Monday, August 31, 2009
The Kangaroo, @$39/nt is a steal. Centrally located in town and about 300 yds from the beach, the Kangaroo is modern (built 2005), and, as the video linked below indicates, has some great views.
The entire island has been converted to luxury hotels, with the top rooms going for $1500 pernight, or roughly $1461 per night more than I am paying (more on that later.)
Non-guests can tour the island for $7, but I was more interested in beaching, so I beachhopped on the way back to Budva. Over the 6 miles, there's probably 12-15 distinct beaches, each with their own
personality. Some were sand beaches, some pebble, some played loud disco music, some....no, they all played disco.
All in all, though, the beach experience was comparable to back home, except for the language, and the speedos.
I was very impressed with the beaches, weather, and sea today. Conditions could not have been any better - clear sky, 90 degrees (low humidity) and water so ckear that i could see the bottom no matter how far i swam out.
I had a great time today. It is gonna be hard for the Croatian beach experience to top this.
Kotor, 30 minutes inland from Budva, is a walled city at the end of a fjord, leaving the city surrounded on 3 sides by steep mountains.
High above the city is a fortress used to defend the city (and where the residents fled when bad guys came to town.) I climbed up to the fortress (on a trail), and snapped this photo along the way.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
-some countries have multiple official languages, like Switzerland. Serbia has multiple official alphabets (for the same language). I'd say 50% of signs were in Cyrillic (like Russian), while the remainder were in Latin (like ours) or outright English. What meager amount of Serbian that picked up for the trip was toast once the writing was in Cyrillic.
-There's no row#13 on my plane (I'm in #14.)
-dined well today. Wandered into the Skadarskija area of Belgrade, an area with old cobble streets dating back hundreds of years. Found a restaurant and ordered something off of the grill menu ("grill" was the only word that I could translate.)
But I figured you can't go wrong with anything grilled, and I wasn't disappointed - the main course was a frisbee sized and shaped piece of beef (gurmanesh vjelvasic(?)). I chased it with a salad of cabbage, lettuce, very fresh tomato and cucumber. Also tried the rakia, a local fruit brandy/jet fuel (waiter's suggestion) -wow!
One other good thing about the cuisine: all food is local, organic, and free range. It's not a movement, it's just how things are grown here.
update: my friend Dana translates the sign as "Stop NATO Fascism."
That the locals are anti-NATO makes sense, but accompanying the banner was a photo exhibit with English translations detailing NATO atrocities in the Balkans, even intimating that we were collaborating with Muslin extremists. More troubling was the fact that many people stopped and read the exhibits with much seriosness. I wish I could have understood what they were saying to each other.
This building was located in the heart of Belgrade, and next to many other government buildings. Thanks to smart bombs, there did not appear to be any damage to any other surrounding area buildings.
What's odd about this building, though not visible in the picture, is that the building is under armed guard by the Army 24 hours a day. I was a bit afraid that the guard might confiscate my camera, so all of my pictures of this building were taken on the sly.
exception of LCD tv's at every cafe showing either soccer or the
summer ski-jumping championships(!?!), you'd think that Belgrade was still on 1979.
I was around for the first version of 1979, though enjoying 3rd grade, so I'm probably not the best judge, but still, everything - starting with my hotel - feels and looks like it has been stuck in time for 30 years.
(or maybe it's just sleepy like I was last night. I finally gave in at 9pm last night, and woke at 3am. After a half hour of tossing and turning - and worry about how badly my body clock might be screwed up
- I fell back asleep until 9am. Result: a bit more sleep than I thought wanted, but hopefully my body is now on local time, 2009-style.)
One other observation: Belgrade=Pittsburgh. Some of the connections are obvious: both cities are located where 2 pretty big rivers join, with the Ohio and Danube rivers resulting. Both also feature land on one side of the river rising quickly to about 1,000 feet, with great views from the top. Both are about 400 miles inland. Both cities also have a heavy Slavic influence, and are both trying to escape a past focus on heavy industry. Both cities also think they are the center of the universe, though they are just regional capitals. (Ross, Scott, and Doug - please post your defense of da Burgh in the comments section.)
Finally, both cities have been lead by men with self-destructive behavior - Slobodan Milosovic, who made enemies with everyone, and Ben Roethlisberger, crashing his motorcycle into stationary objects, and with a questionable dating life.
A couple other pts:
-had national dish "cevapcici" for dinner last night. We'd probably
call it "hamburger fingers." pretty tasty.
-touring the city today until a 5pm flight to Tivat, Montenegro. Will be spending the following 2 days between Kotor (walled city on a fjord) and Budva, which is a big sea resort town. Many highlights expected, which is amazing since I'd never heard of the country of Montenegro until 2 months ago.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
But, there's a handout in the airport that says that licensed taxis can't charge more than 1200 dinars for a ~12 mile ride downtown. So of course, i got a "special" price -the taxi's opening bid was 2,500 dinars.
I love this-getting local, trying some of the language, and ultimately just trying to win- so it's on!
I played the game well - dropping some numbers on them in Serbian (and hoping I didn't accidentally say a really huge number), but finally realized that I was arguing over a difference of 100 dinars - about 60 US cents! (and in every other way the Serbian Dinar is like monopoly money. The locals prefer Euros. I just bought a bottle of water (40 dinars, or about 25 cents). The cashier gave me a sneer when I paid with a new 1000 dinar note that I had just gotten from an ATM.)
Next up: quick shower, then touring.
My connection in Europe to Belgrade is thru Zurich, and with a 4 hour
scheduled layover, I decided to try to see the city.
Thanks to Swiss efficiency, I managed the following schedule:
9:30- clear customs
9:45-train from airport to city
9:57 arrive in city
(walking tour of city)
11:17-train back to airport
The verdict on Zurich: nice place, but completely uninteresting,
unless you have millions in a Swiss bank account. (IRS: if you're
reading this, I don't!)
In defense of the Swiss there aren't many cities alive at 10am on a
Saturday morning, but having done some pre-trip research, I wasn't
surpised by the lack of tourist sights.
I'll make up for that on my next stop, Belgrade, Serbia. What Belgrade
lacks in Swiss efficiency and good chocolate, it makes up for with
Slavic zest, and unfortunately, ethnic violence. (seriously, do a
google search on soccer hooliganism in Belgrade.)
I take off in an hour.
Friday, August 28, 2009
"I've got a tight connection. I'm going to have to do an OJ Simpson
through the airport."
I'm really hoping he meant as in the old Simpson commercials for
Hertz, and not the other, knife-wielding OJ romp.
Am sitting on the Zurich bound plane having just made hotel
reservations in Belgrade using the Internet on my phone - how cool is
I have 4 hours between flights in Zurich, so I'm going to do a 2 hour
power tour of Zurich. This is possible because the airport is only a
10 minute trainride to the city.
Speaking of stopovers, I just managed a quick but happy stopover in
Philly (= I managed to grab a Philly pretzel).
Next stop: Zurich, Switzerland
I'm off on vacation in a matter of hours but wanted to invite you along - virtually.I'm heading on a very aggressive backpacking tour of 6 countries in 10 days, including the exotic countries of the former Yugoslavia (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Montenegro), plus 4 hours in Switzerland, and a couple of days in Munich, Germany at the end of the trip. During the trip, I will be posting stories, pictures and video to my blog (and YouTube) using my iPhone. To keep up with me, simply visit this link:If you do check in on my trip, please feel free to leave comments or questions - they'll be automatically forwarded to me. Also, this email address will be active, and I'd like to hear from you.This trip is much more than the standard vacation. (I haven't taken one of those in years, as you can see from the trips that I've blogged about in the past, like Asia in 2007, or 2008 road trip across America.) For one thing, I'll be living out of a backpack small enough to qualify as carry on luggage, and this trip is so free-form that although I take off in 2 hours, I have yet to make a single hotel or other overnight arrangement.(Rough guess at itinerary shows 6 different beds/hotels over 10 days, with stops in Belgrade, Serbia, Kotor and Budva, Montenegro, Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Hvar, Korcula, and Dubrovnik, Croatia.)But what will really make this trip will be the experiences, from seeing a country the US was bombing less than 10 years ago (Serbia) to sea-kayaking around an ancient walled city with a former Miss Universe contestant.So why Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro? The area has always fascinated me for its' combination of recreation and culture. With thousands of islands on the Adriatic Sea, you can guess that there are some great beaches to visit, and with thousands of years of inhabited history, there are some amazing sights to visit, like the walled city of Dubrovnik.The thousands of years of history has also produced an area second only to the Middle East for ethnic conflict. The area that I'm visiting was conquered and held by literally dozens of cultures, and has never gone more than 40 years without intense war. As the crossroads of the Muslim Middle East, Catholic central Europe, and Russian and Balkan Eastern Orthodox, there's always somebody upset about something, as we all saw in the 1990s. (The war is very much present today, as I expect to see in Sarajevo, even to the extent of guidebooks warning about avoiding fields of land mines. (btw, this isn't my first trip near active land mines.))(The mix of cultures has its' benefits, though, as the food, combining the best of seafood, paprika and other Eastern European spices, grilled meats (Turkish influence), and the Italian influence should be very, very interesting.)So, it should be an interesting adventure. Please join me on this trip via my blog, and please keep in touch, especially if you'd like a postcard.Cheers,Tim Gallagher434-227-0718