Gozo, Malta (2/2)

I think of our one week stay in Gozo with fondness.  This island will always be special for us for many reasons.  For one, Adi was in his element there.   It was as if he wasn’t fighting off the devastating aftermath of his cancer treatments.  He hiked for hours and drove kilometers in the blistering Maltese sun without any problem.  We were apprehensive about this trip because he was experiencing terrible side effects from radiotherapy, but his main doctor encouraged him to go.  He said Adi can even fly to the space if he was chosen to.  Turned out he was right.  Sometimes a metaphor is all you need to nudge someone in the right direction.

Gozo is a small island.  There are buses that would take you to all villages and points of attractions, but they only go every half an hour and the stops are quite far from those cliffs or gorges you might want to explore.  The best way to explore the island is of course to drive.


Top: Our car provided by Eagle Garage for €30/day, gas excluded. Bottom: The winding and hilly roads of Gozo seen from the top of Victoria’s Citadel.

Problem is, well, at least for us, Malta is right-hand drive.  Driving on the left side of the road is like brain inversion for us.  The only thing to maximize yourself, however, is to get out of your comfort zone and try something new.   So we rented an automatic car and soldiered on.  Adi drove while I navigated.  We drove around the island without GPS, just relying on good old road signs to bring us to our destinations.

This brings us to the third reason why this trip  is the trip.

3.  Driving around Gozo

I read about how it’s crazy to drive in Malta and how it’s relatively fine to do it in Gozo since it’s smaller and quieter.  I understood why after just a few minutes in the car.  The roads are narrow,  the hills are steep and nobody seemed to follow the signs or be bothered by them.

When we drove through a busy intersection in Victoria,  there was  this massive queue of cars in all directions.  One policeman was manning the traffic in between chatting with motorcycle drivers passing him by.  I looked at the drivers and their passengers and no one seemed to mind  the delay.  If this happened in Prague, you would expect swear words flying out and car horns blowing like it was the end of days.


Top: Victoria, the capital city of Gozo with its massive Citadel, seen from the town of Xaghra. Middle: Yours truly at the Citadel. Bottom: Still at the Citadel.  It was so hot up there.

Another thing  is you don’t know if you’re on a main road when you’re driving through a town.  We told this later to Caroline who said there’s no need for that there.  How they drive is they just size up their opponents to see when you go or when you stop.  Simply put, you need some ninja skills when you drive there especially if it’s your first time manning a right-hand drive car.  Tip:  Drive an automatic.  The stress you put your poor brain for changing gears in a manual car would be catastrophic.

Halfway through the day, Adi already drove like part Maltese, part ninja slash octopus.  We drove through Victoria, the capital city of Gozo.  We went to Dwejra where the Azure Window once stood magnificent and amazing .  We marveled at the beauty of the Inland Sea and went on a boat ride to the Blue Hole.  We visited five churches.  We got lost and ended up in Mgarr Ix Xini to where Brangelina filmed their last movie together.  We sat down on top of beautiful gorges and communed with nature.  Lastly, Adi conquered his fear of crashing that Hyundai out of road confusion or disorientation.  He didn’t say it but I know this day made him feel accomplished.  I’m happy when he’s happy.


Top photo: The Inland Sea with its arch that leads to the open sea and to one of Malta’s most popular diving sites, the Blue Hole. Second photo: Entering the arch leading to the open sea and to the Blue Hole. Third photo: Where the Azure Window once stood proud and beautiful.  Bottom photo: Into the wild. Got lost and ended up in Mgarr Ix Xini  surrounded with these cacti taller than me.

4.  The Saltpans

This is my favorite part of the island, hands down.  The hike from Marsalforn to Saltpans passing through Xwejnij Bay and Qbajjar Bay is a feast to the senses and therapeutic to the soul.

From the touristy seaside village of Marsalforn  up north towards the salt pans, the view gets more dramatic as you go past wind-swept stone formations.  Let these photos do the talking:

These salt pans date back to the Roman times.  We were lucky to have witnessed a lady harvesting  salt and I assume it was her husband pumping salt water into the pans.  She told us to take a photo before she would cover the salt with a black tarp.

I stood there transfixed as both of them were working hard.  There are little but important things in life that we tend to take for granted.  Truth be told I never even thought prior to coming here were salt comes from.  I felt like one of our little kids at school.  When asked where bananas grow, they all chorused “Tesco!”

What they do with these salt pans or how they do it is best explained in this photo:

Further up north is an endless stretch of cliffs and hidden coves.  I think if we followed this route we would have ended up back to Mgarr Ix Xini.   Next time, someday, hopefully, we’ll be able to do that.

5. Food and Faith

Maltese cuisine is an eclectic mix of flavors.  Sometimes you taste Italy in your pasta and Spain in your risotto but each dish is definitely delicious.  I gained a kilo after just one week in Gozo.

For most parts we only dined in Xaghra.  Our favorite restaurant there is called Latini.  At least once a day for a week we ate there, trying almost everything they had on their menu.  Each meal was satisfying and each meal our server was attentive and friendly.  Adi and I said to each other how different it was there compared to Prague.  Prague or the Czech Republic in general, has some of the rudest waiters ever in the planet so it was a breath of fresh air when our servers talked to us about the weather,  gave us tips on what to see, where to go, how to get there and whatnot.


Top: Antipasti the Maltese way. Middle: That sinful but heavenly dessert at Latini. Bottom: Our daily diet of pasta and fresh seafood in Gozo.

On our last day,  I asked one of the servers, this very nice, smiling and sweet girl, if she lived there in Xaghra.  She said she’s actually not Maltese and that she’s from the Czech Republic. Hah!  The universe played a joke on us again but at least it was a funny one this time.

Where food nourishes the body, faith nourishes the soul, at least mine.  The past two years have given me a share of dark moments.  Dealing with the aftermath of Adi’s cancer treatments can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  No one has any idea of the things we went through or the ones we are still going through.  In those dark moments,  I have learned to cope by praying.

Ta’ Pinu is located in the village of Gharb in the island of Gozo, Republic of Malta.

So it was a nice coincidence that our first trip abroad together after Adi’s diagnosis happened to be in an island that shares the same faith as mine.  In the absolute silence of Ta’ Pinu,  I said my thanks for this trip and for the every day chance of living and loving.

 

Traveled:  May 26- June 2, 2018

xoxo

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Gozo, Malta (1/2)

To date, this week-long trip in Malta has been my most favorite.  The island, the people, the food –  it had all the ingredients for a perfect holiday.  I’m torn between writing this post or just keeping the memories to myself as sharing them can sometimes break the magic.  Then again, the point of why I blog in the first place is for me to remember these moments later, as fresh as I remember them now.

This is going to be a long entry with a lot of photos in between a lot of words so I’m breaking it into two parts.  I’m happy that my personal photographer, Adi,  is back wandering off the beaten tracks with me.  It’s amazing how he has progressed from making me look so small like an ant in the photos to capturing professional shots in a blink.  Oh well, he has a great teacher, I suppose.  🙂

In random order, these are the reasons why this holiday is currently the one to beat in my heart of hearts:

1. Gozo, Malta’s sister island.

I didn’t know Malta is an archipelago until I researched for this trip.  This is Adi’s first trip abroad in two years after he got diagnosed with cancer so I wanted it to be special for him.  Back in February when I started planning for this trip, he was having  terrible nose bleeds as a side effect from the radiation he got in 2016.  When I say nosebleed, I don’t mean slow trickling of blood coming from your nose.  I mean bleeding to the scale of a Tarantino  movie.

So the requirements for this trip were;  sea, quiet and not touristy, only 2-3 hours flight from Prague, must be in Europe just in case of emergency, and a comfortable Bed and Breakfast.  Gozo, the second biggest island in Malta, provided those and more.

Gozo has its eccentricities which make this island all the more special for us. I felt like I  stepped back in time in my hometown, back in my childhood days when the stores/ restaurants’ opening hours depended on Manang’s mood, or when everyone went to church on Sundays dressed in their best.  It’s like having the best of rural living amidst the perks of being an EU/Schengen nation.

Some of Gozo’s quirks are:

  • The locals are very religious.  Their houses have statues of saints and the Virgin Mary.  This actually made me so nostalgic since I was raised in a strict Catholic household.  The fact that there are 365 churches in such a small country speaks volume at how serious they are in their religion.  Yup, one church for each day of the year!

Speaking of church, I had to rummage in my luggage to find something nice and conservative  I could wear for mass on our second day, a Sunday.  My nice and conservative was nothing compared to what people were wearing.  The ladies looked like they were attending an opera while the gentlemen were in their suits.  There was a confirmation going on so the church was jam-packed with locals and their families.   It was a nostalgic experience, one that I would never experience again in my hometown as time has changed and priorities have shifted.

The church in Xaghra, Gozo, Malta.

The children on their way inside the church to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Notice their families in their Sunday best.

My “nice and conservative” outfit that I can also wear straight from church to Ggantija Temples without boiling in it.

  • Part of their tradition, which has also something to do with the religion, is having a feast for their patron saints.  Their fiestas in Gozo start I think in April or May and end in September.  I’m sure about September because Xaghra is the last one to celebrate.

There was a fiesta going on when we were there.  You would know it because they would fire the canon in the morning, noon and evening.  You would hear this loud boom, like the island is under attack.  Good thing we were briefed by our host about it.  He said the local tradition is to fire the canon  to ward off the evil spirits.  Same goes for fireworks.  Yes, they have fireworks in broad daylight, in high noon when the sun shines at its brightest or in the afternoon when it is in its hottest.  The fireworks are also intermittent.  You hear it now and then.  Yes, hear is the word because who does fireworks during the day?  The Maltese apparently.

The village of Ghasri, decked and ready for their fiesta in June.

Each of the Gozitan village is dominated by a magnificent cathedral.

  • Another eccentricity Gozo has is its restaurants’ opening hours.  I’m not sure if this is exclusive for Xaghra where we stayed but for sure it can either make you laugh or grit your teeth.

Some restaurants are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays and sometimes it’s written they are open until 22:00 but when we went a few minutes past 21:00, the restaurant was already closed.

One time Adi went to buy chicken nuggets  for lunch, the lady at the counter asked him for how many orders.  He said one, to go.  The lady said to wait a bit.  When she came back she told him they didn’t have it now, but it will be available in the evening.  Mehdi, our host, said that’s quite a normal scenario there.

Mehdi told us he has this favorite local restaurant but you never seem to know when it’s actually open.  One time he called for reservations and he was told they were closed that day.  When he drove past the restaurant about two hours later, it was open with customers, operating in full swing.

Other than its eccentricities, Gozo is nature’s work of art. Its cliffs are dramatic, the gorges are breathtaking, its hills are steep and the valleys so deep. Everywhere you look you are reminded at the nature’s power to create and how it hangs in balance at mankind’s power to destroy.

 Top photo:  Fungus Rock in Dwerja, one of my favorite places in the island.  Middle: Ramla Bay is a true beauty.  Bottom:  Adi in another favorite place of mine called Mgarr Ix Xini (pronounced em-jar-ee-shini).

2.  Daydream Gozo Bed and Breakfast

We chose to stay in the town of Xaghra (pronounced as Sha-ra), just a few minutes away from the busy capital of Victoria.  I fell in love with Daydream the moment I saw its photos online and fell in love with it even more while staying there.  This bed and breakfast’s great reviews are all true.  Mehdi and Caroline are excellent hosts.  They created a place for their visitors that really feels like home — with two swimming pools as a bonus.

I love that they have a library, with a great selection of books you can borrow or read during your stay.  I love that there’s tea, coffee and cakes/cookies in the kitchen for you to take anytime, or how you can just lounge on their comfortable sofa whenever you like.  The rooms are clean and have balconies with the beautiful view of Marsalforn bay.  The breakfasts are filling and entertaining as Mehdi provided us anecdotes about the island and its locals while cooking eggs for us or other guests.  Truly it was the best and most welcoming accommodation Adi and I ever had.  Even when we were still there, we already missed it.  We hope one day we will be able to visit Gozo and stay at Daydream once again.

Getting there:

There are a lot of options how to get to Gozo.  Here’s a detailed article about it from Air Malta.

For us, we booked it with Caroline and she was the one to organize the transfer for us.  We were greeted by a very nice and bubbly driver at the airport in his shiny Mercedes. He drove us to the port for us to take the ferry on our own.  The drive was about half an hour for €30.

Ferry ticket is €4.65/ person and the ferry trip takes about 25 minutes.  When we got to Gozo side, another driver was waiting for us  to drive us straight to Daydream for €15.  The whole time we felt totally safe and welcomed, which was a great start for embarking on any journey or holiday.

Click here for the complete ferry timetable, and here for car rentals or transfers in Gozo.  For the ultimate Bed and Breakfast, click here.

Til next post!

xoxo

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Dubrovnik (Part 2/2)

The Island of Lokrum

On our fourth and last day in Dubrovnik, Lillian and I woke up early to be able to visit Lokrum.  Our flight back to Prague was at 14:40.  That means we only had the morning to explore the island.

I wish we had more time, though.  I feel I only saw a tiny part of it.  It would be nice to spend a day or two there with a good book or at least swim in that clear Adriatic sea.  It’s remarkable how Croatia has managed to keep their waters clean despite the throng of tourists coming in each year.

It’s very easy to get to the island from Dubrovnik’s Old Town.  I think the boat leaves every 30 minutes from the morning until a certain time in the evening.  We got there at 10:00 and stayed for an hour.  Shame we had to rush back to our room to get our luggage in time to get to the airport at least 2 hours before departure.

Except for the fact that it’s a quick side trip from Dubrovnik and that some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed there,  I had no idea what to expect in this tiny island.  Most of the time, this is how I travel.  I don’t like reading much about the place ahead because for me, the point of visiting is to explore and form my judgement based on real-time experience.

First sight

It was a nice surprise to see lots of rabbits, peacocks and peahens minding their business in the island.  One field was occupied by a lot of grazing rabbits.  A few of them formed a welcoming party and checked out what we’ve got.  When they realized we had nothing to offer, they went back to busying themselves.  The other “locals,”  on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered by our presence.

Staying here overnight is not allowed unless you’re one of them who have dibs on the island, including its sun beds and loungers.

The beach

How come when I read or hear “the beach” the first thing that comes to mind is either the song from All Saints or Leonardo DiCaprio’s post Titanic face?  You’re as old as me if you right away know what I’m talking about.

So, Lokrum’s beach is pebbly and rocky, at least the one Lillian and I stayed on for several minutes on our very short stay in the island.  The water was not that cold considering it was already early autumn.  Maybe late summer or early autumn is the best time to visit Dubrovnik.  I couldn’t imagine how busy it can get in summer.  According to our host, Ante, it is not busy in summer.  It’s crazy.

Excuse our fashion confusion here.  Whereas it was hot in Dubrovnik and Lokrum, we were heading back to Prague on that same day which, most often than not, has a sweater/coat weather even in summer.

You know those bloggers who flood their Instagram feeds with surreal photos? When we were in this part of the island, I was thinking this is would be a perfect place for a fashion shoot.  Just like Dubrovnik, almost every corner here is photogenic.  These photos, taken in a hurry, can’t match the beauty of the place.

The Throne

Last but not the least,  The Throne.  This is the reason why we came here in the first place, because Lillian is a fan of Game of Thrones.  Like I said in my previous post,  I haven’t seen a single episode of the series but I’m always up for an adventure so I happily tagged along and took her reigning photos on the throne.

Since we were there early, there was no queue to get into the Benedictine monastery museum which houses the original iron throne.  I’ve read that the series’ creators  donated it to Dubrovnik.  Today, this is the main reason why GoT fans flock to the island.

In case you’re wondering if I had a photo of myself sitting on it, the answer is no.  I can just hear a chorus of GoT fans screaming why not in pure disbelief.  In a way I can now understand my Uncle’s reaction (or lack of) when we grilled him for details about the Menudo concert he went to decades ago.  He was there to accompany his friends’ kids  back in those times when we were little kids ourselves, and just the name Menudo made me and my friends scream and cry at the same time.  I remember being exasperated at his lack of details.  Me: Is Ricky cute? Him:  Which one is Ricky?  Right.

If ever I get to watch Game of Thrones later and would regret not doing what a fan should have done,  that’s just another reason to fly to Dubrovnik again and experience it differently next time.  It’s certainly one of the places I would like to revisit.

I shall be back.

Traveled: September 29 – October 2, 2017

xoxo

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Dubrovnik (Part 1/2)

The hardest part of this entry is choosing the photos to post.  Dubrovnik is one of the most photogenic places I have ever been to.   Every corner is pretty and photo worthy.  In four days I was there,  I took over 300 shots of this beautiful Croatian city.  So my dilemma right now is — which ones to post?  Ahh, stress…

Okay, let’s start with the bird’s-eye view shots.

The best place to see Dubrovnik’s walled city this way is from Mt. Srd or by taking the cable car ride to and from the mountain.   Lillian and I were very lucky that our amazing host, Ante, offered to drive us to the  top at eight in the morning.

Though coming here is mostly popular at sunset, he recommended to go in the morning so we’ll see how clear the water is.  He also added that the morning light will make the sea look bluer and the medieval city more stunning.  I say he knew his business because these photos are raw and unfiltered.  Dubrovnik certainly doesn’t need filters or any kind of photo-enhancing app.

From the mountain top you’ll see the island of Lokrum sitting right next to Dubrovnik’s medieval city.  The island is very much worth a visit especially if you’re a fan of Game of Thrones.  Lillian, who happens to be one  (I haven’t seen a single episode.  Don’t judge me, I swear I’m normal.), told me it is imperative we visit “the throne.”  We did on our last day but that would require a separate entry.

The City Walls

You haven’t been to Dubrovnik if you haven’t walked along its city walls.  I think the walls that surround its historic center are 2 kilometers long.  The photography vantage points are endless here.  I found myself stopping constantly and taking photos, trying to capture every tiny detail my memory might fail to remember later.

For this particular day, I’m glad I diligently carried my 55-200 mm lens.  My Nikon is my old and trusted buddy, and this particular lens is like my baby.  I mean it also in a literal way because the camera is already heavy.  Add it with an extra lens and it does feel like carrying a baby.  But I’m digressing.

Ok, so here are more photos taken at the city walls with me behind the lens and sometimes assigning Lillian to stand on a particular spot for a photo-op.  Talk about bossing your friends for a nice capture. 🙂

Fort St. John

We came here at sundown. The sunlight reflecting on the seascape was too beautiful for words. Problem was, there were so many people around. It’s hard to have your moment with nature when someone else’s back or face is ruining your view and your peace.  Worst is when some elderly b**ch would rudely tell you to move away because they’d like to have photos of themselves right where you are.  Yes, I’m speaking from experience.  It’s sad what people do for photos especially if they are solely intended for their social media accounts.  It’s twice awful when people more than half a century old would shove manners aside for the sake of showing off to the world at how awesome their lives are when honestly no one even cares.

– End rant here.  Insert pictures below. –


Game of Thrones

Though I haven’t seen the series, I knew Dubrovnik was one of the filming locations for Game of Thrones. But I never knew how crazy the fans could get reenacting some scenes in the series until Lillian and I got at this particular spot in the city. The particular scene I’m talking about? The Walk of Shame.

Imagine my bewilderment when the moment we rounded the corner leading to these steps, I heard a loud chant of “shame, shame, shame ” from this group of senior citizens.  When I looked closer I saw that the ladies were going down the steps while the gentlemen were busy filming them, at the same time chanting “shame” x infinity.  One of the husbands was not satisfied of his wife’s acting. He asked her to go up and down the steps repeatedly while their friends tirelessly chanted on. It was hilarious and very entertaining. Life imitating art at its funniest.


That island right there? That’s where the GoT fans flock as well. Lillian and I went there on our last day.  I’ll save it for the next entry.

 

xoxo

 

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Mostar

So, Mostar.

Truth be told, I’ve never heard of it until I searched for places near Dubrovnik that my friend Lillian and I could go for a day trip during our stay in Croatia last year.  A photo of its iconic bridge popped up on my screen and right away I fell in love with it.

When I thought of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), it was about the war that was constantly on international TV channels for over three years.  I remember flicking through CNN, BBC and other news networks way back and it was there , a constant reminder of how people can be easily triggered to go all the way to the dark side.  (Do they give choco-chip cookies over there?).

So BiH was never on my travel radar.  I’m glad the universe aligned its stars and made me visit Mostar to change the outdated version of it on my mind.

First impression

One thing I right away noticed –  there was a church, a mosque and  a synagogue just a few minutes from one another.  I voiced this out to our guide as we walked towards the old town and he said they all learned to live like that, to accept each other’s religion.   He said it’s normal to be in an interfaith marriage in BiH, that they mark and celebrate all holidays.  The good is that they can drink and be merry during the celebrations.  The bad, economy wise, is that there’s hardly time to work and be productive.

I said I wonder how many of the population share the same sentiment.   After all, religion, for centuries, has been one of the constant reasons of unrest.  He said no, religion or faith has nothing to do with it.  It has always been power and greed.  Religion is just used as a tool to be manipulated by the powerful and greedy.  Preach, brotha!

The old town and the bridge

Entering Mostar’s old town reminded me a bit of those little alleys around Alhambra in Spain.  There’s this certain vibe I cannot put my finger on.  It’s a great vibe, nonetheless.

Like most old towns in Europe,  Mostar’s is a haven for tourists looking for souvenirs and local products to take home to.  It also has a lot of restaurants that offer a taste of authentic Bosnian cuisine.

The bridge held up to my expectations.  It is very pretty especially if you look at it from a distance with the river down below and the restaurants and establishments around it.  Up close, you realize it’s not an easy walk on or across the bridge as the arch is quite steep and the stones are slippery.  Whatever you do, do NOT wear flip flips or any shoes that are bordering to uncomfortable when you visit Mostar.  Those people who did when I was there,  it was extremely painful to look at them crawling their way up or down the bridge.

One of the most interesting happenings here is bridge jumping. Yes, people actually jump off the bridge. I don’t know if they do it for fun, recreation, adrenaline or money. My guess is a little of everything. It looked dangerous but everyone who jumped when we were there looked alright after.

By Restaurant Sadrvan there’s a path that brings you down to the river. This is a great spot to watch those daredevils jump.

The national dish

Eating is a major part in my travels. That’s where the biggest chunk of my budget goes to.
For lunch, Lillian and I went  to Sadrvan. It was full and crowded and I thought, oh no, we might have to catch up with our tour group in an hour without having anything to eat. Luckily we got ushered to a table only after a few minutes of waiting.

We ordered their national dish for two and boy when it arrived on our table, my happiness meter instantly soared up. On the huge plate were different samples of their local dishes, all arranged to activate instant drooling. Each dish complimented one another to create a well satisfying meal.  It was as if my first impression of Mostar, with their different beliefs  apparent in the churches, synagogues and mosques within easy reach from one another, got transferred and served on this silver platter.

The main boulevard

Off the shiny, shimmery, splendid Old Town is the city’s main Boulevard.  I saw some apartment buildings still stained with bullet holes as our tour bus drove past them on our way back to Croatia.  Those bullet holes are a sad reminder that once upon a not so long ago time, Mostar was a melting pot of hatred.

I hope and pray it will never happen again.   Because “no one wins a war, only families die.”

xoxo

 

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One Day in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Finding time to sit down and write is becoming such a challenge in my life.  I don’t even have to say the obvious since it’s been over a year when I had last updated my blog.  I have a million and one things to say about our fight with chondrosarcoma but maybe I should still have a break from it here, at least in this virtual world.  For now let’s talk about one of the best therapies from all ailments in the world.  It’s called travel.

In September of last year I went to a four-day trip to Dubrovnik  in Croatia with my friend Lillian.  Since Dubrovnik is quite close to Bosnia and Herzegovina, we decided to go for a day trip there.  I’m glad we did as it was one of the most interesting trips I’ve ever had.

Travel back down memory lane with me to that day almost half a year ago.  Yes, it’s taking me that long to write about it.  Oh well, better half a year late than never.

Visa to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a part of EU nor Schengen.  For visa requirements, it’s better to inquire directly at your embassy.  In my case, I wasn’t required a visa because I have permanent residency in the Czech Republic which is a part of EU and Schengen.  This right away gave me entry under substitute visas.

Day Trip from Dubrovnik

There are a lot of travel agencies offering a day tour package to BiH.  All you have to do is go to an information center in Dubrovnik, select a brochure which package or which company you’d like to go with.  For a day trip without food, we paid 350 Croatian kunas each (roughly €50). Unfortunately, I forgot the name of the company as I lost the brochure which I thought I kept together with this trip’s memorabilia.  Shame because this company gave us the most interesting,  if not the most entertaining, tour guide in Mostar.  Serves me right for not writing about this trip, stat.

The tour started at 7am.   We were the first  to be picked up.  With this we had to get up really early, but the good news was we got to choose the best seats on the bus.

Tip:  Choose the seats to the left.  The view of  the Adriatic Sea from your bus window will take your breath away:

 

Itinerary

Our stops from this day trip were the seaside town of Neum, the quiet village of Počitelj, the beautiful town of Mostar which was the main dish of this trip, and the cascading waterfalls of Kravica.

Neum

My first glimpse of Bosnian life was in this seaside town of Neum.  The bus stopped here for just about 15 minutes,  enough for a toilet and/ or coffee break.  It’s the only Bosnian town along its 20- kilometer Adriatic coastline.

It’s interesting how we had to get to the Croatian side of the border to leave Neum then enter another border to get inside BiH again.  Yes, we crossed three borders one way, six total during the whole trip.

Coffee break in the Bosnian town of Neum.

Počitelj

Our second stop was the small village of Počitelj.  We only had half an hour to check this place out so Lillian and I decided to go up to the citadel to for a picturesque bird’s-eye view of the village and the Neretva river.  I wish we had more time though.  I would have loved to explore it some more, buy fresh fruits from the locals who were selling mostly tangerines that time and just soak up to the sights and sounds of the place.

Hello, Počitelj!

Beautiful and peaceful.

The ruins of Počitelj.

Mostar

Beautiful, mysterious, chirpy and charming Mostar was the highlight of this trip.  I’ve never seen a place so diverse and so accepting like this one.

When I thought of Bosnia and Herzegovina before, it was all about the war and terror I’ve seen on TV.  The bombings, displacements of families, the hatred amongst its people were what came to mind.  But Mostar re-shaped my ideas about the country.  I know three hours were just enough to see the surface of the place, but those three hours in Mostar gave me a different perspective on culture, war, religion and co-existing in place.

Side view of the iconic Mostar bridge.

Mostar’s view from one side of its iconic bridge.

Mostar definitely deserves a separate entry so I’ll save the rest of the photos there. Hopefully it won’t take me another half a year to post about it. 😀

Kravica Falls

Our last stop on this tour was the pretty Kravica Falls.  By this time, I was almost dead from the heat so it was a good thing the bus was air-conditioned and we had time to nap before going on foot again.

The waterfalls are not that far of a walk downhill from the bus stop, roughly only about 10 minutes if you’re used to taking walks or hikes.

Maybe because I’m from the Philippines where waterfalls are quite common, or maybe because we came here just at the end of summer when the waters didn’t cascade or pound into a dramatic fury, that I didn’t find the place that impressive.  Still, it’s undeniably beautiful.

Sidenotes:

  • The Bosnian currency is mark (convertible mark or KM), but they widely accept euro and Croatian kuna as well.  For this trip we only paid food, water and whatnot in euros and small items like postcards in Croatian kunas.
  • Prague was cold and gloomy when we left for this trip.  The average temperature in Prague that time in late September was 14°C . When I checked the forecast in Dubrovnik and Mostar it said about 19°C.  So I packed trench coats and long-sleeved dresses/ shirts forgetting to check the humidity and real feel, and forgetting in account that forecasts are never accurate.  Long story short,  I was boiling in this dress (and shoes) I was wearing.
  • The homemade pomegranate liquors they were selling at Kravica were great gift items to family and friends who like a shot of good liquor now and then.
  • Lastly, a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina if you’re in Croatia, is very much worth it.  Do go for it.

 

Date visited:  September 30, 2017

xoxo

 

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Waltzing Through The Waves (Part 2)

Interlude:

I was 15 when my mother died.  She passed away two months before her 47th birthday.

I remember it clearly.  I went home at lunchtime to pick papayas from our side yard because we needed some for our Home Economics class in the afternoon.  Next thing I knew, my cousin Narlyn was screaming my name saying my mom collapsed while she was having lunch with my dad at school where she taught.  They  brought her at my auntie’s house a few meters from ours.  Our auntie had a jeepney that would take mom to the nearest hospital which was two towns away.  An ambulance was nonexistent in our little part of the world back then.

I ran as fast as I can.  The small crowd that gathered around her at Mama Noring’s house parted as people let me through.  She was barely conscious but she opened her eyes when she heard me calling her name. She tried to talk  but couldn’t.  Her eyes welled up with tears as she looked at me.

That was the last time I saw her alive.  She had a stroke.  Years later I realized that with fast medical assistance she would have made it.

I think of her often especially now that Adi is sick.  The circumstances of living in a sleepy town of a developing country didn’t give her a second chance to live and love.  With Adi, medical science is here at our disposal.  He will make it.  I will do everything in my power for him to make it.

CHAPTER FOUR:  Dr. Chovanec and the Angel in Disguise

On his second check up, Adi was told to go for a CT scan.  The hospital gave him the date– May 4th.  It was almost a month from his initial check up which was on April 10th.  It was like an eternity of waiting.

And it was an eternity of waiting for the biopsy result, an eternity of trying to pull ourselves together, of learning to waltz through the daily grind despite our inner turmoils.  We coped by talking, by assuring each other we’ll make it through whatever it will be.  We took strength from each other.  I took extra strength in the only way I knew how — I prayed.

May 4th came, his CT scan happened.  The next day the hospital called to say they had the results of both biopsy and CT scan and to please come next week to see Dr. Chovanec, the head of the ENT department.  For the hospital to schedule Adi with the head of the department gave us a sense of foreboding.

So now we’ve come full circle to May 12th, when it was confirmed Adi had chondrosarcoma in his nasal cavities.  The ultimate question then was, what now?

My husband, in his understandably dazed state, only remembered few things the doctor told him.  He said he was told he needed surgery, stat, to remove the tumor and then later he would have to go through proton beam therapy to make sure the cancer cells are eliminated.

Every surgery comes with risks but this one comes with bigger ones like blindness, infection, bleeding — the list is awfully long.  The procedure is called craniofacial resection.  The name alone sounded ominous to me.  It’s a major surgery that’s done by incisions through the skull and on the face to gain access to the tumor.  He will also have a long incision in his right leg where the surgeons will get fats or tissues to “cushion” his brain.  Dr. Chovanec told him straight, without mincing words, that he might die during the procedure, but he might also live to tell his tale.

If you were Adi, what would you decide to do?  Get the surgery with the risks it entails, or choose to live the remaining days, months, a few years of your life to the fullest before succumbing to cancer?

If you were me, what would you do?

We spent that weekend in denial and in fear.  One of my greatest fears, him leaving first, seemed to be happening before my eyes.

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Seasons of love. Top: Autumn 2014, Loket Castle, Czech Republic. Bottom: Winter 2016, Prague, CZ.

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Four days later, we found ourselves in Dr. Chovanec’s office.  Adi was still undecided about having the surgery so I tagged along to meet his doctor and would be surgeon. I also wanted to feel if I could entrust my husband to him in case he’d opt for the surgery.

Lucky for us, Dr. Martin Chovanec was the perfect balance of straightforward and sympathetic.  He was also very patient answering our questions, especially mine since I was mostly the one asking.  We felt his sincerity to help which, unfortunately, is lacking in many doctors these days.  Other doctors treat you like you’re just one of the statistics, just another one of the many that they see everyday.  They seem to forget that to them you may be just one of the ants, but for other ants  you are one of their own.  You are special, you are loved.

Adi already felt comfortable with him from the very beginning.  In tough situations, I listen mostly to my instinct. My instinct told me here is someone who doesn’t bullshit us, who sticks to the facts and is committed to saving lives.  Surgeon, checked.

Still we wanted to weigh down our choices.  “How much time does my husband have without surgery?,” I asked.  Dr. Chovanec answered:

Two, four months.  Maybe two years.  But he will be in extreme pain and his character will change.  He’ll be irritable, depressed.  There might also be a change in appearance, like his eyes would literally bug out because of the tumor pushing them.”

I looked at my husband and my bestfriend.  Eleven and a half years of happy married life flashed before me in a quick montage.  I cannot see him hurt.  I cannot see him in so much pain. But I’m afraid for him to also take the risk of having his skull be opened.  He might die on the operating table.  Worst, he might come out alive from the surgery with major impairments or disabilities.  Ultimately, I knew it’s going to be his decision and not mine.

Dr. Chovanec saw we were struggling with our choices. He scheduled Adi for an MRI on May 19th and told us to meet him again on the 24th for our decision.  He then asked us to follow him to meet a patient he operated on five days ago.  This patient had more or less the same radical surgery that Adi would get.

And there she was, sitting in her hospital bed, browsing her phone.  Her head was partly shaven where the long stitches were.  Imagine yourself wearing a headband, that’s how the incision ran — from ear to ear.  Her left eye was bruised and swollen but if you’d cover her head, she could pass as someone who just had a bad fall.

She stood up to meet us, shook Adi’s hand and mine.  Adi asked a few questions not wanting to tire her.  She answered and assured us it will be okay.  I was in tears through it all.  Here is the living proof that there is hope for Adi.  If this lady made it, Adi would also make it.  Thank you, God, for showing us it’s possible.

A week later Adi confirmed to get the surgery.  Dr. Chovanec scheduled it on June 7, 2016.

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Seasons of love.  Top:  Adi and his parents, Spring 2015, Konopiště, Czech Republic.  Bottom:  Summer 2015, Bavaria, Germany.

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CHAPTER 5:  Before  The Day

By now you’re probably wondering how much is the cost of the surgery.  Better yet, how much is the expected cost for all the hospital visits and treatments?  My answer is I don’t know. Not yet, anyway. I’m thankful to the Czech healthcare system for eliminating the financial problem in the equation.  Except for some medicines, our insurance is covering most of Adi’s medical expenses.  I don’t know what would be left of us if we still had to worry about the financial side of this story.

It’s June 6th now, one day before the day.  Adi is admitted at the hospital early in the morning. There’s nothing for me to do except try to do the mundane at work and get a hold of my nerves as much as  I can.

His parents, who live two hours away by car, offer to keep me company at home especially for tonight.  I know they are beyond worried  as I am and I don’t want to add anything to that by being needy so we agree for them to come after the surgery to see him. For now  we all deal with our fears in our own separate ways.

At 5pm Adi sends me a  message that he’s just hanging around the hospital with nothing to do.  I take the subway straight from work to visit him.  It’s a sunny spring afternoon, so opposite of how I’m feeling inside.  I feel numb and disembodied but also hopeful.  Hours of praying have given me hope.

We talk by the hospital entrance.  Adi reminds me what to do if the smoke detector at the apartment goes off in false alarm again.  He asks if I always carry my pepper spray and tells me to always have my phone in hand in case I need to call someone for help. While he’s going through his list of reminders for my safety, Dr. Chovanec passes us by on his way home. He wishes us good luck for tomorrow and tells me he’ll call me right after the surgery.

At home at around 9pm, I get a call from Adi.  He says that a nurse already shaved his head.  He is about to shave his chest and right leg.  They also gave him a pill to help him sleep. He’s thinking of taking it in an hour or two.

In the complete silence of our apartment I think of how we’ve both come at this moment together, of how this could be our last.  I feel no bitterness nor anger.  We love and we are loved.  In essence, Adi and I have everything that sums up living.

— To be continued.—-

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