How an Australian adventure helped me get my groove back
To say I wasn’t looking forward to attending Mardi Gras was somewhat of an understatement.
It was meant to be the holiday of a lifetime; my fiancé and I had spent a year saving to visit Sydney, Adelaide, the Great Ocean Road and Melbourne. Everything was booked and paid for and then, just two days after Christmas last year, he told me he didn’t love me anymore – and that he’d cheated on me.
Understandably, I was crushed and my whole world crumbled around me, with a bright future suddenly seeming very bleak. We’d been together for five years, have a house – even a dog – together and with everything to sort out as a result, both physically and emotionally, a holiday Down Under was the last thing on my mind.
Skopje’s classical makeover may be both controversial and kitsch, but we couldn’t get enough of it!
Imagine if Mariah Carey decided to rebuild Ancient Rome… Thankfully, one doesn’t have to conjure up depictions of glitzy statues and wedding-cake style buildings, as such a place exists and it is called Skopje.
From faux neoclassical façades to willow trees plonked in the middle of the river, every nook and cranny of the city centre is an Instagramable dream.
For us gay travellers, it was Warrior on a Horse that did it.
Pristina in Kosovo is a moderately-sized capital city that makes for a great base to explore the wider country. Having said that, it’s worth spending a day or two here to soak up a number of important sites that really help you better understand the unique culture and recent history of Europe’s youngest capital city.
Known as ‘Pristina’ (English), ‘Prishtina’ (from the Albanian ‘Prishtinë’) or ‘Priština’/‘Приштина’ (Serbian); the very fact it goes by several names clearly alludes to it being the largest city in a disputed territory. However, we felt nothing but safe here and were met by warm locals eager to put the past behind them and leave us with fond memories of a city with a bright future.
Staying in the basic-but-fine-for-the-price Hotel Kika, we started our tour of Pristina proper by passing alongside the Brotherhood and Unity monument. A memorial for all fallen fighters and victims of the Second World War, this gigantic concrete clothes peg was inaugurated in 1961 under the authority of Josip Broz Tito, President of Yugoslavia, with Kosovo being one of the communist country’s two Socialist Autonomous Provinces.
Unmissable attraction and wildlife sanctuary for all of Kosovo’s privately kept brown bears
“We’re lost, aren’t we?”
“Err… no…” I replied nervously to my boyfriend.
Clearly, we were lost, but I’d brought us out here and I didn’t want him to think I didn’t know what I was doing, so I frogmarched us deeper in to the Kosovan countryside.
The bus had dropped us off hastily in front of an abandoned petrol station that appeared to have not served a car in the best part of a decade. Passing peeling yellow paint and creaky metal, I noticed a vague sign pointing to our intended destination – Bear Sanctuary Prishtina.
It’s a bit of an Icelandic mouthful, but that’s fine by me
I love a bit of karaoke. My go-to song is Shirley Bassey’s ‘Big Spender’, but anything by the Spice Girls or Roxette will do. Clearly, I’m no singer, but I like to think I can give a good performance. If truth be told, I think most people are happy to grab the microphone for a sing-a-long after a tipple or two.
Regardless, it was music to my ears (see what I did there) when I heard that Inspired By Iceland have combined two of my favourite things – travel and karaoke – to create what is being billed as ‘The Hardest Karaoke Song in the World’ (I also love a challenge).
Making the most of a stay in Albania’s capital city
Although the spectre of communist dictator Enver Hoxha may still loom large over Albania, its capital city is confidently shedding its isolationist past to reveal an exciting destination bursting with culture, cuisine and colour.
From the architectural mashup on display around Skanderbeg Square to the dizzy heights of Mount Dajt, Tirana delights from its centre all the way to the outskirts, with warm welcomes offered throughout from people eager to embrace international guests and proudly showcase the best their country has to offer.
Indeed, Tirana makes for a great city break in its own right or as the starting point for exploring one of Europe’s least-visited countries – yet one which also boasts dramatic scenery, a gorgeous coastline and some truly unique historical sites.
1. Skanderbeg Square
Named after the Albanian nobleman and military commander who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, Skanderbeg Square’s central location and significance makes it the perfect place to begin exploring Tirana.
On the eastern banks of the River Dniester in Europe lies the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, better known as Transnistria. Although officially still part of Moldova, this breakaway territory has proclaimed its ‘independence’ since 1990. Unquestionably pro-Russian, exploring this separatist state is like taking a walk through the Soviet Union, despite the fact the USSR crumbled in 1991.
The four-car train from Chișinău trundled through the Moldovan countryside as two elderly women chatted near to me and a girl opposite was furiously texting on her mobile phone. At the rear of the carriage, a giant urn was whistling, ready to deposit water in to cups of coffee for two men who were conversing at the snack bar.