Balkan Adventure: A Journey to the “Motherland”

A few weeks ago, my teammates packed up our rented STINT mobile and began our Balkan tour with a  five-hour trek through the Croatian countryside to Split — an ancient city with a rich history and an exotic, Eastern-European feel.

Upon arrival that evening, the warm, salty sea air, palm trees, and old architecture greeted us like friends. We strolled along the stone streets, illuminated by street lanterns positioned along the buildings. Along the shore stood several cafes with seating that faced the sea. “This is beautiful,” I exclaimed, repeating this nearly every time I turned a corner. I was surprised at how nice the old city was.

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After spending the night at the Tchaikovsky Hostel, a few minutes’ walk to the shore, we ventured through town, passed the crowded fish market and narrow streets, to Diocletian’s Palace, the focal point of the city. The nearly two-hour walking tour of the palace was a great use of our time. Not only did we see the best preserved palace and walk along the original stone streets, but we also learned the history of the 4th century palace and of Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to retire.

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Jupiter’s Temple

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Diocletian’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

1. Diocletian’s Palace is so well preserved because people have been living inside the palace walls since it was built.
2. Diocletian worshipped Jupiter, and he believed he was the son of Jupiter. And there are 3,500 year old sphinxes from ancient Egypt that guard Jupiter’s Temple.
3. Diocletian chose to retire to Dalmatia (Split) because he believed the water had healing qualities for his arthritis. (The water in Split has a high amount of sulfur. He also grew his own cabbage, which also has a high amount of sulfur in it.)
4. The room of the palace pictured below is the vomitorium. The vomitorium was common in the Roman Empire because it was customary for privileged guests to make themselves vomit during and after a 27-course feast to show appreciation to the emperor. A 27-course meal is a little excessive, if you ask me.

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I found some beautiful flowers inside the palace.

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And I found the smallest street in Split.

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“Helena Pedina from Hercegovina”

There’s a story that’s been passed down in my family about my great maternal grandmother, Helena Pedina from Hercegovina. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as it’s a joke about her birth name. How often do you meet a Helena Pedina from Hercegovina? So naturally, it’s now a running joke with my team. (My mom’s family is from Croatia and Albania, as well.) Anyway, my mom, Helene, was actually named after her, so you understand why I was so excited to tour this region.

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After two nights in Split, our team continued our adventure to Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina, a city with a mix of old and new. The newer part of the city surrounds the older part. The newer city still has remnants of the 18-month siege during the Bosnian War in the early nineties. Golfball-sized bullet holes blanket run-down buildings and abandoned parking garages. Though the city is striving to rebuild, these buildings serve as a dark reminder of the country’s past.

In the older part of the city stands the Old Bridge, a 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans. Although the bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, it has since been rebuilt. This landmark is symbolic of the connection between east and west. On both sides of the bridge is a maze of souvenir shops full of scarves, trinkets, paintings, copper pots, jewelry, and postcards. (I caved and bought a beautiful oil painting of the Old Bridge from a second-generation artist, pictured below.)

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As we made our way out of the city, we stopped at the Karadjoz-Beg Mosque, another 16th century landmark. The architecture boasts with intricate details. From the top of the minaret, we had the best view of the city. But the height was too much for me to handle, especially after climbing the steep and narrow 100 steps to get to the top. I couldn’t really enjoy the view because I was so close to hyperventilating. So within a minute, I had to go back down. I guess you could say that the view was “breathtaking.”

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After a few hours in Mostar, we once again hit the road, traveling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Hercegovina. Sarajevo also has an interesting past, which is particularly evident in the architecture and overall look of the city. The capital has a mix of modern shops and parks, concrete buildings from the Communist era, along with old Austro-Hungarian and ancient Ottoman influences.

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Avaz Twist Tower

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An Old Market

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The balcony where Tito would speak.

I love history and seeing historic landmarks (I get that from my dad), so the one thing I really wanted to see was the Latin Bridge, where WWI began. If you remember from history class in high school, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that started the war. A museum now sits at the corner to show the history of the time period,  and it also displays the pistol that Princip used, as well as his pants (pictured below).

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Tourism aside, I think the best part of the trip, though, was spending time with the Sarajevo STINT team (a team who is laboring for the Gospel, like we are in Slovenia) and meeting other Bosnian believers who have a heart for their country. And I’m so thankful for the hospitality of the local church that welcomed us and cared for us while we were there. What a blessing it was to be encouraged by this team, spend time sharing stories, eat some čevapčiči (chay-vap-che-chee) together, and just get to see their lives and ministry in Sarajevo. Because of this, I came home with a greater heart for the world and a greater perspective on perseverance for the Gospel in Slovenia. And for that, I am thankful.

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J’ai passé un bon week-end (4/12/10)

Well, my friends, it has been another busy few days. This weekend, I decided to stay in Avignon, which was a very smart idea on my part. Because I stayed here, I was able to explore the city like I’ve been wanting to do. I think the best way to tell you is by separating into days. I know it’s a lot, but please stick with me. Here goes…

Jeudi / Thursday

I had five hours of class, and by the end, my head was about to explode. It’s hard enough concentration for that long in a class in English, but this was obviously in French. In these classes, there is no much thing as “zoning out,” not even for a few seconds. If you miss one thing, you get completely lost. It’s also a bit difficult when the professors speak quickly, because when you’re brain is translating the first they say, they’ve already moved on to the next topic. Needless to say, I have to stay on my toes. All the time.

I had my Culture and Société class and my Histoire class on Thursday. My CS professor is bit eccentric, but she knows what she’s talking about. The class is interesting because it’s basically French sociologie (sociology). We learned about the origin of different French salutations, specifically the bises, when the French greet each other with kisses on each cheek. Well, they’re almost kisses; you don’t actually kiss, but you do make the kissing noise. As it turns out, the number of kisses is different depending on where you live in France. The number ranges from two to four. For example, people in Avignon bises three times, while Parisians bises twice. The bises is the equivalent to the American hug.

For history class, our professor took us on a tour of the city. He explained the architecture and the history of particular buildings and churches. Though we walked for two hours, it was much more enjoyable than sitting in the classroom. And the best part, I can actually understand my professor. His accent took me some time to get used to.

Vendredi / Friday

First, let me start by saying that I love not having class on Fridays. After eight full hours of sleep, I awoke to the brilliant sunshine. I started my day with quiet time then homework, and I wrote one of my papers sitting on the terrace in the sun. Instead of cooping myself up in the house all day, I decided to venture on my own Avignon tour, which included me visiting little shops such as Shakespeare, the English used-bookstore down the street. The shop owner is an adorable old fellow. I believe he is from Poland, but his primary language is English. Anyway, I couldn’t have imagined a better shop owner; he fits the store quite well. He is thin and hunches a bit. He speaks slowly and with gentleness. His hair is snow-white, and he wears tiny glasses that rest on the end of his nose. I’m planning to return soon, drink some tea and read a good book. That sounds wonderful to me.

I continued on my way, and I ran into Sammi and Kierstin. Earlier, I had passed a discount shoe shop with a sign in the window saying, “Troisième Gratuit,” meaning buy two, get one free! Sadly, I didn’t find any shoes that I was “head over heels for.” Gasp! I used a cliché. Anyway, the rest of my afternoon was spent shopping for petits cadeaux (little gifts). Shopping for these gifts gave me an opportunity to visit the various candy and chocolate shops of Avignon. It was difficult not to buy anything for myself.

While shopping, we made plans for the evening — have a pique-nique (picnic) at the Palais des Papes. We (Sammi, Kierstin and I) all returned to our respective maisons (houses) for dinner and then met at the Palais at 22h (10:00 p.m.).

Samedi / Saturday

Saturday was a busy day for me as well. I woke up early to go to a cooking demonstration at Les Halles, which is the Avignon equivalent to Pittsburgh’s Strip District. It is a giant marketplace with fresh produce, meat, bread and sweets.

The demonstration consisted of a French chef walking us through the process of salmon tartare, which is raw salmon mixed with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, and a dollop of avocado cream on top. I was nervous to taste it because the salmon was raw, but I faced my fear of raw meat, and it was delicious. We also received tiny samples of white wine with it. After tasting the wine, I gave mine to Alex.

After the demonstration, we had two hours to kill before the dégustation du vin (wine-tasting). So, Kierstin, Alex and I bought little French pastries for lunch. I bought pain au chocolat amande (chocolate in the center of a croissant-like pastry crust, topped with powered sugar and slivered almonds). We enjoyed the pastries in the Place L’Horloge, a little square near the Palais.

Now, as you have probably already seen in other posts, I don’t like alcohol and I don’t drink; however, I decided to attend the wine-tasting for three reasons. It was free. I’m in France. And, it’s at the most famous place in Avignon, the seat of the old papacy. I figured, why not? This is part of “taking it all in.”

At the tasting, which was only for my group from OU, we tried five different types of wine and also learned how to properly taste wine. First, the wine is poured. Make sure you hold the wine glass at the top of the handle, but underneath the actual glass. Second, swirl the wine around in the glass. Smell it. Examine the color. Then take a tiny sip. Once you sip it, you are supposed to make a swooshing motion with your mouth so the wine spread around in your mouth. Then, drink the wine, or spit it out in special buckets they provide. You aren’t supposed to drink all of the wine you receive.

After the wine-tasting, Sammi and I went shopping with Christelle. Later we met Florian for ice cream. At the last minute, Christelle and Florian invited us to the beach with them Sunday.

   

 

 

 

 

Dimanche / Sunday

We left for the beach around 11:30 a.m., and the trip took about one hour and a half. They took us the scenic route, full of mountains, meadows and rustic houses with orange shingles. After arriving at La Grande Motte, like the French version of Myrtle Beach, we immediately went to eat some seafood at their favorite restaurant, L’Oasis, where I tried my first mussel and my first slice raw beef. Loved the mussel, didn’t like the beef. After a leisurely lunch in the sun, Florian, Christelle and I played sand volleyball, while Sam sunbathed. The sun was hot, but the wind was cool. The Mediterranean is blue and sparkling, and is just beautiful. On the beach, we met two of Christelle’s friends, Nicholas and Christophe.

Although the weekend was incredibly packed, it couldn’t have been much better.