Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Zagreb, By Chance

I forgot to hit the publish button on this a while back! Place this in your mind somewhere between the Camino and the present (yes, yes, I know, lots of time travel on my blog...sorry!)

What do you do when you miss your bus by three minutes?

I left my hostel in plenty of time, bought my ticket for the tram that would take me to the Sarajevo bus station and waited on the corner for it to come by. I had been told it was only supposed to take 15 minutes to get to the station from my hostel but unfortunately that didn’t take into account that the tram only came by every 20 minutes. I was lucky enough to get to wait 19 minutes for the tram.

By the time I got to the station and found the side where my bus to the Bosnian mountains was supposed to depart…it was gone. The next bus left 7 hours later and would drop me off in the small town at 2 AM.

Next idea.

There was also an overnight bus straight to Zagreb, Croatia. I hadn’t exactly planned on go to Zagreb, but I figured, why not? I flipped my itinerary for the next two months, had a couple of coffees in the cafés next door and was on my way.

After a long, windy night on the bus I staggered into town with no plans, dropped off my bag at a hostel (…maybe took a nap on a park bench), and found Zagreb to be delightful.

I gave my cherry binge a break and gave in to the strawberry section of the produce market

I followed the church bells to Zagreb's cathedral which was a packed house

I also happened upon what turned out to be the strangest and most elaborate changing of the guards ceremonies I've seen

Zagreb isn't a museum capital but it did have a couple of really interesting museums. One was the Croatian Museum of Naive Art which featured works all done by untrained artists and peasants. One of the most interesting features was that many of the paintings are painted onto glass instead of canvas. Glass was cheaper/more readily available, but using glass meant that things had to be painted in a different way--inside out almost. They started with the details first and then worked backwards until they finished and flipped the painting over. The glare off the glass was a little distracting, but it was fascinating to imagine them painting this way. 

I actually really loved all of Ivan Generalić's paintings. This is one of his self portraits, painted on glass

I have a weakness for cactus gardens

Zagreb is a good cafe town...which, of course, is my kind of town

The other museum of interest was the Museum of Broken Relationships. Fresh from Sarajevo I thought this was another museum over the 90's conflicts. Wrong. It's a traveling exhibit and as it goes around people donate an asortment of mementos from ended (mostly romantic) relationships. It was fascinating!

The text reads: 

It is said never to give anyone a pair of shoes
as a Christmas present because then the
shoes would make the person you gave them
to walk way from you. 
A few months after Christmas 2004, we call
it quits.
Superstitions? I dont believe in superstitions.
I just walked away. Today, I'm still walking, but
without the shoes. 

The lamps up on the old part of town are still gas lit--someone comes around and lights them every evening

Overall, the moral of the story is that sometimes missing your bus turns out to be a good thing!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 12--Hontanas to Boadilla

According to my rough guide, Hontanas to Boadilla is a good 28 kilometers. Why another long day? Well, to be honest, I'm not exactly sure. I really tried not to overdue things in the beginning. I had read  numerous times that the people who end up hurt on the Camino are, perhaps paradoxically, the young ones--they go too fast. The first few days I kept stopping and asking myself--Am I going too fast? I'd stop every hour for water, every two hours for a snack, even taking breaks to stretch in the beginning. 

All that didn't last too terribly long. I don't know if I wanted to push myself or if I was getting into the habit of it all. I came up with various scenarios for walking the Meseta portion of the Camino, but, in the end, I decided that I really wanted two things--to be in Leon for Easter Sunday and to make a stop in Carrion de los Condes (I read that the albergue there was run by Benedictine nuns who are famous for their hospitality--I wanted to pick their brains a bit). All this meant that I would have some long days through the Meseta. Theoretically it seemed like the best place to power through--it's known to be "flat and boring." 

Flat and boring turned out to be wishful thinking. 

The day started out beautifully:

We soon approached the ruins of San Anton monastery. It was beautiful, but unfortunately I didn't realize at the time this where I was supposed to place a wish. My Sevillan friends had told me about the pilgrim tradition to write a wish on a piece of paper and to tuck it into a specific ruin along the way. I didn't learn until days later that this was that place. Ooops.

Shortly after San Anton the Camino passed through Castro Jeriz. Full of churches, fortresses and men on roofs who spontaneously serenaded me, it somehow still retained the ghost-town vibe that so many of the tiny Camino towns had.

The fortress--I definitely didn't have the spare energy to climb all the way up there!

Outside of town things flattened back out a bit. 

I looked ahead and thought, surely that trail I see going straight up that hill isn't the Camino. 

But it was. Up we go!

Not sure why exactly I'm making this face, except for the fact that I was mildly annoyed that there was this giant hill in the part of the Camino that was supposedly flat as Kansas. 

The view was stunning though (that hill you see to the right is the one the fortress in Castro Jeriz was on). When I got to the top I sat down, took in the view and some water and congratulated the older pilgrim after me for making it to the top. He looked at me in utter confusion. I tried to clarify that I was just saying, good job for making it to the top. He stared at me really hard, walked up to me and asked if he knew me. Um, no. (And this is where I thought for the umpteenth time in my life--Stop talking to strangers, Lauren!). He was from Norway and apparently climbed mountains much steeper than this everyday in his back yard. He also ended up being really "sticky"--meaning I couldn't shake him for the rest of the day. 

Stacks of stones, windmills and vast expanses--Camino companions 

The Meseta would prove to be a course in cloud studies

And what do you do right after you climb that giant hill? Go right back down. Ugh. A photographic frustration along the way was the fact that the trails never looked nearly as steep in pictures as they were in person.

The clouds in the distance started to look a little ominous...

We stopped for a coffee/snack from a local guy set up beside the road. He swore it wouldn't rain. Then, when the sky started spitting fat drops at us, he told us it was just one cloud's worth of rain. Storms came fast here, people die each year here from lightening storms, he said. But don't worry--This is just one cloud's worth. 

I wasn't so sure it was just one cloud's worth...

We made it to Itero de la Vega without getting too soaked and waited out most of the storm while having a cafe con leche. I polled the bartender and all the sage looking old men in the cafe and, after about an hour, decided to get going on the last 8 km/two hours of the hike to Boadilla. It was getting late, but I will admit that part of my motivation to go on was also to lose the crazy Norwegian guy. When Irish Samantha (who seemed to have some kind of advanced knowledge of lightening) strapped on her poncho to continue I went with her. 

And almost died. 

That might seem overly dramatic, but as I was miles away from anything taller than a hedge with black clouds sparking lightening every few seconds (and carrying a metal tipped walking stick!), I thought--this is going to be a really absurd way to die. Tornado safety I know, but what do I do in a lightening storm? Should I crouch in a ditch? Wait it out? Walk right through it?

We stood there and stared at the storm for a few minutes debating what to do. I really thought it would be better to wait a little while longer--while we were exposed standing there, continuing would lead us right under the thickest part of the storm. A few minutes later we heard the click, click, click of hikers with poles coming up behind us. Three Germans were trucking on unfazed. We asked them what they thought about the storm and they looked at us like we were crazy. They kept walking right along with their metal poles. With their poles, and the fact that they were taller than us, I decided they would be the lightening's first choice--we decided to carry on after them. 

We finally made it to sleepy Boadilla--soaking wet, blistered, and a little dazed (but oh-so-thankful to be alive!)

The albergue was a little unusual in that there was a loft that contained a third tier of beds. The ladder to get up there was a little precarious, but it did provide me with a normal bed (aka not a bunk bed) and a place to hang my wet clothes. As the day continued to better itself I had dinner at the albergue and met some new pilgrim friends, including two German moms and a Parisian psychoanalyst (I wouldn't learn that part until almost a week later!). 

It was definitely a memorable day on the Camino. New friends, new fears, and a new desire for the "flat and boring" I had been promised. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Week In Review Sabbatical Style: T-5 Weeks

I've got to think of a better way to title these...counting down the weeks like this is both startling and depressing...

I've been wifi-less for a few days but I thought I would throw out a quick review of the week! It's definitely been a good one.

  • Countries visited this week: Serbia, Kosovo and (currently) Macedonia. Tomorrow I'll head to Albania. Or...maybe I'll stay here for a while longer...
  • I feel like I have some kind of street cred for having been to Kosovo. But really, it's a front--it was perfectly safe there. 
  • Southern Serbia is nothing like the north. The bus station at Novi Pazar was a little sketchy. I got out of there quick--took a taxi straight to the Sopocani monastery I was going to stay the night near. The monastery was beautiful and covered in frescos that were hundreds of years old. My hotel, though? I shudder thinking back on it. Thankfully I still had my sleeping sack from the Camino and employed a do-not-make-any-contact-with-any-part-of-this-place policy. 
  • I lucked out the next morning and caught a ride back with a guy from Novi Sad who was down in the south visiting the monasteries (I was worried about finding a cab out there in the middle of nowhere). He let me share his cab back to Novi Pazar, went out of their way to get me to the bus station and then refused to let me pay. 
  • Most awkward moment of the week? I was sitting under a tree at the monastery when an ant/spider-like creature fell on me. I brushed it off my neck and unfortunately it fell...into my bra. What do you do when you are at a monastery with monks all around, no bathroom or place to hide, and you have a biting ant down your shirt?! I swear. These things only happen to me. 
  • I have not succeeded in escape the smoking. (In fact, at the moment, grandpa next to me at the cafe is blowing it straight into my FACE.)
  • Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, was nice enough, but it was a furnace. It was in the upper 90s. (And, yes yes, I know it's been in the 100s for weeks now in Texas, but you're not walking around in it all day carrying a backpack with all of your belongings or trying to sleep without AC.)
  • Of course the day I left it cooled off. I got to Lake Ohrid, which is higher up, and it was properly cold. It's been sunny during the day, but the nights are chilly. Last night were were sitting around at a cafe and I saw the temp on a sign near by--50 degrees! No wonder my teeth were chattering!
  • I met a fun and eclectic group of people at my hostel in Skopje, then, ended up bumping in to all of them again here in Ohrid.  
  • I skyped in to a conference back home this week. Granted it was 11pm when I was trying to listen in, but I think it might be official--my brain has turned to mush. 
  • Before I left Belgrade I took a day trip to Topola. There's not a whole lot there besides an old church up in a bit of forest outside of town. It was stunning! The Church of St. George was covered in mosaics--40,000,000 pieces worth! In 15,000 colors! 
  • Spending the day hiking it up to the monastery through the thick trees gave me a happy flashback to the Camino. (And also an allergy headache.)
  • Skopje = one giant construction zone. They are building huge statues, monuments and buildings everywhere. 
  • My guide book says that street names are a relatively new thing in Skopje...which might help explain why I got lost who knows how many times (it also didn't help that the 3 maps I had all showed things in completely different places...)
  • My favorite thing in Skopje was the Mother Teresa memorial center/museum. She was born in Skopje and the museum was actually really moving and inspiring. The building is built on the site of the old Catholic church in town where she attended and felt called to be a missionary, which I thought was pretty special. 
  • Ohrid is really, really beautiful. 
  • I'm afraid that I am starting to look like a hippy...I think it's time for a haircut. 
  • Cuban food, no matter how enticing it seems, is not a good idea when you are in far away Macedonia. 
  • They seem to be a fan of American R&B and hip hop here in Macedonia. I was getting tired of the random 80's mix that seems to be popular elsewhere, so I suppose its a nice change. Although I wasn't too excited to be woken up to someone blaring old school Usher this morning. 
  • Similar to that one time in Panama, I got lucky and happened on to a region-wide folk dance festival this week. It was fantastic! 
Hiking up to the church in Topola

Church of St. George

All made of mosaic tiles (made from Murano glass)

From the top of the hill you could see vineyards 

Sopocani Monastery

In Prishtina, Kosovo

My "Cuban" sandwich (cheese, slice of ham, tomatoes and cucumbers...) and rice and beans which I'm pretty sure came premixed from a can

Old bridge in Skopje 

Sunset along the river/construction zone

Mother Teresa statue

I had read that her feet where messed up because she always took the worst pair of shoes so that no one else would have to have them 

Her sari

Lake Ohrid from the window in my room

Another look at the lake

OK, that's it for now--more on Ohrid later!