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Turkey, here we come
Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina) Selcuk (Turkey), January 2014

The journey through the Balkans runs smoothly. We left Sarajevo behind us and drive slowly but surely towards the coast. We make a stop in the beautiful town of Mostar, before we end up in Montenegro and settle for a few days in the medieval town of Kotor. After a few rainy days, it's lovely weather again. A blue sky and a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius in January, a typical Mediterranean climate. But it doesn’t take long before we have to leave this beautiful weather behind us. Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, is our next stop. There isn’t really much to see, but for us it was more of a stopover on the way to Kosovo. We drive further inland and the ruggedness of the mountains increases (see also the article and the photo impression of Montenegro). We rise and rise in altitude as we drive further east and the snow-capped peaks in the distance form the natural border with Kosovo. The border is located on a snowy pass. All the procedures run smoothly. Our car insurance does not cover Kosovo, so we are forced to buy a local one at the border.

In Kosovo, we visit the cities of Pristina (capital) and Prizren. Kosovo will probably never be a popular tourist destination because this small country does not have a lot to offer to visitors. But still, it is an interesting destination, given the recent struggles with neighbouring Serbia, after it called itself independent. Around half of the countries worldwide have now recognized Kosovo as an independent state, but the other half have not, including Serbia, who considers Kosovo still as a part of greater Serbia. So, the future for this small country will remain uncertain (see also the article on Kosovo). It's cold in Kosovo when we visit the country, but we can’t complain. Normally it much colder, in this region that is characterized by a strict continental climate (warm summers and very cold winters). But the climate is mild in January 2014, and that means that we can travel anywhere without the chance of being snowed-in. To the contrary, we are lucky, it’s dry and sunny weather.

A great view on Kotor Bay in Montenegro

From Prizren it is a short drive to the capital city of Macedonia: Skopje. We have booked a beautiful apartment in the diplomatic area of the city for less than 30 Euros per night. The Balkans has many destinations where you can rent an apartment, and that's great if you want to prepare your own meals. And that’s often healthier than the meals you get in the restaurants. Skopje is a city in transition (see the photo impression about Skopje). The local government is rebuilding many buildings in the city centre, often by only changing the façade. It wants to increase the looks of the city, by getting rid of the often ugly Soviet- architecture buildings built during the Yugoslavia era. For many locals, this is an eyesore, because they feel that the money can be better spent on social issues, because many Macedonians are still poor.

From Macedonia, we drove to Sofia in Bulgaria. Just over the border in Bulgaria, we come to the conclusion that this part of Bulgaria is still very poor, despite the fact that the country is part of the European Union (EU) already for several years. When you travel to some other EU’s 'new' countries, such as the Baltic States, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, you will see many EU paid developments in rural areas. But not in this south-western part of Bulgaria. The area is characterised by a dreary landscape even drearier cities and potholed roads. It is very visible that this is a poor area of Bulgaria. However Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, is a pleasant city, well worth the effort to come here (see the photo impression of the Bulgarian capital).
The trip to Turkey goes through the dull landscape of southern Bulgaria. But once we cross the border we enter a beautiful Turkish destination: Edirne. This former Ottoman capital has some beautiful mosques, making the city a gem (see photo impression about Edirne); absolutely worth a visit on your way to/from Europe. Since we have been already to Istanbul in 2007, at the beginning of our long journey, we bypassed it this time and drove south along Turkey’s west coast. We stayed a few days on the Gallipoli Peninsula, a major battlefield during World War I (see the article on Gallipoli).

On the way in Macedonia

Further south we reached the area of the ancient classical cities. There are many of these ruined cities in the south-western part of Turkey, so we were forced to make a choice among them. Because we can’t and don’t want to visit them all, because after visiting some of the sites, there is a chance of getting a mild form of ruin-fatigue. We ended up visiting three, namely Pergamum, Ephesus and Aphrodisias (see also the article on the three ancient cities). These ruins are among the best- preserved classical cities of Turkey. Fortunately, we travel in the winter season so there wasn’t a huge crowd. Only Ephesus was pretty busy, and that is mainly due to the fact that this ruined city lies on a daytrip distance from some of the major coastal resorts towns, which are also popular during winter time. Ephesus is also a half hour drive from Kusadasi, a medium-sized town with a cruise ship terminal, from which busloads of cruise tourists are transported to Ephesus on a daily basis. So if you decide to visit the sites in the tourist season, there is a chance that your visit will be spoilt by huge crowds.

Our Land Cruiser in front of an UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) monument in Kosovo
Long queues of truck on the Bulgarian-Turkish border
A World-War I monument in Eceabat (Turkey)
On the road ... time for the lunch
Turkish Hummer ??
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