I was nervous, returning to Greece. I had fallen in love with the country on my visit in 2007; Italy hadn’t yet warmed to me (don’t worry, it just took a bit more time) and I’d arrived in Athens, travel-weary and with diminishing funds. The next two weeks were just what the travel doctor ordered and went by in a whirlwind of delicious, affordable food, black beaches, friendly people, amazing sights (particularly plenty of Olympic ones) and new friends.
I’d kept up to date with Greece’s ‘troubles’ and I was worried that I’d return to a different, not-so-wonderful Greece. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Although more rough around the edges I still adored Athens (yes, unlike most), and was introduced to new stars such as Meteora and Parga.
The following days were also full of newbies for me; Albania, Montenegro and the ‘Jewel of the Adriatic’; Dubrovnik. Yes, I was travelling fast but I was to return every fortnight for the next couple of months.
View from the Office Day 41: Magnificent Meteora.
Just when you think Greece is all ancient ruins and white-washed island villages, you then run into Meteora. These cliffs were created millions of years ago by shifting sands, and when monks were getting pushed around by the Ottomans in the fifteenth century, they decided these cliffs would also double as some pretty isolated digs. There’s nothing quite like surveying your surrounds from one of the six remaining monasteries; I play a bit of the Three Tenors on the way in to get us into the mood.
View from the Office Day 42: Sandals shopping in Athens.
I got a bit obsessed with sandals this time in Athens. Every shop seemed to sell them, each one being more lovely than the last. I settled on a pair made for me by ‘The Poet’, who’s made sandals for everyone from John Lennon to Sarah Jessica Parker. I wore mine almost every day for the next four months and they’re still going as strong as ever.
View from the Office Day 43: Sunset over Parga, Greece.
Oh Parga. It’s dubbed ‘the Greek island on the mainland’ and that description rings pretty true; you’ve got your crystal-clear water, colourful buildings scattered down the cliffs and absolutely magical sunsets. Perhaps the best thing about Parga? It’s small, and you share it with mainly Greek tourists.
View from the Office Day 44: Handstands on one of Albania’s 140,000 Hoxha-era bunkers.
I was ridiculously excited for Albania. Now, this was Eastern Europe; we shared the roads with donkeys, the road would tend to disappear for hours on end and the hills were littered with concrete bunkers like the one pictured above. 140,000 remain of the estimated 700,000 which existed during communist times; each would be able to sustain a family in the very unlikely event that Albania was invaded.
View from the Office Day 45: The island of St Stefan, just off the coast of Montenegro (on a stormy day).
Montenegro is a massive contrast to Albania. It’s been well and truly discovered by wealthy Europeans, with high-rise hotels sprinkled along pretty much the entire country’s Adriatic coastline. One of the most expensive is this one on St Stefan Island, which was once a simple village; the cheapest room will cost you around a thousand euro a night.
View from the Office Day 46: Gelati as big as my head, Dubrovnik.
I didn’t really know what to do with myself, that first time in Dubrovnik. I ran around like a mad thing, coughing and wheezing up the steep, narrow alleyways, fighting through the cruise ship crowds and gorging myself on all sorts of Dalmatian delights. This gelati was my favourite of the year.
View from the Office Day 47: Sebilj Fountain, the traditional meeting spot in Sarajevo.
Two weeks after my first visit, I found myself back in Sarajevo with another group. Unfortunately the weather hadn’t improved but I still had a good wander, particularly through the maze-like Old Town. The Sebijl Fountain marks the entrance to the Old Town, and it’s said that if you drink from the fountain, you’ll return one day to Sarajevo. I drank gallons of the stuff.
View from the Office Day 48: Two of Sarajevo’s any city-adopted dogs. Too cute!
I always made sure to warn my passengers of dogs in Sarajevo; they’re everywhere. They’re not necessarily aggressive, however (but they do tend to bark like mad at the dawn call to prayer). Many of the dogs lost their owners during the Siege of Sarajevo, and as a result, the city as a whole has adopted them. Lots have tags in their ears, showing that someone’s taken them to the vet recently, and you’ll often see locals coming outside to feed them.
View from the Office Day 49: Buskers in Belgrade.
Belgrade’s buskers aren’t your typical, run of the mill buskers. They hang around the nightlife districts in town, and all you have to do is call them over and request a song. My favourite is Kafana is my Destiny and if they’re any good, everyone will get up and dance. Once you’ve run out of song requests, tip them a few hundred dinar (a few euro) in a creative way – stick the notes in the accordion or inside the guitar, for example – and everyone goes away happy.
View from the Office Day 50: It’s gypsy night in Sofia, with amazing food and company!
I’d never heard of gypsy music before I headed to the Balkans. My driver Angeliko loved it and I soon found myself tapping my feet along to some of the songs; in Sofia we get up and dance the night away after a feast of breads, dips, meats and of course, Bulgarian wine.
Days 51-60 will feature Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia.