Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where are my friends....

I want to hold them tight. I am so very far away and have been for so very long.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The tour that turned into an adventure that turned into a memory that will remain with me throughout my life

"When you spend a night in Mostar, it is not the sound that wakes you up in the morning, but the light." Ivo Andric


I am sitting under a mosque waiting for the prayer to end. I am recalling a tour I went on yesterday with a very unique tour guide named Bata. The tour started at 11am and didn´t finish until 12 at night. The first part of the tour was visiting the historical city of Pocitelj, which was a tiny village destroyed by the war and rebuilt by its citizens. The remains of a fortress stood in the center of the village. Bata told us to be like children and run around and climb it. The fortress was steep and on unsteady ground and rather unsafe we still (with caution) followed his command. After climbing the fortress, I was famished, it was only noon by the time and we weren´t going to relax with Bata the guide.

We were Bata`s sheep and he was our shephard. OUr shephard had lived through a war and saw much more devastation than most people living in this century. He was a risk taker and was relaxed about leading his sheep into what I would percieve as dangerous sitauation. We walked down to Mostar`s secluded waterfalls and went swimming in the ice cold water. The water was exceptionally cold, my lips turned blue instantly and there were water snakes swimming in the mossy water beneath us.

A girl named Chrissy and I instantly partnered up. She just got back from Africa and was continuing her journey for as long as her money lasted. We climbed up the slippery falls to admire the view. I never thought I would ever be swimming in waterfalls in Mostar, but what an experience it was. We met up with the group and went onto the next sight, which was a small pond with a rope swing where we swang up about thirty feet and let go. I was told that I screamed on the way down.

We hiked through the high grass along a barely visible path. The area we were in was basically a forest and it was raining hard. Soaking wet and cold and in nothing but a bikini really made me start to resent Bata as a tour guide. That was the least of my worries, I was afraid that there were land mines around, but instinctually I trusted Bata. Bata was jolly goofy man in his late thirties. He told jokes that were hit or miss. His only rule was that we couldn`t ask any questions and he continously convinced us we were on an adventure and were there to have fun. I wasn´t going to give up.

Our next stop was a 50ft cliff where we were expected to jump into the babbling water below. I debated whether to do it or not. The Austrailians and Kiwis jumped with no problem while the Europeans and I sat back in fear. I got so close, but couldn´t pull myself to taking the leap. I ended up climbing down the rocky falls unto our next challenge of walking underneath heavily flowing waterfalls. If you`ve never been under waterfalls before I greatly recommend it. The sensation is unreal. I felt as though the world was a mirror and somehow I walked through to the otherside.

We hiked back soaking wet and numb. I got tea and hoped my fingers would regain their sensation, but unfortunately it took several hours until that happened.

The next sight was Apparitian Mountain, where in recent legend four school-aged boys saw an image of the Virgin Mary. The town was covered with tourist shops selling plastic icons of the Saint. No one out of our group had any sightings so we left for dinner.

It was already 10:30pm and I hadn´t eaten anything since 8am. My dinner of two sauteed trouts with their heads still on was well worth the wait. For dessert I split baklava with Chrissy. I could taste the rosewater and honey. It was incredibly sticky sweet.

After dinner we went to a mosque set inside a natural cave. It looked like it was striaght out of a fairy tale. You could hear the bats echoing in the distance. Bata told us the history of the mosque and how they would employ the poor by giving them jobs of preparing food for the keepers of the mosques. They did this for many centuries. The mosque always had a hand in helping out whomever needed help no matter what religion or race.

I took off my shoes and noticed my feet were stained from my black shoes. The men working at the mosque gave me sandals to wear and wrapped my head in a floral scented berka. It felt soft on against my skin.

We walked throughout the mosque. This one was different than the ones I had been in before. It was more traditional decorated with wood carved designs in the wall and handcrafted Bosnian rugs. Bata told us the reason he does the tour is for theraputic reasons. After the war Bata fled Mostar to Sweden where he lived for about 15 years. He explained that it was a necessity to his mental state to leave for so long. He believed by sharing his story and the story of the war would help open up the minds of the people he interacted with. I believe it worked.

Kid Rock...

I can`t get away from that stupid song about Alabama.

Mostar, Bosnia pictures Click Here

From Mostar, Bosnia

Muslim Prayers (from 9-11-08)

Several times a day intercom`s broadcast the prayer of the Koran from the minarets of mosques. They wake me at 5am and I fall asleep to them at night. You can hear them throughout Sarajevo not just in the Muslim neighborhood in Old Town. The chants make me feel tranquil. It is Ramadan so the cafes are quiet and empty. Everyone is at the mosque praying. From a Westerner´s perspective the crowd of people praying outside look as though they are exercising with soft yoga bends and stands. Part of me wishes I was a member of the community.

Transcribing my experience from Sarajevo




September 10th

Two million books were destroyed in the National Library during the time of the war. Bombs exploded in every direction, but the main target was this national treasure. The Serbians wanted to eliminate the library because it had documents that dated back to the beginning of Sarajevo. It was a powerful source of information and now the locals have no records of where the origin of their people came from.

I visited the ruins of the national library today. The building was still standing and a local artist named Edo Murtic displayed his art exhibit on both levels of the remains of the library. This artist employs power of great range through his paintings. The exhibit showed the destructive essence of war through the perspective someone who first hand lived through it. The title of his series of painting is "Eyes of Fear." It shows man as in a state of primal fear living in an animal state of awareness. These painitngs are of such dramatic strength and politically charged with fear of power and how power power causes corruption in mankind. Some of the sketches look like they were out of pure madness all portrayed through a series of skull paintings. The contrast between the bombed building with hanging paintings was very powerful.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Recharge

I hit a plateau in traveling. I lost my purpose and started to get depressed about my future, but I am taking it as more of a sign that I need to recharge.

I am in Munich with my friend Sandra from high school who lives in a small village outside the city. I have been to Oktoberfest. I went twice and it is everything I thought it would be being more lively than any concert or festival I´ve ever been to, but it wasn´t as exciting as sight seeing and visiting with an old friend.

I was in need of staying in one spot for awhile. Recharging is just as important as a good nights rest. I did do a lot of sightseeing today. I went down to the Olympia park where the 1972 summer olympics were held and then to the futuristic BMW museum.

I am gaining my energy for my next bulk of travels, which includes hiking in the snowy caps of Slovakia, sightseeing in Graz, going to Berlin, exploring small villages in Hungary and Poland and possibly spending a period of time (longer than two days) in either Italy or Amsterdam or Transylvania. I don´t plan past a couple of days so these are just some ideas floating around my head. If I get sick of traveling I will not force myself to go on further.

More than anything this traveling experience is more of a mental exercise. I am focusing my energy on staying in the present. Not having control over my future scares me and I have a tendency to think about the past. When I am in the present I am better than fine.. I am strong and compelling. I am learning to live day to day and for the most part I am understanding how to do it.

I´m learning loads about other cultures and meeting interesting people.

I will transcribe my journal onto my blog soon. Right now, I am only concerned about relaxing and taking care of myself.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

ljubljana, Slovenia

I went hiking today.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Zabreb, Croatia

The weather has dropped 30 degrees. It feels like Fall. Zagreb is very westernized, most of the buildings have a strong Austria/Hungarian influence. There are about 20 museums I passed along the way to the hostel. I am going to visit as many as possible today.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Zagreb, Croatia

I was going to travel to Split, Croatia, but it is raining hard. I don't think it would be wise to go to a beachy area in the wet weather. So I am off to the more Western part of Croatia. I have a 10 hour train ride tomorrow.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bosnian Pyramid (click here for an article about the pyramids from NY Times)


There are actually three pyramids, but it is still unknown if they are real. I spent yesterday taking the bus to Visoko, then a cab, and hiking up to the top of one. The top of the pyramid looked like an archeological dig. There was a film crew shooting a low budget movie called "A Buried Land." Mostar tomorrow.

Mostar!

Just arrived in Mostar. I missed the train at 645 am and the night train was delayed. I am staying at this hostel that's basically an apartment shared by a nice Bosnian family. The son actually picked me up from the train station and the mom made me popcorn and juice. More to come.

The Bosnian Election ...

The election that could change everything for the Bosnian people is happening this fall. The competition for the next government official is close. Who would you vote for?



This guy....




and yes these are not criminals or members of the mafia, but actual politicians running for the next election.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bobsled

I am looking at the skeleton of the bobsled from the 1984 Winter Olympics. It was built in 1982 and cost 12 million dollars to build. It is completely destroyed. The Serbian forces used it as protection and made holes in it to point their guns and shoot at the Bosnians. Haris warned us to stay only on the pavement because there were still active mines all over the woods.

35% percent of Bosnian land still has mines, which are basically around the mountains and in outside rural parts of Sarajevo. No one knows exactly where the mines are, but the military detenates bombs on a daily basis. I heard one go off in the distance and saw smoke rising upwards. A Bosnian man saw me jump after the loud explosion that echoed down the mountain. He said it was the military who were "safely" setting them off. They use dogs to detect the mines.

The city itself is clear of mines, but I still feel uneasy walking past construction sites or areas with vegetation.

Sarajevo

Today is my Dad's birthday and I am in Sarajevo. I went on a bus tour around the city. Haris is our tour guide and the owner of the hostel. He is 21 and opened the hostel when he was only 15. We are driving around in his old white van. The flooring in the van is plastic wood, the same material zou would see in a kitchen. Haris is a good representative of the Bosnian people. He is verz friendlz, hospitable, and verz nationalistic. The radio is playing a Bosnian pop song, which sounds like Leonard Cohen with a calypso beat and is about the war. We are driving to the tunnel museum in the suburban part of town. Even out here you can see the frames of bombed buildings and houses.

11,000 people were killed during the 4 years of being under seige. A tunnel was made under ground connecting to the airport. This was the only entrance/exit to the citz. The tunnel saved the city since Bosnia was attacked right after they became an independent countrz and didn't have a militarz. Serbian forces knew of the tunnel, but couldn't see it because it was underground. The tunnel itself was 875 zards long.
It took volunteers about 4 months to complete it and became the onlz way to export and import everzthing from food, medicine, homemade guns, oil, and electricitz. After the war ended the Kotar family (who owned the propertz) made it into a museum.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sarajevo

I made it to Sarajevo. It is even more fascinating than I could ever image. The city is divided into sections based on religion. I am staying in the old town, which is the Muslim side of the city. It has a very strong Turkish influence dating back to the time of the Ottamon Empire. There is a Muslim cementary by the hostel with hundreds of tombs from the war. The death dates are all from 1995.

Tomorrow I am going sight seeing and visiting some of the many mosques in Old town. I hope to make it over to the stadium where the olympics were held in 1984. I know already I want to stay for a few days.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dubrovnik, Croatia, Click here for pictures

I went on a bus to Dubrovnik, Croatia today to see their Old Town. I left at 5am again. It was beautiful and took me about five hours to walk through. Nothing was in English. I don't know anything about the history of the fortress except it dates back to the 12th century. I plan to look it up tomorrow on my long bus ride to Sarajevo.

This gated community was covered with thousands of tourists snapping photos at every corner. It was overwhelming and annoying. This is why I like where I am in Budva. It is more communal with families around and the beaches aren't packed. There are so many good places just to get fresh fruit and buy homemade pastries. Everyone is friendly. I have been here for a week and feel it is time to move on. Tomorrow I'm going to Bosnia.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Left Bar, Monte Negro heading for Puke, Albania

Just crossed over the Albanian border and the scenery outside changed completely from city to a rural mountainous village. There's a flock of sheep and a donkey grazing right out of my window on the bus. The bus driver announced it is forbidden to take photos at the border.

A very stereotypical Serbian man with a pink shirt with flamingoes and mullet came on the bus to collect our passports. Most of the people here dress as if they were two decades behind and from an episode of Miami Vice the rest of the world. There is about 97% Russians on the bus and two British and one me. The Serb man says to us "Welcome to the poorest country in Europe." It turns out this man is going to be our tour guide. We were lucky.

Albania's border on the North is Serbia. It borders Macedonia, Greece, Monte Negro (where we came in) and Lake Skadar (one of the largest lakes in Europe.) The climate in Albania is very Mediterranean. As soon as we got off the bus I could feel the heat stick to my skin. Looking up to the top of a hill I see Fortress Skadar which dates back to 9 B.C.

There are three styles of buildings here. The communist style apartments look like gray cement bricks with holes for windows. Then there are modern buildings, and sort of traditional looking housing.

My favorite part of the city is that all the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches and Muslim mosques are right next to each other. They aren't spread out in their own separate city centers like most Eastern European cities have them. I think this shows that the Albanians are very united. In fact, they don't call each other by anything but Albanians. If you visit Albania and stay for a while you become Albanian to the people here. Its not a communist concept but to me shows how the people believe in equality.

Albania Photos

Friday, September 5, 2008

Albania

It's 5am and I am about to take a bus to Albania.

Pictures from Bulgaria

Pictures from Monte Negro

Pictures from Budapest

Pictures from Belgrade. Click Here.

Pictures from Ferry Ride in Boka, Monte Negro

I canceled all my plans for today. I haven't had a day of just relaxing since arriving in Europe on August 15th. I slept in today too.. It is really nice just to be and do nothing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I am sea sick from too many hours on the ferry. I still feel like I am swaying back and forth. Ew.

Boka Ferry Ride

This hostel is very communal. Dave the owner has been operating this place for 3 years. He's from Belmont, Ca, and his girlfriend (who also works here) is from Moscow. They are both really sweet. Nadya and I have been talking about politics especially the Russia/Georgia conflict. It's interesting to hear her perspective.

The best part about this hostel is that I feel comfortable. The beds and showers are clean and every morning the owners put out breakfast of cornflakes and coffee every morning. There are lots of wild fruit trees in the backyard. I am eating purple grapes that I picked from a tree. I like it here a lot and extended my stay for two more days. Tomorrow, I am going to Lake Skadar one of the largest lakes and bird estuary in all of Europe.

I went on a ferry ride around Monte Negro's islands. I am hanging out with a girl from Seattle that I met at the hostel. She is really cool and we have a lot in common. Last night we went out to eat. Rachel was funny trying to communicate with our waitress. She pantomimed that she wanted a small piece of chicken and made a swish noise to indicate she wanted it fried. What she got was a huge steak and greasy french fries. I stuck with soup because it was the only word I could make out on the menu and it was cheap. The food here is fairly good. I have mostly tried to eat produce and fish.

We went to a fortress on the cruise called Fore Mare. It was built by a Bosnian King in 1382. The king was famous for extracting salt from the sea and selling it. The fortress is gigantic and surrounded by sparkling blue water. After the Turks took over the fortress was known as Kanli Kula, which means Bloody fortress. There was a battle here and blood was dripping off the walls. After the Turkish took over they had 300 slaves expand it and reconstructed it into a military fort. Then the Austro-Hungarians took over and they held it in their power until the beginning of WWI. Now it is used as an open theater for music and theatrical performances.

At the next stop we jumped on a packed boat to the blue cave. While we traveled down to the cave there were more old military bases. I overheard some of the people on the ferry say that the islands here were owned by Russian mafia. It is well known that Monte Negro is currently powered by the mafia, but many Montenegrins believe this will change soon. The blue cave was amazing. The water inside it looked aquamarine. I jumped off the boat and the water inside the cave was freezing. I am glad I did it, even though I was really scared.

Two artificial islands lay right next to each other in the middle of the sea. One island was named Lady of the Rock it was very small and only large enough to hold a church. The church was very beautiful with a teal roof and Romanesque architecture. From a distance it looked like a model from a movie set. Inside the church was many artifacts from surrounding areas. The chapel itself had a painted ceiling that looked like the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

On the ferry I was talking to a girl from Belarus. She was shocked that I was all the way here from the US. Another couple from Belgium reacted similarly when I told them I was from Boston. I was surprised by their response.

Our next stop was Old Town in Kotor. Kotor is the 2nd largest fjord in Europe.There was a huge cement wall around the city. The city itself had many cathedrals dating back almost 2000 years.

Signing off.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bulgaria

Monte Negro

I finally made it to Podgorica (capital of Monte Negro)from Belgrade. There's nothing here, but overpriced accommodations and everything. The money collector at the bathroom wanted 1.50 euros. It was worth it having just been on the train for 8 1/2. There wasn't any toilet paper in any of the stalls on the train. For dinner I had sesame crackers called Pardon and a coke zero. I forgot how difficult it is to travel in a country where the majority of the population doesn't speak English. Luckily, in Monte Negro the signs are not spelled in the Cyrillic alphabet. I am going to take the bus to the coastal town of Budva because it is the only place in all of Monte Negro that has a hostel. Monte Negro also has the 2nd largest canyon in the world next to of course the Grand Canyon. Plus they have one of only two rain forests in Europe and the second largest fjord.

I went on a tour today led by one of the guys from the hostel. We went to an Austro Hungarian military fort from 1980. It was fully abandoned and there weren't any gates blocking it off. The guy from the hostel found it while driving up the mountain range in his old VW. He thought it looked interesting and decided to walk inside. A building like this would not be opened up like this in any other country, but it is the 2nd newest country and rules in other places don't apply. The inside reminded me of old spooky building in the movie "Hostel." Inside were many rooms each having rusty hooks on the walls. The hooks were probably used to hang up guns. Some of the windows here were only big enough to point guns through. This base had two levels. The second level did not have any windows. There wasn't any light, the only thing illuminating our walk way was our tour guides flashlight. He pointed on the ground the safe path and were not to step because of holes in the wall or pointing out old elevator shafts. I was happy when the tour of the base was over and I was safe again.

After the tour we drove up to a small mountainous town where a man sold cured ham, goat cheese, and lohsa (homemade brandy) out of his house. Lohsa is potent. It had 53% alcohol. I could barely finish the small amount he poured, but didn't want to be rude by refusing it. The smell of the meat curing cellar was awful. There was rows and rows of ham hanging from strings that had been curing for about a year. We gathered our supplies and went back in the car for a long drive up to the top of Lovcen National Park.

After going along the bend of the narrow road for an hour we came to a monastery high up in the hills. There were hermitage monks living in an old church like ruins. The monks wouldn't let me in unless I covered my shoulders. They gave me a cloak to wear and gave the other four travelers the same. Usually it is just the women who have to be covered. This is something I learned by going to the Vatican in Rome. For some reason all of us had to wear these funny white robes. We didn't stay for very long because there was other sites our guide wanted to show us. The monks appearances with their long unruly beards and dark black cloaks will probably have a lasting impression on me.

We hiked down a dangerous rocky mountainside to see a tiny village of three people. The villagers looks liked something out of National Geographic. There were many farm animals roaming around freely. Two puppies came up to see who we were and play. You could hear the goats along the mountain. While donkeys were roaming wildly outside of their garden of figs and grape vines. The villagers were very humble and didn't seem to mind us walking through their property. These people were pretty much landlocked in their environment. The only way out of the valley was to hike up the mountain and since it was so exhausting I don't think they make that trek that often. They were very self sustained with running water from a lake outside and food from the animals and produce. The villagers knew that the four of us couldn't speak Serbian. We purchased even more cheese from them. The word "Ciao" was exchanged back and forth several times. They treated us like it was a remarkable occurrence for them to see us, but really it was remarkable that we got to see them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Last Day in Belgrade

I really enjoyed my stay in Belgrade. I only have a couple of hours left until my train departs to Monte Negro.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Where to...

My friend Emily who is living in China just confirmed that she wants me to visit! Emily is one of my good friends who I went to school with and greatly admire. In China, she is researching people living with bipolar disorder. She received an unbelievable grant from a philanthropist fellowship to do any research that she chooses as long as it helps to understand or advance humanity.

I found a ticket for only 300 dollars to fly there rather than fly home to Boston on the 6th. STA is truly amazing! Plus, I don't need a visa to fly to Beijing. It would be a wonderful opportunity to see Emily again and Beijing!

I also contacted my friend Claudia. I met her last year while working for Let's Go. She and her friend Nina live in Switzerland. They said it would be alright if I wanted to come for a visit. So I either go West or far East.

First things first. Tomorrow I travel to Monte Negro.
I walked down to the train station in Belgrade and it looks like there are no trains leaving to Dubronik until Friday. I think I am going to try an alternative route. I will travel by train to Monte Negro. Its right on the coast and should be very nice. Then I will go to Bosnia for a day and from there make my way down to Croatia. The train ride tomorrow is seven hours and leaves at 10 in the morning. I probably can only stay in MN for a day since they are on the euro and it is an expensive beach resort town.
Last day with the family. Just got back shopping with a Serbian girl. She was telling me how to find all the great deals. Most of the labels are the same as in the US. The vendors go to China directly were these clothes are made and somehow get better deals for these brand names than if they bought them directly from the company. The prices are marked down 3 times less than what you would find in the US. I don't have that much money or space in my backpack so I am not going to buy too much. The whole idea of buying ripped off clothes isn't appealing either.


Tomorrow I am going to Dubronik, Croatia. I want to see Monte Negro so I might come back. I will be traveling alone from now on. Lots of challenges ahead. Especially when figuring out the different currency for each of these small countries.

I will miss my family. Wish they could come with me, but in a way I prefer to go alone.