Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dobro došli u Hercegovinu

As part of Will's visit  we planned to road trip through Bosnia with stops in Mostar and Sarajevo . While road trips are fairly common in the USA, most people I told of my plans to drive from Zagreb-Split-Mostar-Sarajevo-Zagreb, gave me all sorts of warnings about road conditions, traffic  and drivers. Having spent several hours on a stretch of road where highway 169 connects Ely to highway 53 in Virginia, Minnesota, I figured I could cope with anything that Bosnia through my way. A few hours after leave in Split, Croatia, we encountered the first of the terrible road conditions and I began thinking we may have gotten ourselves in a bit of jam. We appeared to be in the middle of a sort of no man's land, where we weren't sure if we were in Croatia or Bosnia, there were no road signs, no guardrails on some pretty scare hillside drives, and often no pavement.

However, we were following a car that was stuffed to the top with boxes of Guess shoes, so we figured we could just follow this to the border (if we hadn't inadvertently already passed over it). It turns out that the bad roads were still in Croatia and were part of a detour to road construction on  new highway. Once we saw the border, and the road, we all breathed a sigh of relief-of course a road trip through the country was a great idea. Here is the sign welcoming us to Herzegovina. Herzegovina is the area in the south and east of the country and one half of the proper name Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

In the end,  the roads were just fine and our first impressions of Herzegovina were wonderful. We all thought the countryside was beautiful with lots of rolling hills in this area and small towns. Our first stop was the city of Mostar. Most famous for the beautiful bridge that connects two sides of the Neretva River. The town gets its name from the main bridge Stari Most (most means bridge and stari means old-therefore Mostar). The bridge that currently stands is a reconstruction. The oringinal bridge survived from the time of Ottoman control until it was destroyed in 1991 at just over 400 years old.  The destruction of bridge during the the war has since been considered a war crime as it is viewed as a deliberate attack on the cultural of the Bosnia people. It's reconstruction was finished in 2004.

These pictures show either side of the the bridge and the old fortifications that were built to protect it. 

The old part of the city was very beautiful with a lot of little shops selling souvenirs even though we were clearly visiting in the off season. We had a very nice lunch, took some more pictures, then were off again on our journey to Sarajevo. 

Will and I posing for the camera. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Another American in Zagreb

While I have not had any trouble finding other Americans in Zagreb, in March I finally had my very first (and likely only) visitor. My good friend and colleague, Will, came to Zagreb as part of an extended European trip. In anticipation of his trip, we made lots of plan to travel but not before exploring the city a little. The morning, we hopped in our rental car and took off for the coast.

Here we are on of the great overlooks in the old town. Behind us is the Zagreb cathedral.

Here is the famed Zagreb funicular. It's the shortest in the world and since we also have funiculars in Pittsburgh, we had to take a ride!

The next morning we drove to Split on the Adriatic coast with my friends, Amy and Jenn. The town has many interesting sites including Diocletian's place and an excellent coastal promenade. 

The city streets of Split. 

This is part of Diocletian's Palace next to the Split cathedral. Many parts of the palace are still used as shops and homes today. 

This is the view from an old rotunda, I couldn't help but share the beautiful weather we had this day. 

Amy and Jenn in the rotunda.

The promenade on the seaside.

Winter in Zagreb....was it ever going to end?

So everyone in Zagreb that is a veteran of winters here has told me this past on was the worst in several years. In turns out this year's winter in Minnesota takes the title as the most miserable season ever (according to friends and family), but Zagreb winter was a bit peculiar. This winter had a pattern of a big snow, complete melt, and a few warm days before the cycle started over again. It was a bit like a form of meteorological torture, as I thought spring had arrived on several occasions, only to awake once again to another snow day. In the end, spring skipped Zagreb and we straight to summer. Since it's now consistently warm and sunny with a few thunderstorms at night, I am certainly not complaining.

This photo was taken in the early hours of December 1st on my way home from a friend's place. While it didn't seam so bad, I woke up in the morning to this on my terrace (below) which I had to find my way through since I was entirely out of groceries...poor planning on my part. 

However unpleasant my trip down the hill to the grocery store (I didn't even bother to check if the market was open), I was able to get some good pictures of my street in the snow.

Of course all the snow above melted after several days and we experienced only a few blustery December days after this. On Christmas Eve, the weather was actually quite nice. It was dry and warm with a temperature near 65 degrees followed by a sunny and warm Christmas day.

I woke up on this morning in mid-January with only a few inches on my terrace but in the course of a few hours, this is what arrived. I ventured into to the center (which I should clarify is about a 2 minute walk down my hill) in order to hop a tram to see my Croatian Tutor. I never made it to the tutor, but I did make it to a cafe to have coffee with a few friends. The view from inside the cafe offered the great photo above. Later that day, my friends and I decided to make the best of it and built a snowman outside my place. 

A few more big snows followed in February but perhaps the most frustrating was this day at the end of March. I was so annoyed with the snow, which lasted nearly a week followed by another few days of rain, that I ran off to Venice in search of the sun. 

Even the gorgeous view from my living room window seemed a bit depressing as the winter continued....

Weihnachtsmärkte in Vienna

Just before Christmas, my friend Jenn and I decided to go to Vienna, Austria to spend a weekend celebrating the season with the Christmas markets. Christmas markets are a traditional part of the Advent celebrations throughout Europe but perhaps the most famous are held in Germany and Austria. Vienna was recommended as the place to see by several friends so we went for a weekend trip. Vienna has several markets and we managed to hit up five of them. Each market offers several gift and craft items, food such as sausages and cheeses, baked goods, pretzels, and of course, plenty of drinks. The most popular drinks are hot punch and gluhwien (mulled wine). Each variety is offered in several different flavors and comes in its own souvenir mug. Market revelers must pay deposit for the mug which is returned when the mug is, or as in our case, is a small price to pay for a great souvenir. Below are some of the highlights of the markets.

Our first stop after our arrival by train and a stop at our hotel when the Maria-Theresien Platz market in the center of the city. This market had many ornaments and crafts for sale and we had our first gluhwein. 

Perhaps the prettiest setting for a market is this on at the Rathaus (or city hall) with the beautifully lit building behind us. Here we have a photo of my friend Jenn and I with out mugs. 

The trendiest market in Vienna is this one is in the courtyard of the Museumsquartier. This is a complex that was next to our hotel and houses several museums, included the Museum of Modern Art and the Leopold Museum. This market didn't sell anything but drinks, but had these igloo like tents that each had a different theme complete with furniture, decor, and music. 

We did visit some of the markets during the day to do a little bit of shopping. Below is a picture of a few wooden puzzles I bought for my niece, Lucy.

In the end, we visited five different markets and I now have five different mugs to haul back to America.

Greetings from Zagreb

Hello friends and family. I'm still alive and still in Zagreb for about three more weeks but I've been slacking on the blog posts. There are a few reasons for this. First and foremost, my research has taken off and I've been busy with appointments at the Croatian Parliament, the Sabor, and having coffee with some political candidates for the European Elections. Second, I've been traveling a lot before I leave the region for some more research in Belgium. I've taken trips to Vienna to take a statistics course (I know, I'm a geek), had a visitor from Pittsburgh who accompanied my friends and me on a road trip to Bosnia. I also planned a last minute trip to Venice, spent the end of April in Serbia, and will be off to Montenegro in a few weeks. I am putting together several posts now and will hopefully be all up to date before I leave for Brussels!

Here is a photo from Rijeka where I spent Carnival weekend with a friend and had another chance to see the sea in February.