A Travellerspoint blog

Macedonia and Kosovo

Lake Ohrid is over three million years old and Ohrid town is one of Europe's oldest lakes.

Even before we got to Pogdorac, Albania I was worrying about how we would get to Macedonia. Buses do not cross the border at Lake Ohrid.
I had read how people took one bus to the border, walked through customs, and looked for another bus on the other side.
The receptionist at our hotel spoke limited English. 'I will help you.' Our landlord in Tirana had given us a bottle of wine. We re-gifted it to the receptionist - thank you.
I remained skeptical when she walked us across the road and indicated we would catch the bus to the border there. To us it seemed the bus would be going the wrong way.
As she was heading back inside a car going the opposite direction stopped.
The girl and the driver spoke. 'Taxi' she told us. No evidence of a sign. She helped us negotiate a price, twenty Euros to the centre of Ohrid.
It was, I am sure, much easier to do it this way. We hopped in.
Support the underground economy.
It was about a forty five minute trip including a stop to drop off some fruit and the two stops at customs.
We never saw a bus as we progressed through the mountains.
Here there are hairpin turns. Not a relaxing drive.

Once in Ohrid we went to a cafe with wifi and I booked an apartment for seventeen Euros a night. We wasted time waiting for the landlord to get back to us, he never did, and eventually we arrived and he was there waiting.
It is a homey little place with a balcony, on a plainer scale than the hotel across the pond in Albania.
We went for a late lunch at the neighbourhood cafe our landlord recommended. A big salad, bread and beef stew, traditional food.
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We had been lent a map, there seems to be a shortage, and headed to the UNESCO World Heritage Sight old town. It sits on a hill. Quite a steep climb:

We turned back before we got to the top, it would be dark soon, we wanted to find our way back to the apartment in daylight.
As it was, I stopped to take a picture of roses, full blooms on a tree, and Jeff disappeared. I was lost for about ten minutes. Turns out our apartment building was right across the street and he had gone in, expecting me to follow.
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Eventually he came and found me. I have no sense of direction and poor observation skills!!
Tuesday, Nov 8 - we have had such wonderful weather. Today it is raining. We stopped twice for coffee on the way to the old town, trying to wait it out. Eventually we just bit the bullet and walked.
The fortress is from the eleventh century when Ohrid was the capital of Bulgaria.
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We hardly saw any people, the streets were deserted, most businesses are closed, the 'season' is over.

Near the highest point, overlooking the lake, is St Clements Church, the most sacred church in Macedonia:
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St Clement was a student of St Cyril as in Cyrillic. He was born in the ninth century and oversaw the construction of an Orthodox church in Ohrid. The original church at this location was a university where the Cyrillic alphabet was taught.
It is the oldest University in Europe in discontinued use. Ohrid is the cradle of Slavic literature.
Hundreds of years before Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of a Catholic Church in Germany in 1517, these guys were making the Bible available in the Slavic language.
Both the lake and the old town are UNESCO World Heritage Sights - one of only 28 sights with both the nature and culture designation worldwide!! And the only UNESCO World Heritage Sights in the Republic of Macedonia.
Even the main square, overlooking the port and the lake, is quiet.
Three dogs are resting on the grass, they look like rocks. Dogs and cats wander around like this in many Southeastetn European countries (like Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia)
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Lake Ohrid pearls are featured in shop windows. They are handmade using a secret emulsion from the scales of a fish native to Lake Ohrid, resulting in a particularly luminous pearl. Even Queen Elizabeth owns Ohrid pearls!!
We browse around.
It is a dreary, quiet day in what must be a busy place in the summer!!
Macedonia remained at peace during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
It has been independent since 1991.
Entrance to the EU has been blocked by Greece over objection to the name 'Macedonia.'
We took a three and one half hour bus ride from Ohrid to Skopje, 110 km.
Our landlord arranged for us to be picked up at a regular bus stop near our apartment and walked with us to make sure we got on the right bus!

It was another very scenic, mountainous journey.
For the second time in the former country of Yugoslavia we passed a serious wreck, another car on its roof, just past a bend in the road.
These roads are very twisty, narrow, climbing up and down mountains. There is a lot of road work going on so improvements are being made.
The distance between Ohrid and Skopje is 110 km as the crow flies, 172 km by road. We were glad to be on a big bus as the minibuses seem more stomach-churning, perhaps more of a sway, plus they travel faster.
This is the nicest and cleanest bus we have taken in the Balkans.
The scenery is breathtaking although the view is often blocked by trees or the side of a mountain.
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On the outskirts of Skopje there is a river and in the river was a large dead animal, a cow, a deer or a moose, I couldn't tell what it was, but a disturbing sight. Yuk. Not an auspicious first impression. Garbage and litter are not confined to Albania, I saw a lot on the side of the road as we travelled, even high in the mountains.
The city centre is quite neat though.
Most of Skopje was destroyed by an earthquake in 1963. It is not a city of venerable old buildings.
In a city cluttered with statues stray dogs roam the streets.
We went on the free three hour walking tour that starts at the Mother Theresa statue daily at 10 am.
Along the main pedestrian walk on Macedonia Street seven large dogs with yellow ear tags followed our group, breaking off on occasion to chase a bike or bite cars. They bite on the metal or plastic near the wheel well, barking merrily, our guide has to stop talking because we can't hear him.
Animal rights groups seemingly want these dogs left as they are, running loose and free, relying on the kindness of strangers for food.
After a four year old child was killed by a stray dog early this year in another area of Macedonia there were many incidents of dog poisoning even in Skopje, followed by huge protests to protect the dogs.
We witnessed a man get out of his vehicle carrying a puppy pounder after three dogs chased and bit at his car - he did not actually hit a dog as our tour guide intervened and sharp words were exchanged.

They have implemented the tagging system to monitor the strays. The tag indicates the dog has been vaccinated. A foreign system to us, our group is mesmerized - when we stop for a drink a few dogs lay down outside the cafe and then quickly follow along when the tour resumes.
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Mother Theresa was born in Skopje. She went to Dublin at the age of 18 and trained as a nun. From there she went to Calcutta and the rest is history.
The Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, where she was baptized in 1910, was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake. It was at this location that the 'Mother Teresa Memorial House' was opened in 2009. It consists of a Catholic Chapel and a small museum dedicated to Mother Theresa.
The Memorial House stands out from other recently constructed or refurbished buildings in central Skopje in both size and simplicity.

Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was about 18 years, before she travelled to Dublin to become a nun:
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The Catholic chapel is very simple and modern, decorated with filigree - a craft of Macedonia learned from the Turks during 500 years of Ottoman Rule.
Filigree is typically herbs, plants, vines. In the chapel version, symbols of doves for peace and fish (early Christian symbol that predates the cross) are incorporated within the filigree.

The Warrior on a Horse, commonly known as Alexander the Great, dominates Macedonia Square.
Macedonians believe he was Macedonian.....Greeks believe he was, well, ...Greek.
The first European style building constructed in the city in 1926, Ristik Palace, is located on Macedonia Square. It survived the 1963 earthquake and is today the picture of understated elegance in an over the top, architecturally, city.
It boasted the first elevator in the city, still in use today.
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About a block away a sign marks the spot where Mother Theresa actually lived. The house, along with 70 % of the city, was destroyed in the 1963 earthquake.
Tumba Madzari was a matriarchy - on a bridge lined with too many statues, this one stands out, quite elegant:
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The Cult of the Great Mother Goddess was from about 6000 to 4500 BC. Times Up!! Although there seems to be a dispute if there ever existed a true matriarchy due to lack of recorded pre-history.
The old stone bridge is a relief for the eyes. Although rebuilt many times it seems authentic to the city where it has spanned the Vardar River for centuries:
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Karposh, a Christian outlaw who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Turks in 1689, is believed to have died on the Stone Bridge - he had been captured three days prior and was impaled but purposefully kept alive and awake until a molten crown was placed on his head to finish him off.
Our guide relayed this story and he is a historian. Below the stone bridge and to the right, is a statue of the Macedonian hero, Karposh, who led an uprising that eventually failed and was slowly executed by the Ottoman Turks to discourage dissent.
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The stone bridge connects Macedonia Square with the Old Bazaar.
The old bazaar on the east side of the river has been in operation since the twelfth century.
Kapan Han is a reconstructed travellers' inn from the 1500s, located in the Old Bazzaar - now used for businesses.

The Old Bazaar in Skopje is the largest Bazaar in the Balkans outside of Istanbul.
Just up the hill from the Souk is the fortress, Kale:
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We are staying across the street from a very good Italian Restaurant with a nice patio and a good vibe so
we dine on traditional food at lunch and have Italian for dinner:
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Close to our apartment on Macedonia Street, in front of a shoe store, is a statue of a bull. I rub his nose hoping it brings me some kind of luck, hoping I will always be able to afford shoes! Just another example of Skopje's propensity for borrowing ideas and transplanting them -

I like the Chelsea Girl statue across the street from the bull, life-size, not gigantic, whimsical.
Our apartment on Macedonia Street:
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Macedonia Street, now a pedestrian promenade, was once Marshal Tito Street.
Macedonia was once in Yugoslavia. This, though, is recent history, a mere hiccup in thousands of years of history.
Recent history:
Ottoman Empire ruled from the fifteenth to twentieth century - 500 years.
Occupied by Bulgaria from 1915 - 1918
Ruled by communist dictator, Tito, from 1945 to 1980
Declared independence 1991.
From Sarajevo to Belgrade to Skopje Macedonia we heard Tito praised - he may have been a dictator but he was a charming dictator a young Bosnian woman stated.
It was better with Tito.
Who was this guy, Josip Broz, the leader of communist Yugoslavia?
He was born in Croatia to a poor Croatian father and Slovenian mother. He left school at an early age and trained as a locksmith. From this inauspicious start he became the leader of Yugoslavia.
He maintained contact with both Russia and the west during the Cold War and kept Yugoslavia separate from the Soviet bloc.
He was considered more benign than Enver Hoxha of Albania and Stalin of Russia.
The people we met and talked with in Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia (an exquisitely small but very random sample) were nostalgic about the good old Tito years - it seems they had enjoyed a good quality of life and felt secure under his rule.
Can this be true?
Somehow he kept the tensions among the various groups in check and has been considered a pretty good guy. 128 countries sent representatives to his funeral.
Eleven years after his death the lid blew off and from one country, Yugoslavia, we eventually got 7: Bosnia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
Canadian troops, mostly deployed from Edmonton, stayed in Skopje during the Kosovo War. Ground troops were driven across the defile, into the war zone, along the steep mountain roads, mine sweepers leading the way.
On 10 November, a bright and hazy day, we took a mini bus from Skopje Macedonia along twisting, climbing, descending, climbing, mountain roads to Kosovo.

Why Kosovo - it’s personal.
On the Macedonia side of the border three cows roamed around the parking lot.
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The mini bus rattled and squeaked its way along the two lane highway, not relaxing!! The driver passed the time talking on his cell phone.
cellphone.
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As we approached Pristina the landscape flattened out and we were on a freeway for a time.
Pristina has a population of 500,000.
The most famous building is the unique Library at the University. Designed by Croatian architect Andries Mutnjakovic to incorporate both Byzantine and Islamic styles, it is considered one of the world's ugliest building.
It was built in 1982 during communist times.
The style has been called Brutalist. A metal grid, kind of representing filigree, but more sinister, covers the concrete walls and has a functional element - to protect against sunlight.
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To the left of the monstrous library is the familiar shape of an Orthodox Church.
Construction started in 1995 but its completion was interrupted by the Kosovo War in 1999. In the intervening years it has remained in its unfinished state.
There is a dispute between the University and the Serbian Orthodox Church re land ownership. The fate of the church is under consideration. Students want to turn it into a bar or have it demolished. It has been part of the landscape for over 20 years.
Church of Christ the Saviour:
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I feel sad when I look at the abandoned church, the gold cross gleaming in the sunlight, tall grass all around. To the residents maybe it symbolizes victory, but it seems such a wasteland here in the city centre, right next to the University.
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Our apartment is very central. Although the stairwell and hallway of the building are littered with old flyers the apartment itself, is nice. 90 Euros for three nights, Duku’s Apartment.
We can see the distinctive spiked roofline of the Palace of Youth and Sport from our balcony:
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On November 11 we walked to the New Born monument - a typographic sculpture and tourist attraction unveiled when Kosovo became a country in 2008.
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The New Born Sculpture sits in front of the Palace of Youth and Sport, a communist era building from 1977, now a shopping centre and sports complex.
Across the street from the Newborn monument is Mother Theresa Park. 90 % of the people here are Albanian and, although born in Macedonia, Mother Theresa was of Albanian descent.
If you were here in 1999 - this is Pristina today:
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We were accompanied in the early afternoon of November 11 by a young woman who volunteered to drive us to Martyrs' Cemetary and the Ethnographical Museum of Culture.
What a nice thing for her to do!! She was a friend of our landlord and did the translating when we checked in.
She also brought me a gift - hand knit slippers, made by her grandmother.

The workmanship is beautiful.
A real craft made by a real Kosovo/Albanian Muslim lady who lost daughters and grandchildren in the recent war. They were on an evacuation bus to Skopje - it was, inexplicably, a Serbian bus, that crossed a bridge that NATO blew up.
Kosovo War Memorial, deserted and desolate:
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Not a tourist attraction, some evidence of vandalism and neglect, forlorn.
Martyrs' Cemetary has fewer graves than one might expect but families wanted their loved ones close so not many agreed to bury them at this location. Our new friend, who had never been here before, was stunned to find the grave of someone she knew - the brother of one of her best friends.
We wanted to pay our respects, it was November 11 - Rememberance Day.
For a more uplifting experience we went to the Ethnographic Museum where an authentic Turkish house from the eighteenth century is intact - there are in fact two houses but the larger one is being renovated so we could only tour the smaller guesthouse.
Inside the kitchen, low, three legged chairs made from a single piece of wood circle a table with copper tajines on display.

Water was brought to the dry sink from an outside well in clay jugs.

There was a kind of central heat in this house, the owners were wealthy.
Ornate wood carving decorated the walls.
It was kind of refreshing to view privileged eighteenth century living after the war memorial and its connection to more recent history.

We ate a traditional meal for dinner, Kosovo sausage. Before receiving this huge plate of filling food we were comped traditional bread with a yogurt and cucumber dip, very good. Portion size seem huge.
We like it here. People are friendly. It seems very western. We can order an Americano (coffee) almost everywhere although macchiato is more trendy.
They use our alphabet. There is an American University near the New Born monument. New Born is in English. Their currency is the Euro.
We are staying near Bill Clinton Boulevard.

Mother Teresa Cathedral is located on Bill Klinton Boulevard near the University Library:
The population of Pristina is very young and many speak English.
They like NATO.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The name Kosovo is derived from a Serbian word meaning 'field of blackbirds.'
An apt name, there are thousands of blackbirds in Pristina. In the evening their singing drowns out our voices on the street.
Paul McCartney's tune from 1968 is persistently playing in my head;
'Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly...'
There is a place called Blackbird Fields near Pristina where, legend has it, a battle took place between the Serbs and the Ottomans in 1389. The Serbs were defeated in the end but they put up a good fight.

With a youthful population and a cafe culture Pristina boasts a lively nightlife - must be fun for international backpackers in the summer!!
Numerous coffee shops and bars line the streets and are great spots for people watching.
On 13 November we took the bus back to Skopje. Our friend arranged the taxi and the price was half of what we paid coming in - this guy used a meter. Two and a half Euros.
The taxi picked us up outside our apartment building on Rexhap Luci.
This is an interesting side street, fairly typical.
It has one lane for traffic and cars go both ways, and also park on both sides of the street, mostly on the sidewalk.
There are frequent traffic jams and it is almost as common for vehicles to be backing down the street as driving forward.
Today someone is parked in the driving lane. Eegads!! Everybody has to back up a block. In the meantime pedestrians are jaywalking to cross as well as walking on the road because cars are parked on the sidewalk. A general free for all. Still we made it to the station on time.
Bus fare for one person from Pristina to Skopje was 5 Euro 50 cents. They don't charge extra for luggage stowed underneath in Albania, Macedonia or Kosovo.
This time we got a big bus, comfortable and less scary than the van!
The first fifty minutes are through a plain, a flat area with mountain views:
Then there are twenty minutes of mountain gorges until we reach the border:
The 'defile' or narrow pass between mountains is breathtaking - the view is often obscured by trees or rocky outcropping. Very colourful this time of year!

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It takes about ten minutes at the border.
Everyone has already written down their name and ID number on a clipboard.
A guard collects passports at the Kosovo side, hands them back, then in 200 metres a Macedonian border guard repeats the process.
We have been picking up and dropping off all along the way. I am sitting by the central exit door. Random women in headscarves shake my hand before they exit.
Another twenty minutes in the mountains and we are in the outskirts of Skopje.
We have taken a round trip to Kosovo that thousands of soldiers took during the war. They bumped along the twisty mountain roads preceded by mine sweepers. NATO troops actually lived in Skopje and commuted to the war zone.
Now, when we see the first monuments in Skopje, we smile. Something familiar.

We are back in Skopje and the monuments seem friendly, welcoming.
In a country of two million people, 500,000 live in the capital city.
We are staying in the same large one bedroom apartment we had before, clean, bright, great location on Macedonia Street for about 30 Canadian dollars per night.
After the devastating 1963 earthquake where more than 70 % of the city was demolished and over 1000 people died, England lent Skopje some red double decker buses for four years.
They were such a hit Skopje has acquired ten of its own red double decker buses since 2011.
There has been a concerted effort to manufacture tourist attractions in Skopje.
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We took the number 7 bus to the large and modern City Mall as we needed a few staples. This was a good bus to take since the mall is at the end of the line so quite straightforward.
We stopped for coffee on our way back and a macchiato and large slice of tiramisu cost four dollars. A bargain and a tasty treat!

We love the location of our apartment and decided to venture beyond our usual Italian restaurant one night. We started out on the patio of an upscale restaurant right by the main square.
The patios have heaters and are kind of enclosed, still it was damp and chilly. We were offered a seat inside and enjoyed our supper there, warm and cozy!
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We strolled around Macedonia Square and the stone bridge after dinner. It had been an overcast day but not cold.
Skopje looks beautiful after dark. The huge buildings and massive monuments are softened.
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Below, Alexander the Great is just to the right of the massive cross - the Millenium Cross on Vodno Mountain stands 217 feet tall (66 metres). Construction started in 2002 and it was basically completed by 2008.
To put this in perspective, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro stands 98 feet tall (30 metres).
You can take a cable car to the top. We were satisfied to view it from afar, it is visible all over Skopje
The Millenium Cross is the fifth tallest cross in the world - Spain has the tallest and - this kind of surprised me - the fourth tallest is in Lebanon.
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Porta Macedonia, Skopje's Arc de Triomphe, was completed in 2012:
It, too, looks better at night, where the impression that it has been randomly dumped in a parking lot is less obvious!

Valentina Stefanovska designed both the Arch and the Warrior on a Horse (Alexander the Great) sculpture.
Macedonia Square is lively even at night and seems a great meeting point, connecting the stone bridge with the main pedestrian promenade.
Most of what we see is new, ten to twenty years old.

Skopje has transformed itself recently and based on the number of cranes, the process is ongoing.
Following the earthquake of 1963 a transformation also took place. The Japanese architect who had redesigned post-war Hiroshima, Kenzo Tang, designed the city centre: modern, brutalist, clean, geometric.
The old train station has been left as it was following the earthquake with the clock fixed on the time the earthquake struck. It houses a kind of museum with information about the aftermath as well as some modern art and (possibly reproduction) pieces of antiquity.
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The plain Jane look of most of the centre has now been tarted up!! The 21st century makeover is heavy on baroque and neo-classical.
The makeover has been controversial - 'When I look at this excess,' one local told us, 'I feel so ashamed. I live in a Disneyland city, copy and paste. What next?'
Indeed.

We have been lucky with the weather but on November 15 it rained all day,. We hid out in a coffee shop for an hour hoping it would ease up but no, now it was pouring!
The street dogs were out and about, accompanying a tour. Just another day in Skopje!!

We crossed over the Stone Bridge and walked through one of the most statue-dense squares.
The centrepiece statue is 29 metres tall, Philip of Macedon (Alexander the Great's Father) was unveiled in 2012. The sculptor: Valentina Stevanovka - her name keeps popping up. She holds the Macedonian record for publicly commissioned artwork and until that happened nobody had ever heard of her. I am convinced there is more to this story.
None of the fountains are operational this time of year, it must be astounding in the summer!!

Just behind the massive statue and fountain is the old town, the old bazaar.
The old bazaar, is a maze of streets and shops. Filigree is a specialty, there are numerous shops selling silver filigree and others specializing in Ohrid pearls as well as all manner of other shops, bakeries and cafes.
We bought a huge container of halvah, and enjoyed a cup of Turkish tea served in a glass with a wedge of lemon.
We stop for lunch and enjoy filling, traditional food including shopska salad, and a big plate of meat and potatoes.Price including a shot of spirits and tea was under ten dollars.

I decided to look for souvenirs while Jeff, not much of a shopper, remained at the restaurant drinking tea.
I made a right and a left turn. Along the way a shopkeeper I had met earlier hailed me down and gave me a pink umbrella. It was pouring, rain was dripping off my hood into my eyes.
I could not find my way back to the restaurant - everything looked the same. Eventually I walked into a small bar and announced 'I'm lost. Does anybody speak English'
The girl behind the counter was dumb-founded.
A dripping wet, wild-eyes, mature ha! tourist was talking gibberish.
A couple of young guys, customers, came to my rescue.
Sit down. Where are you from?
I tried to explain about Jeff being at a nearby cafe, name unknown, and how I had to find him.
Could we call him, text him, email him, no - he is off the grid, sitting there, waiting.
I have a picture of the restaurant - or a small section of it - now a third man takes an interest and, hallelujah, recognizes the restaurant.
This is nothing short of a miracle:
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One guy says he will take me, I am relieved, ecstatic, but now we have walked almost to the Philip the Great statue and I know we have gone too far.
Not to panic, another of the original trio shows up and says he knows the way so we turn back and yes we got there but Jeff had just left, looking for me, they pointed the way, only two minutes ago. Very shortly I spotted him, called his name and waved my pink umbrella.
He was only mildly surprised to see his bedraggled mother in the company of two smartly dressed twenty somethings, waving a new accessory and quick-stepping towards him through the puddles.

Well, it was an adventure! Jeff fails to see the humour but I have had a good laugh - and I imagine the people I encountered along the way have had one too.
I missed the perfect opportunity to pretend to be American! 'Where are you from?' And I said Canada.
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Na zdravje!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 12:38 Archived in Macedonia Tagged mother theresa skopje macedonia affordable kosovo pristina Comments (0)

Serbia: Belgrade and Novi Sad

Southeast Europe: the Balkans

Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, has a population of 1.4 million.
It is situated strategically at the confluence of two rivers: the Sava and the Danube.
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It may have been a settlement for 50,000 years.
The Cyrillic alphabet is used, but frequently with Latin script subtitles.
Many have noted an East meets West kind of vibe - certainly the hundreds of years under the Ottoman Turks left a mark.
Belgrade left me with a lasting impression of a European
city, a city with a past, with layers upon layers of history, and a wonderful coffee culture.
The predominant religion is Eastern Orthodox, the food has a Turkish influence, but as you read further you will notice the venison, the pork, the brandy and other nods to the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, the years under Communist Tito, the breakup of Yugoslavia, a scab that struggles to heal, perhaps because it started as a flesh wound so many centuries ago.

So many people speak some English, I am comforted as an English speaking traveller. The millennials have studied it in school and can converse or at least communicate simple directions. Train? Station? Bus? Toilet? Pharmacy? Coffee?

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 and to comply with the size restriction.
For ten Euros our cosmopolitan landlord, Lazar, 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.
NATO bombed the building, shown below, in 1999. It 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 studying 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.

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.
The narrow 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.

Our tour guide spoke excellent English and besides his engaging manner endeared himself to our international group of 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.

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, not dubbed. 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 enhanced its value to the Romans, the Huns, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, in fact, to the Slavic people themselves.

The walls of the fortress are limestone and in 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.

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.

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.
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:

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.

Novi Sad is a 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.

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.

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.

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.

Sidewalk cafes bustled with people.

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.
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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).

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. The Serbian people we met were terrific.
We visited Serbia a few years ago, two nights in Subotica near the border to Hungary. Yes, I think one day I will come again.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 11:33 Archived in Serbia Tagged opera budget serbia yugoslavia backpacking Comments (0)

Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

The war is over but never forgotten, bullet holes on buildings are testimonials, the Dayton Accord is a bitter remedy - welcome to Bosnia.
The Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern history, occurred between April 6, 1992 and February 29, 1996.
We took a mini bus, a twenty passenger van, from Belgrade to Sarajevo. Travel time was about six hours, there were two rest stops along the way. A lot of the trip was through mountains, or rather, twisting roads around mountains, climbing upwards.
The distance between these two points is about 300 km but the going is slow along stomach turning narrow mountain roads.
Since the bus originated in Serbia we were taken to the Serbian 'side' of the city. Hey, where are we? Ten Euros for a taxi from the autonomous Serb Republic to the Bosnia side. We had no idea Sarajevo is a 'divided' city.
I had never heard of Republika Srpska, east Sarajevo.
Our one bedroom apartment is near the Latin Bridge, across the river and uphill from the old town.

We have a little terrace and the bathroom has a washer and dryer. A dryer!! This is a first!! They have natural gas. Wow. 54 Euros for three nights!! But there is no water - at all, between 11 pm and 6 am!! This has been going on for awhile - months.
The Latin Bridge over the shallow Miljacka River connects us to the old town and main sights of the city centre.
Cevapi - Bosnian meatballs, are the national dish. In fact cevapi is something of a national dish in Serbia as well and are served throughout the Balkans.
Like burek, (pastry filled with meat and/or cheese) these sausage-like meatballs are descendants of Turkish food, Kofta, from the hundreds of years of Ottoman rule.
We have eaten versions of cevapi and Burek all over the Balkans and in Turkey. Here cevapi is served in a pita-like pocket with a large side of onions and a hot pepper:
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The old town is a big bazaar, numerous shops selling hammered copper and all manner of souvenirs - a warren of narrow streets lined with cafes and shops.

Older men play giant chess in a Square near the old town every day:
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The Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque is on our side of the river, close to the brewery.

There are names of the dead engraved on the bricks of this building:
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Sarajevo is a hilly city:
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We were too late for the free walking tour on our first morning in Sarajevo. We wandered around the old town and decided to go into a museum.

The fact that the Srebrenica Museum had been in the running for best museum in Europe in 2016 was a factor when we decided to take a look. The photos, audio and documentaries in the fairly small space pack a powerful punch.
Little did I expect to leave two and one half hours later with eyes almost swollen shut with tears.
At first as I looked at the photos I was thinking, wow, I am glad I'm not Dutch. The atrocities at Srebrenica happened during their watch, after all.
By the time I finished viewing the three documentaries it was personal. It became, for awhile, all about me.
I was transported back 23 years to a time blurry in my memory. 1994.
Subdued. Bowed but not beaten. A bit of the Sarajevo melancholy had seeped into our bones.

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We met up with the free walking tour the next day. It starts at 10 am from the National Theatre.
Although the siege of Sarajevo lasted almost four years, the Theatre never closed. People scurried to performances and maintained a semblance of normalcy.
The square where the theatre is located has been named Susan Sontag Square - Susan Sontag, the American writer, directed 'Waiting for Godot' at this theatre in 1993. The play was advertised by word of mouth, the performance lit by candlelight.
She is held in high esteem by Bosnians who consider themselves, like Godot, waiting endlessly during the long siege for the west to intervene.

Across the street from the Venetian architecture along the river is the colourful building above, designed for Sarajevo's Winter Olympics in 1984. Then it was Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. In 1988 Calgary hosted the games of winter. Four years later Sarajevo was under siege.
The First World War started in Sarajevo. A Bosnian-Serb freedom fighter assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June, 1914.
Assassin, freedom fighter, terrorist.
Princip, the guy who successfully assassinated the Archduke and then killed the pregnant Duchess, Sophie, fired the shots from the side of the pink building across the street from the Latin Bridge.
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The Bridge used to be called Princip Bridge and Princip was a national hero for awhile, but not at the moment.
There is a sign, well below eye level, on the side of the pink building. I would not have noticed it, did not notice it, until the tour guide pointed it out.
You have to bend down to read the inscription, 'From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavril Princip assassinated the heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia'
There used to be footprints in the sidewalk to show exactly where Princip stood. The sign used to be higher, at eye level.
A young lad of 18 started a war that resulted in the death of more than ten million soldiers.
There were six would-be assassins in the crowd that day, four of this group received the death penalty. Princip was too young for the death sentence, but he died in jail from tuberculosis in 1918.
The Franciscan Monastary and the Church of St Anthony are across the street from the brewery. They hold an ecumenical service on Friday afternoons.
Although damaged during the war repairs to the century old buildings are complete. The monks preserved many important historical documents.
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The statue above, reminiscent of Michelangelo's Pieta, is in the courtyard of St Anthony’s Catholic Church where real candles burn.

Light a candle for Sarajevo, I want to say, let go, let go.

The brewery dates back to 1864, to Ottoman times. The beer is made from spring water. Yes, many of the Muslims in Sarajevo drink beer.
During the siege of Sarajevo people got their drinking water here - there were other sources - but this one was pretty safe. 'Only' six people were gunned down by Serbian snipers at this location.
Sarajevo is in a kind of Valley, the shallow river bisects the city core, the Bosniaks lived mostly in the valley, the Serbs were all around, higher up, in the hills.

City Hall - rebuilt and reopened in 2014 - two million books and document were destroyed during the siege.
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We stayed three nights at the apartment near the brewery and then moved to another suite across the river and uphill, for our final night.
Ah Magic Gueshouse was cozy and a bargain at 13.50 Euros!

On a hill above the old town - a memorial - a cemetary - a wall of the names of the dead - Kovaci:
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The cemetary was a sobering experience. I went into the mosque to sit quietly and reflect, first removing my shoes and draping a scarf over my head, looking sort of like another blue eyed muslim in Bosnia.
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As we wandered downhill from the cemetery I passed a man sitting on the wall. 'Sorry' he said, I am not sure why.
Random 'I'm sorries ' are a very Canadian thing.
'What part of Bosnia are you from?' I asked. 'Ireland' he responded dryly and I continued on my way, picking my footsteps carefully on the sloping, cobbled street.
There was a bit of a traffic jam at the curve in the road, a car had stalled, so there was honking, of course. I was directing Jeff to help push to get the car out of the way when the Irishman ambled up.
We now spent 2.5 hours with this guy, mostly at the side of the road, talking. I think we came together, us three, as we were all eager to chat with another native English speaker.
His name was Martin and he said he was in Sarajevo writing a novel about heartbreak. The perfect place to get in a melancholy mood - where heartbreak is, as he said, palpable. It hangs in the dust in the air.
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Sarajevo, population 400,000, capital city of Bosnia Herzegovina is worth a visit. Diverse, east meets west vibe, lots of history, scenic - affordable....depressing.
Unemployment is over forty percent.
The government must include Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian leaders - three leaders who must all agree before a decision can
be made - Serbian is Orthodox, Croatian is Catholic and Bosnian is Muslim.
No wonder some citizens when polled identified ethnically as Jedi or metal head - they were all southern Slavs once, now their ethnicity is their religion!!
I guess I am surprised about the bitterness towards the west in general and the UN in particular. The UN did not protect Srebrenica, the UN did not stop the siege of Sarajevo for 1,425 days, the UN did not send in drinking water which caused the murder by snipers of innocent civilians going with their jugs to get water, the UN sent old food, rice with dead worms, spam (canned food - a kind of meat in jelly), world war 2 rations - old, crappy leftovers were dumped on starving people.
They had no running water, no electricity, no phones, they were packed like rats in their basements for almost four years, thousands were killed and the UN and the west allowed this to happen.
I had no idea the UN mission had failed so miserably!!
I wondered if all of the aid money that flowed toward the country actually reached the citizens. What happened to the good food?
We did not see the ICAR canned beef monument, a 'tribute' to the humanitarian aid, dedicated to the international community by the grateful people of Sarajevo in 2006.
While the blame is handed out the Serbs, (and the Dutch) together with the west and the UN figure prominently.
40,000 Canadian peacekeepers spent time in Bosnia between 1991 and 2010. All of their efforts had less impact on the population than Susan Sontag.
Sarajevo is 8,506 km from Calgary.
We are a long, long way from home.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 11:33 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Tagged yugoslavia bosnia Comments (0)

Dubrovnik Croatia

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.

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!

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.
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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.

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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 11:33 Archived in Croatia Tagged yugoslavia Comments (0)

Budva, Montenegro: People of the Black Mountains

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

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.

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 11:33 Archived in Montenegro Tagged budget swimming yugoslavia montenegro affordable Comments (0)

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