Sarajevo Grays

We arrive to Bascarsija to its center to sit for a cup of coffee waiting for our room to be ready. The pigeons swirl in the square as an old lady tosses seed to them. Every place seems to have a square like this with an old lady scattering seed soon after daybreak. Breathing in the chill morning air and drinking delicious strong macchiatos is just what we need after the horrific busride to get here.

But let's not dwell on the night trip, because arriving to Sarajevo rocked. It's such a beautiful city, surrounded by green mountains with pleasant people sweeping the cobblestone walkways. It was a gray day when we arrived and the clouds stuck with us the whole time, but only really tipped once. The blending of religions is apparent in the skyline. It's mostly Muslim, also apparent from the skyline, as we could count (without standing up) 20 minarets just from the balcony of our hostel. Within an eyeshot, crosses, domes and minarets all cut at the gloomy sky.

Traveling through southeastern Europe after staying a while in Turkey, you definitely see the Ottoman influences everywhere: in the foods and the words and the Turkish Quarters, which seem to be every town center's highlight. In the morning we explore the narrow cobbled streets of the Turkish Quarter where no cars can go. Copper coffee pots garland the windows of every other shop. Silk scarves and pretty knit goods fill the stores in between. The rest are cafes bars, restaurants and more kebab and burek fast food joints than you care to sample. It's definitely not a good place for vegetarians, so I end up eating a lot of burek. Burek is also Turkish, but Sarajevo has the and the best damned burek on the planet. (Burek is a flaky meat-filled pastry, but veggie versions can contain cheese, spinach, potato, or more creative versions with pumpkin, etc.) Also we become instant friends with a young Dutch couple caravannig through Europe. The four of us spend a couple nights of merrymaking with beers, "alternative cuisine" (not kebab) in To Be or Not To Be, ice cream, margaritas and mojitos, scant dancing and a long morning after relaxing.

Next stop: Albania. Or not.

Poor Albania. It's supposedly beautiful: you know, mountains, beach. But the infrastructure is only inching along. Concrete bunkers abound and roads that require a snail's pace to navigate. Tirana, the capital, seems our most feasible stop in Albania, but the chore of getting there from Ohrid, Macedonia, is a bit ridiculous. A bus to the Albanian border. Walk across the border where taxis (hopefully) wait on the other side to take you to the first town in Albania, where (hopefully) there'll be a bus to Tirana. Once in Tirana, we'd have to find a place and then figure out how to leave, another feat since it's apparently complicated, even for locals. Add Cyrillic into the mix and you can see the attractiveness of an overnight bus that would bypass all of it.

Ohrid to the Montenegrin coast, direct, more or less. Nobody was allowed off the bus to pee even inhale Albanian air. It's pretty impossible to sleep on the bus, because the unpaved roads are so potholed the bus brakes and goes so abruptly for hours on end. From the window: nothing. Some may even call it a wasteland, though during the day I'm sure there must be some sort of view. At night, the only view is of gas stations. Gas stations lit up in all their glory, every two minutes at least. Astounding in their bounty. How could this many gas stations be on one road, where not even a single light glows in the distance.

We get to the bus station in Ulcinj, Montenegro, at 5 am, earlier than we'd hoped. I started to doze off at table while we waited for it to be a decent hour to find our place to stay or grab some coffee. Serkan found a bouncy bench seat, something that probably used to furnish the back of an old van, in the middle of an outdoor storage area. He led me there, covered me with a towel, and that was all she wrote.

Ohrid by night

From Sofia we head to Skopje, Macedonia, but we're already tired of the capital beat, so we stick around the Skopje bus station and wait for the next bus out to Ohrid instead. Ohrid is a lakeside resort town, a weekend escape place for locals. When we arrive, our big backpacks and other telltale signs reveal our traveler status, and the ladies offering rooms to stay and men offering taxi rides tug and prod at us relentlessly. Mind, we had planned to find a room with somebody selling space in their home. A cheap place to stay in a small town, so nothing could be too far away from the action. But they were so aggressive, all I wanted to do was hightail it away from them. We grabbed a taxi to the center and just found something from there.

Since it was Friday, Ohrid turned out to be a pretty hoppin' little town, where we danced in Aquarius. (Hemingway and Aquarius top the list of bar names in eastern Euorpe.) When the sardine pack of people started to get a little too snug, we wiggled our way to the back of the cafe nightclub. A patio dock stilted above the water with cushy sofas and low tables for chillin'. The full moon shone black glitter onto the lake, and underwater spotlights like moons brightened the schools of fish swimming in the teal below. This may very well be the coolest spot in Ohrid, but you have to be there at night.

Rila Monastery: Sleeping with monks

This morning we left Sofia for the Rila Mountains to slumber an evening in the old monks' cells of the eponymous monastery. As the sign at the entrance says, God chose the Rila Mountains for their beauty and peace as a good place to develop one's spirituality. If it's good enough for god, it's good enough for us. Rila Monastery sits in a pined valley; granite mountains hallelujah around it, crescendoing to a too-blue sky with candy-like dollops of clouds. A river sounds out further down the gorge, constantly refreshing and cleansing the energy.

The monastery itself is freshly painted. Broad wooden stairs and walkways creak, but the colors pop. I admit I was a little shocked when our bus arrived. I thought it would be cool to stay a night in a monastery hailing from the 10th century, but I didn't expect its vibrancy. The white and blue and green and gray of cloud and sky and forest and rock deepen the brightly painted colors of the building, even before you enter its massive gates.

Inside the marble and stone cobbled courtyard is a flurry of tourists snapping photos and buying souvenir rosaries, Virgin Mary plates and Bulgarian wool socks. Bearded monks robed in black walk the grounds and gather to sing a few times a day. By 6 p.m. most of the tour buses have snaked back down the hill, so the monastery belongs to the few of us who have decided to stay here for the night, and to the monks of course. A week and three countries later, this will still be, by far, the highlight of our trip.

Wedding pictures

Like I've mentioned, the wedding was extremely tiny. Me and Serkan, our witnesses (Sevgi and Murat, Serkan's sis and brother-in-law), Duru (their daughter) and Murat's mom. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekend days, couples marry each other in rapid-fire fashion every 10 minutes, from the hours of 2-4 p.m., depending on the district where you marry.

The couples waiting to get married, can sit in the hall and watch the other lovers' commit to one another. This turns out to be great for me, because I was a bit nervous about not being able to understand what was being said. I'd read what the vows should sound like online, but, still, my hands are a little clammy. I don't want to have to do any American-style repeating vows after the judge in Turkish. It's nice to be able to see the process live once before actually doing it myself.

Then it's our turn to go up to the podium-like table. The kindly judge dressed in a red cloak with gold embroidery sits at the short side of the table and Serkan and I sit on the long side of the table facing the transient audience, who shuffle in and out of the wedding hall. We lay down a tremendous bouquet of roses and Easter lilies, which my family sent me and which arrived just as we were all squeezing into the car to zoom to the wedding hall. Much to the joyful surprise of Murat, who kept marveling that the flowers came all the way from America!

(In fact, my aunt and uncle were even scurrying to find ways to come all the way to Turkey for the wedding, with only a couple days' notice. Yep, I was feeling loved, alright. It didn't pan out, of course, because it takes at least a day to make the travel, and they had barely double that amount of time to make the arrangements. Plus, I can only imagine the cost would be, as the star-lovers say, astronomical. In any case, all our loved one were with us in spirit and energy.)

They place microphones in front of us and make us test them out. Bir iki üç. One two three. And we begin. The vows are QUICK. And go something like this, in Turkish, of course: Heather, daughter of Mark Poyhonen, you met Serkan Yalın and you liked him, you two fell in love and now you wish to spend the rest of your lives together. Do you, of your own accord and free will without any outside pressure, take Serkan as your husband? At this point, because the judge has been so nice to us, and didn't make us hire and pay for a pricy official interpreter, he queues Serkan to translate to me in English. Serkan translates, we smile, I say evet. The judge says to say it louder and into the mic. Serkan translates. I lean forward and say EVET, and everybody claps.

Then he asks Serkan the same thing. He says evet and again EVET. Then Sevgi and Murat also respond affirmatively, though we don't remember what question they were responding to. The judge wishes us well. More applause. He hands me the wedding certificate, because, you know as a woman I'm boss, at least inside the home. Then we head outside into the sunshine, and we are married. Good times.

There are a handful of pictures on Flickr, though we don't have many. We hope to get a few more pictures from the professional photographer shooting throughout the tiny 'ceremony' when we return to Istanbul.

Wedding mini-collection of pics:

Entering the green fields and toilet paper of Bulgaria

In the morning, from the train the land is green and misty. We've escaped the city for the village, just by waking up. Old cars, old buildings, old people. It reminds me strangely of Nebraska: corn rows, level land, the intermittent silhouette of a lone oak. Then the small shops come into view and the signs in Cyrillic--which, for the record, was created in Bulgaria and borrowed by the Russians.

We're definitely not headed for Nebraska. One shopowner is setting out her wares for the day. A store entirely devoted to the selling of toilet paper. Yellows and pinks and blues and small mountains of what turns out to be typically Bulgarian TP: a thin, singly-ply natural beige, not soft or scratchy. How much she sells is anyone's guess. Seeing that much toilet paper in one spot does fill one with a sense of urgency. Is TP hard to come by? Should I stock up now... you know, just in case?


Related Posts with Thumbnails