Thursday, 29 November 2012

5 year ago today...

Having reminded myself earlier this week that today would mark the 5th anniversary of our first trip to Sarajevo I thought I'd be only right to dig out an old video to commemorate. This video was filmed the four days of that visit. In the last 5 years over sixteen thousand people on YouTube have watched me talk about my first impressions of the city; many have left comments saying things like "I am thinking of going there, your video helped me in my decision, thanks" or "I have also been to Sarajevo. I love it." As videos go this is not the most professional looking or sounding I ever produced but it is an honest record of our first visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

On the sidelines!

On Sunday afternoon we drove just over two hours to Prijedor to play floorball against the team there. Our team, Lavovi Jajce – or Jajce Lions, had comfortably beaten the Prijedor side that visited us earlier this year. We felt the return trip would not be so easy. And so it proved. The game was played with a level of physicality well above anything we reach in our training sessions. Our team are teenagers; Dina, who trains the side is, like me, in her thirties. The Prijedor side seemed to be all late-teens and twenties. For all the fact it was hard fought, it was a fair fight and 4-4 was probably the right result.  

Rowan came along for the ride. Standing on the sidelines snapping photos with two cameras she was more often than not winching as one heavy challenge followed another. Floorball is a high-intensity, end-to-end game with rolling substitutions. The three twenty-minute 'thirds' that make up a match equal a lot of running around. Some of our team have yet to grasp the advantage of being substituted; I'm old enough to know I need to be. I could only be an effective physical presence in short bursts. While I picked up a lot of compliments for my contribution I felt it was only fair to post a picture showing me where I spent most of the game: on the sidelines!

Monday, 26 November 2012

A quicker there and back

Today I did a quick 'there and back again' to Sarajevo. This was made all the quicker by the completion of another section of motorway since the last time I made the trip; that was mid-May, if my memory serves me right. It's strange to think that the six-and-a-month gap between that trip and today's represents my longest absence from the city in the last five years. We arrived to wintery-cold in the country's capital on Thursday 29th November 2007, on a now discontinued BA flight from London, at the start of our first trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since then large parts of the city have become familiar stomping grounds.

But while we can look forward to faster journeys to Sarajevo in the future we are unlikely to see any change to times to Mostar. Geography dictates the winding mountain roads are unlikely to ever be widened. We are taking some of the young people who attend Novi Most activities in Jajce to Mostar this weekend. The temptation is to try to get to the end of a long a winding road as quickly as realistically possible but three hours of twisting and turning provides all too much opportunity for travel sickness. Having cleared up vomit in our van three times this weekend I'll be trying to drive extra-specially slowly and smoothly next time out!

Monday, 19 November 2012

A painful realisation

Over the past couple of months we've done a lot of walking: the streets of London, must-see Vancouver, most of Seattle's downtown and the pretty bits of Cape Town. We haven't, however, done much running. I had foolishly thought our pedestrian pavement pounding would be an adequate exercise substitute during our travels. I was wrong.

This weekend I was back at floorball training here in Jajce. We have about a dozen, mostly athletic, teenagers who form the core of our team. As well as being committed to training twice a week they often organise running together too. A couple of them also train in handball and football teams. And they are competitive.

With a game against a team from Prijedor, a town a couple of hours north of us, just a week away I was rejoining a team focused on delivering a winning performance. Training was intense. I didn't expect it to be otherwise. I just expected to find running a little easier, my recovery times a little shorter. Keeping up with hyper-energetic sixteen year olds is never going to happen but maybe in a couple of weeks I won't feel so painfully slow when I challenge for a 50-50 ball. Hopefully we'll also be celebrating another team victory together.  

Sunday, 11 November 2012

One man's walk in the park...for now.

One man's walk in the park is another man's first off-road riding experience. In fact I took five people out on bikes on Saturday afternoon. For all of them it was their first time riding mountain bikes on a mountain. (Our ride topped out at about 3500ft.) The opportunity arose because this weekend was Novi Most's bi-annual team retreat, happening this time at a ski-centre hotel we visited in the summer when we were taking young people from Jajce mountain biking. I knew the hotel rents reasonable bikes out at reasonable prices and that the surrounding countryside offers a reasonably easy introduction to off-road riding. At least that's the way I told it.

I wasn't wrong on the bikes or the value-for-money rental but easiness is, of course, a matter of opinion. Many things in life become easier with experience and while I may have lost a little in fitness over the years I can still claim to be an experienced cyclist. I don't attack hills like I used to but I still know how to ride the best line and get the most from each pedal stroke. This is probably why I'd remembered the uphills as shorter and flatter than they actually are; a fact demonstrated by this picture of an empty trail I took waiting for our group to catch me up. I'm certainly not complaining about having extra time to soak up the views!

The next time I'll be back on this mountain it'll be covered in snow and I'll be carrying a snowboard. It'll be the start of my first full season of trying to master the slopes. Then the boot will, metaphorically, be firmly on the other foot. Coming from the south of England means my childhood playing-in-snow experiences were limited and I'd never tried any winter sports before the first time I stepped on a snowboard in January this year. So this winter I'll be playing the enthusiastic, if in-experienced, card for all it's worth and hoping for injury-free adventures. I certainly don't expect to be the fastest to the top or bottom of the slope!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Finding inspiration

In September and October we had the opportunity to travel. Taking a three month sabbatical is something Novi Most asks its international volunteer workers to do after three years; we took two months after four years! Thanks to the amazing generosity of friends we ended up visiting America, Canada and South Africa, as well as spending time in the UK. Part of the point of a sabbatical is to rest and catch up with friends and family – we managed to see all our immediate family, even those living in Cape Town – but part of the point is to get inspired so that you return with new ideas.

Much of the work we do here in Bosnia and Herzegovina involves creativity, whether that's through music or craft, or just our approach to activities. Our travels took us to some quirky places: museums, markets, fairs, galleries and urban art installations in three continents. All these were safe bets for inspiration and they didn't fail to deliver. The surprise was the Visitor Center at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. We were aware of some of the work the Foundation supports but didn't expect such an engaging, interactive, and beautifully realised, exhibit.

Inspired: our challenge now is to ensure the good ideas end up being put into action.    

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Over the past couple of years we've said only good things about the EasyJet flights we've taken from both Split and Zagreb. Through social media and real social interaction we've talked about the efficient and economic service we'd experienced. Maybe you are one of the skeptics we've tried to convince. If you are anyone we've encouraged to take advantage of cheap flights we would like to update our advice: when they hit you with a 'hidden' charge they'll hit you hard. Be warned!

EasyJet cannot be blamed for the storm swirling around Zagreb airport yesterday morning and should be commended for the faultless second landing executed by their pilot after the first attempt had to be aborted at what appeared to be the very last moment. However the wake up call they gave us – three figures before breakfast – was of their doing. The check-in assistant tried to convince us the fault was ours; we'd added an extra bag to our booking but failed to add any extra weight allowance for it. The extra bag cost £14.99 to book. Every extra kilo over your allowance is charged at £11. If our other two bags had been 20kg each then I assume the empty extra bag would have been charged at least another £35 just for its own weight. £50 for an empty bag must make it cheaper to purchase a blow-up doll to travel with and borrow their baggage allowance!

While I won't quibble that all of this is probably explained in small print somewhere on the EasyJet website I reject the notion that this error was entirely our fault. At the tail end of two month's travelling on three continents we have booked numerous planes, trains and hotel rooms online and never experienced any other mistakes or misunderstandings. If their website really was clear we wouldn't have been caught out. We are not new to the online booking game. Until yesterday we could genuinely say we'd enjoyed our EasyJet experiences but, as they say, he who laughs last laughs loudest. The house always wins.