liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
[personal profile] liv
I very nearly cancelled my long anticipated holiday because I just had too much to deal with at work. But I didn't, if nothing else because the fact of getting into such a state about work pressures probably did indicate that I needed a break.

I ended up leaving directly from the end of the last practical exam I was running. Met up with [personal profile] jack for dinner at Mestizo, which is reasonably on the way between places north of London and Heathrow. Even coming straight from work and wearing the suit I'd put on for the sake of being an examiner, I was under-dressed compared to the City clientèle, but the staff were thoroughly courteous anyway. We had the signature dish, a "volcano" of vegetables and sauce served in a very hot stone bowl. Vegetarians don't get many opportunities to enjoy sizzling dishes, and this was a particularly impressive example of the genre since the inch-thick heated stone bowl kept it sizzling-hot throughout the meal. The meal was pricey by provincial standards but not bad by London standards and a lot of the money was spent on extremely nice cocktails with quality tequila.

Surprisingly the most stressful part of the complicated and not very well-planned trip to central Europe ended up being staying overnight close to Heathrow. We booked in the Apple guesthouse which explicitly exists to fill the niche of providing a bed for people with early flights while undercutting the airport hotels. What I had forgotten is that there's absolutely no way across the airport perimeter on foot because the M4 is in the way. So there was a bit of a panic about trying to get a taxi to the B&B, and I am ashamed to say I snapped at [personal profile] jack. Actually Apple GH are pretty good for what they are, they were helpful throughout all this panic and the room was small but not grotty.

Kerry made a great post about flying like a rich person and even flying with a real airline rather than a budget one felt a bit like that. People were nice to us and tried to make us feel relaxed instead of deliberately stressing us out so we'd be more likely to spend money on the overpriced drinks and rubbish sandwiches. Transfer through Istanbul was much easier than we'd feared, because in real airports things are set up to make life easy.

In general, what made this whole trip possible even though we had neither of us had enough time to plan it properly was sometimes being able to throw money at stuff that might otherwise have been very awkward to deal with. Plus being anglophone (I expect being white and vaguely conventional in appearance didn't hurt either) because pretty much everybody had at least rudimentary English which they used to help clueless tourists. I feel a bit weird about it all, because I'd like to think of myself as the kind of tourist who takes time before a trip to thoroughly research the history and geography and practicalities of how things work, and ideally to pick up some elementary phrases in the local language. In this case I didn't even come close to that, I just wandered around being a bit helpless and relying on the fact that many people in poor countries survive by being nice to rich tourists.

For example, we planned badly enough that we ended up in Sarajevo airport on Thursday evening, needing to be in a small town 100 miles away and not really having any clear way of getting there. So we found a taxi driver who was willing to drive us all the way for €100. Which is a ridiculously small amount of money considering he'd need nearly four hours to drive there and back, not to mention the petrol, but it's also a ridiculously large amount of money to just blow on avoiding being stranded by your own bad planning.

I had been really looking forward to experiencing a traditional Bosnian wedding, and it was indeed an amazing experience. The bride's extended family had put on a sort of extended multi-day party, and were very willing to include the English guests in their celebrations, even if they were a bit bemused by us. I think some of the time we didn't express our gratitude for their effort and hospitality in ways that were culturally clear to them. [personal profile] jack and I arrived for the tail end of a meal in the bride's family's garden and there was lots of tasty food and lots of alcohol and the two families trying to get to know eachother without much in the way of shared context.

The next day they kind of (politely!) shooed the groom's friends out of the way while they got stuck in to practical preparations, so we visited a nearby town, Maglaj, with T&R and their parents. Maglaj has a castle and a rather gorgeous river, but it's not exactly a tourist hotspot. But it was pleasant and companionable flitting from one café to the next and hanging out with a very fun group of people. We discovered that two basic drinks available in Bosnia are lemonade made by adding sugar to fresh lemon juice, and Bosnian coffee (which is a bit like Turkish coffee, basically, very thick and strong and made in a cute little copper pot). And by basic, I mean they cost about 20p (four or five times less than branded imported drinks such as Coke, Fanta or instant coffee). We were invited back to the family home again for dinner which was a bit quieter and less alcohol-based than the previous evening. This meal was based around a hog-roast, the pig that formed the centrepiece having been raised, slaughtered and cooked by a neighbour, and a preview sample of the cakes that were going to be served at the wedding meal, also baked by a neighbour.

The wedding itself was a thoroughly positive example of the genre. The ceremony took place in the church where the bride was baptised, which was lovely in a different way from Catholic churches I'm used to. A contemporary building, painted with a pastel shade on the outside, and inside very spacious and airy with a lot of light wood. And stained glass that was neither aggressively Modern nor cod-Mediaeval, using a lot of blue. I'm used to churches that are beautiful through being imposing, whether in terms of physical size or via elaborate decoration.

D was wearing a dress that only she could get away with, tightly fitted, wrap-around cream silk down to a drop waist, and a big foofy skirt with all kinds of ruffles and bows. J mentioned in his groom's speech that she looks like a runway model; all brides are beautiful, of course, but D is really stunning even in everyday clothes, and almost unreal in her bridal best. She's exceptionally tall, whip-thin yet curvy, with very long legs (on this occasion assisted by six-inch heels, but still).

Most of the ceremony was in Croatian, though the priest gamely conducted the actual marriage vows in English. J had asked [personal profile] jack to read a translation of the Bible reading, but something went wrong with the organization and nobody gave him a copy of the text. So [personal profile] jack found the appropriate section from Genesis 2 on his phone, but the phone packed up just as he came up to the lectern. So my awesome husband apologized briefly and appropriately, and ad-libbed a credible summary of the passage from memory. I was v proud of him for not being fazed by that.

After the ceremony there was a sort of social ritual involving drinking rakija, a sort of fruit brandy thing, home-brewed, high proof and incredibly lethal-tasting, from flasks decorated with colourful leatherwork. And there was a receiving line where all the guests present had to kiss the bride and groom; Bosnians are apparently not squeamish about men kissing men or any other combination of genders. Then everybody piled into cars and we drove to the reception in a convoy, horns blaring. Random people came out to the side of the street to wave to us.

The reception was pretty much as these things are. Even though the only people really fluent in both English and Croatian were the couple, one of the cousins made a valiant effort at simultaneous interpretation of the various speeches. The food was very good indeed, and I was quite touched by how much effort was made to find a decent vegetarian equivalent of all the different meat courses. There was a really nice veggie dish as a substitute for the cured meats course, but the assortment of vegeburgers we had instead of the huge pile of pork served as a main course was a bit random, though a lovely gesture. The DJ did a fantastic job of getting people onto the dance floor, partly by opening with Gangnam Style and the Macarena. And there was a mix of pop-songs and weddingish folk music, though nobody much cared about whether you danced to them disco-style or folk style. A couple of interesting customs: they had another gifting line, where guests offered the couple envelopes containing money as a contribution towards the cost of the wedding, and received in return kisses from bride and groom and wedding favours. And at the end they had a sort of piñata thing, a huge balloon which was popped to release lots of smaller balloons, one of which was attached to "the bride's" garter and acts like catching the bouquet at a British wedding.

After that we had three and a half days to play tourist in Sarajevo; I'll post about that in more detail when I have some pics to go with it. And we had a completely lovely weekend back in Blighty, first of all with [personal profile] doseybat and [livejournal.com profile] pplfichi, and then with my sibs and some of my Australian extended family.

The thing is that all the stressful work stuff I had piling up before I went away still needs doing, only now it has a short deadline (some stuff by the end of this week, a whole heap by the end of June). So of course I'm procrastinating by writing long DW posts instead of getting on with it. I do feel refreshed after a really good holiday, yes, but this is somewhat diminished by the fact that I still have no gas or hot water at home. The engineer came out today; I had hoped that he would confirm that this incident was just a false alarm and reconnect everything. But no, it turns out there actually is a gas leak, somewhere in the pipework inside the walls, not at the meter, boiler or hob. A small gas leak, but any gas leak is kind of terrible news! I can't quite tell if he's just doing that dishonest trader thing of sucking his teeth and inventing a dire-sounding problem in order to get more money, but I don't have any real reason to think that's what's going on. He's promised to come back on Wednesday to fit a new pipe, and assures me that it doesn't require any really major structural work. So this is extremely annoying and likely to be expensive (especially after a rather pricier holiday than I usually indulge in), but at least it's annoying and expensive rather than actually, you know, deadly. I'm safe now, as the gas is still shut off, but no idea how long I've been living with potentially explosive gas diffusing into my house.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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