Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Balkans Good

Serbia is well off the worn tourist trail even by Eastern European standards. This nation has a big PR problem from the breakup of Yugoslavia and the seige of Sarajevo. I sometimes wonder if these mitgating factors led the locals in that country to be so welcoming. I always felt a sense of ease and comfort while travelling around Serbia and would not hesitate to return. Perhaps it was the just Vojvodina province that is like this and the south is different since the two parts have a much different history to them.

I was warned in guidebooks and by expats of all the swindles and thievery that goes on in Romania to the point of pre-trip apprehension. People everywhere we went were totally honest in every transaction. As a grand finale on our last day, I left a $100 Canadian along with $5 US dollars and a pair of Oakley sunglasses under the rental's seat. The third party car cleaner/finder relayed the cash and glasses through 3 sets of hands back to me

The natural scenery and national parks of these countries is comparable to anywhere else in the world and makes it difficult to believe you are in crowded Europe. The timber, mineral and tourist potential is enormous. Serbia's Vojvodina province is perfect, flat black soiled farmland and an important food grower.

I would like to return to the Balkans, starting with something like the an electronic music fest that was started to protest the Serbian nationalist Milosevic in 2000. It has evolved into an acclaimed, electronic music and arts fest and just so happens to play much of what is on my iPod to. It takes place in the fortress overlooking Novi Sad and that setting seems ideal with its acreage of tiered lawns and spectacular views.

From here a trip through the southern reaches of Serbia and into Montenegro then travel the Black Sea coast up to Moldovia and north Transylvania all via motorcycle.

 These nations offer a low cost adventure holiday into the remnants of communism, an area rich in history and culture as all of Europe is but at a 50% discount. The people are genuinely interested in where you come from and how you live back in your own homeland. Of course this interest is proportionate to how far off the beaten tourist tracks you are. In the heavily tourist-ed zones you get the same jaded zombie service employees you'd find in places like Prince Edward Island or Orlando.

My aunt likely summed it up best when she said you'd better hurry up and do your motorcycle tour, you're not getting any younger. While I am on the subject, my aunt and mother did very well on this trip for a couple of 70ish ladies. Most their age would not have attempted this.

People here seem to have a real optimistic spark for their future in spite of some of the tough challenges they face. I see good things for this part of the world as ex-pats return to live and bring their foreign capital and skills back. Much of the population is highly educated as many communist countries placed a high priority on education and training and this bodes well for economic development. Make no mistake about how tough it is though. Things are cheaper, yes but when you are making 200-300 Euros per month, day to day living stress is shall we say increased. In spite of limited budgets for many everywhere you travel in the cities of the Balkans people make the effort to dress fashionably and just look good. These folks have figured out how to stretch every last Dinar or Lei.

Alas the world is a big place and there is much to see.  I don't know when I will get back to the Balkans, if ever, but this trip was important to me to see my roots and reconnect with my aunt and mother.

This blog was started on a spur-of-the-moment idea to allow friends and family to follow our trip.
The results have exceeded all expectations with over 2000 unique web hits from 14 different countries and I thank all who were interested enough to follow my amateurish attempts at documenting our journey.

I do intend to keep the blog alive for a bit longer as I have some personal wine reviews to publish for the Christmas season so stay tuned..

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post Mike. Your descriptions are very detailed and precise as always, it never fails to amaze me how good memory you have.

    BTW Currently the weather is really bad over here so they still didn't initiated the cemetery list, however for the same reason municipality will postpone the cemetery removal, which is relieving to hear.
    Hopefully we'll have the list soon and hopefully we'll find your family name on one of those crypts.