A Travellerspoint blog

Echoes of the Past pt. 2 - The Last Days of Benny

When the fantasy ends, reality is all around

Rumbling down the road, the Hajji crew crossed another border. 3 months and running now, 3 people remained, and only 3 countries left until a fork in the road, as the trinity runs amok in religion so it did in the last of our Hajji days. Calm had overwhelmed us at this point, with all experiences being met with a slow-turn of the head and a tranquil stare. Everything was at peace. As Mason Jennings says, "Freedom is the ability to feel love for everyone". Welcome to Montenegro.

Another Lonely Planet - Western Balkans shot, this exact shot is listed in their highlights. Lauren got it again!

My last leg of the trip was definitely one of my favorite portions. The rugged natural beauty of Montenegro and Albania were unparalleled. Immediately upon our arrival, we drove around the Bay of Kotor, a massive fjord-esque (geographically speaking its actually a flooded canyon, gableiiiyme!) and festered down in the little town of Kotor. Rain poured? I recall. The next morning me and Cousy went to get beer and relieve ourselves. We luckily stumbled upon a little cafe manned by a supermodel and superman, Milos. He fed us, let us drink beer at his restaurant, and made us laugh for the next 3 days. What else did Kotor hold? A magnificent hike to the top of a fortress ruins, a breathtaking drive to the top of the mountain, many a beer and some televised tennis matches. One night a stray dog took a liking to me and Cous and Rain and followed us around all night while we fed it hot-dogs and tried to pry fish hooks out of its bleeding ears. Happy times indeed. Look at the pictures!

Gang at the top of fortress overlooking the Bay of Kotor

Me and Daniel Norfolk once began a religion of drinking on "slats" behind the liquor store in Calgary. Whenever slats are found this tradition continues. Here, me and Cous revel in Norfolk-induced nostalgia

Kotor Bay from high above

His name is Cous

And her name is Rain

We camped at the top and listened to Harry Potter audiobooks at the top of this peak, sauciering barns and watching the set of sun

The sunset was a babe, so we watched

Then we bbq'd these little rascals in the dark at the top of the mountains

Cous and Rain getting silly on Hajji's roof on the waydown (photojournalism as seen by Bob)

We spent a nice jaunt in Kotor (3 nights) but with precious days left, and Albania foaming on our lips we had to depart. Another city, another group of people we traded love with, another goodbye. We cruised south down the coast and stopped in Sveti Stefen, a resort town full of luxery hotels which was curiously closed for a whole year! We looked on from afar, swam in the dark, and listened to the rain patter on Hajji's broad shoulders

Sveti Stefen by Night

Sveti Stefen by Day

With the coastal mountains and fjords of Montenegro in our rear-views, we continued to Albania. We'd heard a lot about this country, a lot of people saying "DON'T GO!". As usual, we ignored them. It proved to be amazing, feeling more like India than anywhere else we had been. Rugged roads, peasants and farmers strolling about, gypsies causing trouble, all the stuff we'd come to love. The farther away you get from the comforts of the West, the more comfortable we found ourselves. We arrived in Shkodra and tried to find our bearings. Under a downpour, I found a tourism shop and shuffled in. We need information, about ferries to Italy, about what there was to do in the city, about where to go in Albania, about where to fix our broken back window (see the post below!), and we found it all in the friendly hands of a man named Sam. A curious and extremely excitable creature, Sam became our host for most of the next three days we spent here. He hooked us up with a glass-man to fix our window (who had beautiful eyes, a common theme amongst many mechanics and glass-makers we have met......many have eyes of angels), found us the best places to eat dinner, took us on a historic tour of the castle with his EXTREMELY knowledgeable father (who also wanted to help us at every turn), got us ferry tickets to Italy, and even took us out on a RAW Kareoke tear! Hooray for welcoming spirits!

Sam, our wonderful host and guide to Albania

After Shkodra we headed north and took a ferry through a highly-recommended lake pass, which wandered through massive mountain peaks and was quite delightful. The ferry was full of a whole whack of ex-pats who lived in Albania and were taking their kids to some retreat in the mountains. They loved our youthful spirits and gathered around us to give us advice and hear our tale. One little angel we met had even been born in Guelph, Ontario to her parents who were Norwegian and Albania, small world. After the ferry ride, one of the coolest drives the Hajji had ever done began. We wove through the mountains we had just passed under for hours at dizzying heights. Pictures arn't uploaded yet, but you will see them one day! And they are amazing! You have to see them! Then I went to bed, and Cousy drove for a bit, and when we awoke we were in the town of Puke. Baaaaaarf! Nobody did, but we had done that enough elsewhere.

Ren and Boo at the gates of Puke

We sat for coffee and brekky (they had great rice-sausage breakfasts here) and were writing some postcards, when an obtrusive man came over and demanded that I stop writing with my left-hand. Devil-spawn I supposed, I indulged while he watched, and switched back to my God-given talent when his back was turned. Here we are obeying

Writing with your left-hand is evil

The end was nigh. Neiiigh. We busted our little Hajji down the roads of Albania towards Durres, our last stop in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. After this it was all Western Europe (and a taste of Africa to come), and we had really reached a turning point. A mentionable highlight for Albania (as well as many other Eastern European countries), is the assortment of hitch hikers you get. With cars being expensive, many people just hitch hike between villages, hopping on boards for just a few kilometers or minutes. Each little town presents an assortment of interesting characters you could pick up. And we did as much as possible! Check out this GEM

This man might have been a diety of some sort, his hands were massive, his smile and sense of humor tremendous, I am certain he could perform miracles

We arrived in Durres for our last few hours. Pizza, ice cream, postcards, a massive stock up of beer and we found our way to the port. The largest and longest ferry ride of the Hajji Journey, Durres to Bari across the Mediterranean Sea. What to do all night? After Rain tuckered off me and Cous played a long game of war and talked about where we had been and where we had to go. A good chat indeed. At some point things turned cloudy and we lost our composure. Rain woke up and we were shouting. Then we went to bed. Someone might have celebrated a little town we were in just a few days before.....

Celebrating the majestic village of Puke

Surrounded by proper families and citizens

We arrived in Bari, Italy, me and Cous still drunk from the ferry ride, and my last day was spent sleeping in the back of the Hajji as Lauren driving a full-day to get us to Pescara. To say Lauren's driving skills improved over my stay in the Hajji is an understatement, she went from not knowing anything about standard driving to being a pro. Incredible. One last night in the Hajji was spent outside the airport in Pescara, bbqing some skewers again. Then I awoke, I went to the airport, and rescinded into the realm of normality.

Sitting here weeks later, full of my mothers food and preparing to sleep in my queen-size bed, these memories seem increasingly distant and ever-more important. The 3-months I spent with Marcus and Ren, and all the others in the Hajji, were some of the best of my life, sentiments echo'd time and time again by many members of this journey. The quest, which was put together by Me, Marcus and Ren, over about a years time, was truly a success. A portion of my life that I will forever look back upon with a twang of sadness and a rush of joy. Immeasurable happiness fills my body right now, thinking about this trip.

Hajji, my dear, I miss you so, and pray I will lay my eyes upon your kind curves once more in my life. Marcus and Ren, continue giving the gift of laughter to everyone you meet, we all await you're return.

Much Love,
Ben a.k.a. Bob a.k.a Boo

Bye Bye Hajji People

Posted by rencous 08:31 Comments (2)

Echoes of the Past pt. 1

Living in the future and singing in the past

A satellite blogger, I sit afar,
A dream of the time I lived in Acar
Calgary is cold and covered in snow,
Oh where oh where did my sweet Hajji go

I promised the sweet saints of names unknown that I'd help them, and help them I will. The blog thrives on the spirit of the past, and to come back to the place I once was, is a vacation in itself. Since leaving the Hajji nearly a month ago, I've spent a sentimental week in Holland, a childish frolick around the coast of BC, and now I'm back where I belong, in my parents basement. I still hear whispers in my sleep. I sometimes feel lost in my own home. Surrounded by friends and family dearest to me, I drift in and out of focus and space. Who am I? Never mind, enough about me; this is about vodka and pickles for breakfast. Back in Canada I'm going to finish off my travels in the Hajji and help Marcus and Ren keep this blog semi-current!

As the blessed ones continued to travel the land,
Those touched by the Hajji can lend our hand,
Speak words of late about times so great,
Traveling placidly amidst the haste

Lets step back to where the scribe last dipped his quill and return to Bosnia....

Boo and Cous sitting in front of Mostar Bridge

It would be fitting to delve into some of the torrid history of Bosnia at this point, but time doesn't allow it. Mostar is one sitting center in this tragedy, and as we fled from misfortune which pales in comparison, we took refuge here. Learning the danger of leaving Hajji unattended, we ensured that she was under the secure gaze of security at all times. It's at times like this that you need the comfort of your friends, and lucky for us we had one on a beautiful island just hours away. Leaving behind the memories of Bosnia i Herzegovina which will be with us for the rest of our life, we crossed the boundary which separated the Hajji from comfort and calamity, and returned to the paradise of Croatia. On to the port town of Split....

Cous and Rain sitting in the ruins of Split

We stopped for a night in this beautiful bustling town before hopping on the ferry and heading to see our friend Dora (who we had met at Exit Festival some months ago) where she was operating a hostel she and some business partners had started that season - the Shangri Lah. After a short ferry ride (the first time Hajji went on the water!!!) we arrived on Brac island where we would spend a couple days of rest and relaxation. With free internet, beds, showers, friends, festivity, this was a welcome stop after the trouble last week we had.

Fooling around before getting on the ferry

Cous sitting at the top of the mountains on Brac Island

Benny doing some space snorkeling

Dora! Our fabulous, frisky, and fantastic host on Brac Island - All those who visit Croatia, visit the Shangri Lah!

Croatia is sort of paradise - Cousy swimming at the cliffs

If anyone picks up a copy of Lonely Planets - Western Balkans guide, this is the cover shot! Taken by the one and only Lauren Elliot! Gasp!

The boys partying at the Shangri Lah Hostel - Brac Island

An island surrounded a warm water is home
A lifestyle which can't be described by a poem
Day in and day out, meeting all the smiles we could
We quickly learned that everywhere you go, people are good

After the sojourn on the island, the Hajji once again crossed the sea back to mainland and prepared for its last leg south for a little while. With Ben's flight (Italy - Holland) just a week away we had two last gems to discover, and what gems they turned out to be. We breezed through the tourist haven of Dubrovnik (another interesting city to read up on!), and continued south towards the border.

The gang just outside of Dubrovnik

The beautiful old town of Dubrovnik

We had scampered through not even one country since our last window smashing, and sour-fortune plagued us again! Cruising down the beautiful coastal roads of Croatia suddenly there was a crack and a crash, the back-window of the Hajji was shattered! We thought we had again befallen the ill gaze of a sniper, but it turned out to be far more innocent with the pedals of our Dutch bicycles having decided to crash the window (after over 20,000km riding there.....). We applied some ducktape and continued....on to Montenegro, first stop - Kotor!

The smashed back window due to evil Voodoo bicycle witchcraft

Posted by rencous 04:20 Comments (2)

Her Majesty the Hajjesty







God, she's been good to us! Can't believe there's only 9 weeks left!!

In Cordoba, Spain, right now...off to Morocco in the next couple days. The Hajji goes to Africa!!!!

Cous and Ren

Posted by rencous 03:25 Comments (1)

The Hajji Diary pt. 4

Two Entries by Marcus - September 6th

Entry #1:
"Bob (a name I have for Benny) and I continue to suce burr. Another sun has scurried, and we thank Krishna for that, cus September 4th/5th was beyond a bout of tumult.

"Poor, sweet, undeserving, unsuspecting, kind and kindred Hajji - battered twice within a sun-cycle. One replaced windy, one still shattered, yet Hajji, I feel, we all feel, is happy; we have done our best to comfort her, to rescue her, and now we accept jar in her, calming Herbie Hancock folds about her, bright yet dim conversation emits from her, and warm candles, warm breath, warm thoughts and sweaters resound.

"It's been an unfortunate and unwarranted day, but Boo (another name I have for Benny) and I have conversed, and we agree that the situation is infinitely better now: we have removed Her to a campground, trees and other vans surround. She is away from the terrifying mortar-marked concrete that produced the false men who damaged her...she, and we, and all of us, are away, and safe."

Entry #2:
"From Sept. 4th, approx. 9:00pm, through Sept. 5th, approx. 4:00pm, our worldview had a shakedown. Our idealism was shattered like plastic or glass, our naivete exposed. Trust and hope, these abstract goodies, were carried away by a delinquent wind, a wind that ruffles unsuspecting hair, scatters honest leaves, lifts skirts of holy men's daughters, and blows and chases and makes refugees of tourists."

Posted by rencous 11:27 Comments (1)


Yikes and jeewilikers! September 4th to the 5th.

It was September 4th, and the Hajji was rolling along, slurping diesel and putting kms behind her, as she do. We approached the Croatia-Bosnia border, in high spirits, as we do, as our experiences have taught us that a smile full of teeth does magic to the constitution of a border guard. We applied said smiles, and rolled on up to the hut. A handsome woman almost immediately directed us to get out of Hajji, and she proceeded to rummage about like a hunter-gatherer. Our first search! We were delighted!

She kept asking us if we had pills, and bluffed about having a dog "just over there". We maintained our convivial dispositions, (con-viv-i-al: -adjective; fond of feasting, drinking, and merry company), and the rude invasion was over before we knew it. This act of intrusion, such foreshadowing as it turned out to be, unfortunately was not recognized. We continued on to Sarajevo ignorant of our fate.

The road was lovely, as it always is when escorted by Hajji, and we entered the historical capital of BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) at dusk. A massive white Ford van filled with Kiwis on vacation from their remittance labour in London had parked on the same side-street as us. A splendid chat was had, and morale was correspondingly heightened. We strode off to enjoy the city, accepting beer at every turn, filling our empty bellies with cheap and delicious Italian/Bosnian fusion. The town was alive with young and attractive Bosnians strutting up and down the main promenade. We resolved to return to Hajji, suck some more burr, and escape into the night to fraternize with locals.

You won't believe what greeted us when we made it to her! Hajji, that steward of the land, that ambassador of joy and purity, had been vandalized, desecrated...obviously the villains failed to observe her sacred and hallowed character. Before I tell you what happened, let me describe her body. Along her right side, she is adorned with a slippery sliding door, complete with tinted window. Just behind the door, there is a set of two plexi-glass windows, one of which slides to allow Balkan air to breeze in. It was the fixed pane, (a double-paner at that), which we found smashed! Our stomachs dropped and our throats tightened...never before had she been victimized so. It was really a terrible feeling.


Ben, in foul mood, showing the crime.

We ran a quick search of the inside; nothing was missing. It was simply the work of misguided and hateful youths, no doubt paying forward the episodes of brutalization visited upon them by drunk fathers and powerless mothers. We were all feeling a tad shaken up, so we stayed in and played cards till sleep took us.

The following morn, we got the window replaced, and promptly took Hajji to a new parking space on the other side of the river, (bad guys can't swim). We got dressed, and put on our makeup...and it was then that Ren realized her little bag was missing! All her jewelry that she had accumulated in the past 18 months of traveling, along with lots of other little treasures, were gone. The window was nothing - they can be fixed no problem - but these other things, were more than just things. They were memories and physical manifestations of people and places we had met and seen throughout our travels. It was bitter, the feeling we all had. With heads down, but chins still up, we locked Hajji and made our way through the streets of Sarajevo toward the police station.

We walked off the street, up the steps of the cop house, and straight into a cloud of smoke and language-barrier-aided inefficiency. Hours were spent fruitlessly trying to get a report out of them, until finally, defeated, we walked out of there and back to Hajji.

Coming around the final corner to where she now rested, I joked that I hoped she was alright...but when she came into sight, a half block away, we all saw that the driver-side door was wide open! Now stop here for a second. I want you to imagine, really imagine, the scene. Coming back from the police station, having been there reporting a violent attack on our baby, we see that her door is open on a busy street in the middle of the day; it was a sickening wave that enveloped all of us. I immediately started running to her, got there and saw that our bags had been tossed around. Ben's was there, so was Ren's big one...I scanned for my two sacks: nothing. My heart was beating so fast, and when the others got to me, I told them in a dry voice that my bags were gone. We were all completely in shock, unable to focus on anything. Then we noticed that the passenger-side window had been shattered. Check it out...


And the bastards had to break it from the outside too...glass everywhere.


These guys we got to know pretty good...and lots of thanks to the lovely girl who helped us talk to them.

We waved up to a window where a woman had been watching us, and had her English-speaking daughter call the cops for us. They came, she came down to translate, and the routine notes and pictures were taken. Then the inspector came...the guy had helped us at the station 45 minutes earlier, and smacked his forehead in tired dismay. We were told to report back to the station on Monday, (it was Saturday about 4pm), so that our statement could be taken when the bilingual policeman was working. Alright, we said, but there was no way we were going to spend the next 48 hours in Fright-City, BiH. We hightailed it to the outskirts, to the safety of a Dutch-infested campground.


Cous, two bags lighter.

The once-beleaguered, oft-besieged city of Sarajevo had showed its teeth and made its point. We took what they had left us, and crawled out of town.

Posted by rencous 01:51 Comments (2)

Back to Balkan Basics...

Hajji's Adventures from August 31st to September 4th The Hajji returns to the Balkans - Slovenia to Croatia to Bosnia and back!

Marcus and Ben and Lauren Reunited in Trieste, Italy! (Only Marcus and Ben pictured.)

After the weekend apart (Ben in Codroipo and Marcus and Lauren in Venice, see previous posts!), the Mother and two Fathers of Hajji reunited in Trieste to continue the journey. Our peculiar traveling family made its way East, back to the purpose of our search, the paradise we sought, the Balkans again. Our first trip through the Balkans took us through Serbia and Macedonia to Greece and back up through Bulgaria and Romania, and we missed many of the ex-Yugoslavian countries, which still lay in wait for us to discover. Our first stop, the most affluent of the bunch and a country we had just visited a week before: Slovenia.

Nice little forest campsite, Lauren and Ben preparing for a BBQ in the countryside of Slovenia

Having spent time at both Lake Bled and the capital, Ljubljana (see previous posts!), the Hajji did a quick travel through the country, with enough time to visit the Skocjan caves, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a must-see in Slovenia (according to our trusty Lonely Planet book). The caves were magnificent; we walked nearly 2km through the winding tunnels and then got tired and went to the Hajji.

Inside Skocjan Caves

Boo and Cous in the Caves

After the caves we headed south to Croatia, another new country and without a clue where we were actually headed. Driving in this country was certainly one of the nicest drives we have found in the 3 months the Hajji has been rolling. The coastal road snakes around every natural nook and cranny that the coast holds, dipping in and out of small picturesque villages. We arrived in Croatia and went straight to Rijeka for an afternoon dip.

Coastal shot of Croatia, the driving was amazing!

Our itinerary had always had places we had to be, or people we had to meet, and suddenly we had none of this. Where to go? According to our guide book, there was good white water rafting in Bihac, just a couple hundred kilometers away in Bosnia. Why not? Lets go! The Hajji crew arrived late into Bosnia (another flawless border crossing) and rolled into a farmers field under the watchful gaze of a thousand million twinkling stars. Beers and cards ensued, our nightly ritual.

Camping in a field outside of Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Upon awakening, trouble was afoot. The Hajji had been having trouble starting for the past month, but always did what she needed to do after enough buhbuh-bouncing of the engine (see video below for an impression!). But it was not to be this morning, she wouldn't start, our beloved sat cooking in the sun with no fire in her belly. Lock and key, bikes off the back, and our beautiful maiden Lauren set out into the town to find assistance. In mere minutes she was back with a scruffy looking fellow who seemed eager to help us. Jumper cables would not work, it wasn't our battery causing the trouble, the Hajji would just not start. Buh-buh-bounce-buh-buh-bounce, the song continued, but without the celebratory explosion of white smoke and rumble from within. With some elbow grease from its crew, we pushed the Hajji enough and were able to get her started this way. In the process, the shifter came out of place, trouble trouble trouble. We went straight to a mechanic to diagnose our problems....

Mechanic tinkering with Hajji's Engine

We found a friendly man, with beautiful eyes, 5 minutes from where we had slept. We explained our problems in a Charades-like-manner (a common form of communication when English doesn't suffice) and he got to work. The shifter was fixed in 5 minutes, the engine opened up next, after some troubleshooting he determined our problem - broken glow plugs (a diesel engine's version of spark plugs we later learned). He had some in stock! 15 minutes later the engine was fixed, rumbling with the spirit we all know so well. Our muffler was also loose and had been rattling for weeks, a couple cranks and it was fixed. After checking our fluids, the kind and gentle-man gave us the thumbs up, and asked a mere 20euros in exchange for his service. We were happy to say the least!

Ben and Marcus with the cause of our problems - broken glow plugs!

With a healthy and happy Hajji, we scurried into town to see if we could get off on a rafting trip that day. And we did (of course!). Driving 10 minutes outside of town, we met a nice Bosnian family who ran the company, and soon we were rumbling through the countryside en route to our rafting destination, the Una river. It was a blast! The river coiled through the countryside like a snake, with Croatia on one side and Bosnia on the other. The rafting started with a 15m cliff which our guide threw the boat off and then jumped off himself, it was huge! We rafted over huge 5m waterfalls and through rapids for a couple hours, doing some of the rapids in our wet suit. Rain's camera was out of batteries, but luckily we got some of these gems before the trip....

Ben Marcus and Lauren in their Rafting Safety Gear

Prepared to give the river everything we had!

Ren in front of one of the beautiful waterfalls

After rafting we headed back to Croatia and spent a day in Zadar and Trogir, slowly making our way south down the coast. Croatia, with all its beauty and proximity to Western Europe has been firmly gripped by the grasp of tourism. In Zadar you could scarcely escape tours of aging Brits during the day, which made us queasy. But they were there for a reason, Croatia was glamorous indeed. Our days and nights in this coastal towns were spent cruising around, drinking beer, playing cards, laughing at and with people, and frequently visited by hitchhikers we picked up along the way. Here's a picture of one beaut we picked up on the way to Trogir.

Ben, Hrvoje Ivancio (he had to write that down...) and Marcus Drinking in Trogir.

An evening and a night in the lovely coastal town of Trogir, and we once again made haste for Bosnia...next destination: Sarajevo!

Posted by rencous 05:43 Comments (0)

Total Trip Map

Where we have been! June 24th to September 21st

Just to give a little overview of the whole trip, here is a map of everywhere we have been so far. Almost 3 months and nearly 10,000km now. Its been a blast! Here is a map of where we have been.....

UPDATE: I am back in Holland now missing the Hajji more than ever. Here is a quick video recap of the trip, shot and edited by the cinematic wizard Daniel Van Hauten, who accompanied us in the Hajji during our Turkey stay, and met us at Sziget festival as well. Whoop!

Posted by rencous 03:05 Comments (1)

The Jewel of Europe

Venice, Italy. August 29th-31st

Cous and B are up to their necks in blog catch-ups so I (Lauren) have volunteered to tell you guys about our experience in Venice, in attempts to lighten their loads.

To begin with, this was a Cous and Rain exclusive adventure, Benny had prior engagements with a splendid little friend named Ilaria in Codroipo, which was a mere 60km away. Benny came and dropped us off at the local train station in Mestre (the city 5km outside of Venice) where our wonderful friends Manoj and Namrata Adhikari were waiting with open arms and trunk. We had originally met Namrata about a year and a half ago when she treated us like royalty, putting us up for 4 days in the Adhikari home in Pokhara, Nepal. The remainder of the family lived in their second home, found in Mestre, which we were lucky enough to enjoy during our stay in Venice. They treated us like family from the get go, supplying us with a huge bedroom, hot showers, laundry service, and treated us to 3 or 4 delicious Nepali/Italian infused meals.

Our hosts, the wonderful Adhikari's!

Namrata and Manoj (recently married charming young sweethearts) insisted on showing us the breathtaking sites of Venice themselves. We spent a sweltering afternoon admiring what Venice had to offer: St. Marco, the gondolas, the Grand Canal, Italian icecream ..etc.


Although the heat was really quite overwhelming, it might have been due to the 20 million tourists that are said to stampede in and out of Venice anually. After a few hours in Venice it was obvious why it is known as "The Jewel of Europe", but we couldn't help but feel that it had been ruined by the hoards of tour groups, thousands of tacky souvenir shops and of course the ridiculous prices (ex. 1hr parking in Venice=8€/hr. Internet=7€/hr.!!!). To be honest, that first day, we were relieved to finally be leaving the cramped alleys, and crowded streets.

Cous feeling the heat on his sweaty brow.

Day two was a completely different story. Marcus and I had decided to go into the city solo; this plan was largely based on the weather forecast which was calling for heavy showers that afternoon. We jumped at the chance and rode the 10 minute busride back into Venice. Once the thunderstorm began and the torrential downpours really started, the streets were evacuated of all their well-dressed tourists, next the ill-prepared backpackers ran for shelter, afraid of dampening their newly purchased souvenirs. Cous and I had the streets to ourselves. Finally. We strolled at a leisure pace through the storm, soaked to the bone, catching lears from every crowded awning, taking our shoes off in the end. This was my favourite time in Venice....until the next day!

Ren on a balcony

A Gondalier

The Grand Canal

Okay, day three. Manoj and Namrata took us to Lido, one of the local beaches, and we watched Italians soaking up those sexy rays. After this, we headed back to Venice where Manoj had arranged a private boat ride for us through a friend of his. It was spectacular! We saw Venice from the water, snaking through small canals and kissing under bridges.

Ren on the boat

About 30 minutes into the ride Sanjay (Manoj's friend) pulled the boat up to a small dock infront of a beautiful, ancient building. Namrata, Manoj, Cous, Sanjay, and myself all got out and entered the building. Sanjay told us that a friend of his is the housekeeper of this place, and that he thought we might like to see the inside of a real Venitian Palace. We entered a tiny little steel elevator, only big enough for 4, that slowly squeeked its way up to the second storey. The gate was pulled open, we were greeted by Man, a Nepali local who takes care of the palace while the owners are away. We walked into the main livingroom ..... my jaw dropped, eyes widened .... I started to feel a little hot and overwhelmed. My first thought,"my parents would DIE if they were here!" I was flustered with the task of attempting to capture the detail and beauty of this 600 year old Venetian Palace, once home to an Italian Prince and Princess. To give you an idea here, we're talking 22 ft ceiling, original furniture, some of which were so rare that they actually had their own passports! I won't go into detail of this place, this is why I am posting all these pictures.

The Diningroom

Ren being a debutant

Palace Bedroom

This Sofa has its own passport!


After a mind blowing tour Man took us into his dinning quarters where he fed us fancy hordeourves and got us drunk off 2 1/2 bottles of pretty pricy champagne.

Man feeding us free food and drink at the Palace

After a good hour or so, and a few photo shoots, of course, it was time to go.

Photo Shoot

Photo Shoot

Photo Shoot

Photo Shoot

Photo Shoot

Cous had a special night planned for the two of us. Still high off that experience, and quite honestly, drunk as well, we managed to find a beautiful little romantic restaurant right on the water. Feeling like high class society, we sipped our wine, and slurpped our pasta, and took in the magical evening. After dinner we planned on taking a late night gondola ride (which I have been looking forward to for months), although when we emerged from the restaurant it was well past 11:00pm, and all the gondolas were fast asleep. It might have been due to the 4 glasses of champagne and bottle of wine at dinner, combined with the once-in-a-lifetime sneak peak into a Venetian Palace, but it really didn't seem to faze me much. I figured we just had our own FREE private boat and a backstage pass to the real Venice, and that beats the hell out of an overpriced gondola ride any day! (FYI that 80€ we saved on missing the gondola went to another boat ride, whitewater rafting in Bosnia a few days later....much more exciting!)

So all in all, Venice was easily the highlight of Italy (as expected), although it is all thanks to our friends and family that made it truly breathtaking: Namrata, Manoj, Saroj, Mumma, Papa, Sanjay, and Man, thank-you from the bottom of our hearts.

Posted by rencous 09:31 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

Look Up, Look Waaaay Update

Been Behind, Still Staying There

It's September 18th now, and we haven't tantalized your tasty blog-buds for a while; and this little morsel isn't the remedy. Just a note...

Made it from Montenegro into Albania yesterday, in the midsts of a murderous rainy pourdown. The Hajji's back window, for those not in the know, shattered itself on the highway in Croatia, (the result of a Dutch bicycle pedal leaning against her for three months), and the southern Montenegrin roads were none too nice on it. We arrived at the border with half the back bay open to the elements, and our duct tape straining to keep out God's tears. No problem though...we've sheltered ourselves in the town of Shkodra, and are in the warm and soft hands of an Albanian travel agency family, a la Waserman.

Rectification re: up top...Ben is beside me tapping out an Italian entry that'll satisfy. By the time you read these words, you will have read his.

On another note, Lauren, aka Rain, Ren, is set to write her first blog in the coming days. It'll be up to her to recount the short days her and I, (Cous), spent in Venice - sans Ben and sans Hajj! Read her binary and make her feel welcome...

And furthermore, we have just uploaded dozens, nay, SCORES, of photos that should better illustrate what the Hajji crew has been getting up to and in to. Hope you enjoy! For now, a taste...


Ren captured this rare photo of Benny letting out a wholloping sneezum...in a campsite outside the Hate-Centre of the Balkans: Sarajevo.

Love from all of us to all of you, wherever you are...we're always here.

P.S. To let you know we are all doing tremendous, this was shot 3 days ago in Montenegro.

Note: Ren's skilled finger is simply pointing out our dear and ready Hajji in the valley below.

Posted by rencous 09:59 Comments (0)

The Hajji Goes to Italy

Pizza Pasta Lasagna Spaghettios Super Photo Loaded Italy Blogggg!!!

Hajji's Adventures from August 25th to September 2nd

Big wheels keep on turning...proud bloggers keep on blogging. blooogggginnnng. and the blog continues....
After Slovenia, our Arab Sex Chariot lost some serious weight. Foget and Neala had departed in Vienna, Alex Derry left us in Slovenia, Our original plan was to head straight south after Vienna, but a few circumstances changed our plans and we decided to prolong our re-entry into the Balkans and instead head west. Our double-dutch-delights Marjolijn and Ineke only needed a ride to Venice before they would say their goodbyes. We are forever in favor of charity, so strapped the girls in and headed to yet another country.....a nation who credits itself as the inventors of civilization and pasta, hairy Italia!

We cruised from Ljubljana with our crew of 7 and dropped of the Dutchies at the station in Metre (Venice not being able to be reached by car due to its hypo-osmolarity)...down to just Marcus, Lauren, Ben, Conrad and Brett. Our sweet and skinny Kiwi friend Brett was just about to set off on a 6-month Erasmus exchange stint in Bologna, Italy, and we thought it fitting to take him to his new home. To Bologna!

Lauren eating a Tripasta Delight!
The Boys Walking Through the Oldest University in Europe - Bologna

The heart of communism in Italy, inventors of bolognese sauce, lasagna and mortodella, our tongues frolicked in a sea of salve anticipating the tastes to come. We were not disappointed. Cruising the streets looking for food, we drank over-priced Italian beer and enjoyed the last hours we had together. A once crammed vehicle, the days of the Hajji as a full vehicle were nearing its end. During our night in Bologna we had some interesting adventures with a park-sprinkler and some friendly police officers. To read more, scroll down to entry number 24, Real Time Reality Movie Upload Fiasco, which contains some details about our Bologna to Ferrara escapades.
Here is a link for the internet uninclined - http://hajji.travellerspoint.com/24/

Street Buskers Festival in Ferrara

Sweet Brotherly Release at Festival in Ferrara

After Ferrara, we lost Brett to the warm embrace of his new home Bologna, and the Hajji was left with the three prime conspirators of the trip, me Marcus and Lauren. It was strange to say the least to have only us in the van, having had so many friends for the past 2 months. Having read a glowing review of the city in Alex Derry's fancy pants Monocle magazine, we headed north into the mountains to check out Trento. One of the amazing (there are MANY!) aspects to life in the Hajji is that we have such freedom in our travel plans, able to pick up and go at the drop of a hat (and a few dirty dishes) and continue to the next destination, be it a place found in a book, eavesdropped on the street, or dreamed up the night before.

Rain at the Wheel on Route to Trento

Ben Relaxing in the Back while Rain is at the Wheel

Trento was beautiful, it seems we've said such things about so many places before. Relaxed, quiet, cool, we enjoyed some pizza, laughed at some funny church monuments and played cards before reading our books under street lights.

Cous Laughing at Sad Church Lions

Ben and Cous Protecting the Church

Cous Reading Under Lamplight

We are big fans of freshwater, so headed further north into the mountains and spent a daynight at Lake Pine surrounded by the Dolomite mountains in the Alps. Swims, more cards (a quickly growing Hajji past-time), sandwiches, a sausage-BBQ FEAST in the PM, and beers till we expired.

Rain at the shore of Lake Pine

Ben and Cous Drinking Burr and Playing Cards in the Eve

Another Hajji Feast - Sausages Fresh off the Grill

After Pine another strange event befell the Hajji. Marcus and Lauren had some Nepalese friends who lived in Venice and I wanted to visit an Italian darling by the name of Ilaria. What to do! Matters of convienience prevailed in my favor, and I dropped the lovers off in Venice for a weekend of canal-boat romance and headed 100km NE all by myself (like the early days!) in the Hajji to the small town of Codroipo where Ilaria lived. The weekend was exactly what I needed at this point. Having been on the road for over 2 months, my laundry was appropriately dirty, my mustache exceedingly unkempt, and smell uncouth. Family meals, showers, sleeps in beds, civilian life as one is used to. It was such an amazing weekend, we went to the mountains with her mother, visited her friends theater performance, took a nature walk with her father (a professor of plant biology), had so many delicious meals, went to church, ahhhh there was too many wonderful things to describe in a binary based blog....

Having a Laugh in Codroipo

Ilaria Driving the Hajji

Me, Ilaria and her wonderful mom Carla!!!

Ilaria, when you read this, thank you and your lovely parents SO much!

Marcus will write up his time in Venice as a separate entry to give you a taste of what they experienced. That post to come!!!

After the weekend apart I headed down to Trieste where I met up with Marcus and Ren and the journey continued....

Posted by rencous 09:21 Comments (1)

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