Tag Archive: travel


So my friend Ivo has some family members who live in Belgrade, Serbia and when they found out that I would be in the area they very graciously offered to host me while I was there. Not being one to pass up living with locals, home cooking and cultural immersion I accepted the offer. This proved to be a wonderful but very challenging experience for me. Ivo’s cousin Ilija is around my age and so it gave me a local to hang out with and chat with and show me around and we also hung out with his friends, which was great fun and led to some fairly hilarious experiences. It was challenging because my time was literally no longer my own and time to myself was at a minimum. For an introvert such as myself that wore me out as I need time alone to recharge my batteries and it also meant that my previously planned schedule for traveling around Serbia was thrown out the window.

Luckily, Ilija has a similar sleep schedule to myself. Stay up late, sleep in until 11. I imagine it would have been slightly nightmarish had he wanted to get up and do stuff at 6am every day. Ilija and friends were super amazing about showing me around and Ilija gave up something like a week of his time to chauffer me around to different sites and things to do in Belgrade from day one. They took me to Kalemegdan fortress, took me out for drinks, showed me the river walk, different sites and museum’s around town, including Tito’s mausoleum, and what will be the world’s largest Orthodox Cathedral, Sveti Sava, when finished and it will be a site to rival the Hagia Sofia in size. Don’t hold your breath though, they’ve been working on it, from planning to the current state of it for over 100 years and it’s still pretty much just a concrete shell. But that will all be for a different post.

It’s always interesting spending a lot of time around locals, especially youth, because it gives one insight into the culture, both traditional and more modern. It also gives a good insight into what they learn growing up. Most people never realise just how biased their education is growing up and will never see it for various reasons. Textbooks are often edited by either the government or interest groups who have a significant amount of sway in what is portrayed in the books and how texts are edited. One example can be seen by a few very radical Southern Christian fundamentalist groups who believe that history books should be changed to give their skewed perspective of American and World History or the many conservatives who believe that Creationism should be taught as a Science under the guise of “Intelligent Design”. Another example is the denial of Armenian genocide in Turkish history books or the very recent introduction of Aboriginal studies in school textbooks in Australia.

Once again, I digress. So the attitude and interesting historical perspective I heard from the Serbians I was hanging out with regarding the rest of the Balkans makes me want to get someone to translate Serbian history textbooks for me to read. It also made me very keen to speak with youth in other Balkan countries about their attitudes towards Serbians.

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past 20 years, there is an ongoing conflict between Kosova and Serbia. Kosovan’s are of Albanian heritage and generally speaking ethnically Muslim while Serbs are Slavic and ethnically Serbian Orthodox Christian. Serbians claim that Kosova is their’s and have been trying to cleanse the area of Kosovan’s for over 100 years. Under Tito, Kosova was given pretty much free reign to do as they pleased under an autonomous government. When Tito died the government decided it was high time to stage another ethnic cleansing. While I was spending time in Serbia with Ivo’s family they did their best to try to keep me from going to Kosova by saying it was dangerous, the people there attack buses and people coming from Serbia, they hate Serbians, Women travelling alone are frequently attacked, etc.  Needless to say this made me even more keen to visit.

When we were on our way to Montenegro I was asking them why they don’t go to the Croatian coast on their holidays. The response I received was “They hate us there. If they see a car with Serbia plates they vandalise it and they won’t give us good service anywhere.” When I asked more about it they said it wasn’t all Croatians, just the really young nationalists who were generally under the age of 18-20. Speaking with Croatian youth it would seem that there is truth in this. My generation says it’s a stupid conflict, it’s done, it’s in the past and everyone should move on. Plus so many people are of mixed heritage (Ilija himself is half Croatian half Serbian and most of his friends are part something) that they feel it’s ridiculous. It’s apparently a younger generation who was born during the war that seems to have this grudge against Serbians and actually do vandalise the cars and refuse to serve them or provide them with decent service in restaurants, etc.

When I was asking about Montenegro there was more than a hint of Serbian bitterness at the independent little country. Under Tito, Montenegro had an autonomous government. The words in Montenegro tend to be slightly different from those in Serbia, though not as different as those in Croatia. When I asked about this they said that Montenegro wants to separate themselves from Serbia. They definitely weren’t happy about it. They said that Montenegro was ALWAYS a part of Serbia but suddenly they decided to break away and now they are in cahoots with Kosova. I found this interesting as Montenegro was never Slavic. The coast was actually originally settled by the Illyrians and the eastern mountain ranges have large pockets of Albanians. The Slavs didn’t move into the region until later. I found this a rather interesting viewpoint and this is why I’d be interested in reading their history books.

Needless to say, I didn’t ask anything about Bosnia. I decided to wait until I went there to see what their attitude is towards Serbians. If nothing else, it was a very interesting first look into the perspectives of those living in the aftermath of Yugoslavia and I was very interested to travel other Balkan countries to find out their perspectives as well.

What I’m reading now: Lonely Planet Guide to Morocco

What I’m listening to now: The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle by Missy Higgins

Please vote on my poll about where to go next!

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I loved Romania. Romania has to be one of my favourite countries that I visited in Europe. I loved the gritty rawness of Bucherest. I love the fact that when you are in Bucharest you know you are in eastern Europe. It’s cheap, it’s grimy, it’s wild and the people appreciate enjoying life. Work hard, play hard. I loved the pristine beauty of Braşov. The dainty, clean old town surrounded by old soviet buildings and dodgy looking shops. I loved being back in mountains after the extreme flatness of the rest of Eastern Europe. When you grow up in the mountains you always appreciate the beauty of them and the mountain air that comes with small towns nestled in them. It’s refreshing. I loved the youth and awareness of Timişoara. A small university town near the Serbian border with a lazy Sunday feel (it was Sunday after all) but electricity in the air when a large group gathered to protest something political (not sure what, I don’t speak Romanian).

Braşov

My first stop after Bucharest was the small town of Braşov, popular with tourists nestled in a valley in the Carpathians. It’s a picturesque town that appears to have lost some of its originality and character at first glance thanks to having so many tourists. The old town is pristine and what can only be described as ‘cute’. It’s in sharp contrast with the rest of the city (which I decided to get lost walking around in, completely by accident). As soon as you left the main tourist areas but before you reached the outskirts where the wealthier families built nice houses you had dirty apartment buildings and small, dingy shops filled with mostly cheap crap. There’s a “Braşov” sign at the top of one of the surrounding mountains that is obviously copying the “Hollywood” sign. It’s all a bit gauche. Overlooking this though, Braşov is full of great little surprises you wouldn’t expect which make for some wonderful people watching.

Welcome to Brasov!

 

One of the first things you notice about walking through Braşov is that the locals are just not overweight at all. It is actually one of the most (if not the most) active town in Romania. Every park is filled with those exercise machines, there are a ton of sports fields and none of them are ever empty. I sat for a while at one of the track fields I passed and watched people training for sprints, field events and football while reminiscing about my high school days. They also have a massive church (in which I missed visiting hours) and a synagogue (also missed visiting hours) alongside a slew of Romanian Orthodox Christian churches which I read make for an interesting visit. I also walked past “Europe’s narrowest street”, which in my opinion is a pretty big call. I’ve been on some narrow streets, and while there is no doubt that it was the narrowest (barely wide enough for me to walk down without turning sideways) it was never technically a street. It was simply a narrow opening for the fire brigade to pass through in case of fire in that specific area. Should it be called a street? Your call.

Another thing that I loved, loved, loved about Braşov was the food. There’s a restaurant called “Restaurant Transylvania” that serves traditional rural Romanian food (which may or may not have contributed to my excessive weight gain) like, Ciorbă (a traditional Romanian sour soup that you can get in various flavours), Mămăligă (translated into ‘corn mush’ in Moldova and similar to Italian polenta) and tochitură ardelenească (the Transylvanian version of tochitură which is basically pan fried beef and pork). This restaurant (also a wine cellar or something) is so cheap I got a massive meal for all of about $6, including a local beer. You can get local wines and homemade wines for about $2 a litre as well if you really want to. Highly recommended. For afters, there is a crepe restaurant on the main pedestrian drag that does extremely delicious crepes that I at first thought were overpriced until I ordered on and received a crepe the size of my head.

Braşov is also a very popular area with hikers. I would have loved to go hiking while there but I had a limited amount of time and I had to be in Serbia by a certain date so I wasn’t able to. Just watch out for the bears. If you would like more information on hiking in the area, google it because I unfortunately don’t have that information.

The main reason for me going to Braşov? DRACULA’S CASTLE!!! While it is totally awesome saying that you have been to Dracula’s Castle I should probably make a few disclaimers. First of all, the castle isn’t terribly impressive in comparison to some that I have seen. It’s quite small, but it’s still quite nice looking and it’s surrounded by fairly impressive scenery. I also have no idea why it is called “Dracula’s Castle” as Dracula may possibly have visited it once for a night at some point during his life, but he also may not have. Regardless, I’ve been to Dracula’s Castle! It’s actually used as a museum for the families and royalty that did live there and I did enjoy the visit and spent a couple of hours there. There are a ton of little stalls selling extremely kitschy souvenirs, but there’s a bit more variety there than in the town of Braşov and the items are marginally cheaper. If you’re there, might as well pick some up. I’m wishing I had.

It’s amazing I haven’t been arrested yet.

Timişoara

Timisoara was pretty much just a stopover on the way to Serbia as it’s a border town and the trains between Braşov, Timişoara and Belgrade, Serbia don’t really match up very well. Even if they did, the train would probably be late anyway so you wouldn’t get into Timişoara in time to catch the train to Belgrade. I could have got in that night and then caught the 6am train to Belgrade, but in general, bus and train stations are about the dodgiest places you will see while travelling, especially in smaller towns and I didn’t fancy having my shoes stolen while I slept on a concrete floor and then miss my train anyway. So I did what any sensible girl would do when faced with such a dilemma. I booked a hostel for that night, asked to store my luggage and being as reception isn’t open 24 hours at the hostel in Timişoara, hung around in the common room until I had to leave at 4am to walk to the train station (super creepy at that hour). Wearing a backpack at that hour (for a 40 minute walk I might add) when the crazies tend to be out sort of screams “Come over and freak the crap out of my by talking to me, hitting on me or following me.” Lucky for me, the worst I got was a vendor at the station asking if I wanted to buy a sandwich.

Anyway, Timişoara was sending me mixed signals while I was there and it was deeply confusing. At first it appeared to be a sleepy Sunday town where most everything was closed and even most of the café’s didn’t stay open long enough to serve lunch, which made sense considering it was Sunday. I didn’t do a whole lot except visit a church, buy my train ticket for the next day and eat at a restaurant called Restaurant Flora that came highly recommended by lonely planet (also one of the only ones open) but ended up being overpriced and underwhelming. I was not impressed with the food at all or the price I had to pay for it. By Romanian standards it was pretty expensive. I spent a good few hours there regardless getting some work done and when I left I had to walk through the main square. Much to my surprise, Timişoara was no longer the sleepy little town. There were hundreds of people gathered in the square having some sort of political protest or rally. They were against something that was apparently happening in some sort of Romanian politics but I couldn’t tell what as the only word I could understand on the signs was ‘No’ and true to the pragmatist in me, I decided to avoid the rally just in case anything happened and my insurance didn’t cover it. I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised considering Timişoara is a university town, but it was quite a 180 flip from what I had seen the entire rest of the day.

What I’m reading now: Nothing My Darling Nothing by H. Manice

What I’m listening to now: Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Photos from Romania can be seen here.

My post-Europe ABC’s of travel post! Original July responses are in white, September responses are in red.

A: Age you went on your first international trip: I first travelled to Australia when I was 16 for a soccer (football) tournament. I fell in love with Sydney and never looked back.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Hmmmmm, this is a tough one. I’m a big fan of microbrews and have had some of the most excellent beers from microbreweries in Australia and the US (specifically the Rocky Mountains). That being said, I haven’t travelled to Germany yet.

Romania also had surprisingly good beer. Big thanks to Andrei for introducing me to delicious, unfiltered beer!

C: Cuisine (favorite): As much as I love the variety of cuisine the world has to offer and it’s all wonderful in its own way, I’d have to say my favourite is Cajun/Creole food down in New Orleans. Also, my mum’s fried chicken. But I only get that when I’m not travelling.

I have also come to the decision that I love soup. Everywhere I go I like to try the local soups if they have them. One of my new favourite foods is Solyanka from Ukraine.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: My ultimate favourite is Australia, specifically the Sydney Opera House, but as I live there I don’t think it counts. So other than Australia my favourite so far is Turkey. No real specific place in Turkey, I’ve loved it all so far (only travelled western and central Turkey). They have such a beautiful culture, wonderful people, amazing food and there is soooooo much history. You could live your entire life there and you’d never see it all.

My least favourite? Los Angeles, California. It’s a wretched, polluted, dangerous city (I’m half shocked it’s in a first world country) which has very little to offer society whatsoever. It could fall off into the ocean and I’d probably throw a party.

Favourite destinations have yet to change, though I am definitely adding Romania to my list of favourite places and can’t wait to go back! I also have a least favourite city that is not quite on par with LA, but comes in a close second. Dubrovnik, Croatia. Such a beautiful city, but the hordes of tourists and the insane pricing (on par with prices in Australia, if not more expensive) have pitted me against this city. Next time I go to Croatia, Dubrovnik won’t be on the list of places to visit.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Again, I’d have to say watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from just in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I’m a Sydney-sider so I suppose it doesn’t count. I have a lot of things that have made me say “wow”, but not so much events I suppose.

La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain. 150,000 tons of tomatoes for a giant food fight? How can you not say ‘wow’?

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Trains hands down. I can lay down and sleep on them, I don’t get sick on them and I don’t have to worry about checking and picking up my luggage. Plus it’s a great way to see the countryside.

Still trains. I really hate buses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: Sitting outside a little street-side café or restaurant, people watching, drinking in the environment and culture and thinking about all that I’ve managed to accomplish so far and what I am going to accomplish in the future.

Add being able to order fluently in the local language to that list. And learning the local alphabet (if not in Latin)

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Any desert area in the American Southwest. We stopped in Phoenix when I was travelling with a friend back in 2001 and it was a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celcius). You’re sandals would literally start to melt as you walked across asphalt.

The heat wave while I was in Eastern Europe comes in a close second.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Usually any decent restaurant in the US will give you great service. In Kamyanyuki Hotel at Belevezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus the staff went out of their way to help me out, knowing that I didn’t speak Russian (and they didn’t speak English). Rather than shrug and attempt to use sign language when I needed something they would call up a member of staff who spoke some English to translate (even at 11pm) and they also got an English translator to come in one day to show me around and help me out (free of charge).

J: Journey that took the longest: Anytime I fly to or from Australia. It’s guaranteed to take at least 24 hours in transit.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I like to collect flag patches, postcards and shot glasses from every country I visit. Unfortunately, I do visit dry countries, so the shot glasses aren’t always possible.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I just left Odessa, Ukraine and one of the points of interest that they like to push is the allegedly famous Potemkin Steps, well known from what is apparently one of the most influential films of all time (I’ve never heard of it) Battleship Potemkin. It’s just a big set of stairs. I’ve seen cooler stairs.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Everything was insanely expensive and there were hordes of tourists. I didn’t really appreciate that. Thank goodness I was with someone I actually wanted to be with or I might have gone crazy on the tourists.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: Before I can remember. I’ve always wanted to travel. I blame my dad’s enormous collection of National Geographic magazines that I’ve been reading since I could read.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Oh, I dunno. I stay in a lot of nice hotels, but they tend to just be the chain ones. The Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Mantra up at the Gold Coast. I’m not terribly picky about my hotels so I don’t go out of my way to stay in nice ones usually.

Ivo and I stayed in a beautiful apartment in Bled, Slovenia called “Villa Ana”. Highly recommended.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Shoe figurines, models, and shoe art. I also have a thing for taking pictures of staircases. I really don’t know where that came from either as I hate going up and down them.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where: I have about a million and one stamps from passing in and out of Australia a dozen or so times in the past 6 years. I also have stamps from the UAE, Turkey, EU (into Germany, out of Lithuania, back into Lithuania, out of Poland), Belarus, Ukraine, US and New Zealand. Oddly enough, I’m currently in Moldova and they didn’t stamp my passport. Not sure if I should be concerned about that.

Add to the list, Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Morocco. I don’t have a Kosova stamp, but I’ve been there so it counts.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Any of the “Australia’s Largest” stuff. The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the world’s largest rocking horse down near Adelaide, the world’s largest Prawn somewhere on the New England highway going up to Nimbin…you get the idea.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Event/Experience- New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Opera House (after seeing the horrendous structures that are opera houses in a lot of Eastern Europe, I really miss the splendour that is the SOH). Sight- As morbid and depressing as they are, WWII museums. They are touching, humbling and horrifying all at the same time and it’s important to be reminded about history and what can happen so that we don’t repeat.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Amazing food. Luckily, most of the world’s best food is super cheap so I don’t have to worry about it though.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: I was at a conference in Dubai and one night we did a four wheel drive ride through the desert sand dunes and had a dinner/dance party at a model Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert. Also being forced to stop the car, double back and take photos of a bunch of kangaroo’s when my mum was visiting Australia the first time.

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Sitting at the water’s edge in Assos, Turkey at the resort we were staying at with the sun setting, having a drink and watching the lights come on in the villages on the Greek island across the water.

Street poling on top of a mountain in the Julien Alps and slicing my finger heading to a cave for a day of caving in Slovenia.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 3- Australia (student and travellers visa), Turkey and Belarus

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? Hunter Valley Lake’s Folly and Pepper Tree Estate wines are the best I’ve had by far. Moldova also has surprisingly amazing wines. It’s about the only thing the country produces.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: Anywhere along the Turkish coastline. Also, any hotel with a water’s view balcony in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. The desolation of the deserted coastline along the Curonian Spit, Lithuania on a chilly, rainy day in Junewas also a beautiful view for my personal preferences.

Anywhere along the Croatian coastline. Also, on top of the mountains in the Julian Alps makes for some spectacular viewing in which pictures will never do it justice.

Y: Years spent traveling?:  We’ve been travelling around the US since I was a very young kid, but I’ve been travelling internationally off and on for 8 years now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:  Australians and Brits are sports mad about every sport and can turn into quite the hooligans after a match. From personal experience though, the entire world is crazy mad about football (soccer) and you can relate to and make friends with anyone in the world by bringing up the topic.