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Day 24 of 60 – Summer 2018

Monday, 8th July

  • Mostar (104 miles
  • Sarajevo

Overnight in Astra Hotel

Farewell to the crystal clear sapphire blue Adriatic Sea, Croatia (through to the semi-finals of World Cup playing England…good luck Croatia) and Split (and Europe meaning no roaming data until Greece) as we head in land to our first stop of the day, Mostar.

Clouds are in the sky and forecast is for cooler temperatures and showers.

What do I know about Mostar? It has a bridge that was damaged in the relatively recent Balkan Wars. The city was under siege during the conflict.

Am trying to finish reading The ‘Cellist of Sarajevo before reaching there tonight but assume that most of the daily struggles in the book could be applied to any city in Bosnia that was under attack. Although fiction the book is based on the cellist Vedran Smajlovic who played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the tragic death of 22 people killed while queuing for bread. The story of this man’s courage and the daily lives for those living in the city is told through the voices of three characters: Arrow, a reluctant sniper, Dragan who works in the bakery and Kenan’s water collecting.

What a special place Mostar is. Once a place where Roman Catholics, Muslims and Jews lived peacefully this ideal was, quite literally, blown away in 1993 when the town was attacked by Croatian forces. The bridge that had been the heart of the town linking the markets over the gorge and river was an immediate target followed by much of the Ottoman buildings.

Today it has been rebuilt using newly cut stone from the old quarries used for the first bridge. Where there were once 99 steps over the white shiny pavement of the bridge there are now only 93: a reminder the the year when Mostar was bombed. The once gate keepers will now jump from the bridge into the cold, deep, fast moving river for money, just as they had in days gone by for the sum of a gold coin from visiting pashas. Gone are the days when a young suitor would show his manliness by jumping to impress his loves family. To dive is a dangerous feat requiring two years training a a cold shower to prepare for the shock of the water below.

The markets are vibrant today with the sounds of copper being hammered into jewelry and the smells of the traditional cafes and restaurants. The call to prayer is a reminder of the areas strong ties to Islam and the feel of the market and the restaurants to Turkey.

Sarajevo in the rain! For the first time on our trip we are greeted by clouds and drizzle. Our hotel is in heart of the old town and an evening walked revealed bustling narrow streets with cafes and shops full of carpets, souvenirs and who knows what else. The old town has a very different feel to the old town of Split. Here you could be mistaken for thinking you were in Turkey, Jordan or even Egypt with women in hijab and Arab looking faces in the shops and in the street. The sound and smell of the hookah adds to the confusion of the senses and culture.

Tomorrow we explore the old town’s ancient and modern past with our guide. I have almost finished the Cellist of Sarajevo and seeing the acned faces of many of the old and new towns buildings facades and the closeness of the hills around brings the books new feeling of awareness. On our evening walk we passed the mark for the bakery.

Day 23 of 60 – Summer 2018

Sunday, 7th July

  • Split (56 miles from Dubrovnik)

Overnight Hotel Slavija

Beautiful drive up the coast through a part of Bosnia (more borders but no hold ups) stopping for coffee in Bosnia.

Hotel is oldest in the city opening in 1900 but the building itself is from the 14th century and was built on 4th Century ruins. It is right in the middle of the old city with its winding alleyways.

Day 20 of 60 – Summer 2018

Thursday, 5th July

  • Gjirikastra (122 miles from Kalambaka)
  • Tirana ( 143 miles from Gjirokastra)

Overnight in the Tirana International Hotel

Today we say farewell to Greece, and to The European Union as we cross the border to Albania.

First stop: Gjirokastra, the birthplace of Albania’s leader Enver Hoxha who was in power for over 40 years until his death in 1985.

Then onto the capital, Tirana.

Day 19 of 60 – Summer 2018

Wednesday, 4th July

218 miles

  • Meteora
  • Kalambaka

Overnight in Antoniadis Hotel, Kalambaka.

This morning we say a sad farewell to Athens as we head north to the monasteries at Meteora. We have the luxury of one more day in Athens before we fly out.

A long drive but well worth it. The monastery complex is truly spectacular.

Day 18 of 60 – Summer 2018

Tuesday, 3rd July

  • Panathenic Stadium.
  • Temple of Zeus
  • Hadrian’s Arch
  • Parliament buildings and others…
  • Acropolis
  • Pantheon

Overnight at the Titania Hotel

Today we met our guide for our trip through the Balkans, Ivan the Alternative from Macedonia (FYROM). His business card describes him as ‘not your usual tour guide’!

Fir the first few days there will be three in his group. We met Jay last night, a New Jersey lad living in Oz but on tour. He will be part of the group until Sarajevo. Two more are joining us in Kotor.

But first local guides will be showing us the delights of Athens. Feel there might be some deja vu…

Day 17 of 60 – Summer 2018

Monday 2nd July

Another free day in Athens meeting with tour rep at 2030 in hotel. No sign of Ivan the rep by 2130 despite calls to the company. Met Jay a fellow traveller who will be with us for first 9 days of the tour.

Fabulous day trip out of the city. First to the Corinth Canal, then on to the most complete bee hive tomb and Mycenae. After lunch a visit to Epidaurus and Nafaleon.

Day 14 of 60 – Summer 2018

Friday, 29th June

After yesterday’s searing temperatures this morning brings a light breeze and a sigh of relief from everyone.

No worries about washing being out as threat of rain remains zero…for now.

Spent a lovely afternoon in the garden with our Syrian neighbours drinking strong cardamom Arabic coffee followed by dates and mate. Turns out that mate is a South American tea and that Syria is the main importer of it. The dry tea is served in a small cup with a spoon that acts as a straw. Hot water is poured in and the end of the spoon strains the tea as you drink. Not unpleasant taste. Am now fully topped up with caffeine!