I've visited the East Coast of Canada before and so when we decided to winter in Nova Scotia I was pretty excited and knew what we had to look forward to. The surprising treat that came out of the trip East however was the journey around Quebec's Gaspesie Peninsula!
Bartholomew had just unfortunately undergone the great puppy right of passage and had been neutered only days before the trip. Like the trooper he is though he boarded the bus for the 3 day journey.
Enjoy the photos!
Serbia, A reality Check
October 5 to october 10, 2015
Serbia is known for being home to rough people with little humour who drink a shot of rakija for breakfast. What I found when I travelled there though was a country of happy people who are proud of their heritage and very aware of their history. A serious people at times, but also up for a good time, aware the good things in life they have.
I called this post a reality check because this was the first time during my trip that I ran into Syrian refugees travelling North West, looking for a better life. I had heard a lot about their migration but had yet to see actually how they were making their way. I have no photos from the park in Belgrade where a tent city was set up for months, nor of the trains emptying out into the station, full of scared families; I felt it wasn't for me to document. They were their though, just as it had been described by the news. What was different from what I heard though was the response of individual citizens to the migrants. The people of Belgrade happily opened themselves and their country up to the Syrians, they didnt believe in the official policy of their state. To the park that housed most of the refugees in the city people brought food, clothes, water, and even cell phones and wifi daily. The people of Belgrade have known to recently the struggles of conflict and losing a safe place to call home and with that recently in their memory they warmly welcomed and looked after those passing through or attempting to stay.
october 5 to october 8, 2015
Belgrade was an amazing city to visit, both for the look and the feel of it. I did a few separate free walking tours and they each brought a new view to the city and its past. Skadarlija brings a bohemian feel to the city with its outdoor cafes and public space full of ghosts from arts past; and at the same time in the main center of town a modern, commerce feel can be felt.
I was lucky to meet up with a friend I'd met travelling Zanzibar a few years ago, Nemo, who is very successful in the tech start-up world. A city presents itself to you in a completely different way when experiencing it with people who live there and it was through Nemo I was able to find a great hidden bar called Beerville. We were there for trivia night and I would 100% guarantee visiting if you enjoy good beers and low-key pub feel. https://www.facebook.com/beervillebeerbarandstore
Belgrade will keep you busy for a few days, garenteed, and its an easy city to walk around in. I took in a umber of sights here and none disappointed. The old fortress, the Nikola Tesla, the Church of Saint Sava, the Museum of Yugoslavian History....they all live up to their reputation.
While travelling the former Yugoslavian countries you will hear a plethora of views on the events that took place. You will hear that each country was both at fault for the devastation of another and that it was the only one not at fault. Finding a neutral telling of the collapse is impossible; I tried. Here in Serbia though lays Josep Broz Tito, the man who lead Yugoslavia in various roles from 1943 to 1980 and has been mostly agreed to have been an amazing leader. After his death the Yugoslav nation fell and many look back on his years in power as the true golden age for Eastern Europe. He has been credited for uniting the country and pulling it forward with ideas that may have hurt some, but greatly aided the majority. His ideas were based in Socialism and were sometimes referred to as National Communism. Another way one can view his policies is by seeing them as forceful and oppressive... but be sure not to say that too loudly.
The Museum of Yugoslav History is my mind is a must visit location. I visited it while on a $10 walking tour focused on Yugoslav history in Belgrade. The museum overflows with love and adoration for Tito, even including a 15 minute video with a compilation of Tito's best moments.
Lapovo train Station
The Lapovo train station is definetly not somewhere I intended on ending up. My arrival hear was due to a silly mistake and a train system that is way out of date. As an aside I would suggest anyone looking to travel Eastern Europe do not buy a train pass or chose the train over the bus for any route. I heard a great and accurate description of the Serbian trains from another traveller that I think is very suiting: "Its like Italy had a train for 10 years and thought it was too old to run so they sold it to Slovenia, who ran it for another 5 before handing it off to another country that thought it was soon too junky to run so they through it is a lake were it sat soaking and rusty for months before Serbia fished it out." May be a little harsh...but pretty accurate.
So, meaning to go to Novi Sad, I got on a train that left at the right time from the right platform, and found out 2 hours later (11pm) that in fact I was heading the wrong way i would be left at the Lapovo train station. A conductor who spoke very little English said I may be in luck and a train may come at 1:30am back to Belgrade or I may not be in luck and need to wait until 5am. It turns out I was not in luck and I spent my night in something like a horror movie. The station was small, deserted, and decrepit. The trains cars parked in the yard smelt of piss and were filled with sleeping people who may or may not have been planning on taking the train. I didn't know if it was safer to stay hidden in a shadow or in the light of this bare waiting room. I passed a very scary and long night going between station and train cars until 5am when I embarrassing headed back to Belgrade.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA, A WHOLE NEW WORLD
September 23 To 27, 2015
Bosnia and Herzegovina is the poorest country of the former Yugoslavia. My arrival here was like stepping into an entirely different world. The majority of the damage to be in inflicted during the fall of Yugoslavia happened in Bosnia and it has not had the opportunity to recover and store itself after the fighting 2 decades ago. The evidence of this is everywhere. Houses and buildings are still marked with bullet holes and large chunk of the sidewalk and buildings are still missing from bomb blasts. The population here, of any other country during my trip faces a daily reminder of what they survived and what they lost family too.
If you are going to explore other countries like Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro and bask in their beauty I think it is also necessary to experience the contrast by making a stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
September 23 to 24, 2015
Mostar is a cute town which features a small medieval center and the famous 16th century Ottoman bridge, Stari Most. It has a cobblestoned market of souvenirs shops, cafes, gelato stands, and handicrafts, as well as a modern section with a number of significant sights and tales.
September 25 To 26, 2015
Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It as well is still marked by the fighting here and tries to use those markings as an opportunity to remember and teach. For example, the photo above is of a 'blood rose', one of many shelf marks in the sidewalk throughout the city painted red to remind everyone daily of the bloodshed in Bosnia's fight for independence. As well, below are some photos from a museum left destroyed by bullets and bombs, restored only enough to safely allow people to see the damage and view displays.
From a tourist standpoint, the city still is able to offer a fun experience. There is a cute old Ottoman section of town lined with shisha bars, doner stands, and souvenir shops. In hostels you are greeted with a shot of rakija and on walking tours you can hear the tale of Franz Ferdinand and other historical moments you may have not known were based in Bosnia.
September 27, 2015
Travnik is a quaint little town West of Sarajevo. Though it has little to do it is a nice day trip from the capital, taking only an hour and a half by bus. It has more than a dozen mosques dating from the Ottoman period and from the fortress' tower you can try to find them all in the landscape. The fortress was a fun place to spend an hour or so. It has beautiful grounds and views of the surrounding city and mountains; as well, there were artifacts on display and a weaving tutorial. The city has a very somber feel to it that made being their on a cold, cloudy day feel oddly appropriate.
Montenegro, Whats The address?
September 27 to october 4, 2015
Montenegro provided some stunning views and great weather but man, oh man, was it hard to find anything! 'What's the address?' and 'Where are we?' were repeated way too many times while here. This stunning country is on the Adriatic Sea and an overlooked gem in the Balkans. Many people are heading to Croatia right now for waterfront vacations but I could argue you'd find similar experiences for less here. The main thing if you are looking for a beach getaway is to go during the high tourist season because in the off season, towns like Bar were eerily empty.
September 27 to 28, 2015
We had planned on spending more time in Podgorica but, after arrival I realized there really wasn't much for tourists there. We arrived really late at night on the bus and tried to find the hostel we had booked but even with an address, a photo and Google Maps we couldn't find the building! It was insanely frustrating. We had to go to a cafe to get wifi to find another hostel because not many people spoke English or knew where a hostel was. When we did find another one it came with bedbugs and an odd scent.
A few hours the next day on a self-guided tour was all we needed and then we headed straight out. Possibly we just weren't aware of things to do or had just started off on the wrong foot but, even so, I'd recommend it just as a transportation hub.
An article about the protests can be found HERE
September 29 to 30, 2015
A shockingly empty vacation ghost town. Though bustling in the tourism season, in the off season this little slice of beachside paradise was deserted! Wide pedestrian streets made for vendours and strolling bathing suit-clad visitors were virtually bare. Restaurants, bars, hostels, and beachside stands were still open so the visit was still worthwhile, it was just a little eerie to be somewhere obviously designed for more visitors yet be almost alone.
The city center has a more metropolitan feel, though small, and the old town up in the hillside has a much older and cute set-up. I'd recommend walking up to the old town as the climb through residential streets and olive groves was a nice introduction to Montenegro style.
Once again, however, like in Podgorica, we struggled to find our hostel. There were no street names or house numbers and our hostel ended up being in a residential neighbourhood with no sign and it was only by chance we stumbled across it.
Don't miss seeing the oldest olive tree in the world if you get to Bar! Over 2000 years old!
September 30 to october 1, 2015
Kotor was the true highlight of Montenegro for me. The old town within the city walls is fairly large and bustling with a lot of shops, restaurants, and places to stay. The alleys are cute and the buildings well cared for.
The city is arguably situated along the largest fjord in the world and the views from the mountainside fortress are breathtaking! The water is crystal clear and the mountains are seemingly perfect examples of Balkan geography.
Take the long zig-zag trail up the mountainside and enter the fortress from a window at the back. You will want to leave early in the morning before the sun gets to hot and bring a lot of water because the climb is quite long but is totally worth it. One, this avoids you paying entrance fees, but also, Two, there are small homesteads, a church, and a scattering of animals along the way. You can walk down the main route on the steps to the town and get the best of both worlds in a sense.
October 2 to 3, 2015
Perast is a quick ride from Kotor, maybe 40 minutes, by local bus. The town is known for one sight, Our Lady of the Rocks Catholic Church which is located on a small island beside the town. The town itself has a population of less than 400 people so its not that large and has a couple museums and cafes. The walk along the waterfront is a nice, but there's not much more to do there. Definitly a great way to spend an afternoon though and escape the cruise ship crowd.
Croatia, Seaside and Sunshine
September 16 to 23, 2015
We had finally made it, Croatia, the inspiration for our trip. It seemed though, with us, every other young backpacker had made it too. Croatia was preciously a less travelled destination but now seems to be actually a pretty popular place for Europe's backpacking crowd.
I don't blame them in the slightest; in Croatia you can find the cheapness of Eastern Europe with the beauty of a Mediterranean country and the comfort of either a vagabond's hostel or a luxurious resort depending on your preference.
I named this leg of our trip as Seaside and Sunshine because that's what we got along the coast of Croatia and the big draw for tourists in the area. It was actually described by an Eastern European traveller to us as the Italy of the Balkans for its vacationing qualities. Not to mention that many restaurants and stores are also either Italian themed or carry Italian goods… not all authentic of course.
September 16 to 18, 2015
Zagrab was an interesting city in a few ways. We chose to stay fairly far outside of the city and this meant a 45 minute walk into the city centre for exploring. Hidden in the inconvenience was also the ability to explore parts of town not all tourists are necessarily familiar with of course. Plus, by this point in the trip we were already used to walking 6-10 (or even more) hours a day so the walk seemed just like a good warm up for us.
Zagreb has a fairly large city centre and very well built up. There are a lot of major buildings, monuments, and parks to see and the city was planned to house green space and public space in each block almost of the centre. Half of the city centre is known as Gornji Grad (the medieval Upper Town) and the other half, the Lower Town is the more modern part of the city. There is definitely a lot more character in the oldest part and that is where we did our free walking tour to learn more about the history of Croatia. The Lower city though has Zagreb's main square, Ban Jelačić, shops, museums and parks.
The city has a lot of Austro-Hungarian architecture and a rich history; little did we know that the modern men's tie comes from there.
Korenica / Plitvice Lakes National Park
September 19, 2015
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a must see if you are visiting Croatia. It is a bit of a splurge to visit due to accommodation and transportation, however, the scenery there is spectacular. The park is centre around a series stacked lakes that descend gradually and flow into each other like pools of a layered water fountain. The water itself too is crystal clear and beautiful shades of blues, greens, and teals.
To visit this park we chose to stay in Korenica and arrange transportation from the hostel there to the park, this proved a much cheaper option even with the cost of bus fair to Korenica and accommodation in the small town. There are a lot of places that offer a trip here from Zagreb, but most of the those are a rip off and you will end up spending half of your day travelling rather than enjoying the park.
September 20 to 21, 2015
Zadar seemed to me the perfect beachside town to stay in on vacation with some friends. It had a cute old city with a mix of ruins and cute shops. The gelato was plentiful, the pizza was large, and the beer was cheap. There was also a lot to do at night; we stumbled upon a national marbles competition and nightly live music. The city just seemed 'cool' in a way.
One of the neatest things there was the sea organ which is a large organ built into the pier that produces music from the waves and tide of the sea. The mechanisms were hid under the pier so you could walk right over it and sit on the steps leading into the water. The sound was haunting in a way with rather mystical and deep chords selected to be played and which seemed to fill the air around you as you sat and admired the sunsetting in the distance.
September 22 to 23, 2015
Split! The wonderful split! We have actually already decided to return here, possible for my 30th, because it was just the most beautiful and relaxing place one could hope for. The old town was large enough to provide hours of walking exploration, window shopping, and gelato enjoying, and beyond that the waterfront provided breath-taking views. We saw a lot of 'old towns' in our adventure through Europe, but this one was done just right.
There is a great hike starting from right in Split that takes you up a steep hillside….
TURKEY, WHAT A DELIGHT
October 26 to 29, 2015
Istanbul is almost like a magical city, somewhere you never actually believed you'd be able to find. The people of Istanbul seem cultured and deep, the streets have a hum to them, and the history presented at every corner seems almost unreal for its importance.
Turkey was definitly the most 'foreign' country we visited when comparing them with Canada, but unlike other places I've travelled I didn't notice as much. In Istanbul at least, things seemed very accessible and the city very welcoming.
A mix of Ottoman and Byzantine empires; a pagan place of worship, a Christian Orthodox church, a mosque, and now a museum, but always the amazing centre of Istanbul.
The many real delights of Istanbul
Bulgaria, We do what we want
October 23 to 26, 2015
Bulgaria was a fun country to visit. Serbia had the bigger reputation of having a 'tough' population, but in Bulgaria is where we really saw this. The people in Bulgaria seem very confident and proud of themselves and their country. History was presented from a victor's view, and sights were described with great detail and affection. Bulgaria seemed the essence of patriotism. That didn't mean that its stuck in its past by any means, it was actually a very creative and progressive country in regards to its view on the arts, the environment, cultural acceptance, and social equality. It offered a great mix of progressive views and historical pride.
October 23 to 24, 2015
Sofia is the capital city of Bulgaria. Its city-centre is really the highlight, with a busy pedestrian district and some great historical landmarks. The walking tour here was led by a very outspoken young woman and offered some great discussion from herself and the others on the tour. It was here in Sofia we encountered some very strong personalities in our every day dealings; people who really captured the attitude of 'we do what we want.' From the hostel owner who outwardly lied to each person that walked in about room availability and refused seats in the tiny eat-in kitchen in order to discourage loitering, to the money exchange gentleman who mocked unhappy customers and smaller amounts of money. Sofia showed us the true confidence of Bulgarians.
Bulgaria offered a lot of nice surprises and judging from other tourism photos I've seen, it may have in recent years made some great upgrades to itself aesthetically. I'd recommend a stop here for sure.
October 25 to 26, 2015
Plovdiv was a real treat to visit. It has a very funky, young feeling downtown and a quaint and cute old town up on a hill. Its a city that really loves music and the arts and has made the lifestyle of an artist easier for those interested. A street in the downtown offers free rental on storefronts if it will be used by an artist. Also, Plovdiv is very focused on the environment, banning plastic bags and offering the option to recycle or compost everywhere. On the older side of the city, classic Bulgarian buildings can be seen in winding cobblestone streets with statues and paintings fitting in well amongst the colourful houses.
GREECE, WHERE EVERY SALAD IS A GREEK SALAD
october 18 to 22, 2015
Greece is one place I will definitetly have to go back to one day. There was no way in my 60 day trip that'd I be able to see everything in Greece I'd like to see, nor did I have enough money to do so. The little that I was able to see in Greece though was amazing! Thessaloniki and Athens lived up to everything I could hope for. With a country who's history is so well known and so powerful, it was surreal to begin to see places that I had known the name of since a child and to be close to the buildings, history, and mythology that has almost become common knowledge even halfway around the world.
Greece was one of the more expensive countries during this trip, and a bit of a splurge in comparison to the last few countries I'd travelled. Many people believe travelling there right now would be very inexpensive because the economy is struggling but, this is not the case. The tourism prices still remain the same it seems or at least close enough to their previous price that it was hard for me to notice receiving any reduction for hostels, attractions, and restaurants. The struggle could maybe be seen a bit at the grocery store or at small shops, but hardly so.
October 18 to 20, 2015
Thessaloniki is a seaside, port city in Greece with a lot of history. Evidence of the more difficult financial times can be seen here, but sparsely. It has a fairly busy center of town by the water with a great mix of upscale and middle level restaurants, bars and shops. As well, the walk up to the fortress over the city is a fun adventure and offers a great view. Thessaloniki, over Athens, had much more of a mixed history in its looks including many visible signs of Byzantines, Ottomans, and Romans.
October 20 to 22, 2015
At this point in my life I have seen many, many sights and places that are famous, that have arguably changed the world, or that are first, biggest, best, etc. Still, there is something about Athens that makes me feel like none of those other places could hold a candle to this one. It is Ancient Greece. It is the center of Greek Mythology. Its Athens for crying out loud!!
The temple of olympian zeus and the panathenaic stadium
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was a cool place to visit. The sight itself is small but you can walk amongst all the pillars, standing and fallen, and it feels very classically Greek. It was started being built in 174 BCE and wasn't complete for centuries. Its dedicated to the Greek god Zeus.
The Panathenaic Stadium, also known as Kallimarmaro, hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble. In the area that surrounds it there are a number of statues portraying different traditional Olympic events. You can enter the stadium for a fee or see it from outside as we did.
Even the Subway stations in Athens offer a trip to the past
Theatre of Dionysus, The Odeon of Herodes Atticus & The Roman Agora
Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus was built for the god Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. It was built of marble in the 6th century BCE. Surrounding the theatre is a collection of statues that were once apart of it. You can explore the theatre and surrounding area. The Acropolis overlooks the theatre.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus is a large stone theatre built on a southern slope of the Acropolis. It was built in 161 AD and had a capacity of 5000 people.
THe Acropolis of athens
The word Acropolis in Ancient Greek means the highest point, and the Acropolis of Athens appears to be such. It looks out over the city from a rocky hill and contains many buildings of major importance. The most well know of these buildings in the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, for whom the city of Athens is named. The Acropolis of Athens and the Parthenon specifically have endured a lot of destruction over the years including having an Ottoman ammunitions cache kept inside and exploded.
There is evidence the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth century BCE but the major buildings of the Acopolis were built around 495-429 BCE. Other buildings of importance on the hillside include the Propylaia, the Erechtheion, and the Temple of Athena Nike.
Many statues, stones, and more, during Ottoman rule, were sold to the British Museum by Earl Elgin in 1800, the collection is known as the Elgin Marbles and the Greek government is currently trying to get these artifacts back and add them to their already impressive Museum of the Acropolis.
The ancient agora of athens
The Ancient Agora was a center for banking and trade. The word Agora means Meeting or Gathering place and that is exactly what this sight acted at. The area was covered in stoaes, covered walkways, included places for political discussion, and also the mint. It was the center of the city. Much of the sight is now in ruins but with a little imagination, you can walk where many of what we've learnt about in school happened and was decided.
MACEDONIA, GRANDEUR and excess
October 15 to 21, 2015
Macedonia, a country rarely spoken of and full of surprises. I knew nothing of Macedonia (outside what the guidebook said) before arriving there and I still don't know how to describe it. In the capital I saw a grandeur and excess unmatched and on the coast I saw beautiful Byzantine stone work. Yet in the streets I heard tales of poverty and struggle. The Macedonian mask is a thick one I suppose.
October 15 to 19, 2015
Wow, just wow. Skopje is like some sort of adult Disney Land with history and architecture on showcase rather than colourful cartoon characters. It may not be an 'international city' like the mayor hopes, but it certainly is a mix of international cities.
The walking tour guide made some fun comments about the envy the mayor has regarding other cities around the world. He believes, their grandeur comes from the items they are known for rather than the events and their people, so he buys up replicas of major attractions and mixes architectural styles to create a city similar in look to Las Vegas but without the people and attractions to support it. The city is in huge debt from this out of control spending and building.
For an outsider though it was a ton of fun! The city has many museums to enjoy like the Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Mother Teresa Memorial House and more.
The Mother teresa memorial House
Mother Teresa's reputation is a conflicting one and I know some people hold some strong opinions both ways, that she is a saint and that she is far from it. Regardless, without debate, I was excited to be here and found it, although lavish, a great tribute to a historical figure. In the house you can find photos, clothing, a baptismal certificate, and belongings from Mother Teresa's life.
Lastly, as I was leaving the city I thought I'd snap this one last photo. It shows another side to the city out of the center of town. To get to the hostel I walked by these buildings, out of the tourist center, and into a residential neighbourhood with modest homes and obvious poverty. As much as I loved Skopje, I did find it difficult to comprehend how the two parts of the city fit together, how one part could the way it was with the other the complete opposite.
October 19 to 21, 2015
Ohrid was a town I heard about quite a bit while researching the Balkans, an apparent favourite with young people and backpackers. I had a great time there, though admittedly I didn't see many backpackers at all.
Ohrid is a coastal town with some great outdoor space, a small town feel, and a ton of lovely Byzantine architecture. Like Skopje, there was a definite love of statues and aestethic beauty.
From our young tour guide only did we learn of the current unemployment situation in Macedonia, apparently one of the worst in the Balkans and wider Europe. He explained the best business to be in there was the cafe and restaurant business because the cafes were full all day with the unemployed looking to kill time.
Churches of St.John At Kaneo and Saint Panteleimon
I absolutely fell in love with Byzantine style churches after my visit to Ohrid. I find it mixed so well with the gold-laden mosaic-style Orthodox iconography. I have few words to say, so enjoy the photos :)
october 10 to 12, 2015
Kosovo, a brand new country, though unfortunately still not a recognized as one by all nations. Formerly connected to Serbia (and considered by the Serbs to still be so), Kosovo has had a very turbulent past and a difficult journey to its independence. Never had I imagined I'd get the chance to travel to Kosovo and I'm so happy I did. Tourism isn't huge yet, but there is definitly potential for it to get there. For a backpacker its a dream come true as food and lodging are very cheap and the culture of the youth in Kosovo is very laid-back and fun-loving.
october 10 to 11, 2015
The capital city of Kosovo, Pristina, was a nice place to stay for a couple of days. It was easy to get around, there were some events going on, and enough sites to see/history to learn about. The style of city is fairly cold as it adds new architecture to its older 80s feel.
october 11 to 12, 2015
Prizren in my opinion was a nicer place to stay than Pristina. The city had that old Ottoman feel to it like much of the Balkans and featured a lot of pedestrian space. The city is small and divided by a river; it has some great old Turkish Baths to view; you can climb to the fortress overlooking it; and there are many outdoor bars and cafes. This is also a shopping centre for Kosovo and my favourite street was the one lined with wedding dress shops featuring bejeweled and over-the-top princess styles of various colours.
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