My Favourite Place In The World? BOSNIA

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Often people will email me after having read my book Gatecrashing Europe, wanting to know one thing. It is the same question that, as a travel writer, you can expect to be asked again and again.

“Where’s your favourite place?”

I haven’t seen the whole world yet. Far from it. At last count I’ve visited 37 countries, or 38 if you count Catalonia. But my answer to the question has been the same since country number 5, when I visited her for the first time back in 2005.

Favourite country: Bosnia & Herzegovina*
Favourite city: Sarajevo

*For the rest of this post I will refer to the country simply as Bosnia, just because it’s simpler. 

My answer always surprises the person asking the question. A lot of people hear the name and their mind conjures up this image of a depressing place, even if they can’t find Bosnia on the map. My experience of the country, however, is the complete opposite of what a lot of people imagine it to be.

Sarajevo (1)

On a visit to Sarajevo in 2010

I’ve been to Bosnia five times, and her capital Sarajevo three. Each time in that city either with a girlfriend or a friend. Each time as a stop-off for a few days, part of a larger trip around the Balkans. I’ve never been on my own in Sarajevo but have always wanted to be. Almost everywhere I’ve been over the years, I’ve been there alone. In a few of those places I’ve made vague plans to return some day with someone that I wish to share it with.

Bosnia, however, is the one place I’ve always dreamed of going back to without the shackles of company.

To be free to wander the streets at dawn, day, dusk and night, breathing as one with the city. To not feel the pressure of having someone to please. To not have to do the things they want to do, go where they want to go, eat where they want to eat, wake when they want to wake and sleep when they want to sleep. To be able to sit in the corner of a café for three days without moving, should I choose to, just eavesdropping on the conversations of locals, trying to pick up what snippets I can, sipping tea, flicking through the pages of a book; writing a book even, why not? I am at home.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Dodging Land Mines to Pick Mushrooms in Bosnia

Tags

, , , , , , ,

This was written in 2005. 

Recently I agreed to accompany my girlfriend’s 50-something year old father, Danilo, on a drive down from Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana to northern Bosnia. He’s interested in purchasing some land down there and wanted to go and check out a few potential spots before committing.

I had been there once before with him and was up for returning.

It’s a Sunday morning and by 7 o’clock we’re almost ready to leave. It’s just the two of us as my fiancée is unable to join due to work obligations. With my knowledge of the Slovenian language pretty limited, and his of English practically non-existent, we would usually have her act as interpreter, but not today. Today it’s just me, him and the open road.

After taking a few wrong turns in Croatia, we find ourselves driving along a dirt track about 2 miles long. There are rolling hills, trees and greenery on either side of us, and as I look to my right to admire the view, my eyes come upon something that reminds me of the dark, recent history of this area: A sign warning of land mines in the surrounding fields and woods.

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 7): VIDEO – DO I FIND MY DISTANT RELATIVES IN THE JUNGLES OF KERALA? AND ARE THEY COMMUNISTS?

Tags

, , , , , , ,

If you’ve been following this story from part 1, then you already know that basically I turned up in India having done the absolute bare minimum research and not having a clue what I was doing, as I attempted to find the village where my great grandfather had emigrated to England from about 90 years ago.

If you haven’t read the previous parts to the story, may I suggest you go back and do so now. I promise they’re very short and you’ll be back here in just a few minutes. I’ll wait…..

165911_10150902371948985_1044630089_n

My great grandfather

So finally, after 2 weeks of travelling around in Nepal and then India, I found myself waking up in a hotel in Kozhikode, the nearest big town to the jungle villages that I had kind of traced my great grandfather to. And with Maria at my side, there to film the important moments (and my horrific haircut), I ate breakfast and headed out to try and find something. What exactly, I had no idea. I really hadn’t thought anything through.

 

And that brings to an end this short collection of stories entitled Indian Roots. Until I am able to make it back to India, at least. I’ve got loads of other stuff lined up to be written from the rest of our trip, but all in good time. Also some stuff coming up from Ukraine and Bosnia. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog if you like it. And also come join me on Facebook.

Indian Roots (part 6): IN KERALA, WITHOUT A SCOOBY DOO

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

My impulsive nature means that I often find myself in a reality that I can’t logically explain. A place in which time seems to stop for a moment, just long enough for me to take a look around and ask myself, “How the fuck did I get here?”

I’m not a planner. Never have been. I just tend to ride along on a conveyor belt of chain reactions, only occasionally paying attention to the details around me. I live in the clouds. It drives Maria my girlfriend fucking insane, and not in a good way. But what can you do?

One recent example of this came on the 31st of July this year, around midday, when I suddenly realised I was sat in the passenger seat of the world’s tiniest pick-up truck, parked up and blocking traffic, right slap bang in the centre of a jungle village, while a group of men swarmed round and stuck their faces in the window, looking curiously at the two white faces while trying to make sense of the tiny scrap of paper I was carrying, on which I’d written what I was (wrongly) insisting was an address. I was in India, the state of Kerala, and neither my driver nor anyone else could speak English, and likewise I didn’t speak their language Malayalam. Slowly more people were starting to gather round the vehicle, for no other reason than curiosity. We had been in this situation for a good 15 minutes, without progress of any kind, when I realised I had absolutely zero plan and so stepped out of my body for a moment and asked myself the familiar question.

Fortunately for the sake of this story, Maria was sat in the back and was filming at the exact moment I left my body. From 0:05 to 0:11 seconds, I am officially gone. 

george-michael22

When I came back, I turned into George Michael

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 5): ALL CLUES POINT TO NORTHERN KERALA

Tags

, , , , , ,

I knew that my great grandfather had come from the coast of Kerala, but Kerala is a long state with almost 600km of shoreline, that’s like the distance from England’s south coast to the Scottish border, so I needed to narrow down the possibilities a bit.

I turned to Google.

I tapped in the words Rayiru Kerala.

rayiru kerala

To follow this story from the beginning, click here to start at part 1. The parts are short so it will take you no time at all to catch up.

The Google search four years ago only brought up a couple of pages.

The first hit detailed an inner-family land dispute that existed over many decades and involved rent on a property being paid in 50 coconut leaves to a Rayiru Kurup (remember that Kurup was the occupational title of my great grandfather). The text was full of legal jargon specific to India and also the era in which the dispute began, so I was unable to clearly understand the ins and outs. Also, it failed to mention a specific location in Kerala. I moved on.

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 4): RAMA RAYIRU, INDIAN IMMIGRANT

Tags

, , , , , , ,

My great grandad, who I will now refer to as Rama, was born in India in 1893. I never knew him, nor did I ever show any real interest in knowing about him as I was growing up. He was just a man in a black and white photo on our living-room wall.

165911_10150902371948985_1044630089_n

The picture on our living-room wall when I was growing up. I have since learnt that this photo was probably taken on his wedding day, as Hindus only wear turbans on very rare occasions (such as when getting married)

But all that changed one night four years ago when I had an unusual and vivid dream. If you’re not already familiar with the dream I’m talking about, may I suggest you go back to part 1 of this story (the parts are short, I promise) in which I explain.

Rama was one of those old-school immigrants who moved to a country, adapted and integrated, started a family, never spoke a word about his past life, brought his kids up in the culture of the land of their birth and then returned to his homeland at the end of it all to see out his final years. Because of this, no one seems to know much about him.

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 3): K IS FOR KRISHNA

Tags

, , , , , , ,

After the dreams (start at part 1 of the story if you don’t know what dreams I’m on about), I joined a group on Facebook that I knew existed but wasn’t a part of. It had been set up by a distant relative of mine, the wife of the son of one of my grandad’s brothers. Her aim was to bring together as many Rayirus as she could, as she was trying to put together a family tree. In the group she shared what she had learnt about my great grandfather, and also all the other family members could post what pictures they had, and contribute what little bits of information they knew. This group worked simply because the name Rayiru isn’t a common one, even in India, and all Rayirus in the UK descended from the same man: my great grandfather.

The first thing I learnt was my great grandfather’s name: Rama Eachorath Rayiru.

I was told, though, that he never used the Eachorath, so was just known as Rama, a Hindu name.

I then found out that his son – my grandad – after whom I am named, anglicised his name to Kris (or Krissy to his friends and family) from his birth name of Ram Krishna. My name comes from Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Hinduism. I think that’s pretty cool.

krishna

The guy who I was named after was named after this guy

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 2): NICKNAMES

Tags

, , , , , ,

Since childhood my close group of mates have had an abundance of nicknames for me, each one relating to the way I look. Here is a list of the ones that I can think of off the top of my head:

*Stavros
*Kris Theodopolopodus (The Greek character in 90s sitcom Birds of a Feather)
*Muhammed
*The Afghan
*Bubble (as in Bubble and Squeak, or Greek)
*The Refugee
*Kebab Boy
*Mustafa
*Medallion Man
*The Turk
*Sanchez Moleman
*Chilli Sos (Chilli Sauce but in a Turkish accent….)

These names have always been used with affection. If I’m honest, I can see where my mates are coming from. I mean, just have a look at me. I look about as stereotypically English as an embroidered prayer mat.

turkman

The hat’s not part of my everyday attire. Although it’s a massive help when hitchhiking in Turkey

 

Continue reading

Indian Roots (part 1): THE DREAM

Tags

, , , , , , ,

When you are a little kid, viewing the world through inexperienced eyes, there are certain things that don’t register; differences that go unnoticed. When you are running around with your friends in the playground at infant school, you don’t see white and black, rich and poor, northern and southern, native and foreign. You just see people like you.

It can’t be any different anywhere else, surely.

I will give you a couple of quick examples of what I mean. Growing up I had a friend called Pavlos Samithrakis. We first became mates in reception class, at the age of five. I used to go round his house all the time for dinner and to play, and I knew his two little brothers who were called Yannis and Markos, both of whom had the same olive skin and dark features as their brother. Pavlos’ dad was a tall, dark man with a thick moustache, who spoke with a strong accent. He worked on the ships. His name was Angelo. I imagine you have a hastily built up picture of this family in your mind. They are obviously Greeks. There were enough clues there. The names, the accent, the physical appearance. And yet it wasn’t until I was about ten or eleven that I knew Pavlos’ family to be any different to any other in the neighbourhood. Even the name Pavlos Samithrakis never seemed foreign to me. He was just my mate Pavlos.

Through the same years of my life I had another good friend called Tunde. He lived just around the corner from me, and most days our families would walk to school together; Tunde and I running ahead passing a football between ourselves, while our mums walked behind with our younger siblings. Tunde was black. Both of his parents were white. I never noticed this; or if I did, I never questioned it. Never asked my mum, ‘How did two white people have a black baby?’ It wasn’t that I felt it rude to ask, it was simply that it never seemed out of the ordinary to me. He called his parents mum and dad, and so as far as I was concerned they were his mum and dad. When we were around 12 Tunde went away. One day he was here, the next gone. But his mum and dad still lived round the corner. And on top of that, they had a couple of new sons, also black. The only thing that seemed odd was that these new sons were of school age. I had never seen them as babies or toddlers.

Continue reading

GLASSED A NAZI IN THE FACE

Tags

, , , ,

21st of April 2003

Yesterday was my first night off since I started working here. It was also Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Usually that’s not a detail that I would make a point of mentioning. Under normal circumstances I would remain unaware of the fact, myself. But the reason for its relevance will soon become clear. During the afternoon Matt and I took the metro down to the Vatican to buy some bottles of Red Square from the international delicatessen. Quite a few bottles. I also picked up some Marmite. And some butterscotch Angel Delight.

redsquarereloaded70cl95

By the time the sun starts its descent, Lee, Matt and I are already half cut in the hostel’s kitchen, having drunk all the bottles, so we head up the road to Julius Caesar to take advantage of our free allotment in there, and then when the barman refuses us any more we pinch a bottle each out of the fridge when his back’s turned and take them for the walk down to Finnegan’s, where we stay until closing time. When we leave, I’m up three pairs of socks, which I’ve bought off an African in the pub. I don’t need new socks.

There’s this club we know that we plan on finishing the night in. Lee and I discovered it during our Roman holiday last year, and the three of us also went there once while we were living in Ponte Galeria. It’s a bit of a poncey place, the crowd and the décor, but the music’s good and the girls are beautiful, and you know you’re not going to get any trouble.

We enter and find a different atmosphere than on our previous visits. A menacing group of visitors have picked the location for their get-together. A gang of about 20 shaven-headed Neo-Nazi thugs, all dressed in black and covered in swastika badges and the like, celebrating the birthdate of their Führer. They’ve even got a picture of the man with the ridiculous moustache on display in the middle of the table they’ve commandeered. Most of them are Italian, but there are some international guests among them, too. They’ve brought with them a dark cloud of negative energy, as everybody else in the place is on edge. The Nazis are just strutting around, snarling at men and trying to impose themselves on the women. People are afraid. I hate Nazis at the best of times, but tonight the feeling of loathing is all the stronger because this is my one night off and I was hoping to be able to enjoy it in a relaxed manner. Fucking wankers.

14.jpg

We’ve been in the place about 25 minutes and no one’s having a good time. Matt and I are standing at the packed bar, trying to get served, when Lee approaches, cupping his nose in his hands.

Continue reading