A perception survey of citizens and business communities on the situation in the region.
How to hike across four European countries in two weeks
Pack those boots and get ready to explore the region on foot
Days 1—4: Croatia
Day 1: Begin with a tour of Zagreb’s historic buildings and edgy art. Day 2: Trek the limestone gorges of Paklenica National Park inside a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and dip in the Adriatic Sea. Day 3: Hike up the stunning coastal Mosor Mountain. Day 4: Go on a heritage tour of Split, notably the UNESCO-listed Diocletian’s Palace that now houses shops and restaurants. Head to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina for dinner overlooking the 16th-century Stari Most bridge, whose bombing and subsequent reconstruction became a symbol of the 1990s wars. In 2014, the 1,930km-long Via Dinarica opened as an adventure and cultural corridor to help connect the region.
Days 5—10: Bosnia & Herzegovina
Day 5: Glimpse one of the world’s largest karst landscapes on the way up Cvrsnica Mountain, via a former royal hunting trail, beech forest and springs. Day 6: Brave avalanche corridors for the vista from Plocno, atop Cvrsnica Mountain. Day 7: Admire watermills and Studeni Potok’s cascades en route to Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest village, known for medieval tombstones. Day 8: Hike through Sutjeska National Park and its Donje and Gornje Bare Lakes. Day 9: Climb Bosnia’s highest peak, Maglic Mountain, and reward yourself with lunch overlooking Trnovacko Lake in Montenegro. Day 10: Drive to Tara River to raft in Europe’s deepest canyon.
Day 11: Montenegro
Navigate the 14 jagged ‘teeth’ that give the Zupci massif its name and cross the Zeleni Vir glacial lake to edge up Montenegro’s highest peak, Bobotov Kuk in the UNESCO- listed Durmitor National Park.
Days 12—14: Albania
Day 12: Ease into Albania with a boat ride on Skadar Lake, which also borders Montenegro, andis the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans. Drive to the isolated hamlet of Theth, whose tower was once a refuge during blood feuds. Days 13 & 14: Hike past an ancient stone chapel and waterfalls in Theth National Park. Exit through Tirana.
Need to know: Book this 14-day itinerary with Bosnia-based Green Visions (€1,950 or Rs1,46,080 per person inclusive of ground transport, guide, accommodation, meals and activities). Best for experienced hikers, the itinerary includes a mix of treks and drives between trails, and the best time to do it is between July and August.
Getting there: Fly to Zagreb from most Indian cities with Emirates via Dubai, or Lufthansa via Frankfurt. Indian passport-holders can apply for a multiple-entry Schengen visa with VFS Global. Visas cost around Rs4,480 and take at least 15 days to be processed.
The following is a reposted article from Emerging Europe written by Eva Keller.
Ukraine is the UK’s offshoring destination of the year according to the Global Sourcing Association (GSA) UK. The GSA looked at the outsourcing market from the perspective of the United Kingdom, the world’s second-largest outsourcing market.
“This is a significant achievement for Ukraine, as the Award has been judged by their industry peers, including buyers and providers of outsourcing services, as well as legal and advisory firms in the industry,” says Tom Quigley, Director of Outsourcing at Emerging Europe.
“I’ve been saying for months that the UK sourcing industry will begin to take a closer interest in the CEE region as an alternative destination to the more traditional locations such as South Africa and India, and this has proven to be the case. They now need to capitalise on this award and go forward boldly and with confidence, especially as India’s ICT industry is mis-firing. Ukraine now has the attention of the outsourcing industry in the UK and they need to maximise this opportunity, and the rest of the CEE region needs to quickly follow suit,” Mr Quigley adds.
“Few people really know that Ukraine is a significant player, the potential it has as a destination to set up in, nor the strength of Ukrainian service providers,” said Kerry Hallard, chief executive at the GSA UK. “There are a number of key service providers, SoftServe, Ciklum, Eleks, Nix Solutions, to name a few, all battling one by one to raise the profile of Ukraine”
Mrs Hallard, who is also president of the Global Sourcing Association, was speaking during the EBRD Emerging Europe Outlook on Ukraine investment conference, held in London in October.
In 2016, Ukraine’s ICT segment showed a 15 per cent increase in the country’s total exports, taking the third position after agriculture and metallurgy. In the Human Capital Index, Ukraine ranks 26th, and is in 31st place in the UN Education Index. Every year, some 16,000 IT specialists and 130,000 experts graduate from Ukrainian universities.
“One of Ukraine’s greatest resources is its human capital,” Daniel Bilak, director of UkraineInvest and chief investment adviser to the Ukrainian prime minister, told Emerging Europe during the investment conference. “Our competitors are neighbours, Eastern Europe and Poland. They need highly skilled workers and there are currently 1.3 million Ukrainians working in Poland. We have some regulatory issues, we’re aware of them and we’ll work them through, but our biggest challenge is to continue educating our young people and providing them with challenging, well-paid jobs.”
“I think the future prospects are good for Ukraine. There is a lot of IT that is needed, that needs to be customised, culturally and time-zone-sensitive and we cannot do that in India, the Philippines or in China,” says Elias van Herwaarden, EMEA service leader at Global Location Services, Deloitte. “If there is a huge shortage of IT skills in the EU, where can they go? Ukraine should act very quickly. I think they can.”
By Alex Crevar
Photographs by Robert Hackman
The exact number of military bunkers strewn across Albania is a matter of debate. Depending on who you ask, the tally ranges from around 175,000 to some 750,000 of the burrowed, cement-and-steel, pod-like lookouts meant to protect this country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. The reason for this discrepancy is cryptically sinister: The mushroom-shaped cabins were built with Cold War secrecy, in the 1970s and 1980s, by a paranoia-fueled regime. That was then. Today, three decades removed from Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1944 to 1985, citizens see the omnipresent bunkers as painful reminders of a difficult past, to be sure. However, Albanians, resourceful by nature, are flipping the script, and giving the objects new lives as restaurants, bars, cafés, and even museums.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- Haunting Relics of a Country That No Longer Exists
- Eerie Photos of 'Dark Tourism' Sites Around the World
From the air, the turreted bunkers look like braille characters spilled across the landscape—embossed dots scattered in every corner of the country. The structures hide in valleys, blossom from mountainsides, and sprout along shorelines, slapped over and over by the Adriatic Sea. (A commonly used figure estimates 2.2 bunkers per square mile. Albania is nearly half the size of West Virginia.) They come in an array of sizes. A few dozen acted as command centers with mazes of rooms to wait out any war. Many served as tiny one- or two-person sentry posts. Nominally, the “pillboxes” were constructed to keep an eye on an ever-changing list of potential exterior enemies. The reality: Their raison d’être was to solidify a collective, internal, national fear.
Left: In Bilisht, an artillery bunker-turned-café emulates the surrounding traditional architecture.Right: Painted like a beach ball, this bunker in Mali i Robit provides accomodation and a café with sweeping views of the Adriatic.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT HACKMAN
“The vast number of bunkers shows how militarized and paranoid Albania had become during Hoxha’s rule,” says Vjeran Pavlaković, a Cultural Studies professor at Croatia’s University of Rijeka. Pavlaković focuses on collective memory in the Balkans. “Rather than invest in education and economic development, the regime allocated resources to isolate itself. However, post-communist Albania has proven itself ready to embrace bold interventions to deal with this architectural legacy, preserve heritage, and innovatively use an otherwise idle resource.”
Examples of that innovative repurposing can be found all over the country. There's a bunker-cum-tattoo parlor in Shkodër, a hamburger joint in Kavajë, and a 20-room hotel on the coast in Golem. In Tirana, Albania's capital, two museums have acted as standard-bearers for the conversion concept. Bunk’Art, Hoxha’s atomic bunker, received more than 70,000 guests during the first two months it was open in 2014. The exhibition space, which includes Hoxha’s chamber, shines a light on “the daily lives of Albanians during the regime's years.” About a 20-minute drive away, in the city center, Bunk’Art 2 was opened in 2016. It’s 24 rooms served as the Interior Ministry’s atomic shelter.
“Bunk'Art 1 and Bunk'Art are places of memory in which both Albanians and tourists can scour the secrets of a regime and revive the past and the suffering of a people,” says Carlo Bollino, Bunk’Art’s general curator. “[To] transform as a tourist attraction … is also a way to compensate the country for the monetary, political cost and in terms of human lives paid for [the bunkers’] construction.”
The following a reposted article from EIR Europe.
By Max Gurvits
Last week we sat together with our outgoing EIR in Macedonia, Rebecca Rachmany, as we wrapped up her stay in Skopje, and talked a bit about her experience mentoring local entrepreneurs.
Rebecca, you have now spent almost one month as our first Entrepreneur-in-residence in Macedonia. What are your impressions and takeaways?
Macedonia is an absolutely fabulous place, and I had the pleasure of working alongside many wonderful entrepreneurs here. One of the things that struck me is how much people love their country and are willing to stay here and make things work. That’s impressive.
Another thing I noticed is that the concept of (scalable) entrepreneurship as a whole is a very new thing here in Macedonia, and probably in the rest of the Balkans too. There are very few local sources of skills for building globally relevant products. These are mainly soft skills, related to communication, strategy, etc., and it’s very hard for local entrepreneurs to obtain these skills on the ground here.
How is the Macedonian startup ecosystem in your opinion?
It’s formidable how much stuff is going on here! During my four weeks in Skopje, I spent time at two incubators, one co-working space, one venture fund, and a lot of time with several successful local startups that have created an informal growth network. It’s all very new, and it’s exciting to see how people are organizing themselves into organizational structures. One thing that is still very new to this community is long-term strategy. Probably due to historical and cultural reasons, most activists in the local startup scene still think one shot-term goal or problem at a time. I hope that I was able to help with that, but it’s a deeply rooted local attitude that these organizations need to help go away.
What should the local players focus on to improve this?
I guess it’s part learning new skills, and part attitude. I have the feeling that some of the local and regional investors look too much at blueprints from Western counterparts when assessing local opportunities. One of the local companies I worked with has managed to build very impressive traction with their product, with very little means, but I heard their investor is pushing them for more. As a business development professional, I know that any more growth would require a substantial investment in marketing/sales skills that the team doesn’t currently have, so I spent part of my time here to help them design that strategy.
You also mentioned attitude. What do you mean?
One of the things I keep hearing in Macedonia is “but the problem is….”. One time the problem is that there aren’t enough investors, very often the problem is also something related to the government. I’m trying to help people here understand that government, although it sure can be helpful, isn’t the place startups should be looking to for help. And again, this is obviously a mindset issue, used to as people are here to see problems first and solutions second. It’s been a wonderful journey helping Macedonian entrepreneurs on the way to change that realization, and I hope I have been helpful with that.
The following is a reposted article from Balkanist.net by HANNAH WEBER
Montenegro’s Boka Kotorska, or Bay of Kotor, is as vast and impressive as a Norwegian fjord, but it’s pushing 40°C and we’ve already had to dodge a line of cows on the motorway. The bay draws nearer with each hairpin turn, its clear blue water dotted with boats and sea birds. Two buildings and a copse of cypress trees rise out of the water — a chapel and a private residence within swimming distance of the village of Perast. It seems that everyone, from scowling pubescent boys to ancient, tea-wielding women, is in the water.
Kotor has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, not only for the historied mountains and pristine bay waters, but also for architecture stretching back to the Middle Ages, which UNESCO lauds for its “harmonious integration to the cultivated terraced landscape on the slopes of high rocky hills.”
However, in July 2016, UNESCO gave the region just under a year to curb thoughtless seafront development in order to keep its World Heritage status. Sandra Kapetanović, a sustainable planning architect in the area, reported that the concerns over real estate development in Kotor date back to 2003.
From 2002 to 2016, the number of foreign visitors to Montenegro multiplied by 10, and not entirely organically — the country has made conscious efforts to make itself an attractive destination to Western European tourists. While longstanding use of the Euro as official Montenegrin currency has been controversial, this problem promises to be erased by the country’s EU candidate status, granted in 2010. In addition to EU candidacy, Montenegro became the 29th member of NATO in June of this year, which has brought it closer to EU accession but may weaken its ties with Serbia and Russia.
In 2016, the tourism’s total contribution to the country’s GDP was 22.1 percent. For businesses in the Bay of Kotor, it makes sense to piggyback off of Croatia’s commercial success, with Dubrovnik’s busy airport only a few hours away. The local airport makes the corporate intentions for the region clear with signs advertising the Bay of Kotor as the new Monaco. Yes, the growing influx of euros is definitely boosting the economy, but for whom?
My host Ana — without question the tallest woman I have ever seen — ducks under the doorframe to show me in. The state of her apartment is indicative of the appeal of the outdoors: four bare rooms that serve as a vessel for sleeping and washing up. She towers over me in a frayed bikini, sipping orange juice while she talks.
I didn’t know it then, but 2017 is the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Its slogan? Travel, Enjoy, Respect. Tourism for development: the idea that, marketed correctly, a country’s natural and cultural wonders could help pull it out of economic instability. The initiative’s goals mirror the UN’s goals for sustainable development worldwide, including eliminating poverty and reducing inequality within and between countries.
Ana hosts tourists all summer long, but when the season is over she drives north over the mountains and back to Belgrade for work. She’s kept this pattern for more than a decade but recently she has begun to fear for the authenticity of the area, and admits that she never heads into the centre of town anymore. Ana is caught in the trappings of “tourism for development”, like many of the locals.
“On the one hand,” she says, “I can make money renting the extra rooms in the house. I’ve always done it, but Western tourists can pay more than families from Serbia or Bosnia.” She also worries about the impact of people who don’t stay overnight: “The [cruise] ships ruin the atmosphere and the people arrive and buy plastic souvenirs. They stop in the nearest square to pay a fortune for sardines, make a mess, and leave.” Of course, these floating hotels also keep all of their accommodation money onboard.
While calls for sustainable tourism often (perhaps rightly) villainize cruise ships, it’s widely accepted that longer stays have a number of benefits. The economic benefit is greater for the community and there is a better chance for a genuine exchange of information and culture. However, as demonstrated in Venice, Barcelona, and other cities fighting “overtourism”, longer stays also contribute to dramatic rises in rent and living expenses, pushing out long-time residents. One has to ask if the benefits tourism has for the host city — an economic boost and job creation — compensate for the losses. Regardless of how long the visitors stay, Ana also feels that there is so much pomp piled on in the city centre in an effort to appear authentic, that it threatens to become an open air museum.
Perhaps her “authentic Bay of Kotor” is found out beyond the the old city walls where the air is hazy and the sun slams up hot against your skin. The whole coastline is up for swimming, even though there is hardly a beach in sight. Concrete boardwalks jut into the bay and the Adriatic laps lazily against them. From first light, seniors can be seen bobbing along in the shallows, their bodies comically expanded from the water’s distortion, some still wearing cloth bucket hats. Ana takes us to her preferred swimming spot, far from the city centre, where Montenegrin and Serbian children launch themselves into the water from a boulder and tease those too scared to jump. A tanned and wrinkled man does his washing in a sheltered pool, Ana abandons her flip flops and bikini top before paddling out into the bay, and everyone is smoking.
Lately, when I think of overtourism, a peculiar image comes to mind: Lorenzo Quinn’s piece during this year’s Venice Biennale, Support, where enormous resin-coated hands reach out of the canals to prop up a building. The message about the threat of climate change is clear and desperate. But I cannot help thinking that Support’s location—a city whose people have been calling for restrictions on tourism for decades—allows us to extend its meaning, and to think of the social and environmental consequences of mass tourism.
The federal Montenegrin government ordered a temporary construction ban in the city centre that went into effect in April — just in time to satisfy UNESCO’s demands. However, even these temporary measures have caused controversy. The opposition party says that the government still issued construction permits for several large tourist buildings in Kotor just before the protection measures were invoked, and that the ban was ordered only after the opposition gained power. The construction ban, mayor Vladimir Jokić argues, is just a tool to place political pressure on the local opposition government while the area’s UNESCO status remains in jeopardy over “the action and construction activities of powerful individuals and families interacting with the national administration.”
Calls for sustainable tourism exist in an echo chamber and often fall victim to hypocrisy — as one journalist noted, “no one wants to be a tourist — not even tourists.” The concrete blocks that have cropped up along the coast stick out dramatically amongst the burnished green domes and sun-bleached walls. Aside from the rapid development, the historic city is suffering from crowding — the sheer footfall of thousands of tourists a day in the summer puts unprecedented wear on the cobbled streets and crumbling stairways.
In neighbouring Dubrovnik, officials looking to control the cruise crowds that descend en masse have limited the number of tourists allowed to enter the city centre to 8,000 per day. On the 21st of September, 2017, Dubrovnik’s mayor Mato Franković, made an official visit to Kotor to emphasize the need for cooperation on the issues that affect both cities — managing cruise ship tourism, maintaining the integrity of the historical architecture, and protecting the quality of life for the locals.
On the boardwalk just outside Kotor’s city centre on a balmy evening, I’m one of only a dozen people on the beach. A cruise ship floats idly on the opposite shore, the lights of each cabin twinkling out to meet us. Wandering north and back into the suburbs, I notice that many of the concrete aberrations stand half-built and empty.
Kotor’s UNESCO status offers it invaluable environmental protection and monetary aid. If Kotor is going to develop the tourism industry sustainably, it must be answerable to both international regulatory organizations, like UNESCO, and the people who live there. As Dubrovnik’s mayor declared during his visit, what is best for both regions is a commitment to “create cities tailor-made to citizens.” It is up to both the local and federal government to predict and solve tourism-related problems before they erode not only natural and historical features, but also the locals’ quality of life. Whether this is done with tourist caps — as in Dubrovnik’s city centre –, a tourist tax, thoughtful and reasonable development, or even blanket bans on large cruise vessels should be left for citizens to debate. But with persistent in-fighting between Montenegro’s governmental strata and unabashed cronyism in seafront property sales, the response to UNESCO’s warning may only serve to prolong the problem.
We are excited to announce that the 2017 edition of Startup Heatmap Europe, the benchmark report on the mobility of startup founders in Europe and their perceptions of the best tech hubs to start up, is available today!
From this year's survey, it has emerged that 21% of founders are foreign-born and almost 90% of these come from a region outside their companies' headquarters! In our report, you will find out more on startup migration flows across Europe, founders' opinions on Brexit and the top 20 EU startup hubs.
We are looking forward to hearing from you, so please don't forget to share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
FARMA II Project and REG, collaborated with BioSense Institute (http://biosense.rs/) on organizing an AgTech event in Sarajevo earlier this year. From the 20 or so that presented, 9 were selected to go forward to the final event. We now have been informed that from Bosnia and Herzegovina the following 4 have been selected as winners and will be launching crowdfunding campaigns:
- Medobar - Natural bee products - Maticna Mlijec Memisevic
- Cornelian Cherry - Plant of the future - SP Kamenica - Jovanka Sabljic
- EkoMarket - IT ODJEL doo
- Urban Poultry Farming - leader is from Greece (Nikolaos Tsakalos), but aburly d.o.o. from iH is one of the partners
WASHINGTON AND KIEV, 29. SEP, 09:27
Since 1 September, the Ukraine-EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement is in force. The debate about the next step of Ukraine's EU integration is in full swing.
Ukraine has declared it to be strategic national priority to apply for EU membership by 2020, but that is hardly realistic since EU member states are divided and enlargement is seen as challenging for elites and electorates in the EU.
For Ukraine, the right step now is to follow the successful track record of Central European countries in their EU integration.
Ukraine is currently in a similar situation as the six EU candidate and potential candidate countries from South Eastern Europe.
They have to wait in line, while reforming at home and convincing the EU of the benefits of extended membership. Progress on membership will depend on reforms and prosperity of the candidates.
If they jointly pursue reforms and progress in prosperity, they will accelerate the accession to the EU of all candidates as the Nordic, Baltic, Benelux, and the Visegrad countries have proven.
All European countries are entitled to apply for EU membership according to the European Treaty, and when they have fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria on democracy, rule of law, and market economic development, the EU can hardly turn them down. The question is how most effectively to accomplish that.
As strategic European integration gradually replaces the post-Maidan crisis, we recommend that Ukraine apply for membership of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) as the next stepping stone toward EU accession.
In 1992, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary - the Visegrad countries - founded the CEFTA, which has functioned as a useful preparation for EU membership.
As countries have joined the EU, they have departed from CEFTA, while other countries with the ambition to join the EU have joined CEFTA. Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia all acceded to CEFTA and left when the successfully upgraded to full EU membership.
At present, CEFTA has seven members - Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia. They all joined in 2006-7.
Its headquarters is in Brussels among the European Commission buildings. Membership requires membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), an Association Agreement with the EU, and a free trade agreement with the current CEFTA members.
It does facilitate trade among these countries and prepares them for EU accession.
Rather than trying to develop a new Eastern Partnership Free Trade Agreement (EPFTA), Ukraine should join CEFTA.
An EPFTA with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine could not possibly work.
To begin with, Azerbaijan and Belarus are not even members of the WTO, and they are not likely to join for many years.
Second, Armenia and Azerbaijan are technically and sadly at war with one another.
Third, Armenia and Belarus are members of Russia's Eurasian Economic Union and would not be allowed to join.
EaP doesn't work
Face it! The Eastern Partnership does not work.
That leaves three countries that are members of the WTO and have Association Agreements with the EU, namely Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, of which Moldova is already a member of CEFTA.
Since Moldova is already a member, why should not Ukraine join as well? Moreover, CEFTA membership does not have to be approved by all EU member states.
The Western Balkans' endeavours to integrate their economies into a Regional Economic Area were agreed at the July Trieste summit.
Currently, discussions are going on about a customs union of the Balkan six.
Some in the Balkans might say Ukraine integration might be a burden for them, while some Ukrainians might argue that the small market size of the current CEFTA members renders CEFTA a less attractive group of poor relatives.
Furthermore the mutual knowledge of the Balkans and Ukraine is limited and both perceive each other as being poor and marginal.
However, combining the market, natural resources and technological capacity of Ukraine with the EU accession and impressive reform experience of the Balkans would strengthen all the countries involved.
Together they could build prosperity in South-Eastern and Eastern Europe, accelerating the EU accession for all members of CEFTA.
EPFTA would take years
Instead of considering setting up an EPFTA, which in the unlikely event that it would be formed, would take years to negotiate statutes, headquarters, and conventions Ukraine should join CEFTA, which is a highly successful free trade agreement with the splendid record of graduating eight former members into full EU member states.
Georgia should also be encouraged to join CEFTA. If other Eastern Partnership countries would fulfil the conditions for CEFTA membership, the organization will be open for them.
An enlarged CEFTA would improve all members economies and facilitate their EU accession, and it would hardly be politically controversial given that Moldova has already been a member for nine years.
Ukraine can fulfil all the conditions for CEFTA membership in 2018 to become a full member by January 2019. CEFTA can serve as the next essential building block for Western integration of Ukraine.
Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington. Gunther Fehlinger is Chairman of Europeans for Tax Reform, an NGO in Brussels
The Economic Freedom of the World: 2017 Annual Report is the world’s premier measurement of economic freedom, ranking countries based on five areas: size of government, legal structure and security of property rights, access to sound money, freedom to trade internationally, and regulation of credit, labour and business. This year’s report compares 159 countries and territories. In this year’s ranking, which is based on 2015 data, Hong Kong is again number one, Canada dropped to 11th from the 5th spot last year and is tied with the United States.
43. Czech Republic
99. Bosnia and Herzegovina
NOTE - data was not available for Belarus and Kosovo
The following is a reposted version of an article from Perceptive Travel by Tim Leffel.
Story and photos by Tim Leffel
Cycling through three formerly war-torn Balkan countries over six days means beautiful scenery pockmarked by sad reminders of the past.
t feels like we’re the only people left on Earth. There are no sounds, no people, and the buildings all look bombed out or long abandoned. As we park the bikes next to an old stone train station to stretch our legs, we hear a rustling sound coming from inside. It’s not a zombie though. A big cow lumbers out the front door, glances at us, then starts chewing on some weeds.
We’ve gotten here by bike, so it’s hard to believe that the night before we were in a different country, at the seaside, sipping a glass of wine with laughter around us in full cafes. In the former war zone of the Balkans, the countries are squeezed close together but a few miles can bring stark contrasts.
I’m on a tour called “Cycling the West Balkans Triangle” from BikeTours.com and Biking Croatia. In just a week it zig-zags through three countries and more than twice as many border crossings. From the Adriatic Sea of Croatia, around the Bay of Kotor, and through farmland of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it’s a challenging tour that rewards riders with some spectacular scenery and some history lessons.
I start out cranky, however, since our first night in Dubrovnik is not what I had imagined. The Serbs never conquered this city in the Balkan conflict, but they tried shelling it from positions above. Now there are invaders of a different sort: thousands of cruise ship passengers from around the world. Unlike the Serbs, they always make it through the old city walls, lumbering through the fortified city streets in huge clumps.
Up and Down on Two Wheels to Kotor
When we hop on our bikes just outside the city the next morning, as soon as we cross the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina we start climbing. And climbing some more. And then some more. On the first morning of our first day, the local tour operator decided four kilometers at an 8-10% grade was a fine way to loosen up our legs. I try to concentrate on the pavement right in front of me so I don’t have to see how far I must go. Every time I see a rare shady spot beside the road, I pull over for a rest.
One guy in our group flags down a support van that’s following us to the first hotel, but I make it to the top of the mountain without a ride and mentally pat myself on the back. After a picnic lunch of burek and another border crossing into Montenegro, we’re soon rewarded with panoramic views while gliding downhill to the Bay of Kotor. Over the next two days we are to circle the entire bay, seeing it all at a human pace instead of from a careening tour bus.
From a viewpoint we see Sveti Dorde Island, where there’s a monastery and a small graveyard. The other small island with a church on top wasn’t always there. Fishermen threw rocks into the water and then later sank boats to build an artificial island. The current church dates back to 1722.
Eventually we stop for coffee in Perast, the lesser-known UNESCO World Heritage city in this area, and collectively give thanks that we’re on a bike tour. We pass hundreds of tourists who must literally feel like a number: their cruise ship has made them put a number sticker onto their shirts so the guides can gather them up in an hour like cattle. As we sit at a seaside café while they hear the call to return to their bus, I think I see a little longing in a few eyes.
I’ve been looking forward to visiting Kotor for years after seeing photos. With its dramatic fortress on a steep mountainside and walls that are more than 1,000 years old, it makes a dramatic site with the jagged mountains behind it and the water in front. High season reality hits us in the face quickly though when we get caught in a traffic jam entering the city, breathing in bus and car fumes. There are two cruise ships in the harbor, but the passengers of many others are in for the day on tour buses from Dubrovnik. I walk through the 15th-century streets looking for quiet spots I can photograph with no people in them. I finally find one after taking some random turns and have snapped just one photo when a man with a megaphone rounds the corner holding up a sign. More than 50 people are following him through a narrow cobblestone alley like the Pied Piper of Hamlet.
“When do the ships stop coming?” I ask a woman who is hanging laundry, hoping she speaks English. “This place is lovely in November,” she says with barely an accent. She reaches into her apron and hands me a card for her guesthouse.
Around the Bay in Montenegro
Once we cycle a few miles down the road to Hotel Splendido though, it’s a different story. The view out my window matches the lovely photos I’ve seen for years, a blue swimming pool against the bay and the mountains, with ancient stone buildings on the shore. After a swim, I take a walk down the road and visit a church that’s a few hundred years old, beside buildings with walls thick enough to withstand invading armies. With five euros I buy a half kilo of cherries, two local dark beers, cheese, and some bread to watch the sun go down by the water.
We circle the rest of the bay and take a one-euro ferry to the other side to get to bustling Herceg Novi. We ride slowly along a pedestrian and bike path there, past gelato stands, seafront fish restaurants, and at least a hundred places to get a cup of coffee. The “beaches” here are really concrete platforms or collections of rocks, but the water is clear and beautiful.
This ends up being our longest day of cycling and the one with the most countries. We start in Montenegro, ride through Bosnia’s Konavle countryside, then after lunch head to the coast of Croatia. This trip has not been good for conserving blank pages in my passport that expires four years from now. Every crossing means two more stamps and I’m losing count of how many of these we’ve done. This despite the fact these places are biking distance from each other and we’re moving through an area smaller than the average U.S. state.
As we leave the bay, we climb a 10% grade for what feels like an hour to get over the surrounding ridge we came down from a few days earlier. Three of us groan, three just pump harder and conquer it.
There’s been a clear split in our group along the way. The guide loves to haul ass out front and there are two people in our group who love to join him. One of them is a female cyclist who has legs twice as muscular as mine. This is an easy trip for her. She and husband are on their own road bikes they brought along. They are wearing cycling jerseys commemorating a ride they did across the Alps in Switzerland, with all the elevation that entails.
I, on the other hand, am wearing one of two off-the-rack cycling shirts I own that don’t commemorate any great feat. My shorts have some padding, but they look just like regular shorts you could wear into a bar. I bike a lot, but in Florida, where the only hills are overpasses. While I’m huffing and puffing in the lowest gear, half the group is gliding up to the top like it’s a beach boardwalk ride on a cruiser bike.
As we ride through the countryside, we go by a few farm country buildings that still show bullet and mortar holes. It’s so serene around here that it’s hard to imagine that this was a battle zone during the Bosnian conflict. We hear a popping sound beside the road, but it’s not man-made. It’s an ongoing mystery that we finally identify when we make a stop: seeds popping out of pods amidst the wildflowers.
We spend the night in the postcard-perfect town of Cavtat, with yachts bobbing on the water in front of buildings going back to the 14th century. People have been living here since the Greeks founded it in the 4th century B.C. though and then the Romans and Slavs came after. It’s a great walking town, with a path around the peninsula leading to a bar perched on the side of a rock cliff, pine trees swaying overhead and the deep blue sea below. On both sides of the peninsula, restaurants face the water and some offer divine sunsets with the Croatian wine we all order up to celebrate our all-day workout.
"A little climbing today" in the morning starts with a half hour of pure uphill, but then we’re on that Ciro rail trail back in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Austrian empire built the railroad here originally when they ruled these lands, then abandoned it in the 1970s. Soon after that the war came, which hastened the decline and exodus.
Now the bees and butterflies rule, with an occasional squashed snake making me think I should be careful where I stop to pee. A sign outlining the work the UN is still doing to clear land mines gives me even more reason to stay on the trail.
Monks and Cold Caves
The end of the trail for us is the town of Zavala. We passed many abandoned train stations during the day, but we get to sleep in one here: the Zavala station has been restored and turned into a B&B. The town feels dramatic as we sit and rest: a Serbian film crew is making a historic TV show episode at the monastery from the 1500s, complete with men in armor riding horses
I take a walk up there later as the film crew is packing up and the only person around is a monk sitting quietly outside. (Is there any other way for a monk to sit?) We nod at each other and I check out the ancient paintings inside. As a group we go explore the famous Vjetrenica Cave, a long cavern complex that feels air conditioned at 11 degrees Celsius. Apparently it’s just right for the blind salamander species living in the pools.
When the film crew is all gone, the only sound in the small town is the music coming from the restaurant. After getting cleaned up we enjoy an epic saç dinner that has been cooking under hot coals in a fireplace for hours. As the waiter lifts off the lid, an aromatic wave of sizzling meat, potatoes, and spices makes us eager to dive in.
To the Long Wall and Oysters
“We will have some rolling hills today,” says our guide, so of course we start the day climbing up, up, up out of the valley to a border crossing atop a mountain back to Croatia. We roll through a mellow countryside with almost no traffic. There are so many butterflies that I start feeling guilty: some of them bash into my bike helmet when I’m rolling downhill. I’m starting to think we won’t see another soul not in a car when we come across a fruit stand where everything in it looks picture perfect. We stick with the seasonal theme and plow through a big bag of succulent cherries.
After a leisurely stop at a stone church surrounded by grape vines and olive trees, we roll into Mali Ston in the early afternoon. This duo of towns with the 15th century “Walls of Ston” between them actually make up the longest fortress system in Europe, at 5.5 kilometers. The thing to do here is to walk the whole wall from one town to another, but my usual exploratory impulses are drowned out when I approach the entrance gate high above town. “Are you F-ing crazy?” my legs ask me. “You want to give me even more pain, after all I’ve done for you this week?” In my mind my legs have the voice of Chris Rock and they get my attention. I forget that idea and go for a swim instead. I find out at dinner that the rest of my group made the hike, but after a nice seafood dinner with items from the local shellfish farms I’ve gotten over any feelings of missing out.
Blue Water and Wine on the Peljesac Peninsula
Our guide announces that the last day will consist of “rolling hills,” which means we’re going up and down mountains rising hundreds of meters along the Peljesac Peninsula coast of Croatia. Each climb up means heart-racing downhills after though, with gorgeous sea views and grapevines. We can see the mineral-rich wines get their flavor here, growing on the steep and rocky sides of hills. “There’s no irrigation here,” our guide at Grgich Vina winery tells us when we stop for a break and a tasting, “So the roots go very deep.” This winery was founded by Miljenko Grgić, the man behind Grgich Hills Estate in California, the vintner who beat the French in the famous blind tasting competition of 1976. In many ways, that was when the tables turned for Napa Valley .
It’s hard to get back on the bikes after tasting wines from this legendary figure, back on his ancestral soil. Sure, my legs are rock hard with muscle now and my lungs are used to the workout, but after six days of this, I’m feeling spent. I’m glad I’ve been able to shed some pounds while eating whatever the heck I want, but it’s clear I’m not in my 20s anymore.
We descend into the seaside town of Orebic and just like that, we’re done. This deserves a celebration, so the driver of the company van pulls out a cooler full of ice cold Orozco beers. I suck the first one down in five minutes flat and go for another, mentally congratulating myself for never having to get into that support van along the way. I think back on the beginning a week earlier when I said out loud, “I love this bike! It’s so fast!” Now I look at it like a regretted fling and say, “I am glad I never have to sit on that bike again.”
Dubrovnik in the Morning Calm
We spend the night back in Dubrovnik and I go to be thinking it would be nice to see the old city again, but can’t bear the thought of fighting cruise ship hordes again. So I set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and walk across the hill from my hotel on the port side to the historic section as the sun is coming up. I can count the number of other people I see on two hands as I get photos without any of them in it and enjoy the fortress in the glowing morning sun, with no sounds except waves lapping against the shore.
By the time I climb the hill up to my hotel and go up one flight of steps, I hear the Chris Rock voice of my legs screaming at me, “What, again? Really? You couldn’t figure out something better to do after finishing than walk up and down hills after six days on a bike?”
“Don’t worry boys,” I reassure them. “After breakfast, we’re getting on a bus.”
The following is a reposted article from Emerging Europe.
The first Digital Business Space has opened its doors in Sarajevo; helping the city reach the level of other advanced metropolises. The concept, which was developed by the South Eastern European Business Agency (SEEBA), aims to offer business people a working place in the city centre.
“The idea for the Digital Business Space came as a response to the increasing interest of business travellers and remote workers who are relocating to Sarajevo for a period of time,” Hanna Cerić, business analyst at SEEBA, tells Emerging Europe.
“Sarajevo is the crossing point between the east and the west, and we have begun to see lots of business people from both directions either making a lay-over in Sarajevo, or settling down for a more permanent time, to do their business in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the trends in other European capitals, where business lounges are popping up in premium locations, we decided to set up and open the Digital Business Space at Ferhadija, in the midst of the city centre,” she adds
According to the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FIPA), the ICT sector is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, contributing around €75 million to the country’s GDP. There are around 1,400 companies and about 2,500 to 3,500 programmers, who, in terms of their knowledge, skills, experience and insight into modern trends, are frequently ahead of their colleagues in other European countries.
“Digital Business Space provides business people the work conditions they expect, while keeping the same standard and quality that one can find in other cities across Europe. We also offer a full virtual office service, if you decide to relocate your business, or open up a branch, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The space’s premium location, in the heart of Sarajevo, allows professionals to experience the true colours of this beautiful city whilst doing business,” Ms Ceric adds.
In order to strengthen Sarajevo’s position on the business map, the Digital Business Space also runs an SME Up-Skilling Centre, which is a business training and coaching session for local and international small and medium-sized enterprises. In order to enable and empower businesses, this Up-Skilling Centre will offer seminars, coaching sessions and mentorships, business model innovation boot-camps, networking event and digital innovation missions.
The following is a reposted article from Emerging Europe.
The Sarajevo Stock Exchange (SASE) became an active member of the SEE Link network, enabling trading on the respective market. The SASE is the fourth stock exchange that has actively joined SEE Link after three founding stock exchanges and the seventh stock exchange in a row.
“With the connection of the Sarajevo Stock Exchange to SEE Link, we are showing our commitment to make our market more dynamic and more visible for international investors, at the same time providing to investors from our country the possibility to engage in the regional markets,” says Tarik Kurbegovic, CEO at the Sarajevo Stock Exchange.
“We are excited to participate in SEE Link, as this is the first project which has all the benefits associated with creating an integrated market, while letting all of the participating exchanges keep its own identity and role in the local markets,” he adds.
The SEE Link network was started by the Bulgarian, Croatian and Macedonian stock exchanges and supported by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Their goal was to create regional infrastructure for the trading of securities listed on those three markets.
The SEE Link order routing system became fully operational in March 2016. The two SEE Link indices — SEE LinX and SEE LinX EWI — were launched in April 2016 and revised in January 2017 to include companies from the Ljubljana and Belgrade Stock exchanges. Now, the indices are composed of the 16 most actively traded regional companies listed on five participating exchanges. With the new markets accession, the indices revision is planned in the forthcoming period in order to provide more representative overview of the seven markets — Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sofia, Skopje, Belgrade, banjo Luka and Sarajevo. Athens is also preparing to join the SEE Link.
“We are very happy to see new exchanges joining SEE LINK — it proves that regional platform is a good path to improve liquidity of all out markets. We see each additional exchange as value added to all exchanges and brokers that are already our members,” says Ivana Gazić, President of the Management Board at the Zagreb Stock Exchange.
With SASE’s accession, the SEE Link order-routing system now supports trading of a joint market with a combined capitalisation of more than US$ 52 billion and over 1,200 securities eligible for trading. A total of 32 investment companies (brokerage houses) are licensed to trade via SEE Link.
(Photo source: Sarajevo Stock Exchange)
Project activities initiated with workshops on NTMs
With the support of GIZ and ITC, trainings for addressing and eliminating non-tariff measures (NTMs) were organized in all CEFTA Parties. Namely, the workshops were organized in Podgorica, Tirana, Prishtina, Skopje, Sarajevo, Belgrade and Chisinau for both public and private sector representatives. The objective of the workshop was to increase the awareness of the public and private sectors to better understand the use and implications of NTMs and to help strike a balance between legitimate policy objectives and unintended negative impact on businesses. The program covered a wide range of topics including identification and classification of NTMs as well as distinction between non-tariff measures (NTMs) s and non-tariff barriers (NTBs). Moreover, the impact of these measures on the competitiveness of businesses and company’s investment choices was discussed. Finally, a discussion was led about the importance of public-private dialogue in decision-making and how this mechanism, if effectively used, can bring benefits to both public and private sectors.
Two Supply Chains Selected as Project Focus
The project concept envisages the identification of two supply chains for the project to showcase the main difficulties economic operators encounter when trading within the CEFTA region. The project team, in consultation with the project partners, elaborated a methodology to support supply chains selection in a way that responds well to the project's mandate and objectives. The selection of the supply chains was done based on the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data and information from a variety of sources, in close cooperation with the CEFTA partners. Based on the final agreement with the CEFTA parties, the project will focus on the following: vegetables supply chain (i.e. edible vegetables with certain roots and tubers) and metals supply chain (i.e. iron and steel).
The national assessments of the current status of implementation of the national programs for Authorized Economic Operators (AEO) in the region will be conducted in October and November 2017. The project will provide expert input to the drafting process for the implementing provisions for a mutually recognized AEO program in the CEFTA region to be finalized with the CEFTA structures in November 2017.
In October and November 2017, GIZ and ITC will be conducting national private sector consultation meetings and national stakeholder consultation meetings under the umbrella of National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) or similar platform for stakeholders' consultation. The meetings will serve as a platform for the private sector to voice their concerns in a manner that can be acted upon through policy and regulatory reforms on national and regional levels through effective public-private dialogue.
The following article was originally posted by BBC travel.
The Belgrade International Film Festival, or FEST, is an annual highlight in the city’s, and Serbia’s, cultural calendar.
Explore the cultural highlights of Serbia over the winter months
It’s cold outside, so head indoors and immerse yourself in the best of Serbia’s art, culture and history.
Museum of Naïve and Marginal Art, Jagodina
Founded in 1960 as a gallery for self-taught artists, the MNMA is home to more than 3,000 works of naive and marginal art, by around 350 artists dating from the 1930s to present day. Although its primary function is to protect works of Serbian and Yugoslav art, the collection was widened to include international works in the 1990s, and now includes works from across Europe and beyond.
The building itself is worthy of a pause for admiration. It is protected as a national treasure but the Republic Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments.
The museum is open 10am – 5pm Tuesday to Friday, and 11am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday. For more information, visit the museum website.
The Pavle Beljanski Memorial Collection, Novi Sad
Moving from self-taught to academic art, the Pavle Beljanski museum is the legacy of the diplomat and art collector who gave both his name and his collection of paintings, sculptures and tapestries to it. The collection today consists of 185 works of 20th century Serbian art by 37 artists, from the first generation of Modernists onwards.
The museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday and open daily from 10am – 6pm on other days excluding Thursday, when it is open from 1pm – 9pm. For more information, visit the website.
International Film Festival, Belgrade
The Belgrade International Film Festival, or FEST, is an annual highlight in the city’s, and Serbia’s, cultural calendar.
Since its inception in 1971, it has attracted a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s finest, including Jack Nicholson, Kirk Douglas, Robert De Niro, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Catherine Deneuve and Ralph Fiennes. It is the only film festival in Eastern Europe with such an impressive cast list.
FEST is usually held in late February/early March, but the exact dates for 2018 are yet to be confirmed. Full event details will be released on the website in due course.
Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade
Described time and again as one of (if not the) best museums in Belgrade, the Nikola Tesla Museum is a celebration of the life and work of Serbia’s most eminent inventor, and unsurprisingly is a science wonderland as a result.
The museum is open from 10am – 8pm Tuesday to Sunday, and is closed on Mondays. For more information, visit the website.
Ethnographic Museum, Belgrade
One of the oldest museums in the Balkans, the Ethnographic Museum is a remarkable celebration of Serbian culture, ranging from traditional dress and jewellery to furniture, industry, transport and art.
The museum in open from 10am – 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, and 9am – 2pm on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays. For more information, visit the website.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Vojvodina
Vojvodina’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a vibrant celebration of local and international art from the latter half of the 20th century, as well as the 21st.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 6pm, with late night opening on Friday, when it stays open until 8pm. The museum is closed on Monday. Entry is free. For more information, visit the website.
Serbia: the place to be
Cities filled with culture, mountains and rivers filled with adventure… Explore all that the diverse destination of Serbia has to offer.
The following is a reposted article from PASTE Magazine by Olivia Balsinger.
The Journey Begins
I’m sitting in a bar in Dubrovnik’s Old Town. Surrounded by ancient walls and the Adriatic Sea, this is Croatia’s crown tourism jewel. This is also the spot where I will begin a seven-day cycling journey.
After ordering a beer, I turn my attention to my tour companions. We will be embarking on an odyssey of sorts—starting here on the coast and winding into the Western Balkans’ Dinaric Alps—until we reach Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will travel through some of the most interesting and undiscovered areas of southeastern Europe. This expedition will be orchestrated through Green Visions, an adventure-travel operator based in Sarajevo with a sustainability and ecotourism focus. The promotion, and booking for the tour was a joint effort with Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Biketours.com.
“What we are about to do is embark on the inaugural bike ride from the coast of Croatia through the mountains and onwards to Sarajevo, finding the local touch as much as possible along the way,” says Thierry Joubert, the director of Green Visions. “We will be embarking from Dubrovnik, averaging 50 kilometers a day.”
Biking, we will soon discover, is the perfect way to explore the Balkans … and an opportunity to cover more distance and diversity of landscapes and cultures than travel by foot, but more slowly and intentional than by car.
“We are committed to sustainability and part of sustainability is through local operators and keeping the profit as local as possible,” said Jim Johnson, President of Biketours.com, which runs more than 200 tours representing more than 70 European bike tours operators in more than 40 companies. “We have been told by [local operators] that we are their megaphone to the world.”
The “Pearl of the Adriatic” is all about the views, the blue water, the terra cotta roofs, and, of course, the walls. My three recommendations for this town are to first, visit the walls as early as you possibly can. That means 8 a.m. My second: Dinner at Konoba Sciabecco in the Old Town and under the Saint Nicholas chapel. Order the fish platter and sit along the polished limestone walkway at sunset. After, and number three, head to Libertina Bar for a real local’s experience and ice-cold beer.
Our first official day on bikes was south of Dubrovnik in an area called Konavle. We pedal through pine and cypress forests, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees, including tangerines, figs and mulberries. We stopped for a mid-day meal at Konoba Vinica Monkovic in the village of Ljuta. The local trout cooked in parchment paper and decorated with colorful sautéed zucchini and capers only added to this restaurant’s ambiance. Choice of seats include tables literally atop the Ljuta River, on a floating platform.
As we pedal back to Dubrovnik, we are briefly stopped by a traffic jam of stubborn sheep in the road, reluctant to make a passageway for our bikes, and it hit me: this was not going to be an average trip. It could be hours—if not entire days—before we would run into another car or cyclist on the road. The Balkans are raw and unscripted.
Entering Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our introduction to this rugged country, which sits in the heart of the Western Balkans, came immediately after we crossed the border and started to climb up and through the Dinaric Alps. We then descended into a valley on the outskirts of the city of Trebinje for a lunch at an old rail station in the community of Zavala. Here, the route merged onto the old Austro-Hungarian train tracks, which have recently been repurposed as biking trails.
Before heading into Trebinje, we visit the Vjetrenica Cave, a seven-kilometer system complete stalagmites, stalactites and it’s own species: the blind, albino and lizard-like human fish.
In the evening, we relaxed in the city, where families mixed with intoxicated bar hoppers while DJs provided a riverside soundtrack. A short distance from the walls of the Old Town, we ate at the Restaurant Vukoje, which serves a bevy of its own high-end wines and has a panoramic view of the entire valley.
A day of climbs and sharp descents culminated with Herzegovina’s unofficial capital, Mostar. We arrived to Ottoman Quarter of the city. The smell of incense mixed with the call to prayer.
The city of Mostar is best known for its famed bridge, which rises as a stunning stone arch between two medieval towers in the heart of the Old Town. Dusk is the best time to visit, as selfie sticks and tourists pervade during the day, especially throughout the summer season.
A highlight was walking our bikes across this famed bridge as the sun was setting. Then we celebrated the end of another successful day of biking with rakija, the Balkans’ version of schnapps, on the balcony of our hotel, Almira, in the city center.
Our next cycling day was perhaps most special for our group as we were mashing through terrain few traverse. We were now in the heart of Bosnia.
We began a strenuous climb over Prenj, Visocica and Bjelasnica mountain ranges, ascending through a beautiful wooded forest. As a light rain began falling, we parked our bikes in what appeared to be a quaint mountain house in the middle of the countryside. Typical of this region, our stop turned into a conversation and coffee with the owner, who was all too happy to share with us the region’s history. He gave us an impromptu tour of his kula, a traditional guesthouse, and the plot of land that has been in his family for 800 years.
We cycled onwards and upwards, continuing over mountain passes towards to a remote village, Umoljani. Our lodging for the evening, Pansion Umoljani, overlooked the valley beyond, and served a delicious array of authentic cuisine, including spinach, potato and cheese pies and copious amounts of rakija.
Walking through the streets of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, I could feel its turbulent and beautiful past weaving together into a harmony of inspiring “now-ness.” Nestled in the mountains, we pedaled into the lights and pavement of the city by dusk, a dynamic difference to the gravel country roads that led us here.
I had heard in passing that Sarajevo has been nicknamed “The European Jerusalem.” It did not take me long to understand why: In the center, the main mosque, Orthodox Christian church, Catholic Cathedral, and synagogue sit within a few hundred feet of one another.
And contrary to what many travel stories write, the scars of the past do not define this city today. Sarajevo hosts over 15 yearly festivals and is, as it has always been, a cultural hub of artistic renaissance and musical exploration. The capital is also home to youth mountaineering groups that encourage locals to explore the surrounding mountains once again, and companies like Green Visions that make the outdoors accessible for locals and travelers alike.
Eating dinner, in the traditional and delicious restaurant Zara iz duvara, we debriefed about the trip and realized that the Balkans region is the perfect spot for visitors to learn about Europe, the Near East, and, well, travel. This is where East meets West: Where cobble stones intersect with dirt roads, and where past meets present. The Balkans are some of the last remaining places for authentic adventure on this planet; tourism has not yet been thoroughly developed in this part of the world, which makes it raw and undiscovered.
While the infrastructure of the Balkans may not compare to its Western European neighbors quite yet, paved roads and paths are prime for cycling and adventure tours.
If You Go
Olivia Balsinger is a travel writer based in New York City. She is also a Paste Health columnist, deputy editor of About.com’s Sustainable Travel and OhThePeopleYouMeet.com
Linked below is the UNWTO's report on Tourism for Sustainable Development in the Least Developed Countries.
It is our great pleasure to announce that several ICT clusters from the Balkan and Black Sea cluster network have been invited to sign a GRANT Agreement with the European Commission. Namely, a consortia of 8 clusters coordinated by the Bulgarian ICT Cluster as the lead organization had submitted a project proposal named GIVE (acronym) under the COSME Call: Clusters go International. The list of the partners is: Bulgarian ICT Cluster; Albanian IT Association - AITA; Automobile Cluster Serbia; Bulgarian Automotive Cluster; Cluj IT Cluster; Macedonian ICT Chamber of Commerce - MASIT; ICT cluster of Central Serbia; Green and Smart Technology Cluster (Latvia)
The project proposal preparation was supported by the REG USAID Project, targeting the sustainability of our individual country partners and, especially, the multi-country network.
AIM of the Project: Green Ict deVElopment (GIVE) general project objective is to build up a strategic cluster partnership in the field of smart green technologies among the three vital industries - automotive, renewable energy and ICT.
The smart green technologies encompass all industrial and human activities which generate positive impact to the environment applying Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Today, traditional manufacturing industries as automotive and renewable energy should find smart solutions to answer to global environmental challenge they face by applying ICT.
The GIVE partnership will be based on cross-clusters, cross- border, and cross - regional and cross - industry collaboration.
It ill be very challenging because it has eight partners from seven different countries, two different European regions and three vital industries.
The following is a reposted article from RealClear | Life.
Luxury travel operator Mountain Travel Sobek and its expert guide lead RCL on the 128-mile trek.
We were only half-joking when we called Richard Branson’s recent family adventure—which featured a Matterhorn to Mt. Etna trek—the “family vacation from hell.” RCL is wise to the fact that many of you want to get physical on vacation, so we searched far and wide for the perfect jaunt. We found one that requires a bit more than your average pre-work bicep curl to accomplish, but is nothing short of an experience of a lifetime.
Mountain Travel Sobek, a luxury travel operator headquartered on the West Coast, has partnered with Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina–based Greenvisions to take guests on one of the most unique adventures RCL has found in its search for the “next big thing” in travel.
For just under $8,000, you can join a 22-day, 128-mile trek through the largely untouched Via Dinarica trail, which snakes through the Dinaric Alps and takes you through six countries—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania.
A highlight of Day 2 on the MTS trek, here’s an aerial view of Bled Castle, overlooking the lake of the same name in Triglav National Park, Slovenia. (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Now, if you’re asking yourself, “Aren’t some of those countries dangerous?” You’d be right, but 25 years too late. Long after the break up of the former Yugoslavia—and the Bosnian War, which started in 1992 and lasted through 1995—the Western Balkans have become a white-hot travel destination patronized by everyone from Jay-Z to Bill Gates.
And the Via Dinarica is sort of the icing on the cake, per Thierry Joubert, a native of Curaçao, Dutch Antilles, who’s been based in Sarajevo since 1992, is the co-founder of Greenvisions, and heads up Mountain Travel Sobek’s extensive tour.
“I came [to Sarajevo] during the war to work with children in refugee centers, and I did all kinds of development and humanitarian work,” Joubert told RCL via Skype. Then, five years after the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian conflict, Joubert founded his travel-adventure company, Greenvisions, as a for-profit company, with Bosnia’s future in mind. (They published the first postwar travel brochure for the country.)
Joubert and company have been working with Mountain Travel Sobek for eight years, having originally met MTS co-founder Richard Bangs while he was in Bosnia on a development project for USAID. “The reason I like Mountain Travel Sobek is that we have crazy ideas, and they’re willing to take the chance,” said Joubert with a laugh. One such crazy idea was the 22-day trek, which is by far the most extensive trip the two companies have come up with yet.
On Day 13 of the MTS trek, you’ll find yourself in Durmitor National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montenegro (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
What is the Via Dinarica? Joubert described it as a confluence of mountain trails in “the wildest part of Europe” that were once all connected in the former Yugoslavia and maintained by mountaineering clubs but were broken up by borders after the country was split up. At that point, the trail was just legend, at best. But in 2006, there was a call for the disparate trails to once again be united—like the Via Alpina—and three years later, Greenvisions was on the case. Along with a partner in Montenegro, Greenvisions wrote a cross-border plan for the European Union, reconnecting the trails from Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia with Durmitor National Park in Montenegro (see above), each country’s oldest national park. That was the first 100 miles of the over 1,200-mile trail that now stretches from Slovenia to Macedonia. The project snowballed from there; in 2014, Outside magazine sent a journalist to hike the Via Dinarica with Joubert, and it’s been gaining popularity ever since. USAID has also chipped in about $1.2 million to help maintain the massive trail.
For those guests who are looking to drop a long way out of cell service on vacation, the Via Dinarica trek couldn’t be better. As Joubert explains, because the region’s mountain ranges are still so untouched compared to the rest of the EU’s, hikers will be surprised at how few people they run into over the 22-day period. And somewhat like the neighborhoods of New York City, each mountain town travelers come across is wholly distinct from the previous one—culturally, religiously, and culinarily. “All of these sections have a very different flavor,” said Joubert.
You’ll find yourself in the old city of Mostar, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Day 7 of the trek (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Now, in terms of physical fitness, this is by no means an easy- or intermediate-level trek. “The mountains are rough here,” Joubert said. Don’t let the word “trail” fool you into thinking this is something locals leash up their dogs and walk for pleasure on the weekends. “It’s not a manicured trail,” said Joubert. “People have walked on this trail, but it’s rocky and uneven. It’s not dangerous, but these are not smooth trails.”
While MTS offers an extensive itinerary—from which we’ve scattered pictures of destinations throughout this story—RCL asked Joubert to tease out his “greatest hits” along the trail. Here’s what he said:
Velebit National Park – Premužić Trail – Croatia – This single chain-link in the greater Via Dinarica was blazed during the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). “It’s just stunning,” said Joubert. “At [the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire] it was a highway through this incredible karst and rocky mountain, [and] it still is. Everything is wild around you.” Joubert continues: “This guy just cut this road through the mountains that dips in and out, and you get to see the seaside. So you have the blue Adriatic coast, and then you go down again on the other side in the interludes, and there’s nothing there. It’s just wild.”
The Isolated-ness of Bosnia – Geographically speaking, Bosnia is the midway point of the Via Dinarica. And it also happens to be Joubert’s adopted home. “Bosnia is very small; it’s only 50,000 square kilometers [roughly 19,000 square miles], but within it, it takes ages to get from one side to the other, because it’s all mountains,” Joubert told RCL. One of the coolest stops along the way? The so-called “rebel’s door” on Čvrsnica Mountain, about 6,500 feet up the mountain face. He notes that the mountains in the region aren’t Everest; the highest peaks are only about 8,500-feet high.
The ‘Accursed Mountains’ – Albania – You can blame the locals for the doom-and-gloom moniker. The mountains are anything but “accursed.” What makes the area so special is a number of functioning villages. It’s a particularly busy cultural center along the Via Dinarica. “The mountains are very high, beautiful, [and] stark, but with the villages, you have relatively easy access to the places around [you],” said Joubert. The best part, though? The local bed-and-breakfast scene (read: shepherd huts and actual home-stays), where travelers can rest their weary bones and consume “mountaineer”-style meals.
Mountains of Food – You can’t go wrong with great ethnic fare in the region, which is marked by a diverse range of cultures. Traditional Bosnian meals, for example, include börek and pita—not the bread you scrape up hummus with—but an oven-baked phyllo-dough pie cooked in a pan and filled with ingredients like cheese, mountain spinach, or potatoes. It’s traditionally served with locally produced yogurt. One meat you’ll have no problem finding? Lamb and mutton, usually roasted and served on a spit. Stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage leaves, and polenta also make appearances throughout as well. “Low fat does not exist here,” said Joubert. But the insanely long treks balance out the calories.
The following is an excerpt reposted from an article on Vogue.com written by Michaela Trimble.
With new trails and lodges opening all around the globe, there’s never been a better time to lace up your hiking boots and set out for adventure in some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. Whether you seek to summit South American mountains, thru-hike in the European wilds, or march side-by-side with Antarctic penguins, now is the time to get acquainted with the world’s most rugged and pristine lands. Here, the top adventurous destinations every woman should visit in 2017.
If you whisper the words Via Dinarica in a room of adventure travelers, heads will turn. In 2017, the official map completion of the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica will be finalized, creating a reliable, graphed system for travelers to self-hike through the western Balkans. The trail begins and ends in Slovenia and Macedonia, respectively, running through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania along the way. Trekkers can experience the rich, cultural heritage of the region during homestays in local villages and mountaintop or seaside huts. On a trip with Mountain Travel Sobek, carve out 22 days to explore six of the eight Via Dinarica countries. The 128-mile route weaves through the unexplored region, where limestone peaks meet the Adriatic Sea and views of glacier-fed lakes prove frequent. If you prefer to cycle the Balkans, opt for a spot on The Odyssey with TDA Global Cycling, a seven-week tour from Athens to Amsterdam that stops in Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia.