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Balkans Road Trip (Part 1)

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After a one hour delay at O'Hare Airport in Chicago due to an air-conditioning issues on the plane, we took off for Dusseldorf and what we expected to be an amazing adventure. The American Airlines crew was very snappy and inattentive. Guess they really do not like their jobs very much. However, what was worse was the transfer on Air Berlin to Venice. Talk about cattle cars! My knees were nearly in my chin and the plane was packed.

But, we arrived at Marco Polo Airport in Venice and met the other pre-tour participants, some of whom had been waiting for hours. After a bit of a search, we found our two vans and drivers and loaded up, headed east towards the Balkans. Thank goodness the vans had air-conditioning and were roomy -- somewhat. We stopped to buy water in Slovenia, then it was off to Zagreb, Croatia. They claim Nicola Tesla as their own and there is a statue of him in the city.

Zagreb is a nice city. Easy to walk and with a lot of history. We met, Emile, who is a major promoter of conferences and sponsored David Icke there a few years ago. He gave us a wonderful walking tour and we also had a fab dinner of Croatian delights. There are many winged dragon statues here and lots of intrigue from Soviet times. Yet, the energy felt light and powerful. Would have been nice to spend some more time here, but we were on a tight schedule.

On to Belgrade, Serbia. As soon as we crossed the border, leaving the EU, the energy got heavy and tense. Serbia has been a harsh place and was always supported politically by the USSR. Belgrade to me seemed confusing and disjointed. The Serbians still think of themselves as part of Yugoslavia -- which no longer exists. We had a wonderful birthday party here for one of our participants and the Serbian food and wine was great!

The next day we drove south across Serbia to Kosovo, the break-away area that Serbia still claims. However, Serbia will not be allowed in the EU if they continue this point of view. Crossing the border here was a bit nerve-wracking. It's in the middle of nowhere and there were EU police around since border skirmishes still occur. We had to buy insurance for the vehicles in order to be able to enter.

Kosovo is interesting. Immediately you notice the Muslim presence and can see how tense the people seem near the border. When we entered the capital city of Pristina, traffic was intense! It was like downtown Manhattan at rush hour and all the traffic lights were turned off! There must be something going on here because there is a lot of money in Kosovo. Lots of new construction, fancy cars and well-dressed people. They use the Euro as currency and are supported by both the EU and wealthy Muslim nations.

Onward to Macedonia, land of Alexander The Great! This country to the north of Greece is visually gorgeous and austere. We stayed at Lake Ochrid in the western part of the country. While Macedonia advertises a lot for tourists to come, they are certainly not prepared for it. The hotels are from the days of the Yugoslavian dictator, Tito. The showers are cold, the roads narrow and windy, the waiters in the restaurants have no patience for foreigners and the rooms in the hotels have a 1940s feel to them, even though they have been modernized.

However, Macedonia is a wonderful place to visit and with some proper upgrades, Americans and western Europeans will feel more at home here. I think that this country has a lot of potential and will one day reveal many ancient secrets to the world.

Next, we went to mysterious Albania. This country was not part of the former Yugoslavia, but, was aligned with Red China for many decades. The countryside is magnificent and prices are very low. The roads are very narrow and on steep, twisting mountainsides. If there is a truck or bus in front of you, that's it! But, Albanian drivers whip around such obstacles and blindly pass on sharp curves and inclines. It can take your breath away! The railings on these roads are very low and would not stop a vehicle from going over.

The capital city of Tirana was a mess. The roads suddenly end, sometimes in a garbage heap. No one really speaks English or any other language but Albanian, which is a form of ancient Greek. They were having elections and after we left, there was a shoot-out and one of the politicians was killed!

Into Montenegro! This country is known for its coastline, Russian tourists, casinos and corruption. They also advertise for tourists and I think they are a bit more prepared. We arrived late at our hotel and the restaurant had just closed. But, the hotel manager opened it for us and for 10 euro, we had an unlimited buffet and all the red wine you can drink!! What a bargain!
Driving to Bosnia was precarious on very high mountain roads, no real railings and sharp turns. In fact, the day after we drove this road, a Romanian bus went over the side, killing 18 people.

The border between Montenegro and Bosnia is across a narrow river. The road is more narrow than my driveway and has buses and trucks going both ways. After about 30 km, the roads widens and then you can get on a regular highway. Bosnia is so green and beautiful. You can never imagine that such atrocities took place here only a couple of decades ago.

Sarajevo is a melting pot of many religions and nationalities. It is here that the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were assassinated by a Serbian man who was paid by certain factions in June 1914, starting WWI where over 20 million Europeans and Americans were killed. Sarajevo has been the scene of the Winter Olympics in 1984 as well as under siege by Serbians in the 1990s. Almost 12,000 were killed in the city and over 100,000 died in Bosnia.

At last, we arrive at the Hollywood Hotel, where our pyramid adventure would begin. To be continued....