We have now truly exited the Balkans. We said goodbye to this wonderful part of the world, but not for forever cause im sure we will be back.
Not only did the many many beehives show me there is a lot to learn here, but also did the very very expensive cars in rural and poorer areas trigger my interest to dive into life in the Balkans a bit deeper. We met the kindest of people here, ate various types of börek and were offered and drank way to many types of raki.
The Balkans are usually characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia—with all or part of each of those countries located within the peninsula. The word Balkan is Turkish and means “mountain,” and the peninsula is certainly dominated by this type of landform, especially in the west. The Balkan Mountains lie east-west across Bulgaria, the Rhodope Mountains extend along the Greek-Bulgarian border, and the Dinaric range extends down the Adriatic coast to Albania.
While driving around we saw not only many little shrines but also lots of memorial stones of people who passed. However, if we would place a memorial stone of every roadkill, especially hedgehogs and snakes, it would be a memorial guardrail. Luckily we also saw a lot of turtles on the road, alive still. Made us think of the impact we make with our roads and other manmade structures. Even in the Balkans where there is still more nature than tarmac luckily.
Another thing that didn’t escape our eyes were the many police checkpoints. We were only stopped two times, probably because we are foreigners and we cant drive that fast. Many police checkpoints and many different gasoline stations. Lots of different brands, even in tiny towns. Especially in Bayran Curri – North Albania one could choose from the many many gasoline stations.
Ethnic diversity is one of the Balkan region’s most characteristic social and political features. The most numerous of the groups is the South Slavs, who form the majority of the population in Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. The Bulgarians, North Macedonians, and Slovenes speak their own Slavic languages, while the Slavs of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro all speak dialects of Serbo-Croatian.
As we are on the road to China, about 10.000kms further, we couldn’t stay for too long in every place. If we had the time we would and I’m sure we would taste every type of wine there is, cause there are many. We would explore more of the incredible mountains and tropical beaches, taste even more types of raki and submerge ourselves into the culture by visiting the smallest villages.
Of course we’ve also seen so much rubbish one can barely see the beauty of the place through it. It transforms nature into a huge ass bin and instead of protecting the last pieces of nature and cleaning it people add their rubbish to it as if it doesnt matter. “Its part of our culture, when we bbq we do not take our rubbish with us, it’s what we do” a girl from Serbia told is giggling. I didn’t find it laughable but that’s me, a privileged woman from Holland who’s parents taught her to pick up her rubbish and dispose of it in the appropriate waste bins.
After a one and a half month in the Balkans one doesn’t understand the Balkans, one hasn’t seen all of the Balkans but one gets an idea. The idea of certainly going back and exploring more of this gem.
We now travel to our last European country on this journey: Greece. A country with an inspired history. From the Gods of old mythology to legends like Alexander the Great (alright he’s Macedonian) and Leonidas. Oh and lets not forget the explorers like Homer (also famous poet) and Herodotos or the philosophers Socrates, Aristotles and Plato.
Lets dive into yet another interesting and beautiful part of the world. For a short while though because Turkey is giving us the (non sexual) glad eye 😉
The country of the black mountains, if it’s name was rightly chosen. We would find out soon enough.
Crossing the border
Dubrovnik was our last stop in Croatia, and it was a good one. Save the best for last right? A new country also means a new border crossing. And with that some excitement. Where once we travelled as true privileged Dutchies not being afraid we would be rejected, the world has changed. Every border crossing can be a possible refusal to enter a country. Would it be this one?
“Where are you going?” Is always the first question asked. “To China” is always our answer. We get their attention, then they ask us where we are going after Montenegro. The man did not ask for a PCR test, Covid-19 wasn’t even mentioned. He did ask for our insurance papers, which we have on our phone, not in paper.
To enter countries you need a valid car insurance. In The Netherlands you get the so-called green card of your insurance. This green card is valid in a lot of countries, but not all. Albania for example, is one country where our insurance isn’t valid. Georgia another one and so on. Most countries in Europe are covered.
Anyway, this man didn’t accept our on the phone insurance papers so we had to buy one. Luckily not that expensive – 15 Euro’s. Why we have the insurance papers on the phone? Just because I forgot them at home 😉 Yep, one forgets things.
So, after buying the insurance papers we drove on into Montenegro.
Our first stop
Our first stop would be a historical and cute city; Kotor. More of a town or village but so so nice. Kotor is a walled city, another walled city and we aren’t getting enough of them yet. From tiny streets to beautiful squares with lots of terraces. Yes, it’s very touristy but that’s for a reason. The terraces are quiet as the town might be touristy, the tourists are still at home due to the pandemic.
However, it is our first stop, just not one for the night. We have fixed our eyes on Lake Skadar. It’s the biggest lake of Montenegro and borders with Albania. The lake is famous for it’s wildlife, especially birds like the European pelican.
After an insanely steep but wonderful road – which was easily handled by Miss T – we arrive at a small village located at the start of the lake. Immediately a man, Marko we soon found out, waves at us and tells us we can sleep closely to his hotel, have a free shower and breakfast in the morning and free WIFI. We feel like fish, but we bite. Soon enough Marko asks us if we want to take a boat trip on the lake the next day. Only EUR.25,- per person. What we get is one and a half hour tour on the lake by an experienced captain of course. We take his bate and book our boat trip. Up to know we have only done one very touristy activity which was our gondola tour in Venice.
Anyway, we decide to have diner at Marko and I eat the very traditional cod with Dalmatian stew (potatoes with spinach). A glass of wine we get for free. Marko tells us all about the hotel which was built by his father and about the diverse wildlife of Lake Skadar. He also gives us some local insights about the best roads and of course the well known horseshoe bend.
The next day we have the boat trip, a fun but not incredibly interesting tour on the lake. We do see the European pelican and some other birds, even some fish and a typical fishing village which is apparently interesting. Other than that we see a Turkish fort, have a view on the incredible mountains surrounding the lake and spend some time on the water which is always fun. I even get to steak the boat for a while.
The horseshoe bend
Right after the boat trip we pack our stuff and continue our route. That’s the great thing of traveling with a van. You are free to roam whenever you want to. Want to stay in a place? You can. Want to explore another part or spot? Go for it.
The road to the horseshoe bend is quite nice. In the morning we get to see the mountains from the lake and now we turned it around; seeing the lake from the mountains. Following the river on serpent roads we drive from viewpoint to viewpoint until we reach what we believe is the horseshoe bend. I’m a little bit disappointed, this didn’t look at all like the photo Marko showed us. Luckily for us we were at the wrong spot. After more serpent roads, beautiful scenery and lots of beehives we arrive at the famous horseshoe bend. The weather decides to turn and so does our plan to continue north. We stay here for the night, at the horseshoe bend.
Our plan is to visit a gorge up North, but not before visiting a monastery on the way there. And not just a monastery, it’s the Ostrog monastery, an orthodox monastery built in the rocks of a mountain range. The road to the monastery isn’t that interesting, the climb up (most people drive up but we decided to hike up) up neither and the monastery itself? Well, the paintings inside are nice, but the rest of the building is quite normal. There are some small rooms with paintings of the bestseller of all times but that’s about it. Orthodox priests can kiss your head, if you want. We didn’t want that. Not only because we aren’t religious but also because everyone here gives hands, hugs and get kissed on the head. Not entirely corona proof and we don’t want to end up in a hospital because we were corona careless.
When we arrive at the van a young fellow walks up to us. His name is Branko and he is very interested in the van. He has a T3 and T1 himself and works at a garage. The love for Volkswagen vans is contagious, we exchange numbers and promised to have a beer sooner or later. He lives at the coast near the Albanian border and we are heading the opposite direction. Also, we are planning on traveling to Kosovo and from there to Albania. But maybe we can make a detour when we are near the Albanian coast.
From Ostrog monastery we head north to the gorge. But as soon as we leave the monastery behind I find a national park that apparently is amazing, so we instead head there. The Durmitor NP is located in the Montenegrin Alps. And soon we drive with snow covered peaks in front of us. Up, up, up we go and then down down down again and up up up again. From valley to valley and mountain to mountain. From stone and dry areas to lush and green ones. Until we ourselves drive with snow on both sides of the road. I’m thinking “oh no, again?” We don’t mind snow, but it also means cold nights and probably cold mornings too. But as soon as we arrive at Zabljak we are surrounded by beautiful green trees.
Zabljak used to be a place where migrants met, exchanged their goods, gave their horses some food and take a rest. Now it’s a ski resort and probably summer holiday place where people come to hike the peaks of the Durmitor NP.
We arrive at the only campsite in the area and find out it’s not that cold at all. Or is it the schnapps were getting from the family? Could be because as soon as the sun is behind the clouds an ice cold wind arrives instead.
After a very cold night (-3) we wake up, the sun is shining and heading out to walk around the black lake. We did not see black mountains yet but we did see the black lake. also not that black but beautiful blue. We hike around the lake while the snow beneath our feet creeks and sometimes just disappears. We walk on top of waterfalls and below high steep cliffs. It’s beautiful but also a bit scary. I really don’t like water and the idea of going through the snow into the ice cold water isn’t something I particularly like.
We ended the hike with a beer, very good lunch and a visit to the town. After arriving back at our campsite we had diner, slept very good and were ready for another adventure.
Going to Kosovo
Our plan for the day was going to the famous Tari gorge and bridge. The bridge wasn’t very spectacular, the gorge quite nice but Alexia decided it was the right time to make a strange sound. Strange enough to check, nothing wrong, it’s not the engine but looks like something at the right back wheel. Plans change and instead of Kosovo we headed South, to Branko who we met at the Ostrog monastery.
The next day we arrived at Branko’s garage. We were right, the wheel bearing wasn’t going to hold on for too long. The rubber was almost broken which meant water would get into the bearing and it would eventually break. So, we changed the bearing and all the rubbers that didn’t look that good. Branko was also kind enough to check other things like the engine. He has knowledge of our van which isn’t often the case. She’s an oldie, many mechanics have knowledge of the newer cars. Everything that needed to be fixed got fixed and after a very nice midday with in the end lots of alcohol we hit the road again.
Montenegro is a special place, with incredibly kind people, amazing landscapes and delicious foods and strong drinks. We fell in love especially with the bread and the humanity of the people. It was a spectacular week but we have to move on… Albania will be our next destination. The eleventh country on our trip, 10th country with red in the flag and second country outside the European Union.
Love, Milene & Yuri
Hi there! We are Milene & Yuri. We are travelling the world together since 2015. Our endless curiosity and will to explore has resulted in many cool, and somewhat extreme, adventures. On MYgrations you'll read all about our adventures, you'll find lots of information about the countries we visit you won't find anywhere else and more. Enjoy!
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