This is a week around Balkans. Or even more, taking into consideration that I’ve started from Romania few days before meeting my friend in Albania. We had a rental car and some points on the map. However no specific itinerary or booked hotels this time. We didn’t know how good the roads are and how worth each place is. The general idea was to visit Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo.
We’ve landed in Tirana, Albania. Got our car and started the journey. We decided to start with closest point on the map — small town Berat in the central Albania.
In 2008 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. Wikitravel says that Berat is one of the country’s most beautiful towns, and is known as the “town of a thousand windows”. Most likely it is true, the town is charming. Especially in the evening, when new and new lights are being turned on.
In the morning we took a walk uphill to Kala — a fortress in Berat. In fact it appeared to be inhabited district even with some hotels and cafes. Also fortress has great views downhill to the town.
After leaving Berat we headed to Ohrid Lake in Macedonia. So here are just some random shots from the roads of Albania. Plus, on return to Albania we’ve visited so called “Albanian Alps” in Shkodër district. The village of Thethi is said to be the main tourist destination there, however last 11 km of the road to the village were pretty bad. We tried going farther, but had to stop and turn back in about 1 km.
From Albania we passed into Macedonia right near to St Naum Monastery at Ohrid Lake. The lake itself sits on the border of Albania and Macedonia. It is surrounded by numerous small villages and towns falling one into another. All of that is also surrounded by mountains climbing up to 2800 meters above sea level.
There are plenty of hotels and villas around the lake, small and big. However our search for a hotel here took pretty long. Finally we got into Ohrid Town and got a room there. The region itself seems to be pretty popular due to high number of churches and monasteries here. And of course nice landscape.
On the next day we left Ohrid and headed to Matka Canyon near Skopje. It features a lake and hydrodam. Starting from the hydrodam, there is a 6km long walking trail along the canyon that leads you to another dam. We walked probably about one third of it and decided to go back as views didn’t change significantly. Nevertheless the place is nice for light hiking.
Skopje is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. And it is the largest city in the country.
Skopje has been occupied by many different peoples since its foundation. This is evidenced by the several Byzantine churches and monasteries around the city, also by a few Roman sites, such as Scupi and Skopje’s Aqueduct. However, the group that left the greatest mark on Skopje were the Ottomans. The Ottomans ruled Macedonia for hundreds of years and built a large number of mosques and other buildings.
Today Skopje is kind of a modern city. And as a city in Balkans it of course has a castle. However the castle is pretty much destroyed. The only good point about it the views it gives. While looking around, you could see plenty of different monuments. I personally didn’t understand this strange love of Macedonians to huge monuments, but they are everywhere 🙂
There isn’t something specific to visit in Skopje – just wonder around the river, old bridge, a bit of “old town”, some cafes — all of these build up and image of modern Skopje.
Kosovo is a disputed territory and de facto independent country in South Eastern Europe, in central Balkans. After a lengthy and often violent dispute with Serbia, Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 and (as of 16 October 2012) 110 UN states recognise this and it has become a member country of the IMF and World Bank as the Republic of Kosovo, despite heavy Serbian opposition.
Next morning we departed to Kosovo. Just about 40 km from Skopje lays the border. Kosovo is not part of Schengen Union at the same time allows visitors with Schengen Visa to come into country. One more thing you do not have to worry about is money – Kosovo uses Euro as their currency. The whole population is slightly above 2 million people. Many of them speak English or German, so it is pretty each to get around and ask for directions if needed.
If you are travelling international you can get to Kosovo from Macedonia or Albania by the ground, or fly into Pristhina.
First place on the list was the capital – Pristhina. Despite expectations it is an interesting mix of ruins and modern cafes, clubs, central square, etc. One of the iconic buildings is National Library of Kosovo – while looking on the net for Pristhina pictures you can meet this one pretty often.
There are some churches and mosques. There is a Bill Clinton Monument. And boulevard of Bill Clinton. There are night clubs and hipster-looking cafes. Pristhina seems to be a city that tries to turn around and became a part of modern civilisation.
Prizren is different. It is city of many mosques and monasteries. If you look around staying on the hill of a castle you will see a typical medieval town, with small houses, minarets, and tile roofs.
When you go from Prizren to Macedonia you will definitely pass Sharr Mountains. It is the same ridge that lays on the north of Albania. There was a little bit of snow in the middle of April. Well at 2000 meters above sea level it is pretty much expected. As far as I understand there are some ski resorts and number of hotels in the area.