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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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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Vacation…ur doing it rong

As usual, I am way behind on posts, and even worse, I am running out of time for said posts to be relevant given that I am finishing my job in 8 working days (but who’s counting) and then will be out of Bulgaria for good on July 27. BUT, don’t worry too much, as I think I will be bringing my laptop on my crazy 19-day Balkan road trip in July, so there should be some good adventures before all is said and done.

Another item that recently got crossed off the bucket list was my family visiting me in Bulgaria and me being able to take them around as if I actually knew what I was doing and as if Bulgaria was, like, an actual functional place to visit and all. And I have to say, I think it went really well. My family might be reading this and thinking something completely different, but at least from my perspective I think the 4-day stay in Bulgaria went about as well as I could have hoped. I only got lost once in the car (missed the turn for the ring road on the way back from Boyana, and then got on the ring road in the wrong direction for a while because I got confused and somehow thought Boyana was southEAST of Mladost), and by the time we got to Zhenski Pazar on Sunday it was closing up (and thunderstorming) which seemed to bring out the sketchy characters in full force, but otherwise it went off basically without a hitch, surprisingly.

Also unexpected about my family’s visit was my perspective on Sofia and Bulgaria itself. Before my family arrived, I was convinced I was going to be self-conscious about Sofia the way you suddenly notice all the dust and dirt spots you’ve missed cleaning when you have guests over. I thought all of Sofia’s flaws would become even more apparent when I was attempting to guide my totally innocent family through the maze of Bulgaria-ness. But actually the opposite was true: it was as if I had arrived along with my family and was suddenly seeing Bulgaria through new eyes, yet with the perspective to be appreciative of the hidden loveliness of this country. Vitosha loomed bright and green on the walk to school, the buildings downtown glowed a warm yellow, even the dogs seemed to go into hiding—or were quieter, at least. Maybe it was the fact that my family was here or maybe it was what my family represented—the fact that I will be leaving soon—but for those four days, and a lingering effect afterward, I loved this place, potholes and all.

The title of this post, however, refers to the fact that my family simply cannot take pictures at all. Everyone looks pissed 95% of the time, even if they really aren’t. The exception is me: I actually smile (my brother sometimes grimaces in a way that approximates an attempt to smile). This creates the odd effect that somehow I am gleefully torturing my family on vacation, so I wanted to preface the pictures by explaining that the Bulgaria visit, contrary to appearances, was actually fine.

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Flower porn

I finally sorted through my Amsterdam photos to share on facebook, but I realized that a full 50% of them are pictures of flowers from the Keukenhof Gardens. Now, I flew into Amsterdam on April 12, which normally would not be a bad time for tulip viewing, but apparently the Netherlands was in the grip of the Worst Spring Evahhhh! this year and so there was a lot of wailing and moaning online about how the Keukenhof wasn’t actually ready yet and what horrible people they were for opening up the garden at full price without being ready. I sorted through the Tripadvisor comments (I’ve gotten really good at reading between the lines and filtering) and decided that all the reasonable people felt it was still worth the trip even if the tulips hadn’t peaked, and it totally was. I purchased a combo ticket online in advance and took the bus directly from the airport pretty much immediately upon landing. It was all very easy, and once I got there I really enjoyed myself, despite not being much of a botanist. Since I couldn’t very well post 80 photos of flowers on facebook and expect people to sift through them, here they are in slideshow format so that you can just look at a couple of randomized pretty ones whenever you visit the site and scroll past this post. No bonus points for sitting through the whole slideshow because that’s just crazy.

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I’m *literary* in Russia!

I have to say, people’s confusion between “literally” and “literary” drives me crazy. If you even just stop for one second to think about what the words mean, you wouldn’t confuse the two because it makes no sense. Not to mention the misuse of the word “literally,” but that’s another story.

Theme #4 (the last one): Russian literature. I geeked out hard in Russia. I read my first Pushkin (Boris Godunov) on the train to Sergiev Posad, and I re-read Crime and Punishment (my third or fourth time reading it), which I loved in high school and loved even more in St Petersburg. I probably just worked myself up into a state of psychosomatic/borderline religious ecstasy (very Dostoevskyan of me), but I felt like it really made a difference being there, visualizing the characters and feeling the general atmosphere.

So here is my tribute to all the literary and literally nerdy things I did in Russia (mostly Dostoevsky, some Tolstoy at the end).

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I see dead people

Theme #3: Cemeteries. It sounds weird and morbid, but I kind of like visiting cemeteries. I think this started for me in 2006 with the Vysehrad cemetery in Prague where Dvorak is buried, and since then if I have the opportunity, I like to visit the big cemeteries in different countries. They’re very peaceful, and somehow it makes me feel more in touch with the country itself, looking at the tombs of its famous dead people.

And Russia has a lot of dead people. That was the really earthshattering conclusion that I arrived at after tons of time in museums, cathedrals, monasteries, and of course cemeteries. But really, I just couldn’t get over how many dead Russians were littered throughout history. 26 million dead in World War II (excuse me, the Great Patriotic War) alone. I mean, it boggles the mind.

Visiting two of the big cemeteries in Russia was also quite an ordeal of endurance in some respects. Temperatures hovering right around freezing meant a constant give-and-take between new snow and thaw, coupled with unpaved and/or unshoveled paths, which meant my not-so-waterproof shoes called it quits about ten minutes into both cemetery visits and made enjoyment of the grounds a bit of a challenge

Here are some of the tomb pilgrimages I made:

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