Wednesday 30 March 2011

Brno and Punkevni Jeskyne

Our primary goal of heading back to Brno, was to catch up with the friends we had made there, this goal was definitely achieved. Things haven't changed too much since we were last living here, some new buildings, new roads partly done, but apart from the public transport going up in price its still the same lovely "biggest village on earth". 

Brno has a lot to offer for tourists, that are sick of paying too much in Prague and trying to compete with the drunken stag do's from England. During our visit, we went to the Brno Dam and Lake. This area is very pretty esepcially in the summer, with the lake in front and shade from the trees. I recommend after getting off from the tram that you head to the right, as you can see the actual dam (which I learned was completed by Hilter, and there is also a remanent of the highway he was attempting to build), and it has less road noise. Sadly when we were there the ferry was not working (which is a bit expensive anyway), however, we went off to Veveri Castle by car. The castle doesn't have a major historical importance (just general hunting, spoilt rich folk place to stay, and control people from), however I actually enjoyed the view and the layout  more than Brno Castle. Here it now looks onto the Dam Lake, and is perched on top of a neat hill. We only got to explore the old garden (which at one point had a mini train running in it) as well as, the old greenhouse, which were in their original crumbling state, and right by the front gate. This was actually quite amazing to see and visualise how it would have looked once upon a time. 

Apart from the Dam area, Brno itself is full of many different attractions (read other entries for more details), most of which can be found nice and centrally. Namesti Svobody, is the main square and coming off from there nearby are the castle, tower, cathedrals, and my recommended capuchin monastery (really random remains from the monks that due to  the cellar conditions were mummified - very cool!). Despite all this awesomeness one of my favourite and not too visited areas is Konecneho Namesti. The buildings on this square and the roads immediately off from it are my favourite in Brno. The detail and decedance displayed here, is amazing. each window has a different statue face, engaged volutes, gods and goddesses, just to name a few of the amazing features. It is also here that we caught up with friends, as just off the square is our favourite restaurant Pegas (the small one). Best food in Brno. And conviently just off a different street from it is Sklipecek, the best wine cellar in Brrno. Its bascially a bar that only sells wine and really good stuff at that. Here is where we caught up with mates from previous experiences, and had a very lovely night. 

The next day we explored a new thing (for myself at least, and Martin got to do the boat ride this time) the Moravian Karst. We had previously been here, but the tours were closed and we were unable to enter the caves. There are over 1000 caves in the area but only 5 are publically available. We went to Punkevni Caves, which are the best in the area as the main opening is a massive arch with different cave areas coming off from it. The formations in the caves were amaznig (as are every cave) although in particular there was a very high proportion of curtains/fans of extreme magnificance. Part of the tour also includes a boat ride through the actual ceiling area of a different part of the caves. Lovely day trip from Brno. However ensure that you get there early, so rather than paying almost another ticket worth to get the stupid train thing, you can walk the 1.3 km to the main entrance (you have to park a bit away sadly).

Sunday 27 March 2011


One random morning we decided to head of to finally pay our respects at Auschwitz. The ride there from Frydek-Mistek was an interesting one, as thanks to the GPS we were navigated on a lot of back roads, which in Poland are very reminiscent of Albania with lots of pot holes and in general not the greatest of condition. 

Upon arriving to Auschwitz, we seemed to have come at the same time as a massive (100+ easy) group of high school kids from Israel (they had their flags out). The front entrance was packed with people but once you get through you arrive at the famous front gates stating “work makes you free”, Arbeit macht frei, (the original gate sign was actually stolen last year, and they now sadly have a replacement). The feeling that you get walking around and in the camp is indescribable. At certain points tears do come out (for me it was seeing the death wall, and gas chambers/furnaces (they were joined at this part of camp).

The exhibitions inside the old barracks are deeply disturbing, and the starvation one even more so (could only glance in, the pictures were too troubling). There are stories throughout talking about the bravery and resisting which considering the circumstances faced are incredible. There are of course a lot more horror stories. 

Writing about going to Auschwitz is extremely difficult, its not the place you go to enjoy yourself, but more to see this horrific landmark and pay respects to those that suffered needlessly, all for the stupidity and futility of war. The things that humans do to each other is despicable.

After this part of the camp I was definitely in no mood or emotionally ready to see what was literally the extermination camp of Auschwitz Birkenau. One is enough.

Lest we forget

Thursday 17 March 2011

Back to Budapest

This road trip would not have been complete without exploring my “old Hungarian home”. During 2007 I studied at the Corvinus University, and had a fantastic exchange there. It was important that Martin be shown the sites of this fantastic city that at present is not overrun with tourists (which is much nicer than Prague in this respect). After parking the car near Aquincum, the old roman ruins of Budapest, we started off by tramming down one side of the Danube, while I pointed the important sites like the castle, Matthias church, fishermans bastion, parliament, and Gellert hill. Crossed over to the other side and grabbed a bite at the Burger King (gross I know, but back when I was there it was 150 HUF for a chesseburger combo – my how things have changed now 618 HUF!!). Showed him the impressive market place that actually backs my old Uni. This market place is huge and had three floors. It used to actually be a fish market, which when you are in a land locked country seems weird, even though you have the very (now) polluted Danube running there. Corvinus Uni hadn’t changed much, surprised that the works for the underground were still out the front after 4 years (Budapest started the new underground line when I was there, but it is looking doubtful that it will ever be finished). Right by there, is the famous tourists street, Vaci Utca, which I used to live off of. It has a wide variety of interesting shops and a couple of good restaurants.

After resting a bit, headed to my favourite monument in Budapest: Heroes square. When I was there, I studied Hungarian history, and to see it accumulated and displayed in this way was fantastic. You have at the top of the main column is the angel Gabriel holding St Stephens crown (the holy crown), at the base of the main column are the 7 tribes that founded Hungary after setting out from Ural mountains with their chief Arpad at the front, and in the backing colonnades the 14 men important to Hungarian history and angels on the top of the different colonnades, (one represents peace, the other war). Sitting underneath it, is the geothermal spring that supplies the Szechenyi Baths (another must do if you have the time). Either side of this you have two different art galleries, both of beautiful architecture and design.

After that we were lucky enough to arrive on Gluttonous Thursday (to do with the start of Lent), where all the restaurants have their menus half price. We met up with dear friends and had a fantastic night out, eating a bit too much. It was lovely to be back in Budapest, to see, smell, taste, and hear the same things, brought back a lot of good memories. It is a shame however, how much Budapest has increased in price in the last few years. Everything is much more expensive.

Note: there are much more detailed descriptions in my older previous writings from time during my study.

Lake Balaton

After getting in from Croatia, we explored a part of Hungary that I had never made it to while I was studying there. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. In the past this part of Hungary was very important to the nobility, but obviously it is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the summer. The main reason we were going there, was to experience the thermal attraction of Lake Heviz. Lake Heviz is the worlds 2nd largest thermal lake, and the largest one that humans can enter without cooking. The smell reminded me of Rotorua and the togs remained smelling that way for quite a while (and after 2 washes).  If you got in the late afternoon the price of entry is halved which is recommended as you don’t really need all day, and the 1.5 hours we had was enough for us to truly enjoy it. It nice to be surrounded by nature when you are swimming there, and we ever got to interact with some type of duck I had never seen before, that kept popping around. The inside part is much warmer than the outdoor section, and is very nice. We would definitely recommend a dip in Lake Heviz if you are passing that way.

After leave Heviz we headed to Hegyestu geological monument. This place is like the giants causeway in that it is long basalt columns, however it is more of a mountain made of them, which is quite impressive. In general the top half of Balaton has a lot of ancient volcanic remains (Hungary still has a lot of geothermal activity). We stayed that night in Balatonalmadi which is at the northern part of Balaton. The lake is very impressive in size, and the villages dotted along the road are very cute.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Bosanska Krajina

We arrived into Bosnia and Herzegovina, into the area/province called Bosanska Krajina, after a day exploring the Plitvice Lakes National Park of Croatia which is just beside the border.  After passing through Bihac, which is the biggest city in this area, we drove through part of the Una National Park (without realising until later). We were hoping to stop somewhere, however the road here did not allow any pulling over at all and all stops were on the opposing side of the road, which would have been impossible to get to at short notice with someone right behind, so sadly we do not have any pictures of this lovely  area. The part we drove through was an amazing gorge (found out afterwards that there are very famous waterfalls nearby), which with the sun setting on it brought out a variety of interesting colours. The river Una, is fantastic, similar blue and greens to that of the Plitvice lakes, however in a river. The river was also very clean and would have been excellent for rafting (which is possible in the summer).

We stayed the night in the small town of Otoka. Here we had an incredible night sleep in such peace. Even though we knew that most of Bosnia was Muslim (part of their Ottoman heritage) we were still surprised to see 4 mosques in this village (we stayed literally across the road from one), mostly because of the size of the town. As we arrived the valley was echoing with the different mosques calling people to prayer, which was very interesting.

The history of this town was very remarkable (and scary), everywhere there were bullet holes in the houses, and some even had larger gaps from what I imagine was mini bombs (some were bombed). In the past the village was attacked by the Serbians during the Yugoslavian wars, and the only thing that kept the village from being captured was the river Una being such a large obstacle. Such a very different lifestyle and way to grow up, it is just impossible to try and imagine it, even when faced with the evidence.

On the way out of the country we passed through some cute little villages and really enjoyed the scenery. We highly recommend people consider Bosnia and Herzegovina as a tourist destination. As yet it is not over run with people, even in the summer, which means obviously a much nicer experience. And it truly has a lot of history, culture and nature to offer. Bosnians (at least in our experience) are incredibly hospitable. We had a amazing stay here and had never felt so welcome and apparently this welcome, is a cultural trait. It was very sad to leave this country and head on.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Inland Croatia

Our time in inland Croatia, was spread over two days as we did a side step into Bosnia (which I highly recommend you get to!!). We stayed along the coastal route from Omis until Split, then took the motorway inland. The motorways in Croatia are fantastic, well designed and very new (although a bit expensive). The main point of the day was to get to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Here we spent the afternoon walking around observing the park, which was amazing in the wintery glory. The waterfalls were just starting to come back to life, with at least half still frozen, which provided an interesting view of the water running underneath the frozen roof of them. There were also a high number of giant icicles hanging on from the sides of the waterfalls.  The pathways were still frozen or had snow on them which made walking around (especially with crutches) slightly tricky.  This place is definitely a must see in Croatia if you need a break from the amazing scenery on the coast or if you have an extra day to spare. In the summer there, there are also buses and boats going which would help to speed up what you can see in the national park. The water colour that the park is famous for is still present with a lovely mixtures of pure blues and greens, and all the colours in between them.

Plitvicka Jezera in winter

The other part of inland Croatia that we explored was near the Bosnian border and leading up to Hungary. Here there was a lot of evidence of the wars of the past. Pretty much every village we visited, the older houses (or those that had not replastered) had evidence of bullet holes. It is very hard to imagine what it must have been like living in these sort of times, with the constant fear. Apart from the war memories, this part of Croatia, was very similar to other areas of Eastern Europe in house design. Although it appears much sleepier, with older people just sitting beside the road, staring at that weird Czech car driving by, it was very nice.

Coastal Croatia

Dubrovnik old townAfter getting in from Montenegro, we had the pleasure to explore the coastal region of Croatia. Our first stop was Dubrovnik. The old part of town enclosed within the walls was very nice and we had an amazing view over it as we approached. It was sad to learn that most of the buildings were actually new as they were badly damaged during the war. We arrived at a good time it seemed as there was the end of a festival going on, and there was a stage with a lot of kids dressed up with various themes. Not quite sure what it was all about, but was nice to see.

From Dubrovnik we carried on up towards our stopping point of the night in Omis (near Split). Along the way we had to pass through a small stretch of Bosnia. We learnt that night from our host, that the reason this tiny part of land belongs to Bosnia, was because the Dubrovnikians of the past didn’t want much to do with the rest of Croatians, so they gave that tiny portion of land to the Ottomans, who were in Bosnia at the time. And after the break up of Yugoslavia, this part of the land was kept by Bosnia. Or so we were told. The only town in this area is Neum and there isn’t too much to see here.

Once back in Croatia, the amazing scenery continued. Little villages dotted along the coast with impressive mountains behind them. Omiš old town The mountains are also interesting to look at, as they in general do not have many trees on them, and are quite rocky (of course mountains are made of rock, however they looked like they are composed of piles of them).

Stopped briefly in Gradac, where Martin holidayed when younger. This town is adorable. Nice pebbled beach and very nice looking water. Made it to Omis, which is an old pirate town. The castle on the top of the hill was for a ruling pirate family, and the lower tower was a look out point for it. The old town is very pretty  with narrow streets to walk through. Beach of course is also good, although the wind had blown quite a bit of sand away.

This time of year in Croatia there are very strong winds. This was evident the whole way up with mass sea spray and mini water spouts forming.  Also interesting weather to note is that is was actually was snowing at one point. Was really surreal, we thought it was seeds but nope, snow.
After exploring Omis, we headed out for dinner with our host to a very nice place just along the coast, where we had very nice tasting Croatian coastal food. We stayed the night in the small town of Stanici. The view from our apartment in the morning was fantastic; could see over to the island across the way and wonderful sea views.


Unfortunately our plans in Monetenegro  did not go well, due to the fact that it took us much longer to get out of Albania than we had planned. After crossing the border we headed north through a bird sanctuary through to the mountain monastery Ostrog. This place is famous as it is built at the top of, and into the cliff of a very high mountain. The road getting there once off the highway, was a little interesting (sheer drop and single lanes, passing was fun), but once there the view was amazing. Sadly the monastery was not what we had expected, as they have closed off the majority of the place so you can really only appreciate the view and two altars. The higher altar of the two was quite impressive..Using a natural cave the monks/artists have created some extremely beautiful artwork all over the walls.

Ostrog monastery

We headed off to what we thought was a slight shortcut rather going all the way back to the coast, only to find out that both the GPS and google maps were extremely confused. What was labeled a highway turned out to be a dirt track. Seriously, a gravel road in NZ would have been better to drive on than this “highway”. So sadly we had to head back all the way we had come and wasted a lot of time. This meant that by the time we got to Kotor, it was dark. Kotor in the dark was still quite an impressive site. Unlike what is shown in the pictures the old town walls actually go up the hill from the old town which is at the base. This provides a very unusual view. Not quite sure why this is happened as there is nothing visible at night, at the top of the hill.

The next morning we explored the area around Herceg Novi, where we had stayed the night. The Bay of Kotor (which we were at the end of), is very pretty. Beaches are quite nice, and the mountains going almost straight into the sea was very cool. We will have to come back sometime and explore Bay of Kotor properly as I feel we missed a lot travelling at night.

Northern Albania

The roads here made the remainder of our journey through Albania much longer than expected which decreased what we could see in Montenegro, but it was an experience. As mentioned in the other section on Albania, the roads here are much worse. Although it doesn’t seem to deter the Albania’s who speed along clearly without having any suspension anymore. Being much more populated than the south, there is also much more people to avoid as you are driving along, especially in cities where the central part seems to be just one bit market.

The mountains here are geologically different to the Southern ones, with different stones protruding out, and as with a little patch of the south, all on a lean of very odd looking angles. Very pretty. Didn’t have much time to explore the area here as we were trying to get onto Montenegro as soon as possible since were already being our schedule, but sadly we didn’t end up seeing to much there either. But important to note is the honesty of the people in the smaller villages. We stopped for a food break (2 coffees, ice cream, bar, 2 waters, all for 2 EU), and got overcharged at first. When they realized their mistake (we had no idea), they returned the money.

For Albania in general, there is a lot of reminders of the war,. Especially along the coastal regions and the borders (the Greek one was the worst) are gunners holes everywhere. These days though they have fallen into disrepair and some have even been used to create fishing platforms in rivers. There are a lot of abandoned houses, which is in stark contrast to the massive (3 stories in most cases) houses that exist. Of these massive houses though, about 30% are empty or unfinished. Seems that ideas and dreams are big but something got in the way.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Southern Albania

Our first scenes of Albania.
We started our journey into Albania, continuing on from Ioannina Greece. Sadly the Greek part was not as interesting as it had been before, and with the rain was not much fun to look at. There was also the horrible border crossing with hardly any cars, yet took us 1.5 hours to get through the Greek border control (as they only had 1 lane open, and were checking everything).
Albania is a very pretty country and the prettiest part of it is definitely the Southern regions. Here the roads are in much better conditions than the northern part. Although they are only really decent until Vlove, then it turns in to the stereotypical roads that you have probably heard about, where you play, dodge the giant pot hole. The main reason the road is so twisty is that in the south you have to  get along the coastal mountain region. Albania in general has a very large number of mountains, most of which were surprisingly not covered with snow (when compared to the same altitude in Greece there was 30+ cm).


Albanian countryside near Butrint
The main point of our excursions into Southern Albania was to see the archaeological site of Butrint. This wonderful little almost island in Butrint lagoon has evidence from every major occupation and development in the Balkan history from Iron age remains through to Ottoman defenses put on at the beginning of this century. The best preserved part of it was the Roman side of the village, although with the water table rising up, it is slowly sinking away. The Venetian tower provides nice views over the surrounding countryside and of course the site itself. This is a must see if you are ever in Albania.

Southern Albania has some of the nicest beaches of white sand we have seen on our trip. The trees are interesting, and the wildlife that likes to go on the road is also fun (though the cows would hurt the car). There really are no words to describe how pretty Southern Albania is, which is why I highly urge you to go there if you ever get the chance. Although in saying this, Albania is not a country that can be done in a hurry at all. We were planning to get much further north then we ended up. We stayed the night in Durres after about 7 hours of driving in Albania only to get about 2/3 through. In easier terms, we drove about 250 km in  7 hours. This is because of the windy roads, and then later on the max speed of 30km because of the terrible condition.

Durres doesn’t have much to say for itself, despite being recommended as a place to go. It does have a good beach which stretches for miles, but after the beautiful coastal regions we had seen elsewhere it seemed almost dirty.

Nothern Greece

Today started well with weather looking ok, and being a bit warmer. We made good time from Aftios,  through the Greek countryside largely due to the very nicely improved motorways connecting Thessaloniki to Athens. Had a bit of trouble getting off where we wanted, as they had closed it to make another toll booth, but eventually got to the right point. The route we were taking was a lot twistier than expected and we ended up extremely high. The point of this exercise was to take us from the coastal area’s through Mt Olympus foot hills, which we did. However we were not expecting the portions of extremely dense fog (30 m at most) and 40+ cm snow lining the roadside. Not quite sure how another car would have passed us. The view through the gaps in the fog was incredible and there was such peace with the only sound being that of snow falling from the trees. Through these foothills we did not encounter a single car. Had some more interesting scenic driving through a lot more fog, and similar snow, to get from Olympus (the town) to Meteora monasteries, the main point of the day.

The monasteries are located in an extremely beautiful part of Greece. Here there are massive fingers of rock, gouged out by water, standing over 600m+ up, with monasteries perched precariously on top of them. Sadly we arrived just after closing time for them, but did get to hear the bells ringing with the hour. The building of these places must have been a huge undertaking and the size of them on these obelisks is even more impressive. They are doted about all over these fingers, which were the most amazing part to me. They varying in shape and size, and seeing the way the water has worked and is working on them is amazing. Some are slowing being cut in half and will probably fall impressively at some point. Others have already had sections fall off recently too (judging from the colour differentiation to the rest of them). There are also little holes gouged in the sides which have been used by the locals as houses at some point, and some still have things stored in them.

Sadly the fog (there was already some but it wasn’t too bad) that we had driven through made its way to the monasteries, so it was time to move on. We headed onto Ioannina, our camp for the night. The route there would have probably been spectacular as we were clearly driving on a ridge, but of course that nasty fog took away any view, and even made the car in front of us look hazy. Got onto the main motorway, and for the first part fog, but after about 5 mins (and 500m drop in height overall), out we came from a tunnel to find spectacular snowy scenery, with mountains covered brilliantly. Such an impressive site. The building of this motorway was also impressive as we had both never driven through so many continuous tunnels, and each gap between the tunnels was a sight of beauty.

Ioannina is a very nice city. It doesn’t feel to cramped or overcrowded. Has a wonderful lake which reflects the mountains in the morning, similar to that of Queenstown. Here we had a great time going out with our host, and meeting his friends and eating a wide selection of Greek “fast food”, which tasted pretty good. Would definitely recommend it as a place to stay.

Thursday 3 March 2011


Sadly we arrived into Greece, from Macedonia, in the dark, so there was not much to see. But our first day in Greece, was nice, but a bit cool. We explored the finger of Kassandra that we were staying on in Halkidiki. Halkidiki is actually shaped like a trident striking down, and Kassandra is the first finger of these.

Halkidiki Coast
 Did a bit of off-main-roading which provided us some very nice views of the bays and some interesting bird sightings (sadly they were too fast for camera). The whole place seems to be closed down for the winter as we didn’t find a single place open to have lunch. This sadly is one of the more annoying points of travelling off season, but there are a lot of perks (e.g. being 1 of 2 guests at the entire hotel). Not to mention that it was quite annoying that we could not properly explore (although we did manage to get a bit further than fenced off) of the temple of Zeus and Dionysus that is in next town from our hotel. The geological composition of the finger is quite interesting as there is diversity in soil types and colours.

Our hotel was very nice. We had gotten a deluxe room which came with a fireplace and Jacuzzi in it which was very posh for us. They also have a sauna and steam room, and in the summer the pools open as well. Definitely recommend Hotel Nostos if you are looking for a nice place in Halkidiki. However, I would actually never want to stay here in the summer despite the obvious niceness of having good weather. On Kassandra (the whole area we have travelled while here), there is a very large volume of apartments and hotels, and seemingly not enough beach to enjoy properly. I imagine the beaches would be insanely crowded, which coming from New Zealand would be very off putting. But it is a very lovely area, with nice green blue sea, even in the winter.

Petralona Caves
Our second day in Greece we explored the Petralona Caves. This is definitely worth the visit and is priced well at only 7EU standard entry, with discounts available. Due to the time of year, we were lucky enough to have the entire place to ourselves. The caves presents a lovely variation in colours from pure white to brown red tights, mights, candles, fans and curtains (different forms of cave growths). It has 2 main halls, and numerous side passages which are explored at your own leisure if you are alone. I imagine during the summer there would be proper guided tours and lots of noise. It was very peaceful and impressive site. It is also quite unusual cave as all year round it is a balmy 17 degrees, with good level of humidity. The caves are accompanied by a museum, which displays the many archaeological finds. There is the famous Petralonian man which was found here, with his head physically removed and moulded to the wall of the cave over the years, while the rest of the skeleton sunk down. There was a good representation of this fact (and the skull) are in the museum. In addition there is a high number of different finds of human activity, as well as, animal bones.
White tower of Thessaloniki

After Petralona, we did a bit of country wandering up to Thessaloniki. Very very city, and couldn’t imagine trying to drive there in the summer. Saw the white tower and briefly enjoyed the sea front, before heading back via the sea route towards our hotel. Personally there are much more interesting sites outside of the city, but it does offer an easier stay with everything being central. Stopped off in Nea Fokea along the way back, to view the Byzantine tower and church, which still stand. The tower is only accessible through climbing the wall with a rope, as the tunnel to its inside is hidden these days. This town is very cute, and we saw evidence of the famous beach front restaurants.

Pretty beach near Thessaloniki
The food is of course with a mention, as its super yummy. The garlic heavily influences the tastes of the different things we tried, and everything is quite fishy in the area, being so close to the sea. My favourite dish was grilled aubergines with garlic sauce. So yummy! Most nights ended up feeling very fat and bloated unable to move very much.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Macedonian Countryside

Macedonian countryside
Typical village
 On route to Greece, we passed through the country of Macedonia. After driving through Serbia it was a stark change from villages every so often to very sparsely populated. And wherever there was dense populations there was certainly some sort of major industrial site to accompany it. No city was without one our entire route. To me, Macedonia, is a country of pretty gorges. The windy roads are very nicely done, and take you through some very pretty scenery as you follow the rivers path. Houses here are a bit different than in Serbia, in that they are wider than they are tall, but still have a similar style. The tolls for getting around are quite cheap and the roads are definitely worth paying them.

Ruins of Stobi
We did manage to stop at a very well preserved cultural site of Stobi. Here there was a very large Roman settlement that had a large number of palaces from different ages, as well as, some later church inclusions. It was quite interesting to see the different layers, and the palaces were of quite interesting shape and design. The whole site can be seen quite quickly (in about 30 mins) as the signs are not well detailed but give you a good overview of the area. It is also very cheap entrance of 120 MKD, and decently priced souvenirs. It is also a very convenient stop being literally right off the main motorway through the country.

Serbian Countryside

The next morning we headed off early to continue our drive onwards towards Greece, which meant that we got to view the interesting changes through the Serbian countryside. After Belgrade the country gets far more hilly, and the Southern part even more so,that it almost looks like alpine villages from Austria. The southern part of Serbia is really interesting, as there is a clear dividing line about 1 hour from the border, where there is a small pocket of Islamic peoples, as the Serbian orthodox churches disappear and are replaced by minarets. It was really interesting driving through the villages and seeing the differences between city and country lifestyles. For example houses are actually composed of mud bricks in certain areas, and the style of stacking hay actually changes the further south you go. One thing that did make me sad however, was the very large amount of plastic rubbish that was everywhere, especially lining the riverbanks.

Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic to Novi Sad, Serbia

Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic to Novi Sad, Serbia:

The route down left must to be desired in scenery, but not because it wasn’t there. This time of the year, there is a lovely dose of wog (winter smoggy thick fog), which sadly covers most of the view that is out there. The countryside of Czech Republic was same old, with nice old buildings in a very Eastern European style of building. Onto the portion that was through Slovakia, similar sort of style, although personally I find everything just a bit more disorganised. Throughout Hungary the style changes a bit with things slightly more confined and houses being a bit smaller in the countryside then previously seen. The border between Hungary and Serbia was interesting. For the first time I had trouble with my new pasport (the black very colourful NZ/Aotearoa one). Due to my cover having the word Aotearoa on it, everyone was confused. It took us an hour to get through the border (surprisingly the Hungarians took longer with it than Serbian, but I suppose once I had gotten through one the other shouldn‘t‘ be as bad). Onto Serbia, which like Hungary in that it is very very flat. Although it had a unique twist, with silos for grain being everywhere, which totally relates to the communistic view that Yugoslavia was the silo of Europe. There was still evidence of the crops around with pockets of Hops still standing through the snow. On top of the interesting crops, the roads are quite fun. They are similar to India, in that people tend to use the road fully. There are actually only 2 lanes for most of the journey down to Novi Sad from the border. However, thanks to the large shoulders most people seem to convert this into a 3 lane motorway.

Novi Sad, Serbia

This city is quite fantastic. It is small enough to enjoy the main sites in an evening, leaving enough time to truly taste the Serbian experience. We found a fantastic little (3 tables in total) restaurant just behind the main square that was just us. Had a lovely Slavic soup with noodles, followed by the super main course. We had a shared mixed meat platter that had an extremely wide selection which was amazing. But the best bit was the salad. It was a simple tomato, cucumber, and onion mixed with the best tasting soft cheese I have had in a very long time. It was comparable to sour cream made into a cheese (Sopsky). The wine was also very nice, a earthy tasting red one from somewhere in Serbia. Mmmmm, soooooooooo yummy. Had a mini foodgasm.  Obviously the sites are also worthy of a mention, with the fantastic Fortress on the hill with a colour changing “rainbow bridge” in the foreground. The main square has a number of interesting monuments, but my particular favourite was the church with the coloured tiled roof. Very interesting. Another great side point of Novi Sad in particular, is the honest and cheap cabs. We decided to take a cab in from our hotel (thanks to my ankle still playing up) which round trip journey cost under 4 EUR (which is impressive considering our hotel was an hours walk from town centre).  They cab drivers actually take less than the meter states, and are happy about it. They also do sincerely take the quickest route. Would definitely recommend using this wonderful service if you are ever here.