Sometimes you buy someone a present that you think will be fun, but nothing special.  So you are then very surprised when they react in a way that appears to go way beyond what you thought might be the response.  That the present then has a totally unexpected positive consequence is an even bigger bonus.
 
One of my best mates is an ice hockey nut.  In his own world, and he does have his own world, he lives a stateside existence - that would naturally include attending all home and away games of New York Rangers.  I didn't follow the timetable of American Ice Hockey (I now know it's the NHL - National Hockey League) but I knew whenever the Rangers played as his Twitter account would be screaming #LETSGORANGERS

And so I prepare to leave rural mountainous Serbia. These are not high rugged Alpine climbs - these are steady strong uplands - sparsely populated by a proud people. The thing to realise about Serbia, the Balkans, is the extent to which the cross roads to Europe and the East has affected the reach of time and place. Few people here have a heritage that reaches back more than a couple of hundred years - but in countries that have seen more war and conflict than most of us can imagine, that is long indeed.

Here in upland Zlatibor there are families who go back six and seven generations - in part that is due to the reality - that there is little that is bold or brash or noisy. Lifestyles are subsistence, the quiet is dominating, the natural is normal. Here woods, vines and moss take over and buildings crumble back into the earth if they are left or forgotten - eaten by the earth and her history.

Ed in the parkThe Emperor Trajan Decius was born here and I love it

Coming to the Balkans has been one of the most special things ever. I have seen a set of countries that fascinate and amaze - hidden treasures and history.

But most of all I have met people who charm, and talk and sing with enthusiam. And more than that I have made friends.

Today I fly back to London, to my home, my partner, my family and other friends. I leave behind hopes and fond memories. But before I leave I have just been for a walk round my favourite park here in Belgrade - Academic Park - the site of the former Roman Baths of the city of Singidunun. As I wander through I see and sense the history, I construct the stories and re-enact the chatter gossip and news of ancient times. For me it brings history to life and I imagine that the bold statues are former Emperors, Senators and Poets. I see the crumbling features and I imagine the decline of the power of Rome.

It is a huge privilege to travel - I think the greatest privilege - to see, learn and educate yourself about who you are and what you can do. To see human nature out of your own context and in a foreign land. But for me Serbia is no foreign land - Viminacium, Naissus, Taurunum, Budalia (where Trajan Decius was born) Surmium, to see the Pannonian Sea and the Danube and the palaces and forts and baths and more. These are places I studied, tensions I understood and roads travelled that I read about for my degree. They bring the third century of Ancient Rome alive for me.

And so as I leave, having worked and trained and laughed with friends I give huge and grateful thanks for the chances I have had and hope for more to come. Love you Serbia, love you Balkans, love you Pannonia and Moesia.

One of the good fortunes I have enjoyed is to have travelled widely - of late this has been in two particular places that I find fascinating: Sri Lanka and Serbia. Vast distances apart, they are in many respect tackling the same issues and have similar opportunities.

Most people I speak to at home link Serbia to the troubles of the First World War or the more recent Balkan War, and Sri Lanka is known to have struggled through a bitter civil conflict in the north of the island. But in both cases, whilst you can see and sense many of the issues that arise from conflict, recent or old, at no time have I felt in danger or threatened. In fact on both cases I have explored, travelled and enjoyed the customs, people and traditions and managed to get underneath the veneer and learn and understand better.

Cafe PrincipIt's good evening Belgrade and so I take my walk down of an evening to where the refugee camp is by the central railway and bus station. I arrive and as I sort of suspected it's cleared - the grass which had worn away has been lightly ploughed over, the open areas have been cordoned off and there is a sense of renewal. Everything has changed.