March 2016 – A Review

Reviewing the past month is something I have not done in a long while. Now I have returned to blogging I feel it would be a good habit to get back into.

The big news for me was regaining the urge to travel again. Sometimes you lose the drive that made you want to travel in the first place. The good news that it has returned and I have made the commitment to book a trip to Bulgaria for late September. I cannot wait for it to come.

March also saw me start using the gym again. My physio recommended to help with the arthritis in my left knee. It has been successful. I have managed to lose 3.2 kg. This with the change of diet has helped the knee. It is important not to let arthritis take over your life.

I do not have much planned for April except saving and planning for the trip. More sessions in the gym are planned. The blog post this month will reflect my past travels. Overall I am feeling good about myself and look forward to what April brings.

Before I close I will share again the links to all March posts.

Midlifewanderlust1965 is dead, long live Midlifewanderlust1965!

The Next Trip

Hill of Three Crosses, Vilnius

Monument to Nothing Happening

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

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Day 12, 19 September – Oh, I’m Half Way There

I did not feel like getting out of bed today. It had been a good night, perhaps too good as I was feeling slightly fuzzy. When I managed to drag myself away from the bed I realised that I had missed breakfast. So I was going to have to venture outside into the old city. After much walking I found a restaurant. I ended up ordering a soup/stew concoction which for the like of me cannot remember the name. However, it filled the gap in my tummy.

Yummy

The weather was not looking too good and soon it started to rain hard. I decided it was best to make my way back to the hostel. The street vendors in Sarajevo were doing a roaring trade in umbrellas. When the rain stopped out came the fake sunglasses. Enterprising lot the people of Sarajevo.

The rest of the day was spent dodging the showers. I met up with Andrew who I had met in Mostar. We shared a Bosnian coffee while we discussed future travel plans. Sarajevo marked the half way point of my trip. Tomorrow I would be leaving for Belgrade. As I purchased my coach ticket I noticed the coach would be leaving a 6am. An early start, it is going to be a long day.

I am sad to be leaving Bosnia Herzegovina. It has a lot going for it. Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Day 11, 18 September – Everything Comes Together

This morning the weather looked more promising, time to explore Sarajevo properly. After a good breakfast in the hostel I made my way towards the historic centre.

My first stop was the Gallery 11/07/95. It is dedicated to Sebrenica massacre. I found this to me moving. The gallery tells the story of the events leading up to the massacre and why it happened. Watching the film I ended up feeling ashamed that the Western powers did not do more to stop this. It was clear what the Serbs wanted to do. Mladic even said that the Muslims were going to pay. The most heartbeaking moment was the scene where a woman was told that they were 99.994% sure they had found her husband's remains. A Japanese girl who was also watching just broke down in tears.

Moving on to the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque I needed to reflect on what I had seen. I could do with cheering up. At this point I bumped into Timo and Ahmed who I had met in Mostar. Ahmed is a bit of a legend as he had jumped the bridge in Mostar. He mentioned that others from the hostel had made their way to Sarajevo. Feeling somewhat better I decided to explore the city further by walking round in a circuit. I was not paying too much attention on where I was going. I was just happy to be ambling around.

Yesterday the bad weather had prevented me from joining the free walking tour. As the weather was better I thought I'd best check it out. As usual I was there too early but I did not mind. While waiting I saw a couple of familar looking figures. It was the German couple from Mostar. They introduced me to Ryan from Northern Ireland. While waiting more familar faces appeared. These were the girls from Ireland. We caught up with each other while we were on the tour. One of the girls had received some good about passing her law exams. So a night out was agreed.

Back at the hostel I bumped into another person I met in Mostar. She was from Korea. Today was getting better. While waiting to leave the hostel we starting talking to a couple of guys from France. We were getting on well and they started to share the red wine with us. It went down well so we asked them to join us on the night out and they accepted.

We all met up at the girl's hostel. It had a bar which we could use. Sadly, it had ran out of beer so we ended up drinking white wine and rakia. I am sure that this is not going to do me any good at all.

We made our way to the Hacienda Bar where we met up with Timo and Ahmed. It was too crowded so we went to the Blues Bar. This was more like it. Live music and a great atmosphere, what more could a man ask for in life? Drank too much and after a bite to eat staggered back to the hostel.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

The Highlights of 2013

In terms of travel 2013 was an excellent year for me. I felt that I had become a proper traveller. This gave me a sense of achievement which was added to the growth of the blog.

2013 saw me undertake two trips in Europe. In March I visited Vienna and Budapest. Despite the weather being cold I had an amazing time. While both cities had come up to my expectations, I was particually taken by Budapest. The city had a faded charm to it and I was left wanting more.

Zentralfriedhoff, Vienna
 
National Day, Budapest

However, the main highlight of 2013 was the trip to the Balkans in September. I was lucky that work allowed me to take three weeks off work. It was also my first multi-country trip too. I enjoyed the constant travelling and experiencing different hostels. The people I met along the way was also a bonus. For the first time I felt like a traveller. This trip changed me and the smile has still to leave my face.

Split
Dubrovnik

 

Mostar
Sarajevo
Belgrade
Ljubljana
Zagreb

I am looking forward to 2014. In my head I have more trips planned which I will announce soon in a future post. If it is half as good as 2013 I will be a happy man.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 8, 15 September – What a Pleasant Surprise

After one week on the road I was moving on to another country, Bosnia Herzegovina and the city of Mostar. It was an early start to the day and I tried my best not to wake anybody as I left the hostel. I think I succeeded in that regard.

The coach journey started by crossing into Bosnia and then back into Croatia before crossing again into Bosnia. I noticed that the signs were both in Latin and the Cyrillic alphabet. However, reminders of the war were evident as the Cyrillic signs were spray painted out. Eventually I arrived into Bosnia and the first thing that I noticed was the beautiful scenery. It was spectacular. Normally on a coach journey I would either read a book or catch up on some sleep. On this journey there was no chance of that as I was struck in awe.

View at first rest stop in Bosnia

Eventually I arrived into Mostar Bus Station. I needed the loo before I left for the hostel. The toilet had seen better days. Both urinals were broken and the main toilets were squat ones. I think I'll hold on until I get to the hostel.

The Hostel Madjas was something else. It felt more like somebody's home than being in a hostel. So much so I was told off for not taking off my shoes before entering the building.

After checking in I went off to explore the city. I was with Audrey an American who was also staying at the hostel. Audrey wanted to climb the minuet at the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque. It did seem a good idea at the time. However, this view changed as I realised how unfit I had become. That was a hard climb. That said, the views were worth the effort. We could see the old bridge and we were lucky that somebody had decided to jump off.

A smile of relief

Making our way across the bridge Audrey had agreed to meet up with a couple of Australians, Jonno and Claire. They were on an adventure of their own tomorrow by flying to Amman, Jordan via Istambul. Jonno pointed out a empty sheel of a building. Apparently this was used by Croatian snipers during the war. If this was the UK the building would have been closed off due to health and safety fears. Here, we were free to explore. The building is now used by the homeless, drunks and drug addicts but you could climb all the way to the top. You could see the used cartridges that were left. It was chilling to be able to pick them up. It all seemed surreal. Again at the top of the building you get great views of Mostar.

Used Cartridge
View from the sniper tower

Moving on we crossed through a park. Here we came across a sight that only Eastern Europe could bring. A statue of Bruce Lee. Why is it there? Nobody could answer.

We were told about the abandoned Partisan war cemetery, so we made our way there. As we entered we were given some funny looks by the local population. There were no signs and it had all become overgrown. I felt sad as I came across the broken gravestones. It was clear that this cemetery has been allowed to fall in disrepair. These stones were Muslim and I was in the Croatian part of Mostar. A Croatian state was established by Hitler during WWII.

The Partizan War Cemetary

Back at the hostel I enjoyed my first Bosnian coffee. The ritual behind it was interesting. However, being left handed pouring became awkward. I met up with more travellers. They were from all over the world. Australians, Germans, Belgians and French. We all decided to go for a meal. In the evening Mostar becomes quiet. It felt that we were to only people there.

Stari Most at night

We ate at a restaurant called Hindin Han that served traditional Bosnian food. The food was delicious and proved to be of excellent value. The atmosphere was great as we were people who loved travelling. Swapping tales of the road was a great way to end the day.

Fellow travellers

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 7, 14 September – Time To Think About Pastures New

I decided that I should purchase my coach ticket to Mostar. It was going to be an early start tomorrow so it was best to prepare. It was another scorching day so it gave me the perfect excuse to walk into town.

What I like about Dubrovnik is the quietness. There was hardly a soul about but it did not bothered me. The walk to the coach station took me past the cruise ship port. Until you see one for real you do not realise the size of them. It is the cruise ships that keep Dubrovnik going.

Cruise ship making its way to port.

I purchased my coach ticket to Mostar and made my way back to the hostel. I wanted to avoid the old town on Saturday afternoon. It was full of the cruise ship crowd. So I decided to venture out of town in the other direction. Again I was away from the crowds. This was going to be a quiet day. Tomorrow was going to be an early start. It felt good to be away from the bustle of the old town. The further I walked the quieter everything became. This was the first time in a week that I could gather my thoughts.

Eventually I turned back and returned to the old town. As it was quieter than first thought I decided to take in some of the sights. Firstly I went inside an art gallery and museum. The gallery was nothing spectacular. Dedicated to a local artist it was more of a shop than gallery. More interesting was the exhibition that was dedicated to replicas of documents charting the history of Dubrovnik.

Next up was War Photo Limted. It was a photography exhibition. Not just dedicated to the conflict of 20 years ago, there were also photos from conflicts in Africa and Asia. It was thought provoking and it was the first time that I had been reminded of the conflict.

My final museum was the Memorial Room of the Defenders of Dubrovnik. While it was small I found it to be moving and humbling. I saw photos of those who died while defending the city. While reading the signs it became clear from the language used that it will take a long time before there will be any forgiveness.

Looking at the photos of the city after the siege and then walking out into the plaza you would not be able to tell that anything happened. This maybe the biggest tribute I can give the city.

As the sun started to go down I made my way up to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As I climbed the steps I could hear the sound of bagpipes. They get everywhere. As I reached the top I could see a wedding party coming out of the church. The men looked stylish and the women beautiful, not that I know anything about fashion. As I made my way back down I could hear singing and music. More guests were arriving for the celebrations. It was a beautiful sight to see. It is not something I would see in the UK. This is why I travel. Tomorrow Mostar beckons.

Ticket to Ride

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 6, 13 September – Oh Sunny Day

I woke up this morning with my head feeling fuzzy. It was not an hangover but I had felt better. Also my tongue felt like it was itching. I wondered what I was going to do with myself for the day. With the hostel being underground it was hard to say what the weather was like. I needed not to worry as the weather was hot and sunny.

Breakfast was a pastry from the local bakery. It went down well as I made my way towards the old town. Neno the hostel owner told me that there were two things I should try while I was in Dubrovnik. Firstly, tour the city walls and then ride the cable car. Today I decided to try the city walls. I was not disappointed. Dubrovnik old town is beautiful. My finger never left the camera shutter button. At 90kn the tour lasted two hours. Also I walked the city walls early in the morning and I managed to avoid the cruise ship crowds.

 

For those of you who are looking to visit Dubrovnik my advise to you is to avoid the old town between the hours of 12-4pm. You cannot move for the cruise ship crowd. They were like sheep being herded by the dogs (tour guides). One aspect of Dubrovnik that disappointed me was the lack of signs for places of interest. There were plenty for the restaurants. My remedy to avoid the crowds was laundry. It was long overdue.

The laundrette was self service to the point that nobody was there. I seemed to be doing alright until I leant back and broke the chair. Oops, I hope there were no cameras to witness this.

Once back at the hostel I was not sure what to do. Eating out was not an option as it would put a dent into my budget. So homemade sandwiches it was with potato chips and fruit. It filled me up for the evening. I met a guy from Yorkshire, England who had just arrived from Mostar. He told me that I would love it. This was giving me something to look forward to. Kelly, a girl from Belguim suggested that we should go out for the evening and get some ice cream. It sounded a good idea to me. There is always room for ice cream even late in the evening. This was also a chance to console a Canadian girl who had just arrived into Dubrovnik. Sadly, her luggage had not, the worst fear for any traveller.

I felt that this was the best time to visit the old time. It was September and the season was starting to wind down. We were sitting on the steps of the cathedral enjoying our ice cream. We noticed a couple of guys taking photos. They had the full equipment including tripods. The wives/partners were with them and they looked fed up while their other halves were trying to shoot the perfect shot. I suppose it is better than using a iPad as a camera. That would lead me to a different subject altogether.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Split – A Reflection

I have to say that I loved my time in Split. There is so much to see and do there. It is not just the history or architecture, it is also about the people as well.

Split was the first stop on my trip so I was looking forward to going there. It has been over 25 years since I had visited the old Yugoslavia so I was interested to see how it compared today.

I was lucky that my hostel was a ten minute walk from the old town. Split dates back to Roman times with Diocletian's Palace being the main highlight. This is something that is played especially at midday with the parade of the Roman Guards through the Peristyle.

Crowds waiting for the parade to start.

One of the best ways to explore Split and the surrounding areas is to hire a bicycle for the afternoon. It was so relaxing going at your own pace. It is a excellent way of getting to the beach.

When you have had enough of the history one of the other pleasures I found was to walk along the marina. Split is used as the starting point for sailing around the islands that surround Croatia. I also noticed that along the path the plagues dedicated to all the Olympic Medalists from Croatia.

I only eaten at one restaurant in Split and that was the Fife (pronounced fi-fe). It had been recommended by the hostel owner Josko and also by Trip Advisor. It is popular because the food is excellent and is of good value too. The nightlife in Split is also excellent with plenty of small bars that open to late. You cannot fail to have a good time in Split.

To sum up, Split is a great place to visit for a weekend or a starting point to tour the rest of Croatia. I am already looking forward to returning back there soon.

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep on smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 2, 9 September – My Feet Are Not Touching The Ground

The coach pulled into Victoria Coach Station at around 1am. It was only an hour and ten minutes late. Still meant that I had missed my connecting coach to Gatwick Airport. There was another coach due to leave at 1:30. The driver said there was plenty of room but I had to get my ticket changed first. This was done easy enough and soon I was on my way to the airport. As much as I tried to get some sleep I was feeling too excited to settle down.

Arriving into the airport gave me the first chance to relax. Maybe arriving an hour later was a blessing in disguise as I spent less time waiting around in Gatwick. After drinking a cup of coffee to help keep me awake I checked in my rucksack. Typically it was classed as oversized. Time to wait for a member of staff to come and take it off me. After getting through check-in I was fighting to keep myself awake while I waited to board the flight. It was 4:00 and the duty free shops were opening. What a time to start work.

The flight to Split went smoothly. I must admit to not being one of the world's greatest flyers. Flew by Easyjet and it was not too bad considering it was my first experience with them. After collecting my rucksack Josko from the Split Guesthouse was there to take me to the hostel. Talking to him gave me the impression that he seemed a decent person bad I was going to enjoy my stay at the hostel.

Upon arriving Josko went out of his way to introduce me to everybody in the hostel. After a quick shower and change of clothes I was ready to hit the town. Charles from Canada suggested that I could tag along with him, Pavel, Manfred and Jeanette. Manfred was going home later that day so we wandered into the old town.

Pavel, Manfred, Charles & Jeanette
Pavel, Manfred, Charles & Jeanette

It was busy as it was lunchtime so we decided to climb the Bell Tower of St. Domnius. A tight climb but once at the top you are rewarded with excellent views of the city and harbour. Walking along the waterfront with Manfred we were stopped by reporters from RTL. They asked Manfred for his thoughts on Split. I was waiting for my turn but alas they ignored me. Another bid for stardom thwarted.

One of the many splendid views of Split.

Walking back towards the hostel it was suggested that we should hire bicycles for the afternoon. Somehow I agreed it was a good idea. So I paid 40kn for four hours. I had forgotten that I had not ridden a bike in over ten years. Yes, it is true you never forget how to ride one. Good job we were going downhill and the roads were quiet. Soon we were at the beach. A large beer was called for. Maybe this was not the greatest idea as I had not eaten since 1am. I was surprised that I could keep control of the bike.

Manfred suffered a problem when the chain on his bike snapped. Manfred, Charles and Pavel were looking for a cliff to jump off. There were plenty of them, the problem was how to climb back up. Manfred took his bike back while the rest of us went to find somewhere to eat. Josko had recommended the Fife as a popular and cheap place to eat. I ordered a local variation of Bangers and Mash. It tastes excellent and it had been well earnt.

Bangers & Mash - Croatian Style

The afternoon had been great fun but it was soon time to return the bikes. One tip when hiring a bicycle, make sure you know your route back. We ended up having carry the bikes up a load of stairs.

My Trusty Steed

Back at the hostel Josko treated everybody with a bottle of Absolute Vodka to share amongst us. Joined by a Australian and Welsh couple we were enjoying the vodka along with some beer. At 11pm it was decided we would venture into the old town to find some bars. It was a enjoyable night. The bars themselves were only a small room but the atmosphere was perfect. Even though I started to flag a little towards the end, it had been a great first day of my trip. Hopefully, the shape of things to come.

Thanks for a great night

Until the next post stay safe, stay healthy and keep smiling.

Steve

 

Balkans Day 1, 8 September – I Leave Today, What Can Go Wrong Now.

After months of planning and counting down the days the day has finally arrived to leave. I think that everybody was starting to get sick of me talking about the trip. My team I suspect were glad to see the back of me for the next three weeks. The trip has been my only focus for 2013 and it may have cost me a few sleepless nights and lost nights out.

At 7:20pm I left for the bus to take me into Birmingham. My backpack weighed heavy but it felt good to have it on my back again. No problems with the bus and I was soon at Birmingham Central Coach Station. All I need now is the coach. It arrives but was told it had pulled into the wrong bay. So everybody waited for the coach to move bays. We were going to leave late.

Once loaded the coach eventually left station. At the first set of traffic lights the driver gets off the coach and starts to check the rear indicators. This is not a good sign. We carry on until the we reach the outskirts of Coventry. The driver stops the coach, the lights had gone. Now it was time to panic as I have a connecting coach to catch. If there was a problem why did the driver say something at Birmingham. Upon advice from the garage in Birmingham the driver reset the lights. Low and behold they start to work again. Off we move towards Coventry Bus Station. What else could go wrong now.

Coventry Bus Station was chaos. It looked like that too many passengers had been loaded in Birmingham. The gentleman who was travelling with his son quite rightly was angry and refused to leave the coach. I think the driver allowed somebody to travel who was booked on another service. Anyway good fortune arrived when a woman offered to leave the coach and get another service.

We left Coventry at 22:40 over an hour later than planned. At least the coach to Gatwick Airport runs every hour, so I should in with a chance of getting on a later service. We will have to wait for the next day.