Tag Archives: Balkans

Tirana and Surrounds, Albania – Balkans

Attending travel-related events overseas is always interesting, but to chat on National News in Tirana, Albania it truly was a rewarding experience to give your perspective on an up and coming region within Europe.

The Balkans has been an area some might not necessarily contemplate to visit, but for me, I’ve found it one of the fastest-growing destinations in Europe in terms of affordability, culture and a layered undercurrent of vitality and undisputed history.

New infrastructure is evident throughout and my speculation is that it’ll be one of the most sought after places tourism will extend its somewhat dormant arms to.

Albania is burgeoning ahead with a renewed energy, even though in many ways it still embraces the old, it’s incorporating some new ideals – such as wanting to become part of the European Union and talks have been established.

Australians do not require a visa to enter Albania. However, you may wish to check the Visalink tab on this website for any further updates before travelling there.

An open space in the city centre, you’ll find The Skanderbeg Square which is the main plaza and is home to the National Museum of History.

The Square is named after the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and is a total area is about 40,000 square metres giving relief to office workers for a place to lunch, meet friends or simply watch all those tourists passing by each day which seem to be growing exponentially in numbers.

The Resurrection Cathedral is situated in the centre of Tirana and it’s the third largest Orthodox church in Europe, officially opened in June, 2012. The peace of the church was savagely destroyed when the communists took over the government of the country in 1945.

It’s definitely worthy of a visit and you can marvel at the incredible structure with its restoration in recent times.

The Clock Tower of Tirana was built in 1822 and the stairwell has 90 steps which dizzily capture a spiral twist. It’s 35 metres (115 ft) tall and since the restoration in 2016, there’s been  9,833 visitors to the tower.

Much of the architecture around Tirana is a mixed fusion of styles – mostly relating to the past, but adapting to some contemporary ideals as well, it’s desperately shaking off its war-torn image and forging new concepts.

Who said any plumbing-like apparatus couldn’t be used as an artistic tool?

The House of Leaves Museum is a stark reminder that Albania’s freedom was only allowed in very recent times.

It’s the newest museum to open in Albania and probably the most intriguing; considered to be the equivalent of the Stasi headquarters of the former East Germany. The leaves have a double meaning: things hidden in woods, but also the leaves of books and files about its people.

At the time, the Albanian government tried to keep secret the news of the Italian ultimatum. While Radio Tirana persistently broadcast that nothing was happening, people became suspicious and the news of the Italian ultimatum was spread from unofficial sources.

The country experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the fourth Republic of Albania was established.

Just outside the city and a day out to Dajti Mountain National Park, the gondola spans a kilometre, making it the longest in the Balkans and is more than 800 metres up the mountainside.

After hopping off the gondola ride at the top, you might be lucky enough and have the chance to say hello to a little fellow on the walk up towards the restaurant. Gotta love horses!

Once you’re at the top of the mountain and you’re seeking a culinary experience, then The Panorama Hotel has the restaurant for you, it serves traditional specialties and the views are amazing. Sit back, relax and marvel the scenery.

Traditional food presented buffet style will always allow you to make your own choices. If the mesmerising smell of excellent European gastronomy doesn’t take hold of you as you walk in the door, then you’ve probably headed in the wrong direction. Tasty and delicious – not to mention overly fulfilling … Next stop is diet!

And, once you’ve finished having that massive luncheon to discuss what’s happening on the tourist trail in Albania, a little sit down by the local waterway may be required to check out the book stall – which is always a simple way to have a chat, relax and enjoy the sunshine – even in April!

Surprisingly, English is well spoken as is Italian throughout the country.

Well now – an Australian two-dollar note which had been fazed out around the late 1980s. Having asked if I could buy the note, I was promptly told it was not on offer …

Good news though,  Australian currency is easily exchanged at almost all dealers, banks and hotels in Albania.

The most important attraction of the city is the Museum of the National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg and is situated within this Illyrian castle which took its present facade during the 5th-6th century. The castle has nine towers, a few surrounding houses and the Teqja e Dollmasë. Inside the castle grounds, you can also visit the Ethnographic Museum, a typical house made of çardak, which belonged to the illustrious Toptani family.

In case you’re an avid fan of castles, there’s just no shortage – err hum, a total of 158 castles and fortifications in the country that have achieved – drum roll please – the status of  Monuments of Cultural Heritage.

The traditional market of Kruja stands near the castle and is one of Albania’s largest handicraft markets and has operated since the 15th century. A must see for some truly intricate items of ‘days gone by’.

On the top of the mountain over the town of Kruja is a religious place called Sari Salltiku (Bektashi sect). ​ There, visitors can find shelter and accommodation if they wish to climb to that spot. Additionally, travellers will find a magnificent view toward the valley and further out towards the Adriatic Sea.

Further afield, Lake Ohrid straddles the mountainous border between south western Macedonia and eastern Albania. It’s one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem of worldwide importance; with more than 200 endemic species it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.

At the end of each day, I’m happy to see my hotel of choice, Mak Albania which is quiet, spacious and an easy walk to the city centre. The staff are incredibly efficient and very helpful.

For more information about Albania and group bookings, please see the home page and email me directly.

Coastline of Montenegro, Balkans

Terrain in Montenegro ranges from high mountains in the northern part of the country, through karst segment in central and western part, to a narrow coastal plain.

Take a look for yourself. It was an early start but worthy of seeing and incredibly picturesque. Now onto Dubrovnik Croatia.






Podgorica, Montenegro

Walking down the streets of Podgorica these days, you may come across some unexpected visitors – Transformers.

Seven sculptures modeled after sci-fi film figures made from scrapped cars, have been dotted round the city, making the capital a more attractive tourist destination.

They are the work of 22-year-old Danilo Baletic, who came up with the idea of transforming scrap metal into fake robots when asked to present an ecological project by the organizers of the Durmitor Art Eco Festival several years ago.

I really didn’t have any expectations of Podgorica, however I was pleasantly surprised by its lively café scene and locals out and about enjoying themselves.

Yes I had to look twice too …

Very enjoyable walking around the city and surrounds.

Sculpture of a different kind.

Walking towards Park Forest Gorica, I could hear chanting fit for a crowd of ten thousand only to find the home team was playing. Football in Podgorica has a long tradition associated with FK Budu nost Podgorica. I understand world-famous players Predrag Mijatovi and Dejan Savi were born in Podgorica and made their debut in the team.

Gorica Park Forest is popular among the citizens and visitors as it’s situated in the very centre of the town.

The Park Forest is next to the ancient church of Sveti Djordje.

Breakfast with a view.


Prishtina, Kosovo

I’d made an executive decision to head off to Pristina, Kosovo. Some of the most visited places are Batllava Lake and Gadime Marble Cave, which are also among the most visited places in Kosovo although on this trip I’m only visiting the capital city.

Leaving Macedonia the terrain changes here and it’s quite steep in parts.


Coming into Border Control is now where I’m feeling a little uncomfortable but glad the Conductor came around with a sheet for us to fill in our names, identification and document numbers. Once your passport leaves the bus at the service point it’s always a little bit ‘nail bitey’.

Moving on and after a while the land seems to flatten out.





Hotel Begolli, I booked this hotel online and although not in the main area of Prishtina, at least it made me walk around a bit more and see curiosities I might not have noticed. The hotel has a number of rooms with a spa bath in it, very unusual but welcomed after a bus trip.

Breakfast Kosovo style, very tasty just the same.

Eggs and more eggs – no cage birds here I’d imagine and fresh.

Just around the corner to me were the markets and again so cheap and good quality items for sale.





Walking around the city centre admiring the architecture and the open space people enjoy whilst having their lunch break and of course shop.


Just witnessed the most spectacular storm and sunset and thanks to three very lovely ladies in helping me, I’m now on my way to the bus station to purchase my next bus ticket to Podgorica.

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Thanks to Tina, Agnesa and Ikballe from Prishtina for helping me by writing a note to the bus driver letting him know where I had to hop off. These ladies were all such good fun to chat to and made me feel very welcome. You are the best and I really enjoyed my short time in Kosovo. So far I’ve found the people from the Balkans exceptionally friendly and will definitely return to explore more of the region.

Skopje, Macedonia. A rising star …

Flying back into Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) with a transfer onto Skopje with Pegasus Airlines – another airline which believes passengers are all small and leg room again is non existent … Must admit after travelling on trains for sometime now, the process of going to the airport, checking in, security checks and luggage allowances being monitored escalated my stress levels somewhat. Also, wondering if your baggage would arrive in one piece, and then having to make your way to the hotel with crazed taxi drivers is always a challenge – well for me anyway. A taxi driver will try to charge 20 Euro but there’s a bus outside the airport which takes you to the main train and bus station and onto the Holiday Inn for less than two Euro.

Atatürk International Airport (IST), serving European side of Istanbul, Turkey.
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), serving Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey.

Skopje may be a small city, but it’s a true gem and on its way up the ladder in terms of accessibility and offering superior goods and services, thus realising the power of the tourist dollar. I have no doubt and mark my word, this city is already a drawcard for diverse travellers looking for a long-weekend escape.

Feeling rich, the currency being Macedonian Denar and 100 is equivalent to A$2.40 on today’s exchange rate.


Statue of a Macedonian Lion on Goce Delcev Bridge – from one Leo to another I thought it was quite impressive.

Easy-walking city with construction work going on all around, I assume Skopje won’t be as cheap in the next couple of years.

Skopje has its own Charging Bull!

Walking around the perimeter of the old Fortress, very strong and sturdy with double walls which are built from chipped stone.


The fortress is thought to have been built during the rule of Emperor Justinian I and constructed further during the 10th and 11th centuries over the remains of Emperor Justinian’s Byzantine fortress which may have been destroyed due to a number of wars and battles in the region.




Absolutely, no shortage of monuments or sculptures – both quirky and historically inclined such as Alexander the Great.

The Horse Exhibition, National Gallery of Macedonia

Memorial House of Mother Teresa as she was born in Skopje. The multi-functional building was chosen to stand over the old Catholic Church ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’.

From the very beginning, Mother Teresa also involved lay people in her service to the poor. In March 1969, the Co-Workers of Mother Teresa were officially begun. On April 16, 1984, the Lay Missionaries of Charity were established.

A quiet moment in the chapel dedicated to Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

Macedonian traditional sweet, Tulumba.

Cool Pide, a local favourite.

At the markets near my hotel and everything so, so cheap.

Skopje Markets

My very willing model with his transporter.

Walking back to my hotel from the bus station after buying a ticket to Pristina (Prishtina, Kosovo). I felt quite safe here in Skopje and really nothing to report as yet.

Vardar Express coming up next to Pristina.