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82-year-old’s Budget Balkan Trip, Parts 4 and 5

Part 4: Tirana, Albania, continued

President Hoxha had 173,371 (a nice palindrome) bunkers built all over the country to ward off a possible nuclear attack on Albania. None of them were ever used. I visited the main one in Tirana intended to house the administration, called “Bunk-Art 1” (there are two). Eerie, historically interesting, but not essential. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunkers_in_Albania for more info).
The manager of the Backpacker Hostel drove me to the small village of Pellumbas, where volunteers are renovating a house to be used as a bnb. The village has just a small shop, an old-fashioned hotel and a couple of restaurants. I made a wonderful walk up the canyon to the cave, Pellumbas' main attraction, about 90 minutes each way for this old man. I had pitched my tent in the garden between the grape vines, and in the morning the interior was wet with condensation, as the tent does not have a double roof. I was happy to donate it to the hostel and lighten my load.
Day visit to Berat, "Town of a Thousand Windows," a UNESCO Heritage site. Very pretty. But Albania is a tip. Wherever you go, you will see trash. I even saw it being thrown out of a car on the road.

Ochrid, Macedonia

Ochrid on Lake Ochrid is touted as one of the oldest towns in the world. The old town on the hill is certainly picturesque, but it age is not apparent from all the renovation that has been done. I stayed at Sunny Lake Hostel, small and friendly.
One of the highlights of my whole Balkan journey was a boat trip to St Naum monestary at the south of the lake. From there, I took a ride in a rowing boat to the springs that feed the lake. The most limpid water I have ever seen, and wonderful to drink. So peaceful, a place to become enlightened!

Radozhda

A few kilometres west of Ochrid on the lake is this small village, not a tourist in sight (“Everybody goes to Ochrid”, they say.) An enterprising Korean-American has created the Freeflow Hostel there, with exceptional care. Radozhda has a couple of grocery stores (“markets”) and several fish restaurants on the lake. The Dva Bicera/Two Pearls restaurant is highly recommended. The Izgrev hotel, 5km away, accessible by bus, offers a great sauna and Turkish bath experience to non-residents, and also a water park in season for the children.

Skopje, Macedonia

Back on the big city circuit… A young woman on the bus next to me was totally out of her wits trying to manage her three children, including a baby. She was even sick (vomited) herself! Everyone in the bus did what they could to help her, but she had not brought a single toy for the children, just a mobile phone for the oldest to play with…

Skopje, where I stayed at the excellent Shanti Hostel: Lots of big red double-decker buses, looking all too London-like, but in fact left-hand drive and Made in China. My (very) basic knowledge of Russian enabled me to read the roadsigns, etc. The centre of town is full of plaques with quotations by Mother Teresa, who was born there. For political reasons (based on ancient history and headed by Greece, as I understand it), the country is now officially known as North Macedonia. I made a very interesting trip to Matka Canyon and the cave, well worth a visit. Some boat trips don’t include the cave, but if one is there, it is unmissable!

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Part 5: Kosovo, starting with Prizren

Prizren is a lovely town, what I would call unspoilt. I stayed at the hostel Driza’s House, first class for all of 8.50 euros per night plus 2 euros for breakfast! A truly comfortable home-from-home atmosphere, and indeed it’s a genuine family affair. Lucky the dog wins everybody’s heart.
I learnt quite a bit about the Serbian aggressions, evictions, etc. in Kosovo. They burnt down Albanian neighbourhoods and killed people. I understand that Serbia still considers Kosovo to be Albanian territory. Be sure to visit the fortress if you are there, and not miss the (not very obvious) small museum within it.

Pristina

I stayed at Oda’s Hostel, also a very comfortable family affair. There, the animal interest was two totally amazing cats, the cuddliest I have ever known! Most of the reviews of the hostel mention them: Oda and Odi or something they are called. My visit again coincided with a Gay Pride manifestation. The police presence there was much more discreet, friendly and less disruptive than in Belgrade. I didn’t see very much of Pristina though.
My journey was to continue on to Sofia and then Greece. But on leaving Pristina I realised I had forgotten my hearing-aid charger at the hostel in Skopje. Hostel to hostel phone calls led me to another long return trip Pristina-Skopje-Pristina by bus in stifling weather with no air conditioning: I crossed the Macedonian-Kosovo border four times in three days! Awareness pays!

Sofia, Bulgaria

Five hours of bus travel through a constantly changing landscape took me to Sofia. I stayed at the 123 Hostel, pleasant enough, but the one I wanted, Hostel Mostel, was fully booked. Travelling almost from day to day as I was, it was never easy for me to book very much ahead. But this was the only time I could not stay at the hostel of my choice.
An impressive aspect of Sofia is the many archeological sites in the town. I was not always assiduous in researching the most interesting places to visit on my journey, and as such I did not see as much of Sofia as I might have done, missing particularly the Serdica ancient fortress. I think Sofia – and perhaps Bulgaria generally - is best visited during the summer, festival time.

Thessaloniki, Greece

At Thessaloniki, I stayed at the Thess Hostel, very close to the station, more like a small pleasant hotel and relatively expensive after the countries further north. In the absence of a walking tour I took a bus to the old town on the hill, but never saw a congenial place to get off. Finally, we were at our starting point again: I had had a 1-euro unguided tour of the city at sunset! I didn’t visit many of the “sights”, but the little streets adjoining the port are really worth a wander-through for the casual visitor.

Before leaving Greece I wanted to take time off from large cities and visit Galaxidi again, a small very quiet harbour town on the Gulf of Corinth, after a gap of many years. For that I needed to change trains at Lamia, but the name of the station where I had to get off the train – and somehow luckily did! - was Leianokladi! There, another Guardian Angel showed me how to get the local train to Lamia station, from where I was able to take a bus to Galaxidi, changing at Amfissa.

Galaxidi was a haven of peace, where nothing seems to happen. Old men sit and sip Ouzo in front of the cafés the same as they always have, and the occasional gentle tourist does nothing to change the laid-back atmosphere. In the old days people would put a notice in their window and rent out a room for little money, but now airbnb has taken over and there is no real budget accommodation. I stayed at the wonderful little Ganimede Hotel, where I was charmingly welcomed and sent off with a glass of prickly pear liquor under my belt. The café on the “village square” serves as ticket office for the bus to Patras and I had a great chat with the old man who runs it.

Final part coming soon

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2732 posts

Rainbow, I am loving your inspirational trip segment reports!

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12360 posts

Keep in mind too that in 1913 the Serbs (politically) were opposed to the establishment of an independent Albania.

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95 posts

Thank you Wray. I re-read the report as though it were written by somebody else!

I very much recommend travellers to publish such a report, as writing it all down like this brings it more to life in my own mind, and I am very happy to share all the ups and downs I experienced. A point I would like to emphasise is that I found the inhabitants of all these countries totally honest and friendly, and at no time did I feel insecure. I think my trust in life made it possible for me to come through the tighter spots without mishap, and they served as beacons of the possible.

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95 posts

Yes, Fred, and my impression is that that has not changed in almost a hundred years!

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2820 posts

Hi Rainbow,
I just discovered your amazing travel report. I appreciate your inspiration coming from Greta Thunberg. We can all learn from her passion going forward. Thank you for sharing your personal heartfelt journey. I will look forward to future reports.

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12360 posts

Hi,

Yes, exactly. The Great Powers in 1913 imposed the creation of an independent Albania (which was bad enough) with access to the sea, two geographic details leaving the Serbs seething.

Did you have a chance to see and explore Novi Sad, the Austrian "Gibraltar" over the Danube against Ottoman Turkish resurgence, accessible by bus from Belgrade. The Habsburg reconquest began with Serbia at Zenta in 1697, which is attested to in the big military monument in Vienna at the Deutschmeisterplatz, battle of Zenta is listed as the "Feuertaufe" (Baptism of Fire)

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1945 posts

This: "One of the highlights of my whole Balkan journey was a boat trip to St Naum monestary at the south of the lake. " One of the most enlightening and meaningful places I have ever visited. I know exactly what you mean! Thank you for taking the time to post this most wonderful trip report.