Epic European Cycle

2015-10-07 : To Dubrovnik
We split from Split and shuffled off to Dubrovnik today. It was a "take scenery pictures through the bus window" kind of day again, and I'm quite impressed with the quality of some of the pics I got through this bus window. It must have been brand new or something.
We went through two "passport control" stops today. Croatia isn't contiguous along its coast - we had to pop into Bosnia for a short time, and then pop back out into Croatia. Passport control consisted of the bus stopping and a border guard coming onto the bus to have a quick look at everyone's passport. Pretty simple, but Brent and I enjoyed some Schadenfreude at the expense of the guy who had left his passport in his luggage and had to get off the bus and dig it out. He was kind of a dick about it... thus the Schadenfreude. Brent and I speculated about how often someone might accidentally take a day trip to Dubrovnik and leave their passport back in their hotel. That would make for an "interesting" kind of day.
We checked into our accommodation and went walkabout, but I'm feeling barfy so we didn't go far, only down to Uvala Lapad (Lapad Beach), which is very resort-ey. We're both glad we went to have a look at it, but it's not a place we'd return to. Afterwards, I asked to come back to the room because I was still feeling barfy and just before we got back it started to rain. Yay for timing!
Mount Srð (pronounced like "surge") sits above Dubrovnik. From where Brent and I are staying, we have a pretty good view of it. It's dark right now and the only way we can tell it's there is from the red light on the top of the tower on the top of the mountain. That, and, we're having a thunderstorm right now and we're not seeing many bolts... just the sky lighting up, and back-lighting the mountain just like in a cartoon horror film. AWESOME!
From Brent: Croatia isn't contiguous down the coast, you have to pass through a small part of Bosnia to get to Dubrovnik so you pass through 2 border checks in short succession. At the first one the border guard came on and looked at everybody's passport but when he got to a couple near the back there was a bit of a commotion. After a bit the bus driver came back and waved the passengers off the bus. They had to get out and get their luggage from under the bus and fetch their passports before they were allowed back onboard. When they got back onboard the husband said (for public consumption), "That was such bullshit." Lesson number one for international travel - Don't leave your passport in your baggage under the bus.

Dubrovnik was once an important and influential city-state, run by folks with pretty good political savvy that allowed them to build a small trading empire while avoiding most wars among their trading partners. Their past wealth really shows. The Stari Grad is the most impressive walled city that I've seen on the trip. Massive tall and thick walls. The Serbian and Montenegran armies besieged the city in 1992 using modern weapons and couldn't get in.

We arrived on Croatian Independance Day, a national holiday plus there was a huge cruise ship in port. The Stari Grad was packed with tourists. The folks walking the top of the walls looked like the Conga-line we'd been warned of at Plitvice.

Rather than fight the crowds we took the cable tram to see Fort Imperial, a fort built by Nepolean in the early 1800's, high above the town. It has a commanding view of the whole area. This was also a hot-spot for fighting during the war in '92 and has since been turned into a war museum. The displays are mostly in Croatian with a little in English. It was interesting but I would have gotten more out of it if there had been a tour guide or someone to explain the details.

Next day we got to the Old Town early and took advantage of their Mueseums-package-deal to spend most of the day wandering museums and learning about the city's (older) history. The newer history is still fresh in people's minds and there are reminders of the '92/'93 war all over. Memorial plaques leave no doubt about the hard feelings and mistrust that are still not far below the surface. The break-up of Yugoslavia was a messy thing and it seems, from an outsider's view, that no one had completely clean hands. Although Serbs & Croats were fighting each other here and in N.E. Croatia it seems that they also had a side-deal to divide Bosnia-Herzigonia between them. It's a shame when people go mad and start following politicians on their quest for glory.

Still, Dubrivnik is a pleasant city. Also the most expensive place we've visited in Croatia with prices approaching what we'd pay at home. If you're in the area it is worth a stop-over.

2015-10-08 : Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is a beautiful and amazing place. So, of course, EVERYONE comes here. Unfortunately for crowdophobic me, it is an anthill of tourists. Brent and I spent some time exploring the Stari Grad, but I had to get away from the crowds. Maybe it's a mistake to be in Dubrovnik - UNESCO World Heritage site, Pearl of the Adriatic and pride of Croatia - on Croatian Independence Day. Maybe tomorrow will be less ant-hill-y. We'll see. I'm still feeling barfy and waxy, so instead of walking up Srð, we took the cable car up, had a great look around, and then walked down. Then, I ate some yogurt and passed out.

2015-10-09 : Dubrovnik
I've been thinking about Croatia a lot - after all, we've spent seven weeks here. I think if I were to come back, I would skip the coast. As beautiful as the coastal places are, what I've really really enjoyed about Croatia was when we were inland, away from the touristy stuff, connecting with the locals who weren't jaded by tourism. Of course, our conversations were pretty limited since they had less English than people in the touristy areas, and we have almost no Croatian, but I still really enjoyed it.
The day after Croatian Independence Day and Dubrovnik is... still an anthill. Brent and I mostly visited museums today, but we did explore the old town a little. It is very beautiful; just very tourist-ful.
Thank goodness for Brent. Tonight he discovered that Canadians no longer have the option of applying for a tourist visa upon entry into Turkey. You have to apply ahead of time. This is a change from when we looked into it before and it never occurred to me to double check now. Anyway, he used their official e-Visa web page to get the visas we need and we're now good to visit Turkey in a few days. WHEW!

2015-10-10 : To Sarajevo
There are lots of buses in Croatia which offer free WiFi. Unfortunately, none of those busses are ones we've taken. Sigh.
I really didn't expect the drive inland to Sarajevo to be so scenic. It was absolutely beautiful, in spite of the rain. Almost like driving through the Okanagan. Rolling green mountain after rolling green mountain. Wow!
We REALLY hit the jackpot with the place that we're staying. It is costing us only about $100CAD for three nights, it is nice and clean, has strong WiFi, and is extremely convenient to the interesting areas of Sarajevo. The best part, though, is our host, Amar. He e-mailed offering to pick us up at the bus station today. Normally I wouldn't - it wouldn't be a problem for us to walk the 5km, but it was raining so I took him up on it. He picked us up, brought us to the property, and says he'll also drive us to the airport for our plane to Turkey on Tuesday morning! WOW!!
Sarajevo is the perfect stop-over on our way from Croatia to Turkey. I didn't expect it to be so significantly different from Croatia, but it really is. It has a real eastern look and feel about it. It's great to have the opportunity to ease into eastern culture before we tackle a new language. Not that we're such experts at Serbo-Croatian, but it is at least familiar.
Two points of interest for us in Sarajevo that we saw tonight: The location of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia - the event which started WWI, and a Sarajevo Rose (see link above).

2015-10-11 : Sarajevo
Marima took us on a walking tour of Sarajevo in the relentless rain today. It was really interesting to hear her personal stories about the war. She was seven years old when the war started.

She told us about how there was never shelling before 10AM in her town, so everyone did everything they needed to before 10:00 (for Marima and the other kids, that meant going to school from 7:30 to 9:30 only) then staying in the basement of their apartment building the rest of the time. For fourty-four months!

She also told us about the marketplace which, during the war, didn't have the usual garden produce and such, but rather, humanitarian supplies from the UN. Supplies provided were supposed to be free for everyone, but some people grabbed up more than they needed and then re-sold it back to their neighbors. Sad. Also the food was hideously old and rotten. She said that in a bag of rice, for every two grains of rice there was a dry dead worm. She said that one of the main provisions was unlabelled undated cans of supposed meat that was mostly an unnatural pink meat gelatin. She said that the rumor is (and that she believes the rumor) that the provisions sent to Sarajevo were leftovers from WWII and the Vietnamese wars.

She also talked about how people's reaction changed as the siege went on. In the first month, unable to get tobacco, her father "smoked every tea bag in the house". When Marima objected, he assured her that the war would be over in one month. During the first month or so, everyone stayed in the basements and only adults went out if absolutely necessary. After the first month, the siege became routine and kids were sent out (ie. to early morning school) but ran all the way there and wall the way back to avoid being hit by a shell.

Another story was about a neighbor lady. Early in the war, they ran out of firewood. So, over time, they burned their furniture... walls... floors... everything that would burn... until they ran out of pretty much everything. One day the neighbor lady was desperate to make a cup of coffee. She couldn't find anything to burn to heat her water for coffee, so finally she ended up burning her sweater to heat the water.

She told us a lot of things but those really stuck with me.
We saw the sculpture, Multicultural Man Builds the World on our tour today. Marima said that when the sculpture was first gifted to Sarajevo, many people found his nudity disturbing, so someone put a pair of red underwear on him. The underwear were removed, but they form a story in Marima's tour and she talks about how he doesn't wear underwear anymore. Except today. She says last night he was nude, but when we went by today, he had a set of black undies on. Heheheh.
Marima told us a bit more about Sarajevo's multi-culturalism. Sarajevo, supposedly, is "a haven of peaceful multiculturalism, a city where the constituent peoples of Bosnia (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs) and many others (Jews, atheists, diplomats) reside in mutual love and affection". But from what Marima said, it sounds like the city is "love and affection" only toward the three constituent peoples. The country has three presidents - one for each population. Everyone who is not from one of those three groups is simply categorized as "other". One of the worst things, it sounds like, about being an "other" is that there are job quotas for each of the three groups, and only "whatever is left over" is available to the "others". Bosnia has an unemployment rate of 45% (65% in young people). Horrifying. Marima said that if a Muslim (Bosniak) married a Catholic (Croat), their children would be "others". Horrifying.

2015-10-12 : Sarajevo
WikiTravel: If you are not staying at a hotel (i.e. a private residence), you must register with the local police within 24 hours of arrival. Failure to register may result in a fine or possible removal.

- Us: We read that we have to register with the police if we're staying in Bosnia. Is that something we need to take care of?
- Guest house proprietor: What? No, no, you don't have to do that.

- Us: We read that we have to register with the police if we're staying in Bosnia. Is that something we need to take care of?
- Tourist office lady: No, you don't need to do that. Your accommodation should do it on your behalf. If they don't, then they get the fine.

- Police: Who are all these people in your van.
- Tour operator: They're my guests - I'm taking them on a tour.
- Police: Where are they all staying?
- Tour operator: I don't know where they're all staying. In the hotels, I guess.
- Police: Well, let's just check them all and make sure.
- Tour operator: Oh, come on... that will take an hour. I know you just want some money from me.
- Police: Well, we need to get breakfast.
- Tour operator: I'll give you 20KM.

Don't fool yourself folks. You DO have to register yourself with the police if you're staying in Bosnia, and they DO check. Not that I think the consequences would have been particularly dire (a fine) but it would have been a mortifying hassle if we hadn't been saved by our tour operator's most excellent bribery skills.
Sarajevo has a lot of mosques. Marima said there are 200 of them. She said that when you get called to prayer 5 times each day, the mosque needs to be close. You can't hoof it down from the mountain and back up 5 times a day. Seems reasonable. One thing that really struck me about being in Sarajevo was the calls to prayer. Five times a day there would be a loud, chant-ey announcement broadcast from the minorettes of all the mosques. Where Brent and I were staying we could hear a number of them. Brent said it reminded him of neighborhood dogs. One starts barking, then another and another, until all the dogs in the neighborhood are barking. Eventually the barking stops, but then after a while, a dog starts barking...

2015-10-13 : To Göreme
We spent some time with three Sarayevo natives during our stay. Marima our walking tour guide, Skender our siege tour guide and Amar our guest house host. They were all young children when the war started... one was six, one seven and one eight. It was very interesting for me to meet them and hear their perspectives - each was different but also similar. Marima shared many poignant personal memories of the war, is getting by and doesn't have any faith that education or ambition get you anywhere. Skender is incredibly knowledgeable about the war and politics. He tries, with varying degrees of success, to present an objective view of the seige of Sarajevo. He is involved in running a couple of hospitality businesses with his family. Amar has a good full-time job and has built his guest house on his own, which he runs in his spare time. All three have a keen sense of gallows humor, and meeting each of them was a very interesting and moving experience for me.
Arriving in Cappadocia was jaw-dropping amazing, and that was in the dark. I can't wait to see what this looks like in the light. We walked through Goreme this evening after we arrived. It's very tourist-centric, but so far not in an obnoxious way. We met a discount travel agent named Brent who is an American golf pro who moved to Turkey. He gave us free Ouzo (or the Turkish version of it) and talked for over an hour giving us advice about what to do and how to do it. I'm so glad we came here!

2015-10-14 : Cappadocia
Last night, Brent from down the street told us that they launch all the balloons at dawn each morning. Dawn being approximately 5:30AM. So, Brent and I got up this morning at approximately 5:30AM and watched. It was amazing. There were well over 100 balloons. Certainly at least 120 of them. It was amazing to see them all inflate, get really up-close looks at some, and watch them troop, single-file, into Rose Red Valley outside of Goreme. What a way to start the day!
Brent and I find that, as long as we have time, doing a tour to get oriented in a place is often really helpful. We decided to do the Cappadocia "Green Tour" today to that end, and we'll probably do the "Red Tour" while we're here as well. It was a great deal... approx. $110CAD/ea for the whole tour, including lunch and admission to all the points of interest. Wow!

2015-10-15 : Cappadocia
Hiked a couple of trails which are nearby Göreme today. Pigeon Valley trail starts right from town and is extremely well-signed. From there we walked up to Uçisar Castle. After Uçisar Castle (and lunch with Doug and Sylvia from Parksville on Vancouver Island), we wanted to hike back via Love Valley. Finding where the trail starts was easy thanks to our guide from yesterday, but finding the trail itself wasn't quite so straight-forward. Our maps all showed Pigeon Valley with its English and Turkish names, but they all showed Love Valley with just the English name. I didn't know that Güvercinlik was the Turkish name for Love Valley, and when we found a broken sign for Güvercinlik, I was skeptical that it was for Love Valley. After a couple of false starts in wrong directions Brent convinced me to try it, though, and it turned out to be right. After that it was pretty straight-forward, especially due to the trailhead vendor we found further on who sold us expensive but yummy glasses of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice. After Love Valley, we had to walk back to Göreme, which was an easy couple of kilometers beside the highway.

2015-10-16 : Cappadocia
There are a number of standard tours offered in Göreme. We enjoyed the Green Tour quite a bit the other day, but the Red Tour, as our guide put it, is the "picture taking tour". They drive you around, you jump out and take pictures, and then move on. I probably wouldn't do Red Tour again, although some of it was interesting. The Turkish Night was pretty interesting. A demonstration by some dervishes which was really interesting, and lots of different dance performances, mostly traditional/folk dances, plus a belly dancer.

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