'Why are you so full of hate?'

This is what a girl I met in Belfast a while ago, one of the few people I found I can hold a conversation with, asked me when we were out the other night.

Indeed, I'm a critical person, and not afraid of saying difficult things. I'm not a girl that suffers fools gladly or will keep her mouth shut for the sake of harmony. But equally, when I love something, I dive into it with my heart and soul.

Yet, the more time I spend here in Belfast, the more I can feel myself becoming petty, hateful, aimless, even making racist remarks at times. In short; all the things I am accusing Belfast people of.

Different places bring out completely different sides of our personalities. I'm good at adapting to a place, but I might be taking it too far, letting places influence me

When I'm in Japan, I'm overly polite, curious, and obscenely productive.
In London, I walk faster, I dress smarter, I speak posher.
South America made me daring, wild, raw.

But isn't this why we go out and travel? To have no future, no past, to just be whoever we choose to be in that moment and let a little part of the place become a part of us? But this should be a life-enhancing experience. If a place isn't adding anything good to your life, get out!

Do you feel like a different person in different places?

P.S.: I'm not a fan of Vice magazine usually, but to get a feeling for the atmosphere of hate in Belfast, their video on the summer bonfires and parades may show the extreme sides, but is spot on regarding many people's attitudes here.




I had started to regret taking this tour much earlier when noticing that except one other girl, every single person on this bus was over 50. But you don't expect gorgeous blue skies when travelling in Ireland in late October, so a tour with someone else driving along the sloping country roads and cliffs seemed a much safer bet than a hike or cycling.

The misty lake and mountain landscape of south west Ireland goes by as our bus climbs up and down narrow winding roads. The road, also known as Ring of Kerry, is touted as Ireland's most popular tourist trail and as such, is meant to be in prime condition. Which doesn't stop sheep with neon pink, blue and green markings, small ponies and the occasional cow from blocking the road now and then. Neither does the Irish Tourism board seem to care much about the impromptu landfills that peek out from between the rocks.

As we get off the bus at a sheltered beach surrounded by lush green hills, for the first time during this trip, people seem to warm up a little.



'Beautiful!'
'Amazing!'
'Look, it's the ocean, we don't have that in Michigan!'
'Yeah but plenty of other water, darling.'

Until now, I hadn't even realised that the two were a couple. Even though we had been crammed into the small Japanese bus together for three hours, they had seemed like complete strangers, exchanging glances but never talking to each other. They are an unlikely pair: he in his early 60s, with just a few strands of hair remaining on his head and wearing a t-shirt that is not only far too cold for the Irish autumn, but that barely covers his massive belly. She is about ten years younger, slim, with shiny, long, naturally blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes.

After a few minutes, we get back. Again, nobody talks to each other and everyone keeps their eyes glued to the landscape outside. 

'The bog land has played an important role in the history of Ireland. Peat from the bogs has been used for heating, and many plants growing there have been used for thatching roofs over the centuries...' the driver explains slightly bored in his southern Irish lilt, pronouncing his u's wide open and ending every statement with a rising intonation.

'What? I have no idea what he's saying! He should learn some proper English', the man from Michigan exclaims angrily and so loud that everyone in the bus can hear it. His wife closes her eyes and then takes a deep breath, as if mentally counting to ten. To no avail.
'Well but I'm sure I can understand what you're saying, so shut up!', she snaps back aggressively.
 
Our last stop for the day is a waterfall that is located in the dense woodlands about 200 metres up a small, unpaved path. As we get off, the driver jokes, for the first time seeming to really wake up today: 'The last one back in the bus has to kiss the driver! Those are the rules!'

'Up there? Only if you carry me up personally', puffs the man in the small t-shirt, seemingly exhausted just thinking about the hike. His wife looks at the other passengers apologetically. 'I'm gonna for it', she says and hops off the bus.

Five minutes later, she is back, slightly out of breath – not as the last, but as the driver is about to take his seat, she gives him a kiss. Not a small hesitant peck on the mouth, no, a full fledged kiss on the mouth.

Her husband looks shocked, lets out an angry huff but then realises there's not much space to move and create a scene in the small bus. As she sits down beside him, she throws a deliciously devilish grin his way.

'What the hell was that?', he demands, putting his large hand on his wife's fragile shoulder, pushing her slightly to the side.

'Luck of the Irish, sorry mate', the bus driver chuckles and hits the curb.

She smiles nonchalantly and he starts to stare out of the window.

As we start driving again, she sighs and leans over to me. 'Are you travelling all by yourself? Must be hard. It's so much nicer to be on the road with your partner.'



'So, why did you come to Sarajevo?'

That was the one question everyone I met in Sarajevo seemed to ask me, once we had established I was not here on a 'weekend trip to get the last of the European sun', like 90% of everyone else who came here in early September. Some seemed quite enticed by the offers of 'men, women, drugs, anything you want, cheap' from the pub opposite.

Because apparently, that's a perfectly valid reason, but visiting a place because you are interested in its history is not. It's taken me a while to came to the awareness that Sarajevo actually was a place I could visit. As a child of the 80s, all I remember about Sarajevo was that is was a place that was constantly connected to 'war'. I need to admit, however, that I had no idea about what happened in the formed Yugoslavian countries after the Iron Curtain fell, until I read things up a few months ago. We Western Europeans love to tell Americans how stupid they are, but really, we are in denial of most of European history, too.

When I got off the train after a 12 hour ride from Budapest, I was surprised... I hadn't travelled in Europe for quite some time and was still in developing country mode, suspecting petty theft, robbery and touts at every corner. But the city I got off in could as well have been a major city in Germany or France, if you blended out the mosques.

Wide boulevards and parks. Pristine streets and sidewalks, large shopping malls. I was delighted to discover my favourite Italian restaurant chain 'Vapiano', and the super eco-friendly and cheap German drugstore chain dm. Sarajevo showed more signs that is was once part of the Austrian than of the Ottoman empire. Everyone either spoke English or German, and I mean fluently, without an accent. Yes, there were patched up holes in many of the buildings, but really, it seemed that more houses had survived WWI and WWII than elsewhere in Europe - and the siege of the city, of course.

The hostel turned out to be one of the most relaxed and spacious I've ever been to, and the owners were just wonderful (in case you were wondering - I stayed at Residence Rooms).

The next day, we went on a tour of the city organised by the hostel owner, who was our driver and guide. As we drove through the city, he told us of his life during the siege, as well as before and after. How he was born in a German concentration camp but rescued because his father knew people in high places. How the Serbian army ransacked all of his belongings in a suburb of the city, how he helped others flee. How his children now live in America, and how he thought that was just the right place for them to be.

Halfway through, we stopped at the old Jewish cemetery, without all that much explanation – although the cemetery allowed for a great view down to the city and of the hills surrounding it. With a looking glass, we could almost see into windows. It was easy to imagine how the Serbian snipers managed to control the city from here.

The next stop was the site of the 1984 winter Olympics, a great source of pride for the city, also destroyed by Serbian forced. We walked around the area for a while. Two of the German guys I met at the hostel – they had shared some uninformed assumptions about the siege and warfare in general during the trip- looked at each other, then warned us 'Don't walk off the beaten track, it's too dangerous. There are land mines EVERYWHERE.' I couldn't help but roll my eyes. Yes, sure, that's why ALL the tours go here and there's not a single warning sign. In this extremely dangerous country where every tram left right on time (yes, there were even tram timetables).

Afore mentioned boys were, of course, very happy at Sarajevo's most popular tourist destination that followed, the Tunnel Museum. The tunnels used to connect the city with the airport, making humanitarian aid deliveries possible during the siege. There isn't all that much to see, and hadn't it been part of the tour, I probably would have skipped it – there's about 20 metres of tunnel you can walk through, a film and some pictures without much explanation.

At the end of the tour, we were burning to ask questions, but it was obvious he was telling his own story, re-living his own film, and we didn't play a role in it. Most of our questions received a 'I'll tell you later' as response, but we never received our reply.

Sarajevo's other attraction is the Turkish quarter, which is filled with souvenir and cevapi shops, plus a lot over overpriced, touristy restaurants. Still, it's worth to have a walk around the area, although I wasn't sure what was Turkish about it, as it felt quite different from any place I visited in Turkey.

Still, I'm happy that I came to Sarajevo – not so much because I learned about the war, but because it turned out to be a beautiful, vibrant European city that is still largely undiscovered by large scale tourism. From now on, when I think of Sarajevo, I won't think of bombings and tragedy, but of eating ice cream at the river, looking up to the lush mountains.

Have you ever been to a place that turned out completely different from what you expected it to be?



On my trip to Sarajevo last month, something odd happened: I ended up in a dorm full of German guys. One of them turned out to be wonderful, but the others made me feel like I was being mentally raped.

In the world of bold over generalisation, there surely are worse tourists than Germans.
They're not loud, don't drink too much (and when they do, still behave decently), they usually attempt to learn at least a few words of the local language, and outside Spain and Italy, they even dress well.

Yet, I find myself avoiding them when I travel – to a point where I have actually told them I'm English, Irish, Australian or French. Multiple times. Where especially American or Australian travellers tend to stick together like glue when they meet abroad, I feel like the odd one out when I meet Germans. Heck, it's the reason I left the country in the first place! Even when I lived in Germany, only about a fifth of my friends were German, starting in kindergarten.

While Germans, with high salaries and a higher holiday allowance than almost every other country in the world, can be found in many places in the world, there are very few Germans who travel long term or live life outside the 9-5 bubble. And you know what? That's totally fine if that makes them happy. The thing that ticks me off is that as a nation, the only thing we love more than rules is enforcing them on others.

In people's minds, it's impossible to believe that I chose not to live in this country any more. One of the first questions they always ask me is 'So, when are you coming back?', to which I often reply 'When I'm old and sick and the NHS has ceased to exist'. Needless to say the average German takes this as an insult, not as sarcasm. I can appreciate the country I was born in: Germany is great if you like to live somewhere safe, clean and organised, if you always want to know exactly what's going to happen every moment of every day of your life. If you were born in an unstable country, it must be heaven. If you like to have a colourful, vibrant life, it's about the worst country in the world to live in.

On said Sarajevo trip, I found myself talking to three of the four German guys in a bar, and all they could ever say was 'Why do you do this?' 'Don't you think you should do xyz differently?' or 'No, the way you do it is wrong'. It was an interrogation, but through the haze of beer and gin&tonic, I didn't realize it. At the end of the night it dawned on me that I had told them everything about myself, yet didn't know more than their names and professions. Once again, I had turned into an object of curiosity.

That's why I love the UK, and other countries where people are often perceived as 'cold'. The grass surely isn't greener on this side, neither is the standard of housing, overall cleanliness and safety, but that's not what it's about. There are plenty of boring, superficial, racist, conservative or otherwise unpleasant people in Britain as in every other country of the world, but in general, people aren't as outspoken about it. The cloak of politeness, fake as it may be, gives anyone who prefers to dance to their own tune some breathing space.

Yes, I'm a control freak, I over-plan and am anal about cleanliness (excellent skills for travelling in India, I know). Yet, I think there's more to life than living according to the rules. When we travel, other Germans see me as someone they have something in common with, but 99% of the time, that just isn't the case. My Germany was never the middle class, house, garden, dog, car, university and office job Germany that Germans that can afford to travel live in. My Germany was one of the working class, of the autonomous scene, of foreigners that knew that even if they spoke the language perfectly, they'd never be accepted there. A Germany of all the people that knew that they live outside the very narrow norms of the country. It was the exact opposite of theirs, and rather than explaining that to a total stranger, I prefer to lie about where I'm from.

How well do you connect with people of your own nationality, especially while travelling?


 
Slowly, I roll over on the springy mattress in the 9 square metre room that I have been calling mine for the past four months. I press the smiling android figure on my phone with the 'zzZ' next to its head. Snooze. Although it's already 11 am and I'm not the least bit tired, I find it hard to get up when almost every day starts with the sound of the relentless Irish rain banging on the roof. Finally, I let out a loud sigh and get up, get dressed, take the envelope that has been lying on the tiny Ikea desk for a few days and head out.

The elderly man in the house opposite stands in the front yard, which is not more than a few tiles and a rose bush he pretends to tend whenever he sneaks out for a smoke (I can hear his wife shouting at him from across the street). He shakes his head, and I'm not sure if that is directed at me, the rain, or the litter-strewn street where only three of the red brick houses are inhabited and all the others have signs boasting 'student accommodation'.

The chubby Chinese chef from the garishly lit, supposedly Japanese restaurant 'Sakura' has a smoke behind the building, throwing his cigarette butt over to the fenced in lot which has been boasting a 'sold' sign for months now. But the only development here is the steadily growing pile of litter, empty Guinness cans, plates and forks and even an old TV. Not like recycling exists in this city, anyway.

I turn right at the Japanese restaurant, onto Botanic Avenue, which has given the quarter its unofficial name since 'Queen's Quarter' has become a little too politically charged. The blue-green street cleaning vehicle keeps driving up and down the same stretch of road, ignoring all the parts of the road that are actually dirty. Stopping at the ATM next to the second hand clothing shop with the funky 70s style neon sign, I pull out my debit card, but then reconsider as I notice splinters of glass all over the keys and around the machine. I walk a little further, past the Oxfam charity shop, the 'War not Want' used book shop and the empty Korean restaurant, but the cash machine next to the Spar convenience shop has a queue of at least ten students, all eager to withdraw a crisp £10 note so that the machine will have run out of them by noon. Surely I can pay by card.

Three bald, heavily tattooed middle-aged guys sit on the flimsy metal chairs in front of Centra, advertising 'tea and sausage roll: 99p and you're sorted', downing their (hopefully?) first beer of the day. I cross the street, gingerly traipsing around the giant puddle that has formed during this night's rainstorm.

A minute later, I arrive at the end of Botanic Avenue, at the little post office facing the defunct Ulster Bank building and the pub decorated with Union Jacks, proclaiming 'Welcome to the South Belfast Northern Ireland Supporter's Club'. Inside the post office, the queue only seems to consists of tourists who forgot to change their Euros into Sterling. An American couple in matching jeans and white sneakers complains 'I really don't get why they must use a different currency in each state'. As there's only one counter dealing with currency exchange, I quickly get through to the permed, fake tanned clerk in her late 40s, who seems to be in charge of handling 'everything else'.

She turns to me and smiles: 'Haai luff, whacanIdoefarya?', she says in the broad yet slightly nasal local drawl that has little in common with the lyrical, rhythmic accent most visitors associate with the proverbial romantic Ireland. I open my mouth and say 'Hiya, I need your help, I haven't done this before'. Instantly, the smile freezes as she ponders whether I'm English or a foreigner - although up here, that's the same, really - and she starts to talk slowly, as if talking to a small child or someone hard of hearing: '70p for a postcard to Europe, luff. At the next counter. Cheerio.'

'No, see, I need to send this via special delivery, and also include a special delivery envelope addressed to myself'. Befuddled, she picks up the passport, whose fabric lining is unravelling at the edges, and frowns 'Ah, to Lahndahn. Visa application.'

10 minutes later, my passport and visa application are on their way. As soon as the return envelope shows up at my house, I'm free again.


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