Lubomir Moravcik – Football Artist

The managerial reign of Josef Venglos at Celtic is viewed by some as a period best forgotten, a dark age where little good happened and ambition was severely limited. And in some ways, this was the case, although it would be unfair to lay too much of the blame at the door of the good doctor. These were times when the infamous biscuit tin was kept firmly in the cupboard.

So when Celtic paid £200,000 for a 33-year-old Slovakian midfielder, there was much rolling of eyes and a distinct air of ridicule among the denizens of the Scottish football media. An old pal’s act? After all, the selling club was Duisburg, hardly one of the household names of German football. Besides, the player in question, Lubomir Moravcik, had only played five times for them.

Moravcik, though, had a past worth considering. Those with less parochial attitudes recalled a talented Czechoslovakia team being one of the more entertaining sides in a generally grim World Cup in Italy in 1990. There had been almost 200 appearances for one of French football’s elite clubs, St Etienne, and almost a big money move to Marseille before injury intervened.

But this was in the past. Clearly, there was a gifted footballer here, but had the best-before date come and gone? Sceptics – and there were many – folded their arms and stood back to watch. His Celtic debut caused a few eyebrows to head skywards, usually accompanied by approving nods.

Admittedly, the opposition was merely a pretty dismal Dundee side, but Moravcik showed, in a 6-1 thrashing, that while he may not have been a player of the lightning-pace variety, he had a touch that was something of a rare beauty in the macho, leg-biting world of Scottish football.

The Dundee match was merely a prelude. Two weeks later, Moravcik would play in his first Old Firm derby. How, cynics wondered, would this small, slight man cope? Twinkling feet may have defeated Dundee, but Rangers were altogether a different story.

It didn’t even take the full ninety minutes to dispel the grim thoughts of the doubters. Moravcik, the best player on the pitch by the proverbial country mile, scored twice and controlled the game as Rangers were blown away. The 5-1 scoreline was somewhat flattering to the visitors.

Moravcik befuddles Rangers (not for the last time)

And now, it was no longer ‘Moravcik.’ In a bare couple of weeks, the Slovakian was now simply Lubo. And Lubo he would remain for the rest of his Celtic career. The only disappointment, not only for Celtic fans but also those who love wonderful football, was that his time was limited by age. If only he could have arrived a couple of years earlier…

There are very few footballers one can watch and be genuine uncertain as to which foot is the stronger. Lubomir Moravcik was one of them. A corner kick on the right. Let’s try an outswinger. Another corner follows. Okay, let’s make this one an inswinger. And it wasn’t for show. Every piece of skill, every feint, every trick, there was a meaning. And it was a sheer pleasure to watch.

It took until 2001 before Celtic at last got past Rangers and won the league title under Martin O’Neill. In fact, they won the treble and those honours were the first in Moravcik’s long career. It would be harder to think of a more deserving player.

Lubo and Larsson – not a bad combination

Celtic would retain their title the following season, but by now, Moravcik was running out of time and it was to be his last at Celtic. He did, however, get the opportunity to play in the Champions League, another fitting honour.

Lubo Moravcik played 94 league games for Celtic, scoring 29 goals. Overall, he played 129 times, scoring 35 goals. He also won 42 caps for Czechoslovakia and 38 for Slovakia. In the often thud and blunder world of Scottish football, he was a fine and polished diamond.

The Danube

Not surprisingly, Duck Holiday loves a river and the Danube is truly magnificent. It is the second-longest river in Europe (after the Volga) and flows through ten countries (for those wishing to name all of them and not wanting a ‘spoiler’, these are listed below this article).

The Danube begins its winding way across Central and Eastern Europe in the Black Forest, at Donauschigen (Donau is the German name for the river). The trek takes it all the way to the Black Sea, its terminus being the town of Sulina in Romania. During its journey, it passes through four capital cities, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.

Vienna is, of course, synonymous with the Danube because of the Blue Danube Waltz (1876) of Johann Strauss. Do not, however, be fooled into thinking that the river that runs around the edge of the city centre is the Danube itself. This is, in fact, the Danube Canal (Donaukanal), one of many tentacles of the main river, which runs to the eastern side of the city, but is reached easily by tram or U-bahn.

The canal, not the river

The canal, not the river

From Vienna, it is a short hop to Bratislava. Indeed, the two cities are the closest neighbouring capitals in Europe. The Danube divides the city, with the historic Old Town on the northern side and the newer housing districts to the south.

Heavy traffic at Bratislava

Heavy traffic at Bratislava

Six bridges cross the river, with the most prominent being the ‘UFO Bridge’, with its alien spaceship appearance and café perched at the top. The much older railway bridge once carried trams that chugged all the way to Vienna.

UFO sighting

UFO sighting

There are plenty of boat trips to be had and you can even stay – as did Duck Holiday – in a ‘botel’. Small bars dot the riverbank and many of these little pubs sell very cheap beer, not the worst way to spend a warm summer evening.

River, sunshine, bar - what's not to like?

River, sunshine, bar – what’s not to like?

The river wends its way down to Hungary and forms the divide between the Buda and Pest parts of the capital. On the Buda side, the Royal Palace overlooks the river and the gloriously Gothic Parliament building can be seen far below on the opposite bank.

The view of Parliament

The view of Parliament

To the north of Budapest is the famous Danube Bend, where Rome built garrisons and where the historic towns of Esztergom and Visegrád were constructed in later years. The former was the home of Christianity in Hungary and is still the seat of the country’s archbishop. Visegrád, on the narrowest part of the Danube, was the home of Hungarian royalty and the largely-reconstructed Royal Palace sits on a hill above the river.

Duck Holiday and friends take a break

Duck Holiday and friends take a break

Onwards to Serbia, where the Danube meets another imposing river, the Sava, in Belgrade. Fortresses and rivers form a natural partnership, and here the imposing Kalemegdan Fortress stands above the point where the two great rivers collide and the Danube presses on eastwards.

Duck Holiday scales the fortress

Duck Holiday scales the fortress

Danube at Belgrade

Danube at Belgrade

The Danube reaches a suitably spectacular conclusion in the shape of the Danube Delta. Most of this area is located in Romania, with its more northerly parts in Ukraine. The area is a designated World Heritage Site and it is not difficult to see why. More than 300 species of birds have been identified, making it one of the most important wildlife habitats in Europe.

For human travellers, there are plenty of boat excursions and scenic walks to be had all along the river’s trail. For the more energetic, there is the Danube Bike Trail, taking in a mind-boggling 2,875 kilometres. This is recommended only to the fittest of the fit, those with steel hawsers for legs. The rest of us can find plenty of enjoyment from boat trips, gentle strolls and refreshments at the plethora of restaurants and bars that line the river.

* Countries through which the Danube flows: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.

Bratislava – Street Art and Style

Sometimes, you hear the view espoused that Bratislava is a kind of poor man’s Prague, a pale imitation of the real thing. Yes, it’s quite nice, but Prague is the place you really want to visit. Bratislava is okay for a few hours, they’ll tell you, but nothing more than that.

This view is not only lazy, but plain wrong. For one thing, Bratislava is nearer to Vienna than it is to the Czech capital, the two cities being Europe’s closest capitals. For another, and more important factor, Bratislava has its own distinct character, with a few delightful quirks that give it an individual style.

One way to enjoy a stay in central Bratislava without incurring too much expense is to stay on a boat. There are several ‘botels’ moored on the Danube and apart from being near the centre, the experience offers novelty value. Unless, of course, you happen to live on a boat.

One sight on the river that you can’t miss – in any sense – is the UFO Bridge. Its real title is the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising and though it looks rather 21st-century, it was, in fact, completed in 1972. You can go up to the top of the ‘spacecraft’ via a lift (unless you really want to walk up 430 steps) and have a coffee or a meal in the restaurant. From there, you get a fantastic view of the city and if you sit still for long enough, you find yourself looking at a different part because the place revolves (very slowly, thankfully). In the evenings, it becomes a nightclub.

The UFO

The UFO

Another place to provide a panoramic view is the castle, which affords a sight of the city of Bratislava, but of neighbouring Austria as well. Like many European castles, this one has undergone much rebuilding and restoration, resulting in a mix of styles from Gothic and Renaissance through to Baroque. The site houses the current Parliament building, a rather dismal grey box of concrete, and also the Museum of History and Music Museum.

Bratislava (duck cam view)

Bratislava (duck cam view)

One of the remaining parts of the medieval fortifications of the city is St. Michael’s Gate. The lovely Baroque tower houses a small museum and at the top, there is another wonderful viewing point. Bratislava does scenic views very well.

The Castle

The Castle

The street below the gate is, apparently, one of the most expensive in Europe and clearly designed for those with far too much money. Designer names abound on the shops and the restaurants are not for those of us looking for good value. A quick departure to a place of more modest ambition is required and there are plenty of those, even in the central parts of the city. It’s not hard to find somewhere to refuel for a fraction of the cost of the area around St Michael’s.

Something that costs nothing at all is an exploration of one of Bratislava’s endearing traits, street sculpture. A figure appears from a manhole in the street; a shady-looking paparazzo snaps passers-by outside a restaurant; a Napoleonic soldier leans nonchalantly on the back of a bench in the main square. In Hviezdoslav Square, you’ll also bump into a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, who was so complimentary about Bratislava that the favour was returned.

As you might expect, Slovakia is big on beer (one thing it does have in common with Prague). There are the usual international conglomerates and there is a fair amount of Czech beer to be found, but there is also a pleasing growth of micro-breweries and brew pubs. A good example of a proper, no-nonsense pub with its own brewery is Pivovarský Hostinec Richtár Jakub, which is near the university and which sells not only its own beer, but a range of guest beers from elsewhere.

There is no shortage of places to have a good drink and even in the central part of town, it doesn’t have to be expensive. One option, particularly in the summer, is to find a little bar down by the river and sit outside with a very cheap glass of beer while watching the evening sun go down.

Bratislava’s proximity to Vienna is reflected in the culture of music, theatre, opera and ballet. Just near the watching statue of Andersen, the ‘old’ National Theatre building in the Old Town is a glorious neo-Renaissance affair dating from the 1880s and the Austro-Hungarian days. Sadly, the use of this theatre is being overtaken by the ‘new’ National Theatre, which took more than twenty years to build and finally opened in 2007. Presumably, such a length of time was required to design and construct a building as hideous as this.

The main square

The main square

Mercifully, though, there is more to Bratislava than the odd hideous building. These things happen in any city and sometimes, buildings are so bad that they become attractions of their own. Bratislava’s sights, museums, restaurants, bars, parks and streets are a match for anywhere in Europe, all with the bonus of the magnificent Danube at its heart. Don’t for a minute believe all that stuff about Bratislava being merely Prague’s poorer little brother.