The World’s Cream On Homer’s Table….A Cycle

Mattijs and Mariah as they headed off into the mountains

Thursday, 22 September

My last post was about fly fishing yesterday, and I let go of the fact that I haven’t been able to land a Speckled Trout. I returned from the river in good spirits in despite having a good-sized trout on the fly only to have it snap the hook off and return to its life’s journey, and so instructing me to revert to mine. Standing at the agreed-upon spot for my ride back to Thethi, I watched as truck after truck went by to resupply the asphalt team laying a new road beyond me, down the valley. I was dropped off 4 hours earlier by Besmir, and we agreed that he would stop here to get me around 3 o’clock to take me back to Thethi. Thethi is the name of the actual settlement here in Theth National Park. To call it a town or village would be complete misnomers. There are 2 or 3 actual retaurants, and 1 grocery-type store. The rest of it is a crowd of bujtinas populating elbowing each other for guests. In a few years it will look like Aspen, or any other US mountain town. There is a rough gravel track, bearing little resemblance to a road yet, and only slight drainage when it rains.

While I was waiting for more than an hour, the road manager of the asphalt company approached me and in broken-English explained that no traffic would be coming through until much later. He asked if I was going to Thethi and I nodded, he asked if I wouldn’t mind riding up in one of the massive, four-axle dump trucks, and I shrugged and said yes. I offered him some money and he scowled, I apologized for the disrespect as this is how the Albanians are. They will help if they can, or they will find someone who will. The next truck would be mine. The breeze had increased to fluttering my coat and nearly pushing my hat off my head. I knew that it would be a long walk back to Bujtina Polia, at 12/13km (7/8miles), and it was mostly a grinding ascent. After hopping from rock to rock along the river, and scaling the steep banks, I was well shot physically.

Jimmy pulled up and I clambored up into the cab, with him taking first my fly rod, then my daypack. Again, I asked with no disrespect if I could offer him something for the ride… maybe beer/coffee money, but he refused. His English was very good and after introductions we began to talk about truck driving. I told him that I drove a Mack truck in and out of Chicago and the surrounding area for 33 years and he was in awe. I was in awe of his skill with our Mercedes behemoth. The road was sheer drop-off and barely wide enough for him to expertly navigate. We did the “Brother handshake” as he wished me well. I then began my walk from Thethi up to my bujtina, about a 4k (2.5miles). Looking up and around, I marvelled at the continiously-changing scenery, as the gusty weather was driving clouds in front of the sun and over the peaks, giving the feel of a time-lapse film as I stumbled up and down the rocky track.

The patio, the dogs, and our staff always welcome me as if I had lived here forever. I am always swaddled in their warm embraced, never feeling like a stranger, and offered something to eat or drink upon my return. As I came around the corner onto the patio, I met Geoff, a guide from the UK, and we began chatting. He was an affable man and we got on well as we discussed mountains, travel, people, and our past exploits. Geoff was co-leading a group that was well-peppered with folks from all professions and heritage. Later on when we were assembling in the dining room, I went to the little side table that I occupied most often. The staff and I call it “the little boy’s table”; it has become a running joke among us. The groups that come through here are, for the most part, very insular and exclusive. Every now and then, I will be invited to “the big boy’s table” and join whomever I had connected with earlier, or if there was more space due to smaller groups. The night before, I was invited to join Mattijs and Mariah, a grand couple from the Netherlands. It is not usual for me to be asked to join at the big tables, but every now and then, I am able to sit with “the cream of the world” as I have them. This was definitely the case with Mattijs and Mariah, and tonight with Geoff and his group.

Mattijs and Mariah were among the nicest couple of people I’ve met yet. They are from the Netherlands and really enjoying themselves here in the Balkans. Our conversations were spirited and open, with neither of us having to hold back. I will miss them. Meeting people like them really helps me to get through my odyssey. Later on, after talking to Geoff, he and his lady Ingrid plucked me from the “little boy’s table” and into their group. We pushed chairs down and I squeezed into the group. I was amazed at the life-stories of my table-mates. Geoff and Ingrid, among a couple others, have been leading these “meet-up” groups and hiking/trekking/walking through various parts of the world. I realized a bit of a common thread that runs through most of our lives here. We are on some sort of journey; to replenish, to seek, and to shake off the dust of our lives. The length and breadth of careers among us is varied and vast. Retirees and people actively still working, trying to reset their compasses as it were, and the opportunities to meet people you may not in everyday life. Mattjis spoke of many places near them to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I was surprised, as I am not that familiar with the Netherlands to know how much open space they have at their disposal. My group from the UK was the same in their touting of the innumerable sites to get out and enjoy a walk or more. As I sat and listened to some speak about their travels and travails, it was a modern Homer’s tale of broken-pledges, mis-directed hopes, and sirens and monsters.

The group from the UK. Geoff is on my left, Graham, my right, and the two Steves beyond him. In red is Reg, born and rasied in Baltimore, now living in the UK…they were a true joy to be with.

I also met Paul and Pip from the UK, and they were nothing short of endearing and sweet. They regaled me with stories of their travels all over the world. After doing Antarctica in 2023, they will have been on every continent on the planet. At our table, I was positioned between Ingrid and Steve, across from Geoff and Reg. Reg was born and rasied in Maryland, spent most of his life around the US as an exec, and retired to the UK. Reg is one of many US expats I have met here in Albania, and our reasons for living in Europe are nearly identical. As a solo traveler, it is an immense joy to be welcomed into a group, and to have intelligent conversation about anything and everything. Eleanor Roosevelt is commonly known to have said, “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; and small minds discuss other people”. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I have always tried to adhere to this principle. Here, in meeting the cream of the world, we rarely go any lower that the “events” portion of Mrs. Roosevelt’s adage. Being grateful for this experience never eludes me, and I give thanks in a constant manner, both inward and outward. After talking to the staff, they all agreed that the UK group (Geoff’s group), were one of the best groups to come through since June. I think it’s pretty high praise, considering the amount of people I have witnessed come through the door. I will see Geoff and Ingrid in the future. Geoff has actually swung me on SE Asia; A place I was certain to avoid because of the heat and sun. Thank you Geoff!

I have been reading Homer’s Odyssey, I think it is only fitting, and I have been through some of Odysseus’ trials. I am not sure if I can claim ownership of the Trojan horse, nor have I shoved a stake in the eye of the Cyclops, but I can fully grasp the loneliness, and the sporadic good fortune mixed with confronting people and events that test my resolve. I will omit my lost weekend with the Norwegian goddess a week removed from now. Let’s just say it involved a trip all the way down to Tirana, two pairs of socks, and a lost bank card… we will leave it there.

Monday 25, September

As of this moment, on Monday morning, I am in the dining hall watching a group load up to head off into a pouring rain. It has turned cooler, and fall will be fleeting as the rain we had dusted the remote peaks with snow. The rule is if it rains down here, it is snowing up there. I leave here a week from tomorrow, 4 October, and I will truly miss everyone here. The next post will entirely cover the staff, Pavlin and Vlora, and my inclusion in this place.

The South end of the gorge from the open floodplain, looking back North up the Shala River into Thethi.

In the end, it has been a wonder-filled trip here to Theth. From stepping onto the bus at Nivy in Bratislava, to Belgrade, the train to Bar Montenegro, and my transportation to this Shangra-la has been nothing short of an Odyssey that continues yet to Tirana next week. The people I have met have been , for the most part, long on kindness and warmth. I am a European now. I have reset my standards of living and desire more than the US could ever offer…better quality of food, less work, less pay, more “being present” in life, and the lives around you. I will post from Tirana, once I have settled into my apartment in Blok. Thank you for following me. Please take care of yourselves, and take car of each other.

High Viz Midges, Grasshoppers…and Lost Opportunities

I have been here in Theth for nearly 3 weeks and still cannot believe it. The scenery is spectacular, the visitors are never-ending, and the trout are still elusive. I remain determined to catch one, and have narrowed down to three flies that the trout are attracted to. If I could get quick enough to actually set the hook, I would at last land one. A few days earlier, on the lower Shala, where the canyon opens up to a broad, flat rocky plain, I was granted an entry into the very private world of the speckled trout. I stood on a VW-sized boulder and cast a bright yellow stonefly midge (the correct terminology would be “Flasher Yellow Pupa”). From the shadow beneath a boulder, and into a faint boiling pool, came two dark speckled trout. I kept my cool as first one , and then the other chased it down and then swam back to the shadow. This feint and retreat went on all afternoon. I went from pool to pool, boil to boil, and had nothing to show for it but a serious tan from the unrelenting Balkan sun. I had hiked the roughly 7k long road, up and down until settling onto a meadow at the point where the gorge peels away from itself on the western side.

The dance has gone on for three weeks now, and I have come to the conclusion that if we are going to bring fly fishing to Theth and Valbonne, it is better left to the local guides, with their flies and the local techniques they would practice. I have decided that there is no chance that I could guide outside fisherman, owing to the fact that I don’t have the knowledge of the local bugs, and I have only now begun to “crack the code” with the trout in the Shala River.

The Speckled Trout are rising to the only two flies that I have left, and after pitching all the flies in my arsenal, it comes down to two Chubby Chernobyls. The large Wooly Buggers (size #8) draw only passing interest, and anything else that’s “wet”, has to have at least a bead-head on it, or the fish will turn away immediately.

The most galling part of this experience is the fact that I can draw the trout out of the boils and eddys, pull them into the light, tempt them to hit my fly, and be ready for the strike – but it all falls apart as they close in. These gorgeous trout, speckled like swimming leopards, are equally confused by all of the dry flies that have hit the water above them. My “can’t miss” Adams, Parachute Adams, and all Blue Wing Olives are lost on my swimming quarry. In the end, it is the Chernobyl Ant, and the Chubby Chernobyl Hopper; they are smaller (size 10 to 14) and activate the fish.

At the end of the day, I will persevere; I know the fish are here in this river, and I finally understand how to find them. They lurk in the boiling waters behind massive rocks that stand like sentries in the fast moving bouncing flood of this gorge. I see them where the gorge opens into the flat plain heading down and out to the Koman Reservoir, and then into the Drina River to fill Lake Shkodra. From high up in the Albanian Alps, in peaks shared with Montenegro, fall the water. I hear this ancient watercourse at night through my open window as it lulls me to sleep, filling my dreams and at times haunting me. I am reminded of my favorite line from Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It”: “Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters…”. Since discovering fly fishing and trout at an early age, I have been eternally held rapt by their lives in the moving liquid, clear in my mind as thoughts, as cold as a body can stand, and always luring me from the places that I dwell. I credit my Grandfather and my Brother John, and my dear departed Brother Steve for incubating the love and curiosity in me for fly fishing.

I will be leaving Theth, and the Shala in two weeks to cover my obligations in Tirana. This will be my last post regarding fly fishing, and I just want to assure the few dedicated readers that have been following this journey – that I will return to things perhaps more interesting to them. I love fly fishing as much as reading, writing, or playing the drums. For me, fly fishing makes me feel a bit perspicacious, simply because it is dually complex and simple in practice. My senses and mind see and process the difficult, and unobvious aspects of this life. It allows me entry into a focus on the circle of my existence, and involves moving meditation on my part. All senses are cued to the wind, the water, the sounds of life around me… and images and visions that are availed as a result of it.

Thank you all for joining this wonderful adventure. In my next post I will try and recount some of the highlights of my trip to this point. While here at Bujtina Polia I have met the cream of this world, people from far and wide, taking part in the best coffee/dinner conversation I have had in many years, and along the way I have been enlightened. I have been deeply gifted. Please take care of yourselves and each other.

My Time In Theth (Or Searching For The Missing Link at 700 Meters)

Monday, 12 September, 2022

Without knowing the entomological basics here in the high mountains of Albania, I have been dwelling in a house of trial and error. The local fishermen use “spoons” with a treble hook. The spoons spin, and cause a reflection, imitating a small fish or shiny bug, and the trout hit it. By contrast, I am using artificial flies, trying to mimic a particular stage of a bug’s life. There are 4 different stages that insects go through in development. They are as follows: 1) Nymph – when the insect first comes out of the egg. 2) Emerger (or Emerging) Stage – when the insect is just coming out of the water with wings and still apt to hang around the surface of the water. 3) Adult (or Dry Fly) – the insect has reached adulthood, is fully winged and is searching for a mate in or near its home waters… and 4) Spinner – the insect has mated, passed on, and is floating around on the surface of the water. Spinner can also be used to describe an insect that hasn’t made it past the emerger phase stuck in their shells, or having a hard time flying.

There is a maxim in fly fishing called “match the hatch”, and the idea is to come as close as possible to mimicing the bugs the trout know and will feed on. While I have been getting strikes on the flies that I have been casting, my biggest problem seems to be speed. I am still not quick enough; the trout here, speckled and rainbow, are much more wily and demand guile and invention from a fly fisherman. So far, this has been the most difficult fishing I have ever attempted. I know full well that it would be no problem to throw a spoon into a pool and yank out out a trout. What game is there in that? The trout up here spook very easily, and it would be easy to stand over a boiling pool and drag a spoon through it, and nail a trout.

Without a guide, and with my Balkan entomology lacking, I am at the mercy of the river, and ultimately the trout. I have used the time-honored method of turning over rocks to see what is hatching, or emerging, but this has not yielded much information. So, the burning question is – what is the missing link here for me? Beside the fact that I have to get quicker on the strike, the question remains: what is the fly at this time of year that the trout will strike with zeal? Because this is the first a many essays on fly fishing in the Balkans, it is imperative that the reader does not think me impatient, or even greedy. Fly fishing for most of us is a contemplative pursuit. Included in the familiarity with bugs, and the often difficult access to trout waters, fly fishermen usually stick to the theory that the pursuit is more important than the catch itself. When I tell people that I have never eaten a trout that I have caught, they cannot grasp the concept. I am always faced with, “then why do you fish?”. The best answer I can offer is that I put myself in the cycle (circle?) of nature, without trying to “conquer” it, or “control”, or even to “change it”. These three reasons alone are enough for me to continue to fly fish. I am of that ilk that can look at one hundred square miles of forest and appreciate the beauty of it all, without saying…”man, look at all those trees – thanks a lot of money in lumber”. The previous three reasons are also a human reaction to the natural world. For this fly fisherman, our pursuit is a way to keep those shackles unlocked and open, so we can truly appreciate where we are.

Sunrise over “The Great Wall” from the patio at Bujtina Polia

I did not fish this morning after meditation. I wanted to get this post done. There are some places that are considered “morning” or “late afternoon/dusk” trout waters. I have had strikes in the boiling pools of the Shala River here in Theth, also in the side pools of the descending runs of the flats in the mid-day and the heat of the Autumn Balkan sun.Up here at nearly 750m (2,440ft.), the altitude clarifies all things. The scenery is some of the most spectacular I have ever seen. That is taking into account all of the mountains I have seen in the US and Europe. I hope that more fly fishers take the trip up here and the other mountain rivers Albania has to offer.

This post is the first in a series of at least three that I plan to write considering Albania’s fly fishing options. I will go out later this afternoon and continue to search for the missing link, between what I think I know, and what actually works to land trout here in Theth. I am grateful to be in pursuit of such answers in this beautiful place. In the waters I am used to fishing – Montana and Wyoming – the trout attack most flies like a Great White shark goes at a seal. Here in the Albainian Alps, and most of the places I have wet a line in Europe, the trout have a tendency to be more demure. The link between where I am and where I would like to be lies with these coy and crafty mountain trout. There are other resources beside trial and error to teach me, and I intend to experience them first-hand. My stay at Bujtina Polia is quite enjoyable, and comfortable, Our meals are more than enough to keep our active engines running, Vlora is supremely imaginative, and we never eat the same thing twice.

Until we meet again, I wish you tight lines, blue skies, and a cozy place to rest your bones. I will continue to look for the missing link in the chain up here in Theth Valley. Be well and thank you for reading.

From The Sea To The Mountains, With A Wrinkle In The Landscape….

Into the mountains, with one last look at the Adriatic Sea.

Friday, 8 September. This morning early, today’s rain moved in ahead of schedule…that’s life in the mountains. I will fish today, but I am wisely going to hold off until the lightning moves on. Common sense would dictate that standing in a lightning storm with a long stick studded with metal, is just not prudent. The fish will be there. I went out yesterday after getting settled in here in Theth. I was reminded very quickly of the difference between the trout in the US and their cousins here in Europe. The European trout are much more wily and they don’t attack the fly like they do in the mountains of the western United States. Yesterday the score was: Albanian trout 4/ Niel 0.

I would like to finish the rest of my journey, to the end point so far. Wednesday 6, September I left Bar Montenegro. I explained that I was going to drop the idea of the train and bus; the idea of traveling North to go South didn’t make good sense. Yes it was incredibly cheap, and yes I would see more of the countryside. Bar lies almost directly west of Shkoder, a one hour (+/-) drive, and I thought it would’ve been fun to drive it. I talked to Zuzana at the front desk about this prospect, and she quickly connected me to Dusan (Dushahn). He was concerned with “manual or automatic transmission” and the price was 60 euros. I thought that even though it was twice the cost of train/bus, it would be fun to drive, and stop and look at some sites that Elton (Albaniantrip.com) had pointed out. Well, Dusan was at my hotel right on time, very nice fellow, and as we were looking over a very sporty little Peugeot, I asked him where I would drop the car in Shkoder. Dead stop. Apparently they don’t rent cars from country to country here. If so, it would be 7/800 euros. A day rental was 60 euros and a great bargain. We laughed at my miscommunication, and he was very kind about it.

Now with gear in hand, I trundled back into the hotel and saw Jazzmina, at the front desk. I had just checked out, and we had spoken. Her face looked troubled as I reappeared. I explain to her what had just happened, and she smiled as she reached for phone. We were talking about shared experiences earlier, as I had worked in hotels in my younger days. It was all about problem-solving. She spoke to Emil (eh-mil, or eh-mi), and she got excited as she hung up. “My friend Emil is going to Shkoder today, as luck would have it…does that sound good?” I couldn’t believe my luck. “He is asking 50 euros, and I told him no problem, because I knew you were going to pay Dusan 60 euros for the rental car”, her voice trailed off. I said, “ano”, and insisted that she take the 10 euro difference for her. After a back and forth, she relented. Very sweet, and very smart, the qualities that ring true for me. I thanked her profusely, and she came around from the desk to give me a kiss on both cheeks to wish me well

Before we knew it, Emi was walking in the door. His English was good, and we worked through with basic Slavic root words. Thank goodness that I have begun to grasp Slovak, it really helped. Emil was driving a sleek 5-series BMW. “Wow!…really?” was my reaction. He shrugged like it was no big deal. We loaded my bag into the trunk and he insisted that I sit in the front passenger seat. Emil asked if it would be ok if we stopped at his house to pick up his luggage since he was going to stay in Brajse (bry-shuh), just inside the Montenegrin border from Albania. I told him it was no problem, of course. To my great surprise he lived in Stari Bar (Old Bari). It is a very famous fortress town, and a trip that I missed with Marcel and Max the day prior. It was incredible! Very beautiful hillside fortress, overlooking the modern Bar down below and the Adraitc Sea. Of course it was his home town, so we stopped alot and talked to his friends, and yelled as we exchanged horn-toots with others in town. It was clear that we weren’t going to take the highway as we began to climb up into the coastal range. As we weaved in and out of mountain shadows, windows down and a perfectly dry 75F day with music blasting…we talked, pantomimed, and laughed our way through a laid-back and scenic drive to Shkoder.

At Brajse, the innkeeper insisted that we have a coffee and rest for a bit. He spoke English, German, French, and of course Albanian and Montenegrin. Azo was very nice, and upon learning that I decided to retire in Europe, announced that coffee and water (sparkling) was on him. Emi joked that it will show up on his hotel bill, and Azo smiled. There was never any hint of hurry, and when all had been consumed, we bid him farewell, Emi would return here later. We jumped into the Beemer and headed for the border. We smiled because there were no cars as well pulled up to the post, the guard smiled as Emi told him what I was doing, welcomed us to Albania, and in 20 minutes were winding through Shkoder. Emi found my hotel, “Petit Hotel Elita”, Pavo set me up, and I spent 64 euro for a suite. Emi wished me luck, handed me his card, as I pressed another 10 euro into his palm. He put up a valiant fight, but I won in the end. He drove off, honked once and disappeared down one of the narrow alleys.

After a short chat with Marija, my front desk head, I stumbled into my suite, and couldn’t believe my luck…again. I truly believe that some of the snags that I encountered along the way, were easier handled because I may have access to a bit more money than most travelers. It has helped to no end, and I am by no stretch a rich man, I have saved, and I am careful to not broadcast it. I cooled down in my suite for an hour as it was much warmer down in Shkoder (85F/30C). I actually watched tv for the first time since I arrived last December. Aside from going to a coffee house to watch football or Formula One, this was the first time that I pointedly turned on a television. I have one in my apartment and it has never been on. I spoke to Marija on my way out for a bite and she confirmed that I had a reservation for the minibus to Theth the next morning at 7am. Thanking her (bowing), I headed out onto the streets of Shkoder.

Shkoder sits on the shore of Lake Shkodra, the largest lake in Southern Europe. Lake Shodra is shared with Montenegro, and is split evenly by the two countries. Shkoder is a brawny, up-and-coming town in northern Albania, and besides being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Balkans, it is also considered to be the “Gateway to Theth National Park”. The architecture of Shkoder is dominated by both mosques and churches, it is very diverse, and the mood is very ebullient and light. I was looking for surf slippers to fly fish with, and despite the language, all the shopkeepers were very warm and accommodating. I didn’t find them, but they weren’t key. Lunch was a pizza and sparkling water, it set me back 7 euros ($7.10). Now superbly sated, I wandered back to Hotel Elita a sweating mess, addressed Marija, and laid out in the air conditioning watching a football match. I slept hard for three hours. My trip with Emi was a fun-filled 2 1/2 side trip to Shkoder arriving at 1230/1 o’clock. I awakened at 5pm, and took a cool shower, feeling refreshed, and headed out to take a walk in the breezy warmth of early evening. If midday seemed busy to me; now there were people everwhere. Families with kids, young women dressed well on their way to a party or disco perhaps, and always the older folks milling about the innumerable cafes. The cafes, with the rich smell of coffee and tobacco wafting and then lingering in the soft warm evening breeze, what a heady mixture for this midwestern boy. There is something here in the Balkans, an intangible, that has a sense of the exotic for me. “Two worlds colliding”, if you will. This land has an incredibly “ancient” feel about it. I know..I know, I have stated this many times, but for someone who revels in a connection with the past, to be standing in it, eating it, consuming it , and in turned being consumed by it… is a dream come true.

Of course I didn’t sleep on Wednesday night, in anticipation for my drive to Theth early. Thursday morning I was up early at 5am in order to meditate and chant prior to the start of my day. I re-packed the evening prior and was set to go at 6:45am. I said goodbye to Marija, and promised to stay again at Petit Hotel Elita, and loaded into a car to be taken to the bus. My driver for the minibus was Zimi, and this wasn’t what I expected. I thought I would be in one of the little 4×4 Mercedes buses from the ’90’s…yeah but they are so beat up they look like they are from the ’60’s or ’70’s. Zimi’s minibus was a newer model, and in great shape. We drove out of Shkoder and swung northwest around the lake to Koplik, and then veer to the northeast into the Albanian Alps. As we ascended, I could look down and saw Shkoder, lying alongside the glistening lake, and ringed with a lofty necklace of mountains. I could also see the Buna river meeting the Drina and turning 90 degrees into Lake Shkodra.

As I walked down the driveway to Bujtina Polia, Pavo appeared out of a mass of Germans, and smiled ear-to-ear. We bowed to each other and I gave him a big hug. Bujtina in Albanian means “inn or hotel”, or more simply put “home”. I am home now until at least the end of September, and maybe a week or so into October, that is unless Pavo and Vlora get tired of me and I get booted. Thursday was spent decompressing, and about 1:30pm I got on the water. I found a nice pool among sharp falls in a steep drop. First cast, strike but I wasn’t quick enough and missed him. I stayed with the pool and lost another two strikes. Further down the river became less steep, but the pools were non-existent. I went with a smaller fly, and still was not quick enough to bring the strike home. Done in by the relentless Balkan sun after almost 3 hours, I hiked back to Bujtina Polia, retired to the patio with an Italian lemon soda, and the shade. The bujtina was inundated with a massive group of Germans, and dinner last night was their last night and a loud, alcohol-fueled din filled the hall. Our meals here are beyond imagination. Vlora and the staff put on a full spread for both breakfast and dinner. I am quite used to these breakfasts with fresh cows milf and granola, tomatoes, slaw, eggs (hard-boiled & scrambled), breads, and coffee. Breakfast is included with stay. There is always a side table overflowing with meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables, and yogurt spreads; this is the “pack-a-lunch” table.

From my window…the river is just over the blue car

…. and now we are all caught up. I have had a great time getting here, and the journey continues. Although I am nestled here in Theth, everday seems still a passage to somewhere else. I have yet to take a hike down to “Theth proper”. It’s a nice 1.5km (+/- 1 mile). It is 1:30 here (6:30am/Chicago) and the clouds are becoming lighter. I am going to venture further down the river. I had not intended to write a post of this length, and so soon after my last post, but I will busier from here on in. There have been several requests for more pictures and once I learn how to get the photos into my WordPress cache, I will populate the posts with a few more than usual. For once in my life, I am writing for you the reader, please feel free to let me know what you like. Since I began writing in my teens, I have always considered writing a “personal exercise in art”, I was not interested in being read, and worked at crafty an expression of my own art. I am now in some sort of umbral stage, where I am writing from inside the shadow of my own sun. I would like to be read. It should be known also, that the following posts will be geared a bit more to the fly fishing world and a bit less on my travels and travails. My goal is to let the world know about the fly fishing here in Theth, and Valbonne should I get there on this trip. The waters are wild, and the conditions are a bit more difficult than anything I’ve fished in the past. I will be plugging Bujtina Polia shamelessly, and my many connections along the way.

I am grateful for those of you who are taking the time to follow me. I am cautious to keep my posts short as I know most you don’t have a great deal of time. There will always be exceptions to that rule. It is time to get on the water and figure out how to land an Albanian Trout. I wish you all well, and thank you for staying with me. Please take good care of yourselves, and take care of each other.

“It All Starts At The Head Of The Dragon”

With Prof. Homza in Male Karpaty

6 September/ Bar, Montenegro

Looking back one week to 30/August, I find it hard to believe that I have been able to cram so many events into 7 days. Since I was prepapring to leave Slovakia again, my good friend Martin Homza requested that we spend one more day in the Maly Karpaty. The Maly Karpaty (Small Carpathians) are part of the Carpathian Mountain Range that wrap around Slovakia on the East, over the top on the North, and back down the West side. Martin calls it “The Dragon’s Tail of Europe”. We hiked for nearly 3 1/2 hours mostly up, and then descended into the wooded hamlet of Marianka. Here in Marianka was a parish priest that serves as Martin’s guide and “confessor” as he puts it. Martin would have a few minutes with Father Vlad as I waited outside. We walked through the village as the churchbell rang out, and mas was underway as we stepped in the backdoor and sat on small benches looking into the church. It was a Tuesday evening and the church was 1/2 to 2/3rds full. From what I could see the Baroque interior was inspiring. I told Martin that after visiting these old churches here, I could almost be a Christian again…yes it is that inspirational for me.

Our hike beforehand revealed a great deal that I didn’t know about him, and I shared bits of my life with Martin as well. Of course we discussed Slovak history, but as is usual with us, it never fails to branch off into philosophy, politics, art, and we never miss geography. We discussed my upcoming trip through the Balkans, and shared the excitment of seeing new places. We were now on the far western edge of Bratisalva, and after transferring a bus or two heading back in, we said our goodbyes. Standard kiss on both cheeks and a big hug; “you will enjoy it, my Brother”. His last words echoed in my cranium as I exited my bus at Most SNP, the bus stop on the west side of the old town. Walking through the squares and down the now-familiar narrow streest of the Old Town, I began to realize how exceptionally fortunate I was to have met Martin and the many good friends I have made because of him. I was home on Grosslingova in no time and once inside my apartment, I realized how late it was. I knew the next three dyas ahead of me would be busy, so I showered and climbed into bed.

So dear family, friends and readers, I am now in Bar Montenegro. Let me attempt to draw a short picture of how it unfolded. In my last blog, “An Odyssey Still Unfolding”, I limned out a plan that would add a twist of adventure to this 90 days out. After taking the night bus from Bratisalva to Belgrade on Friday 2 September, I dragged myself to my hotel and stored my packback there since at 8am I was too early for check-in. I walked up and down some the streets in the surrounding area and settled on a coffee house in the shade. The bus trip is something that I will avoid in the future. We arrived at the Hungary/Serbia border around 1am. The lines were massive, and the bus inched forward every 10, 15 minutes or so. By the time we reached the Hungarian border post, it was 2am. We were told to exit the bus, walk into a building to get our passports stamped, and then wait outside as the guards checked the bus. I guess it was standard for these people to take a 10 minute break between buses. A half-hour later they tell us to reboard the bus, and I think were off. Nope, the bus went forward another 100 meters and we stopped again. We creeped up to the Serbian border post at 3:15/20. and eveyone off the bus and into Serbian passport control. I was reminded a second time that the Serbs have no love for the US. Initially when I boarded the bus in Bratislava, our driver, an older gentleman, looked at my passport and said, “Ugh, another American!”. Luckily Vlad had taken the walk to the bus station with me and explained to the man that I wasn’t “that kind of American”. Thank goodness for Vald! Now, at the Serbian border, the nice (seemingly) young female agent looked at my passort and asked why I am coming to Serbia, I told that I am fascinated by the history and I am in transit to Montenegro. She stamped my card like it owed her money. She handed it back to me, no smile or words and yelled for the next in line. Everyone behind me got a smile, thank you, and “welcome to Serbia”. The Serbs have never forgiven the US for bombing the shit out of them in the ’90’s. I was well aware of it, and I am always careful how I announce that I am from the US. I always say that I am from Slovakia, and then if asked I will say that , yes originally from the US. I sat smiling as my waitress brought my coffee, and we had a chat. A lovely young girl who said “welcome”, and added that she was glad I came. Just one cup of coffee changed the whole timbre of my trip

Statue honoring Gavrilo Principe

After finishing a delightful cup of coffee, and an equally wonderful brioche, I sought out a park that was nearby; wifi at the cafe really helped to get a feel for what was around me. There in a well manicured park was a statue to Gavrilo Principe, the man who killed the Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg, his wife. This act ignited the fuse that started World War I. While there are a muitltude of factors that led to it, Princip’s action alone sent Austria over the edge; they issued an ultimatum worded carefully and in a manner that Serbia was sunk either way, and so began the mechinations beginning the “war to end all wars”. Serbia is a defiant culture, and they choose to stand out and stand alone on many issues. I pondered this as I walked toward my hotel. After checking in, I took a long hot shower, and took a much-needed nap

Saturday, 3 September was a faint memory as I ate and slept, after the previous long night on the bus. Sunday I went down to the the centrum, and really enjoyed myself. Beograd Fortress was where I spent most of my time. I met an English couple, unfortunateiy (and uncharacteristically) I had to ditch them as they never stopped talking. The exhibits in the fortress are neverending and the history is breathtaking. As with all of the Balkans, the history stretches back past the Greeks in time. I wandered back to my hotel after a super dinner of Serb origin. I was still tired and ragged-out, but decided to pack and be ready for the early (7:30) check-out and dash to the train station. My man at the desk, Marco, had the taxi in front at 7:45 and I was off. As per the Balkans, my driver insisted that my train left from another staion. I kept telling him it was the Main Beograd Station. After I pressed him, he made a few phone calls, we were righted and I was all set with ticket in hand by 8:10.

I sat on the platform smiling to myself, thinking “how about this adventure”. Maybe it is just me, but I wasn’t as impressed by Serbia as everyone else was. Beautiful -yes, growing – yes, and still trying to shake off the “Cold War” past. Some of the buildings were the most unsightly architecture I have ever seen. I was really excited to be moving on. While on the platform, my luck changes again, and I meet Marcel and Max. Both are young men from Germany, and they welcomed me into their cabin for the run down to the coast in Montenegro.

The three of us spent 11 hours talking laughing and eating. Max was the “map-guy”, as he was looking over his forthcoming options. Marcel was already settled into his plans, and was heading back up to Sarajevo. They were a very bright spot on this trip so far. In the cabin next to us were some young travelers and Max jumped back and forth. At times we were all out in the passageway looking for good pictures as we rolled in and out of tunnels. The best pictures belong to the quick, and I wasn’t among them. While talking to them, I was reminded again of the difference between the European youth and those in the US. By and large they are exposed to more of the world than our kids. Max is in his early 20’s and has been to nearly every corner of the continent. Marcel, an engineering apprentice, has done it all by now in his mid-20’s. Cultured, well-mannered, and very worldly, these two guys are surely a blessing. A we got closer to Bar, we couldn’t believe that the time had gone by like the landscape around us…very quickly. We said our good-byes at the station in Bar, and planned to meet today for coffee, or something. I woke up nice and early and went for a swim in the Adriatic. It was a rejuvenation that I needed.

Peering back into yesterday, I had the first day of sheer enjoyment since I walked out of my apartment with Vlad on Friday night. The views were beyond epic, and the company kept me laughing for the whole ride. Both Marcel and Max are intelligent, witty, and very quick of mind. If I don’t get a chance to see them today, I will miss them. They represent the best of the future. As for me, I am heading tomorrow to Shkoder by car. Yep! I’ve rented a car for 60Euros. It is twice the cost for the train/bus to Shkoder. It would be a 3 hour and 15 minute drive if the train is on time, the connection to the bus, and the bus is on time -37euro. By driving, it is 1 hour, and I have places to stop and see. The train goes back up to Podgorica, and then connects to the bus down to Shkoder. So you would go North to go South. I’m adding a slight twist in this adventure. I might give Max a ride if he is still going to Shkoder. As it stands, I will be overnight here in Bar, to Shkoder by car tomorrow, and overnight in Skoder tomorrow night. Thursday, my hotel in Shkoder has already made the arrangemnts for my minibus trip to Theth to see Pavo. I am anxious to not only see what the road-trip will offer, but Shkoder is a gem on the shore of Lake Shkodra (the largest lake in Southern Europe). I will have time to look around in Shkoder before I leave “civilisation” and the mountains of Theth for the rest of September and maybe some of October.

Breakfast, and the Adriatic. Maybe dinner here as well…..

In the end, I couldn’t be happier with where I’m at right now. I had a wonderful breakfast after my swim. Here, the Adriatic sparkles and shimmers, the water is clear and perfect. I hadn’t planned to write such a long post, but I wanted to at least highlight what I’ve experienced. Montenegro feels much different than Serbia, the Montenegrins are very warm, and open. I will post and head back down into the heat, about 29C (82), and take a dip and get some sun. I thank you all for following me, for now I have traveled through the dragon’s tail and I am comfotably nestled in the Balkan Alps…it’s good to be in the mountains again. I have been gifted by each and everyone of you, and I hope you are all well. I will post again on Saturday from Theth, I love you…please take care of yourselves, and each other.

An Odyssey Still Unfolding

Theth Valley, Albania

I am on the move again. I made a mistake when I re-entered the EU and now must exit for another 90 days. The upshot is that I will be welcomed with open arms in Albania. The downshots are a few, but I will focus on what is positive, In short, I didn’t check in with the local police upon my entry into Slovakia, whereupon I would be given a sort of id number to help with tracking my visa application. This would explain why, even with some high-powered help, I was not able to secure a residency visa. No problem with me. This is a typical “live and learn” moment. If I don’t remain teachable, this whole European retiement plan of mine will sink quicker than the Spanish Armada..

After mulling over my travel options, I decided to go it on the ground. The airfare is astronomical right now because of the season. Money aside, I decided to make an “adventure” out of this chapter in my odyssey. I am taking an overnight bus to Belgrade Serbia. I may linger in Belgrade for a day or two and get a look at some of the history and culture. After talking to my good friend Elton who runs Albaniatrips.com (I will shamelessly plug this connection), I/we decided to do a few different twists on old model. I will take a train from Belgrade to Bar Montenegro. Bar is on the Adriatic Sea portion of their coast. From Bar, I will take a minibus to Shkoder. Shkoder is on the shore of Lake Shkodra, the largest lake in Southern Europe. Shkoder is also the gateway to Theth National Park, and Bujtina Polia. I will stay with my dear friend Pavlin for at least a month. I ultimately want to fly fish the Theth River (Lumi i Thethit). If you can recall, I was here in May to scout the river to fly fish. Any mention of the fishing will be featured in future posts from Bujtina Polia (bujtina {boo-teena} is Albanian for inn or hotel).

Not being a big fan of heat of the Adriatic, it will be a trial for me to stay in Bar for more than a day or two. Elton swears that I will love the train trip from Belgrade to Bar. The train wends a path through the Southern Alps of the Balkans. From Belgrade I will leave the Danube Plain and go directly into the mountains. Each of the nations call it their own, i.e., “Albanian Alps, Montenegrin Alps…etc. I will spend as much time as I can getting into some sort of shape, as I have a somewhat sedentary existence here in Bratislava. Aside from my morning walks along the Danube and through the Old Town, I sit plenty while reading and doing research on my papers. An evening walk to meet friends for dinner is hardly a “workout”.

I will leave here on 2 September, from the bus station which is hardly a ten minute walk from apartment. I decided on the overnight bus trip after researching the train trip; there are too many transfers in the middle of the night. So, I will leave here at 22:00 (10pm) and arrive in Belgrade at 7am. It will give me plenty of time to look for a hotel and scope out where the train station will be in relation to it all. Then I will get at a look at what Belgrade has to offer. The Sava river runs into the Danube in Belgrade. The Sava is known for great fly fishing, but I would be surprised if it happens in proximity to the city. From Belgrade on Saturday 3 September, until Bar (when – I’m not looking that far ahead), it will anyone”s guess how it will all work out.

I’m excited at the prospect of the uncertainty of how this trip will go. Even if I decided to fly to Tirana and get a hotel room, and know what is next,…etc. It would no less different than my last trip to Albania. The biggest difference will to take only my backpack, and my bookbag. I learned from the last trip that I didn’t need to drag a 25kg (55lb) duffel bag of items that I barely used. Also, the most glaring difference will be that I will not be “locked in” to an Airbnb stay for a period that would tie me to any one locale. I know that my internal compass always points to mountains, and recalling that my stay in Theth was too short, I will be anxious to wet a line day after day, and get in a few day hikes in the surrounding mountains.

So, dear friends, this will be my last missive until early September. I don’t write as though I have been entirely committed to a post a week, but aside from dinner/coffee with good friends, there is little to post. Hopefully this next portion of my odyssey will reveal a pearl or two. My focus will be on not only informing you of my whereabouts, but also to broadcast to others the bounty of Albania. From its glaciers to its bustling cities, I would like nothing more than the potential of this beautiful little nation laid bare for the world to see.

After some time in Theth, I will consult with Elton to see more of the unseen. He is an excellent source; I mean – hey – it’s his passion. He is one of my favorite humans on the planet. It seems he lives to solve problems and he makes it look easy. In the end, I will finish my trip in Tirana, and hopefully getting a chance to spend more time with a man I consider a “true Brother”. I really like the energy in the Albanian capital, and look forward to my visit with some friends that I made from my last stay.

I am ever grateful for those of you who take the time to read my posts. Also. I am eternally in your debt for any comments you might feel to offer. I will continue to humbly seek peace and solace for each and everyone of you in my morning askance. Until next itme, please, take good care yourselves and each other.

The Art Of Being Fluid In A Static World

The old saw about “as much as things change, they stay the same” is a reality for me at this point. I have still not heard a word in regard to my residency visa. At this point, 5 August, leaves me with 28 days left in the EU. I will have no choice but to return to Albania in early September. This is quite definitely not the scenario that I was hoping for when I arrived back home in Bratislava in June. Being hopeful, but not expecting any expedience by the Slovaks, I knew I was up against a system that has been overwhelmed by the Ukraine/Russia War (yes, despite what Mr. Putin says – it is entirely a war); in many ways the system works much as it has since the Cold War days…slowly and mostly at the whim of whomever has your application. Earlier on in June there was some feedback, but the line has gone silent.

The feelers have gone out to my friends in the Balkans, and thankfully they are excited about my return. As it is, I am grateful for the ability to have them to draw on. Going away from my new home and the friends that I have here will be a little less daunting. The thought had occured to me to try another location for three months. but I am still possessed by the beauty of Theth Valley and the wild river winding along its floor. My soul is reinvigorated by simply existing in the mountains. The still scent of the air after a sudden rainshower hangs onto me even now, after two months away. There is clarity in my breath, in my heart and in my mind.

Any meditation reveals the lucency the mountains have attached to me and I’m thankful for it. Each morning when I go through my meditation/chant cycle, I can hear the river and cast myself upon it. Therein lies my great secret: I refuse to succumb to fretting about the visa situation. Knowing it could be a “long haul” process allowed for a bit of fore-planning. Thinking back to 2017 when I was planning my first trip here to Slovakia, I can still hear the words of my dear cousin Elena…”everything is fluid, and we will go with the flow of it”. For a devout Protestant to utter something so clearly “Eastern” has been with me since. If this going to be my path, so be it. At one point I stated that I didn’t want to be on the move every 3 months, but perhaps the universe is at work here, and in order to be at peace with it – I have to be fluid.

Not being in control is deeply liberating, and I have decided to embrace it. At nearly 63 years of age, perhaps all of this motion will keep me from getting complacent, from taking this life for granted, and most certainly aiding the maintenance of my physical well-being. This is about being whole, and I’m beginning to feel it with each passing day. When this odyssey began last December, I wasn’t quite sure what might transpire, or how it would all work out. It is working out, and works better yet when I stay out of the way and go with it.

At this point, I have set 15 August as my deadline. By then I will begin making plans to head back to Albania. There will be very little time spent in the cities on this trip, and if I must, it will be in transition to get to the airport – coming home. If it all works out, I will be back home in my apartment here on Grosslingova 3 December. The “upsides” are many; I am able to actually save money while in Albania. A visit won’t rupture the wallet. It is a country that I truly believe should be on the radar of more travelers. Albania is the total package; the history, the culture, and the people…they are some of the warmest I have ever met. I will be blogging from there, especially to bring to light the phenomenal natural treasures that Albania contains. With any luck, I will be able to visit Alfred in Valbonne again, and try my hand at fly fishing that liquid gem. In the fall, with the water speed far lower than my Spring trip, I should have a better chance against the wily trout in both rivers. We knew that going in last Spring and I was more scouting for my friend Elton, the owner of Albaniantrip.com: he and my guides were intrigued by my idea of opening Albania to fly fishermen.

Knowing that I have not posted since my visit with a dear friend from the US, I felt compelled to let you all know that I am still doing well, I am healthy, and I am happy. Simply put, I am responsible for my own happiness, this is what my Buddha tels me. Although I miss my Son and Daughter, along with my beloved family and friends, I am still more content than I was in the US. Staying in Slovakia might not be a reality, perhaps it might be Albania, or someplace I haven’t been to yet. Who knows? I am still fluid, and just at the onset of my journey. In this short time I have been to Vienna twice, and to our own Male’ Carpaty (Small Carpathians) that wrap around this part of Slovakia. If I were to stay, I would travel to the North and visit my family; I have chosen to stay close in case I was called for my visa interview.

Closing now, I wanted to give you an idea of what is going on, and if there is nothing pressing I will post again before the start of the trip to Albania. Please know that I am thinking of you all in my chants and most are on my mind and in my heart. Please take care of yourselves, and each other. Thank you for following me. I will leave you with something that indicates where my head and heart are at; it has been my go-to for a while now. “My heart is at ease knowing what is meant for me, will never miss me, and that which misses me was never meant for me.” Bob Marley

“It’s Been A Long Time”…In Short Time

Sunday 10,7,2022

It has been roughly 3 weeks since my last post. Time passes here like the Danube flowing steady and sure. Regarding my residency visa. There has been little word since Danka and I went to the “Office of Foreign Police”. She has been diligent, and even with her contacts and political pull, it has been a slow process. The Slovaks are still trying to catch up from the pandemic and the flood of Ukrainian refugees. I am not worried. My residency will happen, and if it doesn’t I will be heading to Albania again. I have had many walks through the Stary Mesto (Old Town), and worked on sharpening my language some. It will be a process. So, with nothing to share with you all, I have abstained from this blog altogether for a few weeks or so.

The one bright spot was a short visit from a dear friend. She had planned to stay nearly 2 weeks, but decided that she needed to be home to help her Sister with her elderly parents. I am thankful for the time together. It was good to see an old friend, especially one with a “deep” shared history. We spoke of many things, and spoke truely. We spent the time walking through the Stary Mesto, along the Danube, and sometimes just sitting on a shaded bench. There was time for her to decompress from her earlier trip around Spain, Portugal, and France. She spent that portion of her trip with her husband,sister, and brother-in-law.

The beauty of my apartment lies in the doors. Every room has one, and they availed her the privacy that she required at her choosing. The weather here in Bratislava had been very pleasant toward the last few days of her stay, and granted a respite from the heat of her past travel. At one point we were caught in a sudden shower, and ran soaking wet like care-free teenagers. Water pooled under the table and around us as we sought refuge in a restaurant. From my standpoint, it was important to do as she wanted, we did so. She went out on her own (it’s very easy to walk here and not get lost), and rested on the bed when it struck her. Being my “first” visitor, I made sure that there was enough room for both of us, and plenty of time to just relax (for her). On the last night of her stay, we intended to have dinner at one of the many rooftop skybars, but ended up with just a couple drinks and gravitated to one of the Asian/Thai cafes that we enjoyed earlier in the week.

Thursday was her last day here, and we agreed to squeeze every last second until I put her on the bus for Vienna Airport later in the day. Since the bus station is located under a massive shopping mall (it’s only a year old), I figured I would go to Lidl and shop for the next 3 or 4 days. I fought back tears as she cried when it was time for her to board the bus. I watched her board the bus and headed for the store. It didn’t take long for me, and I began crying while shopping. I tried to be the “tough guy” and failed. Not much later, I was standing on the corner to cross the street, her bus went past and I waved. Returning home to a now empty house, the silence was deafening. Rooms once filled with her bold laughter and silkened voice now held only the breeze pushing through the open windows. It has taken some time to let it all go… more than I expected.

For now, I return to my study of language and the depths of the past. I have poured myself back into research for my paper. Today Vlad insisted that we get out for lunch, as his wife and kids went up to the Tatras. We parted after a massive bowl of Vietnamese soup, and I roamed back through the Stary Mesto. There has been headway in my research, and I have begun to understand the circularity of history in a fuller manner. I will write here again soon, when there is something to share. I am “home” and everything will work out in its own way and in its own time. If I go back to Albania, I will have a much better base there since I have friends that will help me stay. I would probably end up in Theth with my buddy Pavlin.

My apologies for the shortened length of this missive, perhaps there will be more to share soon. Until the next post, please take care of yourselves and take care of each other. I am incredibly thankful for those following me. I wish you all the good things this life can avail you.

Zlaty Jelen, An Art Exhibit, and Royalty…Of Sorts

Above: Slavo speaking at his art exhibition. Two of his pieces can be seen over his right shoulder

Today 21 June,2022 is a Tuesday and that means that I was back with the “Tuesday Night Club”. It was incredibly comforting to see my friend Prof. Martin Homza, Vlado (owner of Zlaty Jelen) and Karel, among the first when I arrived. I was informed that we were going to an art exhibition by our friend and member Slavomir Gibej. Slavo is a modern sculptor that works with resin casts of the human form. I met him last winter at Jelen and was struck by his warmth and patience in explaining his art, and what he thought art should be. It is worth it to Google him and take a look at his work; it can be found under the Saatchi Art title. The exhibition was held on the 2nd floor of a sleek Audi dealership. We piled out of Vlado’s ancient Mercedes, all five of us, and were met with stares. Along the way we picked up Janosz Palfey. More on him later. The entire crowd was a bit upper crust, but we enjoyed ourselves, drinks and snack were free and some grazed after greeting Slavo.

I was moving very slowly from piece to piece and they looked even better in real life. Slavo came up and in spite of the obligation to meet and greet the upper crust, he took a few minutes with me to explain what he was attempting with certain pieces. It was a nice gesture on his part. Martin came by and started introducing me around the room, and many people were astounded that I was making my home here in Slovakia. After Slavo spoke, I turned around to look at the large crowd and met Vlado’s eyes gesturing to me to gather, as the large was nearly full. We took our leave and shoe-horned ourselves back into Vlado’s Mercedes and returned to Jelen.

On the way, Martin had me recount my day with our dear friend Danka, who has been my greatest benefactor for the residency visa. It goes as follows: Danka and her husband Paul picked me up this morning at 9am and we dropped Paul at the doctor. We came back across Bratislava to one site of the “Office of Foreign Police”. Danka was determined that they had been making it too hard for me to apply. While being told by the intake guard that today wasn’t the day for this kind of application. [ Note; Since the “war” next door, the Slovak goverment split the days of the week for Ukrainians applying for visas and everyone else. There is no clear schedule, it’s hit or miss..typical.] As we were turning to leave, we ran into a man that Danka had once worked with in the government. Danka quit her job as Deputy Minister of Finance for the Slovaks some time ago, but her contacts are wide-ranging. They were speaking in Slovak and I had a difficult time catching what was being said. At one point the gentleman looked at me and nodded. They exchanged numbers, and as he left, Danka’s voice took on a sing-song lilt. I asked what just happened and she said that she would explain in the car.

Once in the car, she told me that he was the head of the Foreign Police and told her that he would be glad to help me stay. She was to send him a text later and he would “arrange things” so I could remain in Slovakia with out having to leave. They worked together when they were doing a case with the Chinese some years ago. I really did not know what to say, and she demanded that I don’t thank her anymore. It is simply not part of the culture. She said, “when I ask you for a favor, you will help me… that’s how it works here”. Recounting this to Vlad, Martin, and Janosz they laughed and agree. From the back seat, Janosz patted my shoulder and said, “welcome to Slovakia, you’re getting a first-hand look at how things really get done”

I am bolstered by the news that I won’t have to pack up again in September and go somewhere for 90 days. In one day I have turned 180 derees and feel a bit more at ease. To boot, it was a great night with my dear friends at Jelen. One of the members of our group is Janos Palffy. He is a direct descendent of the Palffy family that held many estates in what is present-day Slovakia and Hungary. A Palffy Palace is here in Bratislava, on the hill behind Bratislavsky Hrad (Bratislava Castle). As we discussed the length and breadth of Slovak history last night, Jano’s insights were enlightening. he has no pretensions or airs about his family from the past. His ancestor, perhaps the most well-known, was Miklos Palffy. Miklos not only defeated the Ottoman Turks in 26 battles (!), he was also married to Maria Fugger. The Fuggers were a family of merchants and bankers, most powerful in the 15th and 16th century in Europe. This union, plus Miklos’ military prowess, allowed him to gain many estates in Hungary at the time; this included various holdings in Slovakia (then called the “Upper Kingdom”), castles/fortifications, lands, and mines (gold and silver). The Palffy family would go on to wield enormous power in the Upper Kingdom, some entombed in Castles and churches such as the stunning Bojnice Castle. There are 4 Palffy Palaces in Bratislava alone, 3 I have not seen. The significance of the palaces, in so great a number will be something that I will write about in the future. I have a bit more research to do on this matter. The greatest factor is that this phenomena is connected with the fact that St.Martin’s Cathedral on the western end of the Old Town , was the coronation church of the Kindom of Hungary from 1563 to 1830.

It is nearly impossible to speak of Slovak history without speaking of Hungary (and Poland in the North). The Slovaks as a nation did not exist until 1919. Hungary held a near-1,000 year sway over what was to become modern Slovakia. There will be more of this complex history, and as well, the intricate webbing of other nation-states that influenced history here in Central Europe. As an amateur macrohistorian, I am endlessly curious and fascinated by the depth and wide sweep of our history. This land that is swathed by the Carpathian Mountains has a past that emerges from beyond the thick mist of time. It has been my joy to discover it. As I progress in my study of history, I realize that I only know a small sliver, of a vast tree…humbling.

I am happy to say that my odds of staying here have increased exponentially. Being able to stay, will allow me to branch out from here and discover yet more of our past, and in doing so, perhaps come closer to my own ancestry. There is also a plan afoot to see Western Europe as well. I have many trips planned to see my own family in Orava, and still yet to see the east with Kosice (co-seech-say), and to my landlord’s (and good friend) home town of Bardejov. A return to to Spis (speesh) Castle, and Levoca (lev-o-cha) will do some good as well. I will make a ppint of including the Central/Southern portions too. Also, I have the natural in my sights. I wish to fly fish our rivers coming off the Tatra Mountains. The most important aspect of being rewarded with a visa card (it resembles an id card/driver’s license) will to be the ease and ability to travel through the rest of Europe and return to my home here. Language classes will be a large part of that plan, and my friends are already helping me with pronunciation, phrasing, and syntax. I will write again soon, and hopefully have the news that I will be able to be more permanent. Until then, thank you for following me. Please take of yourselves and take care of each other.

Last Thoughts On A Fortnight Past

It is feels very comforting to be back home now in Bratislava. I arrived last Monday 6, June in the early evening. To say that I had to “dig deep” to get here would be putting it mildly. My last 4 days In Tirana were spent in sickness. In the early morning of Friday, 3 June, I woke with an intense pain on my right side. From my shoulder to my hip, whenever I would move. It worsened if I had to cough, or get a quick breath. I had fallen twice in the mountains, both times on my right hip. I thought that by this time I had “walked it out” and wasn’t feeling any discomfort. It had been nearly 3 weeks to this point and I was feeling only mild discomfort. From nowhere this had spread up to my rib cage and continued to my shoulder. I could not figure out what was causing this.

An attempt to calm myself and breathe easy brought more pain. I began walking around my flat and didn’t feel anything in my hip. Pressing and prodding it, looking in vain for a site that was affecting this disturbance. In my mind I was running down a checklist; water?..yes; I had been eating, I had been moving – daily walks af good length. I sat and tried to relax everything, I began to meditate slowly – away from the distrubance inside of me – into a place that I found comfort. At once I hiccuped, and the pain shot through me like an eletrical current. Okay…”calm down”, I told myself. This went on most of Friday morning and into the day. I wasn’t hungry and couldn’t force myself to eat, only water.

On Saturday morning, the pain was more than I could bear. I phoned my host Dafne and explained what was happening. She was a complete angel;she was very quick to act. In a matter of minutes I was dressed and down on the street where a taxi was waiting to take me to the hospital. I was preparing myself for a 2 hour wait in the ER, paperwork…all the hoops like back in the US. I couldn’t have been more wrong. There was hardly anyone there at 8am. The young doctor met me at the door and immediately began grilling me about my condition. Into an exam room and all the precursory signs showed I was normal. She drew blood, and then ordered an x-ray. Within minutes I was on the table, and it was over. She met me in the exam room, and explained that she was truly baffled. There were no signs of trauma, except my right hip (on which I fallen) showing a bruise that was nearly healed. I denied pain meds, as I was in recovery and she understood. She gave me her personal phone number and asked me to call her on Sunday (the next day) and let her know how/what I was feeling.

She gave me a hug and sent me to checkout and see the nurse for payment (it was the same person who did the x-ray!). The total bill came out to almost $300. I nearly fell off my chair. I paid it upfront with a card, a cost that am getting back from insurance…no questions. There was a taxi waiting to return to my flat, and once there I sat and fell asleep sitting up. I awoke late in the afternoon feeling refreshed and with very little pain…I was just tired. At this point I was wondering what my trip home was going to be like. Saturday evening laid me down to sleep unquietly until mid-morning Sunday, without pain. Feeling better, I took a warm shower and began to pack for my flight on Monday. I called the young doctor and let her know that I was feeling better, with no appreciable pain, and only that I was still not hungry. She suggested something light, expressed her thanks and wished me well.

I sat on Monday morning and relected on my time in Albania. The first 2 months on the Adriatic were fun, but not my best time. My trip really began when I became engaged in the mountains with Alfred in Valbonne, and then with Pavlin and his family in Theth. I met more people of interest in those places than my whole time in Durres, on the Adriatic. There were some highlights there too, but everything turned dramatically after contacting Elton and Alda at Albanian Trip. For me to exist in the mountains again was refreshing. I am excited at the prospect of getting fly fishing onto those two great Albanian rivers, and to awe people with the breathtaking landscape. I am eternally grateful to Alfred, Pavlin, and most importantly Elton. I was gifted with a few moments of his time and wisdom. He, and Pavlin, and Alfred have becomes Brothers to me in this spirit of adventure and forging ahead with new ideas. I will grasp those notions firmly. The history alone is stunning, and to stand in some of the places were it occured was humbling. I shall not soon forget my experience there.

My checkout time on Monday at the flat was 10am. I was up early, and ready to leave by 9. I checked into my 3pm flight, and everything was go. My strength was beginning to flag by this point, but I still had no interest in putting anything in my body when it didn’t want it. I’ve been there many times before and was not prepared any “accidents”…in either direction. I heaved my over-stuffed duffel onto my body, which by now was considerably lighter as I had lost some weight over the last 3-4 days. Luckily for me there was a cab stand just a few meters from my flat entrance and I staggered up to get to the airport. It was a quick ride to the airport, inexpensive and my driver was a nice middle-aged Albanian that liked to listen, as well as talk. He gave me a hug and wished me a safe trip. I reeled into the airport and it was just the opposite of what I was hoping for on a Monday. To call it a beehive would be a misnomer. I had 3 hours before boarding, and was lucky enough to find a New York Times to do a puzzle to pass some of the time.

I heard a pair of US tourists before I saw them. You know the type: loud, complaining, and acting as if they were the only ones there. Mixed into this were a few boys playing football in the waiting hall, some on 3-wheeled scooters zipping around, and your usual crying babies…we had it all. Funny though, with all of this going on, in a stream of people moving, and the heady miasmic atmosphere…the security guards (not TSA – these guys and gals had military everything on them) were concerned with the crying kids. They would walk by and kindly ask the parents to the “quiet room” until their flights were called. Bravo!, I thought it was brilliant. We loaded more than 45 minutes late, and then had to sit and wait as there was “a problem with the airspace” over Vienna Airport. I didn’t care, at this point I was starting to flag and decided to take a nap. Before I can recall we were off and after what seemed like a very short flight were landing in Vienna. I went right through passport control, claimed my bag and waddled out to catch the bus to Bratislava. I would take it to Nivy, our new shopping mall built over the bus station. It is hardly a 4 block walk to my apartment on Grosslingova. I had already planned on a taxi. I was done dragging this duffel any further. I was about text my landlord Vlad that I was at Vienna. He beat me to it and offered to pick me up at NIvy. I took it. By 6:30pm I was in my apartment and talking to Vlad. I was a few yards away from tears of joys to be back in my space finally.

It took a few days to recover, I’m eating again, and have gotten out to walk. I feel no pain, and I am leaving that mystery lie in Albania. Mysteries….there are so many in this life. I had checked in to let those that I know and love that I was home and safe. I was informed that my dearest niece and her husband had lost their child early in pregnancy. Maybe the trial of traveling in a weakened state, maybe having been worn down mentally after living by myself, or perhaps simple grief had me crying for quite some time over the last days. All the memories of the birth our daughter Ana flooded down the canyons of my past. It was a girl, and they were going to name her Charlotte Rae. I connected with her during my meditation yesterday as she went skyward. I am beginning to tear up now as I push this recollection to memory. Our time here is incredibly fleeting. Our lives and the time we are given with those we love is truly “given” and can be taken from us at any moment witout any explanation. The past fortnight has re-affirmed this notion, as I too felt like I was “close to the edge” at times during my ill health. If I have learned anythingfrom my voyage over the last 3 months, I have garnered the truth that I am a social being with an obligation to be connected to those that I meet…a social animal, if you will. Being entirely alone is perhaps not what I’m built for. I derive profound spiritual strength from human interaction. I know also (and have known), that we are spiritual beings having a human experience… not the other way around. (Thank You Sean O’Keefe) Once again, I thank all, or any, who are following me on this trip, and I wish you well. Please take care of yourselves, and take care of each. I will post again soon hopefully with news of my visa search.