Ljubljana: the European capital with the hardest name to spell, and the Slovenian coast.

What I am about to write here should have been my first story about Slovenia, but I had little time to write and I was really looking forward to sharing my photos from lovely Bled.
As I mentioned a few days ago on my blog’s Facebook page, Slovenia was the 44th sovereign European country I visited, hence I have visited them all! The feat warranted this lame picture. I apologized to the guide, Tina, who lent me the flag, saying I wasn’t trying to avoid the country, it was simply a coincidence. One had to be last.
Of course, like everywhere in the last weeks, it rained constantly. The city was quite dead, but I am sure the centre is very pleasant and busy in good weather, because it was made 100% car-free a few years ago. I didn’t know much about the place, and honestly, I still don’t. Walking tours of a city in the rain are not as conducive to learning. With an umbrella in one hand it is not the easiest thing to operate a DSLR camera or to take notes (except typing on the phone, but I hate to do it because it looks like I am not paying attention and texting someone instead). Of course, I did read a bit about Slovenia, so here’s a bit of its recent history, and incidentally, an explanation for why you probably have heard less about it than the other former parts of Yugoslavia.


In 1990 Slovenia held a referendum and 93% voted for independence. In short, it was the richest part of the country, had a border with Italy and Austria, was very western-looking and viewed the Government in Belgrade as authoritarian and communist-oriented. So why not? But the Slovenian Government didn’t expect Belgrade to accept this. So how was tiny Slovenia, with a population of under 2 million, going to resist the might of the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA)? It turned out to be the combination of a well crafted plan on the Slovenian side and a catastrophic miscalculation on the Yugoslav side. Continue reading

Rain, swans and waterfalls in picturesque Bled, Slovenia.

Bled is a charming little town in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, and popular vacation spot.


I also found it to be one of the most picturesque places I have been too in a while. In the foreground, a small uninhabited island with a church. Bled in the background.


I have been regretting hauling my telephoto lens around Europe. In cities, I find that I never use it, but here it came in handy.



Of course, as has been the case for me most of september, it rained constantly, but I found the cloudy sky and the lake gave me a few good pictures. Continue reading

A short return to Croatia: popular Split and pleasant Zagreb.

Split is a major touristic destination in Croatia and the easiest transit spot for many idilic islands along the coast. Having escaped this super touristy Adriatic Coast summer feeling when I left Dubrovnic for Bosnia, it hit me like a ton of bricks when I came back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place and that’s why tons of people go there. I just realized I wasn’t in the mood for it. But, unlike the time I decided I had had enough of Sri Lanka while having lunch in the middle of the country, and had breakfast the next day in Bangkok, this time I did stay the day in Split, plus another day in Zagreb on my way to Slovenia. Here’s a short post about what I saw there.

The main cultural attraction in Split is the former palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The man was born a nobody and through an immensely successful military career, ended up ruling the Empire for over twenty years. He is widely considered to have brought military security and administrative stability to an Empire on the brink of collapse. Not perfect, he also persecuted Christians like nobody before him and introduced a system of price control to bring down inflation, something which is obviously idiotic and never works. But I won’t be too critical, since unlike Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe, Diocletian had the excuse of having had the idea in the year 301. He was also unique in that he was the first Roman Emperor to make the decision to retire, at the age of 61.


The Diocletian Palace was built as his retirement home. This central plaza is known as the peristyle.


Everyday around noon, the former Emperor would appear at this balcony and wave to the crowds, who would salute him in return.


Behind him, this large room with no ceiling. It had been designed so that the mid-day sun would come through and reflect violently on the white marble floor. As the balcony’s doors would be opened, this would blind the people and Diocletian would appear, walking out of light, God-like.


This structure was build as his mausoleum, but at the time of his death, the new Emperor, Constantine the Great, was a Christian (the first one). Constantine forbade the use of Christians as feline nutritional supplements, and eventually the treatment of Christians went from persecution to favouritism. So eventually, this bell tower was built, the mausoleum was converted into a church and Diocletian’s body was replaced with that of some important Christian leader he had ordered executed. The Romans eventually abandoned the Palace, but after a few centuries people moved in again to take advantage of the security the walls offered. At some point, thousands lived within the walls.


Today, most of the residences are nicely renovated hotels and guesthouses. Probably pretty quiet in january. Continue reading

Revisiting the 20th century’s bloody history in rainy Sarajevo.

April 6th is a very important date in Bosnia. It is a day of both celebration (the 1945 victory) and commemoration (the start of the 1992-95 Bosnian war).


This monument to the dead of wars past has always had an eternal flame burning in front of it. But during the Bosnian War, the flame was out, as the Bosnian Serb Army besieging the city had cut off the gas supply.


This was hardly the first war in which Sarajevo played a key role.  The street corner where this museum is located is the exact spot where The Great War started. Anarchists from the Serbian organization known as the Black Hand had planned to murder the heir to the Empire and had, that very morning, attempted to do so about where I was standing when I took this picture.

As far as terrorists go, Gavrilo Princip was not the most competent. If he had lived today, he would have been the Underwear Bomber. In the June 18 1914 plot, his colleagues had thus put him as the back-up guy number 7, in case the first 6 failed! For the record, the author of the first attack was no Jason Bourne either. He threw a grenade with a 10 second delay directly at his moving target! Obviously, it exploded under the fourth car behind, injuring the occupants and 12 spectators. He then swallowed a cyanide pill and jumped in the river. However, he had purchased a lot of expired cyanide, which only made him a little sick, and there was only 10 cm of water in the river, so he just smashed his face in the mud.

So after the morning’s failed attack, young Gavrilo went to the museum, which was then a cafe. A short while later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie made their way out of the palace to visit the hospital where people injured in the attempted assassination had been taken. A confused driver took the wrong route and stopped in front of the cafe. Seeing the unexpected opportunity, Gavrilo leapt out of the establishment and shot the Archduke dead. Gavrilo’s poor marksmanship also cost the life of the Duchess, as he apparently admitted at his trial that he had no intention of killing her (he was firing at a range of 1.5 meter, just saying). Anyway, most conspirators were sentenced to death, but in the relatively progressive Empire, Gavrilo (and the first grenade thrower) had not reached the minimum age for capital punishment, 20. It turned out to be a moot point, as they both got tuberculosis in jail and died shortly thereafter.

But, as amateurish as their performances were, they did ultimately accomplish their mission and while both died before seeing it, the chain of event they initiated did result in the ultimate dismantlement of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


The remnants of a much more recent war, this abandoned building in a very central part of the city. It still lays in ruins not for lack of potential or capital, but because of persisting legal battles over ownership, a direct consequence of all the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the Bosnian War.


The Pijaka market, where 68 people were killed by a mortar round in 1994, and 43 more in 1995, an event which triggered the NATO bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, which resulted in the end of the open conflict and the signing of the Dayton Accords. Bosnian Serb leaders always pretended the Muslims had fired on their own people to create international outrage. All I can say is that if true, it certainly worked.


Right next to the only remaining synagogue in Sarajevo stands this building, known as the ugliest in the city. Rents are higher than the area’s average, because residents have the benefit of not having the view of their own building! Continue reading

Mostar: beautiful and welcoming, yet still bearing the scars of war.


Stari Most, or the Old Bridge, is to Mostar what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Built in the 16th century, it is one of the finest example of Ottoman engineering.


Local men collect money from visitors and jump from the centre of the bridge. At first glance this may seem lame, but if you have ever stood on top of a 10 m diving platform, you will understand that this jump from 20 m into a freezing cold river is no small feat. The nerd in me couldn’t help but calculate what this means, assuming free fall. The drop takes a little over 2 seconds and they hit the water at about 70 km/h. Who knew high school physics would come in handy in Mostar?


Did I mention it was a popular tourist spot? Now put yourself in the shoes of a local woman with a baby stroller who needs to get to the other side to pick-up her dry cleaning, and you will agree that living in a hyper touristy area is not always that great of a thing.


Stupid tourists… Continue reading

Dubrovnik: one of the most beautiful places in the world to buy a fridge magnet.

Dubrovnik, the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and perhaps the most important touristic site in Croatia.


This is nothing new, as this massive luxury hotel was built in 1897.


Today the Old Town and the surroundings are peppered with massive hotels like this one and countless little pensions and vacation apartments.


And people go because the architecture is magnificent.

167---04 167---05

You can’t really see the damage that was done during the 1991-92 siege of the city by Serbian forces, but it was extensive. This map shows the various points of impact and shrapnel damage throughout the old town. In red, the buildings that burned down. In total 56% of the buildings were damaged. This was a scandal in Western media at the time. The death of 114 people, not as much. Continue reading