Balkan Kismet: Bosnia Transport (Mis)Adventures

Our day had started much like a typical one on the road for us.  We had woken early (it happened to be New Year’s Day) in Mostar, done a bit of perfunctory sightseeing, and were anxious to get back to Sarajevo.  We had only stayed overnight in Sarajevo previously, and were eager to explore the city more thoroughly.  We were thrilled to get dropped off at the bus station just as a bus for Sarajevo was departing.  We threw crumpled bills at the ticket kiosk and boarded the bus to see a group of passengers none-to-thrilled by our shenanigans, costing them time that could be spent going home.

Our transportation in the Balkans previous to this had been smooth, easy, and relatively on-time.  Save the fact that the Sarajevo Airport had been closed for the three previous weeks due to heavy fog in the city.  Apparently this happens every year – a fact that clearly eluded our outdated travel guide.  Luckily for us, however, the skies parted in Sarajevo the day before we arrived.  Until this point, our transportation luck felt like kismet. Read more

A Three Hour Tour of Herzegovina’s Finest

I have to be honest with this one.  I did no work to plan what we’d see and not see while in Herzegovina.  The Bosnian portion of our Serbia/Bosnia trip in this past December was a fairly standard itinerary: into Sarajevo, then Mostar, and back to Sarajevo again.  In Mostar we hung around the Old Bridge, and did our best to fend off rather forceful drinking invitations from the sole two patrons of our hotel bar.  Peer pressure doesn’t always work (except when it does).december-balkans-1235jpg_24221982231_odecember-balkans-1141jpg_24304434975_o

It was New Years Eve, and we’d had an absolutely magical day in Mostar – we went to bed before midnight (as we had done in Tbilisi, Georgia a year prior), as we were to wake up early (in Bosnian standards, anyway) to see some key sights around Herzegovina the next day. Read more

Anatomy of a Perfect Travel Day: New Years in Mostar, Herzegovina

I have let my feelings known regarding off season travel (I love it), and nowhere has reinforced my opinion of this more than Mostar, Herzegovina.  Walking through Mostar’s Stari Grad, it’s clear why the place is known to become such a hot tourist mess in the Summer.  The combination of the medieval atmosphere with cheap prices and great food has doomed many places once off the beaten path (looking at you, all of Croatia), and Herzegovina’s largest city is no different.  Day tour buses come in droves from Dubrovnik or Split from Spring to Fall – allowing tourists to spend a couple of hours in Mostar before returning to greater relative comfort  and development on the Adriatic.december-balkans-944jpg_24215588351_o december-balkans-954jpg_24002522610_o december-balkans-973jpg_24215619781_o Read more

The Best Time I Broke My Foot in Sarajevo, Bosnia

David and I are avid runners. Not at the moment, but I’ll get to that soon enough.  Before our trip to Serbia and Bosnia over New Years, we were running around 40 miles a week in preparation for a 50k in one of Washington State’s most beautiful parks.  After successfully completing the race (despite high wind advisories), it was a very quick two weeks recovery before we were on our way back to the Balkans – this time spending most of our time in Belgrade, Serbia and Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Not bad views at the start of the Deception Pass 50k. My first ultramarathon!

A post shared by Nick M. ✌🏽❤✈️ (@concreteandkitsch) on

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My Favorite Ugly Building: The National Library of Kosovo

I’ll be honest, we ended up in Kosovo on a technicality.  When I spontaneously switched jobs last fall and decided to take an impromptu trip through the south Balkans, we were thinking primarily of Buzludzha.  We tacked on Macedonia to Bulgaria for Skopje’s space age Brutalist masterpieces and the relatively undiscovered Lake Ohrid.  We only ended up in Kosovo because it was cheaper to fly into Pristina than it was to fly into Skopje.pristina-29

But boy were we glad we did.  We spent three days there, between Pristina, Pec, and Prizren, and while we loved the latter two towns, Pristina (bad weather and all) was the Kosovar city to really win us over. Read more

Top Markets in Eastern Europe (Flea and Otherwise)

As the title of my blog implies (the kitsch part), I am a collector.  I have mild hoarding aspirations that I attempt to disguise by portraying myself as a discerning collector of random, yet CLASSY things from around the world.  Most of the time, this turns out to be postcards, maps, pins and badges, and antique clothing pieces – among many others (including snow globes).  I’ve written a post or two about this, but thought it would be useful to provide a run down of my favorite markets in Eastern Europe for anyone with an eye for kitschy communist goodies from the former Eastern Bloc.

We’ll start from Tallinn, Estonia, before making our way south to the Balkans, and east to the Caucasus. Read more

The Subotica Synagogue: A Troubled Past in Technicolor

The places that David and I frequent when we travel generally fall into two categories.  The first of places we’ve seen, researched, geeked out over, and fallen into rabbit holes about for months (or years!) leading up to our departure.  Places like Buzludzha, the Hara Submarine Pen, Gergeti Sameba Church in Kazbegi, and Gozo’s Azure Window fall into this category.  The other category is a rarer breed – the kind of place that takes you by surprise.  The type of place that you see on a whim, without expectations or prior biases. 

december-balkans-219jpg_23929763689_o The old Subotica Synagogue is this latter, more elusive type of place. Read more

A Slow Burn for Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia is one of those places I was destined to fall in love with. Everything I knew about it spoke to me on an almost primal level.  It’s home to pristine examples of social realist and brutalist architecture.  Serbian food is amazing – including several types of cheesy carbs.  As the capital of the former Socialist Republic of Jugoslavija, it would be full of markets shilling communist shwag.  I’m in love with gypsy horn music (Brasslands is an amazing documentary everyone should watch).  And all of my favorite bloggers had written about the amazingness of the city – see Yomadic, Silvia at Heart my Backpack, The Bohemian Blog, and Waegook Tom have all sung its praises over the course of the past few years.  december-balkans-729jpg_24297985505_o december-balkans-743jpg_24002381850_o Read more

Solitude for Now in Ohrid, Macedonia

In the flurry of spontaneous excitement that comprised planning our first Bitchin’ Balkans adventure in October of last year, we added a night in Ohrid, thinking that three nights in Skopje might be a little excessive.  We’re fans of nature, and thought that a night on one of Europe’s oldest lakes would be a good counterbalance to the concrete architecture peeping we’d be doing in Pristina, Kosovo, Skopje, Macedonia and Sofia, Bulgaria.jpegs-160_22455562212_o

It was one of those rare moments in our travels when we arrived in a place with very few expectations.  David had spent much of our previous bus rides on the trip crippled by motion sickness, and I had yet to get completely acclimated to Balkan time.  The few images of Ohrid that I had seen had been very captivating, but I hadn’t developed a solid feel about what to expect from the place.  For those of us able to look outside on the bus ride, the main line between the two cities afforded some impressive views, and a rest stop about halfway between the cities provided some much needed cheese filled burek – a Balkan staple. Read more

Obsessed with Buzludzha, the Remains of Bulgaria’s Communist Past

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but have put it off because I’m not quite sure how to unpack my feelings about Buzludzha.  Have you ever seen pictures of a place, and become so captivated by it that you are compelled to see it in person?  Even if, when you are first exposed to that single image, you have no idea where that place is?  And, when you follow clues and finally discover where it is, its remoteness doesn’t deter you, or even compels you further into obsession?  The first time I can remember this happening to me was with Erdene Zuu Khiid in Kharkhorin, Mongolia when I was maybe 13 years old – when I visited at 28 it was somewhat of a watershed travel moment.  It’s happened a limited number of times since – Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Japan, the Rossiya Cinema Complex in Yerevan, Armenia, and Three Brothers in Riga, Latvia come to mind.

Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
Rossiya Cinema Complex, Yerevan, Armenia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
The Three Brothers, Riga, Latvia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Erdene Zuu Khiid, Kharkhorin, Mongolia

And then I became so obsessively captivated by Buzludzha – several years ago, while I was taking a relative travel hiatus. And it was more severe than I had ever experienced before. Read more