Impressions of the Balkans

Impressions of the Balkans

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 😉

Love, Milene & Yuri

Oh oh Macedonia

Oh oh Macedonia

It’s been a while now since we arrived in Macedonia. It feels like we’ve put our journey on pause for a little while. Enjoying our time at Miss, my friend, who owns a beautiful guesthouse at Lake Ohrid. 

Having a break

And even though we do go out for hikes, exploring bits of the area and inhale vitamine D it also feels like a break. A break from being on the road, exploring new parts of the world and meeting friendly strangers. And that is ok. Although I must say that the travel bug did bit me a couple of times. For now I just keep scratching and ignoring the zooming sound cause taking a break also means that we can work a little bit.

And so we did. Lake Ohrid is, according to the locals, not only one of the oldest lakes in the world it is also the third deepest lake on the planet. Only Baikal and Lake Titicaca are deeper. It seemed a bit questionable and after a in-depth search online I find out that it’s about the 24th deepest lake. Not that it really matters because I would never see the bottom at the deepest part of any lake anyway but if you like fun facts that’s one 😁

Ohrid Trout, a specialty

A specialty from Lake Ohrid is the Ohrid trout and even though it is not allowed to fish Trout you can still find it on the menu. How? Let me explain. Lake Ohrid is located at the border between Macedonia and Albania. Macedonia is forbidding the trout fishing but Albania is still allowing it. However, the trout you find in the restaurants is Ohrid Trout from the fish farms. So they farm trout to serve us. After watching Seaspiracy (highly recommended documentary) I’m not sure if what I read and hear is true. We did eat the Ohrid trout and it was delicious. But that was before watching the documentary. Now I’m not sure if I should ever eat fish again. However, I had the same feeling after cowspiracy and I still eat beef, though very very little. 

Back to Macedonia! We’ve had amazing foods in this land, often meat (pork!!) but also vegetarian food. At Mises place we join in the diners and have very varied types of food. We also drink raki at lunch time which is a custom and good Macedonian wine at diner time. Mise owns a guesthouse; Robinson Sunset House and its an amazing place. View on the lake, surrounded by many trees and wonderful company. There are some volunteers working here of whom two are Argentinians. Made me realise I want to go back to Argentina soooon! 

The summit of mount Magaro

We’ve hiked to the summit of the mountain Magaro (2,264 m) in the Galicica national park. Had to walk through snow and it was a bit windy and cold on the top. But we made it! A hike of 3 hours in which you climb about 700 meters to the top. From the top you have a magnificent view over the two lakes in the area. It’s a very nice and Dutchable hike 👍🏼

We also went to the famous Naum monastery and visited the springs that fill Lake Ohrid with water. The springs are very nice and crystal clear. We went with Nico – boat no.1 who was the first rowing a boat in this area. 

And of course we visited Ohrid. A big city with a beautiful old town, lots of monasteries and a castle. We hiked all the way up to the castle, had a pizza (what else?) and enjoyed the little streets of the old town. In one day you can see the town and it’s quite nice. Lot’s of restaurants, bars and shops.

But most of all, we relaxed. Enjoyed the sun, had some rain and did our laundry. We managed to work, read and finish some books (Ikigai & De meeste mensen deugen) and watched documentaries. Things that we normally don’t get to do while on the road. Why not? Because you have to enjoy every view you have and changing our views every day means less time for books 😉

Getting back in shape

We also decided to get back in shape. Yuri out on his running shoes and went for some joggings. I took my yoga mat and did some workouts from apps like ‘Workout for Women’ and ‘Asanarebel’. I’m still not into yoga too much but I really enjoy those HIIT workouts. Even had a workout of 45 minutes – totally exhausted afterwards but it felt good. Cause yeah, after eating so much and let’s call it ‘enjoying life’ it also means we have to get a move on. We want to return with lots of memories and stories not kilo’s 👍🏼

Even though we haven’t seen that much of Macedonia – only two national parks, two cities and two monasteries -, we do urge everyone to visit it at least once. If you need one reason: food!!! Need two: food & the people and if you need a third reason: it’s beautiful! Very green. Although you need only one reason to visit this country, now you’ve got three. 

Hitting the road again

We are ready to hit the road again, enjoy new views and continue exploring. Going back into Albania because the south is supposed to be a gem, and afterwards travelling through Greece, our last European country ♥️ if you don’t count half of Istanbul as European 😉

Love, Milene & Yuri