The Balkans

The Balkans are a fascinating part of Europe.
The Macedonians build a fountain and upset the Greeks. On the road to Lake Ohrid villages fly Albanian flags instead of Macedonian ones. Kosovan taxi drivers believe fundamentalists are being sponsored in their country by former foes. In Sarajevo, the place the First World War started is not easy to find, but evidence of more recent atrocities is.
Memories are long in The Balkans, contrasts and contradictions are all around. History is always in your face, reminding you nothing stays the same for long in this most fascinating corner of Europe.
In Croatia, Dubrovnik is so popular a one-way system is now in operation on the city walls. Kotor in Montenegro is quieter and has a more beautiful setting. These places show what can happen if the past can be forgotten and the present allowed to persevere.
This book will help explain why things are the way they are in a few short stories.

A cycling tour of the Balkans: two wheels, three countries, four days

A challenging trip taking in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro

Bosnia’s new cycle trail is a big ‘open-air museum’

The Ciro trail, from Dubrovnik to Mostar in southern Bosnia, is encouraging tourists back to the empty green landscape that was largely abandoned during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia

Bridge across the Drina

Not including Mostar, I saw two outstanding Ottoman bridges in Bosnia. The first was called the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in the town of Visegrad, built in 1571 by the brilliant Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is mainly known for creating mosques such as the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul. The bridge was immortalised in Ivo Andric’s Nobel Prize-winning novel ‘Bridge on the Drina’. The bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has 11 masonry arches with spans of 11 m to 15 m, and an access ramp at right angles with four arches on the left bank of the river. The 179.5 m long bridge is regarded as a masterpiece of Sinan’s, of whom UNESCO wrote “Sinan, one of the greatest architects and engineers of the classical Ottoman period and a contemporary of the Italian Renaissance, with which his work may be compared.”

Virpasar, Montenegro – Besac Fort

Virpasar is a village by Skadar Lake. The favourite pastime here is a boat trip to see some of the 270 species of bird who live on and around the lake. My recommendation is to walk over the bridge and take the road that runs behind the Hotel Vir. After about five minutes of uphill there’s a sign to the right saying ‘Besac’ indicating the 15th Century fortification being restored with the help of EU funding. The 1 Euro entrance fee helps the restoration too. For this amount, the visitor will see the lake with the mountains of Albania in the background. The fortification is small with one central watchtower situated within the walls. There’s a circular staircase which leads to the top of the tower. The gatekeeper owns a small dog, which is the same colour as the fort. The fort dog runs around enthusiastically and wags its tail at visitors.