Belgrade, Sofia, Skopje, Ohrid, Tirana, Montenegro, Sarajevo
Planning and overall impression
The idea was to do a loop across the Balkans, visiting the
countries of the former Yugoslavia. Initially I was thinking of
including Romania (Bucharest) in this trip, but then discarded
the idea as the distance would have been too big and I wanted to
spend a few days along the Adriatic coast.
Essentially everything went smoothly and according to the plans.
We lost some time crossing the border from Croatia to Serbia, as
if the border guards were hesitating to let us in. Then Belgrade
impressed us as a nice city with lots of nightlife. Bulgaria is
less developed than Serbia, even if it is an EU member state.
Macedonia has a bizarre capital with lots of fake ancient Greece
buildings and structures, sort of a Disneyland for adults.
Albania is way more modern than I was imagining. Streets are
clean and the infrastructure is relatively good.
Montenegro has a nice coastline, which seems to be targeted at
the rich & famous. Sarajevo has a pretty historic core,
probably restored after the damages of the war. It has a
distinct oriental flair.
Overall the region is very interesting and rich of history,
local culture and natural sights. It would have been easy to
spend there a lot more time than two weeks.
Overall costs are quite low, if compared to central Europe or
France or Italy. Some places along the coast of Montenegro are
expensive, because they are targetting rich tourists.
We didn't so much try out the local ethnic food, and instead ate
in more conventional restaurants where sort of an international
food is served. Overall it's not a problem finding decent
restaurants everywhere. Ice cream was everywhere and was quite
We booked apartments with prices ranging from 45 to 85
Euro/night, using international booking portals. The quality was
different from place to place, but overall good enough. In one
case we booked an apartment for 61 Euro on booking.com but the
owner showed us a price of 76 Euro at this side of the booking.
Money / Exchange rate (June 2018)
1 Euro = 118 RSD
1 Euro = 1.95583 BGN (Bulgarian Lev)
1 Euro = 61 MKD
1 Euro = 1.95583 BAM (Bosnian Convertible Marka)
For current exchange rates check the Universal
Mobile phones and prepaid cards
In Bulgaria and Croatia we relied on EU roaming. In the other
countries it was possible to buy cheap SIM cards with Internet
packages. They were cheap enough that we bought SIM cards even
if we were staying only one day in the country. In all visited
countries there was fast 4G mobile Internet access.
Temperatures kept getting warmer the further south we got,
topping at 30°C during the day in Albania and Montenegro. It was
mostly sunny, with occasional showers. Warm enough to swim in
the sea in Montenegro.
Health / Vaccinations
No vaccinations needed for the Balkans.
VISA / Entry requirements
VISA free entry for EU nationals and nationals of several other
countries (including Malaysia).
Pretty good, no issues at all during the trip.
- Belgrade has a nice city centre with lots of nightlife.
- The historic centre of Sofia
- Pretty landscape at Ohrid lake.
- The beautiful Montenegrin sea coast, with its bays,
beaches and small cities
- Sarajevo is nice.
Things to avoid
- Nothing really, although Podgorica is quite uninteresting.
We drove around by car. In all places we visited, driving with a
car was easy and it was easy to find a parking. The road network
overall is quite good.
18.5: Munich ->
Hotel Veganfresh, Medvode. 69 Euro for a
room with attached bathroom with shower. Pre-room with two
stacked beds, cupboard and a small LCD TV, other room with
double bed, small table, small LCD TV. No A/C, but heating.
The room is on the first floor, breakfast included. Free WLAN
in the room. Good shower with lots of water. Buffet style
breakfast, not too bad.
Weather: mostly sunny, with an occasional
brief shower. Temperatures between 12°C (evening in Medvode)
and 23°C (Munich, when we leave)
We manage to leave Munich by 4:15pm. Brief stop on the motorway
at the Irschenberg station to buy the motorway vignettes for
Austria and Slovenia (we will be crossing these two countries).
30 Euro for the Slovenian vignette (30 days) and 2 x 9 Euro for
two 10-days vignettes for Austria. Very expensive, considering
that the motorway sections we are using are short (200km each
r Austria and 178km
each way for Slovenia). That means, for 356 km of motorway in
Slovenia we have to pay 30 Euro - a real rip-off.
In addition, in Austria you have to pay also 11.50 Euro and 7.20
Euro for two tunnels (each way), bringing the total cost to over
55 Euro for 400 km of Austrian motorways.
We are somehow lucky with the motorway traffic, because there
are only a few traffic jams and we lose less than one hour in
the traffic jams.
At 6:30pm we reach the border to Austria. We have some fast food
in a McDonalds restaurant, then continue driving shortly after
7pm. Initially there are some short traffic jams or slowly
moving traffic, but after some time the traffic levels on the
motorway drop and things become very fluid. We reach the hotel
19.5: Medvode -> Belgrade
Novel Inn, Belgrade. 77 Euro for a nice big
apartment. Modern, clean, big living room with sleeping sofa,
kitchen, two bedrooms, two toilets, lots of furniture. Nice
place, high standard. Free parking on the street. Water boiler
system in the toilet. Free WLAN in the room, but slow. The
rooms have A/C.
Weather: mostly sunny, with a few short
showers. 23°C in Belgrade, 20°C in the evening.
Today we drive the 539km from Medvode (Slovenia) to Belgrade. No
traffic jams at all. Very little traffic on the motorway. We
only lose half an hour of time at the Croatian-Serbian border
(long queue, then long processing time). 130 km/h general speed
limit on the Slovenian and Croatian motorways, 120 km/h on the
Serbian motorways. In all three countries the motorways are not
Leaving the hotel around 10:30am, initially I refuel the car in
Medvode (1:29€/litre for diesel). We drive on secondary roads
until we reach the motorway in Ljubljana. Then everything
proceeds smoothly until Belgrade. The only stops are the
occasional toll stations on the motorway.
Lunch break at 1:20 pm in a motorway restaurant. Surprisingly
good food and service for a motorway restaurant (we are lucky to
find this place). We spend over an hour for lunch and continue
driving at 2:30pm.
Some stress at the border to Serbia around 4pm. We lose half an
hour at the border and I'm a bit scared that they won't let
Shirley with her Malaysian passport in (Malaysians need a visa
for Serbia, but those residing in Germany do not). Some question
about where we are going and what we are doing in Serbia.
Perhaps not that many people go to Belgrade for a holiday.
Once in Serbia, initially the motorway is full of holes and the
street lamp posts are rusty. After a while the quality of the
road surface improves.
Some weird people on the motorway in Serbia. One guy is driving
at very slow speed on the left lane (perhaps only 50-60 km/h).
Then later some cars behave like crazy on the motorway (two cars
driving at very close distance behind us; later another car
overtaking on the right side and even using the service lane to
overtake - really scary).
We finally reach the hotel in Belgrade at 5:15pm,
then check in and unload our stuff. Friendly receptionist.
At 6:05pm we drive into town. I key in the St Michael cathedral.
Once there can't find a parking so, after some searching I leave
the car in the parking of the Rajiceva shopping centre (first
hour free; each additional hour costs 100 RSD). Then we lose
about 5-10 minutes waiting for the elevator to get out of the
mall. It's 6:
50pm when we are finally out of
Turns out that we are in the hotspot of activity of Belgrade.
It's a pedestrian area, full of people, restaurants, cafes,
shops, life. I get some cash from an ATM, then we start
exploring the area.
From a social life perspective Belgrade is a pretty cool place.
We walk to the fortress park, staying there until after sunset
at 8pm, then walk back to the Rajiceva mall.
While there, a group of ladies try twice to steal the wallet of
Shirley. The first time a very elegant and fashionable lady just
manages to unzip the back pack of Shirley before getting caught.
The second time an associate of this
lady (another girl) manages to
unzip the backpack and has already her hand inside, when Shirley
notices her. Seems you have to be very careful in Belgrade, lots
In the Rajiceva mall, in the lower level, we buy SIM cards from
vip (a Serbian mobile network) for 300 RSD (= 2.50€). These have
3GB of data (usable in one week if I'm not mistaken) and 300 RSD
of airtime for calls. Unbelievably cheap for what you get.
For dinner we have some pizza pieces (150 RSD/piece), then we
buy some food in a supermarket before driving back to the hotel.
We are back shortly after 10pm.
Novel Inn, Belgrade.
Weather: sunny the whole day, blue sky
with a few clouds. The temperatures top out at 24°C. No rain.
In the morning I get up early. At 10:15am, since everbody is
still sleeping, I drive into town for some pictures.
Initially I drive to the parking below the Belgrade fortress.
From there I walk up to the
fortress and take some photos of the fortress and the views from
it. It's already quite warm today, especially under the sun.
At 11:30am I run into a group of German cheerleader girls, who
came here to pose for some reason. They are fully dressed up and
set up for the event. I quickly take a series of pictures of the
At 11:45am I'm done with this place and I walk back to the
car. I drive to the next place, the church of St Mark. The
traffic in the centre of Belgrade is not too bad today and I
quickly reach the place. It's also not a problem finding a place
where to park the car (free of charge). You just have to drive a
bit in the side streets.
St Mark is a Christian Orthodox church which is quite
picturesque from the outside, but probably not too old. The
interior is nice, but doesn't contain too many frescoes and
decorations, probably because the church is not old.
Then I walk to the nearby parliament house. In front of it there
is a big banner stating: "Hillary and Bill Clinton with NATO
forces invaded Kosovo and committed war crimes". This is
probably in the context of the current discussion about Serbia
joining the EU and NATO.
At 12:45pm I get into the car and drive to the St Sava church,
apparently the biggest orthodox church in the region. It takes
only about 10-15 minutes to get there, but I get lost with
Google Maps and have to make a long U-turn. Also here I manage
to find a parking after some searching.
The St Sava church is a beautiful and very photogenic church.
It's white-black with a green roof. Also here the church is open
and the entrance is free. Inside restoration works are ongoing.
The church is surrounded by a nice park.
Around 1:25pm I'm done with the church and drive back to the
hotel, where around 2pm I meet Shirley. Together with the kids
we go out, this time to the Deltacity shopping mall. This is a
relatively modern mall with lots of activity on this Sunday
afternoon. Free parking in the mall. This mall is sort of
mid-range (not too expensive goods). We have some lunch in the
food court, then shop around a bit.
We leave the mall around 4pm and drive to a place from which
there should be a good view of the Belgrade conference centre.
Unfortunately the view is not so good, becasue vegetation and
buildings are obstructing the view.
So at 4:20pm we drive to the next place, the museum of
contemporary art. This is along the western bank of the Sava
river and there are good views of central Belgrade. Difficult to
find a parking here, although after a while finally I find a
We spend some time exploring the waterfront (lots of boats with
cafes anchored along the waterfront). Quite a few people around
in this place.
Then we pay a visit to the museum of contemporary art. This is a
modern building and contains a number of pieces of art of the
past 100 years.
Around 5:50pm we drive to the last place of the day, republic
square. Also here it's easy to find a free parking. There is a
pedestrian area from here until the Sava river. Big shopping
street, lots of people.
We spend the evening there. At 8pm I drive Shirley and the kids
back to the hotel. Then I drive to th St Sava cathedral for some
blue hour photo shooting.
Radi's apartment, Sofia. 65 Euro for an
apartment, old style, wooden floor, lots of decorations and
stuff around. Kitchen, only one toilet. No washing machine,
but the lady will wash the laundry for free for you. Centrally
located in Sofia, a few hundred metres from the Sweta Nedelja
cathedral. Free WLAN, but not so fast. Heating, but no A/C.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds
in Belgrade, temperatures up to 26°C. As we approach Bulgaria
it starts raining, even very heavily for a short period of
time. In the evening it's dry but overcast in Sofia,
temperatures around 20°C.
We leave Belgrade quite late after
11am. Initially around Belgrade there is some traffic (80km/h
limit on the motorway), but as we leave the Belgrade area the
traffic levels drops significantly and after a while the
motorway is quite empty. We proceed quickly towards Sofia.
Between 1:30pm and 2:15pm we have a lunch in the Istanbul
restaurant along the motorway.
About 40-50km from the border to Bulgaria the motorway is
interrupted and we are rerouted on a land road. Later we are
back on the motorway. Roadworks are ongoing, seems they are
building a new motorway.
We lose 45 minutes at the border to Bulgaria. People are very
slow at processing the travellers. Once on the Bulgarian side,
we buy a vignette for the motorway (7 days, 8 Euro). But then,
until Sofia there is no motorway, so perhaps I could have saved
We reach the apartment in Sofia at 6:40pm local time. We get
settled, then after 7:30pm we walk out again, to have a look at
the city and have some dinner. The area where we are is pretty
much built in Neoclassical style. Quite impressive buildings.
At first sight, Sofia doesn't seem to be more wealthy than
Belgrade, even if Bulgaria now is an EU member state.
Life here is less flashy than in Belgrade, although I must say
that we were in Belgrade in the weekend. Still, also
geographically Sofia is less impressive than Belgrade, because
there is no river flowing through it.
We walk until the national culture palace, then take the subway
back to Serdika. The national culture palace is quite photogenic
and there are fountains next to it.
It's 9:30pm when we are back, too late for a real dinner. So we
just eat something quickly in a McDonalds restaurant, then walk
back to the hotel.
It's actually just 400km between Belgrade and Sofia (less than
five hours driving), but if you leave late in the morning and
lose 45 minutes crossing a border, in the evening when you
arrive there is not so much time.
Radi's apartment, Sofia.
Weather: sunny the whole day with a few
clouds. In the evening the sky is overcast. No rain the whole
Day spent exploring Sofia and I end up taking lots of pictures.
I'm really lucky with the weather, because the light and the
temperature are perfect.
In the morning I get out at 10:45am, while Shirley and the kids
will spend the next 2-3 hours in the room, taking it easy and
doing some school exercises.
In addition, my girls do not
care about old buildings or architecture.
I slowly walk eastwards to the government area where all
interesting buildings and several historical buildings are. I
visit the Sweta Nedelja cathedral, then pass by the St George
church and the ruins, then go through the Ministry of Education,
pass by other government buildings, reach the national theatre,
continue to the Sveti Nikolaj Russian church (beautiful!, then
finally reach the Alexsander Nevsky cathedral and continue
exploring the area.
The entire area is full of
beautiful buildings, parks, sculptures etc. in mostly
Neoclassical style. Perhaps 150 years ago it was designed to be
pretty. A large number of elegant and beautiful buildings in
Around 1pm I start walking back, because my ladies are hungry
and want to eat something. On the way back I discover other
interesting buildings I had missed before, such as the baths
building next to the mosque.
Finally around 1:30pm I meet Shirley and the kids who are having
something in an Asian restaurant (Wok to Walk).
Since the food apparently is
not good (as they tell me), I have something instead in a
restaurant on the opposite side. We are in the Vitosha boulevard
and everywhere there are restaurants and cafes.
Shortly after 2pm we continue walking along the Vitosha
boulevard (actually it'a a pedestrian area), until we reach the
culture palace. There we take the metro to the European Union
station, where we get off.
We have a quick look at the Park Center Sofia shopping mall.
It's not that terribly interesting, so we only stay there 25
minutes and at 3:30pm get back on the metro for the next place.
That would be the "The Mall" shopping mall and we arrive there
at 4:30pm (we took the metro, changed lines, then walked the
last 700m metres). This mall is a bit nicer. We have some food
there and Shirley and the girls do some bowling and other games
in the game centre. Finally we leave this mall at 6:45pm.
We hop on the next bus (we bought day tickets for 4 Lev, which
allow the use of all public transportation for one day) and get
back to the centre of Sofia. To be precise, we get off at the
culture palace, then walk back to the hotel.
In the evening I do some blue hour photography around 9pm.
23.5: Sofia -> Skopje
ARSS apartment, Skopje. 45 Euro for a nice
apartment with a big kitchen (with a sleep sofa), two bedrooms
and a toilet. A/C, free Internet, one toilet. Perfect central
location, 50m from the square with the big Alexander statue.
Parking included in the price.
Weather: initially sunny with some clouds,
temperatures up to 28°C when we reach Skopje, even if there is
some cloud cover. Heavy rain starting in the evening around
We leave the apartment shortly after 11am. After refuelling the
car in a Lukoil petrol station, we start driving towards Skopje.
We quickly reach the motorway towards Kulata. Speed limit of
120km/h most of the time. This is a good motorway with a smooth
surface. At one point we have to leave the motorway, because
Kulata lies in the south near the border to Greece, but we are
going west towards Macedonia.
The land road across the mountains is not bad and there is
little traffic. Very mountainous terrain by the way.
We reach the border at 1:30pm
Bulgarian time (border post is above 1100m of altitude, air is
quite fresh). There we only lose about 15 minutes, because there
is very little traffic. The officer asks to see the car
registration papers and the insurance green card.
We then call the owner of the apartment in Skopje to tell him
when we are going to arrive.
Then we continue driving. Initially the road is crap - road
surface is heavily patched and the road has lots of narrow
curves. Difficult to drive faster then 60km/h. Once down in the
plains, the road gets much better. We then reach a motorway
(toll is 60 MKD + 40 MKD) and finally are in the centre of
Skopje at 2:10pm local time. We leave the car temporarily in the
pedestrian zone and look for the apartment.
After some searching we manage to find it, but there is no
owner. So we call the guy at 2:20pm and 25 minutes later he
arrives and lets us into the apartment.
We get settled and at 3pm walk out and have a look at the city.
Initially we walk to the shopping mall next to the main square.
I find a bakery with very good pastries. Unable to resist I grab
a giant, freshly baked Danish with cherries for 30 MKD - a
fraction of the price in Germany. I guess I'll come back to this
bakery. Then we spot a Telekom MK shop and there buy two SIM
cards for 399 MKD each (unlimited calls in the network for one
week, 100 SMS, 170 MKD of airtime and 2GB of data). Not as cheap
as the SIM card in Belgrade, but fine for our purposes.
Then we look for a restaurant, because we have skipped lunch
today. After some searching we find some sort of kebab fast food
where we just grab some chicken roll with salad and french
fries. Stomach filling food, but not exactly haute cuisine.
Tomorrow we'll look for a real restaurant.
The pricing level for food seems moderate here in Skopje. One
scoop of ice cream for 30 MKD (later we'll buy some for 20
In the centre of Skopje a lot of construction is ongoing. Some
buildings around the central square are not ready yet. Lots of
ancient Greek architecture and statues of "a glorious past". The
archaeological museum which looks like a ancient Greek temple.
The entire area looks very fake, but sort of cute.
I wonder where they get the money from to build this sort of
Disneylandish nonsense. Although actually, once finished the
central part of Skopje will have some quite photogenic setting.
By the way, they are even building a Greek Orthodox church.
We cross the river and walk to the other side. Walking further,
we discover something authentic. A part of the city which looks
like a Turkish neighbourhood. Bazaars, mosques, old buildings.
I guess tomorrow we'll have
more time to get a better picture of the city. Surprisingly lots
of cafes in this area are closed. Perhaps they open in the peak
We walk further and reach the fortress, then walk back. In the
meantime it's 7pm and it's slowly getting dark. We walk back
towards the apartment, first however stopping again at the
bakery in the mall.
By now the good pastries are
finished, so we get out and walk towards another bakery we
spotted. Along the way Shirley discovers a waffle shop. So we
stop there and the kids order two big waffles.
While they are still waiting for the waffles, because it's
already getting dark, I get back to the apartment and fetch the
tripod. With that I prepare for some blue hour photo shooting.
But at 8pm it starts raining, and quickly the rain gets very
heavy and there is wind. I have no umbrella with me (it's in the
hotel). So I call Shirley and she comes pick me up with an
umbrella. It keeps raining for the next hours non-stop. At 11pm
it's still raining.
ARSS apartment, Skopje. Today I discover
that the check-in and check-out times are a bit unusual.
Check-out in the morning at 10am, but you are allowed to
check-in at 12pm.
overcast in the morning until after 10am, then the sky
gradually opens up and is mostly blue after 12pm (plenty of
clouds however). Then at 3pm it starts raining a bit for about
an hour or two. After 5pm the sky turns blue again and stays
In the morning I get out late at 11am because the sky only gets
blue quite late. For the next three hours,
until 1:45pm, I'm walking
through Skopje,taking pictures of the city, while Shirley goes
with the kids to the Vero Center mall. I slowly walk towards the
castle, finally find the entrance and get in. The entrance to
the castle is free.
Inside the castle all you can do
is walk along the walls and ramparts. Nice views of Skopje.
From the castle I walk down and make my way across Carsija, the
Turkish area. During the day this is now full of life and
people, very colourful.
At 1:45pm I rejoin Shirley and the kids at the Vero mall.
There I have some lunch and
take a rest. The Vero mall is a relatively small shopping mall,
with several shops, a supermarket and a food court. Probably a
bit old. Big parking area for cars.
I spend one hour in the mall, then at 2:50pm when we are about
to get out of the mall, it starts raining. We are 1.2km from the
apartment so just fetch a taxi (100 MKD, no meter) to the
Once there we just take a rest in the apartment and wait for the
weather to improve. And in fact, after 5pm it has stopped
raining and the sun is coming out again. I have half an idea to
drive by car to a place on a hill above Skopje, where there is a
monastery and probably a
good view of the city, but
Shirley isn't too interested.
So I just get out, fetch the car and drive to this place (the
Saint Pantelejmon monastery). Once out of Skopje, it's a narrow
and winding mountain road. I reach the parking shortly before
Here there is a "Macedonian village", sort of an open air museum
with replicas of traditional Macedonian houses and a restaurant
(all at 600m of altitude, overlooking Skopje). Very nice
atmosphere right now, with the right light, temperature and
views. Nice restaurant, where one could have dinner.
I spend some time visiting this Macedonian village and the
nearby Saint Pantelejmon monastery (essentially just a small
cute church), then get back to the car and continue driving
along the road, looking for a place with a nice view of Skopje.
I make a couple of stops along the way, but can't find a good
viewpoint. In the end, I do find the perfect viewpoint, with a
large parking area and a great view of Skopje. I stop there and
take some photos of Skopje, then drive back to the hotel.
I'm at the hotel at 7:10pm. Turns out that everybody is already
eating something, nobody is interested in going out for dinner.
Shortly before 8pm I get out again for some blue hour
25.5: Skopje ->
Apartment Sneshka, Ohrid. 55 Euro for a nice
big apartment in Ohrid, about 1km from the city centre. Two
bedrooms, one toilet, one fully furnished kitchen, one living
room. Nice, elegant, modern furniture. A/C in the rooms,
waterboiler in the bathroom. The shower head is broken (you
have to hold it in your hands). Floors with laminate. Free
WLAN, but in the evening it stops working for a while. Living
room with nice sofa (doubles as a bed) and big flat screen LCD
sunny and spotless blue sky in Skopje. Still sunny in Ohrid
when we arrive, but there are some clouds and around 4pm it
gets overcast and even briefly starts raining. After 5pm the
sun comes out again and the sky is mostly blue, then overcast
again after 6pm.
In the morning we check out at 10am, then spend some more time
in Skopje before leaving for Ohrid. I take again some pictures
of the big square, while Shirley goes with the kids to have some
breakfast in a cafe. We leave Skopje around 10:40am.
After driving for a while across Skopje, to my surprise we reach
a motorway. This is a piece of motorway which will last for
about 50-60km. Then the road starts climbing across mountains.
By the way, I see patches of snow high in the mountains. The
last 100km before Ohrid take almost two hours.
30km before Ohrid I call the landlady and tell her I'm arriving.
At 1:20pm we are at the apartment.
There we settle down and unload our stuff. Shortly after 2pm we
drive into town. We could actually have walked, but it turns out
later that taking the car was a good idea, because in the
evening I buy food and drinks in town and have heavy bags, which
I would have had to carry for 1km had I walked by foot into
We park near the harbour. A guy shows up with a machine and
tells us we have to pay (1 Euro/hour). Not wanting to pay for
the parking we drive away and find a free parking in a side
street about 300m from the harbour. Then we start exploring
The city is on the homonymous lake and is an absolute tourist
hotspot. Feels like Khaosan road in Bangkok. Souvenir shops,
restaurants, cafes, kebab fast foods, travel agencies almost at
every corner. This place couldn't be more touristy.
Is it a tourist trap? Yes and no. The area is indeed beautiful
and there are several old churches and the ruins of a castle.
Great views over the lake, beautiful scenery.
Perhaps today it's so full of people
because of the long weekend (Thursday and Friday are public
holidays in Macedonia).
Several boat owners along the waterfront offering boat trips on
the lake. Long boat trips (5 hours, until St Naum and back) for
This is more of a place where you stay for several days for
relaxing, and every day do excursions to the surroundings. From
the setup it's like a beach holiday place for the masses.
The price level is quite low.
Ice cream costs as little as 20 MKD/scoop, restaurants are
inexpensive, if compared to prices in western Europe.
We quickly find a restaurant and have some late lunch. After
that we spend some time exploring the old town, making it until
the St Sophia church.
Then it starts raining a bit and
we are wondering if it's the beginning of a heavy downpour and
whether we should rush back to the car. In the end the rains
stops quickly, but Shirley and the kids just want to go back to
the apartment. So I'm left alone exploring Ohrid.
I'll spend the next 2-2:30 hours walking back to the St Sophia
church, then up to the theatre, then to the castle (60 MKD
entrance; nice views of the lake and Ohrid), then down to the
Early Christian basilica (100 MKD entrance, nice new church +
archaeological excavations), down to the church at Kaneo and
from there back to the city centre at 7pm.
There I find a supermarket where I buy some food and drinks.
Distress call of Shirley, who is telling me that the small one
is still hungry. So I buy some take away food in a restaurant
and bring that back home. I'm back in the apartment by 8pm.
26.5: Ohrid -> Tirana
Central Apartments Shoshi, Tirana. 40 Euro
for an apartment in central Tirana, 300m from Skanderbeg
square. The apartment has a livingroom-kitchen, two bedrooms
and a toilet. Toilet with shower and washing machine. Ironing
board with iron. The kitchen is fully furnished with fridge,
stove, microwave etc. Free WLAN, but when we try it out in the
afternoon it's quite slow (later apparently ok). The only
thing with this place is that the furniture is a bit old. The
apartment is on the second floor of the building.
Weather: spotless blue sky in
Ohrid in the morning. Later some clouds show up, but it's
still sunny. In Tirana over 30°C when we arrive, then it rains
briefly and the temperatures drop to 24°C. In the evening it
doesn't rain anymore.
We check out at 10:30am (apparently also this place has a 10am
checkout time), then drive by car into town and leave the car
outside the city walls, near the theater. We spend 45 minutes at
the castle and the theater, then walk back to the car after a
brief stop in a café. Great views today from the castle of the
lake and the city of Ohrid.
By car we drive into town, closer to the area with the
restaurants. We lose some time looking for a parking, then
finally leave the car in a side street right outside the city
centre. Then we walk into the city centre and have lunch in a
restaurant. After lunch we spend some more time shopping around
a bit and change the last MKD into Albanian currency (ALL), then
finally leave Ohrid shortly before 2pm.
The road proceeds along the northern shore of the Ohrid lake,
then at one point turns westwards and starts climbing the
mountains. After a while we reach the border to Albania, which
is at 1000m of altitude. Here we lose about 15-20 minutes. Not
much traffic, but cars are being processed slowly.
Then we enter into Albania. Initially it's a bad mountain road,
which slowly descends with many twisting curves. Down in the
valley the road becomes smoother and with fewer curves. but
before reaching Tirana we'll have to cross again some mountain
ranges. About 40km from Tirana there is a short piece of
motorway. We reach the apartment at 4:40pm.
There we meet the owner, unload our stuff and take a rest.
At 5:50pm we get out. The first thing would be to get some local
cash and SIM cards, because right now we have no connectivity
and data roaming with our German SIM cards is too expensive. We
walk to Durres street and immediately find an ATM. But this is
charging a fee of 700 ALL (= 5.50 Euro) per withdrawal. The next
ATM refuses to accept my card and the third one also charges
this 700 ALL fee.
So we walk towards Skanderbeg square and spot an Albtelecom
outlet. There we'll buy two SIM cards (takes forever - we lose
40 minutes waiting for the staff to sell us the SIM cards) for
500 ALL each. Each has 2GB of data and no airtime (actually
there were 300 ALL of airtime, but we converted them to the 2GB
of data). Not really a problem, because we can use voice over IP
for phone calls.
Then we continue walking to
Skanderbeg square, briefly stopping in an ice cream parlour (50
ALL per scoop). At 6:48pm we reach Skanderbeg square. This is a
big square (around 250m x 250m), with some communist era
buildings. Quite a few people on this Saturday evening in the
From there we walk to the Toptani shopping mall, which Shirley
found with Google Maps. Before getting in I finally find an ATM
which charges no fees and get some cash.
The Toptani mall is a modern and flashy mall, nice and elegant.
Hollow interior (i.e. big internal space) and six floors. Food
court on the sixth floor (only a few restaurants however).
Supermarket in the lower ground.
While Shirley is in the mall and has dinner and shops a bit,
after 8pm I get out of the mall and explore a bit the area
around it. There is not a lot of nightlife (if compared for
instance to Belgrade) on this Saturday evening, i.e. people of
the streets, but the local girls don't wear the headscarf and
actually wear sexy clothes. Some very photogenic architecture in
this area, which looks especially good right now during the blue
I'm back with Shirley and the kids by 9pm. We slowly walk back
to the apartment and on the way make a stop in the ice cream
parlour for some more ice cream.
27.5: Tirana -> Kruja -> Durres ->
Central Apartments Shoshi,
Weather: sunny, blue sky with a few clouds
the whole day. Quite hot (top temperatures above 30°C).
In the morning we relax a bit.
I get out after 11am and spend
two hours walking around the central area of Tirana. I discover
the orthodox resurrection cathedral, which I had missed
yesterday. I also notice that in central Tirana there are some
nice parks. Overall very little traffic in the streets,
considering that this is a capital. The pyramid is a rather
I'm back at 1:05pm. Together with Shirley and the kids I go to a
restaurant where to have lunch.
After lunch we have an icecream
and at 2:30pm we drive to Kruja, where we want to visit the
Getting to Kruja is not so complicated. The problem is that
Google Maps directs me to the wrong end of Kruja, far away from
the castle and it's not possible to drive to the castle from
After some searching, we just
park the car outside of the pedestrian area of Kruja and
continue on foot. It's 3:25pm.
Kruja is a tourist hotspot. Very cute mountain village, with
cute houses and a cute setting. Countless souvenir shops along
the way to the castle. Some cafes and restaurants here and
Slowly we proceed towards the castle (it takes us 20 minutes to
reach it). The entrance is free today. What is left of the
castle is some ruins and a tower. Then there is a museum
(completed in 1982) with exhibits about the history of the war
against the Turks. Great setting and views.
It doesn't take too long to
visit the castle and the museum. At 4:20pm we are already out of
it and walk to a cafe, where we have some drinks and snacks.
Around 5:30pm we start driving towards Durres. Very bad road in
some short sections. We reach Durres at 6:25pm and leave the car
in Bulevard Epidamn. Then we walk to the town hall square. This
part of Durres is full of ice cream parlours and cafes. Quite
cute buildings. Then we walk to the waterfront. Initially the
beach in unimpressive,
but it improves the more we walk
to the west. Plenty of restaurants and cafes on the beach
promenade. You can notice the influence of the Italian language
everywhere (Durres is the arrival point of ferries from Italy).
We stay in Durres until sunset at 8pm, then we walk back to the
car. We take the highway to Tirana (reasonably good two lane per
direction highway) and get out at the City Park shopping mall.
it's 8:45pm however and the mall today closes at 9pm. The mall
is almost empty and is about to close. The idea would be to eat
something in the food court, but like this it's impossible, so
we just drive back to the hotel.
28.5: Tirana -> Shkoder ->
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda. 85 Euro for
a nice, modern apartment with 115m². Big living room with
kitchen area, three balconies, two bedrooms, two toilets each
with shower, A/C in all rooms, fast free WLAN in the room.
Small swimming pool, direct access to the sea (but only rocks
below), sea view from the balcony, breakfast included, parking
for the car. This place probably will cost more in the summer.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, very
hot (30°C). During the day some thin clouds layer develops and
in the evening the sky is milky blue in Montenegro.
We leave the apartment
in Tirana at 10:30am and start driving towards Shkoder. With a
couple of stops along the way (one in a small town to buy some
groceries and drinks) we park at the castle (the parking right
below it) at 12:55pm. The road consists of motorway, good long
distance road, bad long distance road and urban road sections.
Overall it's not possible to drive very fast.
We buy tickets (200
Lek) and enter the ruins of the Rozafa castle. This is quite a
big castle, in a pretty imposing location on a hill (great views
of the surroundings). Not many structures left except for ruins
and sections of the walls. It's actually really hot and the sun
is strong and there is not so much shadow, so we don't spend too
much time in this place. Now it's end of May and
I wonder how people
visit this place when it's even hotter in the summer.
Anyway, it's about 1:40pm when we leave the castle and drive to
Shkoder city. The idea would be to have lunch, change the last
ALL into Euro and have a quick look at the city. Based on all
I've read it shouldn't be a terribly interesting city.
So we get into town and park the car in a street near the
central mosque at 2pm. Then we look for a restaurant. We quickly
find one - the Piazza park. This turns out to be a very good,
upper end restaurant. We spend one hour in this place having
perhaps the best meal we have had so far. Very fast service, and
the food is mostly good. Also not too expensice (the bill turns
out to be 3420 ALL = 27 Euro for the four of us).
At 3:15pm we are out again and have a look at the city. We
basically walk up and down the pedestrian area in Rruga Kole
Idromeno. This is very cute and photogenic with old and
beautiful houses. A number of cafes with tables on the
All this contrasts with the image I had of Albania before
visiting the country. I was sort of expecting a backward,
communist era country with dirty streets, poor people with
donkey carts etc.
But all I have seen so
far is a clean country with reasonable infrastructure (except
for the streets), and with a seemingly good economy (i.e. you
don't see so much poverty on the streets).
Shirley discovers a shoe shop and gets stuck there for a while.
Now, this shop has nice shoes, that is a good selection of
nicely looking shoes. Lots of good taste and the prices are
We buy a pair of shoes for
Natasha and get rid of the last ALL, then walk back to the car
and start driving towards the hotel in Montenegro.
Everything proceeds smoothly. We lose about 20 minutes at the
border (and there is only one border check, not an Albanian and
a Montenegrin one). Once in Montenegro the road gets worse, more
precisely it gets very narrow, practically one lane only, for a
while. Only the last few km are on a good road.
Once in Dobrá Voda we buy some SIM card from m:tel in a shop (5
Euro; contain 10GB of data, and 1000 minutes of calls to one
number of my choice), then drive to the hotel arriving there
around 6:10pm. We spend the rest of the day in the hotel
Voda -> Sveti
Stefan -> Kotor ->
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda. The
breakfast is rather unimpressive, buffet style but without
Weather: sunny, blue sky the
whole day with a few clouds in the sky. Peak temperatures
above 30°C. In the evening thin clouds layer.
n the morning after breakfast
we are wondering whether to swim in the sea. Seems like a good
idea, but we don't have water wings for the small one and she
isn't a terribly good swimmer. On the other hand, I can't take
care of two kids of the same time. So instead of swimming first
and then driving to Kotor, we decide to drive to Kotor first and
do the swimming in the late afternoon when we are back.
We leave the hotel around 11:30am. When I drive out of the hotel
access road the car again scratches the ground when it passes
the edge of the access road to the main road, because there is a
sharp angle instead of a curved surface where the access road
meets the main coastal road. The same prob
lem happened when I drove in
yesterday. Basically to use the garage of the hotel you need a
car with a lot of ground clearing. The hotel should have
mentioned this, but they haven't.
We first drive to Sveti Stefan, basically to take a picture of
the beach and peninsula and perhaps visit the island. We reach
Sveti Stefan at 12:20pm. The first surprise is that if you want
to park the car near the beach you must use a parking which is a
bit pricey (2 Euro/hour). Then it is impossible to visit the
promontory, because that is not an old town - every building
there is part of a hotel. There is a guided visit at 2pm, but
this is too late for us. To use the beach for swimming it's
either 20 Euro for a chair on one of the beaches, or 100 Euro on
the other beach. Warning signs and staff everywhere to enforce
these rules. Basically the entire area is completely
commercialised and expensive.
We leave Sveti Stefan after 20 minutes (it's also really hot
(> 30°C), no point to be here if you don't swim in the sea)
and drive to Kotor.
The drive proceeds smoothly
until we almost reach Kotor. There is some traffic jam in the
last few km. Then we lose some time looking for a parking, and
finally find one about 300m from the old town (1.20 Euro/hour).
We buy some drinks in a supermarket and start our visit of the
Basically Kotor is a the bottom of a steep fjord, in a bay and
that is what makes this place so attractive. The city itself
(the old town) is walled and has a number of old buildings
inside. Ok, but not terribly impressive. The UNESCO heritage
status probably comes from the geographical location of the
Restaurants in Kotor are expensive for
a Balkan country (e.g. pricing
level more than two times the pricing level in Albania).
In fact prices here are comparable to prices in Italy or Germany
and there is a table cover charge.
The entire city is full of tourists, even if now (end of May)
it's off season. In peak season this place should be even more
crowded. Lots of tourists from Asia.
We have lunch in a restaurant, then spend some time visiting the
city. As I already mentioned, the city is not terribly
impressive. Dubrovnik for instance is much nicer and interesting
Shortly after 4pm we leave the city and walk back to the car.
When I get in and fix the smartphone in the mounting bracket on
the windscreen, this breaks. Great, this is already the third
time that a mounting bracket breaks. The problem is that I need
a mounting bracket to keep the smartphone in the right position
(I'm using it for navigation), so that I can check position and
directions without losing visual contact with the street and the
traffic. When you self-drive in a foreign country a car
navigation system is essential.
We start looking for some shops which might sell mounting
brackets for cars. I use Google maps initially, then ask people.
We spend around 30-40 minutes looking for a shop without
success, then just drive back.
Suddenly, by coincidence we spot an electronics store and stop
there. They do have a suitable mounting bracket for the
smartphone. We buy it and drive back to the hotel.
It's almost 7pm when we reach the hotel in Dobra Voda. Too late
for swimming because the sun has already disappeared behind the
In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel.
Voda -> Podgorica
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda.
sunny, blue sky like yesterday, but with a thin clouds layer
which later in the day covers the sun. 28°C - 30°C, no rain.
Around noon I swim in the sea with my girls.
The seawater is a bit cold, but
not so cold that you can't swim in it. In fact we spend a lot of
time in the water (probably more than half an hour).
At 2pm we get out of the hotel and take the car. We drive to
Podgorica to have a look at the city. We reach the cathedral of
resurrection at 3:30pm. This is a newly built orthodox church
(completed in 2014), very cute and pretty, apparently still
undergoing development (the area around the cathedral is going
to be paved with some tiles). Inside the walls are completely
painted with frescoes, lots of gold paint.
At 3:55pm we drive to the Delta City mall. This is a large mall
in Podgorica with a big parking area in front.
Inside there are lots of shops
over two floors and a number of cafes and restaurants, some in a
food court, others spread around. We have a late lunch at 4pm in
the mall, then, while Shirley and the kids spend some time in
the mall shopping around, I drive into town.
Initially I head to the old town (the Turkish quarter). I can't
seem to find anything of interest, so I just park the car in
Kralja Nikole street near the park, then proceed on foot.
It's 5pm and I spend the next hour having a look at the centre
of Podgorica. This may be the capital of Montenegro, but there
is actually nothing of interest in the city centre. Some nice
parks, but that's it. Even the Hercegovačka pedestrian street is
nothing so special.
Any other pedestrian area I
have seen so far is more appealing, but here there are no nice
shops, cafes, restaurants etc.
To be attractive for tourists Podgorica would require a lot of
investment (cool new buildings, pedestrian areas, tourist
attractions etc.). At the moment even Shkoder in Albania is much
more interesting than Podgorica.
After 6pm I drive back to the Delta City mall and meet Shirley
and the kids. Together we go to the supermarket and buy some
groceries, then drive back to the hotel in Dobra Voda.
Ulcinj and area around it -> Dobra
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day.
Temperatures a bit lower than yesterday (around 28°C peak) due
to a thin clouds layer, which in the evening becomes thicker
and obscures the sun. No rain the whole day.
Around noon I swim with the kids in the sea.
is not too cold, except for some areas which have cold water
(which probably comes from a small river which flows into the
sea). Both kids manage to swim independently in the sea, with
almost no help from my side. The small one even at one point
swims without water wings.
Around 2pm, since nobody wants to follow me, I take the car and
drive to Ulcinj, a small town about 18km south of the hotel
along the coast. When entering the city I drive all the way down
to the waterfront and am lucky to find a parking at 2:35pm.
Later I discover a much larger parking below the fortress.
Ulcinj is a small coastal town with a beach in a bay and a
historic core overlooking the bay. Plenty of tourist
infrastructure (shops, cafes, restaurants etc. - seems to be a
tourist hotspot). The beach has fine, light brown/ochre colour
sand. The historic core above the bay was destroyed in the
earthquake of 1979 and you can see it: not much is left of old
structures. All buildings with a view of the bay are either
hotels, restaurants of private property (i.e. there is no public
access, unless you are a customer).
It's possible to walk in the old town, but there is nothing to
At 3:35pm I take the car and drive south to the long beach. This
is a stretch of 14 km of uninterrupted sandy beach. Initially I
stop at Saranda beach, then I drive further south to Safari
beach. This is a very windy area and here there are many people
kitesurfing in the sea. I'm here until 4:40pm, walking along the
beach and watching the kitesurfers. Then I drive further south
to Bojana island.
Bojana island actually is nothing special. The only thing is
that there is a nudist centre along the beach with related
accomodation. But otherwise it's the same sandy beach as further
north. At 5:35pm I'm done with this place and drive back to the
hotel. In the evening we'll have a dinner in the restaurant of
Voda -> Sarajevo
Sunrise Inn, Sarajevo. Booked an apartment
for 61 Euro at booking.com, but the owner shows us a price of
76 Euro on his smartphone. Not the first time that booking.com
shows different prices for a room to customers and hotels. The
apartment itself is incredibly cute, immaculately clean. Small
living room / kitchen, two bedrooms, one toilet with shower,
parking space for the car (a bit narrow). Fully furnished
kitchen with everything, in the bathroom there are even
different types of shampoos. A/C and free WLAN. The only
problem of this place is that there is no hot water in the
toilet, i.e. you have to take a cold shower (water boiler
which doesn't really work - takes hours to heat the water).
Not a big problem in the summer, but in the winter definitely
Weather: sunny, blue sky, hot (30°C) in
Dobra Voda. Some rain along the way, even heavy. Dry and
temperatures around 21°C in Sarajevo when we arrive.
In the morning we pull
up the heavy luggage to the car (car is parked on the road,
about 100m above the hotel; car cannot drive down to the hotel),
then leave shortly after 11am. I refuel partially the car
because the fuel is cheaper in Bosnia Herzegovina, then start
driving towards Sarajevo. Things proceed more or less smoothly
and after Podgorica there is very little traffic.
The road crosses several mountain ranges - quite nice mountain
scenery in Montenegro after some time.
We stop in Pluzine
shortly after 2pm for lunch. The restaurant where we eat has a
nice view of the lake, but otherwise sucks. First of all we wait
over an hour for the food. Then they serve the wrong things and
the quality of the food is bad. We continue driving after
Would have been better if we had not stopped for lunch, because
we lost a lot of time and the kids will later vomit everything
on those mountain roads.
After Pluzine the road gets very bad. Narrow mountain road with
lots of turns, very dark not illuminated tunnels. We pass by the
Tara canyon (or near it).
Around 4pm we are at the border. Crossing it takes about 15
minutes. On the Bosnian side the road initially is very, very
bad. Only one paved lane (the other lane is a mud track with big
stones), lots of curves. Only after some time does the road get
better. But until the last km the road is a mountain road, which
makes me wonder if Bosnia is an entirely mountainous country.
Several isolated villages along the way. Shirley wonders what
people here live off.
We reach the centre of Sarajevo at 6:15pm, after (net) 5 1/2
hours of driving and park the car along the river. Then we spend
the next three hours in the old town.
Sarajevo has a clear Muslim and oriental character. Lots of
mosques everywhere, quite a few women wearing headscarves,
buildings in Turkish style/architecture. The historic centre has
its own pedestrian area. Lots of tourists, good tourist
We buy SIM cards (Ultra SIM from BH Mobile for 5 BAM with
apparently 100 SMS and 300 MB of data; also some airtime, but
not clear how much), get cash from an ATM, explore a bit the
area and finally have dinner in a restaurant. Good Bosnian food.
Then, around 9:15pm we check in the apartment.
Royal Apartments & Rooms, Zagreb. 64
Euro for a small apartment with a bedroom (nice, soft bed), a
toilet with shower and a livingroom/ kitchen with sleeping
sofa. Free WLAN, LCD TV, A/C, kitchen with all equipment
needed to cook, one table with chairs. The only problem is
that you can't really darken the rooms (there is only a thin
curtain). Located conveniently along the motorway to Slovenia,
i.e. suitable as a place where to break the journey (you don't
have to drive into Zagreb).
Weather: sunny, blue sky with
some clouds, peak temperatures around 30°C. Some rain around
Sarajevo. Evening temperature of 23°C in Zagreb.
We check out of the
apartment at 11am, then drive to the cablecar station. There we
take the cablecar to a mountain southeast of Sarajevo (20
BAM/person). The ride takes 15 minutes and brings you to a
mountain at 1100m of altitude with a nice view of Sarajevo.
As I notice once there, it is also possible to drive up to this
place, and you can also walk up from Sarajevo and walk down to
We are on the mountain between 12:05pm and 12:40pm, then go down
by cablecar. Natasha manages to fall and hurt her knees (two
wounds). Shortly before 1pm we are down again.
Leaving the car at the
parking of the cable car station, we walk down to the historic
core of Sarajevo. There we buy some disinfectant for Natasha in
a pharmacy and get new cash from an ATM.
The historic core is full of people and has a lot of old and
nice architecture. In bright sunshine many buildings look very
nice. Lots of Ottoman era architecture, many mosques, many shops
We have lunch in a
restaurant in the old town, then continue exploring the historic
At 2:55pm we reach the BBI mall. This is a medium-sized shopping
mall completed in 2009, located on a square opposite a park.
While Shirley is in the mall, I slowly walk back to the car,
going through streets I hadn't visited yet yesterday. Sarajevo
is a city with many photogenic buildings.
Around 4pm I'm back at the car and drive to the BBI mall, where
I pick up Shirley and the kids. We then start driving towards
In a petrol station in Zagreb I get rid of the last BAM and
refuel the car.
I quickly reach a motorway (mostly 130km/h speed limit), which
lasts for about the first 80km. Then it's a good long distance
intercity road. There is not too much traffic, so we quickly
proceed towards Zagreb.
Around 7pm we are at the border to Croatia. There we lose 18
minutes, but make up the time on the motorway. With a stop along
the way, we reach the hotel in Zagreb at 9:20pm.
3.6: Zagreb -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: sunny, hot (up to 30°C), blue sky
with some clouds. Some very brief shower in Austria.
We leave the hotel in Zagreb at 11:10am and reach Munich after a
couple of stops at 7:20pm. We drive a different route this time
(via Maribor, Graz and Braunau), longer than the standard one
via Ljubljana and Salzburg, but with fewer traffic jams. In fact
the only real traffic jam is the one at the border between
Croatia and Slovenia, where the border police checks one by one
each passport, despite the huge traffic.
Then, there are a number of places with roadworks, but with
smaller traffic jams. We take a detour around Leoben in Austria,
to avoid a traffic jam at a tunnel which Google Maps and Sygic
are indicating (30km longer route, but the traffic jam would
cause a 30 minutes delay).
Everything proceeds quite smoothly and in fact we avoid the
border check traffic jams at the Austrian and German borders.
It's just that there is no motorway between Braunau and Munich.
There are just patches of the A94 motorway (this has never been
completed) and the A92 motorway via Passau and Deggendorf goes
too far to the north to make sense.
We avoid the 11.50€ and 7.20€ tunnel fees in Austria, but have
to pay 6.60€ motorway toll fees in Croatia (vs 1€) and a 5:50€
tunnel fee in Austria.
Would I take again this route instead of the standard one? Not
sure. I guess that probably I would have arrived at the same
Copyright 2019 Alfred