It’s 8:34pm. Earlier than I usually get started on a blog entry. But Katy’s halfway between sick and didn’t get enough sleep last night – so with her napping/sleeping I was able to quickly get into town for dinner and return the hostel. I walked in super quietly, hoping that she would stay asleep. I can hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head, “don’t wake her, let her sleep, she needs her rest.” And so despite her Kebab going cold on the table, I sit here in the dark typing away, hoping that I can get this entry finished quickly so I can return to watching Gladiator before she wakes up.
Things I like Albania:
We were riding into Tirana and the traffic had intensified while it appeared driving rules and regulations had unintensified. Katy informed me that during the Communist days (I suppose this means post WWII – early 90s) there were roughly 2,000 cars in the country. Total. Which means driving around here is a pretty new thing. (This also explains why we see so many old people driving around in cars that say AUTOSHKOLA on the top.) Anyways, first thing I like about Albania is the driving here reminds me of Jamaica. It’s a little too fast, blinkers aren’t used, there aren’t exactly “lanes” as we would use the word, and when you get into a busy round-a-bout in Tirana it’s an “every man for himself” kind of feeling. So I operate our bike according to my Jamaica driving instincts, which generally follows one simple rule: If you are in the way, you have the right of way.
And so as we were riding into Tirana a white van pulled up along side us and a guy rolled down the window and in decent English asked (in the rather loud voice to beat the drone of the traffic), From how long do it take you to ride from Shkoder? I see you in Shkoder this morning. Four hours, I responded in an equally loud voice. Wow, that is very good. Very strong, he said (all the while making the universal sign language for cycling – which is taking both hands, making fists, and then pretending to pedal a bicycle with your hands). And then as he drove off he shouted out the window, Welcome to Albania. It was nice to get a formal welcome.
Moments later we came up along side a bus. And to our amusement, a group of kids standing at the front of the bus had their iPhones out and were taking pictures of Katy and I – so I threw up my Peace Sign – knee jerk reaction to any hellos from passer bys. (It’s always a boost to our ego when others take interest in us). And then they passed us. But as always happens riding down a road with a bus, the bus has to stop and pick up some people, so you pass the bus, then a bit later the bus passes you. And so I was prepared, with my iPhone out. I took a picture of the kids on the bus (to show them, hey I’ve got an iPhone too) and I got the Peace Sign in return.
Food is cheap. Dinner tonight was a Sufllaqe, Albania’s version of the Kebab. It was 150 leke, or just a shave over 1€. It’s hard to not have fourths and fifths when food runs at this price.
It seems that as soon as one person in this country gets a business idea, everyone around quickly follows suit. This might explain why we have passed about 400 car washes (LAVAZH) in the past two days (and seen 3 cars actually being washed), or why on the road into Tirana we passed about 20 outdoor furniture stores (all within 3 km of each other, all selling the same stuff), or why when you walk down the street and come across a guy in front of a shop selling Rotisserie Chickens the next 3 shops are all doing the same thing. Bad business model.
The dog situation seems to track pretty well with road quality. Yesterday, Katy’s fear of dogs chasing and possibly biting us (and when I say “us” I really mean her, because she has the back seat) reached a new threshold, so we preemptively armed ourselves with a handful of rocks. First we placed the rocks in the small bags on our frame within easy reach, but realizing that the few seconds it requires to unzip the bag may be the only seconds we have, we decided to tuck the rocks into our spandex shorts for quicker access. So far no rocks have been thrown.
Oh, and today Albania looked just like Utah Valley. Kind of strange.
Katy’s mild illness has been compounded by a broken phone, broken watch and broken pair of sunglasses all in the last 48 hours.
Albania has been good to us. Better than I expected. (I even just changed our header image above in its honor). From the moment we crossed the border, leaving Montenegro and the former Yugoslavia countries, things were different.
It’s poorer. Much poorer. I’ve read that the years of communism here were particularly brutal and it took Albania a good 20 years to catch up with the rest of Eastern Europe. I guess this, in part, explains the pigs on the side of the road eating what’s spilled over out of the dumpsters, the cattle that wander aimlessly down the highway and herds of sheep taking up entire lanes of traffic. All of this combined with scores of kids running to the side of the road when they see us coming to stick out their hands and give us High Fives as we pass has made for a very warm welcome to a country must Americans would put on the “probably don’t want to go there list.”
I only know two people from Albania. The first is a fictional character – “Marco from Tropoje”, the villain of the movie Taken (with Liam Neeson – the guy with a very special set of skills). The other is Mother Teresa. Although acquainted with her work in Indian she is actually of Albanian ethnicity, born in Skopje, Macedonia (although at the time Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire). Also, Katy tells me this is where He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named sought refuge to regain his power. It seems that so far we’ve had a greater dose of the Mother Teresa version of Albania.
Delicious dinner in Shkoder – grilled eggplant with onions, stuffed peppers, some sort of goat cheese with peppers spread and sausage and steak. All for 10€. Loving these Albanian prices.
After dinner we retired to the hostel, only to find a dysfunctional wifi situation. So Katy started reading about Albania, only to stumble upon a nice little adventure for us, as follows:
This morning we awoke at 5:20 – to a competing acoustic battle of a torrential downpour and a booming Call to Prayer. At 6:15am we got in a minibus and made the 2 hour journey to Lake Komani – a 35 km long lake formed by the damning of the river. The road was windy and bumpy. We boarded our ferry and took off to Fierze. The ferry was no more than an old bus, bottom chopped off and welded to the bottom of the boat. An interesting feeling, siting inside a bus, cruising along the lake. The lake cut through an incredible fjord, steep cliffs rising out of the water and shooting up into the skies.
Every 20 minutes or so the boat would pull up to a very small trail on the side of the lake and a couple people would get out of the boat (often accompanied with a couple large bags of stuff and always dressed very nice) and would proceed to begin the couple hour trek up to their homes high in the mountains (we often could not see where they were going but were told they lived up there somewhere).
After arriving in Fierze another 2 hour taxi took us to Valbona – a small village up in the mountains. It’s great having the warm sun contrasted with the cool mountain air.
Dinner was with two other couples, one French (Basil and Adeline) and the other Swiss (David and Carol), both who are also currently on bike tours. It so happens we’ve met more cyclists in the last 24 hours than the rest of our trip combined. A great dinner sharing stories of the road and making jokes and asking questions about each other’s countries and cultures.
It’s now 11:38am the next morning. I’m about to settle into a nap on Valbona Pass. It was a 10km jeep ride this morning and then a nice 2 hour hike up to the pass, which sits between a couple mountains ranges in northern Albania – Kosovo and Montenegro are not far away. It’s a crystal blue sky kind of day, not a cloud to be seen, a warm sun compensating for the cool breeze. In the distance is the small town of Thethi, where we will stay the night. Our hike this morning has got us reminiscing about our days on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. The routine of wake, walk, wake, walk might be the only one superior to wake, cycle, wake, cycle. Something about the quiet grandeur of mountain peaks speaks peace to my soul and puts me in a total calm. Mountains. Warm sun. Afternoon naps. Fresh air. It’s heavenly. All in Northern Albania.
The journey continues. Just finished dinner at a family run guesthouse in Theth. And by “family run” I mean, as we approached the home after our 6 hour hike, grandma and her son were in the front yard pruning a plum tree (it’s always great seeing the elderly using saws and axes – reminds me of my own grandma). The gentleman’s wife showed us the rooms (basically the second story of their home) and we agreed on 15€ for the night stay with dinner and breakfast. After dropping our stuff in our room (we could choose any room in the place – it’s september and that means low season – we are the only guests staying here tonight) we went back out to the sunshine – the huge mountains surrounding the small village cause an early sunset and cooler than typical temperatures. Katy enjoyed a warm cup of tea while I helped with the yard work, chopping the remains of the prune tree into firewood size pieces and hauling the scraps out to the perimeter of the property. The family only speaks Albanian and Italian, so our conversations were rather basic and full of hand gestures.
Allow me a slight detour to explain the most fascinating culture we’ve learned about the last couple days. Hundreds of years ago northern Albania was composed of many tribes, each with their different laws and customs. In an attempt to unify things, “the kanun” or constitution was written governing behavior among the people who lived in the mountains – it is a list of 1,200 or so laws that govern all aspects of life. The most interesting law is this – if a man murders another man, then the family of the murdered man is obliged (required) to revenge their loss by murdering the murderer or his closest male relative (or if the two families can reconcile and reach a truce then the required murdering is allowed to stop). However, once the original murderer is killed, the killing doesn’t end. This family must now revenge their loss (even though the murder count is now 1-1). So, a single murder would often spark a back and forth killing between two families that could last for generations. This practice was always enforced and led to blood-feuds between families for over 400 years, a constant back and forth of killing males (women and children always exempt) between families. The family we are staying with was apart of one of these feuds for over three hundred years. In an attempt to defend themselves they (the people we are staying with’s great great great back three hundred years grandfathers) built a large tower in the middle of the village. When it was the opposing family’s turn to murder one of them all the males would stay in the tower for weeks or months until they heard news that a cousin or uncle had been killed at which point they could leave the tower and return to normal life (along with planning their revenge). The family here says that over 300 years an estimated 300 murders took place between two very large families until a large truce was reached 100 years ago (it seems that these stories have all been handed down orally and the accuracy of 300 murders may be a bit exaggerated). You would think this savage practice would end, and it did when the communists ruled Albania up until the 1990s, but since then many old feuds are resurfacing. Some young men (I have no idea how many) in northern Albania who belong to these families, fearing they will either be murdered or not wanting the responsibility to avenge family members deaths, have left northern Albania to larger cities (Shkoder and Tirana supposedly have “safe homes” where men will stay for protection) or fled to other countries entirely.
Sounds crazy, I know. You must think then, is it safe to be there? Interestingly, the rules for hospitality shown toward guests as set forth in the Kanun are almost as strict as the rules for blood-feuds. In fact, a very well known blood-feud began when a male visitor assaulted a woman. As the man was leaving town he was killed by some people who learned about what he had done. Since the visitor had no family there to avenge his death, it became the responsibility of his hosts to avenge his death. This led to generations of a back and forth blood feud. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if anything bad happens to us, we are in good hands. Ha.
The truck ride out of Theth to Shkoder was interesting to say the least. I’m just glad we are still alive. Then we had a great dinner with two brilliant British blokes we met on our ride back into Shkoder. They even paid for our dinner. Now a good night’s sleep and tomorrow back on the bike.
(Katy’s turn to write – maybe Clayton has writer’s block)
I can’t believe the time has come and gone. Our vacation from our vacation with Jessica, Elizabeth and Charlie has ended. That was six weeks of anticipation right there. I can honestly say I had (almost) forgotten the routine of biking, packing up everything I own in four yellow bags, sleeping somewhere new every day, eating lunch only when we are at least half way done with the ride for the day, navigating Clayton to our “home” for the night and the list goes on. I even shed a tear or two as I watched them drive off to the airport–they left me all alone with Clayton. How could they? Only kidding here 🙂 However, it was very sad to see them go because it was a fantastic week. It is amazing how much we fit in, yet it was over way too fast. (This is also why Clayton encouraged me to be “okay” with a 9 month trip, because one week trips often feel like a blink of an eye.)
After Jessica, Elizabeth and Charlie left Dubrovnik, Clayton and I packed up our things and were ready to go but then we heard it…the pitter patter, slowly at first and then the clouds dropped buckets of rain. Luckily we were still in the comfort of our Airbnb so we waited it out and emailed for a checkout extension–we are all about the checkout extensions due to rain. In fact when we checked in to our new place tonight, when asked when we were leaving in the morning, we said, “It depends on the rain.” Our guesthouse host did not understand what that meant in English (she also said that we were the first Americans to ever stay here) so we had to do a little explaining. She said we could stay all day if we needed–the ultimate checkout extension.
After the pitter patter subsided, we ventured outside–a speck of blue sky off in the distance. We’ll take it. We carried the bike and all our stuff up the eight or so flights of stairs to the road; we are a sight to behold carrying this tandem up and down stairs. Perhaps at some point someone will be around to take a picture because this has been an almost daily occurrence and since Dubrovnik is built on the side of a mountain, it is no exception.
Part of today’s ride included backtracking to Montenegro (we spent three days here with Charlie and Co.). For Clayton, this was his third time riding this part of the journey and my first since I drove in the car. However, knowing the road ahead has its disadvantages–you know how hard and how easy things can be. Unfortunately for us, we had a major headwind most of the day, unlike Clayton and Jessica’s trip to Montenegro. It was only a slight blow to my ego when Clayton said, Jessica and I were going up this hill about four times faster. Hmm…my legs really cannot have atrophied that much in one week of rest–it must be the headwind and all the luggage we are carrying (since all our luggage was in the car with me when Clayton and Jessica made the trip earlier this week or at least that is what I told myself.) Regardless, we made it the 96km in the grotesque humidity to Bečići and just like that we are back in this crazy routine of ours. Tomorrow we will wake up in Albania. What do you know about Albania?
(Jessica writing here – it’s great to have guest writers.)
Last November my family spent Thanksgiving on Long Island with the Pratts. While we were at Hendricks Tavern in Roslyn waiting for dessert to come, Clayton and I moseyed around the restaurant and he said, “Hey Jessica I have to tell you a secret and you can’t tell anyone yet.” He proceeded to tell me about his plans to take a year off from medical school and travel with Katy through Europe, India, and Southeast Asia… by bicycle. My jaw dropped. Clayton said he was a little nervous to announce the news to some family members, for obvious reasons I suppose.I told him once he is done with school he can work for the rest of his life so his plan sounded awesome (and I was super envious).
The news was broken to the rest of the family a month later, we were at dinner in Salt Lake City. Clayton asked everyone what their New Years Resolutions were. Eli gave his response, then Dylan. Finally everyone answered but no one asked Clayton what his plans were. He just sat patiently and quietly. The meal was almost over and then he blurted out, “Alright, no one asked me what MY New Years Resolutions are?” We all thought it was Clayton being selfish. So I casually said, “Okay, Clayton, what are you going to do this year? More school?” Then he started. Acting somewhat cavalier, he said he and Katy would fly to Ireland, get on a bike, maybe a tandem, ride around the UK, then maybe take a ferry to France, then maybe Italy. He just kept on talking. Everyone in my family had turned their attention to Katy (Clayton is prone to joke but if Katy said it was happening, then it was happening). Katy just kind of sat there silent–perhaps to see what my parents’ reactions were. Eventually she smiled instead of hitting Clayton and telling him to get real. And just like that the wheels were in motion. Katy quit her job.Clayton got permission from the University of Michigan to take a year off from school.
As soon as I was informed of what-would-be the Touring Tandem’s draft itinerary, and plans to go through Croatia, I knew I had to jump on the opportunity to come visit them. “Nice Opportunity!” – as my son Charlie would say. Dubrovnik, Croatia has been on the top of my Bucket List for a long time. My best friend in high school, Angela Mazer, spent her summers (1998-2000 if I’m correct) working for Global Kids Organization where they would have summer camps for Bosnian and Serbian refugee children on an island off of the coast of Croatia. Hearing about Angela’s adventures got the bug in me.
In any event, in May I booked tickets for me and Charlie ($3,800—that’s right) and September FINALLY arrived and we were off! And last minute my sister Elizabeth, who has a Delta buddy pass this year, decided to come. (Elizabeth has a major case of FOMO—“fear of missing out”—and traveling to Zambia, Botswana, Turkey, and Greece this summer wasn’t enough international travel for her.)
This trip has been epic.Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia.Amazing countries.Wonderful people.Beautiful landscape. Here are some highlights…As previously mentioned on the blog, as soon as we landed in Dubrovnik, I changed into my biking clothes and Clayton and I biked from Dubrovnik to Kotor, Montenegro. We got some interesting stares at the airport.On the ride Clayton shared his knowledge of the civil wars that occurred in the Balkans during the 90s. I was fascinated by his wealth of information about the downfall of Yugoslavia and how the Serbs (Orthodox), Croats (Catholic), and Bosniaks (Muslim), whom had once resided together under one dictator, ended up fighting each other—all during the time I was attending Churchill Junior High and Skyline High School. Clayton and Katy have absorbed so much information about the history of the Balkans and, more broadly, the history of Europe.Lots of talks this week about European history, wars, and American politics.I apologize, I digress (like my brother…).
When Clayton and I crossed the Montenegro border and descended down to the first town of Montenegro, I may have squirted a few (tears). Not really sure why.Leaving the confines of 170 South Main, SLC, and hauling down the highway of a foreign country with my brother on a tandem bicycle, ocean breeze blowing in our faces and burning thighs, was nothing short of exhilarating, an adrenaline rush, and feelings of gratitude for the perfect moment.
Clayton and Katy are living THE LIFE right now.Not life — THE life. (Clayton tries to tell Charlie that kindergarten is life and that baklava in Bosnia is THE life. Charlie is catching on.) You can’t really experience a place so up close and personal as you can biking.As Clayton and I entered the little towns, people are crossing the street right as you approach them.You see their facial expressions, what they are carrying, what they are wearing.You smells all the smells (well, Clayton doesn’t) and you hear all the sounds.All sensory perception at high alert.It must beat all forms of transportation, even the TGV.
Now let me discuss the athletes:Clayton and Katy.What a team they are!!!They have the whole biking thing down to a T.Clip in first with left feet and then on the down pedal click in on the right.When Clayton hears Katy’s “click” they are off.When I was on our ride, there was definitely some tight turns, steep hills, and dodging of cars passing us while on a narrow shoulder but the whole time I trusted Clayton.He is smart and has good judgment in making decisions in often times fractions of a second.Not to mention his legs are extremely strong right now—he hauls!!!And, of course, Clayton wouldn’t be Clayton without his constant sarcasm and joking.
Katy.She makes up for what Clayton lacks.In the evening there is preparation for the day (biking or not).Ya know, charging the phone and lights for the bike, hanging up a wet swimsuit, drying out damp clothing, filling up the water bottles, staying in touch with folks back home, etc.Clayton fails miserably in this department.Katy is a sweetheart and she is constantly “prepping” for the next day.And while he’s often oblivious to how much Katy does, he is appreciative and he loves and adores his Kate.
Katy is one tough chika.It poured rain today, our last day, and it’s amazing that Katy and Clayton have had the girth and mental stamina to keep biking through the rain.It gets dark early here and when the sun goes down it’s cold if you are wet.Katy is also so well-organized, smart, and she’s continually reading up on things. While discussing future destinations, routes, and places to stay with Clayton at night, Katy is also keeping up with world news and events and in the middle of reading a book.She’s a wealth of info.If you have a question, just ask Katy.
So cheers to the Touring Tandem!Some people talk about traveling the world.Clayton and Katy are making it happen!(We’re really doing it though Harry, aren’t we buddy!)I wish them all the best out on the road into the great wide open of new things to experience, new places to stay, new people to meet, new currencies, new bakeries… But of course, the same bike, and same clothes.We love you and will stay tuned . . . via the blog.
This is our first post that has received its own special title. But I think the deviation from normal is merited. I mean honestly, what five year old vacations in Bosnia? I think today little Charles joins a very elite group of young travelers.
From 2009-2011 Katy and I lived in Lake Village, Arkansas in conjunction with our time as Teach For America corps members in the Mississippi Delta. We decided to teach in the Delta for primarily one reason – when else would we have the opportunity to live in the fertile delta of the Mighty Mississippi as well as meet its amazing people? It’s a small corner of our country that often goes forgotten – we have the Pacific Northwest, California, the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest, the South, New England – all places often visited and well known. They are each somewhat unique in their own right. But they don’t stand up to the feeling you get when you return home to the Delta. The Delta is real. And the Delta is gritty. (Only those who have been can really understand).
Bosnia is the same way.
First stop – Kravica Falls.
Were such a beautiful place to be found in almost any other country, it would surely be jammed pack with tourists and everything else that follows. But it was just a 2€ fee to park for the day and a walk down an empty trail. Upon reaching the falls a lone changing station (which consisted of just a curtain or two) and an empty restaurant. (The infrastructure here at best feels tired and worn out and at worst feels as though the civil war wasn’t 20 years ago, but 2 years ago.) The only other “warm welcome” we got was the sign that read: Prohibited From Performing Religious Rites (written in Bosnian, English and Cyrillic) – damn, I thought. Now what will I do?? The water was freeeeezing, but that didn’t stop Elizabeth and I from a nice swim. Post-swim I was requested to take some glamour photos with an old lady and her granddaughter. Apparently they couldn’t get enough of me, but can you blame them?? (In fact, after the necessary hand gestures were exchanged and it was apparent that she wanted to take a photo with me, she then pointed to her ring finger, and then at me and her granddaughter, which was a little awkward).
Next stop – Mostar.
The Stari Most really is incredible. Built in 1556 by the Ottomans, destroyed in 1993 by the Croats during the Civil War, rebuilt in 2004. It’s a sight to behold. Charles really flourished in Mostar. He was given a sword to keep him occupied and everywhere we went he was always about 20 or so strides behind the four adults, making it appear that a rather small kid in his boxers was wandering Mostar alone, swinging his sword at make believe bad guys. It was rather comical. He always acts like a tough guy until a stray cat appears and he quickly becomes a little bit shy.
Jessica cashed in on the low prices of Bosnian shopping and purchased a painting from a small shop. The 20 something year old working at the shop was the daughter/niece of the artists. She was very happy to have Jessica buying an item and so insisted that we all sit down and have a coffee/tea while we wait. Charles and I wandered off in search of cotton candy while Jessica had a coffee, Katy had tea and Elizabeth opted out (can you guess where these three stand on their Word of Wisdom attitudes?)
Then a nice country drive back through the Republika Srpska back to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
The drive was memorable. Although we passed many signs with town names, it felt as though we saw nobody. Small towns appeared vacant, a significant number of buildings were either abandoned, not finished or covered in artillery shellings. A yard right on the main road was covered in bee boxes where an old lady covered from head to toe in protective clothing was selling honey.
After purchasing a jar of honey we joked that Charlie will be sitting in Kindergarten in a week talking to his friend Nathan and the topic of food will inevitably come up: “Nathan, I’m having a peanut butter and honey sandwich for lunch. My mom gets the peanut butter from Harmon’s but the honey is from Bosnia. It’s my favorite type of honey.” It wasn’t a moment later until an old man was waltzing up the highway with his herd of sheep. It’s these very brief interactions with others that really opens your eyes to the monumentally different type of life other people on this planet surely have.
Last stop – Trebinje. When we got out of the car and started out walk through Old Town it was apparent that this was Bosnia unfiltered. Unlit alleyways, a Pizzeria Mexico, a city wall with rusted cannons sticking through the peep holes, a plentiful number of stray cats and the highlight of the night: a пѐкара sign in bright lights above a corner shop doorway. пѐкара is the cyrillic spelling of pekara, which is the Bosnian word for bakery. As we round the corner their is a que of people coming out the door. I jump in line. If I’ve learned anything on this trip – eat where the locals eat, they know best. We started off with two Baklava (it’s important to put the accent on the klava, as in ba KLAVA because if you ask for BAK lava they have no idea what you are talking about). The first 2 baklava were quickly devoured between the 4 of us.
Jessica went in for refills. (By this time every time we reach into our pockets we pull out coins that are either Euros, Croatian kuna or the Bosnian convertible mark. Keeping these things straight has become difficult, so as Jessica pulls out a handful of change she just holds up her coins to the lady and allows the lady to carefully select which coins belong to her country. It’s a strange experience, to say the least.) Two more baklava down. After a quick walk around town I felt that rumbling inside of me and so grabbed a chocolate milk and headed back to the bakery. As I fumbled for my change I realized I came up short by 20 cents or so, to which the lady responds, no worries, no worries. (It feels great to mingle with these laid back country folk. I like it a lot.) Plus who doesn’t love spending all the rest of the money from a country in a bakery–we won’t be back in Bosnia for a bit.
Okay, here we go.I’m under a little bit of pressure.I’m sitting in a “dining room” – yeah, things have gotten a little bit luxurious – with Jessica, Elizabeth and Katy while Charlie is off in the other room doing who knows what.He is one oddball squirrly little five year old, and it’s been great to have him (and the other two) here for the past couple days.
But, as I contemplate what to write (usually my time on the bike is when I do my brainstorming and mental drafting) I repeatedly draw a blank.So as I delete my previous two paragraphs and start over Jessica insists, “come on Clayton, you’ve been doing great, don’t blow it now.”I have a hard time writing this blog, mainly for one reason:I hate blogs.A demotivational poster, first shown to me by my younger brother Eli, flashes through my mind every time I try and spit out a couple of interesting paragraphs.The poster:
And that’s how I often feel.So, if you are one of those silent readers a kind comment or word of encouragement over the next week or so would be great.
On to the meat of the matter: our week of rest and relaxation.It’s been great.A drive up into Lovćen National Park,
spending some time in Budva, Montenegro,
walking the city walls of Kotor and Dubrovnik,
swimming in the magically clear Adriatic Sea,
and lots of fried calamari, pizza, chocolate and ice cream.
Every time I am on vacation with my peeps (family) I can only help but daydream of family vacations of yesteryear.We stayed at the Capri Laguna in southern California one year.By the end of the week the hotel was officially renamed the Crapi Laguna – mostly because of the cold bagels, broken toaster and frozen cream cheese served at their continental breakfast.By the time the week was over we had watched The Shining, Firestarter and Cape Fear (we watched interesting shows growing up). We took a nice drive to “the black mining of hills of South Dakota lived a young boy named Rocky Racoon” in our Toyota Van with a U-haul trailer attached to the hitch.We had a memorable stop in Kemmerer, Wyoming at a natural hot springs.I remember another drive through Nevada in the middle of the summer when the engine of the car started having problems, and so to keep theengine from overheating we had to turn the heat on full blast, which means the windows had to be rolled down.It was over 100F outside.The next thing that happened was my mom stripping down to her bra and Dylan in absolute disgust exclaiming “mom, gross”. On a trip to Israel we were sitting at a possible location of the Sermon on the Mount overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Our tour guide, Dan Rona, paused just long enough for my dad to raise his hand and ask a question, “Excuse me, how much does a swimming pool cost?” It’s a peculiar question that my dad has asked of many people from everywhere we travel. (The correct answer – 20 grand for a good one baby.) To do my parents a little more justice – we’ve had great trips to Haiti, Mazatlan, Alaska, Hawaii and Europe.It’s always great to travel with family.
One of the things that us Pratt’s do better than most (usually while traveling) is point out things we don’t like about others.The often repeated (and always sarcastic) Pratt Family Motto is: if you can’t say something nice, say something mean.For example – some sort of mariachi band is currently playing some song out our window (which is likely being enjoyed by some) but Jessica’s comment is “man, those guys suck.Don’t they know they are really bad.”It really would be great to have the rest of the family here to join in on the sarcasm and occasional criticism.
Now, I know that we can be a bit critical of others, but what I’d like to call attention to next is something that surely every rational human being agrees upon.What’s up with Asians and all the pictures? I mean throw me a bone here.As Jessica and I crest the final hill riding between Kotor and Dubrovnik, a tour bus pulls up and out comes a gajillion Asians and then the lights start flashing.It feels like the red carpet. Picture, picture, picture.The eastern hemisphere must have a giant warehouse somewhere filled with a truckload of servers devoted to storing all these photos.And what are they taking pictures of?Nothing.I swear.I’ll often see the cameras come out when their is absolutely nothing of interest in the vicinity.And if it isn’t bad enough, the advent of the “selfie stick” has massively exacerbated the problem.A “selfie stick” is basically a wand that connects to your iPhone or other and allows you to take photos of yourself.They sure like to use them.I can only imagine sitting down with them back home in Asia and going through their photo albums – here is a picture of me, and then I took 8 steps and took another picture of me, and this is me again, and here’s a picture of me from the other side, and then I saw something that might be interesting and so I took another picture.
The worst is when you then ask one of them to take a picture of you – you would expect them to be able to do a decent job – they’ve had some practice.You ask them to take a couple of photos in case one of them is no good.But, my experience is always the same – they do take a couple of photos, but every photo is exactly the same – they never zoom in or out, they don’t rotate between portrait and landscape, don’t change anything – just end up taking a bunch of the exact same photo.All I can do is roll my eyes and move on.
That grievance aside, today was AWESOME. (Jessica loves the word, awesome, especially when it’s in all caps). Jessica is quite the beach lover, so we took the early ferry out to Lopud Island, and then just chillaxed out on the beach for 6 hours or so.The sun was warm, the water was crystal clear, beautiful sandy beach.I guess every month or so I can deal with just lying their in the sun.We decided to take some “Cousin It” from the Adam’s Family style photos to spice things up a bit.And also because as much as I bash on the Asians, I like a nice photo shoot as much as the next guy.
Now we are back in the apartment.The phones are out and Instagram is being scoured/updated.It’s hard to think that when our family went to Europe 3 short years ago Instagram did not exist.Oh how things have changed.
“You’re getting fucked one way or another.”They weren’t the words I expected to hear from Katy, but they made sense.And I was proud of her.
It was Friday morning and we were riding from Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Our original route from Mostar to Dubrovnik was what we called the “inland” route. At Buna we would head southeast to Stolac and then Trebinje before crossing the border and descending on Dubrovnik. But when we reached Buna the valley that lie ahead was covered in dark grey clouds which meant only one thing – rain – not something we wanted to deal with on our 140km day. After just a kilometer down this road we decided to flip a U and alter our course. We switched to the “coastal” route – which appeared to contain sunny, blue skies – heading straight to the coast and then following the Adriatic Sea coastline to Dubrovnik. But then after only 40 minutes or so on our new route someone unzipped the clouds above us and rain fell heavy and quick. We were completely soaked – the toes squishing around in your shoes kind of soaked. Such is the setting for Katy’s comment – it made sense.
But I was proud of her because she was quoting My Cousin Vinny – a must see movie for any member of the Pratt family.If you’ve never seen it, well you know what to do.And in quoting My Cousin Vinny (and recognizing that cursing might be okay when quoting movies and always okay when the movie lines apply perfectly to the circumstances) she really pulled a classic move that I will always remember.
And so we were off to Dubrovnik.It’s been our destination for the past 2 months – ever since my sister Jessica planned a trip out to meet us.And so every week or so when we pull out Google Maps we always do the same thing: how many kilometers to Dubrovnik?how many days until we need to get there?what’s the kilometers per day?can we afford a rest day? etc.But then we arrived.I suppose Istanbul will be our next target city in the distance.
Dubrovnik is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.But as we will be there for 4 days at the end of the week I’ll leave the deets for later.
This morning I set off on the bike while Elizabeth and Katy took the bus to the airport.I rode.It was beautiful.Sunny skies forecast for an entire week.Can you believe it?A whole week.At the airport I dumped our luggage and picked up Jessica and we had a great (and very fast – tailwind all day) ride over to Kotor, Montenegro.(Croatia and Montenegro make countries number 14 and 15 – but who’s counting?)The entire way Jessica kept on saying – wow, it is so beautiful here! this place feels so foreign! this is so much fun! I can’t believe that you do this all day, everyday!And that was a good reminder.At times our trip has felt rather routine – new food, cycling through new places, new cities, different languages, border crossings, at times it seems “pretty standard really”.But then someone else shows up and reminds you how it is all so different and foreign – it’s a nice reminder and helps to keep things in perspective.
Kotor is a gem.Incredibly beautiful.Also more to come on Kotor later – we will be here for three days.For anyone searching for any trip ideas – the Balkans are the place to go: Ljubljana, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Sarajevo.
No cycling for an entire week – Katy and I have serious fear about putting on the pounds this week – our diets have become, according to Chris Dampier, wreckless, and without all the cycling to accompany the bakeries (today I had 2 donuts and a pastry as my snack before breakfast) and ice cream shops we are a little nervous what might happen to our waste lines.
It’s 6:14am. I’m not usually up at this hour. I wouldn’t classify myself as a morning person although I do enjoy getting up early and getting stuff done.
We are in Mostar. Mostar claims most of it’s “cool factor” because of a bridge: the Stari Most (which translates to Old Bridge). And it is old, it was built in the year 1557 by Mimar Hayruddin (a muslim Turk). Wait a second? What are the Turks doing in Bosnia? Good question. The answer: the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire covered covered quite a bit of land back in the day, and under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent stretched from Hungary to Somalia and from Algeria to Iran. Suleiman wanted Ottoman construction to cover his Empire so he sent out his chief architect, Mimar Sinan, to build stuff everywhere (he is said to have built 92 mosques, 52 small mosques, 55 schools of theology, 7 schools for Koran readers, 20 mausoleums, 17 public kitchens, 3 hospitals, 6 aqueducts, 10 bridges, 36 palaces and mansions 8 vaults and 48 baths – data from Wiki). Anyways, Mimar Hayruddin was a student of Mimar Sinan (also of interest, other students of Mimar Sinan are believed to have helped design the Taj Mahal). So, back in 1557 the bridge was basically the coolest thing around. (It is said that when the final scaffolding was removed from the bridge Mimar Hayruddin didn’t know whether to plan his funeral or a celebration cause he wasn’t quite sure if the bridge would stand).
Fast forward a couple hundred years and Bosnia becomes part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and then Yugoslavia. The breakup of Yugoslavia then leads to the Bosnian Civil War. As previously mentioned, much of this war was between Serb and Bosniak forces and included the Siege on Sarajevo and the genocide at Srebrenica. But, unfortunately, that is not all. The Croats (the third group in the region) decided to also get in on the (unfortunate) action of the Bosnian Civil War. They laid siege (artillery shelling, blocking off the roads – the usual suspects) to the city of Mostar for nine months and then on November 9, 1993 destroyed the Stari Most. A cable bridge was hung in its place until it was finally rebuilt in 2004. The reconstruction attempted to rebuild the bridge with the same technology and materials – essentially to make the exact same bridge (they even sent divers down into the river below to pull out any salvageable stones from the old bridge). Maybe they should rename the bridge Novi Most??
Mostar is interesting. The bridge attracts tourists from all over the planet – so the old road and bridge are covered with people selling, what I like to call “garbage”. Jewelry, trinkets, all the lame stuff that is sure to be found wherever tour bus drivers put on the brakes and open their doors. It really gives me the heebie-jeebies being around all that stuff. But, then if you walk one or two streets away from the Stari Most everything changes – and the history of war is very present – walls of the buildings throughout town are covered by shellings (large holes ranging in size from a grape to a canteloupe – to give you an idea) from artillery attack of 20 years ago and a homeless guy is eating out of a dumpster. On what appeared to be the main driving street in town a building that stretches 40 meters is completely abandoned and in total ruin (with a sign that basically says: don’t park here, the building might fall on your car). It’s interesting to see what things have been fixed up since the war and what likely looks the same it did 20 years ago when the war ended.
Last night we stayed in a bungalow (Katy and I love these) on a lake in Ostrazac. It was more of an old camper connected to a small wooden house, but it was awesome. After a torrential downpour (and Katy and I watching the movie Secretariat – quite the horse) we went and sat out on the dock and stared at the stars. I love looking at the stars. It always remind me of two places (why only these two I am not sure). The first is Jamaica – I remember many nights walking home after a long day’s work and just staring up at them. Thinking about where I was, what I was doing, where home was, what my family might be doing. The second place I am always reminded of is Albion Basin. Probably because the stars are so much brighter up there, but you can’t spend a night at Alta without stargazing. I have a distinct memory of hiking up to Alta after my uncle Richard’s funeral, staring up at the stars and singing the song “I know you’re out there somewhere” – lyrics printed on the program at his funeral. And so now I will have to add Ostrazac, Bosnia to my short list of places I like to stare at the stars.
Today is a big day – it’s 140km to Dubrovnik. We’ve had this as our destination for the last 6 weeks or so. And our planning and riding has worked out – just one more day. This afternoon we meet up with my sister Elizabeth and then tomorrow Jessica and Charlie arrive. It’s going to be a party. Can’t wait.
Departing Srebrenica we had a long day planned: climbing back into some mountains (which I was very much looking forward to and Katy was a little bit hesitant about) and then reaching Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia – which also happens to be a sister/twin city of Salt Lake City.
The alarm went off at 5:45am, Katy wanted plenty of time to reach Sarajevo. By 7:05 we were on the bike. It was rather cool out. We climbed and climbed (kind of taking a short-cut/backroad to Vlasenica) and it was so beautiful. Clouds hung to the mountainside and as we slowly climbed through and eventually above the clouds the views were stunning. It was so great to feel a warm sun on our faces – something that’s been absent for a couple days. The ride continued in the same fashion – we went over 3 legitimate passes and wound through mountains and valleys that had a bit of a “Wyoming” feel. By the end of the day we kept calling Bosnia our “little Switzerland”. It really feels very similar to Slovenia (I would assume because the Balkans are all rather similar and for about 30 years ago they (they meaning Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia) were all part of Yugoslavia) but it is quite a bit poorer (this likely because of the civil war and bad politicians – what our taxi driver told us). But really and truly, Bosnia is such a beautiful place with so much history from not many years ago.
Lunch break consisted of some good grub and letting our clothes dry (they weren’t wet per se, but after a couple days in our bags they had accumulated some dampness) in the sun heated breeze. Dry clothes = clean clothes.
Then a rest day in Sarajevo. What an awesome place. Situated right smack dab in the middle of a rather small valley, completely surrounded by mountains, it is no wonder that Sarajevo and SLC are twin cities (both who have hosted the Winter Olympics).
So what do we do on a “rest” day? Well, we eat, we sightsee and eat some more. Found some delicious pizza, maybe the best pizza we’ve had on our trip (well, it’s a toss up, cause Italy does a good job too). But this place wins the cool factor: on a steep road coming up out of the old town, across from a cemetery, with views of the city. There is no menu and nowhere to sit, and no options of what type of pizza you would like. They only make one type of pizza – you can either get small or large – and then a lady quickly throws some cheese, mushrooms and cured meat on a freshly prepared dough, a man with a 14 foot long stick throws it into the depths of a warm brick oven, it pops out a couple minutes later and gets a scoop of kajmack (a type of sweet creamy Balkan cheese) and a ladle full of tomato sauce. So so good. And it really makes sense that a restaurant not have a menu. They’ve been the ones cooking for who knows how many years, obviously they know what’s best. And then a Bakalava shop which had almond, walnut, chocolate, nutella and other varieties.
Then a visit to the Srebrenica Memorial. While there we watched a short video about the Siege of Sarajevo. The siege lasted 1,425 days and basically goes like this. Serbian forces surrounded the city and sat atop the mountains encircling Sarajevo. They shelled the city and with snipers shot those they could see in the streets. During a taxi ride our driver told us he was 7 during the war and explained how he only went to school one day a week and would go out at night to get water from a nearby spicket. His older brother went off to war and he had a few neighbors who were shot by snipers. Imagine being trapped in your own city for 4 years.
Then, a visit to the recently opened National Library – it was heavily shelled during the Siege of Sarajevo and consequently the contents of the library burnt to the ground. Then (and maybe the most interesting part of the day) we went to the 1984 Winter Olympics Bobsled track. It (along with many hotels built for the Olympics) have been left to ruins since the early 90s (in fact, Serbian forces used it as a bunker for a time). It now remains up on the mountainside, completely overgrown and covered in graffiti. Supposedly Red Bull hosts mountain bike races down the track.
We ran across 2 folks from Holland on a bike tour similar to ours: from Holland to Malaysia with a stop in Istanbul. Hope to meet them in Istanbul in a month.
Last, Sarajevo is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated – setting off WWI.
So many great reasons to come to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I’m sitting on the cement steps of the Hostel Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia in the Republic of Srpska. The last three days have been fascinating – for many reasons. I guess I will try and lay it all out chronologically (but interspersed with a short history lesson at the end).
We left Belgrade optimistic that our departure would be a little smoother than our arrival.And it was.We headed towards the only bike route in town (which conveniently runs southwest along the Sava river – the direction we needed to go).I suppose the only interesting thing we passed en route was the bombed out NATO building that stands precariously on a street corner, bricks and cement still in rubble as if the bombing were yesterday, with only a couple of wooden boards over the sidewalk to prevent accidental injury.It was quite the scene.
The bike path was a mix of two very opposite worlds – it seemed to be the only place where people could get out and exercise (and we passed many cyclists, runners and even later came upon a lake where many rowers and kayakers were out) but it also exposed us to the Sava River.The river was a good reminder to me of why it is important to recycle.
Plastic bottles from many years had collected on the banks of the river, along with abandoned boats and homes that was the best dose of poverty we have seen thus far.As the cycle path ended and intersected the road we would take that day a cyclist quickly passed us and, thinking nothing of it, we jumped on the road behind him and started our journey towards Sabac.At the next intersection, however, that cyclist was stopped on the side of the road.He motioned for us to stop, and we did.
Milos was a 26 year old Serbian who currently lives in Belgrade but grew up in a small town 130 km to the southwest, where he was riding that day.We talked and talked and talked (which was possible cause he spoke great English).He was curious about everything, gave us a little schpeel on Herbalife (which he worked for), passed us a couple energy/candy bars and requested to be Katy’s Facebook friend before he took off down the road ahead of us.But, about 8km down the road he was again stopped.This time he demanded a photo with us because “my friends will never believe me when I tell them I met you.”A very nice guy all around.
The following day we left our Hostel StanNaDan (“apartment for a day” in Serbo-Croatian) and rode through the rest of Serbija and into Bosnia and Hercegovina (which makes this country #12).The border crossing was pretty casual, except Katy told me to take a picture of the “Welcome to Bosnia-Hercegovina” sign, which was promptly followed by security guards waving their hands and while making large X’s with their hands also acting out taking a picture.I guess that’s a no-no.
We were only 4 km down the road when we passed two (both about 50 years old) cyclists, again we thought nothing of it.Until 3 minutes later we heard a strange bell noise behind us and it was those same cyclists.They pulled up alongside us and said “timeout, timeout!”We stopped and despite realizing that they spoke Serbo-Croatian, German and Albanian and that we spoke English, French and Spanish we were requested to ride to the nearby cafe where we sit and have a cup of coffee together.Of course, we said.We headed off towards the cafe wondering how exactly we would have a conversation despite our significant language barrier.As I sipped my Schweppes Bitter Lemon, Katy had her Coca-Cola and our two Serbian friends enjoyed their espressos, a rather interesting game of charades occurred where we tried to act out very simple things like (do you have children, are their lots of cyclists in Bosnia, are the roads to Sarajevo flat or steep etc.)The only significant progress occurred when we showed them a map (Google Maps on the iPhone) of the United States and zoomed in to where Utah was, which was quickly followed with ahhh, Salt Lake City, Utah Jazz, Karl Malone, John Stockton.I was rather amazed at the intense curiosity and generosity of two 50 year old men on their regular Sunday afternoon bike ride.Of particular interest, one of them introduced themselves as Dragon, which I thought was strange and as we looked at his National Identity Card (which he was carrying in order to cross the Bosnia-Serbia border on his ride) I looked at his card to see if his name really was Dragon.But, again I was stuck as his name was written in the Cyrillic Alphabet instead of our Latin one.
That night we approached the small town of Zvornik and the accompanying village of Divic to find the hostel/room that we had previously booked.The address on Google Maps didn’t show up and the map on booking.com just had a vague dot aways away from a road in the village of Divic.We rolled into the middle of town and it was obvious that we were the new guys on the block.The kids pointed and laughed, we were getting deer in the headlights stares from right and left.(It felt a lot like some of my first days in May Pen, Jamaica – except it was not accompanied with the yelling of “Whitie, Whitie” which I became so used to in Jam-Rock).Katy asked a number of people for directions (complete with language barrier problems) and then ever borrowed a phone to try calling (no answer) while I rode around town (there were only 5 streets in this town) looking for Hostel Soja.No dice.Until somehow it was decided that we would follow a kid on a bike up the steep hill out of town and then down the highway a kilometer or so to Ristorant Soja.And magic, the room was beneath the restaurant.Katy was bit frustrated at the huge errors in this situation (the Google Maps address not working, the location showing up wrong on booking.com etc.) but I just kind of sat back and laughed and remembered the years I spent wandering around in the bush of Jamaica trying to find people – no addresses, no nothing.Just strange directions like – you know a woman named, madgie, where you go up that road, and then you go so, and then there’s a mango tree, and then you go so and then there’s a little turn and you go so, and that’s my house.
Shifting gears a little.As I mentioned previously I am in Srebrenica, Bosnia.You may have heard of this little town, but maybe not.So, without being a teacher or a history buff, I’m going to give the short version why everyone should know about Srebrenica.(Given that I’m not a history buff this may have some huge oversimplifications and glaring errors, for which I apologize).From 1992-1995 Bosnia-Hercegovina (which I will just call Bosnia) was in a civil war.They had just declared themselves as an independent state, leaving the former Yugoslavia, and this created a number of problems.At the time Bosnia consisted of two major groups – the Bosniaks (who were muslims who lived in Bosnia) and Serbs (which is an ethnic group that lived throughout the Balkans – Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro – who are primarily Serbian orthodox).The Bosniaks made up the majority of Bosnia, the President of Bosnia was a Bosniak and they desired independence (Slovenia and Croatia had also declared independence within the last couple years – Slovenia was allowed to leave rather peacefully while Croatia had a war with Yugoslavia/Serbia).The Serbs on the other hand did not want independence, they wanted to remain in Yugoslavia (by this time Yugoslavia pretty much meant Serbia – where the majority of Serbs of in the Balkans lived).And so a civil war commenced, Serbs fighting to stay part of Serbia and Bosniaks fighting for independence.During this struggle Srebrenica (which is a rather small mountain village in eastern Bosnia) became a place of refuge for Bosniaks in the area who had been forced from their homes.Eventually the entire area became surrounded by Serb forces, blocking off any sort of humanitarian aid from reaching Srebrenica for a year or more.Living conditions were what you would imagine – extreme poverty, thousands homeless, unable to go anywhere because of the fear of being killed.Eventually the UN declared the area a “safe area” where Bosniak civilians could stay away from the threat of war.But, on July 11th 1995 Serb forces moved into the village, separated men ages 16-60 from their families and massacred 8,327 Bosniaks – burying them in mass graves.It was the worst massacre in European history since WWII.
Today Katy and I stopped at the Srebrenica Memorial where the names of all 8,327 men are written.It was rather sobering.I thought to myself, what was I doing when I was 11 years old?As I took a photo of the names etched in stone, a man came up to me, and very respectfully motioned for me to follow him.We stopped at the letter M (all the names were arranged alphabetically) and in broken English the man said, 3 brothers.He pointed at their three names.Then he just shook his head, pointed at his skin, pointed at my skin, shook his head again.It’s hard to think about the things others have experienced in their life.It’s hard to understand how they continue to live in the same neighborhood where all of this happened.After reflecting for a moment Katy said, it must have been really hard for Heavenly Father to give his children agency.
Across the street is the UN Dutch HQ (which is a topic I haven’t fully understood yet.Supposedly they were present at the time of the massacre and were in charge of keeping the peace, although that didn’t happen).Anyways, inside the old warehouse sized building is a Srebrenica Memorial.The events of the time are laid out and then at the end there is a section of the lives of those that were lost.They told stories about 2 dozen or so of those who were killed, how many children they had, what their occupation was and then on display was an item that was found in one of the many mass graves of the area that helped in identifying those who had died.There were cigarette lighters and boxes, wedding rings, bracelets, a Koran.