Tag Archives: greece

Around the World in Five Posts: Bonus Post

It’s over year ago since I last pulled my finger out and posted in my Around the World in Five Posts series. If you read the second entry, you may remember that I jokingly pondered whether the next post would appear before 2018 arrived. Well, it’s now June 2018 and it still hasn’t happened! I will be returning to it soon, though. In the meantime, I thought it would be interesting to look at some constitutional and geopolitical goings-on that could require me to alter my already published posts in the series, and that could also see some new countries emerge in the next few years.

Bye bye Swaziland, hello Eswatini.

Let’s start with something that’s already happened. You may or may not recall that the series broadly follows alphabetical order, based on Wikipedia‘s List of Sovereign States. However, one of those countries has recently changed its name, which means entry number two in the series will require editing in order to insert it.

On April 18th, 2018, King Mswati III changed Swaziland’s name to Eswatini. Actually, that’s not technically correct. Eswatini has always been the country’s name in the Swazi language and is derived from the name of 19th century ruler King Mswati II. Swaziland was simply the country’s official name in English. Swaziland and Eswatini essentially mean the same thing – “land of the Swazi people.”

King Mswati III of Eswatini

The decision to ditch Swaziland as the country’s official name in English and replace it with Eswatini was made in order to mark 50 years since independence. It is also viewed as a way of helping to avoid confusion with Switzerland – a very different country with a similar name to Swaziland.

The United Nations has since accepted the change of name and acknowledges the Kingdom of Eswatini. Wikipedia are sticking with Swaziland for the time being – at least for the header of their article on the country – but this is presumably down to the fact that Swaziland will remain in much wider colloquial usage until Eswatini catches on. Nevertheless, I’ll be breaking with my convention of following Wikipedia‘s list and will be sure to install Eswatini into the second post.

FYROM/Macedonia vs Greece – is a solution finally in sight?

One of the countries that emerged from the disintegration of Yugoslavia calls itself Macedonia. Or, to give it its full name, the Republic of Macedonia. A majority ethnic Slavic country with Albanian and other minorities, this newly-independent state claims a connection to Alexander the Great, or Alexander of Macedon. It uses symbols associated with the historical region of Macedonia, including in its flag. It has renamed roads and infrastructure after Alexander the Great and has asserted that traditional Macedonian symbols and historical figures form part of its legacy and identity.

The flag of the Republic of Macedonia featuring
the Vergina Sun, a historically Greek symbol

But there’s a problem with all this, especially if you’re Greek. Alexander the Great wasn’t a Slav. He was a Greek. The historical region of Macedonia today spans both countries, but the majority of its territory is in northern Greece. Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, is in Greek Macedonia. For many Greeks, the fact that that their northern neighbour calls itself the Republic of Macedonia suggests a claim over Greek territory, as well as an attempt to appropriate Greek Macedonian culture and history. The Greek response to this has been to veto efforts by the Republic of Macedonia to join international institutions, including the EU and NATO. Nationalist sentiment in both countries has crystallised around the naming issue.

Macedonia dispute
Republic of Macedonia and Greece’s Macedonia region

For Macedonia (the majority Slavic state, not the Greek region), this is a problem. The country is the poorest to have emerged from the former Yugoslavia (unless you count Kosovo, but that’s another issue). It is keen to increase its ability to trade internationally and to join global institutions to help boost its economy. But the Greeks won’t allow this while it continues to call itself Macedonia. The country is a member of the United Nations, but only under the clunky compromise name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM for short).

For over two decades, the two sides have been locked in a bitter dispute, with nationalists on both sides refusing to back down. Talks have dragged on under American supervision without ever coming to a solution. However, in early June 2018, an agreement was finally reached which would see the majority Slavic state renamed as the Republic of Northern Macedonia. This name would make it clear that the country makes no claim on Greek territory. The change would remove all barriers to Macedonia joining international institutions and would speed up its EU accession process. For Greece, its northern border would be normalised and it could begin to trade openly with its majority Slavic neighbour.

Prime Ministers Alexis Tsipras of Greece (left) and Zoran Zaev of Macedonia

There are hurdles to clear first, however. In the Republic of Macedonia, the proposed name change will be put to a referendum in autumn of 2018, and it is by no means guaranteed that its citizens will support the move, containing as it does numerous concessions beyond simply inserting “Northern” into its name. The Republic’s president has also vowed not to sign the agreement, which would prevent it from coming into law. Indeed, the President has been pretty scathing about his Prime Minister’s endorsement of the deal. The agreement will also need to clear the Greek parliament, which is far from certain given the objections of several parties therein.

So watch this space. You may have to get used to saying Northern Macedonia in the future. Or, if things don’t progress, you may have to accept the continuation of the current state of awkward confusion that currently exists. As things stand, Macedonia will come under “M” in our series – not because I want to piss off Greeks or am interested in taking sides, but because that’s where it is on Wikipedia’s list. However, should the name change go through, the country will appear among those countries beginning with “N”, and will be referred to as Northern Macedonia.

A South Pacific Referendum

France is in Europe, right? Well, most of it is. But France has territory in several locations around the world, from Latin America and the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. Some of these territories are very remote, but all are integral parts of the French Republic. They possess differing statuses within the republic which define the level of self-government they enjoy, but they are, essentially, parts of France.

France and New Caledonia flags
The flags of France and New Caledonian

One of these territories is New Caledonia in the south Pacific. A group of islands scattered off the eastern seaboard of Australia, with a population of 270,000, New Caledonia is the only one of France’s overseas territories recognised as a “special collectivity”, giving it a unique status within the French Republic. But in November 2018, the people of New Caledonia will vote on whether to remain a part of France or become an independent, fully-sovereign state. Should they vote in favour of such a move, the family of nations will welcome a new country into the world.

New Caledonia and France
The distance between New Caledonia and Paris is 10,289 miles

The referendum is compulsory under the terms of the Nouméa Agreement, a 1998 deal named after the territory’s capital city, that was designed to help deal with demands for greater automony among the islands’ native Kanak people. However, most preliminary polls seem to indicate that the public is likely to reject independence.

Not Another South Pacific Independence Referendum?!

Oh yes. If you like your geopolitics, there’s plenty to get your teeth into at the moment! Chances are you’ve heard of Papua New Guinea at some point, but it’s less likely you’ve heard of Bougainville. While the majority of Papua New Guinea is on the island of New Guinea (which it shares with Indonesia), it also possesses a number of smaller islands, including Bougainville.

Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea with Bougainville in the east

Geographically, Bougainville is part of the Solomon Islands, but it is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Since Papuan independence, Bougainville has had an uneasy relationship with the government in Port Moresby, and these tensions have bubbled over into war in the past. The allocation of resources is a major factor behind this trouble.

Today, Bougainville has a high degree of automony from the rest of Papua New Guinea, and governs itself in a broad range of areas. The island is scheduled to hold a referendum some time before 2020 on whether to become independent. However, there are conditions that the island must meet before the vote can be held, and some observers doubt whether these can be met before 2020. Bougainville has a large informal economy and is a hub for illegal weapons trafficking – a problem that must be curbed before the vote goes ahead.

Bougainville flag
Current flag of Bougainville province

Unlike in New Caledonia, there is a strong possibility that, should the vote take place, the people of Bougainville will back independence. It could still take time to create a viable sovereign state in that event, however. What does this mean for the series? Well, here’s hoping I’ve finished all five posts before 2020! Even if not, a newly independent Bougainville would have to be inserted into the already published first entry.


The third post in the series is well under way. I’m also aware of changes I really should make to the previous two. All of this will hopefully appear soon. But I’m an excellent procrastinator so I make no promises!

How it came to this…

The purpose of this site is to allow me to document my thoughts and experiences as an outsider living in Northern Ireland, as well as to reflect on the travel I do in general, and to share it with anyone who might happen to be interested. Certainly, there are far more places in the world that I want to visit than just the ones I have been to so far, but I thought I’d do a little run-down of some of those places I’ve been fortunate enough to make it to up to this point. Each and every one of them has been worth the effort and left a lasting impression.

United States (April 2000) 125px-Flag_of_the_United_States.svg

My first ever trip abroad was certainly an extravagant one! In spring of 2000, my high school embarked on a skiing trip to California which included a day’s sightseeing in San Francisco. I’d never been remotely interested in skiing before, but the trip as a whole seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. It’s unfortunate that, having been 15 at the time, I don’t have what I would call fully formed impressions – or even memories – of that adventure. I do recall being in awe of San Francisco in terms of its geography and location. I vaguely recall being a little disappointed with Alcatraz. And I definitely remember it feeling unseasonably cold for April as we explored the city under leaden skies on a day punctuated by occasional showers.

Although I enjoyed the skiing aspect of the holiday, it’s not something I would go out of my way to do again. For me, the experience of having my eyes opened to a new world and of meeting new people, allied to the breathtaking scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains, will always be what stands out as the enduring part of the trip.

Spain (August 2002) Flag_of_Spain.svg

This would arguably have to be the least obviously adventurous travel experience I’ve yet had. At 17 and abroad for the first time without any kind of adult supervision, I wasn’t old enough for the bar scene. I stayed with a friend in the forgettable, slightly dreary resort of L’Estartit on the Costa Brava. (NB – I’m aware this is in Catalonia but have chosen to head the section with the name and flag of the sovereign state. No offence intended).

The undoubted highlight of this trip was Barcelona. One of the world’s great cities, I appreciated even at 17 that the day excursion we took was not long enough to experience it properly, but it was still worthwhile. As a football mad teen, our tour of the Nou Camp, home to FC Barcelona, was a highlight. We also went to see the team play a match – a Champions League qualifier (hard to believe they ever needed to play in one) against Legia Warsaw. As far as I could tell, a large section of the support that day were tourists like ourselves. I remember the passion, which seemed at times to border on barely-contained aggression, with which the opposition fans supported their team. Barca won easily, but I hardly remember the match. Sat at the very top of the cauldron-like stadium, the action took place far below – almost too far to properly follow. I spent most of my time gazing out at the landscapes beyond, marveling at how different life is far from the little slice of suburbia in which I grew up. I loved it up there. I think I’d have sat at the top of that stand for 90 minutes even without a match being on.

Greece (July 2003) Flag_of_Greece.svg

As relatively naive teenagers, myself and my friend perhaps allowed our travel agent too much say in where we ended up. We were adamant that, although we wanted to go to Greece, we were not too keen on the idea of the hedonistic resorts like Kavos or Malia. We ended up in the tiny resort of Skala Potamia on the less travelled island of Thassos in Greek Macedonia. Despite the lack of obvious diversions for two 18-year-old boys, the first nuggets of a truly independent sense of adventure began to appear here. It was in Thassos that I first exposed myself to a different cuisine, and Greek food is just wonderful. In particular, the fresh fish, caught and served up on the same day, sticks in the mind. You could talk to the very fishermen who, earlier on, had caught the sea bream you were feasting on that evening. This was also comfortably the hottest place I’d ever been, with temperatures easily reaching the mid-30s.

The scenery was majestic and the water was pleasantly warm and a beautiful blue. This remote corner of Greece is an idyll and the perfect place to relax.

Italy (October 2008 and September 2009) Flag_of_Italy.svg


The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Italy is incredible. The people have such a relaxed attitude to life and yet, on the ground, everything moves so fast and with such a buzz. At least in the cities. The traffic can be utterly terrifying in a metropolis like Rome. The Italian capital gave me goosebumps. It’s an enchanting place, a living breathing museum. To explore Rome is to be transplanted back almost to another world while remaining at the heart of a vibrant, modern city. The Trevi Fountain swarms with tourists day and night, and it’s quite a cramped area – pickpockets must love it. But it is simply stunning, as ornate and intricate and beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. Some say the Colosseum disappoints, but then that seems to get said about everything. Personally, I was suitably impressed. And the food is to die for. The pasta and pizza shouldn’t come as a surprise, but there’s so much more than that. But, for me, it was the ice cream that really stood out. There seem to be as many gelateria in Rome as there are ATMs in most cities, and each one of them without fail is serving little frozen cones of heaven. My waistline is grateful I don’t live in Rome, that’s for sure.

Mount Etna in Sicily on an unseasonably murky, misty late summer's day.

Mount Etna in Sicily on an unseasonably murky, misty late summer’s day.

You’d expect Sicily in late September to be a safe bet, weather-wise. Nothing could have prepared me for the storms. We just don’t get storms like that in northern England. You’d see them out at sea while the sun still beamed down on dry land, but before long you’d be cloaked in cloud and pelted with raindrops the size of cricket bats. The mixed weather aside, exploring Sicily was every bit as magnificent an experience as Rome was. In particular, I came away with fond memories of Catania, the first overseas city I’ve ever explored entirely solo and where I found the locals to be helpful and friendly almost to a fault. Palermo, too, is a rich experience with some of the most intriguing and invigorating food markets I’ve ever seen. The hilltop town of Erice offers breathtaking views, and there’s an abundance of historical sites as well.

Vatican City (October 2008) Flag_of_the_Vatican_City.svg

Standing in St Peter's Square in front of the Basilica.

Standing in St Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica.

You didn’t think I was going to hide the world’s smallest independent state in the Rome section, did you? I find the idea of a country this small fascinating, and yet there’s nothing small about the place when you’re stood in St Peter’s Square, a tiny dot surrounded by other equally awestruck tiny dots, trying to comprehend the scale of the Basilica and of the history and influence the place has had and continues to have. Everything about the Vatican is designed to impose and impress, and it certainly does. A tour taking in the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is an absolute must. Don’t expect to take any pictures of Michelangelo’s frescoes on the ceiling, though. They won’t let you!

India (September 2010) 125px-Flag_of_India.svg

The Taj Mahal - there are no words...

   The Taj Mahal – there are no words…

The only way to travel?

The only way to travel?

My first taste of the backpacking lifestyle was an assault on the senses in every way, and a huge step outside of my comfort zone. Nothing I’d done before in my life had the profound impact that India did. I feel truly grateful that I’ve been able to visit this remarkable country. But it was a challenge. The sticky September heat drains your energy non-stop. The hawkers and rip-off merchants invade your personal space on a daily basis. The traffic forces you to take your life into your hands. But it was worth it. The people were warm and friendly and incredibly inquisitive. The food was interesting. And the sites were like a dreamland.

We visited Rajasthan, touring the entire state, before heading to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and spending a couple of days in Delhi. Clearly, such a trip could take up a whole series of posts on its own. Alas, too much time has passed for me to do it justice. A trip to India is a life-changing experience. It takes a degree of courage, a thick skin and plenty of patience, but it’s a country that rewards the traveller prepared to maintain an open mind.

Cyprus (July 2012) Flag_of_Cyprus.svg (1)

Aphrodite's Rock is a surprisingly quiet location

Aphrodite’s Rock is a surprisingly quiet location

Having been to India, it comes as a surprise to some people that my favourite travel experience so far has been Cyprus. A jewel of the Mediterranean it may be, but it’s hardly off the beaten track. Nevertheless, I found it to be a revelation.

I’d always found the politics of the place interesting, and the experience of crossing the Green Line in Nicosia into an unrecognised but other wise fully-functioning country (the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) was a fascinating experience. There is so much more to Cyprus than the Ayia Napa scene for those who want it. Nicosia is an absorbing city that should be given more attention in the guidebooks, as should its museum. Larnaca offers the fun of Ayia Napa minus the wild side. Limassol is clean and tidy and Paphos, while catering strongly to the package holiday market, also possesses a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those who seek solitude can still find it on the wilderness of the Akamas Peninsula (though ecological issues mean you should consider carefully whether you really ought to go there), and there are plenty of deserted beaches, particularly on the north coast. Beyond the Green Line, the Turkish side is still being discovered as it opens up to the outside world. The best way I could sum Cyprus up is to say that everybody can find their own version of it, and come to love it.

The Netherlands (February 2013) 125px-Flag_of_the_Netherlands.svg

Feeling unwell on a typical Amsterdam street.

Feeling unwell on a typical Amsterdam street.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you tell people that neither drugs nor sex were on the agenda during a visit to Amsterdam and they ask you why bothered going, because it has so much more to offer than this. Those I travelled with were not particularly enamoured with the city, but I found it charming. It’s a shame I had a horrendous cold for the entire time I was there.

I tend to feel positive about almost anywhere that feels different to what I’m used to. Amsterdam, a short hop across the North Sea from home, certainly ticks that box. For a start, it doesn’t sound like most other cities. There’s very little traffic in the city centre, so the din of internal combustion engines is replaced by the clickety-clack of trams and the metallic rattle of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous bicycles. I found that fascinating. Much like Rome, it has the feel of a different world, especially when you also consider the canals, the bridges and the unique architecture. It’s a city I’d go back to as I feel there’s more to it than I saw in my flying visit.

France (April – September 2013) Flag_of_France.svg

Place Jean Jaurès, Castres.

Place Jean Jaurès, Castres.

In 2013, I moved to France for what was meant to be a permanent position. It’s hard to believe it only lasted five months, but it was a magical time in a beautiful little town. This deserves a post to itself, so I won’t say much more here other than that it’s a privilege to have been able to call Castres my home.