How many days? One. Day tour around Sophia.

  Everyone of us, or at least most, do some itinerary before traveling. Its is always a significant question on the length of stay in each place, specially for a first-time  visitors. Capital, as usually the biggest city in the country, is no estrange to that doubt. Many of them in Europe vary from Barcelona, where you can stay for weeks, to smaller one where you can discover a place in just even less than few days. Good internet research always help to plan your trip better. And here I come with my blog post, to answer that questions.

So where are we this time? Sophia, a capital of Bulgaria, a beautiful country with stunning mountain range Vitosha, a volcanic mountain massif, on the outskirts the capital, visible all around. Vitosha is one of the symbols of Sofia and the closest site for hiking, alpinism and skiing. thought, when it comes to the rest of the country, I can not say that Sophia offers a lot. One day is all you need to discover the place. I would even suggest going to see Rila Monastery in the morning and do a sight-seen after. All could be done in one day. All the major attractions are very close buy, almost all located on one street. If you are staying in the city center area you can start your tour from Ancient Complex Serdica, site situated just above the Serdika metro station that displays the remains of the Roman city.

There is also a History Museum to see. Just 2 mins away you can see a Rotonda st. George, The Church of St George is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia.

  Now heading forward on pl. Knyaz Aleksandar you can visit Ethnographic Museum (showcasing folk costumes & regional art & artifacts) and Russian Church. A bit further on a left hand side you can visit a stunning Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia’s symbols and primary tourist attractions. Heading more towards Crystal Palace, you can see on the way a building of a National Assembly.

Close by National Stadium Vasil Levski, as a very close by attraction too, but to be honest, can be skipped. At the end I would suggest adding a National Palace of Culture, but its located a bit far away, but can be easily reached by trolley line 1,2,5,8 and 9 just from the Crystal Palace.

This is a main itinerary for Sophia city center. Please keep in your mind that Rila Monastery is a must see place too, so if you want to spend one day around capital, please do add an extra day to see this stunning monastery hidden in a mountains.

Sticky drops of freshment, Skopje as Ive seen

  The stream of thoughts can probably come to loads of first time “Skopje arriver`s” minds. I guess mine was one of them. This small-sized capital of Macedonia creates an easy and quick access to the city center, so the surrounding architecture does strikes you right away! It can fool you so quickly, maybe even laugh at you a bit, with the mirror reflection you may give it back. The richness of almost overdone governments buildings can make you feel a bit striped off. You may be experiencing thinking that you haven’t seen quiet a capital like this before. What history did not leave, you can always bring it back, or can you really? The design and, co called project Skopje 2014, completely transformed the way Skopje city center looks like today. There are loads of stories, loads of reasons behind this “clearly original” change saying in plainest language possible. Big money got involved too. And there is that sour question at the end of your tong: who is this really for? Tourists, as in the first place? It’s not a secret that it is one of the fastest, more and more popular, and reachable growing industry. How about the people? How do they find themself around? And yet we still have a government, responsible for. Yes! A show off, or the way to stand out to bust the tourism way. But you really have to get to the bottom of all this. The path trough, almost baroque kitsch like drooping richness of, Skopje may leave you with loads of questions. Finding out more about point of view of locals may lead to a general disappointment, of yet again, showcase of a thick unbreakable money/power line between poor and rich.

 

 Tis, once plain, maze of Europe became a place for many neo-classic buildings and bridges along the river. Perhaps too white, too clean to fake you. Buildings may turn out too difficult to help you to get the vibe of travelling in the past. Yet, you can’t really say they are not impressive. Shall we be grateful Macedonia is showing us how newly done acropolis possibly looked like for Greeks back in a days? Perhaps. Could be a plus. It can be left only for an individual opinion. But the feeling of fakery is still a bit present. The project has two main aims: to draw in more tourists and to try to reclaim aspects of the country’s history from neighbouring Greece, appealing to the patriotism of many ethnic Macedonians. Walking by the rich bronze statues full of bridges definitely wont make your eye sore. You gladly will take your camera to photograph the things around. You will see, you will capture and then you will start to think. How? I do not see any problem investing in tourism. I do adore Moroccan king for doing so. So do Moroccans, as I spoke with many of them. Yet, the King do it differently. He want to keep the culture present, but just making the country more accessible, safe and inviting. But here we have a bit different situation.

 

We are discussing a country  where 21.5% of the population live below poverty line with minimal wage at 231 Euros. Macedonia is also very vulnerable to economic developments in Europe, with a strong banking and trade ties and dependent on regional integration and progress toward EU membership for continued economic growth. And yet on another hand we have a government spending loads of public founds. It been known that cost lay somewhere between €200-€500m (depending on who you talk to) and may have resulted in drop in minimal wage. Yet we have a beautiful new buildings and statues. Quiet two opposite situation that divided the nations. The project, known as Skopje 2014, instigated by prime minister Nikola Gruevski, is just as questionable and arguably as diverse as it was when first announced.

  Many Macedonians are questioning the scheme’s vast public expense – not to mention its aesthetic qualities. We have also this sticky problem of complete ignorance towards a very large Muslim community, religion and culture that, sadly, did not get to participate in project. I visited Skopje in March 2017. Being around city center area for few days, I witness antigovernment demonstrations everyday, thought peaceful, yet shouting for attention a lot.  But there’s no doubting it has put the city on the tourist map. 

 

 Foreign visitors used to come to Skopje primarily to wander around the beautiful Old Bazaar district, with its alleys, mosques and old hilltop fort. But now they can go in less than five minutes from drinking a Turkish coffee among people and architecture that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a traditional city of the Middle East, to being surrounded by faux-classical European architecture and imagery. Maybe not a bad thing. Diversity. Something for us. 

 

  So where this all bring us, tourist, the recipients of the project? I hope very close to Skopje. You have to remember that it is one of the most amazing countries in Europe, with magnificent landscape, mountain ranges, canyons (Matka Canyon) and lakes. All that comes at a very affordable price. Public transport is good and very cheap. People are very friendly and possible to interact to in English. Food is absolutely a heaven with a kebab to die for! So yes! Weather the project of 2014 worked or not, we will have to leave it for individual opinion. I think even for the one who are not so keen on it, Macedonia will not be disappointed in any single way. I absolutely loved my time in this Balkan country. I’ve met loads of warm people, and I saw a beauty of landscape. I am satisfy, happy and richer than the newly build Skopje surrounded architecture.

Postcard from Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Following the footsteps of our one and only Mother Nature, it’s clearly quiet significant that the Balkans are the quintessence of her arty work in Europe. This area notably stands out with their beautifully turquoise colored rivers, that you just want jump in to, amazing high range of mountains and a clear Adriatic Sea coast. What more would you wish for. The locals surly are aware of the beautiful land, they are very fortunate to live on mentioning it on every possible occasion. I personally left my heart in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rich culture, spread by the different nations, history and still fresh feel of shadow of the violent war from 90s participate in the way Bosnia and Herzegovina looks like today. Thought most of the cities, like Sarajevo, has been almost fully rebuild, so well that you can hardly notice sights of any fights, the memories are still held in minds of most of the people who got to witness the horror of these dark days. Yet locals are happy nova days cherishing every moment, enjoying the daily life, sharing a smile.  It seems for me that architects had an easy job creating what you can call today’s urban panorama trough all the centuries. Designing anything from houses, town halls, churches to mosques could just possibly not go wrong in such a magnificent environment. It almost feel like the nature already did most of the work here. The history also made Bosnia and Herzegovina very unique. The influence of the different religions could be spot on every street in every town. The “fantasy” medieval castles and fortresses proudly stands next to the Ottoman influenced architecture. It looks like a chest board with the difference that all black and white squares, trough some historical conflicts, became to an acceptance, unity, tolerance and friendship? Is it too early to use the last world? No…..not in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that’s why I love it.

   Cities and towns are not to busy, not to crowded, people seems less stressed and rushed than western civilization. Balkans are still very undiscovered and untouched by mass tourism.sarajevo2.jpg This fact makes it easy to find a peacefulness literally just around the corner. 10 minutes drive from Sarajevo already can bring you to the stunning river side, lake or forest where’s nobody around, just you and nature. It gives you also the opportunity to listen to the most noncommercial music in the world….the music of nature. Birds, waters, even wind can enhance your experience around this remarkable landscape.

  Thought mentioning the virginity of this part of the Europe, please note that accommodation can be found easily in most of the places in Bosnia. The infrastructure works well too, makes it accessible from every neighborhood  country or just between domestic towns.  Hostels are cute, nice, very clean and affordable even for a budget backpacker. Eating out, whether it is a traditional meal or just a good old pizza, wont make any difference from own cooking as of taste and price.  ss.jpgMerchants are very friendly and not pushy whatsoever, they really don’t try to just make money of you. They will be around to help, but also will leave you in peace, giving you some space. That`s makes the experience of walking in old towns nicer. Yet, there is so many cute things from tea pots, glasses, dishes to cloths, you will be back to your hotel with a full bag. Why not, if you can, it really is 3 times cheaper than in Western Europe, not even mentioning the uniqueness of the staff there. I personally had to thrown away few pairs of jeans and shoes to make a space for the things I purchased there. Well worth it!DSC_0706

   Most of the people speak a very good English, the rest can communicate well too. This fact is very important in making connections with locals. You can hear loads of stories about the war that can give you a very good image if these past years. Though, you can clearly see that people moved on, yet they do well remember those bloody, violent, dark days that took so many lives. People went trough a lot, seen a lot and experienced. Hard to believe that western countries turned their back on. Though past shows very well that less resource less help you can get. History is the worst teacher ever, I got to know.

   But what war cannon take is the beauty of the land. Clearly Bosnia and Herzegovina got the most outstanding and most pretty rivers, lakes and hills in this part of the world. What else should I add to convince you to visit this country? I hope nothing. Be happy, appreciate what you have, respect others, travel, if you can, and visit this stunning country that will not disappoint you in any way.

Must see places around Mostar

       When it comes to such an amazing town, I don’t even know where to start. Trying to write about my experience now brings all amazing images to my head, places I have seen, scenery I did not come across before. I did visit more than 45 countries, thinking that I’ve seen it all, but no, I could not be more wrong about it. Pictures, I am memorizing now, make my fingers want to write and write about it. It could be a messy blog without concentrating and thinking, how to shortly introduce Mostar and surrounded area to you all.

     Mostar is a city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina by Neretva River.  Though, it is a must see place on every Balkans backpacker`s map, it does attract tourists from all over the world. It’s well known for the iconic Stari Most (Old Bridge), medieval arched bridge that has been found by Suleiman the Magnificent in 16th century. This Ottoman construction crosses the town river and connects two parts of the city. I was surprised to learn that after the 427 years it was destroyed in 1993 by Croat forces during the Croat–Bosniak War and rebuild again in 2004, achieving the title of the UNESCO side. As of 2017, It is one of the most remarkable bridges in Europe and a main point of tourist interest in the whole country. The images of Stari Most come as a first top mach on all internet search engines, associating Bosnia and Herzegovina with it. The simplicity of the design and structure, enriched by two medieval fortified towers along with beautiful and green river running underneath, makes it truly as a worth see place. The very interesting fact is that it is a most crowded place in the whole town, with people standing on it all day long. Crazy local jumpers (for money) probably participate in this fact too.  I, myself, was sitting on the wall near by staring at the bridge for hours. I really did not need more. Apart from this outstanding overpass, you can find the medieval spirit in Old Town that can be found on the side of the bridge. Alleys are full of shops and market stalls, and the Museum explores the bridge’s long history.

     There is a bad in good in being in Mostar. I mean, it is bad if you have just one day to explore this town. Though, the uniqueness of this city will leave an amazing memories, it would be very unfortunate not to see the things around. So what are they?

Blagaj

    Blagaj is a village located just 10 kilometers south-west of Mostar. It can be reached by the bus that unluckily does not operate very often, but it is an option. sdsds.jpgThe morning service leaves at 9.00 and 11.30. It is a yellow one that got few stops in the town, and one is located next to the main bus terminal. I would suggest a perfect option of catching this transport at 9.00 and coming back at 11.30. You will have enough time to look around and be able to plan something for the afternoon. The ticket cost just 4.20 Marks for both ways. The return service from Blagaj is at 11.30, 13.00, and 16.30, but please rechecked with locals, as I’ve been told that some might not run or are known to be late even for one hour. Road to Blagaj is also known as a good bike trial. The whole way is nice and easy, roads are not so busy, and the view of mountains and rivers is fdfdfdfdfd.jpgoutstanding. The third option might be an organized tour from Mostar or a taxi, and that is not as pricey as you may think. Depending on the amount of people in your group and your negotiation skills, it could become a cheap and very convenient option to choose.

   Once there, the village itself is not really the place you want to see. The point of interest, called Blagaj Tekija, is a  Dervish Monastery that’s nearly 600 years old. Situated at the base of a cliff next to the source of the river Buna, creates a very picturesque space. It can be accessible by both sides, and the view from them is impressive. On one side, next to Monastery by the river, you can find few coffees and restaurant, where you can stop by and rest, eat, and drink or just enjoy this stunning place.

Kravice Waterfalls

      Beautiful waterfalls called Kravice are easily reachable from Mostar. The height  of the falls is about 25 meters,  and the radius of the lake in the base of the waterfall is 120 asasas.jpgmeters. The distance equal 40 km, so it would make a little bit difficult to cycle there, but can be easily approach by car or taxi. The last one, I mentioned, does not mean an expensive option if you are going in a group of 4, as the price for one way can start from just 50$. This time I can’t advise you on the bus service, as I don`t think there`s any direct one from Mostar, at least I havent heard of it. I have bought a day tour from my hostel and I would also highly recommend this way of doing so, as you will be able to visit a six different places in one day (including Blagaj and Počitelj). During the summer time I would suggest spending there the whole day. Not only because of the pretty waterfalls. This place makes as a perfect day trip.  You can swim there, have a BBQ, sit and enjoy. The area around makes this place as a perfect recreation spot for families, group of friends, or just a single person.DSC_0852.jpg

Počitelj

      Fortress like village called Počitelj is one of the most picture-perfect architectural place in the country and a must see. The main construction dates from two periods – medieval and ottoman, same like Mostar and loads of other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This one, however, just can`t escape your attention with the uniqueness of all the buildings, attached to each other by the tiny stairs in between, that lay on the hill side. dsdsdsds.jpgThe history of this small village take us back to 1383 year. It is believed that the fortified town, along with its attendant settlements, were built by Bosnia’s King Stjepan Tvrtko I. In the 1562 the construction of the large Hadži Alijina Mosque has been completed, however it got destroyed later on in 1990s. People yet did want to make Počitelj as a magnificent and unique place again, so the mosque got restored. The most dominant residential structure in the village is probably Gavrakanpetanović House, a complex of one large and two smaller buildings, built during the 16th and 17th centuries. Following its destruction in 1993, it was restored in 2003 once again. The Sahat-kula, a silo-shaped fort that towers from the top of the hill above, is another magnificent structure that makes this village so unique. In January 2003, the historic part of town of Počitelj was proclaimed a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2007, Počitelj submitted an application for the UNESCO world heritage list and as of today is one of the most popular tourist attraction.

Matka Canyon by public bus from Skopje

    Once in Skopje, Matka Canyon is a place you just have to visit. Yes, you really do! I could start with important reasons like: the beauty of the place, clear green waters of the Treska River, path trial trough the canyon..loads.IMG_1797.JPGBut how about the fact that Matka is located just 15 kilometers from the city? Yeah I know, just around the corner. Even if you are visiting capital just for one day, you can still add it to your schedule, as the public bus takes only 30-40 minutes to reach the canyon, and it arrives just right before the entrance. You can even get there by taxi. I’ve heard it will cost 400-500 MKD one way (that’s around 8 Euros).

     So in order to get to Matka Canyon, you have to take a number 60 bus that leaves from the main bus station. Please note, that the stop is actually located on the right hand side of the main bus terminal behind the petrol station. The stand is somewhere in the middle, and it has a sign with number 60 next to it, so you really will find it with no hustle.IMG_1734 Ultimately, you can catch it also from the city center, as the bus makes loads of stops in Skopje on the way.IMG_1806   It is running quiet often. Times of departures from Skopje main bus station: 7:00 / 8:45 / 10:30 / 12:10 / 13:50 / 17:10 / 18:45 / 20:15 / 22:30.  From Matka to Skopje: 11:20 / 13:00 / 14:55 / 16:25 / 17:45 / 19:20 / 21:00.  Please, be 15 minutes earlier, as I have read somewhere on forum that bus can leave 15 mins prior departure from Matka.
Unlucky, most of the bus stands here in capital don’t have any information, so you have to ask locals where is the most convenient stop for you, if you are not going from the main one or the one near the city center (tagged on the photo). In order to travel you need to buy a card. You can not pay to the driver by cash any longer.IMG_1800 The travel card cost 150 MKD. That`s enough for 2 ways, and probably you will have some money on it left that you can use later on other buses, if needed. Please don’t panic if the bus is late, it`s normal. I, for example, waited just 10 minutes.

Going back

The bus will leave from the same place where you got off. IMG_1789You are swiping your card, and you are on your way back to Skopje. Easy? No? Then click here.

Rila Monastery from Sofia by bus

    Hidden in the mountain wildness 1174 meters high above the sea level, Rila Monastery became as a number one attraction in Bulgaria. Remarkable scenery around and an impressive monk`s building itself creates something magnificent, where the old spirit can be still present. IMG_1668.JPGWhen you look at it, you can notice how well the architecture collaborates with surrounded nature. It feels like monastery grew from the ground respecting the peaceful flora around. The location makes it easy to be reached from the capital of Bulgaria on a daily bases. So here I come with my advise for you guys how to get to that remarkable place yourself.

     Before heading off please take a warm clothes with you like jacket, shoes etc. There is still snow (March, April) around, and the temperature can be very low. Ok, so after my grany`s tips, we are ready to go.

      In order to reach Rila Monastery you need to catch a bus from Ovcha Kupel bus station.  You can get by tram number 5, and you can do that from the stop by Palace of Justice in the city center from where the tram departs. The ticket cost just 1.80 lev and can be bought from the driver. Well…I have been told by one local that it is 1.60, so maybe the driver charges a little for an extra job as a seller :). I guess number 5 departs very often as, even that it was Sunday,  I waited only 5 mins for it. Once you are in the tram, you can count stops to get off on 13th (or 12?). You will see a Kaufland shop on the left and an ABC market on the right, so you wont miss it!

Now go to the right, and just 300 m away you will find a bus station. Don’t bother to ask for the ticket at the counter, as it can be only purchased in the bus. It cost 11 lev (march 2017) one way, and it can be paid only by cash. Please note, that the bus is always full, and it`s the only one you can catch for the trip, so please be earlier to claim a ticket and sit. Mine was full, people were standing (2h drive), and I`ve witnessed that 2 people were deny as of lack of the space. I would suggest to be 30 mins before to be 100% sure that you will get to the Rila that day. Bus will leave at 10.20 am (it should wait there 30 mins before) from the stand number 7. IMG_1682.JPG
As I mention before, the journey takes around 2h. Please keep your ticket with you just in case, as we had to change the bus in one little cute town just 30 mins away from monastery. We also stopped there for half an hour. The second bus came exactly to the same place where the first one dropped us. Nobody checked our tickets, but as I mentioned, just keep it with you. From there the journey was very pleasant with spectacular view of the mountain range, rivers and forest on the way. IMG_1664.JPGWe arrived after 30-40 minutes right by the entrance at exactly 13.00. The same bus (from the same place) departs at 15.00 back to Sofia, and that is your only option to get back, or you will have to get very friendly with local monks, so they will accommodate you….highly not possible. So You will be given 2 hours to look around and that is enough time, trust me. There is no fee for the entrance which makes the whole trip extremely cheap (around 10 Euros). Please go around to see everything and visit impressive church in the center. The side feel so peaceful (even with tourists around), you almost want to stay forever.  IMG_1688High peaks, that surround the place, creates a beautiful background to the mystical and old monastery. There is a museum to visit too, but you need to pay 8 Lev entry fee (20 with English speaking guide). To warm you up, coffees and teas are available from the dispensary machine and from loads of other stands. There is one restaurant (accepts cards) on the side where you can have a good meal for a fair price, but please remember you need to get off at 15.00. Souvenirs shops with little figures, postcards, local honey and loads more, are around too. Have a look, they do have loads of interesting and unusual stuff there. 2 free toilets are available on the side. If you have a spare bottle, get some water from the well, it is a great quality one.

Places to see in Rila Monastery:

The Church (located just in the heart of the monastery,

Museum (on the right hand side),

The cookhouse (can be found not far from the restaurant and food stands),

Monastic cells.

   I have read online that there is a cave to see too, but it`s located 4 kilometers away, and I don’t think it is possible to do with your 2 hours time restriction.

  Time to go “home”

    There is a time for an end to everything, and at Rila Monastery (for the one who took a public transport) that time is 15.00. So again you will get a return ticket from the driver, and you will head back to Sofia to the same bus station from where you departed. You should be back before 17.30, and this time we did not have to change the bus. Again, you can catch a tram back to the city center.  The whole journey from the start is nice, easy and very cheap. The Monastery will stay in your memory probably as one of the best you have ever seen.