Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Balkans - Eight Countries by Car

From May 21, 2013 to June 6, 2013, Judy and I flew from Los Angeles to Zagreb, Croatia, rented a car and then traveled through the eight countries of the western Balkans: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, and Montenegro. The idea came from three organized tours I found on the internet: (a) Balkan Odyssey by Kutrubes Travel (all 8 countries in 21 days); (b) Essential Balkans by MIR Corporation (7 countries in 12 days); and (c) Serbian Travel System (all 8 countries in 23 days). We loved all three tours, but they were too long or too expensive for us. So we used them as guidelines and created our own tour. 

Judy and I each do a blog in our own way and in our own styles. My blog tends to focus on food, animals (not much of that on this trip) and religion. Judy's focuses more on culture, art and the overall travel experience. This particular post is intended to capture each of our posts and put them in the order and context of our trip as a whole.

An overview of our trip:
     Balkans: Windows and Doors (Judy)

Slovenia: We stayed our first night in Zagreb, then spent the entire next day in Slovenia, before returning to Zagreb to spend the night. 
     Lake Bled, Slovenia (Judy)
     Church of Mary the Queen on Bled Island - Slovenia (Bob)
     Cream Cake at Vila Ajda - Bled, Slovenia (Bob)
     Julian Alps, Slovenia (Judy)
     Russian Chapel - Vrsic Pass, Slovenia (Bob)
     Ljubljana, Slovenia (Judy)

Bosnia & Herzegovina: After spending the night in Zagreb, we took a very long drive to Sarajevo where we spent the late afternoon and evening. We also spent the next morning in Sarajevo. 
     On the Road to Sarajevo (Judy)
     Bosnian Spit-Roasted Lamb (Bob)
     Sarajevo, Part I, Reading (Judy)
     Sarajevo, Part II, War (Judy)
     Sarajevo, Part III, Religion (Judy)
     Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque - Sarajevo (Bob)
     Sacred Heart Cathedral - Sarajevo (Bob)
     Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos - Sarajevo (Bob)
     Sarajevo, Part IV, Walking and Eating (Judy)
     Inat Kuca and Slasticarna Sara - Sarajevo, Bosina & Herzegovina (Bob)
     From Bosnia to Serbia, an Unexpected Detour (Judy)

Serbia: We drove from Sarajevo to Belgrade where we spent the night. The next day we took a tour of Belgrade and the country around it, including a foray into Vojvodina. We returned to Belgrade for the night. 
     Introduction to Serbia (Judy)
     Serbia, Belgrade Churches (Judy)
     Temple and Church of St. Sava - Belgrade, Serbia (Bob)
     Serbia, Marshal Tito (Judy)
     Serbia, Vojvodina Monasteries (Judy)
     Novo Hopovo Monastery and St. Nicholas Church - Serbia (Bob)
     Staro Hopovo Monastery and St. Panteleimon Church - Serbia (Bob)
     Cathedral of St. Nicholas - Sremski Karlovci, Serbia (Bob)
     Zekin Salas - Krcedin, Serbia (Bob)
     Shopska Salad (Bob)
     Krusedol Monastery - Fruska Gora, Serbia (Bob)
     Name of Mary Church - Novi Sad, Serbia (Bob)
     Serbia, Vojvodina, Part 2 (Judy)
     Serbia: Parting Thoughts (Judy)
     Constantine the Great (Bob)

Macedonia: We left Belgrade in the morning and drove through Serbia, stopping briefly in Nis, then to Skopje where we toured the old town and spent the night. The next day we traveled outside Skopje to St. Panteleimon Church and Lake Matka, then back to Skopje where we spent the balance of the day and that night. 
     Skopje, Macedonia (Judy)
     Vinotueka Temov or Winery Temov - Skopje, Macedonia (Bob)
     Macedonia, Taxi Excursion Out of Skopje (Judy)
     St. Panteleimon Church - Skopje, Macedonia (Bob)
     Stone Churches of Lake Matka, Macedonia (Bob)
     Dalmatian Algyroides (Blue Throated Keeled Lizard) (Bob)
     Skopje, Macedonia, Part 3 (Judy)
     Mustafa Pasha Mosque - Skopje, Macedonia (Bob)

Kosovo: We were picked up by a taxi driver from our hotel in Skopje and drove to Prizren, Kosovo where we spent most of the day, then were returned to Skopje where we spent the night. 
     Kosovo, Little Miracles, Part 1 (Judy)
     Sharr Mountain (Kosovo) Sheep Cheese (Bob)
     Caffe Bar Arasta - Prizren, Kosovo (Bob)
     Sinan Pasha Mosque - Prizren, Kosovo (Bob)
     Kosovo, Little Miracles, Part 2 (Judy)

Macedonia: We left Skopje and drove to Ohrid where we spent the day and slept that night. 
     Macedonia, Lake Ohrid (Judy)
     Church of St. John the Theologian at Kaneo - Ohrid, Macedonia (Bob)
     Summer Garden Kaneo - Ohrid, Macedonia (Bob)
     Damar Restaurant - Ohrid, Macedonia (Bob)

Albania:  We left Ohrid and drove to Berat where we spent a good part of the afternoon. Then we drove through Durres to Tirane where we spent the night. 
     Lost in Albania (Judy)
     Berat, Albania: The Castle (Judy)
     Church of St. Mary of Blachernae - Berat, Albania (Bob)
     Holy Trinity Church - Berat, Albania (Bob)
     Albania, "Lower" Berat (Judy)
     Madrasa in Berat, Albania (Bob)
     Hotel Restorant Mangalemi - Berat, Albania (Bob)
     Lost in Albania, Redux (Judy)
     Sleeping in Tirana and Leaving Albania (Judy)

Montenegro:  We drove from Tirane to Kotor where we spent most of the day and the next night.
     First Impressions of Kotor, Montenegro (Judy)
     Montenegro: Kotor's Fortress (Judy)
     Montenegro: Six Churches (Judy)
     Churches in Kotor, Montenegro (Bob)
     Restaurant Pizzeria Giardino - Kotor, Montenegro (Bob)

Croatia:  After a little time in Kotor that morning, we drove to Dubrovnik where we spent the afternoon and stayed that night.
     Croatia: Driving to Dubrovnik and Climbing the City Walls (Judy)
     Croatia: Dubrovnik Churches (Judy)
     St. Francis Church - Dubrovnik (Bob)
     Croatia: Dubrovnik Smiles (Judy)
     Restaurant Ark A - Dubrovnik, Croatia (Bob)

Bosnia & Herzegovina:  We left Dubrovnik in the morning and drove to Mostar where we spent part of the morning and afternoon.
     Bosnia & Herzegovina: Detour to Mostar Part I (Judy)
     Bosnia & Herzegovina: Detour to Mostar Part II, The Sad and Triumphant Tale of the Old Bridge (Judy)
     Koski Mehmed Pasa Mosque - Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bob)
     Sadrvan - Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (Bob)

Croatia: We left Mostar and drove to Split where we spent the night, the next day and another night. After two nights, we left in the morning to Zagreb were we spent the afternoon and stayed that night. The next morning we flew out of Zagreb for the U.S.
     Split, Croatia: A Circuitous Journey and an Amazing Farmers Market (Judy)
     Istrian Prsut (Bob)
     Split Spit-Roasted Pig (Bob)
     Croatian Markets (Bob)
     Split, Croatia: Diocletian's Palace (Judy)
     Split, Croatia: Exploring Inside the Palace Walls (Judy)
     Split, Croatia: Exploring Outside the Palace Walls and Calling Home (Judy)
     Diocletian's Palace - Split, Croatia (Bob)
     Zagreb, Croatia: Cathedral of the Assumption (Judy)
     Cathedral of the Assumption - Zagreb, Croatia (Bob)
     Zagreb, Croatia: A Farmer's Market and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi (Judy)
     Church of St. Francis of Assisi - Zagreb, Croatia (Bob)
     Zagreb, Croatia: St. Mark's Church and St. Mark's Square (Judy)
     St. Mark's Church - Zagreb, Croatia (Bob)
     Zagreb, Croatia: The Mestrovic Atelier (Judy)
     Zagreb, Croatia: Last Day (Judy)
     Farewell Balkans! (Judy)
   
We loved the Balkans and would recommend it to anyone. We found that many Americans are afraid to travel there. Some are willing to venture to the Dalmatian coast on cruise ships, but won't venture inland. We ran into a young German tourist in Skopje and then again in Ohrid who said the same thing. Germans are also afraid to travel to the Balkans, but like us, this German young man found them to be wonderful. 

We share our experiences in these posts for others who may have an interest in traveling there. However, we primarily do these posts for our own benefit. We find that in putting them together, we learn more about where we have been, better preserve our memories, and create a journal which we can look back on.

If we could do the trip over, there are a few things I would do. I would spend a whole day at Lake Matka in Macedonia, visiting other stone churches and going through caves and I would spend more time in Sarajevo visiting the Olympic and other sites. I would also try to find a way to avoid the drive between Belgrade and Skopje (the only significant thing along that route was Mediana in Nis, Serbia). A one way trip flying in to Skopje and ending in Belgrade would do it, if you could find a way to avoid the significant one-way drop-off charge for the rental car. I would also look at a different driving route from Zagreb to Sarajevo. I really loved Bosnia & Herzegovina and would look for a route through it, even though slower, perhaps through Banja Luka.

If I could have more time to visit more sites, I would visit Lake Plitvice in Croatia and visit some of the islands off the Croatian coast, such as Hvar and Korcula. I would like to see Bitola in Macedonia and go further south in to Albania. And finally, I would look more closely at northwestern Croatia, an area we didn't really look at due to time and distance constraints. 

19 comments:

  1. I would add more time in Slovenia, and definitely more time in Sarajevo, a true jewel.

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  2. I love the overview list. Makes for a very organized guide. Very fun to review.

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  3. I like this summary post with links, too. I'll have to remember it for our own future travels.

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  4. Hi,

    I would love to ask you some questions. Can I get in touch through e-mail?

    Thank you,
    Tangerine (tanjreyes@gmail.com)

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  5. Hi! I just ran across your blog and am planning to do a similar itinerary (somewhat reduced as I live in Bosnia right now and have lived in Croatia, so won't be including either of those countries) I was wondering -- what car rental company did you use that allowed you to drive to all those countries (including Albania and Kosovo)? Thanks!!

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    1. Oryx out of Zagreb. They allowed us to go into Albania, but not Kosovo. We arranged for a taxi out of Kosovo to pick us up in Skopje for our day in Kosovo. The taxi took us back to Skopje. If you do use Oryx, don't rely on their GPS. I would either buy your own and load it yourself or use a phone GPS.

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  6. Wow, what a trip! I would also like to know what rental car company did you used rental vehicle Zadar

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  7. Did you have to pay heavy fees to enter any country with a car? We are planning on the same trip, but starting from Skopje.

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    1. It has been awhile and my specific memory on that is shorting out. I think we may have had to purchase some sort of pass right after the border of one country (Slovenia or Serbia?) and I don't recall that being related to the rental car, but just traveling on the motor way. Other than that, I don't recall having to pay any fees to get into any countries, including no visas.

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  8. Why be afraid of the Balkans especially Srbije.Mi we are hospitable people that can be said for the other former republics of the former Yugoslavia, a country that had all the sea, mountains, plains, lakes, plains, rivers, banje.God gave us everything except styles.
    http://www.istrebljivac.com/

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  9. Helllo, your journey inspres me and my fionce for honeymoon�� we would like to travel by car as well, but how have you managed to rent a car multicountries? Thankks��

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    1. We got it through Auto Europe, a U.S. company, and they got it through Oryx located in Zagreb, Croatia.

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  10. Any issues going through border crossings for Albania and/or returning to different locations? This is by far one of the best laid out/comprehensive travel blogs I have seen in years: well done! :)

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    1. Our only bad border crossing was Albania into Montenegro. We waited and waited to get through, then they opened another lane and allowed all the people behind us to come up and get through before us. It took us several hours. They also had us open the trunk of our car, but other than that everything went smoothly.

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  12. Renta car MMS airport Belgrade. http://www.rentacarmms.rs

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