In this Globe Trekker, Zay Harding visits the Balkan countries of former Yugoslavia: Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro. Underscored by a rollicking gypsy inspired soundtrack Zay discovers 4 countries rich in tradition and history, with a common desire to live life to the full!
Starting in the Kosovo, which became independent in February 2008, Zay explores the capital city Prishtina, and spends the night Albanian dancing to local band “Machiato”. An incredible 50% of the population of Kosovo is under the age of 20, and since independence, the local music scene is thriving.
The next day Zay visits Gazimestan, a memorial to a war that took place over 500 years ago. It is where the Serbians fought the Turks in 1389. As a concession to Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo, the memorial is now heavily patrolled by UN troops, an eerie feeling for a tourist site.
Next stop Serbia, and Zay’s first point of call is at a traditional farming festival outside the Kalenic Monastery. Zay is most excited about the moustache competition, even the Guinness book world record holder Zoran Pontic is there. After fudging his way into the event with a 30 cm long fake moustache, Zay manages to get onstage before his moustache falls off in front of everyone! The next day, Zay visits the local monastery. He works hard to make amends for his antics by mucking out the stables and milking cows with the nuns.
Zay travels on to the Serbian capital Belgrade, the former seat of power for the whole of Yugoslavia. It is a city that is famously located where 2 great rivers meet – the River Danube and the River Sava – and it is also famous for its nightlife! After checking into his floating backpacker barge Zay hits the town joined by Eurovision Song Competition winners “‘The Beauty Queens”.
Leaving Belgrade by train, Zay is off to enjoy another popular festival, The Guca Trumpet Festival. Over 4 days and nights, gypsy or Roma bands and their imitators battle it out in open competition. It is a cacophony of brass and hundreds of thousands of people attend to eat (mainly meat on a spit), drink (beer), dance and be merry!
When travelling in the Balkans, reminders of the 1990s wars are never far away and nowhere is this more apparent than in Sarajevo, Zay’s next destination and capital city of Bosnia Herzegovina. Between the years 1992 and 1995 Sarajevo was under siege, with Serbian troops and Bosnian Serb forces firing on the predominantly Muslim Bosnian population. Zay visits the site of a tunnel, which was dug out during the siege and is now a museum. For the local people it was their only way in and out of the city.
A beautiful city, Sarajevo was once the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Zay continues his journey, trekking high up into the Bjeslasnica Mountains, stopping overnight in Bosnia’s highest village Lukomir. As a result of its isolation, and years of conflict, life has barely changed here in 100s of years, and that’s a common theme to rural life in The Balkans.
Next stop Mostar, where a 25 metre high bridge built by the Ottomans in 1566 has now become the site of an extreme sport, bridge jumping! Zay makes the training jumps at 10 metres, but chickens out of the 25-metre jump.
This is the last country Zay visits on his Balkan adventure… trekking all the way from the glamorous coastline to the dramatic and scenic interior. Montenegro means “black mountain” and 4 fifths of the country is made up of mountains. Zay swaps a mountain bike for a traditional log raft to complete the final leg of his journey. He rafts the Tara River Canyon, the deepest canyon in all of Europe and a World Heritage site… It’s a dramatic end to the show when the raft becomes stuck on rocks, in the middle of ice cold rapids!
Places Mentioned - The BalkansShare the series
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