When you head off to places you’ve never been before – where few folk venture anyway – on your own or in the company of strangers, a few ups and downs come with the territory.
That’s how it was with my trip to Serbia and Macedonia in May. I had some idea what to expect, having visited a few other countries in the region recently. But they’re all different.
Now I’ve had a couple of weeks to reflect, I can put the highs and lows in order.
The highs… In Serbia, they include spending 4 nights at the Putujuči Glumac B&B www.travellingactor.rs in the Skadarlija section of Belgrade, eating breakfast on the terrace, and surrounded by some of the best restaurants in town. Cool and relaxing.
Another has to be 3 beers and a club sandwich on the 8th floor rooftop bar of the IN Hotel – also in Belgrade www.inhotel-belgrade.rs
That was recovery after a 6.5 hour (675 kilometre) drive from Ohrid in deepest southwest Macedonia, followed by 45 minutes navigating through downtown Belgrade (with street signs – if there were any – mostly in Cyrillic only) in the rush hour to drop off the rental car, and then a frantic taxi trip to the hotel in the ‘burbs courtesy of the craziest driver I’ve come across for a long time.
In Macedonia – the drive over the Livada Pass (1,500m) from Lake Prespa to Lake Ohrid. Jawdropping views on a scary road.
Then there was the Sunday night dinner at the Belvedere – great food, local folk music, and dancing. Pity I had to be up early next day for that 6.5 hour drive.
A few downers are inevitable if you’re being adventurous. If you can’t handle it and want to play safe, better book a package holiday to Majorca.
This time around – being charged 1,700 dinar in Belgrade for a 400 dinar taxi trip. Total tourist rip-off.
Probably the other tricky time was in Skopje after my 1pm meeting at the Embassy, driving around a strange city looking for parking and an ATM so we could get some Macedonian denar and then be able to buy lunch.
In the end I went up a one way street the wrong way to park illegally on the pavement. But that’s what the locals do… And this turned out well – a delicious kebab in a scruffy roadside joint. Plus we all lived to tell the tale.
The good news – the highs outweighed the lows by a huge margin. I’d go back anytime. Probably I’ve learned a little from the occasional mishap, but that’s life.
© iain taylor 2011