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Russian Cooking Comes Of Age

Russian-Borsch-Recipe-Me-cookingAs fodder for guide book humor, Soviet cuisine led with its chin. It’s not that there wasn’t any good food available in the country, it’s just that you had to search long and hard for it. In between looking and finding, visitors were faced down by enormous portions of overcooked vegetables, potatoes slathered in vegetable oil, mystery meat and the occasional pancake with sour cream.

And at Moscow’s middle-eastern restaurants, one would wondered whether ” belly dancing” meant theirs or the dancer’s.

Now days, with availability of high-quality fresh ingredients from around the country and the world at an all time high, Russians are cooking up a storm. And despite their reliance on just a tad more fat then most Western chefs, they’re pretty darn good at it.

The newly-slicked-up Russian Television stations – and their sponsors – have not been slow to capitalize on this trend. One of the most popular cooking shows on Russian television is Smak (which sort of translates to ‘Pleasant Taste’), sponsored by Uncle BenE’s rice and hosted by Andrey Makarevich, former lead singer of the famous 70’s and 80’s-era rock group Time Machine. Now a bit older, a bit paunchier but still as charming as ever, Makarevich’s show features recipes from and appearances by famous (and not so famous) guests.

On May 8, the day before Victory Day, Smak featured cartoonist-cum-television commercial actor Ufimtsev, proffering his recipe for what he calls Baked Chicken and I call ‘Victory Chicken Statue on a Bed Of Wild Rice’ (you’ll get it when you see the recipe).

In a halting, slightly nervous but mostly confident manner, Ufimtsev set about chopping garlic, mushing butter and generally being the elder statesman about the kitchen.

And lo and behold, as the thing started to take shape, I realized that this was the Russian version of the chicken my fat- and-cholesterol-fearing father prepares in New York using a metal contraption that looks something like a Tonka super sex toy, designed to hold the chicken upright during cooking so that the evil fat drips away from the meat. ‘Boy, this is terrific’, says dad, and judging by the looks of things on Smak, Russians think so, too.

UfimtsevE’s Victory Chicken Statue

(From Smak)

Chicken:

one medium-sized chicken, washed

small bunch of dill

several (6 to 8) cloves of garlic

1 cup water

one stick softened butter

1 thick 500 ml or 750 ml glass Bottle (such as a European beer bottle)

Rice:

One cup wild rice

two cups cold water

one tablespoon softened butterv
dash salt

Chicken

Fill the bottle about a quarter-full with water, and add about two cloves of crushed garlic. Impale the washed chicken on of the bottle so that it looks sort of like a chicken statue. The chicken should reach almost, but not quite, to the bottle bottom.

Spread the softened butter all over the chicken, using your hands, followed by crushed garlic. Place the chicken statue on a cookie sheet (to catch fat) in a pre-heated 200°C/400°F oven for about an hour or until done.

The fat drips from the outside of the bird onto the cookie sheet; from inside into the bottle, steaming water infuses the chicken meat with garlic aroma. The contents of the bottle are later discarded.

It didn’t explode on TV, so I don’t see why it would at your house, but for the attorneys’ sake, I should say that the whole thing is AWFULLY DANGEROUS and should all have a warning label and don’t try this at home unless you’re a professional. Use as thick a bottle as you can. If you’re still worried, you’re probably the kind of person who thinks that baseball bats should have warning labels.

Rice

In a small pot, place the rice into the cold water, add butter and salt, bring to a boil; stir briefly and reduce to a simmer and cover the pot for twenty minutes or until the water is gone and small steam holes appear in the surface of the rice on the pot. Don’t stir during cooking and for God’s sake don’t overcook it or keep opening the pot to see if it’s done all the time.

Spread the rice out on a serving dish large enough to accommodate the chicken. When the chicken’s done, place it on the bed of rice (Smak, of course, prefer that it be Uncle Ben’s!). Um, before you do that, it’s probably good to remove the now- filled bottle – grasp it, with the aid of a pot holder, and pull the chicken off the top carefully with two forks.

Chop finely the bunch of dill and three cloves of garlic, and mix the two together in a small bowl. Pour some of the pan drippings on top of the chicken, then sprinkle the garlic-dill mixture on top as a garnish.

You can modify this recipe to be Fatly Correct by ditching the butter and not garnishing with pan drippings; the inside of the bird will still be sumptuous and moist. If you’re really into it, remove the skin, but AFTER cooking. Come on, live a little.

How To Read A Guidebook

Near the registration desk at Jakarta’s most famous youth hostel, Wisma Delina, I watched with growing disbelief an exchange between the owner and an angry backpacker.

“A room,” the owner said, “costs 13,500 rupiah per person.”

“No it doesn’t,” insisted the backpacker, fervently jabbing at a listing in his well-thumbed guidebook, “it says right here that it costs 12,000.”

A traveler who expects a guidebook to dictate pricing policy to the hotel industry is in for a shock. As the guidebook market has become more competitive, publishers have been going to greater lengths than ever to convince readers of their thoroughness, accuracy, and authority. But you can’t forget that a guidebook is intended to be just that – a guide.

“I’m glad I’m in the book,” the owner told me later, when the influx of shelter-seeking backpackers and tapered off. “But I have that same argument 10 times a day. People don’t seem to accept that I set my prices – the guidebook doesn’t.”

He’s right. And it’s not just prices; some travelers take a listing the guidebook to be the word of God – and then become incensed when the book’s wrong.

“A traveler standing on street corner, shifting his eyes between a guidebook and the empty spot where he expects to see something the book describes,” said Berkeley screenwriter Natalie Cooper, “has a deer in the headlights vacuousness that I think is incredibly funny.”

As a guidebook writer I know that all guides, even the great ones, have their inaccuracies. A typo can put museum on the wrong side of town. An off the beaten path site or attraction that appears in a book may be teaming with tourists a couple of months later.

A good write-up in a popular guidebook sometimes results in a price hike. And a cheap bus from A to B go out of business or be taken over by thieving greedheads by the time you ask for your ticket.

But it shouldn’t stop you in your tracks.

Rolling With The Punches
Rolling with the punches is the key to enjoying yourself on the road. Even the best guidebook can’t prepare you for everything you encounter. Even if it could it would take away much of the delight of traveling. When I’m on the road I expect surprises – in fact that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy traveling.

Sometimes the surprises books bring are even pleasant. “The super shuttle,” writes Tony Wheeler in Lonely Planet’s San Francisco City guide, “costs 11 dollars.” Well, my driver charged me $10 for the drive and if anyone thinks I argued with her and pointed in my guidebook they’re nuts.

Travelers can get the most out of their guidebook by carefully selecting a guide that suites their needs.

“One of the quickest ways to see if the book’s right for you,” said Bill Dalton, who founded the Moon handbook series in 1973, “is to look at the index and the table of contents together; play them against each other and from those to you can surmise the breadth and scope of the book.

That’s key. Before you do that though, you’ve got to decide just how much information you want. When researching in Russia, I used the excellent Blue Guide to Moscow and St. Petersburg for architectural and historical information. But for just visiting the city, I’d probably want less detailed history and culture and more general and practical information.

Watch out for books that loaded down with features you don’t need. When I went to Costa Rica for two-week vacation all I wanted was bare bones practical information on how to get to the nearest beach. But on a recent trip to Munich I looked for something to give me a broad range of information like history, culture, architecture and entertainment.

Getting at What You Need
My colleague, Tom Brosnahan, author of Lonely Planet’s Guatemala, Belize and Yucatan guidebook, stresses information accessibility.

“A good guidebook is a knowledgeable, insightful, well informed friend who’s been to the place before you and is helping you get through it,” said Brosnahan, who suggests that you read some paragraphs and see if you can get all with the author’s “voice”. Does it sound friendly” Pithy” Florid”

That’s very important. Peter Moore, who writes about travel on the Internet and speaks about it on radio, said: “choosing a guidebook to accompany you on your travels is as personal a decision as buying a new pair shoes or a new coat. If you’re not comfortable with it, you’re going to have a terrible time.”

“Wherever possible,” said Fred Hornbruch, owner of Philias Fogg’s Travel Books in Palo Alto, “I compare the information of an area I’m familiar with to see if the author covers it as accurately and completely as I want.”

That’s not a bad strategy. When I plan a trip to place or region where I’ve been before, I loiter in book shops looking at every guide they have, looking up off the beaten path places I remember. The book that has the most of them listed – and described well – usually comes home with me.

Some key points:

Prices change. Prices, if listed, are there as a guide to costs at the time of research. They’re not intended to be accurate forever, or even spot on when you by the book. What they are, though, are generally accurate representations of price ratios relative to each other. If you notice that the prices you encounter are, say, 5 to 10% higher than those quoted in the book, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll be similarly higher elsewhere in the country. But a hotel that’s 10% cheaper than its neighbor will likely retain that price advantage.

Things change. Good places go bad, bad places go broke. As a traveler, your instincts are what you should be following; use the guidebook to hone them.

Get what you need, not what’s prettiest. Check the proportion of color photos to text to see if what are looking at is primarily a picture book with text or text complemented by pictures. Three pages of photos to one of text is a distinctly leaning to a coffee table book!

Do your homework. Even if you have a loyalty to a particular guidebook series, check the competition is well. All publishers have a couple of books that they’d just as soon forget about – books that aren’t quite up to the series standard for one reason or another. It’s your responsibility to find the best book for your trip. You may find that you want to buy more than one book to cover all of your interests.

And when you do find a mistake or a piece of dated information, perhaps you’ll find it some consolation that, while it may have annoyed you for a minute, we’ll be getting mail about it for the rest of our lives.

Checking Out The Russians In The Hoosgow

The unique thing about St. Petersburg’s new Holiday Hostel kept distracting me as I walked through, checking for bugs under the beds or other tell-tale signs of sloppiness (I didn’t find any). What I was hearing was shouting, and it was coming from…right…next…door. Look at it as a selling point or a travel agent’s nightmare, but it’s certainly unique that the Holiday Hostel’s building is adjacent to St. Petersburg’s Kresty Prison.

Kresty is St. Petersburg’s main holding prison; if you’re busted here, Kresty’s where they take you to await whatever it is that awaits you. And while news reports of a Mafia takeover of the 18th-century City on the Neva are preposterously overblown, crime has increased to the point that Kresty is doing brisk business indeed.

But what distinguishes Kresty from, say, New York’s Riker’s Island, is that Kresty is located on a main boulevard, and prisoners can get to the windows. Russian families are quite close, and in true Russian style, the families of the accused line the street outside, bonding with their inmates.

On any given day, you can see dozens of these well-wishers lining Arsenalnaya naberezhnaya. Mothers, fathers and sometimes even drunken friends stand crying. Wives and girlfriends stand close to the concrete fence, moving their arms in what may look like complicated dance moves, but what is in fact a crude code, known to inmates and prison guards alike.

The prisoner, let’s call him the receiver, makes himself known by holding an article of clothing out the window (they stick their arms through the bars or through holes in the steel mesh). When the sender, down on the street, identifies their man, they start waving their arms about, tracing Cyrillic characters in the air. The receiver waves up and down to signal “I understand”, and side to side to signal “repeat”. Under this method, after three or four minutes of waving, one can clearly discern the message, ‘I-c-a-l-l-e-d-y-o-u-r-f-r-i-e-n-d-M-i-s-h-a’!

The process, understandably, is time consuming (a message like ‘I called your lawyer but he was out to lunch’ could take half an hour or so), but the family and friends on the street below (again in true Russian style) bring along sausage, bread, cheese and thermoses filled with hot tea. Of course, some bring along a bottle of vodka – just to pass the time.

As I left the Hostel, I walked past some of the families waiting to send messages. A black Mercedes-Benz was parked outside; next to it stood an attractive Russian woman in a revealing dress. She was looking towards the prison window and waving. But this woman didn’t need no stinking codes: she was speaking into a cell phone, and as she looked across the prison yard, a tear formed in the corner of her eye.

This was written for Lonely Planet Online in 1995 and subsequently an edited version ran in Lonely Planet’s St Petersburg city guide. That version subsequently made it into the second edition of Lonely Planet’s Russia, Ukraine & Belarus guide. In the latest version, the author who updated the text said that the prison was currently running tours for a fee.

 

Infineon Posts Eighth Straight Loss

Infineon Technologies AG on Tuesday posted its eighth consecutive quarterly net loss – E328 million ($356.5 million), triple its year-earlier loss – despite a 13 percent rise in revenue to E1.48 billion.

The company is the second-largest semiconductor manufacturer in Europe. Infineon and rivals in its main business – making memory chips for personal computers – have suffered through two years of depressed demand and falling prices. In the market for memory chips, only Samsung Electronics Co. has shown a profit for the most recent quarter.

Ulrich Schumacher, Infineon president and chief executive, told analysts during a conference call that while the company had improved its revenue and market share, it could not compensate for the dramatic decline in prices of memory products.

Infineon said that demand from computer manufacturers for memory – which accounts for more than 40 percent of the company’s sales – had picked up. But analysts warn that the outlook is dependent on corporate replacement cycles and increased investment in infrastructure.

Analysts said the results were laced with higher-than-usual extraordinary expenses, especially those for inventory depreciation. Onetime charges totaled E157 million in the quarter.

Andrew Griffen, a Merrill Lynch Co. analyst, said that when viewed on a “clean basis” – that is, without extraordinary charges – the loss per share was about 24 cents, or a slight improvement over the 25 cents Merrill had predicted.

“The revenues were better than analyst consensus,” another analyst for Merrill Lynch said. “We had expected E500 million in memory division revenues, which actually came in at E609 million.”

Viktor Dammann, financial analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich, said the “good news” was that the cost of making a 256-megabyte chip – including research and development, depreciation and sales channels – had dropped to E5.40, 50 cents lower than expected. “This was mainly due to a steep increase in production,” he said.

Infineon said memory-chip productivity had reached more than 6,000 wafer-starts per week after upgrading its state-of-the-art 300-millimeter facility in Dresden, which accounted for 40 percent of its dynamic random-access memory production in the quarter.

Journey To Prague

American pilots in Europe are constantly amazed that, in a Skyhawk, you’re often just two hours away from another country. (See related story on how an American with a PPL can rent and fly airplanes in Europe.)

Ten years ago, at the dusk of the Cold War, a trip from Munich to Prague, one of Old Europe’s most beautiful and elegant cities, would have been unheard of. But on a recent sunny autumn afternoon, two friends and I made that two-hour flight. It was both a piece of cake and the thrill of a lifetime.

The Route From Munich to Prague direct is just under two hours, but I’d thought up an interesting little sidetrip to Ceske Budojovice (Budweis). This would be both a leg-stretcher as well as a pilgrimage of sorts to one of beer-lovers’ most holy spots: birthplace of the Czech Budweiser brewery. I figured on a brief stop there, and then we’d depart for the 35-minute leg to Prague.

The return flight would be direct. Nothing could be simpler.

Red Tape
In Europe, the radio work is still in English, and Jeppesen makes the maps in English, too. But the Red Tape Factor was becoming a supreme worry in making my flight plan, as I couldn’t seem to get a straight answer to the procedure for crossing the German/Czech border. Something about a NATO Identification Zone kept coming up, which sounded mildly alarming to say the least!.

In the end, after many phone calls and several blind leads, it turned out to be as simple as a flight from Miami to the Bahamas: a simple filing, in English, of an ICAO International Flight plan form.

Okay, the Czechs are a bit more procedural than their Bahamian counterparts, but it’s essentially the same thing: the plan must include your exact time, altitude and the place where you’ll cross the border. A little nervous about getting all that right, I held off on filing my plan until I picked up my plane at Munich Flyers Flight Club in Augsburg airport, just west of Munich. There I got a final weather briefing (confirming the predicted clear skies and 20kt headwind at 10,000 feet), and faxed off the plan.

I’d verified my intentions by phone with Prague Flight Information regarding the stop in Budweis, and had meticulously noted checkpoints along the entire route to ensure I crossed the border just where I said I would, about four miles north of Philippsreut, a village nestled in the Bavarian Forest.

I phoned Munich Flight Information right after filing my plan, and they assured me that everything was okay. With that, I got out Cessna D-EHMB, a 172, and was in the process of fueling when the airport loudspeaker blared, “Pilot of Cessna Delta-Echo Hotel Mike Bravo, contact Munich Information!”.

My flight plan, it seemed, had been ixnayed by Czech Authorities, who now said that there were no customs officials in Budweis – it was direct to Prague or nothing. The idea of hours of flight planning down the commode and then hastily planning a direct route to Prague while sitting in the cockpit didn’t strike me as particularly pleasant, but we reached a compromise: keep the original flight plan, but turn left over Budweis and head up to Prague.

Munich Airport – Europe’s busiest during peak hours – doesn’t provide flight following services as such, but would give me a transponder code and keep vague track of my progress, ensuring I didn’t venture into restricted airspace or veer glaringly off course.

And, I’m almost sad to report, the flight was almost extraordinary in its ordinariness.

I’d secretly hoped for bizarre instructions, exciting NATO complications and cloak-and-dagger intrigue – perhaps the odd MiG scramble at the border. But the flight was as routine as they come. Well, there was something: finding checkpoints was difficult because each and every town we flew over looked identical! Cluster of red-roofed houses with a church in the middle? Why, that’s clearly Dingolfing..or Straubing.. or Deggendorf ..or possibly Ingolstadt!!.

With the help of a goond flight plan (and, okay, a great GPS and the help of two very keen passenger/navigators), we reached the border transition area spot on time. Munich Flight information handed us off to Prague Information, who gave us permission to climb to 11,500 feet and cross the border. We were in!!.

To save a bit of time, they let us turn left heading 06 degrees on a beeline for Prague, rather than subjecting us to the farce of overflying the now forbidden city of Budweis.

Flight Level Five Five
English may be the language of the skies here, but you’d best speak very slowly and clearly: controllers are used to conversing with non-native speakers, who use a more formal – if stilted – version of the language.

Transition levels in Europe are different from those in the US, where it is above 18,000 feet. About 15 minutes south of Prague, at 9,500 feet, I had a little moment of confusion when the controller then told me to “descend to flight level five five.”.

I replied, thinking I was being clear, “Mike Bravo, leaving niner thousand five hundred for flight level five five, that’s five thousand five hundred feet”, and got back, “Cessna Mike Bravo, I say again, Flight Level Five Five.” .

Allrighty. “Mike Bravo is leaving niner thousand five hundred for flight level five five, that’s five thousand five hundred feet,” I said, slower and even clearer.

“Cessna Mike Bravo, I repeat again,” he said, audibly put out by my rebellious behavior, “descend to Flight Level Five Five.” .

We probably could have gone on all day like that had I not just shut up and said “Roger, Flight Level five five!” And descended to 5,500 feet.

Turns out that was the right thing to do for the wrong reason: As my friend Michel McAloon wrote to correct me, “In most ICAO countrues the published transition altitude may be as low as 3000 feet. Pilots when climnbing through the transition altitude are expected to change their altimiters to the QNE standard of 1013.25 hecopascals (29.92 inches Hg).

Buzzing The Rooftops
Despite that hiccup, things were going swimmingly, and having abandoned my flight plan I was happy to quit looking at the map and let the Prague controllers call my every turn. Prague Info handed me off to Prague tower, and I saw the city just ahead, but I hadn’t ever landed there and couldn’t see the actual field, so I was a bit trepidatious. But I’d figured that, since they had me heading 06, I must be on a straight-in approach to runway 06, right?.

“Cessna Delta-Echo Hotel Mike Bravo, descend to maximum 2000 feet, QNH 1023 and turn left bearing 310 degrees”.

Hmm. Confirm the altimeter setting and..that seems a little, uh, low, as I’m about 500 feet above the ground at this point. My front seat passenger, a Brit, says alto voce “I can see bloody dogs on the ground we’re so bloody low!”.

He’s right, but this is seriously fun; actually instructed to barrel in low over the hillsides and rooftops, with the city of Prague now off my right wing and my passengers boisterously humming Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries.

The hills dropped away and we were now at the relatively sane height of about 800 feet above the rooftops. I finally saw the airport just ahead, but we were number two after an Austrian 737. The tower asked us to, “make now a left turn for one orbit” (more controllers’ stilted English), then to fly right along over runway 31, turning left just past it to enter the left downwind for runway 06.

I’ve gotten used to shorter, European airstrips so I put it down gently right on the numbers. I was in the midst of telling my passengers, “On behalf of Air Nick, I’d like to welcome you to Prague” when I noticed we could have taken off and landed again in the distance it took for us to trundle over to Taxiway Charlie – Runway 06 is 12,188 feet!.

And then began the rock star treatment: the Follow-Me car was a nice touch, and our plane was met by a minivan bearing the gracious Mr Vlastimil Sovak of the Czech Airports Authority Handling Agency who cheerfully offered hotel booking assistance, information on getting to town by taxi or public transport, and then whisked us off to our own private customs and passport control while our plane was refueled. He even made the exchange office employee cut short his lunch hour so we could get busfare to the center!.

Prague is a spectacularly gorgeous city, and it’s so old its “new town” dates to the 15th century. Alas, flying directly over the spectacular city center is forbidden.

20 minutes after leaving the airport, just outside the Staromestska subway station, we were treated to a sweeping view across the Charles Bridge to the magnificent Prague castle, home to Czech royalty since the 9th century. It seemed that around each corner was another architectural masterpiece!.

We spent the evening wandering Prague’s ancient cobblestone streets, and shopping for the justifiably famous Czech glassware. That night, while I caught up on sleep, my two passengers set out to do the town’s lively bars and clubs, sampling the famous beer and, I’m told, getting treated to several on the strength of the tale of their journey.

The next morning we headed back to Augsburg with no barreling, no low passes, and nary a MiG to be seen. With the exception of a slight detour over a restricted area just inside the German airspace I’d somehow (ahem!) overlooked in my flight plan, the return flight was, technically, eventless.

Isn’t it amazing how technically eventless flights can leave you with memories for a lifetime?

An Autobahn Experience

With the dollar so far down against the Euro, it feels as if the only favorable exchange rate left to Americans is one of distance: you still get 1.6 kilometers for every mile.

When the crowds of the Oktoberfest have taken their toll, and you’ve just about overdosed on museums and local sights, it’s time to head out on your own.

The famous autobahns, the freeways that make up Germany’s wonderful highway system, and the country’s compact size mean that within a half-hour of Munich’s center you can be driving through rolling green hills with the Alps practically at your feet.

And when you consider that Chiemsee, Salzburg, Vienna, Baden-Baden and Strasbourg are all within day-trip reach, the proposition gets even more attractive.

But while Americans are among the world’s most dynamic drivers, covering incredible distances each year by car, many here find themselves facing a whole new set of baffling rules and practices that amount to an entirely different driving culture.

Passed At 110
“I was going about 110 mph – fast enough to be dragged away in handcuffs at home,” said Mark Walsh, a Chicago native living in Munich, “and I got passed by a guy on a motorcycle with a passenger!”

An American driving on the autobahn is very likely to have just that sort of disconcerting experience 10 or even 15 times during an hour’s drive. On U.S. highways, getting from Point A to Point B may be the primary objective, but in Germany, it’s not just getting there, but how fast you can possibly do it.

Here’s How It Can Be
A black Mercedes appears in my rear-view mirror. It wasn’t there when I looked a second ago, and now it’s bearing down on me with great vigor. An angry flash of headlights – it’s almost on my rear bumper! I swerve frantically into the right lane and the black beast accelerates past me as if I were standing still, leaving swirling exhaust fumes and a turbo whine in the air. I glance at my speedometer: It reads 180 km/h – 113 miles per hour.

“Every German driver is convinced of two things,” says Munich native Oliver Bengl. “First, that they are an excellent driver, and second, that everyone else on the road is an execrable one.”

Bengl is exceptionally qualified to comment – he’s been a professional driver on Germany’s roads and autobahns for 10 years, in everything from Munich taxis to long-distance freight trucks, from film company vans to one of Bavaria’s most beloved vehicles, beer delivery trucks.

Wind in the Hair
Bengl suspects that Germans, who behave extremely conservatively in everyday life and business, simply need the release of high speed and feeling the wind in their hair – even if that wind is just the light puff of their car’s air conditioner.

“The average German,” he says, “spends his day in close contact with very conservative people. When he gets into his big car at the end of the day, he reverts to a Stone Age hunter mentality – he’s King of the Road.”

This assertive on-road demeanor has resulted in gesticulation (at best) and sometimes even physical fights at the roadside. It is for that reason that it is now a misdemeanor in Germany to “gesture obscenely or shout insults” at other drivers, punishable by a large fine.

Speed aside, driving on the autobahn is a very enjoyable mode of transport that can even be cheaper than public transportation if you’re traveling with someone. And contrary to public belief, there are speed limits on about 85 percent of the autobahns.

Speed limit signs are red-ringed circles containing a number. On autobahns it will usually be 110 or 120 kilometers an hour (70-75 mph). Speed traps occur rarely, but they do happen. If you don’t see a sign, there’s probably no speed limit.

All other road signs are international symbols and almost always instantly understandable.

One key exception is the puzzling circle containing a striped black slash over a blank white background.

This means, basically, “Any sign telling you not to do something before you saw this one is now overruled.” For example, the “slash” sign can end a no-passing zone.

The Kreuz
The Kreuz – the German version of a cloverleaf interchange – can be very confusing, too, even to veteran German drivers.

Modeled after, it would seem, Los Angeles’ most confusing transfer points, a Kreuz connects several highways. Signs are not what they could be, and it’s best to slow down and pay attention: Exits come up fast, and if you miss yours, it’s usually a long drive to get to where you can turn around and try again. The best strategy is to stay in the middle lane until you can figure out which way is off, then get there fast.

And Bengl adds one warning: “No matter how fast you go, someone’s going to be faster; no matter how clear your rear-view mirror is, check again… . There’ll be someone there.”

While traffic is outwardly more orderly than in the States, there’s vicious competition for passing lanes, usually from taxis.

The best bet for inexperienced drivers is to stick to defensive tactics, staying slow and safe and letting the taxis do what they wish.

There will be a far higher number of bicyclists on the streets than you may be used to, and while they usually have a separate lane, be on alert. Motorcycles and scooters are also more popular than in the States, and it’s considered very bad form indeed to sideswipe any of them.

Finally, remember that there is no right on red law in Germany.

The Island That Time Forgot

At least once a month, a few dozen Amelia Island residents don Civil War uniforms, move into Fort Clinch and live like 19th-century soldiers and citizens. No one around here bats an eye, but then again this is an island of eccentrics. Lots of them.

“We didn’t have no mosquitoes down here,” explains merchant Bob Lannon, in a rich southern drawl, “before you Yankees started comin’.”

“That’s an interesting theory,” says Roger Esckelson, who runs the Book Loft, right next door, “seeing as how Bob’s from New Hampshire.” Then without missing a beat, Esckelson asks, “Want to see some of the mastodon bones I found this morning?”

Since 1562, northeastern Florida’s Amelia Island has been ruled by French and Spanish, English and Patriots, Confederates and Yankees.

At the turn of the century, Fernandina Beach was one of the most luxurious resort areas in the south. And the island’s American Beach was Florida’s only beach resort for blacks (see accompanying story).

But when Henry Flagler’s famous railroad brought wealthy Northerners farther and farther south, Amelia Island was left to rot in peace.

“Everybody just left,” said James Perry, curator of the Amelia Island Museum of History, the state’s only oral history museum. “It was a Pompeii-like flash – the boom was over and the town was frozen in time.”

Loving Restoration
The town was laid out in just the sort of Victorian style that makes entrepreneurs’ hearts sing, “What a place for a B&B!” Over the last 20 years, the town has been lovingly restored and a turn-of-the-century time-traveler would feel at home walking through the Historic Downtown District with its railway terminal, Palace Saloon and cobblestone streets.

Many area homes (including the one used in the 1988 Disney classic “Pippi Longstocking”) have been renovated and refurbished.

Today, those who make their home on Amelia are a tightly knit community. Non-residents are referred to as “off-islanders,” and residents are free to be as quirky and eccentric as they wish.

But what’s so arresting about the island is the open hospitality in every shop, restaurant, B&B and motel.

Islanders Bob and Karen Warner are used to people walking through their home, which happens to be the oldest hotel in the state of Florida. At various times and in various incarnations, their Florida House Inn (1857) has been host to Cuban freedom-fighter Jose Marti and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as to Rockefellers and Carnegies.

Today it’s a decadently comfortable B&B, whose restaurant is one of the best values – price, food and service – in the state (see “If You Go”).

They Visit, They Stay
Every year just before Christmas, the Florida House and eight other historic inns take part in the Amelia Island Christmas Tour. It attracts more than 1,300 visitors who listen to the histories, admire the restoration work, check under the beds and look into the closets for skeletons of a long ago past.

“I can name a dozen people who have stayed with us and then moved here,” says John Kovacevich, who, along with his wife, Rita, runs the Hoyt House, one of the B&Bs included on the tour. “And that’s not because of Rita and me or the resorts or the beaches, but because of the island – it’s so welcoming that it just grabs you.”

The Downtown Historic District is the main draw of Fernandina Beach, though other attractions are to be found on the island. The beaches are about two miles east of the city.

The Amelia Island Museum of History is in the former city jail (1879-1975). Volunteer-led tours are conducted Monday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The exhibits, while fascinating in and of themselves, are secondary to the oral history from the volunteers. Highlights are the Galleon Room, dedicated to Spanish explorers and gold ships, with not much treasure but heaps of artifacts, and the old drugstore soda fountain upstairs.

The museum conducts two-hour walking tours in the Downtown Historic District by appointment and strolls of Centre Street on Thursdays and Fridays at 3 p.m.

The neo-Gothic Episcopal St. Peter’s Parish (1881-1884) features impressive stained-glass windows and a magnificent Harrison organ. It’s at the corner of 8th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Great sign outside in a no parking zone: Thou Shalt Not Park.

Civil War Re-enactments
The U.S. government began construction of Fort Clinch, to the east of the town, in 1847. Today the fort is open as a state park, and re-enactors (whom most call authentic and whom others call nuts) hold open house garrison weekends, candlelight viewings and candlelight tours at least once a month, featuring demonstrations of the weaponry (the cannon are loud!), fireplace cooking, the fully equipped Civil War infirmary and the jail. The fort by candlelight is beautiful, and the re-enactors – who sleep in the fort during the garrison weekends to help them stay in character – are a treat, whether they’re playing Yankee or Confederate troops (they do both).

At the island’s southern end is American Beach, part of Florida’s Black Heritage Trail, a summer resort primarily for blacks but open to everyone.

At its heyday, American Beach catered to throngs of Northern blacks, who boarded buses that would arrive 40 and 50 at a time. Blacks owned the motel, the restaurants, the nightclubs.

Black entertainers performing at clubs in Jacksonville would head up to American Beach after their sets and play the rest of the night at the Ocean Rendezvous, then the resort’s largest nightclub. That club also hosted concerts by Ray Charles, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other stars of the day.

Ghost of a Resort
After desegregation the beach became less attractive than beaches closer to home, and business dried out. Though the resort remains open, it is a ghost of its former self. And surrounded by big business in the form of a multimillion-dollar resort complex, local residents worry that some of the 35 families who call the beach home will sell out to golf-course building developers.

You can visit for a tour any time. Resident and unofficial mayor MaVynee Betsch is always happy to guide tours personally, and she operates the American Beach Museum out of a small mobile home parked at the corner of Gregg and Lewis streets.

The most notable feature of the American Beach coastline today is the absence of the high-rise condominium and hotel towers that line the sand immediately to the north and south. Horseback tours, available at the southern end of Amelia Island, sometimes clop by; fishermen flock to this relatively deserted stretch, and camping is permitted in summer.

The stretch of coastline controlled by the town is, like the beaches on the rest of Amelia Island, made up of fine white sand that gets sprinkled with sharks’ teeth and fossils for about two hours before and after a tide change. You can almost always see locals out hunting and gathering these in the morning and afternoon.

Kindly, Fussy Bangaman (And Other Russian English)

Creative English is a worldwide phenomenon; Japanese tee-shirts or Indian shop signs written in it have been the subject of articles ad-nauseum.

But there’s a charm to the English spoken in Russia that must be mentioned. Often times – especially with names that go on forever – it’s simply a holdover from the USSR days: the ” Leningrad Order of Lenin Metropolitan Subway System Named After V I Lenin” springs to mind.

Sometimes it’s the Russian compunction when speaking the English to pepper the sentences with the articles so missing in the Russian: ” Tomorrow I am going to the Moscow” said one friend, whom we all dubbed ” The Daniel’.

But Russian English is its best when trying to be showy, especially in advertising. ” Two crumpled eggs served from the frying,” is how one menu (which gave a translator credit to a ” Dr of Philology’) temptingly described an omelette.

Pizza Pronto holds that it has a ” Comfortably and cozy atmosphere! Real hospitality of the personal!E’

Restaurant Austeria’s ad claims it’s ” probably the oldest resturant in the city and becouse of it “Austeria” suggesting you the traditional Russian cooking. Big choice at drinks and foods, not higt pricesure making “Austeria” a wonderfull places for lunch and dinner’

‘Bank MANATEP St Petersburg’, weE’re told, ” Invites to collaborate artificial personos and offers a wide range of banking services.’

Safety instructions are usually good for a laugh; the ” Rules of the Lift” in the lifts of the Pribaltiskaya Hotel warn that ” the cabin arriving at the floor produces both the light and sound signals; the light signal indicates further direction of the cabin but the direction of the cabin cannot be changed by pushing the buttons.’

Runner up for best Russian English appeared in the ” English’-language magazine St Petersburg Today. This is the introductory paragraph under the headline ” Our Advice” – not one word has been omitted:

“How is it possible then to know in which direction the numbers increase? Turn left of the building Number 20 and go straight. There is your building Number 40. Accordingly, if you are standing on the opposite side of the street, right side to the building, the beginning of the street is behind your back.”

But the winner in town is this sign, in the window of Pivnoy Klub, a small beer bar in Central St Pete, which promises the following:

“Only here country primitive kitchen all in the nature fire welcome to kindly fussy Bangaman.”

I collect these things, so if you find any more of these in your travels, please send them in to me.

I’m always on the lookout for the few new fussy Bangamans.

Blacks Fight To Block Developers, Save Heritage

When MaVynee Betsch heard developers’ plans to build a golf course and luxury housing here, she went to the media and stirred what has become a cauldron of local and national controversy.

During segregation this was Florida’s only beach resort for blacks. Betsch (whose first name is pronounced May-Veen) is the great-granddaughter of the beach’s founder.

“This place is a part of black heritage and culture, and they can’t just take that away,” said Betsch, exultant in the afterglow of recent sympathetic coverage on National Public Radio and in USA Today. The debate centers on a parcel of land sold during bankruptcy proceedings in the 1980s by the Afro-American Insurance Co., which provided the funding for the establishment of American Beach.

That land is owned by the Amelia Island Co., which also owns a nearby luxury resort, Amelia Island Plantation. The Amelia Island Co. wants to build 50 to 60 luxury single-family homes and a five-hole golf course.

But Betsch and other residents say the firm is trying to squeeze them off the land, thus robbing African-Americans of an important cultural and historic landmark.

American Beach is a featured stop on Florida’s Black Heritage Trail, which, according to Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, is a guide to “landmark sites representing black contributions” to the state’s heritage.

Representative Bill Moore denies the Amelia Island Co. is doing anything discriminatory or unfair and cites compromises and reductions in scope of the proposed development. He points out that the development would be at the south end of the existing community of American Beach, not on it.

Amelia Island residents of all backgrounds are divided. One 17-year resident of Amelia Island Plantation suggests the fight is about publicity, and that the area is so unsafe and unsightly that development is essential.

American Beach homeowner Franklin Bell says he has nothing against development in general, but he “worries about encroachment and displacement.”

That worry is the crux of the argument: When does compromise become surrender? While Betsch and others call for a return of the land to the community, Moore points out that Afro-American Insurance did indeed sell the property, and that the Amelia Island Co. has every right to develop on it if the firm abides by local and state regulations.

But Rita Kovacevich, a Fernandina Beach resident, says she understands why American Beach residents feel that if they acquiesce now, they may lose everything later. And she agrees that preservation of the beach is important.

“This island,” Kovacevich says, “does not need another private golf course. It would be a shame to think that the charm that attracted us here at first – the homogenous, small-town feel with no one being pushed down – has disappeared.”

Meanwhile, Betsch is applying to have American Beach placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

An American Pilot In Europe

Flying over the verdant rolling hills of the Italian countryside, circling the ancient hilltop village of Urbino (birthplace of the painter Raphael), I looked at my wife, Corinna, and remembered just what it was that made me want to get that licence in the first place.

Every year, while thousands of licensed American pilots vacation abroad, few think of exploring the European skies. But in much of Europe, US pilots can easily rent a plane and make daytime VFR flights as Pilot In Command.

The linguistically challenged will be able to communicate: ATC, rental companies, instructors and even ATIS and AWAS all communicate in English.

A walletful of greenbacks doesn’t hurt. Anyone who’s ever filled up in a European gas station knows fuel prices over here are out of Mad Max: avgas runs about US$5.25 (you read that right, over five bucks a gallon). Hourly prices for plane rental can be almost double what they are in the States.

But what’s the price tag on an aerial trip up the Rhine, over Stonehenge, or around a castle? It’s the trip of a lifetime.

GETTING THE BASICS
The ICAO Chicago Convention says licensees from contracting states (including all European nations and the USA) are permitted to fly in other contracting states. The issue of national sovereignty is touchy in Europe, but if you have a valid FAA PPL and current medical certificate, you’re generally permitted to make daytime VFR flights.

In the UK and Holland, you can walk in to any flight school or Aero Club (as they’re called here) and after a checkout, rent a plane and zoom off into the sunset (though one zooms slightly differently over here. See Tips, below).

More rigidly legislated countries (like Germany, France and Spain), have red tape worthy of a Maastricht Treaty, but some advance work on your part can clear the way, at a minimum of fuss and expense, to recognition of your American PPL.

And good news: a certificate of recognition from any European Union member state is honored in all others.

So if you’re visiting, say, Germany, Spain and Italy, a certificate from one will be honored in any other. And best of all, the renter – usually a flight school or aero club that’s dealt with this situation before – will often assist with the paperwork as part of the rental fee. They will guide you through the process of getting a locally recognized “holiday license”.

You’ll usually need to send notarized copies of your PPL, medical, recent pages from your logbook, and your passport. Some countries, like Spain, also require a passport photo, so check whether you’ll need to send those.

Bring all of those items on your trip, too. And while we’re on what to bring, remember this: most planes here come equipped with just two headphones, so bring extra headphones if you’ll need them.

If you’re headed to the UK, Holland or Germany you can start checking into rentals and making reservations as little as a week before you arrive, but if you’re off to other countries start about six weeks in advance.

RENTALS
Renting a plane is almost as easy as it is in the USA, but there are differences. The best bet is to research using the search engines at flying websites, or by picking up flying magazines from the UK, such as Flyer (http://www.flyer.co.uk) or Pilot (http://www.hiway.co.uk). The back of these mags are packed with ads for flying schools, which almost always rent their airplanes.

Shop around! On a recent check of airports around Europe, I found major differences in rental prices, even in the same country. For example, I called Wycombe Air Centre (tel 011-44-149-444-3737), about 20 miles from Central London, and was quoted a price of 126 pounds (US$196) for a C-152 with an instructor, and 97 pounds (US$155) an hour for just the plane, wet, timing from brakes off to brakes on, including VAT (the notorious Value Added Tax). It was about US$10 extra for a C-172 with or without an instructor.

But a call to Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), about 10 miles from London’s Stansted Airport, got quotes of 89.50 pounds (US$143) with an instructor and 75 pounds (US$120) without for a C-152, and 102 pounds (US$163) with and 93 pounds (US$149) without for a C-172, on the same terms.

The Pesaro Aero Club in Fano, Italy (tel 011-3907-2180-3941), demanded the most I’ve ever laid out: US$210 for an hour and 40 minutes of flying, including 40 minutes with the instructor for the checkout, in a C-152.

The Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers, in Saint Maur, France, (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813) wanted 900 francs (US$138) with a (French language) instructor, and 744 francs (US$114) without one for a C-172.

But it can be cheaper (just a bit more than in the USA): Munich Flyers at Augsburg Airport, 45 minutes outside Munich (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761), gets DM240 (US$126) for a C-172 with an instructor, and DM 177 (US$95) without, including fuel, from wheels up to wheels down.

THE CHECKOUT
On that trip I took to Italy, I literally followed the low-flying planes I saw from the coastal road to the Pesaro Aero Club, on a grass strip just south of the city of Rimini. Showing my PPL and Medical at the flight school office, a teacher and I set off on a 40-minute checkout (really more of a brush-up on soft field landings and a lengthy description of the local airspace) and then I was off on my own, for a one-hour tour of the whole area.

A German instructor named Tom told me that he checks out people all the same way, even if it’s obvious they’ve been flying for years or are newly licensed.

“We do two traffic patterns,” he said, “to check their radio skills and landings, and then head for our practice area, where we do power-off and power-on stalls and steep turns. If they handle all that right, they’re on their own – and if not, they do an hour or two of brush-up lessons.”

I enjoy the rental checkride as much for the local air tour I get as I do for learning the different ways people teach flying in different countries (for example, in Germany, Tom wanted to see just the barest hint of an impending power-on stall, while my Italian instructor demanded – and demonstrated – something out of Snoopy and the Red Baron!).

The rental checkride is so important here because local regulations are dictated by many more idiosyncrasies and customs than in the USA. In the UK for example, noise abatement is so strict that procedures like, “On takeoff, make a right turn at 300 feet and head for the treeline before ascending,” and, “On downwind, approach from south of the village and then scoot round the village to the right and turn left again when you see the pub,” are more common than not.

And in Germany, where takeoffs and landings even on privately owned farms require clearance, strictly – even Germanly – regimented exits and entrances to the airport vicinity are required, using map points with names like Whiskey One and Echo One, as well as local conventions that aren’t even marked on the maps (see the box)!

The rental checkride’s good for learning all these, but even better is a visit to the tower. If you plan ahead, you can make the visit when you arrive – get off the commercial flight and head upstairs for a half-hour chat with the controllers. They’ll fill you in on restrictions, give you local flying tips, telephone numbers for weather forecasts, useful web addresses and tell you where you can buy charts of the area locally.

LANDING FEES
Most Americans are horrified to learn that practically every single airfield in Europe charges some sort of landing fee. In most airports it’s waived if you’re taking a local flight, but if you take a day trip to somewhere, be prepared to fork over anywhere from US$10 to US$25 in landing fees at the destination airport.

SOME TIPS
“The airspace is fairly restricted here compared to the USA,” said Carol Cooper, Chief Flying instructor at Andrewsfield Aviation.

“For your own sake, study the map, and the airspace where you can and can’t go – which is much different around here.

“Experience obviously matters, and radio navaids can help, but England’s a small place, and you’ve got to watch your proximity to Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick,” she continued, referring to the fact that all those airports’ airspace is completely off-limits to VFR pilots in single-engine planes without a special VFR clearance.

Which you almost certainly won’t get!

Noise abatement rules dictate that you avoid town centers and other populated areas.

Radio work is also different, and Europeans seem to think the American practice of repeating the last three registration numbers as acknowledgment of an ATC directive just a bit too, well…American! You’re expected to repeat all the instructions given you by ATC, each and every time.

And finally, if you’ll be travelling outside larger cities, brush up on your soft-field landings and takeoffs: many airports have grass strips.

MORE INFORMATION
Note that anywhere in Europe your American license gives you the same rights at you have at home if you are flying in an N-registered (US-owned and registered) aircraft. Regardless of registration, you need no holiday license or any additional paperwork other than your valid PPL, valid medical and pilot’s logbook to fly as PIC from the UK or the Netherlands (Holland) – even if you land in another country.

For other countries you will often need a holiday license, recognizing your American license. The most straightforward agency to deal with in Europe is Germany’s Regierung Oberbayern Luftamt Suedbayern, Maximillianstrasse 39, 80538 Munich (tel 011-4989-2176-2523). Send them a letter, telling them the dates of your travel in Europe, a request for a Holiday License and photocopies of your PPL, Medical Certificate and the most recent page of your logbook, along with a copy of the data pages of your passport. The holiday license they will send you (Bescheinigung ueber die Allgemeine Anerkennung eines auslaenden Lueftfahrerscheins; allow four weeks for processing) is good for six months and costs about US$30. It is valid everywhere in Western Europe, allowing you to rent nationally registered planes.

In France, contact Direction Generale de l’Aviation Civile (tel 011-331-5809-4321, fax 011-331-5809-3636), License Office, 50 rue Henri Farman, 75015 Paris

Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), Saling Airfield, Stebbing, Dunmow, Essex CM6 3TH England

Munich Flyers Flugschule, GmbH, (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761) Hochederstrasse 2, 81545 Muenchen, Germany

Pesaro Aero Club (tel 011-3907-2180-3941) Via Dela Colonna 130, Fano, Italy 61032

Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813), 36250 Saint Maur, France