31 May 2011

And here is where my day got awesome [Croatia... Take II]

After my few days in Bosnia I trundled back into Croatia for the second time on this trip. The plan was to hook up with Mike and Andrea, two crazy cats I met on the sailing trip. I got a bus from Bihac to Grabovac, a small town just over the Croatian border. From there I could have either waited 40 minutes for a bus, or hitched the 10kms to Plitvice. I chose the latter. I was picked up after only about 10 minutes by a guy driving one of those tiny Suzuki flat-bed trucks. As we were nearing Plitvice I saw two people walking on the side of the road - it was Mike and Andrea! I got the guy to pull over, jumped out of this tiny truck, grabbed my backpack, and ran over to meet them. They were like 'Uhh, what the f just happened? Did you just get out of that tiny, weird truck?'. Yeah, it was awesome.

We found a cool place to stay just down the road from Plitvice National Park (the reason for us being there!), and after a bit of bartering got an awesome room with a sweet balcony. As a bonus we got a whole van load of German tourists who were also staying at the same place. One night we sat up drinking and chatting with them - most of them having children that were older than all of us - but they were still awesome people to hang out with.

28 May 2011

Vertigo [Bosnia & Herzegovina]

Every time I think I have seen the most beautiful place in the world, I visit somewhere new that takes my breath away. This part of the world is truly amazing.

But with the good always comes the bad - my camera is broken! I am not sure exactly how it happened - maybe it got wet or something on the boat? So I am travelling through this unbelievably beautiful part of the world and not able to capture any of it... Yeah, really frustrating. As my vocabulary is pretty limited, and my posts are mainly made up of photos, this one may be a little lacking. You will just have to use your imagination. (Luckily I was able to steal some photos from Sophia :D)

24 May 2011

F*** Land I'm on a Boat! [Croatia]

CROATIA! For some the name still brings back memories of horrific news reports depicting the ugly war for independence. For me, all I see is crystal clear waters and golden sands. The trip up from Montenegro took much longer than the 100kms should have, finally arriving in Dubrovnik somewhere around 11am. I met up with my friend Jax and we headed out to discover the old town.

Dubrovnik is a freakin' cool place. The old town is surrounded by ancient walls that rise high over the city. One of the first things I noticed about Dubrovnik, and probably Croatia in general, is that it is expensive! Well, a LOT more expensive than I am used to. Those coming from the UK keep saying how cheap it is... I am finding it very hard to adjust...

21 May 2011

The Gulf of Kotor [Montenegro]

To continue on from the last post - Montenegro is unbelievably beautiful. Kotor is set at the end of the gulf of Kotor (surprisingly)... A small, mid-evil village surrounded by towering mountains. There is a large fortress that extends up into the hills, providing amazing views right out over the bay. I have no idea why this place is not more popular; it should be on the main tourist circuit! It is honestly one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. But I guess I am glad that it is not; it is quite cool to wander the old cobble streets alone, or surrounded only by locals. It has an authentic feel that would probably be lost with more tourists. My advice - go check it out now before it is overrun!

13 May 2011

Need a new TV remote? [Albania]

The crossing from Macedonia to Albania is a little difficult, at least in the south where I was. So my new friend David (a Canadian guy I met in Ohrid) and I got an early start. We first made our way to the bus stop where we would catch a bus to the border. While at the bus stop we were getting hassled by these taxi drivers. They were only wanting LEK 300 (about €5) to take us both to the border, and the bus was going to cost LEK 220. In the end we talked them down to LEK 250 and jumped in. They have an ingenious way of making cash, though, as they fill the car with other passengers... there were six in the tiny taxi we took, all paying individual pre-agreed fares. Nice work, taxi man!

We arrived at the Macedonia boarder and wandered through. On the Albanian side we needed to get to Pogradeci to get a bus to Tirana - the capital of Albania. Pogradeci is about 7kms from the border, so walkable, but it would have taken a while. We had thought about hitching, but there were literally no cars coming through the border. After having our passports stamped we saw one of the officers going to get into a van. We strolled up and asked if he was going to Pogradeci. Sure enough, he was, but it was going to cost us €5 - everyone is out to make a buck! We jumped on in.

11 May 2011

Faith is Restored! [Macedonia and Kosovo]

I have been officially blown away. Macedonia is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have ever visited. Massive snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers, rolling green hills... almost as beautiful as New Zealand! ;)

I didn't have a host for Skopje, but was saved at the last minute by Tomas - a guy originally from Slovakia. Him, his flatmates and friends were an amazing bunch of people. Most are volunteers in Skopje with the EVS (European Voluntary Service). They really made my time in Skopje.

So carrying on from the last few days in Sofia, my time in Skopje was also centred around getting a tourist visa for Ukraine. Problem - the first of May is a public holiday in Macedonia. The first was a Sunday, but the holiday was carried across to the Monday, so everything was closed. Bright and early Tuesday morning I trundle up to the Embassy to find out they were closed again! And guess what? They never open on a Wednesday. So those lazy buggers just gave themselves a five day weekend... It's Tuesday morning, and there is no way I can even submit the application until Thursday. So rather than just hanging around Skopje, I decided to jump on a bus to Prizren in Kosovo. And that, my friends, is why I love this trip. Bored? Things not working out the way you want? Not having a good time somewhere? No problem, just jump on a bus and two hours later you are in a completely different country!

2 May 2011

Bulgarian Border Crossings

The bus ride to Plovdiv was long and uncomfortable. The seats were awkward and cramped, I was hungover, had a flu coming on, and despite being extremely tired, could not get any sleep. To top it off I was held aside at the border crossing from Turkey to Bulgaria at 3am in the morning, and told to wait by the interview room... I think once the guy had processed the whole bus load he couldn't be bothered with me again, so just stamped my passport and handed it back. Phew! Not that I was there illegally, I just don't think I would have made any sense at all when questioned in that state.

The bus ride was long, but not long enough! We arrived into Plovdiv earlier than expected, at 5:30am. The first thing I noticed was the casinos everywhere. Apparently Bulgaria is like the Vegas of the Balkans, as gambling is illegal in the surrounding countries.

Lest We Forget [Turkey Part IV]

I arrived into Istanbul on a bright Saturday morning and set about finding my accommodation for the evening. The hostel was crazily busy, full of Aussi's and New Zealander's, so I couldn't check in until 2pm. I took a walk out into the city and see what I could find. First impressions - this city is AWESOME! There are nice green spaces surrounded by beautiful gardens, spectacular buildings, and the people all seem very friendly. The number of mosques is just insane. Every direction you look there are minarets towering into the sky. The city is a lot more developed than I expected - in fact it would easily compete with any other major European city, while still retains its sense of 'self', not becoming just another big city. Basically it is just a cool place to be.
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