Tuesday, August 29, 2006

LP's Western Balkans Part II

And the rest...

At the beginning of each chapter is a small fact box about each county, covering basic facts like land mass, visa requirements etc. There is also a blurb about what each country is known for, and I thought that was sort of interesting:

Albania: being 'mysterious', concrete bunkers, unique language

Bosnia: 1984 Winter Olympics, the bridge at Mostar

Croatia: neckties, war (not really sure why Croatia got singled out, unless they were also thinking of the Ustasha regime) and Tito

Macedonia Lake Ohrid, old monasteries, name dispute with Greece (I remember reading about this!)

Serbia & Montenegro Monica Seles, basketball players

Slovenia: Mountain sports, Lipizzaner horses, plonky ljutomer riesling (Don't ask me)

Not shockingly, the sections for the other parts of the former Yugoslavia, save Macedonia, are more in depth than the Bosnian section.

According to the book the highlights for Croatia are: The town of Dubrovnik, the Venitian architecture and vibrant nightlife of Hvar Town, watching a moreska sword dance in Korcula, the lakes and island monastery of Miljet, the cobbled streets and unpolished port of Rovinj

And although it is not mentioned in the highlights section, the authors spend a lot of time discussing Zagreb. According to the book, "[Zagreb] is finally coming into its own as an intriguing combination of Eastern and Western Europe."
Without sounding too cheesy, this is one of the aspects of the Balkans that draws me in the most, the melting/combination (however you want to put it) of different cultures: Islamic, Turkish, Orthodox, Byzantine, Catholic, Austro-Hungarian, Central European, Eastern European, Southern European etc.

The highlights for Macedonia are: The town of Ohrid, the "dinky little capital" Skopje, the highland wilderness of Mavorovo National Park, Bitola where you can explore Roman ruins and Pelister National Park.

Well, right away the description of "dinky little capital" captured my attention; so naturally I went right to the Skopje section. It also may be because I find cities more interesting than the countryside. The Balkans certainly have absolutely gorgeous countryside that shouldn't be missed; but if I was to ever tour the Balkans, I'd imagine on my first time out, I'd focus more on the cities.

"What strikes you most about the city is the weighty communist in its design..." It goes on to say much of the city was destroyed during an earthquake in the 1960s, and hence the redesign is apparently quite Communist chic.
Strangely, I don't think style of building design is limited to Eastern Europe; at my very midwestern college the student dorms looked right out of picture of Moscow, circa 1980.

Serbia and Montenegro highlights: Partying Belgrade, cafe lined Novi Sad, also host to the Exit Music Fest. The old city of Kotor, Durmitor National Park, Medieval capital of "Old Serbia" Prizren.

Did I mention that Belgrade is known for partying?! That little fact is mentioned several times in the book. It sounds like Belgrade is the nighclub capital of Eastern Europe. Interesting the city that intrigues me the most is Novi Sad; both for the cafes and music festival.

Slovenia highlights: the glory days of Venice through the old streets of Piran. The Julian Alps' lakes Bled and Bohinj. Icy Blue Soca River. Metelkova!(As I already mentioned in my first post about the LP guide to the Balkans). The Skocjan Caves.

The Skocjan Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Albania highlights: The wild color schemes and cafe culture of Tirana, the castle at Kruja, the museum city of Berati, beaches of Dhermiu and the ruins of Butrinti, the city-turned village of Voskopoja.

Voskopja went from being the biggest city in the Balkans (in the 1750s) to a population of a couple hundred today, thanks to occasional sacking and looting. However, some of ruins are still in good condition, including old churches that contain murals. There are even two (very) small hotels in the area.

At the end of the book, the authors discuss various aspects such as Visas, transportation and safety.

On Women Travellers: The degree of difficulty for women travellers is a "bit higher than Western Europe but much lower than Turkey or Morocco." According to the LP, the most culturally conservative part of the region is Kosovo, followed by the Muslim area of Macedonia and Serbia, then Albania and Bosnia.
From everything I've read on the Balkans (and especially Bosnia) it seems as if a dichotomy between the urban and rural is much stronger and more pronounced than any religious, ethnic or cultural rift.

On Gay and Lesbian Travellers: While homosexuality is no longer illegal; "conservative" and "patriarchal" social values makes being openly gay very difficult. The most progressive places in the Balkans are Slovenia, Croatia and Belgrade (btw: each of the countries/towns have resources for Gay and Lesbian travellers).

Solo Travellers: Often solo travellers have more opportunity to "soak up local flavor" They recommend hostels to meet new people; and ex-pat bars if you get homesick.

28 comments:

Owen said...

Plonky ljutomer riesling - the cheap way to a jolly evening when I was young!

Bg anon said...

Concerning Serbia there we have a discussion going at the Belgrade blog on the limitation of opening times of cafes and restaurants.

I'd be interested in your opinion Shaina and how opening hours operate in the United States.

Srebrenica Massacre said...

hi, Shaina, can you enable annonymous postings, I have more time to post messages to your blog when I am home. I dont log to my blogger's account from home connection, so if you can just enable annonymous postings, and I will shoot my comments. Thanks.

Srebrenica Massacre said...

of course, I am at work now

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