With all due respect, The Balkans

8 Dec

I don’t blindly take travel suggestions but it was Katie’s turn to pick this year (year four!) and she’d always wanted to go to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia.

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Classic meets modern style in Croatia.

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Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Manicured, refined, picturesque and my favorite, Slovenia.

I knew nothing about this part of the world’s fascinating recent history before I’d arrived.  Facts (you may want to skip this part):
– In 1991, on the same day, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence.
– In 2006, Montenegro became a country.
– In 2008, Kosovo.
– Former Yugoslavia was made up of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia.
– Slavonia was the name of a place in Croatia. So there’s Slovenia, Slovakia, Slavonia.  Oiy.
– Croatians and Croats were different.
– Slovenia (the Euro), Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Mark), and Croatia (the Kuna) all had different currencies.
– Montenegro adopted the Euro on its own, much to the discontent of the European Commission, and then it applied to join the EU. Bold!
– Orthodox Christianity and the Byzantine Empire.
– Islam and the Ottoman Empire.
– Roman Catholicism, the Austrian Hapsburgs and Charlemagne.
– Tito was a beloved dictator and people (especially the older generation) missed him.  His name was written everywhere.


 

Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, was a jolt of big city sophistication.  It was my landing spot and a palate cleanser. Zagreb felt livable and had, without a doubt, consistently the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  Marko, thanks to Singapore Nikki, was my rainbow cake-baking Couchsurfer, thank you to you both!   Jake suggested the Chillout hostel and my first ever bar crawl, whoa 🙂  And I’m eternally grateful to Filip Kesler who linked me with people whom I LOVE.

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Kesler Family abroad ❤  Nikola and his rhymes, Petra, Filipe, and baby Julie.

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The grandest cemetary entrance.

Croatia was really safe.  I was warned against displaying a flag-sticker — Nikola said it was associated with “red necks” — but otherwise I felt comfortable sleeping in a Red Fiesta, the car I’d rented.

I went south to meet Portugese Jan and his Slovenian friends on the island of Cres. Pronounced “crush”.

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I have a Cres on you.

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Nostrave! “Cheers” in Croatian!

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I saw the Roman Colosseum in Pula during the day and a captivating gladiator reenactment at night.

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The “American Idol” of Roman times.

I learned heaps:
– The organizers used to spray scented water over the crowd to mask the smell of blood.
– Most fighters were prisoners of war.
– The equipment weighed 15-20 kilos.
– Women were allowed to fight.


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Easy, breezy, beautiful.

The Istria Peninsula continued to reveal itself gradually and seductively.  And fed me figs.   The serene countryside was covered in vineyards, a true coffee and wine drinking culture.

In Motovun, I went truffle hunting.  Adorably called “tartufi”. Approximately 1,000 tartufi hunters lived in this forest-y area.  Tartufi came in two colors, black and white, and each color “grown” in a different season:  Black Tartufi were sniffed out in May – August while the elusive, fragrant, expensive (!) white tartufi seemed to be in season September – January.  I write “seemed to be” because the white truffle is a mystery and scientists don’t know much about when it grows or where to find it.  #everydayimtrufflin

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Truffle hunting dogs.  They don’t use pigs anymore because…oink oink. I called that little black one Truffelupogus.

ANY DOG can be trained to be a truffle hunting dog when it’s a puppy by rubbing oil on the mother’s nipples and mixing truffle flavored things into their food. The difficult part was then to teach these dogs to not actually eat the truffles that they find in the forest. Truffelupogus had to stay on a leash at all times because she liked to eat every single truffle she could find.  Oink, woof.

Once the dogs sniffed out a truffle (and pawed it over to their human), the truffle got weighed and sold, ideally on that same day.  The price of a tartufi is based on weight and the freshest truffles weigh the most.  Hunting for my own food with dogs in a forest was active, fun, and delicious.  Truffles are my current favorite cuisine.  No correlation that they also happen to be the most expensive food in the world.

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Homemade gnocci and freshly grated tartufi.  My idea of heaven.

 


 

I picked up Katie in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.  Some things I’d like to remember:
– Friendly people and warm women.
– Arnessa, her husband, and her sister.  A civil engineer in white jeans.
–  Ines and her friend <3.
– Bosnian girls liked Belgrade (capital of Serbia) boys’ accents.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina had a stretch of coastline between Croatia.
– We never tried to spend money just to spend it….unless it was Marks.
– “Bosnians hate soft towels”.
– The border crossings in Bosnia were the most strict and the Italy/Slovenian crossing were the most lax.  I’m not even sure they were manned.

 

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Mdjorje, the second largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world (there are 14 stations of the cross). It’s rocky, sharp, and steep, and we walked up it spontaneously, with our shoes on.

 


 

Back to Croatia:
Most of Croatia we couldn’t pronounce and I employed that technique of looking for words with similar letters.  Just enough had to match up before I started driving.  We visited dozens of waterfalls and quickly learned that the earlier we arrived to a National Park the more private of an experience we were able to have.
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Discussing our pre-teen book idea.

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AdventureSam.

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Market day.

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Calcified water, which was how it got to be that color.

We visited Dubrovnik, where the famed Game of Thrones was filmed.  We met Juliana in Makarska, thanks to Paula!  Had a breezy, ferry-less day in Krka.   Observed comfortable silences when locals ate.  Noticed no obvious stray dogs, begging, or mange. My favorite car game was looking for a dumpster.  Saw Bosnia and Italy from high-up, although I’m not sure which was which.  Joked about a hypothetical scooter business at kilometer eight.  Visited the Museum of Illusions.  I accidentally spilled chips slowly in the back of the car.  Had movie night and learned about the Human Rights Watch, with its own investigative team on the ground.  Drank sweet sparkling water.  Men hoisted our car out of danger.  Visited a Brown Bear Sanctuary.  In Zadar, heard a soothing, melodic sea organ played by water. And ate a ton of bread.

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Horses attempted to get in through our car window.  I didn’t mind.

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The weather ruled our lives.

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Plitvice: Unpronounceable and unforgettable.

 

 


 

We snuck over to Italy for a day:

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Triste; Italian square.

 

Our gas ran out for the portable stove and in a country known for pasta we ate half-cooked noodles with uncooked mushrooms, raw onions, all doused in cold tomato sauce.  But I laughed until I cried.  And that croissant in the morning was European perfection.


sLOVEnia.  with love.
– About 2 million people.
– Land mass, half as big as Switzerland.
– Socialist, about 40% in taxes.
– My best Katies birthday. And also Katie filed my nails.
– Excellent wine.
– Tidy quaintness.
– “Caio”.
– A word for tree lined streets.
– Spoke English perfectly, no dubbing on TV, subtitles instead.
– A cave with a literal river flowing through it.
– “Don’t light the bats”.
– Horses can live to be 30, only the males are used for shows, and female horses can delay birth by 12 hours to birth at night.
– Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled, no motorized boats allowed.
– Cream cake for dessert.
– Maps.me did not get along with highways.
– Quaint alpine villages with colorful flower boxes on every window.
– Rolling countryside and roofed hay racks.

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The Julian Alps.

Beautiful Ljlubliana:
– Feng shui on a grand urban scale.
– What people want Paris to be, a charm crescendo.
– Pedestrian paradise.
– A calm boat cruise.
– Spunky, savvy mayor who met every Tuesday with constituents.
– Where Jason and the Argots slayed the dragon.
– Their Philharmonic was the second formed in Europe.  Mahler was the conductor.
– Won Europeans greenest city, 2016.
– Possibly the most sophisticated place I’ve ever been.

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Perky Slovenia.

 


On my way back to the comfortable USA, I had long layover in healthy, breezy Copenhagen.  Photo below.

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Slathered with good looking people enjoying an afternoon.

 

On my final leg, I slept for 11 hours in the Boston airport because when I bought my ticket I deemed that to be a financially good idea.

Happy to be home,
‘mi

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4 Responses to “With all due respect, The Balkans”

  1. Keith Maestas December 9, 2016 at 5:58 am #

    Rebecca West: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia (Here journals of pre world war II balkans)

    James Joyce lived in Trieste:http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/books/2014/09/07/A-portrait-of-James-Joyce-in-Trieste/stories/201409070086

  2. Paul December 12, 2016 at 6:11 am #

    Enjoyable to read as usual!
    Appreciate the brief history, as I’ve never really understood the post- Yugoslavia map!

  3. deekerson October 31, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    Just revisited this blog. Love the photos.

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