Category: Europe & The World (Page 2 of 17)

Brussels ü Paris > London > Wroclaw > Poznan > Kiev > Home…

btw, if you ever decide to walk, cycle or (god forbid) drive in Belgium – invest in a gps navigation system and a lot of patience. Road signs are not something that the Belgian state provides. Maybe it’s a security mechanism from the Enver Hoxha school of defense…

Next stop London. Sorry Paris, I couldn’t break my ‘Paris Rule’. 

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EUobserver / [Comment] The EU and US should take power in Kosovo

EUobserver / [Comment] The EU and US should take power in Kosovo

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Brussels > Paris > London > Wroclaw > Poznan > Kiev > Home…

I’m on the move again, so if you’re in any of these places, make sure you have tea, milk and biscuits – I’m coming to visit… 

Also, if anyone has an Android smartphone, can you tell me what it’s like? I’m thinking of re-joining the digital cool-kids but can’t decide which phone to get. Any advice would be welcome.

Edd Eddy Edwards  

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One man, one week, one mission…

Ian Bearder stars in “The King’s P-P-Patio”
Act 1 

Act 2 

Act 3

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“Britain is the only country where people will introduce you to a friend by saying: ‘this is my mate Barry, he’s a bit of a twat'”
~: Reginald D.Hunter
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Ljubljana (Slovenia) Local To Do Tips | Spotted by Locals blogs

Ljubljana (Slovenia) Local To Do Tips | Spotted by Locals blogs

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Où est-ce?

Seventeen years ago I was convinced that learning to ask “où est la piscine?” and “Comment t’appelles-tu ?” was a complete waste of my time. Why, I wondered, was Mr Mutton wasting my time with lists of words which I couldn’t pronounce and would probably never use when I could be filling pencil cases with gas from the Bunsen burner and making them explode?

Well, today I was eating my own (English) words. Finally, some 70000+ days after I was forced to learn this phrase I got to ask “où est la piscine?”.  Now, I don’t want to re-ignite the why do we learn French? debate (see the comments) because this doesn’t significantly change anything, but I should at least be grateful to Mr Mutton and the UK educational system for preparing me for one small event in my future life.
Anyway, not only did I ask where the swimming pool was but I even swam in the thing! …and let me tell you this – asking where it is, is nowhere near a satisfactory level of vocabulary to prepare for the experience.

If you have 3.50 Euros, tight-fitting Speedo pants and a swimming hat, you too can swim in this pool. 

Firstly, how do you ask for one ticket to swim please? (swimming-pool, pis-cine, swim = pis?)  eh? maybe? …well, I wasn’t about to stand there shouting “moi piss”… so, I fell back on the much more useful “do you speak English?” (she didn’t) and then ‘sealed the deal’ by pointing at me and pretending to swim.
Proud of my achievement, I quickly made a nuisance of myself by getting lost and walking around the corner and directly back into her office which I thought was the changing room. She sympathetically rectified the situation and took me to the real changing rooms which were the strangest I’ve ever been to.   In fact, the whole swimming experience was one of the strangest I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.
After changing in the very small personal cubicle, I ventured out, only to be promptly returned by the changing-room professional (great job) to borrow or buy myself some regulation tight-fitting swimming pants from the receptionist. You can imagine the sign language required to do this! …and there were school kids watching…
Then, having changed again, I made a second attack on the swimming pool entrance, but of course I still wasn’t looking ridiculous enough and the changing room guy stopped me again because I didn’t have a hat! A swimming hat! Seriously, wtf? I’m bald!  Well, thankfully, the guy (who was quite enjoying this) took pity on me and gave me a nice, bright-yellow spare and one and once I’d squeezed it over the least-hairy part of my bearded head – he let me through.

I went off to swim like some Linford Christie-Duncan Goodhew hybrid who’d escaped from a smutty 1950’s postcard… 

Anyway, I put in some good swimming (although I’ve no idea how long I swam for because there was no clock), rinsed myself down in the freezing string-operated showers and left feeling humiliated but healthy.

Now, for the benefit of humanity, here is a summary of my euro-swimming experience: The Ian Bearder guide to the pros and cons of swimming etiquette/rules in England, Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine and Belgian.
Pros: You’re free to wear what the hell you like, you can choose if you cover your hair, warm showers are included in the price and you can be sure there will be two clocks in the swimming area. One to tell you the time and one to time your speed.
Cons: It can be expensive and it’s often over-crowded. If you go at the wrong time you’ll have to contend with an inflatable monster and you have to change and shower with everyone else. Also, you need to remember 10p for the lockers.
It’s basically like the UK except there aren’t any lockers …just a high degree of trust.
Pros: It is cheap and there’s probably a sauna near by.
Cons: The multi-stage shoe and clothing exchange system makes sense to nobody and there is a mandatory Speedo and swimming hat rule. However; if you’re lucky (and have a shaved head) they might let you go without a hat. If there is a sauna, it will probably be naked.
Pros: It is cheap and it’s quiet and you might be able to watch a film about how it was made.
Cons: You pay 1 Euro more if you’re not a local resident (surely that breaches EU law) and you must wear tight Speedos and a swimming hat even if you’re bald, it’s non-negotiable. Clocks are not provided so don’t expect to leave on time.
Pros: I never found out…
Cons: You need a health permit (yes I’m serious) to enter. This means you a) bribe a doctor and he gives you one, or b) you answer lots of questions about your sex life, pay 5 Euros and he/she gives you one.
Please feel free to add you’re country via the comments… maybe you’ll save me or anyone else reading some future embarrassment.  


PS, if you didn’t already know, I recently left Ukraine, bounced of the UK and now I’m in Brussels. I still say ‘da’, ‘horosho’ and ‘spasibo’ to everyone I talk too…
PPS, I have a new Belgian number +32477931967
PPPS, Guess who is writing nonsense about swimming pools when they should be re-working their thesis? …yeah, I know, I’ll get back to it…

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Misha Glenny – The Greatest European

There are very few people on this planet (if any) who know Europe like Mr Glenny and, although the following recordings are 6 years old, they are every bit as relevant today.   If there was an an honour for ‘greatest European’ Mr G would get my vote….

In the first part: Brave New Europe 1 (click to listen)  MG takes a look at Poland as it joined the EU in 2004…

“In fact, even a cursory dip into Poland’s modern history gives you a clear sense as to why this country nurses some very deep grievances. If Poland is God’s Playground, as the eminent historian Norman Davis has popularised it, then God has tolerated some pretty nasty bullying over the years, especially from those two Flashman brothers from the Upper 4th, Fritz and Ivan. Indeed, the slow and often very painful transformation of Europe from the ancien regimes of absolutism and empire to the age of nation states, democracy and totalitarianism proved an especially treacherous road for the Poles, being alternately dismembered, eaten alive or coshed over the head and then imprisoned in a darkened if poorly manufactured cage.”

“Ironically, in Poland and Hungary, whose peoples fought hardest for freedom, 1989 was strangely anti-climactic. Unlike in Czechoslovakia, East Germany or Romania, there were no theatrical events that represented the unambiguous end of communism.”

“Revolution is like the God Saturn. It devours its own children. And just three years after their uncompromising refusal to accept Soviet-style communism, countless miners, steelworkers and their families were now eking out a twilight existence as the dawn of capitalism broke.”

“However ghastly communism had been, it had subsidised the basics for almost all of Poland’s 38 million people. 1989 removed that particular safety net and as I wandered through the broken down estates where water and electricity supplies were seizing up, I met the victims of Poland’s Brave New World.”

Looking at the situation in Poland now, they have a very very good reason to be proud of themselves. Poland has a stable and effective government and is the only member of the 27-nation European Union to have enjoyed growth in 2009. Living standards for many Poles are still not at ‘western’ levels and probably wont be for a long time but, given their history – it’s an impressive achievement. 

The second part: Brave New Europe 2 he takes a look at the transition taking place in Central and Eastern Europe, the EU as a political project and its capacity to ‘absorb’. 

“This rebirth of culture and creativity is comparable to the dramatic social change that swept away the grimly oppressive influence of the Catholic Church and allowed a modern and tolerant European state to flourish in Ireland. Portugal, Spain and now Greece have all experienced a similar development. But as the Irish, Spaniards and Greeks have already discovered, and the Balts and the Central Europeans are now slowly learning: this embrace into the bosom of Europe brings with it tribulations while latent fears, both irrational and rational, can also rise to the surface.”

…and sets out the following argument on immigration that he re-states in his recent book McMafia…

“The relationship between the new and old Europe is in fact a complex two-way process which brings short-term gains and losses on both sides. But if played correctly, it offers considerable long-term benefits for all of us. As Slovaks, Slovenes and Hungarians become richer, so will their desire to purchase goods and services from Western Europe. The Keynsian potential for growth in the European Union is now extraordinary.”

“There is one towering obstacle that looms – it is not to do with immigration although allow me a brief digression here: Immigration is problem but only, in my opinion, if West European countries continue to regard immigration as the devil’s vanguard. Should xenophobia dictate the EU’s economic policy allowing the development of an entirely non-productive pensioner class but preventing the renewal of its labour force through significant immigration, then in that event our living standards will fall dramatically compared to those in America and in the Far East – and with those living standards, we will lose many of our treasured ways of life that depend on continuing affluence.”

In the final episode: Brave New Europe 3 MG looks at the Balkan ‘Powder Keg’ and one big and unavoidable issue – the EU and Turkey…

“Because the real issue regarding Turkey is as deep as it gets – our European identity. The elephant in Turkey’s living room is Islam. There is a deep conviction held by many Europeans that we are a Christian culture and must remain so. The Vatican made strenuous attempts to say as much in the preamble of the forthcoming EU constitution (although why St. Peter’s which is not a member of the EU has any say in the matter remains unclear). And the Pope’s team found supporters all over Europe.”

“Does that mean that we Europeans must deny the contributions of other faiths to our culture from Alhambra to Einstein? Does this mean that the majority of Albanians should be excluded a priori from claiming to be part of Europe’s heritage simply because they are Muslims. For almost two centuries, the Balkan peninsula was known as Turkey in Europe. Turkish culture is already European – it may be Asian as well but Britain straddles European and Atlantic culture just as Spain has an intimate connection with the Maghreb. There are no easy definitions and those who believe so try, in my opinion, to turn back the wheel of history to a place and time that has never existed – a Europe of clear-cut boundaries.”

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The Slovene ‘worn-out thirty year old’ person

I was reading a European Union ‘Regional Development’ magazine last month and was pleasantly (and amusingly) surprised to see an advert for Velenje where, apparently, they ‘expect me with ‘pleasure’

…all 33,000 of them.

However, despite their bold efforts – there’s only one Slovenian name that’s important for me this month – and that’s Gorenje. For anyone that doesn’t know (I’m guessing that’s most of you) Gorenje produce the world famous Gorenje domestic appliances. And now I have one. A shiny new ‘Black Jack’ Gorenje Vacuum cleaner with 1300 watts of Slovene sucking power. So, I may not be able to drink Lasko or shop at Mecartor but, my appartment is now cleaner than your average Slovene’s car …and that’s seriously clean!

Actually, I’m surprised Slovenians can find time to clean their cars because, most of them are screwed-up and exhausted by the age of 30. It’s true, look – I read about it in an academic review of Slovenia’s recent history…

“Another economic weakness is that the workforce is relatively old and young people don’t get enough opportunities. Slovenian work legislation allows employers to use alternative ways of employing people and has created a new social phenomenon – a ‘worn-out thirty year old’ person. The use of short term contracts and self-employed by the young is so extensive as to create a substantial proportion of young people with years of working experience, little or none of which is traditional, long term, full time jobs… while more than sixty percent of Slovenes nowadays start University when they are nineteen, only 5.9% of twenty-six year olds have finished.”

‘Google-image search ‘thirty year old slovene’ and this is what you get. See what I mean!! Totally worn-out.

So please, if you’re feeling a little tired and run-down, please think of the Slovene thirty year-olds. They need your help. I’m even worried that I spent so long there – maybe I will wear out!?

Actually, whilst I laughed at this, the author does have some good points in his article. Labour laws in Slovenia advantage students (and the Studentski services Mafia) to such an extent that finishing your studies is, largely, economically unviable. It may also be a contributing factor in another trend that he identifies and that’s the relative unwillingness of Slovene’s to leave Slovenia. Personally, I’d attribute that to the fact that Slovenia is actually something close to paradise but that’s a longer story.


PS. I am painfully aware that in writing this I firstly admitted to reading ‘regional development magazines’ and secondly boasted about my vacuum. To make things worse, I have to admit to feeling pleased with myself for discovering that Velenje is (by coincidence) home to the head office of Gorenje! …OK, I’ll shut up…

If it wasn’t so shitty outside – I’d get out more

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Mall Dova, Moldova. Part 1

Snaps from 7 days in Moldova…

See them on Flickr HERE.

PS. I love the anonymous comment on the post below. I can’t think of a single more appropriate word. Well said …whoever you are

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