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.

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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 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 Croatia

The start of my Ultimate Balkan adventure was in the beautiful city of Split Croatia. Officially known as the Republic of Croatia, it is home to 4.28 million people, over 1,000 islands and a rich history of war and conflict. I would not be able to do the country justice if I tried to give a condensed version, but for those interested, I encourage you to do your research. On 25 June 1991 Croatia declared independence, which came wholly into effect on 8 October of the same year. The Croatian War of Independence was fought successfully during the four years following the declaration.

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It was a little known tourist destination until the rise of Game of Thrones, with enthusiasts flocking to Dubrovnik. It has a mostly Mediterranean climate and is the perfect place for a relaxing holiday.  When the heterolifemate and I landed in Split, we knew that the only thing we really wanted to do was lay on a beach and gear up for our trip. It is on the Eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and part of the Dalmatian Coast. We stayed at the Croparadise Hostel, and I cannot say enough good things about this place. It is good value for the money, close to the touristy areas, and the people who work there are really friendly and helpful.

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*photo courtesy of Hostelworld.com

There was a really great rooftop patio that Kelsey and sat on and talked to some super naive 19 year old boys from Buffalo. I had had just enough beer to want to educate these young men in the ways of the world. I ended up helping one write an application essay so he could transfer universities.

We spent the first day wandering the open air fruit market for fresh fruit, tasty bread, meats and cheeses and then went on a hike up the Marjan Forest Park and then wandered to the beach for some much needed sunshine.

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As you can see, I really needed the sunshine. We ate a lot of ice cream, listened to a lot of tourists and wandered around Dicoletian’s Palace. The palace is more like a fortress, and this was the least researched trip I have ever gone on, so I feel like I missed out on a lot of the history of the place (Thank God for Wikipedia).

Diocletian’s Palace (Croatian: Dioklecijanova palača, pronounced [diɔklɛt͡sijǎːnɔʋa pǎlat͡ʃa]) is an ancient palace built for the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town of Split, Croatia. While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the term can be misleading as the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

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*photo courtesy of http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=6807#sthash.ST9ju68a.dpbs

I loved Split. The people were friendly and the city was very easy to get around. We were able to wind through the palace and sample good food and a lot of good ice cream. I would have happily spent a week there just sitting at the beach everyday and taking trips to the islands. I wish that I would have gone to see the synagogue, but hey, that gives me a reason to go back again!

We met the tour group in Split and it also served as the final destination. The first meeting with out Busabout group was not a good one for me in terms of my judgey ways. I’m really glad Kelsey was there because there were a couple of girls that said some really ignorant shit and really got me in the killing mood.

On the upside, I did get to cross two things off my list. Split offered me the chance for a long hike, and when I get to the Greek part of the adventure I will cross learning to dance off the list (there is a video, but I’m trying to decide if I want that out in the world still).

  • Learn how to drive in the UK.
  • Present at an academic conference
  • Start a new tradition
  • Go back to therapy
  • Visit three new countries (Paris, Malta, Hungary)
  • Ride in a hot air balloon
  • Quit the tutoring centre
  • Volunteer for a literacy programme
  • Read a book that has more than 500 pages
  • Make my bed everyday for at least three months
  • Have a solid draft of my thesis completed
  • Master scorpion pose
  • Attend the symphony
  • Learn a rap song from start to finish
  • Host a dinner party
  • Create a  budget so I can pay down my student loans
  • Create something original
  • Create a solid workout regime
  •  Go on a long hike (6 miles or more)
  • Learn to dance
  • Eat an exotic meal
  • Learn to cook a fancy meal
  • Yell at a football match
  • Go horseback riding
  • Master British spelling and punctuation
  • Create a good sleep schedule
  • See my favorite group in concert
  • Fall in love
  • Stop holding grudges
  • Let go of my expectations

 

The Scamp Wanders the Balkans

Zdravo! It has been awhile since I’ve written anything, and part of that is my sheer laziness, and part of it is because I was wandering around the Balkans soaking up Eastern European culture and ignore my responsibility to my PhD, my job, and adulting. The heterolifemate and I booked the trip in November. It was a massive celebration of the end of her Masters, and it was a chance for me to get some serious wanderlusting done. When I booked it it seemed to be ages away, something that was just on the calendar, but so far away that it wasn’t a real thing. As the date got closer, I did my typical Kim thing of getting stressed about the amount of work that I need to do and waited for something bad to happen that would mean I needed to cancel the trip.

Luckily for me, I did not have to cancel the trip. In fact, I spent 17 glorious days in Eastern Europe soaking up sunshine, good food, a tragic history and phenomenal culture. I was even welcomed home with all the wet weather and rain I can handle. I’m on my couch taking a break from my PhD work (which is actually progressing quite nicely) and only feeling a little guilty for letting one of my friends from home wander around Edinburgh on his own.

Now, while I should be spending my words on my theory and literature chapter, I am going to set the scene for my next few posts about the wonders of the Balkans.

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According to the easy to understand Wikipedia blurb:

The abstract term “The Balkans”, unlike the geographical borders of the Peninsula, is defined by the political borders of the states comprising it. The term is used to describe areas beyond the Balkan Peninsula, or inversely[clarification needed] in the case of the part of Italy in the Peninsula, which is always excluded from the Balkans and as a totality is generally accepted as part of Western Europe and the Apennines.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the Balkans are usually said to comprise Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo,[a] the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, while Greece and Turkey are often included (depending on the definition), and its total area is usually given as 666,700 square km (257,400 square miles) and the population as 59,297,000 (est. 2002).[28]

According to an earlier version of the Britannica, the Balkans comprise the territories of the states of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo,[a] the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the European part of Turkey; it notes Turkey as a non-Balkan state and the inclusion of Slovenia and the Transylvanian part of Romania in the region as dubious.[29]

The Balkans are bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala 2,925 metres (9,596 ft) in the Rila mountain range.

Before this trip I had very little knowledge of the area. To be honest, other than Croatia and Greece, many of the countries in the Balkans were not on my travel radar. I’m ashamed to admit that I thought Macedonia was a part of Greece (and that is not entirely wrong, at least when using the term Macedonia, but I’ll get to that later.) and that Kosovo was actually a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I remember learning about Yugoslavia when I was in school, and knew that it was no more, but I did not remember much beyond that. What I learned from this trip was that this region has seen its fair share of war, strife, and has an unrelenting sense of national pride and perseverance.

My trip looked like this:

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and included some of the following highlights:

  • Gorge on great Greek grub in Thessaloniki
  • Climb to St John’s Fortress for a vista of Kotor
  • Scale the city walls of Dubrovnik – ‘Game of Thrones’
  • Climb to St John’s Fortress for a vista of Kotor
  • Discover the ‘off the beaten track’ feeling of Albania
  • Visit UNESCO-listed town of Gjirokastra
  • Marvel at Meteora’s stunning cliff top monasteries
  • Visit Thermopylae, where the Spartans battled the Persians
  • The stunning Acropolis
  • Enjoy the buzz of Belgrade on a night out
  • Sarajevo walk and tunnel tour
  • Grab a photo at Mostar’s famous bridge on a locally-guided walking tour

Now that I have set the stage for my trip, for the next week I will feature one of the 7 seven countries that I had the pleasure of visiting and all of the highlights and lowlights of a fascinating part of the world. I’ll try to include some history of each country, the food and drinks I sampled, the people I met, and how many times a day I had to remind myself to have vacation Zen and not kill one of the 33 people travelling with me.

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