Yep, it’s that time of year again. Pardon me while I go through the motions again, apologising for my lack of blogging of late. I’ve been working as a tour guide out in the Balkans, guiding groups of people through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Albania and Montenegro.
These past five weeks have been challenging, to say the least, but probably the most rewarding of my three years of tour guiding. On days like today – I’m currently in Plovdiv, Bulgaria – I don’t see any other tourists at all, except for my own little flock. It is a world away from my Easter adventures in Paris where you couldn’t swing a baguette without hitting a Nikon DSLR.
I have no idea why this little corner of the world is relatively untouched. Of course, we hit a few tourist meccas on the treks – Istanbul, Athens and Dubrovnik are always teeming with the knee-high socks and sandals crew – but the beauty of the Balkans demands more. The rivers and lakes are as blue as in Switzerland, the hills are green and free of development, and you can spot donkeys and horse-and-cart combos semi-daily. English is widely used and wifi coverage is better than Western Europe. What’s not to love?
The reputation, I suppose. Current riots in Istanbul and the recent wars in the former Yugoslavia, not to mention Taken and its portrayal of the Albanian mafia certainly don’t help local tourism boards. It seems like a hard place in which to travel. Paul and I would always label countries in Asia as either ‘Asia for Beginners’ or ‘Asia for the Advanced’ and when applied to Europe, a number of these countries fall into the latter category. That doesn’t mean they’re not worthy, however.
Everything is pretty relaxed out here. We call the timezones out here ‘Balkan Maybe Time (BMT)’ and to be honest, I quite like it. Nobody’s in a rush, particularly in Greece and Montenegro. Their citizens may be the butt of many a European joke but I reckon everyone else is just jealous.
This gig can be lonely, however. That’s always the weird thing about being a tour guide; you’re surrounded by people all the time, but at the end of the day you’re working whilst everyone else is on holiday. I miss Paul, my family and friends all the time – luckily I had Paul come and visit last week and I have my sister Amy joining me on a tour in a month’s time. They’re the things you look forward to.
So, in case you were wondering if I’d dropped off the face of the earth, not exactly. I’ve been bouncing around the Balkans, with its different languages, alphabets, currencies, religions and geographies. And food… oh, the food.
So, if you’d excuse me. I’m just about to head off to gorge myself on Bulgarian food, and following it up with a Turkish hammam in Istanbul tomorrow…