(4) Split, Croatia: The empress and her new clothes

I’ve been on the go for over 5 days now, and today will be the last one with this set of clothes. I only have two sets of clothes (plus pajamas) with me – 2 shirts, 2 pants, and 2 different thicknesses of fleece.

Sure, it may sound rank wearing the same clothing every day, but thus is the life of someone that lives out of a 30L bag.

My day this morning started in a bit of a panic – I caught my 6am bus only by a few minutes because the reception at my hostel slept in accidentally. The ride was a lovely one, especially as we moved through the less populated Hercegovina. The area reminded me of Kelowna, or northwestern Vietnam. I actually wrote in my journal that some of the towns reminded me of quaint European towns, after which I reminded myself that these were quaint European towns.

After arriving in Split and finding a hostel (Silver Gate Hostel – I highly recommend), I explored the historic area. Much of the Croatian coast was developed with fortified Roman cities in the fırst millenium, and the Roman complex (built at the turn of the 4th century) in Split is the focus here. The old city was lovely, but what was craziest was though although this is a protected area, you didn’t just find tourist stalls around in and outside it, but the place was absolutely full with homes, stores and cafes. It was just like an extension of the modern city outside the fortress walls. Totally bizarre.

There was also a great walk around and up a forested hill overlooking Split, complete with fragrant flowers. Met a few other travellers, and shivered my way through some great conversation with two Swiss (it gets chilly at night!). More – you guessed it – walkiıng the next day and planned out the next step in my journey – Dubrovnik.

(3) Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina: A large dose of history

Travelling into Bosnia in the morning on the train, I was struck by the subtle differences to Croatia. More informal garbage dumps. Tree overhanging rivers, strung with tattered clothes and other garbage swept up in high water. Unfinished buildings.

Again I arrived without any local money but was able to change thanks to a pitying train ticket attendant. Caught a tram into town, on which an older woman chatted me up in Serbian. From what I gleamed, it sounds like she had some family (familia) in Canada, and a sister (siestre) in Syria (Syrie).  On the ride to hostel I was hoping would accept me at 8 in the morning, I was struck by all the bullet pock marks in all of the buildings. The war here happened when I was just becoming a teenager, and I really still don’t know much about it. I pride myself now on trying to keep up with world events, but I must say I couldn’t have 100% for sure have told you whether Yugoslavia still existed as a country or not (it doesn’t).

Sarajevo for me was a city for which I don’t have a good description. I couldn’t get a good sense of the place- what it stands for, what’s its pride is. A city that hosted the Olympics just 26 years ago (which I find incredulous having seen the work required to have a successful Games in Vancouver) yet whose bobsled tracks were used by fighters to shoot from during the fighting in the early 90s. Where I can shop at Benetton and enjoy wifi over a cappuccino, but can’t use a credit card to buy an international train ticket. And chain smokers. Everyone is a chain smoker here.

I had other realizations while in Sarajevo (totally baring my lack of knowledge here, be kind). As the train came in to Sarajevo on Day 3, I noticed what I thought were really interesting church steeples. And then when I saw quite a few women wearing head dresses in Sarajevo, I had an epiphany that these were actually mosque minarets. So these are what the xenophobic Swiss have their undies in a bunch over. Final new knowledge from Sarajevo is for the World War junkies out there. While I knew the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the spark to WWI, I didn’t know it happened in Sarajevo – but I can know say I stood on the corner where it happened.

In the end I spent 2 days in Sarajevo – the first was spent mostly sleeping due to my bad reaction to the night train from Zagreb, with a short walk around the old town (followed appropriately by a night of sleeplessness – I finally slept from 7am-10am); the highlight of the second was walking up and up through crowded, steep residential areas to a destructed fort with a great view of the valley. Plus some other assorted walking. I tend to walk a lot. Good thing I have a great sense of direction. I’m not joking. The only time I messed up badly was biking in Vietnam – cutting in right angles through rice paddies, I had meant to make a roughly equilateral triangle of a trip – turned out I made a hugely obtuse triangle and instead of 5km back to town, I had 17km. I blame the hazy overcast sky and no sense of sun. But otherwise, my internal compass is golden.

(2) Zagreb, Croatia: Scamming the bus system

I don’t have much time in the Balkans (or Central Europe as Marina calls it), so I have to enjoy each place to it’s fullest in the least amount of time. I didn’t original intend to even visit this area, but once my flight (that I got with points) was set for Munich, and an Iranian visa application number for Istanbul was received, I knew I could spend up to 10 days in the area.

This day I spent wandering Zagreb. Scammed one more free tram ride to the city centre before I could change money, but overall spent a lovely day walking through city gardens and flowers, exploring the old part of the city and it’s amazingly steep hills and dramatic stone buildings, and enjoying a latte and wifi at one of the many cafes around the city. Marina described this min café area as the “living room” of Zagreb, and she wasn’t wrong. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell where the actually cafes were, but the pedestrian streets were filled with tables and umbrellas, packed with people drinking and smoking. There was also a definite culture of biking here – lots of bike lanes, bikes, and people on them.

When I travel I often consider whether or not I could imagining living in the places I visit. On my 1-year trip through NZ-Australia up through SE Asia, I decided I could probably really enjoy living almost anywhere in NZ, in Vientiane, Laos, and Hanoi, Vietnam. Zagreb is another one of those places. A really great vibe.

But, I couldn’t stay for too long. Found a night train to Sarajevo, which seemed to be a great idea at the time. Save on accommodation, don’t waste precious daylight in transit. Right? Win-win. Right? As much as people might believe I can sleep anywhere (exhibit 1), apparently night trains are an exception to the rule. I slept for about an hour. I’m going to be tired.

PS. I didn’t get a stamp in my passport when I entered Bosnia and Hercegovina. :(