Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tear Gassed, In Kosovo



2015-01-27 17.30.20After a double border crossing and picking up passengers along the way we arrive in Pristina in the early afternoon. Stepping from the bus into the cold air of a small but busy bus station I approach a local passenger from the bus for some guidance in visiting Pristina.



As I am having this conversation I am joined by another passenger who is seeking basically the same information. We are told we have picked an interesting day to visit Pristina as a big protest is planned in the city. This seems like a good way to get a pulse of the city and peaks my interest. My first destination in Pristina is determined.

Overhearing our discussion another passenger from the bus joins in and he offers to guide myself and the other passenger around the city. As outsiders neither one of us could have asked for a better situation and we get a great education about Kosovo along the way. 



2015-01-27 13.30.26On our walk to the city center my attention is drawn to a tall building in the distance with a larger than life size billboard with a smiling face on it.




Approaching the building it all makes some sense as stories beneath this billboard is a statue of none other than former US President, Bill Clinton.

President Clinton along President Bush and NATO forces were all instrumental in freeing Kosovo from Serbian aggression and “ethnic cleansing”.



2015-01-27 13.43.09At a new Catholic cathedral on Bill Klinton Blvd we cross the street and continue toward the area for this afternoon's planned protest.

We pass small groups along the street with a few group members carrying Kosovo flags.



Soon we arrive in an area where a larger crowd has assembled and the activity level has picked up. I find it interesting that across the crowd from us a bright yellow cat with big white teeth is smiling down on us from a building where it is painted.

Standing on the perimeter of the crowd our guide for the day, Max, is determining our next course of action as he is trying to navigate us to the Kosovo Museum. Our direct route to the museum is now blocked by the protestors.

As he is contemplating this the activity level of the crowd intensifies and in what seems like a split second later shots of tear gas are fired in our direction.

A stampede of hundreds begins and a big part of it is headed our way. With a jump now in my heart activity the only thing I can think to do is run and that is exactly what I do as I watch a few people fall and almost get trampled.



2015-01-27 14.04.10



Soon my eyes are burning and a nasty taste fills my mouth as my breathing begins to labor. The air is now filled with the irritating gas even as we have moved away from the initial dispersion area. A man who apparently was closer to this area passes us with bright red blood shot eyes. There is a bit of panic in the air as ambulance and police sirens can be heard wailing across the city.

We have seen enough and Max works on an alternate route to get us to the museum. Although crowds are gathered along our new route the intensity and protesting level is a bit more subdued than at the focal point.


2015-01-27 14.24.25We eventually make it to the Kosovo museum where Max says his good byes but gives an invite to his home in Montenegro at anytime.

I promise that I will take him up on that offer.




Admission to the Kosovo Museum is free and although its displays are simply they tell a sad part of Kosovo's history. The “ethnic cleansing” that took place here up into the late 1990's is ridiculously sad. As we get ready to leave the museum I find the main entrance door is locked. I am standing there for a few minutes when an employee approaches and informs me that the museum is closing early because of the protesting activities going on in the city.




2015-01-27 14.50.53Guns Of Kosovo War


It takes some navigation around unknown streets and through a city park to avoid the protesting that is still going on. However, taking Max's advice we head back towards the university but I am surprised that some of the protesting activity has now moved in that direction. Late into the afternoon the air is still filled with gas and the crowd now at the intersection of Klinton and Bush Blvd has grown larger.

Although at first this seems like an obstacle to getting back to the bus station some more off the main path navigation and soon enough I am enjoying a “Pita Pizza” with a delicious sausage topping.


2005-01-01 01.01.51Big snowflakes are falling as the bus station comes into sight and I think what a cool way to end what has been an exciting experience.






Monday, January 26, 2015

Transnistria, Tracked Down In Tiraspol


From what I think is time to kill, I do a little exploring around the train station while avoiding what seems like forbidden areas. Climbing a set of stairs puts me on a pedestrian bridge that crosses multiple tracks below.


2015-01-21 13.48.50Although there is an increased chill in the air, feeling like a “Lionel Kid” I stay for a few minutes to watch a Soviet made locomotive at work.





Back at our planned meeting point there are more than a few men hanging around who could easily be my tour guide. However, knowing only about two words in Russian I am hesitant to approach any of them but I have developed a plan if my guide does not show up.

In an email I was given an address and hotel name to use when I registered at the border crossing which I managed not to do. At this point I hope it is all valid information as my plan is to take a taxicab to the address if all else fails.

In making my arrangements to meet under these conditions I thought for sure that when I arrived in Tiraspol I would standout like a sore thumb among the locals. Before leaving Chisinau I did send an email picture of myself but I am not sure if it was received.

Another ten minutes of waiting and I hear my name in a question form being called from less than fifteen feet away. The whole time I had been pacing in and around the park so was my guide.



2015-01-26 10.06.42To my surprise, apparently my smaller than usual backpack, black (fleece lined) cargo pants and knitted sock cap made me seem more like a local than someone he was expecting.




We laugh it all off until I tell him that I never registered at the border which is a requirement for visiting Transnistria.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as Tim mulls this little dilemma over. In what seems to me to be said with a nervous smile Tim tells me, "we will worry about it later".

Friday, January 23, 2015

Moldova, To Transnistria



IMG_0744It seems like a very long night as I wait in the darkness of my Chisinau apartment for the familiar sound of my traveling alarm clock.

I am awake at 4:41am then 6:53am but at 9am I silence my alarm then I finally get up at 10am.



There goes some of my plans for the day as I have to make my way to the bus station by noon for my trip to Tiraspol.

Down str Ismail I navigate mud puddles from melting ice and snow before waiting to cross the street at a crosswalk. With the what I am told “crazy drivers” here, jaywalking is frowned upon and probably not the safest thing to do.

Along str Mitropolitul Varlaam the morning activities are brisk as various street vendors hawk their merchandise from food to clothing and probably everything in between.

Arriving at a very hectic bus station I make my way around the back entrance and with a little help find the ticket window where I must purchase my fare for Tiraspol.

Giving up about 37 leu, less than $3, I board for the most part except where covered in street mud a bright orange mini-van for about a one and a half hour road trip.


2015-01-21 12.05.15Here this time of the year there is not much change in the weather from day to day and the dull gray of winter still hangs over the city.





Looking through a big tear in the tint of my window provides an almost depressing contrast with the dreary buildings and bare vegetation that covers the landscape.

Going down the highway a set of oncoming lights flash at us and I am glad to see some local things are international. Just down the road is a “Bear Trap” and one unlucky victim has been caught. With still a long way to go and a short time to get there, soon our driver puts the “hammer down” .

Before long we nonchalantly pass through a few checkpoints before stopping at another one. Here a few passengers disembark and we wait for them before pressing on.

A few stops to drop off passengers at various points in the city and I began to get a little worried as I am soon one of two remaining. However, I have been given explicit directions to remain on the bus until the last stop and although I am not sure when that will happen I remain patient.


2015-01-21 14.09.34Soon a building comes into sight and I find some comfort in seeing it. It is the last stop where across the street from what is the train station another waiting game begins in a cold park.

I am here to meet a man I have only met by email.



Through both of our failings neither one of us knows what each other looks like but I do know he is the only foreigner living in Transnistria.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Moldova, In Less Than 48 Hours, Chisinau and Transnistria


Another pleasant flight across the Atlantic and with a thump we are shrouded in fog as our Boeing 767 makes an early morning landing in Munich, Germany.

A few hours later the fog still remains as I am again airborne for a one hour and forty minute flight this time en-route to Chisinau, Moldova. My journey to Chisinau started a few years ago when my interest was peaked by a colleague into visiting Transnistria an almost unknown neighbor and one time foe of Moldova.


2015-01-20 05.26.33Arriving in Chisinau, although the weather outside under an overcast gray sky is frigid, a friendly smile along with a warm welcome from an Immigration Officer makes me glad that I am here to pursue my interest and satisfy my curiosity.



Although Chisinau Airport is rather small compared to many other capital city airports as I leave the Customs I am somewhat surprised by the openness and the amount of activity in the arrival area. At the information booth I find out about transportation to the city center after turning down numerous offers for a taxi.

At a favorable exchange rate of about 17 to 1, I now have the 3 leu that I need to take Bus No. 165 into the city. Although Bus No.165 is more of a mini-van than a bus I can live with this sense it is costing me about 20 cents instead of 20 Euro to get to my hotel.



2015-01-20 14.05.20It is about a 12km journey to the city and the scenery along way is about what I expected.

A cold gray veil still hangs over the city with less than fashionable Soviet era mostly square buildings decorating the landscape.



Despite their looks many of these buildings have stood the test of time and I have a feeling will continue to do so.

Interestingly, from pictures on the internet I recognize some of the buildings and exit the bus just pass Cosmos Hotel where I had considered staying for the night.


2005-01-01 02.20.28Back tracking in that direction and I soon find myself at the Grand Hall where an inviting sign pulls me in.

At Ayasofya Turkish Cafe I have a delicious feast for lunch finished off with a cup of hot and soothing black tea all for less than US$8.



A fifteen minute walk to Ismail 88 and after a checking in process which included surrendering my passport since I did not have a local phone contact, I am shown to my apartment for the night. A large bedroom and all the necessities I need for the night is not a bad deal for $24.




2015-01-20 18.45.47Arca de Triumf



Relaxed and with another layer of clothing to combat the falling temperatures I set out for a stroll around the city towards the Arca de Triumf.

Electronic Casinos and Electronic Stores with flashing lights including multiple cellphone companies seem to be abundant along the main street. Also on Stefan cel Mare are many of Chisinau government building and a concert hall where the works of Mozart will be performed.

In all of the busy night time activity of the street a few older gentleman still find solace in a tradition I think has gone on here for years, check mate.



Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bosnia, Stari Grad Sarajevo


Checked out of Hotel Konak we drop our backpackers off at our car that has spent a secured night parked next to the police station. Although we can still see our breath we appreciate the daylight and the slightly warmer temperature that it brings.



2005-01-01 00.15.44The first of two interesting stops for us in Stari Grad is the courtyard of Gazi Husrev-Beg's mosque.






We watch as the faithful come for morning prayers with men of all ages going in the main entrance while mostly older women enter a side entrance.



2005-01-01 00.13.45I find a posted courtyard sign with the prohibited items and behaviors cute but almost comical.






At the beautiful City Hall building a plaque gives us a small insight of the war time atrocities that occurred here. Over 2 million books were destroyed here by fire on the night of August 25th, 1992.

As if stepping back in time we get two close up views of the history of Sarajevo. From a street vendor we look at what seems to be war time items as an old white city tram which I am sure is older than at least one of us cruises by.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bosnia, The Road To Sarajevo


We leave Mostar with enough daylight to enjoy more of the mountainous terrain that is an integral part of this area of Bosnia. Although a dull winter gray fills the afternoon air it only slightly distorts the beauty that is here.

Soon our path again follows a river through mountainous valleys lined with mostly naked trees. Through another roadside tunnel as night falls and eventually we leave the country road for a major highway but face a minor obstacle.

In front of us is a toll road and we have no Bosnian currency. Approaching the toll both we realize it is deserted and after pausing a few minutes we do what others are doing and drive on through. It seems there are no tolls because of the holidays, a nice gesture.



2015-01-02 22.31.02Public Drinking Fountain Stari Grad Sarajevo


From here on we could be driving towards most any major city in the world although I have read that one could easily get lost in Sarajevo. However, our hotel is located of a major street and Maps Me a new off-line navigation app that we are trying on our Android tablet has been working well.

Before long we are at Garni Hotel Konak in Old Sarajevo where after dropping off our backpackers I am guided to park our car next to the Stari Grad Police Station. Checked in, relaxed and again layered up it is time for a freezing night walk.

Starting at an old public drinking fountain we take in the atmosphere of Stari Grad with a few others who are brave enough to endure the chilled air. A few restaurants are still open and in some windows holiday lights still blink in the spirit of the season.



2015-01-02 22.56.05

Some of the streets are frozen and slippery and walking them is like begin on an ice rink without ice skates.

Other streets are still just wet and reflect the bright and colorful lights from the buildings that line them.





2015-01-02 23.05.38Sarajevo is known as a city where cultures meet and as I stand where I can see a mosque on one side of me and a cathedral on the other, I find that so refreshing.






Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bosnia, Road To Mostar


With a few days left to return our rental car we decide to make our way back to Zagreb via Mostar and Sarajevo, Bosnia.  


2015-01-02 10.00.12Leaving Dubrovnik we enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery we missed on our night time drive into the city. The weather is much improved from a few days ago.






2015-01-02 10.44.06It is still a bit on the cold side but much of the wind is gone. Under mostly clear blue skies, our drive is delightful.






A brief stop at a border crossings puts us in Bosnia where while descending a hill we get a nice view of the Bosnian coastline.

A few kilometers later and we are at another border crossing that puts us back into Croatia. Not as confusing as it seems as a part of Bosnia lies between two portions of Croatia's coast line.

A stop at “KONZUM” and we are again provisioned for our road trip with chocolates, cheese and tasty snacks.



2015-01-02 13.17.14Another border crossing that takes a bit longer and we are now 44Km from Mostar. It is hard to imagine that less than 30 years ago this area was a war zone.

Peace for most is definitely a good thing.



Along the way we find it interesting that a lot of the city signs with secondary names have those names blacked out graffiti style. Maybe something left over from the strife here.

Our journey to Mostar follows a river along mountainous landscapes with small communities and some vineyards along the way. Further down the road towering snow capped mountains can be seen in the distance.




2015-01-02 14.28.19The Old Bridge



Soon we arrive in the cultural capital of Herzegovina and take in views of the city from “The Old Bridge” built by the Ottomans in the 16th century. With the Neretva River flowing beneath us it is cool to experience another neat piece of Islamic architecture.


2015-01-02 15.12.50A brief stroll around the city and we stop in at Behar restaurant for lunch. Again, the food here is not only amazing but very affordable.





As afternoon calls for prayer are made across the city we get back on the road this time headed to Sarajevo.



Croatia, Stari Grad Dubrovnik


After a long night of celebrating the New Year, we barely wake up in time to stroll around the city just before sunset.


2015-01-01 11.03.24Today I think our situation is not an unusual one as the area around our hotel is quiet and almost seems deserted at three in the afternoon.

All of the restaurants and bars nearby are still closed but with lots of evidence left behind from last night's activities.



Walking towards the main area of the New Year celebration more life is evident as there is a small crowd out enjoying the city. At one of the city's gate we exit towards the waterfront and the views are simply stunning.



2015-01-01 11.15.55The tranquil harbor in front of us is sprinkled with idle boats many of them seeming to be miniature toys.






We make our way along the perimeter of the walled city and look across the harbor to see a landscape that has been painted a soft and mellow orange from the sinking sun. Around one corner of the wall we see why our path is a popular one this time of the day.  




2015-01-01 11.29.15Stari Grad Dubrovnik New Year Sunset



With a beautiful seaside view with a few islands just off shore, we join others in watching the first official Stari Grad sunset of the New Year, 2015.



2015-01-01 11.38.04Back inside the city walls we pay a visit to the Dubrovnik Cathedral then set off on a walk around the city.






Up a lengthy set of stairs we stop in at St Ignatius Church (1725) then stroll along narrow passages around the elevated inside perimeter of the city.



2015-01-01 12.29.10In one area we discover where Rudolph has sort of retired for the season but decide to take him out for a sleigh ride anyway.





This works up an appetite for dinner at Pizzeria Tomato. A revisit to a tent area set up with local food vendors and for 20KN we are served a cup of Nadine Prikle covered with sugar and cinnamon.



2015-01-01 12.41.26



With a warm delicious desert in hand we continue our walk around the city which has now really come to life. This time a sweet uplifting sound echoes through the air and along the now softly lit narrow city streets. The melody beckons us to it's origin but the mystery and listening to it from afar is so relaxing and soothing.

Our last night in Stari Grad Dubrovnik is one that leaves a great impression of this beautiful city that is already calling us to return.



Thursday, January 8, 2015

Croatia, Welcome 2015


2015-01-01 12.21.11We arrive in the “Old City” around 8pm and the area is already becoming busy as crowds are beginning to filter in for the night's festivities. The “Old City” is a pedestrian only area and parking nearby comes at premium prices.




Just up the street from the Hilton we find a “Zone 1” parking space for 20 krunas per hour. This becomes only a temporary spot as we set out on foot to find our accommodation for the next two nights which is located within the “Old City” walls.

A few missteps and we are eventually on the right side of the Dubrovnik Cathedral not far from where we know our apartment/hotel is located.


IMG_0729The area is dimly lit and it requires a few snaps of flash pictures to read the street signs since our flashlight refuses to work in the freezing cold.





Eventually we are in the warmth comfort of nice upstairs room at 4 Stu Lina. Although the city is a buzz with activities ahead of the midnight hour we thaw out as long as we can before layering up again.



2014-12-31 19.34.06The air is joyous as we venture out again into it's bitter coldness.

Along the streets small crowds are gathered around food vendors as live music echos through the air.




Beautiful city buildings are softly lit and holiday decorations add a charm that make it all seem magical and so wonderful.

We make our way to the main staging area of tonight's activities where a local band is entertaining a crowd that stretches the length of the main street. The songs are foreign to us but the beat and energy of the jumping crowd is unmistakably fun and festive. In tune with the beat we join in the celebration.


2014-12-31 19.10.20Before long we are buried in the crowd and given protection from the cold and the wind.

On a large screen behind the band a series of large numbers appear and the countdown begins. 20, 19, 18 …..



Bright red torches glows from the crowd behind us then moments later the skies explodes above us in amazing colors as in Stari Grad, Dubrovnik, we welcome 2015.



Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Croatia, Driving Coastal Route From Split To Dubrovnik


After gathering some helpful driving information and wind warnings at checkout from the Royal Suites, we are “on the road again” this time headed for Dubrovnik. Not too far from the Royal Suites we fill up at a local gas station for about US$5 a gallon, fortunately our little VW probably gets about 40 mpg.


IMG_0683Although it is still bitterly cold and still very windy, it a beautiful day for driving along this spectacular coastline.

In some areas the terrain rises sharply from sea level to jagged mountains several thousand meters above us.



This contrast in the landscape is gorgeous although I am sure this afternoon it is contributing significantly to the conditions that at sometimes has our VW about ready to fly.





Around one curve and the scenery is even more magnificent as in front of us is a green covered hillside, a rough and barren mountain and in the distant another mountain capped with bright white snow. As if wedged between the dark blue ocean and almost cloudless blue skies, this is a picturesque moment.



IMG_0697At one point the wind is so fierce above the sea it produces what looks like strings of sea level clouds that rides the air towards us. We are in awe of this but not for long as the freezing temperatures drive us back to the warmth of the VW.




Detouring for a moment at the Makarska Riviera we experience two things we have never really seen before. From the main road we have to drive down to the sea front and we are amazed to see trees that have grown along a slant in unison with the hillside terrain.



2014-12-31 10.12.53


A sandy beach with crashing white waves, a colorful coastal community, a green covered hillside along with scraggy gray mountains in the distance that are mostly covered in white snow and we stand in awe inside the most beautiful seaside postcard we have ever seen.



IMG_0712Back to reality and we are on the road again. Our next stop is at the Croatian holy shrine, Vepric (1908). Here we make a short relaxing hike along the path of the “Stations Of The Cross” then visit the chapel and confessionals built within a natural cave.



The sun sets long before we arrive in Dubrovnik but soon enough we are navigating our way through the Stari Grad in plenty of time to be ready to ring in 2015.



Friday, January 2, 2015

Slovenia, It's Just Lunch


No road trip would be the same for us without a slight detour. This time our detour leads to a delightful lunch in Slovenia.

Following the recommendation and directions of a helpful border control police officer, we drive 20Km from the border crossing and end up in the town of Crnomelj.


IMG_0624Our 20km drive along a winding country road takes us through a beautiful frozen landscape covered with fresh white snow.

We pass through many small towns that still seem asleep even though it is late in the afternoon.








Beautiful churches can be seen in the distant hillsides, the crown jewel of many of these somewhat fairy tale communities.



IMG_0625From a road sign advertisement we pick our lunch destination but it takes a few u-turns and a stop at a “Sports Bar” to find it. Although we are told at the “Sports Bar” that the restaurant is open we are first doubtful after driving 5m across a parking lot.



An automatic door opens and the warmth of “Gostilna Samarin” welcomes us. A few employees are sitting around a bar and one of them escorts us to the dining room area where we are the only patrons.

Two glasses of red wine are ordered as we peruse the menu and quickly decide on our selections. It's one order of Wiener Schnitzel and one Ljubljana Steak.







A basket filled with thick slices of fresh bread is soon delivered to our table followed by fresh salads tossed with an abundance of a light lemon flavored dressing. The Ljubljana Steak turns out to be similar to the Schnitzel but with a portion of it stuffed ham and cheese.



IMG_0640We enjoy our meal but with daylight fading we are anxious to get back to the main highway before dark.






Our journey from Crnomelj is just as picturesque as it was to it. This time we notice barren trees with leaves of snow balls that just seem so awesome. 20Km later we repeat a double border crossing process but have no regrets about making our detour into Slovenia.



Thursday, January 1, 2015

Croatia, To Split In Less Than 60 Seconds



IMG_0618After saying goodbye to a jolly old friend until next year, we make our way to gate H-41 at Munich Airport.






At 9:50am our boarding call for Zagreb is made and we get a renewed taste of German winter weather as we have to go outside to board a bus that will take us to our airplane.

I am looking forward to our flight on board a turbo-prop aircraft (DH-4) which I think is one of the coolest ways to experience the miracle of flight. The hum of the huge propellers is always relaxing and mesmerizing to me.

With freezing conditions and falling snow we have to complete a deicing process before we become airborne and I fall asleep. It is only an hour flight and I wake up wedged between clear blue skies above and small towns covered with pure white snow. Minutes later we touch down in Zagreb, Croatia.

As seems to be the norm in Europe, it is a quick process through Immigration and Customs before we head to the Avis/Budget rental car counter. In less than twenty minutes with a thousand Croatian Kunas in my pocket, we are on our way to Split.

Directions from the airport to our ultimate destination for the night is easy. Our journey is mostly along a toll road that cuts through a mountainous landscape that is covered with fresh and brilliantly white snow. Across bridges and valleys our little white VW battles fierce winds that at times make me think we might become airborne.


IMG_0641No road trip would be the same for us without a slight detour. We leave the toll road and give up 40 Kunas to do so.





Next we are driving through a postcard of country roads lined with evergreen pine trees decorated with dazzling snow. A few turns and we face a border checkpoint where we pull off to the side and weigh our options.


IMG_0625Our detour is a delightful one and a few hours later we are back “on the road again”. Added to battling the fierce winds across bridges and through valleys, snow begins to falls as the sun has left us for the day.




Traveling through tunnels with white, red and green traffic lights makes it seems as if we are sliding down a Christmas tree, kind of fun.

Another toll exit where we give up 140 Kunas and we are just 16km from Split. It takes a stop at a local hotel to help us find ours, The Royal Suites. A super friendly check in at almost 9pm and we have less than 10 minutes to make a run to the local market (Tommy). A hot relaxing shower, a glass of wine and we are ready for our final adventure of the day.

Layered up as much as possible we step out into the freezing bitter cold (14 degrees) with howling winds night air for a stroll around the old city. I enjoy night photography of lighted city buildings but I am sure not much of it is going to be happening tonight.



IMG_0657Our faces are frozen and hands are numb as we step into a warm late night bakery where we enjoy the best pizza we have ever had...

In of all places, Split, Croatia.