Haute Savoie- France
The weather turned to Autumn , so maybe it is time to go home !
Almut & I drove ,in her car , to join Claudia , Reno and many others for what was a fantastic 'birthday ' weekend . We enjoyed gorgeous wines , foods and many delicious cheeses .We hiked in 6 degrees , 2 hours up a mountain and were rewarded with a wonderful picnic , followed by a 'wetting '1.5 hour descent to Abondance ! The birthday ' dinner' was a great success , attended by more than 60 people, as was the ( indoor) BBQ next day , complete with a 5 piece band to entertain.
Now it is time to end my Journey- I hope you have enjoyed my blog as I have enjoyed sharing.
19 September 2017
More photos from Piacenza district of Italy
I travelled back from Greve in Chianti to Florence by bus then took the train to Fidenza , which required just one change in Bologna.
I was met by my friend Almut , who was to be my hostess for the next three days . She has an apartment /cottage in a large house in the delightful village of Vigoleno . The village is typical of Italy - set on top of a hill and integrated with an ancient castle . In the province of Piacenza , not too far from Parma , the countryside around there is picture postcard pretty . Each day we explored towns and villages , all within easy reach and all different from each other . Fidenza, Salsomaggiore( gorgeous) ,Castell Arquato , Busseto, Fontanellato.
We collected a 20 kg (half )Parmesan from the factory ( for Claudia's birthday party) , and enjoyed Pizza at a local Pizzeria on my last night in Italy .
My long European journey is almost at an end , but the experiences still fresh and interesting!
12 September 2017
Greve in Chianti 7-10 September
Next day I hiked up the hill to the castle village of Montifioralle , all the way enjoying stunning views across the surrounding countryside through vineyards and olive groves. I made a big circle along the ridge of a hill and descended into Greve from a different angle . The rain started again early evening as I was finishing the last wine tastings on my card from the day before. I had a delicious meal at a local eatery and retreated to my room quite early !
On the next afternoon I went on a tour of local villages and churches with a small group , and finished my stay dining with Vicky & Richard at their rental apartment.
More storms and rain heralded my departure next morning, so I was grateful to be given a lift to the bus stop by my host.
I bussed back to Florence then managed to get a train from there , amongst throngs of people all doing the same thing .
Greve in Chianti - 7 -10 September
I took a bus from Lucca & although it turned out It didn't go to the bus station in Florence , my beloved Google Maps came to the rescue and guided me the 800 metres to the place for the next bus to Greve.
It was a pleasant drive,gradually heading up into the rolling hills of Chianti region. After only an hour I arrived and easily found my homestay .
Later in the afternoon I made my way to the main Piazza where the 47 th annual Chianti wine festival was getting underway -There was a great atmosphere and some 60 stalls with wineries from the region selling their wares , including several super olive oils. I met an Australian couple at one of the stands , which was nice ,as we dined together . The evening was disrupted by a thunder storm, which was a shame, but a blessing for the grapes which were small and parched from the drought conditions of this summer .
8 September 2017
3-7 September- Lucca ,Tuscany
One evening I attended a fabulous concert featuring various pieces by Puccini , performed by Soprano Sylvia Pantani, Tenor Marco Mustaro & pianist Diego Fiorini .They sang pieces mainly from Turandot , including 'Nessun Dorma' with two solos on piano as well.There were also duets from Madame Butterfly and La Boheme.
The venue was the deconsecrated church of Saint Giovanni, where the acoustics made the beautiful sounds even better . I intended to go again the following evening. However as I was about to return to Lucca by train after a rainy day in Pisa , the airport phoned to say my bag was there so I jumped off the train and went to the airport ( quick mono rail type shuttle) . By the time I got back to Lucca it was too late - but I have my luggage!
As a matter of interest, Puccini was born and lived in Lucca 1858 -1924 , so I could imagine him there in that building at a time when it was still a church .
3-7 September- Lucca , Tuscany
This has been so far, my time for 'winding down ' from the constant travelling of the past 3 months .
Moving far from Lucca to explore was curtailed partly because my luggage had been lost in Athens and , like the last time in Budapest in July , I wasn't staying in a hotel where there was a reception to receive it , if delivered . This meant staying fairly near to my accommodation, should they phone with good news ! But that was OK - I was very philosophical about the bag as most of the clothes in it are ready to move on , and the one or two new items were not irreplaceable.
I explored Lucca , a lovely town with old, tall houses lining narrow streets , all contained within a still complete town wall . One day I walked the wall (4kms) and enjoyed the vistas of the town and countryside. I visited Palazzo Pfanner , a grand house with a beautiful garden . Churches , gorgeous boutiques full of Italian fashion , cafes and coffees- the days passed by quickly
4 September 2017
1 , 2 &3 September
Just as it was time to leave Tinos , the winds died so at least we had a calm crossing back to the port of Rafina on the mainland.!
We had a hotel right in the Plaka area of Athens , with a stunning view of the Acropolis from the bedroom!
The weather was 10 degrees Celsius cooler and the crowds much thinner than when I was in Athens 3 weeks earlier . This made for a very pleasant 2 days wandering the old city and exploring the food market and surrounding streets full of wonderful foods- spices, olives ,all kinds of nuts , seeds ,dried fruits & grains all for sale by the kg or gram. I stocked up on nuts, cranberries & seeds for my own mixture. Good timing as I was on the last bag of the last mix I had done way back in July in Budapest.
My friends flew home on the 2nd & I flew to Tuscany, Italy ,on the 3rd .
31 August 2017
31 August- Tinos
Photos from today's hike
Tinos- 30 & 31 August
We drove to Pyrgos in the Eastern central area and visited the marble museum . Very interesting, telling the story of Tinos marble which is used to adorn houses , to build the bell towers of churches and we even saw a marble drain cover in the street with a carved basket weave pattern ! It is not essentially an export product but there is a marble carving school , many graduates of which do restoration work around the world.
We returned to Tinos town via a high road , and could see amazing vistas of dry stone walled terraces in all directions, some of which are obviously still cultivated in the rainy season.
The wind is still blowing relentlessly, which is a shame , but today Claudia & I battled the gale to walk to a bay with beach. We then found a wonderful walking trail back via a gorge , up over the ridges to a hillside village then down an ancient marble 'road / path' to Tinos , which we assume was the original 'road' before the days of vehicular traffic.
29 August 2017
29 August - Tinos
Today we hired a car and set off to explore done of the 40 or so villages amongst the hills. The island is noticeably greener than others I visited, because of underground water sources .
The first stop was Agapi village , well known for the interesting carved marble lintels above doors and windows of the houses . It was lovely , ancient alleyways with flowering pot plants everywhere, & definitely no tourists except us !
Next we stopped at Volax, set amongst an area of giant granite builders . We saw basket weavers at work, and wished we were able to read the poetry written on walls like graffiti in Greek script . A lovely village too and well used to tourists .
Third was Kambos, remarkable because of the many dovecotes ( the island is famous for having more than 1000 ) . Originally introduced by the Venetians , dovecotes were a symbol of wealth & status. We went into what we thought was a church , but was a local mausoleum on a hill at the edge of the village
More village photos
28 August 2017
Tinos - 28 August
Our centrally located apartment overlooks the wide marble paved road which leads up the gently sloping hill to The church of Virgin Mary's Annunciation . This church is a place of pilgrimage for Greek Orthodox followers and today we could see people making their way up the hill to the church . To complete the pilgrimage they must crawl on hands and knees , or for the very best effect , on knees & forearms , all the way up the hill on the carpet fitted to the side of the street . Then across the pebble square in front of the church and up the red carpeted stairs .
The sale of large candles , offeratory plaques and cheap icons provide good business in town . People visiting the church provides Tinos with its largest chunk of income .
We spent the day just in Tinos , with a visit to the famous church , and some exploration of the charming town .
27 August 2017
26 & 27 August
We dined at the restaurant near our apartment, having to wear a fleece jacket for warmth, the first time since I was in The Baltic area 6 weeks ago .
Our ferry to our next and last island , Tinos , was early in the morning, but we had to transit via Naxos . We had decided to spend a few hours there which was pleasant, having a quick look & exploring the alleys of the old area of town .
The wind had got up even more by the time we were nearing Tinos , no wonder it is also known as 'The island of Aeolus ' the wind God , because of it's strong summer northern winds.
Tinos has a permanent population of around 10,000with 6000 of those living in Tinos town . The architecture is interesting, with mixed styles in the original part of the town .
25 August 2017
The wind has been a relentless 25-40 kms per hour since we arrived yesterday, which made for interesting yoga on our apartment verandah this morning. Stones and shoes on the corners weren't always sufficient to stop the mats blowing away !
Then we girls set off on another beautiful walk across the island, this one is 'no 5' and crosses the steep hills to the northern side . The views from the top were just as spectacular as yesterday's, and after a rocky descent in very windy conditions we reached the small hamlet of Kalotaritissa , which is in a small bay and has a pretty beach.The delicious coffee frappe was just what we needed , before setting off for the return walk , which we did on the road , covering a distance of 13 kms altogether today .
The road from Stavros ( the town ) and Kalotaratissa
was only built in 2000 , so I assume the rocky paths were the only way around until then .
24 August- Donoussa
A 5.45 a.m alarm gave us plenty of time to have tea & coffee , drop the car off at the port , then catch our ferry at 7.am for the 35 minute crossing to Donoussa .
The early arrival meant we didn't waste a day travelling, so after moving into our small seafront apartment ,Claudia and I set off to do one of the 5 walking trails.
We covered 10kms return ,to a point high above the sea where the wind whipped up the waves below & created a fascinating spectacle .The geography at this point is of pure rock , more lunar than earthly.
On our return we joined a small number of people on the Stavros town beach , but the water was too cold for us to swim !
Another delicious Greek dinner and 1/2 kg of local red wine completed another fabulous day .
24 August 2017
August 23 Amorgos-
How quickly the time seems to have gone on this lovely island! After yoga & a leisurely breakfast on the balcony, Claudia and I set off to walk around a headland & back across the top to our village . We got as far as 1,2 & 3 small beaches tucked down at the foot of cliffs , the second and third beaches were populated by young people free camping . No facilities at all and we were appalled by the rubbish at the furthest beach just piled up in one corner of the sand.
At this point , the marked walking trail just came to an end. A steep cliff on the seaward side was definitely too inhospitable to imagine a path around, and the hill behind had no trace of a path, so eventually we retraced our steps back to the road and the long hot climb to our village . A rest was required before enjoying a last meal on Amorgos.
23 August 2017
August 22 Amorgos
Today we had a day off from walking - Yoga in the morning and then the 3 of us drove up into the hills , & over the other side to the Monastery of Panagia Hozoviotissa , which we had hiked past the day before. So , up the 300 steps again to 300 metres above the sea and in through the tiny low door. The building is just 5 metres deep and first built in 1088 . It is known as the monastery of one wall because of the long , narrow form cling to the rock face.
From there we went to Hora & had a wander around, coffee , then drove to the far south west tip of the island to Kaloteritissa Bay , where Claudia was the only one brave enough to swim in the cool water .The remainder of the afternoon was spent in the shade of a large Olive tree on the beach , variously reading and sleeping!
The land was hilly , but greener with a bit of soil to be seen , some vegetables growing and apparently the agricultural area of the island.
Ouzo sundowners in Aegialis finished the day.
More photos of that wonderful hike .
The descent from the mountain to Aegialis Bay was steep , we passed by very old Olive trees with huge gnarly trunks where goats were sheltering from the heat . The route took us through the village of Potamos , which we soon realised was even steeper than our village on the opposite hill . We imagined carrying luggage from the car park there and were grateful that we had chosen our accommodation so well , if only by luck !
We forewent our daily morning yoga session , in order to get an early start walking . Reno dropped us off by car 🚗 ( yes a tiny Fiat ) in Chora , the main town , up on the mountain. We walked Footpath '1' which started steeply downhill to the entrance to Hozoviotissa Monastery , up 300 steps then onwards up to the startlingly beautiful scenery which awaited us on the rugged south coast . We walked about 20 kms over 5 hours and had this place to ourselves . It will be one of the most memorable walks I have ever done ! Just look at the photos- ancient dry stone walls from a time when the land was more fertile . We walked partly on what must be an early Minoan road , it felt as if we were passing through history , and so so beautiful. We met two goat-herders , but otherwise just goats of different colours and sizes , all grazing the sparse vegetation or seeking shade . Looking down from our path through the hills we got glimpses of the road far below , or crystal sea
Amorgos 20-24 August
It is so good to stop in one place after 5 weeks solid travelling since my last small break in Budapest. The village has several cafes , all within a few metres up or down steps, as the hillside villages are all pedestrian only ,with car parks on the outer edges .The tourist season is a short one for local businesses, so we are happy to support the village economy each evening , enjoying delicious traditional Greek fare . Amorgos, although large , has only 1900 permanent residents ,many more come seasonally from Athens to run homestays , restaurants etc ,
On our first day here , Claudia & I walked one of several marked hiking trails nearby -5kms .We passed 3 of the many small whitewashed chapels which dot the countryside & wandered through the hillside village of Lagada before descending to the finishing point in Aegialis , where we met Reno for a beachside lunch in the port .The land is arid & rocky,a stark beauty contrasted to the gorgeous deep blue sea.
19 -24 August -Amorgos
I said goodbye to my few remaining tour companions , and transferred by car to the Santorini port ,which is at the bottom of a very steep hill- road. This time , instead of a large car ferry , my boat was a fast catamaran, with only pedestrian space . We went via Naxos , where those of us continuing on to Amorgos were able to disembark while the ferry went to Mykonos and back . That worked well , I climbed up the small hill to the Temple of Athena then had an expensive ice-cream at a waterfront cafe . I finally arrived in Amorgos at 5.30 pm where I had pre booked one of the 3 taxis on the island ! A hair raising 25 minutes later I arrived in Tholaria, a village high on a hill at the eastern most point of the road . My friends Claudia & Reno had arrived earlier in the day at the apartment we are renting for 5 nights. Right opposite the large local Orthodox Church , we hear regular bell ringing & have the perfume of incense wafting over .
21 August 2017
18 August- Santorini
We took the 7 a.m bus from our local village to Thira & on the way had a free 'tour' of some more bits of the island! From Thira we hiked the 11 kms across the hills to Oia , the other picture postcard town . The hike was of easy to medium difficulty, with some hill climbs , a good wellbeing walk ! After a couple of hours in the town , we returned to Perissa for afternoon R&R , followed by a last group dinner at a beach cafe .
19 August 2017
17 & 18 August
'Oh my goodness ' - what an island ! Seriously touristic and very very awesome.
A big island created out of the caldera of an ancient volcano- The cliffs are seriously steep and the myriad hotels , cafes and shops clinging to them look spectacular, especially at sunset .
We stayed at Perissa , a flat area which has a black sand beach stretching for kilometres . Vineyards cover much of the free space on one side , even empty building plots are planted. The harvest is in progress now, with grapes handpicked from the vines .These are grown in a bush shape to protect the fruits from the harsh sun , I assume.
A walk in the main town of Thira , followed by a group dinner at one of the 'cliff 'restaurants was enough for me. The town is rather more like a film set , gorgeous to look at but quite surreal!
16 August - Mykonos and Delos
Our half day tour to Delos was fascinating , even though the half hour crossing from
Mykonos was pretty rough with a 1-2 metre swell .
Delos is the mythological birth place of
Apollo & Artemis , so a sacred place for ancient Greeks.Settled since circa 2500 BC originally, by 167 BC it was an important free port for commercial activity in the north eastern Mediterranean & soon became the greatest commercial centre of the whole world. The remains from that era are still visible , including some beautiful mosaic floors.
Delos was attacked and looted twice , in 88 BC by King Mithridates an enemy of the Romans & later by the pirates of Athenodorus, his ally . Since then the island was gradually abandoned.
Ongoing excavations since 1872 have unearthed a good part of the town.
17 August 2017
15 & 16 August- Mykonos
The journey from Syros to Mykonos was only 45 minutes as they are in sight of each other . The ports are chaotic now, the height of the
summer season, with hordes of us embarking and disembarking as well as cars and trucks. Luckily we had a group bus transfer up the hill to The Madalena hotel , which is ideally situated ,with stunning views and only a ten minute walk into town.
Mykonos is 'drop dead gorgeous ' , white on white with a small, town beach and cafes overlooking the bay and in 'little Venice '. Designer shops jostle with little boutiques, clubs,bars and jewellery shops along the many windy ( and windy! ) pedestrian streets which make up the town .
On our afternoon walk we vied for space with the hundreds of passengers who spilled from the 3 cruise ships at anchor in the bay . Not my favourite pastime.
16 August 2017
13 &14 August- Syros Island
It was good to leave the heat of Athens behind and travel 3.5 hours by ferry to Syros, in the Cyclades group of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea . The population is somewhere over 21,000, and because of it's role as administrative capital of the area , it does not rely on tourism for it's wellbeing. The main town , Ermoupoli has narrow lanes full of lovely shops & plenty of cafes .
Ano Syros is the 'Old Town' on top of a hill high above Ermoupoli , all tiny cobbled lanes , huge old bougainvillea covered in blooms - absolutely charming! On the second day it was good to have free time to do as we wished. In my case it was to eat fresh salad and marinated anchovies at a family run cafe & explore .
In the evening Andrea & I took a taxi to the town of Vari , where we enjoyed a very local festival in honour of St Nicholas , held on the beach in the small natural harbour. There were traditional dances & music , including bagpipes of animal gut and horn !
12 August 2017
11 &12 August-
We travelled by public bus from Litochoro to Athens, the newest vehicle so far , with efficient air conditioning. This is probably the most important consideration during the current heat wave here in this part of the world.
We arrived in Athens mid afternoon to Hotel Attalos , which is centrally situated for exploring the Old City .
Two of us set off almost immediately for the Acropolis Museum , which tells the complete history of the Acropolis , has artefacts and a full sized copy of the Parthenon . After 2 hours reading , looking & watching the excellent film about it , we were prepared for our visit to the site .
The next day was scorching.Even though we were up the hill by 8.45 , it was already hot and we found out later that the temperature reached 45 degrees at midday . With little shade and hundreds of people seeking what there is ( a few solitary trees ) , we weren't sorry when we had seen everything and headed downhill for coffee.
11 August 2017
Mt Olympus - 10August
The hike was more difficult than I had anticipated, we would descend 100 metres , think we were going down and there would be another ridge to climb , up 80 metres - up and down .!
The last 1.5 kms was a very steep descent . It took the older members of the group 4 hours to reach the bottom (900 metres down) A stunningly beautiful walk enjoyed and a great sense of achievement felt by all .
The day was hot , mid 30s , so I did very little for the rest of the day. The beach was only 7 kms away but I opted to stay in the town , eat ice cream for lunch and spend time on the breezy verandah at our hotel!
August 10 - Litochoro/Mt Olympus
8 of our group were ready at 6.30a.m for taxis to take us up the mountain road to The Monastery Agios Dionysios and the starting point for a 10 km hike down Mt Olympus to Litochoro, through Enipeas Canyon .
The path was easy to follow down through tall mountain forest about 20 minutes to a small retreat under a huge rock overhang . The story goes that this is where St. Dionysus became a hermit , there is a spring which gushes 'holy' water and passing visitors who drink from it will have a wish granted. I will see ....... It is still a place of pilgrimage.
The scenery was spectacular as we alternately ascended and descended , sometimes on a path of forest litter, but mostly on loose rock and rocky outcrops . We crossed the river in the gorge 6 times back and forth as the precipitous way through went from one side to the other , in order to get round sheer rock faces towering above us .
10 August 2017
Sunset over Mt Olympus- Maybe the 12 Olympeans
auras in the clouds !
9 August 2017
9 August- Kastoria to Litochoro / Mt. Olympus
Today's transfer (13 pax) in 2 minivans was a little bit hot, as the drivers here resist closing the windows & switching on the a/c . It took about 3 hours on the modern motorway, such a treat !
We arrived in Litochoro , a smallish town nestled at the foot of Mt Olympus and just 7 kilometres from the Aegean Sea . Hilly and cute with a stunning backdrop of mountains, it felt like the perfect place to be for two nights.
Our hotel was small and owner operated, which does make a difference. We were made to feel very welcome. It was a pleasure to wander through the town. After some clothes shopping in a gorgeous little boutique and a visit to the Orthodox Church, my room mate & I dined at Meze Meze ,one of the restaurants with tables spilling across the pavement. The fresh anchovies & sardines were delicious & went well with the local light red wine .
9 August - Kastoria
The early morning view from my hotel room was by far the best of my 2.5 months travelling so far ! The light on the lake created a mirror image of the orange tiled houses scrambled on the hillside behind.
The morning was a free one and I made my way uphill along steep cobbled streets and ancient stone staircases into the 'Old ' Town . My first stop was to visit the Byzantine Museum , which has a collection of 75 Icons painted on wood , dating back to the late C12 . The history of the art was well documented in english which made for a very interesting hour and a half.
The area is littered with small & medium sized Eastern Orthodox Churches - the iconography was mostly commissioned & donated by rich local benefactors, to enhance both their social and spiritual standing.
8 August 2017
8 August- To Kastoria Greece
This was my last border crossing until I leave Greece on 2 September - almost 4 weeks of delicious food to look forward to !
The route from Bitola to Kastoria took us through quite a high mountain pass , the total journey time around 4 hours . The weather is a bit cooler, meaning low 30s, temperatures which I am happy in .
Known habitation of the Kastoria area dates back to Neolithic times, attested to by the remains found at a site near the lake .
An important, walled town by the early 16 th century, it's economy was based on fishing and trades , but the most outstanding was that in 1520 there were 700 furriers. Fur is still a local commodity, notably beaver I believe ( farmed) .
It is such a treat to be in a town which is not overrun by tourists (I know I am one ) as it somehow makes for a calmer and more authentic experience of life as it is lived by the locals.
7 August Skopje to Bitola
Today we were on the road again by public bus to Dihovo , a small village near Bitola in southern Macedonia. The journey took about 3 hours ,through mostly wine & pip fruit growing areas & pastoral land growing vegetables. The heat wave continues but even climbing to just over 600 metres above sea level, it was a few degrees cooler and with cloud cover , so much more bearable . We stayed in homes in the village in or near our 'base' house , Villa Dihovo . Here we had a delicious lunch , evening wine tasting & dinner . All wine and vegetables are grown organically on their property . Not only this but their tariffs for accommodation & meals are not set , but up to the individual to decide at the end of their stay !
During the afternoon, most of our group walked to a little waterfall /swimming hole in the nearby river .The area is part of Pellister National Park, but time didn't allow for more exploration.
7 August 2017
August 6 -Skopje Macedonia
Later there was time to visit any of the many museums or go to the huge cross high above the city by cable car . I opted for the Holocaust Museum commemorating the thousands of Macedonian Jews who were sent to Treblinka . There was a well translated narrative , with maps ,tracing the history and movements of Sephardic Jews throughout Europe , which I found an interesting addenda to my experiences in other cities on my European tour so far.
My 'buddy' and I had an amusing afternoon, browsing the wonderful shops stuffed with heritage textiles , both finding it difficult to resist more purchases! We explored the Bazaar , original and authentic Skopje in a nutshell. Then, a late ,very traditional lunch of Shopska salad , hot Turkish bread , chargrilled zucchini and the dip made of roasted red peppers .
No dinner required ,so a rare , early return to the hotel and a lazy evening .
August 6 - Skopje
A group visit to Matka Canyon , just a half hour from the city was a pleasant way to spend the morning . The river was dammed in 1938 for hydroelectricity and the resultant lake provides a great place for boating & canoeing between spectacular cliffs and mountains.Some of us boated to a cave , whilst others hiked the precipitous narrow path along the cliffs .
Andrea ( my room buddy ) & I are finding we like many similar things in life and both spied a beautiful piece of hand stitched & embroidered Illyrian beadwork at a stall - Fortunately there were also a pair of beaded armbands which I was happy to purchase !
Skopje- August 5
The public bus to Skopje, the capital city,was comfortable. The journey took around 3 hours through dry hilly countryside with distant bushfires burning in some areas. Another 41 degree day, so after lunch at a nearby cafe , most of us retreated to our lovely ,modern ,air conditioned hotel for a couple of hours.
The exploratory walk into the city was a totally different experience from any before .No grand , centuries old architecture here , but a confection of statuary and buildings which have sprung up since 2010 . This work is ongoing and part of the government's 2014 project .Described as 'Kitsch ', I can only let my photos speak. I only photographed a small percentage of the art installations. Soo , a bit of London ?Rome? Paris? Hollywood?
The massive bronze of 'man on a horse 'aka Alexander the Great,alone cost apparently 7.5 million Euros - The project costs are unfathomable and a sore point with many locals. The rationale is to create a sense of nationhood.
Ohrid-Macedonia 4 August
The group activity for the day was a 2 hour boat cruise on Lake Ohrid . We moved at a relaxed pace , enjoying the 'water to land' perspective.Our boatman provided shots of Plum rakija , which elicited appropriate gasps and grimaces from those of us who drank it😲!
I spent the rest of day shopping , having a long lunch with my roommate and generally relaxing under a tree near the lake.
4 August 2017
Ohrid Macedonia 3. August
The group was disappointed with the location of our hotel , 3 kms from the lake & old town .There is neither a/c nor fans in the rooms ( 700 mtrs above sea level and usually cooler at night , we were told ). We were shuttled in taxis to a nice restaurant on the gorgeous lakeside for a late lunch , so life was better again ! A city walk with a local guide followed until dusk, which was about 8.15 pm. The lake , 36 kms long , is the oldest in Europe and UNESCO World heritage,as is Ohrid Old City . Boasting 365 churches and an architectural style all of its own , it has a mixture of Byzantine and Ottoman , sometimes in the same building! Also a roman amphitheatre, restored ,added to & well used .
During the walk we saw that St Sophia's church had an evening classical recital , so Andrea & I skipped dinner and went . The acoustics were awesome and the piano , bassoon and flute trio , highly accomplished . A great end to a full day & new experience
August 3 - Berat,Albania -Ohrid , Macedonia 🇲🇰
The bus which took us the 3 hours to the border between Albania & Macedonia was tight for 13 people and luggage . The a/c wasn't working well either, so it was a relief when we stopped at a cafe to spend our remaining Albanian currency on coffees.Europe is in the midst of a heatwave, today 39, which makes for pretty hot travelling conditions!
This part of the trip took us through a food growing area full of melons ripening on the ground , tomatoes, corn, sugar cane and loads of huge tunnel houses . Then we wound up through a pass past dozens of small (& 1 large) bushfires in the undergrowth of pine forests , along a river valley displaying the stress the countryside is under - a mere trickle running on a wide stony riverbed.
Up one more mountain pass , greener than the last ,down , then our first views of Lake Ohrid and we reached the border station .
Leaving the bus behind , we walked with our luggage into Macedonia & another mini
2 August - Berat
After dark, one of my travelling companions and I found our way to the wide pedestrian street by the river ,where a classical concert / recital was being held in the square . The performers were young Asian adults , there was a formal printed programme but because of the language difference we were unable to ascertain who they were. Anyway the violinist, pianist and soprano we listened to were professionals , a lovely interlude in an interesting day .
3 August 2017
2 August- Berat , Albania
After a welcome rest out of the searing heat of the afternoon, we set off at 5 pm with a local guide to visit the castle on the hill right above us. The rough cobbled road was slippery from hundreds of years of wear , so combined with the heat, it took a while to reach the top . But the discomfort was well compensated for by the views , history and life at the top. The walls are not intact , but it covers a large area with 500 people still living
within,in about 150 houses . The history of the castle dates back as far as C10 with several ancient Orthodox churches still standing , with original frescoes from 14C & different eras . Also the remains of 2 mosques .It was a fascinating visit, made more interesting by the people selling fine lace , woven textiles and fresh wild fruits .
We came upon a couple having wedding photos taken & our group were added to their portfolio , with the happy couple!
August 2 - Tirana to Berat
The morning was spent travelling- taxi to bus station, intercity bus approximately 3 hours with minimally functioning a/c - local bus from Berat city outskirts to the old city - Mangalem, known as 'The city of 1000 windows' and a UNESCO world heritage site since 2008.
We had a very Albanian lunch at Mangalem Hotel -some had lamb baked with yoghurt and cheese , stuffed baked aubergines, and there were several dishes containing offal on the menu .
Our hotel was a heritage house, so the thick stone walls helped to cool the rooms as a/c struggles in these 41 degree temperatures!
The Osumi river runs through the city dividing the two heritage areas , with a very obvious architectural difference between the two - ( see photos)
Of course there is also a modern city of 60,000 people, some suburbs built during the communist regime era and others more recent -
2 August 2017
Last but not least in Kruja - a tiny , ancient Sufi Muslim ( Dervish ) mosque . Up an old cobbled road, in a garden with ancient graves - The walls still with original frescoes - delightful
Another very hot transfer back to Tirana in the Red Van and I was ready for a rest in a cool room!
Because I had slept poorly for 5 consecutive nights, I opted out of the group dinner and had a wonderful fresh salad and grilled vegetables in the hotel garden- Bed by 9 and asleep before my room mate returned 😴😴
An interesting note- during the communist years when Albania's great friend was China under Chairman Mao , the focus was on building bunkers all over Albania , with the plan to have 700,000 of these . They managed to build about 200,000 which are still to be found all over the country .Building a huge arms arsenal was also top of the list along with creating propagandist monuments. Food and other commodities were way down the list.
The other museum in the Kruja Castle complex was a fascinating Ethnographic display set up in an original nobleman's home , depicting life in C19.
Of note , as I hadn't seen them before were an Olive Press and 'Loom' for making Felt .
In the photos , note the room with large cushions and in the next photo the circular windows ( above the room ) so the women could check the men socialising to see if they needed more food or drink. Also for the unmarried girl to peep at her betrothed, as marriage was arranged by the fathers.
August 1 Albania
The weather forecast was for 38 degrees in the afternoon ,so to beat the heat we set off at 8 am ( already 30 ) , for a half day trip to Kruja , the ancient capital of Albania. The van I was in had 'open window ' air conditioning so it was a relief to arrive in the hill town . The ground is so dry at the moment that even the conifer trees in the forest we drove through are suffering.
There is a large bazaar to walk through to get up to the castle . I saw some beautiful woven textiles and rugs & had to remind myself that my bag is small , full and I still have a long way to go!
Part of the castle was rebuilt in 1982 as a national museum celebrating the national war hero Skanderbeu ,of 15C Ottoman fame - with huge communist style statuary it was propagandist at the time , but now is a great tourist attraction. Our local guide there told us of the years of his childhood in the 1980s& early 90s when Albania was as closed as N Korea is now . Not an easy time for them
31 July -Tirana , Albania 🇦🇱
Although Tirana doesn't have the grand old buildings of other cities on my tours ,it is a modern bustling city with new buildings going up all over the city. It is quite amazing how it has recovered from the closed years under the communist regime .The city sits in a basin , surrounded by hills which we could see clearly from the revolving restaurant of the city Tower where we finished the orientation walk late afternoon. Compared to other Eastern European countries, food and drinks are cheap, a glass of 'bubbles up 'there was just 350 Lek- less than EUR 3 !
The warm welcome we received at our Hotel ( hotel Kruja) was lovely and only the second time in more than 2 months that my luggage was taken to my room and collected on departure.We learned that hospitality and care of guests ( also in the home ) is of paramount importance .We had a delicious meal in the garden , with piano & well known song solos performed by a young woman with a pure voice.
1 August 2017
After a smooth border crossing into Albania , we drove to the ruins of Zafaza Castle , high up on a hilltop overlooking the plains and lake Skardar which has the border of Montenegro and Albania running through it. It was hot - 35 or so , so mid day wasn't the best time to be out in the blazing sun. The views made up for the discomfort , as we looked in all four directions across the dry summer landscapes. A newly wed couple were there for photographs- nice
We drove through the hot dry landscape past some Olive and Pomegranate groves to our final destination of Tirana .
30 July - Croatia to Montenegro
The first day of travelling began with a transfer by private bus to Kotor , Montenegro, where I have already just been. Because I am on pre planned group tours there is no alternative and at least the bus took a different border crossing from the one I had done .
We stayed at the same hotel and I took the opportunity to have another rest day.
Today we travelled south along the coast , passing through several Montenegrin holiday resorts . The summer holiday season seems to be creating some traffic jams , which we encountered a couple of times . The beaches in one town , Budva, were completely covered in side by side sun beds and umbrellas- not a place I would want to find myself in on a 'package ' holiday !
We did pass some pretty villages , one a similar walled town on an isthmus, like a mini Dubrovnik and another a privately owned island hotel , which , from a distance looked like an old town !
31 July 2017
29 July Dubrovnik
I had a whole day to myself! All I had to do was move to a different hotel, 2 kms away and meet up with the new tour group early evening.
My original plan was to head back into the Old Town and visit a museum or two , but my body was telling me to stop! Two months of travelling and several nights of poor sleep added up to a desperate need to rest . My new hotel was in a beautiful pedestrian street leading to a picturesque bay with cafes , hotels and a small stony beach . I opted for this area to spend my day - It was hot -34 degrees- so drinking coffee , dipping in the cool waters of the Adriatic was perfect.
The group duly met up at 6 p.m - 12 of us and a female tour leader who is Croatian and lives in Athens , so speaks the languages of most of our destinations over the next two weeks.
The afternoon and evening inside the The Old City were hectic - Such a stunning area , wall to wall history, museums and tourists ! The walls around the town are complete and the walkway on top was the perfect way to see the city which is almost completely surrounded by blue seas .
We had only a short time to explore so I didn't manage to go to any of the many churches and museums . We had a last group dinner, then made our way back to the hotel -
29 July 2017
Another very full day , the last of this section of my tour and with my current companions and tour leader . We departed Kotor at 7.45 am , and about an hour later we had made our way right round the bays towards the Adriatic coast and across the border Montenegro/ Croatia. According to our leader it was a quick transition as there wasn't much of a queue. Our speed was short lived though as we came to a long traffic jam near to Dubrovnik airport. It turned out that the taxi drivers were protesting about Uber , were striking and had put some sort of blockade on the road . We later read reports of missed planes , so our delay was a nuisance but insignificant .
The overnight hotel in Dubrovnik was right next to the cruise ship dock , and when we reached The Old Town a bit later on , I think all of people from the 3 huge ships were there too!
28 July 2017
Grateful for a bit of free time in the afternoon, I was happy to be able to get online and have a long chat with my daughters, as it is normally the middle of the southern night when I have the opportunity!
As the day cooled down ,at 6.30 pm, several of our group met at the Old Town Gate . From there we hiked up the 1,426 steps ( 226 metres up ) by the remains of the defensive wall to the top and the remnants of the fort . The sun was setting , the views were terrific . With a sense of achievement, we headed back down to a much less crowded Old Town ( than yesterday) and enjoyed dinner and not so good Montenegrin red wine !
Zoom in on the first photo and you can see the way and the fort amongst the Rocky Mountain
We woke to blue skies and flat calm water , so a boat trip on the bay was perfect. We had the whole boat to ourselves (13) , so plenty of space to enjoy the scenery . First stop was a manmade island created in the 15 th century with rocks to house a church dedicated to the guardian saint of fishermen, which in that age was saint Mary . Fishermen who returned safely from the sea would gift offerings in the form of silver badges (small plaques) which now form part of the ornate decoration inside .
The other small island is natural and is,or was , a monastery.
The best bit of the morning was a dip in the sea from the boat - with the sea temperature a pleasant 26 degrees, it was the first time I have used my togs since leaving Malaysia in May !
27 July 2017
After settling into our comfortable accommodation in Soba Marija 2 , the whole group walked into the Old Town which had escaped war damage , only to be damaged by a severe earthquake in 1979. However the walls are intact and the streets narrow.
There are two cruise ships in , one huge , so the old town streets were difficult to negotiate. After a brief tour with our leader, it felt rather claustrophobic so I took a walk along the marina to see how 'the other half ' lives -
Dinner for me was a huge bowl of Moules Marinière , fresh from the mussel farms right here in the bay .
Today , we came down from the mountains and into the heat of coastal Kotor. Such a surprise to see the vista which opened below us as we arrived at the viewpoint . The city of Kotor sits at the head of a huge natural harbour , which is 16 miles from the open Adriatic . Steep mountains create a basin for the line of quaint, orange tiled villages which sit variously right by the water or clinging as far up the hillsides as they dare .
26 July 2017
Dormitor National Park
Dormitor National Park - Montenegro
A few kilometres on we had dropped down to 1600 metres and reached a mountain town with typical snow friendly architecture. Here we had a lovely walk around a small glacial lake named black lake and into some forest to a plaque in a huge rock overhang, commemorating the spot where Tito and his troops holed up for nine days in May 1943 and from there decided to counter attack the Germans .
We finally arrived at our hotel in a cool 16 degrees with thunder constantly in the background.
What a fabulous day 😊
Dormitor National Park
So we just kept on climbing - the canyon is one of the deepest in the world- what a fantastic drive it was .
Eventually we came out of the gorge and onto a mountain plain, undulating grassy land amongst limestone peaks . We passed the occasional simple cottage where herders live during the summer months when they bring their cattle and sheep to graze the mountain meadows. We were at 1,907 metres and not too far from the local ski area .
There was a queue of vehicles at the Bosnia- Herzegovina border post and similarly across the narrow bridge strung high above the Tara river, at the Montenegro border control. Patience was in order and once through, the road was just as narrow, but well maintained.
From here we wound our way UP - passing through 56 tunnels , some small , some longer . Soon we passed back across the river at a giant dam . The lake which was created by the project way back in the 50's is 46 km long - The road was one switchback after another with some spectacular vistas . Our driver told me that the road has existed in some form since Ottoman times as it was the only passage through- Look closely at one or two of the photos to see the tunnels!
July 25 Sarajevo to Dormitor National Park, Montenegro
The modern air conditioned x18 seater coach which picked us up at 8.30 a.m was well appreciated by the end of what was to be a long day travelling , but oh so interesting!
Once out of the city , it was wasn't too long before we were climbing through dense Conifer forest . Then to limestone cliffs intermingled with deciduous flora , some clinging to life in the craggy
landscape.Today's 'coffee stop ' was by a river where we saw local sheep with extremely long wool grazing , one with a bell around it's neck just like mountain cattle!
The coffee set us up for the scary road ahead which was to lead to the river border crossing into Montenegro. Narrow, steep ,landslide prone , with a gigantic drop to the Tara river below- not my favourite sort of road .The River here is a well known rafting area and there are several lodges - based around wooden chalets , dotted along the river on the few flat or accessible sites.
25 July 2017
I wandered up some of the streets of Mostar where the other tourists didn't go and came across a Muslim cemetery full of memorials to young men who died in the second wave of fighting in Mostar in 1993/94 between the local Bosniaks ( Bosnian muslims ) and Bosnia Croats . Such a waste , especially of lives .
Back in Sarajevo I enjoyed a last evening , having a meal with two of the young singles , watching locals playing chess on the big board in the park and eating a last delicious ice cream.
After crossing a fairly high mountain Pass (1500 mtrs) we made our way down the other side and through a spectacular gorge . This involved going through many small tunnels and a along a winding road .The towering hills one side and the river with a small hydro electric dam reminded me very much of The Cromwell gorge in Central Otago, New Zealand , before the dam was built there . It was a beautiful drive . The gorge opened onto a large flat plain , covered in stony vineyards. Mostar is the town a little further on , hugging the river banks and hillside . It is famous for it's bridge and the 'bridge jumpers' The Old Town is also from Ottoman times and UNESCO world heritage.
The day was HOT - 34 . A delightful place but jammed full of tourists . The bridge is about 16 metres from the water and the jumpers don't go until they have gathered enough money from spectators .
Today we made a day trip to Mostar , situated In a valley in South Western Bosnia - Herzegovina .Soon after leaving Sarajevo we were climbing towards the mountains amongst gorgeous scenery.After an hour and a half we stopped in Jablsnika where a big battle took place in 1941 between German troops and the local Partisan 'army'.It was called the Battle of Neretva , after the river. This is where the invading army bombed the bridge across the river to stop the Partisans moving The story goes that in the night the Partisans made a pontoon across the river and moved thousands of troops including 10,000 wounded . Sounds like big numbers in one night to me , but there is something else of interest for further research ! There was a film made there about the battle and Yul Brynner and ? starred in it !
24 July 2017
Then we checked out the local coffee ( seriously strong) and the locally brewed beer ( seriously weak ) ! In between tastings we visited the C16 Mosque and museum next door, which was the first Madrasah in this area , all endowed by Gazri Huzrev Beg.
All interesting stuff and feeling pretty hot and exhausted, it was a welcome change to spend an evening at our accommodation where we had a pre organised cooking class ( dolma - stuffed vegetables ) and dinner .
23 July- Sarajevo
An excellent morning tour with a local guide, Muhammad , who was 10 years old in 1992 when the blockade began , 1 day after Bosnia - Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia . He was 13 or 14 by the time the city was safe . Therefore we had first hand stories of the bravery, heartbreak and determination of the people of Sarajevo. We visited the famous 800 metre supply tunnel which they made from the house in the photo, under the airport runway in 1993 into the city. Anyway if you are reading this, it is worth reading about these times, ( of course I remember the time but not the detail as it doesn't seem too long ago ) or reacquaint yourself perhaps.
From there we went to look down on this gorgeous city from a hilltop - followed by a free afternoon. Three of us wandered together and had hot Burek, ( filo pastry filled with meat or spinach & cheese or potato and sold by weight-)!straight from the wood oven - just like pizza except cooked over embers
As the walk progressed we came to a point where there are Paving stones inscribed with 'Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures' - E /W how true - suddenly we were back in the Ottoman Empire when this part of the city was originally built. Of course many of the buildings in both parts of the Old City have been rebuilt or restored on several occasions- the latest being after 'The siege of Sarajevo ' which lasted from 1992 until well into 1995 ( I think about 1425 days which is almost 4 years) - and the restoration is ongoing.
The Ottoman quarter is UNESCO protected- what a gem .
An interesting heritage site is what I understand to be the oldest public WC in Europe- 1530 & still functioning !
23 July - Sarajevo
The afternoon heat was 34 degrees , intensified by the reflection off the cobblestones as we reached the Old Town on an orientation walk .The Family owned Pansion we are staying in , is right next to the ruins of the ice skating rink where Jane Torvill & Christopher Dean made Britain proud at the 1984 Winter Olympics . This and the main stadium are in a derelict state and look even more sad because of their ' communist style ' architecture.
So basically, my first impression of Sarajevo was one of decay . I couldn't have been more wrong! I have found it to be the most captivating city I have visited so far in the two months since I began my Eastern European tour.
As we walked through Austro-Hungarian era architecture , I was amazed at how well the city had been restored in just 20 years since peace was restored.
23 July 2017
Belgrade , Serbia to Sarajevo , Bosnia - Herzegovina
The 6 a.m departure to the bus station wasn't too painful and we were soon on our long journey to the border and on to Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia -Herzegovina.
The flat landscape gradually bulged into steep, forest clad hills until we crossed a small mountain Pass. Leaving Serbia took a while as our tour leader and one of the males in our group were randomly taken , with luggage , and searched at the border. They had nothing to hide so the coach was able to get us on our way , and after another passport stamp we were in Bosnia- Herzegovina. The road wound through a steep river gorge until we emerged into a narrow valley.We had arrived in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
This country is more than 50% Muslim , with smaller percentages of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics - According to our local tour guide , Muhamad , Bosnian Muslims are not as devout as one would expect.
22 July 2017
21 July - Belgrade
The remainder of the day - coffee and people watching in the main city centre , a visit to a Degas exhibition being held there , a spot of shopping , then a walk downhill to the hotel for a nap . I forgot to note that Belgrade is hilly , an interesting change from most of the cities I have visited over the past 2 months.
Most of the group met at 6 pm for a short taxi ride across the Danube to Samen , a town ( now suburb) with quaint cobbled lanes and wonderful views back to Belgrade city . We dined and then it was an early night in anticipation of the 5.45 departure for the bus station next morning.
Serbia - Belgrade
A free day , which was already hot when Michelle ( my roommate) and I set off to visit the Nikola Teslar museum , founded in 1952. It celebrates the contribution of this Serbian -American to the world , of alternating current production and wireless transmission, to name but two of his inventions/ discoveries. I found the live demonstrations given by the guide very informative , my learning experience for the day 🤓.
By now, (11a.m) it was 34 degrees and felt hotter amongst the city buildings , soaking up the sun's rays .
The other cultural visit for my day was to Saint Sama Church ., a huge place built in the 1930s but never completed inside . Now , the crypt completed , the massive task of decorating the main church is in progress. They have Mosaic specialists from Russia to do and oversee the mosaic which will be the feature in the dome which is about 36 mtrs diameter.
It gives a new perspective on what is involved creating or even restoring a churc
Then of course another huge 'Balkans sized dinner in ? ( ?- yes it is the name of the restaurant & has been for about 2 hundred years !)with accompanying trio of violin , accordion and guitar with voices .We made our way back through the pedestrian area which was by now an absolutely seething mass of happy diners enjoying the balmy evening .The temperature was still over 30 and Primesch , our Tour leader, insisted we end the day with a drink in The 'bohemian ' quarter-
Ancient cobbled streets and cafes , also awash with people and street musicians - a fabulous atmosphere.
We are certainly packing plenty into every day - in the afternoon we took the train to Belgrade - not very far and only 1.5hours even though the train stopped at every station. During the journey , our tour leader was taken into the first class carriage by the 2 onboard police and searched top to toe and every inch of luggage. Prim says it happens regularly. After checking in to our hotel, we were soon off to meet up with Bojana , a lady probably in her 70s - Intrepid's local guide who was to walk us through Belgrade and it's history for the next two hours.She was delightful and made the tour most enjoyable .The now familiar pattern of invasion , destruction and rebuilding in Europe was obvious in the architecture.
The Castle makes good use of the land - Tennis courts in part of the moat ,an armoured vehicle museum in one and a 'dinosaur ' park in another!
I spent my free morning in Novi Sad with a visit to the Castle. It sits on a hill overlooking the Danube and covers 112 hectares . Built in the 18 th Century it is still complete as it was never been attacked , even though Novi Sad has lost its 3 bridges 3 times to bombing in the past 100 years .
I found it very interesting to see a fortification with all its walls in place . There are 16 kms of underground tunnels and a well 60 metres deep which could be topped up with Danube water through an ingenious man powered pulley system in times of drought. The whole complex was able to sustain 8-10,000 men under siege for 1 year , should it ever have been necessary.
20 July 2017
The border crossings out of Croatia and into Serbia didn't take too long - aided ,I believe ,by a small gift to the Serbian border control office !
Novi Sad is our overnight stop - I like this place - I have no idea what is different,but I like it 😊.Maybe it is because it has more of an Italian influence in it's design, we are told .
The Centre of the Old Town is a large pedestrian zone , similar to all the other cities I have visited recently. The many restaurants were very busy in the evening, a good sign of some affluence I assume . However, the average monthly income here is only around EU 350 per month , with some hourly rates as low as 1EU.The food is similar to Croatia- lots and lots of meat served in huge portions. I had a dressed spinach & mushroom salad with fries which was more than I could eat . This , a small beer and a small carbonated water cost me 750 dinar which is just NZ$10.
The next stop was for wine tasting at a very old & prestigious Croatian winery ,ILOCKI PODRUMI situated right in the north eastern corner of Croatia . They have 360 hectares of grapes , plus buy in from grape growers, so it is a sizeable operation. We were told that they are one of only 3 wineries worldwide who have heritage white wines - 1 other is in Australia and the third I don't recall. They have a 1947 vintage white wine which is €7,000 per bottle and 7,000 of which were shipped to Britain for the marriage of Queen Elizabeth !
We had a tasting of 3 of their premier wines - a Grasevina 2016, a Traminac 2016 and a red which was 30% Cab Sauvignon and something else! All were very drinkable . It was a welcome break from our mini buses (1 marginally effective a/c and 1 none ) on a 33 degree day !
19 July 2017
The days are so full and time passes so quickly . Today we had a transfer by van (2) from Osijek, Croatia to Novi Sad, Serbia.
Our first visit enroute, was to the hospital at Vukovar , which was bombed repeatedly in late 1991 by Serbian fighters . The basement is a shelter, designed to withstand an atomic bomb . These were built in all cities during the days of the iron curtain .
Anyway it was a very interesting visit , as the hospital was destroyed but continued to operate in extremely difficult conditions for 90 days , with no equipment, to care for the hundreds of casualties arriving every day . Another confronting story in this part of the world - of pointless destruction of lives and infrastructure.
Such a full and interesting day !
More - a quick visit to the Manor House used by Tito as a hunting lodge . This is in the Protected Park and now abandoned to the elements. It served as the headquarters of the Serbian forces for the 6 1/2 years of occupation from 1991 to 97 . Such a shame , as it could be a big tourist attraction and in a beautiful setting.
Last stop for the day - lunch at an Organic Farm - something very unusual for Croatia . The food , homemade 'Rakija' and local Croatian wine was excellent- very rural .
So much food was consumed for lunch that dinner was a craft beer at an Osijek bar that has a choice of 150 international beers , followed by a large and very delicious ice cream!
After a coffee and pastry stop in Dakovo village and visit to the huge cathedral dating back only to 1888, we were off to Park Prirode Nature Park .It covers 230 square kilometres and is on the list of Wetlands of International importance.Basically it is a floodplain in the corner formed between The Danube and The Drava, one of it's 5 main tributaries. I found the film , the boardwalk and the literature about the biodiversity , birds and mammals extremely interesting. It is a shame that the Danube is low this summer, meaning very little water in the wetlands. The white tailed eagle which is highly endangered in other parts of Europe , is thriving here , with around 70 breeding pairs recorded.
An interesting point .During the war many property owners fled and have never returned. Many significant heavily damaged buildings are owned by people who are absent & there is a 40 year period from the official ending of the war before they can be appropriated by the state for repair
Food so far - Fish Goulash - made from the local river fish - carp or perch -delicious
Bourek- warm pastries - usually filled with meat - I had chocolate- best eaten warm ,straight from the bakery oven!
Breakfast , same as in Hungary- not good unless you want cheese ,meat and salad.
A full day under blue skies -24-28 degrees.
First stop was the Lipizzaner horse training centre . Dakovo is the home town of these horses - the Stud Farm was established in 1506 and produces these gorgeous creatures, famous for their coach drawing and dressage abilities. They are the same horses which the Vienna school has and is famous for. Interesting facts - only 1 in 25 births is female and these are never sold on from here - only stallions are trained and /or sold . They are not only white in colour as many believe.There are greys and the occasional black .
The stables even have an overhead drier for drying the horses off after grooming in the freezing winters!
18 July 2017
We arrived at our destination of Osijek early afternoon to our lovely Sobe ( homestay) called Maximilian - a large Manor House which has been lovingly restored. The welcome was warm , complete with a shot of traditional fruit brandy - Rakija. The afternoon was spent on a walking tour of the central and old city -situated on the bank of the Drava river , a tributary of the Danube , which is just 20 kms away.
It certainly is a pleasant change to feel closer to the countryside again after staying mainly in grand old European cities for several weeks. Osijek was an important military town in ancient times .A great bridge , 8 kms long was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566 to cross the Drava river ( wooden boats tied together) and wetlands ( wooden piles and timber ) in order to facilitate his march on Vienna . It was finally burnt down in 1686 during wars with the Austrian Habsburgs .
The town was heavily damaged by shrapnel during the Serb / Bosnian / Croat war in the 1990 s .
So , the time was here to climb into the minibus which was to take me on the first leg of my 35 day journey south , through 8 countries to the Cyclades Islands of Greece . Mine is a combination of 3 back to back tours , so I will have a variety of travelling companions and tour leaders.
There was nothing to report about the journey to the Croatian border , passing through kilometre after kilometre of flat , productive pastoral land . The main difference is that miles of Sunflowers have become a common sight, along with sugar beet , corn (for pigs) and wheat .
We had an official crossing into Croatia as it is a non Schengen country , but no stamp in my passport , just recorded by the border control ! Our stopover for the next two nights is Osijek , a short distance across the border from Hungary
Osijek is the fourth largest city in Croatia with a population of 108,000 .It is the largest city and the economic & cultural centre of the eastern Croatian region of Slavonia
17 July 2017
Sunday I headed for the House of Terror, depicting a time in the 20th century when It was the headquarters of first the Fascist Arrow Cross , who ruled for a few months in 1944 and then the Communist secret police until the 1956 uprising . Here , Hungarians were questioned, tortured and in many cases , killed by hanging in the underground basement. The films, including many propaganda films , posters and testaments from people who remembered these times and who lost relatives make for a compelling and confronting visit .
I walked some more , and of course indulged in my daily coffee and people watching .
We are 12 in number in the group I have joined , mostly Australians and NZ ers. The first evening we had a group dinner and a few of us went to The New York Cafe ( see photos ) for dessert and condescending treatment by the waiters !
I had 3 more days to enjoy Budapest, the weather was warm and sunny , perfect for seeing the city on foot.
After being confined to my apartment room for 24 hours whilst waiting for my delayed luggage to arrive, it was refreshing to get moving again!
Saturday I crossed the river to Buda Castle Hill, detouring wherever I saw an interesting building or street. I browsed in one of the many large second hand clothing shops , great quality and choice for next to nothing. There were large bags of clothing being sorted by staff - I wonder where it all comes from as these shops are all over the city.
The Royal Palace on the hill is now the National Art Gallery where I made a 2 hour visit after looking at Matthias Church and the view from Fisherman's bastion . A busker playing classical piano pieces in a small park area held my attention for quite some time - I was appreciating being a free spirit for a few days.