Having emerged from the long mountain tunnel that separates Lake Skadar National Park from Montenegro’s coastline, the landscape was decidedly different. Gone were glimpses of the expansive Adriatic. In its place was Lake Skadar, Southern Europe’s largest lake.
Sitting in a dentist’s chair half-way around the world from ‘home’, I was told the disappointing news: I had my first, albeit tiny, cavity. Shawn and I had come to Subotica, Serbia to devour its delightful Art Nouveau architecture, but I hadn’t imagined that one of my teeth would be wearing a porcelain souvenir upon our departure from the historic city. While we’d read about Subotica’s gorgeous architecture and promising wine in a New York Times article dubbing it one of 52 Places to Go in 2014, we had only learned about the northern Serbian city’s well-respected dental tourism by chance, once we’d arrived there. Long curious about the medical tourism phenomenon, we sandwiched routine dental check-ups in between a Subotica walking tour, market visit and leisurely strolls.
With a need to escape the borders of Europe’s Schengen Zone, we packed our bags for the winter and made a ‘Split‘ decision to head to Croatia’s splendid seaside city of the same name. Incredibly, the city has been continuously inhabited for 17 centuries, ever since Roman Emperor Diocletian had his retirement palace built here. Split’s history actually even goes back farther than Diocletian since the Greeks colonized the area in the 6th Century BC. The resulting mix is a series of intriguing labyrinthine streets and Medieval homes wedged into the shell of Diocletian’s Palace structure.
“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot
A wooden boat sits tethered in the fjord-like Bay of Kotor, near the town of Perast, Montenegro. On a crisp, spring afternoon, we took in this incredible vista from a nearby café, while imagining what adventures lay ahead.
A young girl, carrying a cherry-colored balloon, explores the entrance to the Cathedral of Saint James in Šibenik, Croatia, as lion statues seemingly look on. During our café break, across the square from the cathedral, we actually saw a steady stream of local little ones climbing atop the lions and playing hide & seek.
This Gothic and Renaissance cathedral was built completely out of stone between 1431-1535. Its history and architectural style was influenced by 15th and 16th century art movements of northern Italy, Dalmatia, and Tuscany.
A Macedonian legacy of winemaking goes back to the 13th Century BC, and today the southeast European nation’s industry is witnessing a rebirth. On our first night in the country’s capital, Skopje, we were lucky to be taken under the wing of Ivana Simjanovska, one of the country’s foremost wine experts, as we attended a wine tasting and lecture at the sleek MKC Club & Restaurant. Our tour was organized and hosted by good-natured Ljupco, who works for a small tourism company called Macedonia Experience. Ivana is the company’s wine tourism specialist.
This spring, we’ve had the fortune of observing Easter celebrations not once, but twice. In Croatia, where Catholicism predominates, we celebrated Easter in late March, whereas we also got to participate in Orthodox Easter festivities in Macedonia this past weekend.
Given its spiritual ties and the fact that it once had more than 365 churches, Ohrid, Macedonia earned the title, ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans.’ Today, many of the UNESCO World Heritage site’s churches have been restored, but others are still awaiting their renaissance. It is not uncommon to see a collapsed church juxtaposed against scenes of everyday life in a thriving neighborhood. Just behind our current ‘home away from home,’ for example, sits the small St. Nicholas Church, which is in ruins. Our hosts noted that local authorities are trying to raise more funds to restore it.
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
If there’s anything we’ve learned from mostly living on the road these past 15 months, it’s that travel can be disorienting, but in a lovely sort of way.
One week ago, we left our winter wonderland ‘home’ in Oberammergau, Germany, to embark on an adventure in the Balkans. To get there, we rode a lively, overnight bus that whisked us through four countries in 14 hours: Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally, Croatia.
We bid farewell to a monochromatic winter palette that had been embellished with graceful snowflakes on window panes, craggy mountains dusted with sugar-like snowfalls, and elaborately-frescoed buildings. In exchange, we were greeted by palm trees, the sparkling waters of the Adriatic, and the buff-colored limestone cobblestones and buildings that are ubiquitous in Croatia.