A festive end of 2013
Netherlands to Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina), December 2013

The last weeks, before we go back on the road again, are busy. Necessary preparations are made, visas are arranged, but we spend also a lot of time chatting and partying. There are plenty of reasons to party. In The Netherlands we celebrate Sinterklaas in early December and before we leave, the 65th birthday Edwin's father is held.

For people unfamiliar with Sinterklaas: it has a lot of similarities with Santa. However, it has nothing to do with Christmas. Every year he comes with his steamship from Spain, where he lives with his helpers. His helpers are called “Black Piet”. They are traditionally black, because they slide through the chimneys to deliver the packages in the homes of the children. (If you look on the internet, you will find many discussions about whether this is racism). On the 5th of December, Sinterklaas celebrates his birthday in The Netherlands, after which he leaves again. As a child, we were always a bit afraid that Sinterklaas would take us to Spain, or that we would not get any presents because of the pranks we had played during the year. Today, the question is not whether there are gifts for the children, but how many there will be. However, the discipline of Sinterklaas still works to some extent. Tuur, our eight-year-old nephew, was determined to see Sinterklaas and Black Piet when they deliver the presents. As his house doesn't have a chimney, the presents are normally left on his doorstep. All previous years he had ran to the door when Sinterklaas banged on it, but each time he was too late to catch a glimpse. This year he had decided to hide in a dark corner near the front door, so he could see them. However, a remark from his father was enough to change his plans: "If the Spying Black Piet sees that, then they walk past our door and you won't have any presents". That risk was too big for him! Tijmen (our cousin of 14) and Sam (our niece of 12) too old to be bothered by Sinterklaas. Both are fond of music, and in that way we remain up to date on the musical front.

Apple dessert at Ivonne's parents' place

During this visit home, we didn't only celebrate Sinterklaas but also the 65th anniversary of Edwin's father. This was a real party! It was celebrated in a Christmas theme, where guests dressed up in more or lesser extent to give it an extra festive vibe. The party went on until the early hours, after which we needed at least a day before we were fully fit again. When the fatigue was out of our bodies and our voices were back at full strength, the time had come to start traveling again. Last weeks were great, with lots of talk, good food and many glasses of wines. We said goodbye to our family and go went back on the road in mid-December. Saying goodbye is never fun, but we both look forward to the journey that lies ahead.

Upon our departure, the plan is to travel to Turkey through the capitals of the Balkans and then to go to Iran, where we want to spend the winter. From the Netherlands we go, with our Toyota Land Cruiser BJ 45 from 1984, through Germany and Austria to Slovenia. We visit the town of Bled with its beautiful lake and the Slovenian capital Ljubljana (see also the article on Ljubljana). To spend the night, we search for studio apartments or hotel rooms with a shared kitchen so we can cook for ourselves. Camping in these winter months is not something we look forward to. In the former Yugoslavia, it is no problem to find a reasonably priced apartment. Many families have a few small, simple apartments next to their homes, which they rent out to travelers. This is a nice way to connect with people and we are regularly surprised about the service and hospitality of our host families. In Ljubljana we taste 30 years old, very strong and self made "Dolenjski Sadjevec" (local plum spirit). At the next destination on our itinerary, Zagreb, our hosts also gave a new meaning to the word hospitality. After a day of sightseeing in the city, a large platter of pastries and a nice bottle of wine waited for us on our side table. Our guest family wanted to wish us a Merry Christmas; they surely succeeded! (For more about Zagreb, see here).

Sinterklaas visited us ... and look what he brought

From the Croatian capital, we go to Belgrade in Serbia. The longer we stay in the former Yugoslavia and the more we read about the 90s wars, the harder it is to imagine that the horrors of those times occurred such a short time ago. (See more about Belgrade: here) While Belgrade is a lovely city, we end the year in Sarajevo: the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The route to this city is beautiful and takes us through a rugged and mountainous area. Sarajevo is a nice city, with a great diversity of religions. If you look from a hill onto the city, you can see Orthodox churches, Catholic cathedrals and hundreds of minarets in one view. For us, however, the real attraction is drinking a Bosnian coffee at one of the many terraces. Drinking coffee and socializing is something that all former Yugoslavians love doing. (More about Sarajevo: see the article) We adapt effortlessly to the terrace culture and find it a wonderful way to spend the last days of 2013. Meanwhile, we fantasize about the beautiful journey that we have planned for 2014: we look forward to it.

Last electrical changes in our Land Cruiser
Edwin's dad turned 65, and that had to be celebrated
The party is a good way to see everybody again ... like Uncle Kees!
Stop on the journey to the Balkan, in Austria

Border between Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina

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