Custom Search

Monday, March 30, 2009

A short trip to Kospallag

We made an impulsive decision to spend the weekend in a forest hotel in Northern Hungary where we had been planning to go in mid-May.

Our friend Tsvete, however, decided that now would be as good time as ever to get away from the city. This was all part of her cunning plan not to buy a hypothetical weekend house worth a hypothetical 20,000 euro (minimum) but invest the money in travel instead.

So, thanks to her enthusiasm and booking skills, we set off to Szent Orban Erdei Hotel (literally, the forest hotel of Saint Orban).

The hotel is made of wood so you have this nice, mountain-hut kind of feeling. It is actually situated on the top of a hill in what passes as a mountain (by Hungarian standards), surrounded by forest (thus the name). It is just the hotel and the woods--the nearest village is a few kilometers downhill.
We went for a walk and ran into Jesus. These kinds of religious displays are rare in Hungary but perhaps it has something to do with Saint Orban, who gave the name to the hotel (I admit I have no idea who Saint Orban was).

A horse was grazing on a field across from the hotel where we were hanging around watching Ruslan and Lia slide on something that I don't know how to name in English, or in any other language.

The device in question and Ruslan, ever the adventurer.

The wind did not prevent us from enjoying our lunch outside...

...but the inside pool proved to be the major attraction. Here is Andrej, wrapped up in a towel looking like a Roman senator. You can see the impatience in his eyes--bring on the pool!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Roofs basking in the sun

The Hungarian Parliament in all its glory.

Behind the Castle District.

The church of St. Matthias is currently under renovation.

Budapest bridges: Erzsebet (Elisabeth) in the foreground, Szabadsag (Freedom) in the distance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Port of Amsterdam

So far this year I have only written of travels so even when I stayed in Budapest for a week I can’t help writing about some other place. Not that I don’t like Budapest and its bits but by some coincidence one of the haunting melodies in my head this week is 'Le Port d'Amsterdam' written and performed by Jacque Brel.

If you had the patience to listen to it, it is a fantastic song by one of the greatest French speaking artist of second part of the 20th century – the Belgium Jacque Brel. Brel sings all his songs in a deeply moving and highly sensitive way but in this case one would say all his male ancestors were sailors who lost their lives in street fights by the port.

And in the city of Amsterdam Brel definitely doesn’t take us to a tulip show or the Royal Art Museum or not even the Van Gogh Museum and the potato eaters. He takes us to the port pubs of Amsterdam where ‘Y'a des marins qui meurent/Pleins de bières et de drames’ or in the English lyrics ‘There is a sailors who dies full of beer, full of cries’. Brel’s sailors are rough and desperate, constantly drunk but somehow strangely poetic. Yet, they do things I’d better not mention here and this is definitely not reading the Bible between two trips.

I started writing this text because of this interpretation of the same song by David Bowie that I discovered recently in a hotel in Pristina.

Being a genius, Bowie surpassed the original and fully impregnated the song with his character adding a more dynamic guitar. The English lyrics remain very similar yet different. Here is Bowie’s sailor:

There's a sailor who eats
Only fish heads and tails
And he'll show you his teeth
That have rotted too soon
That can haul up the sails
That can swallow the moon

It’s clear that these sailors have not had proper dental care and do not have their tooth plaque cleaned on a regular basis.

This reminds me that I have an appointment with my dentist on Friday who will hopefully finalize a treatment of a strangely and elegantly winding root canal.

This also reminds me that when in Amsterdam I once folded my tent while still wet and when I unfolded it a year later it had rotten like Amsterdam sailors' teeth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why does it always rain on me?

"Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?" (Travis)

Er, it's the umbrella, stupid. The lack of it, in fact.

So, as it was nicely drizzling on me this morning when I went out for my breakfast pastry, I decided to pass by our neighborhood shopping mall and try to find myself an umbrella. I had my camera with me so here are some pics from Mamut (meaning 'mammoth'--strange name for a shopping center but at least it's not another Plaza).

I armed myself with a cappucino to-go, bought from a gorgeous little coffee place just behind the mall, on the market. I haven't had proper coffee in more than five years so this was no small treat--it's giving me a strange feeling in the stomach but it was worth it.

Favorite meeting place--the fountain on the ground floor.

Don't you just love the packaging at L'Occitane? Everything seems to be saying "French rural chic"--almost irresistible.

I adore bookstores. This one is part of a Hungarian chain called "Libri." It would be my favorite store if the books were not in Hungarian, alas. To be fair, they also have an English-language section, although it's mostly classics and a few bestsellers.

Pastries for the hungry shopper.

Back to the umbrella issue--I got a little carried away clicking around, so much so that I forgot what I came for.

But here's a virtual umbrella for all of you under rainy skies (I like this song a lot, and I always think of my childhood friend Milos when I hear it. The video clip is a nuisance but it can thankfully be minimized).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bring on the champaign

We received our first blog award today and I'm very excited!

It was Polly from Sotto Voce who passed on the Premio Dardos award:

This award acknowledges the values that every blogger displays in their efforts to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values with each message they write. Awards like this have been created with the intention of promoting community among Bloggers. It's a way to show appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

I feel very honored--thank you, Polly, for your appreciation.

Let me pass the award further to these very fine bloggers:

And cheers :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A taste of Bretagne in Budapest

Today we discovered a new French creperie called "A la Galette," close to our old neighborhood in Pest (thank you, Nasko and Eniko for taking us there!). It is owned by a French couple and decorated in the spirit of Bretagne, which is also reflected on the menu--they offer pancakes and galette (buckwheat crepe) in many shapes and flavors.

Here Ruslan is browsing through the Budapest-published French newspaper while the rest of us are browsing through the menu, trying to choose among many yummie things.

I don't know what's in the box with the cow but I liked it so much. Right next to it is coffee, from Bretagne. Not sure what so special about coffee from this region but I have a thing about boxes.

You can buy all kinds of foodstuff from Bretagne, from biscuits and chocolate to pate and, of course, cider (I tried it today for the first time and it's definitely not my thing).

Blue and white are the colors of the restaurant, with pictures of the sea and various navy motives scattered strategically, but with taste.

I don't know much about Bretagne but the pictures that I saw today piqued my curiosity. I'm adding it to my list of countries/regions that I would like to explore. Beautiful landscapes, a quirky regional identity and lots of pancakes--too good to be missed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mil caballitos persas

I would like to share this part of Frederico Garcia Lorca's 'Gacela del Amor Imprevisto' as a Saturday afternoon greeting to anyone who might stumble upon this blog accidentally.

Nadie comprendía el perfume
de la oscura magnolia de tu vientre.
Nadie sabía que martirizabas
un colibrí de amor entre los dientes.

Mil caballitos persas se dormían
en la plaza con luna de tu frente,
mientras que yo enlazaba cuatro noches
tu cintura, enemiga de la nieve.

Of course, one needs to be able to read Spanish but I will also try to make an impromptu translation.

No one understood the magnolia-scented
perfume of your belly
No one knew that you tortured
a colibri of love between your teeth.

A thousand persian horsemen fell asleep
on the moon-lit square of your forehead
while I was hugging for four nights
your waist - enemy of the snow.

(sorry, rules of poetry are not kept)

I find these two verses a strike of genius. Lucky woman who served as an inspiration to Lorca. And just see how he managed to convey (and to link) so simply the mystery of Granada nights (magnolia-scented) and the beauty of her body; their relationship, far from easy (tortured the colibri of love) and yet tender (colibri) and again her beauty; the calmness she gave him (the 1000 horsemen falling asleep on your forehead) but at the same time the passion she stirred in him (waist - enemy of snow). Isn't this juxtaposition of calmness and passion beautiful and a characteristic of any love worth mentioning? And in the end - what an metaphor of her burning body - enemy of snow!

There is only one problem: Lorca, they say, was a homosexual.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A supposedly fun thing

I am cleaning files from Yahoo Briefcase before they get deleted and I found this (piece that I wrrote for my non-fiction workshop back at university. It's nothing special but it was amusing be reminded of certain events that were not funny or fun at all at the time of happening but seem very funny when described.

Petnica Research Center, when I first heard of it, seemed like a place I somehow must get into. That is not an easy task--you have to deal with the usual papyrology, and to submit your IQ score in order to pass a strict selection. Petnica is a place popular among high-school students in Serbia so many people want to participate in its programs. Not everyone can succeed in that, and it makes a matter of privilege whether one is accepted or not. It seems like you have to be special to get into such a special place. So when one day I received a letter with “Dear Jelica, we are happy to inform you bla bla....,” my ego hit the ceiling. I was to spend seven days on a seminar in psychology, and simply couldn’t wait for it. I had great expectations of even greater fun. I was wrong.

Though it may not be obvious, judging by the name, Petnica Research Center is designed to be a fun place. It’s an alternative educational institution created somewhat upon the model of the famous Summerhill. The idea is simple--if there is anything you “wanted to know but was afraid to ask,” Petnica is the right place to go and look for answers. Seminars are covering areas ranging from archeology to computer science, and from medicine to linguistics. The fun is in the fact that you work on something you are really fond of (how many times does that happen in school?); you get to hear many new and interesting facts from people who are the best in the field; you do research on your own, with the help and advice if you need it. And you skip regular classes!

It never occurred to me that Petnica might not be as perfect as it looks. What could possibly go wrong? Well, how about everything: program, staff, people on the seminar, food, weather?

At the beginning it was not all that bad. In the first half of an hour, that is (precisely, before facing the lunch). We were welcomed with an intelligence test-- that was the first one. In the very same afternoon, we did three more. By the end of the seminar, I stopped counting but I know for certain that we didn’t miss a single one that the world knows of: domino test, MENSA test, Catel’s test, whomsoever’s test and when we ran out of them we would do them all over again. I learned to sympathize with guinea pigs.

So, by the time of the dinner (it is still the first day) I was both starved and frustrated, but not yet devoid of all hope. After all, we hadn’t really started the REAL stuff, the things that we in fact came for. A test or two is not such an unbearable sacrifice for all the fun we were to get. Were we?

The dessert came after the dinner in the form of--surprise, surprise--another test! This time they tested our memory. We had fifteen minutes to memorize a page-long text on differences in two prominent theories of personality. It was obviously taken from a university textbook since I barely understood every second word and have never before seen sentences with that kind of structure. Afterwards we had to fill in a questionnaire testing how much we remembered, asking about each and every minute detail. I was a bit puzzled--couldn’t they have given the test in the morning when we were fresh? I was even more puzzled when the test was repeated on the last day of the seminar (only the questionnaire, without the text). The explanation was not in the least mysterious. Apparently, one of the professors-lecturers was conducting a research of his own on HOW MENTAL AND PHYSICAL EXHAUSTION AFFECTS MEMORY (sic!) We, the students were a perfect sample...

In fact, we were so perfect a sample that it was pathetic, seeing us all dead tired, barely standing on our feet, with eyes half closed and circles underneath in different shades of blue, violet, and brown. We had lectures almost from dawn and certainly after dusk. Starting at eight in the morning, we wouldn’t leave the classroom till late at night except for meals. Since we were “psychologists” we had the “privilege” of having psychological workshops after our lectures, as if we hadn’t had enough of boredom. Needless to say, they were also part of someone’s research, experiment, whim...

But at least the lectures were fun, right? A-ha. A guy almost as old as the Bible talked for nearly two and a half hours about his PhD--taken thirty years ago. All others talked about everything but what was on the program and the program was the thing which made us apply to this particular seminar.

Then the people must have been fun, at least?

The largest group of humourless persons I have ever seen concentrated in one place. One of the girls, when presenting herself, said : “I’m a misanthrope.” Only after that she said her name. An original fellow from the Police School shared with us that he liked “everything that young people like.” Two girls from a special Mathematical School did not even try to hide the contempt for us lesser mortals who were not enlightened by the profound conceptual subtleties of multivariant calculus.

I strongly suspect that the selection of people was purely experimental...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

La Diva Aux Pied Nus

Cesaria Evora or Barefoot Diva (because of her style of performing without shoes) brought the sounds of Cabo Verde to Budapest two evenings ago in a great concert. She sang for almost two hours non-stop--no chit-chats with the audience, no attempts to collect brownie points by trying to say something in the local language.

There was just one instrumental sometime into the last third of the concert and that was when she could sit and rest for a few moments. This is no small feat, given that this woman is almost seventy years old and has been touring the world intensively for the past decade. And what a voice she has! A strong contra-alto, very deep but somehow warm. There was no single false note, and not a moment of faltering of that formidable voice (and no smoking Cuban cigars and drinking whiskey, which she is also famous for doing in concerts--it seems that she is trying to quit alcohol on the verge of her 8th decade :)

I didn't know until yesterday, when I started reading about her life, that she was only discovered when she was almost 50 years old (similar to the Buena Vista cohort). Before that she lived in poverty and obscurity, singing in bars to feed her family, fighting alcoholism and depression. She had even stopped singing for a whole decade at some point in her life, out of despair.

Her music--the music of Cabo Verde, a small island off the west coast of Africa--can be very rhythmic and joyous, but there is also the blues (morna), similar to the Portuguese fado, only a bit lighter. I like this description of her music that I found in an article published in 2003:

The predominant style of her singing is morna, and in fact Evora has been called the queen of morna. Morna, usually known as "the blues of Cape Verde," is an acoustic style, heavy on guitar and cavaquinho and often backed up by violin, accordeon, clarinet and piano but very light on percussion. Soulful and sentimental, morna is injected with nostalgia and homesickness, longing and separation, love and desire.

Very similar in both sound and theme to its Portuguese cousin fado, it shares with fado the themes of longing for some other place, the search for roots, the pain of love, sensuality and internal gravitation. Morna, however, has a more overt injection of African rhythm and a Latin American connection to tango. Like the sensuously bohème nocturnal lifestyle of genuine, hardcore Argentine tango, Cesaria Evora can sometimes remind you of an intimate, smokefilled dance room or bar like the ones she got her start in.

And here is one of her most famous, and best songs, "Sodades":

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Light in Branches of Olive Trees

Spring Sun in Branches of Olive Trees, Portofino

Western Sun and Cypresses, Portofino

Open Sea Side of Portofino Peninsula

Portofino Bay


So far I have been so lucky with travels this year. I've been to either beautiful or new places, the former catering to the senses, the latter - to curiosity. Last week I travelled to Genoa, Italy and Milano which were both new and beautiful. I have been to Italy half a dozen times but never in Liguria and Lombardia. And....the fact that Giuseppe Garibaldi unified Italy so late (compared to other European nation states maybe with the exception of Germany) means that regions are still quite different.

We flew to Bergamo very early in the morning and started the day with a beautiful view of the Alps - white sunny, snowy peaks as far as the eye could see and a bit more. Only one day earlier I had returned from a skiing trip in Tyrol, Austria so it was funny to fly back over the same region so soon. I would have gladly jumped with a parachute from the plane with my skis on - it was definitely going to be a beautiful, sunny day for skiing in the Alps. can't have everything as they say (a counter argument says: one can't have everything but one can at least try...).

After feasting on capucco and chocolate croissant at the airport (ordered twice to fill the emptiness inside...) I suggested to my colleagues Venelina, Dora, Zsuzsa and Dusan to rent a car instead of taking the public transport. I offered this as we were going to have a full free day and only with a car we would have had the possibility to drive along the Ligurian coast which was my goal. As far as the environment goes, at a Life-cycle Analysis in Zurich in 2007 I heard that the carbon footprint of 3 people travelling by car from Paris to Geneva equals the carbon footprint of a train travel of the same number of people. As there were five of us, things were fine from this point of view.

So quite unexpectedly I was up for a full day of driving - south to Milan and then further south crossing this part of the Apennines separating the Lombardian plane from the Ligurian Sea. It was a fun southern drive put aside the horrendous traffic jam around Milan. And then....the yellow and orange Genoa, bathed in sun, looming over the emerald Ligurian sea. It was such a change from the heavy snow falling in Tyrol only two days earlier. Crazy.

We dropped our bags at the hotel, only 50 m, from the birthplace of Cristopher Columbus (his house functioning as a museum) and set on a beautiful drive East along the coast from Genoa to Portofino. The road winds past olive trees, cypresses and pine trees and it was actually quite dangerous as I shared my attention between the sea and the road. I don't know why I offered my colleagues to drive to Portofino. I think one of the four novels in Michelangelo Antonioni's and Wim Wender's Beyond the Clouds took part there.

And indeed, I was not mistaken. Portofino is cuddled at the end of a curving road, by a turquoise bay. The colours of the houses vary from orange to lemon to grapefruit to sunset. The hills around the bay are covered with pines and olives whose branches played with the soft afternoon sun. Narrow stairs go up from the small port and lead to a terrace, by a chapel, from where one can watch the sea batter the rocks and foam as it had been doing for thousands of years. Another path goes to 16th c. Castello Brown and from there to a terrace by the lighthouse. I sat in a chair and dozed off sweetly for 10 minutes tired from the early start of the day, the flight and the drive.

Later, we sat in a Bar Americano by the sea in St. Margharita and I could see a full moon hanging by the branch of a palm tree on the background of an ink-coloured sky. I thought life is not as bad as that if it occasionally offers us glimpses of such intense beauty.

Talkin' bout a revolution

It was a big holiday in Hungary yesterday, the anniversary of 1848 revolution, which for Hungarians meant an uprising against the Habsburg rule and a fight for freedom.

Although the revolution itself was quelled after a few years, only two decades later the Austrians made a lot of concessions to Hungarians and the Habsburg monarchy was transformed into Austro-Hungarian Empire, a dual monarchy (the Hungarians basically got a free rein in their half of the empire). No wonder, then, that March 15 is such a significant date in Hungarian history, and a holiday they are so proud of.

Except that I was taught a little bit different version of those same historic events. And in my version the Hungarians were unwilling to grant to other peoples on their territory (Croats, Serbs, Romanians and others) those same rights that they demanded from the Austrians--more autonomy, self-rule, the use of their own language. So these other peoples rose up against the Hungarians while they were fighting the Austrians (a bit of a back stab but all is fair in love and war, they say).

These mini revolutions were unsuccessful because once the empire was divided between Vienna and Budapest, the Hungarians were even less willing to grant more rights to other nations that they ruled. On the contrary, their policy was that of assimilation--one nation, one language (Hungarian, of course). But in the longer run it backfired. No nationalism is more legitimate or better or more deserving than any other, and the Hungarians learned that hard lesson after the WWI--but that's a whole different story.

The reason why I was thinking about these things in the first place was because a few days ago when we went to pick up Boris we found him sporting a red-green-white lapel (colors of Hungarian flag) and a carton imitation of a Hungarian soldier's hat--they had been celebrating the revolution in the kindergarten. I guess the kids are never to young to be indoctrinated by national myths, are they?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Zillertal 09, a photo story

I decided to post some ski photos, on popular demand.

OK, there was no popular demand, it was just our friend Tsvete asking if we uploaded some ski pictures on the blog and I realised that we haven't yet. But I like that phrase "popular demand," I really do.

The highlight of this trip was the fact that we enrolled Boris in a ski school. He is four and a few months, so it was just the right time to learn. He is far better than his parents in this respect: Ruslan learned at the age of 16 and I enrolled a ski school together with a bunch of 4-5 year olds when I was at the ripe age of 25 (going on 26, let's be honest). So, lucky Boris, although you wouldn't say he is terribly enthusiastic about the whole thing, judging by this picture.

Can you find the intruder? Let me give you a hint--the only kid without a helmet, wearing a (couple of sizes too big) Spiderman hat instead. And a bright orange scarf to boot. Poor Boris, he was like a relative from the country--funny clothes, skis and boots second-hand, looking about 20 years old (skis, not Boris), no-brand. All other kids had super new Atomic, Head, Salomon and such like skis. Luckily, we're really not snobs in that respect. And we didn't think he would need a helmet for the baby slope they practiced on (that's pushing it in terms of security as far as I'm concerned).

I read it in various news sources that this winter was expected to be the best season in the Alps in terms of snowfall for the past 10 years. As far as we can say, it is definitely true. There was no shortage of snow anywhere on the slopes and it was of excellent quality. Far, far better than last year when we went in mid-March and to a ski resort on a lower altitude--we had just slush all the time, very unpleasant.

Yours truly, courtesy of Ruslan-the-photographer. One morning we skied together and that was when he took his picture. That was my best morning because it was a sunny day, I was discovering new slopes and I enjoyed Ruslan's company. He also praised my skiing technique a lot, so that was such a confidence boost. We need to ski side by side more :)

On our last full day in Zillertal it started snowing in the village where we stayed (Stumerberg). A few days before the temperatures were around 5-6 degrees Celsius and almost all the snow in the village melted away. But then Friday afternoon it began to snow, and it snowed and snowed...and snowed... and on Saturday morning it still kept snowing and this is how the valley looked like from the road in front of our house. Lucky those whose shift started that Saturday--they must have had incredible powder the next day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Magyar Posta or A Lesson in Patience

Magyar Posta
Originally uploaded by dustpuppy
Yesterday I went to pick up a package that came for me from the US and ended up in the international department of the Hungarian Post Office because they decided I had to pay VAT. It wasn't going to be a pleasant trip because

a) I was pretty pissed off that they calculated VAT not just on the amount of money I paid for this package but on the shipping that I paid, too. Not that I want to avoid paying my dues but I thought you are supposed to pay a charge on the value of your imports? The US post already charges me quite a lot to get stuff sent to here, thank you very much.

b) The international department is in a far away and rather shabby part of town. It took me a while to get there and I didn't enjoy the views. I always knew that VIII district is as bad as it gets in Budapest but I never realised how different it is from Budapest I know--social housing, ugly streets, ghetto feeling.

But, back to the Post Office. They have an incredibly ugly, huge, yellowish building right in the middle of Orczy ter. It looks like a relic from the socialist times from the outside and a little bit like I imagine a secret services prison could look on the inside. But the lady working at the reception was very friendly and, after looking at the document I had she directed me to the second floor, office number 5. That's where my amusement begins.

There was, as you might expect, nobody at window number 5. I could hear voices from the room next door (whose door was open), then someone came into my room, gave me a quick glance and told to wait a bit. There was some more room-crossing and telling me to wait before someone decided to deal with me. A lady looked
at my document, gave me a pile of papers and told to go to window number 1.

There was nobody there, either. I could see a bunch of people sitting in the room and chatting and they could see me, too, but, hey, what's the rush? Finally a guy appears and I try to strike up a conversation because I want him to explain to me why I have to pay VAT on the shipping.

Beszel angolul (Do you speak English)? says I, hopefully.

Blank stare.

Ermm, a little bit but it will be easier if we talk in Hungarian, says he.

(Yeah, right. I guess it is too much to expect someone working in the international department to speak a foreign language?)

Anyway, I make my case re: VAT and he tells me that it is how it is, basically.

Rendben, de ez nekem nem logikus (Fine, but this is not logical to me), says I with a friendly smile but firm tone. He looks at me as if I had committed the gravest crime against the constitution. I bet he is thinking how weird those foreigners are, saying stuff like that. You know, a rule is a rule. So what if it doesn't make sense to you?

But he doesn't say any of that, he proceeds to calculate the amount of VAT I have to pay (mind you, it had already been calculated and stated in the letter that I got from the Post Office and which brought me there anyway, but I guess the guy needs to earn his salary). When he is done, he sends me back to window number 5 (with a feeble smile).

After a little bit of waiting, a lady appears from somewhere, snatches the papers away from me and tells me to go to window number 6, where my name will be called, I will pay and can pick up my package.

Surprisingly, there IS someone at window number 6 but the instructions say clearly not to approach before you are called, so I just stand there in the corridor, for some time. Ultimately, I do manage to pay and get my stuff.

Total time of the operation? About an hour for something that should not have taken more than 15 minutes. How many people I had to deal with? Three people doing the job of one, on the taxpayer's money.

So when you hear it in the news that Hungary went bankrupt, don't be surprised.

Monday, March 9, 2009

'Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen'

Innsbruck literally means "bridge on the Inn."

The city was at the height of its glory in the 15th century when emperor Maximilan I had his residence there.

The old, pedestrian part of Innsbruck.

This is a sign in front of an inn that has been in operation since 1465 (the wrought iron was added in 1665). According to this website, "The white Maltese cross symbolizes the hospitality which the Knights of the Maltese Order showed to pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land."

One of many churches in the city.

And, finally, the musical leitmotif of our short visit to Innsbruck, sung to me by Ruslan in a deliberate tone-deaf fashion, in German, repeatedly:

Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen,
ich fahr dahin mein Strassen,
in fremde Land dahin.
Mein Freud is mir genommen,
die ich nit weiss bekommen
wo ich im Elend bin.

Gross Leid muss ich jetzt tragen,
das ich allein tu klagen
dem liebsten Buhlen mein.
Ach Lieb, nun lass mich Armen
im Herzen dein erbarmen,
dass ich muss dannen sein.

Mein Trost ob allen Weiben,
dein tu ich ewig bleiben,
stet treu, der Ehren fromm.
Nun muss dich Gott bewahren,
in aller Tugend sparen,
bis dass ich wiederkomm.

Mozart's home town through the photo lens

A majestic castle towering over the Old City (UNESCO heritage since 1997).

Spring was in the air the afternoon we passed through Salzburg.

The sun clock, partly overshadowed.
Horse-carts are a frequent sight in Altstadt (Old City).

So many cake shops to tempt those with a sweet tooth...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

An Unfair Report on Pristina

Frozen Pedestrian Street, Pristina (Photo: Ellen Baltzar)

Pristina was the last capital on the Balkans which I had not visited. It was quite strange having in mind that I have worked in the region for eight years and have visited all the other countries many times.

I have to admit that I was not particularly impatient to go there. I really like travelling and in general I am excited to go to new places but there are countries which simply do not attract me. I know it is not fair as I am fully aware that there are interesting things and people everywhere. However, a fact is a fact. Kosovo is such a country, US – another.

I don’t know what the reasons for that are. I guess we all have some associations with a place, some underlying myths coming from books, films, stories. Well, it is true that Kosovo has been in the spotlight for so many years but still…And, of course, this has nothing to do with being in favour of Kosovo being a part of Serbia or being against it.

Other countries that do not attract me are the really dangerous ones. I would include here Somalia, Chad, DRC, Liberia, etc. Although I like Africa and I really sympathize with the people there I regard those conflicts as hopeless, extreme manifestation of human stupidity and cruelty. Somehow my curiosity for people and nature in these places is completely neutralized by the political madness.

Same is valid for countries where religious fundamentalism is dominant such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. I just know that discussion and arguments do not fly there. I will never forget the book Mighty Heart and, among many other things, the absolute realization that there are people, groups with whom conversation is just not possible. Sometimes we are so far in our understanding of the world from the others that there is not even the faintest hope that both sides might meet somewhere on the territory of an intelligent argument.

But let me get back to Pristina. The town was covered by snow which had not been cleaned and this reminded me immediately of Sofia: snow falls when it is cold, snow melts when it is warm. As far as I could see Pristina is a kind of mixture between an ex-Yugoslav city and an Albanian city. Ex-Yugoslav because of the architecture from the 70s and 80s – no masterpieces but not bad either. Albanian – because of the language mostly.

Peter and Ellen also drew my attention to the funny building of the city library designed by a Croatian architect who has obviously seen too many albums of Antoni Gaudi.

Despite all that, the sarma was tasty.