Saturday, June 30, 2007

Bridge on the Drina added to UNESCO World Heritage List

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge at Višegrad in Bosnia is one of 22 new sites inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The bridge, which inspired the novel "The Bridge over the Drina" by Ivo Andric, is said to represent "the apogee of Ottoman monumental architecture and civil engineering". It's the second Bosnian bridge to be included - the bridge at Mostar (along with the surrounding old town) is already listed.

The list of new sites includes two other Balkan locations. The Old Town of Corfu is described as "a fortified Mediterranean port ... notable for its high level of integrity and authenticity", while the Roman site at Gamzigrad-Romuliana in eastern Serbia makes the list thanks to its "unique testimony of the Roman building tradition marked by the ideology of the period of the Second Tetrachy".

As it happens I haven't been to any of these three sites - clearly I need to travel some more in the Balkans.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Prince Charles leads the UK travel press to Transylvania

Today's Independent features an unusually long article about travel in Romania. In "Once Bitten, Twice Smitten", Simon Calder travels across the country by train (on some of the slowest "express" trains in Europe) and hitch-hiking (he nominates Romania as the second-best country in Europe for this form of travel). On the way he reminisces about his previous visit in the 1980s, when Romania was a far scarier place than it is now.

One of the places Calder visits is the village of Viscri in Transylvania. Oddly enough, a travel writer for the Guardian reported from Viscri only six weeks ago. No doubt Viscri is an interesting and picturesque village, but there are many such villages in Transylvania. Why would two British newspapers just happen to converge on this particular one? It's all down to Prince Charles, apparently. He has visited Viscri, spouted some guff about how it represents the primeval past buried deep within all of us (or something along those lines), and bought a property there. Cue sudden interest in the English press.

The Montenegrin Coast:: 22nd best thing in the world?

Rough Guides are celebrating their 25th anniversary by publishing "25s", a series of 25 books, each of which suggest 25 inspirational travel experiences.

Now they are have chosen the "ultimate" experience from each of the 25 books. The chosen candidate to represent Eastern Europe is the coast of Montenegro - no arguments from me there. Rough Guides are asking for votes for the "ultimate ultimate" experience. At the moment Montenegro is languishing in 22nd place, but I confidently expect the votes of Balkanology's readership to send it surging up the chart to ... well, perhaps to 21st place.

Aer Lingus to fly fom Dublin to Bucharest

Today's news is actually about a month old, but I missed it when I was travelling. The subject of flights from Ireland to the Balkans is probably of interest to only a small minority of readers, but it is close to my heart. So I was delighted to hear that Aer Lingus has announced a new route from Dublin to Bucharest. Flights will start on October 30 and operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays. One-way flights are currently available for less than 70 euro including taxes and charges - which certainly beats trying to piece together connecting flights via Central Europe.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Guidebook news: Belgrade, Kosovo, and more

From Serbia news reaches me of a new entrant in a surprisingly crowded field: city guides to Belgrade. How to Conquer Belgrade is a locally produced guidebook that aims to provide visitors with an insider's view of the city, taking an honest and wryly humorous look at Serbia's idiosyncractic capital. In addition to the usual descriptions of monuments and museums, you can find out about the best songs to request from a Roma brass band, which cafes are frequented by girls who like books, and which part of the stadium you should sit in at a Red Star home game. The guide comes with a separate map of the city, and is available in six languages.

Another new city guide is the Bradt Mini Guide to Zagreb. Croatia's capital is often overshadowed by the more obvious attractions of the coast, so it's nice to see it getting a guidebook if its own. Bradt have also published new editions of their guides to Croatia and Dubrovnik.

Lonely Planet have also been updating their range of single-country guides. The 4th edition of Romania and Moldova is still, as far as I know, the only guidebook with any kind of decent coverage of Moldova. Although I prefer the Rough Guide to Romania, right now LP is considerably more up to date - hopefully Rough Guides will follow suit with a new edition soon. Meanwhile Lonely Planet Slovenia has moved on to its 5th edition.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of news is about a book that doesn't yet exist. Bradt Guides have pioneered the publication of dedicated guides to small Balkan countries, so it's not surprising that they plan to produce the first English-language Guide to Kosovo. The expected publication date is September 2007 - sadly too late for the hordes of foreign tourists who are no doubt planning to descend on Kosovo this summer.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New photos of Macedonia

I spent a few very enjoyable weeks in May travelling around Macedonia. As on previous visits, I was struck by how few foreign tourists find their way to the heart of the Balkans. I came across a handful of foreigners in Ohrid and Skopje, and a few Serbian and Bulgarian coach parties in other places, but apart from that Macedonia appears to be just as undiscovered as it was when I first visited a few years ago. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as Macedonia is rarely promoted abroad. For example, I have found more articles in UK newspapers about tourism in Albania and Bosnia than Macedonia.

The weather has been rather unkind to me on previous trips to Macedonia, and I had to battle with the elements this time too. After some glorious sunshine in Skopje and Ohrid, which at last allowed me to take some photos with blue skies and sunshine, it was back to clouds and rain for much of the rest of my trip.

I have now finished uploading photos from the trip to my Macedonia Photo Gallery. Over the next few weeks I will be extensively revising the Balkanology pages about Macedonia.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More flights from the UK to Romania

Wizzair have announced that they will be operating two new routes from England to Romania: London Luton to Tirgu Mures, and Liverpool to Bucharest. The first flights will be in October 2007.

The Tirgu Mures route is likely to be of particular interest to travellers, as means that for the first time it is possible to fly directly from London to Transylvania. Tirgu Mures is in the heart of the province, close to Sighisoara and Cluj Napoca, and already has flights to Barcelona, Rome, and Budapest.