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Asking Directions : Guest Traversing Territories – the Balkans

Asking Directions Series

‘Asking Directions’ is a new series in my blog where I interview fellow travelers on places they have been. It is an effort to build up the travel community through collaboration projects and helping each other out. Those of us, who are beginners, often need a greater push from someone through anecdotes, vignettes and personal wisdom. When we are lost, or get stuck in travel or life, we ‘ask directions’.

https://unsplash.com/photos/dRHE-XF7wls | Janis Oppliger @capturethemoment

My guest is Aaron from Traversing Territories. A native of Texas, Aaron got into international travel since spending a semester at Stockholm. The name of the blog, Traversing Territories, is inspired by the song “Territories” by Rush. The lyrics to the song warn about the consequences of nationalism in an international world, and inspired Aaron to travel.

Check out : https://traversingterritories.com/about/

Aaron has chosen to ‘give directions’ about the Balkan countries – a part of Europe which has a unique cultural identity as a three-way-junction with native roots in the medieval West, Ottoman influences in the East, and Communist history of modern times. Rapidly recovering from a tumultuous past and integrating with the world’s strongest market makes the region uniquely placed to be affordable, safe and refreshing. What follows are my questions to Aaron and his answers.

https://www.google.com/maps/@43.1470909,21.0862964,5.33z

You are standing at a place with extraordinary natural beauty. Where are you and what are you looking at?

Aaron – One particularly memorable place on the beautiful Balkan peninsula is the Valley of Theth, in northern Albania. The high mountain passes are snowed in during the winter, making the valley inaccessible for part of the year. The valley is so remote that it missed the memo and managed to remain Christian throughout centuries of Islamic Ottoman rule in Albania.

Theth, Albania – Traversing Territories

During the summer, you can hike out from the pleasant mountain village and have spectacular views of the vibrantly green valley dotted with stone churches and blood feud defense towers.

What’s your most memorable street-food or cafe-food experience?

AaronThe Pelion is a peninsula in eastern Greece, shrouded in legends of mythical creatures like centaurs. It’s historically one of Greece’s less accessible regions, and the hillside villages retain a quaint and isolated atmosphere despite now being served by modern roads.

Pelion, Greece – Traversing Territories

From a terrace café in the Pelion village of Miliés with a Greek friend, I discovered a whole new way to enjoy feta: baked, doused in honey, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. This, with Greek coffee and a view of sloping olive orchards and shimmering Aegean waters, is a perfect way to pass a summer afternoon!

Any unexpected, funny or misunderstanding-related incident during your travels?

Aaron – Transportation often leads to bizarre experiences. I was dropped off once on a deserted roadside in an Albanian mountain town and told that my bus would pick me up there. The ”bus” turned out not to be a bus at all, but rather an old man driving an equally-old Mercedes sedan. Anywhere else, I would have been highly suspicious, but when you need to get somewhere in Albania, you quickly learn that anything can pass for public transportation!

You are standing on the prettiest or coziest street in a historic corner of a city. Where are you?

Aaron – The Bosnian city of Mostar is famous for its stone bridge that was destroyed during the civil war in 1993 and subsequently rebuilt.

Mostar, Bosnia – Traversing Territories

The area around the bridge can get a little crowded with tourists during the day, but down the streets leading away from there, you can enjoy the ambiance of the old town. It’s a tangle of minarets, church towers, and Turkish domes nestled in a narrow river valley. Evidence of recent war is still evident, but so are signs of gradual reconciliation – including one massive sign that reads ”don’t forget but do forgive forever.”

What’s a traditional food, drinks or cultural activity you experienced?

Aaron – When eating mezes (Greek tapas), it’s important to have a good selection of dishes and good company to enjoy them with. It’s always a good idea to eat outside the touristy part of town, and even better if you can meet a local who knows exactly what to order. A friend took me to a gathering at a tiny family-run mezes restaurant in Ioannina where the menu changes every day and is not available in English. The atmosphere was authentic, and the food was much better than anything I ordered on my own in Greece.

Name 3 underrated destinations or attractions you would recommend to visit?

Aaron

Albania can come with a bad reputation because of its history of communist dictators and mafia crime, but it’s one of my favorite countries that I’ve visited. Not only is it safe to visit, but it’s unique in many aspects, and one of the more ”exotic” corners of Europe. Also, the food is an incredible fusion of Greek, Turkish, and Italian, so you can’t go wrong.

Azerbaijan is an interesting country in the South Caucasus region. With large oil reserves and a location between Russia, Iran, and Turkey, their geopolitical situation is complicated to say the least. But they’ve recently made it much easier to obtain a tourist visa (coronavirus aside), and I think it’s well worth a stop if you’re visiting its more popular neighbor Georgia.

Copper Harbor, Michigan – Traversing Territories

Here in the US, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a great road trip destination albeit rather remote. The scenery along the shore of Lake Superior is beautiful and there are a lot of outdoor activities. Don’t forget to eat a pasty, the local specialty!

How has travel changed you and what advice would you give to beginners who want to travel?

Aaron – Apart from learning about the world and making new friends, the biggest thing I’ve gained from my travels is the ability to get out of my comfort zone. As an introvert myself, there was a time when traveling to the other side of the world alone was the last thing anyone would expect. Now, I’m more comfortable not only with travel itself but many other types of challenges as well.

As for advice, I think the hardest part is getting out the door. The thought of going to an unfamiliar place can be nerve-racking. Planning and research help a lot, but once you’re on the road, I find that most things work themselves out somehow or another, so don’t stress the details too much in advance.


Notes

Check out the following articles in Aaron’s blog –

The Balkan Region

Albania

Northern Greece

Balkan Transportation

Mezes and Ouzos

Feature Image by Josiah Lewis (https://www.pexels.com/photo/parthenon-athens-greece-772698)


See Also :

Czech, Slovak and Hungarian Delights

Szentendre, Hungary (Day trip from Budapest) – Solo Travel for Introverts

Vienna & Bratislava – Solo Travel for Introverts

If you’re a travel blogger, and interested in Asking Directions series, please contact me. I would love to ‘ask directions’ to you !

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