years the area has become gentrified and this shows in some of the trendy eateries and bars as well as the broader mix of residents. Yet unlike some neighbourhoods. which completely lose their original flavour, Testaccio has retained much of its character and this shows in the photographs. The streets are full of grand old multi-story buildings. Graffiti, both artistic and non artistic, can be found in several corners of the neighbourhood.

The main piazza of Testaccio becomes animated over the weekend with families and children playing and kicking footballs around. Old long time residents can also be found shooting the breeze on the piazza benches.

Close to Pyramide metro station on the edge of the district is a prominent Egyptian style pyramid built during the Roman period. And nearby there is a beautiful and tranquil Protestant cemetery where one can find the graves of the English poets Keats and Shelley. I describe this cemetery in another blog post.

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart 

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

 

Photographs From The Streets Of Venice

Venice is one of the most visited cities on earth and probably doesn’t need more attention. Yet it is a unique city whose popularity is justified. Venice was an important global trading centre and traded with corners of the globe as far as China. Like Istanbul and Sarajevo, its a place where east meets west. Venice also played an important role in the development of the Italian Renaissance and frescos and paintings by the Bellini family, Titian, Tintoretto and Vitorre Carpaccio adorn many of the city’s churches and other institutions. There are lots of important landmark sites to visit. But if you have time and are not under pressure to tick off a long list of ‘must-do’ sites, the best thing you could do is to simply lose yourself in the never-ending labyrinth of small streets not knowing where you are going. Its a very easy city to get lost in and if it weren’t for the Google Maps app on my smartphone I would have struggled to pinpoint some of the sites I wanted to visit. But not knowing where you are going and leaving things in the hands of chance can throw up surprises and unexpected delights. The following photographs are witnesses to my Venice meanderings…

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Photographs by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

 

THE KOSOVO DIARIES (Part One) – PEJA, DEČANI and PRISTINA

Day One: Mon 25th September 2017
Travelling to Peja

Yesterday I arrived in the provincial Montenegrin mountain town of Berane at 7pm. 12 hours earlier I departed the town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the city of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. I get into Pod’, or Titograd as it used to be called at 1.30pm. My connecting bus to Berane departs in two hours. Perhaps I am mistaken but Podgorica is not a pretty place. Knackered Communist era living blocks surround the bus station and even the bus station itself has barely changed since about 1974. I think Titograd is a more fitting name.

I find a modern pizzeria restaurant about 100 metres outside of the bus station from where I take the opportunity to use the bathroom (immaculately clean I could eat my capriccioso pizza off the ceramic floor – yet the lights go off when I am already doing the business) and the free wi-fi to book my accommodation in Berane, and have a good meal that isn’t crisps and chocolate bars. The waiters speak flawless English.

For the duration of the Pod-Berane bus trip, we journey through the Montenegrin countryside; an authentic and unspoilt slice of rural Balkans. When I arrive in Berane the sun is already setting and I realise I have already traversed through most of Montenegro in less than a day. It’s not a big country.

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The Montenegrin mountain town of Berane

Berane is not the kind of place you would want to be anchored to for too long; especially if you are young and alive. Not much goes down here and it reminds me of a scoop of time-forgotten Brexitville unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the countryside. There is a bus to the Kosovan town of Peja leaving the following day at 11am. Apart from the hotel receptionist where I am staying, absolutely nobody speaks English in this town. I know perhaps ten words of Serb-Croat with a few more Polski words to boot but that only gets one so far. I soon learn that the 11am bus is delayed by 40 minutes. That’s quite a delay but I refuse to leave this one horse station for fear that I will miss the bus. I constantly keep my eagle eye peeled for the bus. When it arrives it’s one of those retro Communist era buses from about 1981; a far cry from gap yarr Euro Rail travelling. I am the only tourist on the bus. Most of the passengers are Kosovan/Albanian.

When we arrive in Peja three hours later, it is raining hard. I have no map of this city of functioning wi-fi on my phone. I wait at the bus station for the rain to soften. I realise I’ll be waiting a long time. Foolishly, I have no umbrella (I lost my last one somewhere on the Paris metro, I think) and I decide to brave it. As I walk along the main road towards what I think will be the centre of town, I am soon rewarded by the sight of a modern Diner style restaurant. They have wi-fi, much to my delight. Not only that, there’s a decent menu and a front display of delicious deserts; many of which I remember from the historic family run patisserie in Sarajevo called Egipat. A filling plate of shredded chicken kebab with chips, salad, and a generous slice of tiramisu for dessert all comes to just €3.50.

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Peja town

I continue walking up the main road. I soon approach a pedestrian square, where a large mid to high range hotel, Hotel Dukagjini, is located, but I am on the lookout for the more modest Hotel Peja. Close to me is an airline travel agency. I enter in the hope that someone there may know the whereabouts the hotel. The attractive and courteous young woman at the desk greets me in perfect English. She isn’t sure where exactly it’s located but she kindly offers to call the hotel and the owner duly meets me at the agency. A stocky white-haired man, perhaps in his late sixties or seventies, arrives and together we walk to the hotel. The hotel is only a couple of blocks away directly facing an enormous future-retro eyesore of a building; like something concocted by the architect of the Barbican tower blocks on acid laced Kool Aid. It is unique in it’s ugliness; the No Retreat No Surrender of global architectural monuments. My hotel is nothing noteworthy but perfectly fine for a couple of nights.

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Eyesore or work of art?

I spend the remainder of the rain drenched afternoon and early evening mildly exploring what I can of this city within relatively close proximity to my hotel. In no time I discover a small bazaar like street named “William Wolker” street. William Walker, not to be confused with the clumsy failed wannabe 19th century American conquistador, was the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, which was a peacekeeping mission established to put an end to the Kosovo War of the late 1990s. Former president Bill Clinton and former US general Wesley Clark also each have a street named after them. As does Tony Blair. Many people view Blair as a “war criminal” owing to his involvement in the 2003 Iraq war, but not the people of Kosovo. Here he is regarded very highly and some families who survived the Kosovo War even went as far as calling their sons ‘Tonibler’. The side of WW street is decorated with a maze of tangled black electricity wires, like its trying the outdo the legendary dishevelled mess of wires found in most of the narrow old bazaar alley ways of Old Delhi, but no matter how hard it may try it will never come close.

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In Kosovo Tony Blair is held in very high regard

My meanderings soon lead me to the Peja Arts Gallery featuring a solo exhibition of beautiful paintings by the local Kosovo artist Isa Alimusaj. Sadly the gallery appears to be closed even though all the lights inside are blazing. As much as I want to enter, I cannot find anybody who is in charge. Next to the gallery is a library called the ‘Azem Shkreli” library. I wonder if Azem is related to the controversial American-Albanian multimillionaire “Pharma bro” businessman Martin Shkreli? Although I later discover that Shkreli is quite a common Albanian surname. Not far from my hotel by the river is a statue of Mother Theresa, who was originally from Albania. And nearby is a memorial to four soldiers who died during the Kosovo War. In the evening the temperature plummets. I buy a bottle of water and some pears and retire to my room at the Hotel Peja.

 

Day Two: Tuesday 26th September 2017
Visiting the Patriachate of Peć and Visoki Dečani monasteries

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The old Ottoman era bazaar of Peja

Early in the morning I leave my hotel room and walk to the main square where I find a tourist information office. It is staffed by a woman who speaks excellent English. She provides me with a map and highlights all the places I want to visit. My first destination is the city’s old bazaar; like a miniature version of the Baščarsija bazaar in Sarajevo. Walking through the bazaar I try to locate somewhere where I can have breakfast. Ordinarily I skip breakfast, but not this morning. I am so hungry I could burn down cities in return for a large plate of čevapi. I follow my nose, towards the source of the pungent smells radiating from the town’s burek and čevapi eateries. I am led to a čevapi joint called Oebaptore Meti. And what a good call that was. The Cevapi here is as good as it gets in the Balkans. Not only that. I also receive a generous side of salad and grilled vegetables. And all for €2.50. The overpriced pretentious bistros of Paris can do one. The food here is divine. I think Anthony Bourdain would concur.

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The best cevapi in Peja

Belly overstuffed and belt loosened, I revisit the Peja Arts Gallery containing all those magical paintings by Isa Alimusaj. Initially I come to the conclusion that the gallery must be closed, but after giving the retro gallery entrance door a firm push, to my delight, I stumble inside. The paintings of Alimusaj are magnificent. Wow! What a privilege it is to discover such a brilliant and gifted artist in the unlikeliest of settings. Those paintings don’t deserve to be hidden in some remote and hard to reach corner of Eastern Europe. They should be on the walls of the Royal Academy of Art. I could reference some well known artists when I look at his paintings; Klimt, Dali, Munch and Bosch perhaps. But the truth is they are like no other artist. Alimusaj is in a league of his own.

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Paintings by local Kosovan artist Isa Alimusaj at the Peja Arts Gallery

Feeling lifted by seeing such magnificent art, I make the 2-3km walk towards the Patriachate of Pec monastery. As I walk further out of town, I see houses and buildings that were scarred from the war of the late 1990s; destroyed areas covered with newer bricks next to older bricks. The scenery on the walk is beautiful. Even with the sky heavy with low nimbostratus clouds, the mountain countryside sparkles. The entrance to the path leading to the monastery is guarded by NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR). At the entrance I show my passport. A group of other visitors soon arrive. A young Englishman called Jack from somewhere in Essex stands out like a whirlwind. He has beautiful long blond curly hair like a youthful Robert Plant and is clad in neo-dandy/hipster ware with shades of his Essex soul brother Russell Brand. He’s with his travelling companion who is an older reserved American who looks like an academic scholar on early Native American history. I get talking with the dude from Essex. They both arrived at the entrance in a battered Mercedes taxi. ‘The taxi geezer charged us 15 euros from the bus station to here. I think he charged us too much’. I think so too. Then apropos of nothing, he points to his reserved travelling companion and blurts out, ‘E’s a West Ham fan too!!’ And here I was thinking, perhaps naively, that I was going to have a quiet uninterrupted trip to this monastery, in a hard to reach little travelled part of Eastern Europe, where I’d have it all to myself. How wrong was I. I like Jack though and he seems to be having a thoroughly great time travelling and seeing awesome things and not allowing himself to be trapped in some depressing-ass road to nowhere job in Basildon or someplace around his neck of the woods.

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The Patriarchate of Pec monastery 

The Orthodox Serbian monastery dating back to the late 13th century is a jewel painting in red-terracotta. Yet it becomes even more spectacular when I enter. What immediately impresses me are the frescos covering all the walls and ceilings; rich, luxurious and brilliant. Its hard to comprehend how after over seven centuries they are still so alive. The extraordinary skill of them is up there with the very best of the early Italian Renaissance painters. I am particularly spellbound by a specific ceiling fresco, which, through centuries of decay, has morphed into a composition that makes even Goya’s most dystopian works look tame. This fresco appears like its engulfed in Mother Nature’s foulest weather and Tesla’s coil violently erupting. I stay at the monastery for a while, marvelling at the frescos before walking back to town.

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13th century frescos from the monastery 

As I reach Pec town I head towards the bus station to visit another monastery called the Visoki Decani monastery located outside of the town of Decani, which is situated between Pjac and the town of Gjakove. When I arrive at the bus station I have half an hour to kill before my Decani bound bus leaves Peja. So I walk across the main road to a bar and on a whim I order a large cold bottle of Peja beer for only one Euro. Time marches on as I begin to feel the initial effects of tipsiness. Before I know it I have just five minutes remaining. I am no barfly but I drain the remainder of my bottle of beer in a way that would have made Oliver Reed proud. When I get on the bus I indicate to the driver that I want to get off at Decani specifically to see the monastery. Nobody speaks passable English on the bus, but I think the driver gets the message. Forty minutes later as we appear to approach what looks like my destination, the driver signals for me to disembark and points to a road that will lead to the monastery. Decani town seems down at heel and depressed and I don’t think the war was kind to this town. There are memorials to soldiers who died in the war and about ten minutes away on the road back to Pec there is a massive, and I mean gigantic, cemetery, where many citizens who died during the war are buried.

I walk for almost 30 minutes along a quiet country road with lush forests and mountain scenery before I approach the beginning of the entrance to the monastery. This monastery has much more security than the Patriarchate of Pec monastery; its almost as if you are going to a Royal Family wedding. I hand over my passport and rucksack at the entrance before entering the compound. It is a handsome white monastery dating back to 1327 during the reign of the Serbian King Stefan Decanski who was the father of King Dusan who ruled Serbia during the golden age of the Serbian Empire. Yet the monastery has a turbulent history becoming the target of many attacks and attempted attacks. Since the Kosovo war, the monastery has been extremely vulnerable to attacks including an incident on 30th March 2007 when suspected Kosovan Albanian insurgents threw hand grenades at the monastery. Fortunately, not much damage was created. This is one of the reasons why the monastery is under constant tight security.

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By the Decani monastery

Like the Patriarchate, the Decani monastery is decorated with monumental frescos. When I enter a procession is already in full swing. The main area of the monastery is exquisite with a sky-high ceiling, elaborate frescos and many tall candles on a suspended chandelier, which one of the orthodox monks would put out one by one with a long metal candle snuffer stick.

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Inside the Decani monastery 

It has been an awesome and active day today. I am exhausted by the time I return to my room at the Hotel Peja.

 

Day Three: Tuesday 27th September 2017
Travelling from Peja to Pristina

At midday I check out of my hotel room. The young woman who is in charge arranges a taxi to come and collect me to take me to the bus station from where I will take a bus to the Kosovan capital of Pristina. She is very kind and speaks excellent English. Last night she made me a complimentary mint tea. She tells me that a taxi to the station should not exceed one Euro. I ask her, out of interest, how much a taxi should cost from the station to the Patriarchate monastery? She tells me two euros. I mention my Essex friend paying 15 euros. She looks at me as if he jumped out of a plane without a parachute. As I go to my taxi she insists that I don’t pay more than three euros for a cab from Pristina bus station to the location of my accommodation over there.

The taxi driver is a stocky middle age Kosovan-Albanian with a severe crop. He doesn’t speak a lick of English, but he can speak some German having lived in Germany for 18 months as a refuge during the war. I communicate with him in my fractured German.

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Inside Peja bus terminal 

At the bus station I locate my knackered old school Pristina bound bus. I nod in and out of consciousness for the duration of the journey. As we approach the outskirts of Pristina my first impressions are not full of joy. Arriving at the rundown bus terminal I begin to feel that the city centre, and more importantly my guesthouse, is no stone’s throw away. I haven’t the faintest notion where I am in relation to the city centre. With no map to guide me and no SIM card in my phone it is going to be challenging. My hopes lift when I get talking with a young man at the information desk in the terminal who speaks reasonable English. He gives me the password for the terminal wi-fi and finally I can take advantage of good ol’ Google Maps. I have already mapped out my journey from the bus station to my accommodation. When I approach two outside taxi drivers they both want at least ten euros to take me to my accommodation which is more than triple what I was advised to pay by the young woman back at Hotel Peja. I walk on. Even with the assistance of Google Maps, I am obstructed by a loud and aggressive dual carriageway with no infrastructure to cross it. No way am I going to cross this death-trap with vehicles driving at out of sight speeds. I swiftly come to the realisation that paying ten euros for a taxi may not be such a bad idea after all. So I approach another taxi driver. This one speaks no English. Nevertheless I show him the address of my accommodation. After looking at the scrap of paper with the address for what seems like an age, he brusquely says, ‘OK!’. When I press him on the taxi fare, he grunts in German, ‘Drei, vier Euro’. Fuckin’ A. Lets go.

Everything goes swimmingly until we approach the district of the city where my accommodation is supposed to be located. It is situated on the edge of a hill overlooking the city centre. After driving aimlessly across multiple narrow streets, the taxi driver stops at a small convenience store to ask for directions to my place. A middle age woman with red curly hair appears. She speaks refreshingly good English and advises me to go to an Italian restaurant located further down the street, which may be able to better assist me. When I tell her that I am from England, she almost gets down on her knees repeatedly telling me, ‘I love England! The war was so terrible and you defended us!’ The taxi driver then proceeds to drop me off at the Italian restaurant, continually apologising in German for his navigation blunders. I tell him not to worry and get out of the cab. At the Italian restaurant, I find a waiter who speaks excellent English yet he has no idea regarding the whereabouts of my accommodation. Happily though he allows me to use the wi-fi in the restaurant. I call my host via WhatsApp telling him where I am. He duly arrives in a black BMW X5 looking like the ring leader of some sordid Albanian human trafficking gang. I am absolutely petrified of him. On arrival at the location of my accommodation it appears that I got more than what I expected. Not only do I have my own private room, I have my own mini apartment all to myself with a breath-taking view over Pristina. As I take it all in, he ominously barks, ‘Pay!’ like some Costcutter Don Corleone. I have a look inside my wallet and discover that I only have six euros. I ask him whether I can pay later? He’s not happy with my response. ‘Ok come with me I drive you to cash machine’. And so I put back on my shoes just as I took them off and we had to his black mafia mobile. He drives me to some BNP Paribas cash machine located outside of the city. As I attempt to withdraw 100 euros, the bank tells me there will be a flat five euro withdrawal fee. So I double my withdrawal amount to 200 euros. When I pay him he becomes less intimidating. The hard Lennie McLean façade morphs into soft as butter Dr Phil. He offers to drive me all the way to the centre of the city.

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Pristina at night

My impressions of Pristina become more positive the closer I get to the centre. My quest to find a tourist information centre and a map fails miserably. On a positive note, I ask two random young guys for directions to a city centre based hostel where my chances of finding a city map are high. They are both wonderfully friendly and speak fluent English. At Hostel Hun, located on the forth floor of a building, I meet a young hostel worker who speaks perfect English. He gives me a map of the city. I am not a fan of dormitories, but this hostel is quiet, clean and appears well run. I make a reservation for one night in the six-bed dormitory room for my third night in Pristina.

Afterwards I walk to a nearby diner where I order a combo of chicken and beef kebab meat with chips and salad. I haven’t eaten all day. I am still peckish after finishing my meal and so I order a sandwich with small hamburger-like patties and salad. Then I head back towards my mini apartment. On the way I pause at a modern café/bar and order a slice of the Three Milks cake. It is delicious. Later I amble up the hill back to my pad.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs From Mostar

I visited the town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina during my two month long Balkans trip back in September 2017. The town is one of the highlights of the country and is easily accessible from either Sarajevo or the historic Croatian town of Dubrovnik. I took the train from Sarajevo, which I highly recommend. On most bus journeys its not uncommon to hear the latest chart music playing on the speakers. Instead during this two hour train journey I was treated to a non stop 60s and 70s rock n roll extravaganza of Thin Lizzy, Free, Deep Purple, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones and lots more classic music from that era.

Mostar is well known for its famous Ottoman era landmark bridge in the old part of town. During the Bosnian war in the 1990s the bridge was completely destroyed as was much of the town. In fact if you take a good walk around Mostar you will see many remnants of bombed out and dilapidated buildings from that awful time. The current bridge is a beautiful and meticulous reconstruction of the original bridge.

There’s a popular restaurant in the old part of town close to the bridge called Sadrvan, which serves delicious and inexpensive traditional Bosnian cuisine. Look out for the Mostarian Sahan (a traditional local mixed hot pot) and the Duvec (a rich vegetable stew).

This is a pleasant and charming old historical town in a beautiful setting. Most places are walking distance away and you can easily spend 2-3 leisurely days here. Away from the main tourist drag there are some good bakeries selling cheap and tasty pastries.  The best thing to do here is to walk and explore the streets and side streets. Lots of interesting nooks and crannies can be unearthed. Below I am sharing with you all some of my photographs from this interesting slice of the Balkans…

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Dicing With Danger In Fortaleza

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Fortaleza: Not all a beach

 

The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’

 

29th March 2014

Today the aeroplane crashed into the mountain. What happened today was perhaps the most frightening and dangerous position I ever found myself in so far in all my travelling life. Getting mugged on the streets of Caracas five years ago was small beer compared to this.

In the morning I took a local ômnibus to Fortaleza’s international airport to buy my plane ticket to the Cape Verde islands and also to have some clarity over a few Cape Verdean related immigration queries. I was also carrying my rucksack containing my iPad so that I could take advantage of the wireless internet in the airport. When I arrived at the airport, the TACV (local Cape Verde airline company) desk for flights to Cape Verde was closed. There was nothing I could do so I took an ômnibus from the airport to the city centre of Fortaleza. I had planned to take some photos and make some short films discreetly. So far tudo bem. I take my photos and films, have two cups of agua de coco, and explore a large portion of the city untroubled.

Later in the afternoon I look for an ômnibus going to the suburb of Iracema where my guesthouse is located. A big tough ol’ fat lady weighing at least 300 pounds tries to guide me to my bus. After some time she becomes very aggressive and starts demanding money. I board a random ômnibus about to depart and she gets on it too and begins to lunge at me. Immediately she grabs at my shirt and trouser pants and tries to punch me several times WWE style. I naturally cry for help but unbelievably no one on the bus comes to my rescue. At this moment I am absolutely terrified and in a panic I empty my wallet containing 15 Reis. She snatches the 15 Reis out of my hand and demands that I give her more money. When I am unable to give her more money, she rips my fake pair of Ray Bans off my face and crunches them up to debris in one of her enormous hands like a crusher at a scrap metal plant. Right now she’s a combination of Medusa and Big Mama Thornton on crack. Five policemen enter the bus. Three of them try to restrain her. My Brazilian Portuguese is maybe only half a step up from standard Gringo level and most of the time I barely decipher what she’s saying as it jets out of her mouth at 90 times the speed of sound. Only a little later does it become clear that she tried to unscrupulously frame me by claiming that I bought cocaine from her. And not only that…that I refused to pay for it! Even if this house of cards allegation were true, by admitting that you are a drug dealer surely creates ramifications for yourself, does it not? The police officers turn me and my rucksack upside down in pursuit of the smallest nano particle of blow. When they eventually realise that I am in possession of no drugs let alone cocaine, they simply bark something at this rare disgrace and let her go. The pathetic absence of justice and incompetence on the part of the local police, whilst it didn’t surprise me, left me feeling vulnerable, insecure and full of fear. Yet in their defence they did do one caring thing for me by driving me back to my pousada on Rua Dom Manuel in Iracema.

I am still trembling from this rare hi-octane episode of barbery that I spend the rest of the day and night in my room. I only venture out once in the early evening to buy bottled water and have a simple dinner at one of the adjacent restaurants.

When I finally manage to calm down, I discard my emotions and purchase my flight ticket to the city of Praia in the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa. Tomorrow morning I vow to exit this city and go to the small and tranquil beach village of Canoa Quebrada.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(All rights reserved)

image source: http://www.expedia.com

Touring The Local Pubs Of Glasgow

Earlier this month I visited and stayed with a couple of friends of mine in Glasgow. I had an absolutely stellar time over there. Yet one integral aspect of what made my time in Glasgow truly memorable was visiting some of the city’s local boozers. In this article I will be selecting some of these pubs which I particularly enjoyed.

 

 
Kelly’s Bar

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This pub is a proper authentic Irish boozer located off Polokshaws Road south of the city centre and an important part of Glasgow’s traditional and historic Irish community. My friends both took me there on my first night in Glasgow after we had a delicious vegetarian Indian feast at nearby Ranjits Kitchen. As we all ordered pints of Tenants a stocky Irish lad was playing songs on his acoustic guitar. Many of the songs were traditional Irish songs with a smattering of pro IRA ditties thrown in for good measure. You can take it or leave it, I suppose. But I like this pub. Not many outsiders venture here. There is nothing ostentatiously hip or pretentious about this place and if you want a cheap pre or post curry pint, you could do far worse than rock up here. Most of the time the pub is refreshingly devoid of big crowds except when Celtic are playing.

 

 
Saracen’s Head

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The Saracen’s Head, or ‘Sarries Head’ as its better known to locals, is a notorious Glasgow pub directly opposite the Barras market and very close to the Barrowlands concert venue. As I was ordering our drinks, I was mulling over whether to order a separate glass of the infamous Glasgow brew called Buckfast Tonic wine. The guy serving me was three parts Billy Connolly and two parts Gregor Fisher. He gave me a strong look to break my indecision and said, ‘ya cannoe gorra Glasgow and no av a wee bita Buckfast lad’. It seemed I had no other choice in the matter.

 

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At the Saracen’s Head pub with my Tenants and Buckfast

 

My friends and I found a corner of the pub to sit down. There I was with my Tenants in one glass and deep crimson Happy Shopper cassis in the other. I approached the Buckfast like it was a glass of black mamba venom. This toxic liquor was absolutely vile. I badly needed a kale, kiwi, cucumber – you get the picture – one of those uber healthy raw juices to cleanse by desecrated internal body after this legendary assault.

 

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Not feeling the Buckfast

 

 


The Star Bar

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The Star Bar is located on the corner of Pollockshaws and Eglinton streets. On the surface this is an unassuming and nondescript place. But once you open the doors and enter you are immediately catapulted into a genuine and uncorrupted slice of Glasgow. All the Rab C Nesbit stereotypes are pungent here. Yet this place exudes warmth. My principle reason for coming here was to sample their 3 course meal for only £3! I have never heard of anywhere else offering such deal. I loved the sound of it and I thought it would be rude not to resist.

 

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I couldn’t say no

 

The landlord was monumentally friendly to an outsider like myself and even offered me a free half pint of Carling as I was about to order my drink. A salt of the earth person with a heart of gold. I was very touched. My starter came in the form of canned minestrone soup. I could handle it, almost.

 

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Course One: Canned minestrone soup

 

Then for my main I received a Scots pie with fat green beans and boiled potatoes. This was by far the most ‘wholesome’ part of the three course meal even if the pie and mince inside was about as processed as processed pies got but you would have to be a real wolly to complain considering the price. And besides, I would be dead offended to be served anything remotely representing ‘gourmet’ quality here.

 

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Course Two: Scots pie with potatoes and green beans

 

Finally for dessert (or ‘sweetie’ as the landlord called it) I was served green jelly, tinned fruit and cream in a small tin cup. This was more challenging. I could handle the fruit but not the rest.

 

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Course Three: Green jelly, canned fruit and cream

 

 

 

The Brazen Head

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Further up Pollockshaws road and past the Star is the Brazen Head. I was expecting a gritty, rough and tumble affair judging by some of the online reviews I’d read. The Sunday Times even wrote an article on it entitled ‘Inside the Gorbals hardest pub’. Yet I was unexpectedly surprised to discover a rather pleasant and friendly Celtic Irish pub. On the other hand it was verging on dead when I was there save for two or three long timers. Perhaps I should go there when the football is on to give this place a more realistic assessment? I found a corner at the far end of the pub nestled amongst a galaxy of Celtic memorabilia. The widescreen plasma TV was on mute as I quietly drank my pint of Guinness.

 

 

The Alpen Lodge

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Around central Glasgow station are a number of down and out local boozers which are unlikely to ever make an appearance in a Lonely Planet guidebook. The Alpen Lodge is one of those places. Here it is semi packed yet everyone mostly keeps themselves to themselves. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about this pub but if you want to visit an authentic Glasgow boozer, albeit uncomfortably voyeuristically, you can do far worse. After a while I just wanted to get the hell out of here. Out of all the pubs I had visited in Glasgow, it was here where I felt the most self conscious. Yet as I drank my pint of Tenants in haste, I discovered a very enlightened poem on the wall next to me entitled Smiling which began…

‘Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too…’

I read the entire poem and immediately felt more relaxed and at ease. I savoured the remainder of my pint.

 

 

The Laurieston

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Saving the best til last, The Laurieston is the granddaddy of all the pubs I’ve mentioned. An institution and a unique and untouchable gem of Glasgow. What a place! On the outside it could be mistaken for a typical council estate drinking den. This pub is similar to the Star Bar in some ways. Both places exude legendary Glaswegian warmth and are as authentic as pubs get. Yet whereas the Star Bar projected a fatigued and rather downbeat vibe, here the energy is infectious. What’s more, all kinds of people come here; long timers, football fans, students, local trendies and even a smattering of tourists like myself. It was on the awesome recommendation of my Glasgow based friends that I first became aware of this place. This pub has been in the family for decades who, amazingly, have so far resisted any offers to sell the place. The family who own the Laurie are very proud of their pub and I feel a change in ownership could potentially dent a great part of what makes this pub truly special.

 

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Inside the Laurieston 1

 

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Inside the Laurieston 2

 

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At the Laurie sipping my pint of Guinness

 

As my friends and I sip our pints, I venture over to the jukebox which is free. There is a large selection of songs much of which are from old 60s, 70s and ‘Now That’s What I call Music’ compilations. I select Blondie, Thin Lizzy, The Troggs and Status Quo before I return to my friends and my pint of the black stuff.

 

 
By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

Baba Vanga: The Nostradamus Of The 20th Century

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Vangelia Gushterova or Baba Vanga as she was better known was born on January 31st, 1911 in Strumica, former Yugoslavia. She is often referred to as the Nostradamus of the 20th Century for her prophecies and unique ability to foretell the future

 

The Life Of Baba Vanga

When Baba Vanga was only three years old her mother died and her father went to fight during the First World War meaning she grew up pretty much alone. Her father later remarried when she was seven years old and at the age of twelve they all moved to a town called Novo Selo where Baba Vanga went through a period of tremendous unhappiness.

One day something unusual happened which would change her life completely. She was with her cousins outside when a powerful tornado appeared and proceeded to catapult her into the air and into a field of crops some distance away. When she was eventually found in the field after a long search, witnesses say that she was very frightened and in considerable pain. Her eyes were covered in dirt and dust and she ways unable to open her eyes because of the pain. The incident left her permanently blind and she was sent to a home for blind people in a town called Zemun until the age of eighteen. Afterwards she came back home to care for her brothers and sisters after her stepmother passed away. It was during this time back at home when she experienced unusual metaphysical activities. She would often dream, hear voices, have visions and even communicate with the dead and plants. More significantly, she predicted many events which came true with unbelievable accuracy.

Some days before her death on November 11th 1996, she said the following worlds in a TV interview, “Don’t hate each other, because you are all my children!”

Also, some time before her death, she said that a blind 10 year old girl living in France would inherit her gift, and said that the world would soon hear about her.

 

Baba Vanga’s Prophecies and Their Significance Today

Many of Baba Vanga’s predictions came true. Some of the more recent events happening in the world today most notably the 9/11 attacks and the rise of ISIS have been linked to Baba Vanga’s prophecies and have put her in the spotlight.

Some of her predictions which came true include…

The beginning of WW2

The date on which Tsar Boris III died (Bulgarian king from 1918-1943)

The break-up of Czechoslovakia

The riots in Lebanon (1968)

The war in Nicaragua (1979)

The election of Indira Gandhi and her death

The break-up of the Soviet Union

The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl

The date when Stalin died

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami (This is linked to a prophecy she made where she said, “A huge wave will cover a big coast covered with people and towns, and everything will disappear beneath the water. Everything will melt, just like ice.”)

The 44th President of the United States would be African-American (yet she also said that he would be the last US President)

The 9/11 Twin Tower attacks (This is linked to a prophecy she made in 1989 where she reportedly said, ‘Horror, horror! The American brethren will fall after being attacked by the steel birds. The wolves will be howling in a bush, and innocent blood will be gushing’.)

The disaster of the Russian “Kursk” submarine

 

Other Predictions

There has been quite a hullabaloo recently regarding some of her other predictions. Some claim that she had warned that Muslims would invade Europe in a ‘great Muslim war’ which would conclude with the establishment of an Islamic caliphate by 2043, with the city of Rome as its capital. This prophecy has propelled conspiracy theorists to highlight the rise of ISIS as evidence.

She also forewarned how the world would change due to the effects of global warming (“Cold regions will become warm … and volcanoes will awaken”)

Other predictions include a prediction that aliens would enable civilisation to live underwater by 2130 and another that in 3005 there would be a war on Mars

Although many of her predictions came true, many also didn’t. Most notably her prediction that in 2010 there would be another world war.

 

By Nicholas Peart

2nd October 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

Image source: http://www.catchnews.com

 

Text sources:

http://www.baba-vanga.com/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_Vanga

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/baba-vanga-who-is-the-blind-mystic-who-predicted-the-rise-of-isis-a6765071.html