Tuesday, September 23, 2008

rakija, breakfast of champions

i'm serious. rakija is the national homebrew here. stills abound, and it's fairly usual to start the day with a shot or two... or three.

the family still

an excerpt from wikipedia:
Rakia or rakija (Albanian: raki, Aromanian: arichii Bosnian: rakija, Bulgarian: ракия, rakia, Croatian: rakija, Greek: ρακί, Hungarian: pálinka, Macedonian: ракија/rakija, Romanian: rachiu (reg. răchie), Serbian: ракија / rakija, Slovak: pálenka, Slovene: žganje, Turkish: rakı) is similar to brandy, made by distillation of fermented fruits, popular throughout the Balkans, Italy and France. Its alcohol content is normally 40%, but home-produced rakia can be stronger, typically 50 to 60%. Prepečenica is double-distilled rakia, with alcohol content sometimes exceeding 60%.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

international happy hour!

drinking a chocolate martini in bosnia made from croatian vodka and french crème de caco (and let me tell you, it was not easy to find crème de caco here…) while watching the president of serbia on television. now that's what i call an international happy hour!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

salami anyone?

but here's the thing, what they call salami in bosnia is what we call bologna in the states...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

just another typical dinner at my place

zoran and mičo (pronounced mee-cha)

'nuff said.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

my house in čelinac, bosnia

zeljko and i are living on the outskirts of banja luka, bosnia in a little house in the river village of čelinac(pronounced cha-lean-us). it’s in a cute, quiet neighborhood, originally evolving as a series of vacation homes.

mine is the one in the middle.

from the back

view from my porch:

there’s a big room upstairs that gets morning sun and overlooks the backyard and pasture. it has become my yoga room.

view from my yoga room:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

everything we do is right

i don’t want to go back to california, even if it’s just for a couple of months. i want to stay here in bosnia. i’m just really getting into the feel of everyday life here. i’m staying in a house on the outskirts of banja luka. i’m grocery shopping, dealing with local utilities, checking out books from the banja luka library’s surprisingly large english language section, doing laundry, replacing old worn out clothes, having guests over, reestablishing my bikram yoga practice, getting headcolds, visiting local bars, restaurants, and dermatologists (hello kitty!) and there’s zeljko... i’m living here in bosnia and i’m not ready to leave.

but there are the realities of travelling with a mere passport instead of a visa. it’s a long story, but unless i want to pay for a new ticket back to california, i’ve got to fly out of heathrow in england. and, if i’ve got to fly out of heathrow, i’ve either got to do it by the middle of october or wait another six months. then there are the loose ends to tie up and people to see back in california… so ready or not, after twice pushing my flight to california back as far as i can, i’ll be returning to california on october 10, 2008.

and after a fair amount of agonizing about all of it, jane’s email reminds me “everything we do is right.” and i remember – again – that trusting the universe has worked out incredibly well for me so far. i’m ok. leaving bosnia is going to be ok. everything we do is right.

Friday, September 12, 2008

here kitty kitty kitty

when i returned to zelenkovac, there was a new kitty waiting there. pepeljuga, the name is a sort of serbian equivalent of cinderella. boro found her in the village and brought her back. she is all head, brownish/black and white, with a light pink nose scabby with old scratches. so tiny, yet she runs around amidst the people seemingly unafraid. zeljko named her pepeljuga because of her penchant for hanging out inside of the fireplace in the bar. he said she was even tinier when she arrived, and frightened, but in just 4 days has become the kitten i see now.

here kitty, kitty, kitty...

ohhhh, kitty….

yep, you guessed it. ringworm. and there's only one thing more fun than having ringworm, and that's having ringworm when you're allergic to it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

just a little more of the fairytale bosnian countryside

one day while silvia from belgium was still around, boro took us on an insane 4 wheel drive in this little baby:

at the end of the road, we found ourselves in and around the village of medna on the river sana where people get to live like this:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

silvia from belgium at zelenkovac

boro was in banja luka when silvia, a couchsurfer from belgium arrived. after returning to what seemed to be a deserted zelenkovac – and being more than a tad bummed out after learning that the two weeks leading up to my return had been filled with couchsurfers from all over - i was thrilled at her unexpected arrival. silvia, my last couchsurfer of the season, tall and beautiful, with long brownish-blonde hair a perfect figure and confident bearing. where do all these independent, strong, beautiful women come from? well, belgium is one place, I guess….

silvia is travelling by herself, at least for a little while, against the advice of her friends and family. later, she’ll continue her journey in croatia where she’ll join up with friends. she’s travelling alone because, like me, she had a life-changing event happen awhile back. hers though, was a bit more jarring. just over one year ago, silvia was hit by a car while riding her bike. she broke her ankle and leg, and bones in her neck. she has scars on her legs where the pins were and on her face around her eye that you only really notice if she shows you.

silvia remembers laying on the ground looking at her foot just hanging off to the side and thinking that, shit, this just might make her miss the concert the next night that she really wanted to see. she remembers that people were going to try and move her, but realizing that there was a pain in her neck and telling them not to touch her. had they moved her, she might be paralyzed now. she spent 3 months in a wheelchair. she told me that she is grateful for the accident because it woke her up. she broke off an unhealthy relationship, she’s facing her fears, she’s doing what she wants and she’s travelling alone for the first time and is loving it.

as silvia left, we hugged for a long time, grateful to have met one another. although, for different reasons, i have loved everyone i have met along the way, silvia is the first person with whom i felt that i really had a shared understanding with. the understanding of what brought us solo into the world, this waking up, this gratitude.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

the return to zelenkovac

it seemed that fall had arrived in zelenkovac during my absence. there were leaves on the ground, a chill in the air, and the place seemed deserted. not a couchsurfer, cabin guest, picnicker or bar patron in sight. darko left long ago, followed by sweet boy, and now the professor, one of the last people living and working there for the summer, was gone. with the season winding down, boro, lila and zeljko were the only ones left.

the quiet gave me time to reflect.  i thought about how my journey had evolved, how i’d gone from travelling through a succession of countries, towns and villages to exploring, lingering and living in just a few places. i thought about, this now being my third time at zelenkovac, just how lucky i was to have experienced the rise and fall of an entire season here.

zelenkovac is not easy to find on the couchsurfing website. danni, a couchsurfer from denmark (august 5, 2008 post), and i talked about how it seemed we all stumbled on to zelenkovac. we found it while exploring other couchsurfers’ profiles and the references they’d written or by bumping into other couchsurfers on the road who told us about it. then, because it’s off the beaten track, if you are lucky enough to find out about it, you’ve still got to have the time and desire to actually get there. so if you do manage to make it there, it’s as if you’re part of a very privileged small family.

zelenkovac is a magic place straight out of a fairy tale, and not only was i lucky enough to visit, i was privileged to become part of the extended family, to live there and to become a surrogate host for visiting couchsurfers from around the world, and to have my story become part of zelenkovac’s story and vice-versa.

photo by quetzy

Friday, September 5, 2008

the journey back

after agonizing over my travel “plans” for so long and finally coming to the realization that all i needed to do was get out of my head and back into my heart, i jumped on the internet and found the fastest way back bosnia and zeljko. that ended up being two trenitalia evening trains, one from brescia to venice, and the next an overnighter from venice, italy that arrived in zagreb, croatia just after 4am, then a quick walk in the pre-dawn to the zagreb bus station to catch a 6:30am bus for the 3 ½ hour ride from zagreb to banja luka, bosnia, and from there, at around 11:30am, a funky little van for the hour or so to mrkonjic grad. and finally, a taxi or a hitch for the final 20 minutes to zelenkovac.

i wanted to see marek and wiktor, the two couchsurfers i was going to visit in poland. i loved our rainy day conversations when they were visiting zelenkovac and i wanted to talk to them more. also, stitch, a funny aussie kid that i’d stayed in touch with since we met couchsurfing in hungary (see june 8, 2008) told me that poland was one of the most beautiful places he’d visited on the year+ he had been in europe, so i especially wanted to visit. and then there was switzerland. i really, really wanted to see samir, the truly wonderful man from zurich that i met in vienna (though I’m sure we already knew each other somewhere, somehow) and then travelled with to slovakia. as i took my seat on the train, i questioned my judgment – again – and wondered if I had made a mistake by not going to poland or switzerland.

those misgivings were forgotten almost immediately upon taking my seat on the train from brescia to venice where i sat next to gilberto, a classically handsome italian man. friendly, open and interested in practicing his english, we talked and laughed the entire trip. i was flattered and slightly embarrassed at the same time when he said that he felt honored, that it was like something out of a movie sitting next to me, someone who was doing what i was doing – all of it. he told me about his travels as a youth and his family now. we wished each other well when i disembarked at the venice maestro station to change trains for overnighter to zagreb, croatia.

and those misgivings were long, long gone after my pre-dawn conversation standing on the empty platform of the zagreb train station with the porter. before leaving venice, he overheard me tell an english-speaking passenger that i had been travelling for months and that his was the first native english that i had heard in a long time. so in zagreb, as the porter helped me get my bag down onto the platform, he asked me to talk to him, to tell him how it was that i came to the decision to travel for so long, to travel alone, and to tell him about where i’d been. as i did, he told me that when he first saw me board the train in venice, he saw my hair – my gray hair. but standing there listening to the tales of what i was doing and where i had been, he saw the face of a 20 year old girl. awwww, shucks… when i told him that i wanted to spend time in india, he told me about the year he spent in an ashram there. we connected.

i was really caught off balance that anyone would think i was some larger than life character, like out of a movie, because of what i was doing. i mean, what i’m doing feels so normal to me, so ordinary. i’m just living my life, life anyone else. it never dawned on me that anyone would think that i was doing anything extraordinary.

and, ahhh, flattery at the right time can be incredibly refreshing. but better than flattery is the random true connection between people that i’ve experienced on this entire journey. between my uplifting conversations with gilberto and the trenitalia porter, and the ease in which i was travelling, i knew that the universe was reminding me that i was back on track. later, my jane sent me an email with the simple thought “everything we do is right” which reminded me that through it all, i was always on track.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

effort, resistance and the beautiful monkey-wrench

oh how i wavered back and forth between going to poland or switzerland. so many days spent going back and forth and back and forth obsessing over what little time was left before i had to return to california and trying to force in one last perfect adventure. so many hours spent fretting over whether to hitchhike or take a bus or train, balancing the adventure and cost savings of thumbing with the “value” of time and money spent travelling versus having more time in poland or switzerland.

oh the time spent on the internet trying to find the best hitching route, the best bus or train route, the possibility of a super cheap flight to anywhere. there’s no simple way to get from zali log, slovenia to either place – or for that matter, to any place outside of slovenia. the fastest route to hitch to switzerland would take me through italy, and i’d been advised multiple times that hitching in italy was not the best idea for a solo female. hitching to poland would be easier, but the fact remained that unless i caught a ride with someone going directly there – which was unlikely from zali log - it would probably be a two-day hitch. hey, what if i hitched the opposite direction to ljubljana first where i would have a better chance of finding someone heading to either place? was i ready for the adventure of not knowing what town i’d be in when it was time for me to find a place to stay overnight? of maybe spending the night on the 2nd bunk in the cab of some truck driver? well, uhhh, come to think of it, that actually sounded fairly exciting, but ooops, there was that deadline of going back to california looming and i didn’t want to “waste my time” on the road when i could already be in poland if i just took a bus or train. but if i was going to take a bus or train, then why not go to switzerland……? and then there’s the time and cost of getting back…

and on and on and on and…..wait a minute, what in the world am i doing???? oh, i get it! i am in the midst of a fun little game of effort and resistance.

at some point along the way, my mind created a pattern out of the randomness of my journey and the continuous flow of the new. it found a way to restore its sense of equilibrium amidst the constant change by turning the unexpected into the expected, the randomness into routine. it created a “plan”, and that plan was the plan of constant travel to preserve the new routine, to keep the new equilibrium. but then came bosnia and Željko … and love; love, the beautiful monkey-wrench in the plan.

from the moment i left bosnia, zelenkovac and Željko, i wanted to go back. i wanted to settle in bosnia to spend much more time in this country and with this person. but now that change was the new norm, my mind was in resistance to the idea of actively deciding to really just stay in just one place – to stop travelling. my mind wanted to stick to the plan, to the “routine” of the excitement of the new ride, the new host, the new town, the new country. and after the resistance, in came the effort, the desperate effort to define and create the next perfect adventure instead of just letting it unfold; to force myself to keep travelling.

when i started this journey, my intention was to do what i was moved to do in the moment, to go where my heart led in the moment, and to simply always do what felt good. and what did I want in the moment? to stay in bosnia with Željko. and where did my heart lead in the moment? to bosnia and Željko. and what felt good in this moment? bosnia and Željko.

along the way, people have told me that they think i am brave, that they admire me for doing what i’m doing. but to me, the reality is that there are a million new and beautiful places that i can visit, that i can view from afar, that will ask absolutely nothing of me and challenge me in no way. to me, i’ve realized, the real bravery is to stay. to stay and explore another person’s heart and remain open in the face of the fear and resistance, in the face of everything that will be asked of you, and in face of another’s judgment of your most intimate self.

Željko, the beautiful monkey-wrench in my travelling “plans”.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

albergo grifone, peschiera del garda, provence of verona in veneto italy

paola's friend natalie is a french woman who has lived in italy for about 20 years and looks like she stepped right off the beaches of southern california. she's fun and funny and is married to carlo, who travels around the world teaching wineries how to use the equipment his company sells to them.

carlo and natalie help carlo's brother and his wife, valerio and titzianna, run their hotel, the albergo grifone at 48 via milano, in peschiera del garda (045.640.2577 ). i was lucky enough to spend a leisurely evening with thefamily sipping wine and eating lasagne, calamari and shrimp. i love these people and this place.

like any beautiful area, peschiera del garda has its fill of overpriced tourist traps. this was not one of them. this was a really cute and quaint place run by some really down to earth people. but if you stay there and want breakfast before 8:00, forget it. valerio and titzianna wonder why in the world anyone would want to get up that early on their vacation! i love it!

paola and natalie from afar

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

lago di garda and sirmione

quaint buildings

impressive wisteria

and a castle with a moat...