Europe

Hiking Dragash, Kosovo: Brod to Mount Cule

Mountain shepherds, enormous Sharri Dogs, free roaming horses, pristine babbling streams and dramatic mountains are just a small taste of what awaits you in Dragash.  “I’ve lived in Kosovo for 9 months and I had no idea there was anything this beautiful,” said a friend as we stood in the middle of a wind swept mountain pass barely an hours walk from the road.  Unfortunately, comments like this are all too common. This one was made by a woman who lived just a 30 minutes drive from where I led a small group on a hike through the sharp green Sharri Mountains in Dragash Municipality. Located in the southern end of Kosovo, Dragash is an oasis of untouched natural beauty and traditional villages sandwiched between the borders of Macedonia and Albania. Ignored by the Yugoslav government, the area never received development money for tourism despite its wealth of flora, fauna Read full article…

Visual Guide to Istanbul’s Must See Sites

  Ancient mosques, underground churches, bustling markets, crowded modern shopping streets, vibrant spices, KEBAB (yum!), and the boundary between Europe and Asia. Istanbul has it all and so much more. It is impossible to fully describe the vibe of this culturally wealthy city. As you wonder the streets centuries pass in a matter of steps, wheeling sea birds break up a skyline of minarets as the devout are called to prayer, a vast modern public transportation system shuttles shoppers, tourists and workers to the city’s amazingly distinct areas. Hawkers yell in the streets competing for attention and Turkish Lira. Rarely do I fall instantly in love with a place but Istanbul proved the exception. The sites, sounds, smells, people and culture touched something deep inside my chaotic nature. Rather than ruin the magic of the city with my words, I present a photo and video journey through the streets and Read full article…

Kotor, Montenegro: undiscovered natural beauty and history

The medieval town of Kotor, Montenegro sits at the end of a placid bay that cuts deep into the surrounding limestone mountains. Often called the southernmost fjord in Europe, it is actually a submerged river canyon. Once you arrive in Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll have to catch your breath before you can attempt to name the majestic scenery surrounding you. You’ll be surprised that more people haven’t discovered it. No matter where you look your senses are overwhelmed by either the natural beauty of the area and the depth of history from which the Venetian influenced town has emerged. While tourists flock to the nearby, cheesy and overdeveloped town of Budva to party throughout the summer, Kotor has managed to maintain a sense of history and tradition. There is still a nightlife to be found as delicious restaurants dot the bay’s shores and a few nightclubs rock the old town’s Read full article…

Hiking in Letnica, Kosovo: A Black Madonna, abandoned villages and the old Croat miller

The road ends at the small Kosovar village of Letnica on the border with Macedonia. The white church of the Black Madonna watches over the town from a small hill. The large church only magnifies the empty feeling of the town where only about 100 people are left. Dirt roads snake into the town in between dilapidated stone houses. Despite the abandoned air the town is surrounded by forested rolling hills, giving the area a peaceful feel. The twittering of songbirds floated through the air as we climbed the small hill to the church. If the town was ever to have a crowd we found it as four men sat outside the church socializing and taking in the surrounding views. A middle aged man reeking of raki (the Kosovar equivalent to Italian grappa) shadowed us the whole way, pleading for money and trying to be best friends the way only Read full article…

Bansko- Bargain Basement of Bulgarian Skiing

Exhausted from an eight hour bus ride that spanned three countries, we pressed the reception desk at our hotel for an answer. “It’s after midnight, our kitchen is closed.” “What about other restaurants nearby?” “Walk done the road, you might find something open. We are located in the center of town.” Wow, that was unhelpful. The swank interior decorating of bright reds set on black and futuristic minimalistic Japanese inspired lines of the hotel lobby highlighted the staff’s unwillingness to get his image dirty with useful answers. This didn’t bode well for our stay. Luckily we were rescued by a perky eyed staff member who replaced her manager. We were pointed in the direction of a local tavern, one of many, and welcomed despite the late hour. That’s Bansko, a bit rough around the edges but friendly and accommodating at its center. And for those who want to stretch their Read full article…

Kosovar and Serbian Border Crossing: what you need to know

I handed my passport to the Serbian police officer. He scowled, not from the encroaching cold, but because I was American and had Kosovo visa stamps. Thankfully, I also had a Serbian entry stamp so there was nothing he could do but waive me through. A few kilometers down a windy country road I reached the Kosovar border checkpoint. Normally when you cross borders you only have to worry about a valid passport (don’t forget it needs to be good for at least 6 months), and your visa. With Kosovo and Serbia things get a bit more complicated. There is an ambiguous international legal rational for Kosovo; a battle in the Security Council between the US, Russia and China over sovereignty and self-determination; a unilateral declaration of Independence by the Kosovar Government (supported by 65 countries in the world, but not the UN); and the blanket denial of that independence Read full article…

Behind a NATO checkpoint: Kosovo’s Visoki Decani Monastery

Handing over our passports to the Italian NATO troops we waited in the crisp winter air to enter. The secluded canyon exuded peace and tranquility, at odds with the tank barriers, sandbag bunkers and matching barb wire. We weren’t crossing a boarder, or even trying to enter a military base. We were there to visit Visoki Decani Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site and probably the best preserved medieval church in the Balkans. Nestled in the embrace of western Kosovo’s Decan Canyon, surrounded by grapevines, chestnut trees and bucolic pastures the abbey is a lovely two hours drive from the capital Pristina. Ten years since NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and accompanying peacekeepers, tensions are still evident between  Serbians and Albanian Kosovars. Many of the Serbian cultural heritage sites have a NATO protection force camped on the perimeters. However, at Decani tensions are much lower and it offers a model of Read full article…

Skiing the Four Passes in the Italian Dolomites

Fifty US dollars doesn’t get you much these days, but in the Italian Dolomites it buys 650 miles of downhill trails, and 464 modern ski lifts leading to and from about 40 facilities and through eight charming mountain villages. All this and one of the most spectacular mountain settings in the world. Don’t trust me? Well, UNESCO agrees, and it was named a World Heritage Site in 2009. Set in Italy’s Southern Tyrol region, where German is heard more often than Italian, the Dolomites’ charm bursts into colorful splendor when the twisting rocky peaks turn soft pink during sunrise and burning red at sunset. The ideal setting during any season, winter time sees some of the best skiing in Europe. After a trip to Venice, we drove up into the Dolomites and made the quaint village of San Cassiano our base to ski the region. And I do mean ski Read full article…

An Underwater Tour of Venice, Italy

I faced my dive buddy for a final check as our boat approached the Renaissance city of Venice. Weight belt on, air open, B.C.D. working….we gave each other the final OK symbol, not the thumbs up of course. We weren’t amateurs, this wasn’t our first trip after all, we were ready. We even checked the news that morning before we left, which of course was our downfall. “Venice is underwater” the swanky Italian host informed us. “Dress appropriately,” he advised with a wink. I was taken in by his professional nature and shinny suit.  We stepped off the water taxi, not onto the worn cobble stone streets of lore, but raised platforms sagging with tourists from far flung reaches of the globe. Underwater indeed! We were over dressed! Without the benefit of galoshes the fancier hotels supply, we were left to battle our way through the crowded back alleyways and Read full article…

Vienna Walk About

In November I stopped by imperially romantic Vienna, Austria for two days on my way to a consulting job in Sri Lanka. The holiday season was just starting and the city was awash in Christmas lights and markets selling spiced wine, dried meats and just about any type of cheese you could ask for. Vienna has so much history that it is a challenge to tackle the city in the short time I had. I was assaulted with recommendations by friends, guidebooks and internet sites about what I had to see. However, unlike other cities, I felt no pressure to spend my days locked in old palaces and in quite museums (although you would not be wasting your time if you did.) Instead, I spent my days walking the medieval city streets, exploring the architecture and fabulous statues, and of course drinking glühwein, spiced wine, at every Christmas market I Read full article…

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