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  • Writer's pictureGrace Rector

Balkans Trip! (June 29 - July 7)

My boss informed me at 4pm on Friday that we would have vacation the next week, so I did not need to come in for work. I had already been planning weekend trips to various countries, so this was my chance to visit all the places that I wanted to. At 5pm that day, I went to a nearby coffee shop for 4 hours to plan all the bus tickets, hostel reservations, and anything else I might need because all tickets need to be printed in the Balkans. This was my tentative plan:

I left the next morning at 6am and arrived in Belgrade at 2pm. First I checked into my hostel Beogradjanka and the staff was incredible. I went to Mala Fabrika Ukusa for the 2nd best meal of my life (After the Bazaar in LA). My Georgetown friend from Belgrade recommended it, and he was right to recommend it. I then walked to the Temple of Saint Sava and lit a candle for my family. Afterwards I walked to the fortress for the sunset and it was spectacular. The view was breathtaking.

My favorite part about traveling alone is the people you meet along the way. I saw a guy sitting alone and decided to start up a conversation. He and I turned out to be traveling to similar places and we shared an interest in youth education. We spent the night exploring Belgrade and met other travelers along the way! This group of fantastic people made my time in Belgrade so spectacular.

My second day there, I went to Ada Ciganlija, a manmade lake that locals go to, and the water was perfect. I went with a French girl that I met in my hostel and we spent the day talking about our different cultures and how traveling can really broaden one's horizon.

In the afternoon, we went back to the hostel and spoke with the hostel owner who only spoke Serbian. After only three weeks of Bosnian classes I was able to have a full conversation with her because the languages are very similar. She shared traditional cheese burek with us and made us traditional Serbian coffee. Coffee is such a beautiful way to bring people together, and even though I couldn't understand every word she said, I could tell that she appreciated me trying.

Later we went to the House of Flowers, where Tito is buried, and it was a beautiful memorial of history. In the evening we had a Georgetown reunion in which I met my Serbian friend that also studies at Georgetown.

July 1 - July 2

Today I explored Sofia, Bulgaria. I stayed at a huge hostel called Hostel Mostel which offered two free meals a day and which housed up to 200 travelers! I went on a free walking tour and enjoyed learning about the complex and long history of the city. I had no idea that the city had so much history, but I am grateful to my brilliant tour guide for educating me. In the evening I enjoyed a free meal at the hostel and had interesting conversations with travelers around me. I love learning about other travelers' experiences and understanding what they hope to gain from exploring the world. At night I met up with a friend of my friend from Bosnia - the world is such a small place.

My second day in Sofia I went to visit Boyana church that was made in 1490s. Afterwards I went to lunch with a Brazilian couple that I met on the bus from Belgrade to Sofia that is now living in Sofia!

July 2 - July 3

I arrived in Skopje, Macedonia in the evening and visited the famous Old Town Brewery to enjoy some live music. I started laughing when the band played a version of "Hotel California;" they sang "Welcome to the Old Town Macedonia!"

My second day there I went on a city tour and saw the thousands of statues that make Skopje well known nowadays. There is controversy that their president likes to steal well-known landmarks from other European cities and put a copy of them in Skopje. The tour was very nice and it was a great introduction to the city. Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, so they had a beautiful memorial for her in the city center. After the tour, two British women one Dutch man, and I shared food and discussion about world politics for hours - until I had to run and catch my bus.

July 4-5

I took an overnight bus from Skopje, Macedonia to Tirana, Albania, and let's just say I got 0 sleep, but it was my fault because I am a social person. I sat on the bus and began talking to an American guy and two Albanian men. We had such a great conversation and talked on the bus from 9pm until 2am when we stopped for "breakfast." I had no money so one of the Albanian men kindly offered to buy me breakfast so I would get off the bus and share a meal with them. Their "breakfast" at 2am include three massive scoops of rice, meat, and yogurt . . . they finished their dishes but I could not manage. Upon our arrival in Skopje, I checked into my hostel then went to visit BunkArt Museum 1. This was one of the most amazing museums that I have ever visited because they turned one of the biggest bunkers in TIrana from the war into a museum. Each room was furnished with images and videos. There were sound effects throughout the exhibit which made it terrifying, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In one area you could even simulate a mustard gas attack by pushing a button and then the hazard alarms came on and smoke filled the room.

Later in the day I went on a city walking tour on which I met some interesting people in addition to learning about the fascinating history of Albania.

At night I realized it was the 4th of July when a fellow American reminded me, and we played the national anthem from the speaker in my phone while the European travelers laughed at us.

July 6-7

I took a 7 hour bus from Tirana, Albania to Kotor, Montenegro and on the bus I met a nice guy from the UK. We exchanged travel stories and went out separate ways. I love being spontaneous, and this energy is proved by my decision to go on the 3pm boat trip at my hostel when I arrived at 2:36pm. This boat cruise was 3 hours long and was one of the most beautiful boat rides that I have ever experienced. We went swimming in water that was perfectly warm, and along the trip I made friends from all over the world: Argentina, Norway, England, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Mexico, Scotland, and more!

Afterwards, I walked around the old town a bit and took in the sites.

July 8-9

I spent the day in Podstrana, Croatia with my best friend that I met in Bosnian classes. She and I rented an AirBnb on the water and went swimming in the gorgeous water all day long. We drove to Split in the evening for some dinner, then I took a 6 hour bus ride home to Sarajevo for work the next day!

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