E-mail From Europe and
October 16, 2007
Well, I have been busy having some European escapades. I have summarized them in yet another
quite-lengthy recap. But what else would you expect from me??? The main thing bringing me to
Europe were some of the Balkan countries...but I also managed to squeeze a couple trips in to visit
people I met during my travels last year.
This is where I visited someone from my travels last year – Lorenz, who I met in Australia. My time
here was pretty limited but I managed to make the most of it. Lorenz had the perfect suggestion for
this California Disneyland-loving girl…seeing the Matterhorn in Zermatt! Everything was perfect about
this (including my amazing snow angel that I made). I seriously could not contain my excitement the
entire time I was there. You would swear I had never been let out into another country in my life. The
night before I saw the mountain I could have been mistaken for a kid on Christmas Eve. Just exchange
the milk and cookies for cheese fondue and excellent chocolates.
Every time I saw that mountain, I got a huge smile on my face. Who knew a single mountain could do
this to a person?
Lorenz was also a great sport with being dragged into every chocolate shop that we came across. Poor
guy. He was actually wasn't really aware of the abundance of these places until I stepped foot into his
I was here four years ago so it was nice to start my time in the Balkans in familiar territory. So what
that the prices have gone way up and so has the amount of tourists. I shared a house with 'Mama' in
the Old City. Never found out her name - she just told me that she was 'Mama' while she sat me down
in her kitchen next to her clothesline of underwear while she got me water.
Despite the increase of tourists, Dubrovnik is still one of those places that you can't help but fall
for…especially when seeing it from atop the City Walls. I even took it to the next step and hiked to the
top of Mount Srd to see the Old City from way above. The bonus here was seeing the mountains of
Bosnia-Herzegovina on the other side. The un-bonus about this was my clumsiness when I tried to
walk and take in the views at the same time. Not a bright idea for this girl with two left feet. My hand
took the grunt of a fall and instantly swelled up and became a lovely shade of bluish-purple and would
no longer shut. (I am glad to report that one week later it was in fully-functioning mode again. Lily -
thanks again to you and your bro for your medical guidance - what would be the odds of me meeting a
couple doctors from the U.S. while in Sarajevo???)
This was also the place where I discovered black ink risotto with cuttlefish years ago. It was nice to
have my reunion with this stuff – it never disappoints. Nor does the grilled squid. Nor does the ice
My first stop here was Mostar in Herzegovina. This town is most famous for its 'Stari Most' – or 'Old
Bridge'. Sadly, it's not very old. The original was built in 1556. It was taken down in 1993 by Croatian
mortar shells. It was only rebuilt in 2004. Just one of many war reminders out here. The others were
gravesites that were all along the drive once we crossed the Bosnian-Herzegovinian border. And then
many more within Mostar. I walked through a couple of the cemeteries where virtually every
tombstone ended with the year 1993. Many of these also had pictures of the victims on them. Ughhh.
It was hard to believe that my next stop held an Olympic Games in 1984 and is the capital of the
country. I am talking about the city of Sarajevo. This city is like taking a step back in time – and I mean
that in a good way. The old center had more of a 'town' feeling with its Ottoman architecture. The
Turks also brought their influence of 'Turkish delights' out here. Talk about one bad overdose I had of
these almost 1½ years ago since they still make me sick just by looking at them. (Note to all: Turkish
delights should only be done in small quantities. Never should they be eaten like a bag of sour gummy
candies. I learned the hard way.)
Back to Sarajevo. The city is flooded with white tomb markers all over the place. The Serbs had it
surrounded for years and I even had the chance to see a portion of the tunnel network that was built in
order for them to receive supplies, ammunition, etc. from the outside world. Also apparent were the
NATO vehicles that still roam the city (though not nearly as many as in previous years).
And it is only fair that I pay proper respect to the Bosnian food of bureks (filo with meat that is baked
over coals) and its relatives made with spinach, cheese and potatoes. And the cevapi was another oh-so-
tasty lunch (meatball types of things – sometimes stuffed with cheese – and served with pita-type of
This country was actually a priority of mine when I initially decided to come to the Balkans. CNN is
responsible for this as I saw some darn nice-looking tourism ads for this country while traveling last
year (much the same way it had tourism ads for Croatia about 5 years ago which led to my first trip out
I started in Durmitor National Park. A very, very rainy Durmitor National Park. Between the weather
and the communist-era hotel I was staying in, a recipe for depression could have been created here. (I
need to thank Ari, Elisa and Cindy for their gift of itune gift cards before I left which led to the purchase
of 'The Colbert Report' episodes. I only watch these when times are desperate. This would be one of
those times. Stephen kept me in a great mood that night - damn, I love that man!) Anyway, a couple
days of hiking out here would be cut in half – after all, I was partly here to see the mountains. No
mountains were existence whatsoever due to all of the fog and mist. At least I was able to get out to one
of the lakes where I am able to report an abundance of nice fir and spruce trees. But no dramatic
mountain backdrop that it's known for. (Oh well. I can't have it all. At least I got to see the Matterhorn
in all its glory.) The weather was expected to stay like this for many days. While fir and spruce trees
are nice, there are only so many I can see before I start getting bored.
That is when I put myself on a bus to head out to the Montenegrin coast.
The bus rides were a great chance to internally ooh and aah at all of the natural beauty of this country
– gorges, rivers, mountains, the sea…
I eventually got to Kotor which is tucked in a fjord. One of the wonderful things here was walking up
1300+ steps (no, I didn't slip an extra '0' in there…there are actually over 1300 stairs) to see a view of
it all. I spent over an hour with my butt parked on a rock doing nothing but staring out at the view. It
was that beautiful and peaceful.
Next stop: Budva. Personally, I just like saying this name. (It's kind of funny, isn't it? It's even better
when you start using husky tones while saying it. Shoot. I'm giving away some of the dumb things I do
while on the road...)
Another walled-in Old Town with buildings made up limestone with orange rooftops. I guess I'm a
sucker for these because they never get old to me. I actually decided to hole up here for a while and use
it as a base since a short bus ride can take a person to many o' different places from here. Oh. And
because it was pouring rain the first couple days I was here and I was determined to see a sunny
Montenegrin Adriatic coast, darn it! And I wasn't going to leave until I had done so. Patience paid off
and I finally saw sun. Hallelujah! I was able to do a 'hike' that took me from beach to beach to beach.
Let me just say that it is almost worthwhile to see a place with horrible weather for a couple days just
for the sheer happiness it brings to see what it looks like when sunlight hits. I appreciated it that much
more. I can't even describe the shade of blue of the sea on the cloudless day that I had to say good-bye
to this place. Budva was a place that just got increasingly better the longer I stayed. It felt like a dose of
a 'holiday/vacation' for me. I am already craving to go back again.
That being said, tourism is starting to boom here. If anybody has even a remote interest in this country
(and I think you should...if for no other reason than the word 'Montenegro' having such a great sound to
it - another word I can say all day long), you should come...soon! Prices are already way higher than my
guidebook from 2006 says.
Don't say I didn't warn you...
The extra time I spent on the coast meant I would have to decrease my time in Belgrade and the
surrounding area. Something I was okay with.
On an amazingly beautiful train ride from the coast, I would meet some very nice Serbians. A couple of
my carriage-mates, upon finding out I had no idea where I was going to stay, said to me "You mean
you're coming to Belgrade at 10pm and you have no idea where you are going to go?" Ummm...yeah,
that was basically the situation. I guess I just got used to people in other places pretty much sweeping
me from the train platform to a room in someone's house or a pension. Five minutes before the train
stopped, I would learn that doesn't exist out here. Oops. That would be when Marija, another carriage-
mate, would invite me to stay at her apartment. When I asked her how much I could pay her, she
would not hear of it. I took her up on her offer. She is a student (taking Japanese classes) so we had lots
of time to hang out. It was lots of fun - chatting before finally falling asleep - just like I do with my good
I capped off my time in this city with a 'Hot and Cold Chocolate Massage' at a spa out here that I
booked prior to coming. I mean could something sound like it was made more for me or what?
I am now at a cafe and will meet Marija after she is done with her class. Then it will be one final Serbian
dinner before heading to Athens for a couple days...
I am a month and a half into being on the road and...I should be careful of saying this...it really hasn't
felt like much work yet. I am sure my next email will be different as it will be sent from a little place
called 'India'. I actually had to cut my time short here in order to get out there for something. But more
on that in my next email... :)
Hope all is well! And I have attached some pics from my time in this part of the world.
1. On top of a mountain above Dubrovnik's Old City.
2. At the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
3. One of MANY graveyards in the city of Sarajevo.
4. Using my wonderful self-timer up some 1300+ stairs in Kotor, Montenegro.
5. Yet another self-portrait in Budva, Montenegro.
6. Me and Lorenz in front of the Matterhorn.
7. On the Belgrade Fortress.