Belgrade Illuminated

A moment lived in Serbia by Shane J Cassidy, a traveller from Ireland

“What do you think? That Serbia will bend to the will of NATO? Or the EU? People forget that we held off the Turkish empire as it roared across Europe. People forget that.”
“People may forget it – but you certainly haven’t”, I thought as my enthusiastically nationalistic guide enlightened me on centuries of Serbian history.
I was in Belgrade and it was 10pm on a warm September evening. Bright yellow squares decorating large high rise apartment buildings indicated that most Belgradian’s had returned home for the evening. The night sky was clear and a warm breeze blew lightly. The 13.35 express from Budapest had delivered me into the heart of the Balkans and wandering into the night with my camera and map, I hoped to discover what Belgrade looked like lit up at night.
Upon arriving onto the main street, I stopped a tall, rakish looking man with sharp features in the hope of being pointed towards the Orthodox Basilica, which I had been told was a must-see in the evening. Sensing that this was my first time in the city, Peter agreed to direct me but suggested altering the plan slightly.

“I’m walking in the direction of the only 24hr Post Office in the whole world. Would you like to see it?”. Feeling the Basilica could wait, I told him I would and slipping into easy conversation, we strolled unhurriedly in the direction of the post office.
Peter was a Serbian but had lived abroad for 20 years, only recently returning to settle back in his place of birth.

“When Yugoslavia was at it’s height, every single man, woman and child could be mobilised in times of war. My father was an editor of a magasine and I was a student but we knew exactly what our duties were should it have been required.” He spoke openly and with a healthy trust for a new acquaintance. I appreciated his candour and he was easy company and I felt privileged to be privvy to this private walking tour of the city. As we moved through the city, Peter would casually point to different buildings.
” This is where NATO bombed during their siege of our city”. Indignant to how his country had been treated, this proud Serb generously shared his knowledge and helped me understand the many complexities and contradictions of Balkan life. Over the course of the next hour, we touched on a number of wide ranging subjects, from the assassination of former Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić to ex-wives, his – not mine, before finally returning back to our original meeting point.

At that moment, I understood the feeling of being totally intoxicated without having touched a drop of alcohol. As we shook hands and prepared to part company, I offered to buy him a drink to thank him.
“Thanks but I can’t, my wife is waiting for me and she will already be suspicious why I’m gone so long!”. He shook my hand vigorously and then he was gone, disappearing into the Belgrade night.

I visited the Basilica the the following night and there is no doubt that it is a beautiful sight to see it lit up. But the memory I will hold close is the sign of Peter’s eyes light up as he spoke passionately and openly about his wonderful city.

credit photo : wikimedia.org

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The Town of Rights

A moment lived in France by Shane J Cassidy, traveler from Ireland

I got there early and only a few stragglers, running late for work, remained on the old streets.

With the fresh Spring morning ahead, I started to explore the old part of the town and its cobbled streets and ancient architecture. I was in Chambéry and I had been coaxed into visiting this ancient French town, aware that Jean Jacques Rousseau had once called this place home. This is the great mind that gave us ‘The Social Contract’, which served as the catalyst for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also became an inspiration for the most famous revolution of all time. I made it my priority to visit his house, even if it was a 2km walk uphill and out of the town so off I set.

I sucked in large gasps of the fresh spring air, the snow littered throughout the countryside punctuated by frozen rivers and leafless trees. The nearby hills, slightly obscured by the fog that hung at their base, jutted out at the top with their snowy peaks. Reinvigorated from the injection of energy which nature, as only nature could, provided me I strode uphill contented, to the house of the man who gave the world the foundations for the Rights of Man, called home.

A largely unassuming yet undeniably picturesque home of splendour and fine architecture greeted me, just off the main country road. I entered the only building to be greeted by a fine stone staircase in front of me and directly to my right hand side i was drawn in my a grand old fireplace and exquisite 17th century furniture. I couldn’t help thinking that by this very fireplace, ideas of grandeur far beyond what Jean Jacques Rousseau could have imagined were born.

I gently fingered the old arm chairs and marble fireplace before returning to the grand stone staircase and proceeding upstairs where i was greeted by 2 large bedrooms which were still decorated as you would imagine they would have been 300 years ago. Inspired, speechless, full of bristling emotion, I sat upon his armchair in his bedroom by the fireplace and pondered how such a great mind came to be. Surrounded by such simple means as candles and books. No electricity, no internet, no phones, no televisions and yet he imagined thing people today consider the most natural of things – rights for all.

Before leaving the grounds, I took time to walk through his impressive gardens to the side of the home which overlooks Chambery below and the mountains in the distance. I may have travelled here alone but I left with Jean Jacques Rousseau most definitely in my company.

credit photo : wikimedia.org

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Joik

A moment lived in Norway by Christie, a traveller from USA

Have you ever sung in the shower before? How did you feel? For me, I feel like I’m not trying to impress anyone. I am just singing because there is something I need to get out of my system. It’s pure expression of how I’m feeling and in a way, who I am. Now imagine you had some watching you, listening to you as you sung in the shower (let’s say for this you are wearing a bathing suit). That is the closest description I can think of to describe a ‘joik.’
Let me back up. In mid March 2016 I went on a solo trip to Tromsø, Norway, an island town with a population of 70,000 in the arctic circle. I stayed at a little bed and breakfast on the side of hill overlooking the city below. I ate waffles every morning (and on some evenings). My mission was to see the Northern Lights, get a selfie with some reindeer, and go skiing in fjords. Well, fortunately enough I did get to do all of those things, but I brought back with more with me than just a selfie while visiting the reindeer.

The sun was shining and the temperature was just above freezing when I arrived at the Sami reindeer farm in the fjords of nearby Tromsø. The Sami I should explain, are the indigenous people of Lapland -the arctic region of Finland, Sweden, and Norway. They have their own language, and own unique culture. For years they have been a nomadic society, living from the land and on the reindeer, letting nothing go to waste. Most Sami people these days have normal jobs and houses like any other person, but 10% are still reindeer herders. For them, it’s not a necessity, but a lifestyle they’re endeavouring to preserve against the tide of the 21st century.

The farm was a field covered in snow, surrounded by water and the mountains of the fjords. After feeding the reindeer, taking a short sleigh ride, and of course getting many selfies. The group of visitors strolled into the lavvu (a kind of Sami tipi) to warm up and sample some reindeer stew. The in the center of the lavvu was a roaring fire with steaming kettles hung over it by iron rods. Surrounding the fire were wooden benches strewn with reindeer pelts. When we were seated, Eidnár (a tall young man with big fuzzy fur hat) and Jaská (a slightly older woman with fiery red hair) joined us. Both were wearing their traditional bright blue Sami clothing,

After explaining some Sami history Eidnár started to talk about joiking. Every Sami has their own individual joik, or song. One might compare to yodelling or a native American chant, with no ending. By listening to someone’s joik, you can tell what kind of person they are. Some have happy, boisterous joiks, others have longing, soft joiks. To share your joik with someone is to honor them, and it is equally an honor to hear it. Eidnár soon announced that he would share his joik with us. But asked that we not take any videos. This joik was for inside this lavvu only he said, not for the internet or youtube. He sang for a minute or two, with his hand clutching his chest and his eyes closed. It was like he had shared a deep part of himself with us.

Soon after we left the farm, and I had some time to reflect on the experience. The cynical side of me thought maybe this guy Eidnár just didn’t like the idea of a video of him singing floating around cyberspace. Then I considered more carefully and realized maybe he genuinely thought of his joik for us a private moment, one that he wanted to keep to himself. We are a part of this world where everyone posts everything on the internet. Whether it’s the moment you get engaged to be married, the meal you just ate, or a selfie with a reindeer trying to show off how adventurous you are. Maybe we shouldn’t share everything. Maybe when we share our most cherished moments with everyone, a part of what makes them special, because they are just ours, gets taken away. We live in a world where you can google anyone and in a few minutes know their life story. Maybe it’s time to add a little mystery to things again. So when people ask you “how was your trip to that exotic place?” you can tell them a story they don’t already know.

credit photo : Christie

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Memories

A moment lived in Germany by A-Lotta-Travelling, a traveller from Finland

Memories are a peculiar thing. Sometimes the smallest things such as a familiar smell bring back the strongest memories and emotions.

I lived in Kreuzberg, Berlin between the age of 3 to 5, back in 1993-95. My dad worked for a company that was relocated to Germany, and at scarce times after the recession in the early nineties my parents decided to move to Germany for a few years. With a newborn baby, myself and my older sister. Because, why not.

I don’t remember much from my time in Berlin, and when my parents organised for us to go back there in 2000 on a trip I was very excited but also a bit hesitant as I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of it.

When we arrived in Berlin we did some sightseeing around the usual places, and we spent a whole day revisiting our “old life”. My life back then consisted of walking between home, kindergarten and the local playgrounds, which I thought would be moderately interesting for a 10-year old me.

However, upon seeing these places something hit me. I recognised the places mostly from photos, but there was something so familiar with them at the same time. I got a wave of memories that I didn’t know I had and oddly enough I remembered the places as a home from a long time ago. It wasn’t the typical big things such as buildings and parks, but the smaller things such as the smell of a doughnut shop in a corner and an uphill road that felt so steep for me as a child. The things a three-year-old paid attention to.

Granted, a lot had changed in the neighbourhood that back in the nineties was a poorer part of town. You could still feel the strong annotations to a very recently fallen wall back then, but now it is the trendy and hipster part of Berlin. However, it was still amazing to come back to a part of my life that I thought I had forgotten about, and finding memories I didn’t know I had. It truly was a special moment in time, and I hope to be able to go back to Berlin one day and experience it again, and perhaps find some more memories in the cracks of the pavement and the swings of the playgrounds.

This traveler has a travel blog : Lotta

credit photo : A-Lotta-Travelling

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desert Kazakhstan, travel moment

After the desert

A moment lived in Kazakhstan  by Nico, a traveller from Belgium

Four years ago I was travelling with a friend by bike from Europe across Central Asia until the Chinese border. It took us almost 6 months and it was worth it every K out of 7000. In Kazakhstan we cycled through 600km of desert. This is probably the biggest mental and physical challenge I ever took.. From endless horizon to sandy tracks breathing dust offered by the trucks we kept cycling until Beyneu the first city we’ve seen in 7 days.
We were exhausted and covered with a thick layer of dust. Entering the city a 4×4 passed next to us and the driver asked if we just crossed the beast. We said yes! His only words were “follow me”.
We proceeded even if it was a pain to follow the car as he was driving quite fast. He finally stopped and entered a courtyard in front of a building, got off the car knocked on a door. We still had no clue where we were. A man opened the door and the driver spoke to him in Kasakh. Obviously, in a hurry, he helped us to bring the bikes in the building and said something like “This guy is here for you, ask him anything”- then he left without even saying his name.
Well, this is where it became the best moment of my life. The tenant came with some towels and led us to a changing room. Once we were ready he told us to go through this door. There was water falling from the walls like a huge shower room and bassins. the water would never stop. it was nice and perfect. we kept filling the bassins and throwing the water on our burned and damaged bodies.
there was a sauna as well. We haven’t seen so much water for so long!
After 2hrs of paradise we went to the restaurant side, it was only us and we got offered fresh cold beers as well.
This was the best reward I could ever imagine after this crazy leg of the trip. We didn’t have the chance to thank the driver but we will remember forever.

This traveler has a travel blog : Cyclingfurther

credit photo : Nico

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