when the war endsĀ 

The war started in 1992, when I was 7. I have memories of sitting in a classroom and watching Behind The News (BTN), memorizing facts that we would later be quizzed on. But I didn’t know what war meant. Or even really what they were fighting for. Looking at the city the signs of war are subtle – shrapnel holes in walls, red paint on the roads (Sarajevo Roses), dilapidated and abandoned buildings. But just because visually Sarajevo does not look like a war zone this does not mean that the city, or country ever recovered. Before the war mixed marriages between religions were quite common but after the war the population of Serbs (Russian Orthodox) has deteriorated in Sarajevo, with the majority now being Bosniaks (Muslim). I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t realise that Croats and the Serbs that fought was not another name for Croatians and Serbians, but actually referred to Bosnians of different religions.
I’m staying at the War Hostel, run by Zero One and designed to replicate the war experience with a bunker and he tells the story of his family’s experience. He’s a very intense guy. This is probably the most straightforward way of describing it.

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obnoxious backpackers

At some point you will have run into them. They’re loud, looking for the next pub crawl, show disdain at the thought of ever going to a chain restaurant and they have an opinion on how to travel the right way. For them traveling is a competition – who spends the least amount of money, who went to the most outrageous location, who is traveling for the longest, who had the lightest backpack, who is most spontaneous, who has the most interesting tattoo, who stayed out the longest. For the most part I have successfully avoided them because I have resting bitch face, enjoy spending time alone and my self-esteem doesn’t need stroking.

But last night’s exciting train ride sent them spiralling into my atmosphere. And for a moment I didn’t mind because there is something about safety in numbers when it comes to facing potential robbers. So there I was agreeing to meet them later for walking tours and pub crawls. But with the rising sun comes the realisation that I would probably rather have one of my teeth removed instead than “hang out”. Luckily enough I ran into M, Swiss Miss who happens to have a knack for languages, while waiting to check into my room. Together we had coffee, walked around the town from Kalemegdan to Saint Savage Temple and had dinner. Just enjoying the city and the company. She was the complete opposite of an obnoxious backpacker.

There is no right way to travel. To travel is a privilege but it does not make you better.

Boy: A suitcase isn’t really backpacking is it?

Girl: I don’t remember saying I was backpacking.

Girl (in head): Frankly I like knowing that I can afford to go to a hotel to avoid people like you if I choose…

saying goodbye

looks good from the outside

it has taken at least two years so far, they expect renovations to take at least another five

art galleries and book shops line the streets

walking the streets

escaping the city

The last month has been spent exploring a lot of cities. My routine has pretty much been to do the free walking tour that each city offers, walk around the old town and then find the hipster part of town. Today I thought I would mix up the routine a little to keep things spicy. The hostel I’m staying at, which offers a kickass free breakfast, was doing a tour to Rila Monastery so I decided to join in thinking it would be a good excuse to get out of the city and see some of the green that I saw from the train yesterday.

Not that I got the chance to do any hiking but it was still really nice to get some fresh air. And this Orthodox monastery was amazing to see with incredible details. There were lots of paintings of biblical stories and legends that as a heathen I did not know of. But M, a German girl on vacation before starting her Masters, knew a lot of the stories so she attempted to educate me.

After that I decided to do the walking tour. Which felt way longer than 2 hours, maybe because I felt there wasn’t that much to look at. The Baltic countries were also occupied by the Soviets but they still managed to retain a lot of charm and weren’t badly damaged. However Bucharest and Sofia looked very Soviet. Lots of grey block structures. The churches survived though.

a train ride through bulgaria

Traveling by bus in Europe has actually treated me pretty well. Quite a few of them had TV screens, hostesses or complimentary tea/coffee. All of which is a farcry from the Greyhound buses I was used to in America. This was my first solo cross country train ride and for all my bravado I’ll admit to being apprehensive about getting a seat and whether or not I would make it to my destination – Sofia, Bulgaria. Instead the only thing I had to fear was the air conditioner not being on and being trapped in a metal capsule in this 30 degree heat. No TV screens, hostesses or complimentary tea/coffee either.

The day started out poorly but eventually I found the International Ticket Office at Bucharest Gara du Nord Station. As I headed onto the platform to board I noticed a familiar face. It was H, the Irish Lass, whom I had met the day before yesterday on my walking tour. The train itself wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable experience except for border control when they turned off the air conditioner and just left us there to die. Otherwise, I got my naps in and read several chapters of A Fork in the Road without worrying about motion sickness. All of this as the Bulgarian countryside rolled by the window. In the distance I could even see the sunset over the Balkan Mountains. And before I knew it I had arrived in Sofia.

Balkan Mountains in the distance

At 11pm on a Saturday night I was expecting the streets to be more crowded. They are apparently just not crowded near the Sofia Central station it seems. The hostel suggested walking 25 mins, which after sitting for 10 hours was a welcome change. The street they recommended though was definitely “interesting”.  There were about 4 minor intersections and at each one I saw about 3 hookers walking back and forth. I didn’t appear to have the assets to start a turf war and looked drab enough they weren’t going to roll me of the only possessions I have for the next month or two. I will definitely be taking the tram back to the station.

can i?

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Shall I write it in a letter?
Shall I try to get it down?
Oh, you fill my head with pieces
Of a song I can’t get out.

The Paper Kites performed tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg and by the time I got home it was 1am and I was starving. Luckily I had rescheduled my 6am run or I’ll be a zombie tomorrow. The lead singer, Sam Bentley, was talking about how difficult long distance relationships are and he made this comment: “What’s considered long distance here? Manhattan and Brooklyn?” You can laugh, but I have limited myself to a small portion of the Isle of Manhattan let alone another borough or the horror of another state (even if that state is just across the river)!

The cons of dating outside of your neighborhood comfort zone:

  • The commute after a night out or anytime during the winter
  • Finding yourself in foreign neighborhood with named streets, without easy access to a taxi, and having to use Google to figure out where the nearest subway, coffee or ice cream shop is.

The pros of dating outside of your neighborhood comfort zone:

  • You discover new places.
  • You become more comfortable in new neighborhoods. I’d probably still be avoiding West Village if it weren’t for many dates in that area.
  • When you break up you can walk around your neighborhood without worrying about bumping into them or having places remind you of them.

untouched

We believe in the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to change the world.

The National Geographic Live series has started up again. These talks remind me that there are people out there who chased after their dream job and because of that they get to see amazing things. The images that we only have saved as our desktop wallpaper are the images they get to experience every day.

Tonight’s speaker was Dr Enric Salau, a marine biologist with a mission to conserve at least 20% of the ocean floor. Perhaps there is something about the Spanish accent but his passion for his mission really came across and he made reefs and fighting climate change sound very sexy.

He has dived in places untouched by other humans and to see the difference that a population as small as 52 could make was really striking. In a reef that has been untouched by humans you’ll see healthy growth of coral, clear waters and an abundance of big fish such as snappers as well as sharks. It’s heartbreaking for me to see what we have done to these places. After observing the reefs he then talks heads of state into conserving these areas. And after hearing his talk I can completely understand how persuasive he might have been.

It’s definitely worth looking up the Pristine Seas mission to stare at the beautiful photos.

double standards be damned

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Guys complain that girls don’t message first and then girls complain when guys message that all they say is “hey, what’s up?” or “you’re gorgeous”. Sending that first message is apparently a difficult process requiring the internet wizards to provide guidance.

So I’m currently experimenting with Hinge. It turns out my friends have some pretty good looking friends; talk about holding out on me. So far I’ve matched up with with 7 people in the last 5 days, with very different responses:

  • I ended up blocking 2 because I changed my mind about them. It’s my prerogative as a woman to change my mind.
  • I sent 3 messages that reflected an interest in one of their interests, often with a question attached – travel, running and zombies. Messages that I would definitely have responded to if they had been sent to me. I received no response from 3 after 3 days even though I can see they they have read the message. I didn’t ask a “how do we solve climate change?” kind of question so it can’t have taken that long to respond if they had wanted to.
  • I sent 1 of them a “hey, how’s your weekend?” message. I didn’t get a response, but they also never read my message. Update: I got a response…
  • I received 1 “hey, how’s your weekend?” message. I responded to it and we chatted for a bit.

It turns out guys must get inundated with messages as well and therefore don’t bother responding to messages just as often as girls don’t bother, even if the message is not “hey, how you doin…” So stop thinking so much people! Message if you want to, don’t message if you don’t want to. If they don’t message you back then it just wasn’t meant to be. You’ll just swipe right on the next person.

I want to be the girl.
You are the girl that’s why we’re having this very confusing conversation.

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Why is there so much pressure? We all know “hey, what’s up?” is not a good first message. There are so many possible good messages and it will vary. A good profile should give you a hint as to what your common interests are. Use that to spark a conversation. A bad profile doesn’t tell you anything but all is not lost, there is always “would you rather fight a horse sized duck or a duck sized horse?” or apparently just going with “shall we have drinks soon?” works. If you’re great at flirting this part comes naturally and you should go for it regardless of whether or not you would prefer to be chased. If you aren’t great at flirting then what do you have to lose? I’m not suggesting that I am having a huge amount of success with this. But I’m definitely not stressing about the “who should message first?” and “if I message, what should I message?” question. Update: Apparently “hey, how’s your weekend?” is actually pretty successful.