Eastern Europe


Oct 21 2010

I Just Wanted a Bus Ticket to Sarajevo . . .

I was sad to leave Belgrade, Serbia. I had stopped there briefly to visit a friend on my way from Romania to Croatia. But the journey had to continue and my next stop was Sarajevo, Bosnia. I assumed that buying a one-way ticket would be pretty straightforward. I was wrong.

The friend that I was visiting knew all of the ins-and-outs of getting from Belgrade to Sarajevo, and thanks to her, I knew that I had to ask for a ticket to “Lukavica” in Sarajevo – not for the main bus station. I knew how many buses went daily. I knew what time I wanted to leave and how much cash to bring to the bus station. Even though I have studied Serbian for several years, I still get a bit nervous speaking it, so I even reviewed the vocabulary necessary for the transaction.

I made my way to the Belgrade bus station and had no problem finding the correct desks. I got in line and readied everything I could possibly need to buy my ticket. When I got to the front of the line, a woman at the ticket counter barked, “SLEDECA!” NEXT! I was trying to maneuver in the line to end up at the window of the grandmotherly woman’s who looked very sweet and kind. However, she was still nicely helping another person. The woman who was yelling “NEXT” was at the counter beside the grandmother. This woman didn’t look too friendly. I summoned some courage and walked up to her. Continue Reading »

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Sep 05 2009

Colorful Albania

Published by under Travel

Colorful Albania building--photo by Lisa

Colorful Albanian building--photo by Lisa

Last year when I was trying to figure out how I was going to go from Dubrovnik to Albania, I found that it was very difficult to do. Maybe not very difficult, but time consuming to say the least. This year I found that it was very simple to walk into a tourist agency and book a one day excursion to see the “Colors of Albania” via the shiny new high-speed catamaran that departs form Dubrovnik every Wednesday.

It only took three hours to speed down the Adriatic Coast and arrive in the historic port of Durrës, Albania. We were then whisked away to our assigned guides and herded onto buses to make the trek to the capital city of Tirana. The short distance took a very long time to cover as the entire highway seemed to be a parking lot of Mercedes, Hummers, and other flashy cars. Our guide told us that Albania has the highest number of Mercedes per capita and Albanians helped “clean” Germany of their Mercedes. Everyone on the bus just raised their eyebrows and nodded.

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Aug 18 2009

An Irreverent Curiosity and a Diaper Box

Published by under Book Reviews,Travel

An Irreverent Curiosity--by David Farley

An Irreverent Curiosity--by David Farley

If you go to the treasury in the main cathedral in Dubrovnik, Croatia, you can find some very curious religious relics; for instance, the head of Dubrovnik’s patron saint, St. Blaise, as well as his arm, leg, and throat. You might also come across a piece of the true cross and what I thought was the weirdest “treasure” ever, a silver box that holds Jesus’ diapers. No one really believes me when I tell them that the diaper box exists and you can pay a couple of bucks to see it, but since you can’t take photographs in the treasury, I have no proof.

I kind of forgot about the diaper box until I read my new favorite book, An Irreverent Curiosity by David Farley. Simply put, the book is about Farley’s year in Calcuta, Italy. This small medieval hilltop town might possibly be home to some of the most colorful residents in the whole of Italy and certainly is worth a book unto itself. However, even stranger is Farley’s quest: to discover what happened to the village’s most precious relic – The Holy Foreskin. The Holy Foreskin was the treasure of the village and in 1982 it mysteriously disappeared. Everyone seems to have their theories, but no one knows for sure about the authenticity and the location of the item. And after reading the book, I am a bit more curious about the strange world of relics. (Confession: as I am writing this a priest sat down next to me and now I feel really weird.)

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Aug 14 2009

Under the Adriatic Sun

Published by under Travel

Time Out Croatia

Time Out Croatia

I have been in Dubrovnik, Croatia for a little more than a week and I am starting to feel very guilty. I have slipped into a dangerous daily pattern and I can’t seem to get out of it.

In the morning I start out with a list of things to do that day. Maybe it is a selection of places to see, maybe it is going to the bank, maybe it is going out to a shopping center to get some necessities, or maybe it is as simple as trying to find the mythical laundromat that people mention (despite the fact that no one seems to know where it is located). But first I have to find a free table at one of the cafes and have my first coffee of the day. This is where the first symptoms of the condition start to appear.

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May 20 2009

Love and Sausages: Aleksander Hemon and Cevapi

Published by under Book Reviews

The Lazarus Project - by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project - by Aleksandar Hemon

Love and Obstacles, the new book of short interlinked stories by Aleksander Hemon, arrived just in time for me to browse it before I went to hear him speak at the Harvard Bookstore. These stories are linked by a common character: a young Bosnian from Sarajevo who leaves for the United States right before the war in Bosnia erupted in 1992 and ends up sort of stranded abroad. The narrator is a familiar voice, and it is very similar to characters’ in Hemon’s previous books, The Question of Bruno, Nowhere Man, and current Globe Corner Bookstore Staff Favorite and highly acclaimed The Lazarus Project. The books are not autobiographical, but Hemon’s biography and the character’s share many common traits so I kind of felt like I knew him–I was very curious to see what he was like.

I was a little shocked when he first came to the podium, as he looked a bit different from the author photo on the back page. But, soon I was laughing along with the crowd as he read the witty dialog from the final story, The Noble Truths of Suffering. I became completely charmed if not completely smitten with him. As he was reading a passage describing “his” Sarajevo (one of my favorite places in the world) I was lulled into a dreamlike state and started to think of one of my most favorite places in Sarajevo…the cevabdzinica. The sausage shop.

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Feb 10 2009

The Lazarus Project

Published by under Book Reviews

The Lazarus Project -by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project -by Aleksandar Hemon

After enduring an extremely brutal reading list for a class on genocide, I declared January to be a “happy book only” month for me.  But now it is February, and I can start reading about pogroms, political oppression, and mass graves again. The first book I read after my self-imposed “depressing book ban” was The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon, and it became one of my favorites overnight.

Hemon intertwines two intriguing stories about Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who was shot by a Chicago Chief of Police in 1908, and a fictional, present-day Bosnian immigrant named Brik. Officially, Lazarus was declared an anarchist assassin, but Brik wants to discover what really happened. Continue Reading »

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Jan 01 2009

New Year’s Resolution: Read “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”

Published by under Book Reviews

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon -by Rebecca West

I have a confession: I have never completely read Rebecca West’s magnum opus Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. I am sure that this is not a big deal to most people, but I am a self-proclaimed Balkan junkie. If you have ever been in the store looking at the Croatia section, you have probably been subjected to hearing about my love of Dubrovnik, my favorite restaurants, the pros and cons of each guide book to the area, and the results of my extensive research on where to get the best and cheapest ice cream. I have read practically everything that I can get my hands on, except for what is considered to be the defining travelogue of the area.

My history with the book is long. I have lugged it across the Atlantic six times. I have started it about five times. It has a pretty cover, or did: during its sixth trip to Croatia it served as my night stand. Continue Reading »

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Aug 26 2008

People Watching in Tallinn, Estonia

Bradt Mini Guide Tallinn

Bradt Mini Guide Tallinn

I was searching for cheapish, but interesting ways to get from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Stockholm, Sweden this summer, and Kayak pointed me to Estonia Air. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of going to Tallinn for a stop-over, and so I booked the ticket. I anxiously spent the last few days in Dubrovnik getting ready to go to a new city, getting a new stamp in my passport, and getting in the mode of being a tourist again.

After a quick three hour flight, I found myself a bit shocked to be in Estonia. After leaving the hot Adriatic sun, I found myself tearing through my suitcase for my sweater and kicking myself for not packing a least one pair of tights. The weather here is much cooler than I expected, and it has been raining for the better part of the weekend. But I did profit from a few breaks in the rain to explore the Old City of Tallinn. I can’t quite put my finger on Tallinn. It looks familiar, and yet every time I hear the language it seems so exotic and foreign at the same time. The town itself, it seems to me, is a hodgepodge of different styles. Some squares remind me of Polish towns I have visited and buildings remind me of Northern Germany, Scandinavia, and Russia.  But there is something intriguing about the core of the Old City. The streets are a maze, and if you can navigate around the hordes of cruise ship tourist groups, there are interesting shops and cafes tucked away in every corner. Continue Reading »

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Aug 22 2008

Sarajevo Beckoned

Mostar, Bostnia & Herzegovina--photo by Lisa

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina--photo by Lisa

So, I decided to tear myself away from Dubrovnik and make the trip to Sarajevo. I absolutely adore Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is one of those unforgettable cities that always leaves a lasting impression. Unfortunately, a lot of the attention seems to be on the recent history and the siege of Sarajevo, as almost all visitors are quite curious about what happened. The city is still visibly scarred, but it wears its scars with a bit of elegance. Every year it seems like there are new renovations and construction around the city. The Old Town is inviting with its leisurely pace and seems to be like a smaller Istanbul, but on Valium. The Turkish influence is quite profound, and it seems worlds apart from the Dalmatian coast, even though it is only a six hour bus ride away. Just a block away from the Old Town, you seem to step into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and then a few blocks down the street you step into the days of Communism. (I am not the biggest fan of the architecture of this area, but it is there.) Sarajevo seems to be gaining more interest as a tourist destination and even has an eco-tourism agency. Check out the slightly expensive, but wonderful, Green Visions if you want to go hiking or whitewater rafting. But when chatting with fellow travelers in the Balkans, we seem to unanimously agree that we love Sarajevo. Continue Reading »

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Aug 15 2008

Macedonia Will Just Have To Wait – Dubrovnik Delights

Published by under Travel

Dubrovnik--photo by Lisa

Dubrovnik--photo by Lisa

If I was following my carefully planned, ambitious itinerary, I would currently be writing a blog raving about the beautiful Lake Ohrid in Macedonia. Instead I find myself waiting with impatience to see my favorite Croatian rock band, LET 3, perform tonight in Dubrovnik. The night before I was supposed to go to Macedonia via Albania, I had a revelation. August is not the best time to spend most of the week using public transportation throughout the Balkans. (If you want to read an interesting description, try the Macedonia Tourist Board‘s public transportation page.) Instead some of my new friends and I decided that August was a great time to stay in Dubrovnik! Five weeks is a long time to stay in this town and some of my colleagues have started to get a bit restless. There are only a few blockbuster tourist sites, it is often overrun with tourists that swarm the old town when cruise ships come into port, it is trendy and has therefore become expensive, and it is a bit small. But I am still awestruck by its beauty.

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