The Balkans 2023

Dowdell's 2023 Balkan trip Wow! What a trip!

10 New Countries (based on what the US state dept considers countries)

  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Moldova
  • Serbia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Kosovo
  • North Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Albania
  • Greece

3 Different Alphabets (many different languages, sometimes with multiple alphabets)

10 Currencies

14 Taxi or Uber Rides

3 Rental Cars

15 Border Crossings

9 Flight Segments

4 Bus Trips

All that in 14 days. I am only now convinced that we could complete a trip with those stats, because it is over. It was a complex trip. We tried to take a version of this trip in 2020 but were thwarted by Covid. This time we pulled it off. The Balkan peninsula countries are fascinating because of the deep history, unique cultures, but also with current events and intercountry relationships. We learned a lot about the region and relationships with other countries.

Since it was such a travel intensive trip we left our cameras at home (since the myth is that the new iPhones are soo good). We should have taken the good cameras.

England. We had a 6 hour layover each way between Atlanta and Bucharest. We didn't waste any of that time. We took the old slow tube downtown and fast trains back. We arrived downtown just in time for a Free-Assange protest.

Bucharest, Romania. We spent the first night in Bucharest. We arrived after midnight so we took the airport hotel, a short walk to the hotel (once you figure out where it is). Picked up the 1st car in the Morning and headed to Varna Bulgaria. At least that was the plan. After 3.5 hours of driving and a half hour at the border we were turned back. We made a mistake with the rental car. Although we carefully picked a rental agency that had cross border offers, we did not have the correct color licence plate to cross the border. We had to turn around and go against traffic to return to Romania. After some lively dialog (inside the car and on the phone) we drove back to Bucharest, got an unplanned hotel room and exchanged the car the next morning. (with black license plate characters instead of the red ones).

Bucharest, Romania (still, then Ivanovo, Bulgaria). Undeterred, we headed out to a closer Bulgarian border to go see some 13th century Christian cave art. This time we entered Bulgaria with the correct rental car after an hour and half each way. We did our tourist stuff for the day. And headed back to Bucharest to stay downtown at a fancy hotel with a great view of the boulevard and the Parlimentary Palace (The worlds 2nd largest government building after the Pentagon.) I drove through the heart of Bucharest twice this day. It's not a terrible city to drive in. It's better than Paris or Brussels. Nicolae Ceausescu LAST SPEECH

I am always interested in old remnants of Soviet society. The abandoned ресторан (Restaurant in latin alphabet) was a great specimen. I imagined what and how it would function, the moods, the atire, the professions and vocations during Soviet times. Angie helps me build the visual as she answers my questions since she was in high school in Soviet times. We went to a site of 13th century rock hewn Christian churches. The depiction of Christ's last supper predates Michelangelo's last supper by about 200 years. Rock Hewn Churches in Bulgaria.

Chisinau Moldova. We flew from Bucharest to Chisinau. We were worried about Chisinau being wild and filed with scammers and we were on guard regarding the taxis. The taxi stand was closed that the hotel folks told us to use. Sure enough, the prices quoted by the wildcat taxis were over 10 times the "real going" rate. A local jewish guy asked if we needed help and we declined, but later ran into him again and we shared a taxi to downtown. It was good conversation and a help. Moldova otherwise was extremely civilized and enjoyable. A guard approched us when we were taking pics of the Presidential building (been there before, expecting to be scolded for taking pictures). Suprisingly, he motioned us into the compound to take better pics close up. Pleasant surprise. We hiked around the downtown area where embassies are and walked around the very pleasant lake/park after having a great meal. The walk around the lake was pleasant and it was fun locating "The Little Prince" arguably the smallest public bronze work anywhere. It is charming and destined to be something like Denmark's "Little Mermaid".

I had my first "Zeama" (zima, zeema, zeama, зима, etc). I think Zeama is in my genetic memory. I have tried to make it at home without having it previously (maybe I had it traveling before, just didnt have a name). It isn't crazily unique. It is chicken vegetable soup with sourness of lemon. No rice. No pasta. No potatos.

Belgrade, Serbia. The next day we flew to Belgrade with a short connection in Bucharest. Belgrade was an eye-opener. Between the old soviet vibe, the monument of the bombed Ministry of Defense facility and the collosal investments currently being made (Russian money laundering), we easily found ourselves in the midst of "New Russian Empire." They can't colonise much elsewhere with all the sanctions and bad feelings. It is being focused in Serbia. Nicola Tesla is mentioned everywhere. The Tesla Museum was too busy for us and there really wasn't anything terribly compelling in the exhibits that we could determine. The anti-NATO, anti-USA, sentiments were vivid. As usual, it was messaging from the leaders not the common folk. We felt little if any animosity towards us personally. The NATO-bombed Ministry of Defense building in downtown is a bit of a shrine regarding USA/NATO hatred. There are banners with pictures of dead babies.

Podgorica. Montenegro to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzogovina. We flew from Begrade to Podgorica and picked up a rental car. Then the drive through great scenery across the border of Bosnia and Herzogovina. The drive took us across "Serbska/Srpska/српска/Republika Srpska/Serb Republic/Bosnian Serb Republic" ONE of the many so called -- autonomous regions often with different and conflicting names.

Mostar old town was very cool. Touristy as expected, but very idealic and a comfortable place in a pleasant river valley. The sound of gentle runing water is the natural soundtrack, pleasing.

Back to Podgorica and then our first Bus trip to Tirana Albania. We were worried about the buses. Stories of over crowded, no AC and generally late and uncomfortable rides were common in the research. They hassled us about luggage charges and we complained. I saw the driver and assistant fondling and discussing the coins they received for "extra" luggage. The bus ride with DRITA travel was not good, but also not a horror story. The passenger trains in the Balkan region are generally not running. They were stopped because of Covid, but have not yet resumed. Maybe there was some calculus that the passenger trains don't make any money. No need to hurry them back in service.

Tirana, Albania. Albania is a strange place for sure. The stories about the bunkers and one of the most mysterious dictators of our time are true-- Envar Hoxha. I started seeing bunkers as soon as we crossed the border. We had an apartment in a great location. We stayed there 2 nights. We took the cable car (Dajti Express) to the top of the neighboring mountain. The air was cool and quite pleasant. We went to one of the Bunker Mueseums. It was all very manageable walking around the downtown area with a specimen grade communinist mosaic. Restaurants, cafes, taxis and fresh markets were always nearby.Bunkers in Albania

Tirana, Albania to Pristina, Kosovo. Another bus trip to the newest European capital city of Kosovo with the handle "NewBorn." The way the sign is supposed to read.. Notice the cliche city sign has had the letters rearranged to "No New Broken Republic". I would update Wikipedia, but my experience has been that non-relenting attentiveness by others will overwrite my picture. (actually I did the Wikipedia update, lets see if it sticks) Politics are like that. We aren't 100% sure what faction rearranged the letters. Keep in mind the sign weighs 9 tons. I like the idea that it may have been my ever-emerging global political party that wants peace-- everywhere. Before the trip we watched Serbian propaganda on YouTube regarding beggars and general wild conditions in Kosovo. It turned out to be exactly that-- Propaganda. It may have been true at one time. We saw no beggars or the like.

The translation of the banner is something like " March 27 AND 28, 1989. THE SERBIAN ARMY AND POLICE, FOR 24 HOURS, KILLED 25 MARTYRS AND WOUNDED 603 ALBANIANS. 1200 DEMONSTRATORS ARE IMPRISONED IN LESKOVC (city in Serbia) BY ORDER OF M.P.B.Tt. SERBIA."

Pristina, Kosovo to Skopje, North Macedonia. Another bus trip. Skopje has a pleasant downtown

Skopje North Macedonia to Thessaloniki, Greece. Last of the bus trips. It was pleasant ride and great scenery. Bus rides can be quite nice if you have large clean windows, comfortable seats, excellent air circulation and aircon. Having snacks and drinks is a must. You are not constrained by flight attendants. Like a train and unlike planes, there is no dramatic departure and arrival. Just a continuous journey. We picked up a rental car downtown and had lunch with some new friends on the Thermaic Gulf of the Agean Sea.

Thessaloniki, Greece to Meteora, Greece.

Meteora was just as spectacular as we hoped. The numerous active Orthodox Monasteries atop chimmney stack rock formations is worth the effort. We went to three of the monasteries. There were some crowds at some points but manageable. Most of the tourists/pilgims (based on license plates) seemed to be from Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Slovakia and some from Western Europe as well. There was exercise involved, but we chose the most straighforward climbs/hikes. We really started to enjoy real greek salds at this point in the trip, vowing to duplicate them when we get back home. We decided that particular olives, cucumbers, feta cheese as well as non-industrial tomatos are the secret elements.

And the trip back home. Thessilonki to Bucharest, Bucharest to England and England to Atlanta.


David J. Schinsing said…

2 weeks! Ha!

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