Belgrade on 15th of August.
Something feels good about Belgrade (wiki), a big congested city with parking fees, police and all that, a grand city. Feel of a capital of an empire. Late we arrive, hide in an alley, a business district, maybe safe (from police) till morning. Morning, Monday, people go to work, we relocate, central a coffee, play with the iphone, read up on the Balkan and Yugoslav wars and Milošević (wiki) and whether he was as mischievous as they want to make us believe, Žižek says yes, Handke and Chomsky no ... as usual, the left divided. You have an opinion?
"Instead of being troubled by what is really evil, people make a big fuss over what is merely conventionally evil." Diogenes, the Cynic.
What strikes is that Belgrade, the city, its people look innocent and peaceful, the grand capital of Serbia, grandest participant in the Yugoslav wars with its documented atrocities only a decade ago.
Belgrade is town on Danube and Sava, strategically important, attracting wars over 1000s of years? What relation is there between orthodox and catholic church today? Why are these things so important in Serbia? What’s with the Muslims, Serbia was Ottoman ruled for centuries; Belgrade was then called Dar Al Jihad, what a name? Balkan wars 1912/13, Serbian nationalists killed Austrian heir to the throne Francis Ferdinand, Austrians learn in school this is why we had WW1, WW2 and its Croat Ustaše atrocities, after years and years of Tito who was a Croat finally we have Milošević and the Yugoslav wars, in the 1990s, these last wars in Europe. What are the relations between Croats and Serbs today? Do the young bother? Why did both parents of Milošević commit suicide many years apart from each other?
Has it finally come to peace, I have to come back, something feels good about Belgrade.
Danube Iron Gate.
After a Chinese lunch we head out, traffic is dense and it takes hours to really leave greater Belgrade. Once we hit the Danube we take a bath, first in a week, a quick one, there are some water snakes. Dangerous, poisonous snakes of the Danube? Probably not.
It is a long way to the Iron Gate, and night falls sooner than expected, the spectacle enjoyable but we miss out on a few sights. Tant pis.
Sofia on 18th of August.
Sofia feels small, small in expanse, how can they stick 1.4 million people in here? I wonder. From above, from the Vitosha mountain, no land marks want to capture the eye’s attention. Just all communist blocks; systematised.
In town, is nice, but what do with it? We find what they say might be the oldest church in the Balkans: St. George, 400 AD, devine affiliation of the place probably predates the church, as might have been the site of a Greek/Roman temple before, then after was a mosque during Ottoman rule. Quiet amazing how these frescos survived.
Some central area where we park/camp, cafes and pubs, arty, but I mean Sofia is more a village.
I liked them all, the former Eastern Bloc capitals; have charm, their smiley way.
Another parking ticket in Sofia, but how can you get this right? Don’t park? Eh -, yeah.
Zagorka is the beer, Lake Iskar artificial, Ivan serves the beer, worked 10 years in Berlin, does not speak so much German. Must have been East Berlin? Not because he doesn’t speak German fluently.
We carry on, Borovets a large skiing resort; turn right try to cross the Rila mountain range (wiki), near is its highest summit Musala, and a little road shows on my Balkan's overview map that I bought I think after the Communist fall and that we've been using so-far on this journey east.
We only get s bit nearer to it, road is closed where Rila National Park starts. So we set up camp, is late. A little walk in the woods, nature and nature, dense pine forests, a babbling stream, a quiet away from cities.
Brick of soap, wash feet in ice cold stream.
Morning, all the way back to Borovets, then on to Kostenets, Yakovuda, we cannot find our way in these mountains, somewhere we buy Bulgarian mountain honey. Must be quality, must be organic. Local peasant's produce, bought from the peasants.
Somewhere we buy delicious tomatoes, from backyard, creamy sheep cheese; this quality will not sell in Greece. All my life I have prefered the Bulgarian to the Greek "feta". Really nothing can compare with Bulgarian feta.
We have a bad map, are ill prepared, have difficulties finding a way through, not around, we drive high altitudes, up, down, through forests, our path is tiring; peaks are near but never come to our sight.
Afternoon we bail out, the south calling drive into Greece. 21st of Aug.
This is not Chicken hung up for drying, grape leaves neither. ... Whoever said this?