Silk Road 2


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » February

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2010
02.26

 

http://www.vimeo.com/9755928

Quick video about the Pilat dune in the west of france. I´ll also find some of the highest dunes in the world in Iran and China, in the Taklamakan dessert.

The music is from 2 french girls, Cocoroise. Shrill and smooth at the same time.

I´ll  write you soon about Italy, there are amazing things here and my cold has nearly gone so I´m more energetic.

Fernando

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2010
02.25

My stay  in France was quick but interesting, just four days to see two big cities, but that’s the way I wanted it. France borders with Spain so even I visited some new places I’ve been in France before so I know the element of surprise wouldn’t be big. Moreover France is not a cheap country so I wanted to stay there just time enough to see the 2 cities on my itinerary.
I started in Bordeaux visiting Sainte Croix, taking the pictures I posted last week. The reason for going to Bordeaux was nothing to do with the silk route, simply it was a city I wanted to go for a long time so I added it to my route. The first city with a connection to the Silk route is Rome and the distance between Rome and Burgos is 1817 kilometers, so I had to stop somewhere!

 
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One of it’s corners.

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One of it’s streets.

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One of it’s squares.

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Downtown you also find modern surprises such as the Tribunal of Great Instance by Richard Rogers, the guy who projected the Pompidou center in París.

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The cathedral square with long lights from the ground.

Bordeaux is settled by the Garona river near the sea, as I love rivers for my kayaking I always take notice of river details. It’s the river that comes down from the ski resort in the Pyrenees that I visited before starting the trip. There’s another river that comes down from that ski resort also, but that falls into the Spanish side of the mountains, the Noguera Pallares, the most famous rafting river in Spain. The Garona is huge in Bordeaux, there are even transatlantic ships stopping here once in a while. I failed to take a picture to the river so you’ll have to imagine it…

Cristina took me out on the last night in the city, we met in the cafeteria of the Utopia cinema, an old converted church with stone walls and gothic arches. It was a pity not being able to see the actual cinema rooms as they use the rest of the church structure.
Dinner was, under my request, in a creperie, the chicest in town. La fromentine, a place owned by a middle aged woman so eccentric that she has decorated the place with cows, all kinds; pictures, paintings, figures, objects with cows colors and any other thing that resembles a cow in any way… now that I’m thinking about it, there was a black and white dalmata figure in the entrance… that woman is not right.

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Traditionally crepes are taken with cider, so that’s what I had with my cheese and salmon crepe that tasted amazing as well as the chocolate one I had for dessert. The non-sweet crepes are usually done with buckwheat flour, therefore the darker colour.

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Cows, do you see it!

One of the most interesting things of my trip will be to see the many differences from western to eastern, see how the cultures, faces, languages, customs, cities, landscapes all change, however there’s no need to go that far, the first thing you realize when going from Spain to France is the silence, the streets have less noise, the crowded noise in the bars hardly exists, it is as if people would walk in a stealthy way and as if the conversations would take place with the volume turned down. Probably I noticed it more because I was in Bordeaux as most of the centre is pedestrianized, in Marseilles the cars came back and added some more noise to the environment. Moreover, Marseilles is kind of a different city in France as the French people say, it’s Mediterranean climate makes it have more life in the streets making it a more lively city.

Marseilles captured my curiosity years ago, I’d seen it from one of those daily ferries that goes to Corsica and it looked good.

 Marseilles could be described as an ugly city with pretty things, it has a lot of that kind of coastal high-rises that no one understands why they were allowed to be built. It’s not really a place that deserves a visit per se, however it does not have the criminality that made it famous in the 70’s after the oil crisis when unemployment and the crime rate raised together. Here are some pictures so you can decide yourself if you like it.

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Picture just arriving at the train station. 

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Most of the streets in the historic center has no trafic or very little.

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has the biggest port in France(and the third largest in Europe) for having such a port, also has the highest immigration rate of the country. The building on the right is the latest building finished by Zaha Hadid in the huge container port. In Rome I´ll go to visit the one that will be her latest finished one. The musseum of 21st cenetury art!

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 The oldest city in France. One of the alleys in the hill.

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Marsei is the oldest city on the country. in the pictuer a ferry getting into the new port. The two fortres used to deffend the entrance of the new old port.

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  The old port.

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I love light houses, all ways take pictures to them even if they are tiny as this one.

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Experimental building by the swiss architect Le Corbusier from 1952.

And France went by, I visited places I liked, I had crepes and drank Orangina that are always my “must do” when I go to france. I’m happy for not having skipped France and gone straight into Italy.
There’s just one thing to tell you about France. Pilat, the highest dune in Europe, but that’s something that you’ll have to wait 2 days to view.

Hope you’ve like the story for today, I have a horrible cold with headache and nose blocked so I don’t feel very inspired

Write to you soon
Fernando

2010
02.18

http://www.vimeo.com/9544151

I´ve uploaded the video to Vimeo but I’m not sure if it can be seen very well, it´s supposed to be in High Definition, but I can see it with bumps, may be due to the connection I’m using, please, let me know well you can see it.

In the video I´m wrong, , Notwist are German, the Norwegians are Röyksoop, I´m also hooked on them.

Apart from what is in the video in Burgos I was all day from one place to another meeting people and doing things for the trip. I tried to avoid placing a picture about the famous (it´s famous in Spain, get in Google if you want more pictures there are many, more than enough) Burgos cathedral, but one day walking by San Pablo bridge I saw this sunset and I had to take the picture.

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On the right the theather “principal” and the river, with a lot more water than normally, the Arlanzón.

To complete the topics the second most famous ‘thing’ in Burgos is the black pudding. I skip Burgos cheese as it´s tasteless and tastes like tofu and I don´t like either.

Not that long ago I was at dinner with some American friends talking about food that can be disgusting and black pudding  was in all the conversations. The thing is that I kept thinking about it and I’ve seen black pudding in other countries, for example before the trip, I saw it in Ireland, they have two kinds that are used in the traditional Irish breakfast. I searched in Wikipedia and found that black pudding, or similar, exists in at least 24 countries, and the list did not include Ireland. May be that it´s not such a disgusting thing. Wikipedia didn´t list France either, but I’m pretty sure they have it, I’m going to see if it´s in the menu for dinner in a restaurant.

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Can´t be more typical!

That tapa(in the picture) was the last one I had in spain. That night at 3.16 am, I got onto the train that took me across the first border.  Being 3.16 and being totally sleepy I found it hard to sleep, as a powerful emotion kept me awake for awhile, as the train was leaving Burgos and gaining speed, finally the accumulated lack of sleep removed the smug smile on my face and the ‘Iron Horse’ took me at its pleasure along its rambling rails to my first port of call Burdeos. Leaving was a relief after the last few busy weeks, for you to get an idea, during the 6 weeks of 2010 before leaving I´ve slept in 9 different places, so the uncomfortable train seats became the most relaxing place in the world.

And to finisht the day´s chronicle , here you have my first pictures in Bordeaux inside Sainte Croix, with the super sunny day this is what i saw inside.

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I haven´t modified the color in the computer, otherwhise there wouldn´t be any interest, this is what I saw.

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I can imagine how cathedrals could impress people when they were just built and people lived in one floor modest houses.

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Me.

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Red.

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Column in orange.

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One of the pictures I like the most.

See you soon.

Fernando

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2010
02.14

The trip begins very shortly. This last week I´ve been non stop with an endless to-do list. The most difficult has been to meet everybody but I´ve nearly achieved that and I´m happy about it.

My sister has been the person that I´ve spent more time with, we decided to go for a trip to spend time together so we went skiing to Baqueira, that is the Spanish ski resort that has better snow quality and that’s where we went.

During the trip, totally excited, I tried to explain the feeling you have when skiing in virgin snow, especially in powder, I was not very sure if I made Ana understood what I meant… In summary  for me it is the smoothest feeling I could think of, something like being over a spongy cloud. In one of our funny conversations we came to the conclusion that caressing a cat was very smooth also even though you only use your hand. On the way back Ana understood the explanation by herself, we had incredible luck, it snowed a lot and the snow was perfect powder, here are some pictures that explain this better than me.

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After four days of snow, this is what we saw when waking up.

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Me snowboarding out of piste.

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Ana as photographer from the lift. I love the pictures.

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This slope didn´t have a lift, you had to walk 200 meters by the road.

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Ana skiing as she liks. faaaaaaast.

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OK, i confess. I falled after the turn.

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Down Luis Arias double back diamond piste.

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Last day and the last time we ski, the lifts were already stopped, nobody on the slopes any more. The last day has always to be taken advantage of, plus normally there’s not that much snow. On the left Ana, on the right Laura, both speeding at my request. They were my perfect models!!

In the last post I promised some pictures, I´ll start with a picture from the Tate Modern Gallery in London, it´s about an exhibitiion I loved. The very high ceiling of the gallery was covered in metal material, the background had half a yellow circle and they created fog, with me in the picture, this is the blur result.

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Al took the picture.

The second are pictures of the Calatrava bridge just opened in Dublin. In fact it is as beautiful as any other from Calatrava, surprisingly the colour is white, hehe.DSC_2584 (628x430)

A curious thing is that the bridge was constructed in Holland and it was brought to the Liffy river by boat, where it was set up.

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It´s located in the renewed docklands area, surrounded by modern buildings, all together looks amazing.  It´s not far from the harbour entrance to the city. Here the plan was to build two skyscrapers on the banks of the river, one was going to be the U2 building designed by Foster with a recording studio on top, the other was going to be by Zaha Hadid, but seems that the plan is stopped now, what a pity.

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I was taking pictures for a while so the night came.

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I took this picture with my cell phone a day they where testing the bridge. ¡it turns to let the boats go through!

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This  is simply a picture I felt like publishing here. I love this corner with the sticks moving the lights at night.

To finish, a little summary about what I’ve been preparing, there are still 1000 things to do, but these are the important ones, enough to depart:

  • Backpack, without doubt the bag I´ve thought about more in all my life.
  • Renew my Spanish ID. It was falling apart  and I afraid I would have problems at the borders, recently in an airport I sweated to be allowed Through.
  • International driving license, needed to drive outside of the EU. Getting it is just paperwork, showing the normal driving license and paying 9.49. It is a little book with the driving license in several languages

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  • Vaccinations. I´ve got vaccinated for typhoid as it  had expired, apart from this I haven´t needed anything else, I already have the A and B hepatitis and the tetanus. I also have the meningitis from a trip I did to India, good to have it for food in dodgy conditions.
  • Glasses. Review them to be sure I´ll be fine during the trip.
  • Dentist. Routine review that may have saved my trip!!!! My dentist found a deep cavity, he was pretty sure it would have given me issues on the trip. I´m happy to have gone to the dentist, I don´t really like the idea of being in an Uzbequistan village with an inflamed mouth like a fugu fish while a local dentist pulls the tooth out with a rusty pliers.
  • Prepare money, cards and other stuff.
  • Prepare my kitesurf, whitewhater kayak and skiing equipment. It´s possible that some of my friends will visit during the trip to do our sports in special locations so I needed to leave all prepared
  • Laptop, I´ve bought a small 12” to be able to write and prepare the pictures for the blog. An Asus EEE1012.
  • First aid kit. It even scares me to see so many medicines that i´ve never used.
  • MY FIRST VISA STAMP! I show you a picture of the Syrian visa, really happy to have the first sticker.

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And I keep doing things every day non stop.

I have a little surprise for my next entry.

See you soon

Fernando

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Silk Road 3


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » March

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2010

03.26

http://www.vimeo.com/10456528I didn’t want to dirty the video with too much explanation so I tell you a bit more here in text. The sea organ is unique, the first and only in the world. “A salute to the sun” is a 25 meter circunfrence that captures the sun as a solar pannel. Very unique as well, both has been done by Croatian artists. I spent a lot of time enjoying them.

Some pictures of the place, I think it deserves pictures not only video.

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Moments I´m sure I´ll remember at the end of my trip.

 

To destroy the beauty of the pictures in the post my good friend Morís has done a counter-video of my Acqua Alta video I did in Venice, I’m not saying my opinion I add it here and you decide by yourself. I have to thank him for adding the subtitles on my request so it can be understood by all the readers.

http://www.vimeo.com/10325970

I always tell you about the soundtrack, in this case I don´t know the music, I don’t recognize the band, I have no clue where my friend has gotten the music from, Probably Morís has taken a random cassete from a dusty cassete bag bag and he’s Ripper it into MP3 for the video but that doesn’t makes sense… If he tells me who’s the music from I’ll write it here as documentation…

See you soon from an island.

Fernando

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2010

03.25

Train is ten minutes late, it is one of those times that you come running and while waiting you think the effort to arrive on time is a waste of time, recording Metelkova for the previous post took me a bit longer than expected. I want to sleep but I can’t because the landscape next to the Sava river along with the Slovenian mountains is too good.

After two hours of landscape the trains stops,  by the window I can read Slovenja, I’m at the border, I get ready, bring my passport out to give it to the Croatian border police, a big young, serious guy. I give it to him smiling as if I have to convince him to let me in. He brings a magnifying glass out of his pocket. After a while examining it he returns it to me and I feel a bit of satisfaction.

I like Zagreb, I get the tram that goes everywhere, reminiscences of Yugoslavia. It´s a pleasant city, but not too beautiful, the austro-hugarian buildings here are not too impressive however there are hundreds of cool bars, and the people are incredibly helpful. Can be a good place to go for a stag party.

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I get into the Naïve museum, there are landscapes as the ones in Dragon Ball and this woman with her cat, don’t miss the onion on the right side.

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I spend a while taking pictures of Dolac market, I’ve always like countryside people in the city, there are no weird products and in the end this is a similar climate to Spain, I see a lot of Mediterranean products.

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After buying some fruit I buy a piece of smoked cheese, very smoked cheese, super smoked cheese, having that cheese in my mouth is like putting my tongue in an neighborhood bar ashtray.

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I want to buy some Turbo-folk, I’m curious, it is a mix between traditional music and modern rhythm, it started as a joke or criticism and became a Balkan hit after Yugoslavia, has some nationalistic undertones. It’s obvious that the shop assistant of long hair, goatee and hidden piercing doesn’t like the style of music, but he helped me to choose it.

I also ask him for current music, he get’s happier, for being a country of four million people they have a huge music scene. He explains to me each of the Cds on the shelf. There’s a woman that is like Dido but more instrumental, a guy inspired by Tom Waits, one that is supposed to be similar to Moby but if you hear it you fall asleep, a girl that sounds like Dolores O’Riordan(The Cramberries), REM support band that Peter Bucks has said are amazing, he shows me the first CDS of a guy that recorded during the Yugoslav era and that due to copyright problems of the country you couldn’t buy before, he’s excited about the idea, and many other Cds of suggestive covers and incomprehensible tittles. There are also compilation CDs with Yugoslav hits from different decades. I buy the one that Peter Bucks likes, I trust him, also buy old hits that. Music is very cheap here.

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From the city itself I just have two pictures, a panoramic view from the top and one of Kapol square where it seems everything happens, every minute there’s a tram arriving. The rest is not very photogenic, so I go to the coast. The most modern sculpture in Zagreb, the musician was there for three nights I walked by, however after running the ball over him I’m not sure if he’s been able to play again. I used to play well.

I wait three hours for my rented car in Hemingway’s café, the most modern place in town, high heels, porches at the door, gel in thinning hair, shirts with crocodiles and sun glasses with big letters, the music is very good, the wifi is fast and free and the tea is nearly the same price as in other places. I write and read.

Cool, in two hours I’ll be in Rejica(read Reica, the j sometimes is an “I” and the other just goes with it with no pronunciation). When I thought I’d be in Rejica I’m not even half the way, the snow, my Smart with small wheels and no chains in the trunk make my trip hell, the 60km/h winds don’t help much, I arrive super tired.

 

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Rejika is interesting as is a normal non touristy city, the port is the most important in Croatia and the buildings are prettier than in Zagreb. Keeps snowing, I see snow over the sea for the first time and decide not to move. I eat recently fished octopus. There’s a European chess championship, in my hostel there’s a German player, he tells me a lot about chess, very interesting, I find him funny.

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With the sun I go to Rovinj on the west, the Istria peninsula(love the name) I enjoy the center with marble stoned alleys, it’s very quiet, I walk slowly by this charming place.

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Finally sun, no hat and no jacket! I have breakfast in the street, I’m a bit cold but I want the sun to fill me with energy. Today I’ve Slept Alone in a hostel for 200 people.

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The sixth biggest coliseum in the world, it’s wonderfully conserved and being next to the sea is strange, I never imagine roman buildings by the sea, maybe because they are not like that in those roman films I don’t like.

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It is possible to walk under the coliseum where the gladiators relaxed after killing their adversaries, the nicest thing to see is this amphora.

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I get a boat to one of the islands in Brijuni National park where Tito used to expend half of the year inviting state heads. This is the biggest island on the park and I wouldn’t call it a natural park, it’s not wild at all, it still has government buildings and kind of an run down zoo it also has interesting roman ruins but all quite artificial, there’s a 1600 year old olive tree that still produces olives and these cows that are endemic of Istria.

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Continuing to the south I stop by the Plitvice Natural park where 16 lakes are connected by waterfalls and where I want to stay all day to breath in the nature and maybe if I have infinite luck, see a Lynx. But  nature itself changes my plans the snow is blocking the paths and after a short walk I’ve seen it all, it’s nice but not impressive, the Japanese in front of me love it but I know in Japan you have nicer things. They have huge mountains there.

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From the waterfalls I go to Zadar, a city I like and I’ll recommend to anyone asking me about Croatia. There’s an afternoon with clear sky and I can see the still Adriatic islands while the sun sets.

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What is this? This is a shot of the next video.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

03.21

In 1993 the the Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army were squatted, now they have a different look than when the army was using them.

http://www.vimeo.com/10326632

Sorry about the editing mistakes, I´ve got some problems with it and haven´t been able to polish it too much.

Metelkova is totally unexpected, an ex-Yugoslav country with something like that? If you have the feeling of wanting to know more, here is their web page. Metelkova was really near to my prison hostel so I stopped by every day to have a drink and take a look.

The music in the video is from Autechre, an English band who composed the music which was called IDM(Intelligent Dance Music) in the early 90s. The song is the first one on the Incunabula CD, a CD that when I heard it first time surprised me as much as seeing Metelkova.

With the video I finished my trip to Slovenia, the train I took just after recording the last scene took me to Zagreb in Croatia. The first new country on my trip!!! Also the first time I crossed a border on a train where they stopped for passport control.

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2010

03.17

The car rental company owner was a fan of Spain, he liked Almodóvar, Bigas Luna, Azucar Moreno and El Duo Dinámico, what an image of Spain he may have!!! It was fun talking with him, he even knew sentences of films and pieces of Lyrics, a fan.

He rented me the cheapest car in town 35 Euro picking you up at home. I’m driving again much sooner than what I expected, It’s good, I feel like driving. Being such a tiny country in a day you can even go to the most remote place or even being close to cross to Germany by mistake…

My first stop was the Julian Alps, named by Julius Caesar when he conquered them over 2.000 years ago. This was fundamental to the roman empire commerce as during the time most of it was done by land and this opened the routes to the east which was incredibly important for the silk commerce, the roman empire achieved a great deal of richness due to this successful time of commerce.

P3042005 (628x354)This is Triglav national park that surrounds the mountain with the same name(the highest in the country at 2854 meters), I don’t stop seeing snow and busy forests. It’s probably here where all those bears are living!

P3042011 (628x353)The snow doesn’t’t let me go through Trbiž pass to the Soca river but I don’t mind too much, there are things I want to see in this area. I stopped by this ski resort on the way, there were many. The dog ran away, he may be shy about having his photograph taken.

P3042016 (628x354)The second stop and the place I wanted to visit the most is Bled village, one place that seems to have been done for postcards. Would be difficult to do it so beautiful on purpose, it has it all, a castle, a lake, an island, a church with a sharp roof and mountains in the background.

  P3042025 (628x352)Nice view from the castle.

P3042022 (628x354)This picture does not really add much, but I like it.

P3042034 (628x354)In summer the castle restaurant opens a terrace tha has to be superb! It´s run by the Bled cuisine school in.

P3042050 (628x351)Surrounding the lake and seing the castle in an impossible rock.

P3042045 (628x352) Part of the lake was froze. Nearby Bohim lake offers amazib views as well, i liked it too.

P3042051 (628x351)This wooden walk was created in the 18th century and has been maintained since. A peaceful corner in the world.

P3042061 (628x354)This  is how Slovenian churches are.

Here finishes my short visit to Slovenia, a small country with helpful people and a curious recent history, it was the first country to leave Yugoslavia with a just 10 day war and 66 people dead.

If you want to see magnificent landscapes in a country that is easy to move around, this is the place. Perfect for quiet nature and relax.

P3021794 (628x354)Slovenian stew and how my table looks like normally; map, computer and the guide books. One of the places I had dinner in Ljubljana served me black pudding as part of a traditional assorted dish.

The stew was just 4.20 Euros as Slovenia entered into the Euro in 2007. Before that they had the Tollar for a limited period of time since they left Yugoslavia in 1991. I guess everybody wanted to move to the Euro just to get rid of such a silly name.. Tollar??? Probably a spoonerism of Dollar.

P3052142 (628x353)Waiting to get clients in the taxi.

P3052164 (628x353)Nice slogan.

So I say goodbye with the phrase Ljubljana’s mayor said when they gained independence on June 25th 1991. “Tonight dreams are allowed. Tomorrow is a new day”.

Slovenia’s video is nearly ready, I’ll update as soon as I have it ready.

Fernando

2010

03.16

With the word “castle” images of walls, towers with battlements and a lot of stone comes into your mind, maybe that’s why Predjama surprises so much because it has nothing of that, well, also because it’s just beautiful. One of the most dramatic places I’ve seen in my life, a castle built in an empty space on a cliff and it’s so hidden that you don’t see it until you are less than 100 meters away. However I’m sure you won’t be able to imagine it until you see it, so here you have some pictures.

P3031912 (628x353)As the title says, absolutely dramatic.

P3031916 (628x353)Who had the idea?

P3031922 (628x354)From here it is even more impressive.

P3031937 (628x353)This is one of the most important erosional cave systems in Europe, 9km from the castle the postjonia caves can be visited where a unique animal lives, it has bones, can live up to 100 years and spend years without food and still it’s not known how they reproduce.

P3031940 (628x354)From the windows the view can be seen better.

P3031945 (628x354) A nativity scene! But it’s march… may be a Slovenian tradition.

P3031946 (628x354) The castle shield.

 

P3031951 (628x353)The dungeons are closed to visitors.

P3031972 (628x353)Returning back in the traing reviewing the pictures and taking notes of my impressions.

Even the place was so unique and beautiful it was hard for me to enjoy the day. At 8.30 in the morning I received a text; a friend had drowned in the river. I’ve been kayaking 14 years, you know it’s a possibility and it’s something you take into account every time you paddle, this is why we take as much precautionary measures as possible. David is the first person that I’ve lost in the river. He was not a very close friend but he was a person I’ve shared good moments with; we had explored amazing rivers in the Pyrenees mountains, enjoyed good food in Galicia where he was from, had a laugh out at night and shared stories, he was a great person that now only remains in our memories

It was a difficult day in which every river I crossed filled my head with thoughts and memories.

Fernando

2010

03.15

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The grafitti speaks for itself.

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But…?

The situation is easy to imagine, after a long trip you normally feel like going out to wind down. Once out, why not have a drink? You get a beer or two and being more tired than what you thought, the alcohol affects you. It’s not difficult either that in a crowded bar someone hits you on the side when walking out and that with your two beers you throw a ‘dirty’ look. If you are unlucky and that person hasn’t like your look the situation may finish with some bar furniture broken and some “policizja” agents inviting you to go with them.

The other option, and the one I chose, is to sleep in a former prison turned into hostel. Celica Hostel is that, the possibility of sleeping in jail without the inconvenience of being beaten up and knowing that you can leave when you want.

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The hostel is also a restaurant, art gallery and cultural centre.

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Each cell has been designed by a different artist, mine was  117.

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The current bars.

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 Over the terrace some of the windows with the old bars.

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Chillout is where you can smoke a water pipe.

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They played for four hours.

Crossing the border from Italy has no mystery, slovenia is part of the EU(in 2004, it was the first ex yugoslav country) and there´s not really a frontier and there´s no need to show a passport. A few years ago I came to kayak in the stunning Soca river(I´ve found a good gallery of this world class all kayaking river that you may want to check), Slovenia was not in the EU and you had to stop in the frontier with that bit of nervousness that is produced getting into a country which was ex Yugoslavia. I remember a big uniformed man with an over “busy” mustache requesting the passports under incredibly heavy rain. Fortunately all was fine, but even at a frontier it is unavoidable to be a bit expectation-nervous.

Slovenia is a tiny country completely full of mountains and forests full of emotional landscapes so unspoilt that even being in the heart of europe it is the country in the world with highest density of bears. My idea was visiting the capital and a few sights around, and being so small I decided to stay in the capital Lubjliana for the few days.

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Zmajsky Most, Dragon´s Bridge. This little dragon has managed to attract the attention of every person that visits the city and has become one of Ljubliana´s simbol.

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It’s said that whe a virgin crosses the bridge it liftes his tail, but I don´t relieve it.

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Panoramic view from castle tower. All sorrounded by mountain.

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The townhall the three titans fountain representing the three rivers of Carnolia: the Sava, Kraka and Ljublianica.

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The triple bridge, and the wierd thing is that it has three Bridges one after the other, you can see the side bridges in the side of the picture.

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Late afternoon in the Ljublianica river that crosses the city, on the sides: cafes, restaurants and terraces. One of them has the terrace just under a Ljublianica bridge making it a superb place for a drink if you decide to ejoy the night in Ljubliana which is very lively with it’s 55.000 students. There are cafes with terraces all over, that even being only 2 degrees, are full all day!!!!

After the Venice video that took so long to prepare, this week I´m going to change the way of posting a little bit, I´m going to do 4 smaller posts of slovenia, hope they are easier for you to read as well as easier for me to prepare.

Ah! After quite a few days and even with the water and humidity of Venice, my cold went away!

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 4


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » April

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2010

04.28

Moraça is more than a river for Montenegrins, here there was a great battle against the Ottoman empire where Montenegro became famous for having brave people while defeating the Turks. Also nationalism and independent identity grew in the region making it become an independent country with just 600.000 people. Me as a kayaker enjoyed what Moraça means today and I’ve  produced a video for you to see it.

http://www.vimeo.com/11308068

No to the Moraca Dam!

This place is so pretty and it may be destroyed by several dams to produce electricity. Not being an expert I don’t understand the need too well, in Montenegro an aluminium process plant exists consuming 40% of the electricity. This plant is closing in 4 years and the first dam is supposed to be completed in 7.

The soundtrack is totally local. The first song. similar to the previous video, I don’t know who its from. When we stopped to look at the river Aitor found the CD on the side of the road, somebody has probably thrown it away, it said “MIX”, we tried to play it and it worked so it’s been the soundtrack of our trip.

The second song is from Bozidar Djukic, the song tells the true story of Montenegro 30 years ago when two men killed a little girl. The day the judge found the two men guilty the father took a gun from his jacket and killed them in court. Vladam gave me the song, the barman from a bar who I became friendly with and apart from swapping some Montenegrin and Spanish music he listed out all the tennis and football players from around the world.

See you in the next video in Durmitor national park.

Fernando

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2010

04.27

http://www.vimeo.com/11258486Here is the first Montenegro video, yes, the first one as I have decided to only post videos of this country. It´s a general video of the places I´ve liked the most. As I don´t have comments for all the places, here is the list of what´s in the video in the order it appears.

  • Podgorica, the capital that does not really have things to see and I´ve ended up showing the Pink Panter.
  • The Skadar lake.
  • An Ortodox church, with no benches as they attend mass standing up.
  • Sveti Stefa, the little village by the sea.
  • Kotor city its fortress and its bay.
  • Snow covered Lovcen mountain,  I´ve spelt it incorrectly in the video but don´t tell anybody.
  • Moracha and Tara canyons, they really deserve more so I´ve done a specific video for them.
  • Durmitor National Park with its mountains and farmers.
  • Ostrog monastery carved in the rock similar to Predjama castle in Slovenia.
  • And finally  Piva canyon with its tunnels recorded from the car.

As I have had friends visiting I´ve been able to do some kayaking including the Tara canyon, the deepest in Europe, looking forward to seeing it.

See you in the next video.

Fernando

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2010

04.20

My time in Bosnia Herzegovina has had three phases and I want to tell you about them. I’m sorry for writing so much about Bosnia, but there have been to many things in my head not to tell them.

First phase.

The Romans needed 150 years to conquer them, the Turks another 150 to conquer the city of Jajce. Bosnia is a tough country and this is how it’s been during their entire history. This made me think that they have gotten over the war, I imagined a country wanting to be free and independent again. Free of wars and with a future. I arrived to Bosnia Herzegovina with an open mind but looking for this.

Second phase.

I learned more things about the country and it was not very encouraging. Dayton agreement finished the war 15 years ago and seems nothing has changed since, separated schools, changing governments that look after their own people, cities divided by a river, I saw separation everywhere and a country with a very fragile framework, the ministers are multiplied by 3, giving 140 ministers, imagine the expense and the paperwork.

I also learned how the war was created with TV reports frightening everybody “they come for us”…

Also, how one side or the other got villages involved in the war that had nothing to do with it, getting people who were living in peace to join the war by fighting with their neighbours.

I´ve met NGOs who told me how history is taught in schools without trying to unite the people and I was not liking it at all. I was thinking that even there were people trying to do help, if one day the peace forces would leave everything would collapse and the war would return in the exact same way.

The video is about the first and second phase:

http://www.vimeo.com/11072785

As I say in the video, I don’t like it, it’s a stereotypical image that doesn’t tell what Bosnia is now, it doesn’t show the cafes with people talking, the streets with shops and pedestrians, and the tranquility of the landscapes or about the villages with history.The video is shit but I’ve posted it as it has been part of my thinking process.

Third phase.

I changed my way of thinking again. 15 years seems to be a lot of time but it’s not(Bosnia is like a small child and we don’t ask kids for too much) and there’s alot been done during this time, the normality that one feels in a city is extraordinary, the cities have been reconstructed, this is a huge step.

Bureaucracy is one of the biggest problems but NATO is focusing their efforts on solving it.

Nobody wants to come back to war, they say that if there’s work there won’t be problems and cultures are starting to mix. Mostar the divided city has started joint budgets, the ambulance service for example. There are mixed kinder-gardens, it seems the 15 years are crossing some wounds.

All this has made me come back to something similar to my first phase, I’ve had a great time in Bosnia Herzegovina and I’m sure Sarajevo is going to become a popular destination to spend a weekend as Prague, Barcelona or Edinburgh with the bonus of seeing the city of the war and the mix of cultures that no other european city has. Also as not that many people have come, it gives an exploratory feeling that you don’t have in London or Rome.

I recommend you coming, moving is easy, cheap, there’s a lot of people that speak in English and transportation is not expensive. It will need some more effort to move around but you’ll be rewarded, be sure.

This is why I regret about the video, It would have been more enriching if I recorded a video of the new and beautiful rather than the old and hurt.

During my time here I’ve also learnt about the trade and merchant scene in Bosnia. The crossroads of cultures also meant a merchant hub and cities like Disoko, Jajce Travnik Gorazde and Livno swapped goods from east and west.

There also was a small community of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 settled in several towns bringing their delicate crafts onto the scene.

To finalize, if any of you have interest on some videos on Sarajevo during the siege, here you have some:

First part of a documentary of people living their normal lifes

Second part.

Shooting to civilians. Take notice of the backgroun; clean streets, supermarkets, normal lights…

Ah!! A comment for guys about Croatia, and I don’t mean to be sexist. I give you a reason for not liking Croatians… they invented the tie!!!

See you soon

Fernando

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2010

04.16

Sorry, this entry is only available in Español.

2010

04.14

Alfonso, a friend from Burgos, worked in the army during the reconstrucion work in Bosnia. It sounded like going to hell at that time. He said that Bosnia was really pretty, he was there twice, one of them was constructing a bridge. What makes Bosnia stunning is the environment, the landscapes with mountains.

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In Bosnia it´s said that if a person is born on a snowy day that person will have a long and healthy life.

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Here the walk started. Although they have a lot of great places including Linx and Bears, just 0,6% of the country is protected, the average in europe is 7%.

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The majority of things that I wanted to see on the mountains were not accesible due to the snow, so one day we went snowshoeing.

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I did the trip with Dermot who arrived from Dublin for a few days to visit me, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. Normally snow would be a novel event for Dermot as Dublin doesn’t get too much snow. But as you saw from my earlier post Dublin had a lot of snow this year so it almost felt like home to him!

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Down in the canyon there was a river.

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A Sheppard settlement for summer.

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We went for the hike with Green Visions company, they have some very interesting excursions and they try to combine them with supporting the communities they work in. They are a very professional company but our guide was a little cocky and he told us we did not have appropriate footwear. Even though we were wearing GORE-TEX! However it´s alway funny to have somebody to make jokes of.

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An interesting mosque, I initially thought it was a silo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina still have a lot of land mines, there are places even near Sarajevo that still have many. Setting them up is very easy but the effort to remove them is very difficult and expensive. If in doubt you can always ask a local to know if it safe.

A country with landmines does not mean that you cannot step off the asphalt. The mine areas are known and there are maps available. However it´s a problem for toursim development. Luckily, until now no tourist has had an accident with a land mine.

In Sarajevo you can go to the Mine Action Center(MAC) for a mini training course about land mines, however, when in doubt, the best thing is to ask the locals.

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No need to commetn.

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 Once back in Sarajevo we went for dinner with Tom, an interesting man who works as a consultant developing tourism strategies in different countries. We asked for the local dish in the restaurant which was next to the restaurant that Bill Clinton dined in. The dish was beef with some creamy cheese inside and if you cut it wrong it sprayed all over as in the picture. I also have a video of it that will probably put in the next video.

 

Something totally unrelated to the post… While travelling from Croatia to Bosnia I started to think of a Christmas tale.

As we approach Christmas I’ll develop the story and post it here.

Soon writting about Mostar

Fernando

2010

04.13

For any European of my age(and I guess for most westerners), names like Bosnia, Sarajevo, Kosovo or Mostar are names repeated in the news, we used to hear them on the sofa while we watched projectiles impacting houses and blue helmets in reinforced white vehicles around desolated cities. 18 years after the war started I want to see what all those names meant, see those cities and if possible get to understand that war a little bit.

Bosnia Herzegovina represents part of what my trip is, not for being on the silk route itself, but for being a crossroads between east and west, the mosques and churches in the same city for centuries living together, western customs and Muslims customs. The map could be folded by Sarajevo and Mostar and we´d have West on one side and East on the other.

I´ve compiled some pictures to complete the previous posts, let´s see if you imagined something like this.

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Baščaršija mosque and under it a street full of normality. this is the most surprising thing in Sarajevo, the amount of normality in the streets. People having a walk or drinking something in a terrace enjoying a sunny afternoon in April.

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Oslobodjenja Square in which men play chess, I guess it’s a socialist influence, but it’s just a vague supposition.

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Four months it took them to build it. It is the tunnel that joined the siege city with the rest of the Bosnian territory. It went under the NATO controlled airport. The tunnel provided basic weapons to defend the city. It was also used to get food in. The Serbs tried to destroy it but they didn’t dare to touch NATO territory, this is why it survived the entire siege.

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As I was saying the other day Sarajevo is surrounded by mountains and this is what made the snipers a key piece in the war.

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On the left the rebuilt parliament building. On the right, the mustard coloured Holiday Inn, where the journalists stayed.

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The Miljacka river crossing the city after the rain, therefore the colour. Just next to this place is where Franz Ferdinand was killed starting the first world war.

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This picture tries to show how normal the city is. If it wouldn’t be for the mosques it could be any other European city. Also there’s very little amount of women wearing a scarf. As a Spanish journalist I met said, they have high hills and plunging neckline Muslims, and the majority want to keep it that way. Sarajevo has cathedrals, mosques and synagogues next to each other, I like it.

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Sarajevo is totally surrounded by mountains, green mountains with colourful houses. In the picture an Austro-Hungarian building that has mount Izmir in the background, there are places that when you look around you see 3 different mountains pointing at you.

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Every time I see the word sniper I imagine a concentrated eye looking through a scope. Dropping a bomb from a plane is “easy” you click a button and a few seconds later you hear an explosion, but in the eye of the sniper the face of the person to be killed is reflected while the sniper is concentrated, young or old, man or woman, blond or dark hair, scared or not. What are the memories of these people after their work? Fixed memories of images where you have been concentrated?

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Sarajevo Library that was bombed in which 600.000 books where burned, now it’s being rebuilt. How could those bombs sound? there was no electricity or gas, there was no noise in the streets as a recently snowed city. The bombs and shots had to sound even louder.

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I’ve never got into an Islamic cemetery before. the tombs are so white and this one, on a mount in Sarajevo had good views of the city.

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This shape over a tomb means that the person has visited meca(the precept hajj).

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Faded over time a Sarajevo rose, but with the same meaning, someone died here. Apart from the Bosnians that died here 320 blue helmets died as well.

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Sarajevo has trams and trolleybuses. Doesn’t it seem a totally normal city? Sorry for insisting, but this is like it is, this war wasn’t´ in a dessert or surrounded by palm trees. Sarajevo youngsters used to watch MTV and wear the same brands as we did. Maybe that’s why its more impressionable, because it seems it can happened any where and that makes you feel vulnerable, an unconfortable feeling.

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A picture to reduce the drama. Eggs comes in tens not in dozens, probably for tradition, but ¿why are condoms sold in dozens?

In the previous post I talked you about the book ”The most beautiful word”. Even I talked quite a lot about it I haven’t spoilt the plot in case anyone want’s to read it.

Talking about books I have another recommendation. “The Fixer. A story from Sarajevo” from Joe Sacco, a comic creator that has other comics like “Palestine”. A bit of a different approach to understand a place. Goiko is a bit like the character in the comic.

I’ve had a haircut and getting a bus to Mostar by the Neretva river as Gemma did with her son.

See you soon.

Fernando

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Silk Road 5


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » May

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2010

05.31

When an Albanian greets you feel his strong hand of thick fingers shaking your hand. In other places maybe you leave and nobody has shaken your hand. In Albania every day someone comes to say hello, someone wants to say “hi”, “how are you” or just being sure you don’t need any help. This is why I leave the country knowing what an Albanian shake of the hand feels like.

That extreme hospitality may come from the Kanun, an ancient set of rules on how to behave that in ancient time placed a lot of importance on guests. Because Albania is an ancient race, fairly remote, coming from the Illyrians, maybe they were the first Europeans. That’s how their language is, remote as it’s mountains. It surprises that we are similar to them, even by our standards it could be said that they are backwards, but that’s a good thing and a bad thing. We don’t have that hospitality, we have become more advanced, independent, we share less and we are more egoistical, when somebody talks to us we think they want something.

In one of those furgons I learned that if you have a hiccup it means that someone is thinking of you.

Jeff, an English guy I met near Theth was cooking outside at night on his burner while camping that night, someone from the village saw him and invited him to come to his place to sleep. In Spain if they see you they’ll try to get you out of there or just call police directly.

 

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It’s a country that still suffers absurdly from the Enver Hoxha regime but also there are many differences, the X5, Cayannes and even Ferraris that you see in the cities are a big contrast to the countryside where the fields are ploughed with horses. During communist times people were not allowed to buy a car so now they drive even to go for bread similar to 18 year olds who have just got their licence.

Enver Hoxha left the country in a weird state. Imagine that any of you or the people you know would have the power and the craziness to dump on a country your restlessness, fears, admirations and frustrations. But that’s what happens to a country under a dictatorship. The personality of a person envelopes the country and the reaction of the people to the imposition!

Capitalism arrived with extreme force. In 1997 the financial system collapsed with pyramid investment like Madoff in the US or in Spain with Forum Filatélico or as in Ireland with Seanie Fitzpatrick and Anglo Irish Bank! Maybe the west could have learned a lesson from the Albanian crisis if we had paid attention.

But capitalism has brought some good things as well, people that visited Albania a few years ago remember the noise of generators in the afternoons, that doesn’t exist any more or the cyber cafés where all the screens now have Facebook, wouldn’t work. Somewhere has to be the 500 million users of the site.

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The market in Korca was great, you can buy a lot of cassettes…. Also nearby here a man was lighting up charcoal with a hair drier.

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A rural society but who isn’t surprised by the countryside people in your own country? However young girls dress like Lady Gaga and the men like men in Spain, a jacket maybe a tie, maybe a jumper, but for sure the collar and cuffs worn out.

 

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A really unique place to play. In Roman times Albania was highly important as it’s the closest place to the Italic peninsula. From Durres was the “Via Egnatia”, a merchant route direct to Thessaloniki and Istanbul, first grand stop of the silk.

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Some “dress code” in the mosque. However the Becktaism is a variant of Islam that is quite relaxed, it is a similar style to Christianity as practiced in western countries. It’s widely practiced in Albania. On the other hand, in some traditional places they still have arranged marriages. [Correction provided by Erion Elmasllari that have found the blog. The sighn says “Do not kiss the stone. God does not permit adoration of stones and walls” ]

“Do not kiss the stone.
God does not permit adoration of stones and walls”

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Promise, the last Theth picture.

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Edi Rama, the one who painted the buildings, lost the last elections and now he’s protesting in the middle of the city claiming a re-count of the votes is required. Part of the way to democracy, the right to protest.

 

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This is what an Othodox cathedral looks like.

 

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It is very surprising how safe the country is.

Something amazingly surprising is that they say “yes” like Indians do, moving the head similar to when we say no but in a wobilly way. It’s very confusing. I heard it once called the “the 8”.  Ana and me have been practicing, but we are horrible doing it.

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A less important handicap, the roads are so abrupt that even with a full windscreen the blue bags that the sick people request would keep flying through the bus.

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A very popular cheese from the north. Other traditional dishes are liver, heart, tongue. In my memory will remain that salad of spicy beans. There are a lot of Mediterranean products, melon and ham are eaten.

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The great thing of sleeping in a 3 Euro place is the price, the bad is that you sleep in a room in such a state.

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I like communist statues; dynamic, warriorish, impressive. The stain in the lens is now clean.

Those who ask me for a suggestion on where to go! Until now the most interesting I’ve found is Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania as they are the places that are going to change more and seeing how they are now is extremely interesting.

This maybe a dangerous recommendation, not everybody should come here. One must come with no pretensions, the travelers’ that come here are not demanding. The light may go, water can stop running or the bus may never run, and in the end this is good. If we get what we have at home the country changes and it would stop being interesting. Please if you come take this into account.

I´m finally been able to leave Albania, I loved it, I was trapped but now I’m in Greece seeing things that are surprising me, but before telling you about Greece I have to post a video of something very special I did with Ana on our last day.

Soon more about the trip.

Fernando

2010

05.26

This part of the trip starts with a luxurious companion! My sister Ana! Travelling with people is not easy, if you go on a tour and the bus takes you to every place, it’s OK, otherwise making the 100 daily decisions and having everybody happy is rare. I have only 4 people I can travel 100% fine with, people I’d go to the end of the world with, so having Ana here is just amazing.

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Ana having a Burek, a pastry filled up with cheese, spinach, meat.. they are everywhere in the Balkans, in each country  a bit different, the ones in Albania are very delicate mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

We started in Tirana, Ana arrived to the Mother Theresa of Calcutta airport who was not christened Theresa and was not from Calcutta! The city with is chaos, it’s very pleasant and it has a few things to see in the city and the Blloku neighbourhood has lot’s of cosy cafes, varied restaurants, ultra modern bars and Ibiza style discos.

As a note Blloku was restricted during communist years, it was only the elite were granted access, where Enver used to live.

Outside of the centre there are many streets without a name, about 70%. This is quite a big problem for progress, how do you send a fine, a notification from court, the annual school report, information campaigns, catalogues that are sent from companies to retailers and another 1000 other things, not being able to get or send post is a pain in the ass. Fortunately now they are working on it, however if you go to Tirana ensure you bring a printed map of where your hotel is.

Downtown a lot of English is spoken, there are a lot of companies that are beginning to consider Albania as a potential market, Italy are doing a modern style invasion with their products but also there are a lot of NGOs, one night I met by coincidence one of the only four Spanish guys that are working in the city, I met him in a bar with a soccer table, something very Spanish.

Tirana is a city that is evolving fast but still has a long way to go. It has to be the power house for a country with 16% unemployment and according to the statistics there is 25% living below the poverty line, however Tirana and Albania as a whole is not Ethiopia and everywhere you can find whatever commodity you need. Even in Tirana you also see skyscrapers being built, colourful Smart cars and teenagers with braces in their smiles and also there are some beggars on the street.

 

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Skanderbeg square as it’s being totally renovated. Skanderbeg is still today the national hero, in the 15th century he defeated thousands of Turks not once but three times having a smaller army than them. They still talk about him with respect and admiration.

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Communist mural in Skanderbeg Square. Look at the woman in the middle!!

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Inside Ethem Beg mosque. The guy hovering the carpet went out of my view so I couldn’t photograph him. As a communist country athiesm was very much promoted, there was even an athiest museum highlighting the advantages of having no religion. Albania even declared itself athiest officially, the only country that has ever done it.

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UFO university… what was the founder thinking of!

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This kind of building was an designed Enver Hoxha’s daughter in law. Even it’s called the piramid it has the shape of the eagle as in the flag but this can only be seen from the air.

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On the way to the south a stop to eat, the best part of the meal, this kind of stew done in the oven with greens and cheese.

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Men playing domino, in any park, anywhere you find them like that for hours.

We arrived to Durres, a recommended spot in all the guide books, a place where we left horrified. It’s the typical coastal city, disorganized, concrete architecture, dirty beaches and over polluted sea. It might be interesting if you just want to sunbath not looking at the water and the going area with tons of bars to drink as much as you can, otherwise not. We don’t recommend it.

We went further to the south, to Dhërmit .

When leaving communism, Albania was like a kid in a candy shop, there were new options open to it and they were not sure which to do first, so they did a little of everything which led to some initial confusion. Urban development is an example, especially since it’s using all the money from the more than a million emigrants to build houses in a very disorganized way. The coast has been particularly hurt and it’s something that long term they’ll regret. We also had to run away from Vlora as it´s a place with horrible architecture.

But we knew there were pretty beaches and with Dhërmit we were right. It’s low season so the beach was for us and for the two German bikers that were 2km away. Isolation and a beach. We stayed in a little hotel overlooking the blue sea eating fresh fish caught by the owner. Absolutelly stunning that mouth melting octopus we had, the softest ever.

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Here more to the south, near Saranda. Our last base to explore the southern coast just before getting into Greece, where the Adriatic sea joins the Ionian fighting to see which is more beautiful.

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The clear blue water was screaming at us to come and dive.

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Horses resting.

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A walk in the pebble beach, the ones I like without getting sand dirty.

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More to the South you do have sand beaches and here you can swim to the Island.

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For a baby.

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Other detail.

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I want a fireplace like this!

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The last stop was Gjrokastra, the second UNESCO heritage city in Albania. A very hilly city. A fomous writer once wrote that you could touch the top of a mosque on one street while walking on another!

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Butrint and Apolonian have ruins from several centuries, I¨m not going to get into the detail, but the best thing of it is walking near them alone.

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The blue eye. A spring that releases 8 cubic meters of water per second. Restricted to the normal people during communist years.

With this I finish my trip to Albania. I am organising some of my notes and I´ll be back soon.

Fernando

2010

05.21

The video is about two things that are Albanian surprises, one in the entire country and the other in the capital, check out the video for more.

http://www.vimeo.com/11921375

If the download goes slow, disable HD, it should download faster.
The music is from CCCP, the song is called Big Dinamo, it is the only one I could think with a communist feelin in my CD collection.

The bunker thing in Albania is something that I had read but this didn’t gave me any idea of the scale of this phenomenon. When I saw the first one I felt lucky to see one! Wow, they are real and I’ve seen one, how cool! When I saw 4 or 5 I said… maybe I can see 50 during my trip. I’m going to count them up! When I had seen 37 I decided that counting the bunkers would drive me crazy so I decided to do the video instead.

Enver Hoxha is probably the most paranoid, delirious, illogical and stupid “dictator”(I haven’t seen this word used in anything I’ve read about him) ever and Albania had the bad luck of having him for 40 years until IT finally died in 1985.

Before leaving you this friday I want to show you some pictures of a train trip.

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 Train is very cheap 136 lekes is a Euro for four hours in the train. It´s also very slow.

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 A present I had in the train, some onions. I was offered some raki, here the raki is everywhere.

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Some decoration.
 
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Looks like tirana buildings colours.
  
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 Rusty color in the sunset.
 
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Train doesn´t connect with other counts, during Enver´s times people coudnt leave the country. As a curiosity in Yugoslavia people was free to leave the country if they wish.
 
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 Going south to the blue waters of the coast.

I have a blister in my left small foot finger, the perfect excuse to rest for two days.

Will post something else about Albania soon.

Fernando

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2010

05.20

I’m happy today! It’s not that other days i’m not happy, but i’m especially happy now. I’ve found a company to kayak with in Iran! And that has made me happy because Iran has wierd landscapes, mars-like landscapes that I want to see from the kayak.

Continuing with the post of the day… After watching Theth’s video my friend Victor asked me if I had felt like Heidi’s hidden brother. Leaving Theth wasn’t easy, I felt like staying and at the same time I wanted to go and see other things, go to the south, see the coast and do that bus trip over the mountains the book promised was so beautiful. A few days later I regreted, I should have stayed longer. It’s possibly the most genuine place I’ve ever been in my life, an authentic place with simple people and clean looks, a place where the kindness, the simplicity and the hospitality of the people shudder. A genuine place, that there are less every time.

Even though we normally prefer to see and visit new places, I want to to go back to Theth sometime, something of me has been left in Theth and I’ve liked it.

But coming back can be a difficult enterprise as I’ll have to come back soon or it will have “developed”. the roads would become asphalt and instead of minibuses,  buses will come with tourists that will go to inhale pure air and expire stress. An that expired stress will remain there.

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Isn’t it a creative way to block a broken window?

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These girls are part of one of the families that live in the valley all year. The parents are blonde as well. I was invited to a raki and practiced some Albanian with the father reading the guide book, what a complicated language! During the second world war the Nazis considered Albanians as kind of an Aryan race because of their looks.

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For the Grandads in the area, living up to 100 years is not strange. Still far for this one.

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Little local beans. It´s funny, in the supposedly advanced world people buy organic food at an extra cost while here organic is the normal thing. By the way who gave that name of “organic”?

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The house I was in.

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It´s kind of an oven, under the rounded metal thing the rice is cooking, on top the charcoal. In order to maintain the charcoal on top there’s a ring to hold them.

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Going to the south this is what I eat, spicy sausages from the east part of the country.

There is a project, the Balkan Peace Park that wants to protect this mountain area plus the continuing area in Kosovo and Montenegro as well, it would be great if it works because as it’s not a globalized place, the habits have not changed much and nearly all they use are local products, the plastic that dirties everything in the country is nearly non-existent here, a happiness for the eyes.

There was a family of photographers, the Marubi that took pictures of this area in at the end of 19 century and the beginning of the 20th century. Check some of the pictures here.

After Theth I went to Berat, an ottoman city, it was recently included in the endless UNESCO list.

We stayed in a traditional ottoman house, you don’t have many opportunities for this! It was the best accommodation option in town and cost 30 euro with eggs for breakfast.

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The diriver and it´s car, it may soon become a classic.

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When you get into a taxi and the driver offers you raki you hesitate if remaining in the taxi is a good idea but, why not, trying a home made raki?

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I kayaked the Osumi canyon, a very easy river but beautiful. I joined a rafting trip from the company Outdoor Albania.

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The houses under the castle.

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Buying cigaretts.

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The river I paddled goes by the village.

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There’s a hostel in Berat where the English owners have  produced flavored raki, the lemon one is similar to limocello.

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The countriside is more organized and developed than what I expected.

By now I’m skipping Tirana, the capital and engine of the country has not been in the blog yet. I’ve loved it, but wont tell you about it until the next video.

Ah, My friend Aitor has uploaded his Montenegro pictures, if you liked my pictures sure you’ll like his more, he’s a better photographer than me. Here you have them.

See you soon

Fernando

2010

05.17

I don´t want to tell you anything about Theth until you see the images.

http://www.vimeo.com/11798877

If it loads slow you can swith HD off.

The main song is from the French band Air, form their debut album Moon Safari that in general is a bit tasteless. At the beginning of the video there are a few seconds of Björk “Hidden place”.

See you soon.

Fernando

//

2010

05.13

When the alarm clock rings at 5.30 am you feel like leaving the trip for the next day , but being lazy can´t exist when travelling, the best thing is not to think, stand up and get ready to leave.

After the two hour bus ride I arrived at the ferry. A ferry not for tourists but for the locals to move around. Everybody seemed to try to get in and out at the same time while the rain, that had not stopped all morning, was making them wet. I jump onto the ferry and while avoiding sacks, bags and kids I find my window with views.  I didn´t ask for the seventh time what time was the ferry returning.

When I paid the guy that seemed to control all is when he informed that I was sleeping in Fireza that night, he took it for granted as when giving the multiplying board results. I asked and it was confirmed, there was no ferry back.

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I had money to eat and sleep so it was not that bad staying, the only thing is that I had no idea how Fireza was, my immediate future was uncertain.

The boss invited me to go to the upper compartment where he was giving orders to the captain and chatting with his friends while having a feast eating raw sausages and Jonnie Walker, they offered me both things and for not rejecting their hospitability I had some Jonnie Walker from the bottle, but at 10am It doesn’t go down very well. In Albania people drink home made raki, the local alcohol so the whisky is quite extraordinary, these were the wealthy people of the village. Two women were talking non stop in a corner, Albanians talk a lot.

I don’t know how many people grabbed my cheeks to say hello on the way, I was just trying to simile while my face was being moved with hospitality.

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In the 66km the boat was making a few stops in places where you couldn´t see anything, just a man with a donkey waiting for family and goods.

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When it stopped raining I went for a walk. A man called me from a bar to invite me for some coffee and raki with his friends, they didn’t talk any English or Italian, nor me any Albanian but we were communicating with a mix of words, some made up. They didn’t wanted to let me go, we talked about our work, the raki, Albania, Spain… and many other things. The most talkative one(in the picture his friend), was Muslim , the other ones to make the easy joke were saying “Bin Laden”, he was saying that Albanian Muslims are not like that. I think they also introduced me to the mayor.

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The valley school, one of the very few good Enver Hoxam legacies, 98% of the people are schooled.

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“Hello, how are you?” They love coming up to you to see if you reply back.

I haven’t see any foreigner in a few days, in Fireza I’m the only foreigner.

Next day in the port, waiting for the ferry a man came to me, he was the owner of the port and had a great english so we talked for a while until the ferry departed 30 minutes late.

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On the way back I got straight into the VIP area with the captain and his friends, there was the Jonnie Walker left over, not too much, they offered me some but at 7 a.m… I don´t feel like it even if I´ve been partying all night.

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Leaving the gorge.

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Very little rain today.

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They come  to say hello and with some conversation if language permits.

I came back to Shkodra with the feeling of having been much further than what the map said and wanting more so I went to Theth, the most remote valley in Albania. The video is nearly ready and I hope to have it for tomorrow.

See you soon.

Fernando

//
//

 

Silk Road 6


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » June

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2010

06.28

 

Topkapi, Santa Sofía, Dombabache palace Sultanamet,Grand Bazzar, Galata Tower…. Yes Istanbul is full of places to visit and in each trip to Istanbul a long list of very known placces come up, but Istanbul is also a place to get lost, to walk and to find your favorite corners, here is a neighbourhood were I´ve spent some time, it´s not hidden, it´s not far, is just a matter of crossing a few streets and getting into it. And for not being afraid of uphill streets! The area is partly in Bethane and partly in Beyoglu. A way to visit it is to get off the tram in Bethane and walk up by Boğazkesen street.

Maybe you can see one or two less mosques and have an eclectic afternoon walking here.

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However before starting hiking up you can visit the Istanbul Modern museum. It´s very surprising. There was a black and white video that looked very like Spain in post war times, the interior of the houses and the way people dressed could be the same, also as it had no sound it gave an even more impression. Don´t forget to take a look at the special library downstairs and have a tea or even a meal in the cafe-restaurant, I have to warn you that it´s pricy.

This neighbourhood seems quiet but the activity never stops, it´s just a few steps from the ultra busy and vibrant Taksim and Istiklal ( If you get Preciados street in Madrid and multiply it by eight, this is it) but it´s totally different. Sit in a terrace for 30 minutes and watch the people and you´ll see what I mean. If you walk around you can find neat cafes, intellectuals smoking a pipe(not water pipe), yellow Vespas, second hand book and vinyl shops, old 2010 Audrie Hepburn calendar, shops with white macs on the counter, Graffiti, stickers looking like computer game aliens, Some of the most bohemian Hotels in town, historic hammans, the Italian embassy, older women covered in black, more art galleries, boutique hotels, traditional restaurants, modern restaurants decorated by designers, pharmacies selling Cialis, Viagra and Yasmin, Tex Mex restaurants where a Freddy Mercury-like-moustache-waiter serves you, alleys finishing in restaurants with pianos, Electro jazz in every corner and toyshops with ginger cats.

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Not everything in Turkey is handcrafted rugs. A gallery had an exhibition with paintings that had women in burka and another covered with just transparent ropes. The neighbourhood is full of art galleries, some very modern some less. If you are into it, they can provide you with a map of all the galleries around.

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One of the exhibits was about Vietnam, a reproduction of the bomb “little boy” and a huge book made in leather with over 30 pages telling the story. The pages were 1.8 meters tall!!! It´s interesting seeing how they do an exhibition about Vietnam, in the western world nobody bothers to complain or talk or even think about it any more. One of the artists took the time to show it all to us even though it was the last day of the exhibition.

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Hike up, look at the buildings, enjoy the corners.

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Old warehouses reconverted into cafes with different music.

One of the things I´ve liked the most is that the area has a good balance between locals and tourists. Being so close to Taksim it is surprising that in some places beer is not sold, we don´t have to forget that Islam doesn’t like alcohol, and in some restaurants they buy beer next door to bring it to you hidden in napkins. The reason that Islam doesn’t like alcohol is because the Coran says “don’t harm yourself” and alcohol harms our bodies, it makes sense even though most Turks smokes. If you fancy a beer, maybe you can try to find “Sota” restaurant at the end of an alley.

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Some graffiti and the street dogs that are everywhere.

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Some spanish in this gaffiti, didn´t make sense to me.

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This one is not yellow.

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It´s full of second hand shops with furniture, old radios, old tvs or whatever you may want. My friend Alvaro bought a brand new Smeg fridge with the same look, but in a green colour.

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This tells me you cand find ANYTHING.

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Also with all kinds of old cinema equipment. I wonder what wierd shops I missed around here.

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I prefer my backpack. One day I should talk about it.

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The sticker can be called “the nuclear scream”.

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Old vinyls for modern Djs. You could buy vinyls in perfect condition and at a great price.

In my walks around Istanbul I found a book called “SILK”. I’ve bought it and I´m readong it while waiting for the Iranian visa.  It tells the story of silk from the time it was discovered to modern times and in every country. Next post I’ll be telling you some of what I´m learning.

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Why not finish the post with  a nice sunset picture? From the cafe of Istanbul Modern. If you come here and like the view head to Tomtom hotel(nothing to do with the navigator) and you´ll have a super view of the city. It´s just in front of the Italian embasy.

I have to say that I had some help to find this area, I met Carlos and Isma one day in a terrace having lunch and they told me about some shops with old stuff so, I went, liked it and then moved to a hostel in the area.

Write to you soon

Fernando

2010

06.25

This post has been delayed a week, I’ve got a killer torticollis that has taken my willingness to do things. Now I’m nearly fine and I’ve been able to finish it and move a little bit. Here it is:

Last week it was four months since I left on my trip. The time goes quickly. Until now all has gone great(apart from the torticollis) and all has been quite easy. From now, all becomes a bit more complicated, after Turkey there’s no alphabet like ours and that makes things harder. Also I leave the Mediterranean and the culture changes quite a lot. That’s also why the most interesting part is coming..

I’m not sure how I’ve been able to make it, but for the 2 packs of razors I brought with me I’ve just used one. Four months, four razors, I think I’ve shaved less than what I thought.

I’m in Istanbul, the Eurasian city, as my trip. The Bosporus separates me from Asia. It’s the only city in the world that is between two continents. I love Istanbul but I want to cross, continue the trip, keep seeing things, changing to another country, another language, another currency…. But this has to be done step by step, now it’s time to enjoy Istanbul.

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On the left Europe, on the right Asia.

Turkish visa has no complications just pay 15 Euro at the border which most nationalities don’t even have to pay. The bad part was going through the Greek and Turkish passport control at 3am, with the Cyprus conflict they both annoy the other country a little bit at the border.

From Turkey all the countries also require visa. I got the Syria one in Madrid and with the Iran one I started the process a while ago, but, It’s been authorized! So I’m happy as I’ll be able to collect it on Monday.

For Jordan, Armenia and Georgia the visa can be got on the border so I just have to manage another 4 visas until the end of the trip and I have already started with the Turkmenistan one so I’m doing quite well.

It still seems I’m not far, there’s only one hour difference with Spain and the plugs have been the same since I left. Well, the faces are changing. Until Montenegro people looked the same as in Spain, totally familiar faces, even in Albania most of the people would look unnoticed in a street in Zamora.  In Greece people looked different, they looked like… Greeks! Curly hairs, eyes like… Greeks!, why describing them. You can see how they look looking at my guide in the video. In Turkey a lot of people have a darker colour on their face and the factions are different also. Things are changing. Cool!

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Even Street cats get to change, they look more Persian with longer hair. Iran has a border with Turkey.

I don’t know why it’s come to my mind that when I was a kid I didn’t really like this thing of travelling, I think the main reason was the food, I hated eating in different places than home, the food that I was not used to. Now I’m looking forward to see the food in every place. Once my mom would not allow me to eat for a full day. There was rice for lunch and I didn’t want to eat it, so she told me that until I’d eat one grain I wouldn’t eat anything else. Now I love rice and I don’t even remember if I ate that one. I think I didn’t.

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The Blue Mosque. Behind the fountain you can see the one of the buses that provides the place with thousands of tourists a day.

As I’ve been a few days waiting for the Iran Visa approval I’ve taken some time to improve the web, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done because I think the people working in IT may find this interesting.

There are 37 posts and 15 videos. I’m getting to do the minimum postings per week as I wanted. Each week and month I have more visits. This last month I’ve got over 1500 which is an achievement for me.

Here are some of the changes I’ve been doing:

– Enhancement on navigation for users and search engines.

– Videos Uploaded to YouTube.

– Change in the layout to display bigger pictures which is not very normal in blogs around the web.

– Picture tagging to improve photo search by search engines.

– Iphone(and similar) plugging to have a friendly display.

– More SEO(Search Engine Optimization) to be display in searches. Change the structures of Tags, Labels and Permalinks.

– Use of Google Sitemap for search engines. Also now Google receives an update when the page changes.

– Similar posts are displayed when a single post is viewed.

Two more pictures to finish the post. Next time I’ll talk to you about the neighbourhood I´ve liked the most.

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On a boat.

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Crossing Galata bridge by tram. There´s always a mosque in view.

Ah, for healing the torticollis I’ve used up the Tiger balm that the owner of the Korean Barbecue, were I used to eat with my work friends on Thursday, gave me the day I told her I was leaving. I love that ointment. The Korean Barbecue mmmm the best tempura in town!.

Fernando

2010

06.18

When I organized the trip I found Greece between Albania and Turkey, I didn´t know how to do it. I had two options, go to Greece and not spending too much time here or staying two months seeing everything. I decided the first option. Greece is a very interesting country and full of incredible things but I couldn´t give it too much time. Moreover Greece is expensive in comparison with other countries on the trip so I decided to spend around 10 days there.

I planned a simple route by the north. Starting in the less know Zagoria region and then going by Meteora(pictures here), After that I´d continue to the east to Thesalóniki from where I´d go to Turkey.

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Church near Arta.  Zagoria region is far, with a small population and the roads are not very good, that´s why it´s more isolated and has some special flavour.

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Detail of the roof.

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Bridge of the Kallaritikos river where I kayaked. Here is the video. Maybe those brown bears that still live in the region have crossed over many times?

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They were amazing. I generally don’t like too much “the visual guides”, in this case it was quite nice, however it did not talk much about what is not seen as they were as heavy as iron.

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A very nice new long bridge that connects Peloponeso peninsular with the main land on the way to Athens.

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Yes, I like bridges. Picture from the bus…

The plan changed a bit, Ana was returning home from Athens. We were not excited about the idea of going to Athens as everybody talks about Athens as a chaotic, noisy and uninteresting city. With such low expectations, of course, We’ve loved it!. We had no intention of going to all the sights, we didn’t think it was worth it, we enjoyed the walks between the sights and the cafes and the café culture Greeks have. There are thousands of terraces that are perfect to stay a while people watching, like those orthodox priests coming back from grocery shopping. Also my new blister made us relax and take it easy. The good thing of having another blister is that with the translation I’ve learned the word in English, probably it was in one English class that I was not paying attention.

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Leftovers of the anti-crisis protest or anti- crisis counter measures or anti-system. Victim: a bank.

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The guy from the hostel showed me in the map all the streets they normally use, he said in his country they never break anything.

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¡How beautiful is the Acropolis! I miss Zagoria.

In Greece it is unavoidable read about the Greek gods. What has surprised me the most is that they were contrary to the “current” gods. Yes, for example, the Christian god is benevolent and understanding, but Greek gods were capricious, egoistical, chaotic, frivolous, bloodthirsty, despots, revengeful and temperamental, what now we say son of a bitch.

Reading Greek mythology is a mix between south American telenovela, Tarantino film and a constant orgy, so it’s not strange that Greeks were scared of them. It is possible that this made them create philosophy, maybe with these horrible gods in which they were not finding support or protection or explanation or hope for what happened after death, the Greeks had to set out a logical way of what would happen latter, of what they were. They had no Genesis to explain or heaven to wrap them up.

Thanks to those evil gods the ancient Greeks revolutionized thinking and now our society is like it is maybe due to them.

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Reading about the Greek thinking it surprises me the differences they had about classes. Now that separation would seem at least xenophobic, even in the reality our society it maintains it in a way.

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More food, but, is this Greek? Or ottoman-Turk? Or maybe from Armenia? I’ll tell you once I arrive to Armenia. The vine leaves are stuffed with rice, a bit of olive oil on top and a sauce to finish it.

A Greek figure that I like is the Oraculo. Going there to ask about your future to a Pithonise(fortune teller) half drugged saying ambiguous things with no real meaning had to be a real show. Who’d have a time machine to witness it. We visited the Dodoni Oracle.

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I like looking into the urban magazines that are now everywhere, even in this case, with Greece it’s impossible to get absolutely anything with unreadable letters. I loved this little girl.

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Quite a typical picture, but it’s so photogenic that I had to post it.

And Ana left, there was only one more stop, Thessaloniki. A city that suffered a big change in 1923 as a Greece pact with Turkey and Bulgaria an interchange of population to adjust to the new ethnic borders and make them more pure. There were hundreds of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians from Greece and at the same time nearly 800.000 Greeks arrived to mother nation Greece even though they had never stepped over it.

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Greek streets have two sounds. The sound of Backgammon dices and the orthodox rosary that don’t stop moving. But, ¿what is the difference between the orthodox Christians and the catholic? There are a lot of differences, but I’m not going to name them, I’m only going to tell you why there was a definitive separation. The cause was an interpretation of where the Holy Spirit came from: Rome says that he comes from the Father and the Son, for the orthodox, the Holy Spirit is generated directly from the father, same as the son. The other difference that was important in it’s moment is that for westerns the unity of the 3 people comes give by it’s holy nature, while for orient, the unities is assumed by the father. Really, they did well separating, because with so many differences….

Greece still keeps a lot of things for me, I haven’t seen anything about the Peloponnese, neither the marvellous islands with white villages and blue windows or Rodas or…. I’ll come one one day to see all this and to hike up Olympus.

I finish Greece, I have to go. It’s night time, owned by Nix good. I get into the night bus for 9 hours, I’ll be in Istanbul after the sunset.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

06.13

Feeling special is something that gives us happiness. It happens to me once in a while in the river. I’m floating in the middle of the water, it can bee the most open valley or the darkest canyon and without thinking about it, a private feeling invades me and nobody around me realises it.

Probably in an unconscious way this is one of the things that makes me like the river so much and why it has me hooked.

With kayaking you reach many places that can’t be reached in any other way. The more difficult or remote the places are the more they return to you, well, like anything else in life, the more difficult it is the more it gives back.

When you are in the middle of a river going down you are in total contact with nature, in the most changing element. You forget the feeling of floating to find your way between currents and rocks. In situations, in one of those difficult rivers, in the limit of your possibilities, you arrive to a place where the river has narrowed multiplying it strength, the inclination gives the water even more speed and the walls compress it making it immensely powerful, maybe hostile. Putting the paddle in the water is like grabbing a moving truck that has no intention of stopping. Those are moments in which instinctively you concentrate completely so as not to fail.

Moreover the river creates a special noise, it does not let you hear anything, seems it erases all around. It leaves you alone with it, seems nothing else exists. It makes you feel meaningless, it minimizes you with it strength, without asking it returns you some of the humbleness that consumerism and technology has stolen.

Later, when you arrive to the bridge or the green place where the take out is, you look back into your thoughts, the images fixed with the water strength and the noise. You realize that the river has finished, that you’ve done it, maybe a bit of a survival feeling, of success. You feel great and happy, but not forgetting the meaninglessness you felt before.

Kayaking Aoos river on the last day I had this feeling of “being special”. I didn’t feel like bringing the camera out to get a picture or to do video. I didn’t felt like talking, it was not needed, it was a memory for me, but today I’ve felt like describing it and writing about it.

I’ve kayaked 4 days in Greece, I really wanted to kayak in the Greek mountains, Greece is full of mountains(the divine Olympus is nearly 3.000 meter high). I’ve done some rivers that were not very difficult but were a lot of fun. Here is a short video, I don’t want to bore non kayakers.

As I was alone I asked for guidding to Brain Waves, the kayak company in greede. Spyros make me feel like if I was kayaking with my friends.

http://www.vimeo.com/12506575

If it downloads slow, please click HD.

I ask myself why today I’ve decided to philosophize about the river, maybe because I´m in Greece and after so much reading about it`s philosophic past I’ve been enveloped by the idea of “wanting to know” ( as philosophers said) and I’ve wanted to explain myself as to why I like rivers.

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This is how philosophy is, naked thoughts, as this trunk that one day was an elegant tree and now the river has stripped it.

I’ll soon talk to you about what I’ve seen in the rest of Greece, as I’ve already arrived to Istanbul. I’ve talked today about the rivers because about Greece I don’t know what to say, the classic philosophical past, the present crisis, the intriguing Orthodox church as we saw in Meteora, the unknown north or the Ottoman past.

I’ll decide it in a couple of days and tell you

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2010

06.07

If we stay one more day?

It’s a pleasure travelling with no rush, enjoying each day, each moment, with out thinking what will come later, because later can be tomorrow or in three days. That’s how my trip was, I arrived in Athens just in time to get the flight back. My flight left me in Tirana, and, as you have seen trapped us.

The arrival to Greece was in a bus with super loud Albanian music hour by hour, I thought we would never arrive.

Our first destination was Ioanina, a city with a name as beautiful as it’s interior. It was our transit city where we rented a car to go to see “Meteora”.

That name really attracted us unavoidably, in the Tesalia flatlands 30 million years ago, under the sea, rocks were formed, pinnacles of sandstone and when the water receded the pinnacles were exposed to the open air.

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Fog was giving additional mysticism because when we’d spot a pinnacle we didn’t know it would have a monastery until we were close.

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The second day we had some better weather. Those pinnacles, some over 500 meters high and in the XIV century some orthodox monasteries were built on top, at one time there were even 24.

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Each one on top of one of those rocks “SUSPENDED in the air” with no connection to the earth.  To live happy, let’s live high in the sky, and this is how it really looks, rocks in the air, monasteries SUSPENDED in the sky, as the monks said: “getting closer to God”.

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The image was appealing, and with it in our heads we had started the trip. We hoped to find it after each turn… but Meteora didn’t come.  Finally when we arrived  we soon decided  that we had to stay one more day!

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Monks allow visitors to their monasteries. Now there are only 6 left,  4 monks and 2 nuns.

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They are all Byzantine and, due to our ignorance about the Orthodox church, all was much more attractive, the little churches painted from top to bottom with biblical images and bright colours. The monks themselves with their over long grey beards, their hats and all dressed in black. The views from each monastery looking to the others, ruins in some pinnacles that used to be something and now nearly nothing left.

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Sometimes watching the ruins is more thrilling, seems more abstract, more unreal, further back in time.

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Sunset, so we leave until the following day.

Our hotel, in Kastraki village, was run by a Greek family, mother and son, they couldn’t be nicer, they had a garden full of hammocks. We spent the sunset there, gazing, this time from under, the majestic pinnacles, saving them forever in our heads, and being able to remember them anytime we wished.

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Now there are no rope baskets, neither nets suspended where they would put goods or monks inside, but there are still wood cable cars hanging from cables. Now you can find stairs and when it rains it creates small waterfalls that makes it difficult to climb up. On the left in the picture you can see the cabin where the old hanging net used to be.

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The landscape itself is worth a visit even without the monasteries.

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Inside one of the monasteries.

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This piece of wood is hit to call for playing.

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Nobody knows very well how the monks built their monasteries there in the XIV century. How were they able to bring the stones and other materials up there,  even how could they get themselves up.

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After a sudden stop so as not to run over the this Greek turtel we decided it was too beautiful to leave a crazy Greek driver or tourist kill it so we moved it to the side of the road.

We didn´t care about getting totally wet and it was difficult to leave the pinnacles. But finally we found our way back to the real world to put our feet on the ground… We would have stayed “one more day”.

Ana

2010

06.05

Greek stories will have to wait a little longer. I have had to stop on the way to recap after 75 days in the Balkans.

I’ve crossed Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albanian, an area of the world with an exciting recent history that aroused my emotions and that offered a lot to discover. I’ve lived part of it’s history, hike to snow covered mountains, motorcycled around an island, kayaked down rivers with isolated canyons, driven on impossible roads, I’ve gotten into valleys I’ve never wanted to leave and still when I close my eyes I see that night when thousands of fireflies hovered not realizing the menacing thunderstorm that was in the background.

I’ve also seen it’s cities; fortified, monumental, forgotten, cosmopolitan, reconstructed, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, communist, chaotic, European, glamorous, old and modern. There’s such a variety that crowds you. In them I’ve seen the beginning of the change from west in a way that sometimes disorientated me.

These memories make me happy with my decision to visit the Balkans and not start my silk road journey as is traditionally written “From Istanbul to Xiam”.

My Balkan experience has been all the more special because of it’s people. They don’t see you as a stranger but as a guest and they really show you what the word “hospitality” means.

Although I’ve seen many places where I would love to stay longer I must continue to the countries with Ancient Civilizations and much more history,  Greece, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, central Asia. I keep walking east with a different perspective after my Balkan experience.

Fernando

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Silk Road 8


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » July

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2010

07.26

A very quick post to tell you what Bosra is. I don’t have much time working as sub-guide. It is a challenge making a “father” feel good in a Muslim country and it requires nearly all my energy so I can’t spend that much time in the blog.

Coming back to Bosra, which is the topic of the day. There was a moment in Turkey I was a bit bored of Roman ruins and I was very close to not go and see “another“ ruins in Syria. The curiosity convinced me and I’m glad I did it. It would have been a pity missing Bosra. The further I go from Rome, the more Roman settlements I visit, the more I realize how impressively powerful the empire was. In February I was in Rome, it’s July and I still walk in it’s territory, this was the roman region of Arabia and Bosra was its capital in the 2nd century.

Siria - Syria - Damasco - Damascus - Bosra - Roma - Rome - onmysilkroad.com - P7168843

The main reason to come here is to see the theatre , it would be nearly impossible to be preserved any better. It’s only two hours driving south of Damascus nearly at the border with Jordan. The theatre has the peculiarity that it’s done with Basalt, a very strong volcanic rock of the area, that gives it the dark colour.

Siria - Syria - Damasco - Damascus - Bosra - Roma - Rome - onmysilkroad.com - P7168869

The city next to it is also built on basalt and has all the things the Roman cities have, the public baths, the agora, the columns… There are two enormous cisterns that received the water by an underground aqueduct from the mountains 30 kilometres away.

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The desert covered the the city in sand for centuries making possible the great conservation of 70 years ago when it was found. The sand preserved the ruins from the weather and humans leaving them as they are now. Saladin fortified the theatre defending the city from the crusades and Mongols.

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Church on the way back to Damascus, our base. Also in basalt and prepared for a wedding.

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What a better way to finish the day than tasting the local bear? The truth? It’s pretty bad. The most similar to a real beer is the Lebanese one. Lebanon also has good red wine. Well Lebanon must be a very cool country everybody here talks about how great it is. I’ll have to leave it for another trip though.

The next post will be about Damascus. The city that once was the most important in Islam when religion was at its height. We’ll see what we find!

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

07.24

I’ve been in Maalula, north of Damascus. Here Aramaic is still spoken, and it sounds so remote I want you to hear it, is like hearing an echo of a language that star Ted 3000 years ago and that has been sounding until now.

Click to hear a pray in Aramaic language: Arameo(may be slow).

The first day my Father was in Damascus we went to the National Museum, we took a guide that spoke in Spanish and the museum was the right place to start. We went through all the Syrian history from the beginning to the end and we had a contest on how much we would see in Damascus and the country for the remaining the days.

The most fascinating objects  are the ones that have something written in Aramaic. Seems unbelievable that there is still something of a language that is so old, the language that Jesus Christ spoke.

From these fascinating and intriguing objects, the much more amazing thing is a six centimetre stone on which is written the first alphabet ever. It is the first time that instead of writing sounds “ce”, “be”, “to”… that consonants have been independent from the vowels. Whoever did it had to be an extremely intelligent person to be able to abstract the sounds and divide them, in one side the consonants and in other the vowels, then complete the sounds of the consonants.  I’ve been impressed thinking on the proccess it took to reach this.

About the Arameic, there has been created an Aramaic Institute, until now it’s a language passed from generation to generation in a speaking way by the Maalula people and other villages. In the Institute they want to teach how it’s written so it’s not lost.

I think it wont get lost, it has proved that it is a survivor.

I leave you today so you can come back to the modern world, try not to think that anything we do is difficult that it will last 3000 years or that is as important as inventing the alphabet.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

07.21

Syria is giving me wonderful surprises every day. People are amazing, they say hello, they ask, they tell you, they make you feel good. As soon as I say I´m spanish they all congratulate me about the world cup, they like football a lot, even though it seems impossible they have a lot of Spanish flags everywhere. They are very happy to have Spain winning instead of Germany or Holland. Being Spanish is quite good for travelling, people usually likes us.

It was not easy leaving Aleppo but the dead cities aroused an intense interest to which I couldn’t say no. To arrive there is no public transport  so you have to find a taxi for half a day to go. From the one who likes them with a passion for a while there are around 600 settlements, from isolated monuments to full cities. I visited four of them and was lucky to find two “friends of the day” in the hotel to share the taxi and not going alone. Here are the pictures.

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In the city of Al-Bara there are funeral tombs, the one in the picture is the best preserved one.

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Greg on top of a wall overlooking the horizon, the city seems it never finishes. It’s eerie walking between the houses, walls and the olive trees, we are totally alone discovering what is in each building, in each corner. The reason why they were abandoned is not clear, seems that the trading routes changed and the population moved away gradually leaving this isolated landscape.

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In the shade it’s 40 degrees.

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The name of dead cities is not totally right, there are some people still living in them.

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Clothes drying is an unmistakable symbol of life.

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Jedara and Ruweiha are two cities that are together and they are some of the biggest. In the background the Byzantine church of the 5th century, it’s used nowadays for living.

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Goat.

The last city we saw was Serjilla, one of the best preserved and most prepared for tourism with explanation panels. Some houses have two floors created building an arch inside the house to hold the second floor, I liked the idea.

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The next stop was Hama where I went to see the water Norias.

http://www.vimeo.com/13508349

Orontes means revel river as it’s the only one in the area that goes from south to north, it in fact starts in Lebanon mountains where there’s even a ski resort.

For the Zaragoza Expo I’ve been told they constructed one, now I want to go and see it as they brought the same people to build it that maintain the ones in Hama.

As soon as I click the publish button I’m going to the airport to collect my father, he’s coming a few days for visiting. Hope the flight is not delayed.

See you soon

Fernando

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2010

07.14

I can finally post a video, the last two I tried to do looked horrible so I haven’t posted them. I recorded one of them with Ana about an Oraculum in Greece and the second was about my backpack so after a lot of time I’m very happy to edit a video and post it here.

The video was totally improved, I arrived there and liked the activity so much that I thought capturing it in pictures would have lost the meaning of constant movement. Different to the Istanbul bazaar there’s nearly no tourism, I only saw four foreigners in four hours. It’s a local market with no souvenirs with Syrians buying Syrian things.

http://www.vimeo.com/13336938

The music is Turkish because I still have no Syrian music, they are Burhan öcal & Pete Namlook.

I’m going to tell you quickly my last steps in Turkey as I went through Antakya, one of those names that sounds so biblical and you don’t know what to expect.

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I knew there wouldn’t be much from what I had read, and in fact apart from the centre of little alleys the rest is quite ugly. In the picture an alley downtown.

What I’ve liked the most is the mix of culture, I tell you; in the guide books you read that Antakya is one of those places where Christians, Muslims and Jews have always been living together in peace, bla bla bla….and when I read this I think that it sounds beautiful but with those things I always think that it’s something written in the books but that there is no way to feel it in the city.

In Antakya this is more tangible than in other places. Apart from the fact that you can see mosques, churches and a synagogue, the interesting thing is that when somebody stops you in the street to talk(yes, it’s very normal) after giving a cordial welcome they tell you the same, that here they are all mixed and happy and tell it proudly. It’s comforting that there are places in the world that co-living exists.

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To finish feeling what the books says I stayed that night in the HOSPEDERÍA of the Christian church. They are old houses where you can sleep. There were some musicians preparing an event of songs for peace in the cave-church of Saint Peter. There was a very good atmosphere around, it was like sleeping in a music school where music of any instrument could start at any moment as well as a chorus starts singing. I was planning my trip to Syria for a couple of days.

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Religious symbols of all religions. Barbara showed me the place, she´s been there 38 years and broadcasts peacefulness.

Also staying in the place was a German, Jens, an anthropologist working for an American university he was doing a study of the integration of religions. As he had an interest in the silk route we were talking for a while. An interesting guy.

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Antakya museum is one of the most important in the world regarding mosaics, It has a lot of pieces from the II and III century.

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The day of the canticles. One of the songs was in Spanish so during rehearshal I read it in Spanish so they would know the right pronunciation.

The last night I made a stop in Odeon, a café that I’d spotted in one of my walks around Antioch. A chatty Turk came to talk with me, he was a biologist, specialized in butterflies and he worked for the university. He made 1000 Euro a month, that let’s you do a lot of things in Turkey. I proposed playing Backgammon with him, he was the champion of his town and as that’s the application I use the most in my phone, I decided that was the perfect person to try my game.

We started with a very sad 0-2 to him as he set up the board in the opposite way my phone does and I was a bit disoriented at the beginning, after a little while we were 4-2 to me. When the owner of the place came to chat with us the board was mysteriously closed and moved to a corner as if nobody had ever played it. The owner was a very nice guy, he had been travelling all around the world selling gold and now he was taking his time to enjoy live in a relaxed way.

Next day to cross the border with Syria I got a shared taxi, it’s a bit more expensive than the bus but I keep checking where my passport is exactly. It also takes a few less hours as the arrangements for 50 passports in a bus takes a while.

By the road I saw men and women harvesting potatoes, the harvest seems to be much earlier than in Spain, there were a lot of cereal crops already reaped in pieces of land that the dessert has not taken. A few more potato fields and the wire fencing and the watch towers announced the border. Once more I felt the excitement that I have when I’m taking my passport out of my pocket to cross a border.

See you soon.

Fernando

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2010

07.09

I leave the Aegean sea where Kudasai goes by the coast to Syria. The first place I stop is Dalyan on the shores of Dalian river where the Kaunos ruins can found, a Carian settlement of 10th century B.C.

Here the tourists smell mosquito repellent, seems to be the perfect habitat, that’s why in ancient times this was a malarian zone. The foreigners blamed the figs as they were very common in the area. Near Dalyan is Iztuszu beach that is protected due to the turtles that come to lay the eggs in it’s sand, they are massive up to 130 Kg.

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To go to the ruins you have to cross by boat, in the picture is a boat woman.

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I explored Kaunos surrounded by lizards and yellow winged grasshoppers. In th entrance loud disco music was playing, as the ruins were so big I left the sound behind me very quickly, but while walking in the ruins I could hear the call to pray from a nearby mosque. That was the soundtrack.

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Thistle, new word for me. Loved the colour.

Next day I had breakfast in the terrace overlooking the tombs in the cliff, the oleanders‘ smell. I prepare the things to go to the Dalaman river, the reason why I’ve come here. I like the river company, they were a mix of guides from Costa Rica, Turkey, Nepal and Ukraine. They managed the safety in the river very well so I paddled very comfortably. The kayak they let me was really bad but as the river wasn’t difficult it gave the day a bit more of emotion.

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The guides were apologizing for the colour of the water, normally is a wonderful blue but due to the previous days rain it got cloudy. I like rivers with this colour.

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I suppose that she has not thought that if she falls into the water the skirt can cover her face making it difficult to breathe, but each one get’s into the river as they desire.

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Doing the last class IV rapid I rolled, in the last picture it can be seen how I’m getting ready to roll back up with the paddle aligned with the kayak.

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The next stop was Kas, in the middle of the turquoise coast. It’s a very charming village with bougavillas, ottoman houses, a centre with no cars and a seaside with amazing colour to explore by boat. To complete the image the mountains border the coast and a bit more inland they are as high as 3000 meters.

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There are Lician tombs in the village.

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In the morning I go to the port to get a boat to go by the coast and to see some of the ruins of the area. This excursion cost like 20 Euro to spend the day in the boat and you get food.

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Kekova is a gorgeous submerged city, the earthquakes of the second century sank it. It’s forbidden to stop the boats or swim.

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We stopped in Ucagiz village that is on an island.

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I didn’t wanted to pay the entrance to the little castle so I went around to see what could I see and I found this Lician tomb just for me.

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 Turkey has two types of vipers. The ottoman(didn’t make a big effort to get the name…) is very poisonous.

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The picture is a bit too burnt, but at least you see how the place was.

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I bought tea from him and after the picture he gave me a granddad kiss. He cultivated the tea himself.

On the boat I met a French woman, she loved Turkey having been here 20 times she had travelled all over the world including Afghanistan 40 years ago, she had also travelled all around Africa providing aid when she was young, she was my friend of the day. We were talking about Greece and Turkey rivalry. They really dislike each other, for example the Greeks still call Istanbul, Constantinople in some maps.

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On the way back to Kas after a good day. Apart from the memories of the ruins what I’ve liked the most has been diving. There were not too many fish but diving in the silence of the blue water while the rays of light penetrate the surface is just blissful.

My last visit through the coast is Antalya. More otoman houses, this time on the top of the hill overlooking the sea. All the coast is packed with tourists, I expected this from the places nearby Ephesus but it spreads all along the coast.

Here are the Taurus mountains, the country has 70% of the territory covered with mountains and near the city a part is protected as the Kopruli national park. I went kayaking in the river but it was a mistake, there were hundreds of rafts and literally thousands of clients, have never ever seen anything like that, instead of seeing the river you’d see rafts and rafts. A huge mistake, I had to make an effort to enjoy, there was zero contact with nature.

 

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 Antalya has an spectacular museum with items compiled from the ruins around. Here is the sarcophagus room.

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 The face on the left is the one I liked the most. In fact I only put pictures of museums to pretend that they are interesting.

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I eat a gozleme, something like a creppe. By the time I want to take it a picture I´ve finished it!

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The sunset from Antalya with Olympus mountains in front(nothing to do with Greece) It would have been a better choice to stay here as it’s quieter as it’s further from the  International airport.

The next post will be a video from Syria. Yes a video after a while!!

See you soon

Fernando

2010

07.08

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This is Pamukkale. With a million visitors a year it is one of the attractions of Turkey. During the 80s it become so overly touristic that was close to being destroyed it but some hotels were demolished and even it though it is a bit damaged it is still worth visiting. Quite a few years ago it was quite a common destination as honeymooners from Spain.

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Before visiting Pamukkale we went to the Hierapolis. Founded by Eumeus II in the year 190 BC on top of the mountain. The thermal waters became famous during the roman empire and the city grew until some earthquakes destroyed it and it was abandoned. In the picture one of the city doors with thick walls of a few meters. I liked the city as much or more than Pamukkale.

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You can’t miss the Necropolis. It also has a very important amphitheatre for 12.000 people that is in great state but as I’ve already shown you a few so I’m changing it for some wonderful tombs.

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The necropolis continues a few kilometres to the north. There was a lot of people coming here to be healed but seems some of them came a bit too late. Derya was asked the previous day, probably by an American tourist, “Why did Romans make so many ruins”?.

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Tombs in the calcium area. Rest in peace.

Before going to the travertines(name given to the terraces) we had a bath in the “Antique Pool”, thermal water with columns in the ground. It was good for the remains of my killer tourticullis. When the torticullis was at its worst I was thinking  “Seems impossible that a head is so heavy”.

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General view of the travertine formed by calcium carbonate.

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There are areas where the calcium is not very thick and doesn’t look that white. 

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After the travertines you can see the valley where the village is nowadays.

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It’s absolutely packed with Russians, must be a very famous place there, maybe because it looks like snow but you can be in a fuzzy bikini. If you are a Russian girl you can’t leave the place without a hundred pictures posing. By the way, Russia is the only country that like turkey spans two continents.

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Pamukkale means “cotton castle”. Cleopatra is supposed to have come here.

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Me and the water sliding down the wall depositing the calcium.

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There is a section of travertines that is open and you can walk barefoot and bath.

 

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The wind was blowing.

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 Other view.

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On the way back we saw a few villages with bottles on top of the roofs. If you have daughters in of marrying age, this is the tradition. A bit later we stopped to get a couple of wild sunflower plants for Andrés and Derya and at the last stop to see a hidden Roman aqueduct that is conserved really well.

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To finish the day we had a seabass cooked in salt in the newest restaurant of Kudasai. The price was less than 20 Euros. I have to say that the seabass was much better than the Spanish omelette I cooked the previous day. Cooked with crisps instead of potatoes following the recipe of the famous Spanish cook Arguiñano.

My next stop is Dalaman river. It’s said it is one of the most beautiful in Turkey!

See you soon.

Fernando

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