Mysterious Balkans and Sunny Greece

Zdravo! This time my blog will be about my few weeks’ journey with friends to Athens, which left us a lot of impressions and adrenaline. Like many other trips, this one was not planed, YOLO mode and spontaneity and we are on the road. So talking about challenges, one of them was to rent a cheap and good car for a long distance road, which was not easy, as all the good ones were already rented by Spring. But as my friends are cool and clever people, they found someone who rent us “Volkswagen Touran”, a perfect option for a long distance journey and comfortable traveling for four people: Kestas, Renata, Pavel and me. After getting the car we didn’t waste our time and set for the road immediately.

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Well I like Poland, and I even have polish blood, but the road across the country is very exhausting and boring, at least from Warsaw to Czech Republic road is not so long, as from Vilnius to Warsaw. In Czech Republic we decided not to stop anywhere, except for gas stations where we bought a sticker which let us use highways so that we could reach the Alps faster. Our journey started on Friday and already on Saturday lunch we were in Vienna. In my next blog, I will write more about Journeys in Austria and countries, which is in Alps aria.

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The next morning our focus was to pack our stuff (tents) as fast as possible before the workers came, and continue our trip. As I remember we spent the whole day in Alps, and in the evening we were already in Slovenia, near a very famous lake called “Bled”. The lake itself is hidden between the mountains, in the middle of which is a small island with a castle. The island is not connected to the shore, therefore, there are two options to get there: one of theme is, naturally, by boat, the other one is more suitable for good swimmers, who are strong enough and can swim there themselves. This is an incredibly beautiful place, where I experienced probably the most beautiful morning in my life, as that day started with a sunrise from the cloudy mountains. Moments later the wild sunlight touched the castle on the lake. Paired with a cup of coffee and a tasty breakfast was simply magical. After breakfast we went to the lake for a swim and went to Ljubljana.

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When we came to capital the first thing which met us were soviet buildings and atmosphere which reminded us of our homeland. Both Vilnius and Ljubljana have a hill with a castle from which you can see the cityscape. If you will come to capital of Slovenia, you should visit the Ljubljana castle, the famous bridge and cathedral, everything else is included in free day tours.

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We didn’t spend much time in Slovenia; the seaside was our top priority. After a few hours on the highway we were met by Croatian borders. And here you understand and feel that here is the true border not only between two countries, but also the border of Balkans and the rest of Europe. Croatia will meet you with her huge mountains and forests which are on the hills, villages which remind of ghost towns, surprisingly, not abandoned after the war. Yeah… the Balkans! Here we are! When looking at buildings the first thing you notice are bullet holes and you understand that not a long time ago there was a war. Our destination was the “Plitvica” park which excited me for the first 3hours. In that park you can find many cerulean lakes, waterfalls, and different plants. Why was it only interesting for 3 hours? The views became repetitive and the huge amounts of tourists were ruining the romantic and mystical atmosphere of this place. Mother nature, however, didn’t disappoint. Imagine: You are in Plitvica, standing on the top of a cliff, from which you see a small part of the park, and you think: from where in such small territory small canyon appeared so many waterfalls, which surprise you with their clean water and amounts of it. It is amazing!

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After a couple of hours, or when we got bored, we decided that the best option would be to get as fast as possible to Sibenik, a city which was near us, but we chose to drive through a scenic road and sleep in an abandoned house we were in that city only early at the morning. So, speaking of ghosts, we were in the middle of our way to sea, and it was already night, that’s why we camped in the middle of nowhere, near a building which had marks of shooting, and all Pavel thought that someone was walking around our camping place. The guy got seriously spooked, my dudes! Kestas and I, however, were more angry because he didn’t let us sleep. The next night we also slept in an interesting place, in some olive tree orchard I believe, near the sea.

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Croatia, Croatia, Croatia… an amazing country for vacations: blue sea and lagoons, full of stones mountains, hot-tempered people, and low prices for food and souvenirs. After “Plitvica” we visited Sibenik and Trogir – cities with typical medieval architecture which left us fewer impressions than Dubrovnik, maybe because they were less famous, and not so full of tourists who didn’t ruin the atmosphere of the ages of kings queens and knights. Of course, it was challenging to walk in such cities in the middle of the day: no shade, only stone walls and roads around, that’s why almost every hour we went for a swim in the sea. Why not, it is summer and Croatia!

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At the end of the evening, we already were in Bosnia and Hercegovina, and once again we slept in the middle of nowhere. At night we found a corn field where we made our camping place. That night to these day I remember, like it happened yesterday –stars, light and warm summer breeze, songs sung by a choir of grasshoppers, Wow! Life is good! Early in the morning after borrowing some tasty corn, we moved to Mostar, a city where one of the oldest bridges in the world is located. Out of all the Balkan states, Bosnia and Hercegovina is probably the one who suffered the most during the wars of the 1990s, when Serbians attacked them. When you enter such cities as Mostar or Sarajevo, shocking images touch your soul, such as bullet hole filled buildings where innocent civilians lived, and understanding that this happened around 20years ago when I was already born, and while I had a happy childhood, here, on the  other side of Europe, people were surviving, life and death were just a moment away due to political selfishness and interests. WE were impressed not only by the bridge but also constructions and architecture of the old town. Small shops with hand crafted goods of jewelers or carpenters who put all their imagination and effort even into the smallest of things. After a tasty lunch which consisted of local made kebabs, we moved to the capital -Sarajevo. When we were crossing the country, I understood that  this is one of the poorest countries where I have been, since the damaged houses have been left untouched ever since the beginning of war, just left as they are. But and nature here is different, mountains without any greens, small towns around and nothing more.

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Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina left us less impressions than Mostar, maybe because the city is not so different from previous one. We were really interested in the many churches and mosques in such proximity with each other, with people leaving in peace and comradery, which both impressed us and broke our stereotypes. Most remarkable place in Sarajevo for me was the tunnel under the airport, where during the war with Serbia poor Bosnians could connect with the rest of civilized world. In these tunnels, people in Sarajevo could get food, water, medicine, guns to protect themselves, it was unbelievable what we heard in that museum.

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Next our stop was Durmitor National Park in Montenegro in which again, nature of Balkan nature didn’t stop surprising us. Hills where full of small houses, swamps, rivers, mysterious forests and beautiful landscapes to mountains. It is lovely to stop somewhere in the mountains, on cliffs where you can see down the blue rivers which wave through the unlimited number of mountains. Talking about food, we didn’t eat often in restaurants, most of that time we were cooking cheap products which we bought in Poland by ourselves on a small gas stove. After lunch and selfie time we went to the legendary city of Dubrovnik.

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Dubrovnik- city of legends and stories, mystical streets and ordinary architecture. When you are walking here, and looking to the sea, and hearing how the bells are ringing, for a moment a time machine takes you to the past, and imagination is scaring you with pirates who are attacking from sea, you prepare for battle, protect your people and win another attack. But thanks to a lot of tourists and prices time machine moves you back to reality pretty fast.

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After a long journey by the seaside of Croatia and Montenegro we already crossed borders of Albania. Well, this country is the most different from all the other Balkan countries. When you cross borders, already differences of culture meeting you. Everything is dirty, people look angry, the smell of burnt rubber. We didn’t book a place to stay in Albania, so that’s why in Tirana we slept in the car, and the funniest thing is that all night there wasn’t any moment of silence, people were quite, well, “active” from 10pm to 5 am. In the old town there wasn’t a lot to see, some memorials, communist architecture, some modern buildings and that’s it.

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That’s why we didn’t waste our time, early in the morning we were on the road to Ksamil and Sarande. On our way I was amazed what I saw, first time in my life I saw a village which was built from trash, yes exactly, trash and children didn’t have any toys, they were playing with trash. I was sad, and in the same time happy that I have life which I have. Well that’s life! Nature in Albania also different: to see forests here is not a usual thing, when you cross the country naked mountains and dunes are on your way. Blue Lagunas and Mediterranean Sea with cheap prices makes you feel like you are royalty. Well beaches here are not as clean as in Croatia, but it’s still nice to drink some ice cream cocktails and swim in the crystal blue sea, and even crowded beaches let us relax and feel the spirit of sunny Albania and summer.

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So next and probably our last step was Greece, the moment which I was waiting for a long time. Land of myths about powerful Gods and legendary cities which were fighting each other like Sparta and Athens, where famous philosophers were creating and educating first Europeans cultures. And yeah, our first day in Greece started in a beautiful place- Meteora where you get feeling that you are somewhere in another world, like from the movie AVATAR which amazed you with forms of those mountains.

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But when you come to Athens, and see how dirty city is, full of graffiti and fascist tags, closed markets give you all you need to know about this country’s economical crisis and its aftermath. Well life is life, and when we have been here it was already night that’s why we made camping in center of the town on the hill with a full view of the Acropolis. Then we opened a well-deserved bottle of champagne and celebrated our completed mission, woohoo!!! Well life without challenges is not a life, next day after breakfast we went to see closer these legendary architecture. Hardest thing was that when we were walking about it was around 38C, it was a really hot day. At least Acropolis left us an impression of how people before our century were living without any modern technology making important decisions. When you looking from Acropolis to Athens you can also see how big and monotonous thecapital of Greece is.

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In a few days we had to be back in Lithuania because our rent contract was coming to an end, that’s why we was hurry up and move back home as fast as we can. In our next days we quickly visited Scope and Belgrade. When you are in capital of Macedonia you feel like you are in Balkan Las Vegas because of many casinos and many memorials of Alexander Great, they are everywhere: Alexander on horse, Alexander near his horse, Alexander in battle, Alexander drinking wine, Alexander eating pizza and etc… Prices were also really nice, everything is cheap, for our breakfast for 4 people we paid around 4eur which was I the city center.

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Belgrade, however, left me a bigger impression, really lets you know who was the big Papa here in Yugoslavia, city is large, people are everywhere, everything is so big and looks powerful and posh, at least here in capital, but I cannot tell you many things about those last countries as we were in a hurry and didn’t visit enough places. We also had to wait on the borders of Serbia and Hungary more them 16 hours, because each car had to be checked due to the European refugee crisis.

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To conclude, travelling with a rented car is the best option because you save a lot of time and money. Two weeks’ journey (13 countries), car, food, accommodation, souvenirs and tickets to visiting places for person cost around 500eur all trip, what is really cheap compared to the prices travel agencies propose. And I also want to add that this kind of journey makes your friendship or relationship with person who you love much stronger after those challenges. So take care and enjoy! Doviđenja!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Thank you for a beautiful trip down memory lane. I have been in Sarajevo and Mostar, Dubrovnik, Montenegro and Athens. Many thanks for the follow.

    Liked by 1 person

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