Things I Learned in Paris

One of the many fun things about traveling is learning, esp. learning about things you knew of before, but not so much about. So in the spirit of sharing, here are a few things I found interesting in my time in Paris. (To just tell you the trivia tidbits would be way too easy, so instead, I present it in quiz form.)

1. What is the river that bisects Paris, and how is it properly pronounced?*

2. The popular Paris attraction, which, in French is known as La Joconde, is known as what in English? hint*

3. There is a smaller (but still largish) Statue of Liberty on an island near the base of the Eiffel tower. Was it made before or after New York City's statue of the same name?*

4. Moulin Rouge translates to what in English? hint: it's not "skimpily clad dancing girls"*

5. Who designed the famous pyramid at the Louvre (and, for bonus points, what other famous monuments has he/she designed)?*

6.For how many years was the Eiffel Tower the tallest building in the world: 0 years, 21 years, 41 years, 61 years?*
Tuesday May 31 2011File under: travel, France

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Paree

       
After a couple months spent travelling is slightly lesser known parts of the world, I now find myself in Paris, where there's a famous monument, museum, or building on every street corner. And to tell you the truth, I'm enjoying it much more than I thought I would. Versailles, the Eiffel Tower (twice), Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame (twice) done so far, with the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, possibly the Pantheon, and much more to go.
Friday May 27 2011File under: travel, France

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A Country Divided

Bosnia and Herzegovina is the official name for this country that I've been hanging out in the last couple weeks, although it seems that most people call it plain old Bosnia. But the duality implied in the name is well placed, as I have learned. Politics, geography, language, and more all seem to come in sets of two.

The country is divided into two states, the Federation* and Republic of Srpska*, each with its own territory, its own political system, and even its own alphabet. Republic of Srpska generally uses the Cyrillic alphabet on street signs, etc. while the Federation uses Latin characters. They both spell out the same words, mind you, but in different alphabets.

The whole alphabet thing is pretty intriguing, but the thing that really gets me, that really makes this duality thing so hard to ignore is that they have two different versions of each denomination of paper money, one with a representative of the RS and one from the Federation. They have the same value, and can be spent exactly the same, but it is just that the country couldn't agree on who to put on their money.

I try hard not to judge this duality that is rather impossible to ignore. I know there are years of history behind it, and it is much more complex than I can imagine. But I can't help but wonder if this duality is sustainable. If I return to this area in 10 years, will I have to pass through passport control in going from Banja Luka to Sarajevo? Or maybe it will get all worked out through a charismatic leader that everyone can get behind.

However it pans out, for this trip, it has made for an eye opening experience.
Tuesday May 24 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Most Mira Recap

How do I sum up a week spent volunteering at the Most Mira festival, an arts festival for kids in NW Bosnia to promote peace by teaching children to play and create together? Well, I can tell you now, inadequately. But I'll try here with a 3 pronged approach.

Prong #1 - the Kids: Kids are kids the world over. They like to laugh, to play, and the circus*. The fact that we didn't share a common language* didn't stop them from learning just about every trick I could remember in my diabolo workshop. Gestures, high-fives, smiles, and a universal "bravo" go a long way. And at the end of the week, what a better way to celebrate new skillz learned, friendships formed, and smiles had than by putting on a show under the big top. (Oh, and it wasn't just kids that like to learn and play...)

Prong #2 - the People: One of the things that made Most Mira so wonderful was the other volunteers I got know. How often is it that in a single day, one can have a meaningful conversation about European politics, get a lecture on the gypsy language Romani*, give an impromptu clown/juggling performance with a perfect stranger, watch more hands than necessary go up for any task that needed to be done (no matter how unpleasant), and fall asleep to amazing drum music? Well, at Most Mira, that was pretty much every day.

Prong #3 - Bonuses: Outside of the magic of the festival, there were all sorts of hidden bonuses. Just one example: we got to attend a performance of traditional folk dance/music as the guests of honor (where, among others, I ended up on stage doing a club passing routine with some of my clowny friends).

See? A totally inadequate summary. But fitting an experience that big into just a few words is just downright impossible. I guess to get the full story, you'll just have to ask me about it sometime. I'm happy to share!
Sunday May 22 2011File under: Balkans, circus

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Peace Through Circus

What happens when you get a mix of people who speak Romanian, English, French, and Serbo-Croatian* all trying to put up a circus tent together? Well, the tent gets put up all the same and we all get to know each other a bit better. Oh, and we all have a dry place to juggle!*

Did I mention that I'm in NW Bosnia volunteering with a circus at an arts festival to promote peace between the strongly divided communities of children here. (Clever segue, eh?) The festival is called Most Mira* and it is pretty awesome concept. In a country where people seem to dislike people only because of their religion or which alphabet they seem to prefer (which, if you recall, led to some rather extreme nastiness back in the 90s), focusing on teaching the children that we all like to play, create art, make music, and dance and building friendships between them before the hatred is too ingrained seems like a pretty good idea to me.

I feel infinitely lucky that I've found my way here, to help out and experience the magic in person. Plus, any place where I can juggle 4 hours a day (shoeless and shirtless no less) and not be out of place is a place for me!
Sunday May 15 2011File under: Balkans, circus

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Ask a Vela Lukan

I'm here in Vela Luka, Croatia, another sister city to my home town of Anacortes. (Previous coverage on sister cities here.) I thought what better way to find out about the town than to take to the streets. Special thanks to Horge for acting as translator, photographer, and motivator!

What do you like best about Vela Luka?
Healthy living and there are good jobs here.

~Svjetislav, parks maintenance worker
It's not so touristy here. Just a real town with real life.

~Lynny, bike trip leader
I dunno. I guess I'm used to it and my friends are here.

~Ivan, waiter
The sea and the sun.

~Andres, parks maintenance worker

Wednesday May 11 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Dubrovnik the Exclave

Dubrovnik, Croatia is geographically very interesting. To get to Dubrovnik from any other part of Croatia, you have to drive through Bosnia (albeit a span of about 10 kilometers). That chunk of land is detached from the rest of the country, much in the same way Alaska is detached from the lower 48*. These separated chunks, I learned, are called exclaves. In the case of Dubrovnik, it is a pene-exclave because theoretically, you could take a boat, without leaving Croatian waters, there. This geographic anomaly, which is somewhat rare, is something I've always wondered about. Now I've got a name for it. How many exclaves can you think of?

Speaking of Dubrovnik, it's awesome. Narrow [carless] streets, wonderful architecture, sculptures, churches, and more. To wander through the town, grabbing a slice of pizza or and scoop of ice cream, discovering all the back alleys was my main activity. But I also got out for a hike up to a geocache (while tempted, we did not take the cable car), checked out some of the parks, and plotted how my visit will go next time I come back to Dubrovnik. Yes, folks, it is just that awesome.

Fun and learning—all and all, not a bad way to spend a couple of days*.
Tuesday May 10 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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The Old Bridge of Mostar

What would you put on the cover of a guidebook for your town? A scenic landscape or cityscape? A person that embodies the locals? Or maybe a famous building, bridge, or statue? Well, in the case of Mostar, Bosnia, there is no question. The image that represents the city, and possibly even the nation, is the Old Bridge. It is the icon of Mostar.

And what, as a tourist, do you do when you see the icon of a place? Take pictures of course! But you can only have so many pictures of a thing. So sometimes you've gotta get a little creative and throw in a little variety. I present that variety thusly.

(We're having a great time. Having a travel buddy is wonderful. Hopefully a more comprehensive blog post coming soon.)
Saturday May 7 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Bullet Holes and Blown Out Buildings


I see bullets wizz by on the movie screen often and think little of it. Even hearing the sound of shots* from a distance doesn't really bring the concept of bullets to life. Seeing buildings convered with bullet holes while walking down the street, however, brings that concept that I've been so lucky to avoid in my life into a little bit better perspective.

I was a little young to be following the news when the Yugoslavian wars happened (1991-1998*), but the place names have always been laced in my mind with some of that subtext. But now, while traveling the streets of some of the cities involved (Sarajevo and Mostar, Bosnia), that general vague sense of what went down now has come into much clearer view.

I'm fortunate enough to be traveling with my friend Horge who graciously acts as tour guide and historian explaining who was on which side fighting for what*, pointing out blown out building after blown out building and other little reminders, etc. While it is not the kind of sightseeing I usually do, I'm glad I'm getting this perspective, getting to see this destruction that has had such a huge impact on this area in the so recent past.
Wednesday May 4 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Different but Same Same

In travel, much attention is paid to that which is unique and different. Or maybe it's the best, biggest, or oldest that guide books tout and travelers flock to. While this side of travel is something I enjoy*, the other side of the traveling can be just as powerful.

At their true core, I assert that there are more similarities between the towns and cities of this world than differences. I was reminded of this thought* while wandering around Nikšić*, Montenegro on another "since-you're-gong-to-be-in-________,-will-you-please-_______" mission*.

Like all cities of its size, it has places where people go to gather, to recreate, to pray, to buy stuff, and to eat. People nod at you when you pass by, people play with their children in the park, and people sip coffee in sidewalk cafes. If it weren't for the signs being in a different language, you might mistake Nikšić for a city in any number of countries around the world.

This is not to say, however, that Nikšić is without its charm or notable features. If it were featured in a guide book*, the vast town square with its giant guy-on-horse statue would undoubtedly be mentioned. Also, its pleasant, much treed park would be called out. "A warm summer evening's dinner in a Nikšić street cafe is enough to ease the most stressed day," the guide book blurb might say.

These core samenesses that I see everywhere I go are a comfort, a reminder of the oneness of the people of this world as much as the star attractions are a reminder of the incredible diversity. Three cheers for travel!

@Ma: I took more pictures of Niksic for your friend and can either e-mail them home or bring 'em when I come.
Monday May 2 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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