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Interview with a Nomad...                   Mirjana Vasiljevic

Tell us something about your background and how your interest in travel developed.

I come from a very small village in North Serbia, which has only four streets. This whole area of Serbia, Vojvodina, is very flat with just one small mountain. I guess this was the reason why I always felt like I am stuck and there is so much more to see in this world. My whole childhood I was dreaming about distant seas, oceans, jungles, big mountains and big cities. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel, since I grew up in the middle of the wars in the Balkans, which was reason why my country had sanctions. We couldn’t get visas to travel anywhere, and of course we also didn’t have enough money, even if we could get visa. So I was spending my days like in prison, like in some kind of cage. I filled up my time with hundreds of books. Then I realised that all disciplines are covered in one field, which is philosophy. I decided to study this noble discipline, so I moved to Belgrade when I was 19. There, I finally found people who can really understand me. I decided to challenge myself and to do something I never did. I wanted to see the world. So, I started to search how to sign up for an intership program for students, so I could go aboard to work or study. United States of America had the fastest and easiest way to accomplish this, so it was my first choice. I spent 5 months there, and I just got addicted to travel straight away. This all happened in 2010., when I was 22. After that, I just couldn’t stop.

How do you feel that your being from Serbia has affected the way you see the world? How do people react when you tell them where you are from?

Being Serbian is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Because of all these wars in our history, we suffered a lot, and you still can feel the consequences of these wars in the politics and economy of the country. This is why a lot of people moved from Serbia, trying to have a better life. However, despite this, Serbia is one very amazingly beautiful country! People are shocked when they visit Serbia, because they usually don’t expect much, and then they are amazed and blown away by its beauty! Some people are still scared to go there, because they just don’t know the real truth. But as soon as they go, they fall in love with the country. Serbia has wild, intact nature, rich with a lot of mountains and pure crystal clear lakes. Unfortunately, our traditional rustic type of life is disappearing liitle by liitle because of modernity. Serbian people follow fashion rather than  trying to save their tradition, because they think that the „grass is greener in others yards“. Maybe I was like them before I saw „others yards“. Now, after I visited so many different countries, I realised how my own country is truly special and unique, and I am deeply and profoundly proud to be Serbian! I rather go to the countryside to spend some time with older  people who live in nature and who eat their own homemade food, because they are so warm, honest, decent and  full of wisdom. Rather than  nightclubbing with young people who are so poisoned by the future.

Tell us a couple of travel stories that have really made an impact on you.

These are not stories, these are just flashes in my mind that I still carry with me. More like pictures with no time dimension. The sparkling waters of the Black lake in Durmitor and the freshest air I’ve ever breathed. The sharp edges of Montenegro's rocky mountains. The yellow coral which lives in the toilet of one submerged ship deep down in Adriatic sea. And all other corals  and shells all around the Atlantic and Pacific, which I call „underwater flowers“. One gorgeous sunrise in Ocean City, Maryland. The view from the Empire State Building in New York, from a romantic sunset till night falls and then the lights of the city looking like stars in the sky. Night scuba diving in Greece when algae also appeared like stars in the dark sky. Some paintings in museums of Washington DC, Canberra ACT, Metropolitan NYC. Rafael’s „The school of Athens“ in Rome and a lot of other pieces of art in Museums of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, St Peter's Church. The charm of the little cute streets in Italy and France - with paved stones, old architecture, restaurants, colourful shops, old bohemian style. Venice...just EVERYTHING in Venice. The walls of old Mediterranean towns like Dubrovnik, Kotor, Perast, Budva - with charming cute little houses, interesting windows, many flowers and cats who run all over. Coffee early in the morning with ocean view from my balcony in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Yachting through the Mediterranean sea, with no line on the horizon, when stars were the brightest and the moon the biggest. The colour of the Tara river. Paragliding above Lovcen mountain in Montenegro, and parasailing above Herceg Novi. Snorkling at Sydney’s beaches. Mornings started with yoga by the sea or somewhere in nature. And many more...

You have your own website...in what way do you feel this is unique compared to other sites?

I always enjoyed writing, and I even published some essays, but I never thought that I will become a blogger, because that form of writing always seemed shallow for me. I was prejudiced about it, because of too many bloggers who write about fashion, make up and drinking cocktails in some fancy expensive Tropical resort. Also, I was disgusted by some female bloggers who use their sexuality to attract people to see their blog. I just thought that world is not for me, because I am an old school writer, who still uses pencil and paper, who is still a member of the library and who reads Plato, Hermann Hesse, Rilke, Osho, etc. Then, somehow I realised  that maybe it is not a bad idea to have my own space on the web where I can publish my stories, instead of keeping them in my diary. Since I was an amateur photographer too, I also had a lot of photographs from my travels that I was posting on social networks. So, just because I wanted to have everything organized in my computer, I was making these folders with pictures from all the places I’ve been to, and those folders had essays about those places too. Then somehow I finally decided to break the anonymity and publish them. I’m still not sure if I fit, or if I can even name myself a „travel blogger“. First, I don’t like any labels. Secondly, because I was writing long before this „blogger era“, I can say for myself that I am writer and author more than „just a blogger“. The fact that I also have a Masters of  Philosophy and that I read a ton of books of world literature also makes me different. I see that a lot of bloggers write articles in this style: „I was in Paris, the day was sunny, so I drank one lemonade, ate a sandwich and went for a walk“. I don’t like this banalisation. What I try to do when I write is to emphasize what is really special and unique about some part of the world, what is the historical  background about that place that I am visiting,; to notice all cultural and historical differences between all places I see and people I meet; to learn more about civilization and nature, and to show the rest of the world what I learned, through my stories and my photos. But, at the same time, I don’t write in a scientific nor in a journalistic way, but rather in a poetic lyric way, which makes my essays also romantic and charming.

Perast, Montenegro.
What are some of the challenges of maintaining a website when you are travelling? And what do you get 'back' from it that makes you feel proud of it?

The only challenge that I have is my poor knowledge about computers, social media networks, marketing and so on. As I said, I have never been a technical modern person, and for blogging that can be a problem. I am an old-fashioned girl pretty much, and while other bloggers write one article in 10 minutes, edit their photos with instant filters using phone applications,  and then the rest of the time they are doing commercials, I just can’t move so fast and easily from my words and pictures. Sometimes I write one post for a weeks or even months. Just because my blog post IS NOT just one more blog post. All my stories are so deeply involved with my emotions and a lot of the time I am crying while I am writing. When I write about some town where I used to live, I feel like I am there once again and I feel all the emotions that I felt when I was there. You can see through my stories that I fall in love with the places in the same way like someone does with people. And when I leave, I have a hard time like I am leaving a person that I love. Because of this, I spend so much time writing, so I can clear my emotions and let them go, together with the end of the story.

It’s the same with photographs. Because I like photography as a form of art, I was even about to study it too. But because I am tired of formal education I didn’t go to school for it, so I just decided to study photography from home. I did a lot of research about the history of photography, I was analyzing works of famous photographers, and I was even writing articles about it too. When you have a background like that, you just CAN’T take pictures with an iphone and edit it with some phone application. I rather plan my shots very carefully. Most of them I had in my mind a long time before I actually made them. Sometimes I found myself  staring at my photos not noticing that time is passing by. I still have a lot of things to learn about photography, and Photoshop in particular, and once I do, I will become a professional travel photographer, not just a travel blogger. That’s my goal. Anyway, this all is the reason why I have some trouble and why I can’t express myself in the way that I want. But in the end, I publish my story and people don’t even notice that something is maybe wrong or something is missing. They love my words and my pictures and they say that they travel with me too. Then I realised that I am maybe the biggest judge to myself and that my readers are actually defending me from myself.

You have travelled to quite a number of countries. Which countries surprised you, positively or negatively, compared to what you had expected before you went there?

The place that surprised me negatively was definitely America. From  such a rich country you expect better. But America is only rich in material way, not in a cultural nor spiritual way. When you are from Europe like me, you just can’t live without old beautiful historical buildings, statues and churches, full with architectural details. You also can’t live with that bohemian spirit on the streets. In the end, you can’t live without tasty domestic natural food, milk and wine. In America houses and buildings are without any taste and style, streets don’t have much life, and the food is plastic, artificial with no taste at all. But after you accept this, you can see advantages that this country has too, and in the end you kind of like it.

The place that surprised me positively...well, this will sound funny, but actually that’s my own country, Serbia. Because I was trying all my life to escape, and I was running away from my own country, I realised in the end that Serbia is becoming more and more beautiful every time I go back. Every time I go I discover something new that I didn’t know, see, realise or I didn’t appreciate before! Even my village where I always felt like in cage, now feels magical. I was the happiest person in the world when I finally discovered what fairytales are hidden behind the hills of Serbia, and when I realised that actually I don’t have to go anywhere, because I am already there where I belong., I felt free. But this feeling didn’t last long, because soon I started craving for adventure to lose myself in something new and wild. And then I just continued to travel.
 

Which places are high up on your bucket list and why?

I was always interested in Eastern philosophy and religion, and since I started practising yoga, I became interested even more. That’s why in the future I want to see Asia, especially India and Tibet, where I would like to visit old Buddhist temples. Also, I would like to go on a safari to Africa, and scuba diving in Egypt. I would like to visit Central and South America, and because I live in Florida in this moment, I guess that will happen soon. Except this, I just want to spend as much time as possible in nature, so in the future I will focusing on hiking, climbing, camping in the mountains, rather than visiting cities.

So where is 'home' nowadays? And how have your travels shaped how you see the idea of home itself?

Home doesn’t exist. It’s only an idea in my head. All my life I am searching for it. Never found it. It’s in every new place that I visit. At the same time it’s nowhere. Home is a mix of all emotions, smells, impressions that I felt and that I carry with me  in my heart. One day I might find it physically, I still hope for it. If not, I will just continue to travel, never stopping, because logically in that case, home would be whole planet. Mother Earth.

Finally the question we always ask - if you could invite four people to dinner from any time in human history, who would you invite any why?

Definitely I would invite two philosophers that have influenced me the most. Those are Plato and Kant. The third one would be Nietzsche, even if I don’t read or like him anymore. When I was younger I read one book about him that made me think a lot, and then I had a dream how I met Nietzsche and asked him „Please tell me what is the meaning of life“. He just opened his mouth to answer and of course I woke up. After that I decided to study philosophy and without that I wouldn’t be the same person that I am today. So, let’s call Nietzsche for dinner too. The fourth person would be some poet or writer, and it’s hard for me to decide between all of them, so I’ll just pick the most important Serbian person - Nikola Tesla. Even if I don’t know nor understand his science in total, Nikola Tesla for me is more like an artist and poet. His perception of the world was very spiritual and magical, and I feel a strong connection with him every time when I read the things that he said.

Since all four of my guests were very introvert and weird, I guess this dinner would be very quiet and no one would talk. But I would enjoy the silence.

The photos in this interview are from Mirjana's personal collection, showing her mostly in Montenegro and Serbia, and we thank her for sharing them with us.
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