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
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 inexpensive.
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
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
- 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
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 way fo
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 at 9:47pm.
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 free.
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
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 the mall.
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 of pickpockets.
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 girls.
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
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 parking.
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
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 the money
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
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
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
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.
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
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
In addition, my girls do not care about old buildings
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 small area.
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
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.
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 8pm.
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
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
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 MKD/scoop).
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 tourist season.
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
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.
Weather: 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 so.
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
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
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 apartment.
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
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 6pm.
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
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 photography.
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
Weather: 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 town.
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 Ohrid.
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 20
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
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
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.
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
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 square.
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
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 hour.
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.
-> Kruja -> Durres -> Tirana
Central Apartments Shoshi, Tirana.
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 castle.
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 here.
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 there.
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
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.
-> 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
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 pedestrian area.
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
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 moderate.
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
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 relaxing.
Voda -> Sveti
Stefan -> Kotor
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda. The breakfast is
rather unimpressive, buffet style but without much choice.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day with a few
clouds in the sky. Peak temperatures above 30°C. In the evening thin
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
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
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
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 area.
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 city.
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
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 than Kotor.
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 clouds.
In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel.
Voda -> Podgorica
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda.
Weather: 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
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
Nautilus apartments, Dobrá Voda.
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.
The seawater 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 see.
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 the hotel.
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 a problem.
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 3:30pm.
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
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
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
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 infrastructure.
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
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 Sarajevo.
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
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 selling souvenirs.
We have lunch in a restaurant in the old
town, then continue exploring the historic core.
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
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 Zagreb.
In a petrol station in Zagreb I get rid of the last BAM and refuel the
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.
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
Would I take again this route instead of the standard one? Not sure. I
guess that probably I would have arrived at the same time.
Copyright 2019 Alfred Molon