All posts tagged Balkans

As a final trip before our departure, we walked just outside Shkodër to the Rozafa Castle.
The castle, due to its strategic location, has a very long history, dating back hundreds of years. It overlooks the whole area around Shkodër from its height.


View from the castle

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Being very close to the border, we decided to stop by Ulcinj, a nice little town near the sea.
It was short day-trip to completely relax and, finally, enjoy a good swim in the sea.
Other than the numerous boats and water-scooters roaming the waters, the spot was a fair typical beach scene.
This was until a guy showed off his cool new gadget!
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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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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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During our stay in Istanbul, we were hosted by a good friend of mine who also acted as our personal guide and activity planner.
One day, together with some new friends, we planned to go to spend a day at the island of Büyükada, barbecuing and chilling on the hills.


Sunset on the way home

In the morning, we headed to the ferry, got to Büyükada and fetched our beloved Çiğ köfte (both the vegetarian and the meat version) and bread from some locals. With our supplies in hand, we walked to the location: a hill overlooking the sea.
Our team of 5 managed, after a conspicuous amount of time, lit a rather decent fire for the barbecue. The time was mainly due to going through all the different strategies and techniques for making a fire which each of us could come up with.
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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 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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