A Three Hour Tour of Herzegovina’s Finest

I have to be honest with this one.  I did no work to plan what we’d see and not see while in Herzegovina.  The Bosnian portion of our Serbia/Bosnia trip in this past December was a fairly standard itinerary: into Sarajevo, then Mostar, and back to Sarajevo again.  In Mostar we hung around the Old Bridge, and did our best to fend off rather forceful drinking invitations from the sole two patrons of our hotel bar.  Peer pressure doesn’t always work (except when it does).december-balkans-1235jpg_24221982231_odecember-balkans-1141jpg_24304434975_o

It was New Years Eve, and we’d had an absolutely magical day in Mostar – we went to bed before midnight (as we had done in Tbilisi, Georgia a year prior), as we were to wake up early (in Bosnian standards, anyway) to see some key sights around Herzegovina the next day. Read more

Finding Vann Molyvann in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As I’ve stated before, our trip to Southeast Asia was a rather serendipitous one.  I’ve been rather singularly focused in the past 18 months on making my way through the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet nations, and had been hoping to spend this Memorial Day in the Ukraine, but luck brought us to Southeast Asia instead.  While planning our time in Southeast Asia, I struggled to find the happy medium between a total relaxing hedonistic vacation and finding meaningful cultural activities relevant to my interests.

What primarily interested me about Southeast Asia.
What primarily interested me about Southeast Asia.
Enter Phnom Penh.  Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, was where we started our trip, and to say it impressed us would be an understatement. It’s safe to say that if I were to create a pie chart of subject matter on this blog, modernist architecture would make up the lion’s share of it.  And despite knowing that Phnom Penh had been a jewel of French Indochina, I was not expecting it to be replete with amazing, funky, and downright jaw-dropping modern architecture.

DSC_0487 DSC_0466 (2) DSC_0404 DSC_0454 (2)

Between World War 2 and the Cambodian Civil War,  a man named Vann Molyvann founded the New Khmer style of architecture, and created the preeminent architecture style of the new Kingdom of Cambodia (1953-1970).  His buildings blended Modernist style and materials with traditional Khmer architectural elements to create startlingly beautiful structures all over the nation.  For more info on the style and his work, visit the Vann Molyvann Project site. Read more

My Favorite Ugly Building: The National Library of Kosovo

I’ll be honest, we ended up in Kosovo on a technicality.  When I spontaneously switched jobs last fall and decided to take an impromptu trip through the south Balkans, we were thinking primarily of Buzludzha.  We tacked on Macedonia to Bulgaria for Skopje’s space age Brutalist masterpieces and the relatively undiscovered Lake Ohrid.  We only ended up in Kosovo because it was cheaper to fly into Pristina than it was to fly into Skopje.pristina-29

But boy were we glad we did.  We spent three days there, between Pristina, Pec, and Prizren, and while we loved the latter two towns, Pristina (bad weather and all) was the Kosovar city to really win us over. Read more

The Subotica Synagogue: A Troubled Past in Technicolor

The places that David and I frequent when we travel generally fall into two categories.  The first of places we’ve seen, researched, geeked out over, and fallen into rabbit holes about for months (or years!) leading up to our departure.  Places like Buzludzha, the Hara Submarine Pen, Gergeti Sameba Church in Kazbegi, and Gozo’s Azure Window fall into this category.  The other category is a rarer breed – the kind of place that takes you by surprise.  The type of place that you see on a whim, without expectations or prior biases. 

december-balkans-219jpg_23929763689_o The old Subotica Synagogue is this latter, more elusive type of place. Read more

Obsessed with Buzludzha, the Remains of Bulgaria’s Communist Past

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but have put it off because I’m not quite sure how to unpack my feelings about Buzludzha.  Have you ever seen pictures of a place, and become so captivated by it that you are compelled to see it in person?  Even if, when you are first exposed to that single image, you have no idea where that place is?  And, when you follow clues and finally discover where it is, its remoteness doesn’t deter you, or even compels you further into obsession?  The first time I can remember this happening to me was with Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkhorin, Mongolia when I was maybe 13 years old – when I visited at 28 it was somewhat of a watershed travel moment.  It’s happened a limited number of times since – Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Japan, the Rossiya Cinema Complex in Yerevan, Armenia, and Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia come to mind.

Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia

And then I became so obsessively captivated by Buzludzha – several years ago, while I was taking a relative travel hiatus. And it was more severe than I had ever experienced before. Read more

Balkans, Baltics, and Caucasus, Oh My! 2015 in Review

So I know that the time for year in review posts has come and long gone, but, like your hoarder neighbors who leave the Christmas wreath up until Spring, I too have put off this seminal blogging event.  Blah blah, working 50-60 hours a week, I won’t give you excuses so you don’t have to read them.  Instead, let me jump right into a recap of what became my most eventful year in travel ever.

Tbilisians are not afraid of a little color.
Tbilisi, Georgia
Exploring Tbilisi in Winter allowed us to avoid the tourist hordes.
Tbilisi, Georgia

Read more

Abandoned in Herzegovina: Urbex in Mostar’s Sniper Den

The Eastern Bloc is great for folks interested in urban exploration (see also here and here).  As luck would have it (luck may be a bad word for it), the combination of poor economic conditions, relatively recent political turmoil, and communist history make for a wealth of abandoned, decaying structures that hold part of the key to understanding the rich, troubled history of the region.  december-balkans-1016jpg_24215660831_odecember-balkans-1111jpg_24008820190_o

Nowhere is the region’s troubled history more visible than in Mostar, the crown jewel of Herzegovina.  And, as it happens, there’s great urban exploration opportunities in the city as well. Read more

Exploring with Locals in Subotica, Serbia

I think it’s common knowledge that the quickest and easiest way to get to know a place is with someone who lives there and knows its ins and outs.  It cuts down on the learning curve, which can be especially difficult in places off the beaten path – like some parts of Serbia that aren’t as frequented by tourists, especially in the winter months.  So when I was doing my manic googling (as I do before any trip), I was very excited to come across the Subotica Greeters Program – a program that enables tourists in the Vojvodina city to explore with someone who knows the city well and has access to all of the gems it has to offer.december-balkans-85jpg_24271343136_o december-balkans-86jpg_24271346426_o Read more

Road Trip! Bulgarian Roadside Commie Kitsch

The title to this post makes me grin from ear to ear.  It is a microcosm of everything travel-related that I’m living for these days – road trips, Balkan destinations, and the stuff for which this site is named.  I think if a single post were to encapsulate the way I love to travel, it would be this one.  So with that, let’s dive headfirst into the wacky world of Bulgarian monuments.

The major draw to Bulgaria (and the whole Balkan region, to be honest) was the ability to visit Buzludzha (more to come on Buzludzha!), the showcase, now-abandoned, former meeting hall of the Bulgarian Communist Party.  As it is inaccessible without private transportation, we rented a car for the Bulgaria portion of our trip.  A rather unexpected side benefit to this was being able to pull over whenever and wherever (within reason, of course) that we wanted.

As it turns out, there are roadside relics of the Communist era all over Bulgaria.  Quelle fortune!

It seemed as though everywhere we went there was a random, totally wacky structure, monument, or sculpture – and our job was to spot them as we went on the most fun game of “Where’s Waldo” ever played.  jpegs-288_21846306344_o Read more

Closed for Business in Kosovo

Let me preface this by saying that we loved Kosovo.  It was about as disorienting and wacky of a place that I’ve ever visited – I’d put it up toward the top of the list with Mongolia on the disorientation scale.  But we had a perennial problem in the country.  Everything was closed!

And closed for no good reason, I believe.  Granted, we were there in the off season, so maybe we should have expected it? There is no well beaten tourist path through the country yet (we didn’t see a single other tourist in the whole of the country, literally), and people tend to be on Balkan time, so I’m not sure why I expected things to run on schedule like a Japanese train.  

jpegs-4_22442803476_o jpegs-3_22281992499_oOur first encounter with unavailable services came when we attempted to visit Pristina’s Tourist Information Center.  I am a big fan of tourist information centers and kiosks, and drag David to them in every country we visit.  The little blue-circled lower case “i” on city maps brings me joy, just knowing that increased knowledge can be found just a short walk away! Read more