A Travellerspoint blog

Madrid

Amazing city with an amazing nightlife

sunny 10 °C
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Madrid lived up to everything people say about it. The people are amazing, the food is great, and the nightlife really is the best. It’s the most lively city we’ve been to, with people out on the streets and in the bars having a great time any time of the day or night.

Our first night in the city turned out to be amazing. We checked in at 5:00 and headed straight to the Mudeo del Prado, one of the biggest art collections in the world. There are some really amazing pieces there. Obviously the 3 hours we had before closing time wasn’t enough, but we at least got a chance to see a little bit of everything. You could easily spend a week there appreciating all the pieces, but I think an evening is enough to get a taste of the masterpieces it houses.

We went out for a few drinks afterward and got a small bite to eat free with every one – tapas. A guy with a guitar came in to the bar and started playing and mom, of course, made friends with the women who were singing along. They led us to a great flamenco bar and we got in at the last minute to see one of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever heard. It was in some sort of cave theater in the basement of a pub, but the music we heard was unbelievable. It was the first time the three people had ever played together, so there were no cds, but hopefully someday I’ll find a way to hear them again.

It was kind of a late night that night, but we managed to get out the next day for a walking tour of the city. It’s always great to learn little things about a city you probably wouldn’t otherwise know, and the free walking tours are the best way to get oriented in a new city. Two days is enough to see all the main things in Madrid, but it’s such a lively city you’d definitely want longer, just to get to more bars and cafés. After the Canary Islands I fell in love with the Spanish culture, language, and food, and this visit to Madrid just sealed the deal. The people are so friendly and relaxed, the food is great, not to mention the wine, and there’s always something to do. I really hope we’ll get a chance to come back here someday, and to see more of this amazing country.

Posted by kmclean 16:58 Archived in Spain Tagged spain madrid music tapas Comments (0)

Morocco

Marrakech, Ourzazate, Zagora, and one unforgettable night in the desert

sunny 23 °C
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Other than Turkey, this is our first trip outside of Europe. Mom and Dad met us in Freiburg a couple of days ago and after spending a little time there, we all took off together for Marrakech. It turned out to be a lot more chaotic and busy than any of us had expected, so we took an overnight trip to the Sahara to spend a night camping with Berbers. It’s been an amazing experience so far; it’s always really interesting to see and experience different cultures.

We knew when we got a drive from the airport to our apartment that we were going to have get used to the traffic in the city. The drivers are crazy, and there are apparently no rules on the roads. To make things worse, there aren’t just cars, but also tour buses, scooters, bicycles, horse carriages, donkeys, and kids on rollerblades to look out for. We spent our first couple of days in Marrakech, mostly in the old city. The walk to the main square was terrifying enough, but once we made it we realized we still weren’t safe. There are cars, trucks, scooters, bikes, and donkeys, roaming around and through the market square seemingly at random. The Medina was still really interesting anyway, and seemed a lot more authentic than some other old cities. There were dentist offices, lawyers, grocery stores, and gas pumps among all the shops selling leather, spices, and food. You could tell some people actually lived there and it wasn’t just built for tourists, which is kind of what the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul felt like.

On our second day in the country we headed out for the 400km drive to the desert through the mountains to spend a night and see the sunrise. We stopped in Ourzazate, which is where they've filmed a few famous movies, like Gladiator, and also in Zagora, which is where we got on the camels. The ride was windy and rough, but no worse than the camel ride to the camp for the night. I’ve never ridden a camel before, and I doubt if I ever would again! I had no idea what to expect, but it was a lot rougher than I ever thought it would be. There must be a more comfortable way to ride them, if people spend days at a time traveling that way. As rough as the ride was, though, it was really cool to be lead into the Sahara on a camel by a Berber.

We spent the night in the desert singing and dancing with the Berbers, eating delicious food, and watching the stars. We woke up early to see the sunrise and then it was right back on the camels to head back to Marrakech. We got back at the end of the day and had one more evening in the city. We went out to a restaurant in the newer part of the city, which is also really interesting. It’s such a contrast with the old city. Inside the Medina it’s complete chaos and disorder, but the new city looks and feels almost like any other place we’ve been. There are clothing and grocery chains and shopping malls. It’s completely modern, and you’d never know you were right outside the walls of the old city and all its madness.

It was a great first stop on our trip, but I think we’re all really looking forward to travelling Europe, with Madrid as our next stop. I’ve only heard good things about it, and I can’t wait!

Posted by kmclean 02:45 Archived in Morocco Tagged desert morocco sahara marrakech zagora ourzazate Comments (2)

Pristina

Not a whole lot to see or do, but really interesting politically and historically

sunny 11 °C
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Our last stop on this leg of our trip was Pristina, mostly because it was the cheapest flight in the region back to Germany at 20 euros with easyjet, but it’s also really interesting to see these places since things change and develop so fast. There wasn’t really must to see in the city, but it’s such a young city and country that not much is really developed for tourism yet. Recently a couple of hostels have opened up, so it’s great that cheap travellers have a couple of options other than the hotels built for diplomats and foreign workers. We only spent a day here, but it was enough to get a feel for the city, and long enough for me.

The city is pretty poorly connected, and like Sarajevo really the only way in or out is by airplane or bus. There are a couple of trains that come to the city from Skopje in Macedonia and Belgrade, but other than that it’s pretty much only long bus rides. We arrived on an overnight bus from Sarajevo, although it was a little less comfy than our overnight bus trip in Turkey. The overnight buses really aren’t as bad as I was expecting, but if you can help it I guess it’s better to avoid them. Sometimes, and often in the Balkans, it’s the only option. I guess nobody's really that eager to cooperate and (re-)build international train connections. We had a hard time finding our hostel, and once we checked in it took a while to get a key, but eventually we made it out of the hostel and went into the city.

There’s not a whole lot to see for attractions, but the city is still really interesting. There’s a statue and a 3 story portrait of Bill Clinton, and one of the main streets in the city is named after him, for his role in helping Kosovo gain independence. There’s also a huge UN and foreign military presence, who are there monitoring things for now. It was different seeing UN and EULEX tanks and trucks driving around. There were even quite a few German and Swiss soldiers on our flight who were on a Kosovo monitoring mission in the region.

The city was pretty brown, and most of the roads are in pretty rough shape. There are metal bars sticking up out of the pavement, and open manholes to watch out for. I guess the thing to do is just get a coffee and watch the people go by. We spent our time wandering around and drinking coffee, and in the end it was definitely a city worth seeing. It’s always interesting to see how a new country can start from nothing and work toward making it on it’s own.

Posted by kmclean 02:40 Archived in Kosovo Tagged balkans kosovo pristina Comments (1)

Mostar

Another amazing city in this country

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We took a day trip to Mostar from Sarajevo while we were there, it turned out to be a really great city. There’s a train twice a day which we used to get there and the ride was beautiful, going through and around mountains and valleys. There’s bus service every few hours between Sarajevo and Mostar, which made it easy for us to get back. It felt like one day was enough time to see it since it’s not very big. The main thing to see is the old town, and of course the Old Bridge. The old city has been mostly restored since the war, but Mostar was one of the most badly damaged cities, and it shows. Walking through the newer part of the city is really heavy. There’s almost literally one building still in ruins for every building that’s been restored. The damage is everywhere, and since it hasn’t really been cleaned up you can really see how brutal the war must have been.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has tons of mountains, which makes it really beautiful during times of peace, the locals say, but during wartime it’s a curse because the cities are so vulnerable. Mostar, like Sarajevo, is surrounded by mountains with a river running through the city. Right now it makes for a beautiful landscape, but during the war the enemy armies occupied the mountains and could easily terrorize the defenseless city from above. The coldest, harshest part of the war in Mostar was the destruction of the old bridge, which had been standing since 1566, built by the Ottomans. It wasn’t collateral damage – it took over one week of deliberate attacks on the bridge before it fell, and for the people of Herzegovina, it was just once more slap in the face, one more monument gone, and one more piece of their heritage destroyed.

If you’re ever in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is definitely worth a visit. It’s easily doable as a daytrip from Sarajevo, but it’s also a good stop-over on the way to Montenegro or Croatia – I wish we'd had enough time to keep going on to Dubrovnik! It’s a beautiful city, but still very raw. It’s better than Sarajevo if you really want to see what the war was like, but that makes it a less happy place to spend a lot of time. It’s amazing to see how people have moved on, though, and how they're working every day to get back on their feet.

Posted by kmclean 02:36 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged mostar bosnia_and_herzegovina Comments (0)

Sarajevo

An amazing city with a tragic but beautiful history.

sunny 4 °C
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This was another amazing city. We made it later than expected after a little confusion at the airport in Istanbul, but we ended up still having enough time to see everything we wanted to. It’s such a beautiful city with a really interesting although tragic history, but the people are resilient. Istanbul was really interesting and has a long and dynamic history, but Sarajevo really felt like an “East meets West” city, more so than Istanbul. There was one district in Istanbul that felt very European, but other than that the culture was totally different, I guess more “Asian”, or Middle-Eastern. Sarajevo really is in Europe and is very European, but having been under Ottoman rule for about 400 years there are lot of really strong, obvious Turkish influences. It’s most noticeable in the food, but the cafés and covered markets are also not very European at all. We got a tour of the city as always, saw some museums, and spent some time just wandering around.

Our first day in the city we got a tour from a student named Neno. He does the walking tours on his own, through no tourism company, and for free, but he’s still the #1 thing to do in Sarajevo. The tour was great, and we learned a lot about the city. My favourite part about travelling is meeting people who had lived through all the things we can only learn about. He was 7 when the war in Bosnia started, and it lasted for 4 years. He’s proud of his country and he loves his city, and even though he’s multilingual and has a Master’s degree, and unemployment among people his age is at almost 50% he won’t leave the country because he wants to stay and see and help it improve. We met a couple of other people in Bosnia who had the same attitude, it’s really inspiring. They never gave up on the city or the country and they’re still not ready to.

It was also really interesting talking to some people about the former Socialist era. In most, well all, former communist countries we’ve been to the people still aren’t satisfied with their governments, but they generally agree that it’s better now than it was. Nobody in East Germany, Hungary, or the Czech Republic we spoke to wished their communist regimes never fell, as broken and corrupt as some of their governments are today. Almost everyone in Bosnia we talked to, though, misses Yugoslavia. Not all of them want it back, but no one talks about it as a horrible time to have been alive, or a brutal regime. It kind of makes sense from their point of view. Tito’s rule was definitely a totalitarian socialist regime, but it was still a lot less violent and oppressive than the regimes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or the GDR. Also, Tito’s army of the southern Slavs liberated themselves from Nazi rule in 1945, as opposed to most other Eastern European countries, which were liberated by the Soviets, so there was no pressure on Yugoslavia to be friendly with the USSR. As far as Eastern bloc countries went, Yugoslavia was neutral, cooperating on both sides of the cold war. Most of the most brutal violence, and the incidents that made people hate their communist regimes in Eastern Europe, was actually coming from the Soviets, not the local governments. There were Soviet tanks in Budapest until the collapse of the USSR. In Yugoslavia, though, there was housing, there were jobs, and most of all there was peace. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia there hasn’t really been any period of lasting peace in the region, and unemployment is brutally high. Even the agreement that ended the Bosnian war of the 1990s, creating a federation with a Bosnian/Herzegovinian province and a Serb republic is precarious and disliked by most people in the country. It ended the violence, but for the people it’s not a reasonable long-term solution.

The history and politics is really interesting in this country, but the city itself is beautiful. Sarajevo’s in a Valley, so it’s long and narrow. Walking from one end the other is kind of like taking a walk through history, and you can never get lost, because like our tour guide said, if you start walking uphill you’re going the wrong way. At the far end you can start in the Ottoman district, which has tons of little wooden shops, narrow streets, mosques, and even a Bazaar and Hamam (which is no longer in use). It felt just like being in Turkey all over again with all the carpet shops and cafés. The next few blocks are full of very European-looking buildings built by the Austrians during the Austro-Hungarian rule of the city, which lasted only 40 years. They were also the ones who brought trams and electricity to the city. If you keep walking you get to the new part of town, which has tons of the typical mass-housing units and concrete towers from the socialist time. Beyond that is a totally modern city, with glass skyscrapers and shopping centres. It’s really neat to walk from one end to the other and see the development of the city through the years.

It was really heavy being in Sarajevo, seeing all the damage that has yet to be repaired, but it was great to be able to have seen it now since it might have completely changed in another 20 or 30 years. I would definitely recommend this city to see what it was like for Europeans under Ottoman rule, and then to see how a mostly Turkish population made out in a massive European dynasty. It’s got great food, friendly people, a fascinating history, museums, cafés, and parks, it really is the perfect place for a European city getaway.

Posted by kmclean 02:31 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged sarajevo bosnia_and_herzegovina Comments (0)

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