This has been a bit of a rough trip in spots. Starting out in the middle of the Gatwick drone attacks, and ending up in a doctor’s office in France. My computer started acting up while in France but I was able to muddle through until we got home. Other trips have went smoother. But it’s a part of things, and you adapt, which we did. Even if it was a bit rough at times, it doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the trip.
As in the past, I’ll comment on things on this trip in no particular order, and Laurie has hers on this post as well. When they pop into my head I’ll write about them. Consequently, this really isn’t in any sort of order. I also have a few posts Laurie wrote that didn't get posted. Getting sick took me down a few notches and I missed getting it posted.
For now, our thoughts on the trip in general. So………..here we go.
Getting sick- I didn’t expect this, then again, who does? I’ve been sick when traveling before, just not as sick as I was this time. I lost a full day and was not running full steam the remaining days. I visited a doctor, in France, on a national holiday. She prescribed proper meds which got me back on my feet again. We skied the remaining days while there, but I wasn’t back to normal. I’ve been home a week and only now have I started to actually feel better.
Skiing- I chose to ski the first week in January this year for a couple of reasons. I figured that most of the people would be gone by January 2, all headed home and leaving the mountain to us. I also thought the snow would be better as it would be a week or so later in the season than last year, and this would give us a better chance of better snow. Turns out I missed on both counts.
It seems that all the holiday visitors stay through the first week of January as well as the week between Christmas and New Years. The place was mobbed. It was very crowded with lots of visitors. And it seems that every one of them was coughing and hacking. I think this had more than a little to do with me getting sick.
As for the snow, they had great snow before Christmas. During Christmas and the days after, they had heavy rains. This chewed the snow up and diminished cover, cutting down the open and skiable slopes. The holiday crowds were still there, but there were fewer open slopes for them to use, so everyone was more “concentrated”. It was quite crowded, on the slopes and off.
We enjoy traveling off season. We like the sparse crowds, the ease of travel when so few are traveling. The locals are more at ease and we have better experiences. It’s just easy. We violated our own rules and wound up in Chamonix on the busiest week of the year. We won’t do that again. We enjoyed our time, but it was much easier and much more enjoyable when the crowds weren’t as heavy.
Croatia- We only stayed in two towns in Croatia, Split and Dubrovnik. I can’t figure out which one we liked the best! It was the off season so crowds were thin. Lodging was cheap, food was reasonable, the locals were friendly, and the scenery was phenomenal. Incredible sunsets, amazing views, friendly locals, good food, decent prices. Croatia makes me want to go back, just to sit with a coffee and soak it all in.
I can’t say ANYTHING negative about the two towns we visited in Croatia. There are over 1000 islands off the coast that can be explored. We felt welcome. It was beautiful. It was interesting. It just begs us to come back. I hope we do.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina- Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was incredibly intense and had the biggest effect on me. I dreamed of coming here back in the ‘80’s, but life didn’t have that in the cards then. While we thought the people were friendly in Croatia, they went to another level in BiH. People were genuinely helpful. They were genuinely nice. While we obviously weren’t from there, we were never treated like it. People spoke to us on the street, they offered suggestions. They were nice.
We never felt unsafe or that we were in a “bad” area. We saw no crime and the people treated each other with civility. You got the feeling that they felt they were “in it together” and tried to get along with each other. We never saw anyone argue. They are an animated people when they converse, but not in a hostile way. Maybe the war caused them to rethink arguing about petty things. They got along with each other.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are a resilient bunch. They endured sieges, genocide, and a major war. They buried family and friends. They fought and struggled to survive for years, dodging snipers, mines, mortars, RPG’s, and canon fire. They helped each other, cared for each other, shared with each other, and buried each other.
They did this regardless of differing religions, politics, family backgrounds, and family history. While outsiders use many different political and religious labels to identify them, they themselves did not. They were who they were.......together. A unified people They are a people to be admired, and emulated, a genuine melting pot. I love the people of BiH.
It is predominately a Muslim society, but not Muslim as we know it. It’s more secular….sort of like calling someone a Baptist because their great grandfather went to the Baptist church. I learned a great deal about real Islam there, and do not have the view of it that I had in the past. They made it quite clear that they do not like Islamic radicals either, and view them to be just as crazy as we do.
They are a colorful and kind people, welcoming to everyone. I cannot say enough about how wonderful the people are. I felt more welcome in BiH than anywhere we have ever traveled, even in the United States. I felt that if I moved there tomorrow, they would take me in as one of their own. BiH moved me in a way that other countries we have visited have not. While quite cold and a bit snowy when we were there, Bosnia and Herzegovina left me feeling warm.
An interesting thing about the former Yugoslavia included a train to bus transfer in a small town called Capljina. When we arrived there via train, I felt we had been in a time machine. The place screamed 1970’s communist bloc, from the people, to the architecture, to the train station.
The place could be a movie set for a 70’s spy flick with few changes. It was really interesting to experience, especially from someone who studied the area during the cold war. This was another one of those places I never dreamed I would go, and an experience I never dreamed I would have.
It also turns out that Elvis was a Muslim. Not THAT Elvis……..but I noticed a lot of people there were named Elvis. The desk clerk at our hotel was a young lady named Elvisa. It was a VERY common name. I couldn’t believe that the Bosnians were so fascinated with him. It turns out that Elvis is a popular Muslim name that has been used for hundreds of years……long before Elvis from Memphis.
BiH was an incredibly inexpensive place to travel. We had an exceptionally nice hotel room for around $44 U.S. dollars a night, and could have found one cheaper. A very nice dinner with drinks, appetizers, and desert is around $8 a person. A cappuccino is around a dollar. BiH is a very inexpensive place to travel. You can live well on a BiH vacation for very little money.
Go. Visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. You’ll love it like I do…….and it will love you back.
Switzerland- We transferred in and out of the Geneva Airport, coming from Croatia, and leaving back to the states. To quote a young sailor we met on the bus in Croatia, “Switzerland has crazy prices, crazy taxes, and crazy salaries”. He couldn’t have been more right. After paying the equivalent of $1.25 for a latte in Bosnia, we wind up paying $8 for one in Switzerland. Granted, it’s very nice, but still a bit of a shock. I did buy 8 pounds of the only real bargain in Switzerland, high quality chocolate!
We were stuck in the airport for a while as our plane was 3 hours late. There were no water fountains and if you wanted water to drink, you had to pay for it. Two coffees and two bottles of water were $20 U.S. While I realize we were in another country, that’s just insane. It made me want to go back to Bosnia.
Gatwick Airport, London
The UK- We always like our short UK visits. We know our way around London quite well, and enjoyed our leisurely lunch at the pub we always wind up at when near Victoria Station. London just seems easy to us……except when they start shutting down airports.
I spent a lot of the night trying to figure out an alternative way off the island that is the UK. I figured if I could get us across the channel, I could figure out ways to travel to where we needed to be. Lucky for us, we were able to fly as we planned. I’m going to try to bypass a stop in the UK next trip so we don’t wind up in a similar situation at such a busy time. Maybe we’ll use Germany as a gateway next time.
We all have dreams. I have a good home, family, and a wife I could only dream of before I met her. I realize that our normal, simple life is a dream to many not as lucky. As a child, I dreamt of racing cars at famous tracks, of adventure, of skiing the Alps, visiting exotic places, and of seeing the world. I have done all of these things and hope to be lucky enough to continue.
We all live someone’s dream. Sometimes……if you’re truly lucky…….the dreams you get to live are your own. Thanks for tagging along.
Somewhat random final thoughts:
I didn’t have much to say while we were in Chamonix. Getting sick was no fun. It was good we had cash to pay the doctor because she didn’t take credit cards. Had we ended up in the hospital credit cards would have worked. And don’t wait until late in the day to get to a doctor if you need one.
It was a scramble getting to the one doctor and pharmacy that were open new year’s day. Thank you to the kind British gentleman who shared his cab so we could get to the doctor. Cabs are scarce and very expensive in Chamonix.
Some medical heads up. I took some medications with me this year after getting sick last year and not having anything with me. It was very helpful having familiar meds like decongestants, Tylenol, Ibuprofen. Next year I’ll take Mucinex with a cough suppressant and I think that should cover it.
Homeopathic remedies are very popular in Europe. All medications are handled by the pharmacist who advises you on what to get depending on your symptoms. Most of them speak pretty good English. They always ask if you want homeopathic or drugs. However, it can be a bit difficult to figure out exactly what is in these medications so if you take prescription medications, be careful of potential interactions.
For example, the doctor prescribed 1 gram of what turned out to be Tylenol. Had I not figured this out and given Bill Tylenol in addition, he could have over dosed. Medications there aren’t cheap and if you’re on a tight budget, I would definitely bring some with you.
Last year when we went to Chamonix the snow was amazing, it wasn’t crowded and we had a fantastic time. This year the snow was not as good, many of the lower elevation slopes were closed because of lack of snow and it was VERY crowded. The French do not do crowd control well. I longed for the orderly ques the British and Germans use.
It was basically a free for all with pushing and shoving. I don’t much like crowds to begin with, and this put me over the edge. We are usually pretty careful not to go places that are high tourist attractions during the busy season. Now we know, and won’t do that again.
All that being said, it is still a beautiful place and the alps are majestically indifferent to human beings. Pictures do not really do it justice, but I tried. And Chamonix is a delightfully quaint little town.
Geneva is actually quite a pretty city in the river area. It is, however, ridiculously expensive. After being in Bosnia and Croatia, it was quite a shock. It is clearly a banking capital and caters to people with a lot of money. Tiffany, Cartier, and other high end stores predominated.
We did end up in an ethnic area also known for being the red light district – literally. An interesting juxtaposition to the posh stores in the other areas we wandered through. We were trying to find a restaurant we had seen before and some British accented fellow asked us if we were lost. I guess they don’t get a lot of tourists in the red light district. Sex for sale just like in Amsterdam.
Most of the restaurants were middle eastern and we had an excellent meal in a Lebanese place. It was also the least expensive meal we had in Geneva. Not a place I would choose as a destination but it made for an interesting lay over.
The Ibis hotel we stayed in at the airport gave us a bus pass so we were able to get around easily. The airport is actually on the city bus line and combines the train station and out of town bus station all in one place. A handy transportation hub.
We visited a big mall there so Bill could go to Migros, a huge grocery store. He bought 8.2 lbs of chocolate to give away when we got back. Migros puts any of our stores to shame. It was possible to find more reasonably priced things there. Having to spend 3 hours in the Geneva airport due to our flight being delayed, I thought we were going to go broke. A bottle of water cost $6. And there were no water fountains to fill our water bottles we carry with us.
Some things I changed this trip that really helped. I bought real hiking socks this year and new hiking boots. Last year I got very painful blisters in Barcelona but I didn’t have any trouble this year. The socks were REI mid weight hiking socks and the boots are Foresake Patch. They are very light, water proof and fashionable enough to wear with anything.
I brought an extra pair of shoes but never wore them. I would be comfortable in the boots in temperatures under 60. If we went somewhere that was warmer, I would probably bring the shoes again. I also packed one too many pairs of pants. I will not do that again. I got by well with jeans, one pair of warm leggings and a pair of skinny, lighter weight black jeans. Every trip I try and pare down what I’m carrying on my back.
Bosnia and Croatia were the highlights of the trip for me. I’ve already posted about both so I won’t belabor the points.
Croatia is beautiful and was easy, laid back and not very crowded. The atmosphere was one of a vacation location – nobody was in a hurry, everyone was there to have fun. People were polite and friendly. While the transportation options were on a limited winter schedule, and some things were closed for the season, it was still well worth going in the less busy winter time. The weather was temperate and generally pretty pleasant. The rocky coast meets the sea in dramatic vistas with the towns nestled in the small strips of land between the mountains and the sea. Definitely worth a trip back.
Bosnia was a completely different experience. Amir was an amazing guide. While I really enjoyed Sarajevo and Mostar I don’t feel the need to return there. Maybe some other locations in Bosnia.
I have so much admiration for these resilient people. While we have had one attack on our soil in 9/11, they were under siege for nearly 4 years. We were able to rebuild the pentagon, and create a memorial in NYC. In Sarajevo there are still bombed out shells of buildings, existing structures are pock marked with remnants of mortar, rockets and bullets and the Sarajevo Roses (places in the street where mortars exploded and people were killed) are all over the city. A reminder that no place was safe. We are so lucky in this country, in so many ways that people take for granted.
All in all, it was another good trip. Some challenges we have not faced before with actual getting from one place to another. Very early departures, drone attacks, winding roads and car sickness, flight delays. We have been extremely lucky in the past not having had to deal with any of that. But once we got somewhere it was generally good. Once I fully recover – I’ll be looking forward to next year.
A collection of images from our trip