A Travellerspoint blog

Perhaps next time under better circumstances

Istanbul, Turkey

sunny 23 °C


With much regret Sam and I left Bosnia after a wonderful 3 days. We decided to avoid the 30 hour bus trip to Turkey which inevitably goes over a mountain range on bad roads and through Serbia which is kind of similar to having an Israeli stamp in your passport. Border troubles! And we didn’t want no “border troubles”! Instead we decided it was worth wild taking a 1.5 hour flight. Unlike most of Europe in which we’d braved the rigors of budget airlines, we decided to take a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Out of sheer habit we both charge onto the plane barrelling people out of the way to secure a seat. And what did we find. An unimaginable paradise equipped with leg room, assigned seating and food and drink you didn’t need your wallet for. Amazing …

I’d managed to weed out some decent accommodation in Istanbul right in the heart of the Sultanahmet. Much like the decision to take a break from budget airlines, we’d decided to take a break of hostels and 1-2 star hotels and reserved a 5 star hotel for our time in Istanbul. Our troubles began when we decided to take a taxi from the airport. Big Mistake. I think I lapsed in and out of a consciousness to briefly glance at the speedometer which was hitting 80 mph, before passing out back into the comfort of my fear coma. Fortunately somehow we made it to our hotel in one piece.

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We were ushered in by the hotel manager sat down and told we had no booking. Seeing as they never received our booking, they seemed pretty well prepared for us. He then went on to say he’d never heard the website we’d booked from and that they must be fraudulent, and he was unable to refund out booking fee. Ok so now we find ourselves at 7pm at night on Easter weekend with no accommodation and no other options due to everything being booked out. After I kicked up a grumpy fuss we ended up in a taxi being taken to a “sister” hotel, with the promise of a free night’s accommodation and to be moved back to the hotel tomorrow.

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To cut a long story short re: accommodation. We ended up 30 mins out of Istanbul in some god awful commercial district in a hotel where they only spoke English when they were asking for your money. There was no free night, and no transfer back to the nice hotel (in fact we never heard from the manager ever again). Our hands were tied; there were no other options due to the influx of Easter holiday’ers. Either way we decided this wasn’t going to get us down. We managed to locate a tram line to take us into Istanbul for some sight seeing.

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Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t seem to wash away the bad taste. It seemed like everywhere we went or every time we tried to look for a nice place to sit or eat or shop we’d get hassled, jostled and flustered. You get use to persistent hustlers which gather around tourist attractions throughout Europe, but for some reason Istanbul just seemed on another level. The constant wolf calling and badgering was becoming exhausting. There was a brief reprieve inside the walls of the Blue Mosque, a mellowly comforting calm. Both locals and tourists equally respectful.

Sam's Food Review

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The towering pale minarets reminded me of Sarajevo, and unfortunately I longed to be back there. And it hit me that that may be half the problem. We’d both been so affected and entranced by our time in Sarajevo every little issue in Istanbul was becoming magnified in comparison. Everyone and everything felt so impersonal and inhospitable. It was that night we decided that a holiday shouldn’t be so difficult. Our dodgy hotel managed to dupe us for double the original price agreed to before leaving for the bus station to board a 20 hour overnight bus to the Bulgarian capital.

Cats Rule Istanbul ... much like most of Europe!

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I think we definitely missed out on something very special in our hasty abandonment of Turkey (and the rest of our Middle Eastern plans). A capital city is rarely a true taste of a country, but there was no denying a really strong sense and feeling that we should be heading in a different direction. Perhaps we’re not savvy enough. Or perhaps we’re but wimpy western tourists. Either way I like to think I would return again one day. Just might have to give Istanbul a wide berth LOL.

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Posted by redmozzy 22:17 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

No longer one of the "4 B's" to avoid

Mostar & Sarajevo (Bosnia & Hercegovina)

sunny 10 °C

The choice to visit Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) was more then the usual half thought out quick stop over between Croatia and Turkey. In actuality I’ve wanted to visit BiH for some years specifically after reading a really fascinating article on the destruction of Afghanistan’s 1500 year old Bamiyan Buddhists statues, by the Taliban. It got me interested in other sights of irreplaceable cultural significance, which have been intentionally destroyed due to warfare and/or religious zealotism. What does this have to do with BiH? Well it eventually lead me to read about the 16th Century built Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, which was deliberately destroyed during the Balkans conflict in 1993. And thus my love affair/obsession with visiting Bosnia one day began.

Sam and I caught a short two hour bus from Dubrovnik to Mostar. For much of our travels so far the transition from country to country in today’s almost "borderless" Europe was rarely marked with any significant changes. Although the further east we travelled this was becoming less of a reality. It is baffling how an invisible line in the sand can afford you such a different experience. Within 10 mins of crossing over into BiH there was a remarkable difference in the landscape. As you wind through the beautiful mountainous Neretva Basin you can't help be struck by the amount of rubbish clinging to the edges of the stunningly magnificent Neretva river. Or the endless abandon farms and scarred stone ruins which pepper the landscape. Despite this nothing can really prepare you for the moment we actually reached Mostar, and particularly the outskirts of the still, 15 years after war, devastated city.

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Due to its ethnic diversity Mostar was hotly contested. For over 18 months, a campaign of mass execution and ethnic cleansing terrorised its residents, with the historic old town reduced to rubble. 15 years later Sam and I were shocked how virtually every second building was still in ruins. As we disembarked from the bus in Mostar we came across a new form of Gypsy. The child Gypsy! Now if you asked me what my biggest fear is anyone who knows me will say "Birds". If you ask the same question to Sam he'll say "Small Children" and since travelling Europe "Gypsy Beggars". So if I’d known I would of had my camera out ready to captures Sam's face the minute two small Gypsy children (probably no older then 5 or 6) latched on to his pockets. It was hilarious to see Sam's face and heartbreaking to see these poor kids.

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We took a taxi to our accommodation in which we were lucky enough to have views out towards the Stari Most Bridge. We spent the afternoon strolling in and around the Stari Most and the old town. The Ottoman built foot bridge, an enduring symbol of the regions multiculturalism, which stood untouched for over 400 was “allegedly” strategically destroyed by the Croatian Defence Council in 1993. The bridge has since been rebuilt by the World Bank, World Monument Fund, UNESCO and various other governments and opened in 2004. A perfect replica, rebuilt primarily using original recovered stones, the single humped back arch preciously frames the deeply cut, lucid jade river below. The old town immediately surrounding the “new” old bridge has also been restored, but a few steps beyond this close vicinity reveals still the terrible toll of war, a devastated economy and a community still well and truly in recovery mode.

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We concluded our one day in Mostar with one of the best meals we’d had so far. And our first introduction on the awesomeness of Bosnian Grill & Bosnian Coffee! YESSIR!

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Bosnian Grill

Bosnian Coffee

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Sarajevo

Sarajevo was once described as the gateway between West and East. The city once famously, made up of three ethnic groups, was one of the only cities in the world where you can find a Mosque, a Church, and a Synagogue a stones throw from each other. Unfortunately such diverse unity doesn’t bode well during rising nationalistic sentiment and massive political power vacuums left behind by the collapse of Yugoslavia. When Bosnia declared its independence in 1992, the Serbian leadership in Belgrade feared that without Bosnia there would be no chance of a “united”, and Serb-dominated, Yugoslavia. As legislation for Bosnia’s independence began later that year, Slobodan Milosevic began moving troops and artillery to the hills surrounding the city and as residents marched peacefully through the streets on the day of independence, shots fired into the crowds killed two Sarajevo citizens, officially starting the longest siege of any capital city in modern warfare.

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We arrived in Sarajevo by bus, and were kindly picked up by our accommodation hostess, Jasmina. Jasmina managed a tiny 2 bedroom apartment on the outskirts of the CBD, a stones throw from the iconic brightly coloured Holiday Inn, most famous for housing all the worlds press during the 4 year long Siege. Jasmina sat us down and made us coffee, and promptly booked us in for a breakfast on her and a trip to the Sarajevo Tunnel (more on that later). We spent the rest of the day exploring down town Sarajevo. It had turned grey and drizzly so we spent most of our time enjoying the ancient Ottoman market area, Bascarsija. We were promptly ushered into a tiny eatery where no one spoke English. What we ended up with was warm, slightly charred pitas stuffed with small grilled sausages, lathered in sour cream and filled with raw onion which curled your nose hairs. Ćevapi, evidently is the city's favourite fast food, washed down with a glass of cool yogurt. Delish!

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The next morning Jasmina took us down the road and brought us breakfast and coffee. Apart from being the city’s favourite fast food, Cevapi is also a traditional meal for breakfast! Next on the agenda was a trip out to the Sarajevo Tunnel with Jasmina and her driver. As we drove out towards the tunnel Jasmina captivated us with personal stories about her time spent as a girl just beginning her adult life, during the siege. At one stage she pointed out a pock scarred apartment block, where she lived during this time. And how she and others would walk for hours down ‘Sniper Alley’ to retrieve UN water and food rations from the airport/so called “safe exclusion” zone. At least 5-7 people were killed daily in the water and food lines. Picked off randomly by Serbian snipers, sitting in the hills surrounding Sarajevo, with no other purpose then to keep citizens in a constant strangle hold of fear and despair. Followed by a long silence Jasmina stated “One day you woke up, perhaps the next day you didn’t”.

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The Sarajevo tunnel was purpose dug to provide the besieged residences of Sarajevo with a lifeline. Built in a residential neighbourhood, under an unassuming house, with the advantage of being beyond Serbian lines and close to the Sarajevo airport, the tunnel allowed tons of aid to come into Sarajevo. Today the house serves as a museum with 20m of the original tunnel preserved. We arrive with Jasmina at the tunnel and began our tour with a 30 min documentary on the siege and digging of the tunnel. Jasmina then took us through the tiny house, explaining the objects, items and photographs, as no one else who hadn’t lived and experienced the horrors of the siege could. I found it quite emotional to hear stories of how both her parents were killed and the appalling living conditions of the time. To think she has come out of the other side of this war, such a generous and positive spirit is an amazing feat.

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We ended our tour with a quick walk through the remaining part of the tunnel, and a funny encounter with a retired Bosnian army general, Jasmina called “The General … a great man for Sarajevo”. When told we were Australian, he began trying to explain things to us in French, then German … Then Jasmina and the general laughed. We get the drift; Aussies never speak any other languages unlike most Europeans. We left the tunnel thankful for the experience, but very heavy of heart. Jamina’s driver pointed out a road and said some words in Bosnian. Jasmina translated for us, letting us know the street we just passed was named after his father another “great man”, also a tragic casualty of the war.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the main sights of Sarajevo. The sun was out and the sky was blue, and our moods lifted. There is no denying the city itself is covered with scars and ruins. A Sarajevo rose is the name given to the multitude of circular indentations on the footpaths, which are left behind mortar marks filled within red paint as a lasting memorial to the people it killed.

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Despite all this, Sarajevo is an unbelievably beautiful city. Walk a block and you’re surprised with a towering stony blue Islamic Minaret. Look across the road and you have a majestic Austro Hungarian stately building. Walk a block down to the river and you are presented with a 14th century stone bridge. Famously known as the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, which inevitably was the spark which lit the match that was WWI. Follow the tink tink sound of the tin maker’s hammers in the Bascarsija quarter, and you’ll find yourself strolling into a bazaar of medieval stone alleys, lined with wooden shops brimming with hand crafted Bosnian coffee sets and tall water jugs. Sarajevo is so much more then I expected.

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For our final day in Sarajevo, Jasmina took us out for coffee before we check out with her friend who lived in the same building as the hostel. The lady was originally from Slovenia. She discussed with us how before the collapse of Yugoslavia, despite some repression, everyone had jobs and more importantly everyone was on the same page. She talked about how she is worried for the future. Her father constantly asks her who she is. “I ask myself, who am I? I was born in Slovenia, I live in Bosnia, my mother is Croatian and my father Albanian. Before the war this was never a problem. I worry that this is a problem now.” After breakfast Jasmina and her driver drove us the airport. Both getting out to help us with our bags and wave us goodbye. We left their company not quite believing their incredible generosity and wondering whether they’ll ever truly understand the impact they had on our time in Bosnia.

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During War & Present Day - Parliament Building

Sarajevo is no longer a place of terror, vengeance and bloodshed. It is an amazing place, full of amazing people. Safe, beautiful, exotic and fascinating. There is no denying war still shades almost everything, but Sarajevo, along with the whole of BiH, is definitely emerging from the shadows.

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Posted by redmozzy 01:53 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged backpacking Comments (5)

I know paradise now, I know Croatia

Split & Dubrovnik - Croatia

sunny 16 °C

Split

We arrived in Split on our ferry from Italy at 6am in the morning. The awakening morning slumber of the port was like a big hug from someone you love compared to the chaos we'd left behind in Italy. Cloudy blue skies kissed the perfectly still port waters ... heaven. We strolled up towards the fringe of the old town, passing market stall owners setting up for the day. Our accommodation was basically a room in a private apartment overlooking the old town and the sprawling 1000 year old outdoor market. Our hostess was like that long lost Croatian Auntie everyone should have. Despite the early hour she let us check in and provided us with some information on the town and its sights.

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After a nap we headed down into the hectic and exuberant market. Sam had fun haggling with the feisty local grannies, selling everything from hand made soft cheeses to sauerkraut sold out of giant plastic bins. We then headed into the stunning white hued crumbling old town. The old town consists of an amazing tangle of houses, stairs, churches and temples all sprouting out of the ancient palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.

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From the old town we strolled to the distinctly modernised harbourside and sat and enjoyed some dried sugared orange we'd brought at the market, while enjoying Split's calming atmosphere. We concluded our single day in Split with an easy early dinner before heading to bed. We had an early bus to catch to Dubrovnik in the morning.

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Dubrovnik

There wasn't one instant during the 3 hour bus ride to Dubrovnik that I was resentful about being stuck on a cramped bus. The trip along Croatia's dramatic coastline was something dream's are made of. To your left stark, grey coastal mountains tower above you, whereas to your right the road is poised above some of the clearest blue waters I've ever seen. Pine trees, vineyards and perfectly preserved stone villages sporadically dot the cliffs around each sharp turn. You definitely felt like something special was ahead.

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And if there was ever a more inadequate word to describe Dubrovnik, "special" would be it. Spectacular perhaps? Simply, I've don't think I've ever seen a place more spectacular. Magnificent towering stone walls protectively surround Dubrovnik, suspending in time the elegant fully pedestrianised "old town" which is refreshingly untouched by the twenty-first century. As you stare dumbfounded down the pristine white washed main street, it takes you a moment to realise the street is free of glaring shop front advertising. The only imposing colour in a sea of white are the traditional green shutters which adorn the windows of each stone structure.

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Magnificent weather greeted us for day two, so we decided to spend the day exploring the 25m high, 2km long, city walls which surround the old town in its entirety. Uniform towers and domed bastions break up the endless steps of the wall walk. Each step up and down afforded you another breathtaking perspective over the town. Inside the walls is a patchwork sea of terracotta tiled roof tops which leaves you mesmerized. Then looking outside the walls the pristine blue waters of the Adriatic are equally as hypnotizing. It was hard to know where to look.

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I've simply never seen anything so stunning, and I doubt I'll ever top it. The city walls walk was a huge highlight of our trip and we left Dubrovnik so thankful for the experience.

We left Croatia instantly longing for more ...

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Posted by redmozzy 06:50 Archived in Croatia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Great Expectations

Italy Part II - Florence & Rome

overcast 10 °C

Florence

As a lover of art, specifically Italian masters, Florence in my mind had no equal in Europe. I'd been dreaming of strolling the vast collection at the Uffizi, marvelling at the magnificent statues of the Bargello and Accademia and simply enjoying the unrivalled eloquence of it's renaissance architecture. What couldn't there be to love about a city which gave birth to the Renaissance and changed the way people saw themselves and the wider world. Well ... as it turns out a lot. Much like the Renaissance scholars of old employed humanist methods, and searched for realism and emotion in all they studied, I too shall employ similar methods to my review of Florence. The truth about Florence (in my opinion) ... It's a polluted, over crowded, dump.

Sam can vouch for me that I've written, rewritten, erased and started over my review for Florence a million times. I've been positively stuck on this blog for weeks, trying to somehow come up with something interesting and inspiring to write about a city which has for so long filled my imagination with wonder. And like a parent who's prodigal child spelt "Necessarily" wrong at the statewide spelling bee final Florence left me writhing in internal disappointment. Perhaps it was the grey weather, or the endless packs of touts. Maybe the sold out Accademia tickets or the exhaust polluted Renaissance Architecture. Then again it may have been that half of the Uffizi collection was on loan to other galleries or that we had to move from a bad hostel. There was also a waste of half a day that was a trip to Pisa (a smaller Florence, with more fake bag sellers per square then anywhere in all the world combined). The TRUTH is, I do appreciate art, architecture, philosophy and all the great literal humanities, but this love still couldn't blindside me to all that I found off putting about Florence.

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Florence wasn't a complete loss, I did learn one important lesson. It was at this point on the trip where I realised that I'm never going to be truly in love with every destination on my itinerary. And most importantly, that that is OK! You live and learn right?

Rome

If I could describe Rome in a word, this word would be "Overwhelming". The sheer weight of history encapsulated in one city completely overwhelmed me. Rome from the get go was a loud buzzing metropolis jam packed with the relics of many lost empires. Rome for me personally had some amazing highs occupied with some disappointing lows.

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Firstly, the highs. I got to visit two masterpieces of the Baroque period which were high on my must see list. The first being a trip to the tiny Basilica Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. Several tonnes of marble appeared to effortlessly float and flow above you. Bernini's sculpting genius is evident in the ripples of Theresa's cloak. Bernini makes you believe solid Marble is as maluable and as soft as whipped butter.

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We then moved on to the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, designed by Bernini's arch rival, Borromini. Borromini's idiosyncratic style always sat well within my eccentric tastes. Despite being tragically choked by car pollution the wobbly concave-convex facade of the church is refreshing in a city of boring flat exteriors. More surprises inside the church. The interior was equally as enjoyable with the towering geometric patterned dome.

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Now the lows. I stupidly didn't pre book gallery tickets well in advance. So we missed out on going to the Borghese museum, which has long been a must see for me. We also missed out on tickets to the Carravaggio exhibition. This got me down for a few days, until i realised I now definitely had a reason to return to Rome. And the fact I got to see two very important works on my "must see" list isn't too shabby. Despite missing out on two galleries Sam was well and truly "art'ed out" so we decided to spend a day at Ostia Antica, the ancient port town of Rome.

Sam's Ostia Review

I had always wanted to go to Pompeii but since we were in Rome and about a four hour train from Naples and it was going to cost us a fortune to get down there. So Charlotte found out about a place called Ostia which was the ancient port town of Rome on the Tiber river The town has been covered in silt for about 2000 years and the ruins are in just as good condition as Pompeii. We had been to the main sites around Rome and I found this to be alot more enjoyable than the Colosseum and the Forum.

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It was about an hours train ride out of Rome and then a fifteen minute walk to the town. When we got the site there weren't many tourists just a few buses of school kids (terrors). We stopped and looked around, as we waited for the terrors to pass. It is amazing what you see when you slow down. All the lead water pipes are still in tact and there was an old sign that translated 'To the safety of Augustus'. It had not been restored and was in remarkably good condition. We then got to the peasant housing and industrial workshops but the terrors were back and now were armed with a soccer ball. I carried out an evasive manoeuvre and went to the rich area of town where there were no tourists or soccer ball wielding terrors.

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There were amazing mosaics of fish, ships, serpents, horses and chariots. We walked through public baths and bakeries and even the communal Roman toilets. There was no one around so I sat on them for a bit and then decided it was time for a feed. We went to the large amphitheater and had a couple of blood oranges while enjoying the view from the "nosebleeds". The terrors were in the area and there was a fellow red headed terror running on the steps of the amphitheater but he wasn't any trouble and didn't spoil my blood orange. The amphitheatre was the first structure to be excavated as the top of was sticking out of the ground.

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We got moving down further into the town and we would only run into someone every hour. We more or less had the place to ourselves. We didn't see the whole town as the day disappeared really quickly but we really got a feel of what life would have been like in a Roman port town, without hordes of tourists. We headed back along the main stone road and I noticed a kid in a wheel chair who had to be carried up into some of the structures but was really enjoying himself. Then Charlotte advised me that the Pompeii website had strictly no wheel chairs policy, which is just plain wrong. We had a really great day and I would recommend this to all travellers, as they are going to do more excavations (only about a third of it is dug up). The whole day cost us about 25 euros and we went back to our hostel stoked.

There is a lot to NOT like about Rome, but its sheer historical magnificence bullies you into a sort of loving indifference. Rome is like that bad boy your mother warned you to stay away from. Despite the fact you should know better you can't help but been drawn into it. Unlike Florence, I felt Rome at least had the "goods" to back it up.

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Posted by redmozzy 12:01 Archived in Italy Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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