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


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


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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Just Passing Through

A quick glance at my Sleeping Around calendar shows that I've been on the move the past couple days. Normally, I like to stay in a town for a day or three. It allows me to get to know a place a little, unpack my bag, and spend at least a day not on a bus, boat, or train. But due to circumstances, I'm currently in the midst of the opposite—moving cities and countries on a daily (sometimes less) basis.

Though I usually prefer the slower schedule, the harried pace has its advantages too. I'm seeing some really neat stuff and taking notes for places I need to be sure and come back to*. Plus, the old passport is getting filled up mighty quickly. Today alone I passed through 3 countries*.

Come Monday*, I'll settle the schedule back down a bit and spend 3 weeks or so between Croatia and Bosnia, enough to at least learn "thank you" and "hello" in the respective languages. But for now, I'll just settle in for the ride and watch the countries roll by.
Saturday April 30 2011File under: travel, Balkans

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Athens in 12 Hours

It turns out that 12 hours isn't nearly enough time to see all that Athens, Greece has to offer, esp. when going on only 2 hours of sleep because of a fiasco of an overnight ferry ride*. But as that was the situation I found myself in, I thought I'd give it the old college try.

The Acropolis was the first and biggest thing on my agenda. The Parthenon is pretty incredible. Seeing in person the building that is associated with the pinnacle of Greek times, which, in my mind, is linked to the pinnacle of reason* was a moving experience that even the heavy construction and throngs of tourists couldn't fully damper. Another vista at the Acropolis that I've been wanting to see since my high school art history class was the Caryatids, which didn't disappoint.

I did my best to see all the other temples/ruins/etc. but I only had so much sightseeing fuel in my tank. It gets like that sometimes—the thought of seeing more ruins just isn't as appealing as, say, a 1 euro milkshake at McDonalds*. So while I did the temple of Zeus (see above), the Acropolis Museum, the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier, and a few of the narrow street shopping meccas, I left a few things for the next visit. And I hope there is a next visit. There has to be. The Parthenon will be even more spectacular after the renovation and my traditional jumping picture just didn't turn out*.
Wednesday April 27 2011File under: travel, Greece

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Photographing Greek Islands

On just about every postcard of Greece, every guide book cover—just about every image you seem to see of Greece, the view is almost the same: beautiful white buildings and blue shutters, domes, ocean, and sky. As an excuse to meander aimlessly here on Santorini (one of the most beautiful places on God's green earth), I decided I wanted to take that photo, one worthy of a guide book cover. It turns out that it isn't as easy as you might think.

While the picturesque white and blue buildings are everywhere, a combination of my past-its-prime camera and lack of photography skillz made getting a few shots I was really proud of a little tough. But from the oodles I took, a few turned out, which I present to you now.

(For full disclosure, I did use Photoshop* to enhance some colors on some photos (just brightness and contrast, etc.). But I'm told that photo people do that all the time anyway. And to be honest, the final product still doesn't come close to capturing the views that are all around.)

And just to keep things interesting(/boring for some of you), I had to get the random self-shots in as well. It wouldn't be a BdW travel post without a goofy arm-length self-shot.
Saturday April 23 2011File under: travel, Greece

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More Than Just a Bed

The stories that travelers tell non-travelers (or at least those not currently traveling) involve the things that have been seen and done in a place: hiking to old Venician mills, visiting hillside tropical monasteries, exploring beachside caves, or watching amazing sunsets. The stories that pass between travelers on the road, however, sometimes skew a little bit more towards the ordinary and mundane, about the little aspects of everyday life that make can make a huge difference. Among them is where to sleep.

Most of the time, any old bed will do. I've stayed in hostels were there is a bare bulb on the ceiling, 12 sweaty men packed in a room, and hospitality offered as though it were gold (i.e. not readily). But that's okay. I sleep, perhaps change clothes, and then head back out looking for adventure. But every now and again, finding a place to stay that is more than just a bed is a very welcome change. I found one of those places in the Youth Hostel Plakias on the southern coast of Crete.

Comfortable rooms, super friendly staff, wonderful atmosphere, cheap prices, and enjoyable fellow travelers doesn't even begin to cover it at YHP. For me, it was a place to recharge, decompress, and get some much needed things done. My days spent sitting around telling jokes, drinking hot chocolate*, juggling the fallen lemons from the tree in the yard were as enjoyable or more so than the ones out visiting ancient ruins or doggedly seeking out the some attraction or another.

While part of me feels like I could stay at a place like this for weeks and weeks*, I know that I need to keep that all important balance. There are more islands to explore, more attractions to visit, and more culture to gobble up. So, somewhat reluctantly, I leave Chris and YHP behind and head north. And while I know there will be many cold dank rooms ahead, I trust there will be places that are more than just a bed as well.
Wednesday April 20 2011File under: travel, Greece

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Historical Context

One must keep in mind, when visiting ruins, historical context. For me, this became quite apparent when I visited the premiere example of Minoan ruins, the must-see attraction on Crete, the Palace of Knossos. After reading up on it and hearing it talked up to me, to say that I was underwhelmed initially would be an understatement. It just looked like a pile of rocks. There are better ruins across the street from my hostel*.

But then I started reading the signs. Dates like 1900 B.C. and 1700 B.C. kept jumping out at me. That's old! And then I started thinking no wonder they don't compare to the ruins I saw at Ephesus, Heroplis, or Olympos. They were built over 1500 years before those places!

For me, impressive architecture is what I like in my ruins. Big and fancy things, like temples that dwarf everything around (like Tikal) or intricate carvings (like Angkor), are what make a set of ruins worth visiting for me. But this time around, I gained an appreciation for the other side of ruins, the contextual side. To realize that people lived in the houses that these foundations once held almost 4000 years ago is impressive in its own way. And while maybe there aren't the glossy brochure photo opportunities, I got off a decent shot or two.
Sunday April 17 2011File under: travel, Greece


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