A Travellerspoint blog

Albania and the Illyrian People

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Albania is on the southwest edge of the Balkan Penninsula. We travelled a mountainous coastal route from Budva Montenegro to the city of Shkodër, in the foothills of the Albanian Alps.

The border crossing between Montenegro and Albania was under construction. According to the signs the EU is financing the Montenegrin portion.

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Located in northwestern Albania, Shkodër was founded by the Illyrians in the fourth century BC.

Shkodër is on the confluence of three rivers, marshy land leads up to the city.

Perched on a hillside is Rozafa castle:
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Legend has it that when being built in ancient times the fortress would collapse each night. Finally the three workmen, tired of having to start anew each day, decided to sacrifice one of their wives. Whichever hapless woman arrived with their refreshments would be a human sacrifice - Rozafa showed up and, upon learning of her fate, was granted her request to continue to care for her infant son:
'Let me see him with one eye
Let me caress him with one hand
Let me feed him with one breast
Let me rock his cradle with one foot'
She was buried alive in the foundation with her right eye, right breast, right hand and right foot exposed to grant her wish.

And so the castle was built and we have the disturbing story to remind us!
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The fortress and walls we see today are from Venetian times although there has been a castle on this site for much longer. Admission is 200 lec - about two dollars!
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There is a lovely restaurant at the top with a great glass-enclosed balcony hanging over a cliff.
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We took a city bus from the centre to a street close to the base of the fortress. We walked about six blocks to the uphill road that leads to a rock paved path. It was a fairly steep climb. The rocks were slippery, not wet, but polished, so difficult to get a good foothold. In that regard it seemed more challenging coming back down, so not suitable for the elderly!!
Nobody on the bus spoke English but passengers were helpful and pointed when we needed to get off. We didn't know where to catch the right bus on the way back and decided to walk. We got a bit lost but only went a few blocks extra. 3.5 km as the crow flies, likely five km on the streets.

There seems to be a garbage problem in Albania. There is a lot of litter and garbage randomly dumped here and there - farmers fields and churchyards are littered with plastic bags. We passed piles of garbage on the way to the castle:
Garbage bins on the streets are overflowing, empty bottles, plastic bags and cigarette packages litter the curbs.
They incinerate the garbage, often next to rivers.
I read that people in the Balkans are becoming more aware of the environmental impact and are making efforts to do something about it.
It is a beautiful country, richly blessed by the sea, lakes, rivers and mountains but plastic bags hanging off branches, clinging to fences and generally blowing around ruin the aesthetics.

Lake Shkodër, the largest lake in Southern Europe is adjacent to Shkodër - it is a karst lake and a resort - we did not go there as public transportation seemed iffy - the same bus that dropped us off near the castle continues to the lake but only runs every hour and a quarter.

Also we have just spent time by the Adriatic Sea - so a big lake with pretty much a guarantee of litter didn't seem that appealing.

Still we are loving Albania. The people seem nice, everything is reasonably priced for us budget tourists and the scenery is fabulous. We have found a pretty restaurant where a substantial dinner for two costs thirteen dollars including gratuity:
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Although Shkodër has a large Catholic population there are many beautiful mosques:
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Albanians aren’t especially religious and the majority do not attend mass or mosque.

Shkodër has a pedestrian promenade lined with shops and sidewalk cafes. It leads to the old town where ramshackle old buildings sit empty (except if you peak through the shuttered windows - stuffed with garbage!!) interspersed with shops and bakeries.

Narrow little lanes branch off:
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Crossing the street is a game of chicken, pedestrians do not have the right of way.
We got stuck in the middle of a traffic circle - I was terrified we would never get off but Jeff used the time wisely and ate his bagged lunch. By and by there was a break in the traffic and thus I am here to tell the story.

We met a nice young guy at a coffee shop, 33, born and raised in Shkodër. It is paradise, a wonderful place to live, close to the mountains, the Albanian Alps, the rivers, the lake and just half an hour to the Adriatic Sea. No jobs though, he works in Italy.

The government should hire a bunch of people to pick up litter, there would be no shortage of work!! Then I guess have a wiener roast. On a really big bonfire. ?

The streets are lined with narrow shops, lots of second hand stores, fruit markets, barbers and money changers.
Still, along fences and walls entrepreneurs set up random displays selling shoes, odds and ends, and vegetables.
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It isn't out of the ordinary to see a horse or donkey pulling a cart down the street. I saw one every day but barely captured a photo.
All ages ride bikes, no helmets, brave.

Next stop is Tirana. We enjoyed Shkodër but two nights is adequate - our hotel was ok, although I froze at night. The air conditioner is also the heater and it didn't seem to throw much heat. The days are warm but it really cools off at night this time of year.
I may come from a cold country but have been spoiled by central heat!!
The Tirana hotel location is excellent. Two nights for 46 Euros, about 35 Dollars per night. We are a block from the intercity bus, no station, you just catch it on the street.
Food, accommodation and bus fare between cities are bargains in Albania.
Clothing and souvenirs seem comparatively expensive. So many men are wearing sweatpants Jeff calls them the Balkan tuxedo.

Albania had been part of the Ottoman Empire for five centuries and managed to gain independence in 1912.
Tirana, centrally located, became the capital. Today one third of the population of Albania live here!

The mural above the National History Museum on Skanderberg Square in Tirana depicts Albanians fighting off invaders throughout history,
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From 1945 to 1991 Albania was under Communist rule. The mural was created during communist times with the prominent working man standing next to the strong woman with a rifle held high in her muscular right arm.
Enver Hoxha was the leader from 1944 - 1985. He ruled with an iron fist and was a huge fan of Stalin, breaking off ties with Yugoslavia because Tito was too soft and then abandoning Russian connections when Kruschev came to power.
About 17000 Albanians disappeared during communist times and over 100,000 spent time in labour camps. Even in the 1980s public hangings of 'enemies of the people' took place to discourage dissent.

People were not allowed to own cars but in the 1980s one hundred percent of the population was literate.

Why do we know so little about Albania?
1. It is a very small country with a population of about 3 million.
2. After breaking ties with China, in 1978, Albania was completely isolated/insulated from the rest of the world.
Nobody got in, and nobody got out! The people were told how great their country was doing, how much better off they were than everyone else.

The domino effect of other Eastern European countries leaving communism, coupled with a more liberal leaning leader helped Albania establish a democracy in 1992.
All of a sudden Albanians were exposed to Coca Cola, blue jeans, bananas, Madonna.
They were allowed to own cars! They have only been driving for 25 years, cut them some slack, but be a defensive pedestrian!!
Prior to 1991 they would not have been heavy consumers, they were living in one of the world’s poorest countries. there was not much to buy. Each household got a voucher that allowed them to purchase 1 kg of meat per week.
Informers could be anywhere and the Sigurimi, secret police, had ways to make you talk. If you managed to sneak out of the country, your family members would be punished.
In 1991 Albanians were exposed to the outside world for the first time in over 45 years. But their troubles were not over.
By 1997 Albania was in a state of anarchy or civil war. Two thirds of the population had invested in Ponzi schemes, allowed to flourish by the government, and lost their life savings, in total over a billion dollars.
There are layers upon layers of complexity in Albania.

From 1928 to 1939 Albania was a kingdom under self-proclaimed King Zog. King Zog was no sissy - he personally returned fire during an assassination attempt outside the Vienna Opera House in 1930. He fled into exile in 1939 when Mussolini took over the country.

During the chaos of 1997 a referendum to restore the monarchy was not successful although it is suspected there were irregularities in voting and the population may have wanted it back!

Winston Churchill said, 'The Balkans produce more history than it can consume.'

The Albanian flag is a red background with a black double headed eagle - taken from the national hero, Skanderberg's coat of arms. The square bearing his name was, until recently, a traffic circle with a fountain in the centre. What we see today was only completed in June 2017!
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The pedestrian-only, slightly sloping area of 40000 sq metres, the largest public square in the Balkans, is very new!! Total cost: over 13 million euros.
The Opera House is under renovations right now so is not open.
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The Albanian author, Ismail Kadare, is considered one of the great European writers of the twentieth century. Books include Broken April and The General of the Dead Army. There is a book store, a librari, in the opera house and it offers Kadare's books in English translation. There is also a Tourist information next to the book store and they have information on buses within Albania - we found this very helpful.

Albanian food is good, lots of veal dishes and fish. Bread. Shopska salad. Beer is cheap and good and a block from our apartment we could get a good cup of Americana coffee for 60 lec. We liked going there, one of the waiters spoke excellent English and would get our coffee as soon as he spotted us on the pleasant outdoor patio. However we found the child beggars disturbing. Their mother/handler would watch from across the road and the kids were persistent and pathetic. Runny noses, not too clean, defiantly making there way between the tables, hands out. The waiters gave them a bit of change so they would scamper off and quit bothering the patrons for a little while. We couldn't wrap our heads around it. Why weren't the kids in school?

Cappacino is typically one hundred and twenty lecs. One hundred lec is about ninety cents Canadian.

Pica is pizza, Byrek originated in Turkey but is like a national delicacy in most Balkan countries and coca-cola!! Fast food in Albania:
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Mother Teresa, born in Macedonia, was of Albanian ancestry. Her statue sits outside St Paul's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Tirana.
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The Tirana Airport, Nënë Tereze is named after the saint.

Mother Theresa was allowed to visit in the late eighties. She told the communist leader, Ramiz Alia, she would like to build a facility for poor children.
'There are no poor children in Albania' he retorted.

Tirana's pyramid, built in 1988 as a museum honouring Enver Hoxha, is in bad shape, kids play on it, scrambling up to the top. There is talk of fixing up the building but a previous decision to tear it down vies for attention. Hoxha's daughter was one of the architects on the original project.
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Nearby, behind a locked fence, the Hoxha family mansion waits to be dealt with appropriately.
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The communists built some 750,000 bunkers in Albania. Hoxha and his cronies were paranoid about an enemy invasion and were determined to protect themselves!
Concrete bunkers litter the landscape of this geographically small country.

There are two underground bunker displays in TIRANA, BunkArt 1 and 2. One is just off the main square, it goes underground five stories and is a major tourist attraction. The citizens only found out about it two years ago, likely just before it was announced as a tourist attraction!

In a quiet Central Park, near the Parliament buildings, a monument, Post Blloku, displays three items:

1. A bunker:
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2. A sculpture made with mine shaft columns from the Spac Work Camp:
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3. A fragment of the Berlin Wall:
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During communist times electricity was brought to the country, farms were collectivized, industry developed, illiteracy stamped out and churches and mosques closed. 70 percent of the churches were physically destroyed.

Religion was completely banned from 1967 to 1990.

Albania was the world's only atheist state.

Today the majority of the population identify as Albanian not by their religious affiliation. It is not a particularly devout country and all kinds of people smoke, drink and eat pork.

They are considered exceptionally tolerant and during the Second World War protected Jews and also harboured Jews escaping from nearby countries.

Albania was the only European state with more Jewish people at the end of the war than it had at the beginning of the war. They started the war with a Jewish population of 200 - the number grew to 2000 by 1945.

One mosque that survived the communist era was used as a museum until it reopened in 1991.
Et'hem Bey Mosque on Sanderberg Square, was built in the eighteenth century.
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Although the Ottomans tolerated other religions, those who converted to Islam were granted privileges like lower taxes and the right to hold political office. The fifteenth century Albanian National hero, Skanderberg, was Muslim until he reverted to Christianity and led an uprising against the Ottoman Turks restoring independence to Albania for 25 years.
He is revered in Tirana where his statue holds a place of honour on Skanderberg Square. Stalin's statue used to be on this spot.
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What happens to a very poor, isolated, historically tribal country reconciling with its communist past?
That is recent history here, still playing out over centuries of influence - the Venetians, the Ottoman Turks, the Mussolini Italians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the nazis .....
They have applied to the EU for membership but it could take another decade to get the status. They have been a member of NATO since 2009.
They are pro-American, perhaps because Woodrow Wilson stuck up for them following the first world war, 'I stand with the Albanians.'
There is a George W Bush street in central Tirana. Albania is so pro-American there is even a Donald Trump street somewhere!

Japanese architect Fujimoto created 'the Cloud' now temporarily installed (until 2019) near Tirana's Art gallery:
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The sculpture is used as an open air concert hall. It was moved here from the Serpentine gallery in London.

There are numerous coffee houses and bars with outdoor patios. Streets are lined with narrow shops, bakeries, shoe stores, fruit markets and money changers. Roma are wandering around begging, old ladies sit on the sidewalk and knit beside piles of slippers. Clothes are hung out to dry on these car and emission dense streets, I wonder how clean the walls of buildings can be yet so much laundry is flapping against them.
People walk on the road, the sidewalks are so narrow or non existent on side streets. Cars take corners with gay abandon, we all survive and live another day.
We are cautious crossing streets, even those controlled by lights cannot be trusted - I watched, frozen, as a car went through the crosswalk on a walk light, narrowly missing Jeff and then,as he was dodging the first car another vehicle almost backed over him. 'Stop yelling, you're distracting me' ok ok.

Who are the Albanians? They believe they are the Illyrian people, they have been here for thousands of years. When the southern Slavs moved to the area occupied by the former Yugoslavia (now seven countries) the Illyrians were here, and in fact, there.

Who are the Illyrians? Apparently Spartans were Illyrians. So Albanians are Spartans. Who knew?
93 % of the population of Kosovo are Albanian. Significant numbers also live in Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Italy and Greece.
Shqipëri is the Albanian name for Albania.

We are staying in a terrific, centrally located two bedroom apartment. The landlord is personable, elegant and accommodating. He speaks excellent English. Four nights for 100 Euros. Central Comfy Apartment - actually very smartly decorated, large and modern.
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We took a mini bus from Tirana east to Pogdorac. The terrain is mountainous, the roads twisting and zigzagging, a bit of a stomach churner.
The large van holds up to 25 people and a few extra stand. It left at 923 - it was full. (Scheduled departure was 930). We arrived in Pogdorac around noon. There were many brief stops along the way, picking up, dropping off and one stop for a coffee/toilet break.
The driver didn't speak English but a few passengers did and were helpful.

We were a little unsure what to do when we got to the bus yard, there didn't seem to be a station or info booths. Eventually a man approached us, taxi was his only English word.
I showed him the name of the hotel and, seeming confused, he made a phone call.
In the meantime a young woman approached. 'Do you need help?' I showed her the hotel address and she motioned 'there is a bus'. When the taxi driver returned she spoke Albanian to him, told us the bus was cheaper, eventually we agreed to the taxi for five euros which seems expensive as we had taken the bus all the way from Tirana for very little more!!

Our hotel was out of town a little, right across the road from the lake.

We got a big room with a double and a single bed, very clean and modern, with a balcony and breakfast included for 27 E per night. We have lake views from the balcony even though the room faces a courtyard.

Lake Ohrid is one of the deepest and oldest lakes in the world. It is spring fed and is over a million years old!!
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Our room is nice, we could have had one with a balcony right over the lake had we not needed twin beds. But this one is great. Lovely duvets, a wardrobe and a desk. The bathroom light turns on automatically when you walk in, high tech.
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We decide to go for a walk to explore the area, first we stop for shopska salad (sirene cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and onion) served with bread. I have a raki, the powerful local drink, made with grapes here, powerful stuff and a glass is one hundred lecs. Shopska salad is served in various forms throughout the Balkans. It is very refreshing. The sirene cheese is grated and generously layered on a bed of tomatoes and cucumber. Sirene is similar to feta but milder.

We walk along the beach, a bit spoiled by litter, very fine sand, likely packed with tourists in the summer, pretty much deserted in early November although it must be 18 degrees C.

We stop eventually at kind of a rustic cafe, the girl is nice, welcoming, gestures for us to wait, comes back with an older woman in an apron, recruited because she speaks some English. "Coffee", the older lady says, "cappacino, macchiato?", yes, "one moment".
We are ushered up some stairs, there is a wood burning pot bellied stove, cozy and warm. By and by the coffee arrives, with cake, traditional, free, no charge for the cake.
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We try to explain we are out of lec, we only have euros, there are no bank machines or money exchanges, we are really out in the sticks. I pay with two euro coins and we agree to come back for supper, but to a neighbouring place which Lisa, we hug and kiss both cheeks, she does know a bit of English, is also affiliated with, Serenas. She walks us over, points it out, we will come back later, yes I will have the fish. No, we cannot stay there, 25 euros a night with breakfast, we already have a place, see you later.

We are staying at Hotel Pogdorecci 2.

I ask the guy at front reception ‘where can I change euros for lec?’. In the city. I am wide eyed with horror. How do we get there? I just want to change twenty euros. He sighs heavily as I wave the 20 euro bill, (this hotel quotes their
price in Euros!!) he motions for us to sit down, people check in, pay, time passes, he changes the money.

Now it is seven o'clock, we pick our way down a poorly lit road, there is a big full moon, that helps, a few dogs are running loose, the odd car passes. I keep a close watch so I can get off the road and not fall into one of the ditches where spring water flows, or in some other kind of hole. Wish we had a flash light, oh we are here, hey this is quite an upscale restaurant, looks new, the waiters are smartly dressed, linen on the table, Lisa, the lady we met earlier, has been waiting for us, she ushers us to a table, disappears.

Koran - Lake Ohrid spotted brown trout, is the local delicacy and may be an endangered species!! At Serena's it is served with salad, French fries and pickled peppers. artfully arranged and garnished with kasmat cheese (salty creamy cheese type clotted cream).
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We are comped a traditional cake dessert:
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The next day is bright and sunny, we eat breakfast at the hotel and head out to see the town. Fruit stands line the road.
Fruit stand with quince -
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On a pedestrian side street we stop for a coffee on a pleasant patio. The waiter is fluent in English.
We are actually in the village of Tushemisht about 4 km from Pogdorac.
I inquire about traditional food and decide to try the pancakes. Good.
Albanian pancakes with fig jam:
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In 1976 an Albanian communist-era movie was filmed here, 'The Lady From the City'. In the town square there is a statue commemorating the movie which was a favourite of the communist leader, Enver Hoxha.
Statue of Olga, 'The Lady From the City' or Zonja nga qyteti.
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This Albanian Orthodox Church survived the communist era:
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The church was locked but some kids, little boys, maybe 7 to 10 years old were playing around. As we were leaving an older man, maybe the caretaker, maybe the priest came along and motioned for us to come in. On his way up the walk he encountered the smallest boy, they spoke and then he smacked the child, twisted both of his ears and lifted him up by the ears!
We watched, horrified.
The child scampered off, I don't know if he was crying, I felt like crying, and we were let into the church where there were bright paintings of saints and one in particular was pointed out to us. We repeated his name, nodded and scurried off. Did you see what he did to that kid??
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Past the village square we veered down a lane and I took a picture of the hills/mountain in the distance.
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This may have been a private driveway. An older lady came along and gestured us inside the fence -

We went in, and were shown a fish farm. One of her daughters joined us to translate - broken English, yes thousands, nine months to maturity, trout, black and gold.

Fresh spring-water canals flow through the village. Here they are growing fish.

Christina and her daughters, Daniella and Alexandria, we kissed, shook hands, they gave us apples, a little bright spot, a moment of Albanian hospitality - we can't eat eight apples!!

Back at the hotel we sat on the patio, the lake in the background, kids playground equipment right in front, the hotel is still under construction. Workers are drilling somewhere on the building.
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Across the road on the lake, some big birds are coming close to shore, oh, swans.

Thrilling to see the swans up close on the ancient lake:
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Back in the lobby I regifted the receptionist two apples.

We ate dinner in the huge, empty hotel restaurant. We had a big salad, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, onion in about equal amounts - refreshing and substantial with meatballs and bread. Oh good, a plate of three apples with paring knives is presented. This meal was ten dollars including tip and a huge bottle of sparkling water.
Tomorrow we travel to Macedonia.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 10:40 Archived in Albania Tagged tirana albania ohrid shkoder enver hoxha tushemisht pogdorak Comments (0)

Tips for Travelling Europe on Fifty Dollars a Day

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If you think you cannot afford to travel think again!!

If I can do it you probably can too.

Choose your travel companion wisely - sharing accommodation costs is a major saving.

We set an intention of an average of Fifty Dollars a day for lodging and food.
Transportation and attraction fees were extra.

You could, in fact, do it for less if you stayed in a dorm in a hostel or used CouchSurfing.

We traveled in Europe between 28 Sept, 2017 and 13 Dec, 2017: 75 days.

1. Travel in low or shoulder season. Hotels will likely be cheaper, the lineups to attractions won’t be as long and the cooler weather will be more energizing.
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2. Take advantage of discount airlines. In 2017 we used Norwegian Air (excellent), Wizz Air (really good deals) and Vueling. In 2012 we used Ryan Air (very strict one bag rule but very reasonable).
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3. Only take carry-on luggage and research the size allowances. Norwegian Air allows two pieces of carry-on (one has to fit under the seat) which is nice and Wizz Air did not strictly enforce its one bag rule but this is no guarantee that they won’t do so in the future!!
4. Use an accommodation booking site. I used Booking.ca a lot in our 2017 trip and we stayed in several apartments, some were fabulous and all of them were decent. I try to stick with a review score over 8 out of 10 and read the reviews carefully.
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5. Pack an immersion heater so you can boil water in hotel rooms without kettles. Not expensive and takes up very little room. Nice to have a hot drink or cup of soup sometimes.
6. The Balkans, Eastern Europe in general, Malta and most of the Iberian Penninsula are affordable.
Note that most of the Balkans are very much cash only, not credit card friendly. There are ATMs everywhere so not a problem and many accept the Euro - if they don’t then money changers are widely available. Of course if the town is quite small take cash in the local currency. We managed in a small village in Albania where there was no ATM as most vendors would take the Euro and do the conversion but we still had a need for Albanian currency, the Albanian Lek.
7. Buy bread, cheese, sliced meat, fruit, etc. at the grocers and make your own simple meal.
8. Lunches in restaurants are typically cheaper than dinners. Food for us was not going to be the highlight of our trip and fine dining was not a priority.
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9. If Norway is on your itinerary check out minipris train fare online - the Man in Seat 61 is a great resource for all train travel.
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10. If, like me, you are a senior remember to inquire about senior’s discounts for transportation and admissions. You could research this online also.
Travel is personal and our itinerary reflects our interests as well as our budget.
We started out in Norway - home of my ancestors. We had never been to Prague, a popular destination. Our stop in Germany was sentimental and practical as we caught a low-cost flight from Nuremberg to Belgrade. We have a friend in Serbia and have been there before but Belgrade and Novi Sad were new to us. Loved it!
We spent 35 days in the Balkans, six were on the Adriatic coastline.
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Kosovo and Sarajevo and, indeed, Skopje were very personal.
Albania is an interesting and beautiful country - blessed with a long coastline and the Albanian Alps.
We stayed one week in Malta which has an enviable climate, The Mediterranean Sea, and a resort vibe. It was ‘on the way’ to Spain.
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We were in Spain from 24 November to 11 December. Five of those days were no cost since we volunteered to teach English and received free room and board. Look into doing this if you go to Spain. Just google ‘volunteer to teach English in Spain’ - the only prerequisite is being a native English speaker - you don’t need a degree or a certificate.

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Shopping
With carry-on luggage the space for souvenirs and gifts is limited. Jewellery is lightweight and compact - Amber, ohrid pearls, and silver filigree tucked neatly nto my bag.
Scarves and pashminas from Bosnia and Malta changed up my look - adding a bit of colour to my black and grey wardrobe.
In Norway we received gifts from our relatives, pillow covers, a Bible, a wee wooden house. When we boarded in Gatwick every pocket of my jacket (4) was stuffed with the overflow and I was dressed in several layers - which worked out well once we landed in winter-y Calgary.
Christmas Markets - since we were in Spain and the UK in December we brought back Christmas ornaments, shortbread and plum pudding.
Best discount airline - Norwegian Air
Best food for low price - Serbia
Best prices for accommodation - Balkans and Malta
Best prices for souvenirs - Malta

Travel is fun and good for the mind. If you think you can’t afford to travel think again.
If I can do it almost anybody can!!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 10:05 Archived in Spain Tagged spain budget serbia europe norway malta Comments (0)

Belgrade and Novi Sad, Serbia

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We flew from Nuremberg, Germany to Belgrade, Serbia on Wizz Air - a discount airline based in Hungary.

The trick to flying cheaply is to have only carry-on luggage.
We paid a bit extra for large carry ons - 55 cm maximum height.
On 29 October they are increasing the luggage size so the extra charge will not be applied.
Random seat assignment still put us together with me in the middle seat and Jeff by the window. We were in row 19 near the wings. For a short flight this is tolerable, there isn't much leg room and the seats seemed a bit narrower than on Norwegian Air, we were fine.

For ten Euros our cosmopolitan landlord from Baroque Apartments picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our beautiful two bedroom suite:
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Belgrade has a storied and turbulent history. In recent memory it has the distinction of having been bombed by the Nazis, the Allies and NATO.

The bombed out building, below, was part of the Ministry of Defence, very central, about two blocks from the main train station, about five blocks from the National Theatre.
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It is warmer here, about twenty degrees C on 13 October. We took a little walk around the neighbourhood and ate dinner on a patio. Indian summer.

We got lost looking for the main square. Jeff was looking at his map and I was taking pictures. A policeman stepped out of his little guardhouse and approached Jeff. We both kind of froze.
We had attracted his attention, now what?
He wanted to help us. He pointed out the correct route. He was a handsome young man with those startling blue-grey eyes we have been admiring in Serbia, spoke good English, calm and helpful. Friendly. That is our picture of a Serb.

Our walking tour started from the statue in front of the National Museum which is currently closed for renovations.
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There is a free (you leave a tip) 2.5 hour tour of downtown that leaves from Republic Square every day at 11 am or, if you prefer, 3 pm.

We walked first through the bohemian section, Skadarlija, former haunt of artists and poets.
Today the streets are lined with cafes and bars, a really happening place later in the day. Serbia has a cafe culture and in the evenings the streets and cafes are lively with people.
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Our tour guide spoke excellent English and besides his engaging manner endeared himself to our international group of about 20 people, by serving the local plum and honey spirit, rakija. Powerful stuff, savour it.
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October 14 was another beautiful blue sky day.
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I ❤️ Serbia!! The people are friendly and many speak English. Perhaps their spoken English is better than the Czech Republic due to English language shows on tv - the subtitles are Serbian but any American or British shows are in English. Our apartment has a large flatscreen tv and has a good selection of English language programming.

Our tour takes us through downtown and up to the Fortress where we can view the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers - Belgrade has an auspicious location which contributed to its value to the Romans, Huns, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and in fact to the Slavic people themselves.
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The walls of the fortress are limestone and from the distance gleam white - thus the name Beograd - white city.

We are only staying in our baroque apartment for two nights as on 17 October we are taking the bus to Novi Sad to meet up with our friend Melinda. Worse luck they do not have a vacancy for our return visit. I felt like a princess in the opulent surroundings, Chrystal chandeliers and wall sconces. and authentic ornately carved furniture from the seventeen hundreds - cherubs and leaves abound. The colours are gilt and dark Ivory, very elegant.
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We were going to take the bus from the main square to the Nicola Tesla Museum but the buses were crammed so we decided to just walk back to our apartment and chill.
Our landlord brought us fresh organic grapes from his vineyard when we checked out.
The Belgrade main train station is right next to the bus depot and looks a bit like the Norwegian Royal Palace in Oslo.
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We feel a little nervous buying the bus tickets but luckily the ticket agent speaks English and the bus is leaving in ten minutes.
We were issued tickets with assigned seats. There are about 40 bus stalls and there is only one exit to the boarding area where a guard is positioned to collect the tokens - so you get a ticket and a token - we thought the token was change and that the guard was asking for a tip!! (or a bribe, but not so my friends, be forewarned that the coin-like objects are tokens and keep them handy)
One other tricky thing about the Serbian bus - the overhead bins are very shallow and will only accommodate a day pack. There is a small fee to stow your bags in the outside compartment.
On this bus there is no WC or wifi - fairly comfortable but noisy from some kind of roof fan, but the trip in only about 75 minutes so all is good.
It takes 25 minutes to drive through Belgrade, population is close to two million.

Along our route to Novi Sad we cross the blue, blue Danube. It is a very wide and impressive river that meanders through a good part of Europe from Germany to Bulgaria and into the Black Sea in the Ukraine. We saw it in Budapest in 2012.

The scenery varies from the Balkan plains to forests:
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We met Melinda, a Hungarian from Subotica Serbia in 2012. She was our CouchSurfing hostess for one night. I am old enough to have been her teen aged mother.
Funny how you can meet someone, a complete stranger, and forge a friendship. That happened to us. Now five years later we meet again.
Old friends with a high degree of comfort with each other. She and her personable husband - first time meeting him - met our bus in Novi Sad - he greeted us warmly - 'I am happy to see you too!' Old friends.
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Below is an example of the mixed bag of architecture - a brutalist style building from the communist years - designed for function not for beauty - plunked in among soaring church spires on one side (not shown) and much more elaborate buildings across the street.
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We spent the day together, ate lunch, a wonderful venison stew, enjoyed typical Serbian cakes with lemonade - much of the baking has a Turkish flavour from the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule. Baklava and custard cake.
As evening neared we walked through the Danube Park, and spotted a familiar statue: we had seen him in Belgrade also, the poet and painter Dura Jakšić.
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The park was cool and tranquil.
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Our second day in Novi Sad was spent walking to the fortress and just generally looking around.

The bridges are all new. All of the bridges in Novi Sad were bombed by NATO during the nineties war.
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We could have had dinner at our accommodation but instead went into the neighbourhood.
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We ate at the same restaurant as yesterday - the food was good and plentiful and the prices more than reasonable - about twelve dollars covered a filling meal for two. This restaurant was 'authentic' no English menus, offerings change daily and are written on a brown paper bag. Wish I had taken a picture.

As the sun set in Novi Sad we walked to the main square.
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Sidewalk cafes bustled with people.
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We returned to our cozy apartment about 9 pm, we had enjoyed a pleasant evening.
After booking a one bedroom suite in Belgrade for the next two nights - 74 dollars total and an easy walk from both the bus station and the Nikola Tesla Museum, we went downstairs to the restaurant - I ordered a rakija, served in a special long necked glass. 'Where can I buy a glass like this?' I asked the affable bartender. He gave me the glass. I ❤️ these people!

Fortified by the strong spirit I went ahead and booked cheap seats to the opera - we will see Carmen at the National Theatre in Belgrade on our last night in Serbia. Six rows from the stage, there were only four seats left, we are lucky! Two tickets for 25 dollars Canadian. I am stoked!!
Our suite here in Novi Sad is above a restaurant - a large, very clean and well kept studio apartment with a fireplace and hardwood floors.
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It is well located, just a few blocks from the main square, and really quiet after 11. The church bells ring every hour but other than that, no noise. For forty dollars per night breakfast is included - eggs, bread, cheese, red peppers, mouth watering tomatoes, home made peach and plum jams, good strong Turkish ☕️ - way too much food, fresh and tasty.

In 1993 Serbians were the world's poorest billionaires.

Serbia held the record for hyper inflation at that time. Prices doubled every few days and a one billion dollar dinar note might purchase a loaf of bread. In two weeks time, a slice of bread.
In January 1994 inflation was out of control in Serbia. Prices doubled every 34 hours.
In world history Serbia from 1993 to 1995 is in the top five contenders for hyper inflation. Zimbabwe blew their record out of the water in 2009.

We took the bus back to Belgrade on a beautiful blue sky October day.

After walking to our apartment we went to the Nikola Tesla museum. I am a fan of Tesla, a very bright guy.
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We moved Apartments the next day and walked to the Bohemian section for a leisurely lunch. Jeff had the most amazing roast beef - melt in your mouth, extremely flavourful, wonderful.
Our server was fabulous.
This was the best and most pleasant meal you could imagine. A gorgeous day, a beautiful patio, flowers blooming all around and impeccable service - with tip the whole shebang for two people was under twenty dollars and my glass of wine cost more than an entree!! (my mistake as I could have happily had sparkling water or a beer, but extremely pleasant).
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It was a highlight to attend the opera, Carmen, at the National Theatre.
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We had good seats, main level, close to the stage, we were lucky to get seats!

Bright, lively, colourful, Carmen is a super choice for ordinary people. The story is set in Seville and we have seen the tobacco factory where Carmen fictitiously worked.

Below is the statue of Prince Michael who liberated Serbia from the Ottoman Turks in 1867:
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We spent 4.5 days (in total) in Belgrade and we loved it!!

We love Serbia and the Serbian people we met were terrific.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:59 Archived in Serbia Tagged opera serbia balkans carmen belgrade cevapi tesla rakija skadarlija Comments (0)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

semi-overcast 14 °C

We took a bus through the twisting mountain roads south from Sarajevo to Croatia.
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I do not watch Game of Thrones but the setting in Dubrovnik's walled old town has added more tourists to an already popular destination. Even in October the streets of the old town are filled with sightseers, many from the cruise ships docked nearby.
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Our apartment has a balcony and a million dollar view:
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The well appointed apartment seems a bargain at 61 Canadian Dollars per night.
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There are 76 steps from the street to our accommodation and the only shops, such as grocers and coffee shops, are right outside the old town. We walk down - downhill, and catch the number 8 bus back. It is another 500 steps uphill from the bus stop to the base of our apartment building, so Jeff makes the grocery run!
Our thoughts here are not of war and its consequences but of tourists and the impact of too much of a good thing!
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There are 235 km between Sarajevo and Dubrovnik but they seem a world apart. The scars of war are less visible here - happy tourists throng through the narrow streets and busy squares snapping selfies against the castle walls.
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The jewel-toned Adriatic is the backdrop to a fantasy-world old town.


It is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe with an enviable location on the Adriatic Sea.
Dubrovnik’s picture perfect old town that has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
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Jeff has been here before, but it is my first visit. I know other people who have been here and know even more who have Dubrovnik on their bucket list.
There are a lot of stairs:
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Frankly I am not a fan of crowds and still prefer the fairy tale old town of Tallin Estonia. I guess I like the road less travelled.

We did not pay the approximately twenty-five dollar entrance fee to be jostled along the city walls - the views would be spectacular but it was an overcast day, a bit chilly and there was a crowd on the walls. Instead we roamed the narrow streets and alleys and stopped for coffee a few times along the way.

Croatia, or at least Dubrovnik, is the most expensive area of the Balkans.

Our apartment was very good value even though the landlord was a bit aggressive in trying to sell us side trips. He offered to drive us to our next destination in Montenegro for twice the price of bus fare. We did use his service for ten euros one way to get to and from the bus station as it was so much easier than dealing with transit.

The sheer beauty of this setting is hard to beat. I am glad I came - ‘Yes’, I will say when the topic comes up, ‘yes I have been to Dubrovnik. Magical’.

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Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:38 Archived in Croatia Tagged architecture city adriatic budget stairs unesco croatia walls dubrovnik Comments (0)

Budva, Montenegro, People of the Black Mountains

sunny 20 °C

On 26 October we travelled by bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Budva, Montenegro.

The road wound through mountains but the Adriatic coast was nearby. A very scenic trip!

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The three hour journey was delayed by a serious accident just past the Montenegrin border. On the two lane highway a car on its roof took up the entire oncoming lane. We only waited about twenty minutes and police directed traffic around the wreck.
It was a sobering event - there is nowhere to swerve off - one side of the road is usually a mountain and the other side is a steep drop off into the sea.
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Most of the passengers got off the bus at Kotor which is a UNESCO World Heritage sight.

Half an hour later we were in Budva.

Budva, population 14000, hugs the Adriatic coast and has a walled old town.

Budva has been around since the fourth century BC and is one of the Balkan's oldest settlements.

Legend has it that when the Greek god, Cadmus and his wife Harmonia were banned from Thebes, they founded Budva.

Budva, the most popular resort town of Montenegro, is not crowded in October. The 'season' is over. So much so the tourist office is out of maps!!

The city wall was built in the Middle Ages by the Venetians as protection against Ottoman invaders
The Citadela is thought to be built on the site of the Greek Acropolis.
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Budva was hit hard by an earthquake in 1979 and most of the old town was damaged. What we see today, save for 8 buildings, is a restoration.

St John's Catholic Church which has been rebuilt over the years, is suppose to date back to the seventh century and is the oldest church in the region. However, Orthodox Christians outnumber Catholics in Montenegro.
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The old town, Stari Grad, was a ten minute walk from our apartment, an easy, flat terrain walk?.
It sits on a small Penninsula on the Montenegrin 'Riviera'.

Sea Wall:
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It was 22 degrees C and very calm. The beaches were not crowded but people were swimming and enjoying the sunshine.

Mogren Beach:
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The Budva Dancer:
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We love Budva. It is a quiet place this time of year, and still the temperature hovers around 20 degrees C.
We are an easy walk to the mostly deserted beach:
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By 2 pm there were a few more people, but Jeff was first in the water today! I lay on a lounge chair and soaked up some Vitamin D.
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Prices here, along the beach and in the old town, are roughly half the prices in Dubrovnik.
In our neighbourhood the cost of restaurant food is even cheaper. Our one bedroom apartment is 35 dollars per night.

We are living above a green grocer and dine often at a nice restaurant across the street:
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We are glad we came to Budva! It is the poor man's Dubrovnik and much more suited to stiff joints!
All through the Balkans food has been influenced by the Ottoman Empire. Baklava type desserts are common:
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Montenegro split from Serbia in 2006.

Montenegro has a population of just under 700,000. They speak a Serbian dialect. Not yet an EU member, their currency is the Euro.
Tourism is an important industry - and it is growing!! Come, before it is overtaken by too many tourists.
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Even Lord Byron, the English poet, said 'the most beautiful merging of land and sea' was the Montenegrin coastline.
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Posted by CherylGypsyRose 09:37 Archived in Montenegro Tagged beach coastline adriatic budget cheap balkans yugoslavia montenegro budva Comments (0)

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