Albania was a country that I knew next to nothing about (before visiting) and I am forever grateful that I was able to visit it.
It is an ancient land and people and they have somehow been forgotten or annexed by popular history.
Original Albanians can trace their lineage to the proud Illyrians, who were cultured and organized even before their more well-known neighbors, the ancient Greeks, came into the picture.
I learned from every Albanian I was able to meet and talk to that they consider themselves a unique and different ethnic community. They declare that they are their own ethnic “people” as they did their best NEVER to mix with those outside and there is proof that they are “older” than the Greeks, the Romans, the Slavs and all those surrounding them.
They were so determined to stay purely Albanian that they have a legend about how 2000 Albanian women committed suicide after being raped by Romans. I have not found any historical reference of this, but their purity and their unique ancient ethnicity is something they all are very proud of.
Being in the Balkans and hearing the conflicting stories of the Croats, the Serbs (the Slavs) and the Albanians is confusing. Human nature wants to take sides and “decide” who is in the right, but I realized first hand that opinions can easily change depending on the perspective that is being shared.
If you want to enjoy your time in the Balkans, keep an open mind and respect all perspectives. If you can, stay away from any political discussion, but I have to admit hearing them share their view of “history” is fascinating.
Our favorite places in Albania were:
Shkoder (mountains and lakes)
Ksamil (stunning beaches)
Watch our videos to get a better idea of what Albania looks like:
(Please note that some of our videos are especially made for the places we stayed at. These hotels or campsites gave us accommodation free of charge or at a discount.)
Here’s a compilation of our Adventures in Albania:
Yup, we decided to be spontaneous and try out paragliding during our last day in Macedonia. Actually, it was on the back of our minds to give it a try since we saw folks jumping off Mount Vodna when driving into the city (Skopje)…
But because the weather was cold (around 4-5 degrees) and there was some snowfall on the surrounding mountain peaks, we assumed there weren’t going to be any flights. But on our last day the sun was out and it was a warm 12 degrees so we thought to give it a shot.
Stefan was first to jump…actually, you have to run OFF THE MOUNTAIN…
So yeah, basically it’s just like a plane take off. You have to “taxi” first and then keep on running till you’re off the mountain.
Stefan’s first try was a bit exciting. He did a bit of rolling on the grass after an unsuccessful first try but the second try was a success and he flew off the mountain without any trouble.
I was so excited!
I also had a bit of a false start the first try. My para-sail didn’t open enough, or something. I’m not sure why my first try was stopped as I was facing forward and focusing on running…but my pilot told me to stop running..he adjusted the lines a bit, and then it was time to run again.
I was told to start running…again! I ran and while the sails unfurled it felt like I had 50kgs of something holding me back and I was taking one step forward and possibly 2 steps back…I was told to keep on trying to run…this time I was able to run (a little bit) and then poof! I was running in the air and my pilot was telling me I could stop “running” and he adjusted my position so I was “sitting” in my harness.
I really had no preconceived ideas of how parasailing would go so I just followed instructions and had a great time flying over Skopje and feeling a bird. 😀
I was the lucky one as my pilot had a GoPro so you can watch my complete flight here. Sadly, I only have footage of Stefan’s take off as we lost our GoPro and haven’t had time to purchase our replacement.
But yeah, everyone should try paragliding at least once!
Now I’m trying to convince Stefan to let me parachute out of a plane 😛
Casually posing beside the largest ancient anchor I’ve ever seen in Herceg Novi
Ever since we started our journey we have been looking forward to when Stefan’s mum and sister could come and join us for a mini vacation somewhere along the Balkan coast.
Our first idea was to meet up in Croatia, but somehow the plan evolved into meeting up in Montenegro a country none of us have been to before!
We entered Montenegro from the Serbian border while Stefan’s mum and sister (Alice and Jolanda) flew from Rotterdam to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
From our town in Montenegro it took about 1.5 hours to cross the Montenegro/Croatian border to pick them up with our rented Fiat Panda.
In the small space that is Montenegro..they have it all! The cool mountains, the lush forests and the magnificent blue beaches. ***Check out our photo gallery at the top
We stayed in a small town called Kumbor close to the beautiful, and more famous, Herceg Novi township.
Even though Montenegro is small, due to the mountainous terrain and the narrow roads, it still takes 1-2 hours to travel to the next town which might be only 50km away.
For this reason we stayed mainly around Herceg Novi and Kotor.
Visiting Old Towns has become a bit of a hobby for us especially since being in the Balkan area. The history of each old town, with their preserved ancient churches and magnificent buildings and forts seem to deny the ravages of time. Despite being centuries to millennia old; they have also somehow managed to integrate our into our “modern” culture.
Some for better (quaint and true to their culture and history) and some for worse (too touristic and full of merchandise that have nothing to do with history or their culture)– but despite some negatives–I for one am glad that we can see and walk through these time capsules.
The walled city of Kotor is a prime example. The ancient walls still stand and the roads are still paved with rocks made smooth and slippery with the countless number of footsteps– but inside is a bustling modern city enjoying the touristic spotlight.
We visited towards the end of September so the crowds have dwindled down quite a bit. But during the height of summer, this town overflows with tourists, to the extent that they have to close the gates, and refuse entrance, to manage the crowds. We were thankful that we missed all that chaos.
Herceg Novi is a small picturesque coastal town that has it own small Stari grad and 3 surrounding fortresses. During the Ottoman invasion the main coastal fort in Herceg Novi (formerly called Castelnuovo) stood strong and withstood occupation despite being vastly outnumbered.
It is said that the fort in Herceg Novi had only 3,500 defenders, and they were able to withstand the Ottoman fleet/army of more 50,000 for over 2 months.
Besides wandering around old towns, forts and castles we also explored Montenegro’s beautiful countryside.
We found this amazing hiking trail on mount Subra. The views were amazing but what impressed us the most was how well maintained the hiking marks/paths were. Every 20-50 meters we saw a well positioned mark and there hiking trail info signs at every cross roads showing how far to the next destination etc.
Here’s a short video of our hike:
So if you enjoy hiking, Montenegro should be on your map!
But let’s not forget the beaches…
We chose Montenegro because of it’s beautiful coastline. While they do have beautiful crystal clear water beaches, we found that most of them are not “sand” beaches so be prepared to bring a thick blanket or yoga mat to relax and tan on.
Also the water is a bit cold by the end of September so be prepared to swim and move around otherwise you will feel too cold.
I’ll end this blog post about Montenegro with a general price comparison observation.
Montenegro is cheaper than it’s neighbour Croatia but is a bit more expensive than the other Balkan countries.
All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our family vacation in Montenegro and would go back.
***Stay tuned for our video about our Montenegro Adventures***
Visiting Sarajevo can’t help but invoke a deeper sort of emotion and feeling.
Souvenirs made out of bullets…
Every street corner, every bullet hole, every lined and rugged face tells a story of hard won freedom and acceptance.
The Eternal Flame in Sarajevo –a memorial to all military and civilian casualties of war.
Inscription translated to English on the Eternal Flame Monument in Sarajevo:
With Courage and the Jointly Spilled Blood of the Fighters of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian Brigades of the Glorious Yugoslav National Army; with the Joint Efforts and Sacrifices of Sarajevan Patriots
Serbs, Muslims and Croats on the 6th of April 1945 Sarajevo, the Capital City of the People’s Republic | of Bosnia and Herzegovina was liberated.
Eternal Glory and Gratitude to the Fallen Heroes of the liberation of Sarajevo and our Homeland,
On the First Anniversary of its Liberation–a Grateful Sarajevo
I am not religious or political. At least I do my best NOT to be…but I do believe in living this one life we have been privileged with to the best of our ability. I memorized Bible scriptures when I was younger, and the verse that still applies and I still try to live by today is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you–Luke 6:31”
This is recognized as the Golden Rule and I suppose many religions and holy books say something similar but how many of us forget and choose the selfish path or take our life of privilege for granted?
I AM PRIVILEGED–and I am reminded of that every single day when I wake up in a beautiful new location, in possibly a new country, living my dream…
viewpoint overlooking the entire city of Sarajevo
I know very few of us can just drop everything and travel and explore the world! I know many haven’t been out of their city’s borders, much less out of their country.
Walking the streets of Sarajevo and witnessing a protest for the freedom to marry despite differences in Ethnicity or Religion brought my taken for granted sense of privilege home to me…
Life isn’t fair…and by saying that I am not complaining…
It is a TRUTH I see everyday and while I don’t think I can do much to make life “more fair” for others…I hope this post reminds me/us of the things we can be grateful for. And I sincerely hope that perhaps by having this grateful and positive attitude we can be a positive influence in some way…
Despite Sarajevo (and the surrounding area) having a very recent troubled past the people we met are amazing…
They have rebuilt and are positive about their future and I ADMIRE their resilience.
Former glory: The 1984 Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge track now abandoned
I mentioned above that I don’t think little old me can do much to make the world a “more fair” or better place…
But I’m going to take that back…by being a tourist I think I was able to help in a small way.
Visiting these places and spending our vacations in less known locations like Bosnia, Serbia or Albania makes a difference!
I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve seen, tourism makes a tremendous impact on small economies like these.
Most of them are so happy to have foreigners visit and enjoy their country, their food, and their culture that they welcome us with open arms–which is something that can’t be said about tourist saturated locales nowadays…
Your 10 euros to purchase a cappuccino might not make much of a difference in downtown Zurich, but your 1.5euros in Sipovo, Bosnia certainly will.
Other impressions of Bosnia & Herzegovina:
They love MEAT so if you’re vegetarian be aware that they don’t have many options for you…
The roads are narrow, steep and challenging, especially in Sarajevo, and your GPS will lead you astray (or to a path with STAIRS!!)
Bosnian coffee is very similar to Turkish coffee so if you are addicted to the “Italian” style of coffee be warned that you might find it hard to find in the local grocery shops
Most towns in Bosnia are somewhat segregated such as: this town is Orthodox…this town is Muslim etc. Sarajevo is somewhat unique in that all the major religions are represented in fairly large numbers.
Bosnia gets COLD in winter and central heating is NOT readily available. We noticed woodpiles everywhere…even the apartment buildings were stocking up on wood…
Outside of Sarajevo, very few folks speak English so be prepared to communicate with lots of acting 😉
Our 2 Days in Serbia…
We didn’t get to see much of Serbia due to our plan of having a mini-vacation with family in Montenegro, but what we did see in the 2 days we were there was beautiful (watch our vlog on the bottom of this post!!)
Our 2 days in Serbia were spent in the ski town of Zlatibor (sadly no snow for skiing yet) and from there we did a bit of exploring to the surrounding areas.
I got all philosophical about our time in Bosnia so for Serbia I’m going straight into list format so this post doesn’t get too long..and my fingers don’t get so tired 😛
Impressions about Serbia:
Carry cash (Euros or Serbian Dinar) with you at all times–the ATMs are few and FAR between
Food is cheap, so if you don’t want to cook and buy groceries you won’t break the bank with eating out for all meals
Local Serbian wine is quite good so don’t get intimidated by the 2-3 euro price (I was worried to try it because it seemed so cheap!!)
Serbian roads are a bit better and less steep than those in Bosnia so enjoy…
This dessert cost less than 1 euro! Somewhere in Serbia!!
Too short to cook!! 😀 Eating out in Serbia was cheap but we still preferred our healthy home-cooked meals.
And to give you an idea of some of the sights and sounds you can experience in Bosnia and Serbia watch our vlog below 🙂
We have a myriad of excuses as to WHY we haven’t posted a blog in a long while (see list below)
— Had mum Alice and Sister Jolanda over for a mini-vacay…
— Busy making promo videos for gorgeous places we were lucky to stay at…
— On the road…
–Editing our website and making it more relevant…
— Losing our GoPro and spending a day in an Albanian Police station…
But scratch all that…
I really just need to learn how to blog on the run. I’m always waiting for prime conditions to write and I’m finding those further and further apart and if I don’t get my blogging act together…soon enough… we just might have a dormant blog–Oh what a horrible thought!
I really hate starting something and NOT going through with it so I’m going to pull up my socks and blog even if it means tap-tapping on my phone while riding on the motorbike! (I am a pillion rider without much to do while on the bike after all :P)
Besides, this blog is not just for those of you who read it. It is our digital journal and it would be a shame to have chunks of our journey forgotten simply because we were lazy to post about it.
Ok, that might sound dramatic. But stop and think about it…
Do you notice that the memories/experiences which are the most vivid are those that you told someone about? It doesn’t matter how you “told” the story…a Facebook post, a picture on Instagram, telling someone about it face to face or writing about it…
Once an experience or thought is shared it stays longer and is more “etched” in memory and I want to remember every step of this journey of a lifetime! 😀
So starting from today…I promise to myself and to the “universe” that I’m going to be a better and more consistent blogger…
Be warned! You might see something from us EVERYDAY…
It’s been almost a month since we left the coast of Italy for the Balkan states (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia & Montenegro) and we’ve been enjoying every minute of it.
Watch our adventures here:
Staying longer in one location has been a welcome change. I have 90 days to chill out in non-Schengen countries, so this means we can stay in one place for a week or two…whooohooo!
The Balkan states made up former Yugoslavia and I think I had the impression that perhaps they would be pretty much the same because they were once the same country… but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they are not…
They speak the same language and eat very similar food but that’s about where the similarities end.
Each time we crossed a border it actually “felt” like we were in a different country. The terrain changed, the houses looked different and locals responded to us differently.
For example, Croatia is overflowing with tourists so we just felt like one of the crowd and prices were also not nearly as cheap it used to be. It’s still cheaper than in western Europe, but compared to the prices in Bosnia and Serbia, Croatian prices seem inflated…
Crowds of tourist in Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia
We stayed in two towns in Bosnia and they were about as polar opposite as they could be. The first was in a wooden cabin on a fish farm off the beaten path in Sipovo. The second was in a modern hotel in bustling Sarajevo. Both places accepted us with open arms! It was really wonderful to feel that the locals appreciated us visiting their country. Prices for food varies from place to place. Obviously on the fish farm it was ridiculously cheap. They charged us only 1.50 euros for a fresh 300gr. trout which they cooked for us. We also found a delicious semi-sweet red wine for only 2 euros in a local grocery store. In Sarajevo our meals out, for 2 people, ranged from 6 euros to 20 euros. That’s 3-10 euros per person including drinks…
At the Fish Farm Cabin in Sipovo
Our cozy room in Logavina8 hotel in Sarajevo, Bosnia
I think Bosnia is the first place we’ve visited that is cheaper than Thailand for dining out!!!
We only got to stay a few days in Zlabitor, Serbia on our way to Montengro, but again we were surprised with how different the country looked. The mountains got larger and the weather got remarkably colder. Autumn is not the best time of year to visit Serbia, as it is wet and cold and rainy, but we were glad we were able to be able to pass through. We didn’t eat out in Serbia, but our grocery bill was the cheapest we’ve ever gotten. I made a veg Italian meal for dinner and after buying all the ingredients and a local bottle of wine our bill was less than 5 euros…I couldn’t quite believe it!
We’ve only been in Montenegro for 1 day so we’ll post more about Montenegro later.
Here are some facts we learned when crossing the different borders:
Slovenia is the only Balkan state to be accepted into the EU and Schengen agreement. When passing through Slovenia it was easy to forget that it was part of former Yugoslavia Currency: Euros
Croatia is part of the EU but has not been accepted into the Schengen zone. This means you must observe border crossings and I was stamped out of the Schengen area once entering Croatia. Croatia is predominately Roman Catholic and seems to have recovered well from their past civil unrest. Tourism is flourishing in Croatia. Currency: Croatian Kuna
Bosnia & Herzegovina is not part of the EU or Schengen. Recommended to cross at the larger borders as some of the smaller borders ask more questions (insurance etc) It is a bit confusing as to what the standard regulations for crossing into Bosnia are. We traveled in and out of Bosnia about 6 times and each time the border crossing was different so be prepared to roll with the flow. I was also stamped into Bosnia a few times and when leaving I was not regularly stamped out. So I have a few stamps in my passport that doesn’t have a “match” I’m not sure how this will work out in the long run, but each time I left Bosnia, I was entering Croatia, and they were fairly regular with their stamps, so I hope that will help all the other random stamps make sense. Currency: Bosnian Marks
Serbia is not part of the EU or Schengen zone but border crossings are smooth and simple. Currency: Serbian Dinar
Montenegro is not part of the EU or Schengen zone and they are more thorough at the borders. They requested us to remove our helmets and present our motorbike registration…strangely this was not requested at any of the other border crossings…
Whoop Whoop our latest Vlog is finally uploaded and ready!! Uploading our videos have been our greatest challenge recently…
Well, besides navigating Bosnia without our Garmin. And if you have traveled for a long distance or in “unknown” country… Google maps on our phones only can take us so far…
FYI: Bosnia and Herzegovina is not included in the Europe Garmin package. AND Google maps have only mapped out a percentage of the small city roads. Many a time we ended up driving a road only to have it end up leading to stairs!! Our next challenge was doing a 180 degree turn in a road that was about as wide as our bike…hopefully we’ll share a video of this later…
This video will be about our adventures when visiting: