Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sarajevo

Present day Sarajevo is a beautiful, multicultural and a colorful city! What you experience is life at its best. It’s hard to describe but you’ll know what we mean when you get there. It has a very special feeling, as if all of the people of Sarajevo are truly enjoying the very present moment. It’s more apparent in the evenings when people sit in café’s and restaurants. It feels like true joy we haven't experienced anywhere else so far. 


Walking along river Miljacka
By the famous wooden fountain Sebilj, in Sarajevo

We drove to Sarajevo after Pluzine in Montenegro. Crossing the border took a little more time than in other countries on this trip but we were done with the border formalities in max. 10 minutes. The scenery was beautiful although the condition of the roads varied from gravel and potholes to fresh and smooth asphalt. Traffic was decent, not too many insane over takings or other strange death-wish driving habits as in a few of the other countries in the region. Don't start driving with an empty tank as gas stations can mostly only be found in towns and cities. We followed all of the advice we got on parking the car in a trusted parking garage (in our case it was the parking of Hotel Europe) that was recommended by our hotel. I remember reading stories on how it’s not advisable to drive with Croatian plates in Bosnia but we really had no problems what so ever, so I guess it’s outdated information.


We stayed in Sarajevo for four days which was a good time to explore the city. It's not very large, therefore few days should be enough. 


On the road from Pluzine to Sarajevo


Nature in Bosnia

Tourism in Sarajevo is growing fast although it lacks consistency. You see a lot of people doing their best, really making an effort, many tourist organizations are doing incredible work to support tourism in their country but they lack support from the government which is what they really need the most. According to the World Tourism Organization, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have the third highest tourism growth rate in the world between 1995 and 2020. However, because of these active people, you get a very personalized experience and definitely feel cared after.


Take a seat in Sarajevo

So what is there to do in Sarajevo?


Sarajevo was founded by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450s and you can see and feel the rich history everywhere. It's such a fascinating place with many cultures and religions living side by side. Many other cities in the area claim the same but in Sarajevo you can truly feel the mix of different cultures and religions living together in peace. 


Ottoman street in Sarajevo

Sarajevo is still being rebuilt after the war but you have some architectural gems to explore in many parts of the city. It's quite safe to walk around at any time of the day but you might want to keep your eyes open in remote areas. 


Festina Iente bridge

History

There is so much to see in Sarajevo as it has such a rich history! The old part of the city is full of historical Ottoman architecture as well as churches. You can visit the street where the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was shot, that gunshot is also known as the gunshot that started the 1st World War. The newer part of the city has more modern architecture, shopping centers and also more signs of the most recent war - some by purpose, others are still waiting for reconstruction, demolition or rebuilding. All over the city you will also find Sarajevo Roses, a sad reminder of the victims killed in the most recent war. 

Sarajevo Rose is a site of a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin to mark where mortar explosions resulted in one or more deaths (wikipedia).


Sebilj, Ottoman-style wooden fountain


Sarajevo Rose

We joined a free walking tour by BH Spirit City Tours and Excursions and continued with the Sarajevo Under the Siege and also Tunnel of Hope tours by the same company. This is something you really cannot miss in Sarajevo. The tours are incredibly informative and all of the people you meed during these tours have actually lived it, therefore they are the best to share the stories.

First steps in the Tunnel of Hope



Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track, now an attraction


Old Jewish Cemetery overlooking the UNITIC Business Center and  Avaz Twist Tower.


Tony with Abid Jasar, one of the brave men who built the Tunnel of Hope. Abid Jasar passed away in November 2016.


Map of Sarajevo

Food:


You will not feel hungry in Sarajevo. The food is fantastic! You must try ćevapčići which is grilled minced meat in a form of a sausage, usually served with flatbread, onion and sour cream. To eat with the locals as well as tourists, go to a restaurant called Petica on Bravadžiluk 29, in the old part of the city. Not far from here is also Buregdžinica Bosna (Bravadžiluk 11), which is well known for it's magnificent meat pies.

ćevapčići 



You will not be hungry in Sarajevo!

Shopping:

There are a few shopping centers in the city but the selection is somewhat limited. The western European and US brands are present but the value is not good. However, if you are into some less-known brands you can make some great finds, especially clothes and shoes made in Turkey are great.

In general:

As the rebuilding of Sarajevo hasn’t been as fast as the people have been hoping it was, we recommend to pick a nice hotel.

There was a certain level of curiosity to travel to a country with such a colorful recent history with the days of glory in the 80’s which quickly turned into a long, dark war. It was our first time visiting a country that underwent such a bloody war during our life time, only 20 years ago. And it all happened right here in Europe! That was not the reason for us to travel there, though. It might have been a reason not to travel there, I guess that’s how it is for many people. But we challenge you to visit Bosnia, especially Sarajevo, and open your heart to everything it can offer. 

Destruction

For me it took a day and a half to get over this strangely emotional anxiety I felt seeing all the war scars on the buildings and to see beyond all of it. I felt devastated and heartbroken. Tony took it much better immediately. I couldn’t get over the fact that about half of the people we saw around us, people our age, experienced a war only recently and had such a tragic childhood while we were living a normal life only 2500 kilometers away. It was very difficult to understand how this could happen and how it could last for such a long time. 

Sarajevo is one of the most memorable places we have visited. Even after visiting more than 50 countries and probably three times as many cities, Sarajevo is definitely number one.


Sarajevo today



Monday, February 13, 2017

Japanese Ghost Story

It was our last night in a small town called Fuji-Kawaguchiko by the mount Fuji in Japan. We stayed in a large hotel and had one of those beautiful, traditional rooms with tatami area. The room was huge and we loved having the chance to experience this side of the local culture. Our four day stay in the hotel was pretty much perfect until things started to take a strange turn...


Mount Fuji


Fuji-Kawaguchiko & mt. Fuji

We had packed all our things and were ready to check out the next morning to continue our journey to Kyoto. It was around 22.00 and we were preparing to go to sleep. I walked pass the large hallway we had in our apartment-type room and saw that the light was on in the toilet. Tony was in the living room with me and no one else was in the apartment. Besides, the light in the toilet was automatic, turning on when you enter and turning off shortly after you leave.
Yet the light was on and no one had been in there for a long time.

I went to check what was going on yet couldn't open the door. It was locked from the inside. I tried a few more times, hoping it was stuck but we had no issues with any of these sliding doors before, everything was in a perfect condition. Still, the door was not opening.

Tony took his swiss army knife and finally managed to open it. The room was empty, the light was on but the little, colorful toilet-seat cover for children had moved. I had paid attention to the seat before because it was super colorful, unlike anything else in the room. The seat was placed against a wall near the sink but as soon as we managed to unlock the door, the seat was facing a different wall. It had moved across the room. I tried to think if maybe the cleaner had moved it during the day but I'm pretty convinced I would have noticed it when we came back from our hike earlier that day. Tony was convinced it was the cleaner who had moved it but I really don't think that was the case. I would have noticed it before.


Bedroom

I then stepped inside to test the door. I tried to slide it quite fast a couple of times to see if it's possible for the lock to magically turn on it's own but it didn't even nudge. I actually had to turn the lock quite hard to be able to lock the door. So I stepped out of the room, closed the door and waited for a minute to see the light turn off, and it did. I checked the rest of the rooms and systematically closed every single sliding door and checked that all the lights were off. Eventually, I turned the air-conditioning to +19, as we always do in hotels.


Good night, sleep tight!
It felt a bit strange to sleep in that room that night.Tony was trying to be very logical saying that there is an explanation to all these things, which I really didn't buy.

A couple of hours into the night I woke up. It was incredibly hot in the room. After tossing and turning for a while I got up to check the air conditioning. It was on +28.
I was annoyed. Whatever was going on in the room was really driving me mad. I was tired and was not going to let any supernatural occurrence mess with my sleep. I turned the air conditioning back to +19 and went back to bed.
About two hours later it was on +28 again.

The morning arrived and no long haired girls had crawled out of the TV. I went to wash my face and as I opened the bathroom door I noticed that the second door, connecting to the private in-room hot spring tub, was wide open. It wasn't open just a little bit but all the way. Wide open. Before going to bed the previous night I made sure that all doors were closed yet in the morning one was open. I checked with Tony, if maybe he went there earlier but he didn't get up all night.

So there we were, in our possibly haunted hotel room in the tiny town of Fuji-Kawaguchiko. I always expected that if I ever experience something supernatural it would, at least, include switching lights and creaking floors. Even though the lights sort-of switched it was still relatively normal, if you consider self-locking and self-sliding doors as well as creepily malfunctioning air conditioning normal in a country where nothing was ever broken. Is it really possible that all these things just suddenly stopped working in one pretty normal hotel room in a 5-star hotel? Especially, like I mentioned few sentences ago, nothing was malfunctioning in Japan during our two week stay. Everything worked no matter where we went. But here, on that one night, in this hotel room, it all just fell apart?  


Looking happy, feeling creepy


Traditional breakfast
No one crawled out of the TV like in the Japanese horror movie Ringu, but someone did want to make us aware we were definitely not alone in that room. 

Tony still hasn't come up with a logical explanation to all of the strange things that happened but he's still claiming there would be an explanation. I will let you know if he comes up with one.

Fuji-Kawaguchiko

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hiking on a Volcano, Kaaha and Hilina Pali trails

Hilina Pali Overlook, Kaaha trail, Hilina Pali trail

The Big Island on Hawaii has some amazing hiking trails. We picked Kaaha trail because it's crossing an old lava field and you get to walk by the ocean, also the length and level of difficulty were all key factors for us. The hike was a little more demanding compared to what we expected even knowing it was categorized as intermediate / hard. We were tremendously happy we didn't pick a longer trail because by the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted. Happy but exhausted. 

We chose this trail at the Backcounty office near the Kilauea Visitor Center. We had a quick chat with one of the employees who registered us for the hike. I'm not sure if registering is necessary for a day hike but they do prefer to keep track of hikers in the region in case something happens. For overnight hiking and camping registering and permits are necessary. For more infomation see https://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/hike_kaaha2.htm.


Ka'aha
Hilina Pali overlook on Hawai'i



Hilina Pali overlook

This 12km trail starts at the Hilina Pali overlook where you can see the entire lava field and the pacific ocean. There are some signs pointing out the trails at the beginning of the trail but you do need a good map to be able to follow the trails as there are no marks or signs elsewhere. There are two trails starting from the overlook, Hilina Pali and Kaaha trail and by combining these two trails you get a nice loop trail. This hike took us about 8 hours (started around 10.00 and were back at the parking lot around 18.00) as we stopped to take photos and had a longer lunch & swim break by the ocean. You could probably walk it faster with shorter breaks.


Trails on Google maps



The trail starts with a deep descent which takes much longer than you probably expect. The path is basically just small rocks, all downhill, switching back 24 times.


Be aware that even though it might not be very hot elsewhere on the island, it was extremely hot on the lava field. Not sure what caused it but we definitely underestimated the heat. The lava field is basically all rocks and you should pay attention to hollow lava tubes beneath the ground and try and follow the trail. Keep your eyes open and do peek inside the caves and tubes. Super interesting!


 
After descend

Lava tubes from past eruptions


Made it to Kaaha! Time for lunch and a dip in the ocean!

The hike gets slightly easier when you see the reward in front of you in the shape of a shed (finally some shade from the sun!), a toilet and tide pools! We had a long break here having lunch and swimming. It was such a refreshing experience! I've read about people having seen turtles here. We didn't have such luck but do bring your snorkels, if possible!

Swimming in a tide pool!
After returning to the trail, you walk along a trail with hay up to your knees. At this point we really missed long pants. Shorts were a bad idea. The heat, humidity and the hay were a bad combination. This was also the toughest part of the hike as it was afternoon and the sun was at it's hottest, we lost the trail and were running out of water. We had about four liters of water in total, which was way too little in that heat. Looking at several trails in the hay we obviously were not the only ones who had lost the way. I'm not even completely sure if we eventually found the Hilina Pali trail or if we just walked towards the hill in front of us, but we did make it back and started the ascend, the never-ending zigzag from hell. 

We were incredibly exhausted, taking breaks every five minutes. The sun was setting and we were in a hurry to make it back to the car before it set completely. There is literally no light anywhere and the Hawaiian nights are pitch black. We often record short video clips along our travels, and I must say that on the clip we shot somewhere along the ascend we sound like two exhausted three-years old's. Looking back, it's funny, at that moment it was far from it. 

When we finally got up the hill and saw our car (and remembered we had a big bottle of water in the trunk) we just started laughing, it was truly a moment of happiness. Don't get me wrong, looking back at the hike, I would do it again anytime but next time we'll bring more water, long pants and hiking sticks. 

Volcano Village

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hawaii, Big Island

Enjoying the Hawaiian sun by the pool of our great Waikiki hotel surrounded by skyscrapers and listening to the waves of the Pacific ocean was a great way to start off our trip to Hawaii but the best part began when we headed off to the Big Island, officially called Hawai'i. 

Hilo

The Big Island is the island for someone who enjoys hiking and the wonders of nature such as volcanoes, mountains, flora and fauna all on one island. There are beaches, shopping centers, bars and restaurants but it all really does come down to the nature of the island. There are 8 (out of 13) climate zones from tundra to desert on the island and they’re all accessible in one day! Our base was Hilo which is a small town on the east side of the island. We chose Hilo mainly because it’s very peaceful and located in between the jungle in the north/northeast, and rain forest and Volcano in south making it an easy driving distance to both.



Rainbow Falls near Hilo, Hawai'i

We arrived to Hilo on the 25th of December, the Christmas Day! It was a very quiet day. We hardly saw any people, most restaurants were closed and we only saw a handful of cars driving around. The tourist masses were at the bigger resorts, mainly situated on the west side of the island in Kona. To move around the island you’ll need to rent a car which is made easy and simple but be aware that it can get busy at the rental counters even if you’ve booked in advance as pretty much everyone needs to rent a car there.


On the road..
First thing to do as soon as you’re sitting in the car is to turn on the radio to start listening to volcano announcements which, to us, sounded very exotic! As the lava flow was somewhat near a busy road during the time we were there we heard frequent warnings about the areas that might be affected. Luckily the flow got slower day by day eventually stopping without harming people or business.


No shopping in Hilo on Christmas day

Hilo is a small town with approximately 40 000 inhabitants. The town has suffered some serious damage in three tsunami’s since 1940’s. If you’re in the area around Christmas you should book a table at the famous Christmas buffet at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. The food was extraordinary (except maybe the desserts) and the place was packed with locals! What a great experience! 



Kamehameha The Great


Unfortunately we didn’t get to try any of the other local restaurants as many places were closed during our visit. We only stayed three nights in Hilo and were constantly on the move.

Snack in Shoppe

Mr. Ed's Bakery & Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls state park is definitely worth a visit. You'll see a series of smaller water falls as well as the Akaka itself. Walking through the park you'll see beautiful nature with some very unique plants and flowers.


Mr. Ed's Bakery near Akaka Falls

Mr. Ed’s Bakery is another great place to visit on your way to Akaka Falls. Mr. Ed is a retired geography teacher who is famous for his natural preserves. We bought Lilikoi (passion fruit) butter, Lime butter and jalapeno mustard which were all ridiculously delicious. I wish we had bought more! The baked produce were also absolutely tasty so make sure to stop by! 



Akaka Falls




Whale Watching

We have been trying to see whales all over the world yet have been awfully unsuccessful. Our luck turned on Hawaii and we finally got to see these amazing creatures in the Pacific ocean.



Successful whale spotting

Dream come true!

Lava fields & luxury hotels 

After a fantastic and very successful whale watching trip we were taken back to The Shops at Mauna Lani, an open air shopping center, we picked up a delicious sushi lunch from one of the shops and headed to one of the beaches at Kiholo Bay. This is where it gets pretty incredibly awesome: we followed a path leading to the beach while a group of wild goats were enjoying their lunch. We took a refreshing dip in the sea and ended up laying on the beautiful black sand, eating the fantastic lunch (wraps and sushi) while watching whales jumping in the ocean not far from the shore. It was one of the best moments ever!

Volcanoes and lava tubes

Collapsed lava tube

Driving south from Waikoloa, following the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway (19) you can also check out the enormous collapsed lava tubes.



Driving up Kauna Kea

In the evening, about an hour or a little more before the sunset we started our journey to the Mauna Kea summit, 4,207 m. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano with magnificent views! It took us little longer than expected as we had to stop every now and then to admire the view. Make sure you are on time, the sunset is definitely worth spending some extra time on the mountain. Right after the sunset, people start lining up for the telescopes. You also have a viewing of a short documentary explaining the history of Mauna Kea as well as some background on the telescopes and there’s a small café which is great because if you are not prepared you will probably want to buy a cup of hot tea to warm you up! Pretty soon after the telescopes are put away also the crowd disappear and you’re left there with a handful of photographers and star gazers.

Photo of people taking photos

On top!



Volcano village & Volcanoes National Park


There are many hiking trails for hikers of all levels (even accessible routes) on the Big Island. You can spend weeks exploring the waterfalls, valleys and beaches. We mainly concentrated on hiking around Volcano (the village) as well as Volcanoes National Park. The national park is very popular and you will see a lot of people on pretty much any trail you take. For longer trails on which you need to stay the night it is mandatory to register at the park’s ranger. Make sure you do this on time as they aren’t always at the office. Registration is very important as things can take a dangerous turn fast and you might need to be saved from whatever the situation is; you’re on an active volcano, after all.


Inside a lava tube



Hot and steamy lava field

...and it's active!


Even though Volcano looks small and remote, you have plenty of accommodation options from luxury B&B villas to treehouse cottages. We were lucky to find a fantastic B&B that made our stay perfect with heated bed and beautiful location right smack in the middle of the rainforest. Two days in Volcano was ok but I really wish we had a day or two more because of the fantastic hiking grounds. Also, make sure you visit the Volcanoes National Park Visitor Center for information, maps and advice. There are also a couple of restaurants in Volcano, the best of which are Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant (slightly fancier, reservation required) and Lava Rock Café.


Our fantastic B&B

In the future we are hoping to hike all the way up to Mauna Loa. On this trip we only drove up to an undefined elevation which was high enough to turn on the heating in the car and wear a jacket. For a proper hike you should have proper (thermo) gear as the temperature drops below 0 celcius in the evenings and sometimes you even have snow on top of the volcano.