Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

You Went to Bosni Hershey – where?

Come on, it’s easy. Ready?

Bauz – knee – uh……Her – tseg – oh – vee – nuh.

See? Piece of cake. And yes, I added another new country to my list, Bosnia Herzegovina, down in the Balkans, southern Europe. A friend recently told me Sarajevo was a pretty interesting place to visit so, what the heck, why not? It was an easy flight: Budapest to Vienna to Sarajevo, couple of hours flight time, and bim, bam, boom I was at the tiny Sarajevo airport around 2:30 PM on Thursday June 2. I had arranged to be picked up and driven to the Hotel President, right on the banks of the Miljacka River at the beginning of the Old Town area, so my visit began without a single hitch.

As is my wont, I checked into the hotel and hit the tourist office just down the street to see what was happening. What was happening was the nearby Sarajevo Brewery, just a five-minute walk on the other side of the river, slightly uphill. I was hungry and thirsty so I made the short trek and found --- WOW! A great brewery with an even greater gigantic restaurant/pub/bar/music club. I was impressed, and even more so when I tasted that wonderful fresh-brewed beer, made right there behind the restaurant. Several of those little beauties, accompanied by some Bosnian sausages with chips and I was a happy camper once again. And yet another surprise: When the bill arrived I was really happy; I think Sarajevo might actually be less expensive than Budapest, a status I hadn’t yet found in Europe; my lunch, three 0.33 Litre beers and the meal, all cost a grand total of 12 Bosnian Marks, or about 6 euro (around $6 US). And now it was time to explore a little.
I walked the Old Town area in general, just to get a feel for this part of the city. There was a light rain, but nothing serious, so I was able to cover much of the ground near the hotel. The River Miljacka runs right through the center of town, so I walked across the Latinsky Most, the bridge next to which Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated in 1914, thus kick-starting World War I. I found the old caravanserais and the new hotels; I marked the bullet holes in some of the buildings, still unrepaired from the 1992-1995 war and I noted the proximity of the houses of worship of the four major religions – Christian, Muslim, Orthodox and Jewish. It seems the Bosnians are generally quite tolerant of each other’s religions, something not always found in this area.

After a clean-up, I was back at the Sarajevo Brewery for a late dinner and some local music, performed by the brewery’s own traditional Bosnian band. There was a fiddler, guitar, accordion and a guy playing some sort of small drums. They were fun and happy and entertaining, and the place was more crowded than it was at lunchtime. I had the Mediterranean cutlet with veggies and fries and, of course, more of that great beer. I even sang along with the band in Bosnian – I can do that after several beers.
Fortunately, the place has very high ceilings, so the smoke from the indoor cigarette smokers wasn’t too annoying. Yes, smoking inside is still allowed in this non-EU country, but most people didn’t seem to be heavy smokers, and I sat outside a lot, so it wasn’t too bad. In fact, many of the locals seemed to prefer smoking their hookahs (water pipes), which was much better for us clean-air folks.

Friday, June 4, dawned bright and clear and sunny and I was ready for a more in-depth tour of the city. I chose a circular, weaving route around and through the Old Town and downtown areas. Checked out the Miljacka River (still there), walked the main square (Serbilj), saw the Clock Tower (“SAVE the clock tower!”), peeked in at the university (was surprised at what I found there), cruised by the churches and mosques and ended up waaay down at the City Center shopping mall.

Took the tram back to the hotel. (NB: The old, beat-up trams were retired by the Czech Republic years ago, then donated to BH after the 1992-95 war to help the city get back on its feet again; the trams are old and somewhat rusty and quite basic inside and out, but they work and that’s what matters; plus, they have character!). Couldn’t find any shops selling that great Turkish ice cream, so had one of the national dishes of BH on the Serbilj Square, cevap – little sausage-shaped meat sticks in a pita bread, with potatoes, sour cream, onions and lemonade. I really wanted a baklava for dessert, but the Lukatch Curse was alive and well in Sarajevo; when I asked for baklava, the waiter said, “Oh, we don’t have that.” Sigh. So I settled for something called a jabukovaca, a rolled filo dough stuffed with apples. Not bad, tasty in fact, but not baklava.

Strolled through the old converted caravanserai, now a small shopping bazaar, not anywhere near as big or grand as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; guess we can call this one the Not-So-Grand Bazaar; it was nice, but a touch too modern for me. After a brief rest and clean-up, I trammed down to the US Embassy at the other end of town to meet up with old Budapest Bud Dave, now stationed in Sarajevo. Turned out there was a going-away party at the Marine House, so I got to have several Samuel Adams beers before we left. Dave’s lovely wife Eva was also there, with their four-year-old daughter Lina, whom I’d never met, so it was a really good reunion. I even met one of the USAID accounting managers who also knew our old friend Sandra, from Budapest. Small world.

Dave and I then wandered off for dinner at a new place called the Burger Bar, offering gourmet hamburgers, sort of like many other places of that type around Europe these days. Good burgers. On the way back to my hotel I finally noticed a baklava café, so got to have my favorite dessert after all. As is often the case, it was anti-climactic – Turkish baklava is not made with honey, like the Greek, so I was left filled but unsatisfied; story of my life.
Thus came Saturday. This was my Big Tour Day, arranged with Nermin, tour guide extraordinaire, through my Budapest downstairs friends and neighbors Robert and Marie, who had gone with Nermin the previous year. We had a full day planned, so I met him at the restaurant next to my hotel at 7:15 AM and, after a glass of Turkish tea, we started out. We walked the Old Town area, much as I had done the previous day, but this time with Nermin’s narrative, telling me about the buildings and history. We walked through the Morica Han, another old caravanserai, did the City Hall, checked out the House of Spite (where I would lunch later during my stay) and covered all the interesting sights of downtown Sarajevo. We drove and walked through a couple of city parks, then did the famous Tunnel Tour, going through the exhibition of the 800-meter tunnel that was dug during the 1992-95 war, under the airport, to ferry supplies and weapons in and people out of besieged Sarajevo. We even got to go through a 21-meter portion of the original tunnel, and could imagine what it must have been like to travel the entire 800 meters, carrying food or water, or maybe a small child. Fascinating and poignant, hard to do, but a testament to the strength and determination of the Bosnian people.

A lovely drive through the nearby mountains, checking out the hotels and abandoned bobsled run, then it was off for the two-hour drive to Mostar. Along the way we stopped in Jablanica at the Kovacevic restaurant for some fresh-roasted lamb. And it was, as they always had 8-10 lambs roasting on the water-turned spits for hungry tourists. Truly a taste treat, and the setting, overlooking green hills and a blue mountain lake, couldn’t be beat. One of the few times I wished I had a female traveling companion.

Got to Mostar and headed right for the famous Mostar bridge. The original was destroyed during the 1990’s war, then rebuilt using much of the same original stone. It hangs about 25 meters above the Neretva River and is a tourist magnet. Really. The place was packed with tourists, most of them off nearby cruise ships docked at Dubrovnik. The surrounding Old Town is also quite enchanting, although so over-touristed it lost much of its charm to commercialism. Two local youths offered to dive off the bridge if paid enough, but no one paid them while I was there, so I never got to see the dives. Maybe next time.
We finished our day tour with a visit to the Dervish House in Baglavi and the nearby cave in the mountain, from which gushes forth one of the local rivers. Then a 40-minute drive to the Kravica waterfalls, which is really an amazing sight for this part of the world; five or six waterfalls (depending on how you count), set down in a gorge and emptying into a lake in which locals swim and boat in the summer months. A great end to a great day. And all for only 200 euros!

We got back to the hotel in Sarajevo around 10:30 PM, so it was definitely a full day. I was ready for bed, but the helpful young woman at Reception told me the night was still young and so, apparently, was I, and I should take advantage and go out and party, so I did. The bar quarter was absolutely heaving with young Bosnians intent on having a fun Saturday night. There was the City Bar, City Pub, City Lounge, Cheers, Murphy’s, Tesla, City Streets, City Life, City Titty – too many to count. Lots of young girls in tight skirts and really high heels, making them all six feet tall, except for some of the younger ones who looked about 15 in their tennis shoes. I couldn’t find any live music – guess it was Ramadan – but the recorded house music was so loud you had to shout into someone’s nose to be heard. Plus, most of the young women smoked, which is a major turnoff for us old non-smokers, as it’s like kissing an ashtray. Finally, I was the only male within three city blocks without black hair. Another sigh. A couple of beers and I called it a night.

Sunday morning was quiet, with some slow strolling after my previous active day. More sightseeing and lunch at the best bureka place in town, Sac, where I had the regular meat-filled bureka, sort of a rolled filo dough with meat inside. Yummy. I caught up on my sleep during the early afternoon, then taxied over to Dave and Eva’s place on a nearby hillside for a barbecue evening. The view from their communal rooftop is amazing, encompassing the entire valley and city and surrounding hills. Dave said they spend a lot of time up there. There were other guests from the US Embassy, including some who lived in the same complex. Lots of kids, too.

While I stuffed my face with cevap, Dave casually informed me that our buddy Matt, from Budapest lo those many years ago (he left in 2006), and who had been attending a wedding in Belgrade., had been able to get a flight into Sarajevo the following day, Monday, for one night, just to see us. Well, that really made my trip. Dave and Matt and Eva, friends and party goers from my heyday in Budapest. And here I thought Monday would be a restful day. Not a chance. Matt was staying at my hotel, so I’d meet him when he arrived and we’d contact Dave to see how and where we could all meet up.

The rain started around 8 PM or so, so the party broke up and I walked down the steep stone trail to the river and back to my hotel. Well, sort of; just a minor detour to the City Lounge for a nightcap, and then, finally that nice soft bed in the Hotel President.

Monday was Museum Day. I caught the Siege Museum, the Museum of the Assassination and the Sarajevo history museum. Overdosed on museums, but worth seeing. After some late-morning strolls between museums and along the river, I decided on lunch at The House of Spite, just across the river from city hall. What a great name; that song kept running through my mind: “Welcome to the House of Spite!” I’ll let you Google it for the history, but it’s definitely worth a look.. I had the Bosnian Tasting Plate that day, complete with meat, stuffed pepper, rice, stuffed cabbage and dolma. Washed down with a beer, it was perfect. The rain started up again and came down fairly consistently all during lunch, after which it stopped, which helped my final day’s explorations.

A brief afternoon rest and I was waiting in the lobby when Matt showed up around 4:30. Hadn’t changed a bit in the several years since we’d last met up. Still happy and jovial and enjoying life. He was hungry and thirsty, so we walked up the hill to the Sarajevo Brewery for some lunch for him and beer for us both. Dave and Eva and their daughter Lina joined us and it was another great reunion. Lina and Eva had to leave early, so the three of us boys took off for Dave’s local, the Famous Grouse Pub, on the street leading to the primary church in the downtown area. It was a tiny place, but had good beer and, of course, rakija. This last was served in little narrow-necked vases about three inches high; I had the honey-flavored brand and was happy with my choice, as it went down just right; not enough O’s in ‘smooth.’

We closed down that pub around 11 PM and Dave departed for home, while Matt and I decided to close down the City Pub with another beer or two. It was a good chance to catch up on our lives and discuss important things – as gents with a slight buzz always do. We solved the problems of the world that night, but, of course, forgot our solutions in the morning; it never fails.

Tuesday was Leaving Day. Early breakfast at the hotel, then Matt and I spent some more quality time chatting until my airport pickup showed up around 11:30. Off to the very small Sarajevo airport, flights to Vienna and then home to Budapest. Sarajevo is highly recommended for an interesting weekend; all the more so if you can connect with old friends and make a few new ones. Now it’s resting time until late July when it will be another beach holiday in the Mediterranean. Y’all take care and enjoy the summer.