Thursday, September 28, 2017

Albania

I had no idea what to expect in Albania. I knew it was developing as a tourist destination, primarily for outdoor activities. I looked into hikes and treks in the Accursed Mountains (too many days, too difficult logistically, the name) and finally settled on a route that would take us from Montenegro to Shkoder, Albania and then on to the capital, Tirana.

Going through Shkoder was the easiest way to take a boat ride on Lake Komani, one of the most beautiful boat rides in either Europe or the world, depending upon which travel book you are reading. Of course it rained and the trip was cancelled. We spent the day exploring the city, visiting the tourist information office (at least three times), and hanging out at our incredible hotel. We visited Rozafa Fortress for a view of the city and the Site of Witness and Memory, an excellent museum depicting crimes committed by the Communist government.

Then it was off to Tirana for a couple of days. We took a day trip to Berat which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and walked around the neighborhood inside the castle walls before going into town for yet another burek at a beautiful restaurant on the river.

Highlights of our last day in Tirana:
  • Bunk'Art 1, the largest anti-nuclear bunker built by the Communists, which has been turned into an excellent museum. We also visited Bunk'Art 2.
  • Exploring the city parks and neighborhoods and finding some weird traffic lights.
  • Realizing we only had to survive one more night at our hotel.
What I Learned:
  • Having a spare tire is important but you also need the equipment necessary to remove the flat tire and put on the new one.
  • There are an incredible number of car washes and furniture stores in Albania.
  • When reviews of a hotel only mention how helpful and nice the owner is, there is probably something wrong with the rooms.
Jail cells at the Site of Witness and Memory

Skanderbeg

Walking around the castle in Berat

Berat
Bunk'Art 1

I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bosnia and Montenegro

No rain in Sarajevo this trip so I really got to enjoy the city. The first morning we met up with a street art photographer. We saw some amazing art, visited some unusual buildings, and heard wonderful stories about the artists and the city. 

We also took a day trip to Sutjeska National Park and hiked five hours (round trip) to Lake Trnovacko. The scenery was magnificent but the hike was not easy - narrow paths with steep drop-offs, huge loose rocks, etc. I am still having trouble believing I made it the whole way without falling.

For logistical reasons we decided to go from Sarajevo to Montenegro through Mostar. It gave us a chance to take a fabulous train ride on a brand new train (outlets, WiFi and movies!) and make our second visit to Mostar's famous bridge. The train ride was fantastic but Mostar was absolutely packed with people attending a Red Bull diving contest. We couldn't wait to leave.

Our base in Montenegro was Kotor.  We spent three days wandering around the old cities of Kotor, Perast, and Budva. The fresh fish was delicious and the scenery was incredible.

What I Learned
Follow travel advice. For example,  always keep an extra credit card in your main suitcase, never put your wallet in the outside pocket of your backpack, and take special care when traveling on public transportation.  If you don't, a really creepy guy might bump into you on the tram and steal your wallet on the first day of your vacation. Then you would have to visit the US Embassy to start the paperwork to get a new passport, cancel your credit cards (and not have a spare) and deal with the police. If you are lucky you might get an email like this:

  

I got back everything but the cash but unfortunately all of the credit cards had been cancelled. My sister Susan is now paying for everything and hoping I pay her back when we get home.

Buregdzinica Bosna still has the best burek in Bosnia and perhaps the world.

When you are 65, a hike rated as moderate is not.

Sarajevo street  art

Hiking


  
Perast and Budva

Friday, September 8, 2017

Retirement


To commemorate my semi-retirement, I prepared this handy summary chart of how my life has changed.

Pre-Retirement Post-Retirement
Spent hours researching school supply ads from Walmart and Target and planning multiple shopping trips to each store, based on perceived need, price, and convenience all while factoring in Dollar Tree alternatives. I went to Target twice and did not visit Wal Mart.
Cleaned my city-supplied garbage cans once in a while or at the first sign of maggots. Cleaned my city-supplied garbage cans every other week.
Spent a lot of time sitting on my porch reading in between bouts of gardening and cleaning. Spent a lot of time sitting on my porch reading in between bouts of gardening, cleaning, and trip planning.

I have been planning a trip to Eastern and Southern Europe (using the United Nations definitions) or Eastern Europe (using almost everyone else's definition). This time I will be traveling with my sister. I am returning to Romania and Bulgaria, two of the places I went to in 2015, and visiting countries I missed on the first trip. 

I have made changes:
  • Convertible wheeled backpack - My beautiful, four-wheeled French suitcase is staying home - it is way too heavy and hard to maneuver on cobblestone streets.
  • Hiking poles – hopefully these will reduce the chance of ankle breakage.
  • Allrounders – A birthday present from my cousins David and Shirley - perfect for hiking.
  • Belt - Although my Bulgarian and Romanian language skills range from poor to non-existent, I am fairly certain I heard people saying “Don't they sell belts in the United States?” when I would pass them in the street.
  • Everlast Notebook – This is a notebook with erasable pages. Once the notebook is full, I can use an app to scan the pages and send them to Google Drive, Gmail, Evernote, etc. Beside the fact that I won't have to worry about losing my trip notebook, I can use different colored inks, always a plus. I realize this sounds overally complicated but I find it hard to resist Indiegogo.
I will be posting as I go -- thanks for reading (sorry about the font issues).





Romania Part 2

During the last week of the trip I revisited Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov, Bucharest, and CsĂ­kszentsimon, the village where I volunteered as a ...