Category Archives: Travel stories

Does Serbia need a brand?

beograd_april-08-26When discussions about promoting Serbia take place the following comment often comes up: “shouldn’t we develop a country brand?” The short answer is “NO”.  I am from Scotland, I now live in Romania, and I would like to share my opinion of branding countries.  I hope that Serbia can learn from the mistakes of others.

A lot of money has been wasted by successive Romanian Governments in developing absurd country brands and it certainly hasn’t resulted in more tourists or investors.  Their most recent slogan was “Romania – Land of Choices” and I am still trying to work out what it means. Continue reading

Diary of a bike

brompton_bikeI got ridden to Laurentiu’s house in the dark on a road through the centre of Bucharest, a road that is usually crowded but at that moment was deserted because it was the middle of the night; Laurentiu appeared in his pajamas and handed over a disk, a memory stick, said farewell and we were off — but only for a bit as time was pressing and I got folded up and put in the back of a taxi as my Master feared we wouldn’t make it on time, and his fears were probably justified as it is rather a long way to the airport.

I could hear the taxi driver complaining about how expensive spare parts are for Dacia Logans, “more expensive than the most expensive German cars” he said, and he believes Japanese cars are the best and my Master concurred.  At the airport I was handed to a man in a tie who put me on a revolving machine and then wrapped me in thin polythene until I was hermetically sealed and almost unrecognisable — but then an unseemly argument ensued at the Lufthansa desk about their demand for a 70 Euro fee for putting me on the plane; we went to the cash office where negotiations resumed and the price fell to 35 Euro due to my diminutive stature. Continue reading

Travelling through Kitsch

botosani smecheriIn Romania, as in every country, there are stereotypes about which places are worth visiting. If I tell people I am from Scotland many say they would love to visit Edinburgh but it is rare you hear people saying they want to see Glasgow, which is a more interesting city in many ways. When I travelled round India (20 years ago) everyone said I should avoid Calcutta (now Kalkota) as it is just a vast sprawling slum full of insolent Bengalis. But I found it to be the most compelling place in India. Continue reading

What I found in Scotland

jan-feb-09-080Click here to see Rupert’s photos of Edinburgh

When I went to Edinburgh recently I expected to see high street shops selling off their stocks at huge discounts and “everything must go” signs.  But I was surprised to find that it looked like “business as usual” and I didn’t see any boarded up windows,  stray dogs,  rubbish blowing down the streets or any other signs that capitalism had failed.   My plan of getting a cheap jacket from a collapsing retail giant were foiled.

Continue reading

Magical memories

magical-memoriesOn the one hand my credentials for writing about magic would appear to be good: I come from Scotland, a country which promotes itself as a land of mystery, magic and legend. On the other hand Scotland’s claim to be some sort of home to ancient magic is based on big marketing budgets rather than reality, as Scotland’s witches were burned and drowned and our legends were suppressed for generations. Many Scots would blame this (as well as their other problems) on the English, but who are we to complain considering that it was us who destroyed the Celts and totally eradicated the Picts. Continue reading

How to get a grant

roma_comunity_montenegroWhen I was in Montenegro recently I checked into a small guest house and asked if they had internet. “Of course we do” boomed the big cheery lady who runs the place, but when I tried to get online it didn’t work. I asked for help and she went to fetch the Siberian who was living with his wife on the floor below. “He knows English” she cried as she hurried down the frozen stone steps.

A small, alert and friendly young man came in and tried to help me connect. But it still didn’t work, and we ended up on the outside terrace which was the only place (apart from his room) where the wireless signal actually did work. We sat there for hours, despite the rain and cold, and I learned about Siberia.  Continue reading

The Balkans by Train

montenegroIn my view the best way to travel in Eastern Europe is by train.  It is cheap, interesting and relaxing.  But why, you might be wondering, would anyone want to travel across the Balkans in the winter, especially such a cold one as this?  My mission was to sign a piece of paper in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.  The job itself took about 20 minutes, most of which was spent hanging around, but getting there took me two nights on a sleeper train and getting back another two nights.  I got the train from Bucharest to Bar, via Belgrade. Continue reading

Traveling into the unknown

Trying to compete with the west when it comes to tourism cannot succeed if the locations and infrastructure are as poor as they are in Romania. Romania’s beaches and ski resorts are promoted abroad even though they cannot possibly compete with what Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary have to offer – not to mention France, Spain and Italy. Continue reading

Bran, the Capital of Kitsch

Five days after Romania joined the EU I visited Bran Castle. I was sadly disappointed by the incredible kitsch on display in the carpark, the ruination of the village by uncontrolled banner advertising and an interior that has been ruined by bad restoration. What was an intriguing fifteenth century castle has been reduced to a centrepiece of the kitsch capital of Romania. The Habsburg’s asking price of 60 million Euro is laughable; they would be lucky if they could get 10% of that over inflated value. Continue reading