Cyprus: outside party season, me look at culture things.

When you travel on a full-time basis, sometimes you visit a new country without having had the chance to learn as much about it as you would have liked, prior to arriving.


In this case I was fully prepared, having read the latest books about Cyprus. Seriously, as my current travels are going on at a crazy pace and I have little time to catch-up on the blog, I won’t have much to say about Cyprus and this may look a little like a photo essay.


Antonia, a woman from Cyprus I met a few days ago in Romania, asked me what my favourite city had been in Cyprus (I already admitted I am a week late on the blog, hence the time warp). She seemed surprised I said Nicosia. I said so because I think that in the low season, it is the only city I visited that didn’t have the “low season” feel to it at all, except on just a few blocks of tourist shops. Ledra Street on a week-end is packed all year round. In fact, had I visited in August, Nicosia might very well have been the city I liked the least!


Locals enjoying a Saturday concert by the police band.


This lively atmosphere gave me the unusual desire to party in a nightclub; and by chance there happened to be one close to my hotel. Unfortunately, I looked at the promotional pictures and saw it was frequented only by provocatively yet very elegantly dressed women. I’m not an idiot; I instantly understood it was a club for wealthy lesbians, so I didn’t go.


Canada has a long history of military involvement in Cyprus, having participated in the UN presence here for decades. In fact, the week I was there, the 50th anniversary of Canada’s involvement – in one way or another – was being celebrated.  Continue reading

My first visit to an unrecognized country: The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.


Looking north from the top of Old Nicosia’s tallest building, one cannot fail to notice the enormous Turkish-looking flag carved into the mountain side. Even without this North-Korea like stunt, it would still be very obvious when you enter the Turkish occupied zone, crossing into Northern Nicosia.


This is the first visa I ever got for a country which does not exist. I should rather say, is not internationally recognized, as only Turkey recognizes the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Crossing the border certainly feels like going from Greece to Turkey (I know Cyprus is not Greece! It’s just that crossing from Greece to Turkey is actually geographically possible). All signs go Turkish.


The food goes Turkish.


The religion goes Turkish.


Although the religion doesn’t go very hardcore. Few women are covered up and if they were more conservative, I don’t think they would allow this kind of display in the museum (which I censored in case some of you are reading this at work! If you’re dying to know, you can Google “penis”).

However, they strictly adhere to the Koran’s ban on stopping your car at pedestrian crossings. While I was safe in Cyprus, I was nearly run over in the occupied zone. It is a fact that I have been to 19 Muslim countries on 3 continents and one of the most systematic thing is that they all paint pedestrian crossings on the street but no car will EVER stop for a pedestrian. It is most remarkable in Indonesia, where drivers are quite courteous in Hindu Bali, but as soon as you cross to Muslim Java, they drive like maniacs. I don’t know much about religion, but I think it is safe to assume that stopping for pedestrians is a mortal sin in Islam. Continue reading

Beautiful Bruges and 6 surprising facts about potatoes I bet you didn’t know!

“If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t so it doesn’t.” Despite this quote from the movie “In Bruges”, the city is a huge attraction for tourists who every year come in ever greater numbers. I didn’t remember it as being exceptionally busy when I first visited in 2005, but now that I think of it, it was january and it was snowing. Nowadays, even in march it is packed with tourists. We went on a week-end and had to spent the 1h train ride standing up because the train was full!


Once there, you realize that like in Brussels, every other store is a chocolate store, the architecture is magnificent, but since the centre of the city is very small, bicycles are everywhere, unlike in the capital.


The Markt, or Market Square, with the 13th century Belfry, the most famous sight in the city. We had the energy to climb the 366 steps (fries fuelled energy), but not the patience to wait in line, so we skipped.


The other side of the Markt, lined with mostly tourist trap restaurants.


The Belfry tower. Continue reading

A few Belgium stops: food, more food, and World War I.

Canadian diplomats refer to Brussels as the “5 kilo posting”, meaning this is the minimum amount of weight you can expect to gain during your time there.


In certain neighbourhoods of the city, it seems one shop out of four sells chocolates and sweets. Of the other three shops, one sells fries and the other is a restaurant!


No, Michelle is not completely drunk; just imitating the fries cone! (who is probably drunk himself) If you look at her fries, you will notice the quantity of mayonnaise you get when you ask for it. I must say I like the stuff, but this is too much.


The Belgians also like their meat, as I discovered last year at the Mons week-end market. I was there just for a quick visit with my Canadian expat friends Karine and Bob, and didn’t post anything about it then. If memory serves, I flew there from Serbia before heading to Luxembourg.


If you don’t like mussels, the Belgians also have many meat-oriented traditional dishes, such as sausages and stoemp, a mix of mashed potatoes and root vegetables. I picked it because there are actually some vegetables in the stoemp, and I was beginning to fear scurvy.


Brussels’ famous Grand Place, certainly the touristic centre of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historians believe there was a market on this site as far back as the 11th century, although most buildings were built in the 18th century, after the French completely destroyed it in 1695. I took this photo late at night, but during the day I was surprised to constantly find it teeming with people, despite being far from the high season for tourism. Continue reading

Puerto Rico; where you wait for your cruise to start…

San Juan is by far the busiest cruise ship port in the Caribbean (and possibly the second busiest in the world, after Miami). The advantage of cruising from Puerto Rico is that you avoid the days at sea required to sail from Florida to most of the Caribbean islands, especially important for a short cruise.


Being such a cruising destination, you often see beautiful displays of cruising fashion.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Being a bit of a nerd, I wanted to visit the Arecibo Observatory, the largest radio telescope in the world, with a 305 m dish (an even 1,000 feet). We drove at least an hour east of San Juan, only to find it closed until further notice. Upon detailed inspection of their web site, we did find a small hidden notice to that effect. I later learned the suspension system had been slightly damaged just 4 days before by a minor earthquake.

So instead, we headed south, to Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, named after the Conquistador Ponce de Leon or his grandson, Governor of Puerto Rico. There seems to be no agreement on this.


For a relatively small city, it boasts an impressive art museum financed by local wealthy patrons.


And possibly some corporate sponsorships.


While the collection of old European art was nice, the most interesting was the Latin-Caribbean art I am not at all familiar with, such this painting by Puerto Rican artist Jorge Rechany, called “The Consultation”. Continue reading

Grenada: a beautiful little country to invade… I mean visit!

A few weeks ago, I told my Bulgarian friend Valentin I was going to Grenada. I met Valentin in Ethiopia’s Danakil Desert, and later visited him in his hometown of Sofia. An avid traveller himself, he told me his interest in geography began as a small boy when he looked for a map to locate the small Caribbean country he had never heard of. At the time, the 1983 invasion of the tiny island country by the United States was the number one news story behind the Iron Curtain; the perfect example of evil capitalist imperialism.

The motivations for the invasion were complex and while the Prime Minister had been murdered, and the Army had taken control of the Government, many other factors weighed in. The operation was actually very controversial, being condemned in a UN General Assembly vote by a margin of 108 to 9 (the US and most of Grenada’s neighbours). When asked about this near unanimous condemnation, President Reagan told reporters: “It didn’t upset my breakfast at all”.

In the end, thousands of US forces with allies from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica, Saint-Lucia and Saint-Vincent and the Grenadines, fought against a couple of thousand Grenadian and Cuban troops and easily defeated them in a few weeks. While the Americans gave themselves lots of praise, medals and decorations, their senior military leadership also realized the invasion had been an operational fiasco, with brilliant success coming more from the enemy’s immense military inferiority. Only through massive reforms did the US military become what it was during the Gulf War, 8 years later.


Sadly for Communist propagandists, I didn’t see much resentment over the operation during my visit. In fact, the date of the beginning of the invasion, October 25th, is now a National Holiday, called Thanksgiving Day (no relation to the US/Canadian religious holiday).

Grenada proved to be my favourite destination of the cruise. During a day long tour, we visited a rum factory, a chocolate factory and various little sites along the way.


The Rivers Rum distillery is locally owned, sells all of its production in the country and has been in continuous operation since 1795. The technology involved has not changed much since its first days of operation, with a water wheel as the main power source.


The water wheel powers the grinding house, where sugar juice is extracted from the sugar cane.


The remaining pulp is left to dry, before being used to heat the boiling room.


Probably not ISO 22000 certified. Continue reading

Dominica; once the unlikely Shangri-La of Canadian neo-Nazis and the American Ku Klux Klan!

The small and impoverished country of Dominica has a few natural wonders to attract the cruising traveller. For example, there is a volcanic boiling lake on top of Morne Trois Piton National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The kind of thing I would usually go for, but it’s an 18 km mountain hike and there were risks of rain. So, after several days of continuous day tours and, in my case, quite sore from my Flyboarding experience, we decided to take it easy in Dominica and just spend the day walking around town.


In hindsight, it was not the best idea, as there is really not much to see or do in the country’s capital, Roseau, seen here from the highest structure in the area, our ship. Honestly, the small country does not often make the news. But in 1981, it did.

As I was reading a little bit about my next destination, I stumbled upon an incredible story dating back to a time when I certainly didn’t read the news. Colonel Patrick John was the Prime Minister of Dominica at the time of independence, in 1978. In 1979, he was forced out of office by mass protests and, following the elections of 1980, replaced by Eugenia Charles. In 1981, she faced two coups, one from the Dominican Military and one from John, who wanted to overthrow her Government using foreign mercenaries.

Now the best part: this black Dominican man wanted to overthrow this black Dominican woman, using an outfit of mercenaries composed of members of the American Ku Klux Klan and Canadian neo-Nazis led by Wolfgang Droege, with the whole thing allegedly financed by a successful German-Canadian real estate investor, Martin K. Weiche, himself a fringe neo-Nazi politician and former actual German Nazi in the days of the Third Reich. In the deal, the former Premier would get back in power, and in turn facilitate Weiche and others in establishing businesses in the country. The strange coup may also have involved dreams of moving the local population to Canada and establishing some sort of Arian Nazi utopia on the Island!

Not sure how to comment on something so strange, so here’s the outcome. The ATF got wind of this and passed it on to the local police. The gang, along with a Barbadian arms dealer, were arrested in New Orleans with a ship full of weapons and explosives. Col John was tried in Dominica and served 12 years in jail for attempting to overthrow the Government. The rest were tried in the US but incredibly, they only got a misdemeanour conviction for violating the American Neutrality Act of 1794 (making it illegal to launch a military operation from the US, against “any foreign prince or state of whom the United States was at peace”). They got a three year sentence, but I don’t know how long they actually served. Completely. Totally. Incredible.


On the ground today, the most interesting attraction was this school bus, crushed by an African Baobab during Hurricane David in 1979. Fortunately, no one was on board (it would have been a rather stupid place to hide from 240 km/h winds!). Continue reading