“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.