I spent most of July unwinding in Cluj and visiting friends in Hungary, lazing about somewhat. Still, I felt like talking some time to see somewhere new before heading up to Odessa for the 789 Project hitchhiking festival. Because I had never been to the Western Balkans before, that seemed an appealing destination, though touring this beautiful and complex region in the space of a week didn’t allow for much.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia was a good country to save until now, as it has remained quite cheap while the rest of Eastern Europe has become dramatically more expensive than when I first came to this beloved half-continent. Bosnian people reminded me very much of Israelis: gruff and brutally direct, but it doesn’t take long before you find they have deep wellsprings of kindness.
As I undertook this trip with little advance preparation, Mostar was just a point on the map for me, though along the way I heard mention of an old bridge there. I was very surprised then to find that the city is one of the most heavily touristed spots in Bosnia and the entire Balkans, thanks to that picturesque bridge, the 16th-century Stari Most.
Albania still seems to me like the most exotic country in Europe, two centuries after Gibbon spoke of a land
within the sight of Italy which is less well known than the interior of America. As I proceeded across the country from Montenegro to Macedonia, everyone I met during my brief journey here treated me with the greatest hospitality. Understanding them, however, was a challenge. I did not have access to a textbook of their particular dialect of this very regionally variable language, and the claim that everyone here has some command of Italian proved untrue.
Pressed for time, I mostly saw the capital, Tirana. This city was too similar to the south of Romania to interest me much: lots of concrete, the architecture of a madman’s regime, skimpy fashions and bad turbo-folk music. Were it not for the bizarre orthography of every posted text, I could have thought myself in some part of Bucharest or Craiova. The smaller towns and countryside I passed through had much more individual character and they will be the focus of my next journey here.