Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Turkish Delight

The beautiful river viewed from the famous bridge

And the guy who thinks he's beautiful,
showing off before he jumps!

I didn’t sleep well that night. I dreamed of stone walls and laundry. I woke at 4:39 thinking about the laundry, so I got up to check it. The washing machine was not running, but the lights were blinking. Oh, well. I took all the damp clothes out, grabbed the clothespins, and let myself out into the still-dark early morning to hang out the laundry. It took me 20 minutes to hang everything up, and I contemplated staying up and jumping in the shower while everyone else was sleeping. But I changed my mind and crawled back under the heavy duvet beside Kate, who was restlessly turning and sighing in her sleep. I finally drifted off and woke again almost an hour later at 6. I headed for the shower, so looking forward to washing all the salt out of my hair and off my skin. I turned the water on and waited, and waited and waited. No hot water. At 6 in the morning I just couldn’t bear the thought of standing under a cold shower to wash my hair, so I skipped my hair and just washed my body. I looked at my hair in the mirror. I just about had dreadlocks after two days of salt in my curls. They were so tangled and stuck together that I couldn’t even get a comb through, so I shrugged my shoulders and left it. When I went outside to gather our wet clothes, I noticed that my white tank top and underwear were a dingy gray, as though they had been washed in muddy water. I had mixed the color of the clothes for washing, but there were no jeans or dark-dyed garments, so I couldn’t imagine what had caused the whites to turn gray, other than the water from the probably rarely used washing machine that churned forever the night before. Hopefully, they’ll wash clean at home. As we were packing, Marin came down with two pots of Turkish coffee for us. We didn’t have time at all to sit and drink coffee, but that is the Balkan way, so we obliged...a little nervously. Finally, we dared not put off leaving any longer.  Foregoing another budget-breaking taxi ride, we grabbed out suitcases and made our way down the twisty streets for the last time, making quite a spectacle of ourselves with five American women dragging suitcases behind them over the bumpy cobbled streets! We got to the bus stop right before departure time, but again the tickets were more than we thought, so two of us had to withdraw more money. I had carefully budgeted my spending to ensure that I had just enough kuna for the bus ride back to Bosnia, so I wouldn’t have to re-exchange it and get charged a second fee on the same money, but the girls’ estimate had been too low. The ATM machine was acting up; eventually the other girl got it to work, but after two tries I had to give up because we were running out of time to board the bus. I borrowed some Bosnian marks from one of the girls and ran over to the exchange window and quickly bought enough kuna to purchase our bus tickets. At that moment I had exactly 10 kuna (6 cents) to my name...no US money, no Bosnian money and no way to get any more. Stressful and maddening! We boarded the bus, got settled and calmed down, and then wound our way up into the Denaric Alps, leaving the beautiful sea behind us.

Arriving in Mostar a few hours later, we decided we had better buy our train tickets to Sarajevo right away so we wouldn’t repeat our departure from Dubrovnik. Well, we pretty much experienced the same thing, just without the pressure of our mode of transportation leaving without us. The tickets had gone up in price since the girls had last taken the train, and we had to pay to leave our suitcases in an office so we wouldn’t have to lug them around while we toured the town. In every other train/bus station I had been to, there was an ATM and a place to exchange money. Not at this one! Kate only had 20 marks with her, which wasn’t enough, so we had to borrow once again. "I hate this!!" I exclaimed to Kate. "Get me to a bank, now!" After buying our tickets and parting three ways with the girls, each having her own agenda for this town the girls were very familiar with, Kate and I walked straight to an ATM. My card didn’t work again. I was starting to feel desperate. Kate tried her card, and it did work, so she withdrew the last 30 marks in her account and we held onto that as most precious gold, doling it out throughout the day with great thought and care, making it last until we returned to Sarajevo.

Mostar is an absolutely beautiful and intriguing city...so exotic in its Turkish feel. The bus/train depot with its surrounding neighborhood was ugly, as expected. We walked for awhile and I remarked to Kate that it didn’t look very special, especially after stunning Dubrovnik. Kate said, "I love this city!" and then we turned down a street and I saw why...we had entered Turkey! It was as though we had left the Mediterranean and stepped into the Orient. Mosques, music, minarets, brightly colored fabrics, jewelry and wares sold from booths, cobbled streets, stone buildings, and the bluest river I had ever seen flowing under an arching bridge high above the water. It really was breathtaking.

I actually really liked what they were selling in the booths, unlike most open-air markets, and I wished I had money with me! It was very hot, so we worked our way down to the river where we had spied a park when crossing the bridge above. There, I slipped out of my shoes and stepped into the crystal-clear water. Yikes! That river must have rushed down from a glacier right into this little pool because it was cold as ice. Still, it was hot enough that it was quite cooling and refreshing. While we were relaxing by the river, we heard shouts and cheers from the bridge above. We looked up to see two men in bathing suits on the side of bridge wall, hanging from the railing and walking along the ledge, to the great entertainment of the crowd. As the volume reached a crescendo, the first guy jumped....down, down, down, plunging into the swiftly flowing river. The crowd cheered, and the guy swam to the rocks, stood up and took a bow. Then the next guy started his show...working up the crowd (and taking their money!), until he felt he had good support, and then he jumped. Everyone was clapping and cheering, whether on the bridge, on a restaurant patio or on the ground below where we were. Sufficiently rested, entertained and cooled off, Kate and I made our way back to the streets and bought a gelato, which fits the budget because in Bosnia it’s only 60 cents for a serving. We explored the other half of the old town and then started feeling hungry after just a snack on the bus, so we bought fresh strawberries from the market and "burek," which is phyllo pastry laid flat, spread with filling (mine was cheese and spinach, Kate’s was meat), and then rolled up into a long rope and spiraled into a circle, and finally sliced into wedges like a pie. We each bought a wedge and then stopped at the mosque to refill our water bottles from the fountain that every mosque has in its courtyard. It’s always clean, cold, fresh water. Fully loaded with good things, we made our way down the street to find a park to eat in before walking to the air-conditioned mall in the new part of the city. By that time we were ready for a bathroom break, having not gone since 6 a.m. that morning. When you’re on the streets, if you find a "toalet" it’s often a Turkish toilet, which is a hole in the floor and a simple sink, and not stocked with toilet paper or soap. I knew in Turkish Mostart our odds of finding a good bathroom would be slim. But Kate said, "Don’t worry, I know where to go." Yes, she did know where to go...to the 5-star hotel downtown. I said, "Kate, we aren’t guests here, we can’t just walk in off the streets and use their bathroom." "Sure we can," she said, "if you walk in like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going." I looked at her doubtfully. "Don’t worry," she said again, "follow me." For the first time I was glad I looked like an American tourist...it made us look like hotel guests!  We walked through the wide doors, down the carpeted staircase, turned a corner and walked into a beautiful, clean, air-conditioned bathroom with gleaming tile, individual water closets with their own wooden doors and real door handles, big mirrors over the sinks, good quality soap, hot and cold running water and a pleasant fragrance. I couldn’t believe how nice a little luxury could feel! I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-star bathroom and thanked Kate for taking us there!

A few blocks away was the mall, and it too was very civilized and nice. By now I was feeling quite at home! Kate took me to her all her favorite stores, and although we didn’t dare buy anything, we enjoyed window shopping in the air-conditioned building. It was almost time to catch our train by then, so we made one more stop at a café for coffee, sitting on the shady sidewalk and people-watching. A little gypsy girl wandered over, and Kate told me to pull our bags from the empty chairs we had set them on.  The girl reached the table next to us first, and those women shooed her away like one of the stray dogs. But it had to be done. When we finished our coffee, we made our way towards the train station and were followed by a gypsy boy who begged us for money. Kate shooed him away and he picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at us. Kate told him no and shooed him away again, and we kept walking. He followed more slowly until we were a little ways away, and then he threw the rock, which didn’t hit us but told us he was mad. I realized then that I was holding the rest of our strawberries and I told Kate I was going to give them to him. "No, Mom," she said, "You’re not supposed to." "It’s just berries, not money," I countered. I turned around but he was nowhere in sight. I did see two other little boys, though, and called them over. The littlest boy was probably around 3, and he hung back waiting for his big brother, who was probably 4, to come first. But the brother was busy squatting on the ground, so he hurriedly finished his business and then pulled up his pants and came running toward us. I put the strawberries on a rock and walked away. They were the dirtiest children I had ever seen...dirtier than the children I’d seen in the slums of Costa Rica or the streets of India. There was no future for those children. They were raised just like the stray dogs and treated the same. They stole because they were taught to steal and because they were desperate. They were mistreated and abused from the day they were born, and they in turn would mistreat and abuse others. How sad. The image of their little dirty faces stayed with me as we walked into the train station and met the other girls.  We gathered our bags and hauled them up more stairs. I missed the US at that point. You hand over your bags at the counter and they are cared for until you arrive at your destination. There are elevators and escalators. There are lights. The stations are relatively clean and everything works. But I complained too soon...I hadn’t boarded the train yet! The girls wanted us to have a room instead of individual seats, so they arranged for Kate to take my suitcase and for me to board unhindered and book it past the people and through the train car to grab a room. I did, but every room was already full of previous passengers who were not departing. I finally found one with a single old man and gestured to him if it was okay if I came in. He nodded and waved me in. He might have been sorry when 4 other loud American girls followed, but he didn’t say anything. The little room was stifling hot. There was a window, but it wouldn’t open. There was no ventilation of any kind, and it must have been 95 degrees inside. The man had sweat rivelets down both his cheeks, so I gathered it didn’t get much cooler once the train started up. Honestly, I’ve never traveled on such filthy transportation before. The train was ancient and broken down, dirty, worn and tattered. The windows were streaked with dark brown dirt, which accumulated in the window tracks. The fabric was terribly stained, patched and torn. The plastic trim was cracked and crumbling, the built-in garbage can was dented and coated with food and drink stains. We started to sweat before the train even left the depot, and I was sorry I had told Kate I wanted to take the train. She had warned me that the train was dirtier than the bus, but I never dreamed it would look like this. "Oh, well," the girls said cheerfully, "It’s a lot cheaper." Yes, it was. The only reason I had wanted to take the train is that I thought we would be able to see more of the countryside than on a highway. Even there I was wrong. We went through so many tunnels, the windows were so dirty and then night fell, so I probably saw half of what I saw on the bus. Oh, well. It was a lot cheaper.

When the train arrived in Sarajevo, we said goodbye to the girls and waited for Esad, Kate’s host dad, to pick us up. Then we visited with the family for awhile, telling them all our stories, and finally headed upstairs for the most wonderful shower! How great it felt to wash away the grime of the train, the dust of the streets and the salt of the sea! Clean and refreshed, I slipped into bed and had the best sleep of my entire trip.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Taste of the Mediterranean

I was most excited for this part of my trip...three days in Dubrovnik, a city which I had never even heard of before until planning my visit to see Kate in Sarajevo. When I first had my grandiose idea of a tour through Europe, Montenegro had been on my list of places to see. Many years ago when the James Bond movie "Casino Royale" came out, I watched it with Jeff, who enjoys James Bond movies. I thought the movie was fine, but what I came away with wasn’t how great the movie was or how attractive Daniel Craig was, it was the breathtaking beauty of a place I knew nothing about...Montenegro. I said out loud, "I want to go there." I told enough people that I wanted to see it that my sister-in-law actually looked into going on a family trip together. None of that ever materialized, but suddenly here was this alluring country right next door to Kate’s home! As we were planning how to get there, Kate mentioned Dubrovnik. It was highly recommended by all the locals as THE tourist destination. When I went online, I saw why. It is stunning in beauty and filled with things to do, rich in history, and easily accessible by bus from Sarajevo. So I planned a three-day trip there, and it became the highlight of the trip because it was also very exciting for Kate, having never been there either. When Kate told the other four girls in her exchange program that she was going, they begged to come along. Would I be willing to chaperone five 18-year-olds in a foreign country for four days? Sure! Having chaperoned teenagers on trips all over the world many times---on teams as large as 100---four extra girls would be a piece of cake. The excitement was palpable. One of the girls on Kate’s team went online and researched the best attractions and restaurants and also made us a budget for all the travel we would do. I booked us a villa. Then one of the other girls found out that her mother was also planning to visit that same week, so she joined us too. It was a funny relationship. The two moms, both of whom are world travelers, would be the "authority," but the girls would be the real bosses, as they were the ones who knew the language and the culture. From the minute we bought our bus tickets, they were in charge. When we bought our tickets, they were four times more expensive than what Kate had told me a month earlier and then we had to pay our bus driver to load our suitcases on the bus, so I was over budget before I had even left Sarajevo! Something told me this "so-much-less-expensive-than-western Europe" trip was not going to be cheap.

Once settled on our tour bus, the girls promptly fell asleep. Even as a teenager I could never sleep on trips...I loved to see the scenery, especially when it was a place I would likely never see again. The scenery was incredibly beautiful. We traveled through the Denaric Alps, driving up and down and through switchbacks, past quaint villages, rushing rivers and snow-capped peaks. With every turn we were rewarded with another vista...I didn’t dare turn off my camera. So many times I wished the bus would stop or at least slow down so I could capture the scenes. When the bus finally did stop for our first break, it was at a little roadside café perched on the edge of a river. We picked out a table by the window and waited to order our coffee...and waited, and waited and waited. No one ever came to take our order, even though we made eye contact and gestured numerous times and the staff nodded back as though they would "be right there." But they never came, and our break was over so we got back on the bus having had nothing. I figured in the long-run it was probably for the best, as coffee can make my stomach upset when I travel, and these twisty roads were a lot to deal with. It was a very slow bus ride.  Dubrovnik is about 3-1/2 to 4 hours away from Sarajevo, and I figured we’d be stopping so I allowed another hour, telling the host of our villa that we would probably be there around noon. Well, that trip drug on for 8 hours!  I had exhausted the little snacks I had packed and was feeling pretty hungry. I also dozed off a few times...it was just so long. We had to cross the border from Bosnia into Croatia, then Croatia back into Bosnia and then one more time from Bosnia into Croatia because of the way they divided the countries’ borders when Yugoslavia was dissolved. Each time we had to stop and pull out our passports. We did stop one more time where they let us get out and have a 15-minute break, which was just enough time to buy gelato and eat it out in the sun. We reached Dubrovnik at 3 in the afternoon. We tried to get a taxi to take us to our destination, but they refused to take all 5 of us in one car. This wasn’t good either, as I knew the three girls would ride in one taxi and split the fare three ways and I would ride with Kate in the second taxi and have to pay for both of us. They threw our luggage in the trunk and bickered back and forth with each other about where the place was, looking at the address and acting like they didn’t have a clue where it was. I knew we were about to be taken for ride and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but get in the car and go. They zipped us through the winding, narrow little streets and then came to a quick stop. The trip took maybe 5 minutes. The car doors were opened, the suitcases set on the ground, and hands extended for the fare. I know nothing about kuna, which is Croatia’s currency, so I just handed the money over for Kate and myself and figured I’d calculate the exchange later. But the girls instantly knew it was very expensive and were muttering under their breath. The drivers pointed us up a hill and drove away. We picked up our suitcases and started up the hill...and up, up, up we went, probably the equivalent of 3 city blocks, including 9 flights of stone steps (I counted!) and 2 long stone "ramps" where there were no stairs.  We were completely sweaty, exhausted and out of breath by the time we reached our villa. Our hosts, Ivan and Marin, came out to meet us. In a mix of Bosnian, Croatian and English we told them we came by taxi. They asked how much we were charged. The girls told them and they shook their heads in disbelief and said in English, "Evil!!" I vowed right then I would not be taken advantage of again.

Our hosts showed us around our villa, explaining the usual things like how to turn on the shower and work the stove and where the extra blankets were. She had fresh lemons and oranges from the trees in her gorgeous garden sitting in a bowl for us, homemade candied orange peel, and fresh-squeezed orange juice in bottles in the fridge. Then they invited us upstairs to where they lived, and she served us more orange juice, orange liqueur and a moist crumb cake. Her husband pulled out the city map and showed us how to get around, what bus to use, and the best attractions to see. We were there a good hour. Finally, we were released. We were now 5 hours behind schedule...and starving. We grabbed our map and our bags and set out for Old Town. What a maze of streets and alleys and staircases! And because many of the streets were walled on both sides, it definitely felt like a maze. We worked our way down, down, down and arrived at Old Town, which was quite impressive. Walking across the drawbridge through the gates, we stepped back into time when streets were stone, cities were walled, houses were joined and stacked, cathedrals were prominent, and fountains graced the town square. But the city was most definitely modern, as shops and cafes lined every single street and alley. We were mesmerized. We were supposed to meet the other girl from the team and her mother, but they hadn’t arrived yet, so we wandered aimlessly but happily through the maze of streets, exploring and taking in the beauty as well as getting our bearings for the true sightseeing we would be doing the next day. We stopped for coffee while we waited and sat at tiny tables in a tiny alleyway, hidden from the entire city unless you happened upon this exact alley as we had. Then we walked down to the agreed-upon restaurant for dinner to find the other two. We had a very good meal, but the girls were disappointed it was Bosnian food and not Croatian. Bosnian food is more Turkish and Croatian food is more Mediterranean. It was all new to me, so I didn’t mind, and the restaurant was cozy and dark with an almost medieval feel because of the stone walls, heavy wooden tables and chairs and candlelight. We dined on a variety of dishes, puffy little rolls that were like a yeast donut only not sweet and served with that thick sour cream that isn’t very sour, salads with tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onions, hard-boiled egg and sheep’s cheese, beef, roasted vegetables, and other foods I don’t know the names for. The meal was great, and we happily made our way out of Old Town to head back to the villa, since it was Helena’s 18th birthday, and her mother, Claire, had picked up a Sacher torte when she passed through Vienna on her way to Sarajevo. I was thrilled!  I had really wanted to buy a piece of authentic Viennese Sacher torte when I passed through Vienna, but that didn’t happen when I ended up having to run for my plane, and now I'd get to try it!  None of us realized just how difficult it was going to be to get home. Claire had rented a car, so we squeezed all seven of us into it and made our way up towards our villa. One of the girls navigated using the map we were given, but we ended up on a road that took us right out of the city and far, far up the side of the mountain. It was impossible to stop and turn around, as it was one way with no turn-offs, so we were forced to continue in the opposite direction for a few miles.  Finally we found a wide spot on the edge of the road and pulled over, then, carefully looking in every direction on this curvy, narrow mountain road, we pulled across to the other lane going back into town and made our way back in the dark of night. We followed the map until we figured we were somewhat close to our villa, and then parked along the side of the road as we saw others had done. It was a sheer cliff at the shoulder's edge, so I got out and directed Claire backwards so she wouldn’t go too far and slip off. Then Helena and Claire got their suitcases and we walked single file along that dark stretch of highway with no shoulder, using one cell phone in front for vision and one in back so cars would see us.  We walked like that for a good 10 minutes until we finally found a stone staircase heading down. The girls said, "No, this isn’t our street!" The moms said, "We don’t care, we’re getting off this highway!" For a moment, we were boss again! We climbed down the stairs to the next street level, which was residential and quiet, and then headed horizontally to our street, and then down again until we reached our villa. All homes are enclosed within gates, and all the entrances to the gates are on the sides of the streets, so you never enter a house through a front or back door, always from the side. We were so tired and a little stressed, but there was Sacher Torte! So we sang Happy Birthday to Helena and ate that rich chocolate cake with apricot filling and fudgy frosting at almost midnight! Then, despite the sugar high, we climbed into bed with the shutters wide open to the sea breeze and fell promptly to sleep.

The next morning I woke to the sound of birds, big horn blasts from the ships coming and going in the harbor, bells from the cathedral, and mo-peds speeding through the little streets. Sunlight filtered through the slats of the shutters. I got up and opened the shutter doors wide, stepping out on the balcony to take in the view of the sunrise over the sea. From our villa high on the hill, it looked like first a sea of red tiled roofs and then a sea of blue wrapping around the golden hills and islands, dotted with white boats and sparkling under the morning sun. Ahhh...this was wonderful! Kate and I and Anna, who is also an early riser, grabbed some money and headed out for some groceries so we could have breakfast. Down, down, down we walked until we reached street level and the little store. We picked up dried apricots, hazelnuts, milk and yogurt and then turned around and walked straight up again, huffing and puffing and sweating before we’d even truly started our day. Claire and Helena had also gone out early, determined to find their car in the daylight and bring it down to a more convenient and safe location. On their way home they had picked up two loaves of fresh bread from the pekura (bakery) and a paper package of dried figs. After a great breakfast of yogurt with kiwi from the garden and granola from home, one of those sweet, juicy oranges from the fruit bowl and dried figs (the girls chose the sugar cereal I had brought from the States, the fresh bread and orange juice!), we headed down to Old Town to tour the city wall. Since the city is situated on a jutting outcropping of rock into the sea, not only was it a port for commerce and travel, it was also vulnerable to invading navies. So the entire city is enclosed with thick stone walls like the fort on the hill above it, with a walkway as wide as the thickness of the wall built on top. We walked the entire perimeter, taking in the incredible views of city, mountain and sea from every direction. There were more hills and more stairs, and we climbed in the hot morning sun until we had worked up yet another good sweat. Rounding a corner of the wall, we came upon a little café that faced the south sea. It was slightly shaded and offered tall glasses of bright orange-colored juice made of fresh-squeezed oranges, grapefruit, carrots, apples and pears. I thought it sounded wonderfully refreshing, so we sat down and ordered....before asking the price. Well, when I found out it was 60 kuna, or $10 USD, I was no longer very thirsty.  But I told myself, "You are paying for not just the delicious juice you are about to drink but for the experience, which you really can’t get at home."   As we were waiting for our drinks, I noticed a man carrying a big box of Dole oranges. I watched as he dumped them into the juicer. I said to our group, "Those are Dole oranges...they’re not even from here!" The girls looked at me like, "So?" I remembered my vow not to get taken advantage of again, and I decided I would not spend $10 for a glass of Dole orange juice. When the waiter came, I asked him if they used Dole oranges for their fresh-squeezed juice or if they used the local oranges. He acknowledged they used the imported Dole. So, I apologized to Kate for embarrassing her and then said, "I don’t want the juice" and cancelled my order. So while the poor girls gulped their expensive drinks, I drank a much cheaper (but not cheap) coffee, mentally reinforcing my vow to not get taken advantage of as an American tourist.

We moved on from there and finished the wall right before lunch. We caught a ferry and sailed away to a nearby island called Lokrum, where we were planning to tour then swim. We ate Croatian-style sandwiches at a little café on the island, which were made of good white bakery bread, with proscuitto and fromaggio, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil. They were very good. Dubrovnik was its own republic for most of its history, only recently belonging to Yugoslavia/Croatia. They fought off both the Turks and the Italians to maintain their independence, but they are closely linked to and highly influenced by Italy, which is evident in food, architecture and Catholicism. We walked the island, touring the remains of a monastery that was beautiful with its crumbing stone work and admired the many peacocks that strutted among the ruins. Then we hiked to the fort at the very top and center of the island, which provided a beautiful view of the mainland.  Once again very hot and sweaty, we climbed all the way back down to the sea, picked our way across the massive rocks to the edge of the water, and jumped into the turquoise-blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.

It was cold.  Achingly cold.   We gasped and sputtered with shock, and one of the girls sat with only her feet in for a very long time, mustering up the courage to immerse herself. Once we adjusted to the temperature, it was chilly but bearable. It was totally cool, though, to lay flat on your back and float in the salty water. I’ve been in a few seas around the world, but I don’t recall ever being able to just lie perfectly flat and still and float like that before. If it had been warmer I think I could have stayed like that for hours! Eventually, we began to shiver. The girls who more active, jumping off the rocks, climbing back up and jumping again, did better. But Claire and I pulled out, and I chose to explore the warm tide pools caught between the rocks while she spread out her towel and suntanned on the rocks. When we’d finally had enough, we dressed and walked to the café by the harbor to have coffee, then took the ferry back to the mainland. We then toured the fort, which gave us a view of isolated little coves on the other side of the rocks, and there we found what looked like a great restaurant overlooking the water of the cove. So when we were done with our tour, we stopped for dinner and enjoyed fresh seafood, Croatia’s specialty, in its many forms...some had grilled fish, others had it mixed with pasta, another had black risotto (dyed pure black with squid ink!) and I had risotto with tomatoes, mussels, shrimp and squid, and we all had a delicious antipasto plate of good bread, salmon mousse, grilled vegetables, briny olives and salty anchovies. It was delicious. To drink, I had myrtille juice, similar to blueberry, mixed in sparkling water. We lingered just until dusk, not wanting to walk home in total darkness again. But it takes so long to get up all those hills, that we still ended up in the dark. We took a couple wrong turns and found ourselves going down a big hill, which made us all groan because what goes down must come up. Sure enough, we had missed the correct angle, so we turned around and re-climbed our way back, then found the place where we should have veered toward the right and climbed up the correct way to home. Too tired to wait my turn for a shower, I washed my face and my feet, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.

When I woke up my hair was very curly from the salt water the day before, but figuring we’d probably go swimming again, I simply pinned it away from my face and showered and dressed. Marin had made a pot of coffee for Claire and I, so we sat on the patio under the trellis that formed a canopy of kiwi and grape vines (I never knew kiwi grew on vines!). We drank the strong, sweet Turkish coffee that even Italian Catholic Croatia serves, and sliced into another delicious orange while Marin pointed out all the beautiful fruits and vegetables she grew in her garden...a little orchard of mandarin oranges, which were in blossom at the moment, producing a heavy, heady fragrance that hung in the air everywhere we walked, oranges and lemons which were presently in season, kiwi, which had just finished, cherry soon to come, and pomegranate in the fall.  In the ground she had planted onions, lettuce, squash, and strawberries that were just starting to ripen, of which she picked us a bowl and offered us the first-fruits of her harvest! When we left, she walked with us a ways before separating to go to the market with her grandson, and we headed up this time instead of down, on towards the cable cars. The cable cars are brand new and 100 times safer than those I rode in India! The original cable car station had been bombed during the war and was destroyed. The had turned the new station into a mini museum/memorial. Everywhere are reminders of the war. The view from the top of the mountain was gorgeous, as you would expect, but more interesting to me was behind the cable cars, where Kate and I found the stone remnants of an old amphitheater and an underground tunnel emerging from the rocks in the hillside. The mountain itself is quite barren and rocky, not lush and green like the alps we had crossed coming out of Sarajevo. There was a rugged beauty to the mountains rising above the sea. There was really nothing to do at the top but admire the view, so we basically just wandered and relaxed for awhile, then took the cable car back down and headed to the port.  There, we walked out on the jetty to the furthermost tip of land reaching into the sea.  We sat down on the rocks, slipped off our shoes, and soaked our hot feet in the cool water that lapped rhythmically in a soothing, refreshing manner. It was a slower-paced day. No one really felt like moving fast. Everyone just wanted to nap in the sun. But eventually we headed back into Old Town and stopped for a gelato, then toured the Franciscan monastery and the second oldest synagogue in Europe and peered into the cathedral, which was charging more than we wanted to spend. We found a little Italian café tucked in one of the alleys and ate Italian pizza and pasta and bruschetta. We finished the last of our touring and slipped between the stone walls and through a tunnel to come out on the outside of the wall, where a café was built right on the rocks overlooking the sea. There we had cold iced tea sitting on the rocks, watching other people swim. Although it was nice to tan a bit, I was dying to jump in that blue water and cool off. It was a hot day. Because everyone felt done touring, we hopped a transit bus back to the villa to get our bathing suits and then walked all the way down to those little coves we had spied the day before and went for a swim. The water wasn’t quite as cold in the cove as it was in the open sea, but the sun was behind those towering walls of rock, so the shade made it chillier than it should have been. Still we all went in. I found a cave and half swam, half crawled on the rocks to explore it a bit, picking my way carefully over the slippery rock bottom covered in algae, through the fish swimming around my ankles, and past the most ruby-red sea anemone I have ever seen. After swimming, we were hungry again.  The girls wanted Mexican food, something they haven't had since they left the States, but that’s about the last thing I wanted, so we parted ways and Kate and I walked all the way down to the marina on the opposite side of the city which we hadn't yet explored.  We watched the sun go down over the water and had the most delicious meal of the whole trip at this wonderful restaurant with a rooftop terrace nestled in the hillside with trees behind us, cushioned benches with pillows, and candles everywhere, with the only electric light flickering on and off at will. I had butternut squash soup with toasted hazelnuts and a dollop of the sour cream that’s not sour and then a grilled portabella mushroom stuffed with couscous and gorgonzola cheese on a bed of rich and garlicky ratatouille. Oh, my...soooo good! Of course there was more bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Kate had grilled chicken with polenta and ratatouille, and she loved that too. We contemplated tiramisu, but we had already had gelato and it was almost 10:00, so we reluctantly passed on that. We gave in to our fatigue and took the bus home instead of walking, but that still left us the last long descent (1 big ramp for approximately a block, then those 9 flights of stairs) to our villa. When we got home, I threw all our wet clothes into the washing machine with a little laundry soap I had saved for just such an occasion and hoped to hang them out on the clothesline and go to bed. But that washing machine just wouldn’t quit.  Finally I gave up waiting and went to bed at midnight, too tired to even care that I’d have to lug home wet clothes the next day.  The Dubrovnik trip was over...but Mostar was yet to come!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Shop 'Til You Drop and Walk 'Til You Wilt

We started out with another early morning because Kate’s host mother was taking us to the "white fort," which was the ruins of an old Turkish fort from the Ottoman Empire, and it was quite a long walk, mostly uphill, and it was supposed to be a hot day so she wanted to beat the heat. She made us a heavy breakfast of eggs from their neighbor’s chickens fried in a ton of butter and served with homemade rolls sprinkled with a seed I didn’t recognize, slathered with sour cream that's not sour and homemade plum jam from the plums in their orchard, and a cup of tea, Kate’s choice over coffee, especially since I had just brought her a box of Tazo Earl Grey from home, which is her favorite.  Nizama served me two eggs and three rolls!  They think I am too small and want to feed me to make me grow!  They call me either "Kah-tee-mama" (Katie's mama) or "Mala Mama" (little mama) and Nizama is "Big Mama."  They think this is very funny!  After breakfast, we started out on our adventure. The new Bosnian word I learned that day was, "paloko," which means, "slow down." I am a fast walker, even by American standards, so I had to force myself...or be reminded...to go at a leisurely Bosnian pace. It was a good three miles to the fort, up the side of the mountain. We stopped at a little roadside store to pick up bananas, and then we continued on our way to the viewpoint at the top, where there was a little café. It felt great to sit down and put our feet up on the fence rails in front of our chairs. Then we ate the bananas and ordered strong, black Bosnian coffee and Turkish delight. It’s never been my favorite candy, but of course eating anything from its source is always better, and I have to say the taste and texture were pretty good! Refreshed, we continued our hike, now going down, down, down. This was almost harder, because it was so steep in places that our already tired legs felt quivery as they supported us. We came to the little white fort and rested there...well, Kate and Nizama rested and I climbed the ruins and made Kate take my picture at the top of what was left of the gate. That worried Nizama...she is a true mother at heart! I climbed back down with only a scratch on the palm of my hand and a dirty spot on my pants. We then continued down the hill towards town. At one point Nizama turned down a narrow alley of cobbled, crudely carved steps. The houses were much smaller here, built right against the alley, and not very well cared for. Nizama turned to us and whispered in Bosnian, gesturing to us by putting her finger to her mouth to be very quiet. I could only understand one word: Gypsy. Kate translated for me:  We were in a gypsy neighborhood, and Nizama didn’t want anyone to hear us speaking English and know that we were American. She was afraid we might be hassled or even stolen from. So silently we picked our way down the rough steps down the side of the hill until we finally reached bottom and a real street and a safe neighborhood. Apparently Sarajevo is a very safe city with very little crime. Kate walks home alone in the dark regularly and has never felt afraid. But a gypsy neighborhood is different. That’s where the crime takes place, and you never go there at night. And, as we learned, Americans shouldn’t go there at all, even in the middle of the day on a sunny afternoon.

Once in town we toured the four main houses of worship, the Serbian Orthodox Church (which they consider Christian), the Catholic cathedral, the Jewish synagogue and the Muslim mosque. The synagogue was also a museum, so we were able to learn about the history of Jews in Sarajevo. The Muslims came with the Turks during the Ottoman Empire. The Catholics came from Rome (there are still Roman and Turkish ruins evident in certain parts of the city), and the Orthodox church came from Russia. Although Sarajevo prides itself on being a city where Christian, Jew and Muslim dwell together peacefully, there are definitely undercurrents of competition...even in the seemingly innocent acts of the Muslim call to prayer and the Catholic cathedral’s church bells. It’s not enough that the bells toll the hour, they also toll long and loud during the mosque’s call to prayer. Which is tallest, the minaret or the spire? And so it goes. By the time we were done touring we were quite hungry, so Nizama led us through the market streets to her favorite place for cevapi...Bosnia’s all-time favorite food. Kate and the other girls in her exchange program say they love it too. I enjoy true ethnic dishes, so I was eager to try it. The little restaurant we went to only served cevapi and nothing else, so there was one big fire oven for the dedicated purpose of baking the flatbread and grilling the meat. The restaurant was hot, so we picked a table furthest away from the oven. Within minutes our plates arrived...a huge round flatbread split in half and stuffed with what looked like breakfast sausages and diced onion. The meat is really closer to a meatball than a sausage in taste and texture, but it is shaped into "fingers" rather than balls. It is made of beef and highly seasoned, then grilled rather than baked. Some people put mayonnaise or ketchup or this creamy cheese on theirs but most ate them plain, which is the traditional way. To me, they were meat on a bun with onion and condiments...a big Bosnian burger! I actually thought they would taste better with some tzatziki or something with a little zip. And they were too greasy for my liking. But I tried them, and that’s what matters! Then Nizama wanted dessert (she loves her sweets!), so we went for gelato. She got three scoops and Kate and I each had one. She was concerned...why didn’t we order cake too? She tried to get us to order cake, "It is so good here!" But we didn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even finish my gelato. If it wasn’t for the walking I’m doing every day, I know I’d be going home 10 pounds heavier! By this time, Nizama and Kate were both turning pink from the sun. Kate received a text that we needed to go to the exchange program’s office to sign some papers, and Nizama gladly let us go on and returned home without us. She was exhausted! After we took care of the paperwork, we didn’t really want to go back home as the sun was still shining, so we went to Kate’s favorite mall so she could show me her favorite store. Then we strolled down to the artsy part of the city where the Art School was and then to a little café that made kebabs (not the way we know it), which was grilled flatbread stuffed with spicy chicken that had been roasted on a spit, lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, a garlic-yogurt sauce and a rich, flavorful orange-colored sauce. Now that was good! Much better than cevapi, in my opinion! We ate our kebabs sitting on the wall in front of the art school overlooking the river...and I’m proud to say I only got one drip on my blouse!! We decided to head back while it was still light out, and that actually gave us the evening with Kate’s family, everyone was present except the youngest son, with two English speakers, so everything was easily translated. That was a great evening together because we had a real conversation, in depth and full of interesting topics, questions, opinions and stories. Kate had told me that her family never mentioned the war, while all the other girls’ families did. But that night we talked about the war and how it affected them. I heard their story and answered their questions and asked my own. And then I got to share about God’s love for us...all of us, in every part of the world and how that transcends nationality and politics. Nizama shared with me how a Christian organization from the States had actually helped them by dropping aid packages by plane for them.  That had touched her many years ago and she remembered it still.  We finally climbed the railing-less marble stairs to our bedroom and crawled into bed, with a promise that the next morning we’d finally get to sleep in.

It was great to sleep until 7:30! Another gorgeous morning full of sunshine and birdsong. Nizama had another yummy breakfast for us of spinach "pita" and strawberries and coffee. Then we hit the road...another day of walking literally from morning until night!  She didn't join us...we wiped her out the day before and she had quite the sunburn!

Since we had already seen the main tourist places, I thought I’d take care of my shopping so I wasn’t frantically trying to find gifts on my last day. So it was a "shop `til you drop" day, with good food mixed in. I had a wonderfully healthy caprese salad for lunch and an arugula salad with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and parmesan cheese for dinner. I guess I did have some bread with each meal, but to dip fresh, hot homemade bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar was too delicious to pass up. Then, of course, we had coffee...and crepes. Kate took me to her favorite dessert place that serves foot-long crepes filled with Nutella and served warm, sprinkled with ground hazelnuts, and topped with chocolate gelato and whipped cream. It was delicious. We tried to finish before dark, but there was just too much to do and eat! I just love Sarajevo’s patio scene! I think Portland’s food scene rocks, but you have to know where to go to find a good patio. Here, I would say 85% of the restaurants have patios and most of them are quite nice. Kate and I had so much fun people watching from our vantage point of a table on the street. We also had a great laugh that brought us almost to our knees and made us cry off all our make-up. Coming out of one of the stores in the nice mall, we turned awkwardly, each in a different direction, and Kate stepped on my little toe. Now, this wasn’t just any "little toe." This was the little toe with the big blister that had burst and then been rubbed wide open. It was swollen and very tender to touch. I had accidently scraped it a little bit open again when trying on a shoe earlier that afternoon, so it was throbbing a bit already when Kate stepped on it. Well, I gasped with pain and reached out to grab Kate’s shoulder for support at the same time she turned to help me, which caused me to miss her shoulder and grab her cheek, scratching her nose and making her cry out. Both of us were moaning in pain and laughing hysterically as we limped over to a bench and laughed until we cried, knowing the spectacle we must have made of ourselves in the middle of the mall. Crazy Americans! We could just feel it. Every time we’d sigh, wipe our eyes, and get ourselves under control, we’d look at each other and burst out laughing anew. I was a lot more humorous than it sounds here. It was just one of those moments.

We didn’t make it home by dark and we didn’t stay downstairs to visit with the family. We had to shower, pack and get to bed, because in the morning we had to catch our taxi at 6:15 and catch our bus at 7:15...heading to Dubrovnik!!


Gypsy neighborhood
Art school by the river
White Fort ruins

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Culture Shock

It’s a good thing I love to walk, because I’ve been doing a lot of it ever since I got here! Very few women drive in Sarajevo and the men take the car to work, so walking is the main mode of transportation. We’ve used the bus, the tram and taxis too, but too many taxis gets expensive, and the bus and tram only go so far...not up the big hill to Kate’s house. So we walk! You’d think with so much hill walking everyone would be fit and slender. Not so. The women here are quite portly, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

After feasting on cookies and cake before going to bed on my first night here, we woke to a quick and early breakfast of coffee, cookies and cake for breakfast. There was a bowl of apples and oranges on the table that weren’t offered but were sitting there, so I asked Kate and she said yes, they were for the taking, but no one usually ate fruit in the morning. So I salvaged my first meal by eating an apple and a left-over string cheese I had in my travel bag. We had to be out the door by 7:30 to catch our bus by 7:50. No time for jet lag...after 28 hours of travel and a 9-hour time change, I was on a 3-1/2-hour bus ride into the Bosnian countryside to visit a war memorial! Halfway through the trip, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and store for a Bosnian coffee break. Bosnians do not get coffee to go. It doesn’t exist. Always you sit, smoke and drink coffee together. We didn’t do any of that. I had already had my coffee for the day, and most of the girls on Kate’s exchange program don’t drink it 5 times a day either, so we bought a snack for the bus ride (healthy popcorn for me and Kate...Kate's host sister brought more cookies!) And then we walked around the pretty area, admiring the view of the river, mountains and trees and playing with the cats and dogs who are everywhere here. After the coordinators and bus driver and another local Bosnian accompanying us had their coffee break, we got back on the bus and continued our trip. The countryside was dotted with once-beautiful homes, now empty...their roofs caved in where a mortar bomb had hit them, their brick walls crumbling, the plaster pockmarked with gunshot wounds, the doorways dark and empty, and trees growing up from the inside with branches reaching out through the windows. Some of the more salvageable homes had been converted into storage buildings to hold hay or equipment. Most stood empty, broken and forgotten...forewarning us of greater sadness ahead. Our destination was the town of Srebrenica on the border of Bosnia and Serbia. In this quiet and beautiful place tucked into the mountains a mass murder of approximately 8500 men took place, under the watchful eye of the United Nations peacekeepers. The tire factory in town, which was the main source of employment, was designated a "safe zone" by the UN for the Bosnian people under attack by Serbian forces. That safe zone ended up being a death sentence. How convenient to have everyone from Srebrenica and all the surrounding villages gathered in one spot! Saved the Serbs a lot of work. After separating the men from the women and children, the men were gunned down. Most of those who tried to escape into the hills met with a grim fate as well, either dying along the way because of injuries or the arduous hike through tough terrain or being discovered by Serb soldiers and killed. Entire clans were wiped out, as here extended families live together, many sharing houses and land. It was a sad and somber trip and rife with political and religious tension. I was hearing the story from another point of view...those who were actually the ones being attacked. I also understood why those who are not Christians have such animosity towards religion. It was religion that caused the war...religion that spawned the hatred...religion that drove men to kill. But it is the work of Christ on the cross...He sacrificed his life for us, erasing sin and death, and ushering into the world not religion but relationship with a loving God who lovingly gave His son and lovingly gathers us into his family as a father and teaches us to love one another. World religion leaves out Jesus. Everything is God, Allah, Jehovah. But without Jesus there is no access to God. Jesus is our peace and he’s broken down every wall!

So those were my musings on the long bus ride back to Sarajevo. Yes, it was an intense start to my visit! But we also had taken time for fun, having lunch in the town of Srebrenica at a little restaurant attached to the owner's home.  We could watch the wife cooking our meal from the big open windows to the patio...everything fresh and homemade.  I ordered authentic goulash served with three huge pieces of homemade bread and washed down with more of that strong, dark, sweet Turkish coffee---always served on a silver tray from a fancy pot.  When we returned to Sarajevo, instead of going home, Kate’s host sister, who had accompanied us to the Srebrenica war memorial, took us to Old Town. This part of the city is alive with activity and full of beautiful buildings dating back 500 years...remains of walls from the Ottoman Empire, ancient cathedrals, synagogues and mosques, and gorgeous structures from the Austro-Hungarian era, now housing stores and markets and cafes. We had gelato, which was delicious, and I sipped from the fountain that promises those who drink of the waters will one day return. We listened to musicians play and admired the beautiful wares in Copper Alley. We were approached by a group of American women, who heard us speaking English and introduced themselves. Kate says when you’re in a foreign country it’s exciting to hear your own language and everyone will stop and introduce themselves. We wandered on until, finally, after a very full day, we climbed into a taxi and headed home...for more cake and cookies! We visited with the family and then went to bed around midnight. I dreamed of Snow White’s evil step-mother who was trying to kill us because we were Christians while the wild dogs hunted us down in packs. It wasn’t funny until the next morning.

But Sunday dawned sunny and beautiful. Kate and I headed to church by taxi. I was excited to visit Kate’s church. This is where she had found her "place." We were welcomed warmly as we entered the little church, which was in a house. The kitchen and bathroom were still there and one bedroom had been turned into a meeting room, but the living room and probably what had been the dining room were opened up to form one large room across the width of the house, and this was the sanctuary. In the windowed nook in the center of the room, the worship band set up and the pulpit stood. There were 40 to 50 people present, with a balanced mix of young and old, students, families, locals and foreigners. On the far side of the room was the "American" section. There were enough Americans who attended to warrant a translator, which was very nice for me. When we had been seated, a woman sat down next to me and said hello. I introduced myself as Katie’s mom, and she said, "We’ve already met." Confused, I looked at Kate, who was looking past me at someone else. I turned around, and there was the group of American ladies we had met the day before in the market! We all exclaimed at how amazing it was that we would cross paths in the market and then end up in the same tiny church the next morning! The service was great...good worship, with all songs I knew---although I couldn’t sing them in Bosnian---a good message on following Christ, a great time of communion with fresh-baked bread and real wine, and a time of fellowship afterward with pizza. Everyone spoke highly of Kate, and I was able to meet all her friends. From church we walked downtown, hitting the mall first so I could finally exchange my money, then having coffee, of course, before we walked down to Sarajevo’s beautiful park on the other side of the river. When we reached the park, which was huge, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride to the scenic side...there were beautiful old hotels circled around a large fountain, pony rides and cafes leading to a long promenade past gorgeous homes belonging to ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. At the end of the promenade, we "alighted from our carriage" and entered the walking paths, which meandered through the park along the waterways, over bridges and through the trees. It was beautiful. The water flowed right through the trees, almost like a forest growing up out of a lake. There were swans and ducks swimming on the clear water and flowers and blossoms blooming on the banks. The apex of the creeks and ponds was the waterfall, and that is where we ate our dinner. There was an outdoor patio and deck built out over the water, and Kate and I got the table at the very furthest point, closest to the falls. With all that fresh water flowing around us, we both found we were in the mood for fish, so we ordered the trout (and they boasted that it was fresh-caught from a local lake). We lingered until the sun began to set and the waterfall mist turned chilly rather than refreshing. We began the very long walk back to town and then caught a bus to take us up the mountainside to Kate’s house...well, got us close to Kate’s house! There is yet another uphill walk from the bus stop. Our feet were pretty sore from all that walking and we were both pretty sure we had blisters. I knew I did because I was almost to Kate’s house when I felt a bursting sensation and a sharp sting. My blister had popped and now my sandal strap was rubbing against my raw skin. I limped the last few yards home. We spent the remainder of the evening visiting with the family, watching Bosnian TV (hilarious!), eating juicy oranges from Spain, and finally heading upstairs for a hot shower and a cozy bed. I had no trouble sleeping that night!!