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Photos from a 21 days trip around Western Balkan through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovinia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania amd Monte Negro with the travel agency Världens Resor during 11th of September to 1st of October 2010.

To see the photos, click at the index to the left.

Saturday 11th of September
We had a very quiet morning before we went by car to the airport. Our flight departed at 1 pm towards Vienna. We met three persons in our new group. I spent most of the flight reading about Slovenia. At Vienna airport we met Mikael Karlmark, who had been our guide at the voyage to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam nearly two years ago. The flight to Ljubljana in SLOVENIA was only 50 minutes and we arrived around 6 pm. We went in two small buses to a quite nice hotel with a high standard in the capital.

The country is not large and has only 2 million inhabitants, but it has the best economy of the old Yugoslavian states with a GDP, which is double than Croatia, which is next best. It’s part of European Union and thanks to the good economy they were allowed to convert to Euro nearly immediately after the association. It has managed to avoid most wars during the 20th century, including when they separated from Yugoslavia 25th of June 1991 after a 10 day war with 66 people dead.

At 7:30 we had dinner at the hotel and around 9 pm we all went out for a walk to get a general idea of the central city and its old restored town. It was warm enough to be without a sweater after this sunny and warm day. It was dark, with a lot of lights along the river of Ljubljanica, and with many restaurants and cafes. There were a race in the city centre, which hindered the passing of some streets. We returned after 10 pm and went to bed.

Sunday 12th of September
We went up at 7 am for breakfast and departed Northwards at 8 am. It is a very green landscape with many fields having a special type of permanent hayracks. There are forests and mountains along the road towards the Julian Alps and the small town Bled. It was really sunny with just a few clouds, but it was slightly chilly during the morning.

Bled is lovely situated by one of the few lakes in the country. We started with a tour around the lake by the bus. At the other end of the lake is an island with a church, where people went with a kind of gondola. On the island is a bell, which is said to bring luck to you if you draw in the bell string. Everything to catch a few tourists! We stopped at the other side by a camping where we had a view over the Bled castle, as well as the island church. Unfortunately with a strong backlight, so it was difficult to take any good pictures.

Then we continued to Bled castle and Mikael told us that the slope up to the castle was the reason that we hadn’t taken the train to Bled. The castle is situated on the top of a cliff just beside the lake and it was first mentioned in the 11th century, but the current appearance is probably medieval. The view is splendid over the lake and its surroundings. There are a couple of restaurants, a chapel and a really good museum with findings and cloth reconstructions from the region. We spent about an hour at the old fortress.

Afterwards we went down to the town of Bled and strolled around. This is a place where many Slovenians come, especially during the weekends just to walk around and spending times at one of the many cafes. We went to try one of them for a chocolate cake and some coffee. We had a great view over both the castle on the cliff and the town church from the terrace.

Just after noon we continued into a valley to Lake Bohinj, which is the largest lake in the Slovenia. Everywhere we saw the typical hayracks, which even are mentioned in our guide book. Except for another splendid view and a colourful painted church, there isn’t much to see, but there are many activities like rafting, kayaking, hang-gliding, trekking etc, mostly used by the Slovenians.

After half an hour we went back to a village nearby, where we had lunch. I tried a speciality from the region, with a kind of hamburger with sauerkraut, potatoes, dumpling and a few vegetables. It tasted good without being anything exceptional, but it filled me up a lot.

It took about one and a half hour to return to Ljubljana and the hotel, where we arrived just before 5 pm. After leaving the small backpacks at the room, we walked down to the city centre to look at it in daylight. We passed the Dragon Bridge. The dragon is part of the city symbol, as it’s said to be an encounter for Jason and the Argonauts here according to the legend. After he defeated the monster, he founded the city. Even if this is just a myth, there are at least many remnants from the Roman time, when the city was named Emona. We walked in the well restored old town. There were many people in the restaurants and cafes, but there seemed to be very few walking in the streets. As we had a big lunch, we only wanted a sandwich, but it was difficult to find so we ended up with a döner kebab at the street before we went back just before 7 pm.

I read, wrote diary and took care of the photos before it was time to go to bed. We were both quite tired.

Monday 13th of September
We went up before 7 am to pack and have breakfast before 8 am. We stored the luggage beside the reception before we walked towards the river. We were too early for the funicular up to the castle, so we strolled around the small market, which yesterday had been a parking lot. The funicular is the easiest way up to the restored castle, which is seen from all over the town on its high cliff. First we went up the tower to have a view over the city, but unfortunately it was still quite foggy.

We saw a 3D digital film about the history of the city, which was informative and looked into the museum, which was very small but with plenty of stairs. It is nothing for anybody who is disabled. We went back down from the castle around 11 pm and walked around the city centre with Mikael. We entered the town hall to see an art exhibition. There were lots of references to Ljubljana being assigned the title as the Capital of the Books 2010. By the river we stopped for a cup of coffee and a cake before we continued to the other side where we entered the university library, but we were stopped as it was only allowed for students.

About 1 pm we went into the oldest restaurant in the city “Gostilna Sestica”, founded 1776. There most of us ate a soup. Then we fetched the luggage at the hotel and walked to the station, which is nearby. The train towards Rijeka in CROATIA departed just before 3 pm. It was very warm sitting on the train. The landscape was quite similar to the one we saw the day before. It was just over 2 hours before we reached the border, where the crossing was very simple and then less than an hour left before we reached Rijeka. Even at 6 pm we could feel it was warmer here than in Ljubljana. We had coffee and crepes at the station while waiting for 3 large taxi cabs to drive us to the harbour. The town is not much to see, but they have there many at least a fortress on a hill, which we could see. The ferry was called Marco Polo, probably as it’s said that he was born at Korcula, which was part of the Venetian province at that time. There was no queue when we boarded the ferry through the car deck. Mikael fetched the keys to our cabins, which was below the car deck. The ferry was bigger than we had anticipated. Apparently the ferry had been bought from Sweden many years ago, as many signs were written in Swedish or Norwegian. Particular one, which pointed out where you should go off the ferry for Gothenburg!

After stuffing the luggage into the cabin, we went up to the restaurant and had dinner, where we joined P-G and Monika and later also Mikael. Some went up to the terrace bar after dinner, but we preferred to sleep after investigating the ferry. A lot of people seemed to be without a cabin and slept everywhere.

Tuesday 14th of September
We were too tired to get up when we arrived in Split around 7 am, but some had been up to take a look at the city before the ferry continued. After breakfast we found a place on the deck in the shadow. We could enjoy the view over the green and grey mountains with a few villages here and there. We saw a lot of boats sailing in the Adriatic Sea. We arrived at Korcula 12:40 and by taxi we went about 10 km to Lombarda, which is further to the South on the island. The island is also called Korcula, just like the main town. After we checked in we went together to a nearby restaurant for lunch. It took a while, but it had good seafood. I ate a fish called John Dory and it tasted well.

We went back by taxi back to the town of Korcula, where the local guide Andrea met us at 4 pm. She was really funny to listen to with a low-toned irony and good knowledge of the history, which she told us in really good English. The region has been in the hand of many sovereigns during the history. For about 400 years it had been part of Venice and Marco Polo is said to have been born in one of the houses. Today there live about 300 people inside the walls, but it used to be about 3000. To protect the houses against fire, the kitchen normally are built at the top floors, which is very unusual. The alleys are very narrow and they don’t run straight through the city. The houses in the blocks are irregularly placed, to prevent the wind from blowing through the town. The cathedral is situated at the top.

When the group split up, we sat down at a cafe for a cake and a cup of coffee. It was still warm, but very windy by the sea. Then we went back inside the town walls and strolled around for a while and entered the town museum. It was okay and the most interesting thing for me was a one key typewriter, where you changed letter by moving a lever sidewise and then pressing the key. It must have been one of the very first typewriters. When we felt ready to leave the town was invaded by several really large groups of Frenchmen, probably from a cruising ship in the harbour.

We bought some fruit and bread to eat at the hotel and went back with the last bus at 6:45 pm, which most of the other in the group also did. It was getting dark and we decided to do some wash some clothes.

Wednesday 15th of September
We went up after 8 am for a late breakfast. Nothing was planned for the day, so we just took a walk along the waterfront and up to the church, which was built just a year before. The Croatians are very much Catholics and close to the Pope in Rome. We continued through the vineyards and back to the village, where we spent an hour at a bar by the water. We walked into the water up to the knees, but it was quite cold and it was difficult to stand at the pebbles. We decided to eat at a pizzeria, which was part of the hotel. The food is very much influenced by the Italians. The afternoon we spent writing postcards and reading in the shadow. It seemed that most of the other in the group also had had a relaxing day in different ways. Some had walked all the way down to the lighthouse and some had gone back by bus to the town of Korcula.

We all met up at 5:15 pm to walk to a nearby vineyard. It still was very hot. We tasted a white “grk wine”, which is only produced on the island of Korcula. It was also a red wine, which I thought was much better and more tasteful. It was served with two kinds of octopus plates and one of minced fish. We had a nice and joyful evening and the food was definitively enough, although not as abundant as it used to be. We got the chance to see a big freshly caught tuna fish. It was dark with starlight. We returned after 9 pm and back at the hotel, we finished the packing before it was time to go to bed.

Thursday 16th of September
The alarm clock woke us up at 6 am. We had a quick breakfast at 6:45, before we went with a mini bus to the ferry. When we nearly reached the ferry our chauffeur got a phone call, Margareta had forgotten her suitcase. She had thought it would be carried all the way to the bus. Fortunately the hotel sent a car in time for the departure of the ferry. It was warm and nice weather.

We arrived at Orebic after about half an hour and continued on windy roads over the mountains. We stopped at the village Ston, with a long, windy but narrow wall, which is going up and down the hill for 5.5 km. It protected the maritime city state Ragusa (Dubrovnik) with the salt pans, which was and still is important for Dubrovnik’s wealth. The wall was completed in the 15th century along with 40 towers and 5 fortresses.

Next stop was Neum, which is a narrow stretch of land, which belongs to BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA (which is the full name of the country). There we stopped for a cup of coffee, which was easy to pay as they take half a Euro for each “convertible marka” in the countries currency. This is almost always true, but they sometimes don’t like to take coins and if the sum is higher, the exchange rate is slightly less, just as the bank exchange. Soon we were back in Croatia before the real border to Bosnia. We saw a lot of oyster cultivation along the river banks, which we more or less followed eastward. The road was good but slightly windy.

We arrived in Mostar just before noon. We checked in at the old renovated “intourist style” hotel Ero, in the upper part of the town. Then we walked along the streets and saw many houses, which were destroyed by guns and artillery fire during the war. In some houses had a single floor been renovated, but the rest of the house was in a terrible shape. Often this depended on the insecurity of ownership or that the people living there couldn’t afford more. The Serbs had a siege from the hills, shooting at the town and they had succeeded to destroy the old famous bridge of Mostar. When finally the resistance of both Croats and Muslims had driven away the Serbs, they started to kill each other instead and the town was separated in two parts during the war. These wounds still hasn’t really healed although they live side by side today.

We walked probably about 2 km and we were getting both hungry and tired, when we finally reached a photo view of the old bridge. Then we went up and over it to a restaurant for a late lunch. Most of us had a Cevapcici, which is a speciality with rolls of minced meat. We had a great view over the famous restored bridge, which we crossed again to the old town. We even saw a few beggars there, which we suspected were Romanies.

We visited the Muslibegovic House from the 16th century, which mostly had been spared from the shootings. It’s an Ottoman style house, which now is a hotel and its beauty has made it voted as one of the top 10 hotels in the world.

When the group split up we continued on our own through the town and bought some bread and fruit for an evening meal before we went back to the hotel. At 6 pm a local guy called Alen came to the hotel and we went with him to a pub, where he told us a lot about the town. He had been living in Sweden for some years, and his Swedish was quite good, but now he had moved back. We had a lot of questions, but we suspected that he avoided some questions, particularly his part in the war, which would had been interesting to hear about.

It was dark when we went back to the hotel and we sat and ate on our balcony and saw the illuminated cross on the hill top. Then it was time to go to bed after along day.

Friday 17th of September
We went up quite early at 6:30 and after breakfast we walked to the railway station for a train, which should leave at 8 am. Mikael had problem to get the tickets in time, but it didn’t matter as the train was at least 20 minutes late. The windows were quite dirty, so the promised splendid view along parts of the road was quite blurred, but it was very joyful to be able to move around more than on a bus. We arrived just before noon in Sarajevo, but it took a while before a bus arrived to pick us up. It was partly cloudy, but still quite warm. I felt a coming cold and quite tired, but was eager for some sightseeing in this historically famous city.

We started in the outskirts of the city at the tunnel museum. During the siege by the Serbs of Sarajevo 1992-95 this military controlled tunnel was the only way of getting information, food and ammunition to the city. It was dug under the UN airport and was 800 metres long. It was really a lifeline for the city and the original owner of the house in the inner end has opened it as a museum to describe the siege and the value of the tunnel.

After this museum we went back to the city centre to see the historical museum, which mostly was about the war 1992-95. How they survived and communicated with the surrounding world. It was a really terrible war (as most are) and it was hard to survive even for the day. The museum is located next to the street, which was baptised “the sniper alley”, as the Serbs had snipers who continuously surveyed and shot at any people on this street, addition to all artillery shooting. In the nearby Holiday Inn hotel stayed all the foreign journalists in the city.

Then it was time to go to the hotels (which actually were three nearby the old town, as Ola stayed alone in one of them) and then we walked together into the old town and split up to several restaurants. It was again quite late lunch, but we found a good “select and point” restaurant, which apparently mostly was used by locals and had a good meal and we felt much better.

4:15 pm we gathered again for a tour around the town by foot. We looked at the place beside the Latin bridge where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia the 28th of June 1914 and which initiation of several events which led to the start of the Great War. There are also several mosques and churches around the city. The churches are mostly built in the end of the 19th century after Austrian-Hungarian kingdom took the power of the region and forced away the weakened ottoman sovereignty. There is also a monument over the “unknown soldiers”. We visited a market, which is known because many were killed there during an artillery attack during the siege.

It was getting dark when we separated and we went to a waffle café for something light to eat before we went back to the hotel. I was really tired due to my cold and had to rest for an hour before I could do anything else, while Christina washed some clothes. It was quite an early night after yet another long day.

Saturday 18th of September
It was nearly 9 am when we had breakfast and we met a few in the group. Among them was Anders who joined us for most of this “itinerary free day”. Again it was a sunny and warm day and we started out by going to the Sarajevo museum in the old town. It didn’t open until 10 am so we had to wait a while. Christina bought some tobacco for a water pipe, which her son has, as there were many shops with influence of the Arabian and Turkish people here.

The museum had pieces from pre-historic time until Habsburg power at the start of the Great War. It was well organised and interesting, although not very big. After about an hour there we went for a cup of coffee before we continued to the museum of Franz Ferdinand, which described some of the circumstances leading to the assassination, but it seemed to lack reasons for the murder. It’s very small but okay. After lunch in a nice little restaurant, we took the tramway out to the National museum. Fortunately it was easy to understand how to pay, as there where checks on the tramway. Unfortunately we had missed that the museum closed already at 13 pm on Saturday, i.e. an hour before we arrived. After looking at a few old carved stones in the garden outside the museum we went back by tramway to the old town. We walked in a park on the other side of the river and looked at a beautiful little music pavilion, which had been built 1911, but burnt down 1942 and then was restored 2002.

We split up from Anders and found some postcards for the stamps that I had bought at the post office during the day (but I first had to change to the local currency, which was quickly done by the service minded lady at the post office) and then we sat down in a coffee shop with something to drink while writing them. We strolled around among the shops, which started to close down as it was Saturday. Then we posted the cards and bought some bread and other things to eat both for tonight and for the bus tour tomorrow morning. Today it was Christina who was most tired and went to bed early, but I tried to get into bed not too late anyway.

Sunday 19th of September
We got up at 5 am and picked up the collective breakfast packets, before we went into three large taxis with our luggage. Anders had contact with Mikael and we went to the bus station, but it took a long time before the last taxi with Mikael arrived. Our chauffeurs were impatient and wanted to be paid, and we managed to collect the fee together and were probably ripped off a bit. The others were late as the hotel didn’t want Ola to leave before he had paid the hotel room and it took a while to convince them that another hotel would pay them. They got too small taxis for the luggage, but in the end they were in time before the bus departed at 6 am.

When we went out of the city some road works stopped us and we had to turn back and 50 minutes later we were back near the bus station where we started. The road was very windy with many bends and it was difficult to eat the breakfast or read during the voyage. We made a few stops in major villages along the road. It was cloudy, but otherwise nice weather. We passed through many villages, but mostly through a lot of forests. The border crossing was easy and the landscape contained more and more fields closer to Belgrade. We just had a single 15 minutes stop for the toilets during the voyage just after we had crossed the border to SERBIA.

We arrived after 1 pm and a bus picked us up to hotel Moskva in the central part of Belgrade. This is a really nice old hotel, which has been renovated extensively the last years. The hotel was built 1906 and in the corridors there were pictures of famous people from all of the 20th century, who had stayed there. Among the most famous ones were Vivien Leigh, Lawrence Olivier, the first women in space and the Swedish actress Liv Ullman. There was an exchange machine at the hotel, and we could easily change money, before we all went out in the rain for a late lunch, which we didn’t get until 3 pm. Some went back to the hotel and the rest of us walked towards the fortress in the rain to get an idea of the layout of the city centre. We entered the large Serb-Orthodox cathedral near the fortress, where there were some kind of church service and then we continued to the fortress with a view over the river Donau, as well as river Sava, which float together nearby. It seemed to be an interesting and nice place whenever the sun would come out of the clouds again.

When we came back to the hotel, we went into the café and restaurant, which belonged to the hotel and had cakes and coffee. P-G and Monica joined us after a while and several others from the group came later. It had been an early day so we went up to the hotel room and checked the election results in Sweden before it was time for bed.

Monday 20th of September
At breakfast we heard that Hans and Gunnel should do a three hour city tour and we decided to join them instead of going with Mikael to the other side of the river with New Belgrade, which would be a lot of walking. I booked the tour through the reception and a bus would pick us up about 11 am, so we went out to find some mineral water and look around the centre in the sunshine. Then we checked out and stored the luggage behind the reception and waited there.

The bus was late so the reception called them. There had been a misunderstanding, but they should arrive soon, which was about 20 minutes late and there were only two Russian tourists from Moscow, who should join the tour. The guide was the 39 year old Maja Ragin from Globe Metropolis Tours and she was a great study of the Serbian soul, rather than learning the nationalistic bullshit she told us. She started to say that we all had in common that Sweden was largest in Scandinavia, Russia in the East and Serbia on Balkan. She also said that NATO 1999 had bombed civil targets like bridges, the TV house, and the defence ministry and that over 2000 civilians were killed. The ministry is still in ruins as a memorial of bombing. But I wonder if she knew that the reason for the bombing was that Serbia had killed or forced most Albanians out of Kosovo and this was an action to stop this? She also showed the embassies, so we should know how many international friends they had – okay; now I’m a bit too cynical… We passed the tomb monument of Tito so quickly that we never had time to ask to get a photo of it, and she talked more about the success of Serbia in some sports, which is quite uninteresting for me, instead of Tito. When we had stopped to see a plane tree, she suddenly started to sing an ABBA song, as well as the winning song of Serbia in Eurovision song contest a couple of years ago. She had a good voice, but we all looked at each other as she had a screw or two loose. After two hours we stopped at the fortress and walked around there. She compared Belgrade to Istanbul and we wondered (without saying anything loud) in which square meters they were similar. At least I can say that the city is very much like any European city today with a lot of the same shops. The buildings remind of late 19th century buildings and there can’t have been too many destroyed during the wars. When it was a discussion about Vikings, she wanted to show us a tree, which had been the most important for the Viking boats, particularly for the ones who sailed to the West and discovered America. The Russian seemed to recognise the tree, but none of us Swedes did and in any case we knew for sure that this was complete bullshit and we could hardly keep from laughing at that time. Anyway when she wanted to walk to the city centre and end the tour at Skadarska Street, which she compared to Montmartre in Paris, Christina and I paid the 20 euro per person and said goodbye. We didn’t get much information, but we saw quite a large part of the city and had fun for all of the money…

We went back into the Kalemegdan citadel to have a more thorough look and also read the signs regarding the excavations this time. After that we went to the Serb-Orthodox church to take a new photo in the sunshine and then we had lunch on the restaurant called “?” across the street. Originally the restaurant was called the “Cathedral Tavern”, but a zealous church clergy threatened to take action and the landlord changed the sign board to “?”, which it kept after that. This is a very local restaurant with sturdy Serbian food. The menu was only partly written in English, but we really enjoyed the food.

After lunch we strolled round the city centre and then had a cup of coffee and nice cakes at a café. We continued to Skadarska Street, by which street we ate yesterday. It’s a nice restored street with mostly restaurants, but also an old brewery, where the walls were painted with motives. It was getting late when we walked back to the hotel taking another way through a more local shopping gallery. We had a sandwich at the café at hotel Moskva and many of the other in the group met up there as well.

About 9 pm we all walked down to the station, which was less than a kilometre away. Hans, Gunnel and Ola took a taxi. The latter as he was weak due to a bad stomach during the day. We more or less filled one of the carriages on the train in twin bed compartments, although Mikael shared our in a top bed. Our train conductor incessantly smoked at our end of the carriage, which was much irritating. We left around 10 pm and I went quite soon to bed. Mikael had bought a few bottles of wine for those who wanted something before they went to sleep.

Tuesday 21st of September
We woke up about 8 am, when it was time to pass the border to MACEDONIA. It was a quick procedure and we arrived into the capital Skopje around 9:30. A bus waited for us and we went into town for a city walk. We started with exchanging money. It was possible to change Serbian money at a street exchange office, but not at Western Union, which only took the larger currencies, like Euro. We had a cup of coffee at a café before we continued. There were many bronze statues around the city, and they seemed to be newly erected. One was Mother Teresa, who is born in Skopje. We continued towards the old city and crossed a bridge over river Vardar.

The Old city was really nice to stroll around and there is a restored wall and fortress on a hill. Many women were dressed in a Muslim fashion, as this is the most important religion here. But they are less strict in dressing here than in most other Muslim countries. We also visited a large grocery market. After walking around for a while we all sat down for lunch at a restaurant. It took quite long time and Mikael tried to call the driver, but in vain. When we finally reached the meeting place an hour too late, the driver was furious as he couldn’t stop at the meeting place and had to come back now and during that hour.

The road westward was really good and at first there was a motorway, but also on the smaller road he drove very fast. The landscape was quite a lot like before with a lot of forest, and some mountains, and here and there houses and fields. We arrived in Ohrid just after 4 pm and some wanted half an hour for check in, which meant that we were late for a town walk. I must say that I had preferred to leave 5 minutes after we had gotten the keys, to get more light before dusk. What is a shower compared getting good photos?

Ohrid is a small but old town next to one of the oldest tectonic lakes in the world. The town together with itself is a World Heritage site. We walked into the old town and Sveta Sophia church, which probably is from the 10th century. The frescoes are well-preserved thanks to that the Muslims white-washed them when the Ottomans conquered this area. We continued the walk up and down to Sveti Jovan church, which is situated at a cliff with a good view over the lake. Then we climbed further up on a path with stairs here and there to ruins beside the newly built Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon church and then up to a top above the city with Samoils fortress. This has most of the walls restored, but in a fantasy-wild medieval manner. In any case it was a beautiful view over the city in the growing dusk. We started the walk down to the “upper gate” of the partly restored city wall and made the last stop at the amphitheatre.

When we came down to the city I became quite chocked. From the harbour where our hotel was situated to the old town and up on the hill, the town looked quite small and picturesque and then we suddenly came down into crazy shopping streets, which where very lively and it looked like any of the worst tourist resorts. Most of us in the group stopped at a restaurant beside our hotel for a late dinner. The meat was good, but the vegetables were directly from the freezer. Actually Christina wondered if hers even had reached the pan, as they weren’t warm enough. Anyway we were filled up when we went up to bed.

Wednesday 22nd of September
We woke up already at 7:30 am and went for breakfast. It was another warm and sunny day. We were not in a hurry, as the boat Mikael had found for Sveti Neum monastery shouldn’t leave until 10 am. But when we arrived at the boat it seemed as it required at least 25 passengers to leave, we felt very disappointed. Many of the other took a small boat to Sveti Jovan church to see it from the lake side, but we weren’t interested in that. Neither didn’t we want to take a taxi to the monastery, as it was the boat tour over the lake, which had excited us. There were no other options than spend the day in this otherwise quite dull town, as it would be too hard for Christina to walk back the path we had walked yesterday.

First we bought some stamps and postcards and then we strolled all of the shopping streets and went to the vegetable and fruit market, which usually is the most interesting part, except for the historical parts of a town. Then we sat down at a coffee shop and I wrote the last postcards. After posting them we bought some water and a few things to eat for the evening and left that at the hotel. We had lunch at a restaurant and walked around the lower parts of the old town, where we entered a shop where they showed how to make paper with a Chinese technique used since the 2nd century. He also showed how to print something on the paper in a copy of a Gutenberg printing press. We bought a paper of juniper tree with a motive of the brother Saints Cyrillus and Metodius, who seemed to cross our way now and then. Cyrillus was the person who invented the Cyrillic alphabet to be able to translate the bible to the Bulgarian language. Then we took a walk to the other end of the esplanade and back again. We sat down outside the hotel, to be able to use the wireless network, which was too low in the room. After it had become dark we went inside to to eat and pack for the morning. I also took care of all photos from the last days before it was time to go to bed.

Thursday 23rd of September
We had set the alarm clock on 7:15 am. A bus which was too small fetched us. Mikael had to sit on one of the suitcases, which was inside between the seats, as there wasn’t enough place in the luggage store. Fortunately it was less than an hour to the border of ALBANIA on the other side of Lake Ohrid. It was yet another sunny day when we arrived at the border. There was a small duty shop where Jaan and Eivor went off to buy a bottle of wine for their last money. There are also squat toilets, which were unusually filthy. It didn’t take much longer to pass this border than any other and there is just an “entry fee” to be paid. We changed money at a exchange booth on the other side of the border and the rate was not good, but still not a rip-off. An old man tried to sell souvenirs to us.

The road was worse on this side of the border and we saw many bunkers along the road. It’s said that Enver Hoxha erected one bunker for about every 5 inhabitants in the country and they are so compact and indestructible that people try to cover them today, as it’s impossible to remove them. The landscape and buildings are quite different. There are many newly started building projects and not all are finished, but they breathe a hope for the country. The road is windy and went up and down quite a lot when we passed through many small villages.

At about 2 pm we arrived to a city called Elbasan. There is a stone wall around an inner part and we stopped nearby and went inside it, where there is a restaurant. The staff didn’t know much English, but at least enough to get us something to eat. We continued towards Tirana, where we arrived after 4 pm. We checked in at hotel Tafaj and thanks to Mikael we got a room at the first level, as some had to walk up many stairs to their room. We even had a terrace towards the street outside; otherwise the room was small but comfortable.

Then we went out with Mikael to walk around the city centre. The city is very colourful, as a former Mayor of Tirana with an artistic background let all the official buildings be painted and then many private people also have painted the buildings if they could afford it. This makes the city very vivid, even if some combinations are a bit weird. First we went to the central square with the National museum, opera house and a mosque, which we entered. There is also a statue of the national hero Skanderbeg. We passed some government buildings and the house of the communist party, where Enver Hoxha used to stand on the balcony when the military parades passed by. We also passed the old dictators pyramid monument, which today is redone into a disco! Near the house where he lived, we went up to the top of a hotel with a revolving sky bar to have a cake and a cup of coffee, while admiring the view over the city.

When the sun was starting to go down, we walked back on our own and at 7 pm we all went to a nearby grill restaurant for dinner before it was time for bed.

Friday 24th of September
After breakfast we walked to the station to catch a train to Durres at 8:30 am. It was yet another hot day. The railway station looked really shabby and there were several carriages, which just stood on overgrown rails. The train we went with had a lot of graffiti and several windows were broken and the overall condition could be questioned. We passed through the suburbs and saw a market, some bunkers and a camp of shabby shacks, which probably belonged to Romanies. The living conditions for the Romanies are more and more seems a problem, which all of the European Union need to work together to solve. There were some colourful houses along the railway. Ola communicated with an old man who had been a military and apparently thought it had been better during the communism era. Even if they didn’t have a common language it went well with the hands and the body language. The old man was very curious and really wanted to know more about Ola.

It took nearly an hour before we arrived in the harbour city of Durres. We walked towards the sea and to an excavated amphitheatre. Afterwards we split up and we, Ola, Jaan, Eivor and Mikael went together. We first stopped at a medieval excavation beside the amphitheatre, but the archaeologists English was not very good and then we had lunch beside the sea. The harbour was too dirty to invite to any swimming, as some in the group had hoped for. We walked slowly back towards the station. Mikael met an Albanian man he knew and who wanted us to visit his family’s farm.

We took a local bus to the church of Shen Vlashit, which is the main site of the Albanian Orthodox Church. Christina stumbled when she went off the bus, it was a high step, and it hurt. It was over a kilometre uphill to the church, which is quite small compared to its importance, but it’s newly built by voluntary donations. There was a couple of renovating constructor workers on the roof. We got a few questions answered by a young woman who worked in the church.

We returned to the highway just when another local bus passed and we stopped it. Apparently there was no need for bus stops. The bus was very crowded, but a man immediately offered Christina a seat. They are definitively more considerate than young people in Sweden. The bus took only about half the time as the train and was more comfortable, so it’s not strange that it was more crowded.

Back in Tirana, Christina and I went to the National museum. It was at the large square and built in the overwhelming communistic style, so it was worth the entrance fee just to see the building and the socialistic paintings some of the walls. It was well organised from Stone Age until about the Second World War and at least at the entrance of each exhibition hall there were a explanation written in English. Of course one of the rooms is dedicated to the national hero Skanderbeg, whose real name was Giorgi Kastrioti. He was educated by the ottoman army, where he made career there before he lead am uprising against them and liberated the country. It’s said that he never lost a battle in the mountains of Albania.

After a cup of coffee and a short visit to the hotel, we went back out to find a restaurant, but it was mostly cafes or bars. Many shops were still open. We walked on a back street in hope to find a local restaurant, but we were quite near the station when we finally found a small pizzeria. Apparently they sent out the young pizza baker to take the order, probably as he was the only one who spoke some English, but we had great food. It was dark when we came back to the hotel and it was time for bed. 

Saturday 25th of September
We went up quite early and it was cloudy when we left. The receptionist was very careful that we left the keys, as they personally were responsible for any loss. Florian, a local guide met up and joined us, as their knowledge of English is less in the countryside. We went Northwards to Shkodran and the clouds turned into rain and it was quite wet when we stopped on the hill beside Shkodran to see the Rozafa fort. It was slippery to walk up the last part and it could have been a really nice view over the rivers and the town in a better weather, but there were nothing to do about this.

We continued to a nearby fish restaurant outside the town, and we rushed into it, as the rain poured down worse now. The meal was included in the trip, so we realised that we had changed too much money. After lunch we went back to the centre of Shkodran and changed to two mini buses, as the large bus was impossible on the mountain road. The first part had asphalt, although the road was quite narrow, but when the road started to climb, the road mainly consisted of stone and it became very bumpy. We passed the monument of the author Edith Durham, who made the area well-known for the rest of the world during the beginning of the 20th century. The highest pass is at 1400 meters, but it was too foggy to see anything down the valley. There was an extra passenger, a young woman who had grown up in the village of Thethi and visited it every weekend. When she was younger nobody was allowed to move from the kolkhoz in the village and it had 800 inhabitants. Today there are only 100 persons left and many of them live on a growing tourism, particularly Germans.

Four in the group had to stay in another inn near the village centre together with Florian, but the rest of us stayed in a large house higher up. We had to share rooms four and four and Mikael, Anders and Ola stayed hallway next to the stairs and there were two toilets and showers in the basement. It was quite chilly in the house. But it was the standard that we had expected. Of course the rain made it feel a bit colder, as there was no central heating and most of the warmth came from the kitchen. Some were whining, but there was not any real reason for it. We had a good and plentiful dinner, but some complained that there was no wine or beer to the meal. But as the hosts didn’t know any English, this was difficult to communicate. After dinner we sat together with Mikael and chatted. The other went to bed to get warm after a long day. We used two blankets to get keep warm during the night.

Sunday 26th of September
It was still cloudy at breakfast with some drizzling. Christina and five other in the group stayed at the hostel, as they couldn’t or didn’t want to join the walk. We started around 9 am and it took nearly an hour before we came down to the church, as we also went the wrong road. The rain poured down when we met the other. They had stayed in a family just beside the church and the woman in the household spoke good English, so they had a good chat with the family and hadn’t mind to be separated from the group.

The church is quite new and had a picture of mother Theresa, as she had Albanian parents. We continued along the village and stopped by a small café, which was owned by a family. Some tasted the local raki drink, which is the vodka of Balkan. The man entertained us by playing on a grass straw, and he did it very well. Florian had gone back to arrange a bus for the other to join us for lunch, but we heard that he had protested since some in the group walked in only sandals. We went down the valley and passed a heard of sheep with a shepherdess looking after them. She had a dog which nagged after my legs and I just tried to ignore him. Then we reached a creek, which we were supposed to pass, but the rain was too heavy, so it was impossible to jump over for everyone, and Mikael decided that we had to turn back and he phoned Florian to arranged that the two mini buses met up with us nearby, also because we had quite a bit to walk even if we went along the road.

We reached the buses and continued on an even bumpier road down the valley.  This was the road they used during the winter, when the snow stopped the traffic through the pass. Finally the rain had ceased and there was even some sun. We stopped by a house, which we entered. It was quite dark in the room, which was slightly too small for us, but we managed to squeeze in. The family head offered us some raki, while we were waiting on a lamb barbecue with a plate of Greek sheep cheese, and vegetables, which seemed to be standard attributes to meals. We were definitively filled up after the meal.

As it was nice and sunny weather, we walked to a nearby waterfall and climbed up to the top. There were also the remnants of a kolkhoz and we even saw a stone monument from the communism era on the ground. We went back to the buses and our bus stopped at a rift, where we walked down to a bridge over it.

Back at the hostel we sat down in one of the upper rooms, where all the beds were so crappy, that people had avoided to use them, and chatted for a couple of hours. It was not really tempting to being out. We had a similar dinner as yesterday, but the main course was a soup. Florian had helped us to arrange some wine and beer, so people were happier and sat around the table a longer time this evening. It was the only room with a good light, but the current is very unstable and sometimes the light flickers and disappears. This night we added an extra blanket before we went to bed.
Monday 27th of September
This would be a long day, and we started pack early, but the breakfast wasn’t been served when we came down, so Mikael had to call Florian. Apparently they had misunderstood and didn’t know that we wanted to leave early. Anyway we got breakfast before we had to leave the hostel. It didn’t rain, but the bus driver didn’t want to take the risk and drive the bus over the creek, which this morning filled the road with water. We carried the luggage a couple of hundred meters, and the puzzle to fit in the luggage began. A young couple, which probably was from Tirana, wanted to go on the bus, but they were thrown out due to lack of space. They seemed to be quite discontent. It was foggy when we went uphill and when we stopped at the monument of Edith Durham, we couldn’t see anything over the valley.

It felt much quicker to go back towards Shkodran than coming up. In the town it had been an immense rain, as the streets were flooded. It was tricky to get the luggage out of the bus without getting wet and into a large bus, that had arrived from Kotor. I went to a bank to change back the last money to Euro and then we continued northwards. At least the rain had ceased for a while and the nearby border control to MONTENEGRO was quick.

Both the houses and the terrain seemed to have changed. I was missing the colourful houses, but the houses here were mostly in much better shape. The name of the country means “the black mountain” and there are really a lot of mountains. We passed through the capital Podgarica and stopped in the old capital Cetinje for lunch. It had started to rain again and everyone was eager to get into the restaurant, which was a good one. It is also easy to pay, as they don’t have their own currency, as they always are using Euro, even if the country officially isn’t connected to it!

When we had finished the lunch, it had ceased to rain and we calmly walked through the town. It is quite small (only 14000 inhabitants) to have been a capital of the country. There were many lovely houses, which had been embassies along the main street. We continued with the bus into the mountains. It was a very windy road with beautiful views over the mountains. As we entered a curve, we met a car, which nearly hit the bus. It succeeded to pass, but it nearly went over the edge of the road. There was more than one among us who felt the surge of the incident. When we came down on a flat, I thought we were quite near, but we still had to climb another mountain on serpentine roads, before we saw Kotor beside the fjord from the top of the pass. We made a photo stop to see the view and the walls surrounding the town, going up into the mountain. Then it took another half an hour to drive down to the town, which is a World Heritage site.

We passed through the town and about a kilometre on the other side, we stopped at “Hotel Marija 2”. Mikael asked if somebody wanted to go out and see the town, but it seemed as if everybody was tired after the long day. Christina felt it quite badly and had to rest, and I went out and found some sandwiches for the evening meal at a nearby store. At least we stayed in an immense room with a good internet connection, so I could handle some of the photos and check out how life was at home, while Christina went to bed.

Tuesday 28th of September
After breakfast we met at 9 am to walk to the old town along the fjord. It was already a nice and sunny day and we had a beautiful view over the water. It was easy to see that this was a popular harbour for boat tourism, but at the moment there was no big cruising ship.

The town is surrounded by a large wall, but strange enough a large part of the wall is going high up on the mountain above the town. It has several minor towers along it and a small fort near the ridge, as well as a church within the walls. There are also remnants of a small moat in front of the lower town. The city used to have a large importance for sea trading in the Adriatic Sea. We walked around the well restored town together with Mikael and entered a couple of churches. Some went first to a café, while other started to walk up on the wall. Christina went to the other entrance by herself, while I climbed up together with Jaan and Eivor. I had a great view over the old town. Partly because it was quite hot and partly because Christina might wait for me, I decided not to climb higher up, but continued along the lower part of the wall. I met a group of students, which were quite noisy. When I came down, Christina still hadn’t showed up and I strolled around a bit. When she came, she told me that Mikael had said it would take at least an hour for me to walk on the wall, and she had made an extra tour around the market outside the wall.

We decided to have a cup of coffee at a café near the gate to rest a while, before we went to the Maritime Museum, which seemed to be the nearest a historical museum in Kotor. This was of course mainly about the maritime importance of the town during many centuries. It was was a little bit of a disappointment, since it was tedious to listen to an audio guide instead of having good signs in English and it wasn’t the most interesting museum we had seen on the voyage. After the museum we went to a pizzeria nearby for lunch. The town is really cosy to stroll around in, particularly in good weather as today, but otherwise there aren’t that much to see except for some churches and the wall.

We went back in a lazy tempo along the fjord. We looked at large restaurant boat, which just was going to leave the harbour and a man came up to us and stressed to us that this was a private party. We met some other in the group, who also had had a relaxed day. After an hour resting in the hotel, we walked to a restaurant along the fjord. The old town and particularly the wall were well lit up in the dark. When we had sat down and ordered some food, Ola and Anders joined us for dinner and later Alan and Gunvor. We had a nice time before we went back and packed for the next day.

Wednesday 29th of September
We were all at the opening time in breakfast room, so it was hectic for the staff to arrange eggs, bacon and other things we wanted. We departed at 8 am towards the next border. The bus drove around the fjord towards the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. At a place we stopped to take a photo of two islands. It was one island with a church and one with a monastery, which looked lovely in the sun.

The border back to CROATIA was easy to pass. The mountains we passed are more or less the same as all the way up to Slovenia. It wasn’t far away to the city of Dubrovnik. It was the last and one of the oldest city states in Europe. The city itself was independent from 1202 to 1806, when Napoleon arrived and took over the city. During its independency it had survived invasions through diplomacy and tributes to the stronger sovereigns. Many countries were dependant of the trade they had and the city had monopoly on the salt trade during a long time. The city was bomb shelled during the Balkan wars by the Serbs from the hills for over a year and most of the roofs were destroyed. It was quite a meaningless operation, which destroyed a lot of this World Heritage site and many people who were killed. Thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage status, the city was rebuilt very quickly after the war.

We stayed at hotel Dubrovnik in a large tourist area 4-5 km from the city. After check-in we all went to the city by a local bus. At Pile gate the local guide Paul waited for us. He was both funny and good when be told us about the history of the city. The tour took about an hour. First we went into a church near the gate and then we walked at the main street towards the bell tower. The city was crowded by tourists and during high season there could be as much as 100 000 tourists visiting the city everyday, quite a lot of them from cruising ships. Even if it currently is after-season, it was too many people within the walls on an area which is about 500m by 500m. The city seemed to be much regulated, which gives a sterile impression and we was less impressed. After the tour we went walked by ourselves to a restaurant. Christina had a lobster and I ate a fish, with some white wine. It wasn’t cheap, but tasted good. Afterwards we strolled around, but decided to take the wall and museums tomorrow, except for the old pharmacy museum. This is also the location of one of the three still active medieval pharmacies in Europe, but the active part looked very modern. We also visited a memorial museum from the Balkan war. We had a cake and coffee in one of the many coffee shops, before we went to the cable car to have a look at the view over the city. We met Ola who joined us. Up on the hill we had a nice view over the city and the sea with the sunset. It was dark when we went back with a local bus and we missed our stop, so we had to go to the final stop and back. We stopped a sandwich café near the hotel to get something to eat before it was time to return to the hotel for some sleep.

Thursday 30th of September
Most had come to breakfast at more or less the same time as us. We bought a tourist ticket, which was valid for the transportation, the wall and several museums during the day and then we took a local bus to the city. Ola joined us for a walk on the wall around the city. It is a lot of stairs to climb up to the wall. It felt much better to see the city from the wall, then among all of the other tourists in the streets, but I could imagine that it is much more crowded here during summertime.

An old lady sat in her apartment window and looked at the passing tourists and we could look down into some of the gardens. At the other end of the wall we entered the maritime museum, but it was quite dull with mostly ship models. When we came out we met Anders who joined us for the second part of the nearly 2 km walk. The last part was a lot of stairs to climb, as the wall is higher up in that end.

Down at the streets we found a place for a lunch sandwich, but some restaurants seemed less eager to serve us. You could feel that the restaurant employees were quite tired of tourists now, but one lady willingly served us sandwiches even if it didn’t exist on their menu. Some realised that the number of tourist started to decrease.

Then we went with Ola to a museum with a local play writer. The museum was confusing and not really interesting. The next stop was at the ethnographic museum, which is quite good. The posters from the communist era were funny with well-known politicians, but unfortunately nothing was translated English. Christina particularly enjoyed the many folklore dresses.

We continued down the alleys to the other side of the city and had a cup of coffee near the bell tower. We wanted to point out, which cake we wanted, but the waiter said we had to order at the table. We ordered what we thought was the correct cakes, but Christina got something else and the waiter argued that it was what she had ordered and it couldn’t be changed. We were quite pissed off and should have left, but she shared my cake instead. At least we didn’t give him any kind of tip. Afterwards we went into the Rector’s Palace museum, where the elected leader of the city state had to live all the time during his period. But it only lasted 3 months and the state was very democratic, as long as you were a man and belonged to the politically educated top…

As it was getting late afternoon and we had seen most of the city we took the bus back to the hotel. After packing for the trip back home, we went out with the other on a goodbye dinner at a restaurant nearby. We had a nice meal and chat with the others before it was time to go back and sleep.

Friday 1st of October
After breakfast we had plenty of time, but none of us was eager to go back into the city, and we walked on a path along the sunny coast line to see some of the area where we stayed. It was quite a nice path and we met some of the others, who also had had the same idea. Then we had a lunch sandwich with some in the group at the sandwich café. When it was time to leave, the bus was very late and it turned out that the agent had forgotten to fix a bus and somebody else had within short time stepped in and collected us. But still we were in good time to check-in at the small airport. We had enough money for a cup of coffee before we departed towards Vienna.

In Vienna we separated from those who were in a hurry to get the flight to Stockholm, but as we were late they missed it and were rebooked to the next one, and as compensation they got coupons for a meal. We had lunch at a pub style restaurant before we passed the security check. When we arrived in Gothenburg we said goodbye to the rest while waiting for the luggage and I fetched the car at the long-term parking lot and we where at home after 11 pm after a great journey.

Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson
Christina Arrindell

 

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Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson