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Coffee in sarajevo

A mate of mine once told me that you know when you hit the Balkans: the coffee gets good. Finding myself in the old town market in Sarajevo, I sat down beside this old woman at a table outside a café. I asked the lady of the house for a coffee with milk. She shook her head. I asked for a Nescafé – I knew I wasn’t in Serbia but I was close enough to hope that the Nescafé concept might have leaked over the border. She shook her head again. Wine? Shake. Beer? Shake. She said something and at a complete loss for a reply, I nodded. This was a one-item menu.

I got a traditional Turkish coffee served with two cubes of sugar and a square of Turkish Delight. The coffee looked like mud. Something that reminded me of pond scum floated on the top. It poured like treacle, and the word ‘oleaginous’  came to mind. I don’t take sugar – and I never have coffee without milk. But when in Rome – or Sarajevo – I did as the locals do. And, as years of conditioning condensed and melted away, I found myself enjoying the experience.

Perhaps it was the market though – the ambiance? But no. The next day and the day after, I tried it again, both at the hotel and at the conference room. I was in danger of becoming addicted – not to the coffee, but to that rush I got when the caffeine hit my veins and shocked me awake. And to the leisurely pace at which each tiny cup is sipped. I could live this life…

Coffee in sarajevo

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there’s nothing to do in Malta once you’ve seen the temples and the hypogeum. I was over there recently and took a half-day to go chapel-chasing. Armed with the book 100 Wayside Chapels in Malta and Gozo and the intrepid and very knowledgeable Mr Micallef as my guide, we set off to see what we could find. Read more

I was in Rome once. And visited St Peter’s. Jammed, elbow to elbow, with the other tourists eager to have a look at Michaelangelo’s great work of art, I couldn’t help but wish for a bench I could lie down on and from that horizontal position, have just five minutes to look at the ceiling above me. I had the same feeling in Vác catherdral lately. Mind you, I suppose I could have stretched out on one of the pews, but somehow it didn’t seem quite appropriate.

Modelled on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the cathedral in Vác dates back to 1777. Deceptively plain from the outside, its ceilings and walls are something to behold. I’m not a huge fan of ornate churches but I could spend time in this one.

By the time Vác was liberated from Turkish occupation in 1686, it was practically deserted and in ruins. Dogged by bad luck, a fire in 1731 burned down 198 of the 229 houses but by the 1770s, a baroque city built on medieval remains was taking shape. The bishops (the city’s landlords) made a huge effort to repopulate the city (with Catholics, naturally) offering various benefits such as free building sites, materials or tax breaks (and some present-day governments think they thought this stuff up!)  Most of the  newcomers were Germans, with some Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Serbian, Morvian, and even a number of French and Italian settlers taking up residence. Even today, the city has a very multicultural and arty feel to it.

If you fancy a day out from Budapest, you could do a lot worse. Hidden somewhere in the city is an amazing antique barn owned by a Dutch guy – I was there once and have never found it since. And another, Hungarian-owned antique building up a side road is chock full of great stuff. Couldn’t find that one, either. Damn breadcrumbs…  will pay more attention in future.