Whilst on my year abroad in Prague I have been itching to go traveling, and where better to go than the region that I study in my degree?
My trip started in Prague and ended in Istanbul. In total I went to 7 places: Zagreb in Croatia, Jajce and Sarajevo in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Split in Croatia, Belgrade in Serbia, Sofia in Bulgaria and finally, Istanbul in Turkey. Here are some pictures from my travels:
The first stop was Zagreb but it was a lot like Prague in January: snowy, hard to move around and freezing cold. I was too tired from traveling on trains all day through Prague-Vienna-Zagreb that we only went out for dinner and then straight to bed. The next morning we traveled to Jajce in Bosnia & Herzegovina, a small town which was crumbling apart but had a beautiful waterfall that attracted visitors on their way to Sarajevo.
Maybe it was because it was no longer tourist season, but Jajce felt like it showed the real Bosnia. It was grey and dark, the restaurants were cold and there were many buildings falling down. The buildings that were still standing looked man-made by the owners themselves. But the beer was cheap and the only place to find heat and plenty of people were in the non-stop bars that had dark windows inside to make you feel like you were drinking at a reasonable hour, not 1pm on a week day. (Maybe visit in August.) Nevertheless, the people were friendly despite not speaking much English. In fact very many knew German instead.
The next place we visited was Sarajevo which at night was a very scary place to be. I didn’t take any photos. Maybe the area around the bus station is a rough area – which could be said for many towns. But the whole city seemed unnavigable. Firstly a taxi driver lied to us by telling us the tram had stopped already (at 8pm on a Saturday). We then asked several strangers how to get the tram – there were signs on the tram stops, you had no idea where you were. They were literally clear plastic shelters with nothing on them. You had no idea which tram was coming or where it was going to. Finally a very nice stranger on the tram helped us by telling us we were on the right tram and which stop to get off at.
Perhaps Sarajevo is a totally different place during the day and in the summertime. My friends who stayed until the next afternoon the next day said that is very beautiful in the daylight (and the tram turned out to be easier to use).
After a 10 hour bus ride, the next morning we arrived in the sunny paradise of Split, Croatia. A small coastal city based around the ancient ruins of a Roman Emperor’s palace. The city reminded me a lot of Italy. But it was cheaper, in some ways more beautiful and we even had lots of pizza! I was really not expecting to find such a lovely place in the former Communist state of Yugoslavia. No wonder people came there for their holidays behind the Iron Curtain.
The Croats we met in Split were also extremely friendly and knew very good English. Living in Prague I’m surprised when anyone local can speak the language. (Not that they should have to.) But it was a nice surprise.
The next stop was Belgrade which was a bit like Sarajevo. Kind of scary. But we found one of the nicest restaurants there called Lorenzo & Kakalamba which had sheep on the ceiling, fake grass, weird chairs, a ton of Russian dolls, and a see-through floor where you could see into the kitchen. It was amazing. We also tried Serbian coffee (a lot like Turkish coffee) and almost walked into the totally open and unguarded parliament, until one bewildered doorman came out to stop us just before we reached the door to say: “You’re not allowed in here… This is the Parliament of Serbia.”
Next we went to Sofia in Bulgaria. A very beautiful, small city with an unusually varied style of architecture. Some of it is very Parisienne in style, very modern and others very neo-gothic. We only stayed for the day in Sofia, but it was very sunny, beautiful and a very Western style city.
The final place of my travels was Istanbul where I spent 10 days. In those days we saw a live Gypsy band, my old Viennese friend Dalia, lots of Mosques and grand bazaars and drank lots of free cups of Turkish tea.
The Turkish people were very friendly and welcoming. Once you got over the initial shock that people would say anything to you to get you to come inside their restaurant and realised they were just trying to sell, it was easy to adjust to the culture and not be insulted. Once you actually sat down in the restaurant, had a conversation with the waiters (who despite very little English tried their very best to communicate in any way they could), you realised just how wonderful Turkish hospitality was. They did not try to rush you out of the restaurant after you had paid. Instead they brought over tea (a sign of friendship), often free Turkish delights, then some more free tea, and tried to give you suggestions of places where to go next.
I must have had the time of my life because I ended the holiday developing tonsillitis. Whoops.