So long, farewell, au revoir, auf weidersehen, goodbye, doviđenja!

Well, radio silence has been due to the fact we moved on from BiH and headed back to Scotland a couple of months ago.  We’d been in Sarajevo for 18 months and Alister got a new job elsewhere in the Balkans so he headed that way and Emma and I headed back to Scotland to spend some time with family and friends.

After a long, long winter (seriously, HOW MUCH snow?), the weather in Sarajevo picked up beautifully before we left and I was pleased to leave as the city came back into bloom – it left me feeling much more benevolent towards Sarajevo after the winter tried to kill us Winking smile.  In the weeks before we left BiH, we made efforts to get round our favourite restaurants and spots, as a goodbye. Here is a photo blog of our efforts:

One last trip to Sarajevo Zoo, which we mainly went to for the park.  For the incredibly cheap admission price, it’s well worth paying to use the excellent park and if so inclined, say hello to the animals.

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Baby goat season apparently!

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Emma gets brave

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A loose … something.  We never did quite ascertain what it was but it had escaped its enclosure and was happily being fed by everyone who passed.  We told a zoo employee who shrugged and looked blank.  “There’s a lion loose?  Eh, go have a coffee.”

There’s something a little odd about the animals at Sarajevo Zoo.  Your first hint is the man outside the gates selling bags and bags of the local delicacy – peanut flavoured corn crisps.  Think Wotsits (for the UK folk) or Cheetos (for the Americans / Canadians) but foul tasting.   They’re MAD about them here, you get about 20 different varieties of peanut (kiki riki) crisps and precious little else.  Would it really kill you to make decent cheese and onion or bacon flavour, hmm?  Baring teeth smile

Anyway, you think to yourself, this enterprising bloke is selling snacks for the kids.  But nooooo… That’s not quite accurate.  Instead, presumably through years of conditioning, the animals seem to weaned onto a diet of peanut snacks.  Kids and adults arm themselves with bags of these revolting titbits and throw them liberally at the animals.  All of them.  Ducks, swans, ponies, goats, strange racoon like creatures we can’t quite identify.  We took bread for the ducks and oh, how they laughed.  If ducks could laugh, I suppose.  They turned their beaks up, swished their fluffy little tails in our direction and ignored our offerings.  Yet along comes a knowledgeable local, chucks in a peanut delicacy and whoosh, the duck is there, snapping eagerly.  Go figure.

Randomly, same deal with the baby goats.  Grass?  Pah, no thanks.  Your hand?  Nope.  So much for ‘goats will eat anything’.  Peanut foulness?  Yes please!  More, more!  They recognise the bright orange bag of these crisps and trot quickly to the fence, bleating urgently.  Me, me!  Throw me one of those things! 

So there’s a tip.  The animals in Sarajevo Zoo don’t eat normal animal food.  Instead, arm yourselves with icky kiki riki snacks and get ready to be popular.  Mind you, if we’d bought any, I think Emma would have eaten them.  She truly assimilated, loving the peanut flavoured snacks to the extent she’ll exaggeratedly sniff the packet, lick her lips and then chomp them, pausing to huff her disgusting breath on us with malicious delight.  At least you don’t get them in the UK Smile.

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We also went to Vrelo Bosna one last time.  It’s so beautiful there, especially when the weather is favourable.  The river and falls tend to run very fast due to the snow melting on the hills and mountains – the water is very cold too, as we found out when we dipped our hands in.  We took bread again for the ducks and swans and they were a little more receptive but still, you could tell they were looking for kids approaching with bright orange kiki riki flavoured treats at which point they’d have abandoned us and our bready snacks for more heady delights.

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Emma held a little going away party for her classmates at Bambi 2, one of her favourite soft plays in the Importanne Centre.  We had around 18 kids attend and they seemed to have a good time, judging by the deafening noise and general hysteria.  It was actually highly chaotic and I was a little afraid a Lord of the Flies scenario would emerge but eventually, after a couple of hours energetic play, the kids staggered home and we collapsed from exhaustion.

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Emma and Sadžida

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Em and Zarina

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Em, Nera and Ismihan

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Em and Esme – aren’t they cute?!

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Joined by Azra

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Em and Tajra, one of her very best friends Red heart

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Emma was very, very lucky to receive some going away presents from her classmates and the teachers:

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Opening her presents from Tajra, what could they be?

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The present from her class – 3 new Yoohoo & Friends toys!!

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How happy?

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She calls this her telephone but it’s a mini MP3 player from Vedad.  We didn’t think she’d use it but she loves it, sticks the earphones in and howls along to the songs. 

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A fantastic map of Sarajevo from Tajra and her family.  We’ll all treasure this as a great reminder of our time here.

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Em and her growing Yoohoo / Fluffy family collection.  One very happy little girl Open-mouthed smile

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Emma also received some extra special presents from her teachers, Amela and Senada.  This is a memory folder, with lovely photos of her school, friends and the teachers.  Really lovely.

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We were especially touched by this and feel grateful Emma had the chance to go to kindergarten here and meet such lovely people.  Her Bosnian language skills were no doubt greatly enhanced by being at a Bosnian speaking school too.  Though she’s shy and won’t speak Bosnian to anyone but us, she is perfectly capable of conversing and understands everything her friends and teachers say to her.  I know she’ll lose this ability when we leave but hopefully in the future she’ll learn another language.

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Her class, a motley crew!

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A folder of pictures some of the kids drew for Emma

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Amela and Senada, our favourite teachers

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It’s true, Emma didn’t nap in the day anymore much to the chagrin of her teachers.  It was a pretty big cultural difference that Bosnian kids seem to sleep in the day up until 5/6pm and run riot all evening, going to bed quite late.  This horrifies us, Emma stopped napping at 3 years and goes to bed at a decent hour.  Equally, I think Bosnians are very perturbed and confused by this.  As a compromise, Emma would lie down on a mat at nap time and try to be quiet but she was under strict instructions from me NOT to sleep, as I know she’d be awake until midnight and I couldn’t cope with that. 

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We got a folder of some of Emma’s work too.  The kids here don’t start formal education until age 6 so they don’t actively learn much at kindergarten but it was nice to see some of Emma’s efforts.  This seems to be a kind of growth chart, height, weight, eye colour, shoe size etc.

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Er, I do believe this is me… Thanks, kid Winking smile

As a thank you to the school, we made a collage for everyone and took in some presents: sweets for the kids, flowers and chocolates for the teachers.  We also donated some toys Emma does not need which seemed to thrill the kids – I understand the hula hoop has been hidden by a teacher so perhaps there were some fights over it!

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Emma helped me pack as we got ready to leave.  Here she is squeezing the air out of her Space Hopper.  A unique method.

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Her suitcase full of toys and books, with all her soft toys vacuum packed into two bags.  We’ve gotten rid of a lot of stuff but these are the important items that came with us.

We also tried to get to our favourite restaurants one last time, including Vappiano (great BBQ pizza – link), Piccolo Mondo (great, cheap pizza in general), Sushi San (amazing sushi, sooooo good – link), Dveri in the Baščaršija (link) and of course the lovely, incredibly cheap ice cream that’s on sale everywhere.  I must admit the local food has not been one of my favourite things about living here, it’s not really to my taste or palate.  I think Alister will miss the Ćevapi though and we’ll both miss the amazing choice and quality of fresh fruit and veg available in summer. 

Things I’ll miss about BiH:

– The amazing, delicious fresh bread from the local bakeries.  We are so spoiled for choice.  There’s not much that tastes better than warm, fresh bread straight out of the oven Smile.

– The fruit and veg markets.  Fresh, cheap and amazing choice (when the seasons are right).  Beats supermarket food by a long shot and we won’t get nearly the same choice for the same price at home.

– Spotting the blatant money laundering enterprises that pop up all over town – cafes, jewellery shops, even an apoteka (a chemist!).  Made me laugh every time.  We used to go into the suspect apoteka purely to see how low their stock standards were as they didn’t seem to supply anything remotely medical Winking smile

– Cheap taxis – ok, you might take your life in your hands getting in one but they are cheap and quick.

– The glorious spring and summer weather (and the frequent ice cream cones!).

Things I will not miss:

– The pollution – really not good for anyone’s health and especially difficult in winter when the woodstoves are burning.

– The ants that were determined to take over our house.  Fine, you win, have it!

– Buying food from the supermarkets, especially meat, and finding it’s gone off by the time you get it home.  As Alister once pointed out, we should cook and eat it in the supermarket to avoid wasting our money and contracting food poisoning.

– The crazy driving standards.  Well, I say standards but I mean the opposite thereof, whatever that might be.  The incessant horn beeping – I think it’s illegal to drive here without beeping your horn every 20 yards – not to mention the blind overtaking and irrational aggression.   Chill out people, you’ll get there, you don’t really need that five second advantage cutting me up and overtaking me on a red light gave you.

– The lack of car seats for kids.  I saw this in Cayman a lot too – people blithely driving around with kids bouncing around the car, front seats, back seats, roof – whatever.  Even babies being held in the passenger seat.  Because we all know that’s the safest form of travel for a child, yes?

– The spitting and litter.  Have some pride, people Sick smile.

I guess there were been a lot of cultural differences to adjust to and we perhaps didn’t manage them all with total success but staying in BiH was interesting and fun, for the most part.  We learned a lot about the region and did a little travelling and were ready for the next adventure.  On that note, may I introduce the  newest member of our family:

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Harry, born in May this year Red heart.

Hit the Road, Jack… Trip to Jajce and Banja Luka.

As our time in BiH grows short we decided to take a trip over the long March weekend.  We intended to head to Dubrovnik as I’ve never been and we didn’t want it to become our Cuba – when we lived in Cayman, we just  never made it to the nearby Cuba, assuming we would get there one day.  However, Dubrovnik remained out of our reach as we realised Emma’s passport was about to run out, so in a slight panic, off it went to be renewed. 

Restricted to BiH, we decided to head for the historical town of Jajce, a 2-3 hour drive and then on to Banja Luka, the second biggest city in BiH and the capital of the RS.  It is only another couple of hours on from Jajce so seemed a good idea though the roads are slow and difficult especially if you get stuck behind anything slower than you.  Not being in possession of the Crazy Bosnian Driver gene we didn’t like to overtake on blind corners and so the journey took a little longer but it was worth it.

So, Jajce first.  We left late on Friday afternoon and got there after dark.  We’d read about Hotel Plivsko Jezero on Lake Pliva, just outside of the town, and turned up looking for a room.  As it’s still a quiet and cold time of year, we got a room easily and for a good price but the best part was waking up in daylight and stepping out on to our balcony to see the lake, gleaming in the foggy light.  I am sure in summer it would be spectacular but it was lovely enough for us, especially to feel we were out of smoggy Sarajevo and in to the countryside with fresh air. 

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The view from our balcony of Lake Pliva

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Emma enjoying a spot of breakfast

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Our room in Hotel Plivsko Jezero

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Emma’s ‘secret’ bed that pulled out from the sofa, she was pretty pleased with herself on it.

The hotel was lovely, well placed, a good restaurant and with a playground for kids so Emma was happy.  They have rowboats for the summer and clearly operate a secret lab for breeding giant wildlife:

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We’re gonna need a bigger slice of bread

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The hotel

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Playing in the park outside the hotel

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On Saturday we headed into Jajce itself for a look around.  The town is an old settlement, dating from the 14th century and for time served as the capital of an independent Bosnian kingdom, so it’s important historically too.  Ruins of the castle and other fortifications remain and are being renovated for tourist expansion.  As a whole, the town suffered very badly in the Bosnian War and evidence of this remains, mainly structurally but renovations are on-going and the town impressively aspires to achieve inclusion on the World Heritage list.

The town played an important part in WW2:  In the Sokol House, built in 1878, there was a meeting of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) was held on November 29, 1943, at which important decisions related to the establishment of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia were made.  Additionally Marshall Tito resided in a house here during WW2, though only a couple of walls remain due to bombing during the Bosnian War. 

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The fortress walls and gateway in Jajce

We explored some of the ruins, which are extra interesting because many houses are built among them which makes for a jarring contrast.  The walls of the fortress occupy a large space of 11,200 square metres, are 300 metres long and at the highest point, the citadel is 470m above sea level – we didn’t climb that far up!  We didn’t get round everything but went to the little museum and had a guided tour around the catacombs – which in reality are a secret, underground church.  Obviously Em wouldn’t go into it so we took turns and the guide kindly explained the history twice.  We really wanted to see the Mithraic Temple, the remains of a pre-Christian worshipping ground to Mithras discovered in 1931 but dating back to the 4th century, however it was closed for renovations.

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The museum in Jajce

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The catacombs, or underground church – atmospheric!

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We also saw the ancient tower of St Luke which was built as part of the Holy Mary Church, in gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance styles.  These too were closed off for renovations but we could see them behind the barriers.  The church is significant as legend has it the remains of St Luke the Evangelist were entombed here and, depending on what you read, were either brought here for posterity by the last Bosnian Queen, Mara Jelena or taken away by her as she left the country.  It is the last surviving medieval bell tower of its style in this part of the country.

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St Luke’s tower

Finally we saw the beautiful Pliva Waterfalls, the sixth largest in the world.  Originally 30m high, due to an earthquake during the Bosnian War and an attack on the nearby power plant, the area was flooded and the falls are now 22m high.  Uniquely situated in the heart of the town, this is where the river Pliva ends and flows into the Vrbas river, creating two lakes, Veliko jezero (Big lake) and Malo jezero (Little lake).  It’s a stunning sight:

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The falls and river

Saturday afternoon we hit the road again and got to Banja Luka around late afternoon.  Again, we parked up and wandered around before securing a hotel, Hotel Vidović which was well placed, modern and spacious.  The price was more expensive but Banja Luka is a bigger, busier place so it was to be expected.  The city is also home to a university, museums, art galleries, theatres and several government buildings.  It has a long, varied and sometimes deeply unpleasant history, particularly the events that took place during the Bosnian War.  Currently the relationship between the RS and the Federation (where we live) is extremely strained and cannot be explained in a few paragraphs so I’m just going to stick to tourist stuff, in an impartial and non-complicated manner.

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As we didn’t have much time in the city, we explored the centre before having a rest in our hotel then heading out for dinner.  We’d been recommended a restaurant called Mala Stanica (link) and I have to say it was one of the best restaurants we’ve ever been to and quite possibly the best meal I’ve had here Bosnia as a whole!  We made the canny if slightly irresponsible decision to order ice cream for Emma’s main course (she had eaten earlier) to keep her occupied (Parenting 101) which was a wise move as she seemed very happy, mixing breadsticks with her fruit and ice cream.  Odd, but happy. 

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Ice cream for dinner?  Yes please!

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Mmm, breadsticks and ice cream…

I had chicken satay and chips and Alister has pork (a mandatory choice for him outside of the Federation where it’s not available) stuffed with goats cheese and plums – both delicious.  We had pudding too but that was sheer greed and neither of us could manage more than a few bites.  Everything was brilliant, the food, the service and the ambiance.  We were finished relatively early and took a walk through the city at night back to our hotel.  I think we were all asleep early after the activity and overstuffing our tummies.

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Mala Stanica, translates as Small Station, site of a former railway station

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Took this photo for you, Dad, though you might appreciate it Winking smile

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My meal

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Alister’s meal

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Results shortly after…

Sunday morning we explored a bit more, went to the Kastel – the medieval fortress, which is fairly poorly maintained but has a nice play park in the centre and in summer hosts musical concerts.  It’s also on the bank of the river Vrbas which you can see from the walls of the fortress.  We stopped to get an ice cream lolly pop for Emma, looked at the market – fresh produce and clothes etc – then hit the road to head home in time for Monday and school / work / napping respectively.   All in all, a lovely weekend!

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Indoor market

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The Kastel in Banja Luka

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Playpark in the middle of the fortress walls

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There was a building in the middle too, not sure what it was, barracks or a church maybe. 

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Emma playing in the park, she loved the tyre swing best of all

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Good morning!  Regular readers may remember that last year, our first in BiH, we were taken by surprise one morning when we got to school to find all the parents giving the teachers flowers.  Being highly astute, with almost Holmes-esque  powers of deduction, we realised we were missing something important.  What was it?  It was, of course, International Women’s Day – see link to last year’s blog post: International Women’s Day 2011.

We vowed this year not to be caught unawares and have been reminding each other for at least three weeks to be prepared, mainly as we wanted to get involved in thanking the lovely teachers at Emma’s school for all their kindness towards us, the bumbling foreigners, over the last year.  So last night we bought individual flowers for the four teachers and cook, carefully stored them in my travel coffee cup (no coffee included, just water) and this morning, Emma proudly carried them into school:

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Here she is on the way to school on this chilly morning

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Presenting the flowers to her two favourite teachers: Senada on the right and Amala on the left  Open-mouthed smile

As for me, I was awoken with a bag shoved in my face containing cards from Emma and Alister and a nice box of chocolates – pretty good way to wake up if you ask me.  I was with the two of them last night when they popped to the shops and in order to maintain the surprise, I was ordered to sit on a bench while they rushed around for something suitable.  Upon emerging from the shop, Emma grinned proudly at me, toting a carrier bag and warningly (and repeatedly) said to me: “this is not for you, don’t look at it.  Don’t look!  It’s not for you anyway.”   She has a future in deception, I feel.  This morning at school she assured me she’d have a surprise for me later.  I hope it’s not a dead spider.  Or a live one.

Alister has gotten in on the act by taking chocolates in to work for the women in his team.  As he’s given up chocolate for Lent, there’s no ulterior motive there Winking smile.  When I walk around town later, I will see lots of impromptu flower stalls that have sprung up on street corners, women carrying flowers and men looking confused before the date clicks with them.  All the flowers on display are actually a very pretty sight, particularly as spring as yet to hit us and we’ve not seen any snowdrops, crocuses or daffodils.

So Happy International Women’s Day to all the lovey women in our life, across the world.  A special shout out to Olga and Maya, whom I know will also be celebrating when they wake up in their part of the world Red rose.

 

Svijet Dinosaurusa (World of Dinosaurs)

Through part of January and February, a dinosaur exhibition has been running and at the zoo, called Svijet Dinosaurausa.  We managed to get there on the last day and I’m really glad we managed to catch it, despite the crippling snow that has brought the country to a crawl, if not a standstill, in places.  In fact, in this case, I think the snow enhanced the exhibit as you will hopefully see from the photos below.

The extremely successful exhibition consisted of 52 life size exhibits reconstructed by the German Paleontological Research Center and the Museum of Palaeontology in Hanover.  Bit of a mouthful, eh?  I Googled this and got no results so maybe it’s a giant German trick!  Or maybe not *shrug*.  Anyway, the exhibit drew in big crowds, even in snowstorms, and was more than worth a look. 

Emma was cautious going into this exhibit as she’s not keen on big, scary dinosaurs.  Her last viewing of dinosaur skeletons and large mammal reconstructions was in Vienna a year ago and resulted in hysterical screaming (her at the dinosaurs and me at her) and the year before that, a similar outing to the American Museum of Natural History in NY provoked a similar result so we took the time to explain to her what we were going to see.  She knows that dinosaurs are extinct (I’ve just asked her when dinosaurs existed and she said “a hundred sixty thousand years ago and now they are extict because Fluffy (soft toy) told me so” Smile) and that the statues were NOT real and couldn’t hurt her.  She also loves The Land Before Time films so we were hoping for a less hysterical visit.

Turns out we were half right – the smaller / medium dinosaurs were fine, approachable, even cuddly at times but the bigger ones?  Total no go, completely to be avoided.  I guess to a little kid they were pretty scary plus this was progress for the child who had a meltdown at the Nemo ride at Disney Disappointed smile.  No, really.

The dinosaurs (and a few ancillary cast members) were spaced out all over the zoo and each had a sign next to it with name and description.  Unfortunately my rudimentary Bosnian does not stretch that far so we were relying on Emma to tell us the names, which all come via Land of Time.  Therefore we saw Long Necks, Triplehorns and Sharpteeth.  Very educational afternoon.

Try to ignore the fact in photos it appears like I was stalking other families and taking photos of them – the place was packed and Emma wouldn’t go near half the exhibits so I just had to take what shots I could.  Enjoy!

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Long Neck.  Obviously.

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Look into the eyes, not around the eyes, into the eyes.

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Giddy up!

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RUN!!

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My, what sharp teeth you have…

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Fight!

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Baby something running through the snow

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One of the smaller and therefore harmless dinosaurs Emma was willing to go near

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Bears and dinosaurs?  Really?  Are we skipping a few stages of evolution here?

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Emma and two dinosaurs

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No idea what this is

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The scariest of all!  T-REX!  Don’t move – they can only see movement!  Jeff Goldblum said so in Jurassic Park.

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I think it’s seen us…

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It was a little snowy at the play park

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Spike-a-saurus.  Probably.

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*looks blank* 

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What happened when Em tried to sit down on a bench

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Aww, forlorn swings Sad smile

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Woolly Mammoth! 

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Baby Triplehorn having a rest in the snow

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At the suggestion Emma take a turn climbing inside the T-Rex’s mouth to have her photo taken, she just turned and walked away.  Idiot parents.

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*Another blank look*  I bet they made this one up out of the spare bones

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Hungry!

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Alister nearly blew several brain cells at the mere suggestion man co-existed with dinosaurs.  He has a similar reaction when I say “Jurassic Park could happen”.  That’s a Friends quote but it’s funny to see his eye start twitching uncontrollably. 

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“Quick, Joe, start a fire, the dinosaurs are coming!”

“But Fred, where are your feet?  And shouldn’t you have a spear in that outstretched hand?”

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It’s not every day you go to the zoo and see a dinosaur prowling around in the snow.

Burns Supper (Burns Nicht)

As all good Scots know, 25 January is an important date.  Namely, it’s the birthday of our most famous poet, Robert Burns (also known as Rabbie Burns).  To celebrate the life of this famous bard, many folk partake in a traditional supper of haggis (if you don’t know what the delicious national Scottish dish consists of, don’t Google it, that’s my advice) and have a wee shindig.  Sometimes groups put on a much bigger event with speeches, a nice meal and a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lay), which is a gathering with traditional Scottish music and dancing.

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Mr Burns himself

I’ve not been to a Burns Supper since I was 17 and Alister, not at all (shameful, and he calls himself Scottish?) but The Caledonian Society of BiH hold one each year and in style, too.  The event is well planned, publicised and substantial in size so a good time is guaranteed, not least because of the touches of home (such as haggis and whisky) that are part of the deal.  It seems most of the local Scots in the area (and sometimes further afield) attend along with a wide representation of the other nationalities.  Any profit from the event goes to a local charity so it’s all for a good cause too.

This year we were excited to attend but the weather had its own plans.  For the first time in 10 years, Sarajevo (actually, most of Eastern Europe) was buried under several feet of snow and at one stage, it looked like the Burns Supper may have been under threat of cancellation.  However, Sarajevo rose to the occasion in grand style and around 80% of the attendees battled snow drifts, car breakdowns, hypothermia and an official State of Emergency to attend – nothing stops the Scots (and their cousins) from a party! 

Despite the weather, a fantastic time was had by all.  The haggis had to be bravely rescued by courageous adventurers from whence it was made, channels were dug out of the snow for attendees to siphon their way in, people arrived in full ski gear and we even gathered up a few last minute attendees who couldn’t leave the city as previously planned.  On the personal front, luckily our babysitter made it to the house, something that was also in doubt earlier in the day, so we were both able to attend.  In our ski gear, obviously.

Some photos of the night’s festivities.  I don’t know what time it wound up but dancing had not long started before we absolutely had to leave at 1am, having promised our babysitter we’d be home “around 11ish”.  Oops.  Still, more than worth it and if you’re in the area around this time of year, attendance should be viewed as compulsory Smile.

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At a Burns Supper, the haggis is proudly presented to the room in ceremonial style – here we have the chef doing just that to officially mark the beginning of the evening.

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Next step is the infamous Address to a Haggis*, written by Burns in 1786, and at our Supper this was energetically presented by the Society’s very own Duncan Spinner, wielding – appropriately – a snow shovel for the dissecting of the haggis.  Don’t worry, we all got our own portions accompanied by the traditional sides of neeps and tatties (mashed turnip and potatoes) that had not been savaged by tools.

Subsequent to the Address are some more speeches but don’t let dishearten you if you are thinking of attending a supper.  The speeches are generally light in tone, comedic and with not a little black humour.  Well, ours were as well as being beautifully presented by the relevant parties.  The speeches are as follows:

Immortal Memory – a memoriam of Burns’ life

Appreciation – A thanks to the previous speaker

Toast to the Lassies – Traditionally a speech given by a man in thanks to the women (a lassie being of the fairer gender) who had prepared their meal.  Certainly in this house the meal in question is much more likely to be prepared by Alister Winking smile however today the speech tends to be less traditional and much more fun.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies – A rebuttal on behalf of the women, given by a female guest and equally as light hearted.

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Ah, the dancing!  Ceilidh, or traditional Scottish dancing, is generally a group activity (with the odd dance for couples) and very, very energetic!  Prepare to end up with bruises and very sore feet when attending a good ceilidh – I’d go so far as to say if you come home without any bumps and bruises it means you’ve not really had that much of a good time Winking smile  It’s also a great opportunity to spot the Scottish National Dress – the kilt – being sported by the menfolk.

The size of the dance can range to small, impromptu gatherings to larger, more social events and even sometimes charitable or record breaking attempts.  For example many attempts have been made in Edinburgh and Glasgow at a record Strip the Willow and the Guinness Book of Records currently has the world record for a Highland dance as being held by Nairn Associated Schools Group for a Dashing White Sergeant with 1,453 participants in 2007.

The music is generally provided via traditional instruments such as fiddles, tin whistles, guitars and accordion.  It’s very lively and fast, so keeping up is both a must and often impossible leading to some hilarious timing issues. 

The photo above is the starting position for Strip the Willow.  It’s not necessary to be adept at Scottish dancing before attending a ceilidh, the steps are often called out by a MC and the more knowledgeable members of your party will keep you straight.  The point is just to have fun.  This dance is set up in two lines, as you can see, with your partner opposite you but you dance with each person on your side of the line, joining up with your partner in between turns.   We had enough couples to make two long lines and the result was :

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Chaos!!  But in a good way Smile

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This is – I think – the Dashing White Sergeant.  There’s a video at the bottom of the page that does a much better job by way of demonstration than I could do by explanation.

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The band and a few patriotic Scots singing The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond. 

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An action shot of Dana’s Delight which involves flinging the womenfolk around at high speed, attempting to achieve lift-off.  Or so it seems to observers, who must watch out for flying high heeled shoes.

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We danced the Gay Gordons, one of my favourite dances and, along with every other couple on the dance floor, entirely lost the timing.  The result was something of a car crash.  Nearly literally… And I lost a shoe.  This is actually one of the tamer dances, believe it or not!

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After a lovely meal we had a very nice pudding.  I ate the rest of the courses too fast to take photos but managed a pause before the pudding.

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The snowy streets that revellers slid along to get to the Supper

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On our walk home, around 1am, we marched through the Baščaršija (there was certainly no chance of public transport given the weather) and saw this scene.  It was actually quite charming but after three weeks of being snowbound, we’re quite fed up of it now.

Finally, I took a few videos of the dancing – from a safe, vantage point, of course.  Here’s a link to a couple of them:

Strip the Willow

Dashing White Sergeant

* Address to a Haggis – it’s very long so rather than reproduce it here, I will link you to a helpful Wiki page re: the poem itself and its translation for the non-Scots reading.

Address to a Haggis – Wikipedia

Snow, Glorious Snow!

This is our second winter in Bosnia and I can’t say I’m a cold weather person.  We don’t ski and I grew out of snowball fights around school age.  So we’re not too impressed by the incredible amounts of snow we’ve gotten this year.  I say ‘we’ – I mean me and Alister.  Emma, of course, is delighted Smile

Last winter seemed bad enough.  Cold temperatures and snow that kept reappearing from January on and off until April.  We never got loads and loads, just enough to make everything look white and pretty and put our snow boots to good use but it was more than enough to make me long for spring and summer.  Everyone kept saying how mild the winter had been and while I found that hard to believe, I thought back to the single sheet of ‘helpful’ information Alister’s work sent us when we decided to move here.  The stand out sentence referred to the “brutal winters” which didn’t exactly inspire us with confidence. 

This winter has shown us exactly how brutal it can get and that it really was mild last year.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much snow in my life, and we had the odd winter in Scotland where I seem to remember getting lots but, of course, I was a lot smaller then.  The average temperature lately hovers around –12 degrees Celsius (though yesterday we went for a little walk and I observed it wasn’t that cold when in fact it was –10 degrees Celsius so clearly I’m adapting!) and the snow is at least three feet high.  Our car is totally buried and even if we could unearth it, there’s nowhere to go as our little street is completely impassable. There’s no-one important living on our street so we don’t warrant having it cleared, you see.

Last winter we observed an industrious team of street and path clearers, both men and mechanical, and were super impressed with Sarajevo’s response to inclement weather.  In the UK, though snow falls every year (and not that much of it really), the country always grinds to a halt as though this has never happened in history before.  Public services shut down, people panic buy milk and bread, gritters wander around with no grit and the pavements are lethal.  So we thought highly of the provisions set in place here by comparison. 

However, this year is a different story.  Snowploughs are a rarity and gritters even more so.  Many roads have not been touched by either for weeks now.  Instead of those cool pavement clearers we saw last year, the workmen come along with broom brushes and polish the already treacherous cobbles to a high shine just right for slipping and sliding on.  The snow remains piled high by the side of the roads or indeed, on the roads themselves.  We suspect budget cuts are to blame though a more charitable suggestion is that equipment has been sent out into the countryside as they have it worse out there, which they undoubtedly do. 

Many parts of Eastern Europe are also in a much worst state, Poland and the Ukraine in particular having a very rough time with temperatures hovering around –30 degrees Celsius and people dying from the extreme cold.  The news is full of astonishing and beautiful photographs of the conditions across Europe as an unusually cold front sweeps across the countries.  Check out these links or do a Google search for frozen images:

NY Times photos of frozen Europe

Weather.com’s images

Global Post images

Though not as impressive, we have taken some photos our the snow surrounding us:

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A fairly modest amount of snow on the way to school

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Emma makes the most of the snow to make Snowy!

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“Mama, the roundabout isn’t working!”  I wonder why not?

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This is what the playground and roundabout normally look like.

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View from the top of the hill at Emma’s school

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A non snowy view

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Even the public fountains are freezing over

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View from the bottom of the hill

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Normal view

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Doing the Bosnian Run through the snow.  There’s a knack to avoid falling down.  Takes some practise…

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Emma decides to find the car

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What could be under here?

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Dig deep…

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Found it!

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Emma appreciating the snow on our street

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Sledging, anyone?

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Wheeeeeeeeee!!

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Uh oh, Emma overboard!

Christmas Day!

It’s our second Christmas in Sarajevo and the town is noticeably more, well, Christmassy, which is nice.  Obviously with Sarajevo being predominantly Muslim then Christmas is not a holiday here.  In some respects that is nice for us – no pressure, no fuss, no marketing (best part!) and no relentless canned Christmas carols in the shops.  The only time I heard Band Aid this year was on the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special – brings a new appreciation. 

On the other hand, you miss out on the excitement and build up, it would be nice to see Emma taking part in school activities and seeing family more often.  She was excited about Christmas but not obsessed and didn’t ask for much from Santa at all.  That was appreciated, she doesn’t seem too materialistic and as we don’t have TV, she’s clearly not influenced by adverts.  Mind you, next year she may want a laptop, a pony and an X box (she’s got no chance Winking smile).

So we kicked off celebrations on Christmas Eve by tracking Santa on NORAD, a fabulous organisation which, when not watching the skies over America for things that shouldn’t be there, track Santa’s progress over the entire world on Christmas Eve.  It’s not just for kids, I must admit I kept checking it even when Emma was out!  Check it out next year: NORAD track Santa.  In the evening, Emma discovered Santa’s elves had left new pyjamas in her bedroom, which was extremely exciting for all of us. 

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The new PJs that Santa’s elves left along with a Powerpuff Girls balloon

After that flurry of excitement, luckily Emma was happy to go to bed in order to ensure she was asleep by the time Santa arrived.  We did of course leave some enticing snacks out for Santa and Rudolph but not too much milk in case he needed to stop to use the bathroom.  Ever considerate.  Please note the fabulous gingerbread house in the background of this picture, made by my friend Gloria – isn’t it brilliant?  Emma was concerned Santa would eat some so we put a note up to warn him.  Unfortunately the next morning, the chimney was missing!  Gasp! 

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Santa’s snack, Rudolph’s carrot and the fabulous, edible house!

Emma managed to sleep until 7.30am which isn’t too rude an awakening for tired parents.  She was so excited to find her stocking full on her door that she forgot to look under the tree and spot the presents Santa had left for us all.  Opening the goodies took a fair while and the living room was a wreck by the time we were done – proof of a good time Smile.  We all did very well for presents and were grateful to our families and friends who went to efforts to post us parcels at such a busy time of year Red heart

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Stocking fun

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I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been very good this year!

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Opening the stocking fillers, kept her occupied for ages

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Buckaroo, drove us all mad that day!  No-one won, haha.

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The carnage!

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Didn’t she do well, the lucky monkey?

Alister cooked our Christmas meal – well, I did the carrots which were the best part, obviously Winking smile.  Our meal was really good and there were enough leftovers for Boxing day, round 2!  Of course, many sweets and other Christmas goodies were also consumed, as is tradition.   A healthy time of year.  I did miss the chocolate Roses though!

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Getting ready for Christmas dinner

Much to Emma’s delight, we had a white Christmas as it snowed most of the day.  She went out later to play and Alister joined her to make a snowman and have a snowball fight.  I’d be quite happy for the snow to go now, please!  It’s done its job as far as I am concerned and I’d be happy to see no more for another year Annoyed  Bah, humbug!

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Dreaming of a white Christmas?

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Emma and Snowy.  I’d like my wooden spoons back please.

So the festivities continue.  New Year is coming up and then Orthodox Christmas on the 7th January in the Republika Srpska  (but not here) which we like to participate in at least a little – when in Rome, etc.  It’s nice to observe and be a part of another type of Christmas celebration and good for Emma to understand that other countries and cultures celebrate holidays differently according to their customs and religions.  Countries such as here and Russia mark such celebrations according to the older Julian calendar (unlike the UK, America etc which use the Gregorian calendar) hence the difference in celebratory dates. 

While we eagerly await the arrival of Father Christmas, or Santa Clause, the Bosnian children are visited by Djeda Mraz which translates as Grandfather Frost (or sometimes Father Frost) at New Year.  Similarly, in Russia, Ded Moraz visits.  This is another reason that Orthodox Christmas makes me smile – it reminds me of my good friends, the Malyuk family Red rose   I hope Ded Moraz is good to you all and especially Maya!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our friends and family.  I wonder what 2012 has in store…

xx

 

Tis the Season to be Jolly!

Christmas is on the way, Santa is getting ready and Emma doesn’t care that he’s watching to see if she’s naughty or nice, not judging by the temper tantrums we’ve had lately.  Lump of coal in her stocking this year!  There’s been plenty to do around town so far, lots of Christmas markets and fairs (saving them for a separate blog) and of course, the traditional panto! 

For non UK friends, this is a pantomime (Olga told me to stop abbreviating, that bossy Russian!) which is a comedy / musical performance based on a traditional fairy tale and shown at or around Christmas.  Not – repeat, not – a mime based experience, as the name may suggest.  Traditionally associated with the UK, it’s also commonly found in countries such as Australia, Canada, India and Malta to name a few.  Pantomime has a very long history beginning in Ancient Greece but is now firmly associated with mince pies, snow and legitimate audience participation consisting mainly of heckling.

We saw the local panto performance last year but I didn’t realise how unique it was to the UK and a few other countries.  The local performance group, made up of a mixed bag of nationalities, always put on a wonderful performance and this year was no exception.  The story was Cinderella and we were all rather excited to attend.  We even made sure to sit downstairs where we could catch the sweets thrown out by the actors as Emma remembered that last year, her seat upstairs meant she missed out on such delights.

The panto and all performers was excellent but sadly we didn’t see the end as by the intermission, Emma was very tired and cranky.  We might have persuaded her to stay but a dramatic tumble sealed the deal and we left.  Though Alister and I really wanted to see the second half, a grouchy, weepy child is a bit of a distraction.  Grrr…  Anyway, we’ll never know what happens at the end of Cinderella but it was still a great evening out. 

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The cast of Cinderella

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The Ugly Stepsisters!  BOOOOOO!! Stars of the show Star

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A wee song and dance number Note

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Emma gets involved.  CAKE!!!!!

We also attended a carol singing service at the Franciscan monastery and Church of the Saint Anthony the other night.  Yes, I stepped into a church and didn’t burst into flames, as my lovely sister in law suggested Winking smile.  The singing was nice, reminded me strongly of primary school concerts (with slightly superior singing) and Alister and I had to strain to remember to sing the correct words to the carols, rather than the childish versions that entertained us back in the day. 

Emma was a star, sitting very quietly and perusing her Mr Men books (thanks Grandad!) when not paying attention to the readings.  She even employed one such book as her hymn sheet, as you might be able to tell from the photo below, and tried to sing along even though she doesn’t know the songs.  She misses out on this aspect of Christmas, not being at home, but we’ve been teaching her Jingle Bells and Rudolph – unfortunately she doesn’t like our singing and often requests (demands) we stop Sad smile

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The dulcet tones echo painfully around the Church

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A novel hymn book provided by Mr Wrong, I think

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We’ve got our Christmas tree up, it’s looking rather pretty in the living room.  Emma was mega keen to get it out of the box mainly because we made the box into a spaceship last year and she wanted to play with it again.  Priorities!  Anyway, we had a lot of fun putting the tree up, making paper chains and Christmas cards together.  Alister even made mince pies for the first time!  Show off.

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Proud girl helped us decorate the tree

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Emma the Christmas tree

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I hung this Kinder Egg on the tree and was sure Emma wouldn’t spot it as her observational skills are very, very poor (like me, pray I’m never a witness to a crime!) however I underestimated a child’s ability to sense chocolate and she spotted in within five minutes of coming in from school.  It’s still there though, nearly a week later which proves her memory is about as good as mine too…

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The spaceship.  Where’s Emma?  There she is! 

Emma also wrote her letter to Santa, with a little help from us.  She’s got very modest requests this year, really only wanting a family of ducks for the bath and a new fluffy toy like Fluffy that she received for her birthday.  Cheap year for Santa Winking smile  Emma also made me and Alister write out letters for the elves to pick up.  I didn’t need much help with mine, despite Emma’s insistence I write down ‘a handbag’ as my wants are also fairly modest. Alister was lacking in imagination so Emma helped him with his list.  We placed the letters under Emma’s pillow and when we looked back a bit later, they were gone!  The elves had been to pick them up!  Wonderful Open-mouthed smile  Emma also received a video message from Santa (via this website Portable North Pole link) and has watched it repeatedly.  Luckily Santa’s machine confirms she is on the ‘Nice’ list – phew! 

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My list, haha.

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Alister’s list in his odd scrawl.  Yes, that says ‘stinky cheese’ but Emma made him write it and added the heart.

Finally I’d like to say happy birthday to my Mum (21 again Winking smile).  Wish we could have been there to help you celebrate, big kiss from Emma Red heart

Budapest – Get on with it!

Oops, I seem to have forgotten to finish my Budapest blogs so I’m just going to quickly recap before I forget what we did completely.  Matters weren’t helped when my notebook went missing – read that as stolen by Emma, our budding artist from which no piece of paper is safe.  It’s only a matter of time before she begins drawing on the walls.

Anyway, so Sunday we took a drive to Slovakia – well, why not?  It wasn’t that far away and we hadn’t spent several hours in the car for days.  As it was Sunday, everything was closed obviously so it really was a case of crossing the border and back again.  A bit odd, admittedly.  We actually crossed the bridge between Hungary and Slovakia four times trying to get photos of the signs and I was a bit worried we’d appear suspicious.  If anyone had been on duty, that is.

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We did stop at a play park just over the border for Emma as she’d been so good in the car and not complained about the driving.  We had a fun time kicking leaves about and playing, it was very well equipped (take heed, Sarajevo!).  Then we headed back to Sarajevo and found a nice Chinese restaurant as by then, we were pretty hungry. 

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Just to explain the expressions, Emma was a scary spider and I was the terrified prey.  Makes sense now, eh?

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Monday we started off at at a cafe / restaurant that Alister had read about on account of their famous hot chocolate (Gerloczy).  We ended up ordering breakfast too and I have to say it was delicious.  The hot chocolate came in tiny glass mugs (hope you can see the scale compared to the salt and pepper shakers) and was so thick and rich, I couldn’t really manage mine.  Alister’s was extra fancy in that it had a tonka bean in it! 

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Outside the cafe.

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Mmm, breakfast!

A what, you say?   Tonka beans are from South America and contain a chemical often used in making perfumes, medicines and food because of its various flavours / scents, including vanilla, cloves and cinnamon.   It’s also banned in some countries, including the US, as it contains a chemical that can be harmful to rat livers in very large quantities.  I guess the risk of a human overdosing on tonka beans is, er, high?  By way of contrast, the UK chocolate shop Thorntons make a specialist award winning Tonka bean milk chocolate!  What a busy bean.

After a delicious breakfast and too much hot chocolate, we headed for a look around town and ended up at the indoor food market, the Great Market Hall, which was pretty amazing and much bigger than Sarajevo’s offerings.  Built in 1896, it’s set over three very busy floors and well worth a wander around.

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EEK!

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Monday was also Halloween so later in the day we dressed Emma up in her Halloween outfit (over warm clothes that slightly ruined the effect) and headed back into town to see the pumpkin carving festival.  It was a bit busy and crowded for Emma but the pumpkins were amazing, another world of creativity and detail entirely.  It was a really nice atmosphere in town, kids (and a few adults) dressed up, the smell of mulled wine tormenting Alister and the pony rides both enticing and scaring Emma, bless her.  A few photos of the amazing pumpkins:

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Not every day you meet two Indiana Jones’!

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Oh God, he’s looking at me!

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And after all, that, exhausted, we drove all the way home on Tuesday.  We managed to locate a Tesco Extra before leaving Budapest and stocked up on a few UK goodies, though the selection wasn’t nearly as varied as I’d hoped.  We did get some Heinz baked beans though Winking smile 

Some extra photos:

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Took this photo for Olga Smile

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This sign was on every bus, tram and train and it really tickled me.  I interpreted it as ‘if you see a man with a funny moustache, push him over!’

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This was a fab Christmas shop we found, the window display was all kinds of cool and we watched it for quite a long time.  Inside was just as good:

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This was Emma’s favourite item in the packed shop, a sleeping dog.  However she got a real scare when its head moved every few seconds as she is very scared of dogs.  Took a while to reassure her it wasn’t real but she still wouldn’t touch it.

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This was my favourite item, a cute mouse pilfering strawberries.

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This is the invitation to a Halloween party that Emma sent herself!

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What a delight she is!  Winking smile

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Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

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Alister’s first attempt at pumpkin carving – very successful! 

 

Budapest – Day 4

Ok, so this must be Saturday also known as The Day Emma Refused to Walk Any Further.  More on that later…

We decided to head back to Castle Hill as it was such a huge area, we knew we hadn’t seen much of it.  Plus, today, the funicular was working!  Oh yes, thrill a minute.  You can have too much of a good thing however, so we caught the number 16 bus up again and wandered around the area, taking in the sights.  Luckily it wasn’t (yet) too busy, I can only imagine the scene in the summer.

Some pictures from wandering around:

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Insert your own oversized limo joke here

This is St Matthias Church, officially Church of Our Lady, originating 1015, though reconstructed in its current gothic style in the 14th century and again restored in the 19th century.  The building is particularly notable for it’s intricately decorated roof, visible for many miles and making it an easily recognisable building.

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Alister found an archery demonstration near the Castle and had to have a go, having an unhealthy interest in pointy objects.  He even hit the target a few times!  I’ve hidden the knives now we’re home, just in case he gets any ideas.  Emma was desperate to have a go, bizarrely, and even our lax parenting standards told us that was a bad idea.  Poor kid, so deprived. 

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Emma Rose with a rose Smile 

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Finally, a ride on the funicular (an expensive 30 seconds!) back down to street level.  This is Alister and Emma in the carriage, which I nearly missed due to taking photos and general larking around. 

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The view from the top of the funicular, right across the Danube.  That’s the Chain Bridge I spoke about before and the Houses of Parliament in the distance.

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This is the view from the bottom – beats walking, right?

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After wandering around Castle Hill again, we set off to explore Fo Utca, an old street but to be honest, we were all tired and getting hungry.  As Alister stopped to consult his map, Emma plonked herself down on a nearby step and basically refused to move.  You know what they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So I sat down too.  Emma finished her breakfast donut (yes, extremely healthy – the pink icing and sprinkles gave her much needed energy) and we morosely stared at the traffic passing by.  People gave us looks that strongly indicated we were homeless and pathetic, which was nice. 

Alister came to the rescue by promising to take us directly to the pub.  Now, being as I don’t drink and Emma is, well, five, you wouldn’t think that sounded too great but you’d be wrong.  The pub in question was The Caledonian Pub which any good Scottish person will know sounds like home when you’re far from the mothership.  Alister had read they served REAL ale and a proper Scottish breakfast so we were all sold, Emma included (don’t worry, she didn’t participate in either ale or breakfast) so we hopped on a tram and found the pub. 

We timed it quite badly as there was a football match on (yawn) and some kind of rivalry going on between a table of blue people and a much smaller table of red people so each time a goal was scored much screaming, table thumping and shouting echoed around the establishment, along with gleeful glances in the other team’s direction.  It was almost reassuring to see that no matter where you go, you can see football fans acting like idiots.  Luckily it didn’t spoil our enjoyment of a full Scottish breakfast – baked beans!  Real sausages! – and Alister carefully chose two ales to imbibe.  I did have to drag him away after that before he started singing Flower of Scotland and doing the Highland fling on a table.  Actually, I’d have paid money to see that.

Sadly we forgot to take any pictures of the delicious breakfast as we were too busy eating it.  Hmm… a theme across the whole trip.

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A Scotsman in Budapest.

Once I’d extricated Alister from the Cally, we headed for the nearby House of Terror which is a museum containing exhibits relating to the fascist/communist regimes during the 20th century in Hungry.  It’s also a memorial to the people tortured and killed under these regimes.  The building itself was used as the Hungarian Secret Police’s HQ and many suspects were brought there for ‘questioning’.  The complex spread over a whole city bloke, including under the streets, and contained interrogation rooms and hanging chambers, which are reproduced exactly today.  I didn’t take the tour but Alister said it was very well done. Clearly, they had spent a lot of time and effort in making it as detailed as possible. It was really quite moving: for example, during an elevator ride a short film played in which the executioner’s assistant described, in great detail, the hanging process.  In the basement, you could tour the individual cells, together with the execution chamber itself.  There is also a list, together with photos, of the people who assisted the regime – denouncers and suchlike. Some of them are still alive today.  Ordinary people.  What would you do in that situation: denounce or be denounced?  Very chilling.

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You weren’t allowed to take photos of the Museum itself but this tank sat just outside the main exhibit.  I guess it would normally be a jarring sight but we see tanks, or the remains thereof, at children’s play parks so it only seemed slightly odd to us.

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Obviously this was not an Emma friendly tour so we waited in the Museum cafe, had some great hot chocolate and the best chocolate muffin possibly ever.  I think we got the better, if less educated, end of this deal.

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Pretty as a picture Smile

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