Month: November 2016

Gyros in Greece – Balkans trip anecdotes and photos

This blog mainly concentrates on providing information that will help in living or travelling in Malaysia. However, I do blog a little about trips abroad. On my recent trip to the Balkans I’ll do a series of short blogs providing one anecdote per country, and then a few assorted photos of the country unrelated to the anecdote.

Greek Buddy Bear

Greek Buddy Bear

Greece didn’t really work out for me, because it just rained while I was there – from Corfu, and the west coast to the east.  My plan for rain was to keep on moving until I got away from it.  But at least I managed to track down a gyros in Greece.  On my first night there, in fact, in Igoumenitsa.  It’s the Greek name for what I’d call a kebab, or doner kebab.  The gyros from the shop next to the hotel, some wine and an apple from the supermarket, and a couple of Baklava from the cake shop.  But the Baklava was the star – the nicest baklava I’ve ever had.  And another gyros the next afternoon at the rail station in Thessaloniki – which meant I could use their WiFi to make a hotel booking for that night.

Baklava

Baklava

gyros

gyros

Thessaloniki restaurant

Thessaloniki restaurant

Thessaloniki restaurant

Thessaloniki restaurant

dolmades - vine leaves

dolmades – vine leaves

mixed grill

mixed grill

OTHER PHOTOS IN GREECE

Corfu Town

Corfu Town

spinach pie

spinach pie

ferry to the mainland

ferry to the mainland

ferry to the mainland

ferry to the mainland

Corfu from the water

Corfu from the water

double rainbow approaching the mainland

double rainbow approaching the mainland

rainbow approaching the mainland

rainbow approaching the mainland

Igoumenitsa

Igoumenitsa

bus to Thessalonili

bus to Thessaloniki

fog and cloud on the way to Thessaloniki

fog and cloud on the way to Thessaloniki

harbour at Thessaloniki

harbour at Thessaloniki

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

ruins discovered in the centre of town

ruins discovered in the centre of town

restaurant

restaurant

ruins near train station

ruins near train station

ruins near train station

ruins near train station

train station

train station

platform at train station

platform at train station

bus to Skopje, Macedonia

bus to Skopje, Macedonia

on the way to Skopje, Macedonia

on the way to Skopje, Macedonia

on the way to Skopje, Macedonia

on the way to Skopje, Macedonia

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Nicolas Sarkozy and Kirsten Stewart lookalikes having a smoke at the Macedonian border

Nicolas Sarkozy and Kirsten Stewart lookalikes having a smoke at the Macedonian border

Oh yes, and the driver on the bus I took from Thessaloniki to Macedonia was Nicolas Sarkozy, and one of the passengers was Kirsten Stewart.

 

Aching in Albania – Balkans trip anecdotes and photos

This blog mainly concentrates on providing information that will help in living or travelling in Malaysia. However, I do blog a little about trips abroad. On my recent trip to the Balkans I’ll do a series of short blogs providing one anecdote per country, and then a few assorted photos of the country unrelated to the anecdote.

My aims in Albania were to stay in the ancient town of Berat and explore it, and to travel down the scenic coastal road from Vlore to Saranda.

I managed to get from the south of Montenegro to Berat in one day, first with a local taxi, then a long distance taxi to across the border into Shkoder, the first town you come to in Albania, then another long distance taxi to the capital, Tirana, then a bus to Berat, and finally a local bus from the terminal to the town centre, arriving about 4.30PM  Not bad considering almost no one spoke English, and I had no real information I could count on.

And why “Aching in Albania”?  Because the streets in Berat were cobbled.  Not like cobbled streets I am familiar with in other parts of Europe, but with really, really uneven stones.  I had brought the wrong shoes for this trip anyway, but it was compounded by walking on these surfaces.  After three days I had to leave Berat, because my feet couldn’t take it any more.  Walking almost anywhere was painful.  I don’t know how locals cope.  I tried asking hotel staff, but they didn’t really understand what I was asking.

this is walking up to the hostel I spent a couple of nights at

this is walking up to the hostel I spent a couple of nights at

From this angle it doesn;t look so bad

From this angle it doesn’t look so bad…

...but then you look closely and you can see how rough it is

…but then you look closely and you can see how rough it is

another path

another path

the best approach was to walk on those centre bricks - they are a bit more even. But many paths weren't constructed this way

the best approach was to walk on those centre bricks – they are a bit more even. But many paths weren’t constructed this way

going up the road to my hotel

going up the road to my hotel

OTHER PHOTOS IN ALBANIA

Almost the first vehicle I saw after crossing the border into Albania from Montenegro

Almost the first vehicle I saw after crossing the border into Albania from Montenegro

hilltop on the outskirts of Shkoder

hilltop on the outskirts of Shkoder

mosque in Shkoder

mosque in Shkoder

market in Shkoder

market in Shkoder

on the way to the capital, Tirana

on the way to the capital, Tirana

Both Albania and Macedonia claim Mother Teresa

Both Albania and Macedonia claim Mother Teresa

the bus from Tirana to Berat

the bus from Tirana to Berat

on the way to Berat

on the way to Berat

hillside church in Berat

hillside church in Berat

really nice restaurant in Berat, which I ate at a couple of times

really nice restaurant in Berat, which I ate at a couple of times

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

my first dinner in Berat

wine tasting at a countryside winery about 45 minutes outside Berat

wine tasting at a countryside winery about 45 minutes outside Berat

river in Berat

river in Berat

early dinner at the same restaurant as before

early dinner at the same restaurant as before – Antigoni

walking up to the hilltop

walking up to the hilltop

walking up to the hilltop

walking up to the hilltop

Berat from the top

Berat from the top

I will now go up to the castle and medieval centre

I will now go up to the castle and medieval centre

medieval centre

medieval centre

medieval centre

medieval centre

I moved to a hotel and ate in the restaurant - a very good meal

I moved to a hotel and ate in the restaurant – a very good meal

restaurant

restaurant

starter

starter

main

main – and then later I had cassata for dessert

minibus from Berat to Vlore

minibus from Berat to Vlore

I saw a few of these

I saw a few of these

weekend market in a small town we passed through

weekend market in a small town we passed through

bus from Vlore to Himare

bus from Vlore to Himare

beautiful coastline

beautiful coastline

and up through some high mountains

and up through some high mountains

and up through some high mountains

and up through some high mountains

village

village

Himare - I swam here

Himare – I swam here. It wasn’t so cold. Perhaps this is the Ionian Sea.

Himare

Himare

sunset

sunset

Eating at the hotel - dinner made by owner's mother

Eating at the hotel – dinner made by owner’s mother. And a better view than any other restaurant or hotel  in town

coastal road to Saranda

coastal road to Saranda – pouring with rain

ferry from Saranda to Corfu

ferry from Saranda to Corfu

Saranda was quite big

Saranda was quite big

Ulcinj – I still can’t pronounce it – Balkans trip anecdotes and photos

This blog mainly concentrates on providing information that will help in living or travelling in Malaysia. However, I do blog a little about trips abroad. On my recent trip to the Balkans I’ll do a series of short blogs providing one anecdote per country, and then a few assorted photos of the country unrelated to the anecdote.

The guidebook recommended Ulcinj as a nice town on the coast of Montenegro, and the Hotel Haus Freiburg as a nice hotel to stay in.  So in the morning before I left Bar I rang and booked a room at the hotel for that night, which was a bit of a struggle linguistically.  From the name you can guess their aim is to attract German clientelle, and as it turns out this as the language I needed to communicate with them, too.   Once I arrived and realised that, not only did everything go more smoothly, I was happy that I got to practice my German.  The other time I got to use German was in Romania, when I was on the wrong train, and I needed advice from the conductor.  He was Romanian, of course, and didn’t speak English, but spoke German.   In both cases, their German was better than mine.  But Germans’ German is too much better than mine, and harder to understand.

A FEW PHOTOS IN BAR, THEN ULCINJ, THEN TO THE ALBANIAN BORDER

at first I thiought I had more Euros than I remebered - a 1100 euro note

at first I thought I had more Euros than I remembered – a 1100 euro note

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

bay from the hotel

bay from the hotel

hotel pool and hills behind

hotel pool and hills behind

marina in Bar

marina in Bar

church in Bar, Montenegro

church in Bar, Montenegro

Ulcinj, in the south of Montenegro

Ulcinj, in the south of Montenegro

Ulcinj

Ulcinj

Ulcinj

Ulcinj

hotel where I spoke German

hotel where I spoke German

hotel

hotel

my room

my room

pool

pool

pool

pool

beach at Ulcinj

beach at Ulcinj

beach at Ulcinj

beach at Ulcinj

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sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

sunset from the hotel

the owner gave me these delicious fruit

the owner gave me these delicious fruit

view from the hotel

view from the hotel

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

in Ulcinj

driving south to the Albanian border

driving south to the Albanian border

driving south to the Albanian border

driving south to the Albanian border

driving south to the Albanian border

driving south to the Albanian border

Albanian border post

Albanian border post

Grabcar – much easier than regular taxis

One of the main things that expats and foreigners complain about in Malaysia is taxis.  I suspect the situation is worse in KL than in Penang.

So I won’t complain.  Apart from getting kidnapped once by an airport white taxi, my main complaint was lack of functioning rear seat belts sometimes.  But until recently I mainly drove anyway, so rarely caught a taxi.  And if I was flying out from the airport, or arriving at the airport,  I would book a driver I knew.

However, Mrs Tropicalexpat took to using Grabcar while I was away travelling.  And I have to admit, once I’d tried it myself I am sold.  I knew it existed, but I hadn’t really considered it before. Driving here, while improving, I think, it still something I do only when I really have to. Catching a bus is hit and miss, there being no timetable.  You could wait for hours for a bus to come, and you could get pickpocketed on the bus. Coming back from Bon Odori earlier in the year I tried to use Uber.  It was pouring with rain. Not a car around, so I had to walk home in the rain.  I didn’t try since.  Uber apparently gives you an estimation, whereas Grabcar gives you the actual price.  Perhaps Uber will sometimes be cheaper – I don’t know.

But Grabcar simply  involves installing the app on your phone, then putting in the destination to get a quote, and then clicking, “Book” if the price suits you. Pulau Tikus to George Town out of rush hour can be about RM5.  In a car that is often quite new, with seat belts that work, so far sane and polite drivers who are perfectly honest, and directly to your destination without having to worry about parking.  Sometimes the car is there in a minute or two, and sometimes I’ve had to wait a few minutes, which has been no hardship.  By the way, Pulau Tikus to the airport is about RM25.

I am wondering – do I spend more time washing the car than driving it nowadays?

(I certainly spend more time writing blogs than driving – I just noticed this is my 800th blog. )