Dangerous Landing

Have you ever been to Tegucigalpa?

If you haven’t, let me tell you one thing: if you fly there it will be a landing you will never forget. It will be the first time an airplane takes a vertical inclination on such low altitude that you think the wing touches the houses below. Plus the stir of currents and the sudden immersion between hills will make the usual dangerous landing in Toncontín Intl. Airport in Honduras a unique experience. And to think that this time there wasn’t even turbulence involved.

The most chilling landing

Listed as the third most dangerous airport in the world, It has been subjected to scrutiny very often after several accidents occurred in the past 20 years. Since it was built in 1934 it was thought to serve less powerful air crafts that didn’t require very long runways.

The airport is located on an elevation of 1,005 meters and the runway is barely 2,163 meters long. As a comparison, Fiumicino runway is 3,900 meters and Santiago’s is 3,748 meters long sitting on an elevation of 474 meters.

It’s not just about the runway length but the fact that the airport is nestled in a cove of mountain terrains.

But that’s not it either! What’s even more special about this airport is that there is only one way in and one way out for airplanes, looking like this:

Disclaimer: the photos above do not even reflect the actual excitement nor the seat belt literally holding my whole weight as the plane bended to go through the mountains.

The Arirang Mass Games of North Korea

The Arirang Mass Games are the most beautiful (and controversial) choreographed performance I have ever seen. An acrobatic, dance and gymnastic show involving up to 100,000 participants in Pyongyang’s 150,000-seater May Day Stadium.  Thousands of artists, gymnasts, martial art experts, dancers and acrobats join the stage and perform acrobatic games with  music and colors. They’re held everyyear, and this year in August I joined the crowds in the May Day Stadium of Pyongyang.

Stunning to the eyes, it’s just too beautiful to watch and magic, the music, colours, background noise, the sound of the thousands of boards flapping in the background forming stunning drawings and images.

The Mass Games are a mix of performing gymnasts with a background made of other 30 thousands of children holding cards, see the background images that change every time?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The cards are flipped in such synchronised way that they create the mosaic images you can see in the back. Before everything begins, the cards are flipped creating a sourround noise throughout the stadium, creating lots of excitement.

Its purpose

Each performance has basically two meanings: one is to depict important moments of the (North) Korean history such as the Korean War, the Signing of Armistice in 1953

Remescing war war times in the Korean peninsula.
1953, the Signing of Armistice between the Koreas.

Another purpose of the Arirang Mass Games is to show pride of their national potential in every aspect. Artistic abilities, the birth of Kim Il-Sung, red coloured flowers symbolising working class, their technology progress, armament and military capability, and their neverending hatred for the Imperialism.

Mount Paektu, allegedly the birth place of the Dear Leader Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea also shares the dream of the peninsula’s reunification

The image depicts two ladies dressed in traditional attire who jointly hold a sphere bearing a map of a reunified Korea

I took photos of the event but they won’t do justice. However, the feeling and exaltation I had while I was watching, so many movements, athletes flying on top of our heads are hard to describe.
This is a very short video I made with my phone:

Un-Veiled Women: the rules

Iran is a land of contrast and probably defies what most people think of it. Especially regarding women. Women who strongly belong to a silent yet strong rebellion motion for freedom. It is because of Iranian women that I believe that contrasts are a vital cog of any Iranian experience and those same contrasts are leading the ladies and others to become stunch advocates of freedom.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Few things to know about Iran

1- Among the several social problems Iran is facing, youth and young couples are one of the biggets ones. Young couples cannot walk holding hands, they cannot kiss and show any other sign of affection. Having a relationship out in the open is reserved to married couples. Therefore young unmarried couples tend to meet up in houses and friends’ places. To be able to walk down the street holding hands, you need to married.

2- All women, Iranians and foreigners, by law must cover their head.

3- For women, blouses and shirts sleeves must be at least elbow-long. Skirts and trousers must not reveal anything from ankles up. If a woman is inside a private place, the rules do not apply.

4- The law forbids dancing and drinking in public places (this has been true for at least 3 centuries as Persians used to bring women from Georgia instead of locals Persian women). Depending on the level of faith, a woman might cover only her hair or a more traditional stand will have a woman wearing a chador that will cover most of her body.

Young people, in spite of the limitations, still have fun and enjoy shisha and alcoholic drinks even though hidden from public eyes. These are young people I met at the Sad’ Abad Complex.

The Women’s Movement

Women’s movement in is peaceful yet powerful. Historically, women have lived in a relative progressive society and enjoyed more freedom and equality than any of their neighbours. Women were workers, owners, sellers and tax payers.
With the arrival of Islam, women rapidly saw a decline in their position at every level.
Then things changed again. In the 1930’s, Reza Shah started legislating for women by granting them the right to seek divorce. He also encouraged them to work outside their homes and abolished the veil, a move that polarised opinion among progressive and conservative women. Finally, women gained the right to vote in the 1960’s.
But when in 1979 Iran became an Islamic Republic following the fierce Revolution, the adoption of the Sharia Law affected women enormously. Legal age for marriage plummeted from 18 years old to 9 years old for girls and 15 for boys. Women were obligated by law to wear the headscarf (‘rusari’ in Farsi) and were not allowed to appear in public with a man to whom they were not related to.

On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant a compulsory use of a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day. Photo source: @ Rare Historical Photos

Many things changed for women, freedom of travel, expression, family law fell under religious jurisdiction which means that for a woman to seek a divorce became almost impossible.

What do women dress and look like today in Iran?

It depends on where you go. Women in the capital have had a taste of what emancipation is so it is common to see more modern/rebellious styles strolling the streets of Tehran. They push back their rusaris, wear heavy make up and like to reveal their hair in abundance.

A very friendly girl I met at a shisha café-bar in Tehran. She, like most young people in Iran, has social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

In rural areas, however, tradition is more predominant and the level of faith is more tangible. Women behave and dress more conservatively.

Girls in Yazd, a very traditional town located south-east of Esfahan.

On every inch of Iranian soil, under the law women who venture outdoors must wear a headscarf, the “rusari”, and a long overcoat, known as the “manteau”. Alternatively, they can wear a black cloak known as the “chador”. These are legal requirements, punishable by fines or imprisonment for repeat offenders.

The strictness of the law enforcement depends on the areas. Consequently, it is down to where you happen to be: in affluent north Tehran, women tend to push back their rusaris to reveal an abundance of hair. Their “manteaus” are multi-coloured and stylishly nipped in at the waist.

What to Pack for a Dictatorship

Packing is a pickle, especially for people like me who tend to bring almost… every possible gadget. Packing for Europe is one thing, but what do you pack for a dictatorship?

It will vary depending on where you plan on going.

What’s a Dictatorship

A dictatorship is a type of authoritarianism, in which politicians regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior of citizens. An offbeat destination, for sure, but it’s a an attractive idea for adventurers who wish to keep away from crowds.

In other words , A dictatorship is a form of government in which a person or a small group rules with almost unlimited power. The ruler of a dictatorship is called a dictator, who holds absolute authority in any sphere.

Packing Ideas

Based on internet and common sense, it is easy to pack a suitcase if you go to Thailand, or Spain, or Jordan. But what about the special countries? Like North Korea? Yemen? Or China? Does the packing rule change?

Do not try and take EVERYTHING with you. Exhibit A above.

What you need to keep in mind is that these countries often present warnings and limitations to tourists in order to maintain a certain because of their governments (China, though, is not exactly a dictatorship but does present many limitations) sometimes there are rules set out in advance to prevent any difficulty for and from the visitor. Like North Korea. Myanmar didn’t have ATMs until couple of years ago, so rules and recommendations need to revised from time to time. For North Korea, I wasn’t warned about any specific rule regarding clothing (except the one piece of cloth for a formal visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun), but I distinctively recall the pre-tour information pamphlet with recommendations. Let’s see the bottom lines on packing:

  • Do not pack any religious book with you. You can’t play with this topic as it is highly sensitive in most sporty places (North Korea, Palestine, China, etc).
  • Pack light and with the necessary, do not pack too many pieces of clothing, remember that is always best to travel light with the necessary items. If you find a pretty shirt, you’ll buy it in the moment, but depart light.
  • Photo equipment: bear in mind that professional cameras with lenses up to 250mm might not be allowed in some places. For the rest consider that in many places you won’t find lenses and other camera items, so pack them with you.
  • As ATM machines may not be available, bring lots of cash with you in sufficient quantity for the duration of your trip (Eur and USD will both be fine). Don’t waste time and space for travellers cheques. Just cash.
  • Lots of gifts like tobaccos and cigarettes, pens, mainly intended for bartering and gifts. Very useful items 😉
Cigarettes are always well accepted
  • If you not visiting a muslim countries, you might want to take whiskey or any other fancy alcoholic drinks that locals can’t normally access to. In North Korea they are very appreciated presents to tour guides. Chocolates too!

  • A torch or flashlight. This is a fundamental item. The best countries are those that are sporty, do not always expect light everywhere and have your own.
  • Take with you a useful passport. Many passports are not accepted, like in North Korea a South Korean passport will not be allowed to enter the country. Here is a list of friendly passports and here as well.
  • Notebook in case you want to write down interesting things you hear or see.
Everybody likes Italians, that is a certainty, and Chileans. Although Chileans are a more rare and safer sight in sporty countries.
  • Minimized toiletries: we girls are specialists in finding teeny tiny tooth pastes, shampoos and creams. If you know you’re going somewhere where you will not find these items, use small containers.

 

Follow these rules and you’re good to go 🙂 !

Welcome to the Self-proclaimed Republic of Molossia

A true Micronation

Did you know that the desolate and dry plains of Nevada hide a true gem that almost no one knows of? A self-proclaimed country within another country! This is what we normally know as micro-nations: a small area or political entity that claims national sovereignty but is not recognized by other sovereign states. The name is Republic of Molossia, the very first self-proclaimed sovereign country within the United States, governed by His Excellency Kevin Baugh.

His Excellency, President Kevin Baugh of Molossia

The Republic of Molossia

The Republic of Molossia is a grand micro-nation and self declared sovereign state located in the state of Nevada. Founded on May 26th 1977 it was first known as the Grand Republic of Vuldstein and it was located in Oregon until 1999. Petite, curious and unique, Molossia has its own history, its own currency, its own rules and regulations

Here is the welcome message from His Excellency:

Greetings! I would like to wish you a very warm welcome and assure you that I am delighted that you have chosen to visit our official Molossian Website. This site is an important connection to the world, a link transcending the barriers of distance and helping me to fulfill my commitment to the Molossian people to use the office of President to reach out to others. I hope that it will be particularly helpful in educating the world about our nation. This virtual space will be a place where individuals and groups from many different cultures backgrounds and traditions will be able to learn about Molossia; our culture, our history, our government and our people. As one of the smallest nations on Earth, Molossia has a rich heritage and ever-expanding role on the international scene. A bright future lies ahead of us, and by visiting our website you are part of that destiny. I hope that this site will serve as an invaluable information resource on Molossia, in its unique place in the international world of today. Enjoy your visit! The Republic of Molossia is no different from any other sovereign country that you know

Travel Buddy and I absolutely had to check it out in one of our US trips.

The ruler of Molossia is His Excellency Kevin Baugh, he rules over 33 citizens (including pets) of the micronation he established as a childhood game with his brother, complete with its own rules, border control, traditions and currency. Truly.

Molossia has its own currency, the Valora, and the exchange rates with Euro and US Dollar is properly displayed

The Rules in Molossia

Here are few things you should know prior your visit to the Republic of Molossia:

  1. Visits are allowed by appointment only and arranged in advance. President Kevin Baugh will be delighted to give you a complete tour of his 11.3-acre country accompanied by his constable chief, Alexia.
  2. Customs formalities and entry customs rules are simple and are displayed on the Molossia-United States border.
  3. Passports are not necessarily required to enter Molossia but if you have one it will be stamped upon entry. Other than a valid passport in hand, there are no other visa requirements.
  4. Permission to visit is granted by His Excellency, who reserves the right to refuse or accept the visitor’s petition.
  5. Visa allows visitors to enter as tourist for a maximum of three hours after customs control. Visitors without permission are not allowed.
  6. Foreign nationals are not allowed to take up employment and/or residence within the Republic of Molossia.
  7. Foreign nationals cannot apply for citizenship in the Republic. Citizenship is reserved to residents of the Republic only.
  8. The following items are prohibited in the Republic of Molossia: ammunitions, drugs, tobacco, explosives, fire weapons, incandescent lightbulbs, plastic shopping bags, Catfish, “Fresh” Spinach, Missionaries and salesmen, onions and Walruses are also all prohibited. And finally, ANYTHING from Texas is also forbidden to enter Molossia.
Molossia Bulletin of Customs Regulation

For further information and exciting news and discoveries on the Republic of Molossia, stay tuned as our next post will cover the entire tour of this grand little nation! 🙂

Looking for Tatooine

When George Lucas heard the name of Tataouine and visited the town he liked it so much that he felt the name inspired him to proclame Luke Skywalker’s home planet as Tatooine. I, being a die-hard fan of Starwars, decided to make a pilgrimage to this fantastic set in the remote Tunisian desert.

We had been driving for hours and apart from the obvious beauty of the desert, the dunes, the aircraft fun, and salt plains, we had to see the Star Wars movie set!

Where is Tatooine?

The exact location wasn’t easy to spot as it is fiercely protected and used by locals to earn a few coins, so there are really no maps that take you there. However, we had come prepared and had a rough idea of its locations.

Tunisia served as shooting locations for many of the Star Wars films, and as we drove through this beautiful country we encountered many spots that were used for the whole saga. Ksar Ouled Sultane, used in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as the slave quarters

Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata, later known simply as Star Wars Hotel was used to shoot the Lars dinner scene in Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of The Clones and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Some of the interiors and the courtyard of Luke’s house in The Phantom Menace were filmed in this hotel as well. We could visit this hotel with no problem as many other people do, you can take photos and even see the painted ceiling of what was used for the Skywalker dining room. The funny thing is that in the movie, when Luke walks out of the farm, he appears in a flat deserted area (our mission goal), while in reality, as soon as you walk out of the hotel you’ll see houses, small stone hills and a lot of prickly pear-trees (a variety of cactus that is very common in Tunisia)

However our search mostly focused on finding the spot for the pioneer movie, the one that dazzled all fans around the world: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Easier said that done though, after much driving we started losing hope as most signs would drive us to Episode I and II locations only. But as we approached Tozeur, hints and signs were given to us until we found the Road to Tatooine. This road was built especially for the movie shooting, so that more than 60 tracks could easily reach the locations that will serve as Luke Skywalkers’ home town, Mos Espa, here in Onk Jemal (Berber for ‘camel’s neck’), about 38 km northwest of Tozeur and about 20 km northeast of Nefta

It looked so promising that I couldn’t hide my thrill. We drove until the magic Tatooine appeared in front of our eyes and it looked exactly like in the movie

The unmistakable Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi shrouds with Lightsabers  are used to welcome people and perhaps to let them know they arrived at the correct place.

Iconic Starwars Props

If you are a big fan of the saga as I am, you probably know of those props that were unique and very rememberable like those sticky rockets you coul see in the desert. The rockets (in the movies they were actually moisture vaporators) that you see standing are entirely made of wood, which is impressive if you think about it, they survived through many sand storms and high temperature since they were placed in 1977

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the saga, these vaporators  were devices used on moisture farms in order to capture water from a planet’s air. They were especially used here in Tatooine since water was scarce.

Another very memorable prop is the lightsaber

Darth Vader’s lightsaber. The most famous weapon of the fantasy world ever known.

Details of the houses depict futuristic simple homes

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The inside of houses made basically out of papier-mâché

And more futuristic devices found outside of most houses

A little gift shop with typical Star Wars souvenirs. The town is inhabited by two nomads who run the souvenir store

At the Tatooine souvenir shop you can buy stones, lightsaber replicas and other little props from the Starwars saga.

Unfortunately, one must not forget that we are basically in the Sahara desert, and the Sahara is slowly pushing dunes everywhere, jeopardizing locations such as this one as a huge sand dune has been tracked moving towards Nefta at a rate of 4 cm per day. It won’t be long before this alien town is buried beneath the sand. Go now!

The Witchcraft Sonora Market

Are you superstitious? Do you think you are followed by bad luck? Do you suspect your neighbour is trying to poison you? Harbouring revenge over your cheating wife or husband?
Then this is the right place for you then. The Witchcraft Sonora Market. Travel with me to one of the creepiest sides of Mexico.

Just walk with me as I take you to this colourful and creepy Mercado.

I was told about the obscure Mercado de Sonora, filled with occult things and cures for anything that ails you. So in my latest visit to Mexico City I decided add this superstitious stop in my journey. The travel team had already covered the must-see places and things in this gigantic metropolis so I was very keen on looking for the kind of things I like: the strange things.

It looks like a very big market place focused on esoteric items, the ideal place for those interested in mysticism, occultism and hidden wisdom (a term cherished by many).

It was creepy, for sure, but also very interesting and certainly a nice detour from the regular city attractions.

Vendors were friendly and invited us in easily, though they preferred to remain hidden in front of my camera. See photo below.

As we walked by the aisles, vendors asked us questions and offered us all kinds of solutions to our daily life’s troubles. Things like herbs, claws of garlic, water and essences spray, soaps, saints, skulls, ritual pamphlets, anything you can imagine, including the illegal trade of animals.

The Mercado Sonora is home to many religions other than Catholicism. Here I found a wide range of vernacular religions, sorcery practices and other bizarre faiths and convictions. Voodoo is no stranger here either, with all its incredible imagery and rituals.

It got more and more interesting as I walked through it. Aisled are stuffed with witchcraft items, potions, dolls and amulets.

This creepy market offers a wide range of items that serve to fulfil any macabre wish people harbour. The rich variety of products and shamanistic items will feed your imagination. There are stands with skulls, skeleton representations and dubious containers among other items.

People who believe they are being cursed or ill-wished come to Mercado Sonora to have a spiritual cleansing known as limpia. It is a very common practice and not only in Mexico. It’s a process which normally involves the use of incense, singing prayers and herbal items, either ingested or brushed upon the affected person.

 

People in North Korea

In North Korea you’ll find everyone: farmers, nurses, fishermen, secretaries, school kids with blue-buttons and red handkerchief uniforms, traffic police, sellers, librarians, old people and young people. People in North Korea are like people in most other countries with one crucial difference: everybody looks like they’re still in the late 1940’s.

Our tour, as amazing as it was, gave us the chance to see quite a lot in fact. From the capital Pyongyang to remote countryside villages it’s outstanding how things, impressions, reactions and even reality change dramatically, from the city where everything seems so perfectly in order and sometimes even staged to the most remote village where most people have never seen a tourist before and showed us the sincerest kindness and welcome. Why do I say this? Simply because of the look in their face:

Little girl in Nampho, North Korea.

As we toured around on our bus, my taking photos was limited so most of my shots come from my bus windows. Not too bad I have to say, it was funny to see how most of us were so thrilled to capture every moment that everyone kept their cameras focused on the windows the whole time.

It is not rare to say that people were either sceptical of us foreigners or instructed to act as such. Many theories flew the air within my group on how much of what we saw was genuine, what parts were actually staged. It is not an uncommon thought when referring to North Korea. The most prominent theory was the following: in the capital, people have a certain knowledge of the outside world, even certain access to media restricted to the elites. The countryside instead, are completely oblivious of international events and people.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

People in The Capital

Our time in Pyongyang focused on visiting monuments, statues, museums, libraries and even the maternity hospital. People I found there looked at us with caution, indifference or very little attention. It’s not a city where locals would pile to see foreigners. Sometimes we could perceive some fear, and considering the propaganda they live with every day, it makes sense

On the Pyongyang subway, with wagons coming all the way from post-war Germany. Not a word from locals

The Grand People’s Study House is the city library and one of the most famous buildings. Built in 1982 in honor of Kim Il-Sung 70th birthday, is today a huge study building where we saw people taking classes of art, science, IT, history. Because of the locals’ attitude, some of my group said it was all staged and prepared in advance before our coming.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A young man using an old cellphone model (probably a Nokia 6220), and as I said earlier 3G is accessible in DPRK. It is sometimes available to foreigners, although this policy changes very often.

People in North Korea do not have access to Internet. They instead rely on intranet.
However, at times, 3G might be available to tourists, but it’s highly aleatory as it depends on the current political state.

People in The Countryside

In the countryside people are friendlier, smilier, more intrigued towards us. It’s like curiosity overcomes any sort of idea or fear they might have.

A father and daughter waving at me in Sariwon.

 

Locals dancing at a park in Sariwon.

Young guys working at a cinema stage in Kaesong City, they were staging the scenario for a Japanese style movie

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

People in North Korea are completely devoted to their leaders and their country, every museum guide we found performed their job with high devotion and completely belief towards their Leaders

Our guide when visiting the Chollima Steel Factory.

 

North Korea: before you go

Going to North Korea, at the time, was a fantastic revolutionary idea for traveling. A destination nobody would even consider. The most secretive and hermetic country on earth. North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK, is famous for nothing but negative things on our medias, ruled by the questionable supreme leader Kim Jong-un as part of the family hierarchy, known the top 1 strangest country in the world. This was enough reason for me to go and on top of that it is still incredibly easy to obtain a vist permit.

North Korea’s countryside view. District of Kaesong.

What you need to know about DPRK

  • Capital: Pyongyang.
  • Population: Approximately 25 million but statistics are shady so do not trust this number.
  • Language: Korean, specifically a less evolved version of the language peope speak in South Korea.
  • Currency: even if there is an official North Korean currency, the Won, foreigners are only allowed to use Euros, USD dollars and Chinese RMB.

Travel Tips & Facts

  • The only way to enter the country is via an organised tour, either individual or in a group.
  • Like many other blacklisted and embargoed countries, in North Korea there are no ATM’s. Bring cash.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My Experience in the DPRK

Entering North Korea DPRK is something I will never forget: I have never been able to collect my luggage so quickly at an airport before.

I think I might have mentioned it before, but entering North Korea is very easy, regardless of your nationality. You can fly to Pyongyang from three places: Beijing, Vladivostok and a city in Malaysia that I cannot recall right now (perhaps its capital). However, the overwhelming majority of foreigners travel to Pyongyang from China, either by train or flight. Me and my friends traveled via Air Koryo, although I heard from my other tour fellows that the train experience is quite something.

The only way you can enter the country is by joining an authorized tour from an authorised company. When I signed up for the Young Pioneers Tour, all I had to do was filling an application form like this one

DPRK Visa application form

Of course the DPRK authorities reserve the right to reject your application for X,Y, Z reason, luckily, that wasn’t my case 🙂

I did managed to enter so you’re probably wondering “Ok, but how easy it is to get to DPRK from China?”, and my answer is… It is a pain in the neck mixed up with lots of bureaucratic issues and in some cases even many visits to the Chinese Consulate. The most difficult of part of my application process was indeed applying for a Chinese visa.

The application process consists of a general interview. If all goes well, the Chinese Consulate will retain you passport and return to you with the visa attached in it.
In my case there was no issue at all until the North Korea tour came up in the conversation with the Officer. North Korea, being a sensitive topic for China, will require special attention if you are going there through China. You will be asked many questions and eventually sign a waiver that exonerate the consulate from any responsibility during the trip.

So, as the hardest part is over, let’s go back to North Korea entry process. After our arrival in China, as my application went through, we were instructed on some important tips:

1. Always show respect to the Koreans leaders and avoid offending the local guides and people. At certain places especially statues of the leaders we will often bow to show our respect according to the local customs.

2. We are not allowed to use the local currency in North Korea.

3. Professional video cameras are not allowed to be taken into the DPRK, but handheld digicams have recently been allowed as long as you don’t film anything you’re told not to! Regular digital still cameras are fine, for professional cameras, lenses less than 250mm are allowed- anything over that could be retained at customs until you depart.

4. E-books are fine, and normal books are OK as long as it’s not a Bible, Qur’an or any other religious text. A couple of people were in trouble because they were bringing Bibles with them, so e-hem, no religious text book.

5. It is strongly recommend giving an entrance gift for your North Korean guides when you first arrive at the hotel, and have a ‘sit down’.

Having said this, we were ready to go and we had our North Korean tourist card

At the checking counter at Beijing International Airport, already very excited !

Finally on board of Air Koryo!

Flying on black-listed airline Air Koryo.

 

The Stoic city of Belgrade

In Europe, many cities deserve the obvious attention that Rome, Paris and London have always enjoyed. But aside from the typical already too-beaten capitals and fancy sparkling towns, let’s discover one Europe’s true untapped jewels: the laid-back and stoic and prud city of Belgrade.

I decided to join my friend Riccio and visit this vibrant city as it is also the home town of my mother’s family and I ended up discovering a true artsy and unpredictable beauty.

In spite of its setbacks and destruction derived from recent conflict, Belgrade brazenly holds a classical and artistic look worthy of any European capital without being too glossy and chic.

the joining rivers Sava and Danube.

It is one of those places that I dearly love visiting as it fights to prove any misconception people may have towards Serbians.

Even though post-war lingers on, Belgrade has an underlying confidence and artistic cloak to it.

Belgrade’s history is long and and with many layers. Destroyed and tarnished many many times, Belgrade holds a strategic position in trade roads and it is the joining point of two rivers: the Sava and the Danube.

Former capital of Yugoslavia from its inception as a kingdom in 1918, throughout the post World War II socialist era, right up until Serbia was the last man standing in 2006. Serbs are known for being warriors and proud of their heritage. However, many Belgraders still express a Yugo-nostalgic longing for the multiculturalism and porous borders of the socialist era due to their shared origins and languages. Together with its neighbours, Serbia shares the same spoken language while only the writing is different as Serbia is the only one that keeps using the Cyrillic alphabet.

Serbian delicatessen, displayed in Cyrillic.
Yugoslav sentiment graffiti.

Belgrade: socialist blocks, art nouveau masterpieces, vestiges of the Habsburg legacy and Ottoman relics

Yugoslavia was first a kingdom and then, after World War II, a socialist regime headed by the still much-loved Marshal Josip Broz Tito who attempted to reinstate a pan-Slavic identity and bring the religious disparities under one roof.

Belgrade, with its rich culture, is the city the breaks the Balkans backwardness and veiled progress. In spite of being a European capital, Belgrade has a harder time to prove its attractiveness and worth. While still recovering from war and bombing, Belgrade’s modern side twists into an interesting artistic side.

Belgrade have lived through many traumatic Yugoslav wars until 2001, which ended in a sort of pan-Slavic experiment. The violence perpetrated by Serbian forces led the socialist republic into a whirlpool of international banishment while internally struggling under repression for many years.

Just take a walk down Nemanjina St. to realise how Belgrade’s recent past lingers on people’s minds. Here you will see the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building harshly bombed during the NATO attack in 1999 and such view dominates the entire landscape.

However, Belgrade prevails. Its gastronomy is simply delightful and night life make it one of the most hip-happening cities in the eastern side.

Despite the long-lasting tumult, people in Belgrade know how to have a good time. Cafés and bars are heaving day and night, and their terraces are a simple reminder of European elegance. In few words, Belgrade enjoys the Mediterranean lifestyle of Greece, Croatia, Italy without really having a coastline. Bars are fancy and beautiful, filled with people from all over the region.

Stanito and Karađorđe, the Serbian hero who led the people towards independence from the Turkish.