7 Jun,2018 By Jagabond
Travel to a non-touristy region of Europe can be exciting. You can be the one who discovers a hidden gem. Then you can write about it like Rick Steves did with the Cinque Terre, and see tourists flock there and ruin it. The more likely result is finding a place that is at best ordinary. In the search for undiscovered European gold, you often unearth many non-precious metals. This doesn’t mean you can’t have memories, in fact I have many from my non-touristic European travel. If someone brought these places up, I would wryly smile, say “I remember…” and tell the following stories.
Ostrava, Czech Republic
As I walked the stench of despair was evident. I strolled by drug addicts, seedy strip clubs, and hopelessly drunk students, while numbing myself with extremely watered down drinks. This was Stoldoni Street, a crazed mess of trashy bars and hedonism. Sadly it’s also the highlight of Ostrava, a Czech city full of grit and grime situated near the Polish border. A bus dropped off a party of Chinese tourists who looked confused by their surroundings. Maybe they thought the destination read ‘Austria‘ not ‘Ostrava’. There is no tourism in this city, just ugly buildings reminding you why communism sucks.
When I lived in Belgium I had the idea of Northern France weekend trips. I quickly realized that outside of Lille, there wasn’t much happening in this mostly industrial region. In Bethune I met an older couple at an Irish Pub. I didn’t speak French, but I understood when the man showed me an indecent picture of himself on his phone before asking me to return with them. I politely declined the offer, but I didn’t sleep alone that night. A cute stray cat cried out to me in the pouring rain, so I snuck her into my hotel bed.
I had the bright idea of visiting Bulgaria while on work travel in Romania. The train was so slow that homeless dogs were running with it and keeping up. Apparently there was a problem with my passport and Bulgarian border patrol detained me in a damp, stone cell. The agents were laughing as they smoked a million cigarettes, conversing in their Eastern European tongue about me. After a series of flashbacks from ‘Rocky IV’ they finally let me go, so I could go into town and take a picture of a really cool lion statue.
Who puts a zoo right behind a train station? As if the noise didn’t bother the animals enough, the facilities looked drab and uncomfortable, bordering on abusive. The elephants could barely turn around in their holding area. I complained to the manager but the Flemish speaker didn’t understand me. I pledged a life of vegetarianism that day, which continued for nearly five years. As I stormed out I met this owl who said ‘help me’ with his eyes.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar is home to the Stari Most, a really nice bridge. However you can only look at a bridge for so long before moving on. Booking a night here wasn’t the best idea, as I quickly got sick of the damn bridge. A local bartender laughed uproariously that we decided to visit Mostar on our European travels. I thought the town was fine, though a bit stuck in the nineties…I think rollerblades just recently made it out there. We returned to our hotel at two in the morning right as a wine tasting was starting…because that’s the perfect time for such a thing.
Who wouldn’t love a place nicknamed ‘stab city’ in honor of its higher than usual violent crime rate? Limerick is most known these days as home to the top rated Rugby team in Ireland. It also had a pub with the exact same name as my neighborhood bar back in the U.S. Sensing the nostalgia I partied like a young adult. There was a metal band playing at midnight, but due to technical issues they stood around for an hour before the crowd finally gave up. After a few days staying in nasty hostels a virus finally got me. My throat started to get scratchy while in Limerick, and within two days I was miserable and voiceless. The picture below proves my Belgian friend has the best poses.
Pesco Sannita, Italy
Another European zoo story. I found what looked like a gem near Benevento. Zoo Delle Maitine was highly reviewed and only a short drive away. Expecting many hours of excitement, I was through the zoo in twenty minutes. I went into the main town center looking for time killing activities, and instead found a lonely village. Luckily the apartment I booked had a hot tub and fireplace in the living room!
There are over one thousand islands off the Croatian coast, so of course I pick the one that sucks. With only two items listed on TripAdvisor as ‘things to do’ it appears no one visits here. I went in April, arriving at a forsaken port that was dreadfully cold and windy. I had two hours to waste before the return ferry, and spent my time watching a European football match. Fittingly the boring game ended in a scoreless draw. Just look at that sad and deserted pier.
I couldn’t find this town again if I tried. Maybe I got here by walking through a wardrobe? I was half expecting a talking bear to greet me in this fairy tale place. What to do in Avinurme? There are no restaurants or pubs. A local museum sells handcrafted baskets. Residents make wine from sunflowers and pick mushrooms for fun. The house shown below looked tempting, though I was afraid a witch would invite me in and fatten me up for dinner.
Bottom Line: Does the place make the experience, or vice versa? I think either can be true. You can argue that bad memories (within reason) are better than none…at least you have a story to tell.