Mobile phones
Getting around

Belgrade, Sofia, Skopje, Ohrid, Tirana, Montenegro, Sarajevo

18.5: Munich -> Medvode
19.5: Medvode -> Belgrade
20.5: Belgrade
21.5: Belgrade -> Sofia
22.5: Sofia
23.5: Sofia -> Skopje
24.5: Skopje
25.5: Skopje -> Ohrid
26.5: Ohrid -> Tirana
27.5: Tirana -> Kruja -> Durres -> Tirana
28.5: Tirana -> Shkoder -> Dobrá Voda
29.5: Dobra Voda -> Sveti Stefan -> Kotor -> Dobra Voda
30.5: Dobra Voda -> Podgorica -> Dobra Voda
31.5: Dobra Voda -> Ulcinj and area around it -> Dobra Voda
1.6: Dobra Voda -> Sarajevo
2.6: Sarajevo -> Zagreb
3.6: Zagreb -> Munich

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 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 Currency Converter.

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.

Recommended things

Things to avoid

Getting around

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 -> Medvode
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 for 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 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 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.

20.5: Belgrade
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 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 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 shooting.

21.5: Belgrade -> Sofia
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 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.

22.5: Sofia
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.

24.5: Skopje
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 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 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 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 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 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 photography.

25.5: Skopje -> Ohrid
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 TV.
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 Euro/person.

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 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 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 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.

27.5: Tirana -> 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 unimpressive place.

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 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 -> Dobrá Voda
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 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 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 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 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 relaxing.

29.5: Dobra Voda -> Sveti Stefan -> Kotor -> Dobra Voda
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 clouds layer.

In 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 problem 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 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 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 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.

30.5: Dobra Voda -> Podgorica -> Dobra Voda
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 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.

31.5: Dobra Voda -> Ulcinj and area around it -> Dobra Voda
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.

1.6: Dobra 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 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 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.

2.6: Sarajevo -> Zagreb
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 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 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 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 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 Zagreb.

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 time.

Copyright 2019 Alfred Molon