Sunday, November 05, 2006

Serbia in Pictures

Over the last week I have continued to edit and upload photos from my most recent trip to the Balkans. I already had quite a few photos of Serbia online, but my Serbia galleries now have many pictures of locations I hadn't visited before, and improved ones (or so I like to think) of some old favourites.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

New photos of Montenegro

I have been busy expanding my Montenegro Galleries with photos taken on my most recent visit in September.

Most of the new photos are from Durmitor National Park in the mountains of northern Montenegro. This is one of the most impressive places I have seen on my travels. The wonderful hiking trails were almost deserted in early September, apart from a few Czech and Polish visitors. Although the mountains appear rather jagged and forbidding at first glance, many of them have relatively smooth slopes on one side. Combined with the high altitude of the resort of Žabljak, this means that it is possible to get to many of the higher peaks in a few hours of surprisingly easy walking. Of course this was in September when there is no snow cover. I had 5 days of clear weather, which apparently is freakishly lucky. (I paid for this luck when I visited Bohinj in Slovenia later in my trip - it rained for three days).

As well as Durmitor, there are also some new photos of Kotor, Ulcinj, and Stari Bar. It was nice to be actually able to get into Stari Bar - on a previous off-season visit I found the place locked.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Michael Palin follows in my footsteps

A fellow blogger has alerted me to the fact that TV traveller Michael Palin is currently working on a series about the "New Europe". Palin and his camera crew have been spotted in various locations in the Balkans and Eastern Europe over the last few months. Most of his previous series have been about places that are unfamiliar to me - I'm looking forward to see what he makes of countries that I have already visited. Hopefully his high profile will help to improve the rather low level of knowledge of many of these countries in the English-speaking world.

Find out more at the Michael Palin's New Europe Unofficial Fan Center.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

At last... photos of Albania

The absence of any photos from Albania has been a gaping hole in my Balkan photo collection for quite a while now. But today that gap has been filled: pictures from my visit to Albania in August are now online.

It was extremely hot in August, often too hot walk around carrying my favourite SLR camera, which was a little frustrating - and sometimes too hot to walk around at all. But the photos I did get will have to do for now.

Next in line is Montenegro - I'll soon have a gallery from the awe-inspiring Durmitor National Park, as well as new pictures from Stari Bar and the Bay of Kotor.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Back from the Balkans

It's been a long time since my last post, but normal service is about to be resumed. I have just returned from another extended trip to the Balkans. Over the next few months there will be extensive changes to Balkanology to reflect my experiences on this trip. At the moment I am working on my first gallery of photos from Albania.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On the way to Albania... and beyond

Over the last few days my plans for another extended trip around the Balkans have started to come together. This time I will be concentrating on the Western Balkans. Next week I will finally visit Albania, the one country in the region that I haven't yet seen. In September I will continue to Montenegro, Serbia, and possibly Macedonia.

Once I return home in October I will get busy uploading new photos and updating Balkanology with proper coverage of Albania (at last) and of whichever other areas I get to visit. In the meantime, though, there won't be any updates to the site.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Treasures of Transylvania

Transylvania is one of my favourite corners of Europe, but until now I hadn't got around to writing much about it for Balkanology. I've put that right with two new pages, one about Brasov and the surrounding area, the other about Sibiu, Cluj, and Sighisoara.

Low cost flights for Serbia ... or not?

Low cost airlines have taken their time about getting involved in the Balkans, and the market has developed at a much slower rate than in countries such as Poland and Slovakia, but things are changing fast.

Or not, if you live in Serbia, which has lagged behind several of its neighbours in this respect. An article in the Southeast European Times this week suggests that things maybe be about to change. Many of the proposed developments seem to still be at a rather theoretical stage, so it remains to be seen whether they will come to fruition. As the article points out, it's not much use being able to fly for 1 dinar if you have a problem getting a visa - which is sadly the case for many Serbians.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Thinking about Thessaloniki, musing about Meteora

Following a visit to Greece earlier this year, I have expanded the Greece section of Balkanology. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was particularly impressed by Thessaloniki, which now has a page of its own. I've also added pages about the Province of Macedonia and the monasteries of Meteora.

New and improved Balkan guidebooks

The guidebook publishers have done quite a lot of juggling of their Southeast European lineup in the last few months. I've updated the Books pages of Balkanology to reflect all the changes mentioned here. (The links below will take you to the relevant page on the Amazon UK site; within Balkanology you will also find links to the corresponding pages on

Perhaps the most interesting development is the release of the second edition of the Bradt Guide to Albania. Revised versions sometimes amount to little more than window dressing, but that's not the case here. The new edition is 50 pages longer and has quite a lot of new material, particularly about hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Even the maps - never a strong point with Bradt - have been improved. Bradt also plan to issue a second edition of their Bosnia and Herzegovina guide this year, but too late for the summer season - a publication date in November has been mentioned.

Over in Serbia, local publishers Komshe have issued the second edition of Serbia in Your Hands. I was pleasantly surprised to find it on sale this week in a shop here in Ireland. It's a very well-produced volume that whets the appetite for exploring the more far-flung corners of Serbia. Don't expect it to have the same level of practical details as the Bradt guide - it tells you about all the places you might want to see but is relatively silent about how to see them. That aside, it's good to see one of the less touristed Balkan countries taking positive steps to encourage travellers. A companion guide to Belgrade is planned for later this year.

Back in the world of mainstream publishers (and mainstream destinations), both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides have issued the 11th editions of their guides to Greece. Lonely Planet has also launched a seried of "Best of" city guides. These are very slim volumes indeed, aimed very much at the short break market. Belgrade, Dubrovnik, and Ljubljana are all covered.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

New flights to Romania with Wizzair

Wizzair this week announced a major expansion of their operations in Romania, with none new routes to Bucharest, Arad, and Targu Mures, including three flights weekly from London to Bucharest's Baneasa Airport (the smaller of the city's two airports). More details here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Northern Albania on the move

When Albanian tourism is promoted abroad (which is not very often), the focus tends to be on the southern part of the country or on the capital Tirana. But some recent developments may encourage more people to visit the north of the country.

Reports on the Thorntree forum suggest that a ferry service is now operating on beautiful Lake Skadar/Shkodra, linking Virpazar in Montenegro with Shkodra in Albania. There are also strong rumours that passenger trains will soon run from Shkodra to Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro - perhaps as early as July of this year. If true, this will end Albania's status as the only Balkan country that you can't get to by train.

Finding information about the region can still be difficult, but things have got a whole lot better with the launch of Shkodra In Your Pocket, a guide to the northern city and the surrounding area. It might just persuade you to stop in Shkodra rather than hop on the first bus to Tirana on arriving from Montenegro. It also has the only clear information I have ever seen about the Komani to Fierze ferry, said to be a scenic highlight of Albania.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

No escape from the Count in Transylvania

The golden rule of writing a travel article about Transylvania seems to be: refer to Dracula in your headline, in your introduction, and at regular intervals within the article. All the better if you can find a real live Count around which to to construct the piece. That's the approach taken in yesterday's Times article "On the trail of Dracula". At the very end of the piece there is an acknowledgement that "the people of Transylvania had never heard of Dracula before 1990, when Bram Stoker’s work was first translated into Romanian".

A while ago I mentioned the Independent's efficient recycling of an article about Dubrovnik; the Times adopts a more subtle approach, recycling items from its competitors. The very same Count Kalnoky featured in both the Telegraph and the Guardian in 2005.

Also in the travel pages recently, the Times includes Dubrovnik and Athens in a piece about summer city breaks, while The Guardian briefly mentions Timisoara. To be exact, it mentions somewhere called "Little Vienna". At least in the online edition, the reader is left to figure out the identity of this city.

A non-Balkan article that caught my eye was the Independent's Complete Guide to Travel Guides. Judging by posts to online travel forums, many guidebook users have unrealistic expectations of how up to date a printed guide is likely to be. The Independent attempts to quantify the typical lag between research and publication, saying that "many guidebook publishers would prefer to update personally their Siberia publication in the middle of winter than answer this question with complete transparency".

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Montenegro plots a tourist future without little old ladies

In an article called The Next Top Destination?, Transitions Online takes a look at the future of tourism in Montenegro. Whether or not Montenegro opts for independence, its economic future will be heavily dependent on how its tourist industry develops. Apparently one in three people is expected to work in tourism by 2010, which seems like a rather frightening dependence on a highly seasonal industry.

Off season in Budva
An international ecotourism organisation is quoted as suggesting that the state "should work on preserving the current state of the environment". Given that "the environment" currently seems to be regarded as a convenient empty place in which to throw all kinds of waste, that sounds like a shockingly unambitious aim.

The same organisation discourages promotion of inland Montenegro as a destination for foreign tourists, saying that the country should "limit itself to offering daytrips into the mountains for foreign tourists staying on the coast during summer". So we can probably expect endless references to the luxury hotel at Sveti Stefan, combined with a continuing lack of practical information about reputedly beautiful places such as Biogradska Gora National Park.

Finally, the article predicts an increase in the number of hotel rooms with a corresponding fall in the availability of private accommodation. I've read similar predictions about Croatia. Are we witnessing the end of that beloved institution of the Adriatic Coast, the "sobe"-renting granny?

At the time of writing the article is in the free section of the Transitions Online site, but it will probably move to the paid section after a while.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dubrovnik: so good they wrote about it twice

The "48 hours in..." series in The Independent regularly explains how to get the most out of a weekend city break. Today's chosen destination is Dubrovnik. Careful readers of Balkanology's "From the Travel Pages" section may experience a sense of deja vu: the same newspaper told us what to do in 48 hours in Dubrovnik only two years ago. The Indy likes to present itself as a supporter of environmental causes - apparently this extends to the recycling of travel articles.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New photos of Greece



In March I spent 12 days travelling in mainland Greece, from Athens to Thessaloniki with stops in Meteora and Mount Pelion. I've now added photos from that trip to my Greece Galleries.

As a travel destination, Greece is often talked about in the context of the Mediterranean world, but for me part of its fascination lies in its links to its Balkan neighbours - well, what did you expect in a blog called Balkanology? These are especially obvious in the province of Macedonia. The Varosi quarter of Edessa and the Barbouta district of Veria have some great examples of Ottoman-era architecture, although sadly some of it is gradually rotting away.

This was my second visit to Thessaloniki and I was even more impressed than on my first visit. In a way it feels like a Southern Balkan counterpart to Belgrade in the north. Like many large cities in the Balkans, it doesn't immediately impress the visitor with its beauty, initially appearing as a collection of bland modern buildings. But you can spend several enjoyable days seeking out the surviving traces of its complex history - Ottoman and Jewish as well as Byzantine.

My enjoyment of Thessaloniki was greatly enhanced by Mark Mazower's Salonika, a fascinating account of the various communities that thrived in the city for hundreds of years, but failed (except for the Greeks) to survive the 20th century. If you want to know why the New Mosque is decorated with Stars of David, or find the villa where a deposed Sultan once lived, I recommend this book.



Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tirana appears on the UK press radar

The recent launch of flights from London to Tirana seems to have awoken British travel journalists to the existence of Albania. In the last week both The Observer and The Times have published articles about the country.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Turkish Airlines flies to 24 new destinations ... including Dublin

Turkish airlines has announced flights from Istanbul to 24 new destinations, including Ljubljana, Belgrade, Venice, and Dublin.

The last of these touches on a topic particularly close to my heart: getting from Ireland to the Balkans. It seems simple but in practice often turns out to be complicated, expensive, or both. The only direct scheduled flights to the region until now have been to Dubrovnik and Ljubljana - both seasonal services. Alternatives usually seem to involve (a) a painfully early start from Dublin (b) a recklessly tight connection at a hub airport, which you may survive but your bags probably won't, or (c) an overnight stay at an extortionately priced hotel near a London airport. The Istanbul flights on Tuesdays and Fridays are a step in the right direction and the advertised prices seem very reasonable. For some reason it doesn't seem to be possible to book online at the moment - I tried the Turkish Airlines site, Gohop, and EBookers without success. Surely they don't expect us to call an actual real-world travel agency?

Monday, March 27, 2006

British Airways flies from London to Albania

British Airways has begun flying three times a week from Gatwick to Tirana, until now one of the few European capitals with no direct link to London. A quick look at their website suggests that many flights in June are available for GBP100 one way including taxes - not exactly Ryanair pricing, but not outrageous for a niche destination. Flights currently operate on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Railway revival in Kosovo and Macedonia

After a six-year break, Skopje and Pristina are once again linked by a passenger rail service. According to a report in the Southeast European Times, there will be two daily services in each direction.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A new image for Bosnian Tourism

The Tourist Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina has recently overhauled its website. As well as a significant improvement in the information available, there is another sign of progress: for the first time information about destinations in Republika Srpska is included. The site has a good mix of attractive photos and practical information, and is well worth a look if you are thinking of visiting BiH.

Lonely Planet publishes Western Balkans Guide

The Western Balkans (the former Yugoslavia plus Albania) has received rather patchy coverage from guidebooks. The rapid assimiliation of Croatia and Slovenia into the tourist mainstream has been accompanied by the publication of a wide variety of guides, but the other states in the region have had to be content with brief chapters in larger guides, plus the pioneering but uneven Bradt Guides to individual countries.

Lonely Planet's new Western Balkans guide aims to fill in some of the gaps. It will be convenient for people visiting several countries in the region, but for several of those countries the material is not a huge improvement on the existing Eastern Europe guide. See the Books page for more.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

An Introduction to the Balkanology Blog

It seems like everyone who has a web site these days feels the need to have a blog as well. I was always a sucker for peer pressure, so I am no exception. I will be using this blog to keep you informed of additions to Balkanology. I'll also mention items of travel news relevant to the Balkans as they come to my attention.