Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Breana's Close Call

Like Ammon said, there were some interesting events that took place in Prilep. One being a very interesting day for me. I had quite an experience actually. How do I even begin?? For breakfast I had some bread and I decided to dip it in this ketchup we'd had for a while. I didn't think any thing of it until mom grabbed it from me and said "What are you eating??!?!?" I didn't notice at first how it burst when I opened it and when I looked again in the jar it was actually bubbling. Wow, that's not good. Mom freaked and told me to go throw up. I could die from that stuff. If you don't already know.... I HATE BARFING. It's the worst. How am I suppose to do that?!?! Yeah right. I just pretended it was a matter of life and death. Didn't work so well... I yelled to them in the other room and asked "It is a painful death?" Of course the answer was "YES". Ah crap. I'm a dead man. I now know I wouldn't do so well in a life or death situation. Anyway, mom gave me some heavy duty antibiotics to preemptively kill the food poisoning I was now suppose to be getting. But an hour later I started to get itchy all over, puffy eyes and sneeze a lot. Mom said that wouldn't be from food poisoning.. Hmm fine, so I just sat outside to get some fresh air. But it got worse fast. I broke out in hives and couldn't breathe. Savannah came out, took one look at me, ran inside to get mom and Ammon. Now I'm starting to freak out. It's a very scary thing when you can't breathe and your body feels like it's on fire. I now can feel even more for all the people with asthma.
We took a taxi to the closest hospital. Next thing I know I have a bunch of nurses crowded around me, taking blood pressure, pulse, listening to my heart, trying to communicate, etc, etc. Then two of them ran into the other room, bringing back a shot. Ahhh! I hate shots. Straight in to my vein. Must have been adrenalin. Yey, I could breath again. Dang that worked fast! But it made me so cold. Next I was transferred to the larger hospital by ambulance to the emergency room. Wheelchaired around. Got an IV. The doctors and nurses were very nice, I got so much attention, everyone really cared and were so helpful. I was in a bed for a few hours by the time I was allowed to go.
I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. Wow, I didn't know I was allergic to anything. In the end I got sick from the medicine that was suppose to save me. Hahahah that's funny right? Well... I'm alive!!!!! ahahah I guess a good thing to say right about now would be "Don't take life for granted". It can be taken away from you at any moment.
Love you all.

Monday, October 30, 2006


I guess I'm writing for the 2 or 3 fans I still have out there so I'll keep going.
Macedonia has been good to us, but at the same time, the place of all sorts of wierd twists and chaos. For some reason, Macedonia still requires us to get a visa and as I said before, the embassy staff were quite mean to us, refusing our visa application in Sofia and generally being grouchy and not the nicest in Belgrade. As it was we had a limited time available so entered on the 17th, the first day of our visa.
Macedonia managed to avoid the initial chaos of the breakup of Yugoslavia, having separated without starting any sort of war but as things have fallen apart in the region they have picked up their share of trouble too. Macedonia doesn't have the best of relations with Greece, as Greece has always objected to the use of the name Macedonia. Alexander the Great was from Macedonia not Greece, but that ancient Macedonia was located in what is present day Greece so the Greeks don't want anyone thinking that Macedonia deserves any land back. Northern and western Macedonia is also largely ethnically and historically Albanian, and after the chaos of Kosovo, many Kosovo Albanians fled to Macedonia and then started to cause trouble there too, such that there was a small civil "war" or something back in 2001. Albanian is now the second official language of Macedonia and things are more or less normal, though still divided along cultural lines.
Macedonian uses the cyrillic alphabet again and like in Bulgaria and Albania they nod to say no and shake their head to say yes. Yep, it's the opposite, but fortunately for us there are enough foreigners in the area that they are starting to change and it was never a problem for us and was actually pretty hard to notice in Bulgaria. They definately still do it in Albania though.
The number one attraction or location for tourists in Macedonia is Lake Ohrid. It's a very pretty lake, and I think I prefer lakes to oceans actually. They are quieter, calmer and don't smell as much. We were staying with a girl, Patty, from the Peace Corps in Struga, right by the lake. Very nice, and as it wasn't the touristy town Ohrid, we enjoyed the local activity. The area is mountainous and it was quite cold at night up there. Everyone in the villages is busy chopping wood for the rapidly approaching winter season and drying peppers or making their local food specialty, a pepper paste that they use for all sorts of stuff. Have I mentioned that I hate peppers. I'm in the wrong part of the world. Also, cheese here in Feta cheese by default and you have to specify if you want something else. We have been eating tons and tons of it too. Apples are also ubiquitous and we have been eating tons of them for the last few weeks.
We arranged to stay with Patty's friends in Prilep (right in the middle of the country) for a few days. Prilep itself is a pretty uninteresting mid-sized town with tons of drying tobacco everywhere, but just north of town is the Treskavec monastery on top of a mountain. The mountains are lacking in vegetation so it is more of a scramble over giant rocks than a walk in the woods. The mountain is a little under 2000m and stands alone so you can get nice views of the countryside from the monastery on top. It is supposed to be the oldest monastery in the Balkans, but I have no idea if that is true. There were a few local volunteers up there and one monk. We hiked the few hours to the top and stayed overnight but really we planned the whole thing wrong because it was so peaceful and quiet up there we should have stayed for at least a few days to rest and relax. Unfortunately, we had made other plans.
I have to remain cryptic at this point and say that some really wierd things happened in Prilep, because others are better left to tell the tale. From Prilep we took the train to Skopje, the capital where we were picked up by another host. How many of you guys would pick someone up from the train station and host them at the last minute because of a call from a guy that you don't know very well when that guy also doesn't know the people but knows Patty, who we stayed with for a few days? Not only that, but he met us for a few minutes, took us back to his flat, gave us the key, said "make yourselves at home" and left to go stay with his parents on the other side of the city! It's amazing what kind of hospitality we have been receiving lately. I can't imagine anyone doing that at home.
Stayed a couple days in Skopje to wander around and rest. I have been feeling quite lethargic lately and my stomach is a little off (but not in a normal off way) so we had hoped to be able to rest a bit. Skopje itself doesn't have much to see or do, so we decided to try to take some days off. At least you guys have weekends, we just never seem to get a day off out here. Sometimes we start a little later in the day, but there is always something to do or see. Our "day off" ended up with us getting a call from our next host, Fatmir, from Kosovo. He was passing through Skopje, wanted to meet us and ended up picking us up and taking us to Kosovo instead. But that is another story.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Continuing the argument

Thanks for the support Jesse, I think you made the point better than Bre. I appologize to everyone else as Bre really has no grounds for lecturing anyone at this point. Maybe I will instead.....It's a shame that more people don't realize that there is going to be many more than one opportunity for a job in their lives. We live in a country that is very, very secure. We don't have to be paranoid about losing it, it won't happen, that's what they worry about in the 3rd world. We, as Canadians, or westerners for that matter, should be taking advantage of it to allow ourselves to grow as people and become something more. People have fought and died for our freedom and security for hundreds of years. That doesn't mean that we should just sit here content, but move on to the next level.
People that are secure at home growing up with their parents still eventually move out and try to tackle the unknown and find their place in the world. It's the same concept, just on a global scale. We have had good "parents", but we are for the most part, still living at "home". It would make us better citizens of the world in the long run and accelerate the progress of other "nonsense ideology" like World Peace, etc. It is our ignorance that allows such things to exist, nothing more. We are too greedy, and fear losing something that really can't be lost, consequently we are easily manipulated as a people and the world suffers around us. Our country is too great and gives us so much already that there is nothing to fear. Like Jesse said, if you don't shake things up once in a while you can't move up in life either. Even better than Jesse, where is Sandra, or Alysha? Talk about people serious about doing something they want to do despite initial "risk" and they just keep moving up and up in the world. I really respect their commitment to their dreams and desires.
I am paying my own way so I know what this trip is worth. Yeah, I could be doing something else, I have friends that are now finishing Med school, I have friends that are married and have kids, a house, and are well on their way up the career ladder, etc. I could have that all too (well, if anyone would be crazy enough to marry me in the first place) but have chosen not to and have not regretted the decision. Do I worry about what I will do when I get back? No. Why? Is it because I am a super-human genius or something and I can do anything? No. It's because I know I can get a crappy job quickly when I get back and then find a better one a little while later. In reality I am not any more employable than anyone else. I'm just willing to work hard when I have to. I will work again, and I won't be any farther behind than the rest of you guys at the end of the next millenium, so what's the rush to get started? Is my entry to heaven conditional on hitting all the major life markers on a set timeline? Or will the writing on my tombstone reflect how fast I graduated, got married, bought a house, had a heart attack and died. No, it'll say something much simpler, that I was a good man and loved my family. And that can be done in so many ways.
I don't know how many times now I have escaped an early death but it is at least a couple. I'm not going to wait and risk dying again before I enjoy myself. The point is that ANYONE can do this, there are no super human qualifications necessary to acquire first, and there are more people than you think doing this right now. I have not met a single one that has regretted it. I know that everyone's situation is different and some people really do have others to support and can't do it at this exact moment. That doesn't mean that you are disqualified forever. If you want to go, don't make excuses. There are too many regrets in life already, follow your dreams and do what you want to do, the rest of the world will wait and support you, believe it or not. If you don't want to go, I'll think you're crazy because it is amazing, but I won't hold it against you. BUT if you tell me to come home and start REAL LIFE sooner rather than later, I reserve the right to never talk to you again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Its about time I say something.
Halloween is coming up after all. I wish I could be home celebrating with everyone.....more than you can imagine at this point. Not fair. It's just not the same when no one really does anything for halloween out here. I want to dress up, I love getting creative that way. ahahah So much fun but that won't be happening, but maybe I'll come up with something. If not, then that's rather depressing and I'll end up eating candy. What are you guys up too?? Give me some kind of news, I'm dying over here.
How is everyone doing you ask.. humm funny question actually. Everything is crazy at the moment we don't know what's going on so I'll have to get back to you on that one or you'll just find out soon enough.
I don't know why this just popped up in my head but when I was in grade 9 my english teacher asked the class to write an essay about where we see ourselves in 5 years. HAHAHA If only I could pull that piece of paper out from storage and read it. If I remember correctly I said something like.............. "5 years, I'll never get that far, what a silly question". ahah "But if I HAD to make a wild quess I'll have to say I'd be going to some university in the states, competing as one of the top gymnasts on the team or maybe still working for the family business.....who knows???". Woah man thats WAYYYYYYYYYY OFF isn't it folks? I would never have even quessed "humm.. how about backpacking around the world for a very long time". I probably would have got a bad mark if I had said that because to you people at home that is a crazy crazy idea. I can tell you a million times over how great it is but you will never understand untill you take that step and do it yourself. Time flies, don't waste the chance. (sigh) some of you guys just don't and won't believe me I quess. What can we do to change your minds?? Please I need a hint. You don't need to be afraid, find your courage, stop living like a robot. Wake up, work, come home, eat, sleep.......... wake up, work, come home, eat, sleep..... over and over again.. sound familiar??? Talk about boring. ROBOTS!! uh hu u get it yet? You are lucky to live in a country where you can always find a job, take advantage of it! Haven't you noticed that the people who have travelled with us come back with the best stories and plan to come back? Hint hint robots. Start living! Where do you see your self in 5 years from now?? Doing the same old same old thing..boring.
I've met so many great people out here. Oh which reminds me.. We have been hanging out with some missionaries lately. Including playing football in the wee early hours of the moring!! Actually it was more like Ammon, the guy we stayed with in Albania and me, that met the Elders for a few games. We leaped at the opportunity since we sure do miss the sports. We even went to church, dang I miss that too.
Talk to you all again soon, this won't be the last of me.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Still not sure what to think of Albania. People thought we were strange when we said we were going and it has definately had a terrible reputation for a long time. The reputation of danger and instability is unjustified I think because there was no extra feelings of threat than anywhere else we've been (which is to say none at all, the world isn't that bad folks). Having said that, I don't know that I would actually recommend Albania to anyone either. A lot of people living there (or visiting long term) have described it as a truck-stop on the way to somewhere better. I'd have to agree. The people are nice but there is very little to see or do that would actually attact anyone specifically to the country.
Albania is still very poor, very chaotic, very dirty and reminded me more of Asia (the Indian subcontinent) than anywhere else we've been since Afghanistan. I'm not saying that area is bad, but just that Albania doesn't have the culture or the sites to go along with the chaos and make it more tolerable. Without that, it is pretty uninspiring.
I think the driving here is the rudest and most haphazard I've seen. There are no rules, and despite the traffic police in the middle of all the major intersections directing traffic, people still do whatever they want. It's like all the motorbikes in Vietnam or the tuk-tuks in India all going in every direction at once, except here it's done in 20 year old Mercedes (which everyone has or aspires to have). They're just too big to be funny and it looks too cluttered and inefficient. Albania has also seen a massive construction boom in the last 2-3 years so the roads are getting better (or are all being worked on at once, creating massive traffic nightmares) and there are more buildings going up than currently exist in some places. I don't know who is supposed to buy them either as nobody has any money and they are all sitting empty. You'd think we were in China again. Litter is a huge problem and while Albania has tons of beach potential, they are totally covered in garbage. The train network is very limited and every local will try to convince you not to use the horrible, slow system, but either it has improved recently too or they are just anti-train out here. We took it all the time and I'd rather be on the train with shattered windows (but that is really the only problem) going 30-40km/h for 5 hours than on a bus for 3 hrs driving like a maniac to get to the same place. Nothing is all that far away anyway.
i still think the most interesting things in the country are the newly painted buildings in Tirana. They are very bright and every colour combination imaginable. It's like someone (the mayor) is trying to create rainbowville. It's a lot nicer and more cheerful than Sofia and Bucharest with their depressing gray blocks even though the buildings are the same. The other interesting curiosity is all the large number of little mushroom-like defense bunkers scattered all over the country. Hoxha (the communist leader until 1985) saw the country not incorporate itself into Yugoslavia after WW2 (as originally planned), leave relations with the USSR and back out of the Warsaw Pact. Left to defend itself and allied with China, it became very isolated and built tons of these little bunkers everywhere. Some 700,000 remain today as they are too hard to destroy for people to bother. Communism collapsed in 1992 here but it remains poor and ignored as it pretty much has for it's entire history.
Everyone I've talked to here about Kosovo here is quick to point out that Albania and Kosovo are two different places with very different problems but that historically Kosovo was a large portion of the Albanian territory. Although Albania is listed as a majority muslim country, religion here is not taken very seriously and I was quite surprised to see how little influence it has in people's lives. Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia are much more religiously oriented. Italian is the main second language in the country because of strong historic ties to Italy which is just across the water and quite easy to get to by ferry.
Albania and Moldova are definately at the bottom of the European pile in terms of development and a future but honestly, even that is a lot better and more comfortable than most Asian countries. Albania is dirtiest but Moldova is the poorest with the worst infrastructure and will probably remain that way for a long time as Albania is starting to show signs of improvement. I think we actually screwed up a little in Albania because from what we've heard, the nicest areas are supposedly farther south than we went. We only got as far south as Vlora and stuck mainly to the coast. As it is difficult to get to the few sights there are to see, you really need someone on the inside to show you the country. The interior is also supposed to be nice and looked much cleaner and quite pretty on our drive to Macedonia, where we are now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Before I start I forgot to mention that in Bosnia, along with the war tourism thing and people running around taking pictures of blown up buildings, most of the souvenirs follow along these lines as well. It is amazing what you can do with bullet and artillery casings and shells after a war. Anything from turning them into pens to masterpieces of decorative art. They can't possibly still be the original ones any more. They must be getting them from somewhere else now.....

Montenegro is the youngest country in the world, having voted earlier this year (May 24th) to separate from Serbia. From Dubrovnik we took a bus along the coast to the walled town of Kotor. It sits at the head of the largest fjord in southern Europe. Having been to Norway before, I must admit that the fjord is still quite small, but the weather was much better and it is still very beautiful. As with everywhere else in the area, the homes are made of stone with red or orange tiled roofs. There are a lot of abandoned and broken buildings along the coast and like Bulgaria, there are tons of foreigners (Russians, Irish and Brits mostly) currently buying up all the land. The coast all along here so far has been very rocky but now we are into very steep vegetationless mountains going right down to the water, so villages tend to be very small and spread out along the main coastal road. There is no shoulder but just a dropoff of a foot or two right into the water and with a road barely two cars wide, I wonder how there aren't always cars falling in. At least, if they are, they are pretty quick in cleaning them out! There are lots of little stone harbours along the fjord, protecting 3-6 little rowboats from the waves. It's cute. It's definately cheaper here but they use the euro (the only non-EU country to do so) so it can't be super cheap. Transport is still brutal. To think that for the price we have to pay to put our backpacks under the bus, I could live a day in Calcutta..... That hurts, gotta stop thinking like that.
Kotor is a nice walled town, like a mini Dubrovnik but with a great fortress on the steep hill behind. It must've been huge in it's day and we had amazing views from the top of the ruins. People were nice, it wasn't nearly as busy and we went way out of our normal mode and stayed in some rooms let out by the family of a taxi driver of all people. Staying with a private family is the way to go out here and is what we did in Mostar, Dubrovnik and Kotor. Buses are privately owned and at the station we got the driver to commit to going farther than his normal route just for us and take us to a town further along. Business is slow in the off season. Perhaps most importantly, Montenegro has the best yoghurt we've tried in a very long time.

Sarah and Tyler, congrats on successfully creating your own ankle-biter :) Don't worry about Savannah, it's a good name, just name the next one after me eh? :)
Shean, politics!?!?! I might be getting a lot of practice being patient out here and having to deal with some very strange thinking but still, I don't think I could do it without strangling a few people (remember Varanasi? :) But then again, a job where you don't actually do any work is starting to appeal to me.......

Monday, October 16, 2006


Back in Bosnia, Mostar we had a great night of chess.
Just outside the high school.....which I might add looked like the left overs of an intense round of target practice! Hahha, every students dream, eh!?......Ammon and I spotted a chess set with knee high pieces on the little sidewalk square. When we started there was no one around to watch us. Standing in the light of the setting sun we stood no longer as allies but as mortal enemies!! He was going DOWN!!! To be honest, I don't take it seriously and I have no strategy at ALL when it comes to chess. Hahha, actually we are both miserable at the game and it was all for fun anyway. Although, as a guy I don't think Ammon could have handled losing, especially to a girl. So by the end I was throwing my pieces out in the open for him to slaughter. I always go for the kill even if it means his pawn for my horse, heheh. I wanted to help him by putting myself in checkmate but apparently you can't do that. What kind of stupid rule is THAT?!?!? I was, surprisingly, winning for a while but then.....I was getting expert help. As we played a little crowd of old men formed and they tried and tried to give me advice for my next moves. Hhahhaha, you should have seen their confused faces when they saw how I played. I had all of the cute old men in their suits and top hats sitting on the bench shaking their heads at me. Oh well.
In the meantime, mom had a rather charming man flirting with her on a different bench, hahahahahhahahahahahah. Oh MAN! I have never seen something sooo funny in all my life! The guy said "Hello, blah blah blah, are you friendly?" Of course mom figures he was asking if WE are nice people so she answered "Yes." and then he put his arm around her and she jumped up fully alert and said "Not with YOU!!!!" Hhahah. WOW. And then he asked her if he could eat the half eaten chocolate bar that was on the seat beside her (he thought it was hers). She didn't know what to say but "ummmm...yes?" hahahahha and he ate it. But the funny thing was that Bre had picked it up from behind a tree (she needed a marker for one of the chess pieces) and didn't know what to do with it so she put it down on the seat. When we were leaving to go back home mom said to us "Geez, I hope he doesn't get sick and die from that chocolate :S" Ok, we have a big line up of blogs coming your way since we are soooo far behind and are moving so quickly. Keep checking in regularly guys.
Miss you,
Safarie (Aka Savannah because my name was stolen by my new first cousin once removed)

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Dubrovnik was our 24hr Croatia experience. We were told that we had to go and I'm glad we did. It could be one of the prettiest and most interesting towns in Europe. The problem, as many others have pointed out to us, is that the tourists have completely ruined the place. It's October and still Dubrovnik is by far the busiest and most crowded with tourists of all the places we've been to in Europe. Maybe not in total numbers but just so many crammed into such a little area. Tons of old people on package tours and four cruise ships in port. I can't imagine it in the summer. It must be hell. We arrived in the afternoon and left the following morning so only had a few hours to run around. Very pretty city, very well preserved, or rather rebuilt, since the Serbians shelled it for absolutely no reason except to piss people off back in 1991. The walls are amazingly complete, the streets are super narrow inside and you can really see and feel the Venetian history and influence there once you get off the main touristy street. The weather was beautiful (mid 20s and sunny) and the girls even found themselves jumping into the Adriatic sea in their skirts and tank tops. I'm travelling with a bunch of nuts......
Dubrovnik and Croatia are rapidly approaching western European prices now so we were hit quite hard and had decided to do it quickly ahead of time. Glad I went through but I think we are a good 10 years too late.
We are actually in Albania now, but that story will have to come later.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I thought Serbia was strange because it was in cyrillic and has tons of ads and signs in our alphabet too so it is essentially multialphabetical. Bosnia is wierder because half the country uses cyrillic and half uses ours.
The first thing you'll think of when you hear Bosnia is probably war. Yeah, it was a mess and as far as I can tell, all these recent wars in the Balkans were completely pointless and stupid. Shame on them for being tricked into it. Bosnia is the most beautiful country we've seen in Europe so far. The mountains and forests are great but so far it is completely unexploited for tourism; risks of land mines and all that. The big thing now is still war tourism. The war lasted from 1993-1995 but they are just recently refacing the buildings in the centre of Sarajevo. The country is still divided into two halves, one, the Republic Sprska, the autonomous Serb part in the north and east of the country based in Banja Luka, and the Croat/Muslim part run from Sarajevo. They've just had elections with votes following along ethnic lines with Serbs still favouring separation and the Muslims and Croats supporting reunification. For now it looks like that won't happen any time soon. We saw a few UN peacekeepers in Sarajevo but they are scheduled to leave in another year or two.
Sarajevo is in a beautiful valley setting surrounded by green hills. I can't imagine Bosnian Serb troops putting the city under siege for years and dropping shells into the centre or picking off people with sniper rifles just for fun. They won't let you forget it though because there are numerous new cemetaries scattered around on the hills, and in places in the centre they have filled in some of the shelling holes with red rubber or concrete to remind us of the blood spilled there. They look really wierd as these red pools with little red dots radiating out from them and then serious damage on a wall nearby. Crazy.
Sarajevo has a huge Muslim population and there are little mosques with their minarets sticking up all over town. Unlike the way we think of most muslim places (dusty, dirty, chaotic), the people are not all covered up (though there are some running around) and people seem to be getting along quite well. It's like looking at the living example of a moderate western muslim city, but then I guess it's actually more accurate to say it's an Islamified European city as the muslim population has dramatically increased since the war brought them all in from the countryside.
We were staying at another home stay (excellent place) and one of the nights I went out with them to a pub night quiz. It was part of a charity thing and there were 21 teams of 5. They needed an extra person so I was elected to go. Lots of fun but the trivia questions were brutal. Great way to make yourself feel stupid. We thought we were getting destroyed but came in 7th in the end.
From there we went south for a day in Mostar. Bosnia is actually "Bosnia and Hercegovina" but those two aren't as clearly defined and independent as say, Serbia and Montenegro such that Montenegro just split. Hercegovina is some part of the south of the country can't separate but then the Republic Sprska just might try instead! Mostar is the main town of Hercegovina and is famous for its old single-arched bridge across the river in the middle of town. The bridge was rebuilt a couple years ago as it was toasted (along with the rest of town) during the war. The old pictures are crazy and there is tons of damage still out there. Bullet holes, crumbling ruins, and huge chunks missing from structures all over the place. It's totally a war tourism thing with people running around taking pictures of the damage. It's fascinating but at the same time disgusting that there are so many of us that think it is so cool. It's not cool, it's tragic and was so pointless. Mostar was divided into Muslim and Croat sections during the war, with each side living on either side of the river from each other and fighting all the time. There is one main street that acted as the front line during the war and to walk down it now you'd think the war just ended. Most of the buildings are still destroyed and abandoned or in use but completely riddled with holes. They've rebuilt the old town area around the bridge and it is more touristy than in Sarajevo. You can definately tell you're in a touristy area when the beggers are out in force. Haven't seen any for a while but there they were, following the package tourists around.....
I liked Bosnia though and wish it well on the road to recovery.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

17 months

Wow........another month and we are at 17...... can you belive it?????? In the last month we have been to Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and we are now in Bosnia. This part of the world is very beautiful. Serbia and Bosnia being the most scenic. We have now seen the non- EU part of Europe, it being the most rundown and war torn, with friendly people trying to get there countries back into order. I'm loving the hospitality thing and the people we are meeting through it. It sure was a blessing of a find.. We are all well and happy and trying to get the next wave of visitors line up and ready to come meet us. Life is great!!!!!!!
Maggie the mom

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Big spenders

I agree with Ammon that Serbia was really fantastimatasmical! Possibly my favourite European country so far. This new "Couch Surfers" (or couch potatoes as mom calls it, haha) thing that we've been doing has definately given us a better understanding of each country. We get to hear the people's stories through the wars and their perspectives. For example, in 1999 Belgrade had three months of intense fear as they were bombed by NATO. How could you ever get any sleep with terrified children and shattering air-raid alarms going off right next to your house?! It must have been awful. Everyone we have stayed with has showed us nothing less than exceptional hospitality and welcomed us into their homes as royal guests. Everytime I find myself wanting to move in and stay forever but I know we have to keep moving. It wouldn't be hard because they are always saying they want to keep me and find me a local husband! That must be one of the biggest downfalls of travelling, meeting so many great people and constantly having to say goodbye....
On the day of arriving in Bosnia we had to wake up at 4:45 a.m. to catch our bus to a town, then another one to Sarajevo. The journey was a total of 8 hours plus 1 1/2 hours waiting. The best part about changing countries, other than getting stamps of course, is spending our left over coinage from that country. This time we had a little more than just a chocolate bar's worth left over and had a hard time getting rid of our money. Now THAT just demonstrates how often we splurge. We just aren't any good at it, even when we CAN!
We arrived in Sarajevo yesterday and today went out to see town. It's pretty amazing what happened not too long ago in 1992-1995! We could still see lots of remaining damage done to buildings in town. It's crazy to be walking down a civilized street and look over and see dozens of bullet holes in the walls..... you'd think we were in Afghanistan all over again or something!! This city is really busy on the pedestrian streets and full of young people. I hardly saw any old folks. I really like this town and mom got to see her favourite.... graveyards!! She's sooo wierd, eh?!! Tomorrow Ammon is going to participate in a fund raising quiz contest on geogrophy and politics with our host. He'll be the fifth member on their team and I KNOW he'll kick butt!! That should be fun for him!!!

Monday, October 02, 2006


I must say that Serbia has been very good to us. In Belgrade we stayed with a great host family, that really took care of us. The son is a big literature and local history and culture nut so I got to learn all sorts of stuff. I don't know all of it and I must confess that when all the crazy recent history was happening over here, I really had no idea what was going on.
As you probably know, Serbia is what's left of the old Yugoslavia. Until May this year it was Serbia and Montenegro but Montenegro has now split off and is the world's newest country. When the other republics were breaking away from 1992 onwards (Croatia, Bosnia, etc.) they quickly deteriorated into wars but Serbian soil was more or less unharmed. In 1993, they suffered from the worst hyperinflation imaginable with the highest denomination bill ever, as already mentioned by Savannah. More recently they have been the bad guys of Europe (something they are not too happy about) with the whole Kosovo mess. We are hoping to get to Kosovo in a few weeks so I will save that story for then.
Today though, you'd never really know it was so recently messed up. Things are gettting stabilized, the atmosphere is relaxed and Belgrade is much like any other European city. We were staying in New Belgrade, a recently built suburb crammed with communist stacking blocks called apartment complexes. Although the city has a very long history (over 2000 years) and has been fought over more than 100 times, there is surprisingly little to actually see and do. There is a big fortress (now a park) on a hill overlooking the Danube river and the ubiquitous European pedestrian street, but other than that there isn't much else. Oh, there is an unfinished church that will be the largest orthodox cathedral in the world, if they ever get it done. The Serbian orthodox church in town has an interesting and unique style to it as well. One we haven't seen before. Not long, very solid and tall. To us Belgrade was extra important because we finally managed to get our visas for Macedonia, but that was again not very easy. I sure hope the embassy staff are not representative of the people...... I think the wierdest thing about Belgrade was just walking down one of the main streets in the centre and coming across a couple of blown out buildings. They've just been left there since the 1999 NATO bombings in response to the Kosovo situation. The coolest thing was staying with the local family and hearing the stories of the days of the hyperinflation, or what it's like to live with air raid sirens and bombings. I do not envy them at all, but I appreciate their openness in talking about it with us. This hospitality thing really is the way to go. I've learnt so much more already.
From Belgrade we went 1 1/2 hrs south to a small town called Jagodina. It's always a good idea to try to get out of the big cities and get a feel for the quieter, more traditional life of the country. We chose Jagodina because we had an offer to stay with another host family. It was awesome! We were met and pampered by a very enthusiastic 27 year old english teacher and her parents who had come home for the weekend (they work in Belgrade). We were their first guests as it is not in an area that sees any tourists at all. We spent the weekend there and were treated with a driving tour of the surrounding countryside on our way to a couple of nearby monasteries and a cave. The monasteries were more like fortresses as they had very thick castle-like walls surrounding them and only small churches inside. At the first monastery there was a group of choir girls that came in on a field trip and just started singing. That's where the feel to these places is. I don't get much out of them usually but when you put sound in, wow! I could stay all day.
This morning we left at 5:30am on the bus to Sarajevo. It seems that every week we lose a night of sleep on an overnight bus or train. As we were in a fairly random place to start and just cut straight across Serbia to get to Sarajevo, we travelled along little roads through the mountains. We are starting to see all the fall colours now and it is definately the prettiest area we've been through in Europe. More rugged mountains and lots and lots of forest, which we haven't seen much of so far. So quiet and peaceful looking, it almost makes me want to stay for winter....... Then again, maybe not.
On the home-sickness front, in Serbia there are tons of VW golf's and other old cars driving around. Haven't seen them in a long, long time. I almost miss driving around in my junkie little duct-taped car.