This summer’s journey began in the small capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. Known for its cafes and green parks, my favorite spot was sitting right by the Ljubljanica river – preferably at Café Romeo with a cappuccino and pancake covered in sugar and lemon. The city is also known for its castle that resides on top of a hill a few hundred steps away from the main square. From the castle top, you can see the wide landscape of houses with red roofs and open, wild gardens.
After a 6-hour train ride was our next destination: Budapest, Hungary. With a strong history – from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire to the Nazi regime and invasion of the Soviet Union –Budapest shows visible scars of the past. The shoes on the Danube River were made in honor of the Jews killed during World War II. Ordered to take off their shoes and then shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river, the landmark represents the shoes left behind. Despite this, the city carries on in fervor, surrounded by old, detailed architecture such as the Basilica, the Parliament and all six bridges connecting Buda to Pest. This year Budapest Pride celebrated its 21st year, with people as young as 8 years old to ages stretching beyond 60 spilling out into the streets to celebrate.
Next, way down South, in a tiny village by the border of Montenegro and Albania is Ulcinj. While its tourism booms, the village remains serene. Hilly and covered in trees, there are long strips of sandy beaches and rocky cliffs. If you drive further towards Albania, you can find farms with chickens and cows as well as the riverbank that produces salt. The river is also home to flamingos called the Dalmatian Pelicans. However, locals are struggling to prevent infrastructure development that the government plans for this area.
Bordering Montenegro, a 9-hour bus trip away, you arrive at Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is the most gorgeous Balkan country: mountainous, forests ripping through cities, and broad rivers with strong currents sweeping through. My film ran out just as I got to Kravice, a famous spot, but imagine a pool of water bound on all sides by waterfalls, people climbing rocks to reach the highest point to jump off, others standing hand on hips at the shore easing their way into the cold water. The recent conflict between all Balkan countries has left Bosnia and Herzegovina with bullet holes through buildings, difficult stories and a heart full of pain, but people thrive to live their lives to the fullest and outgrow the situation that they have endured.
My last image is much loved as it shows the simplicity of living: to love and let yourself be loved. Taken during the Sziget Festival in Budapest, our journey comes to a close. Over 500, 000 people came from all over the world for a one-week music festival celebrated on the Margit Island, between Buda and Pest. Artists such as Sia, Kodaline and MØ attended, and with its growing reputation Sziget is definitely encompassing its synonymous name of the Island of Freedom.