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Saturday, May 14, 2011

So much typing...

THE BARBER OF BOSNIA

They have some very 'old fashioned' barbers in Bosnia. They sometimes smoke while giving you a shave or cutting your hair. I went back to where I had gotten my initial shave a few days ago to get a shave and a haircut (10 BAM). Whenever I am in a place like that, it always seems to surprise or confuse the locals.

Both of the barbers I've seen working there were women. If they had been men with other men sitting around 'shooting the shit' (chatting) with no intention of getting a haircut on that day, then it would have reminded me of my childhood in America. Yes, I am that fucking old. I like to get a fresh shave and haircut before switching countries. I suppose that part of it is not knowing if they will have these services in the country I am going to. The other part might be wanting to make sure I match my passport photo as closely as possible. A third part might be my general distain of hair on me.

I personally detest barbers in the states who can't give you a shave with a straight razor. "Hairstylistqs" my ass. Shaving someone with a straight razor takes real skill. With the disposable blade straight razors they have now, there really is no excuse for not offering a shave.



BLOOD PRESSURE

Yes, Bert, I know you're wondering if I am taking my medicines. I think the answer is "mostly" or "pretty usually". I checked my blood pressure today and it is 150/84 with a pulse of 62. The pulse is great. The BP is a bit high but not freakishly so. For me, that is great actually. I think the regular walking and stuff I am doing (neat shit to see really helps) is assisting my health. Along with rum and cigarettes.



TOMORROW, BELGRADE

I managed to remember to get bread, cheese ad what I refer to as a 'Jana bottle of water'. A 'Jana bottle of water' is a freakishly big bottle of water that you will only drink a small amount of but feel better than you have enough to - I don't know - have a quick bath or something. Named after the bottle of water that, when carried by the dimunitive Jana, looked huge. When I carry that size of bottle of water, it is not quite as freakish but I can drink out of a two liter bottle without attracting undue attention.

I was going to go and scout out the train station but Mirza (Mirza means 'prince' which made me disappointed he isn't into Polka music so I could call him the 'prince of polka' for allerative value) assured me that the train station only has three tracks so I need not worry. The train for Belgrade leaves at 11:35AM - I will take a cab which should be around 5 BAM.



LOGAN'S RANT ON RELIGION

If you are going to do the Muslim 'call to prayer' I don't think you should be allowed to use a recording on speakers. Get some guy with good lungs up in the tower. That's what they are there for. If you are wanting to 'summon the faithful' to a Christian church, you should be required to use real bells. in my mind, recordings or loud speakers should be right out. Call me a purist but I just don't see that stuff as 'spiritual'.



BOZA

The drink I had mentioned earlier (traditional drink in Boznia) is called 'Boza'. I have been told it is a mix of corn flour, sugar, yeast and water. It is a 'unique' taste. By 'unique' I mean 'I can choke it down but I don't think it will ever be sold world wide in stores'.



BOZNIA SAYING

Twenty years ago, they use to use the word 'America' to mean 'perfect'. For example, they may say "This party is America!" to mean a perfect or great party. This saying has fallen out of use. Probably due to the slow decline of America.



INTERVIEW WITH SAMI

There was another guest at the hostel, a Bosnian named Sami. Sadly, Sami only spoke Bosnian and Russian. My Russian is pretty much non-existant so we got Mirza (who I guess I could call 'Prince' like the rock and roll singer but it just doesn't seem right) to translate. Sami brought up some interesting points, as well as asking me some very good questions. Since I have ranted on pretty much everything in this blog at some time or other, I didn't note down the stuff he asked me however I did write down his opinions on things that he gave me [disclaimer - these are paraphrases since we were going through a translator] - and here they are:

We (Bosnians) are using the global crisis as an excuse for why things are stagnent. Bosnia is stagnent.

There is 'democracy' but it is a word on paper. [By this he meant 'as real as unicorns' I believe. Everyone knows unicorns became extinct years ago.]

The politicians don't understand that they are here for the people and should be serving them. Yet, the people are constantly re-electing the same 'do nothing' people.

The problem is no reaction or complaining from the people. They are passive. People are wanting someone else to do something. To cause a change here, people must 'get involved'. [Logan note: After he said that, I asked how long Bosnia had been stagnent for. He said 'ten years'. I replied that I didn't think anyone was going to do something. If they were going to, they would have done it by now.] It will take something radical happening to initiate change but nobody seems to know what. [Logan has a guess on this - I believe that there is a possibility for some radical 'fire brand' (passionate, outspoken, charismatic speaker) to get things going but it will have to be quite a guy to shake people out of a decade of passivity. I'm curious if the communist influence of the past might linger still. The communists seem to have done quite a 'head job' (ie fucked up the brains, the spirit) of the people they dominated for years.]

After the war, there were a lot of humanitarian organizations here but it was 'fake good' because when they left, the economic prosperity the jobs they created went away.

Sami also said that the steriotypical foreigner was very cold and reserved and I did not fit into this mold. [That was nice of him!] Since I was feeling particularly witty, I replied that "When I go to a foreign country, I want to meet foreigners!" Pulitzer, here I come! [Stop shaking your head, Pete, or it will start to rattle.]



BOSNIA CLOSING THOUGHTS

According to what I was told, which private company you work for doesn't appear to matter - the pay is the same - 500 BAM. Whether you work for a dingy hole in the wall company or a huge company - same pay. My guess as to why - it's as little as they can get away with paying people. Not a whole lot of incentive.

Language skills - if you haven't gathered by now, in Bosnia, German is a very handy language to know. Not so in Serbia! It appears that a lot of Bosnians either left for the war or have otherwise worked in Germany. Given their wages at home, I can understand this.

In America, if there is a small illregularity in the ground or a bit of dampness, they put up warning signs for you to stumble over. In Bosnia, they don't have such signs - even for a construction zone. I'm convinced that a pit filled with pungi sticks and hungry tigers would only warrent a small strip of tape if it got anything. I'd suggest wearing high boots with good ankle support, especially if you are visiting the old town. Ladies - if you want to wear heels, think about this. You will either spend all of your time looking at your feet while walking or getting people to sign your cast.

Many Bosnians seem to be waiting for a miracle to change their country. It's been a decade. If some clever guy who had the power of words and could change things by talking to people could have come, I think that a decade is long enough to wait. Unfortunately, the lid on the jar is pretty tight and people seem to be taking it 'lying down' so they are stuck with it.

Even in Bosnia's big, new, overpriced mall I couldn't find cotton athletic socks (mid calf). WTF.



TRAVELER'S TIPS

Bring two or three exmpty plastic soda bottles with the lids on tight. These may be used to prop open the windows of the train you are on. Unlike in the movies, when you lower the window, it slides right back up.

Bring a small, cheap compass. The first time you work on navigating badly laid out mideval streets, you'll know why.

Estimate how much water you'll need for when you are stuck in a train for hours. Double it. A liter and a half didn't last me for eight hours.



SWITCHING COUNTRIES

The train station in Sarajevo was extremely delapitated. It was haunted by birds who seemed to be the ghosts of apathy.

There were no pictures allowed within the train station - for good reason! The trains have seen better...decades....

Mirza had said that I could buy a ticket on the train but when I visited the ticket office at the train station to attempt to find out which track and such, they told me I needed to buy a ticket there.

Something to add to my 'list of things to do when switching countries' - in addition to attempting to get the currency of that country - is to take a 'pre-game dump'. The train station had no 'pay to use' toilet. Unfortunately. The one I found had no seat, no toilet paper and may not have been cleaned since the communists were in town. The 'camping' toilet paper I had purchased really paid off here. Otherwise, I'd have had to do the 'trick' I learned years ago in Egypt. It's not really a clever trick and it does explain why it is very looked down upon to eat with your left hand. This sort of thing goes into the mental and in some cases physical toughness required to travel extensively on the cheap. If you are the kind of person who can only crap at home, can't sleep in strange places, etc - this lifestyle is not going to mke you happy.

While I was waiting for the train, I met an insightful young lady named Amina. She told me "We need something stronger than democracy. We didn't earn it - we don't deserve it." She told me that her father had a picture of Tito (the old Communist leader) up in his bedroom. Many people look back on the communist times with fondness. She also mentioned that Belgrade had tried a 'gay pride' parade a couple years ago. Religious Muslim concervatives went and threw rocks at them. Bosnia would suck to be gay in!

To my surprise, I was the first native English speaker Amina had run into!

Believe it or not, after all of the shit I went through to get registered with the authorities, the border guards didn't look at my paper. No interest what so ever. Well, fuck. I'm still happy that I had it though - fines and such could get ugly quickly.

The border between Bosnia and Serbia has very prefunctory passport checks. Pretty much 'give me your passport and I will stamp it'. That's it. I'm not sure if the area the train was going through was winding its way back and forth over the border but my passport got checked four times.

One thing that struck me as odd - in a country as poor as Belgade, no bright capitalist has taken to selling things through the windows of the train when it stops at stations. To get to 'average' Sarajevo pay, they would only need to make 17 BAM a day - not hard to do. No real start up costs either. Just buy some stuff and start selling at a markup.



BELGRADE BLUNDER

I arrived in Belgrade. I want out. Now. Nothing at all wrong with the city.

Why do I want to escape so desperately that I was thinking about having the same cab I took to the hostel take me the fuck back to the train station? Because another big metropolis is not what I need right now. Some people will say "You should have done your research". I did - I knew this place was a million people. However, Sarajevo had more of a 'small town feel' in the Old Town at half a million people. Not here - this place is all glittering steel and glass. I've never been at ease in a big city since Munich a quarter of a century ago. And recently I've been to a lot of big cities. I want small for awhile. [Note, my research on Romania shows the places I'll be have under half a million people.]

Sorry Mirza - I'm not going to do a big review of Belgrade.

The initial feel I get from the city is the 'young, hip and desperate to party' vibe that I've always imagined Berlin to have. Some artistic, some bad boy and a lot of cheap booze. I talked to a couple of guys from Germany. they had been to Berlin and said that this city wasn't like Berlin - this city only parties at night. Berlin is 24/7.

There's a lot of good looking people in their twenties and thirties wandering around though many men seem to sport the hairstyle I've begun calling the 'sleeztak'. Pray for baldness!

I also noticed that pretty much every store I went into had a tough looking security guard. They were actually fairly watchful and wary. It could be that I looked like death warmed over dressed in a hobo outfit.

After discovering a place that had Kaluaha, I downed half a dozen White Russians in a hurry then returned to the hostel only to find the insomnia monster waiting to kick my ass. Including a meal I couldn't finish and the mistake of ordering a Long Island Iced Tea (nobody in Europe makes them right - avoid this drink) I plowed through about 2435 dinar (about $40). It wasn't sensible to do but it felt like the right thing to do.

The Backpacker's Hostel is basically a crash pad. 1000 dinar a night - not bad. They have gear lockers and a freakishly helpful staff. The staff had called and been lied to by the train station people who said it was not possible to get to where I wanted to go. I showed up today and bought the ticket to exactly where I wanted to go. You have to get use to these sort of things. Another note - the elevador was the first one I'd ever seen that came with numerous disclaimers - like 'this elevator is eighty years old' and 'use this and die'. It worked fine for me though. Fuck walking up three floors - did that twice before I said 'I'll take death instead!'

At 05:30 hrs, I saw it was getting light outside and carefully climbed out of bed. I had to get the guy in the bottom rack holding onto the top one so it didn't flip off when I clumsilly and painfully climbed onto it. Getting down was tricky as well. I could honestly see the entire top rack coming partially off and slamming back onto the poor bastard sleepig below. unfortunately, top bunk stuff is all that they had left. Sucks.

As I'm typing this, I'm in a cafe at the train station waiting a few hours to get my train to Romania. It's not easy to get a train to where I'm trying to go, but I've found a way.

I went to about eight banks and currency exchanges looking for Romanian money. They didn't have any and seemed surprised and angry when I pointed out Romania is their neighboring country. Geography for the win!

Although I had my Serbian phrasebook (written in part by Mirza and the nice folks at the Backpackers Hostel) I ended up not needing it - one of the ticket people spoke really excellent English. He said that normally they didn't recommend the first class car - except on this trip. The second class car on the train from Belgrade to Timiosara is the worst they have. Period. Partially due to my wanting to get some sleep on the train and partially due to the cost being 949 dinars (RSD, about $16) and the first class ticket being 1434 RSD (about $24) I bit the bullet and bought a first class ticket. This is the first time I've ridden first class in quite awhile. I may duck back to look and see what the second class is like enroute though - I am curious.

Finding someone who speaks English I would call 'spotty' at best here. One lady even demanded to know why I didn't know Serbian. I responded 'because it is only spoken here - it's not in the top thirty'. She was acting indigent but later she smilingly revealed that her daughter is currently living in Florida. Then she did the same 'why don't you speak Serbian' to a group of Canadians who came in. Apparently, it is how she passes the time.



BELGRADE, SERBIA COSTS

Keep in mind - in a 'young and hip' city, you pay 'young and hip prices'...

They have socks! The style I want! But at $7 per pair of very dubious quality, I have to say 'what the fuck'. I'm hoping that I can find some socks in Romania. And maybe a dentist. If the socks had been good quality, I'd have bitten the bullet and bought some. They were not.

Glass of draft beer, 120 dinars.

Internet usage - half hour/hour, 60/120 dinars.

Piece of shitty pizza which makes you never want another one, 100 dinars.



GRATITUDE

Even with all of the travel fatigue and sleep deprivation, I feel very gratful to be doing what I'm doing now. My life is a lot like "Joe Vs The Volcano" in that regard.


MORE COMING WHEN I GET TIME TO TYPE IT UP.

I'm currently in Clug, Romania at Sam's house... Yes - someone I met on the couch surfing site! Nice guy and he's putting up with me despite me not having slept or showered for at least 48 hours.

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster | Thailand: Bangkok | Cambodia: Siem Reap |

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