Working in a hostel, you often hear people visiting specific attractions or, perhaps, you might even be the one suggesting some of those places. For us, the problem was that we hadn’t had the chance to go around much in the first few days.
One of the many beautifully sunny days in Shkoder, we managed to get half a day off to bike around the town.
With our bikes, we knew where we wanted to go: Lake Shkodra. It is one of the main attractions of Shkodër and it’s just about 10 minutes away from the hostel by bike, we just had to go there.
We crossed a very unsafe-looking wooden bridge and continued onto a road which lead to the lake.
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After getting on a rather dodgy-looking bus in Tirana, we managed to reach the center of Shkodër. Luckily, the hostel was nearby and we were greeted by the owners and showed around.
The hostel looked nice: very welcoming and friendly, especially because of the open area where all the travelers could rest or socialize.
The owners brought us to a nearby restaurant and we devoured the food.
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A long bus ride brought us to Greece and more precisely to Thessaloniki.
This city is one of those places that I often read about in history books at school when studying Ancient Greece. It always gives me a great feeling to finally be able to connect a historically important location to some actual images.
I can’t help but imagine how it could have been back then to live here, obviously failing to do so and falling back into idealized scenes, probably from a movie.


White Tower of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is not too big but there are quite a few places to visit and things to do.
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Approaching the entrance of the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, we were welcomed by a majestic structure (and I am someone who is not often captured by religious buildings) filled with both tourists and local worshipers.
The entrance for visitors is on the side of the building, where usually a long queue awaits anyone who wants to enter. That day was no different.
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Istanbul is a very lively and, at times, chaotic city, especially in summer.
It has a mix of new and old, which makes it very interesting to visit and walk around. In fact, the city of Istanbul, historically known as Byzantium and Constantinopolis, was created around 667 BC (the legends say) and has a very long past which has left traces scattered around the different parts of the city.
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The bus to Istanbul almost felt like being on an airplane: hostesses, a screen for each passenger, treats and snacks included. That one was definitely the best bus I have ever been on.
Once we arrived in Istanbul, we headed to the Asian side (Istanbul is in 2 continents: one part in Europe and another in Asia), where a good friend of mine was waiting for us.
After a short break, we directly went to the center. At the time, there was the ‘Asırlık Tatlar ve Sanatlar Çarşısı’, which in English translates to: ‘Centuries-Old Tastes and Arts Bazaar’.


Lollipop maker

It was a one-street market where people would show traditional arts and foods (as the name suggests).
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The sunny and warm city of Sofia was a very nice change of atmosphere, it felt much less like the other Balkan countries we visited both from the architecture and the food. I found it to be some sort of mid-way between the Crotian/Bosnian/Serbian dishes and the Greek/Turkish ones.


Marching band resting in the shade

Even its history is quite peculiar as Bulgaria, according to our guide, tried to stay out of World War II (even being occupied by the Germans, they succeeded in saving Bulgarian Jews from being sent to Nazi concentration camps) and was not part of Yugoslavia.
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In Serbia, as well as Bulgaria, the Cyrillic alphabet is used in their language; not knowing this, it was an interesting experience being surrounded by a totally unexpected and a somewhat new set of characters, right off the bus.
The Cyrillic letters (commonly and mistakenly referred to as just the Russian alphabet) have mostly a 1-to-1 relation to the Latin ones, making it a fun game to guess what it’s written on street signs given the context (once every character is translated, it’s not too complicated to guess the meaning of a word). The first sign I started translating was an obvious ‘тоалет’, right next to the toilet stalls, giving me a good base for guessing more words around the town.
Even with just a bit longer than a day in Belgrade, our Coushsurfing hosts (a very nice and active couple who traveled all around the world) managed to give us a glimpse of the local life: making us taste their homemade liquor, bringing us to a party (the guy played in a band) and showing us Belgrade from the Sava river on their boat.
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The arrival in Sarajevo turned out to be quite an adventure: in the middle of a rainstorm, in a cab with a very brave/wild/crazy driver who, after about 40 minutes of U-turns, unexpected change of lanes and getting out of the car to ask for directions, finally reached our destination. He was a nice guy and we did our best to communicate with some mix of English and Croatian, but perhaps not the best ride.


Here I got a massive, great watermelon. This started my ‘watermelon hunt’, which lasted throughout the whole trip.

I found the town of Sarajevo to have many faces: the more modern and high-end part of the town in the city center, with beautiful and new buildings unexpectedly appearing along the street, the historical old town, and the rest, where the buildings still retain metallic mementos of a war gone, not so long ago (read also: Sarajevo Roses.)
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Travelling is just great but, as most things, it requires time; this is why I find summer a great period for doing long trips.
This summer, I decided to properly visit the Balkans, starting from Croatia, and going to Turkey and Greece; the idea first came from my girlfriend who suggested to do Workaway and Couchsurfing while travelling. It took us quite a bit of planning, coming up with new destinations and usually realizing how unlikely they were, given the amount of time available (one plan had us reach even Cyprus).
At the end, we managed to get a good idea of the destinations, some couchsurfing hosts and a workaway opportunity in Albania.
Our itinerary is the following:
Screenshot at 2014-06-30 11:26:49

  1. Dubrovnik, Croatia
  2. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Sarajevo, Bosnia abd Herzegovina
  4. Belgrade, Serbia
  5. Sofia, Bulgaria
  6. Istanbul, Turkey
  7. Thessaloniki, Greece
  8. Tirana, Albania
  9. Shkodër, Albania
  10. Durrës, Albania

This series of posts will follow our steps and try to show the beauty of South-Eastern Europe.
As we will be on the road for quite a while, the photos will be uploaded later.
If you happen to be in one of these places in July, feel free to let me know! 🙂
Stay pressed!