Serbia is a shithole.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Serbia - Belgrade | Posted on 29-11-2010

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Belgrade, Serbia?
ihatethisplace. ihatethisplace. ihatethisplace.

This city could be fantastic – it’s accessible, cheap, classic and could be beautiful (if it wasn’t falling into ruin). Instead, I never want to return here because it’s a bleak frozen shithole full of assholes.

I wanted to come in neutrally.
I wanted to realize the war had nothing to do with me.
I wanted to recognize that not everyone is a rightwing nutjob who firebombs gay pride parades.

Unfortunately, the people here are the downfall of the city.

I suppose if you went to Germany 10 years after the war, you’d have a lot of nationalist pride, but they’ve had enough time to back off a bit, realize they might have messed up and take responsibility for their actions. There’s none of that here – in fact it’s the opposite: they’re blindingly prideful of their stance, proud to call themselves soldiers, take an aggressive stance towards women and outsiders. They have this strong pride that leaves them too blind to realize that what they’re working hard to achieve is leaving them bankrupt, poor, angry and stuck in the early 80s (at best).

There are no smiles.
There is no joy.
There’s just angry, dark glares.

It’s likely post communist residue where everyone had to scam for every little bit extra, but almost every cabbie tries to rip you off. If you go into a shop and say that you only speak english a lot of shopkeepers will just look at you annoyedly instead of offering to help. Every person coming into the venue had to go through a metal detector, have their bags x-rayed, get patted down, and check anything threatening – a savage state which makes sense when you realize that you’re in a land full of gun toting warriors.

I tried to go out to a club to enjoy a good DJ, but after getting aggressively knocked around the dance floor, being burned by endless cigarettes, and when the 3rd fight broke out, I just left. I wanted to walk back to the hotel, but within 3 blocks saw 3 violent fights and grabbed a cab instead.

We did have a decent day off wandering the city, where we experienced the 2 highlights of the week. The first was the Tesla museum, where most of the exhibits weren’t working, the “world renowned largest collection of over 160,000 artefacts from Tesla’s life” was down to 15 pieces because the rest were in storage, and the keynote video was directed by a Milsovic and featured a good interlude in the middle about how Tesla was a good Serb and believed in the need for a unified and strong Yugoslavia under Belgrade rule.

The second highlight was visiting the Belgrade metro, which was built in the 1980s as a monument to success, power and strength of Serbia. Plans were laid for a citywide metro, but when the first station was built and they attempted to dig a tunnel, they realized the marshy region wasn’t able to support the tunnels they’d planned to build. So instead of a metro, there’s one massive underground metro station that rerouted some open air trains through so they could continue to use it. You can still see all the planned metro maps, and visit the grandiose metro station, but one stop in either way just takes out you outside to the normal train line.

That kind of sums up the city for me.

It’s kind of like Cuba/other communist places – it kind of works, but not quite.

I mean, it might be nice in the summer – there’s a lot of boat bars, and there is a very accessible cafe/restaurant scene… everything is very cheap…

But I’d never bother going back, and I’ll just leave it as memories of bleak grey collapsing city full of cold hearts and angry stares.

Ah well – you don’t appreciate the good places until you’ve seen the bad, I suppose.

Week 3 down.
Only 7 left.

Stuck at the Belgrade airport for a 5 hour delay due to snow in Frankfurt.
Spirits are drained, but will hopefully bounce back once I’m out of Hellgrade.

Politics and partying in Croatia

Posted by jswt | Posted in Croatia - Zagreb, General | Posted on 21-11-2010

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It’s 9:43 on Sunday, Nov 21, 2010 and I’m sitting on a train having just crossed the border into Serbia from Croatia.

The past week was spent in Zagreb, a city in the North of Croatia.

It’s an old city, with a mishmash of classic ornate architecture muddled about with bleak grey communist era blocky buildings, surrounded by new shiny strip malls and modern facilities.

I’d come in with the words Kosovo, Serbia, Serbs, Croatia and war left over in my head from a stream of youthful media feeds, but when I was trying to figure out the gruff demeanour and hard stares I took the time to read up on the history of what went down and it made a lot more sense.

A quick summary delivered by my inner valley girl/ghetto slut (that’s probably historically inaccurate to piss off both Croats and Serbs):

– Yugoslavia is grooving along made up of different regions (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, etc)…
– Belgrade is running the show and rocking the communist vibe.
– Around 91, Croatia is all like, “we’re so over you and we’re gonna get all up on the independence… Serbian bitches get out!”
– Belgrade is like, “nuh-uh! lets fund our peeps in Croatia and be all gangster from within!”
– Smackdowns bust out bigtime and shit like totally hits the fan warcrime style.
– Around 95 Croatia is recognized as an independent democracy, and Serbia’s leader (Milosovic) totally goes to detention.

Or something along those lines

I mean, it’s easy to joke about as an outsider, but it’s really just a deflection mechanism for having to come to grips with the horrible shit that went down. When you’re in a car asking the driver what all the candles along the road are spelling out and for, and he says it’s a memorial for the fall of a village on the Serbian border, and then starts talking about the bloody battles he was part of and how the Serbs walked into a hospital and executed everyone (patients, doctors, kids – everyone) and how there’s still thousands and thousands of prisoners of war that are unaccounted for and buried in mass graves somewhere between Zagreb and Belgrade… It’s not so lighthearted.

So Croatia is relatively new to the international scene, and not somewhere terribly familiar or used to tourism (especially Zagreb vs the southern coast which is a lot more beaches), but with that comes a cultural honesty you don’t get from a lot of other places that’ve put the caricature of themselves on display.

We spent the week at an amazing historic hotel right by the train station in the centre of town. It was a beautiful hotel built in 1925 that was constructed as a layover point for the Orient Express (…put into the context of home, it’s like staying at the Empress in Victoria or the Banff Springs hotel). The room was beautiful, and the internet was reliable, and it made for a beautiful stay.

Monday was a day off so we explored the city and wandered the many streets that are lined with infinite outdoor cafes and the old town and market.

We got a restaurant recommendation from the hotel in the evening that blew our minds at a place called Gallo – by far one of the best meals we’ve had since we’ve been wandering. Fresh made pastas better than anything we had in Italy, and though there were menus they were just more of a price guide, and once we grew to trust his word a bit, the waiter simply asked what we liked and made custom menu suggestions based around what they had fresh that night. We also had an *amazing* Plavac wine… Sooo good.

Tuesday, we both worked and that evening Chris had a team dinner that I was invited to, so for a second night in a row we were dining well. Truffle season is in swing here, and the truffle menu had me doin a happy truffle shuffle through dinner. For the first time, the number of Chris’ team with their partners on the road outnumbered those without (4:2) and the meal had more of a relaxed family vibe to it than a work dinner. Good food, good wine, and good company!

Weds and Thurs were mostly workdays, but I took some time off on Thursday afternoon to hop a bus up to the Mirogoj Cemetery – an enormous, old cemetery up in the mountains above the city. It was worth the trip up, beautifully tranquil with big old crypts and memorials tightly packed as far as you can see. There’s crypts set up for entire families dating back centuries, and it’s always interesting to see how different cities honour their dead.

Chris had Friday off we had an evening workout then took the opportunity to counterbalance the healthy endeavour and went to investigate the cocktail special the (otherwise overpriced) hotel bar was having from 7-10pm through the weekend. (Grey good martinis for $4cdn?! Why thank you very much!) Chris is someone who appreciates good value, so with stunning efficiency, jumped into double fisting with abandon and ordered his 7th and 8th cocktails of the night just under the wire at 9:59. As the repercussions of that caught up with him, we had a great night hanging out with his crew, chomping on a Cohiba on the back deck, and giggling excessively.

The next morning, we got up and went out into the city but realized what we originally mistook to be a (not unexpected) hangover for Chris was actually a bout of the flu that’s been floating around his office. I wandered around for a bit, but then went back to the room and just lazed around once he was tucked in, and fed him some flu medication in the form of a trashy Hugh Grant movie. Took the night easy, ordered in some chinese, applied and enjoyed the nice room (and fantastic robes) to the soundtrack of a sniffling Chris.

Saturday I had a nice afternoon tea on the terrace in the middle of an otherwise productive workday. There’s a great entertainment district in Zagreb that’s built up along a lake and is just lined with big clubs and restaurants and we’d planned on going out for a bit of a rocket on Saturday night. Chris had landed us guestlist for some DJs I heard were good live, but towards the end of the day Chris was still feeling really nasty and sent me out to party on his behalf. I recruited M for some dinner and then we dragged G along for some drinks before we all headed out to the club just after midnight… The club was picking up speed as we got there, and after suffering through the worst coat check evar, we hit the floor to the opening DJ was some chick in a bikini who was playing mediocre house. G was feeling beat and took off about 1:45 – about 15 minutes before the Freemasons took over the decks and proceeded to beat the hell out of and blow the roof off the club.

Shortly after 5, I was still bouncing at 140bpm, but M had completed his investigation of braziers for contraband and had to work in the morning, so we headed out to find some questionable street food and a cab.

T’was a really good week in Zagreb, and I’d really like to come back to Croatia and explore the south and the coast a bit, or even the (rumoured to be spectacular) UNESCO protected national park just outside the city, especially in the summer when I can only imagine how beautiful it would be.

Anyways, it’s now 10:27 and we’ll be pulling into Belgrade shortly, so I should pack up this laptop and gather the troops…

Week 2/10 down, 7 to go, and once again, morale remains high! 🙂

Pretty in Prague

Posted by jswt | Posted in Czech Rep - Prague, General | Posted on 14-11-2010

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Prague is amazing.
Unlike a lot of other cities, it wasn’t decimated by war.
They’re also not too poor or lazy to maintain their history.
There’s by far more classic architecture here than anywhere else we’ve visited.

The city itself is very relaxed, and reminds me a lot of Vancouver… lots of cafes and beers and always with a faint smell of marijuana drifting through the air.

We flew in on Sunday, and went out for a nice dinner with a group who’d already arrived and pushed through our initial jetlag grog. Monday, we made sure to force ourselves up at a decent hour, and went for a free walking tour of the city (through the same company that we did it with in Berlin and Munich). As previously, it was well worth doing as we got a good overview of the city, with a lot more depth to the tale than if we’d just wandered past looking at things. Of interesting note:

The astrological clock. I can’t even begin to explain all the awesomeness that’s built into the one face. Wikipedia it, cuz it’s interesting. While you’re at it, check out this *insanely awesome* video projection project that someone did a while back on the clocktower.

– Prague has been passed around more times than a hair metal groupie. It’s been in a seeming perpetual state of occupation. I’m wondering if it’s because of this (not having any tie to a historic religious doctrine) that 80% of the residents of Prague identified themselves as Athiest in a recent census.

– There was a thriving jewish quarter here that was left intact by the nazis, and in fact had jewish artifacts from other places moved here during their reign. Why? Because Hitler wanted to create a memorial to a lost race after he exterminated them all and decided the jewish quarter in Prague would be that shrine. There’s also a synagogue that looks like a mosque, from back in a happier time between the two churches where they were respecting and thanking each other for help and assistance.

After a day of walking, jetlag caught up to us, and shortly after dinner we crashed out hard and both slept for 12 hours. Mmm…

Chris was working on Tuesday, but after I got some work caught up, I took the day to explore the city and went on a massive 8hr wander that took me all over the city and up a mountain and back to the hotel shortly after dark. Did some more work before Chris got home, and though going out sounded fun, we were both battling jetlag still and passed out into another night of 12h dreaming.

Weds I got up and decided to make use of the sun (before it disappeared at 4:30) and wandered a great zigzag and ended up at the metronome over top of the city. Booked it back to the hotel, grabbed my laptop and went to the venue for dinner where I used their superquick bandwidth to catch up on some bigger tasks that I just couldn’t do from the hotel. After Chris got off work we went out and wandered the city a bit but couldn’t quite put our finger on the pulse of what seemed to be a slow Weds night, so around 1 we ended up back at the hotel chilling and watching trashy TV.

Thursday, Chris had another day off, so we went up to the massive castle that overlooks the city and spent the short sunny day relaxedly wandering the city and snacking and drinking pleasant warm things in the golden sunset. A pitstop in an absinthe bar made wandering through the embassy distract a fun fuzzy funny adventure. We hit the main square of the old town and took a nice dinner of kebabs and dumplings made over an open fire along with some mulled wine as an evening picnic. Later we went out to some sleazy clubs and had a gay old time.

Friday, I was feeling pretty walked out so I just stayed in the hotel room and caught up on some work until it was time to head to the venue for some dinner. After dinner, a cluster of my fellow tagalongs gathered so we could put our heads together and sort out travel plans for the rest of the leg (partners aren’t able to travel with the crew for insurance reasons, so we fend for ourselves). Surprisingly, we found some kickass deals and managed to get travel sorted and booked for all of the next 9 weeks (8 transfers) without breaking the bank…

The tour was having a milestone celebration (1000 shows in arena format), so a reception/party thing was organized back at the hotel. It was fun because I got to pull out my new dj gear that i’m hauling along this leg and hung out in the corner sipping free champagne and keeping the pulse of the room going. Overall, was pretty happy with reading the room, got good feedback, and was super stoked that the gear was so easy and reliable to get going. Finished the party around 1 and got to bed around wish…

Woke up at 9 on Saturday to join G & M on their day off and head out of town by train to Kutna Hora. There’s a church there that has taken the corpses of 40,000 plague victims and created massive sculptures, piles and art pieces with the bones – it’s an awe inspiring confrontation with mortality on a mass scale, and the inevitability that we all turn to dust.

After checking out the cathedral, we hopped a ride from a long haired rocker guy who gave us a bit of a tour of the city (“That man there – he sleeps with horse in his house. He is a little crazy.”) before dropping us off a few km away at the city centre. Checked out the big church and wandered the winding streets before we found a perfect patio for a late afternoon feast and a few beers. Wandered the city for a while more before heading back to Prague around 7 and deciding that we needed to find an absinthe bar (they serve proper high thujone absinthe in the czech republic). Didn’t have much luck at first, but we did find a great little bar that served it improperly. Moving on, we went to a proper absinthe bar where they delivered it to our table served in different ways, including a dramatic fireball display. We left there feeling wonderfully fuzzy before grabbing some italian food and wine and then heading back to the hotel to get packed up.

Overall it wasn’t a crazy insane week in Prague, but that’s appropriate for what I take to be a classic, laid back and very livable city. I’d return in a heartbeat, and highly encourage anyone who gets the chance to czech it out (nyuk nyuk nyuk).

Now that I’m packed, it’s time to crash out as I’ve got to be up tomorrow @ 5am to catch a 14h (ugh) train to Zagreb, Croatia… as with a lot of places this leg, it’s not somewhere I ever expected to go, but I can’t wait to see what it’s like…

Week 1 down.
9 more to go.
Morale is high.
🙂

Scenes from a tour break…

Posted by jswt | Posted in Canada - Vancouer | Posted on 06-11-2010

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Had a really nice few weeks at home. Got to see a ton of friends, have dinner w/ Chris’ parents, dj my friend’s club night, experience a shooting, go to an apple festival, see Mumford and Sons play at the Vogue, go to a halloween party dressed as victims of gay teen bullying, have friends over for a big roast dinner and watching fireworks from on high for halloween night, have an early birthday and christmas dinner on the same night at my mom’s, and spend a load of quality time on the couch relaxing and just enjoying being at home.

One note of sadness during the trip was the loss of our friend Rick who passed away during the break. He was my favourite dirty old man, who loved to keep up with us in our antics and is a part of many memories. He will be sorely missed.

A short visit at home, with highs and lows, but time has come quickly again to pack the suitcases and get rolling… going along for the entire 10 week leg this time, as it’s the one I’ve been waiting for – lots of interesting places that I don’t know if I’d otherwise get a chance to visit… Should be quite the trip 🙂