Monday, November 28, 2011

Daegu Nallari!

A couple of us went to Daegu (in central Korea) for a weekend. It was a blast. Went to a couple of clubs, saw the beautiful Haeinsa temple, enjoyed an amazing market and made this music video. Hope you enjoy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eye trouble in Seoul

Last Wednesday I was sitting at my computer when I noticed my left eye seemed a little dimmer than my right. I could see out of it fine, but everything was a little darker, as if you had turned the lights slightly down in the room. I decided to sleep it off, but on Friday, my vision was still somewhat off kilter.
Back in the mid 1990s, I had a similar problem. The vision in my right eye rapidly changed from normal to practically blind. I remember seeing a bunch of eye doctors, test after test, a day off of school to get an MRI and my mom fretting over the possibility that I might have MS. It turned out to be optic neuritis with an unknown trigger, perhaps viral in origin.
Fifteen years later and I am in the same situation. I headed to an ophthalmologist on Friday and had a bunch of tests done, but nothing showed up. They recommended that I go to the emergency room, so I headed over to Seoul National University Hospital (which is apparently the second best in the country). The emergency room was freaky; a lot of people in the waiting room were on drips and stretcher after stretcher passed with people in a much more severe situation than me. When I finally was admitted, I was asked questions while surrounded by people that looked like they were dying. Although everything was efficient, there was no sense of personal space. Quite different than the United States.
At about 1 am, I was able to see an eye specialist. She was really young, and must have just been a resident. She didn't speak much English, so I struggled to convey my past medical history and current condition in Korean. After doing the same tests that the doctor did in the ophthalmologist, she told me to come back the next day.
Saturday morning, I get up and head back to SNUH. As there is an international clinic, a translator was available to help me. Luckily, the doctor spoke fluent English, but was not able to be 100% sure on what was going on with my eye. After about ten more tests (with all of these eye machines I had never seen before in my life) he told me that it was plausible that I had a posterior optic neuritis, but without an MRI he couldn't be sure. I have health insurance, but the MRI is super expensive. We talked it out, and decided that I should give my eye some time to rest and if it gets worse, to come back to the clinic.
On one hand, I was really impressed by the Korean system. Everything was really efficient and computer based, so once they did an eye test, they could send me quickly to the next room for another test. When I was finished with all of these tests, I met with the doctor who analyzed the results and informed me of what he was seeing. It also was cheap; ten dollars for the initial ophthalmologist, seventy dollars for the emergency room, and then thirty dollars for the visit to the specialist on Saturday.
Then again, it seems like the insurance is only really helpful for primary care. While basic services are practically free, the MRI would be around eight hundred dollars and, apparently, the insurance stops covering you if you have any really serious illness (like cancer). People buy secondary insurance to pay for these costs, but it seems like something that should be part of the national health care plan when the highest cause of death in Korea is stomach cancer.
If you need to get sick in Korea, try not to get too sick. There are plenty of services for English speakers as well, especially in Seoul, but don't expect to receive these services unless you have an appointment and go during normal hours.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wanna see my neighborhood?

Seoul street view is amazing. This site is in Korean, but you can easily explore my neighborhood. When you open the link, you should see my apartment building right in front of you. I live on the 15th story.

My Apartment and Neighborhood!


God, I love Korea.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chuseok in Seoul

Korean Thanksgiving, Chuseok, was early this year so after two weeks of work, all the English teachers already had a five-day weekend. Since all of the Koreans tend to flee the city to go to their hometowns (resulting in HUGE traffic jams) I decided to stay in the city. Nothing too exciting happened, but I did go to a potluck dinner with some new friends.
  
BH and Katrina
The best part of the weekend, however, was a boat cruise down the Han River. Back in August, I signed up for a sweepstakes to promote tourism in Korea through the Seoul Convention Bureau. Free lunch for four followed by an hour cruise. Lunch was fantastic. First, we had sliced raw tuna for an appetizer and it was followed by a Japanese style steak mixed rice. Delicious. Dessert was a vanilla pudding with mango foam. I ate the dessert so fast I didn't even manage a picture. Normally, this lunch would cost 25,000 won, but we got to enjoy it for free!

   
Delicious... but I think BH could reproduce it easily in the kitchen
 After lunch, we boarded the boat. The whole package was a gift from the Seoul Marina. I think it would normally cost 120,000 won for 8 people, which really isn't that expensive. Our driver, for some unknown reason, really wanted to throw us from the ship. We all managed to stay on, but at one point I was pretty sure BH was going to slide into the water. The cruise was quite relaxing, and a good way to see the city from another angle.
Dangerous...

Half of our trips were mouth wide open.

Yeoido in the background
Of course, a day in Korea is never complete without more food. We headed to Sindang for the best ddeokbokki (Korean spicy rice cake) in town. The food in Sindang is not only cheap but delicious; before I had tried their ddeokbokki, I had never been a fan. Now, I crave it. Plus, aprons make people look so cute.
Too cute

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seoul!

I'm back in the city I love! It has been a year since I lived here, and I'm so excited to be back! While I was living in Gangnam back in 2009, I've moved up north to Suyu station (which apparently means breast milk). Although I was a little concerned to be up north, it turns out my subway station is amazing, with a fantastic neon street and a market that boggles my mind with its mounds of fresh and vegetables, heaps of fermented projects, and all the fresh fish I could ever want.
My first month here has been a little slow because I am real low on money. I have had some chances to go out to eat though and enjoy the amazingness that is Korean cuisine. As soon as the paychecks come rolling in, I'll hopefully start a new blog on Korean food because it really is oh so delicious.
Until then!
Loving Suyu Station!


Friday, August 12, 2011

Long walk down the European shore

After finally getting my visa to teach in Korea (after 6 months!) BH and I took a long walk in Istanbul. We started out at Boğaziçi Üniversitesi and made our way down to Bebek, which is south of the second bridge spanning the Bosphorus. The houses on the waterfront were gorgeous and we continued walking for some two hours before getting to Ortakoy and then Beskitas to get back to Asia and Katy's apartment. A long journey but worth it!
Bogazici University

Mansion in Bebek


These mansions in Arnavutkoy were gorgeous. The ones on the right were on this tiny island surrounded by a highway on both sides, yet still had an envious position on the waterfront.

What a huge ship!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Princes' Islands: Heybeliada

Katy recommended Heybeliada as the best of the Princes' Islands and I have to agree it was beautiful. One problem: I hate paying for beaches. The cheapest one was 10 lira, but it was gross. I ended up not going swimming, but just wandered around the island.
Anna would have loved these horse-drawn carriages



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bostancı

One of the main side streets lined with restaurants and bars
Bostanci is one of the nicer areas in Istanbul. Located on the Asian side, I would say it is kind of like the Kangnam of Istanbul; although there are nice shops, restaurants and coffee shops, there really isn't that much cultural capital. Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time mostly because some of our new Turkish friends.

Everyone with their iPhones near the coast
As I mentioned before, it is Ramadan right now in Istanbul, and although it doesn't look like it has effected the life of the city very much, there are Turks who are fasting during the daylight hours. Out of the eight new friends we met, only one was abstaining from fasting. While BH and I were snacking throughout the day, our friends couldn't even have a glass of water! I felt a little guilty, but it was hot! Around 7 pm, we headed over to a restaurant so everyone could break their fast when the sun set. We ended up at Pizza Hut because they had a ten lira all you can eat pizza buffet with free tea, soup, and dessert. We were there maybe a half an hour before it was time to eat, so our friends grabbed food and had everything ready for the opportune moment. Finally it was time to eat! The buffet line was swamped as every person observing Ramadan rushed to get more food. The pizza was not very great, but I love pizza so I might have eaten just as much as our friends who hadn't eaten since five in the morning. Even though BH and I were not fasting, it was still great to see a glimpse of this interesting holiday.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lost in Kağıthane

On Friday morning, I took the Metro Bus (first time!) from Kadikoy to Perpa in order to apply for my E-2 Visa to teach English in Korea. After filling out some paperwork, I had plenty of time left in the day to do some exploring. Walking away from the sun, I figured I was heading westward toward my eventual goal; once I got to the Bosphorus I could take a ferry back to Asia. (Un)fortunately, I got very lost in the huge district of Kagithane.
A neighborhood in Kagithane
From no vantage point could I see the water and I couldn't really figure out my cardinal directions. I knew it was going to be a long walk, Istanbul is a gigantic city, but I figured I'd be able to find my way. Instead, I spent two or three hours walking around in a huge spiral looking for signs that would lead me to a part of the city I actually knew. At one point, I stopped for a drink. I love how different countries have very similar products, but with slightly different names. I don't know if Le' Cola is a French product or what, but the green soda that I chose tasted a lot like cream soda. With my can of Fer Gazoza in one hand and a delicious doner kebab in the other, I hoped I would have enough energy to continue hiking up and down these hills searching for the sea, but I slowly became more and more worried. What if I was walking in the wrong direction? The sun was around noon, so I couldn't positively know if I was going east or west. Kagithane is definitely not a tourist destination, so I didn't expect anyone to speak English and the only thing I can do in Turkish is ask for two beers. I was starting to freak out when I finally spotted a minibus that said 'Metro Bus'. After deciphering which bus would bring me to the Metro Bus and not closer to Bulgaria, I paid a lira and a half for a 'seat' on the minibus. Katy warned me about these minibuses and I see why; in a vehicle the size of a minivan, twenty-five or thirty people were packed in. Even though the driver couldn't shut the door, he would stop and pick up some more commuters. The dolmus are comfortable and convenient, the minibus has neither of these features. I was just excited to get back on the Metro Bus and back to Katy's apartment.
Kagithane is pretty residential: broken down cars and kids doing laundry


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fenerbahçe, Istanbul

BH and I decided to make a trip to Uskudar, but on our walk from Katy's apartment to Kadikoy, we got a little befuddled. You'd think it would be easy to find the coast (it is quite clear from the apartment!) but we kept choosing the wrong rights and making erroneous lefts. We did end up, however, in a very nice neighborhood. Fenerbahce is the home to one of Istanbul's most popular sports club and is right next to the Sea of Marmara. Pride is displayed with all of the navy/yellow striped flags with an oak leaf in the center. The colors reminded me of polo shirts, and the neighborhood had almost a New England feel. When I saw the nice houses throughout the neighborhood and interesting looking restaurants, I decided we had to explore Fenerbahce and leave Uskudar for another day. One restaurant near the marina, the Bow Bells, had a particularly east coast feel. We stopped in for a beer— 10 TL for an Efes— and browsed the menu. I swear, they took this menu straight out of Maine! Other than lobster, I felt like this could be any seaside restaurant in the US. Delicious.
After our beer, we wandered around the beer. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and there was hardly a person on the hundreds of docked boats. The harbor wind whistled through the ships, blowing at bells that owners had set up next to their Turkish flags. It was the first time I have ever felt melancholic in Istanbul and I immediately thought of writer Orhan Pamuk. In his tribute to this city, Istanbul: Memories and the City, he used the word melancholy on every page. I had never thought that Istanbul had this feel to it, but I stumbled upon this moment next to the marina where I connected to his experience of Istanbul as a place of melancholy. I think this candid reflects that feeling.


American TESOL Institute Review

My friend, Katy, did a review of ATI Special Thailand project, and I thought I should do the same. There is not enough substantial information on the website, so I think it is important for would-be teachers to know what they are getting into.
Truthfully, I don't know why I did the program. The information on the website, at least back in 2009, makes it look like a scam, and I was really worried when I arrived at the airport that this was an elaborate scheme to get my organs or sell me into sex slavery. Luckily, though, this program is legitimate.
My program started with being certified as an English teacher in Chiang Mai and then placed me in a Korean public school. The organization was pretty poor; I would wait for e-mails, and then all of a sudden three different people (one from ATI, one from Thailand, and one from Korea) would be hounding me on all these documents that they needed, which they only now told me about. By the time I got to Thailand, I still didn't have a visa for Korea and wasn't sure if I was going to get a job. Luckily, I eventually got my interview for Korea, sent in my documents and got my visa the Friday before flying to Seoul... that's a different story.
For now, I want to focus on the ATI classes. Everyday, we would have lessons on pedagogy, classroom management, grammar, or language acquisition. While these were interesting, three weeks probably didn't give us enough time to be truly comfortable in a classroom. That said, learning pedagogy for four years also doesn't prepare someone for the mania of thirty-five young Koreans in a small English classroom.
There were some aspects, however, that were truly helpful. We had some useful practice in lesson planning, without which I would have been lost in the classroom. The first day we had to sit through Thai language acquisition completely in the Thai language; by being forced to learn as our students would learn, we were able to grasp the importance of word choice and repetition. Finally, we went to actual Thai classes and taught lessons two or three times. This practice gave me confidence for my first classes in Korea and gave us the chance to meet some adorable Thai students.
The one problem with the Thai-Korea special project was preparing us for Korea. While it was fun to draw pictures of elephants and superman to use as classroom aids, I never did that while teaching abroad in Seoul. In Thailand, you use chalkboards and whatever aids you can draw yourself. In Korea, this was definitely not the case. My classroom had projectors, computers for the students and white boards, and I usually used powerpoint to teach; the ATI program did not prepare us for a technology-rich classrooms. Also, while we learned about Thai culture and its effect on the classroom, we didn't learn anything about what our life was going to be like when we moved to Korea.
Overall, I had a positive experience. I met some AMAZING friends, who continued to be my friends when we moved on to Korea. I ate a ton of cheap and delicious pad thai. I got over some of my pre-teaching jitters by practicing on some Thai students. I got my TESOL degree, which increased my salary in Korea. When my friends ask for information about teaching abroad, I usually recommend this course. It is a great way to see two countries and a great way to get your TESOL certificate. Just don't expect the classes themselves to make you a great teacher. That takes times and experience.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kadıköy

Since BH and I will be in Istanbul for around twenty days, we have decided that everyday we are going to try to explore a different neighborhood in this huge city. While a lot of tourists only see Sultanahmet, and maybe Taksim, we have so much time and a nice list of places we want to see. Kadikoy was a very easy destination. From Katy's house, it is only a ten-minute dolmus, shared taxi, but most people would be getting to Kadikoy from the European port of Eminonu. 
The must-eat at Kadikoy is balik ekmek. These fish sandwiches are amazing, and you can buy one for three or four Turkish lira. Simple to make, they are extra tasty with the added spice of the pickled peppers. As Rachel Ray would say, 'yummo!' Not far from the port is a semi-pedestrian zone with fish and vegetable markets, clothes shopping, coffee shops with nargile and backgammon, and an entire street devoted to wedding dresses. While it lacks the beauty and architectural grandness of some of the other areas we have visited in Istanbul, it feels more real. Sultanahmet is teeming with tourists, but most of the people in Kadikoy were Turks enjoying their Sundays. The waterfront is also a great place to just sit, relax, and watch the sunset over the European side of Istanbul. In one of the Kadikoy grocery stores, they had Ramadan packets. Starting today, some Istanbullers will be fasting while the sun is up for the next 29 days. For the busy ones, though, they can buy these packets to save some time in the evening. Pretty cool.


Our last stop in Kadikoy was the fish market. We wanted some mackerel to make our own balik ekmek, and we were able to get two fish for five lira. After the man behind the counter cleaned the fish, he threw it to the salesman.

Don't worry, he caught the fish
When we got back to Katy's apartment, this time on foot, we were ravenous. BH cooked up the mackerel, we placed it on a french loaf, and then added lettuce, tomato, raw onion, pickled hot peppers, and lemon juice. So good.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pink Palace

Pink boozey summer camp
Our original plan was to camp on the Greek Island of Corfu. When staying in Berat, however, we heard that the Pink Palace was an awesome hostel in Corfu and the place to be. We looked at the website, and sure enough, it looked great. Free breakfast and dinner, free pickup, and activities most days of the week. In Sarande, we ran into some guys who were just at the Palace and they had some horror stories; they described it almost like a drunken prison. We were worried that the place was going to be really isolated, and that we could only leave the hostel at the once-a-day six in the morning bus. In actuality, it was really cool. Aside from the mess hall.
Upon arrival, they gave us shots of uzo and then ushered us to dinner. Saturday night is toga night, so we dressed up. With a six-hour long happy hour, we ended up getting a little tipsy, and when combined with all the plates that were smashed on our heads (it was Greek night) we woke up pretty hungover. We'll be at the Pink Palace for three nights, but I can see how people end up staying longer.



Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sarande and Butrint National Park

We got on the three o'clock bus to Sarande and six hours later arrived to the coastal town. In Western Europe, this drive would have maybe taken two hours, but the roads were bad, and the driver never drove over 30 mph. Our view from the Hairy Lemon hostel, however, were fantastic.
You can see Corfu Island in the distance
Sarande is not a very beautiful city, and is just full of half-finished hotels. Development of the Ionian coast is huge right now, but Katy pointed out that only a few buildings were actually being actively constructed. Projects seemed to have started, but didn't look like they would be finished anytime soon. What can you do with a bunch of skeletal buildings? Although Sarande wasn't beautiful, it is a great point to reach Butrint National Park. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint was first a Greek and later Roman city. Exploring the old ruins was fascinating, especially the 6th century baptistery.

 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Berat, Albania

Berat was a great stop after disappointing Tirana. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Berat's old town is charming, with rows of houses built on a steep incline looking over the river Osum.
The town of a thousand windows
Even though it was hot, BH and I climbed up the hills on both side of the city. One gave us a good view of the town, while the other side had the Berat castle. The fortress, rebuilt in the 6th century, has been damaged mightily throughout the years, but still had some interesting sights—especially the churches. Definitely not the cistern though... I'm pretty sure it was full of rats.

The most interesting part of our day, however, had to be the xhiro. Every evening, Albanians dress up and hit the streets at around 7:30. They then walk up and down the main promenade. I'm not certain what the reason is, but one other traveler told me it started under Hoxha, when there was a curfew in Albania. Before the sun went down, people went out to meet, chat, socialize, what have you. If this happened once a week, it might not be that exciting. But when the whole town comes out to do their evening stroll every evening, well, that is pretty cool.
video

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting off the beaten path in Tirana


While we have been seeing a LOT of tourists so far, it seems that nobody but the most seasoned of travelers head on to Albania. The second-poorest country in Europe, after Moldova, is not well connected to Montenegro. In order to get from Budva to Tirana, a person would need to take a bus to Bar, transfer to Ulcinj, take a twice-daily bus to Shkodra and then transfer again to Albania. Yikes. In order to save time and sanity, we did a second tour organized by the Hotel Montegro and got a mini-bus to take us to Tirana with a stop in Stari Bar and a quick photo of the oldest olive tree in Europe (scraping the bottom of the tourist bowl, don’t you think?)
Something like 2000 years old

Our first driver dropped us off in Shkodra, which is the old Albanian capital and definite border town. The atmosphere in Albania immediately felt different: dusty streets, grand mosques, crazy traffic, and guys picking at their belly buttons Chinese style. Our driver than passed us on to a new guy to make the last leg to our hostel in Tirana for ten euro a person. Not too shabby!
Cevapcici!
We stayed at a nice hostel near the center and spent the first evening just relaxing and chatting with other travelers. While a lot of people in Croatia were traveling for two or three weeks, the people we met in Tirana were all on gap-years or around the world trips. It was exciting to hear their stories and wonder if I could do the same myself- after two weeks of traveling, I tend to get homesick. I like living abroad, but I don't know how much I like nonstop traveling. Dinner was a disappointment. We were told to go to this traditional restaurant, but they definitely microwaved all of our food. At least it was cheap. If you are in Tirana, definitely stick to the street food. Roasted chickens, sausages, fresh bread. Mmmm... We got cevapcici the next day for lunch. How can you not like hot bbq, with fresh bread and raw onions? Did I mention it was only a dollar a portion?
Tirana was kind of a disappointment. It was a big city, with a lot of blocs. Unlike other architecturally unfortunate cities, Tirana decided to do something and painted many of the buildings with bright colors and interesting designs. However, there still wasn't much to do. We went to the art museum, walked around the fashion district, drank coffee, and saw the hideous pyramid. This building was originally a mausoleum for Enver Hoxha, who was the dictator in the late 20th century. Designed by his daughter and son-in-law, it is a real eyesore. 
Gross gross gross
Ugly building rebooted!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Budva, Montenegro: a mini-Dubrovnik exploding with development


Our third night in Montenegro was spent thirty kilometers south of Kotor in Budva. When compared to the charm of Kotor, Budva was not very pleasant. New hotels were springing up everywhere, and at night the city looked like a casino. Nevertheless, the old town is quaint and the beachfront is quite impressive. In the afternoon, we took a twenty-euro water taxi to explore Sveti Stefan some more, which is about ten kilometers south of Budva. We were planning on hitting up the beach at the resort, but it had an entrance fee of fifty euros! Even more surprisin, there were actually people that had paid. I guess when you are really rich it’s worth it to be on the most picturesque beach in Montenegro. As we walked back north toward Budva, the beaches became more and more plebian. Restaurants transformed from having marble-columned pillars with grape vines to having lawn chairs and canned beer. Hilarious.
We finally stopped at one of the middle-class beaches and got in for a swim. The geological features of the beach were beautiful, with slate cliffs dipping into the water. BH has becoming a better and better swimmer, and even jumped from a low cliff into the water. Unfortunately, he also stepped on a sea urchin. Ouch!
Water taxi to Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan

Chilling on the beach

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Big Montenegro Tour Review


Our hostel, Montenegro Hostel: Kotor, arranged a huge tour around the country for those who didn’t have many days in Montenegro. Since we fit the criteria, BH and I decided to do the tour while Katy and her friend Melissa went whitewater rafting. For just 35 euro, the hostel takes you to some of the main sites in Montenegro, fills you in on the history, and leaves plenty of opportunities for some stunning pictures.
The tour started with some more jaw-dropping views over Kotor’s fjord, a breakfast of Montenegrin style ham and goat cheese, and then a tour of Lovcen Mausoleum.  Prince Bishop Petrovic-Njegos is interned here-he was a poet king who transformed Montenegro from a theocracy to a secular state. Visit to the mausoleum is apparently a must for Montenegrins, and the view at the top is worth the 500 stairs.




Our next stop was Cetinje, which is the old capital of Montenegro. In the heat of noon in mid-July, we decided to just sip on some ice coffee and soak in the town’s atmosphere—faded glory, quaint houses, and distant mountains.
We jumped back in our car and drove through twisting mountains through the interior. Although our driver was obviously experienced, it was still hard to not be nervous as he made hairpin turns on one-lane roads with long drops to our right. We finally arrived to Rijeka Crnojevica, a tiny village with a beautiful bridge spanning its small river.  I got a picture with Val after she tried shoving me into the river. For a sixty-year old, she has got a lot of energy!
Oh Val...

To stay on schedule, we needed to get back in the car and make our way further north. The twisty roads brought us to an overlook of Tara river that looked like something you would see in China, not Europe. With lily pads crowding both banks, idling away hours on a river cruise sounded like a great idea.

Unfortunately, our Big Montenegro Tour had no time for breaks! We snapped our pictures and got back in the car. For the next hour, I was able to have a very nice conversation with our driver, who was very levelheaded, open-minded and willing to discuss the recent history in southeastern Europe. He helped clear up some of the questions I had about the Bosnian story and was willing to expose his own beliefs, prejudices and hopes.  Unfortunately, this was followed by the most disappointing part of our tour: lunch. My fish soup was watery and BH’s sea bass was not very fresh. Luckily, lunch was quickly put out of mind when we visited my favorite destination of the day: Ostrog Monastery. Built in 1665 by Saint Vasilije Jovanovic, the monastery acted as a symbol of defiance under the Ottoman rule. The monastery is built in the side of the mountain, and legend has it that Jovanovic climbed up to the site to work on the monastery every day— barefoot. His bones are still displayed as relics in the monastery, and BH was blessed by a priest as he peered at the holy remains. 
Next on the list was Lake Skadar, which is the largest lake in the Balkans. If we had more time, it could have been nice to rent a boat, but we zipped out as the sun was setting and arrived at our last destination, Sveti Stefan, with barely enough light to take pictures. Once a fishing village, a smart investor transformed it into a resort. Apparently, it was very famous in the 1980s, but it lost its appeal with the collapse of Yugoslavia. It looks like its popularity may be coming back with recent development projects and the regrowth of the tourism business in Montenegro.
I haven’t been on an organized tour in ages, but this tour was great. We only had three nights in Montenegro, and this gave us the chance to see a lot of the small country without having to schedule buses or spending money on a ton of guest houses. About half of the thirteen hours were spent in the car, but I would recommend it as an option for those in Montenegro without the luxury to explore the country slowly. Just make sure your guide speaks English! While our car was full of jokes, history, and insight, apparently, the second car’s driver never spoke and the passengers lacked the enthusiasm of our car. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kotor: the must see in Montenegro


Our first stop in the tiny country of Montenegro was Kotor. Located right in the largest (false) fjord in southern Europe, the old town was idyllic. Narrow streets, stonewalls, and pedestrian area zones: what’s not to like? After checking into our hotel, BH and I made our way up the fortress the looks out onto the triangular old town. The views during the climb were remarkable, but so was the amount we sweated. Although we were climbing in the evening, the sun was still pounding on our backs as we made our way past the old church. At this point, we were only a third of the way up yet had probably lost a couple of kilograms of water weight.
Continuing up our climb, many people encouraged us / warned us that there would not be any water at the top. Luckily we had brought a couple of water bottles. We finally reached the top, but were panting like crazy. We have been carrying around these backpacks for three weeks­— you’d think by now we’d be in better shape. The ascent was worth it though. From the top of the fortress, you could see all of the old town, the fjords, and the mountains to the east. Beautiful. I was really excited to see fjords for the first time in my life, but apparently they were not made glacially so they don’t fill all the criteria. As you can see, that doesn’t take away any of their natural beauty. 
Seriously, at least two pounds of sweat

Labyrinthine stairs

Magnificent Kotor