It is October 9th, 2021 and the Familynomadic finally depart on their glorious Balkan Road Trip; just 19 months late. This is the trip I had imagined the moment I learned that we would be living in Macedonia, now North Macedonia. This is the trip that was fully booked and paid for when COVID-19 struck Italy and stormed down through the Balkans. This was the trip we did not take, instead we hunkered down behind our walls and withstood a lockdown. Instead of a warm Spring trip, we undertook a chilled and wet adventure in Autumn.
This post will be a Familynomadic 4×4. In this, each member of the Familynomadic will share their four favorite aspects of our one week adventure.
Brother K’s Four Favorites:
4. Exploring Old Town of Kotor and eating a whole Sea Bass – the Old Town of Kotor is quite quaint, with twisting cobblestone streets that wander to and fro with hardly any reason. The town is not too large to be intimidating, and with the cold and dreary weather, not to mention COVID-19 travel restrictions, we felt that we had the Old Town nearly to ourselves. And now that we were out of the safety of our home, and on an adventure, Brother K was quite brave in eating and dove into seafood cuisine! He was quite proud of eating a whole Sea Bass, but enjoyed Octopus Burger the most.
3. Listening to Lord of the Rings by the Fire – while in our small cabin in the woods, Hedgehog 33, we listened to the audio book of The Fellowship of the Ring narrated by Andy Serkis. For warmth, we had a wood fed furnace that we stocked and sat around to fend off the cold wet air outside. Brother K felt so cozy sitting in a large cushioned chair, draped in blankets, sipping hot chocolate.
2. Exploring Kotor Fortress – in a short break from the rain on Sunday morning, our family layered up and trudged up the 1350+ stairs that start at the back of Old Town Kotor and went up and up the mountain following the ancient walls built to keep the Ottoman Turks away. Brother K wants to make it known that the climb up and down is NOT part of his favorite thing. He just loved being at the top and running through the old ruins of the ancient fortress. It is like a maze and has multiple levels to explore. Here, his imagination was able to run wild as he looked out at bay below and the mountains above.
1. Exploring Lokrom Island – In the words of Brother K, ”There were so many cool things.” Again, this was a place that allowed his imagination to run wild. From Fort Royal at the pinnacle of the island, to the Rocks on the southeastern shores, or the monastary’s basement that detailed the shipwreak of Richard the Lion Hearted on his was back from the crusades to the curse placed upon the island by the banished Benedictine monks.
Brother M’s Four Favorites:
4. Old Town Dubrovnik – Ally ways upon ally ways upon ally ways. The mass of worn cobblestone streets that create the grid of Old Town were a joy to explore. With a break in the rain, we were able to spend multiple afternoons exploring King’s Landing. (Note: while the brothers have never seen, nor read, the Game of Thrones, with all of the gift shops and merchandise available, they now feel they are experts.) We took one afternoon and for each intersection that we came to, every family member got a turn to pick the direction we would walk. This “game” lasted for about two hours and we never duplicated streets and had such fun discovering the hidden gems of Old Town Dubrovnik.
3. Old Town Kotor – In the words of Brother M, ”I liked getting lost.” And what a wonderful medieval town to be lost in. While Dubrovnik was a set grid, relatively easy to navigate, Kotor is a warren of twisting streets that do not meet at right angles, nor continue in straight lines. We spent a good thirty minutes trying to find a specific restaurant, and seemed to keep circling it, despite Google Maps’ efforts to direct us. And I cannot mention Old Town Kotor without making note of the endless supply of cats! Every corner, and nearly every doorstep, more and more cats to pet.
2. Lokrom Island – “The adventures we had.” For being just a small island off the shore from Dubrovnik, there was so much to be had there. Brother M fought off marauders on the Rocks, followed the path where the monks of old laid down their curse, and climbed the fortress commanding the surrounding seas.
1. Lord of the Rings & Hot Coco – Warm beneath the covers with the fire burning near, we huddled as a family to hear the tale of Frodo, Samwise, Pippin, and Merry as they set out on their adventure out of the Shire. For Brother M, it was also the anticipation that once he “reads” the story, he can then watch the movie. Besides, as LoR is one of Brother K’s favorites and he is always talking about it or playing games from it, Brother M is looking forward to the end of spoilers.
Momma S’s Four Favorites:
4. Morning and Afternoon Light on the Waterfalls of Plitvice – The final stop of our trip, not including the long anticipated McDonalds outside of Belgrade, Serbia, was the Plitvice Lakes National Park. By some miracle, we all got up and out of our very cute and cozy cabin in the woods, Hedgehog 33, and by a secret path near Entry Gate 3, made it into the park. The early morning greeted us with cold mist that weaved into the trees and circled the falls. After walking through the stunning lower lakes and seeing the Great Falls, we took a tram up to the farthest point along the high lakes and walked down to the ferry landing to get back to Gate 3. As we approached our short cut through the woods, Momma S suggested that we go back to the lower falls as the clouds were beginning to break and the sun was coming out and the afternoon light was glistening as it hit the water. As the photographer of the family, she found joy in viewing the same scenery with two very different lighting.
3. Eating in the Ally Ways of Old Town Dubrovnik – Our timing in visiting Dubrovnik was unique. COVID-19 is very much still present, Croatia had just moved to a CDC/DOS Level 4 travel advisory, and it was in the middle of October, past the high season by a few weeks. This afforded us the unique pleasure of enjoying this UNESCO heritage site sans the choking crowds of cruise ship tourists. While not empty, we did enjoy empty spaces at various points and never felt crowded as we explored the terracotta clad Old Town. All of the restaurants filled the ally ways and plazas with chairs and we enjoyed quite a few good meals buried between old city buildings on a small ally way full of ambiance.
2. Lokrom Island – “The whole family found things to enjoy.” When boarding the ferry for this adventure, Momma S thought it would be for only an hour before we were ready to return. After a 4 hour stay, with more time that could have been spent, we all left very happy with the diverse experiences that the island provided. For Momma S, soaking her feet in the ”Dead Sea” of Lokrom Island was the highlight.
1. Goats of Kotor Fortress – The Fortress of Kotor sits high above the Old Town and the bay below; and while most will be swept away with the panoramic views, the medieval ruins, and the moody mystery of the swirling rain clouds, Momma S found complete delight with the ringing of bells from a herd of goats that had climbed the mountain and were foraging for plants and grasses behind the ruins. With Brother M, she found a cut through the wall, and a ladder fixed to the old fortress, where she climbed down to get a better look at the goats who would graze by the side of the great fortress of yore.
Daddy D’s Four Favorites:
4. The Drive – North Macedonia is a beautiful country…and, it is also a very small landlocked nation. To get out and drive along the Adriatic coast up through Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia was a complete joy in it’s self. The transition from Albania into Montenegro was wholly unique and then bounding from bay to bay until we arrived in Kotor had us all smiling. Before leaving Montenegro, we took a detour up P1, beyond the Kotor Serpentine and to the very crest of Lovcen National Park. It was here that we started listening to The Fellowship of the Ring, and it fit the misty mountains perfectly. The drive on Highway 8 up from Dubrovnik was also stunning, and given the choice between the E65 and Highway 8, take the 8 if you have the time.
3. Inhabiting Old Town Dubrovnik – As described for Momma S, Old Town Dubrovnik was not nearly as busy as reputed. We rented an AirBnB (Dona Vesna) in the heart of the Old Town, lucked out at having a small balcony overlooking the tight ally way, and we were able to get everywhere with ease. But, more importantly, we really felt the old world vibe, could feel the history of the stones around us, and were amazed that this Old Town was still fully functioning, even with it’s own school, kids playing in the allies, and laundry on the lines between old stone buildings.
2. Lokrom Island – For the cost of a short ferry ride to the island, we spent a day where all members of our family found adventures worth repeating. Again, the island did not have hardly any tourists and it felt like we had the run of the place; well, us and the very aggressive and hungry peacocks! (I think they miss the throngs of tourists tossing them food.) We came here on our third day in Dubrovnik, and it was well worth it. The magic it provided us that day was a blessing.
1. Autumn Walk of Waterfalls – Plitvice Lakes National Park is also a UNESCO site and was completely captivating on the brisk fall day that we visited. As fall is my favorite season, this walk was indeed magical. The falls in themselves are amazing how they pour over the land, with out rhyme or reason, from great heights or little ledges, the water sprays down and the board walks erected to allow us to travel so near the falls is truly special. While my focus and anticipation had all been for the old towns of Kotor and Dubrovnik, it is at Plitvice that my heart felt fully at peace and wonder.