Passing between the raindrops – part 1

I’m definitely not done documenting the Balkan road trip, so I will get back to that at some point, but we just were always on the go and got increasingly tired at night as the trip wore on (almost never staying in the same place for two nights in a row will do that to you), and then I got back to Sofia and was just crazy busy with packing and leaving, so it’s fallen by the wayside. But I do mean to get back to it at some point.

However, right now I am actually back in Boston, having left Bulgaria for good, and so today what I want to do is document my experience taking my Bulgarian cat home with me. Prior to making my arrangements and flying, I did a lot of research on traveling with pets and often what was most helpful were people’s personal stories (both random people from the internet and people I know), so I’m hoping that maybe this post will be helpful to someone in my position, trying to parse the crazy bureaucracy and inconsistency of international pet travel.

The bottom line of my experience is that there are the official requirements, some of which contradict each other, and then there’s the actual practical experience, which are usually dramatically different (as in, way more lenient). Nobody from my school (this now includes me) has actually completed ALL of the dictated steps to transport their cat home, and nobody has had any issues with it. It’s like the yellow fever vaccination entry “requirement” for Tanzania. Likewise, I think if I were to have the option to do it over again, I would just go ahead and do all the official steps, because the anxiety just wasn’t worth it. If you’re a less anxious person than I am, though (which you probably are), the practical reality could help you avoid having to do a lot of pointless extra work, particularly in Bulgaria.

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Welcome to Sarajevo

…is a movie I want to see (to excuse the likely copyright infringement of this post title).

Sarajevo was one of my most eagerly anticipated stops on this trip, though I couldn’t even tell you exactly why in concrete terms. I think it was just the various references I’d heard: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (I was really into my Great War elective in 7th grade), the Olympics, the vague snippets of the Bosnian War and the siege that I knew/remembered. Colleagues from Bulgaria who had visited listed it among their favorites. I had no idea what it looked like or what the vibe was like, but I was excited.

Sarajevo has not disappointed. We are leaving later this morning for Mostar, but I would happily stay here longer and just wander, endlessly. It is the city and the country that we have researched the most in depth out of curiosity and fascination (granted, this may be partly because we had more time here to spend reading Wikipedia entries in our airbnb place), and it is one of the European cities I have been most intrigued by. I want to try to relay a little bit of the impression the city has made on me in just two days, though pictures and words don’t compare to the living, breathing experience.

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Random Balkan notes

Bosnia has Cinnamon Toast Crunch (WHY HAVE I BEEN LIVING IN BULGARIA FOR 3 YEARS AND NOT BOSNIA?!).

There was a children’s puppet show at sundown in Old Town Kotor, Montenegro, and it had an environmental theme:

So far as we could tell from our limited comprehension of Serbian/Montenegrin (based on our limited knowledge of Bulgarian), the main characters were that trash collector with his dancing dumpster and recycle bin pals, two conscientious neighborhood women, and one punk who wears his ballcap backwards (which clearly makes him EVIL), throws trash out into The Nature, and uproots flowers just for the sadistic pleasure of it.

In a quest to eat something other than Balkan food (given that it’s basically all the same as Bulgarian food which we’ve been eating for three years), we have started trying to get international cuisine when we can. In the last few days, we’ve had Montenegrin Chinese food, Bosnian Mexican food, and Bosnian sushi. The Bosnian sushi was by far the best. Montenegrin Chinese food is better than Bulgarian Chinese food but is still not really Chinese food. Bosnian Mexican food was not great, maybe around the same level as Egyptian Mexican, worse than German Mexican and well behind Macedonian Mexican, which is still the best we’ve found anywhere outside the U.S.

Guess which country?

I’m currently on Day 4 of my Balkan road trip, and we’ve all sort of nonverbally agreed to a siesta in the hotel in Shkoder before venturing out. Since I already briefly siesta’d in the car (today was my turn in the back seat), I thought this downtime would be a good opportunity to sort through my photos so far and post a few.

The theme of the trip so far is mountains, and since we really have been driving around and faux-moaning, “Oh God, please stop torturing me with these gorgeous mountain vistas,” I thought I’d post a few and let you guess the country. Your choices are: Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (no pictures of Albanian mountains yet, other than maybe the ones that they share with Kosovo).

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Onward and upward

Today was my last day of work in Bulgaria. Saying goodbye to people for the past two days has been really difficult. I spent a lot of today wobbling on the verge of tears, and maybe a couple spilled out. Just a couple.

So since that’s too sad to dwell on, let me instead post the projected itinerary for the road trip I will be embarking on with two friends, H and J, in a mere 10 hours’ time:

July 3 – Sofia to Kopaonik, Serbia
July 4 – Kopaonik to Podgorica, Montenegro
July 5 – Podgorica to Peja, Kosovo
July 6 – Peja to Shkodra, Albania
July 7 – Shkodra back to Podgorica and then on to Sveti Stefan, Montenegro
July 8 – Sveti Stefan to Kotor, Montenegro
July 9-11 – Kotor to Sarajevo (I AM SO EXCITED) for 3 nights
July 12 – Sarajevo to Mostar
July 13 – Mostar to Dubrovnik
July 14-15 – Dubrovnik to Korcula for 2 nights
July 16 – Korcula to Sibenik
July 17 – Sibenik to Plitvice
July 18-19 – Somewhere in Slovenia (we’re leaving this flexible for now; will make plans from the road)
July 20 – Slovenia to Novi Sad, Serbia
July 21 – Novi Sad back to Sofia

With the distinct possibility of an extra day in Slovenia because I’m guessing it will be hard to leave. I also don’t know how we’ll drag ourselves out of Korcula, but we’ll deal with that when we come to it. Since we’re driving and I don’t have to worry so much about packing, I’m also bringing my laptop so hopefully there will be some pictures and posts from the road, instead of waiting till it’s all over and then rehashing.

Then it’s back to Sofia for a few days and then flying out for good (well, for now anyway) on July 27!