This was quite a while ago and as such it is pushing my memory to remember what half of the cryptic notes I took about Bulgaria even mean… but here’s the decipher! Enjoy!
The word ‘lev’ in Bulgarian means ‘lion’. You can see that this is the national symbol of the country because lions are literally everywhere and the currency is called the ‘lev’.
In the times of Constantine the Great, the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, was actually called Serdika. This was one of Constantine’s favourite cities in the Roman empire and was the gateway to Constantinople, now Istanbul.
You can find churches in Bulgaria that have amazing frescoes from years 1000 and 1300. They are amazing and some of the best preserved in the world.
Bulgarians are terrible with giving you directions on how to get somewhere. The locals joke and say as a tourist the only solid directions you will ever receive are for the destinations of either vodka or the beach. A couple of people I met in the hostel and I decided to try out our luck with getting to Seven Lakes on public transport. After much research and confusion, we finally made it there for the spectacular hiking and views.
During World War 2, the Bulgarian government was smart enough to save it’s Jews from Hitler’s regime by telling the Nazi’s that they needed the Jews to do labour work on the railroad construction.
The city of Plovdiv lies abound seven different hills.
There are huge numbers of incredible Roman stadiums and ruins throughout the country, and are home to some of the most incredibly well preserved ruins. One of the world’s largest stadiums lies underneath the main shopping street of Plovdiv.
They have a tradition of tying these red and white, handmade dolls called Martenitsa from blossoming trees as ritual to denote the arrival of spring.
Other than that I really can’t remember that much more shit from Bulgaria other than I really loved it. The people were friendly, the scenery was gorgeous and the history wonderful! Cannot recommend visiting this beautiful country enough!
I was only in Macedonia for a couple of days but while I was there I came across one of the most entertaining tour guides I have ever met! He was downright hilarious in the things he was saying and most of the shit I learned, I learned from him during my time in the capital, Skopje.
Mother Teresa was born here. Even though she lived a large amount of her life in Albania, she was born in Skopje in a house near the centre of town. It no longer stands but there is a plaque there to recognise the site.
‘Stan’ is the Arabic word for ‘place’.
There was and earthquake in 1963 that levelled the city. The US and Russia came to help try and rebuild the city. The clock at the train station is stuck at the time the earthquake happened. The double decker buses like the ones in London were bought in to help after the time too and they eventually stayed.
The mayor of Skopje suffers from ‘copy paste’ syndrome. He likes stairs in Rome. Bring them to Skopje. Whatever he sees elsewhere that he likes, bring it to Skopje! To the point where the locals now call the place “Skopjian Disneyland”. They ask you to pray that the mayor never visits Venice and decides that Skopje needs canals.
Despite that all of the buildings in Skopje look old and are in the ancient Greek style most of them are no more than ten years old.
They made so many statues in rebuilding Skopje that they now don’t have enough places to put them all. There are statues on the bridges, statues on the rooves of buildings, statues everywhere…. never before have there been so many damn statues. They even have statues of the shoe shiners that worked down the main street in the centre of town. The sit along beside the people who work as actual shoe shiners….. Distastefully, they also have a statue of a homeless person here as well. Because there weren’t enough as it is without making a statue of them too….
The Macedonians lay claim to Alexander the Great. So do the Greek. Of course this leads to a giant pissing contest in which they try and outdo each other. Greece has a giant statue of Alexander. So Macedonia makes one. Then the Greeks crack the shits and are all ‘you can’t call this statue ‘Alexander the Great’ cause he is ours’. So they call it ‘man on a horse’ instead. Ridiculousness. Greece also won’t accept Macedonia as being a part of the EU unless they relinquish their claim to Alexander the Great….. what ridiculousness!
In bazaars, the old market places, the corner shops were always worth more money. As such they would design the streets so that there were as many corners as possible.
Well that is about it for my fabulous visit to Macedonia! It was a lovely place to visit for a few days and would definitely recommend the visit!
On my weekends to try and get out more and see a little more of England I have been taking tours to different parts of southern England. I did one tour through the Cotswolds which was really beautiful, I went to Shakespeare’s birthplace and home in Stratford Upon Avon, wandered the streets of Oxford and then headed south into Kent to visit Dover and Leeds Castle. On the way I picked up a few fun facts…. here they are!
The phrase ‘waiting on tenterhooks’ comes from the medieval days. In the castles, the place is usually freezing cold and when the royalty arrive, they have to wait for all of the tapestries and curtains to arrive to hang over the walls. The hooks they use to hang up the carpets are called ‘tenterhooks’. As such, waiting on tenterhooks is waiting on the carpets to come in an uncomfortably cold state.
‘Curfew’ is derived from the phrase ‘curb the fire’. Back in the days of Shakespeare the people used to have fires burning inside their houses to keep the house warm. There was a time that everyone had to have the fire out by and this was the ‘curfew’ or the time to ‘curb the fire’.
During these times they also used rope beds. The ropes were crisscrossed in a pattern across the bed and you would lay a blanket down and sleep on it. ‘Good night, sleep tight’ refers to wishing the person that the ropes on the bed would stay tight so that you wouldn’t slouch down in the middle of the night while you were sleeping because the ropes came loose.
Cherries are a traditional symbol of innocence. ‘To pop one’s cherry’ or to take their innocence comes from this traditional symbol.
Up until the age of five, they used to dress boys in dresses like they did girls. This is because it made them easier to toilet train. Only after the boys were toilet trained were they then allowed to be dressed in pants and were identifiable as boys instead of girls.
Grapes are a traditional icon of fertility. This is why they use dried grapes and fruit in wedding cakes. The top tier was traditionally saved for the christening of the first born to wish for the fertility of the child however these days most people save it for their first wedding anniversary.
Each of the different houses in the Cotswolds has a different fenlight window pattern above the front door. This is because in the days before house numbers, people could identify who they were visiting based on the pattern on the window.
There are 2600 toilets in Wembley Stadium
It was the Romans that invented road signs. They placed markers along the side of the road that later became known as milestones and these told you how many miles to your destination.
Dry stone wall building is an incredible art and it takes approximately one tonne of stone to build one meter of wall to ensure that the rocks all fit together snuggly for the structural integrity of the wall.
In the small town of Bourton on the Water, they have a football match in the town every August bank holiday. The catch. They play the football match in the water…. not sure how but I would like to check this out at some point…
To support the wool industry of the Cotswolds, several laws were passed by the monarchy. Queen Elizabeth the first made it law that you had to wear a wool cap to church on Sundays. Charles the second made it law that if a person dies that the coffin they are buried in must be lined in wool and that the person must also be dressed in wool.
So that is it for now with the things that I have been learning as I have travelled around this glorious countryside. Stay tuned for more interesting things I have learned on my travels about the place next week!
Six months ago I travelled through Albania and it was one of my favourite countries that I visited in my trip through the Balkans. I learned quite a lot of shit there and despite the fact that this is well overdue, here is what I learned.
Albanian’s love American Presidents
In the capital city of Tirana not only is there a statue of George W. Bush, the first of the American President’s to ever visit Albania, but there is a George W. Bush Street and a George W. Bush café where he visited. They apparently rope the table he sat at off so that nobody else can sit there because that’s Bush’s table….. my gosh. On top of this, there is a Clinton statue erected in Prishtina (the capital city of Kosovo) most likely as a tribute from the ethnic Albanians as thanks for intervening in the conflict with Serbia. What I do find incredibly humorous, especially now post election, is that the Albanian’s had a special Hillary Clinton statue commissioned for Sarande in the south for when she became President…. I don’t know what they are going to do with it now since that went all pear shaped!
Albania’s roads are shit
The dictator Enver Hoxha during times of communist reign decided that with all of the money he had he would invest in spending it on 70,000 war bunkers at a cost of 1,000 dollars each. This is 70 million dollars that could have been spent on roads and other infrastructure. He did this because he was utterly paranoid that Albania was going to be attacked. Of course this was all unfounded and now as you drive across the country you can see bomb shelters all over the place that have never been used.
Speaking of Shit….
Shitet is the word used ‘for let’. I don’t know why, but I find this thoroughly amusing…. ‘shitet’ lol….
Albanians are lovely giving people
It annoys me a lot that I have heard a bunch of racist things from the mouths of ignorant people. At one point a British guy I met in Italy asked me why I would bother going to Albania as they are all aggressive gang members and thugs. As someone who has lived with and teaches Albanians everyday I can tell you this is not the case. In fact when the Bosnian’s were getting displaced from their country by the horrific Serbian regime to rid all Muslims from the country, Albanian’s gave refuge to more refugees than any other country despite how poor the country was at that time. They are a family oriented and giving people.
It’s all about the Eagle!
The Albanian flag is the black two headed eagle based on a red back drop to represent the blood lost fighting for the country. The eagle has it’s roots back to the Byzantine era. This eagle is featured and revered quite prominently. The Albanian word for eagle is Shqiponje. The flag is called the Shqiperise, the people are called the Shqiptar, the country is called Shqiperia. Everything eagle. It is a hugely embraced emblem of who they are as people.
Albanian drivers are crazy
Pedestrian crossing? What pedestrian? You will find your average Albanian driver cruising around with a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other leaving you wondering what they use to actually hold the steering wheel and where their eyes are for driving. And yet somehow it seems to work. You just have to make sure that at all times you are on alert and don’t get in their way. Drivers also seem to get a little bit extra crazy if they are driving for weddings. They hang red and white scarves out the windows and wave them ferociously as they honk their horns loudly and often. It is quite the affair to behold!
Tortoises eat watermelon!!
Yeah I know right! Totally weird but totally cute!
So that is about it for my time. I did spend quite a large proportion of my time sitting on a beach in Jale down in the south and hiking from Thethi through to Valbona which is some of the most spectacular hiking I have ever seen in my life. It is such a beautiful country to visit and if you get the chance to, you should definitely go. Just don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere fast!
In my half term break from school I decided to go visit the Baltics and from when I decided this was an excellent idea in March until when I went in late October, I still thought this was a fantastic idea. Then I got there and froze my arse off because it was so cold. At one point I was chasing snowflakes around outside with my tongue hanging out for entertainment to forget about how I couldn’t feel my face. So the first thing I learned here was this.
Don’t go to Lithuania after September.
Here is some other random shit I learned whilst I was making my way around the wondrous Lithuania:
You cannot buy tinned soup in Lithuania
I tried. I failed. When all you want when you are sick and snotting all over the place is a large can of chunky soup and all you can find are Maggi sachets, life is going to get a bit disappointing.
You can be polite sneezing here.
The word for thank you is aciu, pronounced ‘achoo’ like the sneeze sound. Also a plus when you are sick.
There is an independent country within Vilnius
There is a country within the city of Vilnius known as the Republic of Uzupio. They have their own constitution and it is hilarious. “A dog has the right to be a dog”, “everyone has the right to be loved, but not necessarily”. Amazeballs….. anyway, everyone who lives here has a passport and they have an independence day party every year.
Other countries love occupying Lithuania.
There were the Danes, the Swedes, the Poles, the Russians, the Nazi’s and again the Russians….. pure ridiculousness. In 1989, whilst under the occupation of the Russians towards the end of the Cold War, over 2 million people joined hands on the road that stretched from Tallinn to Vilnius in one massive straight line to demonstrate unity and a want for independence. This is the longest human chain recorded in history. They had to wait a few years, but they eventually came out from under the Russians to claim their independence and have been their own country ever since.
Religious pissing contests are funny
Under the reign of the catholics, no other buildings were to be taller than the catholic church in Vilnius. So as an ode to ‘screw you’ the Jewish decided that if they couldn’t go up, they would go down. So they dug out two floors in the basement to make sure that they had the “tallest” building in city. Cheeky shits!
Lithuanians love basketball
I mean they are totally obsessed with basketball. Any other sport that would otherwise be played here falls to the wayside compared to the Lithuanian love of basketball.
Churches are not just useful as churches
When the French arrived, this particular church was turned into a storage facility for Napoleon’s guns. Then after the French departed, the Germans spent a stint here changing all the shapes of the windows so they could get the bells out and melt them down to make more guns. Then after that the Russians came in and banned any religion whatsoever and it commissioned to be an ‘atheist museum’. What do you even put in an atheist museum?? Odd.
You can get baptised more than once.
In fact, to encourage people to become baptised upon the arrival of the religious folk into this area and the shunning of the pagan folk, they used to give all people being baptised a woollen t-shirt. So good and warm was this wool that many people went back to get baptised a good three or four times so that they could get more woollen t-shirts.
The first massacres of the Jews in World War 2 started in Lithuania
When I was travelling in Kaunas, I went to a very sobering place known as Ninth Fort. It was originally a part of the fortification structures in the area but during the Russian occupation and the Nazi occupation, the place was used as a prison. It was here that the first of the massacres of the Jews began by the Nazi’s in World War 2 after they were bought over from Gdansk. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls. There is a monument to remember these people by that is quite haunting and beautiful.
There is a Devils Museum
It is full of different statues and paintings of the devil doing all kinds of wicked deeds and is in fact, quite cool. Devils pouring vodka down the throats of helpless individuals, fornicating devils, international devils, devils having an all round great time.
Zeppelins are the bomb
The local food is like a giant ball of potato with meat in the middle that is then either boiled or fried. It is served with a sauce and bits of bacon. It is amazing and super good for the cold months. And it also sits like a bomb in the bottom of your stomach once you’re done eating it.
Well hopefully this was interesting. Based on my adventures with a cold whilst roaming around outside trying to catch snowflakes with my tongue I did actually managed to learn some stuff in my pharmaceutical induced state. Until the next!
I went to visit Milan for the weekend. And of course shit was to be learned. Unlikely shit to learn in Milan, if I am to be honest, but here goes.
Animal related learnings
Kangaroos can swim
I am Australian and I had to find this out from a Venezuelan dude that works behind the hostel desk…. Probably because I have never seen it happen because living in drought country doesn’t really lend itself to there being loads of water.
Mosquitoes are arseholes
I go to sleep. The high pitched squealing of these bitches are buzzing around my head and I can’t sleep. At some point, because all of the rest of my body is covered with blanket, the mosquito decides to bite me on my eye socket. I awaken with my eye swollen shut. Excellent. So the following evening I ask for fly spray. Spray the room. Go to sleep. Wake up to find that my other eye has now been bitten and that this one is now also swollen shut. Fuck you mosquitoes. So much for looking pretty in pictures in Milan. I tried most of the time in my make-up-less state to not look like a victim of violence. The Venezuelan and I decided that the only thing on this planet that mosquitoes are good for are feeding spiders.
The glorious guide I had on my free walking tour, Marco, was an incredible wealth of knowledge, if not slightly unhinged. I watched this outstanding bad ass ask the masses if we mind him smoking then proceed to pull out and chuff on a cigar around the city, no hands. Anyway, he has this thing about etymology. I am unsure whether any of the following is true but they are entertaining so here we go:
In the 1500’s the country now known as Sri Lanka was called Serendip. The king of Serendip, being an all round conquering wench of the time, sent an army to India in search of gold to make him rich. The did not find any gold. However they did discover that glorious thing called ‘tea’. The tea ended up making the king more money than he would have made finding the gold. Thus serendipity – finding something you weren’t looking for that is of greater value to you than the thing you actually were looking for.
Upon the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York, a company was contracted to make miniature souvenirs for people to take home. The company making them was a French company who was owned by a man named ‘Gaget’, pronounced ‘gah-zhay’. Anyway, as we like to do in the English language, we took this work and Anglicised/butchered it to its current pronunciation ‘gad-get’. This is still the word used in Italian to describe souvenirs, however through the progression of the times, we have now come to use the word to describe electronics.
From the Italian, ‘banca rota’. When a merchant in Milan was in massive debt and unable to pay that debt back they would repossess all of his things and have a sale to get all of the money back. At the end of the sales, they used to break his desk – the thing he would use for selling his merchandise. This breaking, ‘rota’ being the word for ‘to break’ became a tradition. The banca rota. Which again, when Anglicised/butchered, becomes known as ‘bankrupt’ in English.
Other random shit
The Visconti family had the emblem of a viper snake eating a man, despite the fact that vipers are small and cannot eat a man. It is believed that they stole this from some family they conquered somewhere else in the world. Anyway, this is now the symbol of the city of Milan and can also be found in the Alpha Romeo car logo.
One family in Milan back in the day who’s name translated into ‘testicles’ decided that their family coat of arms should just consist of three testicles. And so it was.
Oh and while I was there I also saw a guy making music by running a violin bow along the sharp edge of a saw used for cutting wood.
And so, as my tour concluded, the tour guide took us to the most provocative piece of art in the city located outside of the stock exchange. And it was there that both he and the stock exchange, gave us the finger and stole our money and left. THE END.
And that shall be the end of the shit! Enjoy your week!
Of course in traditional Dano fashion, I went to Venice in an array of disorganization. I decided when I got there to check into the hostel and go for a walk. And I didn’t really manage to get anything that day done other than walking. I walked, I ate, I went on a walking tour where I managed to learn some shit. Mostly I learned that I was too late after the walking tour to do any of the shit that I wanted to do so now I need to go back. But in the meantime here are a few little stories of interest from Venice.
The Capital City of THE WORLD!!!
In times where we were without such tools as cars and planes, man hit the trading route on horse and foot. The trading route passed through the former capital of the world, Constantinople. But the Venetians of course were not happy with this and decided that they must do something about it to steal the title. To become the capital city of the world there are a few different things that a city must have.
Firstly a city must have a saint. Venice was attributed to Saint Theodore… but who the hell even knows who this is?? So they decided that they wanted Saint Mark instead. Much better known. But wait………
Second rule is that the bones of the saint must be within the city. But of course the bones of Saint Mark were in Alexandria. Problem? Nope! No problem. Three Venetian merchants went to the city of Alexandria and stole the bones of Saint Mark. Before they could get the bones out of the city limits however, the alarm went out, “Marks bones have gone, lock the place down, we need to find them”. Every person’s goods were searched before exiting the city by the guards…. so how are we going to get out of this one?
I know! We shall hide the bones of Saint Mark amid chunks of pork meat so that the Muslim guards would turn their noses up at it and refuse to touch the disgusting pork meat and we shall be home free! And this is what they did. The bones of Saint Mark were escorted back to Venice.
The Venitians were then set. So off they went to Constantinople to rape, steal, pillage and burn the place to the ground. And they did. Anything of value, like the horses at the gates of the city, were sent back to Venice. They melted down statues, stole marble pillars and used them to build their basilica. They were right demonisers. But they had their way. And after this they managed to instate Venice as the capital trade city of the world!! Hooray!
The masks of Venice originated so that the nobility of the city could go out and do their business anonymously and without judgement. The gold mask in the photo below is typically what the rich people would wear and of course there is a little gap underneath so they can sip their expensive wine and eat their expensive foods without issue. The black mask was typically worn by servants. There is a mouthpiece on the inside that they must clamp down on with their teeth to keep the mask on their faces. This was to prevent servants speaking or gossiping to other servants about what their masters have been up to. The white mask with a birds beak was the plague doctors mask. Apparently if you were the length of the beak away from someone it would prevent you getting the plague. It was also how these people were recognized when they came about to clean up the streets of the bodies after family members turfed them out when they got sick to avoid getting sick themselves. Lovely hey?
Other shit I learned….
The theatre starts at 7pm and not 8pm.
There is a dress code for the theatre that doesn’t involve shorts and running shoes.
Getting lost in Venice is very easy
Never trust a restaurant that has pictures on their menu
One should actually do some research about what they want to do and when it is available before they get there.
Gondola drivers must be Venetian and earn approximately twenty thousand euro a month!