Sabbatical Daydreaming

so a couple of days ago my boss let slip that there was a high chance i could take a one-to-three month sabbatical this year. naturally, my mind began to wander (always a bad sign, especially if it’s not a for-sure thing yet) as to what i could do with that time. because i would still have to be available for work, it would make the most sense to be places where i have unlimited data roaming on verizon (thanks to our business plan; click “View List” under “Global Data Options”), so that limited my choices.

i narrowed it down to three, based on what i could do in 4-5 weeks (thinking i could extend to longer if they let me):

  • mostly brazil, with some argentina
  • mostly thailand, with some hong kong and macau
  • kazakhstan
  • the balkans and then some

after some thinking about what i wanted, i’m going with the last option. i would need to have reliable (and relatively speedy) internet in case i needed to do any work, so kazakhstan is out. having done japan and cambodia last year, and even though brazil (specifically brasilia) is on my bucket list, i’ve developed an itch for southeast europe lately. this is partially thanks to the last #indie2012 and missing my old classmates from grad school, many of whom were from this area.

this is my tentative plan, with major stops along the way (going counter-clockwise, i.e., from west to east*):

* there’s no big reason why i’ve chosen this direction, but i read on wikitravel about passport trouble going from kosovo to serbia, and even though it is not supposed to happen now, it’s just one less thing to worry about if i go from serbia to kosovo.

the crossing on the black sea, i’m thinking, would be on the prinses elena, which i found out about on yes, kind of daunting, a ukranian cruise. not only would i stick out like a sore thumb (not too worried about this), i’d have no clue what’s going on (more worried about this), since i don’t understand russian (or ukranian, or turkish), and the longest “cruise” i’ve ever been on was the three hour eckerö ferry from helsinki to tallinn. on the other hand, it sounds like a great adventure!

in order, the major stops that i’ve mapped out are:

  • sarajevo
  • niš
  • priština
  • skopje
  • sofia
  • istanbul
  • odessa
  • kiev

thoughts? this may never happen, at least not soon, and this is only a first pass. i’d love to fit in something in romania, but i’m not quite sure what. this is already incredibly tight (bordering on impossible) for five weeks.


Ex-Bloc Party

part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project

Have you traveled in Eastern Europe? What did you know about the region before visiting? If you haven’t been to Eastern Europe, what country or city appeals to you most as a place to visit? Or, more generally speaking, how much does knowing about the history of a place inspire your future travels?

first off, what is eastern europe? as a(n american) child of the ’80s, eastern europe meant a combination of poverty, communism, oppressive regimes, this iron curtain thing (which i remember thinking everyone was confused about because the berlin wall was made of concrete LOL), and goose step marches to slow, plaintive music. of course, this is the gross caricature of a pre-teen, and ha, most certainly has not been borne out in my travels to the region.

Besides (East) Germany, I've been to Estonia, the Czech Republic (twice), Hungary, and Slovenia (and passed through Croatia on a train).

in any case, given the very disparate definitions of eastern europe, i’m going to go with my perhaps-distorted notion of what eastern europe is: those countries that used to be in the eastern bloc. of those, the czech republic holds a very special place in my heart because it was the destination of my first solo trip (2005). i really didn’t know much about the area other than vague recollections of CNN broadcasts from over a decade prior, but i do remember hearing that it used to be a cool place for backpackers that had since changed from what it was in those years immediately after its bloc exit. in other words, i was late to the game. ok, fine, it may not have been the cheap backpacker haven of yesteryear, but that didn’t diminish my experience in the least, and that held true for the other former eastern bloc countries i’ve been to as well.

also, it goes without saying that these countries are just as much a part of europe (and deserve a visit) as their siblings to the west. it was pretty cool being in slovenia the year prior to its conversion to the euro (prices were marked in both tolars and euros), thinking that there was still change in the air. (speaking of change in the air, perhaps consider playing this song as the background music to this post.)

back to the question at hand: given what i knew, or thought i knew, and with the understanding that much had changed since the dissolution of the bloc, i really had no idea what to expect.

what i found was a mix of “old europe”, relics from their communist past, and modern and thriving places that are by no means second or third tier.

what i hoped to see (bloc-y)

i have an odd fascination with life under a communist regime. not that i would ever want to live in one (nor wish it on anybody, especially after going to the house of terror museum in budapest), but there is this whole “evil yet unknown” quality about it. i just knew growing up it was a bad thing, and as an adult, i want to understand it more (maybe it’s like watching a train wreck? morbid fascination/can’t look away?). plus, i’m in love with the socialist realism style of art.

Cosmonaut statue, outside Haje station (was Kosmonautů), Prague

Odd communist monument, Tallinn

Paneláky, Jižní Město (I think), outskirts of Prague

what i knew would be there (splendor from a great past)

Interior of Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, Budapest


Looking across the Danube and the Chain Bridge towards Buda, Budapest

what i was pleased to discover (ongoing vibrance)

Griffin Ice Sculpture, Tallinn

Lennon Wall, Prague (though started during communist days, it constantly evolves)

Street art, Prague

i’m not done with eastern europe yet! if my september trip to georgia goes as planned, i will have a day to spend in warsaw during a layover. also, i went to graduate school with students from bulgaria, romania, and serbia and would love to visit the places they called home as well.

two random facts: