Omakase

Monday, August 31, 2009

Kangaroo Hotel: Sweet!

My original plan for staying 2 days in  Budva was to find a room in a local's house which the guidebooks said would be €15-20/nt. But I found a stupendous deal at a fantastic hotel, the Kangaroo Hotel. (the owner, Nick is Australian, thus further proving a law of traveling: always find the Aussies!)

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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysKd3dWF-LI

View of Sveti Stefan


Sveti Stefan (Saint Stephen) is an island hotel 6 miles south of Budva, where I am staying. The island - a walled city - is connected to the mainland via a thin causeway. (Budva is connected to Sveti Stefan by a circulating bus coming every 10 minutes.)

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.

Milocer Beach


Part of the stretch of beaches between Budva and Sveti Stefan.

Today's beach


Here's the beach that I camped out on for a few hours. By 3pm I was
worried that I might have gotten too much sun, so I headed to Kotor.

The unbelievable town of Kotor



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

On the tarmac in Montenegro


Photo of the day


Parts of a USAF stealth fighter blown to bits over Serbia in 1999 in a Belgrade
museum.

Belgrade wrap-up

Am in Belgrade airport waiting for flight to Montenegro with a few thoughts:

-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.)


-guidebook tidbit: Serbia was a possession of Turkey for 500 years until 1867. I kinda see why they are very, very nationalistic, as measured by how many flags, signs, and traditional clothes that you see.

-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!


The Yugoslavian cuisine is 90% grill, 10% stew. Every entree on every menu is in one of these 2 categories, which is great, until you realize that Yugoslavian cuisine hit its' apex just after the invention of fire.

But I like grilled foods so I am much happier than if I happened to be in India.

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.


Finally, one experience that sums up Serbia: I had a Serbian salad the othe night (Srpska salate). I dug into it and enjoyed the first bite of tomato, cuke, and onion. Then the next bite. Then HOLY $@$)$&!!!!! Who put the Hungarian wax (hot, white) pepper in my salad?

I mention this not for culinary reasons, but because this is the perfect analogy for Belgrade -90% harmless, looking no different that any other Eastern European city, but also 10% don't-take-it-for-granted ka-BOOM!

Next stop: Budva, Montenegro, a beach town on the Adriatic Sea. Posting might be light, as I plan a beach day tomorrow.

Which makes this pic understandable...


I saw this protest in one of the main squares. The banner says, basically "butt out NATO."

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.

Exterior redecoration courtesy of NATO & USAF


It's 10 years on, but you can't miss the signs of NATO bombing here in Belgrade. This is the former Ministry of Defense. (Actually half of the former MoD - this half used to be connected across the street to an identical building, all now bombed out.)

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.

It's 1979 here in Belgrade

No, 1979 isn't the temperature -it's what year it feels like. With the
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

Belgrade: a balmy 97 degrees

Just arrived. City looks interesting - a mix of dour communist-era apartment buildings, a HUGE Eastern Orthodox church, and buildings bombed by Americans just 10 years ago. (and still not repaired) Had a fun time at the airport negotiating a taxi ride into town. As you might guess, I blend in here about as well as I do in China, so the taxi drivers see me as some easy money.

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.

80 minutes in Zurich.....

......is probably all you need.

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:

8:45-land
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

PHL->Zurich

Heard on the way up to Philly:
"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
that?
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

Follow me on my way to the former Yugoslavia!

Hi-

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:


Also, here's my home on YouTube and picture gallery from this trip.

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 HvarKorcula, 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 Gallagher
434-227-0718



With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

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Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous