Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Central Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina - Things to See/Do in Sarajevo Part 1

We reached Sarajevo late, flying in from Zagreb the day I landed in Europe continent. There is an ATM machine after departed from the arrival hall. We rang up the hostel and was informed that he was on his way to pick us up.

The only accommodation we booked prior to flying was this hostel in Sarajevo - Hostel & Guest House Bistrik. Generally one would stay in the Baščaršija, Sarajevo's old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city. This hostel is located on the hills, about 10-15 minutes walk to Baščaršija. It was not a difficult hike but not the best if you have bags and baggage. Location wise, it was ok but definitely falls under budget stay at €28 for a basic twin private ensuite. The room we had in fact had two single beds and a double bed in a separate room. It was that big.

The next day, our 'official' or literally first day in Sarajevo, we walked down from the hill, crossed the Miljacka river towards Baščaršija. So, things to see or do in Sarajevo. Here goes...

1. Have local breakfast of cevapi (or cevapcici, also a.k.a grilled dish of minced meat and raznijici (a.k.a meat on skewer).

Raznjici, served with flat bread
2. Easy walk around Baščaršija, poking our nose into shops and checking out trinkets on sale.

I bought the one with Bosnia coffee
3. Check out Sarajevo's Sebilj
It is a pseudo-Ottoman style wooden fountain in the center of the square built in 1753. This square is also nicknamed "the pigeon square." A very apt name - there were loads of pigeons at this spot.


4. Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque
It is considered the most important Islamic structure in the country. It was also the first mosque in the world to receive electricity and electric illumination in 1898 during the period of Austro-Hungarian Empire.

5. Latin Bridge
On St Vitus Day, 28 June 1914 at the turning from the Right Bank into a street, Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife. The assassination sparked Austria to declare war on Serbia. Russia immediately sided with the Serbs and the world plummeted into WWI. The bridge was renamed after Princip during the Yugoslavian era and renamed back to the Latin Bridge after the Yugoslav Wars.

Latin Bridge

6. Museum dedicated to Princip
Across the street from the Latin Bridge, the building on the street corner was where Princip was standing when he fired the faithful shots was turned into a museum dedicated to him. The exact spot was standing was marked by embossed footprints, and memorial plaque was placed on the building corner.
The memorial plaque was removed for the first time during WWII, in 1941 by Nazi occupying army.

7. Taslihan
We saw the remnants of former Taslihan the first round when we were looking for a shop or mini market to buy water. It is now an archeological site. Taslihan (Stone Caravanserai) was a place of stopover for merchant caravans, mostly from Venice and Dubrovnik. The Serai, part of Gazi Husrev-bye's foundation was built between 1540 and 1543. In the great fire in 1879 it was completely destroyed.

8. Gazi-Husrev Beg's Bezistan
Next to it, is a covered market, Gazi-Husrev Beg's Bezistan selling haberdashery and crafts. No photos as the ones I had are fairly subpar.

9. Old Orthodox Church
Stepping slightly out of the old bazaar center, stood the Old Orthodox Church (Church of St Archangel Mikhail and Gavril). It is one of the oldest and most valuable cultural-historic monuments in Sarajevo. In the church dooryard, there's a museum where valuable collections of icons from the XIII-XIX centuries are stored.

10. New Temple
It is said that if one sees a church in Sarajevo, another religious building would not be far. A short walk away from this Orthodox church, we found ourselves standing in front of a synagogue.

Side note: Missing burek, pierogi, ramen, dim sum... umm... 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Central Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina - Sarajevo to me

My memory of Sarajevo before this trip was via news on television approximately 2 decades ago. Prior to that, Bosnia & Herzegovina was an unknown country to me.

The Latin Bridge was the site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
I wanted to learn a little more about BiH before stepping into this country. This is probably a well known fact, so I'm ashamed to admit that I only learned of this because I was reading up on Sarajevo - The immediate trigger for World War I was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo.

K and I have kicked started our Central Europe holidays with the country where World War I started. Coincidentally, the last country before we departed from Central Europe was Poland, where World War II is generally said to have begun on 1 September 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Germany. So a friend actually commented that we were on a war-history-education trip.

Going back to Sarajevo (to my ear, it is pronounced as Sa-ra-ye-vo), it is the capital and largest city of BiH. The city is famous for its traditional cultural and religious diversity. It is the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue within the same neighbourhood.

The city celebrated one of it's best year in 1984 when Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics and even to this day, when I visited in August 2014, we still find fridge magnets or key chain souvenir with the official mascot, a little wolf named Vucko.

Fast forwarding eight years later, BiH declared independence on 3 March 1992 and received international recognition the following month on 4 April 1992. Sarajevo was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska the next day, 5 April 1992 to 29 Feb 1996, a total of 1,425 days, making it the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

Today, or rather three months ago, Sarajevo to me, is a friendly safe place to travel. Among the countries I went in Central Europe, it was different, unique, charming and hopeful. Sections of the city - Baščaršija showcases historical and cultural in this city. Next to it, a modern centre of the city with high(er) buildings but intermittently bullet-holed buildings can be seen.

Side note: Eastern Europe vs Central Europe... To most, Easter Europe includes any place that was once behind the Iron Curtain. However I read that people who actually live in many of these countries consider themselves "Central Europeans" while Eastern Europe is really eastern i.e. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Romania.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Central Europe: Zagreb - A walk at The Upper Town

I reached Zagreb, queued up for the toilet, came out to find only one luggage rotating on the conveyor belt...and it wasn't mine. After quickly asked one of the workers there where to find the lost & found counter, I went on my way. I passed by the Qatar Air counter on my way to find the Lost & Found counter, so I stopped and asked to check. Upon seeing me, the staff behind the counter told me my luggage was left in Doha.

Long story short, lodged a report and request for them to forward it to Sarajevo, nothing else could be done, so I took a bus and went out to see Zagreb city. Before the trip, I was checking for luggage locker to deposit my backpack and found out online that there isn't any in the airport due to some regulations. The plan was to lug the bag and deposit it at the bus station in the city. The positive outcome of this delayed baggage? It eliminated the need to hunt for luggage deposit. ;)

There was a Tourist Info office at the airport but it was closed when I was there, but getting a bus to the city wasn't difficult. The airport bus is parked outside of the main arrival terminal. The trip with the airport bus to the main bus station takes about 30 minutes. Once you reached the main bus station, there will be tram connection to the city centre and train station. One way ticket costs 30Kn but return ticket costs only 40Kn. I had a blond moment and bought a one way ticket :( but as fate has it, I found 20Kn in the city ;)

Tram Network Map

Tram lines 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 run by the bus station and you can buy tram ticket (tramvajska karta), single ticket (10Kn) or a pack of tens at a Tisak (newspaper kiosk). If you take the airport bus to the bus station (Autobusni Kolodvor), there is a Tourist Info nearby, as well as a Tisak. If you want to get to Trg Bana J. Jelacica, take tram number 6 (towards Crnomerec) and exit at the fifth station (Trg Bana J. Jelacica). From memory, it was the one further away the bus station. You would need to validate your ticket on the tram, the validate machine is usually on the first carriage. The rest are mostly for the tap cards.

Zagreb City Map
Ok, now back to why do I specifically write about Trg Bana Jelacica? Because... if I only have time to see one thing in Zagreb, I wanted to see this.

Yes - St Mark's Church (Trg svetog Marka). Church of St Mark is a 13th century three-aisled Romanesque church. The roof tiles were decorated with the coats of arms of the Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia on the left, and the emblem of Zagreb on the right.

I actually have enough time for more than St Mark's Church and followed the route suggested on the map. I've cropped the above map for a bigger picture.

Once the tram reached Trg bana Jelacica, you won't miss it. The status is really quite noticeable.

Trg bana Jelacica or Ban Jelacic Square was the city's commercial heart since 1641. The square was officially renamed to honour Ban ("Governor") Josip Jelacic. Ban Josip Jelacic was a general in the Austrian army and governor of Croatia from 1848 to 1859. He abolished serfdom and held the first ever elections for the Croatian Sabor or Parliament. Jelacic also helped Austrian forces put down the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 in the hope that this would lead to greater autonomy for Croatia. Aside from this statue and a square to his name, his portrait currently graces one side of the 20Kn banknote.

Going up the road on the right of the statue, one would see the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 

This church is characterized by its soaring twin towers (somewhat), the other one was under restoration. :P
I met up with K after she made her way here too and we entered the cathedral together and lighted a candle. I didn't go in when I walked by earlier.

Next up was Dolac Market. I would love to walk and poke my nose around this market, unfortunately we were there on a Saturday where the market finished at 2 pm. My flight touched down passed 2 pm and by the time I reached the square, this was the only stall that was still opened.

I only found about this Stone Gate after reading up on Zagreb. This Stone Gate (Kamenita vrata) was the only old town gate that has remained intact. It was built in the Middle Ages and assumed its final form after being rebuilt in the 18th century.

Under the arch of the gateway is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It holds a painting of the Virgin that was miraculously saved from a devastating fire in the 1731. There were quite a few patrons praying at the time of my visit, so I didn't take any closed up photos as it felt kind of intruding given the smallish space.

St Mark's Church was the next monument according to the route but I have jumped the gun and put it up earlier.

The final monument on map was this Lotrscak Tower.

Lotrscak Tower is the only preserved medieval tower from the 13th century fortifications and undergone slight modification in the 19th century. It was said that the bells of the Lotrscak tower were used to summon the townsfolk to return to the town at sunset when the gates were locked for the night. Nowadays Lotrscak housed a cannon which is fired every day at noon. Needless to say, I didn't hear that either.

From here, there are a few steps options all leading back to the Trg bana Jelacica. There was also some food and souvenir stalls nearby. After taking some photos from the top of the hill, I walked back down.

While I was waiting for friend to reach the square, I went to shop for some emergency clothing for the next day. I must say I was fairly optimistic that my luggage would reach Sarajevo the next day though friend was totally apprehensive. She was worried that we would end up chasing the luggage all the way till Poland :P

We left Zagreb the same night, taking a flight to Sarajevo.

Side note: Have you ever had experience when you move things to a safer or another place only to forget where the safer place is? :P

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

(Some) Yugoslavia history in bite size

To be honest, history wasn't my favourite subject in school but nowadays I find it fascinating. I blame it all on exams taking out all the fun of history :P

1. Josip Broz Tito was the president of Yugoslavia, the creator of modern Yugoslavia - Social Federal Republic (SFR) Yugoslavia.

2. SFR Yugoslavia was established by uniting six republics (BiH, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia), an autonomous province (Kosovo), an autonomous district (Vojvodina).

3. After the death of President Tito, ethnic tension grew in Yugoslavia. After series of wars, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence in June 1991, Republic of Macedonia in September 1991, followed by BiH on 3 March 1992.

4. In April 1992, Federal Republic (FR) of Yugoslavia was formed, consisting of the former Socialist Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. This was renamed on 4 Feb 2003 as Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia and Montenegro finally broke up during 2006-2008. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo.

5. BiH declared independence on 3 March 1992 and received international recognition the following month on 6 April 1992. On the same date, the Serbs responded by declaring the independence of the Republika Srpska and laying seige to Sarajevo, marking the start of the Bosnian War.

6. Socialist Republic (SR) BiH was inhabited by Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Bosnian war was principally a territorial conflict, an international armed conflict between 6 April 1992 and 14 December 1995.

Side note: BiH stands for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Monday, November 3, 2014

Doha: A ninety minutes transit

There was a photo opportunity that I missed because I was busy eating *shifty eye*. I saw a plane from outside of the window, how often do you see another plane flying on a lateral line as your plane up in the sky? I was eating at that time and thought I'll finish my food before grabbing my camera. Unfortunately by the time I finished eating, the other plane was nowhere to be seen :(

Umm, yes I am one of those people who actually like flight food. And if I tell you the food is great, you can be apprehensive but if I said the food is bad, it would be pretty bad ok? ;)

It was a very short transit time and it was quite a rush transit. Somehow we were required to go through another screening, together with all other passengers (even the arrival ones) and the queue was loooongg. To make things more interesting, the other gate as wayyy far. So all I did in Hamad International Airport was queuing up to get through the screening, and brisk walk to the gate. I made it in time, only to have the flight slightly delayed. Grin. That was all to report on Doha, on my way to Europe ;)

Side note: By the way, have you read Gone Girl?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Central Europe: From Zagreb to Warsaw

Friend, K and I have been talking about seeing this part of Europe for awhile but it was sidelined many times for some unexpected reasons. Central Europe came up again this year, and the thought was, "Why not?" so got our tickets in May and off we went in mid August.

Despite our numerous chats, there wasn't much dwelling on which country except we both wanted to do Prague, Budapest and Poland. The rest were open for options. We have initially thought of including Russia and Ukraine but it was not the best time to travel there at the time, so we included Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)! After I found an excellent flight option (in reference to timing and number of transit) to Zagreb and out of Warsaw, K told me to go ahead and she will find a flight to coincide with mine.

There isn't much flights going in and out of Sarajevo without many transits. Most transports options out of Sarajevo are through Zagreb and Belgrade, and both of us hold a Malaysian passport which requires tourist visa to Serbia. It doesn't seem feasible in both cost and effort to apply for a visa for one train from Sarajevo to Belgrade, so we abandoned the plan.

Many asked us why not fly from Zagreb to Dubrovnik and travel north from there. Of course, it does seem like a good route but Croatia wasn't in our radar. In fact it wasn't in our itinerary in the first place, the only reason we fly to Zagreb as it was closest to Sarajevo and it involved only one transits for both of us. (I'm sorry Croatia but yes, you are allowed to gasp at me not considering the cities along the Adriatic City!)

Initially we wasn't keen on trekking back to Zagreb but direct train from Sarajevo to Budapest is no longer in service. After contemplating many options, we decided to do Sarajevo-Mostar-Split-Budapest. There are direct trains from Split to Budapest running on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer months but it didn't suit our plan, so we took a train from Split to Zagreb and from Zagreb to Budapest.

So you can see, my excellent flight option was flying out on a Friday after work (I'm all about optimising my annual leave) and reached on a Saturday afternoon. Return flight involving flying out of Warsaw on a Saturday at 16:45 and reached Melbourne on Sunday night. Back to work on Monday ;)
Both flights only had one transit, in Doha. However the flight out of Melbourne had a technical stop in Budapest. I don't know, airline companies referred the stop as a technical stop - a stop where they pick up passengers at Budapest Airport but the ones going to Zagreb do not need to get off the plane)

N = night, A = afternoon, M = morning, E = evening
15/08, Day 0 - On flight
16/08, Day 1 - Half day in Zagreb, then fly out to Sarajevo* at night (Hostel & Guest House Bistrik)
17/08, Day 2 - Sarajevo
18/08, Day 3 - Sarajevo
19/08, Day 4 - Sarajevo, departed for Mostar* in the morning
20/08, Day 5 - Mostar*. Day trip to Blagaj, Pocitelj, Krevice (Hostel Miran Mostar)
21/08, Day 6 - Mostar, departed for Split in the morning. Night train* to Budapest with stopover in Zagreb
22/08, Day 7 - Reached Zagreb in the morning. Second leg of train to Budapest* (Avenue Hostel)
23/08, Day 8 - Budapest*
24/08, Day 9 - Budapest*
25/08, Day 10 - Budapest*
26/08, Day 11 - Budapest, train out to Prague* (Hostel Mango)
27/08, Day 12 - Prague*
28/08, Day 13 - Prague*
29/08, Day 14 - Prague*
30/08, Day 15 - Prague. Night train* to Krakow
31/08, Day 16 - Krakow* (Let's Rock Hostel)
01/09, Day 17 - Krakow*
02/09, Day 18 - Krakow*
03/09, Day 19 - Krakow. Evening train to Warsaw* (Oki Doki Hostel)
04/09, Day 20 - Warsaw*
05/09, Day 21 - Warsaw*
06/09, Day 22 - Warsaw. Afternoon flight* out to Melbourne, transit in Doha
07/09, Day 23 - Reached Doha just passed midnight. Reached Melbourne* at night.
Note: * referring to where we overnight

We roughly have an idea of where we want to go but decided to keep our options open and only booked our accommodation in Sarajevo. The rest of accommodations were booked after we got our train tickets, generally a day before leaving the city except for the Prague-Krakow leg where we booked our accommodation first. We turned up at the train station asking for the next train out. And many thanks for my friend who paid for my domestic flight from Zagreb to Sarajevo. :)

Side note: I know these countries are also referred to Eastern Europe or East Central Europe, but I'll go with Central Europe as I think Eastern Europe more of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fairfield Park Boathouse

My friend, A asked me to go for a walk on a Saturday morning and she suggested Fairfield Boathouse. It was an easy walk from home and I met her there. Umm.. despite it is more of a walk but we always end our walk with at least an iced coffee. There were once we had brunch there too. If we are planning to lose weight, we have definitely failed our objective. :P

One can also rent a rowboat out, to which we have not done that yet. Just walking around the trail, and having food at the boathouse, of course.

Side note: Another working day to a break!