Month: November 2013

Wanting to visit all of the countries of Europe…

I wanted to visit EVERY country of Europe by the time I’m 50…I hit 50 next September, so I don’t think I’ll make it, since moving to Georgia in 2009, the only new European country visited is Azerbaijan (briefly), I haven’t even ventured over the border into Armenia, yet.

My passion is travelling: seeing different countries, meeting different people…

I like to visit new places, it seems life is short and there are so many places still to see.

Around the turn of the millennium I had the idea that I would like to have visited every country of Europe by the time I m 50. Every country of the world would be nice but I am, alas, limited by money and time.

What qualifies as a European Country? The EU currently comprises 27 countries, but I chose as my qualification any country with a football team in the European Nations Competition. Thus the UK qualifies as 4 countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each having a separate team), but some countries like Monaco, Basque Country and Vatican City don’t qualify. Israel and Turkey also qualify as they play in European competitions.

At present by my reckoning there are 54 countries in Europe, the number greatly augmented by the break up of Yugoslavia and The Soviet Union. Of these I have visited 33 which leaves 21 to visit (a number which may change).

Countries visited (year first visited in brackets):

1. England (1964); I came into the world in 1964 in London, England. I have no great patriotism. I had no choice in where I was born, in some ways I was lucky to be born in a relatively free and prosperous country at peace, not somewhere riven by poverty or war or an oppressive dictatorship. With the exception of 1998 when I spent the whole year in Wales (the worst year of my life), I have been in or to England every year of my life. When I visited Australia I found Australians, who knew England better than me (and I knew Australia better than them), so on returning to England I made an effort to explore the country. You will probably find lots of interesting places near to where you live, you don t need to go half way across the world to find somewhere interesting. Lots of great places to see in England and events like Ludlow Mediaeval Christmas fayre. (Rating 4/5)

2. France (1971). My first venture outside England was a daytrip on the hovercraft to Calais, aged 6. I remember the hovercraft more than I remember Calais. I have since been to France many times. I lived in France for 6 years from 1991 to 1997. When I met Khato I told her I would like to take her to Paris,  this was achieved in April 2012. On Youtube you can type in “Khato cartwheeling” and you will see her performing cartwheels with the Eiffel Tower in the background. (Rating 3/5)

3. Wales (1972). My first holiday in Wales it rained all week. I later went to University in Wales (Aberystwyth), where it rained a lot, but not all the time. From 1982 to date I have been in Wales every year. I lived in Wales again 1997 to 1999, this was a really low period in my life. 1998 was spent entirely in Wales. I still regularly go to Wales for the beaches (Porthcawl, Barry Island and Ogmore are all less than three hours from Worcester) but I couldn t live there again. I take a lot of foreign students to Caerphilly Castle it ‘s big and much cheaper than Warwick castle. (Rating 2/5)

4. Scotland (1975). I ve been to Scotland 5 times. I picked raspberries by the Beauly Firth for two weeks (near Inverness). One of my best friends lives in Gourock on the Firth of the Clyde. I visited her in April (crashing my car on the way back). Edinburgh has the feel of a foreign city. Glasgow can be a bit scary. The Highlands are beautiful. (Rating 3/5)

5. Belgium (1975). I ve been to Belgium 9 times including my second honeymoon (Antwerp). Bruges is very pretty. I like the dunes on the coast by Blankenberge. (Rating (3/5)

6. The Netherlands (1978). Strangely, I’ve only been twice to the Netherlands, the first time aged 13, at the time of the 1978 World Cup which I remember watching on a black and white TV in a caravan somewhere near Utrecht. Highlight of the week in Netherlands was a canal trip around Amsterdam. Visited a second time in 2008, spending most of my time in the pretty city of Delft. (Rating 3/5)

7. Croatia (1981). It was Yugoslavia at the time, I was on a school cruise around the Mediterranean. We were supposed to start in Venice, but the Italian Air Traffic Controllers were on strike so we began in Split. Didn t really appreciate Split, seemed a poor substitution for Venice, remember the coffee being so strong it was undrinkable. (Rating 2/5)

8. Turkey (1981). I ve now been to Turkey six times. The first time was great, Ephesus was incredible. I returned in 2000 to visit my friend Emre and saw Pamukkale, another amazing place. Then a third visit in 2004 to Bodrum where I had fun windsurfing. I d really like to see more of Turkey as I ve only been to the Aegean Coast, and there is much more to see. Update: visited Trabzon on Black sea Coast and the amazing Sumela Monastery in January 2010. I have also twice visited Istanbul (2008 and 2010), a truly magnificent city. (Rating 4/5)

9. Greece (1981). I really liked Turkey but I love Greece. I ve been there 4 times. Best time was when I stayed with my friend Fenia in Thessaloniki (2002). I find the Greek people very friendly. Lots to see. Good food. Good weather. Amazing cultural heritage. Alphabet a bit tricky. (Rating 5/5)

10. Italy (1981). I’ve been to Italy twice. First time was at the end of the Cruise when we saw Pompeii ,after seeing ruins everywhere else Greece, Turkey, Egypt probably didn t appreciate Pompeii. Whenever I’ve travelled since I have tried to take in a variety of experiences. Even taking a few foreign students to South Wales for the day, I combine Caerphilly Castle with Cardiff and Barry Island. Variety is the spice of life. Second trip to Italy, visited Sicily, best food I d ever tasted until I went to Valencia. Etna is awesome and Agrigento is spectacular. (Rating 3/5).

11. Germany (1987). I ve been to Germany many times now (7). When I visited first it was a divided country. I visited DDR in the summer of 1989, my only real experience of an Iron Curtain country in Communist times…Yugoslavia being somewhat different. Berlin is my favourite city in Germany but I did have a very good time in Frankfurt on my first visit. (Rating 3/5)

12. Luxembourg (1989). Small but pretty. Been here 3 times. The City is very pretty and La Petite Suisse de Luxembourg is very scenic for walking. (Rating 4/5)

13. Austria (1989). This was the first country I visited just to “tick it off”, I took a train from Lindau to Bregenz crossing German-Austrian border, and spending about 15 minutes in Bregenz before taking train back to Lindau. I returned to Austria in 2004 to visit the capital, Vienna. Austria would be a difficult country for me to like, my first wife’s parents were Austrian Jews who fled the country in 1938. (Rating 1/5)

14. Denmark (1990). Very flat compared to other Scandinavian countries. Lots of cyclists.(Rating 2/5)

15. Sweden (1990). Lots of trees. Walked on a frozen lake near Harnosand which was interesting. I returned to Sweden at the end of July 2007, before tended to go through en route to Norway. (Rating 3/5)

16. Norway (1990). Very scenic. My first Honeymoon was to the Lofoten Islands, north of the Arctic Circle. Mountains, fjords, glaciers, midnight sun all amazing. On the negative side rain, rain and more rain. Also very high prices. (Rating 4/5)

17. Spain (1990) Amazing cities. I ve visited San Sebastian/Donostia, Santiago de Compostella, Sevilla, Madrid and Valencia. Valencia has the best food I ve ever tasted (Paella with Garlic Mayonnaise). Sevilla is probably my favourite European City, I was there at the time of the April Fair. Very colourful. (Rating 4/5)

18. Portugal (1990). First time I was interrailing. Covering a lot of miles (Paris – Narvik then Narvik down to the Algarve). Douro valley very pretty. Lisbon has trams going up steep inclines and lots of lovely fish restaurants. Cabo de rocha is most westerly point of Europe. (Rating 4/5)

19. Eire (1990). Been twice to the Irish Republic. To the South East (Kilkenny, Waterford) and to the north (Sligo, Donegal). Weather was good both times, surprisingly. (Rating 3/5)

20. Cyprus (1995). My second favourite Mediterranean Island. People are very friendly. Weather, sunny even in February. Good place for winter sun, they drive on the left which is convenient for Brits. Nice food. (Rating 4/5)

21. Hungary (2001). Been to Hungary 5 times now. I love Budapest and Pecs is interesting too. They really do play chess in the thermal baths in Budapest.(Rating 4/5)

22. Slovakia (2001). I have a lot of Slovakian friends. Only been to Bratislava (twice), small city compared to Budapest or Prague. (Rating 2/5)

23. Lithuania (2003). I went to a hotel in Palanga on the Baltic coast and found they didn t speak English or French, only Russian or Lithuanian! Very flat country like Denmark. Hill of Crosses at Siaulai is surreal. Birzai has a lovely artificial lake. This was the first state from the Former Soviet Union I visited. (Rating 3/5)

24. Czech Republic (2004). I ve only been to Prague (twice), another pretty city. I have some very good friends in Prague (Iveta, Andreia and Tereza). I prefer Budapest as a city.(Rating 3/5)

25. Poland (2004). I spent three days in Poland in 2004, arriving on the night train from Prague in Krakow. I visited Auschwitz (Oswieczim), a very sad place, its true that no birds sing there. I was also disappointed that the guide omitted the gypsy holocaust, not taking us to Block 13, where most Roma and Sinto were interred. Wieliska was interesting, a salt mine just outside Krakow, with a chapel underground carved into the salt. I was invited to a wedding in Poland on 22 September 2007 in Siedlce, Eliza, one of my students got married, there. (Rating 3/5)

26. Serbia (2005). I like Serbia. Very interesting and few other tourists. I ve been to Serbia twice now. The first time I visited Subotica and Palic in the Hungarian speaking part. Subotica has lots of pretty art nouveau buildings, and almost no tourists. My second visit was to Belgrade, cheap accommodation for a capital city and great nightlife. Unfortunately Underground was being refurbished when I was there, so I spent a few nights listening to music and live bands in the cellars of Akademija. (Rating 4/5)

27. Northern Ireland (2005). Last country of UK to be “ticked off” my list. The Antrim Coast, the Marble Arch caves, the Loughs of Fermanagh and the Giant’s Causeway are all worth seeing. The towns and cities are disappointing with all the same chain shops; Coleraine could be Peterborough. (Rating 3/5)

28. Switzerland (2006). Very scenic, possibly too pretty for my liking. I visited Luzern a city by a lake, lots of mediaeval buildings, overlooked by great mountains, Korean tourists taking lots of pictures, it all seemed a bit too much like a theme park. Basel was ok, felt like it was a city people lived in. Lots of Turks, I tried ordering tomato soup in Thun in Turkish, got a Tomato salad, obviously need to practise more. Very expensive, the weather was not good when I went. (Rating 3/5)

29. Liechtenstein (2006). The weather was bad, I stayed in a grotty hotel in Schaan. I wouldn t recommend Liechtenstein. (Rating 2/5)

30. Israel (2007). Not strictly in Europe, but qualifies here as they play football in Europe holding England to a draw recently and beating France in 1993. I stayed in Jerusalem, incredible city…one of those cities you must see before you die (like Rome and Istanbul, which I have yet to see). A lot of tension and soldiers. Staying in Jerusalem is like living in history, so much here. A holy city for three religions, no wonder there is tension. I preferred the quieter Armenian quarter. I ventured out of Jerusalem once, the bus station’s security was like an airport’s, took a bus to the Dead Sea and Ein Gedi National park. I didn t see any trouble. If a Palestinian offers to guide you around the city say no, I made that mistake and ended up £50 poorer. Lots of vendors keen to part you and your money like souks anywhere. (Rating 4/5)

31. Finland (2007). Trees and lakes. Visited Santa Claus village on the Arctic Circle…in August. Expensive country. (Rating 3/5)

32Georgia (2008). Visiting Georgia changed my life. I met my wife Khato at a wedding in Tbilisi and moved out to teach English the following year. Georgia has a lot of Geography for a country the size of Ireland. The language is tricky not having a Roman or even Cyrillic alphabet. Some of the highest mountains in Europe are here, we visited Mount Kazbek in 2012, over 5000m it is higher than Mont Blanc . (Rating 4/5)

33Azerbaijan (2011). It doesn t look like I’ll achieve my goal to visit every country in Europe by the time I’m 50. This is the first new European country I ve visited in the last 5 years and this was by accident not design. Visiting the Davit Gareja monastery complex in the South of Georgia, we crossed into Azerbaijan without any passport control. The only border guards we noticed were Georgian and they didn t ask us for any ID. The semi arid landscape was impressive but we didn t meet any Azeris to have a full view of the country. (Rating 3/5)

34. Vatican City (2016). The smallest country in the world. Completely surrounded by the city of Rome. We visited the Vatican Museum with the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. We also visited St Peter’s Basilica, the biggest cathedral in Europe. Very crowded with tourists, very opulent interiors. Doesn’t have a football team playing in the European Nations so doesn’t fit my suggested criterium for a European country. (Rating 3/5)

Ratings: 5/5 my favourite country (Greece)

4/5 I d highly recommend this country (10 countries)

3/5 good (15 countries)

2/5 in no hurry to return to this country (5 countries)

1/5 my least favourite country (Austria)

33 Down

19 to go:

Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Andorra, Malta, San Marino, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Latvia, Estonia, Armenia, Kosovo, Montenegro

Of these countries currently Macedonia appeals the most, chatting with people in Serbia had lots recommending the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (the Greeks would argue its not the true Macedonia).

Outside Europe, I would love to see Argentina and Chile. China and Ethiopia also look interesting.

My favourite place? Corsica, the French Island in the Mediterranean, if I could live there I would (I tried but there is little work outside tourist season). Sea , mountains and the smell of wide sage. Interesting towns, very different from each other (Calvi, Corte, Bastia, Ajaccio, l’Ile Rousse). Interesting people, not as friendly as Greeks but warm and steeped in tradition.

Outside Europe I have visited Australia (1987), Egypt (1981), USA (2009) and Canada (2009)…37 countries in total.

The map below says 35 because it counts the UK as one country, not four. I also was only in transit in Malaysia, so I don’t really count landing in Kuala Lumpar en route to Australia as having visited Malaysia.

Jim Holroyd’s Travel Map

Jim Holroyd has been to: Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Egypt, Spain, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Georgia, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden, Slovakia, Turkey, United States.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Blood, Sweat and Tea

This is a review of the book that inspired me to start blogging.

“Blood, Sweat + Tea” by Tom Reynolds.

Blood, Sweat and Tea

Blood, Sweat and Tea

This book is awash with blood, sweat, tea and many other bodily fluids. Tom Reynolds (pseudonym) writes about his experience as a London Ambulance driver and it is a riveting read. The book is taken from his blog, the first I have read like this but in this century, I suspect many similar books of this ilk. The tales are a mix of the tragic, comic and frustrating.

At night the Ambulance crews and the A & E department seem to take most of the slack for failings in the rest of the care system: GPs, Social Workers, midwives, carers etc… there is much ranting about other health care professionals not doing their jobs effectively. Government targets don’t help; the ambulance should reach a patient in a maximum of 8 minutes, if it does and the patient dies it counts as a success, if they reach the patient in 9 minutes and save him or her it is a failure… I think all government ministers should read this and other health professionals, too…it might help inform a better health and social care system.

There are plenty of little rants in here about the problems of alcoholism and the waste of young lives afflicted, the author has a strange failing in that he can’t smell alcohol, so has to rely on his crewmate to smell alcohol on the breath of a patient. He is also clearly upset about parents who smoke in the presence of their children, as one child dies of asthma and the distraught parents ironically go and light up.

Tom worries about not being PC at times but covers it with the caveat that he hates everyone. This is clearly not the case as he is deeply affected by some of his cases and working in Newham he will see a large cross section of the community. He is even incensed that some sufferers of Sickle Cell Anemia (mostly a disease of West Indians) are barred from certain hospitals, making his and their lives more complicated.

I would thoroughly recommend this book.

The book even inspired me to start my own blog, the direction of which is as yet unclear…waiting for clearer instructions from control.

Starting a blog.

Reading  “Blood, Sweat and tea” is what inspired me to start a blog. Not quite sure the theme, I guess it depends if anyone follows or if I get suitably inspired.
“Blood, Sweat and Tea” is the blog of a London Ambulance Driver turned into a book. This blog is not likely to have as much by way of bodily fluids….

Image

Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Jim Holroyd (real name…should I blog anonymously?)

I’m an Englishman living in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

I have been here 4 years, I only came originally as a tourist for three days, but I was invited to a wedding, where I met my future wife.

I visited Georgia because at the time I had an idea I wanted to visit all the countries of Europe by the time I’m 50. Next year, I hit fifty and my goal won’t have been achieved, I ve visted over half the countries of Europe but since moving to Georgia, I’ve only added one new country to that list: Azerbaijan…I haven’t even ventured as far as neighbouring Armenia.

In the Summer I hope to make the pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostela, the Hindus have the idea that when you reach fifty, you should have your material life sorted and should focus on the spiritual by making a pilgrimage. I visited Santiago del Compostela by train in 1990 with Chrissie.

I plan to start the trek from Porto in Portugal, a less used route than the classic one from the Pyrenees. Not sure if I’ll be up to walking for two weeks…I regularly walk an hour a day in the city but walking 20 to 30km a day will be challenging:

1 Porto – Vilarinho (or Vila do Conde) 27 kms
2 Vilarinho – Barcelos 27 kms
3 Barcelos – Ponte de Lima 33.5 kms
4 Ponte de Lima – Rubiães 20.5 kms
5 Rubiães – Valença or Tui 20 kms
6 Valença or Tui – Redondela 30 kms
7 Redondela – Pontevedra 20.5 kms
8 Pontevedra – Caldas de Reis 21.1 kms
9 Caldas de Reis – Padrón 17 kms
10 Padrón – Santiago 23.9 kms

Any comments about the blog will be appreciated.