Returning To King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

Returning To King’s Landing: Dubrovnik

 

Just how many monsooners are there really on this trip?

 

Take a closer look (click to zoom):

 


 
 

 

Dubrovnik. It’s good to be back.

 

 

I was here for the first time 3 years ago, as part of my Crossing The Adriatic monsoon. Even though I got to see a lot, I also missed important things like the Dubrovnik Old Town walls. Otherwise most of the things we were able to see today have already been covered my last time here, but what new things we did this time around, there have been many.

Today we woke up at 6am in Mostar to catch a 7am Croatia Bus to Dubrovnik. However, not only was the bus late, but they overbooked us by a few seats and caused 3 of us to stand (and myself to sit in the exit stairwell) for the first 20 minutes before the first few people got off at the next stop. Not a total disaster but it was annoying that they also add insult to injury by forcing you to pay 1 euro to store even your personal items when you’re already relegated to standing room only.

We crossed the Bosnia & Herzegovina border into Croatia at around 9am.

 

 

They’ll take your passports, stamp you out, give you back your passports, and then you pass through onto into Croatia without stopping.

 

 

We then crossed back into Bosnia & Herzegovina to get into Neum, where I also had crossed through 3 years ago while traveling from Split.

The photo of Neum I took 3 years ago:

 

 

Today’s photo of Neum:

 

 

We arrived late into Dubrovnik Bus Station at around 11:30am, from where we then took 4 taxis for 10 euros each to Old Town. It never gets old, though, walking through the gates for the very first time.

Can you even tell which photos are from 3 years ago and which ones were taken today?

 

 

We first dropped our stuff off at Hostel Amnesia, located smack dab in old town (I learned my lesson after the last time) and had lunch there.

 

Photo Credit: Lei Zhao

 

After lunch we did the obligatory tour around Dubrovnik’s old town, peppered with highlights that I didn’t get to do last time, namely filling up our water bottles at the public fountains…

 

 

…stripping off our clothes and jumping into the Adriatic Sea by Buza Bar

 

IMG_6040

Where did my diginity go
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao

 

…returning these lozenges I had bought from this exact pharmacy 3 years ago back to its rightful place…

 

My lozenges, after 3 years in my travel bag.

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

…chasing all the Game of Thrones on-site filming locations…

 

4-shame-stairs-2

Photo Credit: Taylan Stulting

 

But the main thing that I regretted missing last time was walking along Dubrovnik Old Town’s city walls. For 150 kunas each, you get to saunter across the entirety of the 1.2km length of old town’s fortress walls in a single direction. We took about 2 hours to do the whole thing comfortably before 7pm closing.

It’s totally worth it.

 

Now press play. And then start reading.
 
  
 

 

Photo Credit: Ted Chen
Photo Credit: Ted Chen

 

We even had a Rhode Island reunion at the walls, all thanks to my killer sunset playlist I was playing in the background (FYI if you’re reading this right now, the song is Moments Descend On My Windowpane by Rafael Anton Irisarri).

 

Lily & her Rhode Island family...for liking my music that I was playing in the background, before discovering a mutual connection with Maria over your shared Rhode Island roots. You would then go on to recommend visiting Our Lady Of The Rocks church in Kotor the next day (which we did thanks to you!), and then following up with another email a week later attached with more photos from our chance encounter! 08/17/17.

 

Leaving the walls, we had a perfectly atmospherically seafood dinner at underrated Nonna’s Ragusa, which was totally worth it especially with a 20% discount for having our group eat with them. They even held onto Alfred’s wallet for him when he thought he lost it at the hostel.

 

 

After dinner we pregamed at the hostel with the owner’s moonshine.

 

IMG_6077

 

… and by 11am headed out to Club Revel located within the old town walls, gaining free entry with flyers they hand out to hotel/hostel owners. Surprisingly, they played no electronic or house music as it was hip hop all night. AMAZING.

And we danced,
And we cried,
And we laughed,
And had a really, really, really good time. . . .

 

Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

We stayed at the nightclub until 3am, after which we probably took most beautiful walk of shame we’ll ever have in our lifetimes.

 

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 59% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Mostar With The Mostest

Mostar With The Mostest

Photo Credit: Taylan Stulting

 

After a sobering day in Sarajevo and recovering from a night of mayem, we woke up at 10am to catch an 11:30am Autoprevoz bus to Mostar.

 

 

The bus ride went pretty smoothly although I felt bad for the other folks who couldn’t get a seat because of our group (so get there early!). And this was thanks to the very professional services of Get By Bus, I was able to reserve a batch of 13 discounted bus tickets online. FYI, if you request a name change, ticket change, etc. their customer service via e-mail is STELLAR. Best I’ve ever experienced.

We arrived at Mostar bus station (the eastern one) at 2pm to a HOT 99ºF sunny day. Don’t forget your sunblock here.

 

 

We then checked in and dropped off our bags at Dino Hostel about a 10 minute walk south from the station, and only a 5 minute walk away north from the old town.

The first stop was Karadozbegova dzamija mosque, which costs 2.5 euros to enter and 5 euros to climb the minaret.

 

 

But I advise to save your money here and to walk further into the old town bazaars…

 

 

…and turn around a corner to see the reason why everyone comes to Mostar: the restored 16th century Stari Most (Old Bridge), that was previously destroyed by the Croatian HVO army when a stalemate between the Bosnians and Croatians divided and nearly destroyed this city in November 1993.

 

 

You can then climb up the bridge itself but be careful by the overly worn down, slippery steps up:

 

 

Views from the top of Stari Most:

 

 

We then had a reasonable dunch at Sadrvan on the other side of the bridge.

 

 

After paying the bill, we walked down a few steps down by the river bank to get our feet wet and watching amateur and professional divers leap off the 75m high bridge. Be careful of getting to far deep in the river unless you’re a great swimmer as the down-current is deceptively strong.

 

Photo Credit: Taylan Stulting
Photo Credit: Lei Zhao

Stari Most just got served

 

At this point most of the tourist crowds coming to Mostar as a day trip from places like Dubrovnik will begin to head back. I recommend spending at least a one night’s stay here despite Mostar’s tiny size and lack of sights other than Stari Mosts and its surrounding mosques — you get the whole city to yourself and better views of the bridge at sunrise and sunset that daytrippers won’t be able to enjoy.

So noticing that the crowds of tourists were thinning out, we made a circle around to Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, where after I haggled a discount from 6 euros/person to 3 euros/person given the size of our group (huzzah!), we climbed the minaret for arguably the best angle of Stari Most at sunset.

 

 

While ontop of the minaret a French-Canadian traveler named Carol began laughing at one of my jokes, after which a polite conversation led to her joining our group for post-sunset shisha at Café Luft. We spent about an hour and a half kicking it here before heading back down to the bank for night views of the bridge.

 

 

We then said goodbye to Carol and headed back to the hostel for an early night — tomorrow we catch a 7am bus to Dubrovnik.

 

- At time of posting in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was 37 °C - Humidity: 22% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

A Rose For Sarajevo

A Rose For Sarajevo

 

If it’s not already playing, press play. And then start reading. 
 
 
 

A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortar shell’s explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell explosions during the Siege of Sarajevo, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature to the city. — Wikipedia.

 

 

 

While silliness ensued at our first day in Sarajevo, today would present itself as a more somber affair, beginning our day with Sarajevo Insider’s Times Of Misfortune Tour that led us on a 3 hour journey through the horrors of living under Serbia’s nearly 4 year siege upon Sarajevo from 1992-1995.

 

 

Our tour first returned us to the Yellow Fortress and then onwards to the White Fortress, learning from our guide Almedin “Meme” Memovic — who was born and raised during the siege in 1993 — about the factors during the post-Tito breakup of Yugoslavia that would eventually descend into genocide 

The views of Sarajevo from White Fortress gave us a better insight of what the siege may have looked like from afar and how Sarajevo was surrounded by incoming Serbian forces.

 

 

Meme recalled for us the days of Sniper Alley as we drove down it, where 1.2km of a main boulevard along Zmaja od Bosne Street and Meša Selimović Boulevard were lined with snipers that targeted civilians as they went about their daily life.

Because the road connected the industrial part of the city and Sarajevo Airport to Old Town, it was a necessary street for locals to traverse despite the obvious danger from the many high-rise buildings and mountains surrounding the city that gave snipers plenty of opportunity to gun people down. Signs reading “Pazi – Snajper!” (“Watch out – Sniper!”) were posted everywhere.

 


 

 

This is Sniper Alley today:

 

 

Because the city was under constant Serb siege and the civilians of Sarajevo had to routinely risk their lives to move about the city in order to survive, people would either sprint across the street or wait for United Nations armored vehicles so they could walk behind them as shields.

In 1995, 1,030 people were wounded and 225 were killed by sniper fire, 60 of whom were children.

 

 

You can still see the bullet holes made by errant sniper fire today.

 

 

As the city continued to be surrounded from all sides by Serbian forces, with a narrow chokepoint centered on the UN-occupied international airport, it barely survived upon the food and supplies that were shuttled through a 1m-wide, 800m-long, 1.6m-high, lifeline of a tunnel, which was hastily constructed underneath the airport.

Therefore our next stop after Sniper Alley would be the Tunnel of Hope, where 20m of the 800m tunnel still remains despite a complete collapse of the rest of the tunnel.

 

 

We spent about half an hour here before returning to the city to try the legendary Ćevapi at Zeljo.

 

 

The next part of our plan was to find cabs to take us to the nearby abandoned bobsled track of the 1984 Winter Olympics. But after an hour waiting for available cabs to take us there, we eventually dispersed into free time in Old Town as not a single taxi was available due to the Sarajevo Film Festival.

However, by sheer dumb luck about another hour later, the hostel receptionist and I luckily snagged 4 cabs all at once on the street, where I promptly mass texted everyone to run back from where they were in the city. And by additional sheer dumb luck (or destiny), within 5 minutes of my text all 14 of us were able to get into all 4 cabs before they decided to pull away. Hence, our own little miracle in Sarajevo.

 

 

And off we explored for an hour one of the highlights of our trip: the aforementioned Abandoned Bobsled Track of the 1984 Winter Olympics:

 

PC: Berina

Photo Credit: Beverly Tchang
Photo Credit: Beverly Tchang
Photo Credit: Beverly Tchang

 

Surreal. After a day like this we had to celebrate. And we did: We pregamed, we rallied, and we raged.

 

 

A recommendation made by Berina (once again who lamed out early because of something called WORK . . .yeah yeah) was to watch live music go down at Underground, featuring some local crowdpleasing Bosnian cover bands.

 

 

The 13 of us then headed onwards to Cinemas Sloga where although they initially charged us 15km per person for entry, we stood our ground. Then it went down to 75km for 11 people. And yet we persisted. Then it became free.

And then we got backstage passes…? That escalated quickly.

 

 

We eventually returned home in the wee hours of the morning, screaming over the ringing in our ears like typically obnoxious Americans, in an otherwise eerily quiet capital city.

 

 

Tomorrow we forge ahead to Mostar.

 

–UPDATE: The next morning we woke up to this on our social media:

 

Recognize anyone?

 

- At time of posting in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Sleepless In Sarajevo

Sleepless In Sarajevo

Photo Credit: Sidian Lan; the irony is that he was the only one who didn't drink on the bus
Photo Credit: Sidian Lan

 

Coming from Belgrade via a detour to Srebrenica, we arrive in Sarajevo at 6:30pm at Travellers Home Hostel, where we dropped off our stuff and reunited with the 3 other monsooners Lei, Maria and Anthony.

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

We would also be joined by Sarajevo local Berina, a cousin of Mihaela (once again that badass monsooner who arranged our transport from Belgrade to Sarajevo), who was kind enough to show us around.

 

 

We first started west at The Academy Of Fine Arts Sarajevo, formerly a church and now a fine arts school.

 

 

We then walked east along Miljacka River…

 

 

…before turning towards the beautiful pedestrian mall down Ferjadija, which was packed because of the international Sarajevo Film Festival that was going on at the same time.

 

 

We first stopped by at the City Market.

 

 

Afterwards, we walked further east to the ruins of Taslihan, a former inn for caravan travelers and now a bustling bazaar.

 

 

From there we stopped by at Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, a serene oasis among the busy streets outside and the largest historical mosque in Bosnia & Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans.

 

 

To the north of the mosque lies the Serbian Old Orthodox Church, which costs 3 marks to get in.


Like churches? You can also visit Sacred Heart Cathedral, a few meters down from City Market:


 

On the eastern end of the city center lies Sebilj, an Ottoman-style wooden fountain in the center of Bascarsija Square, and a prime location for pigeon squatting.

 

 

Walking a little southeast, we reached National and University Library of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

 

 

From here you can see Sehercehaja Bridge and right across from it Inat kuca, a restaurant that was taken apart and put back together brick by brick to be relocated for the National and University Library of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

 

 

You can also walk across to quickly visit Emperor Mosque:

 

 

After this, we headed up a steep incline for 10-15 minutes to reach the ruins of Yellow Fortress

 

 

…for city views at sunset, with the adhan (Muslim call to prayer) in the background:

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

BTW, did I mention yet that 4 of us on the trip all went to the same medical school? Here’s our first Downstate reunion photo!

 

 

Lingering here for about 20 minutes, we then headed back into the city for classic Bosnian Pizza…

 

 

..and dinner at a local favorite Nostra Cucina, following with dessert most notable for a traditional Bosnian apple-walnut pastry…

 

 

…and alternative Bosnian ice cream at Egipat:

 

 

Then after Berina decided to be lame and head back for an early work day tomorrow (calling you out here!), we celebrated our first day in Sarajevo with a round of tea and shisha at Dibek/Male Daire Lounge.

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
Photo Credit: Sidian Lan

 

We then walked back to the hostel, passing by the Latin Bridge (the site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, leading to the outbreak of World War I).

 

 

(I would come back the next morning to pay my respects)

 

World War I just got served

 

While some of us retired at the hostel, others went out to Summer Lounge for further partying, making our Monday night the new Saturday night.

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
From Belgrade To Sarejevo Via Srebrenica: Memories Of A Massacre

From Belgrade To Sarejevo Via Srebrenica: Memories Of A Massacre

 

 

I had first heard of the Srebrenica Massacre back in 2005, when I was a college freshman and busy running the first national undergraduate film festival at Columbia University (CUNUFF). One of our first film submissions was a short film and documentary that highlighted the Srebrenica Massacre, and in response we created an entirely new award category — The Outreach Award for best community service film — to honor that film. To this day I have been unable to forget the impact that film submission had on me, and I knew that one day I would have to go visit Srebrenica.

And today would finally be that day.

For those of you who don’t know, in 1995 Srebrenica was the site of Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust of World War 2, where over 8,000 Muslim Bozniaks — mostly men and boys — were systematically massacred at the hand of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić.

Although the UN had declared the area of Srebrenica as a “safe area” under UN protection, UN PROFOR’s Dutchbat soldiers stationed in Srebrenica failed to prevent the town’s capture and subsequent destruction by the VRS.

Although Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić officially made an apology for the massacre in April 2013, he stopped short of calling it genocide while the Netherlands was found responsible in its own supreme court at The Hague for failing in its duty to protect the populace. Therefore to this day it remains controversial among the Serbian population whether the massacre actually happened, and if it did, that the Serbians would be responsible. Therefore it took an obscene amount of effort to find a bus company that would be even willing to take us to Sarajevo from Belgrade that would include a controversial of a stop as Srebrenica.

Nevertheless, the same rockstar monsooner Mihaela who had e-introduced me to her Serbian sister Vladana yesterday had somehow found a legit bus company Firma Traveler (Iznajmljivanje Najam Rentiranje Zakup Autobusa) who was able to agree and send over a professional driver to pick us up from our hostel at 9:30am, take us across the Serbian/Bosnian border, with a private stopover at Srebrenica before continuing onwards to drop us off at our hostel in Sarajevo.

And although I was a bit nervous that a Serbian bus company would actually follow through on this, Mihaela and her referred company delivered splendidly.

 

 

And away we went, arriving at the border at around noon.

 

 

While waiting in traffic, we gave our passports to a border officer so we could be stamped out of Serbia. We then got them back about 10 minutes later and we went on our way across the border along Drina River.

 

 

We then stamped back into Bosnia & Herzegovina and continued onwards another 2 hours south to Srebrenica, passing by a row of bombed out houses littered with bullet holes before arriving at the Memorial Site at 2:30pm.

 

 

 

The place is a somber, humble place with tombstones marking the 6,938 genocide victims that so far been identified through DNA analysis from the remains that were found in the dug-out mass graves here. It was opened in 2003 by then US President Bill Clinton.

 

 

On the opposite site of the road is the Srebrenica Memorial Room, a large abandoned complex that now houses exhibits providing context and background to the massacre.

 

 

After about half an hour here we returned to our bus and continued onwards to Serbia.

 

 

- At time of posting in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 84% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Beyond Belgrade

Beyond Belgrade

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

I was debating whether to do an extra post on Belgrade as we saw everything required in the city center yesterday, thunderstorms be damned. But then I realized there were a few other things in its outskirts that were worth mentioning.

We woke up to a late morning, walking 15 minutes south of the city center to Pekara buregdžinica (Бурегџиница Сарајево on Google) for reportedly “the best burekas in Belgrade”).

 

 

Burekas are baked filled pastries made of a thin flaky dough and can be divine when done right.

 

 

Our verdict:

 

 

Afterwards we walked 15 minutes further south to revive our inner nerds at the Nikola Tesla Museum: a small, single-floor exhibit hall dedicated to only a handful of the experiments conducted by the well-know enigmatic physicist, inventor, and futurist who became responsible for discovering the AC current.

 

 

The staff will lock the doors and peek out only to tell you to book ahead or wait outside for these designated “tours” that are spaced out every few hours as without being on one, you could miss out on the cool experiments the guides can demonstrate for you…but you can also fight this and remind them that being on a tour is not mandatory (it really isn’t).

We ended up winning this battle and was let inside immediately instead of waiting the next 2-3 hours for the next tour.

 

 

The museum really is that small as you can walk around it entirely in 5 minutes. However, we were lucky enough to sneak in near the end of a movie on Nikola Tesla’s life as well as seeing the Tesla Coil in action.

What is a Tesla Coil? It’s his eponymous electrical resonant transformer circuit that produces a high-voltage, low-current, high frequency alternating-current electricity, which entertainingly can power these gas-filled “lightsabers” we were holding around it.

 

 

Afterwards we had Calvin Hom, flying in one day late, join our group as we headed onwards to Tito’s Mausoleum, aka The House of Flowers on the southwestern outskirts of Belgrade.

 

 

After getting tickets at the adjacent administrative building across from the entrance to the House of Flowers, we headed up a small hill to check out the old Museum of Yugoslavia inside as well as the final resting place of Tito, the communist revolutionary and benevolent dictator of Yugoslavia that first rose to power as the leader of the Partisans, often regarded as the most effective resistance movement in occupied Nazi Europe.

After the fall of fascism in the years following World War II, Tito was able to unify the many bickering nations that would become Yugoslavia, and continuing to maintain their peaceful co-existence until his death in 1980 (shortly thereafter Yugoslavia broke apart without him). Finally, he was revered for breaking away from Stalin and the influence of the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, leading him to become the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement.

 

 

After about half an hour here, we hiked 20 minutes through leafy Hajd Park to stop by at Monahina Teodora Monastery (Манастир Ваведење Пресвете Богородице), a nearby, serene monastery that was in the area and I figured we could check out…because why not?

 

 

After about 10 minutes here the group collectively took 3 Ubers back up to the city center, stopping at the Farmer’s market “Zeleni venac.”

 

 

Guess Sunday is not the day to go shopping.

 

 

Then it was free time as the group dispersed to do their own thing. 

We returned at the hostel at 6:30pm for a 7pm dinner at Two Deer Restaurant on Skadarska Street (remember that charming little cobblestone path yesterday?) with a local mutual friend named Vladana, who grew up in Serbia and is family to one of my most badass monsooners, Mihaela (who FYI, joined on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Tibet, Scotland, and Luxembourg all within the past 6 months!).

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande
Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

Technically if you want to be specific, Vladana is the daughter of Mihaela’s mother’s maiden of honor, which in Serbian tradition counts as close as being sisters.

 

 

And just to add to the spontaneity, Mariana, a girl from Brazil who just quit her job to travel the world for a year, joined us as well after only 10 minutes of conversation at our hostel (even though she had a midnight bus to Bulgaria to catch!)

 

 

Once again with travel, It’s not about where you go, but who you meet:

 

Photo Credit: Rucha Deshpande

 

After saying our goodbyes to Vladana, who had to wake up early for work, and Bulgaria-bound Mariana we ended our night at a former beer factory and current hybrid parking lot (aka a central watering hole for an array of Serbian pubs).

 

 

Tomorrow we wake up at 9am to catch a private 9:30am bus to Sarajevo!

 

 

- At time of posting in Belgrade, Serbia, it was 18 °C - Humidity: 81% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy, overcast