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

Welcome to Croatia!

Welcome to Croatia!

It’s our goal to have coffee at the most beautiful places and I’m sure this will be one of the best during our trip. Alone at lake Bohinj with cristal clear water and an immense reflection in the water while some ducks came to check out if we would share our breakfast. We didn’t. Our food isn’t good for animals even though they crave for it. But oh my was this a magical moment. We took our time to really enjoy the moment, inhale so we would remember this. 

It’s one of those things that’s a little hard when traveling like this. We see so many places, experience so many things, explore many locations that you tend to forget those moments. That’s why we try to remind ourselves at these moments to really enjoy it, take it in and remember the feeling they give us. Which we did. But, when the clouds came and the coldness returned in our bones we decided it was enough.

Covid-19 makes traveling a bit more adventurous but at some places it also makes it a lot more boring. When it’s cold, nothing is open therefore not much to do, it get’s quite boring. So, Slovenia we will be back when it’s warmer. 

After two hours we arrived at the border into Croatia. To our surprise there was a lot of barbed wire at the border. Apparently Slovenia is tired of being a transit country to refugees. For us transiting the country it’s not a problem, but when you are fleeing a war zone or oppression you are not allowed to enter. So they are fencing their borders with Croatia once again. A horrible sight and it made us a tat nervous. Not too much though because there is something we have that makes us very privileged travellers and that is our Dutch passport. 

When we got at the border we were stopped by the police asking us for our passport and where we are going. “To China!” We answered. They always look a bit strange when we tell them we are on our way to China. But often it makes for a nice conversation or a laugh. This time as well. It took a while for him to check the car (she is old so has an old license plate by which you do not know where she is from). After a couple of minutes we were allowed to enter Croatia. Oh and nothing about Covid-19. 

Soon we found out that in Croatia everything is open; bars and restaurants. Well the terraces are open. Good enough for us. We drove all the way to Plitvice National Park, through amazing forests. What we found interesting is that everywhere you drive you see these holes in the landscape around you. No idea what they’ve been. Maybe some air or gas, or a prolapse, I don’t know but it looked interesting. 

After another 3 hours we arrived at a campsite, checked in and had our first diner in a restaurant since Appenzell, Switzerland. Wow, that seems like so long ago! 

We went to bed early cause the next day we would visit the famous Plitvice waterfalls. The waterfalls are amazing but because winter is still here half of the waterfall is closed. Unfortunately for us that’s the most beautiful part of the park. But, we still got to see the beauty of the place. One more night near the waterfalls and we are really done with the cold. So South we go.

Our destination is Zadar, while on the way we stop at a cave. Before entering the cave we have lunch in the nearby village. More like a ghost town. It’s like one of those towns where people are born, never leave and know only that. Where the men start drinking at 12 and the women work in the local supermarket. These kind of towns always have a strange impact on me. But, I must say that we had a nice coffee here, at a local bar through which windows you can’t look and even though it’s not allowed a group of friends is drinking and smoking inside. We also had a nice sandwich which was made inside the supermarket by one of those women from town working there.

Back to the cave! The cave is 345.8 meters long and 35 meters high. Sounds like big but we soon find out there are caves in Croatia of 13km’s and some are nowadays even combined to a length of 50 something kilometers! Very nice. What’s also nice is that it’s 8 degrees inside which is warmer than outside. After 1.5 hour walking through the cave hearing Croatian jokes and interesting information on cave colors, forms and history we are truly heading south. 

Finally warmth; 13 degrees, sea and an amazing sunset! 

Love, Milene & Yuri

Transit through Slovenia

Transit through Slovenia

While the sun made way for clouds the highways changes into a small road. The change of roads reveal the border is near. We get off the main road, enter a village, drive up a hill and there it is ‘Welcome to Slovenia’. Suddenly we are in Slovenia and when we get to the other side of the hill a new highway is visible. 

We drive towards the North, Bled will be our destination for today. Unfortunately for us the raindrops turn into snow flakes and if we wouldn’t notice this our feet would tell us. I’m sure my toes turned blue because oh my is it cold in the van. Every time we are cold we wonder why we haven’t fixed the heater. Probably it’s because we thought we would drive towards summer now winter. 

After one and a half hour we finally arrive in Bled. Bled is a very famous lake of Slovenia and near the border with Austria. On a hill a castle is visible and on a small island in the middle of the lake is a church with some houses. The town itself isn’t that interesting. I guess in the summer when Covid-19 didn’t exist it must have been great to be here but now… Shops are closed, it’s cold, people are nowhere to be seen. It kind of feels like a ghost town. We drive around the lake and back into Bled to find ourselves some food. Yuri sees a pizza delivery car and we decide to follow it, soon we find ourselves near an ice sporthal and at the pizzeria ordering beers and pizza. We ignore the strange looks and the parking machine and eat the pizza in the van.

Our stomachs are full, our bodies a bit warmer and it’s time to find ourselves a spot to stay for the night. We found a nice parkinglot at a hotel. Normally one is not allowed to stay in the parking area of a hotel but the hotels are closed so who cares, right?

Well, the next day when the workers of the hotel arrived we were kindly asked to leave 😉 

My mum told us about Bohinj lake, a place where she stayed with her parents, my grandparents. But, before we would visit the lake we decided to have a hike.. or two. We hiked near a gorge and to a wonderful waterfall. In Slovenia almost everything is closed and they hope to reopen in June. Unfortunately for us that also means that gorges and waterfalls are closed. Really? Yep, to maintain the pathways they request a small entrance fee. But without tourists there is no reason to have these places open so everything is closed. Luckily we often find ways around it and sometimes it’s good to ignore some signs. Sorry, but if you only follow rules and regulations your life’s going to be decided by governments and not by yourself. We live our own life’s so we sometimes listen and sometimes we don’t 🙂 

Finally we went to Bohinj lake and wow! Where Bled is definitely a tourist destination Bohinj is more natural. Yes, it’s also a place where lots of tourists go to but there is more nature around it. It feels a bit more unspoiled and inhabited than Bled. It is beautiful and we actually saw some dear at the lake and about thousands mice. They are everywhere here. Like the owls and birds left and the mice took over. 

We found a nice spot to stay for the night, at a waterfall and even though it was -8 degrees we were warm and cosy in the van (thermo underwear and layers helps). It’s probably the coldest night we have experienced up to now but this time we were prepared. 

Love, Milene & Yuri