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, Culture, Europe

Estonia I’m so in love with you

It’s not a holiday for me unless it involves a beautiful woman with her hands all over me… Estonia, I’m so in love with you.

It’s still a bit away (what do you mean, be patient?) but our Estonian friends have been keeping us chilled with their products.

All of which are unique to this mysterious and enchanting Baltic country.

Quiz whizz

The Estonians gave us a spot quiz to see if we had been listening during their webinar.

And since all knowledge is to be shared here are a few factoids we picked up from the Estonia on their wellness ways.

So which tree, Spruce or Birch, do the Estonians eat? And a clue here, its resin was the forerunner of chewing gum.

Hotting up

They love a sauna in these parts and beat their backs (no, honestly, try it) but do they choose a broom or beech whisk?

While here’s one the Irish will have a head start on?

What colour is bog water? Brownish or crystal clear/blue? And which shoes to wear… bog shoes or skis?

I could go on… and so can they.

Mine’s a beer

Tranquil Estonia

So, I got the run of myself and found out I knew next to nothing about Estonia.

I know beer is good for you from drinking it (obvs) but which wellness treatment do they employ ale in.

And yes for those who know the Czech Republic you’ll have it.


The Estonians also have something from nature for colds, an organic drink which is the elixir of youth…

And an old wives’ tale here, that if you soak your socks in their favourite drink then it will bring down your fever.

A shrine to wellness

There’s a meal in there

They boast too a natural shrine with magical properties that treats your eyes.

I’ll leave you too with the question: how many miles is their longest trek?

Needless to say, I’m not expecting any wellness package arriving at Chez Murty.

So, I’ll just have to get out to Estonia to find it all out for myself. Estonia, I’m so in love with you.