viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2007


Agust 14 - September 4, 2007: from Stuttgart to Sofia in 19 days. 8 countries plus one UN-administred territory (the latter not reported due to unexpected intestinal disorders).


The sources of Sava river up in the Julian Alps, with Anja's cousin posing a bit closer. Things were just starting off!


Life in Koroska region (north of Slovenia) seems to be simple and nice. The first thing we did when we arrived to Ravne was joining a family meeting in Anja's grandmother where we played volleyball, basketball and drank beer and rakija. In the bottom picture, a beautiful relative of Anja carrying her little son back from the orchard.


Bled lake and its small churched island is the postcard of Slovenia. A bit further up is Bohinj lake. The place is a bit too touristic, but nevertheless worth a visit.


Ljubljana is a small capital of a small country, almost a perfect place to live: (relatively) lively and entertaining, gentle and only one hour away from both the seashore and the Alps. In the evenings, people gather in cafes along the Ljubljanica.


Piran is a Venetian town (narrow, limestone streets around a harbour) on the short 34 km coastline of Slovenia. We swam the Adriatic sea, fresh and rocky, while watching the bell tower from the water. Those were the days.


Under the Kalemegdan fortress in Belgrade the Sava river meets the Danube. On the right, Veliko Ratno Ostrvo (the Great Island of the War) and in the horizon, the "fool with samovar" shaping the skyline of Novi Beograd. [Thank you, Arantxa, for almost a week-long accomodation and, above all, taking me to Belgrade's "Silicon Valley" :)]


An old Katyusha rocket launcher seems to aim at Usce tower, years ago the headquarters of Central Committee of the League of the Communists in the former Yugoslavia. One the first buildings hit by NATO air strikes in 1999 and reconstructed after 2003, it is now a business center.


Men gather around Kalemegdan for playing chess in the end of the day. It was very easy to approach, take out the camera and start shooting, they didn't even seem to notice me moving around the boards.


A cat rests in front of an old Trabant not far from the Parliament, central Belgrade. Life for felines is very much the same everywhere, after all.


Tito's grave, humble and a bit kitsch, is located in the House of the Flowers, some kind of weird, old-fashioned place receiving few visitis from curious foreigners. Down the slope the stadiums of Partizan and Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) are located and a bit further the huge Sveti Sava cathedral (still under construction) can be seen. I wonder what makes so important a brand new religious monument when there seems to be so many other things to fix in the former capital of the Federal Republic.


Srebrenica stretches along a narrow valley in Eastern Bosnia. The place became worlwide known because, after being declared a UN safe area theoretically protected by Dutch peacekeepers, up to 8,000 Bosnian muslim males were killed by Serbian troops in July 1995. Now it is a relatively lively town in spite of its sad recent history. Fortunately I met there a bunch of Italian volunteers organising a week-long international event on memory and dialogue who offered me accomodation at one of the muslim families hosting the participants. Grazzie, ragazzi.


More than 10 years after the end of the war, its effects are still visible in the urban landscape of Srebrenica. Many houses have been or are being reconstructed but very often show plain brick walls waiting for better times and a layer of paint.


Life seems to be back in Srebrenica, the cursed town. Refugees are somehow going back and an important Bosnian muslim community in the upper part is already established, which means that in certain bars you won't get any beer served.


The dirty train running from Belgrade to Skopje sluggishly covers some 600 km. in "just" 10 hours, but at least allows the traveller to catch a glimpse of the central plains of Serbia: corn, pepper and cabbage fields, scattered villages, dusty roads.


Tough Kate and talkative Branka share a rare kind of friendship bordering sisterhood. They were so happy of meeting after three weeks being far from each other in holidays... They later showed me around Skopje's nightlife, very worth to try.


Kaval is a traditional music instrument made by shepherds. Flute-like and beautifully decorated, it is perfectly hollow and therefore very difficult to play. Branka's and Kate's hands perform with unequal success on the Mavrovo mountains, in the sunset.

OHRID I - Sveti Jovan Kaneo

Shared between Albania and Macedonia, Macedonians have chosen Ohrid lake as their favourite national tourist destination (not so many options for travelling after Bulgaria becoming a member of EU). At least, this landlocked Balkan country was blessed with beautiful Ohrid of turquoise and mild waters.

OHRID II - Fig tree

Ohrid lake shines behind a fig tree in Sveti Jovan kaneo underlining the Mediterranean character of Macedonia. Such tasty tomatoes there...


The small church of Kurbinovo, not far from Prespa lake, keeps the beatiful bluish fresco.There we met 4 cheerful and talkative girls aging 10-12 who guard the building and sell candles and small icons in the summer. "I won't complain to the Ministry for having the church unprotected", commented Branka afterwards.

SKOPJE I - Telecommunications building

In 1963, an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale almost leveled the city and left 1,066 casualties. Aid poured from all over the world and it was said that, on the eve of Cold War, Skopke was the only place in the world where US and USSR soldiers were (peacefully) working together. A significant example of the reconstruction efforts is the telecommunications concrete building on the right bank of Vardar river. Despite everyting, I kind of liked it after getting used to it.

SKOPJE II - Vardar

Vardar river runs under Kameni most (Stone bridge), which didn't even shake in the 1963 earthquake.

SKOPJE III - Minaret

Five centuries of Turkish rule in Romilija, as the the Balkan provinces of the Ottoman empire were known, left a lasting impression in Macedonia. The melodic call of the muezzin is itself part of the atmosphere...


Wandering around the Carsija or old bazaar, children chase me yelling "Slikaj!" ("Picture us!"). One of them sets his hands with a strange (double-headed) eagle shape. Children's game or explicit (Albanian) nationalism?


A sculpture of national heroe Gjergj Kastrioti Scanderbeu ("Scanderberg") in the lower part of the Carsija reminds we are in an Albanian populated part of the city. Macedonians reacted to the erection of the statue arguing that Scanderberg was in fact of Slavic origins.


An old Eastern block "cinquecento" runs up the Skopska Crna Gora. Above, a colourful baby car glows in Skopje's Aerodrom district.


The small monastery of Sveti Nikola lies on a slope of the Skopska Crna Gora, 20 kilometres away from Skopje. There live three nuns, who hosted us with coffe and cake on a beautiful Sunday evening. The place is not far from Kosovo, so its quiteness is somehow threatened by foreseen tensions between Albanians and Slavs. "Many shqiptare [Albanians]", mumbled sister Praxia when the issue shortly showed up. [Thank you Ben, Kate and Branka for taking me up there]

SOFIA I - Churches vs. mosques

6 feet underground. Under Turkish rule, churches were not allowed to be as high as mosques, so sometimes the floor was dug and the basement was well below ground level. Nowadays, minarets still shape the city's skyline, in this case as much as an advertisement of Spanish bathroom appliances.

SOFIA II - Accordionist

Music is a feature of the Balkans. A lonely accordionist performing a city buzz-defying piece.

SOFIA III - Cyrillic

Born in Thessaloniki, Sveti Kiril and his brother Metodius engaged themselves in the christianisation of the Slaves in the 9th century. With this purpose they devised the Glagolithic alphabet, based on Greek letters, which is the base of Cyrillic alphabet used in Orthodox Slavonic countries. That is maybe why Latin alphabet in Bulgaria doesn't look too healthy (church of Sveti Alexnder Nevski). On top, a scultpure of both saints in front of the National Library in central Sofia.

SOFIA IV - Mt Vitosha

Last hours in the Balkans. A soviet monument to the Red Army "liberators" of Bulgaria stands with Mt. Vitosha (2290 m.) on the back. This mountain became the first national park in the Balkans in 1934 (I won't forget it, Mira, promise :). The sun sets and trip is almost over.