Hello everyone! Apologies for my recent absence. As regular followers will know, I was off gallivanting around the Balkans on holiday. But after 12 days, 2 flights, 9 bus rides, 8 cities, 8 days of rain, numerous beers, a few tasty meals and hundreds of photos, I am back in the real world. It was a super fast-paced 12 days, and to be honest, I don’t really feel like I’ve had a holiday, but I saw unexpected scenery that took my breath away, and visited cities with so much history that it was definitely an experience I would happily repeat.
Travelling is something very important to me, but I never intended for this blog to feature posts on my travels. I just can’t help myself though, I’ve been to some amazing places, and I’ll be going to many more amazing places I’m sure, that I can’t not tell you about them. The posts will not be reviews or tips or anything serious, but just highlights of my travels on this big, wonderful earth. I hope you enjoy them!
I flew into Sofia, Bulgaria and had the afternoon to explore. It is a city full of beautiful buildings and reminded me more of the cities in Western Europe than one in Eastern Europe. One of the highlights was the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world. The outside was spectacular, while the inside was dark and mysterious and felt much smaller than it looked outside.
After one night in Sofia, our group headed to Skopje, Macedonia for one night. This had to be the strangest city we visited. The sheer number of statues in this city was crazy. It felt like they were haphazardly placed just about anywhere there was space. Skopje was also the birthplace of Mother Teresa, so there were a few statues in her honour, along with a museum, which we didn’t have time to visit unfortunately.
Next stop was Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, which is a small town situated on a beautiful lake. A walk up to the fortress gave us some stunning views, even in the overcast weather, and the churches dotted along the shoreline were pretty amazing sights. We stayed here for two nights, and spent our free day on a full-day boat trip on the lake. The trip began with a welcome shot of rakia (at 8:30am!) from our chain-smoking captain, Zoran, and ended with pouring rain and a two hour trip back to shore enclosed in a very small cabin with our chain-smoking captain, Zoran! I’m normally the person that coughs loudly behind someone smoking in public, but I discovered that smoking in the Balkans is a regional pastime, and is allowed in most places, indoor and out. It’d be interesting to see how much things change in 10 years or so.
On the road again, and across another border, this time for one night in Tirana, Albania. Tirana was an interesting city with lots of odd Communist relics – the pyramid, the bunkers, the Blloku, the Ministry of Justice building. It also felt like the least safe city we visited, with a number of very persistent gypsy children and teenagers.
From Albania we crossed another border on the way to Budva, Montenegro, known as the Montenegrin Miami. It was a nice coastal town, where super-yachts were moored only metres away from the walls of the beautiful old city, with its warren of pedestrianised streets. We had two nights in Budva, and spent our free day at the nearby town of Kotor, a spectacular town set on a beautiful bay. The old town of Kotor, like most old towns along this coastline, was set within the city walls with a maze of streets. It has a fortress built right into the mountain and enduring the steep climb and slippery steps to the top provided us with breathtaking views of the old town with the mountain-surrounded bay as a backdrop.
No rest for the wicked and we were off again to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina for two nights. Just before the border with Bosnia, we were rewarded with the most unexpected and spectacular views of the Tara Canyon. Nobody in our group realised we’d be travelling through such stunning scenery that day, and we all sat staring out the window, awestruck. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain, so I didn’t get any good photos, but sometimes it’s better to get out from behind the lens and just enjoy the view.
Our free day in Sarajevo was the wettest of the entire trip and we just happened to have a walking tour booked! Despite being soaked to our bones, Sarajevo was a fascinating city with such an interesting history. Ruled by the Ottomans and then the Austro-Hungarians, it is a city where East meets West. The history related to both the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the Balkans War of the 1990s is so fascinating, and seeing where these important historical events took place was eerie, especially the tunnel used to keep supplies coming into the city during the siege in the 1990s.
Our next stop was Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we spent one night. This was another highlight of the trip. Seeing the iconic Stari Most bridge with the bright green water flowing beneath was just amazing. The destruction of the bridge during the Balkans War was one of the worst cultural crimes committed, but the completion of the reconstruction in 2004 has helped heal the wounds that divided the different minorities in the country.
From Mostar we headed across one last border into Dubrovnik, Croatia, a city I visited for the first time last September and fell in love with. Another city with a beautiful, pedestrian-only walled old town, Dubrovnik has it all – great ocean views, beaches, great restaurants and nightlife and yet more interesting history. As I had been to Croatia before, I was only there for one night, but still had time to walk around the wall again and enjoy the stunning scenery.
From Dubrovnik, it was back to London and back to work the next day. Like I said, fast-paced! I came back with a stomach bug, so was in agony on Thursday and Friday last week, and needed the weekend to just recuperate and recover from that and the holiday, and now I’m finally feeling like myself again and up to picking up where we left off on the recipe front. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my trip. I’ve tried to keep it as short as possible, but it’s still a bit of a tome, so I apologise and am grateful you’ve stuck around to the end!