Saturday, October 25, 2008


It has been a week and a half since we arrived. And let me tell you, the shock was extreme. As much as I was trying mentally to prepare myself for a major slap in the face, I got punched 10 times instead. The experience for now is really intense. All the senses are attacked here. It is so busy with people, it's loud, stinky and poverty is everywhere. The mixture of smells is weird. And in this world of dirt, crass, shit, leave really nice and gentle people. We have seen very little for now, but in this pile of dirt, there is so much treasure.
At this point it is too early to understand our feelings about this country. It is horrifying and beautiful at the same time. When it is good, it's really good and when it is bad, it is very bad.
We have no regrets for now. You just need time to adjust to the noise, the heat and the smells. That takes a lot out of you. But discovering such a different world is.... I don't know..... WOW.

We arrived in New Delhi about 3:30 in the morning and YES! our luggage arrived, and YES! car from our hotel came to pick us up. It was like winning lottery twice in half an hour.
It was dark when we arrived but you could tell that the place where we landed is a complete opposite of the one we came from - Vienna. It was hot and dusty and chaotic even at that hour. And on top of that people where starring at us constantly making us feel like zoo animals.
We stayed in Delhi only for two days and that was more than enough. It was too much. Too noisy, to dirty, and too much harassment from the rickshaw drivers and other scammers.
We stayed in Paharganj which did not help. We experienced all the scams that the Lonely Planet mentioned in their guide book right on the first day. For dealing with rickshaws you need a lot of patience, but the dangerous guys are the ones who walk by you listening to your conversation and then jump in and pretend to be helpful to finally pressure you to go to a specific tourist office while the rickshaw that would take you there magically appears next to you. That's when it was confirmed once again that Miko is too nice of a guy. Simply too nice. (He does good bargaining though) We got out of it and when we told him no, he got upset and defensive. He almost got us convinced that the next day was a holiday and nothing was working and over the weekend that everything is closed so we had to go to this tourist office NOW!! Such a scam.
Just to mention that once we finally arrived at the official government tourist office in Delhi, the guy there congratulated us.
Our second day in Delhi, we spend visiting some sights. The Lotus Temple was very nice, full of people mostly Indian, so that was nice too. The combination of the colorful clothing of the women with the white modern architecture of the temple (in the shape of a lotus), the perfect blue sky and the green garden was beautiful.

We also saw the Humayan Tomb and the Gandhi Smriti, the place where he spent the last 144 days of his life and where he was shot.
Visiting these sights was very relaxing and nice break from the madness of the streets. But getting from one place to the next by auto rickshaw was hell. So much work getting the right price because as soon as they see you they triple it or quadruple, or just refusing them when you wanted to walk, was hard. Miko was mostly upset that he could not take any pictures on the streets because as soon as we stopped someone would come to us, either to directly ask for money, or to sell us something, or to whatever.... Just constant harassment.
So, for reward, we would go to a great pastry/cake shop and buy us some goodies :) The Wengers Pastry shop on the Connaught Place. One of the sellers liked Miko a lot and gave him a free cookie and called him his brother. Don't know why...

So, after two days we took a train to Chandigarh. The ride was quite uneventful except for one shocking detail. We left around 7:30 in the morning and saw a lot of poverty along the train tracks. People, families living in structures made out of I don't know what to call it - leftovers, discarded stuff. So poor. And here we are on this AC train, touring India just for pleasure.
Then we saw a lot of people squatting, mostly men, and I couldn't figure out what they were doing at first. Then it became obvious that they were all shitting. Just like that by the train tracks, about 10 to 20 feet between them for some privacy I guess. It was obvious that they were living in the shacks nearby and this was their communal toilet.

The main reason we came to this town 4 hours by train north of Delhi was to visit the Rock Garden. It is also worth mentioning that the city was designed by Le Corbusier.
Overall the impression of the city was very good. It is very green, has parks everywhere and it is very clean compared to other Indian towns (that's what we heard).
The Rock Garden was fantastic, as if you entered a magical world, imagine a garden made out of rocks of all different shapes, sculptures, with waterfalls and trees and different textures on every corner. It was created by a Pakistani men who worked for the railroad, Nek Chand. He made it out of industrial waste found nearby as the city was built.

Now the funny part of our visit to Chadigarh. It started during the first few hours of our visit, while we were in the Rose Garden. While we were sitting on a bench in the park, a young couple came over and asked if they could take a photo with us. And that is how it started. Pretty soon a whole group of teenage boys surrounded us and wanted to take photos. In the beginning we were just laughing and did not know what to think.
The next day in the Rock Garden, it continued and so many people came over to have their photo taken with us. One guy introduced himself as Indian Air Force and asked if his wife could take a photo of him with us. But after the photo most of them would just thank us very politely and just leave. Only few asked where we were from or what our names were. Just a photo.

Finally, the highlight of our stay in Chandigarh was meeting a very nice, old man named Narinder Singh. He approached us in a restaurant and welcomed us to India. Very nice, sweet and honest welcome. He just wanted photos of us and that we write something nice about him on a piece of paper. He was all about giving (apple and a scarf for Hana, comb for Miko for his beard) and sharing helpful information (very good for confused tourists) and teaching us Hindu. He taught Hana that the bold spot like Miko has is called Ganja in Hindu and that it means he will have a lot of money :) Not so bad after all. Also, Indians always respond positively and approvingly to Miko's beard. That's a good thing too I guess.
The nice old man came the next morning to the bus station to wish us a farewell and to get us the best seats on the bus - behind the driver.

Our ride from Chandigarh to Rishikesh by bus (7 hours) was crazy. Being on the road here is like playing video games. There are no lanes, or nobody respects them. They create four out of two. Everybody is constantly passing each other and they are honking ALL THE TIME, not to be aggressive or because they are upset, but just to let the others know that they will pass, that they are there on the road. Just imagine everything on the road that has a honk constantly using it. We needed ear plugs.
To top it off, Hana caught a cold in Chandigarh followed by the fabulous tourista when we arrived in Rishikesh. Likely Rishikesh is perfect for recovery.

But in the end we got lucky and found a very nice room with a big terrace overlooking the town below with the river Ganga running through and the mountains all around. We spent 6 days enjoying, relaxing and recovering. Rishikesh is a center of yoga and meditation with Ashrams on every corner. Very peaceful and calm compared to the other places we saw.
Here, the Beatles came looking for enlightenment with the help of a lot of drugs. They stayed for two months and wrote most of the White album.
Miko's highlight was a haircut he got yesterday in a little shop in the street. The guy trimmed his beard, shaved him and trimmed his hair with scissors. He worked really hard to do it well. It took almost one hour and in the end he gave him a head massage! Bloody Phantastic! It seems to be a custom here to get a head massage after the haircut.
Miko also went rafting on the river Ganga and he swam in it as well. It was freaking cold!
Hana in the meantime enjoyed the view from the terrace, read, got a massage and relaxed some more.
Yesterday we saw a ceremony called ganga aarti ceremony at the Parmath Niketan Ashram by the river. It was a very nice experience. There were boys dressed in yellow robes with their heads shaved except one spot in the back. They chanted and there was some drumming. When the sun went down, they lit lights and passed them around the crowd. A lot of singing, chanting, very colorful and moving sitting by the Gang and witnessing it all.

We are a little sad to leave Rishikesh tomorrow but our journey continues. We go to Bikaner next and then Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur...........

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vienna before the big jump to India

Our first day here we filled out the ballots mailed to us from the US and voted. YES, WE VOTED! Let's hope it makes a difference.

This post is going to be a short one, like Vienna was. We stayed here 4 days but it went by like 2, 2 very good ones.
Sanja, who some of you in San Francisco met 3 years ago when Hana turned 30, welcomed us the same way her sister did in Zagreb. Partying runs in the Piro Family.

During the day we walked around the city center (1st bezirk) were it was beautiful, VERY clean and organized. (We are really going to be slapped in the face when we get to India.) And at night we went out and stayed out really, really late. We met a lot of Sanja's friends and even some of people from Sarajevo that Hana got in touch with through Facebook.

Hana's ante and uncle and cousin took us to see the castle Schonbrunn and we spent a nice day with them. We also visited the hills north of Vienna, the Kahlenberg hills, where the view was probably amazing but we could not see it because of the fog. Nonetheless, the hike down through the vineyards was very nice. Sanja's legs still hurt from it, and now walks like a grandma.

Right now we are mentally preparing ourselves for India and we will probably write more about Vienna later. Anyway, it was too short to visit much, so we have to come back :)

Merci beaucoup Sanja!

A little stop in Zagreb

We just left Zagreb yesterday where we spent 3 nice and mellow days. We were staying at Hana's friend Josipa and her husband Kreso.
Hana and Josipa were in High School together. Hana lived in Zagreb for 2 years (92-94) with her grandpa before she went to in Frankfurt (Germany) with her mum. They didn't see each other since.
You could tell that they were really happy to see each other again. They share great memories together.
One interesting thing for me also was that for the first time I was hearing about Hana's grandpa. He became an actual person, nice and quiet, not just a picture on the wall at grandma's apartment.

Anyway, during those 3 days we visited the center of the city and went to Josipa's galleria/internet cafe where she shows and sells her own work including other artists pieces.
She creates ornamented mirrors or sculptures/mirrors, made of wood. She also creates wall sculptures for private clients, like the wooden tree she made for her own house. You can see her unique work at this website:

On second day, we went with Kreso, Josipa and Hana's friend Petra (from the same high school) to the mountain called Sljeme right outside of Zagreb.

It is autumn now. The colors in the trees are amazing. Beautiful mixture of green, yellow and orange. I forgot how this time of the year is beautiful. San Francisco is so much of the same all year long, it is great to rediscover the beauty of the seasons changing.
This day was a Croatian holiday (independence day) so sadly the park was packed with people. But strangely it did not feel like we were in Croatia, it felt more like Austria or Swiss.
I have to say that I like the food in Sarajevo much better, the food is too close to German food here.
We finished this day by meeting up with Sandra (sister of Sanja that we are visiting in Vienna). Hana and Sandra have not seen each other in 8 years, so it was a fun evening. This girl is very energetic, she loves socializing and partying. She got us drunk and herself with it. Sacré Sandra!

After that, our last day was a lot slower, we walked around the old part of Zagreb called Gornji Grad. Beautiful! We went to the view point on top of an old tower to spread more of Pépé ashes.
On this day we also started our Fromage & Chocolat project. In each country we are going to visit, we will be filming people saying Cheese & Chocolate in their own language.

It was a very nice visit. Thank you all for the good time!

Week 2 in Sarajevo

Our last week in Sarajevo was a lot busier than the first but no bomb explosions. We spent a lot of time with Hana's grandma Dika, helping her out, running errands, extending her passport, getting her a visa for the US, helping her make food for Bayram.
One morning, after our ritual coffee at noon, we went with grandma to the butcher shop. As soon as we entered the store, she told the guy working there to get her the manager because she would not buy meat from anyone else. When the lady appeared, she criticized her for the meat she sent to her last time. She said it was awful. (Sweet grandma's words) So this time, the lady had to cut each piece of meat individually then show it to grandma for approval.
That same day in the afternoon, grandma lost her teeth and we spent some time looking for them all over the apartment. Grandma did not even remember that she took them out until she sat down to eat. Hana finally found them in the armchair where she usually sits. Don't ask why she put them there, it's grandma.

We probably did not mention this before, but we arrived in Sarajevo towards the end of the month of Ramadan. Which means that since we got there everyone was talking about Bajram (the last day of Ramadan). It lasts 2-3 days, people go to the cemeteries, visit their family, eat home made food, drink coffee and eat baklava. And in Sarajevo specially people go out, drink and party hard. Any excuse is good to have a good time.
So baka Dika, set on having everything ready for the event, decided to prepare food 3 days before and since she can not do it all by herself anymore (even if she won't admit it), Hana got busy helping her out. Miko, since he is a man, was not allowed to do any housework, but likely or sadly grandma can not walk around as much anymore, so he was able to help out a lot more. Before if he were caught in the kitchen washing dishes, Hana would get yelled at, not Miko, Hana.
He also filmed the making of baklava, listening to grandma swearing because she had to make it, which really was her own will. Sacré grandma Dika!
Miko also learned how to make Bosnian coffee and even got the approval of the great master Dika Besirevic! Youpi!!!

Finally it was Bayram. We got little tired of hearing about it and the anticipation among the people. We started the day on a little sad note by bringing flowers to the graves of Hana's grandpa and uncle. Then, during the afternoon we went for something little more happy (at least for Miko), it was the first day of Pépé (Miko's grandpa) flying around the world. Pépé passed away 3 years ago. He was cremated and all the family members who wanted were given a little ceramic container with some of his ashes. Pépé always wanted to travel, so Miko thought it would be nice to spread his ashes everywhere we go and film it. So, at the end of the afternoon, we went up to Vidikovac (viewpoint in Bosnian) overlooking the city. The light was good, but it was a little windy, and not in the right direction. It ended up being a little like that scene in The Big Lebowsky, when John Goodman through the ashes of Jim Beluchi against the wind. This video is going to start with Hana's funny line: It went towards meeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Ha, ha, ha!

Then we finished Bajram like everyone else: going out. We ended up in a really cool bar called Babylon where everyone we met there that night bought us drinks. First we met a group of english speakers: an American student, a lawyer from Utah, a girl from New Zealand and a guy from Irland. After they left, we met this crazy local, somewhat scary but very nice bold guy, who was about to join french legion, who for some reason he really liked Miko and treated him like his best friend for the rest of the night. While Hana got stuck with a stupid drunk kid who was trying to psychoanalyze her. At the end of the night, the bold guy Enes told us a funny line: When you drink a lot of Sarajevsko beer, the next day when you scratch your butt you will think that you are scratching your head. That was our Bajram!

The next day, a guy named Cerkez (same last name as Hana) was playing in the City Pub in Sarajevo. They are not related but the last name is not very common so Hana and her sister Sarah and brother Harun decided to make it Cerkez cousin reunion.
It was fun, everyone was singing along the old traditional songs and dancing. By the way, they played old traditional folk songs with a modern twist, style of music popular in Bosnia called urban sevdah.

We also went to visit Hana's family resort house about 20km away from Sarajevo. Miko finally saw it. He has heard about it for a long time now. We had a nice time there, drinking coffee outside and playing with a sweet cat who seemed to be trying to tell us something. The house was completely destroyed during the war. Only the walls were left standing. But Hana's mom had it rebuilt after the war.
I wish we could have stayed there longer but we had to go back to Sarajevo, oh well, next time.

We also had a funny moment at the hairdressers. Miko and I went to the same place to get haircuts. It was just funny to be there sitting in chairs not far from each other and me translating from my chair to the guy who was cutting Miko's hair and trimming his beard. I would explain how much to cut and where, and then the guy would come to me to ask Miko if he was happy with the cut. Anyway, we were the center of attention for everyone working there and there were all smiling, nice people. Plus Miko (my Japanese tourist) was taking photos even during his haircut.

One thing I forgot to mention. During our stay a mini Gay and Lesbian Festival was organised. The day of the opening some people who participated, and especially the organizers were attacked and beaten up by young kids. This was a big disappointment for me. I thought that people in Sarajevo were better than in Belgrade and Zagreb, where similar things have happened. The mentality here is still some ways behind. Sad...
But we still had a good time in Sarajevo. This city is changing fast. Lets hope the mentality will too.