Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

For the first time in a long time we're staying in on New Year's Eve. Last year enjoyed a mild evening in Dubrovnik's old town, listening to bands of various qualities. The year before we were treated to Laka performing outdoors in a freezing cold Spanish Square in Mostar. The last New Year we spent in England saw us standing on the banks of the Thames for at least four hours to witness ten minutes of awe inspiring fireworks from directly opposite the London Eye. The previous year we braved Times Square, in New York, to watch the ball drop and the year before that we were in Cape Town, although we did stay in with family that night.

Having done trips to Zagreb and Mostar within the last ten days we felt no great urgency to get out and find some entertainment tonight. There was a good gig happening in Sarajevo but seeing as we'd had one of those in Mostar on Wednesday the seven-hour round trip to the capital seemed a little excessive. We'll probably clamber up onto the city wall near our house come midnight and hope that people still have some fireworks to let of by then.

This video is from the end of the concert in Mostar. Something happened that we'd never experienced before. We thought you'd like to see it!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

More driving fun

Today we drove from Mostar to Jajce in brilliant sunshine. Despite the fact mountains cast shadows on the roads leaving many a snowy or icy stretch of tarmac to be carefully negotiated it was a great day to be out driving. Driving north gave the dual advantages of not just being headed home but also mostly having our backs to the sun. It's easier, and safer, when your view doesn't alternate between dense shadow and dazzling sunlight. It's hard to pick a highlight from the drive although the intense double rainbow caused by one of Bosnia's hydro-electric dams gushing from all five of its gates probably takes the prize. Sadly there is no accompanying photo for that. You'll have to make do with this video where I show you one of my favourite views, from yesterday's outward journey.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

What have we been up to?!

It's been just over two weeks since our last post which means one of two things: either we've had nothing to talk about or there's been a little too much going on to find the time to talk about it. This video should help you make you mind up about which one it's been.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Feeling all Alpine!

Sunday afternoon is, traditionally, a good time for a stroll. And so yesterday afternoon, with the snow falling thick and fast, Rowan and I headed out to catch a glimpse of a different kind of Jajce. Such eagerness to run out and play in the snow is undoubtedly a result of our childhoods in England, where snow was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it phenomenon. All that has, of course, changed in the two years since we left. Last week my hometown had it's heaviest snow fall in fourty-three years, apparently.

The snow is Jajce is unlikely to go anywhere for at least a week, accept from the roads and pavements, where a very efficient cleaning operation had everything snow-free by the time we were back from a trip to Vitez today. That's one reason I'm happy to have grabbed Sunday's video, for the full alpine effect! The photo is from about half past eight this morning, somewhere approaching the town of Travnik and the Vlašić mountain. It was a great to be out driving this morning with everything looking so 'Winter Wonderland' - even if we did have to be up and out uncomfortably early for the privilege of seeing it before the tarmac was visible again.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Fairytales vs Platform Games

Rowan was reminded of ice daggers, the sort plunged through the hearts of unfortunate, and probably unsuspecting, victims in fairytales; shortly before some wholesome, heart-warming hero arrives on the scene to heal the hurts and ensure everyone – except, perhaps, the ice-wielding bad guy – lives happily ever after.

I had images of old-school platform games, or perhaps even a Nintendo original hand-held classic like Donkey Kong. The aim was to complete a successful dash through the Tunnel of Doom, while dodging the game-over inducing objects regularly falling from the ceiling.

Earlier this week we were telling friends in Mostar that our walk to work – or the supermarket – was a relatively easy one in all weathers as half of it was through the road tunnel under Jajce's castle. As if to prove that nothing in life is really that simple the weather threw us a curve ball this morning. This is not photoshop, a fairytale or Nintendo's finest; those really are icicles over three feet long, or measuring over a metre if you prefer metric.

However, fear not; in a country that often appears to have a laissez-faire attitude to all things health and safety these actually register as dangerous enough to require attention. As I was walking through the tunnel, photographing all the while, I spotted the guy with the very long stick working his way towards me on the other side of the road, smashing the seasonal hazards above his path. I was pleased to see that despite clearly forgetting to don his protective goggles he had remembered his wooly (safety?) hat!

Friday, 10 December 2010

An Inexcusably Short Drive

We haven't owned a car since we left the UK and, despite having access to vehicles through our work with Novi Most, I think we can say we've significantly cut back on our personal use of the combustion engine. The truth is, however, that this hasn't been driven by any strongly held environmental convictions but simply by the fact that both in Mostar and now in Jajce it is quicker and more convenient to walk, due to how close we've lived to where we are working. But as with every rule there are exceptions, here's evidence of us about to make an inexcusably short drive!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Paper Trails

We were down in Mostar yesterday and today. This provided us with two paper-trail related tales to tell.

Yesterday: Novi Most owns a couple of Volkswagan Transporters, one of which we are using in Jajce. To make fuelling easier about a year ago we got fuel cards from a chain of gas stations that are well represented in Herzegovina. Moving to Jajce we realised they had no forecourts in the immediate area so it was suggested we get a card from a different, Bosnian-based company. Two weeks ago, somewhere in north-west Bosnia, I used this card for the first time. It took the two gentlemen behind the counter fully fifteen minutes of conferring with one another and consulting sheets of A4 paper on the wall be behind the till to finally get the appropriate machine to spit out a little slip of paper for me to sign. Yesterday, I was in the Novi Most office in Mostar when the envelope arrived containing the bill for the account for the last month. There, stapled to the top right corner of the A4 invoice, was the very same slip bearing my signature. I couldn't help thinking that for a company with a nation-wide network of forecourts which are being actively, and very nicely, modernised this system might lack a little in the efficiencies made possible by the digital age.

Today: Amongst other things we found the time to shop for some things we haven't been able to get in Jajce. One was phone/fax machine. Even in Mostar, finding one of these that didn't include the bulky addition of a printer and scanner required a bit of a search. We ended up in a shop called DigiTrends, in the Piramida shopping centre. While the purchase of an unremarkable piece of office equipment would not normally be afforded a blog post this story finds it way online because of the quaint picture of the young assistant hand-writing the receipt in a carbon-copy booklet. For a retailer showing off a fine selection of the latest consumer electronics, surely this is not the digital revolution the shop's name implies!

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Presidential Drive-By!

We were standing in the kitchen this morning when I heard a Police siren outside the window. In our experience here that can mean only one thing: dignitaries being ferried about the country in a high speed convoy. Rowan had seen on Facebook that Ivo Josipovic, the Croatian President was dropping in on Jajce today. Sure enough, half a dozen blacked-out people carriers, a few others vehicles whose description I can't remember, and a couple of ubiquitous white Volkswagen Golf Police cars were snaking their way down the valley from the direction of Banja Luka. I can't claim to have seen the President but if he was looking out of the window he may well have seen our house, if not us gawping out of the window!

I've just received an email from Balkan Insight that contained a link to an article explaining why he was in the area. As it was a promising piece politically I thought I'd couple some of the stand out sections here in the hope you'll click the link to read the rest. So here goes...

Croatia's Josipovic Is 'Man of the Year'

Nezavisne Novine daily said it was awarding the Croatian leader because he is “a statesman not burdened by the legacy of war... who promotes a policy of reconciliation and tolerance” in the former Yugoslavia.

For his part, Josipovic said that the award was a great privilege.

"It is time for cooperation that implies peace, good neighborly relations and understanding, common interest, and it is time for all to return to their homes, to boost trade, cultural exchange and cooperation," he told Nezavisne Novine.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Snow Falls

Yesterday I needed to cool my head down, literally, to stave off the tiredness and kick start some clear thinking. I could have gone and sat in the spare bedroom but it was much more inspiring to head out into a snowy Saturday night. When I saw the snow swirling around the floodlights I knew I needed to make a video.

The picture below is the view we woke to first thing this morning. Today ended up being all bright blue skies and mild weather, so while there's still some snow around it doesn't look exactly like this anymore. The next time it snows I need to make time to get some good photos or video of the castle and city walls as they certainly suit a bit of snijeg.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Of Villages and Boys Toys

After being involved in youth work for more than fifteen years you've heard lots of reasons, and occasionally excuses, as to why people didn't show up when you were expecting them too. Today I heard one I'd never heard before. Rowan and I used to do a lot of youth work out of a school youth centre in a rural part of Sussex. Even there this never cropped up. Jajce is more rural still, as this picture indicates. It was produced by one of the young people who did make it to our first Novi Most session in Jajce. He was one of almost twenty who responded to the invitation and came to see what opportunities could open up with Novi Most now working in the town. It was a very positive couple of hours. We'll run a similar introduction session next weekend for those unable to be there today. Some of them were at a school event happening in town, which is familiar territory; others, however, had to go to a village and slaughter some pigs, which is definitely a new one for me!

In have to add this picture of some black boxes for all of you who can identify with boys toys type excitement. What you may or may not be able to make out is a small KV2 Audio PA system. At the last big event I played at in the UK before moving to Bosnia and Herzegovina we rocked a significantly larger KV2 Audio system. Buried in the back of the wardrobe I still have a couple of KV2 Audio T-shirts, gifts from the nice people on their stand at Plasa, an annual sound and lights trade show held at Earl's Court, London. My snap was snapped in Artist, a music store in Banja Luka. It's a real rock'n'roll music store. One where they let you touch things without hovering like over-protective parents. Such shops used to exist in the UK, but the ones I used to frequent in the early days of my musical journey have long since evolved into don't-touch-without-permission generic supermarkets for sanitised musical equipment. More's the pity! The downside of the visit was the sudden urge to buy things I probably don't have the money for. The upside was the discovery of many useful things I haven't seen on sale in the music stores in Mostar or Sarajevo. I don't think it'll be too long before I find myself back in Banja Luka with a little bit more time to spend checking out the plentiful delights of this Aladdin's Cave.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow and Rainbows

While the town we came from in the UK is in the grips of some unseasonally large snow falls, Jajce has not yet plunged into the depths of winter. No doubt it will come. Today we had enough sunshine to add a rainbow to a now familiar view. Yes, a rainbow needs a little rain and we've had a bit but nothing like what's going on back in Mostar at the moment. Rowan was looking at some pictures on Facebook earlier and said she never saw the Neretva so high in the two years we were there. Apparently the border at Metković was closed due to flooding in the town. With so many of Bosnia and Herzegovina's main roads running alongside rivers I've often thought how vulnerable this network is to rising water levels.

Snow, however, it is well equipped to handle, at least in our experience. Gritters and snow ploughs operate around the clock keeping the main routes passable, if not entirely clear. The requirements to put winter tyres on every November and carry snow chains help too, although people only seem to resort to chains if absolutely necessary. Like the time one of my back wheels froze on the top of a mountain. Snow chains gave enough traction to drag it down to below the snow line where the bare tarmac provided enough resistance to work it free again. And so to all my UK readers struggling with the country's less-than-entirely resilient infrastructure, enjoy the snow-break...and if you see a set of snow chains they are a worthwhile investment!