Catting around Kuching

From Laos, we had a short stopover in Kuala Lumpur. Then, we headed out for a five week exploration of East Malaysia on the island of Borneo.  Even though the states of Sarawak and Sabah are part of Malaysia, on arrival by air from Kuala Lumpur, we were directed through immigration and our passports stamped.

Our first stop was Kuching, the capital of Sarawak.  In bahasa malay (Malay language), Kuching means Cat, so cats are a big theme for the city.  Some historians suggest Kuching comes from Mata Kuching, (cat eye), the name of a longan or lychee like fruit that was found wild along the Sarawak river.

mata-kucing-buah
Courtesy of https://maryrschong.wordpress.com/

The main areas for our exploration were the Orangutan center, Orchid Garden, and Waterfront.

Orangutan Center

Orchid Garden

The banner shows the new foot bridge over the Sarawak river that recently opened. This allowed us to hike over to the Orchid Garden in the Government building area.  Prior to this, a taxi or water taxi would have been required.  There are just hundreds of beautiful orchids and other flowers spread over a huge area.  Here are a few examples that I think show the limitations of my iPhone camera instead of the expansive displays:

 

Waterfront

 

What happened to Barcelona?

A number of viewers of my blog comment how much they like Barcelona.  We traveled from Malta to Panama, but there is no direct flight.  In our plans we found that the best airfare involved a stopover in Barcelona with two full days to explore.  Clearly not enough time, but tried to make the most of it.  We were slowed due to train strikes and other complications.  All in all it was a very interesting two days.  Here are some of the impressions I have.

Day 1

 

Day 2

Here is a link to the Yerevan, Armenia page for another work by the sculptor of cats.

Rome wasn’t walked in a day

But it was walked in two.

From Addis Ababa we flew to Rome for a two day stopover before heading to Eastern Europe.  The plan was to rest the first day, and explore the second.  Our flight left a little late at 00:50, the early morning of March 12.  By 7:00 in the morning, we were through customs and immigration at Rome Fiumicino, Leonardo da Vinci Airport.  We were able to check into the B&B Green Home and get a nice nap.  At noon, we woke up refreshed to take on Rome.  We took a suburban train from the Parco Leonardo stop just 10 minutes walk.  With one change we were walking to Vatican City and St. Peter’s square.  Then, we walked and walked and walked until we reached a train station that took us straight home.  We saw many of the sights that make Rome famous, but every little street was like a film set.  There were hard choices deciding which route to take as every little alley looked interesting. The photos posted here represent some of the “must sees” and a few obscure venues.

 

The next day we set out a plan to walk through different areas cutting our first day route in the middle.

 

Marrakech – a walk in the Kasbah

I have enjoyed walking the maze of streets and alleys and markets, avenues and derbs and souks of the Medina (old city) of Marrakech. The activity there is fascinating both as a reflection of the past and an image of the vibrant present. There are souks for jewelry, souks for leather goods, souks for tourists.  The metalworking souk features blacksmiths at their forges and welders with their torches.  One section is filled with hammer heads and pickaxes ready for wood handles.  I am reminded “when your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails.”  There are the open air markets with fresh oranges and the fantastic Moroccan breads.  I should bargain more but the prices are reasonable and the vendor chooses the best quality.  Not a blemish on the apples. As a guest, I prefer discretion in exhibiting the world I experience. For this reason, I only used cats as my subject for this post. I hope it gives you a taste of the delights of these walks.

Streets of Casablanca

For some, the only draw of Casablanca is the myth created by Hollywood. There is plenty not to like. The streets are dusty, there are sporadic redevelopments and refurbishments, the tourist attractions don’t seem authentic, more like theme parks. We came here to escape the cold and damp of Europe in Winter.  It has been mostly sunny and highs around 20°-23°C (68°-73°F).  Additionally, we need to get things done along with travel plans and yellow fever vaccinations.

We have walked the alleys full of activity in the Medina (old city) and the Marche Central (central market).  The haphazardness recalls what the orderly European markets of today would be like a century ago.  In these wanderings, I have fallen in love with the unrepentant architecture along the streets. Here are a few examples of my discoveries.

Feeling Safe

The old man sits at the window after his morning walk. In a philosophical mood, he assays the traveling of his life. For him there is always that anxiety coming to a different country. Even though he visited France twenty or thirty times, arriving in Marseille the past summer made him nervous. It is not important how safe a city or a country is. These statistics are useless when one falls victim to a pickpocket, mugger, or scammer.

He mulls the many thoughts on travel safety but sits perplexed trying organized them. Lists for traveling safely abound on so many websites and highlight so many chapters in books.

Reading these articles may not make the tourist feel secure. The old man remembers how confident the family felt living in Frankfurt from 1998 – 2003 reading the International Herald Tribune (IHT) everyday. Then, the IHT began to include a supplement with English summaries of the Frankfurter Allgemeine. This included local disturbances. After reading about altercations in the neighborhood, the family began viewing daily routines a little more seriously. Its that old dilemma, “does a bicycle helmet for a child make the parent feel safer, or make parent more anxious with the realization that a bicycle can really be dangerous?”

Instead of a negative list such as:

  • Keep valuables out of sight,
  • Stay close to home after dark,
  • Avoid both empty and too crowded streets.

What could he write to encourage you to visit new places?

First, realize that no matter where you go, generally, people all over are good. They work at jobs, they have families, they share love, just like you. In the last six months, people have been so kind. A woman selling bread on the street in Sophia speaking no English used her cell phone to call a taxi when the scheduled one failed to show.

Second, take a look around your neighborhood. Get up early, take the essentials (room key, a few dollars, and hotel address/phone) and take a little walk before breakfast. Explore. Is there a convenience store handy? What products can you recognize? Is there a park? Where does the hotel staff hang out? Can you walk on sidewalks or do you have to walk in the street? At this time, you can see people doing what needs to be done and hardly paying any attention to you.

Third, be a decent fellow. You are a guest, and you may end up making a few deposits into the bank of experience, BOE. Personally, the old man has received very good returns on investments in the BOE. He thinks modesty is the term that fits well. Carrying expensive gadgets and jewelry draws the wrong type of attention. When it comes to alcohol, partake moderately or not at all. Returning home late and drunk is an open invitation to difficulties. As you know, the travel dollars stretch farther when snacks along with drinks (especially, wine and beer) are purchased at a corner store for consumption in the evening at hotel.

So the old man, lets the newspaper slip as his eyelids close. Resting his eyes, he shakes his head remembering younger days with less concerns: walking home in the dead of night between cemeteries, hitchhiking alone over the Andes after the coup d’état deposing Allende, wandering lost on the subway in Soviet Moscow after eight days on the Transiberian Railroad.

The first four photos from Istanbul show normal life in the neighborhood.  Note that the inset on the quiet street shows a Christmas tree up the stairs in one of the alleys.  The last one is a supermarket in Skopje, Macedonia.

A nice chair put out for a cat
A nice chair put out for a cat
Fresh bread delivered awaiting the coffee shop owner
Fresh bread delivered awaiting the coffee shop owner
Some streets should be explored during daylight.
Some streets should be explored during daylight.
Istiklal Street is always busy.
Istiklal Street is always busy.
A supermarket provides a window into culture.
A supermarket in Skopje provides a window into culture. What is available, how is it displayed, do you weigh your own vegetables, how do imported goods compare in price?

Sarajevo: To and From

Between Belgrade, Serbia and Podgorica, Montenegro, we spent a week in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina. This seems to mark a point in our journey where current online information is not available or not reliable. We could not find any bus schedules leaving in the morning from Belgrade for Sarajevo. Furthermore, there did not appear to be any good connections from Sarajevo continuing down to Albania. With a little scouting around, we found all the information we needed.

First, GEA Tours provides minibus door-to-door service.  We contacted them by email and made arrangements before arriving in Belgrade.  As we had time, we visited them at their offices, a very active and dynamic organization.  They called our host before setting out and picked us up ten minutes later.  It was great that we were the second pick-up so we had a chance to see other Belgrade neighborhoods.  When we visited the offices a few days before, I only saw three names on the booking sheet.  I was surprised that we went all over the city and filled up the minibus with all eight seats.

We left the Balkan plains and headed into the mountains surrounding Sarajevo.  The mist and rain turned into snow, quite early for Sarajevo.  The driver had no problem.  I was hoping we would be the last off the minibus in Sarajevo so we could get a free tour.  After winding around some hills, he pulled up to our place in the old city first.  The locals were surprised that these two foreigners were jumping out right in a residential neighborhood.

GEA Tours Belgrade to Sarajevo
GEA Tours Belgrade to Sarajevo
Our street in Sarajevo
Our street in Sarajevo
Snow dusted Sarajevo towards our place.
Snow dusted Sarajevo towards our place.

We enjoyed wandering around Sarajevo. From research on Trip Advisor, we discovered there are two bus stations, one near the Train Station and one on the Serb section, called the East Bus Station.  That is where to catch a bus for the South.  The trolley bus 103 leaves from the Latinski Most (Latin Bridge where the Archduke of Austro-Hungary was assasinated in 1914) and stops about 100 meters north of the Autobuska Stanica Lukavica.

Sarajevo Train Station
Sarajevo Train Station
Sarajevo 1914 Archduke Assassination
Sarajevo 1914 Archduke Assassination

With some basic English and written notes, we purchased tickets to Podgorica, Montenegro for the following Wednesday.  The agents were amused as everybody buys their tickets just 30 minutes before the bus leaves.


The day before leaving Sarajevo treated us to a brilliant sunset.

Sarajevo Sunset
Sarajevo Sunset

It was a clear day as we headed out of Sarajevo for Montenegro with just four other passengers.  Along the way, we picked up and dropped off at various villages.  The route took us back through mountain gorges painted with autumn colors.  Photos cannot do justice.

Sarajevo to Podgorica
Sarajevo to Podgorica
Sarajevo to Podgorica
Sarajevo to Podgorica

The border crossing took about thirty minutes.  A number of cats kept tabs on the vehicles.  Our van successfully negotiated all the tight turns and narrow roads over the Balkan divides.

Bosnia / Montenegro Border Cats
Bosnia / Montenegro Border Cats
Glunex to Podgorica
Glunex to Podgorica

Zagreb Impressions

I’m not real creative with the title for these photos.  There is no grand theme it seems.

Maja Hrgovic writes in her short story Zlatka,

I lived near the train station in a neighborhood built many decades ago for the families of railroad workers and machinists.  Like tombstones over grave mounds, hardened chimneys rose from parallel rows of elongated one-story buildings.

We stayed in this area for a week.  The evenings reflected the history more vividly.

Full Moon from Balcony
Full Moon from Balcony
Local Cat at Night
Local Cat at Night

Fifty meters away we could leave this world by bus and tram.  Both stops overlooked a grand Yugoslavian era boulevard reflecting the new Croatia with gardens and the National and University Library.

Busstop
Busstop
Zagreb to New Zagreb
Zagreb to New Zagreb
National and University Library
National and University Library

With weekly tram tickets we explored many different neighborhoods of Zagreb:  Down to the Sava river which flows clear, up to upper town by funicular, through curvy streets and market.

Sava River
Sava River
Rising in the Funicular
Rising in the Funicular
Cathedral from Central Market Side Street
Cathedral from Central Market Side Street

Occasionally, interesting little experiences excited us.

Weaving Demonstration at central square
Weaving Demonstration at central square
Lunch at Fast Food No. 1, fresh from the open air market
Lunch at Fast Food No. 1, fresh from the open air market
Stone Gate chapel pilgrimage has the chains from Nelson's HMS Victory.
Stone Gate chapel pilgrimage has the chains from Nelson’s HMS Victory.
Only three different dishes served, we had two.
Only three different dishes served, we had two.