A Travellerspoint blog

October 2014, Myanmar (Burma)

sunny 33 °C

October 2014. Myanmar (Burma)

25th October.
Arrival into Yangon. Another big, crazy, chaotic Asian city – fantastic. The taxi driver emptied us into the bustling street a hundred yards from the hotel leaving us to scramble over the road avoiding scooters, carts, bikes and pedestrians dragging our bags behind us. The Grand 21st Downtown hotel offered relative peace and our room was very pleasant. Above us on the 9th floor the bar offered views across the city.
We set off into the city, lacking any real purpose or direction other than to eventually find a place to eat. Via markets, old colonial buildings in various states of disrepair, a large park with music blazing far too loudly, a huge golden pagoda, a small parade of what looked like transvestites and walking past street vendors trying to tempt us with animal innards on sticks we eventually ended up in 19th Street. Here café and restaurant BBQs spilled into the cobbled streets surrounded by grand old buildings wobbling uncertainly above.
We bumped into friends from work and enjoyed the cheap BBQ food and a few Myanmar beers.
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26th/27th/28th October.
Yangon to Bagan and Myanmar’s temple district. We were here for 2 days and 2 nights including sunrise on the day of departure. Checking into the Zfreeti hotel around 9.30am we dumped our stuff and immediately hired a couple of electric bikes from the rental place outside. It was reasonably difficult remaining upright, although the bikes were so small there wouldn't have been too far to fall.
Anyhow, we vaguely got the hang of it after a while and were able instead to concentrate on the temples and stupas. Thousands cover a relatively small area. It was absolutely stunning. The temples and stupas themselves were similar in design but some we could climb and others had delicate differences inside. But it was the sheer abundance that was incredible – and apparently there used to be so many more…
We climbed one temple along with everyone else who happened to be in Bagan that day and watched the sunset. The following evening we selected a less popular hang-out for sunset. On each occasion it was stunning. The sunrise was equally beautiful, up the top of a third temple, albeit in the company of an unbelievably loud family nearby that were all evidently completely deaf but hadn’t yet transitioned into the use of sign language as a means of communication and still relied upon shouting.
We ate at the Half Moon Café for lunch twice – it was great and then there was a row of restaurants near the hotel where we wandered for dinner. We ate at Spice Restaurant and ‘A little piece of Bagan’. The food on each occasion was simple and pretty good, mostly consisting of oily curries.
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28th/29th/30th October
An early morning flight to Inle Lake. We opted to stay on the lake itself and caught a cab to the jetty whereupon a local lad appointed himself our official tour guide for the next few days. He arranged for boat transport to our hotel and various tours and taxi rides after that. To be fair to him, it was all very organized and good value.
We stayed at the hotel the first day and read books and relaxed and watched the sun lazily sink from the blue sky and dip below the horizon beyond the lake. The local fishermen and various others in boats were oblivious to the orange skies and puttered back and forth. We sat on the jetty and enjoyed the scenery, thinking that pretty much only the appearance of a herd of elephants could improve it – and then, lo and behold… Only joking!
The next day our tour guide took us around some of the villages dotted around the lake on what was supposed to be a three-hour tour but which turned into nine hours! Our fault – it was just so beautiful. Stilted houses formed framed waterways in which locals paraded their goods. We stopped at blacksmiths, silversmiths, a restaurant, weavers, temples, tourist stalls and much more. At each place everyone was so pleased to see us (even though we rarely bought anything) and everywhere the scenery was stunning: think Venice, but hundreds of years ago and made out of wood. How our driver knew his way around the narrow short-cuts and never-ending rows of stilted buildings, I don’t know (well, I suppose I do – he grew up there and, like many other people knows the maze-like interconnecting waterway system like the back of his hand).
The penultimate stop on the tour landed us in a little village that was, by chance, celebrating its annual festival of food donation. We first came across a procession of monks collecting alms and we followed them back up through an old pillared cloister with archways of flowers above us and each side families gathered cooking food and sitting in smoke-filled spaces on mats chatting. At the end of the kilometer long cloister we arrived at hundreds upon hundreds of old stupas side by side, some crumbling to bits others newer and all staring out across the valley. It was stunning and unexpected. We stayed ages admiring the craftsmanship and their extraordinary abundance.
We spent so long there our final stop at ‘Retired Jumping Cats Monastery’ (I kid you not) had to be abandoned due to fading light and the fact we had a long trip across the lake back to the hotel and then to our new place at the north end of the lake (La Maison). One wonders why the cats stopped jumping, and indeed, whether they were ever better jumpers than any other cat in their prime. It can only be assumed that the monks had a fair bit of time to kill in between religious readings and chanting practice and felt their precious time was best served teaching the stray cats how to leap. In any case, we didn’t go and so never found out...
The next day, on dry land we hired bicycles and rode around to the north west of the lake to the hot springs. Then, we crossed in a boat past fishermen holding nets and clasping paddles somehow by their legs and feet and thrusting themselves forward using said body parts in an action that would take me many lifetimes to master. Then up high to Forest Monastery for views over the lake and finally further along to Red Mountain Winery which served a local Sav Blanc that was surprisingly good.
Back to La Maison for good eats…
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Posted by Patrick H. 01:50 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Summer 2014

Portugal

semi-overcast 24 °C

20th - 25th June
We flew from Marrakech via Madrid into Porto. A cab driver needed the assistance of a passer-by. who actually joined us in the taxi for the last part of the journey, then deposited us to the apartment building where we dumped our bags for 5 nights. We were staying with our good friends Dionne and Pete who generously provided a spare room. These two would make fine hoteliers as they offered cups of coffee, a roast dinner, breakfasts and general tourist guidance throughout our stay. It was a long weekend in Porto celebrating the festival of San Joa and so we had 4 long lovely days together.

Porto is a beautiful town, with winding, steep streets leading to the bustling, atmospheric waterside district of the Ribeira. Here, tiny cafes and restaurants battled for business next to the water. Across the other side Port Lodges stored all the world's Port. It is up the river in the Douro Valley where all Port is made. We visited Cockburn's Port Lodge early in our stay and were given a fantastic tour by our personable and knowledgable guide. We then tasted various Ports ranging from the inexpensive to the very pricey. All were lovely, although we are not connoisseurs and were unable to distinguish between them.
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Portugal loves tiles.
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Huge murals consisting of thousands of tiles decorate building facades, churches and walls everywhere. None more beautifully in Porto than the train station.
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We walked around the city heads inclined taking in the view and the scenery around us. 9D870EF52219AC68175B172B3C92FB3E.jpgIMG_1322.jpgIMG_1323.jpgIMG_1324.jpgIMG_1335.jpg
We stopped for fantastic food and drink. Port is of course the local choice, and they created imaginative cocktails using it as well. Porto Tonico became a favourite. The locals are also fond of sardines and we settled ourselves down one day to a fish lunch.
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The public holiday was the Tuesday, and so, quite sensibly, the town celebrated hard Monday evening. We set off into the centre about 7pm and passed thousands travelling in the same direction. On the way street parties were already going - all with sardines and port in equal good measures. On of the great things about Europe and the Uk is the street eating and drinking - and the drinking in public places such as parks, and beaches. There is often nothing better than a bottle of wine down on the beach on a blanket with a picnic as the sun sets.
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We took a ferry across the river as the sun set...
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In the centre thousands gathered to watch the fireworks on the bridge at midnight. Overhead we estimated over 20000 Chinese fire lanterns illuminated the sky throughout the evening and night, drifting in the breeze, occasionally bursting into flames and dropping onto some unfortunates far below. It was stunning. IMG_1355.jpg
We were a little early and had a drink before joining the crowds and watching the fireworks. My photographic skills rarely do justice to anything, however, they didn't even come close on this occasion. Put simply, this was the best fireworks display I have seen in 30 odd years, rivalling perhaps only the display I saw in Lewes, Uk back in the 80s. Set against music it went on for 30 minutes and was rewarded with huge cheers at its conclusion.IMG_1368.jpgIMG_1369.jpgIMG_1371.jpg
We left the party after a few more drinks and a long walk home. We were in bed by about 4.30am leaving thousands of revellers still partying on the streets of Porto. I have rarely seen such a large community gathering in quite such a good natured fashion for a public holiday.

The next day we managed to get to the riverside by midday to watch the annual Port Lodge boat in the the traditional skiffs. IMG_1377.jpgIMG_1379.jpgIMG_1381.jpg

25th June
It was with sadness that we left on Wednesday morning saying farewell to our friends. Our next destination: Coimbra.
An hour or so away on the train. A lovely little university town. We stayed a night and morning and spent our time wandering the old streets and visiting the gardens.IMG_1385.jpgIMG_1386.jpg
We also visited the museum and came across these ancient mathematical tiles:IMG_1391.jpg

26th - 30th June
To Lisbon, where we met up with my Mum and stayed near the centre close to the water.
Lisbon is a very liveable city with street restaurants and cobbled alleyways on steep hills and large squares with impressive statues. Old trams operate in the city and twist and turn through impossibly narrow and steep streets.
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We took a tourist bus on our 1st day and visited the district of Belem.
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The monastery, especially the chapel inside was stunning. I also found Vasco Da Gama's tomb in a beautiful church: IMG_1411.jpgIMG_1413.jpgIMG_1414.jpgIMG_1466.jpgIMG_1467.jpg

The Discoveries Monument nearby celebrated all the pioneers and explorers that Portugal have produced in years gone by:IMG_1419.jpgIMG_1421.jpg

It was a lot of walking! We also visited the Castelo De Jorge with commanding views of the city:IMG_1449.jpgIMG_1452.jpgIMG_1453.jpgIMG_1455.jpg

There was a street lift nearby and we waited in line and rose to the top. Fantastic 360 degree views.IMG_1393.jpgIMG_1445.jpgIMG_1446.jpgIMG_1447.jpg

The food was great. On the first evening we encountered a street market that offered platters of meats and cheese. Nearby stalls provided wine and we sat and ate on benches alongside locals. After 2 days of travelling up and down the city, on buses and trams and on foot, we felt we had deserved a night out at the Fado - the local music scene. We found a lovely little place and reserved a table. The food was good, the wine was vastly overpriced and the Fado was pretty poor. They delayed the start for too long. The woman then came out and insisted she and her musicians were professional for ages for some bizarre reason. The first set last about 30mins. They then took a 'short' break for nearly an hour before coming back on for only 10 mins and repeating some of the songs. We left just as she announced that they would now be taking a 'long' break. Still it had been an entertaining evening.

Our last full day in Portugal was spent in the hills in the lovely little town of Sintra. It had an oldy worldy feel to it and was totally over the top touristy but in a spectacularly good way. We visited the old royal palace and the newer palace high up on the hill which looked like something out of Disney Land. We also had a superb lunch down by the water in Cascais.IMG_1501.jpgIMG_1504.jpgIMG_1505.jpgIMG_1506.jpgIMG_1511.jpgIMG_1512.jpgIMG_1521.jpgIMG_1514.jpgIMG_1524.jpg
Back in Lisbon we had a final dinner - said goodbye to Mum (we were leaving early the following morning) and spent an hour down by the water where the annual Gay Pride Celebration was taking place.IMG_1482.jpgIMG_1488.jpg

Portugal - a stunning place - and we hadn't even been to the sunny south where the tourists flock for clear waters and sunny blue skies each summer. Great food, lovely people and good cheap wine (except in that Fado place!). We left early the following morning determined to return one day...

Posted by Patrick H. 02:14 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Summer 2014

Morocco

all seasons in one day 38 °C

So, here we are again - what teaching is all about: the long summer holiday. Not quite true of course, but of pivotal importance!
Anyhow, it all began round about midday on Friday 6th once the school bell had tolled for the last time. Minutes later we were celebrating with a bloody mary and a fry-up - what better way to start 8 weeks off work.

8th - 12th June
We flew to London first on the Sunday. A new direct flight with Philippines Airlines coupled with an early start and crossing 7 time zones meant that we arrived at our hotel near Waterloo at about 6pm on the same day. The weather was glorious - as it remained for the next 4 days. Sunny blue skies, Thames-side pubs serving real ale and the beautiful South Bank all served to remind us just how wonderful London City is.

Over the next 4 days we saw a couple of shows: Bill Nighy and Kevin Spacey performing! We went for a couple of runs - Marsha particularly enthused by the circular run on both sides of the Thames which she described as being the best run she'd ever had! Had a curry - of course, enjoyed some proper beer, I had a round of golf, visited the Tower of London - is there a more historical place anywhere...?, wandered the sites, walked the parks and met up with some friends. All in all it was a fantastic way to begin the holiday.
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But, the 4 days came to an end and we were flying to Morocco. With Ryanair. What could possibly go wrong...?
We've travelled a fair bit, and for the first time ever we were informed that we had to print out boarding passes before arrival at the airport. The fine for not doing so? 70 pounds each - the equivalent of over US$100 each! For a piece of paper! "Can we print out now we asked?" as we were 3 hours early for the flight. "No", we were told by Ryanair- "you can only print out up to 3 hours before". So we join the queue and 55 minutes later once we get to the front we re-look at the ticket and see that it says we can print out up to just 2 hours in advance. "Hang on - we can print" we say. "So you can" says Ryanair. We rush off to print and miss the time deadline by less than a minute. "Bad luck" says Ryanair and make us pay.
Needless to say - there was a fair bit of arguing in between all of this - but the upshot was that we had to pay 140 pounds. A fine we could have easily avoided had we not been given the incorrect information. We have complained officially to Ryanair - watch this space. In the meantime:

Never travel Ryanair!!!

Anyhow, we did arrive eventually in Fes, Morocco, along with our good friends Andy and Kris.

12th June
Checked into an apartment with the tiniest doorways, narrowest stairways and lowest bathroom ceilings I've ever seen. But, the bedrooms, living area and the top terrace overlooking some of the city were great. The old Medina with its cobbled, windy streets flanked by ancient walls wobbling uncertainly skyward was immediately welcoming. Hustle bustle, carts, bikes, shouting everywhere - people are sooo loud in Morocco, shops spilling shoes and trinkets into the maze-like alleyways. It was all very chaotic but very friendly. 10 mins later and we were in a little restaurant sampling tagines and Moroccan salads - fantastic. Ryanair was soon forgotten....

13th June
A super breakfast nearby at the apt owner's place. Marsha, Kris and I then got wonderfully lost in the ancient Medina (the old city of Fes). To be fair we did only start looking for the apt after about 3 hours of meandering around the Medina - but it did take over an hour longer to get back. Hot, sweaty and pretty tired, we collapsed happily at home into books etc.... We'd brought wine with us which came out later and then a meal nearby.

14th June
Much of the same - great breakfast, a wander round the dizzying Medina admiring the sights, sounds and smells, popping into shops occasionally but mostly just enjoying the atmosphere. It was lovely.
Marsha then signed up to do a running race around the walls of the old Medina. We trekked up to the start - totally disorganised - people mulling about aimlessly everywhere. Still, we found someone who gave her a shirt and cap and the number 2 and she was off and running. It wasn't the most serious of races; apparently some people started several minutes before others and a fairly hefty number made a short cut...! Great fun though.
We then amazingly found a bar and drowned our sorrows as England lost to Italy!
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15th June
Since the 9th century the people of Fes have utilised the very same techniques in their tanneries to create wearable leather from animal skin. After breakfast we found one such tannery and adjoining leather shop and watched as men worked in tanks filled with animal hides, water, pigeon poo and lime - just as men had done so for centuries. It stank to high hell.
Afterwards we amused ourselves by getting lost once again and then re-finding our way back home.
It was our last evening in Fes. We walked up to the crowded food area near the main gate where several restaurants flowed into the narrow street. We sat and had probably our best meal yet (besides the breakfasts): tagines, aubergine, olives, salads and as usual, recently baked bread. We ate too much - all of us! However, we had a walk home and sat on the terrace for a while. A lovely few days in Fes were coming to an end, and with it, a farewell to And and Kris, at least for a few days....

16th June
A early start with our bags. We'd organised a driver (Moustafa) to take us via the Sahara Desert to Marrakech. The trip would take 3 days and 2 nights and we were hoping would include one night under the stars in the sand dunes of the Sahara. Beautiful scenery all the way. Centuries old buildings crumbling in the heat sat alongside new ones. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Deep gorges, the Atlas mountains and empty nothingness passed by our window. As we neared the Sahara the weather closed in. We swapped vehicles for a 4 by 4 only half an hour out from the dunes. Lightening crashed around us, the wind hit gale force and visibility was reduced to almost nothing. A sandstorm followed which battered our car as it crept to its destination in the desert. It would be fair to say that I was kind of expecting better weather in the Sahara! Somehow the driver found our wee place in the desert. Struggling in the sandstorm, we sought shelter inside only to find that the sand was fighting its way inside through every crack and crevice. Our toilet and shower was like a sand pit.
Anyhow, just as we'd lost hope of getting further into the desert the storm abruptly stopped and the setting sun appeared. We leapt aboard our camels and set off into the dunes. Darkness arrived a little later but our sure footed camels and experienced guides found our camp about 90 minutes into the sandy Sahara.
The food was slow coming but worth the wait. The cooks turned into musicians after dinner and we sat around as they played their drums. We then laid back and star gazed. It was absolutely stunning, surrounded by the desert and above us the stars. We did eventually roll into a tent where it was warm - but only well after midnight....

17th June
After about 3 hours sleep we got up to watch the sun rise over the Sahara dunes. After it appeared we then stomped through the sand a bit lower and watched it rise again. This we did about 4 times, it was great. Back at camp a little later others were stirring. The camels were already awake and impatiently awaiting us. The trip back was stunning, our shadows dancing on the sand in the early morning heat. Later, after a breakfast of bread and honey we travelled through the desert back to town and met up with Moustufa again for our ride out. Lovely countryside, a stop at various points of interest, all good. We stopped at a hotel in a nondescript town for the night. The manager was much more interested in the footy on TV than worrying too much about our broken air-con and giant cockroaches that appeared to have also booked the same room as us. Dinner at the hotel was surprisingly good....
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18th June
Over the Atlas Mountains, the winding road reaching over 3000 metres, the peaks still high above us. Moustufa was on a mission to get us into Marakech in record time - or so it seemed! We stopped off at some film studios where various biblical themed Hollywood films had been shot as well as Gladiator. Arriving back to the car obviously a little later than he would have liked, Moustafa went looking for us and harried us along. Up in the mountains he was reluctant to stop. Anyhow, we made it to Marrakech and after some searching found the road on which our Riad was. This was obviously close enough for Moustafa who promptly put us out onto the street and said goodbye. A passerby showed us the Riad and then demanded an extortionate amount of money for the 1 minute journey to the Riad where we were staying. It actually got quite unpleasant as I only paid him the equivalent of $3 for his 30 seconds work, he feeling that he was owed 20 euros. Anyhow, checked into our little place and wandered into the crazy cobbled streets and tiny alleyways of Marrakech. Impossibly lost, we aimlessly rambled, avoiding fast moving bikes and the occasional donkey. Shops selling all manner of tat spilled into the covered alleyways. Very atmospheric! We reached the main square in which tonnes of snakes were being allowed to roam free by their rather too casual snake charming handlers. Monkeys on chains wasn't great. Anyhow, we ended up at Cafe Arabe and had a glass of wine and some food.

19th June
Breakfast, then the palace and gardens and a wander through the Souks. All good, even if there were far too many snakes in the main square still... Marsha and I then split up for the afternoon and did our own thing. Marsha shopped and I sat in a rooftop cafe and busied myself, occasionally entertained by the shouting and fisticuffs below in the street that seemed to bubble up every 10 mins; they're a very hot tempered angry bunch! Later we met Andy and Kris again and had some drinks back in Cafe Arabe and then food in a little local place.
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20th June
And so, after breakfast, it was time to be off. Morocco had been chaotic, loud and interesting. In all honesty, Although, I couldn't rate it as one of my favorite destinations, the food had been overall a little disappointing, the trip from Fes to Marrakech incredibly expensive and the people a little too much in your face. However, Fes had been lovely to wander around and a fascinating little place. The desert had been beautiful and the camel ride was stunning. The centre of Marrakech, finally away from the bikes and the noise had been peaceful and very atmospheric. And the food had been alright really... Anyhow, it was time for our next adventure. Bags were checked in at the airport and we we're Portugal bound, specifically Porto.....

Posted by Patrick H. 11:49 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Europe, Summer 2013

Bosnia & Herzegovina

22 °C

14th July
Leaving Dubrovnik behind we departed by bus en route to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Bizarrely we passed through border control on 3 occasions and weren’t entirely sure we were in Bosnia until we arrived at our destination – Mostar. Originally known for its old beautiful bridge dating back to the 16th century, in more recent times it found fame through warfare. In this particularly pointless war, arguably the most unnecessary and needless event was the purposeful destruction of the old Stari Most Bridge. I remember the video and the shocking events screened around the world only 20 years ago. Nowadays it has been rebuilt using the same material from the same quarry as the original.

We walked from the bus station to Villa Park hotel – a lovely little place with a balcony overlooking the river. From there we wandered into old town. On the way it was hard not to notice the battle scarred buildings. Bullet holes peppered the walls lining the streets. Some buildings were in a complete state of disrepair, obviously left neglected after the shelling from the war.
Entering the old town the streets had a more cared for appearance. Shiny cobbled stones under our feet paved the twisting narrow path through the bustling tourist stands and shops. It was only when our attention was directed upwards were the signs of recent conflict obvious – broken walls and windows with bullet holes littering the crumbling stonework of centuries old.

We eventually came to the bridge. The newness was obvious and highlighted by the ancient buildings on either side scarred by warfare. Still, it was beautiful and very photogenic. After spending some time on it we had a couple of drinks from a café the far side with a decent view.
There is a bridge jumping club and sure enough as we passed by looking for a place to eat, a man in speedos rounded the corner creating a stir of excitement (because he was about to jump rather than the fact he was wearing speedos I think!). He asked for some money which we happily gave. Rather unsportingly we noticed many refuse who were then perfectly happy to photograph and film his jump into the water. 21m is a lot further than it sounds… No wonder he had a slightly crazed expression on his face.

After he had jumped a couple of times we went and found a small bar behind the bridge next to the river as the sun set. For dinner we went to Han Café on the waterside and had a very nice meal with gargantuan portions that neither of us could even get close to finishing.
On the way back to the hotel we passed the bridge one final time and I noticed a stall selling photos of the bridge (or lack of) in the aftermath of the bombing in 1993 – sad times…..
Photos from Mostar:

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15th July
Breakfast by the river followed by a 3 hour bus journey to Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina. A taxi negotiated its way from the bus station to the Stari Grad Pansion – our hotel for the one night we were in Sarajevo. Centrally located, it only took a few minutes before we were strolling around the old town. It was bustling with people – mostly tourists. The smell of kebab drifted through the narrow alleyways as we walked browsing the shops. Creative gifts were on offer – lamps made out of old shells and pens from bullets.

The buildings were mostly in good order in the old town but occasionally we came across the tell-tale signs of war. As we ventured further out of the tourist district these became ever more apparent and frequent. We walked to the corner of the road where Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914 prompting the eventual start of World War 1.
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IMG_0687.jpgThe Archduke was shot from this corner in Sarajevo
We walked down by the river for a few km all the way to the History Museum. The broken steps leading into the miserable looking building with bullet scarred walls gave some indication as to what we’d find inside.

We spent an hour or 2 in the museum. It was fascinating and depressing, uplifting and sad, but overall left us with a sense of bewilderment as to how such genocide could be allowed to continue for so long (4 years) before the international community intervened. Most interesting of all were the photos that somebody had taken from identical positions immediately after the war and then again 18 years later. Burning buildings, trashed vehicles and empty streets had been replaced by the modernity that was the face of present day Sarajevo.

We walked back to town and came across another museum. This one provided an audio visual account of the massacre at Srebrenica. It was a much more brutal museum and a chilling reminder of what happened in the really very recent past. We stayed as long as we were able before feeling that we’d taken in about as much as we could for the day.
We had dinner in a little place in town that we reckoned on the face of it was probably the least good place in town – but still…

16th July
After checking out we joined 2 Americans for a tour of the city and the Tunnel of Freedom near the airport that helped provide much needed provisions during the siege. Our tour guide was excellent, albeit a little one-eyed – but that was totally understandable in the circumstances and made it all the more interesting. The tunnel was interesting to look at as was the drive around the hills overlooking Sarejevo so that we could see where the Serbian forces had fired into the city. But, of most interest was her stories and opinions of what happened. She spoke of the future with the sad inevitability that the whole thing would happen all over again some day. It was the sheer pointlessness of the war and the resulting loss of life that she found so depressing. She was not only critical of the slowness of the international reaction to the situation 20 years previously but also to the treaty that Bill Clinton forced through which she says is now crippling and dividing the country further. She was a lovely person and it was hard to share her sense of hopelessness for those few hours albeit incredibly interesting.

IMG_0692.jpgTunnel of Freedom
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IMG_0695.jpg View of Sarajevo from where the Serbian forces were.
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We had lunch at AGIZ – a really nice place that served food in a similar manner to Indonesia where the food was sitting ready and you selected from the dishes available those you wanted. As to whether our scraps were scraped back into the dishes afterwards for further use as they often are in Indonesia we weren’t sure.
And then it was time to go.

A flight to Istanbul and a few hours the following morning in the centre admiring the mosques. Having been there previously in the winter it was nice to see the Blue Mosque on a beautiful summer’s day.
Then a flight to Bali and a week of relaxation before work. Ah well, gotta earn these holidays I suppose!
Some photos of Bali
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Posted by Patrick H. 21:11 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Europe, Summer 2013

Croatia

sunny

9th July
Across the border from Montenegro, we entered Croatia by bus late morning, arriving into the coastal town of Dubrovnik by midday. The trip along the coast gave us wonderful views of the azure waters of the Adriatic and then of the old walled town of Dubrovnik. We had booked into a place with a balcony overlooking the old town - spending a little more than usual for this experience. However, on arrival our hostess informed us that the apartment was double booked - and we were there 2nd. She helped us find someplace else that was run by a little old lady who seemingly had never heard of the internet and wanted an extortionate amount for the small room at the top of her house. We thanked her and eventually, 3rd time lucky, we found a place up Obodstar St with a balcony and overlooking the old town for much less than the original place - so all worked out in the end.

We went for a wander into old town first of all. It had a very real feel to it - there were shops, cafes, bars and hundreds of tourists for sure - but there were people clearly living there and carrying on their daily business as they have for many years. Cobbled, narrow alleyways criscrossed the town in a higgeldy-piggledy fashion with cafes spilling out onto the wayfares. Washing hung on lines above, cats played in the dark alleyways and the smell of gorgeous food drifted around the town. Occasionally we reached the edge of town, knowing the blue waters of the Adriatic were just beyond, but the huge wall encircling the town prevented us from seeing over. Up on top of the wall people walked with cameras permanently trained on the picturesque town and the sea beyond. So, we paid the fee and went uptop.

The wall walk is a 2km round walk that became quite crowded (Dubrovnik has certainly become a fixture on the Eastern European tourist route). But it was stunning. At one point we came across tables laid out in preperation for a wedding or some such event. A glorious setting and recognised by the couples as they streamed by, no doubt enviously recollecting their own wedding locations in comparison.

It is easy to spend a whole afternoon in the town and so it was that when we came off the wall it was time for dinner. We picked out one of the many passageway eateries and tucked into the local food and local wines and beer. Of course, Dubrovnik is no longer a cheap night out, but still, it had been a good day and we felt like heammoraging a bit of cash in celebration - or so it turned out.
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10th July
Real coffee for breakfast - not a Starbucks in sight, in fact there has not been a MacDonalds or any of that rubbish either since we touched down in Skopje anywhere we have been.
Then, we hopped aboard a boat bound for the famed 3 island cruise. The first island was Lupud - a small town nestled next to the beach with a few cafes and churches. We went to the other side of the island.

We went over the other side of the island, transported by an overpriced makeshift sand buggy taxi thing. Once there we organised a second mortgage on our house and then hired a couple of sun-loungers for an hour. The water was lovely and it was a very pleasant hour or so. Back to the boat for lunch – we were the last ones to return by the 2pm deadline but were still a minute or so early. Even so, our ‘late’ arrival prompted the young lad working on the boat to tut loudly at us as we climbed aboard…
Two more islands followed and on each we had the best part of an hour wandering around the coastline admiring the views. We jumped in the water again at one of them cooling down nicely.

Back in Dubrovnik we had a wander around town and then had dinner at the Renaissance Restaurant in Old Town which was fantastic. Back at the hotel we made sure we were in place on the balcony by 10pm ready for the fireworks display over the harbour signalling the beginning of the 64th Dubrovnik Summer Festival. The fireworks were a little late in coming – perhaps to accommodate the armada of boats and ships gathered in the bay to watch the show. Anyhow, eventually the air was full of bangs and whooshes and symmetrical bright lights. All good fun…
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11th July
A slow start to the day – packing, then coffee and pastries overlooking the old walls of Dubrovnik. We had organised a scooter each for the next 3 days and around 11am, having left our big bags at the hotel, we hopped aboard our little 50cc machines. The sense of independence was wonderful as only a few minutes later we left the old and then new towns of Dubrovnik behind us and tootled along up the coast – the glistening Adriatic ever present to our left.

We stopped the whole time simply to admire the views. The first 35km to Ston were along the main road and it was nice to roll into firstly the town of Little Ston and then Big Ston. A huge ancient wall snaked over the hills between the 2 towns and some way beyond, apparently the longest continuous wall in Europe and after Hadrian’s the longest ever in Europe. (It was some way short of China’s effort – but impressive nevertheless). In the heat of the day we admired from the ground with a coffee in our hands rather than walk it.
The helpful tourist agency gave us a few ideas and we soon left armed with leaflets up the Pururururu Peninsula. This peninsula is famed for its beaches, but more so for its wineries. We were spoilt for choice with numerous little family run wineries offering tastings along the main road. We stopped off at a few and bought a bottle of the Dingac red at one. A fantastic way to spend the afternoon. Once we reckoned that we’d tasted enough wine we stopped for a swim.

Further along we stopped for some food – mussels and squid. Marsha grew concerned that the size of the portions were such that mussels and squid could become endangered in the near future. In actual fact, over the previous week we’d seen many people collecting mussels from the coast and had seen them attached to rocks and jetties in places we’d swum. There were loads around. (as you can see, my conscience was clear as I tucked into the seafood…).

Another swim just behind the lunch place and then a drive over the hill through beautiful vine growing areas overlooking the water to the next bay. After 20 mins of searching we found a fantastic place in the centre of the community with a large balcony looking out to see for about $50. All good.
We celebrated the day by demolishing the Dingac red wine on the balcony as the sun set behind the hills and then had dinner at a nearby restaurant. The food was great and the price good. It was spoilt only by the insistence of the waiter that we try the free Grappa sitting on the table between us. We duly did and then spent the next 3 weeks trying to get the taste out of our mouths.
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12th July
Coffee to wake ourselves up – then a swim in the crisp cold water metres from our balcony to ensure we’d stay awake for many hours. To be honest, it wasn’t that cold but we decided that we were getting a bit used to warm seas…! We drove on passing (and stopping at) more wineries. Perfect. We found one winery in the town of Kuna that offered cheese and ham tasting as well. We were invited inside the tiny little room in which we’d do the tasting. Covering every available space above us, 1, 2 and 3 year old raw pigs legs hung from the ceiling drying slowly. The tasting turned out to be a whole plate of homemade goat and sheep cheese along with some hunks of bread. A carafe of wine was also plonked down which we politely declined. I’d like to say that the reason we said no was that it was still (just) morning, but actually, it had more to do with the fact we were driving.
It was a lovely plate of food and a unique venue. Thanking our hostess, we trundled on further up the coast eventually arriving into the port of Orebic. A ferry was leaving for the island of Korkula and the town of the same name just across the water (2.5km away) only a few minutes later and so we rode on and were soon the other side. The old town of Korkula was incredibly picturesque. An old wall surrounded the old town that sat on a headland out to sea. In the centre through the winding cobbled alleys sat an old cathedral. We spent longer than we meant wandering around and by the time we were on our bikes again it was time to find a place to stay. About 7km up the island was the town/community of Lombarda. Sitting by the water it was teeming with local Croatian holidaymakers enjoying the summer sun and the blue sea.
We checked into Nikolina Apartments and once again found ourselves a nice little place with a balcony overlooking the water below. An evening swim and stretch by the beach was well-deserved – or so we felt.
From the peaceful surrounds of or apartment and the coastline, we turned a corner to find a lively little town. A public BBQ and loud singing and dancing accompanied the setting sun in the pink sky behind the harbour. All was well – food and an ice cream and a reasonably early night considering that it’s Europe in summer (about 11ish).
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13th July
The ride home. We passed various beaches, wineries and beautiful scenery on the way back to Dubrovnik. It really was very pleasant tootling along on our little bikes. We arrived back into Dubrovnik after 7pm and had time for another good meal at Rennaissonce. Next day we were off early to Bosnia...

Posted by Patrick H. 00:48 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

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