Saturday, August 11, 2007

East to West and back again

Since my last update we have passed from heat wave to a very soggy country; been defeated by food and run with open arms to the curry restaurants of England and fabulous cheese of France; been cultured with concerts and theatre; marched around mountains, coasts and dales; and enjoyed glittering hospitality with friends and family. As I have been slack in writing this is going to be long...


I greatly enjoyed this little country with big mountains and recent, very visible history. Catholic bell towers, Orthodox onion domes and minarets compete on the sky line. There is endless pots of Turkish coffee and too many restaurants dedicated to one national dish.

We watched posers jump off the magnificent Old Bridge of Mostar, clapped along with disabled kids at a music therapy concert, and marvelled the super kitsch on offer at a Catholic pilgrimage site.

A gaggle of Mary's for sale at Medjugorje

Mick and I can't stand seeing food wasted and can eat just about anything - except risotto swimming in squid ink. It tasted like nothing, except very wrong. We kept eating though, until raising the white flag in defeat.

We didn't want to leave Sarajevo; a gutsy, compact place full of life. We learnt a lot of the daunting recent history. Free philharmonic concert. Too much of the national dish.

We went for a walk in the Bosnian mountains with a sugar fiend called Larenc who fed us multiple pieces of cake (with ice cream) for breakfast. Spectacular scenery, apparently. We saw mostly the inside of clouds, but the dense primeval forest and Larenc's passion for the outdoors (and sugar) made a great day.


We then almost turned into puddles lounging on the Croatian coast for another two weeks. Soooo lazy. We tracked down the quietest coves on laid back islands and mostly had them all to ourselves (except for a few nudeys here and there). Crystal water against silver rocks topped by forbidding, spiky vegetation. However, a heat wave struck and the crowds were growing, so the first day of summer was our last on the coast.

Our private cove within the National Park on Mljet Island


This was our second visit to Montenegro and we gave the interior a good shot. The harsh coast gave way to glorious mountains, a colossal canyon and lush fields. There was whole families out building their hay stacks – it looked idyllic from the bus as the setting sun cast long shadows behind the high stacks, but not fun for the women stripped to their bras in the oppressive heat.


Our travel mojo was now a little off kilter. Little things would not work out quite right, i.e. we would go for a walk and end up in the wrong place, but had a nice enough time anyway. We got seriously over identical menus of meat with canned veg. Hunted down a spa described by Serbian tourism as “peaceful, relaxing, therapeutic, historic” and were surprised this description matched the 70s communist era brown public pool oldies on crutches put their faith in.

Anyhoo, this all changed when we lobed in on a Hospitality Club mate, Jimmy the Eccentric Philosopher, in Novi Sad. We crashed in his flat which was the size of our storage unit at home. Found a Chinese restaurant. Stumbled across a wine festival. Tasted lots of yummy local vino and chatted with growers. Slightly pissed, I got dragged into saying a bit to camera for their festival promo video! Somewhere on Serbian TV is a grotty, unglamorous traveller giggling, "Hi from Australia, Wine is Love!" What a worry. Stayed up to 4am in bars with Jimmy's mates.

In Belgrade we stayed with a gorgeous character and new mate, Maja, in her flat for five nights. She cooked yummy stuff for us, Venison Goulash! We were homebodies together with her charming cat; again off kilter as this is supposed to be a major party capital! But we enjoyed being at home and learning about the intricacies of her social life in the Balkan’s big smoke. She cried when we left.


Now we have been in the UK for over a month and can’t express enough how much we have enjoyed the hospitality of our friends and family here. Thank you all again for looking after us so well. Catching up with you has been a great highlight of our trip.

We miraculously tip-toed around all the rain deluges and flooding. We spent time with my parents and Scotty in the wilds of Scotland in the (almost) most northerly cottage on the mainland.

Most of the Wehl family at Dunnet Head, the most Northern spot on the main island of Britian

We saw surprisingly beautiful beaches, dramatic cliffs, cute puffins, funny seals, sheep so fat (and some locals) that if they fell over they
couldn’t get up again, and met friendly Scots in t-shirts while we wore beanies. We also drove around for a week further south tasting whisky, watching strong men toss cabers and rambled in mysterious glens.

Another week was spent in the picture perfect Yorkshire Dales spotting steam trains, catching up with a friend and marching through people’s farms. Now back in London after two days tasting all things French with friends in Lille, we are about to fly out on Monday to Istanbul to resume our eastern adventure.