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Travel Stories

Interesting Stories from Servas Hosts and Travelers

Travel Blogs

Share your experience with host(s) that made your travels extra special, or perhaps
 a Traveler you hosted that reinforced your reasons for being a member of Servas?

Featured Stories

Unique Travel stories submitted by Servas members that are particularly well-written and/or might be of special interest to members. Tell us about it. Submit your stories here.

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  • June 29, 2024 8:05 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Spring Snow, Unlimited Cookies and A Guitar In Church

    by David Schwartz and Andrea Veltman

    The flakes fell in moist, quiet masses. We reveled as they kissed our skin, accumulated on our hats and parkas. It was a totally unexpected late-spring snowfall that enhanced the bucolic greenery of Switzerland’s Emmental region most famous to the outside world for its “holey” cheese that Americans refer to simply as “Swiss.” Trees that had already leafed out were now bedecked in white crowns; tulip petals grasped crushed ice like goblets awaiting a pour.

    photo of the authors walking amidst snow covered trees

    We had chosen to visit this region in part to behold its rustic loveliness but also because we’d had such a warm invitation from Servas hosts Jeannette Staiger and Ruedi Winistörfer. This trip was for visiting a mix of old friends and new the “old” dating back as far as Andrea’s Kindergarten days, and the new hosts we found in the Servas International host list. It was a new approach for us choosing the region based on the hosts’ interests and subsequent invitation, rather than vice versa.

    photo of tulips in the snowThe Emmental has none of alpine Switzerland’s majestic travel poster vistas. It is a land of traditional, massive farmhouses and tiny country churches, woods, hillsides, high meadows and people who work the land and raise dairy cows. Jeannette and Ruedi showed it off to good advantage by simply letting us enjoy what is an everyday experience for locals a walk on the signposted trail that connects their village, Langnau, to the outlying farms. The snow that had fallen on newly emerged grass turned part of our route into a sledding slope without the sleds!photo of snow covered trees fading into a haze.

    The next day we drove to famously picturesque Trub, a village of 1,300 from which the ancestors of some Amish in the United States emigrated. Trub was honored in 2019 with an award for Switzerland’s most beautiful village. We were enchanted by the many richly hued wooden farmhouses with wrap-around covered balconies. Our destination was the beautiful 17th Century Swiss Reform Church in the center of town, known for its ornate wooden interior and impressive organ. We were headed there for musical, not spiritual, purposes: the Trub Church is Ruedi’s favorite place to play guitar. He set up a small amp and began his session, playing classical guitar music dating from the era in which the church was built through the 20th Century. Our group of two was the entire audience, but acoustics and ambience are why Ruedi likes to play there, often accompanied by Jeannette singing.

    photo of Ruedi playing his guitarinside Trub Church with

    To hungry travelers like us, no visit to Langnau can omit a stop at the Kambly biscuit factory and shop, which includes a tiny museum in the back corner to give you a ‘healthy’ excuse for going there! Biscuits in Switzerland are not breakfast buns to be covered with gravy but what Americans call cookies. There’s no admission fee but there’s unlimited tasting. And how! Every one of the several hundred varieties is available for sampling. Just help yourself – no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t overindulge. And overindulgence it was – we didn’t have much of an appetite for dinner that night!

    As is true for so many of us, we don’t explore what’s nearby: despite having grown up in Switzerland, Andrea had never spent time in the Emmental. Thank you, Jeannette and Ruedi, for spoiling us with good food, stories and a magical experience.

  • June 28, 2024 2:49 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of seascape with sheep grazing in the foregroundby Alexei Krindatch

    The Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland are a place where nature feels untouched... ocean, rocks, green pastures, and sheep are most common features of landscapes here.

    The beautiful landscapes of the Hebrides are among the oldest in Europe and people have lived here since Mesolithic era (15,000 to 5,000 BC); and over the centuries, Vikings, Norway, Kingdom of Scotland, and now United Kingdom have claimed their authority here. Surprisingly, the islands’ everyday life remains under the control of the same powerful local family clans: MacLeods, MacDonalds, Mackenzies, MacNeils, etc.

    My host, Munro, met me at the ferry and we drove to his home. The ferry journey is about 3 hours and costs about 15 USD $ (more if you transport a car). Munro and his wife, Jane, moved from the mainland to Hebrides 45 years ago, working in the local administration (Munro) and education (Jane). They decided to retire in the tiny village of Keose. They are a combination of traditional style with various added modern features. I was especially impressed by the inside “winter garden” and the dining room with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows.

    Photo of Munro's home with flass gazebo and igloo-like greenhouse

    My “home” in the village of Keiso on Lewis & Harris island

    The village of Keiso, a collection of “crofts.” The land itself belongs to landlords, but all improvements made to this land (i.e. houses, barns, plants, etc.) belong to crofters. Several provisions allow crofters to keep their control over the land indefinitely and pass it within the family from generation to generation.

    Photo of a small shetland-like pony standing in the heath

    After we settled in, Munro and I went to check out his sheep – the principal livestock of Hebrides. Alongside the Munro’s sheep I discovered a cheerful pony which belonged to one of his neighbors.

    Photo of Jane cutting peat

    Munro’s wife Jane was working on another property which collectively belonged to the village. She was cutting the peat, which when dried has been traditionally used as a main fuel for heating the houses. Cutting heavy soil into neat pieces and laying them in a particular manner for best drying is a truly “back breaking” job

    Duff, a traditional dish of HebridesMy hosts served homemade bread and a traditional dish called “Duff,” a steamed pudding made of flour, suet, dried fruit and various spices. It was delicious served warm and with generous portion of custard. If interested, HERE is a good Duff recipe.

    Munro and Jane showed me some highlights of the Lewis part of the island: the Calanais Stones, a giant structure of standing stones arranged in the shape of a cross with a circle in the middle. Created in stages between 3000 and 2000 BC, Calanais Stones are of the same age and as impressive as famous British Stonehenge.

    Calanais Standing Stones, a Neolithic monument on Lewis & Harris

    It’s unclear what the purpose of this construction was and how it was built: perhaps some sort of lunar calendar to help ancient inhabitants decide timing for various agricultural tasks. Calanais may symbolize four winds or the signs of Zodiac. The structure’s internal circle was also used as burial grounds: the ashes from cremated bodies were placed in clay pots and buried there. Humans abandoned the place around 1000 BC and peat began to form over the site. Calanais Stones were uncovered again in 1857 with the removal of 1.5 m / 5 feet of peat.

    photo of Dun Carloway BrochThe nearby Dun Carloway Broch are Iron-Age tower-like multi-story houses. Their walls are constructed by the “dry stone” method, i.e., without any mortar. Brochs are found throughout Atlantic Scotland, perhaps used for military defense purposes or as living quarters for the extended families of the most prominent local clans. 

    Of the dozens of brochs’ sites on Outer Hebrides dated from 100 BC to 100 AD, Dun Carloway is remarkably well preserved, and features a dramatic setting overlooking Loch (sea inlet) Carloway. The external diameter of Dun Carloway is 14.3 meters / 45 feet, and the walls vary in thickness from 2.9 to 3.8 meters (9 to 12 feet). It is unknown how high this broch was, but the remaining structure is 9.2 meters / 30 feet high.

    Over time, the stones from the walls were reused to build the blackhouses. A traditional blackhouse had two concentric drystone walls with a gap between them filled with earth. The roof was either thatched or made up of turf and most did not have proper chimneys.. The windows were very small, and homes were filled with smoke. Livestock and other animals lived in separate sections.

    Photo of host Munro and the author in the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

    The name – “blackhouse” may be derived from the comparison to the new – “white” – homes which were built since the late 1800’s. These homes with added fireplaces and chimneys were inhabited until the middle 1970’s when they were largely replaced with homes with indoor plumbing, electricity, and other conveniences. In 1974, when the last family left, the village was preserved as a museum with holiday accommodation for tourists.

    Gearrannan Village allows you to truly travel back to the mid 1950s. Volunteer docents explain the past use of different tools and various rooms. When inside, one can enjoy the warmth and fragrance of a peat fire, look at the demonstration of weaving of the famous Harris Tweed, and “meet” the original inhabitants of the houses through the multi-media presentations depicting their lives and challenges.

    One home has been converted into a youth hostel, and four became self-catering accommodations. Their exteriors and interiors retain traditional appearances, while offering all the conveniences of a modern home: full kitchen, central heating, electric showers, snug beds. Check out reservations and prices HERE.

    Photo of lochs in the northern part of Lewis & Harris island

    The island’s scenery is so appealing. The landscapes of the northern (Lewis) part of the island are shaped by endless moorlands many “lochs” – a Scottish Gaelic word for a lake or fjord.

    photo of Lews Castle in StornowayThe museum in Stornoway is new, and adjacent to the Victorian era Lews Castle built in 1840s as a residence for Sir James Matheson who had bought the whole island (yes!) a few years previously with his fortune from the Chinese opium trade. Today, it houses a cultural center, nice cafe and luxury holiday accommodations. In the museum, several rooms compare snapshots and key moments of history and present-day life on Outer Hebrides. The exhibits also combine audio and video information.

    photo of Lewis Chessmen The “Lewis Chessmen”: 12th century chess pieces made out of Walrus ivory, were found in 1831 at Uig Bay. One of the few surviving complete medieval chess sets, they belong to the epoch when the islands were under Norwegian Kingdom – a period which left little historical evidence and artifacts.

    Harris did not have a road until 1990s. The “lifeline” connecting it with civilization was “Postman’s Path,” a 10 km / 7 mi trail through the mountains to the town of Tarbert (the “capital” of Harris). The postman walked this path three times a week delivering not only mail, but also vital supplies like medicines, etc.

    photo of Postman’s Path, a paradise for mountain bikers

    Postman’s Path, a paradise for mountain bikers

    The village of Tarbet, population 1,200 and four times smaller than Stornoway, has a fairly attractive natural harbor with ferries running from there to the Uig on Scotland’s mainland. 

    photo of the town of Tarbert with bay in foreground

    Tarbert has two excellent options for souvenir shopping, including locally produced "Harris" tweed, a traditional Scottish rough woolen fabric and locally made whisky and gin. Sugar kelp seaweed from the seas around the islands makes Harris gin unique in flavor.

    photo of Harris tweed caps, jackets and scarvesWhisky of Harris, a good souvenir to take back home (A single malt Hearach can cost about 60 pounds/76 USD, and includes a fancy crystal bottle.

    As we drove further south through the Harris inlands. the scenery changed: the wide green pastures became rocky hills, stones and lochs with bizarrely changing colors of water.

    photo of Meadows surrounding Isle of Harris Golf Club

    The evening before my departure, Jane and Munro prepared a wonderful meal with fresh produce, bread cheese, and plenty of wonderful wine. We enjoyed the meal in their glass gazebo with views of the gardens and surrounding countryside.

    photo of the author's last dinner with Jane and Munro on Lewis & Harris island

  • March 28, 2024 1:26 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of R to L Tys. friend, and host at pastry shoyby TysSniffen 

    I finally got my best travel companion friend - with whom I've been traveling for 30 years - to join US Servas so we could connect 'legitimately' with day hosts while we were knocking around Portugal. Before we left, I spent a lot of time on the Servas website reaching out to different members in Portugal and setting up some connections. Right off the plane, We were met - on the gangway! - by a great Servas member, Romulo Sellani, who works at the Porto airport. A coffee, some advice, and a walk to the metro got me on my way. Photo of Tys at airport with friend, Romulo Sellani

    The next night, he and his daughter took us out to a local favorite spot for a fabulous fish dinner. His daughter Anna brought a friend the next night. We all went out to a wine tasting and dinner, and enjoyed long, philosophical talks while walking in the light rain of a beautiful European evening.

    Tys with friend, Romulo, daughter Anna, and Anna's friendAnother young person's connection, through Trustroots - a Servas-like org that's more 'punk', more hitchhiker, but still warm and hospitable – made for a great connection for drinks, walking tours, and late-night snacks at locals-only spots. Gustavo also joined us for big fish lunches and an incredible football match with the town's archrivals..."we" won 5 to 0.

    Tys, friend, Anna, and her friend at futball gameThis was just the first few days in northern Portugal.I'm skipping over many details of these great times to get to my bigger point: by being open to meeting people like this, my friend and I simply had a different mindset.We were ready to talk to new people, open to ideas and opportunities, simply had more smiles on our faces, more often.I've been traveling (well, may I brag here?) for most of my life, but this trip took me to another level of... cultural receptivity. Is that what it was? We were more open mentally, maybe it could be called generosity? grace? around meeting people and the world.  

    We took a train up the Douro Valley east of Porto into the wine country.You can take a boat up the river in the summer, but I love trains, and this one goes right along the river. On that trip, we fell in with a large extended family who shared their lunches (and beers!) while we chugged (pun inadvertent!) up the river.Once arriving at a small town in the center of wine country, we connected with the owner of a quiet, perfect restaurant for a long, artistic conversation, and many more drinks than we were charged for. 

    We continued on to southern Portugal for many more adventures, that also included Servas members and further chance encounters that made the trip amazing. 

    All this to say something that maybe everyone who reads this newsletter already knows that authentic connection made through meeting people in an honest, open way is what makes travel worthwhile. I don't really travel for natural beauty, nor architecture, but for a cultural connection through conversation, sharing food, and sharing time. Servas is a gateway to authentic travel.We should get more Americans involved. 

    Dinner in the countryside

  • February 21, 2024 12:12 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    photo of Josh & Erik with Servas host Roswitha in Vienna.jpgby Josh Gerak 

    For four months during the summers of 2022 and 2023 I went bikepacking in Europe and stayed with SERVAS members dozens of timesfor overnight housing, to meet for many lunches or dinners, and gathered information about local sights. Bikepacking, also known as bike touring, blends well with SERVAS because traveling by bicycle makes one dependent on arranging housing every night in a new place. The highlights of my four months were seeing a slice of life through the eyes and experiences of my always gracious hosts. Learning the personal history of my host families created an understanding and camaraderie unmatched in any of my other travels. 

    Josh with his lightweight road bikeThere are many forms of bikepacking, many types of bicycles suitable for touring and many ways to travel by bicycle. I chose to travel light, not bring camping gear and do what I call “credit card touring. I am an avid cyclist, and with a background in touring, racing, and owning a mountain biking tour company. I decided to bring a lightweight road bike on tour. I carried no panniers; instead, I had a frame pack, a pack that extended behind my seat, and a handlebar bag. Two changes of clothes sufficed. My total weight was less than 20 kilos, bike and gear. That permitted me to average 70 to 90 km per day.

    Erik Brooks, travel partner on my 2022 tourOther cyclists traveled on E-Bikes, gravel or mountain bikes, and many pulled laden down trailers with full camping gear. I chose to tour with strong like-minded friends: Erik and Kristy joined me in 2022, both with a racing background; and Mary Beth and Jackie joined me in 2023, both avid and strong cyclists. Our tours were about seeing the sights, eating great meals and sleeping in a bed every night. 

    2023 - Mary Beth on EV8 in FranceUnlike the packaged tours that many people choose for bike touring, we chose to travel without a schedule, without a strictly planned route, and without reservations except occasionally a few days ahead. This offered maximum flexibility to adjust our itinerary based on the weather, meeting new friends, and taking extra time to explore areas that seemed interesting.

    We generally followed EuroVelo routes, 19 intricately designed bike friendly routes that crisscross Europe, and range from 1,000 to over 10,000 km long. Many of the EuroVelo routes are on designated bicycle paths, separate from roads. They are a joy to ride, often following rivers, summiting many famous mountain passes and ridges, through national parks and the most famous historical areas of Europe Many European countries are building cycle paths on their EuroVelo routes to promote cycle tourism. All I can say . . . is GO! building cycle paths on their EuroVelo routes to promote cycle tourism. All I can say . . . is GO! 

    Erik & Josh with Hungarian Servas hosts Gyula & ZsuzsaWe stayed in hotels for over half of the nights on our trips, and with private parties the other nights which included Servas hosts, friends, and with another hosting organization that is cycling specific called Warm Showers.  Traveling without a defined itinerary was challenging for planning stays with some Servas hosts, but generally our method worked well.  When we knew we were following a EuroVelo route, we would write several weeks in advance, advising the host that we expected to be in their city 3 or 4 weeks in the future, and that we would email or text when we got closer.Josh & Erik in Budapest

    Most hosts would advise us if they were going to be available during that window. When we got closer, we would confirm their availability and share our narrower arrival window. If it did not work out, we stayed in a hotel which we could usually book upon arrival at our destination Fortunately, many hosts live in the bigger cities where there were more hosting options and where we really benefitted from the local perspective.  

    With the proliferation of GPS enabled cell phones and devices, and a host of new mapping and route planning apps available for free or for small subscription fees, planning and navigating on bicycle across Europe is possible for anyone with the penchant for learning how to research, practice with the apps, and route plan. I mounted my cell phone on my handlebars so I could follow turn-by-turn directions for the entire trip. I downloaded our entire route and many side options.  

    Mary Beth with host Helene in Argeles Sue Mer, FranceEvery night, I reviewed the upcoming day’s route and made adjustments depending on anticipated traffic, new information or new sights we had identified. I mostly used a phone app called Komoot, and supplemented it with Google Maps which also has a bicycle planning option. Others use Garmin,, and any one of many others. Some of my friends even programmed their phones to give verbal instructions for every turn, but I preferred to add a bit of serendipity to our routes. As good as the apps are to identify bicycle routes, many times bike paths, boardwalks along beaches, and other interesting pathways not on the recommended GPS route brought us to incredible sights, historical markers, viewpoints and to people yearning for interaction with the odd Americans showing up on bikes with touring gear. 

    Bicycle touring is truly the most incredible way to see the world. A cycle tourist can cover long distances at a decent pace, or putter along to smell the roses and take photographs. The bicycle is quite reliable, too – this past summer we never even had a flat tire. People are not fearful of cycle tourists because we travel too slowly to be a threat. Bicycles can be loaded down to carry most everything one needs for any time of the year, or one can travel light making for a faster pace and less effort.  

    Josh on EV6 in SwitzerlandMost bicycle tourists are friendly, and people are usually friendly to cyclists in return. Europe by far is the safest and most interesting place to tour on a road bike. The USA has unparalleled natural beauty and landscapes for bike touring but unfortunately it is far more dangerous with traffic, lack of cycle paths, and a citizenry that lacks the respect for cycling common in Europe where cycling is a revered sport. 

    I plan to travel again this summer in Europe on bicycle. I would be happy to answer any questions about bikepacking, routes, gear and expectations. If you are planning to bicycle tour, too, maybe our paths will cross.  

    Josh Gerak first joined Servas in 1993. After a long hiatus he rejoined in 2022 and has been traveling, mostly by bicycle, when he is not in Seattle, WA where he enjoys cycling, hiking, climbing, skiing, running his businesses and hosting Servas travelers. 

  • November 22, 2023 7:11 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    photo of Russ Hatz sleeping on suitcase in flight boarding areaby Russ Hatz 

    Everyone has had one or some of these travel issues at one time or another, but all of them in a month?! Makes you want to put your passport away. Last month my wife and I returned from a month in France, Spain and Italy.  

    ur trip began on an inauspicious note: on the morning of our flight, Icelandic Air booked us on another airline when they discovered a mechanical problem with our plane – all to the good. However, what had been a ten-hour, one-layover trip became a three-airport twenty-hour trip. Experience has taught us to carry a couple of days’ clothing in each other’s suitcase. Good thing we did, as flight delays and missed connections found us in Paris, late at night, minus a suitcase. Our bag caught up with us eleven days later. 

    Our plans included extended stays in Paris and Barcelona. Even though we started planning months prior to our departure, we often found major museums and popular sites fully booked. We endured the lines and managed to see the requisite Parisian sites. After a week in Paris, we happily escaped the crowds and relaxed with Servas hosts Joseph and Marie-line in the Loire Valley. Another French Servas couple, Bill and Nad joined us. How peaceful the green was, how plentiful the wine! 

    TRAVEL TIP: If you plan to use Servas in Spain or Italy do not rely on email.  According to Joseph, Spanish and Italian Servas hosts communicate almost exclusively through WhatsApp. 

    We then caught a train for eight days in Barcelona. Although we’d heard frightening tales, we found the streets of Barcelona no more troublesome than those in Paris. Once again, many sites were booked, but Barcelona is a great walking town. 

    TRAVEL TIP: If you must book an Airbnb, should the accommodation not live up to expectations, it is possible to get a refund. 

    At this point, we were tired of streets, traffic and crowds, so we took a seven-day cruise as a vacation from our vacation! The weather did not cooperate. Luckily, neither one of us is prone to mal de mer. This gave us the opportunity to visit Menorca and Toulon, but perhaps of more interest to history buffs, Corsica and Elba of palindrome fame. Our cruise ended in Civitavecchia, which gave us an opportunity to see a few sites in Rome we’d missed eight years earlier. 

    Our flight home was simple – only a six-hour delay and a slight luggage mishap which the airline covered thanks to the EU airline passenger bill of rights. 

    In many ways, time seems to stop when you are on vacation. The tragedy of October 7th occurred during our journey. It gave us pause and made us more aware than ever of the need for peace organizations like Servas to foster empathy and understanding. 

    Some day you, too, might have a Little Trip of Horrors. Remember: sometimes the worst trips are the best trips, and that the luxury of hindsight often provides opportunities for laughter.  Safe and, hopefully, stress-free travels.  


  • November 20, 2023 12:35 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Photo of Ulla Whitmont, husband, and two Israeli Servas visitorsby Ulla Whitmont  

    My husband and I are Servas members. However, we have not had much chance to travel due to Covid. We live in a small town near Yakima in central Washington. Unbeknownst to us our Servas listing showed us as a host family. The call came on the Wednesday night before Labor Day: Could we host the coming weekend? We agreed, even though it was a new one for us.  

    As it turned out we had a delightful visit. We shared meals and information about the wonderful things to see and do in our area. Our travelers came from northern Israel near the Lebanese border.  Like many Israelis, they contribute as needed to local defense. These days we think of them often as they live in an area where there is a danger of an invasion. We hope they will be safe. 

    Author’s note - We cannot share more information about our visitors due to their past and current roles in Israel. We do not want to put them at any more risk than they already are. 

  • August 07, 2023 12:35 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    photo of Emily Glazer and Karl Kosok in front of a waterfall in CroatiaEmily Glazer & Karl Kosok 

    In late May/early June we spent a lovely vacation in Croatia and Copenhagen. The journey started out with Karl’s chartering a 46-foot boat with 5 buddies who sailed along the coast for 6 days. Then Emily met Karl and we traveled for nine days in Croatia and four days in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

    We interesting sights, people were invariably friendly, the food was delicious, and the weather was perfect. We started our land trip in Split, the 2nd largest city in Croatia and the largest city on the coast (on the eastern shore of 

    the Adriatic Sea), with a population of 178,000. We stayed with a young Couch surfing host who is an administrator at a marina. Highlights of our time in Split included visiting a gallery and outdoor sculpture garden dedicated to the work of Croatian sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic, an interesting maritime museum; and strolling along the harbor (see photo). 

    Then we rented a car and drove to Zadar, further along the Dalmatian coast, known for its Roman and Venetian ruins. Its population of 75,000 makes it the second largest city in Dalmatia and the fifth largest in the country. We rented a large modern apartment overlooking the city; and enjoyed the Archaeological Museum and a huge Museum of Ancient Glass. We also gathered at sunset with a crowd of people to listen to the Sea Organ, a 230-foot-long architectural sound art object and experimental musical instrument (designed by architect Nikola Basic in 2005) which plays music created by sea waves on 35 organ pipes located underneath a set of large marble steps. Then we enjoyed a sunset tour on a small boat. 

    Our next stop was Plitvice Lakes National Park, where we stayed in a lovely nearby inn. Plitvice is the oldest and largest national park in Croatia, known for a chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by beautiful waterfalls, that extend into a 

    limestone canyon. Walkways and hiking trails wind around and across the water, and an electric boat and bus transport visitors throughout the park. After leaving the Park, we toured the Barac Caves (with breathtaking stalactites, and stone monuments) and visited a brand-new museum, Speleon, highlighting the underground heritage of the area including geology, archaeology, and paleontology. 

    Our final stop was Zagreb -- the capital and largest city in Croatia, with a population of 790,000. We rented a small apartment conveniently located in the heart of the city, and spent some time with a 

    Servas host whose apartment was badly damaged in an earthquake 3 years ago. She took us to a Sunday flea market of eclectic items popular with the locals. We rode the short funicular joining the lower and upper towns; and loved both 

    the Museum of Naïve Art (primitive art by untrained individuals) and the unique Museum of Broken Relationships (personal artifacts from former relationships, accompanied by brief descriptions). 

    After leaving Croatia, we spent 4 days in Copenhagen, Denmark, where we stayed with two Servas families and Karl got to use his fluent Danish. One couple (in their 70’s) was a retired music teacher and a retired nurse. The other couple (in their 40’s, with twelve- and fourteen-year-old children) are an environmental engineer working on water issues and an electronics engineer working on hearing aids. We borrowed bikes to tour the neighborhood; heard one host’s choir perform (in Danish and English); took a canal boat tour; and saw a fabulous exhibit on urban planning at the Danish Architecture Center. 

    Now we are home, catching up on mail, messages, laundry, and jet lag – with fond memories of a wonderful trip. We would be happy to tell you more about the trip and share photos if you’re interested. 

    General Impressions 

    It is impossible to fully capture one’s impressions of foreign lands, but here’s a brief summary of a few of them: People: The hosts we stayed with, and strangers we met, were all very friendly and helpful. 

    Euros: Croatia recently converted to the euro currency. When we were there, the euro was worth $1.06, which made it easy to figure out the exchange rate, and things were relatively inexpensive for us. Denmark still uses the Danish Krone, and everything was expensive. 

    The Croatian language: Although we didn’t know any Croatian, when we spoke English slowly and clearly, using simple words, many people understood us; and a surprising number of Croatians spoke English quite well. In Denmark, Karl got to use his fluent Danish (and a lot of Danes speak English). 

    Transportation: We rented a car for about half the time in Croatia. The roads were excellent, and the drivers were careful and courteous. When we were there, gas cost about 1.42 euros/liter or $5.4/gallon. We saw some bike riders in Croatia and lots of cyclists in Denmark, but very few wore helmets. 

    SmokingDespite a ban on indoor smoking, Croatia remains among the countries with the highest smoking rates in the world, with 24.9 to 36.9 % of adults smoke (compared to 11.5% in the US). Cigarette smokers and cigarette smoke are ubiquitous in outside spaces. 

    FoodWe had lots of delicious meals, mostly seafood. Popular foods included black risotto, truffles, and fish stew. There were coffee shops, bakeries, and ice cream shops everywhere! 

    TouristsBesides some Croatian travelers, there were many tourists from various European countries, including Germany, Italy, and France. We ran into some American travelers, but not many. 

    ClothingMany men and women were wearing shorts; and many women wore tops showing their midriff even when it was chilly. 

    Cleanliness: Public places were very clean, and we never saw trash anywhere. 

    Cats (and dogs)We saw lots of stray cats, but not as many as when we were in Turkey and Greece. We often saw dogs (on leashes) in restaurants.  

    CrimeWe did NOT experience any crime, and generally felt very safe. 

    TattoosMany Croatians and tourists had extensive tattoos. 

    GraffitiWe saw a lot of graffiti in both Croatia and Denmark, but could not find out who created it. 

    COVIDWe did NOT see information about COVID or see any specific efforts to prevent it. It was particularly striking that on the many international flights we took, almost no one wore masks. Fortunately, we did NOT get sick. 

  • July 07, 2023 6:04 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    METAL cutout sign on outside of Cafe' du Pays music venueby Bill Magargal

    We arrived at our Servas host's home mid-afternoon on a warm sunny day. We weren’t sure which house belonged to our hosts because there were no house numbers, and there were several farm-type buildings clustered together. Eventually, Agnes came out and showed us where to park, as their actual land area was fairly small. She seemed a bit reserved, perhaps just quiet by nature, but she helped us into the house. 

    Soon, Yves arrived. He was a very pleasant and enthusiastic guy. He took charge showing us around the house and where we would sleep. Yves is a regional coordinator for Servas Brittany, a warm and great guy. After we settled in, he suggested we go on a walk. He showed us several farms in the area and pointed out buildings that were particularly old and/or in the Bretagne style of that area. All the fields we passed had deep ditches around them. They were in the midst of an extended dry spell; normally the land is very wet.  

    photo of charcuterie board with cheeses, ham, salamis, etceteraWhen we returned to the house, Yves began preparing “aperitifs”, a board of cheeses, ham, and salamis. We enjoyed this with some good wine which we’d brought with us. Yum! After a bit their daughter, Sophy, arrived and we had supper.The next morning Yves drove us around the area, stopping in Talensac, then ending up in Montfort-sur-Mei, the largest village in the area.  

    That evening Bill made eggplant parmesan to accompany dinner. He commented to Yves, “I guess it is a bit presumptuous for an American to cook for a Frenchman.” He laughed and replied, “Yes!", he said,"and to make an Italian dish, even more so.” We both roared.  

    On Sunday, Yves suggested that we drive to a special cafe near Rennes where Agnes, who plays the soprano sax, had a gig with her eight-piece band. A soprano sax looks like a metal clarinet. We drove for quite a while, wending our way around the countryside. Eventually we came to a long driveway that disappeared back into the woods. We drove down the drive and soon came to a small clearing with a sweet stucco building with a sizable patio-like area adjacent to the door. 

    There weren’t many people there yet, but the musicians were busy setting up and doing sound checks, so we ordered glasses of wine and just sat at a table to watch the activity. Yves explained that the owner of the cafe was a musician himself. He thus knew numerous decent groups in the area and invited them to play at his cafe. Apparently, the group Agnes played with was one of the “decent” groups. 

    Photo of cute blonde boy with familyThe weather was perfect, sunny, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies. We sipped our wine, chatted, and watched people arrive. The band did a warm-up number to tune up and check the sound system. Soon there was a fair-sized crowd, perhaps twenty-five to thirty people. It was a nice mix of young and old, families and singles. At a table next to us, a small boy about four or five got intrigued with drinking straws on their table. He moved them from glass to glass, swaying in tempo to the music. It was truly a “Hallmark” moments. 

    The band was excellent. They sang a lot of songs in English and in French. When they played “Dock of The Bay” I sang with them. What fun! They had a tip jar in front of them and people were dropping bills into it as they got ready to leave. I really wanted to do so, but only had a fifty Euro note.  

    Photo of the band an lead singer at Cafe' du PaysEventually I needed to use the toilet, so he went inside, used the toilet, and got change. Yves had said he would cover the drinks, but since I was at the register, I decided to pay. I walked back to the table and on the way dropped some bills into the tip jar. A bit later, as we were ready to leave. Yves said, “I see you paid.” I could tell he was miffed. I apologized, realizing that he was just being the “typical” American. Still, I felt bad. Eventually we both got over it.  

    That evening Yves prepared another charcuterie of cheeses, fruit, and cured meats, accompanied by more fine French wine, followed by another great meal and good conversation. We discussed the possibility of his daughter working next Summer at Frost Valley YMCA camp near us, but COVID put a halt to that. Yves also showed us the new (at the time) Servas International website. We were envious, as we could easily look up hosts online by various regions, etc. "No more paper host lists. Yay!" Now we have another Servas friend that we stay in touch with. 

     Marie with our hosts Yves, Agnes, and Sophy

  • June 08, 2023 12:16 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Author with cook - 1994by Marie Spodek

    We first learned about Servas in 1994 when my husband Bill and I were traveling in Khajuraho, India (yes, that erotic temple site), and chatted with a Canadian couple who told us about it. We quickly lined up our references and interview and, within a month, became members of Servas India. Since then, we have enjoyed traveling and hosting. 

    As we move into our late 70s, we realize that we just don’t know how many trips are left in the tank, as it were. So, in late 2019, we embarked on a grand tour of the continent: France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. We love the European cities and villages with their squares, plazas, stone buildings, welcoming sidewalk cafes, and the whole feel of things. Little did we know that just a few months later, COVID would shut down the world, especially for our kind of travel adventures. 

    Our travel stays generally alternate between Servas hosts, hostels, and inexpensive B&Bs. We’ve come to realize that when we travel, we sometimes just need a break from being a guest in someone's home: to plan where will go next, catch up on our journals, and just kick back to watch the local scene in a square or cafe.  

    But what never ceases to amaze us and keep us firmly in the Servas fold are the unexpected gems we’ve uncovered while Servasing (let's make that a new verb).  

    Here are just a few from 2019: 

    • Servas host playing soprano sax with her bandRennes, Brittany Our hosts drove us way out into the countryside to a local café in the middle of nowhere. We sipped great French wine as our SERVAS hostess played soprano sax with her delightful eight-piece band. 

    • Vannes, Brittany The first host we contacted was traveling in England, but he made arrangements for us to stay with another SERVAS host in the area. He said, “that is what we do here.” 

    • photo of rare Bugatti CabrioleMulhouse, France We aren't big car buffs, but our SERVAS host assured us that we DID want to tour the French National Automobile Museum with more than 450 antique cars, many one-of-a-kind, including more than one hundred rare Bugattis. He was right! 

    • Switzerland Our host suggested a better hike than the one recommended by the NY Times. We took a ride in a funicular up to the start of the hike, then trekked 10,000 steps to the 1882 Hotel Weisshorn, then back down another 15,000 steps to the village. That evening our host told us that he made "the BEST Swiss fondue,” and he was right! 

    • Monteforte d'Alpone, Italy–We arrived at a restored farmhouse just in time for a family dinner with three generations, plus Egyptian twin teenage boys our hosts were housing while they learned to repair big truck hydraulic engines, to speak Italian, and lived with a family again. The next day, our host's sister invited us to a chestnut harvest festival in the mountain village of San Giovanni Ilarione. 

    • Faenza, Italy Our hostess told us to visit the most incredible ceramics museum we could imagine. We hadn’t even known it existed! We became star guests at her ESL class, and then celebrated her birthday with several of her friends. 

    • Siena, Italy When we contacted our host, Joanne, she replied: “if you can wait a few days, you can join me at my villa in Tuscany.” WOW! We immediately changed our plans! We enjoyed great meals and Italian wine with our host and her three good friends. She had us hike the Bagnon Vignoni loop through spectacular countryside and small villages, ending up at the local hot springs where we soaked our tired feet. 

    Author with Servas Host, Joanne RoanJoanne Ro

    Enjoying lunch with Joanne and our fellow hikers

    Please share some of your memories!  

    Marie S. Spodek 

  • June 08, 2023 11:54 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    By Karl Kosek & Emily Glasier 

    In late May/early June we spent a lovely vacation in Greece -- originally scheduled for 2020, then postponed to 2021 because of the pandemic, and finally we did it in 2022! 

    Karl began the journey: he chartered a 50-foot boat with five buddies and sailed the islands for nine days. Then Emily met Karl and we traveled for 2+ weeks (by rental car, ferry, on foot, and even in a few taxis). We visited many interesting sights. More important, the people we met were very friendly, the food was delicious, and the weather was perfect (sunny every day, in the 70's and 80's).  

    photo of the Acropolis overlooking PlakaFirst, we spent a couple of days in Athens, a bustling, cosmopolitan city of 3 million people (almost a third of the 11 million people who live in Greece). We stayed in a centrally located hostel in the Plaka neighborhood in the shadow of the Acropolis wher1 `e we enjoyed a private room and bath. We enjoyed walking the narrow cobblestone streets of the area which feels more like a hillside village than a city center, took a city bus tour, happened on the opening of a gallery exhibit of interesting metal sculptures, and of course, visited several museums. 

    Then we spent a couple of days on the large island of Evia (population 200,000), where we stayed with a Servas host in the small farming village of Koskina. Our host, Philip, originally from England, is a medical translator who has been living in Greece for 40 years. We stayed in his 100-year-old stone cottage. He drove us around glorious mountain roads to see some old villages with vineyards, springs, and archeological sites.  

    From Evia, we went to Delphi, where we stayed in an old family-run hotel near the spectacular archeological site and museum. We also visited the nearby small town of Arahova which hosts skiers in the winter. 

    Then we went to Kastri on the Peloponnese peninsula where we stayed with a British/Scottish Servas couple who have been living in Greece for 20 years. Linda is a retired BP oil executive and Reay a former chef/ They live on a working farm in a peaceful location surrounded by beautiful scenery. We enjoyed several gourmet meals, and they drove us to nearby towns with ancient trees and interesting architecture. 

    photo of Karl & Emily enjoying a Greek mealOur next stop on the Peloponnese peninsula was the touristy but charming historic seaside village of Nafplion (pop. 15,000). This small port town, with historic importance, is protected by three castles. It is very walkable, andonly a 2.5-hour drive from Athens. In Nafplion, we visited the Archeological Museum, Folklore Museum, and Worry Beads Museum; we also enjoyed the shops and restaurants. We also had tea with a Servas host, Julia, who is a British expat, a retired mental health social worker, who has been living in Greece for almost 20 years.  

    We visited the nearby ancient sites of Epidavros (with its well-preserved ancient theater (built 2,500 years ago to seat 1,500!) and Agamemnon's hilltop fortress of Mycenae. 

    Towards the end of our trip, we took a ferry from Athens to the small island of Aegina (population 13,000). We stayed in a quaint, centrally located hotel; it was a beautiful, traditional 18th century stone building with a courtyard and a friendly staff. In addition to wandering around the harbor of lovely old Aegina, the harbor, we took a 20-minute boat ride to the islet of Moni where the only inhabitants are peacocks, deer, and a couple of turkeys. We went for a short hike, and Karl enjoyed a swim in the calm, clear water.  

    General impressions: It is impossible to fully capture one’s impressions of a foreign land, but here’s a brief summary of a few of them: 

    • People: The hosts we stayed with, and strangers we met, were all very friendly and helpful. 
    • Euros: The euro was worth $1.07 which made it easy to figure out the exchange rate, and things were relatively inexpensive for us.  
    • The Greek language: We could not read, speak, or understand Greek (it was literally all Greek to us). Fortunately, when we spoke English slowly and clearly, using simple words, many people understood us. 
    • Transportation: Most of the cars are very small, which is good for Athens’ narrow streets and winding mountain roads. The roads were in excellent condition. When we were there, gas cost about 2.29 euros/liter of gas or $9/gallon. On the highways, each lane had its own speed limit (for example, 100, 110, 120 km/hour -- 40km/hr=25 mi/hr). There were lots of motorcycles and motorbikes, weaving in and out of traffic. Although helmets are required, many motorcycle drivers didn’t wear them. We saw some bike riders, but not many. 
    • Smoking: Despite a ban on indoor smoking, Greece remains among the countries with the highest smoking rates in the world, with almost 40% of the adults smoking (compared to 12.5% in the US). Smoking was extremely common on the streets and in the outdoor restaurants we frequented.  
    • Siestas”: Although the word is not used, many people took the equivalent of “siestas” every afternoon, and some shops were closed in the middle of the day. 
    • Ruins: In addition to visiting the Parthenon, Delphi, Epidavros, and Mycenae, there were ruins everywhere (either partially or completely excavated).  
    • Food: Almost all our meals were eaten outside, and we ate lots of yummy food. Most meals included Greek salad with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and feta cheese. There was always bread and olive oil on the table. In addition to meat, there were a lot of seafooddishes on menus. Dinner was served very late in the evening – 8-9pm. Tables in restaurants typically had a bottle of water so customers could refill their own water glasses.  
    • Tourists: Besides many travelers from Greece, there were many tourists from various European countries including the UK, France, and Germany. We ran into some American tourists, but not many.  
    • Cleanliness: Public places were very clean, and we never saw trash anywhere. 
    • Cats: Stray cats are ubiquitous, and people seemed to feed them.  
    • Crime: We did NOT experience any crime, and generally felt very safe. 
    • Tattoos: Many Greeks and tourists had extensive tattoos. 
    • COVID: We spent most of our time outside. Inside public places, masks were required, and people were encouraged to keep 1.5-2 meters apart. The mask requirement was scheduled to end June 1, about the time we were leaving Greece. Bottles of hand sanitizer were everywhere including on all restaurant tables. We were required to have COVID tests before flying home. Fortunately, right across the street from our hostel in Athens was a pharmacy which offered COVID testing for 10 euros, with immediate results (and we were negative!).  

    All in all, it was a great trip. We’ve got lots of photos and memories to share if you want to know more.  

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Engaging With Servas Values Close to Home:  (April 2023)

A trip to the U.S. border and an amazing desert                       -  by Andrea Veltman and David Schwartz 

This is the authors' report on their visit to the rugged Arizona desert, including the US border wall and their experience with Servas members who volunteer with the Tucson Samaritans, who provide supplies for immigrants crossing into the U.S.

Engaging With Servas Values Close to Home:    (March 2023)

A Travel Report from New Orleans and the US Civil rights Trail                      -   by Andrea Veltman and David Schwartz 

Is it possible to put Servas values at the forefront of your travels whether or not you are staying with Servas hosts, whether or not you are traveling abroad? We believe it both possible and enriching to do so. Here is a trip report that shows how we raised our cross-cultural awareness and also had lots of fun without leaving the USA.  read full story

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