After almost a full twenty-four hours of traveling and/or sitting in various European airports, I arrived safely yesterday evening to a city in full summer glory. The lilacs are blooming, the bicycler's are out and the neighborhood has come alive. It's not exactly sipping cappucino's and wandering cobblestone streets, but it's the more familiar, more comforting US version. I am home.
Upon reflection, it's tough for me to label the last week as a straight-up "vacation". I will never again underestimate traveling in a former war-torn country. That's not to say that I took it lightly before going, but Bosnia and it's history is so complex, it's easy to get in over your head quite quickly. Even "normal" conversations rapidly turn political, and there is still a seething unrest over the Dayton Accords which leads to mixed reviews of Americans, who lead the talks.
That said, this trip was a rounding success. I believe that travel is not necessarily about escaping, it is about discovery as well. Good travel challenges your world views, educates and leads to self-reflection and rumination. While not always relaxing, and usually conflictingly uncomfortable, I am definitely a more well-rounded individual for having made the effort in the first place.
Once a year, each European country sends a song to compete in that Euro-awesome tradition known as "EuroSong". You in America may remember this from a few years back when this band from Finland won with "Hard Rock Hallelujah". Big news in the US, mostly because they looked like the undead version of Battlefield Earth cast-members.
Anyway, last night Emira and I watched the first semi-finals, which included Bosnia's song "Attempt". The English version can be found here, although Emira cautions that the Bosnian version is much better. Plus, the performer usually has chickens on stage....
For me, the best song of the night either had to be the turkey puppet from Ireland, OR Estonia's dudes dressed in the Estonian flag with women flopping all around them. No wait, Azerbaijan had people dressed as devils and angels flying about - THAT had to be the best.
Mostly this just justifies to me that television is crap everywhere. I will no longer feel ashamed of "The Biggest Loser" or "So You Think You Can Dance?" because really, television is universally stupid.
Last night, Emira, her friend Bronwyn and I, went out on the town. As we exited the first bar, walking down the street there was sudden "POP!" behind us. Emira turned, and I wheeled around to see two youths about ten feet away smash the driver's side of a car window and jump in.
My first thought – they’re stealing a car in broad daylight. My second thought – perhaps they have weapons. My third – perhaps they don’t want witnesses. My fourth – let’s run.
We ran about twenty feet, and stopped in a doorway, wondering what to do next. I didn’t see what the thugs did next, but Bronwyn said she saw the whole thing. They reached into the car, hopped out, crossed the street and walked blithely away, with their hoodies up, blending into the crowd. That’s why she started running, so we wouldn’t be keeping the same pace. We debated and debated on what to do.
Myself, it has been drilled into me to keep a low profile. Never ever ever mess with the cops in a foreign country. Not good idea. But neither did I just want to act like nothing had happened. Emira asked a neighbor who popped his head out of a window right above our heads if we should call the cops. The neighbor took a drag from his cigarette and cynically said, “Why bother? They’re not going to do anything.”
Huh. We ended up just leaving. Knowing it was not really a violent crime helped soothe our guilty minds, but it was still unsettling. Emira and Bronwyn filled me on the recent spate of youth crimes, including one where a group of boys killed another youth on a crowded public tram at 7pm – stabbed repeatedly.
This morning I got up and googled “youth crime, Bosnia” and this story popped up. Turns out, there’s not really anything Bosnian authorities can do to anyone under 18 as there’s no juvenile system in place. It’s strange to think that there is this horrible violence going on and no one – including us – does anything about it.
The more and more I travel the more I realize that we are all just inches away from mass chaos, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Bosnia or the US. A few special ingredients: disregard for rule of law, polarizing politics and a cowed public is really all it takes. And while I’d like to think I’d be part of the counter-revolution, I’m schooled by experiences like last night, when it’s far better to melt slowly into the crowd, than risk retribution by feral youths or the scrutiny of an inept police investigation.
Emira and I arrived back in Sarajevo no worse for wear about an hour ago. Since the bus station is in the middle of the city, I got a better look at the main part of town on our way in, and it was interesting to compare to the one we'd just seen.
On the way down, Emira and I talked alot about the ravages that war placed on the town, and it's easy to see. There are many many buildings with large chunks (and small bullet holes) pock-marking the facade. There are even apartment complexes with perfect circles where grenade launchers hit them. I was surprised that these buildings were still standing - as I guess I'd always thought that buildings that had been hit with anything larger than a bullet would immediately collapse. Indeed, I stand corrected now, as most buildings are still in tact, they just look heavily acne-scarred. You can guess it does not make for such an awe inspiring landscape.
Dubrovnik, of course, sees more tourists and, as I understand it, was not heavily seiged by the Serbs. While our guidebook claimed six months, Emira hotly denies this, stating that it was only TWO weeks and that fourteen people lost their lives. It's hard to get an objective view on things (although I'm of course, predisposed to believe Emira) but a nice outline can be found here.
Because the Old Town in Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site , the damage was fixed rather quickly, unlike Sarajevo, which has seen only a slow rebuilding. Don't get me wrong, there IS construction going on - and there are certainly a whole lot more going for it than I expected (drinkable tap water, excellent bus system, a WHOLE lot of Volkswagons...) - but there is still a decidedly run-down feel to the place. And sometimes, the war legacy literally smacks you right in the face, like when you stumble on the sidewalk over "mortar shell roses" (divets left in the sidewalk) or, as I did, came face to face with a tank outside Tito's Bar. (Although, to be fair this tank was from WWII.)
Anyway, interesting stuff going on. And yes, if you didn't know, there was a war here - but there isn't anymore.
This morning, Emira and I awoke to a beautiful morning, with the sun shining over the Old City and our rented room. We meant to get up earlier - but seeing as this is also my vacation, managed to sleep in until 8:30. I made coffee from the tiny machine our landlady set outside the door, along with home-made apple strudels.
With my camera newly charged, we walked took the long stairways (about 500 steps, straight down) to the Old City gates, in search of a bakery. We wound up at a tiny grocery store, where I bought yoghurt, and later Emira found a bakery where she bought a meat pie. She claims it's not as good as what we could get in Bosnia...
Around 10:15, we found ourselves at the port, looking for boat trips to the various islands around Croatia. We ended up booking ourselves for the student rate to the Elephiti Islands: Kolocep, Šipan, and Lopud. We bought a few souvenirs from a nice old lady and then met the boat at 11am. As the day was young, and the Old Town fairly well explored, we were both really excited to see some of the surrounding area.
The first five minutes should've tipped us off to the crazy adventure we were in for. It was a double-decker boat, but the moment we left the harbor, the guides announced that everyone should get off the top deck, due to high winds. Huh. That's when Emira turned to me and asked if I'd packed the dramamine. Nope, I said, it was back at the room.
Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting on the prow, staying a safe distance away from Emira's head, hanging off the side. We both must have looked a little green, because the captain and most of his crew came by to see how we were doing. We ultimately ended up at the back of the boat, praying to JC and breathing in the lavendar sachets that I bought, to keep us from collectively hurling.
The first island was relatively close. Once we wobbled off the boat and set to exploring, it was really lovely. The islands give off a mediterranean feel - kind of like a Monet painting, with all the poppies, rosemary plants and yes, even some cacti. The port was super peaceful and surrounded by awesome paths, one of which led us to an abandoned church and cemetary. We headed back to the boat for a catered dinner of fresh whole fish, cevapi, cole slaw and all the terrible terrible wine we could drink. We laughed ourselves silly.
After that, it was one to Sipan, which was ok, but we only had forty minutes and there wasn't much to see. The last island, Lopud, was the best. We had 1.5 hours to check out the Francescan monestary, the botanical gardens and to eat a huge calzone the size of my head. Plus, have I mentioned that the cappucinos here are to die for? Like, three inches of foam and two of delicious dark coffee. I've had six today already and I think I might type all night. Anyway, we had some cappucinos in the port.
By this time, it was 4:15 and we had to head back to the boat. I was seriously not looking forward to it, and it turned out my instincts were right. The wind had only intensified, and it was two hours of absolutely hell. Once out into the wind, we were broadside to the shore, meaning we took the brunt of all the waves right into the bottom of the boat. My shoes were soaked, not to mention my shivering legs (good thing I was wearing a skirt, because my jeans would've never dried). Also, neither of had jackets and Emira kept her face flat against the table, trying not to hurl. I had to stare at the horizon, because it was the only thing that wouldn't move.
When I teased Emira that JC must not have heard her prayers for today, her only answer was, "Hey, the dude can't be at our beck and call. There are also wars and shit to take care of." The laughing did kind of help the nausea to subside, but not by much. I'm sure the crew thought that we were certifiably nuts.
Anyway, we got back a little wet and worse for wear into the port at 6pm. Neither of us wanted to talk much, so we marched back up the 500 flights of stairs shivering and swearing all the way. I hopped right into warm clothes and bed while Emira collapsed right on the floor. It took us a good hour to collect ourselves (and comb out the serious wind-hair) before we were ready for supper.
We marched BACK down the stairs and back into Old Town right about the time it started to rain, but we were not to be daunted. We ended up at a very cute local restaurant in a back alley, out of the way, and had a heart-warming meal of delicious pasta and lots of wine (ending with cappucino, of course). Now Emira is waiting patiently while I regail these adventures to teh interwebs at the same internet cafe as last night, and then we're going to gingerly test the night-life here. I say gingerly, as I think both our systems are still kind of nautious...
Anyway, that's all from here. We're back to Sarajevo tomorrow, but this has been the best of best breaks for both of us, all hurling aside :)
Not sure if I'd suggest drinking until one am, waking up at six to catch a crowded bus at 7:15 am for an eight hour trip through the mountains with hang over.
BUT, luckily it's over. And worth it.
Emira and I got on the bus this morning, and, after a rough start (ie motion sickness and some slight constipation), finally woke up and got the juices flowing about the time we ate a meat pie in Neum, on the small strip of Bosnia that's actually ON the Adriatic.
During the eight hours we mulled over the three president problem and decided that some "redistribution" was in order. That is, Bosnia was in a perfect position to share leaders with other, more unfortunate countries that don't actually HAVE leadership, per se. Like Somalia. I think this funnier when we were both sick.
Anyway, we arrived around two pm and found a room just above old city, in one of the many windy cobblestone streets. Apparently it's quite common for families living around the area to let rooms out to total strangers. Luckily for me, Emria had been here three weeks ago, knew where to look and, most importantly, speaks the language. We scored a terrific room with a private bath and terrace for little over $30/night for each of us. (Trust me, this is a steal).
The day, although initially cloudy, has cleared up to be a sunny, gorgeous 70 degree perfect day. We wandered in and around the old city, checked out the history museum, re-charged my camera battery (I know, I know), ate gelato, had terrible seafood (which was surprise - that it was terrible, I mean) and we are now chillin' at an internet cafe, testing out plans for tomorrow. We may take a boat tour, we may just lay on the pebble beach and drink cappucino's (the best I've ever had in my life! And,,...happens to help with constipation...not MINE of course...)
So far, so good. Emira and I travel well together, as we have in the past, we fight like sisters and laugh like drunken sailors. Dubrovnik is amazing - at least, the old town portion. It's surrounded by these old walls (which we walked around today), red roofs and cobblestones - much like an old Europe feel. I love the sun, I love vacation, I love relaxing.
Bosnia is actually split into two parts - the Federation of mostly ethnic Bosnians and Croats and the Republika Srpska (sounds like Serb-ska) filled with mostly Bosnian-Serbs. Right now, Bosnia has THREE presidents, representing these three ethnic groups. The Croats and the Bosnians, for the most part, get along under the Federation, which has 51% of control in Parliament (but 70% of the population, according to Emira), while the Bosnian-Serbs have 49% representation. All this came about through the 1995 Dayton Accords, which effectively ended the war here but with THREE presidents (rotating out every nine months) one has to wonder - how long can this keep up?
Dear Readers; I have arrived in Bosnia safely. I missed my connection in Munich, and had to stay the night there, but I met a nice Bosnian lady and a fun Kenyan/midwestern with whom to pass the time. Anyway...I'm on vacation so what's an extra night in Munich? I slept most of the time anyway.
I arrived in Bosnia this morning at noon. Flight uneventful. My friend Emira met me at the gate, looking fabulously long-haired and we immediately jumped a cab out to her house in Visnjik. It's a great apartment, right near Old Town, which we immediately took off for.
After exploring around for awhile, we sat down to eat cevapi (che-vapi); essentially beef links with pita and sour cream. It was very very good, if not colon-stopping. We poked around old town, checking out the main mosque, Orthodox Church and even Synagogue, but then grabbed some backlava. Walked around some more, and then hit her favorite bar, which we holed up on for about three hours, drinking beers, harassing the bartender and generally, catching up.
Which leads me to my post title...apparently, Emira has beer fingers. I don't know what that means, but after three liters of beer, I don't really care.
I called the HMF over skype, and then called my friend Alex, whom some of you might remember from my Malawian adventures two years ago. Turns out he was reassigned to Sarajevo about six months ago, so now we're going to hook up at an Italian restaurant and re-live old times.
Tomorrow, we're off at 7am to catch a bus to Dubrovnik (Croatia). We'll see how that goes, but so far, so good!
What on earth has happened to the receipts of the world? How did they suddenly multiply and extend themselves to THREE feet ? Is there some sort of hormone in cash registers I dont' know about?
Case in point - every time I go to Cub, I usually buy about $30 worth of stuff. That's about 20-25 things MAX. Yet, when I leave, I have a THREE foot long receipt, a smaller receipt that summarizes my total, the receipt with my signature on it and atleast TWO coupons that they print at the register. That is a handful of crap that I really don't need, and usually ends up at the bottom of my canvas grocery bags.
Last month was Earth day, and as such, Green news abounded in all my magazines. How to live in a green house, have a greener liver, yada yada yada. One of the tips was to press "No receipt" when you pulled money from the cash machine. So this morning, I hit the cash machine before my trip and hit "No receipt."
How surprised was I when a slip of paper popped out! (I had almost driven away, but imagining my bank information being stolen from the person behind me made me stop). I pulled it out, thinking I must of hit the wrong button.
Nope. The slip of paper just said "Thanks for Banking at Bremer!"
I was so pissed -I mean, why even give the OPTION of no receipt if you're still going to print out some lame piece of paper?!?
So yeah, I was so pissed - I threw the damn piece of paper out the window. Maybe the littering outside the bank will get so bad they'll realize what total douches they are. Or maybe not.
It's great to have parents. It's great to have parents that are nice. It's great to have parents and extended family that are nice. It's great to have parents and extended family that are nice and feed you. It's great to have parents and extended family that are nice and feed you often. It's great to have parens and extended family that are nice and feed you often at the lake.