Once again this summer, I return back to my homeland: the Balkans. Also known as Eastern Europe, my family is broken into the shards of what Yugoslavia used to be. I carry the heritage and love of each country, but this time I was going back with the intention of showing my boyfriend just how wonderful the East can be. With my ancient Pentax and 35mm lens, I recorded our trip, which started from Belgrade, Serbia on a 12-hour train ride to Podgorica, Montengro. Though 12 hours sounds long, the trip is relatively easy and fun. You meet many people from all around the globe jam-packed in an old busted train going fifteen kilometers per hour.
We arrive in Ulcinj, a quaint and beautiful coastal town, on the border of Montengro and Albania. Popular for its incredible views, cheap food and wild nightlife, Ulcinj is best known for its 14-kilometer sand beach – only fifteen minutes drive from the centre.
A tranquil resort spread out for those who want to lounge and tan, the long beach is also known for having a big international community of kite surfers, taking wind at every opportunity they get. If you ever wondered what the definition of “breathtaking” looks like, walk along this Mediterranean shore and watch kite surfers soaring 30 metres in the air as the sun sets.
Wilderness lies further down the beach where people drive up in their vans, set up tents and settle for days. It’s no surprise that people travel hours for this piece of paradise!
Our next destination: Split, Croatia
Our journey time: one six hour bus ride and four hour boat ride.
Transport in the Balkans is both exciting and terrifying. I would recommend the six-hour night bus ride from Ulcinj to Dubrovnik simply because you can sleep through the entire journey and wake up not only in not just a new country, but also Croatia’s most gorgeous and historical city. However, unless you like fear and motion sickness, the high-speed boat ride is not for you – especially if there is a storm brewing further south that season!
We arrived in Split in a haze of exhaustion and dehydration at midnight. Luckily, we had booked a night’s stay at a nearby hostel called, Aljosa Rooms. More of a small apartment complex then a hostel, Aljosa Rooms is clean, friendly and location-perfect.
The next day, we explored the city. Only Split could make me rethink Dubrovnikbeing Croatia’s most gorgeous historic city! Not only is the city lively, full of young people and bustling with music, it is also humble. Although proud of its long history, it remains inviting and changing with new cultures. Its diversity speaks volumes, effortlessly exuding coolness.
At 10pm that night, we caught an eight hour-long night bus to Ljubljana, Slovenia. If you’ve ever travelled through the Balkans, you’ll know that an eight hour-long bus ride actually means anything between nine hours to 12. Is it worth it? Every second.
Ljubljana may be a small city, but it is home to some of the most progressive and inspiring people. The city breathes art and culture and, in the summer, is the most welcoming place to visit. Street artists can be heard and seen on every corner, outdoor stalls line the Ljubljana river passing through the city and colourful lights laminate the narrow pathways at night.
Slovenia is also home to the Alps. About half an hour’s drive from Ljubjana is Lake Bled, a popular tourists trap all year round. In the winter, the lake is an ice-skating ground; in the summer, a weekend getaway from the heat.
Less popular in the summer – and not far from Lake Bled – is a 20 kilometer-long and five kilometer-wide basin called Bohinj. It is located in the Julian Alps, and if you go to its peak you (and the herd of sheep trekking through!) can see all the way to the Italian coast. Bohinj is best known as a ski resort, but even during the summer the gondola and ski lifts work, leaving the mountain open to eager hikers.
Be wary of the change in weather. Despite it being summer, this region is known for shifting from hot to cold at a moments notice. But that’s the beauty of it all: being able to go from the rustic coast of Montenegro, through the antique cities of Croatia and up to the top of Slovenia’s Alps. Yugoslavia may no longer exist, but the admiration for and attraction of each country hasn’t faded. It grows brighter each day.
All pics & words, Anna McNutt