Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 29

The wakeup call was unnecessary. As usual we were awake off and on all night. The taxi was waiting for us at 6:15am and we arrived at the airport half an hour later, checked our bags and waited for the flight to Frankfurt, the first leg of our return trip on Aegean Air. The flight attendants are quite exotic and still wear lovely little hats and high heels!

The Air Canada flight to Calgary was much more pleasant than our flight to Europe. This time we had small screens and a range of movies to fill the hours. Meals were the usual mediocre offerings.

In Calgary we were surprised and pleased at the system for directing passengers who are connecting with other flights through a fast lane. Well done Calgary!!

Confusion in Vancouver resulted from the fact that I had not told Adrian that we were flying in from Calgary so he was waiting at International Arrivals for us. If we had not been exhausted we might have thought to ask the Information desk to page him. Instead there was a lot of walking back and forth before we finally connected.

November 28

This was the day that we parted company with our Greek family and headed back to Athens while they continued to explore the mountainous northern region of their country. As we prepared for the trip to Athens the yard was invaded by a group of roaming sheep.

By 11:30am we were on the road again, this time with Sotiris in his car. The drive took over six hours to his home on the outskirts of Athens. From there we hopped into Olga's car for the traffic jammed drive into Athens city centre. When I spotted the sign that would lead her directly down the street to our hotel she was six lanes away. This was not a deterrent!! She nudged her small vehicle across the six lanes of traffic and dropped us off right in front of the hotel in the middle of a thunder and lightning storm!! It was 7:30pm!!

Our friend Vassiliki had trouble getting a taxi to bring our stored luggage to the hotel but she finally arrived, dripping, around 8:45pm. Together we walked to a nearby taverna for pizza and she returned John's wedding ring to him. Her partner Andronikos had replaced the lost piece of ivory with another material and the ring looks new again! Beautiful work by a talented jeweller!!...and we are very grateful to him.

The Balkaneros
Theo, Kalliroi, Yorgos, Lin, Mata, Yianni

We realise that we could never have managed this trip without the company of our wonderful friends and we extend a million thanks to them for including us, looking after us and believing that we could handle the rigours of travel on this Balkan trip. It was a very special opportunity for us to share experiences and explore other cultures. Thank you...thank you...thank you!!!!!

November 27

Up early for a shower and breakfast. This was the day that the rest of the group would explore more of the mountainous area while John and I stayed in the cottage to rest and keep the fire going.

Before they left the teacher and his student had a tavli competition!

The group of seven finally drove away around 2:00pm and returned after 8:00pm. Their return trip (2 hours)involved tense driving in the dark and thick fog on the winding mountain roads. Our reward was a bottle of Tsiporo that they brought back from the small cafenion in a village that they visited.

While they were gone I took some photos of the cottage.

Living room

Lower level sitting room

Mata returned with a treat...chocolate!!!

Dinner was late...bean soup, fried chunks of tender liver, cabbage salad...delicious! We finished off the evening with some challenging rounds of cards...Saskatchewan rummy and Whist before heading to bed around 1:00am!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

November 26

After breakfast and another two loads of laundry we finally set off at 11:45am to find an old village in the mountains. Mists hung low over the hills and we climbed on switchbacks for over an hour before stopping at a mountain refuge. Seven of our group went for a wet walk in the woods while John and I hunkered down in a smokey den of mountain men with a jug of mountain tea and a game of tavli.

The mountain men's den

When they returned we continued our journey up and down winding roads, over bailey bridges, gradually getting higher and higher until we reached the Monastery of Kipina, built in 1212 with a pendent bridge that can be raised to close the monastery from the rest of the world.

It remains a construction mystery!

At the end of the road we arrived at Kalarites, an old village with a recorded population of 71, although we were told that there are less than one dozen who live here throughout the year.

In the local cafe we met Napoleon, the owner of the cafe that has continued to serve locals for 140 years. Napoleon and his wife returned to the village 22 years ago to continue his family's tradition of serving delicious local food. The raki was amazing!

This beautiful creature was spotted on the path as we left the village.

We returned to the cottage in low clouds and rain around 8pm. A short round of Saskatchewan Rummy before heading for bed.

Monday, November 28, 2016

November 25th

After breakfast and several attempts to pay the hotel bills with credit cards the owner offered to drive 2 or 3 of us and the luggage to the bus station. Unfortunately he only took John and I...we had no way to communicate with the others and our driver seemed uncertain about where to leave us. There are no "central bus stations" in Albania!! I finally found a young woman who spoke English and she offered to use her cell phone to call one of our group who were searching for us!

Another mini-van was finally booked and we chugged our way to the Greek border with faces covered to avoid major inhalation from the fumes! We walked across the Albanian border and across "no man's land" to the Greek border crossing where we were greeted by a smiling guard and a waiting bus to take us to Ioannina.

In desperate need of cash I attempted to use my bank card at an ATM and was told that my pin was not correct. After three attempts it froze me out so I walked back to get John's card which eventually worked. We sat in a cafe for almost 3 hours waiting while the guys picked up a rental car and Sotiris, our friend, arrived from his cottage.

An hour later (it was now 4pm), after driving through mountainous winding roads we arrived at the cottage and were greeted by Eugenia (Sotiris wife) and Olga, another friend from Athens. Now we were a group of nine!!!

The cottage, nestled high in the mountains of Northern Greece, has been beautifully renovated and comfortably held all of us. A fire was burning, candles were lit, soup was heating on the stove and raki was poured for a welcome toast!

The after dinner challenge was to name all of the Greek islands. After 101 were identified we said good night and climbed into our multiple beds.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Old Bazzar 1790 offered us a large breakfast with small fried pancakes, bread, conserves, an egg, a sausage, fresh fruit, something yellow called juice and cold coffee. They responded quickly to my request for "hot" coffee and, according to John, the tea was hot and good. Redona, our receptionist, doubles as the server. She led us outside, downstairs and into the dungeon for breakfast!

The Hotel and the entrance

We did a short wander as we contemplated how far to descend on the steep roads, aware that we would have to climb back up to the hotel. A short rest at a cafe rejuvenated us.

Do I look more like my mother every day?

After our rest we tackled the climb to the castle that sits on top of the world! In short bursts of energy we made it!! The fortress is huge and contains memorabilia (mainly cannons and large guns) from WWII.

There is also the remains of an American Air Force fighter plane.

Pathway stones.

The return downhill walk was much easier than the uphill climb. 
We picked up two spinach pies for lunch and John had a nap 
while I sat on a park bench in the sun with my book.

Redona, our sweet receptionist at Old Bazaar 1790 in Gjirokaster.

The Balkaneros, at the end of our Balkan tour, with Redona.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Travels in the LOOLEY van

The sun is shining on us again today! I hesitate to say it...but...we have been very lucky with weather so far. It is cold at night but beautiful during the days. There was even a lonely mosquito in our room last night.

We didn't have a kitchen in this Guesthouse so Mata and Theo went in search of breakfast goodies. When we opened the window they were sitting outside with cheese pies and fresh fruit. It was warm in the sun. We sat for a while before packing up our bags and moving them to the girls' room and descending to town for a coffee. The group had offered to bring our bags down so we had no intention of climbing back up to the Guesthouse again. Unfortunately the town was experiencing a power outage but Kalliroi managed to find a place that was using a small gas stove to make turkish coffees and teas.

A walk along the other side of the river gave us an opportunity to look back at the old town (referred to as a town of 1001 windows) where we were staying, at the very top of the buildings!!

At noon we met with LOOLEY and his 4 cylinder Citroen mini-van for the trip to Gjirokster in southern Albania. OMG!!! The uphill portions were navigated at 24km per hour with a risk of stalling on every hill! A trip that could have taken 3 hours became a 4 1/2 hour marathon and ended when the van could not make it up the hill to our hotel! It was much worse for the two passengers in the back seats...Mata and Kalliroi...over bumpy sections of road. Looley was a more aggressive driver than the ones we had hired before. We were often faced with oncoming drivers who showed no inclination to slow down or allow us to pass! At one point we were stopped by the police who took his documents and demanded that he stop to pick them up on the return trip (i.e.) with a payment which he termed MAFIA!

The owner of our hotel in Gjirokaster met Looley's van on the outskirts of town and guided us up and up and up until Looley's little Citroen could not handle the incline on steep cobbled roads with 6 passengers and a load of luggage. We all disembarked, hauled the luggage to the side of the road and waved goodbye to Looley!

The hotel is beautiful and located almost at the top of this ancient town. Donna greeted us and showed us to our rooms. We immediately decided to stay 2 nights. 

Balkaneros partners are inseparable!

After the "LOOLEY" trip Kalliroi needed a hug!

Following Donna's recommendations, we searched for her No. 1 choice of restaurants and shared a delicious meal!...probably the best in Albania so far. Tomorrow we will explore this Unesco Heritage site.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Patiently waiting outside our hotel this morning.

We had a disappointing breakfast at the hotel before walking into the centre of town to find transportation to Berat (The town of 1001 windows). Kalliroi realised enroute that she had left her pyjamas behind so she and Yorgos took a taxi back to recover her missing clothes. The taxi driver was a ripoff artist so she was grateful that Yorgos went with her!

There was an option of taking a highway bus to Tirane and transferring there to another bus for the trip to Berat...or...hiring a driver and mini-van again so we opted for a private hire which worked really well. We left Shkoder around 10:30am and after a stop for coffee along the way we arrived in Berat around 3:00pm.

Theo and I made the booking for our accommodation (Hava Baci guesthouse) in Berat through We didn't realise that we had selected the highest spot at the top of a narrow, winding cobbled pathway. It will be necessary to navigate down for dinner and back up in the dark tonight...then down again in the morning and out of town headed to Gjirokaster. I don't think that we could handle more than two trips a day uphill to this place. The view is quite beautiful...looking across to the mountains.

So far we are finding that Albanians are very friendly, often smiling and exchanging greetings on the street but there has been too much rapid development since Albania became an independent Republic. As a result the character of the towns has changed with ugly new buildings. Albanians have a preference for bright colours on their homes throughout the countryside. It also seems to support large agricultural areas.

The young man who met us and took us up the steep cobbled pathway to the Guesthouse suggested that he could take us for a traditional Berat dinner so he picked us up at the bottom of the pathway and took us to an empty cold building where a table for six was ready for us. An older man was waiting and helped to serve us drinks. The TV blasted in the corner until John turned it down. We were served soup first...a kind of creamy chicken soup followed by rice stuffed peppers and a deep fried roll that consisted of ground veal wrapped around cheese and breaded with egg and bread crumbs (I think). A bowl of mandarin oranges was placed on the table by a woman before we started the main course. It was all very strange. It wasn't until we had finished and paid that we discovered the older couple were the parents of the young man. The Guesthouse belongs to them and was named after a grandparent. A mediocre meal that we ate with our coats on!!

Before heading back up the hill we walked along the pedestrian promenade and stopped for a coffee/tea. Mata joined us for the uphill walk, taking breathing breaks along with us. The end of another interesting day!!!


Yesterday we hired a van and driver to take us from the Norwegian Village to Shkoder in Albania. It was a great trip with a very informative driver. He shared a lot of information about Montenegro and the sale of coastal property to Russians. Along the way he pointed to an expansive stretch of coastal area and explained that the entire length had been purchased by a Chinese consortium for future development. Unfortunately Montenegro is becoming like the Spanish riviera. He stopped at scenic spots for us to take photos and was a careful driver.

We located our hotel easily with lots of signage. The staff had very limited English but made serious attempts to be helpful with directions. After checking into our rooms we set out on foot to explore the city, one of the oldest in Europe.

It was a sunny day so everyone had laundry hanging.

The mosque in the centre of town.
Albania is a secular country, not bound by religious doctrines.

Fishermen testing the waters before we crossed the Bailey Bridge

John walking with care over the old Bailey Bridge.

On the other side we encountered loud music and a group of gypsies. Yorgos and Kalliroi decided to dance for them and were met with applause. Walking further along the river (lake?) we stopped for a rakia and talked with the owners of the small cafe. They were very friendly and arranged a taxi for our return trip to a fish restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dinner. The younger foursome left us to search for a movie theatre while we walked slowly back to the hotel with a stop for coffee in a "betting" cafe. Greyhounds raced on one screen while a soccer game played out on another screen. Our heads were on the pillow very early.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Djenovici, Perast & Kotor in Montenegro

The double beds are not queen sized in this Norwegian Village apartment so we were all very careful and considerate during the night which resulted in broken sleep for all of us. It was a good thing that we were only five sleepers...but...this afternoon we heard that our sixth member is rejoining us after a short detour back to Sarajevo. Tonight's sleep will be interesting for whoever is partnered with him because he is 6'-4" tall.

We drove a rental car around the Bay to visit Kotor today...a World Heritage Unesco site with many well preserved and protected buildings.

View across the Bay from Perast to two small islands.
It was very calm and the sun kept peeking through the clouds.

Upon arrival at Kotor we decided to get lost in different directions, wandering the labyrinth alleyways and meeting in 45 minutes again for coffee. It is a beautiful old city with two churches dating from the 1100's.

The "PRIVATE SIGN" led us to Art Cafe Letrika.

Before leaving Kotor, Kalliroi talked with a taxi driver who talked with a friend who had a friend who could take us to Shkoder in Albania tomorrow. We agreed on a price of 150 euros for the six of us in a Mercedes Benz 8 passenger mini-van. He will pick us up at 10am tomorrow morning. I predict that the trip will take more than four hours!! Hopefully he doesn't pick up other passengers!!

After getting "lost and found" we stopped for a coffee and drove back to Perast for lunch. It will be another home cooked meal tonight so we stopped for groceries and then three of our group drove to Herceg Novi to find our sixth group member at the bus station.

Montenegro is a small country of 620,000 that declared independence 10 years ago. It is considered an "upper middle class income" country, in contrast to its neighbours. Religious tolerance and faith diversity allowed Montenegro to remain stable during the Bosnian War. The majority of people are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Only 19% are practicing Muslims.

For Tracey:

He had green/yellow eyes and a white tip on the end of his tail.

Green eyes again and beautiful stripes!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Yesterday's photos

From yesterday:

This was before we picked up three more passengers
who had to stand stooped over!

A visitor and...

...a mixed message?

This morning we had coffee/tea across from a small market area. All of the vendors had displays of their own produce, herbs, honey, wine, raki, cheese...many small tables with a few items...even hand knitted socks and slippers. The weather was mild and sunny...we are so fortunate!


Flowers at the market.

Our Trebinje home.

Just after 1:00pm our mini-van taxi arrived to drive us to Djovenici, Montenegro. Because we are
a reduced group of five, the van was a comfortable fit for the one hour trip. The driver didn't know where anything was when we arrived in the town so he talked with our contact to get directions and dropped us off at an intersection with the assurance that someone would arrive in 10 minutes to take us to the apartment of our friend's father in the Norwegian Village!!! Forty-five minutes later we were still waiting so I decided to walk around the complex. A young woman arrived and guided me to the place...a typical small holiday apartment in this complex. She also arranged for a rental car tomorrow.
She had not received our last email to say that we would be arriving early and since her work hours ended at 2:00pm, she had gone the next town.

When we were settled in the apartment, four of us decided to go for a walk (too long) while John napped. We picked up groceries for dinner and sat at a strange bar by the sea for a drink. The entire area has a ghostly feeling with most of the holiday villas closed up for the winter. Theo and Kalliroi made a pasta and salad dinner...another delicious meal!! much better than restaurant food.

Friday, November 18, 2016

On to Trebinje

We mailed postcards to each other this morning...a little game that Kalliroi suggested...we drew names, selected postcards and wrote a short message for the recipient. It will be a surprise to see who sent each message!!

The day is very warm...we shed jackets and scarves while having a coffee in the sun and listening to disturbing music that included F...k and  interspersed in regular intervals throughout the songs!! Not exactly to our taste!...but the warmth from the sun was appreciated.

After lunch we were driven to the bus station by our host and directed to a 9 seat mini-van that seemed adequate for the five of us and one other woman. Yorgos had decided to make a return trip to Sarajevo to explore new opportunities so there were only five of us carrying on with the Balkan tour.

We were disappointed that the trip would be made in a mini-van instead of a regular bus...but...there was no other option! By the time we finally left the station there were 9 passengers and the driver. Needless to say we were surprised when he stopped about 5 minutes later to pick up another passenger...then again when he picked up the 11th passenger. With only 9 seats there was a necessary squishing in every row. We maintained hope that the extras would disembark soon...but...that wasn't the case. When two finally left the bus another two took their place!!! At one point during the 3 1/2 hour trip there were 15 passengers in the 9 seat vehicle. None of the seat belts worked, the vehicle was full of fumes the entire trip and the driver smoked off and on. It was not a pleasant experience.

Our host's son picked us up at the bus station in Trebinje and took us to a huge apartment above their home with three bedrooms. two bathrooms, full kitchen, living room...very nice...for 54 euros...11 euros each for the night!! He also drove us into town where we found a restaurant for dinner.

We will have the morning tomorrow to explore Trebinje. Right now it is time for bed!!!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Mostar - Day 2

Today was a very good day. We finally heard from Travelgenio with a confirmation of the change to our itinerary for the return trip to Canada. We had been waiting for 19 days!!! Far too long!!! So, we will leave Athens on November 29th, stop in Frankfurt and in Calgary before setting down in Vancouver around 5:00pm.

It was a lazy day...just wandering, taking photos, visiting shops in Old Town. Impossible to find non-touristic goods...just the same stuff everywhere. Stopped for a Bosnian coffee beside the river before following a different route back to our apartment. Theo, Kalliroi and Mata shopped for produce to create a delicious dinner. They also picked up 2 bottles of Bosnian red wine. Our hosts sent a bottle upstairs for us and Yorgos arrived back from lunch with a friend carrying 3 more bottles!! Yikes! We will be taking wine on the bus tomorrow.

Smokey view from our balcony

It is disturbing to walk along the narrow streets between the bombed buildings 
that show markings from sniper bullets and shrapnel from the 1993-95 war. 

Later in the day I visited the graveyard for many young Muslim men who died in 1993.

Theo made a delicious risotto and two salads for dinner
and the Bosnian wines were excellent!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


We gathered at the Sarajevo bus station this morning for our trip to Mostar.

Loved the messages under the buses, especially:
The journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.

It was a short bus ride today to Mostar, just 2 1/2 hours through stunning country. I had flashbacks from the 1970's when we drove south through Jugoslavia gazing at glacial fed rivers and passing through many tunnels...beautiful country. It is so difficult to imagine the horrors of war in this region.

Fuat and Seat (our host and his brother) picked us up at the bus station and took us to an apartment on the top floor of their house ...three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, living room, large balcony that overlooks the town. A large bowl of mandarin oranges from their garden was waiting on the dining room table.  

The Stari Most bridge in Mostar was destroyed in 1993 by Croatian forces
and rebuilt later using the original techniques and the same materials.

Many buildings that were bombed in the 1990's have not been rebuilt.

After sharing a late afternoon meal we walked over the Stari Most bridge and strolled along before crossing back to the side of the Neretva River where our apartment is located. It is a quiet night with three of us ready for an early bedtime and the other three out to see a movie.