Joined: 19 Dec 2006
Location: BLR, DXB
|Posted: Sun Feb 16, 2020 12:24 am Post subject: The Balkans .... part of it (part 2)
Ohrid and Saint Naum
Ohrid was one of the best stops on our trip!
I should add … Macedonia is now officially North Macedonia.
There’s some similarity between Greek and Macedonian languages, Macedonian is the oldest Slavic language.
- Apparently no one likes the Prime Minister, the feeling is he gave in to the Greeks and changed the county’s name (amongst other things). Their passports at least say “Macedonian people in the country of North Macedonia”. But now it’s being pushed in all official papers it says ‘North Macedonians’ so people are pissed, they feel they are losing their identity because they are Macedonians.
- Unemployment officially is around 23% …. but it’s closer to 15% coz a lot of ‘unemployed’ work in the grey economy. The minimum wage was 250 with the government trying to change it to 500. So now companys just get people part time and hire them/pay them under the table to bypass some rules. On paper they are unemployed … but they have work 😑
- Macedonia used to be part of Yugoslavia but the separation didn’t affect them (relatively). They didn’t get hit much by the war, neither did Slovenia. The other countries got hammered.
Yugoslavia was ruled by Josip Tito. Abroad he was/is known as a dictator but over here he wasn’t considered bad. They were quite open- they had good infrastructure, they could travel, they had Nescafé in the 1960s, they were generally more liberal. You still couldn’t openly criticise the government ….. no shit …. but it was better than Communist Russia. Fine not the greatest comparison but you get what I mean.
- Most Macedonians are Orthodox. A lot of Albanians live here and they are mainly Muslim.
- Saint Clement & Saint Naum = the 2 important saints of the region
- Mother Teresa was born in Skopje ….. surprisingly we didn't hear much about her?
It was a Roman city. Then Slavic, then a Byzantium city. Then Ottoman. I know I know it all seems same same these cities .... and im sure I've screwed up some details somewhere 😬
Apparently it's one of the oldest European city’s with continuous life, it’s been inhabited since the 5th century BC.
The city is famous for Ohrid pearls. They're not real pearls tho but manmade ones using fish scales, silver and something else. There are only 2 traditional and certified makers of the pearls in the city. We didn't buy any
The bottom floors were built of stone. These ‘working’ floors housed the animals and were used for food/storage. They used stone since it keeps things cold in the summer and warm in the winter. Makes sense. The higher floors got larger and larger and were made of wood. The stone layers had wooden planks between them ….. makes it earthquake resistant.
The houses are protected. Owners can do whatever they want to the inside but can’t make changes to the outside. Even if someone wants to construct a new house it has to be done in the old style with stone etc etc.
The richest families under Ottoman rule were not Muslim they were Orthodox Christian. That’s one way they held power for so long I guess, they didn’t put their own people everywhere and flood the ruling class- the Ottomans worked with the locals and administered together. They were good rulers, they didn’t force convert and there was some degree of freedom- not bad for that time period.
Saint Sophia. Originally a Roman church stood here which was completely demolished sometime in the 5th century. Then 600 years later this structure was built on top. Constructed in the 11th century and the second part in the 14th century. This is the oldest church in Macedonia which hasn’t been demolished and rebuilt (11th century onwards)
It was built during the Byzantines using Orthodox architecture.
Saint Sophia was converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule- the interior only. They simply plastered over the interior and painted over that, so centuries later during renovation when the plaster was removed they found the original 11 century work pretty well preserved.
- When the Ottomans were ..... remodelling ... the eyes of the angels were gouged out before the work started so god didn’t see who was vandalising his work 😜
- Churches and mosques took a lot from one another back then. The church domes were inspired by mosque domes.
- Orthodox Church always face West to East- with the alter facing east. This church was dedicated to Saint Sophia who symbolises wisdom (and doesn’t have a face…) so it has her 3 daughters.
- Apparently this is one of only 6 frescos in the world of Mary with a toddler Jesus. Generally it’s infant Jesus but there are 6 where he’s a bit older, one in Cappadocia, some in Greece some here.
Ruins of a Roman Basilica identifiable by mosaics and water elements. This Basilica had the swastika ..... how did it get here?? Historians think Alexander the Great (or one of his followers) brought it back from India.
This theatre was Hellenistic …. Greek.
- 4th century BC, built as a theatre for plays and speechs. It had seating for 2000 people …. and back in the day a city’s theater was made for roughly 10% of the population. So we assumed 20,000 people lived in Ohrid around 4th century BC. That’s a lot.
- Around the 2nd century BC the Romans demolished the first few rows modifying the theatre for gladiator fights. Probably humans not animals (based on the height).
He was a King of Bulgaria, Armenian origin but considered Macedonian because he lived here. The first Orthodox king of the Macedonians.
The original fortification was 4th century BC, but the fortress we see now is much much newer. Now it’s just there for a (spectacular) view of the city + lake …... and coffee + pastries 😋😋
I forget what the white almondy things were called. They was yums.
Church of St. John at Kaneo, an Orthodox church overlooking Lake Ohrid.
Apparently it's the most photographed spot in Macedonia, seems legit. Not with my skills apparently
A great little cove with a boathouse, a nicer way to get back to town.
It was a very scenic drive along the coast to the Monastery of Saint Naum, the second most important Saint of the region. Most of the land belonged to the monastery, it was taken away during the Communist regime (remember atheist state?) but handed back in 2013.
- Saint Naum was a healer- body and spirit. As in …. he healed mental illness as well.
- The statue was made from a single walnut tree it was done in 1 day using a chainsaw (which the guide revealed after I had judged the heck out of it)
The monastery is right beside the Albanian border so the mobile networks automatically pick up the Albanian telecom operator 😂. The locals have to switch to ‘manual network selection’ to avoid roaming hahahaaha.
Elbasan and Berat
After a meh breakfast at Hotel Lebed we settled down for a 2 hour drive to Elbasan (for a quick stop) then on to Berat.
Elbasan castle. More like castle walls coz it was mostly a bunch of restaurants and bars inside. People live there, but proper houses and stuff nothing castley about it. Nice place to have coffee and chill ..... the music was crap tho.
I forgot to mention, as a general rule in the Balkans - don’t expect prompt service 😂 Any restaurant, any bar, any anything = be prepared to wait. You sit yourself down it’ll take many minutes for a waiter to show up. Ask for the bill? another 15 minutes. He’ll bring the bill but walk off before you pay, then another 5 minutes to return take the money and another 5 minutes to bring the change. Hhhmmmm. Pretty much the same story anywhere so pro tip .... if you’re in a rush ask for the bill before you finish eating. And you better have exact change.
The Castle of Berat
- One of the largest in Albania; almost 10 hectares
- The base has huge massive stones from 4th century BC. Originally it was 1400m wide.
- The Illyrians built it, originally the fortress was called Antipatreia.
- Byzantines were in charge from 5th century (but they called it Pulcherioporus)
Constantine was the Roman Emperor during the 4th century. This is a new bust of him, not ancient at all hehehe. Familiar name? He was the chap who moved the Roman capital to Byzantium, then renamed it Constantinople. After himself. He stopped persecuting the Christians and started recognising Christianity as the official Roman religion (well yes …. because he converted 😑 .…) Constantinople as we know later became Istanbul.
Lots of temples and churches, the oldest one (remaining) was 13th century Byzantine style. Only 2 mosques left I believe?
A lot of the frescos inside were damaged during Communist times. Practising religion was banned during Communist rule and quite a few religious sites were damaged. Even the historical ones
Onufri- was a painter and artist who made a lot of new age paintings. He was credited with focusing on faces and started a revolution/different style of art.
Onufri lived in Berat and Elbasan for a while. His pupils carried on his special style, his trademark was using colours and something else.
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures We weren't allowed to take pictures inside and I forgot outside. Not like there was anything outside tho ....
A few weird paintings in this church …..
1 - Virgin Mary with Jesus in her right hand. Generally he’s in her left.
2 - Virgin Mary and Jesus healing the blind/sick from a fountain, but in the background are 2 minarets. The scene was probably Constantinople.
3 - Everyone had the hand sign, finger 4 touching the thumb. Just like some Hindu gods? Wonder what it signifies.
‘Acropolis’ means the highest part. I didn’t know that.
And Pantheon means Temple.
Aahhhhh now it makes sense. Why didn't they tell me that in Athens? Actually they probably did. Don't ever remember 🤷🏼♂
Lunch!!!! I don't remember much about the dessert but the mains were good, didn't eat the chicken pieces tho. It tasted a lot better than it looks, meat and veggies stuffed in vine leaves/capsicum and other veggies hmmmmm.
Great little town Berat, it’s also a UNESCO protected city. The old town buildings and houses etc can’t be demolished or renovated without permission and needs to keep the original look. We stayed at Hotel Belgrad Mangalem. It was a tiny set of houses (20 meters apart) converted to a hotel. Very nice tho, we were given the key to the 'house' main door and our room was basically a converted bedroom bedroom. It was cold and drizzly in the evening but the main pedestrian road was very close so perfect to roam around.
Breakfast at Belgrad Mangalem was fabulous. Outside on the veranda, good variety hmmmmm 😋😋 (except the tea, the milk had a lot of cream bleeahhh)
A quick 1:20 drive to the port city of Durrës. From cold and drizzly Berat to a warm and sunny day by the sea.
- Durrës has been ravaged by 3 huge earthquakes which destroyed the city. Multiple times. 2nd century BC. 5th century. 13 century
- A lot of Turkish words mixed into Albanian now.
- Most people are not practicing religion, it’s more tradition. It’s common to intermarry and no real friction between faiths.
- 200,000 people living here, Durrës is Albanias second largest city and largest port.
Our hotel was Amfiteatri Boutique Hotel, again another well located hotel. We lucked out and got upgraded to a fancy room
This amphitheater was built by the Romans during the 2nd century, was destroyed by earthquakes and covered up/built over by the Ottomans. It was recently discovered in the 1960s. Capacity for 15,000 spectators maybe? They estimate it was 1/3 the size of the Rome Colosseum .
The Venetian tower built 15th century (?) for military purposes. It’s now a bar.
The guide was explaining how there’s still a lot of corruption and jugaad in everyday life.
The government hospitals are supposed to be free, but you need to ‘pay’ the doctors office to get quick treatment. That’s why lot of people (who can afford it of course) just go to private hospitals.
Another example = If a fisherman works for a company and the company employees 10 workers they need to pay minimum wage and cover healthcare etc. So the fishing company bribes the government worker, says he has 4 employees. The other 6 are paid under the table. For starters it’s undocumented, the other downside is if the fisherman gets injured there’s no healthcare .... but those are the only jobs out there.
We found that fruit I was talking about earlier .... Ide?
Stinks Cafe? They could change their font me thinks
Shkodër and fly out
We had an early start this morning since we needed to be back in Tirana to catch an evening flight. Every little town we passed had a mosque.
Shkodër (pronounced Shkodra) is the most important town in north Albania and the last Illyrian capital, founded in the 3rd century BC. They started building this fortification by simply placing rocks one on top of another, didn’t use much mortar. Later on the Romans expanded and strengthened the castle.
The city is predominantly Catholic (The north part of Albania has more Catholic’s)
Castle of Rozafa
View from the castle, the Adriatic Sea + lake. Montenegro border on one side. Shkodër city at the bottom, the 5th largest city in Albania population around 100,000. Lots of Italian influence and unsurprisingly a lot of people speak Italian.
The Castle had a bunch of wells which collected rainwater which fed cisterns. Our guide in Berat said that castle didn't have many wells and animals were used to carry up water
After the Castle we roamed around the city, not for long tho. A lot of the restaurants were closed. Why ... because their staff were on holiday 😜. Albanias summer season is busy so this low season was their ‘down’ time where they got to chill while the weather is still good. So most restaurants were on holiday. Gotta love Europe.
We found a nice place to eat, my slow cooked pork was super! wow what a meal 😋 One of the best on the trip!!
Desert was tiramisu. twas ok. Pretty much every restaurant has tiramisu, pana cotta and tres leche. Guaranteed.
After lunch it was time to drive back to Tirana and catch our flights out.
TIA is a small airport as I previously mentioned 3.3 million passengers a year according to Wiki. A few check in counters, auto scan boarding pass to get to security. Only 2 security lanes which went quick however passport control took a while- almost 15 minutes with 2 counters open.
R took a flight to MXP (blu-express/Blue Panorama Airlines) and got on the EK night flight to DXB.
I was heading to Berlin …. via Bari, Verona and Munich. Then on to DXB via MXP and AMS. 6 Euro flights on 6 new airlines and 3 new airport
Tirana (Nënë Tereza) — Bari
TIA-BRI is shorter (distance wise) than BLR-MAA …. flight time :35 mins but it was an expensive flight almost $160.
It was an old plane but a way better experience than the newer Air Albania. For starters it left :10 early and arrived :20 early. But ok looking past OTP = they made PAs!! Wow
I knew how long the flight was. I knew when we started our descent. They said welcome aboard. They said welcome to Bari 😜 … you know .… small things like that? Comfortable quick flight.
Bari — Verona Villafranca
With Volotea you have to print out your boarding pass 🙄 No electronic copy accepted but get this, you hand the A4 sheet of paper to the checkin person who looks at it and types away, writes on it and away you go. You don’t even need that paper anymore, you can use your phone to scan the email code at security and at the gate!! What a scam …. purely a money making exercise.
Bari airport is meh. A few food joints but ridiculous airport prices. Paid over €9 for a sandwich and a bottle of water 😑 Not much seating space either, upstairs had 6 gates but if there are 3 flights departing forget about sitting. The downstairs ‘bus gates’ were no different. Bathrooms were stinky and you had to walk somewhere, go up a flight of stairs down some corridor and find them.
Boarding took a while but it was a short bus ride. Doors closed soon after I sat down. I had picked a window seat. €5 if I recall?
They had a wifi thing to connect to, the free one had a moving map. But after a while mine wouldn't load. They had some paid content not much iirc.
Flight time of 1:00 ..... block is 1:30. I was hoping we wouldn’t land toooo early since my ‘sleeping capsule’ at VRN is only from 2300 ☺️
Convenient sleep pods at arrivals, after baggage claim (I had none) and just before the exit. For food and the toilet etc you rely on the airport. This is just a place to get some shut eye. Rather convenient I might add, good for an overnight quick snooze.
Air Dolomiti EN-8207
Verona — Munich (Franz Josef Strauss)
Up by 0545 the next morning for the Dolomiti flight to Munich. Stepped out of the pod, airport washroom to brush my teeth, outside arrivals and a 50m walk to departures. No line at all, checked in in 30 seconds and no lines at security. The lady at security had a hand held ticket scanner? Wonder why they don’t install a fixed one, no need for her to stand there. Small airport, single level and no aero bridges.
There were a few cafes after security I had a macchiato but they ran out of almond croissants ☹️. Hopefully I’ll get one in Munich.
Ok hopefully not because that means I’ve missed my connection 😂
Block time was 1 hour, flight time :55 😑 I’m trying to catch the 0925 flight to Berlin so you can imagine what’s going thru my head! 1:25 buffer
Squeaky clean aircraft, the bus boarding was quick and organised and crew seem very cheerful this morning. It’s so nice to get on a tarmac and start taking pictures madly without idiot rules 🙄 Security threat ooooooo 🙄
Pushback was 5 mins early. Good start. A short snack service (bite service?) and I don't remember if there was a drinks run I was trying to sleep hehehe.
Landed early and bussed to the terminal. Took a minute to figure out which way to walk, and it was a longish walk to the Germanwings checkin.
Munich — Berlin Tegel
Bus boarding again. 6th flight in a row.
Nothing to say about this flight .... except I made it on!!! Thats about it. A mad dash thru the airport and thankfully no lines anywhere. I was extra excited coz at the end I did have time for my almond croissant by the gate woohooo!! It was shite. KLP …. o I can’t say that.
I spend a day (12 hours basically) in Berlin with a friend. Took a bus and a train to the hotel, went for dinner that evening. The next day (no early wake up yay) was the flight out of Schönefeld. Thankfully the hotel was close to that airport.
Berlin Schönefeld — Milan Malpensa
The smaller Berlin airport is quite crappy. You check in from one building and security from ..... pick I guess 😜 The check in buildings are organised, Ok I figured that out. Checked in and stood in line for security, after 4 mins they said go to this other building for security. But only some of us because this line was too long. aahhhh.
My Neos flight was late it eventually departed 1 hour behind schedule. No reason or announcement or info at all in the airport, not even a delay message from the cabin crew or pilots 😡. I had planned a tight 1:30 between arrival and departure in MXP and I was now 100% sure I'd miss my connection to AMS.
Bus boarding again ..... 7th in a row. A lot of Ryan Airs.
I think that's Brandenburg airport in the distance? It's basically a new terminal ... same airport in a way .....
The flight was practically empty, which was a great thing. Quicker exit for me!!! Service was an overly sweet honey muffin + drinks run.
Descent PA = “please open the window blinds. In case of emergency evacuation we remind you to leave your personal belongings behind” never heard that before. Included in the PA I mean.
Landed at 1545 (one hour late) and parked at a remote stand. There’s my next ride already boarding. bye bye Level 😰
Only 1 bus for us on arrivals but luck was on my side it dropped us off at the same pier as the Level 321. Bus drop off, inside the terminal was the information screen .... Level to AMS .... boarding (well yea I figured that) from A-01 ..... A/B gates transit on the right ...
Turned right took the escalators up and voila - 20 seconds later I was in the departure area! A 200m dash and I was at the gate. No security + no lines + no checks- absolutely nothing. I was the second last to board. I had checked in online while I was twiddling my thumbs at SXF so a quick scan of the email QR code and yyyaaasssss I made it!!! I don't know how but I did.
New airline number 7 on this trip!!!
Milan — Amsterdam Schiphol
Hehehehe I was so kicked. I wasn’t expecting to be on this flight. Cutting it close ehhh. How close? I was in 9B and was putting my backpack in the overhead bin when the cabin crew made the “all on board” PA 😜
And then ..... 9A was empty so I got a window seat and free middle seat 😁🎉🎉
Aero bridge boarding. Finally.
1:25 flight time. The captain made an announcement saying we are all ready, however bad weather in Amsterdam so maybe a delay. We pushed at 1620 just 5 mins late so ..... whatever I didn't care I was just glad I made it. It’s as close a call as my TrueJet flight earlier this year. Pheewwwww.
About :30 minutes after parking from SXF here's the same view outbound heheheh.
Arrived into AMS :15 late ..... with an apology for the short delay. You can tell that (or lack of) has been irritating me 😈😈😂
I had to kill a few hours in AMS before the night flight to DXB. Yea she's not the best looking but I'll tell you what it was great to be back on a 380.
Thanks for reading everyone!