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.

 

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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 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.

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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