Countries, Europe

Black Drac and Blackjack

Think Romania and chances are it’ll be Count Dracula rather than counting cards but Transylvania is home to Black Drac and Blackjack.

And you thought Monte Carlo was where all the high rollers hang out.

Well, central Europe has a rich casino tradition with the suavest of the suave playing the tables in Czechia.

At the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the opening shots of Casino Royale.

Dog Holliday

Joker in the pack: Bandanaman

My own gambling credentials are more Dog Holliday than Doc Holliday.

Despite what the pictures from the Knott’s Berry Farm old-style casino in California might show.

As anyone who had seen my dice hop the craps table in Las Vegas, where I earned the nickname Hannibal, will testify.

Cards on the table I prefer to keep my money in my pocket and divert it to the bar but there is a gambling tourist out there.


Kerching: And would the Simpsons like it?

And we, and Casinogrounds, aim to please and know you players want to keep your shekels to spend on chips.

The online gambling site analysed the number of casinos and the average cost of hotels in 35 European countries.

And they arrived at these best gambling holiday destinations in Europe.

And putting the rummy into Romania, the land of Black Drac and Blackjack comes out top ahead of Czechia.

Rummy in Romania

Red meat: For Dracula

The land of Black Drac and Blackjack boasts 439 casinos, and the second cheapest cost of hotels after Albania.

And hang onto your hat, that’s an average £19.57 for your room.

Now if you want to channel your inner James Bond then you’ll have a choice of 421 casinos in Czechia.

And while if you can afford it then the Pupp is the biz.

You don’t have to break the bank at any of the Bohemians’ other hotels with the average price of a room only £38.17.

Do you take a Czech?

The Pupp and the Pupparazzi: At the Grandhotel Pupp

Czechia’s neighbour Slovakia is also a big draw for gamblers with 223 casinos.

And you’ll get change out of £40 at ab average £39.88 per room.

The rest of the top ten is made up of Balkans and Baltics with our favourite Croatians and Bosnia and Herzovinans featuring.

While Poland and the three interlinked states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are also flagged up.

Cheap as chips

In the money: You’d be quackers not to

Of course the burning question is just how cheap are those rooms in Albania.

Well, hold your breath, the average room is £14.19 and there are 54 casinos throughout the country.

So you can throw your money around, and your dice. 


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?



Countries, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland

Ryanwhere is Scotland?

Ryanwhere is Scotland? A question asked by one of its staff to a Polish family returning to Scotland from Portugal.

It was all to do with different Covid regulations applying to Scotland and England.

And fair’s fair because it’s complicated too for those of us who share this island of Britain.

It is of course an occupational hazard of being one of Jock Tamson’s Bairns (that’s being a Scot).

And on my first visit to America nearly 40 years ago the young people I’d meet would ask me if Scotland was in England.

The capital of North Dakota

Sign of the times: Ryanair staff

It irked me then until my American History tutor I learned under when I got back and studied in Aberdeen asked me what the capital of North Dakota was?

And like all lessons in life it’s stuck: Bismarck.

All of which ramblings brings us to Ryanair‘s flash sale which ends tomorrow, midnight, Sunday, January 30.

Michael O’Leary’s empire, of course, is built on a model of flying to out-of-the-way destinations to cut down on prices for the punters.

And so Scots (and non-Scots) have had to become educated in towns we’d never heard of before.

Some of them are also in the same country as the destination we want to visit.

Some out-of-the-way places

Suits you sir: Legoland

For our Ryanair pal Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland, which is the northern country of the island of Britain.

And it, and Scotland’s largest city Glasgow, is €9.99, from my old stomping ground of Dublin (Ireland that is, not Ohio).

But like Geography Gio we had to look up the map to find some of these others.

Billund in Denmark is the cheapest destination on offer at €7.99.

The good news for kids (and big kids alike) is that Billund is Legoland.

The bad news is that if you wanted to see Copenhagen then you’d have to island hop and it’s 261kms away.

Eindhoven, 122kms south of Amsterdam, too comes in at €7.99.

And while I’m sure that Eindhoveners are very friendly, their centrepiece the Philips Electronic Museum is always going to be a hard sell.

Do you know these cities?

A Star in Hamburg

Happy Hamburg is in the same price bracket and is instantly recognisable for anybody who has seen the map of Europe more than once.

Now I’ve had the good fortune to attend the German Travel Mart in Dresden and stay abreast of most of what is going on in Deutschland but Memmingen? Sorry.

Well, the old Roman fortress town is 116kms west of Munich and is clearly a smaller airport than the Bavarian capital which you can get lost in (trust me).

Pole star: Lublin

We dare say too that in Lublin‘s fair city the girls are so pretty.

Only it’s pronounced Looblin and is in Poland, 170kms south-west of capital Warsaw.

And you can get there for €12.99 where film buffs may recognise if from the film The Reader.

So the next time an airline worker asks you Ryanwhere is Scotland (insert your own country) then take five.

And reflect on the fact that we don’t all know where each other live.

And it’s all the more exciting when we find out.





Countries, Culture, Europe

Amber lists and you’re a gem

I put my foot in it with a colleague, so just to say there will be no more gags about Amber lists and you’re a gem..

The amber threat has had holidaymakers panicking and fretting about getting back from foreign countries and then paying through the nose for self-isolation.

And the latest countries in the firing line are two of our favourites, France and Italy.

But the fossilised tree resin is something to be treasured as a precious jewel.

And also a healing property for hippies, whom I lean to….ooooohhhhhhm!

Museum pieces

Craftwork: amber

You’ll find amber really wherever you’ll find trees, or where trees once were, which is pretty much everywhere.

And among all their magical qualities they also seem to have a magnetic pull on women.

Particularly when you’re on your holiday with la famiglia in the coastal town of Southwold in England’s East Anglia.

And the evidence is somewhere at the bottom of the Scary One’s Jewellery box.

Though not the 2.2 kilo exhibit… it would only drag her neck down.

Pole stars

Shine bright: The colour of the sun


Now every day’s a school day when you’re meeting holiday providers from around the world.

And while feeding our bellies with big bowls of Polish soup and warming our hearts with their vodka, our Polish friends gave us the rundown on Gdansk.

And its impressive history with amber.

What’s more it’s even better than it was before with the new Amber Museum of Gdansk opened to the public only last week.

Amber is brilliant in tone and hue and can act naturally as a receptacle for all the things that can get stuck in trees, like bugs.

While it is a great building block for jewellery yes, but from spoons to chess sets to Fender Stratocaster guitars.

Opening gambit

The voice of Dresden: With Ingrid in Dresden

Museum director Waldemar Ossowski said: “Amber items are delicate and sensitive, and the susceptibility to damage increases with the age of the item, which is why many amber masterpieces have survived in fragments and are missing many figurines.”

We’re told too that it sits in the pantheon with the the collection of the Danish royal family, the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Grünes Gewölbe museum in Dresden.

Something begotten in the state of Denmark

Walking on air in Nyhavn, Copenhagen

And if you know your Copenhagen you’ll know the museum is located in Kanneworff’s House in Nyhavn which dates back to 1606.

You’ll be taken on a 30-50 million journey and needless to say Denmark is at the heart of it.

And there will be a celebration of Scandinavian forests and their traders.

While there’s also chess too, naturally.

The Russians are coming

And take a tour of the ramparts: Kaliningrad

Whisper it around Poland where they like to claim amber as their Baltic gem but the Russians are coming with their own amber museum in Kaliningrad.

Well, like all things Polish, they’ve already settled and are flagging their own museum.

Should you be in the region then lucky you. So have a look around.

Obviously at all the amber and the many exhibitions including the Fifth Russian Contest of Gallery Art.

But also take a guided tour of the rampart to learn about the history of the growth of Konigsberg fortification power.

So that’s our Amber lists and you’re a gem all of you who are called Amber.