In a gondola seat-ed
Tourists are so happy
In a gondola seat-ed
Tourists are so happy
I FOUND A SHELF of rather tatty looking second-hand books for sale outside an antique shop in Great Dunmow (Essex). Each was being sold for 50 pence. Among them, I picked up a copy of a slender volume by Christopher Sidgwick with the title “A Fortnight in Yugoslavia”. Having visited the former Yugoslavia numerous times between 1973 and 1990, I was curious to see what was written about it when the guidebook was published in July 1955. This was only about 7 years after the country detached itself from Soviet Russian domination. In relation to this, the author wrote:
“Since the war ended, the Yugoslavs have I think been acting in perfect character. They are not a people … to be impressed by other people’s size. The war brought them victory on the side of Russia … and they set out with immense courage to re-form their way of living on copybook communist lines. But before long, of course, they found that the printed dogma of Marx did not turn out at all as they were led to expect: and instead of cooking the argument, as other communists have frequently done … their honest Yugoslav common sense came conveniently to hand: when Tito, in Moscow, realised that he was now to toe the line as a satellite country, to live in virtual starvation, while the country’s raw materials were sent off to Russia … he said to Stalin: ‘Rubbish! In that case, we might as well still be under the Habsburgs!’”
Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia went its own distinct way. In his text, Sidgwick asked:
“Is the country a dictatorship? In the sense that it is nothing like Hitlerite Germany, nihilist at root, the answer is ‘no’. In the sense that it is a one-party country, with the state controlling the police, the radio, the press, and education, the answer must of course be ‘yes’.”
Further on, he added:
“… it is clear that broader and broader opinion, differing from the party line, is being permitted and even encouraged.”
And this was as early as 1955. By the time I began visiting Yugoslavia, liberal and alternative voices were becoming quite prevalent.
Although Sidgwick did not discourage the individual traveller, he believed that there was much to be said in favour of organised group travel. Visas were then required, and could be obtained for 11 shillings (55 p) at the Yugoslav Consular Department in Kensington (48 Phillimore Gardens). In 1955, £1 sterling would buy you about 840 Yugoslav dinars, and on entering the country, “…any note exceeding 100 dinars in value is liable to be confiscated from you, so don’t buy higher-value notes even at a good rate of exchange: it’s black money.”
Amongst things you were advised to pack in 1955 were: sunglasses; toilet soap (“cost up to 7/6 (37.5p) a tablet”); half a pound of tea; ear-plugs (“invaluable while travelling or while waiting for the dance-band to close down for the night”); pipe tobacco; an inflatable cushion; and a universal bath plug.
Regarding food in Yugoslavia, Sidgwick mentioned that pancakes were good, and:
“… they have no disgusting dishes – frog, snails, and so on – and local national dishes are always worth trying. Ražniči is veal on toothpicks. Ćevapčići is meat and little mince rissoles. Djuvec is a Serbian edition of Irish stew, highly seasoned with paprikas.”
Well, I have eaten frog in Yugoslavia and I had friends who harvested snails for gastronomic reasons. Sidgwick added:
“Meal-service is almost always slow by our standards, largely, I think because Yugoslavs themselves are in the habit of taking their time over food, enjoying it as a social occasion. In busy restaurants it is unwise to expect to get through dinner in less than ninety minutes.”
I have always eaten well in Yugoslavia, and with my many Yugoslav friends every meal was a joyous social occasion.
The guidebook dedicates most of its travel advice to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast (pages 32 to 51). The rest of the country was described between pages 51 and 62. In the short section on Serbia (pages 58 to 60), Sidgwick wrote:
“To describe Serbia in a page or two is like describing London on a cigarette card: insulting to the inhabitants”
He did it to keep the book short, and I suspect, because in the 1950s few British travellers to Yugoslavia ventured much further inland than the coastal regions.
Who was Christopher Sidgwick? He lived from 1915 until 1978. He wrote several guidebooks to places such as Germany and Greece. His “German Journey” was published in 1936 and his guide to Greece in 1974. “German Journey” was one of several books written by British writers who visited Nazi Germany to find out about Hitler’s regime and the effect it was having on the country. Unlike others, who judged the country mainly by what had been shown them in Berlin and reported favourably on the regime, Sidgwick wanted to avoid “… ‘thinking that what is seen in the capital […] is representative of that country’” (quoted from “Britain and the Weimar Republic” by Colin Storer). This is probably why he reported on a visit to Dachau’s concentration camp before WW2.
Sidgwick also wrote “Manhunt in Dalmatia”, published in 1959. Amongst his many other books, he wrote “Whirlpools on the Danube”, which was published by in 1937. This was reviewed in the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs by no less a historian than Carlile Aylmer Macartney (1895-1978), a specialist in the history and politics of Central Europe. I guess from this that Sidgwick must have been a significant traveller and observer in his time.
Finally, although I paid only 50 pence (in Great Dunmow) for this book about a country that exists no longer, its cheapest price on bookfinder.com is 20 times as much. My own recollections of the country and its people are published in my book “Scrabble with Slivovitz”, which is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scrabble-Slivovitz-Once-upon-Yugoslavia/dp/1291457593).
DURING THE ELEVEN days we spent in Funchal, the capital of Madeira, the city was visited by two enormous cruise ships. Resembling huge blocks of flats (apartments, my North American friends!) floating on water, they arrived in the port at night, remained a whole day, and then departed the next evening.
When these vessels disgorge their cargos of tourists, the centre of Funchal becomes crowded; the queue t the cable-car grows longer; and the frequency at which toboggans slide down from the Monte increases.
The port at Funchal is designed to accommodate these ‘humungous’ people carriers, so their arrival does not have the same damaging effect (on buildings and the shoreline) as is created by them in Venice (Italy). Cruising in vessels of this size appeals to many but not to me.
POSTBRIDGE IS A TINY SETTLEMENT in the middle of Dartmoor on the banks of the East Dart River, a tributary of the River Dart. The road that passes through the hamlet crosses the river over a venerable stone bridge (built in the 1720s). A few yards away from the bridge, there stands a far older bridge, a so-called ‘clapper bridge’.
The clapper bridge consists of four stone abutments (piers) spanned by three wide slabs of granite, each weighing about 6.5 to 8 tons. It is a simple but elegant structure, which has survived for many centuries. The bridge was most probably built to allow pack horses carrying tin to cross the stream on the way to Tavistock on the west side of Dartmoor. It was already in existence in the 13th century and is one of only 40 surviving examples of this kind of river crossing in the British Isles.
When we arrived at Postbridge during our journey from Cornwall to Somerset, the clapper bridge was crowded with camera-laden tourists who spoke German. Some of them were impolite, shouting at us rudely to get us to move off the clapper bridge so that they could get better photographs. Despite their uncultured behaviour, it was good to see that the bridge is still being used, albeit for leisure purposes. However, this is a far cry from what is depicted on a nearby pub sign: a horseman dressed in a red jacket riding his horse over the ancient bridge,
MANY PEOPLE WILL HAVE EATEN HUMMUS, the chickpea-based dip, but far fewer will be familiar with Hampi, which is the location of an extensive archaeological site in the south Indian state of Karnataka. The village of Hampi contains the fantastic ruins of what was once one of the world’s greatest cities, rivalling Ancient Rome and second in size to Beijing, the world’s largest city in the 16th century. The metropolis, known as ‘Vijayanagara’, now in ruins, was the fabulously prosperous capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which thrived between about 1336 AD and 1565 AD, when it was defeated by a group of Moslem sultanates. After this, the city began to decay, leaving the spectacular ruins that can be explored by visitors today.
The ruins of Vijayanagara lie mainly on one side of the River Tungabadra. They are distributed over a large rocky area rich in huge boulders – almost a lunar landscape. We first visited Hampi in about 1997, when there were relatively few tourists clambering amongst the ruins of temples, palaces, stepwells, and miscellaneous other buildings. Since then, we have visited the place another four times. On each successive visit, we have noticed an increase in fellow visitors, both Indians and foreigners. With the increased visitor footfall, there has been ever growing deterioration and damage to the ruins. This is especially noticeable at the Vitthala Temple. It was intact in 1997, but when we last visited a few years ago, it was in a miserable state, with plenty of damaged carvings and being propped up by ugly pillars of grey concrete blocks. Sad as this is, this is not what I want to dwell on in this piece.
India has become a popular destination for Israelis, particularly the younger ones. India is probably a complete contrast to Israel, which I have never visited. In brief, to Israelis India must seem far more ‘laid back’ than their highly organised country. Many Israeli visitors to India visit Hampi to ‘chill out’ and relax.
During one of our stays in Hampi, we took a walk along one bank of the River Tungabadra. We came across a couple of riverside eateries advertising that they served Israeli food. As it was near lunchtime and our daughter and I love hummus, we entered one of these establishments, whose menu included the chickpea paste that we enjoy so much. Also, I was curious to try hummus in India. It was then not a food item I was expecting to see on sale a few years ago. Now, it is becoming available in select food stores such as branches of the upmarket chain Nature’s Basket.
We sat down on a rickety looking terrace overlooking the river and, with mouths watering, and ordered a portion of hummus with pitta bread. It took quite a while to arrive as the hummus was made fresh whilst we waited. When it arrived, the pitta looked remarkably similar to an Indian chapati, rather than an Arabic or Turkish pitta. As for the hummus, this was disappointing to say the least. Its colour was acceptable, but its texture resembled lumpy rice pudding rather than even the coarsest hummus. As for the taste, there was little to report: it was unseasoned and tasteless. I dread to think what a direct Israeli guest would have made of, or said about, the hummus we were served at Hampi. I had not the heart to send it back to the charming locals who had produced it, but neither was I hungry enough to finish it.