Balkan Love Story; connecting the dots

Life is made of cycles. At times, our biggest fights mean finding a solution to break those cycles and learn our lessons well.

I have always supported the idea that travelling is like a relationship you’ve got with the world. Yup, I can see those eyebrows raised. However, when you’re a passionate person like me, it’s a continuous I love you-I’m leavin’ you-Please don’t go you’re playing with your favourite places.

One of the greatest love stories of my traveller’s life [there are 3] started in 2009. With the Balkans. That is when I started travelling extensively in the area. This region – regarded as undiscovered – provides the visitor with an authenticity that the rest of Europe seems to have lost [leaving aside two former Yugoslav countries off the Adriatic coast]. And I found the realest authenticities in Bosnia and Albania. The sub-love stories started almost simultaneously – with the warm welcomes of the special people inhabiting both countries, with the dizzying heights of the Albanian mountains, and with the turquoise rapids of Bosnian rivers.

The follow-up was different: I went back to Bosnia. In 2010, 2011, and 2013. I fell harder and harder and harder. Found new reasons, friends, and rivers to care that much. I promised not to forget in Mostar, I played with shadows and lights in Počitelj, and I discovered greenish Tara.

Mostar, BiH

There are two notes to be made here, in my attempt to make things as easy to understand as possible. Somewhere in 2014, I ended my greatest travel love story. It was my 5-year relationship with Scotland, marked by a bitter divorce. All that remains to be said is that I got to learn that country so well and to love it so much, that I became hurt by the slightest of changes in the way the people there received me, in the way my teachers there perceived me, in the way the places remained as glorious as they always were – which was not enough that time around.

Balnakeil Beach, NW Highlands; Scotland

In 2013, a beautiful surprise came my way. And that surprise’s name is Kosovo. I felt so at home in that mix of Oriental and modern, of pure hospitality and life vibrating as it always should.

History-filled Prizren; Kosovo

Last year was one of the best years of my life, things went my way and the summer started with one of the most beautiful trips of my life. Again through the Balkans. It meant continuing my Albanian story. I was hit even harder this time. Who knew that this country was even more beautiful than I remembered it to be? Who knew about the fairytale mix of green and azure in the Osumi Canyon? Who knew that the Southern Mountains would wow me so? Who knew that I’d fall for the people over and over and over again?

Bay of Butrint; Albania

Bosnia followed. The sun in the south was replaced by rains and for the first time in 6 years, I could not find my place. I could not find the spark. It all felt blended. The road from Sarajevo to Mostar – which used to make me gush every time – left me cold. Mostar felt a bit too crowded and even commercial. And friends turned out to be foes. On my last day there, I was in the car, trying to take my wet clothes off, with a bitter taste on my already salty lips. Maybe it should be like that when you get to love a country like crazy – you also get to see its imperfections, its lacks, you are then faced with the decision to let the nasty feelings go or not, but you also get to realise that something is burning inside of you. Some words whose meaning was not even discovered by those concerned in their translations into Albanian: you’ve fallen harder. For another land. 

Baščaršija, Sarajevo; Bosnia and Herzegovina

So, you decide you cannot stay away. And you head back. Nature is as stunning as you remember it to be, the people are as nice and warm as you remember them to be, but something’s missing. Are we talking about some other dear friends turned foes? Probably. Then, you leave crying to the north and think you’ll trade your southern sorrow for the rough scenery intriguing you, but, although it does woo you, the bitterness remains.

Kosovo, however, is still the nice surprise it was the first time around. ‘Would it also leave me bitter on one of the following occasions?…’ you wonder. Will the trileqe taste the same?

When you get home, though, you realise that it is another story this time. One with a happy ending. Why? Because life is a game. We make the rules and we are the ones to break them. If we choose to love something with all our heart, it will always stay with us no matter what.

The light of Albania never faded, the thrills were never lost, the sadness never destroyed what we had, and nothing new could break us. Though it could break the cycle.

I am heading back. I don’t know when, but I know I already miss it. I just need a small break to enjoy it all even more.

/First published in September 2016 on Medium; not included in social media posts and the weekly newsletter/

P.S. If the story’s unfinished, it may have an even brighter sequel. As corny as it may sound, to be continued.

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