Friday, February 25, 2011

"Only in the Balkans"

So here I am in Belgrade. And I'll be honest, I haven't been this comfortable/at ease since Laos. I have officially made it over my "3 month" hump (hooray!) and as the anniversary of my fourth month of travel slowly approaches I find myself in a genuinely good place. My attitude can be attributed to two things; first, the day after I arrived in Belgrade it started snowing and it hasn't stopped (and everything looks pretty with a layer of white fluffy snow on top) and second, I have my own personal tour guide, Matt.

surprise attack picture!

Matt and I met back in Seattle in 2008 and then he moved to Belgrade where he's been for 2 years now. Not only does he know how to navigate the city (once again I must be honest, I am a horrible navigator so it's nice to have someone to walk around with simply so I can focus on what seeing the city without worrying about getting lost), but he is also a fountain of Balkan knowledge. My Balkan travel guru. I knew coming to the area that he was going to be my go-to person for tips, pointers and what-not. Like I said he's been in Belgrade for 2 years, devoting his time to a photo project about unity in the Balkans. Instead of attempting to describe his work I highly recommend checking it out for yourself (if you haven't already):

Fun, yet random, thing I've learned about the Balkans in the past 4 days: Turbo-folk is the greatest/worst movement of all time. For further description see: Ekrem Jevric. Quick description of the Turbo-folk movement (is it a movement? I don't really know what to call it) old folk songs set to electronic beats. Lots of lip syncing, really bad fashion and awful back-up dancers.

To further my Belgrade education, Matt took me to a Blues bar, called... something I forget, he'll tell me later, and there was this amazing singer/guitar player who did covers of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Lyndard Skynard, etc.

Notice Elvis int he background?
Very talented man. Very cool bar. Loved it. Great night out in Belgrade.

Moody in the snow
There is so much flippin' snow. It's gorgeous, and freezing. Just to give you an idea of how much it has snowed in 5 days:

Ahh! So much snow!

If there is one thing I had to choose I love best about Belgrade I would have to say the architecture. The mix of buildings, the juxtaposition of modern with communist era with pre-WWI/II is just... awesome. I really can't stop using that word. It just fits. 

Beginning of amazing street art.
Street art! I don't want to bore you all but OhMyGod the street art!
I think this is my favorite. I love street art but there are times when it can be a little too oppressive or angry.
However, the message is often as important as anything put up in a gallery. The significance of this particular message comes in the simplicity of the tag, the placement (outside of student square) and the language it appears in (English as opposed to Serbian). So there's my two cents about that. It feels a bit weird breaking down the meaning behind graffiti but as I looked through my pictures of Belgrade I couldn't help being drawn back to this particular photo.

I have so much more to say about the Balkans and Belgrade in particular. I promise there is more to come!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sarajevo at Night

I can't believe I forgot to mention this. I blame it on the snow in Belgrade.
The night I went exploring in Sarajevo I went to a bar that was playing live music. Very exciting. The band consisted of these guys with sweet mustaches wearing vests and long john bottoms. They were actually really entertaining. Halfway through the set the Policija stopped the show and began searching everyone. 

Of course this is the first time I've ever forgotten my passport in months and they immediately assume that I am a drug dealer. Because let's be honest, I am a pretty shady character. Obviously everything turned out fine I'm not in a Bosnian prison so things are looking pretty good.

Just to make sure I drank some water. Apparently this will bring me a healthy, happy life. Or something awesome like that. The water was surprisingly good. 

Pigeon Square

I just thought they were pretty. 

Eternal Flame

Churches look nice in the dark

Monday, February 21, 2011


I spent a good 4 days exploring the city of Sarajevo. I met some lovely people (travelers and locals), ate some delicious food, walked the walk, attempted to talk the talk. Now I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia after a 6 hour drive with some wicked awesome boys from New England.

I sat and enjoyed the best Turkish (style) coffee I've ever had with a Bosnian-Muslim woman who decided that I was worthy of looking through her photo albums. She told me in her fabulously broken English that her niece was married in the U.S. recently, and her daughter was at university studying psychology. As our conversation turned (as it does) to the topic of the war, she summed up how she feels about the war, "I know why we fight, but, in the end we are all just the same. Religion? It doesn't matter. Your skin? It doesn't matter. So why kill so many people over this? I never understand. Is so stupid." Truth. It's amazing how a statement can be so simple yet so profound.

I walked around Sarajevo the first day or so and felt like I had a pretty solid understanding of the city. And then I visited the tunnels, starting reading The Bridge Betrayed by Michael Sells and realized that I knew nothing. The tunnel tour was definitely eye opening. There is only 20 meters left of the entire tunnel that was once 960 meters but it was still a powerful and enlightening experience. The tunnel allowed humanitarian aid and food into the city while it was under siege.

Bullet holes near the entrance

I never know how to pose for these things

Before making it to Sarajevo I read a book Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic. It's actually a collection of short stories about the war. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning more about the war and life in Sarajevo. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Don't Forget '93" - Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

As the bus approaches Mostar I am taken aback by the ruins that remain. Evidence of a war that left this beautiful countryside, and it's people, scarred. It's difficult to explain, but in the eerie quiet that accompanies nightfall, I can feel  the history. Luckily, the hostel that I am staying at turns out to be more of a guesthouse than a dorm-style hostel and the owner, Miran as well as his wife, Mia, are very gracious and spend a good amount of time answering my questions about the impact they and their families felt by the war and the aftermath. Miran inherited the building that is now the hostel from his grandfather who died in 1993 during the war. After the old bridge was re-built in 2004 Miran opened the hostel to accommodate the influx of travelers and tourists to the city. Ninety-five percent of Mostar was destroyed during the fighting, Miran explains. As I walk through the streets of Mostar it is clear that while much has been rebuilt, it will be a while before this city is whole again.

The atmosphere is not depressing instead I find it heavy. It feels as if there is a weight over the city that has yet to lift. There is destruction around every corner, a reminder of the violence that once tore this city in two and yet the people are resilient. They accept the past and, like the reconstruction of the buildings, are working everyday to restore life in Mostar. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people.

The reconstruction of Stari Most, the Old Bridge in July 2004 was a huge accomplishment. It is, by far, the most important landmark in the area. The original was built in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire and was destroyed in November 1993. The bridge is great, the stone walkway leading up to it is, uncomfortable. Beautiful, but difficult to walk on. It hurt my feet.
Looks cool but is uncomfortable

Stari Most
Walking across the bridge
I arrived in Mostar at a very interesting time during my trip. I haven't yet been able to process the recent death that has shaken me and my fellow Bonderman's to the core. As I explored the city of Mostar I am again shaken while walking through one (of the many) cemeteries. I am caught off guard by how young so many  (mainly men) were my age or younger when they passed away. Suddenly, the emotions of this along with other thoughts and feelings I've been ignoring catch up with me. For a moment, I allow myself to just feel it all.

And then the moment passes.

I am now in Sarajevo after my first time on a train since Bangkok! I know I skipped over Dubrovnik and I apologize but onward and upward and all that jazz.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Earlier I received an e-mail from Helene, Director of the Bonderman Fellowship for graduate students, explaining that Alena Suazo has passed away in Guatemala. She is an amazing woman and I'm in absolute shock. I spoke to her the few times we met at Bonderman information sessions and other gatherings. I'm truly at a loss. 

This is a posting from her sister:

My Sister Rests with God

This is Alena: The Seattle Times.

She is truly inspiring.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Do What I Want

I have been relying far too much on others' opinions of what my travels should look like, what I should do, where I should go, what I should eat, what the "must see" places are. This morning I woke up and decided that I was going to have a day where I just did whatever I felt like all day long. Today that meant climbing up to the top of this hill in Split (great views by the way) and reading. After the 15/20 minute climb I sat for an hour and read, spaced out, generally just relaxed. After I came down off the mountain I felt like a coffee. Then, I felt like taking a walk around the basement of Diocletian's palace. Everyone said, "Eh, you don't need to do that. It's not that interesting you aren't missing anything." I wanted to do it anyway. And I'm glad I did. It was creepy and historical. Historically creepy. And no one else was doing it so I had the entire basement level of this sweet palace to myself. And this happened all before noon (I woke up early... it happens sometimes) so after walking the long way back to the hostel I did nothing. Not true. I watched the documentary Babies and then started (actually) researching graduate programs for International Education (Policy).
Overall good day. Just thought I would share! And pictures of course:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I know I said Pula was my favorite, and then Zadar was my favorite but, really, Split is my favorite. They took Diocletian's old Palace (Roman Emperor) and made it the city center. It's awesome.
That's what it would have looked like back in the day. Now it looks like a market/residential area. It's like a maze. I felt like a mouse trying to find the cheese.

This is my favorite

HOW rude of me! I forgot to show y'all Zadar!

There was more of course but I just wasn't in the picture taking mood. That big mirror thing was cool there was also a Sea Organ. The sea made beautiful music. It was beautiful.