22.07.2014 - 22.07.2014
Our next stop is Bulgaria and in order to get there we traveled haphazardly through the Balkan peninsula. Leaving Italy behind at the port of Ancona, we purchased deck tickets on a ferry to Croatia. This meant we slept on narrow benches near the restaurants on board with other frugal travellers.
Arriving in the city of Split we meandered through the remains of Diocletian's Palace. During the collapse of Rome, many villagers in Dalmatia fled to this walled complex, as it was the only safe haven in the area. For breakfast we had a sandwich of small, spiced, pork sausages in a thick bread. While filling it was really missing multiple textures and a sauce. Something crunchy, like lettuce, would have been an improvement.
Taking the bus at 1am, we headed south to the city of King's Landing. I mean Dubrovnik. Getting in at 5am, we stowed our luggage and headed to see the sights made more famous by the show Game of Thrones.
Our original idea was nixed, as there was no room on the bus from Dubrovnik to Skopje, so we jumped on one heading south to Kotor, Montenegro. Leaving several hours earlier then planned we were unable to secure dinner. Digging into our luggage, we produced a can of tuna and Ritz crackers. Once down in Kotor we managed to get on another bus within minutes to get us to Skopje, Macedonia. This was a trip that would take over 10 hours and through multiple countries. They would wake us up to check passports as we left one Balkan country then again within 15 minutes as we entered another one.
We arrived in Skopje around 5am and had til midnight before we left again. The Republic of Macedonia have really put in the effort to make the city center look grand. Statues and fountains everywhere and the loaming fortress as a backdrop readily made this our favorite stop so far in the whole trip.
For breakfast we had a dough, similar to filo (thin, almost transparent), wrapped in several layers with a salty cheese, reminiscent of feta, in the middle. An entire pan is covered in oil and then baked and you order by weight. The entire piece cost less than $1 and was filling and a nice balance of salt, oil and bread.
We also ran into a Montenegrin that we met on the bus when we stopped in Serbia. She helped us find some food and we passed the time walking around the city center.
At her recommendation, we ate at a eestuarant in the old town. We ordered a traditional Balkan salad called shopke, which consists of diced tomatoes and cucumbers topped with 1/2 inch of a local cheese similar to feta. Refreshing on a hot day and a change from the Italian tomato salad which doesn't use a vinegar in its dressing. We also had grilled meats including a sausage with a real casing. Contrary to the American artificial casings, a natural one has a certain snap to it when you bite it giving a nice texture contrast to the soft meat inside. The bread was the best part. Fluffy, chewy and most impotantly , buttery. We haven't had butter since Bavaria, and before that the cruise. It is often the little things that you appreciate while traveling.
Once again we were on the move around midnight. This time we had a minivan and apparently were over booked a little. Once this got sorted out we headed to Bulgaria. It would have been uneventful other than the fact two Macedonians were not allowed out of the country and had to remain at the checkpoint. We never found out why this happened. The woman traveling with them was not happy and when we got searched at the Bulgarian border the guard deliberately threw her clothes around as he "searched" her bag. As for us, once he saw we were Americans he simply ignored us.