We have visited every country in Europe, except one: Macedonia

Budva Old Town, Montenegro

Lyngen Alps, Norway

Seljelandsfoss, Iceland

Pripyat, an abandoned city in the zone of alienation in northern Ukraine, near the border with Belarus. It was home to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, but the city was abandoned in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster. Its population had been around 50,000 prior to the accident.

A weary traveller at Brussels Airport

East Germans lining up to cross into West Germany as the Berlin Wall fell in early 1990.

When the wall was built in 1961, it not only separated East and West Germany, it often divided families and friends too. Sometimes referred to as The Wall of Shame in reference to the wall's restriction of freedom, more than 200 people died trying to escape from the East to the West.

In 1989, a series of revolutions in nearby Eastern Bloc countries caused a chain reaction in East Germany that ultimately resulted in the demise of the Wall, and in November 1989 crowds of East Germans crossed the Wall, joined by West Germans on the other side in a celebratory atmosphere.

I feel very honoured to have been a tiny part of those celebrations.

Joseph Kaminsky and his son

It was cold and it was dark. He felt an unbelievable pain gripping his entire body and at first Joseph could not recall how he got there and what had happened. Then the whole ghastly event came flooding back to him. The 22nd March 1943 the Nazis arrived in the village of Khatyn, Belarus,  rounding up all its inhabitants and herding them like cattle into the barn. With the roof covered in straw and the doors barred, the barn was doused in petrol and set alight. Joseph could both see and hear his friends and family die in the flames, burnt alive. And now, all that was left of his village was him, and the ashes. Joseph went looking for his son, and cradled his badly burnt, but still breathing, body in his arms, where he later died.

26 households were razed to the ground and 149 people died that day at Khatyn. Joseph Kaminsky, the blacksmith, was the only one to survive. Khatyn was one of 186 villages in Belarus to suffer a similar fate during WWII and forever be wiped off the face of the earth. A further 433 villages were also totally destroyed, but were later rebuilt after the war. 2,230,000 people perished in total, one in four of the population.

Not many memorials have moved me in the way Khatyn did. The only sounds were the ringing of the 26 bells – each one erected where a home once stood – at 30 second intervals, and the surreal clatter of a distant woodpecker. The eerie silence, the fitting hail storm and the ghostlike emptiness came together to overwhelm me totally.

Between Ukraine and Moldova is a small forgotten nation known as Transdnistr. The breakaway republic, once part of the USSR, declared independence in 1990, and although not officially recognised by most countries, they have their own government and currency, and visitors still have to obtain a visa to enter.

Our hotel is modern, but Soviet style. I start to snigger as pick up the folder in the bedroom and read the description of the hotel services, detailing how they offer “speed dating” in the bar. It certainly sounds like a euphemism to me, and I become even more convinced when I read about their “private room where you can relax in utmost privacy or conduct confidential business negotiations” I feel sure that there is more to this place than just a hotel.

Initially we are the only two people in the restaurant for dinner, but there seems to be a private party going on next door, and we watch guests arrive. One by one, or sometimes in pairs, the most stunningly beautiful girls arrive, wearing precipitously high heels, skirts so short that if they even slightly bent over I could see their breakfast, or dresses so tight they would have needed a shoe horn to get into them – usually with splits reaching for the armpits. When I say that these girls are glamorous, I mean it to the point that they would not look out of place on a red carpet in Hollywood. These are amongst the most beautiful and elegant girls I have ever seen!

The girls are truly conversation-stoppers. Or rather starters – we do wonder with so many flashy and seductive girls (and mostly scruffy corpulent men) if this is anything to do with the “speed dating” and “private room” we read about earlier…?

They all disappear behind a wall at the end of the terrace, to a private area, but being the nosy sort, I go to have a peek. Popping my head around the corner, I see that the setting is equally sophisticated, with colourful drapes and a multicoloured fountain.

Having taken what I had hoped was a surreptitious photo of the girl in the gold dress; the chap in the background comes up and starts to talk aggressively to me in Russian. Although I can’t understand what he is saying, I feel quite uncomfortable about his demeanour, so I shrug my shoulders, smile sweetly and hurry back to where David is sitting.

Not wishing to gatecrash the party next door, nor wanting to change money into Transdnistrian Roubles just so that we can have a drink in the bar; we retire to the room fairly early.

I’ve been asleep for a couple of hours when a sudden noise wakes me up. I hear the clippety-clopp of high heels on the hard floor of the corridor, then the slamming of a door. I look at my watch – it is 02:30. More clippety-clopp and door slamming follows, accompanied by giggling and laughter. It seems a number of guests are returning to their rooms a little worse for wear.

I have almost managed to drift back off to sleep by ignoring the noise from the corridor, when I hear shouting. Loud shouting. First a male voice, and then a female. A very loud door-slam follows, with the noise seemingly emanating from the next room. More shouting. They are obviously having a major ‘domestic’ dispute.

At around 04:15 there appears to be a ceasefire, and I am just returning to a slumber when they start off again. At this stage the fight gets pretty intense, it sounds like things are being thrown around, and I am very much expecting to hear the sound of broken glass followed by sirens. Thankfully that does not happen.

By 05:15 the argument reaches a crescendo: the female screams what I can only assume are Russian profanities, slams the door and leaves him, running down the corridor with more clippety-clopps. It doesn't sound like he follows her.

Was this another "speed date" gone wrong, or did the "confidential negotiations" break down? Either way, I am extremely grateful for silence at last. and I collapse into a deep sleep.

It was an interesting evening to say the least.

Ejmiatsin cathedral, Armenia

Excerpts from my journal:

Today is a religious holiday (The Feast of the Holy Cross, which is dedicated to the historical event of the return of the cross from captivity, its rising and glorification.) which means two things: Ejmiatsin Cathedral is full of worshippers as well as tourists; and the Catholicos is likely to make an appearance. Ejmiatsin is the holiest of holy for Armenian Christians, and this is where their head of church (Catholicos - their equivalent of our Archbishop of Canterbury) resides. Although the church is pretty old (the oldest place of worship in Armenia, built in 303 AD), the most interesting part of our visit was meant to be the liturgy - the traditional service performed every day by a choir, but today turns out to be performed two old men. The church is pretty atmospheric, with devotees of every age and status lighting candles and the monks in black robes with pointed hoods walking in a procession through the church.

There is a rumour that the big man himself is going to make an appearance (that is the Catholicos, not JC) and so everyone hangs around outside the church, including one old chap who is getting more excited than a child at Christmas. He is driving all the officials crazy with his badgering and touching of the monks and robed priests (or whatever they are, I haven't learn to differentiate the different outfits). Eventually the cavalcade of monks, priests and the head honcho appear and the buzz is electric. The elderly devotee I mentioned earlier is bouncing off the walls at this stage and when his time comes for the Catholicos to bless him, he grabs his arm and kisses his hand. The look of sheer bliss on his face afterwards brings a tear to my eye and totally makes my day!

Zeppelin pleasure flight.

Ever since I first read on line that the building and flying of these iconic airships of the early 20th century had been resurrected in Friedrichsafen in Germany, I dreamed of being able to take to the skies in a Zeppelin. I mentioned it to my husband and thought nothing more of it.

Fast forward several years and the morning of my 50th birthday. Sitting at the dining table enjoying a leisurely breakfast, I hear a strange noise behind me. I turn around and to my absolute surprise, I see a small radio-operated airship approaching. Laughing at my husband's ingenuity (he is the most imaginative gift-giver ever!) at giving me a miniature Zeppelin; the last laugh is on him. Hanging under the inflatable toy is an envelope containing two tickets for a 30 minute flight in the real thing in Friedrichshafen, the birthplace of Zeppelins.

As my birthday is in November, we delay the journey until the weather will be more reliable, and the following Easter we drive down to Germany. You have heard of an Indian summer? Well, Europe had an Arctic spring that year, and every single day we are there, the flights are cancelled as a result of bad weather. Bummer.

In August we return, this time flying down and hiring a car. We haven't even left the airport before I get a call from the Zeppelin people to say my flight for the following day has yet again been cancelled. This does not bode well, and the same thing happens the next day.

On our third day in the area, however, we wake to brilliant sunshine and no wind. Because my flight had already been cancelled five times previously, we are upgraded from a 30-minute experience to an hour and a half in the air.

There are not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe the flight. It is slow and gentle like a hot air balloon, while spacious and comfortable like a private jet. We are able to walk around inside the gondola, open the windows to take photos, chat to the pilot and just take it all in. Flying over Lake Bodensee and surrounding villages / countryside is like a photographer's wildest dream as the stewardess points out places of interest and the pilot lowers the craft to show off to and wave at friends.

Wow! Wow! Wow! A 50th birthday to remember. ♥

The old Town Hall Square of the historical Saxon city of Brașov in Transylvania (Dracula-country) seen from the top of Tampa Mountain.

Georgia 2012

Abastumani Observatory was founded in 1932 in what was then the USSR. Its location was selected because of the altitude of 1700 m. above sea level and the high transparency of ambient air and clear night sky over 250 days a year.

Tonight is not one of those 250, but we got along to the observatory anyway. The telescope is enormous, a 40cm refractor-scope. Nice Mr Scientist shows us how the roof split open – to reveal a sky full of clouds. The floor moves up and down and the telescope swivels.

We all look up at the sky with the naked eye, wishing the clouds to move away. Suddenly Salome (our guide) spots a star, but by the time Mr Scientist points the scope at it, the clouds have covered it. This repeated itself several times.

As we have resigned ourselves to not seeing anything much this evening, the moon eventually decides to check out what is going on, and peeps out from behind the cloud.


Seeing the moon through such a powerful telescope is a breathtaking experience, and a new one for us. Through one of the eye pieces we can see the whole moon (or rather the half a moon that is visible), and through the main scope we can make out individual craters.


Thank you nice Mr Scientist.

Apologies for the really, really bad photo, it was taken through the eye piece of the telescope without a proper adaptor, just resting the lens against the scope.

You may also like

Back to Top