The Balkans are probably already on your map by now. This beautiful region of South-Eastern Europe is a safe haven for nature enthusiasts, mountain climbers, urban explorers sea lovers and party-goers. And for those looking for quirky and out-of-this-world photos, it is a paradise!
Note: all the pictures are mine and only very lightly edited through Lightroom. I don’t edit out people or garbage bins, I don’t give the sky an unnatural colour… What you see is what you get.
Uzice’s famous rocket-like hotel Zlatibor
Where: Uzice, Serbia
When: September 2018
I remember spotting the out-of-this-world building from the road passing around the Serbian town of Uzice on our way to Tara. I promised myself I would go back to this city and explore its incredible brutalist architecture. This Western Serbian town has about 60,000 inhabitants, a river, an old fortress and a national museum. Uzice is also a wonderland for anyone into Yugoslav-era architecture. The famous hotel Zlatibor by the river downtown is a must-see. And yes, you can eat and sleep there. You can sit by the river on the opposite side, just a few hundred metres from the bus station and look at it while waiting for your ride to the mountain Zlatibor!
Pristina’s national library, the “ugliest building in the world”
Where: Pristina, Kosovo
When: November 2018
The most intriguing architecture. Incredible both on the outside and in the inside. Kosovo’s national library was designed by Croatian architect Andrija Mutjakovic and inaugurated in 1982. The 99 white glass dome wrapped into a metal net give it this out-of-this-world appearance that some have deemed “the ugliest in the world”. The national library is still used every day by Pristina’s many students but can (and should) also be visited as part of your exploration of Pristina. The campus is open so feel free to walk around. If you are there in winter in the evening, the many murders of crows loudly flying around make it even stranger.
Dev9t’s Brazing Summer Spirit
Where: Belgrade, Serbia
When: June 2019
Celebrating the summer solstice with a mix of paganism, abandoned heavy industrial materials from Yugoslavia and the latest of Serbia’s modern art scene. And a gigantic bonfire burning the night away, of course. The Dev9t festival is held every year around the summer solstice in a former industrial zone in Belgrade. It is the place to be for all art and party lovers and an incredible spot for photography. I have so much fun shooting there every year with my friends, and I feel so inspired. If you’re lucky enough to be spending some time in Belgrade in June, make space to go there and visit. There will be plenty of time in the evening if you’re not too tired after a three-day exploration of Serbia’s capital city.
Pyramid climbing, Albanian style
Where: Tirana, Albania
When: November 2017
Many things would catch your eyes while walking around Tirana, Albania’s capital city. The eclectic decors of the bars and cafés of the “Blloku”, the former closed district of the communist apparatchiks turned into the trendiest part of the city for hype youth looking for fun and parties. The bunkers popping out every now and then all over the country, including at the heart of the capital. The facade of the national museum on the gigantic Skanderbeg Square. But the pyramid is my ultimate favourite of all. Erected in the 1980s to be a museum dedicated to communist dictator Enver Hoxha, it has since then hosted a variety of activities, including a NATO base and a nightclub. Today it sits abandoned in the inside, but not on the outside: boys and young men have made it a sport to climb up and down the structure at all time. It’s terrifying to look, but also fun. This new occupation might not last though, as the authorities are now planning to turn the building into an IT hub.
Serbian Death Star
Where: Observatory of Belgrade, Serbia
When: September 2017
Discovering secret places of Belgrade. Once a year, Serbia’s old observatory opens its doors to visitors in the forest of Zvezdara, just a short trolleybus ride away from the city centre. The occasion for you to learn about Serbian astrology’s history and discover the old buildings and equipment. Some of it was actually given to Serbia by Germany after the First world war as reparations. There are several buildings, including a library, and a beautiful park. Follow the Observatory on Facebook and keep an eye out for the Open Doors Day (“dani otvaranih vrata”), it happens several times a year.
The most old-fashioned phone booth ever is in Kosovo
Where: Prizren, Kosovo
When: February 2018
Pristina is not the only place in underrated Kosovo worth your time. There is a lot to see in Prizren, including the spectacular view from the fortress and the incredible movie festival DokuFest. Located in Western Kosovo near the border with Albania, it’s the perfect day-trip from the trendy capital Pristina or a stop on the way to Albania. The city offers a nice mix of culture, history and nature. It also has a very pretty phone booth in the old town, clean and pretty. I am still wondering how old it is.
Convenience store popping out of the ground in Sofia
Where: Sofia, Bulgaria
When: May 2019
Bulgaria has a rich culture. It includes a tradition of “squat shops”. They started to pop out all over the country in the 90s after the fall of communism. Many have closed since but you can still find them in a few places. As you can see with this one, which we found in the centre of Sofia while on a three-day exploration, customers have to squat or bend over to order and pay. Believe it or not, the squat shops are not the only funny, quirky things I found in Bulgaria!
Villagers turned into stone by God’s wrath in Davola Varos
Where: Davola Varos near Nis, Serbia
When: September 2017
As the story goes, two cousins from the same village had decided to get married, defying God’s taboo. As you can imagine, it did not go well and God turned all the villagers who were taking part in the wedding procession into stones. That is why the strange rocks forming the surprising Davola Varos (“The Devil’s Town”) look like people wearing hats. It’s a major natural monument protected by the state of Serbian and highly popular for a day-trip or when visiting the nearby town of Nis, in southern Serbia.