UK is in Europe, I know. 🙂
The Balkans; a strip of countries at the heart of Europe. These countries wouldn’t necessarily be at the top of anyone’s places-to-visit list. They’re not exactly what you’d call cliché tourist spots. I recently visited Macedonia and Albania, two of the least popular regions of the Balkans, with a group of friends.
We chose Macedonia and Albania for very simple reasons; the flight ticket to Macedonia from our place was “dirt cheap”. It was so cheap, the five of us unanimously agreed to the plan without any second thoughts. Money matters, guys, more so with the high exchange rate at that time. Albania is situated just to the left of Macedonia so we thought it would be worth our while to visit that country as well.
Before leaving we looked up online for “touristy” places to visit within each countries and planned our schedule and accommodation accordingly. Settling all these before setting forth on a trip made everything a lot more manageable and smooth.
We landed in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. It immediately became evident that communicating with the locals was going to be a challenge. Very few people, including taxi drivers spoke English. Asking for directions and suggestions for restaurants were difficult and at times downright frustrating. I assumed not many Asian tourists made their way to this country, many stared at us blankly, trying to guess our home country, I guessed. Some asked me if I’m from India and some asked my Chinese friends if they were from China. None could immediately believe we were Malaysians, that was an answer they weren’t expecting. That only made us chuckle and appreciate how brilliant Malaysia is with its cultural diversity.
What my friends and I loved most from the local cuisine was this one dish called “Ajvar” pronounced as “Ai-var”. It’s a savoury, succulent, chutney-like side dish made by cooking peppers with a range of spices. Believe me when I say it was AMAZING. We had it for four or five meals consecutively, silly us. It eventually bored us, sadly. Macedonian food is cheap, very cheap in terms of pounds (don’t convert to Ringgit la, if not it’s probably not that cheap). So we were quite generous when it came to spending on food.
We did a tonne of walking to explore the city; what better way is there?
After spending four days in Skopje and Ohrid, a lakeside town, we travelled to Tirana, the capital of Albania by taxi. The roads between these two cities aren’t the greatest in the world and did nauseate some of us. It’s incredibly windy which seemed risky I’d say, if you travel by bus.
Tirana was extremely different to what I had in my mind. Contrary to what I had thought, the whole city scene was delightfully lively! The food there didn’t differ much from Macedonian cuisine so Albanian food wasn’t really the highlight our trip.
The whole trip was extremely fun and joyful because of the company I had throughout the eight days. Constant inside-jokes and silly puns gave us a wonderful time together as a group which only added to the wonderful scenes we saw and experienced in those two countries.