So, I left our last monthly as we had just arrived in Albania. It was more like the 6 week point rather than the monthly point so this is kind of a half month update!! We are getting on with the posts from all our amazing experiences we have had travelling though the Balkans but as I mentioned in our first round up post the nature of blogging not in a more professional manner rather than as a diary has resulted in them being scheduled in such a way that we are well behind. Meaning that our Slovenia posts are coming online now when we have just arrived in Bulgaria! But if you have patience they will come! But for the time being I am doing a brief update mostly for family, freinds and those followers more interested in our personal journey rather than just our guides!
Read about our first month here:
Since the last post we have been in:
Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo and now Bulgaria (Seeing as we are still here I will probably leave Bulgaria for next month so I can fully reflect on our time here as it is likely we will have another few days here)
A brief run down of each country:
When we looked at all the countries we would be visiting on this trip we were kind of a little scared of Albania. of course, we never listen to the media but with all the negative press over the years surrounding this country you kind of can’t help but we a little nervous of what you might find. We headed to the capital of Tirana sure we would only spend a few days here and then probably move on. But what happened here was that we fell in love with this weird and wonderful country.
Being in Albania is little being outside of the normal modern world we are used to. All across the Balkans you see examples of people frozen in time, tiling the fields by hand and living in tiny rural villages, but never on the scale of which you see in Albania. Here it feels like time has stood still, in the cities it feels more like the early 90’s with televisions and electronics from this era being flogged on dirt roads just around the corner from the capital’s main square. People sell fresh fruit and veg grown in their own back yards on carts, the older men all wear smart suits spend their evening in the park playing chess or dominos with their pals. The charm of Albania is how simple life is here. In the rural areas life is even more basic, people still use horse and carts or walk great distances using donkeys to carry their possessions.
Public transport here is absolute chaos too, but if you have the time as we did it is quite a fun experience. The buses don’t have timetables, they just go when they are full up and the ticket collectors tout for business outside of the bus. This is even the case with local buses through cities. But to travel from town to town you have to take the Furgon, these are unlicensed minibuses that run on their own basically when the driver feels like it. They take hours to get from A to B as they stop at all manner of tiny villages and most people just ask the driver to stop when they get near. You see old grannies getting off with just a handbag literally in the middle of nowhere.
There are no bus stops for them either, you just have to know their route and flag them down! The driver often used his routes to run errands too, as do many passengers! They are ridiculously cheap however! The other way to get around in Albania is to hitchhike, it is seem as a pretty legitimate way to travel and we ended up doing it a couple of times after the buses didn’t turn up. It was crazily easy to get a ride and on both occasions the first car picked us up without a problem. People in Albania have to be some of the poorest in Europe, but at the same time some of the most friendly and open even if they can speak little English.
Tirana was a strange city and for a capital it kind of felt like our cities were back in the 80’s and 90’s with people selling things on the streets all over. There were also some of the bunkers in the city and the biggest and most interesting was the huge nuclear bunker created for Enver. This huge place was really interesting to explore and reminded us a bit of the underground bunker we saw in Moscow. The architecture of the city was mostly built by the Italian’s in a strange style combining the classic communist and ancient Italian style. Still, an interesting place with a charm of its own.
We then went on to Berat, a city made up of a maze of Ottoman houses and mosques. It is built up on a mountainside on which an ancient fortress sits on top. The town is much more historic than the capital and one of the most beautiful places we have visited. We decided to extend our stay here as we enjoyed it so much and stayed in a little guesthouse run by a lovely old local couple right in the UNESCO listed magalem area.
We then went on a bit of an adventure to Bogove waterfall which included taking a furgon, hiking through some really remote areas, swimming in ice cold water (shorty skinny dipped!) and hitch hiking back! But the waterfall was amazing and felt really like an unspoilt tropical paradise!
Next we went right up to the north of the country to Shkoder, basically to do the ferry trip from Koman to Fierze. The town itself is really lovely though and the buildings yet again another style all together, many of the old streets reminded me a little of Cuba. The castle up here has some absolutely stunning views over the mountains that surround it.
Lake Skadar to one side and the winding river that runs to Koman to the other. It has a lot more of a cosmopolitan feel to it up here. The ferry was the main reason for coming and after an early start it did not disappoint. The 3 hours crossing through the huge but narrow lake in the mountains was spectacular and if this was in the west it would surely attract many more tourists.
Posts about Albania:
Macedonia was a complete unknown for us and we were looking forward to discovering it. We first went to Skopje, the capital city and stayed in an amazing hostel called Hi Skopje. The city itself is such a strange and quirky place with huge modern monuments and sculptures literally everywhere and new buildings made to look really old being built on every corner. It almost looks like a bit of a joke city at times but it is quite something to see.
There is the old bazaar quarter which is much more historic and has some lovely churches and mosques to visit as well as huge markets. We also had some traditional food called Tavce gravce, which is beans and grilled bread alongside Shopska Salad. We ate so much of this over here!!
We also went to Matka canyon just outside the city and kayaked for 3 hours to an amazing cave and then hitch hiked back to skopje again. A 17 year old lad in his dads car dropped us right on in the centre, what a legend!
Staying at the hostel we got a much better insight to the city and the country. Bojan, one of the guys who worked here was a protester in the nightly displays in the city against the government. We ended up attending a protest where the locals march and throw paint bombs against government buildings and many of the new monuments around the city. Basically they are money laundering though these lavish projects, over charging by millions and at the same time spending tax payers money on things like triumphal arches that mean nothing rather then fixing the roads or building schools and hospitals.
They also pardoned 50 high officials from some pretty big corruption charges without trial recently. It is really crazy to see these things happening over here and we have no idea about it around the world. Macedonia seems to go about its business under the radar. This country really made us realise that by travelling you really get to know about these untold stories each place has.
We then went down to Ohrid, the countries most well know destination and despite being landlocked this is basically the countries beach resort (the lake does have beaches!). It was a little touristy at time but lovely notheless. The old town is really historic and the lake is just as stunning as everyone had told us.
You can easily walk a little and find an impressive and quiet viewpoint away from the main streets busy with tourists mostly from the Balkans.
There are many lovely monasteries around the lake and the most well known is St. Naum, we took the 1.5hr ferry over to this spot on the Albania border where there were wild peacocks, nuns and monks getting about. It was a really nice place to visit and worth the effort!
Posts about Macedonia:
Kosovo was somewhere I had wanted to visit for a while, mostly because I love these places than people judge but often they turn out to be very different to what people imagine. Again we got in an awesome hostel in the capital and that made the stay there even more enjoyable. One night we sat drinking wine and eating Chocolate talking about Kosovo with people from Turkey, Palestine, Albania, USA, Germany, Lebanon, South Korea and of course Kosovo…we also met people from Brazil and Israel too. This is why hostels are so amazing!
Kosovo is very much like Albania is so many ways, they are Albania by ethnicity and speak Albania and they is always an Albania flag alongside the Kosovan one. They see themselves as Albanian and Kosovan. But strangely it is quite a bit more modern than Albania, maybe because it wasn’t part of their crazy closed borders and instead Yugoslavian. Pristina isn’t an exciting city and there are not all that many “sights” to see, but it is just a cool place to be with real life here being interesting enough.
Prizren in the south of the country is much more historic being an Ottoman city on the river. It is quite beautiful being surrounding by mountains and once again having a huge fortress above the town with great views. We loved exploring this city and got surrounded by kids who were playing drums, doing flips and even smoking at around age 8! They were fascinating by our tattoos and wouldn’t stop touching them, it was quite sweet to interact with them. We ended up giving them a few coins too and met some US marines up there as well which was cool. They, again, are quite different to how people picture them.
Posts about Kosovo:
Totaliser of Miles travelled and transport used:
Visited 9 countries: Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo
We have travelled roughly 149 hours and 39 mins on Planes, Trains, Buses, Cable Cars, Canoes, Rafts, Coaches, Mini Buses, taxis, metros, trams, bikes, ferries, a jeep and some random Italian guys car, more ferries, Furgons, and also hitch hiked as well as countless hours walking too!
Miles wise we have covered roughly: 3,291.6 Miles, but this doesn’t include the initial flight from Manchester to Milan and only includes major towns and cities and not the miles done by foot, local public transport, bikes and other random methods of transport used! The real total will be a fair bit more, but that would be impossible to calculate!
We have stayed in 23 different beds and the most time in one place has been 4 nights in Sarajevo at the Travellers Home Hostel as well as 4 nights in Hi Skopje in Skopje…probably our favourite hostels so far!
It has mostly been great this past few weeks. But discovering how amazing Albania is compared to all the rumours has been a highlight as well as the ferry and waterfall there. Also how eye opening it was in Skopje and the amazing hostel we stayed in there. We even ended up going for a night out with the hostel owners.
Not really many this month, missing Dooku of course and I was upset to miss my Great Uncles funeral at home but I know he wouldn’t have wanted us to come home for it. Getting on a long bus ride to Ohrid with mild hangovers on a hot day with limited provisions was probably the worst day, and that wasn’t our fault really, we had been invited out for “one beer”!! Also seeing how some of the Animals were treated in Albania kind of upset me.
What is next?
We have decided to head off our route and down to Turkey for a couple of weeks. Partly to meet up with a guy from the hostel in Kosovo and also because Shorty’s Dad and Step Mum are moving there and it will give us a chance to chill out on the beach for a week and recharge, as well as catching up with some posts.
After that we will be getting back on track and heading to Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland (hopefully Belarus but the visa situation isn’t great), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. I am not sure we will get through all those in the next month but that is the last section of our Europe trip for now. We still might come back overland though as we want to visit my cousin in Germany too. So I estimate mid July for being back home.
Keep in the loop!
If you want more regular updates be sure to check out our facebook page: www.facebook.com/Hilditchshortexplore as we will be uploading photos more often and shorter updates as to where we are. We also update Instagram: www.instagram.com/the_roaming_renegades/ daily too. Keep an eye out in the next few weeks for more detailed posts about the places mentioned here!
Read about our first month here: