Tuesday, May 27

Peloponnese, Greece

(see on map) - trin: After landing in Athens we went directly to the main bus terminal where we had our first gyro of the trip. From there we took a bus down to Nafplio.

We had planned to stay there for two nights and then tour other cities on the Peloponnese Pennisula. But, two things happened. One, I got an email from my Dad telling us to "slow down." Two, we had an awesome little balcony which we just loved to sit on. So, we ended up staying five nights. This is a long time for us but we needed it. We were worn out.

Breakfast with tour books on our awesome balcony.

Lunching on gyros and Greek Salad.

Sunset shots on our Nafplio pub crawl.

From Nafplio we took a day trip to the ancient site, Epidaurus. Where we visited the acoustic theater which was built in the 4th century B.C.

You really can hear everything from the back row!

We eventually took a bus across the pennisula to Olympia. It was very long and windy ride. Once there we visited the muesum and ancient site. The birth place of the olympic games and the home of the Temple of Zeus.

Mike racing a older woman with purse in hand across the orignal olymipic stadium. He barely beat her and I laughed so hard. I cried.

We also visited the muesum of the Modern Olympic Games (1896 to present). This is an interesting little exhibit. Photos and results from the early games were posted as well as the official torches and mascots from more recent games. GO TEAM USA!

There isn't much to do in the town once you've seen the ruins and muesums. So, we hired a taxi to the beach for the remainder of the day. The next morning we took the bus back to Athens to meet Mike's parents at the airport.

Wednesday, May 21

Tirana, Albania

(see on map) trin: One of the interesting things about overland travel is you end up visiting places you never thought of before. Albania was one of the those places for us. To get from Southern Montenegro to Greece we had two options. One, bus through Albania into Northern Greece. Two, bus to the capital, Tirana and then fly to Athens. We opted for the latter and toured the city for a day.

The center of the city, Skanderbeg Square, is surrounded by the National Historical Museum, Et'hem Bey Mosque, the Clock Tower and various government buildings. In the center is a statue of the Albanian hero, Skanderberg. We walked through the square a couple times which was scary as Albanian drivers have little regard for pedestrians.

Commonly referred to as the pyramid, it was formerly the Enver Hoxha Museum (Albania's communist dictator). Later it was transformed into a night club and now it looks abandon.

We thought is was a cool place to take an 80s style photo.

We basically just walked around the city, drank some cappuccinos when it rained and then walked around some more.

Do you think the McDonalds people are ok with this?

Another funny sign. Why would you show the cute lamb? If you zoom in, you can see a little frown on his face.

We did have one of the best meals of the trip at Efendy. If you are ever in Albania, you should eat here. The meals was awesome and it only cost $30US with wine. The chef is from Turkey and he has been traveling through the Balkans for the last fifteen years adding to his recipes. He is also an opera singer.

The following morning we had cappuccinos with the owner of our hostel before he drove us to the airport. His four year old daughter was with us and he introduced her as "Fiona, like Princess Fiona from Shrek." I wished I had a pair of Shrek ears in my bag. I would have given them to her in a second.

Tuesday, May 20

Budva & Ulcinj, Montenegro

(see on map) trin: Budva is being developed at an exponential rate. There are Russian funded cement hotels and apartments going up everywhere. A home purchased in 2006 for 100k Euro is now worth a whopping 600k and we thought the Bay Area was bad.

It is also the "spring break" destination for young Russians and Serbians. Although "spring break" isn't really our thing anymore, we enjoyed our time here. We stayed at a great hostel, Happy Hippo. It is owned by a couple our age. She is from Russia and he grew up on the Peninsula. Small world. We spent quite a bit our time just hanging out in the garden visiting with other travelers. The recent college grads were starting to show up on the backpacker trail.

The city walls in the background. We spent about twenty minutes walking around the interior of the old city. At this point we were kind of over it.

We spent two days at the small beach just north of the town. Although Mike had already swam several times, this was the first time I took the plunge. Supposedly, people cliff jump here. We heard a lot of talk but never saw anyone actually do it.

The main beach resembled Cancun. There was a foam party going on as we walked back to the hostel. We stopped, watched and remembered days gone by. I think foam parties are disgusting but I've always thought that. So, it isn't a sign of age.

On the bus to Ulcinj, we passed Sveti Stefani. A perfect example of a walled city along the Adriatic.

Ulcinj has a very short tourist season, July & August. Some beach resort were starting to prepare but the majority of the beach was deserted and still strewn with debris that was washed ashore all winter.

We met another couple at our homestay and shared a ride with them to the eight mile long, Long Beach. Mike and I walked and walked down the beach. We stopped to ask a lady if there was anything around and she informed us that we had nearly walked into Albania. So, we walked and walked back to Montenegro.

After the beach we came across this elaborate fishing area. The picture doesn't quiet do it justice. While we were there two artists were painting landscapes of the chaotic scene. Ulcinj was a bit of a snooze. In part do to the time of year we were there but in sharp contrast to Budva, it has yet to polish its tourism trade.

Friday, May 16

Kotor, Montenegro

(see on map) trin: Kotor's location is what makes it a place worth visiting. On one side is a fjord and the other a steep mountain range covered with ancient fortification walls. Plus, a weird dude who lives up there but we'll get to that later.

Lunch with a couple of feline friends.

Stocking up for our hike up the walls at the daily market just outside the city gates.

Looking back at the city below. On the way up we passed several buildings and chapels built right onto the mountain side.

At the top was a castle-like-fort built during the 15th century. We looked around for a bit until we met a strange man from Macedonia who was living at the top. He was anxious to talk to us but he was odd. It was one of those situations where you could stay for a bit, not be rude and maybe end up having an interesting conversation or trust your instincts and bolt. The deciding factor was when he said, "Don't be scared." I was taught to never trust anyone who tells you this.

Planning the next leg over a couple of cappuccinos which over the course of the trip have been nicknamed Capa C's. Right when you start getting comfortable, you have to start planning again. The logistics are more work than either of us anticipated.

Thursday, May 15

Durmitor NP, Montenegro

(see on map) trin: Getting to Durmitor National Park in Montenegro from Sarajevo was one of our biggest transport challenges. We asked several people and all were relucutant to help and one man at the main bus termincal practicaly threw us out. We think this was due to the fact that Montengro has just recently suceeded (on friendly terms) from Serbia, Bosnia's advisary during the three seige of Sarajevo. With the help of Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, we eventually figured out a bus route. We traveled south to Niksic and then back up to Zabljak, the base for Durmitor National Park.

Waiting for our bus connection.

Crno Lake in the National Park. Imagine Yoesemite with no people. We literally saw six hikers the whole day.

Another cool thing about the park is that you can walk to it from the town. Here's a shot taken on our walk home.

We rented a small apartment and felt like we got a taste of life in old Eastern Europe. We had never seen a wood burning oven in an apartment before.

But, it did have a small washer in the bathroom. Cha Ching! It was covered and had stuff stack on top but we hooked it up anyways. Hey, laundry in Europe isn't cheap. I am just watching the cycles go by.

Hanging laundry in the kitchen. I eventually devised a drying system that involved laying the clothes on top of the heater and flipping them every few minutes.

We did have a television but the only thing on was imported spanish novellas. So, we spent the evenings playing rummy. In the photo above I just "Boom Shocked" (Tamblin term) Mike really bad. It was great.

Wednesday, May 14

Sarajevo, BiH

(see on map) mike: The capital city, Sarajevo, still feels rough around the edges following the three year siege that began in 1992. That being said, after an eye opening visit the National Museum's siege exhibit (I was nearly clueless to the details) we had a much greater appreciation of the city's resiliency and rebirth. For example, during the siege residents planted gardens on nearly every inch of usable land, flower pots on balconies, parks, etc, in order to survive. While signs of the war are still very visible today, the city has made dramatic progress considering the extensive destruction of the city and its infrastructure.

Our walking tour took us past the Yellow Holiday Inn, the last functioning hotel during the siege and home of international wartime journalist.



The burned out National Library of BiH.

The infamous Latin Bridge where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip in 1914 sparking WWI. It is actually quiet plain considering its massive historical significance.

Countless churches and mosques, side by side, see the guy on the minaret?

Many of the sites had US AID (I had never heard of it) funded plaques describing its significance.

And last but not least, sampling of tasty Balkan food called cevapi, minced meat with onions in flatbread. The restaurant we were at only served cevapi with the option of 6, 9, or 15 pieces of meet.

Both nights we quenched some homesickness by watching Hollywood movies, Ironman and Vantage Point. In the latter, we were two of just six attendees.

In summary, Sarajevo is certainly not a care free tourist destination, like say Cinque Terra, but looking back on our Europe experience it stands out for me as one of the most educational and rewarding visits we had.

Tuesday, May 13

Mostar, BiH

(see on map) mike: The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was our first "dark tourism" (sites associated with Death & suffering according to Wikipedia) visit of the trip due to the very visible reminders of the conflicts here in the early 90s. Looking back on my education, words like the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Sarajevo, and Kosovo in my head are associated with war but sadly I wouldn't have been able to tell you much more than that. I'd guess this is due to a lack of focus on my part combined with a my schools general inattention to this geographic region and its past and recent history.

Mostar, our first stop, was a two hour bus ride from Dubrovnik. The highlight is Stari Most (Old Bridge) originally built by Ottoman Turks in 1566, destroyed by rocket fire in 1993 (video) and subsequently rebuilt with internationally funding, partly United States, in 2004. Brave locals hang out on the bridge in speedos and when they've collected enough funds dive 65 feet into the frigid water below.

After the bridge we visited, for our first time, two mosques. The above picture was taken after climbing up a dizzingly steep staircase inside the mosque minaret onto a tiny little balcony overlooking the city. Looking out you can see Catholic and Orthodox Churches along with other Mosques dotting the skyline highlighting the religious diversity of the city.

In contrast to the many churches we visited, the mosques had more of a simple and clean beauty without a gold gilded alter or carved stonework.

A loud speaker was mounted at the top of the minaret. Several times a day we heard the call for prayer, singing, being played to the city below. One mosque had a guy literally singing instead of using the speaker.

Touring the Muslibegovic House, a 300 year old Ottoman designed house of a wealthy resident, was cool to see.

It was a sobering experience to see a majority of buildings' facades still pockmarked from the war. Several buildings like above are completely gutted, some even have trees flourishing inside.