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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.

  • 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.  

  • April 02, 2023 8:57 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    by Nancy Brashears

    I have been a SERVAS host for more than forty years and have hosted more than 200 visitors. I am also an avid traveler but have not used SERVAS for the majority of my travels.  Instead, I travel with a company that does all the planning and hard work.  Their philosophy is “Learning and Discovery” and they provide multiple opportunities to visit local homes and families for conversation and food.  We also have candid discussions with locals regarding controversial topics that are relevant to the area we are visiting.

         My most recent trip was to Algeria and Tunisia.  In Algeria, we learned about Algeria’s history, their prolonged struggle for independence from France and their current situation of high unemployment. In Algiers, we had opportunities to talk with locals as we walked through the Casbah, had lunch in a local home, and listened to a Muslim woman speak about women’s rights and women’s issues in Algeria.  Before arriving in Constantine, we drove to Djemila where we visited the museum and the amazing Roman ruins. When we arrived in Constantine, we traversed the famous bridges and scenic bluffs and toured Tiddis, the archeological site of an ancient Roman town built in the 3rd century.  We also visited the Mosque Emir Abdelkader, one of the world’s largest mosques.  It’s prayer hall holds 10,000 people!

    Author standing in front of Roman ruins in Djemila, Algeria

    The next two weeks were spent in Tunisia.  While in Tunis, we had a discussion with some local women who are actively working to change the contentious issue of inheritance laws where women inherit only half of what men inherit.  We also visited ancient Dougga, the best-preserved Roman city in North Africa.  A highlight was the day we spent visiting a farm family, touring their fields of olive and pomegranate trees, helping to make lunch and enjoying an afternoon meal full of conversation and laughter with the farmer, his wife and two young adult sons.  Other highlights included enjoying a Berber meal prepared by two Berber sisters, a stay in a tent camp in the Sahara, and a camel ride.  Near the village of Matmata, where Star Wars was filmed, we stopped at a small snack shop and listened to a young Berber woman who told us about the Berber language.  It is not a written language and is not taught in the schools, only at home.

     In Tozeur, we viewed the lush oasis of date palms and fruit trees.  In Kairouan we visited the Grand Mosque and spent time meeting with an imam for a very intimate and interesting conversation.  We also enjoyed another home hosted meal with an extended family.  The camaraderie and laughter were abundant!  The ruins of El Djem with its massive amphitheater and spectacular views was fabulous!  Our final destination was the small village of Sisi Bou Said where we enjoyed views of the Mediterranean Sea and the ancient city of Carthage.

         If you are interested in more information, feel free to contact me.

  • April 02, 2023 8:55 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Maryellen Vander Sluis Napa, CA

    We had amazing experiences with all of our hosts. Pat and Martita Rice, with the help of her grandson Andy, shared their experience of Belfast and the period of the Troubles which gave us an insight that would not have been possible in any other way. They also took us to hear traditional music and also had a friend who came to the home with bagpipes and played just for us.

    Ian Hunter acted as our guide through Cambridge and took us to dine in New College, where his involvement as a senior student gives him privileges.

    Sarah Couch and Hywel Edwards introduced us not only to the quaint and very charming village of Eynsham, just outside of Oxford, but also the garden at Rousham House designed by William Kent in the 1730s. That was a sight which we definitely would not have seen but will always remember.

    In addition to our three Servas stays, we also spent a week sharing a holiday house in Ireland with Servas friends from Holland and we had dinner in Dublin with a host whom we had visited in 2004. In London we spent 5 nights with a couple who were our very first Servas first hosts 1995, and who had also stayed with us in California 2016. We have had so many long-lasting friendships that grew out of Servas!

  • April 02, 2023 8:52 AM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Ksenija Soster Olmer, Orinda, CA

    "Spent a wonderful evening with Servas member from Istanbul at a gallery exhibition opening and traditional dinner. How fun!"

    "Since my first independent trip at 16 I have continued to follow my passion for travel all over the world to more than 100 countries. My travel has been enriched by volunteering and supporting projects around the world: from toilet blocks and water tanks in Burmese orphanages and Batwa Pygmy schools to preschools, libraries, water wells and latrines in Cambodia. I have written travel articles in many magazines, particularly about the world through the eyes of women I have met. I have also published books of poetry for children and books of encouragement for parents. My interests include art, wine making, flower arranging, great movies, and literature. This past year I have travelled with my husband to many countries around the world and we were very fortunate to connect with many Servas members, particularly in New Zealand, Georgia, and the Middle East. We will be traveling for another year and are looking forward to meeting more wonderful new friends."

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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