Upcoming Travels

I took a taxi out to UNMIK to pay for the bus for the next two weekends.  Next weekend I’m going to Sandanski, Bulgaria for a relaxing spa weekend.

The weekend after I’m headed to Ohrid, Macedonia for a relaxing weekend by the lake.

I love travels that involve relaxing :)



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Nikola Tesla Museum

While I could pack Saturday full of activities, Sunday was a travel day.  I slept in, ate breakfast at the hotel with my friends at 9:45, and had to be at the other hotel to catch the UN bus by 3:30.  I decided to check out the Nikola Tesla Museum with what remained of the day.

According to my guidebook, the museum was actually on the same block as my hotel!

What my guide book said (map from google.com)

So I walked around the block, past a bunch of embassies, and no museum.  I ended up back at the hotel.  I double checked the map, and walked again, more carefully this time.  Another loop, no museum.

It was Sunday morning, and there weren’t many people on the streets.  There were some men doing road work, and they had already seen me walk by twice.  I didn’t really want to wander through again.  I triple checked the map, and then decided to look at the entry for the museum.  It gave an address: 51 Kruska.  I had only gone as far as 10 Kruska.  So I needed to walk further down the street (and the map was wrong).  But I didn’t want to walk by the road workers again, so I weaved my way along different streets for a few blocks, and then walked waaaaaay down Kruska to number 51.

Actual location of museum (map from google.com)

I found it!

I paid 300 dinars for my ticket, and then waited in the lobby for the next tour to start.  As I was waiting, more people also came in and bought tickets.  Eventually the tour guide came over and asked people if they spoke English or Serbian.  We had a mixed group, so the tour would be given in both languages.



Power plant on Niagara Falls

The first part of the tour was a 20 minute video.  It was both informative and a little funny.  The production quality seemed like a middle school project (still pictures flashing quickly with stilted narration that didn’t always match the pictures), and the way things were phrased was a little odd.  I think the English narration was probably not written by a native English speaker.  It was also extremely complimentary of Tesla, in a way that made me a little uncomfortable.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, though!  I mean, it is a museum in his honor…

Anyway, after the video the tour started.  The tour guide talked us through many of Tesla’s inventions, and actually turned them on, which was cool.

Spinning egg (Egg of Columbus)

Tesla Coil wirelessly (the wire there is grounding only) illuminating the neon sign on the wall

Tesla Coil wirelessly illuminating the florescent lightbulbs

Tesla’s radio controlled boat (the tour guide said people were so incredulous when he demonstrated this invention that they preferred to believe that he was moving it with telekinesis)

Urn with Tesla’s ashes

The tour was a full hour, and at that point I needed to head back to the hotel to check out.


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Over the weekend, I decided the time had come to replace the left front driveaxle in my old Jeep.  Mainly because the CV boot was torn open and slinging grease all over the place. It’s a 93 Jeep, back when Jeeps were actually off-road vehicles instead of the minivans with big wheels that they are today. As such, it has solid axles (rather than independent suspension), which are much better for going over rocks, and also much better at shaking your fillings loose every time you hit a pothole (of which Rochester has many).  “Solid” axles are in fact hollow, and the driveshaft spins inside of them.  The driveshaft has only a single, outboard CV joint, instead of the pair found on the driveaxles of independently sprung vehicles.  What this all means is that on a vehicle like the Jeep the only way to get the driveaxle out is to pull off the hub, for which I use the Mother Of All Tools (see below).

The first step is to get the hub nut off, a job which can vary in intensity from “obnoxious” to “epic”.  At 36 mm, the hub nut is the diameter of a medium-sized dinosaur’s brain, and is supposed to be torqued down to a tyrannosaurus 175 lb-ft.  And if that doesn’t bite sufficiently, it’s further secured by an oversized,  rusty cotter pin.  With that ADX Florence-worthy security, you might well wonder what baleful thing would happen if that hub nut were to escape at highway speed.  Pretty much nothing, as near as I can tell.  The hub actually engages the axle through a set of splines; the nut is just for decoration.

What scores this job a minimum of “obnoxious” on the odium scale is that to get the cotter pin out, the wheel has to be off; while to de-torque that monster nut, the wheel has to be both on and resting on pavement.  You guessed it:  you have to jack the Jeep up, take off the wheel, pull the cotter pin out, put the wheel back on, lower the Jeep, crack the nut loose, jack the Jeep back up, take off the wheel, and finally un-thread the nut.  And when you’re all done, you get to do all that in reverse order to put it back on :)  The cotter pin came out with some combination of pliering, hammering, and using a screwdriver for its unintended purpose, while the nut broke loose with a satisfying “crack!” and a little help from my 2 foot breaker bar.  Then I could move onto the hub.

Well, not quite.  The brake caliper came off without a fuss, and I wired it up to the coil spring to keep it out of the way. But then the brake rotor, which is supposed to more or less fall off at that point, didn’t.  I had to break out my slide hammer a bit earlier than anticipated.  With a few knocks, I successfully amputated the brake disk.

With the prep work done, I could get to work on the hub.  The hub was originally held on by three 12-point bolts and a whole lot of friction.  17 years later, it is held on by three 12-point bolts, a heavy caking of rust, and a whole lot friction.  I began my assault on the rust early with a heavy barage of WD-40, then moved onto the bolts.  The heads were so corroded, it took me about 5 minutes to even figure out what tool was supposed to go on them.  It turned out to be a 13 mm 12-point socket or box end wrench – you know, that one you never lose (because you never take it out of your toolbox).  I started with the box end, and with sufficient hammering, got it on the first bolt.  I pushed down on that itty-bitty wrench handle as hard as I could, which made a big impression on my palm, but none on the bolt.  I tried the double-wrench trick I learned from my brother,

but still nothing.  Time for some bigger tools.
Trouble here is that the bolt heads are facing in, toward the differential, and there is not much clearance between the hub and the steering knuckle for large pieces of steel.  I have but one (very shiny and well-preserved) 12-point 13 mm socket, which has a 3/8 inch square hole on the receiving end.  Now a 3/8” breaker bar is one of the few tools I’ve never invested in, though I’ll admit my 3/8” torque wrench has stood in in that capacity a few times.  What I bought instead was a 1/2 – 3/8” adapter, which is usually sufficient.
But the stack of socket + adaptor + breaker bar head simply wouldn’t fit between the knuckle and hub.  My 1/2” ratchet handle, which is about 4 times shorter than the breaker bar, would.  Well, at least the handle is padded…  Then I pushed, pushed, pushed, the kind that leaves red spots in front of your eyes.  I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when that first bolt actually broke loose, sending bits of rust flying – I thought for sure I would feel instead that sickening slow give as chrome-vanadium steel gouges away carbon steel, turning a 12-point bolt into a carriage bolt (with no nut on the far end).  In retrospect, I give Chrystler credit for putting 12-point bolts there.  Had they used hexagons, they would most certainly be circles now, and I would be up a creek.  A portrait of the heroic bolts is below.

The purpose of those three bolts is to press-fit the hub into the round metal piece that I will scientifically call the “hub-holder”. Alas, removing the three culprits does nothing to alleviate the press-fit, now reinforced with a generous serving of rust.  That’s where the Mother Of All Tools, my 13 pound slide hammer, comes in.  The beak-like thing at the end goes behind the hub, and you smack that big grey weight onto the opposite end of the tool with as much force as you can muster.  Now most car parts – actually, most parts of anything – won’t stand up to that sort of treatment; but fortunately, hubs are tougher than nails.  In fact, hubs could grind nails back into three pennies, or whatever it is that they are made of.  I smashed and smashed that hub, turning occasionally, and it pretended like nothing was happening.  But I knew better.  Ever so gradually, a hairline gap opened up between the hub and the brake dust shield, then a three-penny gap, then the hub plopped out on the ground.

Actually replacing the driveaxle was almost anti-climatic.  I pulled the old one straight out of the hollow axle, through the now-vacant hub-holder, and lined it up with the new one to make sure Auto Zone had sold me the right part (always a good idea).  The problem with the old one should be obvious.  Lacking gear oil (my least favorite automotive fluid, with a smell I find totally nauseating), I coated the inboard splines on the new one with some motor oil, then slid it in.  One curious thing is that there does not seem to be any bearing at the outboard edge of the axle tube.  I guess Jeep just relies on the splines in the differential to keep the shaft from smacking the insides of the tube (that, or the old bearing disintegrated and fell out, in which case I’ll get to do this all over again in the near future). Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly (tautologically so).

Overall, not a bad project.  One of those projects that amazes me at how strong bolts are, even when they look like they are coming off the Titanic.  How can I still be amazed at how strong bolts are, after 10 years of working on cars?  Because the other half of the time I am amazed at how *weak* they are, snapping off or stripping at the slightest provocation.  Regardless, any day I get to take my 13 pound slide hammer out of its oversized case is a good day.  Because when you’ve got a slide hammer, the whole world is a hub (and hubs are tougher than nails).



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Sick day food.  I woke up with a migraine this morning, and have been in bed pretty much all day.  I made some rice to try to settle my stomach, which is upset from the headache.



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Saturday in Belgrade

Saturday morning I went to Tito’s Mausoleum in the morning.

In addition to the main attraction, there was a museum of artifacts, and a display of batons from Tito’s Relay of Youth.

Embroidered blanket in support of Tito

More embroidery

Photo of Youth Rally


I then swung by St. Mark’s Church, which was pretty cool.  It was much less ornate than the baroque churches in Germany, and I liked this one way better.

The exterior was under construction

That chandelier is at least 15 feet across

In the afternoon I went on an English language walking tour of the old downtown.  It was two hours long, and I do not remember everything the tour guide said.  I also don’t remember the names of the buildings in the pictures…  I’ll caption the ones I can remember.

Tour guide

Awesome fountain in the middle of the square

Primary school


Clock Tower

Looking down on the river (Danube or Sava—they converge here).  You can also see the set-up for the Amy Winehouse/Moby concert

Naked soldier statue

The tour was from 1 to 3pm, and it was SUPER hot.  The tour guide said it was 34 degrees Celsius, which is 93 Fahrenheit.  So we (some friends I made on the bus from Prishtina) stopped to get some drinks.  The three of us ordered five drinks:

I had a water and a coke.  It was delicious.

I went back to my hotel to relax in the afternoon.  Then in the evening we went to see the Croatian Ratio Television Choir sing.  They sang a selection of madrigals by Monteverdi, and it was really nice.

After the concert we went out to dinner at an open-air restaurant.  I ordered Beef Stroganoff.  We had salads as appetizers, my companions had beer and wine, and the meal was still really affordable.  I think it was less than 100 euros for the four of us (my portion was obviously less than 25% of the bill).

I got home a little after 11pm, and fell asleep fast after a full day!



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Belgrade, bus to and from

The UNMIK runs trips every weekend (I think).  They depart Prishtina at 4:00pm on Friday, go somewhere for the weekend, and then leave that place at 4:00pm on Sunday.  The cost is 30 euros for the bus, and they’ll help arrange for a hotel in the destination.

Even though they run every weekend, last weekend (June 17-19) was the first trip I went on.  I paid my 30 euros, got a reservation at the Excelsior Hotel in Belgrade, and took a taxi out to UNMIK on Friday afternoon.

UN bus

The bus holds 45 people, but there were probably less than 20 people on this trip.  At least a third were headed to Belgrade for the Amy Winehouse/Moby concert on Saturday night.

The bus itself was quite comfortable.  It had nice seats….

….and footrests!

After about an hour we reached the Kosovo/Serbia border.  The guidebooks for the region warn that crossing the border can be problematic.  If you fly into Kosovo (like I did), and try to go to Serbia, the Serbian officials say that you entered Serbia illegally (since they don’t recognize Kosovo).  If you fly into Serbia and go to Kosovo, it’s not as much of a problem.  Taking the UN bus increased the odds that we would make it over the border without issue.

Kosovo Customs

Serbian Police Station (50 meters past customs)

They did check all the passports, and we probably had to wait ten minutes.  But we made it across the border!

At around 8:00 (four hours after we left Pristina), we stopped at a rest stop for some dinner in Serbia.  They had an ATM, so I withdrew 10,000 Serbian Dinars, which is worth about 100 Euros.  It took me a little while to get used to the 100:1 ratio.  But once I thought of it as “cents,” it all made sense.  50 dinars (cents) for a bottle of water?  Sounds good!  690 dinars (cents) for dinner?  Great price!

Sunset at the rest stop

We arrived in Belgrade a little before 10:00pm.  The bus parked in one of the two hotels that you could reserve for the weekend.  I stayed in the other hotel, since it was closer to downtown.  I split a cab with a few people who were also staying at that hotel, and was checked in by 10:05pm

The bus trip back was about the same, although the border crossing was a bit quicker.  Again, I split a cab with a new friend who lives in my neighborhood, and was home by 10:00pm.

I’ll post stories from the weekend in the next few days!



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University of Essex student trip

Last week my boss Chris hosted a group of 35 University of Essex students.  They are all in the international Human Rights program.  Most are pursuing LL.M. degrees, and there are a few Master’s students.

They came to Kosovo for the week, and Chris and his wife Jenny had a reception for them on Sunday night.  They were kind enough to invite me, as well!

Chris and Jenny’s beautiful new house near Germia Park

It was really fun to meet all of the graduate students.  I was the only American: they were from all over!

The University of Essex has a really good human rights law program.  There are a dozen alums who work in Pristina alone!  They seem to have a really fantastic alumni network.

After lots of mingling, Chris, Jenny and some other alums working in Pristina spoke about their experiences at Essex and how they ended up in Pristina.  It was good advice for the Essex students, and good advertising for me!

Tuesday when I was walking home from work, I ran into the Essex students again!  They were walking back from the university, and as I passed a few people I was surprised to hear them chatting in English.  The next few I passed were chatting in English about human rights, and I actually started to pay attention.  That’s when I realized that I recognized them!  I think that they might not have recognized me right away…  Oops.  But they said that they were having a really good time in Kosovo.

It was really cool to meet people from all over the world who are interested in human rights from so many perspectives: legal, structural, economic, advocacy-related.

Their week in Kosovo ended Saturday the 18th, so they’re back in the UK now.



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