Please weigh in, agree or disagree, thoughtfully and respectfully. Ferocity and passion are encouraged; disrespect is not. Thank you for reading, and seeing this as a conversation rather than a monologue.

July 31, 2010

Best T shirt of the trip, so far

The one at top right, seen in Mostar. If I was Muslim I'd have bought one.

Everyone Likes a Good Slap

Slap is Croatian for waterfall.

Plitvice III

Like Hawaii, Yosemite, and Alaska, the problem here is what NOT to photograph.

Plitvice II

These blokes were so accustomed to human passersby-by that they didn't even think to take a break from grooming time.

Plitvice I

I hadn't walked even fifty yards and already was taking photos. The walkway was a work of art, perfectly suited to the park.

My new friends from Rotterdam

I met Nessim and his mother, Soara, on the bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar. We had a great conversation, and though I saw them in passing in Mostar, I was sorry to not have had a chance to continue our conversation while there.

But then, in Sarajevo, who should spy me on the street? I was so pleased to see them. We went to a Turkish coffee house and talked for a long time. They were going home the next day, so I was thrilled to see them. Travel is all about encounters just like this. I wish they lived next door.

My new friend in Sarajevo

Soara, bibliophile and linguist, employee at Connectum Bookstore in Old Town. W had some great conversations about Islam and agnosticism and fundamentalism. Oh, and about Old Church Slavic.

July 30, 2010

Migratory Thoughts

The first two weeks of this trip were brutally, debilitatingly hot, between 35 and 41 degrees centigrade. I had two bouts of heat rash and began to reconsider my itinerary - even, at one point, considering coming home. It made no sense to travel to places if I was going to be able to go out in the early morning and late at night, but otherwise have to sequester in air conditioned refuges.

Then it rained. No drouth-breaking rain in Santa Fe was ever more welcome. I was in Mostar, Bosnia. But the damage to my original itinerary - tentative in form as it was - was already done. I began to research other itineraries. I jotted down some notes on my options:

Go home
Do whirlwind tour of most favored destinations, go home early
Go everywhere I was planning to go, just go with AC...but will that mean going to Delphi or Athens, for instance, and only going from air conditioned facility to facility, or staying in and doing nothing?
Travel elsewhere. It makes no sense for me to stay in this heat if I can't be out, meeting people and learning new things. After Sarajevo, make a plan that includes taking in Athens, Delphi, and Istanbul.
Go north after Sarajevo or Sofia.

I considered adding some or all of the following destinations

Warsaw (I met a couple from Poland who are teaching ESL, and they made some suggestions about visiting their country)
Helsinki, Finland

My next step was to decide where I wanted to go, and why: university towns, national parks, inexpensive locations, zen monasteries, hamlets conducive to writing and WiFi?

Then I met a Columbia University student in Sarajevo as we were both heading to the train station, both heading toward Zagreb - me to it, her through it - and she loaned me her Lonely Planet guide to Europe on a Shoestring for the 10 hour ride. During that time I decided that I will abandon the Balkans for the Baltics. So I will be going to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. That means I will probably also go to Poland, Budapest, Hungary, and might even make it to Berlin. This means missing out on Albania, Macedonia, Romania and, most likely, even Greece. It may also mean that, in order to get to Istanbul, I will probably have to fly there. Either that or go there directly after Sofia and then fly north from there.

As you can see, there are still decisions to be made. I need to sit down with a map and a calendar and sort out what works best.

For the moment, I will say this: Zagreb looks like love at first sight. I would love to live within weekend getaway distance of Plitvice Lakes. I can really do without all the cigarette smoke in the Balkans. I'm immensely relieved that the heat wave has broken, and am a bit bemused that I now need a sweater to go out, even in midday. I hate that Europeans eat songbirds. And I miss my friends and Boz. Will you visit me if I decide to stay?

July 20, 2010

Dolce Vita, a small serving

After the Devastation, Magic

Ruminations on Dubrovnik
Sometimes, though certainly not always, the world rewards a risk. It certainly rewarded my impulsive decision to end my time on the sailboat and set off on a Friday night in search of a place to stay in Dubrovnik. On a weekend, let me emphasize, in high tourist season. My friends, Marina and Carmela, went in search of a taxi while I waited at the bus stop in an effort to make sure I found a way into town to look for a place.
In a country that is strange to me, where I don't know the customs or the clues to knowing whether someone is shooting straight or taking advantage of a rube from America, three people at the bus stop, traveling together, began to chat with me. I mentioned that I was going to town to look for a room, planning to stop at the travel agency mentioned in my tour book. Steve, the husband of Tea (two syllables), said that agency was closed, and anyway, no agency would be open at 9 PM on a Friday night. Tea, clearly perceiving that I was adrift, made a phone call to a friend who just happened to have a room available, even though I only wanted it for two nights (3 nights is the usual minimum). It was 70 Euros per night, about $90, but it had AC, which my heat rash made a necessity. I protested that the price was high, but Tea informed me that I was lucky it was available, that I would like it, and the price, it seemed, was not open to discussion.
About that time, Marina and Carmela came by in a taxi, offering me a lift. I let them know that it appeared I had a room, so they could go on into town and I would connect with them later.
But I really wasn't sure. I didn't know these folks at all, and had no idea if they were setting me up to take my money, put me up in their sister's boss's cousin's hovel at triple the usual price, or if they were on the level.
So I got on the bus with them, and got off where they did, outside Pile Gate into Old Town. They said the proprietress's son was coming to take me to the house. And there was Alberto. He looked alright. He and Tea and Steve (the third person at the bus stop was Marc, from France) greeted each other warmly, and Alberto led me away.
Through dark, winding alleys. Late at night, in a strange town. And me without my brass knuckles. We walked a few blocks, all uphill, me sweating buckets, mostly from the heat. He finally put his key into a large metal door set into a stone wall that was two stories high if it was a foot. And opened it onto a well-tended garden that smelled of lavender and rosemary. He led me up still more steps, and opened the door into an impossibly neat, divinely cool room with herringbone wood or parquet floors. He came back shortly with a large bottle of water for me, and wished me a good night without even asking for a deposit.
I dropped my packs, stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes, drank a bunch of water and fell gratefully into bed.
Travel magic makes me believe all is not lost.

My hostess turned out to be very gracious and accommodating. Her dog, a little terrier named Moki, barks and snaps at people as they leave, never having become accustomed to new friends leaving week in, week out.
The couple I met at the bus stop own five galleries in town, and Tea is a local celebrity who authored a book on Dubrovnik for visitors, complete with charming illustrations by a famous Italian illustrator. I ran into her and Steve the next day at two separate times (it's a small town). Tea showed me their atelier, told me I mustn't leave town on Monday, as I planned, so I could come to the opening exhibit of Marc, from France, who turns out to be a very fine artist (who I ran into the following day). Tea enjoyed showing me around, teasing me that I distrusted this "old woman" at the bus stop who turned out to be my benefactress. We had a good time teasing each other for a bit, until she dropped me in a chair at Dolce Vita, the locals' favorite gelateria, with instructions to make myself fat there. The next day I found a way to extend my stay until Thursday morning in order to accept Tea's invitation to attend Marc's opening Wednesday night.
What a pleasure to be here. The main question I have now is this:
How does a city, that was pretty much obliterated in a civil war (ludicrous term) fewer than twenty years ago, rebuild not only their city but their sense of hospitality so they can be, not just welcoming, but playful and artful? I'm enchanted.
Because I Need to Know If McAndrew Is Full Of It