Balkans- Conclusion


Blessed Are The Curious- For They Will Always Have Adventures

Kotor, Montenegro: charming, idyllic, picturesque. It was absolutely wonderful to walk around the smaller, quieter, and more relaxed feel of the city. The cobbled streets, small quaint shops, and way of life resembled a storybook! I’ve got this fascination with alleyways- the town square offered more than enough. Our time there was too short. On Sunday morning before leaving for the next country, we needed food for the long, twelve-hour train journey to Serbia. I ventured out alone, into the local market. I am African American, 5 ‘10’, with a two-toned mohawk. Some locals in the smaller cities, such as the one we spent the night before, don’t have televisions and haven’t seen a person of color before. Well, let me tell you, there was quite a commotion. I left them all with lovely smiles and waves.

Serbia! The journey to the country took us through one of the most scenic rails journeys in all of Europe. A mixture of canyons, gorges, and snow-capped mountains provided a stunning backdrop. Our first stop took us to the more laid back, and second-largest city of Novi Sad, and home of the Petrovaradin Fortress. Novi Sad has the largest preserved military base in Europe, is home to the Danube River. The stunning Roman Catholic Cathedral is not to be missed. To put it bluntly, I’m quite surprised by how rude people were in Belgrade! Having come from previous countries with kind, warm-hearted people, I was taken aback. The group collectively agreed this might be the default behavior. It was interesting to hear their side of the atrocities, that took place in Bosnia, and NATO’s bombing of Serbia. Nevertheless, we made the best of it. Serbia has incredibly delicious food!

Macedonia. We spent the longest time here. First stop- Skopje. A city rich in historical culture and Ottoman heritage. There is so much to love about this country and its kind people. I knew I was going to love this city, the moment we walked up to our hotel steps, and a group of young folks greeted us with warm, wide and inviting smiles! Welcome to Skopje!! The birthplace of Mother Teresa! We toured the small chapel where she was baptized, receive her first communion, and God revealed her life’s mission. On display are some of her last writings, copy of the Nobel Peace Prize Diploma, etc. Skopje is saturated with statues! The main square boasts one of Alexander the Great, riding into the city. The street fighters, aka dogs, customarily run after bikes, mopeds, cars… anything with engines, and cause quite a ruckus. Other POI’s are the archeological museum, old train station- the hands of the clock still at time the earthquake hit.

In Northern Macedonia, we stayed in Bitola; boasts a relaxed coffee culture, that is popular in Europe. This ancient city of Heracles, named after the Greek god, Heracles, dating back to the 4th century BC. Archeologists discovered it in the 1930s. Heracles was built by the father of Alexander the Great. It was a once prosperous city; the ruins were excellent, the amphitheater, once used for gladiator fighting is impressive, and of course some amazingly preserved mosaic floors. The 1km long” BSeen” is the most famous street in Macedonia. One of the most beautiful church interiors I have ever seen is at the 170-year-old St Demetrius Church. It takes your breath away

A scenic drive through the beautiful Galicica National Park brought us to stunning Lake Ohrid-one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes. Saint Naum Monastery, built in the 900’s, with the original artwork still in place, is the most photographed place in Macedonia. the surrounding it took my breath away. A highlight of this visit was an afternoon boat ride on the lake; enabling visitors to soak in historical settlements reported to be some 3000 years old. The architecture is captivating, as is the culture. We roamed around the city built by Phillip the First, the Father of Alexander the Great, and the home of the Cyrillic alphabet. No visit to Lake Ohrid is complete, without the view of the sun setting over its expanse.

Kosovo. We traveled through Monrovia National Park, as we made our way to our seventh and final country, making several stops along the way. We roamed around the grounds of the thousand-year-old St John The Baptist Monastery, saw pieces of the cross, on which Jesus was crucified, a small piece of John the Baptist’s rib, and was in for a treat, as we witnessed a Muslim wedding. By the time we arrived in Kosovo, everyone was knackered. There is a huge Bill Clinton statue in the center, along with a Hillary Clinton dress shop. For some time, Bill and Hillary were popular names given to children at birth.

The US Army base is one of the largest and most well-paid employers in the country. Kosovo is the poorest of the Former Yugoslavia nations, with unemployment at over 30%. Immigration to countries such as Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland remain high. Our hotel was five stars… go figure, the poorest country, offering the best accommodation on this trip. While clearing through customs, the immigration officer chatted me up, wanting to know about my experience. His parting words were “You’ll always have a home here”

I had a glorious time in the Balkans, with the exception of Serbia. The majority of the group shared the same opinion. Two months later, countless photos remind me of how blessed I am, to have had this magical adventure. For the first time, I am able to say I ate breakfast in Bosnia, had lunch in Croatia, and dinner in Montenegro. Travel is fatal to ignorance, bigotry, prejudice and narrow mindedness, sometimes it’s the journey, not the arrival that matters, and adventure is always, always worthwhile.

Enjoy your next one!

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

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