Category Archives: Balkans

Belgrade and my finest tips

beo6Belgrade (Beograd in serbian language) is one of my favorite destinations in the whole Europe. Belgrade is not an ordinary city, you will not be amazed by its beauty but you will remember the days spent here, because in Belgrade you really feel the city’s life, by easily getting in touch with locals.

You will understand how unique is the city, when you will discover that it lies on the confluence of two rivers, the Sava and the Danube. The city itself, like all the Balkan region, has a recent base of communist elements, a mix of Austrian and Slavonic cultures with Turkish influence and a Mediterranean flavor in its architecture and view of life (café culture, nightlife). Belgrade has been destroyed many times, its history is fulfilled with battles, changes of political powers and bomb attacks (the last, in 1999, by the criminal nato forces). Do not expect an old historical centre, the old Belgrade’s spirit is however well preserved by the citizens…

beo2– Join the Free Belgrade walking tour 

Probably it’s the best walking tour available in Europe, and you will fully understand about the city and its incredible history.

Everyday, starting at 11, from the republic square, the young guide will wear a yellow t-shirt. It will take 3 hours but you won’t get bored!

The tour will show you the very city centre, with many interesting, funny and historical details.

A friendly shot of local rakia will make the tour even more interesting…(in the picture, the guide Zeljko, was incredibly prepared, lots of info about the city)

beo– Eat local!

Serbs are very proud of their food, based on grilled meats and sausages, local cheeses and bread. Local produce is fresh and organic. Most Serbian restaurants offer roštilj, a large plate of various unseasoned grilled meats. Serbian cuisine is famous for its heavy use of varied vegetables, fresh or cooked.

Snacking and eating on the go in Belgrade is easy and cheap. Local hamburger are called cevapcici, available in many parts of the city for a very cheap price. Bakeries (pekara) are everywhere and you will find a wide assortment of breads, sandwich, sweet and savoury pastries. The most common is called burek, a light snack and meal to be consumed together with a drinkable yoghurt (similar to kefir). Some of the bakeries are open 24 hours.

beo8– Sleep at El Diablo hostel

The hostel is a clean apartment turned into a cozy hostel, with a roof terrace where to chill-out.

The owners, Nigel and Dragan are incredibly nice and helpful, always happy to talk and give suggestions to guests. You will feel like at home.

Location is probably the best you can have in Belgrade, in the heart of the former bohemian quarter, skandarljia, where famous restaurants for tourists are (expensive though), many other affordable restaurants and bars are close by. The biggest city market, where you can buy their organic veggie, meat and cheese, is only 2 minutes walking, same for 24hrs a mini market and local fast food stands.

beo1 – Have fun!

At night, there are plenty of bars, cafés and discotheques that are open, selling cheaply priced drinks. Belgrade is reputed to have some of the best night life in Europe.

Part of local culture are kafana (in the picture of of the oldest in town), a cafe’/pub with serb music and drinks. ‘Kafana is a place where sad lovers cure their sorrows in alcohol and music, gamblers squander entire fortunes, husbands run away from mean wives while shady businessmen, corrupt local politicians and petty criminals do business’. Usually you get in sober and get out drunk and happy… :)

In summer nightlife moves to the splav, river boats turned into restaurant/bars/disco located along the Sava and Danube rivers.

beo4– Meet locals!

Best way to enjoy the city is to make a friend, a local one, that will show you the best places and things to do. So I did! 🙂

Since many years I’m lucky to have met and known so many wonderful people in this city. This summer I was even invited to a serbian wedding and, believe me, it is something that I will remember for long…!!!! 🙂

Serbians are naturally welcoming and warm-hearted people, full of nice sense of humor, together with brave and proud attitudes.

If you are going with a local friend, be sure that you will visit/see/eat/drink the best…

beo5– Experience a serbian sport event

Serbs are crazy for sports, not only, they are VERY good at sports! Tennis, basket, water polo…are only few of the sports where this little country is at the top.

The local football derby, between Partizan and Red Star Belgrade (Crvena Zvezda, my second favorite club, after Napoli) is also known as the ‘eternal Derby’ and it’s considered to be one of the most intensive football events in European football, for the incredible supporting atmosphere, despite the poor quality of football. Due to the intensity of the rivalry, it is not recommended to wear either team’s colors outside the stadium during match days between the two sides.

The two clubs have teams in other sports, basket for instance is very popular too. If you have time visit the Belgrade Arena, New Belgrade. It is the second largest arena in Europe and the largest in the Balkans. You will definitely be impressed by the architecture.

adaciga– Refresh yourself!

In summer is usually very warm and humid, enjoy Ada Ciganlija, a river island on Sava River with an artificial lake.

The lake has an 8 km long gravel beach, which is visited by thousands of bathers during the summer. This is a great place for sports (area for football, basketball, beach volley, golf and tennis) and picnics.

It also contains a lot of cafes and restaurants. In summer, it is swamped with people wanting to cool down in the water; Another option is the great War Island (Veliko ratno ostrvo), a river island at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, for picnics and bird spotting.

Skopje and its 6 budget things to do

sko7 Skopje is the interesting capital of the Republic of Macedonia (officially the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’/FYROM, due to a dispute with Greece over the history of this region and its name).

The city (and the country) is divided by the two biggest communities, arab (albanians and turks) and orthodox (macedonians and serbs).

You will admire Byzantine churches and monasteries, ancient Roman sites and Ottomans mosques. The 26th of July 1963 an earthquake destroyed 75% of the buildings in the city. As a result you will see many new buildings and statues in the city centre.

Below you can find my budget tips for a nice visit:

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1- Visit the Old bazar

The old bazar is the heart of the city and its real symbol, with many small shops, narrow streets, arabic cafè, restaurants and bar where to hang out in the night.

In the past it was covered with wine grape, so it would protect the shoppers from the sun and the rain. The old bazaar was never used for living, it always was a shopping area and contact zone of the Christian and the Muslim population as they lived in separate parts of the town.

Even though some parts of the old bazaar have been destroyed to make streets and parking lots, it still is the largest one in the Balkans and there is still a lot of atmosphere in it.

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2- Spend a day at Matka canyon

It takes approx. 30/40 minutes to reach this beautiful place by public transportation (bus nr. 60). Ticket can be bought from the driver (35MKD). The bus runs every 90 minutes, therefore ask for the schedule times to not wait too long.

Matka features a lake and a dam. Climbers and hikers enjoy a variety of trails of different difficulty there. You can see a complex of medieval monasteries and remnants of a fortress remain too.

There is also a chance to rent a guided boat to explore the lake and some caves, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

sko3- Visit the Kale Fortress

The Kale Fortress stands on the highest hill in the Skopje valley and offers great views over the city. It has free entrance.

It was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who was born in the village of Taorion near Skopje. The fortress was badly damaged in the fire in 1689 and even more during the earthquake of 1963

From the fortress you can admire Vodno Mountain a popular hiking place with marked paths leading through the woods and there are a couple of rest areas. On the top of Vodno the Millennium Cross was built to mark 2000 years of Christianity in Macedonia. It is 66 meters high and it is the highest structure in Macedonia.

sko4 4- Stay at Urban hostel.

It is a quiet and tidy hostel with nice rooms (with balcony), a front garden and a back yard.

Breakfast is included in the price and friendly staff always willing to help.

More for tourists rather than for backpackers, in my opinion, however it won’t be difficult to find good company and nice people to chat with.

It s located in a beautiful zone not far from city centre, quiet and safe.

Bars, mini markets and restaurants are at walking distance.

sko5 5- Relax and have good time

Seat in a cafe by the riverside near the old bridge and spend some time there, at night this area becomes a lively party zone.

There are plenty of bars in the Old Bazar too, the nightlife there recently has become very interesting (favorites places by locals are La Kaña, Damar, Rakija Bar…).

During the day and in the early evening, tea and turkish cafè are the most common drinks rather than alcohol

Nighlife is interesting too, better ask a local for updated situation. During summer the Skopje Summer Festival together with the Pivolend (beer fest) will pleasantly entertain your time.

sko66- Eat local!

Make sure to try the famous Macedonian foods such as burek and Shopska Salata, cevapi...

Skopje (like in the whole balkans region) offers a great mix of eastern european, ottoman and mediterranean cuisine style.

There are many local bakeries all around the city where many Macedonians have breakfast and snacks. Salty pastries, called burek (a flaky filo pie stuffed with meat, cheese or spinach) are the dominant offer and they are usually combined with plain yogurt.

Prices are very cheap and the quality of food is good.

 

 

Sofia, my first bulgarian destination

sofia1Sofia, the bulgarian capital city, is one of the oldest cities in Europe with ruins spread across the city center. It has a unique combination of ancient remains, European and Communist-style architecture, together with many beautiful orthodox churches. The city claims to be one of the few European capitals with a very close and developed ski-resort (Vitosha mountain).

Below are listed my budget tips:

sofia9Where to sleep? Hostel Mostel is my favorite option, friendly staff, international environment, nice and tidy rooms, breakfast and dinner included in the price, good location.

The big common area is ideal to meet other backpackers and travellers. Every night a pub crawl is organized, free of charged, you pay what you drink, no rip-off and fake tour.

sofia Enjoy the free walking tour of the city, is free, only small tips are welcome at the end of the tour.

Starting point is at the corner of the Palace of Justice, everyday at 11.

You will be driven through 6000 years of history by passionate young guides.

Funny thing when I was there a turkish tv chanel was filming the tour.

sofia10 Bulgarian food is available in many restaurants at very convenient prices. Try tarator, a cold soup made of yogurt and cucumber and salads (Shopska is one of the most famous salad in the balkans, made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onion/scallions, raw or roasted peppers, white brine cheese and parsley). Avoid tourist traps in the centre. Usually when the menu is in english is not a good sign…You can get tasty and very cheap bulgarian fast food in bakeries, offering banitsa and other kinds of pastry. This food is often consumed with ayran or boza, drinks that contain yogurt. Another possibility is to get a katma, which is a big pancake filled with cheese, ham, jelly or chocolate.

sofia5Sofia was founded because of the quality of its mineral waters.

In the city alone there are 7 independent mineral water springs.

One of the springs is in the central area of the city and is accessible for everybody, nearby the intersection of Iskar and Ekzarh Yosif streets, where the biggest mosquee is

 

sofia7 Join the Balkan Bites Food Tours, a free food taste tour ( 100% vegetarian!) in some of the more interesting and trendy family owned restaurants that Sofia has to offer and enjoy some traditional Bulgarian  cuisine, while hearing about the some of the history and customs that helped make them become staple foods in Bulgaria, by our trained guides. The tour itself is a walking tour that starts at 2pm everyday (excluding national holidays) at Park Crystal in front of the big head statue of Stefan Stambolov. The duration is about 2 hours and the food that is presented to the participants is free of charge.

What to visit? Ivan Vazov National Theatre; St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; Orthodox churches; down town. You can visit the city and do things like a local would do, thanks to this project.

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Guess my next destination… 🙂

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