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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bridge over Troubled Water

On our way back from Mljet to Lazarevts this summer we decided to cross Bosnia and Herzegovina and stop in Mostar and Sarajevo. I've been to Sarajevo several times both in winter to eat chevapi and in summer to contemplate Muslim architecture.

However, Mostar had always attracted me somehow: because of the beautiful name (keepers of the bridge), the story of the old bridge and the blue waters of Neretva whose delta I had seen some years ago at the Adriatic Sea.

And here we are, it's July, it's noon, it's hot but we dragged the kids for a stroll in old Mostar and a coffee on the old main street (carsija).

And here is the elegant silhouette of the bridge built by a student of architecture in 1566 when Mostar was in the Ottoman Empire. The literature says that it's a 'single span, stone arch bridge', 4m. wide and 30m. long.

Old bridge seen from carsija, Mostar

The bridge is actually quite steep and slippery. It really feel like climbing rather than simply crossing a river. No way to photograph the bridge without people.

It's steep, isn't it?

The mountains around Mostar look barren and unwelcoming and that is why the bridge, the river, the old street feel even cosier.

Naked mountain over Mostar

On both side of the bridge there is a typical shopping street seen in towns of the Ottoman Empire - carsija. It's the middle age Ottoman equivalent of the commercial streets of Western Europe nowadays. It's full of handicrafts, small art galleries and cute cafes where you can sit on the ground and drink Turkish coffee.

The old town of Mostar seen from the bridge

That's a part of the shopping street. I don't think pink was a common colour but...

A dukjan (shop) on the carsija (main street)

That's another view point to the old carsija and you can see the mosques, the old white towers and the stone roofs of the houses.

Carsija from above, Mostar

All this was not so fun in 1993 when the Croatian forces started deliberately targeting the bridge. Mostar is the main town of Herzegovina with a big Croatian minority and that's why Croatia had some territorial ambitions. By destroying the bridge they wanted to sever the Croatian part of town from the Muslim one. The construction was slowly eroded in spring and in summer until finally on 9 September, 1993 several artillery shots brought it down after 427 years. There is a museum with all the photos of the collapse and it is rather heart breaking. Just imagine what was in the head of the guy who pressed the trigger....

I searched you tube to embed a clip here but the only one I found with the original shots were edited by a Croatian nationalist group trying to prove that in fact the bridge was destroyed by Muslims. Obviously there is a conspiracy theory about that as well.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Pleasure Is in the Details

It's a warm late summer evening, the hazy moon is going to bed over Buda, the tiles of the terrace are transmitting warmth to my bare feet. The grasshoppers are singing a song, a motorbike is revving up in the distance. What could one do on such an evening but remember the sea?

We spent some time at the Adriatic Sea this summer and I already wrote about that but I would like to write about those small things that weave the fiber of a pleasurable day and which are rarely mentioned:

1. Preparing and drinking a cold frappe - I am a real coffee addict and I need my two cups of coffee per day. In summer time I prepare something which I call 'frappe' although it is not shaken. It's powder coffee, a bit of cold milk and a bit of very cold water. I used to drink this around two 2 pm when the heat was trodding on the island.

2. Eating a chocolate ice-cream in the heat of the day - I discovered a great 10 kuna chocolate ice cream in Croatia - Macho:-) One of the pleasures of my days was going out in the biggest heat and eating an ice cream.

3. Lying in cool bed sheets reading a book - After having a frappe and an ice cream, it's time for a rest. What wonderful pleasure it is to lie in the cool bed, reading a book, occasional wafts of sea breeze moving the curtain!

4. Diving in the cool water after being hot - There is an aspect of our lives that is unjustly neglected. It doesn't last long but it's memorable. It is the first second after one jumps into the water. Temperature falls and the heated body finds peace again.

5. Watching the sunset over Korcula while sipping local wine – Seen from Mljet, the sun goes down over Korcula. Air is calm, the sky is painted in dozens of hues of rose. The seas are divided in Sunset Seas and Sunrise Seas. The Croatian Adriatic coast is a sunset sea. The Bulgarian Black Sea coast where I used to go as a kid is a Sunrise Sea. That’s a fundamental difference.

6. Lying on the hot cement in the evening, watching the stars and feeling the heat accumulated during the day - every evening after dinner we used to take a leisurely stroll with Jelica, the kids, Ivona and Dusan. We usually went under the same tree by the sea and lay on the cement to watch the sky. The cement - not a really natural substance - was wonderful then, telling a story of a past sunny day by passing a bit of sunshine to us. The stars shone bright above and we were speaking mainly Japanese.

7. Finishing the day with a glass of wine on the terrace – Each day ended around 11 pm with a glass of wine on the terrace and a nice conversation with Dusan, Jelica and Ivona. As the village is quite small we could hear all types of ex-Yugoslav songs filling up the night air for a while.

8. Waking up very early and watching the quiet bay – I slept well by the sea but several times I woke up very early and benefited from that to watch the surreal bay and boats. All things – of organic or inorganic nature – were sleeping.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is it over with the summer?

We came back from the second leg of our holiday yesterday and I collided with a sense of disorientation so huge that I felt completely overwhelmed. It was as if my mind got detached from my body and stayed behind, hovering over a glass of Bulgarian wine in soul-searching conversations with old friends.

The fact that we traveled back on a cloudy, rainy day made me feel even more strongly that the summer is over and with it the carefree times, the fun, and the exploration. What if another winter of discontent is on the way? I'm referring to last winter when the combination of crappy weather, loneliness and lack of structure in a day kept me in very low spirits.

But I'm trying to borrow a little bit of Ruslan's indestructible optimism and think about many more sunny days that we'll have and all the fun things we'll be able to do. In the meantime, here are a few summer-y pictures I made just a few days ago:

This is an apple orchard in my best friend's yard. His parents have a country house in the village of Veliko Orasje where we spent two days having a great time without doing much.

These are my favorite apples--sour and very refreshing. Yummie!

My grandfather has a plum orchard and now is the prime season for picking them. They were too ripe for my taste--I generally prefer my fruits sour--but they are completely organic, since my grandfather doesn't use any pesticides. That's a great feeling, to be able to just pick something off a tree and eat it, without worrying about washing off layers of chemicals.

Quince in my grandfather's yard. They are too sour still--even for me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In which she learns that an annoying A can lead to a very pleasant B

I bet this doesn't look appetizing and you're probably wondering what the hell it is and why does it deserved to be pictured.

This is what you get when you boil fresh cow milk and leave it to cool down overnight--in the morning you find a layer of kajmak (clotted cream is the closest I can translate this to English). If you leave the milk like this for a few days you can get a dense, cheesy and slightly sour cream which you can use as a spread, or to eat with cevapcici and freshly baked bread.

But you can also skim it that very first morning when it still has a neutral, milky taste and put it in your coffee. This is how I used to drink coffee in childhood and it's absolutely divine (please, don't talk to me about cholesterol and saturated fats--we can leave that conversation for some other time).

I think I started drinking coffee only to be able to put kajmak in it, and I would stuff so much of it in the cup that the taste of caffeine would almost be lost. It was more kajmak with coffee than the other way round.

My grandmother, who knew about the passion (and who taught me how to make coffee at the tender age of eight) would skim kajmak and store it in the fridge especially for me, so that there would always be some when I came to visit. Those were the days...

But here I am, slurping kajmak again, and all thanks to crazy, last-minute food shopping that left us with about 30 liters of beer and a bottle of whiskey, but no milk. I was a tad annoyed at first but now I see that it was all part of a greater plan to reunite me with kajmak. Thank you, Providence and Rodopi cows!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Blueberries and mushrooms

Yesterday morning after breakfast we set out from our house on a walk to the forest, lured by our friend's Zlatka's promise of blueberries and mushrooms (lots and lots of them) waiting for us in the woods--best of all, not far away, even for a group with many small children.

The road to the forest meanders up the hills, leaving the village of Solishta behind. You can still see a few scattered houses. The village is small and still largely undiscovered by tourists. Ruslan has been coming here for years since Zlatka, his childhood friend, has a country house in the village so it's been the gathering place for friends. This time we are not statying in her house, but renting a place just the opposite.

An obstacle on the road. We had to tread carefully past the horses, one by one, because they can get irritated and bite you. We did our best not to disturb them, especially since they had plenty of flies annoying them already.

A fine example of sharing among brothers. Actually, the hand motion indicates that it's Boris sharing his juice with Andrej, which is typical. Andrej only likes to share other people's stuff, he keeps his own for himself.

Daddy's shoulders are the most reliable mode of transport for lazy and cranky 2.5 year olds.

I know you want to see those blueberries, rather than the same old me, but I will have to disappoint you. There is a new road going through the forest and the old trail that led to these mythical blueberries is lost. Instead, we found some wild raspberries on a very steep and slippery slope, full of thorns moreover, and totally not worth the trouble. But I'm never the one to miss a photo opportunity, am I?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If, on a summer night

...oppressed by the heat, pacing aimlessly about the house while everyone else peacefully sleeps, you would step on the balcony in search of that elusive bit of freshness, start fiddling with the camera to give yourself a sense of purpose, pray for some breeze and try to enjoy the view:

You would learn two important lessons:

1. 'night scene' setting on Olympus doesn't really work unless you have a tripod--the shutter speed is so slow that even your breath can disturb the camera and produce a blur.

2. 'available light' is comparably better, but shooting images in the dark is obviously not this camera's forte.

Which is quite a lot of wisdom for one muggy night.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


One of the fewmore interesting words I remember from my French course in July is “dépaysé,” which is used to describe how you might feel when you travel to a foreign country where you feel a bit disoriented. The way our teacher explained, it is the antonym to “déjà vu,” or something that you know too well, and thus is too familiar and, presumably, of little interest.

The reason why I was so fascinated by this little word is that it has a very positive meaning in French. Apparently, to feel disoriented is something to be desired when you travel. This was difficult to grasp at first and, although I now get it semantically, I am still intrigued by it.

To my rational mind, a state of disorientation is something to be avoided at all costs. I rarely travel without a guidebook, more often with a map as well and, when possible, with an A-Z of street names, just in case. You might say that I am at the totally opposite end of disoriented (can you be super-oriented? Superpaysé?). I adore maps, I am very good at reading them and I like to navigate. Why would I not want to be oriented?

Ok, I suppose I am taking the word a bit too literally—it probably doesn’t mean that you don’t know where you are when you are “dépaysé.” I guess it’s just a striking change of scenery, which is exciting and positive, in which case ‘disoriented’ may not be the most accurate way to translate it to English because it has a negative tone to it. Or does it? Maybe it’s just negative to me? Perhaps other people enjoy feeling lost/disoriented?

Call me analboring but I’m sticking with my maps.