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RTW 6 1/2 – The Balkans Edition

(Not Exactly) A Ferry Tale: The Jadrolinija Ferry from Dubrovnik to Rijeka

Posted by on Jul 16, 2011 | 29 comments

(Not Exactly) A Ferry Tale: The Jadrolinija Ferry from Dubrovnik to Rijeka

We had high hopes for our 23 hour ferry ride from Dubrovnik to Rijeka, Croatia. After all, we’d recently had a wonderful 7 days at sea aboard the MSC Splendida so cruising the famed Dalmatian Coast on Croatia’s Jadrolinija Line sounded like the perfect way to get from Dubrovnik to our next stop in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Rijeka is about 2hrs away by bus).

We’d taken all reasonable precautions to ensure a delightful experience. We splurged on an outside cabin with ensuite bath versus riding out the hours in the ship’s lounge or on deck (like many others). I’d been on an overnight ferry before (from Tallinn to Stockholm) and it was a fantastic experience. Just like a mini-cruise ship with all the amenities. My cabin was adorable.

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Ljovely Ljubljana

Posted by on Jul 17, 2011 | 0 comments

Ljovely Ljubljana

Shannon and I arrived in Ljubljana around 10:30am after a pleasant bus ride from Rijeka. As we made our way into town in search of our hotel, we got our first glimpse of the town. It was enough to make me forget all about the lousy ferry ride from Dubrovnik the night before.

Known as one of the greenest countries in the world due to its expansive forests, tiny Slovenia is bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia and a small stretch of the Adriatic Sea. Like Croatia and Montenegro, it was part of the former Yugoslavia before gaining independence in 1991. Since then it has turned itself into a pint-sized tourism machine.

The heart of that machine is the capital city of Ljubljana. Translated loosely in Slovene as “beloved” it’s easy to see what draws visitors to this colorful town.

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The Jerusalem of Europe – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Posted by on Jul 19, 2011 | 0 comments

The Jerusalem of Europe – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Nestled between the rugged mountains of Romanija, Bjelašnica and Trebevic and divided by the Miljacka River, lies Sarajevo – the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Historically, Sarajevo was famous for its religious diversity. Followers of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism coexisted here for centuries inspiring the nickname “The Jerusalem of Europe.” In the 1980’s Sarajevo gained world notoriety as the host city for the 1984 Winter Olympics but today it is more likely remembered as ground zero in the Balkans conflict.

After suffering tremendous losses during World War II, Sarajevo was rebuilt and greatly expanded. In fact, the city almost tripled in size during the formative years of socialist Yugoslavia. By 1984, when Sarajevo hosted the 14th Winter Olympic Games, it was a modern city of half a million people.

Unfortunately, the Olympic flame would soon burn out and just eight years later Sarajevo was trapped in a bloody civil war. In addition to being exposed to daily sniper and mortar fire during the Yugoslavian conflict, the inhabitants of the city suffered severe shortages of food and fuel during the nearly four-year siege. During this time, the only life-line was an 800-meter-long tunnel – dubbed the Tunnel of Hope – through which food and other supplies were brought in.

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Surprisingly Serbia – Belgrade & Novi Sad

Posted by on Jul 20, 2011 | 2 comments

Surprisingly Serbia – Belgrade & Novi Sad

I’ll be honest. I didn’t have high expectations for Serbia. But it didn’t make sense to plan 3 weeks in the Balkans without a visit to one of the region’s most prominent nations. So here I am, with 2 days to explore the country once considered the “bad boy” of the Balkans.

The break-up of the 6 nations that made up the former Yugoslavia was a complicated and bloody affair that dominated international headlines for most of the 1990’s. Since I am visiting all 6 former Yugoslav nations on this trip, I thought a quick history re-cap was in order as I knew embarrassingly little about Yugoslavia myself before arriving here.

In the past few weeks I’ve found that the story of the break-up varies quite a bit depending on who is telling it, but I’ll try to piece together as accurate an account as possible.

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Skopje Macedonia – A Work in Progress

Posted by on Jul 21, 2011 | 0 comments

Skopje Macedonia – A Work in Progress

I arrived in Skopje Macedonia a little lighter than expected thanks to Jat Airways forcing me to check my carry-on bag and then promptly proceeding to leave it behind in Belgrade. With a completed claim form in hand and a promise that it would be delivered to my hotel the following morning (I was certain I would never see it again) I caught a cab into town to check out Skopje.

When Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it was the only nation to do so without a fight…from Yugoslavia, anyway.

Greece immediately protested – accusing the new country of staking claims to Greek territory and trying to separate ancient Macedonian civilization from Hellenic culture. Athens refused to recognize the Macedonian name or flag and organized an embargo which was later lifted when Macedonia agreed to be referred to internationally as the Former Yugoslav Republic (FYR) of Macedonia.

To this day, both sides are still negotiating a new name and tensions remain.

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Sofia: A Bulgarian Beauty

Posted by on Jul 22, 2011 | 1 comment

Sofia: A Bulgarian Beauty

We finally arrive in Sofia Bulgaria at 4:30am after a 6 hour overnight ride from Skopje. I catch a cab at the deserted bus station to the stately Sofia Hotel Balkan (a Luxury Collection/SPG hotel), praying that they will be willing to check me in this early. Starwood status pays off again and I am checked right into a lovely suite.

After two weeks of roughing it in the Balkans, I cannot tell you how happy I am to see this suite. The first thing I notice when I walk in (other than the cool flowing air from the A/C) is the office…complete with printer. I almost cried. I have been in serious need of a printer for a while but it’s tough to find one around here.

Further exploration revealed fluffy towels, a robe & slippers, an expansive array of toiletries, a hairdryer and even an iron. It was heaven.

Now, all of these things are standard in the average US hotel but in the hotels I’ve been staying in across the Balkans, they were non-existent. The A/C is especially welcome as several of my hotels haven’t had it. I briefly consider spending the next 36 hours right here in this room but realize that I should probably at least get out and see a little of Sofia.

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