I’ll admit I knew absolutely nothing about the Republic of Macedonia (Republika Makedonija with a hard “k”, not a soft “c”) before coming. Well, other than the fact that Greece disputes their name, causing them to be admitted into the UN under the clunky provisional reference name of “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (“FYROM” for short, pronounced like “fee-rom”), over the claim that most of ancient Macedon lies in current Greece. Oh, and I knew Macedonia’s flag – unique in design, one of my favourites around cause looking at it just makes me happy.
But I came here because of my Schengen area restriction. As a Canadian, I’m only allowed to travel in the Schengen area (the shared customs zone that encompasses much of Europe, where you can cross borders without having your passport checked) for 90 days within a 180 day period. There is no option to extend this short of applying for school or residency. With Sweden now on my itinerary as well as promises to meet people in France and Spain, all of which would use up the rest of my allowance, I needed to stay outside of the Schengen zone for at least a few weeks. Turkey was supposed to be my remedy for this, but with no desire to stay there, I opted to head to a nearby non-Schengen country. Back in Israel, Bernhard suggested Macedonia…so here I am! Continue reading
Okay, so I kinda lied at the end of my last entry. I had a five hour layover in Rīga, Latvia between Tallinn and Tel Aviv, Israel, and decided to take the opportunity to blitz through the old town. With the city about 40 minutes away from the airport by bus though, time was tight.
I certainly didn’t make it easy for myself by getting lost immediately after stepping off the bus. Turns out I had taken it too far – but no one told me where the old town was! There were hardly any directional signs either, like there were in Tallinn – and the ones that were there were all in Latvian. (Despite the proximity of Estonia and Latvia, and the fact that they are both tiny countries, their languages have absolutely nothing in common.) Continue reading
Given my previous and next destinations, this detour definitely seems a bit offbeat, eh? Plus, I’ve been to Tallinn before on my most recent past visit to Europe, with my family on a cruise/group tour. So why visit again? Well hey, like the rest of most of this trip, a friend (Kaarel, also from my time at NUS) invited me, why else? And even though it’s far…why not? 🙂 It certainly doesn’t hurt that flights aren’t too expensive.
From my impression, it seems that most visitors to Estonia only visit Tallinn (just as I had done previously, around 9 years ago now), which is a shame, because while Tallinn’s famous medieval old town (Vanalinn) is immaculate and really unlike anything else out there, there are so many other sides to this small country that I’m at a bit of a loss how to describe it concisely. Continue reading
For those following along on the map, this is where my trip stops making sense, at least in terms of an intuitive route.
I had five days in Berlin to visit some very good friends of mine from NUS – Johannes, my amazing roommate, who is actually from Berlin, and Peter and Andrea, who are both not from Berlin but are great friends that I travelled with several times. This was really the only reason I came, but hey, it’s Berlin! With Johannes busy with exams, Peter busy with a project, and Andrea coming a few days late but taking slow trains from southern Germany for 12 hours just to see me, I had plenty of time to explore the city – although Johannes gave me a quick but wide-covering tour on my first night alone. Continue reading
Most people head from Dubrovnik to either Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) or Kotor, Montenegro as one- or two-day side trips. Looking for something different from the coast, I opted for the former, and Anthony joined me. Mostar is most famous for its enormous bridge (just look at the pictures) and its scenic old town. Most tourists come by from Dubrovnik just for an hour or two, snap a few pictures of the bridge, then head back, but we opted to stay for two nights. When I told the friendly but English-impaired hostel owner in Dubrovnik of my plans, he shook his head. “Ohhh. Noooo. Al-Qaeda.” Whaa?
Anyway, we headed to Mostar by bus, which took about 4 hours, multiple border crossings (Croatia has the entire coast except for this little 16 km stretch that belongs to BiH) no passport stamps, and some incredible scenery. The Dalmatian coast is stunning, but heading inland into BiH, the scenery turns into green green green mountains and settlements scattered around valleys. The style of the houses changed a lot more too, and things were admittedly a little more run-down, in stark contrast to all the resorts we were driving past in Croatia. Continue reading
Dubrovnik is the one city that’s been on my bucket list for awhile, ever since I saw it featured on the Amazing Race about five years ago. It’s clearly the big kahuna of Dalmatia, possibly all of Croatia – its old town is a giant fortress set on azure waters. It’s the most touristy of the lot and full of giant-cruise-ship passengers, but still incredible to walk around.
Also, incredibly hot at this time of year.
And there was some cafe just through a hole in the city wall where people were jumping off a 10-12 metre cliff into that beautiful water… Continue reading
Hvar and Korčula, Croatia
Croatia has been a lot more expensive than I thought it would be. It certainly doesn’t help that I’m going to some very touristy places at the peak of high season. In fact, this has been the most difficult country for me in the last 6 months in terms of finding accommodation. Dorm rooms are scarce, and often far out of town, though apartments can be found. It’s just not really meant for solo budget travellers, since it’s a bit of a rich person’s paradise here!
But with such a beautiful place, I can’t just give up because it costs a few euros more. Croatia is one of the few countries on my itinerary solely because I want to go see it, not because I have friends there. The country’s large and I only have ten days though, so it’ll just be the Dalmatian coast for now. Continue reading
In Vienna, I met up with Bernhard. Surreal enough that I’m seeing another NUS friend outside of Singapore. But it turns out that wasn’t the only familiar face around!
A couple days prior, I caught up online with Anthony, a high school friend in Vancouver. Pretty much a day later, he showed up in Vienna, ready to embark on a Europe trip of his own. And who did he meet in his hostel? Percy, another high school friend of ours who happened to be travelling Europe. Hadn’t seen him in years! Continue reading
Salzburg and Hallstatt, Austria
After three consecutive countries that I’ve been to before, it’s time for a new one – Austria! With two days before meeting Bernhard in Vienna, I made a snap decision to spend a night in Salzburg first.
Aaaand pretty much the moment I stepped into the old town, things started looking a wee bit familiar – an obvious fact that I had completely forgotten about. A certain movie from the 60s, maybe?
Well, the city certainly doesn’t seem shy about its movie past. Special “movie-set” tours are available and advertised everywhere. (Surprisingly though, Bernhard tells me that the movie isn’t famous in Austria.) And even if they don’t advertise… Continue reading
Karlsruhe, Cologne, Stuttgart, and Munich, Germany
Given the sheer number of friends I happen to have in Germany (all from our time in Singapore a year and a half ago!), I dedicated a lot of time here, and left planning to the wind. (Well, sort of – none of the plans I made in advance came to fruition.) To be honest, I didn’t expect too much other than hanging out, but I’ve had such a lovely time that it almost hasn’t felt like I’ve been travelling. (And the same feeling was for Paris and Switzerland, but I’ve spent almost two weeks in Germany now!)
After taking a mitfahrgelegenheit (a paid carpool of sorts, interesting cause you’re stuck in a car with strangers and end up having pleasant conversations) from near Zurich, I headed to Karlsruhe to meet up with Sabine. My first night in Germany? Heading to a public viewing set up for the Germany/Denmark football match. Also, I had my first beer ever! Yeah, I know that’s pretty hard to believe, but I had never had a beer before coming to Germany this trip. Sabine introduced me to a radler which was pleasant…but since it was my first, I couldn’t quite tell if I liked it yet. Didn’t dislike it though! But this really set the tone for the rest of my stay in Germany – watch football matches (usually in public with a flag-waving crowd), drink beer. Continue reading