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 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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The Scamp in Budapest: Day 1

So here’s the thing about me: I am a gypsy soul. I am the most alive when I am traveling. I’d rather collect stamps in my passport than do most anything else. When I am in the dark and twisty I like to plan trips, and sometimes I actually spend the money and go on these trips. I went to Malta in August, Paris in November, I’m currently in Budapest. This summer I will trek through the Balkans with my hetero life-mate. I love Scotland. It’s my home. It will always be my home, but man oh man do I get itchy and need to see other parts of the world…and run away from my problems. I have a paper that needs to go through some major revisions. I am still a bit upset about my relationship busting up in a spectacular fashion. I’m in the middle of a health mystery. I have a draft chapter due at the end of the month and because I don’t have the balls to tell my supervisors that I feel really disrespected in the office, I haven’t been going in to work.

But, it is almost Christmas so I am sitting in a lovely hotel in the centre of the Jewish Quarter and enjoying being in a place that is both a city and country (didn’t know that until today). I booked this trip months ago because I could not face the idea of being at home alone on Christmas. If I couldn’t be in California, I did not want to be in my flat where I spend way too much time alone. I have internet, gps on my phone and a thirst for adventure, so I think the next five days will be just what I need to recharge. I promised my mother I would be in by sundown, so I can get plenty of work done in the afternoon.

I got here early in the afternoon so I started my trip with a jaunt to the Basilica of St Stephen and the Christmas market set up in front of it. The Basilica is beautiful in a dark and gloomy sort of way. It is named for the first king of Hungary. Fun fact: the ‘incorruptible’ right hand of King Stephen is on display in the Church for all to see. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but the people here see it as a rare and wonderful gift. It was stolen during the second world war, but they were able to get it back.

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After the Basilica, I decided to take a stroll along the Danube to the monument dedicated to the Hungarian Jews that were stripped, shot, and dumped into the river. The memorial is 60 pairs of vintage shoes sort of scattered along the bank. The shoes are all sizes and styles to show that there was not just one type of person affect by the war.

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It made me sad to see people posing with the shoes and taking selfies, but I have to say, it is really nice to be in a country with such a large Jewish population. There are memorials all around the city and many temples to visit. I have a whole day in the Jewish Quarter planned.

I wandered around the outside of the Parliament, and sorta wish I had gone inside. I was tired and cold and ended up walking back toward my hotel in search of a hot meal and a comfy chair. I have to say though, this city is really easy to get around, very pedestrian friendly, and so far has been very welcoming and lovely. I’m looking forward to what the next few days has to offer. I’m here on my own, but so far today I have not felt the least bit lonely. Only once did I wish someone was with my in Liberty Square so I could take a goofy picture with the Ronald Reagan statue.

 

The Scamp Scales the Monument

I’m still having visa issues, and still not settled in Scotland, so I decided that today I would be a little bit of a tourist and visit some of my favorite places in Scotland. One of the things that I always wanted to do was climb to the top of the Sir Walter Scott Monument.

According to the Scott Monument website:

Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh on the 15th August 1771, in a tenement flat at the head of College Wynd in the Old Town. He was the ninth of twelve children, of whom the first six died in infancy. His father was a ‘Writer to the Signet’ (solicitor) and a sober and strict Calvinist. His mother Anne Rutherford was the daughter of a professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University. Both parents were from old Borders families, whose histories inspired Scott’s later literary work.

He developed polio as an infant, and was sent to his grandparents’ farm at Sandyknowe in the Borders to recuperate. The farm is situated beside Smailholm Tower, an inspiring medieval fortified house on a dramatic rocky knoll. Various remedies were attempted to cure his infirmity, including a year in Bath ‘taking the waters’ to no avail – he had a limp and periods of illness throughout the rest of his life.

In 1779 he went to the Royal High School of Edinburgh and became a good Latin scholar. He retained an interest in languages and taught himself Italian, Spanish and French while at University from 1783, and later translated ballad’s and play’s of Burger and Goethe from German. He studied law and was called to the Bar as an Advocate (Barrister) in 1792.

From his early days Walter Scott was popular and at ease in society. He met Robert Burns ‘the boast of Scotland’ when he was fifteen years old, and later became friends with many famous people.

He was highly regarded by fellow poets James Hogg and William Wordsworth, and artists like William Allan and Henry Raeburn painted portraits of him. Scott met the Duke of Wellington in France while researching ‘Life of Napoleon’, which Goethe praised highly, and he was also respected and equally friendly with his servants, such as Tom Purdie.

The monument was built in 1840, stands 200 feet 6 inches high, and with no lift, takes 287 steps to get to the top. It was quite crowded today, but I decided that I could use some good views of the city, so I made the trek to the top.

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Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the top, there were so many people on the platform that I was too afraid to take my camera out and take pictures. I was also too afraid to take chicken out as well. I’m really glad I climbed all the way up though because the views reminded me of why I love the city so much, and why I packed up my life in California to come here. I know all of the visa work will settle itself, but it has been a constant stress, and a jumble of incorrect information.

I’m glad the weather held, and since the next month is going to be spent writing research questions, drafting ethics proposals, and getting my calendar set for my research, I may not get to see the outside again for awhile. After the conference in Birmingham, I have a lot of notes and info to sort through, and a lot connections to make. I surprised myself b how social I was, and how many really important connections that I made. There may just be a future for me in the field of Assessment Development.

The Scamp and a Visit from Estonia

I have been really lazy the last few weeks. I survived summer school and the qualifying exam, and settled in for a couple weeks of doing nothing that related to education.

To start my celebrations, one of my best friends from Scotland came to visit me. She is currently living and working in Estonia, but was in the US visiting her mom, and I was able to get a few days with her. I hadn’t physically seen her in over a year, but picking her up at the airport was like no time had passed at all. It was a good chance to catch up, plan my trip to visit her in November, and be around someone who reminds me of Scotland.

I asked her what she wanted to do before she got here, but she just kept telling me it was up to me. I got to be a tourist for a few days, which worked out well for me because it reminded me that being here is not so bad.

We started the visit with a trip to LA to see some van Gogh and Kandinsky. I love art, and she wanted to be in LA, so it worked out well. After we hung out with some art, we went to the Union Square Market to try the best iced lattte in the world. It was good, but the authentic Mexican food was better.

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van Gogh at his finist

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I love PopArt

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I got up close and personal with a Warhol. I can die happy.

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This Kandinsky would look amazing on my wall

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Vegan strawberry muffin of awesomeness and a fizzy ginger hopps tea.

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The next day we hit the Huntington Beach to soak up some sun and eat some more tasty Mexican food. We met a nice group of baseball players from Oklahoma, and had avoided sunburns.

 

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I got Sus to kiss Duke. He seemed to enjoy it.

The last day of our visit was spent at Disneyland. She hadn’t been since she was 8, and it was a nice chance for her to get to meet my sister. While we were waiting for the tram, we met a nice father/son combo from Glasgow, and I got 15 minutes of wonderful accents.

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The visit was way too quick, but it will hold me over until I get to Europe in November. I had so much fun with her, and was so glad that my first bit of time off in two years was spent being a tourist with her.