Monday, January 31, 2011

My Date With the Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Today the Professor who happens to own the hostel where I am currently the only guest, allowed me to accompany him to his office and then set up a meeting between myself and the director of finance and mobility in international exchange. I know that is a mouthful but Ivana was very helpful. She previously worked for Hewlett-Packard in Zagreb and, as she put it, is "very business minded." Meaning all of my questions and vague ideas of what these future programs might look like were met with constant reality checks. We discussed what programs look like now, how the university is switching to the Bologna Process (more info here but really it sounds like a pain) in order to assimilate to the EU's higher education standards, how that is effecting (positively) the possibility of student exchange within Europe, and finally we discussed finances.

To make a long, extremely boring, story short, I finally did something useful. I made my first viable contact! Woot. I feel like I've done something worthwhile for the first time in a long time. Now I'm going to go watch an episode of 30 Rock, 'cause I can. 

Pula Arena

The Pula Arena was built by the Romans starting in 27 BC until its completion in 68 BC. At the time it was constructed, it would have been directly placed on the coast. The reasoning behind this placement was to create water and sewer systems. In addition to rinsing off blood and disposing of animal and gladiator corpses (ew) the water systems allowed the Romans to fill the arena with water for mock naval battles. The arena is now used as a venue for concerts with artists such as Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Bolton, Elton John and Sting. I think the Romans would approve. Especially Sting, I mean c'mon Fields of Gold who doesn't love that song?
I made it to the arena on the most beautiful sunny day I've seen since I've been in Croatia. Below are pictures from my quick jaunt around the amphitheater. It was a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. 

Statue of naval officer outside Pula Arena

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Lone Tourist

I made it to Pula, Croatia. What's so special about Pula? Well, when it isn't freezing it's actually quite the popular tourist destination with it's beautiful beaches and Roman influence. When it is the middle winter however, there are no tourists here. Except, of course, for me.In fact, it is so empty I am writing this blog from what normally is an eight person dorm room, complete with free wifi and kitchen. And I have it all to myself. How lucky is that?

Today is Sunday and as my very friendly, artist/hostel owner explained to me on Sundays Pula is a ghost town. So true. I decided to take a walk through this historic city anyway, get in some sight-seeing that kind of thing and wow, the market was closing at noon and I saw maybe a handful of people on the streets. This is vastly different than anything I've experienced since October. I was the lone tourist and it was incredible. No one was shoving me to take pictures, I wasn't over crowded, I wasn't pressured into seeing anything, buying anything or doing anything I didn't want to do. I wasn't distracted by people or cars. Occasionally the church bells rang out in the streets but other than that I was completely alone. And this city is truly beautiful. As I walked through the streets I could hear families talking, everyone at once of course, and smell the delicious scent that only comes from a hearty Sunday dinner.

Even the streets are gorgeous. Also, it's truly roman in that the city center is a wagon wheel. So it's Brittany-proof, meaning it's extremely difficult to get completely lost. Anyway, in the center is a fortress. Since it was Sunday there was no there to let me in but I did get a chance to walk to the very top.

View from the top


Amphitheater (more on this later)

After a few hours of walking around I thought I was ready for the amphitheater but since everything closes so early I decided to call it a day and tomorrow will be my day devoted to the Amphitheater. (Just a quick preview: the Romans created the Amphitheater so that they could have a place to battle ships. How awesome is that?)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Too Much Time to Think

Somehow, quite accidently, I've managed to put myself in Zagreb on the greatest night of the month... possibly year: Free museum night!!! Now, I do love me a museum or two but after a while the entrance fees begin to add up. Tonight every museum is free from 6pm-1am... How will my wee little brain handle all that? I'm totally pumped. Once the magic of this night is over i will know everything about Zagreb.
(UPDATE: pictures)

It was a sad story. 

My favorite museum of all time.

Me and my dope posse.

On a more serious note:
I've been aimlessly wandering (ahem reference to title here) around Zagreb, taking in the sights and I started thinking about what I might be doing if I were home right now. My mind went blank. What would I be doing? A couple of days ago I was chatting with this nice young man from Australia about life plans and what I hope to get out of this experience and I realized I am not doing anything I had expected when I set out on this adventure. Well that's not entirely true, I'm just not doing anything to the extent that I had expected to. I was truly expecting to connect with more locals or at least people who I could keep in contact with to help further down the road when I'm researching/writing whatever the heck I thought/think I was/am going to be doing with my life. (You may be confused by all the "/" but please stay with me dear reader). As I explained to my Bonder-advisor (and general super cool lady) Brook, I feel like a sponge. I'm here in Croatia and I'm just passively absorbing the culture around me instead of actively seeking new experiences. I'm spending far too much time in my own head. I'm definitely the product of a Western world and I constantly feel the need to achieve something. Instead of just being in a place and accepting this experience for what it is. I'm trying to force meaning onto everything I'm doing.
I also felt this enormous wave of homesickness today. I have no idea what I'd be accomplishing back home (and let's face it probably not a lot right now) but I can't help it. Everyone says there is a 3 month wall... well, it was 3 months as of January 27th, here's my wall.
Now to Pula!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Z" is for Zagreb

I made it to Croatia safe and sound. Met an extremely nice Croatian/Canadian/Chinese man (Croatian by birth the other two C's by citizenship) who speaks Croatian and helped me make it to the hostel. Three cheers for reliable public transportation! Hip-hip Hooray! My first two days in Zagreb were spent recovering from my 40 hours of travel/jet lag/climate change. It is 20ish degrees here. First stop? Proper footwear. Rain boots. Everyone here dresses really nice and every one owns these awesome looking leather boots (I have serious boot envy) and I have black rubber boots. I stand out a bit. But enough about me. Zagreb is great! The architecture, oh the architecture! It's gorgeous. Examples:

Um, wow, the pictures are taking decades to load so the above are the Katedral (Cathedral) and the statue of Count Josip Jelacic Buziski who was a general in the Austrian army and Governor of Croatia form 1848-1859. He is also on the 20 kuna banknote cause he abolished serfdom or whatever, NBD (no big deal). Getting lost has never been so enjoyable. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

7 Hour Flight Delays, So Much Fun.

Back to back posts. Unheard of!
Here I am in the Hanoi International Airport aka Hell aka THE Most Confusing Place on the Face of the Planet. Woke up at 6 am so I could make it to the airport 3 hours early (I  was not going to let another Sapa-Train incident happen). What do I find when I arrive? "Hello good sir, could you tell me where Aeroflot Airlines checks-in?" "No." "No?" "No Aeroflot yet."
"What does that mean." "You wait." "For what?" "For Open." "What? Where?" "There." "Here?" "No, there" (points in direction of 30 possible desks).
Okay. No problem. Deep breaths.
2 hours 30 minutes later, 18 kg backpack on my back, carrying smaller back pack, no coffee, no breakfast, shoulders aching, ready to check-in. Approaching counter after waiting through the most chaotic non-sensical line I've ever seen. Hand over my passport and my flight itinerary.
"You have return flight?" "Return to where?" "United States" "No, I'm not returning from the U.S. until I make it to Africa. I'm not leaving Croatia to go to America." -Blank stare from woman at counter and then-"you need to get ticket for return, now." "Okay, whatever, can I buy it right here?" "No you go to ticketing office." "And where is that" "Up over there" "Over WHERE?" Points up to second floor. Alright to the second floor it is then.
Yes I did leave out that little part where I lost my temper for a second and slammed my hand down on the counter demanding she let me buy a ticket right there. Since that is apparently IMPOSSIBLE, I obliged and went to the second floor 30 minutes later I found the ticketing office just as 5 very angry French people and 1 very angry German were coming to make sure they had transfers to their final destinations since our flight was delayed by 7 hours.
And that's when it hit me.
Hysteria. Well no not hysteria exactly. Watching the French and the German I guess I just realized that none of this was really as big of a problem as I was making it. Everything was going to work out. Even if that meant me getting another flight to wherever else in the world. As long as I left Vietnam today(Visa expires)  everything was going to be just peachy. And really what does getting angry do ultimately? Makes people afraid of you, as I saw in the eyes of the woman at the counter after I slammed my hand down (it made a pretty loud noise).

So I laughed out loud.

I was sitting across from one of the French group, a pregnant woman, and I just shrugged and kept laughing. And then she started laughing. And there we were, two angry, tired travelers just completely giving in.
It felt good. I joked with the Russians and in the end I didn't need a return flight. This large, hulking Russian man with a booming voice came to the counter with me and made sure I got my boarding pass. I kind of wish I had one of those all the time. That way I wouldn't ever have to get angry, I'd just call over my big body guard and say, "intimidate" and then all my problems would disappear.

But really, it's situations like this that force me to accept the fact that sometimes it's just out of my control. So when life hands you lemons, make lemon meringue (why make lemonade when you can have pie?). 

The End of My South East Asia Adventure

Well folks. today was my last day in Hanoi and thus my last day in Asia. I can't believe it's been 3 months already. It's gone so quickly. To conclude my time in Hanoi I visited the Temple of Literature (Yeah, I know, it's an awesome title). The name is actually a bit deceiving the temple is structured the way other Buddhist temples are structured but instead of the image of Buddha, this temple is dedicated to education in Vietnam. How perfect that I'm ending my trip (based on my interest in Higher Education) at a place that is, quite literally, a shrine to education. I've been a bit bored with the pictures I've been taking lately so I decided to get fancy with it. Yes ladies and gentlemen I used the black & white and sepia settings on camera (now is the appropriate time to "oooooh" and "aaaaaah").

Woot. Look at me bein' all artsy!

Random fun fact I learned at the temple: the Tortoise, Unicorns, Dragons and Phoenix are the 4 holy creatures of Vietnam. That's why the Doctor's Stelae (as seen below) are on Tortoise shells.The writing on the stones (above) are works of literature that praise some of the great doctors/examiners. The royal exams are a big deal so this is the tribute to the folks who educated the successful groups of students. The tortoise represents a long and healthy life (cause the live FOREVER). I also thinks it's pretty neat that Vietnam included the Unicorn as one of it's holy animals. 

And now, the end is near and so I face my final curtain, blah, blah, blah, I did it my way! I feel good about my time in Asia. Sure there were some bumps in the road but the good far out weigh the bad. So now I move west to Croatia. From cold to colder. Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Introspection (and Random Things I Think You Should Read)

I guess this post is more for myself than anyone who reads it (all 6 of you, ha!). I've had some time to think and I'm feeling very introspective after the events of last night. How could I have been so trusting? But then, aren't we supposed to trust one another? Isn't it human nature to want to help those in need? I say that after avoiding the sad eyes of the poor Vietnamese beggar who approached me on my way to this internet cafe. How can I be so angry at the man who took advantage of me when I haven't done anything to deserve his help? He shouldn't have been so malicious in his actions but I'm not an entirely blameless victim. It is difficult to travel alone but I made myself an easy target last night. I shouldn't blame others for my own misfortunes, even if it is (almost entirely) their fault.
But now I'm past that. Moving on! Since I am here for the next... 4 days I have more time to explore Hanoi. Really get down to it and see this city.

Just for fun I'm attaching an article I read about a 16 year old boy from New York who lived in China for a year. I think this is wonderful! When I return to the states it's programs like this that I want to be apart of.

From CNN: Immersion Education in China

And because I'm feeling extra random today I'm going to throw in one of my favorite poems:
The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I've Been DUPED.

It has finally happened, I've officially been duped.
I was looking forward to my Sapa adventure you know, going to get in some hiking and enjoy the mountain scenery. Tonight I began my journey: called the cab at 9pm because I am always worried about being late so I end up at places extremely early. The cab apparently "forgot" about me multiple times and thus did not arrive until 9:35pm. My train leaves at 9:50. I'm stressin' a little bit. I don't EVER cut it that close. I arrived at the train station at 9:45pm, fine whatever, there's a train pulling up, great that's probably my train, first thought? Ask someone who looks like they know what they're doing: Check! "Hello, kind sir! Is this my train?" Show the "official" looking guy my ticket. He points to the train shows me where my seat is and I thank him. Then he demands $2. Oh no, I know better. So I say, "NO." He continues to ask and I say "No" until he leaves. Yay, me! It's now 9:52pm and another person joins me in the cabin. He points at my bed and says something in Vietnamese so I stare blankly at him until he shows me his ticket. His train is different than my train. Oh, shit. I find another official looking guy and he says, "Oooohh, no, no, no, no, no." Then he points to the train on the other track... that is leaving the station. Perfect. I missed my train because the first "official" looking guy WAS A SCAMMER and actually had no idea what train I was supposed to be on.
Of all the transportation in Vietnam WHY ARE ONLY THE TRAINS EVER ON TIME?!?!?
Even better? I can't refund any tickets or the hotel I booked.
Good News? More time in Hanoi. Oh goody.
This is the devil train. Actually, everyone else at the station was relatively nice. I should have started crying then I probably could have gotten a refund on my tickets. 
This is where I could have been. Oh well. Instead I'm here:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ahoy, Hanoi!

I made it to Hanoi after a very brief enjoyable bus ride to find that it is freezing here. Well, it's cold compared to the tropical weather I've gotten used to over the past couple of months. The rain was enjoyable in Hue and Hoi An but, shoot, I was not expecting 40 degree days. I gave myself 10 days in the north because I thought I'd be able to hop on a motorbike and just cruise around for a bit. Nope. In addition to the freezing cold, the visibility in Hanoi is, for lack of a better descriptor, absolute crap. Sadly, my motorbiking days are over... in Asia at least. My parents just read that and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Oh well. I will say that the cooler air is a relief and Hanoi is a fascinating place. I saw Ho Chi Minh in the (embalmed) flesh! I don't have any photos because no one is allowed to take any and for good reason. It was creepy walking in a silent single file line passed Uncle Ho all lit up and looking radioactive. You would think that if the government is paying upwards of 3 billion U.S. dollars to keep Ho in tip-top shape they'd be able to afford some quality lighting. It actually looked like he was glowing. I think I'll call the the color Nuclear Amber. I hope they create a Crayola crayon.

Since I am in Hanoi it was a must that I make a trip out to Halong Bay. Normally this is where I would post pictures and what not but unfortunately my memory card was infected with the virus that has been on my laptop and now the Anti-Virus software I installed wont let me open the folder with all of my pictures. The good news is I am now officially Virus free and protected from any further virus related things! Huzzah! Anyway, Halong Bay looks a little like this:

Normally. But when I visited because it is the middle of January it looked more like this:

Tomorrow I am heading a little bit further north for a few days to kill time before Croatia! It was apparently snowing last week so keep your fingers crossed that I'll be able to find some rubber boots or something practical.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hoi An to Hue

 So much to write about. In Hoi An there is this fantastic restaurant, Streets. It is by far the best meal I have eaten in Vietnam. The neat thing about Streets apart from its fantastic culinary achievements is the mission: to provide job training for Vietnamese men and women living on the streets who, otherwise, would have no opportunity to gain employment. Not only does Streets train them as servers and cooks, it also offers a way for them to learn English. Plus the coconut ice cream was DELICIOUS.

I left Hoi An and made my way to Hue (pronounced "way"). Hue was the imperial city of the Nguyen Dynasty and is famous for the Citadel, the Forbidden City and lots of tombs. The forbidden city housed the emperor, princes and princesses, and concubines, you know, the usual. I don't usually hire guides because it's expensive so I found a tour in progress and followed them around until the guide spotted me, but before he did I learned that if someone broke into the forbidden city the punishment was DEATH. Pretty intense.
One of the gates into the Forbidden City

Extreme Koi Pond!

10% of the forbidden city remains. The rest was bombed in the 40's. 

That's me!


All of these are made from broken pieces of ceramic dishes

Like this

Apart of the 10% that remains of the forbidden city
What else is there to do in Hue? Well, honestly, when it's pouring down rain, not a lot. In an attempt to keep to my new years resolutions (live in the "now", volunteer more) I stumbled upon a chance to visit a children's shelter here in Hue. The mission of the Friends of Hue Foundations is to provide economic assistance to families who are victims of natural disasters. Part of this organization includes the Hue Children's Shelter. Not only does it offer a place to sleep, it ensures that the children are properly nourished and educated about ethics and academics. 
I met Erika at the hostel I am staying at here in Hue. She had been in contact with the shelter and asked if I wanted to join her. Together with Erika and Lisa (another traveler I met on my way up from Hoi An) I went to the shelter. When we arrived we met Ai, a Vietnamese American from Texas who has been volunteering at the shelter for almost 2 years. Although we went with the intention of helping, we really only had a chance to tour the building and learn more about the organization.
Lesson of the day: Make sure you aren't the only one making a "funny face" in the picture.

The building

The mattresses were donated recently... tempurpedic, very nice.

On the right is the house mother. She was very shy so I had to get this sneaky shot. 
And that concludes my trip to Hue. Tonight I ride to Hanoi, sleeper bus all the way. Next post: HO CHI MINH. The man preserved.