Posts categorized under ‘Travel & Living’

Airbnb alternatives

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Most people know Airbnb as a good alternative to a hotel/hostel, or even CouchSurfing, but what many people miss is that there are several similar web sites offering the same services as Airbnb. Some of them can be cheaper because the number of visitors is lower to those web sites. Here is a list of a few of them:

http://www.wimdu.com

http://www.homeaway.com

https://www.roomorama.com

http://www.9flats.com

http://www.travelmob.com

https://www.flipkey.com

http://www.vrbo.com

http://www.cancelon.com

If you still want to use Airbnb you can use the link below to get 30$ for free to use on your next booking!
www.airbnb.se/c/jnoren9

 

Airbnb alternatives

Lebanon

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

About a month ago I was in Lebanon but because of travels I did not have time to update the web site. I really enjoyed the country and it’s people, although it was a bit football-crazy at the moment. On all street you could see gigantic German flags, as well as on a lot of the cars.

Besides the coastal line of Beirut my favorite places in Lebanon was the city of Tripoli and the mountains to the east. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

Lebanon Beirut mosque

Lebanon Beirut fishermen

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut waterpipe

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut drink

Lebanon Beirut coast

Lebanon Beirut beach

Lebanon German flag

Lebanon Beirut outdoor market

Lebanon Tripoli Island

Lebanon Tripoli beach

Lebanon Tripoli boat

Lebanon Tripoli city view

Lebanon Tripoli

Lebanon

Lebanon mountain gorge

Lebanon cedar tree
Cedar tree, the national tree of Lebanon which is also on the flag

Lebanon church

Lebanon food

Shooting range in Ukraine on a “shoestring”

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Don’t want to take a guided shooting range tour for $300 just to shoot 2 different machine guns? Here is a guide on how you do it by yourself!

First, in Kiev take the metro to the end stop of the red line, Lisova. From there, take any bus that goes to Brovary, for example number 403. Ask the bus driver to drop you off near Brovary-Avtoport, a trip which takes about 15 minutes and costs 5 UAH (0,3 EURO / 0,5 USD).

When the bus driver tells you this is your stop, pretty much outside of town, get off and find some people to ask where Avtoport or Sapsan is. Probably now you realize that you are in the totally wrong place. Find the guy Ivan who is in the middle of fixing his car and ask again where Sapsan is, near Chkalova street. Let him drive you there (about 10 minutes) for “gas money”, which equals about 20 UAH (1,3 EURO / 2 USD) because that is all the change you have in your wallet.

Now when you finally arrive find somebody who speaks a bit English at least and explain that you want to shoot guns. She will take your passport and give you a price list in exchange. Walk a few minutes to find the shooting teacher Georgi that will show you which guns are available and let you choose which ones to shoot and how many shots.

The price is about 15-20 UAH (1,3 EURO / 2 USD) per shot and 5 UAH per target used. No other extra costs is added like on some shooting ranges here which takes a fee for range hire, gun hire, instructor etc. Minimum shots per gun is 10 shots so for example 10 shots with a Kalashnikov (AK-47) is 10×15 = 150 UAH (10 EURO / 14 USD). For a complete price list, see www.sapsan.ua

When you return the price list, which now have notes on how much you were shooting it’s time to pay and get your passport back. Finally drink a coffee or beer at the shooting club and then walk away with a smile on your face some 500 meters to find a bus which will take you to Brovary center. Here you can visit the market or walk around for a while before heading back to Kiev the same way you came.

Total price: 10 shots with 5 weapons = 850 UAH (56 EURO / 77 USD) + 16 UAH transportation.

The trip to the shooting range takes about 1 hour and if you instead payed a travel guide to drive you it would be almost the same price as the shooting (650 UAH).

Side note: Here in Ukraine both men and women learned how to take Kalashnikovs apart and put them back together when they were kids, as part of their school education. Nowadays even the kids on the shooting range are more interested in their mobile phones than the weapons.

Ukraine shooting range: weapons Ukraine shooting range: target Ukraine shooting range: shells

Hitchhiking “home” to Sofia, Bulgaria

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Would this be the final day of hitchhiking on this trip? Only a few days earlier I started hitchhiking from Croatia and yesterday I arrived to Macedonia. I had heard some years ago, when thinking to visit Skopje from Sofia, that this part should be super easy to hitchhike as there is only one road between the two cities. Well, it was not super easy and there were more than one road.

I started my morning early, waking up at 8 am and at 9 am the hotel worker came to “wake me up” because of a misunderstanding. Starting with a nice walk through the town in search for a coffee I walk past the pizza place from yesterday. I take the opportunity to tell the pizza guy, which was now instead the guy who tried to find me a hotel the day before, that I finally found a place to sleep not to have to worry about me.

I continue to walk out of the town, already with a strong sun keeping me company. There are two roads out of Kumanovo towards Bulgaria and I take the one that goes more direct to the highway to catch cars from Skopje. Just out of town I arrive to a gas station where the turn for Sofia is 2 km away and when starting to walk instantly getting stopped by a police man not allowing me to walk on the highway. I go back to the gas station and manage to get a couple to drive me the two kilometers even though they seem skeptical and ask me if I have the right documents if the police stop us. I get dropped off a bit after the turn at a good spot and start to hitchhike on the highway. But after only 2 minutes I get accompanied by two policemen. First I am thinking what to do, not knowing if it is illegal or not to hitchhike on the highway in Macedonia, but because I really have no choice and they don’t start talking to me although they must understand what I am doing, I continue to try to catch a ride thinking that this will be impossible with the policemen standing there with me. After a while they stop the traffic on the incoming road and let two cars pass by themselves on the highway. Some minutes later they let the cars go again. Then they come to stand with me on the incoming road, and I ask them if I can instead stand on the highway, which they agree to. Not many minutes pass by and a car stops.

Inside is a Macedonian family which first seems not so talkative but after a while we are all chatting happily. The family consists of the father, the son and his girlfriend which for the first time is going to visit the father’s hometown. She is the only one speaking English but only a little bit and mostly when the others are out of the car. They give me some bread (similar to the Bulgarian Banitsa) with chocolate and even stops the car two times to refill my water or buy me a coca cola. I ask them why there are policemen everywhere along the road and they tell me something about the president, maybe it was the cars that I saw? The father drops of the “kids” and continue for a while to take me to a better hitchhiking spot. Again, I am finding myself standing in midday under the sun with very little shadow and cars, just on the outskirts of a village. At least I have a huge outdoor pool to look at, which gets more and more filled with people as I wait for a car to stop.

Hitchhiking Macedonia pool

Hitchhiking Macedonia pizza sign
Important telephone numbers to the local pizza places

Finally, a guy stops and drives me 1 km near the border where he has to turn. The rest I walk, realizing that this is the first border crossing that I will cross by foot on this trip (in Central America for example we always crossed by foot). When I reach the first passport control the guards ask me why I took a picture of the border area. Well, there are no signs telling that this is illegal but I don’t want any problems so I just tell them that I took a picture of the Macedonian and Bulgarian flags together. They seems pleased with that explanation, and I am happy I didn’t take a picture of the sign “declare smuggling and corruption” next to the guards. Three minutes later I have passed all of the border controls and am finally in my lovely Bulgaria again. In the last border control the passport controller barely cares to open the window to check my passport, and when I ask him how far it is to the next village and he tells me 20 kilometers I do not know how much I should believe him, but start to walk.

Walking Macedonia Bulgaria

Macedonia Bulgaria border crossing

Macedonia Bulgaria border sign
Declare smuggling and corruption at customs

On this side of the border the only thing I see is a diplomatic truck, a few Bulgarian cars and a big group of older men which starts laughing at me when I ask if I can get a ride with them (without paying). And of course they laughs even more when I start walking towards Sofia (120 km away). Anyway, soon the first and only sign for the next town is visible and it says 18 kilometers so I guess the border controller was correct. Ok, no cars in sight, and almost no shadow. But if I could walk for 11-12 hours yesterday I can definitely walk for about 4 hours today, or maybe 5 because my foot has a small cut which I dont know where it came from but it hinders me to walk full speed.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria empty road

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria beautiful road

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria sign

Some cars passes by in high speed but nobody seems to even think about stopping. Two different Macedonian cars show me the sign that they will only drive a short distance, but that is impossible because there is nothing else to drive to before the town where I am walking and that small bit for them would save me a five hour walk. Two Roma men joins me. They have been working picking berries for 10 days in a row in the mountain, but now they have some days of rest. We try to have a conversation and then parts in different directions when they visit a friend of theirs on the way, which also gives me a bigger chance of getting picked up by a car. Finally, after 1 hour I get a ride by a man who drops me off in Kyustendil.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria Roma workers

I decide to try to hitchhike directly but because of hunger I soon go to find some food before continuing. Again I see the two Roma men and we have a quick smiling greeting before we all continue our ways. Now I am back on my hitchhiking spot and the sun is killing me without any stopping cars, so I take a break laying down in the grass under a tree. Some 40 minutes later I try again, but without luck. Time to start to walk. There are several small intersections and at every one I stop for a while trying again, but the sun is burning and nobody stops so I continue to walk every time. Sun is starting to disappear and I am creating backup plans in my head of where to sleep if I don’t get a ride, but at the same time trying to not think about it too much. Finally after a few hours a Macedonian guy is stopping and drives me a few kilometers in the opposite way of his direction to a bigger road where I even can stand in the shadow of a bridge, even though its almost no sun anymore. This area is filled with Roma people which makes the chance of cars stopping even less, but it makes a very interesting and beautiful surrounding with a lot of animals and families riding horse carriages in the sunset.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria man and goat

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria woman sitting

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria goats on bridge

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria goat on bridge

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria bridge sunset

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria cow in sunset

It takes some time, but eventually a Roma guy with a really “personal” car is stopping and driving me to a better place about 5-10 minutes away. For every meter that the car is passing I feel I am getting more near my goal, but at the same time I know that it is still about 80 kilometers to Sofia when he drops me off near a gas station with a cafe. Anyway, this is a perfect spot with even a backup plan for the night if I have no luck. I try to hitchhike for a bit more than an hour and during this time two buses stops and picks up a group of people, almost like a last test to my will (I challenged myself to only travel by hitchhiking). Now it is completely dark and when a truck parks in front of me and blocks the place for cars to stop I finally takes a dinner pause at the cafe, changing clothes to protect myself against the mosquitoes and cold which are now appearing.

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria Sofia sign

Hitchhiking Macedonia Bulgaria cafe

A short while later I am again standing next to the road, and after adjusting my clock to the new time zone I realize the time is around 10:30 pm. I try again with the truck driver who is walking around his truck with a flashlight to control the tires, but he tells me no and shows me a sign on the back of the truck saying “army” while aiming the flashlight to his face saying “military” with a smile. At least now the truck is driving away, giving me more chance to get a ride.

At 11:30 I am almost giving up, but I decide to continue to at least midnight. Many cars seem to stop but are only slowing in to go somewhere else, or to the gas station. One post car stops and backs up to me at the same time I am walking towards him. This seems promising. He asks me where I want to go and I say Sofia/Radomir, he says something else which I do not understand but it only takes me a few seconds of thinking and then I jump into the car, knowing he will pass by Radomir at least and hoping that I can find a place or cafe there to spend the night, or at least a place with a lamp where I can continue to hitchhike.

The guy is really friendly and we talk a lot, some things we understand correctly and some misunderstandings his friend on the phone translates for us. Even though he initially wanted to drive me to Pernik, he changes his mind and now offers to drive me the whole way to Sofia (after a 10 minute work break in Pernik) which I of course agrees on. His friend even asks me in which area I want to be dropped of, so I SMS my friends telling them I will be back soon. Well, in the end he drops me off a “bit” outside the center and I have to walk on a straight road for an hour before I start to recognize the center of Sofia. 15 Minutes later, at 2:30 am, I am home with my feets hurting and a big smile!

..and this is where the story of one week of hitchhiking through 7 countries ends, Croatia to Bulgaria, a total of 750 km.

Hitchhiking through Kosovo to Kumanovo, Macedonia

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

The day after the big mountain walk in Kukes, Albania, I wake up feeling great. Even the legs are okay, but I do some stretching to soften them up a bit. Today I am going to hitchhike to Kosovo. I feel a bit sad about leaving this wonderful town of Kukes and the amazing people of Albania, but at the same time I am slowly getting tired of being on the road and I am thinking that nothing on this trip can top the experience of yesterday and the atmosphere of this town.

So I start to move again, I just have to pack the rest of my stuff that I was to tired to pack yesterday. First of is breakfast. Breaking my “rule” of not visiting the same place twice I go to the same hotel restaurant as two days ago when I can not find anything else on the way where there are people sitting. My idea of pancake breakfast is quickly changed when I see a word that I do not understand in the menu. I ask the waiter what it is and he points to his head saying “inside the head”. After some talk it seems this wonderful breakfast item is cow brain, a must try! I also order a coffee and a fresh orange juice, which when it arrives to the table has transformed to a canned peach juice. The cow brain comes as a soup and the brain part of it has different colors and textures suggesting it is all parts of the brain. Anyway, the dish is surprisingly tasteful, a bit like snails, probably because of a pre-eminent taste of garlic.

Kukes brain soup breakfast

After the breakfast I continue to walk out of the city while trying to find a shop that sells sun protection, as I am still a bit red since yesterdays walk. This task is not as easy as I thought, finding only sun protection strength 2 or 60 if anything at all. I double check the direction by asking a person I pass on the street, just not to walk unnecessary long this day, but the answer is not conclusive and the guy even changes his mind after a short discussion. Before starting to walk out in the middle of nowhere I make a last try at a pharmacy I see not far away, the last shop in Kukes before nature and the road takes over.

Inside the pharmacy is a lady which seems incredibly happy to see me, making some positive sound as I walk in through the door. She starts asking a lot about my life and tells me about her life as well, happy to practice her English. In the middle of the discussion I get to the point where I can ask for sun protection which she actually has and gives to me for free, even though I say I want to pay for it. I talk to her for about half an hour, both because I want to be nice and let her practice her language skills, but also because it is interesting. Several more clients come and she serves them before coming back to our discussion. Finally a new client comes in and she asks him in Albanian if he can drive me to Kosovo after hearing that he is going that way. He looks very skeptical and she explains that maybe he do not trust me because of my looks, and that he do not know me. She continues to press the man and he finally gives in, but not before checking with me that I do not have any gun in my backpack before entering the car, probably partly joking and partly serious. The pharmacy girl makes a last try to give me some chewing gum and headache pills for free, but I decline with a smile.

Inside the car, which is a luxurious BMW, we are 3 people plus me. The languages are mixed but I at least hear German between two of the men. Later I understand that they are from Kosovo families, born in Germany but later having moved to Kosovo and finally Albania because of better business there. I talk as much as possible with them, also to make them more relaxed and confident with me in the car, through the youngest guy who translates to the rest. We end up having a really nice conversation and they drive me through the border and on to Therandë (Suva Reka) in Kosovo where they meet up with a business contact and drive on in another direction.

Kosovo

I take a walk in Therandë and just when I sit down in a cafe to drink something I realize I do not have any local currency, so I walk around trying to find an open WIFI to figure out what the currency is worth before taking out money at an ATM machine. After a rather long walk I manage to get online and see that the currency is Euro, which I actually have some but still take out extra to manage until tomorrow. I then sit down in the first best restaurant that looks nice and orders a local dish which I have no idea what it is, even after the waiter tries to explain it to me. Next to my table sits a man which I see noticed me, but that’s nothing unusual in these kind of towns with few tourists. After finishing his meal he joins my table and asks where I am from. When he hears my answer he shines up with a big smile, starting to talk in my mother tongue to me. His family is actually from Kosovo but he is born in my country and is more patriotic about it then any other person I have met in my life. We have a nice talk and after a while I ask him to leave as I have to do some short work and research online on my laptop. He completely understands, having earlier said very politely that if I want him to go I can just tell him, but not leaving before insisting to pay my bill. He is still excited about our meeting when he leaves and the other people in the restaurant are looking at me, probably wondering what just happened. After he leaves I order a coffee to finish of the lunch, and when 20 minutes later I am about to leave and want to pay my coffee the waiter tells me that the coffee is on him. What a day, maybe it’s the positive energy from yesterdays mountain walk that still rubs off me.

Kosovo Therande lunch

I start to walk out of the city, having changed my mind about staying in this town as it is still early and I feel like moving on, even though I am a bit tired. Before leaving the town I walk into the man again, now with his son, and he tells enthusiastically the son that this is the person he was talking about. The son looks a bit embarrassed about his fathers behavior, or maybe he is just shy. I continue to walk, now with new energy, until I am outside the town and on a big road leading east. Again no shadow, but already after 1-2 minutes of trying to hitchhike a man picks me up. He lives in Switzerland but is now back for a 2 week vacation with his family. We talk politics for the whole ride, which I think lasts for one hour but the conversation is so interesting that I totally loose track of time.

Kosovo sign

When entering the city of Ferizaj he drives me around to find a cheap motel for me, even walking out of the car to ask people the price so that I don’t get a tourist price. He is shocked when he see that the prices here are higher than in Switzerland, and finally I ask him to drop me off because I don’t want to bother him anymore and I have the whole day of walking around the city anyway. After a short search I take a pause in a nice restaurant “No Stress” and then decides, once again, to move on to the next city.

Kosovo sign

While once again walking out of the city I find some really cheap hotels but I still decide to go further. My next ride is again a luxurious car, this time by a local business man that after a while stops in an outdoor restaurant along the way to buy me a coffee and have a talk. He tells me that he has two businesses, one is import and the other is personal development. The second one is the one he wants to talk to me about, and very quickly I realize that he is trying [softly] to sell a pyramid scheme to me. I write down the information and we continue the drive. After a while I realize that he is going the whole way to Macedonia, but because I want to spend a night in Kosovo I ask him to drop me off before on the road.

It is now starting to get dark and I am not even in a town. There are more people here but they are either waiting for a bus or for friends to pick them up. After what feels like a long time I finally get a ride. This guy is going to the Macedonian border to get or drop off some documents, like a courier. I ask him to drop me of in Kacanik where I plan to find a hotel. But there are no hotel according to all the people I ask, including the taxi drivers, so I have no choice but to go to the road again. The option is to hitchhike back some kilometers to a motel in the middle of nowhere, or to hitchhike to Macedonia. I choose Macedonia, now longing for being back in Bulgaria. Again I stand around for what feels like forever, with the darkness getting nearer and the people looking at me like they have never seen a hitchhiker before, or maybe even a stranger.

When finally the second BMW for the day stops with two mysterious guys inside I feel relieved, but a bit tense. The conversation is not going well, with the driver only speaking Albanian and German. After a while they stop and walk out of the car, talking outside. I decide to go out to stretch my legs, but the car is locked. Finally the drivers friend takes off and the driver opens the door for me, saying something like “lets go” and pointing to the bush. I do not understand what he means, he walks and takes a leak and then we are on the way again. Now the conversation is a bit lighter, but still we have big difficulties to understand each other. When we finally hit the Kosovo/Macedonian border and are first in line the guy can not find the right paper for his Switzerland plated car (he lives there). His plan for the day was to go to north Macedonia to get something from a friend and then directly drive back to Kosovo again, a long drive but perfect for me coming near the Bulgarian border. Now it seems he has to turn back early instead without entering Macedonia.

A young guy that talks to him about the problem offers me a ride instead and I walk with him to his car, where his friend and his father awaits – looking skeptical at me. Anyway we drive through the border and into Skopje where they let me off somewhere in the center, asking if this is fine for me and me saying yes because I have no idea where I am anyway. I stand looking at the enormous buildings for a while, being used to small towns for the last days, and then starts walking around for about 15 minutes before I decide to go on to Kumanovo instead, one step closer to the Bulgarian border.

Macedonia Skopje

I start hitchhiking on the highway near to where I was dropped off just minutes earlier, accompanied by a taxi man and a cheer-leading group of girls maximum 15 years old. A car stops even though he is going the other direction, but I think he will maybe turn around so I go to talk to him. It turn out the guy in the car wants to buy sex from me, ok so this is maybe not the best place and time to hitch hike I realize. I say no and go back to my spot, but after 10-15 minutes the guy once again comes back, now on my side of the road, and tries to convince me.

Macedonia Skopje sunset

About one hour later I am ready to give up because of the dark but with no idea where to go, when a German couple stops and picks me up. They are going to a small village near where I am going, to visit their family. Dropping me off outside the city I have to walk into the center. During the walk I take out some local currency and buy street pizza with mayonnaise, Bulgarian style. The pizza guy tells me he also just came back from Germany visiting his girlfriend. He also tells me where I can find some hotels but before I take off some of his friends walks by and he tells them to show me instead. We walk for a long time, not as close as the pizza guy told me the hotels were, and when we finally arrive they realize that the hotel is now gone and replaced by a restaurant. I say no problem and want to take of, but they have an internal argument in Macedonian for some 20 minutes discussing what they should do with me. Finally I tell them I will go back to the street to hitchhike and takes of, but instead goes to a guy 20 meters away to ask him for directions to a hotel. He tells me one nearby and even though it is not on the address he tells me I find it thanks to some other helpful people. After a quick bargain I get a room for 10 Euro, even with a TV showing a Bulgarian music channel. Before falling asleep I write a long blog entry in my mobile about this day, which mysteriously disappears.

Macedonia Kumanovo

Tip: When going to Kosovo ask to NOT get a stamp in the passport, because a Kosovo stamp could make it difficult for you to enter Serbia.

Hitchhiking to Kukes, Albania

Monday, August 12th, 2013

The next day I walk out of Bar, Montenegro towards east and then start hitchhiking. There is no shadow in sight, but I get a ride fairly quickly with a nice local now living in Australia. The man is after his pension flying back several times per year thanks to his earlier job at an airline, and he still have a house here. He tells me that he can drive me to Ulcinj, which is about half of the way to the border and the only town between where I am now and Albania. Half way he stops and lets me off in a hotel restaurant along the road while he drives to meet his family for 15-30 minutes.

Montenegro hotel
Hotel view

Montenegro island

In the meanwhile I sit to drink an overly priced coffee waiting for the man to come back. The only other man in the restaurant offers me a ride but I decide to wait for the first driver. When he comes back, he drives me to Ulcinj and quickly shows me the main street of the city from the car before driving me to the exit street which goes to Albania. There, two other hitchhikers have just arrived. They are not so talkative and I am polite enough to walk away and stand AFTER them. They get a ride quickly, probably paying a bit for the ride.

Montenegro street sign
Hitchhiking spot between Montenegro and Albania

A police car comes and I start thinking about if it is legal or not to hitchhike in Montenegro, but they are friendly and picks up two hitchhiking Roma people. I ask them if they go to Albania but sadly they are not. Several cars stop for me and offers me a ride for money, but I wait for about an hour before getting a free ride. This time the drivers are a Kosovo couple which are going back for a 2 week vacation from their current home in Switzerland. Although they are driving the whole way to Kosovo, which is on my path, I want to spend at least one night in Albania so I ask them to let me off in Kukes which I know they will pass. Both the couple and the man in Montenegro told me not to hitchhike in the area of Kukes or even stop there, because of armed robberies and high criminality, but I decide to learn for myself and I have seen on Google Images that this region have beautiful mountains which works like a magnet for me. The couple driving me usually never even stops in Albania, being a bit scared of the people there although they come from a country which consist of 92% Albanians.

Albania nature
Beautiful view from the road in Albania

Anyway, we have a lot of interesting talks on the 1+ hour drive and then the guy drives an extra 2 km to drop me off in the outskirts of Kukes instead of on the highway. I start walking into center, not the way a sign points out where the center is but where two men tells me it is, in another direction. It seems correct and the first impression of the town is that I am an alien here, but that the people are very curious in a positive way and that several of them even speaks English. I ask around for a place to eat but there are only bars without food and hotel restaurants, so I choose the later and try some local meat and beer in company with another man and a television. The movie is also in English, not dubbed, and is about trafficking, with a Swedish actor playing a Russian guy. I try to explain that he is a Swedish actor to the man and the waiter, but they do not understand and say “Da, Russian”. Finally the owners wife come to sit down and switch TV channel in the middle of the movie, which makes a perfect time to leave for me.

Kukes Albania food

Going towards an Internet sign I arrive to a bicycle store (the Internet cafe is long gone). I manage to explain to a man there that I am looking for a low cost hotel, and he walks me around the city trying to find one for me. Almost all people we are passing starts speaking to me, usually “Do you speak English/Italian?”. I get the explanation from one of them that a lot of people here have learned Italian on TV. A group of children joins us and soon we are 5-6 people walking. The Kosovo couple have told me that in Albania kids, especially Roma kids, will surround me asking for money. But these kids never even mentioned money, they were just curious and wanted to practice their language skills. Finally we find a 7 Euro hotel (special price?) with TV, air condition and a huge balcony towards the main street, the best balcony of the whole building. Outside the balcony I still see some kids pointing and discussing where I disappeared.

Kukes Albania hotel
Hotel room. It is always difficult to find a single room, but usually it is possible to pay for only one bed after some persuasion.

Kukes Albania hotel view
View of Kukes main street from the hotel room

Kukes Albania dust storm
Sudden dust storm passing by in the evening

In the night I take a walk to see the small city and naturally starts walking out of the city towards the mountains. In the end of the city, about 5-10 minutes away from the center, is a petrol station and I start talking to the men working there. They do not speak English at all but we start to talk about the mountain and I tell them I am thinking to walk to the top the next day. They are skeptical, buy say it might take 5 hours, later changed to 3 hours, to the peak. Finally another man is coming and translating a bit. I get very little information about the mountain, and I realize that nobody of the men have actually walked on it themselves.

Kukes Albania lake
View of a nearby lake from the gas station

Kukes Albania mountain
The mountain Gjallica seems near but it is actually at least one hours walk away from Kukes

Kukes Albania new friends
Lovely gas station people, sadly not talking English but that also makes the conversation more fun using hand gestures, a travelers best friend

Kukes Albania cloud

Kukes Albania sunset

After some hour of hanging out with my new friends I depart back to the city, still thinking about the mountain. On the way I find an internet cafe and start to search for information about the mountain and an eventual walking trail there, but finds no information. Finally I decide to stay one more night to mount the mountain!

Kukes Albania dinner

After a quick dinner I go to a nearby shop just before they close, in preparation for the next days trek. Sadly they have no fruits or even bread, so some unhealthy fast food will do. Finally I go back to the hotel room to throw everything out from my travel backpack and pack it for the mountain trek instead.  Time to sleep, with the alarm clock put on 5:40 AM.

Bar, Montenegro

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Early morning again. Last night I had checked into a homestay in Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Today I was going to continue my hitchhiking, this time to Montenegro. When I open the door going out from my bedroom the homestay woman is sitting there watching TV quietly, not to disturb me. I take a shower and she offers me a coffee which she has put on the balcony, with a view over the surrounding mountains. The coffee is not the best I have had but the balcony is very relaxing. After the coffee I work for a short time and then sets off. First I walk to see the free outdoor “pool” which I missed yesterday, then into town walking quickly through the old town followed by a breakfast near the river and finally a coffee in a bar before heading out of town.

Montenegro Bar

There is no shadow but I get a ride rather quickly in a van with two Albanians. They do not know if they are going to pass Montenegro, or even which country they are currently in, probably because they are using a GPS. In the van they have a sauna from Estonia which the driver is going to install in his home in Albania. He has driven for 35 hours straight without any sleep when he picks me up, as the other man has no driving license. I help them to find the border, and we get stopped 3 times in the security before entering Montenegro. Every time we get stopped the man not driving gets really nervous and keeps repeating “oh fuck” while the driver is out of the car, “fixing” the problem. The border controllers all wants money, the driver says he has a lot on him, just the amount which is legal to take in, but he does not bribe the controllers but instead threat/fight with them until they give up. We finally drive on and the drivers friend falls back and forth into sleep, but the driver still seems very awake but without any idea about which city we are in or how far it is to their destination. They let me go 10 kilometers away from my destination, the city of Bar, which I know they will pass but there are some misunderstanding or they want to get rid of me.

bosnia_herzegovina_montenegro_border
Once again stopped in the border control

Montenegro beach resort
Passing by beautiful but over crowded beached

Montenegro beach swimmers

Montenegro beach

Montenegro coast

Montenegro ferry crossing
A ferry taking us to the other side of a lake

Montenegro mountains

Montenegro Euro ice cream
Euro ice cream. Montenegro use Euro as currency although they are not in the European Union.

I start walking but manage to get a ride with a man who first wants money (private taxi is common in Montenegro) but then agrees to drive me for free. He drive through Bar and drops me off in the east side of the city. Bar, which I saw on my picture of Google Maps and decided to stay in because it is near the Albanian border, seems at my first impression not to be that nice at all. Having no idea about the layout of the city I start walking in one direction which leads to a harbor. I walk through it, finds an ATM and then sits down in a restaurant for some local food. The restaurant have WIFI so I check for accommodation in Bar but no results come up. After my lunch I walk to the beach which the restaurant lady have told me is near, and there get a tip on where to go from one of the street sellers. I find the area and walks around asking for a room before finally finding one for 10 euro with balcony and internet. When checking in with my passport I joke with the girl about how horrible I look at my passport picture. Her answer is “Yes, what is this?” instead of the common polite answer. After a shower to cool down followed by a short time for relaxation I walk down for a swim in the ocean just in time for the sunset. Then I walk back to the hotel/pension for their 3½ euro dinner, which is the same price as you get an omelet for at the sea side. At the hotel I start talking to one guy working there and finally goes to bed a bit later than planned.

Montenegro Bar food
Lunch

Montenegro Bar coast
Beach walk in Bar

Montenegro Bar beach
Beach at day time. When I pass by an ambulance comes to rescue somebody, probably because of heat stroke.

Montenegro Bar rooms
The area with the rooms for rent, a 5 minute walk from the beach

bar_montenegro_hotel
My room with 3 beds, WIFI, fridge and balcony

Montenegro, Bar hotel view
View from my window/balcony

Montenegro Bar
I took this picture in the morning while walking out of Bar

Trebinje (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Although a bar girl in Dubrovnik tells me there is very little chance I will find a ride from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the history of the two countries, I wake up early in the morning to give it a try. The man in the over priced hostel have told me that I should ask for the border town Metkovic and I tell the Croatian/German man who picks me up that this is where I am going. After about 15 minutes talk while driving I realize that this is the totally wrong direction and jumps out. Half an hour later I am in a new car going the other direction, this time with an Austrian couple who is late to the airport to pick up a friend.

Croatia, Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik, beautiful but expensive and filled with tourists

The couple kicks me out in a road junction and tells me that this is the way to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It takes me about an hour to get a new ride to the border, which on my Google Maps picture looked really far away but actually was only 500 meters from where I got dropped off. My new drivers are 4 young Croatians which are going to the Black Lake in Montenegro to camp for the night before heading back. I think about joining them but don’t want to miss out on Bosnia and Herzegovina so I stop in Trebinje instead.

Google Maps South Europe map
My picture of Google Maps which I use for traveling

As soon as I am dropped off in Trebinje by my ride I walk by and enters a pub with locals looking strange at me. The pub girl is not speaking English and I quickly realize I have no local currency. On the wall is a poster of a half naked girl together with two televisions: one playing local folk music and the other showing a drunk old man flirting with a young beautiful girl. I find a nearby gas station that lets me take out money even though they do not have an ATM machine. First the guy wants to give me Euro, but when I finally get my hand on some local currency I go back to the pub to drink a Jelen, a 5% beer which goes directly up to my head (I later realize that some places in Bosnia and Herzegovina also accept Euro).

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: bar
Local bar with titties on a poster and folk music on the TV

Next I go to a 4 star restaurant to try some local food. The food is good and about half price from Dubrovnik, but when I try to leave an old man stops me and invites me for a drink. One drink gets several as he does not take a no from me before 2-3 hours later and some grappas and beers has gone down my throat. The old man, which is 80 by his own words, tells me he is the Godfather of Trebinje but is now living in England, only to be back for the summer (6-7 months) in his home town. He knows everyone in the bar and after a while we sits down at a table of his friend, who has a masters in musics and who seems to be a over intelligent alcoholic. We have some interesting conversations (instead of the 30 times repeated stories of the 80 year old man) and then suddenly the old man disappears. Shortly after, his friend also goes away, at least saying goodbye to me and I am free to find a place to sleep.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: restaurant
The restaurant with Facebook on the computer

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: food

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: champagne

I have got a list of homestays from the newly founded tourist information in Trebinje so I ask a girl on the street where it is. I don’t know if it is again the friendliness of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or that she see that I am drunk (I feel perfectly fine at this moment) but she calls the lady of the homestay and then walks me 5-10 minutes away to meet her. The lady we meet is an extraordinaire woman in colorful clothes (or was it a towel?) and with a big smile. She lets me choose which of her two bedrooms to use and asks me (without speaking English) if I want to go to the nearby free swimming pool. I say I want to sleep for an hour first, but as soon as I lay down the alcohol is catching up on me and that hour becomes 14 hours.

The next morning I go up at 7 o clock and the lady is watching TV quietly outside my room, asking me if I want a coffee. I am a bit sad that I will not stay more with these amazing people in Trebinje, but the road calls for me an I feel rested and ready for another adventure.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: street
Starting to finally walk away from the restaurant

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: homestay woman
Lovely homestay lady

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: free swimming pool
Free swimming pool which is also used for other sports

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river
Beautiful river, which is supposedly the biggest river in Europe which naturally disappears into the ground instead of ending in a lake or sea.

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: bridge
The mountains around Trebinje

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river
Trebinje is very picturesque in many ways

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje: river

Bosnia & Herzegovina, Trebinje:  street art

Bulgaria protests

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Bulgaria protests against the corrupted government, now at the 26th day with reported more than 100 000 people gathering protesting from the early morning to midnight.

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Reconstruction of Sofia Women’s Market (Zhenski Pazar)

Friday, May 17th, 2013

One of the most famous spots in Sofia (Bulgaria), the Zhenski Pazar (Women’s market), is currently undergoing a reconstruction. This charming market if mostly focused on food like fresh vegetables and fruit, homemade honey and wine, but you can also find clothes, plumbing equipment and other random things. Even though the market is in the center of Sofia, walking around the market area gives you a feeling of exiting the city and being somewhere totally different.

Now this market will undergo a total redesign, with the first step being to reduce the number of market stalls in one area from 114 to 65, giving more space to open areas. There is also a plan for creating an amphitheater later on.

Here are a few pictures from the market taken during the past years:

Womens Market

Womens Market Sofia

Zhenski Pazar

Zhenski Pazar market

The Zhenski Pazar is even open in the winter:

Zhenski Pazar in the winter

Zhenski Pazar in the winter

The demolition of the market has already began:

Zhenski Pazar reconstruction

Zhenski Pazar demolition

On THIS LINK can you see the planned design for this enormous Bulgarian project, which is estimated to cost around 3 million Euro and be financed together with a private partner.

It is really sad to see this old market go, giving way to a new modern Sofia.