On the trail of Nicolae Ceausescu

The first (and still only) country to ever refuse me a visa was Romania. The country fascinated me, particularly the megalomaniac building projects of its leader Nicolae Ceausescu. But it was not to be, and I was refused entry by his government. 

Top 10 Things to do in Bucharest

Prior to the Second World War, and the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, Bucharest was known as the 'Paris of the East'. Fifty years of unbridled construction of ugly Soviet-style utilitarian buildings has definitely put a dent in that image, but it still remains a great city to visit with plenty of activities for the visitor.

A Day Trip to Whisky Heaven. Islay

When I left home and moved to London at 18 I tasted Whisky for the first time at a party. It was a blended mix, the rather cheap (and it turns out, really nasty) Cutty Sark, and I foolishly drank over half the bottle. I was so sick I remained in bed for 2 days and the very smell of Whisky made me want to vomit.

The Monumental memorial to a Heroic Defence. Brest

I have always been a fan of Soviet gigantism from the skyline dominating Motherland statue in Kiev to the outsized Defender of the Soviet Arctic in Murmansk. While spending a few days in Minsk a day trip to Brest to see the mighty statue named Courage in the military fortress was an opportunity I was not going to miss.

Top 10 Things to Do in Minsk

Belarus is in the news for the wrong reasons at the moment and may seem to be an unlikely choice for a trip. One of the least visited places in Europe, not least because visas were hard to get (a situation that has now changed for the better for most countries), it still remains mostly undiscovered. Minsk, the capital, is an intriguing city. A case of East meets West, but where the upper hand still remains Soviet.

A tower built of Human Skulls. Niš

The Ottoman Empire was not renowned for being kind and gentle to its subjects, particularly those from lands it had invaded. Fear was a weapon used to maintain control and punish those that stood up to the caliphate. When the Serbians rose up against the foreign invaders in 1809, the revolt was quickly crushed and a gruesome reminder of the fate that awaited those who rebelled was built in Niš, a tower built of skulls.

Oradour-sur-Glane. Walking into a Nazi atrocity

On the 10th of June 1944, an SS Panzer Division entered Oradour-Sur-Glane, a small picturesque village not far from the wine-growing region of Bordeaux. In a barbaric act of violence, the villagers were murdered and many of the buildings burnt down.