Monday, November 30, 2009

100th Post! Bosnia Photo-Roll

One of the absolute highlights from the few months we spent in the Balkans was Bosnia. My mom definitely had a hissy fit when about two days before we left I mentioned going to Bosnia, she was already uneasy with the idea that we didn't have a real itinerary, places lined up to stay, etc. and Bosnia was over the top; of course as it turns out, Bosnia is one of the most charming, rewarding, and definitely beautiful places I have ever been.

We came into Sarajevo on an overnight bus from Serbia. The days right before we left for Bosnia, we were at a music festival called EXIT at fortress in Serbia. That's a whole separate post of it's own, but it was freaking nuts. The festival went from 8pm or so to 8am, 4 consecutive nights.

So I was pretty much catatonic from exhaustion for the bus ride in, but I'm pretty sure at some point we were on a dirt road, I definitely lost track of my passport at the border but somehow got it back quite sometime after we had left the border - yeah, not a good idea, but I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough to keep track of it - and I think the bus driver actually pulled over at one point and yelled at the girls right in front of us for being annoying. But even completely exhausted I was able to recognize coming into Sarajevo at dawn, a fog resting over the city which sits in a valley between these incredible, lush mountain landscapes, was probably the most beautiful thing I have seen. The city completely blew me away; Sarajevo is like a big village and you immediately feel comfortable.

Sorry for the poor picture quality, but you get the idea, a big village.

The country was nothing like I imagined. For starters it's mostly a mountainous region...which makes sense now considering they had the 1984 winter olympics there, duh. And the evidence of recent wars is still extremely visible, so MANY building facades are riddled with bullet holes and artillery damage, shelled structures dot the area, sidewalks busted, but the place has an incredible positive energy. People flood the streets, like every evening is a block party and you just chill with your neighbors, cafes are always full, people take walks. Seriously, it really makes you wonder how a city that has suffered so much is a place of such warmth and vitality?

The city center is in a valley and then it cascades up the surrounding hills, like a city full of cottages. Anyway, this is definitely getting longer than I intended, but I LOVED Bosnia, especially Sarajevo (you know it's like a Balkan hotspot, a fashion, cultural center for that part of the world). People we would meet along the way often asked where we would recommend visiting and I always said Bosnia. Same goes for you too! It's not some run-down, scary war torn place - though I will say I definitely learned a few things first hand about war - but full of rich history, culture, incredible mountains and nature, and an all around good time. So if you're in the area, might want to stop on by.

Some pictures to fill you in on what you're missing:

Pretty amazingly good and fresh produce in the area

Cafes are everywhere, and they're more of the come for a drink type - beverage only. So people go to drink cafes like twice a day, on their work breaks. And everyone sits on the same side of the table that faces the street so you can watch the passing people, instead of sitting across from each other. I definitely got into the multiple time per day cafe break.

This is pretty much a testament to Sarajevo and what you can expect. The sidewalk was destroyed during the war, from tanks here I think, and they are slowly repairing all the damage to the infrastructure, but it's a pretty huge task, so instead of just leaving it they have painted the hearts on the damage.

Socialist style housing blocks, built since the war. Pretty standard all over Eastern Europe.

Crazy man jumping off the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar. The bridge to Bosnia is kind of like the Eiffel Tower to France, like a national symbol or something. The original was built in the 1500s or so, but it was destroyed during the they rebuilt it exactly the same. FYI that water is FREEZING, it's snow run-off, but it was soooo hot outside that it was sort of numbingly nice.

Did I mention they have emerald water?

Old Town artisans workshop in the Turkish quarter, an ancient trading place, all hand-made. I bought one of those tea sets in the background and carried it around by hand for like 2 weeks so it wouldn't break.

There are a number of these cemeteries for people who died during the war. It's definitely a hallowing experience walking through these. I don't even want to tell you how many of these obelisks are for children and people under the age of 25. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the 4 year siege, most of them citizens not soldiers.

Artillery damage on a sidewalk. After the war they filled these with red cement, and now they call them a Sarajevo Rose.

Serbian forces surrounded Sarajevo and the city was cut-off for four years, left without water, food, medicine, power, you name it. Bosnian forces built this tunnel and used it to cross occupied lands. Some people left through the tunnel, but mostly people used it to go out and get supplies for their families and then return. It's not very tall, I couldn't stand up straight.

A few weeks after we got back, a Bosnian co-worker of Melissa's came and looked through all our pictures of Bosnia (I ended up giving them all to her and my postcards, she had to leave all hers behind when they fled). She told us about how she and her son escaped during the war, but her husband had to stay behind in Sarajevo and their apartment got bombed but he still lived there, in a building with a hole in it and no heat in a snowy, cold climate. And that's the thing about Bosnia, everyone has a story like that, but somehow the city is still so incredibly positive. Like I said all the time you wonder how a city that has suffered soo much is what it is today? It seriously is an incredible place. Oh yeah and this is my 100th blog post!! I suppose that makes me an official blogger.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Angels, Demons and Darth Vader.

Hey guys. Well, yesterday I decided to head on over to the National Cathedral in DC. I'd been wanting to visit for a few weeks now, and a dreary, overcast Saturday seemed like the perfect day to appreciate an old gothic-style church, fully equipped with everything you'd expect from a pseudo-medieval cathedral save the industrial era black soot so ubiquitous in Europe.

The place floored me...everything from the overwhelmingly beautiful natural lighting to the spooky cloisters and small passageways in the crypt to the intensely appropriate gaudiness of the adornments contrasted with the cold, harsh stone of the building itself. And of course the massiveness. It's huge. Overwhelming.

I always thought - and still do - I would never have wanted to belong to a Christian church in the middle ages, when they built these giant, overwhelming cathedrals...dark and gloomy, but magnificent...meant to make you feel small, worthless - who are next to God? - with some priest standing high above you at his lectern, saying you were condemned from the beginning but you could certainly buy your salvation now. It's pretty perverse. No wonder they revolted, sacked Rome. But, that's sort of what I love about these cathedrals now (admittedly this is an episcopalian cathedral, and with construction beginning in the late 1800's, missing the heyday of bloody Christian history, but it tries really hard to fit in with the others); anyways, whenever I go in them I get this strange juxtaposition of emotions, they're so beautiful and awe-inspiring but at the same time shadowy and mysterious, even sordid. It's strange people's reaction to churches.

Well, don't you worry, I had my camera with me and took about a million pictures. So these are some of my favorites.

Oh yeah and in reference to the title of this post, construction on the cathedral began in the late 1800's but it wasn't officially finished until 1990. So there are a few modern illusions in the artwork, Hitler's head on a snake representing the devil, etc. and no joke a Darth Vader gargoyle on the outside. I read about it after, it was some sort of children's competition a little boy won and got to design a gargoyle. Gotta respect the church for not backing out and going through with a "Darth Vader" design.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hare Hare

I love the Hare Krishna's. Seriously, they're always a good time.


So one of my favorite things about pretty much everywhere we went in the Eastern Block and the Balkans was the old women...the babushkas. Their home made clothes, stern demeanor, head scarves, fresh produce. I smile every time I think about them. In Croatia, there was this one old woman standing on her doorstep in these small back alleys. We were wandering looking for our hotel (a loose term I assure you) in this alley labyrinth. It was SO hot, we had just arrived, coming in on a hellish bus ride, and our packs seriously weighed like 40 pounds on our backs. As I passed by her she held a bag out to me. It was her trash.

This Turkish woman made crepes on a boat as her husband rowed her around to the tourists on their yachts. I don't think Melissa was happier the whole trip than when this woman told her in Turkish she would have been proud to have her as a daughter, after Melissa successfully made her own crepe.

I love this. You know she made their matching suits.

At one point we were in this little Czech town, Kutna Hora, waiting for a train to Prague. As we sat next to this old woman on the bench waiting for the train, this extremely annoying British couple came over. The woman was loud and sounded stupid. So when a train pulls up, she starts loudly asking no one in particular if this was her train. The train was on its way to Brno, another Czech city, and says Brno in the window. But this woman, reaches over us and taps the old woman on my right. With her bubble gum voice she asks the woman if the train is going to Prague. The woman, in one of my favorite memories, grunts. She actually grunted. Then she said slowly in her low voice "Brno" and folded her arms, and grunted again.

In Romania, the old women, if they're home in the day, lean out their windows. I loved this. Women, just leaning out the windows and watching, occasionally yelling to their neighbor also leaning out her window.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I bought this watch off the street in London, 5 pounds. I love that city, maybe I can live there after I finish school.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

National Gallery of Art

So, recently I've taken to spending as much free time as I can here. I just love being there. A friend and I have even started studying inside. Plus they show films every weekend through out the day -- Classics, Brit Noir, early Buster Keaton, etc -- and every Sunday evening a music concert, world renowned musicians, vocalists, orchestras, etc. It's really incredible. I'm jumping on the guided tour circuit today. Starting out with French Collection: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century. I let you know how it is.

Did you know the East Building was designed by I.M. Pei? aka Pyramids of the Louvre, that huge Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, about a million other really cool buildings. Learned that the other day.

Well, I suppose lastly in the spirit of my tour to come, let's give it up for Manet. I can't say he's my favorite Impressionist - though wow, maybe he is - but his painting of the barmaid on absinthe (the kind that made you depressed and hallucinate), who's possibly a high class prostitute, jumps more frequently to my mind than most other paintings. I can't wait to learn more.

Shutter Speed = My New Best Friend

One week in and I'm still completely enamored with my camera. This week I've spent a lot of time messing with shutter speed. Just as a natural inclination I tend to be more drawn toward slow speeds, displaying motion instead of freezing it...but hey I think that's a personal preference. Here's a comparison I did, slow speed in the first and fast in the second:

I suppose it's a subtle difference.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nocturnes and A Nite Out

So I dressed up as Annie Hall for Halloween! It was a huge hit -- not. I could not believe how many people had no idea who she was, or even Woody Allen for that matter. How sad. No matter, her look is so cute that it didn't matter that the "Annie Hall" part passed completely over the head's of most people.

Oh yeah, I got a new camera!! This camera is so cooool!!! Canon XS Rebel DSLR; plus I got it at a steal of a deal. So my camera and I took a little trip to the Washington Monument.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Halfway through my first east coast fall: I love it. I've been completely floored at just how incredibly beautiful it is. Leaves literally fill the streets. And the colors! I'm finally truly seeing all those fall colors in full force. It is amazing walking through the city when a breeze blows that's followed by hundreds of leaves falling in front of your face. It feels like a movie or something. Too bad they'll all be gone in a week or so.