i am not a dark tourist, the world is a somber place

Arriving in Sri Lanka end of January this year, it struck me that over the past one and a half years, this was the third country with a really dreadful past that I was travelling.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Rijeka Croatia
Visiting a country and learning about its history can lead you to quite dark places. 

I’m not talking ’bout Stalingrad and WWII. No, here, dreadful past has been so recent that I do remember it being present, watching the news as a child.

How is that even possible? Am I subconsciously searching for terror and horror? Am I a dark tourist? Or is the world, sadly, just a quite somber place?

So between November 2017 and February 2019, I’ve been i. a. in Cambodia, Croatia, and now Sri Lanka. Albeit all three are beautiful countries with a rich cultural heritage, breathtaking sceneries, and very friendly people, I knew about them mainly from the news. Bad news. Civil wars. People slaughtering each other. Ethnic cleansing. Unspeakable things.
And actually, at least in the blogging community, I seem to be one of the very few travel writers mentioning these things – and explaining backgrounds in the measure they are explainable.

I wonder why that is. Isn’t also a somber side of a country still a side of that place? It certainly has an impact on the locals – I mean, I’m talking about conflicts that took place in the 1970s and even more recently.

The other day, a woman got defensive in a travel group on facebook: That specific page wouldn’t be about politics. How can a travel group possibly not be about politics? Even if you are an airhead who doesn’t really care on which beach you’re hanging out – already that is a political statement; and a very bold one.


When you go to Dubrovnik, you actually don’t need to take a Game of Thrones tour to get goosebumps: In 1991 and 1992, the city has been under siege for more than seven months – this is far more spine-tingling than any fiction.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
The Graves of Croatian soldiers who died in the Croatian war between 1991 and 1994 shows that there has been more violence than GoT shows.

Although I was born in Czechoslovakia, I do have a German passport and I’m based in Germany; in a country that initiated two world wars and left a bloody trace throughout the European continent. Albeit WWII ended 74 years ago, Germany is packed with memorials and these Stolpersteine*, tripping stones, located in front of houses where Jewish people used to live – Germany seems to be in a neverending process of coming to terms with its past.

Stolpersteine vor der ehemaligen Villa der Familie Nussbaum
The “Stolpersteine” – tripping stones – remembering German painter Felix Nussbaum and his parents in front of their erstwhile villa at the Schlosstrasse 11 in Osnabrück. All three of them were murdered at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.

Maybe that’s the reason why I was so shocked that other countries like the former Yugoslavian people where ethnic cleansing took place, too, villages including their inhabitants were basically erased, people were put in camps….crimes very similar to those that German soldiers committed….they seem to have moved on so quickly and easily; and visitors seem to be totally unconcerned by this recent history.

Southeast Asia

In Sri Lanka, where the civil war ended only ten years ago so that many of the victims, as well as the perpetrators, must be around, you don’t notice anything if you don’t want to. You basically have to search for traces and scars – in books, in the media like for instance the award-winning documentary called Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, produced by the British TV station Channel 4. Before I opened this link on YouTube, I was asked twice if I wanted to continue due to the more than disturbing images this documentary contains.
This film shows events that happened where now package tourist groups are enjoying their vacation.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka
Judging from these placards, picking tea is not the fanciest trade; a job mostly done by the Tamil minority.

What to me is far more irritating, though, is the fact that even individual travellers, backpackers, flashpacker – my peers – don’t seem to be aware – let alone care.

However, it’s a bit different in Viet Nam. You must be living under a gigantic rock if you haven’t heard about the Viet Nam war – respectively the American war, as the Vietnamese call it. And probably that’s exactly the point: This war has been covered by the media also because the United States were involved.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Dummies at Cu Chi tunnels Vietnam
Irritatingly, the Cu Chi memorial is a bit Disney Land-ish: Viet Cong dummies at your disposal. You can buy some of their attire at the gift shop.

So people know and most visitors are going to see the Cu Chi Tunnels which according to my experience is a farce – I wrote an entire post about how I perceived this theme park.

In Viet Nam’s neighboring country Cambodia, things are a bit different: No trip to Phnom Penh is complete without a visit to the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields. It’s good that here, the horrific genocide against the own people is documented – however, I found it more than disturbing that it is referred to as an attraction.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
Yes, there are still bones. And there are rags that the people were wearing when they were murdered.

When you advertise for an infamous place like this as if it was just another tourist attraction, you cannot be surprised that people treat it that way: Everyone takes pictures of the victims’ skulls that are stacked in a stupa.
While I understand that in a Buddhist country it has a meaning storing these remains in a stupa, I presume that no one needs to see a picture to understand that these people were killed. When you visit and you see the mass graves and the tree they smashed the babies and you listen to the audio guide, you really don’t need a picture of a tower of skulls.
I don’t like the idea that the remains of these poor victims are being used to get the creeps.
Whatever happened to R.I.P.?

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Choeung Ek Killing Fields Cambodia
Most people take pictures of the skulls that are on display at the Choeung Ek Pagoda as a memorial for those who were murdered there. To me, these pictures have something almost voyeuristic to it. Everybody knows that we have skulls and what they look like.
I find that a sign that stops you from trampling on mass graves underlines the horror in a much deeper way.

Colonial Heritage

Whether Viet Nam, Cambodia, or Sri Lanka, the internal differences that lead to conflicts and eventually to wars were seeded by colonialism: The Portuguese came, exploited, imposed their language and religion and what not on the people until the Dutch took over and later the Britons.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Galle Fort Sri Lanka
Agreed, colonial architecture – like this wall around the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka, built by the Dutch – is pretty. But the historical and political background is much less so.

Actually, there was little tension among Sri Lanka’s ethnic groups. The conflict between the Sinhalese and the Tamils was fueled by the British Governors of what used to be their crown colony Ceylon: They filled governmental positions with Tamil officials and a Tamil, Ponnambalam Arunachalam, was even appointed a representative in the national legislative council of both – the Tamils as well as the Sinhalese. Naturally, this lead to a counterblow by the Sinhalese who began to discriminate against the Tamils who then intended to establish an independent state on Sri Lankan grounds, Tamil Eelam. Point is, if the British didn’t mess things up in the first place, the mutual adversity wouldn’t have been there or at least not to the point of a civil war.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Foto Shoot in front of Notre Dame at HCMC Viet Nam - Vietnam - Ho Chi MInh City HCMC - Notre Dame
French colonial landmark Notre Dame cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City, once called Saigon.
that besides the name has nothing in common with the Parisian relative: instead of Gothic,
 this one is built in a neo-roman style from stones imported from Marseille.

Same goes for Indochine, i.e. what now is Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos: The French settled down, introduced what for them was the savoir vivre, brought their culture including Catholicism which divided the people. Some wanted to become some sort of an Asian version of Europe, others wanted to preserve local culture and heritage. Together with first European and later US-American economic and mostly political interests, it was an – literally – explosive mix.

Unfortunately, Europeans didn’t have the wish to explore, they felt the urge to conquer – and many Asian, African, and Latin American countries are still suffering from the ramifications.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Belem Lisbon Portugal
Monuments like this one in Belem heroize the brave men who set out to crusades but never mention how they behaved at their final destination. What happens in the colony stays in the colony.


I do not want to botch things up for anybody and of course, nobody is obliged to dig in the past. It’s just that to me, every aspect of a country I’m visiting is relevant because I’m convinced that it has an impact on the locals – the locals I’m dealing with so obliquely also on me. And since I’m a travel blogger and do want to inform people as good as I can, these information are also part of my guides.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Statue of Leopold II at  Brussels
There are still voices claiming Leopold’s great deeds for Brussels. That’s a bit like when people are praising Adolf Hitler for construction of the Autobahn. Merits that are drowning in the blood of the people aren’t merits at all.

Being a traveller, I am responsible for where I’m going and how I travel.

Being a travel blogger takes this responsibility to a whole different level.

But do you know what’s nice?
In the countries I’m referring to in this post, the terror and the wars and the bloodshed are over.
Some of them could still work a bit on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but now, in 2019, we can pay them touristy visits –
and that’s a silver lining on my personal horizon**.

* You can learn more about the historic, political art project Stolpersteine on this site.

** I’m very sad that by the time this post has been written, a terrible terrorist attack overshadowed the positive development on the beautiful island of Sri Lanka. I feel very deeply for all these wonderful people that I met on my recent trip.

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Memos from SRI LANKA. 7th Memo: Good Luck in Tangalle. It’s not so easy being an expat.

Tangalle – another town, another homestay.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Tangalle Sri Lanka
Goyambokka – one of Tangalle’s nicer beaches.

I’m staying at a room in a lovely…yes, one could call it a mansion. My hosts are a couple from….well, he is a native Sri Lankan, she is from Ukraine, they were living together in Austria and he decided to come back to Sri Lanka due to the supposedly increasing xenophobia in Europe.

I say he decided although their wording is, of course, us. But she hates the heat and is all jealous that I’m going back to European winter in a couple of days.
She doesn’t like the beach – and is living now in one of Sri Lanka’s most popular beach destinations.
She doesn’t seem to be happy.
He neither, for that matter.
He hasn’t been living here for over twenty years. I assume that he has been back as a visitor, but now he wants to have a business here and seems pretty disenchanted and stressed out after only three months.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Tangalle Sri Lanka
It’s easier if you like the beach – when you move to a beach area.

If you aren’t mindlessly euphoric in the very beginning, when do you plan to become mindlessly euphoric?!
I really wish them well, but I’m afraid that many hard, stressful, and disenchanting times lie ahead of them.

I also wanted to live in the tropics for a long time. When I first visited Jamaica at the age of 24, the way of life took me by storm. Yes, I admit it, also my first Jamaican boyfriend took me by storm.
But it was mainly the rhythm of reggae, the beach life, the easy-going no problem, mon, irie-i.
My European life seemed so dull and grey and out of rhythm.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Negril Jamaica
It’s beautiful, but it’s not everything that Jamaica is about.

I travelled back and forth for a couple of years, constantly checking out my chances, got into a mess and dropped my Jamaica-plans for good.

However, after that, I felt a bit disrooted and hooked to the idea of living in a tropical country doing….whatever.
I applied for jobs in tourism – and actually was invited to an interview first in Basel where the headquarter was and eventually in Mombasa where that company owned half a dozen of hotels.
Now, that was a disenchanting experience: All the Europeans working there seemed to hate everything African and were constantly complaining about everything local. The woman that interviewed me literally said that they are employing rather African men since the women are not so clean. All the conversations were on this level.
Wait a minute – I wanted to move to Africa because of…Africa and not to be the bored, frustrated white massa.
This is alluring only in Graham Greene’s novels.
This job was not for me – and I was not for them.

Since about six months after my Mombasa-trip, I got pregnant, the nomad lifestyle had to be postponed; until my daughter turned two and we moved for six months to Belize.

Belize is in Central America, but it still has a certain Caribbean feel to it. The language – the Patois or Pidgin English – is pretty similar, they listen to reggae and calypso – and in addition to punta rock, a very rhythmic, staccato-like music by the Garifuna, an indigenous ethnicity that came from Saint Vincent to the shores of Central America.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Placlencia Belize
Nap at noon – we kept up the good old habits from home; only the bed is a bit more tropical.

Anyway, so I was back to the Caribbean vibes – but how different that was with a toddler and responsibility and chores.
While others lived the life that had attracted me so much to Jamaica, I stayed home watching over my daughter. Not so different from Germany; only the weather was better.

By that time I had already buried the dream of the exiting, wild, and free life in a tropical region. With a smile and no regrets at all.
It’s nice to dance nights away, enjoying drinks, fooling around, But at least to me, it’s not satisfactory on a long term, it cannot be my personal meaning of life. And I also do not want to do….whatever. Not at my age. Not with a child.

Well, the child is 26 now – I could still go. But I’m not interested at all anymore.
A sabbatical – maybe.
But waiting tables just because the sun is shining?
For now, it comes down to a couple of trips every year.

Another reason is also that while I was living for months in Central America – after six months in Belize we also spent many months in Honduras and three months in Costa Rica – I’ve seen so many expats being pretty unhappy.

They all had started with these really good ideas, some even had money to invest, some struggled a bit. After a couple of months, they always got frustrated. Because things are much more complicated. Because they got screwed over by their what they thought good local friends. Many of them backed away, lived in an expat ghetto, threw themselves on each long term traveller like me – a person that carries a bit of their former life with her.
What’s the point of living isolated in a place where I slowly start to hate everything and distrust everybody?

Many of them had a heavy drinking problem – which is unfortunate since many ran bars.

By no means do I say that this has to happen to everyone. It also strongly depends on your expectations and plans. If a twenty-something goes for a couple of month to the Caribbean and works at a bar just for the fun of it – great idea! If a teacher or doctor is sent to work and help in another country – fantastic.

But if you leave your life behind to open a business in a country where you’ll always be an alien – and be treated accordingly…..well, I really wish them well.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Tangalle Sri Lanka
There definitely are things to enjoy.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during former trips, in my Memos from SRI LANKA, I’m posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.

Wanna know what happened before? Here are the former Memos: 

1st Memo: An unexpectedly scenic train ride to Anuradhapura 

2nd Memo: Little house on the P…olonnaruwa

3rd Memo: Rocking it in Sigiriya

4th Memo: My Kandy-d opinion

5th Memo: Out of Nuwara Eliya

6th Memo: Udawalawe – The Elephant in the Roam

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bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Tangalle Sri Lanka

Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory dealing with history and politic related matters

Coming from Europe and remembering how things were back in the socialist days, the way Vietnamese are dealing with history and politics baffles me.

Uncle Ho’s Cabin – and Uncle Ho’s Statue in Ho Chi Minh City.

In Eastern Europe, politics were a serious, serious thing. No cracks about the government, no doubts, and certainly no marketing schemes with the emblems. One wrong remark and you were in big trouble.

This seems not to be the case in – still socialist! – Viet Nam. Although there is pure and utter pride and propaganda everywhere you look – the red flags with the five-pointed star, the super animated young pioneers cheering into some glorious future et cetera et cetera et cetera. On the other hand to our standards, the memories and its symbols are not treated with much respect.

Red flags are flying in bulks.

In Hoi An, which happens to be one of the most touristy places, at one of the many souvenir and knick-knack stores along Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, one of the most touristy streets, they are selling communist propaganda posters from the 70s -which, besides possible dates, do not differ a bit from today’s propaganda that you see everywhere.

I know this phenomenon e. g. from Berlin where it’s the big hilarious thing for tourists to get their picture taken with a communist soldier’s hat – it seems to be something between the forbidden fruit – the demon’s hat on my head, hahaha – and a caricature, because, honestly, still hearing the same old lame slogans makes the whole thing a caricature. So while I get this in Berlin where it’s a mocking look back at their past, I don’t get it in Viet Nam where it’s still everywhere – in a serious sense – and a great part of everyday’s life in the present.

A revolutionary on sale: Ho Chi Minh in all stages and ages.
But as a matter of fact, the Cuban revolution with Che Guevara at their side had definitely the hotter symbol.

So my question is: What’s the difference between the ‚old’ propaganda posters and the recent ones? Why are the old ones knick-knack and the new ones a serious message to the people?
Because it’s not the motives and even not the style and graphic. And although I cannot really judge whether the wording changed, I strongly doubt it (because e. g. in Cuba I was able to judge it, and there the only difference is that now they add Chavez to Che and Fidel).

Propaganda in Baracoa, Cuba
Propaganda in Cuba – it’s rather the message than the design (whereby the whole thing looks like they didn’t put much heart in it)

Communists tend to be quite conservative when it comes to marketing and PR.
To me, selling the ideology at a souvenir store is mocking – because, come on, nobody will buy a poster like this thinking „Oh, young pioneers should follow the lead of Ho Chi Minh – that’s an interesting thought, I think I want to hang this next to the TV set to not forget about it.“ They will buy it because they find it hysterical.

So obviously it is ok to sell out the great communist idea to create a better world and ‘new humans’ for a souvenir to some tourists – in a country where people are brainwashed every day by the very same ideology and designs?!

Another good example is the famous Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietnamese partisans hid from the US troops.

You can visit them on a day trip – that also includes a visit to the Cao Dai temple, which actually makes sense since the Cao Dai fought together with i. a. the communists and the buddhists against the French-oriented catholic oppressors.

So anyway, once you get to the site, they first make you watch a film that should be called “Viet Nam’s way to socialism for total morons”. It shows in an extremely simplified thus slightly tendentious way how great life in Viet Nam used to be: Women in traditional Ao Dais are sashaying over fields, mildly humming cheesy tunes, hardworking farmers happily working their rice paddies – it was pure harmony.

All of a sudden – and to emphasize the shock, the film at this moment turns darker – American villains came and dropped bombs and erased villages and razed the country to the ground; sadly, that’s the only part in the film that’s true.
But GI Joe didn’t reckon the brave Vietnamese’s – who of course were all devoted communists – resistance.

Not only the film itself, also the content is in very, very, veeery black and white.

Yes, it was bad that there was colonialism, yes, it was bad that the US got involved in the war, but no, Viet Nam and its people were not one big bundle of harmony. There were also many Vietnamese people who were not desperately longing for a communist government. It was not only an uprising, it was also a civil war, after all.

Not everyone was longing for a communist government; yet the red flag is waving everywhere – like here over the picturesque Halong Bay.

Anyway, I knew I was at a memorial site, so of course, they tried to feed me their broth. What confused me, was the entertaining Disney World-ish side to it: Getting down into the earth holes, there were puppets involved in all sort of crafts and chores – and once everybody entered the hole, the guide flipped the switch and the puppets got busy.
Let me tell you, the mechanism was not exactly the latest state of the art. Not only the bad technics ridiculed the whole scenario.

Then there was a couple of ruthless Viet Cong puppets in their fighting apparel to take your picture with.
So that’s what became of the Viet Cong now? Just another Minnie Mouse and Goofy at Disney World?

To top it off, at the gift store, they are selling the Viet Cong scarf and other goodies. I mean it’s clear that people will only buy it for fun – for mocking, not because they want to be ready as it’s time to join the Vietnamese army.

So first they are torturing the visitors with this tacky, bold propaganda and half an hour later you can mock them?! Come on, guys!

Dummies at Cu Chi tunnels
Viet Cong dummies at your disposal.

But there was another thing that for me personally took the cake: While walking along the trail and watching the dummies – I’m talking about the puppets here – doing their work and climbing into the narrow tunnels – I made like twenty steps and got out at the first possible exit; they wouldn’t have won the war with me at their side, that’s for sure – there was a constant gun fire in the background. Naiv me, I thought it was some sound effect to make the visit more realistic and dramatic.

Nope, turns out, there is a shooting ranch right next to the Cu Chi tunnel memorial!
Sorry, but placing a shooting ranch – yes, real guns, real bullets – next to a war memorial leaves me jaw-dropped.

Have you been to Viet Nam? How did you perceive the presence of religion, politics, and history?
Share your experience in the comment section below.

There were more incidents that left me a bit irritated – and I wrote about them here:

Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory treatment of foreign tourists Part I

Vietnamese Contradictions – the contradictory treatment of foreign tourists Part II

To get the complete travel info on Viet Nam just click here.

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Croatia Bus Road Trip. Eighth Stop Dubrovnik

I wrote in one of the posts on my rail road trip through Portugal that this kind of meandering from stop to stop stretches the travel endlessly. Every single destination feels like an individual little vacation. You have to pack and leave – but a couple of hours later, you arrive at your next destinations which is all new and exciting – hence, your vacation starts all over again.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
The iconic view of Dubrovnik – it’s all about the roofs.

It worked until now, but it’s all over, baby blue: Dubrovnik is my final stop of the bus road trip down the Adriatic coast.

Am I sad? Yes. But I’m also very exhausted since there is a lot to see and a lot of climbing to do and it’s hot and there are huge crowds basically everywhere; and I know already now what I’d do differently the next time I’m coming to Croatia: I’d start my trip in Dubrovnik and move then up North to the calmer and emptier places.

No one will dispute that Dubrovnik is gorgeous. And for what reason ever, it is gorgeous everywhere. While cities like Zagreb or Zadar have this beautiful city center and the rest is pretty….unpretty, to say the least, Dubrovnik is pretty and charming everywhere.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
View of the port and the historic old town.

To give it a real chance – and because I wanted to get away from the masses of visitors – I just took a random bus and went crosstown without knowing where exactly I was going. This works perfectly in Dubrovnik since most of the bus lines are going in circles, i. e. if you take a bus at a certain stop and you do not get off, after the driver’s short cigarette pause at a designated final destination, the driver just hops back on board and takes you back – on a different road since on many roads here there is one way traffic. A perfect and dirt cheap sightseeing tour. Only that there are no sights.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
Early morning on Mount Srd. Behind me Locrum island to the left and the historic old town to the right.

I really think that apart from mount Srd and Locrum island, all the attractions are located within the old town; which makes it sort of an outdoor museum rather than a city center.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
A lady in traditional attire selling handicraft. 

So I’m glad that at least I’m not staying in the historic old town; which I wouldn’t recommend, anyway. Of course, there are zillions of restaurants and bars and pubs, so I assume it will be quite noisy at night.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
You sure have to do a lot of climbing.

Then, what makes the old town very picturesque are the stairs – you are constantly climbing. Up and down. I imagine it must be terrible doing so with all your luggage and your phone in hand, looking for the narrow alley’s name where your Apartman is located.

Because here, locals are by far not as nice and helpful and caring as anywhere else I’ve been. So don’t count on them to pick you up and take you to your overpriced room.

To be fair, my host Jelka is an extremely nice and caring lady. Although she did not pick me up at the bus terminal – dah…she doesn’t even have a car – she’s very friendly and warm hearted and calls me moje Renata, which means my Renata and yesterday evening she offered me fish; but I had already eaten, too bad, I bet her fish would have been far better.

So everything is fine, I cannot complain.
I saw a lot of outstanding places and buildings and really made the best of my two days in Dubrovnik.

As I entered the historic center the first evening – totally unprepared – the sight even moved me to tears.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
The old town at night – I thought the city that never sleeps was another one!?

But the next day, somehow the light went out, so to speak.

A quick side-trip back in time VII

There came a moment when it was time for me to visit the homeland of road trips, the United States of America. 

I wonder if there are any statistics which region people go to when visiting the US for the first time. I did not go to New York, I did not go to Los Angeles and neither to Miami. I did a tour of the Ol’ South. Taking the Greyhound bus. 

This was long before there was Internet access, hence to find reasonably priced accommodations, I combed through a catalog – a book made of paper. 
I wasn’t familiar with the US at all. I thought there was public transportation everywhere in the world. And accommodations located in busy, metropolitan areas. Nobody builds a hotel in the middle of nowhere, right? Wrong! 

First destination Charleston, South Carolina. 
Maybe the ‘motel’ in the name should have given me a hint, but I was such a US novice then. Dude, was I surprised when the cab driver from the airport dropped me off at a small motel next to the freeway – but unfortunately next to nothing else. 
Oh no, that’s not true, there was a Wendy’s in the middle of a huge parking lot across the motel on the other side of the road. 

The heavy rain in the next morning delivered me from solving the problem how to get to the center of Charleston. All I could do was staying in bed watching TV – now here comes the pleasant bit of the story: I discovered that there is HBO and that Oprah Winfrey is also a very talented actress: The women of Brewster Place was on, a movie that will always be related to my first day on American soil.

After the movie was over, I crossed the freeway to the parking lot and bought a bunch of burgers at Wendy’s – also a novelty, I had known only McDonald’s and Burger King; I really learned a lot these first hours. 
I ate on my bed while watching anxiously the weather channel – another new trinket to my European wealth of experience – for the rest of the day and cried a little on the prospect of spending four weeks like that. 

Contradicting the weather channel’s prognosis, the next day it cleared up so that I was able to leave Norman Bates’ motel and go downtown. 
The lady at the motel told me that sometimes she did see a bus passing by, but she had no idea when, how often and where it’s going. 

So I did this unbelievably European thing – I walked along the freeway towards Charleston.

Everything went well after I stopped feeling funny because everybody passing by looked at me as if I was somehow funny. 

Everything went perfectly till I came to this stupid bridge crossing a stupid wide river.

This bridge has been constructed exclusively for cars. There was no way crossing it by foot without getting hit by a car or falling over the knee-high railing. 
I had walked for over an hour, the city was right across the bridge, I could almost touch it – but no, no crossing. 
I turned and saw a big fancy hotel. 

Okie doke – I asked at the reception to call me a cab to carry me across the bridge – making the cab driver sort of a ferryman. 
He drove me the couple of hundred meters – and yes, I did feel moronic.

There were more situations where people must have thought I’m just some crazy woman; but the first cut is the deepest.

Sentimental fool: A couple of years later, I bought The Women of Brewster Place on DVD.

I really don’t know why I didn’t click with this city. Maybe because it’s not enough of a living place – whereby people do live in the historic part.

However, everything is totally tourist oriented – and everybody is relatively unfriendly and everything is ridiculously overpriced.
I enjoy places that let me share everyday life. Here I can look and observe, not splurge with all my senses.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Dubrovnik Croatia Dalmatia
Beauty everywhere, people all around – I need a break.

But maybe it’s also because I’ve seen so much over the last three weeks. The glittering waters, the bluff mountain line, the majestic conifers – it’s all here…and cannot take me by storm anymore.
I think my eyes are tired and need a rest.

Is it possible to have an overdose of beauty? Maybe it’s just time to go home.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former like e. g. Cambodia, while on the road, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just share some thoughts and special moments with me. 

Wanna know about the former stops? Here is where I’ve been: 

Croatia Bus Road Trip. First Stop Poreč

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Second Stop Cres

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Third Stop Rijeka

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fourth Stop Plitvice Lakes

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fifth Stop Skradin and Krka National Park

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Sixth Stop Split

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Seventh Stop Vela Luka on Korčula

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Croatia Bus Road Trip. Seventh Stop Vela Luka on Korcula

Walking through a tunnel of exotic looking bushes and conifers, smelling the scent of their needles. Hearing nothing but the cacophony of what seems to be a thousand cicadas. Passing a row of cactuses, turning left at the little field of olive trees and carefully climbing down some huge rocks.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
My favorite spot – I can truly enjoy it bye:myself.

There I’m spreading my beach towel on the one that’s shaped like a mattress – and that’s my personal piece of paradise for the day.

Down here, the noise of the cicadas is not that loud and leaves room for the gurgle of the sea and the lapping of the waves against the rocks.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
Some traffic.

From time to time, you hear one of the small boats chugging, then it’s just the pretty regular ripple of the water again.

Twice a day, a ferry slides by, almost silently. Then I know it must be either around one or half past five in the afternoon. Still time to take a dip in the deep blue sea.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
The clock is ticking: It must be around one.

To get there, I have to climb prudently across the rocks. I don’t have swim shoes, so I’m wearing my flip flops to the very shore where I leave them behind on one of the rocks to just dive headlong into the clear water.

It’s good that it’s clear since I need to see what’s on the ground: There are sea urchins – in incredible numbers and all sizes. Even paradise needs a little flaw, I guess.

Back on my cozy rock, I turn on my stomach and take a nap.

This is how I’ve spent the last days. In Vela Luka. On Korčula, an island south of the much more popular island of Hvar.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
If it’s not blue, it’s green on Korčula island.

Croatians seem to be a bit chintzy when it comes to naming places: On the island of Cres*, there is a same-named town; and on the Korčula island is also a town called Korčula – and for this little jewel, I was willing to sacrifice a couple of my beach hours.

*Note: I’m writing many of the names in Croatian – and after I’ve heard someone pronouncing Cres like Kres, it might be helpful to explain some of the pronunciations.
To begin with the above example: A c is never pronounced k, it is pronounced like the ts in Tsar, so Cres is ‘Tsres’, Plitvice ‘Plitvitse’ etc.
Only when c is written č or ć, it is pronounced like a ch: ‘Korchula’, ‘Porech’. Same goes for s: written š, it’s pronounced sh. But only then. 
People tend to overdo it with the ch and the sh – if there is no accent, it’s a simple c or s, no crackjaw there.

There is a bus going to Korčula town across the entire island – and this actually is a Garden Eden: Endless vineyards, huge olive groves, lavender fields – and in the backdrop always the sight of the mighty Adriatic sea.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
They have olives in abundance – and make them into really nice and tasty souvenirs.

The historic old town of Korčula is architectonically very interesting with its long central road and narrow alleys which makes it a fishbone pattern.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels: Croatia - Vela Luka - Korcula
The layout of the medieval cities is not only artistic and beautiful, it is also a sort of genius.

It is not only incredibly picturesque, it is also idyllically located – slightly uphill on a small peninsula.

A quick side-trip back in time VI

Come to think of it, it’s quite surprising that after having suffered various Summers from my parents’ road trips crisscross Europe, I got a hang of tripping myself. Actually, at the tender age of 17, I quit high school, packed a canvas bag, my boyfriend and we joined the Interrail bandwagon. Today, I wonder a bit that I had no difficulties travelling across Europe before reaching legal age, but somehow nobody really cared.

In Amsterdam, we had problems finding a hostel – it was Summer and many underaged couples had the same idea of travelling; somehow it did work out. 
In Rotterdam, I finally found the hard-boiled eggs I had packed a couple of days ago as a snack for our trip somewhere deep in my bag between some T-shirts; it was Summer – I tossed them in the trash, being grateful for having packed them in a tight plastic bag.
In Paris, my wallet got stolen by a group of little girls whose ethnicity I withhold in favor of political correctness; they wore pretty, very colorful dresses.
Eventually, the adventurous idea of sleeping on the lawn under the Eiffel tower turned out to be not as adventurous as going to the North Pole, but in the wee hours as cold.
Switzerland was Swiss – beautiful, but not very exciting.
In the beginning, Italy was not so bad until in Marina di Massa, I broke to my boyfriend that I wanted to break up; he was heartbroken.
In Pisa, he drowned his pain in lots of beer and some wine. Since his vomit was very red, I got worried and called the ambulance. As the Paramedics mentioned vino rosso, I remembered that we had had spaghetti with tomato sauce; I was too embarrassed to clarify the source of the red vomit, the paramedics took us to a hospital.
He spent the night in a comfy hospital bed, I spent it on a mattress on the floor of an exam room. In the morning, the paramedics gave me black coffee with sugar; that was very sweet – metaphorically and literally. I didn’t drink it, I hate sweet hot beverages and I drink coffee only with milk. 

As we left, we had to promise to come back in the evening for the results of the blood tests. We didn’t. We knew that the result was tomato sauce.
After Pisa, we decided to go back home.
In Milan, however, we had to get off once more since my now ex-boyfriend’s wallet had been stolen while we were sleeping. Actually, I’m pretty sure that we had been victim of one of these train sleeping gas attacks.
However, the German embassy in Milan gave him a train ticket home and some money for the day.
I thought it was a brilliant idea to spend the money on a big plate of small assorted sandwiches. They had mayonnaise on them. It was Summer. In Italy. In the afternoon, I scraped the mayonnaise off and we ate what was not rancid.

Waiting for the train back home at a park, I noticed some guy jerking off on a park bench watching us playing cards.

Actually, it is very, very surprising that I still got a hang of road trips.

One of their most important marketing schemes is Korčula being Marco Polo’s birthplace. While it’s probable that his family was from Dalmatia – which at that time was ruled by Venice, some historians dispute Marco Polo being born in Korčula.

The Korčulanians are clever business people for sure: Not only can one visit what they claim to be Marco Polo’s house, with the same amount of imagination they determine their prices for…everything. It’s pretty expensive here.

But Croatia does not only share a glorious cultural past with Italy, Croatians also share their love for snacks rich in carbohydrates: At every bakery and even supermarket, there are uncountable variations of filled puff pastry – hearty and sweet alike. Many of the hearty snacks – filled with cheese and spinach – are called Burek which is funny since there is the same pastry in Turkey called Börek.
I guess the Ottomans did leave traces, after all.

Yes, this country is a cornucopia of cultures and heritages.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former like e. g. Cambodia, while on the road, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just share some thoughts and special moments with me. 

Wanna know about the former stops? Here is where I’ve been: 

Croatia Bus Road Trip. First Stop Poreč

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Second Stop Cres

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Third Stop Rijeka

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fourth Stop Plitvice Lakes

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fifth Stop Skradin and Krka National Park

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Sixth Stop Split

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Croatia Bus Road Trip. Sixth Stop Split

I guess you can judge by the frequency of my posts that I’m moving at a rapid pace: Actually, after two cozy, lazy nights on the island of Cres, I’ve spent four nights in a row in different places.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
View from the bell tower – the lowest level of the cathedral’s bell tower: I’m afraid of heights and the staircase is pretty open….

Split is the last destination on this – however, very inspiring – tour de force. I’ve checked it out in a split second – you can judge from this pun that I need a break, I guess – before moving on to the island of Korčula where I’ll spend four nights in a row – in one single place!

I don’t even know exactly what’s on the bottom of my far too full and heavy suitcase. I never have the chance to dig that deep since I arrive at a place, take out my nightgown and my toiletry kit, stow dirty clothes from the day and take out a possible outfit for the next one, making sure not to crumple everything else.

The next morning, I put back the gown and the slightly lighter kit and off I go to the next destination. I might have spent as much as seven hours at some of the Apartman.

The poshest Apartman so far was in Rijeka. I’d spent there about nine hours – many of them sleeping.

Why do I even have sandals with me – I’ve been wearing my trainers five days in a row. I don’t like to travel in sandals since I want my feet being protected and during the day, I was mostly hiking. So you cannot expect me to be too much of a fashionista.

Since it’s me who put together this itinerary – and nobody pointed a gun to my head while I did so – I shouldn’t be complaining. And at the end of the day, I don’t, because given that I have only three weeks for this trip, I’ve seen a lot; and each and every destination was totally worth it.

So now Split.

When I arrived, it was already dark, Google Maps had me a bit confused so that I was dragging my far too full and heavy suitcase on a bumpy street along the coastline. The little that I was able to make out in the dark looked beautiful – and in some way, it also felt beautiful.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
When it’s pitch dark as you arrive, but people are still hanging out on the beach bathing, you certainly came to a great place.

I spent my couple of hours till the next morning in a neighborhood that seemed pretty posh to me: Tennis courts along the coastline, elegant restaurants and hip bars on the other side of the road. The Apartman located in a modern flat roof building – this could be in every country on planet earth, really.

After a stay of about eight hours – spent mostly sleeping – I dragged my far too full and heavy suitcase back to the port, adjacent to the bus stop where I’d arrived only a couple of hours ago.

One of the many things that are really great in Croatia is the fact that you always find storage for your luggage. And if there isn’t a room in a building, they just set up some mobile container thingy where you can leave your far too full and heavy suitcase for something like three bucks.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
The promenade in Split.

Three bucks are like nothing in exchange for exploring the totally fascinating old town worry- and suitcase-free.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
While the structures are breathtaking, the professional Romans are a bit silly; and, obviously, their heart is not really in it.

Old town – here we are not talking just Italian and Hungro-Austrian, here we’re talking serious history: Roman structures, completed by Egyptian decoration. The lovely café around the Perystile, the famous court of the Diocletian Palace is called Luxor for a reason: Since Egypt was part of the Roman empire just like this area, they brought some souvenirs from Luxor for decoration.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
This picture shows, on the one hand, the eclectic mix of Roman and Egyptian architecture; on the other, that even in September, i.e. off-season, the place is packed. July and August must be fresh hell – temperaturewise and visitorwise alike.

Everywhere you go, it’s beautiful and impressive and fascinating.

A quick side-trip back in time V

I was fourteen, a bit tangled in the arms of puberty, but totally ready for my first trip by myself. At fourteen, by yourself does hardly ever mean by yourself, usually, there are some strings like summer camps, distant relatives, or linguistic group trips involved. In my case, latter: Three weeks on the Isle of Wight – and I didn’t even know about the legendary music festival then.
Armed with a buttload of good advice, a checked suitcase as well as a small hand luggage carrying what was dearest to me, my parents put me – together with about a zillion other teenagers – on a train to Oostende.

Train? To England? Yes, at that time, flying was just for the big shots. The rest crossed the canal to the British Island by ferry. So did we.

I spare you the details of a totally overcrowded ferry and a totally overexcited me, at some point leaving my hand luggage in the custody of some guy I had known for about 6.5 minutes while going to the bathroom. 

I cut the story short: 
Good news was, I got to Hastings fine. 
I assume that my hand luggage – containing everything that was too dear to make it into checked luggage including all my cash for the next three weeks among the English – made it to Hastings, too. Unfortunately, we did so separately. 
The guy that I had known for about 6.5 minutes turned out not to be as reliable as expected: He hadn’t watched my bag. 
So I guess you can say: Bad news was, I had lost all my valuables before even setting foot on British soil.

I looked for it everywhere, I asked everybody that crossed my way, on the parking lot, I got into each and every bus – it was gone.
After a very sad bus ride – and there must have been another ferry trip that I obviously pushed it to the far back of my mind – we reached the Isle of Wight. 

To make up for my – pretty dramatic – loss, faith was kind and I was assigned to the youngest and prettiest of the guest parents waiting for our lot: Lynn. 22 years young- I think the oldest students in our group were almost 20 – with long blond hair and sweet and tender ways; exactly the person you want to be around after a major loss. 

She had a husband, Bill, totally nuts and a huge Rod Steward fan. He proved it by wearing his hair in the terrible Rod Steward style from the Small Faces-era; exactly the person to distract you from a major loss.  

They had a baby boy – no, against any reasonable expectation, his name was not Rod; maybe because already their dog had been named after Bill’s idol.

All this, the good and the bad, the loss and the gain, the beauty and the beast on the first trip bye:myself at the tender age of 14 planted a seed of eternal love for the British and their funny little island. 

One day was enough to see most part of the ‘official’ attractions.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
Narodni Trg, aka Pjaca, is one of the most beautiful squares in Split.

But then there are also museums and galleries. And many very nice little specialty shops that do sell quality things made in Croatia instead of some touristy crap. And cute little cafés where you can sample yummy pastry and watch people.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
A tiny café, but nicely decorated.

Then, like many Croatian cities, Split has a city beach which is not as bad as city beaches tend to be. And there is the Marjan Forest Park that I did not visit – mainly since I came to Split after having visited two National Parks.

There is simply too much to see and to do to cover it all in one trip.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Split Croatia Dalmatia
A local boy band singing traditional Dalmatian songs at the Palace’s Vestibule.

But I’m giving it all and doing my best; therefore I’m now heading to the storage container thingy to get my far too full and heavy suitcase back and hit the road again.

Or rather the water: I’m going by ferry to the island of Korčula.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former like e. g. Cambodia, while on the road, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. Until then, just share some thoughts and special moments with me. 

Wanna know about the former stops? Here is where I’ve been: 

Croatia Bus Road Trip. First Stop Poreč

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Second Stop Cres

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Third Stop Rijeka

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fourth Stop Plitvice Lakes

Croatia Bus Road Trip. Fifth Stop Skradin and Krka National Park

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Croatia Bus Road Trip. Third Stop: Rijeka

I’m on a Road Trip, so I’m obviously moving on and on. Although I’m not racing through Croatia, I hardly spend two nights in a row in one place.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Rijeka Istria Croatia
A Croatian city for Croatians – but they share it generously with visitors from all over the world

If I had to choose one, though, it would be Rijeka.

Which is actually funny since initially, I intended to skip Rijeka all together: After having been to three cities before coming to the coast, I was looking for something else.
Coming from Poreč, though, I had to take an early bus which gave me over four hours in Rijeka before taking the ferry to Cres; there was no other option.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Rijeka Istria Croatia
Port of Rijeka – gateway to the paradisaic islands.

These four hours convinced me that Rijeka is a great place. It’s beautiful and charming, there are tourists, but the Croatian life continues undisturbed. There are real stores where real Rijekians – or whatever the locals are called – are shopping for real things like clothes and toiletries and groceries. I cannot remember having seen one souvenir shop. But I’ve been to a wonderful farmers market taking place at two beautifully decorated halls.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Rijeka Istria Croatia
Nope, this building is not the opera house; it’s the farmers market.

Huge and juicy and fresh produce, grown to perfection under the Croatian sun.
Between all this abundance was an old man sitting a bit crocked behind a wooden counter. In front of him about eight tiny bundles of chili peppers, six pieces each. He looked so touching – I had to buy chilis, no matter what.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Jadrolinija Rijeka Istria Croatia
The Jadrolinija building. Jadrolinija is the shipping company that’s taking people from paradise to paradise.

I had coffee in front of the Hotel Continental and a soft drink in front of the majestic Jadrolinija building. I felt so comfortable and relaxed in Rijeka that I even adjusted my route a bit.
Okay, to be honest, the main reason was that I had foreseen a stop which would have been a bit complicated to reach. So change of plans, why not stay one night in Rijeka before hitting the road again.

A word and a blow, this morning I came back and did not regret it. The Apartman is not only located right on the main pedestrian street, it is also newly renovated – actually, it still has a light smell of renovation and new furniture which I like a lot. It’s huge – big rooms, high ceilings*.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Apartman Jasmin Rijeka Istria Croatia
Apartman Jasmin. I’m not sure if there is a Jasmin since the owner is an extremely friendly young man.

Yesterday, I wrote that some of the Apartmans‘ furnishing would not qualify for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine – well this one definitely would. Too bad I’m staying only one night.

Besides being a beautiful, interesting city, Rijeka is also a great base and starting point for many day trips and excursions to the beaches and the countryside. Actually, I could have visited even Poreč on a daytrip from Rijeka.

* I will list all the accommodations where I’ve stayed in the complete guide on my Croatia trip that will be published end of this month.

A quick side-trip back in time III

Hours and hours and hours in the back seat of an old light blue Simca.

One of the things my parents wanted to enjoy after they’d made it to Germany was getting to know places; the more, the better. Certainly understandable – many years later their daughter became a travel blogger, after all. But they did it in a quite obsessed way: After my father had determined the route, he had made the calculation with the help of his big Shell Atlas how far the individual legs would be, how soon we would get there provided there were no jams on the Autobahn – would get there, not could… -and how much we had to pay for gas till we reached our final destination; which, by the way, was our home, since this was a road trip – a merciless one.
So I basically spent three weeks in the backseat of this old car my parents had bought as soon as we arrived in Germany. 

Them, obviously, in the front seats, smoking one cigarette after another. 
In lucky moments, my mother rolled down the window a teeny bit. 

My father’s precisely scheduled itinerary had some flaws. Besides not considering all the other families driving down South at the same time and causing jams, he hadn’t considered that I was a seven-year-old with a bladder that was also only the same age. Hence it needed to be emptied somewhere on the road between Northern Germany and Southern France. 

My father was extremely annoyed by this realization. But he solved the problem; by buying a plastic bucket which should enable me to empty my meanwhile irritable bladder.

Since then, no human desideratum impaired his personal schedule anymore.

Although I really like it here in Croatia and do feel very comfortable in general, there are two elements that drive me berserk.

These elements are fire and water.

Water – bottled, with or without gas, no difference: It’s terrible! It tastes like someone dissolved a fistful of Alka-Seltzer in the bottle. It’s salty and bitter and really, really gross. Plus, I have the feeling that it upsets my stomach.
I would love to support the local economy by buying Croatian mineral water, but this taste makes it just impossible. By now, I’ve tried about six different brands: No difference worth mentioning.
I will have to switch to some imported stuff.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Sablicevo Rijeka Istria Croatia
My complaints about Croatian water refer strictly to the one in bottles.
This beach called Sablićevo can be reached by the city bus #1 in about 15 minutes.

The other element, fire, is even worse: Everybody in this country is smoking! Everywhere! At any time.  On any occasion.
When the overland bus stops at a red light, everybody gets out to smoke at least half a cigarette. Okay, you’ve got me: This is a lie.
But they do get off at any stop the bus has to make and they smoke and then they come back and sit next to me and they reek!

I cannot sit on the terraces of restaurants because around me everybody is smoking. It’s like having lunch in hell. I also have the impression that the cigarettes here are stinkier than anywhere else. Or maybe I’m becoming more sensitive.

Seriously, it’s unbelievable. Like in the 1950s when people didn’t know about the long-term effects of smoking.

I don’t like that the coffee here is often sweetish – I don’t know if it’s their way of roasting or if they add sugar when preparing it.
I don’t like that people tend to jostle, push, and shove each other instead of waiting, giving way when indicated, enter and exit one after another – nope, it’s always the law of the jungle; I wonder how British and Americans cope with this survival of the fittest way of ‘queuing’.

But these flaws can be considered folkloric foibles – hence the smoke is just killing me – metaphorically; and those who cause it, literally.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while on the road, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections. 
At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just share some thoughts and special moments with me.

Wanna know about the former stops? Here is where I’ve been: 

If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:

Croatia Bus Road Trip. First Stop: Porec

Technically, Poreč is my fourth stop on this trip – a journey partly a bit back in time, but we’ll get to that later. But the first three stops – Munich, Ljubljana, and Zagreb – were like weekend trips. City breaks. Familiar terrain. The big adventure starts with all these small towns in the middle of nowhere or on islands. Places that I have to find, avoiding getting lost between bus and ferry schedules.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Porec Croatia
Istria used to be ruled by Venice – and funnily enough, not only the alleys and palazzi of the little town remind me of my favorite Italian city, even the skyline looks a bit Venetian.

So this makes Poreč the first stop of my bus road trip along the Adriatic coast.

I was looking forward to going to Poreč since it has this Italian history and is said to be a very cute, atmospheric little town with incredibly beautiful architecture. And it’s on the coast and has beaches.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Porec Croatia
Rock on: To avoid too many injuries, they’ve installed ladders. However, I’ve seen noticeably many tourists with casts on crutches.

So I had high expectations and yes it’s true, Poreč has beaches – which you wouldn’t call beaches anywhere else in the world since it’s actually rocks. The water is wonderful – pretty calm, deep, blue and it looks very clean. To access it without breaking your ankle or neck, you climb down one of the many ladders they installed. Some daredevils – aka morons – also dive from the rocky pier head first. Every mommy tells her offspring not to go with strangers and not to dive into unfamiliar waters. My blood freezes when I see people diving into rocky waters – but hey, just rock on if you please.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Porec Croatia
The water around Porec is just fantastic.

Sunbathing feels a bit like laying on a – very hard – kitchen floor; like I said, you are laying on rocks. Or on a lawn below some conifers. Or on a beach chair from the middle-class hotel next door; for free….until they ask you where you’re staying, then you pay 45 kuna which is 7 bucks. Kuna is Croatian for marten, which is kind of cute. The reason for calling their money that, though, is rather cruel: In the past, they actually used to pay with the marten’s fur.

The town itself is very cute and picturesque, indeed. Just like all the small towns that made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. I sound disenchanted? I am: Besides huge hotels, every halfway decent house has a sign Apartman. And I’m afraid this is no oversupply since the town is packed with tourists. Packed! And for some mystic reason, about 80 percent of them have a dog with them. On the beach. At restaurants. It’s canine paradise.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Porec Croatia
The Venetian influence cannot be denied.

I’m staying two nights and my Apartman is not in the center, so I’m fine. Because down there, it’s a zoo. Not worse than any other typical holiday destination. But by no means better.

What I find really interesting and even fascinating in the area of former Yugoslavia – and this phenomenon already enchanted me in Slovenia – is the multicultural heritage.

You notice the Italian influence – Istria, the largest Adriatic peninsula, used to be ruled by Venice for 400 years – on Croatia especially at night when everybody is coming out, strolling around, having a drink on one of the many, many terraces.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Porec Croatia
Taverns just like in Italy.
Many local people are actually bi-lingual, and the street signs are written in Croatian as well as in Italian.

You see the Austrian impact – the entire region was ruled by Austria’s imperial and royal Habsburgers – during daytime as people idly have coffee at one of the many cafés. Then there is, of course, the Slavic mentality and friendliness – especially in Slovenia people where amazingly nice. Although Slovenia and Croatia are not considered Balkan states anymore – since they’ve been part of the European Union since 2004 resp. 2013, this is only a terminus technicus – the people didn’t change and culturally, they still belong to these peoples with a colorful and often tragic history.

A quick side-trip back in time I

I’m on a beach, it’s late at night, it’s pitch dark, there is a weak campfire and someone is playing guitar. 

I can see this scene before me like looking through a veil. And I see it in black and white. Maybe because it’s so dark that the eye cannot distinguish colors but everything appears in shades of softening grey. Or maybe it’s because this scene is so old that there are only pictures in black and white left from that time.

It must have been in the mid-60s. We were living in Czechoslovakia. Socialist Czechoslovakia. Behind the proverbial iron curtain, travelling was very limited. I had just outgrown the toddler age. My mother and I had gone by train from Prague to what at that time was called Yugoslavia. General Tito’s Yugoslavia. A socialist country, but open to the west. Mentally, metaphorically, and literally. Here, the reliable communist who would not take advantage of open borders were able to spend their vacation side by side with vacationers from the west who enjoyed Yugoslavia’s cultural and natural beauty at a pretty cheap price. In return, they were ready to lower their sights when it came to supply and service.

However, later, my mother always claimed that I had had some sickness that had to be cured under the Yugoslavian sun, which I think was a legend to make things more interesting. I don’t remember having been sick. All I remember is this black and white moment late at night on a beach. I must have been two or three years old.

Yesterday, after about fifty-two years I came back to Yugoslavia. To a country that doesn’t exist anymore. After Tito had died in 1980, things got out of hand. In 1991, a very complex political firestorm started and became one of the cruelest wars of the 20st century. Old rivalries, vengeance for collaborating with the Nazis in WWII, ethnic and religious conflicts – all hell broke loose.

Today, about twenty years later, they finally are autonomous countries, and Croatia, stretching along the Adriatic coast, became a vacationers’ paradise very soon. 

I’m pretty sure that the campfire on the dark beach must have been somewhere around Split.

Since yesterday, all these atrocious pictures from the 90s are haunting me. It began with a picture at the Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Zagreb where a composite photograph hit me right in the gut. I couldn’t get the girl’s eyes and mainly the inhuman words of the graffiti out of my head. Worst thing is, they had been written by one of the Dutch UN soldiers, a soldier who was sent there to protect Bosniaks, the ethnic group his writing was more than mocking. Somehow it symbolizes the big failure of that Blue Helmet Mission.

bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels - Zagreb Muzej suvremene umjetnost Museum of Contemporary Art Sejla Kameric
Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić’s self-portrait with the atrocious insult a Dutch UN soldier had written on a barrack.

Later that day, I was a bit shocked when the tour guide asked whether we’ve had heard of the war in Yugoslavia. I mean, I was surprised when a guide in Viet Nam asked the same thing – but however, that military conflict had started in the 1950s. I do remember the news, but I was a child then. Those who have survived as adults are at least in their 70s.
But the Srebrenica massacre was like…yesterday. At that time, I’ve had a child myself.
The pictures from those camps, the mass-rapes, the ethnic cleansing.
I feel like when I was in Cambodia: I’m searching for traces, I’m looking at places and think This is where it happened; right here, where I am vacationing now.
I’m looking in faces, wondering What did you do? What did you have to endure?
How do these peoples live on with that burden? According to Kristina, my Zagreb guide, there isn’t a museum, there is no reappraisal.

I’m sad. And a bit depressed. It makes me sad that only twenty years after such a tragedy, a group of people is asked – probably for a reason – whether they have heard about one of the most gruesome military conflicts of the last century.

I’d like to know: How do you deal with other countries’ past and history? Does it affect you in your travelling? I’d really appreciate your comment in the section below.

Note to the curious reader: Like I did during my former trips like e. g. Cambodia, while on the road, I’ll be posting little stories and reflections. 
At the end of the entire tour there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just share some thoughts and special moments with me.

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Class of Brazil – 9th Lesson: Foz do Iguaçu and the Games Without Frontiers

I like frontiers. The idea that you can take one big step and you cross from a country with one language to another, totally different one. That you need to look for a currency exchange office. That you might have to sing another anthem under a different flag.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
I’m not spamming my blog with pictures of myself – but I cannot spare you of me posing in front of one of the ‘Wonders of the World’.

No, of course I do not like frontiers protected by high walls, barbed wire, patrolling officers with German shepherds chasing people who try to cross from one side to the other in search of a better life – or even just an outcome.

I like the frontiers whose significance exists practically only in our heads – a bit like new years: although Australians are already having their sleep into the first night of the new year and Hawaiians still have to wait for a couple of hours till they can start with their fire crackers, in Europe corks are popping at 12 as if this midnight would be the only real entrance into the next year; and yet it depends only on where you are standing at the very moment.

After all, the whole thing is foolish, anyway, since other cultures and religions have a totally different calendar, hence ‘new year’.

However,  knowing all this, everybody is celebrating his – finally willy-nilly – ‘new year’.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Look at those tiny people on the bridge to the right: they are visiting from the Argentinian side of the wonder.

With many frontiers it’s basically the same: Someone somewhen decided that there will be a border between two countries and drew a line just to have some sort of orientation – finally willy-nilly, too.

And even as this line was drawn randomly and fortunately often doesn’t bear great consequences, we feel like doing something meaningful crossing it – as if within a couple of meters really something changes.

Just like new year, it’s basically in our heads.

But these are the frontiers I find sort of fascinating: where a thin line decides which language is spoken over here and over there, which currency is accepted, which memorial days are celebrated – it’s the door between cultural varieties that I like at frontiers.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
It’s quite pricey visiting the falls by boat, but it must be a great – maybe a bit scary – feeling (the boat is the tiny speck in the lower right corner).

I love particularly tripoints – I was raving about this in an earlier post on Basel – and there is a fine example at an even finer place – Foc do Iguaçu waterfalls in the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Itaipú – besides being the largest waterpower plant in the world, it is also another tourist magnet in Foz; so they supply you with a couple of touristy posing and selfie opportunities.

And just like at the tripoint connecting France, Germany, and Switzerland, you can easily wander from one country to another and enjoy their differences and of course their similarities and there is no barbed wire and there is no stern border patrol with guns and mean dogs. It’s diversity, yet togetherness.
Games without frontiers.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Just like in his tile-murals all over Curitiba, Poty Lazzarotto created a wall depicting the project and its workers in all their glory. It adorns the first stop of the guided tour through this impressive plant.

In 1984, Brazil and Paraguay even installed a common project, world’s largest water power plant – Usina Itaipú. In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers elected the Itaipú Dam as one of the seven modern Wonders of the World.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
Guided tour of the Itaipú plant means going on a bus trip for about two hours….

At this point I could now copy and paste all the fantastic figures – without having the slightest idea what they mean; when it comes to science and technology, I’m a complete moron. So if you happen to be a person who is interested in this sort of stuff and who understands what these high numbers mean, please consult their website and be impressed.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
….and possibly add a catamaran-cruise on lake Itaipú to your itinerary.

Although I did not get the figures, I still got that it is a beautiful, environment-friendly bi-national project.
Two countries share brotherly the power – what a sentence! I wish we could say that about all countries!
Since Paraguay needs less of its share – it has less than 7 million inhabitants, they sell their surplus to Brazil – over 200 millions of Brazilians naturally need more electricity.
Power to the people – everything sounds all peaches and cream, the Itaipú people are very proud of their great project and make it accessible to visitors from allover the world; even morons like me go there.

Foz do Iguacu - bye:myself - Renata Green - byemyselftravels
There is an unbelievable number of waterfalls of all different heights.

Yes, it’s all about waters in Foz do Iguaçu: it’s main attraction remain the incredible waterfalls.
An amicably shared attraction, too, this time between Argentina and Brazil.
You can visit them from both countries – even on the same day.

The Iguaçu-falls consist of 20 large and 255 smaller waterfalls along almost three kilometers / two miles. Most of them are about 65 meters / 213 feet high, but there are some up to 82 meters / almost 270 feet. Incredible 1.500 to 7.000 m³ / 53,000 to 247,000 ft³ of water do plummet down from the rocks.

Incredible masses of water are roaring down from all sides. Close to the ‘Garganta do Diabo’ (the devil’s throat) you get soaked by the spray water. 

The Iguaçu-waterfalls are one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Since 1984 (Argentinian side) resp. 1986 (Brasilian side) they have been a UNESCO world heritage site.

These South American coati (aka nasua nasua) are all over the place. And signs warning you to touch or feed them are all over the place, too: these rascals have mighty sharp teeth. Still they are cute, especially these babies.

With this – the introduction of an environmental friendly, bi-national project, a bi-nationally shared ‘Wonder of the World’ and a spot where the harmonious togetherness of three borders is celebrated – I finish the last lesson of my Class of Brazil series.

Even at the hotel it’s all about waters: Relaxing at the hotel pool after a long, unforgettable day.

Wanna know what happened before? Here are the previous lessons:

Class of Brazil – 1st Lesson: We Have it Good

Class of Brazil – 2nd Lesson: Danger Seems Closer from Afar

Class of Brazil – 3rd Lesson: It is a Hellish Path to a Heavenly Place

Class of Brazil – 4th Lesson: I Am What I Am

Class of Brazil – 5th Lesson: I Call Them Like I See Them

Class of Brazil – 6th Lesson: Bonito – Nomen Est Omen

Class of Brazil – 7th Lesson: Curitiba – and the Meaning of Means

Class of Brazil – 8th Lesson: Day Trip to Morretes – Planning On Not Planning

Note to the curious reader: The links above lead you to little stories and reflections on my stay in Brazil. Soon there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant information including addresses, links etc. 

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