Archive for the ‘ Tourism ’ Category

Balkan Connections

A railway company named Cargo 10 is ready this October 1st to open its newest project – a new train connection in the Balkans, from Ljubljana to Istanbul.  This project will provide the Western Balkans with trains that are faster, more modern, and in compliance with EU standards.  Cargo 10 was founded by Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia, and Bosnia (FBiH and Republika Srpska separately) and Macedonia also decided to join.  The first step of the project, costing 100 million EUR, will be used for the restoration of the railway lines and the purchase of new electronic engines.  The second loan, valued at 200 million EUR, will be spent on the development of additional routes.  According to Radio Srbija, some of these projects will include,  “the modernization of railway line Belgrade-Subotica-Hungarian border, which is in the north line of Corridor 10. By the end of the year, works on the electrification of the Niš-Dimitrovgrad-Bulgarian border railway are to begin. Next year, two railway bridges, namely those in the towns of Paraćin and Novi Sad respectively, will be built. Negotiations with Russia on a loan of 600 million USD for the Belgrade railway junction and for the building of the Valjevo-Loznica railway are expected.”

Last December, Belgrade and Sarajevo reopened its direct railway connection after 17 years, which was a huge step for the region.  Trains in the former-Yugoslavia are old and slow, and in desperate need of modernization as these countries strive for EU membership.  Serbia’s visa restrictions were lifted at the end of last year, and BiH hopes to join the Schengen White List soon.  The countries in the area need more coordination and joint business ventures like Cargo 10 and travel around the region should be encouraged, for tourists from the rest of Europe as well as for citizens from these successor states.    Ticket prices will be much cheaper and travel times will decrease by about one third, which will result in further economic development of the countries involved.  I believe that Southeast Europe needs a physical connection like this railway line in order to overcome differences of the past and to forge ahead to a prosperous and stable future.

Sources:

BBC article about the Belgrade-Serbia line (opened in 2009)

EUobserver and Radio Srbija on the Cargo 10 project

The Dismal Future of Crete

Long before the Greek economic crisis was a permanent fixture on the news, the UK-based Minoan Group planned to develop  the northeastern area on the island of Crete.  The 1.2 billion euro project will create six tourist villages, three golf courses and luxury holiday resorts on land leased by the declining Toplou monastery.  As one of the largest tourist development projects in Greece, the resorts will provide around 3,500 jobs when completed, and perhaps keep young people from leaving the country to work elsewhere in Europe.

The Future Site of the Luxury Developments

During this time of recession, I try to convince myself that this development project is one logical solution to strengthen the Greek economy through tourism, and to simultaneously strengthen the European community.  However, it is difficult to ignore the negative impact this large luxury tourist destination will have on an island with such a rich history.  The largest island of Greece, Crete was the center of the first advanced (Minoan) civilization in Europe.  Is it some kind of joke that the development company is called the Minoan Group, as they plan to destroy the sites leftover from this Bronze Age ancient civilization?   Today, the island of Crete still has many sites that have not been archaeologically excavated that would provide Europeans with insight into their roots.  The island was farmland during antiquity, and the Neolithic and Minoan farms, terraces and fields are still visible on the island of Crete.  The golf courses and development would only cover up this landscape.

Overall plan for the different tourist locations

Furthermore, this project will cause irreversible damage to the Crete environment, which contains some of the world’s most rare plant species, due to the semi-desert climate of the island.  This part of Crete is supposed to be protected by the Natura 2000 decision, which designates areas in the EU for conservation.  Development is directly in opposition to the Natura 2000, and this tourist village far from the present-day tourism on the island would wreak havoc on the natural beauty of the island.

The Minoan Group has careful answers to all of the concerns of those against this project.  They say they are going to keep the golf course with brown grass, and that they will produce their own water.  This development project will only cover a percentage of the island, but once completed, I’m sure the resorts will expand.  Development in this area is not sustainable because of the lack of water, and already hotels have failed in this location.  With this luxury resort on the opposite side of the island from the current tourist destinations, it will only be a matter of a decade or two before the entire island is developed for foreigners.  The beginning of advanced European civilization, an environmental hotspot, and the location of well-preserved archaeological sites will be long forgotten underneath the golf courses and “tourist villages.”  Despite the need for economic recovery, this is just way too tacky.

(Top Image) A Future Golf Course

The plan for the golf course and conference center

Please visit the Minoan Group website for more information, or this petition site where over 10,000 people have signed against this development project.  Other sources for this post include this wordpress blog post by HomeboyMediaNews and this article on the Travel Daily News website.

Tourist Tips: Sightseeing in Sarajevo

I think Bosnia is Europe’s best-kept secret.  Someday, I believe this beautiful country will be filled with tourists, so I almost hesitate to write this post of encouragement.  However…for those who are interested in visiting Sarajevo, here are my…

Top 6 Sightseeing Recommendations:

  1. Baščaršija –No tourist will miss Baščaršija, or the old city, which is designed in the Ottoman Turkish style.  In the middle of the narrow stone streets one finds Sebilj, which is a wooden fountain that sits in what tourists call “Pigeon Square.”  Take a drink from the fountains located around the city because Bosnia has very high quality water that comes fresh from the surrounding mountains. Baščaršija is the best place to drink a strong Bosnian (Turkish-style) coffee, to eat ćevapi with a side of kajmak, or to buy hand crafted copper souvenirs.

    Sebilj

  2. History Museum (Historijski Muzej, Bosne I Hercegovina) – Visitors should go to the History Museum when they first arrive, which is located across from the train and bus stations.  This museum hosts a permanent exhibition on the siege, which provides a better insight into the country’s recent history.  The exhibition is small and tasteful, and visitors follow a chronological path from the breakup of Yugoslavia.  Photos show how the city looked during the war, displays explain every day life during the siege, and a section devoted to the life of children during this time is particularly moving.  The museum is located not far from the Holiday Inn where journalists stayed during the war, which sits on the former “Sniper’s Alley.”  (Zmaja od Bosne 5, 08:00 – 15:00 daily, Tickets: 2 km)

    History Museum, Siege Exhibition

  3. Latin Bridge and Museum of  Sarajevo 1878 – 1918: This bridge, which was formerly called Princip’s Bridge, was the location of the spot from which Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on 28 June 1914.  The museum, which is right next to the bridge, better explains the event which triggered World War I and Sarajevo during the Austro-Hungarian period (1878-1918) in general.  The museum is small but worth seeing.  (Zelenih beretki 1, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sat: 10:00 – 15:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Latin Bridge

  4. Jewish Museum (Muzej Jevre BiH): This museum is housed in the Old Synagogue.  The building did not suffer much damage during the war because it is set back in a courtyard, and it actually protected collections from other museums.  The displays explain the fascinating history of the Jewish Community in Bosnia through the Communist period.  This community is a special interest of mine and I was fascinated to learn more about their history in the country, especially from their arrival in the mid 16th century through the 19th century (Read here and here).  My only complaint is that the museum does not talk about the important humanitarian role the Jewish community during the war.  Nearby visitors can walk past the Markale Market, which was the site of two massacres during the war, the second of which prompted NATO air strikes.  (Velika Avlija bb, Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 16:00; Sun: 10:00 – 13:00, Tickets: 2 km)

    Inside the Jewish Museum

  5. Alija Izetbegović Museum: I was very curious to look inside this small museum which is housed in an old town fort and dedicated to the former president (1st president) of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The museum victimizes the country of Bosnia, and praises the leadership of Izetbegović and his “intellectual contributions” like the Islamic Declaration.  Mostly, the museum is like a shrine, containing valuable gifts from other world leaders, his old uniforms, and quotes of praise for his leadership.  Since this museum requires a walk up a steep hill, go a little bit further to the old fortress for a great view of the old city and river.  Walk through Kovači Cemetery where Izetbegović himself is buried.  (Ploca, Seasonal hours, Open at 10:00 daily and closed on Sundays, Tickets: 2 km)

    View from above Kovači Cemetery

  6. Vrelo Bosne: Even a short trip to Sarajevo should include some of the breathtaking Bosnian nature.  The best way to enjoy the forests and streams surrounding the city is to visit Vrelo Bosne, which is a national park located at the source of the River Bosne on the outskirts of Sarajevo.  The park is filled with paths and over streams, waterfalls and ponds.  There are a few cafes nearby, and this shady spot is perfect in the summer.  The park is an easy tram ride away from the city center until the end of the line, and then for 15 km, a horse drawn carriage will deliver you to the park itself.  The 25 minute tram ride is also a nice way to see the different neighborhoods of Sarajevo out the window on the way.

    Vrelo Bosne

Enjoy Sarajevo!

Introducing the Annual Sarajevo Film Festival

Sarajevo is filled with anticipation for the annual international film festival that begins today July 22 and lasts until July 31, 2010. The festival will take place earlier than normal this year because Ramadan is in August, and they are expecting about 100,000 visitors for the event. Tourists have arrived in the city, posters advertising the festival hang in every shop window, and men are hard at work setting up outdoor stages and rolling down red carpets. The program is mainly focused on Southeast Europe but will feature films from around the world, and several theaters around the city will show the films all day long.

The website boasts that this is the 16th year of the event, but those from the city know that the festival has a longer history. According to the website, the festival was founded in 1995 after the siege, and the cultural event helps to “recreate civil society” in the city. However, film students from the city tell me something different. The festival did in fact take place during the siege and was organized by Haris Pašović, a theater and film director from Sarajevo. Pašović organized the first Sarajevo film festival in 1993 called “Beyond the End of the World.” The city had no food, water or electricity, let alone projectors and screens to show films. Somehow by petitioning the international community, Pašović received around 200 films from around the world. He found a projector and a generator, and hundreds of people waited out front of the National Theatre for tickets, despite the constant sniper fire around the city.

In the article he wrote in Oslobodjene newspaper that accompanied the festival program in 1993, Pašović addresses the city under siege and the people being annihilated. After comparing the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims to the Holocaust and Jews, he writes “Sarajevo is the city in which the world of the twentieth century, the world to which we were born and brought up, has died. In other places the dying is taking place. Here we live beyond the end of the world.” This statement reflects the title of the festival, and he describes the fundamental human need for art, even (or especially) at a time of war. He states that being constantly close to death means longing for things like art and love in the strongest way.

Pašović did not worry about picture quality or sound at the 1993 Sarajevo film festival. The list of international supporters was very long, and the organizers stated in their newspaper program that they “could not promise anything.” It did not stick to the schedule, and many of the promised films and guests did not show. In 1993, there was no glamor, parties or red carpet. This is a striking contrast from this year’s festival which will honor special guest Morgan Freeman, and other stars will be whisked off to Dubrovnik for post-festival parties. The glossy program and efficient box offices today seem well rehearsed after many years of this annual festival. The organizers of the festival have changed, and so they write that the festival began 16 years ago and they do not mention its start in 1993. I wonder how the “Beyond the End of the World” festival felt for people of the city- they risked their lives for a bit of culture in a time of war, and heard gun shots outside as they watched films from around the world. I am happy for the city of Sarajevo, that they have come so far since the end of the war, and that they host such a well-attended international event. However, as I walk around the city and see artsy foreigners claiming to be emerging directors with their bold clothes and oozing confidence, I cannot help but to wonder about the humble beginnings of the festival in 1993.

Sources:

Sarajevo Film Festival Website

Haris Pasovic- The City Engaged

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Hjorth, Daniel and Monika Kostera, ed.  Entrepreneurship and the Experience Economy.  Copenhagen Business School Press, 2007.  (Found on Google Books)

Note:  I will be attending films from this region, including Years Eaten By Lions, Sevdah for Karim, On the Path, As If I am Not There, Together, The Flood/Kapitalism, I Even Met Happy Gypsies, as well as Lebanon.  The website contains a synopsis for each film.  I look forward to writing about Southeast European film in a later post.

Tourist Tips: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

After traveling to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, I would highly recommend visiting this interesting corner of Europe.  February is certainly not high tourist season for these chilly locations, but there was something very nice about the typical Baltic pastel buildings peeking out from the white snow.  I would never recommend rushing through several countries but I felt satisfied with a day or two in each city, especially in the winter.  My time was limited on this trip, but if I went back I would try to explore some smaller towns, especially in Lithuania.  I would like to provide a list of tips for backpackers or students traveling to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a budget.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Transportation: Coming from Poland, I took a night bus with Eurolines from Warsaw to Tallinn.  This is not the most efficient way to travel to Estonia, but the ticket was very cheap with my student discount (225 PLN one way, or 56 euros).  Another option is to try to find a cheap flight to Riga.  My friends took a ferry from Helsinki which they said was really enjoyable. Once in the Baltics, the cities are an easy bus ride apart.

BUS TICKETS:

  • Warsaw to Tallinn – 225 PLN (about 21 hours)
  • Tallinn to Tartu – 140 EEK (about 2.5 hours)
  • Tartu to Riga – 168 EEK (about 4 hours)
  • Riga to Vilnius – 9 LAT (about 5 hours)
  • Vilnius to Warsaw – 95 Litas (about 10 hours overnight)

TALLINN, ESTONIA
Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is situated on the Baltic Sea and has an enjoyable city center.

Baltic Sea - Tallinn, Estonia

My favorite three sights/activities:

  1. Soviet War Monument: Take a stroll along the Baltic Sea to search for this leftover memorial that was erected over the graves of German soldiers during the Soviet occupation of Estonia.  (Pirata tee)
  2. Museum of Occupations of Estonia: Occupied by the Soviet Union, then briefly by Nazi Germany before another four and a half decades of Soviet occupation, this museum presents the 20th century history of Estonia through memorabilia and videos.    I also quite liked the architecture of the building itself.  (Toompea 8)
  3. Free walking tour from tourist information center:  The tourist center offers free 2 hour walking tours of the center and the guide explains the legends and history of Tallinn.  She will also ask for a tip at the end.  Check the office at Mundi tanav 2 for details because the times change seasonally.

Food: I did not have great luck with Estonian food so here are other recommendations.

  • Reval Café (Vene 1)  Sit next to a cozy fireplace as you eat reasonably priced omeletes, salads, and light dishes in the center.
  • KehrWieder (Saiakang 1)  With a few locations throughout the city, this was the best coffee I have had in a long time.
  • EAT Dumpling and Doughnut Café http://www.eat.ee/ (Sauna 2)  Visit this modest café to eat dumplings priced by weight with local students.

Accommodation: I stayed in two hostels in Tallinn, and Tallinn Backpackers Hostel (Olevimägi 11) was far better than Euphoria Hostel.  The place was conveniently located in the Old Town, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the rooms were clean.  Because the hostel is multi-leveled, you can be social if you want or go to bed early.  80ish EEK/8 USD for a dorm bed.

View of Tallinn, Estonia

TARTU, ESTONIA
Tartu is the university city of Estonia and only a short bus ride from Tallinn.

Town Hall - Tartu, Estonia

My favorite three sights/activities:

  1. Toomemagi (Cathedral Hill): Take a walk past quaint bridges, through thick woods, and discover a ruined gothic cathedral.
  2. Tartu Ulikool (Tartu University):  The city centers around these academic buildings and the student-life within…
  3. Estonian National Museum: This museum tracks the history, life and traditions of the Estonian people.  There are displays of holidays, costumes and crafts.  (Veski 32)

Food Recommendations:

  • Crepp: Quiche, soups, and meals with fresh ingredients and a cool ambiance.  (Ruutli 16)

Transportation:
Tartu to Riga – 4ish hours, 168 EEK

RIGA, LATVIA
Riga was my favorite stop during this trip for the interesting architecture and vibe of a bigger city.

House of Blackheads - Riga, Latvia

My favorite three sights/activities:

  1. Museum of the Occupation of Latvia: The museum explains the tumultuous history of Latvia from 1940-1991 through powerful displays, memorabilia and one room with a reconstruction of gulag barracks.  Free with the suggestion of a donation. (Strēlnieku laukums 1)
  2. House of Blackheads and other architecture…  The city is known for its art nouveau style architecture, among other influences.  Take a walking tour and start in the center at the House of Blackheads.
  3. Market Hall:  Browse through this enormous market hall near the bus station to get a feel for every day life in Latvia.  There are five connected pavilions selling everything from meat to souvenirs to underwear. Definitely worth taking a walk through or pausing for something to eat.  (Negu iela 7)

Food/Accommodation Recommendations:

  • Dome Pearl Hostel: This hostel was the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in and felt more like a hotel.  Centrally located, the place is clean and is operated by an endearing Russian grandmother who offered us coffee and tried to set me up with another traveler.  (4 Tirgoņu iela) http://www.dome-hostel.com
  • Lido Restaurant: This is a chain Latvian restaurant with several locations and lob cabin interiors.  The food is served buffet style but prepared and grilled in sight. A great way to taste hearty Latvian food and its relatively cheap for the portion sizes.

Transportation:

Bus Riga to Vilnius – 9 Lat

Riga at Night

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA
The largest and capital city of Lithuania and contains the largest Old Town in East Europe.

Art in the Center of Riga

My favorite sights/activities:

  1. Lithuanian State Jewish Museum/Centre for Tolerance:  Vilnius once contained a flourishing Jewish community and this museum explains its very interesting and difficult history.  The museum also contains an eclectic art collection of Jewish artists in all media.  (Naugarduko gatve 10/2)
  2. Uzupis district: The Montmartre of Vilnius, this artist district of the city has a bohemian feel with many galleries and cafes. In 1997, the residents of the area declared a Republic of Užupis, with its own flag, currency, president, and constitution which is posted in several languages near the main square. They celebrate this independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1st/April Fool’s Day when they stamp people’s passports upon entering.

Uzupis

I recommend seeing these three countries together in one trip.  I had a great time and hope that some of these suggestions are useful for other travelers and backpackers to the Baltics.

Waste of Space

(I apologize for the lull in writing.  Just a quick post in the middle of studying for exams…)

Parliament Palace at night

A few years ago, I met a young woman from Bucharest who emigrated to Canada.  She adamantly described Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament as an eye-sore and a waste.  It turns out that her family used to live in one of the neighborhoods destroyed to build the communist monstrosity.  As a tourist in Bucharest a few months ago, I have to admit that although the Parliament Palace is ugly in the daylight in its typical Soviet-era neoclassical style, I found it rather impressive it its magnificent size.  According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the palace is the world’s largest civilian administrative building, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building.  The building is 270 m by 240 m, 86 m high, and 92 m under ground and it has 1,100 rooms, 2 underground parking garages and is 12 stories tall.

According to wiki, construction of the palace by dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu destroyed the historic district of Bucharest, 19 Orthodox churches, 6 Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches and about 30,000 residences.  Construction began in 1983 and was intended to house all major state institutions as well as the residence of Ceauşescu himself.  Ceauşescu was known for the eratic personality cult of his totalitarian regime, and the Parliament Palace represents the way that he lived in luxery as the people of Romania were impoverished and starving.  Eventually, his government was overthrown in 1989 and he and his wife were executed.  Today, the building is not completed.

Only 1/3 of the space in the parliament building is currently used, and it costs more than 50 million euros a year to maintain.  If only 1/3 of the space is used- this means that 20,000 personal residences were destroyed without cause, not to mention the historic district and aforementioned places of worship.   Recently it was proposed that part of the building would make a great shopping center, which could bring 20,000 new jobs and millions in revenue for the city.  The shopping mall would be four times as large as Southeast Europe’s largest mall currently, Afi Palace Cotroceni, which is also in Bucharest.  However, the public is divided over whether or not to turn a historic building into a commercial center.  Although Ceauşescu was a cruel dictator, the building symbolizes a large part of Romania’s recent history that cannot be ignored.

I think the best use for the building would be to house cultural institutions- a museum, theatre, concert hall, etc. However – pragmatically speaking, the enourmous space needs to be put to use and I think a shopping center in part of the world’s second largest building (after the Pentagon) is actually a good idea.  In this economy, a mall would mean more jobs and money for the city.  When tourists visit Bucharest, they like to take pictures of the exterior of the building (notice my photo above!) but most likely few venture inside for the boring tour of the governmental headquarters.  I can imagine that many people would want to go inside to see a shopping mall in the interesting and important space and maybe have a coffee in a posh cafe that kept historic elements in the decor.   If I were in the position of the woman I met a few years back and my home was destroyed to create such an extravagent building, of course I would be resentful of the dictator that destroyed the country and my home.  However, I would be most angry that the building was so extravagent that only a third of the space is even used.  What a waste.  The building will remain an eye-sore in the center of Bucharest, and will forever be a symbolic reminder of the country’s communist past.  Its about time that the building be put to use.

Sarajevo’s Contemporary Art Scene

Even though I only visited Sarajevo for a few days this summer, I did not get the impression that the city has a thriving contemporary art scene.  We toured the National Museum and the Bosnian History Museum but did not have enough time for gallery-hopping.  Sarajevo is a great city for strolling through the narrow, bustling streets but one does not see public art while walking.  In fact, the only public art that I did see was outside the National Museum- an ironic concrete block with the inscription: “Under this stone there is a monument to the victims of the war and Cold War.”  I snapped a photo as I am interested in public art and memorializing without realizing until today that the piece is by the only Bosnian artist I know, Braco Dimitrijević.  In October 2007, I drove four hours from my university to hear him speak near my parent’s home in Philadelphia.  He spoke at the Slought Foundation on his series “The Casual Passer-By” and although my father fell asleep in the audience and I did not understand everything he discussed, these early experiences led me to study the Balkans today.


Still, there must be more to Bosnian contemporary art than Braco Dimitrijević.  Today I am thrilled to read an article in the NY Times travel section discussing this very topic.  The article illuminates the struggles of contemporary art in Sarajevo, the gallery scene, and hopes for the future.  I am pleased to read that abandoned spaces in the city are now used to showcase local contemporary art.  Apparently the Ars Aevi contemporary art museum is open by appointment only because of financial reasons, but other galleries are mentioned that I would like to check out on my next visit.  Finally, I learned that Bosnia is planning a biennial for contemporary art to begin in 2011 if all goes according to plan.

Organizing a biennial with Serbia’s Ministry of Culture shows commitment towards creating a unified national identity and forging a future of tolerance and acceptance.  Hopefully the Council of Europe will follow through on their promise of finances, because this event would be a great opportunity for Bosnian artists with different ethnic backgrounds to work together.  I am a firm believer in the powers of art to create a sense of community.  If this biennial is a success, artists currently lost in the country’s rehabilitation process will be recognized.  Maybe Bosnia and Europe will see the need for more public art especially in the city of Sarajevo in order to help the country deal with the past.  A Serbian friend once cynically remarked that the Balkans have bigger issues than worrying about modern art.  Although I admit to being somewhat idealistic, I think that art is a great way to deal with some of these “issues”.  A greater importance placed on art in the Balkans in general and Bosnia specifically means steps towards a future of acceptance and peace.  The article in the NY Times today gives me hope.

For those traveling to Sarajevo, these are the galleries noted in the article:

Charlama Depot Gallery, Centar Skenderija, Terezije; (387-33) 203-178. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday (9 a.m. for the Sub Dokumenta exhibition).

Galerija 10m2 and Duplex/10m2, Stakleni Grad, Ferhadija 15; (387-63) 952-197; galerija10m2sarajevo.unblog.fr and www.duplex10m2.com. Both galleries are open 2 to 7 p.m. (closed Wednesday and Sunday).

Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art, Obala Kulina Bana 22; (387-33) 665-304; www.scca.ba and www.pro.ba; visits by appointment only.

Obala Meeting Point, Hamdije Kresevljakovica 13, Skenderija; (387-33) 668-186. A cafe where mini-exhibitions are often on display; video pieces by artists are sometimes screened in the adjacent cinema.

%d bloggers like this: