And The Poop Wins!

I think what might surprise people is what tourists remember of their city.  Yes, we see the pretty vistas and the beautiful buildings and the nice museums.  Then we see the real city and that is what we remember the most about your country.

Nicaragua has to be one of the dirtiest countries I have ever visited.  The trash was everywhere.  I also never once felt safe while in the country as a whole and Nicaragua is not on our list of countries we would return too.

In Panama you can walk the streets and have the person in front of you toss their trash right at your feet; to them the whole country is a trash can and someone else will clean it up.  Sadly, no one does.  Panama is a beautiful country and has things to see but cleaning the country will be a big undertaking.

Sarajaveo will long be remembered by me for its beggars and how much of a turn off it was to try to walk the streets.  I would have loved to have walked any street without being confronted by some pretty aggressive families begging for money, but that was not the case and Sarajaveo comes off my list of places I would return too.

Iquique, Chile will long be remembered by me for its charm along its waterfront and its attention to keeping families together along its beaches.  They have done an excellent job in creating a great family environment for everyone along its waterfront.  The rest of the city however is another story and the further you get from the waterfront the less safe the city streets become until you are in some neighborhoods that some gangsters might be afraid to go to.

Santiago, Chile was a real surprise.  Loved this city.  Loved its vibe, its great attractions and the streets were pretty clean as well.  Yep, this city stays on my list and I could see myself going here permanently.

Rome will always be the place where Mike got pick pocketed.  It will also be the place where we remember that we tried to tell the police more than once what happened and no one cared enough to take a crime report.  It is a shameful and disgusting way to treat tourists and we heard from residents it is pretty much the same for them so why would I ever want to return to this city.  I don’t’ and I won’t.

Torrevieja, Spain is turning into the dog poop capital of the world.  So many expats walk their dogs here and many more dog owners do not pick up the poop that their dogs leave behind.  It is a mine field out there on any given street on any given day.  You can’t look up and enjoy the scenery because you run the risk of stepping in dog poop almost immediately.  There is no block that is not covered in dog poop somewhere.  Frankly, it’s revolting.  There are campaigns and laws on the books now about dog owners being fined for allowing their dogs to poop on the streets and then not picking up that poop.  Not sure what good that does.

So while you think that your city tops the list of one of the most beautiful places on earth to live; next time look at your city as if for the first time and see what tourists might be saying about your city.  It’s not too late to fix those things that might be wrong with it; we haven’t been everywhere yet.  And when we visit we’ll be sure to let you know what we think of your city.  I mean, if I need a pooper scooper to visit your city; I don’t think I’m coming to visit.

Florence Lince

Soul Searching in Sarajevo

or The European Jerusalem

(Part Two of a Two Part Series on our time in Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Being in Bosnia-Herzegovina was our first time in a country where the predominant religion was Muslim.  What impressed us with our time there was that so many Mosques’ dotted a small area.  What also made an impression were the multiple calls to prayer that one can hear around the city via loudspeaker.  Since religion has always played a part in my life I have to report that walking around the city of Sarajevo and hearing the call to prayer was in many ways relaxing and calming for me.  No, I had no idea what they were saying but the melodic sound of their voices was soothing nonetheless.

Mike wanted to see Sarajevo because almost 30 years ago this city hosted a winter Olympics and Mike loves winter sports of all kinds.  Mike was a ski instructor back in Washington State and he is an avid outdoorsman and hiker so to get to travel to a location that had hosted an Olympics was special for him.

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill

A reminder that Sarajevo was once a city of peace and goodwill. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Taking a bus from Mostar to Sarajevo takes a little more than two hours.   We again reserved a hotel in the center of old Sarajevo and it was the ideal location to begin our exploration.  We dropped off our backpacks and set out to explore the city with maps in hand.  Old Town Sarajevo is filled with shops, cafes, coffee houses, bakeries, souvenir shops, history and mosques.  We have at least two spires in every photo that we took.

Before heading to dinner we came upon a tourism office.  Sarajevo has so much history and to see all the sites we knew we had to hire someone to take us to places we would not be able to get to without a car.  Our first day trip was to the town of Srebrenica.  Our second was a day tour of the city of Sarajevo itself.  Our guide for both days was Dzenana (pronounced jenana), a young and enthusiastic 20 something who like Selmir in Mostar, loves her country.

Our wonderful guide Djenana

Our wonderful guide Djenana. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

A city tour of Sarajevo is unlike any other tour I have taken in any city I have visited.  A tour of this city is filled with references to the war and the destruction that happened during that war.  We were shown ‘sniper alley’ and the famous Romeo and Juliet bridge were two young people who were running across the bridge to get away from the fighting were murdered by a sniper; we were shown the National Library that was bombed and which burned for five days destroying 2.5 million documents that were housed here and which had detailed information from the history of the country in it; we learned that a ‘Sarajevo rose’ was the marks left on the ground by the artillery that rained on the city, sometimes as many as 300 of them in a single day; we learned that 300,000 people were trapped inside the city limits during the war many without food, water, heat, or electricity; we were given stats like 11,000 people died in the city of Sarajevo during the war, 1600 of them children; that 1 million refugees left before and during the war and most never returned; that 80 % of the city was destroyed; that Sarajevo was attacked for no other reason than it was an easy target, the aggressors never entered the city they simply staked out the high ground and tossed bombs for three years, their objective to topple the government and break the will of the people, which they never did. We learned that the Olympic Village, where once athletes from around the world stayed and competed in harmony was burned and bombed and it no longer resembles a place of peace and goodwill.  We were taken on a ‘tunnel tour’ where we were able to enter the tunnel that was used to bring in food and water and electricity to those trapped inside Sarajevo during the war.  This 800 meter tunnel made the difference in the lives of those people and helped to ensure they had a chance to survive the war.  Without that tunnel there would have been no hope.  We learned about the hatred and lingering resentment between the people of Bosnia and those who live in the region known as the Republika of Srpska who even today want to become a part of Serbia further splitting away from Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Some people never learn.

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it

The Tunnel Tour begins in a bomb shelter. Here Djenana gave us a detailed accounting of the war and what it might have been like to live through it. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our guide Dzenana showed us a map of her country and she said, “My country is shaped like a heart, why do they want to tear it apart?”  She makes an emotional point.  The feeling here however is that someday her country will be further split in two.  Until then this little country, shaped like a heart, has a lot of healing to do.  I fear it will take generations before the healing takes hold and the bombed out buildings are replaced or rebuilt.  No city which wears its war so loudly on its streets; were so many bombed and burned out buildings still dot the landscape can heal.  There are too many reminders for the survivors to put the war behind them.

I expected my time in Medjugorje to be emotional.  What I did not expect was the sadness I felt in Mostar or the heavy burden of hatred I felt in visiting Srebrenica or the lingering evidence of war still clinging to the streets of Sarajevo.  On the bus from Sarajevo back to Croatia Mike and I had time to reflect on all that we had experienced in Bosnia-Herzegovina and ultimately we felt that living there was not something we could do.  It would be too hard on us to live in a place were so much sadness still lingers.  We only live for 6 months in a new country and that would not be enough time to help heal some of the wounds that have taken years to build, and will take more time than we can give to close that pain.  We wish the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina peace.  Long and ever lasting peace.

(For more information and pictures of our time in Sarajevo follow this link)

Florence Lince


An Ancient Pearl Waiting to be Rediscovered

(Part One of a two part series on our exploration of Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Twenty years ago this region was embroiled in a war for independence, and thus I never considered the other countries known as the Balkans as a realistic tourist destination based purely on this factor.  We are currently living in Sibenik, Croatia and after I voiced my desire to visit the city of Medjugorje before we leave here, it was then that my husband told me that he really wanted to explore the city of Sarajevo.  So I changed my thought process and we planned our trip into Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We began by visiting the city of Medjugorje for no other reason than the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin which have been taking place there for almost 30 years.  What was once a sleepy and poor town is now filled with opulence which is evident in the large homes that dot the landscape and the upscale looking accommodations and restaurants that line the city streets. There wasn’t much evidence that a war had taken place in Medjugorje.

Our next destination was the city of Mostar which is a 45 minute ride north of Medjugorje.  We opted to take a bus that night to Mostar and spend the first of three nights in that city.  Mostar is the fifth largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Our hotel was centrally located on a cobblestone street in Old Town Mostar.  Mostar is easy enough to explore on ones own and with city map in hand that is exactly what we did on our first day walking through the shops in the Old Bazaar, entering our first Mosque where we learned more about the Muslim faith; exploring fresh fruit markets and shopping centers and crossing lots of bridges.

Since we only had three nights in Mostar we opted to find a reliable tour guide for the following day so we could see those things that would require transportation, so at the recommendation of the hotel owner in Mostar we ventured to the office of Fortuna Tours.  Here we booked our guide Selmir.  Mike and I have always done a combination of sightseeing when we venture to a new country.  We do a lot of touring on our own armed with guide books and city maps.  Then we take escorted tours with a local.  Selmir was born and raised in Mostar so his recollections and insight into his country and his people conveyed more to use than any guidebook ever would.

Selmir began our day by driving us to the small town of Blagaj where we saw the largest spring in all of Europe situated near an old monastery called Blagaj tekija. The monastery is 400 years old and the natural spring becomes the Buna River (Good River).  Here Mike filled his water bottle with fresh spring water.

The monastery is well hidden here among the rocks

The monastery is well hidden here among the rocks. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Our next stop was the to artists colony known as Pocitelj which was built in the 15th century.  This town sits on the Neretva River which translates to Gift of God.  Only about a 1/3 of the city can be seen from the one side of the mountain.  Mike and Selmir did not let the cold and wet morning stop them from trekking to the top of the fortress and taking some wonderful pictures of the valley below, and of the other half of the city that waited to be explored.

The fortress at the top of the hill keeping watch over Pocitelj

The fortress at the top of the hill keeping watch over Pocitelj. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Onward we went to the site called Mogorjelo, a Roman village that dates from the early fourth century.  This village is the location where the olive oil was made and fruits and vegetables were grown for the Village of Narona in Croatia (see FB photo album on our trip to Narona).  To be able to tie these two Roman villages together and these two countries was quite a thrill for me.  Sadly, the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina does not have the money to begin excavation so the secrets of Mogorjelo will stay secrets for many more years to come.

Olive oil was produced here and taken to the Roman village of Narona which is located in Croatia

Olive oil was produced here and taken to the Roman village of Narona which is located in Croatia. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Selmir then took us to Kravice Falls on the River Trebzat. The height of the falls is 25 meters and the radius of the lake at the base is 120 meters.  This is a very popular swimming and picnic area during the summer.  It is unusual to take people here this time of year and the falls were majestic.  This was really the best time of the year to come here since the waterfalls were bursting with water.

Kravice Falls  © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Kravice Falls

The last stop on this tour is normally to Medjugorje but since we had been there on our own Selmir said he would add in a stop that very few people enjoy.  High atop one of the hills that was used during the war the Catholics in Bosnia-Herzegovina erected a crucifix that can be seen all over the city.  The crucifix was erected in the year 2000 and stands 33 meters high.  The hill it was placed on was used during the war to bomb the city.  Upon arriving at the top of the mountain we were greeted by a rainbow that seemed to be protecting the city itself.  The views of the city from this location were breathtaking.  It was a fitting way to end our day and our time in this beautiful city.

Rainbow over Mostar

Rainbow over Mostar © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Since many tour guides have done a fair amount of travel, and Selmir was no exception, we asked him if he planned to travel more outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina and he told us that he had learned that there was so much for him to see and discover about his own country that he didn’t see the need to travel outside of it until he had seen it all.  Selmir is justifiably proud of his country and what it has to offer besides war torn buildings and monuments to its heroes.  He told us that he has shown his friends the places he has visited right in their own country and they ask him where these beautiful places are and he tells them, this is an hour outside of town, and they do not believe him. Some people look for beauty so far outside of their own country that they do not see what is right in front of them.  We are glad Selmir took the time to share his country with us and show us the Bosnia-Herzegovina he loves so well.

(For more on our time in Mostar click here)

Part Two Coming December 11, 2013 (Soul Searching in Sarajevo – the European Jerusalem)

Florence Lince