September 26, 2008

Brno, Czech Republic

Getting personal invites from newly formed friendships along the way is one of the best parts of traveling and so when the ex-pat American friend I had met in Sarajevo, Joseph, invited me to the home he shares with his lovely girlfriend Katka in the quiet, clean and quaint hills of Brno in The Czech Republic, I jumped at the opportunity and also on the night train from Budapest which had me arriving after midnight which seemed to set an accidental precedent for the rest of my stay; I would see this medium sized city three hours from Prague only after the sun went down leaving me with a new Czech nickname - The Vampiress of Brno. The Hungarian grey skies had followed me across the border and my hosts “quaint home” in the surrounding hills is actually an architectural masterpiece designed by Katka whose open layout and hip comfort had me consistently choosing, when presented with the day’s options, to “lounge” instead of “explore”. My decision to pretend I was one of those slightly blurry models traveling between the glossy pages of an architectural editorial spread, reading and writing on designer furniture while nibbling wasabi nuts and sipping white wine in front of a cozy evening fire, instead of seeing another castle or church was deliberately calculated as the thought of my quickly approaching reality change loomed ahead; me sitting in a yurt, wrapped in animal skins, selling my firstborn if I could only sleep on a bed of hot coals, begging for more mutton stew, sheep’s rump and goat’s milk as the Mongolian winter whipped snow and wind across the Steppes and through my shivering body.
Not quite to the degree of Mongolia, The Czech Republic sees a sturdy winter season filled with enough grey and cold days to send Grandma to the pub for a little neighborhood warmth. Once the night sky appeared and I was allowed outdoors without the fear of turning into a melted crucifix, Joseph and Katka introduced me to the local PUB-lic policy of Brno and hazed me with hearty glasses of beer, hefty plates of fresh steak tartare and pork ribs so succulent the meat would just gently fall off the bone into the waiting piles of pickled cabbage and horseradish. While I was certainly able to carry my weight in beer and meat at these establishments, I realized, after a Saturday night bus trip home that placed me witness to streets filled with one-eye-open-stumbling and oops-here-comes-my-dinner-on-your-shoe local men and woman, that I would need a few more years here to truly compete. Also sprinkled in with these authentic pub nights were incredibly delicious and healthy home cooked dinners by Joseph, relaxing conversations by the fireplace while watching the American economy get flushed down the toilet and a trip with Katka and her Mother to the local theater to see a performance of “Even Gypsies Go To Heaven” of which, while being thoroughly entertained by the music and all the Czech Stevie Nicks look alikes, I successfully understood four words throughout the entire production, “Cheers”, “Also”, “Thank You” and “No”.
I used two of these words at the dentist appointment that my friend’s were so kind to organize for me on such short notice, “Thank You for seeing me so quickly Olga,” and “No, getting my cracked and cavity ridden metal fillings replaced using that big drill on your table without Novacaine is not an option. No, No, No.” I had come up with the idea of becoming a dental tourist after sitting next to a young Israeli man on the plane ride back to the States in August who told me he had just gotten four beautiful crowns installed in Moldova for just $600 total. At $1,000 a crown in the States, the dream of getting my very own Aniston-Jolie-Roberts smile was always about $900 out of the question. But I was going to be in Central and Eastern Europe, which has a great dental reputation, and I wondered if maybe, possibly, hopefully I would finally have a chance to reasonably treat myself to a pair of Hollywood grade, STAR Magazine worthy porcelain crowns.
Katka packed me in the car like my Mother used to do and hauled me to Olga’s dental practice in the center of town and after a close inspection of my mouth the diagnosis was two cracked fillings, a high scrub cleaning, two new crowns replacements, bleaching and, without question, Novacaine all for a bit higher than I expected, $1,500, and for more time than I could afford, 3 weeks; I was faced with the decision of turning into a Mediterranean ice block in Mongolia or biding my time waiting for a beautiful new smile in the lap of luxury with friends. Not wanting to miss out on eating the regional, internationally-renowned Mutton cuisine of Eastern Asia, I chose to be responsible and only get the necessary work of a cleaning and the broken fillings replaced, of which I was happy to do in the post-communist era where, after learning these people used to get babies delivered, limbs amputated and open heart transplants without any anesthetic, I was never so happy to see a big needle heading directly for my mouth. I was glad I chose to stay and take care of my teeth here because I am convinced that unless you have had a cleaning in The Czech Republic by a woman named Olga, then you haven’t really had a cleaning. And after a week here I am also convinced that unless you have thrown some raw cow on a piece of oil and garlic soaked bread and washed it down with a heavy bitter, beer, then you haven’t really….well, then you must not be Czech.

Budapest, Hungary

Leaving the family nest in Greece once again was like ripping myself out of a hot, outdoor Hungarian thermal bath on a cold winter’s day. Becoming increasingly more comfortable with my surroundings there, whipping around Athens in a compact car pumping the summer’s top 40 dance hits, enjoying long, relaxing dinners with the family and catching up with friends, seemed to produce a faint but repeating voice in my head saying, “Stay Andriana. Rent a place and unpack your suitcase. You have family, friends, a pending national passport – ‘just add water’ and start your new life.” But then my wanderlust kicks in like an uncontrolled adrenaline rush and I find myself on the Metro, heading to the Airport, boarding a plane destined for Budapest.
I was picking up the trail I had planned through Europe, of which I had taken a month long break from in August, and it was clear when my plane landed that this would be done in the cold, windy rain. I want to say that the characteristic grey skies of Budapest in the fall were charming, creating a monochromatic backdrop from which to take in the beautiful, oversized architecture, winding streets and Danube River passage, but, really, I was way too soggy to follow that train of thought. And so, preserving whatever Mediterranean warmth I still had flowing through my blood, I headed out on a Saturday night to find myself some entertainment and quickly realized that in order to party like a local all I would need to do was purchase a really large, open container of alcohol and walk the streets for a few hours screaming, laughing and stumbling around on my feet. When I decided that my brown paper bag, Colt 45 days had long been over, I slipped into a cozy jazz bar and was warmly welcomed by a Can Can dancing Hungarian Matador who, while whirling me around the city on the handlebars of a bicycle, gave me a good glimpse of the energetic weekend nightlife.
Trying to choose between all the interesting attractions and culturally packed museums Budapest has to offer is a bit difficult as there is a wide range from the Jewish Museum to the Royal Palace to the House of Terror, which documents Hungary’s communist years. While I managed the Historical Museum, I spent more time taking a modern approach visiting the world famous Bodies exhibit and a fantastic display of the work of famous Hungarian photographers such as Brassai, Andre Kertesz, and Robert Capa at the Museum of Fine Arts. But potentially one of my favorite attractions and one of the lesser visited in Budapest was discovered when, trying to find some protection from the rain, I followed these damp, eerie stairs down below the Buda Castle and entered into the Labyrinths. These Labyrinths were actually created as a bomb shelter in WW11 but I chose to ignore that historical fact and decided instead to pretend that they were built hundreds of years ago in order to trick potential invaders or that they were created as a confusing, mind altering dungeon for the palace’s mutinous population. And the creators of this little nugget of random pleasure were with me because they had successfully created an Indiana Jones environment complete with speakers pumping the sound of a beating heart and scary stone figures holding candles, making me wonder if I might finally be getting one step closer to finding The Holy Grail.
Along with all it’s groovy museums, Budapest is also known for it’s natural, thermal hot springs, which they have turned into elaborate Roman and Turkish style bathhouses where on any given day there are locals professionally soaking and socializing in warm pools of water and saunas which is the perfect antidote to the chilly fall air. Luckily I left my green everyone-is-tired-of-seeing-this-in-photos bathing suit in Greece which gave me the unique opportunity to rent (yes, rent) a groovy teal metallic two piece from the bathhouse in the City Park and head into the healing, steaming waters and make like a local with a three hour float; the precise float I had spent all summer perfecting in Greece.
After four days of riding the trams and buses and consistently ending up lost, I decided it was time I tried my luck at a new kind of tourism – Dental Tourism. After seeing so many different crowns in the Historical Museum, I was motivated for a crown of my very own – well, two crowns of my very own; two crowns right in the center of my face. And so armed with a train ticket to Brno in The Czech Republic and a dentist appointment made by my friend who lives there, I was off to divide and conquer the territory of my smile.

September 14, 2008


Sitting on the terrace at my families’ house in Agia Marina, watching the red sun make it’s way down the edge of the mountain as the expanse of Mediterranean fills my entire view, I have never felt as authentically Greek as I do now. My mission in returning before starting my lone gypsy travels once again was to make the necessary paperwork to obtain my Greek Nationality, but on the near eve of my departure for Hungary, I am still exclusively an American citizen, although I am now sure that the stop-off here was meant to serve an entirely different purpose.

You don’t have to be born with a name like Andriana Cassimatis or have relatives scattered in and around Athens or even answer your phone saying “Ella” to feel almost entirely, authentically Greek. Here is my simple and easy to follow guide to bring out the Greek in just about anyone:

Get Yourself Robbed
With the dissolve of Yugoslavia to the North and a collection of close-by countries in Eastern Europe with struggling post-communist economies, Greece has seen a tremendous rise in immigration in the past fifteen years and this rise in immigration just so happens to coincide with a rise in crime; everything from petty and grand theft to petty and grand murders. So it goes without saying that the Greeks are a little wary of their new demographic and exercise caution in places they never had to before; cars and homes remain locked at all times, windows are closed and locked before sleeping and handbags and electronics are kept secured tightly to the body on trips through the streets and the metro. With that being said, I found myself in an interesting predicament on the first weekend I arrived back in Athens. I had planned to stay with my family at the beach house, but they had other obligations at the last minute and so, in a hey-I-am-independent moment, I decided to rent a car and head to Nafplio in the Peloponnesus for a little R & R after a whirlwind month long visit back to the States. It was to be my own little adventure, especially since, because of a minor banking “issue” I was experiencing, I only had $125 Euro, of which $40 immediately went to gas, and the use of my nobody-takes-this American Express card for the next three days. “I can do this”, I thought, “Sure I can. I’ll eat simply, perhaps even catch some fish with my bare hands and camp out in the car. Yeah, I’ll camp in the car by some fabulous beach– why pay for a room when I just rented a hotel on wheels! How Economical! That’a Girl”.
I now had a precious $85 Euro left, a burning desire to see the sea and a car full of all my belongings and so, after getting twisted on the streets of Athens for a minute, I eventually started to break out of the hot city and into the famous and ancient mountains of the Peloponnesus. A few hours later I arrived in Nafplio and found the beach and campground I had envisioned, beckoning me with it’s hazy mountains and poetic sunset. So, I parked, I locked, I walked, and I laid on the soft sand and welcomed the stars into the night sky above me. Things were good; I had found a beautiful beach with bathroom facilities, complete with sinks and an outdoor shower, just as I had planned. As I was trying to sleep in my mini car parked by the beach, I noticed that I was not the only one “sleeping” in my car– in fact, I had quite a few neighbors expressing their affection in the backseats of their vehicles, and the symphony got me all hot and bothered, so it was good thing I was sharing my backseat as well – very intimately with two mosquitos who left their marks of love all over my body.
The next day saw the same activity; I parked, I walked, and I laid on the soft sand and welcomed the stars into the night sky above me. When I got back to the car, I was lulled to sleep with some beautiful, traditional Greek music on the radio and my own satisfaction at still having $70 Euro in my wallet. I awoke in the morning to the peaceful sounds of the waves and was looking forward to making my way further West until I got involved in the search for the I-swear-I-put-it-in-my-bag phone and soon discovered, when I looked in my wallet, that I HAD BEEN ROBBED! Bravo Andriana! Yes, I forgot to lock.
But they were the nicest thieves I have ever not-met; while they took a phone, my small camera and the precious remainder of my can’t get-any-more Euro as I was gazing at the stars, they left all the important and good stuff like my passport and credit cards and my computer and ipod. I was now cashless and almost gas-less, and the only thought I had was “I want my Mother”, “Where is my Mother”.
Feeling extremely alone and rather frazzled as to what to do next, I had to summon my sweet Mother’s words from the other side and I immediately found myself saying to myself, “Don’t worry, Little One, you’ll be just fine. Don’t panic.” Those simple words, with her invisible but present voice singing in my ear, was all I needed to hatch my plan of making a police report, bumming $5 Euro from the officer for the toll road on the way home, driving slowly on fumes, overcharging a lunch at my local spot in Athens and taking the difference in cash and hightailing it to my Aunt Helens house in Agia Marina. Making my way up the familiar hill and into the house where I had spent two sublime weeks the month before and then down to the beach where I was greeted by familiar faces, warm hugs, and the lovingly stern “you must be careful” warnings immediately dissolved the black cloud over my head; here I was in Greece again, only a few months after my travels began, and I was shocked and speechless to realize that I-have-a-support-system, I-am-not-alone!.
I then heard everyone else’s I-have-been-robbed-too stories and found out that being robbed in Greece is sort of like an initiation, a hazing into Greekdom and, at that moment, I couldn’t have been happier to have passed through those gates.

2. Make Extremely Tedious Paperwork
Greeks are known for many things; their gracious hospitality, their relaxed attitudes, their sense of humor and their affection for extremely tedious paperwork that takes a lifetime to organize and another lifetime to process. Aiming to get my Greek Nationality and armed with a thick folder of every relevant document under the sun, I made my way to the “Citizens Office” and was, in a mere two hours, officially inducted into the Greek Paperwork Society of Athens. The very nice woman behind the desk looked at everything I had brought and thankfully told me that based on the documents getting my Nationality was “my right” but that she would still need a few things, and when I was finished getting those things, she would need some more things, and when I was finished getting those more things then she would need to divide the pile in threes and I would have to get the first pile stamped and authenticated at this office, the second at the other office and the third at the Church Headquarters and then she would have to combine the piles and I would have to take everything to the translation office and perhaps maybe get another overall stamp from yet another office just for good measure. As I have come to understand, Greeks need to make this kind of paperwork to take a sick day from work, renew their driver’s license, or order cable. So Bravo! I am one step closer to not only becoming officially Greek, but feeling officially Greek.

3. Sit in a an Ancient Grecian Traffic Jam
With a swelling population of two car families and only a few major roads connecting Athens together, traffic has become a major problem in recent years. So much so that the city put restrictions on the number of cars allowed in the center at one time; when the day of the week is an even number and your license plate ends in an even number then you are allowed to drive legally and freely, the same holds true for the odd days and numbers. But those clever Greeks found a loophole with their multi car situation and switch the use of their vehicles to correspond with the appropriate day, thus only slightly reducing the congestion.
My cousin Fanis and his wife Christina, disguising their plans of marrying me off to a carefully selected Greek candidate as a come-over-for-a-relaxed-dinner-oh-my-look-who-just-stopped-by, had given me clear directions to their house, of which my consistently mal-functioning internal GPS system muffed up, thrusting me into my third initiation to the Greekdom with a tremendous jam of vehicles that had me arriving over an hour late; which in Greece is just about right on time. It had me recalling my Los Angeles days, but instead of sitting on the highway parking lot with a bunch of SUV’s, I was sitting with a bunch of compacted cars, making me feel as though our footprint might be just a little less taxing.

4. Perfect the Art of Floating
With 150 functioning islands and a large coast of sea on the mainland, the Greeks take “summer holiday” to a whole new level; one much to my liking, where days are spent chatting with friends on the beach, swimming and then off to extended wine-infused dinners in the evening. Over the centuries, they have mastered the “Seaside Float”, whereby people can stay in the water for hours, literally just floating. It took me a while to be comfortable with this, applying the must-always-be-doing-something philosophy of the States to dips in the Mediterranean, but once I finally broke my own floating record of half an hour, I could feel the Olive Oil and Ouzo attaching to the code of my DNA and as I lay floating next to my buoyant neighbors, I was thrilled to have checked off yet another item on the list to feeling officially Greek.

Side note: I had some really nice sunset shots to include with this posting, but since my camera has now been sold on the Peloponnesus black market, I have no visuals to offer. Sorry. Working on a replacement.

September 12, 2008

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzogovina

The train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo is supposed to be one of the most beautiful rail routes through the Balkans, connecting the two cities through the Glogosnica and Trascanica Valleys and the Neranta River. So I was excited when I boarded and found a seat to myself on the right hand side of the train facing West which seemed, at the time, unsuspectingly empty, and had me looking forward to a quiet, hypnotic three hour gaze-fest of much-hyped passing landscape. That is until the train started moving, and I realized that it is really the left side of the train facing East which summons the views, and so I was left to barely watch the scenery unfold, backwards, while cranking my neck and creepily peering through my neighbors window. I guess you can’t win em’ all.
Sarajevo is a fairly large city, connected by a tram line and divided by the Miljacka River, that packs some pretty significant historical events and, much like it’s neighbor Mostar, can’t quite shake the image of being a war torn pile of rubble. But this is far from the truth and while the story of Sarajevo during the war is one to make the hairs on your arm stand straight permanently, it also has a rich flipside filled with centuries of religious and cultural diversity and tolerance; a place where Churches, Mosques and Synagogue’s line an Old City brimming with traditional Cevapi restaurants, Turkish rug vendors, and tea shops.
I was lucky to immediately befriend and ex-pat from Northern California currently living in the Czech Republic, and it didn’t take us long to refreshingly fall into a sarcastic, point-of-reference-banter that only we could understand. After almost five months of foreign travel, trying to always understand everyone else, it was nice to have formed our secret society from which to explore this incredible city. I say incredible not because of the noteworthy architecture or a nightlife that will mark the map as a must-do, but rather for the collective strength and endurance the people of Sarajevo showed the world, who was largely ignoring them, during the Serbian invasion of their city, their home, in 1992. After the fall of Yugoslavia, Serbia, Sarajevo’s neighbor to the East, decided to flex it’s muscles and test the climate of international intervention policies by surrounding the entire city with heavily armed ground troops, tanks and land mines from the mountain range which encloses almost the entire perimeter and used this as a base to implement a strategic battle plan for a defeat they were planning would take about ten days. Caught off guard, without a military or counter plan, completely surrounded and cut off from water supply, electricity and just about everything else, watching as snipers started picking their friends and neighbors off bread lines, the Bosnians under attack started tying the laces of their sneakers, rounding up regular pistols and hunting guns, digging a tunnel with garden shovels for limited supplies, and then started fiercely defending their city with the sheer force of their loyalty and pride which proved to be a much mightier weapon than their enemies ever anticipated. With their children hidden in basements, their homes reduced to rubble, their wives and daughters dragged off to rape camps, these brave men held their city on empty stomachs for over three years until a peace agreement was finally signed and the fighting stopped. The only word that forms from my almost speechless mouth is simply – incredible.
On a lighter note though, Sarajevo is home to another famous historical event; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 which is said to have started WWI. Here you can visit the actual spot where the shooting took place and visit a museum complete with wax figures of the Duke and his wife. But in speaking with the we-are-tired-of-answering-war-questions locals, it is rather the 1984 winter Olympic games held in their city that they are most eager and happy to discuss. You can see on the faces of even the most conditioned tour guides, who explain this event everyday, the ray of light behind their tired eyes when the memory of peace and international pride enters their mind.
In the search for my own strength and resilience after the personal war of losing both my parents at a young age, I found myself having a great affection for this city. Sarajevo became an example for me of just how much you can lose, and the conditions under which you must survive and fight for your life during the loss, and how, much like the tunnel they dug as a vital supply line during the war, that walking through the pipeline of loss and nearing the other side, it is possible for freedom from sadness to coexist with the sadness itself and to appreciate the simple beauty of, once again, hearing the hillsides filled with the sounds of the birds instead of the sounds of bullets.

Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

There are many wonderful things to say about Mostar, Bosnia, but the first is – if you go, you must stay at Majdas Rooms; a hostel which an entrepreneurial family team of Mother, Daughter and Brother created from their former apartment unit which is the perfect welcoming for the intrepid traveler who wants to explore this visually and historically rich country. In the morning, Mama will make you a cup of coffee and greet you with the warmest only-a-mama-can-have-this smile while Majda sits busily at the computer managing the reservations and connecting you with people she knows in other cities and then crazy-in-a-good-way Bata arrives to scoop you up in the orange hippie van and take you out for a twelve hour, completely affordable, marathon-style daytrip which covers everything from the old history to the recent history of this small city spread out on the banks of the beautiful and cool emerald colored Neretva River.
Unlike Sarajevo or Srebrenica, Mostar is not a city which immediately calculates in the minds of the average individual who followed the events of the Bosnian War, but played a tragic, geographically located role in which it’s close proximity to Croatia made it a hotly conflicted war zone which was almost entirely leveled by bombs. The most notorious being the Stari Most bridge built in the 16th century by the Ottoman Empire, whose beauty was written in the history books and whose destruction by Croat forces became a symbol of the hopelessness of yet another senseless war. Sitting alone in the “theater” of the house-turned-history-museum, I watched a video of the bombing of this bridge, blurrily from behind my tears and as the images of fire and smoke clouded my vision, it was not the malicious disregard for culture and history which choked me up but it was what came next; the image of a diver, soon after the Dayton Peace Accord was signed, starting to fish the remains of this icon, stone by stone, from the bottom of the river symbolizing the incredible resilience of the Bosnian Muslims to start rebuilding their city and their lives.
It is easy to stay focused on the war when visiting Mostar because the reminders are all around; bombed out and bullet ridden buildings, divided Croat and Bosnian sections of town, and most heart-breaking, cemeteries in which all the gravestones mark the passing of young men in either 1993 or 1994, many having only been born between 1965 and 1975. That is why Bata’s day tour is an important one to go on because he not only gives you the recent history, but he shows you the pre-war Mostar, the other Mostar that has always been there; the one that is lush with green hills and fertile farmland and waterfalls spilling into lakes tucked away in the woods, the one that has centuries old trading towns and Islamic monasteries, the one with magical rivers and peaceful religions.
On my way out of town, walking to the bus station, I saw a battered cement sculpture fountain surrounded by what was probably at one time a well maintained little city park, but today just bears the scars of war. And it is from this fountain which water still flows, trickling down into it’s base, reminding me that not even a torn surface can disguise the strength and pride that flows from within.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Four days in Montenegro, taking buses regularly, had taught me that the ticket attendants at the station feel no moral imperative toward helping the non-native-language-speaking tourists find their way; one might even go as far as to say that they looked a bit amused, perhaps slightly satisfied, when they would guide you to the wrong platform, then watch as you frustratingly approach their booth again after missing the bus. This fortunately did not happen to me, but from observing people in my surroundings I knew it was a real possibility, so while waiting for the bus to Dubrovnik I decided to make like a mosquito and ask the haven’t-cracked-a-smile-since-childhood attendant after each and every bus pulled in, “Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik?” Even when I clearly knew it was not my bus I still asked anyway, “Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik?” – just to pass the time and keep the frown secured tight on his face.
I was lucky to land in a cozy hostel outside of the tourist district ran by a relaxed couple that had two single bedrooms attached to a kitchen. Not letting the rare opportunity of a refrigerator and hot stove pass me by, I headed straight for the market and cooked myself dinner as the sun slowly crept below the edge of the front yard making the tomato plants in the vegetable garden glow a fluorescent green and red on the way down. Even though I was picked up at the bus station, I could tell already, with the houses stepped on the hillside like pods on a rice terrace field interlocked by criminally steep stairways, that this place was going to keep my whole body standing in full salute for the next three days; I was already having visions that the layers of Feta I had so carefully applied to my thighs in Greece, happily with each delicious bite, would start to magically disappear with each vertically-demanding step uphill.
I awoke at sunrise the next morning to walk the streets of this beautiful city with my camera in hand, trying to catch a glimpse of local life before the herd of tourists started grazing the streets and attractions for the day; this gave me the opportunity to slowly wake up with the Old City, wandering it’s deliciously empty and steep, old and narrow cobblestone streets, stumbling upon locals buying and selling fruits and vegetables in the morning market, women sweeping their front stoop and watering their fragrant, flowering window boxes while listening to the clanking of morning coffee pots and breakfast plates waft out the lace-curtained windows. The walls and gates of the houses which make the alleyways outside of Old City reminded me of New Orleans, where you know that just beyond the bland façade, undetectable to the passing eye, lies lush courtyards with palm trees and flowering gardens and verandahs with spectacular views of the sea.
After successfully scouting out my swimming spot for later in the afternoon, it was time to catch a heart-wrenching exhibit about the recent Bosnian/Balkan War by the incredibly courageous and talented photojournalist Ron Haviv with my new friend from the States I had been so fortunate to meet on the bus ride from Montenegro. It took a few hours to somberly pass through and process the information and images presented, all carefully displayed in a unbiased, journalistic manner, in which the details and characters I would read about in the papers were suddenly right there before me, looking back at me, and it sent my emotions through responses of anger, disbelief and sadness all at once.
Walking the top of the fort wall at sunset, looking at the café’s, churches and tiled rooftops reflect the soft waning light, it’s hard to imagine that 15 years ago the same light was being created by bombs crashing down. And while this city, as many others in the Balkans, have seen conflict since the very beginning of their history, to have one be so close to the present was sobering. I was therefore very happy to stop by one of the churches along the way to pray that the only battle this city sees again is the one for the lone traveler trying to explore the popular destination spots before the tourists get there.


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