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Raiffeisen Bank International : Balkan for Beginners

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At the beginning of September, I had two weeks of vacation and a great desire to experience an adventure. Pinterest and working in the international environment of RBI inspired me to explore the Balkans. That sounds like an ambitious plan, as the Balkans encompass up to 12 countries, depending on which source you consult. Of course, that would be too much, which is why the choice ultimately fell on four destinations.

  • 30 November 2023 15:35
  • By Elisabeth Raschka
  • Events & Lifestyle

My boyfriend and I traveled in a camping van, which served as our mobile home. This allowed us to be very spontaneous and to move from A to B depending on our mood and the weather. Numerous interesting campsite experiences were included.#1 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Day one was the longest leg of the trip: from our home in Vienna via Hungary and Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The capital Sarajevo was our first stopover, where we treated ourselves to a late lunch and a walk in the city center, which was well worth seeing. We especially liked Baščaršija – the old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city. What was also not to be missed was a Bosnian coffee – traditionally served with sugar, a lokum (oriental dessert) and a glass of water. We were fascinated by the fact that not even nine hours by car from Vienna, a multicultural city with Ottoman culture was waiting for us.

The next stop, Mostar, should not be missed on any visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. You have probably seen a picture of the famous bridge Stari most, which crosses the river Neretva and serves as a symbolic link between East and West. From the minaret of the Koski Mehmed Pasha mosque we were able to watch bridge jumpers leap the 19 meters in exchange for a tip. Our last stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina was the approximately 600-year-old dervish monastery of Blagaj Tekke. It is located on the cliff above and next to the crystal-clear Buna Spring and is well worth a visit.#2 Montenegro

New day, new country. The trip continues to Kotor in Montenegro. The drive there alone was an experience, as the town is located on one of the most impressive fjords in Europe – mountains and water as far as the eye can see. The historic old town is surrounded by a city wall and behind it are houses steeped in history, narrow streets, picturesque squares, as well as hustle and bustle. The evening, when day tourists have left, is the best time to taste your way through the numerous restaurants and bars.

We could not leave Kotor without seeing the city from above. A hike to the fortress of Sveti Ivan – or Castle of San Giovanni, as the locals call it – should not be missing from any visit to Kotor. Unless you’re not good on foot, because the fortress is located on a steep hillside and can only be reached by climbing 1,350 steps. If you make it to the top, you will be rewarded with a phenomenal view of the old town and the fjord.#3 Albania

With the feeling that we definitely wanted to pay another visit to Montenegro in the future, we continued to Albania, more precisely to Tirana. The capital initially welcomed us with traffic jams. During a city tour with a local guide, however, we were able to get an idea of the beautiful sides of Tirana. We are still grateful for his restaurant recommendation – in Zgara Korcare Liqeni we had an excellent meal and got to know the specialties of Albanian cuisine. Even for me as a vegetarian there was a lot of choice.

After a night at an idyllic campsite outside Tirana, we continued to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Berat, also known as “the city of 1000 windows”. The name is based on the large, closely spaced windows that adorn the white houses in typical Ottoman architectural style. A must-see of Berat is the Kalaja district, the castle quarter. The sprawling castle fortress is the city’s landmark and can be visited for free.

After a lot of culture and sightseeing, we were drawn further into southern Albania to relax by the sea. Our destination was Himarë, a small town on the coast of the Ionian Sea that is famous for its sandy beaches and turquoise waters. On the beach, you are spoiled for choice between several cool beach bars that attract both locals and tourists. To sum it up: The Albanian Riviera is one of my personal highlights of this trip.#4 Greece

Then it was time for country number four, Greece. From Igoumenitsa on the Greek mainland, we took a ferry to the Ionian island of Corfu. Mandatory stop number one was the Achilleion, a palace built by the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) between 1890 and 1892. The palace itself was closed for renovation, but the palace garden was also very nice to look at.

What should also not be missed during a visit to Corfu is a visit to the capital, Corfu Town. In the east of the island, the former Venetian occupiers have built lots of pastel-colored houses, which still remind of an old Italian town. If you’re there, be sure to plan a visit to the To Tsipouradiko restaurant for delicious Greek tapas-style food. Tip: Come early or book a table, otherwise you’ll pretty much have to wait in line. Afterwards it was time to go around the island by sailboat, but that’s another story.My Conclusion

After these two weeks of Balkan experience, saying goodbye was not easy. We have seen and experienced so much, but what has remained most clearly in my memory, besides the beauty of the landscape, is the friendliness and warmth of the people. For me it is therefore certain that I would like to make another Balkan trip, and I can only advise you to do the same. Next time I plan perhaps a little more time.

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