Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Plitvice Lakes

The next day, we drove to see Plitvice Lakes National Park. Several lakes are connected by a system of waterfalls. Boardwalks and paths take visitors around and across lakes to get good views and keep them out of the water. This helps keep the water crystal clear and maintain the balance of minerals that contributes to the vibrant blue and green colors. The park has been a tourist draw for decades, but the war forced it to shut down for a while. In fact, the war in Croatia started in the park; the first victim was a park ranger.

After spending several hours at the park, we were exhausted. We headed out to find our pension for the night. Rooms Sankorana was just a bit away, tucked back in a tiny village down a tiny, windy road. The pension itself was along the San Korana river (very small at this point) with a small (yet very loud) waterfall. The owner explained to us how the house's water mill was taken during the war. They made us feel very at home (even offering to help us barbecue; unfortunately, we had just eaten dinner and very sadly declined). They didn't know what to do with us as we sat along the mill's water diversion with our feet in the water. (going to get Eastern-European sick), so we were insisted over to a set of wooden steps (better than the ground) and handed cushions to sit on. They family had a 3 month old puppy the owner (geh, I wish I could remember his name) was working on training. Super adorable. The daughter (maybe in her late teens with excellent English) told us that he usually didn't like new people (The dog that is). . . a minor victory, I guess. :-)

Split Zoo

We exhausted the main sights of Split by early afternoon. So, after lunch, we took a stroll (long, steep, exhausting stroll) up a hill near Old Town. With more time to burn until an acceptable dinner time, we decided to visit the zoo that was there.

Eight or so peacocks wandered around, jumping on things, screeching loudly, and generally creating a nuisance.

The tiger showed up for a photo-op.

Maybe the saddest exhibit was the three wolves that were kept in a small enclosure with very little room. Usually when wolves are in zoos, they have huge expanses and even this isn't enough; however, keeping three in this space was heartbreaking.

The other sad exhibit was the bears. Although a little better off space-wise, there was nothing really in their cages. They had a single tire swing, a maybe eight by eight concrete pool of water, and a couple of wooden ledges.

Baboon! His cage was actually pretty okay. Although there was exactly nothing keeping people from sticking their fingers in his cage. Not that anyone did. There just aren't the moats and glass walls like at home. Same thing with the wolves' cage. Zoos here seem to operate by the "Just don't be stupid" philosophy

Baby goat. You know. Cuz it's adorable

Morning in Split

The next morning, in Split, we woke up ready to hit the town. Fortunately, Split has only a day or so worth of sights to see. The most imposing sight along the Old Town's waterfront is Diocletian's Palace. Conveniently, many of the main attractions are housed inside.

Long story short: Diocletian was a Roman emperor from the Dalmatian region of Croatia. After his retirement, he lived here permanently. A few centuries after he died, folks from the surrounding countryside fled to the palace (it was empty) to for protection against the invading Barbarians. Since that time, the Palace has been occupied and modified to fit current needs. Even today, people and businesses carry out "real life"inside its walls amid throngs of tourists taking a peak at this giant Roman structure.

Pretty much the whole building behind the palm trees is the Palace.

The basements under the palace. The excavation of the basements isn't complete, but we were able to see a good part of them. They were well preserved in large part because when people moved into the palace above, they drilled holes in their floors and just threw their garbage down. This protected much of the work and helped support the structure

St. Dujam's Cathedral in the Palace. (The tower at least)
We mistakenly paid entrance to the treasury, thinking it was the way to the tower. The treasury was neat nonetheless, with illuminated books dating back nearly a thousand years and lots of religious artifacts. Along one wall, there were what looked to be golden busts with a small sign that read "heads of saints." Jon asked "huh. I wonder what those are." Taking one look, I could tell him they are actually the heads of half a dozen saints who died centuries ago. First degree relics. Lovely. Oh, Catholics.

We eves dropped on a French tour for a bit in the coolness of the sanctuary before Jon repeated his desire to go to the top of the tower. He hadn't had much input to the trip at all yet, so I was more than willing to agree when he finally spoke up about something. Good wife. Note the tower in the above photo. Up we go.

Up hundreds of steps of galvanized steel wrapping around the inside of the tower we go. I don't mind climbing these. I just wish I couldn't see straight down all the time. The most nerve wracking part was following behind Jon and being able to see some of the steps bend ever so slightly when he stepped on them.

When we got to the top, we were rewarded with wonderful views of the city, sea, and surrounding mountains.
(May 18)

On to Split

After a few hours in Mostar, we decided to continue on to Split. To take the car to Bosnia, we had to have them stamp an insurance paper going in and coming out. While the first guard was a little confused, but overall obliging in stamping the paper, this guard would have none of it. After a bit of back-and-forth, each side becoming a little more frustrated, he finally stamped the paper, seeming to sense that we weren't going until he did.

Other than Mr. Grumpy Guard, everything went well. As is our style (I guess), we missed a turn (or something) and ended up taking the windy, narrow two lane road most of the way instead of the nice, fast interstate.

A lot of the road seemed to wind along a ridge of a rather high mountain. While this afforded lovely views, it also meant that our average speed was around 50 km/hour (and at the time, I would have preferred it slower). Jon was wondering why the built the blessed road into the side of the mountain and not into the lovely, flat valley below when I happened to look out the window and see a (very minor) border crossing with BiH. Well, that answered that question.

Every so often, we'd be driving, look up and see the ruins of a castle. An interesting experience that was surprisingly common throughout the trip. It's hard to get tired of random castles breaking up the landscape


We got to Mostar no worse for wear, giving ourselves a couple of hours to have a look around before continuing to Split. After being in relatively quiet Sarajevo for three days, we immediately noticed the crowds of tourists that crowds. Still, it was nice to walk the cobblestone streets of the rebuilt old town, window shopping and taking in the sights.

Entrance to the Old Town with little shops on either side. The diversity of things being sold was much higher than in Sarajevo, but many (most) seemed imported and kitschy. Maybe we were just spoiled by Sarajevo. Most of these buildings were destroyed during the war and have been rebuilt with the help of international funds. Many people daytrip in from Dubrovnik or Split to visit and see the town's famous bridge.

Stari Most. Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, the bridge was destroyed during the war by Croats who claimed the bridge was of strategic importance. It was later discussed that the bridge was of more psychological importance than anything. After standing for over 400 years, and surviving all manners of events (Nazi tanks were driven over it), the bridge was seen as a symbol of how cultures can live in peace with one another. The bridge was rebuilt using period specific techniques and stone from the same region; some stone was even brought up from the river below, but most was too waterlogged to be sound.

A view of Mostar off of the bridge

A little side-stream feeding into the river

The oldest mosque in the city

Driving to Mostar

The next day, we set off early(ish) for Mostar. When we had asked about avoiding rush hour (there was a lot of traffic when we drove in a few days before), the man at the reception desk shrugged and said "Maybe the main road is busy from 8:30 til 9:00. Still, it was raining, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time on what we were told were narrow, twisty, and difficult roads.

It was. . .a drive, so you don't have to deal with me droning on and on. On the way out of Sarajevo, they've started building more interstate--maybe 5 or so kilometers. Don't worry, we got those too--all of the interstate in the nation? Check. I will say it was one of the most beautiful drives I've taken. The roads were narrow-ish (usually just one lane in each direction) and twisty (through mountains, ist there a choice?), but otherwise very well maintained for the most part--well marked and smooth.

Some photos from along the way:

From near the start of our trip.

Mt. Ivan divides Bosnia and Herzegovina. Jadranka told us that people who live here joke that when asked where they live--in Bosnia or Herzegovina, people who live here say that they live in "the and."

Jadranka had told us about a town famous for woodworking on the way to Mostar. We had planned to stop to look around, but couldn't find the shops. There was this mosque on the banks of a river. Ignore the finger in the shot.

Mountains along the way.

Coming out of the mountains, the landscape changed dramatically. Dense, green forests and rich farmland gave way to a more Mediterranean climate with red, rocky soil and rows of vineyards and olive trees.

(Tuesday, May 17)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sarajevo Day Two

After our cooking lesson (and stuffed on burek), we headed back to the Old Town for the afternoon. Despite the persistent drizzle, we decided to go on foot rather than wait for a taxi (granted it would have been maybe 10 minutes).

The rains had turned the Miljacka River from calm, shallow, and clear into. . .well, deeper, smelly, and muddy brown. It really looked like Willy Wonka had taken over. Low hanging clouds obscured the tops of the surrounding hills.

We walked around some parts of town we hadn't seen the day before--we found a giant old church and some lovely parks. Probably my favorite find was a giant chess board painted onto a square's paving stones. Even in the rain, old men with umbrellas surrounded the board, discussing each move as two played with oversized pieces.

We couldn't resist taking this photo with our former governer's name.

The rain had driven what tourists there were indoors and we had the old market largely to ourselves. We compared prices on a few souvenirs we (I) wanted and grabbed a snack. Neno had suggested heading a bit up the hill to look for things for better prices. I found a couple of things I couldn't live without in this tiny shop (the table is up against the wall)
The prices seemed fair enough and I wasn't in the mood to haggle without any shared language, so I accepted what was listed. Adding incorrectly, however, I pulled out a 50 KM bill when the total was 55 KM. The man smirked and said "For you. Okay." I must have looked horrified (I really hadn't meant to short him) because he started laughing as he packed my things. I guess that's one way to do it.

It was getting late (our style late, not real person late), so we caught a cab back to the hotel. I've got to say, that was one of the most stereotypical cabbies I've ever encountered. Muttering to himself, angry at traffic, ready to do anything (including pulling U-Turns in the middle of a crowded street) to get to the destination.

We settled in, ate left over burek for dinner, and turned Glee on TV. All in all, one of the best places I've had the chance to visit. Not crowded with tourists, layers of unique history, friendly people, and absolutely stunning. On the whole, Bosnia's easily one of the most beautiful places I've been and would love, love, love to return someday. Neno told us it makes him angry to hear the country called dangerous for a war that happened over 15 years ago and to tell everyone that it is safe and open. Well, there you go. It is both. Sarajevo was a bit difficult to reach, but definitely worth the effort. Jon joked that in 20 years, we'll return and complain that "our" little spot has become overrun by tourists. In this case, I certainly hope so.

Burek cooking class

The second morning in Sarajevo, I had arranged to take a cooking lesson to learn to make burek, or traditional Bosnian meat pies through Sarajevo Tours. (As a side note, spell check wants me to change burek to Burke. . .just can't escape, can I?).

Jadranka has been a tour guide in Sarajevo for over 40 years (teaching English and Russian during the war). Last year, someone asked her for a cooking class. Nothing exists formally in the city, but her colleague, Jasna, said "why not," and held a class in her home. In two years, we were only the fourth to request the lesson.

Jadranka met us at the pansion and we drove over to Jasna's lovely apartment. As we prepared the burek, it was nice to chat informally with the women. They told us of several places to visit along our way to Split the next day. It was great to hear about other towns in BiH--so little information is available.

We mixed up the dough and filling and then began to assemble the pies.

Jon rolling out the dough

The fun part--stretching out the dough over a dowel. This helps make the center evenly thin.

Enjoying the final product.

As much as Jon and I love to cook, this was definitely a great experience. They had us promise (several times) that we would take pictures when we make burek at home. (We're armed with recipes to make a wide range of fillings, including some for dessert.) Now we're on the hook and someone has to help us play guinea pig. Eventually, they would like to partner with a restaurant to offer classes formally, as in other towns. I, however, liked the coziness of the lesson. As Jasna pointed out, it's always interesting to see other culture's homes outside of a museum.

One of her friends commented that she needs a husband like this :-)

A relaxing afternoon

After parting ways with Neno, we decided to grab some lunch at one of the places he had recommended to us that served traditional Bosnian pies. We split a sampler plate (one of each meat, spinach, cheese, and potato) and had yogurt to drink. Our total came to a whopping three dollars.

It was still pretty early after we finished lunch, so we wandered the market a little more before deciding to follow a path up one of the hills to the ruins of an old fortress (just the foundation is left)

(Sarajevo basically sits in a valley surrounded by tall, steep hills. The city is over 10 km long, but barely 3 km at its widest point.) It was quite the climb, but we were rewarded by breathtaking views of the city below and mountains in the distance.

By the time we wandered down the hill, it was late enough to turn in for the night. Rather, we were tired of walking, didn't want to wait until a proper European dinner time, and thought we'd be considerably less cranky if we went back to the hotel. We bought sandwich makings and a three dollar bottle of wine before catching a cab back to the pansion. The 3 EUR was well worth not having to trek up the hill toting dinner supplies. Also--a 3 Euro cab ride? What kind of magic is Sarajevo working? Altogether, a fantastic, wonderful day. Despite the skeptical comments from home, I think this is one of my new favorite cities.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Free Sarajevo Walking Tour

his'll probably run much longer than I intend. . .but there are lots of pretty pictures, so it's only kind of longer. Right?

After an amazing night's sleep and an awesome breakfast at the pansion, we were ready to meet our tour guide. We're not usually "walking tour" type of people, but I had heard such amazing things about this tour that we had to give it a shot. Having left ourselves over an hour to get to the meeting point, we asked the host for walking directions. He told us that he was heading down the hill and would give us a lift if we wanted. (The owners were soo amazingly nice the entire time we were there).

This got us to the meeting place in front of the National Museum with plenty of time to kill. Walking around the building we ran into a couple of women who screamed tourists even more than we managed to. Turned out we were waiting for the same group. We had a nice chat. Rosza, the mum, was a "spry eighty years young" and was returning to her hometown in Croatia after having fled the country on foot during WWII. I think we ended up with 7 or 8 in the group total--I didn't realize how great this was until I saw groups of 40 or so being herded through the narrow streets.

A little about the tour guide, Neno before I jump into the actual sites. He runs a tour called Sarajevo Free Walking tours that I found on TripAdvisor and confirmed via email. He'll run the tour if even one person signs up and never even mentions tips the entire time. In fact, when we tipped him at the end (after a 4 hour tour, he told us that it was too much and tried to give it back.) He's a 26 year old college student who was 7 when the war started; his family stayed in Sarajevo the whole time. He told us that essentially, he spent three years living in a basement, even attending primary school there. Now, as a Master's student in International Relations, he thinks that people are trying to forget the war, as if it never happened. He thinks it is very important to be able to talk about these issues to gain understanding and prevent such a thing from happening again. As such, he encouraged us to ask any question that we had, even ones that might be considered inappropriate to ask a stranger. He was very open about his opinions. While there was certainly some political bend to the tour--how could there not be? It was very meaningful to hear about the Siege from someone who had experienced it. He is incredibly cynical about the government, but hopeful for the country's future. If you're ever in Sarajevo, I can't recommend this tour highly enough.

I've included some of the photos I took along the tour along with some of the commentary Neno offered. Forgive the length, I just want to get things written down so I don't forget.

Our tour started across from the famous Holiday Inn Hotel where the international journalists stayed cooped up during the war. Pockmarks are still visible in the concrete along the top. In front of the hotel runs a broad street referred to as Sniper Ally. Snipers would gun down anyone they saw crossing the street from tall apartment buildings surrounding the city. As such, people would wait behind armored UN tanks which offered some protection. Behind it ran "the street of life" which was less open to sniper fire. People would use these small streets to get around. After all, the Siege continued for three years, so life went on. Neno said his mom walked over 10 km each way to and from work through the back streets in order to avoid this main thoroughfare.

As the War dragged on, the international community began to take notice of Sarajeavans' plights. Canned beef was one of the main types of food aid that was sent. Popular lore says that not even pets would eat it, yet people had to to survive. The monument gives a tongue in cheek thanks and says "The Monument to the International Community" and is signed "The Grateful Citizens of Sarajevo." Neno made it clear that people were grateful to have food (and often there was none), but expressed a lot of frustration that this was the best was done. After all, Sarajevo was less than 500 km from Italy, not the middle of a desert. Neno said that some families received packages dated from the years of the Vietnam conflict.

Pockmarks still show on many, many buildings. Neno told us that if there weren't marks, the building was new or had been fixed.

A far off view of Parliament. Neno told us some things about the government--mainly that from the time the Dayton accords were signed, the country was sentenced to failure. There are three presidents--a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosnian--who rotate power every 8 months. How is anything supposed to get done in that time? To make matters worse, all three have to agree on the big issues. Unless you are a member of one of these groups, you cannot be president.

Corruption is rampant at all levels. He told us of a friend who graduated university and was looking for a job. He was told he could be helped for a fee of 10,000 Euro. This is for a job that might pay 7,000 Euro in a year. Even at the university level, people cheat in all manners--from buying diplomas to buying exams. In history this is one thing, when a person is training to be a doctor, there are real consequences.

Just out of the frame, tall apartments line the river. On one side, Serbs held sniper positions, on the other, Sarajeavans were refugees in their own city.

Eiffel Bridge. The same guy designed the Tower. The sign reads "Imagine Life Without Capitalism." Neno told us about the youth being apathetic--complaining yet doing nothing.

An NGO (whose name I forget) puts these hands on building around town. Dosta means "enough." As in enough fighting, corruption, and greed.

One of the Olympic complexes. This one held ice rinks. There was no snow in the days leading up to the games and officials were worried. The night before the opening ceremony and through the next day, snow fell. Young people throughout the city helped shovel streets to make the Games happen.

Controlled by the Austro-Hungarians for a bit, parts of Sarajevo looks remarkably like Budapest in some areas. . .though cleaner and more put together. Neno pointed out that the rulers didn't "give" things to Sarajevo to be nice, but rather to test them (while exploiting mineral wealth too). For instance, the first European electric trams were here.

As a side note, after the war, many cities donated second-hand trams to Sarajevo. As a result, virtually none match. Sleek new trams and ones that look on their last legs follow each other around the city.

The only functioning synagogue in all of Bosnia. Neno asked the Rabbi when the last wedding was held there and was told maybe 40 or 50 years before.

The giant main post office. Less than a month before the war, as nationalistic sentiments were reaching a boiling point, someone spray painted "This is Serbia" on the building. The next morning there was a response: "Fool, this is a post office."

The building was set on fire in 1992. Throughout the Siege, communication with the outside world virtually stopped. There was no mail and no phones. Residents could communicate only by sending messages through the Red Cross.

The Latin Bridge. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated here, trigging WWI, an action whose consequences can be traced to the most recent conflict.

The Spite House. Sarajevo had to buyout several homeowners to construct the current City Hall. The owner of this house stubbornly refused to accept money. Instead, he demanded his house be moved, brick by brick across the river and reconstructed exactly.

Sebilj Fountain in the center of Bašèaršija, or the Ottoman market. If you drink from it, it is said you'll return to Sarajevo.

One of the covered bazaars from the outside. Mostly kitsch inside.

Inside the covered bazaar. Knock off purses and sunglasses, cheap Chinese made clothes and scarves, but neat nonetheless.

We preferred the narrow alleys outside. In addition to the obligatory magnets, the goods in these shops were largely handmade. BiH is famous for its copper, so plates, jewelry, and tea sets were found in abundance. While some pieces were clearly machine pressed, many shops were run by men busy carving (that certainly isn't the right word) designs into the metal by hand.

Attached to what is said to be the oldest still-operating public toilet in Europe (from the 1500s), the clock tower shows lunar time. That is, it counts down the time until the sun sets each day and must be reset by hand each morning.

Mac Donner. Tee Hee.

The Eternal Flame commemorating military and civilian victims of WWII. It was dedicated on April 6, 1946, a year after the city was liberated. The Siege began on April 6, 1992. The flame went during this time due to a lack of fuel in the city. Neno says it's gone out a few times since then due to rain or wind. So. . .eternal-ish flame maybe?

A "Sarajevo Rose." In places where civilians were killed on the streets, holes in the sidewalks were filled in with red and the place boxed off with paint. The names of those killed are inscribed on the walls of nearby buildings.

A memorial to the thousands of children who died in the Siege. The base is made of melted down mortar shells.

Me, Neno, and Jon after the tour.

All in all, a wonderful experience. Neno was passionate about sharing his story and that of the city and found it important to do so. He seemed equally as interested in hearing our opinions and asking questions about the political and social situation in our respective countries. I need to remember to write him as he seemed exited to recommend some books to read. Unlike the history of the Roman ruins we walked through today, this is a living history, recent enough that people our age have experienced it.