Monday, June 30, 2008

your basic solvenian dairy farm

valentin getting ready to milk the cows

our dairy farm even came with a mom who brought clare and i cookies and lemonade!

just an elegant profusion of flowers growing over an old pile of stone shingles.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

the short end of the stick

there's a big party in our little village, and who wants to teach me to dance to the local folk music? the local, shall we say, unbalanced guy. photo by clare

and who singles clare out? only the most beautiful italian solvenian at the ball!

photo by clare

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

the hitch is on to rijeka, croatia - and ronald the putnik

after being dropped off in the middle of a freeway, and after clare fell in a hole, and after we nearly died from dehydration (ok, maybe that's an exaggeration...), we found the shady sanctuary of a toll both and the kindness of the workers. i'm talking about beer. that's right, an ample supply of beer...

and then one of the kindest, coolest truck drivers ever picked us up, took us to lunch, bought us ice cream, and tried his best to do a muscle-man pose for us without laughing.

a little croatian countryside

clare resting her legs after the whole falling-in-a-hole incident

and then came ronald. ronald was our couchsurfing host in rijeka. he's built like a football player, has beautiful piercing blue eyes, has travelled the trans-siberian highway, been to iran and the great wall of china, visited north korea (no simple task), and like me, loves the show "weeds."

our last driver spoke no english at all. we put ronald on the cellphone with him and they arranged a drop-off point for us. by this time it was 10pm. just as the truck rolled away leaving clare and i and our packs at a roadside gas station, ronald rolled up to pick us up. it was amazing timing that could have only happened with ronald. ronald the consummate couchsurfing host. ronald the putnik (voyager). ronald the kindred soul. i should have stayed much longer with ronald...

Monday, June 23, 2008

sibenik, croatia

our couchsurfing host's place in sibenik is a beautiful ancient building, the facade of which i failed to photograph, but...

this is the view of the inner courtyard from the kitchen window at silvija's place.

and this is the view from my bedroom window. ohhh yeah...

and this is just a conglomeration of buildings and ex-buildings that i loved

here's my hitchhiking, busking, couchsurfing host silvija on left performing with her drumming partner at a street festival on the waterfront. photo by clare

while we were in sibenik, clare and i hitched a ride on a sailboat from sibenik to the waterfall filled krka national park photos by clare

spent some time at the beach, and nearly hitched a 3 day ride on a boat filled with 7 really sweet italian guys, one of which i had a great philosophical conversation with that i think i will remember for a long, long time. and i hope that he does too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

hitching to sibenik

without exception, hitchhiking in europe has been great. i have gained something special from each of the people with whom I have ridden with. (wow, i'm having a huge deja vu right now about whether "with whom i have ridden" is the right phrase to use...)

so today clare and i hitch from zelenkovac in bosnia to sibenik, croatia. within seconds after exiting boro's place, the first car comes by as we are running across the road to get on the right side. we stick out our thumbs as we are running - and giggling, we catch our first ride. he's a doctor who speaks a few words of english. he wonders why we are visiting bosnia. when we tell him how beautiful we think the country is, in the now familiar gesture, he points to his head and tells us that the country may be beautiful, but people's heads are "bad" now because of the war. he drops us in a small town and we wait just long enough for our next right to have time to make and eat sausage and cheese sandwiches. (ok, clare made them and i ate them...)

photo by clare

our next ride is with two huge army guys. let me just say here that bosnian serbs in particular seem to be really big guys. i know i'm only 5' 3", but these guys are seriously tall and have really big hands. oh, and i've never seen so many giant piercing blue eyes anywhere in my life!

anyway, the driver speaks some english, and the passenger none. through the broken english, it sounded like they were affiliated with nato. they drive us through the bosnian and croatian countryside.

they ask why we would choose to visit these countries. they smirk when i tell them that i think bosnia is a beautiful country, point to their heads, and tell us that the country may be beautiful, but the people's minds are not. not anymore. after awhile the driver looks back at us and tells us that we have "big hearts" to have come here alone.

photo by clare

photo by clare

soon after being dropped off in livno, we get our 3rd and final ride. after a detour to sit on the levy of a beautiful lake in Croatia,

and another detour to our ride's father's penthouse apartment overlooking the sibenik coastline where we were fed an absolute feast,

photo by clare

photo by clare

we were dropped at the doorstep of our couchsurfing host's place on the dock at sibenik.

another perfect day.

goodbye my bosnian fairytale

we went to zelenkovac on a whim without knowing what we'd find there, thinking that we'd spend a couple of days there before heading to the croatian coast.

we ended up spending a week there and it wasn't even close to long enough.

amazing bosnia:

photo by clare

photo by clare

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

my friend

we've had a few nights of pretty good beer drinking and dancing at zelenkovac, but tonight it's quiet as i sit across the table from a friend i have made there. he speaks very little english. i speak no serb except for beer, thank you, and a curse word that i just learned earlier in the evening.

we're drinking beer - again. he points to my beer and asks "why you drink?" i have no answer. he points to his beer and says "sarajevo." he makes fast cutting motions across his throat with his hand. "wife" he says. "wife." "son, eight" he says and then cups the sides of his face with his hands and mimes screaming. he points to the top of his head and pounds on it with his knuckles. it makes a strange sound. he grabs my hand, balls it into a fist and pounds it across the top of his head just above the forehead. "plastic. three." he says as he knocks hard again on three separate places across the top of his head.

finishing his beer, he calls for a new one "pivo!" he lights another cigarette and hitches up his shirt exposing deep scars from bullet wounds, first on the left side then the right. we sit silent, looking at each other for a long time. i feel the tears coming and i want them to stop.

the silence is broken when he points to his eyes and traces tear trails from his eyes down his cheeks with his fingers. "night" he says "bad." "wife. big love. big love." he holds my hand from across the table and gently slides his fingers down my palm, then pulls out his wallet and shows me a photo of himself from 1990, just 2 years before the siege on sarajevo. he is attractive, thin, young, blond. i barely recognize the man in the photo in the person sitting in front of me now. he is the same age as me and looks like he is 60. he is still beautiful, just in a different way. he shows me a photo of his wife and his child from that time.

there is nothing i can do to stop the tears now. he is wiping away his own tears when he see mine and he apologizes over and over again. i tell him that it's ok. we sit and look at each other for awhile and then he says "yebega" (phonetic spelling), a word that i have just learned. the closest translation into english is "f**k it." we giggle, toast with our beer bottles and say "yebega" together. he looks at me and says "you understand?" i nod my head.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

zelenkovac, podrašnica, republika sprska, bosnia: my kind of place

clare and i arrived at zelenkovac in podrašnica last night and walked up the rutted dirt road - more like a streambed - to the main lodge. before we could make it in the door, the carload of local men who greeted us as they passed us on their way there (it's a popular gathering place and bar for people within a 50km radius) rushed to help us with our bags and buy us the first of many a beer.

this was where it became clear to me that i apparently possess some sort of strange magnetic ray that draws bosnian serb men to me. the ray is powerful and they are helpless. it is my gift and my curse. they must stare intently at me, sit next to me, put their arm around my shoulders, hug me, stroke my hair and push it back from my face. and buy me beer... by the end of the night the owner the bartender had to physically toss one guy out who just couldn't stay away from me. ok, he was pretty old and drunk, but that still counts, right? i'm thinking i kind of like this place. tee hee!

zelenkovac is a fairytale and i fall in love with it within minutes.

boro, the artist owner in the foreground
milo, local artist madly in love with clare in the background
photo by clare

Saturday, June 14, 2008

bus hitching in the republika sprska, bosnia

ann and geoff are the reason that clare and i ended up on the road hitching towards a teeny little town in bosnia called podrašnica.

we met ann and geoff at our couchsurfing host's place in sarajevo. ann is from indiana, did a internship in israel and then took off hitching around europe solo for nearly a year. her boyfriend from back home, geoff, just joined her in the last month or so. they told us about zelenkovac, a rustic mountain camp in the northern part of bosnia (or the west part of the republika srpska depending on your political leanings) run by a very, uh, interesting artist named boro. so clare and i decided to skip dubrovnik croatia and detour to zelenkovac.

our first ride was with a guy who spoke only a few words of english but nevertheless managed to communicate that he was a counselor for people who had psychological issues as a result of their experiences in the war. his services were free. in words and gestures that would become very familiar to me later, he pointed to his head and said "bad. very bad." the next ride was with a truck driver who spoke english well enough for us to have a bit of a conversation. he was driving to italy in a few days and it flashed through my head that i might rather go with him to italy than to a weird artist camp in the middle of the republic of serbian/bosnian mountains... fresh from sarajevo, and informed about the war only by the american media, i am wholly ashamed to admit that deep inside, i had some misgivings about interacting with serbians.

by the time our driver had to drop us off , it had begun to drizzle just a bit. just up the road from us facing the opposite direction was a parked van surrounded by a dozen drunken men in sports jerseys (some in women's wigs) shouting and waving some sort of banner at the cars passing by. within moments of our arrival on the side of the road, two of the men jumped in the van, pulled a u-turn and hopped out to talk to us. amidst our view through the open side panel of the van of the beer bottles littering its floor, and despite the lack of a common language, we managed to tell them we were headed in the direction of jajce. once again, in a fabulous burst of synchronicity, it turns out that they were actually from the town of jajce and the reason for their drunken, wig-wearing, shouting fest was that their team was in the finals of a tournament and they were trying to whip up some fan enthusiasm. so they took us off off the freeway and onto the entry of the small road that led to jajce. just where we needed to be.

at this point, i'd like to take a moment to thank b&k for providing me with a last-minute rain poncho before i left california, because it started to drizzle just a little harder. so i put that sucker on and stood over our packs like a penguin over it's egg. and in under 10 minutes we had been picked up hitching by a BUS! not just any bus, but a bus headed through jajce and past podrašnica- exactly where we were going. it pulled over, a couple of men jumped out and threw our bags on the bus, everyone laughed and we were on our way.

but wait, it gets better! i, apparently, am quite attractive to the men of bosnia - particularly those of the serbian variety. one of the drivers (it was a long trip, so the driving duties were shared by 2 drivers) had quite a little crush on me. through a passenger interpreter, he told me that he wanted me to stay in bosnia with him. at one point, the bus stopped so people could pick up some food for the trip. soon thereafter, i was handed a sausage sandwich, compliments of the driver. when i finished that one, another one was promptly offered. awwww, shucks....

eventually we made it to the teeny little village of podrašnica and were pointed to the road we needed to head up in order to reach zelenkovac, boro's place. soon after we started walking, we heard a vehicle coming. we stuck out our thumbs, and were immediately picked up by another bus. they took one look at us and our bags, said "zelenkovac", to which we nodded our heads, grabbed the bags, loaded them in the bus, hustled us in, dopped us off at boro's, and waved good-bye. unbelievable!

harun and i on the bus to podrašnica
photo by clare

Friday, June 13, 2008

ain't nothing but a stranger in this world

so i'm sitting here weeks after being in sarajevo and i've decided that there's not much more i want to say about it.

i can say this: bosnia is incredibly beautiful; perhaps the most beautiful country i've ever seen. (slovenia is in hot competition though.) miles and miles of green forested mountains and pastures filled with wildflowers. it seriously looks like a place straight out of fairytales. at every turn you expect to see a gingerbread cottage. but instead you find bullet hole ridden homes and burned out shells of houses...

and i can say this: hitching from hungary to sarajevo hungary was easy. the first guy who picked us up dropped us at the border crossing at udvar. from there, a really nice hungarian thermal engineer working in bosnia picked us up and gave us helpful tips, like "never walk off the paved road unless you want to get blown up by a landmine." you know, stuff like that. later, a man i met in bosnia would give us more detailed info on how to avoid landmines. if you see a field which isn't being farmed and all the plants are about the same size, it's a good guess that the locals think, but aren't sure if it's been mined or not and so it's been left alone since the war. a good place to avoid.

beautiful city, ringed by beautiful mountains
photo by clare

look closely and it's filed with cemeteries...
photo by clare

where i stayed in sarajevo. bullet holes are being patched.

one view from my bedroom.

another view from my bedroom (yep, more bullet holes)

oh, another view from my place...

Thursday, June 12, 2008


hitching to saravejo was cake. we've been here for a few days. thoughts and photos to come later. right now all i can say is that it's beautiful and terrible all at once and that everyone in the coddled western world should come and see what's happened here with their own eyes and hearts. This could have been your town. your neighborhood. your family.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

a moment

i'm sitting alone in the passenger seat of a semi at the loading dock of a tesco store in hungary. clare is in buying us fruit and veggies. the driver is outside handling paperwork. he speaks no english, yet we understand that he will take us to our destination in pecs after unloading his cargo. i am in his truck experiencing part of his life. amy winehouse is on the radio. the cab is spotlessly clean and organized. a small white teddy bear with a big read heart is stuck to the middle of the windshield of the truck via suction cup. a white stuffed dog with "i love you" written on a heart sits of the driver's side of the dashboard.

i'm reading a tattered old copy of erica jong's how to save your own life that was spontaneously given to me by libby, a beautiful young redhead couchsurfer i met in vienna. there is a hiss of releasing air and my seat slowly lowers. the truck rocks gently as its cargo is unloaded. another hiss. something else settling down. it's dusk. a light rain begins to fall again, as it has the whole day. the driver's cellphone rings playing an english language pop song that i'm unfamiliar with as the doors' strange days comes on the radio. i stop reading to savor the moment.

i'm content. everything is as it should be. the announcer comes on the radio, followed by hungarian language commercials, and then blondie's call me.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

here's what happens when you hitchhike in hungary

oh my gosh. where to begin? i met clare, a 23 year old aussie girl - from tasmania to be precise - in budapest. she's been travelling through indonesia, africa and europe since november. i was thinking about heading to croatia next and so was clare. perfect, a hitching partner! we hitchhiked from budapest to pécs (pronounced paich) hungary.

our first ride was with bob, who took us on a detour to an airshow, bought us lunch, and dropped us off in dunafoldva at dusk. hmmm, teeny city in hungary at dusk. no problem. the next ride was with a hungarian truck driver who spoke no english whatsoever. another detour while he delivered a shipment of bottled water to a tesco grocery store, and then he dropped us at a bus station in pécs. our final ride? we hitched a ride on a bus! we found a bus driver who spoke a little english and asked him where we were supposed to wait for #2 bus that would take us close to our hosts' place. he was off-duty and taking the bus back to the central yard, so he told us to hop in and he took us to the square. yes!

all photos by clare

clare brooker, tasmanian extraordinaire, and i

our hosts in pécs are two of the most insane and fun guys i've met in a long, long time. from the moment that rudy rode up on his bicycle, met us at the square and handed me a beer, i felt completely at ease. we walked into rudy and csaba's are barely had time to sit our things down before the party started. food, friends, stitch - another aussie couchsurfer, beer, way too much pálinka, and dancing.

our hosts rudolf and csaba

then we were off to chris' house. chris lived in nevada city, california before heading off to hungary a few years ago. so more friends, beer, pálinka (a must drink if you want a headache the next morning...), and dancing.

stitch, rudolf, csaba, clare and i

rudy has the most incredible natural style ever. stitch on the other hand... well, just watch rudy try and teach stitch to dance.

rudy loves fountains. he jumped into every one we passed while walking home from downtown pécs in the wee hours of the morning. i love this guy!

and that was just the first night.