The Scamp in Bosnia

…and now for the final post of my epic adventure. This also happens to be one of the highlights of the trip for me. The surprise favourite. A friend of mine told me that Sarajevo was perhaps the most beautiful capital city that he had ever been to, and he’s been to a lot of capital cities, so I was both curious and excited to see what surprises the city had in store for me.

Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I had no idea what to expect when I got to Sarajevo, but the beautiful fusion of East and West in the ‘plains around the palace’ offered me a regular feast for my eyes. We  got into Bosnia a bit late in the evening, so after checking into a lovely hotel, we went to perhaps one of the best houses in the city for dinner.

The Spite House has a very interesting story. According to Atlas Obscura:

An elderly Bosnian fellow named Benderija refused to agree to the destruction of his house, even after being offered more money than the property was worth. Without the land under his house, there would be no way for the city hall to be built at the desired location, right next to the River Miljacka. Lengthy negotiations ensued between the old man and the city (with even the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Finances getting involved) until finally, in 1895, he agreed to sell his property for the extravagant price of a sackful of gold ducats, but only under one condition: the authorities would have to move his Ottoman-era house, brick by brick, and rebuild it on the other side of the river.

Benderija got his way; in the popular account of the story, the old man spent every day of the move sitting in the middle of a nearby bridge, smoking cigarettes and carefully watching the workers transport each brick across the river. When the house was finally rebuilt, it was aptly named Inat Kuća, or the House of Spite. 

Today, this proud symbol of Bosnian stubbornness serves a more practical purpose: it was converted into a Bosnian restaurant in 1997.

The government got the last laugh though because while the man’s favorite spot used to face the river, it now faced a mountain.

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We were treated to a tour of the city by a local guide of about my age. He was full of the typical stories, and showed us the site where the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand happened. It was an odd bit of history to walk over, and the unfortunately for Sarajevo, it was not the last of the struggles that happened there.

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It was interesting to see the influences of the West on side of the city, and the East on the other. There are markets that look much like I imagine the markets of Istanbul to look, and they sell Turkish coffee, Turkish delights (which are not a delight), and beautiful weavings, jewelery and tourist fluff. There are traditional bars and fancy brand name shops there as well.

We were able to take a trip outside the city to see the Sarajevo War Tunnel. Before this trip, I was pretty ignorant to the history of Bosnia, but I was aware of the war that plagued them in the early 90s. I remember seeing news reports of fighting, and hearing that bad things were happening, but I was little and did not really understand what it meant, or who was actually in the wrong. The Tunnel of Hope is just one of the examples of resistance.

According to Wikipedia (I know, I hate that site too, but it is the best place for quick summaries to help paint a clear picture to a complicated story):

The Sarajevo Tunnel (BosnianCroatian and Serbian: Sarajevski tunel / Сарајевски тунел), also known as Tunel spasa (Тунел спаса, English: Tunnel of rescue) and Tunnel of Hope, was an underground tunnel constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. It was built by the Bosnian Army in order to link the city of Sarajevo, which was entirely cut off by Serbian forces, with Bosnian-held territory on the other side of the Sarajevo Airport, an area controlled by the United Nations. The tunnel linked the Sarajevo neighbourhoods of Dobrinja and Butmir, allowing food, war supplies, and humanitarian aid to come into the city, and allowing people to get out. The tunnel became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo and providing the city defenders with weaponry. 

We got to go through a small part of the tunnel, and the house that hides it (and well, a lot of buildings in the city) or still covered in bullet holes.

In fact, bullet holes, and bullet shell are quite the popular tourist attraction. Many of the trinkets that tourists can buy are made with spent casings. I found this to be really dark, and somewhat distasteful, but plenty of people seem to think it is a good idea. We had some time to wander after the tour, and while I would have liked to hike to the old bobsled track, I instead went in search of Jewish people. I dragged the Golden Girls to an old temple and got to see the Jewish people of the city lived, and how many of them were protected by the Muslims in WWII. It was rare on this trip to be able to see this little bit of culture, but I am glad that the girls indulged me and let me have a wander in the sacred space.

The Golden Girls and I completed our day climbing the fortress and looking out over the city. We were hot and sweaty, but it the views were lovely.

One of the hidden gems of the city was the bar that is  decorated like a granny’s house. It is called Zlanta Ribica. I’d go back there are put on a funny hat and some big sunglasses and drink cocktails until the day is done.

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We left Bosnia to head to Mostrar, one of the most important cities in Herzegovina. I do not remember most of what we were told about the city, but the famous old bridge. It was built in the 16th century and is said to be one of the best examples of Islamic architecture. It has become famous with the tourists because the men of Mostrar jump off the 25 meter bridge to transition to manhood. It looks crazy, and scary, and one of our very own did it while we were there. It has been completed almost 500 times, and I get to say that I know someone who has done it and survived.

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The end of the guided tour took us back to Split, and I spent the last day of holiday laying on the beach and wishing that I had 17 more days of warm weather. This trip was truly one of the most fun adventures that I have ever had, and although I did complain about some of the people, it would not have been the same  without the people I was with. I have a sincere hope that I will get to meet some of these people again, whether in my home or in theres.

 

The Scamp in Serbia

I can’t believe that I haven’t finished updating my travels. I have been out of my routine and feeling a bit out of sorts with all of the rain. I was so tired when I wrote about Macedonia that I completely forgot that while I was there I saw where Mother Teresa was born. She was born in the capital city, but eventually made her way to India. I stood on the spot where her childhood home used to be, and we saw the memorial house that has now been constructed in her honor.

Figures that I would be too tired to remember something that important.

From Macedonia we headed to Nis, Serbia. I’m not sure what I expected from Serbia, but Nis was something else. We only stopped for lunch, but I spent that time in a beautiful fortress.

We then moved on to the city of Belgrade. A lot of my friends have been here, and told me how much they loved it. We went on a walking tour with a very very enthusiastic tour guide who gave us the bare bones history as he lived it for his entire 26 (He might have been older, but that is the age in my mind for some reason) years. We walked through the fortress and saw an amazing sunset over the Danube, and the Knez Mihailova, a popular shopping street in the area. We spent the first day having dinner as a group, and it was an unorganized mess. Things got worse when we then went for a ‘pub crawl’ that started an hour late. After being dragged from a nice bar to two places that weren’t open, I made my way back to the hotel with the super cool married couple and let Kelsey have all the fun for me.

She was feeling a bit under the weather the next day so I wandered around the city with some of the people from the tour and ended up having the most amazing burrito. Burrito Madre was everything I didn’t know I ever wanted. By this point in the journey I was tired of only having meat options for dinners, or soggy veg, wilted salads and the like. I was ready to be in clean clothes, sleep in my own bed, or at least have a beach near by. This burrito was heaven. The fresh squeezed strawberry juice was heaven. The churros and chat with Kelsey when she was ready to eat was heaven.

Kelsey and I wandered around a bit once she had the burrito and we had rolled ice cream for dinner. It was nice to be out in the sunshine and walk through the streets looking at the street art. I always thought that Lisbon had the best street art, but Belgrade might take the cake. I even found a book of street art in Belgrade with stories behind some of the more popular art. It was a one of my best purchases of the trip.

Until I got to Bosnia that is.

Belgrade was the most westernized of the all the cities that we visited on this trip, and while that is not necessarily a good or bad thing, I also found this to be one of the easiest cities to navigate without the need for GPS. It also felt really safe, with (mostly) friendly people and a lot of deep rooted history.

I am almost halfway through July and I still do not have any of the things on my list and without an office, I am finding it hard to stay motivated. Tomorrow is another day.

The Scamp in Macedonia

It is with a heavy heart that I write about the passing of my granddad Verle. He wasn’t really my granddad, but just the same, he is someone who deserves to be acknowledged.

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Verle was a spunky one. All of his WWII stories had a happy ending. He met a general….then slept with the general’s daughter. He was in Egypt meeting a prince….the princess slept with him. My mom always wanted him to come to her classroom to talk to her students, but knew she couldn’t because none of his stories were safe for work. He refused to go to the events at the senior centre because he said all the people there were too old. When my dad was having a hard time with the death of my step-brother, Verle told him to bring the ashes to his house so Eric would have a good view of the lake and could be at peace. He had a taste for Scottish vodka, and he was always humming and whistling. He was a great father, brother, granddad, and great granddad, veteran and friend. The world is going to be a little duller without him in it.

For the last five years or so, my dad has been the only person looking after him. My dad went to all the doc appointments, made sure that the cabin was always clean and in good working order, and all but killed himself as a caretaker. He was with my granddad when he died, and told him that it is was okay to go, and to stay out of trouble. I’m really sad that I was not there to see him one more time, but I am really hoping now that this means my dad can work on healing and taking care of himself for a bit.

It makes me wish I could go back to California.

It also makes me think about Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Verle would have liked it there. It was one of the places we were shortchanged on seeing, but I have a feeling I will be going back there to try and get some writing done before I hand in my thesis.

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Macedonia is a beautiful place. I realized how dumb I was when the trip started and I thought Macedonia was a part of Greece. It is a city in Greece, but it there is also a country (and a very contentious legal battle for the use of the name). I could have stayed by the lake for a week. Unfortunately we got half an evening there.

We then went to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. This is one of the most unique places I have ever been. It’s like Disneyland for adults (or at least, that is what Busabout says). There are more statures in the city than people.  Every time you turn around you see another statue.

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I feel really bad, but to be honest, I cannot really say a whole lot about Macedonia because I do not think I really got to spend enough time there. I would like to go back and really spend some time there, and I would tell people to go there, but this one was a bit of a blur in the trip for me.

The Scamp in Greece

I’m now at the halfway point in my journey. Greece was the only one of the countries that we visited that I knew of as a really popular tourist destination. It was the one that I knew the most about, and other than Croatia, it was the only one that had actually been on my travel radar.

We spent a lot of time in Greece, and it did not disappoint. The first stop we made was to the town of Kalabaka. The draw here was Meteroa (which translates to middle of the sky), the giant rock formations that house some intense Eastern Orthodox Monasteries. The views were beautiful, and it was very interesting bit of history. Women had to be in dresses and have their shoulders covered, and I even saw the skulls of the monks who had lived there before. The people who live there have some crazy net and pulley systems to lift supplies from the bottom of the rocks to the tops where the actual buildings are now. The monasteries were built by hermit monks in sometime in the 11th century, although the exact dates are unknown. One of the monasteries was used in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only.

There was some blatant sexism going on at the monasteries, so much so that it almost ruined my time there. I do not mind dressing respectfully (having my shoulders covered, not wearing shorts), but one inside being made to feel uncomfortable to the point of actually having to leave a church was not really my cup of tea. Luckily the views made up for some of that feeling.

The monastery trip was also my first encounter with a drop toilet. I know, I know. I’ve lived a pampered life. I’ve heard horror stories from friends of mine who have traveled through Asia, and because the bus did not have a toilet on it, I got in the habit of using the toilet before we left anywhere just to be safe. Peeing in a drop toilet when you are a girl is trip and a half. Add to that that I was in a pencil skirt and had to worry about the lack of real door on the stall, I am proud to say that I survived and did not embarrass myself.

 

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The second place we stopped was Thermopyle, which was made famous  by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in August or September 480 BC (think the movie 300 for a really really rough idea of what happened there). There is no longer a coastline there, but there is a statue dedicated to Leonidas.

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From there we made our way to Athens. According to Visit Greece:

Athens is the historical capital of Europe, with a long history, dating from the first settlement in the Neolithic age. In the 5th Century BC (the “Golden Age of Pericles”) – the culmination of Athens’ long, fascinating history – the city’s values and civilization acquired a universal significance. Over the years, a multitude of conquerors occupied Athens, and erected unique, splendid monuments – a rare historical palimpsest. In 1834, it became the capital of the modern Greek state and in two centuries since it has become an attractive modern metropolis with unrivalled charm.

A large part of the town’s historic centre has been converted into a 3-kilometre pedestrian zone (the largest in Europe), leading to the major archaeological sites (“archaeological park”), reconstructing – to a large degree – the ancient landscape (http://www.visitgreece.gr/en/main_cities/athens)

We stayed in a hostel situated in a funky little neighborhood. The rooftop bar boasted an amazing view of the Acropolis. By the time we reached this spot, I had made friends with a few of the people in the group, and one couple loved playing games, so I broke out Sushi Go!, a game that I first saw on TableTop.

We played several rounds of the game, had some beers and enjoyed the evening. We then had a full day to ourselves and a map of the pedestrian zone with all of the top sites marked for us. A merry band of 6 decided to do as much as we could on the master pass of Athens.

Turns out, if you are a student with a valid ID, all of the sites are free to visit. I saved thirty Euro, but even then, I thought the price was worth it. We started at the Acropolis. There were a lot of people there winding through the entrance, but once we made it in, it was much easier to move around.

It was incredible.

I was a little sad to discover that my university WiFi worked up there. All of the people on the internet and editing selfies to post on social media seemed to be really missing out on the history and the amazing sites. A lot of them didn’t even bother to read the signs of what they were looking at!

We then continued our trip to Hadrian’s Library. It was founded by the emperor in 132 AD. Now it is in ruins, but you know me, I love a good library. When my mom and brother came to Scotland to visit me a couple of years ago, we went to Hadrian’s Wall in England, so I thought it was only fitting to see some work that he did where he lived. We had some gyros and enjoyed some amazing fresh squeezed juice before continuing on to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

From there we walked to the Olympic stadium. I had just seen it on a TV show, so getting to walk around the track was a fun thing to check off my bucket list.

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My mother tells me that this is the photo of the trip. I def over committed to this shot. The landing was really hard on my feet.

I ended the tour with a little trip to the tattoo shop. I had thought about getting a tattoo while I was on holiday, but didn’t think I’d have the time. When I passed the shop though, I knew I was in the right place. The tattoo artist made jokes that I was clearly looking for them, and that he saw a lot of open canvas to work with. He then looked at all of my tattoos and decided that I had a really unique collection that matched my really unique soul. He didn’t know it, but that was the nicest thing that anyone could say to me. The shop even took a photo with PRC (you can see them here https://www.facebook.com/piraterubberchicken4/) and even showed me their pirate tattoos to match. I left the shop with a paper airplane to match my world map and an intense like for the tattoo artists of Athens.

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I ended up getting roped into a group dinner at a cheesy tourist restaurant, and because I was sitting in the danger zone, I ended up dancing with a Greek dude. He then tossed me over his shoulder and spun me around. Luckily I was able to cover my butt so I didn’t flash the masses my underwear (or maybe it was just a good thing I was wearing it!). I hate forced cultural immersion and will just keep the video of my dance efforts to myself.

Next on the list was a visit to Delphi to see the oracle and see the great Temple of Apollo. They have an amazing museum, but what I will remember most about this stop was the amazing tour guide. She was full of great stories, but felt that it was her responsibility to talk to us about the balance between tourism and being able to see the history and preservation.  She wanted us to think about what we were seeing and at what cost. She also wanted us to make up our own mind about what were seeing, and what we believed in terms of the myths and legends surrounding the place. She was so full of enthusiasm and love for her job that even though I remember very little of the history she gave us, I will do some more reading about the place.

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Our last stop in Greece was to a town called Thessaloniki. It is the second largest city in Greece, and the capital of Greek Macedonia. Apparently it is a nice place.

For me, it is a hellhole.

We hit a lot of traffic and got to the town late at night. The bus had some trouble navigating the streets because people double parked and generally didn’t care, and the hotel that we stayed at was cot beds in small offices (or at least, that is how it seemed to me). I don’t remember anything that I saw in the town, and I am not that upset about it. I was a bit of a grump in that overnight spot.

I loved my little wander through Greece and can’t wait to go back and visit the islands and swim in the warm clear water.

 

 

The Scamp in Albania

Those are words I honestly thought I would never say, write, or be able to explain to people. I always thought of Albania has the setting for crazy horror movies, or a place that was so buried under a communist wall that people couldn’t get in, or out.  If Anthony Bourdain was to visit, he’d call it a snapshot of a time people would like to forget, and add that the leftover communist charm in a part of the world that is just waiting to be discovered.

We spent two days in Albania. The first night was in the capital city of Tirana. According to Lonely Planet:

Lively, colourful Tirana is the beating heart of Albania, where this tiny nation’s hopes and dreams coalesce into a vibrant whirl of traffic, brash consumerism and unfettered fun. Having undergone a transformation of extraordinary proportions since awaking from its communist slumber in the early 1990s, Tirana’s centre is now unrecognisable, with buildings painted in primary colours, and public squares and pedestrianised streets that are a pleasure to wander.

I wish I could say that I had the same warm and fuzzy feeling for Tirana. The first thing I noticed was the traffic. People have only been driving since about 1990 or so, and let me tell you, it shows. There is no semblance of order, people do what they want, and the streets are clearly made for carriages, not cars.

The hotel we stayed at had photos on the wall of people they claimed are of Albanian descent, and let me tell you, all of the options were highly unlikely (I’m not sure that I believe that the Belushi brothers are Albanian, but I could be wrong). For a hotel in country that is not really known as a tourist destination, it was clean and comfy. A few of us girls went to exchange money, and the first thing that I noticed was that every man in three mile radius came out and felt free to leer at us.

and by us, I mean me. Tattoos are not a big thing on women, and neither is wearing a tank top or a skirt that shows some calves. It was creepy. I felt like I was on display. Men made no secret of starring, even getting up and moving closer to us, and women often did a double take. It was not a good day to be a tattooed California girl.

IMG_1835IMG_1839IMG_1854  We saw the world’s ugliest building, some signs of Communism, and the Mosque of Ethem Bey that first opened in 1823. The cheeky little dog in the photo took a shine to our group and did most of the walking tour with us (something that would become a regular thing as we did more and more walking tours). I really wanted that dog. I named him Zog after a king of Albania. This dog hated men. It is why I needed him.

After the walking tour the guide took a few of us to Dajti Ekspres. Located just outside the city, the Austrian built cable car goes to the top of Dajti Mountain on the longest cableway in the Balkans. I rode a public bus to get there….well, more like tried not to have a panic attack inside a sardine can on wheels. There were probably 60 people crammed into the bus. At one point a little old woman held on to my arm because there was nowhere else for her to hold. It was hot, it smelled funky fresh, and I was pushed up against strangers….it was not a good time. The cable car was great fun though.

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We then went on the most sketchy cab ride of our lives (don’t worry mom, I’m clearly okay) and Kels and I got to have dinner with the coolest couple of the tour group. She was basically me in Australian form and he loved Sushi Go, a game I just so happened to bring on the trip with me. Tirana did have a really great bar that looked like a backyard though, and they made a killer mojito.

The second stop on our Albanian adventure was the town of Gjirokastra. According to Lonely Planet:

Defined by its castle, roads paved with chunky limestone and shale, imposing slate-roofed houses and views out to the Drina Valley, Gjirokastra is a magical hillside town described beautifully by Albania‘s most famous author, Ismail Kadare (b 1936), in Chronicle in Stone. There has been a settlement here for 2500 years, though these days it’s the 600 ‘monumental’ Ottoman-era houses in town that attract visitors. The town is also synonymous for Albanians with former dictator Enver Hoxha, who was born here and ensured the town was relatively well preserved under his rule; though he is not memorialised in any way here today.

This was more of what I had in mind when I was thinking of Albania. There was an old world charm to it, and it seemed more friendly and welcoming then the capital. We ate Byrek, which is a tasty pita dish with cheese, veggies and meat, and enjoyed some really tasty Fanta that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

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People still stared at me here, but it was less creepy. Of all the places that we visited on this trip, this was the one place that I felt unsafe. I made sure I didn’t go anywhere alone, and for the most part tried to keep a low profile and nothing bad happened to me, but it is not really a place I am eager to return to.

In a strange way, I really like that about Albania. This country pushed me way out of my comfort zone, and allowed me to experience things I’ve never really had to face before. I’m lucky that I came out of it unscathed, and it definitely gave me a better appreciation for how lucky I am in Scotland. I’m also glad that I got to see Albania before it becomes westernized and just another tourist destination.

The Scamp in Montenegro

Greetings from Kotor!

I wish. I have been stress eating my way through the week so far (and it is only Wednesday) and miss the warm sunshine of Montenegro eating ice cream and trying to find one of the many cats that have taken up residence in the old town. According to the Visit Montenegro website:

Located along one of Wold’s most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell.

The Old City of Kotor is a well preserved urbanization typical of the middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor a UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site”.

Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. One of these squares contains the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Sveti Tripun), a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognisable symbols of the city.

The old town was amazing. Smooth stones, beautiful mountain views, and the windy streets with little treasures everywhere made the first couple of days getting used to the tour group manageable.

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What I really liked about Kotor was how peaceful it was. We stayed in a funky hostel that was completely impractical for people who had more than a backpack. We went up some steep stairs to get to the rooms and then ended up going up three more flights to get to an 8 person room. I was really lucky and the people that I ended up sharing a room with were amazing. They were okay with my grandma like curmudgeon ways, and were not the type that wanted to get drunk and sleep their way through this trip.

*photos of the hostel courtesy of bookings.com

While in Montenegro we also went to the town of Budva. I’m not sure I could tell you much about being there though. I had crazy bad heartburn thanks to my anti depressant, so I spent most of our time there trying to find a chemist and some antacids. The lifemate and I were finally able to find a place, and although the chemist spoke no English, rubbing my throat and stomach and led her to saying stomach burn and giving me some pills that made me feel better pretty quickly. I still have no idea what I took, but I’m still alive, so I would say that whatever she gave me worked.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but I loved the historic feel of the place. What I noticed about Montenegro, besides how beautiful it was, was how friendly the people were. The chemist spoke no English, but did her best to help me, waiters and bar tenders were patient and kind, and the people at the hostel put together breakfast, dinner, and their version of a pub crawl (I passed on that, so I have no idea how it was). I would like to go back there one day and spend a little more time relaxing there and visit their national treasure, the cat museum.

I can get behind any place that worships cats.

This was stop number 1 on the trip, and after two days in Montenegro, it was time to make the long long long drive to Tirana, Albania.

 

 

The Scamp in Croatia

I seemed to have brought the rain with me to Scotland. Or, more, Scotland knows that I am sad to be back in work mode.

Well, work mode with a touch of a friend visiting from California. I feel bad that he came and spent a lot of time on his own. I wish that I had been in more of a position to hang out, but the work just had to be done. We did make it up Arthur’s Seat and we managed to bring oh missing pal with us.

18922473_745252497915_3927337127228945187_o And now it is back to the tales of my time in the Balkans.

We left Split and went to the town of Dubrovnik. Many people will recognise the backdrop that it provides as the setting for Game of Thrones. I’ve seen the show maybe once, and have been to another landmark used in the show (it now no longer exists, but it was in Malta). The lifemate and I had some pretty strong feelings about the people in the tour group based on first impressions, so we decided that we would wander the city a bit and then eat lunch. In our wanders we found an exhibit dedicated to some rare Salvador Dali works.

That was better than Game of Thrones any day. It was also the only art museum/gallery, super cultural thing that I did during the trip…which is a shame. I really did enjoy the Dali work, and even bought a crazy melting clock to bring home with me. While many people were excited to be  on a movie set, I was excited for the artwork, and for the funky cocktail bar we found that had an amazing vine covered patio and bathtubs that had been turned into lounge chairs. The smoothie was quite tasty.

This part of the trip was the start of us getting to know the people that we were in a group with. My first impression of some of them was not entirely favourable. A lot of the people that we were with were super young, and we all know that I have a low tolerance for most people. The one saving grace from the drive to Kotor was the killer playlist on the bus and the two seasons of My Dad Wrote and Porno to get through. Rocky Flinstone made the drive so much more entertaining.

We had an interesting pit stop that forced us to cross from Croatia into Bosnia, or into the little bit of coastline that they have before going through second crossing into Montengro. At the Bosnian rest stop I had my very first Jaffa cake. It was good, although I’m not sure if it was good because I was hungry and happy to be off the bus for a second, or if it was really that good.

The boarder crossing for these stops was easy and painless, and I was able to get three new stamps in the passport.