Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Guide to World Domination

In my aimless pre-going-to-bed surfing, I stumbled over this gem: "A Brief Guide to World Domination" by Chris Guillebeau. Basically, it gives you some tips and tricks on how to 'live an unconventional life' and do something that really matters. While, you know, many of these motivational  speeches or posters are sometimes a little idealistic, I do think it's important to refocus your attention and efforts sometimes on the bigger picture. In his guide, Chris asks two basic questions: "What do you really want to get out of life?" and "What can you offer the world that no-one else can?" and then stresses that, if you really put your energy into it, it is very possible that you can achieve your goal. If you consider the amount of time you spend with mindless tasks, I think he has a point. In talking about what you need in order to succeed, he talks about passion, supporters, the usual... until he mentions a very valuable point: 

"Expertise: When you take the time to become a real expert in something highly specialized that really adds value to the world, the people you help will start looking to you for answers about seemingly unrelated topics.  It’s always better to start highly focused and then work outwards than to begin with a broad, unspecific mandate." 

In a way, this point validated my current path for me. I am so caught up in studies at the moment that I sometimes feel guilty not volunteering, working, gaining experience or adding value one way or another - but seeing this point in time as an investment in my future contribution (which form that will eventually take..) makes me feel better about hitting the books. 

Because, as Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly said, 

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Sometimes I also leave my room and go on awesome walks, I swear! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Buen Vivir concept - more than just Dolce Vita

My conference this weekend was extremely interesting, both from the agricultural perspective (although not many new-to-me points were brought up, I think a lot of the other participants that did not come from a food/ag background learned a lot) as from the larger Latin American context. There were many topics brought up that could be discussed in-depth, but I wanted to learn and write more about a socio-cultural and socio-political concept that I had never previously encountered: that of Buen Vivir. I listened to a presentation by Thomas Fatheuer and have most of my information from this presentation as well as his (very recommendable) publication with the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on the topic. 

"Buen Vivir" entered the socio-political discourse in the Andean countries of Bolivia and Ecuador after the election of left-oriented, progressive governments under Rafael Correa (elected 2006 in Ecuador) and Evo Morales (the Bolivian president since 2005). In an attempt to break with their past - both with (neo-)colonialism and the more recent neoliberalism -, both countries adopted new constitutions in 2008 and 2009, respectively, and the constitutional project that lasted from 2006 to 2008 saw considerable democratic and indigenous consultation about these so-called "transitive" constitutions: constitutions geared towards change that "create new worlds with words". They were supposed to not only document the status-quo, but also create a conceptual road map and answer questions such as "where do we want our country to go in the future? What do we care about? What is our vision of society?"

This is where "Buen Vivir" comes into play. Based on the indigenous traditionally close connection of humans with nature, on an ideal focused not on development and growth but on an equilibrium condition known in Quechua as Sumak Kausay, the concept recognizes the rights of nature and moves away from an anthropocentric view of sustainability. From this viewpoint, the "good life" is a life in community and solidarity with others - both human and non-human-, with respect for the diversity of preferences and needs, based on harmony and reciprocity. According to the President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador, Alberto Acosta, “Buen Vivir is a category in the life philosophy of indigenous societies that has lost ground due to the effects of Western rationality’s practices and messages. Nevertheless, without committing the error of false idealization, it makes an important contribution as an invitation to accept other practices and wisdom.” 

The impressive side of the story in my eyes is that this indigenous viewpoint not only exists on a societal, non-governmental level, but has been enshrined in the constitutions of both countries (considering that indigenous peoples constitute large proportions of the population of both Ecuador and Bolivia, and are even in the majority in Bolivia, this is a very positive example of actual representative democracy). Ecuador's constitution defines Buen Vivir as one of its central objectives - including both the equivalent to the UN - ESC rights (economic, social and cultural), but also the definition that “Buen Vivir requires that individuals, communities, peoples and nations are in actual possession of their rights and exercise their responsibilities in the context of interculturalism, respect for diversity and of harmonious coexistence with nature” (Article 275). And true to its plurinational objectives, the constitution of Bolivia refers to a multitude of indigenous concepts such as : amaqhilla, ama llulla, ama suwa (do not be lazy, do not lie, do not steal), suma qamaña (vive bien), ñandereko (vida armoniosa – harmonious life), teko kavi (vida buena), ivi maraei (tierra sin mal – Earth without evil, also translated as‘intact environment’), and  qhapaj ñan  (Camino o vida noble – the path of wisdom).

The application of these practices in reality is complex and controversial, especially since a period of neo-extractivism has arrived in Latin America in which it is tempting to exploit natural resources in order to finance (amongst others) social projects. But our presentation did also mention a fascinating attempt at a direct translation of principles into practice - the Yasuni ITT initiative.

File:Mono ardilla - Saimiri sciureus.jpg

The Ecuadorian rainforest is a haven of biodiversity. Image By ggallice (Geoff Gallice)
[CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a proposal by the Ecuadorian government under the general concept of accounting for Net Avoided Emissions in the fight for climate change. The principle is easy - Ecuador agrees to aims to leave 20% of the country’s oil reserves, located in the Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini oil block at the Yasuni National Park, un-exploited. Not only could valuable eco-systems be saved, this 'pact' would also avoid the emission of 407 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In return, the international community would pay Ecuador 50% of the expected returns on the oil if exploited, thereby paying for 'Avoided Emissions', while Ecuador would agree to contribute the other 50% as an act of good global citizenship. The plan was proposed by Ecuador in 2007, and the global concept of Net Avoided Emissions was presented at COP 16, the meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun in 2010. There is a UNDP-administered trust fund that started up in 2010 as well that is aiming to raise $3.6 billion over 13 years until 2024. Though from what I found online the fund-raising efforts are still at the very beginning, the initiative is going strong, and lobbying around the world (for example recently at the World Economic Forum in Dubai) for some more global citizenship. I hope they don't give up! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Can Organic Feed the World?

Oh dear. Has it really just been 6 weeks of grad school? It feels much, much longer - but in a good, whirlwind kind of way. I am daily reminded about how little I know and how much there is to learn - but also, what an important, valuable topic I chose as my (hopeful) career path. Before coming here, I was thinking a lot about how to process all the information I undoubtedly would gather here, and thought, blogging might be a great tool both for me to organize the thoughts swirling through my head - and to get the word out on the issues I am so passionate about. These first few weeks, though, I felt like a sponge, just soaking up knowledge and way too busy to do anything with it, but now I feel... ready, I think, to share. I am hoping to make this as regular a feature I can muster, focusing on things I learn in class, in seminars, through readings and just on the go talking to my fellow classmates, but we will see whether these expectations can be met. I think it might be a nice veering-away from my travel-blog theme (though there will most definitely be more pretty Bonn pictures like this one -> 

I just think it might be more interesting to know WHAT I am learning about than to listen to me yap on about how nice the library is that I am learning it in. If anybody is still listening? Hello? :) 

Starting out sweet and short (edited to add - not really that short..), I just finished watching a documentary that our teacher in the class "Ethics of Food Production and Consumption" recommended we see at the beginning of the semester - and am so glad I found time for it! It is called "Die Zukunft pflanzen - Bio für 9 Milliarden" (Planting the Future - Organic for 9 Billion People) and is a Franco-German co-production by ARTE. I tried and failed to find a version with English subtitles online, but saw that the DVD (with subtitles) will be out by the end of November and will be available through Amazon. German-speakers - there is an easily google-able Youtube version online. 

It follows the French producer Marie-Monique Robin around the world onto all continents to explore the question whether organic and sustainable production methods would have the potential to mirror the yields of industrial agriculture or whether, as often claimed, it is simply a niche concept without worldwide applicability. In doing so, we explore 
  • Milpa-agriculture in Mexico, which takes advantage of the unique interactions between corn, bean and squash crops (also traditionally known as the "Three Sisters" in North America) which are grown symbiotically together on one plot, enriching the soil and contributing to the food sovereignty of small-scale producers in the region; 
  • the push-pull method, developed by the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya and spreading throughout Africa, which uses particular plants to "push" out weeds and pests from in between the food crops and "pull" them towards alternative plots in the vicinity (this method is becoming a cheap and sustainable alternative to costly pesticide use for example in Malawi, where Robin visited local producers - see this illustration for a visual explanation); 
  • the origin of Community-Supported-Agriculture (CSA) schemes in Japan - the so-called Teikei system, where consumers purchase their produce and rice directly from farmers which they know personally - in the example given, the farmer doesn't even ask for particular prices, but delivers his food and, in return, receives a "thank-you-donation". This enables a family/community feeling about food production and consumption and fosters real appreciation for the importance of farmer's jobs - namely, to feed the population. 
  • There are also other examples of organic production methods in Germany, market intervention schemes in Senegal, and many interviews of leading researchers and scientists in the fields of agro-forestry and agroecology. All in all a super interesting documentary! 
  • My take-home messages: 
    • To answer the question, from what we know, organic production methods might very well be able to replace industrial ag. The Rodale Institute - which was also featured - compared organic and conventional production methods on two adjacent plots of land over 30 years and did not find significant differences in yields - except that the organic soil was more resilient in the case of drought. Also, the organic system used 45% less energy and emitted 40% less greenhouse gases. 
    • The Rodale Institute also found - very importantly for developing countries - that organic farming, which is far less reliant on expensive inputs, are more profitable in the long run. 
    • Expert after expert in the documentary stressed the importance of small-scale farmers and more localized systems for the achievement of both food security and food sovereignty, particularly in the Global South. If I may add my two cents, already reducing barriers to market access or to a successful shift toward organic production methods can help small-scale farmers significantly and are attainable policy change objectives. 
    • Organic, agro-ecological or agro-forestry-based methods of production are not a "reversion back towards the Stone Ages", as supporters of the industrial food system like to point out, but based on cutting-edge scientific research and a much deeper understanding of nature and ecosystems than the current system. 
    • Woohoo change is possible! 
I will definitely look into a lot of the issues mentioned above more, particularly the different components of agro-ecology, but would recommend the movie to anybody interested in looking behind the scenes of current shifts in thinking about how our food is grown. And if you don't have an hour and a half - this is a good starting point:

Tomorrow I am going to a conference on Food Behavior and Globalization in Latin America - I will be sure to report back! Until then! 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

One week in Bonn

Actually, since I only arrived on Tuesday, I guess that would be six days in Bonn. It is crazy how time flies when you start somewhere new. Making friends, getting administrative things tied down, and just trying to organize your life takes over and lets you fall into bed every night exhausted, though your mind keeps circling through your to-do lists incessantly... Let's see, what are my first impressions of Bonn? 

  • Actually, I am kind of blown away by 1) how pretty and 2) how cultured Bonn is. When we went to the Einwohnermeldeamt to officially register our residency here they gave us a booklet with 300 coupons for all kinds of museums, theatres, concerts, attractions... The list goes on and on and we get free entries or massive discounts to all of them. Very exciting. I foresee a lot of exploration-weekends. As to the pretty part... 
You see awesome houses wherever you look up.

There are random castles in the city center. 

the Münster looks like a fairy tale castle from this angle.

  •  My fellow AFEPians turned out to be the most wonderful people and I am sure we will become very close friends. They also made me a little scared for the beginning of class since they are all super accomplished and/or have extensive agro-economic background. In our introduction session, the organizing prof said "the people with econ background should focus on the agricultural and food side, and the people with agri background focus on the economics - so you will all have a lot to do." He somehow didn't mention people with an IR background. I guess I will just focus on everything. 
  • It is pretty awesome to be a German in an international program in Germany. I love startling people by listening to them explain something in English and then following up with a question in German. 
  • The small pleasures in life become more apparent when you move places with limited belongings. I was pretty exuberant about finding and buying not-super-expensive sheets for my bed the other day. Before that I was sleeping on my towel since my study buddy warned me that "you never know who slept on your bed before." So sheets - and yellow ones to top things off - were a pretty big accomplishment. Also - spoons. I still don't own a large spoon because the cheap place that I got all my other house ware ran out of spoons and I don't see why I should spend 4 Euros on one single household item. I am really craving soup though. Sigh. Life is hard.
  • Greatest decision of the week #1: Getting a bike straight away. Bonn is a super bikable city with separate bike lanes everywhere and it is so much more fun to get to know the city than by public transport. Today for example, I went for a ride and found both a Herbstfest (autumn festival) at the Botanic Gardens: 

They were presenting local apple variations. 

Kiwi tree!

all the stuff they grow

... and found the largest park of the town just next to the Rhine: 

shared with a gazillion ducks

Apparently, you can even follow the Rhine all the way to Cologne! 

  • Greatest decision of the week #2: Starting the cultured life with a bang. Bonn is the birthplace of Beethoven and they are super proud of it, so they have a Beethoven festival every year in September and early October, and we managed to catch the last weekend of it! The organizers had this great student deal where they reserved a certain number of tickets (of the normal range between 40 and 120 Euros) and gave them away an hour before the performance for 8 Euros. Eight. On Saturday, a friend and I went to hear (and see) the Fifth and Eighth Symphonies, and today the Ninth (with the Ode an die Freude, nowadays the European hymn.) It was beyond incredible. We had seats in the first row the first night, next to an elderly gentleman who had paid 93 Euros for his seat. And the second night, we had separate tickets but I was sitting in the fourth row, with a great view of the orchestra and conductor-extraordinaire Esa-Pekka Salonen. What a way to start a great year!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Post-travel superlatives

I know I still owe you an account of my last two travel-days, but I think I can cut it short with a-sentence-per-destination:
Rijeka: cute medieval castle, but other than that a bustling transit hub you won't want to stay in longer than a day or two.
Trieste: imperial, neo-classical city that reminded me more of Paris than any other Italian town and also has the meanest money exchange (at the train station. I should have known better, but I didn't find any others in town) that ripped me off so much when I exchanged my remaining kuna that it took me half an hour to enjoy the city, but eventually the stunning views won me over even as I lamented corrupt traveler-exploitation (run-on sentence much?)

Venice: always a pleasure, but particularly at 6.30am before any other tourist has entered town - well worth getting up at 5.45 am my last morning.

To end my travelogue for this time, some superlatives:

Best gelato: Sicialian cannoli flavor, at Gelatauro in Bologna (closely followed by Pino Pinguino flavor, a local couchsurfing favorite in Campobasso and Ancona, which includes thick strands of Nutella woven throughout. Oh, and ricotta and fig gelato in Ravenna. Ok, gelato superlatives are too hard. Moving on.)

Best high-end meal: tortelli di zucca, squash-filled pasta in sage butter, at Bella Venezia in Ravenna. For good reason a local specialty of Emilia-Romagna.

Best low-end meal: Burek sa sirom, a deep-fried filo-dough-pastry filled with zingy cheese, served piping hot in a bakery in Brac and enjoyed on a ferry ride back to Split. I also didn't have dinner that night because it was so filling (and probably contained my daily recommended calories all in one serving.)

Best cafe (read: espresso): at Cremcaffe in Trieste. Trieste is actually really well known for its coffee roasteries (torrefazioni) and Cremcaffe is the town's oldest. Figures they'd do it right.

Best sunset: viewed sitting on a medieval castle wall in Sibenik (though the best caught-on-iPod is probably the one over the Elafiti islands pictured below).


Best sunrise: viewed swimming in the Adriatic in Dubrovnik (though seeing magenta clouds over the Canale Grande in Venice - below - is a close second.)

Most ridiculous adventure: climbing a mountain pass road on a rental bike in Korcula, in the process nearly breaking its handlebar and acting out charades with a Croatian couple to get it repaired (runner-up: the whole getting-caught-in-a-downpour-on-a-motorbike-TWICE deal).

Most interesting hostel-dwellers: Elisabeth the numerologist (though her name would be more fortunate if spelled with a z) and Dragan-alias-Drag the future best-selling author, especially with that pen name, in Korcula.

Most demanding linguistic challenge: figuring out whether I was supposed to use the 'signore' or 'signori' door when using the bathroom in Bari.

Most demanding instruction-reading challenge: finding my hostel in Venice-Mestre (which was located close to the highway between Venice and the airport), a treasure hunt that included directions such as 'take bus #5 or 19, press the stop request button when you pass under the blue and white bridge witht he ropes attached, cross the pedestrian bridge and walk 200 metres until you see a tan building'... Did  I mention that I did this after dark? I may or may not have whooped when I found it.

Freshest fish: at 6.40am at the market in Venice where it was (LITERALLY) flopping off the market stand. Kind of disconcerting, actually. Plus I stood there watching the fishermen set up for so long that one of them called out to his friend 'hey, I think somebody is in love with you!' I booked it out of there after that, though I swear I wasn't watching JUST that guy. He was cute, though.

I could go on for hours, but I think that the fish story is a nice closing line. While weird and slightly embarassing, these sorts of encounters are what my trip was all about: going off the beaten path, joking around with the locals and, yes, occasionally (rather often) making a fool of myself - all in the name of experiencing the real deal. Which would have been impossible without all my generous, kind-hearted and oh-so-inspirational couchsurfing hosts to whom I am indebted so much in real-deal experiences and the best times I had. Encountering them was really the superlative of the trip, so Salah, Maria Grazia, Arianna, Maria, Antonio, Yixin, and Mladen - you are truly the best!! For me, meeting you really embodied this quote by Tin Ujevic who I learned about in Split: 

"Do not fear! You are not alone! There are others but you
who unknown to you live your life too.
And everything you were and heard and dreamed
with the same fire, beauty, cleanness burns in them."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Zen Zadar

In honor of today being one of my longest travel days (2 hour bus + 4 hour sightseeing + 5 more hours of bus), I thought I would share some travel tips I acquired over the (limited, but not insignificant) years of traveling I have done.
1. Be prepared. At least for me, nothing is more annoying than spending valuable travel time with trip organization nitty-gritty, you can do that while you are still at home! Having an approximative itinerary and at least a couple of pre-booked nights in a hostel gives us type-A-planners peace of mind and more time for the fun stuff.
2. Be prepared... to overhaul your plans if necessary (and make sure to review them around 1 or 2 days in advance for that purpose). Some of my best Croatia memories are from my couchsurfing experience in Split, where I had originally booked a hostel but then cancelled it after I got invited by Mladen. Similarly, I still don't understand why past-Janina thought it would be wise to travel through Rijeka by night and spend 2 hours from 4 to 6am at the bus station... Thankfully I caught that and booked a hostel here a day in advance from Sibenik. Believe me, I am glad to have a bed to sleep in tonight. Also, at least in Croatia online schedules are accurate in 70% of cases, with the remaining 30% merely indicating the existence of a mode of transport from point A to B with no relationship in terms of timing whatsoever. It is thus prudent to check again.
3. On that note, when traveling through non-metropolis, smaller cities such as Trogir or Zadar today, 3 to 4 hours is really all you need to appreciate the old town, the atmosphere and the main sights. It's way better to have short but sweet visits combined with covering medium-length distances than having 8 hour days of sightseeing followed by all-day-travel-days, in my opinion. This is obviously exactly the opposite of the typical interrail-Europe-travel schedule, but that is why I prefer these types of itinerary.
4. Take breaks! A 1.20€ coffee won't break the travel bank and breaks make sightseeing, especially with a backpack, so much more enjoyable. I used to be too cheap for frequent coffee breaks and still remember fun, but really intense sightseeing days that left me exhausted instead of relaxed. Now I prefer to save money on pricey restaurants and going out at night (not that I did that much before, though) as well as being pickier about the entrance fees to the tourist attractions I really want to see in order to enjoy more leisurely reading and relaxing hours such as today in this little hillside cafe in Zadar, where I read some more Plato and pondered the meaning of life (or something like that). Oh, and spend money on memories rather than tacky souvenirs!!
5. When traveling in bus or train for more than 2 hours, I always prepare as if traveling with a grumpy 5-year-old (that grumpy 5-year-old being unprepared-travel-me). I pack water, snacks, a cardigan in case it gets cold, light literature, serious literature, download my latest podcasts, charge all my electronic devices... It sounds ridiculous, but as an only child you get good at entertaining yourself on long trips as well and this prep work means that I am always a happy camper and travel days become favorite days instead of abysses of boredom.
6. Always. Be. Early. I prefer leaving the city centre half an hour earlier. The people watching is just as good in the train or bus station, and the half hour gives you the leeway to realize that a) you are standing at the wrong terminal, b) you need to cross the entire station to stamp your ticket since all the machines in your vicinity are broken, c) you reallllly need to pee before embarking on a 4 hour trip, etc. All of these things have happened to me on this trip, and I have still managed to board my transport devise of choice early enough to get strategic seating (see next point).
7. Okay, this might be a little extreme, but whenever possible, figure out which side of the bus/train/boat will be facing the most panoramic view and try to snag a window seat on that side. All the while that I have been traveling north I have determinately thrown myself in a left-handed window seat of the bus, and boy am I glad I did - it's just not the same if you see gorgeous Adriatic views behind the heads of three other uninterested passengers while your window is facing the mountainside. Just saying'.

Well, those are my two cents of German-efficient travel wisdom. Just a couple of words on Zadar - I guess what I enjoyed most was the cool mix between old and new buildings (Zadar was bombed a lot during World War II) and the connected hip and laid-back vibe. Coolest must-see attraction in my opinion is the Sea Organ (no pun intended), a staircase leading down towards the water that uses the waves to push air through underground valves and makes the most astonishing sounds - as I would imagine Arielle and her mermaid friends would listen to (yes, a Disney reference. I am so mature). Here is a clip of how it sounds:

Otherwise, Zadar is cute, but not extraordinary - but a great stop on my way back up the coast on my last full day in Croatia - I'll be in Italy again tomorrow!

Zadar seaside

I hear other people give their backpacks names... I just call it backpack. 

Some Zadar church... 

The philosophical cafe =)
Views from the (right side!) of the bus

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sensational Sibenik

Sibenik was one of those stops that I planned out of necessity, since I was really excited about seeing some Croatian countryside - the Krka national park - and required a place to do that day trip from. However, I totally fell in love with the place in honest - it is one if the most laid-back, unpretentious places I have been so far and simultaneously immensely historical with an old town that feels as if it stopped all development in the Medieval period. Hitching my maxi-skirt up around my ankles today as I made my way up the narrow alleyways and tiny stairs all the way to the castle that watches over the town, I truly felt like a medieval dame hurrying to a pig roast, or whatever medieval people did for entertainment purposes.
As for my entertainment, I was on my way to watch the sunset from the uppermost tower of the castle ruin, and read some Plato in the red evening rays after a long lazy day at the Krka national park.
Let me tell you -Krka is awesome. True, the part accessible by foot (and not by boat that makes you pay extra) is quite small, but so cute - it's a maze of wooden pathways and bridges along wild forests and over small rivers and little springs, all gathering to cascade down in some mighty waterfalls. On the bottom of one fall, you can even swim, and experience the surprisingly strong current for yourself. And a impressive amount of people did just that today (including me and my Québécois hostel-friends) despite the refreshing temperatures. I took a gazillion pictures, but not on my iPod, so please excuse me for the Internet-generated pics -pinky promise it looked just like this!! (sources:;;;
Also, I know I talked about Dalmatian a capella yesterday, but I felt the need to stress how good it is with an example - click on the link and enjoy. You are welcome.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tantalizing Trogir

(excuse the title, my brain is really tired).
I have come to appreciate the travel days that I snuck in between my sightseeing days more and more. I could say something cheesy about the journey being more important than the destination, but I think I just really like watching landscapes change and seeing glimpses of many different things - probably another reason why I am such an active, ants-in-my-pants traveller. Today I made my way out of Split (after missing the right bus stop for the main bus station and finding it again on foot, making for my first feeling of success of the day), heading north to Trogir and then onwards to Sibenik. Travelling by bus in a country whose language you don't speak (although most people here speak a surprising amount of English) is .. let's call it exciting. Am I gonna catch the right bus? Heading in the right direction? Get off at the right stop? What if the schedule changed during low season? But then the advantages of bus travelling come into play - you travel along the coastline with magnificent views every 5 meters, it is dirt cheap (I paid around 9 euros today for a 2.5 hour journey north) and you get to see the country! Stopping in the middle, like I did in Trogir, just sweetens the deal. Trogir is an awesome town built on this little pseudo-island (with canals all around) with beautiful artwork, dizzying little alleyways and streets and some of the best Dalmatian a Capella singers - I completely fell in love with traditional Croatian music here, the male a Capella groups are simply divine. Trogir also has a great market that sells fruits, vegetables and all kinds of mysterious homemade pickles, relishes, chutneys and the like. I ate myself silly on fresh figs from the market, became an a Capella groupie for an afternoon (they were also hottttt), climbed the cathedrals bell tower (I am slowly be owning a pro at doing that with my backpack), surprised a Swiss German group of tourists up on the tower by responding to their warning about the steepness in their mother tongue, and generally had a great time. At 5, I took my next bus along great stretches of coast, hills, islands in the distance illuminated by the afternoon sun, until I reached Sibenik. I don't feel I have down this town justice yet, so maybe I should go up bed now in order to get up bright and early tomorrow to see the sights before going on the day trip to the National park I planned. Sigh. Life is hard.

Splendid Split

After braving the elements in Korcula, our katamaran made its way into smoother waters along the coastline, and eventually we were cruising under a blue sky! The weather forecast however had prepared me for a rainy day in Split, so it was no surprise when we found the remnants of big bad rain clouds looming over the mainland. However, one cappuccino (and energy kick after getting up at 4.30) later, all the clouds had disappeared and I was left with a truly splendid two days in and around the city. Split is best-known to be founded upon the remains of Roman emperor Diocletian's palace. I knew that the palace was the mains attraction. What I didn't know, however, was that it encompasses basically the entire old town, it's huge! Quite the retirement home for an old and wary emperor. Subsequently, refugees fleeing from a Slav invasion found the unused palace and used it for what my guidebook describes as the most infamous squat in history. Now, some actual sights remain such as a temple and the original basement (only excavated in 1956!), but the majority of the palace is actual living space now with restaurants, shops, cages and apartments sharing parts of the old walls. Fascinating. My favorite part of sightseeing was to climb the bell tower (with my backpack in tow, I felt like a mountaineer) and see the pristine harbor and coastline as well as the city. Oh, and swimming around the cliffs north of the city centre is recommendable too. I also got my dose of culture and great conversations thanks to my couchsurfing host Mladen, who took me to the Split independent film festival and around town and with whom I talked about everything from spirituality to the war. Truly an enriching experience beyond just the sights. (Also, in case one is looking for a half-day trip from Split, yesterday I went to Brac in the morning for one last ferry-and-island adventure and had the best time discovering the sleepy town and unspoiled bays. Mladen however says that Brac is incomparable to Hvar, and that I only liked Brac because I didn't have the comparison case. I think his exact words were "if you have never seen the ocean even a puddle looks great." then again, he is from Hvar and so majorly biased. :) Use your own judgment.)

Crazy Korcula

I don't use the word "crazy" lightly, but Korcula allowed me to witness a series of events that, I believe, merit that label. Amongst others:
- after a 15 minute drive, being dropped off at a hostel seemingly in the middle of nowhere with an owner whose first words were "you are my last guest of the season. God I'm glad it's over!"
- then being given a map and hearing "it's much closer to the center of town if you walk!" This didn't mention that walking involved sketchy poorly-lit paths through forests complete with random war memorials.
- also, the hostel owner is working on 3 novels and 3 screenplays. At the same time. He really wants to become famous.
- on Wednesday, I rented a bike for the afternoon and first made my way along the coast, before turning up a road that seemed to lead into the middle of he island. It did. I expected to climb some hills. What I didn't expect was to encounter mountain roads of Swiss proportions, winding their way up to what felt like the highest point on the whole friggin island.
- my bike clearly wasn't prepared for that either, and so at the very top I realized that the strain had loosened the handlebars so much I could turn them back and forth effortlessly. Not the best situation if one wants to descend a mountain. Thank goodness I encountered a nice Croatian couple that was way better prepared than me and without a language in common really (I just spoke English, wiggled the handlebar and made a helpless face) the husband took out his toolkit and fixed my bike.
- on the very top, I found a village seemingly untouched by tourism, or progress, really. It was at the same time cute and kind of depressing.
- the descent along fragrant pine forests, with frequent glimpses of the ocean and the mountains of the neighboring peninsula, was really cool.
- at my next break point, I went swimming. I know I am going on and on about the clear water, but this was the first time I was swimming that I could look straight down, see my entire body, my feet, all the way down to the bottom of the sea, and see fishes swimming around me ad if the water wasn't even there! It was like snorkeling without snorkels. So cool.
- once I got back in town and rested, I wandered around for a bit, and met a group of 5 Slovenian guys who were on a sailing trip and wanted me to take their picture. I did that, chatted a bit and went my way, only to run into them again 3 hours later as I accidentally photo bombed their self portrait at dinner. I took another picture, they invited me to join them for a drink and proceeded to invite me to sail with them the next day. Too bad I'd just gotten my ticket for the katamaran the next morning!
- once I got back to my hostel, I met the only other guest staying there, this Austrian woman who was a numerologist and was helping the owner to find a lucky pen name, since he seemed doomed to misfortune if he became famous and kept his real name. They then asked me whether "Drag" had any associations in English. Ummm... Yes.
- and finally, this morning when I got up at 4.30 to catch the ferry at 6, I witnessed the craziest thunderstorm of my life! As in, lightning flashes right outside my window, ridiculous rain, wind that was bending the trees... What better weather for a katamaran trip, no?

(p.s. Korcula is also immensely beautiful in both nature and culture with the cutest old town you've ever seen. Definitely worth a visit.)

Dreamy Dubrovnik

After I returned from Lopud and watched the sun set over the Adriatic, I was so tired that I nixed my original plans of seeing Dubrovnik at night and just fell into bed -but I made up for it in the morning! Knowing that I only had half a day in the city, I got up bright and early at 6.30, put on my swimsuit and made my way closer to the city centre. I found a beach/swimming-appropriate bay that was separated from the old town by a little piece of land with a castle on top, and slipped into the surprisingly warm water while it was just getting light. Swimming out towards the open water, I left the bay behind and passed the castle to have a free view of the walled-in old town. While I was swimming, I noticed that some of the surrounding hills were already sun kissed, and I realized the sun had to rise any minute! So I tread water for some minutes, feeling like the only person on earth, swimming in the brilliantly clear Adriatic sea, until I saw the sun peak over the mountains and illuminate Dubrovnik's old town. As the first rays of sun fell onto the water, it seemed like the liquid silver I swam in was being transformed into liquid gold. What an experience!
I returned to my hostel for breakfast and was back en route to discover the city by 9.30. The first thing I did, and most recommendable experience in my opinion, is to climb and walk the city walls from which you have the greatest view of both the city and the ocean. Fun (actually quite sad) fact: the last time the medieval walls were used was actually in 1991/1992, when the city was besieged by the Serb-led remnants of the Yugoslav army. Apparently they did their duty, since the city held up and had to deal with only minor damages, though you can still see where new roof shingles replaced the old ones when roofs were destroyed by bombings.
Once I descended into the city centre, I remembered my previous impression of Dubrovnik - beautiful, but so overcrowded and touristy that it's hard to enjoy for extended amounts of time. So I split my time between the main sights, a harbor lunch break and an exploration of the lesser-frequented side streets, already 6 years ago my favorite part of the city. From this angle, Dubrovnik is a little like Venice- too popular for its own good!
But I would soon get a hefty antidote to tourist-paranoia, since in the afternoon I boarded a bus towards Korcula, a really laid back island just 3 bus- hours north. The ride was AC-d, comfy, and sooo beautiful - the road snaked along the coastline (and I mean snaked - thank goodness I am not prone to travel sickness), then through pine-covered mountains and more flat areas with vineyards, and paused shortly in a cute village to wait for the ferry (solution to the quizz question how to get on to an island by bus). I ended the day with a short walk around the old town, but then flopped into bed again - vacations are exhausting!