Loving words that mark the end of my Baltic adventure

Slowly but steady I’m starting to realize that after this summer holiday I won’t head back to the Baltics. At least, not for study or internship purposes. The final report for the Dutch ‘VSBfonds’ (the organization that provided me a fantastic scholarship) is approved and besides that, I recently found a very postive article about my functioning on the Study in Lithuanian portal. Just because I’m rather proud of all these kind words from Lithuania I’ll share the article right here. No idea who the author is actually, but this person surely managed to sketch an overall profile of my previous two years in both Kaunas and Tallinn. Thanks!


Smiles, spirit of initiative and contagious enthusiasm, these are the three first words that come to our mind when we think about Nienke Bos, the recently graduated student at Vytautas Magnus University (VMU). Nienke, a 24 years old girl from a small village in the Netherlands, has recently gained her MA diploma in “Media Analysis and Journalism”, a well-consolidated degree programme offered by the Faculty of Political Science. Over the last two years, she has achieved excellent results in her study career, contributing to deepen the personal horizons of many VMU local students with her international experience and ending up defending a thesis entitled “Mediated Female Beauty in Dutch Beauty Blogs”, an interesting research on the ways women are being represented in the modern social media. 

During her experience at VMU, Nienke has literally entered the hearts of many members of the university community, and this has happened not only for her great skills as a student. In fact, she has also taken part in the most various initiatives organized by VMU International Office and by other student organizations in Kaunas, including the project “Erasmus for Lithuanian Schools”, the so-called “Cultural Nights”, and has also shown to be an active component of the “VMU Ambassadors Club”. During her study experience in Kaunas, Nienke had also the chance to apply for one of the student exchange opportunities offered by VMU. Thanks to one of the 140 university bilateral agreements that VMU has with higher education institutions of 40 different countries, Nienke got a place at the University of Tallinn. And after her previous study experience in Latvia, she finally realized her personal dream to study in all the Baltic States. 
Throughout her stay in Kaunas, she has injected enthusiasm in the life of many people, spreading her passion for flying hot-air balloons and the amazing charm of photography. Her blog, full of passionate stories and photo-reportages on her trips and experiences in the Baltic States and neighboring countries, has become an inevitable reference point for many Lithuanian net surfers as well as for the international internet visitors. Thanks to her photos, the VMU community had the possibility to see the beauties of Lithuania through the eyes of a foreigner. Her great spirit of initiative has made Nienke a recognized student within the university. Her experience shows how VMU international students are unique and extremely valuable personalities for all the university members. Every year Vytautas Magnus University welcomes within its community a growing number of international students, putting a lot of efforts in order to make them feel like at home and enjoy their studies.

Random observations in Turkey – July 2014

– There are many old Renault cars still driving around here

– Where are all the women?

– I haven’t seen any single piece of media depicting women in a sexually objectifying way. I did see a picture of Pamela Anderson holding a bag of crisps though, but her (probably in not so many clothes wrapped) body was so to say cut off, leaving only her head left on the picture.

– Hardly anyone seems to understand me here when I speak English

– Minors working on building sides and driving motor cycles (boys, of course)

– The majority of Chinese passengers do not speak English, which often leads to unpleasant situations during the landing procedure

– Especially when visiting a bazaar, I feel kind of watched. Mothers point me out to their children, after which they kindly start to wave. Furthermore, lots of Asian passengers had a picture taken with me.

– Atatürk sculptures and his depiction on flags

– Clean, beautiful and calm street dogs which are not begging for food

–  Passengers from India seem to ask a lot of questions during the flight. “What is that tunnel for?” or “Why is that other balloon flying so high?”.

– It’s pleasant to be from a likable little country. People respond very enthusiastic when I state I’m from the Netherlands.

– I haven’t seen clear signs of poverty at all

– Somehow, all people with whom I spoke here, wanting to say ‘Swedish’, all said ‘Swiss’ instead

After 13 fantastic flights and many early wake-ups it’s time for a well deserved rest now. Pictures will follow soon!

29 + 30 June + 1 July: enjoying Cappadocia by foot and balloon

29 June:
What a short night. I was introduced to a special tradition tied to the Ramadan, being a guy playing a drum, walking down several living blocks a couple of times, for at least an hour around two o’clock in the night. Not that funny when the alarm clock is set at 03.00! The reason why some of these loud guys walk around in Turkish towns is to give a sign to all the inhabitants that it’s their last opportunity to eat. After the drum session the abstention continues. It must be hard for Muslims to work all day, with 30 degrees or higher outside, but without eating and especially drinking for so many hours. At the office of Rainbow Balloons huge food packets (like Christmas packets in the Netherlands) were offered to all employees joining the one month abstention. Bennie and I made a nice flight together with Arturo, a pilot from Spain. Because of his yearly examination, carried out by a Turkish pilot from another balloon company, we took off a bit further away from the other balloons. We also flew relatively high, while flying low is certainly the most awesome thing to do here. During the afternoon, after a nice walk through Pigeon Valley, my father and I strolled around warm Avanos a bit. What I particularly noticed was that hardly any Turkish women can be seen on the streets. Young boys on motor bikes and old men just hanging around where, on the other hand, to be seen everywhere. At a newly established restaurant called Mado I enjoyed yet another portion of baklava; hmm! Later that evening, when the Netherlands eventually defeated Mexico  with 2-1 (yes!), I tried a Turkish pasta dish called Manti, which was exceptionally good! The pasta is covered with a layer of yoghurt in which a fair portion of fresh garlic is processed. I ‘enjoyed’ this taste for at least a day, because I didn’t manage to get rid of that garlic flavor that easily.
30 June:
A long hot day started off with a beautiful balloon flight together with Arturo and a bunch of passengers from Spain and Australia. The latter had some typical ‘Flying Doctors’ faces actually! We flew nicely low through the valleys and close along Uchisar castle. The Turkish crew members were in a jolly mood. The let me open up the alcohol free champagne which was of course a bit shaken on forehand and they also made me fly a second time that day for a second, with a soft landing on the envelope. They somehow also wanted to take many selfies with me. After the flight we went with a small group consisting of Arturo, my dad and a friendly young Spanish couple to Ihlara valley. We walked around 10 kilometers in between two huge cliffs. A refreshing river, which we eventually had to cross bare feet, gave some refreshment. Lots of little churches were to be found hidden in the rocks, but thousands of years of rain and wind made it difficult to imagine how beautiful everything must have looked liked at the time being. Even the Spaniards considered it to be extremely hot today, so imagine my poor white skin desperately being protected by factor 50+. We eventually visited another rock formation where people once used to live, in Selime, and afterwards we paid a short visit to a caravanserai, which was used as a kind of hostel for travelers on the Silk Route. We got back around 17.00, after having been awake since 03.00, so at 19.00 I went to bed, only to wake up for the next flight of which the preparations would start eight hours later already again.
1 July:
The drum boy started half an hour before my alarm clock rang, so that was a good opportunity to slowly wake up already. This morning a flight was scheduled together with a Turkish pilot named Mehmet. He showed to be a good one, letting the balloon turn around nicely often (good for the pictures) and flying low through the valleys, close to the rocks, without hitting them. After a well deserved sleep it was time to visit Susan and her beautiful house, located partly in a rock. We enjoyed some food and the company of three rather fat dogs, but they were very sweet. Susan had to catch a flight to France so eventually my father and Arturo ended up firstly at Mado for some Turkish desserts and secondly at Fat Boys for a cold beer. Another lovely day in Cappadocia!

27-28 June: Amsterdam – Kayseri – Avanos

As if I haven’t traveled enough already this month… Greetings from Turkey! Last evening my father and I took the night flight from Amsterdam to Kayseri. The plane was fully packed with Turkish people aged from 0.5 till 100. We were the only two tall blonde ‘cheeseheads’ on the entire flight. Interestingly, one of the passengers caused some trouble. Just before lift-off, when one’s surely not supposed to walk around, he tried to enter the toilet several times already. Furthermore, he kept on annoying the stewardesses with his obsession about the oxygen masks. It seemed all a bit threatening, and unfortunately this behavior didn’t stop during the flight. At a certain point the captain of the plane demanded the man, over the radio, to stop it, or else we would land on any airport on the route to Turkey where the police would be waiting for him. Luckily it didn’t get that far. What I noticed during this particular flight is that Turkish people seem very occupied with moving things and themselves during the flight. I’m normally used to Baltic people and Scandinavians, who manage to sit still for two hours without any problems. When we landed we obtained a visa, a small paper with a colorful sticker. The visa office looked like being exactly the same as it could have looked like thirty years ago. Dull colors, antique prints, old fashioned telecommunication and a portrait of Atatürk centrally observing the Dutch passport owners being charged 25 euro’s per person. All names were carefully written down in a big book. Once through the passport control we had to wait for our suitcase, along with many mothers trying to keep their tired and annoyed children calm. Buying a bottle of water failed, as the only shop being open during midnight solely sold cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. Two policemen kept all the people picking up their loved ones away from the arrival hall, which resulted in a seemingly honorary bow consisting of many small Turkish people who all stared at me with big eyes when making my first steps on Turkish soil. A memorable welcome! A crew member of Rainbow Balloons picked us up and in the middle of the night we drove through Kayseri towards Meskendir Valley. Incredible, how many mosques I saw. Remarkable also how bright green lights are used to highlight beautiful buildings during the night. The way of advertising reminded me a bit of Poland: colorful plaques praising goods through various fonts that had their popularity peak a decade ago. When being close to the final destination, the balloon heart of Turkey, we noticed that morning flight take-offs are scheduled a little earlier here. When it was still slightly dark, at 05.00 o’clock, the first balloons packed with fanatically waving sweet Japanese people found their way upwards. What a beautiful sight; the most magic rock formations and balloons appearing from every single valley. A fantastic way to start off this day, or to end it, as we didn’t manage to catch some sleep during the entire night. We were brought to our little attic apartment in Avanos, having two balconies with both a great view (from which we saw around 60 balloons this morning), a bathroom with soft pink elements attached with too less screws, a kitchen, two beds and an interestingly squared Styrofoam ceiling that most probably wouldn’t pass the esthetics-check at any local DIY company in the Netherlands. After a well deserved nap my father and I met some lovely people leading Rainbow Balloons. It was great to have a look at a Turkish balloon company once. It looked all so nicely organized. During the afternoon we hung around a bit with a Spanish pilot and a young Spanish couple. We walked through Göreme a bit, spotting many caves people used to live in, but which are now heavily affected by erosion. Some happy (possibly stray) dogs, looking nicely clean actually, accompanied us during a short walk. Because of the high temperature there was some thunder in the air, as well as some rain. But, that didn’t matter, because at a bar named Fat Boys we enjoyed a drink and a tasty portion of baklava. It must be hard for the guys working in the restaurants now, because apparently today was the first day of the Ramadan. They thus didn’t eat or drink during the day. We reside in a not so touristy neighborhood in Avanos, and when the loudspeakers just transmitted a prayer, I saw families all over town starting their well deserved huge meals. Yes, that’s another thing I noticed: the light. The light bulbs in Turkish living rooms shine out this very bright and rather uncozy light (even though the huge families having dinner together do look very cozy).  I observed that before with African people living in the Netherlands, but that is all not that interesting. Time to sleep. Arturo, the Spanish pilot, will pick us up tomorrow at 03.30!

Goodbye Baltics…

They have made me to who I am now… Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Within five valuable years I expanded my world view, got used to different mentalities, survived heaps of snow with -30 degrees and discovered both the most beautiful as well as most dirty places I had ever seen. I found love, and I lost love. I learned to say no and to trust my intuition. I found out the characteristics of being Dutch through self spot and pride, realizing that origin can often be traced back within one’s reasoning. I felt lonely on the most crowded student parties, but yet so fulfilled and energized when strolling along the sea side, through centuries old Russian cemeteries and abandoned side streets, all alone. There’ll be things I’ll miss, like my friends, the warm Baltic evening light, all magic but non-touristy places and the surprisingly informal atmosphere within the universities and internship placements.  There are also things I’m not going to miss, like the Lithuanian style inner-curve-taking way of walking which I still don’t get, the often experienced ‘customer isn’t king’-behavior, and the smell of people drinking so much cheap beer and vodka that they simply sweat pure alcohol, and then always manage to stand too close when there’s no way out, brr. Five years at this beautiful corner of Europe made me more independent, more intelligent, more open, more creative and even less judgmental. Being comfortable with yourself and your achievements is one of the greatest satisfactions you can have as a young adult. Especially as a woman, it was a delight (through a.o. the topic of my Master thesis, having to do with sexual objectification) to properly and comfortably distance myself from the immense female self-body-monitoring that seemingly occupies the lives of the majority of women here. The insight in the mechanism provided self acceptance and satisfaction, leaving a lot of time left to notice other things in life, let it be a special bird or just the change of light. Yes, the Baltics made me realize there is much to enjoy in life. Because of my experiences here, I managed to put my teen-like shyness aside and to perceive the world with open arms, but yet, always strongly relying on all my senses. If I could do it over again, I’d walk the exact same path.

From teen to young adult in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I left my teen years behind somewhere in Russia, where I celebrated my 20th birthday in 2010.

It’s Master Bos now! Plus, pictures from Poland and Slovakia.

Hello world! Even though my travel blog suddenly stopped because of a lack of properly working internet, it doesn’t mean that I’ve not been active lately In fact, since this very afternoon I may call myself Master Bos! I received my Master degree in Journalism and Media Analysis from Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania. The previous days I didn’t really realize yet that today would be the final stage of my educational career – although I of course keep on learning my life long. Guess I was still a bit with my head in the clouds, as I’ve just returned from a lovely week in Slovakia during which I joined a fantastic Latvian balloon team. We had so much fun and managed to make two breathtaking flights over colorful Kosice. Amazing actually, how ballooning unites in such a quick and enjoyable way. 
If you’re curious about the pictures I took in Slovakia, please feel free to have a look here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10203382754225623.1073741846.1114675137&type=1&l=f107ec67a4
I also uploaded an album with more pictures about my solo travel through Southern Poland (I still cannot believe how incredibly awesome that was!), which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10203395061813305.1073741847.1114675137&type=1&l=ac037e0b56
Both links should also be accessible for people without having a Facebook account. But, there is more! I made a video report about the adventures of team Latvia in Slovakia as well: http://youtu.be/gBQZ7KZfhy8
Enjoy! I’ll take a well deserved rest after this day with mixed emotions. Sleep tight!

Master Bos!

Day 7: Slovakia!

So, let me tell you a little bit about yesterday. During the morning I strolled around Zakopane a bit, trying to see a few more of those typical wooden houses with detailed carvings. At 11 o’clock I had to check-out from the hostel, so fully packed I took a mini bus towards the Polish-Slovakian border, which consists of a sweet looking restaurant and some piece of pavement functioning as a parking lot for hikers and a bus stop. I was told there would be busses running every half an hour from there. Well, they surely have long 30 minutes here then, because in between my connection and the previous bus were around four hours. I had plenty of time to enjoy the border atmosphere, which actually didn’t feel too special, but the Tatra mountains were anyways beautiful to look at. I eventually managed to get to Poprad by bus. It was extremely hot and the dark thunderstormy sky made a nice contrast with the mountain tops covered in snow. I felt rather pale walking around there; I didn’t expect to see so many gypsies. This is not such a nice thing to say, and it’s not my intention to generalize or be mean, but by looking at the faces of some people, you could just clearly see that there had been some sexual activity going on between family members. Back to the easier side of this story… I took the train to Kosice; my final destination for the next couple of days. I was surprised to see that Slovakia has so many beautiful hills. What a nice country! Ingrid, the organizer of the balloon fiesta that will be held in Kosice these days, picked me up from the train station. Our timing was perfect, because as soon as we headed off to her house it started to storm very heavily. Wind, rain, hail, thunder, lightning… Ingrid lives just outside the city on a hill, from which you have a beautiful view. She lives there together with Arend Jan, a Dutch pilot. The situation during my arrival was a bit hectic. Everywhere in their house, for the first time this bad, water was leaking. One of the neighbors lost his chimney and yet another neighbor (a Slovak speaking Dutch) had one of his windows flying into a room. Luckily nobody got hurt. During the evening it calmed down, so together with Arend Jan, Ingrid and another Dutch ballooning couple we enjoyed a tasty barbecue meal. As soon as a bottle of strong spirit was opened, amazing ballooning stories were shared about Russia, Georgia, and other interesting countries. Yeah, it’s good to be here, in this beautiful, huge, wooden house on top of a mountain. And, the cherry on the cake: a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I love that dog!