Read, Write, Run, Roam

Archive for December, 2010

Balkanalia, Zagreb


No hot chocolate for you!

I asked for hot chocolate at this mulled wine stand and was firmly told, “No. Only wine or Rakija.”

Let me get this straight. If I walk around with a bottle of water, I get quizzical looks. But if I walk around with a cup of hot wine, it’s commonplace. If I drink said hot wine during daylight hours-not a problem! After all, there’s nothing else for sale on the street.

Maybe it’s a ploy to get people in the Christmas shopping spirit, or a way to avoid human hibernation in 20 degree temperatures. Personally, I was cold and had a lot more exploring to do. So I chose white wine mulled with honey, lemon and cloves. Not exactly hot chocolate, but a tasty-and toasty-way to explore Zagreb.


Serbians: Tougher than Man-Eating Sharks

Completely unrelated photo

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled travel blogging to explain how you should NOT mess with Serbians. Especially if you’re a man-eating shark at an Egyptian resort.

As reported by the Macedonian International News Agency (and picked up by the New York Post) a Serbian man was on vacation in Egypt when he drunkenly jumped off a pier and landed directly on a shark that had been terrorizing visitors and threatening the tourist economy.

The NY Post reports:

Dragan Stevic was soused to the gills while partying at the Red Sea resort Sharm El Sheikh when he inadvertently felled the beast that had been terrorizing tourists for weeks.

Stevic cannonballed into the water from a high-diving board, according to a Macedonian news agency. Instead of making a splash, he came down right on the shark’s head, killing the toothed terror instantly. Stevic swam to shore and is currently in the hospital recovering from alcohol poisoning.

I hate to ruin the fun, but it’s not true. An online hoax got picked up and unfortunately, the Post took the bait. (get it?) But let’s face it, it seems true. Serbian vs. Shark? It’s like Godzilla vs. Mothra. Especially if rakija is consumed. If rakija can make you ignore freezing temperatures, it can probably make you jump off a pier without looking. Plus, if this was true, all my reporting on local hooch looks like a survival mechanism. Hmmm…I think I’ll believe it anyway.

Zagreb: Breaking up is hard to do

Much better than St. Mark's (church in background)

Zagreb has a lot to offer: great shopping, nice architecture, and a slew of museums. But the best museum in Zagreb wasn’t in any of the guidebooks we saw; Privi and I found it by chance.  We were walking to a church when I saw this sign and blurted out, “The Museum of WHAT?” We decided to risk our eternal salvation and skip the church to check it out.

At first I thought the museum might be about war. After all, the Balkans have had their share of broken political relationships. Fortunately, this was about something a little lighter and a lot juicier: breakups. That’s right, readers: the entire museum consisted of items associated with failed relationships. Stuffed animals, sweatshirts from a beloved’s college football team, wedding dresses, and more. Placards by each item explained the significance of the item and the end of the relationship. The exhibits were divided by the type of item or story. There was a section devoted to breakup humor, where a “Dumb Frisbee” exhibit explained how useless the gift-and the giver-turned out to be. Some stories (divorce, infidelity) were serious. Others (untimely death) were tragic. Oddly, there was a whole section about shoes received or given as gifts.

The curators accepted any kind of breakup story. In the “thank goodness the other person got away” department, one guy wrote a rambling letter about his heartbreak when he left his country and girlfriend, subsequently married someone else who he fathered a child with, but was heartbroken because his former love had no interest in reconnecting with him 15 years later. Oh, and he was still married. Classy guy. Another person turned in one of the “many” cat collars she wore when she was in a relationship. No comment on that one. Prvi’s favorite exhibit was an axe, used by the donor to destroy a piece of a live-in girlfriend’s furniture every day that she was on vacation-with her new lover.

The museum is a great combination of voyeurism and entertainment. It’s designed to make you think you’ve seen it all-until you read the next breakup story. While not every exhibit was written well, some had twists that made us laugh or grimace. I’ve included a funny example here, but I have to warn you that it’s mildly NSFW.


NSFW: not suitable for parents, I mean, work

The MBR has been on tour all over the world, including two cities in the United States. It’s permanently housed in Zagreb, but I’m hoping they go back on tour soon. Check out their website, encourage your local museum to host the exhibition, and start collecting your best breakup stories.

Church on Sunday: Hofburg Chapel, Vienna

Muz sprang for the cheapest seats in the house

Technically this is Church on Monday. Sorry about that-but not sorry enough to pay 17 Euros for hotel internet access last night…

For this week’s church on Sunday, we went to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir at the Hofburg Chapel in Vienna, Austria. We got the cheap seats in the nosebleed section, which accounts for the bird’s eye view of the altar. The bad news about these seats is that you don’t get a view of the pulpit-the seats are squeezed into small rooms on the top floor of the church. The great news about this section is that you can see the choir sing as long as you’re close to the balcony. The choir sings at the highest point of the back of the chapel until the end of the service.


The top chamber is where the boys perform during the service.

In addition to the choir, the musicians, adult choir, and even the priest sang beautifully. But the boys’ choir is the main event. Their voices are world famous, but what I really enjoyed was how charming they were. They’re not visible to most of the church except on closed-circuit tv, so while we heard angelic voices, we saw mussed hair, tired faces, and a lot of fidgeting. It was a sweet reminder that while these boys sound like angels, they’re just kids who might prefer sleeping in at 9:15 Sunday morning.

After the service, the boys came down to the front of the church to sing traditional Christmas songs. It was a great way to start the last week before Christmas.

Vienna is a beautiful city. I can’t wait to share it with you later this week.

This Guy


There’s not much to say about This Guy, except: AWESOME. We saw him on the road from Sarajevo to Zagreb. Privi was in the front seat of our car and managed to get his camera out in seconds. When the guy saw Privi’s camera, he toasted us-with the beer in his hand.

Since our encounter was so short, Privi recommended that I fill in the blanks about him. I’d say that he’s had a long afternoon delivering firewood and homemade rakija to the 15 people that  live in the area. Hence the beer: don’t get high on your own supply.

In my mind, he’s just gotten back from his kum’s house, where they talked about the old days when This Guy was the star of the town’s soccer team. They spent most of their time trashing David Beckham and trying to not open the bottles of rakjia he still had to deliver. Once he finishes this last delivery he’s headed home, where his zena (wife) will accuse him of drinking his profits away before kissing him and handing him a huge plate of cevap.

Share your own ideas about This Guy in the comments, which for the 4th time ARE OPEN. No more badgering RHOB about not allowing comments!


Tunnel Museum, Sarajevo

It was a bit eerie to hear of Richard Holbrooke’s collapse and passing while we were on this trip. Holbrooke was largely responsible for the Dayton Accord that ended the 1992-1995 war between Bosnia and Serbia conflict within Bosnia. Sarajevo was under siege for three and a half years, but now there is surprisingly little evidence of the massive destruction that occurred in the city. (Other areas have not recovered as quickly.) To have a better understanding of the impact of the war, we decided to go to the Tunnel Museum and National History Museum.

The Tunnel Museum is at the site of a formerly secret tunnel used to move people and supplies into Sarajevo during the war. At the time, Sarajevo was completely surrounded by Serbian forces, making it impossible to move people, supplies or munitions via roads.

The tunnel was dug by volunteers in the shed of a home. It took 3 and a half months to dig a 5 foot high, 3,150 foot long tunnel. Most of the work was done by older men, since the younger ones were fighting the war.

A film at the museum shows children, farm animals, soldiers and supplies moved through the tunnel, which was often filled with water. We walked through the short part of the tunnel opened for visitors. Despite the dry ground and our ski-grade winter clothing, it was freezing. The low ceilings and uneven ground made us shuffle, half-bent over, to walk a mere 20 meters. It’s hard to imagine that one million people passed through the tunnel during the war.

We later went to the National Museum, where photos show the destruction of the city, the victims of violence, and the struggle to survive amidst the ruins. Among the photos is one of the Sarajevo Philharmonic performing in 1994, in the ruins of their city hall building. I couldn’t find it online, but I encourage others to search for it-and to let me know where they find it.

This post is not intended to judge the war in Bosnia. There are rarely any good actors in war, and certainly not in this one. But the tunnel is a testament to the desperation, and horror of war, as well as the lengths people will go to survive. It was a sobering view of a war that ended a mere 20 years ago.

Rakija: Balkan Moonshine

The glass makes it look so refined

If there’s one thing that unites the Balkans, it’s their love of rakija. Rakija is a brandy distilled from fruit, preferably in someone’s basement. Kind of a fruity moonshine, if you will. The traditional Serbian breakfast? Coffee with a shot of rakija. Let’s just say it wasn’t something I was eager to try.

Until recently. Winters are cold in the Balkans. When we arrived in Sarajevo, the ten-minute walk to our restaurant seemed like an eternity. When our waiter offered us rakija, it seemed like a great idea. We tried herb and plum. The verdict? Pretty good. One small glass (sip, don’t shoot) and we were thawing out. Over the next two days in Sarajevo, we sampled a few other flavors.  Muz and I thought the best flavor was honey. Prvi thought the plum was a better “daytime warmup sippin’ drink.”

The next morning, Muz and Prvi decided to tackle another regional drink: Bosnian coffee.

It makes a Starbucks venti seem like warm milk

Bosnian coffee is similar to Turkish and Serbian coffee, but packs a bigger punch. While I sipped tea, I watched Muz and Privi gulp their cups of coffee. Their eyes grew wide. Muz grabbed the guidebook and started making intricate plans. Prvi challenged Muz to a running contest. The two of them were bounding up stairs and talking a mile a minute. I suddenly realized why rakija was part of a traditional Serbian breakfast-it was probably a housewife trick to get a Muz to calm down. I liked the rakija, but unless I want to run a four minute mile, I’ll stick to tea in Bosnia.