Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ragusa and other tales.

Ragusa is the latin name the city of Dubrovnik formerly had when it existed as an independent republic and rivalled Venitian supremacy in the Adriatic sea as well as in the entire Mediterranean due to its strong merchant fleets and its strategic "ententes" with various superpowers, such as the Ottoman Empire and the Spanish Empire. Nevertheless, what now remains of those days is a beautiful little old city built within a fortress, more well-known to 21st century contemporaries because it is the summer hang-out destination of the Brangelinas, the Clooneys and the Bonos of our time and generation. It is also a popular stop-over for these rather lame cruises (apologies to all of those who do appreciate them. I sincerely do not) with an average passenger age of 65 years that go around the Mediterranean. As a matter of fact, I ran into a a hurd of c. 200 such individuals during my morning visit of the old town. I was astonished to see so many eager faces... and so much American English and German being spoken around me. It was quite a "reality" dose versus the rest of my trip... particularly after having spent 3 days in Bosnia Herzegovina.

But before entering the Croatian territory for a second time (remember I was in Zagreb a few days ago), I made a short stop in the city of Mostar, which is located about half way between Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. My good buddy Alex Coca had been there a few years back and he advised me to go, at least for a few hours on the way to Dubrovnik. And so I did... I left Sarajevo quite early (7am train), after yet another wake-up to the beats of the local mosque. As in the majority of my train travels in BiH, the ratio of passengers to seats on the train must have been 1:10. This time though, it turns out that it had been snowing so heavily all night long + still in the morning that the train lines were heavily covered in snow. Therefore, the train had to stop in Konjic (about 1.5 hours into the train ride) as the conditions of the tracks made it impossible for the train to continue. We nevertheless got a replacement bus between Konjic and Mostar and managed to get there only about c. 30 minutes after our initial arrival time. In Mostar, I was forced to switch on to a bus to continue on to Dubrovnik as there is no rail connection available. Apparently, there used to be a Dubrovnik-Belgrade service in the early times of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Those were other days... I nevertheless had a c. 3 hour layover I could very well use up to see the Mostar. The city is commonly known for having been one of the most affected cities during the Bosnian war as it was subject to numerous air raids, the most famous of which destroyed the Stari Most / Old Bridge (pic below but here is some further reading on the topic for any of you interested - What is more appealing about the city, which, by the way, can be seen in its entirety in just under 2 hours) is the old town as it enables one to travel back in time and enter an old medina, similar to those found all across Morocco, with its tiny shops, its street vendors and its unique aromas. Stari Most literally divides the old town into two and is the true insignia of the city. After exploring the main mosque in old town, walking across Stari Most and peaking into a few local shops, I bought myself a tasty pita burek (,r:0,s:0) and headed back to the bus station.

The journey from Mostar to Dubrovnik should have been quite short as only a mere 80 kilometers separate the two cities. It nevertheless ended taking about 3 hours. You may be asking yourselves why... It turns out that the bus crosses the Croatian / BiH border 3 times in order to get to Dubrovnik. This strange phenomenon is due to the fact that BiH has a tiny maritime coast which divides Croatia into two. Although the coastline is only c. 20 km, BiH still has its access to the Adriatic, as dictated by United Nations law. In addition, the journey, albeit long, enables one to witness some of the most breathtaking coastal views... absolutely stunning.  Upon arrival in Dubrovnik it turned out that the hostel I was due to stay at had its reception open only between 8am and 2pm and between 6pm and 8pm during the winter season (i.e. now). As you must have guessed, I got into town at about 4pm and thus had to wait about 2 hours until I could check in at the hostel. I was originally intending to walk around old town and have a first taste of the city but it was raining heavily. I thus decided to have a beer in a local bar not to far from the hostel and began to think about my itinerary after Dubrovnik. Once I finally got settled in the dorm room, I was pleasantly surprise to find that someone was already in the room. His name was Fred and he was a Swiss engineer, who was on his way back to Switzerland after having attempted to reach India by car. He was meant to have been travelling for c. 1.5 years but given it was impossible for him to cross Iran he had to abort his original plan and after just under 5 months he was heading back home. He turned out to be quite a nice chap with whom I had dinner and went out on Friday night, but before I managed to stroll around old town for about 2 hours (before dinner) and take the some amazing pics (some of which were aimed to be below but had some technical difficulties and will upload pics soon). After a very enjoyable dinner in a local pizzeria and a rather bee and local spirits drowned night, we wished each other good luck and safe travels and off we each went in our own direction. I was due to catch the 3pm bus to Podgorica (Montenegro) and he was headed for Split (Croatia's most important commercial harbour). I still had plenty of time to visit Dubrovnik, which is precisely what I did. In the time I spent enjoying the quite, clean and very white yet tourist-packed (yes, remember those oldies from the cruise ships!) I managed to use my Canon's video recording function for the first time. Really silly not to have used it before but I think the inaugural clip is worthy of its honorary #1 status. I attempted to share it with you below (now that blogger allows video uploads) but it just takes too darn long to upload... In any case, it was a 20' clip of the old town harbour. Overall, I very much enjoyed the city. After the storm I had to endure the previous day, that morning was absolutely super... the sun was shining and had clear blue skies all day. Couldn't have asked for more! I would say that I would much rather recommend Dubrovnik over Venice, but again, that is just my own humble opinion based on a one day back-packing visit, and also based on the down season I managed to visit the two cities in. Don't want to imagine how packed they both are in the summer time!

Finally, at 3pm I got on a bus, which compared to all the others parked at the bus stations seemed from at the very least the 1970's and was meant to take me to Podgorica (capital of Montenegro - which since 2006, and after a referendum, is an independent sovereign state). The journey took about 5 hours (again... distance was just under 100km) because we stopped on a few occasions (once even for an entire hour. Here the driver tried to explain me that he had to "take a break". He told me personally as, at that point, I was the only passenger in the bus!). The scenery was quite picturesque and at one point we even had to take a "mini ferry" to cross a lake and get from one point of town to another where the road continued. Once I got to Podgorica, I had about 2 hours to go around the city before I got on the 10pm over-night train to Belgrade. The city was quite modest and didn't have too much to see unfortunately... but at least I was able to get back on a train and I can always say I once was in Montenegro, which I guess not many people can! ;) The train ride over-night was decent enough although my pleasant sleep was interrupted at c. 1am when we reached the Serbian border and I had to hand my passport to the ever so kind and respectful customs / police officer to get a customary validating stamp after a few random grins at my Spanish passport. Arrival time in Belgrade was c. 11 hours after departure and headed straight to the hostel to drop off my gear.

What happens next is for yet another tale. Hasta pronto!


Sarajevo: 1992-1995. In memoriam.

After spending a day in Zagreb, I took off for Sarajevo. I wasn't really sure what to expect... Obviously first time in the city and first time in Bosnia i Herzegovina. What one notices right upon entering the country is that there is  a further 20/30 year slide versus neighbouring Croatia. For starters, the train compartment I was in (6 person seating space), which only counted myself and two other people, began to fill up with cigarette smoke right as we crossed the border. Although there was a clear and internationally-understood sign (for its graphical representation) advising that smoking was forbidden, probably because we were on a Croatian train, my two travelling companions began to hit off cigarette after cigarette. You can only imagine for a guy who doesn't smoke how much fun it was! The train ride was rather long (c. 10 hours) which meant I spent the whole day travelling... mostly reading (btw, I am now done Kerouac's "On the road" - truly brilliant literature - finished it tonight in the train from Podgorica (Montenegro) to Belgrade, which is where I am at the moment. For those of you interested in reading up on Kerouac and the Beat Generation here are a couple of links - - will now be moving on to Malcom X's autobiography for the rest of my trip). The train ride from Zagreb to Sarajevo was rather uneventful. Due to language barriers, any attempt to communicate with my fellow compartment mates was rapidly aborted and ended with a few smiles and each of us turning to our own thing.

I arrived in Sarajevo at c. 7pm local time and was greeted upon arrival by one of the employees of the hostel I was due to stay at. Very nice of them to come and pick me up... as otherwise would have been a tough and long walk in the cold and snow. Could have managed but after a 10-hour train ride, it felt like a treat! The hostel ended up being quite far from downtown, and the train station for that matter, but given that the city is quite small, distances ended up being quite manageable. Given that it turned out that I was the only guest during my first night at the hostel in Sarajevo, the hostel's management was extremely welcoming and friendly. They provided me with invaluable tips and insights so that I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in their home town. So friendly that the hostel manager paid for my trolley-bus (a weird hybrid between tram and bus ride on the way into town the next morning and offered to show me around as that was his day-off. Thanked him but decided to explore the city on my own, thus rejecting insider and local guidance but could at least go at my own pace and follow my desired (and improvised) routes. The morning began rather early... well at least the first wake-up was at 5.45am as I was woken up by the prayers emitted by the nearby mosque. I imagine these were rather intended for the local muslim population, but what the heck... I managed to stay in bed for another 2 hours but was up and running, with my camera in hand by 9am.

Spent the whole day, as has become so frequent, wandering around the city. I have to admit that Sarajevo has been, thus far, the city that has most impressed me. Not so much as a result of its beauty, its welcoming atmosphere or its local customs, but rather because of the undeniable and quite palpable recent historical legacy. For it was under 20 years ago (1992-1995) when the city was surrounded by the Republika Sprska (one of the two Federations in today's Bosnia Herzegovina, of which the majority of the population is Croat or Serb - the other one being the Federation of Bosnia i Herzegovina, here most of the population, Bosniaks, are muslim) and the Yugoslav People's Army military forces for about 3 years... in what has become known as the Siege of Sarajevo ( It is truly incredible to walk down the streets of what many view as the Jerusalem of the West, given that the ethnic mix in the city is very much spread across various groups and religious beliefs (Muslims account for c. 50%; Orthodox Serbs for c. 25%; Catholic Croats for c. 7% - the remainder being spread amongst various groups, including Sephardi Jews, who found in Sarajevo and BiH as a whole a home after they were expelled from Spain in the 15th century). It is not uncommon to walk 100m meters and pass by a mosque, a catholic church and an orthodox church... all on the same street. But yet, as with many cities where such peculiarly rich ethnic mixes, the cohabitation has not always been subtle and harmonious. For one can feel that the city is still trying to come to terms with its most recent history, one of destruction, one of hatred and one of thousands of civilian casualties. I was particularly shocked when I found myself in two different spots of the city. One of these was the Kocavi cementary (pic below), which is dedicated to the martyrs of the 1992-1995 siege and from where one has breathtaking views of the city and the other was the "Sniper Alley", which is the main boulevard leading into downtown Sarajevo and which, during the war, was exposed to the Serb snipers positioned in the nearby hills of outer Sarajevo and which became infamously dangerous to cross during the war for civilians ( The thought that all that took place right before the international community's and the EU's eyes for such a long period of time, and so recently too ( although not so recently that I could remember much of the coverage of it) is absolutely incredible... In any case, Sarajevo, and Bosnia i Herzegovina as a whole, have a real chance in these peaceful cohabitation times to come out stronger and more united than ever - and leave these dreadful episodes of their recent history behind them for good.

Fun fact of the day: Did you know that the Sarajevo tram was the first operational tramway system in Europe, which began operating in 1885 as a test for the Vienna tramway system (n.b. back in the day Sarajevo was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - think of 1914 and the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which took place in Sarajevo) and the second in the world, after Frisco.

Next post report on Mostar and Dubrovnik... stay tuned!

My hostel in Belgrade has a very decent internet connection so can actually upload pics with the post for once!


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Snapshots of Zagreb.

Again, apologies for the post / pictures timing differential.... really not meaning to keep you all from "visualising" my experience in tandem with my posts. Here are some selected pics from Zagreb which can help you roughly map out my itinerary and random walks around and beyond town from a couple of days ago.

Managed to find a good spot in downtown Sarajevo where I am currently grabbing a quick bite, resting my darned tired feet and recovering from the -5C-ish temperature currently shown on the digital clock on the other side of the street. Primary motive for this internet incursion is, don't get me wrong, to upload these pics for your enjoyment! ;)

Catch you later.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Trg Maršala Tita.

Believe it or not, while countries are often times dramatically cleansed of their political legacy - as has clearly been witnessed by many post Soviet Republics (although some others... well, not so much. cfr. Moldova or Belarus) - there is a somewhat cultural component that tends to stick, even if posthumous governments and sovereign states try, more often than not, to purge societies and popular folk of these elements which can otherwise remain for generations to come. An example of this can be found in the subject title, which refers to one of the main squares in downtown Zagreb... and yes, it is named after Marshall Josip Broz Tito. Apparently, the square has had various names over the years since it was first built / accommodated within the contemporary Zagreb urban design: Fairground Square, University Square (as it also houses the main administrative building of Zagreb University), Woodrow Wilson Square (!! - yes that American wartime President who was the a leading actor in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and famous for his 14 Points, of which point #10 directly applied to Croatia as a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and as a region incentivised to follow the path to self-determination post conflict), Kind Alexander I Square, Square No. 1 and Theatre Square. In 1946 it went through its final "name change" and to this day maintains that subtle link to Croatia's (as he was born in Kumrovec, Croatia) and Yugoslavia's not so distant past. At present, as one can only imagine if the analogy is made with other countries with a not so "pleasant to remember" past (e.g. Spain), many political forces are advocating for yet another name change. Now what is best to secure a country's cultural and social legacy, to remember history at face value or to simply forget it and erase it as if it had never occurred? Interesting dilemma many present day governments in the Balkans and abroad still have to come to terms with.

So, after a rather short and uneventful 2 hour train ride out of Ljubljana on Tuesday morning, I arrived in Zagreb. Wait... hold your horses. Beforehand, about an hour into the train ride, first shock: I need to show my passport. Some of you may be aware of my thoughts towards the US Customs and Immigration practices, which I absolutely detest because one feels frowned upon for starters under the assumption that he or she is liable for some mischievous action(s) that only American authorities are aware of... and hence the questionnaire upon entering the country, the baggage checks and the "sniffing" dogs. Well, the Americans may well blame these measures on "Homeland Security" policies, but in the Balkans (and other ex-Soviet states for that matter, sorry, just speaking from experience and facts here) it very much seems a legacy of a state in which the police and the law-enforcing institutions had oversized powers to rule at their discretion... Well back to the story... Upon presenting my passport to the Croatian Boarder Police officer, I start getting an unusually high number of questions regarding my intentions in the country, the length + purpose of my visit, the place I would be staying at, etc. I also notice how the office starts paying close inspection to my passport, flicking pages back and forth, looking at every single visa and stamp I have on there (blame the US ones? no way!) and using a magnifying glass to determine the "authenticity" of the document. In the end, and after a sordid 2 minutes, I was handed over my passport, tourist visa +1. phew! I arrived to Zagreb at about 11am local time and headed straight to the hostel which was conveniently located about two blocks away from the station. Before though, I went through the motions of my balkanic rail trip routine when I get to a new city / country: 1) Go to the tourist information office to get as much info as possible on the city and try to get as much stuff for free (i.e. city guides, maps, etc.); 2) Ask the staff at the train information desks about timetables related to my prospective trains leaving the city (in the case of Zagreb it was my train this morning to Sarajevo) and 3) Swing by the currency exchange bureau to collect some local cash (believe it or not, I went for a whole day in Zagreb, excluding accommodation, with a mere 20USD - 110KUNA... gotta love it).

So turns out Zagreb is a really cool city! After dropping my stuff off at the hostel I was ready to hit the streets a little before noon. To be honest, I am still not aware of how I am managing to do so much walking in one single day. I must have been out for a solid 7 hours! Only resting up for lunch (20 mins), a beer break before heading back to the hostel (forgot to load this picture up on facebook but a pint of local draft pilsner was under 1EUR... yeah!) and a "oh crap I am so freakin' cold" break, which saw me resting up inside the Cathedral for c. 15mins. All in all, Zagreb is a beautiful city... As one walks around, one gets the unequivocal feeling of cultural richness and historical heritage. The latter mind you, from many, and sometimes even unexpected, sources - living up to the multicultural complexities of the Balkan region. A melting pot of cultures, religions (although, in reality, present-day Croatia is mostly Catholic), architectural styles and historical episodes, blend in to perfection to create a vibrant 21st century city. One thing which impressed me was that on every official (and unofficial for that matter) building, alongside a Croatian flag, there seemed to be a EU flag. No kidding, most people in Croatia, including, obviously, the current government are fairly pro European and (one can argue) accession talks have been ongoing since 2000. But, many areas still need to be tackled and in some instances even dramatic change, for example, related to rural development and structural policy as well to the competition policy. Most Croatians are also aware of the great benefits granted by EU accession as they have witnessed it in their Slovene neighbours since its accession in 2004. Apart from all that and back to the story (gosh... it's real easy to get off topic here!), I wrapped up the day by hitting a local bar to watch the infamous 1-1 draw between Real Madrid and Lyon. Was hoping for a better result for the valorous Frenchmen but let's hope they can get their act together at the S. Bernabeu stadium in a couple of weeks time.

Fun fact of the day: Did you know that Danthe Alighieri's (The Divine Comedy - great-grandson, Nicolo Alighieri, not only lived in Zagreb but was a chemist and founder of the very first documented pharmacy in Zagreb, and for that matter Croatia? (,567&um=1&itbs=1&iact=hc&vpx=149&vpy=415&dur=50&hovh=176&hovw=132&tx=89&ty=178&oei=JoJlTaDTOseV4gb5k-WYBw&page=2&ndsp=20&ved=1t:429,r:13,s:32&biw=1366&bih=681)

This morning I took the 9am train to Sarajevo - after a whooping 9 hour train ride (and yet another border inspection) I finally got here, and I have wifi at the hostel... awesome. But let's save the details for another day - can't wait to hit the sack!

Btw, sorry for not uploading pictures... turns out the connection I have at the moment is quite terrible and would take ages to even upload one picture. Let's aim to find a bar tomorrow with a "robust" wifi signal so I can share the many wonders of Zagreb with the audience, even if just visually.

Speak soon,


Monday, 21 February 2011

Jason and the Argonauts.

Many of you will be thinking: "What the heck is this guy talking about in the subject line?"... well, so would I if I were in your shoes but in my less than 24 hours since arriving in Ljubljana, I have become acquainted with one of the oddest yet most interesting legends surrounding the settling and founding of Ljubljana. According to popular belief, the Greek mythological heroes Jason and the Argonauts arrived in Ljubljana on their ship Argo after they stole the golden fleece. Here, they found a monster in a lake, the Dragon of Ljubljana, that Jason slew. The city was thus founded on the grounds where Jason performed his victorious and valorous action and the Dragon has since remained the historical symbol of the city.

So where did we leave it off. I think I was in Venice still. Well, after having a light dinner at the train station and an aranciata (which, by the way, is one of my favourite drinks. It's some sort of orange fanta marketed by the world-famous San Pellegrino mineral water brand - I boarded the train. Departure time: 9:20pm. Final stop: Budapest. Arrival in Ljubljana: 1:50am. Not ideal, but the only direct route available. Apparently, again according to popular belief (waht a great source of knowledge, particularly for those who have little to no view on a given subject matter), back in the the day there used to be a regular service with a few trains covering the route on a daily basis. That was back in the day. Fortunately enough the train ride was far from tedious and uneventful. At the first stop (Ve
nice in-land, i.e. not the one I boarded but the one which is used for connections from other routes, my 4-seat "section" filled up. One of the individuals was a Spanish-speaking fella who was on his cell phone when he boarded the train. Another was a Croatian 25-year old female Taekwondo instructor who had studied PR and Marketing and the other was a local who remain
ed on board for under 30 minutes. Coming back to the Spanish-speaking dude... He was speaking to what could only be a buddy of his in a rather ambiguous Latin American accent, which at first I found difficult to identify. I couldn't quite pin down if he was Chilean or Uruguayan... Shortly after boarding the train, he began commenting on the appearance of the female component of our train. He seemed to be rather impressed by the sounds of it, and upon making a remark
in local slang which I nevertheless understood he mentioned to his buddy: "I hope nobody understands what I am saying". I couldn't help but politely letting him know that I in fact did understand... and so we both burst into laughter... quite possibly so did his friend on the other end of the line. After his phone call was done we began going back and forth, rambling on and on about what had brought us there and what our grand travel itineraries were. You see, I have come to understand that when on the road, one's itinerary is an important asset... it's really the ice-breaker in a conversation. After a while, we included our seat neighbour in the conversation, only to find that she was coming from Bolonia where she had spent the w/e visiting her boyfriend. She seemed a little frightened at first, but then confessed that she wasn't scared but rather intimidated by two latins screaming, shouting (as she put it - I don't recall talking in a louder than usual tone) and making strange gestures as a means to communicate. Oh yes, by the way, the guy ended up being from Chile. Spot on! Turns out he was studying abroad in Rome until summer and had a few weeks to spare between semesters. We spent the rest of the journey going on and on at our seats but more so at the bar over a few (too many) beers (or pivos, as they are called in the slavic regions of Europe). When we reached Ljubljana, we exchanged contact details (as they were carrying on to Zagreb) and I got off the train. c. 1:50am local time... and I still had to figure out how to find my hostel. After a couple of minutes dodging local cab drivers who insisted on taking me to my destination for a "good price, my friend", I decided to walk. For those of you also following me on facebook, you will have visual evidence of
the conditions I endured (if only for 10 minutes. hehe). Wasn't really that bad to be honest.

After what I can only describe as a revitalising sleep, I woke up "late" today - at 10:30am, and was ready to hit the streets just before 11am. To be quite honest, one can go around the city and see all that is worthwhile and recommended in the lonely planet guide I carry with me ( in just about 3 or 4 hours. Who would have thought that the capital city of this 2million people country would account for just under 300,000?? Would have never guessed the city would be comparable in size to the likes of Cardiff (Wales), Buffalo (US), Nantes (France) or Alicante (Spain).
What I probably enjoyed the most was my visit to the Ljubljana castle which coronates city centre and where the view is breathtaking. I refrained from entering the paid-for exhibits but managed to visit a free one covering the world heritage sites in many of the countries of Eastern Europe which, you guessed it right, I am planning to visit. Big thank you to the cultural delegation of the respective Embassies which so kindly financed the exhibit. The rest of the day I pretty much spent taking pics (some of which are below for your enjoyment). Lunch was a sand
wich on the street, no breather... no wonder I am exhausted right now and during the course of the day there was also room for a rather random call from my former boss. He wanted to "double check" if I may be open for employment opportunities at the moment and if my travel + MBA plans were just a big scam I had made up upon leaving Merrill. Jokes aside, always flattering to be kept in the loop and to be considered for these types of opportunities, even if they don't fit my bigger picture/framework at the moment.

Anyhow, I am glad I stopped here - although wouldn't recommend more than 24 hours as one just runs out of things to do/see. Oh boy, I almost forgot to mention the one thing that I found most interesting. During Napoleon's ruling over the Provinces Illyriennes, Ljubljana was the capital ( The French are thus remembered for their historical political influence in the region and city as one can see in the following pics, courtesy of fellow bloggers, cyber posters (;,r:21,s:0)

Next stop --> Zagreb. Boarding a train tomorrow at 8am. Until then, or rather later on in the day, will leave you with some of the visual evidence from my stay in Slovenia. As always, I hope you enjoy.


Marco... Polo (part 2 - director's cut).

Dear all,

I think I may have forgotten to mention that while on the road, it is on many occasions impossible for me to find a wifi hotspot from which to post and load up pics from the places I visit. Luckily, I have my bberry (yes... part of that Investment Banking legacy I suppose...) with me and can use that to post. From now on, whenever a post is not complemented by at least one or a few pics, the audience will know I'm posting from bberry.

Just got into a cosy little bar in Ljubljana where they have wifi.... so figured I would share some of the pics from the first couple of days of my trip with you. Not that I was looking for a refuge from the sub-zero temperatures... Not at all.

Enjoy! Particularly the one portraying your humble narrator ;)


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Marco... Polo.

Funny enough the name of this famous and incredibly renowned Venician not only lends his name to the Venice aiport, but it is also a pool game kids in Spain (I've only ever played it in Spain... But I may be totally wrong here!) in which the person who is "it" has to tag the others in the pool. No fun you think? Well, the reference to the famous explorer arise due to the fact that the person who is it has his eyes closed and shouts out "marco". The rest of the lot shout back "polo", and with that back and forth one is meant to chase after people in the pool. It's actually very fun...

In any event, and rather lame anecdotes aside, I did not manage to see the Marco Polo airport as I got into Shakespeare's beloved and Casanova's own Venice by train. Venice Santa Lucia. Beautiful name for a train station. I managed to get into town at c. 9pm last night, which was roughly 17 hours after I had gotten up in Madrid. Kind of getting used to it by now so no biggie at all... After a few hours in Milan during which I managed to enjoy the company of my good friends and former colleagues from Merrill, Giulio Torregrossa and Silvia Botto, I got on a "regional" train which took c. 5 hours to cover just under 300 kilometers (if at all!). See, here's the beauty of the interrail. With one's all-inclusive rail pass (valid in over 30 countries across Europe), one can only travel 2nd class (fair enough) and in the worst trains possible. I.e. One can't travel on a direct train between the two cities, as otherwise a ridiculous supplement (they wanted to charge me c. 15eur for it!) needs to be paid... Just a bit silly. Mind you, getting on these 1950's trains not only makes the experience exactly what I was aiming for, but it also gives me plenty of time to read, read, read and POST! ;) at the moment reading Jack Kerouac's "On the road", as some of you may have figures from the last post, but at this pace will surely be done in a few days. Also brought with me Malcolm X's autobiography... Looking forward to it! Let's not get distracted... So after getting into Venice, took a "vaporetto" (the boat-bus) to get to my hostel (which by the way was fantastic... Thumbs up, every time, to Hostelling International!). The first ride on the vaporetto was quite long (c. 45 minutes) and it was pretty damn cold... Over 30 minutes! But the views were absolutely stunning. For some odd reason, I was forced to stay on the deck (allegedly because I had too many bags!). But was glad... Must have taken about 100 pictures - got super excited. The check in at the hostel was pretty uneventful and it was a rather early night (c. 11pm). Woke up at 7am (well, more like 7:20am) after snoozing for a bit (those who know me and have ever endured my "snoozing habits"... I am sorry!) and got ready to hit the road. Was actually a great idea to have such an early start because when I got to Piazza San Marco, it was so "tourist-less" that I could not even believe I was there. Literally empty! And I even managed to sit in a bit on the 9am service (we must have been c. 10 in total) at the Basilica di San Marco (where I later had to stand in line for 15 minutes to get in). After that spent the entire day wandering around (anf even getting lost a few times) this maze of a venician urban design. Even with a map it's extremely complicated to find one's sense of direction! Again, for those of you who know me well, I've always had a special "feel" for maps and geographic orientation. Oh boy... Not today. Had a panino (yeah, these are good!) For lunch and walked some more, until I was so exhausted that I had to sit down for a breather! Overall, the city is beautiful.... Cuturally rich like no other (btw, spent some time by the Bienalle - think of La Mostra di Venezia) and rightly so did Shakespeare fall in love with the city. Nevertheless, the abundace (in fact it's more a plague...) of tourists is really a pain. Nonetheless, a must for all those couples and not-couples and even singles. Try to find a sunny day to come, I'm sure it's a lot nicer (yes... Was cloudy the whole day)!

And now over to Ljubljana, Slovenia. Didn't I say it was an Eastern European trip? ;) Fdun dfact of the day... Did you know that in Tito's Yugoslavia, Slovenia accounted for c. 20% of GDP, while only accounting for c. 8% of the total population? Talk about a regional divergence...

Stay tuned for more updates!


Friday, 18 February 2011

on the road.

"Then came spring, the great time of travelling, and everybody in the scattered gang was getting ready to take one trip or another. I was busily at work on my novel and when I came to the halfway mark, after a trip down South with my aunt to visit my brother Rocco, I got ready to travel West for the very first time... And this was really the way my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell."

Jack Kerouac - On the Road, 1951

Unlike Kerouac's, my journey first takes me East... to the oriental part of the European continent. Like his though, I am hoping the experience will be filled of experiences too fantastic not to be told. It is currently 1.30am and I am due to take off at c. 7am for Milan, Italy. First hint... that will be one flight out of only two I will take in the coming 3 weeks. For this trip, I will use a rather more old-fashioned and conventional means of transportation. You guessed it right, that British invention which was amongst many other factors one of the backbones of the Industrial Revolution in the isles - audience, meet train... train, meet audience. Although the Interrail initiative began in 1972, one can argue that it did not really take off as a trip alternative until the mid/late 1980's with the increasing political and economic integration of Europe, mostly Western up to that point. To me, the Interrail ( became know back when I was about 16. I remember I was in my penultimate year of high school and some friends from my class got themselves a "rail pass" which would enable them to travel on an unlimited number of trains during a total of three weeks across a number of European countries. They opted for France and Benelux. I never actually got to go on one of these trips, as back in the day my summers (a whopping 10 weeks in total) would be entirely devoted to that place called Camp Otterdale, in Ontario, Canada, that I so fondly remember. What a place that was... Nevertheless, that calls for another story, so back to the point. My choice has been Eastern Europe. Starting in Milan, over to Venice, crossing the border to Slovenia (with a must stop in Trieste... Mr. Gray if you are reading this out there, thanks for making me remember Orlando and the Treaty of Rapallo of 1920 - what a great History teacher that guy was!), down to Croatia, a tour of the Balkans (ex Albania), over to Bulgaria and Romania, up towards Hungary and Slovakia, pit stop in Vienna (which by the way is so close to Bratislava, that these are the two national capitals which are closest together -, and finish in Poland... after what I am hoping will be a thrilling 3 weeks of memorable moments, unforgettable experiences and tonnes (!) of pictures, some of which I will share with you periodically.

As a sneak peak, below is a picture of my packing "process". No worries though, I am not packing live at 2am. Please note the slight lag in uploading the audiovisual material. ;)

That's all for now folks. Stay tuned for more updates.

Ciao bella Italia!


Tuesday, 15 February 2011


In Roman mythology, Veritas, meaning truth, was the goddess of truth, a daughter of Saturn and the mother of Virtue. It was believed that she hid in the bottom of a holy well because she was so elusive. Her image is shown as a young virgin dressed in white.

Thank you Wikipedia for the above... what would we do without you? Doomed. Also happens to be the Harvard University motto.

So, next stop: Boston. Long time, no see. Must have been a good 4 years since I was last here. City of contrasts, city of Ireland, city of Europe... Spent just under 48 hours in the city, primarily visiting a "potential" school, HBS. Also managed to spend some quality time with my good friend Rahul Parikh, and enjoy a delicious 14 February dinner prepared with much love by all his friends. We'll see when I swing by next. Hopefully soon.

Given that the primary purpose of my trip was to explore the school where many past, present and future world leaders are educated, I will share my impressions of what is considered by many as the top business school in the world and which is known across the globe due to its imperishable brand name. An interesting feeling invaded me as I crossed the Charles river for the first time on my way to the HBS campus from the Harvard Sq. "T" station... It was almost as if one was entering a bubble, a world of its own - isolated not only from the rest of Harvard University, but also from the rest of the city... and from the rest of the world. For when one steps foot on campus, one can tell the place is different. One realises there is a different mentality, a different attitude... a different approach. As the audience may be aware, HBS is not only renowned for its leading publishing unit, best-in-class academics and unique case-method approach to business education. It is also viewed as the cradle of modern global economic, political and business leadership.... but exactly why? When walking around campus, talking to current students and attending classes, one feels the place is different. Most importantly, people there feel they are different. HBS might not currently be the #1 school for business education but there is something about being called Harvard that seems to be more powerful than that. Who cares if were are #2, #3 or #5? Do you know how amazing it is to have Harvard on your resume for tge rest of your life? . . . Is it really? I was very interested to obtain a first hand read on students' motivation to attend the school. Drilling down on the thought process they had gone through to select HBS as their school of choice would certainly help me in my own decision process. Why HBS and not Booth? Why HBS and not Wharton? Why HBS? Why HBS? Everyone I talked to could only give me one honest answer... "It's Harvard, one can't say no to Harvard". And yet most people were aware of the shortfalls of the program, the rigidity of the curriculum and the limited "on the ground" experience of certain faculty members. Yet everyone I talked to was thrilled to be there, whether because the 2-year MBA was seen as the launchpad to a bigger and better career or simply because it provided a "break" after a hectic career start for some young professionals who had been on the verge of burning out at their previous jobs. I also managed to attend a few classes in the couple of days I was there (4 in total, to be precise. 3 first-year classes and 1 second-year class). I was totally impressed by the intellectual proficiency of some of the individuals I was sharing the classroom with. Yet, I couldn't help but wonder what my role would be in the not so distant future... How would I interact within that context? Would certainly be unique to eventually sit in that hemicycle. Smart, yes. Talented, yes. Motivated, yes. Passionate, yes. But what about all the unrealised potential? Is there any benefit in having a rigid graduate education where the curriculum is fixed and where all my peers will develop the same profile as me? Why should I sit in on a finance class covering the Miller-Modigliani Propositions? Why go through the motions of reviewing covered ground? USD100,000 for that? Really? Most students will argue that it's not about "what" you learn, but rather "how" you learn. Content vs. form. Students are not educated to have the answer to a particular problem, but rather to develop the skills set which will help them reach out to the right person or ask the right questions in a given situation. Thinking rather than doing... I just don't buy into that. Don't get me wrong, HBS is an outstanding place, but for some reason certain aspects seem outdated. The underlying motivation of providing a homogeneous "quality-controlled" development for the successive generations of MBAs is a concept I am not aligned with. What am I expecting out of an MBA education? For starters, much more than a USD100k stamp with the Harvard logo. Time will tell... Tick Tack.

For a closer look at HBS, its culture, its people and its overall role in today's business and political world, click on the link below. Cool CNBC video which should provide further insights.

A presto.


Monday, 14 February 2011

hello there windy city.

although many of the spots on the web 2.0 world will have a fancy post title referencing the (in)famous saint after which 14 february is named... i refuse to... still making an indirect reference in spite of my personal feelings towards today... can only hope it helps the audience frame the post in the space-time continuum... that is all

After a killer three days in Chicago, I currently find myself in Boston, MA. Got here yesterday afternoon after what I can only describe as a "rough" few days getting more info than I could handle at Booth, going on 3 hours of sleep per night and litres of coffee, enjoying my visit and the totally underrated Chicago nightlife. Thanks again Alejandro Velasco, his buddies, the Booth Spanish community and all the people I met during these three days for making my stay to top-notch.

I came out of those three days with a very very positive impression of the school. I won't bore the audience with the "nitty gritty" but can only say that I was, in general, totally impressed by the school, its environment and the life surrounding every aspect of booth. Still trying to make up my mind here folks but the impression I got out of this visit only made things harder. the school is c. 30 minutes south of downtown chicago and although most of the surroundings, and in reality the whole campus, were snowed under (found out when I got there that as recently as last week, chicago endured the toughest blizzard in 44 years... scary stuff ein?!) could get a sense of what makes the place so special. this was reinforced by everyone continuously telling me how beautiful campus is when the 6 feet of snow disappear to make way for 20+ degree temperatures (celcius here guys... for farenheit need to multiply by 9 divide by 5 and add 32... rule of thumb this humble man learnt back in the day. comes in handy only in canada and in the US but it has stuck with me since c. 1996) and sun-filled days where everyone seems to host barbecues and pool parties, particularly in the summer. but are people really around in the summer?? thought internships were more important to the average boothie than working on their tans and sipping coors light (or miller or bud) by the pool... anyhow.... will believe it for now! was also told chicago has plenty of things to offer in the summer, particularly related to the music scene. millenium park, think of the "bean" and right in the middle of downtown, houses the world famous lollapalooza festival in august ( check out the lineup for this summer and think whether it is worthy of a thumbs up... i most definitely think so! booth +1. that being said, also attended numerous events organised within the context of the booth admit weekend. overall, could really tell a lot of effort went into organising the weekend. really impressive. only problem that days were so activity-packed and nights were so alcohol-packed that I had little (to no) time to go around the city. subzero temperatures certainly didn't help much... that's my only consolation :o

next stop... Boston. so far so good. first and foremost, big thank you to my friend Rahul Parikh for letting me stay with him for a couple of days. although i got into the city yesterday, was so wrecked after the 3 days in Chicago that I ended up crashing at 10pm, so in reality can only treat today as my first "real" day. early morning start... visiting hbs, attending classes and speaking with current students. on a break at the moment so for the full download stay tuned... more to come in the next few days.


Thursday, 10 February 2011


11:15am CET

Currently waiting to board my flight to Philly (yes... Having quit my job does imply that I must be conscious of my expenses as I am back on a student budget). After what I can only expect will be an infamous connection I will get on another plane which will take me to O'Hare. C. 12 hours later I will hopefully land in Chicago, where I will be staying until Sunday morning. My good buddy, and former colleague at ML, Alejandro has been kind enough to offer me a place to crash. Cyber round of applause ;) first night in Chicago with an overdose of jetlag and I am due to attend something called TNDC (or, for the ones unable to decypher the acronym - as I myself was until a couple of days ago... Thursday Night Drinking Club). Fully spelled out should give no wrong impressions. One can only think of it as being "it is what it is" (as we would say in anglosaxon inv banking jargon). Great excuse and opportunity to enjoy a night out, meet new people and hopefully not get too wasted. Remember, the purpose of this trip is "educational" / "academic" as I am hoping it will help me come to terms with what's bestest and greatest from all the choices out there in the wild. To follow a couple of action-packed days (or so it says on the "brochure" this admit weekend is a true marketing phenomenon) in which all prospective students will be running around trying to get the most out the 48hours we are on the ground. Class visits, social activities, mingling (is that how it's spelled??) Here and there. Should be fun. Coming back to the marketing point... My first impression of the inner ropes of the b-school machinery is that the "form" of these institutions is more similar to a private entity than to an academic one... The resemblance to, say, an investment bank are not that far fetched, particularly in terms of recruiting. First and foremost, both are extremely competitive to get into from the outside. Then, and more astonishingly, both carry out an amazing display of marketing tools and perks once you are almost there but not quite and when the final call is in your hands. They will do all they can to retain you and to turn an offer into an acceptance... For if not, the law of statistics in this particular field dictates that if the "conversion ratio" of offers to enrollments diminishes, so will too the rating and prestige of the institution... Interesting enough. First impressions though don't necessarily need to stand true. That's what the next few days are for. Gotta board in a few minutes so have to end this prematurely and cut my whole line of thought. All thanks to these ridiculous security measures of having to board the flight 1 hour ahead of take off. Not to mention the 5 passport and boarding pass checks before getting to the gate. Oh well... Again, it is what it is I guess...

Bring on America!


Monday, 7 February 2011

kiss kiss bang bang

don't get me wrong... title of the post only refers to a not-so-recent movie i watched recent and which i really liked. it's directed by shane black and it stars robert downey jr. and michelle monaghan (whom i had not seen in a movie before and by which, i have to admit, i was very impressed). for further info for those of you who feel like a spin around the imdb world:

turning to another matter, apologies for not dropping by sooner. always making promises about posting more frequently... and even now that I have all (well... not really all... but a lot) time in my hands, i still manage to fail miserably. the last few weeks have been quite hectic... after i quit my job, i still had a few... actually a bunch of things to take care of in london. i finally moved out last week and brought all my stuff back to madrid, where i am hoping to spend a few weeks, resting up with my family and friends. well... turns out that after only two days in town i headed to the alps for some insane skiing action. spent thursday to sunday in st anton (austria) and had an amazing time! thanks to nacho, andres, sof, kike, maria and all the gang for the great skiing, fun times and huuuuge apres ski... would have never thought that skiing 400m down a hill in a not so "sober" state would have been such a crazy idea. who would have thought right? lol. I leave you with a few pics from the trip (one of which is stolen... thanks maria!) so you can get a feel for the experience. particularly fond memories of the great car we managed to rent. surely will still befull of pringles, peanuts and that infamous austrian salami we bought.

and now what??? a couple more days in madrid and off to the US for the chicago booth admit weekend. will be in the US for about a week as i am also due to swing by boston. very much looking forward to that. can't wait actually. will share my impressions when i am on the ground. important step as i am likely to spend the next 2 years (from september) there! exciting indeed!!

what comes next is a surprise so stay tuned...