23 August 2012

The Big Balkan Trip. Croatia

Through Croatia we planned to rush through without stopping. The expected amounts of tourists and for this purpose prepared prices were scaring us off more than effectively.
We were extremely tired, a bit disappointed with speed of traveling and our hitch-hike luck reserve looked like draining.
But on the ride to Zagreb we received a message from a traveling couple of friends, which we're about to meet "somewhere in Balkans". They were asking if maybe we're somewhere around Zagreb, so we could meet there.
So we stayed on one of most inhospitable squat I've ever seen, walked through totally not interesting, average Austria-Hungarian city, but had a lovely time with friends.

Sorry Zagreb, you won't steal my heart.

But on the way there our driver shared with us his anti-system, life-reclaiming sustainable farming plans and showed us one of the beautiful places on my heart map.
A little town near Zagreb, little, warm and clear river with small waterfalls and deep ponds made out of limestones. Half an hour of swimming and jumping and one lost ear flesh-tunnel, but I'll remember it forever.

The travel back was just a chain of ridiculous long waiting near Linz, AU (9 hours with a sore throat and slight fever spent on a gas station), nice or annoying people and endless Deutsche Bahn ride in regional trains.

Even after few days I was waking up with a feeling, that I have to plan the way for today, forgetting I'm back home.

But Balkans rule. Not so surprising because of the knowledge I already had but charming, involving and totally my cup of tea.

22 August 2012

The Big Balkan Trip. Bosnia and Hercegovina

Bosnia and Hercegovina was one of our brightest points.
Arriving to Sarajevo at 4 am, spent 2 days of walking and enjoying, even finding city tour for free with the oddest guide one can imagine. I loved the mood of big city, where you can get lost, city center full of little shops, atmosphere of multi-cultural tolerating each other, but without too much of enthusiasm between Muslims, Orthodox and Catholics. You could still feel the shadow of war and siege, which become somehow one of the tourist attractions. But the city is full of life, colorful in the center and Yugo-grey everywhere else around and friendly.

Lovely summer evenings, creepy Sarejevo roses, an amazing contemporary art museum, endless searching for a džezva, nice Couch Surfing meeting, lots of krompiruša.
And the greatest stolen ride on a tram in history. Controllers were very polite and tried to suggest us bribing, but then if it didn't work out, tried to convince us that we won't be able to leave the country on the border if we don't pay.

Later on Mostar, jumping into cold as hell Neretva and then dreaming of jumping there from The Bridge. Mostar, when it comes to buildings from before the war, has wonderful town center, by courtesy of UNESCO. Some other buildings are renewed by courtesy of private or half private Muslim money. The rest is almost debris.
But when you look between the tourists, local people try to live their own, normal life. Like everywhere after the war.

The border officer didn't even took our passports in her hand. Looks like Bosnian computer system anti-public transport thefts has some defects.

21 August 2012

The Big Balkan Trip. Through-Albania to Montenegro

When we left Kosovo, we were quite lucky, because we managed to survive the small water supplies and terrible heat and to drive through 3 countries in one day.

And Albania was one country, which we passed through not stopping more than for half an hour altogether. Once for a coffee in a side-road restaurant for drivers, where people looked at my tattoos and dreads as I'd come from another planet, but still friendly.
And second time on terrible crossroads in some industrial area, where two kids tried to beg money from us quite aggressively and one of them was holding alive rabbit by his ears and waving him around like he'd be already dead. That was it.

We were rescued by two Albanians who were living in UK for last 15 years and heard some short stories about the country. Except that we saw mountains, lakes and rivers impossibly beautiful, all from a truck window, kilometers below, impossible to reach. The evening we were already in Montenegro.

Montenegro was actually our main destination, we planned to rest there and collect energy for the last of the tour up north.

It's even hard to tell what was the biggest disappointment. Hitch hiking went somehow worse than before (although it was not really fluent from the beginning), we spent hours walking or waiting in boiling, 40 degrees heat and found all possible tourists overflowing almost every town at the coast raising prices to ridiculous level.

As a reward we found lovely, small, ex-Yugo old school camp right at the sea. We basked in the sea, diving, swimming, sun bathing, fruits and vegan dough-nuts for whole two days.

Next on the map was Bosnia.

20 August 2012

The Big Balkan Trip. Kosovo

Kosovo was a place, where we didn't plan to go in the beginning. But after hearing "Don't go there, there's nothing to see/it's boring/it's dangerous" for the twentieth time, as an answer to our question "Is it good idea to go to Kosovo?".. we had to go. Just to be sure.

Hitch hiking was average, buses cheap, food surprisingly more expensive than in Serbia and totally vegan - unfriendly (including weird, egg-whey smelling bread). The land is beautiful, but amount of unfinished houses, car washes, NATO-wire in most unexpected places (like for example LKW parking lot), Bill Clinton cult (they even have his monument in Prishtina) and construction sites was surprising.

And melons. No surprise.

Prishtina, the capitol city was a one big construction site as well. Prizren with beautiful river and all kinds of temples, with houses streaming down from the mountains looked stunning at night and a bit sad in burning daylight.
Although Serbian empire still didn't recognize Kosovo as independent, the feeling of self content about having their own country you can feel on every corner.

The Big Balkan Trip. Belgrade and more of Serbia

Belgrade welcomed us with enormous, grey blocks on it's outskirts. It was about to stay overwhelming and fascinating grey, dusty and hot during the daytime. Excep that it's noisy, crowded and busy, with millions of tiny streets going in different directions, huge buildings full of air conditioning boxes sticking out and an impression of being in Metropolis, a science-fiction movie from 1927.
At night it looked different, more friendly and way more peaceful, the viewpoint from the fortress on Danube and moon-rise was a good ending of a day.
One other amazing thing was the Bigz building, an impossibly huge, 10 floored, mostly empty. Once owned by a publishing house, after fall of Yugoslavia abandoned, but then reclaimed and now still rented for small businesses, clubs and initiatives.
One vegetarian bar with a piano hanging out from the ceiling.
No flying cars or other weird vehicles.

And then came the way down south with nice drivers we spoke *Slavic* with, through little towns, one could pass through in half an hour, seeing obituaries hanging on a bus stop and empty grassy plateaus we wished to camp at. But then we caught a ride and left Serbia for Kosovo we were so much adviced against, to not be able to come back this direction because of the Serbian-Kosovo border policy.

The Big Balkan Trip. Novi Sad, Serbia

The Trip began quite unexpectedly, because we caught a ride from some forgotten gas station near Brno straight to the Serbian border. We crossed a border on foot, watched a sunrise and had a coffee on the back of the gas station and watched huge Muslim family having huge breakfast.

In few hours we were already in Novi Sad and watched all the wonders of ex Yugoslavia for the first time.
From cars with old, Yugo-plates, whole streets full of old, falling apart buildings just a few meters away from new and shiny buildings, dozens of cats, Cyrillic writings in this lovely, funny language, we somehow more or less understood.

Through discovering new, local vegan food, accidentally finding a wonderful bike-cafe and getting to know lovely people. And the impression of microcosm hidden in the little, pastel-co loured, calm streets as well as the conscience of going through the hometown of a friend of mine, knowing it only from her stories.
And the first contact with the heat, which was still pretty mild as it was supposed to turn out.
Lots of positive energy and a long train ride to Belgrade.