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Posts Tagged ‘Bestway Tours & Safaris’

They come by the thousands every day dressed in turbans, scarves, saris, kurtas and western clothing not only to pray but to sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall next to anyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, age or social status. And they all get along and follow the procedures established by the kitchen.DSC_0626

 

This is every day at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India where the Temple’s kitchen (called langar in Punjabi) serves up to 40,000 hungry people a vegetarian meal 24 hours a day every day of the year. And on Holy Days, weekends and holidays the crowd can reach 100,000+ at the Golden Gurudwara (Temple) for a free meal. And this has been going on since the Sikh religion began in 1469.

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Although all Sikh temples have a langar and serve free meals to pilgrims, the langar at the Golden Temple in Amritsar is like no other because it has the largest free kitchen in the world. “It has so many visitors it rivals the Taj Mahal as the most visited place in India, “our guide on this Bestway.com tour told us.DSC_0631

The Golden Temple is the home of the Sikh religion which has 3 aspects: sing and chant the name of God, sing religious hymns and volunteer. Plus, it considers all people equal in every way. And all Sikhs wear a turban to be equal with each other, to show respect to the Guru, and to protect the hair.DSC_0638

Serving the hungry pilgrims everyday is their volunteer mission all over the world. It was the founder, Guru Nanak, who began the concept of the langar. Volunteers do almost all of the work and show up every day to prepare the food. Ten percent of the volunteers, however, are paid staff to manage and coordinate the program but the other 90% is all done by volunteers and donations from the local community and the world. All of the food is donated or purchased with donations.DSC_0605DSC_0578DSC_0576

Thousands of volunteers chop, cut, boil, and mix organic onions, garlic, chilies, carrots, radishes, cabbage, spinach, fruit, rice kheer (pudding) rice, lentils for soup called dal, ghee (clarified butter) and roti (Indian flat bread). The food is cooked with wood and gas in huge cauldrons, and roti making machines, yielding a simple vegetarian meal for all to eat.DSC_0596DSC_0692

And the pilgrims do eat. But before they can eat, however, when they arrive at the Golden Temple, they must immediately put a provided triangular orange scarf on their head, then must check their shoes at one of the many windows where they are kept until claimed. Entering the Temple with head covered and barefooted shows respect to the Guru. DSC_0609Then, they get in line and receive their stainless steel food plate, spoon and water/tea/dessert/soup bowl before going to the big marble hall where new arrivals are being seated. Many times, a person takes a seat on a cloth in a row on the just cleaned floor next to someone s/he doesn’t even know. Receiving the food with both hands signifies blessed food.DSC_0606DSC_0602

And then volunteer servers arrive carrying buckets or tubs containing food to give to each person, one after the other. Rice, lentil soup (dal), roti, tea/water, ghee pudding or fruit awaits them.

DSC_0623 And each day’s meal is determined by the availability of foods in season, purchased or provided. And they never run out of food even when 100,000+ come to eat. After the people finish their meal and leave, the process begins all over again. But before new people arrive, each section is mopped clean and it is done many times a day.DSC_0570DSC_0565

Then it is time to wash the dishes for the new arrivals so each dish is washed several times. Volunteers stand and wash dishes in large vats full of soapy water and then pass them to another group of vats and finally to clean water vats. DSC_0671The stainless steel dishes even go through a cleaning that polishes and shines them. Then they are stacked in large steel trailer-like bins with large wheels and pulley so they can be positioned near the awaiting new arrivals. And huge steel boxes of clean utensils are also moved nearby.DSC_0584DSC_0634

It impressed us how orderly and clean everything was and how, with all the people, it was relatively quiet and respectful. And it impressed us how all pilgrims sit in a row on the floor cross-legged and barefooted in a huge hall with anyone and everyone regardless of race, color, sex, caste, religion, creed, social status, or age to eat. And they all get along and follow the rules of the langar and Temple. The Golden Temple langar is like no other.

Photo Copy ©  2016 carolyntravels.com

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The Golden Temple complex is magnificent, huge and very clean. June and I covered our heads and removed our shoes to enter the complex.

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The Golden Temple model box receives many rupee donations for the Kitchen and Temple.

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Each one resembled a miniature church, pyramid, or a multi-layered structure that reigned magnificently throughout Samosir Island.DSC_0387 DSC_0276DSC_0998They were all different colors, shapes, sizes and designs that sat in rice and vegetable fields, next to Toba Batak family homes, on top of hills and near the lake. These were the beautiful Toba Batak family tombs on Samosir Island, the largest island in the world located in a lake, Lake Toba, which is the deepest  volcanic lake in the world at 1,666 feet or 505 meters, in the northern part of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia.DSC_0186

 DSC_1018 DSC_0220We viewed over 50 tombs as we circled Samosir Island looking at the design of the Toba Batak homes, its people going about their daily lives, the rice fields, the mountains and those magnificent tombs on a Bestway Tours and Safaris tour of Indonesia.DSC_0317DSC_0198DSC_0188DSC_0185DSC_0130 The glorious monuments are perpetual remembrances and a place of honor to many past generations. The Toba Batak people are Muslim, Christian, or Batak religion.DSC_0124DSC_0362DSC_0381DSC_0160DSC_0145

 Each Toba Batak family has a family tomb on their property as a place of honor for generations of family burials. Some of the tombs were as high as 5 levels with stairs to reach them. But, it was not only the design but the color of the tombs that made each one outstanding. Orange, yellow, pink, white, burgundy, purple and navy were the bright colors most often used on the facades. Several tombs were grouped together, but most stood alone like sculptures.DSC_0196DSC_0177DSC_0205DSC_0173DSC_1001DSC_0191

 Tombs were made of marble, stone, tile, or concrete and are built to last years for Toba Batak family members. Many had designer fences around them and it seems each family tries to have the most outstanding tomb on the island. Each family tomb and plot of land is handed down to the next generation to use and keep for the next generation. DSC_0223DSC_0314DSC_0404DSC_1027

 

 

 

 

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Barely clothed and wearing a feather headdress, a koteka, and fur arm bands were all each tribesman wore as he battled barefooted with men of another tribe. These tribesmen were the Dani of Papua Irian Jaya, also known as Papua, Indonesia, and they used spears and bows and arrows to fight others. DSC_0365Several men wore a Wally Mo, a cowry shell tie indicating wealth and status as a village chief and others wore a pig tusk in their nose.DSC_0373

As we approached the early morning battleground in the Baliem Valley, hollering was heard to get us to stop. DSC_0690Not knowing what the sounds meant and where it was coming from, we finally noticed a Dani tribesman standing at the top of a 30-foot pole talking to us. When he discovered we were friendly, he welcomed us.

The battle continued about 15 minutes after we arrived and then we were invited into the Dani village of 8 different families.DSC_0358DSC_0351 DSC_0422After clearing the door 3 feet from the ground without steps, we saw the Dani women waiting.

Dressed only in a skirt and beautiful headdresses made of bird of paradise, cassowary and ostrich feathers, the ladies welcomed us into their village with a dance. DSC_0583Going around and around in a circle, they chanted and sang to a traditional Dani beat. Their beautiful colorful skirts were made of tree bark and white grass or beads from orchid seeds worn loosely around the hips.DSC_0472

After 15 minutes of dancing, it was time to start the feast. A tribesman started the fire by rubbing 2 sticks together in straw until a fire began.DSC_0654 Immediately, a woman bent down to light her cigarette as did several others because everyone smokes in this Dani tribe and Indonesia.DSC_0670

And for this feast, a pig had to be sacrificed as the Dani are Christian with animistic beliefs. Held by 2 tribesmen, the pig squealed the entire time until the arrow hit is heart. DSC_0720As this was going on, the ladies prepared the cooking pit in the ground using the fire started by the men.

As the food was being prepared, the children were playing hop scotch with a rock and a grid scratched in the ground and chasing each other.DSC_0793 At all times, the children were polite, charming and curious.DSC_0808 One girl wanted Denise to help her with English letters. Each girl begins wearing the sack from her head at age 1-2 and it remains there for life as it is tradition for the female to carry any kind of item in the sack, even a baby. The female teenagers stayed around quietly making crafts and eating.DSC_1006

Young males are not carrying on the tradition of wearing the koteka. But between the age of 9-12, they go through an initiation ceremony of manhood which is held in the house only for men in the village. Circumcision is not performed but the koteka is installed and the young man wears it only for ceremonies now. The rest of the time, he is dressed in western clothes just like the rest of the men in his Dani village. One young man wore it during the ceremony that we saw.DSC_0732

The feast preparation continued as the pig was cooked by itself in a pit of straw, wood and rocks over the fire. After 1 hour or so, it was removed and placed in the steam pit full of greens, sweet potatoes and other vegetables.DSC_0838 The steam pit had hot rocks placed in it and then it was wrapped up tight to steam.DSC_0895

DSC_0904About 3 hours later, the feast was ready for all to enjoy.DSC_0040 The children got the tiny bones to eat and chew and they joined the males in a circle to eat their meal.DSC_0064 And the ladies offer others food as they sit in their circle and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. The sweet potatoes were delicious.DSC_0056

Now, it was time for one more thing–the market. Each lady displayed items for us to buy. DSC_0964The entire traditional ceremony cost $400 USD, our Bestway Tours & Safaris guide told us, which is divided by 8 village families after all the yearly performances. Each family gets paid for the performances just once a year.DSC_0601

And then it was time for the afternoon traditional ceremony where they wear only the koteka, beautiful headdress, maybe the Wally Mo for the chief and battle barely clothed and barefooted with another tribe using swords, bows and arrows. And then they feast.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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It is traditional for Dani women to cut off part of their fingers upon the death of close family members. This shows the grief the lady will bear her entire life.

It is traditional for Dani women to cut off part of their fingers upon the death of close family members. This shows the grief the lady will bear her entire life.

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It was a family reunion, bon voyage party, and happy celebration of the life of a loved one all at the same time. And it is the most important, expensive and elaborate event in the life of a Tana Torajan who leaves this world.

The rante or ceremony site of the Torajan funeral around their Tongkonan houses.

The rante or ceremony site of the Torajan funeral around their Tongkonan houses.

Hundreds of family members, friends, tourists and anyone in the community are welcomed to this happy funeral occasion celebrated by sacrificing dozens of water buffalo and pigs “loaned” for the attendees to eat and take home as gift.

The colorful and carved coffin under the Tongkonan house.

The colorful and carved coffin under the Tongkonan house.

And each guest brings a gift to the event from cigarettes, alcohol, and rice, to water buffalo and pigs.

We brought cigarettes and gave them to the Hery in honor of his deceased father's Bato' Pakym celebration.

We brought cigarettes and gave them to Hery in honor of his deceased father’s Bato’ Pakym celebration. Our Bestway Tours and Safaris guide helped us purchase the Nikki Indonesian-made cigarettes for 102,000 rupiah, $10.20 USD.

This big funeral celebration by the Tana Torajan tribe in the mountainous south of Sulawesi Island in the Republic of Indonesia, is a very expensive affair taking years to create and can cost as much as one hundred thousand dollars depending on the wealth of the family.

DSC_0852When a family member dies, the body is embalmed and placed in a beautiful elaborately carved coffin in or under their tongkonan house for up to 5 years until the family can gather enough money to give the deceased a proper send off.

Until the funeral, the deceased is considered “sick” and is given 3 meals a day and regularly bathed and clothed as if alive. Not until the funeral celebration is the deceased considered deceased. The coffin, costing $600-$1200, is made of Uru wood and takes 2 weeks to make. Four colors can be used on a coffin, red signifying blood and bravery, black for simple life and sorrow, while for holiness and yellow for prosperity. The coffin at this funeral was red, white, black and yellow.

The family arrived at the celebration, first the women entered, followed by the men.

The family arrived at the celebration, first the women entering, followed by the men.

The family then begins constructing a rante or funeral set, from scratch around the family’s massive peaked boat-like houses called tongkonan or on a vacant field. Wood bleachers complete with roof are built around the main area so that hundreds of guests can observe and participate in the ceremonies. Traditional Torajan symbolic fabric is used to decorate and wrap each structure. But seats are not provided in these bleachers, leaving all guests to sit on the floor. A ceremonial tower is built at the site where the body is placed during the ceremonies.DSC_0868

After everything is built and enough money is collected, the funeral starts with a pastor conducting a service for the family and then the public ceremony begins. Most people smoke non-stop during the event and drink and eat snacks, buffalo and pig meat. DSC_0867Music, chants, songs and crying are the traditional signs of sorrow and grief displayed at this happy celebration.

The presentation of the deceased to the guests with the gong leading the way.

The presentation of the deceased to the guests with the gong leading the way.

The coffin is then removed from the tongkonan house and carried around and around the rante ceremonial site to the beat of a gong so all can bid farewell to the deceased for the last time in this world. Ten men carrying the coffin then must lift it up to the second floor of the lakkian tower via a “ladder” constructed just for that purpose. DSC_0904After considerable effort, the men get the deceased in his place of honor for the Rambu Solo funeral ceremony that is to follow.

If the deceased is wealthy, sacred water buffalo and cock fights are held in the rante and guests enjoy placing bets for their favorite animal. And singing and dancing follows. And 3 different trees are placed in the rante to honor the deceased. Then, a stake is hammered into the ground and a water buffalo is brought into the rante and tied to the stake. DSC_0915Its throat is cut, blood gushes out and the animal swings around and around and finally falls and dies on the ground that is covered with blood.

  DSC_0916Several men then began skinning the animal and cutting and distributing the different parts to the guests. And buffalo and pig meat is cooked for all to eat.DSC_0935

The goal of this funeral celebration is to be the best, most expensive and elaborate party ever held and it lasts for 3 days or for weeks depending on the status and wealth of the deceased. The number of water buffalo slaughtered at this status celebration can be in the hundreds for the Torajan are Christians with ancient animistic beliefs for funerals. The Torajan believe the decease’s soul and the soul of the water buffalo must accompany each other to heaven.

After being sacrificed, the many buffalo heads are placed in a line awaiting the deceased soul so that all can go to heaven together. It is called aluk or the way of the ancestors.

The many water buffalo horns mounted on this family's old tongkonan house show the family's wealth over the years.

The many water buffalo horns mounted on this family’s old tongkonan house show the family’s wealth over the years.

Spiritual life is very important to the Torajan because it connects their ancestors, current living and future generations. Buffalo horns are then placed on the front of the tongkonan houses to show wealth generation after generation. Since the tongkonan house is never sold, it serves as the family home forever.

Each family brings a water buffalo as a gift that is a “loan” or “debt” of the giving family and it is recorded by the government. Each buffalo costs about $5000 US Dollars and if the buffalo has spots all over, it costs about $7000. Then, the “loan or debt” is repaid by the deceased’s family at each of the families funerals that gifted a buffalo. The buffalo giving never ends and the debt is never paid off. And since so many funerals exist and so many water buffalo are being sacrificed, most water buffalo in Sulawesi now are imported.DSC_0811

So for centuries the way of the ancestors continues and hundreds come to an elaborate bon voyage party to help the deceased pass into the afterlife. And water buffalo giving and sacrificing will never end as it is the only way a deceased Tana Torajan in Sulawesi, Indonesia can pass from this world into another.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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This was the huge face looking at ME!

There was a thud sound in the back seat, followed by our safari van shaking briefly. Emmy turned to look and then I turned to look. There looking straight at me was a huge 3-year-old 50-pound male olive baboon 24 inches from me with dark orange glaring eyes and a big, black shiny nose almost the length of his head. He looked the size of a human as he sat about 30 inches tall.

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Emmy Maseruka, our excellent guide, screamed with us for Trouble to leave immediately. Emmy now has his own company,  http://www.afrikanwildlifesafaris.com,  and guides for gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda. Reach him at emmymaseruka@gmail.com

Totally shocked at what I saw in the back seat, I screamed and June then turned to look and she screamed. All three of us in the van were screaming for the “Trouble” to leave and while we were screaming, he was just digging and digging with his right hand in my black fabric tote bag for food as he sat on his dusty, dirty feet and looked at us. He was not in any hurry or scared because he was a full-time food thief.

But we were in a hurry for him to leave because we knew he was wild and could bite and fight us. My camera was right beside me so I immediately took photos of this Trouble in the back seat and that is when he jumped up and left

Image left through the open top of the safari van just like he had entered.Image

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This monkey is sitting on the mirror to look in!

Emmy Maseruka, our safari driver, with http://www.afrikanwildlife.com told me that he had made previous eye contact with Trouble who was checking out the van contents. But we had no clue he would enter the safari van while we were waiting in line to board the ferry that would take us from the north side of the Ugandan Victorian Nile River to the southern side and our hotel. We did not have any food sitting out or plastic bags in sight.

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They check all windshields and angles before entering a vehicle.

June and I were sitting in the middle row seats now but I had just moved there after being in the back seat during the first game drive in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. That move left the back seat vacant, just perfect for Trouble to enter. I told Emmy “I need some more monkeys” as we were on safari in Murchison Falls National Park. Thirty minutes later, Trouble was in the back seat and June uttered, “Be careful what you ask for.”

Emmy had told us about the baboons when we first began our tour of Uganda warning us to keep your doors and windows closed at all times, and we had all closed in the safari van. He said the baboons are always looking for plastic bags because they see everyone carrying plastic bags and most of the time food is in them. But Trouble came in through the open safari roof. What amazed us was that baboons will enter a vehicle whether it is empty or occupied. They don’t discriminate when they want food.

Nine other vans were lined up to get on the ferry and Trouble and his family continued from our van to scope out the other vans looking for food. And they even returned to our van to see if they missed anything. Emmy said he has had this happen so many times on safaris during his 5 years of guiding that “I have lost count.”Image

Emmy said if a baboon wants a man’s food and the man doesn’t give it to him, they will fight and bite him. But, if it is a female the baboon is stealing from, he will threaten and threaten her persistently and will not back off or leave until he gets what he wants, but he will not fight or bite her.Image

A few minutes after Trouble left our van, I checked my tote bag to see if I had food in it and found a bag of crackers that had not been touched by those monkey hands.Image

Trouble’s family and friends then joined him and all of them were taking over the other vans like they owned them. One baboon looked like he did own a green pickup truck as he was sitting on top the side of the bed at the intersection of the tail gate and the right side.

Two teenage baboons hung around watching and learning techniques from their parents under several vans. ImageAs the baboon robbing was going on, the safari guides/drivers considered it a common happening. They were laughing, and were not upset, but they finally closed all doors, tops and windows.

As Trouble departed our backseat, his dusty footprints remained all over the seat cover giving us a reminder of the entire experience that lasted about 10 seconds but it gave us a one-of-a-kind adventure we never expected to have on a safari in Uganda, Africa.

Photo Copy ©  2015 carolyntravels.com 

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June and I visited Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Republic of Sprska, Croatia, Slovenia with Bestway Tours & Safaris, and following are our observations, things we learned saw and enjoyed.

 Belgrade Fortress, Wine, Danube & Sava Rivers, Hotel

Moskva, Food, Red Roses, Wine, Serbian Guide, Part 1

 •          Seeing that restaurants in Serbia are either smoking restaurants or non-smoking restaurants and that the restaurants with the most customers are the smoking restaurants.

•          Learning which restaurants are smoking or non-smoking before entering because each one is labeled outside with the international cigarette sign of a cigarette with a slash through it or no slash.

•          Getting a plastic fork on the Lufthansa flight to Belgrade that had a hinge in the handle making it half the normal length and opening like a pocket knife.

•          Pulling into Belgrade and seeing a huge explosion of white smoke in the area of our hotel, only to find out it was 2 blocks away from our hotel, and causing McDonalds next door to it to be closed for the day.

•          Seeing how the Danube and Sava Rivers come together and flow as one at the Belgrade Fortress.

•          Learning the reason the name “Yugoslavia” was given to the land of the Serbs was because “Yugo” means south in Serbian and Yugoslavia was the southern countries of the Slavs.

•          Learning that Belgrade is “white city” in the Serbian language because the original settlers came and saw the white wall surrounding the ancient city.

•          Learning that our Hotel Moskva was built in the early 20th century and was the first luxury hotel in Belgrade. Today, it is listed as a 4-star hotel, has been remodeled and modernized, and is one of our favorites.

•          Knowing that our guide, Vojislav Tomic (Boys slav  Tom ich) is a professor of philosophy at the University of Belgrade, and he also works as a private guide and that his daughter lives in the USA.

•          Seeing that part of the moat of the Belgrade Fortress is now being used for tennis courts.

  • Learning that Blue Jeans are produced in Serbia from cotton imported from Egypt and Turkey, and shoes are produced from Serbian leather.

Meat, Flowers, Light, Weddings, Cards, Potatoes, Mt.

Zlatibor, Sweet Pie, Music, Divorce, Pottery, Part 2

•          Learning that the main dish in Serbia is meat, meat, meat.

•          Talking English with almost all Serbians.

•          Seeing beautiful flowers everywhere.

•          Experiencing the powers of what it must have been like to be a goddess walking down the dark hall of our Belgrade hotel and demanding that we have light and the lights magically illuminate our way with the wave of our arms.

•          Peeking into a wedding reception in our hotel and seeing that the wedding gift for each guest was a cup and saucer.

•          Seeing a group of people gathered by the fountain sculpture all the time in front of our Hotel Moskva in Belgrade and seeing them with lottery-like cards, only to find out they were trading sports cards.

•          Eating bared potatoes which are cooked on the grill in a clay pot and learning the reason they are called bared is because they were peeled.

•          Learning that all meats in Serbia are barbecued or grilled.

•          Visiting the old 18th century Serbian village on Mt. Zlatibor next to our cabin #43 which resembled the old village with modern amenities inside.

•          Attending Sunday Eastern Orthodox service at Saborna Cathedral in Belgrade and absorbing the beautiful liturgy while standing because an Orthodox Cathedral has no chairs.

•          Seeing Belgrade’s St. Sava Cathedral which has been under construction for 70 years.

•          Learning that the blueberry vines growing in Serbia look just like a grape vineyard.

•          Seeing red roses in bloom all over Belgrade.

•          Learning that orthodox means universal.

•          Seeing the beautiful mountains and countryside on the way to Mt. Zlatibor.

•          Seeing the Drina River lined with boats, and floating houses, boats, marinas and restaurants.

•          Experiencing heaven with Sweet Pie made of walnuts and apples, and crepes made with local jam for dessert at our Mt. Zlatibor cabin lodge.

•          Learning that Serbian music is all upbeat and about love and love lost.

•          Seeing huge pile after pile of wooden logs waiting to be made into paper in forested Serbia.

Steam Train, Bridge, Tunnels, Srpska, UNESCO

Monasteries, Charcoal, Kosovo, Turkey, Part 3

•          Learning that Wedding Sauerkraut is cabbage and meat.

•          Learning that all dishes are cooked in pottery and are they delicious!

•          Going from a 4-star a hotel in Belgrade to a no-star cabin lodge in Mt. Zlatibor. Priceless.

•          Learning that if the first born child in a family is a son and the second one a daughter, this is considered to be a “royal family”.

•          Visiting 3 countries in 7 minutes when we went from Serbia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Republic 0f Srpska.

•          Learning that Serbia exports electricity, agricultural products and that nuclear power plants are forbidden.

•          Learning that Serbia has a low divorce rate and that the average age of the population is 41.

•          Seeing Durbin Wood near Mt. Zlatibor in Serbia, built as a wooden movie set by director Kustulica and now is a village.

•          Walking across the perfectly preserved pumice stone bridge finished by the Ottoman Empire in 1571, in Visegrad, Republic of Srpska.

•          Eating gelato while sitting in a restaurant on the fast-moving Drina River overlooking that stone bridge in Visegrad, Republic of Srpska. Wonderful.

•          Traveling 15 kilometers on the old and narrow gauge steam train, Sarganska Osmica, through Serbia and the Republic of Srpska.

•          Seeing that the smoking is heavy among the young and old in the 8 countries of the former Yugoslavia.

•          Experiencing waiters who do not take your plate until you have totally finished eating and are ready to have it removed from the table. Priceless.

•          Eating the delicious local foods and not really knowing exactly what they are. Fun.

•          Going through 22 tunnels on the steam train ride to the Republic of Srpska with a train full of high school students drinking beer, smoking, and singing. Interesting.

•          Learning the purpose of the Visegrad Ottoman stone bridge was to get to the other side and to collect taxes.

•          Learning that the frescoes in the Monastery Studenica, a UNESCO world Heritage site, are considered the crowning achievement of the medieval culture and art in Serbia.

Sopocani & Studenica Monasteries, Wedding Ring

Tradition, Kosovo, Part 4

•          Seeing the monastic complex of Eastern Orthodox Monastery Studenica consisting of 3 churches-the Church of the Virgin, The King’s Church, and the Church of St. Nicholas, all full of priceless frescoes that tell the story of the Bible.

•          Seeing the Monastery Sopocani, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also full of priceless frescoes that showed the people the Bible in pictures. The paintings are known to be among the most magnificent in European medieval art.

•          Learning that the frescoes in Sopocani Monastery were made in 3 layers-sand, lime and powered sand. Then the picture was drawn on with bone-like pencil and students would add the color.

•          Learning that the Eastern Orthodox Monastery Sopocani was an endowment of King Uros, of the Nemanjic Royal Family of 12-15th century, and he is buried in the Monastery.

•          Seeing how the painter of the Last Supper fresco in the Monastery Studencia Church put a fork and knife and blond hair in the fresco showing he was thinking of the way they ate and looked in the 12-13th century, not how it was in the time of Jesus.

•          Learning that the Serbian Orthodox tradition is to wear the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the RIGHT hand.

•          Seeing igloo-like mud and brick handmade domes, called mala kapela, in the Serbian forest where villagers make their charcoal. Interesting.

•          Seeing the frescoes in the Eastern Orthodox Monastery Gracanica covered with holes like polka dots due to damage during the Turk Ottoman Empire.

•          Eating lunch while traveling in the van making hair-pin turns one after the other, slinging us right to left and left to right constantly through the mountains. Unbelievable.

•          Parking under the “shadow” of a tree at Monastery Studencia and learning that where the monks lived in their private quarters are called cells.

•          Waiting for the heavy rain shower to stop so we could enter the Monastery Studencia, only to see a white long bearded monk dressed all in black exit the monastery and walk by us. Then we learned he was the head priest.  Priceless.

•          Hearing loud thunder while waiting for the rain to end at the Studencia Monastery, reminding us of the thunder in “The Sound of Music.”

•          Seeing many monasteries in southern mountains of Serbia that were established in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.

Kosovo, Police, Customs,

 Tourists in Kosovo, Bridge,

Turkey, Monastery, Street Signs, President

 Clinton, Part 5             

•          Leaving Serbia through customs and being cleared to enter Serbian Kosovo.

•          Entering Serbian Kosovo through customs and being cleared to pass into Kosovo.

•          Entering Kosovo and being quizzed by the border police as to why we were going into Kosovo and being asked “No official business?” and “No official capacity?” and Tomic our guide, answered “No, it is only for tourism.” And then the policeman said to us, “Tourists don’t go to Kosovo, very unusual.”

•          Going through NATO and UN passport checks before entering Monasteries Studenica and Sopocani in Kosovo.

•          Leaving Kosovo through customs and being cleared to leave.

•          Seeing homes all over the ex-Yugoslavia countries with decorated gates, fences, entrances, cars and everything that could be decorated with ribbons only to learn that it all means a couple is newlywed.

•          Entering Macedonia and being cleared to enter by the Border police

•          Being checked 60 feet into Macedonia by the customs police and being told we could not proceed any further into Macedonia and must return to the Macedonian border police and enter only on foot with our vehicle and driver only entering empty of passengers. Unbelievable

•          Having to present our passports and being checked 9 times in one day from Serbia to Macedonia through Kosovo. Unbelievable.

•          Seeing no street or directional signs anywhere in the ex-Yugoslavia countries and having to stop and ask how to get to the next destination.

•          Having coffee in a pizza/petrol gas station and seeing a male turkey doing a full mating plumage dance, a turkey hen with 9 teenager babies, and a mother goose with 13 babies, all in Pec, Kosovo. Amazing.

•          Traveling through Pristina, Kosovo where UN presence has been for 12 years.

•          Seeing a 20-foot statue of former US President Bill Clinton pointing with his arm in the main square of Pristina, Kosovo and a Hillary clothing store nearby.

  • Drinking the red wine purchased from the Sopocani Monastery in Kosovo was so delicious, Tomic, June and I all finished the bottle with one dinner. Enjoyable.

Skopje, Macedonia, Mother Theresa, Singing,

Children, Gelato, Iconostasis, Skirt,

Part 6

•          Learning that the northern part of Kosovo is 95% Serbian and that Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent country.

•          Visiting Grancanica Monastery in Kosovo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Serbian style Byzantine church.

•          Seeing the main bridge near the town of Mitrovica, Kosovo in Rudare Village blocked by huge pile of dirt and Hungary’s KFOR and being told to we “couldn’t cross the bridge so move on, leave”. Sitting in a small old red car, the soldiers kept telling us to leave and charged us in our van with their car. Clashes in the town of Zvecan nearby occurred soon thereafter.

•          Seeing beautiful new homes and office buildings empty in southern Serbia and Kosovo.

•          Learning that Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, Macedonia.

•          Walking at night to the main square in Skopje, Macedonia and watching the colors change on the beautiful water fountain with a huge marble column and Alexander the Great on his horse at the top.

•          June asking the teacher of a group of singing small children if she could take their photo only to get a surprise performance by the children singing a song in English for us and the crowd that instantly appeared. Priceless.

•          Having gelato in Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia in a log cabin restaurant.

•          Visiting the St, John the Baptist Monastery in Bigorski, Macedonia located on the side of a mountain.

•          Seeing the most impressive iconostasis carved in wood in the St. John the Baptist Monastery telling the story of the Bible that took 5 years to carve. It is the most impressive in all of southern Europe. Priceless.

•          Learning that an iconostasis is a wall of icons and paintings separating the nave and sanctuary of a church.

•          Seeing the bone relics of the 9 saints in St. John the Baptist Monastery.

Ohrid, Macedonia, St. John the Baptist

Monastery, St. Naum Monastery, Tsar Smuili

Fortress, St. Clement Church, St. Sophia

Church, Greek Roman Theatre,Part  7

•          Seeing 75 high school students leaving St. John the Baptist Monastery in shorts, tight slacks, and low-cut tops, and commenting on the appropriate dress in a church only to enter the monastery and be given a long skirt to cover our appropriate long pants.

•          Visiting St. Naum Monastery near Ohrid, Macedonia where the art of Cyrillic writing was taught.

•          Seeing the 2 B.C. Roman and Byzantine Fortress that was destroyed in the 10th century Tsar Smuili Fortress by Bulgaria and then rebuilt by Bulgaria using the same stone in Ohrid, Macedonia.

•          Being given a private tour by Jana Poposka through the Mother of God Peribleptos St. Clement Church in Ohrid, Macedonia to see the frescoes only to learn that she wrote THE book about the church.

•          Seeing a fresco of St. Peter in the St. Clement Church (13th century in Ohrid Macedonia) with 2 keys in his left hand, one to Heaven and one to Hell- and another fresco of St. Peter with 3 keys in his left hand to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.

•          Seeing the Greek Roman Theatre in Ohrid, Macedonia, built in the 3rd century and being used currently for performances in the summer.

•          Seeing St. Sophia Church in Ohrid, Macedonia, built in the Byzantine 11th century.

•          Learning that Ohrid, Macedonia is known as the city of 365 churches, and seeing many of them.

•          Seeing St. Panteleimon Church in Ohrid, Macedonia, built in the 9th century.

•          Learning that Ohrid, Macedonia was called Lychnidos, the City of Lights, in ancient times.

Key, Wine, Hairdryer, Bunkers, Mule,

Satellite, Dolls, Elbasan, Roma, Wedding,

Colored Buildings, Part 8

•          Looking and looking all over for the hotel key card only to find it in the control slot that operates the room’s electricity.

•          Wondering why the hairdryer didn’t work, only to realize that the room key was not in the electricity slot, therefore no electricity in the room.

•          Getting a bottle of wine at the Decani Monastery to drink with meals and to learn that it was super strong and only one glass would make you know it.

•          Seeing a home with a satellite dish on one side of the road only to see 2 mules plowing the field on the other side of the road, therefore blending medieval and modern.

•          Stopping in Albania for tea and gelato in a restaurant in Elbasan Castle (Albania) , with an awesome view of the old fortress and enjoying its new use.

•          Having Denis, another guide, in Albania to show us his country.

•          Getting handmade dolls from Macedonia and, in Albania, from a woodcarver whose wife had made them from scratch. Wonderful.

•          Seeing paper being made from wood to paper in Ohrid, Macedonia and hearing Dolly Parton’s singing “Nine to Five” on the sound system.

•          Seeing almost everyone driving a Mercedes Benz in Albania.

•          Getting locked in the van accidently by Tomic, our tour guide, getting a map of Macedonia, making it necessary for June to crawl over the middle and front seats, cut the van off, pull out the key and push the “Open” button. Freedom.

•          Seeing a bird swoop down and steal a nut from the vendor selling all kinds of nuts as we walked around the Lake in Ohrid, Macedonia.

•          Learning that in 1991 there were 200,000 people in Tirana, Albania and 11 years later there were 800,000 because of immigrants from Kosovo and Serbia.

•          Learning after the year 2000, buildings were painted multi-colors in the older part of Tirana, Albania.

•          Learning that 20-30% unemployment exists in some of the ex-Yugoslavia countries.

•          Learning that a wedding in Albania costs about $10,000 US or 10 million leke.

Melody & Seth, Roma People, Fish Carver, Durres

Castle, Fuzz, Buildings, Water,

Part 9

•          Meeting Melody and Seth, June’s friends from the USA, who were a mission trip to Tirana, Albania, because they previously fell in love with the people and wanted to teach them about Jesus.

•          Having a traditional Albanian dinner with Melody and Seth at their favorite restaurant and then going to Sky Tower for coffee, gelato and fireworks on the top floor as it rotated 360 degrees, giving a fabulous view of the beautiful city of Tirana.

•          Having Melody and Seth take us to meet with 2 Roma families in Tirana, Albania in their tent homes, seeing the difficult conditions in which they live, giving candy to and loving the children, and showing that we care for them. Priceless.

•          Learning in 1966 while digging a channel, that diggers had just found the 3-4th century Durres Castle built in the Hellenic and Roman Period

•          Learning that Tirana is full of “fuzz” in the air and causing allergies

•          Seeing a man in Berat, Albania sitting on the street cleaning his fish to sell only to find out he was cleaning snakes!

•          Learning that Albania has no copyright laws to protect companies; therefore no companies want to do business there.

•          Learning Albania has so many nice abandoned buildings because the builder ran out of money and left it.

•          Learning that Albania has many underground springs and therefore has never run out of water.

•          Visiting the 10th century Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Berat, Albania, medieval village, a UNESCO World heritage Site, which is now a museum.

•          Learning in 1967 that communists destroyed the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Berat and whitewashed the priceless frescos to get rid of them because they do not believe in allowing Christian images in houses of worship.

Police, Onufri, Silver, Bush, Shitet, Bunkers, Berat,

Hairpin Turns, Part 10

•          Learning in Berat 42 churches originally existed and now only 17 remain.

•          See the 3 icons that Onufri the painter originally made in the 16th century-Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist.

•          Seeing icons covered in silver so that the worshippers could touch and kiss and not harm the icon painting leaving the face and arm uncovered.

•          Seeing the painted icon with only the face and arm left uncovered by silver.

•          Observing the renovating and repairing work in progress in the ancient city of Berat, Albania, with the help from UNESCO and the European Union.

•          Learning that all houses in the medieval city of Berat, Albania, are occupied.

•          Seeing car wash after car wash and learning that Albania has a lot of water, providing employment for some of the previously unemployed.

•          Doing hairpin turns regularly as we drive through the mountains of Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Croatia.

•          Learning that Albania has 500,000 concrete bunkers Communist leader Hodja because he had a phobia against all countries.  We saw some of the bunkers.

•          Learning Hodja told his people they could trust him and the bunkers were safe. He invited them into the bunkers and then sealed them with concrete, where they died.

•          Laughing out loud when we learned that the word “shitet” written all around Tirana, Albania meant “For Sale”.

•          Seeing the George W. Bush sculpture in the main square and riding on the George W. Bush Blvd. in Kruja, Albania.  The Albanian people love him because he visited Albania and showed his support of them.

•          Getting stopped by the police after visiting the beautifully designed Museum of Scanderbeg in Kruja, Albania, for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. The Albanian guide, Denis, asked forgiveness of the police because he told the driver, Tomic, to drive wrong. Tomic was then told to continue driving the wrong way to the end of the street by the police.

Directions, Gelato, AC, Motorcycle, Kotor,

Perast, Nuguse, Budva Lake, Srpska, King

Nikola II, Part 11

 •          Having to stop and ask directions for almost every destination because no traffic signs exist in Albania.

•          Enjoying gelato in every country along the way. Delicious.

•          Learning Montenegro is the second smallest country in the European Union.

•          Spending one very warm night in the hotel in Budva, Montenegro with no air conditioning, only to be given dinner the following evening as an apology.

•          Crossing the Montenegro border with 8 Austrian men on Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles, passing them on the road several times and then learning they were staying at the same hotel and touring the same countries as we were.

•          Visiting King Nikola’s II Palace in Cetinje, Montenegro, and seeing it as he left it in 1918 to escape to Italy and France, where he died.

•          Visiting another walled city in Kotor, Montenegro and having another gelato.

•          Walking on cobblestone streets through the walled cities that were so slick and smooth I could slip and slide, and fall not even once. Yeah!

•          Seeing 2 small islands in Perast, Montenegro, each with a monastery on them. Picture perfect.

•          Driving through Nuguse, Montenegro and seeing hams hanging in front of stores, only to learn Nuguse was known for their hams.

•          Sampling the famous Nuguse, Montenegro ham and wine. Enjoyable.

•          Crossing the fjord lake inn Budva, Montenegro on a car ferry. Fun.

•          Enjoying the multi-colored flowers all over the ex-Yugoslavia countries.

•          Learning that the civil war in the Ex-Yugoslavian countries was very costly and that the countries are still struggling as a result.

•          Visiting 5 Roman/Medieval walled cities in 4 days. Priceless.

•          Going 5 times in a matter of days to the Republic of Srpska. Awesome.

Flowers, War, Walled Cities, Bobomili,

Mostar, Barbeque, Lights, Demonstration,

Part 12

•          Learning that Mudjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina is like Fatima, Portugal and Lourdes, France where Catholics go to pray for a miracle.

•          Beginning the tour visiting monasteries and ending the tour visiting ancient walled cities. Priceless.

•          Seeing the Christian sect, Bogomili, design-carved headstone necropolis on the side of the road in Stolac, Bosnia-Herzegovina, only to learn no bodies were buried with the headstones.

•          Crossing the arched bridge over the Neretva River, going from the Moslem to Serbian side, in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

•          Learning the beautiful-arched bridge was destroyed during the civilian war and then re-built with the same stones.

•          Learning that religion, nationality and politics all come into play with the ex-Yugoslavia countries.

•          Seeing barbeque restaurants with large wooden wheels turning the meat covered spit over the fire on the way to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

•          Staying in a 5-star hotel nice room in the center of Sarajevo, only to need to use a flashlight to see because the lights in the room produced very little light.

•          Seeing where WWI began, learning how and why it began, and photos/museum of it.

•          Shopping throughout the ex-Yugoslavia countries and Albania.

•          Seeing and learning where the civilian war started in the Holiday Inn in 1992 and lasting until 1994 in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

•          Leaving Sarajevo for Slovenia and encountering a huge traffic jam because students were holding a demonstration protesting one of their students being killed by a car.

•          Seeing beautiful field after field of wheat, corn, oats, hay, all growing perfectly in sections, and seeing some fields with red poppies scattered throughout them in  the ex-Yugoslavia countries and Albania.

•          Seeing fruit orchards and vegetable fields growing everywhere perfectly in the ex-Yugoslavia countries.

•          Being totally surprised by Albania because all things we had read about it were not as we saw because it is changing and moving to the positive and vibrant with future plans.

  • Beginning the trip on the Sava River in Belgrade, Serbia and ending the tour on the Sava River at Ljubljana, Slovenia.

    This couple was just dancing away as we strolled the classic city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

    Bled, Slovenia has this castle just sitting on top of the cliff. The resort is so relaxing, fun and beautiful.

    The beautiful resort city of Bled, Slovenia has an lake for all kinds of recreation and  this elegant swan was just swimming around watching all the activities.

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