The Balkans – Passing Through Greece

I’ve always had a fascination with Greece. It started, perhaps with how math uses so many Greek alphabets or how, it’s always been a nerdy source of giggles that Pythagoras (yes, he of the theorems) had a full cult going on back in the day. Oh, we’d laugh – are religious classes called angle management classes? Har har har har.

My first long backpacking trip to Europe was also around the time of Grexit. Trains were halted and the news seemed to report general chaos. I would have loved to spend a couple of weeks or months in Greece but ended up in archaeology summer school in Transylvania instead.  This time round, I didn’t quite intend to travel in Greece at all since I didn’t want to rush through the main attractions but I couldn’t quite bear to just pass by without at least getting a glimpse of the history I spent my teenage years reading about.

I started out wandering the streets of Thessaloniki. I had somehow thought of Greece as being more European than it is. I like how neighborhoods are built in clusters around ancient artifacts (and this seems to be a strong feature in much of the Balkans).

I must admit I was a little spoilt by Thessaloniki. It feels decidedly less city-like than Athens and is very much more affordable too. Good eats can be had for about 3 Euros and the city was a little less organized for tourists than Athens is – which I REALLY enjoyed. I stayed in a hostel off the side of a side road a kilometer away from the heart of town and it never felt dodgy.

From Thessaloniki, I made my way to Meteora, home of the famous monastaries set on high rocky cliffs.

The cliffs of Meteora

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The Balkans – 2 Days in Kosovo

When I mapped out my route through the Balkans, I didn’t think I”d have time to squeeze in a trip to Kosovo. I had read about the awesomeness of Berat and the difficulty of getting through Albania by public transport and thought I’d have to deal with a lot more trouble than I had. Perhaps it’s luck or the great coffee that imbued me with limitless energy but I ended up in Skopje sooner than I had expected which left me ample time for a trip into Kosovo.

Now, what I know about Kosovo is similar to anyone who’s grown up in the 80s and 90s – we’d read the news about Yugoslavia and later followed the reports on the warzone that’s Kosovo. On a trip to Tokyo 2 years ago, I befriended a Serbian who convinced me the area is fine, though troubled. I would have met up with him except he was on a work trip to another continent. Since I did read too about the difficulties of crossing the Kosovo-Serbia border, it seemed like a perfect excuse to drop in without heading as far in as Serbia. (By the way, I’ve been told by Serbians that it’s really no trouble but every accommodation I’ve been in in the area has warnings about crossing That Border. I prefer to err on the side of caution and just not do it.)

There are regular buses from Skopje to Prizen or Pristina with easier options into Pristina. My main destination had been Prizen but I wanted a detour into Pristina because…

 

Dress like your favorite former first lady!

Bill Clinton Boulevard

…these. While I understand the significance of the Bill Clinton memorial, the Hillary Clinton boutique amuses me to no end. The shop sells various outfits that resemble the ones worn (and covered by the press) by – who else – Hillary Clinton. At the time of visit, there’s a 50% off sale going on and it was just after the elections so I stood by the window and giggled while locals scowled at me.

Oh well.