Week 129 September 17, 2016

We were still in Mostar of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of this week, where we walked to the far side of Stari Most – Old Bridge and saw the men who jump in a “Cliff Dive” after taking a total collection of 25Euro from the tourists. One of our AirBnB hostesses had sketched a rendition of it beforehand. We also found the Kriva Cuprija – Mini Crooked Bridge, nearby, and, a potent sign that I found very difficult to get a good photo but still felt it important to share: “DON’T FORGET, BUT DO FORGIVE, FOREVER.”

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Our AirBnB was located across the street from one of several mosques in Mostar. While we knew the muezzin would call the faithful five times a day – which time varies due to changes in sunrise and sunset, the loud singsong chanting often felt startling, even intrusive, since we were so close. The strange thing is, once the call ended, which sometimes felt abrupt and unexpected – probably because I do not understand the Arabic, I found myself missing it, wishing it had lasted longer. Finally, after spending a period of time hearing the calls to prayer in parts of southeast Africa, Morocco and now Bosnia and Herzegovina, I looked up the words and followed along as they were called. Then I felt more settled when the call finished.
On Sunday, September 11 – the 15th anniversary of the tragic events in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, Loren and I rode an early bus back to Croatia for two memorable nights in the impressive-by-day, romantic-by-night, Dubrovnik. On our first of just two evenings here, and of a sober nature fitting to help honor 9/11, we first visited the War Photos Limited museum in Old Town, which is a walled citadel. This musej – museum, hosts rotating exhibits from various photographers which we were interested in seeing after visiting a smaller War Photos Exhibition in Mostar. We both came away sad from seeing more of what people in war ravaged parts of the world experience during the violence, and in their attempts for survival. Of course we had already had a sense of that from years of media reports…
For the first photo below, the photographer’s write-up explained: “1995 near Kljuc, BIH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] – A Bosniak soldier cries after arriving to his home village, 3 years early [sic] he had hid in the forest and watched his family and the rest of the village executed by Bosnian Serb forces. Photo @ Emmanuel Ortiz.” This now brings tears to my eyes. The third, “Iraq November 2015 – On his return home a man paints over the words ‘Islamic State’ on the front gate to his property in Sinjar.” I apologize, the heading for this one had probably named the photographer but I neglected to note it.
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To have witnessed  the aftereffects firsthand in Mostar — as I mentioned last week – extensive cemeteries, relentless begging by a few men, women and children… this amid so many bombed and burned out shells of buildings even over 20 years later now, some with trees and other greenery overtaking the insides of the shells of what used to be homes or businesses — was and still is heart wrenching. I wonder – is this because so many of the buildings were owned by those who were killed or displaced, never to return to reclaim them? Parts of Mostar thrive – we had lovely accommodations with two young, intelligent, talented women who are devoted to remain in their city. We ate delicious food, met other wonderful people, saw beautiful sights… But, the heaviness of the pain and loss that I sensed there continues to tug at my soul.
Afterward this photo display, we lifted our spirits a little with a Chamber Duo of flute and classical guitar in a small church. Just when might the world learn to make more instruments like these for posterity and peace, instead of weapons for devastation and destruction? When Loren and I returned to our sobe – room, I was inspired to read that the motto of the old Dubrovnik Republic is, “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro,” which is Latin, meaning: “Freedom (or Liberty) is not sold for all the gold in the world.” I also conjured up the vague memory of a song from my childhood to the tune of Taps: “Day is done, gone the sun; From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky; All is well, safely rest; Love [my change] is nigh.” Sigh.
The next day, we had a wonderful time seeing our friend, a Unitarian seminarian who we first met in Segesvar, Romania, and his travel buddies who are also visiting here in Dubrovnik! It only required a little work to match our schedules, which was worth it. We went to Banje Beach together, walked the 2 kilometers of many stone steps of the medieval walls for great views, and, ended our time together toasting coffee mugs. Loren and I finished our day in Old Town enjoying a talented duo perform for what seemed like hours. And, now I better understand why Dubrovnik is called, “Pearl of the Adriatic.”
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On Loren’s and my early morning walk to the bus station, it dawned on me that a whole segment of tourism has sprung up around Game of Thrones sightseeing. Our first inkling of the trend was in Ireland, and we have since encountered more offerings of it in Morocco, through Croatia, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now we are in Kotor, Montenegro – Black Mountain in Italian, renamed by the Venetians from its original name. What other than Crna Gora? Black Mountain in Montenegrin, of course. Here, perchance, they speak some Italian! We are staying on Stari Grad – Old Town, street, within the old city walls. 
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So far here we have hiked the hour up 1000 stone steps to the extensive old fortress that shines with a bright yellow glow over the citadel walls and nearby harbor at night.
Montenegro uses the more familiar Euro money system, after we learned to change from the Romanian Lei, Croatian Kuna, and, Bosnian and Herzegovinian Mark currencies. One nice thing is that the words Dobar dan – for Greetings, Zivjeli – Cheers, Hvala – Thanks, Molim – said mow-leem for Please/you’re welcome, and, Ciao – Bye, that we first learned in Croatia have been consistent across Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro too. What we notice here is the Cyrillic alphabet is used, making sign reading much more challenging… We enjoyed several conversations with the delightful tour office staffer. From her we rented bicycles for a 40 kilometer – nearly 25 mile, ride around the series of inlets and bays tucked back in behind the Mediterranean waters of Kotor Bay.
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This extensive Buka – Bay, area is considered fjord-like. While there have been a couple of evenings of fierce thunder and lightning, we have had mainly good – even stunning, weather during the days. Many times we have heard a song bird that has a similar trill to my favorite — the Canyon Wren — that serenaded Loren and me many times many years ago in the US southwest. I also delighted in the dainty lavender colored blossoms, cats everywhere, blue skies, warm sun, a bit of a breeze… Ahh.
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I will conclude this week with some rambling thoughts and learnings: I recently heard that the number of Eastern European countries is 25. I tested myself and came up with the correct names of 21 of them, and made up 4 others that were not right, off the top of my head. Loren accurately named 18, and made up one, before tiring of the game. Then, I learned that the number is actually open to debate – more commonly people consider it to be 21! The interesting thing is how a couple of months ago I would have been straining my brain to, perhaps, come up with half of them.
Then, I challenged myself to name the 53 countries of Africa – again, I later learned that there are 54. I had to think a while and only came up with 30… I believe that before last fall I could not have even named ten with confidence, so I am proud of knowing at least this many now. Loren won this time – he named 32. Now I have a list of the 54 countries. It is just 4 more than the number of states in the USA, but somehow feels overwhelming to learn where all these 54 countries are on the continent of Africa. Ok, it just takes time to learn something new, and for me, travel helps a lot.
This is similar to when, before I moved to California, I only understood the geography of the eastern states of the USA. Now I also have a better sense of the layout of the western states, from travel and from living in closer proximity. I am fairly well versed now at naming all 50 of the US states. How about you? Now I have hope for my learning the African countries yet.
All this led me to wonder how many countries are there in the world? I learned that the number varies, depending on whether or not you include some areas in dispute – the Palestine State for one, the Western Sahara for another, or, countries seeking freedom or independence from occupation – namely Greenland, Kosovo, Taiwan, and Tibet, and, the constituent countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Based on my little research – I am claiming there are 197. Many are in Asia. Loren likes to call that area, “The Next Segment of our Journey.” We will see what materializes in time. We are not yet even half of the way around the world from home… This list will take some time for me to memorize, and will likely change as world events continue to unfold.
PLEASE NOTE: This week we had limited internet coverage, so I had to upload my photos after the original post. As we may not have viable service over the next three months, please visit this site again, I will share weekly posts when and as often as I can.



Week 128 September 10, 2016

Dear Sweet Family and Friends, it is awesome when Loren and I hear from you, to catch up in what ways we can while we are journeying. Finding your comments on our blog is always a gift as they reinforce parts of our journey’s journal. We also treasure your emails. Thank you for keeping in touch!
One day this week while still in Croatia we hiked 6 kilometers round trip to the river near Plitvice Lakes to swim, as no swimming is allowed in the NP anymore. Entrance 1 of the park was just 500 meters from where we were staying. Another day I hiked a good part of the park route marked “K,” while Loren and our AirBnB host’s son hiked a longer and more strenuous trail. My delight was with the many ducks, aside from witnessing more outstanding beauty in nature. Last week Loren and I had hiked route “A” and some of route “F.” The trails are well marked, and, an easy to read karta – map, that we bought for 20 Kuna – about 3USD, helped.
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This week too we celebrated Loren’s birthday! It was a big one – he is now eligible to collect the first level of Social Security, if he decides to do so. Applying for Medicare – should it look the same in three years time – is on the horizon. We enjoyed a bottle of local red wine, a gift that our AirBnB host in Split had sent us away with last week to help us celebrate. We splurged on a dinner special-for-two of our first young goat meat at the family restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary last week. This dish was not available to us on that evening because it requires advance ordering, as it takes two hours to cook. Both nights we had complementary snifters of Rakia – plum brandy, which went down more smoothly for me this night, being the 2nd time…
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We felt fortunate that we had had three gorgeous days of hiking in Plitvicka Jezera Nacionalni Park. Our last full day in the area turned out as predicted: completely rainy. Loren learned from our AirBnB host’s son that the area is a rain forest, even though in winter it snows and freezes. So, we made our last day a rest day.
We then headed by bus to Split overnight, back to our same lovely host in her comfortable AirBnB. Then, we split Split, to travel by daytime bus to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dalmatian coast south of Mostar reminded us of Big Sur, except for the nearby islands. There was an incredibly long line of cars and campers at border control. Our bus driver bypassed them all – fortunately the only car coming in the opposite direction pulled over for us! We arrived to where the immigration officers board the buses, much more quickly had he not jumped the line, otherwise our passport verification wait time would have been longer than some we had experienced in Africa.
We are now settled in our Mostar AirBnB with delightful sisters as our hosts, both college students. We treated them to lunch and they introduced us to their arts. One sister has much talent in debate and drawing, the other is a gifted singer who shared with us Sevdalinka Emina, a traditional Bosnian folk song of yearning. It tells a touching story of a beautiful woman in a garden who is unmoved by her admirer’s greeting in her task of watering of the roses. Our hostesses’ great-grandmother is famous for writing the lyrics to a version that was made popular by a local musically talented doctor. As if that were not already a special story, this sister was chosen by audition at 10 years of age to sing this song at the celebration of the grand re-opening of the Old Bridge in 2004. It had had to be rebuilt – so well that it looks original – after being demolished in the civil war.
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On the topic of the war which is hard to avoid seeing the lasting effects of and talking about while walking around town, we came across a local park that had had to be converted for use as a cemetery. Headstone after headstone records the death year: 1993. We also visited the War Photos Exhibition on permanent display at the Old Bridge. 
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Then, while on a one day tour, we finished the day at “Sniper Tower,” a formerly attractive, modern glass building where mercenary gunmen had stationed themselves. Around the perimeter are still chunks, chips and shards of plate glass fragments. 
The building, like so many others 20 years later, is simply a multistoried mortar-wounded concrete shell. Artists have left myriad messages in a 2016 Street Art Festival.
I learn best in a hands-on, experiential way, and on our journey I am learning so much. I had known of the unrest in Belgrade – capitol of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. But I had felt so far removed; I remember feeling a vague, sad awareness at that time. Being in Bosnia and Herzegovina now, the aftereffects of the struggles as communism fell and regional boundaries in the Balkan countries were sometimes violently fought for, are highly visible. Mortar damage is tangible, and there is a palpable heaviness. We did not experience this visible or spiritual vestige in the areas of Croatia where we had visited. So many of the locals’ family members and friends here were either killed, or took refuge in other countries, and most of them have not returned.
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We also visited “Tito’s Aircraft Hangar” on the day tour. This was tunneled deep into a mountain during the Cold War, for storing planes and for protection should there come a World War III. It seemed similar in some ways – especially the massive amount of concrete used for the walls– to bunkers we had seen at Normandy beach. Hitler had designed those for protection of what he saw to be Third Reich’s 1000 year reign. What can we learn from all this? How do we protect all humanity from violence? I believe we can learn to communicate in better ways, to be able to live in peace on our precious planet. Now and forever. Ok?
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On a lighter note, other stops on our day tour were the historic Blagaj Dervish House, a place of study for the Sufi’s during the Ottoman Empire. It was so well built and protected then, that it still proudly stands against the mountain, beside the river, of its origin. It is where Whirling Dervishes come annually in mid-May to practice their dancing meditation. This is where Loren and I shared our first cup of Turkish coffee.
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Another stop was for a hike up a hill to the medieval castle and fortress of Pocitelj. The one other stop was to Kravice Falls, where we had lunch. Loren swam in the take-your-breath-away cold water.
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One more thing I have learned from our journey is how to correctly pronounce Herzegovina: Herz-eh-govina, not Herzgovin-i-a as I used to mistakenly say. On Sunday we will return to Croatia to visit Dubrovnik for two days, a place that Loren has been interested in visiting for 40 years. I am also interested in seeing the War Photos Limited temporary display there, a larger version of the Exhibition to what we saw here in Mostar, including current images from Syria… I have so much still to learn.

REPOSTING in Progress: Weeks 2 to 109

This place holder is for the entries from our original blog to be added, eventually. Please check back – this re-creation is a labor of Love and will take a bit of  t-i-m-e- which, while still traveling, we do not always have a lot available to devote to this.