BALKANS TOUR 2018

Peter a Distefano, CPIA, RHU, VTC, DD

TOUR & TRAVEL ORGANIZERS LTD

I have recently returned from a tour of the Balkan Countries. This was a tour with just travel agents from all over the world, and was sponsored by Travel Shop Turkey. The tour visited cities in Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina.


The tour started in Tirana, Albania with a workshop of exhibitors from all over the Balkan countries. After the workshop we were taken to a tram to go to the top of the mountain for lunch at the Panorama Restaurant. Going up in the tram we had beautiful views of the city and did a walking tour. That evening we were treated to a wonderful dinner with entertainment.


We then drove to Berat, Llogara, Ohrid and Skopje visiting a castle in Elbasan then on to Ohrid where we toured the town which is a UNESCO world heritage region for its cultural and natural history.


In Skopje we toured the city visiting the old town as well as many other sites. Skopje is the largest city and the capital of Macedonia. We visited the Citadel, then the Mustafa Pasha Mosque from the 15th century - then thru the second largest Turkish Bazaar in the Balkans. In the central city square we saw the Alexander the Great fountain, and then walked towards the old railway station as witness of the 1969 earthquake.


In the afternoon we drove on towards Prishtina which is the capital of Kosovo. We did a walking tour through the central area of the city. We then drove on towards Prizren to Decani monastery which is one of the most important religious monuments in Kosovo. when we arrived in Prizren we had lunch in a traditional restaurant located in the old Othoman Bazaar.


The following day we departed Prizren for the city of Budva driving along the coast to Skadar Lake which is a national park. We took a boat ferry across the lake to Rijeka Crnojevica where we had lunch at a nice restaurant on the river bank. We then headed to the capital city, Podgorica, where we had a short site seeing break. Then off to Budva for the evening.


The next morning we did a city tour thru Budva, and then on to the most beautiful part of the Adriatic Coast heading to Dubrovnik exploring the finest sites of the Old Walled City. We walked through the old town visiting the Fransican Monastery with Europe's third oldest pharmacy, the Rectors Palace and the Cathedral.


After lunch we headed towards Sarajevo with a short stop in Mostar for site seeing - the Old-New Bridge, Tower of Halebija-Cehovina, Ceyvan Cehan Mosque, Karadjoz-bey's Mosque and the old market.


We spent the night in Saraejvo, and the next morning visits to Bascarsija Old Town with cobbled streets, numerous mosques and oriental shops, Latin Bridge where the assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place, Morica Han which is the only preserved style inn in Sarajevo - and much more.


The guides we had did a wonderful job despite the fact that we unfortunately had a few travel agents that lacked professionalism, and were constantly complaining and/or causing problems. It was noted that two travel agents are now banned from any Travel Shop Turkey tours, and I want to state neither was from America. There were travel agents from around the world on our tour of the Balkans. I made new friends from Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Mumbai, Oman, United Kingdom with whom I intend to stay in touch with. Another was one of the sponsors of the tour, Arzu, who I enjoyed traveling with for part of the trip as a seat companion on the bus which allowed me to learn a lot more about the Balkans.


I had an interesting experience in Prishtina when I lost the tour group, and had no idea where the bus had gone to park. I wandered back and forth across the large center square in the central area hoping either I would see someone from the group - or that they might see me. At one point I sat down on a bench, and spoke with a local family that joined me on the bench. Even though they spoke very little English they tried to be so very helpful, but I decided to keep walking. Further on I rested on another bench where a man was sitting. I started talking with him as he spoke excellent English telling him my dilemma. After thinking on it he recommended we go to the restaurant where our group had lunch. His thought was that since we were a large group they might have a contact number. He and I walked to the restaurant where he spoke to them. They did have a contact number, and one of the guides came to get me. I gave my thanks to the gentleman who helped me, and he gave me his business card. It turns out he was the chief investigative police officer for Interpol!


All in all it was an excellent trip with fantastic guides who did their best to take care of us. 


A little bit about the travel arrangements. I flew business class the entire trip. From San Francisco to DC on a United Flight. In the airport I was turned away from the United Business Lounge apparently because the United person didn't know her job. The food served on this United Flight was so bad it was inedible! Conversely my flight on Austrian Airlines to Vienna was amazing. Comfortable sleeper bed seats - an onboard chef serving 4 star quality foods. I'd recommend Austrian Airlines anytime. On the return I spent a week in Germany visiting Bavaria and the Odenwald region which will be a separate story and photos. The return flight (business class) was reluctantly again on United. All I can say is that for the largest airline I now consider them third class, and really cannot recommend them unless that is all you can get for where you are going. The Frankfurt airport is extremely large, but one of the best run airports in the world.


Here are some photos of the Balkans tour.