Albanian gentleman

Traveling around really shows you the true nature of a lot of people and says a lot about various countries. By far, I have found Albania to be one of the friendliest and most helpful countries that I have been to. Here are a few examples of why:

1) The first time I was in Tirana I was very turned around and the directions I had to the hostel made no sense to me. Getting lost with nearly an extra 30 kilos of baggage is not fun! I stopped and asked a security guard for help who in turn grabbed a street artist who spoke English. He looked at where I needed to go and said it was very difficult and that he would walk me. The round-trip for him was probably 45 minutes and he refused to accept any money for his help.

2) The hostel owner in Saranda would walk everyone to the ferry port or bus station and assist them with buying their tickets. He also made sure there was always fresh watermelon in the fridge since the days were so hot.

3) My cab driver the second time I was in Tirana (lesson learned) told me about his government job he held for 14 years and was laid off because his boss didn’t like him. But he was thankful there were tourist in the city so he could make some money driving a cab an learn something everyday.

4) I was waiting for my transfer to Kotor when a kid came up to me asking me to buy a pen. I didn’t want his pen and he just kept talking. I told him I was going to Montenegro and to have a nice day. About 10 minutes later he comes running over saying, “Hey lady! Hey lady! Aren’t you going to Montenegro? Your van is over there.” He proceeded to escort me across 6 lanes of traffic and carry one of my backpacks. I gave him the last 70 cents of Lek I had.

It really amazes me to see such kindness and know that nothing is expected in return.

A is for Albania

After a few weeks of mostly cities and pretty crappy weather, it was time to move on and head to the sunnier coasts of the Balkans. I decided my next stop would be Albania with a one night stop in Tirana on my way to Saranda.

Tirana is much like any other capital city and especially like the capital cities in the Balkans. The Romans had their time here and then the Ottomans and then Albania gained their independence again. I spent the day walking around and taking in a few sites and trying the local beer!

Albanian beer

Albanian beer

Albanian Currency

Albanian Currency

Once I made the journey down the Albanian coast, I arrived in beautiful Saranda and knew I would not be leaving any time soon. Saranda has a lot of Greek influence as the island of Corfu is just 1.5 hours away. The town had everything that I needed for a week of relaxation!

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I have stayed in quite a few hostels during my travels and the host at the SR Backpackers was by far the most gracious and helpful person I have ever met. He even hosted a bbq night for us on the beach with delicious skewers and salad and rice! Sometimes, the smallest of things can make all the difference after a few months on the road.

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Montenegro in a day!

The weather started to get a bit gloomy in Bosnia and I headed to Montenegro hoping for a little reprieve. However, it seemed the weather followed me to Kotor and I had to deal with the rain for a few more days. To me Kotor was a combination of Mostar and Dubrovnik and a quaint little place.

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Instead of hanging around the small city, I took a tour to Durmitor National Park which took me on a 15 hour, 300 kilometer adventure around Montenegro. The 4 kilometer hike around the river was absolutely beautiful and a the trees did a great job protecting us from the little bit off rain that fell.

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Along the way, we stopped in Budva which has a huge Russian population. There is a bit of concern about what will happen with Budva as Montenegro will follow whatever the EU decides as it pertains to Russia.

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One of the awesome places we got to stop was at a zip lining spot that was 824 meters long and 150 meters above the Tara River Canyon. It started to rain just as our group was lining up and no one was volunteering to go first, so I saddled up and zipped across the river!

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As we were headed home, we stopped at a lovely little village that is used as a resting point for avid hikers of the intense mountain and had a dinner of freshly caught fish from the river as the sun set. It was a long and great day!

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Mostar and beyond

It is always nice to be able to see a few cities in various countries to really get an idea of what the country has to offer. I left Sarajevo to head south to Mostar to see another side of Bosnia. My hostel is just a few blocks from the center of old town and I immediately headed to one of the most famous landmarks in Mostar, the Old Bridge. For a different view of what the bridge has to offer, take a look at some crazy Red Bull cliff divers.

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I decided to take a day tour and see some of the site that aren’t exactly within walking distance of the hostel. The first stop was a little village town called Blagaj that had some of the clearest and most beautiful water I have ever seen! Along the river is a house/monastery that was for Dervish cults and is still considered one of the most mystical places in all of Bosnia. Out of respect, we were asked to cover up and scarves were provided.

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The next stop was to the St. James church at Medjugorje. This town became famous because three teenage girls said the Virgin Mary appeared to them. The city is now considered a pilgrimage site for people from around the world.

Even though the weather has been dreary, nothing was going to stop me from jumping into the beautiful Kravica waterfalls! The water was about 8° Celsius and definitely woke up all my senses!

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The last stop of my great day was at Pocitelj. According to the locals, after the war in 1991, only 5 families returned to the area and the damage caused ruined any chance of the area being added to the UNESCO World Heritage site list.

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Overall, Mostar and the surrounding areas proved to be a fantastic experience!

Sarajevo

When you think of Bosnia what is the first thing that comes to your mind? This answer will vary depending on what country you are from but I can guarantee a positive thought didn’t exactly pop into your mind. After walking around for just 10 minutes in Sarajevo, everything I thought I knew went out  the window. There is a very rich history of war and conflict including the assassination of Franz Ferdinand on the Latin Bridge which was the spark needed to start WWI. Now it is just another bridge in the city.

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The city has an eternal flame symbolizing the WWII victory of fascism and buildings still covered in bullet holes.

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And if you didn’t think that was enough, there is a exhibition dedicated to the 1995 Bosnian Genocide.

Graffiti by Dutch soldiers

Graffiti by Dutch soldiers

Some of the bodies ready to be buried

Some of the bodies ready to be buried

Victims' bones found in mass graves

Victims bones found in mass graves

All pretty negative right? But what is not on Wikipedia or written in a news is the rich culture of cafes and bars and the general love for live that flourishes in the city. Even during the genocide, there was a contest for Miss Sarajevo to show everyone that they will not be pushed down by Chetniks and they will continue living the way they want. There is an epically high unemployment rate but people spend their time hanging out drinking espresso and rakia. Bosnians know how to live life to the fullest.

It was an interesting few days in the city and I am incredibly happy that I saw the good and the bad. My idea of Bosnia has completely changed now and I think it is a place a lot of people would benefit from if they took the time to visit.

Bosnian currency

Bosnian currency

Rakia

Rakia

 

Underground Belgrade walking tour

I usually take the free walking tours in the various cities I have been to, and this time I decided to take the underground walking tour of Belgrade to see something a little different. The tour started at the Belgrade Fortress and then took us to a military bunker built in 1948 (never used),  a Roman well (also never used for water), a gun powder storage facility and finally an old “fridge” in the mountains that is now a wine cellar.

Fortress

Fortress

Original weapons from the war

Original weapons from the war

Tiny door from the military bunker

Tiny door from the military bunker

The military bunker was built in 1948 in reaction to the fear of Yugoslavia being attacked by the Soviets for refusing to conform to the communist ways of Stalin. Luckily, another war or conflict never came to fruition and it all worked out.

The “fridge” in the mountains is a series of 13 tunnels used to keep products cool when refrigeration was not an option. Now, most of the tunnels have been covered up, however a few have been converted to wine caves and little bars.

Of course I could not post something without adding in a little bit of graffiti. The last piece is called La Santa de Beograd and is considered a very important piece of street art in Belgrade. The images depict peace and war and growth and struggle.

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This is also a little humor that is posted around my hostel.

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