Christkindl – our German market experience

The Christmas market has always been on my bucket list. I’m not sure why, but the lights, the snow, the steaming cider and mulled wine have created a scene in my mind that just speaks of Christmas. But with working and only having the two (most expensive!) weeks off over Christmas, experiencing a real European Christmas market has always been out of the question. (Yes, I know I should be more appreciative of having two weeks off….most people aren’t so lucky).

 

So, when I found about a Christmas market close to us, involving a car ride and not a long plane ride, I knew we had to do it!  The last few years, the market has been on the same weekend as other family events, but this year luck was with us, and it so happened that the market was the week later. So off we went!

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The Christkindl market in Kitchener, Ontario runs for four days at the beginning of December. It has been running since 1997 and has been awarded “Top 100 Festivals & Events in Ontario”. (Kitchener has a large German heritage and also hosts another of the Top 100 Festivals, with Oktoberfest in October).

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So off we went this year. We left mid afternoon and it’s only a short drive for us, so we arrived just as it was starting to get dark (this time of year the sun sets for us around 4:45pm). We bundled up and were lucky it wasn’t too cold yet. The temperature was hovering just below zero but as we were walking and moving, it didn’t seem that cold. The main street in front of city hall was blocked to traffic and there were quite a few huts set up, selling everything from crafts to snacks and hot drinks. At the far end of the huts there was a Kinder Iglu with activities and crafts for kids. In front of City Hall, a large skating rink was set up (if I’d known, we would have brought our skates!) with a huge Christmas tree, decorated with lights. There were more vendors set up inside, which was a nice way to warm up for a bit, an area with model trains and on the 10th floor, an area to sit and eat and enjoy the view overlooking the market.

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Many of the vendors were selling snacks, treats and gorgeous crafts. We picked up a hand-painted ornament for our tree and the boys each picked out a traditional gingerbread man. One ate the head first (to get to the buttons, mommy!) and the other started with the arm. I think that was the best part of the night for them!

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A short walk from the market is Victoria Park. We decided to walk down and see the festive display of lights. The clock tower at the entrance to the park was decorated with strings of lights and a star on the top. Throughout the rest of the park there were other light displays, but we were getting cold and tired so just admired the clock tower before heading back.  

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Walking back through the market, the boys stopped to look at some of the decorations along the way, but by far, the best one was the display of lighted reindeer beside bales of hay. The highlight of the evening was jumping off the bales of hay!

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Even though this wasn’t one of the huge Christmas markets in Europe, it was a great experience and I’m so glad we finally were able to go! (Next year we’ll try for a European one…)

Zambrone

Zambrone. A place that I wouldn’t have known to visit if it wasn’t a friend’s recommendation. And wow, was I glad they’d suggested it!

To be fair, we didn’t actually make it into the main town of Zambrone, as we stayed in a resort on the coast about 2 km from the center of town.

Zambrone is a short drive from Tropea, one of the many little towns that dot the Tyrrhenian coast. Also called the Coast of the Gods. It’s the southern Italian version of the French Riveria. Talk about scenery!

We spent almost four days in Zambrone, alternating between the pool, our balcony overlooking the ocean and the train station where we could sit with a gelato (“ice cream” to the boys) and watch the trains.

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The hotel itself was amazing. There was a main complex that housed the restaurant and a few floors of spacious rooms. There were a few other smaller groups of rooms spread around the main building. Just on the other side was an entertainment area (a mini open-air theatre) with a pool and poolside bar in front. The pool was two levels, and the top “kid” level had two different heights, with a series of posts dividing the area so kids couldn’t cross over. My boys were the perfect height for the shallowest part and loved playing in there independently (I was sitting on the edge), and were proud to be “swimming” by themselves.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included and served in the main dining room. It was a bit more formal than I was expecting, but there was no dress code other than no bathing suits. Breakfast was a huge buffet with everything from buns, fruit, toast and jam to meat, cheese and of course tomatoes to the Italian tradition of cookies, pastries and what we would normally think of as desert. Lunch and dinner was the typical Italian meal, including first and second courses. There was also a large hors d’oeuvres buffet available (which the boys ate from, as there was always pizza and buns). The food was excellent – the restaurant has received Michelin star ratings numerous years in a row.

After dinner, at 930 every evening there was a “show” for kids of all ages. The staff had the kids dancing and singing, even kids as young as toddlers. Even though the show was in Italian and the boys couldn’t really understand much of it, they loved it! We went to the show every night that we were there and the boys talked about the “Dancing people” all day long.

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Many of the towns in this part of Italy are situated up on the hills overlooking the sea. Zambrone is no exception. The town is about 2.5km from the sea, up many winding roads. The train station set just outside of the town, closer to the coast but still a few 100m from sea level. The hotel was fairly close to the train station, set into the side of the hill so there was only gorgeous views from wherever you were. As it was still a ways from the beach, there was a cart waiting to drive you down to the beach. We made it down to the beach after a few days of enjoying the pool. The beach looks like white sand, but is actually small pebbles and coarse sand (not quite sand castle-building sand). The waves were a little rougher than the boys would have liked but we still played in the surf for awhile. They were content to play with the sand toys and fill up the pails with pebbles – they also found a few rocks they wanted to bring home!

Usually when I travel, I go to bigger cities with the “tourist” things to see. I stay in a small hotel and eat at restaurants somewhere in the city. I spend a lot of time walking, seeing the touristy things, sitting at cafes, people watching and getting a feel for the area. This time was a little different. We started in a smaller town and did a bit of walking and people-watching. Then we moved to an even smaller town but stayed in a hotel with all the amenities you could ever need. Having a pool and a restaurant right on site was a huge bonus, especially with little kids. It’s been years, if any, since I’ve taken a vacation like this, but with kids, I can definitely see the advantages! (I think I’ve changed my mind on all-inclusive vacations!) We will definitely be back!   (and I’ve never repeated a destination….so that’s saying something!)

Tropea

Tropea is a little town on the southern coast, about an hour’s drive from Lamezia airport.  Of all the little towns that dot the coast, Tropea is one of the more popular, especially in tourist season. Many of the tourists are fellow Italians or other Europeans (mainly Germans too), looking for a warm seaside holiday. The town is known for the church that is perched on a rock jutting out over the sea. Santa Maria dell’Isola is amazing to look at during the day and even more spectacular at night, when it is lit up and visible from the many lookout points around the city.

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Tropea is a typical European town – lots of cobblestones, cafes and gorgeous architecture. The Old Town is closed off to most traffic (some cars are allowed, but you need a permit and even then, are only allowed to drive at certain times on certain days). Sidewalks are rare, so walking in the streets is commonplace (the boys were a little unsure of this at first, but quickly came to love it). Although navigating the cobblestones with a stroller is definitely a learning curve.

The town itself is situated on the edge of a cliff, with a series of steps leading down to the beach. There are a few access points throughout the town but the main ones are right in the center of town. Beside the steps is a viewpoint, complete with a cannon that kids can sit on as the adults appreciate the view. From here you can see the Santa Maria church, the beach below and the apartments and houses that are perched right on the edge of the cliff, seemingly built right into the edge of the cliff and only holding on by some sort of luck.

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Navigating the steps down to the beach is easier than it looks. The steps are wide and there are a few spots along the way to stop and take a breath, while admiring the view. Once you reach the bottom, there are beaches to the left or to the right. We tried both, but preferred the one to the right, which is situated right at the base of the church. The outcrop that the church is situated on seems to protect the beach and the waves are calmer here than at other beaches in the town. We spent a few hours each day at the beach, but couldn’t stay the entire day like some families did. The boys are pretty fair and must have been the most clothed kids on the beach! We had to have a bit of an introduction on the waves and a little lesson on how to body surf (3 year old style) in the waves. Once they figured it out, there was no getting them out! They had a fantastic time playing in the surf and on the beach. The sun is hot though, and sunburns still happened (I didn’t think about the back of ears) but it was well worth it.

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Back up to the town (and yes, it is definitely up!), there are a few main streets and quite a lot of smaller pedestrian-only streets. Walking and getting lost in the maze of streets is something everyone needs to do. The town seems like a maze at first, but you quickly orient yourself and find the main street that runs the length of the Old Town, from the train station right to the lookout over the sea. Along the way, you’re sure to find many cafes serving espresso and pastries, gelato shops and souvenir shops. The town, as many other southern European towns do, seems to shut down after a late lunch and come to life again in the early evening. Many restaurants will close after lunch and not open again until 730 in the evening. Dinner is an event in Italy. Everyone dresses up, even the children have sparkles on their sandals. Meals include at least two courses and last until dark. As North Americans, our meal of pizza or pasta was quick by most standards and earlier than usual. The boys had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the time change, so quite often only one would be awake to have dinner with me. Kids in Italy are treated like little adults – they sat at adult size chairs, ate with the same cutlery I did and the only difference was the server would take away their wine glass. The boys didn’t understand why they kept getting two forks!

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Tropea has a few churches and other spots of interest. The tourist office is located in the center of town and provides a map of the town. Many places around town offer day trips to places around the region, or boat trips out to the islands, including an active volcano. All of the tours have the same basic itinerary, but it is worth checking with different places, as some have slightly different pricing. I considered taking one or two of the tours, but the ones that were recommended – where you could see the volcano at night – were long trips and I was worried it would be too long of a day for the boys, although kids were allowed on the tours.

We had a great few days in Tropea. The weather cooperated (I don’t think there’s ever any bad days!) and we only had sun and hot temperatures the entire time. We could have stayed longer, but after the issues we had with our hotels and having to move every day, we were also looking forward to moving on and being able to spend a few days in the same place.

Adventuring as three

And so the adventure begins.

This trip marks a difference in a few ways. Over the past few years, I have traveled a fair bit, although not as often  or as far as I would like. On a few occasions I have traveled with a friend but more often than not, I’ve travelled alone. And I like it! I can do what  I want, when I want and not have to worry if the other person prefers to do something different.

And now, it seems like overnight but  really it’s been three years in the making, I’m done travelling solo and will have my little partners with me. This will change the way I travel and spend my days, but that might a good thing!

Tomorrow we embark on our first family adventure (aside from camping). We chose to go big and are booked on a 9 hour, non stop (but overnight) flight to Italy.

This will definitely be a different type of trip. We decided to go somewhere where there’s a beach for the boys, cobblestones and coffee for mom and some interesting things for all of us to see. But this means packing differently as well. (Think beach things, snacks and toys in addition to the regular clothes.)

And so the adventure begins!

Azores

The Azores are living up to their reputation! People are friendly and the sites are amazing. It’s still relatively inexpensive and like most European cities, the coffee and wine are both inexpensive and plentiful.

The Azores are a group of nine islands in the North Atlantic ocean, roughly 1350km west of Portugal. The largest island, Sao Miguel, is home to most of the population and most of the tourism. I only visited Sao Miguel, although I wish I’d managed to visit some of the other islands, as they’re each unique and becoming more accessible.

Ponta Delgada is the capital and largest city on Sao Miguel. It’s very close to the airport (I think I read somewhere that it’s only 6km from the centre of town. I arrived on a Sunday and forgot how a lot of places still close down on Sundays, especially when it’s not high tourism season. It looked like a ghost town!

You can see the Portuguese influence in Ponta Delgada, with the narrow streets and patterns in the cobblestones. It always amazes me how cars can navigate these narrow streets, barely missing the parked cars on one side and pedestrians pushed up the side of the buildings on the other side.

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One thing you notice in Ponta Delgada and around the island, is the whitewash buildings with dark brown trim. It’s striking! (But it makes it hard to tell the churches apart!)

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In the center of town is the large Church of San Sebastian. It was one of the first places I visited and is truly impressive. No pictures allowed on the inside, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s worth stopping in to see! Across from the church is the city’s main gate. The gates used to lead right to the water but were moved when the avenue and pathway were constructed along the water.

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Around town it’s easy to wander the streets, admiring the building and window shopping, or just stopping at a cafe and people watching. If you head towards the east end of town, and have the energy to climb up a bit of a hill (and then more steps!), you’ll find the Mother of God Church. The church itself is worth a visit, but the main reason to visit is the views of the city and surrounding area!  

There is a great path running right along the length of the harbour, perfect for running or strolling and admiring the port. It’s not too busy right now, but I’m sure in the summer it would be packed! On the last day, I discovered a spot towards the end of the port where they’ve made a swimming area. Even in March, there were several people in swimming and exercising!

But if you come to Sao Miguel, you NEED to get outside of the city and see the rest of the island. The Azores are volcanic islands and known for the amazing scenery (and whale watching although I was there at the wrong time of the year to see any whales). I joined a day tour to visit the volcanic crater, as it was the easiest option for me, but you could easily rent a car and tour the island on your own.

First we headed up to the west side of the island, stopping a few times for some photos. We stopped at Lagoa do Empadadas and Lagao do Santiago. Unfortunately the weather started to turn cloudy and overcast. There was lots of fog as we moved higher up. Even with the fog, you could see that the lakes were gorgeous. As we were standing looking at the lake, the fog would blow in and out. One minute you couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead, and then the wind would blow and you could see parts of the lake emerge from the fog. I’m sure on a clear day, the lakes would be stunning!

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And then we arrived at Sete Cidades. The village of Sete Cidades is quite pretty but it is really known the twin crater lakes. The lakes were formed at different times, and there is the possibility of a third lake being formed in the future. On a clear day, the view is amazing! (Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clear day….but still impressive).

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Leaving the west part of the island and heading towards the center, we stopped for lunch and had a traditional Portuguese meal. Bread and cheese to start. First course was a grilled tuna steak, served over a giant slice of yam, alongside “cooked” potato. It was excellent! Then the second course arrived – pork chops with hot pepper sauce and french fries. Salad was also on the table, sliced cabbage and lettuce, with tomato. And of course, wine.

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Then we were off to see Lagoa do Fogo. This is another crater lake in the middle of the island. Here though, the area is protected so no one is allowed to build or live in the area. We managed to arrive at the top just in time for a great view. Very windy and pretty chilly but amazing view.

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Furnas is also worth a stop. It’s the other hot spot in the island. Alongside Lake Furnas are several spots where the steam escapes from the ground and bubbles up. Local families and restaurants actually cook their meals underground! They bury a big pot loaded with veggies, meat and blood sausage and let it cook underground for several hours. Around noon, they come and pull out the pot and serve it for lunch! After walking around the lake and village, which has more geysers, we tried some of the natural hot water – it tastes like iron! We went to a restaurant in town (which is by reservation only in the summer) and had the lunch which was cooked underground. I even tried the blood sausage!

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After our lunch, we headed to Terra Nostra Natural park and enjoyed a soak in the hot springs – a big pool that looks like a mud bath but is SO nice. After a long soak, I walked around the park for a bit. You could easily spend more time here.

We headed up to the north coast to visit Gorreana Tea Factory – the only tea plantation in Europe. The views along the north coast are amazing!

Back in Ponta Delgada, there are a few must-see spots. Did you know there’s a pineapple plantation? It’s free to visit and they do an excellent job of explaining how pineapple grows (I didn’t know it takes up to 24 months!). The market in Ponta Delgada is also worth a visit. It operates year round and has lots of fruits and veggies – pineapple too! – along with fish, plants and flowers, jams and hot sauces.

Also worth a stop is Antonio Borges garden. A botanical garden, right in the middle of the city. I stopped in for a visit several times while I was there.

Although it wasn’t the warmest weather when I visited, the temperature is pretty moderate throughout the winter. Apparently I had the worst weather they’d seen all winter. The summer would be beautiful – hot weather and all flowers in full bloom. I think I will definitely be back!

Getting there and away: There are no buses from the airport to the city. Taxis charge a flat rate of 9 euro one way. Most hotels offer a shuttle service, which is usually cheaper than the taxi. As it’s a smaller airport, you don’t need to be there any earlier than 1.5 hours before your flight. There is a small cafe on either side of security and a few shops but not much else to do (other than free wifi) while you’re waiting for your flight. (My flight was delayed over 2.5 hours which made for a LONG wait).

Sarajevo

Sarajevo. Sair-RhEV-o. Literally it means the valley of the castle. It was settled by the Ottomans in the 15th century  (so pretty new by European standards), ruled by them until the end of the 19th century – so as a result,  there’s alot of Turkish words, even though it’s a Slavic language. Then the Austro-Hungarian’s conquered them, bringing the European influence and among other things, electric trams (which they are very proud of! ).

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In the morning,  I joined a walking tour (they’re really good!) and we saw some of the major sites – a few of the churches and the spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.  Also a bit of history and perspective from a local. Guidebooks often call Sarajevo the Jerusalem of the west. When you see the different types of churches,  all within a short distance of each other, and see how the different cultures and religions have got along so well over the centuries,  it’s easy to see how the city got the nickname!

Within a short walk of each other are the Cathedral, the Orthodox church, the mosque and the synagogue. (As I’ve never been inside a mosque, I thought it was interesting that you could enter this one if you were properly covered). It’s really interesting to are how everybody works and lives together,  accepting each other no matter their religion.

We also heard a lot about the siege of Sarajevo. Although I’d known a bit about the Balkan war before I came,  I have to admit I was very ignorant of the extent of the war. It’s hard to imagine a city being under siege for 44 months.  Constantly being shelled and hit by snipers. And then 20 years later, moving past that (but not forgetting), rebuilding (some parts) and becoming the town it is today! It’s honestly hard to process. (Which is why it’s taken me this long to write this post).

After the walking tour, I wandered around the Old Town. It’s very touristy, but still has this really neat old vibe to it. Lots of souvenir shops, mixed in with the fast food cevapi and pastry shops. Bosnians love their pastry.

The next morning I joined another walking tour – wasn’t planning to but glad I did! This one was led by another local who was pretty open and told us a fair bit about living through the siege (even though this was the history tour and not the Balkan war one). We walked across to the other side of the river and did most of the tour on that side (which was the original “old town”). We also saw the brewery and heard how it was so important during the siege.  It has a natural underground spring so when the Serbs surrounded the city and cut the water supply, the residents were still able to get fresh water from the brewery. We saw a few buildings that had plaques on the side, listing the names of men who had lost their lives in the war. We ended the tour at the original first road, the road to Istanbul. Part of it is still in use, but wow is it steep! Most of the roads are, once you get away from the city center. Add cobblestones to that, and it’s slippery! I can just imagine how it is in the winter!

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After lunch I had signed up for yet another tour – this one was to the Tunnel of Hope and the Olympic Bobsled. Really, I wanted to see the bobsled, and was prepared to do the 2 hour hike to get to the top, but had heard some people say they had been mugged in the way. Being a single female, I decided to pay for a tour…safer option. And yep, after driving up that mountain, I’m glad I had a ride! For me, this was the highlight of the day. I’d seen a picture of the abandoned bobsled track a few years ago, and that’s what put Sarajevo on my radar of places to see. (Not specifically the bobsled track, but the fact that shortly after the Olympics, the war had caused such damage and things had fallen into neglect and been abandoned, but the people were still surviving, trying to overcome and rebuild). So for me, being able to walk the bobsled track was a highlight!

 

And the Tunnel of Hope tour – not to be missed. It wasn’t something I would have done on my own, but was part of the tour, so why not. After hearing our guide this morning talk about living through the siege,  I was interested seeing the tunnel. The house where the tunnel started is still standing and the owners have turned it over to the government to become a sort of museum. You can walk part of the tunnel and see how hard they worked to be able to get things into the city. Absolutely impressive.

When I decided to come to Sarajevo, I had plans of walking around an old city, seeing the architecture and market and a bit of the Bosnian scenery. No way was I prepared for the history that is an integral part of the city.  Definitely a must, if you’re in this part of the world.

(And watch the sunset from the Yellow Fortress).

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Mostar

Off on a bus again today, but…like yesterday, the scenery made the journey absolutely worthwhile!  I’d hoped to take the train as I’d heard that was great too (and half the price) but it only went twice a day – 7am, which I’d missed, and 4pm, which wouldn’t give me any time to see anything. So bus it was.

Bosnia is more mountainous than I’d thought. Single lane roads cling to the side of the mountain edge, going through villages and opening up to this incredible mountain view! We followed a river for awhile, then up higher into the mountains, lots of greenery (even hitting our bus at some points).  It was like you were in the Alps, but with the white houses and red roofs of the Mediterranean.  I took way too many pictures. ☺

And then the bus pulled up to the Mostar station.  Nothing too special yet.  I walked into town (they suggested a bus but it was maybe 15 mins!). I stopped at a few places but then decided to head over to the bridge, which was why I came….why everybody comes. And wow.  Lots of tourists!  You could tell when you were getting closer because of the masses of people and how hard it was to get down the tiny cobbled streets.

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Being a tourist myself, I took quite a few photos.  And then as I was sitting enjoying the sun, I saw one of the divers getting ready to jump. It’d a pretty high jump to do! They get ready, try to drum up some support and collect some money and when they feel they have enough, the diver finally jumps.

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The bridge itself is amazing. Very pretty. But also amazing to think that it was destroyed during the Balkan war and was rebuilt with the help of the EU countries. (Throughout town there are plaques stating which country contributes to help rebuilt certain buildings or sites). But back to the bridge. It was built in 1566 and lasted even throughout WWII, only to be destroyed in 1993 during the Balkan war. (All of the bridges and all but one of the mosques were destroyed in that war). But what’s amazing,  is that when it was rebuilt, they used the original techniques and stone from the original quarries.  Can you imagine the time and effort it must have taken to rebuild not only that bridge, but the rest of the numerous bridges and other places in town? But not all has been rebuilt. Walking around, you can still see many buildings left as a reminder of the ear.  Many buildings have holes in them from the snipers, others are missing giant chunks. It’s sobering to see but also inspiring to see that these people can overcome it and go on with their lives.

 

The town is small, very touristy but still a must-see. I wish I’d been able to stay overnight as I’ve heard the views of the bridge at sunset are fantastic.  But back on the bus and (3 hrs later!) back in Sarajevo. Think I’m done with the bus for awhile….

 

On the way to Sarajevo

As reluctant as I was to leave Belgrade, I was pretty excited to see Sarajevo! (That was the inspiration for this trip from the start). And as much as a 7 hour bus ride wasn’t sounding too exciting,  I’d heard that there was some pretty amazing scenery.  And…I was sort of looking forward to being off of my feet for a day (I’ve walked 10+ hours the last few days and logged over 3500 steps in a half day before I gave up with the pedometer).

So. The bus pulled up and I was a little surprised to see the small, tour type bus. But that was a good thing! Turned out there was no a/c and no windows to open. The digital sign at the front would flash the time, then the outside and inside temperature, which were less than a degree different. But that’s part of the adventure.

Once we passed out of Belgrade,  the scenery became mostly farms. And vendors with giant carts of watermelons on the side of the road.  Huge field alternating between corn,  watermelon  (maybe squash and cabbage too? ) and sunflower fields!

We started to climb into the mountains,  lots of greenery,  little villages popping up amid the pines and then some awesome views! Hard to get pictures from the bus (I was on the wrong side for most of them) but wow!

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Then we entered a town, turned a corner and there was the border.  Not a long wait at all, and got another stamp! Off we went,  higher into the mountains. The road twisted and climbed up the mountains. …and just narrow 2 lane roads. It seemed the level out a bit and we finally stopped for a quick break (5 hours in though! ). Nice to sit in this field, in the mountains in Bosnia….I could get used to that! After a quick break we were back on the road and starting to come down from the mountains.  Passed through lots of tunnels cut right into the side of the mountain. I honestly can’t describe the scenery – it felt you were actually in the Alps or somewhere other than Bosnia!

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And then we began to enter Sarajevo. I honestly had no idea it was so large! The first view is from the side of the mountain and all you can see in every direction is house tops with the occasional church popping up. Breathtaking. I’ll leave the rest for a longer post on Sarajevo.  First thoughts though: think Jerusalem mixed with Belgrade.

Novi Sad

I’ve got a new love. Novi Sad.

About an hour and a half north of Belgrade, the second largest city in Serbia and famous for hosting the Exit music festival.  And an amazing fortress.

First off, I loved taking the train there. I miss European trains.  And the old-style train platforms (and of course, the big clock!). But then arriving in Novi Sad and walking out of the train station, you were met with modern day. New buildings, busy streets. Only a short walk (15 min? ) down the street brings you right to the Old Town.  There’s lots of smaller, narrow streets.  And of course a few churches with big towers (clocks there too), and a town square.

 

But I’d come to see the Fortress, so I continued across the river and up all the steps to the Fortress.  What an amazing view from the top! You can walk all along the top perimeter of the Fortress  (there’s are few restaurants as well) and see how far the other (not as intact) walls stretch.

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I headed back across the river and into the old Town where I wandered for a few hours. Whereas Belgrade reminded me of Zagreb (right down the “the horse”), Novi Sad has a different feel. More like a mix of Krakow and Prague. Definitely on a recommend-to-see list!

Belgrade

What a city! Honestly, this is one of my top cities to visit. It’s an amazing mix of new and old, European and other influences, urban and natural spaces all in one city.

I spent the morning doing a 20th century walking tour. Starting at “the horse”, we walked down and saw the first skyscraper in Serbis (only 12 floors, but hey, it was 1931), the Moscow Hotel – a littlw hiatory in the ties with Ruasia, the National assembly, the City Assembly and St.Marks Church. All amazing buildings. Then we veered off the main street and walked through some residential areas, passing the Nikola Tesla museum and ending up at St.Sava temple. It’s the biggest Orthodox temple in Serbia and the second biggest in the world. But, not finished yet. Still amazing to see.

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After lunch I headed out to explore a bit on my own. Walked along the river where they have nightclubs on the boats, then back to the Fortress to explore some more. It’s amazing to think how old these walls are!)

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Back to the Old Town and Knez Mihailova, which is a pedestrian only street. Lots of shops, cafes and people watching opportunities. I picked up some snacks for dinner and headed back over to the walls of the Fortress to watch the sun set over the river. (Pictures do NOT do not justice).

Once the sun goes down, the city almost comes alive again. Cafes and patios are full, there’s performers in the street,  music playing everywhere,  vendors selling ice cream or corn on the cob and lots of families out for an evening walk. It felt really safe to be out after dark – and how many cities can you say that about?