Neretva Blues

My new favourite colour is the colour of the Neretva river. Capturing it with my camera is proving difficult.

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Back in Mostar

Remember how hard it was for me to leave the last time? Well, I’m back. I’m working(ish) at Majda and Bata’s hostel, greeting travellers and showing them around, drinking coffee and getting a sunburn. I’m here for a month. It’s going to be glorious.

Perhaps a photo-post per day is in order? Yes. Someone hold me to that.

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Dear Edinburgh.

Dear Edinburgh;

I miss you. I know I’ve left you before, and I know I’ve gone back to a cool place that I also like very much, but this time is different. This time I can’t come back. (Alright, I CAN come back and I WILL for a few days, but you know what I mean. I can’t live there anymore. It’s killing me.)

In the days before I had to leave you, my friend, I sat a few times at the top of Arthur’s Seat and looked. (Once, with a friend and a bottle of wine in the sun, it was lovely). It’s what I liked to do. From Arthur’s Seat, from Calton Hill, from Princes Street Gardens, from the North Bridge – for almost two years I spent a lot of time just looking at you. I never tired of it. I never stopped being in love with how damn beautiful you are.

I lucked out, when I first arrived. I wandered the streets with my CV after only a few days, and almost immediately found myself working at a glorious little pub; family-owned, cozy, and yet in the middle of the Royal Mile. The people there became my family, the pub my home. (My boss Marie once felt she had to tell me I couldn’t actually live there.)

You’re the biggest small town I’ve ever seen. Though a city of almost 500,000, I could walk everywhere I wanted to go. I could decide I wanted to meet a friend at a pub and be there with them in 10 minutes. I would constantly run into people I knew on the street. I got to know the guy who sold me newspapers, the guy who cleaned the windows, the boys who sold us breakfast and coffee at our favourite, uh, breakfast and coffee place. I usually had at least one friend who lived just across the street from me, or around the corner.

No offence, Canada, I do really miss my family and friends of course, but for Edinburgh I feel homesick. When I’m there I feel like I belong somewhere.

So I’m wracking my brain now. I’ve used up my 2-year visa and can’t apply for another one. I could go back as a student but can’t afford the tuition fees. I don’t fall into the ‘highly-skilled’ category (apparently an ability to pour pints, or to construct grammatically-correct sentences, won’t earn me special visa privileges). Several people offered to marry me, but unfortunately none of them really meant it.

Edinburgh, you’ve ruined me. Though I want to keep travelling (gawd, there’s so much of the world left to see), I don’t really want to live anywhere else.

So I guess that’s me, for now. I’m barred from my favourite place. Don’t ever expect me, though, to stop planning my return.

Aasa.

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Dear London.

Dear London;

Before I left Canada I had a romantic vision of you in my head. I thought I would arrive and love you, with the abundance you have to offer. What I found upon visiting, once, twice, three times, was that you were all right. I couldn’t work up more enthusiasm than that.

Then, later, after leaving my home in Edinburgh and travelling awhile, I thought maybe I’d give you a proper go. I could stay and find a job and get to know you better. We might become friends, I thought.

Our personalities clashed from the start, I’m afraid. My small town soul was no match for you crushing urbanity. You’re so bloody…big. I spent my life deciphering transit maps and smushing myself into the tube instead of enjoying a walk to work, to the pub. I felt anonymous in a brand new way – a way that can only be brought on by being surrounded by eight million people who don’t give a shit about you. I lived in a lovely house with lovely people, thank god, because the overwhelming prospect of weaving my way through the city, coupled with the weather’s endless dreariness, made me never want to leave the house. Ever. But leave it I did, only to get lost and miss bus stops at 2 a.m. or be nearly shoved aside by a woman to whom I’d given 50p because she was short of bus fare, or accosted by a suit-wearing middle-aged man at my pub because I wouldn’t serve him a glass of red wine past closing time.

(“Where are YOU from?” he’d demanded when my Canadian co-worker and I told him he wouldn’t be served. “You want to know where I’m from? ENGLAND”, as if it meant licensing laws didn’t apply to him. When we convinced him his behaviour wasn’t getting him any closer to a drink, he stole a wine glass and smashed it on the pavement on his way out the door.)

So no, London, it was clear you didn’t want to be my friend, and the feeling was mutual. I couldn’t get a flat because I didn’t have a spare £1,000 kicking about, and I couldn’t take the train to work because that would cost £30 a week. I felt like you were trying to strangle me, and the only way to breathe again was to run, far and fast.

I did. I ran. Back to Edinburgh, the love of my life, where I took a deep breath and set off on foot and fell instantly back into a rhythm of life that fit me, perfectly.

And so I accepted it, that I’ll never love you. I’ll see you again, because I have to, because you’re the hub of the world and because there are some lovely people amongst your masses who I want to see again.

I am glad we tried though, London, because like any relationship, I learned a great deal about myself from our demise.

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A Wee Project

I know it’s hard to tell from the blog, but I’ve been back in Edinburgh now for months. My time here is coming to a rapid end though, which makes me unspeakably sad. I will miss this place.

Having been here for over a year in total, I’ve gotten into a routine and feel that I don’t get out and appreciate this city enough any more, so I’ve devised myself a project to commemorate the end of my time in Scotland.

I’m going to go through the pictures I’ve taken over the years, and get out with my camera and take some new ones. I’ll choose some shots, get prints made, and make them into postcards. The plan is to write some impressions and memories of Edinburgh on them, and send them out.

So if you’re interested in getting a postcard, made by me, please leave your address in the comments here (it won’t be visible to the public), or send me a private facebook message. Apparently I’m feeling crafty, and it’ll give me something to do!

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There is still more to say! But I’ll sum up with this.

It was early evening, but already dark, and I was lost. Every Communist-era apartment block in Novi Sad, Serbia looked like every other Communist-era apartment block, and though I had the address of my couchsurfing host’s flat, I had totally lost my bearings. I knew I was on the right street but not which direction I should be going. I stopped a young couple to show them the address, they pointed, I thanked them and wandered on. After a few minutes of walking and still not recognizing where I was, I stopped an old lady with a cane, showed her the address. She pointed in the other direction.

I tried to flag a cab, thinking at least they could drop me to the right place. None would stop. I started to choke on the frustration.

Just then my phone lit up with a text; it was from my friend Lauren, back in Scotland. “I miss you, x”, was all it said.

The thinning dam burst, and I stood on that Serbian street corner and cried.

Novi Sad was my last stop on my solo backpacking trip through Central Europe and the Balkans. As my first trip travelling completely on my own, it brought me that sense of joy and freedom that makes me love travel above all other things. It also taught me something I’d not fully grasped when travelling with other people: Travel is hard work. It is rewarding and satisfying and thrilling; it is also frustrating and exhausting and tedious. I’d not noticed this before travelling solo because there was always someone there to share the load. Decisions were made together, if one person didn’t know the answer to something the other often did, and the journey felt … lighter.

The advantages of solo travel are everything you’ve heard: the route is up to you, everything you do and see is exactly what you want to do and see. There is no one else to appease. It’s the best thing about travelling alone, and also the worst thing, because you have no one to trust but yourself. Some days you would give anything to have someone to turn to and ask ‘What do you think?’.

Without the challenges of travelling, though, without the frustration of waiting for a Bosnian bus that never comes or trying to convince a Montenegrin toilet attendant to let you use the facilities even though you don’t have €0.40, the thrilling and satisfying bits would never be as good. Without the necessity of learning to rely only on yourself, you wouldn’t feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally do find the right block of concrete flats, and celebrate with a few shots of rakija. There would be no lessons learned.

So here are some of the lessons I learned, and will remember the next time I set out on my own:

If you’re stressing about where to go next and how you’re going to get there, stay put another day. I was travelling completely without an itinerary, and only a vague notion of where I wanted to go. I found myself staying longer in most places than I’d expected, and at first regretted that I didn’t get to see more. I learned, though, that I would rather experience fewer places more fully than skimming over many. I felt less rushed and stressed when I travelled more slowly. There will always be other trips.

Start to think of setbacks as opportunities. If that Bosnian bus had shown up, I wouldn’t have had an extra two nights in Mostar, where I ended up taking the best tour of my life (and where I’ll now be living for the month of May – more later).

Trust in the kindness of strangers. A very chatty lady approached me my way to the train station in Pula, on the Istria peninsula of Croatia, because of my backpack. She led me to the station, helped me buy my ticket, and made sure I got off at the right stop. Every host I met couchsurfing (which I highly, highly recommend), happily welcomed me into their homes, shared with me as much local knowledge as I could digest, and helped me get on my way again. People will want to help you. Let them.

Don’t marry your plans. Just when I thought I had an itinerary worked out in my head, I would end up heading in completely the opposite direction. I would meet someone or hear of an event that would completely alter my plans, and every time it was worth it.
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Turbofolk Ate Serbia

In Belgrade I stayed with Marko; a Serbian architect I’d met in Sarajevo at a Couchsurfing event. He called me ‘Marshall!’ (the ‘!’ always present).

I saw some of Belgrade. I did my usual ‘wander aimlessly hoping you’ll find the tourist attractions until you discover you’ve gone the opposite direction that you should have, dig out map’ routine. I saw the fortress and the place where the Danube meets the Sava river meet (the reason for Belgrade being where it is), the Bohemian street and the National Museum.

Belgrade, though, is apparently the best place in Europe to party, and I challenged Marko to prove that to me.

We started at a small bar, completely painted red, met with a group of friends. We continued on to a club, danced around in the packed room, writhing bodies and flashing lights, downed some Jager. We went to a new place, posh, overlooking the main square, didn’t buy a drink. And from there, we decided, it would be best to just get out of the centre, away from the places trying to be trendy and full of people wearing way nicer clothes than ours, and just go to Radivoje’s club.

Radivoje and Marko are best friends. They’ve always lived across the street from each other. Radivoje mixes cocktails at an out-of-the way club that specializes in…oh god…Turbofolk.

I’d been warned about Turbofolk by Bata when I was in Mostar. He’d said if I went to Serbia I would hear it, and it would sound like the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard, multiplied by 100. “It’s the WORST music EVER!” Bata had said/yelled.

Turbofolk is terrible, it’s true. According to Wikipedia, it’s been used as a bear deterrent in Macedonia.  Serbians love it.  It’s traditional folk music, but remixed, sort of, or something. Electronic gypsy music, if you will. But people go crazy for it, and it’s only recently come back into vogue.

And so our group ended up at Radivoje’s bar and he shook together various coloured drinks for us and the Serbians sang every awful song at the top of their lungs, and loved it.

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