I know, I know. It’s been a while. And, yes, I missed you too.
For the first time in eight years, I got the chance to go back to my homeland to visit my family.
I got the chance to visit the place I once called home. A long, long time ago.
And today I want to give you a super quick recap of what it was like. And I’ll be honest – there isn’t much structure to this post. I’m just writing things as they come to me.
Writing down random thoughts can be fun.
Let’s get started.
Eight years? Really?
There was once a time in my life when I would go back to visit my family every single summer.
You see, after the war struck in former Yugoslavia (’92 to ’96), my parents and I were lucky enough to get the necessary papers to escape the madness and come to Canada.
We left everything, including all our family and friends.
We came here with nothing but the clothes on our back and a few papers to prove our existence.
A few years later, once the war was eradicated and we settled down in this new country, I started going back to visit what should’ve been home. Every summer my parents would pull me out of school a month early (thanks guys) and ship me back for three months at a time.
I guess they wanted some privacy.
Every time I went back I had the time of my life. And every time I had to come back to Canada I was in tears.
But as the years went by and school/life started getting more hectic, I stopped going. I started losing touch with the people I should’ve been closest to.
Every year I said I would make the effort to go back and every year I failed.
Shame on me.
But this year was different. I finally made it happen.
And it was better than I could have expected.
So where did we go exactly?
We started our trip in Tivat, Montenegro.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Adriatic sea that borders Montenegro (and other countries), I highly, highly recommend you grasp that opportunity with both hands and don’t let it go. It is beyond spectacular.
We then made our way to Podgorica, the capital city of Montenegro.
After visiting some old friends, we made our way up the mountain to our tiny little cottage my family built decades ago in a small, practically unknown village. The roads to get there are steep, narrow, and constantly winding. Gravol kept the stomach calm, but lack of guardrails constantly revealed 200ft drops only inches away. Not for your typical driver.
But once you get to the top, the air is crisp. The water is crystal clear. The mountains are steep. And the forests are thick.
My kind of place.
The families that once inhabited that small village have slowly started dying off.
And as we were leaving we knew that, for the most part, it was probably the last time we were ever going to see them.
That was definitely an unusual feeling.
We then made our way up to Tuzla, Bosnia – the city I was born in – to visit my mom’s side of the family. This is also the city my parents grew up in, met, fell in love, got married, had me, and then had to abandon everything.
What was once a war-torn city (from the last time I remember seeing it), has become a city worth visiting. They have made some major, major improvements.
Most noteably, they created three man-made salt-water lakes called the Pannonian Lakes. They’re a big touristic attraction now.
You see, Tuzla is known for its mining of salt. It’s been nicknamed salt city for this reason. In fact, the name “Tuzla” is the Ottoman Turkish word for salt mine and refers to the extensive salt deposits found underneath the city [source].
Tuzla is an educational center and is home to two universities. It is also the main industrial machine and one of the leading economic strongholds of Bosnia with a wide and varied industrial sector including an expanding service sector thanks to tourism to its salt lakes. The city of Tuzla is home to Europe’s only salt lake as part of its central park and has more than 100,000 people visiting its shores every year. [source]
Someone had the brilliant idea of taking advantage of the city’s natural salt water reserves and creating this incredible attraction.
The water is thought to be therapeutic as it contains a good dose of minerals that make it into your body even as you’re doing an underwater handstand.
Trust me. It’s pretty cool.
With temperatures constantly hovering around 40 degrees Celsius, people crowded these lakes. I mean, just look at this picture. Crazy right!
Since I’m not a huge fan of crowded areas, I managed to get up super early some mornings to get there before it opened so I could do some lane swimming.
The downtown walking center has also seen some awesome renovations. As soon as the temperatures cool off in the evening, people flood the streets to walk with their friends and family.
This is a very common European-city trait.
One that I wish was more predominant here.
Anyway, I spent the remainder of my trip shifting between Tuzla and a small nearby city called Doboj, seeing family and friends that I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.
Did you do any training there?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: although I did go to a gym once with my cousin (I was curious to see what gyms were like over there…they were the same), most of my exercise consisted of swimming and walking. I’d say out of the 20 or so days I was there, I swam feverishly for roughly 15 of them (I’ll be adding swimming to my routine now that I’m back…it was that enjoyable). I also went for long walks through the city every evening.
I did try to take it easier. To relax. To give my body a bit of a break from all the stress it’s experiencing on this side of the ocean. But I’m the type of person who needs to stay active. My body craves it. So every other day I tried to hit it with something different.
Important note: I did bring my CrossRope with me with the intention of using it, but I was stupid enough to put it in my carry on luggage and, of course, they thought it was a weapon and that I looked like a strangler. So it got thrown out in the garbage. I really hope someone in Poland (our transfer flight) is making good use of it.
Dave, if you’re reading this, I need some new ropes!
Did you stick to your usual eating habits?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: umm…nooooo.
Bosnia/Serbia/Montenegro, like many other European countries, are known for their bizarre over-population of bakeries. They’re everywhere. You can’t walk a block without walking into one.
Good quality meat wasn’t very easy to come by, but when it was, I destroyed it. I did, however, eat lots of fresh vegetables from my grandma’s garden when I had the chance.
The rest of the time was spent eating a certain type of pastry known as a pita [see here] (very popular and delicious Serbian dish) and cevape [see here] (an even more popular Bosnian dish consisting of small meat sausages stuffed in a pita bread known as a lepina).
But, one of the best meals I had there (a few times) looked something like this:
- 4 eggs from my grandma’s chicken coupe
- 1 glass of yogurt from a nearby cow
- 1 large tomato-cucumber salad from my grandma’s garden
If I could, I would have eaten that every single day. My God it was good.
I’ll be honest though, it’s nice to come back to my typical meat-veggie-fruit-nuts Paleo style routine.
Aren’t people really fat from eating all those pastries?
You’d think so.
But, actually, they’re not.
Although the three countries I visited did have their fair share of overweight people, it was nothing like it is here in North America.
Why could that be?
I can’t say for sure, but I have a few theories.
Theory 1: 99.9% of the population smokes. Chain style. As in you start your day with a pack and end your day with two packs. I feel like I smoked a carton of cigarettes myself just being in their presence. And study after study has shown that smoking suppresses appetite. So really, even with all that those fattening foods around, people simply didn’t eat that much. And this was noticeable.
Theory 2: Portions are much smaller. I think I surprised a few people with my uncanny ability to wolf down a massive meal. Everyone there seemed to keep their portions small and infrequent. Maybe it was because every meal was accompanied by a coffee (another appetite suppressant). Who knows?
Theory 3: Everyone walks. Everywhere. Europe is known for its walking cities. Serbia/Montenegro/Bosnia are no exception. As I already mentioned, every single night people swarm the downtown area to walk with their friends and family. And, with the economy tanking heavily, people simply can’t afford cars so walking becomes a more predominant form of transportation.
Like I said, these are just my theories. But I suspect that they at least play some factor when it comes to weight control.
How come you didn’t write while you were there?
I thought about doing it.
You know, this blog means a lot to me and putting up useful posts for you guys is something I always look forward to. But after nearly two years of consistent writing and posting, my brain started to hurt.
I simply needed a break.
I needed to get away from everything, including the numerous screens I spend a good portion of my day looking at.
So as much as I enjoy pressing my ever-so-thick fingers on the keyboard and seeing words magically appear on the screen, I have to say that this break was refreshing. And much needed.
I’m sure you understand.
What do you have planned next?
Lots of really, really good stuff.
I got some really great posts lined up and I can’t wait to share them with you.
First one coming up, if things go according to plan, is a guest post from the one and only Dave Hunt from CrossRope. I’m excited to show you guys what he’s put together. It’s some advanced stuff, but I’m positive that you will find it useful.
Anyway, that’s all for now.
It’s nice to be back in business.
If you have any questions or comments about my trip (good comments only, of course), please feel free to share them below. I’ll be happy to give you some more insight into my beautiful homeland.