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So as I previously mentioned, my friend’s family very kindly took me under their wing while I was in Belgrade. I ended up not being able to travel the rest of Serbia and I didn’t get to visit everything I wanted to see in Belgrade, but it gave me the chance to meet and hang out with a bunch of really awesome people and I ended up seeing and doing things I wouldn’t have even thought of doing. Life is full of little trade-offs.

So the first day I arrived in Belgrade I was completely exhausted. I slept an hour or so on the bus from some random border town to Belgrade and arrived at the ridiculous hour of about 8am where I was picked up by Ilija and Goga. When Ilija took me back to their apartment I crashed for a couple more hours since I was exhausted. I think Ilija was glad of that because he’s not exactly a morning person either! When I finally managed to drag myself up to join the world he told me we were going to meet up with his mate and then go check out Kalemegden Fortress, which is basically a giant ruin complex thing. Within the old city fortress walls is a couple of bars, a zoo, an art walk and a giant park. Apparently there is also a military museum, but we missed that. We spent ages just having a drink (I think I met the only Eastern Europeans in the world who aren’t very big drinkers) and walking around, checking out the fortress, the views and walking along the art walk exhibition while the boys pointed out different parts of the city, told me their names and why things were called what they were (like the River Sava, named after a very important saint who was martyred in Beograd).

After the fortress we walked around a little bit more in Old Belgrade, but didn’t do a lot of sightseeing as it was beginning to get dark and I was still exhausted from the mornings travel. Instead we went back home where we decided to go get another drink at a hotel within walking distance of the flat so that Ilija didn’t have to drive. It seemed to be a hotel mainly for business people because it was a bit out of the way but they had a lovely rooftop bar where you could see an almost 360 degree view of the city. That was made a touch more exciting by the fact that we seemed to have caught the eye of some random drunk Croatian guy. He decided to join our table while Dimitrija (Ilija’s friend) was in the loo and kept asking us what we were doing in Belgrade in either English or Croatian pending on whatever his sodden mind fancied I suppose. Dimitrija and Ilija kept responding ‘We live here’ (I didn’t speak at all) and he would nod his head and say “And how long have you been visiting for?” Eventually a waiter came and told him to go back to his room, but it made for an interesting first day in Belgrade nonetheless.

During the rest of my time in Belgrade we visited the old town and just walked around, we walked through the ‘Bohemian Quarter’ which very largely caters to tourists now. Though it did look to be a fun and happening place regardless, we walked all over places I probably never would have walked on my own (I would have gotten so lost), I had my first taste of kaymak (a cheese-like spread that is heaven on a sandwich) saw their parliament building and we walked all the way to Sveti Sava, which is the Orthodox Cathedral I mentioned earlier. It is INSANELY huge, the largest Eastern Christian cathedral in the world and one of the 10 largest church buildings in the world. And it’s still a shell. The outside of it is beautiful though. You would look at the outside and never guess that it wasn’t finished on the inside. I walked inside and was very much reminded of the Hagia Sofia in size and shape, though I think the dome may actually be higher here than the Hagia Sofia. It’s a construction zone with no massive iconoclast yet (partly finished), though you can find pictures of religious figures littered throughout which many a worshipper stops at to pray.

One of the reasons it is taking so long to finish is because it took them a good quarter of a century to agree on plans in the first place (if not longer). After they finally agreed, wars and what not kept it from happening. Once they were recommitted to building, World War II came about and Hitler’s regime put a stop to the building of an Orthodox Church so they could use it as a car park. It has only really been worked on regularly for the last 28 years, is entirely funded by donations and they don’t have the benefit of unlimited slave labour like Emperor Justinian did. After a long day of walking we were all pretty exhausted and ready to head home. Only problem was that we had to walk ALL THE WAY BACK to the car. Oh well, it’s good for me I reckon.

Basilica of Sveti Sava

One night we decided to go down to the river bars. Belgrade has a ton of floating bars and clubs along the river. Apparently, some of them are super popular and expensive (and run by the mafia I am told) and you have to call ahead and book a table and are required to spend a certain amount. None of us really fancied that so we decided to go to a quiet little place called Verde Gato “The Green Cat” which allowed us to relax, have a couple of drinks and just chit chat (without the inflated prices of the more popular clubbing places). I was also forced to order a banana split (before going home to have dinner) and it was the largest banana split I had ever seen in my life. Seriously, it wasn’t served in a bowl or on a plate, it was served on a serving platter! I couldn’t even eat half of it, though Ilija had no problem finishing off what I couldn’t eat (and seemed to still be hungry). I have no idea where he puts it all.

One evening Ilija’s parents took us on a bit of a field trip outside of Belgrade to a place I myself would have never thought to go (but am glad I did). We drove about an hour outside of Belgrade (the long scenic way) until we arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Mt. Avala. It’s a beautiful, scenic area in the hills between the valley Belgrade is in and the mountains in the southern part of the country. We spent some time walking around there and you can still see the bullet wounds on the tomb from the Yugoslav War.

After the memorial we went to Avala tower, a giant radio tower rebuilt after the war with a viewing point and spent a little bit of time checking out the amazing 360 degree view. It was a perfect, clear day so we could see for miles and miles. It wouldn’t have surprised me if I was looking across the Romanian border at one point! Afterwards we went to the grounds where Serbian royalty once lived (apparently during a major European war, WWII I think, they ran away to the UK and have been pretty useless since). The grounds were beautiful and the weather was spectacular. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t live there at least part of the year, especially considering they had a fairly beautiful vineyard. On top of that we stopped at Serbia’s original parliament and courthouse in the village next to the royal grounds which I was admittedly excited about! They are very well preserved actually.

Afterwards Ilija’s parents took us to a traditional rural Serbian restaurant (they litter the landscape, you really can’t miss them) which was spectacular! There was soooooooo much food and it was delicious. We ended up taking a bunch of it back home with us and eating it for leftovers. If you are driving through rural Serbia and you pass little restaurants with a spit out front and they are roasting whole lamb or pig on it, I highly recommend stopping and eating. Make sure you have an appetite. You could order cuts of meat, you could order any part of the animal you wanted, you could order these delicious breaded chicken stuffed with who knows what (Goga ordered that) that I very willingly finished off when we had them for leftovers. I really should get the name of those.

We also went to Tito’s Mausoleum which also has an ethnographic museum and a museum with changing exhibitions attached. While we went they had an Olympic Exhibition and an exhibition to the development of Serbia from the 40’s or 50’s until today. They had an English translation on everything which was awesome for me. It was a really good museum and I highly recommend going. I very much enjoyed it.

I really wanted to go to the Tesla museum and the Ivo Andrič museum (a Yugoslav author from Bosnia who immigrated to Belgrade). Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go, but it made for a good trip to Serbia all the same.

Montenegro

I ended up agreeing to go with the guys to Budva, Montenegro which made for a freaking long road trip. We stayed one night in Zlatibor, a national park in Serbia and then spent the entire next day driving to Budva. Montenegro is a beautiful country, and the mountains there are spectacular, but I absolutely hated the beach. It was full of tourists, ridiculously overcrowded (though thankfully not insanely overpriced like the Croatian coastline), the beaches weren’t sand and I find pebble beaches to be an abomination after living in Australia and it was extremely difficult for me to deal with so I spent a large chunk of my time hanging out on the beach reading with the Serbs I was with or drinking on the balcony of my room and contemplating life and all that that implies.

Street poling in Serbia at Zlatibor National Park

Due to the fact that I didn’t do a whole lot in Montenegro I’m not even going to bother posting anything about it. I think if I had gone to the mountains and visited there I would have liked Montenegro a lot more than I did. Next time I go to the area I’ll definitely pay a visit to the mountains and let you all know how it goes.

What I’m reading now: The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne

What I’m listening to now: The Lord of the Rings – Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien

Please vote on my next destination on the poll at the top right hand of the screen!

Pictures from Serbia and Montenegro can be seen by clicking on the country.

 

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I loved Romania. Romania has to be one of my favourite countries that I visited in Europe. I loved the gritty rawness of Bucherest. I love the fact that when you are in Bucharest you know you are in eastern Europe. It’s cheap, it’s grimy, it’s wild and the people appreciate enjoying life. Work hard, play hard. I loved the pristine beauty of Braşov. The dainty, clean old town surrounded by old soviet buildings and dodgy looking shops. I loved being back in mountains after the extreme flatness of the rest of Eastern Europe. When you grow up in the mountains you always appreciate the beauty of them and the mountain air that comes with small towns nestled in them. It’s refreshing. I loved the youth and awareness of Timişoara. A small university town near the Serbian border with a lazy Sunday feel (it was Sunday after all) but electricity in the air when a large group gathered to protest something political (not sure what, I don’t speak Romanian).

Braşov

My first stop after Bucharest was the small town of Braşov, popular with tourists nestled in a valley in the Carpathians. It’s a picturesque town that appears to have lost some of its originality and character at first glance thanks to having so many tourists. The old town is pristine and what can only be described as ‘cute’. It’s in sharp contrast with the rest of the city (which I decided to get lost walking around in, completely by accident). As soon as you left the main tourist areas but before you reached the outskirts where the wealthier families built nice houses you had dirty apartment buildings and small, dingy shops filled with mostly cheap crap. There’s a “Braşov” sign at the top of one of the surrounding mountains that is obviously copying the “Hollywood” sign. It’s all a bit gauche. Overlooking this though, Braşov is full of great little surprises you wouldn’t expect which make for some wonderful people watching.

Welcome to Brasov!

 

One of the first things you notice about walking through Braşov is that the locals are just not overweight at all. It is actually one of the most (if not the most) active town in Romania. Every park is filled with those exercise machines, there are a ton of sports fields and none of them are ever empty. I sat for a while at one of the track fields I passed and watched people training for sprints, field events and football while reminiscing about my high school days. They also have a massive church (in which I missed visiting hours) and a synagogue (also missed visiting hours) alongside a slew of Romanian Orthodox Christian churches which I read make for an interesting visit. I also walked past “Europe’s narrowest street”, which in my opinion is a pretty big call. I’ve been on some narrow streets, and while there is no doubt that it was the narrowest (barely wide enough for me to walk down without turning sideways) it was never technically a street. It was simply a narrow opening for the fire brigade to pass through in case of fire in that specific area. Should it be called a street? Your call.

Another thing that I loved, loved, loved about Braşov was the food. There’s a restaurant called “Restaurant Transylvania” that serves traditional rural Romanian food (which may or may not have contributed to my excessive weight gain) like, Ciorbă (a traditional Romanian sour soup that you can get in various flavours), Mămăligă (translated into ‘corn mush’ in Moldova and similar to Italian polenta) and tochitură ardelenească (the Transylvanian version of tochitură which is basically pan fried beef and pork). This restaurant (also a wine cellar or something) is so cheap I got a massive meal for all of about $6, including a local beer. You can get local wines and homemade wines for about $2 a litre as well if you really want to. Highly recommended. For afters, there is a crepe restaurant on the main pedestrian drag that does extremely delicious crepes that I at first thought were overpriced until I ordered on and received a crepe the size of my head.

Braşov is also a very popular area with hikers. I would have loved to go hiking while there but I had a limited amount of time and I had to be in Serbia by a certain date so I wasn’t able to. Just watch out for the bears. If you would like more information on hiking in the area, google it because I unfortunately don’t have that information.

The main reason for me going to Braşov? DRACULA’S CASTLE!!! While it is totally awesome saying that you have been to Dracula’s Castle I should probably make a few disclaimers. First of all, the castle isn’t terribly impressive in comparison to some that I have seen. It’s quite small, but it’s still quite nice looking and it’s surrounded by fairly impressive scenery. I also have no idea why it is called “Dracula’s Castle” as Dracula may possibly have visited it once for a night at some point during his life, but he also may not have. Regardless, I’ve been to Dracula’s Castle! It’s actually used as a museum for the families and royalty that did live there and I did enjoy the visit and spent a couple of hours there. There are a ton of little stalls selling extremely kitschy souvenirs, but there’s a bit more variety there than in the town of Braşov and the items are marginally cheaper. If you’re there, might as well pick some up. I’m wishing I had.

It’s amazing I haven’t been arrested yet.

Timişoara

Timisoara was pretty much just a stopover on the way to Serbia as it’s a border town and the trains between Braşov, Timişoara and Belgrade, Serbia don’t really match up very well. Even if they did, the train would probably be late anyway so you wouldn’t get into Timişoara in time to catch the train to Belgrade. I could have got in that night and then caught the 6am train to Belgrade, but in general, bus and train stations are about the dodgiest places you will see while travelling, especially in smaller towns and I didn’t fancy having my shoes stolen while I slept on a concrete floor and then miss my train anyway. So I did what any sensible girl would do when faced with such a dilemma. I booked a hostel for that night, asked to store my luggage and being as reception isn’t open 24 hours at the hostel in Timişoara, hung around in the common room until I had to leave at 4am to walk to the train station (super creepy at that hour). Wearing a backpack at that hour (for a 40 minute walk I might add) when the crazies tend to be out sort of screams “Come over and freak the crap out of my by talking to me, hitting on me or following me.” Lucky for me, the worst I got was a vendor at the station asking if I wanted to buy a sandwich.

Anyway, Timişoara was sending me mixed signals while I was there and it was deeply confusing. At first it appeared to be a sleepy Sunday town where most everything was closed and even most of the café’s didn’t stay open long enough to serve lunch, which made sense considering it was Sunday. I didn’t do a whole lot except visit a church, buy my train ticket for the next day and eat at a restaurant called Restaurant Flora that came highly recommended by lonely planet (also one of the only ones open) but ended up being overpriced and underwhelming. I was not impressed with the food at all or the price I had to pay for it. By Romanian standards it was pretty expensive. I spent a good few hours there regardless getting some work done and when I left I had to walk through the main square. Much to my surprise, Timişoara was no longer the sleepy little town. There were hundreds of people gathered in the square having some sort of political protest or rally. They were against something that was apparently happening in some sort of Romanian politics but I couldn’t tell what as the only word I could understand on the signs was ‘No’ and true to the pragmatist in me, I decided to avoid the rally just in case anything happened and my insurance didn’t cover it. I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised considering Timişoara is a university town, but it was quite a 180 flip from what I had seen the entire rest of the day.

What I’m reading now: Nothing My Darling Nothing by H. Manice

What I’m listening to now: Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Photos from Romania can be seen here.

My post-Europe ABC’s of travel post! Original July responses are in white, September responses are in red.

A: Age you went on your first international trip: I first travelled to Australia when I was 16 for a soccer (football) tournament. I fell in love with Sydney and never looked back.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: Hmmmmm, this is a tough one. I’m a big fan of microbrews and have had some of the most excellent beers from microbreweries in Australia and the US (specifically the Rocky Mountains). That being said, I haven’t travelled to Germany yet.

Romania also had surprisingly good beer. Big thanks to Andrei for introducing me to delicious, unfiltered beer!

C: Cuisine (favorite): As much as I love the variety of cuisine the world has to offer and it’s all wonderful in its own way, I’d have to say my favourite is Cajun/Creole food down in New Orleans. Also, my mum’s fried chicken. But I only get that when I’m not travelling.

I have also come to the decision that I love soup. Everywhere I go I like to try the local soups if they have them. One of my new favourite foods is Solyanka from Ukraine.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: My ultimate favourite is Australia, specifically the Sydney Opera House, but as I live there I don’t think it counts. So other than Australia my favourite so far is Turkey. No real specific place in Turkey, I’ve loved it all so far (only travelled western and central Turkey). They have such a beautiful culture, wonderful people, amazing food and there is soooooo much history. You could live your entire life there and you’d never see it all.

My least favourite? Los Angeles, California. It’s a wretched, polluted, dangerous city (I’m half shocked it’s in a first world country) which has very little to offer society whatsoever. It could fall off into the ocean and I’d probably throw a party.

Favourite destinations have yet to change, though I am definitely adding Romania to my list of favourite places and can’t wait to go back! I also have a least favourite city that is not quite on par with LA, but comes in a close second. Dubrovnik, Croatia. Such a beautiful city, but the hordes of tourists and the insane pricing (on par with prices in Australia, if not more expensive) have pitted me against this city. Next time I go to Croatia, Dubrovnik won’t be on the list of places to visit.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Again, I’d have to say watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from just in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I’m a Sydney-sider so I suppose it doesn’t count. I have a lot of things that have made me say “wow”, but not so much events I suppose.

La Tomatina in Buñol, Spain. 150,000 tons of tomatoes for a giant food fight? How can you not say ‘wow’?

F: Favorite mode of transportation: Trains hands down. I can lay down and sleep on them, I don’t get sick on them and I don’t have to worry about checking and picking up my luggage. Plus it’s a great way to see the countryside.

Still trains. I really hate buses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: Sitting outside a little street-side café or restaurant, people watching, drinking in the environment and culture and thinking about all that I’ve managed to accomplish so far and what I am going to accomplish in the future.

Add being able to order fluently in the local language to that list. And learning the local alphabet (if not in Latin)

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: Any desert area in the American Southwest. We stopped in Phoenix when I was travelling with a friend back in 2001 and it was a whopping 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celcius). You’re sandals would literally start to melt as you walked across asphalt.

The heat wave while I was in Eastern Europe comes in a close second.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: Usually any decent restaurant in the US will give you great service. In Kamyanyuki Hotel at Belevezhskaya Pushcha National Park in Belarus the staff went out of their way to help me out, knowing that I didn’t speak Russian (and they didn’t speak English). Rather than shrug and attempt to use sign language when I needed something they would call up a member of staff who spoke some English to translate (even at 11pm) and they also got an English translator to come in one day to show me around and help me out (free of charge).

J: Journey that took the longest: Anytime I fly to or from Australia. It’s guaranteed to take at least 24 hours in transit.

K: Keepsake from your travels: I like to collect flag patches, postcards and shot glasses from every country I visit. Unfortunately, I do visit dry countries, so the shot glasses aren’t always possible.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I just left Odessa, Ukraine and one of the points of interest that they like to push is the allegedly famous Potemkin Steps, well known from what is apparently one of the most influential films of all time (I’ve never heard of it) Battleship Potemkin. It’s just a big set of stairs. I’ve seen cooler stairs.

Dubrovnik, Croatia. Everything was insanely expensive and there were hordes of tourists. I didn’t really appreciate that. Thank goodness I was with someone I actually wanted to be with or I might have gone crazy on the tourists.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: Before I can remember. I’ve always wanted to travel. I blame my dad’s enormous collection of National Geographic magazines that I’ve been reading since I could read.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: Oh, I dunno. I stay in a lot of nice hotels, but they tend to just be the chain ones. The Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Mantra up at the Gold Coast. I’m not terribly picky about my hotels so I don’t go out of my way to stay in nice ones usually.

Ivo and I stayed in a beautiful apartment in Bled, Slovenia called “Villa Ana”. Highly recommended.

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Shoe figurines, models, and shoe art. I also have a thing for taking pictures of staircases. I really don’t know where that came from either as I hate going up and down them.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where: I have about a million and one stamps from passing in and out of Australia a dozen or so times in the past 6 years. I also have stamps from the UAE, Turkey, EU (into Germany, out of Lithuania, back into Lithuania, out of Poland), Belarus, Ukraine, US and New Zealand. Oddly enough, I’m currently in Moldova and they didn’t stamp my passport. Not sure if I should be concerned about that.

Add to the list, Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Spain, Morocco. I don’t have a Kosova stamp, but I’ve been there so it counts.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: Any of the “Australia’s Largest” stuff. The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the world’s largest rocking horse down near Adelaide, the world’s largest Prawn somewhere on the New England highway going up to Nimbin…you get the idea.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience: Event/Experience- New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney, Australia, the Sydney Opera House (after seeing the horrendous structures that are opera houses in a lot of Eastern Europe, I really miss the splendour that is the SOH). Sight- As morbid and depressing as they are, WWII museums. They are touching, humbling and horrifying all at the same time and it’s important to be reminded about history and what can happen so that we don’t repeat.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: Amazing food. Luckily, most of the world’s best food is super cheap so I don’t have to worry about it though.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: I was at a conference in Dubai and one night we did a four wheel drive ride through the desert sand dunes and had a dinner/dance party at a model Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert. Also being forced to stop the car, double back and take photos of a bunch of kangaroo’s when my mum was visiting Australia the first time.

U: Unforgettable travel memory: Sitting at the water’s edge in Assos, Turkey at the resort we were staying at with the sun setting, having a drink and watching the lights come on in the villages on the Greek island across the water.

Street poling on top of a mountain in the Julien Alps and slicing my finger heading to a cave for a day of caving in Slovenia.

V: Visas, how many and for where? 3- Australia (student and travellers visa), Turkey and Belarus

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where? Hunter Valley Lake’s Folly and Pepper Tree Estate wines are the best I’ve had by far. Moldova also has surprisingly amazing wines. It’s about the only thing the country produces.

X: eXcellent view and from where?: Anywhere along the Turkish coastline. Also, any hotel with a water’s view balcony in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. The desolation of the deserted coastline along the Curonian Spit, Lithuania on a chilly, rainy day in Junewas also a beautiful view for my personal preferences.

Anywhere along the Croatian coastline. Also, on top of the mountains in the Julian Alps makes for some spectacular viewing in which pictures will never do it justice.

Y: Years spent traveling?:  We’ve been travelling around the US since I was a very young kid, but I’ve been travelling internationally off and on for 8 years now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?:  Australians and Brits are sports mad about every sport and can turn into quite the hooligans after a match. From personal experience though, the entire world is crazy mad about football (soccer) and you can relate to and make friends with anyone in the world by bringing up the topic.