I am finally emerging from a 40 day hiatus in the Balkans and here comes chapter 2.
I ve always been drawn to the Balkans-I didn’t know much about it (besides the confusing wars) and we aren’t geographically close, but it always felt close in spirit. What is the Balkan region? Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina. What was Yugoslavia? B & H, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. Although there were similarities between USSR and Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia was more developed economically, less repressed, culture was less politically influenced, but it was similarly militarized. Yugoslavia broke up in the early 90’s.
My “romanticized” plan was to travel, to whip out my paintbrush anytime I pleased and create masterpieces by the dozens, stay in secluded places, write (including these musings), sketch, take a poetry course and find the meaning of life. Oh, I also intended to go to 6-7 countries. Funny me. I packed my painting gear which added about a million extra kilos and diligently dragged it around. In 40 days I managed three countries: Croatia (Split, Zadar, Rijeka, Zagreb, Senj, Šibenik, Dubrovnik), Montenegro (Tivat, Kotor Bay, Lovcen National park, Ada Bojana, Skadar Lake, Podgorica) and Serbia (Belgrade, Tara National Park). On day 39 out of 40 I painted. On day 57 out of 40 I write. Ha! I traveled by myself, and with a friend-we would meet for periods of time, then split, then meet again. The locals I met took me on adventures too, so it was a perfect balance of alone and together time.
So first, here are my short impressions of the countries! If you are planning a visit, or want to know more, I would be happy to help if I can.
Croatia has so many lovely towns and they all are so different, it’s like visiting different countries! Roman, medieval, Austro Hungarian, Venetian periods and styles...I fell in love with Split and its Diocletian Palace-a Roman palace built in 305 AD and people still live in it! Coast and nature are beautiful, the Adriatic sea is my favorite-deep, dark blue, sometimes turquoise, warm, with schools of sardines swirling around. I really think you can tell a lot by a country or city by it’s street art, and here, especially in Rijeka, which is considered the “alternative” city, street art was incredible and abundant. Croatia has many islands and waterfalls too! Next time. This was my second time in Croatia, and undoubtedly its one of my favorite countries in the world! In Croatia I was conquering my fear of heights by jumping off tall (to me!) cliffs in the sea.
Montenegro’s nature is stunning. Their National parks are incredible, I could have stayed there for a long time getting lost in space and time. I was beautifully affected by Lovcen national park, where every blade of grass, every rock was inspiring! Kotor bay is one incredible drive where tall purple mountains meet the sea, but since it’s a bay it feels like a magical turquoise lake. Towns, however, I did not develop feelings for: Tivat’s fancy Porto Montenegro (I was there for a tango festival) felt like an artificial human colony on Mars, with Gucci and Rolex shops. Kotor was medieval and a beautiful; it would get dark very quickly because mountains are so high. Russians have bought a lot of real estate in Montenegro, so as you imagine the spirit of the country has changed. In Montenegro I was working on my “fears and incapabilities” of driving stick on serpentine mountain roads.
Serbia was fascinating: I took a 12 hr train from Montenegro capital Podgorica to Serbia capital Belgrade. The route is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe, and indeed it was! I loved Belgrade: the city is beautiful in conventional and non conventional ways, full of contrasts: one block its a beautiful building, another you are under a shady bridge or an alley, locals assured it was really safe. Anyone with a case of communist era nostalgia should visit. Estonia has rapidly changed in the recent years and does not carry that vibe anymore: a lot of buildings have been either repurposed or taken down, and a new “European” city built up with a myriad of new startups. Belgrade felt like it got frozen in time: the evidence of what was shows up in communist and brutalist style buildings, and apparently those styles are still used in architecture. Belgrade has been destroyed and rebuilt over 40 times-more than any city in the world! In the 80-90’s it was a place to be for clubbing I hear with clubs nested in most unexpected places. You can feel new energy running through the city and I am sure in no time it will be on everyone’s list. Girls were all tall, beautiful and fancy and I never saw them eat. Well, no, I saw one girl eat a banana once. Apparently Belgrade has the biggest tango community in Europe, and indeed, a beginners milonga looked like a festival! I visited Tara national park, which was another glorious place I did not want to leave. Verdict: I would love to spend more time in Serbia. In Serbia I was conquering fear of spooky dark places by walking through mountain train tunnels, the longest one was 260 m!
In all three countries people live on coffee and cigarettes. And Rakija - homemade Brandy.
In Croatia and Montenegro grapes and kiwis and pomegranates were everywhere!
It was painful to see, but Montenegro and Serbia are quite dirty-people throw piles of trash in random places, including a casket, blanket and all, tossed on a side of a church. That sight gave us a chill and a giggle all at once.
It’s a cats’ world out there. Cats everywhere, which made me really happy! People feed them, and generally they look quite pleased with their lives.
Now, the feelings:
I did not expect to fall in love so many times - with places, with people, with art, with nature, That means that heart broke just as many times when I had to leave. The ache reminded me to breathe in the present, breathe out the change.
The travels have exercised my trust in intuition, patience and the universal flow. Our need to control, hold tightly, and predict is enormous, and frankly, quite useless: we can’t receive a key with a tightly closed hand: you must open up your palm. Vulnerability.
There was something about art, artisans and artists in these places: I felt like I was dipped into free thinking, free spirited and independent world where art was just that: a human experience, different and unique as every one of us. I could feel the artists not caught up in trends or fashions. I could feel artists’ pride for being who they are. Yes, It might have been a lucky happenstance how art experience happened for me, but it was powerful.
I have met amazing people. People that I wanted to meet but didn’t know who they were yet. Some of them had glorious conversations with me, some fed me, some shattered my brain and made me rethink my beliefs and challenged to new levels of honesty with self. I barely talked about my art, and it was glorious: to be this floating spirit for some time, not Inna the artist.
Answers always come. It’s hard to be patient, but listening to yourself, being honest, doing the right thing and having faith will show you the next step.
I loved the more simplistic way of life and lack of inflated egos in some of these places. Humans were just... humans, trying to make a life. Sharing. It was beautiful to detach from my life and just be.
Sometimes what we set out to do is not what we will actually do, and the sooner we accept what is actually happening to us at the moment, the more peace we will have. I felt foolish for dragging all my heavy painting gear around and only using it once. I felt guilt and pressure for not painting when that was my intention all along. It took me a while to work through not “working”. As always, Universe knew better, and gave me exactly what I needed-a break, a chance to pause. Now it is time to integrate all those experiences into something new.
It is nice to be back home with family in Estonia again.
Thank you for reading!