Monday, September 3, 2012

Balkans... Part 1

As sad as it is, I have never known what the Balkan countries were or where they were located. Now that I have traveled through a few of them, I finally have an idea! 

In case you're confused too, the Balkan Peninsula is an area of southeastern Europe surrounded by the Adriatic, Mediterranean, Marmara and Black Seas. The countries included are: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. By the end of next week I will have visited 7 of the 11 Balkan countries, kind of by accident! 

In order to get "back" to Italy from Turkey, I have taken a long route... bussing it from Istanbul to Bulgaria, through Macedonia and ending up in southern Albania. 

This week I will again be on buses heading toward Montenegro, then up to Dubrovnik, cutting over into Bosnia and then re-emerging in northern Croatia where I will either take a train/bus through Slovenia and back into Italy or ferry back across the Adriatic. WOAH!

So in addition to my food adventures, I thought I'd post some nice photos of what I have "accidentally" experienced and seen in this special part of the world. Enjoy the trip! 


 Local craftswoman selling her woven wears. It felt very traditional "eastern european" in this old town where the traditional is trying to meet alpine chic ski town.

 Common sight

 Enjoyed a lovely Bulgarian beer and some jazz at an outdoor festival

 The best part about the southwestern part of Bulgaria are the Pirin Mountains, just outside of Bansko!

 I loved my hike!

 Met up with some great people and hiked up to Lake Muratovo

 Met some Bulgarian hikers who invited us to their lunch, complete with freshly picked and prepared hot tea made with local wild blueberries, and while thyme!

 I loved it here!

 Bulgaria is an untouched area, especially for Americans. It has beautiful nature and is very economical! Apparently they have great skiing in the winter too!

 Our delicious 2nd lunch, after the hike! Traditional Bulgarian Chicken Soup, Fries with Bulgarian cheese, a paste of roasted red peppers and tomatoes, and a platter with roasted green peppers, tomatoes, cheese and onions... SUPER YUM!

 Bulgaria has many mineral and thermal baths. Here I am in Dobrinishte getting ready to take a private hot mineral bath. I came out feeling refreshed and pain-free! :) 

 The Cyrillic writing was very difficult for me. I couldn't read signs, or speak. I still managed! I am really getting good at speaking "Gesture"!


 Very clear, right? 

 Typical bus in Bulgaria. As long as it still runs, no need to get rid of it!

 Took the ski lift up and encountered some rain! 

 Determined to hik the 7 lakes! Rain was in and out. I was dressed in 4 layers and had a hat, buff and poncho and was still cold sometimes!

Lake 4

Beautiful in the mist but supposedly spectacular in the sunshine!

 Lake 5

 This is the view from the top of Lake 7. Didn't get to see much other than the cool rock formations and the person running up the hill in the mist!

 A quick spot of sunshine! Despite the rain, it was still beautiful!


 Outside the oldest church still in use. This one dates back to 4-6 BC!

 Loved this menu from a restaurant called KEVA. If you're in Sofia, go here to eat! They have great Bulgarian food. And, as written here on the menu, if you don't know what something is, you can ask your server but better to just Google it! The WIFI in Bulgaria is the BEST I have experienced in any country so it's easy to define the menu online right from your table! 

 Took the Sofia Free Walking Tour and saw this colorful building. Just liked the shot. 

 The Lion or "Lev" in Bulgarian, the symbol of the city of Sofia. Bulgarian currency is also called Lev.

 Alexander Nevsky Church

 Really a beautiful church- the main one in Sofia!

 Sofia actually has a beautiful and large Jewish synagogue and I was thrilled to go in!

 Apparently Bulgaria was very helpful to the Jews during WWII - they did their best to stall the Nazis from capturing their citizens and were successful in protecting many of them.


 Took the bus from Sofia, Bulgaria to Skopje, Macedonia and this was the first official rest stop/snack stop we were taken to in Macedonia. 

 Macedonia is very beautiful! Mountains and lush in parts, lots of agriculture in others with rolling hills. There is a lot of land here and only 2 million people in the entire country so it feels very wild!


This fountain is in the center of Skopje and is one of the main attractions

More lions!

A delicious dinner in Skopje- this is pork stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon and then grilled! Apparently this is a very popular dish here in Macedonia as it was on most of the menus. YUM!

French Fries covered in CHEESE!

I just love the Macedonian flag! This is flying at the top of the castle in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia.

 Old town Skopje. This apartment is currently occupied.

Streets of the market area.

 Macedonians love their salads and I LOVE that they love salads!! I was so happy!


Lake Ohrid is an ancient lake, created nearly 3 million years ago!

The lake is 2/3 in Macedonia and 1/3 in Albania. 

 Enjoying a glass of rose wine at sunset on the lake! This was spectacular. Macedonia actually has some nice wines!

 This was my favorite spot on the lake!

St. Sofia Church

 Just enjoying a good day! My hair has gotten much lighter with all the sunshine I have gotten.

 Making a wish in front of the Taurus "sign" on the lake

 The Monastery at Lake Ohrid

 Streets in Ohrid

Beautiful Ohrid

Lake Ohrid was the highlight of my time in Macedonia. I would definitely come back here and spend more time!


My first sight of the fields and hills in Albania- covered in corn!

"Lavazho" means Car Wash. This is the first Albanian word I learned because they are located on every corner and in spaces in between. Albanians are obsessed with washing their cars!

A walkway into an apartment in Saranda, Albania.

My beach. This is where I spent a few hours each day while volunteering at the Hairy Lemon Hostel in Saranda, Albania. 

Many bunkers dot the landscape of Albania

Garbage cans overflowing with trash. There is a lot of trash in this country and it is sad because the landscape is so beautiful. 

 Ksamil Islands

Four islands make up Ksamil and you can swim to each of them!

The coastline of southern Albania with the Greek island of Corfu on the right

 Looking down into the Blue Eye Spring. 

 This spring is at least 50 meters deep (but exact measurements are uncertain) and is 10 C! I jumped from the platform and it was shockingly cold when I splashed in! Fun!!

 Beautiful Blue Eye Spring

 Sunset in Saranda