Countries, Culture, Europe

Holiday in Europe while Ukraine burns?

It’s the uncomfortable question all us travellers are facing just now… is it right to holiday to Europe while Ukraine burns?

And it’s one that The Scary One asked me as I gear up for a ski trip to Val D’Isere with Ski France later this month.

Of course, only you can answer that, but those of us for whom travel is what we get up out of bed for have become used to being Public Enemy No.1.

Our travel providers were ignored while everyone else got a hand-out over the last two Covid years.

While the only ignominy travel writers and bloggers were spared was being put in the stocks and having rotten tomatoes thrown at us.

We’re welcome

United: With Ukraine

The truth is that never have countries and holiday destinations needed our patronage more than now.

Amid the sheer horror of the war in Ukraine we witnessed a surreal moment when a Turkish holidaymaker asked a TV journalist how he was going to get home now.

While there is a wave of foreign students who have also been caught up in Ukraine wanting to return home now.

All sought out Ukraine in more peaceful times, piqued as we all are wherever we go to seek out a new culture, people and country.

Our own governments help (no, really they do) when they issue guidance on countries that are safe to visit.

But sometimes we just need to trust our own instincts.

A beat surrender

Warm welcome: Tunisia

So that when an invite to Tunisia, a couple of years after the beach terrorist atrocity, came in I opted with a heavy heart not to go.

Because it was not long after the inquest of the deaths of Irish people in the North African country.

The worry in travel now over Eastern Europe is how the Ukraine war will alter the holidaymaker’s perspective of neighbouring countries.

And it is only natural that people when faced with a choice of whether to book a cultural holiday to Eastern Europe or a familiar sunspot holiday would choose the latter.

But I always think that such sun, sea and sand holidays will always be there but history and culture is fluid and we should put the energy into seeing these jewels while we can.

Before hostilities break down and borders close.

Behind the Iron Curtain

The Dresden Mural: And a lesson from history

There was a time, of course, before the collapse of Communism when Westerners couldn’t visit behind the Iron Curtain, or Eastern Europeans could see what we had to offer.

And again The Scary One captured the zeitgeist when she sighed that it would be a long time now before she could visit Russia, a country which has long intrigued her.

I am fortunate as all natives of all countries will feel abut their homelands to be born where I was, and when I was.

And that means I have absorbed more than I could ever read or see on television, by visiting Dresden in the old DDR, where Vladimir Putin himself honed his skills in espionage.

I learned first-hand why the Saxons kept their Communist mural up because they did not want to airbrush history.

And that it acted as a constant reminder of what might befall them unless they remain vigilant.

Open embassies

By George: With Ambassador George in the Georgian Embassy

Equally Russia’s neighbours have always greeted us with open arms and vodka and wine.

And while I have yet to get out to Poland and Georgia I have technically visited by being wined and dined at their embassies in Dublin.

I’m glad to say my friends from these countries and others are still retaining some sense of normality by keeping me updated with their travel plans for us.

And that includes the Baltic state of Estonia who keep me up to date with their newsletter.

February’s flagged up the border city Narva, ‘the crossroads of the East and West’.

Or find yourself in Rakvere with its castle ruins.

And Tartu, the Culture Capital of Europe 2024 which we hope will be able to fulfil its brief.

And much more besides.

Estonia’s City of Culture

Picnic time: Estonia and the Great Outdoors

Judging too by the virtual tour of Tartu it would be a crime for it not to get to mark that award.

So, is it right to holiday in Europe while Ukraine burns?

Well, as I always say to those locals who complain about the business of Edinburgh at Festival time.

Don’t you want to show off your city and your country?



Africa, America, Countries, Culture, Europe

May the 4th be with you

And, no, I still haven’t watched the Wars of Star yet, but I believe that what they say today in Jediland is May the 4th Be With You?

Space sounds like the safer place to be just now.

But while we all wait word from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic we’ll have to find our Space here on Earth.

Luke, it’s Tunisia

What is this place Tunisia of which you talk?

Tunisia: If you want to replicate Space, or at least the Space of George Lucas’s imagination, then Tunisia is a good place to start.

Because it’s here he chose for Luke Skywalker’s house, now a hotel, Hotel Sidi Dris.

In the Berber town of Matmata, where you can stay for $12 per night.

You can also see the pod-racing arena and the houses of Mos Espa, Anakin Skywalker’s home town.

Skellig Wars

A crag far, far away.

Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry, Ireland: And there was great excitement around the southern coast when Mark Hammill and his pals came a-visiting.

And I’m reliably informed that the crag features in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

Of course the native leprechauns would not look out of place alongside any of Lucas’s inventions.

Far, far Norway

Space sure is cold.

Finse, Norway: We don’t see space being the cold of Norway but Lucas chose the fjords for his battle setting for the Battle of Hoth.

And where Luke met the Force spectre of Obi Wan Kenobi in the Empire Strikes Back.

The Finse 1222 Hotel is where you want to stay where there is a guestbook and a picture gallery and also a prop of a rebel Trooper in the lobby.

We didn’t make it as far north as Finse but reckon the trolls we met in the fjords came from far, far, away.

Ewoks and EJocks

You stormer: Storm Troopers in Endor.

Glenmore Forest, Endor: And me neither even though I hail from the land of Jocks.

This, of course, doubles as the lush home of the Ewoks and is the gravesite of Darth Vader and the Empire itself.

If you’re looking on a map, it’s in the north of Scotland, south of Inverness.

And those hairy-arsed Highlanders make Chewbacca look like a baldie.

Falcon in California

Jimmy in Star Wars theme park

Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California: In a previous life I was bestowed on me one of the many nicknames I’ve picked up on my travels, Falcon.

It was my capacity to handle the drop ride of Falcon’s Fury in Busch Gardens in Tampa in Florida which earned me the moniker.

Forward fast to today and there’s a new Falcon on the scene, Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Anaheim.

All of which I handled with ease… and without even a light sabre to defend myself. May the 4th be with you.