Archive | July 2013

Balkans Vacation 2013

I went all over the Balkans the past couple of weeks…aka the former Yugoslavia plus Greece and Turkey. I bused around via an Australian company called Busabout. The bus takes you from city to city, lets you wander for a day or two, pick you up again and move on.

I traveled to Turkey (Istanbul, Gallipoli, and Eceabat), moved into Greece (Kavala, Meteora, Thessaloniki, Athens, and Parga), Albania (Gjirokastra and Tirana), Montenegro (Budva and Kotor), Croatia (Dubrovnik and Split), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Mostar and Sarajevo), Serbia (Bosnia and Nis), and Bulgaria (Sofia and Plovdiv). This sounds like a lot of countries and cities…and it is…but they are all pretty tiny and neighbors of each other.

There was so much history in the area from practically the beginning of time that my brain kind of turned to mush once I hit Serbia. I won’t go into too much history or this post will never end, so you can look it up yourselves. I will give you bits of information I found particularly interesting in each place.

Turkey is full of mosques! Duh, right? They really are everywhere, wherever you look! Baklava…mmmmmm. I learned I hate Turkish delight, sad, because every desert shop was filled with nothing but the stuff.

Greece, awesome…so much to see and do. It’s funny how they were at the top of the world back in the hay day. I think they figured they’d done the best stuff for the western world and decide not to progress any more (for the past few thousand years)…you still cannot flush toilet paper in the toilet or drink the water. Sadly Athens is starting to look a lot like Naples with all the graffiti and crumbling and unfinished properties…due to the tanked economy. Did you know in Greece if you don’t finish building your house you don’t have to pay property taxes? So many people finish their house then leave one part looking unfinished so they can claim they are not done.

Albania, I think my favorite country on the trip. They just got rid of communism about 5 years ago, so it is like a different world there. If a building is unfinished they will hang or pretend to be killing a puppet or stuffed animal from the construction, so evil spirits won’t enter the place. There are bomb shelters everywhere…I visited one and there was a squatter living there, lol. Albania is dirt cheap! People only started driving in the country a few years ago as well…cars used to be reserved for only the top government officials, it was buses for everyone else. I climbed a former communist leaders mausoleum (which Albanians have desecrated with graffiti and smashed the windows). You can crab walk up the side to the top to get stunning views of the city, and slide back down like it’s a playground. They build a tower a few years ago that was supposed to be the new highlight of Albanian architecture and a feature of the city (also in the very heart of the city)…once they had built the entire structure’s framework they realized it was leaning so they gave up and left it…the leaning tower of Tirana! Also due to mass migrations out of Albania and some genocide here and there Albania needed to boost their population. 20 years ago the average amount of kids per woman was 11. Nowadays it is 7.

Montenegro, party party party! I was at a club on the 4th of July and they happened to shoot off fireworks…probably not for me, but just because they know how to have a good time. =). I swam, boated, visited the fortress, and everything in between.

Croatia…hmm what to say…Dubrovnik was nice, walked along the wall surrounding the old city. Stunning views galore!

Bosnia and Herzegovina was neat. Had some amazing ice cream in Mostar as I wandered about. I visited the spot in Sarajevo where WW1 started with the death of Franz Ferdinand. Sarajevo was pretty interesting in general. Their last war during 1992-96 left people in the city unable to go out at night or risk getting shot by snipers. The people were unable to collect dead bodies to have funerals (or they whole funeral would get bombed and therefore have lots more people dead), so they would bury people as sneakily as possible in any field or park. So all of the cities parks and even just grassy corners of streets are filled with tombstones nowadays…and they are everywhere! You can still see bomb blasts and gun shot marks all over the buildings in Sarajevo.

Serbia was kind of boring. There was a nice park with great views of Belgrade across the river though. Dinner was good.

Bulgaria was great in Plovdiv. Lots of neat Ottoman architecture and windy little get lost-in streets. Sofia was kind of bland. There was a protest going on in Sofia in the main center. They were protesting their dislike for being a member of the EU…as their economy is not as good as it used to be before they joined.

Enjoy the photos and videos!

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