A Travellerspoint blog

Belgrade, Serbia

My latest little adventure took place in the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. This is an interesting city. Other towns that I have visited in recent days I have described as ‘charming’ and ‘magical’. I am not sure that is fitting for Belgrade, but that doesn’t mean that it is lacking its own identity.

The city is run down in certain parts, particularly where they have left damage from the Yugoslav wars untouched and unrepaired. I am not really sure whether they are doing this because they cannot afford the repairs, but I am more inclined to think due to the damage being limited to certain buildings, that they are leaving it as a reminder of the effects the war had on the city.

We did get an opportunity to learn a little bit about Serbia’s history. I have reached the conclusion that I actually quite enjoy giving a quick rundown of the recent history of some of the countries I have visited. It is good to have written down for my benefit. Feel free to skip over it if it doesn’t interest you. Here goes:

When Serbia wanted freedom from the Austrian/Hungarian Empire in the early 20th century, they played a large role in the start of World War 1. First, they helped orchestrate the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Bosnia. Then, they failed to comply with a list of demands from Austria after the assassination, which provided motivation for the war. They lost 28.5% of their population in WW1, before being freed from the empire and becoming a part of the former Yugoslavia. That figure actually boggles me. 28.5%. I can’t even begin to imagine that level of devastation. They obviously pulled themselves together, before suffering more damage in the Yugoslav wars. I won’t go into that, because I harped on about them a fair bit in my last couple of posts.

Now for our evening activities. It was my tour manager’s birthday last night, so naturally we wanted to have a big night out. We all had dinner at a quaint little place where we were given a free shot of Brandy and some great Serbian food. We then moved on to a cocktail bar up the road. I had a ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘Caipirinha’, ‘Multiple Orgasm’, and a ‘Sex with the Bartender’. Others had a ‘Peter Pan’, where absinthe was mixed with another spirit that they set on fire and drank very quickly through a straw. It was a lot of fun, and we were all feeling a little worse for wear this morning. We also checked out a night club where there was a live band playing and it was PACKED even though it was a weeknight. It was in an awesome chain of clubs that are along the river. Can I just say, in a very non-creepy way of course, that Serbian girls are GORGEOUS!!!! Seriously gents, pay this place a visit… they know how to make them over there. It was kinda intimidating. The club was really different from anything I had seen before and had a really cool vibe.

We did have some negative experiences with the cab drivers in Belgrade. A lot of us were significantly over-charged, and one group were not let out of a cab until they paid 5 times the amount that they were quoted, to the point that the cab driver physically took money out of someone’s wallet. I am not going to hold this against Serbia. I feel that this type of thing probably does happen in a lot of places, and we are lucky no one was hurt or lost a serious amount of money. Still, for when you pay Serbia a visit, keep your wits about you in the taxis.

Summary: Belgrade has a personality that makes it intriguing. The food, the people and the nightlife really surprised me. It was a good blend of fun and completely insane. I had a really good time, definitely worth the visit.

Posted by MsKirstieLeigh 18:46 Archived in Serbia Tagged travel serbia europe belgrade eastern_europe Comments (1)

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Endless spirit and fascinating culture

Our first stop after leaving Croatia was the town of Mostar in Herzegovina. This town holds the bridge ‘Stari Most’ which has become particularly famous for Australians since Hamish and Andy jumped off it in their European ‘gap year’ adventures.

The bridge holds the oldest diving competition in the world (over 400 years old) and is over twice the height of an Olympic diving platform. It was destroyed in the wars of the former Yugoslavia but was restored in 2004 and is back to its former glory. Our topdeck group all chipped in to pay one of the local divers to take a dive off the side. It was actually very cool to see. Any tourist can jump as well! You pay 25 Euros and off you go. If you are wondering whether or not I jumped…. yeeeeah ……it is really high. Realllllly high. And there are lots of rocks at the bottom that would most definitely inflict some pain. I (along with the rest of the group) thought paying the guy that does it 10 times a day was the safer and dryer option.

The town has quite an awesome vibe about it. It held my favourite little markets that I have come across on my travels. Every shop was different and reasonably priced. I also had some local food for lunch; stuffed vine leaves and cherry iced tea. Hands down my favourite meal since I left Sydney.

The second stop of the day was the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia. Despite being considered the heart of Bosnia, it is quite a small city. It has the nickname of ‘the Jerusalem of eastern Europe’ because Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims have lived alongside peacefully in this city for a very long time. I think a whole lot of the world needs to learn a little something from Sarajevo in the immediate future.

I spent my time in this city mostly taking it all in. I visited the Sarajevo roses, which are essentially indents that bombs made in the roads during the Yugoslav wars that have been filled in red as a memorial for past suffering. Bosnia, if possible, seems to have been hit harder during those times than the previous cities I have visited. The bruises and scars from the war are very visible on many of the buildings in the centre of the city, particularly along the infamous road known as ‘sniper alley’. We also visited the infamous ‘Latin Bridge’ where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, which is often said to be the event that started World War 1. Interestingly this is not seen as a negative event by much of this region, as it lead to Bosnia eventually gaining independence from the Austrian/Hungarian Empire.

Wow I have been really bad at these history tangents these last few posts haven’t I? I’m sorry! It’s just so darn interesting!!

Despite a lot of the sites in this town probably sounding a little depressing, it is quite a magical place. I felt really good in Sarajevo. It seems like a warm community that is choosing to take recent struggles in their stride and continue to live with a peaceful attitude that they have become quite famous for.

The group didn’t go out partying on this stop (pretty crazy I know). We had a nice group dinner then headed back to the hotel where a few of us had a drink and a few others went out to try some shisha. I have never been a massive fan of flavoured tobacco, but apparently it was great and really cheap so definitely give it a go if you are there.

Well, that’s all for now. Off to Serbia next.

Till next time.

Posted by MsKirstieLeigh 14:44 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged travel europe amazing bosnia herzegovina eastern_europe Comments (0)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Very possibly heaven on earth

In advance, I don’t think this post will ever be able to do justice to how much I fell in love with this city. I’m a girl that loves history, beaches, mountains, food, coffee and wine. Well….. I may have found heaven.

Our first stop was a brief lunch in Montenegro. This small country is absolutely stunning. I had a lovely lunch in a restaurant on the beach and really wished I had more time to explore. I will definitely try to go back to enjoy the sun and the sand. We then moved on to Croatia.

I arrived in a state of awe. I think the landscapes in this country may be some of the most beautiful in the world. I forgot to take pictures at some points, I just too busy taking it all in. The first thing we did when we arrived is went for a tour of the ‘Old Town’ of Dubrovnik with a local guide. Once you walk through the gates of what appears to be a medieval style castle, you reach a bustling hub of culture and fun. To give you a pretty accurate depiction of what the Old Town looks like, much of the Games of Thrones footage from ‘King’s Landing’ was filmed within its walls. On our tour we were taken to some of the monuments, religious buildings (a very diverse amount of religions are represented) and of course – places to shop and eat.

As I was when I was in Albania, I was shocked and alarmed as to how naïve I am of this country’s very recent history. The war between the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia was brutal and resulted in a massive death toll and devastating damage to many cities. For an extended period of time, Dubrovnik had no working power or water sources…... This happened in the 1990’s. I was actually alive before this war ended. How was I not taught about this in History? Why was this not seen as important?

Apologies for the small rant, I am little disconcerted that I am so oblivious to the recent histories of the countries I am passing through. Never assume that you understand what is going on in the world, travelling will always broaden your mind. Definitely look up the experiences of these countries during this devastating time. Their sprit during the war, and ability to quickly recover (the Old town despite being hit very hard, has been completely restored) absolutely amazes me.

Ok, the history portion went longer than intended, that’s my bad. Back to awesome tourist-y things:

Day 1: I went to sky bar (which is not in the sky at all, it is in a basement… just FYI) which serves cocktail buckets in actual sandcastle buckets and pours tequila shots directly into your mouth if you make friends with the bartenders. It was a really fun night out and almost everyone from the tour was there.

Day 2: I headed back into town to climb the wall that surrounds the town. Little tip: this is an amazing experience that you should 100% do. However, to the best of your ability, avoid doing hung-over in the extreme heat…..nooooot so fun. The pictures look great. I don’t look so great in the pictures.

What was then easily the best part of my day, and probably the best part of my trip so far, was the kayaking tour. They took us to a cave were you could jump off the rocks and snorkel before continuing on a tour around one of the smaller islands off the cost of Croatia, sharing some of the history and legends of the city and the island. We kayaked across glass-like water against the backdrop of the city of Dubrovnik, the hills and mountains surrounding the city, and the sun setting over the water. If I hadn’t already been sold on Dubrovnik being one of my favourite places on earth, this tipped the scales. I need to come back here one day.

In summation: go to Dubrovnik. Now. Stop what you are doing, and book a flight. It would take about 10 seconds to convince me to meet you there.

Till next time.

Posted by MsKirstieLeigh 16:25 Archived in Croatia Tagged travel love croatia europe dubrovnik heaven eastern_europe Comments (0)

Tirana, Albania

A new experience

So today my topdeck tour had a one night stop in Tirana, Albania.

I had no idea how complicated and devastating the history is for this country. It seems that every empire that existed in Eastern Europe throughout history at some point dominated this country. Whether it was the Turks, the Ottomans, or the Nazis; if you can name it, Albania suffered through it. They have now gained their independence and are slowly attempting to establish themselves. They aren’t a part of the European Union yet after a recent unsuccessful application, but I get the feeling their population is very supporting of joining the EU so they will keep trying. When you consider that they have only been truly free for a couple of decades, their progress is pretty inspiring.

We had a small tour around the capital of Tirana when we got to Albania with a local guide. Ok to be frank…. there wasn’t a whole lot to see. In their defence, they are competing with cities like Rome and Florence who have monuments that have been standing for longer than my home city (Sydney) has even existed. Tirana has spent a lot in recent years working on the roads, and a very popular mayor Edi Rama who is now the prime minister of Albania invested a lot of time painting buildings to give the city character and colour.

This city really changes your perspective of the world. They have had a rough run, and they are pulling through it as best they can. The city is accommodating, though at times not in the best shape, and the people are friendly.

Ok, moving onto our groups activities. Four of the group for some reason ended up going back to their taxi driver’s house which had a bar in the basement, and having drinks with his siblings. They arrived back at our accommodation (which was amazing by the way, I should have mentioned that) eager to return to the taxi driver’s house later that evening. After being convinced by the group to abandon their plans, the taxi driver ended up kinda creepy and seemed to follow our group around and show up at random points of the evening. Fairly obvious lesson: don’t go back to the house of a random guy in a foreign country. Still, no harm no foul.

Everyone ended up going out together to a bar on top of a building and had a great night. Albania beat Portugal in the football so spirits were high.

All in all, I actually would recommend a visit. Often it is the places that aren’t flooded with tourists where you gain the most memorable travel experiences. They have beautiful mountains and a beautiful coastline, why not check it out? The accommodation is also cheap and awesome. If you end up at a place similar to where we were, they have cheap alcohol and probably loveable stray dogs that will follow you around (probably don’t touch them… but they are pretty darn cute). We named our favourite stray at our hotel Buddy. I’m still devastated we couldn’t bring him with us.

Till next time.

Posted by MsKirstieLeigh 08:44 Archived in Albania Tagged travel europe tirana albania eastern_europe topdeck Comments (0)

Meteora

sunny 28 °C

Ok so you know that expression ‘it took my breath away’. I have always hated that expression. Ok we get it, it’s pretty, it’s amazing, it’s any other adjective that isn’t a cliché that doesn’t really provide any accurate or relatable description…..

…. well Meteora took my breath away. So that I don’t become vague with my clichés and start hating my own writing style, I’ll clarify: I actually forgot how to breathe for a minute. I don’t know whether it was because I was over a thousand feet up, because I was overlooking one of the most memorable views I had ever experienced, or because my head was trying to process how monks managed to climb up these cliffs to build monasteries; but there was just too much being processed and breathing was no longer a priority. The expression has redeemed itself. I now know exactly what people mean.

Wow is this place amazing. Go here. Actually go here. It is ten different kinds of fantastic. There is an amazing amount of history that is built into these beautiful monestaries, and a touching religious background. If neither of these things are appealing to you, it is located in Greece amongst a unique landscape with architecture that will stagger you.

My topdeck group went to Meteora after about a 5 hour drive from Athens. We drove to the highest point of the cliffs, to a monastery known as ‘Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron’. These buildings are now world heritage sites after being restored following damage inflicted during the Second World War. I always commend countries that have managed to restore delicate parts of their history after tragedy, so this little town deserves all the tourism it can get.

After the drive up, we were given the opportunity to walk back down. I discovered that boys are actually kinda sook-ie (I feel like I should have known this already, but alas they do manage to surprise me every time.) So after most of the boys decided against it, eight girls and three boys walked the path to the hotel while the rest of the group went back on the bus. I was amongst the eight. This was one of the best decisions I have made this whole trip. Fantastic scenery, great company, and an easy downhill walk that took about an hour and a half including the many picture-stops along the way.

Anyway, I am off to get some very necessary sleep after an even more necessary shower. I can't get pictures to work on this blog at the present time. I think it is the slow net that is the problem. I have however uploaded some great photos on my Facebook of my adventures so far. Check them out if you feel like it.

Till next time.

Posted by MsKirstieLeigh 15:17 Archived in Greece Tagged cliffs greece views monks amazing meteora Comments (0)

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