A Travellerspoint blog

Tenacious Timisoara

sunny 28 °C
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"Of course, I grew up in Communist Romania, but I am happy to say that now our country is democratic, and prospering, since the revolution in 1989." - Nadia Comaneci

Foodie moment

No Foodie moment in Timisoara because we weren't there long, but our first dinner at Crama Sibiana in Sibiu made us very excited for our upcoming time in Romania. The funniest part was when we looked at the prices and couldn't work out if it was in Lei or Euro. It seemed WAY too cheap to be Lei, but if it was Euro we were going to be in trouble! Luckily it was Lei, meaning a main course was going to cost us about $5. Our first experience was Pork Fillet with Mustard sauce with Peasant potatoes (potatoes and bacon) and Traditional Pork stew. Yep, with all the pork on the menu it sertainly tells us we're no longer in a Muslim country!

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Cultural moment

Mark had a new insight into the frustrations of travelling by public transport in a country where you don't speak a word of the language. We turned up early for a bus to our next destination, and were told we couldn't buy tickets for the bus, but would have to buy from the driver as it was a different company. So we settled down to wait the couple of hours for the bus. An hour later, Mark popped out for the toilet and came back looking pretty stressed and shaken. Whilst looking for the toilet he had seen that our bus was there, and he went to check out what was going on. He asked the driver about tickets and the driver started asking him something in Romanian which Mark translated as whether we had a reservation. When Mark answered 'No' the driver apparently just lost it! The fact Mark obviously didn't understand didn't deter the driver from continuing to rant, rave and shout at him in Romanian. Another passenger came up to translate and told Mark that the driver was saying the bus was full, and we needed a reservation (I'm sure there was more to the screaming that he didn't translate!). Finally the translator said that we could still get on the bus, but stand until someone got off (potentially a 6 hour journey!). As the driver was still screaming at Mark, this was not an option he was interested in and he made an exit, shaken, back to me sitting obliviously with the bags in the waiting room! Needless to say we had to get to this next town that day or lose our booking (and money) so this led to a sprint across the city with our bags to catch a different bus (which we caught, got seats and got into Sibiu earlier than the other bus would have got us there - so there!). We will definitely steer clear of that company from now on! The company was called Apetrans, and obviously their buses are driven by gorillas!

Wow moment

Timisoara has a beautiful main square with a stunning church up one end, the opera house at the other, and surrounded by restaurants. It looks amazing at night, all lit up. Out the front is a memorial to the uprising in Timisoara.

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What we learnt today

Timisoara is well known in Romania as the town that first stood up against the dictator, Ceauşescu, causing the Romanian Revolution which led to his eventual loss of power and execution. On 16 December 1989 they started a protest in relation to the dictators plans to execute a pastor who had spoken out about human rights violation in Romania. This protest became bigger and bigger over days with many people being killed by the army. The government sent in train loads of workers to help the army defuse the protests, but this backfired as the workers joined the protesters. During a live speech to the nation Ceauşescu tried to convince the population that Timisoara were acting out of Romania's interests and had been taken back under control, but this didn't work because as he spoke the sound of guns and cannons caused panic in his audience and someone on a loud speaker announced the start of the Romanian revolution, all on live TV! As the whole country burst into protest and uprising, Ceauşescu tried to escape by helicopter with his wife, but he was tricked by the director of a technical institute into going into hiding at the college, and instead locked them in a room and handed them over to the police. They were executed by firing squad after a short trial, and were the last persons to be sentenced to death and executed in Romania. Over a thousand people were killed during the protests, and no one has been convicted for any of these deaths.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:05 Archived in Romania Tagged timisoara sibiu crama_sibiana Comments (0)

Serbia - Selective History in Bombed Belgrade

sunny 30 °C
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"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

Foodie moment

A hearty lunch of Goulash and Mousaka at the strangely named '?' restaurant.

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Cultural moment

After travelling through Croatia and Bosnia we eagerly anticipated seeing the 'other side to the story' once we reached Serbia. So far we had developed a pretty dark and dismal picture of the Serbian government and armed forces, but were willing to remain open-minded. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be another side to the story - just a whole lot of denial and cover-up by the government. There were no related museums or memorials (in fact the 90's seemed to be a chunk of time missing in Serbian history!), and considering the population was kept in the dark and fed a lot of lies about Serbia's involvement, no one could really tell us much (nor did they want to, we guess).

The only evidence we found that Serbia had been involved in any kind of conflict in the past couple of decades were right in the centre of the city we stumbled across two decimated buildings. They looked like they had been ripped apart by a bomb, with main walls missing and floors falling down on top of each other. We looked around for some sort of sign or notice to tell us what had happened there, but there was nothing, and the residents of the city just rushed past seeming to ignore the towering ruins on the corner of one of their main streets. Once we got onto the Internet we found out that in fact they had been hit by a bomb, to be more specific, by a NATO air strike. The buildings used to be the Serbian Army headquarters, and were part of a 12 day air strike on Serbia in a push by NATO for them to pull out of the Kosovo conflicts. Due to a tip off, the buildings were evacuated before the strike.

We found it very strange that the shells of the buildings still stood there, basically untouched since the strike, but there was no explanation or information given. I do know there is still a lot of anger with the Serbians about the strikes, but I guess if the civilians, due to misinformation, felt they were unwarranted then anger is not unreasonable. I do know that personally if NATO started to attack my city/army/politicians then I would start to get the feeling that something more was going on that I had been told... and I'd be asking questions! But did they really want to know I wonder?

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Wow moment

Sitting high on a hill above Belgrade is one of its top tourist attractions, the Belgrade Fortress, and best of all its free! A great place to explore, the surrounding parkland is a great escape from the busy city below and the panoramic views take in the meeting of the Sava and Danube rivers and the Great War Island below. A wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon.

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What we learnt today

Nikola Tesla, while not known by most people, is my favourite scientist, a specialist in the fields of physics and electricity. I had no idea he was Serbian and that there is a museum specifically dedicated to him in Belgrade. So naturally we had to go. The museum itself isn't very big at all, and quite expensive in comparison to other museums, but the guided tour we took made up for it. In it, our Tesla obsessed guide showed us a number of awesome demonstrations using Tesla's inventions. These included the Tesla Coil which shoots lightning and makes fluoro light tubes glow at a distance. Another demonstrated wireless radio communication and wireless energy, in which we all got to touch electricity, which while was safe, stung a lot! One cool fact that we learnt was that Tesla invented the electric car over 100 years ago! Also he was in the process of creating wireless electricity for the entire planet, but his electric tower was bombed before it was finished. It's amazing to discover that he was responsible for inventing so many things that we take for granted today.

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We also learnt today that signs in Belgrade are often in Cyrillic, so even if you have the name of the street you are looking for, you wont be able to tell where it is, that is unless you happen to know how to ready Cyrillic letters. Trying to find your hotel while carrying 18kgs of luggage on your back while not being able to tell what street your'e on or are even looking for not a lot of fun.

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Posted by travellinglise 09:22 Archived in Serbia Tagged belgrade nato tesla Comments (1)

Stunned Silence in Sarajevo

sunny 26 °C
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You are my Witness - Srebrenica 11.07.1995

Warning: the content of this blog may be distressing for some

Foodie moment

A night out in the old town we had slow-cooked rolled chicken with cheese and ham inside, and a beef stew (sorry, we've forgotten the details!). Both were nice (but a bit overpriced). The interesting element was that we were sitting outside the restaurant, but when we wanted to order wine with our meal we were moved to the other side of the restaurant. The reason we were given was that the tables we we're at before were too close to the mosque, therefore we weren't able to drink alcohol there... that's all fine but the strange thing was you could still order beer at the tables we were out - apparently Muslims don't count beer as alcohol? Hmm....unlikely! More like a loophole!

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Cultural moment

Today we visited the History museum. From the front of the museum we thought it may be closed down. It was falling to pieces, paint peeling off and splattered with bullet holes, but we got to the door and found it was much nicer inside! This seems to be a common problem in Eastern Europe, as many museums have been shut down or are falling into disrepair, this is due to the government not valuing cultural spending within their budgets. I think that with the recent history of Eastern Europe, you would think that sharing and learning from history would be the most valued thing of all!!

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Anyway.... the museum included an interesting photo exhibition by a photographer who took photos in 1994 after the war ended and the same photos more recently to compare how the city as been rebuilt.

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The main part of the museum though was focused on the war of independence from Yugoslavia, and in particular the siege of Sarajevo. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting almost 4 years (1992 - 1996). The Bosnian-Serbs encircled the city, and attacked it with machine guns, rocket launchers and snipers. Up to 14,000 people were killed during the siege, including up to 5,000 civilians. Some of the worst attacks on civilians included bombings of people whilst lining up for rations and water, as well as attacks on known school houses. The biggest single loss of life was the first Markale marketplace massacre on 5 February 1994, in which 68 civilians were killed and 200 were wounded whist doing their shopping. NATO finally intervened after the Markale marketplace massacre, and their air strikes managed to finally break through the Bosnian Serbian troupes surrounding the city. The most uplifting part of the exhibition displayed what happened after the war. This followed the aftermath of the war particularly in regards to the identifying and capturing of the war criminals involved in all these monstrosities (including those that occurred later in Kosovo). The uplifting element was the statistics, 161 people indicted and an amazing 0 fugitives unaccounted for. It doesn't change anything that has happened, but at least some justice should be served now.

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Wow moment

The old town of Sarajevo is a great place to explore. Each trade has a different area to sell their wares, so there are whole alleyways filled with copper ware for sale. As always restaurants and bars line the cobbled streets in the old time, and it is a really lively place at night.

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What we learnt today

The 11th of July is an important remembrance day for Bosnians, we were here during this time and saw banners which read 'Remember Srebrenica 11.07.1995'. We had to find out what it was all about, so we visited 'Gallery 11/07/95' in Sarajevo. What was inside were moving and emotional photographs and videos, which told the horrific story about the one day that the Serbian troupes conducted mass genocide on the Muslim men, who were residents and refugees living in the town of Srebrenica. It was the worst case of genocide in Europe since WWII.

The United Nations had declared the area as a safe and protected area, so Muslim refugees flooded into the town hoping for security. Unfortunately, it was inadequately protected by Dutch peace keepers, and the Serbian army easily took the town. Knowing the danger, many of the Muslims ran to the hills, trying to make it to a safe town nearby - most were caught and executed. The men and boys that did not run, were rounded up and taken away in a bus, where they sat on-board watching others in their group being systematically killed. A tragic and horrific day in history, which still continues for the women who saw their sons and husbands leave, and still do not know what happened to their loved ones on that horrible day.

We couldn't believe that we didn't know anything about this event, we were young when it occurred, but I was just surprised I had no prior knowledge at all.

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Posted by travellinglise 13:43 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Historical Reality Check in Mostar

sunny 27 °C
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"Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind." - JFK

Foodie moment

We arrived in Bosnia and decided to delve straight into Eastern Europe's love of meat, so we decided we had to try the Bosnian National plate. It included japrak (stuffed vine leaves), dolma (stuffed onions), bosnian cookies (mini burger-like meat patties, but better!), Cevapcici, Duvec (meat and vegetable stew), boiled potatoes, rice, sour cream and flat bread.

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Cultural moment

One of the most poignant moments during my trip occurred in a cemetery in Mostar. I knew that Bosnia had a recent war torn history, but it wasn't until we came here that I got a true understanding of it. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia. As a response the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked Mostar. This lead to the beginning of an 18 month siege on the town. It started with the Croatian defence council helping the Bosnian army defend against the JNA, but after a time they also turned on Bosnia and started their own takeover of the town. 1993 was the worst year for Mostar, with thousands of its inhabitants being injured or dying, and much of the town bombed and flattened. This was never more obvious than when visiting the cemeteries in the town centre. Every grave stone, as far as the eye could see displayed the same date, 1993. The sheer number was unfathomable, majority were men and the ages ranged from babies to the elderly.

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Wow moment

The main tourist attraction for Mostar is its spectacular old bridge (Stari Most). The Stari Most is hump-backed, 4 metres wide and 30 metres long, and dominates the river from a height of 24 m. It connects the two parts of the city, and was essential for trade when it was built. When it is reflected in the bright blue river below, it is quite amazing to see. An added bonus is seeing the locals, who after collecting enough money from onlookers, dive (well, the one we saw actually went feet first) from the very top of the bridge into the rushing (freezing) river below.

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What we learnt today

The Stari Most that stands in Mostar today is not the same one that was built in the 16th century. It stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it during their attack on Mostar. They used tank fire on the bridge, and over 60 shells hit it before it crumbled. A spokesman for the Croats claims that they destroyed the bridge on purpose for strategic reasons, but academics have argued that it held little strategic importance and was instead purely an act of deliberate destruction of cultural property. Perhaps another blatant act of racism, it is an Islamic built bridge and the Croatians were fighting against Muslims. In 2001 the Bosnians decided to rebuild the bridge as similar as possible to the original, using the same technology and materials. The bridge was built with local materials and done with absolute precision. It was reopened in 2004, and is held as a symbol of hope and reconciliation by the residents of Mostar.

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After what we learnt today, we can definitely add to our understanding of the conflict and resentments that you can feel still exist between the countries of the former Yugoslavia. After learning about the Dubrovnik siege, the common perspective was that Serbia were the 'bad guys' but learning about Croatia turning on the Bosnians showed us that nothing is ever that simple in war. Bosnia has impressed us, they have faced conditions worse than a nightmare but they are still a friendly and welcoming country.... and the scenery is unbelievable!

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Posted by travellinglise 10:51 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Montenegro: Thunder and lightning; very, very frightening!!

storm 25 °C
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"Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?" - Rose Kennedy

Foodie moment

This became our steady brunch everyday whilst in Kotor. Filled with Cheese, Ham, Mushroom and with tomato sauce squeezed on top, so decadently yummy, and only 2 euro! :)

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Back to Bastion III (I know, I know...so pathetic.. but we just want cheap and good food without the gamble!). Anyway, Mark couldn't go past the Roast lamb again, and I couldn't resist my Shopska salad again and also ordered some stuffed peppers. All great again! Farewell Bastion III - we'll miss you :(

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Cultural moment

Once upon a time... a long time ago... I was a swim instructor. Eventually I regrettably gave up my life of the smell of chlorine, children peeing in the pool and freezing in the water at winter... but during my time in Eastern Europe I feel I may need to pick it up again!! No one in Eastern Europe can swim! They definitely try...and I guess they stay afloat, but there is NO evidence of formal teaching, just watching someone else do it and giving it a go. Very entertaining watching!

Wow moment

Today, we headed off to visit the fishing visit of Perast. A cute village, which is much quieter then Kotor, and seems to attract families on vacation. It has a bell tower that gives great views of the town and Kotor lake. Off the coast, there are two islands, one of which you can visit, Our Lady of the Rock. Our Lady of the Rock is a man made island, built out of old sunken ships and rocks, and it houses a big church. We didn't make it across to the island due to the crowds of people heading over there, and the black storm clouds heading towards us! But the views from the island was good enough!

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What we learnt today

We learnt by experience today, the storms of Kotor are an impressive thing to experience. We could see the clouds rolling in, impressively dark by the fact they were being concentrated by the super high mountains. We had heard that rain was predicted for the last few days, but it never actually did, but you could tell that this time was different. The next sign was the smell, you could smell the rain coming. Then the wind picked up and all of the restaurant owners rushed to bring their outside restaurants inside, folding up umbrellas (battening down the hatches) etc. Lightning and thunder was next, and I have never heard thunder as loud as that, the sound reverberating off of the surrounding mountains. We found "shelter" under a couple of palm trees. The rain hit hard, and the palm trees quickly became useless, so the best we could do was stand next to a building and hoped that the wind kept the rain falling at an angle away from us. Super exciting for me (Mark) as I'm a storm lover, it was over pretty quickly however, and the sun was out before we knew it.

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Posted by travellinglise 11:25 Archived in Montenegro Tagged beach lake storm perast Comments (0)

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