The ending of any vacation is always a sad affair. Sure, it’s nice to return home after a long time on the road, but a little piece of me always dies when leaving a place that has brought me so much joy and adventure.
The Balkans turned out to be far better than I had expected. Although much of the region is still very synonymous with war and tragedy, the people are moving on, becoming part of a greater Europe from which they strayed during a painful bout with communism and an even more painful one with post-communism.
For the most part, tourists have stayed far away from the Balkans. The civil wars, riots, and ethnic cleansing that plagued the region during the 1990s were simply not good PR for the local tourism industry. Visitors are just now starting to trickle back to Croatia, but places like Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, and Albania still evoke fear amongst outsiders and therefore continue to remain off the beaten path.
I’m happy to have been part of a short-lived era where so many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, scenic coastlines, rugged mountains, and warm, friendly people are simply being overlooked by the rest of the world. This won’t last for long. Economies will improve, infrastructures will be built up, and wars will eventually be forgotten. Tourists will then invade en masse and alter the region in so many good and so many bad ways. But, for the moment, the Balkans remain unadulterated and true to themselves.
I hope in writing this 24-part series that I’ve been able to inspire others to follow suit, to take a chance and venture forth into lands where bullet holes and charred buildings outnumber McDonalds and Starbucks; where vacant beaches and soulful mountains are devoid of fancy resorts; where medieval walled cities prohibit cars from driving within; where cheese and bread are made by local farmers that very morning, and finally, where time itself seems mired in a peaceful eddy of Old World charm.
(Yesterday’s Post: Final Stop, Gallbrunn, Austria)